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Lily waited and waited, and then waited a little bit longer until, finally, the fourth year boy at the table adjacent to hers gave an almighty yawn and gave into the need for sleep. She tried to not look too relieved as he passed her on his way towards the staircase and bid her good-night. Once the sound of his footsteps disappeared, Lily reached under her chair and pulled her bag onto her lap and immediately began to remove her text books. She rummaged through the mess of half-empty ink pots and broken quills until she found it, her favourite book.
It was small and red and bound in leather, the golden clasp long since broken. The spine was cracked in several places, the corners of the cover upturned and worn, and the golden lettering was fading from the years she spent tracing them. A smile touched her lips as she turned the book over in her hands, thinking back to the first time that she had held the book after unwrapping it all those years ago. A gift from her parents on her sixth birthday, it was one of the few things she insisted on bringing with her everywhere, despite the fact she rarely flipped through the pages nowadays.
Vaguely, she wondered what her friends’ reactions would be if they ever found out that she still perused through the pages of a fairytale. Cheryl and Janet would probably laugh and tease her for a bit before resuming their usual activities, which mainly consisted of painting each others’ nails and gossiping. Mary might think it was sweet, if just a little silly, but it was Marlene, the staple stubborn feminist of their group, whose reaction Lily feared.
Lily imagined that it would be very similar to the first time Marlene discovered that she was reading a child’s book. It was back in third year and Marlene, who also happened to have little to no knowledge of personal space, unexpectedly wrenched the hangings round Lily’s bed open, only to find the redhead curled up with the book in her lap, crying over the scene in which the prince is wounded by the villain. After that, Marlene had teased Lily relentlessly until one day she forgot about it.
Until today, when she had brought it up at lunch to garner some laughs from their mates.
“You know they’re not real, don’t you, Lily?” Marlene asked, with just enough condescension in her tone to inflame Lily’s already irritated nerves. “They won’t ever come true, your fairy tales.”
“Of course I know they aren’t real,” Lily snapped, taking a stab at a boiled potato. She missed, the prongs of her fork skittering across the surface of her gold plate. Grimacing, she added, “I’m not stupid, you know.”
“Never said you were, but I stand by what I said the other night - those fairy tales are the reason why you’ve got such a warped perception of what romance is,” said Marlene.
Her temper flaring, Lily raised a challenging eyebrow. “Did Witch Weekly tell you what romance really is? Because I’m dying to find out.”
“Lily, Marlene,” Mary warned, glancing between the two nervously.
Marlene ignored her. “At least my view is realistic and not some fantastical waffle.” She took a drink of her pumpkin juice, staring at Lily over the lip of her goblet. “Look, I’m not saying that you’re stupid; you’re one of the smartest people I know. But you do need to grow up, Lily. And fast.”
Frowning to herself, Lily brushed her fingers over the cover of the book, the tips of her fingers tracing the letters. She was well aware that fairy tales weren’t real and that there was no knight in shining armour waiting to sweep her off of her feet and go riding away into the sunset; she didn’t need to be reminded, least of all by Marlene. Still, it certainly didn’t mean that she shouldn’t want the best for herself. She could still want a prince to woo her, even if she knew there wouldn’t be dragons or evil stepmothers involved.
Lily shook her head, clearing Marlene’s patronizing tone from her mind, and relocated to an armchair in front of the fireplace. The fire was slowly dying, but there was still enough warmth radiating from the hearth that Lily’s toes wouldn’t get cold. Once she settled into a comfortable position - her legs thrown over one arm of the couch, her back resting on the other - she turned to the first page where her father had scribbled down a quick note, wishing her a happy birthday and many great adventures. Before the tears could prickle at the backs of her eyes, she flipped the page and delved into the text:
Once upon a time, in a faraway land, there was a girl who loved adventures…
It was a story she must have read over a hundred times, yet every time she cracked open the book, it seemed like a brand new tale. There was always a scene she didn’t remember happening, a character she didn’t remember existing, but instead of troubling her, it only added to her excitement and to her eagerness to get through this story to get to the next. The further she read, the deeper she sank into the chair until, finally, she was sitting on the floor in front of the fire, reading by the rapidly decreasing light.
As she could hardly been seen from her position on the floor, it was only logical that it was impossible for Lily to see that someone else had entered the common room. If she had been paying attention to something other than the duel between the unlikely hero and the revolting suitor, she would’ve heard the stream of curses that accompanied the creak of the painting as it swung open. But alas, she was so immersed in the story, it was doubtful that she would have noticed a bomb exploding in the middle of the common room.
It was only when she heard a peal of annoyingly familiar laughter that she pulled her eyes away from the book. Twisting round (and hurriedly fixing her blouse), Lily sought out the only boy in the world who could make her blood run hot.
“Lily,” James greeted with a pleasant smile. “What are you doing down here? It’s a little late, don’t you think?”
“I could ask you the same question,” Lily replied, adopting an unnecessarily icy air.
Leaning his forearms against the top of the armchair, James lifted his shoulders into a casual shrug. “Just out for a stroll.”
Lily eyed him sceptically, taking in his unusually haggard appearance. His hair was perpetually messy, though his face seemed to glisten in the firelight, almost as though his skin was covered in a light sheen of sweat. But why would he be sweating if he was out for a stroll.
“At two in the morning?”
“Is it that late already?” He pushed back the sleeve of his robes to look at his watch. It was in that moment that Lily noticed what looked like a smear of dirt that started on the side of his hand and disappeared up his sleeve. “Hm, seems it is.” He flashed her another quick smile, though this one didn’t reach his eyes like the other had. “Is that interesting?”
“Is what interesting?”
James laughed. “Are you Rosencrantz or Guildenstern?” he asked, the lenses of his glasses glinting in the firelight. When she sent him a look, he added, “You know, the characters from Shakespeare’s -”
“I know who they are, Potter,” Lily interrupted, narrowing her eyes into a glare. “I have to say that I’m surprised that you know who they are, though. I thought the only reading you ever did was straight from the pages of Quidditch Today.”
Again, James shrugged. “I may be a wizard, but I’m still English. Besides, you’re not the only person who reads. Speaking of, is that any good?” He nodded towards the book lying open on the floor.
Lily’s eyes went wide and her mouth became as arid as the Gobi desert. “It’s all right,” she said, her voice cracking slightly as she moved to snatch up the book and secure the broken lock before he could get to it.
“Really?” James scratched the back of his neck, not looking at all convinced. “You seemed really - I don’t know - invested in the book. You didn’t even look up when I stubbed my toe on the way through the portrait hole, and you always hear me cursing.”
“Oh, r-really?” Lily tried to laugh, but it sounded like a plate of glass shattering into a thousand pieces. “I-it’s nothing interesting. Really. It’s boring. It’s, erm, historical fiction pertaining to the T-tudors -”
The Cheshire-like grin on James’ face sent a bolt of fear through Lily. “Oh Merlin,” he said, his words drowning with his smugness. “You’re reading a harlequin romance novel, aren’t you, Evans?”
“No!” she objected, offended that he would even suggest it.
He chuckled gleefully. “You so are! That’s why you were so captivated by it! Tell me, have they shagged yet? Oh, they must’ve, you’re really far into the book.”
Somehow, she knew what he was going to do before he did it. Still, she was no match for him as he was bigger than her and had the advantage of fast reflexes, thanks to that ruddy sport of his.
“Give it back, Potter!” She made a grab for the book, but he simply twisted away from her and held the book up higher. “Potter, I mean it! Give it back!” Instead of jumping, she slapped him on the arm.
“Oh, it must be really naughty if you’ve resorted to physical violence.” He waggled his eyebrows. “Are you in the middle of a sex scene right now?”
“Of course not! Now give it back,” she growled, annunciating each syllable with more venom than necessary.
Again, James laughed as he squinted his eyes to read in the dim light. Clearing his throat, he began to read. “And then, in a flash quicker than lightening, the tip of his blade sank deep into the hero’s side, slicing through skin and muscle. A short gasp fell from the hero’s lips as he-” James stopped reading abruptly to look at Lily. “Oi, this isn’t a gratuitous sex scene!”
“Of course it’s not, Potter,” Lily said as she grabbed for the book. James held his arm away from her, and she glowered at him. “If you would have listened to me when I told you it wasn’t a harlequin romance novel, then maybe you wouldn’t be so disappointed.”
“Disappointed?” James repeated, shaking his head. “Hardly. I’m fascinated, actually. It’s obviously a fantasy novel of some sort.” He closed the book to look at the title.
Lily took advantage of the moment to reach for the book and, to her surprise, she actually caught it between her fingertips. “Let go,” she said lowly.
“Not until I figure out what it is,” James said, giving a tug so violently, she stumbled towards him. Up close, she could see that his face, like his hand, was sprinkled with flecks of dirt and, unless she was mistaken, what appeared to be blood.
“It’s nothing. Just a bit of rubbish.” Though her tone was dismissive, her responding pull was strong.
“Then let me see it so I can go to bed.” He gave another tug. “I’ve got Quidditch practice in the morning.”
Lily gritted her teeth as she struggled to maintain her hold on the book; it certainly wasn’t easy holding onto a small, leather-bound square when her hands were sweating. “Just go to bed now, and I promise I’ll show you in the morning.”
“You must take me for a fool, Evans,” James said as he jerked the book in an attempt to jostle her grip. “I know you’ll just switch this book out for another one.”
“Why can’t you just let it go, Potter?” She tightened her grip on the book. “It’s just a book.”
James rolled his eyes. “If it’s just an ordinary book like you keep insisting it is, then why won’t you let me see it? I’m hardly going to make fun of you; I admitted to enjoying the works of William Shakespeare, for Merlin’s sake!”
Her annoyance mounting, Lily attempted to kick his shins from where she stood, but they were standing too close together and the position of her leg was too awkward. She cursed under her breath, gritted her teeth, and gave as hard a tug as she could muster.
And that’s when it happened.
Truthfully, it happened in the blink of an eye - perhaps even faster. One moment, she heard the gut-wrenching sound of her precious book ripping and the next, it was almost as though she had been enclosed in a wind tunnel. It was extraordinarily loud, the noise resembling the roar of a griffin as it sailed over her eardrums, and the air stung as it tore at her clothing. The wind whipped at her hair, sending her long red locks into a frenzied spiral until her hair looped round her eyes and made it impossible to see.
A scream escaped her as the world flipped over. It turned over and over and over until, suddenly, it stopped. Her body slammed into the ground, the side of her face taking most of the impact. Gasping in pain, she choked on the gritty dirt that drifted through the air. She coughed into her fist so violently, her eyes welled.
“Lily?” James asked, his voice cracking with panic. “Lily, are you okay?”
She groaned, struggling to sit up. Of course he would be here with her. “I’m fine,” she managed. The sudden weight of James’ hand on her shoulder made her jump - and then wince.
The look he gave her was doubtful at best. “Clearly, you’re not. Can you sit up?”
“Yes,” she said, and miraculously she managed to do it without wincing.
James didn’t smile at her as he pushed himself to his feet. Once he was standing, he held out his hand, more out of instinct than anything else; he was too busy trying to wave away the oddly dense cloud of dirt that seemed to encase them.
Rolling her eyes, Lily attempted to get to her feet by herself, but was unsuccessful. With a grumble, she begrudgingly slid her hand into James’s and allowed him to pull her to her feet. As she brushed away the stubborn bits of dust from her robes, she heard James start to laugh. But this laugh wasn’t his usual mirthful laugh. Oh no, this one sounded like it belonged to a doomed man.
It sent chills up Lily’s spine.
“You’ve got to be kidding me.”
Lily didn’t like the tone of his voice. At all. “What is it?”
“See for yourself.”
Furrowing her brow, she walked forwards until she was standing shoulder-to-shoulder with James, though it was more head-to-shoulder as he towered over her. At first, she didn’t see what he was indicating, but then she waved away the last swirl of dust and it became startlingly clear.
Then she gasped. “No. Is that a -”
“And that’s a-”
“I think so.”
“Shit,” she cursed lowly, staggering backwards slightly as her eye sight went all wonky. James reached out to stabilise her, but she smacked his hand away, blinking rapidly in an attempt to clear her vision. There wasn’t a glimmering white castle with dozens of crystal clear spires atop ridiculously tall towers, a near carbon copy of the one from her book; there wasn’t a picturesque village nestled in the heart of a lush green and fertile valley overshadowed by a hauntingly dark mountain.
“This isn’t real,” Lily said.
James glanced uneasily at her. “Obviously, it is.”
“No,” she insisted with a firm shake of her head, turning to glare up at James. “It can’t be real. Fairy tales aren’t real!”
James opened his mouth, but the loud burst of laughter was not his. His expression turned to one of curiosity and he stared over her shoulder. As soon as the colour drained from his face, Lily wished she hadn’t been watching him so closely. The only obvious thing was that there was something very wrong. Though her every instinct screamed at her, Lily turned to look at whatever it was that had caused the sudden shift in James’s demeanour.
Of all the things she had expected, she did not for one second consider a dog. A dragon, definitely. A giant spider, likely. Maybe even a troll. But a dog? She could have laughed at the sight of the larger-than-average black dog with a long snout, grey eyes, and floppy ears sitting in front of them on the dirt road, its head cocked to the side and its tail wagging.
But then the dog did something very peculiar: it smiled at her.
“Of course this is real, Princess,” the dog said, eyeing Lily as though she was the crazy one. “And just so you know, you’re late for tea. Again. So hurry up or else your sister will have your head.” The dog laughed again. “Literally.”
spectacular chapter image by trésor @ TDA!
A light breeze kicked up a swirl of dust as Lily and James stood in the middle of the oddly deserted road, both gaping at the black dog in utter shock.
The talking black dog.
Lily shook her head and coughed when she inadvertently inhaled another lungful of dust. “There’s no way. Did that dog-”
“-just talk?” James finished, his voice cracking as he eyed the dog disbelievingly. “I think so, but maybe we’re experiencing a delusion.” His nervous chuckle did little to ease her nerves if that was what he had been trying to accomplish.
Lily eyed him sceptically. “A delusion?”
“Yeah,” he said, nodding. “Like an after effect or a side effect of the impact or something. I mean, we hit our heads pretty hard.” James tried to smile reassuringly at her, but looked more like he was trying to pass a goat.
“The very same delusion?” she reiterated, taking care to lace her tone with as much doubt and contempt as humanly possible.
James shrugged. “It’s been known to happen.”
“When?” Lily demanded. “When has anything remotely similar to this happened?” She was suddenly very irritated by the sight of his irrevocably messy hair, the way his glasses slid down his nose, and, you know, the whole situation in general. She resisted the urge to bare her teeth in a growl. “And why,” she began anew, “would we share a joint delusion featuring a bloody talking dog?” She folded her arms over her chest and huffed. “Merlin, Potter, you’re daft!”
Was she being unnecessarily harsh with him? Perhaps. But it wasn’t every day that you fought over a book full of fairy tales with a seventeen year old boy and got sucked into the pages. Sweet Circe, it sounded even more ridiculous in her head than she cared to admit; she hated to think what it would sound like when she had to say it aloud.
“Oh, I’m daft, am I?” He let out a rough laugh. “All right, then, Evans, if we’re not suffering from a delusion, then what in the name of sanity is this?” He flailed his arms at their current surroundings.
It was irrational, the way James Potter could crawl under her skin and irritate her without actually doing or saying anything to offend her. And for once, it wasn’t his charmingly messy appearance that was grating on her nerves or the general air of annoying self-confidence that surrounded him that made her want to tear her hair out. Oh no, it was much more than that. It was the look on his face and the tone of his voice - both were so full of challenge and very little, if any, restraint. For some reason that she couldn’t even begin to explain, that, above all other things, including their very peculiar predicament, infuriated her.
“Well, Evans,” James prompted. “I’m waiting.”
Grinding her teeth, Lily threw her arms up in the air. “I have no bloody idea, Potter! Is that what you wanted to hear? That I haven’t the foggiest as to where we are or how we got here or why, out of all the damned people on this ruddy planet, I’m stuck here with you! Because there it is! I. Don’t. Know. Satisfied?”
Lily let out a scream of frustration, threading her fingers through her hair. “You’re insufferable! Did you know that?”
“I think I’ve heard you say it once or twice, yeah,” James replied with such nonchalance that Lily aimed a kick at his shin. Naturally, she missed and only succeeded in upending some more dust and then choking on it. “Hey, now,” he said as he waved away the dust, “I think that’s really unnecessary!”
“You’re unnecessary!” Lily shouted back without thinking. As soon as the words left her mouth, she cursed under her breath. She might as well have painted a target on herself, she was making it so easy for him.
“Very original, Evans,” he commented dryly, placing a hand over his heart. “I am so wounded.”
She shot him a very dark, very sharp look. “Shut it, will you?”
James smirked in his frustrating way. “I don’t think I will. My heart’s bleeding too profusely from your barbed remarks to stop.”
Her temper flaring, Lily stalked towards James, but before she could cross even half of the distance, the black dog, who had, until now, been observing the scene in utmost delight, barked. The sudden loud and sharp sound made both Gryffindors jump at least a foot in the air in their surprise. Lily even stumbled back into James, who was quick to put her upright and step away.
“As amusing as it is to watch you two banter,” the dog began, its tone liberally coated with unabashed mirth, “the princess really must be getting back to the castle. Tea time’s already begun and as you very well know, Princess Lily, your sister is very -”
“Princess?!” they exclaimed in unison; Lily’s voice was full of shock whereas James’ was saturated in ridicule.
The dog blinked at them. “Yes,” he drawled, giving each a look that clearly questioned their intelligence. “Anyway, Princess, you mustn’t tarry any longer. Your sister was in quite a strop when I left; I can’t imagine what she’ll be like once we make it back to the castle. And just look at the state of you - what in the devil are you wearing?”
Lily opened and closed her mouth several times, still completely flabbergasted by the fact a dog was talking to her. A dog was holding an actual, intelligent conversation with her. Even after living in the wizarding world and encountering all sorts of strange and mystical creatures, talking to a dog was just plain weird.
Much to her surprise, James began to roar with laughter. Both Lily and the dog turned to look at him with equal looks of disbelief on their faces, though, there was a certain note of superiority on the dog’s face.
“Why are you laughing?” Lily questioned crossly. Really, there was nothing funny about their bizarre situation.
“Why aren’t you laughing?” James fired back through his chuckles. “Newsflash, Lily, in case you haven’t noticed, you’re talking to a dog!”
She pursed her lips as she tried to think of a response.
“And you,” the dog barked, training its silver eyes on James, “Mr Potter, are talking to Her Royal Highness, the Princess Lily of Westerflower, and should take care to mind your tongue lest you wish to have it removed!”
Though he had never been particularly intimidated by dogs, James had also never met a dog that could talk; that was the equivalent of meeting a talking lion - while it had been one of James’ childhood goals, he knew it was ultimately impossible. But he also thought that the existence of another realm - and a fairy tale realm at that - was impossible, and look how wrong he was.
Sometimes, he really hated magic.
“Erm - okay?”
Besides him, Lily’s expression turned incredibly, almost unbearably, smug. Until now, she had been the only person capable of robbing James of speech - and even that talent was waning as the years went on. (Somehow, it seemed, he had built up a resistance to her Silencing Charms). As regretful as she was that she hadn’t been the one to put him down, it was still nice to see him silenced.
And by a dog at that.
The dog, too, beamed with self-pride as he swung his gaze back to Lily, who, despite the fact she knew he could talk, was still caught off-guard. “Unless you want to suffer the wrath of Princess Petunia, I suggest that we make haste.”
Lily’s eyes nearly bugged out of her head. “My sister’s a princess?”
The dog tilted his head to the side. “Of course she is.” His eyes narrowed in concern. “Are you sure you’re all right, Princess? Not only are you dressed oddly, but you’re keeping company with the help and you keep asking the most bizarre questions.”
“The help?” James asked, outraged. “What do you mean ‘the help’?”
“I said precisely what I meant, Mr Potter, just as I always do,” the dog sniffed haughtily. James flinched; he had heard that haughtiness before, but he couldn’t quite put his finger on it. “You are a stable boy, are you not?”
It was Lily’s turn to laugh now, and laugh did she. Her whole body shook as she tossed her head back, several thick locks of her hair spilling over her shoulder. “A stable boy?” she sputtered breathlessly, all but pointing her finger at him in taunting. “You’re a stable boy?” She covered her face in an attempt to quiet her snort; it didn’t work. “Oh, that is rich!”
James gritted his teeth and ignored her, though, admittedly, it was tough as Lily’s laugh was boisterously obnoxious. Usually, he found her laugh endearing, but in this moment, he was less inclined to feel attracted to it. Or her, for that matter. Especially when she snorted like that. Where was she raised, in a pig sty?
Thankfully, the dog leapt to his rescue, however inadvertent the rescue may have been. “Honestly, Your Majesty, pull yourself together! We’ve got to go. Now.” To emphasis his point, the dog latched onto the hem of her sleeve and tugged.
Lily squeaked in surprise when she lurched forwards. “Hey!” she exclaimed, fruitlessly digging her heels into the ground. The dog continued to pull her as easily as a sack of potatoes. “Where are you taking me?”
“Dak ut te cassle.”
The dog spit out the sleeve. “Back to the castle. Where else would I take you?” He gave an extravagant roll of his eyes then seized her sleeve between his teeth, tugging her along.
She fought against the incessant tugging, her stomach twisting with unease. “But what about Ja - I mean, Mr Potter?” Lily asked, glancing over her shoulder at him. He stood a few feet away, his panic evident in his face.
Annoyed, the dog released her sleeve to glare up at her. “What about him?”
She didn’t flinch under the dog’s weighty stare. “We can’t just -” she cut herself off, a peculiar feeling settling in her stomach. In any other circumstance, she would have been glad for a chance to escape James’ company; while she didn’t exactly hate him anymore, he still managed to ruffle her feathers in ways that no one else in the world could. But this wasn’t like any circumstance she had ever been in before, and James was, unfortunately, the only thing she knew in this world.
Clearing her throat, she looked over at James again and declared, with all the authority she could muster, “We can’t leave him here. I won’t allow it.” She tried to ignore the startled glint in his eyes at the force, the near-absolute conviction, in her voice.
The dog was hardly impressed, but nodded his large head anyway. “As you wish, Your Majesty. Now, please could you hurry? Princess Petunia is going to have all of our guts for garters, namely mine.”
The carriage ride was not unlike the one from Hogsmeade Station to Hogwarts, but there were a considerate amount of mercilessly bumps that jostled the carriage and its travellers so violently, Lily thought she would vomit. It didn’t help that this carriage was decidedly smaller than what she was used to and that she was wedged in between James and a talking dog.
Lily tried not to dwell on what lay ahead of them. She might not have been all that fond of his company, but she knew that she had to stick with James, no matter what. He was the only thing in a ridiculous world that she knew, even if she didn’t know him very well at all. For some reason, she frowned at the thought, but quickly brushed it off as wistful thinking brought on by their predicament.
As a little girl, Lily had always wanted to be a princess; it was the reason why her parents had given her the book of fairy tales in the first place. She had been captivated by the idea of other worlds filled with dragons and magic and castles and daringly handsome princes, and while she knew that some of those things existed in the world in which she lived, it wasn’t the same here.
Now that she was a princess, the idea wasn’t nearly as enchanting as it had been when she was young. In fact, it was downright terrifying. Had she entered the situation willingly, she supposed she would have viewed this as an experience opposed to a complete disaster, but she hadn’t. And now, she was stuck in a fantasy world called Westerflower with a boy that she didn’t quite hate, but didn’t quite like either.
She was thrown rather unceremoniously from her thoughts when the carriage hit a particularly large bump and the entire carriage lurched to the side, sending her right into James’ lap. Her forehead knocked against his chin and his elbow dug into her ribcage; the black dog laughed joyfully. Grumbling, they started to disentangled their limbs and by the time they got themselves sorted, they had arrived at the castle gates.
Pushing his glasses up his nose, James gazed out the window and whistled in awe. “Whoa,” he said, his astonishment clear in both his voice and his face.
“You stole the word right out of my mouth,” Lily muttered as she, too, gazed at the castle. From a distance, it had appeared beautiful, but it was only up close that she was able to see the castle for the truly magnificent thing that it was. Not taking her eyes off the tall ivory towers covered with ivy, she asked, “I live here?”
Behind them, the dog let out a long sigh. “Of course you live here, Princess,” he said languidly. “You’ve lived at Westerhaven Palace for your entire life. Well,” the dog added as an afterthought, “except for the winters when your family goes to Summermarsh. Honestly, how many times are we going to do this today?”
But Lily ignored the dog. Instead, she nudged James in the side with her elbow. “Did you hear that, Potter?” she taunted giddily. “I’ve got two castles! Two!” She gave a squeak of delight before settling back into her seat.
The carriage pulled up to the gates, where two guards armed with pikes stood on alert.
“Out,” the dog said suddenly.
“We don’t get to go to the castle?” Lily asked, her eyebrows knitting together. But I’m the princess! she wanted to say, but didn’t. “But I thought this was my home!”
“You do,” the dog said before jerking his head in James’ direction. “He doesn’t. If anyone of importance finds out that a stable boy was riding in the Royal Carriage, heads will roll. So,” he looked pointedly at James, “out.”
“But what about the guards?” James questioned, his hand already on the gold encrusted handle.
“I said if anyone of importance finds out.” The dog shook his head. “Good Lord, does no one listen to me?”
As the dog grumbled to himself, James cast Lily a look not unlike a look a solider might give his lover before departing for war. It made Lily’s breath catch in her throat, though she wasn’t quite sure why. Before she had a chance to decipher the odd sensation, he opened the door and jumped down.
When James looked up at her, Lily could see the tension and the hesitancy in his eyes. “I’ll see you.”
Lily nodded, not trusting her own voice. Call her crazy, but she was almost…worried. Like she would never see him again. She was worried that she wouldn’t ever see James Potter again. It was silly, she knew - it wasn’t like there were any threats in Westerflower, but still…
The worry dissipated and was replaced by anger as soon as she saw the wry smile on his mouth. Colour rushed to her face as he twiddled his fingers in farewell, his hazel eyes glinting behind his glasses. “Goodbye, Princess!”
She flipped him off as the carriage bounced towards the castle, leaving a laughing James in its wake.
A/N: So, what'd you think? Like it? Love it? Hate it? Should I delete it? Let me know!
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?
beyond amazing, out of this world beautiful image by hysteria @ TDA
Like a diligent soldier, James followed behind the limping man, who hadn’t stopped talking since they had started their trek. He didn’t mind in the slightest just as long as the man kept the conversation one-sided and didn’t ask him any questions. The moment the questions started was the moment he went to find Lily and they got out of Westerflower as fast as they could. He didn’t care how much she enjoyed being a princess - if she wanted to be treated like royalty, he’d lick the dirt off the bottoms of her feet just as soon as they were back in the comfort of the Gryffindor common room, if that was what she wanted.
He tried to listen to what the man said, especially when he glanced over his shoulder at James and said, in a rather suggestive tone, “Eh?” Instead of responding like a normal seventeen-year-old boy would, he simply nodded his head and continued to follow the older man, whose name he had yet to learn. Thankfully, the man was either used to being ignored or didn’t particularly care, as he kept jabbering on about Merlin only knows what. Though James was sure whatever the man had to say was interesting (or incredibly boring), he was more concentrated on his surroundings than what the man was saying.
Aside from the old man’s chatter, the walk to the stables wasn’t entirely unpleasant. In fact, as soon as they passed through a set of thick, wrought iron gates nearly twelve feet tall and James caught sight of the Royal Garden, he thought it was easily one of the most beautiful sights he had ever seen. The hedges were perfectly manicured, the sprawling green lawn was flawless, and the sheer amount of flowers in bloom made James’ eyes water, both from the intensity of their colours and his nasty allergy to pollen. Everywhere he looked, there were blooms of bright blue, deep red, dusty pink, soft yellow, and deep purple.
Suddenly, it became abundantly clear why the kingdom was called Westerflower.
But his favourite blossom, James noted, was strangely absent from the garden.
“Never gets old, this,” the old man said, staring at the garden with a certain fondness.
“No,” James agreed in an awestruck voice, “it doesn’t.”
“Beautiful place,” murmured the old man, seemingly caught up in a wave of nostalgia. “Right!” he exclaimed suddenly. Or not. He clapped James on the shoulder, snapping him out of his revered stare. “No more time ter waste. We’ve got work ter do.”
Feeling more or less like a child being pulled round Diagon Alley by his mum, James followed the old man, noting that they walked behind the hedges and avoided the garden path. “Is there any reason why we’re walking behind shrubbery?”
“Gods, Potter, yer hopeless!” the old man grumbled. “Ye know we’re not allowed ter walk in the Royal Gardens.”
James frowned. “Why not? Something so beautiful should be appreciated by all.”
“Because it’s royal, Potter. Why else?” At the sight of James’ expression, the man let loose a sarcastic laugh. “So unless yer hiding a tiara that I don’t know about in tha’ mess o’ hair, shut yer gob and follow me,” the man said with a sarcastic laugh. “There be no room fer poetry when there’s work ter be done.”
“Yes,” muttered James as he once again followed the man. “I think you’ve mentioned that several times before.” He rolled his eyes to himself, knowing that if Lily ever had a chance to meet this man, they’d get along famously.
It didn’t take James very long to figure out that the stables were located in the rear of the castle, just like they were at Hogwarts. The only difference between the Hogwarts stables and the ones of Westerhaven Palace was the amount of activity. Where the ones at Hogwarts hadn’t been used in decades, perhaps even a century, the stables of Westerhaven were positively booming with activity as the man and James stumbled upon them.
Aside from the hustle and bustle of the servants, the most noticeable thing about the stables was the smell. The scent of manure, sweat, and good old fashioned hard work was all rolled into one and lingered in the air like his mother’s perfume, which smelled of roses. Only unlike his mother’s perfume, this was hardly pleasant. Quite the opposite, really; James had to force himself not to cover his nose as he was a stable boy and was supposed to be used to the smell. Even still, he didn’t how anyone could get used to this stench.
“There you are, Alastor,” came a pleasant sounding voice from somewhere behind them. “I was beginning to wonder if you’d skived off your duties.”
The man known as Alastor laughed again, though instead of sounding like the harsh bite of an axe into a fresh log, it was warmer. “Ach, no, I had ter round up Potter, I did,” responded Alastor with a shake of his head.
Intrigued, James looked over his shoulder and his eyebrows nearly skyrocketed off of his forehead, so great was his surprise. He knew the voice sounded familiar, but Remus Lupin wasn’t the only person in the world with a friendly voice; James would certainly never be able to pick him out of a crowd. Still, it was a shock and a half to see his best friend standing in front of him. And wearing a ridiculous jester costume to boot.
Remus smiled in greeting at him; it was the same tired, but warm smile James had found himself on the receiving end a thousand times before. Instantly, he felt comforted. “Hello, James. Having a good day?”
“More like an off day,” Alastor mumbled.
Ignoring the remark, James slipped his hands into his pockets and shrugged. “Suppose I can’t complain.”
“’course ye can’t complain,” interrupted Alastor, a wry smile on his gnarled face. “Ye got ter ride in the carriage with the princess, didn’t ye?”
The colour slipping away from his face, James saw Remus raise his eyebrows in surprise.
“You were in a carriage with the princess?” He managed to sound both impressed and disapproving at the same time. James couldn’t help smiling; maybe this Remus wasn’t so different from the one he left at Hogwarts. At James’ confirming nod, he asked, “What were you doing in there?”
Once again, Alastor interjected before James could respond. “I think ye know what they were doin’.” He waggled his eyebrow suggestively.
For some reason, the insinuation that he had been doing less than honourable things in a carriage with Lily sparked his temper. James clenched his fists in time with his jaw. “Nothing happened,” he insisted sternly. “I was stranded on the side of the road, the princess saw me, and offered to give me a hand.”
“Sure that’s not the only thing she gave you,” laughed Alastor, nudging a less-than-amused James in the side.
Surprisingly, Remus was the first to respond. “That’s no way to talk of the princess, Alastor,” he snapped, all but upturning his nose in disgust. “I’m sure if James said nothing happened then nothing happened.”
James flashed him a grateful smile, which he returned. A bit of his anxiety ebbed, though his blood still ran hot with anger. It was irrational to be so angry over such a flippant remark, especially since it probably wouldn’t have bothered him just a few weeks’ ago. But now that they were separated in a strange world, James felt very protective of her, even more so than usual.
“I was only jokin’.”
“Joking or not, those are the exact sort of remarks that’ll earn you a short drop and a sudden stop,” Remus cautioned, once again reminding James every bit of the Remus he knew as one of his best mates.
“Oh, ye take the fun out o’ everythin’, Remus,” Alastor complained as he shuffled towards the stable. “A bit o’ a contradiction, if I do say so meself. Yer a jester - yer supposed ter be funny.”
Well, James thought, surveying the bright red and bold blue of Remus’ costume. That certainly explains his choice in dress.
Remus rolled his eyes in a manner that suggested he had heard this remark more times than he cared to count. “Just mind what you say, will you, Alastor? You don’t want to follow the same path Padfoot, do you?”
James blinked. Had he heard right? Padfoot? Did that mean Sirius was here in Westerflower as well? He felt his brow furrow in thought. The way Remus had said the words, all dark and foreboding and with a hint of sadness, gave James the distinct impression that he was very well acquainted with Padfoot, like they were friends. Perhaps even best mates. So if Sirius was in Westerflower and was best friends with Remus, then where was he? What had happened to him?
The amusement fell away rather abruptly from Alastor’s face.
“I thought not,” sniffed Remus in satisfaction.
“No one wants ter end up like tha’,” replied Alastor. He gave a shudder. “Poor bloke.”
James frowned, wondering exactly what had happened to Padfoot. However, he knew better than to ask point blank what had occurred as it would probably garner him some very peculiar stares and, worst case scenario, give him away.
“Pity, really,” James added in for good measure.
The others hummed in agreement.
“Well,” Alastor began after a beat of silence. “It was nice ter see ye, Remus, but we’ve got a lot o’ work ter do before the sun sets. ‘specially Potter.” He leered at James. “Lots o’ stables with yer name on ’em, boyo.”
At the thought of shovelling manure, James grimaced, though he supposed things could be a whole lot worse. He could be stuck out on the dirt road without any clue where Lily was and what might be happening to her. At least at the castle he was near to her and, with a little prodding of certain servants, could get information about her. Hell, if he was able to sneak out from underneath Alastor’s watchful eye and check out the castle for himself, he could probably talk to her in person. Check up on her, though he doubted that she would like that very much.
Headstrong women - they could be so infuriating.
“Actually, could I borrow James for a moment? That’s why I came down here in the first place,” Remus confessed, throwing a look at James.
Alastor considered it a moment before nodding. “Fine, but don’t ye put any ideas inter his head now. And don’t keep him too long - I know how the two o’ ye are with yer court gossip.” He cackled before tottering into the stable.
