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Chapter 3: Chapter Three
stunning image by Camila @ TDA!
James’ amusement didn’t last very long.
In fact, as soon as the carriage was out of sight, he stopped laughing and his smile slipped off his face quicker than melting ice cream on a cone. Something akin to anxiety stirred in the pit of his stomach, and it was a very odd feeling indeed. Normally, James was a stone cold fox in the face of the unknown; it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to say that he was a pro when it came to dealing with strange and unusual happenstances. Sure, he had been a little bit on the surprised side when he and Sirius discovered Remus’ secret, but he didn’t panic.
His reaction was quite the opposite, actually, a mix of childish excitement and the pure, unadulterated thrill of danger.
This was anything but exciting.
Okay, so maybe that wasn’t entirely true. Of course it was exciting, but it wasn’t the right sort of exciting that James was used to feeling. No, this was terrified excitement, the kind that made his stomach clench and caused him to sweat; it was the kind of unrest that was oftentimes mistaken for fear.
Still, it was clear to James that this wasn’t going to be just another Marauder adventure. It was dangerous here in Westerflower. Even though the magical kingdom (at least he assumed it was magical) seemed perfectly harmless, they didn’t know a thing about it. They had no one they could trust, no one to rely on if something went horrifically wrong, which, in all likelihood, something would. He couldn’t be stranded in a fairy tale world with Lily Evans and have something not go wrong.
In fact, this whole thing reeked of trouble.
When the talking dog (which James thought looked suspiciously like his best mate’s Animagus form, but quickly dismissed the thought as it was truly preposterous) kicked him out of the carriage, James had played it cool for one reason: Lily. He was positive that if he started panicking that she would have quickly followed suit, which would only stir up a whirlwind of unnecessary drama, which was the very last thing they needed at the moment. Obviously they both had very specific roles to play and if they started to act any more suspicious than they already were, it would only end badly.
James sighed, scrubbing a hand over his face and grimacing at the feel of dirt and grime against his palm. His muscles ached, a combination of the force of impact upon arriving, if that’s what one could call it, in Westerflower and a night spent chasing Moony across the Hogwarts grounds under the moonlight. When he looked at his hands, he saw they were covered in blood; no wonder why the talking dog had been such an arse to him. At least he looked his part, though, which was more than Lily could say, dressed in her school uniform.
“OI! You there!”
It didn’t take a genius to figure out that the ‘you there’ was him. His muscles stiffening and his hand instinctively delving into his pocket for his wand, James looked over his shoulder to see a stocky man with red hair and a thick beard marching - well, it was more like limping - towards him, wearing a decidedly unimpressed expression.
“Wot do ye think yer doin’, standin’ round like tha’?” the man growled as he approached, placing his hands on his hips as he stared at James as though he was stupid. His face was littered with scars, the largest spanning from the top of his left brow to the middle of his gnarled nose, and his eyes were the deepest, most piercing blue James had ever seen. It was unnerving.
Out of habit, James reached up and ruffled his hair, unsure of what to say. So, as he did in the rare instances when he was at a loss for words, he stuttered out an answer. “I - er - I dunno, sir.” It wasn’t much of a response, but at least it was something.
The man’s harsh look turned sceptical. “Ye don’t know, eh?” the man repeated, his eyes once again narrowing into a glare of deep loathing. James tried not to flinch; what was it with this place that turned him into such a Nancy? “Well, hows ‘bout ye git yer arse back ter the stable, yeah? There be work ter do, Potter.”
James nodded his head, trying to hide his confusion as best as he could. Unlike the talking dog, who had heard Lily shout his surname at least a half dozen times, this man knew his name. But how? “R-right, sir.”
“And wot’s with this ‘sir’ bullshit? Ye know me name.” When James didn’t immediately respond, the man cocked his eyebrow. “Ye do remember me name, yeah? Or are ye really as stupid as Remus makes ye out ter be?”
Immediately, James brightened at the sound of his friend’s name. “Remus is here?”
