The sharp whistle of the scarlet Hogwarts steam train screamed through the air, sounding like the call of a hunting falcon, and James Potter wondered, not for the first time, how the Muggles on the other side of the barrier never heard a thing. He glanced around at the crowded platform, taking in all the Witches and Wizards sending their children off to school for the year.
This was James, and his family's, first foray back into the Wizarding World…well at least into the British Wizarding World. Maybe they should have sent the kids to Salem instead like they had talked about, but the kids wanted to got to Hogwarts. The school their parents had went to, had had all their adventures in. Everything they had done until this point had been to protect the children, and they never really got any say in where they went or what they did, so letting them go to their parents school was the least they could do.
Besides, a small part of him couldn't wait to hear about the look on Severus Snape's face when he discovered that a Longbottom, a Potter, and a Black where all attending Hogwarts, and in the same year to boot. That alone made this decision worth it.
James was knocked out of his revere when someone punched his arm. He looked to his left, and brown eyes met the gray eyes of his best-friend, Sirius Black.
"All right there, Jimmy?"
"How many times have I asked you not to call me that, Padfoot?"
"Only about as many times as I've called you that, Prongs." Sirius' grin was wide and unrepentant, causing James to roll his eyes and smile in response.
"Where have Frank and the cubs gotten to, we haven't even been here ten minutes."
Sirius laughed and jerked a thumb over his shoulder in the direction of a small food stand that was selling snacks and drinks of different varieties. "Kestrel bet him that no one would recognize any of us once we stepped onto the Platform. She won, obviously, so now he's buying them some snacks for the train to tide them over until the trolley witch goes through."
"You'd think that Frank would have learned by now not to make bets with any of the children."
"And that's where you'd be wrong."
James and Sirius turned around to see Frank Longbottom, a clean cut man with close cropped dark brown and equally dark eyes. He had a small, amused smile on his face and one hand on the shoulder of a slightly pudgy boy of 11. Neville Longbottom was Frank's son and only child, he had light brown hair, only slightly longer than his fathers and the same coloured eyes set in a rounded face. Standing next to Neville were two more children, a boy and a girl, both wearing matching mischievous grins.
Sirius turned a fond fatherly smile on all the children before turning a stern face onto the girl. Well, he was trying for stern, but it mostly looked as if he was trying not to laugh. "Now kids, that wasn't a very fair bet. We haven't stepped foot in magical Britain since you three were barely toddlers. What have I told you about playing fair?"
Kestrel grinned up at her father, grey eyes dancing merrily. "But Da, Marauders never play fair."
Sirius blinked down at his daughter, silent for a few moments before letting out a sharp bark of laughter and ruffling her long dark hair, making it look like a birds nest. "That's my girl."
They all glanced towards the scarlet steam engine as it gave another shrill whistle, warning students and parents that the train would soon be departing.
James crouched down so that he was eye level to all three children. "Now remember what we taught you, and I'm not even going to bother telling you three to try and stay out of trouble. Just don't get expelled."
"True Marauders." Sirius clapped James on the shoulder hard, almost knocking the other man over. "They'll be fine Prongs. Let them go have fun, learn new things, get into trouble."
"Alright Padfoot, you're right. Okay, off you go, before the train leaves without you."
Three voices coursed various farewells as they hurried to the train, jumping up into a car just as the engine gave a lurch, signalling its imminent departure. They ducked into the compartment that they had claimed earlier, the first one to the left of the door. In their rush to get inside they did not notice that they nearly knocked over a blonde haired boy their age, and the two troll-like boys who were with him. Kestrel threw open the window and stuck the upper half of her body out of the compartment, waiving to Sirius, James, and Frank. She was joined soon after by Harry and Neville, who had opened the other window. The three friends waved until Platform 9¾ was just a speck in the distance, then pulled themselves back inside and closed the windows.
Kes pulled out the latest copy of 'Hogwarts: A History', opening it to a section that showed a rough map of the castle and it's grounds, and she and Harry proceeded to argue about what part of the castle they should explore first. Neville pulled out their Herbology text book trying to drown out the sound of his two best friends bickering.