Once he was out of earshot, Remus turned towards James, his eyebrows drawn together in apprehension, an expression that James had seen many a time on the boy’s prematurely lined face. He motioned for James to lean in closer, which he did after a moment’s hesitation.
“Are we still on for tonight?” he whispered, throwing a cautious look over his shoulder, though at what, James wasn’t sure.
“Er?” He scratched the back of his neck, his fingers inching towards the hair at the back of his head. Somehow, he resisted. “What’s happening tonight?”
Remus expelled a short breath. “I get it. You don’t want to continue any longer.” He frowned at his hands. “I understand. It must be tedious, trying to teach someone to be something they’re not.”
Confusion didn’t even begin to cover it. Giving into the urge, James raked his fingers through his hair, trying to formulate a response. “What - erm - aren’t you again?”
“I hope you’re joking,” said Remus in a decidedly unamused voice, pinning James with a stare of the same calibre. As James stared back at him blankly, struggling to find something, anything, to say to the poor boy in front of him, something shifted in Remus’ features. A smile wormed its way onto his face. “This is a test, isn’t it? A joke. To see if I’m picking up on subtle humour, right?”
James shrugged. Might as well play along. “Er - yes!” He pointed at Remus, smiling. “That’s exactly what this is. A test.”
Remus broke out into a grin, all but punching the air in excitement. “Really? And how did I do? No, wait!” he exclaimed as soon as James opened his mouth. “Don’t tell me now. Tell me later during our lesson. Will you be done with your duties by eleven?”
“Sweet mother of Merlin, I hope so,” sighed James, casting a forlorn look at the stables.
A barely noticeable furrow appeared in Remus’ brow and he looked as though he was about to question James’ word choice, but he shook his head and smiled. “Okay, brilliant. See you then, chap.” He clapped James on the shoulder then turned on his heels, heading back into the castle, though this time, there was a notable spring in his step.
With a long-suffering groan, James turned to face his doom.
“Couldn’t you just tell them that I got violently ill?” Lily suggested as she pulled the off-white slip over her head and tugged it down her chest; it pooled to the stone floor, covering up her dark blue slippers.
“I’ve told you once and I’ll tell you again, Princess, you have to go,” Mary said with a note of impatience colouring her tone.
“I’m a princess - I don’t have to do anything.” Lily knew she sounded like the spoiled brat she probably was in this world, but she couldn’t help it. She didn’t want to see her sister or Severus; not in this world or in her own.
“Unfortunately, you do,” Mary countered. “Your parents left Princess Petunia in charge when they went on holiday and she demands your presence at this afternoon’s tea. And you know how she gets when you disobey her, Lily.”
Lily grimaced, knowing exactly how Petunia acted when her words were ignored: Her temper tantrums could rival a four year old’s. Expelling a small sigh, Lily picked up the dark blue dress draped over the side of the screen. It felt itchy against her fingertips. “Do I have to wear this particular dress, though? It’s -”
“-completely hideous?” supplied Mary.
She laughed, popping her head round the screen. “Well, yes. And there are so many laces up the back,” she continued, running her fingers over the tiny gold loops. “It’ll take hours to get into…” she trailed off, sending a hopeful look in Mary’s direction.
“I know what you’re insinuating and no, you can’t. Your sister expressly told me that you must wear this dress as blue is Prince Snape’s favourite colour.”
“No, it’s not. It’s green,” Lily corrected automatically.
Mary raised an eyebrow. “You know his favourite colour?”
A blush spilled onto Lily’s cheeks. “N-no. I just assumed it was as he - er - wears green tunics all the time.”
Though she didn’t look convinced, Mary nodded. “Right, well, I think you have a green dress in your wardrobe. Shall I check for you?” She moved towards the massive wardrobe in the corner of the room, but Lily stopped her.
“No! I mean, it’s just that -” she paused to wet her lips “-well, this is the dress Tuney wants me to wear and I don’t want to upset her any further than I undoubtedly already have. How late am I again?”
“Nearly thirty minutes.”
She winced appreciatively. “Exactly. So let’s not upset my sister any further,” she said with a nod. “Now come over here and help me with this dress; it’s certainly not going to lace itself.”
While Mary laced Lily into her dress, the redhead hastily pulled a brush through her hair, hoping to tame her wild tresses. Several twigs and quite a few leaves tumbled to the floor as she worked out the tangles. It took Mary only minutes to finish lacing up the dress, thanks to her incredibly nimble fingers.
“Here,” she said, hurrying over to the dressing table and lifting a golden circlet from its pillow. “You’ll need this.” Pushing herself onto her tiptoes, Mary placed the circlet upon Lily’s brow and stepped back to admire her handiwork.
“Well?” Lily prompted, giving a little twirl. Suddenly, she felt like a five year old, modelling a dress for her mother in the sitting room. “How do I look?”
Mary studied her for several seconds before shrugging. “You’ve looked better, but it’ll do.”
Lily scoffed in mock-offence and Mary grinned.
“Come now, we must hurry. I can only imagine the state your sister’s in.”
“Where have you been?”
As she entered the room, Lily held back a shudder at the sound of her sister’s shrill voice. She raised her gaze to her sister and saw that she was unchanged - her hair was still blonde, she was still ridiculously thin and quite horse-like, and she was wearing a rather displeased expression. The only difference between this Petunia and her sister was that she was actually wearing the crown she so often pretended to have.
“I’m sorry to have kept you so long, Tuney - I mean, Petunia,” she corrected, doubting that her sister would like to be addressed by the nickname in public. Judging by the dark look that crossed her sharp features, Lily was correct. “There was a minor wardrobe malfunction.”
Petunia pursed her lips. “I’m sure there was.” She walked round the table to stand in front of Lily. “Luckily for you, we won’t be having tea with Prince Severus this afternoon.”
“What?” she demanded, temper flaring to life at once. “Why not?”
“On their journey here, the travelling party was attacked.”
“Attacked? By what? A giant butterfly?”
“That’s not funny, Lily,” snapped Petunia, her expression thunderous. “Not funny in the slightest.” She pulled on the bodice of her stiff gown as she glared down her long nose at Lily. “I would’ve thought you would be more concerned, considering.”
Lily frowned. “Considering what?”
“Sirius warned me about this,” Petunia mumbled with a shake of her head. “Have you been in the wine reserve in the cellar again?”
“What?! No, of course I haven’t,” she said, her impatience with her sister already wearing thin. They had only been in the same room together for five minutes! “Why would you even suggest that?”
“As if I need to remind you of your behaviour today,” remarked Petunia, sending one of her condescending looks in Lily’s direction.
Lily gritted her teeth. She hated that face, having been on the receiving end ever since she was three and Petunia five.
“If you must know,” Petunia continued, walking back to the table set for three and resuming her seat. “Severus is all right; he wasn’t hurt in the attack, but some of his servants were.”
“Oh.” Lily fidgeted with her hands, unsure of how she should react to the news. Her sister’s earlier comment bothered her - what was so peculiar about their relationship? Was he an extended member of their family? Did their relationship in Westerflower represent the could-have-been in the real world?
She gave herself a mental shake. Now was not the time to contemplate the issue - she could do that later in her chambers.
“That’s a relief,” she said.
“Well I should hope so,” Petunia laughed, a sharp, bitter sound that made Lily uneasy, “seeing as how if he was mortally wounded, you would be a widow before you were even married.”
A/N: DUN DUN DUN! What will happen next? Stay tuned to find out! Thanks for reading and to every one of you special people who reviews me! I’ve got so much love for you. XOXO.
lovely image by Squiggles @ TDA
As Petunia chattered away about some court scandal or another, Lily looked over at Mary, who stood in the corner next to her sister’s maid, and gave a little wave, hoping the blonde girl would spot the movement. Thankfully, Mary was extremely perceptive and she paused in her quiet talk with the other maid and hurried over to Lily. Petunia was so caught up with her story that she didn’t even notice.
Mary knelt down beside Lily’s chair. “What do you require, Your Highness?” she asked softly, sending a cautious look in Petunia’s direction.
“I need you to find someone for me,” replied Lily, her voice just as low. “He’s a stable boy and he’s called Mr Potter.”
Almost as soon as the name left her lips, Mary’s eyebrows rose. “You mean James Potter?” At Lily’s confirming nod, she frowned. “What do you want with him?”
“There’s a matter of -er - utmost importance that I must speak to him about.”
Mary paled, thinking about the gossip she’d just heard from Marietta. “You’re not dismissing him, are you?”
“Dismissing him? Of course not!” Her voice climbed in volume and Lily cut her eyes over to Petunia, but still, the elder girl chattered away about the Duchess of Rosemary’s affair with Lord Saffron of Spice Valley. “Why would I dismiss him?”
Mary made sure that Princess Petunia was thoroughly distracted before she said, “Because of what happened this afternoon.”
“Nothing happened,” Lily said.
The look she received from Mary was full of scepticism. “This isn’t the first time you’ve been caught in a carriage with a - well - a handsome young man who was most definitely not your betrothed,” whispered Mary.
This time it was Lily who paled, though she tried her best to keep her composure. “Just find him for me, will you, Mary?”
“Of course I will, Your Majesty.” The blonde bowed her head in acquiescence and retreated.
Before she could get too far away, Lily grabbed her by the wrist and hissed, “And be discreet about it! I don’t want anyone getting any ideas.”
There was a knowing glimmer in Mary’s eyes as she nodded and backed out of the tea room, the soft click of the door barely registering through the room. Coincidentally, it was the softest of noises, not the poorly whispered conversation, that made Petunia pause in the middle of her story and frown.
“What on Earth was that?”
“A bird hit the window!”
“Oh…okay…well, then Lady Saffron told him just where he could shove those silver candlesticks…”
With an almighty sigh, James backed into the wall and slid down to the floor, every muscle in his body screaming in protest: His arms were rubber, his legs little more than jelly; there were thick ropes of tension coiled in his neck and his shoulder; his back ached with a hurt that was vaguely reminiscent of being nailed with a Bludger; his head felt like a hippogriff had sat on it. His entire body was covered in a fine layer of sweat and when he lifted a hand to wipe the sweat away from his face, his bicep burned fiercely at the effort. As soon as his blistered hand touched his glistening forehead, James winced; the salt from his sweat stung the red, raw wounds.
“Fuck,” he hissed through gritted teeth, clenching his hand in hopes of dulling the pain. It wasn’t the worst pain he had ever felt in his life, but it wasn’t exactly pleasant, especially when coupled with the overall ache of his entire being. Seriously, muscles he didn’t even know existed twinged with the strain of a hard day’s work, which, James was unashamed to admit, he had never done in his life.
When Alastor had passed him a pitchfork and told him to muck out the stables, James had thought it would be a relatively easy task. All he had to do was clear away the soiled hay and replace it with new hay. It wasn’t difficult work and James had finished within twenty minutes. Thinking he had finished for the day, he’d reported back to Alastor, only to have his parade rained on.
Very, very thoroughly.
“Ye didn’ think ye’d only git one job terday, did ye?” Alastor had laughed rather cruelly at the shocked look on James’ face.
“Yer ridiculous, boyo,” the older man had said with a shake of his head. “Ye’ve only finished with one stall! There be fourteen others ter clean, then ye hafta lead the horses through their exercises, and then ye’ve got ter take Princess Lily’s mare ter the smithy’s ter git reshoed.”
Make that torrential rain.
James had stared at Alastor in utter incredulity. “Oh,” he’d begun loftily, his muscles already cringing in anticipation. “Is that all?”
Again, Alastor had thrown his head back and laughed mockingly. “’Course not. Frank didn’ turn up terday, so ye git his duties, too.”
Before James had been able to reply in outrage, Alastor had turned his back and hobbled off in the opposite direction, his shoulders visibly shaking with mirth. James had narrowed his eyes, inwardly declaring his hatred for the man.
Seven hours later, James still hated him, perhaps more so than he had at the start of his duties.
The mucking wouldn’t have been so bad had it not been for the blisters on his hands. Even though he wore gloves, they were old gloves and worn through so much that by the eighth stall, the fabric had torn and his palms and fingers were cracked and bleeding, a slow trickle of blood seeping into the sleeve of his shirt. James had tried to mend the wound with a spell, but he came upon the most unfortunate discovery: Magic didn’t work in Westerflower.
His stomach sinking and his back aching, James had returned to his work (making a mental note to tell Lily about the no magic thing) and, with a grimace, completed all of his duties. Walking the horses through their training exercises shouldn’t have been hard, but it had been extremely difficult, considering the closest he had ever been to a horse was an unicorn, which had tried to spear him with its horn when he’d mimed something less than appropriate to a guffawing Sirius, and he hadn’t the slightest idea what to do. Thankfully, Frank, a tall blonde man with a pleasant demeanour despite his burliness, had decided to show up (with a fierce hangover) after all and took charge of the situation while James played assistant.
The only duty that hadn’t exhausted James was walking Lily’s mare to the smithy’s. In fact, it had been a downright relaxing stroll through the streets of Westerflower’s capital city, minus the fact he’d stepped in horse shit more times than any person should ever have to in their life and had to run out of the smithy’s after the intimidating man had caught him staring at his daughter’s considerable cleavage. At least the mare had cooperated with him, though.
Now, James was relishing in what he thought was a well-deserved self-pity party. Tipping his head back against the wall, he closed his eyes and tried not to focus on the pain. While he was certainly no stranger to pain, the other injuries he’d been dealt over the years were just that - injuries, most of which were the result of something particularly foolish and entirely accidental.
This was different. Even though his entire body hurt, he felt oddly proud of himself because, for once, it wasn’t an accident, it wasn’t an injury. It was just pain. Granted, a whole lot of it, but there you have it.
Before he could congratulate himself, a sharp, hissing voice punctuated his thought process.
His eyes snapping open, James sprang to his feet as sprightly as his aching body would allow, which wasn’t very sprightly at all. He might as well have been an old man trying to push himself out of his favourite armchair that had miraculously moulded around his arse.
“Lily?” questioned James as he swivelled his eyes about the stable. He saw no one, not even Alastor, who had been lurking in his peripheral for the majority of the day.
“Lily? What? No! I’m not Lily!” the girl said, the sharp edge giving way to incredulity. “And that’s Princess Lily to you, James!”
James rolled his eyes. He should’ve guessed that Lily would send one of her minions after him rather than fetching him herself. “Er, right. Sorry. I forget - hey, wait a minute!” he exclaimed, his brow furrowed. “How d’you know my name?”
“It’s me, you idiot. Of course I know your name.”
Leave it to Lily to pick the most brazen servant to come and find him, though he supposed that, given his position in the castle, he would know the girl addressing him; she certainly sounded like she knew him. Perhaps they were even friends. Inwardly, James cursed - if he continued like this, he would be ousted for the fraud he was before he even had his dinner. And his stomach was being clawed apart by the talons on hunger.
“And you would be?” he hedged.
“Oh, for goodness sakes!” the girl exclaimed, and James imagined her throwing up her hands in frustration. “First Her Royal Highness and now you?” He heard her cluck her tongue in disapproval. “Honestly, there must be something in the water!”
“I’ll say,” muttered James as his hand jumped towards his hair to muss it up as he was prone to do in uncomfortably awkward situations like this one. “Would you mind, you know, coming out from wherever you’re hiding so I can see you? I don’t like talking to thin air.”
“No, you only enjoy blowing hot air,” teased the girl. She even snickered at her own joke.
James gnashed his teeth. If she kept it up, she would be joining Alastor on his black list.
“But I digress,” the girl continued, mirth still tickling her voice. “The princess sent me here to tell you that she needs to talk to you.”
His eyebrows rose in surprise, which he tried to keep out of his voice. “To me?” he repeated, dumbfounded. “Why would Lily - I mean, why would the princess want to talk to me?”
“To be honest, I haven’t the slightest idea, James,” the girl confessed. “And no, I can’t come out; the princess told me to be discreet and that means remaining in the shadows.”
“Er - okay.”
She ploughed on as though he hadn’t interrupted her. “Princess Lily requests that you meet her in the Rose Garden at precisely half eleven this evening. And not a minute later,” she tacked on.
“Did she say why?”
“No, only that it was extremely important that you meet her there.” If he didn’t know any better, James would have thought Lily’s maid sounded rather disapproving of her lady’s actions. “And please, James, for both of our sakes, do not keep the princess waiting. She’s had a rough day and…well, suffice to say, she’s in a right foul mood.”
This didn’t surprised James at all: Lily had been in a strop for as long as he had known her and she always blamed him for it. Though he would never admit it out loud, perhaps there was some truth in Lily’s accusations. But only a little.
“Right, well, I must be going,” said the girl. “What shall I tell the princess?” There was a pleading note in her voice that made him feel almost sorry for her. Evidently, she knew the extent of Lily’s temper just as well as he did.
Without hesitation, James nodded, despite the fact the girl couldn’t see him. “Yes. Rose Garden at half eleven; I’ll be there.”
The girl laughed. “It’s not like you had much of a choice anyway, but still, it’s nice that you’re cooperating. I’ll see you later, James.”
“See you, Mary,” James replied automatically before his eyes widened to roughly the size of saucers. He could hardly tell his left from his right, much less one girl’s voice from another’s. Unless it was Lily, of course; he could spot her voice from anywhere. So how he had known it was Mary left him a little more than dumbfounded, but before he could contemplate the issue any further, a bell sounded in the distance.
Alastor’s voice echoed across the stables. “Dinner time!”
His stomach purring with happiness, James left the stable, though the smell of it remained with him.
By the time she escaped her sister’s clutches, it was nearly ten thirty in the evening. Following their tea, Petunia had insisted they take a walk around the Royal Gardens together to “catch up” on gossip, as if she hadn’t been gossiping the entire time. Lily had frozen, thinking that Sirius had told her sister about Potter and that she was going to be reprimanded for it; after all, Mary had said their parents had left Petunia in charge.
Following their walk in the Royal Gardens, Lily had wanted to leave her sister’s company, only to discover it was time for dinner. Which, as it turns out, was a very lavish, involved affair. The moment she’d stepped into the castle, Lily had been whisked away to her rooms, where she was unceremoniously stripped by two maids and then shoved into a gown of deep purple taffeta with beautiful embroidery before being pushed out of the door for dinner, which, as expected, was another boring affair consisting of court gossip and little else.
The only saving grace of the evening had been when Mary had slipped into the dining hall, which was not unlike the Great Hall at Hogwarts, and hurried to Lily’s side.
“Well?” she’d pressed, her eyes searching the blonde’s face.
“He will meet you,” the other had replied, a small, albeit cautious smile on her face.
And that was how Lily found herself slipping out of the castle and hurrying towards the Rose Garden, the most secluded of the five Flower Gardens, at nearly eleven o’clock, still in her dinner dress. As stunning as the dress was, it was also very heavy and she was sweating in it. A part of her wished she would’ve taken the time to change into something more comfortable; Potter wasn’t going to be on time anyway - he was anything but punctual and he’d probably keep her waiting anyway.
The thought had barely left her head when she saw him sitting on one of the benches, bent over his knees with his hands buried in his hair; he looked tired. Exhausted, even. If it hadn’t been for his messy locks, she wouldn’t have been able to tell it was him, but even with his head bent and his fingers twined through his hair, there was no mistaken Potter.
She tried to hide her surprise as she approached. “Potter,” she said as a way of greeting.
James dropped his hands and looked up at the sound of her voice. His eyes grew wide as he took in the sight of her in her dress; he had to swallow before he spoke. “Evans,” he returned with a pleasant smile, though there was no mistaking the hitch in his voice.
Trying not to be too pleased, Lily reminded herself of why she had asked him to meet her in the first place. “This isn’t a romantic rendezvous,” she blurted.
James jumped to his feet, holding up his hands. “I never said it was!”
“I know you didn’t,” Lily said hurriedly, glad that it was dark and Potter couldn’t see her blush. She squared her shoulders and stared at him with her best authority face. “But I wanted to make that clear. The only reason why I asked you to meet me is because -”
“We need to talk,” James finished with an impatient nod of his head.
“Yes,” Lily said. “Look, we have a huge problem.”
“You mean aside from being stuck in a fairy tale realm?”
“Potter!” She pinched her nose. “Do you always have to state the obvious?”
“Only when you make it so easy,” he replied.
She resisted the urge to stomp on his foot. “As I was saying,” she said through gritted teeth. “We have a problem.”
“Yes,” James agreed, his demeanour suddenly grave. “We do.”
Lily’s eyebrows knitted together in confusion. “You know about my betrothal?” she asked, hands flying to her hips. “Who told you?”
“Betrothal?” James repeated, sounding as confused as Lily felt. “What betrothal? Who are you betrothed to?”
“Will you keep your voice down?” she growled, shooting him a warning glare.
“How do you expect me to keep my voice down when you tell me that you’re betrothed?” James questioned. Immediately, he began to pace. He expelled an impatient breath as his hand leapt to his hair, mussing up the locks even further.
“I don’t understand why you’ve got your knickers in such a twist,” Lily said as she watched him pace in front of her. “You’re not the one marrying Snape.”
She knew as soon as the words left her mouth that she shouldn’t have said them. James rounded on her, his eyes huge and his face a mask of utmost shock. “Snape?” he spat venomously. “You’re marrying Snape?”
“It’s not like it’s my choice!” Lily exclaimed, taking an angry step towards him. “I don’t want to marry him!”
“Good! You shouldn’t!” James shouted back. “He’s a slimy git.”
Ignoring the insult against her once-friend (and quelling the odd urge to laugh), Lily pinned him with a studious stare. “I think it’s safe for me to assume that your discovery was not of my engagement to Snape then, was it?”
“No,” he dismissed with a shake of his head. “It wasn’t that.”
“Then what was it?” she asked as she absentmindedly fiddled with the sleeve of her gown. “It can’t be worse than finding out you’ve got Snape as a fiancé.”
When she saw his expression shift from one of surprise to uncertainty, Lily’s stomach hardened. She didn’t like seeing that look on Potter’s face; it looked out of place. Unnatural. It made her terrified of his response.
Lily cleared her throat. “Potter?” she pressed gently, unsure if she should touch him to draw him out of his thoughts.
The sound of her voice seemed to be enough to jolt him from his silence. The tension didn’t leave his shoulders, but he did rake his fingers through his hair, which Lily had only recently discovered was a nervous habit of his. “You’re not going to like it,” he said cautiously.
Lily laughed sharply. “Like I said, I’m sure it’s not any worse than knowing you’re going to have play wife to Severus Snape.”
There was something about the way he arched his eyebrow in challenge that made Lily uneasy. She was expecting bad news, something like Sirius had told Petunia about their carriage ride and Potter was getting in trouble for it or, worst yet, she was getting punished for it. Whatever she was expecting, it certainly wasn’t Potter’s next words:
“Magic doesn’t work here.”
“What?” She gave a disbelieving shake of her head. “What do you mean, magic doesn’t work here?”
“I tried to perform a Healing Charm this morning when I injured my hand and it didn’t work.” When he held up his hand, Lily was surprised to see there was a white cloth wrapped around his palm, the middle of it stained with red. How odd; she hadn’t noticed that before.
Still, she didn’t want to believe what he said, what she saw before her. “Are you sure you did the spell right?” she asked, stepping forwards and taking his hand within her grasp. She tried to ignore the slight pool of warmth gathering in her stomach as she inspected the bandage, running her finger along its raised edge and wincing at the blisters on his knuckles. “I know Charms isn’t your best subject and Healing Spells are difficult…”
“It didn’t work, Lily. I tried multiple spells at least a dozen times a piece and nothing worked.” He frowned down at his hand, watching as she looked over her hand. “We can’t do magic.”
A/N: Yeah, so I may or may not have gotten a little carried away with this chapter, but stuff actually happened in this one! Also, I know I’ve been ending all of the chapters on “cliff-hangers”, so don’t think it’s escaped my attention because it hasn’t - I’ve been working on solving that problem. Anyway, tell me what you think about it!
stunningly beautiful image by Violet @ TDA
Wrapping her knuckles on the door, Mary waited for permission to enter, but none came. It was early in the morning; dawn had only just broke, but the serving girl had already been awake for hours, it seemed. There was hardly any rest for a working girl, especially one who was the personal maid of the crowned princess. She knocked on the door again, but received no response. Frowning, Mary opened the door, knowing that her lady wouldn’t get too upset about the intrusion.
The thick drapes had been pulled over the windows, no doubt by the princess herself, so the room was shrouded in darkness, save for the embers still glowing softly in the hearth. As Mary quietly pulled the door shut behind her, she noticed that the bedclothes were rumpled, though the bed did not look slept in. The frown on her face deepened; she hoped that Lily hadn’t spent the entire night with James.
She tip-toed over to the bed and sure enough, it was empty. The blankets had been tossed aside and nearly all of the pillows were on the floor, which wasn’t unusual. Mary placed a hand on the mattress and was unsurprised to discover that the bed was cold. She pursed her lips, her eyes drifting over to the balcony. The princess had a habit of rising before dawn to watch the sunrise, so perhaps she was leaning against the balustrade, daydreaming about her impending nuptials instead of snoring away in a stack of hay with the penniless stable boy, but Mary knew all too well of Princess Lily’s soft spot for the underprivileged and her penchant for rebelling against her parents’ wishes.
A small sigh escaped Mary - she really hoped that Lily was standing on the balcony; a scandal was the very last thing the princess needed, especially with so few days remaining until her wedding.
“My Lady?” she called out cautiously, keeping her voice low as she pushed aside one of the thick drapes to open the door outside. The handle turned under the weight of her hand, which meant it hadn’t been locked, which meant that perhaps her anxiety would be for nothing and the princess would be standing outside on the balcony.
Mary had to shield her eyes from the bright burst of sunlight, it was so bright. “Princess?” she tried again, her sight stolen from her by the light. “Are you out here?”
“Yeah,” came the bored voice of the crowned princess. “I’m here.”
Another breath of relief fell from Mary’s lips as she blinked away the white spots from her vision. “Oh, thank goodness. I thought-” she stopped herself, remembering her tongue. She had no right to criticise her lady.
Lily wasn’t leaning against the balustrade, but she was sitting on it; her back was resting against the side of the castle, her knees drawn up to her chest. There was a soft furrow in her brow, almost as though she had been deep in thought before Mary had interrupted her.
Immediately, Mary bowed her head. “I’m sorry, My Lady. I didn’t mean to interrupt you.”
“You didn’t interrupt,” Lily said, staring down at her bare feet. She was wearing her night dress, a simple white gown that stopped just below her knees. “I was just thinking.”
“I know,” said Mary, “but you looked like you were contemplating something, and I know I don’t like to be interrupted when contemplating, so forgive me.”
“You’re forgiven.” Lily smiled softly at Mary. “Even though you didn’t do anything wrong,” she added.
They stood in a comfortable silence for a few moments before Mary mustered the courage to ask, “Is there something bothering you, princess?”
“No,” Lily responded, a little too quickly for either girl’s liking. “I mean, I’m fine, just a little tired.” At Mary’s inquisitive look, she continued, “I didn’t sleep very well last night.”
“I did notice the bedclothes were rumpled,” supplied Mary with a small shrug of her petite shoulders. “Would you like for me to fetch the court physician? He could brew you a nice sleeping draught.”
Lily’s eyebrows rose slightly. “A sleeping drought? Someone knows how to brew potions?”
Mary tried not to laugh too much at the princess’s hopeful words. “I wouldn’t call it a potion, but yes, the physician is more than capable of brewing a satisfactory sleeping draught.” At this, Mary frowned. “I thought you would’ve known that, seeing as how you’ve taken it several times before…”
Lily didn’t like the penetrating look she received from Mary; it was almost like the girl knew there was something off about her. Which, of course, there was, but that wasn’t the point. She had to remember to keep herself in check, to not act surprised when she found out certain information. Sirius the talking dog was already on to her, she didn’t need her maid questioning her actions, too.
“Oh yes,” Lily said as if something had suddenly dawned upon her. “I remember now. I guess his draughts were indeed satisfactory, seeing as how I can’t remember the nights I drank them.” She laughed a very fake laugh, but the intensity of Mary’s stare eased, her features became more relaxed.
“Yes, they are quite strong,” Mary agreed with a small smile. “Shall I make a trip down to his rooms today to acquire some for you, My Lady?”
“No,” Lily replied, scooting away from the wall and swinging her legs over the balustrade. She slipped down from her perch. “I can get it myself. Besides,” she added when she saw Mary’s expression, “you have a lot of other things to do today.”
At the unnecessary reminder of her duties, Mary pulled a face, which made Lily laugh.
“Now,” she said, breezing her way past her maid and slipping into her chambers. “I believe I have a breakfast to get ready for.”
“You do,” Mary nodded. “And your sister asked if you do something with your hair; she didn’t like to see it free yesterday. She said it made you look like a - a scarlet woman.”
Throwing her head back, Lily laughed, loud and hard, as she stepped behind the changing screen and slipped off her dress. Mary smiled at the sound. It was a rare sound nowadays.
If James thought his muscles ached last night, it was nothing compared to how he felt when he woke up in the morning. However, he was barely able to blink the sleep out of his eyes before a pitchfork was shoved into his hands and he was instructed to muck out the stables yet again.
“And don’t take forever,” advised Alastor as he backed out the stables. “Yer’ve got ter prepare fer the prince’s arrival.”
James raised his eyebrows. “The prince is coming today?”
“Ach, no,” Alastor dismissed with a shake of his head. “He’ll be here tomorrow evening, but tha’ doesn’t mean ye can slack off!”
Grimacing at his retreating figure, James set to work, mentally preparing himself for the inevitable pain that would only grow worse as the day progressed.
He finished mucking out the stables before midday and was on his way to collect the grooming supplies from a young lad named Stephen when he ran into a solid form.
“Oh, sorry,” he said dismissively as he pushed himself to his feet and wiped the dirt away from his tunic. “Are you all - oh,” he stopped himself at the sight of a familiar face. “Hello, Remus.”
Remus glared at him, which caught him off guard. “James,” he ground out, his voice even harder than his eyes.
Immediately, James frowned. “Did I do something wrong?”
“I don’t know. Did you?“ Remus said evenly, though his placement of his hands on his hips gave him away.
“Okay, so I did do something wrong.”
“How do you -”
“I can tell by the way you’re acting. You always get passive-aggressive-y when you’re angry, Remus,” commented James. “So why don’t you tell me so I can apologise for it?”
Remus gave a dry chuckle. “Where would you like me to begin, James? The part where you bumped into me and apologised insincerely or the part where you forgot about our lesson?”
As soon as the words left Remus’ lips, James smacked a palm to his forehead. “Oh, Merlin, Moony, I’m so sorry,” he said in a rush, not even taking into consideration the fact he might not be on such friendly terms with Remus or that Remus even had a nickname. “I didn’t mean to forget, honest. It’s just that -”
“It’s always just something, James,” Remus interrupted.
“But this time it was really important!”
“So making a promise to help me out isn’t important anymore?”
“What? No! Of course not!” James sputtered. “I mean, not like that!” he exclaimed at the sight of Remus’ thunderous expression. “I meant that it is important to me, of course it is, you’re my best friend…right? We’re best friends?”
“I don’t know if we are at the moment, but yes,” Remus said coldly, his confirming nod unusually stiff. “I guess we are.”
“So if we’re best friends,” James began, silently thanking whatever deity was worshipped in Westerflower for letting him catch such a break, “you’ll let me explain myself then? Because you know I wouldn’t break a promise without a good reason.”
Remus regarded him silently for a few moments, his eyes still narrowed, though there wasn’t a fire in them, only resignation. Inwardly, James grinned; pleading speeches always worked on Remus.
“All right, fine,” sighed the blonde boy. “You’ve got three minutes to explain yourself.”
James unleashed his grin. “Brilliant. Anyway, the reason why I failed to show up last night - and notice I didn’t say the reason why I broke my promise because, well, I didn’t, not intentionally - was because the princess - as in Princess Lily, not Princess Petunia; she’s a hag and a half and I don’t care who hears it - wanted to speak with me in the Rose Garden about a matter of utmost importance.”
By the time he finished, he was out of breath, and therefore heaved the hugest sigh of his life.
And then Remus laughed in his face. “You expect me to believe that rubbish?”
Remus doubled over, slapping his thigh as he all but cackled at the blue-grey sky. “Honestly, James,” he said after he’d calmed down, though his laughter tickled his voice. “Why don’t you just tell me the truth?”
Again, James frowned. “But that is the truth. Why would I make something like that up? Just yesterday, you said you believed me when I said nothing had gone on between myself and Lily - I mean, Princess Lily - in the carriage.”
“Oh that? I only said that because I didn’t want Alastor to get in trouble for speaking ill of the princess,” answered Remus harshly. “What? You really thought I believed your story?” He snorted. “That’s rich, mate. I don’t even think you were in the carriage with the princess, just some female member of the nobility that, for some unknown reason, seem to be inescapably attracted to you.”
“Wait,” James said, holding up his hands to stop Remus’ tirade. “I’ve been involved with the nobility before?”
Remus tried and failed to maintain a serious expression, but only succeeded in laughing even harder than he had been before. Now, he was drawing stares and not only from the servants of Westerhaven Castle.
“If I didn’t know any better,” Remus said after he drew a deep breath, a hand clasped to his side, which ached from laughing so hard. “I wouldn’t even think you’re my best mate, but some man from an alternate universe who’s replaced him, but we both know that’s ridiculous.”
James made sure to school his features into a mask of amusement instead of one of shock. “Ha ha, yeah,“ he chuckled nervously. “That’s so ridiculous.”
“But really, why’d you abandon me in my hour of need?” Remus questioned, suddenly serious again. “And don’t say anything about covert meetings with the crowned princess.”
Releasing a soft sigh, James pushed a hand through his hair and struggled to come up with a lie that wasn’t too elaborate or involved anyone he knew in the castle - which surmounted to a grand total of three people: Lily, Petunia (though he hadn’t actually met her), and Mary.
“I cut my hand,” said James, holding up the offending, bandage hand.
This seemed to be enough for Remus, whose eyes widened as the sight of the bandage. “Oh my God, James, that looks bad. How’d you do it?”
Now that Remus believed him, it was easier for James to lie. It was weird, but it had always been that way: If Moony was convinced, then just about anyone would be - except McGonagall. She could sniff out a lie better than a niffler could gold. He launched into the story of his encounter at the smithy’s, though he added a considerate amount to the story, so while it contained some truth, there was only a little.
By the end of it, Remus was in stitches again, though this time his laughter was pleasant, less scathing.
“Oh, mate,” he said, clapping James on the shoulder. “I swear, you have the worst luck with women. That’s almost as hilarious as the incident with Lord Oregano’s daughter.”
Though he had no clue what Moony was on about, James laughed, happy to be on his friend’s good side again. “Now, how about I make up for being such a horrid friend and give you a lesson?”
