The first actual official meeting of the Junior Defence League was held on the first Friday afternoon in December. Things got off to a rocky start. James and his friends were gathered in the disused classroom, along with Egbert Bones, who had brought a third year Ravenclaw named Indira Patil, when Lily Evans walked in.
"What are you doing here?" asked James, surprised.
Evans gave him a cold look. "Remus invited me, Potter. It's a school club; anyone can join."
"Now there's an odd number," complained Sirius. "We can't do dueling practice with seven people."
"It's fine," Remus told them. "We'll take turns if we have to. I'm glad you decided to come, Lily."
"Sounds like you're the only one," said Evans. "If your friends want people to join their club, they could try being a little more friendly. Tildy Hathersage wanted to come, too, but she wasn't sure she'd be welcome." She glared meaningfully at James.
His ears grew hot. Since Hathersage had beaten him at the Quidditch tryouts, James had caught her casting him bewildered, unhappy looks on a few occasions. He knew he had been rude to her, but he did not know how to make a proper apology to someone he liked, but did not know well, so he had settled on ignoring her.
"If she decided not to come, that's her problem," he mumbled.
"Anyone who wants to learn more Defence is welcome to join," Remus said firmly.
When Dorcas Meadowes appeared a moment later, hovering shyly in the doorway, the problem of the uneven numbers became moot.
"So what are we going to do?" asked Patil.
James shrugged. "You know, hexes and things."
"You don't have a plan?" said Patil incredulously.
James exchanged a dismayed look with Sirius. It had never occurred to him that they would need to plan what the Defence club did. They would do Defence, wouldn't they?
"Why don't we start with the basics for today?" suggested Remus. "Shield charms and Disarming. It's good practice, and once we have an idea where everyone is with those, we can move on to other things."
James flashed him a grateful smile. "Yeah, that sounds good."
They paired up, James with Sirius, Remus with Peter. Evans and Meadowes worked together, and Bones faced off against Patil. Soon, the room echoed with shouts of "Expelliarmus" and "Protego". James and Sirius whipped there wands at one another at lightning speed, dodging back and forth, trying to get a spell around one another's defences. Sirius got James's wand away from him once, but that was all right, since James managed to disarm him twice.
After a few minutes, Remus waved for the group's attention. "Let's trade partners," he said. "It's no good always working with the same people. If we get too comfortable, it makes us sloppy. We should be prepared to defend ourselves against anyone, right?"
This time, James found himself paired with Egbert Bones. He was a quiet, serious boy who was quick with his wand. To James's consternation, Bones managed to disarm him three times in fairly quick succession, forcing him to focus on his Shield charms, rather than try to disarm the older boy himself.
By the end of the hour, James had faced off against each of the other club members, and was feeling slightly better about his skills. He had managed to disarm everyone at least once, apart from Remus and Bones.
"That was good," said Remus. "Maybe next time we can work on some jinxes."
"When is next time?" asked Patil. "Friday afternoons aren't always good for me; sometimes there's extra Quidditch practice."
Remus glanced at James, who shrugged.
"What about Friday evenings after supper?" Remus suggested. "We can get permission from our Heads of House, since it's for an academic club. Does that work better?"
"We should all try to invite more people next time," said James. "Eight isn't much of a club."
Remus agreed. "At the next meeting, maybe you can ask everyone what they want to learn, and make a plan for the club based on that."
They called the meeting to a close, and went their separate ways to get ready for supper.
"That was brilliant!" declared Peter, practically skipping as they exited the classroom.
James couldn't help grinning. His club was going to be a success.
The following week, James was still in high spirits. He had received an owl from home saying that his father was finally well enough to return to work, Ravenclaw had resoundingly thumped Slytherin in Saturday's Quidditch match, and more than a dozen people showed up for the second meeting of the Junior Defence League, including everyone who had attended the first one. Having so many pairs of eyes fixed expectantly on him made James feel ten feet tall.
"Defence is probably the most important thing we'll learn at Hogwarts," he began. "But how can we learn anything when we have a rubbish teacher like Gandolfsson?"
There were a few nods and murmurs of assent. James tried very hard not to smile as he continued.
"So I -- Sirius and I -- decided to start this club so we can learn some proper Defence. If you're here, I guess that means you want to as well. So, what do people want to learn?"
"Hexes!" said Sirius.
"Jinxes!" called someone else.
"Curses!" said a girl's voice from the back.
James just barely saved himself from rolling his eyes when Remus raised his hand. Did he think they were in McGonagall's classroom? "Yes, Remus?"
"I was just thinking," said Remus quietly, and the others fell silent to hear him, "hexes and things can be really good to know. There are some useful ones. But shouldn't this club be about the kind of magic that's going to keep us alive? I can't think of many hexes that would save a person's life in a tight spot."
"I guess," allowed James, feeling the first prickles of disappointment. If they weren't going to learn hexes, the club might end up just as boring as all their other lessons.
Alice Finch, a third year Gryffindor, raised her hand, and James nodded to her. "I'd like to learn about the hiding magic Gandolfsson talked about. That sounds really useful."
"I want to practise what to do if you have to face more than one person at a time," said Indira Patil.