They hadn't been in the compartment for more than ten minutes when the door flew open and an ill-tempered looking girl with red hair looked in. "Sorry to barge in like this, but do you mind if I join you? My brothers are driving me mad, and I'm afraid that if I have to sit with them for the whole train ride, I'll be expelled before the train even makes it to Hogsmeade."
Neville hid his laughter behind his book while Harry and Kestrel laughed outright. She managed to wave the girl in through her laughter. "Come on in, the more the merrier. I'm Kestrel, this is Harry, and the boy behind the book is Neville."
"Wotcher." Both boys coursed.
"Thanks. I'm Ginny; it's nice to meet you."
Harry yelped as Kes snapped the book shut, nearly taking his fingers with it. "Watch it, would you?"
"Whoops, sorry Harry."
"Sure you are." Kes stuck her tongue out at him, an act that Harry expertly ignored as he turned around to face Ginny, who was taking a seat next to Neville. "Out of curiosity, how many brothers do you have?"
"Heading to Hogwarts? 4. In total I have six. There's me and my twin brother Ron, then the older twins, Fred and George, and Percy. Charlie and Bill are the oldest and have both already graduated."
"Bloody hell six brothers? I can hardly handle these two some days. How do you manage it?"
"Being fearless and not being afraid to throw the first curse." The red-heads glib comment quickly brought the other three to tears, and they spent the next two hours trading stories of their respective families and their antics.
"…And Harry was stuck wearing my skirt the rest of the day, because Dad and Uncle Frank couldn't figure out what it was I'd done to make it stick!"
Ginny wiped tears from her eyes as she tried to get her laughter under control, the colour that stained Harry's cheeks not helping her regain her composure.
"Sure laugh it up; I still plan on getting you back for that, Black."
"Try it, Potter."
Ginny's laughter abruptly came to a halt as she looked between her three new friends. "Black…and Potter?" She pointed between each in turn then looked over at Neville. "Would that make you Neville Longbottom then?"
Neville nodded, a little unsure on whether or not he wanted to answer.
The smile on Kestrel's face faded slightly as Harry turned to face Ginny head on. "Does it really matter what are last names are?"
"What? Oh…No! Not at all. I was just a little surprised is all. I mean you guys have been talked about for years, and no one has seen you since…" she let her voice trail off, not wanting to finish her sentence and knowing that she didn't have to. Didn't want to remind them of what was probably the worst moment of their lives.
Ginny hastened to reassure the other three after seeing the sceptical looks. "Really, I swear I won't treat you guys any different. I was just surprised that's all. I'm sorry if I made you uncomfortable…I, I can go if you would rather…"
The three friends looked at each other before looking back at the now very nervous and embarrassed red head. "I'll just go th-"
"Ginny wait." Ginny paused halfway out of her seat, glancing down at Neville's hand that had grabbed her elbow to stop her from leaving. "You can stay; we didn't mean to make you feel unwelcome."
Harry nodded as he leaned back in his seat, "Nev's right, Ginny. We're going to have to get used to people treating us differently just because of what are names are."
"Yeah, even though we're no different than any other child our age. Though, I will admit, we are much more awesome than the average 11-year-old."
"Shut up, Black." Ginny laughed as Harry and Neville pelted Kes with Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans, she could only laugh and raise her book to defend herself. The rest of the train ride passed pleasantly as they shared more pranks that they had pulled and discussed what they wanted to do once they got to Hogwarts.
"Well our Dads," Harry motioned between himself and Kestrel. "Were quite the pranksters when they were at Hogwarts. Neville, Kes and I are rather gifted in the area ourselves, so we have made it our personal goal to out due our fathers' reputations at Hogwarts and became known as the most inventive pranksters the school has ever seen."
"You'll have a bit of competition for that title. My brother's, Fred and George, have been the resident "Prankster's in Chief" since their first year, following in the footsteps of their idols, The Marauders."
Ginny could only stare as her three new friends all broke out in an uncontrolled fit of laughter. Harry was laughing so hard that he had fallen out of his seat and onto the floor of the compartment. Kestrel joined him several moments later, having slowed her decent by holding onto the compartments window frame. Neville was able to regain control of his laughter first and managed, between gasping breaths, to explain their reaction to a now annoyed looking Ginny.
