From the moment he woke up, James Potter knew nothing was going to go right. He was alone in his dorm. That in itself wasn't a problem; on the contrary, sleeping in for Gryffindor, Hogwarts and quite possibly England was one of his major talents. It was, however, the day of the deciding Quidditch Cup match against Slytherin, and the Captain was still in bed. As said Captain was also star Chaser, spare Seeker, pinup, one-man dirty tricks squad and expert sledger, this was a problem. Once he had found his glasses, he glanced down at his watch and let loose a blood-curdling yell.
"SIRIUS!" There was no reply. Evidently, the traitorous bastard had gone down to breakfast with the other sixth-year Gryffindors. This was not good. Nine o'clock already, and there was a prank to be played and the minor matter of Slytherin to be thrashed for the third year running. How dare the overgrown git leave him asleep? No time for that now. He got up, still muttering curses against his housemates, Sirius L. Black in particular. As he dressed in his ever-so-slightly non-regulation Quidditch robes without bothering to shower and jogged off towards the Great Hall, he prayed that he hadn't missed the traditional breakfast gamesmanship. He had been quite pleased with the Gryffindor contribution.
As James strode into the Great Hall, he gave a tiny nod to Sirius. For a few seconds, nothing happened, then strident music rang out from all around – James vaguely recalled it as Muggle, German and something Remus liked. There were women involved somewhere. The Sulkies? Never mind; everyone looked properly stupefied and impressed. As the students continued to point and mutter over the music – a satisfying number of them looking at the Gryffindor table – James looked up at the sun on the enchanted ceiling. Seven black dots were rapidly growing larger. As they approached, others glanced up and began to point, exclaiming to their friends. Within a minute, everyone in the Hall was looking up at what were clearly seven birds. A new and louder babble broke out. Some Ravenclaw fifth-years were particularly loud.
"It's only some sparrows. You know it mimics whatever's outside, idiot."
"Since when do sparrows play Wagner?"
"Bit big to be sparrows, aren't they?"
"It's albatrosses. We're all goin' to be murdered in our beds. Me granddad was on the Dutchman and the cook died the day after they saw one."
"It's Grims and auguries that do that. You don't get albatrosses in Scotland anyway."
"Auguries are rain, I think. And I can see what they are now. Didn't think you got phoenixes in Scotland either. Certainly not in flocks."
Yet phoenixes they were. Seven red and gold birds the size of swans swept down out of the 'sky' and flew two laps round the Hall before doing a close pass over the Gryffindors. So far, so good. From the Slytherin table came a deep bellow of "Oppugno!" At once, the phoenixes changed direction and dived on James, pecking away at his robes and hair. Although they were only conjured, their claws and beaks were painfully sharp. James' robes were in tatters and his hair was distinctly more mussed than usual when Remus finally managed to Vanish the demented birds. From the high table, a jovial Professor Slughorn gave out detentions to be served that afternoon, managing to sound cheerful even when dishing out punishment. Despite the fact that James had, in all appearances, been only a target, he joined Sirius and a Slytherin seventh-year named Derren Brown in detention. Fuming less at this injustice than at the delighted reaction of the other houses to seeing a Marauder prank rebound on its originators – the Slytherin table had rarely had such respectful looks bestowed on it – the Gryffindor team gathered by the door and headed out to the changing rooms. Although they were already in full kit, it was easier to conduct team talks in the privacy of the locker rooms. James' talk was unusually brusque.
"Right," he said, looking extremely bad-tempered. "Get out there and kick some arse. Forget fair play; if they want to play dirty then we will too. It's our last game together, we're easily the better team, the Cup's got our name on it and the bastards are going down!"
Already flustered by the events at breakfast, the team didn't quite know what to make of this new and disturbingly bloodthirsty Captain. Yet blank looks were replaced by determination, as the team recalled how good they were and that having a Captain who wanted the opposition dead wasn't too much of a change from one so reckless he presumably wanted himself dead. James hadn't been precisely suicidal in their previous matches, just utterly indifferent to danger, happy to fly through anything including duels [fourth year against Ravenclaw, severe boils on left leg], lightning [third year, Slytherin, burned hair and scalp] and the commentator's podium [sixth year, Ravenclaw again, severe concussion]. As the team flew out of the changing rooms – quite literally flew, as James' predecessor had started the practice of coming out on their brooms in the belief that it gave them a psychological advantage – the commentator introduced the teams.
"Welcome back for the final and deciding match of the 1977 Quidditch Cup. For Gryffindor, leading the table by 150 points, it's Robins, Scrimgeour, Hopkirk, Flashman, Avery, Potter and Buckley. For Slytherin, not the highest scorers in the world but with some special talent in the Seeker position, put your hands together and your wands in the air for Pucey, Derrick, Black, Nott, Avery, Black and the Racing Snake herself, Jo Minshaw! A unique game here, as two Averies and two Blacks line up. In case anyone's confused, that's Ben and Julius Avery, Chasers for Gryffindor and Slytherin respectively and Regulus and Bellatrix Black, Beater and Chaser for Slytherin. On with the game as Madam Hooch releases the balls. It's Flashman with the Quaffle..."
