Chapter 10 : Chapter Ten
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“-WILL BE THE LAST THING YE’LL EVER GIT!”
Startled, James sprang into a sitting position and looked about the room. “What?” he asked groggily, lifting a hand to his head. He squinted at the door. Where had his glasses gone? “What’s going on?”
“GIT UP, YE LAZY SLOB!”
James tried not to groan. Moody. Of course. With a roll of his eyes, he flopped back down on the straw mattress. “Give me five more minutes,” he mumbled as he screwed his eyes shut and focussed on the sandy shores of sleep rather than the loud and obnoxious voice blasting in his ears like a foghorn.
“YE DON GIT FIVE MORE MINUTES!” shouted Moody. “Ye were suppose ter be up with ter sun! Tis Sunday, after all!”
“Sunday?” James repeated, frowning, a deep furrow creasing is brow.
“Tha’s what I said, innit?”
He cracked a hazel eye open and stared at Moody .”But Sunday’s my day off.”
Moody opened his mouth to argue - and then promptly closed it, realising that he was, in fact, mistaken. “Oh,” was all he said.
James tried not to be too smug as he settled back on his bed, making himself as comfortable as possible. “Apology accepted,” he yawned as he pressed his cheek into the scratchy fabric of his flour sack pillow case. “You can go now,” James added when he didn’t hear Moody shuffle out of the room.
The older man grumbled something about arrogant youth before marching out of the room, taking care to slam the door as loudly as possible. Though the noise echoed in his ears for several minutes after Moody’s departure, James was asleep within seconds, indescribably glad he didn’t have to muck out the stables that morning.
When Mary entered the princess’ chambers, she expected to find the redhead sprawled across her bed, snoring loudly and drooling profusely. However, she was very surprised to see that Princess Lily was sitting at her vanity, already dressed and running a brush through her hair.
Lily jumped at the sound of Mary’s voice, adjusting her gaze in the mirror so she was looking at the young woman instead of her own reflection. “Mary!” she said around the lump in her throat. “What are you doing here?”
Mary frowned as she approached. “My job, Princess. Why are you dressed?”
“I couldn’t sleep,” Lily admitted, lowering her eyes to her hands. “So I went for a walk in the gardens. I got mud all over the hem of my dress.” She indicated the stain - or stains, rather. There was mud splattered all the way up the skirt and even a little bit on the bodice.
“Did you fall into a mud pit?” Mary asked, making the princess chuckle.
“No, but I did trip.” She held out her left hand, the palm was red with irritation.
Mary stepped forwards, her own delicate hands cupping Lily’s extended one. “This doesn’t look very good, my lady.” Gently, she applied pressure to Lily’s palm, and the girl winced. It was then that Mary decided her course of action. “I’m going to call the court physician.”
Lily ripped her hand away. “But Mary!”
“No buts, Princess,” Mary said, sounding very patronizing. “It is my duty as your maid to make sure that you are perfectly healthy and that?” She nodded towards Lily’s hand. “That does not look good.”
Lily cradled her hand against her chest. “You’re acting like it’s going to be amputated or something,” she laughed nervously.
“If I don’t call Dumbledore and have him take a look, it might be!”
The colour drained away from the princess’ face, though not for the reason Mary thought it had. She wasn’t pale because she was intimidated by Mary’s threats, not in the slightest. It was the idea of facing Dumbledore, the wizard who seemed to know everything about everyone, that was causing her to blanched. It was her only hope that this Dumbledore was nothing like the Dumbledore she was accustomed to, otherwise he would see through her façade instantly.
“Now,” Mary continued, putting her hands on her hips and staring down her nose at Lily, reminding her very much of the Mary from her universe. “Why don’t you go and wash your face? You’ve got mud all over your neck, and I highly doubt you wish to reek of mud when Dumbledore drops in you. Besides, it’s hardly sanitary.”
“Yes, Mum,” answered Lily, pulling a face.
Mary rolled her eyes. “One of these days…”
“What? You’ll wallop me?” Lily teased, sticking her tongue out.
