The next few weeks were miserable. Dumbledore held a service for Charlie which the whole school attended. A few of his friends spoke about his kind heart and sense of humour. His father came to speak about his perfect son and told the story of how they discovered that Charlie had magical powers which involved an unfortunate incident with a cat. In Charlie's memory a picture of him was placed in the Hufflepuff trophy cabinet. The picture had him holding the Quiddtch cup high above his head. He beamed at the camera man, his yellow Quidditch robes shining brightly in the sun. Underneath was a plaque that read: "To Charlie Minhinnick, a boy of intelligence, wit and charm. He will be dearly missed by those who knew and loved him."
After the service the awful atmosphere that had clung to the castle since the news hit, began to lift. However, students were still reluctant to travel around the grounds unaccompanied and there were some students who had been summoned home by anxious parents even after Dumbledore had reassured them that it was nothing but a freak accident. James was not certain, however, about how accidental this was. As the weeks went on more information had come to light about the attack on Charlie. It had turned out that he had been down by the Forest and the wounds on him looked like that of an animal. There were many dangerous creatures that lived in the Forest but previous to this occasion they had stuck to the boundaries that they were given. Not even Professor Binns could recall a time where a creature from the Forest had come in to the grounds and attacked someone. The Forest was now forbidden. The students had always been advised not to travel behind the dark wall of trees especially at night but James and his friends had taken many summer strolls amongst the leaves; not any more.
"He wasn't the kind of chap that had enemies" said Tommy Jacobs, one of Charlie's best friends in Hufflepuff, as he and James tentatively tended to a Snargaluff plant. "Off the Quidditch pitch Charlie wouldn't hurt a fly and no one had any reason to hurt him."
"Did he often wander in to the Forest at night?"
"No James to my knowledge he didn't often wander in the Forrest at night, but that night he did. It was a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I know its hard to come to terms with. Charlie was a great wizard and to think he didn't have a drop of magical blood in him." he said as he grabbed his bag and patted James on the back.
The days passed slowly. Gradually the end of term inched and closer as the fires around the castle were lit and the Hogwarts got dusted with snow.
"Sirius are you staying for the Christmas holiday?"
Sirius returned James' question with an exasperated look and a grunt. It was, in Sirius' defence, a stupid question. As for all the years which Sirius had been at Hogwarts he had not once willingly returned to the dark, cold hole that he was forced to call home. The Black family believed strongly in pure-blood elitism. They refused to consort with Muggles or Muggle-borns, Squibs and blood traitors. He had come to hate most of his relatives, in particular his mother and his cousin Bellatrix Lestrange very early on in his life. Whereas all other members of the Black family were sorted into Slytherin, Sirius was placed in Gryffindor. This angered his parents even more and last year Sirius finally broke away and took refuge with James and his parents. As happy as James was to have Sirius around he couldn't help but feel that one day he would regret his decision to leave the Black family.
"I'm staying too" said Remus breaking the silence "Mum and Dad are heading to Mongolia where they've heard of a remedy made by ancient Mongolian Wizards that supposedly cures warewolves. It won't work but no harm in trying I suppose" he said his eyes examining the ground.
"Peter, are you staying?"
"Oh I'm heading home James. Mum wants me safe and your not going to hear any complaints from me. It just hasn't felt right here since Charlie was attacked. You?"
"Yes, I think I will stay this year" said James looking past Peter to the other side of the courtyard
"Is she staying?" asked Peter smirking
"Who?" said James his gaze now returing to Peter
"Who? he says who? who do you think? The girl you were just druling over" said Sirius as he hit James over the head with Advanced Rune Translation. It was true that James was infact looking over at Lily who was standing with a group of her friends. Her Gryffindor scarf was rapped tightly around her face to fight against the bitter cold.
"yeh alright!" said james "yes, she is staying"
"You goin' to ask her out?"
"Peter my dear boy" said James throwing his arm around Peters shoulders "you do not simply ask a girl out. It will require tact, charm and undoubtly good hair."
"but yes" James continued "by the end of the holidays Lily and I will once more be reunited."
"Care to place a wager on that" asked Sirius
"no Sirius I am not going to bet on my happiness"
"Of course he isn't Sirius" said Remus "because that would mean he might actually have to do something about his infatuation" Peter and Sirius sniggered
"Fine!" James said "Five gallions says by the end of the holiday me and Lily will be together."
"five gallions says you won't" said Sirius holding out his hand out for James to shake
"You're lack of confidence in me is misjudged" remarked James as he shook Sirius' hand furiously.
"we'll see" Sirius said sharply turning to head into lunch. As the boys sat down at the Gryffindor table Snape slid through the doors of the Great hall.
"Urgh" said James looking away form the tall, thin Slytherin who had his nose buried deep in 'Magical Drafts and Potions'.
"There's been no sign of him at night has there James?" asked Remus. The night that Charlie had been killed was the same night the four friends had planned on tracking Snape through the castle to see what he was doing. Since then, the boys decided that it was in their best interest to stay safe in the dormitory.
"No. He stays in his bed all night. Maybe after what happened to Charlie its scared him out of his little potions trips."
"Unless it was him that did it." said Sirius looking up from the Daily Prophet, the front page splashed with more news about the renamed "HALLOWS BANDIT"
"What possible reason would Snape have for killing Charlie. Besides Professor Dumbledore said that the attack on Charlie was by an animal" said Remus
"Its a cover story" said Sirius knowingly. "There is nothing an animal could do that a spell couldn't."
"He's right" said James leaning over to grab some crisps.
