Chapter 33 : I See You, You See Me
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“. . .and finally, you give your wand a quick, smooth flourish,” squeaked Professor Flitwick from his position atop a pile of books, “like so.” He performed the movement so quickly, I didn’t see it. Well, that’s what I told myself so I would feel less guilty about falling asleep in his class.
Anyone who knew me (which wasn’t saying much) was aware that I was terrible at Charms. But as horrible as I was at performing the spells, I actually enjoyed the classes. Professor Flitwick was a very nice man, always willing to help his students when they asked for it. Of course, it took nearly failing three of my exams in a row for me to finally gather up the courage and ask Flitwick for help; his answer had been Remus Lupin. And we all know how that one turned out.
Insert eye roll here.
How come it seems that every bloke that’s shoved at me for academic purposes, I seem to fall for? And why, did it seem, that I had horrible timing, no matter what I did?
Unable to answer my own question, I wrapped my fingers around the handle of my wand and did as Flitwick asked: we were to mimic his movements without actually saying the incantation while he walked around the classroom and observed. Which meant that I was probably going to be getting a visit from the short, delightful man in just a few moments. I hated being invalid at Charms.
I shook my bangs out of my eyes and adjusted my grip on my wand. I was suppose to charm the clock in front of me to speak the time, rather than using my eyes to look at the face of it. To me, it seemed like such a silly bit of magic to use, but according to Flitwick, it was very important. When he had said it, I couldn’t help but get the feeling that he was looking at me. It wasn’t like I meant to trip over invisible surfaces when I sprinted off to class. Though I had yet to completely master the art of silent incantations, I was pretty well off. However, sometimes, such as now, I had to mumble the spell under my breath to get it right.
I threw a casual glance over each shoulder to make sure that Flitwick wasn’t in hearing distance. I scanned the room and saw that he was near another student across the room, assisting them. My shoulders heaved as I released a deep sigh. Squeezing my eyes shut, I swished my wand as I was instructed and muttered the incantation. I silently prayed to Circe that everything would go as it was supposed to. And naturally, it didn’t.
The clock that was supposed to verbally tell me the time was singing in a deep, baritone voice. It was speaking - or singing rather - in fluent Italian. And quite loudly, too.
I tried to shut the thing up, waving my wand at it sporadically and whispering a Silencing Charm, but every time I said it, the louder the damn clock crooned out its sorrowful tune. I pointed my wand at the clock and swished my wand again. Maybe if I repeated the spell, it would reverse the effects. I knew that I couldn’t have been further from the truth, as all spells had a Counter Spell, save for the Killing Curse, but it was worth a try. My voice began to grow in volume as I pointlessly waved my wand at the clock, heat rushing to my cheeks and pooling around my neck as I tried and failed to get the thing to shut up.
Finally, out of sheer frustration, I dropped my wand onto the surface of the desk and picked up the clock. I studied it for a few moments, wondering if there was an off switch. I knew it was unlikely, but I was more than willing to try anything to get it to be quiet. With a roll of my eyes, I began to shake the clock.
“Merlin, why won’t you shut the bloody hell up?” I shouted at the inanimate object, shaking it all the more furiously as its noise grew louder. I emitted a long, loud shriek of anger and threw the clock on the table. Rather hard, too. I heard the insides rattle, I noted with a satisfied smile, but the exterior was undamaged. At least, from what I could see.
I snatched up my wand again and pointed it at the clock, fully prepared to break the rules and use a bit of Transfiguration to make the clock stop producing noise. Before I could yell out the incantation that rested on the tip of my tongue, I heard Flitwick’s squeaky voice:
“Miss Briggs,” he said, though the tone which he adopted suggested he was questioning me rather than addressing me.
It was so quiet, I could practically hear the heartbeat of the student beside me. Oh fuck, not again!
I kept my eyes focused on the crooning clock in front of me, my fists clenching and unclenching at my sides. Maybe if I acted like this was a bad dream, I would wake up on the common room couch, a kink in my neck and that oddly familiar scent just a memory from the dream I’d had. As soon as I heard the peals of barely concealed laughter, however, I knew it was anything but a dream.
Nightmare was a more adequate phrase.
The sigh escaped me before I could help it. “Yes, Professor?”
The Hufflepuff at the desk next to me snorted and when my eyes snapped to him, he disguised it as a cough. Hm, I never knew I could be so menacing. The Voice chuckled at me, but thankfully didn’t say anything. I didn’t know if I could handle what the Voice had to say just now.
I didn’t even realize that Flitwick was at my elbow until he flicked his wand at the clock, shutting it up immediately. My shoulders sagged with relief, but I was a bit frightened of what the little man would say. Was I going to get another detention? I hoped not; I certainly didn’t fancy running into Sirius, which was a definite possibility considering how much trouble he got into.
“Are you - would you like to - er, need a bit of fresh air?”
I squeezed my eyes shut tightly and groaned. Great. I had done something so psychotic that even Professor Flitwick couldn’t speak around me. This was just wonderful. I wonder how long it will take for this little bit of news to get around the school. Oh yeah, that’s right. For students to actually talk about me, they’d actually have to know who I was. However, just because the idiots didn’t know my name didn’t mean that I was safe from their gossip. They could just say “You know that really weird girl with a rat’s nest for hair? Yeah, she totally fell off her rocker during Charms today” or they could just point very indiscreetly at me as I walked by. Which had been happening a lot as of late.
