Chapter 2 : To Prank a Ghost
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To Prank a Ghost
It’s a nice enough day for January, but I’m not really paying any attention to it. Padfoot and I are currently planning the final stages of our best prank in ages. See, we always do a big welcome-back-from-the-holidays prank and this year’s our best yet. Well, that’s obvious, seeing as this is the sixth and every year they only get better, but anyway. That’s not the point.
I’m not too sure what the actual point is, but we’ll get there.
So, the prank. Padfoot and I are in the library, which is pretty strange for us. Even stranger’s the fact that Moony’s not with us. No idea where he’s got to. And Wormtail’s in the Hospital Wing still, from that accident the day before yesterday when we removed his arm from, well, where it normally is and glued it to his nose by the thumb. Which was, as honestly as I am madly in love with Lily Evans-Soon-To-Be-Potter, a complete and total accident.
Okay, focus. We need to fine tune the plan.
Padfoot looks up from the book he’s reading (or so I hope) and glances over at me. “Am I the only one doing any work here, Prongs?” he asks indignantly, seeing my vacant look.
“Nah, I’m busy fine-tuning the plan inside this gorgeous head of mine,” I reply, leaning back in my seat.
He snorts and mutters something about my comebacks needing fine-tuning, because it’s been a long time since I’ve fallen back on such basic words as “gorgeous,” but I’ve got bigger things on my mind today.
Bigger, furrier things. “Seen Moony anywhere?” I ask him.
“Bet he’s visiting Wormtail,” replies Padfoot. “I think he’s avoiding us, blames us, doesn’t he?”
“Right…” I mutter, looking back at the notes I’m supposed to be studying. “You know, we really aren’t going to get any farther without him, this stuff makes no sense.”
The diagrams Moony drew last night don’t make sense to either of us, but we continue to stare at them for another few minutes nevertheless. It’s the sort of thing you do when you wait for a brainwave that you know isn’t coming, because you’re the genius type who knows everything without even needing to have a brain wave.
Apparently we are not genius types today. Padfoot slams the book that he’s been looking at shut and Madam Pince pops up so suddenly I swear she was spying on us, looking alarmingly vulture-like as she pulls it from him with her claw-like hands. “Be careful with that book, you insolent boy!” she screeches at him and several people look around in alarm.
“Yeah, well, you just leave me alone, you old vulture,” Padfoot replies, earning himself a glare from the librarian.
I carefully gather up my books and hand them to her with a comical bow, smiling sweetly. Her expression softens slightly. Padfoot laughs and she turns back to him, glaring again. “You would do well to take a leaf out of this young man’s book!” she snapped at him.
Padfoot smiles innocently, raising an eyebrow. “I dunno ‘bout that… Wouldn’t want to be an ugly git with glasses who can’t get a girl to go out with him…”
“Oh, shut it,” I snap back at him, punching him lightly on the arm. “C’mon…”
And we leave before she can get a chance to shoo us out (like last time, where she had all our stuff chase us out while hitting us repeatedly over the head until we’d gotten three floors away from the library).
On the way to the Hospital Wing, we come across Lily Evans and a group of her friends walking in the opposite direction. She catches sight of me and her eyes narrow. I know she’s thinking of the last time we talked, during which she told me off for bullying a third year. The bloody fantastic bit of it is, of course, that she missed the part where he made fun of her to his friend for being an “uptight pansy” when she gave him detention a week before (it’s really not like I know all her exploits by heart, it’s just something Moony told me in passing).
I decide I might as well tell her this (who knows, maybe she’ll hate me a little less), but I haven’t even got my mouth all the way open before she glares at me and snaps, “Shut it, Potter.”
“Not saying anything, am I?” I reply sweetly, and her antagonism puts me off from telling her I actually stood up for her. “You know, you really ought to try being more polite… sets a better example, people don’t call you names then…”
She stops right in front of me, her green eyes blazing. “See this, Potter?” she asks venomously, pulling out her wand and poking me it the chest. “It’s called a wand.”
