The Reality of Card Games by kablamo
James no longer believed in a dealer. All faith in the possibility of an ambiguous higher deity had been lost with the possibility of his mother ever coming home again, ever seeing his Head Boy badge, ever giggling drunkenly while pointing at her husband's suddenly pink hair, ever embracing James in an unwanted hug. All Charlotte Potter would ever do now was decay, though much slower than James' long-held belief that everything would be okay and his mother would one day emerge from the hospital, healthy as a hippogriff. His father, the champion of such thoughts, had ceased to be a model of inspiration for some time now, and James was instead left with this harsher version of reality that seemed to have sprung up the instant his mother was buried.
It was not something that he considered very deeply or for very long. In fact, James was barely aware of this sudden change in his own beliefs. It was so steady and gradual that it wasn't until a full moon excursion, when he saw the wolf kill a rabbit with a painfully easy swipe of its claws, the ground beneath unable to soak up all the blood from such a small animal, that he realized there was no possibility of a god watching, allowing that rabbit to be eaten. There was no guidance. There was no plan. And any meaning in life came from those who lived it, not one who orchestrated it. He and the other Marauders watched as the wolf devoured the string of red meat, Peter circling one of James' hooves, in under a minute; the possibility of an analogous relationship between themselves and a deity, where their lives were as simple and inferior as a rabbit to a wolf, was not a question for James. It had not been for some time.
This revelation changed remarkably little in his life. He expected to find so many changes within himself after the encounter in the woods. Instead, everything was very much the same, which was perhaps more unsettling. James tried not to read too much into it. He was functioning fine, after all. There were times when, after waiting what seemed like hours for the dorm to fill with steady breathing, he would creep to the door, down the stairs, across the Common Room, all the way down to the Quidditch pitch where he would fly for hours at time, weaving in and out of the hoops with so little awareness of how solid metal could be that when he landed there would be bruises decorating his arm. There were times when his teeth would involuntarily clench at the sight of Avery, when he could practically feel the pain seep through the hundreds of cuts across his body, when his heart pumped twice as fast while reading the Daily Prophet's coverage on the latest raid. And then there had been that one time, when James had found his mother's favorite book in the library, Doubts of a Dragon, and after so long of believing he was over it, he'd cried himself dry against the shelves.
Faith in a dealer would have helped. But to James that would've been like bandages to a decapitated body or dull scissors hours after a hanging. Too late. Unable to do anything. Absent when it mattered. James didn't try to convince himself otherwise. He focused on Quidditch, training for the upcoming match; the Marauders and their last Halloween prank; Lily, who had divulged that she was "glad to be friends" after Potions on Friday. He convinced himself that it was inconsequential, but, in truth, there was something slightly off. Not because anything actually changed. But it seemed so mismatched compared to the rest of James' personality. He trusted others beyond reason, he approached challenges as if he had already won, and had always believed that Lily would say yes one day. All of these were things that could never be proved or validated. All of these things had hurt him at one time or another. But there was no backlash against these long-held beliefs. James never thought about it for long enough to consider the contradiction.
For though James was as interested in himself, if not more so, as any teenage boy, there were some things that he did not even think to evaluate. Some were the things that Drake had brought up in their sessions, but others were much deeper. As much as James believed himself to be complex and multifaceted, he was unwilling to look too long in mirror. Doing so only reveals more faults, not beauty. Reflections darken with too much illumination. And perhaps this was why James trusted others so. He defined people too simply, never looking at all the complexity behind a smile, a scream, or a sob. He believed the presentation, the quick glance in the mirror. And this is why he had lost faith in a dealer.
His mother's death had been too bright. It had brought too much illumination to the world, clearing so many shadows that James had trusted. And though the light still seared his eyes, he did not miss the shadows of faith. At least, in this matter, James was content to distrust.
"I dare you, Padfoot."
Knowing that good things rarely happened after those words, Remus sighed. James could practically see him rubbing his temples without looking back. Honestly, it was probably one of the few times where he could understand why, but the potential for hilarity was too high for him to raise any objection. Peter was staring almost challengingly at Sirius, who let out his classic bark of laughter in response. The hallway was at its peak traffic as everyone converged towards the Great Hall for lunch, but the Marauders stood in the dead center of the corridor as they talked. A group of third years gave them a particularly wide berth as they passed, afraid of being hexed for bumping into them at the wrong time. James didn't recognize them, but he didn't give them a good look-over either. Lily, Dorcas, and Alice were approaching them from the other end of the hallway, and Sirius still hadn't confirmed that he'd follow through.
"You have to do it now," James insisted. "What're you gonna do, ignore a dare from Wormtail?"
