The Lost Generation
In days to come the Dark Lord's fall
Is split by silver into gold.
A Triangle, each time, his bane.
One corner is a Lion tall,
Of good intent, named for the coal;
Twice hidden, both a beast and man.
One corner comes from blood of yore,
Child of the silver Moon so cold;
Dark Lord's servant and Lion's mate.
Last comes a flame-haired Daughter of War,
Caught between silver and the gold;
One of two and one of many.
The Lion loves the Daughter bright
As does the Child of silver Moon;
But the Dark Lord's servant shall betray.
What though they flee before their fate,
Three shall bring forth the days of doom,
And Love shall end the Dark Lord's reign.
~The Triangle Prophecy
Monday, 1 September, 1975
"Charlie and Annie, say goodbye to Bill; he'll be gone by the time you're home."
Bill Weasley tried not to show that he had a lump in his throat when his mother said this. His brother Charlie and his sister Annie were standing uncertainly by the front door with their rucksacks, waiting to dash out to the school bus when it came. Charlie, who was nearly nine and starting his sixth year at the village school in Hogsmeade, tried to look manly about the goodbye, but the previous night as they lay in their beds in the bedroom they shared, Charlie had confided that he was going to miss Bill, and that he was more than a little scared to be the big brother.
Charlie showed none of these fears now as he put on a good show, shaking his brother's hand and saying, "I'll keep Annie and Peggy in line while you're gone. And the garden gnomes."
"Right. Let'em know who's boss," Bill said, also putting on a good show. I'm eleven years old, for crikey's sake. And so are all the other first years, and I'll bet none of them feel like crying because they're leaving home for the first time.
"Who? The girls or the gnomes?"
Bill grinned. "All of'em." Charlie grinned back at him, his gap-toothed smile and heavily freckled face imprinting themselves on Bill's brain. He thought it was possible that his brother's brown eyes seemed a little shiny, but he dared not say anything about this.
And then Annie had to run to him and throw her arms around his waist, sobbing, "Don't go, Bill!"
He crouched and took his five-year-old sister in his arms, holding her tightly, smoothing down her orange braids. Bill meant the world to Annie; he was her rock. She was only starting her second year at the village school, and next year when Charlie was in seventh year at the school, their youngest sister, Peggy would be nearly old enough to be a first year (her birthday wasn't until November, but his mother had already been assured by the headmistress—her former employer—that she would admit Peggy early). Bill had helped Annie with her homework (not really strenuous for the four-year-olds) and had sat with her and Charlie to eat lunch, instead of the other seventh years. Family was the most important thing, their parents always told them, and Bill had always taken that to heart. Now he felt as if he was abandoning them, and he had the distinct sensation of a heavy rock having taken up residence in his stomach; or perhaps it was a large, lumpy magnet attracted to the pole called Home.
Suddenly there was a very loud noise in the front garden; the bright green bus for the Hogsmeade school had popped! into existence in the middle of the flower bed, causing Molly Weasley to turn purple and rush out of the front door of her house, shaking her finger at the driver, who opened the door laconically and waited for Annie and Charlie to make their way up the steps into the bus' interior. When she had finished her tirade, Molly hugged and kissed each of them, finally letting them board the bus with the other noisy, laughing children, and Bill stood waving from the front door as the double-decker bus with the legend Hogsmeade Village School abruptly disappeared again, with a loud sucking sound. Bill winced.
His mother walked back to the house with a sigh, shaking her head. "Sounds like he has to have that engine looked at again. I dread the thought of him putting it off much longer. What if the entire bus gets splinched when he's trying to bring the children home?"
Bill was startled by her saying this; she never used to voice her worries to him. Now it was almost as if he had advanced to the ranks of the adults, because he was getting ready to start at Hogwarts. I'm not ready to grow up, he thought desperately. Please let me go back to the village school with my brother and sister...
Inside, she picked up little Peggy from where she'd been playing on the hearthrug. "I still need to get Peggy dressed. Are you all packed?"
Bill nodded. "And I have my ticket." He brandished his train ticket before putting it back in his shirt pocket. This is actually going to happen, he thought. I'm going away.
His mother walked briskly up the stairs, the toddler on her hip, as she called, "Bill dear, could you clear the breakfast things for me?"
"No problem, Mum," he called. He went through to the kitchen, where half-eaten bowls of porridge, teacups and saucers, plates with toast and bacon crumbs and an open jar of marmalade stood scattered about with knives, forks and spoons in rather unpredictable places. (Why had Charlie evidently been trying to balance his fork on the handle of his teacup?)
Bill listened carefully first, to make sure his mother wasn't about to come thundering back down the stairs. He held out his hands and concentrated, and suddenly, in a rush, all of the detritus from breakfast had hurled itself into the stone sink under the window. The taps immediately turned on and started filling the sink with hot, soapy water. Bill glanced at the table and groaned; the marmalade was no longer sitting there. And the marmalade had been open; that meant he couldn't just fish it out of the soapy water and dry it off. The marmalade was ruined. He sighed and went to the sink, retrieving the marmalade pot (full up with what appeared to be rather soapy marmalade) and chucking it in the dustbin. His mother had always said he was going to do great things because of how early his magic had manifested itself, but he didn't always concentrate on details like only trying to get the dishes into the sink, not the food. (He also noticed that there were tea leaves clinging to the soapsuds in the sink; he didn't have much hope that his mother wouldn't notice that.)
Luckily, since he lived in a wizarding household, he knew that the Ministry would be expecting magic to be occurring on a regular basis, and unless someone turned him in, he was unlikely to be caught doing magic outside of school while underage. He was very, very tired of having to hide his magic. It was against the law for him to do anything on purpose (not that that had stopped him). That was the one reason why he was glad to finally be going to Hogwarts; he could really learn magic now, instead of just repeating Latin conjugations and declensions and learning elementary magical history. He'd learned his basic skills at the village school, reading, writing, mathematics and very, very simple Potions work. They also kept an herb garden of the more harmless plants they would later study in Herbology and they had a small petting zoo of friendly creatures like Kneazles and Nifflers, plus some toads and rats and salamanders and double-ended newts.
He had a wand now, and he would be starting on Charms and Transfiguration, and Defense against the Dark Arts—real magical studies. He itched to pull his wand out of his trunk and try some basic spells; he'd never felt anything like the sensation when he'd finally found his wand; a warm tingling all through him, starting at his fingers, where they wrapped around the rosewood; the hairs on the back of his neck stood up, and the shower of red and gold sparks that burst from the wand tip was like a burst of fireworks. He'd tried out several dozen "wrong" wands, but that had simply made Mr. Ollivander more excited, more determined to find the right one. When it became apparent that the rosewood wand was the one for him (it had a phoenix feather core) the old man went to get some brown paper to wrap it up. Bill looked about the messy shop, at the piles of wand boxes lying heaped up on every surface, and before he knew what he was doing, he'd waved his wand and all of the other wands jumped back into their proper boxes, and the boxes themselves were practically racing to file themselves back on the shelves where they had been.
His mother and brother and sisters had watched, open mouthed, when this happened. Bill grimaced; he'd starting doing accidental magic from the time he was very young, and whereas some people thought this meant he was very powerful, he felt more like he was burping very loudly in public every time this occurred. Mr. Ollivander had come back with the paper and string and calmly wrapped Bill's wand and took his six Galleons seven Sickles payment for it, not commenting on the altered state of the shop. Bill's impromptu spell had cleared up not just the scattered wands, but also a lot of the dust as well.
Bill had expected a scolding for doing magic in the shop, but for once Molly Weasley surprised him. She not only did not upbraid him for what he'd done, but when they were back outside, his mother sniffed disdainfully, judging the musty shop. "Well," she said, "he might have thanked you for putting the other wands back. Not that that place couldn't have done with a few dusting spells before ever we set foot in there..."
"Bill!" his mother called shrilly now.
"Is Peggy's shoe down there?"
