A light snow fell on Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, gently dusting the spires of the great castle. In the school grounds a young Whomping Willow shivered and shook the snow from its bare branches. From the nearby village of Hogsmeade to the castle proper the countryside was sullen and hushed, and there was a sense of settling in for the long winter that lay ahead. Inside the school was another matter entirely; young witches and wizards broke eagerly from the last of their morning classes and flocked to the Great Hall for lunch.
In the corridor outside the Charms classroom a Gryffindor sixth-year ran a few paces to match steps with her Hufflepuff friend.
“Hallo, Lily,” said the Hufflepuff congenially. “That was a beastly lesson, wasn’t it? Lucky we have Charms Club this evening, I really need more practice on this Slumber Jinx, and Professor Flitwick all but told us that it’s going to be on our NEWTs next year. Honestly! We’ve just finished our OWLs and already they’ve got us worried about… Lily! What on earth’s the matter?”
Lily, wearing an expression of consternation, was glancing behind her every few seconds and had just stumbled absentmindedly into a rather unbecoming statue of Botley the Brutish.
“Can I have lunch with your lot today, Alice?” Lily asked, rubbing her bruised proboscis. She fumed, “It’s that unbearable Potter boy and his ruddy friends! They spent all of yesterday’s lunch hour Transfiguring the toad-in-the-hole into… well, it was obscene is what it was! I couldn’t eat a bite.”
Alice chuckled and patted her friend’s arm reassuringly. “Of course, dear, of course. But you really shouldn’t let James get to you like this.”
As Lily and Alice entered the Great hall their olfactory senses were beset by thousands of delicious aromas. Lily glanced at the Gryffindor table and saw James huddling around the bangers-and-mash with his best friends, Sirius Black, Remus Lupin and Peter Pettigrew. Lily turned away from the group when she saw James start to look up, but she was not quite fast enough to avoid his gaze entirely.
“Oi! Evans!” James called to her. “I saved you a seat…” His voice trailed off despondently as the auburn-haired girl, once again, passed him by. He ran his hand through his thick black hair, making it stand on end like a hedgehog.
“Come on, mates,” he said gruffly to his friends. “Last one to finish carries the winner’s books for the rest of the day. Ready? Engorgio!”
Sirius, Remus and Peter, wands out, echoed James’ command and soon each of them were busily sculpting the swelled masses of mashed potatoes on their plates.
Lily and Alice took a place by themselves at the Hufflepuff table and helped themselves to their favourite dishes. They ate in silence for a few minutes before Alice set her fork down and cleared her throat.
“James really is mad for you, Lily. He’s a nice boy, most of the time; you should give him a chance! If you’d just talk to him, he wouldn’t have to resort to such boorish behaviour to get your attention. Frank says—“
“Where is Frank?” Lily interrupted, hoping to steer the subject to Alice’s new amour, Frank Longbottom.
Alice sighed dreamily, resting her chin in her hands with her elbows on the table. “He’s serving detention with Professor Slughorn for helping me with my Beautifying Tonic. Not,” she added with a wink, “that he thinks I’d ever need to make use of it…”
Lily passed the next half hour in silence listening amiably to the long list that composed Frank’s virtues. Alice, still chatting, and Lily were beginning to pack up for their first afternoon class when shouting at the Gryffindor table caught their attention. James and Sirius were standing with their wands pointed at each other with Remus standing between them, all shouting at each other while Peter hastily put the finishing touches on a sloppy, but recognizable, mashed potato rat.
“Time, Pettigrew! Time!” scolded Molly Prewett, who was apparently mediating the contest. Face blazing as red as her hair, she quickly rounded on the other three boys. “And as for you! Did you or did you not ask me to adjudicate for you? No, don’t answer; you know you did. Now, are you going to sit down and hear my verdict, or am I to declare the competition over with no winner?
“That’s more like it,” Molly said kindly as James, Sirius and Remus resumed their seats. “Now, Lupin finished first with his wolf, but I’m afraid I shall have to disqualify his entry.” She pointed a finger at the potato wolf. “You’ve cheated a bit here with the nose, see? It ought to be longer. And what’s this tufty business with the tail? Honestly, Remus! And you usually have such a fine eye for detail.”
Molly paused and gave approving nods to the large dog on Sirius’ plate and the magnificent stag on James’. “Black and Potter finished at the same time. I declare a tie!”
James and Sirius glared at each other and grudgingly shook hands. Then James’ face lit up in a wry grin.
“Looks like you’re carrying three sets of books this afternoon, Peter!”
James and Sirius dumped their school things in front of their dumpy friend and, laughing, exited the hall with Remus. Lily and Alice shook their heads in sympathy as Peter scurried after them, struggling under the weight of twelve pounds of books.