"I guess I haven't seen anyone kick you in the balls yet this year," Remus relented, readjusting his book bag as he eyed the girls walking down the hall.
"And you're not going to, Moony," Sirius said, taking off his own book bag and holding it out expectantly. Peter rolled his eyes after a few seconds, but took it all the same. "Thank you. Now, if you'll excuse me, gentlemen."
He sidestepped directly in front of the three girls. Dorcas appeared to have almost expected it, attempting to dodge him in the crowded corridor, but Sirius was too quick. He grabbed her roughly around the waist, dipped her backwards, and snogged her before she could use her mouth for any other purpose. Sirius pressed her right leg against his side, preventing her from kicking him unless she wanted to completely lose his balance. James was just thinking how clever that was when Sirius suddenly screamed. He dropped Dorcas (Alice caught her at the last moment) and backed away, clutching his mouth.
"Are you okay?" Lily said, rushing to her friends' side.
"Well, you fucking deserved it!" Dorcas screeched, ignoring Lily and righting herself with Alice's help.
"Detention," Lily declared, her face almost as red as her hair. James instinctively took a step back.
"Wha'? Sthee bit my tongue off!"
"Wait, your tongue?" Peter cried. "How much?"
Sirius opened his mouth, blood trickling down his chin, and stuck his tongue out for Peter to inspect. Several students stopped to observe the latest commotion caused by the Marauders, so much so that everyone coming from either end was blocked by a crowd of craning heads within seconds. The tip of Sirius' tongue was gone, a scarlet stump in its place. A group of fifth year girls screamed, and one of them actually gagged. Remus took a step forward, but Lily got there first.
"Hold still," she said curtly, pulling out her wand.
"Whoa! Like held-"
"Lengsanua!" She barely flicked her wand, but the stub of Sirius' tongue rapidly healed over; the blood stopped dripping down his mouth. Taste buds bloomed as layers of flesh spun over each other, gradually fading to a softer red, until only a slight scar remained. Sirius closed his mouth, pushing his tongue up against his cheeks.
"That's incredible!" James exclaimed. "Can you heal other things?"
"Well, small things," Lily said quickly, but he could hear the tone of pride in her voice. The group of students that had gathered behind them all began to dissipate, convinced that the show was over now that blood wasn't involved.
"There's a ridge there!" Sirius cried as he continued to run his tongue along his own mouth. "What the hell, Evans?"
"It'll go away in a few hours," Lily dismissed. "You still have detention. And I'll make damn sure that it's a good one, Sirius. You can't just snog girls in the middle of the hallway against their will, let alone Dorcas."
"What, is she special or something?"
"Oh, please, like you don't know."
"Pete dared me."
"I told them not to, Lily," James interjected, shrugging helplessly. "But what can you do?"
Lily rolled her eyes, followed swiftly by Remus, before saying, "I don't care who dared you, Sirius. You completely violated her in the hallway, and-"
"Wait," Peter interjected suddenly, but without certainty. "Where did the rest of Sirius' tongue go?"
Silence gripped them as they skirted their eyes around the circle. James scanned the floor, half-hoping to see a chunk of his best mate's flesh staining the stone red, but there was nothing. Would someone have taken it? What if they used it, for a Polyjuice Potion or something? They'd just had Potions with the Slytherins, what if Snape-?
"I swallowed it," Dorcas admitted. It was the meekest voice James had ever heard her use. "I couldn't help it! He was holding me at that angle, and when I bit his tongue, it just slid down." She pressed a hand against her stomach, as if trying to feel it beneath her skin.
"Oh my God!"
"We should get you to hospital wing, who knows what Sirius has in his mouth-"
"That's a good idea. Filthier than a dog's mouth-"
"Really, Prongs? Now's not a good time-"
"Oh my God!"
"She just couldn't resist swallowing-"
Dorcas smacked Sirius across the face before he could finish.
"Go fuck yourself, Sirius, you sodding piece of shit."
"Aren't you gonna take points from her or something?" Sirius asked.
"For what? Standing up for herself?"
"Alright," James said, stepping forward. "We're done with this."
"Oh, James Potter, ever the mediator," Dorcas mocked.
"Hey! I'm trying to stop all of this, for your sake, tongue-swallower."
"'Tongue-swallower?' Are you kidding me?" Lily shouted.
"'Toerag,'" he reminded.
She rolled her eyes, though he swore there was a glimmer of a grin, a spark in her eye. Somehow, James understood that she was not angry at him, but at Sirius. "We're done here. Come on, let's go."
"You stole my line," James countered.
"As Dorcas pointed out, that's my line."
"And as I pointed out, I was just trying-"
"Are you really arguing about who gets to be the mediator here?" Remus interjected exasperatedly. "Prongs, honestly?"