"I want to learn how to tell if someone is under the Imperius curse," said Egbert Bones.
"I want to learn silent magic," said Lily Evans.
James felt overwhelmed. He didn't know the first thing about any of the magic people seemed interested in learning. He didn't realise he was giving Remus a pleading look until his friend was beside him, raising his hands for quiet.
"We can learn all that stuff," Remus assured them. "But one thing at a time. We're all going to be learning from each other, so if there's something you want to learn, you might have to do some reading and practise on your own, then come here and teach us. Does anyone know a useful spell they can teach the rest of us this week?"
"I can do the Confundus charm," volunteered Finch.
Remus gave the girl a rare smile. "I don't think I know that one. Anyone want to help Finch demonstrate a Confundus charm?"
No one came forwards.
"What does it do?" asked James warily.
Finch rolled her eyes. "I promise it doesn't hurt, and it wears off after five or ten minutes."
"Oh, for heaven's sake!" declared Evans. "I'll do it, Alice."
She marched to the front, pocketing her wand. James and Remus stood to one side as the two girls faced off against one another.
"Ready?" Finch asked.
Evans nodded. "When you are."
Finch raised her wand and swept it around in a circular motion. "Confundo."
For a second, it looked as if the charm had had no effect. Then Evans blinked and shook her head. "I -- what --" She turned and stumbled, tripping over her own feet.
James moved forwards and caught her. "All right, Evans?" he asked, amused.
She blinked up at him, uncomprehending, then a slow, sweet smile spread over her face. "Oh. Hi, Potter."
James laughed and helped her into a chair which Remus had dragged over. "Here, have a seat until you're feeling more yourself. When the urge to hex me returns, you can rejoin us."
"That was really good," Remus told Finch. "A useful charm to put someone out of a fight without harming them. Can you show us the wand movement again? Then we can all practise it for a bit."
After a brief demonstration of the proper wandwork, they paired up into dueling partners, forming two lines, facing off across the classroom. Finch and Remus stood off to one side as the others took turns practising and deflecting the charm. When someone was hit, they would run down the line and catch them, moving them out of harm's way until the effects wore off. Soon a circle of Confunded club members, including Sirius and Peter, were gathered in a corner, giggling at one another and occasionally toppling over.
Once everyone had managed to Confund someone else at least once, Remus called a halt, and they took a short break to allow a handful of people to regain their equilibrium.
"It might be a good idea to have dueling practice as part of every meeting," said Remus. "That way, we can keep up on our Shields and Disarming, and practise the other things we've learned."
James nodded. "What if, next time, everyone tries to think of something useful they can teach everyone?"
"Next time?" squeaked Peter, alarmed. "You mean next week?"
Remus gave him a reassuring pat. "This isn't Defence class, Pete. You won't get marked down if you need some extra time. But maybe you'll be able to think of something by the time we get back from winter hols."
"Good club, Potter," said Egbert Bones as the meeting began to break up.
James swelled with pride. "Thanks."
"No hard feelings?" asked Indira Patil, who had managed to Confund James twice.
"None," said James, shaking the girl's hand. "I meant to say, great Keeping in the match against Slytherin. Nothing got past you."
Patil smiled. "Ta, Potter. We'll see how we do against Gryffindor next month, eh?"
"We'll see," grinned James.
They were discussing possible Defence spells for their third Junior Defence League meeting over breakfast on Wednesday when a cheer erupted from the end of the table. James and the others looked up to see the Prewett twins shaking hands and clapping one another on the back. A tawny owl was devouring bacon on the table between them.
"Congratulations, Uncle Fabe," said Gideon.
"And you, Uncle Gid," Fabian returned. "Party this evening in the Gryffindor common room," he announced down the table. "Everyone's invited."
"What's the occasion?" someone called back.
Gideon waved a small scroll of parchment in the air. "We have a new nephew. Charles Cedrellus Weasley."
The twins beamed.
"How d'you think they managed to get this much butterbeer together on such short notice?" Sirius mused, taking a swig of his.
James shrugged. "Maybe they bought it last time they were in Hogsmeade."
Peter nodded. "They had loads of stuff at their Halloween party, too."
"But there hasn't been a Hogsmeade weekend since then," Remus pointed out. "Aren't they meant to be going this Saturday?"
"True," said James, clinking his bottle against Remus's. "They must know a way of getting to the village."
"Think they'll ever get around to telling us all the stuff they said they would?" Sirius gazed moodily across the common room to where the Prewetts held court on the sofa.
"If they don't, I'm sure it won't take you and James long to figure out all the school's secrets for yourselves," said Remus, elbowing Sirius companionably. "You've a knack for sticking your noses into places they're not meant to be."
Sirius flashed Remus a smile. "You'll help, though, won't you, Moony?"
Remus rolled his eyes. "I don't suppose you lot will give me any peace if I don't."
"We already know how to find hidden things," said Peter, not a little proudly. "If there's a secret passage from the school into the village, we should be able to find it."
"Maybe," said Remus, "but only if the entrance is hidden by magic."
"We know there's one secret passage from the school grounds into the village," James pointed out.
