As James entered the Great Hall, he felt a familiar wave of excitement wash over him. However, the sensation of the myriad possibilities that each new school year brought was altered by the fact that this would be his last year, bringing a sense of pre-emptive nostalgia to the mix. He smiled as he spotted his friends at the far end of the Gryffindor table, with an extra space clearly saved for him.
Carefully avoiding an ‘accidentally’ outstretched leg from the Slytherin seventh years, he made his way over to the rest of the Marauders, acknowledging various other friends as he went. Sirius had always been the most popular with the ladies, but James was the real guys’ guy, and as such it was a full five minutes before he eventually sat down. Glancing up, he noticed Lily looking for a spot herself. Instinctively, he went to wave her over, but Remus noticed him and promptly remarked:
“James, seriously, what part of ‘back off’ is confusing you?”
“The part where I can’t even sit near her. Isn’t that what friends do?”
“Yeah, but you’re not friends.” Remus shook his head disbelievingly, before continuing. “The idea was to become her friend, let her realise you like her as a person, and that she likes you as a person, and then pursue her romantically if there’s actually any real connection. Forcing yourself on her, even in a non-sexual way, is not going to help. Remember, you’re trying to behave in a mature and respectful manner.”
“Wow, way to play to your strengths!” Sirius commented with a smirk.
“Are you trying to say I can’t be mature and respectful?” James asked.
“Yes,” Sirius responded.
“Fair enough,” he conceded.
Peter looked poised to add some undoubtedly witty rejoinder, but was prevented by a loud throat-clearing from front of the hall. They turned and found the familiar sight of an old frayed hat, sitting on a small stool in front of a line of quivering first years.
“You know, I’ve just realised that we never played a prank using the sorting hat.” Sirius commented under his breath, as a hush fell over the room “That seems like quite an oversight on our behalf.”
“Well, it put us all in Gryffindor; so in a sense it’s responsible for all our pranks. It’s played its role.” James whispered back. As he finished, a wide tear appeared by the brim, and a distinctive voice began to sing:
“I am the Hogwarts Sorting hat,
As most of you will know,
And my job is to work out where
You would be best to go.
If wisdom is your treasure
Then in Ravenclaw you’ll fit,
Whereas those who go to Slytherin
Most prize their cunning wit.
In Gryffindor I’ll place those
Who are brave, and daring too,
While Hufflepuff is filled
With those most loyal and most true.
But sadly these are not
The only factors which I see
For family will also
Influence the choice for me
I’ve had this job since Hogwarts
School had only just begun,
But recently I’ve questioned
Why we think it must be done.
So I’ll remind you all of something
That I’ve never sung before:
This school is all one body
Though of houses there are four
Our differences are smaller
Than the magic that we make;
If we let our pasts divide us
Then the whole school is at stake
So remember when you put me on
And let me do my worst,
That wherever my choice places you
You were placed in Hogwarts first.”
For several seconds there was total silence, as every student and teacher was united in utter surprise. Slowly, a tentative applause was given, the hat taking its usual bows. McGonagall stepped forwards and turned to the first years:
“When I call your name, put on the hat and sit while you are sorted. Ackeley, Oscar!”
As a pale blond boy nervously reached out for the now inanimate object, quiet discussions broke out around the hall.
“Well, that was unusual,” commented Sirius.
“Totally,” Peter added, “who knew a Sorting Hat could get political?”
Further down the table, Lily was having a very similar conversation.
“Eerie or what?” she said, shivering. “And there was me hoping it all might have died down while I was incommunicado.”
“No such luck. You know things are serious when the head-gear gets involved. Still, uniting with the Slytherins – it’ll take more than a war to bring that about!”
Lily smiled weakly at her friend’s comments, but the expression didn’t reach her eyes. Noticing this, Alice asked:
“Did you speak to Sev at all over the summer; I know he lives pretty close.”
Shaking her head, Lily replied, “No. Petunia would have had a fit if he’d come round to mine, and his mother has become creepy in the extreme recently. Besides, I’m sure he’d have been too busy with his death eater pals.”
“Don’t say that. I know you miss him Lils, and besides, we’ve no proof that he’s joined that gang.”
“Oh, come on; he was overheard talking about You-know-who on the train.”
“According to Juliet Caperi! If everything she said was true then you’d have six boyfriends and be in a committed relationship with me!”
“Fair point, but still, Sev’s just changed over the last few years; I don’t know how else to describe it.”
“I guess. Talking of people who’ve changed; James was behaving himself pretty well today.”
“Yeah. I’m stuck between two explanations; either Remus has finally found a spell strong enough to control him, or the mother of all pranks is about to unfold.” Or he’s over me, she added silently.
“Or he could have just grown up... wait, you’re right; the mother of all pranks is definitely about to unfold.”
“Zeller, Andrew,” McGonagall called from the end of the hall, as the last quivering first year was went up, to promptly be sorted into Hufflepuff. The Sorting Hat was promptly removed, along with its stool, as the headmaster stood up to make his start of term speech.