"Fine," James said playfully. "Lily can do it. I'm only Head Boy."
"As a fluke!" Remus exclaimed.
"This is pointless!" Lily shouted, louder than them all. "We're done here. I'll talk to McGonagoll about your detention, Sirius. Be prepared to clean Myrtle's bathroom to Filch's standard." James internally winced; Myrtle had gone berserk in her toilet, uplifting the contents of a sewage pipes when a couple of third years insulted her figure. The area had been sealed off, not that anyone approached her bathroom if they could help it anyhow, but rumor was that most of the mess was created by feminine hygiene products.
"Evans!" Sirius protested, even as the girls walked away towards the Great Hall. "That's just cruel!"
"Oh, I'm sorry, you were expecting niceties after sexually assaulting my friend?" She waited a second for a reply, but her delivery had been so spot-on that none of the Marauders responded. Alice grabbed Lily's arm and led her down the hallway, Dorcas already turning the corner up ahead.
"Damn," James muttered. He wasn't sure if it had really been an appropriate time to admire Lily's ass as she had walked away, but he wasn't terribly conflicted by it either. "Myrtle's toilet?" he continued at conversational volume. "That's rough, mate. Filch'll have you all night if Lily gets him to supervise."
"Wait, wait, Padfoot," Peter said, a large grin plastered on his face. "I just realized... She's gonna shit out your tongue! Your tongue's gonna taste Meadowes' ass!"
Sirius reached out and snatched the back of Peter's cloak before he could get away, proceeding to hold him in a headlock so that Peter's tongue "could taste his pits all day". In fairness, Sirius did let him go when the group reached the Great Hall.
The four sat down at the end of the Gryffindor table, grabbing sandwiches as they discussed Sirius' punishment. None of them brought up the possibility of Moaning Myrtle's bathroom. The potential was too disgusting to even think about. However, the topic was swiftly changed when Frank entered the Hall and spotted them.
"Hey," he greeted, raising a hand as he sat down next to them. The Marauders nodded their heads in acknowledgement. Frank had been much friendlier as of late. The other Marauders assumed that he'd finally gotten over his grudge in order to support Gideon and James in the upcoming match. James, however, knew that it was because the Nimbus had sold for more than enough to buy Alice's ring. "Alright, you lot?"
The four of them nodded, chewing their respective sandwiches. Frank seemed to take the hint and grabbed a sandwich himself. He'd seated himself next to James, which was rather awkward. Despite Frank's sudden change in mood, he and James hadn't exactly been seeking the other out. From his perspective, James didn't like to be reminded that he still didn't have a broom for the Quidditch game, which was in less than a month. He imagined Frank's reason was more duty-based. Regardless of how many times he'd thanked James and promised to repay the debt, this large of a gift between two friends that had never been incredibly close naturally led Frank to feel as if he owed James constantly.
Or, so James assumed. They didn't really talk about it.
"How's Alice?" Remus asked tactfully.
Sure enough, Frank's face instantly lit up. "She's great," he responded. "She's really great. Er- Why're you smiling, James?"
"Oh, just laughing at how lovesick you are," James covered. This was typical behavior of all the Marauders, so it didn't draw any suspicion.
"Right, I should expect- Wait, is she supposed to be here?"
The Marauders turned to where Frank was indicating. They'd been so busy discussing the events in the hall that they hadn't even looked up at the staff table. For the most part, it was rather normal. The professors were surveying the students (particularly the corner the Marauders were in) for mischief, discussing morning classes, or sitting silently consuming their meal. James' eyes scanned the table for anyone amiss.
"I don't see anyone that's not normally there," he said.
"Prongs," Sirius indicated, pointing boldly between Slughorn and Hagrid.
It was Drake. She was sipping her soup, apparently listening intently to whatever Hagrid was saying, nodding gently. Her eyes didn't so much as glance at the students. James noticed that she was still ridiculously thin, despite the two empty plates in front of her. All her actions, from the rising of her spoon to her mouth, to the occasional hand gesture, were characteristically deliberate. He felt a sudden surge of resentment.
"No idea," James said, answering Frank's original question, as though it did not concern him either way. Which it didn't, he reminded himself. He was seventeen. He didn't have to listen to a word that she wanted so say, however much she could analyze about him. "Fancy a game of Exploding Snap before class?"
The other Marauders agreed, though Remus seemed to know exactly what was going on, and they left the Great Hall and Frank behind. Just before closing the door behind him, James chanced a look up at the staff table. Drake was looking directly at him, and, though they were quite a distance apart, he swore that she mouthed, "seven".