“’Course he’s here, ye bleeding eejit. Always been here, hasn’t he?” The man gave James an odd look, almost like he knew he wasn’t the right James Potter. “Anyway,” the man said, “ye best come with me, Potter. Don’t wantcha getting lost on the way back now, do we?”
“No,” James replied, shaking his head. “Don’t want that at all.”
The man chuckled sharply. “Just don’t expect me ter hold yer hand. Wouldn’t want ter ruin me reputation.”
As the man gave him a harsh clap on the shoulder, James felt the tight coils of tension in his body loosen, but only slightly. Just because the gruff man appeared to be on friendly terms with James didn’t mean he would letting his guard down anytime soon. Absolutely not. He wouldn’t let it down until he knew that Lily was safe and sound up at the castle.
As the carriage bounded towards the glistening castle, Lily found herself panicking. She never thought she would regret being separated from Potter - hell, she was happy when the talking dog kicked him at the gates - but now that she was truly alone with a creature of Westerflower, her anxiety was starting to get the better of her.
“You can calm down, Your Majesty, there’s nothing to be nervous about,” the dog said as if guessing her thoughts.
She narrowed her eyes. “I’m not nervous. What makes you think I’m nervous?”
“Your left eye keeps twitching and you haven’t stopped bouncing your foot since we got rid of the filth at the gate,” observed the dog.
Silently, Lily decided she disliked the dog. He reminded her of someone she knew, someone aside from Potter who could wriggle underneath her skin until she wanted to scream in frustration, but she couldn’t put her finger on it.
“You have nothing to worry about,” the dog said again in an attempt to ease the princess’s worries. “It’s just tea with your sister.”
Apparently, though, this was the last thing he should have said as she whipped her head in his direction and growled, “The same sister you insisted would have my head if I were any later than I already am!”
The dog clucked his tongue, mainly in disapproval at her behaviour. He had heard the young princess was very temperamental, but he didn’t think she would give Princess Petunia a run for her money. Peter was so going to owe him when they got back to the castle.
“Honestly, Majesty, that was just a ploy to get you to hurry along. I couldn’t very well let the whelp think he could keep Your Royal Highness busy, could I?” The dog chuckled to himself. “No need to encourage delusions of grandeur among the less fortunate.”
“The whelp?” Lily repeated.
“Yes, the whelp. You know, the hired help?” When she showed no recognition, the dog rolled his eyes. “The stable boy! Oh, what was his name? Mr Petrol? Perkins?”
“Potter,” she spat, more out of annoyance with the dog than at the boy in question. “His name is Potter.” In fact, she almost wished Potter was with her right now, if only because she could channel her anger at him. At least he wouldn’t talk back. It was instances like these that reminded Lily why she liked cats more than dogs. Bloody insufferable creatures, dogs were, especially the talking sort.
“Right, Potter. Whatever.” The dog gave a dismissive flick of his tail. “The boy’s name hardly matters, Princess. What does matter is that you’re only five minutes late for tea, which means you have at least twenty minutes to look presentable.” Again, the dog scanned her appearance, taking in the odd ensemble of a long-sleeved white shirt, a scandalously short skirt, and a curiously long, black robe, all of which were covered in a thick layer of dust. “Again, I must ask you, Your Highness - and I mean this in the kindest way possible - but what the devil are you wearing?”
“Clothes, which is more than you could say,” sniffed Lily, folding her arms over her chest and glaring at the animal across from her, who stared back boldly. “If I tell you to shut up, you have to obey me, right?”
The dog gave a disgruntled bark. “Yes.”
“Then I command you to shut your bloody gob!”
“Right away, Your Majesty,” grumbled the dog, shooting her a dark look as she turned away from him, redirecting her attention out the window.
They were silent for the rest of the ride, which, thankfully, didn’t last very long at all. The carriage jerked to a stop, and Lily’s heartbeat increased tenfold. She wasn’t afraid, per se, but she wasn’t feeling very courageous either. Could she really be expected to be brave in the face of the unknown, especially when she was facing it by herself?
