Chapter 13 : And Then The Marauders Faced An Inexplicable And Utterly Unsolvable Dilemma . . .
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There was no hope for him.
That was it. Everything was done. James should just head to St. Mungo’s now and ask for an isolated ward for the rest of his life. Everything was lost.
The deep well in his abdomen had opened, and now it refused to shut. James could not walk without feeling like some kind of hideous, awful monster was clawing its way out of his large intestine, black lacy knickers reflected in it’s eight, red, demonic eyes. Something horrid and lecherous was in the process of slowly possessing him, and he knew it was only a matter of days before his mind snapped completely.
He was a hazard to society. He needed to be locked up forever.
James was lying in his backyard, staring up at the blue sky, wishing that a bolt of lightening would strike him and end his misery. But there wasn’t a cloud in the sky – not even the poofy little cotton ball clouds. The clear atmosphere was beautiful, blue, and revolting.
He had no hope.
“James!” his mother called, “when are you friends supposed to be here?”
There was no point in responding. He was an embarrassment to his mother. He was an object of shame to his friends.
A bird twittered mockingly from a tree nearby. James groaned and closed his eyes. He had never wallowed in a deeper pit of melancholy than the one he was currently drowning in.
If he had thought the incident with the purple flower had been bad, or the incident of putting away the clipboard, he had been a bloody fool. For nothing – nothing – could compare to the torture he had been put through today, and what it had done to his already delicate mental health. In fact, James was impressed he was capable of lying still. At least he could behave safely, for now. It was only a matter of time before he lost all control of body movements too.
The beast in his abdomen laughed darkly, triumphantly. It was slowly gaining control over all of James’ bodily functions. It was winning.
Hormones had already annihilated the voice of logic in James’ poor brain. They had assassinated all reason, confidence, and rationality too. All that was left was his conscious, and even that was fighting a losing battle. Soon that would be gone too, and James wouldn’t even feel the shame.
It took everything he had to stay still, in the cool grass, letting the sun’s rays assault his face, and not allow that beast to take control. Because nothing, no distractions, no reliefs, no art, no Quidditch, could make it go away. He bent his will on suppressing it.
“I’m hopeless,” he said miserably.
There was clattering noise inside his house, and then the sound of quite a few new voices.
“Whoops, sorry Pete, stepped on your foot there -”
“Remus, my fine fellow, how have you been lately? You look positively spiffing!”
“Now is not the time – Pete, what are you doing?”
“Sirius, shut up!”
“Peter, that is definitely unhealthy.”
“Look – Mrs. Potter!”
“Pete, stop that now!”
Mrs. Potter’s voice rang through the house, and the onslaught of noise abruptly ceased.
“James is . . . well, looking a bit off. He’s outside. Do you think you could try to cheer him up a bit?”
Even with his eyes closed, James could sense three pairs of eyes pop up to catch a glimpse of him through the window. The beast yowled with satisfaction. It was very similar to James – attention was like an addictive drug.
“Sure Mrs. Potter,” he heard Remus say awkwardly, “we’ll, er, do our best.”
A door slammed open, and three pairs of feet marched quickly over to James. He sighed gloomily, and kept his eyes closed.
“Prongs,” Sirius’ curious finger poked his face, “Prongs, you alive?”
James stayed still. He couldn’t bear to look at his perfectly sane, normal, healthy, non-hazardous friends. He was an embarrassment to them all. In fact, he wasn’t sure he could call himself marauder anymore.
“I think he’s dead,” Peter whispered.
Remus’s voice dripped with sarcasm, “Yes, Peter, that’s why he’s still breathing.”
“Prongs,” Sirius prodded him again, “wake up. We need to chat.”
James let out a low, muffled groan.
“James, if you don’t get up, I’m getting Mimzy and telling her you’ve gone ill,” Remus warned, “very ill. And you know she’ll have you magically tied to your bed for a week.”
That was a potent threat. Mimzy, if she even caught the slightest bit of a snuffle from James’ direction, would put him on bed rest until he was the absolute picture of health. It could take weeks, especially considering his current mental condition.
“’M alive,” James mumbled. He opened one eye, and saw three faces swimming hazily above him.
“He’s alive!” Peter repeated ecstatically.
“What’s wrong with you?” Sirius demanded.
Remus frowned, “You look pale. Positively knackered. What’s going on?”
James sighed forlornly, staring up at his three enormously concerned friends. Then he pulled up one side of his mouth in a crooked, sad smile. “I’ve gone mad.”
It took an hour before the rest of the marauders could persuade James to go up to his room, a mug of hot chocolate in his hand, and tell them what happened. When he was finally sitting upright on his bed, staring at all three of his friends, he felt a bit better. Remus was sitting in his desk chair, Peter was lying on the floor, and Sirius was sprawled across the foot of his bed. Everything felt normal.
