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Chapter 8: Chapter Eight
“I can’t do this.”
“Yes, you can.”
“No, I don’t think I can.”
“But you can!”
“No, you don’t understand, James,” Remus protested as he paced back and forth, the speed of his stride stirring the hem of the red velvet curtain. “I’m physically incapable of doing this.”
James, who was sat on an overturned bucket, rolled his eyes. “You did it perfectly well this morning. And all of last night.”
“That’s because you were the only one watching,” Remus said.
Pursing his lips in thought, James realised just how potentially awkward it would be if someone overheard their conversation. However, aside from a harem of scantily clad belly dancers from Easterhollow and a songstress from a neighbouring hamlet, there were hardly any people backstage, and those who were backstage were too preoccupied with their own business.
“Oh, bollocks,” moaned Remus miserably, dropping his head into his hands. “Princess Petunia is going to have my head.”
“I’m sure she’s not going to behead you for not being able to juggle, Moony,” James commented dryly, his eyes following the path his friend traced and retraced and traced again.
The colour drained away from Remus’ face. “Well, that proves it then, doesn’t it? You’ve just said that I can’t juggle, so I can’t go out there. I can’t show my face in the court ever again because I am the world’s worst -”
The boy in question paused mid-stride. “Yes?”
“Do shut up. Please. You’re giving me a headache with all your whinging.”
“At least you’ll have a head to get aches in!”
Again, James rolled his eyes. “For the last time, you’re not going to get beheaded! She didn’t behead you last time, did she?”
James sent him an unamused look. “That was a rhetorical question.” Shaking his head, he pushed himself into a standing position and strode over to his friend, placing a hand on his shoulder. “Look, Remus, if you think you’re going to be rubbish, then you’ll end up being rubbish, so stop thinking like that.”
“But I can’t help it, James!” the other boy whined. “I might’ve been able to do it last night and this morning, but - well, I get stage fright! There, I said it! I get stage fright.” He shook James’ hand off of his shoulder and resumed his frantic pacing. “I am frightened of the stage!”
James lifted a hand and massaged his temple. “The fact you’re the court jester still astounds me.”
“Trust me,” Remus said, shooting him a dark look. “The feeling is mutual.”
Before James could reply, the harpist finished her piece and was met by a polite applause. This did nothing to ease Remus’ anxiety. In fact, it only heightened it as the harpist was, simply put, spectacular and had only managed to garner a short bout of applause.
His face going as white as a sheet, Remus groaned, all but sinking down to the ground to wallow in his own self-pity.
James grabbed Remus by the arm and hauled him to his feet, which was difficult considering how resistant the jester was being. “Seriously, mate, it’s all in your head, your stage fright. There’s nothing to be afraid of.”
Just as the words left his mouth, the harpist burst through the curtain, her hands over her face and her body shaking with what he presumed to be sobs. Remus took one look at her and, his eyes rolling back in his head, he fainted.
Heaving a sigh, James pushed a hand through his hair. “Bollocks.”
It was that time again.
It was time to improvise.
All things considered, Lily thought she had a lot of patience. After all, she’d had to put with her sister’s bullying and Potter’s advances for the last six years of her life and she hadn’t once given into her desire to throttle the both of them. Did the thought cross her mind? Of course it did, but she hadn’t given in and for the longest time, she thought she never would.
But that was before Prince Severus Snape of Easterhollow entered her life.
They’d only been dining for twenty minutes and already, she was sick of him. Unlike everyone else, who seemed to eat up his praise and attention like starving savages, Lily saw through his charade almost instantly: He was a spoiled brat. Possibly the biggest one she’d ever encountered, and that was saying something.
Many times while she had been eating, Snape had grasped her hand to kiss her knuckles or just to tuck it in his elbow, making it impossible for her to eat. She wriggled free a few times, but when the pork was set on the table, Snape had crushed her fingers and, lowering his lips to her ear, had told her to stop eating.
