Sirius stood up, feeling very full and comfortable. He yawned. "Uh... Where do we go now, exactly?" he asked the others, glancing up and down the hall.
James shrugged. "Who knows? Maybe we'll be shown where to go."
"I think that might be a prefect," offered Peter, pointing to a boy several seats down, who was standing beside a group of smaller students. "He might be someone we're supposed to follow. And Lily Evans is over there."
"We met her on the train," said Remus, feeling a lot better now the atmosphere had changed. "She was with the Slytherin boy. Severus, I think his name was..."
James snorted. "Snivellus, more like."
Sirius laughed. "Yeah, did you see the size of his greasy nose? I don't know why she's friends with him. I'd have scarpered if I was her."
"But you don't even know Severus yet. He can't be that bad," said Remus reasonably, frowning a little. "You shouldn't judge people before you've even got to know them. You never know, he might be nice."
"Yeah," retorted Sirius, glaring over at the Slytherin table, where Severus Snape's dark hair was visible. "Whatever. He came into our compartment, didn't he, James? And he seemed like a git to me."
James found himself nodding vigorously. He understood that Remus had a point, but he didn't like the way Snape was close to Lily.
But Remus pressed on. "Anyway, Lily seemed nice. She said hello and we talked for a bit. She's muggleborn."
"Wonder how she met that Snape boy, then," muttered Sirius darkly.
"She and Remus stopped some Slytherins bullying me," piped up Peter. "I was in a compartment on my own, and the Slytherins came in and started calling me names. Remus arrived and asked them to stop, but they just laughed. Then Lily came in and told them to go away. They left immediately."
"It was very impressive, actually," said Remus thoughtfully. "Lily was, that is. Not me."
"No, you were great too," insisted Peter.
Remus reddened slightly and looked down at the floor, embarrassed.
James found himself liking Remus already. He was kind, for one thing. And very modest. "Come on," he said, looking around at the others. "Let's go and join Lily. If that is a prefect, we should probably hurry. We need to find out where to go."
They all hurried in the direction of the students, Remus lagging slightly behind to wait for Peter, who was a bit slower.
Lily Evans was with the other first-years, next to a pair of timid-looking girls.
As the boys approached, one of the girls nudged the other and whispered, "Mary, look. Is that a ghost?" She pointed towards the other end of the room.
"A ghost?" squeaked Peter, his voice very high.
"Remus tried to console him. "Don't worry, Peter. It's not solid. It can't hurt you."
"But- b- but..."
"If it touches you, it'll just slide through your body," continued Remus soothingly. "You're alive and the ghost isn't. Ghosts are just the imprints of departed souls. And I promise they're not that scary."
Sirius looked impressed. "'The imprints of departed souls'?" he repeated. "Wow, Remus! Big words!"
Remus blushed again. "Not really... The point is, Peter, you're safe."
"Really?" asked Peter, continuing to eye the ghost apprehensively. It looked a bit violent if he was being perfectly honest. Especially because of its chains and silver bloodstains...
The prefect chose this moment to peer down at them all. "Is this the lot, then?" he asked loudly. Then he called over his shoulder. "Oi, Felicity!"
A girl, also a Gryffindor prefect, appeared at his side. She smiled. "Yes, Marcus?"
Marcus didn't look pleased. "I need your help," he told her boldly. "We've got to take this lot-" he jerked his thumb at James and the other Gryffindor first-years "-up to Gryffindor tower. And I'm not taking the cheeky little snotrags up on my own."
The girl pulled a face. "Oh, but... Marcus, they're not snotrags. They haven't done anything wrong." She smiled again at the way the first-years were clutching at their fellows. "I remember when I was a first-year. I was terrified. I didn't know any magic and I hadn't met anyone yet. The poor things must be scared out of their wits."
Marcus snorted. "Don't be so wet, Felicity. They can't be that terrified. Anyway, I don't care what they're feeling, right now. I just need you to help me take them upstairs."
"Sure," Felicity sighed. "I wouldn't trust you not to beat them up, once you're out of sight of the teachers."
The first-years exchanged glances. They didn't exactly know what to make of Marcus.
"Felicity seems okay, though," whispered Peter to James, Sirius and Remus as they began moving.
Marcus strode ahead of the group, his robes rippling around his tall, muscular frame. Every now and again, he stopped to turn and look at them all, as if checking that they were still following.
Felicity, meanwhile, fussed over the first-years as they walked, weaving between them and ushering them along like a mother hen. "You'll all love Hogwarts," she was saying loudly, as they went up yet another moving staircase, gawping shamelessly at the moving pictures on the walls. "It's a great school. When you first arrive, you might find yourself getting lost, but you'll soon find your way-"
"Hurry up, Felicity!" growled Marcus impatiently, from the top of the stairs. "We'll be here all night and I want to get to bed."
"Well, go to bed, then!" James heard one boy mutter.
There was a couple of appreciative snickers and the girl next to him said, "Ha, ha! Well, said, Frank!"
The boy grinned and they came to a halt at the top of the staircase.
