'You look after them,' Mrs Lupin told her son. She brushed his sandy hair out of his face and then gave him a smile and gathered him into a hug. 'Oh, Remus! I can't believe it's your last year!'
Remus Lupin's brown eyes met James Potter's hazel ones over his mother's shoulder and he gave him a long-suffering look. James smirked; Remus was holding his mother just as tightly as she was holding him. Sirius Black, who was leaning against his trunk sniggered.
'Look at widdle Lupin,' Lucius Malfoy, a tall, blond seventh year cooed as he walked past with Sirius' haughty and equally blond cousin Narcissa Black. 'Cuddling up to Mummy. Will you miss her, Lupin?'
James closed his eyes, his jaw tensing. He was not in the mood for this. Sirius glanced at him. 'Of course he will,' Sirius barked. 'Affection is a sign of a functional relationship, Malfoy.'
'And what would you know about functional relationships, Black?' Malfoy asked snidely.
'More than most purebloods,' Sirius said lightly. 'Exempting James of course. You see, Lucy-'
'Padfoot,' Remus said warningly; his mother had left and he was now paying full attention to the conversation.
'Oh, all right,' Sirius huffed, his grey eyes narrowing in Remus' general direction.
'Taking directions from a half-blood now, cousin?' Narcissa said with a cool look at Remus.
'No,' Sirius said. 'Advice, actually. See, when you get advice, you can choose whether or not to follow it. Direction - what you lot get - is when you don't have a choice.'
'It's called slavery,' James informed them helpfully. 'It's actually illegal. Termination of free will and all that...'
'I'd advise you to think about it,' Sirius told them, 'futile as that is. In the meantime, we've got to go. Do you want me to embrace the pureblooded traditions of telling blatant lies to people's faces and tell you it was nice to see you both, or-'
Malfoy and Narcissa turned and stalked off. 'I think that's a no, Padfoot,' James said, chuckling.
'We've been here five minutes and you've already renewed your rivalries,' Remus muttered, kneading his temples.
'Nonsense,' James said, checking his watch. 'We've been here seven.'
Sirius laughed his barking laugh. Remus just shook his head. 'Shall we try to find a compartment?' he asked.
'We shall,' Sirius said in a very good impression of his cousin's lofty voice. 'After you, Mr Moony.'
Remus snorted and hoisted his trunk onto the scarlet Hogwarts Express. James and Sirius had a small scuffle over who got to follow - Sirius won - and then, laughing, they set off down the train's corridors. Chudley - James' owl - hooted happily at the other students.
'That's either a really small firstie,' Sirius commented as a tiny girl with black pigtails squeaked and ran back into her compartment, 'or a massive toddler. I swear Nymphadora's taller and she's only six!'
'Probably. I'd say toddler,' James said. 'And destined for Hufflepuff at that. Here, this one's free.' They stored their luggage and sat down.
'Where do you reckon Pete is?' Sirius asked, lounging across three seats. Remus rolled his eyes and shuffled over to give him more room.
'No clue,' James said. 'He'll show up eventually, I'm sure.'
'Hopefully before quarter-past,' Remus said.
'We'll have to go to the Prefect's compartment,' Remus said, gesturing to himself and James, 'and we all know you can't be trusted anywhere on your own.'
'At least he's house-trained,' James said, unconcerned. Remus sniggered.
'You aren't actually going, are you, Prongs?' Sirius asked.
'He doesn't have a choice,' Remus said before James could respond. 'He's Head Boy.'
'I didn't ask for the position,' James muttered.
'But you got it anyway,' Remus replied. The train jolted and started to move. Parents and siblings out on the platform called their last goodbyes. James looked deliberately away, staring at his trainers. 'The least you can do is take it seriously.'
'Take it what, Moony?' Sirius asked with a sly grin. Remus kicked him. 'Oof!'
'Serves you right,' James said. He pulled a small badge from his jeans pocket and twisted it over in his fingers. It was a miniature of the Hogwarts school crest with the Head Boy stretching across the banner that usually held the motto. After a moment of intense moral debate, James pinned the badge to his jumper.