Bill found it near the kitchen fireplace. "Yes!" He sighed and carried it up the rickety stairs. He wished he dared to do a banishing charm to send it up, but having botched the breakfast clean-up, he felt it was safer to carry it. Plus, if he did another spell before going to school, he'd get another lecture from his mother. (That was the normal order of the day.) He'd had a very difficult time with his willpower lately, being so anxious to start Hogwarts. His mother had told him more than once that it wouldn't do to get in trouble before he even arrived at the school.
There were many spells whose incantations he did not know, but which he already did instinctively, and without a wand. He knew, however, that you were marked on everything at Hogwarts, and if you couldn't explain the theory on the written exam or speak the correct incantation, or do the right wand-waving, passing the practical exam (getting the desired result, such as banishing a shoe) didn't count for much. He wasn't convinced he was going to be a great success at school; he knew he wasn't very hard-working, and he didn't think of himself as very bright, either. He was scared to death of disappointing his parents.
When Peggy was finally dressed, he and his mother went to the kitchen with his trunk and stood it on end. They were going to the Leaky Cauldron by Floo powder, then taking a Muggle taxi to King's Cross Station. His dad was already at his job at the Ministry; he'd Apparated away early that morning, before Bill had even awoken. Bill knew that everything at the Ministry had been in an uproar for several years, because of a Dark wizard who called himself Lord Voldemort (though everyone he knew said "You-Know-Who") and his followers, the Death Eaters. But he still thought his dad could have woken him to say goodbye.
Bill grasped the handle of his trunk and threw the Floo powder into the flames. "The Leaky Cauldron," he said clearly before stepping into the warm, breezy fire, trying not to lose his grip on the trunk handle (all he needed was for it to go flying into someone's sitting room and knock them out cold) as the grates of hundreds of wizarding fires whirled around him and his breakfast threatened to also start whirling around him.
Finally, he fell out into the dim front room of the Leaky Cauldron, a dingy old wizarding pub in London which masked the entrance to Diagon Alley, the wizarding shopping district. Bill dragged his trunk clear of the hearth, coughing from the soot he'd inhaled, and a moment later, his mother stepped out of the fire with little Peggy in her arms. She took down the hood she'd pulled over her daughter's head when they'd been traveling, and Peggy's copper curls were seen again. She laughed and clapped her little hands and demanded, "Again! Again!" She'd enjoyed the ride.
"'Ere, now!" said Tom, the old almost-toothless publican, from behind the bar. "No bringin' somethin' that big through the Floo network in future!" he said, gesturing at Bill's trunk; it had banged about quite a lot on the way, and was also covered in soot now. Bill grimaced, wondering how he looked. "I can' have every Hogwarts student comin' through here on the first day of term! 'Twould be mayhem!"
His mother reddened. "I'm sorry, Tom. We've never done this before. Bill's a first year, now, you know."
He grinned at the eldest Weasley child with his few remaining teeth. "Finally off t'Ogwarts! 'Tis a big day for ye."
"Yes, sir," Bill said uncertainly. He turned to his mother. "Mum—could you—could you clean up me and my trunk before we get the taxi?" She nodded and waved her hand, and the soot immediately left him and his trunk. "Well," he said in a quavering voice to the old man. "G'bye."
Tom nodded and gave him another grin. "Good luck," he said tersely.
I'll need it, Bill thought grimly, as he followed his mother out into the busy London street on which the Leaky Cauldron was situated. They climbed into the first taxi that stopped for them and the driver helped them to put the trunk in the boot of the car. Bill leaned back on the soft leather seat, sighing and wishing that the taxi ride would last forever. He had waited his whole life to go to Hogwarts, and now it was the last place on earth where he wanted to be.
Lily Evans stepped out of her parents' car. The car park of King's Cross Station was crowded with parents helping their children remove large trunks from the boots of the cars and there were numerous teenagers and almost-teenagers carrying cages with owls and wicker cases with cats. The fathers and mothers were doing helpful things like finding trolleys for hauling the trunks into the station. They gazed fondly at the children they weren't going to see until the Christmas holiday and Lily could see more than one mother wipe a tear from her eye.
Lily sighed. Her parents weren't with her; her father was at St. Michael's Hospital again, at his wife's bedside. She hated to be going just when Mum was about to have the biopsy. At the same time, she hated sitting in the lounge, waiting, waiting for the doctor to walk in and say, "I'm afraid it's malignant," yet again. Of course, there had been the times when he'd walked in and said, "She's officially in remission," but those events were always superseded by these less cheerful ones. Three times she'd gone into remission. Three times she had come out of remission with cancer again.
Her sister Petunia was still sitting with the wheel of the car in a death grip, suspiciously eyeing the other obvious Hogwarts students (if you knew what to look for) milling around the cars. Lily expected to get no help from her. Petunia was extremely chagrined that Lily was making her late for work; she'd been clerking for Mr. Dursley at Grunnings Drills down in Surrey for three years, since she'd finished school, and she took great pride in getting there at eight in the morning, before anyone else, and making sure Mr. Dursley had a fresh pot of tea waiting for him and all of the pencils in the mug on his desk sharpened. Well before she knew he would arrive, she placed neatly fanned-out folders on his desk with the reports he needed to peruse to gauge the plant's effectiveness and productivity. She had meticulously researched and typed the reports the previous day. He wanted for nothing when he was in his office. Petunia Evans was a model secretary. After work, she would drive to St. Michael's and be the model daughter.
Lily tried to pull her trunk from the boot of the car, grunting. She had grown taller during the summer, but she was still on the thin side. She longed to pull out her wand and levitate the trunk, but she didn't dare. Why can't prefects use magic outside of school? she thought irritably. If they think we're so responsible...
She had received her letter naming her a prefect for Gryffindor the day after she had returned from her fourth year at Hogwarts. That had been a lovely day; Mum was home (she was still in remission then), and she had laughed delightedly when the owl had come swooping in the window she had opened in order to get the garden's green scent into the house. Unlike Petunia, Mum liked owls, and she thought it was frightfully clever the way witches and wizards used them to deliver the post. She fed the owl that delivered Lily's letter and tentatively petted its black feathers (not wanting to offend it), cooing to it about what a fine specimen it was.
Her parents had hugged her and exclaimed over her being a prefect, while Petunia had sat watching television, stony-faced.
"Petunia!" Mum had said, grinning. "Didn't you hear? Lily's a prefect!"
Petunia still stared doggedly at the screen.
"Petunia!" Dad said, a slight edge to his voice. "Did you hear what your mother said?"
The tall blonde girl looked at her father, unblinking. "Yes. Lily is a prefect. How wonderful. Congratulations." Lily actually found herself being impressed by her sister's ability to speak without varying her inflection at all. If speaking in a monotone were to become an Olympic event, Petunia Evans would be a gold-medalist.
Lily continued struggling with the trunk, mentally cursing it, her sister, the car, her thin arms, her sister, school trains that left at eleven o'clock, her sister...
"Let me," said a familiar voice. Lily turned in surprise. Remus Lupin stood beside her, his Muggle clothes hanging uneasily on his thin frame. His light-brown hair was in need of cutting, covering his ears, and that odd white lock of hair over his brow flopped as he moved. He picked up her trunk as if it weighed nothing, placing it on the ground next to his own trunk. He closed the boot of the car with a chunk! and stacked both trunks, picking them up while Lily carried her owl cage. The moment this occurred, Petunia floored the car, getting out of the car park as quickly as the old Renault would go, barely avoiding hitting a tall, thin black-haired boy with a severe expression and a hook nose. Lily's owl let loose some uniquely musical hoots as they walked to the platforms, reminding Lily of why she'd called her Calliope.
She had started off saying to Remus, "You can't possibly carry both of those—" but he had walked on calmly as if they weighed no more than a couple of cushions.
He said only, "They do block my sight a bit. Tell me when I have to go up steps, will you?"
She agreed to this, unable to fathom how a boy who seemed so thin could be so strong. Perhaps he had enchanted his own trunk so it seemed to weigh nothing, but if he had put a similar enchantment on her trunk, she was unaware of it. She didn't see how he would have had the opportunity. Maybe he's taken a strengthening potion, she thought. That's probably it. And he shouldn't get in trouble for that, either. Except that Remus hated Potions and regularly performed dreadfully in that subject.
