Chapter 37 : Imposter
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“Prongs, get up.”
“Prongs, you’ve got to eat something.”
“Not hungry. Go away.”
“Fuck it all.”
The curtains around my bed flew open and Sirius, Remus, and Peter stood at the end of my bed staring at me. I lay flat on my back staring at the ceiling and lifted my head slightly to see them.
“Oh, hello,” I said miserably, letting my head fall back onto my pillow.
“Are you going to move today?” Remus asked me in a stern voice.
“Went to class, didn’t I?” I said listlessly, shrugging.
“You’re pathetic,” Sirius shook his head sadly at me.
“Leave me alone, will you?” I sat up quickly, meaning to shut the curtains but Sirius grabbed my arm and pulled me towards the end of the bed.
“Lemme go,” I hissed angrily, trying to wrench my arm from his grip but he was surprisingly stronger than me. Of course, I had done nothing but mope about for the past week so that was to be expected, I guess.
“Look,” Sirius said sharply, his grip only tightening with my struggle. “We get it. You fucked up. Nothing all that surprising, really. I mean, it just wouldn’t be you if you didn’t somehow screw it up with Evans.”
“Oy, thanks a lot, you bloody wanker,” I hissed, finally succeeding in wrenching my arm from his grip.
“But this… now,” Sirius nodded to my untidy hair (well, more untidy than usual), my wrinkled clothes, the stack of unfinished homework on my trunk. “Giving up… letting her get away. That’s not you.”
“I tried,” I began feebly but Peter cut me off this time.
“You didn’t try hard enough,” he said sharply and I was slightly surprised at the conviction in his voice. He wasn’t normally this assertive.
“Look, we talked to Lily,” Sirius sat on the end of my bed, his voice softening slightly. “Yeah, she’s upset… but, she’ll get over it. She just needs time.”
“How much time?” I mumbled hopelessly.
“I dunno,” Sirius answered honestly. “But deep down I don’t think she’s given up either. She’s hurt, but… she still loves you.”
I let out a derisive laugh.
“Loves me?” I repeated hollowly. “She can’t even talk to me, can’t even look at me. She hates me.”
“Nah, she doesn’t,” Sirius shrugged it off.
“James,” Remus said sitting down next to Sirius. “We’ve spent quite a lot of time with Lily this year. We know very well what you’re dealing with and—and how she feels about you. You’ll just have to trust us on this one.”
I didn’t respond, but just stared at my hands in my lap.
I felt Sirius clap a hand on my shoulder. “We’re not giving up you on you, Prongs. So don’t you go giving up on yourself either.”
* * * *
“Any luck?” I asked miserably, idly nursing the bottle of straight firewhiskey I had been clutching all night.
“Luck?” Remus repeated, squinting at me as we wandered to a secluded corner of the busy room. “No, not luck. Progress though, yes.”
“Progress,” I muttered, wrinkling my nose. I was in no mood for a party tonight. I had no idea why they’d dragged me here in the first place. She was here… looking perfect, of course, and reminding me of what a complete fuck-up I was. I couldn’t even enjoy the fact that somehow this party had gone off without a hitch so far.
“Well, she didn’t curse when I mentioned your name this time,” Remus shrugged and I wondered how he could be so damn positive all the time.
“Not the kind of progress I was hoping for,” I muttered, taking another long drink from my bottle.
“Give it time, Prongs,” Remus assured me in a steady voice. “She’ll come around.”
I was about to argue that point when two people knocked into me.
“Sorry, Prongs!” Peter squeaked, clutching a very drunk Scarlet St. Clair. “I found her hiding behind a couch upstairs… figured I’d better return her to Sirius.”
Remus chuckled and caught Scarlet as she tripped and slipped from Peter’s hold.
“This is a great party,” Scarlet giggled, righting herself with the help of Remus. “Where’s Sirius?”
I was about to answer but froze as a loud knocking sounded on the front door.
Remus met my eyes and I knew we were both thinking the same thing. We were busted.
The knocking sounded again and everyone in the room seemed to be frozen, all of our eyes trained on the door.
“We have to get out of here,” I heard Sirius say loudly from somewhere in the room and in a matter of seconds it was chaos.
Lights flashed through the windows of the abandoned tea shop and I looked around sharply, the crowd of people rushing around me jostling me this way and that.
Where was she?