“No! Really?” I ask, pretending to be amazed.
She ignores the comment, eyes flashing. Her friends back off – they know how she gets when she’s really pissed at me. “It looks really harmless now, but when I say a few choice words, you could be in a lot of pain. Now do you really want me to hex you the way you so cruelly hex anyone who gets in your way?”
My eyebrows fly up; I’m surprised at her. “You’d really sink down to my level? Wow, Evans, I thought you were aspiring to be Head Girl next year.”
Her face starts to redden, and she glares even more fiercely. “You think, just because I actually have standards, that I won’t hex someone who really deserves it? Well, Potter, it’s been coming for years now, but – ”
“Woah there, Evans. Hold on a moment. Another detention for me is going to make no difference, but for you… you first one… Rather save it for a worthy cause?” I ask, seeing a few third years round the corner and double back at the sight of us.
“Sometimes I think you’re quite a worthy cause for that detention,” she hisses, and I know it’s meant to be insulting but there are so many beautiful ways I can spin this one to bite her back.
But that all flies out the window when her eye twitches – it’s something I’ve noticed only happens when I’m around; I’ve never seen it twitch at anyone else – and it always seems like something she saves especially for me.
I forget the whole array of worthy cause comebacks and the next thing I know, I’m holding her against a wall and snogging her.
Even more shocking, she’s snogging me back.
But then, a second later, she pulls back, brandishes her wand and yells, “Potter! That’s just going too far! You – you pervert, you sick idiot! Can’t you just leave me alone?! Why do you always have to do this? I’m so – so tired of you always pouncing on me, can’t you just stop, find someone else who can actually tolerate you because I certainly can’t, can’t you just – ”
Her friends grab her arms and pull her along down the corridor and out of sight, but I still hear her voice echoing down the corridors, yelling at me.
I slump back against the wall, horrified. What’s come over me?! Why can’t I just leave her alone? It’s bloody brilliant that she was snogging me back for a moment there, but I know I shouldn’t keep putting her in that position in the first place. As much as I hate to admit it, she has a point.
I look over at Padfoot, to see him watching me with concern. “Anything wrong?” I ask him, trying to cover up my feelings. It’s not often that James Potter, the James Potter, hero of the Gryffindor Quidditch team, Prongs of the Marauders, is such an emotional wreck.
“Nothing, except for the fact that you look like you’ve just been to someone’s funeral,” Padfoot replies.
“Oh,” I mutter. “Um…” I’m never at a loss for words. It’s so bad that I actually say um as if it’s an intelligent statement.
“Let’s go,” Padfoot says, pulling me along.
“Where?” I ask stupidly, my head still full of Lily Evans.
“Hospital Wing…?” Padfoot says, raising his eyebrows. “Honestly, Prongs, has she done anything else to you besides turn your hair blue?”
“Bloody hell,” I mutter, annoyed now as well as emotionally wrecked. Did she really? I glare at my reflection in a window along the hallway, seeing that Padfoot is, in fact, telling the truth, and that my hair is now a hideous shade of blue. Which is, I now realize, not my color.
So clearly I look as sick as I feel now, and that’s honestly not a particularly fortuitous prank-planning mood.
We make our way to the Hospital Wing in silence, Padfoot attempting to turn my hair back to its normal black. He’s failing miserably.
I don’t really care.
“Prongs, what’s wrong?” he asks after a few minutes, jabbing me in the head with his wand.
“Nothing,” I snap at him, shoving his wand away.
“C’mon, you haven’t been like this since she went out with that guy last year.” I spare him a glance, trying to ignore the truth in his statement, and I’m caught by surprise. He’s watching me with something strange that could be pity. As well as we know each other, I am quite aware that I don’t really know what he thinks of my constant pursuit of Lily Evans. He’s as superficially supportive as Moony and Wormtail, but there’s always something else there too.