When they reached the barrier between platforms nine and ten, he set the trunks down with a thunk that implied that they were not enchanted to seem weightless. Lily fought conflicting reactions inside herself. On the one hand, what he'd done was rather impressive, if it was pure physical strength, and she pushed down her admiration with an irritated frown, disliking the sort of girls who fawned on boys for their strength or sports prowess and especially not wanting to become one herself. Fighting this urge (besides the disgust she was feeling for herself) was her natural curiosity to know how he'd done it if it wasn't natural strength. It must have been magic of some kind...
They needed to go through the barrier unobtrusively, so Lily glanced about her at the Muggles passing this way and that. She was still holding Calliope's cage and as she turned, she knocked the cage into someone who was suddenly standing very close to her.
Lily Evans looked up into the face of Severus Snape. He had also grown during the summer, and with his long black hair pulled back in a ponytail at the nape of his neck and his new beard and mustache defining his jaw and setting off his cheekbones, the sight of him made her catch her breath for a moment. Stupid Slytherin git, she thought, irritated. Never with a nice thing to say to anyone. Why's he have to go and look like that now?
He was thrusting one of the station trolleys at her. He already had one for his trunk. There were no adults with him either.
"You might want to use this," he said, pressing the trolley on her. "You would call less attention to yourselves."
With a disapproving look at her and a sneer at Remus Lupin, he marched casually toward the barrier with his trolley, and in the blink of an eye, he'd disappeared from sight. Lily glanced at Remus, who rolled his eyes. He has nice eyes, she thought. Not brown but not green, with a touch of gold...
"Let's go," he said briskly, once Severus Snape was out of sight. Lily nodded and put her trunk and Calliope's cage on her trolley. She strode forward purposefully, bracing herself for the little rush of air that came with passing through the barrier. At the last second, as she was walking, she closed her eyes apprehensively (I'll neverreally get used to this, she thought) and when she opened them she saw before her the Hogwarts Express, gleaming in the sunlight in all its glory, making her chest hitch. Even though she was starting her fifth year, it seemed like just yesterday she had received her Hogwarts letter...
She and her parents and Petunia had been having a lovely lunch outdoors on the terrace. It was high June, and the roses were glorious, as well as the African violets of which her mother—Violet—was so fond. Suddenly an owl had swooped down and landed on the back of Lily's chair, a large square parchment envelope in its beak. It seemed to want her to take it, and she did just this when she noticed that on the front of the envelope it said Miss L. Evans, No. 10 Highgrove St., Appleby Magna, Leicestershire. They hadn't yet moved to London because of her mother's health.
"It's for me!" she squealed excitedly. What a romantic way for someone to send her a letter, by trained owl! She had been rereading Wuthering Heights again—it was the fifth time. Each time she finished it again she spent several days mooning about the house wondering when she would ever make someone pine away for her because of unrequited love. She had a particular person in mind, whose name was not that far off "Heathcliff." And now here someone was sending her a mysterious letter in the beak of an owl!
She turned over the envelope and saw an odd purple seal, with a lion, a badger, a snake and an eagle surrounding the letter 'H.' Was that the 'H' she hoped for?
"How curious," she muttered as she opened the envelope, drawing out the heavy parchment on which the letter was written. As she read, she felt her face start flaming. She threw it down and hoped she could get into the house before she managed to burst into tears. That stupid Hawthorn Watson, she thought, in her mind immediately accusing the boy from whom she'd been hoping to hear. A boy who, even Lily had to acknowledge (despite her crush), was rather crude and caused her no end of trouble. Always calling me a witch. Now he does this... Hawthorn was old for his year, having had some academic difficulty when he was younger. He was already shaving his sparse sandy-colored facial hair, she knew for certain that he smoked, and he had a devil-may-care attitude about him that clashed horribly with Lily's need for everyone to always abide strictly by the rules, which was the main reason that he needled her. And yet, there was also something about him that captured her imagination...
"Lily!" her mother called after her, seeing how upset her younger daughter was. Lily ran blindly toward the house, her tears already blurring her vision. As a result, she ran headlong into a person, standing where no person should have been.
Lily was certain that no one had been there a split second before. The person with whom she had collided was a tall, severe-looking woman with dark hair pulled back very tightly into a bun. She had square-rimmed spectacles and was wearing a plaid skirted suit and a very high-collared blouse with a brooch at her throat that bore the same lion, badger, snake, eagle and letter 'H' as the seal on her owl-delivered letter.
Lily stared at her, dimly aware that her mother and sister had started screaming. She stood transfixed as she gazed up at the tall, thin woman, who looked back down at her kindly.
"I take it you are Lily?" she asked in precise, clipped tones. Lily nodded dumbly. "Well. You are rather tall for eleven, aren't you? Madam Malkin will have to give you robes for a second or third year and take them in so that they fit you properly and do not swallow you up. You'll get plenty of food at Hogwarts to put some meat on those bones, as well."
Before Lily could either process this information or ask what on earth the woman was talking about, her father suddenly ran up to her and wrapped his arms around her, pulling her away from the strange woman. Still standing with his arms around his daughter, he glared at the intruder in his garden, who stood between them and their house as if blocking their path.
"Who are you?"
"I am Professor Minerva McGonagall." She paused, as if they should know who that was. When no one said anything (Lily's father's hands were starting to hurt her shoulders where he clutched her, and her mother and seventeen-year-old sister were also clinging to each other, pale as ghosts) she pointed to the letter on the ground. "I waited until I saw that Lily had read the letter." Another long pause as the Evans family continued to stare at her with trepidation. She sighed. "I am the author of the letter, you understand."
Lily pried her father's fingers from her shoulders and walked cautiously to where she'd thrown down the thick parchment. She picked it up and read the signature again. Professor Minerva McGonagall, Deputy Headmistress. She looked up at the tall woman.
"You wrote this?"
"Of course. I suppose you thought it was a prank being played by one of your schoolmates? Do you know anyone at your school who uses owls to deliver the post?" Lily turned and eyed the owl who was still perched on the back of her chair, calmly preening itself. Lily shook her head vigorously. "Well, then," Professor McGonagall continued. "It is a lovely day, but I do have very sensitive skin. Would it be too much to ask that we converse indoors out of the sun?" She was asking a question and yet Lily had never heard anything that sounded so much like an order. She was thoroughly in charge. Goodness, Lily thought with alarm. If she's the deputy headmistress, what must the headmaster be like? She knew from the letter that the school's headmaster was one Albus Dumbledore.
"You—" her sister finally managed to say, pointing her finger at Minerva McGonagall; "you were a cat! Sitting right there, on the path! I was about to tell my mother that a stray was going to try to get our food, and then you were standing there!"
Professor McGonagall grimaced. "Stupid girl. And how else would I know that Lily had received her letter if I had not been able to watch unobtrusively? I have been lounging under that hibiscus—" she nodded at the plant "—in my cat form all morning. I was very still, so none of you noticed me. Muggles are remarkably unobservant most of the time, but one can hardly complain as it benefits us greatly. We would have to do far more memory charms if that weren't true."
Her explanations were remarkably unexplanatory, Lily felt. Muggles? What are Muggles?
She led them into their own house, through the French doors that let onto the terrace from the conservatory, then into the kitchen from there and finally into the living room, where she seated herself in the center of the couch. Like a queen, Lily thought as the woman folded her hands primly on her lap. The Evans family filed in uncertainly. Lily was fingering the thick parchment of the letter now, and it seemed that her heart had to be beating far faster than it ever had before. She glanced down again at the letter.
Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
She swallowed and sat at McGonagall's feet, and the older woman began to explain to her family that she, Lily Evans, was a witch...
Lily shook her head to clear it. The platform was bustling with activity as students from first to seventh year tried to weave their way through the crowd and around packs of friends who were catching up and still more parents hugging and kissing their children and wishing them luck. Many of the students from wizarding families already wore their robes. She felt rather conspicuous in her Muggle clothes, a scratchy brown wool skirt and prim fawn-colored blouse that had formerly been her sister's. She wished she'd at least pinned her prefect badge to her blouse, but she'd already pinned it to a set of robes that were right at the top of her trunk, so she could change easily soon after boarding the train. Amid the throngs of people on the platform, she suddenly felt very lonely. Severus Snape had immediately boarded the train, disappearing, and Remus Lupin had also disappeared into the crowd. Lily had one girlfriend in her year, Cecilia Ratkowski. She and Cecilia didn't get on very well with the twin sisters who were their other dormmates, Moira and Myra Edmunds. Moira and Myra didn't seem to need anyone else, but that was fine with Lily and Cecilia.