Remus’ eyes brightened. “Really? Now?” His gaze dimmed in brilliance as he regarded James. “Don’t you have duties to do?”
“Nope,” James lied through his teeth, which flashed stunningly when he smiled at Remus. “I’ve just finished them. Alastor said I had the afternoon to myself, which I am now dedicating to you.” He poked Remus in the chest to add emphasis.
Remus beamed. “Brilliant.”
“So,” James said as they headed back towards the stables, where he thought would be the best place to partake in these “funny lessons” as it was secluded from sight and if Alastor interrupted, all he had to do was grab a pitchfork and pretend his side was alight with flames. “What do you want to learn first?”
“Can we continue the juggling lesson?” Remus asked. “I think I’m starting to get the hang of it.”
His smile fumbled, but only slightly. “Sure, Moons, whatever you want.”
A plate slammed into the wall and promptly shattered into a thousand tiny pieces, making the innkeeper’s daughter give a small shriek of terror.
“I told you no green vegetables!” shrieked the Crowned Prince of Easterhollow and Her Surrounding Territories, Severus Snape. “How hard is that to understand?”
“I-I’m sorry, Your Highness,” the girl squeaked, her blue eyes welling with tears.
“Oh, you’re sorry? You think an apology is going to make this better?” he seethed through clenched teeth, jabbing a finger at the mess on the floor. “I’m hungry and now there’s a mess on the floor!”
The girl chewed her lip, wishing her father would return from his business at the apothecary.
“Well, are you just going to stand there or are you going to clean it up?” Snape screamed, which made the poor girl jump about a foot in the air before hurrying to attend to the mess. His jaw tightened as his fist clenched so tightly around the edge of the table, his pallid knuckles turned even whiter. “Idiot girl.”
Snape watched the girl as she knelt down and collected the fractured pieces of porcelain and the slop the cook dared to call food in the folds of her apron. He loosened his grip on the table and sank back into his seat, which was, he had to admit, comfortable. His eyes followed her as she made her way towards the door.
“And this time,” Snape drawled, pretending to pick dirt out from under his nails, which was just absurd because his nails were sparkling clean, just like every bit of him was, “don’t put green vegetables on the plate. If the mistake occurs again, I don’t think I’ll be so lenient.”
Her eyes wide as saucers, the girl nodded her head. “Y-yes, Your Majesty,” she stammered, curtseying as she backed out of the room.
Once she was gone, Snape leaned back in his chair and propped his feet up on the table. “Avery!” he said with a snap of his fingers. “I need you.”
Almost immediately, a mousy haired young man appeared at his side, dropping down to his knees with his head bent. “Whatever do you need, my liege?”
“First of all, you can replace this wine with one of the bottles I brought along as a gift for Lily,” Snape said, thrusting his goblet into Avery’s outstretched hand and causing the scarlet liquid to slop all over the place. “I’m sure she won’t miss something she didn’t even know she had. And second, after you remove my boots, shine them. If I’m going to be in the presence of the Princesses of Westerflower, I want to see my reflection in my shoes.”
“Yes, my liege,” Avery said with a deep nod. “Anything else?”
“Hmm,” Snape said, curling his tiny chin beard round his finger as he contemplated any other requests he could make. “Oh, I’ve got it.” He sat up in his seat, his feet slipping from the table top. Then he held them out to Avery. “Rub.”
“R-rub, my liege? You want me to rub your feet?”
“After you remove the boots, you stupid swine, yes,” Snape said. “And hurry with the wine already. I’m absolutely parched.”
Barely able to refrain from grimacing, Avery nodded his head dutifully. “Yes, my liege. Anything for the crowned prince.”
As his servant ducked out of the chamber, Snape smiled to himself, still stroking his thin beard as he marvelled at the wonder he was.
A/N: A bit of filler, yes, but it’s setting events into motion. In the next chapter, Snape shall make his grand entrance at Westerhaven Castle and Sirius will return! Yay! Thanks for reading!
The door to her chambers banged open.
“LILY!” Petunia shrieked as she stalked into her little sister’s room.
“What?” Lily questioned, not rising from her relaxed position on her bed, where she had been reading a book.
“Don’t take that tone with me,” she snapped, tilting her chin imperiously. “What do you think you’re doing?”
“Well, I was reading until you decided to barge in here -”
“I did not barge.”
Lily rolled her eyes, dog-earring the page of the botany book she’d been flipping through and setting it aside. It wasn’t engrossing like some of her novels back home, but it was engaging enough to entertain her. She folded her hands on her lap and stared up at her sister, adopting a sweet smile. “May I help you?”
Tugging on the bodice of her dress, Petunia glared down her very long nose at her sister. “You can start by ditching the attitude - I will not tolerate it today of all days. Today is too important to put up with your childish behaviour.”
Lily grimaced. She had tried to avoid thinking about Snape’s arrival at the castle, mainly because it solidified the fact her parents, who had yet to return from their holiday in the mountains, had promised her to a man she didn’t even love, let alone know. At least not this version of Snape. But then Petunia had come barging into her room without any form of decorum, snapping at her just as she usually did.
“And there’s no use in making faces, Lily,” added Petunia once she caught sight of her sister’s expression. “Prince Severus will be here by evening and there’s nothing you can do to prevent it from happening.”
“I could order our troops to ambush him,” Lily muttered darkly, crossing her arms over her chest. As childish as it sounded, she didn’t like being told what to do, especially not by her older sister.
Petunia gasped. “You will do no such thing!” she screeched, her voice reaching a new hair-rising volume. “And you will stop this nonsense immediately or else -”
“Or else what?” Lily challenged, arching a brow. “You’ll tell Mummy and Daddy?”
“Yes,” Petunia responded with a sharp nod. “I will. And you know how Daddy gets when you disobey his direct orders.”
“But these aren’t his direct orders, Tuney,” argued Lily, knowing that she was burrowing further and further beneath her sister’s skin with every word she said. “They’re yours and as far as I’m concerned, they have no hold over me.”
Emitting a small shriek of rage, Petunia stomped her foot on the ground. “Daddy put me in charge, so you have to do exactly as I say!” She glowered at Lily. “Even if these aren’t his direct orders, if he found out you were intentionally trying to sabotage your marriage to Prince Severus, which has been cemented since before you were born, he would go mental!”
“Then let him go mental!” Lily exclaimed, leaping to her feet. “I don’t want to marry Snape!”
“That’s Prince Severus to you, Lily,” growled Petunia, stepping so close to Lily, she had to cross her eyes to see the thin blonde properly. “If you don’t wish to be locked in your chambers for the rest of the day, I think you would do well to apologise to me for making such calloused remarks about your promised husband and adjust your attitude to one more fitting of your status! Do I make myself clear?”
Grinding her teeth, Lily gave a short nod of her head.
Her features twisting unattractively, Lily spat, “I’m sorry, Petunia.”
Though it was hardly a sincere apology, the fact there were servants around to hear it be made seemed to be enough for Petunia. She took a step away from her sister, smoothed out the front of her dress, and cleared her throat primly. “Now, where’s your maid?” She gave a snap of her fingers, craning her neck around the room. “Mary? Mary, where are you?”
“She’s eating lunch,” Lily answered bitingly. “She should be back soon.”
“Oh,” said Petunia, clearly caught off guard by the information. “Well, then, perhaps I shall have Bernice give her a talking to; she shouldn’t be taking time out of her schedule to eat lunch when there’s preparations to be made.” She shook her head to herself. “But no matter. We’ll have someone else dress you.” Again, she snapped her fingers. “Jane?”
A reed of a girl appeared at Petunia’s side in an instant. “Yes, Your Highness?”
Petunia didn’t even spare the girl a glance. “Help my sister into a fresh dress. And make sure it is appropriate for today’s mood.”
The girl looked unsure. “Which is?”
“Joyous, of course,” Petunia said in a tone that suggested it was the most obvious thing in the world. “And no matter how much she begs and pleads, do not let her wear any of the dresses our aunt bought for her. They’re too modern, too daring. Am I understood?”
The girl curtseyed. “Yes, Your Highness.”
“Good girl.” Petunia smiled acidly at Lily. “You should take a lesson out of dear Jane’s book and learn some obedience.”
Lily did nothing but glower at her sister. “Goodbye,” she said mordantly, giving a little sarcastic wave of her fingers.
“Goodbye, dear sister of mine,” replied Petunia in a sickly sweet voice. “See you at sundown.”
With an ostentatious wink, Petunia shut the door behind her. While Lily sulked inside, the elder Evans girl turned towards the black dog sitting in the corridor, panting as he stared up at her, awaiting his orders.
“Make sure to follow her if she leaves,” Petunia instructed. “I don’t care if she’s making a trip to the next room, do not let her out of your sight.”
“Yes, Your Majesty,” Sirius said mechanically. “Of course, Your Highness.”
She gave a simpering smile and pat him once on the head. “Good dog,” she said before breezing down the corridor.
James paused in his work to take a break and catch his breath.
When he had woke that morning, he had expected to attend to his usual duties, which he usually completed before lunch, but Alastor had another thing for him.
“You want me to what?”
“Some o’ the gard’ners didn’t show up, so ye’ve got ter help with the tendin’,” Alastor had explained.
“Flowers, ye eejit, what else?” Shaking his head, Alastor had lumbered towards the door. “And ye best git a move on - the princess is comin’ ter inspect yer work at three.” He’d smacked James’ bare foot on his way out the door, cackling as usual.
If James had thought mucking out stables and running horses through their exercises was difficult, it was nothing compared to heaving his hoe into the ground and tilling up the soil for fresh flowers to be planted. The blisters on his palms and fingers, which had nearly scabbed over, broke open again and his gloves were soaked with blood. He was sweating in places that he would rather not mention, and, of course, it was the hottest day so far.
Of course, he’d only been at the castle for three days, but still, the weather had been mild up until that point, which was just spiffing.
Leaning his weight against the handle of the hoe, James dragged his hand across his forehead in an attempt to mop up all of the sweat. Naturally, it didn’t work, but the motion felt nice and at least it wasn’t tilling the earth. What was the soil made of here, anyway, bricks? His shirt clung uncomfortably to his skin, which was slick with a fresh layer of sweat; he was sure he smelled like the wrong end of a horse, not that there was a right end that smelled pleasant, but whatever.
With a shrug of his shoulders, James grasped the hem of his shirt and pulled it over his head. As soon as the damp fabric unstuck itself from his skin, he breathed a heavy sigh of relief. Refreshed wasn’t quite the word for it, but he didn’t feel like he was a pig who enjoyed rolling around in his own filth. Bunching up the fabric, he wiped the sweat away from his face, his neck, and the topmost part of his chest.
Feeling much better than he had seconds before, James readjusted his grip on his gardening tool and returned to his work, which was more like slave labour than anything else, taking his aggression towards his current predicament out on the earth.
Not a half hour after Petunia had swept out of her chambers did Lily poke her head out into the corridor. As always, there were two guards stationed on either side of her door, both of them holding long spears that gleamed, sharp and silver, at the end. They didn’t so much as glance in her direction as she stepped out of her rooms, pulling the door shut behind her.
“Good day,” she said with a nod towards the guards.
They seemed surprised, but nodded in return all the way. “Good day, My Lady.”
As she walked away, one of the guards nudged the other, which alerted Sirius, who had been napping in the corner, to the princess’s departure. Remembering his orders, he got to his feet and padded down the hall after her.
It didn’t take Lily long to notice that she was being followed. She rolled her eyes, knowing that Petunia had put her pursuer up to it, no doubt because she thought Lily would try to leave the castle before Snape arrived. Which, Lily had to admit, was a suitable cause for extra supervision as she was all too tempted to leap over the palace wall and disappear forever. She’d do anything to escape a marriage to Snape.
She stopped suddenly and whirled around, catching Sirius before he could hide behind a statute, though he still tried. Lily folded her arms over chest and shook her head, amused. “You know that I can see you, yes?”
“Yes, I know,” grumbled Sirius, slinking out from behind the statute. “How long did it take you?”
“To realise you were following me?” she asked, which Sirius confirmed with a nod. “Somewhere around the library.”
If he had eyebrows, Lily imagined him lifting them. “That soon?” He winced. “What gave me away?”
“For starters, I could hear your paws on the marble,” Lily replied. “And you pant so loudly, I’m sure the centaurs heard you.”
“Centaurs?” Sirius said, scrunching up his face. “There aren’t centaurs in the forest. Your father relocated them ages ago.”
While the information surprised Lily, her features didn’t show it. “That’s exactly my point, Sirius,” she said with a smile. “Try to keep the volume down next time you attempt to follow me and - you know, you should really consider getting your nails trimmed. They must be long if they’re scratching the marble.”
“I’ve been meaning to do that for the longest time, but you try fitting something as trivial as a nail trimming in when you work for your sister,” Sirius said dryly.
Lily laughed as she started down the corridor. “I’m sure she’s difficult to handle.”
Sirius snorted. “Ha! You don’t even know the half of it. This one time when she was visiting the Northernfield castle…”
As they meandered through the castle, Sirius regaled Lily with amusing tales about Petunia, some of which he may have exaggerated, but all of which she believed to be true; Petunia wasn’t called the Queen of Melodrama in the Evans household without reason. It was strange to think that Lily was enjoying Sirius’ company when, previously, she had been all too happy to be rid of him. But this Sirius that she was talking to was much more like the one she knew at Hogwarts - while he could be annoying and prideful at times, he was actually all right to be around. She might not prefer his company to Mary’s, but it was better than being locked up in her chambers for the entire day, doing nothing except wallowing in her own self pity.
All too soon, there was an increase in temperature and Lily began to sweat. It certainly didn’t help that she was wearing a dress that weighed nearly as much as she did or that the sun was at its highest point in the sky, beating down fiercely. She plucked at the neck of her dress, which did little to cool her off.
“So,” Sirius said after a moment of silence. “I heard from one little birdie, who heard from another little bird, who heard firsthand from your most trusted maid that you, My Lady, were desperately seeking the stable boy from the other day.” He twisted his head to look up at her, his eyes slanted against the bright sunrays. “Is this true?”
“Yes, it is,” she answered as they descended the steps to the Royal Garden, “and no, we didn’t do anything inappropriate, so get your mind out of the gutter.” She smiled when Sirius gave a bark of laughter. “No, I merely thanked him for helping me out and he thanked me for giving him a lift back to the castle. It was nothing more than that.”
“If you insist.”
“Okay. Whatever you say goes.”
“You better believe it does,” Lily muttered sourly as they walked past a cluster of yellow rose bushes.
Again, Sirius laughed. “For a princess, you have quite the temper.”
“Are you saying just because I’m royalty, I’m not allowed to have feelings?”
“Yes,” Sirius replied. “I am.”
Lily rolled her eyes. “That’s so archaic, not to mention ridiculous. People can’t function without emotions.”
“I agree,” said Sirius. “You with a temper is much more fun than you with your nose stuck in a book, though I must admit,” he added as an afterthought, “I do prefer you when you’re in a good mood like you are today.”
“Likewise,” she said as she turned the corner, expecting to see another row of tall hedges or a fountain, not a dozen shirtless men hacking away at the earth with rakes and hoes. She turned to Sirius, her eyebrows raised in question. “What are they doing?”
“Obviously, they’re working, Your Highness,” Sirius quipped.
She glared down at him. “You know what I meant, Sirius.”
“They’re replacing the hydrangeas with lilies.”
“But why? The hydrangeas looked perfectly fine to - oh!” She paused as the realisation dawned upon her. “Well, then. That’s a bit over the top, don’t you think?” She glanced at Sirius. “Not to sound arrogant, but I’m sure everyone knows that my name is Lily and I’m the princess. Does it need to broadcast so…literally?”
“It was your sister’s idea,” offered Sirius.
Lily snorted, her eyes roving over the tanned and muscled backs of the workers, barely maintaining her schooled expression; she couldn’t help but appreciate what was set before her. “Figures. It’s not like she’s subtle.”
“The same could be said about you.”
The remark went unnoticed by Lily, for the moment Sirius had uttered the words, one of the workers (the one she had been watching most intently) paused in his work to either catch his breath or readjust his grip or to move onto another hole - she didn’t know what he was doing, but that was hardly important. What mattered was that he was tall, his skin was lightly tanned, and his dark hair was rumpled in such a way, she wanted to run her fingers through it.
She watched, seemingly transfixed, as he stretched one arm over his head and then the other, more than appreciating the way his damp skin seemed to move like water over his taut muscles - fluid and uninterrupted. He removed the shirt hanging from the waist of his trousers to dab away the sweat on the back of his neck and suddenly, Lily wished she were the shirt. Or the sweat. She didn’t care as long as she was touching his body. A flush spilled out over her cheeks as the thought passed through her mind, but she couldn’t help herself. It was impossible to look away from it - from him.
So, it was needless to say that when the sweaty and shirtless Boy Wonder turned around in search for a water jug, Lily was more than a little shocked to see that she hadn’t been admiring some stranger with an attractive form, but James bloody Potter. She felt her jaw drop and she blinked, hoping to clear away the illusion, but it stuck: Potter was shirtless, he was sweaty, and she had been salivating, lusting even, after him only seconds ago.
She groaned, though whether out of disgust or weakening resolve, she couldn’t be sure.
Besides her, Sirius chuckled knowingly. “Nothing more, you say?” With a wink, he started down the path and Lily followed, half stomping, half drooling, behind him.
“Are you sure I look presentable?” Lily asked, fidgeting nervously. “I don’t want Petunia to throw another conniption.”
“You look beautiful,” Mary reassured Lily for what seemed like the seventeenth time in the last two minutes alone. And it was true. Dressed in an emerald gown made of the finest silk with her hair twisted into an elegant knot at the back of her head, Lily looked every bit of the princess she was, even without her circlet, which Mary made sure to grab as she ushered Lily out of the door.
“It’s your job to appease me, so your opinion doesn’t count,” Lily said as she led the way down the corridor, her heavy skirts clasped in her hands.
Mary scoffed, but didn’t say anything. Lily had been acting odd - well, odder than she had been the last few days - ever since she returned from her walk around the Royal Gardens. At first, Mary attributed her peculiar behaviour to the heat, but now she knew the truth: Lily was nervous about seeing Prince Severus, and with good reason.
They had mere moments to spare by the time they reached the entrance hall, where Princess Petunia stood, looking absolutely thunderous. Thankfully, she didn’t say anything to her sister, though she shot her a look of supreme dissatisfaction as Mary placed the circlet upon Lily’s brow.
“Let us not keep the prince waiting,” Petunia said, holding out her elbow for Lily, who grasped it with some reluctance.
Together, they stepped out into the setting sun, walking down the wide staircase until their feet touched gravel. Lily moved to release her sister’s arm, but Petunia clapped her hand down upon Lily’s and gave the slightest shake of her head. Knowing better than to cause a scene, Lily remained as she was, her back straight and knees trembling, as she watched the horizon.
It didn’t take long for the travelling party to come into view and oh, what a party it was. Four intimidating men sat astride four equally intimidating black horses, touches of gold glinting off of the saddles and reins. The horsemen were followed by a large black carriage that, unlike the horses’ accessories, was covered in gold, which gleamed proudly in the sun. In several places, there were huge emeralds, though Lily noticed a few of the spaces were empty and she surmised that some of the jewels had been stolen in the ambush.
When the footman hopped down from his seat and moved to open the door, Lily’s breath hitched in her throat and she tightened her grasp on her sister’s arm. Much to her surprise, Petunia gave her a hand a comforting pat and when she glanced up at her, the elder girl was smiling tightly, her eyes tinged with sympathy.
The door swung open, the footman extended a hand, and a black gloved hand rested upon his outstretched palm primly. The hand was followed by two shining leather boots, a pair of knobbly legs, a long torso, and finally, the hooked nose of her childhood friend, Severus Snape. There were hardly any differences between this Snape and the one she knew, save for the hair. Unlike her Snape, this one kept his hair brushed back away from his face, held in place by his ostentatious crown.
“Ah, hello, Petunia,” Snape said, straightening his shoulders and striding over towards the sisters. He took her hand within his grasp and dropped a small kiss onto her knuckles.
“Hello, Severus,” Petunia returned warmly. “It is such a pleasure to welcome you back to our home.”
“Oh, no, no,” Snape said with a shake of his head. “The pleasure’s all mine.”
A blush crept onto Petunia’s cheeks as he winked. Then, he turned his attention to Lily, who tried not to flinch as he did as he had with her sister and picked up her hand. However, unlike Petunia, when he kissed the back of her hand, he locked eyes with her, his black gaze seeming to penetrate her.
He pulled back, but didn‘t let go of her hand. “Lily, my dear Lily flower,” he schmoozed, his voice laced with false sincerity as he regarded her. “You grow more lovely with each passing day.”
She fought back a grimace. “Thank you, Sna - Severus,” she corrected herself.
Petunia cleared her throat loudly.
“Oh! And you - well,” Lily gave him a quick once over. “You are just as handsome as I remember you being.”
Snape patted her hand. “You’re too sweet, Lily dearest. But enough with greetings!” he cried, pulling on her arm and placing her hand in the crook of his elbow. “Come now, let us feast!”
“I do hope you’re hungry, Severus,” Petunia said as she led them inside. “I’ve had the cooks make all of the famous Easterhollow dishes as well as some native food.”
Severus leered down at Lily, his eyebrows raising suggestively as he said in an almost purr, “I’m absolutely starving.”
This time, Lily didn’t bother hiding her tremble.
A/N: OH MY WIZARD GOD, IT HAS BEEN SO LONG SINCE I’VE UPDATED! I wish there was an acceptable explanation, but between university and a major loss of my HP muse, I couldn’t find it in me to write this. But here it is! I hope you enjoyed it! As you’ve probably noticed, the chapters are getting gradually longer. I’m trying to control the length of them, but there are certain chapters like this one and the past few that just needed a little more fleshing out. Anyway, thanks for reading!
“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.
It was nearly three in the morning before the last of the party-goers left the hall. Lily was no stranger to staying up late; she had stayed up all night more times than she could on all of her appendages in order to finish her assignments on time. However, scribbling essays was much different than dancing all night long and pretending to enjoy the company of overly entitled (quite literally) people she didn’t even know. Add in the exceedingly uncomfortable closeness to Prince Snape she was forced to endure, the heavy fabric of her thick dress, and Petunia’s constant reminders to straighten her posture or else, and Lily was absolutely exhausted.
“Never again,” Lily moaned as she sat down on the edge of her bed, watching as Mary closed the door and secured the lock.
“Unfortunately, Princess, you have another soiree to attend tomorrow night,” said Mary, an apologetic smile on her lips. “And the night after that and the night after that and -”
“So on and so forth.” Lily groaned, flopping back onto the bed. “Being a princess sucks.”
“Oh, come on, Your Highness,” Mary said as she crossed the room, prepared to help the princess out of her gown and into the tub of hot water just behind the screen. “It’s -”
“Not that bad?” Lily guessed. She snorted, staring at the thick wooden beams in the ceiling. “Perhaps you’re right, Mary,” she mused. “Maybe I’m being incredibly overdramatic about this whole thing. My situation could be a whole lot worse” She expelled a sigh, absently plucking at the pendant that hung about her neck, as her thoughts turned to James. She remembered his smile and the audacious wink he’d sent her at the feast, and heat rose to her cheeks, though whether out of anger or something else entirely, Lily wasn’t exactly sure.
Mary stood beside the princess’ bed, fidgeting awkwardly with her hands as she debated what to do. This wasn’t normal, not this sighing or the musing; this wasn’t their routine. Usually after the princess returned from a feast, she insisted on removing her garb and jumping into the hot bath as soon as possible, her gaze and her temper sharper. Feasts and balls had always irritated the princess and they usually left her in a foul mood; it was the only time Princess Lily ever acted like her title.
Lily seemed to sense her maid’s discomfort and propped herself up on her elbows. “Is something wrong?”
“What, with me?” Mary shook her head. “No, Princess, not at all. I was actually -” she paused, biting her lip. Lily was hardly the type to fly off the handle, but considering her strange behaviour as of late, Mary was much more inclined to proceed with caution - and lots of it. “Actually, I was wondering if you were feeling all right.”
Lily considered her words for a moment then shrugged. “My feet hurt and my ribs feel like someone stuck knives in them, but other than that?” She shook her head. “No, I feel fine. Why? Do I look ill?”
“It’s not illness that worries me, Princess, but,” Mary glanced at the silk screen. “We filled the bath with scalding water, as is your usual request, and well - while I’m sure it’s hardly freezing, the water’s probably getting cold and -”
“Oh!” Lily leapt up from the bed. “Right! Well, erm, it must’ve completely slipped my mind,” she said, smiling at her maid. “I’ve just been very preoccupied with-” thoughts of a certain prat of a stable-boy-turned-world-class-juggler “-Prince Snape!”
“Prince Snape?” repeated Mary.
“Yes! I’ve been extremely preoccupied with thoughts of Prince Snape and our - erm - and our impending nuptials!” Lily gave a confident nod. “Yes, that’s it. It’s very stressful, you know. Very - er - busy and -”
Lily merely nodded.
There was a flicker of doubt in Mary’s expression, but after regarding the princess for several silent moments, she accepted the hasty explanation with a bob of her head. “I suppose I can’t blame you.”
Lily laughed, a wide grin spreading across her face. “Honestly, I don’t think anyone can.”
Despite herself, Mary joined Lily in her giggling.
As Remus tilted his head back and drained his tankard, James lifted a hand and signalled the bar wench for another round. She winked suggestively at him, and he struggled to hide his grimace. It would do none of them any good if James made enemies with their waitress, especially not since she’d stopped charging them for their drinks since taking over their table.
“So,” Sirius said after a length of time, licking the froth from his chops with a look of contentment. “You and the Princess, eh?”
“Oh no,” James groaned, lowering his head to the table. He suspected this topic would come up at some point in the evening, but he thought they’d all be drunk, not just Remus. “Don’t start with this. Not again.”
“Oh yes, we’re starting with this again.” Sirius sounded much too giddy as he nudged his mug to the side with his snout in order to get a better look at his friend. He pinned James with a sharp yet mischievous look. “And we’re going to keep going until you, my good sir, tell us the truth.”
Before James could lift up his head and object, Remus chimed in. “Yeah, Prongs,” he spoke into his mug, which made his voice echo. “Just tell us the truth.”
James resisted the urge to throttle them both. “How many times do I have to tell you? I have told you the truth.”
Sirius continued to look sceptical. “Which is?”
“There’s nothing going on between the princess and me!” James exclaimed, passing an anxious hand over his hair.
The dog laughed. “Really? There’s absolutely nothing going on between the two of you?”
“No,” James lied, a knot forming in his stomach. If this Sirius was anything like the one he knew back home, he wouldn’t let it go until his curiosity was fully sated - or he got his hands on a piece of juicy information. He gritted his teeth. “There’s nothing going on between us.”
“If you say so,” mumbled Remus, swiping his finger along the inside of his mug to get at the remains of his ale.
“I do,” reassured James, taking a considerable drink from his ale.
Sirius sent him a sharp look. “Funny,” he said. “Because that’s exactly what the princess said yesterday when she was checking you out as you worked in the gardens.”
It was everything he could do to keep himself from spewing his ale all over Sirius in surprise. Instead he choked on the liquid and Remus, in an attempt to save his friend’s life, attempted to thump him on the back, but only succeeded in punching James’ elbow.
Again, Sirius laughed.
Once he was able to breathe, James wiped the dribble from his chin and glowered at the black dog across the table. “I’m glad that my brush with death is so funny to you.”
“That’s not funny,” commented Sirius. “But your reaction was.”
“Okay, I’ll bite,” James said, wrapping his hand round his mug. “Why was my reaction so funny?”
Sirius smiled at him in a way that made him feel like he was being patronised. Considering the source, he probably was. “Because it told me everything I needed to know.”
“E-everything?” hiccupped Remus.
“Every little thing,” Sirius repeated. “Not that I didn’t already suspect it before, but it confirmed my suspicions.”
James raised an eyebrow. “And those would be…?”
Again, Sirius laughed his loud, barking laugh. His grey eyes swam with mirth as he regarded the young man across the table, absolutely delighting in his poorly veiled curiosity. “I don’t think I need to tell you what you already know,” Sirius said loftily. “Even if you yourself don’t know it yet.”
Confused, James wrinkled his nose. “What does that even mean?”
Before Sirius could respond, Remus chimed in .”It means this conversation is getting way too confusing and we need another round of drinks.” He thumped his tankard on the table and glanced between the pair. “Aye?”
“Aye!” exclaimed Sirius and James in unison, the latter lifting his mug while the former gave a sharp bark of agreement.
As Sirius and Remus busied themselves with the various bar wenches who passed their table, James looked down at the remnants of the amber liquid in his mug and frowned. It was by the skin of his teeth that he’d been able to escape the scrutiny of his friends. He knew that they’d been keen on getting all of the details, even if there had been nothing to share. Unfortunately, there was a lot to share, and James was sure none of it was what either man - well, the man and the dog - expected to hear. And even if they did take him seriously long enough to hear his entire tale, the chances that they would believe him were not likely and if they did, they’d probably have him locked up.
James sighed, ready to lift his mug to his mouth and drain what little remained of his drink, but the loud guffaws of the pub’s patrons pulled him out of his contemplations before they could run too deeply.
“Prongs!” shouted Remus, who’d somehow ended up on the opposite end of the pub. There was a large circle of patrons gathered around what James presumed to be a table, most likely preparing to watch two fools make complete idiots out of themselves. “Get over here quick! Padfoot’s about to enter a drink contest with a troll!”
A fond smile touched his lips as James recalled the last encounter the real Sirius had had with a troll. He slipped off the stool and made his way towards the cheering and jeering crowd, not for the first time glad for such an absolute distraction.
Casting a wary glance down the corridor and deciding the coast was clear, Petunia slipped out of her bed chambers. Her slippered feet barely made a sound as she tip-toed down the dark corridor, the only light coming from the flickering candle in her hand. It was stupid of her to be doing this. There was too much at stake, too many people she loved for and cared for at risk, but she couldn’t help herself. The heart wants what the heart wants, and she’d denied herself for so long.
Too long, she thought as she poked her head around the corner to make sure no one was coming.
The fact she had to sneak around her own home was preposterous, but this was foolish, what she was doing or about to do, and she knew it. And if she knew it, then it was more than probable that everyone in the castle knew it. If anyone found out, if anyone knew…
No one could find out. It was forbidden.
A shiver crept up her spine at the thought. She’d never done anything forbidden before, even if she’d only just forbade herself from doing it and in doing so, had made the act itself forbidden.
Petunia shook her head and focussed on the task at hand. She couldn’t exactly get up to foolish behaviour if she didn’t actually get to where she wanted to go. She looked up and down the long stretch of corridor and, deciding it was clear and no one would see her, started off towards the drawing room.
By the time she reached the room in question, the balls of her feet ached and the hand held aloft to better cast the light of the dim candle was numb. Adjusting her grip on the candlestick holder, Petunia raised her fist and knocked three times on the door, one long knock, one short knock, and another long knock. It was the signal, their signal, and if she didn’t hear the responding knock in thirty seconds, she was supposed to leave.
And perhaps she shouldn’t wait those thirty seconds. Perhaps she should leave now and do the proper thing, the right thing, the princess thing, but there are times, like now, when she resents her title, the position that was granted to her at birth. Maybe she didn’t want to be proper or correct. Maybe…maybe she wanted to be like Lily.
Before she could contemplate the issue any further, the same knock was repeated back to her, except it was coming from inside the room. She hadn’t been expecting the sound, so Petunia nearly dropped the candle in surprise. Thankfully, she was able to catch it before the holder clattered to the floor and woke the entire castle, but the flame was extinguished and she was left in almost complete darkness in the corridor. That is, until the drawing room door cracked open and a familiar face loomed in the opening.
“Tuney,” the baritone voice whispered, dancing along her eardrums like the music of the fairy folk.
She didn’t say anything, merely gazed fondly into the face shadowed in darkness. A pallid hand appeared in front of her and, with a cautious look over her shoulder, she accept the hand, twining her fingers with the other’s digits and allowed herself to be pulled inside the room.
The door snapped shut behind her, the lock sliding into place. The golden knob dug into her back as she suddenly found herself pressed against the door. Her breath hitched in her throat as the length of a warm, soft body pressed against hers.
“Hello,” the same voice breathed in her ear, the hot breath stirring the stray tendrils of curly blonde hair.
She balled her fists to prevent from moaning. “Hi,” she whispered, unable to prevent her body from trembling as the tip of his nose brushed the length of her cheekbone.
“Did anyone follow you?”
“No,” she answered, her voice shaking as a pair of warm lips hovered over her own. “We shouldn’t do this,” she mumbled, her mouth just barely touching his with every word she spoke.
She didn’t receive a reply, but she did get a kiss, which was, in her opinion, eons better.
Following her bath, Lily had been certain she would fall into one of the deepest, most sound slumbers of her life, but as luck would have it, as soon as Mary extinguished the candles and turned in for the night, Lily couldn’t sleep a wink. She’d tried sleeping with the covers up to her chin, but she grew too hot. She then tossed off the blankets and let the cool night air roll over her sweaty skin, but she shivered and couldn’t sleep due to the chattering of her teeth. Then she tried sleeping with one leg inside of the blanket and the other out, but not even that, the most infallible of all sleeping positions, could send her to the sandy shores of sleep.
It was with much frustration that Lily abandoned any and all attempts at getting a few hours of shut eye and slid out of bed. For the first fifteen minutes, she sat in an armchair near the dying embers of the fire, hoping against all hope that the mindless staring would lull her into some sort of half-sleep. But when that didn’t work, she took to pacing about her chambers, the stone cold and unyielding beneath her bare feet, but oddly comforting. It seemed to cool the heat caused by her anxiety, her increasing worry that people were beginning to expect that she didn’t belong her, that she wasn’t their princess. Mary had already voiced some of her worries to her earlier in the evening, and Lily was more than aware of Sirius’ suspicions. He, unlike her handmaid, wasn’t nearly as secretive with it.
Heaving a sigh, Lily raked her fingers through her long hair, wishing, not for the first time, that she was back in her bed at Hogwarts, the hangings pulled shut round her bed, and sleeping soundlessly. But she wasn’t there and, with a crippling jolt of fear, she wondered if she’d - they’d - ever get back to Hogwarts.
Somehow, she always forgot that she wasn’t the only one stranded here in this foreign world, that she wasn’t entirely alone. Though she might as well have been, seeing as how she’d only run into James less than a handful of times since they’d arrived, making him close to useless in her eyes.
Well, she amended internally, he’s not completely useless.
And she didn’t think he was. He had, as begrudged as she was to admit it, proven to an absolutely edible piece of eye candy. Lily had always guessed that he had a fit body under his school robes, but she hadn’t imagined that. It wasn’t perfection, though it was certainly clichéd, but…
“Damn,” she muttered to herself, not hearing the first two pebbles strike the balcony’s balustrade and clatter to the stone.
