"We're nearly there," said James, who was leading the other Marauders on one of their many nocturnal excursions through the passage behind the statue of the one-eyed witch. They were heading to Hogsmeade to manage some mischief and were all very excited. Except for one Remus Lupin, who didn't particularly want to lose his status as prefect just yet.
"Keep your voice down!" he whispered.
"Talking of keeping things down, Moony," said Sirius, "d'you mind keeping your backside down - lovely as it is - I don't particularly want to stare at it all the way to Honeydukes."
When they finally reaching the trapdoor, James pushed it open. Just as expected, the cellar was dark and boxes of sweets were dotted all over the place. With one quick glance around to check that the coast was clear (which it most definitely was) he grinned at the faces behind him.
"Alright, let's go!"
"Wait for me!" shouted Peter squeakily as his friends disappeared up the steps and onto the shop floor.
"Shut up!" barked Sirius. "Believe it or not, Wormtail, we're not meant to be here and if we get caught because of you I'll make sure you will never walk again," he thought for a moment and then added, "unless you're extraordinary at handstands."
"Alohomora!" said James confidently and the door clicked open. They made their way into the street, Remus shutting the door quietly behind him. Peter shuffled nervously from foot to foot. His watery eyes were watering more than ever with the added distress of the cold weather.
"What if we're seen?" he said, wringing his hands.
"Then I'll have to dazzle them with my devastatingly good looks, won't I?" said Sirius, grinning widely. He inhaled deeply. "Smell that fresh air, boys! Freedom at last!"
Remus checked his watch.
"We'll have to be quick, you know," he said. "Filch is already suspicious. He's taken to patrolling the corridors every night since someone dropped those dungbombs outside the library last Tuesday."
"I reckon Filch let them off himself," said James coolly, starting to stroll down the street, "just so he could catch a glimpse of old Madam Pince."
Sirius' bark of laughter earned them a few looks from passers-by and Remus said cautiously, "Perhaps we should move along."
"Quite right, Moony," said Sirius jovially, putting his arm around his friend's shoulder. "We've got drinks with our names on!"
They reached the door of the Hog's Head, the gloom of the place not bringing their spirits down any and James opened the door to the Hog's Head and threw his arms wide, entering with a dramatic shout of, "Honey, I'm home!"
The silence that followed was defeaning. Even in the darkness of the grotty pub, it was obvious that everyone had turned away from their dodgy dealings to stare.
"Way to stay unnoticed, Prongs."
"As always, Moony, as always," he grinned, tipping a non-existent hat at a nearby hag.
"First drinks are on you, Wormtail," Sirius said, striding to the bar where the grumpy-looking barman watched them through narrowed-eyes that twinkled a very familiar blue.
"Good evening, my good man!" said Sirius, grinning pompously. "Four goblets of your finest mulled mead, please," he continued, slapping his hand on the bar.
After studying them for a minute, Aberforth grunted, "How old are you lot?"
Sirius turned to James, who turned to Peter, who turned to Remus, who said earnestly, "Sixty-four."
Aberforth frowned even further for a moment and then shrugged. "Fine by me."
Once they had been given their drinks, they made their way over to a table in the middle of the room, each taking a seat.
"Well," said Sirius proudly, clapping Remus on the back, "Moony, I'm impressed. I didn't know you could lie so well."
"I didn't lie," he smiled in reply. "Our combined agesare sixty-four."
James roared with laughter. "You devious git!" he said, ruffling his friend's hair.
The next hour or so passed with more drinks, several games of wizard snap (though the others had strictly refused to play strip wizard snap, much to Sirius' tipsy disappointment) and bets on how long it would be until the man in the corner would stop arguing with himself and pass out. They had been getting increasingly rowdier and it was only when Sirius threw up his arm theatrically, meaning to slam the card he was holding down on the table, and the card flew out of his grasp that Aberforth had anything to say to them. The card unfortunately landed at the feet of a lone wandering goat. It promptly bowed its head and quite happily ate the card.
"No feeding the goat!" said Aberforth furiously.
"Your girlfriend just ate my winning card!" bellowed Sirius, pointing at the goat indignantly.
"She's ugly too," said James, squinting at the offending animal.
"Yeah!" said Peter, before slumping back in his chair, apparently either too tired or tipsy to do much else.
"Apologise!" demanded Aberforth.
Sirius was just about to tell him where to go when Remus, ever polite, put a hand on his shoulder to shut him up. Remus then ambled over to the goat and knelt down before it."If we have offended you," he said, slurring ever so slightly, "may I offer our humblest - humblest - of apologies."
He bowed his head causing James and Sirius to fall about laughing, having to lean against each other for support.
"Right, that's it! Out!" roared Aberforth. "The lot of you!"
They blundered their way to the door, Peter being propped up by Remus, and James stopping to wink at the hag. As they opened the door Abertforth shouted angrily after their retreating backs as he patted the goat fondly. "And you're all barred for insulting Elvendork!"
"Elvendork?" repeated Sirius, frowning and turning around. "Is that a girl or a boy's name?"
"Either," said a calm voice from a darkened corner of the pub. "Alas, I used to have a rather stunning agapanthus called Elvendork that was the unfortunate victim of mistaken identity."
"Oh, right," said Sirius vaguely. "Yeah, I'll have to remember that ... the name thing, I mean, not your choice of plants."
He waved enthusiastically to the room before closing the door behind him.
By the time they had crawled back through the tunnel and into Hogwarts, each of them had rather sobered up, hence becoming somewhat more aware of their surroundings. James was the last to finally climb through the tunnel behind the one-eyed witch and he closed it as Sirius tried to get the Marauder's map out.
"Well, Marauders, that was fun," said James. "We'll have to do that again sometime."
They nodded in agreement (Remus a tad reluctantly) and grinned.
"Right, off to bed, I think," said James, "before Wormtail passes out again."
"I've forgotten the bloody map!" exclaimed Sirius.
They all groaned.
"Prongs, you don't have it, do you?" asked Remus.
"Nope. What about you? Or Peter?"
"S'alright, men," said Sirius. "We'll just have to be a bit careful. Now let's get going because my feet, not to mention other things, are about to fall off from frostbite."
And so they headed down the corridor. James tried to tug his invisibility cloak out from underneath his jumper, but it was caught on a button, and he got very frustrated at the others telling him to hurry up. Then, as they were hurrying down the charms corridor, they became aware of a tall figure silhouetted against the large window. They stopped dead and the shadow advanced towards them. It cleared its throat.
"Should you boys not be in bed?" it asked, his eyes twinkling despite the lack of light. "I expect that, perhaps, being a prefect, Remus was just escorting you to your dormitory?"
"Yep," said James, regaining his composure the quickest. "Yep, that would be it."
"Yes, we were just heading there, Professor Dumbledore," said Remus.
"Why are you out of bed, sir?" asked Sirius audaciously.
Looking over the top of his half-moon glasses, he replied, "I have been to visit someone. Now off to bed before Mr Filch finds you, and I would suggest using that magnificent cloak of yours, Mr Potter." He smiled at them before turning and walking down the corridor. "If you will excuse me ..."
The Marauders stared in amazement at each other, open-mouthed as Dumbledore called over his shoulder.
"... I must water Elvendork the second."