“No, of course not, my lady,” replied Mary. A smile worked its way onto her lips. “I’m simply mean to say that you should be weary of me.”
Lily gave a salute. “I shall try my best.” She sprang up from her chair until she was standing eye to eye with her maid. “And for the last time, no more of this ‘my lady’ or ‘princess’ or ‘your highness’ stuff. I’m your friend, Mary; call me Lily.” With a smile, she patted a stunned Mary on the shoulder and drifted over towards the wash basin in the corner.
Mary stayed rooted in her spot for several moments, her astonishment serving as a temporary paralysis. The princess had always been cordial with her - they even joked with one another - but never had the princess ever made such an outlandish request. It wasn’t proper for a servant to call their mistress by her birth name; she was always to address her by her title. The princess herself had put severe emphasis on it. But now…
She shook her head, unbelievably confused and even more suspicious than she had been before. Something wasn’t right here. There was something going on. But what it was, Mary didn’t know. With a sigh, she peeled her feet from the floor and moved towards the door. Before she exited, she called out, “Don’t forget about the feast tonight, Princess!”
As a string of loud and vehement curses met her ears, Mary couldn’t help but smile, though there was something off-kilter about it.
Remus was mad with panic. He couldn’t find James, and he needed James more than he needed oxygen. Which, at the moment, probably wasn’t true considering he was going into shock and could hardly breathe. But he couldn’t stop his frantic sprint through the servants’ quarters. He needed to find James. And he needed to find him now.
Wildly tearing around the corner, Remus didn’t expect to barrel into anyone so early on a Sunday morning, but that’s precisely what he did. He managed to keep his balance, though his poor victim hadn’t. For a moment, he contemplated not stopping, but then his manners kicked in and his mother’s voice started chiding him in his head.
“I am so sorry - Mary!” The last word was heaped with surprise; she was the last person he expected to see in this part of the castle, especially when there was another feast to ready the princess for. “What are you doing down here?” he asked as he held out a hand.
Mary wrapped her fingers around his wrist and allowed him to haul her to her feet. She swiped at the dusk on her skirt. “I was on my way to fetch Dumbledore -”
Sudden worry for the princess’ well being flooded through him. “Is she all right? Is she ill?” He looked down at his hand with a grimace. “Is it contagious?”
“No, it’s not contagious because she’s not ill,” Mary said with a roll of her eyes. “The princess took a walk this morning and apparently, she tripped over a rock and skinned up the palm of her hand.”
Remus pinned her with a curious look. “Is that a hint of doubt I detect in your voice?”
Mary chewed the inside of her cheek nervously. “I’m not - I’m not saying that I don’t believe her, but -”
“You don’t believe her,” Remus said with a sage nod.
“Exactly.” Mary sighed miserably. “And I hate feeling like this, but there’s…I have this feeling in my gut, Remus, that’s telling me something’s not right. There’s something…off about her. Almost like -”
“She’s not the same person you once knew,” finished Remus.
“Well…yes, that’s precisely it.” She furrowed her brow, staring thoughtfully at the young man in front of her. “How do you know all of this? Did you develop the sudden ability to read minds?”
Remus chuckled. “No, I wish I had, but that’s not the case.” He passed a hand over his sandy blonde hair and said, “I’m getting the same feeling from James. And I know I’m not supposed to say this, but -” He looked over both of his shoulders to make sure there were no passing servants moving towards them. “I think there’s something going on between them.”
“Who?” Mary whispered.
“James and Princess Lily,” answered Remus, mimicking the level of her voice.
“What on earth gave you that idea?”
Sighing, Remus launched into a hurried explanation of all the evidence he and Sirius had complied against James. “For starters, James has been mucking out stables since he was seven years old yet he has fresh blisters on his hands as though it was the first time he’d ever done it.”
“I don’t see how his lack of blisters has anything to do with the princess.”