“You’ll balloon if you don’t control yourself,” he had hissed. Before he had pulled away completely, he pressed his lips to her cheek, which made the entire hall erupt in applause, even though Lily was glaring at her plate.
Needless to say, when it was announced that the entertainment portion of dinner would begin, Lily couldn’t have been any happier. Wrenching her hand free from Snape’s clasp, she leaned forwards in her seat, giving the appearance of an eager, easily-entertained princess. If it made her seem like an idiot, so be it. She would do and accept whatever criticism necessary in order to get just a few feet further away from him.
“Come on,” Lily announced, clapping her hands together. “Let’s see another act!”
The dinner crowd either agreed or were forced to agree, for they all broke out in outrageous applause, demanding that the next act take the stage. Satisfied that her plan had worked, Lily remained on the edge of her seat despite the fact Petunia was glaring down the table at her, all but shooting laser beams with her eyes. Lily ignored the negative attention as best as she could, with her back straight and her eyes faced towards the empty square in front of the tables.
Behind her, Snape issued a long and low hiss of impatience. “Good God, the service is slow around here,” she heard him mumble. “Wait until my brother hears about this…”
Resisting the urge to roll her eyes, Lily cleared her throat and raised a hand. “Um, you there, erm- jester.” She motioned for the young man to come to her side. “Where’s the next act? There is another act, right?” She felt like such an arse just saying the words in such a pompous way towards a servant, but she had to talk the talk if she wanted to get out of here in one piece.
“Oh, I’m terribly sorry, Your Highness. It seems that one of our entertainers has - um, how shall I put this?” The man dabbed at the beads of sweat on his forehead. “He’s - um - well, you see, he was - and - erm, oh, Your Highness, please forgive me and take into consideration that I don’t have any control over the nerves of -”
Before the man could finish his pleading, there was a loud pop followed by an uproar of cheers and applause. Using the table, Lily pushed herself into a standing position in an attempt to see over the jester’s hat. Though she couldn’t see the face of the performer, she couldn’t help smiling at the sight of three balls - one yellow, one red, and one blue - being tossed into the air.
She turned her grin to the jester. “I don’t think you have anything to worry about…”
“Simon,” supplied the jester.
“Why don’t you sit back and enjoy the entertainment, Simon? I’m sure someone will get you a goblet of wine.” Lily cut her gaze towards the servant to her left, who immediately sprang into action and procured a pewter goblet full of wine for the jester. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome, Your Highness.”
There was another wild outburst of applause, which drew Lily’s attention to the centre of the hall. However, she wasn’t able to become fully engrossed as talon-like fingers dug into the crook of her elbow and yanked her backwards. Lily expected to see her sister, but was startled to see Snape glowering at her.
“What do you think you’re doing?”
She jerked her arm out of his grasp and returned the glare. “Reaching out to my people. You should try it sometime,” she growled, rubbing the spot on her arm.
Snape’s mouth flapped open and shut a few times, his sallow face growing paler with each clench of his jaw. There was a thunder in his eyes, rumbling and foreboding, but Lily did her best to ignore the prickling on the back of her neck. He might’ve frightened her, but she refused to let him get the better of her, especially since she’d already allowed that to happen back home.
As they stared at one another, something flickered in his black eyes and Snape gave a small shake of his head. “Oh, um.” He furrowed his brow and said, with a great amount of difficulty and a grimace, “Sorry.”
Not wanting to cause any unnecessary drama, she sighed. “Apology accepted. Now can you please just…I don’t know, relax and enjoy the show? That’s what they were hired for.”
Snape fixed a fake smile onto his face and nodded. “Yes, Lily. Of course. Whatever my princess wants.”
Lily choked back the bile and returned her attention to the centre of the hall, where the juggler was still performing. His back was to her, but there was something familiar about the back of his head and the dark, messy hair. The longer she stared at the back of his head, the more she felt she recognised the random tufts of hair sticking out and general windswept appearance about it, so she wasn’t as nearly surprised as she had been in the garden when the juggler turned around and she was met by James’ familiar hazel eyes.