I ignore him, turning into the Hospital Wing. At the end of the ward, I see Moony sitting by Wormtail’s bed. My angsty mood slips away as I am re-struck by my own genius.
I motion for Padfoot to be quiet and pull my Invisibility Cloak out of my bag. We sneak up the length of the ward under it, and once we’re standing right behind Moony, we whisper quietly, “Mooooooony… Oh Moooooooooooooony…”
He jumps about a mile in the air, screaming some choice swear words that I’m sure he got from Padfoot.
Laughing, we pull off the Invisibility Cloak and stuff it out of sight. Moony lands back in his seat and glares around at us, slightly red-faced.
“You could have warned me,” he mutters, somehow managing to sound dignified.
“What’s the fun in that?” asks Padfoot, hitting Moony lightly over the head.
I slip the Invisibility Cloak back in my bag and look around at Wormtail, who’s busy dying of laughter, his arm in a sling that’s supposed to hold the bones steady while they reconnect. I’m not too sure what sort of effect the maniacal laughter is having on the whole contraption, though.
Padfoot and I draw up chairs and throw ourselves down beside Moony. He gives me a Moony Sort Of Look and asks nonchalantly, “Prongs, is there any particular reason why your hair is pink today?”
“Erm, no, not really,” I reply, turning to Padfoot with a raised eyebrow. “Care to explain?” I ask him.
He rolls his eyes and tries one last time to turn my hair black again, but only succeeds in vanishing it all, judging by the way my head suddenly feels uncomfortably naked.
“Moony, you do it before Wormtail’s arm comes off again,” I say with a chuckle, seeing Wormtail laughing so hard the sling is shaking.
Moony catches his breath and waves his wand, and I feel my hair rapidly growing. It’s a strangely prickly sensation. I pull a couple hairs free while they grow back, just to make sure they really are black.
When it’s all done, Padfoot slams the notes and diagrams from the library into Moony’s lap.
Moony yelps, but picks up the top one. “And…?” he asks.
“Don’t you think it would be a wee bit helpful to understand these diagrams?” Padfoot asks.
Moony looks confused. “They make perfect sense,” he says, pointing to one of the senseless scribbles. “See, this is a few jinxes we could use with their definitions written here, and these are diagrams of what’ll happen in each scenario.”
Padfoot and I exchange looks. “I thought they were drawings of a soup,” Padfoot says. As much as I admire Moony for his constant effort, I have to agree with Padfoot on this one.
“Soup?” Moony asks. “You said you wanted to prank a ghost – so that’s what I researched.”
“But it still looks like soup,” I protest, looking at the top drawing. “That’s obviously me there, and the jinx there, and the ghost over here, and what’s all that soupy stuff then?” I add, pointing in turn to a stick figure casting a jinx in the bottom corner of the picture, to a roughly ghost-shaped circle with eyes, and to a soup-looking blob of something.
“No, that’s the net. It’s not a soup. Remember how I said if we cast this jinx, the net will collapse on the ghost and create the fireworks?” Moony explains patiently.
Wormtail, Padfoot, and I stare at him. “What?” we say as one.
It’s nearly dinnertime. Wormtail’s now out of the Hospital Wing, arm completely back on, so he’s currently in his rat form sitting on Moony’s shoulder while the four of us lurk under my Invisibility Cloak in the Entrance Hall.
Dinner’s going to start in ten minutes. At that time, the ghosts will be arriving as well, including the object of our prank – the one, the only – the Bloody Baron.
He’s going to float nicely on over towards the doors, and halfway there, he’ll pass through an invisible net that’ll make any ghostly figures vulnerable to jinxes. At this point, Wormtail will scuttle out from underneath the cloak, trigger the net, and the rest of us will cast a certain jinx on the Baron. The net will pass through him again, and into the Great Hall, where it will explode into thousands of fireworks, balloons, confetti, et cetera, all wishing the school a “Welcome Home from the Bloody Baron.” Now, why the Bloody Baron? Well, besides the fact that he likes it so nice and quiet when we students are loose in the world, I think we can terrify some gullible students into thinking he has quite sinister plans for them now he’s got them here.
