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Chapter 16: Sixteen
Everything is going just fine at home. Your father has been stuck at work a lot lately-it’s busy this time of year as usual.
We are glad to hear that your Transfiguration project went well. Keep up the good work, sweetie. We are so proud of you!
There have been some changes in our plans for the Christmas Holiday this year. We have been invited to the Dursley’s over in Woking. We’ll expect you back in London as planned, but we will be heading to their place straight away. They’ve asked us to stay until the New Year.
I know you were looking forward to our annual trip to Val Thorens, but this is really important to Petunia. I’m not supposed to tell, but Vernon’s going to propose to your sister! He’s already asked your father for her hand, so we must go. This is more important than a ski trip. I know you’ll understand.
We can’t wait to see you and we send our love.
PS: I am going over there for a few days before hand to get things set and ready. If you need to write to me, make sure Berthold knows that the Dursleys aren’t accustomed to the Owl Post. Have him place the letters in the mail slot.
James read the letter over and over again. He couldn’t figure why this news could upset Lily so. In his opinion, Lily should be happy! It talks of her sister’s possible engagement. Don’t girls usually get all excited and giddy about that kind of stuff? He was confused. Maybe she REALLY liked skiing in France…
But James couldn’t just ask her about it. Then she’d know he read her letter, not to mention that she would know he was out of the dormitory after curfew. He decided he would consult Remus. He seemed to know what to do in these types of situations.
A wand tip tapped the book he was using to camouflage Lily’s letter. He quickly clapped the book closed around it and looked up. Sirius was standing before him. James realized that History of Magic was over. All the students were already awake and pulling their book bags over their shoulders to head to their next class.
James caught Lily’s eye in the corridor, but found himself being swept away with the other students to head outside to Care of Magical Creatures. Lily smiled without a word and turned to follow Remus to Advanced Arithmancy.
While Professor Kettleburn babbled on about their assignment, James again poured over Lily’s letter.
“Look, Prongs,” said Sirius as he struggled with their assigned Naga. “Just ask her about it if it’s bothering you so much. Now help me with this dumb assignment!”
James stuffed the letter into a pocket of his school robes and bent over to help Sirius win their Naga’s favor (*Their assignment was to win the favor of the Naga-a serpent with a humanistic face. The legend: Nagas were known to give ruby gemstones to those they liked…they would pass the assignment if they could bring a ruby to the professor by the end of the week. *)
James and Sirius didn’t have any success with their magical creature yet, but were glad to get back inside for a nice warm lunch. They met Remus at the table who was sitting with Lily. James sat on the other side of her as Sirius and Peter sat across from them. There was no way he’d be able to talk to Remus about the letter at that moment, so James decided to let it slide till later.
Lily smiled up at James. His heart raced at that special smile.
“Hey, Lily,” he said happily.
“How was Care of Magical Creatures?” she asked.
“Not too good. We can’t get our Naga to like us.”
She chuckled. “You’re probably trying too hard.”
“Good one, Lily,” sniggered Remus from her other side.
“Huh?” asked the other boys.
Lily and Remus smiled into their plates. Alice came bustling up from the other end of the table with Marlene and Abby.
“Lily, come on!” they said.
Lily looked up and remembered that they were going to visit Hagrid before DADA. “We’re going to see Hagrid,” Lily explained to James. Then she turned to the rest of the Marauders. “You may join us if you’d like.”
The boys looked quickly to one another, beating down the mischievous grins that threatened to surface as they were instantly reminded of last night's venture with Hagrid and the Order.
“Er, no thanks, Lily. We’ll catch you next time,” replied Remus.
Lily looked into their eyes and noticed an extra sparkle here and there, but shrugged and stood to follow the girls. She looked down to James and hastily kissed his cheek before heading out of the Great Hall.
James watched her go then looked to the odd smirks on his friends’ faces.
“What!” he stammered. “We’re still new at this.”
They ate in silence for a while.
“Oh, Moony—” James started, pulling out Lily’s letter.
“Just be honest with her, Prongs,” Remus interrupted without even looking over.
“So, I should tell her I read it? Should I tell her I was out past curfew?”
“Well, don’t tell her you didn’t.”
James scratched his head and stuffed the letter back into his pocket.
“I think he’s saying that you should beat around the bush, mate,” Sirius said.
James looked to Remus, who simply shrugged and took another bite from his meal.
“Right. OK. Don’t ask, don’t tell,” breathed James.
Remus sighed and set down his fork. “Just ask her about her plans for the Holiday Vacation, then let her do all the talking.”
James smiled. It was perfect.
