For Rachel (PenguinsWillReignSupreme)
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
“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!