"That's fifteen," James Potter said.
There were a few moments of uneasy silence.
"That's fifteen," James Potter repeated, tossing The Daily Prophet to the side in exasperation, "Fifteen people who have," Here he used air quotes, "'Mysteriously' died. And another disappearance, too. Which makes six of those."
Remus Lupin looked carefully at his friend, unsure of what to say. He knew that the path of uncertain destruction Voldemort was leaving had been slowly getting under James' skin. It was just like James to take the sufferings of others both so horribly and so flippantly at the same time.
"Mate," Sirius Black interjected, "I think you need to stop reading the Prophet."
"Yeah," Peter Pettigrew, the final of the group of four boys who had been affectionately referred to as the Marauders since third year, agreed sycophantically.
The group of four was tucked away in the corner of the Gryffindor Common Room that had become a de facto home of theirs. Peter and Remus were engaged in a poor parody of a Wizard's Chess match. Peter was losing horribly. Sirius was tossing Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans expertly in the air and catching them in his mouth while leaning backwards in his chair.
James laughed with no humor, turning in his chair towards his friends, "It's not like not reading is going to make it go away. Every day some new awful thing happens and Hogwart's dies a little each time."
Remus stabbed forward experimentally with his rook.
"Right," Sirius began, "But at least you wouldn't be so bloody depressing all the time."
James' anger dissipated at this comment, and a helpless expression crossed his face.
"I know. It's awful. I just," He sighed heavily pushing his glasses up his nose, "I just hate it. I see guys like Frank and Edgar. They're practically just waiting for their families to get killed at this point."
"That's a little much, James," Remus said, finally speaking up.
"It's the truth," James replied emphatically, "I heard Frank say it to Alice the other day in Herbology. He said he knows it's going to happen and that it's just the waiting that's the hard part."
It was spring of sixth year for The Marauders and, since Voldemort's cloak and dagger dealings had begun to come to light near the beginning of the school year, the boys' flirtations with pranks and girls had slowly begin to wane. Quidditch now was the only thing they allowed themselves to get lost in and, even then, sometimes the new reality came crashing down. When a chaser would take a bludger and break his arm it used to be headline gossip. Now, with such real tragedies bearing down on them, it only warranted a trip to the Hospital Wing if you knew the player in question.
While many younger students and most Slytherins had been glad of the change of heart in the Marauders, their Halloween prank, the last prank they had pulled, was now looked back on fondly as a time when students could wander the halls with their heads held straight up.
James stood up from his chair and ran a hand through his wild mane of brown hair in frustration. Hogwart's as he had come to know it was dying. That much was apparent to him.
"We're all just waiting!" He exclaimed to the practically empty common room, "Doesn't that bother you guys?"
"No," Sirius said casually, tossing another bean into the air. James knew why Sirius showed such disdain for his relatives. His family was a long line of Slytherins. His placement in Gryffindor had ostracized him from the family and, just that past summer, he had moved in with James.
"What would we do, anyway?" Peter moaned, considering a move with his pawn before changing his mind and looking at the board in frustration.
"I don't know," James cried helplessly, "But something!" He looked imploringly at Remus.
"James is right," Remus said quietly.
The other two Marauders immediately sobered. Remus didn't often tell James he was right to his face. Too often, James not only knew it, but flaunted it. Maybe part of Remus' quiet statement was desire to see his friend return to his more arrogant, but also more joyful, days.
"James is right," Remus said again, disregarding the chess board, "This place is different. No one here is happy anymore. While not a lot has been happening to make it happy, and I don't know what to do, I still agree that we can't just sit here and let Hogwart's be like this."
Peter looked from Remus and James to Sirius. Sirius was doing his best to seem unimpressed, but all three boys knew that the lone Gryffindor Black wouldn't stand against his friends.
"C'mon, Padfoot," James implored.
"Fine," Sirius said, grinning, "It is getting rather boring around here."
"But what do we do?" Peter asked timidly.
"I don't know," Sirius said, shrugging.
That realization seemed to stop the boys in their tracks for a moment. There was a bit of silence, before it seemed like the moment had passed and the determination of the three boys faded in the face of unrelenting reality. James slumped back down into his chair.
"We can't change anything if we don't have a plan," Peter said glumly, making a poor move with his knight, despite its protests.
