The moonlight cast a ghastly glow upon the floor and the clothes strewn across it. Each star seemed to twinkle a romantic melody to accompany the rustling of the soft wind through the snow-covered evergreens. A gentle frost had kissed the windows, glassing them over with pinwheels of ice which glistened like crystal with every flicker of candlelight from within. Nature had decked itself out with every possible romantic detail imagined by the worst of romantic writers, fitting itself exactly to the scene playing out in Eleanor’s heart. She lay with her face towards the window, her face flushed with the most supreme joy that any adolescent girl could ever possibly experience.
She stretched out on her bed, hiding her face from the moonlight, not wanting to let her blushes show. Yes, there was so much hope in every fragment of her being and it was impossible to see it for anything else but the full and absolute emotion of true love. That is, it would have been impossible if anyone had been looking at her just then, but she was, unfortunately, very much alone on this most romantic night as she experienced such romantic feelings. Sirius had left her in the Common Room, giving her a wan smile before leaping up the stairs to his dormitory. The other girls did not even glance her way as she entered, but that was no different than before. If anything, going out with Sirius had made her less popular than ever before, but their jealousy meant nothing to her. If they, like Lily, had approached her with an outstretched hand, she would not have taken it, taken their supposed friendship. She had Sirius, and there was nothing more in the world that she could possibly want.
The night passed without her eyes shutting for a single moment. No fatigue touched her consciousness as sparkling dreams passed before her vision. All the amazing things that she and Sirius would do together tomorrow, all the days after, even for their entire lives. Yes, she and Sirius could be together forever and ever and ever, and they would be the best of friends. Maybe he’d even kiss her again. That would be nice. More than nice.
She stared at the window, waiting for the pinkish colour of dawn to breach the darkness. How long ago was it that she stared out from the tower, trying to ward off the unwanted – was it even possible that she had once never wanted Sirius? – attentions of one of Those Boys. He had pursued her and he had asked her for his help and he had begged her to go out with him. And now, could it be that it had gone far beyond a simple coupling of convenience. He had needed her, and now she needed him as well. It wasn’t perfect, of course, but in time, it would all work out for the two of them. Whatever problems he was going through, she could, and would, help him.
Swinging her legs over the edge of the bed, she felt in the dark for her clothes. No point in wearing her spectacles when it was dark – it’d make no difference. The other girls snored quietly on, shifting only when Eleanor stubbed her toe against someone’s trunk and stumbled from the room, hopping on one foot while holding her breath. She closed the door with a snap behind her and collapsed on the top of the stairs, rubbing her sore toe.
The carpet was soft on her stockinged feet – her shoes had disappeared beneath the bed, possibly devoured by the Monster Book of Monsters – as she crept down to the Common Room. The fire had nearly burnt itself out, but there was enough flicker in the coals for a good poking to spark it up again. Crackling filled the empty air and Eleanor sunk herself into the couch, ready to lie in wait for him to come down. He always came down early for breakfast so that he’d get all the best food. She smiled to herself, closing her eyes to picture the expression on his face as he raced towards the portrait hole, calling out to his friends that he’d have all the food eaten before they made it to the Great Hall.
Her eyes remained closed for a considerable amount of time. It wasn’t until she felt a hand shaking her awake that she bothered to open them again. Even then it was tempting to go back to sleep, just so that she could dream more.
“Eleanor. What are you doing here?” It was Pettigrew, his blue eyes displaying some measure of worry. He took too much damn pleasure in saying her name.
The muttered words that emerged from her mouth were garbled and must have smelled very bad. She closed her mouth, swallowed, then tried again. “Got up early. Couldn’t sleep.”
Peter nodded, failing to raise his eyebrow. “I see. Well, you missed breakfast.”
“What!” She sat up and fell down again, her head going fuzzy.
“It’s near on ten. Lucky for you it’s Saturday.” He sat on the edge of the couch, fidgeting like one who couldn’t get comfortable. Or one feeling guilty.
She covered her eyes with one hand. “I’m still sick. It wouldn’t make a difference.”
“Oh.” There was a pause. He shifted his weight again. “Sirius went back up to his room. He didn’t want to disturb you.”
Now she wanted to be sick. Why couldn’t Sirius have come and woken her with a kiss instead of leaving his toady to wake her? Sirius wasn’t making any sense at all, with all the strange things he was doing. It was like... no, just like as though... not that either.... How could she describe it? The words just weren’t coming right.
“Is he any different than yesterday?”
His laugh was sudden and harsh. “He’s different everyday.”
