Chapter 10 : And Then Logic, Sweet Logic, Finally Appears In The Form Of A Lovable Werewolf . . .
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Lily spent an entire hour in the Potter Estate, traipsing through the halls with its two rowdy teenage male inhabitants and supplying entertaining quips whenever the mood struck. Black, surprisingly, was not as irritating as she had anticipated. He was, without question, a conceited arrogant prat. But his self-absorption and superciliousness was unexpectedly adorable instead of repulsive. It was easy to see that in his heart he was a genuinely kind person, and James obviously relied on him a lot.
Meanwhile, she saw an entire new side of James. A playful, younger, less mature side of James that was both more innocent and more naughty. He was carefree and mischievous when Black was nearby, and less likely to slip into the occasional foul mood. Happiness radiated from him.
Lily had finally begged leave, and they had reluctantly allowed her to apparate home, smock in tow. To be safe, she made sure to apparate directly into her bedroom. God forbid Petunia – or her obese fiancée – catch wind of the barest hint of magic.
“Lily!” Mrs. Evans had shouted when her ears had detected the inaudible pop of Lily’s apparition, “Come downstairs!”
Feet dragging and heart low, Lily trekked down the stairs. She knew she was in trouble. Art class was due to get out at four o’clock, and it was already seven.
“We’re designing Petunia’s wedding dress this evening, remember darling?” Mrs. Evans said when Lily appeared in the dining room, her face stretched into a tight-lipped, dangerous smile.
Petunia was sitting hunched in a chair, looking absolutely murderous. “I don’t understand,” she hissed, “why we have to wait for Lily to be home to design my wedding dress!”
Lily sat down in an empty chair, “Yeah, why did you wait?”
Mrs. Evans sighed wearily, “Because Petty’s using the material from my old dress, and we need to make sure she makes it in a way that you can still use it for your future dress.”
Petunia growled under her breath at the ‘sodding injustice of it all!’ Lily simply rolled her eyes. She didn’t even want to think about her future wedding. If there even was a future wedding.
“So,” Mrs. Evans changed her expression to one of bright interest, “what are you thinking for your dress, Pet?”
There was much sketching on napkins and hushed murmurs of lace and taffeta, along with whispered measurements and furtively shared ideas. Lily sat back and watched, bored. She was completely excluded from the entire process. Her mother and sister, she admitted to herself, occasionally drove her utterly batty.
“No,” Petunia whispered furiously, “not there.”
Mrs. Evans readjusted a mark, and Petunia nodded, “Yes, there.”
Lily placed her chin in her hand and tried to stop herself from falling asleep. Her eyelids fluttered. She was exhausted from the Potter Estate escapades and the tireless mutterings of corsets and ribbons and lace and ‘antique satin.’
Honestly, who cared?
“Lily, dear,” Mrs. Evans gently pushed a napkin towards her youngest daughter, “is this acceptable? We’ve left most of the fabric untouched so that you can do what you wish with it.”
Lily blinked and tried to absorb the hastily sketched image. A huge, monstrosity of a garment soon made itself visible to her tired mind. Lily detected shoulder pads, itchy sleeves, and a huge, hoop skirt-like contraption at the first glance. She felt nauseous.
“We’re using so much material for the overskirt,” Mrs. Evans pointed it out, “so you’ll be able to take that and make your own dress. It shouldn’t be too bothersome. And you’ll have more than enough fabric.”
“I . . . I don’t ever have to use this exact design though, right?” Lily choked.
Mrs. Evans patted her on the hand, “Of course not. You can have a slim, strapless, ankle-revealing item if you’d like. As long as you use the material.”
Petunia looked completely affronted, “What’s wrong with the design?”
“Nothing,” Lily yawned, “its absolutely perfect for you. Truly lovely.”
Mrs. Evans fussed over Petunia’s measurements for a moment, and Lily stifled the largest yawn of her life. She felt as if her skull would crack open if she opened her jaws any wider.
Her Mum noticed. “Lily, darling, go on up to bed. You look absolutely shattered.”