Eyes still shut, I nodded my head slowly, feeling like a complete asshole.
Flitwick’s sigh of relief was heavy and I found that it stung. “Oh good, I was hoping you would say that.”
I slung my bag over my shoulder and snatched up my belongings, not bothering o stuff them in the aforementioned bag as it would only take more time; I didn’t think I could handle the constant stares of my classmates for much longer.
X - - X
Twenty minutes later, I found myself down in the kitchens, sitting on a stool at one of the countertop islands. My elbows were perched on the ledge and a huge bowl of vanilla ice cream drenched with a hearty coating of chocolate sauce was settled in front of me. Iggy was sitting next to me, concern in her very round eyes.
“Is the Miss Briggs okey-dokey?” Iggy asked as I attempted to shovel another massive spoonful of ice cream into the mouth. I missed and hit my chin.
I shrugged my shoulders as I corrected my mistake, directing the spoon into my mouth. The metal scraped against my teeth and sent a chill roiling down my spine. I hated whenever that happened. I licked the spoon free of ice cream as I pondered how to answer Iggy’s question.
So far, I’d had an incredibly shitty day. Well, to be honest with you, it all began last night. After I’d gone downstairs to sleep on the couch in the common room, it was hard for me to get to sleep, and it only got worse after the Visitor. Though I didn’t know who the Visitor was, but their scent was so irritatingly familiar that I was literally driving myself mad trying to think of where I’d smelled the scent before. There was an image, but it was blurry around the edges. Too blurry to make out, which was just as frustrating.
Although, the Voice had argued with me for a good half hour or so that someone hadn’t even made an appearance, that I was making it all up to comfort myself, I knew someone had been in the same room as me, that someone had been in the common room while I was sleeping. I was aware that it sounded odd; hell, I thought it sounded odd that while I was submerged in my dreams, I had sensed the presence of another. The Voice could fight all it wanted; I know what I saw - or smelt, rather.
After the Visitor slinked away into the darkness and went about their rendezvous, I spent the next two hours trying to get back to sleep. Not only was the couch incredibly uncomfortable, but I could not sleep without knowing who it was. If there was anyone at all. However, I finally did get to sleep - an hour before dawn. Needless to say, the early risers sent me stomping up the spiral staircase in a severely grumpy mood. James and Remus took note of my sour disposition and, wisely, left me alone while I crammed food into my mouth and sloppily drank my pumpkin juice.
Then, there was the Charms Incident. I don’t think I need to detail that for you.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, as soon as I walked into History of Magic, more than a dozen fingers were pointed at me simultaneously. The whispering began. It took me all but a second to turn on my heel and high tail it out of there. There was no way I was going to stick around for lessons when I knew that people were going to be talking about me the entire time.
The only problem was that I didn’t even know if they were talking about the Charms Incident or the Disastrous New Years’ Eve party.
Setting my spoon down beside the bowl, I sighed. “I don’t know, Iggy. I have absolutely no idea how I could make things better.” I pushed a hand through my short hair. “What d’you think I should do?”
When I turned to look at the small elf, I saw that her eyes were even wider than usual. Her mouth hung open and I could just barely see the pink of her tongue. Her chest heaved with effort as she tried to catch her breath.
Apparently, she wasn’t used to being asked for her opinion. Which made sense, given that she was a house elf.
“The Miss Briggs is asking. . .asking Iggy what - what she thinks?” she managed to squeak out.
I nodded my head, idly picking up the spoon and searching for ice creams remains. I couldn’t find any and dropped the spoon onto the table. “Yeah, I’m asking you. Have you never been asked to give your opinion?” Even though I’d already answered my own question, I figured I could ask Iggy.
I was surprised with how quickly she nodded her head, her ears flopping back and forth. I imagined it couldn’t have been too pleasant, those massive ears smacking against the sides of her head.
She fidgeted with her tiny hands, her skinny fingers getting tangled in a complicated web. I stared at her curiously, waiting for her reply. She seemed to be calculating it in her head and I could see that glimmer of fear in her eyes.
It took longer than it should’ve for me to realize that she was scared. Scared to say the wrong thing in fear of me getting mad at her. Silly little elf.
“I promise I won’t get mad,” I added, a note of reassurance in my voice. “I promise.”
Iggy licked her lips anxiously and said in a very hesitant voice, “Iggy thinks that the Miss Briggs should tell the Mr. Black the entire story, the story that the Miss Briggs has just told Iggy.”
I felt the colour drain from my face as I stared at her, taking in her wide, apprehensive eyes and the cautious smile on her lips. “Merlin, I was afraid you were going to say that,” I muttered softly, slowly shaking my head.
Iggy’s eyes widened considerably. “Oh, the Miss Briggs! Iggy is so very sorry for not saying what the Miss Briggs wanted to hear! So very, very sorry!”
As quick as a flash, she hopped off her stool, promptly falling to the flagstone on her face. Before I could bend over and help right her, Iggy was hurrying over to the hearth. What little colour my face had been retaining had now vanished. She was going to throw herself into the flames!
“Iggy, no!” I cried, scrambling off my stool and running after the house elf. Well, attempting to run after her would have been a better and more correct way to phrase it. My ankle was wrapped around the leg of the stool and, having forgotten that bit, I pulled away from said stool too quickly. I fell flat on my face, hitting my china against the floor. My teeth rattled in my skull and it felt as though my brain had shifted. Blood began to pool in my mouth; I’d bit my tongue. Fantastic.