It was the only correct way to really think of Sirius, as someone always changing. She thought back to all the times she had spent with him, from the time in the tower, to the empty classroom, to Hogsmeade, to the Hospital Wing, to the stairs... he’d never been the same twice. Always something had changed within him. Had she ever truly known the real Sirius Black?
“Yeah. You’re right.” It didn’t bother her to admit it. She was wrong most of the time.
They remained in position, without looking at each other. He moved to scratch an itch, or fiddle with his hands, or adjust the way his tie sat against his collar. She stared at the fire, wishing she could feel its heat. All the pretty romantic things in her mind were fading into the cold that was spreading from wherever such things spread. If Sirius could just come down for a moment, she’d feel better. At least she’d know that he cared. Or was it that he cared because he didn’t want to bother her? Maybe Peter was just being a pain in the arse and Sirius hadn’t even sent him to wake her up. Sirius was probably sprawled across his bed, drawing symbols in the fog on his window glass, thinking that she was asleep and being too gentlemanly to bother her.
In that case, she should go up to him.
The portrait door was pushed open by James, whose hands were full of various breakfast foods. He took a seat in the chair nearest the fire, tossing Eleanor a muffin and Peter a crumpet.
“Hope you like blueberry,” he told Eleanor. “It’s all they had left.”
She shrugged and took a bite, trying not to grimace as a piece of bran caught in her throat. Disgusting stuff, but it was something edible. Peter pulled apart his crumpet piece by piece, nibbling on each before swallowing. James inhaled the various tarts he’d nicked from the table, finishing all of them before Eleanor had managed half her muffin.
“Well then”, he said, nestling himself into the chair. What’s on schedule today?”
Eleanor opened her mouth to reply. Peter hurriedly swallowed to interrupt, “Isn’t there a Quidditch game? Or at least a practice?”
James’ eyebrow arched more gracefully than even Sirius’s ever could. His wide spectacles only made the action more visible, magnifying the movement of every muscle.
“Don’t you pay attention to these things, Wormtail? We don’t play again until after the Christmas hols.”
A light flush rose up Peter’s cheeks. His eyes dropped to the rug. “Yeah, forgot.”
From the looks of it, these sorts of things happened a lot among the two of them. Eleanor noticed how they were not so comfortable together, not as much as they should have been for friends since first year. James was forced in his words and actions, exaggerating his haughtiness, even against his friend, in order to mask something else. And Peter was more nervous than he otherwise was. She remembered how he’d been willing to help her on the stairs the previous night, how he’d been more gentlemanly than Sirius.
Where was Remus?
She pushed herself out of the couch’s grasp and looked at the other chairs. Lily was at the portrait door, having just turned to answer someone’s question. The other girls were by the window, discussing their plans for the holidays. Other Gryffindors were spread around the room, playing games or studying or talking. It could have just been that Remus had gone to the library, where it seemed that Lily was going to look up some things for the Potions essay.
Yes, that sounded right. He was always going to the library, though she hadn’t seen him there. Not that she went to the library too much except for the odd time. And it was a large room, so chances were that you wouldn’t see everyone who was there. Sirius never went there.
Why was he staying up in his room? Moping? He did that a lot sometimes, just brooding about life in general. That faraway look would come into his eyes and she wouldn’t be able to get a word from him for a very long set of minutes. Or maybe he was still upset about yesterday and needed some time to himself.
“Eleanor? You dropped your muffin.” Peter’s voice drifted into her ears.
There were crumbs all over her lap. With hope, the blueberries hadn’t stained her robes.
One of the dormitory doors opened and footsteps came down the stairs. Neglecting her muffin, Eleanor sprang into the air, her heart lifting and eyes brightening. Yes, yes, it had
to be Sirius! She remained rooted to the floor, staring and waiting for him to appear.
The hair colour was dark enough, the height tall enough, but not quite. She flopped back down onto the couch, nearly making Peter fall off the other end. He made a face while James tried not to laugh, holding his belly with one hand while the other covered his mouth. It looked rather like he was in danger of throwing up his entire breakfast. Eleanor stared at her muffin on the floor and sighed as though the whole world could not heal the cleft growing within her heart. All her hopes were becoming banished with every moment that passed within him in her sight. It was a terrible greed, and she knew that she ought to just be thankful that he had bothered to speak with her in the first place, but she still needed more.
Once again, she leapt from her seat, shaking crumbs all over the rug.
“I’m going up to see him.”
James and Peter exchanged glances, then gaped at her.
Eleanor crossed her arms, taking a deep breath. “I will not wait for him any more.” She let each syllable fall off her tongue in just the right way. Tossing her head in the air, she nearly lost her spectacles, but the length of her hair must have made the action look very fetching.