But of course, everyone’ll know it’s from us anyway.
Moony wraps up his last minute instructions. As he finishes, we hear approaching footsteps and fall silent immediately. Around the corner comes Lily Evans, and I feel Padfoot half-glance at me. I ignore him, watching Lily. She looks around the hall carefully; I’m sure she heard voices, but she may not have identified whose. Her face is impassive, but her eyes are sparkling, and I’m not sure why. Finally she turns around and hurries away, and something about the way she’s moving makes me think that she’s got something in mind.
We wait a minute to make sure she’s gone, and by the time we’re sure she’s not lurking around a corner somewhere, students are already arriving for dinner, so the time for last-minute planning has officially passed. We press ourselves against the wall, still making sure we’re completely hidden by the Cloak. Finally there’s a glimmer of silver at the far wall. I glance up and see the first ghosts passing through the net that only we can see. For a moment they all look a bit more solid than usual, but then they go back to their normal silvery selves.
Moony and Padfoot both tense beside me, and Wormtail scuttles away. So far, so good.
We watch for a few more seconds, but the Bloody Baron’s not here yet. No, wait – finally. He emerges halfway through the wall, but then something jerks him back. Padfoot, Moony, and I exchange worried glances – that isn’t supposed to happen.
And then he’s gone again. And in his place, a new ghost is emerging…
This isn’t happening.
Her normally red hair is silvery and transparent, floating along behind her. Those brilliant green eyes still sparkle, even though they’re gray now, and transparent. She’s still wearing robes, and they’re floating along just like her. She looks peaceful, happy even.
I can’t understand it. She can’t be dead, I just saw her, a moment ago! She was walking away from us! She can’t have died in those five minutes! But there she is, floating along in front of me, smiling at the students below her, who amble by without looking up, unaware of anything out of the ordinary.
The two words spiral around my brain and I feel like the ground is rocking beneath my feet. She sails by me, and my vision blurs. Sobs wrack through me. I’m not aware of Moony and Padfoot anymore. I hear a voice crying out in terror, in anguish, unaware that it’s my own. Falling backwards, I claw desperately for something to hold onto, so that I can stop believing what I’m seeing, because she can’t be dead, she can’t be… I hear voices calling my name from miles away, and I’m tangled in something invisible. Finally I’m free, I’m running after her, yelling her name, calling for her, because she can’t be dead, she can’t be… I see her turn around, smile sadly at me, and I feel another wave of anguish, pushing me back. I cry for her; my vision spirals. I can’t see anything but her, I can’t tell where I am. She’s turning away now, and I’m not aware of anything, only that I’m slumping against a wall, and that Lily Evans’s ghost is floating away from me.
I’m laying on something soft, wrapped in warm blankets. My head is resting on something equally soft, and I just lay there, feeling simply satisfied with my situation for a moment. My life is rarely ever this peaceful.
I decide to open my eyes for a bit to see where I am. I open them slowly, hoping not to get hit by a blinding ray of sunshine. I’m not, most fortunately. It’s quite dark, wherever I am.
I sit up, looking around. I’m in a bed with white sheets. There’s a glass of water on the table beside it. I look around and recognize the Hospital Wing once my eyes are adjusted to the darkness.
Hmm. I wonder why I’m here.
A voice near me asks quietly, “James?”
I look around, searching for a culprit. There he is. Sitting by my bed and looking as though he hasn’t gotten any sleep for the past hundred years is Padfoot. It’s quite odd, considering I feel pretty good.
“Hey,” I say with a grin. “D’you know why I’m here?”
