James shivered a bit and took a sip of his cocoa. The steam tickled his nose as the drink warmed his lips and throat. Sirius huddled next to him and James could feel his friend’s arm shivering slightly as well. Standing near the rail of the balcony was Remus, rubbing his gloved hands together and hiding his nose under his scarf. Peter sat a slight distance away, balled up in his cloak as his teeth quietly chattered.
They didn’t waste any energy in talk, but just sat there staring up at the glorious heavens, their minds venturing to various stars and thoughts. They looked up at the dark, icy sky to the stars shining above. It was worth the biting cold. They loved the night. They lived for it.
All was quiet and most all of the castle windows were darkened; the rest of its inhabitants were asleep in their warm beds. James thought of Lily’s eyes as he watched those stars. He half-wished he had brought her up to the astronomy tower tonight, but this was something he relished with his closest mates. It was something that the four of them have done since their first year and it was their special retreat.
Remus bent to pick up his mug of hot cocoa when he suddenly stopped and edged to the balcony rail. He leaned over, squinting to see something.
“Hey, you guys,” he whispered without turning towards the other boys. “Who do you suppose that is?”
The other three joined him at the rail and peered down through the darkness towards the edge of the Forbidden Forest.
A man was striding across the lawn towards Hagrid’s cabin, its windows suddenly full of light. Soon they heard a knock on the door echoing up to them in the night’s stillness. They watched as Hagrid quickly opened the door and the man stepped in.
“Strange for Hagrid to have company this late,” Peter noted.
They watched for a few more moments, and almost as quickly as the visitor's haste, the lights were snuffed out in the cabin and the door again opened. Hagrid carried a lantern and was followed out by the man. The two of them slowly wandered across the lawn, as if they were in deep discussion, and gradually began descending the hill towards the gates of Hogwarts.
“This is quite peculiar,” whispered Remus.
“Not really,” breathed Sirius. “Hagrid’s excursions to Hogsmeade are nothing unusual. So a drinking buddy’s come to get him. Big deal.”
“Well, I say we follow him,” said James.
As if that settled matters, they headed through the hatch of the Astronomy balcony and rushed quickly down the tower. As they approached the door leading to the corridor, Sirius pulled out the Marauder’s Map.
“All clear,” he said after studying the parchment for a moment by wand light. “If we stay to the main corridors, we could make it to the entrance hall the quickest.
“Right,” breathed James pulling the door open and peering down the dim hallway.
And they ran for it. James led the way as Sirius and Peter watched the map for any possible dangers. They almost made it to the castle’s grand entryway, when Sirius came to a halt.
“Bugger,” he breathed. “Someone’s arrived at the entrance hall. We’re blocked.”
James quickly turned to Sirius and he and Remus looked over Peter’s shoulder to see the map.
“Lily,” sighed Remus. “Probably making her prefect rounds.”
“We’re going to loose Hagrid!” stammered Peter.
“Shh,” warned James, his heart fluttering. “Quickly. Everyone under the cloak.”
The four of them shuffled under James’ invisibility cloak and slowly made their way to the edge of the landing at the top of the grand marble staircase. Lily was at the foot of the steps and they abruptly stopped and held their breath as they spotted her.
James saw the expression on her face. She looked outraged! He noticed she was reading a letter, her eyes darting across the paper furiously.
James wanted so desperately to go to her and see what was going on, but he knew better. He had to stay quiet. He smiled to himself, knowing that ever since she’d become a prefect, she’d been out to personally catch the Marauders. Even though he had finally won her affection, she probably wouldn’t have hesitated putting him in detention.
Lily glanced up. She looked about to cry, or scream, or something else out of Lily Evans’ character, but instead, she put both her hands together and crumpled the letter into a tight ball. She bit her lip and threw it to the floor before stomping up the stairs towards the boys.
They froze and watched her pass. Sirius studied the map as they waited quietly and when the area was clear, they proceeded down the stairs and across the entrance hall. James made sure to swoop up Lily’s letter as they passed where she had stood.
They got to the grand oak doors and slowly pulled them open. They squeezed through and shuffled across the frozen lawn under the cloak. This has proven to be quite a bit more difficult as the years have gone by. Good thing Peter was so little. They headed down the hill towards the gates, and quickly held their breath as they came upon Hagrid and his companion.
James recognized the other man at once. It was Gideon Prewett. He had seen him in Dumbledore’s office earlier in the school year at some kind of secret meeting.
They watched as Hagrid bent over to talk to the young Gryffindor alumni, but they couldn’t quite hear what was being said. Soon, Hagrid and Gideon were off again and were leading the Marauders down the road towards Hogsmeade.