“Yeah, you look a right wreck,” Petunia said maliciously.
Lily stood up, “Thanks, good night Mum – Petunia. Don’t ruin the dress, yeah?”
Her mother said something, but Lily was too tired to hear. She stumbled up the stairs and crumpled, fully dressed, on her bed. Within a few seconds she was unconscious.
“No, I wanted stockings!” Petunia’s cry carried up the stairs.
“Where is Moony?” Sirius muttered impatiently under his breath as he peered into the window of the Lupin house, his other hand rapidly knocking on the thick wood. James sighed. They had been on the step for over five minutes, awaiting any response from the dim household.
“He said his parents would be gone,” James craned his neck, “said they trusted him enough to lock himself in the cellar. He should be here, and night doesn’t fall for a while so he can’t be in the cellar already.”
“Maybe he died,” Sirius suggested.
James rolled his eyes, “That is the most obvious answer to the question, isn’t it?”
“Well of course,” Sirius grinned. A light flicked on in the house, “Ah, there we go.”
The door was wrenched open, and Remus Lupin was revealed. There were deep purple bags under his tired eyes, and his usually peaky face looked even more pale than usual. James winced a little for his friend. Remus’ pain, consistent and unavoidable, was an invariable worry for all the Marauders.
“Oi, Moony!” Sirius clapped him on the back, “how are you, my dear fellow?”
“Quite alright,” the corners of Remus’ tired mouth twitched, “yourself?”
Sirius beamed, “Just brilliant! Thanks for asking! Mind if we step inside for a bit? Its mighty cold out here.”
“Its July, Padfoot,” Remus rolled his eyes. Still, he opened the door wider and James and Sirius hurried inside the small, quaint house.
James eyed the floral patterned wallpaper and framed photographs in the front entry room. The Lupins lived in a constant denial of their only son’s difficulties. Mrs. Lupin, though one of the sweetest women James had ever met, was determined to create a perfectly normal façade for any visitors that happened upon the house. There were dollies under polka-dotted mugs, lace trimmed curtains, and sweet photographs of Remus at various young ages.
“Well, where are we going?” Remus asked expectantly.
Sirius rubbed his hands together in excitement, “Harrows Wood. It’s this empty, country area North of here without any farms or anything, because the soil is awful. Something about too many clay deposits or something. Anyways, there are no people and plenty of running space. Should be a right jolly time.”
“And we figured out how to apparate into your cellar,” James chimed in, “so when the sun rises we don’t have to sneak you into it. We can just disapparate directly from the field.”
“Brilliant,” Remus smiled, and his usually weary face quickly filled with new life, “shall we get going, then? I already locked the cellar.”
James held out his arm, “Side-along?”
Remus gratefully accepted the offer. His magical powers, though usually keen, faded some within a few hours of the full moon due to his exhaustion and illness.
They disappeared with a loud crack, and when James opened his eyes again they were standing in a small, shadowy clearing filled with overgrown weeds and brambles. The sun was low, and the sky was darkening a bit. James threw himself on a patch of grass and settled in to wait.
Sirius arrived with an even louder, explosion-like noise. He always knew how to make an entrance.
The three of them lounged casually in the grass, awaiting the moon. Remus turned to look at James, “How’s art class been?”
“Good,” James nonchalantly downplayed the summer, “been making beautiful, swoon-worthy works of art. I have buyers all over Europe. My name is being called from rooftops all over the world. I’m being heralded as a genius. You know, the usual.”
“I’m sure the rampant attention is doing wonders for your ego,” Remus chuckled, “how’s Lily? Awkward as ever?”
Sirius let out a bark of laughter, “She’s James’ new best mate! We’ve gone and been replaced, Moony!”
Remus shot James a quizzical look, but he pretended not to have caught it. Sirius had already teased him relentlessly over the past few days about the change in his and Lily’s formerly cold relationship. Ever since Lily had acted right at home in James’ house, Sirius had been unable to let it go. It was Lily this and Lily that, so much so that James was almost relieved to spend time with Lily herself, simply to get away from the incessant chatter about Lily.