“To the new amongst us, I wish a warm welcome; to those returning, welcome back. And to you all I say ‘tuck in’!”
“Ah, Dumbledore; always just on the right side of loony,” Sirius commented with a fond smile.
“Ooh, look, here it comes!” Peter added, as the start of term feast mysteriously appeared before them. The four Marauders all stopped for a moment, tense with anticipation, before Remus said:
“Quick, start filling your plates; we need to act natural or someone will get suspicious.”
The others immediately began to follow his lead, but by that point, no one was watching the Gryffindor table.
All along the Slytherin table, quiet pops could be heard, followed by louder gasps and profanities. Above this noise, came the later but louder sound of the other three tables laughing, as they watched bright pink dresses appear up and down the table, taking the place of the school robes of various pupils. After a brief pause of surprise, the teaching body rose to help the affected individuals, but it seemed that every time one outfit was restored, another one changed.
“OK,” Peter whispered under the general roar. “I get how you modified the switching draught to turn things pink, but how did you get it to keep jumping like that?”
“It isn’t jumping – the potion’s on a variable time delay; it’s just affecting different people at different times.” James replied, grinning. “But I amazed at how many people it’s affecting; what did you put it in?”
Now it was Peter’s turn to grin. “The pumpkin juice; you know how picky death eaters are – didn’t want to miss anyone out!”
“So, is everyone else looking forward to Transfiguration this year?” Remus butted in with, loudly. “I know I can’t wait to learn about transfiguring ourselves to have extra powers.”
The other three looked at him in disbelief, before noticing a presence behind them.
“I think you boys might have quite enough powers as it is, actually; it’s just learning how to use it appropriately that you need to learn.”
“Professor McGonagall! How nice to see you again,” James exclaimed, attempting to cover Peter’s continuing look of panic.
“After the feast, I expect to see all of you in my office. Understand?”
Sirius looked ready to reply, but after three quick kicks in the shins, he joined the others in politely nodding instead.
“OK, we are officially brilliant,” James said once they were sufficiently far from McGonagall’s office.
“Yeah; thank goodness no-one would believe you capable of sneaking into the kitchens, hey Wormtail?”
McGonagall had unsuccessfully questioned the foursome for almost twenty minutes, before reluctantly accepting their various alibis. Only Peter had been unaccounted for during any of the period prior to the feast commencing, and he had been seen entering the bathroom, albeit for almost twenty minutes.
“I do feel a little guilty though,” Remus added quietly. “All that stuff about how she was relying on us to set an example to the younger students; how we had been given positions of responsibility and all.”
“Exactly,” James replied. “And how better to set an example than by messing about with the Slytherins? Honestly, Moony, sometimes I just don’t get you!”
The boys continued debating this as they entered the common room, only to be stopped in their tracks by a certain red head.
“James Charlus Potter! What on Earth do you think you were doing?” Lily hissed, mere centimetres from his face. The remaining Marauders quickly slid past and headed up to their dormitory, having long since learnt to stay out of such arguments.
“Excuse me? What did I do?” James replied, his face a mask of innocent curiosity. Wow, she’s pretty close up. Though her eyes are a little freaky when they bulge like that – looks definitely can’t kill, right?
“You know exactly what you did! I know you have no respect for the Slytherins, or school rules, or even how this reflects on us as a team, but I’d have thought you might have at least considered what this might mean to Dumbledore. Honestly, he goes to all the effort of making you head boy, and this is how you repay him?”
Why is it that when she says it, I suddenly feel guilty? Turning pink, James kept his eyes firmly rooted to his shoes, waiting for Lily to finish.
“You know, earlier today I’d really begun to hope you had changed. Couldn’t you at least try to act your age?”
Realising she was expecting an answer at this point, he looked back up. “OK.”
“Well... wait, what?” Lily’s expression went from indignant to incredulous as she processed his response.
“I’ll try to act my age. Not that I’m admitting to any non-mature activity, but I guess I could at least try.”
“Well, OK. Right. Good.” Never having actually won an argument with James before, Lily suddenly found herself at a complete loss. “So, see you at the prefects’ meeting on Friday?”
“Sure thing. See you then.”
James gave her a quick smile before heading up after his friends.
What just happened? Lily thought to herself as she returned to where she had been sitting with Alice.
“Not that I was eaves-dropping, but did I just hear James Potter agree with you?” Alice asked as Lily sat down.
“I think so.” Lily replied, looking a little dazed. “Maybe he actually has grown up.”
“Well, on that note, I think it’s definitely time for bed.”
“Good plan – I think I’ve had all the excitement I can handle today.”
After a quick check on the first years, they hazily made their way to their dormitory and got ready for bed. However, while Alice began snoring mere moments after her head hit her pillow; Lily found sleep more elusive, as she continued to ponder the events of the day. One thing was for sure, it was going to be an interesting year.
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