James Potter was playing a game of wizard chess against Remus Lupin, and losing horribly. Usually none of the marauders would agree to play wizard chess against Moony, as watching these games was akin to watching a mentally handicapped antelope torn apart and eaten alive by a cheetah, but James was depressed.
His depression stemmed, as it usually did, from his continual failure at winning the heart of one Lily Evans. Usually the boy was incorrigible, but every so often, when he did something particularly stupid in the hopes of winning her over, and Lily, in turn, was particularly immune to his so-called charm, he would slump into a morose fog, mumble pathetically that Lily would never love him, and refuse to do anything but lay around and look as severely unhappy as possible.
This was solved easily enough by a combination of waiting it out, luring James out of it with some spectacular idea for a prank, or, in the direst of situations, going to Lily to beg for her to fix him. Of course, whenever this happened, James would immediately perk up when Lily entered the room, Lily would make some kind of hesitant, awkward attempt at cheering James up, and James, to Lily's confusion and the Marauders' disgust, would show no sign of ever being depressed in the first place, and in fact seem more animated and ready to annoy than he had been previously. He would inevitably say something else stupid, and Lily, flustered and irritated, would snap an angry remark and storm off. She would also probably have some choice words with whichever Marauder(s) had come to her with the 'James is depressed because of you and only you have the Magic Touch to keep him from shouting insults at the giant squid to try to get it to come and drown him in the lake help us' spiel, but it was worth it to have James re-energized and ready to stir up mischief.
However, today James wasn't responding to time nor pranks, and Moony, Padfoot, and even Wormtail realized that Lily wasn't going to march up to the common room to snap him out of it this time, not after James had bewitched 'JP + LE' in the middle of a heart to be permanently stitched into a pair of underwear Lily wore that day. It was a complicated spell that James had worked on for ages so that the stitching would go through clothing and affix itself to the innermost garment, and he had practiced it diligently on everything and anything for an entire week, with the result that Remus had to throw out several pairs of underwear, Peter now had to wear a certain pair of socks inside-out, and Sirius, who decided to go commando one day, had to spend a quarter of an hour trying to explain to a scandalized Madame Pomfrey why exactly he had JP + LE grafted onto his ass.
Lily actually had no idea what James had done until the evening, when she went to change into her nightclothes and found initials that should never be together in a place where they weren't meant to be. James might have been somewhat spared from her wrath by the fact that Lily was so flabbergasted that she had trouble coming up with words to shout at him, but protesting that "But Evans, I have a matching pair" had sent Lily over the edge and into mute fury. And then over another edge into decidedly non-mute fury, and over another into actual physical violence. There was a point where magic just wasn't as satisfying as smacking the crap out of someone.
That had been when the depression started. Two hours later, when James' mood was showing no signs of improving, Sirius had gone out and risked life and limb to get his horrible grubby paws onto a treasure among treasures, a precious seed that had unlimited potential to grow into a spectacular prank, a possession that at any other time would make James dance with happiness to have: Severus Snape's chess set.
The possibilities were endless. Should they get the little soldiers to shout insults at Snape constantly? Should they bewitch them to randomly explode? Randomly attack Snape? Randomly spit on Snape? Randomly take and hide Snape's things? Randomly move Snape's bed to the right an inch at a time so that Snape thought he was going insane? All they had to do was perform the spell and get the chess set back to Snape inconspicuously, and wondrous misery for their most hated enemy would ensue.
But James, when presented with this fabulous gift, had simply sighed and gone on to engage Remus in a sad excuse for a chess game.
So here they were, in the common room with a depressed James, the spreading bruise on James' stomach, and no hope of Lily's help. Sirius was going to go mad.
"James?" Remus asked. "James, check. My queen can take your king."
James showed no indication that he'd heard.
"SNAP OUT OF IT, PRONGS!" Sirius cried suddenly, shaking James like a quiet, listless maraca, the saddest and most desolate maraca to ever be shaken.