The past few days had been spent working on another painting – this one an abstract – and trying to convince Sirius that first, he was not being replaced, and second, Lily had not been possessed by some kind of poltergeist. He was exhausted.
“Lily and I are friends,” James shrugged, “we were forced to work together, and now we get along. She’s not cold anymore, and I guess I’m less annoying. I’m not quite sure why, but we’re not biting each other’s heads off anymore.”
Remus stared at him, “Are you. . .,” he carefully chose his wording, “being honest?”
Sirius pouted at the lost opportunity to skew their best, most worn out, and longest running joke. James nodded, “Yeah. She’s actually really funny. And she helps me a lot with some of my charcoal work. I dunno, I guess I just don’t mind being around her anymore. We’re friends.”
“Friends,” Remus’ gaze practically drilled a hole in James’ forehead, “you do realize that only a month ago you weren’t even on speaking terms because you both were so utterly irritated by the each other?”
“Er, yeah,” James rubbed the back of his neck, “is that weird?”
“Most definitely,” Sirius nodded, “completely abnormal. Truly worrying. I do think we need an expert to really critically analyze the situation and give us their opinion.”
Remus lay on his back and put his hands behind his head, “Nah, its not weird. Course I’ll mock you for it for the next decade or so, but you needn’t worry.”
“That’s a relief,” James chuckled, “but enough about me. How’s your summer been?”
“Decent,” Remus replied, “nothing earth-shattering, but nothing monotonous either.”
“Mine has been bloody awful,” Sirius announced.
“We’ve got some news for you, don’t we Padfoot?” James shot Sirius a knowing, mischievous look, “we think you’ll like it.”
Sirius, being Sirius, caught on immediately, “Oh yes, you’ll adore this tidbit of information. In fact, you may just wet your pants from excitement.”
Remus raised an eyebrow, “I can hardly bear the suspense.”
“Now, now, sarcasm is not appreciated,” Sirius chided him, “this is honestly a big deal. A ruddy huge deal. And, seeing as how we had to torture multiple people and pay hefty prices in order to get this information, I’d think you should be a bit grateful!”
“Rubbish,” Remus smiled.
James noted that, had it been any other time of the month, Remus would have come up with some sort of brilliant, sardonic, witty comeback that would have had Sirius sputtering indignantly and James rolling on the ground laughing. As it was, Remus was simply too anxious and tired. It made James sad, if he was honest with himself.
Sirius crossed his arms and gave Remus his best McGonagall glare, “Gratitude, young man! Gratitude!”
“Oh, just get on with it,” Remus stretched his legs out.
James smiled, “McKinnon fancies you.”
There was an anticipatory pause as Sirius and James watched him for his reaction. Remus had gone very still.
“Don’t be thick!” Sirius cried excitedly, “she fancies you, mate! Honestly! Evans told us herself. And we all know how close the pair of them are!”
Remus rolled over on his side to look at James. He had one of his eyebrow raised. That one perfect, seamless arch of the eyebrow had always fascinated all of the marauders. It was a seemingly effortless move that could portray irritation, shock, skeptism, fear, happiness – whatever Remus desired. He changed one tiny angle, and the force of the emotion transformed instantly.
Right now, the eyebrow was arched in flawless doubt. James stared at it with a kind of sick enthrallment.
“What words of poor Lily’s did you misconstrue?”
James snorted, “Didn’t misconstrue anything, mate. She said, clear as day, that her friend – Marlene McKinnon – fancies you – Remus Lupin – for, and I quote, your “kindness, intelligence, fit bod, air of mystery, and adorable dimples.””
“And the way your hair falls into your dreamy brown eyes,” Sirius snickered.
A faint blush appeared on Remus’ cheeks, “Lily said that?”
“Lily was quoting McKinnon,” James corrected him, “but yes, she told us that. Among other things. She’s got quite a collection of gossip. It’s a pity she doesn’t blackmail people with it like we always do.”
“Lily’s a decent human being, unlike us,” Sirius said dismissively.