“Just a few days ago, James caught a ride back to the castle in the princess’ carriage. According to Sirius, the pair of them were standing on the side of the road, covered in dust and with bits of debris in their hair, and they kept asking weird questions - they even teased each other. Sirius thinks that it’s because they were doing drugs, but I think -”
“That they’re involved. That the peculiar questions were a smoke screen for their illicit activities,” Mary said, struggling to keep the eagerness out of her voice.
“Exactly!” Remus exclaimed.
Mary pondered the revelation for a moment. “It does make sense. It certainly explains the princess’ sudden shift in behaviour.”
“And nothing against the princess,” Remus began, “but this wouldn’t exactly be the first time she was involved with a servant.”
“Or James getting himself involved with someone above his station,” Mary pointed out. Though most of the pieces fit together, there was still one thing that irked her about the entire situation. She voiced her concern to Remus, who nodded.
“It’s the blisters, right?” He rubbed his jaw, frowning down at the floor. “Yeah, that’s been nagging at me as well. Sirius has brushed it off to Dumbledore giving him an ointment to help with the dryness, but I’m having difficulty believing that.”
“I could ask him?” Mary suggested, jerking her thumb over her shoulder. “I’m on my way there right now. It would only be logical.” And she needed to satisfy her curiosity once and for all. While she might’ve enjoyed the shift in the princess’ behaviour, if she was, in fact, involved with James, that’d only spell trouble for the both of them, especially since Lily was due to be married within the month.
“That would be great,” Remus said. He patted her on the shoulder. “Listen, it’s been great talking to you, but I have to find James. The event coordinator was so impressed by his juggling and showmanship, he wants James to do an encore performance tonight at the feast. Meet me backstage after the feast is underway?”
Mary nodded. “Of course. I just hope we get the answers we’re looking for.”
“So do I.”
With that, they went on their separate ways, Remus resuming his sprint down the narrow corridors and Mary in search of some answers.
By the time Dumbledore had finished delivering medication to all of his patients in town, it was nearly nightfall. The feast would be starting in just under an hour and he had yet to visit Lily’s chambers to inspect her hand.
“I’m fine,” Lily insisted as Mary laced up the back of her teal dress. Each word was punctured by a wince as Mary drew the strings tighter and tighter. “Really, I am. The cut has begun to heal, and there’s no sign of infection.”
“True as that may be, Prince-I mean, Lily,” Mary said, tripping over her own tongue as she tugged tightly on the laces, causing Lily to gasp in surprise. “I’d still feel comfortable if you let him look at your hand. It might look fine for the moment, but one can never be too certain.”
Lily would’ve sighed in acquiescent if she had been capable of sighing, but her dress was so tight she could hardly breathe. However, she knew it was no use complaining, so she settled on nodding her head. “Okay, fine, but if he says there’s nothing wrong, then you have to promise me you’ll stop fussing.”
“I promise, Princess,” Mary said, before quickly tacking on, “Lily.”
The girl in question gave a shrug. “I suppose it’s a start.” Then her lips split into such a wide and friendly grin that Mary felt her cheeks warming, mostly out of embarrassment for her suspicion of the princess. As curious as her behaviour was, Mary had to admit it was quite the improvement, but she had promised Remus she’d get some answers - or try to, at least. There was no guarantee that Dumbledore would know anything.
As if on cue, there was a knock on the door, causing Lily to instinctively call out, “Come in!”
Mary sent her a shocked look that she missed and one of the guards poked his head in to the room, a hand shielding his eyes in case the princess was in an improper state of dress. Others had been imprisoned for less. “Um, Princess Lily, the physician is here to see you. Should I send him away or -”
“Let him in,” Mary said before Lily could deny him entrance into the room. She might’ve been different, but Mary knew better than to take Lily’s promises with little more than a grain of salt. She was, first and foremost, a political figure, and you could never trust them, not fully.