McGonagoll had approached Sirius at the start of Transfiguration, the last lesson of the day, and informed him that he would be serving detention that very night. However, she neglected to give him any of the details, only saying he was to report outside Filch's office at six and that he "ought to skip dinner". This was more ominous than anything she had ever said to any of the Marauders about previous detentions, but Sirius had appeared as collected as ever when he had responded that he ought to skip the detention instead.
"There's no way that I'm cleaning Myrtle's bathroom," Sirius proclaimed as soon as they left the classroom. "I don't care what Filch does, that's downright inhuman."
"They can't actually have you clean that, right?" Peter said, adjusting his shoulder strap as he looked at Remus for confirmation. "That's gotta be some kind of health concern. He could get infected!"
"No, I'm sure of it, there's no way-" Remus began, but fell short as Lily walked past and...
"Did she just wink?" Peter whispered.
James closed his jaw. "She's got it out for you, Padfoot."
"No, there's no way she could get a professor to approve it, even if she wanted to," Remus reasoned.
"Who says the professor needs to approve it?" Peter replied. "She could've told McGonagoll one thing, but Filch'll do anything to fuck with Sirius."
"Yeah, but Evans is too much of a goody-two-shoes to lie like that," Sirius argued. He had the same haughty, almost bored expression that he usually had during the school day, but James could sense the uneasiness beneath it.
"I don't know, Padfoot," James said. "Lily's not as goody-two-shoes as you think."
Sirius rolled his eyes. "Right. Excuse me if I don't take your word for it, mate."
"Hey, I know her the best out of all of us."
"Except for Moony," Peter clarified.
Remus shrugged. James waited a moment for someone else to say something before grabbing Remus' shoulder and simultaneously halting the group. "Wait, you think you know Lily better than I do?"
"Well, I mean, I would say that I know about her dating preferences better than you do."
Sirius and Peter laughed and started forward again, but they stopped upon realizing that the other two weren't following them. "Come on, Prongs, you're not actually upset?" Sirius asked disbelievingly.
"Of course not. I'm not a bleeding pansy, am I? But I do know Lily better than you do, Moony." He continued down the corridor, the other Marauders following him, and added, "She likes me now."
"That's true," Remus said, although James thought his tone too passive to be sincere. "You two have been getting along a lot better now. I honestly don't know how much you know her."
"You just believe that you know her better?"
"Well, I've been her friend for longer. And we always got along, even in first year. Not to mention we were prefects together, and-"
"I'll prove it," James declared. "Care for a little competition, Moony?"
"Friendship isn't a game, Prongs."
James raised an eyebrow. "If you're afraid that you're going to lose...."
Remus sighed. "I'm not afraid of losing, but you don't think it's a little insulting to-?"
"Oh, come on, Remus, don't be such a pussy," Sirius said, pushing aside a tapestry of Icarus falling to his death. Peter quickly ducked into the passageway behind it, the other Marauders stepping in after him. "What's the real harm?"
"We've seen what can happen when we take up moronic competitions today."
"Except that one, that was a dare, not a competition," James reminded as they hurried along the narrow passage. "And two, that was made by Wormtail, which was just asking for it, really."
"Alright, alright, but how would we even do it?" Remus asked. "How would could we test who knows her better?"
"We could just ask her," Peter supplied. "But I suppose she wouldn't necessarily know, would she?"
"Why do you even suggest things when you already know how stupid they are?" James asked. Peter shrugged, but didn't respond, suddenly becoming very interested in making sure all his papers were in his bag. "We could get her a gift? Anonymously, and then find out which one she likes better."
"No," Remus said shortly. "Lily doesn't like-"
"Or you two could make the gifts," Peter said, saving Remus the trouble of coming up with an excuse. "She seems the type to like that sort of thing."
The four exited the passageway, only a corridor away from the Great Hall. If Sirius was going to eat before detention, they would have to get there quickly. The corridor was deserted, as it only contained an unused classroom, a broom closet, and the tapestry of Morgana that they had just exited out of. The Marauders quickly walked along it and up a short set of stairs as Remus and James contemplated their individual likelihood of success.
"Alright," Remus agreed. "We'll each make Lily a present. Peter will deliver them, to make sure that they're anonymous."
"By the end of the week?" James proposed. He stopped and outstretched his hand. Despite years of friendship and mischief together, the Marauders had a tendency to seal bets with a handshake. While James' demeanor was casual, Remus wasn't a fool. He'd realized James' tactic before the words had even left his friend's mouth.
"What're the terms?" he asked.
"Food, mates? You can talk about this in the Hall, c'mon," Sirius interrupted, urging them forward.
"Alright, don't get your knickers in a twist," James joked. "Er, how 'bout loser has to address the winner by chosen name for a week?"
"How about loser has to do winner's Charms essay to the best of his ability-?"