* * *
Defense Against the Dark Arts began with a ‘Trust Game’ Professor Aegis called ‘The Human Knot’. Everyone stood in a tight circle, facing in and joining hands with two random people, thus forming a giant knot. In all the commotion, the students couldn’t tell whose hands they were holding. It was then their task to ‘untangle’ the knot without letting go of either hand. If done correctly, the group would end up in a wide circle, each student standing next to each person whose hand he or she held.
James and Sirius liked this game. They took charge, directing students to step over those blokes, duck under their hands, and crawl through here and there… Soon the knot was undone and the sixth year Gryffindors and Slytherins were smiling at the accomplishment.
James wasn’t smiling for long though. He glared to Severus Snape, who stood across the circle holding one of Lily’s hands (Sirius was holding her other). James could have sworn that Severus had shot a mocking grin in his direction, but before he could be overtaken with rage, Professor Aegis ordered the students to help straighten the desks so they could get on to their lesson on the Four Elemental spells and their diffusions.
An hour and a hefty homework assignment later, the Gryffindors headed out to get to their Herbology lesson. James was pushing his way to meet up with Lily, but he noticed Professor McGonagall striding swiftly down the corridor, her eyes locked on his.
He turned to her and she took a breath and halted.
“Mr. Potter,” McGonagall began.
James expected to be in trouble, but as she continued, he saw a glint of a smile on the professor’s stern face.
“Professor Dumbledore has asked me to give you this.”
James looked down and saw her hand come up with a piece of fine parchment, rolled and sealed with red wax.
He slowly took it and looked to McGonagall quizzically. She simply glanced over her gold rimmed glasses and told him to get to his next class.
He stuffed the parchment into his pocket along with Lily’s crumpled letter, and made his way out to the green houses.
After class, the Marauders headed straight to their dorm room to find out what the note was about. James set it upon his trunk and they stared at it, rolled and sealed with wax.
“What are we waiting for?” asked Sirius, snatching it up. “I don’t think it’s a Howler.”
“Wait!” breathed Remus, grabbing Sirius' sleeve. “Doesn’t it look like the one from, ya know, last night?”
James remembered Hagrid giving Mad Eye Moody a rolled and sealed parchment.
“What’s on the seal?” asked Peter.
Sirius studied the glob of red wax. “It’s a ‘P’.”
“Curious,” said Peter, edging forward eagerly. “Open it!”
Sirius broke the seal and unrolled the parchment.
Dear Messrs. Black, Lupin, Pettigrew, and Potter,
Please come to my office chambers tonight at eight-o-clock. The password is “Ice Mice”. Be so kind as to bring this note with you.
The boys looked to each other. They didn’t know whether to be worried or delighted.
James took up the letter. “I’ll carry this. He probably doesn’t want the password to fall into anybody’s hands.”
As he shoved it back into his pocket, he felt the crumpled paper that was still there. Lily.
“I’ll catch you guys at dinner.”
And he headed out to the common room. He looked around for Lily, but she wasn’t there. James felt a hand on his shoulder and turned to see that Remus had followed him down.
“Prongs, she’s in the library getting ready for a study group meeting. It starts in about 20 minutes so if you want to talk to her, better catch her now.”
James smiled to Remus and darted through the portrait hole. He found his way to the library, and saw Lily at one of the sitting areas in the back.
He took a chair next to her as she turned to pull a book out of her backpack.
“Oh! James!” Lily said once she straightened in her seat. “What are you doing here?”
“SHHH!” came the librarian’s voice.
“Remus told me you were getting ready for your study group, so I thought I’d stop by to keep you company,” he answered quietly.
She smiled. “You know, you’re welcome to stay for the study group if you’d like. It may help, you never know.”
His hand shot to his hair. Join a study group? He barely ever studied in the first place. “Er, thanks, but I’ve, uh, got things to do. Places to go. People to see.”
Lily frowned with playful skepticism. “It must be wonderful to have everything come so naturally. I, on the other hand, have to analyze and study and read and read and read.”
James laughed weakly. “So, um. The Christmas Holiday is coming up quickly.”
Lily sighed, “I wish I could stay at Hogwarts.”
“Well, my family usually goes to France for Christmas, for one thing. But this year, plans have changed. Oh, and to top it off, my lovely sister is getting engaged.”
He frowned at her sharp tone. “That isn’t a good thing?”
She laughed weakly. “I don’t really get along with the man she wants to marry. I don’t really even get along with my sister.”
“Why?” James asked. “Who could not like you?”
Lily peered to James with dispirited eyes. “Petunia thinks I’m, well, a freak.”
James stared at her dumfounded. “Why would anyone think that!”
“SHHH!” warned the librarian again.