Peter’s mouth had shaped itself into an O. Only James had the courage to speak.
“Are you really sure you want to do that, Eleanor?”
She frowned. “Why wouldn’t I be?”
James looked over at Peter, whose jaw dropped further. “You’re not thinking–” Peter managed to stammer.
“It’d be for the best.”
“I don’t like it when people go hysterical.”
Sinking deeper into the chair, James gave a half-shrug. “Might not happen.”
“How do you think Lily would react if you–” Peter stopped to bite his lip over the last word.
“You’ve got a point there.” James looked glum.
They sat in silence for a moment, leaving Eleanor to stand between them, looking very bewildered. Her eyes darted to one, then the other, then back again.
“What’s wrong?” she asked, her hands going cold.
James set up his expression to mirror Eleanor’s – his eyes were huge behind his spectacles.
“What, what? Is there something wrong?”
Peter put his head in his hands. “Prongs, don’t be such an arse.”
The glumness had gone from James’ expression; it rarely lasted long.
“I know I have
one, so how can I be
Eleanor pulled on the creases in her robes, then adjusted her glasses. Stupid boys. Could they not think in a straight line for more than two minutes? At least Sirius wasn’t like this. He, at least, had some sort of depth
“I’m going up.” She reminded herself of the broken phonograph in her grandmama’s house.
James frowned, some semblance of seriousness creeping into the set of his lips.
“If you want. We won’t stop you.” He glared at Peter, who had begun to rise, his mouth opening to object.
They both held the gaze for what seemed an eternity, arguing without saying a word. Eleanor wouldn’t have minded knowing that sort of silent telepathy. Would be a handy thing to know how to do.
“Fine.” Peter crashed back into the couch. Eleanor was glad that she wasn’t sitting on the other end. Her head might have touched the ceiling.
While Peter and James were glaring at each other, Eleanor slowly backed away.
“I’ll be off then. See you later.”
She felt their eyes upon her as she crept up the stairs to the boys’ dormitory. It was curious that girls were allowed up this stair, but boys were not permitted up to the girls’. Surely some of the girls would risk it to– No, probably not. Eleanor knew that she wouldn’t, not even to be with Sirius. Dormitories were hardly private places – everyone you roomed with would know everything about you before the end of a week, much less after spending all your years of schooling with them. At least, that was what it was like in her own dormitory. She had no idea if it would be the same or different when it came to boys. It was always hard to say how they were different.
First door, only six more. Two. Three. Four. She stopped for a moment to catch her breath – why in Merlin’s names were these towers so high? Five. Six. Here it was, a closed door.
Her hand hesitated, not quite touching the knob. Why was she stopping? What was there that caused this drop in her confidence and everything else that had, so far, fuelled her need for Sirius? Was it those noises from the other side of the door? Morgana’s bauble, what on earth could make noises like that
She blinked once. Then she took a deep breath, tasting the strange tang in the air.
Her fingers closed around the doorknob. No sense knocking, he was probably just reading a book or looking out the window or whatever sort of innocent thing he did when he closeted himself up here all alone. She leaned her arm against the door, feeling her muscles strain to push it open. Finally, it gave in under her pressure and moved inwards. The heat from the room hit Eleanor in the face and the sounds immediately grew louder. It was someone whispering and breathing hard, as though they’d just gone for a long run in the cold and had lost their voice.
Strange. She didn’t know Sirius to be the running type.
The room was rather more dark than she would have thought natural for this time of the morning, especially with the snow making everything more bright. Were the windows covered? That wouldn’t be a good idea if he was up here to read.
A dim lamp burning across the room. A flash of skin as it passed from behind the bed hangings. An arm reached out to turn down the lamp.
Eleanor stepped forward. “Hello? Sirius?”
The voice stilled. The bed moved as someone shifted upon it. Then silence.
She did not want to move aside the curtain. It was partially the politeness which had been instilled within her since childhood, perhaps infanthood, but there was something else too. Was it fear? The tiniest part of her had always been afraid of him and all his intensity. He was so much of a person that it could be hard to grasp just who Sirius Black was .
“Who is it?” Sirius’ voice came from behind the hangings. It was not a nice tone of voice.
Suddenly, Eleanor did not want to be there.
“Wormtail? Honestly, if you came up here for some stupid reason...?
Her eyes were on the floor. Just like the one in her dormitory. Well worn by many feet, stockinged, booted, and bare.
“No. It’s not him.”
Sirius groaned. “Eleanor.”
Not Ellie. Was her next breath to be a sigh of relief because the mask had finally fallen from his face?