Despite the skill of the Gryffindor Chasers, the game was going very badly by their usual standards. James and Ben's competition to show off their skills to the crowd was normally entertaining and led to some spectacular moves, but James was distracted, and whilst his signature flips and sloth-grip rolls were as sharp as ever, he seemed unaware of the existence of his team-mates, rarely passing accurately. With every failure he grew more frustrated. Within half an hour, Slytherin led by 70 points to 30.
"And Black intercepts the Quaffle from Hopkirk. It's Black for Slytherin, Black to Avery, back to Black and what's this? Buckley has seen the Snitch! He's diving, but Minshaw's right on his tail, getting closer, NO! There's nothing there, he must be feinting but he's not pulling out, he's going in and he's not going to make it! Buckley is down as Minshaw climbs away and Gryffindor Captain Potter is calling for time out."
As the remaining six Gryffindors watched Xav Buckley being carried off to the hospital wing, Victor Flashman exploded in frustration.
"That was the worst Wronski Feint I've ever seen. My granny can fly better than that. What did the idiot think he was doing, trying to kid Minshaw? Come to think of it, what was he doing playing against Minshaw? Can't you find one better seeker in a hundred of us?" At this point a commanding voice broke into Victor's catalogue of complaints.
"Stop whining, Flashy. It won't get us anywhere. Besides, I don't see you trying any death-defying stunts, successful or otherwise. Bucks did his best, now be quiet and listen to the plan." Ben broke off here, waving gracefully at James to carry on where he left off. With a look of slight pique at being upstaged by his dorm-mate, fellow Chaser and (mostly) friendly rival, James continued.
"Right, I'll take over at Seeker, if that's alright with Lightning Flash there. Cassius, Felix, cover Ben more closely. Chris, watch you don't drift away from the left hoop – you're favouring your right. That's how we let in the last. We can still win this, guys; Nott and Bella couldn't score at their own weddings." With those novel words of encouragement, the game resumed at a considerably faster pace. Gryffindor took every opportunity to attack despite their numerical disadvantage while the Slytherins were desperate to get 150 points up before their bogeyman pulled off another insane miracle. Each team put on 20 points in short order as James and his opposite number floated around waiting for either the Snitch to appear or the other one to move. A few experimental loops and dives revealed to James that he was more willing to take chances and a considerably more experienced flier than the tiny Slytherin, but his manoeuvrability was not as good and his extra weight was a speed handicap as well.
As Bellatrix slammed yet another shot under Dionysus Robins' flailing arm, James spotted a tiny gold glimmer almost under the Slytherin stand. The commentating Hufflepuff, a small and infuriatingly squeaky third-year, broke off his eulogy to Bellatrix's skill and beauty at once.
"Potter's seen something. He's diving straight for the base of the stand but Minshaw's right behind him. She's coming level; will he block her or keep going? Potter moves to block but what does Minshaw think she's doing? She'll never survive charging Potter – but he's breaking off and Minshaw has the Snitch. I repeat, Minshaw has the Snitch and Slytherin win 250 to 50. Slytherin take the lead in the Cup, with Ravenclaw needing to win by 350 points against Hufflepuff to catch up. The Cup's going back to the dungeons, people. Merlin, but that girl can fly. Three cheers for the Racing Snake, Hogwarts!" Most of the stadium erupted in cheers. Even many of the Gryffindors could not begrudge the tiny second-year Seeker her moment of glory.
After changing in dead silence, shocked by his team's first defeat in two years, James left the changing rooms alone, knowing that the rest of the team would be either wasting time on recriminations or annoyingly cheerful. The current team was talented and flew well together, but were hardly the best mates a guy could hope for off the pitch. No, the best thing to do was to head back to the Gryffindor Common Room, hide the supplies the Marauders had brought in for the 'inevitable' victory party, and go to Slughorn's detention.
"Oh, James! Poor you, all miserable. I'm sure we can do something about that, can't we?"
Oh. Damn. James knew that simpering voice. It belonged to Lara Notsil. On one hand, being adored by reasonably pretty girls was flattering and exactly the sort of thing James Potter, Quidditch Star Extraordinaire etc., would like. On the other, she was quite possibly the dimmest and most irritating creature anywhere outside the Puffskeins section of the Magical Menagerie. Pond life had more sense and Peeves was better conversation. James jerked himself back to reality as he spotted Avery and Pucey heading in his direction. Even Lara was preferable to enduring their gloating, especially as he knew he could fly circles around both. In fact...
"Hi, Lara. I'm just heading over to the lake now. Want to come?"
James had no intention of going near the lake, but it was the most public place well out of the way of errant Slytherins. Public was good. No, wait, public was not good. Public meant endless rumours, sly jokes as people passed him in the corridors and more ammunition for Evans. So, public ridicule and insults from Lily or being dragged into a broom closet by the airhead from Hell. It couldn't actually be painful, could it?
"Actually, Lara, I've changed my mind. How about..."
A/N: James' day is going to keep getting worse, but his problems aren't over at sundown. Still to come are interruptions, detention, dire threats from enemies in low places and Peeves at work. Through all this (and the next two decades), one thing doesn't change for Mr. Potter. Letting Snape get to you is a very bad idea.