"I got it," Sirius proclaimed, bursting through the Great Hall doors. They were one of the first students there, so his words echoed throughout the relatively empty room. Kettleburn eyed them suspiciously from the teachers' table. Remus raised an apologetic hand, which seemed to be enough to prompt the professor to return to his dinner.
The Marauders rushed to the dinner table, occupying the same seats they had sat in for lunch, and leaned in closely, partly in a hurry to shovel food on their plates and partly in anticipation for Sirius' idea.
"Before you can't talk, Padfoot," James said, "the terms?"
"Winner picks loser's Halloween costume."
"Agreed," James and Remus said in unison.
"Oh, so you think you're gonna win?"
"Prongs, we're making a gift for her. Have you ever made a gift before?"
"Dis has ghoutha be thla thummest bet weeb eber done," Sirius suggested, his mouth full of rolls. He swallowed roughly and then took a large gulp of pumpkin juice, leaning his head back so the liquid couldn't fall out, and said something else that none of them could understand.
"I've got beginner's luck on my side," James quipped, scooping a large portion of potatoes on his plate. Remus rolled his eyes for what must've been the fourth time that day, but turned towards his own plate of rare meat (the full moon was in a little less than a week).
James stared at him disbelievingly. "Not fucking likely."
"Alright, fine, but no summoning. We can only use magic to put it together. Agreed?"
"Agreed," James said, outstretching his hand again. Remus eyed it for a moment, obviously looking for some loophole he'd missed, but took it with more confidence than he usually did when accepting a bet. James couldn't decide if that was a good or bad sign, but he knew it didn't matter either way.
The four of them shoved food down their throats so fast, even with the occasional pause to suggest a particularly humiliating Halloween costume, that they were finishing by the time that the rest of the school started filling the Hall. Sirius stood up slowly, piling some extra food on a napkin, and started walking away.
"Are you sure you want to take that food to detention, Sirius?" Lily asked from a few seats away.
"Oh, I wouldn't," Dorcas chimed in. "I've seen that bathroom."
"I'm not cleaning that bathroom," Sirius said clearly, walking towards the door, shoving food in his face defiantly.
"That'll go over splendidly," Lily spat sarcastically.
"You'd go over splendidly," James said, not quite loud enough for the girls to hear. Peter snorted.
"You should just save yourself some time," Alice called, just as Sirius was leaving, making a rude hand gesture before disappearing behind the double doors. "Meet Filch there!"
The girls erupted into a fit of laughs, loud enough to draw the table's attention. Alice playfully "shhh"ed the other two, causing them to laugh just as hard, but quieter. Dorcas almost knocked over a jug of pumpkin juice in her fit. Personally, James didn't find the idea of Sirius being forced to clean up Myrtle's bathroom funny; he scowled, his mood turning dark, when he noticed Remus, who was transfixed on the sight of the girls laughing, furrowed brow and all.
James let down his spoon, letting it sink back into his soup, and realized what was so interesting. He couldn't believe he'd let it slip by him. Surely, if he felt this way, then there was no way that the girls, that Lily would be so cruel. It was so out of character. Sirius had been right all along.
He stood up and walked over to where the girls were still giggling, putting his hand on the shoulder of a third year boy sitting next to Alice. "Move it." The boy and his friends quickly accommodated, scooting down the bench and giving James a generous spot to sit. He had already swung one leg over and leaned over the table when the girls finally noticed him and calmed down.
"You were just taking the mickey out of him!" James half-shouted, despite his close proximity.
"His face!" Dorcas exclaimed. "Did you see his face? So worth it."
"Yeah, riot it was," James said quickly. "You lied."
Lily suddenly drew herself up, an air of authority concentrating around her, but her smile was too genuine for it to be her prefect pose. "I didn't lie," she said, wiping a tear from her eye, "I just led him to believe a particular truth."
"That is called 'lying', last time I checked. It has been a while, though, I usually don't bother to check things that are common knowledge."
"Well, I checked this morning," Lily snapped, "and there's an exception for people who have sexually assaulted your best friend."
"That's a strangely specific exception," James mocked.
"I thought so too, but I'm hardly one to question the rules, am I?"
The challenge was practically tangible; it forced James' mouth open and a perplexed expression on his face. He sat there, gapping at her, as she stood up in unison with her friends and left the dinner table. He blinked, wracking his brain for something witty to shout back at her, so that she would know that she hadn't just rewritten his conceptualization of her. He knew her, he'd known her for years, and he'd been so confident in that fact that he'd been willing to enter a bet against Remus over it. But this...