“What about Anna?” I heard Lily’s panicked voice call to someone across the room and saw Sirius making his way towards her through the crowd.
“She can apparate, she’ll be fine,” Sirius assured her exasperatedly. “Lily, you have to go!”
Lily glanced around the room again and paused when she caught my eye. It was the first time she’d looked at me since she found the list. That damn list. What I wanted more than anything in that moment was to go to her, to leave with her… Merlin, just to talk to her.
“For the love of Merlin, Lily, go!” Sirius yelled at her and she looked away quickly. Someone knocked into me and in the moment it took me to regain my balance, I lost her.
You lost her a long time ago, my miserable brain reminded me.
Looking wildly around, I spotted her just as she threw her arms around Sirius and with a tiny pop! They were gone.
I needed to get out of here.
I looked around and saw Remus struggling to hold onto Scarlet St. Clair who was clearly plastered out of her mind.
“You’ll be alright, Pete?” Remus asked Peter who was hanging onto Scarlet’s other side.
“I’ll be fine,” Peter said quickly, draping Scarlet’s other arm around Remus. “Go on, then.”
With another tiny pop! Scarlet and Remus had disappeared as well.
“Pete!” I called across the crowd and shoved through several people to get to him. “Give me your arm.”
I hooked my arm through Peter’s and turned on the spot quickly, feeling myself squeeze into nothingness.
Peter and I landed dizzying thump inside the Shrieking Shack. Thank Merlin I had remembered to schedule an apparition test the previous week.
“Go on,” I urged Peter as we ran down the stairs to where we knew the secret passageway to the Whomping Willow was concealed under the floorboards. “I’ll meet you on the other side.”
Peter nodded and closed his eyes, his face twisting with effort as he shrank away from me, melting towards the floor until there was nothing but a small gray rat in his place.
With a tiny squeak, Peter took off down the tunnel that led to the Whomping Willow. I followed him at a slower pace, taking great care not to knock my head on the low ceiling of the path. I wasn’t used to traveling this path. It was usually Sirius and Peter who fetched Remus from the Shack when he transformed. Antlers were just not a good idea in a tunnel full of cobwebs. The first (and only) time I’d ever tried to fit in the tunnel as a stag I’d nearly had a heart attack when I woke up the next morning covered in dead spiders and bits of cobwebs.
I hurried forward through the tunnel, my mind quickly moving from our monthly adventures to tonight’s. I hoped Lily and Sirius made it back all right. What would happen if she were caught? What would happen if any of us were caught? Would we get ratted out? We could get expelled. Lily would probably die if she got expelled. And she would most certainly never forgive me. Not that I was doing very well as it was.
I reached the end of the tunnel and made sure the branches were frozen above me before crawling out into the cool spring air.
“Prongs!” A voice hissed at me through the darkness, but it wasn’t Peter’s voice like I expected.
“Padfoot, what are you doing here? Where’s Lily?” I asked frantically as Sirius made his way up the steep hill towards me, panting slightly from the climb.
“I—I dunno,” Sirius gasped, clutching a stitch in his side as sank down onto the grass next to me. “She apparated us to the train station, but the passageway from there was… not an option. So we took off into the forest. She was with me one second and then… sh-she wasn’t. I transformed, thought I’d be able to hear her better. But I couldn’t h-hear anything. She’s a quiet runner, that one. Or maybe she wasn’t running at all…”
“Sirius,” I scrambled to my feet. “Do you mean to tell me she’s still in the forest?”
“I tried, mate,” Sirius said earnestly and I believed him. “But your ears are better in the forest than mine. We’ll go back in. We’ll find her. It’ll be much easier with two of us.”
“C’mon,” I said grabbing his arm as we ran back down the hill towards the forest. A shiver ran through my spine as I began to envision myself as the stag. I felt my heartbeat quicken as my legs began to tremble and change. I lurched forward, momentarily overcome by the urge to be sick but it was gone as quickly as it came and I landed on all fours, my hoofs digging into the ground to stop myself falling even more.
Beside me, the shaggy black dog that was my constant companion in this form whined. Padfoot pointed his nose towards the left side of the forest, indicating he would start there and so I took off towards the right weaving through the trees and bushes. I could see the owlery ahead of me through the trees and turned left, heading deeper into the woods.
She had to be here. Somewhere. I would find her.
