Chapter 8

Chapter 7

I'm sitting in Potions and Severus won't stop staring at me. This should be a dream come true, right? Maybe it would be if he were actually looking at me, rather than glaring at me. His black eyes seem cold and fiery at the same time, and it is disconcerting to say the least. I am torn; part of me wants to look back at him and take in his sexy smoldering stare, but the other half of me just wants to duck away and hide from the accusations I see behind the stare. I focus back on my potion, mentally kicking myself for my weakness.

Sluggy smiles and claps me on the back when he peers into my cauldron and sees that my blood replenishing potion is correct. "Excellent Eleanor!" he beams as Evans looks up towards me, surprised. I pretend that my notes have suddenly become the most interesting thing in the world and read them with the concentration of a great literary scholar. I can't keep up this avoidance much longer, I know that. Despite my pretending these past few weeks, I am far from stupid. After this class, it is time for dinner, and then my second session of tutoring, where there will be no escaping the redheaded elephant in the room, so to speak. Maybe I should just not show up. It isn't required per se, so it isn't like I could be punished for skipping it…but I am sure Saint Lily would tell Sluggy and then he'd read me the riot act, or worse, give me one of his patented guilt trips.

A sigh escapes my lips as the chime sounds and I gather my things more slowly than even remotely necessary, waiting for everyone to clear out before I stand up to leave. The last thing I need right now is an awkward confrontation. I've made it to the door! I am home free! I feel a quick jab on my upper arm…shite! So close! I turn and gave a disgruntled look to Cass, who I knew was the point of origin of the jab.

"Oh no, no, no," she immediately warns. "You're not running up to the dorm and skipping out on dinner again."

"Cass," I plead, giving her my best puppy dog eyes.

"Nice try, but I'm immune to your puppy dog eyes." Shite! Now what? "You are coming to dinner Ellie! No arguments! You've missed three meals this week; it isn't good for you."

"Neither is being the laughing stock of the school," I grumble as she pulls me towards the Great Hall.

"You aren't a laughing stock. If anything, Yaxley is for getting beaten up by a girl. You're just…interesting."

"Gee, that's reassuring. I believe what you mean to say is, I'm frightening, or hated, or weird," I suggest with false helpfulness.

"So what? You've always been weird. It never bothered you before."

"I know, but paired with frightening and hated it isn't as easy to deal with. And on top of all this shite, I have to go to tutoring with Lily tonight," I complain as I mock the adoration Sluggy always has when he says her name.

Cassie chuckles and tries to stifle it, earning a death glare from me. "Sorry, but you have to admit, it's pretty funny. You concoct this grandiose plan to spend time with Severus, and instead you get stuck spending time with his crush instead!"

I'm glaring at her and growling, waiting for her to notice and cower.

"Nice growl, Bradford," a haughty laughing baritone belts out behind me. I turn and see the steely gray eyes of Sirius Black. "Are you part werewolf?" he asks with a wink.

"Are you part bloodhound?" I retort in exasperation, flinging my hands up into the air. "How do you bloody Gryffindors keep finding me? Ugh!"

Sirius laughs at my frustration, his long soft black curls bouncing as his body slightly shakes. "Close," he affirms as he leans near my ear and whispers the rest, "I'm a Utonogan."

"At least you admit that you're a dog," I reply without missing a beat. He tilts his head slightly to the side, just as a dog would do, as if to illustrate the veracity of my statement. A pleased grin appears on his face and a nearly predatory look flashes in his eyes. Wow, and I thought I was weird!

"Well played. I'm impressed you even know what an Utonogan is," he says with that damn smile still on his face, but at least he's backed away from my freaking ear. I was seriously contemplating hitting him for that one.

"Ravenclaw, remember?" I say with a haughty air of my own. Two can play this game, Black.

"How could I forget? Intelligence is very sexy," he purrs in a suggestive tone that might have made me weak in the knees if I wasn't sure he used that tone on every bird in the school, and if I didn't hate his stinking guts.

"I guess that explains your utter lack of sex appeal then," I toss out coolly. Out of the corner of my eye I see a shocked look appear on Cassie's face.

Black lets out a barking, short laugh, tossing his head back with its force. "Touche!" he exclaims. "Miss Bradford," he goes on to say with a refined aristocratic air and a low bow, "it has been a supreme pleasure verbally sparring with you. I look forward to our next encounter." With that, he finally leaves, sauntering down the hall, filled to the brim with self-assurance and arrogance.

"Ugh!" I scoff, turning back towards Cass. Her eyes are large and her mouth is still hanging open a bit. "What?" I ask, perplexed.