"I've got it!" James cried, getting to his feet again.
"Got what, James?" Remus asked carefully.
"Pranks," James said, hardly able to contain his excitement.
"Pranks?" Remus repeated, "James, I don't think that's a good idea. It's jus-"
"Hear me out, Moony!" James interrupted. He jumped over the wizard's chess set to the other side of the table and turned to face his friends. Sirius tilted his chair in James' direction with an amused smirk on his face. Peter was alternately looking from the chess board to James, seeming to have realized the error of his move with the Knight. Remus had a suspicious look glinting in his eyes as he watched James in his peripheral vision.
"Why did we start The Marauders?" James prompted.
"To have fun and hex Slytherins!" Sirius cried, holding a single arm in a triumphant pose.
"No," James replied.
"Well, yes," James amended and Sirius smiled, "In a way. But we started pranking people because we needed joy in our lives in a time where it was desperately lacking. Peter, you didn't have many friends and were getting picked on all the time. Remus, you had your furry little problem to deal with. Sirius, you couldn't walk around in your own house! And, well, yeah, me, too."
The other three boys nodded. The times James had reminded them of, while in the past, still emotionally fresh. Sirius' expression was the one that seemed to change the most as he went from playful to profoundly thoughtful in about two seconds.
"Yeah, it was stupid, sometimes," James allowed, "But it worked. We made our own happiness. We took horrible situations and made the best of them."
"So?" Peter asked.
"So now it's not us who are struggling. It's not us anymore who need the pick-me-up. It's everyone in Hogwart's. We did stupid little charms and jinxes on people and got people to cheer us and it helped us through our hard times."
"But everybody is down now," Remus interjected.
"Exactly!" James said, seeming to be coming to some sort of climax, "Exactly, Moony! So we're a lot better at magic now-"
"Best in our year," Sirius said, his grin returning.
"Yes!" James crowed again, "So we figure out a way to make our pranks both entertaining and, dare I say it, uplifting?"
"Oh, Merlin, James," Sirius groaned, "Uplifting?"
"What exactly did you have in mind?" Remus asked.
James grinned, "Alice and Frank. They both like each other. We know they do. They've told us separately."
"Yeah?" Peter prompted.
"We get them together," James concluded, a grin fighting to keep off of his features.
"I am not playing bloody matchmaker," Sirius complained again.
"How about puppet master?" James smirked.
Sirius smiled widely, "Now, see, there's an idea I can get behind."
* * * * * * * *
The time between classes, no matter what real amount of time one had, always seemed to be either not nearly enough or entirely too much. It could be the same fifteen minutes, but one day you would find yourself sprinting just to make it to class late or, just the opposite, find yourself hanging outside of your classroom for more than ten.
It had taken roughly four years for the Marauders to figure out what kind of downtime it would be just be looking around the hallways. Once they had it down, though, they had figured out ways to make the most of it. After Transfiguration the quartet had stationed itself in a hallway just past the Main Hall, bustling with activity. They were leaning against a wall beside the Charms classroom, watching the bustling students.
Two, in particular. Alice Wright and Frank Longbottom were talking quietly on a bench kitty corner from the Marauders. Frank was a seventh-year student who had excelled in Charms while Alice was a sixth-year with a knack for Defense Against the Dark Arts. The two had been good friends for roughly three years now and both had confided in the Marauders (Frank in James, Alice in Remus) that they fancied the other.
There was a small break in the students, just enough for James and Sirius to make eye contact with Frank. The leading pair of the Marauders lifted their wands, with matching grins on their faces.
"Ready, Padfoot?" James said loudly, gathering the attention from the students in the hallways, causing them to stop and look.
"Always, Prongs," Sirius agreed before they both wordlessly cast their spells on Frank.
Laughter burst out as Frank was unceremoniously brought to his feet under the direction of the Marauders wands. His movements were smooth and natural, but the nervous, pained expression on his face was enough to tell you his actions were not intentional.
"Guys," Frank implored, looking at his friends.
"Don't worry," Remus said, "You'll thank us."
Hearing what should have been Sirius' words come out of Remus mouth were actually a comfort, as Remus always was the more sensible of them. With a few complex wand maneuvers, the Marauders positioned Frank in front of Alice.
There was a pregnant silence.
