Chapter 6 : Chapter Six
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Wrapping her knuckles on the door, Mary waited for permission to enter, but none came. It was early in the morning; dawn had only just broke, but the serving girl had already been awake for hours, it seemed. There was hardly any rest for a working girl, especially one who was the personal maid of the crowned princess. She knocked on the door again, but received no response. Frowning, Mary opened the door, knowing that her lady wouldn’t get too upset about the intrusion.
The thick drapes had been pulled over the windows, no doubt by the princess herself, so the room was shrouded in darkness, save for the embers still glowing softly in the hearth. As Mary quietly pulled the door shut behind her, she noticed that the bedclothes were rumpled, though the bed did not look slept in. The frown on her face deepened; she hoped that Lily hadn’t spent the entire night with James.
She tip-toed over to the bed and sure enough, it was empty. The blankets had been tossed aside and nearly all of the pillows were on the floor, which wasn’t unusual. Mary placed a hand on the mattress and was unsurprised to discover that the bed was cold. She pursed her lips, her eyes drifting over to the balcony. The princess had a habit of rising before dawn to watch the sunrise, so perhaps she was leaning against the balustrade, daydreaming about her impending nuptials instead of snoring away in a stack of hay with the penniless stable boy, but Mary knew all too well of Princess Lily’s soft spot for the underprivileged and her penchant for rebelling against her parents’ wishes.
A small sigh escaped Mary - she really hoped that Lily was standing on the balcony; a scandal was the very last thing the princess needed, especially with so few days remaining until her wedding.
“My Lady?” she called out cautiously, keeping her voice low as she pushed aside one of the thick drapes to open the door outside. The handle turned under the weight of her hand, which meant it hadn’t been locked, which meant that perhaps her anxiety would be for nothing and the princess would be standing outside on the balcony.
Mary had to shield her eyes from the bright burst of sunlight, it was so bright. “Princess?” she tried again, her sight stolen from her by the light. “Are you out here?”
“Yeah,” came the bored voice of the crowned princess. “I’m here.”
Another breath of relief fell from Mary’s lips as she blinked away the white spots from her vision. “Oh, thank goodness. I thought-” she stopped herself, remembering her tongue. She had no right to criticise her lady.
Lily wasn’t leaning against the balustrade, but she was sitting on it; her back was resting against the side of the castle, her knees drawn up to her chest. There was a soft furrow in her brow, almost as though she had been deep in thought before Mary had interrupted her.
Immediately, Mary bowed her head. “I’m sorry, My Lady. I didn’t mean to interrupt you.”
“You didn’t interrupt,” Lily said, staring down at her bare feet. She was wearing her night dress, a simple white gown that stopped just below her knees. “I was just thinking.”
“I know,” said Mary, “but you looked like you were contemplating something, and I know I don’t like to be interrupted when contemplating, so forgive me.”
“You’re forgiven.” Lily smiled softly at Mary. “Even though you didn’t do anything wrong,” she added.
They stood in a comfortable silence for a few moments before Mary mustered the courage to ask, “Is there something bothering you, princess?”
“No,” Lily responded, a little too quickly for either girl’s liking. “I mean, I’m fine, just a little tired.” At Mary’s inquisitive look, she continued, “I didn’t sleep very well last night.”
“I did notice the bedclothes were rumpled,” supplied Mary with a small shrug of her petite shoulders. “Would you like for me to fetch the court physician? He could brew you a nice sleeping draught.”
Lily’s eyebrows rose slightly. “A sleeping drought? Someone knows how to brew potions?”
Mary tried not to laugh too much at the princess’s hopeful words. “I wouldn’t call it a potion, but yes, the physician is more than capable of brewing a satisfactory sleeping draught.” At this, Mary frowned. “I thought you would’ve known that, seeing as how you’ve taken it several times before…”
Lily didn’t like the penetrating look she received from Mary; it was almost like the girl knew there was something off about her. Which, of course, there was, but that wasn’t the point. She had to remember to keep herself in check, to not act surprised when she found out certain information. Sirius the talking dog was already on to her, she didn’t need her maid questioning her actions, too.
“Oh yes,” Lily said as if something had suddenly dawned upon her. “I remember now. I guess his draughts were indeed satisfactory, seeing as how I can’t remember the nights I drank them.” She laughed a very fake laugh, but the intensity of Mary’s stare eased, her features became more relaxed.
“Yes, they are quite strong,” Mary agreed with a small smile. “Shall I make a trip down to his rooms today to acquire some for you, My Lady?”
“No,” Lily replied, scooting away from the wall and swinging her legs over the balustrade. She slipped down from her perch. “I can get it myself. Besides,” she added when she saw Mary’s expression, “you have a lot of other things to do today.”
At the unnecessary reminder of her duties, Mary pulled a face, which made Lily laugh.
“Now,” she said, breezing her way past her maid and slipping into her chambers. “I believe I have a breakfast to get ready for.”
“You do,” Mary nodded. “And your sister asked if you do something with your hair; she didn’t like to see it free yesterday. She said it made you look like a - a scarlet woman.”