They got to the door of the Hog’s Head, the mangy old tavern that was far less frequented than Hogsmeade’s other inn, the Three Broomsticks. Gideon quickly pulled the door open and Hagrid followed after peering down the dark streets one last time. The door slowly shut behind him, giving the boys plenty of time to sneak through.
The dim candles around the pub gave the room a dank, grimy feel, but at least it was warm. James could barely feel his limbs as they trudged along in the chilling night, but feeling was beginning to painfully return.
They peered through the cloak and noticed that the only patrons in the inn were at the table that Hagrid and Gideon were heading towards. Absolutely no other people were there, which was strange, even for the Hog’s Head.
The Marauders stood stationary by the door, holding their breath, as the room had become very quiet upon the arrival of Hagrid and Gideon.
James noticed that a man sitting at the table had looked up and was peering towards the door from under a tilted bowler hat. He had the feeling that the man was looking at him, though James knew he had to be looking at the door. They were under the invisibility cloak.
The man turned to Hagrid. “Were you followed, Ruebus?”
Hagrid rubbed his beard and frowned. “Don’ think so, Alister.”
“Are you sure?” the man insisted, annoyance tinting his voice.
“Why would I be followed?” asked Hagrid, quite perplexed as everyone at the table studied him curiously. “S’ not like I never come out teh Hogsmeade. No one’ll think on it.”
The man with the tilted bowler hat ignored Hagrid and stood up, his voluminous traveling cloak draping from his shoulders. He shuffled out of his seat and headed towards the door. He squinted cruelly and stuck out his gnarled hands.
The Marauders tried to back out of the way, but it was as if he could see them through the cloak! James heard Peter squeak with fear and thought he was going to transform into a rat to try and escape. Only Peter could make it back to the Gryffindor common room unnoticed. But because the man seemed to be looking at each of them dead in the eye, James knew that it wouldn’t be a smart thing to illegally transform there.
The man’s hands met the invisibility cloak and grabbed handfuls of the fabric. He quickly pulled it off the four boys and they were helplessly frozen in surprise.
As the man flung the cloak over his shoulder, his bowler hat was knocked to the floor and the boys looked at his scarred and weathered face with fright. The eye that was before hidden by the hat was hideous and large. It rolled about looking at each of the Marauders in turn, moving independently from his normal blue eye.
Everyone at the table stood and gasped. Hagrid’s eyes went wide and his chair skidded across the floor as he stood up in his rush.
“What’re ya doin’ ere!” roared the giant as the Gryffindor boys stared about the room. “Back to the school wit ya!”
He ushered the boys with his huge arms towards the exit, but suddenly there was a hand gripping Hagrid’s shoulder.
“Just a minute,” came a young, sturdy voice from behind the giant.
Hagrid turned as Gideon Prewett brought his hand down to his side.
“They’re alright. I say we let them stay. Introduce em to the gang.”
“Reubus is right, Gideon,” stammered the frightening man who held James' invisibility cloak. “They’ve no right to be here. They should be expelled for this.”
James and the boys looked pleadingly to Hagrid.
“Er, back to the school,” Hagrid said, a bit more calmly.
“But Hagrid,” Gideon protested, winking a gray eye at James. “We’ve discussed this before. Remember? We know which side the likes of them are on.”
Hagrid frowned at the strapping young Gryffindor alumni.
“Just introduce them,” urged Gideon again. “Then you can take em back to Hogwarts.”
Hagrid sighed and moved aside to let the boys proceed to the table. Gideon grinned and helped them scrounge up some more chairs.
Once everyone was seated, they stared to Hagrid to make the introductions.
Hagrid raised a hand to point to the Marauders in turn. “Everyone, this is Remus Lupin, Peter Pettigrew, James Potter, and—and Sirius Black.”
At that last name, whispers and quiet gasps filled the dingy room. The man with the enormous icy eye stood up and slammed his fists upon the table.
“Black! A Black, you say!” he scowled darkly. “Get them out of here at once!”
Hagrid patted Sirius genially on the back, sending him face first into the table. “’S all right, Moody. ‘S not like the res’ o his family.”
Sirius straightened and glared at Moody, but sat still and silent between James and Hagrid. The frightening man breathed darkly then slumped back down into his chair. His strange eye seemed fixed on Sirius as he peered around at the other faces with his normal eye.
Hagrid turned to the Marauders, “That there’s Mad Eye Moody. ‘S a tough one, but trust me, he’s alright. Yer remember Gideon and his brother Fabian? I think Gideon was in his seventh year at Ogwarts durin' yer firs' year.”
"Yeah, we remember em," James smiled as Gideon winked again.
Hagrid made his way around the table and introduced the rest of the group to the Marauders. James thought it was quite a strange gathering, especially to be meeting in the dead of night at the Hog’s Head.