James shrugged, “True,”
They both looked at Remus, who had rolled back on his back and was looking up at the darkening sky. A trace of a smile was pulling its way onto his pale face. His eyes twinkled with suppressed happiness.
“Aw, look Prongs, Moony’s gone all gaga over a girl,” Sirius laughed, delighted, “this is a first, right?”
“Like you can talk,” Remus snapped, unable to get rid of his smile, “been with one girl since what, January? A bloody shame.”
Ella McManus had, to be completely honest, completely stolen Sirius’ heart. It killed James to admit that, because he wanted to support his mate’s womanizer reputation, but it was the truth. Remus knew it, as did Peter. Sirius couldn’t even argue. He opened his mouth, gaped a bit, and then gave up and sulked. One for Remus.
The little clearing they were in became even darker, and James felt himself grow colder. Besides, nettles were digging into places he was fairly sure were not supposed to be prodded like that.
“So that’s three down . . .” Remus pondered aloud, “and one to go.”
“What are you blathering about?” Sirius asked, disgruntled.
“Peter’s having a constant three way with Meadows and Hornsquat,” Remus explained, “you’ve been with McManus for a ridiculously long time, and now, hopefully, I’ll work this out with Marlene. That leaves one.”
James shifted uncomfortably, and the nettles burrowed in a little deeper. He winced.
“James,” Sirius smirked.
“James,” Remus confirmed.
The bloke in question sighed heavily.
Sirius looked at him, “When are you going to get a girl, Prongs? For real?”
“We know you can get girls,” Remus added before James could protest, “but we’re talking about one you actually like. Not a cute Hufflepuff that’s fun to play around with for a few weeks, but is completely and totally dispensable.”
Slowly, James shut his mouth.
He had liked a girl. In fact, he had liked Lily for quite a while when he was younger. Then they’d hit fourth or fifth year or so, and suddenly she had become more annoying than anything. Infuriating, really. Ever since he would play around, collect a few admirers, and never let anything actually happen. Why should he? Decent girls were painfully difficult to come by.
“What about that blonde? The one in your art class that you pointed out to me at the ice cream place?” Sirius asked suddenly.
James wrinkled his nose at the mere mention of Rose Bennett. The girl was a manipulative, seething cow.
“No,” he shook his head, “no way.”
He wanted someone real. Someone who was authentic and genuine and who didn’t try to be anything else. Someone who cared about the world and who could commit herself, fully, to James. Someone who was funny and smart and unafraid to be silly or stupid. James wanted a girl that was different.
Remus and Sirius both understood without him saying a word.
“I’m with Ella because she’s not the same as all the rest of them,” Sirius said finally, “and it was a right pain trying to find her. McKinnon seems to be the same way – she’s not a shallow slag. Problem is, there aren’t many of them out there. We just have to find you one.”
Remus nodded, “I’ve always fancied Marlene because she was nice and kind and not completely self-involved, you know? She didn’t spread rumors, and she went out of her way to be caring towards me when we were younger. She wasn’t a cow.”
James felt even more pathetic being lectured by his two mates on their respective women. He didn’t have anyone he could even put into the conversation. His last ‘relationship’ lasted a whole three weeks. It was all so superficial.
“You’ll find somebody, mate,” Sirius tossed a twig at him, “you’re not that bad looking.”
James snorted and tossed the stick back. He wasn’t the problem. The problem was that his future girl, whoever she was, was brilliant at hiding herself.
The sky was dark, and the first stars were coming out. A familiar sliver of silver appeared on the horizon.
“Soon,” Remus sighed sadly.
“We’re here for you,” James said automatically. Sirius nodded in fervent agreement.
Yet even as the moon rose higher, and the three boys mechanically tensed for the coming transformation, James’ thoughts were not on his suffering friend. For the first time he was acutely aware of a loneliness, a deep, painful loneliness, that pervaded his bones and swallowed up his heart. Even with his best mates, who he cared for more than he could possibly express, he felt alone.
That loneliness hurt more than he ever wanted to admit.
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