Lily had been expecting a carbon copy of the Dumbledore from her universe, and that was exactly she was received. His hair was long and white, just like his beard, and his half-moon glasses were perched precariously on the bridge of his crooked nose. The smile was the same: friendly and welcoming. They brought about a sense of comfort she hadn’t felt before. But it was his kind blues eyes - keen and alight with such vibrancy - that struck a chord in Lily and made her realize just how much she missed home, how much she missed Hogwarts and her own friends.
“Ah, hello, Princess Lily,” Dumbledore greeted, tipping his head as he set a wicker basket full of what she presumed to be supplies down on the table next to the door. “As pleasant as it is to see you, it seems we always meet under unfortunate circumstances. Mary tells me that you injured your hand.”
It took Lily several moments to regain her composure, so overwhelmed as she was by the onslaught of emotions attacking her. She took a deep (well, as deep as she could in the constricting dress), steadying breath in an attempt to quell her emotions. “Y-yes, but it’s all healed now,” Lily said, her voice shaking. “There’s nothing to worry about.”
“Usually I would be inclined to agree, but as you are the princess and in my charge, I think it is best that I inspect it anyway.” He smiled as he approached Lily, a slight limp to his step. She hadn’t remember Dumbledore limping along, but there were subtle differences in everyone she knew in this world. “Your hand, my dear.”
Lily held out her injured hand, surprised at how gently Dumbledore took it within his grasp. As he turned it over and ran his fingertips over the wound, he maintained a constant stream of conversation. “That is quite a pretty gown, Princess. The colour is very flattering with your complexion - it brings out the smattering of freckles on your cheeks and highlights your eyes.”
“Erm, thank you,” she said as the old man dropped her hand.
“Oh, you are most welcome, Princess. Now, if you will, please step towards me.”
“Of course,” Lily said, bridging the gap between them.
Suddenly, Dumbledore’s hands were grasping her face and he was staring intently into her eyes. “Open your mouth, please.” Shuffling her weight awkwardly, Lily did as she was told and opened her mouth. Dumbledore produced a tongue depressor out of what seemed like nowhere and applied it to her tongue. “Well, I don’t see any discolouration in your mouth and your tongue isn’t swollen, which means you haven’t been poisoned.”
Lily’s eyes widened. “Ah vas at wisk bor boisoning?” she asked thickly, her tongue still stuck to the bottom of her mouth by the depressor.
“No, but I though it best to check anyway.” Dumbledore smiled, released her face, and took a step back. “You can never be too careful, can you, Princess?”
She started, unable to ignore the slight accusatory undertone in his voice. Perhaps it was her imagination running away with her, but he was looking at her as though he knew her secret, like he was entirely aware she was an impostor. Lily quickly averted her gaze to her hands and shook her head. “No, I don’t suppose you can be.”
“What about her hand, Albus?” Mary asked, speaking for the first time since Dumbledore had shown up. “Is it infected?”
“As of right now? No,” he dispelled with a shake of his head. “It’s perfectly fine, but I would like it very much if you took a potion to stave off any potential infection, Princess. Just as a precaution.”
“Of course, Pro-Physician Dumbledore,” Lily said, tripping over her own tongue. “Just say how much and when, and I’ll take it.”
Dumbledore smiled at her and shuffled over to his basket, extracting two small vials of bright blue potion. “Take one mouthful twice a day - once before breakfast and once right after dinner - for the next three days and you should be fine.” He held out the vials for her to take.
They clinked together as her hand closed around them. “Thank you.”
“You are very welcome, Princess.” He made his way back towards the door, scooping up his basket and slipping it onto his wrist. “Now I believe you have a feast to finish getting ready for, so I shall be on my way.”
“It was nice to see you again,” Lily said.
“You as well, Princess.” Dumbledore opened the door and turned, not to look at Lily, but rather at Mary. “Make sure she takes the potion, Mary. It’s the only way we’ll be able to tell if something is wrong or not.”
Lily noticed something peculiar about the look the two shared, but she said nothing of it as Dumbledore ducked out of the room. She turned to Mary, smiling winningly. “See, I told you there was nothing to worry about.”
“Maybe or maybe not,” Mary replied loftily. “Only time will tell.”