"Oh, stop that, Sirius, it won't make any difference," said Remus, casting his gaze over the battleground that was their chess game.
Usually Remus crushed his opponents with quiet glee, but this game hadn't even been fun. James had played badly on purpose, not bothering to put any effort into saving his little chess pieces, and often sending them to their deaths knowingly. Then he would sigh and give the chessmen a look like 'I wish we could trade places, so I could just die.' The chessmen, since they belonged to Snape, had seen some frightening things, but even the most hardened of the pint-sized veterans found this depressing, and they followed James' orders flawlessly, playing the game with similar suicidal wishes, just so they wouldn't have to listen to James' pathetically depressed voice anymore.
"Well, what am I supposed to do?" Sirius demanded, letting go of James and wiping his hands on an armchair. "Look at him!"
Remus looked. The sight hurt his eyes. And possibly his soul. James was not only passionately sad, he was also soaking wet. Just before the start of the chess game, James had conjured himself his own personal rain cloud, to hover darkly over his head and rain on him. Remus had asked James why he couldn't put that kind of ingenuity into his schoolwork, and James had said that the aching hole in his heart gave him the strength to perform one last complex spell before the magic in him went out and he condemned himself to living out his last days as a wretched being bereft of magic, and then had gone on to say much more on the subject until Remus wished he hadn't asked.
By now James was soaked to the bone. He looked like a drowned rat. Even his hair, usually possessing somewhat of a life of its own and sticking out in every direction, flopped listlessly into his face and curled, sopping, against his neck. Water was streaming down his face and dripping along his arms. It really was quite ridiculous. James had definitely gone the extra mile this time to look as pitiful as possible.
Remus blew out a breath. "I don't know. I don't even know what to do with him anymore. James? Check."
"Maybe try shaking him from side to side instead of forward and backward?" Peter suggested, piping up for the first time after a long stretch of trying to drink the conjured rainwater.
"Nah. Maybe we should just have him follow random people around for a while, and get everyone wet. Then we can go track him down later," Sirius said.
Remus raised his eyebrows. "Do you really think it wise to leave him alone at this point?"
Sirius looked at James, winced, and looked away again. "No. Good point."
James registered their conversation dimly, but wasn't really paying attention to what they were saying. His mind was far away, thinking about him and Lily, and if there was ever a way for him to make this mess up to her. He gave one of the disheartened sighs he'd been sighing all evening and glanced down at the chess game. Hmm. Remus' queen could take his king. He could move the king out of the way, but… What was the point, anyway? The rain cloud above his head let out an ominous rumble and the downpour increased with the downward slide of James' already dismal emotions.
James slouched down a bit more in his soggy armchair and looked closer. Remus' queen and his king actually appeared to be talking.
"Sorry about this," Remus' queen was saying. "You didn't even really have a fair chance. Considering, um. You know." She cast a delicate look up at the sopping, frowning James.
"Oh, it's no problem," said his king. "It'll be a relief to end this game, anyway."
"I'll say," said the queen.
James found himself daydreaming, imagining himself and Lily as the king and queen, respectively. On opposite sides… Lily destined to strike him down. Would she regret it? Or would she just kill him heartlessly, seeing him as nothing but another opponent? His eyes focused slightly, and he wondered if this queen would strike his king down without restraint. Why did it even have to happen that way? Didn't the queen see that the king was just trying to go out with her? And eventually get married and have children and live happily ever after with her?
"Why do you two have to fight?" he asked wretchedly, staring down at the queen and king. They stared back up at him like he was insane, as did Peter, Sirius, and Remus.
"Uhh…" said Peter.
"James, what are you…" Remus began.
"Why does it have to be that way? Can't you two just get along?" James was half-awake and half-imagining himself and Lily as chess pieces. He wished he could just find the right words and they could just be together. He wished…
"…Prongsy? Maybe you should…" Sirius started hesitantly.