A groan escaped me before I could stop it and, instead of standing up, I crawled on all fours over to the hearth. Thankfully, Iggy hadn’t thrown herself into the flames. Unfortunately, she was smacking her forehead against the rough stone surface of the surrounding bricks.
“Stop it, Iggy!” I pushed myself to my knees and grabbed the house elf around the waist, yanking her away from the wall. She struggled furiously in my arms. I tightened my hold on her until her jerky movements slowed. “I’m not mad! I swear, I’m not mad at you! I just don’t want to face the truth!”
Iggy stopped wiggling. I stopped breathing.
It was as if time had been frozen in some weird, warped space/time continuum. Or something sort of like that. My chest felt like the weight of the world was resting on it one moment and the next, it all but vanished. My mind, which had been severely cloudy ever since the New Years party, was as clear as a spring morning. At least, as clear as a spring morning can get in England. It was as if someone as slapped me across the face with an open palm with every intention of making it hurt as much as possible.
Holy Mother of Merlin, that was it, wasn’t it? I didn’t want to face the truth, avoiding it like the Black Death or worse. The truth that I had more than just a small inkling of feelings for Sirius Black. That I was the very definition of a coward and didn’t have the slightest hint of a backbone. That I am an unbelievably pathetic person who needed the support of others to keep my sanity in check, for proof, see the Charms Incident.
I relinquished my hold on Iggy as though I’d been burned, both of falling back onto the cobblestone. As I lay on the floor, staring up at the ceiling, I breathed, “Oh shit.” My chest became lighter yet heavier at the same time. A realization like mine could do that to a person.
After awhile, I rolled over onto my side and spat the blood in my mouth onto the floor. I dragged my sleeve across my lips and pushed myself into a sitting position. Iggy was staring at me with a look that suggested I was off my rocker. Which I was. But so was she, so it really didn’t matter. Burying my hands in my hair, I realized - I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do.
X - - X
“. . .and then I heard her say ‘well, he’s just a right git, now isn’t he’, like she has the right to call me a git when she’s the one acting like an arse. It’s getting to be ridiculous, quite honestly. And I - Eleanor!”
At the sound of James’s sharp cry, I jerked my head in his direction, dropping the quill that was in my hand on the surface of the table.
We were in the library, attempting to study for the upcoming Transfiguration exam. Though I was all right at the subject, I’d asked James, who was a bloody genius in the course, to help me with some of the more complicated spells. While we’d practiced for over forty minutes, the conversation soon turned to Lily. Just like every conversation I’d partaken in with James had over the last three and a half weeks since we’d been back at Hogwarts.
“What?” I asked, hastily picking up the quill and scribbling down a useless note. Might as well make it look like I was doing something.
“Were you even listening to me?” He was giving me a measured look, one eyebrow raised.
Damn him and his ability to raise a singular eyebrow, I growled inwardly, wishing to drive the tip of my quill through his hand. You would’ve thought I just punted his puppy over a bridge or something, the look he was giving me.
“Yes,” I replied, somewhat exasperated. “I was.” I shifted in my seat, hoping that my lie wasn’t as obvious as I thought it was. “Now can you help me with this-,”
“What’d I say then?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“If you were listening, Eleanor,” James began. “Then you’d be able to paraphrase what I just said to you. So, if you please.” He made a fluttery motion with his hand. It was almost like he was shooing me or something. . .
Wetting my lips, I tried to think of a plausible reply. He had obviously been talking about Lily and how annoying she was being, as that was all he ever talked about anymore, so I could basically reiterate every single one of our conversations in the past twenty four hours.
“You said that Lily called you a name and that she is the one acting like the arse, not you.” I took a shot in the dark and by Circe, I hoped I was right.
His accusing look faltered and his shoulders relaxed. “Oh,” he muttered, obviously disappointed that I’d guessed right. “You were listening.”
“Of course I was,” I said, reaching across the table and grabbing his hand in a comforting gesture. “I would never tune you out.”
His laugh was full of doubt, but he patted my hand briefly before slipping his own out from under my palm. “So,” he began, shaking his shaggy hair out of his eyes. “What’d you need help with?”
I scooted my chair around the table so that I was closer to him, mentally sighing to myself for being right in my guessing. I don’t know what James would’ve done if I guessed wrong. Well, he would probably make me suffer through another one of his long-winded rants about the fiery redhead and I would, of course, tune him out again. It was just a vicious circle, really, and Merlin I wanted out of it as quickly as possible. I wasn’t a big fan of circles.
Pulling my book across the table, I situated it so that it was open between James and myself. With a lazy finger, I pointed to the spell. James’s eyes widened considerably as he saw the incantation I was having difficulty with. He adjusted his glasses on the bridge of his nose.
“Wow, you really want to learn how to do that?” he inquired, his tone incredulous.
I shot him a look. “Way to make me feel like an idiot, James,” I murmured under my breath. Rolling my eyes in annoyance, I continued, “No, I don’t want to learn how to do it. I just need to know the basics of it.”
“What don’t you understand?”
I combed my fingers through my hair, ready to tear my fringe out of my skull. “I don’t understand how it can be considered Transfiguration when there’s a potion involved. Honestly, it doesn’t make the slightest sense, this Animagus shit.”
“A potion, you say?” His brow furrowed in confusion as he spoke. James pulled the book toward him and leaned over it, his eyes quickly scanning the text and absorbing. “That’s weird.”
“What is?” I questioned, resting my chin in the curve of my hand.