"No he isn't but Ill check in the library. If their is a spell that might look like an animal attack it will be in "Secrets of the Darkest Art" said Remus "but I still think it isn't worth trying to catch him in the act. James if you just keep an eye on him using the map then he wont be able to get away with anything."
As the light shortened and the candles were lit to illuminate the dark corridors of Hogwarts castle the days seemed to drag on even longer until finally...
"LAST DAY!" yelled Sirius as he bounded onto James' four poster and stole his covers.
"Sirius" James moaned "Its too early"
"LAST DAY!" he yelled once more.
With this James grabbed his pillow and whacked Sirius with it. Thus began the third major battle of the Christmas term. Sirius was the initial favourite but as Remus and Peter joined the tables were turned. It was only when all four boys were struggling to breath through exhaustion did they end the mighty brawl. It was decided that James had come out as the victor.
The last day passed with little altercation. After lunch Peter said his goodbyes and jumped on to the Hogwarts Express along with many other students. The castle felt slightly deserted. The usual hustle and bustle of the Common Room was now reduced to a few sleepy eyed Gryffindors along with Sirius and Remus, playing an intense game of Exploding Snap. The trio went to bed early that night so they could be fresh faced and ready for Christmas morning.
James clambered in to bed and looked out at the frost bitten Hogwarts grounds which were dappled in light from Dormitories of excited students. He could still hear the first years running around probably eating Fizzing Wizbos and imagining the mighty feast they would be displayed with tomorrow. As James listened to their ecstatic voices echoing down the corridor he thought to himself Hogwarts really was the most wonderful place in the world. He wondered again as he had done when he had stepped on to platform 9 and three-quarters earlier this year what he would do without Hogwarts to call home. He would probably go and work for the Ministry; that's what his parents would want. Yes, he thought, perhaps he would work in the Auror Office or maybe in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement or even the Office for the Detection and Confiscation of Counterfeit Defensive Spells and Protective Objects. No, not that one, he would get tired of saying that. He rolled on to his side and saw the map flapping slightly in a draft. He sat up suddenly.
"He's gone... Snape's gone"
James sat scouring the map for a few short minuets but there was no sign of him anywhere. He thought about waking the other two but Remus wouldn't want to go and Sirius would want to go too much and would probably end up charging in to the Slytherin Common Room and hexing the lot of them. James grabbed his glasses, wand and cloak and headed silently out of the Dormitory, through the deserted Common Room and as he stepped through the Portrait Hole the Fat Lady said "You're up late!"
"SHHH! Are you trying to wake up the whole castle?" said James sharply
"Well excuse me young man. I wasn't aware speaking was against the rules now" she uttered sarcastically
"I haven't got time for this" James said charging down the steps that lead to Gryffindor Tower throwing on his Invisibility Cloak as he did so. He whipped out the map from his pajama pocket and once again began gazing at it. To James horror Snape had returned to his bed. Then why was it, James thought, that he could here footsteps growing ever closer? He turned listening furiously. Someone was running down the corridor towards him, getting closer and closer. It was too dark to see even the outline of a figure and he didn't dare use his wand in case they were armed too. He stood, frozen, his ears burning. There were two sets of footsteps now. A voice came out of the darkness.
"James? Lumos" It was a girls voice, a soft voice, "James what are you doing?"
James pulled off his cloak and before him stood a girl wearing pale blue striped pyjamas and her fire red hair tied up in a neat ponytail.
"Lily. You shouldn't be here it's dangerous " said James in a hurried whisper
"If it's dangerous for me it's dangerous for you too. I saw you sneaking out and I know its not the first time but then you didn't come back and I thought that something must have happened."
"Lily, you don't understand..."
"I don't need to understand. You shouldn't be out of bed. You would think after what happened to Charlie it would put you off wandering about the castle but no not the arrogant toad that is James Potter!" she said her voice raising
"There was someone else walking around. I was trying to follow them." said James now pointing his wand illuminating both ends of the corridor.
"I know, I heard them too, around the marble staircase...."
"Wait a minute how did you find me I was wearing my cloak" James said as he placed the cloak around Lilys shoulders
"Your getting to tall for it. I saw your feet when you were running down the stairs."
"It was getting a bit chilli around my ankles" James said looking down at his feet and several inches of bare ankle that showed."It didn't occur to me to put on socks"
Lily chuckled and turned to go back to the common room.
"Shouldn't we find out who it was"
"It's not our responsibility. We just need to stay safe"
"But what if its someone dangerous? We should at least tell a teacher"
"And what if it isn't. We would have woken the whole castle to discover it was a noisy House Elf."
James looked along the corridor once more longing to continue his hunt but then turned to follow Lily. "Suppose its the Bandit" James said padding up the staircase "he could kill us all in our sleep"
"It won't be. He was last spotted in Godricks Hollow that's miles away from here. Plus no one knows where Hogwarts is unless they went here and even if they did its impossible to apparate into the Hogwarts grounds."
"He probably is an ex student, don't you think?"
"Well he has caused a lot of damage so he has definitely had some magical training but there are other magical schools. I think he went to Dermstrang, it's famous for having dark wizards." James and Lily clambered through the Portrait Hole and slumped on to the sofa nearest to the blazing fire.
"I'm starving" groaned James as he stood up once more and wandered over to the corner of the room. "Ah ha I knew I had some in here" he pulled out a packet of Liquorish Wands and Bertie Botts Every Flavoured Beens. "Want some?"
"I'll have a Wand thanks" said Lily
They stayed up and talked for hours about the night they had, the Bandit and the remaining year ahead. They talked until Lily fell asleep and left James listening to the crackling of the fire. James gently nudged her awake.
"Merry Christmas Lily" he whispered
"Merry Christmas James" she said.