I slowed down to a walk and let my ears do the work, sorting through the abundance of new noises I could hear through these ears until I found something promising.
A whisper. Sirius’s name.
I turned myself in the direction of the voice but approached it cautiously in case I’d heard wrong.
“Lily?” I heard another voice say, clearer this time. I was getting close. There was something oddly familiar about that second voice.
“James,” I heard Lily’s voice (for I knew for certain it was her now) choke out and I stopped in my tracks. She was still on the other side of some bushes. There was no way she could see me… But there was still another person there with her. I could hear them. Had she mistaken them for me?
“What are you doing here?” She asked quietly and I could hear footsteps.
I closed my eyes and willed myself to become human again. As soon as I could feel my hands again I gripped the closest tree to stop myself from lurching forward. The sick feeling was gone before I opened my eyes and straightened up.
I peered around the tree to see whom Lily was talking to and the sick feeling returned with a vengeance.
She was talking to me. Well, not me exactly. Not where I stood, at least. Her back was to me, and standing directly in front of her stood… it couldn’t be me though. I was right here. So who was that?
“It’s your fault, you know,” The imposter James said after a moment of staring at Lily. “Not Sirius’s, not that Well’s… not mine.”
I frowned, completely lost. This… this imposter me… what was he talking about? What Well? I glanced around the clearing and noticed for the first time the structure behind Lily and—oh hell—me. I had seen that Well before… only a few times during out monthly adventures but I’d never thought anything of it. Until now, that is.
“W-what are you talking about?” Lily asked in a hollow voice. She stood stock still, her eyes locked on the imposter. I moved quietly around the tree, positioning myself so that I could see her face. She was pale as snow, her eyes wide as she continued to stare at the imposter.
“Everything that’s happened,” he scoffed, his mouth pulling up into a deranged smile. “It’s because of you.”
He sounded just like me… he looked exactly like me. But that was impossible… unless someone had gotten a hold of some polyjuice potion. And then what would be the point? Why now? Why here? And why couldn’t Lily see that this was clearly not me?
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Lily said quietly, her mouth pulling down at the corners uncomfortably.
I was about to make myself known, to step out of the bushes and put an end to this when the imposter James spoke again and made me stop in my tracks.
“Do you know why I started dating Celia?” he said casually as though this conversation was taking place in the common room instead of the Forbidden Forest.
“No, I don’t,” Lily said after a quiet moment. I tried to understand the expression on her face. It was… haunting. She looked like she was inside a nightmare, the way she stared at the other me.
“Because of you,” the other James said, sending her a wry smile. What was wrong with this person? How would they know anything about why I started dating Celia? And why were they discussing it with Lily?
“Me?” Lily asked in a small voice. She blinked and I knew we were both thinking of that night all those weeks ago when she’d told me that Celia was just like her.
“It’s not because of the reasons you think,” the imposter said, fixing her with a condescending look. “Oh, of course I liked you. Very much. But the problem was you knew it. You knew it and didn’t believe it and you didn’t care. And so I found Celia.”
What the bloody hell was going on? Who was this person?
“You can’t possibly blame me for not responding to your immature proposals,” Lily said breathlessly, obviously incensed by this intruder’s entirely wrong assumption.
The intruder only smiled. An eerie, haughty smile that I hoped I had never in my life worn before.
And yet still Lily did not realize that this was not me.
“Celia was there. She liked me. And she was… different.”
“Different?” Lily echoed and there was a new edge to her voice, an edge I didn’t quite understand. It sounded almost like… acceptance. “Different than what?”
“You,” the imposter said and Lily looked almost as though she had expected it. But why… “See, once I got to know you… well, you’re not really what I expected, I guess.”
Lily closed her eyes, her jaw clenching as the words hung in the air. She… she was acting as those what this intruder was saying made sense to her. But it couldn’t… It couldn’t make sense. It didn’t make sense.
“What did you expect?” Lily opened her eyes and I was horrified to see tears welling up in them. She was… resigned. Resigned to having this conversation. It’s as if she already knew what the other me was going to say and was accepting it as fact.
“I dunno…” the intruder said, looking down at the Well as he brushed his hand over the stones. “I guess I didn’t expect you to be so serious about everything. School, being a prefect… you take it all so seriously. You’re smart and that’s one of the reasons I liked you to begin with but you can be really… intense about it sometimes, and kind of a know-it-all.”