“The potion bit.” He was absolutely absorbed in the book now, his voice almost feather light as his eyes took in the information. The wrinkle in his brow deepened. “We didn’t need to use a potion when we-,” he stopped suddenly. He tore his eyes away from the page and looked into my face to see if I’d heard him. I had.
“What do you mean ‘we’? What are you talking about?”
“It’s nothing, Eleanor,” he responded, a bit too hastily for my liking.
“James, I know when I’m being lied to,” I began.
“So I do,” he shot back. “I knew you weren’t listening earlier, but since you guessed good enough, I dropped it.” He flashed me a quick smile before his face turned serious again. “Trust me when I say that it’s nothing, Eleanor.”
“Why do you keep using my name?” It was starting to get suspicious.
“I do?” James sounded generally surprised. “Hmm,” he mused aloud. “I guess I have been. Sorry about that. But really, it was nothing.”
“Can’t you just tell me what happened? It’s not like I have anyone to tell as Remus probably already knows,” I said, hoping that my argument was a good one.
Sadly enough, it was true. After all that had happened over the recent weeks, the only friends I had left were James and Remus. Hell, Iggy would hardly look at me any more in fear that I would ask for her opinion again and all but tackle her to the floor. I’d be cautious of me, too, if that’d happened.
I stuck my lip out in a pout. “Pretty please?”
James stared at me unblinkingly for a few moments. I saw something sparkle in his hazel eyes, like he really did want to tell me what had happened. But there was also a guarded look in his eyes, like he didn’t want to tell me the story because it wasn’t entirely his to tell. Finally, the guarded glimmer receded and he sighed.
“Fine, I’ll tell you.”
I clapped my hands like a giddy child and pushed the book away from both of us.
James laughed. “You’re acting like it’s story time or something.”
“It sort of is,” I said, smiling. “Anyway, on with it! No distractions, mister.”
He rolled his eyes good-naturedly and licked his lips, just like any good story teller does right before diving head first into an exciting tale. “A few summers ago, Sirius, Peter and I made an attempt to become Animagus,” he said simply.
I blinked. “Is that all?”
“Yep, that’s it. I told you it wasn’t that big of a deal, Ella.” He shook his head to himself, laughing softly as he began to gather his things.
“Well, that’s no fun. I was expecting a long and exciting Marauder’s tale. Like the ones Sirius used-,” I stopped myself, my eyes widening.
James whipped his head in my direction so fast, I thought he received whiplash. He seemed okay, though his eyes, like mine, looked as though they were going to pop out of his skull. He seemed just as surprised as I was that I’d said his name out loud. I’d been saying it in my head for weeks now, but when it came to conversation, I always referred to Sirius as ‘that one bloke’ or, worse yet, him.
I didn’t say anything as I snapped my Transfiguration book shut and shoved it into my bag. James followed suit, pretending that I hadn’t just randomly blurted out the name that I had been refusing to say for nearly an entire month. Pathetic, me? No way!
We were halfway out of the library doors when I turned around abruptly and said - well, more like ordered, really - through gritted teeth, “Don’t tell Remus about this.”
James halted, his chest brushing against my extended index finger. Alarm was engraved in his face and he cocked his head to the side. “Why not? It’s not like it has anything to do-.” James stopped in the middle of his sentence and his eyes sparkled with recognition and understanding. “Oh, you don’t-,”
“James!” I hissed, throwing looks over my shoulder. Luckily, no one was looking at us. Really, there was no one else in the library. Thank Merlin. “Say it louder, will you!”
He put his hands up in the air. “What! I didn’t say a single thing.” A smirk twitched at the corners of his mouth. “Yet.”
James slipped out of the library door before I could grab the hem of his shirt. A squeak escaped me as I squeezed through the narrow crack provided by the double doors. I had to suck in my stomach to fit, but once I did, I marched down the corridor after James, who thought it funny to run as fast as he possibly could. Cursed Grindelwald, I was going to murder him!
X - - X
Lucky for me, James didn’t go running to Remus. He had actually sprinted down the corridors to the Great Hall, where dinner was waiting for him. I guess we lost track of time while we were studying in the library and his stomach reminded him of his previous arrangement.
To say that I was thankful it was the weekend just wouldn’t suffice. I was ecstatic that I could relax and maybe, just maybe, get a decent night’s sleep. Though I had started sleeping in the dormitory a little over two weeks ago, I still couldn’t get a sound night of sleep. My roommates dreamed, but I stared at the ceiling for an hour or two before slowly easing into unconsciousness, only to wake up several minutes later when the nightmares started. The previous weekend, I took three naps over the course of twelve hours and, for some reason, in daylight, I was able to sleep without dreams ruining my state of semi-unconsciousness.
But that would have to wait for later. Now, there was a massive pile of homework for me to tackle. I threw a longing glance over at Lily’s bed, which was vacant. If I could avoid it, the only times I came up to the room was to sleep and to gather my books for my lessons. Other than that, I was missing in action. If anyone was concerned about me, none of them voiced it. Not that I was expecting them to do so.
Things had reverted to how they used to be and quite honestly, I didn’t see why I wasted anymore energy being upset over it. The way I saw it, there was no going back to the way things were now. I had screwed up big time and because of it, I was paying the consequences.