“James, I come from an all Muggle family and know that some will never understand the world of magic. That’s why the Ministry of Magic has such strict laws against exposure to the non magic folk.”
“I know, Lily. But she’s family.”
“It doesn’t matter. Anything different, anything magical, she hates.”
James took her hand in both of his. “I’m sorry, Lily. I didn’t know.”
“Couldn’t you ask to stay at Hogwarts?” James offered. “Your parents are pretty cool like that. I think they would understand.”
Lily studied his handsome face. “My parents know that I don’t always get along with Petunia and her boyfriend, but they don’t know the extent of it. They love my sister and me equally, and it would break their hearts knowing. So, Petunia and I keep it under wraps. That means I can’t write home saying ‘Hey mum, I won’t be coming home because Petunia and Vernon would rather see me burn on a stake than invite me over for some Christmas cheer’.”
James saw the frustration in Lily’s glorious green eyes. He felt just awful knowing that anyone, especially family, could hate so much what they don’t understand. He scowled. This all sounded too familiar. Mad Eye Moody had talked along the same lines when describing Death Eaters. So, James thought bitterly, some Muggles think witches and wizards aren’t worthy to live just as some witches and wizards think Muggles aren’t worthy to live. He was quite disgusted.
James was tempted to offer her a place at his home for the holidays, but resisted to offer. He just wished there was something he could do, but he felt like a blind man trying to find the brightest star in the sky.
“James?” Lily whispered, leaning closer.
“Oh, nothing,” she stuttered, looking up to see the members of her study group arriving.
* * *
“Ice Mice,” James said at the gargoyle outside Dumbledore’s office chambers.
Once the wonderful spiral staircase was exposed, the Marauders quickly stepped through and up they went. They arrived in the parlor outside the office to find the door wide open. Remus peeked inside.
“Welcome, boys. Come, have a seat.”
They stepped through the doorway and passed the Headmaster’s wonderful trinkets and magical gadgets. Hagrid sat upon a huge armchair next to four normal sized ones, set in front of Dumbledore’s desk. The boys took their seats as Dumbledore stroked the scarlet feathers of his pet Phoenix, Fawkes. Once they were comfortable, he made his way behind the desk and took his seat before Hagrid and the Gryffindor boys.
Dumbledore gestured towards James. “The note, please.”
James reached into his robes and produced the parchment with the broken red seal. He placed it in Dumbledore’s hand. Dumbledore turned to Hagrid and gave him the letter. Hagrid rose and stepped in front of the marvelous fireplace, tossing the letter into its flames. There was a hissing noise and the parchment quickly vanished in a puff of red smoke.
The Marauders turned to Dumbledore as Hagrid took his seat again.
“That is a minor precaution we take concerning those kinds of letters,” explained Professor Dumbledore. “Now, Hagrid tells me that you, well, met some of our friends.”
The boys peered at each other nervously. Were they going to get expelled? They looked to Hagrid with a hint of disappointment. Before heading back to their dormitory last night, Hagrid had said that none of them should speak of the meeting. They assumed Hagrid would keep his mouth shut as well. But that trust was blown now, and they couldn’t believe that this may be their last day at school.
Dumbledore laughed. “Don’t look at Hagrid that way. You’re not going to be expelled.”
They each let out a sigh of relief.
“But I must ask two things of you,” Dumbledore continued. “First, never speak of what you witnessed. Everything you know from that meeting must remain secret.”
“We kind of caught on to that, Professor,” James said.
Dumbledore winked, then his face quickly turned serious. “Secondly, you must promise me that you won’t sneak out like that again. You’re Hogwarts students and that is your only responsibility right now. Concentrate on your school work, and forget what was discussed last night.”
The boys looked down with disappointment. They were hoping to get in on the action. To become members themselves of that group, that Order.
Dumbledore studied them over his half moon spectacles. “Promise me now, lads.”
They looked to him. “We promise.”
"Good. Keep these things in the back of you mind. Put it all on the backburner. You’ve got these last two years at Hogwarts left so keep on this path and you will find your calling when the time’s appropriate. Understand? Now run along to your dormitory.”
They stood up and headed to the door as the chairs disappeared. Peter bit his lip and halted, tugging on Sirius’ sleeve. Sirius looked down to him with annoyance for a moment, then remembered something they wanted to ask Dumbledore.
“Um, excuse me, Professor?” he said, turning back towards the Headmaster. “What does ‘P’ stand for?”
Dumbledore smiled and walked around his desk to Fawkes’ perch. He tickled the Phoenix under the beak with his forefinger and whispered, “It is the seal of our Order, Mr. Black.”