Remus frowned, voice dropping to a whisper. "Well, the Prewetts aren't using that one, are they? And you can't, either. It's not just the willow; the house is all sealed up by magic at the other end. There's no way out."
"Can we see it sometime?" asked Sirius eagerly. "The house?"
Remus pressed his lips together, face unreadable. "You're not supposed to leave school grounds. I could get into trouble for showing you."
"Relax, mate." James tapped his empty bottle against Remus's knee. "We wouldn't do anything to get you into trouble."
"Right. Yeah," agreed Sirius without enthusiasm.
Remus split a sceptical look between them, but nodded his thanks, tilting his head back for a last swallow of his drink.
"Heads up, lads," muttered Peter, glancing over Remus's shoulder.
The others looked up in time to see the Prewett twins negotiating their way across the room towards them, hands full with more bottles of sweet, fizzy beverage.
"How goes it with our young protégés?" grinned Gideon as they handed the bottles around.
"Oh, are we still that?" Sirius snarked.
James shot him a quelling look.
"Congratulations on the new nephew," said Remus. "How's your sister?"
"She's doing very well, thanks," beamed Fabian, clinking his bottle against Remus's in a toast. "Motherhood suits our Molly, which is grand, since we do so enjoy being uncles."
Gideon nodded. "We take our duties very seriously. Who else will be a bad influence on her brood if we aren't? We've made a list of rude words to teach Billy over the Christmas hols."
"It's never too early to expand one's horizons," agreed Fabian. "Speaking of which, Lupin tells us you lads have started your own Defence club. Well done."
Sirius frowned at Remus, who shrugged. "I figured they could send people our way who aren't qualified for Advanced Defence."
"We will," Gideon assured them. "In fact, we have a list for you, too." He patted his pockets and came up with a short scroll of names, which he handed to James. "Those were all the ones we could think of. If any others come along, we'll point them in your direction."
James perused the list. Some of the names he recognised, others he didn't. All of them had a small letter beside them indicating which House each person was a member of. Two of them were Slytherins. James frowned. Remus had said that if Slytherins wanted to join the Junior Defence League, they could, and James couldn't see any way of stopping them, but that didn't mean he was going to seek them out and ask them to join.
He stuffed the note into his pocket. "Thanks."
"We're square, then?" asked Fabian.
James held out his bottle, and the Prewetts bumped it with theirs. It meant a lot that the older boys thought well enough of a bunch of second years to want to smooth things over with them. He kicked Sirius, who was still scowling, lightly in the ankle.
"Yeah," said Sirius, with a glance at James. "We're good."
Fabian smiled. "Glad to hear it. Tell us what you've been working on so far."
They entertained the twins for several minutes with tales of the club's inaugural meetings, Sirius unbending enough to be drawn into the conversation. He and James grew more and more animated until they were just barely prevented by Remus from demonstrating the Confundus charm on one another right there in the crowded common room as the Prewetts and Peter held their sides and roared with laughter.
"Well done, the lot of you," wheezed Gideon, wiping his eyes. "It sound like an excellent club. I'm sure you'll make us proud."
"Have you been doing much investigating this year?" Peter asked eagerly.
The twins exchanged a look.
"Not as much as usual," said Fabian, lowering his voice. "We've been doing a bit of work for Gandolfsson, though."
"Like what?" asked Sirius, brow furrowed, as James and Remus leaned forwards with interest.
"Just keeping an eye on -- certain people," said Gideon.
"Why?" asked James. "Does Gandolfsson think there are people at Hogwarts connected with --" his voice dropped to a whisper, "-- those Death Eater people?"
Fabian nodded. "There almost certainly are. Whether it's the people we're meant to be keeping an eye on or not, I couldn't say. And no," he added when Sirius opened his mouth, "we're not saying any names. We're just investigators. We tell Gand what we find, and let the Aurors decide what to do with the information."
"What will they do?" breathed James, captivated.
"We don't know and we don't ask," said Gideon.
"Aren't you curious?" asked Peter, eyes round.
"Of course we are," said Fabian. "But if you're going to be Aurors, you have to learn when to ask questions and when to take orders."
"What about you lads?" asked Gideon. "Been doing any investigating of your own this year?"
James shrugged, taking a swig of his butterbeer. "Some."
"Did you ever figure out who the Hogwarts werewolf was?"
Remus choked, spraying butterbeer over his knees. "What?" he gasped.
Sirius and Peter exchanged a panicked look.
"Oh," said James, thinking quickly. "It was just a thing from when we broke into Pomfrey's office last year. I thought we told you about it. Didn't we decide it was that Slytherin bloke? Goyle?"
"Oh, right," said Fabian, looking back and forth between the four of them. "I guess that would make sense."
"Anyway, he's left now," James continued, "so I guess it doesn't matter, right?"
"Right," agreed Gideon, casting his brother a significant look.
Sirius and Peter seemed suddenly very interested in the remaining contents of their bottles, and Remus disappeared, muttering about needing the loo.
"So," said James, quickly changing the subject, "what do you think of Gryffindor's chances at Quidditch this year?" He dearly hoped the Prewetts were too busy to start an investigation of their own.