"Sirius Black was flirting with you!" she squeals in an octave that surely would have made his head explode if he were still here and actually were a canine.

"Oh, Merlin, don't tell me you're enamored with that prat?" I ask in disbelieving disappointment.

"Have you seen him? He's gorgeous!"

"Maybe on the outside," I point out grudgingly as we enter the Great Hall, much to my chagrin.

"What are you talking about? He was perfectly nice to you just now. Besides, I thought bad boys were your thing," she says with an insinuating shove of her shoulder. "I'd take him over your Slytherin any day."

"You're free to have him," I tell her nonchalantly. "Be my guest."

"Thanks, too bad it wasn't me he was flirting a storm up with."

"He'll flirt with anything in a skirt. It was probably just that he had reached the B's on his list today. So given the number of girls in the school within an acceptable age range, and your last name, he should be flirting with you in approximately 6-8 days."

Cassie rolls her eyes at me and huffs loudly. "You're such a smart arse."

"Better a smart arse than a daft tart," I retort as I dig into the honey roasted chicken that has appeared on the table.

Dinner passes far too quickly for my liking, but I did manage to avoid any other run-ins with barmy Gryffindors, angry Slytherins, or frustrating professors, so I suppose that is something.

I glance at my watch and see that it is 1 minute before 8. It's official, I can't put it off any more. I have to go the potions classroom. I drag my feet and make it to the room right at 8. I sigh, utter the password, and push on the heavy wooden door. As expected, Evans is already there, sitting at the front table with her books spread out and what appears to be some pre-planned notes. Please don't tell me she's actually made up a lesson plan!

"Evans," I greet without any discernible tone.

"Eleanor," she answers with equal formality. My eyes must have narrowed because I see her pull back just a hair, then correct herself. "Sorry, El."

I nod curtly and put my bag down, concentrating on pulling the textbook and notes out as slowly as possible to avoid looking at her and talking about our confrontation.

"Listen, about that thing after Transfiguration," she starts. Damn Gryffindor bravery! I reluctantly look at her deep green eyes and she continues. "I'm sorry," she says with what appears to be genuine regret.

If I were a Muggle cartoon character, my eyes would be bugging out of my head right now. Is she serious? She's apologizing to me? "What?" I ask in confusion after a loaded moment of silence.

"I shouldn't have stuck my nose in your business. You're right; we aren't really friends, and I probably wouldn't want to discuss my private affairs with a classmate either. I just want you to know that I really wasn't digging for gossip, I was only trying to be supportive. I would love it if we could become friends, but if you just want to focus on Potions, I totally understand, and we can do that from now on."

She's a freaking saint! Seriously, is there nothing wrong with this girl? As if it wasn't bad enough that she has the affection of the man I love, now she's doing her damndest to make it impossible for me to even hate her! "Why are you being so nice?" I ask with a mixture of suspicion and frustration.

"Well, for one, I really would like for us to be friends, and two, Remus came to see me and he told me that you-"

A white hot, blinding fury washes over me like I've never known before. I can't see straight and my hands curl into tight fists. "He told you?! That colossal prat! I'm going to kill him! Throw rug city!" I shout as Lily stares at me in total bewilderment.

"El, calm down! I don't see what the big deal is," she offers with an unsure shrug.

"You don't see what the big deal is? How would you like it if someone promised not to tell your secret and then went and blabbed it to the worst person possible? Well, I guess not the worst person possible; it would have been worse if he'd gone and told Severus himself that I'm in love with him, I suppose. But still, telling you is bad enough!" I seethe.

Evans' eyes grow to, I swear, twice their normal size. "You-you're in love? With Severus?!" she gasps.

Merlin's pants; he didn't tell her! I am a complete and utter moron! Maybe if I bang my head into this desk hard enough I will knock myself out and give myself brain damage so I don't remember this. Oh crap, she's looking at me expectantly. Quick, use that famous Ravenclaw intelligence and think of something clever.

"No." Really? That's what you come up with, brain? Lousy, good for nothing…

"No? But you just said you did," Evans counters.

"I don't have any idea what you're talking about," I claim.

"Playing dumb doesn't work for Ravenclaws, El," she says, shaking her head at me with a slight smile. Shite! Damn you Rowena Ravenclaw and your bloody reputation! "Sit down; tell me what's going on," she insists with sympathy dripping from her lips.

I sigh and resign myself to my fate of humiliation and eventual rejection, once she tells Severus about this. I see them laughing together, laughing at me and my foolish little crush, listing all the reasons he could never be interested in me. "Fine, ok, I like him."

"Really?" she asks as her green eyes light up and a huge smile spreads across her face. Why does she look elated? I just told her I like the guy who adores her. Shouldn't she be angry, or jealous, or at least laughing at my hopelessness? "That's wonderful!" she exclaims.