At least I still had James and Remus. The latter name made my stomach plummet. Over the past few weeks, Remus had started to get attached. Clingy, almost. When we were around each other, he would reach for my hand and hold it within his own, even if I didn’t want him to hold my hand. It must’ve been an instinct reaction or something like that. I mean, he wouldn’t do something when I didn’t want it to be done, would he? He let go of my hand when I pulled it from his grip, but now that I thought of it, he did always seem reluctant. . .
I glanced down at my hand and sighed. The tingles that would’ve accompanied the thought of him, Remus Lupin, holding my hand no longer surfaced. It was a small fizzle, if that, and I felt horrible for it. Remus was, in short, perfect. He liked me for who I was. He was forgiving, extremely kind, smart, and a great kisser. Not that the latter mattered. And I’d fancied him for nearly three years! Then, out of nowhere, all of the feelings I possessed for him vanished. I would say that I didn’t know why they suddenly disappeared, but I would be lying. I knew exactly why I didn’t feel anything aside platonic feelings toward Remus and it was because of his best friend.
The boy I wasn’t supposed to associate with in the first place. The boy with the clearest eyes and most endearing smile. The boy with a laugh that warmed me so thoroughly, it spread from my very centre to my toes in a matter of seconds. The boy I might just love.
I closed my eyes at the last thought and, with a soft sigh, slammed the book that was situated on my lap shut. I fell back onto my bed, my legs still folded Indian style. My back screamed in protest, but I ignored it.
Merlin. I was just as clueless as I had been in the kitchens with Iggy. The problem was I knew what I had to do, I just didn’t want to do it. I didn’t want to break Remus’s heart and tell him that I did not feel the same way that he felt about me. He would be confused and, worse yet, heartbroken. That is if he even fancied me anymore.
To make matters worse, I would lose him as a friend. And I certainly did not want that. Worse case scenario was that James would go right along with him and there I’d be, back in Square Numero Uno, a place I didn‘t wish to be ever again. Not that I wasn’t already mentally preparing myself for such happenings.
It was kismet. Fate. Destiny. It was whatever you want to call it, I had a strong inkling that it was going to happen.
A light weight settled on my chest. Great, it was back again. The feeling of guilt and self resentment that had been following me around since New Years. Bloody fantastic. This was the last thing that I needed at the moment. I was about to roll over onto my stomach to see if I could shift the weight, to see if I could make it less heavy when a soft mewing met my ears.
Oh thank Circe, it was Cappa.
Cracking one eye open, I found myself face to face with my kitten, who’d grown an alarming amount in the past month. With a paw, he gave an affectionate swat as my face. I rolled my eyes softly and I scooted up the bed, pushing myself onto my elbows.
“Hey little guy,” I cooed, scratching him behind the ears. “Sorry I haven’t been a very good owner as of late. I’ve been way stressed.” He nuzzled my hand and I smiled. “So you’ve forgiven me, eh?” He purred and, once again, I smirked. “Well, that’s good. I don’t know what I would do without my best furry friend.” Tipping my head downward, I placed a kiss on the crown of his head.
I laid back down on my bed, shifting the pillows around beneath my head, and stared up at the bit of ceiling that peaked through the top of my four poster. While I gazed and wallowed in my self pity, I stroked Cappa from head to tail absentmindedly. His body contorted to the curve of my hand each time I pet him and I found a faint smile playing at my lips. The sad thing was, this was the most I’ve smiled in days.
My fingertips found the small shell behind his pointed ears and lightly scratched the spot. Cappa gave a loud purr of appreciation and pushed his head into my palm. I obligated his demand, a soft snicker shaking my chest.
“You wouldn’t leave me, would you, Cappa?” I asked as I idly smoothed out his sleek mane of hair.
As if he’d been waiting for me to ask that particular question, he leapt off my stomach and onto the floor. He meandered his way toward the door, his tail sticking straight up in the air.
I expelled a deep breath, swirling my fringe around my forehead. “Well, I guess I know the answer to that,” I muttered to myself, falling back down on my bed again.
A few seconds of hollow silence past before, “The answer to what?”
A shriek escaped me and, in my fright, I scrambled myself up in the mess of sheets and homework splattered across my bed. Chest heaving, I took several deep breaths to steady my racing pulse. I could hardly see, for my hair was smothering my face. I shook it out and tucked the stray strands behind my ears. To my immense surprise, Lily was standing in the doorway with an all-too-content looking Cappa in her arms.
Damn kitten. I would lose everyone to her, wouldn’t I?
However, upon closer inspection, I noted that there were grey circles under her emerald green eyes, which were bloodshot. Her dark red hair was piled on the top of her head in a makeshift ponytail that swayed from side to side when she moved. Her jumper was a dull pink and clashed horribly with her hair. I didn’t say anything though, just nervously tucked my hair behind my ears.
“Nothing,” I muttered softly. “I was just-,”
“Talking to yourself again?” she finished for me. The smile on her lips was tight, hesitant. “You do that a lot.”
I felt my face harden and my stomach dropped. So much for trying to play nice. “Look, if you came up here to make fun of me, I would appreciate it if you got over with it quickly. I have homework that needs to be completed.”
. . .
Whoa, did that just come from me? Cool. Eleanor one, Lily Evans, zilch. Let’s see how long the score stayed that way.
Her smile vanished all too quickly and I imagined she mirrored my expression. “Sorry for trying to be civil, Briggs,” she hissed, stalking across the room toward her bed. As she walked past, she set my cat down on my trunk at the foot of my mattress.
Civil? She wanted to be civil after all of the rubbish she’d put me through? Was she crazy?
