For Rita (Llyralen)
beautiful image by laylacitababy @ TDA
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.”