Giving a firm shake of her head to dispel the image of his back muscles rippling beneath his taut skin, Lily resumed her pacing, though was forced to pause almost immediately as a peculiar sound met her ears. Her brow furrowed as she waited to hear it again.
It couldn’t be.
There couldn’t be someone throwing (or attempting to, anyway) rocks at her window. That was just so…
“James,” Lily realised, all but bolting towards the balcony doors and wrenching them open.
Sure enough, as she placed her hands on the balustrade and leaned over, there he stood, still dressed in that ridiculous jester outfit. Even in the dull light of the moon, the colours were bright and absurdly distracting.
At the sight of her, a huge grin split across his lips. “Lily!” he shouted up at her, throwing his arms out in greeting. “Oh, luminous Lily, how your beauty shines in the light of the night!”
“Would you shut up?” she hissed through clenched teeth. “Someone’s going to hear you!”
“No one’s going to hear me, Lily,” proclaimed James in an obnoxiously loud voice.
It wasn’t until he tottered to the side and stumbled backwards that she put the pieces together. “Potter, are you - are you drunk?”
James tilted his head back and laughed, looking (and sounding) like a wolf howling at the moon. “What? Of course not,” he said, pulling a face. “I am most definitely not drunk.”
As soon as the words fell from his lips, he fell into one of the neatly trimmed hedges.
Lily rolled her eyes. “I’ll take that as a resounding yes,” she muttered to herself. Once again, she shoved her hand through her hair and expelled a sigh. “What are you doing here anyway? Don’t you know that this is-”
“Dangerous? Stupid? Absolutely moronic?” James supplied as he extracted himself from the bush, which he glared at as though it had personally offended him. He nodded gravely, but his smile was nothing short of winning. Even Lily had to admit it made her stomach feel oddly warm, especially since it was directed at her. Damn it. “Of course I do, but, Lily.” He staggered forwards, his eyes obscured by the dark shadows criss-crossing his face. “I had to see you.”
“I’m sure you did,” Lily deadpanned.
“No, no, this is important,” James assured her. “I had to tell you something.”
She made a show of rolling her eyes. “If you’ve come to express your love, trust me, I’ve heard it all before. This isn’t the first time I’ve had to deal with an intoxicated version of you.”
“But I didn’t come here to tell you that I love you.” He blinked, perplexed, and then frowned up at her. “Why would I do something stupid like that?”
For some reason, the confusion in his voice and on his face left Lily feeling unwanted. It was ridiculous, she knew that, but Potter was always claiming that he loved her, that he needed her more than he needed oxygen. At least, he was when he and his friends stumbled in from their late-night excursions at the Three Broomsticks, drunker than skunks. Still, the rejection hurt for reasons she wasn't quite sure of.
But only a little.
James shook his head. “No, I came here to tell you that Sirius suspends something.”
“I mean sculpts.”
“He sculpts something?” Lily frowned. “Do you mean he suspects something?”
“Yes! That’s it. That’s the one!” James gave a little happy giggle. “He suspects something!”
Lily leaned forward on the balustrade, staring at James with sudden, almost arresting intensity. This had become serious quite quickly. “What does he suspect, Potter? Did he tell you?”
“He said he knows something that I don’t know yet,” James slurred, squinting his eyes shut tight in an attempt to recall the memory, which was foggy at best. Perhaps he shouldn’t have stepped in when Sirius had passed out on the table top. If a dog couldn’t hold his liquor against a troll, how could a simple stable boy have done so? “And that - oh, what did he say?” He smacked a hand to his forehead. “And I think he thinks there’s something going on between us.”
A chill raced down her spine and settled in the small of her back, sending her bones back to the Ice Age. “Do you think he knows that we’re not -” she swallowed thickly “- that we’re not…well, you know.”
“That we’re not the real Princess Lily and the worthless stable boy?” James gave an exaggerate shake of his head. “No, that’s not what he suspects. He thinks that we’re in -”
The rest of his sentence was lost to Lily as the sound of a familiar voice drifted from somewhere in her room.
“My Lady?” called Mary.
“Shit!” Lily cursed, turning panicked eyes onto James. If Mary saw her with James, the hand maid’s suspicion, which was pretty substantial already, would increased ten fold. And that was the very last thing either of them needed. “You have to get out of here!”
“But we were having such a pleasant conversation!” James objected in an annoyingly adorable voice.
“James!” she squealed in desperation. “Hide! Please, for the love of Merlin, hide!”
The shuffle of footsteps tore Lily’s attention away from James. Whirling around, she pressed the small of her back into the balustrade and prayed to whatever deity chose to listen that James had found an adequate hiding place. While their meeting had been nothing short of innocent, the fact a princess was even speaking to a stable boy, even at a distance, was nothing short of a scandal.
And that was, of course, the last thing they needed.
“Princess!” Mary exclaimed once she caught sight of Lily. “What are you doing out here? You should be sleeping!”
“As should you!” Lily countered, doing her best to strain her ears in order to hear if James had been successful or not. With their luck, he was still standing in the middle of the grass with his arms spread wide and that dopey, drunken grin on his face. She tried not to groan; she always knew Potter would be her undoing in one way or another, in this world or the next.
Mary only frowned at her, something akin to that goddamn suspicion from earlier alight in her kind eyes. “Who were you talking to?”
“Me?” she asked, doing her best to sound nonchalant and calm when she was anything but. “I wasn’t talking to anyone.”
“But I heard voices,” insisted Mary, doing her best to try and peer around Lily, but Lily was a much better wall than she was a window.
Purposely moving her shoulders as she spoke, Lily said, “Okay, fine, you caught me.”
“Yes, you did,” Lily confirmed with a solemn nod of her head. “You caught me talking to myself. Don’t tell anyone.”
“But I -”
“Mary,” she made sure to inflect her voice with overzealous pleading. “Please, I beg you. Don’t tell anyone. They might think that I’m mad.”
She could tell that Mary wanted to say something, but the maid swallowed her words and forced a smile at the faux princess. “As you wish, My Lady. Now why don’t you crawl back into bed and try to get a few hours of sleep before your sister drags you downstairs for breakfast?”
Though sleep was the farthest thing from her mind, Lily nodded her head and returned the smile. “That sounds like a novel idea, Mary.” With one last glance over her shoulder, Lily retreated inside, a hesitant Mary lingering behind her.
A/N: So I actually liked this chapter. I don’t know if you did, but I had a lot of fun writing it. There were a lot of different characters and while a lot didn’t happen, there’s been some doubt established, both on Mary and Sirius’ parts. And now we have the addition of a clandestine romance for Petunia, though I’m sure you’ve all figured out who it is. If not, well, keep guessing!
As always, thank you for reading and if you have any questions, comments, or concerns, let me know!
James was faintly aware that someone was saying his name. It was a gruff voice, unlike the smooth as silk one he heard in his foggy dreams. It was also beginning to sound severely impatient, but he ignored it, shoving his arms underneath his pillow and rolling onto his stomach. Sleep was necessary. Sleep was good. Sleep -
“-WILL BE THE LAST THING YE’LL EVER GIT!”
Startled, James sprang into a sitting position and looked about the room. “What?” he asked groggily, lifting a hand to his head. He squinted at the door. Where had his glasses gone? “What’s going on?”
“GIT UP, YE LAZY SLOB!”
James tried not to groan. Moody. Of course. With a roll of his eyes, he flopped back down on the straw mattress. “Give me five more minutes,” he mumbled as he screwed his eyes shut and focussed on the sandy shores of sleep rather than the loud and obnoxious voice blasting in his ears like a foghorn.
“YE DON GIT FIVE MORE MINUTES!” shouted Moody. “Ye were suppose ter be up with ter sun! Tis Sunday, after all!”
“Sunday?” James repeated, frowning, a deep furrow creasing is brow.
“Tha’s what I said, innit?”
He cracked a hazel eye open and stared at Moody .”But Sunday’s my day off.”
Moody opened his mouth to argue - and then promptly closed it, realising that he was, in fact, mistaken. “Oh,” was all he said.
James tried not to be too smug as he settled back on his bed, making himself as comfortable as possible. “Apology accepted,” he yawned as he pressed his cheek into the scratchy fabric of his flour sack pillow case. “You can go now,” James added when he didn’t hear Moody shuffle out of the room.
The older man grumbled something about arrogant youth before marching out of the room, taking care to slam the door as loudly as possible. Though the noise echoed in his ears for several minutes after Moody’s departure, James was asleep within seconds, indescribably glad he didn’t have to muck out the stables that morning.
When Mary entered the princess’ chambers, she expected to find the redhead sprawled across her bed, snoring loudly and drooling profusely. However, she was very surprised to see that Princess Lily was sitting at her vanity, already dressed and running a brush through her hair.
Lily jumped at the sound of Mary’s voice, adjusting her gaze in the mirror so she was looking at the young woman instead of her own reflection. “Mary!” she said around the lump in her throat. “What are you doing here?”
Mary frowned as she approached. “My job, Princess. Why are you dressed?”
“I couldn’t sleep,” Lily admitted, lowering her eyes to her hands. “So I went for a walk in the gardens. I got mud all over the hem of my dress.” She indicated the stain - or stains, rather. There was mud splattered all the way up the skirt and even a little bit on the bodice.
“Did you fall into a mud pit?” Mary asked, making the princess chuckle.
“No, but I did trip.” She held out her left hand, the palm was red with irritation.
Mary stepped forwards, her own delicate hands cupping Lily’s extended one. “This doesn’t look very good, my lady.” Gently, she applied pressure to Lily’s palm, and the girl winced. It was then that Mary decided her course of action. “I’m going to call the court physician.”
Lily ripped her hand away. “But Mary!”
“No buts, Princess,” Mary said, sounding very patronizing. “It is my duty as your maid to make sure that you are perfectly healthy and that?” She nodded towards Lily’s hand. “That does not look good.”
Lily cradled her hand against her chest. “You’re acting like it’s going to be amputated or something,” she laughed nervously.
“If I don’t call Dumbledore and have him take a look, it might be!”
The colour drained away from the princess’ face, though not for the reason Mary thought it had. She wasn’t pale because she was intimidated by Mary’s threats, not in the slightest. It was the idea of facing Dumbledore, the wizard who seemed to know everything about everyone, that was causing her to blanched. It was her only hope that this Dumbledore was nothing like the Dumbledore she was accustomed to, otherwise he would see through her façade instantly.
“Now,” Mary continued, putting her hands on her hips and staring down her nose at Lily, reminding her very much of the Mary from her universe. “Why don’t you go and wash your face? You’ve got mud all over your neck, and I highly doubt you wish to reek of mud when Dumbledore drops in you. Besides, it’s hardly sanitary.”
“Yes, Mum,” answered Lily, pulling a face.
Mary rolled her eyes. “One of these days…”
“What? You’ll wallop me?” Lily teased, sticking her tongue out.
“No, of course not, my lady,” replied Mary. A smile worked its way onto her lips. “I’m simply mean to say that you should be weary of me.”
Lily gave a salute. “I shall try my best.” She sprang up from her chair until she was standing eye to eye with her maid. “And for the last time, no more of this ‘my lady’ or ‘princess’ or ‘your highness’ stuff. I’m your friend, Mary; call me Lily.” With a smile, she patted a stunned Mary on the shoulder and drifted over towards the wash basin in the corner.
Mary stayed rooted in her spot for several moments, her astonishment serving as a temporary paralysis. The princess had always been cordial with her - they even joked with one another - but never had the princess ever made such an outlandish request. It wasn’t proper for a servant to call their mistress by her birth name; she was always to address her by her title. The princess herself had put severe emphasis on it. But now…
She shook her head, unbelievably confused and even more suspicious than she had been before. Something wasn’t right here. There was something going on. But what it was, Mary didn’t know. With a sigh, she peeled her feet from the floor and moved towards the door. Before she exited, she called out, “Don’t forget about the feast tonight, Princess!”
As a string of loud and vehement curses met her ears, Mary couldn’t help but smile, though there was something off-kilter about it.
Remus was mad with panic. He couldn’t find James, and he needed James more than he needed oxygen. Which, at the moment, probably wasn’t true considering he was going into shock and could hardly breathe. But he couldn’t stop his frantic sprint through the servants’ quarters. He needed to find James. And he needed to find him now.
Wildly tearing around the corner, Remus didn’t expect to barrel into anyone so early on a Sunday morning, but that’s precisely what he did. He managed to keep his balance, though his poor victim hadn’t. For a moment, he contemplated not stopping, but then his manners kicked in and his mother’s voice started chiding him in his head.
“I am so sorry - Mary!” The last word was heaped with surprise; she was the last person he expected to see in this part of the castle, especially when there was another feast to ready the princess for. “What are you doing down here?” he asked as he held out a hand.
Mary wrapped her fingers around his wrist and allowed him to haul her to her feet. She swiped at the dusk on her skirt. “I was on my way to fetch Dumbledore -”
Sudden worry for the princess’ well being flooded through him. “Is she all right? Is she ill?” He looked down at his hand with a grimace. “Is it contagious?”
“No, it’s not contagious because she’s not ill,” Mary said with a roll of her eyes. “The princess took a walk this morning and apparently, she tripped over a rock and skinned up the palm of her hand.”
Remus pinned her with a curious look. “Is that a hint of doubt I detect in your voice?”
Mary chewed the inside of her cheek nervously. “I’m not - I’m not saying that I don’t believe her, but -”
“You don’t believe her,” Remus said with a sage nod.
“Exactly.” Mary sighed miserably. “And I hate feeling like this, but there’s…I have this feeling in my gut, Remus, that’s telling me something’s not right. There’s something…off about her. Almost like -”
“She’s not the same person you once knew,” finished Remus.
“Well…yes, that’s precisely it.” She furrowed her brow, staring thoughtfully at the young man in front of her. “How do you know all of this? Did you develop the sudden ability to read minds?”
Remus chuckled. “No, I wish I had, but that’s not the case.” He passed a hand over his sandy blonde hair and said, “I’m getting the same feeling from James. And I know I’m not supposed to say this, but -” He looked over both of his shoulders to make sure there were no passing servants moving towards them. “I think there’s something going on between them.”
“Who?” Mary whispered.
“James and Princess Lily,” answered Remus, mimicking the level of her voice.
“What on earth gave you that idea?”
Sighing, Remus launched into a hurried explanation of all the evidence he and Sirius had complied against James. “For starters, James has been mucking out stables since he was seven years old yet he has fresh blisters on his hands as though it was the first time he’d ever done it.”
“I don’t see how his lack of blisters has anything to do with the princess.”
“Just a few days ago, James caught a ride back to the castle in the princess’ carriage. According to Sirius, the pair of them were standing on the side of the road, covered in dust and with bits of debris in their hair, and they kept asking weird questions - they even teased each other. Sirius thinks that it’s because they were doing drugs, but I think -”
“That they’re involved. That the peculiar questions were a smoke screen for their illicit activities,” Mary said, struggling to keep the eagerness out of her voice.
“Exactly!” Remus exclaimed.
Mary pondered the revelation for a moment. “It does make sense. It certainly explains the princess’ sudden shift in behaviour.”
“And nothing against the princess,” Remus began, “but this wouldn’t exactly be the first time she was involved with a servant.”
“Or James getting himself involved with someone above his station,” Mary pointed out. Though most of the pieces fit together, there was still one thing that irked her about the entire situation. She voiced her concern to Remus, who nodded.
“It’s the blisters, right?” He rubbed his jaw, frowning down at the floor. “Yeah, that’s been nagging at me as well. Sirius has brushed it off to Dumbledore giving him an ointment to help with the dryness, but I’m having difficulty believing that.”
“I could ask him?” Mary suggested, jerking her thumb over her shoulder. “I’m on my way there right now. It would only be logical.” And she needed to satisfy her curiosity once and for all. While she might’ve enjoyed the shift in the princess’ behaviour, if she was, in fact, involved with James, that’d only spell trouble for the both of them, especially since Lily was due to be married within the month.
“That would be great,” Remus said. He patted her on the shoulder. “Listen, it’s been great talking to you, but I have to find James. The event coordinator was so impressed by his juggling and showmanship, he wants James to do an encore performance tonight at the feast. Meet me backstage after the feast is underway?”
Mary nodded. “Of course. I just hope we get the answers we’re looking for.”
“So do I.”
With that, they went on their separate ways, Remus resuming his sprint down the narrow corridors and Mary in search of some answers.
By the time Dumbledore had finished delivering medication to all of his patients in town, it was nearly nightfall. The feast would be starting in just under an hour and he had yet to visit Lily’s chambers to inspect her hand.
“I’m fine,” Lily insisted as Mary laced up the back of her teal dress. Each word was punctured by a wince as Mary drew the strings tighter and tighter. “Really, I am. The cut has begun to heal, and there’s no sign of infection.”
“True as that may be, Prince-I mean, Lily,” Mary said, tripping over her own tongue as she tugged tightly on the laces, causing Lily to gasp in surprise. “I’d still feel comfortable if you let him look at your hand. It might look fine for the moment, but one can never be too certain.”
Lily would’ve sighed in acquiescent if she had been capable of sighing, but her dress was so tight she could hardly breathe. However, she knew it was no use complaining, so she settled on nodding her head. “Okay, fine, but if he says there’s nothing wrong, then you have to promise me you’ll stop fussing.”
“I promise, Princess,” Mary said, before quickly tacking on, “Lily.”
The girl in question gave a shrug. “I suppose it’s a start.” Then her lips split into such a wide and friendly grin that Mary felt her cheeks warming, mostly out of embarrassment for her suspicion of the princess. As curious as her behaviour was, Mary had to admit it was quite the improvement, but she had promised Remus she’d get some answers - or try to, at least. There was no guarantee that Dumbledore would know anything.
As if on cue, there was a knock on the door, causing Lily to instinctively call out, “Come in!”
Mary sent her a shocked look that she missed and one of the guards poked his head in to the room, a hand shielding his eyes in case the princess was in an improper state of dress. Others had been imprisoned for less. “Um, Princess Lily, the physician is here to see you. Should I send him away or -”
“Let him in,” Mary said before Lily could deny him entrance into the room. She might’ve been different, but Mary knew better than to take Lily’s promises with little more than a grain of salt. She was, first and foremost, a political figure, and you could never trust them, not fully.
Lily had been expecting a carbon copy of the Dumbledore from her universe, and that was exactly she was received. His hair was long and white, just like his beard, and his half-moon glasses were perched precariously on the bridge of his crooked nose. The smile was the same: friendly and welcoming. They brought about a sense of comfort she hadn’t felt before. But it was his kind blues eyes - keen and alight with such vibrancy - that struck a chord in Lily and made her realize just how much she missed home, how much she missed Hogwarts and her own friends.
“Ah, hello, Princess Lily,” Dumbledore greeted, tipping his head as he set a wicker basket full of what she presumed to be supplies down on the table next to the door. “As pleasant as it is to see you, it seems we always meet under unfortunate circumstances. Mary tells me that you injured your hand.”
It took Lily several moments to regain her composure, so overwhelmed as she was by the onslaught of emotions attacking her. She took a deep (well, as deep as she could in the constricting dress), steadying breath in an attempt to quell her emotions. “Y-yes, but it’s all healed now,” Lily said, her voice shaking. “There’s nothing to worry about.”
“Usually I would be inclined to agree, but as you are the princess and in my charge, I think it is best that I inspect it anyway.” He smiled as he approached Lily, a slight limp to his step. She hadn’t remember Dumbledore limping along, but there were subtle differences in everyone she knew in this world. “Your hand, my dear.”
Lily held out her injured hand, surprised at how gently Dumbledore took it within his grasp. As he turned it over and ran his fingertips over the wound, he maintained a constant stream of conversation. “That is quite a pretty gown, Princess. The colour is very flattering with your complexion - it brings out the smattering of freckles on your cheeks and highlights your eyes.”
“Erm, thank you,” she said as the old man dropped her hand.
“Oh, you are most welcome, Princess. Now, if you will, please step towards me.”
“Of course,” Lily said, bridging the gap between them.
Suddenly, Dumbledore’s hands were grasping her face and he was staring intently into her eyes. “Open your mouth, please.” Shuffling her weight awkwardly, Lily did as she was told and opened her mouth. Dumbledore produced a tongue depressor out of what seemed like nowhere and applied it to her tongue. “Well, I don’t see any discolouration in your mouth and your tongue isn’t swollen, which means you haven’t been poisoned.”
Lily’s eyes widened. “Ah vas at wisk bor boisoning?” she asked thickly, her tongue still stuck to the bottom of her mouth by the depressor.
“No, but I though it best to check anyway.” Dumbledore smiled, released her face, and took a step back. “You can never be too careful, can you, Princess?”
She started, unable to ignore the slight accusatory undertone in his voice. Perhaps it was her imagination running away with her, but he was looking at her as though he knew her secret, like he was entirely aware she was an impostor. Lily quickly averted her gaze to her hands and shook her head. “No, I don’t suppose you can be.”
“What about her hand, Albus?” Mary asked, speaking for the first time since Dumbledore had shown up. “Is it infected?”
“As of right now? No,” he dispelled with a shake of his head. “It’s perfectly fine, but I would like it very much if you took a potion to stave off any potential infection, Princess. Just as a precaution.”
“Of course, Pro-Physician Dumbledore,” Lily said, tripping over her own tongue. “Just say how much and when, and I’ll take it.”
Dumbledore smiled at her and shuffled over to his basket, extracting two small vials of bright blue potion. “Take one mouthful twice a day - once before breakfast and once right after dinner - for the next three days and you should be fine.” He held out the vials for her to take.
They clinked together as her hand closed around them. “Thank you.”
“You are very welcome, Princess.” He made his way back towards the door, scooping up his basket and slipping it onto his wrist. “Now I believe you have a feast to finish getting ready for, so I shall be on my way.”
“It was nice to see you again,” Lily said.
“You as well, Princess.” Dumbledore opened the door and turned, not to look at Lily, but rather at Mary. “Make sure she takes the potion, Mary. It’s the only way we’ll be able to tell if something is wrong or not.”
Lily noticed something peculiar about the look the two shared, but she said nothing of it as Dumbledore ducked out of the room. She turned to Mary, smiling winningly. “See, I told you there was nothing to worry about.”
“Maybe or maybe not,” Mary replied loftily. “Only time will tell.”
It took all of three seconds for James to decide that he looked like an idiot. He shook his head as he surveyed his reflection, wondering how anyone had convinced him to wear such a ridiculous costume. But then he remembered that the entertainment coordinator had threatened to get him expelled from the castle if he didn’t participate.
“Arse,” he grumbled at his reflection as he lifted a hand to try and muss up his hair. He wasn’t quite sure how they had done it, but somehow, some mystical way, they had managed to tame his hair so it was lying completely flat on his head. The multicoloured costume was bad enough, but with his hair plastered to his head, he looked absolutely ridiculous.
Over his shoulder, Remus chuckled. “Still complaining about your costume?”
“It’s my hair,” James moaned miserably, trying as best as he could to free his restrained locks. “It’s not supposed to look like this. So…flat and devoid of life.”
Sirius, who was sitting on a crate next to Remus, rolled his eyes. “It’s only hair, James, not your life.”
Disgusted, James broke his gaze away from his reflection to stare incredulously at his friend. All of the colour had left his face. “You used to fuss over your hair all of the time. And now you’re ridiculing me?” James shook his head. “It’s like I don’t even know you anymore.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Sirius sniffed.
“He’s right, you know,” Remus pointed out. “You were all about your hair. You wouldn’t leave your room without making sure every strand was perfectly in place. Remember how long it’d take him to get ready to go to the pub, Prongs?”
“I’ve tried to block it out,” James admitted, turning back to the mirror to fuss over his hair. “But the memories always come back.” He gave an exaggerated shudder, which elicited laughter from Remus and a growl from Sirius. James chuckled. “Don’t get so offended, Padfoot. I’m merely -”
He didn’t get a chance to finish his sentence as the kitchen door banged open and the entertainment coordinator came bustling in. She was a tall woman wearing an acid green dress with a pinched face and thick, curly blonde hair. James thought she looked familiar, but he couldn’t quite place a name to her face.
“Oh good, you’re ready,” she said, her tone clipped, quite unlike her nails, which resembled talons. “I thought I was going to come back here and see you all unprepared.”
“I guess you’re just not used to working with professionals,” James commented before he could stop himself.
The look on the woman’s face was anything but amused. “Well, if you’re claiming to be professionals, if I see one mistake made out there tonight, I won’t hesitate to have you thrown out of the castle. Is that in any way unclear?”
“No, ma’am,” Remus blurted.
“If it were any clearer, it’d be crystal,” chimed James, earning a poorly concealed chuckle from Sirius.
“Wonderful,” purred the woman, eyeing James with contempt. “Now get out there and do what you’re getting paid to do.”
“We’re not getting paid,” Remus said, frowning.
“Oh, but I am.” She smiled lecherously at them. “Now go before I have to push you out there myself.” Each sharing a glance with the other, the three young men made for the exit, but the woman held out her hand when Sirius tried to cross the threshold. “Not you. Princess Petunia would like a word with you.”
Grumbling under his breath, Sirius ducked around the woman’s skirts and disappeared, his soft padded footsteps the only sound in the corridor. They followed in his wake, though their gait was much slower, Remus’ steps full of dread.
“Good luck, boys, and make me some money,” the coordinator said, leaning against one of the posts and folding her arms over her chest.
Rolling his eyes, James placed a hand on his friend’s shoulder and pushed the thick red curtain aside with the other. Their appearance was met with a loud chorus of applause. It surprised James - and it terrified Remus. He leaned towards Remus. “Don’t worry, mate, everything’s going to be fine.”
Remus nodded slowly, taking a step away from James, who spread his arms out wide and began to say, “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to -”
He didn’t finish his sentence as a deafening crack resounded through the vast dining hall, causing a torrential downpour of dust and debris. At first, no one seemed to understand what was going on, at least not until the first folly of arrows sailed into the hall, hitting walls and pillars and people alike.
That was when the shrieking and panicking began
That was when it became clear.
The castle was under attack.
A/N: DUN DUN DUN!
Like an angry volcano, the hall erupted in a mess of chaos and violence.
Everywhere Lily looked, people were pushing and shoving in attempts to duck under the long dinner tables or make their way towards the doors to avoid the volley of arrows that sailed through the windows. There were blood curdling screams and soft gasps of breath as the life left those struck down by arrows.
It was, to put it simply, madness.
Before she could even comprehend the entire scene, there was a strong hand on her elbow and an insistent voice in her ear commanding her to get up, to move, to run, to hide - anything to avoid being hit by one of the arrows. It took her a moment to realize that it was one of her guards pulling on her arm, his blue eyes wide with panic and fear.
“Come on, Princess, you must get out of here!” he shouted at her, his voice thick with desperation. She nodded and rose to her feet. The guard placed a hand on the small of her back and immediately positioned himself in front of her. “For protection,” he said at her questioning look. “Come now!”
Blindly, Lily followed the guard, tripping over her heavy and abundant skirts. She nearly pulled him down with her, but somehow he managed to keep her on her feet and dodge any impending arrows at the same time. It wasn’t until they were halfway to the doors that it occurred to Lily that something was seriously wrong with this picture.
She dug her heels into the marble floors. “Where’s my sister?” she demanded, whipping her head around to see if she could spot her very blonde sister in the crowd, but the attempt was futile. It was impossible to see anything past the sea of bodies, both alive and dead. Lily tasted bile on the back of her tongue as she returned her gaze to the guard, who looked as though he was about to have a coronary. “Where’s Mary?”
The guard tightened his grip on her arm and gave a tug. “You have to leave, Princess!”
Lily resisted. “Where are they?”
He fumbled for an answer. “I-I don’t know, Princess,” he said in a defeated sigh.
She squared her jaw. “I’m not leaving without them.”
“But Princess -” the guard began to argue, but his argument was quickly silenced by the swift thunk of an arrow piercing his throat. Lily shrieked and instinctively held out her arms to catch his falling body. Only she didn’t expect him to weigh twice her weight, but with his armour and body mass, she supposed she should’ve. With a grunt, they sank to the floor, the guard’s warm blood coating her hands and arms and saturating the front of her beautiful teal dress.
Lily tried to wiggle out from underneath the guard’s body, but it was impossible. He was too heavy, and her muscles were too weak from being wrought with fear and panic. She cursed under her breath and pushed fruitlessly at his shoulders, doing her best to roll the corpse - the guard, she reminded herself - off of her. Her hands, stained burgundy with his blood, shook as she shoved without result, her jaw aching from clenching her teeth at the effort.
“Come on,” she muttered to herself, giving an experimental kick of her legs and finding that it did very little, but jostle the body and cause more blood to leak out of the gruesome wound.
All around her, the screams continued as did the unmistakeable sound of metal clanking and sparking with metal, which could only mean one thing: they - whoever they were - had infiltrated the castle. Lily’s stomach turned violently as Petunia‘s (as well as another) faced flashed before her eyes. But she grit her teeth, ignoring the twinge in her jaw and the ache in her head, and pushed thoughts of her sister and James out of her head. There was no way she was going to be able to do this, to get out of here, if she was focussing on them and the possibility that they might be dead.
They can’t be dead, Lily repeated in her head like a mantra. They’re not dead because they’re stronger than that. Petunia’s not dead because she’s too proud to die. Mary’s not dead because she’d fight back. And James? He can’t be dead - he wouldn’t die without having kissed me at least once.
The last thought seemed to be the match strike to light the proverbial fire as, with a burst of renewed determination to find them and make sure they were alive, Lily gave a final, hard shove that moved the guard’s body just enough that she could shimmy her legs out from underneath him. Once her legs were free, Lily gave a pitiful sort of cry, both at the renewed feeling in her legs and at the poor guard’s misfortune. But before she could dwell on his death too much, the sounds of the still-happening battle roused her back into action.
Scrambling onto her hands and knees, Lily hurried away from the gore, slipping as her hands, slick with blood, made contact with the freshly polished floor. Her limbs shook as she crawled towards the long table, realizing that it was the best (and only) place to hide in the hall.
Lily had only just pulled her legs underneath the table when something clamped down on her ankle and tugged. Her arms gave out from underneath her, and her scream of terror was trapped in her throat as she fell to the floor, smacking her chin on the marble floor, causing her teeth to cut into her bottom lip. The hand tightened its grip and gave another tug as blood filled her mouth.
Screaming, Lily kicked out with her free foot, connecting with nothing but empty space. Panic seized her as she was pulled out completely from underneath the table and forced to roll onto her back. Her eyes, blurry with hot tears, went wide at the sight of the black hood with a bone white face, two bottomless pits for eyes. She opened her mouth to scream again, but the man pressed the tip of his sword to the base of her throat.
“I’d keep quiet if I were you,” the man growled, pressing the blade harder into her skin with each word as if he was annunciating it. Lily gagged on the air in her throat, unable to reach up with either of her limbs as they were pinioned to her side.
“The Queen is going to reward me greatly for your capture, Princess,” the man continued, with a touch of triumphant. If she could see his face, Lily was sure he would be smiling as he spoke. “Do you know how long she’s been waiting for this opportunity? A castle left unprotected by the King and his noble Knights?” The man laughed to himself. “Oh what destruction we will reap!”
Unable to resist rising to the taunt, Lily glared up at the man and said, “Kill me then.” Her tone was challenging, her gaze doubly so.
“I beg your pardon?”
“You heard me,” she said, the words thick due to the pressure on her throat. “Kill me. Run me through with your broadsword, strangle me with your bare hands. Do it!”
“You talk a big game, little miss,” the man hissed, doubling the pressure of the blade so that it cut into the flesh of her neck. “But if it’s death you want, then it is death you shall receive.”
Lily screwed her eyes shut, revulsion and self-pity settling deep in the pit of her stomach as she prepared herself for the blow that would end her life. She had always heard that a person’s life flashes before their eyes in the moments before their death, but she saw nothing. It was black, dark and endless. There was nothing. Hot tears streaked down her cheeks as the weight of her words pressed down upon her.
There was a commotion around her, though she hardly heard it, much too absorbed in her own impending death to consider anything else. When she felt movement on top of her, her breath hitched in her throat, her entire body going numb. This was it.
This was death.
The knot hardened as realization struck her: James had died, too. A few more tears streaked down her face as she considered her poor treatment of him over the last few years. She supposed she could have been a little nicer to him.
“Lily?” he asked again. She nearly jumped out of her skin when a warm, calloused hand cupped the side of her face. Warmth? She shouldn’t feel warmth if she was dead. A thumb stroked the length of her cheekbone as he continued to speak in an unusually tender voice. “Are you okay?”
She opened her eyes slowly, expecting to see a blinding white light above her, but instead she saw James Potter’s face, bruised and smeared with what appeared to be blood, staring down at her, concern saturating the hazel of his eyes. Behind his unruly hair, she could see the darkness of the night sky, littered with speckles of stars. Lily blinked. “James?” she rasped, her throat completely dry.
“Oh, thank Merlin,” James breathed in relief. He didn’t remove his hand from her cheek. “I thought you were dead.”
She furrowed her brow in confusion. “You mean we’re not?”
“No,” James said with a shake of his head. “No, we’re alive. Both of us. I’m alive, you’re alive.”
“Oh,” was all she said, despite the rush of relief coursing through her.
“Don’t get too excited,” he laughed, the white of his teeth stark against the grime on his face. Finally, he removed his hand from her face and settled it on her shoulder, helping her sit up. “Are you okay? You’re not hurt, are you?”
Lily lifted a hand and touched the side of her neck, her fingers stained with crimson. “Aside from this?” She gestured towards her fingers. “No, I’m fine.”
“But all this blood -”
“It’s not mine,” Lily said sadly. She averted her gaze from her hands to his face, unsure of what she was looking for.
James gave her shoulder a firm squeeze. “At least you’re all right. Your sister will be so relieved.”
Her eyes widened as hope fluttered in her stomach. “Tuney’s alive?”
“Yes,” James affirmed, nodding his head. “Snape got her out of here soon after the initial explosion. Apparently a piece of the ceiling fell on her head and knocked her out cold, and he carried her out.”
Lily frowned down at her blood stained hands. “How very noble of him,” she muttered.
James laughed in a grating sort of way. “I suppose noble’s one way of putting it. He’s the only man who didn’t stay behind to fight.” With a shake of his head, James struggled to his feet, a strange expression flitting across his face as he steadied himself. It wasn’t quite pain, but there was something decidedly uncomfortable the set of his lips and the pinch in his brow. He held out a hand to Lily, which she took gratefully, and he hauled her to her feet as well. Before she could so much as turn her head, James had his arm around her shoulder and drew her in close enough so that his lips were pressed against her ear. “You don’t want to look,” he advised.