Only—during fourth year, Cecilia had begun to spend more and more time with some girls in the years above them and below them, and other girls in their year who were in Hufflepuff. (The Ravenclaw girls didn't deign to socialize with anyone else, and no one outside of Slytherin wanted to socialize with the Slytherin girls.) Lily was at a loss to explain why her friend had suddenly abandoned her; all Cecilia seemed to do with these other girls was gossip and discuss boys in the most immature way. Sometimes makeup was discussed at great length. Lily's parents had told her that she must wait until the age of seventeen to wear makeup, so she wasn't very eager to discuss what was out-of-bounds for her.
She missed being able to talk to her friend about their homework, and the news they were able to get from the outside world about Death Eater attacks, which had increased precipitously during the previous year. If she didn't have her other friends in her year, James, Sirius, Remus and Peter, to talk to about these things, she would have gone mad.
Of course, there were times when she was interested in "intelligent conversation" and the boys disappointed her as well. How much time could you devote to discussing brooms, for instance? She felt unlucky enough to have found out. And their favorite Quidditch teams. And their favorite comic book, about a Muggle called Marvin.
She was the only one in her year in Gryffindor who was thoroughly from the Muggle world. Cecilia's mother was Muggle, but her father was a wizard. The Edmunds twins were from a thoroughly wizarding family. James and Sirius' families were wizarding, and Remus and Peter were half-bloods, like Cecilia.
In some ways, though, even before Cecilia had abandoned her for more "girly" girls, she wasn't really her best friend. She felt that her true best friend was James Potter, though she couldn't tell him that, as he was best friends with Sirius Black, and boys were truly irrational about their best mates. Lily didn't know any boy who would willingly identify a girl as his best friend; it wasn't considered seemly. But Lily felt she could talk to James about anything; there also wasn't the added complication of a romantic entanglement; for the first three years of school she'd fancied Sirius Black, something which she'd got over during the previous year. The infuriating thing was that he'd known she fancied him and had been quite merciless about exploiting this for humor and making numerous jokes at her expense. The way he'd convinced her to get over him was no joke, though. She shuddered at the memory, searching the platform for a familiar face.
Then she saw him; James Potter. He was making his way toward her through the crowd, already wearing his black robes and silver prefect badge, his dark hair as messy as ever, his glasses smudged (as usual), and his dark blue eyes flashing. She smiled when he came close enough and they exchanged a quick, friendly hug. She thought of James as a brother, in addition to her best friend. His girlfriend, a pretty dark-haired Hufflepuff girl called Bonita Manetti, was also a prefect; she was walking beside him, her smile widening when she saw Lily. Lily liked Bonnie very much. She wasn't one of the Hufflepuff girls with whom Cecilia discussed silly girly things; Lily wished Bonnie was in Gryffindor, as she was only able to see her during Herbology and Arithmancy. She didn't normally spend time with James and Bonnie together because they seemed to want to be alone at those times.
"Lily! Come on. There are some special compartments for prefects. We can all sit together near the front," Bonnie said, following soon after James, and also giving Lily a hug.
"I can help you with your trunk," James said. "Ours are already taken care of."
"Thanks," she said, picking up one of the trunk handles, while James took the one on the other end and Bonnie carried Calliope's cage for her. "I was afraid I'd never get it out of the car, but luckily, Remus happened by—" James suddenly dropped his end of the trunk, making Lily drop her end as well, and right on her foot. "Ow!" she cried out.
"Oh, um, sorry," he said awkwardly, picking it up again. Lily frowned and also picked up her end again.
"James!" Bonnie chided him. "Be careful. Lily could have hurt herself."
"I'm all right, really," Lily lied, limping forward; the toes on her right foot felt crushed. "Is there something wrong with Remus helping me?"
She could only see James' back as he walked ahead of her. "Ah—no, of course not."
"I did think it a little odd that he could handle both my trunk and his own—" she went on, bracing herself for James to drop his end of the trunk again. He hesitated for a moment, but continued onto the train without losing his grip on the handle this time.
"Both trunks you say?" he asked in an oddly strangled voice.
She didn't answer; when they reached the compartment, they all collapsed with exhaustion onto the seats. Lily glanced out the window; there were still loads of students on the platform, saying goodbye to their parents. A very tall, thin boy with red hair and shining blue eyes was blushing as his mother hugged him; Lily thought he might be a first year, as she didn't remember seeing him before, and because, in spite of his size, he still seemed very young, with abundant freckles scattered across his snub childish nose. He knelt down to talk to his little sister, red-haired and blue-eyed like him. She talked to him also, but Lily couldn't hear any of it. She threw her thin little arms around his neck, clinging to him, and he closed his eyes, looking like he didn't want to go; Lily's nose itched and she blew it quickly, feeling her eyes sting. What a sweet family. She turned and looked at Bonnie, who was talking to James about her summer holiday. Why couldn't I have had a sister like Bonnie or a brother like James? she thought. Instead I'm stuck with horrid Petunia. It was bad enough to be with Petunia on a regular basis, but sitting with her in doctors' waiting rooms, anticipating the bad news about a biopsy was even worse... She shook herself to make this thought go away, sighed and gazed out the window again, but the red-haired boy was gone. His mother was holding his sister on her hip and waving, along with other students' family members still on the platform.
Lily felt the familiar jolt under her that meant the train was preparing to leave the station, and a fluttering in her stomach as she thought about returning to Hogwarts. This year she would be taking her Ordinary Wizarding Levels, or O.W.L.s. She was terribly nervous about them, even though she knew she would probably do just fine. Still, the nightmares about missing examinations or writing out a Transfiguration essay during the History of Magic exam had already started to plague her. She was a perfectionist but also easily distracted and, when she was being honest with herself, somewhat lazy and a procrastinator to boot. She had excellent marks on practical exams—especially Potions and Charms—because she just seemed to have a natural talent, but she knew she wasn't doing her best work when she dashed off a History of Magic Essay in an hour, written in her largest handwriting, so it would be a full three feet long. She did it anyway, because she'd put it off so long. As the landscape passed by, she sighed; she knew she had terrible work habits (which wasn't helped by the fact that all of her friends had terrible work habits too), but she was determined to improve this year, as it would probably be very difficult to fudge things on the O.W.L.s.
They watched the platform and waving people disappear from sight; soon they could see nothing but thick greenery on either side of the train as they began the long journey north. Lily felt very, very tired; James and Bonnie were talking animatedly and she hoped they wouldn't think her dreadfully rude if she just leaned her head on the window and took a little nap...
Bang! The door to the compartment slid open abruptly and Remus Lupin, Sirius Black and Peter Pettigrew glanced up in surprise. Sirius and Remus had been playing Exploding Snap while Peter watched, and for a second, the noise had made Remus think that Sirius had burnt off his eyebrows again. He had also thought he detected a certain Slytherin's scent coming from the corridor, but had hoped that the person producing the scent would continue past their compartment. He groaned inwardly when he saw him standing in the doorway.
Severus Snape surveyed the compartment containing the three Gryffindors with clear distaste. Sirius, less restrained than Remus, wasted no time in making it clear that Snape was not wanted. "Sod off, Snape! This is our compartment!"
Snape ignored him, dragging his trunk into the compartment and sitting heavily beside Peter Pettigrew, who further shrank into the corner where he'd already been.
"You heard me, Slytherin!" Sirius said, standing. "Clear off!"
Severus Snape glared at him with a unique blend of malevolence and calm Remus never witnessed on anyone else's face. He raised one eyebrow, took a small book out of his pocket and opened it where he had marked his place. Remus' sharp eyes saw that the book's title was Romeo and Juliet. This seemed odd to him, and he tried to think of a witty remark to make about it, but came up with nothing; witty remarks were Sirius' and James' territory, and he usually found himself tongue-tied and only thinking of witty remarks hours or even days after the opportunity to speak them.