'The horror!' Sirius cried.
Remus kicked him again. 'The meetings aren't that bad, Prongs. You and the Head Girl will introduce yourselves to the rest of the students, we'll sort out patrol rosters and then we get to come back here.'
'To me!' Sirius exclaimed. This time, he dodged Remus' kick. 'Why so violent today, Moony?' he asked.
'Full moon's in a week,' James said.
'Five days, actually,' Remus corrected, making a face. He checked his watch. 'Come on, Prongs.'
'You're leaving already?' Sirius whined.
'The Prefect's compartment's right down the other end,' Remus told him.
'I know that. Remember fifth year, with the Stinksap?'
Remus made a face that indicated yes, he did indeed remember. Sirius and James grinned at each other. 'Oh, no you don't,' Remus said. 'I know that look. James, you will behave at the meeting and Sirius, you're not to leave this compartment until we get back.'
'Is that advice or a demand?' Sirius asked slyly.
Remus sighed, grabbed James' jumper and marched him out of the compartment.
James complained all the way there. 'I don't want to go,' he said. 'I want to resign anyway. There's no way Dumbledore actually meant to give this-' he gestured to his badge, '-or if he did, it was probably a pity thing.'
'James,' Remus said in a tone that indicated he was about to say something profound.
James scowled. 'No one's going to take me seriously as Head Boy. They're going to think it's a massive joke.'
'Do you take the position seriously?'
'Of course I do! I'm going to be terrible at it, though!'
'You'll do fine,' Remus said. They stopped outside the Prefect's compartment. 'After you.'
'You go first,' James said.
'No,' Remus said. 'You. We're already late.'
'But we left early!'
'Prongs, go,' Remus said.
'You go,' James said. The compartment door opened to reveal a slim, red-haired person. James' stomach did a little backflip. 'Evans!' he exclaimed, his hand darting up to ruffle his already-messy, black hair.
Lily Evans' green eyes narrowed and she folded her arms. 'Potter,' she said, sounding far less delighted. She spotted Remus behind him and smiled. 'Hello, Remus.'
'Hello, Lily,' Remus said, giving James a little push forward. 'Sorry I'm late.'
'I don't think it's your fault,' she said, glancing at James. Remus coughed. James would have bet his Nimbus 750 that he was trying not to laugh. Lily tossed her long, red hair and turned back to James. 'Wonderful as it is to see you, Potter, you need to go. This is the Prefect's compartment.'
'Bummer,' James said. 'Where do the Heads meet then?'
'Excuse me?' But then Lily's eyes found the badge on James' jumper. Her mouth fell open. 'No,' she said.
'Yep,' James said, a little apologetically. He brushed past her into the compartment and took the empty seat beside a laughing Frank Longbottom. Frank grinned and held out a hand. James shook it, a little sheepishly. Short, round-faced Alice Prewett - one of Lily's best friends and Frank's girlfriend - smiled in welcome. On her other side, the Bones twins did the same. Regulus was on the far side of the room and grinned in disbelief at James' badge, while Narcissa and Malfoy stared, open-mouthed. Remus sat down on James' other side. Maybe, James thought, this Head Boy thing might not be so bad.
* * *
'Hey, Evans!' a pleasantly deep voice called. Lily turned around, working hard to hide her irritation but it still showed in the way she held her shoulders and in the way her eyes flashed.
She rolled her eyes when she saw who it was. 'Good morning, Potter.' He grinned mischeviously - the fact that she had acknowledged him seemed to have made his day - and ran a hand through his untameable, messy, black hair. Lily ground her teeth; that habit had been driving her mad for years. Around her, however, girls were ignoring their breakfasts to watch him. He was undeniably attractive, and also exceptionally intelligent, a fact not lost on the greater female population of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
She huffed and took a sip of her juice. It was common knowledge that he had fancied Lily since first year. Also common knowledge was the fact that Lily did not feel the same way, and then, Dumbledore, for reasons she couldn't fathom, had made them both Heads. Potter had been bearable on the train yesterday but she knew it wouldn't - couldn't - last.
