Harry tensed, eyes wide, as Hedwig landed in front of him holding a menacing, bright red envelope; Lily Potter was not known for her calm states. He looked down at Ron helplessly, who was all but hiding under the table after receiving a Howler of his own just minutes before.
"You'd better open it, Harry," Hermione advised, eyeing the envelope warily. "If it ends up as bad as Ron's, you won't want it to explode." Neville grimaced.
"Erm, she's right, mate," Ron said as he eased his way back onto the bench and patted Harry on the back.
Harry nodded and hesitantly took the letter off his owl's leg. Almost immediately, Hedwig bolted away as the envelope began to shake, unwilling to stick around for the show. Harry tore it open and leaned back slightly as his mother's voice exploded from the parcel.
"HARRY JAMES POTTER!" the Howler screamed. "HOW DARE YOU? BECAUSE OF YOUR RECKLESSNESS, ARTHUR IS FACING AN INQUIRY AT WORK!"
"That's just like mine," Ron whimpered and squirmed in his seat. Harry shot him a sympathetic look.
"THIS IS NO WAY TO REPAY MOLLY FOR ALLOWING YOU TO STAY, AND FOR AN ENTIRE WEEK! WE ARE SO DISAPPOINTED IN YOU!"
"Lily, don't bring us into this," a new, familiar voice said, magnified throughout the Great Hall.
"James! Now is not the time." Lily sounded exasperated.
"HARRY PRONGSLET POTTER, I AM SO PROUD OF YOU!"
Harry grinned as his godfather shouted his praise. Several students in the Great Hall chuckled and, out of the corner of his eye, he saw McGonagall's mouth twitch slightly.
"Sirius! Honestly, aren't you supposed to be a good role model for Harry?"
"Oh, come on Lily," somebody said, their tone laced with amusement. Harry sniggered, recognizing the sound of Remus' voice. "You have got to admit, that was quite worthy of the Marauders…"
"Remus," Lily snapped. "I had the minuscule hope you were planning on being the mature one here."
"Eh, it's my day off."
"Ow!" Sirius, Remus, and James exclaimed in unison. "Violence doesn't solve anything, woman. There's no need to slap us!"
"Oh, well apparently there is! You are all a terrible influence!"
"There's no saving the kid now, Lily," Remus said. "He's been living with Sirius for twelve years, you might as well give up."
"I swear I married all three of you," Lily muttered, though it was projected loudly through the Great Hall. McGonagall lifted a hand to cover her quivering smile.
"In our defense," Sirius objected, "you were the one that decided to marry a Marauder."
"You should've known what you were getting yourself into," Remus agreed.
"What was this thing for again?" James said lazily. Harry could virtually see him running a hand through his hair.
"Ah… Lily got ticked at Harry for crashing the car. Again, I must admit, brilliant work, Harry," Remus said, mumbling the last sentence quietly in clear hopes Lily wouldn't hear.
"No, no… don't remind her, don't remind her," Harry murmured, staring at the letter.
"Ah, thank you, Remus," Lily said pleasantly. "HARRY! WHEN YOU GET HOME —"
"I completely forgot! Hey, Snivellus!" James yelled. There was the sound of distant scolding, accompanied by more grumbling. Harry glanced at the staff table, where Snape was glaring viciously at the shouting letter, though Dumbledore's eyes were twinkling.
"Harry, if you do that again, I swear to Merlin I will march down there and yank you out of that school by that tangled mop you call hair!" Lily warned threateningly, making Harry shrink down in his seat.
"Oi, Lily! For your information, Prongslet has my fantastic hair in his genes."
"Merlin, in that case, he's a goner."
"Can't you all be serious for once?" Lily said, frustration lining her tone. Harry, however, could hear her hidden amusement.
"No!" Remus gasped as James groaned in the background. "Have you or have you not lived with Padfoot for almost seventeen years?"
"'COURSE I CAN BE SERIOUS!" Sirius proclaimed gleefully. Harry rolled his eyes and slammed his head on the table. "In fact, Lily, I am always Sirius! Didn't you know?"
"That got old in first year, mate," James admitted. "Oh, come on, Lily, don't give me that look. At least he's not calling you Evans anymore." Harry pictured his mother scowling, hiding a smile in her eyes.
"You three are so immature," Lily said ruefully. "I thought maybe… SIRIUS, YOU DID NOT JUST THROW A PILLOW AT ME."
"BAD MOVE, PADFOOT. RUN. RUN!"
Barking issued through the letter, spilling into the Great Hall, followed by loud, heavy footsteps that could be mistaken for a clap of thunder.
"Black, I will implement a no-pets policy in this house!"
"Well, dang, Lily, you can't throw Remus out like that."
"Oh, be quiet, James. Harry, we will discuss this over Christmas! Yes, you will be coming home and yes, you can bring Ron with you. Remus, stop throwing pillows at James and… JAMES, NO! GIVE ME THE LETTER!
"Alright, Harry, we have to go!" James said in a hasten tone. His voice was bouncing as if he was running and he was panting slightly. "We're in the dangerous territory of your mother's wrath."
"I'm not sure if we'll still be alive by the time this comes," Remus huffed. "But if we are we'll try our best to bail you out. So you know, though, erm, it may come down to saving yourself. Oh, and… might I recommend disguising the car from muggles next time?"
"Fred, George!" Sirius yelled, his voice coming within earshot. "If Harry doesn't manage to live up to our legacy, which I find hard to believe with a brilliant influence like me, we're counting on you!" Fred and George flashed innocent smiles at the staff table.
"Alright, Prongslet… we've got to —"
"JAMES, YOU GIVE ME THAT LETTER NOW!"
"This may be the last you ever hear from us, Harry."
"Wish us luck!"
"I'm leaving everything to you!"
Lily laughed triumphantly in the background. There were several shouts and more thumps as the voices faded away and loud, frenzied barking, and, with a puff of smoke, the letter shredded itself to pieces.
The Great Hall remained dead silent for several seconds, the only sound coming from the faint sizzling emitting from the remains of the Howler. Then, the students burst into a smattering of applause. With a quick look at the staff, Harry could see McGonagall was now barely suppressing her laughter through her attempts to look stern. Several other teachers were smiling and shaking their heads, though some were still throwing the Weasley twins edged glances.
Dumbledore stood and tapped his fork against his goblet, quieting the Hall almost immediately.
"Well, Harry," he said, smiling unabashedly and winking under his half-moon spectacles. "Be sure to thank your guardians for that entertaining performance. Now, classes start in five minutes."
"Well…" Harry said slowly as everybody, still chattering excitedly, stood and began to flow towards the doors in a large mound of robes. "Ron, want to come home for Christmas with me?"
"With your bloody insane family?" Ron said incredulously. "We'll be better off chancing my mum when Fred and George throw a dungbomb in the kitchen."