Chapter 4 : Chapter Four
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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.
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