'Prongs!' another male voice shouted cheerfully. Lily made a face, recognising that smooth voice anywhere. It belonged to Black, Potter's almost-brother and partner in crime. She could see him strolling through the doors now. He was an inch taller than Potter, with shaggy black hair that fell casually across his face and into stormy grey eyes, which, despite their colour, managed to hold warmth.
A step behind him was Remus, tall and thin with sandy hair. He had a friendly face if you could look past the scars that lined his pale skin and his chocolate eyes were always kind. He had had the worst run of luck of anyone Lily had met; his mother was dying and he had relatives passing away every few months, but he wasn't bitter about it. He was probably one of the nicest people she'd ever met.
The three of them - Potter, Black and Remus - were practically Hogwarts royalty, due to their good-looks and –in Potter and Black's cases – Quidditch ability. Along with another boy, they made up a group known as the Marauders. This other boy's name was Peter Pettigrew and unusually, the short, watery-eyed boy was absent.
'Padfoot! Moony!' Potter called, waving at his friends. The two sat down next to the messy-haired seventh year and Lily was sure she heard her name pop up in their hushed conversation. She sighed again - she was sighing a lot this morning - and helped herself to her toast.
She had taken all of one bite when- 'Lillian, darling!' Black said loudly in her ear. She jumped, stifling a scream. 'Didn't see you there! Do you mind if we sit down?'
'Yes, actually I-' Lily gave up with a quiet growl since Black had already sat down and where he went, Potter would follow. He did, on her other side. Remus was across from her, and though she liked him the most of them all, she still felt boxed in. She pursed her lips and reached for her copy of The Daily Prophet, hoping to hide behind it until they left her alone. Her hand brushed the hard wood of the table and the cool base of a flask of pumpkin juice, but not her paper.
Frowning, she looked for it and noticed it in Remus' thin hands. She decided it would be childish to snatch it back from him and instead read the article on the back.
'Another disappearance,' Remus said heavily, looking at his fellow Marauders. Potter's face darkened and he glared at his plate of toast for almost a minute before pushing it away. Apparently, he had lost his appetite.
'Stop being so morbid!' Black exclaimed, pulling a goblet of pumpkin juice toward him, as well as James' untouched toast. Remus cleared his throat and a look of understanding crossed Black's face. 'Oh, Merlin, right,' he said with half a glance at Potter. A troubled expression settled itself on his face and his eyes took on a glazed, faraway look, as if he was remembering something. Lily realised this was the most subdued the Marauders had ever been around her.
'Anyone we know?' Potter said after a poignant pause. Lily was having difficulty deciphering his expression, which troubled her. As bright as she was, it had never occurred to her that Potter might have feelings.
'Not today,' Remus answered, as if it was only a matter of time.
'Well, onto brighter topics,' Potter said with forced enthusiasm. 'There's a Hogsmeade weekend coming up, Lils, and I was wonderin-'
'No, Potter,' Lily growled.
Sadness flashed across Potter's expression but it was quickly smothered. A small, mischievous smile settled on his lips. 'You're not? That's great! In that case-'
'What?!' Lily asked, thoroughly confused.
'Well, I was asking if you were going with anyone, and since you said no, I would like to know whether you want to go with me?' Potter's hazel eyes were intent on her face, wearing a hopeful expression. How he could still be hopeful after six years of daily rejection was beyond her understanding. Black and Remus shared a knowing look.
'No, Potter,' she said, with more force than before.
'Oh,' Potter said in a completely different tone. 'Er.. yeah... okay then.' His hurt expression almost made Lily feel guilty, but being asked out every day since the second day of first year had worn down her patience.
'Goodbye, Potter,' Lily said, getting to her feet. She scooped up her bag and stalked out of the Great Hall, able to feel three pairs of eyes boring into her back.