Lily gulped nervously as one of the footmen approached the door. Possibly for the first time ever, she wished Potter hadn’t left her alone, that he wouldn’t have listened to the talking dog and remained by her side, overprotective and overbearing as always, despite the fact she didn’t even like him. Naturally, the one time she wanted him around and he wasn’t there.
Before she could dwell on it any longer, the door was pulled open and the footman was extending a hand towards her, his upper body bent in a bow. “Your Highness,” he said in a nasally voice, keeping his eyes on the ground.
Confusion swept through her as she struggled to compose herself. The dog nudged her in the lower back, forcing her to take the man’s hand and exit the safety of the carriage. Lily felt exposed without the walls of the carriage surrounding her, though it was the revered stares she received from the people gathered outside that made her uncomfortable. Of course, as soon as she made eye contact with them, they jumped and lowered their eyes to the ground.
Almost as though they were…afraid of her.
Her stomach twisting, Lily released the footman’s hand and wiped her sweaty palm on her skirt. If the footman noticed, he said nothing, merely nodded his head and retreated, his back still bent. She scanned the crowd, searching for anyone who would meet her stare other than the insufferable dog at her side. Just when she thought hope was lost, she found a familiar pair of brown eyes gazing back at her.
“Your Highness!” Mary said as she made her way towards the front of the crowd, which parted as she walked. As she drew nearer, Lily noticed her features were shrouded with worry, the premature creases at the sides of her mouth more prominent than ever. “Where on earth have you been? We’ve been worried sick!”
Before Lily could answer, Mary rounded on the dog, her hands flying to her hips. “And you, Sirius! You were supposed to fetch her in a timely fashion! Were those not my exact words?”
Lily’s eyes widened as the sound of the name. “Sirius?” she parroted, too curious to mask her shock. She swung her gaze towards the black dog, who looked less than pleased. “You’re Sirius?”
The talking dog formerly known as Sirius gave an annoyed flick of his eyes before staring up at Mary. “Do you see what I’ve had to deal with? She’s been like this all day long! You try getting her back here in a timely fashion; I don’t even know how she got to where I found her.”
Mary gave a frustrated ‘harrumph’ of displeasure. “You shouldn’t speak of the princess like that.” Her gaze found Lily’s again. “Please excuse Sirius’ impertinence, he’s not normally like this.”
Despite herself, Lily laughed mockingly. “Sure he’s not. Ruddy prat, he is.”
Growling, Sirius opened his mouth to respond, but Mary cut him off. “Come now, Princess Lily, we cannot afford to waste any more time than we already have.” She started down the garden path, gesturing for Lily to follow. “Your sister will be most displeased if you arrive later than she.”
Lily nearly threw her arms up in frustration. “Why does everyone keep saying that?”
“Because it’s true,” commented Mary. “Now come along. We’ve got to get you into more suitable clothing, especially since the Prince will be there.”
Lily stopped walking, causing the dog - Sirius - to slam into her calves and get tangled up in her school robes. As he struggled to free himself, she cocked a brow in Mary’s direction. “P-Prince?” she questioned uneasily. “Prince who?”
For what must have been the umpteenth time since arriving in Westerflower, Lily found herself on the receiving end of a stare that clearly questioned her sanity. She was wondering if she should start getting offended or check herself into the nearest asylum as she was beginning to doubt herself. Perhaps Potter was right - maybe this was a delusion.
“Why, the prince of Easterhollow,” Mary said in a gentle voice, her expression mirroring her delicate tone.
“And that would be…?”
Blinking, Mary exchanged a look with Sirius, who, once again, rolled his eyes. “I told you, didn’t I?”
Lily found herself snapping before she could help herself, saying the words that came to her naturally. “Shut up, Sirius!” She tried not to feel too satisfied when his snout immediately snapped shut and he continued ahead on the path, grumbling under his breath. Once he was out of earshot, Lily returned her attention to Mary. “So. The prince of Easterhollow. Who is he?”
For her part, Mary tried her best to mask her surprise at the princess’s beyond bizarre behaviour; it was almost as though she was a completely different person. “It’s Prince Severus Snape, of course. Who else would it be?”
She was afraid of that.
A/N: So, what did you think? Were you expecting that?