Felicity and Marcus ground the students to a halt. A huge portrait of a fat lady in a pink dress blocked the way forwards.
Silence fell among the first-years.
"Password?" trilled the Fat Lady, eyeing them all curiously."
"Shuntbumps," replied Marcus firmly, nudging Felicity aside.
The Fat Lady smiled. "Quite right," she said and, without warning, the portrait swung forwards to reveal a large hole in the wall.
"Through we go!" said Felicity, gesturing for all the first-years to move forwards.
There was a slight pause of awkwardness before the boy called Frank stepped forwards and climbed through the hole.
The girl who'd been standing next to him followed and, gradually, the other first-years filtered through.
"Need a leg-up, Peter?" asked James, once he himself had scrambled through the portrait hole.
Peter tried and failed to climb through after him. "Erm... Yes, please," he said sheepishly.
"Hurry up!" barked Marcus from behind them.
Sirius rolled his eyes.
"Here, Peter," said Remus, who stood next to the smaller boy - unlike James and Sirius, who were already through the hole. He gave Peter a push.
With a muffled squeal, Peter Pettigrew tumbled through the gap in the wall, landing on top of a disgruntled James.
"Ow!" James cried, disentangling himself from Peter and backing away.
"Is everyone in?" came Felicity's voice and, a second later, Remus had climbed through the hole too.
The two prefects followed him and the portrait hole swung closed behind them.
James allowed himself to look around at his surroundings. They were in a very cosy round room, full of squashy red armchairs. A merry fire roared in the fireplace, and the red and gold Gryffindor colours beamed down at them from the walls.
They were in Gryffindor tower.
"Wow," said the girl who stood next to Frank. "It's cosy in here."
Frank nodded. "Yeah, Alice," he said, in the same awed tone. "Hogwarts just gets better and better."
"Come on, stop swaddling, all of you. Let's get to bed. Boys are up that staircase-" Marcus pointed towards one of the flights of steps "-and girls are up the other. G'night."
"Night," the first-years muttered sleepily.
"Sleep well!" Felicity followed Marcus out of the common room and vanished.
The first-years separated. Frank followed James, Sirius, Remus and Peter up the boys' staircase.
"Not that many of us, are there?" asked James with a yawn, as they went through a small wooden door at the top.
"No," agreed Sirius. "And there are only four girls, too. Five boys and four girls. That makes nine of us."
"I wonder how many Slytherins there are," said Frank, moving over to one of the four-poster beds and sitting on it with a thump.
"There are ten of them," said Remus automatically. "I counted. And there are nine Ravenclaws and eleven Hufflepuffs. We're fairly evenly-spread."
"Why did you count them?" Sirius asked in surprise, flinging himself down on a bed between Remus and James.
Peter chose a bed on Remus' left - Frank's right.
"I don't know," replied Remus quietly. "I partly did it to distract myself from my nervousness, but also partly out of curiosity... It was nothing, really."
"Nah, it wasn't nothing," said James generously, unloading his trunk which had been placed next to his bed. "I guess the number of students in each house varies from year to year. Imagine if Gryffindor had no students!"
"Well, that was kind of what I thought," Remus told him, unfastening the lid of his own trunk and pulling out a pair of striped pyjamas. "I was wondering what they'd do if a house only had one student or something."
"What do you think they'd do?" asked Sirius, who had already pulled on his pyjamas. He sat on the end of his bed and lazily lent on his bedside table.
"I don't know," said Remus. "I don't think they'd be able to do anything."
James wouldn't normally have found such a conversation interesting but, for some reason, it was interesting. "Yeah. I guess they can't exactly transfer people to other houses, can they?"
"Can we just go to sleep?" begged Peter from beneath his duvet. "I'm shattered."
"Me too," admitted Frank, also climbing into bed. "I'm Frank, in case you didn't know before. Frank Longbottom."
The others all introduced themselves before getting into their own beds.
James hastily finished buttoning up the rest of his Snitch-patterned pyjamas.
"Are those Snitches on your pyjamas?" Frank asked James, as James finally slid under his duvet.
"Uh- Yeah. They're new pyjamas. I got them in Diagon Alley." Truth be told, James was secretly rather proud of their Snitch pattern. They'd been the last pair of that kind in the shop.
"What's your Quidditch team?"
"The Wimborne Wasps. You?"
Frank smiled mischievously. "The Silver Arrows."
James laughed. "No way! That makes us rivals!" He raised his head off the pillow and addressed the still-awake Remus. "Remus, what about you? You follow Quidditch, right?"
Remus stifled a yawn. He really was very tired. "I do, but I'm not that competitive, to be honest," he said truthfully. "I quite like the Hollyhead Harpies."
James groaned to himself. "Don't tell me you're in love with Glynnis Griffiths!"
"Don't worry. I'm not. I just think they're a good team."
"Will you two please shut up and go to sleep?" growled Peter's voice. He was now only visible as a lump beneath the blankets.
James grinned. "Sorry, Pete. 'Night, everyone."