Maybe Lily didn't just blindly follow the rules. Maybe she didn't just think that rules should be obeyed because they were rules, but for some other reason that she really believed in. Maybe her enforcing rules was like James not swearing in front of women or always trusting his mates. It was a more to be respected, and there was a reason. There had always been a reason. James just hadn't thought that the same logic could apply to rules.
He unconsciously stood up from the table as the three girls exited the Hall. Dorcas looked over her shoulder at James, and she broke out in another wave of laughter before closing the door behind her. He realized how stupid he must've looked and hastily closed his mouth. Peter gestured for him to rejoin their section of the table, but he shook his head slowly and walked out of the Great Hall instead.
Now that James thought about it, Lily had never been completely devoted to the rules. She had been a little snarky in Slughorn's class before, though it had never resulted in any detentions or deduction in house points. There were rumors that Lily had received letters from the Ministry, warning her not to use magic outside of Hogwarts, which James had always assumed was ludicrous. Whenever anyone brought these rumors up, he'd always pictured second year Lily, who had chastised him for not wearing his tie and tattled on him for cheating on his Charms exam. However, as James realized the more he thought about it, ever since they'd hit puberty Lily had only ever confronted the Marauders when they'd bullied a kid, especially Snape, or if she felt like someone else was liable to be hurt. Perhaps second year Lily had been a bit too rule-conscious, but the now she rarely interfered with their antics unless it interrupted her studies.
This revelation filled him with a sense of purpose, for some reason. Lily wasn't twelve anymore. She'd changed, just as he had, right? He'd pigeon-holed her based on how she used to be, but now he could see past that. This whole thing with Sirius was supposed to happen, so that he could realize that Lily was more than he'd thought. And this Lily- not second year Lily, not Lily as he had thought of her until five minutes ago- he preferred. And now, as James heard Alice's voice rounding the coming corridor, he knew what the purpose was.
"Er- Lily? Wait up," he half-shouted, but the footsteps stopped anyways.
He hastily turned the corner, coming to face a long hallway with torch brackets every couple of feet. It wasn't very welcoming, but the usual cobwebs had recently been cleared and the floor swept. Students didn't often come down this way, but older Gryffindors knew that there was a hidden passageway further down that allowed them to skip the Grand Staircase for two floors. The three girls stood in the center, staring questioningly at him, the smiles fading from their faces. Despite the bleak surroundings, James felt confident, as if fate had painstakingly planned for every word he was about to say.
"Can I talk to you for a minute, Lily?"
"Er- yeah, alright," she said, moving away from Alice and the Dorcas. The latter was mouthing something to James over the shoulders of the other two and widening her eyes in a way that was apparently supposed to mean something.
"We'll see you upstairs, then," Alice said, oblivious to her friend's unsuccessful pantomiming. Lily turned around and nodded, causing Dorcas to stop abruptly.
James pretended that he didn't notice anything amiss. Even as the other two girls disappeared around the curve of the hallway, Dorcas was clearly trying to convey something to him. Completely nonplussed, he tried not to let her warning- or whatever it was- shake him.
"What's up?" Lily asked expectantly, adjusting her massive bag so that it hung across her torso instead of slipping down the slope of her shoulder. The strap clearly defined the separation of her breasts, stretching the material of the blouse she wore underneath. James could see the light blue of her bra.
His hand unconsciously flew to the top of his head, ruffling it into the proper state of wind-sweptness. "I, well, I wanted to let you know," he began, suddenly clueless of what exactly this grand purpose had been, "that... that you're even better than I thought you were."
Lily blinked. "Pardon?"
"You're ... you do these things, Lily, that I know aren't meant to make people like you. Even though you're nice to everyone, you're willing to stand up for anyone to anyone, and you're there if someone needs it, regardless of whether they want you there or not... Point is, you do these things, which aren't intended to make people like you, but they do. And you also do things like tell me off for being an arrogant berk, or argue with me, or lie to my best mate, which I know should make me resent you, but I really don't. They make me like you more, honestly, because I feel like... like I'm seeing something that not everyone gets to see. I'm touching a part of you that no one else notices. Like there's more to you, and I just know I'm gonna like all of it, you know? I really do fancy you, Lily, alright, and I was wondering... if you'd let me. Know more, that is. On Halloween, there's a Hogsmeade trip, and..."
He'd faltered at the end, because he'd noticed the uncomfortable expression on her face. It was obvious that his speech hadn't been received in the way he had hoped. James' hand quickly returned to his hair, he could feel his heart barraging against his chest wall in embarrassment. But there it was, he'd said it, he hadn't hid his feelings... There was no alternative for James, not anymore. This ability to feel was something to be proud of, something to be worn on as boldly as his Quidditch uniform, and worth every bit of anxiety. Lily had been right last year- he wasn't someone to hide his feelings. It was just unnatural. It ought to be laid out there for all to see, and if they didn't like it, that was their bloody problem.