"Sorry Ginny, it's just…the Marauder's are…woo! Okay." He finally managed to calm down enough to breathe and talk normally. "The Marauder's, known as Moony, Padfoot and Prongs, are none other than Harry and Kestrels Fathers and Uncle. You see, Prongs is Harry dad, James. Padfoot is Sirius Black, and Moony is Remus Lupin."
Ginny smiled in understanding, but tilted her head in confusion. "I noticed that you're missing one, Wormtail. Who was he?" Ginny pushed her back against her seat at the sudden angry faces the other three were now wearing. "Did-did I say something wrong?"
It was Harry who explained this time. "No, well yes, but it's not your fault, you didn't know. Wormtail is Peter Pettigrew, and he is the rat who betrayed our parents, and is the reason that mine and Kestrel's Mum's are dead." He pushed himself back to his feet, then reached a hand out and pulled Kestrel to her feet.
"I'm sorry, I hadn't realized…"
"We know Ginny, that's why we aren't mad at you." Harry reassured the upset redhead. "It was an innocent question and you had no idea that it would affect us the way it did." Ginny nodded and her posture relaxed a great deal. Maybe she would look up what happened in the wake of Voldemort's downfall, to prevent insulting or angering her new friends more than she already had.
"Anyway," Harry began bracingly. "Back to lighter topics. As good as I am sure your brother's are at the fine art of Pranking, I can, with great certainty, say that they will never as good as the Marauders were, or as we intend to be."
"So you really do plan on challenging Fred and George as the best Pranksters in school?"
"You bet we do, we already have a list of them that we want to get a head start on next weekend."
"Oh! I just had an idea that you might want to consider?"
"Really?" All three raised sceptical eyebrows at the redhead.
"You know who the Marauder's are, Fred and George don't. I wasn't kidding when I said that they were my brother's heroes. They practically worship they ground the figuratively, and I guess literally, walked on. If you can figure out a way to not only tell them that you know about the Marauder's, but that you actually know who they are, and then don't tell them how you know them? It will drive them bloody mental!"
"That's actually not a bad idea."
"And like Uncle Remus always says, sometimes the best prank can be pulled of with the simplest of things." Harry and Kestrel grinned at one another before turning to Ginny. "If we can figure out how to pull it off we will definitely do it."
"So…..you want to see our Prank list?"
They spent the next hour or so pouring over their list with Ginny, who put in ideas of her own, or helped with ways that they could pull off some of their pranks without getting caught by members of staff or other students.
Their conversation was once again interrupted by their compartment door sliding opening, revealing three other first year students. Two looked like the descendants of trolls, with foreheads nearly as wide as their shoulders and vacant, menacing expressions on their faces. The third was a thin blonde boy with a sharp nose and bright blue eyes.
It was the blonde that spoke after he swept blue eyes over the four, in what he probably thought was a superior look, but just made it look like he was constipated. "I've heard that Harry Potter is in this compartment. Are you him?" He pointed at Harry who merely raised a black eyebrow at him.
Before he could reply Ginny spoke up, "It's rude to point you know. Didn't your mother teach you any manners?"
The blonde sneered again, and gave Ginny a quick once over. "No need to ask who you are? Red hair, freckles, and hand me down robes, you must be a Weasley."
Ginny went nearly as red as her hair, but this time it was Neville who spoke. "The same could be said about you. Blonde hair, superior attitude, and a face only a mother could tolerate? You must be a Malfoy." Neville matched him sneer for sneer.
"And just who are you?"
"Really, you think he would have done his homework, if he knows who Harry is, right Neville?" Kestrel pointedly turned to look at Harry as she spoke.
"You're right Kes. Really Malfoy, do try and keep your facts straight."
"Wait…you're Harry Potter?" He pointed, again, in disbelief at Neville.
"Then who is that?"
"I'm Neville Longbottom."
"I know my own name! Now go away, we were having a splendid conversation before you came in and ruined it. Take your troll-like friends with you and go back to your own compartment."
"Hey, we aren't trolls."
"Merlin's Beard, they speak." Kestrel looked at Malfoy with awe. "How ever did you train them?"