I clenched my jaw, my hands balling into fists at my side at his words. There was something vaguely familiar about those words. Not just that I’d used some one them on the bloody list… something before that. Something… my eyes widened as it hit me. Of course.
Alex Winchester… Sirius had told me at the beginning of the year what he’d said to her. That she was too smart, not pretty enough, too intense…
So why was I saying it to her now? Of all the things for her to hear, from me of all people, this would have to be the worst…. The absolute—
I froze, my heart beating rapidly in my chest as everything clicked into place. Another me. Another me saying what Lily feared the most, saying what Alex had said to her when he broke her heart… But this wasn’t the work of Polyjuice Potion. No, this was something worse…
“I’m sorry,” the intruder said slowly snapping me out of my revelation, and I thought I’d never heard any words less genuine. He didn’t look sorry at all. A sick feeling swelled up inside me as it really hit me that this was what Alex had actually said to her when they broke up. But… wait. If this was their conversation, would I finally learn what Lily had always been too reluctant to tell me? “She was there and she was interested, and you just never seemed to be interested.”
“So it’s my fault then?” Lily said quietly, a tear sliding down her pale cheek.
It was all too much. It was too much, watching her accept all of this as her fault.
I slipped my wand quietly out of my pocket taking a very quiet step closer to the edge of the clearing.
“I’m sorry,” the imposter said again, dropping his eyes. “It wasn’t working out anyways, whether I slept with her or not. I am really sorry it had to end like this though…”
The silence was profound as his words hung in the air. There it was.
The thing Lily hadn’t been able to tell me… the real reason she’d been so upset, why she’d asked me to clarify that I’d been the one to be cheated on, not the cheater, the reason it had taken her so long to move on, the reason…
Bloody hell, that fucking bastard cheated on her.
And with that I stepped out into the clearing and aimed my wand at that son of a bitch.
“James?” Lily’s breath caught in her throat as she whirled around to see me standing there, pointing my wand at what looked like myself.
The other James’s eyes shifted to mine and with a crack! It had disappeared. Lily blinked, staring at the spot where the other me had just stood, but I already knew what that vile creature was and knew what to look for…
And so I spotted her, not ten feet from where I had just stood. I expected the form it took, but that didn’t mean I was any more prepared for it. I couldn’t suppress the sick feeling that welled up inside me at seeing her legs were bent so unnaturally, her hair splayed out around her lifeless face, green eyes staring, unseeing, up at the sky.
The thing I feared the most.
The burning behind my eyes at the sight of her like that, the thought of losing her for good… I almost lost it right then and there. But I had to finish this.
“Riddikulus!” I shouted, thrusting my wand towards that wretched creature with as much force as I could muster.
A horrendous shriek issued from the boggart’s mouth, and the real Lily covered her ears as she wheeled around towards the sound, realization breaking through her face as she saw the creature explode into a million black pieces that disappeared like smoke when they hit the ground. My breath hitched in my throat, my heart beating wildly in my chest as I kept my wand trained on the spot where the boggart had disappeared.
It wasn’t real, I thought bracingly to myself. What you just saw was not real. And somewhere in the back of my mind, a tiny spark of hope was reignited. What I had just seen… that was losing Lily. And while she was still here, alive, I hadn’t really lost, had I?
I let my breath out slowly, banishing from my mind what I’d just seen and making myself focus on what was actually in front of me.
Lily was staring at the place where the boggart had disappeared, her mouth open slightly and that single tear still clinging to her cheek. She let out a very slow breath and I could see the gears turning in her head, sorting out what had just happened and the fact that that thing saying all those things to her had in fact not been me, realizing that she had in fact just witnessed her greatest fear.
“Lily?” I said quietly, lowering my wand and taking a tentative step towards her.
Her eyes shifted unsteadily towards me and locked with mine for just a fraction of a second before they slid out of focus and she collapsed to the ground.
A/N: Sooooo here's your explanation (kind of)! Sorry this chapter was a bit shorter... the next one will be nice and long again.
So what do you think will happen when Lily regains consciousness? Will she finally forgive him or will it just add fuel to the fire?
Ok that's all I can come up with now. I'd love to hear what you think! All your feedback has been amazing and helpful and wonderful and I'm so grateful to all of you for bearing with me through this story!
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