Taking his word for it, Lily pressed her face into the front of his tunic, which, she realised a little too late, was torn and stained with the grease and grime of battle. She didn’t shut her eyes, but she made a point not to look anywhere beyond the floor in front of her; most of her path was obstructed by bits of fallen ceiling and, at one point, an arm. Lily tried her best not to vomit, but she could taste the bile on the back of her tongue and knew it was only a matter of time.
At least Tuney is safe, she continued to repeat in her head as James led her out of the destroyed hall.
“Watch your step,” James said, the warm rumble of his voice reverberating in her ear. He grasped her elbow and helped her over a fallen beam, under which a body was trapped. The taste of bile became stronger than ever.
It seemed to take eons to pick their way across the hall, but once James opened the door and all but pushed her through, Lily felt like she could breathe again. Except when she opened her mouth to take greedy gulps of the air, she collapsed to her knees and vomited instead.
James was at her side in an instant. He crouched down beside her and grasped a handful of her thick hair, pulling it away from her face as she was sick all over the floor. “It’s okay,” he soothed, placing his palm on the base of her spine and rubbing circles into her flesh. “Just let it out. Everything’s okay now.”
The gentleness in his voice caught her by surprise, but before she could comment on it, her stomach gave another heave and she lurched forwards, though thankfully nothing came up. With a groan, she settled back on her haunches, her body wrought with exhaustion. James’ hand didn’t leave her back. It had been quite a long time since Lily had felt this tired, this deflated. All she wanted to do was curl up in a ball and sleep for a week, but she knew that wasn’t an option now, not after everything that had just happened.
Suddenly, the doors to the side hall banged open and a troupe of brutish soldiers burst into the annex.
“She’s here!” one shouted.
“We’ve found her!” called another.
“Out of my way!” a familiar voice shouted. The sea of armed guards parted, revealing a pale and dishevelled Petunia. “Lily!” she screamed, abandoning all pretences of proper behaviour and rushing towards her sister at full speed. She threw her arms around Lily with an unusual amount of zest. “Oh, thank the gods, you’re all right!”
“Yeah,” Lily gagged as Petunia’s bony shoulder pressed into her throat, irritating the nick from the blade. “I’m bloody brilliant.” To her right, James chuckled.
Petunia seemed oblivious to the hint. If anything, she tightened her grip on Lily. “I was so worried about you. I was knocked unconscious after the first explosion and if it hadn’t been for Severus carrying me to safety, I might’ve died. Oh, Lily,” Petunia pulled back to look down at her, concern shining in her eyes. “I wanted to go in there after you once I came to, but those barbarian guards wouldn’t have it.” She pushed her lips into a pout. “I’m sorry I couldn’t rescue you.”
“It’s okay, Tuney,” Lily consoled, patting her sister’s hand. “I’m safe, and the guards were just doing what our father hired them to do.”
Ignoring her last remark, Petunia lifted a hand to stroke Lily’s long red hair, a soft smile touching her lips. “I’m still sending Dumbledore to your chambers just as soon as you’re escorted to them.”
Despite herself, Lily laughed, though it was hoarse and jagged; it dug into her throat. She swallowed. “I’m perfectly capable of making it to my chambers by myself.”
“The castle was just attacked,” James said before anyone else could get a word in - and quite a few people had opened their mouths to protest. “If you’re stupid enough to think that you can go gallivanting about by your lonesome than clearly I’ve overestimated your intelligence.”
Petunia gasped, her eyes widening to roughly the size of saucers. “You cannot talk to royalty like that, you idiotic oaf!” She snapped her fingers. “Guards,” she ordered, “get him to the dungeon. I think a nice long talk with a brick wall should do the trick.”
Two of the guards broke away from the pseudo phalanx and approached James, who got to his feet with a defeated sort of air. He didn’t put up a fight, as he was entirely certain that would only get him into more trouble. He chanced a glance at Lily as the blonde guard pulled a pair of shackles from his belt, his gaze one of pitiful acceptance.
With a roll of her eyes, Lily leapt to his defence. “Wait!”
“Don’t take him away,” Lily said, looking from James to her sister and back again. “Please. He saved my life, Petunia.”
“He also insulted you.”
“Like I haven’t been insulted by an insubordinate before?” Lily shrugged. “We’re royalty, Tuney, we have to deal with slander all of the time. Besides,” she added, her eyes locking with James. “It was an extraordinarily brave thing for him to do, risk his life to save mine.”
“Or it was incredibly stupid,” chimed a gruff voice near the door.
James whipped his head round to see Sirius standing at the hell of one of the guards. A smile broke across his lips at the sight of the black dog, gladness swelling in his heart over his friend’s wellness.
Much to everyone’s surprise, Petunia giggled. “Perhaps it’s a combination of both,” she said, her gaze sliding over to James. It was much gentler, Lily noticed, and, unless her judgment was completely off, extremely appreciative. A flare of jealousy surged through Lily and she had to bite her tongue to keep her scathing remark inside. “After all, aren’t those the very traits that make a hero?”
Sirius grumbled under his breath, Lily gave an extravagant roll of her eyes, and James turned to Lily, giving her a surprisingly humble smile. “I’m not a hero,” he said.
“Of course you are!” Petunia exclaimed, laying what Lily thought was an unnecessary hand on James’ upper arm. “You risked your life to save that of my sister’s and in doing such a selfless act, you saved our kingdom. Clearly you are a hero.”
James stood there awkwardly, unable to think of anything to say in response to such a proclamation. He looked to Sirius, who shrugged, and then to Lily, who also shrugged, though her shoulders held the crippling weight of defeat. He frowned.
A beat of silence passed before Sirius said, “Both princesses should return to their chambers.” When they all turned to look at him, he added, “Most of the castle and the surrounding grounds has been secured, but it would ease a lot of people’s worries - including my own - if the pair of you were as save as possible.”
Lily opened her mouth to protest when Petunia rejoined, “I completely agree. Mr - ah, I just realised I do not know your surname.” She batted her eyelashes at James.
“Ah, yes. Potter,” Petunia said as if she was trying the name on for size. She smiled to herself and redoubled her grasp on his forearm. “Well, Mr Potter, would you be so very kind as to escort me back to my chambers? I could use a big, strong, strapping lad like -”
“I’m sorry, Princess Petunia,” Sirius intervened. “Your father gave me strict orders to keep my eyes on you at all times. While I’m sure Mr Potter is perfectly capable, I trust myself more with your protection.”
“I agree!” Lily shouted, catching everyone but Petunia off-guard. No, her sister looked positively livid. “I’m only concerned about your well-being, Tuney. I’m sure that J-Ja- Mr Potter would love to see you back to your chambers, but why ask him when we have the best guards in all of the land ready to assist you?” Her punctuating smile was a bit forced, but not entirely fake.
Petunia pursed her lips and glowered at Lily, but the redhead didn’t back down. Finally, after a minute long staring contest, the elder Evans princess caved. “Okay, fine,” she bit out, her lips twisting into a grimace, “but don’t think you get to go on your merry way; you’re taking a guard as well.”
“Better yet, I’ll take three,” Lily said, ignoring her sister’s scathing tone to look at the three guards closest to her. “Would you be so kind?”
“Whatever you say, Princess.”
Petunia rolled her eyes and, with a snap of her fingers, strode out of the annex, a stream of diligent guards following after her.
Pushing a hand through her hair, Lily expelled a deep sigh, her exhaustion settling deeper than ever in her bones. “So much for sisterly love.”
Beside her, James snorted. “You have to admit, that went much better than expected.”
“Considering I was expecting the apocalypse, that’s not saying much.”
James laughed. “Always the pessimist, you are.”
She scoffed. “I prefer realist.”
“Whatever you say, Princess,” he replied, executing a near perfect imitation of the one of the guard’s voices.
Lily dug her elbow into his ribcage, unaware of the sharp hiss that slipped past James’ lips. “Yes, you are quite right. Whatever I say goes. So I suppose you’ll just to have to deal with it.”
James nodded, his mouth twisting into a grimace as he subtly placed a hand against his ribcage. “Yeah,” he said, his voice strained. “I suppose I will.”
A wide grin swept across Lily’s lips. Clearly she had mistaken his pained expression for begrudged acquiescence, which he preferred. The last thing James wanted her to do was worry over him. She should be worrying about herself.
Sirius seemed to share his viewpoint. “As touching as this moment is,” he began, a slight note of condescension in his voice as he regarded the pair. “It would be - ah, wise - if the princess returned to her chambers at once. They are, after all, the most well-protected area in the castle.”
Lily considered putting up a fight, but she realised that he was right. It was a hesitant acceptance, but acceptance nonetheless. Sirius was the head of security for a reason, after all, and besides, she was a princess and, generally speaking, princesses were concerned with one thing and one thing only: themselves. Petunia was such an example, even if she had shown a considerable amount of worry for Lily’s well-being. If she was going to be a convincing princess then she had better start playing the part.
“But of course,” said Lily, catching nearly everyone off-guard with her agreement, especially after the somewhat adamant fight she’d put up. However, no one was quite as surprised as Sirius, whose jaw dropped open at her proclamation. “You don’t have to look so surprised, Sirius. “You are the head of security and I trust your judgment.”
It took but a few seconds for Sirius to regain his composure. Snapping his jaw shut, he blinked thrice and said, with a certain arrogance, “Er, thank you, Your Majesty. Shall I lead the way?”
“You shall,” Lily consented with a nod. “But I have one condition.”
James groaned while Sirius’ pleased expression evaporated almost completely. “What?”
“Don’t tell my sister I gave in so easily,” she said.
“The secret is save with me, princess,” soothed Sirius, with just a trace of humour in his voice. “Now will you please follow me? Lovegood, Fawkes, walk ahead of her. Clive and Gregor, take the flank, will you? And James?”
“Come with us. I’d like to speak to you.”
James gave a non-committal shrug, his lips twisting slightly. “Sure.”
“Right,” Sirius said with a decisive nod. “Let’s move out.”
Wordlessly, the soldiers sprang into action and assumed their designated positions. And quite suddenly, Lily felt extremely claustrophobic, a wave of heat rushing over her, her breath leaving her in a rush. She tried to take a step back to make herself feel at ease, but only ended up backing into James.
She didn’t hear his grunt of pain. “You all right?” he asked, his brows knitted together in what she presumed was concern.
“I’m fine,” she managed to get out, pulling at the top of her gown in an attempt to cool herself off. “Just a bit flustered is all.”
“Maybe you should lay down when you get to your room,” James suggested as they followed the armed guard out of the annex and into the corridor, a certain tightness still present around the corners of his mouth. “It’s been a fairly exhausting evening.”
“It has,” Lily agreed, glancing up at him and finding herself surprised. He looked terrible. “You could use some rest yourself; you’re awfully pale.”
“I’m fine,” parroted James, flashing a tight smile. Something flickered in his eyes, though Lily couldn’t put her finger on it. “Really, I am,” he added when she didn’t drop her gaze. “I just…well, I wasn’t expecting the night to pan out the way it did.”
Lily waited until the guards were several feet ahead before starting up the staircase after them. “No one did. I mean, how could anyone have predicted an attack on the castle? It’s not like they happen every day.”
“True, but still,” James said, wincing a little as they picked up the pace. He pressed his hand to his side and continued. “Something about it feels…off.” He dropped his voice at the end, shooting cautious glances at each of the surrounding guards. None had heard him but Lily.
“Off? How so?”
James shrugged - and lost even more colour as they started up another flight of stairs, this time taking the servants’ way, which was steeper and darker and easier to protect than the broad, expansive corridors. “It’s hard to explain,” he said, his voice strained as they hiked upwards.
“Try me,” challenged Lily.
“I don’t know, there was just something so…terribly efficient about the whole thing, you know what I mean?” He looked at Lily and saw that she had no idea what he was talking a bout. James lifted his arm to pass a hand through his hair, but quickly lowered it again as pain, white hot and blinding, flared through his side. James threw a hand out to grip the railing.
“James? James, are you okay? James? James?” He barely registered the panic and borderline hysterical note in her voice before he collapsed, falling down several of the stairs before one of the guards bringing up the rear managed to catch him.
“Move back!” Lily ordered as she descended the steps until she was right beside James. The guards did as they were told, leaping back from James’ unconscious form as though he was a diseased individual. For once, Lily was glad for their quick and scarily fluid actions. “Sirius!”
The great black dog was at her side at once. “What’s happened to him?”
“I don’t know,” Lily responded, her hands hovering above his body, unsure of where or if she should touch him or not. For all she knew, he was a diseased individual. “We were talking and then he…he just collapsed.” She pressed a hand to her forehead, her skin hot underneath her palm. Inwardly, Lily reminded herself to stay calm. Dropping her hand, she looked Sirius square in the eye. “We need Dumbledore.”
“But Dumbledore is healing the rest of the court -” one of the guards tried to reason.
“I don’t care!” Lily snapped, surprising everyone, including herself, with the authority in her voice. “I’m the ruddy princess, am I not?“
“Don’t answer that,” advised Sirius when he saw the guard open his mouth to reply. “It’s a rhetorical question.” Rolling his eyes, he met Lily’s gaze once again. “What should I tell him?”
“Tell him the princess requests - no, demands - his immediate presence. Tell him I’m injured or something, I don’t know,” Lily flailed her hands about. “Just tell him that I want to see him now. Not in an hour or two, but right this instant.”
“Yes, Your Highness,” Sirius said with a nod. Then he gave an abrupt bark and began to delegate orders to his men. With a terrible efficiency, they sprang into action and did just as they were told, much like they had only minutes before. Two of the burlier guards took James by his arms and feet respectively and started to make their way to one of the guest apartments. Once they were out of earshot and Lily and Sirius were completely alone in the stairwell, Sirius asked, “Are you sure you want to do this?”
“You do know that your sister is going to throw a fit when she realises that you pulled Dumbledore away from the badly injured court members to see to a stable boy, right?”
“He’s not a stable boy,” Lily corrected. “At least, not anymore, he’s not.”
Sirius raised an eyebrow. “And you would know that how…?”
Lily sighed. “Because I know my subjects, you idiot, now go fetch Dumbledore. If anyone questions you - my sister included - tell them to come to me, all right?”
“Yes, Your Highness. And I trust you can make your way back to your chambers without any delays?”
She heard the implications in his voice and nodded. Lily knew that it would look terrible if she went straight to the apartment where James was being kept instead of her own rooms. There was only so much scandal a princess in her situation could take, and even if she wasn’t the actual princess, she still had to keep up the charade, if only for a little bit longer. “No delays,” she promised, a knot forming in her stomach, though she wasn’t quite sure why.
A/N: So a lot happened in this chapter. I hoped you enjoyed it!
The old man’s hands, stained with blood and something vaguely blue, trembled as he secured the last of the bandages to the young man’s wound. “There,” said Dumbledore, making a fuss over the slightly frayed end of the bandage. Fighting off a frown, he turned his eyes to his patient, who was sound asleep. “All done.”
It was extremely satisfying to save someone’s life - even if that someone was a traitor. Or probably a traitor. And if not a traitor then, at the very least, an impostor. But a life was a life, be it friend or foe, and Dumbledore would be damned if he let someone die when he could’ve done something about it. Suspicion was, after all, just that - suspicion.
With a faint shake of his head, the physician cleared the thoughts from his head and stood up. His knees cracked and his spine ached; he was getting old. Almost too old for the job, but he was too stubborn to admit defeat just yet. He would attend to those in need until he himself was in need of that same gentle care.
Dumbledore grabbed his bag from the nightstand, tucked it under his arm, and made for the door, gently nudging it open upon reaching it. When he slipped out of the room, which stank of sweat, blood, and four hours’ worth of hard labour, he wasn’t at all surprised to see the princess - as well as the young man’s friends - standing outside in the poorly lit corridor.
However, unable to resist the opportunity, he feigned surprise. “Good heavens!” he exclaimed, clapping a hand over his chest. “You gave me a fright.”
“Sorry,” the trio said in unison, the sandy haired one flashing an apologetic smile in his direction. The other two cut directly to the chase.
“How is he doing?” they asked, with equal yet different levels of anxiety in their voices.
Dumbledore had expected this. It always happened this way with young folk. “He’s stable,” he said, watching as relief flooded both of their complexions. “And sleeping,” he added when Sirius scratched his paw along the door. “The young man -”
“James,” supplied Lily.
“Yes, excuse me, Your Majesty, James,” he emphasised patronizingly, “has been through quite the ordeal tonight.” The wizened physician looked from the princess to the guard dog and back, his blues eyes seeming to pierce them as easily as the dagger had pierced through James’ ribcage. “He needs rest! Do you understand?”
“Yes, of course,” two out of the three gathered in the corridor said.
“Now,” Dumbledore began, adjusting his spectacles on the bridge of his crooked nose. “I have administered the first dose of this potion,” He pulled a flask from the front pocket of his long midnight blue robes and held it aloft. “The amount I gave him should tide him over until he wakes up. As soon as he wakes - and I do mean as soon as he wakes - someone needs to give him precisely one half of this flask. Otherwise the potion will have left his system and I fear that it may bring about infection.”
Sirius nodded briskly. “I’ll send for one of the maids immediately.”
“There’s a good chap,” said Dumbledore, patting the black dog on the head. “Now I really must attend to the rest of the injured. If you’ll excuse me.” With a cordial nod, he took his leave, the corridor seeming much bigger without his lanky frame.
The remaining three stood in almost complete silence for a few moments before they sprung into action. Sirius leapt to his feet, Lily made to open the door, and Remus slipped down the corridor wall, fast asleep.
Sirius barred Lily’s entrance. “What do you think you’re doing?”
“What does it look like?”
“It looks like you’re trying to get in the room where my best friend is currently recovering from a near-death experience,” said Sirius. “That’s what it looks like.” He gave a small huff of annoyance and shook his head, his ears flopping back and forth. “I’m going to get someone to sit with him. I’m sure Olivia is available. Or perhaps Peggy. I could ask -”
Lily cleared her throat loudly, cutting off Sirius’ laundry list of maids while he was still ahead. “There’s no reason for a maid to sit with him when I’m perfectly capable of doing it myself.”
Sirius laughed. “No.”
“That’s a negative, Princess,” said the dog. The condescension was evident in his voice.
Arching an eyebrow whilst folding her arms over her chest, Lily glared at him. “Are you questioning my authority?”
“Not at all, Your Majesty,” replied Sirius, his voice sugary sweet. “I’m protecting you.”
“From what? The threat is gone and -”
“That’s not what I meant,” he interrupted swiftly, ignoring her glare. He emitted a small sigh of frustration. Royals, he thought to himself. “If you would let me explain…”
She rolled her eyes. “Fine, but make it quick. I don’t want to waste valuable time.”
Sitting back down, Sirius tilted his head back to look at his princess’ face. “While I know the only reason why you’re concerned about James is because he saved your life and you feel obligated to look out for him -”
“I do not!”
“There are plenty of others who don’t,” continued Sirius as though she hadn’t shouted at him. “And by that, I mean that all of your critics think that you’re having an affair with the stable boy.”
“He’s a jester.”
“Same, same, but different,” Sirius said dismissively. He paused to itch a scratch beneath his collar before continuing. “My point is that you cannot afford a scandal right now - at least not one of this proportion. Now we both know that this isn’t the first time you’ve done something like this -”
“Oh, don’t pretend like I don’t know. And I’m not commending you for it.” He grinned up at her. “In fact, it is quite refreshing to see a woman so in charge of herself in this day and age and -”
“Will you shut up?” Lily scolded through clenched teeth, resisting the urge to stomp on his paw. He might’ve been annoying, but he was still a dog and she couldn’t bring herself to harm an animal. “Someone might hear you!”
Sirius beamed. “Precisely my point. Do you see why it would be imprudent of you to go in there and sit with James until he wakes? It would look like you have something other than a casual interest in him!”
Lily averted her eyes and stared at the flagstone, which was covered with flecks of dirt and plaster, most likely bits of the ceiling that crumbled during the attack. After much incoherent grumbling, she bobbed her head in agreement. “I suppose you’re right.”
“Of course I’m right,” Sirius said, with a certain smugness. “Why else would I have been assigned as your protector from your birth if I wasn’t sharp as a tack?”
“Arrogance doesn’t suit you,” commented Lily, though there were no barbs to her words.
“And pettiness doesn’t suit you, but we all have our faults, don’t we?” He made what could only be described as a snide face at her before rising to his feet. “I’m going to fetch one of the maids and you, my princess, are going to go back to your chambers as I asked of you nearly five hours ago.”
The great black dog sighed sympathetically. “Look, I know you’re worried about him, Lily,” he said in a low voice. “I know because I am, too. Very worried, actually. But what he needs is a watchful eye and you look dead on your feet.” He held up a large paw before she could protest. “I simply meant that you, too, need rest. You are the crowned princess, after all; people are expecting you to take care of yourself, not others.”
Lily frowned to herself; that didn’t sound quite right. Wasn’t a royal supposed to care for their subjects and their country first before themselves? She gave a miniscule shake of her head. “Fine, I’ll go,” she said, feeling extremely repetitious. Just how many times would she have this conversation today? “But you’ll update me on his condition as soon as he wakes up?”
It took a moment, but Sirius nodded. “Of course, Princess. Your wish is my command.”
At this, she chuckled. “Damn right it is.”
It was Sirius’ turn to roll his eyes, though it was much more good-natured than Lily’s had been; a lot less exasperated. If there was one trait that all of the Evans royals possessed, it was impatience with the little things. “Now,” he started, fighting back a smile. “Get out of here before I summon a phalanx of armed guards to carry you away.”
She snorted. “I’m the one who gives the orders around here,” she said as she pushed away from the wall and started down the corridor. “And makes the threats, for that matter,” she added as an afterthought.
Even from a distance (and in the dimly lit corridor), Sirius could see the worried look that pinched her face, that drew her mouth into a thin line, that tightened the lines around her eyes, and that caused a deep furrow in her brow. “I’ll send a messenger to your chambers as soon as he wakes up.”
Lily smiled gratefully. “Thank you, Sirius.” With the gentle click of her heeled shoes against the flagstone and a small wave, she was gone.
Shaking his head to himself, Sirius tore his eyes away from the now empty corridor and glanced down at Remus, who had only just begun to drool. “Oh, Lord, what have I gotten myself into?”
By the time Lily returned to her room and washed away the blood and grime, it was a quarter after three in the morning. Despite all of the rather taxing events of the evening, she felt wired, her nerve endings seeming to spark and crackle with life. However, once she forced herself into bed and actually let herself relax, exhaustion hit her like a punch to the gut. She was asleep within seconds.
She couldn’t have been asleep for more than an hour before there was a knock, short and abrupt, at her door.
Springing up from her bed, Lily instinctively reached for the wand on her bedside table, only to realise that she didn’t have it, that it was back at Hogwarts, and even if she was in possession of it, it wouldn’t work anyway.
“Bugger,” she mumbled sleepily as another knock sounded on her door, this one louder than the last. The noise sounded in her head like a bomb siren.
“Lily!” a voice hissed. It was unfamiliar and yet it made the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end. However, she was too tired to contemplate the identity. “Lily, it’s me.”
She rubbed her eyes with the palms of her hands. Lily hated when people said that. Like she was supposed to recognise someone merely by their voice. “Who?”
“Me,” the decidedly male voice whispered, the syllables snakelike and slimy. “Who else would be at your door at this time?”
It took a moment for Lily to make the connection of the silky coldness of the man’s voice to his face, but once she did, her stomach plummeted. “Snape,” she groaned softly.
“Yes, it is me!”
“Great,” Lily grumbled to herself.
“Are you going to open the door or not?”
She frowned at his insistence. “You don’t waste a moment, do you?”
“I beg your pardon? I can’t hear you properly through the door.”
“Nothing.” Raking her fingers through her dirty hair, she glanced down at her body and the short nightgown she wore. “I’m not exactly decent…”
“Then put on a dressing gown and let me in,” Snape instructed in a tone that was meant to leave no room for argument, though Lily dismissed it easily.
“No,” she said.
“But I must see you,” he continued imperiously. “I must know you’re all right!”
“We’re talking, aren’t we?”
“Yes, but voices are nothing compared to touches,” whispered Snape.
Lily gagged into her blanket. “I don’t think that kind of talk is - er - appropriate at the time being.” Or ever.
“There’s no one around, Lily. I sent your guards away.”
“You’re not coming in, Snape, and that’s final.”
Lily jumped when what she presumed was a fist beat against the door. “You will open this door right now!” Snape growled so ferociously, she could practically hear him bearing his teeth behind his words.
“Last time I checked, this was my room,” began Lily, doing everything that she could to keep her temper in check. She tried to recall all of the times in which James had made an inappropriate or distasteful comment whilst they were in class and she was forced to keep her mouth shut, but the thought of the lanky troublemaker only hardened the knot of guilt that’d formed in her stomach. “I can both allow and deny anyone I want access - including you.” Especially you, she added mentally.
It took several seconds for Snape to respond. “I beg your pardon?” His disbelief seemed to ring in her ears and the coldness in his voice chilled her.
“You heard me,” Lily asserted, and, despite herself, she folded her arms over her chest for good measure. “Besides, I’m sure my sister passed along the news of my well-being hours ago.”
“Yes, she did, but -”
“And it’s like I said earlier, isn’t it? We’re holding a conversation, aren’t we? I’m sure that hints that I’m perfectly fine.”
“Yes, we are and it certainly does, but -”
“Then I suggest you get back to your own apartment before I call for the guards - the real ones, too,” Lily said, mimicking his commanding tone. “Not the idiots you paid off so you could come here.”
Snape expelled a loud, angry breath. “I will not tolerate this kind of abuse from my future wife. I refuse to accept any sort of -”
“By all means, please, refuse all you want,” interrupted Lily. “Expend all of your energies on anything - anyone- but me.”
Snape sputtered pathetically for several moments before he finally settled on huffing obnoxiously. “Wait until your father hears about this!”
Lily sighed, passing a hand through her thick hair. As much as she wanted to hate this Snape, she couldn’t, much for the same reason that she couldn’t hate the Snape she had grown up with: he was Snape, plain and simple. Sure, he might be a self-entitled bastard ninety percent of the time, but he did have a heart and more often than not, it was in the right place, even if it didn’t seem like it at the time.
“Look,” Lily started, working hard to take the edge out of her voice. “I’m not trying to be mean to you, Severus, but I want to be left alone. I’m tired and my muscles ache and -”
“Say no more, Lily flower,” purred Snape.
Lily slapped a hand over her mouth to keep herself from vomiting all over. She hated pet names in general, but Lilyflower? Really? And did he have to purr like that? Shaking her head, she waited for him to continue.
“I will let you get the rest you deserve. It was foolish of me to come here to you so late at night - imagine what the guards might think if we’re caught.” He laughed softly and very unconvincingly, almost like he wanted to get caught.
She rolled her eyes. “We won’t get caught and you know it - you paid them all off.”
This time, his chuckle was genuine, if not a little creepy. “Right you are,“ consented Snape in that oily voice. “Until the morrow, my flower. Good night.”
“Good night,” she parroted, with as much enthusiasm as a deflated balloon. Lily waited for Snape to add another grotesque nickname to his goodnight, but thankfully - mercifully - he didn’t. Releasing a long and low groan, she collapsed onto the pile of pillows in the center of the bed and threw her arm over her eyes, wanting nothing more than to sink into a deep, dreamless coma.
Remus was confused (amongst other things) for a multitude of reasons.
For starters, he woke up in his bed without any recollection of how he got there. His boots had been removed as had his bloodied tunic; his hands, dirtied from clearing away some of the wreckage, were clear of flecks of plaster and grit. Someone had even put a bandage over the cut on his forearm that he’d received when the attack started and he was knocked aside, landing, rather uncomfortably, on a dinner fork.
After he pulled on a set of fresh clothes and exited his small room, he was surprised to see that there were guards standing out in the hallway. The last time he’d check, he wasn’t a royal - or anyone of any importance, for that matter - but there they were and there he stood, a bit taken aback by the sight of them. However, at least their presence could be rationalised: obviously, Sirius had increased the number of guards on duty and stationed them all over the palace in case of another attack.
“Good morning,” he said to the nearest guard, nodding his head for good measure.
“I think you mean good afternoon,” replied the guard. At Remus’ confused look, he added, “It’s nearly two o’clock.”
A wave of panic washed over him as he considered the man’s words. It was two o’clock in the afternoon. He was supposed to report to Alastor at eleven that morning to help with the clean up. So why hadn’t he been dragged unceremoniously out of his bed? Where was Alastor Moody?
“Shit,” he cursed under his breath. He nodded in thanks at the guard and sprinted down the narrow hall, thinking (and internally crying) over the various ways Alastor Moody would make him pay for being so late.
So distracted he was by his thoughts, Remus wasn’t paying attention to where he was walking, which, in all fairness, wasn’t exactly a new development, and thus ran (literally) right into someone else. Luckily for the both of them, neither had anything in their hands and were both merely knocked to the floor.
“Shit!” Remus exclaimed again, though this time the word was laced with an apology. “I am -”
“If you apologize for running into me, I won’t accept your hand,” said a woman’s voice.
Perplexed, Remus swallowed the words and rose to his feet, brushing off the dirt that clung to his tunic. “Okay then,” he muttered to himself, instinctively holding out a hand for the woman to take.
“Thank you,” she said. There was a slight accent in her voice, one that he couldn’t quite place. As a (former) court jester, he didn’t get out of the castle very often, let alone Westerflower.
Remus looked down at the woman and began to formulate a reply, but he had to snap his mouth shut to keep from drooling all over the place.
Golden beams of light seemed to burst through every pore of her olive toned skin, highlighting the sharp yet appealing angles of her face; it brought a certain brightness to her dark brown hair, which hung about her shoulders in loose, thick curls. The most startling thing about her was her eyes - hooded, but an unbelievable hue of a crisp, clear blue not unlike the sky. Even the slight sneer on her lips was attractive.
In short, she was beautiful, this stranger, but not in the conventional sense of the word. Remus wouldn’t have called her exotic, either. There was something almost magical about her - fantastical, even, like he couldn’t quite believe what he was seeing. His head felt light, slightly dizzy.
He shook his head. “Who did you say you were again?”
“I didn’t,” the woman replied, taking his proffered hand and pulling herself to her feet with an abnormal amount of grace. It was the sort of grace he was used to seeing in members of the royal family. “And neither did you.”
“Oh? Sorry, how rude of me,” Remus said, releasing the woman’s hand. Then, realising his mistake, he tried to grasp her hand to shake, only to be rejected. He wasn’t too offended. “I’m Remus. Remus Lupin. And you are?”
She waved her hand dismissively. “That’s neither here nor there.”
He frowned. “But -”
“Hush, darling,” the woman purred in that curious accent of hers. She made a point of finding his gaze. “It’s not important. In fact, forget you even saw me.”
“Why would I want to -”
“I said ‘forget you even saw me’,” she ground out through gritted teeth, the beams of light seeming to fracture as she stared deep into Remus’ eyes. “I was never here. We never had a conversation. You were on your way back to your quarters.”
Remus shook his head. “No, I wasn’t. I was going to see -”
“You were on your way back to your quarters because you felt ill,” commanded the woman.
The most peculiar sensation overcame him. It started at the roots of his sandy blonde hair and slowly trickled down his neck, over his shoulders and back, and spread. He felt very light-headed, but not in an unpleasant way. It was very bizarre, but enjoyably so. At least, it was until his stomach started to cramp up.
Picking up on his sudden discomfort, the woman smiled. “And how are we feeling?”
“Ill,” responded Remus, his voice oddly dreamy despite the pained expression on his face.
“Good, good. You were a bit difficult, but nothing a little determination couldn’t handle. Now,” she said, once again engaging Remus in eye-to-eye contact. He did not blink. “You’d best be on your way. You wouldn’t want to spread your sickness around the castle, would you?” The woman let out a long, low laugh, which dripped with self satisfaction and triumph, though what she was celebrating, Remus would never know.
It took only a few seconds for the enchantment to wear off. Remus stood, completely dumbfounded, in the middle of the hall. He could scarcely recall waking up and leaving his room, much less how he had gotten in this particular spot. The furrow of his brow deepened as he struggled to piece the events together, but just when he felt like he was making sense of things, an odd fog descended upon his memory, making it impossible to see what lie beyond the cloud of confusion.
Eventually, he shook his head to himself, ignoring the niggling sensation in the back of his mind that he had something important to do. He turned on his heel and started down the hall once more, back to the rooms from whence he came.
Lily hadn’t realised that she had fallen asleep until a knock disrupted her sleep for the second time that day. The book she had been reading before she dozed off slipped out of her lap and onto the floor, and she nearly knocked over the vase on the small table beside her. Cursing under her breath, she scrambled out of the deeply cushioned seat and hurried over to the door, hoping against all hope that Snape was not on the other side of the door; she had already gotten her fill of him for the next few days.
Thankfully, Merlin seemed to be smiling down upon her as when she opened the door, she was greeted not by sallow face of her husband-to-be, but rather a soft bark, which drew her attention towards the floor where Sirius was sitting, his paws splayed out on either side of him. He gazed up at her, concern swirling in his grey eyes.
Lily’s thoughts took an immediate turn for the absolute worst. “Oh, Merlin,” she gasped, raising a hand to cover her mouth. “He’s died, hasn’t he?”
“No, he’s not dead.”
“Then something’s happened,” Lily assumed. “His sutures tore and now he’s bleeding what little blood he has internally. How much blood has he lost? I think I’m the same type as he is.” She pushed up the sleeves of her silk dressing gown and stared at the crook of her elbow, vaguely wondering if needles and blood transfusions existed here.
“Same type of what?” Sirius questioned.
“Blood,” she said as though it was the most obvious thing in the world. “So I guess that’s a no then,” she muttered, picking at her cuticles. “Oh, Merlin, he’s going to die, isn’t he? And it’s going to be all my fault. Well, nto entirely my fault because there was no way I could have known the castle was going to be attacked, but if he hadn’t save me, he would be -”
As tempting as it was to let the princess continue on in her seemingly never-ending rant, Sirius could see that she was, in the politest way possible, a complete wreck and keeping the information from her was more harmful than amusing. Even if her voice squeaked and her arms flailed when she ranted. So, without any more build-up whatsoever, Sirius cut her off with two simple words:
When Lily entered the modest, but clean chamber (with Sirius in tow), she couldn’t help releasing a sigh of relief at the sight of James. His glasses had been removed, his face was flushed a deep red, and his eyes were heavy, but he was alert. Someone (probably the nurse, who was sat at his bedside) had propped him up on some pillows.
James looked up at the sound of their sudden arrival and his lips, dry and cracked as they were, split into a smile. It wasn’t a large smile and it was laden with pain, but it was a smile nonetheless, which was a vast improvement from the last time she had seen him.
“Oh, thank Merlin,” said Sirius, effectively stealing the words right out of Lily’s mouth.