It took all of three seconds for James to decide that he looked like an idiot. He shook his head as he surveyed his reflection, wondering how anyone had convinced him to wear such a ridiculous costume. But then he remembered that the entertainment coordinator had threatened to get him expelled from the castle if he didn’t participate.
“Arse,” he grumbled at his reflection as he lifted a hand to try and muss up his hair. He wasn’t quite sure how they had done it, but somehow, some mystical way, they had managed to tame his hair so it was lying completely flat on his head. The multicoloured costume was bad enough, but with his hair plastered to his head, he looked absolutely ridiculous.
Over his shoulder, Remus chuckled. “Still complaining about your costume?”
“It’s my hair,” James moaned miserably, trying as best as he could to free his restrained locks. “It’s not supposed to look like this. So…flat and devoid of life.”
Sirius, who was sitting on a crate next to Remus, rolled his eyes. “It’s only hair, James, not your life.”
Disgusted, James broke his gaze away from his reflection to stare incredulously at his friend. All of the colour had left his face. “You used to fuss over your hair all of the time. And now you’re ridiculing me?” James shook his head. “It’s like I don’t even know you anymore.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Sirius sniffed.
“He’s right, you know,” Remus pointed out. “You were all about your hair. You wouldn’t leave your room without making sure every strand was perfectly in place. Remember how long it’d take him to get ready to go to the pub, Prongs?”
“I’ve tried to block it out,” James admitted, turning back to the mirror to fuss over his hair. “But the memories always come back.” He gave an exaggerated shudder, which elicited laughter from Remus and a growl from Sirius. James chuckled. “Don’t get so offended, Padfoot. I’m merely -”
He didn’t get a chance to finish his sentence as the kitchen door banged open and the entertainment coordinator came bustling in. She was a tall woman wearing an acid green dress with a pinched face and thick, curly blonde hair. James thought she looked familiar, but he couldn’t quite place a name to her face.
“Oh good, you’re ready,” she said, her tone clipped, quite unlike her nails, which resembled talons. “I thought I was going to come back here and see you all unprepared.”
“I guess you’re just not used to working with professionals,” James commented before he could stop himself.
The look on the woman’s face was anything but amused. “Well, if you’re claiming to be professionals, if I see one mistake made out there tonight, I won’t hesitate to have you thrown out of the castle. Is that in any way unclear?”
“No, ma’am,” Remus blurted.
“If it were any clearer, it’d be crystal,” chimed James, earning a poorly concealed chuckle from Sirius.
“Wonderful,” purred the woman, eyeing James with contempt. “Now get out there and do what you’re getting paid to do.”
“We’re not getting paid,” Remus said, frowning.
“Oh, but I am.” She smiled lecherously at them. “Now go before I have to push you out there myself.” Each sharing a glance with the other, the three young men made for the exit, but the woman held out her hand when Sirius tried to cross the threshold. “Not you. Princess Petunia would like a word with you.”
Grumbling under his breath, Sirius ducked around the woman’s skirts and disappeared, his soft padded footsteps the only sound in the corridor. They followed in his wake, though their gait was much slower, Remus’ steps full of dread.
“Good luck, boys, and make me some money,” the coordinator said, leaning against one of the posts and folding her arms over her chest.
Rolling his eyes, James placed a hand on his friend’s shoulder and pushed the thick red curtain aside with the other. Their appearance was met with a loud chorus of applause. It surprised James - and it terrified Remus. He leaned towards Remus. “Don’t worry, mate, everything’s going to be fine.”
Remus nodded slowly, taking a step away from James, who spread his arms out wide and began to say, “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to -”
He didn’t finish his sentence as a deafening crack resounded through the vast dining hall, causing a torrential downpour of dust and debris. At first, no one seemed to understand what was going on, at least not until the first folly of arrows sailed into the hall, hitting walls and pillars and people alike.
That was when the shrieking and panicking began
That was when it became clear.
The castle was under attack.
A/N: DUN DUN DUN!
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by Eavan Shea