Throwing her head back, Lily laughed, loud and hard, as she stepped behind the changing screen and slipped off her dress. Mary smiled at the sound. It was a rare sound nowadays.
If James thought his muscles ached last night, it was nothing compared to how he felt when he woke up in the morning. However, he was barely able to blink the sleep out of his eyes before a pitchfork was shoved into his hands and he was instructed to muck out the stables yet again.
“And don’t take forever,” advised Alastor as he backed out the stables. “Yer’ve got ter prepare fer the prince’s arrival.”
James raised his eyebrows. “The prince is coming today?”
“Ach, no,” Alastor dismissed with a shake of his head. “He’ll be here tomorrow evening, but tha’ doesn’t mean ye can slack off!”
Grimacing at his retreating figure, James set to work, mentally preparing himself for the inevitable pain that would only grow worse as the day progressed.
He finished mucking out the stables before midday and was on his way to collect the grooming supplies from a young lad named Stephen when he ran into a solid form.
“Oh, sorry,” he said dismissively as he pushed himself to his feet and wiped the dirt away from his tunic. “Are you all - oh,” he stopped himself at the sight of a familiar face. “Hello, Remus.”
Remus glared at him, which caught him off guard. “James,” he ground out, his voice even harder than his eyes.
Immediately, James frowned. “Did I do something wrong?”
“I don’t know. Did you?“ Remus said evenly, though his placement of his hands on his hips gave him away.
“Okay, so I did do something wrong.”
“How do you -”
“I can tell by the way you’re acting. You always get passive-aggressive-y when you’re angry, Remus,” commented James. “So why don’t you tell me so I can apologise for it?”
Remus gave a dry chuckle. “Where would you like me to begin, James? The part where you bumped into me and apologised insincerely or the part where you forgot about our lesson?”
As soon as the words left Remus’ lips, James smacked a palm to his forehead. “Oh, Merlin, Moony, I’m so sorry,” he said in a rush, not even taking into consideration the fact he might not be on such friendly terms with Remus or that Remus even had a nickname. “I didn’t mean to forget, honest. It’s just that -”
“It’s always just something, James,” Remus interrupted.
“But this time it was really important!”
“So making a promise to help me out isn’t important anymore?”
“What? No! Of course not!” James sputtered. “I mean, not like that!” he exclaimed at the sight of Remus’ thunderous expression. “I meant that it is important to me, of course it is, you’re my best friend…right? We’re best friends?”
“I don’t know if we are at the moment, but yes,” Remus said coldly, his confirming nod unusually stiff. “I guess we are.”
“So if we’re best friends,” James began, silently thanking whatever deity was worshipped in Westerflower for letting him catch such a break, “you’ll let me explain myself then? Because you know I wouldn’t break a promise without a good reason.”
Remus regarded him silently for a few moments, his eyes still narrowed, though there wasn’t a fire in them, only resignation. Inwardly, James grinned; pleading speeches always worked on Remus.
“All right, fine,” sighed the blonde boy. “You’ve got three minutes to explain yourself.”
James unleashed his grin. “Brilliant. Anyway, the reason why I failed to show up last night - and notice I didn’t say the reason why I broke my promise because, well, I didn’t, not intentionally - was because the princess - as in Princess Lily, not Princess Petunia; she’s a hag and a half and I don’t care who hears it - wanted to speak with me in the Rose Garden about a matter of utmost importance.”
By the time he finished, he was out of breath, and therefore heaved the hugest sigh of his life.
And then Remus laughed in his face. “You expect me to believe that rubbish?”
Remus doubled over, slapping his thigh as he all but cackled at the blue-grey sky. “Honestly, James,” he said after he’d calmed down, though his laughter tickled his voice. “Why don’t you just tell me the truth?”
Again, James frowned. “But that is the truth. Why would I make something like that up? Just yesterday, you said you believed me when I said nothing had gone on between myself and Lily - I mean, Princess Lily - in the carriage.”
“Oh that? I only said that because I didn’t want Alastor to get in trouble for speaking ill of the princess,” answered Remus harshly. “What? You really thought I believed your story?” He snorted. “That’s rich, mate. I don’t even think you were in the carriage with the princess, just some female member of the nobility that, for some unknown reason, seem to be inescapably attracted to you.”
“Wait,” James said, holding up his hands to stop Remus’ tirade. “I’ve been involved with the nobility before?”
Remus tried and failed to maintain a serious expression, but only succeeded in laughing even harder than he had been before. Now, he was drawing stares and not only from the servants of Westerhaven Castle.
“If I didn’t know any better,” Remus said after he drew a deep breath, a hand clasped to his side, which ached from laughing so hard. “I wouldn’t even think you’re my best mate, but some man from an alternate universe who’s replaced him, but we both know that’s ridiculous.”
James made sure to school his features into a mask of amusement instead of one of shock. “Ha ha, yeah,“ he chuckled nervously. “That’s so ridiculous.”
“But really, why’d you abandon me in my hour of need?” Remus questioned, suddenly serious again. “And don’t say anything about covert meetings with the crowned princess.”