"...and I was wondering if you'd like to go with a group? Not a date, or anything, just a chance to get to know you outside of Hogwarts, yeah? C'mon, what'd'ya say?"
She bit her lip. The corner slid underneath her teeth slowly, far too slowly for it be a representation of reality, but that was the way James experienced it. His hyperactive brain saw all her nervous gestures individually, even though he knew she was expressing them all simultaneously. She shifted her weight, lifting her shoulder bag so that her bra was no longer visible, and moved a thread of hair behind her ear unnecessarily. For the briefest moment, even in this exaggeratingly slow state, the flickering torchlight glinted off her shifting wrist, as if from some thin metallic material, but a second later everything rushed back to normal speed and Lily's wrist was (as it always had been, James reminded himself) bare.
"Alright," she said suddenly, her voice much more confident than her face. "But this is not a date, alright? We're bringing other friends. And not just Sirius, okay? No one needs to hear Dorcas and him bicker at each other all day."
"Oh, so you're confident we'll turn out differently?"
She laughed, but stopped as if her rationality got the better of her. "We'll be civil. We can be friendly, as long as you aren't being a prat."
"I'm not planning on it, especially on our first date."
As if on cue, Lily immediately shouted, "It's not a date!" Her face went from resolved to downright distraught in a second, causing James to swallow a dense ball of disappointment. It landed right in his gut, forcing it to plummet. An unpleasant tingling sensation ran along his arms, not from a sudden draft, but from the realization that despite their new friendship, Lily still found the idea of dating him distressing.
"Relax, I'm only joking," James said, chuckling weakly. "You were very clear. It's not a date. I'll bring the Marauders."
"Don't you have any friends besides them?" she asked, her voice half-serious. She still hadn't recovered from James' jab.
"'Course, I do. But these three are by far the most entertaining."
She rolled her eyes. "You're at least right about that." There was a brief moment of silence in which the two exchanged a glance. James was convinced that it meant something, but he couldn't quite settle on what. It wasn't flirtatious or even admonishing. In fact, it had the same feeling as Dorcas' frantic eye-widening had earlier and even a hint of pity.
"Right," Lily continued, preventing the silence from reaching the level of undeniable awkwardness. "It's settled then. I'll see you around, okay?"
"Right," James confirmed firmly. "See you around." He turned around, towards the way he came, and waved a quick good-bye. Lily returned the favor and proceeded towards the passageway.
The feeling of success surged into him as soon as he rounded the corner. He'd finally done it. Alright, so it wasn't a date? So what if fate had seemed to be pointing that way? Now, he had an almost-date with her. He'd be spending time with her Hogsmeade, which, even with the addition of other people, was a huge step up for James. This time last year, he and Lily would have been shouting before he even got around to asking the question. Now, while she didn't want to date him, she wanted to be around him. She wanted to be his friend, at least to the point where she didn't want to risk hurting his feelings.
This euphoria distracted him so much that when he came to, he was much farther down the first floor corridor than he'd intended. Realizing that he'd passed the staircase leading back down to the Great Hall, James began to double back, when a sudden warmth flooded one of his shoes.
Quickly withdrawing his foot, James whipped out his wand. The torch brackets had not been lit in this half of the corridor. Lumos, he thought quickly, and the familiar white light appeared on the tip of his wand. The tip of his shoe had been stained burgundy. He raised his wand, widening the circle of light, revealing a pool seeping from underneath the door to his left. It was Moaning Myrtle's bathroom.
"Ergh!" James exclaimed, disgusted. He quickly removed his shoe, glad to see that it hadn't stained his socks yet, and held it at arm's length. "Scrougify!" He tapped it sharply, and the offending mark disappeared from the end of the shoe. Realizing that he wouldn't wish the task of cleaning the bathroom on anyone, not even Filch, James tried to push his shoe back onto his foot, all the while backing away from the ever-expanding pool.
The screech was so blood-curdling that James actually fell backwards (thankfully away from the blood) in his one-legged effort to put his refasten his shoe. He caught himself on a torch bracket. The metal was cold, as if there hadn't been a fire within it for hours, but his body was suddenly much colder, as if a sheet of icy water had passed through it.
"THINK IT'S FUNNY, DO YOU?" Myrtle screamed. She was floating directly in front of him, having zoomed through James' body to face him. "AS IF MY LIFE ISN'T ALREADY DIFFICULT ENOUGH? AS IF I'M NOT MISERABLE ENOUGH? MAYBE I SHOULD MOAN SOME MORE, THEN MEAN BOYS LIKE YOU COULD-"
"Dear Merlin, shut it!" James shouted, righting himself, but he was no match for Myrtle's wails.