He grinned widely at her, waggling his eyebrows as he tossed the multi-coloured balls into the air. Lily felt a flush rising to her cheeks, which she tried her best to hide; there were too many eyes watching her, too many people overly conscious of her every moment. She gave a slight shake of her head to James, hoping he would take the hint and stop staring at her, but his smile only broadened, causing his eyes to wrinkle at the corners and the faint laugh lines round his young mouth to stand out.
Thankfully, James turned his attention away from Lily and focussed on the rest of the dinner crowd, working the room in a way that only a Marauder could. He charmed them with his speech as he juggled, wowed them with his skill, and when he abandoned the juggling balls in favour of flaming torches, they went absolutely nuts.
Lily couldn’t believe it, yet at the same time, she could. He would do anything for a lick of attention and praise.
Next to her, Snape was grumbling under his breath about show-offs and how childish this entire thing was. There was more entertainment to be seen in a brothel, he muttered darkly.
James twirled and tossed the torches, catching them with flourishes and smiles. He oozed charm and reeked of talent, and most annoyingly, Lily couldn’t look away. Not even when he made eye contact with her and did an incredibly stupid thing: He winked at her.
Inwardly, Lily cursed him.
James Potter was going to be the death of her, one way or another.
After taking his final bow, James disappeared behind the curtain and was immediately greeted with a fury of slapping hands and loud calls of congratulations. He couldn’t help the smile from spreading to his face, even when he noticed the distinct absence of his best friend’s presence. It wasn’t until he broke free of the fellow entertainers and caught sight of Remus’ downtrodden face that he realised the gravity of what he’d just done.
“Moony - I mean, Remus - mate,” James stumbled as he approached.
Remus gave a wave of his hand. “Don’t apologise, James. You did me a favour.”
“Look, I didn’t mean to-”
“I know you didn’t mean to.” Remus hung his head and stared at the hands in his lap. “You never mean to, yet somehow it always happens.”
“No, James, it’s okay.” He pasted a smile on his face, but his eyes revealed a deeper sadness, one that twisted James’ stomach. “You did what you had to and I understand that. Beside,” he continued with a small snort. “Could you have imagined what Princess Petunia would’ve done to Barney if you hadn’t improvised?”
The name Barney didn’t ring a bell, but James took Remus’ word for it and pulled a face. “D’you think she would’ve beheaded him?” he joked.
Remus chuckled. “No, probably not, but she might’ve caned him.”
“Or had him locked in the stocks.”
“If she had done that, I would’ve been first in line to launch a tomato or two.” When he saw James’ look of surprise, he laughed. “What? Did you think me incapable of cruelty?”
“I wouldn’t say incapable…”
Rolling his eyes, Remus elbowed James in the ribs and rose to his feet. “Come on, then.”
James stayed rooted in place, quirking his brow in question. “Where are we going?”
“It’s Saturday, James.” At the blank look he received, Remus sighed. “You do remember what happens every Saturday night, don’t you?”
“It’s Never Empty Pint Night at the Witch’s Brew!”
“I mean, ooooh,’ cooed James, hoping he sounded convincing, but knowing he didn’t. “Whoop, silly me. I forgot.”
Remus placed his hands on his hips and shook his head in disbelief. “Heaven above, are you sure you’re all right, James? You’re acting…I don’t know, even more bizarre than usual.”
“Erm, yeah, I’m fine,” James stuttered, feeling beads of sweat break out along his forehead. “Why do you ask? Am I not acting normal? Because I totally feel normal. And who’s to say what normal really is, you know? I mean, your perception of normal may be completely different from mine or Princess Lily’s or - I’m just going to stop now.”
“That’d probably be for the best.”
“You’re probably right.”