Snape covered the title with his hand as he began to read, evidently determined to behave as if he were welcome in the compartment. Sirius came closer and Remus could tell he was about to lose it.
"I already told you, Snape—clear off! Shouldn't you be traveling in a coffin, anyway? With some soil from your native country?"
Severus Snape slammed his book onto the leather seat, making Peter jump. He stood quickly, towering over Sirius and glaring down at him, black eyes into black eyes, the hatred quite mutual. His voice was low and even, his every syllable pronounced with the utmost precision.
"I would not be here if I had any choice about it. All of the compartments on the train are full except for the prefects' compartments, and as I am not a prefect, I did not attempt to go there. Perhaps the three of you would like to see whether your prefect friends will take you in? Then you will not have to ride in the same compartment as a Slytherin. And for your information, though I lived in Oxford for many years, I was born in Scotland and it has again become my home, so we shall soon be surrounded by soil from my native country." He smiled wickedly and Remus shivered. Can it be? Is he actually admitting—
Snape sat and picked up his book once more. Remus frowned; at this rate Sirius would get into a fight before they even reached school. He looked at Peter, whose eyes were very wide; clearly he too wondered whether they'd be soon come to blows—or hexes. Remus cleared his throat.
"Um, whose turn was it, Sirius? We weren't done playing."
Sirius turned and looked at him; Remus raised his eyebrows, hoping he would calm down and just ignore Snape. They usually managed to ignore Peter just fine, after all. The small round boy had been following them around since he'd been in the boat with them when they'd crossed the lake in their first year, along with James Potter, and he was also their fourth dormmate in Gryffindor Tower.
"It's my turn," Sirius said, with a resentful glance at Snape, calmly reading his book and unwrapping a sweet he'd removed from his pocket. Remus' nose twitched. Toffee. His mouth watered. When does the witch with the food trolley arrive? It seemed like ages since he'd eaten breakfast.
After playing through a few more explosions (Remus saw that Snape was trying very hard not to do a different kind of exploding—with anger—when this occurred) Remus Lupin finally detected the scent of pumpkin pasties wafting toward him. However, before the trolley reached them, they heard what sounded like a scuffle and quite a lot of banging in the corridor. Curious, Sirius went to the door and opened it. Equally curious, Remus joined him in the doorway.
A thin red-haired boy who could only be a first year was struggling to drag his large trunk through the corridor, while the witch with the food trolley berated him for not being in his compartment.
"Please, miss, I don't have a compartment—I'm still looking—"
"You can't roam about the corridor with that bulky thing! You're in the way!" she cried shrilly. "Use yer loaf! You!" she cried, at Sirius, Remus or both—it was unclear.
"What?" Sirius said with a defensive tone to his voice.
"You take this boy in with you. I have to get through and he's in my way."
"Wait—we want to buy some things first—" Remus said quickly. He took out his money and bought some Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans, Chocolate Frogs and Spring Surprises. Sirius bought Fizzing Whizbees and Peter bought some more Beans plus a pumpkin pasty. Snape didn't buy anything.
After they'd paid for their purchases, they allowed the boy to drag his trunk into the compartment and the witch was able to get the trolley past him, sniffing disdainfully the entire time. The red-haired boy gazed up at the giants in whose compartment he now found himself. Well, there were two giants; the boy with light brown hair punctuated by that strange white lock over his brow was only a little taller than he was, and Bill thought it was quite possible that at the age of eleven he might be taller than the round-faced boy cowering in the corner.
Remus could smell the fear on him and he felt sorry for the boy. He patted the seat beside him. "Here—sit. What're you called?"
The boy sat down between Remus and Sirius, who started opening their sweets. "Bill. Bill Weasley," he piped in a high voice. "I'm a first year." As soon as he said it, he winced, as his first-year status was painfully clear. Remus tried not to laugh, remembering that he still did the same, said things and winced, wanting to snatch the words back into his mouth, hearing how stupid they sounded. Of course he's a first year, he thought. As if he could be anything else.
But he gave the boy a sympathetic smile and said, "I'm Remus Lupin and this is Sirius Black. Over there is Peter Pettigrew," he nodded at the smaller boy sitting in the opposite seat. "We're all Gryffindor. That's Severus Snape; he's Slytherin." Snape jerked his head up, his eyes burning at Remus'.
"I am perfectly capable of introducing myself, Lupin. I choose not to," he said acidly. He buried his head in his book once more. Remus saw Bill swallow and gaze wide-eyed at Snape. Trying to distract him (and feeling his stomach move with hunger inside him) Remus opened his beans and offered the bag to Bill, who reached in and pulled one out. However, before he could bite into it, Remus snatched it from his hand, opened the window, and threw the bean off the train. Bill seemed puzzled and a little hurt.
"Sorry," Remus apologized. "I should have picked one for you. You don't want to eat a dung-flavored one, do you?"
"How do you know what it is?" Bill asked him.
"Er—I have a really good sense of smell," he said truthfully, though he didn't volunteer the reason for his having this ability. "Here—I usually vet them for the others." He took out a bean and sniffed it. "This is okay. Tomato sauce."
Bill took the bean and began to chew it thoughtfully. He nodded to show that Remus had been correct. He went on sniffing out beans, removing them one by one and placing them in Bill's hand.
"Toast with marmalade, tar—you don't want that—" he threw the tar bean out the window. "Asparagus—here Peter, you like those—lemon chiffon, roast beef, Spotted Dick, rotten egg—" another one out the window "—bouillabaisse, peppermint, garlic, Yorkshire pudding—"
"Wait!" Sirius said in a yelled whisper. He glanced at Snape, who was again studiously ignoring them. "Which one is garlic?"
Bill handed it to him. "That one," he said innocently.
"No, Sirius," Remus started to say quietly, but it was too late; his friend was already pulling his wand out of his pocket and pointing it at Snape, who was deep in his book. He held up the bean and glared at Severus Snape.
"Hey, Snape!" he said suddenly. The Slytherin boy looked up, his eyes full of hatred, just as Sirius waved his wand and cried, "Expello Bean!"
The garlic bean in his hand shot across the compartment like a bullet, thanks to Sirius' banishing charm. Unfortunately, Severus Snape's mouth was slightly open in surprise, and the bean flew right between his parted lips. A second later, he was at the open window, spitting it out. He turned back to the interior of the compartment, murder in his eyes, glaring at Sirius Black, who was laughing uproariously and pointing at Snape.
"Oh! Oh! It's too funny!" he managed to say in the midst of his laughter, holding his stomach, almost breathless. Snape rounded on him and pulled out his wand.
Bill made a sound like "Meep!" and grabbed his trunk, hurtling toward the door and sliding it open with a bang just as a corresponding bang sounded behind him in the compartment and he heard Sirius Black cry, "Oi! Bloody hell, my face!"
Bill Weasley didn't know what Severus Snape had done to Sirius Black's face, but he was getting out of that compartment before it happened to his own face and he had to eat by putting food in his ear or up his nose or something equally horrid.
Remus didn't usually throw his weight around, but he was concerned about the first year boy who had bolted when Snape was getting ready to retaliate against Sirius. He grabbed both of them by the scruffs of their necks and flung them into their seats. Severus Snape rubbed his neck after he landed; Sirius' face was covered in boils and he wasn't very happy about his friend trying to break up a perfectly enjoyable row.
"We certainly are strong, aren't we, Lupin?" Snape growled at him, glaring suspiciously. "No girls are here at the moment to appreciate your showing off, by the way."
"I wasn't—" he started to respond reflexively. He stopped himself, breathing deeply through his nose; he had been working on controlling his temper during the summer, and he wasn't going to throw away all of that hard work now.
"I wonder," Snape went on musingly, "how is it you are so strong? Taking a potion the headmaster should know about? Something with steroids, maybe? Of course, that still wouldn't explain your hearing or sense of smell, " he continued to muse.
"Shut up," Remus responded. "Between the pair of you," he glared at Snape and Sirius, "you've scared off that poor first year."