The nurse - a young girl with a fair face and locks the colour of a daisy - popped up from her chair and hurriedly bunched up a long, soiled - bloodied, Lily thought - cloth in her hands. She pushed it into her pocket before dropping into a swift, but neat cursty, her head bowed. “Your Highness,” she said, her voice oddly solemn for such a bright face.
Not knowing what else to do, Lily inclined her head, but said nothing. In turn, the nurse made a noise in the back of her throat that wasn’t quite a squeak, but wasn’t exactly a squeal. She hurried out the door, taking care to shut it behind her.
Once she was gone, James looked right into Lily’s face and smiled. “Lily,” he breathed - and then immediately winced, his brow pinching.
She tried not to flinch at his evident pain. “Hi, James,” she returned, her voice light and soft.
If Sirius noted the informality of their greeting, he didn’t comment on it. In fact, when Lily looked over her shoulder to urge the large black dog forwards to greet his friend, Sirius was strangely absent. Funny, she hadn’t heard the patter of his paws on the floor as he exited with the nurse.
“Do you mind if I…?” she trailed off, indicating the now-vacant seat at his bed side.
James shook his head. “No, no, not at all,” he answered in a rush, a wave of heat rushing over him and making him sweat. He wasn’t entirely sure if it was the fever or Lily’s presence or a combination of both.
Clearing her throat as if it would help ease the awkwardness in air, Lily smoothed the seat of her skirt and sat down on the edge of the chair. It was much more comfortable than it appeared, the wood strangely supple. She thought of the nurse sitting in the chair and what she had been doing before they had interrupted. Lily tried her best not to stare at the stark white bandage wrapped round his ribs as she asked, “How are you? Are you okay?”
She realised a moment too late that those were two of the dumbest questions she could have asked him, but they were the only ones that came to mind. Embarrassed, she closed her eyes and pressed the heel of her palm to her forehead, inwardly cursing her stupidity. “Merlin, that was a dumb thing to ask,” she muttered, feeling the heat in her cheeks. “Of course you’re not okay. You’ve just been run through with a sword.”
Despite himself, James laughed - and immediately sucked in a short breath through his clenched teeth. “First off, it was a dagger,” he corrected, with a sly smile. “And I’ve been better.” Gingerly, he shifted about on the pillows so that he was sitting instead of half-lying on the bed. He pulled the sheet up just a little higher as he moved, ignoring the not-so-gentle prickles of pain; he wasn’t trying to be modest, but he had noticed how her eyes seemed to be lingering on his freshly dressed wound and he couldn’t handle the guilty expression on her face.
“It’s not your fault, you know,” James said softly, his eyes trained on the bit of white sheet he held in his hands.
Lily didn’t bother feigning ignorance, for she knew exactly what he was talking about. In a way, she wished he hadn’t brought it up. Her internal struggle was difficult enough; she couldn’t imagine what their conversation would be like. Lily sighed, raking her fingers through her long hair, which hung about her shoulders in damp curls. She wasn’t sure how to respond other than admitting her fault. “Yes, it is.”
“See, I knew this was going to happen,” he commented. His words were laced with just as much disappointment as they were frustration, which caused Lily to snap her gaze to his.
A sudden fire alighted in her veins as she stared (though it was more of a glare) at him. Again, she felt the colour rush to her face at his accusation. “And what’s that supposed to mean?” she demanded, her voice quivering.
He sighed, lifting a hand to pass over his hair, only to drop it as pain lanced through his side, much hotter and brighter than it had been in the past. Perhaps he shouldn’t move about so much. “It means that you always shoulder the guilt even when you’re not to be blamed at all,” replied James. He tried not to sound too annoyed, but it was, after all, one of her more annoying yet strangely endearing traits. “Honestly, Lily,” he continued, “it’s not your fault.”
“But it is,” she insisted, pushing her hair over her shoulder. “And before you continue in the same vein of ‘No, it’s not’, let me remind you that you risked your life to save mine.”
James didn’t see where she was going with this, but then again he was never quite sure where she was directing their arguments. “So?” He would have shrugged if the motion didn’t make his entire body seize up with unbearable pain. Ruddy daggers.
“So?” she parroted incredulously, her already wide green eyes becoming wider. “So it was an unnecessary risk to take and now look at you!” She gestured wildly at his current state, that guilty glimmer returning to her eyes.
James scoffed, half in mock offence and half in real offence. “What would you prefer I had done? Let that bloody barbarian kill you?” He shook his head, a certain tightness in his mouth. “Do you realise what would have happened if I hadn’t done anything?”
“That’s exactly it, James,” she said, doing very little to keep the insistence and the vexation out of her voice. “Nothing would have happened if you hadn’t interfered!”
“Interfered?” He laughed harshly - and then gasped in pain. Unlike the last time when he had winced, Lily wasn’t inclined to rush forwards to help him. If anything, the only thing she felt like doing was slapping him across the face, much like James felt like shaking some sense into her. “Lily, if I hadn’t done what I did - which, by the way, you never thanked me for - you would’ve died!”
For some inexplicable reason, this remark caused her blood to simmer. If they continued this conversation for much longer, it would start boiling. “How do you know that?” Lily challenged, folding her arms over her chest. “Do you really have such a low opinion of me that you don’t think I could have defended myself?”
“He was holding a knife to your throat!”
“I wasn’t helpless!” Even though she’d accepted the fact she would be dead within seconds.
If he could’ve, he would have thrown his arms up. “Well, now you’re just putting words in my mouth.”
“I’m perfectly capable of defending myself. I have top marks in Defence Against the Dark Arts -”
“You’re second to me, and need I remind you again that magic doesn’t work here -”
“That’s not the point!” Lily shouted, rising so quickly from her seat that it very nearly toppled to the floor. She grabbed it before it had the chance.
“What is the point?”
“The point is,” Lily began, “that you don’t trust me. At all!” James opened his mouth to counter her argument, but she held a hand up. “I’m not finished! If you trusted me, you wouldn’t have felt the need to play hero!”
“Forgive me for thinking that you wanted to be saved from the man who was about to cut your throat out! I didn’t realise you would be so offended by it. Next time I try to do the right thing, I’ll be sure to consult you.”
Lily couldn’t even muster the concentration to roll her eyes at his sarcasm. All she saw was red. “No, Potter,” she spat, with venomous concept. “You were playing hero because for some unfathomable reason, you think that’s what I want. Well, I’ve got news for you, you great big idiot, I am not a damsel in distress and I most certainly do not need your help!”
James’ glare was nothing short of heated. All traces of amusement had fled his face and he appeared to be made out of stone; even the light in his eyes was gone, replaced with something that Lily couldn’t quite name.
For the first time since fifth year, he looked angry with her.
When he spoke, he didn’t shout at her, though Lily would have preferred his screams to the soft, (almost) hurt tones of his voice. “I’m sorry you didn’t want to be saved, but it’s one and over with and, thankfully, though not according to you, we’re both alive. And sorry if I was expecting some sort of thank you. It’s not every day that someone puts their life on the line for someone that they care for.”
Almost immediately, Lily’s stomach knotted with guilt and she felt sick. “James…” She started to move forwards, but once again, he held up his hand. He did not look at her.
Lily raised her eyebrows. “Excuse me?”
“Go,” he said, not looking at her. “I don’t want you in here any longer.”
“When you leave, will you send for the nurse? I think I might’ve ripped open some of the sutures.”
“Why haven’t you left yet?”
Lily chewed the inside of her mouth, unsure of what she should say or if she should say anything at all. Finally, she consented to his demand. “Okay, fine, I’ll go,” she said, making haste towards the door. “But this isn’t over.” She didn’t wait for him to respond, but opened the door and slipped out into the corridor.
James sighed, collapsing back onto his pillows. “It never is,” he mused, frowning at the ceiling.
And he doubted that it ever would be.
A/N: So I realise that this chapter is a bit delayed, but it’s long and while I know that not a whole bunch happened, the next chapter is jammed pack with fun stuff. I can’t tell you what, but I can tell you that updates should be coming faster than usual as I’m very nearly done with my second year at university, though I’m also taking on quite a few responsibilities this summer that I didn’t have, so while I’ll have time to write, I’m not sure how much. Anyway, thank you so much for reading!
Petunia stopped her frantic pacing and turned to the woman standing in front of her. She was an elderly woman, with a crooked nose and wiry blonde-turning-grey hair. Her skin was leathery, but her countenance was that of a trustworthy person; it made a person want to tell her each and every secret they had, which hardly helped Petunia as she was trying to get the woman to divulge a secret, not keep it.
“Are you certain that’s what happened, Miss -?”
“It’s Marion, and yes, Your Majesty,” the woman said, bowing her head in respect. “That is what I saw.”
“That’s not what I asked,” Petunia said, her tone as icy as her blue gaze. She pursed her lips and carefully contemplated her next words. “You have to be one hundred percent positive that is what happened as you are making some serious allegations against my sister, the crowned princess of Westerflower,” she reminded the elder woman. “I don’t care what you saw.”
Perhaps it was the edge to her voice, but suddenly the woman - Miss Marion - looked very anxious indeed. She showed all of the signs of a person in doubt: she fidgeted with her hands, her brow was furrowed, and she was refusing to meet Petunia’s gaze. In any ordinary social context, it would have been proper etiquette, but this was vastly different from any situation Petunia had ever been in - except with the incident with the butcher’s son.
And the gardener.
And the tutor from -
Petunia shook herself out of her thoughts. She could mull over it after the woman was dismissed. “Well?” she said imperiously. “Are you positive that precise event is what occurred?”
Marion licked her thin lips, her eyes darting back and forth. “Well, um, you see, I merely saw the princess exiting the room where I knew the young man was being -”
Petunia held up her hand, effectively cutting off the ranting woman. “I’ve heard enough,” she said, a note of finality in her voice. “Bertram, if you would please escort Miss Marion back to the kitchens…”
There was a certain panic in the elder woman’s gaze, but after reassurances from the guard that the princess’s words were not a euphemism for the gallows, the woman went willingly. Once the door to the throne room closed, Petunia sank down on the steps of the dais, uncertainty weighing heavy on her shoulders.
“Oh, God,” she whispered to herself, pushing both hands through her long blonde hair, her eyes slipping closed.
As much as she didn’t want to believe the woman’s story, Petunia knew better. There was a chance - a very sizeable one, if she was honest - that Marion hadn’t been mistaken, that she had, in fact, witnessed Lily slipping into the chambers of a young man - most likely a solider - and leaving quite flustered.
It wouldn’t be the first time Lily involved herself with someone below her station. There had been the butcher’s boy, the gardener, the language tutor in Summermarsh, the jester and the physician’s assistant (both had been fired from their positions) and probably a slew of others that Petunia didn’t know about.
Growing up with Lily was…difficult, to say the very least. The younger of the two Evans princesses, Lily was the innocent one, the one with the baby face and bright green eyes that could enchant just about anyone. She had a precocious personality, always making jokes and laughing as if she didn’t have a care in the world. Her charm was the stuff of legend, similar to those of their late grandfather, King William, who had been adored by all of their subjects and neighbouring countries. In short, she was the perfect daughter, everything a princess should be - except for one thing:
She was the most fickle person Petunia had ever met in her entire life, even for a princess.
One day, Lily’s favourite colour was green and the next it was violet; one evening she demanded to have wine with her dinner and the next, she was spitting it into the goblet, declaring it the most disgusting thing she’d ever consumed. She wanted to learn the violin on a Monday, but by Sunday next, the piano was the sole instrument of her desires. She loved the heat, then she hated it. She wanted to marry Prince Severus of Easterhollow and then she didn’t - she wanted to run away and marry Bruce the butcher’s boy or Francois the language tutor. She wanted everything she saw because she was inherently curious and always searching for the next best thing.
It was impossible - and time consuming - trying to keep up with her, so Petunia had given up and let their parents chase her around, telling her what to do and what not to do. It was much easier to let others deal with Lily. Petunia had been content on doing just that for as long as she lived, but then King Gregory and Queen Phillipa decided that their eldest daughter was more than capable (with the assistance of Dumbledore) of looking after the kingdom and, more importantly, Lily.
She had failed them - her parents, her sister, her kingdom. She’d failed them all.
She had - unintentionally, of course - betrayed the trust they’d stored in her by letting her sister’s wandering eye become a wandering hand and God only knows what else.
Petunia sighed, loosening her hands from her tangled hair. Her eyes stung as she stared down at the tips of her ruby coloured shoes, wondering exactly what she’d done to make the world so angry with her. She was the obedient daughter, the one who did what she was told to do and acted as a princess was supposed to. She was the heir to the throne, not Lily, yet everything Lily did seemed to overshadow all of Petunia’s accomplishments. And just like always Petunia, not Lily, would be the one to take the fall for the younger’s actions, despite the fact her entire focus had been concentrated on the clean up following the attack and redoubling the castle’s security.
She pushed herself to her feet, knowing fully well that moping would get her nowhere. She was a woman of action, a woman of station. She could do something about this; she could stop it before it spiralled out of control. As it stood, it was nothing more than a rumour, but oftentimes the rumours were far worse than the truth, and Petunia would be damned if she let her sister destroy her reputation over the fancies of a foot soldier.
No, she was going to do something about - something drastic, yes but also very necessary.
“Ouch!” cried James for what felt like the hundredth time in the last ten minutes alone.
“Oh, button up. I only poked at it,” barked a stern looking woman. She had steel grey hair, a hooked nose, and all the bedside manner of a porcupine - except nowhere near as cute.
He pulled a face, but closed his mouth all the same.
The first time Bertha the Nurse had barged into his room to tend to his wounds (at the behest of Dumbledore, who was busy attending to all of the other sick and wounded in the castle), James had put up a fight, complaining about how much it hurt as she poked and prodded and redressed the wound. That’d earned him a fair bit of pressure on one of his blossoming bruises. When he called her an unsavoury name, she viciously ripped off one of the bandages.
He swore he could still feel the sting, but the lesson was learned: Bertha was not a woman to be argued with. Not without consequences, anyway.
It was only when his skin felt like it was being seared right off his bones that he let out a yelp. “Bertha!”
“Oi! Stop your moving, twerp, I’m almost done.”
He pushed her callused hand away from his abdomen, where she had been applying some sort of salve to his wound. “Stop trying to turn me inside out then!” he shot back through his gasps for air. “Merlin, that hurt. What the hell are you trying to do anyway? Murder me?”
Bertha looked up from her work, her thick grey eyebrows knit together in vexation. “I’m trying to keep you alive, but if it’s murder you want, hand me one of those pillows there.”
James returned the vicious glare. “You have a funny way of keeping people alive.”
“And you have a funny way of not keeping your mouth shut,” Bertha said. “Now let me do my work or else.”
It was an empty threat, but he took one look at the deadly spark in her dark eyes and consented, removing his hands from the hole in his side. In truth, it wasn’t so much as hole as it was a deep gash. The skin around said gash was swollen and inflamed, yes, but it didn’t pain him nearly as much as it had the first day after the attack.
That was three days ago.
That was also the last time he’d spoken to Lily, but he pushed her from his thoughts before he could get angry and take it out on Bertha. Though her touch was far gentler than it had been moments ago, he doubted she would very much like an unprovoked attack.
“Well,” Bertha said finally, as she capped the jar of salve and wiped her hands on her apron. “It doesn’t look infected nor does it have the awful stink of rot.”
“Good?” Bertha snorted. “That’s marvellous, considering the rate the others are dropping. Consider yourself lucky, Potter; the remedies Dumbledore suggested actually worked for you. Not many others can say the same.” She turned her back to him to retrieve a fresh stack of bandages from her bag.
“Is he that bad of a physician?”
She waddled back over to his bedside, motioning for him to sit up as she approached. He did so, with great difficult and a deep groan that rumbled in his chest. It took a moment, but he caught his breath enough to lift up his arm so she could start winding the long strip of cloth around his torso. As she wrapped him up, she spoke:
“Dumbledore is the best damn physician this court has seen in the past hundred years. And don’t you start with your witty comments, boy,” she reprimanded as soon as she saw his mouth open. “I wasn’t alive when he first arrived at court, but my mother was. She used to tell me about all of the miracles he performed on people destined for death.”
His thoughts went back to his world, where death after death was splashed across the front page of the Prophet and people were terrified to leave their homes. “So if he’s so good at what he does, then why are people still dying?” His voice quivered as he looked up at her in earnest, hazel eyes searching her wizened face for answers. “Is it because he’s getting old?”
Her smile was tinged with sadness. “No, dear,” Bertha replied, bringing up a hand to touch the top of his head. “It’s because the enemy is that strong.” Her touch lingered for several moments of silence before she dropped it and resumed her work.
Once the final strip of bandage was secured into place, she took her leave, exiting as quietly as she had entered.
Despite the fact he’d lived at Westerhaven Castle for nearly seven years, Remus Lupin had never been to Dumbledore’s chambers. Located in the underbelly of the castle, he’d never had need to go there. Save for today. Today, he walked with a purpose.
The corridors were narrowed down here, the stones darker. Torches hung every few paces though they did little to lessen the shadows. Remus couldn’t understand why the old man would want his chambers in such a dark, dank place. It was nothing short of dreadful down here.
He was halfway to the physician’s chambers when Mary’s voice called out to him.
“Finally! I was beginning to think you weren’t coming.” Her eyes narrowed as he approached her. “I’ve been waiting for almost an hour.”
“I’m sorry,” Remus said at once. “Moody wouldn’t let me leave until I finished all of my duties and James’.”
The severity in her face lessened, lessening the impact the shadows had on her features. “Oh, well, I’m sorry for being so rude.” She folded her arms over her chest, running her hands up and down her biceps. “This place just gives me the creeps, is all.”
“Understandable,” Remus said, nodding. “Shall we?” He gestured towards the dark stretch of corridor that awaited them.
Mary grimaced. “I suppose we should get this over with. I’m sure Dumbledore will be interested in your findings.”
He didn’t want to think what Mary would say when he reported that he had no findings at all. So instead of dwelling on the thought, he led the way down the corridor until they found the correct door. Aside from the brightly lit torches, the only other thing on the wall was a slate black plaque with a golden inscription denoting the old healer’s status.
Mary stepped forwards and knocked, rather impatiently, too. Her jaw was set as they waited in the darkness for Dumbledore to respond. “He’d better be in,” she grumbled. “I had to skive off my duties for this. I imagine Lily won’t be too happy when she finds out she’s got to use Amelia.”
Out of impulse, Remus put a hand on her shoulder. “It’ll be fine,” he soothed, giving her shoulder a small squeeze before dropping his hand. “I’m sure she’ll understand.”
He could have sworn he saw Mary glance at him out of the corner of her eye in an appraising sort of way, but the sound of shuffling on the other side of the door drew both of their attention away. Seconds later, the door opened, revealing the kind and heavily wrinkled face of Albus Dumbledore.
“Come in, come in,” greeted the old man, beaming at them over the crest of his half moon spectacles. His eyes were so blue, they shined even in the poor lighting of the dungeons. As he retreated back into his chambers, he added, “I’ve just put the kettle on.”
“Brilliant,” chirped Mary as she stepped through the threshold.
Remus followed her and, with a gentle click, closed the door behind him. The room was covered in shelves, all of which were overflowing with books, spare bits of parchment, vials and jars, and everything in between.
“Sit down and make yourselves at home,” Dumbledore instructed, shuffling to the wood-stove, where the kettle was just beginning to boil. “I trust you’ll both want a cup of tea?”
“Yes please,” they said in unison, each searching for a place to sit. The entire front room was littered in papers and textbooks, all with thick spines and curious titles written in faded golden ink. In the end, they sat down on the bench pushed away the far wall.
“So,” Dumbledore prompted, his back to them. “What news? How is young Mr. Potter?”
Remus choked on his breath. He hadn’t expected the conversation to become so serious so quickly. He thought that they would have made small talk and drank a cup or two before talking shop, but Remus supposed that the physician did have people to see to.
Swallowing thickly, he did his best not to wring his hands as he spoke. “There’s been a vast improvement in his condition over the last three days. I think your prescriptions are working.”
“Of course they are,” Dumbledore said off-handedly. “But what of the other? Have you noticed anything different about him?”
Frowning, Remus shook his head. “Nothing I noticed. And I feel like I know him fairly well. He complains about the pain, but he’s in good spirits, just like always.”
Dumbledore twisted away from the woodstove and studied Remus with his strangely luminescent blue eyes. “Did he consume any of the food you brought him?”
“No,” he muttered, feeling ashamed. He spared a glance at Mary, who was looking at Dumbledore. “Not while I was there, at any rate. He said he wasn’t very hungry.”
“That’s a common side-effect of nearly all healing potions,” Dumbledore replied gently. Remus did not miss the kindness and understanding in the old man’s words. “There will be more opportunities to ask the young man questions. He will not be going anywhere for the next few days - not unless I give the word. But fret not, Remus, we’ll find them out soon enough.”
Mary opened her mouth to speak, but the kettle started to whistle and the physician’s face lit up. “The tea is ready!” he exclaimed, beaming at them. “Now, who would like some treacle with their cup?”
Lily felt guilty.
She had felt that way for the past three days.
Ever since she’d chewed James out.
For saving her life.
Immediately following their argument, Lily had tried to justify her reason for yelling at him by blaming it on instinct. After all, for the better part of five years, the only time she ever actively sought him out was to scream at him for being a prick. Even if it wasn’t her business, she took every opportunity to knock him down a peg or two. It was only natural that she would get defensive, that she would yell at him instead of thanking him.
Or so she tried to tell herself, but the guilt continued to eat away at her, so much so that she asked Mary to get her a Sleeping Draught from Dumbledore, but even that didn’t help.
Something akin to frustration burned in the pit of her belly at the thought of him. Stupid, dumb, daft Potter. With his ruffled black hair and eye catching smile. Her stomach continued to sear, though the sensation didn't pain her nor was it acerbic. It felt almost…fond. Which was bizarre, considering that they were on opposite ends of the emotional spectrum.
Groaning, Lily abandoned all pretences of concentration and slid down in her chair. “I’m a horrible person,” she mused aloud, rubbing her hands over her face. Her fingertips found her temples and she kneaded them, wanting nothing more than to be able to sort out her feelings - and confirm whether or not any of them were for James.
Lily balked at the thought, sinking even further in her arm chair, her neck straining from the awkward angle.
As Lily jumped out of her skin at the sound of the unfamiliar voice, she realized that this was quickly becoming a thing. She didn’t like it. “For the love of Merlin, will you people please stop sneaking up on me?” she asked, pushing her hair out of her face before climbing out of her chair.
“Sorry, Your Highness,” said a girl who was unfamiliar to Lily. She bowed her head, eyes staring pointedly at the floor.
The knot of guilt became so heavy, Lily put her hand on her stomach, massaging the area just below her belly button. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have snapped at you -”
“Amelia,” the brunette supplied, giving her an odd look. “I’m one of your sister’s maids.”
“Ah, right, sorry,” Lily apologized again, mentally scolding herself for slipping up. Again. That, too, was quickly becoming a thing. “I didn’t notice with the - is that a new dress?”
Amelia blinked at her, clearly confused by the path the conversation had taken. “She’s the one who sent me, Princess. Your sister - her Royal Highness Petunia -”
“She’s not a Royal Highness, just a princess,” Lily corrected with a roll of her eyes. Typical Tuney, she thought bitterly. “Last time I checked, our mother was still the queen.”
The maid continued as though she hadn’t been interrupted. “Princess Petunia requests your presence in her chambers at precisely three o’clock this afternoon.”
Lily pinched her brow. “What time is it now?”
“It’s half past two, Your Grace,” Amelia answered, an unmistakable tone of smugness in her voice.
Sirius arrived, punctual as ever, at Princess Petunia’s apartments. Though it was still unclear precisely what he was doing here, he strode through the double doors with an air of confidence that was quite unfitting for a dog. He owned it, though, just as he owned every aspect of his personality: effortlessly.
“Ah!” the princess exclaimed as he padded into the hall. “There you are, Black. Right on time.” She didn’t rise from her seat to greet him. He preferred it that way.
“Would you expect any less of me?” Sirius retorted, jumping into the empty chair to her immediate right.
From the corner of the room, someone scoffed. “You should address your princess with more respect, dog.”
Snape, Sirius growled internally. His annoyances, like his hackles, raised tenfold at the sound of the visiting prince’s nasally voice. “I have all the respect in the world for Petunia.’
Snape sprang to his feet so quickly, he might’ve been resting on coils. He had his hands braced on the table top and was glaring down the length of his nose before Sirius could even blink. “How dare you!”
Spittle landed on Sirius’ snout. He grimaced, but didn’t say anything.
“Severus, please calm down,” Petunia urged, rising from her seat to place a hand on his shoulder. “Black is an old family friend. We’re well acquainted with one another and address each other casually.” Though her voice was friendly, the warning glare she sent at Sirius was anything but.
With the guidance of the princess, Snape took the seat opposite Sirius. “That should not excuse his reprehensible behaviour. Then again, he is an inferior being and most likely does not understand the importance of titles.” He glared at the black dog. “You did not address the princess by her proper title.”
Sirius shrugged. “I’m sorry,” he said, though his tone suggested otherwise.
“Your Highness,” Snape shot back, drawing out each of the syllables.
The dog flicked his tail irritably. “As far as I’m concerned, you are not my prince. To me, you are just another visiting dignitary with a poor attitude and absolutely no power in the realm of Westerflower or her people, myself included.”
Snape’s jaw was clenched so tightly, the sound of his teeth grinding was audible.
“So,” continued Sirius, delighting in the other’s agitation. “I suggest you remove the stick out of your arse and go back to your little corner to sulk over your bruised ego. The adults have a matter of importance to discuss.” He tore his eyes away from Snape, whose face grew redder and redder as the seconds ticked by, and looked to Petunia. “At least that was my understanding.”
“You understand perfectly,” confirmed Petunia.
Smug, Sirius turned to the prince and smiled. “Then let’s get down to business, shall we? What is it that you wanted to discuss that required my presence?”
The smallest of smiles touched the corners of Petunia’s mouth as she picked up her cup of tea and brought it to her lips. “A matter of security.”
A/N: If it seems like it’s been ages since I’ve updated this - that’s because it has. To make a long story short, my little brother had surgery back in June and his recovery has been a lot more intensive than we initially thought it would be, so that left little time for writing. However, he’s back home now and doing fantastically, and now I have time to do what I love most! I know I promised a lot of juicy happenings, but really, it’s just a lot of plotting between the characters. I hope you enjoyed it, though! Thanks so much for reading!
By the time Lily stumbled down the corridors to her sister’s chambers, only twenty minutes remained of the hour. The redhead cursed under her breath as she breezed past the guards stationed outside of the doors, both of whom rushed to open the doors for their princess.
“I lost track of time!” Lily exclaimed as she burst through the doors, the heel of her shoe catching on the edge of the rug. She pitched forwards, managing to catch herself before she could hit the ground. “Did I miss anything?”
Pushing her hair out of her face, she looked to the table where her sister, Snape, and Sirius sat, each wearing varying expressions of surprise. Out of the three, Petunia’s looked the most disgusted.
“If by anything, you mean everything, then yes, you did,” Petunia spat, wrinkling her nose as Lily plopped down in the seat opposite of her.
“Oh,” was all she could say.
Petunia waved her hand, a surge of servants surging forwards to clear the table. “I told you to be here at precisely three o’clock.”
Lily frowned, moving to the side when a servant’s arm darted out of nowhere to snatch up her tea cup and saucer. “Well, Amelia didn’t tell me about it until -”
“Amelia? As in my maid Amelia?”
“What was Amelia doing waiting on you?” Petunia sneered. “She’s my maid.”
Glancing at Sirius out of the corner of her eye, Lily licked her lips, unsure of exactly what she had done to ruffle her sister’s feathers so thoroughly - aside from being late, of course. She knew Petunia liked to keep to a schedule, but this was a bit extreme. “Yes, I know that, but -”
Snape perked up in his seat. “Where was your maid?” he asked sharply, as if this was the most pressing matter in the entire world. “What’s her name again? Marjorie? Melissa?”
Lily rolled her eyes, exasperated and more than a little annoyed by the flippancy of every damn person in this stupid, fantasy world. She found herself wishing that Petunia hadn’t ordered the servants to clear the table - so she could stab them all. Except Sirius; he had yet to do something to upset her, but it was usually only a matter of time with him.
“Her name is Mary,” Lily growled through clenched teeth. “And I don’t know where she is. She was there this morning when I woke up, but I haven’t seen her all afternoon.”
Snape chortled, flashing his crooked teeth in a gleeful smile. “Looks like someone’s out of a job.”
Lily ignored him, looking directly at her sister when she spoke. “Look, I’m sorry if my tardiness upset you. I didn’t intentionally show up late, Petunia. I’m sorry,” she repeated, putting as much emphasis on the point as she could.
The two sisters stared at each other for a pregnant moment before the elder sighed. “Fine, apology accepted,” said Petunia, making a show of rolling her eyes at Snape. “You will work on your tardiness or else.”
Forcefully biting her tongue to spare herself the misery, Lily smiled complacently. “Of course, Tuney.”
Petunia grimaced at the use of her much dreaded moniker. “In light of recent events, we have been discussing the various ways to increase the castle’s security. Several families have already fled court in favour of their own estates. They don’t think the measures we have taken thus far are radical enough - and I agree.”
“Er, yeah,” Lily said, once she realised she was supposed to respond. “So do I. Erm,” she sat up a little straighter in her chair. “What sort of improvements were you thinking about making?”
“Well,” Petunia started imperiously. “For starters, we will be assigned personal bodyguards.”
Lily’s brow knitted together in confusion. “I thought Sirius was our bodyguard.” She looked to the black dog for affirmation.
“Technically speaking, I’m not your bodyguard specifically,” Sirius said, his tail swishing behind him. “I’m actually the Head of Security here at the palace and as such, my number one priority is ensuring your protection as you two are the heirs to the realm.”
Petunia rolled her eyes. “Anyway, we’ve agreed to pull two dozen of our best knights away from the battlefield and employ them as a guard for the nobles. They’ll appreciate the gesture, thinking it is out of our concern for them.”
Snape laughed, reaching over to pat her hand. His skin was rough and cool against her knuckles. “Of course not, my love. The only reason they would be here is to protect the castle for any future attacks.”
“But the Royal Guard -”
“-is not enough,” Petunia finished. She cocked her head to the side and regarded Lily like she was a child, her lips forming a pouty frown. “I understand this is hard for you to understand, Lily, but please don’t strain yourself.”
The redhead scoffed. “I’m not straining myself, Tuney. I understand what’s going on here. Probably more than you do, actually.” At this, Petunia raised a thin eyebrow, surprised by her sister’s tone. “You think our lives are more valuable than everyone else’s.”
Petunia and Snape shared an amused look before erupting into equal fits of outrageously loud laughter. Snape’s mouth flapped as he cackled at a pitch so high, Lily was surprised the crystal candlesticks didn’t shatter.
“Darling,” drawled Snape once he had gotten control of his laughter. He reached for her hand again. “Of course our lives are more important. We’re royals. Our blood is better than theirs, and that what makes us their superiors.”
She glared him, pulling her hand out from under his. Perhaps this Snape wasn’t so different from the other after all. Lily found herself repeating the words she’d said to her Snape on more than one occasion. “A human life is a human life, regardless of blood status.”
Petunia clicked her tongue, shaking her head in disapproval. “Let’s not get into this particular argument again, Lily. We’ve already heard what you have to say.”
Though she wanted to press the matter, Lily kept her mouth shut, recognising a defeat when she saw one. She was outnumbered, simple as that. Sirius hadn’t said a word, but it was likely he kept his silence out of habit than lack of opinion.
“Good girl,” simpered Petunia. The smile she flashed was chock full of condescension. It made Lily’s ears burn with irritation. “Now, I believe there is something that Sirius would like to tell you.”
Grateful for a reason not to look at her sister’s horse-like face, Lily turned to gaze to the great black dog seated at the table.
“Right. Well, given that I’m the Head of Security, I’ve taken time out of my very busy schedule to handpick a personal bodyguard for you,” Sirius informed her, his tone grave, but his eyes alight with amusement. “Would you like to know his identity?”
Lily had seen that expression many times before - it was usually followed by a loud explosion or a perverse joke. She swallowed nervously before nodding reluctantly.
She could’ve sworn he grinned at her as he answered, “James Potter.”
James smoothed out the crinkled parchment for the hundredth time in the last hour alone, his hazel eyes sweeping over the words. His body was numb with disbelief. Or maybe it was the pain reducing potion. Either way, he could scarcely feel his limbs.
It didn’t make sense. He could hardly even walk a dozen steps without becoming winded, and Sirius wanted to make him Lily’s bodyguard? He didn’t even own a sword, much less know how to wield one!
“No,” he said to no one in particular, crumpling the parchment into a ball. “It’s a joke. It has to be.”
There was no way that Sirius was serious about this. He’d pulled this sort of shit before at school, drafting a false letter in the summer before their fifth year, saying that he’d been made Prefect. This wasn’t some stupid prank - this was Lily’s life.
James shook his head and chucked the parchment into the corner. He cursed under his breath.
Clearly, Sirius was nutters. It didn’t make an ounce of sense. Why in the name of Merlin’s baggy Y-fronts would he want to commission a cripple to be the princess’ bodyguard? And not just any cripple, oh no. He wasn’t even a member of the Royal Guard - he was a bloody jester, for crying out loud, and before that, he was nothing but a lowly stable boy.
Sighing, James leaned against the headboard and pushed both hands through his hair. A lick of pain blazed up his side, but it was small, just a flash. Whatever Dumbledore had prescribed to him, coupled with Bertha’s healing salves, it was working. And very fast, too. He was grateful before he learned he was to be Lily’s bodyguard, but now? Now he needed it to work faster.
“Bodyguard,” he grumbled to himself, staring up at the ceiling. “It sounds ridiculous.”
And yet he couldn’t help entertaining the thought. For once, he would have a reason to spend an unlimited amount of time in her presence. For once, he would be able to protect her for all harm without her flaring up at him and accusing him of being a misogynist. The insult still burned him, made his fingers curl into fists.
However, before he could dwell on the subject any further, there was a knock at his door.
Reaching for his shirt hanging on the edge of the headboard, he pulled it over his head as he called out, “Come in!”
“Hello,” greeted Remus as he slipped into the room. “I’ve brought you some dinner.” In his hands, he was carrying a tray teeming with food. The smell of it wafted towards James, making his mouth flood with salvia. He hadn’t eaten a proper meal since the attack, forced to sip on bland soups and watery broths.
“Oh wow,” James said, sitting up a little straighter in his bed as he eyed the spread. “This is unexpected.” He smiled up at the boy still lingering by the door. “Thanks.”
Remus returned the smile, setting the tray down on the bedside table. “No problem. It was Mary’s idea.”