Before Malfoy or his bodyguards could respond, a pompous voice called from further up the carriage. "What's this now?" A tall redhead boy, with a Gryffindor Prefect's badge pinned to his collar, pushed is way into the compartment, making it very crowded.
"What is going on here?"
"She called us trolls!"
Both boys were pointing at a bewildered looking Kestrel. "I did no such thing."
"Yes you did."
Harry raised a hand, "Technically it was me, and what I actually said was 'troll-like'. I did not, in fact, call you trolls."
"And you're name is?"
Harry cast a quick look at Neville, who smirked in reply, nodding slightly.
"I'm Neville Longbottom."
If he was surprised by his name, he didn't show it. "Well Mr. Longbottom, please kindly refrain from calling fellow students, trolls, or troll-like, or any other form of insulting names. And you three." He turned to face Malfoy and his cronies. "Please return to your compartment, you're crowding up the hallway."
Malfoy glanced over the Prefects shoulder and over his own, seeing a few students who had been trying to get passed scowling at them.
"Fine, but this isn't over Longbottom, not nearly. Come Crabbe, Goyle." He spun on his heel and marched up the train, back the way he had come, the now named Crabbe and Goyle on his heels.
Silence once again reigned in the still cramped compartment for a few moments more before Ginny spoke up. "Thanks Percy."
"You're welcome Ginny. But in the future please try and not antagonize Malfoy. We'll be at Hogwarts soon; I suggest you change into your robes." With that he left the compartment and continued on his rounds.
"One of your brothers I take it?"
"Yes, he's the middle brother, and different than any of the others, he is much more rule oriented. You'll have to be careful when Pranking with him around. He's Fred and George's favourite target, so he's always suspicious."
"So, how long do you think it will take Malfoy to realize that you are in fact, Harry Potter and not Neville Longbottom."
"Oh, he'll found out when we're sorted I suppose, but it'll be a good laugh until then."
The boys changed into their school robes first, and then exited so the girls could do the same. About 15 minutes later the train slowly started to come to a halt. Their Hogwarts letter had told them to leave their belongings on the train and they would be transported to their dorms once they were sorted.
Exiting the train they got their first of many looks of Hogsmeade Station, thought they couldn't see much in the dim moon and starlight. A booming voice cut through the loud chatter of the students, commanding attention. "Firs' years! Firs' Years, this way!"
A crowd of nervous, shaking, overwhelmed 11 year olds made their way over to a very large man. To their eyes he was easily as large as a house, with a large black beard, and beetle black eyes, peered out from underneath eyebrows as bushy as his beard. "Righ', then, is this all o' ya? Excellent, follow me, if yer please, down to the boats."
The followed the large man down from the station along a twisting path that skirted around the edge of the woods. As the got further away from the noisy station they could hear the gentle lapping of water against rocks and the distant splashes of creatures jumping in water.
-They reached the edge of the lake five minutes after leaving the station and most of them eyed the rickety looking old boats with unease. "Righ' you lot, four t' a boat. No shovin', there'r enough boats fer everyone."
Harry, Ginny, Neville, and Kestrel all shrugged at each other and claimed the boat nearest to them, climbing in carefully so as not to tip it over. Once seated, Ginny cast a quick look around for her twin, Ron. She saw him sharing a boat with two other boys and a bushy haired girl.
As soon as all the first years had made it into the boats, the large man climbed into a final boat, this one empty, and raised a crooked looking pink umbrella above his head. "Forward." With the command all the boats jerked slightly and started moving out onto the body of the lake, cruising quickly but gently along the still water. There wasn't much talking from the first years during this leg of their journey, most were worrying about how the sorting was to be conducted, others were admiring the clear night sky, and others were quietly talking among themselves so as not to disturb the silence that had descended over them.
The silence was only broken once, and it was by their guide. "If yer look now, you lot will see your firs' glimpse o' Hogwarts." A sea of heads looked up suddenly as they floated around a corner, and at this point if they had been talking, they all would have been struck mute at the sight before them. Seemingly rising endlessly into the sky was a grand old Castle. With turrets and bridges, and so many windows, Hogwarts looked like its own night sky.
"Welcome t' Hogwarts!"