“So, what are you doing here? Why are you meeting here like this?” Remus asked after a moment of silence.
Everyone looked around at each other, searching for the answer among the faces.
Moody peered darkly to Remus. “Ya heard of Death Eaters, boy?”
Remus and his friends nodded, their interests perked.
Moody chuckled to himself. “I see. You probably don’t even know what it means to be a Death Eater, though, do you? You probably don’t even know who the leader of the Death Eaters are!”
“The point is, you guys,” interrupted Gideon as he glared to Moody. “They’re our enemies. They’re the reason we meet at places like the Hog’s Head.”
“That’s enough, Mr. Prewett!” said Moody with a penetrating gaze at the Hogwarts students. “They’ve learned too much. Off to the school with you. Now!”
James began to glare at Moody. He had no idea what James knew!
“For your information, Mad Eye Moody,” James said, surprised at his confident tone. “We know more than you think!”
Moody glared at James. “Care to expand on that, Mister Potter?”
“Well, we know that they’ve gotten in to Hogwarts.”
Whispers and voices again filled the room and soon everyone turned their eyes to Hagrid for confirmation.
Hagrid looked a bit worried, and blurted, “Well, now. There’re suspicions and rumors an’ all. But Dumbledore’s got everything under control.”
That didn’t seem to help. People were stuttering and whispering even more.
“Who? Who might they be?” asked a wizard.
“Teachers? Staff members? Who?” asked another.
“Students,” Sirius answered simply.
The faces hushed and peered at Sirius in shock.
“So young!” a witch finally said, breaking the silence. “We had no idea.”
James studied the faces thoughtfully. “Maybe we could be of use to you then.”
Moody and Hagrid glared at James.
“No,” breathed Hagrid weakly. “No. Absolutely not. Yer only sixteen yers old.”
“But Hagrid,” said Gideon suddenly. “Maybe James is right. If they’ve got informers on the inside, we could use some too.”
“That’s what I’m fer,” stammered Hagrid.
Gideon rolled his eyes. “That’s not what I mean, Hagrid. I’m talking about someone close. Someone that can monitor them where only other students can. Make sure there’s nothing going on.”
“That’s ridiculous!” interrupted Moody. “Using students as insiders. They’re too young. I won’t allow it! Dumbledore won’t allow it!”
Hagrid smiled with agreement and triumph.
“They’re probably using the students to get at Albus!” someone said. “Probably trying to get something against him!”
James frowned at this. What could Dumbledore have to do with it? Then it hit him. He must be a member of this group as well. So that’s what that meeting a while back in Dumbledore’s office was about.
“But why would they want to get at Dumbledore?” asked Remus as though he were reading James' thoughts.
Moody chuckled to himself again. “Your Headmaster is more than just some school teacher, young Lupin. He’s quite powerful. Beyond your comprehension, for sure. He’s loathed by Dark wizards and witches, by Death Eaters…by the Dark Lord.”
Everyone sat in silence for a while, pondering what Moody had said.
Then Sirius broke the silence, his voice edged with eager curiosity. “You detest my family name. Tell me, are there any Death Eaters in my family?”
Everyone turned to Moody, who seemed to be the most knowledgeable about Death Eater activity.
“We don’t actually know who the Death Eaters are yet, Mister—er—Black,” Moody said, seeming to feel a bit sorry for Sirius. “We just know what they do... Anything that has to do with non-magic people, they hate. Muggles, ‘Muggle-lovers’, witches or wizards born to Muggles—they hate them... A Death Eater could be someone rich and powerful, or could be the smallest simpleton with no influence at all in the wizard world. But they have one thing in common—they believe with all their black hearts that they are superior to Muggles and 'Mudbloods'. They believe it is their duty—their mission—to rid the world of anything they think impure.”
“That’s why the Order was created,” replied Gideon. "We stand against them."
“Who’s your leader?” asked Remus.
Everyone sat in silence. The boys looked to Hagrid. He looked as though he wanted to tell, but his nose was crumpled, physically fighting the urge.
Moody leaned across the table and whispered, “There may be unseen ears lurking, young Lupin. I forbid any more talk of the subject.”
The Marauders looked a bit disappointed, but let it go. Something at the pits of their stomachs told them Mad Eye Moody was right.
Hagrid stood and reached into his moleskin coat. He pulled out a parchment, rolled and sealed with red wax, and handed it to Moody.
“Yer know what ter do,” Hagrid said as Moody quickly snatched up the roll. “Come on, yer guys. Back ter school.”
The Marauders stood and followed Hagrid towards the door.
“Potter,” called Mad Eye Moody. “You’ll be needing this back. Use it well.”
Moody tossed James back his invisibility cloak. The Marauders huddled under it and followed Hagrid out into the night.