He strode to the door of the compartment and slid it open. He could see Bill at the end of the car, about to cross into the next one, dragging his heavy trunk behind him.
"Oi, you! Um—Bill!"
But the boy didn't look behind or hesitate for a moment; he seemed desperate to get as far away from Remus, Sirius and Snape as possible. Remus sighed and returned to the compartment, closing the door.
"He's scarpered. Are you two happy?"
Snape didn't answer, but retrieved his book from the floor and sat down to read again, glowering. Sirius—also not speaking—sat down with his arms folded across his chest beside Remus, who took out his wand and began painstakingly removing the boils, one by one. However, a small dot still marked Sirius' skin where each boil had been even when Remus was done. He hoped his friend wouldn't be too upset. Truthfully, Remus thought Sirius was a bit vain about his looks, and didn't make any effort to find a girlfriend of substance, rather than just the prettiest one who would have him at any given moment. Remus sighed. He knew which girl he would like to be with, but that wasn't going to happen—with her or with any girl.
He thought again about Bill, and hoped he would be all right. For once, he thought, someone's running away from me, scared to death, but it wasn't because of anything I've done.
Bang! The door to the compartment slid open abruptly and Lily looked up in surprise, jolted out of her sleep. She had no idea how long she'd been dozing. The young red-haired boy she'd seen on the platform stood in the doorway, his trunk visible behind him. His hair clung to his forehead in sweaty curls and he appeared to be miserable.
"Um," he hesitated, seeing three older students, all wearing silver prefect badges; "can—can I sit with you? Everywhere else is all full. Or—" he hesitated again.
"Or what?" James wanted to know; Lily was surprised. He was just as new as her at being a prefect, but suddenly he projected an authority she'd never seen from him before.
"Or they just don't want me," he finished softly. He seemed very embarrassed. "I've been dragging my trunk all over the train since we pulled out of the station, and no one will let me sit with them."
Lily checked her watch; it was already noon. "You've been wandering all over the train for an hour? You poor thing! Of course you can come in with us!"
He swallowed. "But—but isn't this compartment for prefects?"
"Don't you worry about that," James said, getting up to help the boy with his trunk. "Who said you couldn't sit with them when there was room?"
The boy shrugged and looked shifty-eyed. Lily was starting to wonder whether he was being completely truthful. "I dunno. I don't think they went to the Hogsmeade village school, so I didn't know them."
"Where were they? What compartment?"
Lily patted the seat next to her and he sat down, his ears immediately turning red, which made her smile.
"I'd-I'd rather not say. I mean—I haven't even got to the school yet. I don't want to get a reputation already for grassing on someone."
James smiled warmly at him. "Good man. All right, it doesn't matter. But remember—when you're at school, if someone's bothering you, a prefect can give them detention or take away house points. The house competition is very important. They'll think twice about bothering first years if they're going to cost their house points. Their other house mates will be all over them if they keep doing it."
"Thanks," he said softly, smiling shyly at the three prefects. He felt very lucky to be where he was. He was starting to think he'd be in the corridor for the entire trip. He'd thought the witch with the food trolley might actually throw him off the train, and felt lucky that she'd merely told him off for blocking her way until he'd been temporarily taken in.
"What're you called?" Lily asked him.
"I'm Lily Evans and this is James Potter. We're the fifth-year Gryffindor prefects. And this is Bonnie Manetti, one of the fifth-year Hufflepuff prefects."
"Hello," he said politely. "It's nice to meet you."
Lily smiled broadly at him, and so did Bonnie. James laughed. "Now, now—you keep that up and both my girlfriend and my friend who's a girl are going to be fancying you. Cut that out." Bill blushed furiously at the idea of girls four years older than him fancying him. He only dared look at Lily out of the corner of his eye; she seemed impossibly grown up and beautiful, her long dark-red hair falling past her shoulders in waves, her large green eyes like emeralds, her smooth skin like cream, her smile like a dozen suns. And the other girl had full red lips and a dark beauty that stunned him, with large doe-like chocolate-brown eyes and curling black hair that framed her heart-shaped, olive-toned face. Bill assumed that Bonnie was James Potter's girlfriend and Lily was the girl-who-was-his-friend, but he didn't know how on earth the older boy had chosen; they both seemed like goddesses to him.
The boy seemed far more "normal" to Bill than the girls, with messy black hair and glasses he had to keep pushing up his nose, like Bill's dad. He had a spot on his chin that he occasionally picked at, and he seemed like he might already be shaving (or at least, he looked like he should shave—there was a slight growth on his face already). When he smiled, his eyes crinkled up and Bill felt like he knew everything was going to be all right; he thought that James Potter was a very good choice for a prefect.
"I hope I'm in Gryffindor." Suddenly, Bill realized that he'd said it aloud. He glanced at Bonnie. "Or Hufflepuff—" he added, not wanting to be thought rude.
She smiled back at him. "That's all right. Are your parents magical?" He nodded. "What houses were they in?"
"They were both in Gryffindor," he answered, for once confident. He had heard so much about it over the years, he would have to hang his head in shame if he hadn't remembered that. "But I know that doesn't mean I'll be Gryffindor, too."
"Any older brothers or sisters?" James asked.
"I'm the oldest. My brother Charlie is in sixth year at the Hogsmeade school, and Annie's in second year. My youngest sister, Peggy, is almost three. She'll start school next year."
Now Lily beamed at him. "I saw her saying goodbye to you; she's adorable. She seemed like she had quite a lot to say."
Bill clearly hesitated. "Actually—well, she was saying—"
He sighed. "She was saying that I'm blue."
"Oh—that you're sad to be leaving home?"
"No—yes—well—" he bumbled around. How could he explain Peggy? No one in the family understood why she kept calling people colors.
"I think she meant that I'm actually blue. The color blue. She does this all the time. She called Mum orange yesterday. Called Dad green last night. She'll do that, just point at one of us and say, 'You're red!' or whatever. We thought at first that she actually didn't know her colors yet, but when Mum tests her on that kind of thing, she knows it all perfectly. We can't work out why she does it."
Bonnie shrugged. "She's just a wee thing. She'll grow out of it."
When the witch came with the food trolley, she seemed to have forgotten that she'd told Bill off for having his trunk in her way. James very generously bought sweets and pumpkin pasties for everyone, and Bill sat in awe, watching and listening to the older students, not quite certain he should believe his good fortune, and feeling far better about leaving home as they neared Hogwarts. He finally seemed to have landed on his feet. The prefects genuinely seemed to look out for the younger students. Maybe I'll be all right after all.
Bill was glad he hadn't had supper yet, as he thought he was going to throw up. Seeing that enormous man and crossing the lake in the small boats was bad enough, but waiting in line to be Sorted was the most nerve-wracking thing he'd ever experienced in his life.
"Attenborough, Hamilton," the deputy headmistress called out. She was called Professor McGonagall, and her voice rang through the hall; "Baddock, Ford. Broadbent, Miriam." They were all quickly proclaimed Slytherins. The Slytherin table erupted in cheers each time and, Bill noticed, they made rude gestures to the other tables which were cleverly camouflaged so the teachers couldn't see just how rude they were.
After that, Peregrin Booth, Mary Anne Boxwood and Wallis Cassell (who was a girl) all became Gryffindors, and it was that table's turn to celebrate. Rhea Cooper became the first new Hufflepuff, giving them their turn, but Raisa Czaikowski and Finster Edwards caused the Slytherins to start celebrating again. Finally, Paul Firth and Lawrence Flitwick became the first new Ravenclaws and Juliet Hathaway became another Gryffindor. Bill watched her go to the Gryffindor table; she'd been in the same boat with him, along with Cooper and Flitwick. That meant so far his boat had had a Gryffindor, a Hufflepuff and a Ravenclaw. Do all of the boats get one person from each house? he wondered. He swallowed. Oh, no. I can't be a Slytherin, I can't, I can't...
He knew all about the different houses, and he'd heard the Sorting Hat sing its song. He'd always assumed that he'd be going into Gryffindor, just like his parents. What if I'm not in the same house? What if I'm in Slytherin? How will they react?