“Are you insane?” I blurted before I could help myself.
She stopped mid-stride and slowly turned toward me. I wasn’t going to lie, a cool chill crept up my spine and settled at the base of my neck, making the hairs stand on end. Good Merlin, I knew there was a reason why I never wanted to piss off Lily Evans; she was positively frightening!
I swallowed nervously. Oh boy, this wasn’t good. How could I be chickening out when I was the one who ‘started it’ in the first place? Dear Sweet Circe, I am a pathetic human being.
“I said, are you insane?” For some reason, my voice was stronger when I pushed myself up into a sitting position. I guess I felt more vulnerable while laying down. “You want me to be civil with you when it was you who has been treating me like rubbish for the past month!? I’m sorry for jumping to the conclusion that you were poking fun of me because you don’t already do it enough with fucking Marlene and Leanne!”
Oh no. I was shouting now. And cursing. Shit.
The look on Lily’s face could only be described as shocked. Her mouth was open and her eyes wide, like she hadn’t been expecting to elicit such a response from me.
“No!” I said. Or shouted, rather. Eek, if I screamed any louder, I would draw attention. It was only a matter of seconds before footsteps began to pound up the stairs. Girls were such nosy people. “I’m not finished yet! You can’t just expect me to act nicely to you because you’re being nice to me. Do yourself a favour and save your energy - I don’t give a damn and most certainly do not wish to hear anything you have to say, no matter how ‘civil’ it may be.”
“Oh, don’t ‘Eleanor’ me!” Man, I was ploughing right through this confrontation, wasn’t I? “We’re not mates anymore; you made that damn well clear when you sent my belongings to the Potters’ home after the party. Do you know how humiliating it is to ask someone you’ve just met if you can stay at their house because your mate - oh, excuse me, exmate - kicked you out of their house!”
“That’s right, you don’t! You don’t have a bloody clue what it’s like being alone, without any friends for years!” I closed the distance between us, so that we were only a metre or so apart. “You’ve had mates all your life, Lily. I’ve only just acquired my own, so excuse me for exercising a little caution as to the potentially harmful things I tell them. I may be sorry for not going to Sirius right away, but I’ll tell you one thing that I’m not sorry about. I am in no way sorry for not telling you. You’re just a bossy,” I poked her in the chest, “pushy,” I placed my hands on her shoulders and gave her a rough shove, “bitch who expects the best out of people when you aren’t even as good as a mate as you claim to be!”
Lily grabbed my wrist and returned the shove I’d given her. I stumbled backward until I hit the post of my bed. A brief lick of pain vibrated in the back of my head, but I swallowed the pain.
“At least I tell the truth!” she countered. “You have absolutely no idea how hurt Sirius is that you didn’t tell him. He thought you were his friend. Friends don’t keep secrets from each other.”
“It wasn’t my damn secret to tell!” I yelled, my face and neck blazing hot like my anger. “And maybe I would have the slightest inkling as to how he feels if you actually responded to my attempts to talk to you. To reason things out.”
Her jaw clenched, her nostrils flared. “I wasn’t ready for that.”
“It’s not Potions mixing, Lily!” I felt like ripping out my hair. “I took the first step to try to fix this, but you kept pushing me away. And now that you’re ready to make things right, you think I’m just going to sit back like a good, obedient puppy and listen to what you have to say?” I shook my head. “I am not like that anymore. I am not a pushover and I certainly won’t be bossed around by a hypocrite! Get off your damn high horse and stop acting like your shit doesn’t reek!”
I shoved away from the bedpost and stalked toward the door, all but ripping it off the hinges. When I tried to step out into the stairwell, I was shocked to see that no less than seventeen girls were on the steps, surprised looks on their faces. They’d obviously been listening at the door. Great. This was just great. It’s not like I needed something else for others to talk about.
Pushing my way through the mess of girls, I clambered down the stairs, nearly tripping over my feet when I reached the foot of the stairs. I wasn’t as surprised to see that the students in the common room were wearing equal looks of astonishment. However, I did see two smirking faces. And at the moment, they were the only ones I wanted to see. I jerked my head toward the portrait hole, hoping that they would be able to translate the message.
Thankfully, they did and I scurried over to the exit, snaking my way through the people who stood there, stunned. Well, I couldn’t blame them. In all my years on earth, I think that was not only the most I’d ever said in one gush of air, but also the only time I’ve ever stood up for myself.
X - - X
I don’t know how we made it out to the Quidditch pitch, but we did. Once we fled the common room, James assumed the role of leader, as per usual, Remus and I following behind him like diligent little soldiers marching after their captain. I was silent as we walked to the field, wondering why we were going out to the field. Until it hit me that it was the first place that James would probably go when he was angry. Not that I’d ever seen him angry before. I glanced at Remus to see if he felt the same as I did. If he was confused, he didn’t show any signs of it.
Since my strides were nowhere near as long as either of them, I practically ran to keep up with the pair, especially when we hit the downward slope of the hill. I nearly tripped half a dozen times as I trekked down the slope, muttering darkly under my breath. It wasn’t bad enough that I was already pissed off, but the fact that I couldn’t even walk down a hill without screwing up incensed me even more.
We continued marching down the occasionally travelled path, a path I’d taken a few months ago to attend my second ever Hogwarts Quidditch match. Something tugged at my heart; it wasn’t painful, but at the same time, it wasn’t all that enjoyable. I surmised that it was the memory of the day, a day that had been both good and bad. Though I couldn’t imagine what’d been bad about that day.