He isn’t smiling, which is unusual. “You’ve been out for four hours now. James, please tell me you remember what happened,” he whispers. His voice is shaking. He’s calling me James. This can’t be good.
“I’m sorry,” I reply. “What happened? C’mon, it can’t be that bad,” I add, trying to make him lighten up.
He shakes his head jerkily and I see with a thrill of foreboding that his eyes are wet.
“What happened?” I ask sharply.
“The prank,” he whispers. He isn’t meeting my eyes. “It – it didn’t work out.”
“W-what prank?” I ask. I can tell I’ve missed something huge. Usually Madam Pomfrey’s medication messes with your head a little, but this is definitely uncomfortable now.
He looks silently at me and I see a tear rolling down his cheek.
I feel like my stomach has just vanished. This is Sirius Black. He never cries. My breathing becomes rather uneven and I whisper harshly, “Just tell me.”
“You wanted to prank a ghost, and so Moony researched it. He came up with the jinx that passed a net through a ghost and created messages on balloons and confetti from the ghost. We wanted to use the Bloody Baron, but – ” His voice cracks and he looks away, shaking with what I know are sobs.
And now I remember why.
It’s all coming back.
Lily Evans is dead.
I see her ghost floating by me and feel my eyes burn. I don’t try to hold back my sobs, I let them go. Sirius looks around and sees me crying, and I know he understands. He’s always known how deep, how honest my feelings for her are, and how I, arrogant toerag that I am, just can’t quite figure out how to deal with that. And he’s crying for me as much as her.
I cry until the sheets are soaked and I think I have no more tears left, but still they come. The part of me that is not panicking over Lily Evans is fervently thankful that there is no one here but Sirius, because no one, not even Remus or Peter, is allowed to witness this. My body shakes with pathetic sobs, and I grab the pillow and hit it with all my might. There’s nothing but a weak indentation that fluffs back out as the feathers in the pillow readjust. “How – how did it happen?” I choke out, my voice muffled by the pillow as my tears soak it as well.
There’s no answer except for Sirius’s soft sniffs that tell me he doesn’t know either.
I don’t know how long we sit there, me crying into the pillow and him looking determinedly out the window as if that would console him. It’s starting to get light, my entire body hurts, and my throat is sore.
I hear the Hospital Wing door creak open, but I don’t look up. There isn’t anyone else in the world I want to see – there isn’t anyone else in the world who I will allow to see me like this, to see Sirius like this. It’s not even a matter of pride as much as a matter of principle: he is my best friend, and there is no one else that I can trust to give me the strength to get up, eventually, and pretend that nothing is wrong.
But it’s a cruel world, and I hear the footsteps stop in front of my bed. I hear Sirius gasp, so I whisper softly, “Go away.”
“James,” says a soft voice. I don’t even register that I know this voice.
“Go away,” I repeat, a little louder this time. I don’t even look up.
“James,” the voice repeats, a little more insistently.
“What?” I ask harshly, looking up from the pillow.
It’s almost cliché, the ray of pale morning sunlight falling across Lily Evans’s face. She looks half-scared, half-guilty, and there are tears in her own eyes.
I stare at her, at a loss for what to say. The cold air stings on my wet cheeks, and she moves. Sits down at the edge of my mattress and bites her lip. I feel the mattress go down a bit with her weight. She stares at me and I stare at her.
I don’t know what to think. She leans in and pulls me close to her, whispering softly, “I’m sorry, James. I’m really, really sorry.”
She pulls back to look at me, and I feel her fingers wipe away a few fresh tears on my face. I’m at a loss for what to think, and speechless to boot. I must strike a bloody brilliant picture, but out of the corner of my eye I can see Sirius looking just as confused and shocked as I feel.