“I’ll have to thank her when I see her then.” James searched the tray for a fork, spotted it, and began to dig into his food. As he sank his teeth into a bit of boiled potato, he groaned in satisfaction. “Merlin, this is fabulous.”
“It smells it.”
“Do you want some?”
Remus shook his head. “No thanks. It’s almost dinnertime.”
“Trying to watch your figure, are you?” James teased, his mouth full of potatoes.
“More like I’m trying not to spoil my appetite.” He wrinkled his nose. “Though I think you’ve done that for me.”
James flicked a forkful of gravy covered potatoes at his friend, who dodged them easily enough. They splattered against the wall, making both boys laugh.
A companionable silence fell over them as James ate his dinner, very nearly clearing his plate by the time the dinner bell rang. Pushing his food to the side of his mouth, James raised his eyebrow at the unmoving Remus. “Aren’t you going to go to dinner? I thought you were hungry.”
“The first bell’s always for the court,” Remus said, shrugging off the question. “I don’t want to be an unnecessary obstacle in the kitchen. Besides, Dolores the cook gets a bit mental during dinner. Mind if I stay here for a bit?”
A bright grin touched James’ mouth, his entire face lighting up. “No, not at all. The only visitors I’ve had in the past three days is a surly nursemaid content to poke and prod and generally cause me as much pain as she can.”
Detecting the note of sadness in his friend’s voice, a knot of guilt to form in Remus’ stomach. He tasted bile on the back of his tongue; he felt like he was going to be sick.
You have to do this, he reminded himself, pushing his black thoughts of betrayal to the back of his mind. You have to know for sure.
“I would’ve come sooner -”
“No, no!” James interrupted, holding up his hands. “I don’t mean to guilt you. I know that you’re busy - probably extremely busy, what with the repairing of the castle and all. You’ve got a perfectly valid reason for not coming…” he trailed off, averting his eyes to his tray before he could say anything else. He took a forkful of potatoes, not really tasting what he was chewing.
Remus frowned, folding his arms over his chest. “But…”
“It’s nothing,” dismissed James, his tone suggesting that it was very much something.
The other didn’t press the matter as he could guess at the source of his friend’s misery. It wasn’t written all over his face so much as it was buried underneath his words. Besides, he had seen the way James looked at the princess. Hell, he’d witnessed first hand how she looked at him. And Mary had told him about their fight on their way back from Dumbledore’s…
Silence lapsed again, the sounds of the fork’s tines half-heartedly scraping against the metal plate the only sound in the room. Eventually, James dropped the fork as his appetite had all but gone. He supposed he should say something to diffuse the - well, whatever it was that hung about in the air.
The dinner bell chimed again, saving him from speaking.
“Well,” Remus said after the bell tolled two more times. “I suppose I should go.”
“Don’t want your dinner to get cold.”
“No, I don’t.” Rising from the stool, he picked it up and carried it back to the corner. As he made for the door, he said, “I’ll try to visit after supper.”
“You don’t have to, Moony,” James said in earnest. “You should get some sleep. It doesn’t look like you’re getting enough of it.”
If it hadn’t been for the note of concern in his voice, Remus might’ve been offended, but he wasn’t. In fact, he was quite touched. Which made him feel even worse. Barely able to keep his smile in place, Remus bid his adieus and left the room, breathing out a sigh of relief as the bolt slid into home.
The longer Lily was forced to endure not only her sister’s presence, but Snape’s as well, the more irritated she became. She was so aggravated by their condescending chatter that eventually, her curiosity regarding the matter of her so-called bodyguard had all but receded to the back of her mind, a mere prickle instead of an all-consuming need to know just what the hell the dog was thinking.
Even the way Petunia lifted her tea cup to her lips, her pinkie finger thrown out at a jaunty angle, set Lily’s teeth on edge. By the time the dressing bell sounded, her palms were red, dotted with crescent shaped marks from where her nails had bitten into her skin; her fingers ached from clenching her hands so tightly.
Lily couldn’t pinpoint exactly was that made her blood boil so because there were too many things from which to choose. From their annoying superiority complexes to their prejudices to their stupid laughter, every time one so much as opened their mouths, she felt like hurling herself off the battlements.
“Go and get dressed for dinner, Lily,” Petunia said as she helped to her feet by Snape.
She furrowed her brow, glancing down at the blue silk dress she wore. “I am dressed.”
“Please, dear sister,” the blonde chortled. “I don’t think I can laugh anymore, not unless I want one of my ribs to crack.” She smiled her huge smile at Snape, who moved her hand to his elbow, which he held out for her. “Now go do as I told you. I’ve sent Martha and Jenny up to your rooms to help you get dressed.” She roved her eyes over her sister’s appearance and wrinkled her nose. “Properly.”
Lily was much too irate to spare her sister an eye roll. Instead, she rose from her seat in the corner of the room and hurried out, taking care to bang the door against the wall. The guards at the door leapt to their feet at once, the one on the left calling out after her, but she ignored him.
Fuming, she stalked down the corridors, not paying attention to where she was going. She turned left when she should have turned right, went down the main staircase when she should have gone up the one in the rear of the castle, and she must’ve turned herself around at least a half dozen times, hitting a dead end every time. So blinded by her anger, Lily didn’t even realise that she’d marched to his door until she was standing outside of it.
She squeezed her eyes shut, leaning her forehead against the solid oak. “Bollocks,” she cursed under her breath, completely forgetting herself and banging her head against the door three times.
“Hold on a minute!”
Lily’s eyes rocketed open at the sound of James’ voice. Panicked, she backed away from the door, debating her options. The easiest and most obvious choice was to turn on her heel and bolt, but the familiar weight she recognised as guilty settled in her stomach again; it seemed to cement her feet to the floor. Her other options included hiding behind a tapestry, wishing herself into invisibility, or actually being an adult and facing the situation head on.
She made a mad dash for the tapestry.
She almost made it, too, but the door was pulled open and the corridor flooded with light, forcing her to freeze in the middle of the hall. Lily screwed her face up in concentration, doing her best to try and blend in with the walls.
Her cheeks flaming, Lily turned to face him. “Hi,” she said, wincing.
“W-what are you doing here?” James asked, confusion written all over his face. “And why are you standing in the middle of the corridor? Are you - are you mimicking that statue?”
Dropping her limbs, which she’d been holding above her head for Merlin only knows what reason, Lily turned over her shoulder and saw the statue James was referring to: it was a ballerina, arms held in an almost identical pose. “Oh, yes! My - ah - dance instructor said that my lines were, um, really messy and that I should come and uh - look at this statue. You know, study it. Because, um, life imitates art.”
Unconvinced, James raised an eyebrow. “Right.”
She hung her head, her curtain of dark red locks falling about her face, obscuring her burning cheeks from his view. “Yeah. That’s what he said.”
“I didn’t know you were taking dance lessons.”
When Lily looked up at him, she wanted to slap the smug grin right off his face. “I’m not taking lessons, but Princess Lily is. Apparently she has two left feet. Who would’ve thought? The perfect princess can’t dance.”
James held up a hand, leaning awkwardly on one crutch. “No need to get hostile. I was only asking a question.”
“Yeah, a stupid one,” retorted Lily, folding her arms over her chest. “What are you doing out of bed anyway? I thought Dumbledore told you -”
“Oh, so you’ve been checking up on me, have you?” If his hazel eyes were overflowing with amusement, his voice was saturated in it.
The colour fled Lily’s face. Not out of anger, but embarrassment. “N-no. Of course not.” She flicked a length of red hair over her shoulder, uttering a short laugh. “W-why would I do that?”
James gave a one-shoulder, nonchalant shrug. “Oh, I don’t know,” he said airily. “Maybe you feel guilty about treating me like a piece of dung after I saved your life. Maybe you’re just obsessed with me. I’m not completely sure, but my gut, which was run through with a sword, by the way - you know, when I was saving your life - yeah, well, it’s leaning more towards the latter.”
“But you know, that could be a side affect of being stabbed in the abdomen with a sword!”
Lily threw her arms up in frustration. “Are you ever going to let that go?”
“No, I don’t think I will.”
“Prat,” she sneered.
They glared at each other in stony silence, and Lily was taken to their days back at Hogwarts, back to all of the arguments they used to have in the middle of the corridors over the stupidest things: James intentionally dropping his quill to get a look at her legs, Lily purposely overextending her stretches to hit him in the face with her fist, the amount of water it took to fill up the prefects’ bath - you name it, and they bickered over it.
Expelling a sigh, Lily pinched her brow. She felt very tired all of the sudden. “This is stupid.”
“Yeah,” breathed James, his chest deflating. “It really is.”
As Lily dropped her hand, she lifted her head to meet James’ gaze. The harshness had left, leaving the rings of green and flecks of gold behind. She tried to smile, but her lips wobbled pathetically. “I’m sorry for calling you a misogynistic prat.”
“And I’m sorry for - well,” James paused, pulling a face. “I’m not sorry for saving your life, but I am sorry for calling you a swot.” He returned her smile. “You’re not a swot or a dimwit.”
“And you’re not a toe-rag.” She smirked and added: “At least not most of the time.”
James chuckled, ruffling the back of his hair. “Thanks, I guess.”
“It’s better than being a toe-rag all of the time.”
Another silence lapsed between them, the tension still thick in the air. James continued to ruffle his hair nervously, chewing on the inside of his cheek as he did his best not to stare at her. Lily averted her eyes to her feet, trying to think of something to say, but words seemed to fail her.
“So,” James said once the silence became too suffocating, drawing out the word as he shifted the crutch beneath his arm. “Is there any particular reason why you decided to pay me a visit?”
Through her fringe, Lily peered up at him, biting into her lower lip softly. “So you’re not buying the dance instructor bit then?” When James shook his head, she chuckled. “Didn’t think you would, but you can’t blame me for trying.”
“It was a good story,” James replied, struggling to keep a straight face.
“It was a rubbish story, and we both know it.” No sooner had the words left her mouth did a grin sweep across his lips. Lily felt a stirring her stomach that took her by surprise. As loathe as she was to admit, he did have a brilliant smile “You want to know the real reason I’m here?”
“I did ask.”
If he wasn’t balanced precariously on crutches, she would’ve hit him. She didn’t think she could hit a cripple, even if that cripple happened to be James Potter. “I have no idea,” she answered honestly. “I stormed out on my sister and Snape, and I don’t know, my feet just sort of -”
Like a troll bashing her upside the head with its club, comprehension dawned on Lily. Or something similar to it, at least. Her mouth flopped open and closed as she tried to form words.
James frowned in concern. “Erm, Lily…are you all right?”
“No,” she said, green eyes snapping to his face. Folding her arms over her chest, she proceeded. “Did you know about it?”
“Know about what?”
“Oh, come on, James.” Her tone was light. There was even a smile on her face. “I’m not going to get mad at you if you just tell me the truth.”
James’ face remained a mask of confusion. “If I knew what you were on about, I suppose I would, but I don’t, so I can’t. Mind cluing me in?”
“The jig is up, James. I know you knew about it.” When his look turned questioning, Lily sighed, dropping her arms. “You’re just taking the piss now, aren’t you?”
“No,” James said slowly, eyeing her curiously. Had Snape poisoned her? Was that why she was acting so bizarrely? First she mimics a statute then she apologises for insulting him and now this? Clearly something happened that he didn’t know about. “I’m not.”
The smile disappeared from Lily’s lips quite quickly. Her eyebrows pinched together and the edges of her mouth became hard. If he hadn’t been on the receiving end of her glares, he would’ve thought she was glaring at him now. “So,” she began, the lightness to her words replaced with sceptical sarcasm. “You’re telling me that you didn’t convince Sirius to make you my personal bodyguard despite the fact you have no experience at all?”
He blanched slightly at her words, mind going to the letter crumpled in the corner of his room. “N-no,” he stuttered, wincing as the crutch dug into his armpit.
“I knew it!”
“I didn’t, though! Honest!” Awkwardly backing into the room, James hobbled over to the corner where the crumpled up piece of parchment still lay. He tried bending down to pick it up, but his side burst with pain. He gave a yelp, causing Lily to poke her head into the room.
A frown puckered her brow. “You all right?”
Stiffly, James nodded. “D’you mind?” He used the end of the crutch to point to the balled up scrap.
Her curiosity piquing, Lily stepped into the room, which smelled vaguely over roasted potatoes, and stooped to pick up the parchment. As she rose, she began to unwrinkled it, plopping down on the bed to read it.
James hobbled up beside her, holding his breath as he eased himself down on the mattress beside her. The pain didn’t come, a small, but welcomed relief. “I got it this morning,” he said as he read the letter over her shoulder.
It was brief - informative, but to the point:
To Mr. James Potter:
In light of recent events, you have been appointed as Princess Lily Evans’ personal bodyguard. You will begin your duties as soon as Physician Dumbledore gives the word.
Good day to you.
There was a paw print next to the sloppy signature, a seal of authenticity as Lily was more than certain dogs couldn’t write. But Westerflower was continuously proving her wrong.
Lowering the parchment, Lily turned to James. His expression was unreadable. “You had no idea?”
“None at all,” he replied unhelpfully. “I thought it was meant for someone else, but my name’s right there. And the seal was intact when it was delivered, so no one could’ve tampered with it.”
“Sirius didn’t mention his intentions to you? At all?”
James shook his head. “No, he didn’t. I was just as shocked as you were when I read it. It doesn’t make sense, does it? Appointing a stable boy to guard the princess.”
“You’re a jester now. Or at least you were,” Lily reminded him, moving to nudge him in the side, but remembering his injury at the last minute.
“You don’t think my saving your life had anything to do with it,” James said, glancing at Lily. “Do you?”
“It could very well have,” she consented, setting the note on the bedside, right next to an empty tray. “From the way Petunia was going on about it at tea this afternoon, it’s been the talk of the castle ever since it happened.”
“Fantastic,” James mumbled dryly. “Attention is the very last thing we need.” When he sighed, his entire body seemed to sag with exhaustion.
Concern washed over her as she regarded him, the paleness of his skin, the tightness about his mouth, the bags under his eyes. Licking her lips, Lily rose to her feet as if suddenly remembering what she had been doing before she found herself at his door. “I should go,” she proclaimed softly as she moved towards the door. “I have to be at dinner soon, and I still need to get dressed.”
James’ expression turned questioning. “Isn’t the gown you’re wearing nice enough?”
“That’s exactly what I said!” Lily exclaimed, throwing her hands up. “I would’ve argued the point, but trying to dissuade Petunia is like talking to a brick wall: utterly useless.” She did her best to push back her irritation. “Besides, it’s like you said, attention is the last thing we need and if I don’t show up for dinner, looking my absolute best, Petunia’ll get suspicious.”
“Is there a time when she’s not suspicious of what you’re doing?”
Chuckling, Lily shook her head. “Probably not, but that’s an older sister for you.”
“Enjoy your dinner.”
“So long as Snape doesn’t talk, I’m sure I will,” joked Lily, smiling slightly as she stepped out into the corridor.
“Good night, Lily!” he called out to her.
As she walked down the corridor to her room, she muttered, “Good night, James.”
In a dark corner of a lonely corridor, two shadowy figures lurked. Dark cloaks were pulled over their faces, obscuring them from view.
“Did you do it?” asked the first, a distinctly feminine voice.
“Yes,” said the other, a male, with a certain amount of hesitancy, almost as if he was ashamed of what he was doing. “It’s done.”
A/N: Two updates in two weeks? Shocking, isn’t it? Like I said before, I’ve got my inspiration back for this, so I’m running with it until I can’t run any further. I hope you enjoyed it!
“You’re mental, did you know that?”
“So I’ve been told, but how do you think I got where I am today?”
“Stupidity, dumb luck. Maybe both.”
“Luck, yes. Stupidity? I don’t have the capacity for it. Too brilliant, me.”
James gave an almighty roll of his eyes as he tugged the crisp white undershirt over his head. “This is the stupidest thing you’ve ever done, Padfoot.”
The dog, who was seated at the foot of James’ bed, snorted. “This is hardly the stupidest thing I’ve ever done - and we both know that. Need I remind you of the one time with the diplomat’s daughter -”
He held up a hand. “Okay, so maybe it’s not the stupidest,” James consented, lacing up the side of his new doublet. The crest of the royal family - a long stemmed rose wrapped around a broadsword - was emblazoned on his chest, the red material accented by gold piping. The parallel was not lost on him. “But it’s definitely a dumb idea.”
“I resent that.”
“Probably not as much as I resent you right now.” Grimacing as his side flared, James sat down on the mattress, bending over to reach for his boot only to have it handed to him by Sirius. He snatched the booth from the dog’s jaws.
“You have to understand why I did it,” he tried to reason, cocking his head as James shoved his foot into the leather boot rather violently.
“I don’t have to do anything,” snapped James. He grabbed the other boot before Sirius could offer it to him. However as he did so, he saw the flash of hurt in the dog’s stormy eyes. Internalising his sigh, James dropped the boot to the floor to rub the back of his neck, just one of his many nervous ticks.
“But I do understand,” he added quietly. “And I appreciate your confidence in me despite my almost embarrassing lack of experience.”
Sirius snorted, giving a great shake of his big black head, ears flopping comically. “You’d be surprised at how many of the Royal Guard are a part of it simply because of their families and not because of their skills with a blade. Bloody nobles and their sense of entitlement.” He bared his teeth in a growl.
“Skill or no skill, they still know what they’re doing. But me?” James scoffed, leaning over his knees to pick up the fallen boot.
“They only know what they’re doing because I command them to do it,” Sirius deadpanned, hoping to lift James’ spirits. Naturally, it didn’t work, so Sirius nudged James’ thigh with his snout. “Come on, Prongs, you’ll be brilliant at this just like you’re brilliant at everything else you do.”
James glanced down at Sirius, an eyebrow arched. “You mean mucking out stables and making a right fool out of myself for royalty? That sort of brilliance?”
“More or less, yes.”
His snort might’ve been derisive, but the smile that touched James’ lips was nothing short of genuine.
“There you go!” barked Sirius, beaming in all of the ways a dog could. “That’s the spirit. Just keep thinking like that, and you’ll do wonderfully.”
Rolling his eyes, James eased himself to his feet, not quite hissing so much as inhaling sharply at the ache in his side. When he didn’t move too much, the ache was dull, a soft throb in between his ribs and easy enough to ignore, but he had never acted as anyone’s bodyguard before, let alone when injured.
He pulled a face. Whether he liked it or not, this was his job now. He was responsible for Lily’s protection and as long as her life was in his hands (in a manner of speaking; he would never try to control her), he would do his best to protect it.
“Well,” James sighed as he secured the strap of his sword belt; it hung loosely from his frame, down near is hips. “Suppose I should get this over with. Fast and quick. Like ripping a plaster off.”
“Right,” agreed Sirius, getting to his feet and following James out of the room. “Exactly like a plaster.”
They were nearly around the corner before the black dog looked up at James, his confusion evident in the pull of his brow. “What’s a plaster?”
Petunia was nursing her second cup of tea when one of her maids announced the presence of one Severus Snape. Not fully dressed, she pulled her dressing gown shut, tying a quick knot and cinching it just as Snape appeared.
His dark hair was slicked back so it laid flat against his skull; it glinted in the morning light, it was so oiled. Still, it looked good on him - or at least Petunia thought it did. Everything about him from his aristocratic nose to his dark eyes to his pristine nails was everything a royal should look like; they should look handsome.
“Severus!” she exclaimed, feigning surprise. “I was not expecting you so early in the morning.” She folded her arms over her chest, biting her lip. “Had I known your intentions, I would have dressed and had another place set out.”
“No one knew of my intentions, Petunia, as I was feeling a bit spontaneous.” He grinned at her, unclasping his spidery hands from behind his back. He raised a hand, preparing to snap his fingers. “I’m sure one of your servants can set a place for me.”
Petunia clicked her fingers before he could. “Deidre!” she called out, blue gaze sweeping over her large chambers. As the eldest, Petunia’s quarters were larger than Lily’s by far and also more lavishly (and, in her opinion, better) decorated.
The girl in question tripped out from behind the screen, where she had been untangling the necklaces she’d accidentally dropped, the very sound of which resulted in Petunia waking up. What the princess needn’t know would not hurt her. “Yes, my Lady?”
“Set another place at my table. Prince Severus will be joining me for my morning tea.”
Deidre dipped into a low courtesy. “Right away, ma’am.”
Through heavy lids, Snape watched as the young girl flounced out of Petunia’s chambers, his nose wrinkling. He didn’t have much taste for the staff at Westerhaven Palace; they were too comfortable with their superiors, and they were very lazy. Hardly disciplined like his servants.
“I do hope she hurries,” Snape said, breaking his gaze away from the now-closed door and striding over to the table. “I’m dreadfully thirsty.”
Petunia launched into action at once, reaching for her saucer and extending it to the visiting dignitary. “Here,” she said, pressing it into his extending hands. “Drink mine.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Are you sure?”
“Positive, my Lord,” Petunia said, smiling gently. “Besides, I’ve had a cup already. I am not so selfish as to hog it all for myself. I give as much as I take.”
The suggestion didn’t go unnoticed by Snape. In fact, he grinned rather wolfishly at her, his fingers caressing the bare strip of her wrist. “I think I know that better than anyone,” he replied, dark eyes sparking.
Petunia gave a simpering giggle and stepped back, watching as the prince lifted the cup to his lips and took a long drink. Once finished, he licked his lips and sighed. “That was delicious.”
She smiled again. “I’m glad you enjoyed it.”
“I always do.”
Before much else could be said, Deidre returned with a second place setting, hurrying over to the table and placing everything just so. “Is there anything else I can get for you, my Lady?”
“No, Deidre,” said Petunia in a rush. “That will be all. You’re dismissed.”
The girl frowned. The princess wasn’t supposed to be alone with a gentleman who wasn’t a part of her family or the Royal Guard. “But -”
“You are dismissed!”
One warning was enough, and with the soft pattering of slippered feet against the marble floors, Deidre was gone, and Petunia was alone with Severus.
“So,” Snape began as he pulled out Petunia’s chair. His hand lingered on the curve of her shoulder, his fingers warm against her skin. “Have you heard anything about your sister?”
“No,” answered Petunia, frowning at her boiled eggs. Had he not come to enjoy breakfast with her, but rather inquire after Lily? She did her best not to grimace at the pang in her chest. “I have not, but it’s likely that she isn’t even awake yet, the bloody layabout.”
Snape ignored the jab at his future wife, knowing that it was true. “So you do not know if everything is going according to plan?”
She sent him a (somewhat) scathing look. “Of course I don’t know. Dumbledore has only just given the boy permission to return to work; he hasn’t even started his duties yet, much less has anything happened to churn out a report.”
Pursing his lips, Snape did his best to keep his temper under control. He loathed it when women patronised him, even the lovely Petunia. Especially, he thought darkly, dropping his hand from her shoulder. “A simple yes or no would have suffice.”
Petunia lifted her chin in defiance. “You wanted an answer, so I provided one. It is not my fault if you are unsatisfied with it.”
“I am not unsatisfied.” With a petulant pout, Snape dropped into the chair across from the blonde and folded his arms over his chest. Leaning back, he kicked his feet up on the seat of the adjacent chair, making himself as comfortable he could. “In fact, the whole idea is rather brilliant.”
She smiled before she could help herself. “You think so?” Her pride was evident in her voice, in her face.
“I do,” he conceded with a deep nod. His mouth became a hard line as he stared down at the china pattern, petunias and roses intertwined. “When you first told me of your plan, I thought it a folly. What sense was there in forcing them to be together twenty-four hours a day? But then,” Snape continued, lifting his gaze to Petunia’s beaming face. “Then I realised how much easier it would to keep an eye on them if they were together for every waking moment.”
“That was my precise thought, Severus.” Her smile turned smug. “Great minds think alike.”
“Indeed they do.” He nudged her knee with the toe of his boot, smirking at the flush on her cheeks. “I just wish the prat would slip up so we could make an example of him.”
“All in good time, Severus,” soothed Petunia, reaching for the tea pot. As she tipped a healthy amount into Snape’s cup, she smiled. “All in good time.”
“So,” James began, leaning against the pillar, “what do you want to do?”
Lily, who was sprawled across the floor on her stomach, idly reading a book, shrugged. “I don’t know.” Cupping her cheek with a hand, she used the other to flip the page. “What do you want to do?”
“I asked you first.”
“And I responded with the same question,” she replied. Her eyes remained on the page and yet she wasn’t taking in the text.
Drawing a blank, he said the first thing that came to mind. “You’re insufferable.”
She snorted. “I do believe that’s my line, Potter.”
“Hey,” he said, mimicking her shrug, “I can’t help it if it applies.”
“I don’t think you know what insufferable means.”
At this, James quirked a brow. “Oh, I don’t?”
“Nope.” Shaking her head, Lily looked over her shoulder and grinned at the boy, who looked right at home against the pillar, which was long and lean just like he was. “If you looked in the dictionary, you’d -”
“See a picture of myself?” he interrupted, a sly smile of his own painted on his lips. “Nice one, Lily. It’s not as though I haven’t heard that one before.”
She blinked, taken aback by his response. “Well, no, I was going to say you’d find the definition of the word ‘insufferable’ and a reference to you, but a picture works just fine too.” With a simpering smile, Lily returned her attention to her book.
As James continued to laugh over her shoulder, Lily sank her teeth into her bottom lip to keep from smiling too hugely. Even though he couldn’t see her face, something told her that he’d be able to tell if she were smiling. She gave another small shake of her head and attempted to find her place, but couldn’t. She pulled a face, frustrated.
If she were being entirely honest, the reason why she couldn’t concentrate was standing in the corner of the room, alternating between staring at the back of her head and her bum - or so she imagined. By now, Lily reckoned she should be used to the feel of his gaze upon her - after all, she’d only been under it for the past three years. But if the faint flush over her skin was anything to go by, she wasn’t used to it, not at all.
Good thing Lily wasn’t being honest as she preferred to do as she always did and shoulder the blame on someone else. Or in this instance, something else, which just so happened to be the sunlight streaming through the open windows rather than the boy in the corner.
In order to keep up her charade of reading and thoroughly enjoying her book (and pretending not to feel flustered under his gaze), Lily counted to fifty and flipped the page, thinking that it was a believable time frame. She was, after all, a fast reader and they both knew it.
Whilst Lily pretended to read, James pretended not to notice, instead fidgeting with all of his new accessories. The belt that hung about his hips was made of boiled leather and on it hung his sword (naturally) as well as a pouch, a sheath and dagger, and a pair of iron cuffs. What the pouch was for, he wasn’t certain, but the plush velvet felt divine against his fingers, the way he imagined Lily’s skin to feel underneath the pressure of his palm.
It was silly, the way she seemed to encapsulate all of his thoughts. Not that he didn’t want her in some of his thoughts, just not all of them. Back at school, James guessed that she occupied maybe one-fourth of his thoughts. Now? Here, in Westerflower, in the midst of danger, she was all he could think about. Never mind the still aggravated pain in his side or his own safety - he was concerned about her…and maybe a little bit about himself; he did have some sense of self-preservation.
Still, even now, when there was only ten feet of distance between them, James felt like it wasn’t enough. It was enough that they were impostors in an unknown kingdom, let alone a kingdom that was on high alert from an enemy of presumably great strength. As much as he didn’t feel he was suited for the job, James was relieved that Sirius had picked him. After all, he didn’t think there was anyone else in the universe who would look after her the way he would. Of course, he was wrong as Lily had dozens of people who cared about her safety and valued her life just as much as he did, but James was selfish and prideful; he liked to think he was the best and the only one capable.
James was so preoccupied with valiant visions of himself that he scarcely noticed the knock at the door until Lily cleared her throat and asked archly, “Aren’t you going to get that?”
Tossing a pointed look in her direction to which she smirked, James pushed away from the pillar and loped towards the door. When he opened it, he expected to see Sirius or Remus, not the hooked nose and pallid face of one Severus Snape.
It took everything in him to not grimace at the sight of the eye-sore. Mustering the politest tone he could, James asked, “Can I help you?”
“I’m here to see my fiancée,” announced Snape in his pompous tones.
On the opposite side of the room, Lily did her best to scoot into the shadow of the ornate sofa in an attempt to hide herself from Snape’s view. The very last thing she wanted to do was talk to him.
“Oh,” James said, frowning. He leaned his weight against the door, narrowing the gap as discreetly as possible. “Um, I don’t know if that’s possible, Sniv--Prince Snape.”
Anger flashed in Snape’s dark eyes, and he shoved his foot in the door. “What do you mean you don’t know if it’s possible? Of course it’s possible! I am a prince and she is my fiancée! Now let me in, damn it!”
“The princess is not accepting visitors at the mo-”
“Do you have cauliflower for ears or did you not heart me?” Snape demanded, face flushing faster than a toilet. “I am the prince! Let me in!” He tried to push past James, but the latter stopped him easily enough, throwing up an arm to bar his entrance.
“I don’t care if you’re the bloody king, mate,” replied James casually, though the curling of his upper lip suggested his contempt. “I answer to one person and one person alone, and that’s Princess Lily.” His eyes roved over Snape, whose face was now an ugly shade of puce. “Not some snivelling spoiled prat of a prince from a foreign nation.”
Snape ground his teeth so hard, the noise was audible. By the time he garnered up enough composure, his eyes were all but bulging out of his skull. “You will let me in.”
“No,” said James, with a shake of his head. “I don’t think I will. The princess expressly told me that she did not wish to be disturbed - by anyone. Last time I checked, that includes you.” He smiled a bit too smugly as he added, “Your Highness.”
“Now I’ll ask you one time and one time only to remove your foot from the door,” James continued, not unkindly. Perhaps he was a bit too kind, though his smirk betrayed any genial notions his tone might’ve suggested. “Or else.”
Blanching at the audacity of a servant, Snape raised a single brow. “Or else what?”
It was a poorly veiled challenge, but James responded with dignity. “Or else I’ll forcibly remove it.”
They stared at each other for several tense moments before Snape, with some difficulty, pulled his foot free from the door. He narrowed his eyes and leaned in close to sneer one last time at James. “You will pay for this, Potter.”
“I do hope so,” James remarked cheekily, “I could always do with a bit more money.”
Rather than wait for the prince to sputter, James flashed one last smile and shut the door. As he turned to face Lily, smug and beaming, the room echoed with the sound of her laughter and commendations, followed by a slew of insults and back-and-forth was not heard.
As luck would have it, however, her laughter carried down the corridor as well, where Prince Severus Snape of Easterhollow stopped in his tracks, stomach burning with fury. His hands curled into fists at his sides, his teeth once again gnashed together, and the thick vein his forehead began to throb.
The servant would pay - one way or another. If Snape wanted something done, it would happen, no questions asked. And there was nothing he wanted more in that moment than to bring about the ruin of the bloody whelp. If the princess got caught in the crossfire, so be it.
He always had Petunia as a back up.
A/N: Overdramatic filler? Mayhaps, but at least we know why, exactly, Petunia has appointed James as Lily’s bodyguard. And who doesn’t love a good confrontation between James and Snape? Sorry for the lack of length, but I‘m going to try to shoot for this length for the remainder of the story as the last few chapters sort of got away from me.
Slowly, almost painfully so, Lily pulled the door to her chambers closed, hoping that the oil she’d slicked the hinges with had done its job. She winced, waiting for the god awful groan that could wake an entire castle, but it didn’t come. Unscrewing her eyes, she let out a sigh and turned, intent of escaping to the gardens for a few hours to get some fresh air and some much needed privacy, but her attempt was thwarted when she collided with a broad chest.
“Argh!” she cried, frustrated beyond belief. Pushing her hair out of her eyes, she glared at James, who was smirking lazily at her. She beat her fist against his chest and then pushed away from him, feeling very petulant indeed. And why not? If people were going to treat her like a child, why shouldn’t she act the part?
“Why do you have to ruin everything, Potter?” Lily huffed, folding her arms over her chest and leaning against the wall behind her.
He shrugged. “It’s a gift,” he returned easily, still smirking. “So where you were trying to get to this morning?”
Her eyes narrowed dangerously. “Well, I was going to go to the gardens, but clearly I’ve already arrived at my destination.”
The spark of amusement in his eyes was dimmed by the great yawn that stretched his mouth and made him screw up his eyes. He gave a small shake of his head, as if to shake himself from a stupor. “And that would be?”
“Hell,” Lily deadpanned, her annoyance spiking as she surveyed the boy before her. His tunic was rumpled, untucked from his trousers, the top few toggles undone. She lifted her eyes to his face, surprised to see that there were purple bags underneath his eyes and his skin was paler than normal. It wasn’t unusual for Potter to look unkempt, especially with his unruly hair and lazy, carefree demeanour, but his untroubled bravado had diminished somehow. She frowned, dropping the caustic edge to her voice. “Have you been to bed yet, James?”
For a moment, he considered lying to her, but James knew better than that - and it wasn’t because she could detect when he was lying. The signs were just that obvious. Besides, he couldn’t imagine how nice it would feel to drop the act.
“No,” he sighed, letting his shoulders sag with the exhaustion he felt.
Her frown deepened. “Aren’t the guards supposed to relieve you after a certain period of time?”
“Yeah, but ever since the castle’s security has been increased, there’s been a shortage of guards and w-w-well,” he yawned, giving a pathetic shrug. “You’re stuck with me.”
“How unfortunate,” she commented, grinning weakly. “Honestly, I’m fine. I’ve snuck out of my room plenty of times to duck into the library and no one has noticed. Do you see a scratch on me?” She gestured towards herself. “No, you don’t. So go to bed.”
“No, don’t argue,” Lily interrupted, shooting him a look. “There’s no point. Not when I always win.”
James rolled his eyes. “You don’t always win our arguments, but that’s beside the point,” he said when she opened her mouth. “What I want to know is why you’ve been so keen on the library recently.” He mimicked her position, folding his arms over his chest and pinning her with the a look. “What are you planning?”
“Who says I’m planning anything?” she questioned, tilting her chin defiantly. “For all you know, I’m brushing up on my Westerflower culture.”
He snorted indulgently. “You insult me, Lily. Like I don’t know the fervent attitude of someone making a plan. So, spill, Red,” he said, nudging her shin with the toe of his boot. She meant to glare at him, but his wry smile caught her off-guard. He waggled his eyebrows playfully, mischief alight in his eyes. Lily wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or not. “What is it exactly that’s set a cauldron fire under your bum?”
Definitely not, she decided, raising a brow. “Did you have to bring my bum into this?”
James laughed, the corners of his eyes scrunching up. “Stop trying to distract me, but yes, if you must know, I did. Any and all opportunities.” The left corner of his mouth quirked upwards, dimpling the apple of his cheek.
Heaving a sigh, she said, “Fine, but don’t try to dissuade me from doing it.”
“Would I ever?”
At her sharp look, James held up his hands and she nodded to herself, satisfied.
