"But it was funny," said James.
"To you," said Harry. "But what about the person on the other end? There's a fine line between pranking someone and hurting them, James."
James went white. "I didn't hurt Al! I'd never hurt Al. He's my brother!"
"Didn't you?" Harry asked grimly.
"But just say you're in Slytherin," said James, still grinning hugely as they dragged their trunks into the compartment with Rosie and maneuvered around another boy of James' age in doing so.
"Dad said it didn't matter," said Al fiercely - fiercely miserable, that was.
The other boy in the corridor laughed. "They've got Voldemort's snake hanging over the fireplace in their common room, it'll probably come alive and eat you."
Al swallowed hard and clenched a fist. "It ne-"
But James got there first. "You shut your useless, stupid face, McLaggen," he snapped, furious. "Or, speaking of eating things, I'll make you eat slugs."
Dear Mum and Dad and Lily - I love Hogwarts! Everything here is brilliant, really brilliant. I wrote you all about Ravenclaw Tower already so I won't bore you again but James and I had tea with Hagrid yesterday and he sends his love and then James showed me the Whomping Willow and your and Uncle Ron's Quidditch trophies and I got ten points for Ravenclaw for knowing what a Patronus was in Defence Against the Dark Arts...
Dear Mum and Dad,
I'm sorry about the prank and the fight, really sorry, I am - it was only water balloons, Muggle ones too, and Ned and I were going to drop them out the window when Freddie came past but then Parkinson got hold of one and threw it at Al and the steps were all wet and Rosie twisted her ankle when she slipped and it all got a bit out of hand...
PS. I don't see what me punching Parkinson after he'd thrown the water balloon at Al has to do with the price of eggs, but Professor Longbottom said to put it in anyway. I think he thinks it's funny.
"You mean," said James steadily, "they really went down there."
Moira Kirkland nodded. "I think they did. Yeah. And I mean, I know you're Al's brother so I thought I'd tell you first."
"I suggested we mention it to a teacher," said her twin brother Lincoln. James had seen them often enough in class since last year, but they'd never really spoken before now.
Moira rolled her eyes. "Did you want to get them expelled?"
Linc glared at her. "Of course not. But that Forest is dangerous, everyone knows that. It's not the Forbidden Forest because of the excessive amounts of fun to be had in there!"
James snorted. "Linc," he said, "you talk like my Aunt Hermione. Now. It was McLaggen who said..."
"McLaggen said all sorts of things," said Moira dryly. "But I think the kicker was something about Malfoy's Dad being a coward and Al and Rosie being even more cowardly, and by the way if they wanted their end-of-term essays back they'd have to go look for them themselves."
James drew a breath and clenched his left hand around his wand. With the other, he reached into his robes and touched one ragged edge of the Marauder's Map. "One day I'm going to hex McLaggen into the - the fassimile of a miniature Squid and dump him in the lake for the real one to find and make mincemeat out of," he said casually. "All right. Are you two coming?"
Moira and Linc exchanged looks. "To the Forest?" they chorused.
James stared. "Of course. I have to go get my brother. And my cousin. And Scorpius."
Moira grinned. "Yeah, we'll come," she said.
(And who knew how many friendships at Hogwarts had started with those words?)
Dear Ginny, dear Harry - you've probably already had the official owl about the Forbidden Forest Fiasco, just wanted to drop you a line and reassure you about the kids in person. They're all perfectly fine, James got Al and Rosie and Scorpius out all right, do not ask me how, he's not talking, not in detail. Somehow or other the McLaggen boy's responsible, I'm sure of it, he was wandering around the Great Hall this morning smirking all over his face, and then went white when he saw our lot! Anyway, they're fine and well; I'll be bringing them home for Christmas personally at this rate, just to be sure...
Better be off, ought to write to Malfoy too, just to be fair.
"Your brother," said Linc one morning at breakfast, "talks about you all the time. Nowhere in Ravenclaw Tower can you turn around without hearing the echo of Albus Potter's voice saying my brother James..."
James poked at his cereal and smiled.
"That's all right," said Ned. "James talks about Al all the time as well. Get Al to do your homework he's loads cleverer than I am..."
James never knew Al had just come up behind him as his mate said that, and so had no idea of the look that jumped across his little brother's face when he retorted, "Oh, sod off... it's true."
"I can't do this," said Al wildly, bursting into the Gryffindor common room on Ned's heels one summer afternoon, "I can't James I can't I'm going to fail Charms completely!"
"Sit down and stop being a prat," said James. "Now. Which part're you - ouch, that's a bad one. OK. Now remember about..."
Ned left them to it, grinning a bit.
"Mum, look what James got me, look Mum Quidditch robes, Mum, look look -"
"Somewhat of an improvement, I feel, on last year's zombie eggcup," said Hermione to Harry, smirking a bit. The birthday girl was bouncing off the walls with glee, and both her brothers were laughing.
"He's changed, hasn't he," said Harry thoughtfully. "Look at him and Al - thick as thieves. And he hasn't acted up once since they came home from school..."
Hermione gave him a fond look. "I know you were a bit worried about him -"
"Ah, Ginny," Ron shouted from the kitchen. "I don't mean to complain about anybody's cooking unless it's Harry's, but is the cutlery supposed to be doing that?"
Before Ginny could answer there was a resounding clang, a metallic clatter, a yelp from Ron and a march of cutlery out of the kitchen, two by two, that chased the dog around the sofa and out into the hall with jangly stainless-steel war cries before re-forming into a line in front of Lily, quickly joined by the plates from the kitchen table, which had magically (heh) grown legs for the occasion and proceeded to perform a sprightly stepdance across the lounge to the beat set by the cutlery, ending ten minutes later to wild applause and a series of extravagant and improbable bows.
Harry realised his jaw was hanging open. He wasn't sure he'd ever be able to eat off those plates again.
Lily's eyes were wide and shining.
"Happy Birthday, Lily-bean," said Al, grinning. "Uncle George did the magic, though, Rosie and I told him what we wanted but he sorted that bit out - but there you go."
Hermione's lips were moving in soundless horror, shaping a word Harry felt sure was Rosie? over and over. Ginny was staring at her younger son as if she'd never laid eyes on him before.
Lily drew a breath.
The whole room trembled.