There was another whisper. Not Sirius’ voice, but she could not tell anything other than that.
The seconds ticked past. Eleanor waited in the centre of the room, willing her feet to turn back towards the door.
“I can’t talk to you just yet, Ellie.”
No, of course he couldn’t.
“I’ll come down when I’m ready.”
She wasn’t stupid.
“Then we can talk about everything.”
Including the person in his bed?
The last two syllables grated on her ear. He couldn’t have cared less if it was alright with her, as long as the timing suited him. Maybe he’d have her waiting down there in the Common Room all day while he dillied and dallied with his bed-warmer. Of all the bloody blasted things he could have said, that one little word was the thing that topped it all off.
“No, it isn’t.”
Another bout of whispering, this time between the two of them. The second voice was a touch lower than she expected.
“Well I’m sorry, there’s no choice then.”
The skin on her cheeks flushed a bright scarlet, setting off her spots quite perfectly. Her short fingers curled into fists. Even her hair seemed to stand on end. There was something in her eyes behind the spectacles that, if Sirius had seen it, he might have considered changing his answer.
One of her feet went forward, followed by the other. Thump, thump her feet sounded on the floor. She was beside the opening of the bed hangings, her fingers slipping between the folds as they gripped the fabric and yanked it over. The brass rings at the top jingled, letting go in places as the hangings fell to the floor, but not falling so that they’d cover the two sitting on the bed. She saw them, and wished for Merlin’s sake that the bed hanging had used a lot more sense and fallen in a more tasteful manner.
She blinked, wishing that she could actually close her eyes completely.
Sirius’ eyes had never looked so wide before, so innocent yet guilty. He was more pale than she expected. Didn’t all the girls say that he had the most wonderful summer tan? Just another rumour, like everything had been. Yes, everything. Including all the things that people said about him, about them
. Bloody hell. And she had tried to think better of him, tried to understand that he was just troubled, not... not... not like this.
She was standing there, staring at them with an open mouth. Of course she had known; the knowledge had been inside her somewhere, hiding behind all the shadows of the love she thought she’d had for him. No, the love was still there. She still wanted to hear him say her name, touch her hand, smile at her. Yet, she wasn’t jealous either, maybe because this was what he wanted, was why he’d come to her needing her help.
He’d used her because she was stupid.
He knew that she was trustworthy?
She had seen it in the silent glance shared between Remus and Sirius, even between Peter and James, who knew the truth but dared not speak of it. They’d tried to protect her, tried to keep her away, but she was too damned naive to notice it through their jokes and sudden worried expressions.
Oh damn, damn, damn.
Why couldn’t he say
She had seen it in the slight touch of Remus’ hand on Sirius’ arm. More than friendly.
“I won’t tell anyone.” Idiotic words, but they were all she could bear to speak. Everyone else knew, anyways. She’d been the only one who hadn’t.
Sirius wouldn’t look at her. It was Remus that bothered to reply. “Thank you.”
The note of sincerity in his voice warmed her. He, at least, cared. He was the better of the two, the one more worthy.
She turned and left the room, closing the door with a snap behind her. Another door of life closing, never to be reopened. She did not wonder what they were doing now that she was gone. It would only make the guilt tear away at her heart.
Each step rose up to meet her feet as she trudged down to the Common Room. Peter was still there on the couch, staring into the fire as though waiting for a message through the Floo. No James, though. He’d probably gone off to follow Lily, not wanting to wait and watch the fun upstairs. Good man. Perhaps he had hope after all.
She took a seat beside Peter, not bothering to greet him. He didn’t bother to look up.
They sat there, doing nothing, looking empty.
Time passed. She began to wonder why he
was acting all quiet. She had a reason. What in Merlin’s name did he have?
The notes of a song came to her mind, floating through and noisily taking over. Somehow the song seemed to work, now. It fit who she was and what she’d always be.
All the lonely people, where do they all come from?
She didn’t realise that she’d sung them aloud until Peter turned to her, brow furled. But he remained silent, as though waiting for that next line.
All the lonely people, where do they all belong?
There was something in his blue eyes – not that bad of a colour, really – something that made her wonder....
Not a step down. More like a step across. Equals instead of worshipper and worshipped.
“I thought you didn’t like that song,” he said.
She could see her reflection in his eyes.
Another minute passed. The room was awfully quiet. She could hear him breathing.
“I think I like it now.” She could feel the smile growing on her face.
His face responded in kind.
Not a happy ending, but pretty damn close.
The two lines of lyric are from the Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby".
Thanks to everyone for their great support during this story. I couldn't have done it without all of you.