I furrow my brow and tilt my head a bit. She must be messing with me…or she's just barmy. "Have you breathed in too many potions fumes?" I can't help but ask, apparently causing her to laugh heartily.

"You're perfect!" she beams.

"No, what I am, is lost. Why are you so happy? I thought you'd be angry."

"Angry? God, no! I'm ecstatic! Why in the world would you think I'd be angry?"

"Perhaps because I am trying to move into your territory?" I supply, thinking that should be fairly obvious. How can such a smart girl be so thick?

"My territory?" she scoffs. "Sev is hardly my territory, El."

"But you guys are constantly together! I see the way he looks at you," I admit dejectedly, feeling the ache in my chest as the words spill forth.

"He's my best friend. We've known each other since before Hogwarts, and I care about him very deeply, but we're not dating. I know he has more than friendly feelings for me," she admits, looking pointedly sad, "but I just don't feel the same. I've tried to see him in that light, because I want more than anything for him to be happy, but I just can't return his feelings. Honestly, I think of him as a brother. I love him, but in a familial way."

I am dumbfounded. Speechless. Is she serious? She has no romantic feelings for Severus? "Are you serious?" I finally manage to spit out.

She laughs lightly; I guess I look kind of ridiculous. I know my mouth is hanging open and my eyes are probably as wide as saucers, so I really can't blame her. "Yes, I am," she says. "So…how long have you liked Sev?" she asks with a mischievous glint in her eye.

I tell her of my very long standing infatuation with her best friend, and how it really hit me hard in third year that this was more than a simple crush. Her eyes are shiny and I'm afraid that she might actually cry.

"That is so sweet!" she squeals. I roll my eyes at the emotional display and she snickers. "You really would be perfect for Sevy. You both have that scathing sense of humor, and value logic, but deep down you are both very caring. So, are your feeling for Sev the reason that you aren't doing well in Potions this year?" she asks.

I sigh, figuring I might as well come clean about this too, since she already knows everything else. "In a roundabout way, yes," I begin. I tell her of my apparently not so brilliant plan and I think she might die from her laughter.

"I'm sorry," she gasps between giggles, "I'm not laughing at you, it's just that the plan went so horribly wrong-" she tries to explain without offending me.

"Tell me about it," I retort with another roll of my eyes. "I guess that's why I wasn't sorted into Slytherin."

OH!" she switches gears without warning, "I should set you two up!"

"Uh, I don't know if that's such a great idea, Evans. He's still obviously hung up on you."

"Yes, but maybe that's just because he hasn't found someone better suited to him. Let's face it, Sev doesn't exactly have a lot of mates, and I'm pretty sure I'm the only girl who talks with him on a regular basis," she reasons.

"That's true, but, I'm not exactly…you," I admit.

"What is that supposed to mean?"

"Well, physically…"

This time she rolls her eyes and huffs in exasperation. "Don't tell me you're one of those insecure girls who frets about her looks all the time! That doesn't seem like you."

"No, I don't fret about them, but I am a realist. I don't consider myself to be ugly, but I'm not on the same scale as you. By the way, if you tell anyone I complemented you, you won't live to regret it."

She smiles and I wonder if my vicious threats have lost all of their power. "Good, because you are adorable!" I start to sigh in response to her platitudes, but she stops me with a look and continues to explain. "Your hair, for one, is beautiful. Girls would kill for that rich golden blonde color. And those retro glasses you've got? Super cute! They give you that mysterious sexy librarian appeal. Then of course there's your figure. You've got the perfect hourglass shape, and I know for a fact that the guys here go barmy over your, uh, well…" she stutters.

"My bristols?" I supply unabashedly, causing her to giggle again.

"Yeah, those," she says with a slight blush.

"Not that Severus has ever noticed," I mutter bitterly. Evans raises her eyebrow in amusement.

"And you know this, how?" she asks cheekily.

"Ugh!" I scowl, knowing my pathetic attempt at tempting Severus at the ball has been uprooted. I come clean and she's laughing her bonce off again. I'm starting to clearly recall why I despised this girl for so long. I put my head in my hands. "This is hopeless," I lament.

"No it isn't!" she assures me. "We just have to ease Sev into it. He's not very comfortable with feelings in general, so we don't want to scare him off, but I think if I start bringing you around as my friend and Sev gets to spend time with you, things are certain to develop naturally. I just know you two will be great together!"

I sigh and shake my head at her, trying to convey my doubt and vexation, but inside there is a tiny irrepressible spark of hope brewing that forces a small smile to my face.