When the toe of my shoe snagged on one of the rickety, wooden steps, I promptly fell down to my knees, skinning my kneecaps against the prickly wood. Closing my eyes, I ground out, “Fuck!” And I said it quite loudly, too.
James and Remus stopped walking to see what was wrong. Neither of them so much as cracked a smile when they saw me like they would’ve done, given a completely different circumstance. They knew that I was about to break, that I’d already begun to crack and was on the tip of the iceberg, as the saying goes. It was only a matter of time before the initial meltdown process began and I fell off my rocker officially.
Remus hurried down the stairs to help me up. Holding out his hand, he wiggled his fingers slightly. It was a welcoming, warm gesture, though I could hardly appreciate it when I was so livid. I wrapped my fingers around his, squeezing much harder than necessary as I pulled myself to my feet.
“You all right?” His brow was creased with concern. Unnecessary concern, I found myself adding.
I shrugged my shoulders. “I’ve been better.” Placing a hand on his arm, I pushed around him and began to traipse up the stairs, much more cautious than I was before. The cool air stung as it bit into the freshly torn skin on my kneecaps and every time I lifted my leg to take another step, the skin ripped even more. I bit into my cheek to keep from crying out in pain, though the tears in my eyes would have given me away, had James or Remus been paying the slightest bit of attention to me.
Abruptly, James stopped and threw himself, quite gracefully, I might add, down onto one of the bleachers. I hadn’t realized how far we’d climbed until I noted how much cooler the air was up here. The faint breeze that had stirred my skirt around my knees was much stronger, sending shivers up and down my spin. I tried to ignore it the best I could as I felt Remus come up behind me and slip past to lower himself down on the bleachers beside James.
I was panting for breath, but they were perfectly fine, their chests rising and falling steadily. Biting back bitter thoughts, I placed my hands on my thighs, just above my skinned and bleeding knees to gulp down some air. The air stung my lungs, sharp, almost like a knife point. Had I really worked so hard to climb up the stairs?
“Merlin,” I said, lowering myself down onto one of the seats, a row below James and Remus. “I’m in terrible shape.”
Both of the boys laughed, James louder than Remus. My eyes flickered over to his face and I saw that the line of his mouth was tight, his eyes guarded, and his general expression was sombre. My stomach seized up with panic, but I did my best to swallow it with another breath of air.
“You’re not in terrible shape,” James said, still chuckling, though it seemed a bit more forced than his usual laughter. “I’m just in much better.”
To add emphasis to his joke, he rubbed his hands over his chest in an arrogant matter, which made me laugh softly. I would’ve laughed harder, if not for the bitter taste in my mouth. James was trying to distract me, to calm me down before I started seething again. The thought made me clench my fists in fury and bit my tongue to prevent from speaking out.
Gee, I never realised how much anger could change a person’s perceptive. I could see now why he, Sirius, didn’t want to listen to my reasoning behind my betrayal - he was too caught up in his anger to care about anything else. Something clamped around my heart; I vaguely recognised it as pity or sympathy, rather. Yes, I could sympathise with Sirius on this issue, now that I was mad enough to actually reach the same level of rage as he had.
“So,” Remus said after a considerable stretch of silence. “What happened?”
James sniggered. “Way to be blunt, Moony.” He shook his head to himself, obviously caught up in a bout of amusement.
“I’m always blunt when the point needs to be reached,” supplied Remus almost defensively. With a small shake of his head, he turned his gaze back toward me. The melted chocolate gaze that used to make my heart pump furiously, now it only trembled, reminding me of the guilt that I felt when it came the boy in front for me. He didn’t deserve a friend like me. Not at all.
No one did.
“So, I repeat: what happened?”
The intensity of his stare was too much. I broke my eyes away from his, focusing them on a piece of splintered wood. My fingers found a small gorge in the wood and circled it slowly.
“I-I don’t really know,” I said, my voice weak, trembling. I could feel the tears gathering in my eyes, but they were no longer a side effect of the pain shooting up my knees. Great Circe, I must’ve done quite the number on my knees if they were still hurting. Sucking a deep breath of air, I continued, “I was just sitting upstairs in the dorm. You know, playing with Cappa and talking to myself. And then she came into the room. I-I really dunno. She made a comment about something I said to Cappa,” I licked my lips, looking into the hazel eyes of James Potter. “I wouldn’t have yelled at her if I knew she wasn’t aiming to take the mickey out of me.” My voice had a desperate note to it, as though I was begging James to understand my inconsiderate behaviour toward the girl he loved. “It’s just that I’ve seen the way she acts around Marlene and Leanne. It’s almost like they were, er, rubbing off on her or something like that. I really thought that she was just commenting to make me angry; almost everyone knows I wouldn’t harm a fly. But-,”
“You just snapped?” Remus offered.
I nodded dejectedly, looking down at the singular hand in my lap. The other was still tracing the faint outline of the knot in the wood. “Yeah,” I muttered. “I just snapped.”
“What happened next?” James pressed, his tone light, though guarded.
I shrugged. “I just went off on her. I told her that she had no right to expect me to act civil toward her when she’s been treating me like a leper. Well,” I added, “I didn’t say it like that, but it was close to it. In fact, it probably would’ve been better had I gone that route opposed to just yelling at her to get rid of some of the anger and frustration I felt-,”
“We get it, Eleanor,” Remus cut in. “Continue.”