“Alright,” Remus rubbed his hands together, “what’s got your knickers in a twist?”
Oh sweet irony.
“That’s the bloody problem,” James moaned, nearly spilling his hot chocolate as he banged his head backward against the headboard, “knickers!”
“Er . . .” Remus shot Sirius an alarmed look, “whose knickers? Your own? Because we know a few spells that can help out if they’re actually, er, twisted.”
“No, no,” James waved that off impatiently, “it’s black lace knickers. They’ve taken over my brain.”
Peter snickered, “How’d they get in there? Through your ears?”
“No, you tosser,” James snapped, “not literal knickers! I mean they’re on my mind!”
Sirius raised an eyebrow, “What happened to get black lace knickers on your mind?”
James wasn’t too keen on admitting that he had glimpsed them from beneath Lily Evans’ skirt. After all, she wasn’t the sort of girl who would appreciate creepy pervs gawking at her pants, and if she got wind of any of this, he’d be dead faster than a spider flushed down the toilet. Not only that, but Remus would probably give him the sharpest telling-off he’d ever received.
“Okay,” he began reluctantly, raking a hand through his hair, “I sort of, er, accidentally glimpsed them. On a girl.”
“What girl?” Peter demanded.
James ignored that question, “And ever since, er, I can’t really seem to . . . focus. Or function at all, really. There’s some kind of dragon that sprouted from my large intestine and has been hell bent on my destruction.”
The marauders stared at him.
“And it just keeps getting worse, see?” James continued desperately, “I just . . . I see them in provocative positions. Or like today – merlin’s beard, today was bloody hell. All day. Everywhere.”
“Wait, girls or knickers?”
“Knickers on girls!” James exclaimed.
“Alright,” Remus said dryly, “and how is this unusual? Most girls wear knickers. You’re bound to glimpse them now and again. Why is it driving you mad?”
“Or more importantly, what happened today?” Sirius asked, his eyebrows dancing a suggestive tango across his forehead.
James’ shoulders slumped, “I’ve no idea why it’s driving me mad. And today . . . Padfoot, today brought me the shameful feeling equivalent to losing the Quidditch final and failing my Transfiguration exam. At the same time.”
Sirius gasped, “No!”
James nodded unhappily, “It was torture. Bloody torture.”
“What happened?” Peter breathed.
James couldn’t bear to tell them. Besides, if he did, they would know it was Lily that was driving him batty. And that absolutely couldn’t happen. He trusted them with his life, but this was information of the top-secret personal sort that no one should know.
Remus sighed, “James, you have to tell us. We haven’t the foggiest how to help you.”
He gulped. “It’s bad.”
“Oh come on!” Sirius exclaimed, “it can’t be as bad as when we found out Peter talked to his socks, or when I was chucked by three girls in one day, or when Remus lost it to Georgia Nichols and didn’t tell us for two months!”
Well, Sirius did have a point. But personally, James thought this was worse then all of those incidents. Possibly combined.
Peter looked up at him, his watery eyes curious, “James, you can tell us anything.”
“I know,” he sighed, “okay . . . but, you can’t tell anyone. This is a marauder’s secret.”
They all straightened up a little. A marauder’s secret was something that no one, not mums nor girlfriends nor nosy younger Gryffindors, was allowed to know. This was unbreakable, unchangeable, and practically sacred. James felt a little safer with that label on his sorry tale.
“It all started Wednesday night,” James began reluctantly. He told them about the art project, how it was late, how they had to use very tall ladders to paint the ceiling. When he got to the part about moving the scaffold, with Lily and her skirt above him, he paused a minute.
“And you caught a glimpse of something you weren’t supposed to?” Remus finished, taking pity on his sweating forehead and shaky hands.
“It was terrible!” James cried.
Sirius looked confused, “Really? I would have thought Lily looked nice down there. How incredibly deceptive of her.”
“No, no,” James said hastily, “she looked fine. Quite nice, in fact, but that isn’t the point! The point is that I saw it, and I wasn’t supposed to, and then I nearly had a fit!”
“What kind of fit?” Peter snickered.
James felt the words spewing out of him like vomit, “My knees went shaky and I couldn’t see straight and there was this odd ringing in my ears! My stomach felt like something was growing, or exploding out of it. And then it was huge, and I felt like I was going to either fall over or scream, and Lily asked me what was wrong. And after a few moments it went away – but then all night I was twitchy. Every time she touched it me it was like she was holding a hot iron or something. It burned me!”
Sirius cocked his head, “She’s that bad looking?”
“No!” James said vehemently, “That’s the problem!”
Remus looked distinctly puzzled, “I think you need to explain more.”