James stuck out his foot and tripped Remus. As the former court juggler pushed himself to his feet, he glowered at his friend. “After you,” James said, smiling sweetly and gesturing towards the exit.
Remus rolled his eyes and led the way.
The pub was a lot nicer than James was expecting, but considering that he was expecting little more than a hole in the wall with whores in every corner, it wasn’t saying much. Still, the place had a pleasant atmosphere, quite similar to the Three Broomsticks, actually, though there was more smoke and the crowd was far drunker and rowdy than he had ever witnessed at Madame Rosmerta’s place.
Remus, on the hand, seemed rather unimpressed. He surveyed the pub with a slight frown on his mouth, the disappointment visible on his face. “Not much of a crowd tonight, is there?”
James snorted, but didn’t say anything. For all he knew, this was a slow night of business, though judging by the amount of ale on the floor and the stench of the place, there was no such thing as a slow night at the Witch’s Brew.
“I’m going to place our orders with the bar wench,” Remus stated, tearing James from his critical analyse of the pub. “So why don’t you go and find Sirius? He should be at our usual table.”
“Right. Will do.” Even though he had no idea where their usual table was, at least he knew what Sirius looked like.
“Do you want your usual?”
“Erm, yeah, sure, I guess,” replied James.
As per usual, Remus sent him an odd look, but turned his back after a moment, his attention focussed on the busty bar maid. Rolling his eyes, James went to find their so-called “usual” table, which, surprisingly, didn’t take him very long as someone called out to him as he moved throughout the crowd.
“James!” the voice barked - quite literally.
Whirling around, James’ eyes widened to roughly the size of saucers at the sight of a black dog sitting at a table - a talking black dog that was, in all likelihood, the same one that he and Lily had met upon their arrival in Westerflower.
“P-Padfoot?” he hedged.
“Of course,” said the dog in a gruff voice. “Who else would it bloody be?”
Grinning ear to ear, James slipped past a wench in a low-cut dress and hurried over to the table, situating himself on one of the stools. “Merlin, is it good to see you, Padfoot.”
“You act like it’s been ages since we last spoke,” Sirius commented. “I only saw you the other day - with the princess, I might add. You’re going to elaborate further on that over drinks, correct?”
James shrugged. “Maybe, maybe not. It depends on how generous you’re feeling tonight.”
“Is that a bribe for me to buy your drinks?”
When James nodded, Sirius snorted, though it sounded more like a sneeze.
“What, Pads?” James said, leaning his elbows on the table. “Not all of us can be…babysitter to the princess.”
Expelling an irritated breath, Sirius rolled his tawny eyes. “For the last bloody time, I’m not a babysitter, I’m the personal protector of Princess Lily.”
“Whatever makes you feel like a man, Sirius,” quipped Remus as he appeared at the table, three pints of lager clutched in his hands.
Sirius tossed his head, causing his ears to flop against his skull. “Be nice or I’ll gnaw your leg off.”
James chuckled into his pint, the froth bubbling along his upper lip. There was a warmth gathering in his stomach that had nothing to do with the pint in his hands and everything to do with his current company. It was nice - refreshing, even - to know that even in an entirely fantastical world, the Marauders were just that - the Marauders, best friends until the end of time, regardless of their situations in life.
“Oi, James!” barked Sirius.
“You done mooning over your brew or would you like a few minutes to get better acquainted?”
James furrowed his brow. “That doesn’t even make sense,” he said after a few moments of contemplation
To his left, Remus erupted into a fit of giggles, which, James assumed, meant he had taken a few shots at the bar before making his way over to their table. And when he glanced at his friend, James saw that his nose was red and the tips of his ears redder. He smiled into his pint; this was definitely going to be an interesting night.
A/N: Okay, so yes, this took a long time to post and yes, I ended on a kind of weird note, but I figured I’d leave it here rather than drag it out in another 1000+ words. Anyway, I hope you all enjoyed this! If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, feel free to express them in a review.