"KISS HER!" James shouted at the king.
The king, not having disobeyed any of James' ridiculous orders yet, crossed the distance to Remus' queen in a few strides, pulled her to him, wound his arms around her waist and kissed her. The other chessmen broke out into whistling and cheering. The Marauders gaped, except for James, who let out a whoop and punched his fist into the air victoriously. The rain cloud dispersed at once.
Remus was momentarily robbed of every single word in his vocabulary. He opened his mouth, but not one word in the English language came to his lips. After several moments of trying, he regained a few base words. "Wh-what. That's not. Is it even… Can they even…?" He tried to rally himself, and turned to his traitor queen. "What are you DOING?! You are supposed to kill him!"
The queen ignored him, and wound an arm around the king's neck, the other tangling in his hair.
Peter squeaked, embarrassed to watch anyone make out, even miniature enchanted people who weren't really alive, and mumbled something while looking away.
"Merlin! Are they using tongue?" Sirius snickered. "I can't believe it! Moony, these chess pieces are getting more action than you get!" He dissolved into helpless laughter.
The queen and king seemed to come to a silent agreement to run away together, and promptly dashed off the chessboard, jumped down to the floor, and started running in the direction of the portrait hole.
"You can't- That's not- get BACK here!" said Remus, running after them.
"NO!" cried James, and tackled Remus to the floor.
Remus hit the ground hard and had the wind knocked out of him. For a speedy little Seeker, James sure seemed heavy to him. "You really HAVE gone mad, haven't you?!" he wheezed.
"I don't care," said James. "This is very important to me. Sirius, take over!"
"What?" said Remus.
James got off Remus and ran to the portrait, making sloshing noises as his feet hit the ground. The chess pieces had no way of climbing out of the portrait hole, and he had to help them.
"James, this is NOT how you play chess- OOF" said Remus, who had been slowly clambering to his feet and was once again flattened, this time by an overly exuberant Sirius. "Get OFF of me!" he shouted, only Sirius had clapped a hand over his mouth, so it came out as "MMM MMM MF MFFFF"
"You will not interfere with their tragic love, I will not allow you to- eeeuuuwww, you're all wet." Sirius made a face, and also made no move to get off Remus, who was sure that any moment now his ribs would splinter and puncture his lungs so that he could enter the sweet, sweet embrace of death.
Meanwhile, James flung the portrait open and scooped up the chess pieces, setting them gently down on the floor on the opposite side. "Go, young lovers! Be free! Be free and happy!"
Then all was quiet, besides Remus' labored breathing, as James watched the chess figure representations of himself and Lily (at least in his mind) disappear down a flight of stairs, a tear in his eye. Or possibly just some leftover rainwater.
James turned around. "Okay, I feel better now. Sirius, you can get off him."
Sirius rolled off of Remus and got up, dusting himself off. Remus lay where he had fallen. Remus did not feel like getting up for the next few days. Remus felt like road kill.
"I think a truck just ran over me," said Remus into the floor.
"Are you implying that I am fat?" asked Sirius.
"You're not fat, Sirius, don't worry," said Peter.
"I totally won that chess game," said James.
Remus slowly lifted his head and stared at James. "How could you possibly come to the conclusion that you won that chess game?"
James grinned a cocky, lopsided grin. "Well, my king just ran off with your king's wife. If that isn't a victory, I don't know what is. And speaking of victories, I bet that Evans keeps that pair of underwear I customized for her. Bet you she's wearing it right now. To bed."
It had been a hard journey, but the old James was back.
"Hey Moony, get up, let's go use the spell I made to write things on people's underwear."
This wasn't necessarily a good thing for Hogwarts.
In the girls' dormitory of Gryffindor tower, Lily was not wearing the JP + LE underwear to bed. She had given up on getting rid of the stitching and just burned the underwear. The girls in her dormitory were only slightly worried.
Snape never found the missing king and queen in his chess set.