“I’ve been researching magic - or at least,” she added at James’s look of protest, “what passes as magic in Westerflower. The literature I’ve come across is archaic at best. Think Salem Witch trials - there are mentions of curses and the famous so-called sorcerers who cast them, all of which were sentenced and burned at the stake for their crimes, I might add.”
“So it’s all a bunch of hocus pocus, really.”
“Well,” Lily said, oddly intrigued by the crestfallen look on his face. Truly, it looked a though someone had popped his balloon. It was very strange. Giving herself a shake, she went on, “Yeah, essentially it is, if only because the text never elaborates on how the curses worked or how any magic works, for that matter.”
A beat of silence passed between them before James spoke, a frown just barely touching the corners of his mouth. “Why would you think I’d try to dissuade you from that?”
Lost for words, Lily shrugged her shoulders. “I don’t know…I thought maybe you might think it was a waste of time -”
“Of course not!” he interjected. “I think it’s brilliant, actually.”
Despite herself, Lily smiled. “Really?” she asked, feeling the flush in her cheeks. “You think it’s brilliant?”
“Absolutely,” James reaffirmed, all traces of his frown disappearing in the wide, upward stretch of his mouth. “Far better than what I’ve been doing with my free time.”
Lily wrinkled her nose. “Something tells me I don’t want to know.”
“Relax, Lily, it’s nothing dangerous or disgusting,” he retorted, still smiling. “I’ve been trying to get information out of the other guards about the castle, in case we’re found out and need to make a quick escape,” he added at her confused look.
“Oh,” mumbled Lily, surprised, though she couldn’t say why. James was, after all, a Marauder - and once a Marauder, always a Marauder. “Well, that’s pretty brilliant, too, James.”
Crimson spilled over his pale cheeks and he ducked his head sheepishly. “Yeah, well,” he said, rubbing the back of his neck, the tips of his fingers toying nervously with the strands of hair at the nape of his neck. “I figured we should cover our arses.”
“Just in case,” chimed Lily.
“Right,” said James, dropping his hand and smiling weakly, more out of nerves than anything else. “Just in case.”
Another beat passed between them before James commented, “We make a pretty good team, don’t we, Red?”
“Yeah,” she replied, pushing away from the wall. “We do. Now go get some sleep before you pass out in the middle of the corridor. How would it look if the princess was dragging a servant about?”
“A servant?” James repeated.
“Just go!” she said, giving him a push.
He stumbled exaggeratedly into the corridor, righting himself and then comically throwing a hand over his heart. “Well, I’d never!”
Lily pursed her lips, pointing down the corridor. “Potter!”
“I’m going, I’m going.” James threw up his hands in surrender as he backed away. “Don’t get into any trouble without me!”
“I never do,” she responded wryly, steadfastly fighting the smile that threatened to split her lips.
Lily remained where she was, watching as he turned the corner, and stayed until she could no longer hear his footsteps. Satisfied that he had done as he promised and was on his way to his own room to get some shut eye, Lily pulled on the door knob experimentally, making sure her door was shut, but not locked. It turned easily enough under the pressure she applied and with a nod to herself, she started in the opposite direction, towards the library.
If anyone asked what she was doing, roaming the corridors all by herself, she’d reply that she had given her guard the run-around and seeing as how James was still limping and occasionally wincing over his wounds (something he thought he played off, but didn’t), it was a plausible story.
And if that failed, well, she was the princess. Who were they to question her word?
The best thing about Petunia Evans’s all-consuming desire to be better than her younger sister, who was by far the more adored of the two siblings, was that Snape was one of the few, if not the only one who knew about it and, therefore, he could manipulate it to his advantage. If there was one thing that Snape excelled at, it was seeing opportunities where others were blind.
And Petunia? Well, she was the biggest opportunity he’d ever laid his cold, black eyes upon.
While it was certainly appealing that she was so keen on seeing her sister disgraced (at least privately) at every turn, that wasn’t the only thing he liked about her. It was her mind, which was always scheming, always planning. In a word, she was devious, almost dangerously so, but no one knew.
Except for him, of course.
That gave him a deeper sense of satisfaction than perhaps it should have. He knew her secrets - and she knew his, something that her clever mind could use against him if it ever came to that. Snape wasn’t dumb enough to believe that her affection for him would make her hesitate before stabbing him in the back. It was strangely alluring, knowing that she was capable of that. It was dangerous, in a way, like standing on the edge of a cliff, toes gripping precariously to the lip, even if all he had to do to be on stable ground was take a step back
Perhaps that was why he enjoyed being around her and longed for her company in the months they were apart; not even the letters they exchanged could fully sate him like sitting across the table from her could - like he was presently.
As always, he was brooding over that Potter boy and his wife-to-be, the charming and aggravating Lily.
Seeming to sense his disappointment, Petunia pushed her cup of tea to the side and rose gracefully, all but gliding over to his side. Snape’s eyes followed her movements. She knelt down in front of him, taking his hands from his lap and holding them gently within her grasp.
Snape looked from her face to their joint hands and back again. Usually she wasn’t so candid, so open, with her affection, at least not during the daylight hours where it was easier for them to get caught - even if they were, at the moment, alone. He arched a brow.
“Petunia?” he questioned, caught between pulling his hands from her grasp and never letting her let them go. Her hands were so, so soft.
“I’ve been thinking -”
“Yes,” Petunia replied, grinning widely. “As always, because you know I want to get rid of the problem just as much as you do, if not more so.” With her thumbs, she massaged circles into the back of his hand. “I won’t let that little slag drag the family name through the mud, all for the sake of yet another affair.”
“You’re not the one who has to marry ‘that little slag’,” growled Snape, casting his gaze to the corner and glaring at the floor.
“No, I’m not,” she conceded, giving his hands a squeeze. “But I think I’ve found a way out of it.”
Snape perked up hopefully, snapping his eyes to hers. “The marriage?”
“Well, no,” Petunia said, frowning. “Not the marriage. That was a contract signed not only by our respective parents, but by you and Lily yourselves. You are bound not only by law, but by loyalty to the kingdoms of Westerflower and Easterhollow to be married.”
He moved to pull his hands away from hers. “I know that,” he all but snarled, his anger getting the better of him.
For her part, Petunia didn’t flinch, just held onto his hands with an iron-like grip that was surprisingly, almost amazingly, gentle. “I think I may have found a solution to our - ah - problem.”
“Potter,” Snape sneered, his upper lip curling back.
“Yes,” she said, nodding encouragingly despite the ugly look on Snape’s face. “To the Potter problem. As it stands, we don’t have enough evidence to condemn him, just the opinions of the staff - the result of the rumours I’ve been passing to my maids, I might add.” She smiled proudly at that.
“So what are you suggesting?” Snape asked, sitting up in his chair. “That we plant some evidence?”
“No, no,” Petunia said, shaking her head. “That could be traced back to us. And we don’t want that, do we?” She didn’t wait for him to respond. “No, what we need to do is provoke him.”
“How?” he snapped, impatient. “I cannot do it myself, if that’s what you’re thinking.”
Petunia laughed loudly. “Surely you don’t think that lowly of me, Severus.” She clicked her tongue against the back of her teeth. “I’m disappointed.”
“If I’m not to do it then who shall?”
The smirk returned to Petunia’s lips and a fire blazed hotly in her eyes - a fire he hadn’t seen in quite a while. Snape leaned forward, eager to hear what she had to say. Chances were, it was nothing he himself hadn’t consider, but still, it pleased him to see that she was just as eager to take Potter down as he was.
“Why,” she began, her grin stretching as she drew the word out. “His friends, of course. Who doesn’t love a good backstabbing?”
But Snape shook his head fervently. “His friends would never give him up. Not wilfully.’
“Then we take away their will,” she answered at once. Snape gave her a doubtful look and she sighed. “I don’t mean taking away their actual will - the last sorceress who possessed that power was my aunt and my father banished her from the kingdom nearly fifteen years ago. What I mean is that we make them offers they can’t refuse.”
His doubt lingered. “Is there such an offer that is plausible? Besides,” he added, gently tugging his hands from her grasp so he could tuck the lock of oily black hair back in place. “Weren’t you the one who said this couldn’t get traced back to us?”
“It won’t,” Petunia assured him. Slowly, she got to her feet, brushing off the hem of her gown. “You’ll be surprised by the amount of leverage I have against all of my servants in this castle. I might not be as well loved by our people as Lily is, but I have a way of getting people to open up to me.”
You’re not wrong, Snape thought to himself, watching as she took her seat again, back ram-rod straight.
“There’s a rumour circulating about Remus Lupin,” Petunia continued as she took a small sip of her tea. She licked her lips. “Supposedly, he and Mary McDonald, Lily’s handmaid, have been making frequent trips to the court physician.”
“Search me if I know the real reason, but Dumbledore’s been overseeing the healing of the Potter boy, has he not?” Petunia’s mouth twitched into the smallest of smiles. “Who’s to say that they haven’t been spying on Potter and my charming sister, trying to catch them in the act to report it back to me?”
It took a moment for the information to sink in. The plan was a risky one, perhaps a little too risky for Snape’s liking, but it was better than the petty thoughts that’d been bouncing around in his mind for the past week. Besides, he’d always disliked Remus, ever since the nosy prat who’d threatened to report Snape’s poor treatment of the castle’s staff back to King Gregory. If they could take down both insolent pricks with one stone, why shouldn’t they?
Snape raised his eyes to Petunia and gave her an appraising smile. “You are a devious one,” he said, reaching for his own cup of tea.
Plotting and scheming always made him very thirsty.
A gentle knock at his door roused James from his sleep. Groaning, he stretched, reaching for his glasses on the side table, slipped them on his face, and slid out of bed - not without some difficult, though. He shuffled over to the door, wincing at the stitch in his side, and opened the door.
“Why aren’t you dressed yet?” Sirius barked, pushing past James’s legs and into the room.
James turned, confused. “Dressed for what?”
“For duty, you imbecile.” Sirius rolled his eyes. “Did you think I was here for a social call?”
“N-no,” James stuttered, even though he had, indeed, thought that very thing. He sank down on the edge of his bed, sighing. “I didn’t think anyone would notice if I slipped away to get a few hours of rest.”
“Well, you were wrong,” replied Sirius shortly, but not unkindly. He sat back on his haunches, lifting his snot to James. “I was the only one who noticed - and by no fault of your own. I stopped by Princess Lily’s chambers for a chat but you weren’t there. No one was for that matter. Not even the princess.”
James yawned, running a hand over his face. “Did you think she was here?”
Sirius didn’t hesitate to respond. “Honestly? Yes, I did. You’ve become attached to one another’s hips -”
“Because I’ve been assigned to protect her!” protested James, throwing the large black dog a dirty look. “I’m so sick and tired of all of the stupid rumours surrounding us. There’s nothing - I repeat, nothing - going on between us. I’d have to be bloody stupid to get involved with a princess - and a betrothed princess at that!” He scoffed, irritated.
Silently, Sirius regarded the young man sitting before him, frowning to himself. “I certainly hope you mean that, James. You know how much I dislike it when my friends lie to me.”
“You know how much I hate lying,” James sighed, still exhausted. He didn’t have to look out the window to know that he hadn’t been asleep very long. Massaging the back of his neck, he leaned his elbows on his knees and buried his face into his hands. “Do I really have to go back on duty?” he whined, his words muffled by his hands.
“No, you don't have to,” Sirius said, his tone was much softer than it had been moments ago. “Mary told me you were outside of Princess Lily's door all night long. Is that true?”
Wordlessly, James nodded, wincing just a little as his fingertips found a large knot in his upper shoulder.
“At any rate,” the dog continued, getting to his feet. “I’ve already positioned two guards outside of the princess’s room in your absence. As soon as you feel rested enough to take up the position again, they’ll leave you to it. Don’t rush, though. You need your rest just as much as anyone does.”
Lifting his head, James smiled at the dog. “Thanks.”
“Don’t mention it,” replied Sirius easily. He padded over to the door, pressed his nose to the crack, and forced it open. The hinges squeaked in protest as he made a space big enough for him to pass through. “You wouldn’t happen to know where the princess is, would you? They’ve been combing the castle for the last two hours and can’t find her anywhere.”
For a moment, James faltered, unsure if he should tell the truth or not. After all, he had only just told Sirius that he despised liars, which was true. He hated them, right down to his very core, but mostly he hated being one, especially to one of his best friends. Even if this wasn’t his Padfoot, it was still Padfoot and lying to him felt wrong.
But then there was Lily, who was trying her damnedest to gather the information they needed to get the hell out of this place. And he couldn’t betray her, either…
Sighing, he gave a small shrug. “I don’t know for certain, but I’d start with the gardens. And if not there, then the library.” When Sirius nodded and started out the door, James called, “But check the gardens first!”
“Will do, mate! Now get some sleep - you look like death warmed over.”
Snorting, James stood to close the door and then carefully, as to not upset his still-healing wounds, collapsed into the straw of his mattress. His strained muscles cried out their thanks as he made himself comfortable and closed his eyes. Within seconds, he was drifting off, with visions of strange whirly vortexes and a certain redhead dancing in and out of his thoughts.
A/N: Time sure does fly fast, doesn’t it? One minute, it was late 2011 and the next, it was late 2012. I meant to keep up with this story - truly I did, but life seemed to want other things for me, so I had to prioritize and unfortunately, this fic was not one of those priority, as much as it breaks my heart to say it. However, now that I have more free time at my disposal, I’ll be able to update this more regularly. I’ve got a few friends who’ll get on my case if I don’t update at least once a month because like it or not, I am finishing this fic!
So thanks to the people who have stuck with me throughout this thing and thanks to the new readers just joining! I promise it won’t be such a long stretch until the next update.
Readjusting the basket of freshly chopped wood wedged underneath her arm, Mary walked down the corridor that led to the grand library, humming under her breath as she went.
It had been a quiet, uneventful afternoon, the first of its sort since the devastating attack on the castle. The presence of the guards patrolling the corridors was a little hard to ignore, but it reassured Mary that while everything wouldn’t necessarily be okay if the castle was attacked again, it would be able to defend itself properly this time round.
The stretch of corridor she was currently walking down, however, was absent of patrols. It wasn’t uncommon - in fact, it was rather pleasant, having the whole wide corridor to herself. It was certainly easier to navigate without all of the armed guards marching past, not paying an ounce of attention to where they were going and knocking over whomever they pleased. Just the other day one of the patrols had barrelled into her whilst she was carrying a tray to the princess’s chambers so she might take her lunch in private; she’d spilt the entire thing all over herself and the guard hadn’t even apologised, not even as she yelled down the corridor for him to do so.
So yes, she was thankful that the corridors were blessedly empty, especially since her face was flushed red and she was panting, having carried the heavy basket all the way up from the kitchens, where the wood was dispersed daily. Unfortunately that meant that no one was stationed outside of the library - the fire had gone out hours ago and though it was unseasonably warm, Princess Petunia had ordered all the fires to be lit, regardless of external temperature - to open the door for her. Mary sighed, taking care to set the basket down gently as to not upset it. Her back was already aching from having carried the load so bloody far, she couldn’t imagine having to stoop down and pick it all up again.
Quietly, as to not disturb any potential readers in the library, Mary turned the knob and eased the door open.
Mary jumped at the sound of Princess Lily’s voice. Panic seized her heart in a vice-like grip. Her mouth went dry and she screwed her eyes up tight, wondering what, exactly, she’d done to make her princess so upset. She tried to speak, unable to find the words much less form them. Before she could work herself into a frantic state, Lily continued:
“What are you doing? Are you mental?”
“Oh, come on, Lily, no one’s going to notice if it’s gone.”
Mary cracked one eye open, startled. She recognized the second voice as James’s smooth baritone. Well aware that James was a bit full of himself, Mary had no idea he was daring enough to address the princess by her first name - and so casually! And in the library, of all places, where anyone, like Mary, could happen upon them! It was scandalous, plain and simple, and Mary couldn’t help wondering if there was, perhaps, some truth to all of those rumours circulating throughout the staff…
Unable to help herself, she peered through the crack in the door, watching them.
Though the back of his head was to her, there was no mistaking the messy black hair and the broad shoulders of James Potter, who was seated at one of the long tables, which was strewn with all sorts of books and leaves of yellowing parchment. He was leaning on the back two legs of his chair, looking up at Lily, who stood near one of the many tall, mullioned windows the library was famous for. She looked distraught. Clearly whatever Potter was doing - or intending to do - she didn’t agree with at all.
“Couldn’t you, I don’t know, just copy it down like a logical person?” she suggested, slim fingers toying with the hem of her sleeve. Her brow puckered as she frowned. “Do you really have to resort to this? It‘s a bit drastic, don’t you think?”
“It’d take too long to write it all out,” rationalized James. “Unless, of course, you want to do it, in which case I agree.” He tilted his chair further back, his booted foot hooked round the leg of the table lest he lose his balance. Secretly, Mary hoped he would. “By all means, copy it down.”
Lily’s expression darkened as she narrowed her eyes, scowling. “Oh yes,” she began sarcastically, “let’s make Lily do all of the work. It’s not like I didn’t spend hours perusing through the shelves while you were out gallivanting -”
“I was not gallivanting!” James huffed indignantly. “Unless you called getting poked and prodded by a smelly old man in a seedy looking dungeon gallivanting.”
Lily rolled her eyes, ignoring his overdramatic tones. “Still, I did all of the work. Do you realize how many books are in this library? Hundreds - maybe even thousands. There’s no organization system in place whatsoever, so it’s not like I could march right up to the designated section and find what I was looking for! And then when I finally did find something worthwhile, I had to lug it down -”
“I offered to help with it!” he interjected.
Curious, Mary leaned closer, tilting her head so that she could see and hear just a little better. She wondered what they were discussing.
A stony silence settled between them as Lily resumed her pacing and James turned his attention back to the book in front of him, running his finger along the seam of the spine. Every so often, the redhead glanced at him, brow furrowed.
“Do you really have to do that?” she asked finally, sounding absolutely miserable.
James threw his arms up, clearly frustrated. “What else would you have me do?”
“Well,” Lily huffed, pushing her shoulders back. Her cheeks were a bright red, her lips a thin white line. “I’ve already suggested that you copy it down -”
Her words were swallowed by the loud riiiiiiiip. Lily’s mouth fell open in a silent gasp as James waved the freshly torn page in her direction. Mary didn’t have to see his face to know that he was smiling smugly; it was clear in the disdain that flashed across the princess’s face.
“Oh, for Merlin’s sake, don’t have a bloody hippogriff, Evans,” James said, chuckling as he leaned closer to the table, smoothing out the page he’d just torn out. “It’s one page for a stupid book. Besides, it’s not even your book.”
“But it’s still a book,” Lily argued, pushing away from the window and crossing to the table. She drew up next to James, who was still seated at the table, and glared at the top of his head. “For the record, all of the books here are technically mine so,” she cuffed him on the back of the head, knocking his glasses right off his face.
“Hey!” James exclaimed as he shoved his spectacles back on.
“That’s for damages,” she replied shortly.
He glared at her and she glared back at him. Another silence passed between them before he shifted in his seat, tilting his upper body so that his chest was just barely brushing her arm. Intentional or not, the princess moved with him, resting one hand on the back of his chair and leaning against his shoulder to get a better look at the page.
After a long while in which the both of them studied the page, James drew back and looked up at her, his profile shadowy in the afternoon glow of the library. “Do you really think this will help us?”
“I don’t know,” Lily answered honestly. She sounded uncertain. Worried, almost. Clearly whatever they were searching for was very important. “All of the others haven’t so far, but I hope it does. And even if it doesn’t, it’s all we’ve got for now.” Sighing softly, she drifted off to the side, pulling out the chair next to James and dropping rather unceremoniously into it. “Any luck with the guards?”
James’ shoulders sagged in defeat. “None whatsoever,” he replied rather gloomily. Picking up a quill from the table, he twirled it between his fingers as he spoke, once again tilting his chair back. “I’ve asked around but no one wants to talk, not since Padfoot’s upped the security. Everyone seems so convinced that the enemy is afoot.”
“Well, they’re not wrong,” Lily reasoned as she plucked the quill from his hand and threw it back down on the table. He frowned at her and she kicked the leg of his chair. A laugh sputtered from her as he flailed, very nearly falling backwards.
“Oi!” he said without any real malice in his voice, righting his chair.
Lily’s giggles trailed off as her expression softened, tilting her head to the side slightly as she observed him. She stared at him for a prolonged moment before she said, “We’ll figure this out.”
Her remark sobered James up quickly. Ruffling the back of his already messy hair, he stared down at his feet, his lips pressed into a very thin, very white line. “Hopefully before they do.”
“We will, okay?” The encouragement in her voice did little to make him smile. She gave his shin an affection nudge with the toe of her boot. He looked up at her then and she smiled gently and said, in an equally gentle voice, “One way or another, we’re getting out of here.”
“If you say so.”
“I do say so,” she replied, laughter in her voice. “I’m the ruddy princess, remember?”
For whatever reason, those words made him crack. The spark hadn’t quite returned to his eyes, but he’d pushed himself up in his seat, which he promptly tilted back on its hind legs. “How could I ever forget?” he quipped, grinning hugely at her. “‘Whatever I say, goes!’”
Lily scoffed in mock offence. “Is that supposed to be me?” She moved to kick his chair again, but he scooted out of her way before she could land the blow. “I don’t sound like that!”
As James tossed his head back and laughed, Mary backed away from the door, releasing a long, low breath. The weight of what she’d just witnessed was heavy, but she pushed herself to her feet despite it. Abandoning the basket of wood as well as her duties, Mary went back the way she came, making for the dungeons as quick as her feet would carry her.
It was likely that Dumbledore was not in his chambers as he, like her, had duties to attend to, but she would wait for him. No matter how long it took him, she would wait for him because even though she didn’t fully understand what, exactly, they were talking about, she knew the truth of it: They were impostors, just as Dumbledore had believed them to be.
She was certain of it.
After he was turned into a dog, it didn’t take very long for Sirius to accept the fact that his life would be just one big, ridiculous farce from then on. He wasn’t wrong. Of course, he rarely was, which was something of a point of pride for him. Even before the wretched wench of a woman had cast her spell upon him, his instincts were better than most. Some people attributed it to the fact he was exceptionally good at reading people. Others claimed it was his uncanny ability to assess the situation and calculate the outcomes that made him so good at his job. Sirius liked to think it was a bit of both. That and dumb luck.
But back to farces.
For some reason people were inclined to think that just because he was a giant black dog who could talk that he would believe anything they told him. There were mushrooms the size of houses in a distant valley threatening to spread their spores and infect the entire kingdom, the cook was a sorcerer, or the castle was in grave danger because of the shape of the clouds. Anything and everything, Sirius had heard it all. Every stupid shred of gossip taken a little out of context, every single conspiracy theory. He was used to them by now; he laughed them off.
Just like he was laughing this one off.
“You can’t be serious,” he said point-blank, staring down his best friend.
“I’m completely serious, Sirius,” Remus replied sharply. He placed his hands on his hips, staring down at the dog in front of him. That was another thing that bothered him: before he’d been cursed, he was taller than Remus. Just one farce after another. “Mary told me -”
“Wait,” interrupted Sirius, holding up a paw. “Who’s Mary?”
Remus blinked at him in disbelief. “You know who Mary is! She’s Princess Lily’s maid!”
“Oh, that Mary.”
“Yes, that one,” Remus parroted, his irritation rising. “Is there another Mary you know?”
Sirius shrugged. “It’s a common name.”
The look Remus shot him was nothing short of deadly. Luckily Sirius was used to be on the receiving end of this particular glare, so it didn’t faze him. Not much, anyway.
“Please,” Remus said, a hint of desperation in his voice, “will you just listen to me? And without interrupting, for once,” he added, just as soon as Sirius opened his mouth.
While it was enjoyable to see how far he could push his friends, Sirius could see that this was important to Remus. The very least he could do was hear him out properly. After all, hadn’t he afforded that same courtesy to all of the others who had come to him with ludicrous stories? It was only fair. Beside, this was his friend; Sirius owed him that much.
Settling back on his haunches, Sirius bobbed his head. “Sure, Moony. Take a seat.”
“I’ll stand, thanks,” he replied shortly, clearing his throat. “Right, so I was saying. Earlier this afternoon, Mary overhead the princess - Lily, that is - in the library. She was talking to James. Yes, before you ask, I do mean our James.”
“And?” Sirius pressed.
“And I thought I asked you not to interrupt?” Remus arched an eyebrow, giving the dog a pointed look. Pulling a face, Sirius shut his mouth and nodded for his friend to continue. “Anyway, she saw them -”
“I thought you said she overheard them?”
“She did both!” Remus stomped his foot. “Will you please stop interrupting me at every bloody turn? For crying out loud!” Giving himself a small shake, he cleared his throat for the second time and licked his lips. The details were still buzzing in his mind. “She saw them looking at a book. Apparently James tore one of the pages out of it. Mary didn’t know what book it was, just that they seemed very keen on whatever was mentioned on the page.”
“Do you have it with you? The page, I mean.”
Shoulders hunching as he shoved his hands into his pockets, Remus shook his head. “Unfortunately no, but I went into the library after Mary brought it to my and Dumb-well, to my attention and I found it.” It was enough that he was coming to Sirius with this information, he didn’t want to implicate Dumbledore if he could help it.
At this, Sirius perked up. “The book?” Remus nodded. Sirius smiled gleefully. Finally, something to do! “Let’s see it then.”
Hesitant, Remus reached into the pocket of his jacket and produced the book. It was a thin book, with a cracked leather spine and faded gold inlaid. Gently, he tossed it down onto the desk and pushed it towards Sirius.
“Evil Most Potent: The Most Infamous Sorcerers Known to Man and How They Met Their End?” Sirius let out a bark, not even bothering to nudge it open with his snout. And here he’d thought that something interesting had finally been brought to his attention. He should have known.
Placing a paw on the book, he pushed it back to Remus.
“Well?” Remus said anxiously.
“Well what, Remus?” snorted Sirius. “I don’t know what you want to tell you, Moony. Everyone from Westerflower to Northwillow has read this book at least once in their life. Hell, my mum read it to me as a child each night before bedtime just so I wouldn’t cause trouble - didn’t work, of course, but that’s beyond the point. The point is, if you think this -” he gestured to the book “-qualifies as proof that Princess Lily and James are - what’d you accuse them of being?”
“Impostors, Sirius,” Remus said through clenched teeth. “And yes, it’s the only actual proof we have, but what about the attack on the castle?”
“What about it?” challenged Sirius. “How does the princess and James reading a book about witchcraft in the library have anything to do with the attack?”
As much as Remus hated to admit it, Sirius had a point. When Mary, looking very flustered, had come rushing past him on his way out to the gardens, she’d grabbed him by the elbow and hauled him down to Dumbledore’s chambers, explaining in a very hurried fashion all that she had seen and heard in the library. While she went to tell Dumbledore, Remus had doubled back to the library, snatched up the book, and reported to Sirius immediately. Even as he had knocked on his best friend’s door, he’d been sceptical, but he had to tell him. What if something happened that could’ve been prevent if he’d only just said something? He shuddered to think.
“You’re right,” Remus sighed, frowning at his shoes. He felt utterly defeated. “It has nothing to do with it, but Mary said they were talking about getting out of ‘here’. Couldn’t that be…I don’t know, something worth looking into?”
“If you weren’t overlooking the glaringly obvious, it could be.”
Curious, Remus raised a brow. “Okay, I’ll bite,” he said, pulling a hand out of his pocket and settling it on his hip. “What’s the glaringly obvious?”
Sirius smiled, all white sharp teeth flashing in the bright light of his office. “The fact that despite insisting the opposite, James is actually having an affair with Princess Lily, and they were trying to figure out a way of getting out of the castle for some alone time.”
“Oh,” was all Remus said. It made far more sense than James and the princess being impostors from a distant land. Aside from subtle differences in behaviour and the odd comment made now and again, there was nothing truly different about the two. Perhaps Sirius was right; maybe it was something as simple as an affair.
“Look, Remus,” Sirius began, drawing Remus out of his thoughts with the soft tone of his voice. “I know you think you’re onto something - and for all we know, you very well may be, but I can’t take the risk without any solid proof. I’ll be the first to admit that James has been acting very strange recently, but that doesn’t mean that he’s an impostor; he’s most likely nervous about being found out - as he should be, the bloody idiot. I told him!”
A beat of silence passed before Remus spoke.
“I should probably head out,” he said finally. “I’ve still got work to do - the dust’s not going to beat itself out of the royal tapestries.”
Sirius laughed appreciatively. “No, I don’t think it will.” He hopped down from his chair, landing rather gracefully on the pads of his feet. Nails clicking on the stone floor, Sirius padded around his desk.
Remus followed him to the door. He took the door knob in his grasp, hesitating. “I’ll see you at the announcement tonight, yeah?”
“Technically, yes, I’ll be present, but if I do my job right - at least, according to Princess Petunia, the insufferable swot - you won’t see me at all as I’m supposed to be ‘one with the shadows’.” Sirius snorted loudly. “I know I’m not supposed to speak ill of the royal I serve, but honestly.”
This time, Remus chuckled, his eyes crinkling ever so slightly at the corners as he smiled. He twisted the door knob and shouldered the door open, but he didn’t exit. “Thanks, mate,” he said gratefully, kind brown eyes shining. “This means a lot to me.”
“I know,” Sirius replied, nodding.
With one last smile, Remus opened the door and slipped out of Sirius’ office.
Staring at her reflection, Petunia fussed with the golden circlet at her brow, dissatisfied with the way it lay on her hair. She tried to ignore the way her hands shook and her stomach flipped as she adjusted and readjusted the circlet. This wasn’t the first time she’d made an address to the public, but it was the first time she was doing it alone.
Severus will be there, she thought to herself just as the man in question popped his head into the room. As always, his black hair was slicked back against his skull, his doublet was a crisp bottle green, and his boots shown so brightly, she swore she could see herself in them.
“Are you ready?”
Wordlessly, Petunia nodded and pushed away from her vanity. The full skirt of her violet taffeta gown rustled as she moved, bestowing her with confidence. Snape offered his arm and she grasped it lightly, letting him lead her to the main balcony, which overlooked the town square.
As they drew closer to the double doors, Petunia could hear the crowd through the open windows. The noise was deafening, the air abuzz with excitement. There must have been hundreds, if not a thousand, people gathered outside. She swallowed, looking down the long stretch of corridor before her and spotting her sister, who was, as always, flustered as she came drawing up to them. With a smirk, Petunia noted that she was without her bodyguard.
Good, she thought, fighting back her malicious grin. The pieces are set.
“S-sorry I’m late,” panted Lily, her hands fluttering about the waist of her crushed velvet gown of gold. A few of her dark red locks had escaped the knot at the back of her head, but it was too late to fix it. Even still, Petunia was begrudged to admit her sister looked beautiful.
Snape released her arm and went to her sister, taking one of her hands and lifting it to his mouth. “You look gorgeous, Lily,” Snape said in a liquidy voice as he pressed a kiss to Lily’s knuckles.
Lily’s grimace was poorly hidden by her attempted smile. “Thank you, Severus,” she replied, tugging her hand out of Snape’s grasp as gently as she could.
Irritated by her younger sister’s cold dismissal of the affection she should have treasured, Petunia stiffened, grinding her teeth. She tossed Severus one last, withering glare before she threw her shoulders back and lifted her chin defiantly. She could do this. She was Petunia Evans, oldest daughter of the great King Gregory and Queen Phillipa, crowned Princess of Westerflower. She was respectable and poised, the exact opposite of Lily.
“Let’s get a move on then,” Petunia said in a clipped voice. “I’ll go first. You two stand off to my right until I say. Understood?”
Before they could agree, Petunia looked to the guards flanking the great double doors and nodded. With a great creak, the doors parted, the trumpets blasted, and the crowd in the square below began to roar, clapping loudly and calling out to their beloved princesses. The evening air was balmy as she stepped out onto the balcony, her arm raised in greeting to the hundreds of people gathered. Petunia grinned and waved.
When Lily and Snape followed her out, the noise increased once more. She let her sister and her betrothed greet the crowd before she gave the signal to the trumpeters, who ceased playing at once. The crowd quieted, silence fanning out.
“Good evening, citizens of Westerflower!” Petunia grinned fiercely, her heart quickening with a thrill she rarely, if ever, felt. Cheeks flushing, she continued, “There are not enough hours in the day nor enough words in the dictionary for me to properly express how gracious I am that you have all turned out.”
Behind her, Lily gagged.
Petunia ignored her. “After the horrific attack upon our great capital, I understand your hesitancy to come hear me speak and I applaud your bravery!” A cheer went up then, and Petunia felt victorious. “It brings me such joy to announce that the news I have brought to you is nothing short of splendid.” She paused for dramatic effect, scanning the crowd to gauge their reactions. The tension was so thick that a simple sneeze would have sent the entire crowd into a frenzy.
“For years now, the kingdom has been preparing for the wedding of my sister, Princess Lily and her betrothed, Prince Severus Snape of Easterhollow and her Surrounding Territories.” Smiling, Petunia gestured to her sister and Severus then turned to look at them. Lily stared back, eyebrows knitted with confusion. Petunia’s grin turned lecherous for just one moment but it was long enough for Lily’s eyes to go wide with panic. Again, her heart sped up as she turned back to the crowd.
“For years now, we have waited to see them joined in holy matrimony and our countries united in peace and harmony. A match years in the making, I am so very pleased to announce that the wait is over!” Petunia watched the crowd again, seeing the spark of realization in some of their eyes and excitement in others. Whispers rippled through the crowd at once. Behind her, Snape was struggling to keep Lily, who was trying to pull her arm out of his grasp, under control. A rush of pleasure surged through her as she continued, “For come Sunday next, in front of the royal court, they shall be joined together in happiness and love!”
The crowd, as they say, went wild. Screams of excitement and shouts of pride filled the square, the thunderous applause and stomping drowning out the loud objections of her sister. In the corner of her eye, she could see that Lily had thrown off Snape, who looked very disgruntled indeed, and Lily was fighting to get past the guards to her.
“Take her to my chambers,” Petunia hissed to the guard standing beside her. He nodded and disappeared out of her peripheral vision.
“You can’t do this, Petunia!” Lily shouted as she was seized by either arm and all but dragged off the balcony. Her words were drowned out by the crowd. “You can’t!”
Laughing, Petunia turned back to the crowd, lifting her arm and waving once more. “Oh, but I can, dear sister,” purred Petunia to herself, smiling all the while. “I can.”
A/N: I bet you didn’t think I’d keep my word when I said I was going to finish this story. Granted, it’s not finished yet but we’re one step closer! There’s still a lot more to come, so hopefully you’re all still eagerly anticipating the ending to this because I know that I am! Anyway, thank you to everyone who read and review - I love getting feedback and your kind reviews are so appreciated. Until next time!