I took another deep, steadying breath. I could feel that my cheeks were hot, not with shame, but with a newfound anger. I’d never felt so angry in my life.
“I s-shoved her,” I stuttered. “And not just a small push, but an actual shove. She was knocked off balance and was sort of surprise, you know. Then she started yelling at me, basically calling me a liar since I didn’t tell S-Sirius. And she told me that he was miserable - that I was the source of his misery and-,”
“Wait!” James interrupted. “She called you a liar?”
I bobbed my head. “Yeah, she did. But I can see where she’s coming-,”
“No, Ella,” he continued, rage coating his words. “She had no right to call you out! You’re not a liar for being concerned about your friend’s feelings!”
“But - if you look at it from her perceptive-,”
“Eleanor.” This time it was Remus. “You can’t let her influence you like that. She’s trying to make you feel guilty.”
I laughed hollowly, shaking my head in disbelief. “No,” I said, my voice assured. “Lily wouldn’t do that. I mean, she might be angry with me, but she wouldn’t purposely try to feel guilty.” I turned my eyes toward James, my brows raised. “Would she?”
He considered it for a moment, his expression perplexed. His brow creased in concentration as he thought of the possibility of his Lily being an unfair, manipulative person. I could understand why he was reluctant to accept the fact that she could be like that. I understood because that was how I felt about her. Lily had been one of the best mates I’d ever had in my life. She wouldn’t knowingly do that to me.
“No,” James finally said, his voice low. “Not Lily.”
A breath of relief escaped me as my shoulders slumped. I was suddenly very tired.
“Are you bloody serious!?” Remus shouted, leaping to his feet. “Of course Lily was guilt tripping her! Why else would she have said she was the ‘source of Sirius’s misery’. I haven’t seen him looking all that torn up about what happened! The way Eleanor said that Lily said it, you’d think that they were more than just mates, which is ridicul-,”
When he caught sight of the expression on my face, he stopped. I didn’t even realise that I’d stood up and my hand was extended toward him, my fingertips brushing against his arms. He studied my face for a long minute. Then, he started to slowly shake his head.
“No,” said Remus, his head moving from side to side. “No, it couldn’t have happened.”
“Remus.” I tried to grab a fist of his shirt, but he jerked his arm out from underneath my touch, like I had burnt him.
“We were - you wouldn’t - no. Ella, you wouldn’t do something like that. Not you.” He bit his lip, an apprehensive expression settling on his face as though he were considering the possibility. “I could see him doing it, true enough. In fact, he’s done it before. That’s how he got with Lucinda. But you - when he knew how I felt about you?”
My mouth quivered. My legs shook beneath me. “Please, Remus - let me explain-,”
“You need a chance to explain?” Remus released a loud, howl-like laugh. “So something did happen between you and Sirius? Something more than just friendship!”
A tear rolled down my cheek. “It wasn’t on purpose. I fancied you, Remus. Really, I did. For years, if you want me to be honest with you. And-,”
“You fancied me?” He licked his mouth. “Does that mean you no longer fancy me? That you’ve just been appeasing me, letting me take your hand when we walk down the corridors and kiss you when you-,”
“I’m sorry, Remus!” I was screaming again, only I sounded a lot more hysterical than before. It took a few tears landing on my arms before I realized I was crying. Well, sobbing, really. “I didn’t mean for it to happen! It just did!”
“So you think that explains it? That suddenly your behaviour is excusable?” He laughed again, a hollow sound that felt course in my ears. I didn’t like it, but I was source behind it. “I can believe that Sirius would do something about it; he’s never been good with controlling his feelings, but you are actually telling me that you reciprocate his feelings?”
Slowly, I nodded, my chest heaving and shoulders shaking. “Yes,” I said, my voice just barely above a whisper.
“You could’ve just told me to back off! I would’ve stopped holding your hand and maybe, I would’ve understood why you were so upset. You know, I actually thought that you were depressed because of something I did! And here, I was ready to apologise to you for something I didn’t even do, that I’m not even responsible for.”
Remus made a noise of disgust, turning on his heel, his back toward me. I stared hard down at my feet, the sound of his angry footsteps like Muggle bombs as he clambered down the stairs, cursing to himself and to the night. Eventually, the wind carried away his cursing and angry mutterings until I couldn’t hear him at all. He must have made it back to the castle or was well on his way.
My heart was barely beating, too absorbed in keeping the solid feeling of misery pumping through my veins. My chest was compressed, heavier than it had been since the New Years Eve Party. It was hard to breathe. Hard to think, really. I felt like I was the worst person on the planet and to be honest, I was. I was a hideous person, toying with the emotions of a boy that was already fragile. I just didn’t realise how fragile he was until tonight.
A hand settled on my shoulder, warm and comforting. Brotherly, almost. I reached up and placed my hand over James’s, squeezing his fingers tightly. “You know,” I muttered, “you don’t have to stay here with me. He’s your mate - he’s going to need some consoling. More than I do.”
“Eleanor, I’m not going to leave you.”
“You should, though,” I replied. “He’s been your friend longer than I have.”
I tore my hand away from his and spun around so that I was facing him. “Just go, James. Please, it would make me a feel a lot better.” The lie actually sounded convincing coming from my mouth.
“If you’re sure. . .”
I nodded and with a regretful, sad smile, he loped gracefully down the steps, going to console the friend that would eventually turn him away, as soon as he learned that James knew what was going on between Sirius and I the entire time.
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