“Okay, okay. Well then, the next time we were working together, she sort of stood on a stool and reached to put away a clipboard, and I just glanced up and . . . look, it wasn’t my fault her arse was at eye level! But same thing! I had some sort of fit or something. That hole in my stomach opened up and that monster growled, and I think it wanted something, definitely to do with Lily, but I didn’t know what, and she thought I was mad, and I figured I should be locked up in St. Mungo’s for the rest of my life.”
“And today?” Sirius questioned.
James grimaced, and shook his head. Today was the day that marked his banishment from society. He was so disgusted with himself he could hardly look at his friends. It was appalling. Absolutely unforgivable.
“James,” Sirius said sternly, “we can’t help you unless you suck it up and tell us. We swear we won’t tell anybody.”
“You’ll hate me,” he mumbled sadly.
Remus gave him a sharp expression, “You’re talking to a werewolf, a bloke disowned by his family, and the lowest in our class. I think we can forgive you for whatever you did today.”
“I . . . er, good point,” James rubbed his forehead, “Well, yesterday we got a new assignment, yeah? We’re supposed to do five portraits, using each other for models. So yesterday I drew her, which was no big deal. We went by the creek and she fell asleep and I just kind of drew her face all day. And then we’re supposed to switch off, see, so today was my turn to model.”
“I’d like to take the mickey out of you, but go on,” Sirius gestured politely.
James shot him a dirty look, “I was supposed to sit against a tree, right? That’s how she wanted me to be. And I was supposed to look at the grass directly in front of her. Down, like, I don’t know, I was thinking or something. I just looked there. And about a quarter through, she leaned against the tree across from me and propped the clipboard up on her knees, and she was wearing a skirt, and . . . and it was those same bloody knickers! Right there! She didn’t seem to notice or anything!”
Sirius and Remus raised their eyebrows in unison. James buried his face in his hands, “And I didn’t tell her! I just stared at that patch of grass all day and didn’t say a word! And it was like a six-hour fit, and by the end of it I could hardly breathe or think, let alone talk, and she thinks I’m beyond insane, and that’s it. I can’t face her again. I can’t bear the shame.”
There was a long silence. James didn’t dare look up. He wouldn’t blame his friends if they got up and left. He was the most despicable, creepiest, repulsive teenage boy over to walk the sodding planet.
“That’s a bit low, mate,” Sirius said honestly.
“I know!” James’ exclamation was muffled by his hands.
Remus sounded very stern, “Why didn’t you tell her?”
“Because I couldn’t! I just sort of froze, my mind was completely taken over, and then like, fifteen minutes later, when I came to, it was too late, because then I’d have to admit I’d been seeing it for a while! It was bloody awful!”
“She looks that bad?” Peter said doubtfully.
“NO!” James nearly pulled out his hair from frustration, “can’t you lot understand that I’m losing my mind? I’m going mad! Every time anything like that happens I can’t control myself, my brain goes hazy, I can’t breathe, nothing works! And that dragon isn’t going away! It’s a greedy bastard and it wants me to do bad things.”
“What sort of bad things?” Peter smirked knowingly.
James ignored that question too. “The point is, I’m going mad. I can’t control myself anymore.”
“Well maybe this is just trying to tell you something,” Remus considered, “I mean, you’ve never reacted this way to knickers before. We’ve stolen loads of them, not to mention you’ve actually seen girls wearing them. Hypothetically, this shouldn’t be a problem for you anymore.”
James nodded, “I know, but it is.”
“It’s like being thirteen all over again,” Sirius marveled, “nearly wetting yourself the first time a girl bends over in front of you.”
“Yeah, but different. I know what it is, the mystery is gone. It’s something bigger,” James insisted.
“Hmm,” Remus thought about it, his brown eyes focused intently on James’ curtains, “do you think . . . I mean, I know it’s a bit of a stretch, but do you think it might have anything to do with your lack of a serious girlfriend? Sirius and Peter have them with McManus and Hornsquat, and I’m definitely going somewhere with Marlene. Like we said Tuesday, you’re the only one still alone, mate.”
James leaned back, frowning, “True, but I don’t feel terribly left out or anything. It’s just like . . .I can’t be around Lily without losing my bloody mind.”
“Maybe you fancy her,” Peter suggested.
“No, no, that’s ridiculous,” he waved that idea off absentmindedly, “it’s not like I act like an idiot to impress her or I get jealous when she talks to other blokes. I don’t fancy her. But that dragon in my intestine is quite interested in her knickers.”
“The word ‘lunatic’ comes to mind . . .” Sirius threw him an amused smirk.
James glared at him.
“I think it’s something to do with your being alone, mate,” Remus repeated, “it might be subconscious. Why else would you be going crazy over a pair of knickers?”