Mafalda Hopkirk became a Slytherin and twin girls called Houseman became Ravenclaws. More cheering from those tables. Why do I have to be at the end of the alphabet? Bill thought miserably.
He listened with his heart in his throat as Lorelai Kidder, Rembert Leonard and Gregor Lovelace were pronounced a Hufflepuff, a Gryffindor and a Slytherin. As Lovelace made his way to the Slytherin table, Bill glanced over to see who had been sorted into that house the year before. He grimaced when he saw Gilderoy Lockhart, who'd been one year ahead of him at the village school, and had been completely insufferable whenever Bill had had occasion to come into contact with him. More than once, Bill had heard him telling a girl how pretty she was and oh-drat-he-didn't-have-his-assignment, perhaps-he-could-copy-hers? It didn't surprise him a bit that Lockhart was sorted into Slytherin, so now Bill was really averse to winding up there too. I cannot be in the same house with Gilderoy Lockhart.
Roxanne Maine-Thorpe also became a Slytherin, and Bill swallowed; she had been at the village school with him as well, and was extraordinarily pretty, with cornsilk-blonde hair and luminous blue eyes. She glanced briefly at Bill before walking toward the cheering Slytherin table.
It was getting close now. Four more first years became Ravenclaws, interspersed with some Hufflepuffs, including one of his best friends from the village school, Jack Richards. This was followed by his other best friend, Orville Simpson, becoming a Gryffindor. They were finally on the W's. Mabel Walters became a Hufflepuff and finally, Bill heard what he'd been waiting for:
He walked forward nervously. I will not spew, I will not spew...
He sat on the stool and the hat sat on his shoulders, completely covering his head. Then he heard the voice:
"Well, well, well, what have we here? I haven't had a Weasley in over twenty years. And you're an O'Connor as well, on the distaff side. Interesting. Ah, I am to understand there will be three more of you? Isn't that nice! Hmm. Prodigious magical abilities, I see. Not always following the rules, but well-intentioned. A leader—looks out for his brother and sisters. Helpful. A sense of justice. Hmm..."
And then—it was silent for a minute.
"Hello?" he thought at it after another minute of silence. "Are you still thinking?" Silence. He waited some more. Finally, it spoke again.
"Interesting. You waited, and then only asked once. Patience is a rare thing in one so young. Yet you are also not afraid to ask the probing question. I think we have one more for GRYFFINDOR!" it finally cried loudly. Bill sighed with relief and removed it from his head, putting it back on the stool so that Eli Webster and Gilbert Wimple could become Hufflepuffs and Alexander Wood, someone else he knew from the village school, could become another Gryffindor, striding over to the table and sitting down beside Bill with a very large smile on his smudged, dirty face, amid the cheers and yells for the final first year to join their house. Bill was flanked on his other side by his friend Orville, who also grinned at him.
But suddenly, when the noise from the celebrating had died down, a very small voice was heard from the back of the Great Hall. A small dark-haired boy still stood by the doors; he was wringing his robes in his hands and seemed like he might very well cry.
"Excuse me," he said quietly, though his voice echoed all around the hall. "What about me?"
Bill saw Professor McGonagall's eyes widen, and she strode quickly to the headmaster. Bill gazed at him in awe; he was an extremely tall man with a very long silver beard and hair, half-moon spectacles and sparkling blue eyes. He leaned over and said something none of them could hear, and she whispered a response. He shook his head while she ostentatiously checked her list once more, followed by her looking up at the boy again, clearing her throat.
"I'm dreadfully sorry," she said, still managing to sound quite imperious. "I must have overlooked your name. Please come forward and put on the hat."
The boy appeared to be very, very relieved. He strode forward and when he reached the stool with the hat he looked like he'd died and gone to heaven. He lifted it up and sat before lowering the hat onto his head.
They all waited. And waited. All of the professors started murmuring to each other, but the headmaster did not appear to be paying any attention, keeping his eyes on the boy with the hat. At length, Professor McGonagall approached the hat and lifted up the edge of it.
"Is everything all right in there?" she enquired.
The boy lifted the hat from his head. "It—it wants to speak to the headmaster," he said shakily. Bill gazed around at the other Gryffindors. Is this a usual sort of thing? he wondered. But they all seemed as puzzled as he felt; indeed, the entire hall had gone utterly silent as Dumbledore replaced his tall, stately wizard's hat with the decrepit old specimen that each first year had recently tried on. Now they watched and waited while Dumbledore had some sort of private conversation with the hat. Eventually, he removed it from his head and returned it to the boy.
"There was a small misunderstanding, but I think we've cleared it up," he said to him, his eyes twinkling at him kindly.
The boy put the hat on again and sat, and very soon the hat was saying, "HUFFLEPUFF!" Bill thought there were words that came before that, something like, "Might as well be," but he wasn't quite sure. The boy took off the hat and sprang happily over to the Hufflepuff table, where they were cheering for having one more person.
When the boy had risen from the stool, Bill had been briefly distracted by the sight of a large tawny owl flying in one of the high clerestory windows and swooping down onto the high table right in front of the headmaster. However, Bill saw that when the old man read the missive delivered by the owl, the sparkle went out of those blue eyes and he appeared very grim indeed. Bill imagined that headmaster of Hogwarts must be a very difficult job.
Bill gazed around at the Great Hall now; he'd been too fixated on the Sorting Hat and with the worries running round his head to notice it properly before. The hundreds of candles floating overhead shed a warm glow on everyone and everything and the bewitched ceiling showed a picture of the night sky out-of-doors that was a riot of stars on sapphire velvet punctuated by a thin, silvery crescent moon.
The headmaster stood, still looking grim. "Welcome to Hogwarts!" he said, trying to sound jovial. "As I'm sure you are all quite hungry, I will give out the start of term notices after our meal. So for now, all I will say is—tuck in." He sat again, and Bill looked around, waiting to see the servants who would bring in the food, as the tables were all completely devoid of any nourishment. But then it seemed that he blinked, and before him was a feast of staggering proportions. Soon he had a plate heaped with steak and mashed potatoes and buttered peas and a goblet full of pumpkin juice. He and Orville grinned at each other again as they began to shovel mashed potatoes into their mouths.
Remus Lupin dug into his food with relish; he felt as if he hadn't eaten in a month. Then his sharp hearing picked up on something Professor McGonagall was saying; she was leaning slightly toward Dumbledore and muttering, "Albus, this is highly irregular. He wasn't on the list."
"I know, I know, but I don't see any harm in giving him a chance. Perhaps within a few months—"
"And what if he doesn't? What then? And how is he here at all? I know I didn't send him a letter..."
"Minerva, I can't be concerned about that now; I'm afraid there is something of greater import to worry about." Remus glanced around; he was obviously the only one who could hear their very quiet conversation. He had also noticed the tawny owl, just as Bill Weasley had. He saw the headmaster slip the letter to Professor McGonagall now, and saw her face blanche as she read it. She, in turn, passed it to Professor Sprout, beside her. Professor Sprout taught Herbology and was the head of Hufflepuff house. She appeared faint upon reading the letter, which she handed back to Professor McGonagall, who returned it to Dumbledore.
Remus Lupin turned back to his food, wondering what on earth could be more earth-shattering than the extreme irregularity of a first-year whose name wasn't on the list? He suddenly wished he was a prefect, like his friend James, so he'd feel comfortable asking about this. He glanced up at James, who was laughing at some joke of Sirius'. Then he caught Lily Evans' eye; Lily was sitting beside James. Remus felt himself redden and he gazed down at his food again. Whatever it is, he thought, if the headmaster wants us to know about it, we will.
When they'd polished off the puddings, the golden plates were magically spotless once more and Dumbledore nodded at two of the teachers. Bill saw a round, squat witch with wiry grey hair go to a tall boy with dark blond hair and greyish-blue eyes who sat at the Hufflepuff table. Professor McGonagall, who was also the head of Gryffindor House, walked to the Gryffindor table and put her hand on James Potter's shoulder. Bill swallowed. James glanced up in surprise, frowning, and Lily Evans seemed very concerned. Bill saw that Remus Lupin and Sirius Black were also frowning.
