As the tree boys drew closer, they saw that Remus and Lily were deep in conversation.
Odd words like 'Hogwarts', 'spells', and 'Bathilda Bagshot' reached James' ears. He didn't know what they were talking about but, whatever it was, it must've been engaging; neither Lily nor Remus noticed the others approaching.
"What do we do now?" whispered Peter, poking his mousey head between James and Sirius. "Do we tap him on the shoulder, or what?"
James confidently stepped forwards. "Let's just say hi," he said. "You two keep behind me." To his left, he saw Peter nod.
"Fair enough," said Sirius, discreetly clapping James on the back. "You're in charge here."
James only grinned as he stood a little straighter, and moved so he was directly behind Remus and Lily. "Hi, Remus," he said loudly, keeping his voice as airy as possible.
Unsurprisingly, Remus jumped, spilling his porridge all down his front. Looking slightly flustered, he dabbed at his robes with a napkin.
Lily looked up, her green eyes narrowing at the sight of James and Sirius.
Behind James, Sirius gave Lily an irritating little wave.
Lily, scowling slightly, returned to her breakfast and Sirius nudged Peter.
"I don't think she likes us," he said, in a very carrying stage-whisper. "What do you think we did?"
Lily ignored him.
James' attention was still on Remus. "Sorry for scaring you," he said as he watched the other boy drop the used napkin onto the table. "We really didn't mean to make you jump."
Remus laughed nervously. "Oh, no. it's... it's absolutely fine..."
James smiled. "Do you mind if we join you?"
For some reason, Remus looked even more surprised. "No. No, of course. Sit anywhere you like." He fiddled with the handle of his spoon, looking awkward but pleased.
"Thanks!" James sat down next to him, while Sirius and Peter went around the other side.
Remus smiled briefly before dropping his gaze back to his porridge.
Sirius reached for some bacon, while Peter but into a croissant.
Halfway through picking up a boiled egg, however, James decided to get straight into the thick of things. "So why did you leave without us?"
Remus dropped his spoon. Avoiding James' eye, he turned very pink. "I... Well, I..."
"It's okay," said James quickly, sensing that things were getting awkward. "I just thought we were coming down together."
Picking up the spoon from the floor, Remus didn't know whether to be ashamed of himself or happy. He settled for a mixture. "Sorry," he said truthfully as he laid his spoon beside his bowl, "I should've waited. I just... you know."
Sirius raised an eyebrow and leant forwards on his elbows. "We were wondering whether we offended you," he said. "You just kind of... left."
"I-I'm sorry," whispered Remus. His heart was pounding and he knew he'd been an idiot. On his right, he could feel Lily looking at him along with Peter, James and Sirius. "I didn't mean to annoy you. And you definitely didn't offend me."
James was confused. "We didn't offend you? Then... Why did you leave?"
His cheeks growing warmer with every second, Remus went back to staring at his bowl. "I- I just assumed..." he began. He took a deep breath and forced himself to continue. "I just thought that- that you wouldn't want me to... to bother you."
There was a very shocked silence.
Remus began to feel a bit stupid.
"You thought what?" said Sirius loudly, looking at Remus as though he was mad. "Are you crazy? Why, in the name of Merlin, would you think something like that?"
But James thought he knew. "You... you haven't met many school kids, have you?" he asked slowly, remembering what Remus had said yesterday about being home-schooled.
Remus shook his head. "I- I haven't met any, actually."
Sirius choked on a bacon rind. He coughed and spluttered until Peter had the sense to thump him on the back.
Finally, his eyes watering, he resurfaced. "You mean... You mean..." Sirius couldn't even begin to believe it. "Do you actually mean to tell me that we're the first people your age that you've ever met?"
Very slowly, Remus nodded.
Sirius stared at him. Then he whistled. "Damn," he said, laughing to himself with shock. "Damn. No wonder you thought... But honestly, we're friends, right? I thought we decided that yesterday."
James and Peter nodded.
Remus stared at him, hardly able to believe what he was hearing.
Had he actually made a group of friends for the first time in his life? Had he actually met some people who thought he was worth knowing?
"We did?" he asked finally, half wondering whether it was a trick.
Sirius laughed. "Are you kidding? Of course we did! Why would we be here now if we weren't friends?"
Peter and Remus could both think of quite a few reasons.
Peter even dared to voice some of them aloud. "Um... to trick him? To laugh at him? To make yourselves look good?"
Sirius abruptly stopped laughing. He looked slowly from Remus to Peter and back again. "Why would James and I do that?"
Peter blushed slightly. "Well... I- I hate to break it to you guys but people like you don't really hang around with... with..." But he didn't seem able to continue.
"With people like us," finished Remus quietly, catching Peter's eye, then looking away.
James blinked slowly. "What do you mean, 'people like us'?" he demanded furiously.
Peter scuffled his feet and glanced at Remus.
Remus answered for him. "It's not an insult, James," he said gently. "It's just that... well, you and Sirius are what people call 'popular'. And, erm... Peter and I... Well, we aren't."
Sirius glared at him. "So?" he snapped, leaning forwards again. "Who says you're not popular?"
Remus smiled sadly. "I'm a nerdy goody-two-shoes, Sirius. And Peter..." He didn't want to be rude. "Peter is kind of..."
"Dumb," said Peter dully, staring at his plate. "Stupid. Short. Whatever you want to call me."
James indignantly put down his fork. "You're not stupid, Peter!" he said sharply. "And there's nothing wrong with being nerdy, Remus."
"Tell that to the Slytherins I met in the train," muttered Peter darkly. But he did look a bit happier.
"Anyway," Sirius continued. "At least you're two have people who love you in your life. I'm basically the family reject."
James, who has just picked up his fork, slammed it back down again. "Will you please all stop putting yourselves down?" he said, so angrily that the others went completely silent.
"I think we've established that we all have insecurities and I'm not going to sit here and let you feel miserable. I don't care if I'm a 'popular person', Peter. And I especially don't care if you're considered a 'nerd'. We're friends because we like each other, not because the social hierarchy demands it. If you think you're not good enough, you can shut up right now, because I'm telling you that you are. You are good enough, okay? All of you. And that's the way it is. Are we clear?"
James stopped ranting, breathing heavily. Everyone in the vicinity was looking at him. He hadn't realised he was being so loud.
At last, however, Remus spoke up. "You're right, James ," he said quietly. "I shouldn't bow down to the people that tell me I'm not good enough."
Even if it's true. He added it silently and without thinking, keeping his eyes on the bowl.
Sirius nodded. Letting out his breath in one long sigh, he ran a hand through his dark hair. "Yeah. You are right. I'm sorry for being a git." He grinned at James, polishing off the last bit of bacon as Peter looked up.
"I'm sorry, too," Peter whispered. "And I'll try to stand up for myself from now on."
James looked at him sternly. "Do you solemnly swear?"
Peter hesitated. "Yes, James. I... I solemnly swear."
James relaxed. "Good," he said, grinning at his friends. He hated the way they doubted themselves and decided that it his mission, from now on, to stay with them forever. "Look, Professor McGonagall's handing out timetables. I wonder what we have first."
"Dunno," said Sirius, also grinning. "But I hope we don't have to go outside." He pointed upwards at the enchanted ceiling, which always reflected the weather outside. "It's raining horribly."
There was a slightly more serious note to this chapter, I'm afraid, but I promise there'll be some light-hearted pranks very soon. I need some ideas, though, so - if you have any thoughts on tricks the Marauders can play - please let me know! I only have a couple of ideas and they'll run out pretty quickly...
Thanks for reading! :)