James remembered, acutely, the pangs of loneliness that had struck him when he was talking in the meadow with Sirius and Remus. It was possible that Remus was right. After all, his dry, sarcastic, werewolf friend was surprisingly in tune to the feelings of those around him. Not to mention, despite his lack of bountiful experience, he supplied the best relationship advice of all the marauders.
Sirius nodded slowly, “I think Moony has a point. You’ve been alone for forever James. I think this is less hormonal and more about a need for like . . . companionship, or something.”
“And it’s manifesting through a knickers obsession?” James said, disbelieving.
Remus gave him a mischievous smile, “To each his own.”
“So, to fix it, I need to find a girl and spend some quality time with her knickers. Or without them. Is that what you’re saying?”
Even Peter frowned at this one. Sirius shook his head, exasperated, “No, no, you need to find a girlfriend. Someone you fancy, James, not someone who you’ll pretend to fancy for three weeks and then give up.”
“Alright,” he struggled a little with this concept, “I need to find a girl – who I fancy – and have a real relationship.”
The other three marauders looked at each other for approval, and then nodded. “That’s about right.”
“Bloody hell,” he groaned and sprawled, stomach-down, on the bed like Sirius, “what a mess.”
“At least you know,” Sirius pointed out, “It should be easier now.”
It was true. The beast in his large intestine seemed to have withdrawn, eyes closed, with the promise of companionship calming it considerably. James nodded.
Peter rubbed his hands together, “Did you see anything beneath the knickers?”
James, Sirius, and Remus all shot him looks of absolute disgust. He shrank back, “Sorry.”
“Never again,” James said warningly.
Peter squeaked, and nodded rapidly. He always quailed beneath the glares of the other three. In fact, James was surprised he had even dared to bring it up. Tactless as he was, even Peter could occasionally see where the line was drawn.
There was an awkward silence. Then Sirius coughed dramatically.
“I have a question for Moony,” He looked at their slender, brown-haired, bookish friend with a mischievous expression on his face, “what’s going on with Marlene?”
Remus smiled, a devious glint to his eyes, and James was fondly reminded why Sirius and him had included Remus in the first place. He had been bullied in their first year because he was small for his age and quiet, but the kids who picked on him had a funny habit of ending up in the hospital wing a few days later with purple acne or knotted nose hairs. Remus had a naughty streak, heightened by his reckless nature and sarcastic intelligence, which glimmered through his usual weariness whenever he smiled.
“I owled her,” he replied casually, “just the usual, how’s your summer been sort of thing. And she owled me back asking to meet up in Diagon Alley a couple weeks from now.”
“Atta boy!” Sirius chucked a quill at him proudly, “knew we trained you right.”
“We?” Remus said indignantly, “excuse me, I have more experience than either Prongs or Wormtail here.”
“True,” Sirius amended, and grinned, “I knew I trained you right!”
James rolled his eyes, but smiled at Remus. “Did you owl her back?”
“Course,” Remus said breezily, “ it’s been going on for a few days now. She responds quickly.”
“As do you, I’m sure,” Sirius teased, “bet you drop everything to write her back whenever the owl arrives.”
“It’s better than using the letter as a napkin, and then forgetting to respond for three or so weeks,” Remus shot back.
Sirius grinned sheepishly, “I only did that to you one time.”
“I haven’t the faintest idea how you and McManus communicate on a regular basis,” Remus continued, “she writes letters so grammatically complex that it takes you four hours with a couple Latin and French dictionaries to get through them, and you never write at all.”
James laughed, and Sirius looked sulky. “I’ve written her once.”
“Are you counting the note you scrawled your name on and tied to her birthday present, that you bought in Diagon Alley?” Remus asked, a trace of a smirk on his face.
Sirius folded his arms and pouted, “Fine, I know. She’s already sent me a howler for it. I’ll write tomorrow.”
James winced, “A howler?”
“It wasn’t that bad,” Sirius laughed, “she tried to sound angry. She really did. But it just ended up with her begging me to write at least once, and for me tell her the date of the dinner party.”
“Ella’s coming to the dinner party?” Peter asked, shocked.
“Er, yeah,” Sirius glanced at James, “that alright?”
James snorted, “Have you met my mum? The more the merrier. McKinnon can come too if you want, Remus.”
Remus’ eyes brightened a little bit, “I’ll ask her.”
The Marauder rendezvous was interrupted by a knock at the door. Mrs. Potter stuck her nose in, “Dinnertime, boys. James, you feeling better?”
“Yeah Mum,” James stretched, “you don’t have to call St. Mungo’s after all.”
His mum pretended to look highly relieved, “Well thank goodness for that. Now come on, help your friends move in to their rooms. Mimzy’s made a roast.”
“Got it,” he waved her off.
They stood, and James felt triumphant when the beast remained curled deep down inside him. He was safe, it seemed, from being possessed by some monstrous manifestation of teenage boy hormones.
Well, safe for the time being.
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