"-EVEN NOW, AFTER OLIVE HORNBY IS GONE, I'M STILL BULLIED BY YOU AND YOUR FRIENDS," she continued, as if James hadn't spoken at all, but now with the addition of tears running down her translucent cheeks. "IT WASN'T FUNNY WHEN YOU MADE THAT STUPID SONG, OR WHEN YOU TAUGHT IT TO PEEVES, OR WHEN YOU SURROUNDED ME WITH FANS SO I COULDN'T MOVE, OR WHEN YOU BLOCKED ALL THE GIRLS' BATHROOMS IN THE SCHOOL BUT MINE, AND IT'S NOT FUNNY NOW WHEN YOU FLOODED MY BATHROOM WITH GIRLS' LEAVINGS AFTER IT HAD ALREADY BEEN CLEANED UP. ARE YOU TRYING TO REMIND ME THAT I'M DEAD, AND SO I CAN'T-?"
"Wait," James said sternly, and for some unknown reason this time she stopped, though she was still heaving tears. "Someone else already cleaned up? Who?"
"Filch," Myrtle sniffed. "He came in a long time ago. I was only minding my own business, but he told me to stop whinging, so I left. I've been in the prefects' bathroom for hours, crying my eyes out, but no one even-"
"Well, as long as Sirius didn't have to do it-"
"Oh, yes, as long as you and your friends don't have to deal with it, then it's fine, isn't it? As long as it's only Myrtle who's bothered, who cares? It's only here home, why should anyone-?"
"Maybe you shouldn't live in a bathroom then!" James shouted, turning and walking away. Just to make sure she left him alone, he added, "Or is that the only room in the whole castle that would have you?"
Predictably, Mytle wailed again, her tears reaching new volumes, and dived through the wall into her bathroom. Unpredictably, her cries stopped very suddenly, and there was a terrified scream that forced the hairs on James' neck to stand up.
He turned automatically; Myrtle had flown out of her bathroom and was zooming towards him. He ducked on instinct, but it didn't matter. A sheet of ice ran over his back, causing him to snap upright just in time to see Myrtle disappear around the corner.
"What the fuck?" he whispered, looking from where the ghost had just flown back towards the bathroom. He raised his wand again, noticing that the massive semicircle of blood had finally stopped growing. He edged closer, but stopped just short of the dark pool on the floor. What if Myrtle had simply been so overcome by the state of her bathroom that she'd fled down the hall? It didn't necessarily mean that something bad had happened as soon as she'd entered it.
But, now that James thought about it, if this had been a reoccurence of the day's earlier incident, wouldn't there be... products on the floor? And the blood would be gushing as it rose from the toilets, not seeping from underneath the door. There was no way that the teachers hadn't put some sort of protection on the toilets by now. James knew; whenever the Marauders and he figured out a new way to mess with the school's workings, the professors were never slow to prevent other students from mimicking them. And then there was this tight sensation in his gut, like a loaded spring, that confirmed everything James was thinking but didn't need to.
The blood soaked through his socks and bathed his feet as he walked towards the bathroom door. He lowered his wand to chest height, clenching his jaw as his heart beat frantically against his sternum again. James tried to breathe deeply, but he couldn't breathe at all. His lungs were frozen; his feet were hot with another's blood; his hand silently pressed against the door. With one hard push, James was suddenly in Moaning Myrtle's bathroom, to observe the victim of the second murder to have ever happened there.
Her body was leaning against one of the sinks at an awkward angle. It was unnaturally rigid, with long legs splayed but arms snapped to her sides. Half of her torso still stuck to the sink, but the lower half rested on the floor, staining her purple robes scarlet. Her hair was still perfectly styled, with only the ends red from the blood that had streamed down from her gouged eyes.
Only empty sockets stared unknowingly ahead, their unnatural fleshy color apparent now that all the blood had drained down her cheeks. For a moment, James could look at nothing else except those revolting, empty holes. There was no humanity to be found in her face, no semblance of the soul that had been, but only the destruction of the body which everyone so depends on.
Yet this depravity wasn't over. Even as James watched, his wand still pointed at the dead body in front of him, something pink was exuding from her mouth, flicking back and forth. James stepped forward, but instantly jumped backward again as her mouth popped open, and he realized what the pink string was. It was a tongue, the tongue of the emerald serpent that now slithered from Drake's throat and onto the floor.
A/N: Would you believe this chapter was written months ago, it just didn't get around to being betaed? Heh heh heh... -nervous laughter- I know it's been forever, so I'm just curious: How many still want to read this? If I posted more, would people care? Or have I understandably lost everyone?
Thanks for reading!!!! Review? :)