Remus then pushed himself from the wall, standing next to Frank.
"Ladies and Gentleman," Remus declared, "This is Frank Longbottom and he, assisted by my lovely staff," Here he gestured smirking at James and Sirius who beamed, "Will show now show you miscreants how to woo a girl with class."
Remus made a movement with his wand and a music stand appeared out of nowhere between James and Sirius. He went over to it, tapping it experimentally. He nodded at James to his left and then Sirius to his right.
Performing carefully with their wands, the pair had Frank walk up to Alice and bow down low. They forced him to take and kiss the back of her hand, causing the younger girl to blush furiously.
Again, there was a pause.
"Ask her to dance, you idiot," Sirius whispered, causing laughter to break out again.
"Uh," Frank stuttered, "A-Alice....d'ya-"
"Yes," Alice said, standing up with him.
There were cheers and catcalls but they died down as Remus tapped his music stand once more and then began moving it as if conducting an orchestra. Strains of a waltz slowly became louder in the hallway and James and Sirius worked their wands in tandem, leading Frank (who was leading Alice) in a complicated, but elegant waltz.
The laughter began to die down a bit as they watched the pair, now both smiling incessantly at one another, glide elegantly across the stone floors.
It came back, however, in full force once Peter Pettigrew stepped into the open circle, opened his mouth, and with a quick flick of his wand towards his throat, began singing in an operatic style to the music.
A lone redheaded girl came around the corner. Lily Evans was having the opposite between-class day as the Marauders. She came sprinting around the corner, a but perplexed by the lack of student movement in the corridors. As she came around, she was shocked to see the Marauders, all with their wands moving in complex patterns, pointing them at Frank Longbottom, much to the laughter of everyone in the hallway.
She angrily wondered what Potter and Black were doing this for. They had been much better behaved the whole year and she stomped towards them, forcing her way through the crowd. Remus, even! It surprised her to think he would go along with this, especially against Frank, a fellow Gryffindor. As she finally burst through the hysterical crowd, she opened her mouth to yell but stopped as she saw what was happening.
Frank and his longtime friend and (Lily knew) fervent admirer Alice Wright were engaged in an elegant dance together. Lily knew Frank couldn't dance, he had once tried to - as friends - at a Halloween Ball, but she found herself with bruised feet the next day. She was wondering how the transformation had been made but, a bit wide-eyed, made the connection as she saw James and Sirius working their wands as if trying to play a symphony themselves.
Remus was conducting the music from between the pair, his eyes closed as he got into his role and Peter - Peter! - was hamming it up for the audience with his spell-assisted vocal styling. She had to suppress a smile at the whole thing. They were showing off again! But she couldn't help but notice how eternally grateful both Frank and Alice seemed that they had.
The song wound down and the dancing came to an end, the Marauders dropping their wands to an abundance of applause. Alice and Frank, however, did not let go, smiling at each other. Sirius, always the more rash of the group looked at the pair and rolled his eyes.
"Jesus, just do it man!" He shouted, pulling out his wand and flicking it once, causing Frank to dip Alice suddenly, but in a romantic manner.
"D-D'you," Frank was stuttering again.
"Yes," Alice shyly replied.
Frank smiled wide once more and finally kissed her.
The Marauders looked proudly at each other as the other students, including Frank and Alice, made to continue on to their classes. James, perturbed by his hair getting into his eyes, ran a hand up to his brow to brush it away. Doing so, his gaze caught that of Lily Evans'. He smiled sheepishly at her and shrugged his shoulders.
Lily fought back a small grin, but it emerged even despite her rolling her eyes.
"You can't help yourself, can you, Potter?" She asked.
"With the pranks or the hair?" He cheekily replied.
"Both," She said plainly.
"Eh, I suppose not," Again he shrugged his shoulders.
They were silent for a moment, and the Marauders tapped James on the shoulder, urging him to follow them to the classroom for their next class. He gave a slight wave in Lily's direction as he left, smiling and laughing with the guys, the glow from their successful endeavor evident on their faces.
"Potter!" Lily called, causing James to turn around, smiling.
"Yeah?" He asked.
"What - What you did," She said a bit stiffly, trying to figure out her words.
"It was nice," She finished before turning the other direction and walking away.
James grin broke out even wider as he shook his head and returned to following his friends.