“I heard you discussing the prank before dinner,” she says softly. “And I thought it was a perfect way to get back at you. There was a charm that I came across in the library that turns you into a ghost for a few minutes. I used it. I thought I could prank you in return. I’m so sorry, James. It’s just – I just didn’t think it was that serious. I thought you’d… I don’t know, but I didn’t think – I didn’t realize that you actually. You know. Really fancy me. I thought it was just… I shouldn’t have done it. I – ”
But I lift my finger to cover her mouth. She’s rather speechless too, and it’s giving me a chance to order my thoughts after all this confusion. “I’m glad you did,” I reply. Finally I understand her, too, and it’s killing me in a whole different way. “I guess I haven’t been fair to you, and I deserved this. You’re amazing, Lily, and you deserve someone who can actually show you how much he cares, someone who won’t embarrass you constantly, who will respect what you want. And, well… that’s not me. I’ll leave you alone now.”
“No,” she says, shaking her head. “No, James, no matter what you’ve done, you still love me more than anyone else ever will. I never understood that before because no – no one has ever cared that much and I didn’t see how you could. But I see now and I don’t… I don’t want to waste that. I think it’s only fair that I give you a chance, James. Not because of what you’ve done to get this, but because of the true feeling behind it, the reason. I don’t want to waste it. Please, James. Give it a chance.”
For a moment I just stare at her. She looks like an angel, those intense green eyes focused on me and for once not narrowed, or frowning, or twitching even. I feel like she can see everything I'm thinking. So I don't bother to warn her this time, because I know she'll be expecting it. I lean forward to kiss her.
"Wait, James..." Her voice stops me. I feel her fingers on my lips, holding me back.
"What?" I ask, opening my eyes and wishing Sirius would look away.
“Um. I didn’t mean I fancy you too, you know. I just meant that I don’t think I can actually hate you anymore. It’s kind of a shock, you know, for me too. But really, I think if you could calm down your advances on me then I would not be, you know, opposed to being friends, at least.”
I can’t help chuckling, because minus the stuttering and uncertainty, this is much more like the Lily Evans I know. One moment she’s sweet and beautiful and perfect and the next she’s demanding something or making some sort of specification and it turns everything upside down.
But it’s not completely upside down. We’ve worked out a lot here, Lily and I. Basically realized that the basis of our constant arguing is the fact that we didn’t understand each other.
So maybe I should just let her have the last word for once, let her be right. Sometimes the simplest answer, the reflex to kiss her, isn't the best one – and if she just wants to be my friend, then I should be grateful.
I smile at her. "All right, then. I can do friends.”
"Friends," she confirms, shaking my hand.
But I’m not such a pushover, and I’m not about to take this without milking everything I can get out of it. I grab her in a violent sort of bear hug and kiss her cheek. She punches my shoulder lightly and snaps warningly, "But no kissing, okay?"
"It’s a standard of friendship with me, haven't you ever seen me give Padfoot his good morning smooch?" I ask her, my eyes wide, as Sirius cracks up beside me.
"Well, you’d better devise a new standard for me then," she replies.
It’s another comment that is so perfect to twist back at her (why is she so good at setting herself up?) but I decide that making fun of her so early in what is officially Lily And James’ Friendship might not go over so well. I decide to go with her apparently preferred form of communication and punch her arm lightly. “How about this?”
"Hey, no punching either!" she cries indignantly.
"Same goes for you," I reply with a grin.
She punches me.
Padfoot is grinning, and when I glance over at him I have to smile, too. Lily chuckles at the edge of my bed, and Padfoot and I exchange share a wordless conversation at the sound. It’s not much of a guarantee what we’ve built here, on both of our parts, because I know that I am too used to milking every moment with her for all that it’s worth, and she’s too used to hating my guts. But we’re sitting together, smiling, not killing each other, and I don’t feel like a fool for thinking that this could bode well for the future. Padfoot’s smirk is telling me he agrees, but I know he’s thinking up about a million ways in which this could backfire on me, too.
But it’s there – Lily And James’ Friendship has begun. It’s an uneasy truce, but a truce nevertheless.
And for now, that's good.
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