"Come with me please, Potter," the professor said gently to him. James looked at his friends, giving a small shrug, but he also seemed like he did not think he could be receiving good news. The two professors led the boys to a door behind the high table, and when the door was shut, the headmaster stood again and looked round the hall.
"As I said before, welcome to Hogwarts. Normally at this time, I would be reminding you that the forest is out-of-bounds and that Quidditch trials will begin next week, but unfortunately, I must instead tell you that there has been another Death Eater attack, this time one that affects two Hogwarts students."
Severus Snape jerked his head around. Is that why Potter was pulled away by McGonagall? he wondered. He almost felt sorry for the other boy, in spite of the bad blood that had been between them for the previous four years. He suddenly remembered, quite vividly, being summoned to the headmaster's office just before last Christmas holiday and being informed of his own parents' deaths. However, since his parents were killed by Aurors, it was assumed they were guilty of something (even though they weren't), and he did not garner much sympathy from his fellow students upon being orphaned (though some of the Slytherins took a brief break from harassing him).
He'd suddenly had to go to his uncle in Dunoon for his Christmas holiday, in Scotland, instead of down to Oxford, to his home. Home. It had been less than a year since his parents' deaths. He still thought of Oxford as home. His parents had both grown up in Scotland, on the Firth of Clyde, but they had moved to Oxford soon after he was born, so that was the only home he had ever known. He couldn't even understand his uncle's accent half the time. (His parents' accents had softened with years of living in Oxford.) He grimaced; James Potter would, no doubt, receive much sympathy if anyone in his family had died. He didn't need Severus Snape feeling sorry for him.
"Early this afternoon," the headmaster went on, "three Death Eaters led an attack in Diagon Alley which appeared to have a particular target, an Auror. Two people, a married couple, tried to assist him, as he was outnumbered, but they were killed. Soon after, Lord Voldemort himself arrived and killed the Auror, the original target. His wife attempted to retaliate, but she was also killed. The Auror, his wife, and the two people who died trying to protect him were the parents of two Hogwarts students. Their heads of house are speaking to them now. I am sorry that the term must begin on such a dark note, but I do want to remind you that here at Hogwarts, you are all quite, quite safe. I am still conferring with the school's Board of Governors concerning the issue of Hogsmeade visits. When a decision has been reached, you will all be informed. However, even should a single Hogsmeade visit be permitted, only third years and up who have had their forms signed by a parent or guardian will be permitted to go. I know this is disappointing, but the Board of Governors want to make certain that no Hogwarts student is needlessly endangered. We are very saddened by the events of this afternoon; two families have been split asunder. The Board of Governors wish to prevent such tragedies from occurring in future." He sighed, and Bill Weasley thought he appeared more than a little doubtful.
Then the headmaster led the school in singing the school song, though 'led' was perhaps too strong a word, Bill felt. As the words streamed out from his wand into the air above them, each student and teacher sang them to his or her favorite tune. The jumble of noise was over mercifully quickly; Bill had the distinct impression that no one was feeling very much like singing and they wanted to get it over with.
Before Lily Evans and a girl who he assumed was a sixth-year prefect herded Bill and the other first years up the stairs to Gryffindor Tower, he looked at the door where James Potter had gone. He was so nice on the train, Bill thought. Makes sense he'd have parents who would die trying to defend someone else. He wondered whether James Potter's parents had been Gryffindors too. It seemed likely. He glanced at the other Gryffindors marching up the stairs with him, at the shocked and saddened faces who knew now what James Potter was being told. Though their house had been suddenly touched by tragedy, Bill was also incredibly proud to be where he was. He was determined to do his best to be a credit to Gryffindor.
James looked at Professor McGonagall. She was usually quite unapproachable-looking, but now she was sniffing and had rather shiny eyes. Professor Sprout was even worse; her nose was red and so were her eyes, and she clutched a handkerchief in her stubby fingers with dirt from the greenhouses permanently ingrained under the fingernails.
He glanced at the other boy, a seventh-year from Hufflepuff whom he knew to be David Bones. David didn't appear any surer than James felt. The two of them stood beside each other, waiting to find out why they'd been brought here by their heads-of-house. It was quiet in the room for what seemed a very long time.
Finally Professor McGonagall spoke with difficulty, after clearing her throat. "James, David—I am afraid the headmaster has received some dreadful news." James glanced sideways at David Bones; this was going to be very bad, he suddenly knew. Normally McGonagall would have called them Potter and Bones. First names were not a good sign. She turned to David Bones. "David," she said, "your father was an Auror—"
"Was?" the boy said hysterically, clutching at Professor Sprout's hand.
"—who was targeted by You-Know-Who and his Death Eaters," she went on with great difficulty. "He—he was caught unawares and outnumbered. James' parents tried to help, but—" she paused and caught James' eye. "They were killed. By the Death Eaters. Then You-Know-Who arrived and—and killed your father, David. Your mother was grief-stricken and tried to curse him so—so he killed her too. I am so sorry," she finished quietly. James felt like a very large block of ice had taken up residence in his stomach. His parents were dead. Mum and Dad. Gone.
David Bones had thrown himself on Professor Sprout, crying freely, and now she also let herself go, crying and hugging the boy who was more than a foot taller than her, while he took comfort in her motherly presence. He sometimes muttered, "No, no, it can't be..."
James felt his eyes sting. He swallowed. I'm a prefect. I'm not going to cry in front of others. He looked up at Professor McGonagall.
"They—they were heroes, then," he said, his voice quavering just a little. She gave him a small smile and a nod.
"Of the highest order," she said stoutly.
He nodded, feeling empty inside.
My parents are dead.
I'm an orphan.
Suddenly, he heard a muffled cacophony through the heavy door; those still in the Great Hall were singing the school song. James felt hypnotized by the odd noises; he didn't know how long he stood there dumbly, paralyzed. Finally, feeling like a large doll, Professor McGonagall led him out the door and up to Gryffindor Tower. The other students had left after singing the song. The two of them didn't speak. When they reached the portrait of the Fat Lady, Professor McGonagall said, "Lacewings!" and the portrait swung open. He turned to her.
"Thank you, Professor. Good night," he said stoically. He had a feeling that if he said more, he'd be blubbering as badly as David Bones.
She nodded kindly at him. "If—if you ever want to talk, Potter—"
He nodded back at her. "Thank you," he said again, his voice dull. He climbed in through the hole and closed the portrait behind him. The common room was empty; after the long train ride and devastating news, everyone had evidently decided to go to bed instead of socializing in the common room and talking about their holidays. James sat in an armchair before the fire; he wasn't feeling like going up to his dorm yet. He didn't want to see his friends, to cope with their sympathy and their awkward but well-meant tactless comments, trying to prevent himself from crying in front of them the whole while. He swallowed and felt a single tear trickle down his cheek. Alone, he could cry.
He heard a step on the stair and hastily tried to wipe his face. Lily Evans was crossing the common room. She still wore her Hogwarts robes with her prefect badge over her Muggle skirt and blouse.
Lily's heart was in her throat. Here I've been thinking of my poor mum all day, wondering about the biopsy, and feeling sorry for myself, and with no warning at all, James' parents are dead and he's an orphan.
"Oh James!" she choked; he thought she seemed like she'd already been crying. "I'm so sorry!" He stood and she threw her arms around him. Then he did it; he let go, let the loud wails and torrent of tears escape him. He could only do this with Lily, he realized. He adored Bonnie, but somehow he always felt like he had to be strong around her, so she wouldn't stop thinking him worthy of being her boyfriend. It wasn't that he thought she was superficial; he knew it was his stupid ego preventing him, but he couldn't help it. He couldn't let Bonnie see him fall apart; it was as unthinkable as crying on Sirius or Remus or Peter.
To James, Lily was the sister he'd never had, just as Sirius was the brother he'd never had. She'd already cried on him over her mother's illness during the previous two years; he'd always been there for her. Now his parents were dead and she'd been waiting for him, waiting to be the one shoulder he knew he could cry on. He held her tightly and wept, the sobs punching their way out of his stomach as he clutched at her, and she held her friend, her would-be brother, and wept out her heart with him.
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