Releasing a soft sigh, James pushed a hand through his hair and struggled to come up with a lie that wasn’t too elaborate or involved anyone he knew in the castle - which surmounted to a grand total of three people: Lily, Petunia (though he hadn’t actually met her), and Mary.
“I cut my hand,” said James, holding up the offending, bandage hand.
This seemed to be enough for Remus, whose eyes widened as the sight of the bandage. “Oh my God, James, that looks bad. How’d you do it?”
Now that Remus believed him, it was easier for James to lie. It was weird, but it had always been that way: If Moony was convinced, then just about anyone would be - except McGonagall. She could sniff out a lie better than a niffler could gold. He launched into the story of his encounter at the smithy’s, though he added a considerate amount to the story, so while it contained some truth, there was only a little.
By the end of it, Remus was in stitches again, though this time his laughter was pleasant, less scathing.
“Oh, mate,” he said, clapping James on the shoulder. “I swear, you have the worst luck with women. That’s almost as hilarious as the incident with Lord Oregano’s daughter.”
Though he had no clue what Moony was on about, James laughed, happy to be on his friend’s good side again. “Now, how about I make up for being such a horrid friend and give you a lesson?”
Remus’ eyes brightened. “Really? Now?” His gaze dimmed in brilliance as he regarded James. “Don’t you have duties to do?”
“Nope,” James lied through his teeth, which flashed stunningly when he smiled at Remus. “I’ve just finished them. Alastor said I had the afternoon to myself, which I am now dedicating to you.” He poked Remus in the chest to add emphasis.
Remus beamed. “Brilliant.”
“So,” James said as they headed back towards the stables, where he thought would be the best place to partake in these “funny lessons” as it was secluded from sight and if Alastor interrupted, all he had to do was grab a pitchfork and pretend his side was alight with flames. “What do you want to learn first?”
“Can we continue the juggling lesson?” Remus asked. “I think I’m starting to get the hang of it.”
His smile fumbled, but only slightly. “Sure, Moons, whatever you want.”
A plate slammed into the wall and promptly shattered into a thousand tiny pieces, making the innkeeper’s daughter give a small shriek of terror.
“I told you no green vegetables!” shrieked the Crowned Prince of Easterhollow and Her Surrounding Territories, Severus Snape. “How hard is that to understand?”
“I-I’m sorry, Your Highness,” the girl squeaked, her blue eyes welling with tears.
“Oh, you’re sorry? You think an apology is going to make this better?” he seethed through clenched teeth, jabbing a finger at the mess on the floor. “I’m hungry and now there’s a mess on the floor!”
The girl chewed her lip, wishing her father would return from his business at the apothecary.
“Well, are you just going to stand there or are you going to clean it up?” Snape screamed, which made the poor girl jump about a foot in the air before hurrying to attend to the mess. His jaw tightened as his fist clenched so tightly around the edge of the table, his pallid knuckles turned even whiter. “Idiot girl.”
Snape watched the girl as she knelt down and collected the fractured pieces of porcelain and the slop the cook dared to call food in the folds of her apron. He loosened his grip on the table and sank back into his seat, which was, he had to admit, comfortable. His eyes followed her as she made her way towards the door.
“And this time,” Snape drawled, pretending to pick dirt out from under his nails, which was just absurd because his nails were sparkling clean, just like every bit of him was, “don’t put green vegetables on the plate. If the mistake occurs again, I don’t think I’ll be so lenient.”
Her eyes wide as saucers, the girl nodded her head. “Y-yes, Your Majesty,” she stammered, curtseying as she backed out of the room.
Once she was gone, Snape leaned back in his chair and propped his feet up on the table. “Avery!” he said with a snap of his fingers. “I need you.”
Almost immediately, a mousy haired young man appeared at his side, dropping down to his knees with his head bent. “Whatever do you need, my liege?”
“First of all, you can replace this wine with one of the bottles I brought along as a gift for Lily,” Snape said, thrusting his goblet into Avery’s outstretched hand and causing the scarlet liquid to slop all over the place. “I’m sure she won’t miss something she didn’t even know she had. And second, after you remove my boots, shine them. If I’m going to be in the presence of the Princesses of Westerflower, I want to see my reflection in my shoes.”
“Yes, my liege,” Avery said with a deep nod. “Anything else?”
“Hmm,” Snape said, curling his tiny chin beard round his finger as he contemplated any other requests he could make. “Oh, I’ve got it.” He sat up in his seat, his feet slipping from the table top. Then he held them out to Avery. “Rub.”
“R-rub, my liege? You want me to rub your feet?”
“After you remove the boots, you stupid swine, yes,” Snape said. “And hurry with the wine already. I’m absolutely parched.”
Barely able to refrain from grimacing, Avery nodded his head dutifully. “Yes, my liege. Anything for the crowned prince.”
As his servant ducked out of the chamber, Snape smiled to himself, still stroking his thin beard as he marvelled at the wonder he was.
A/N: A bit of filler, yes, but it’s setting events into motion. In the next chapter, Snape shall make his grand entrance at Westerhaven Castle and Sirius will return! Yay! Thanks for reading!
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