or; Thank God They’re Wizards Really
PG-13/R for language, 1500 words
Gen, MWPP, AU
Summary: The Marauders are learning the tricks of the trade in a bid to become real cowboys, but there's a rustler on the loose!
Notes: Written for omniocular's AU challenge - prompt: Instead of wizards, MWPP are cowboys and Hogwarts is a ranch. Bonus points if there is rustling. Brokeback references optional. Admittedly there's a bit of het in this, but that's because Lily's an incorrigible flirt and there's really nothing I could do about it.
Al Dore steered his horse up and down the line. Christ, they were a motley-looking bunch this year.
‘Alright, you sons of bitches, listen up! You look like a bunch of lily-livered, no good layabouts now, but we’ll toughen you up, don’t you worry, and you can bet we’ll make real men out of you by the time we’re through with you.’
He cracked his whip experimentally, and was encouraged that only two of them jumped. Perhaps there was hope for them after all.
‘You’ll be riding horses with me, and learning about the cattle with my wife.’ He nodded over to her, and she peered through her glasses at them all, looking forbidding despite the ridiculous tartan band she had around her hat.
‘Don’t think she’s a soft touch,’ he continued, ‘I’m the milk of human kindness compared to Min, so don’t you forget it!’
They surveyed their charges for a moment, then Minerva spoke. ‘Well, don’t just stand around, get inside and get some food. You’re gonna need it!’
The boys trooped in and sat on big wooden benches while a pretty girl with red hair brought then tin cans of coup and bowls of refried beans. James, Sirius, Peter and Remus sat around on the end of a table, watching the proceedings.
‘Tough bastard, isn’t he?’ James said.
‘Hey, watch it!’ snapped a female voice behind him. She put bowls and cans down on the table.
‘Sorry, ma’am,’ James said hastily, ‘He your old man?’
The girl tittered. ‘Oh, heavens no! No, I’m just a relation come to stay with Uncle Al and Aunt Min for the summer.’ She held out a hand. ‘Lily Evans, pleased to meet ya!’
‘James Potter. So, Lily Evans, where’s a girl like you come from anyway?’
‘Me? Oh, I’m from Georgia,’ she said with another little laugh.
‘Georgia? Gosh! An awful long way to come, huh?’ James replied with his best grin.
‘Lily!’ came a shout from across the room. ‘You get back here, missy, and stop fraternising with those boys!’
Lily rolled her eyes. ‘Guess I’d better skedaddle. She y’all later, boys!’ She sashayed off with a little wave, followed all the way down the room by wolf-whistles.
James turned back to the others with a triumphant grin. Sirius responded by stealing his soup.
‘Oi!’ James yelped.
‘I‘m hungry,’ Sirius said between slurps. Peter and Remus laughed at James’ outraged face.
Time passed, and all the boys at what Sirius liked to call Cowboy Boot Camp were getting on just fine, thank you (save Longbottom, who had sadly been sent home with a fractured leg a week ago). They were riding horses from dawn ‘til dusk and having the time of their lives.
One morning, the tables were buzzing with news. ‘What’s going on?’ Sirius asked as he sat down with the others.
‘Seems there’s been rustling going on! Some of Al’s sheep disappeared last night. We were just talking about what we might be able to do about it,’ James explained.
Sirius leaned in. ‘Alright, let’s hear it.’
‘We’re going to have ourselves a little stakeout tonight,’ James explained. ‘See the stars, and watch out for the thief.’
Peter was looking concerned. ‘What if the thief sees us first?’
‘He won’t,’ James assured him. ‘We’ll be ready. We’ll get him, you see if we don’t.’
Sirius grinned. ‘We’re gonna need some rations – James, care to sweet-talk Miss Evans over there?’
With a wink, James departed.
‘Well, how about that?’ Sirius remarked. ‘Looks like we’ve got ourselves some work to do!’
Remus nodded. ‘We’re gonna need some rope, a lantern, matches… and don’t you dare bring that harmonica, Black!’
‘That harmonica,’ Sirius said with a glare, ‘is darn well near the best music your uncultured ears have ever had the pleasure of listening to!’
Throughout the day, the four set about gathering equipment. Remus swiped a lantern from the stables as he tied the horses up, and Sirius snaffled matches from the ranch office when Al had gone to get coffee. At lunch, Lily slipped a note into James’ hand as she walked past, saying that supplies would be forthcoming, and also recommending a spot to hide.
When they assembled that night, creeping out of the bunkhouses under the sound of snoring, Peter had brought blankets.
‘You’ll thank me later,’ in said in response to their cackling, ‘it’s gonna be cold enough to freeze a bull’s nuts off!’
They crossed the land, moving towards the bleating of the sheep. They followed the barbed wire until they reached a huge sycamore.
‘This is it,’ James said, and they hunched in between its twisting roots, eyes peeping out into the sheep pens.
‘Reckon no one’ll show for a while yet,’ Remus mused, ‘so how about a story to pass the time?’
‘None of those crazed ghost stories, Lupin,’ Peter warned.
‘No, no. This one’s not scary,’ Remus replied, with an evil glint in his eye no one could see.
‘So, there was this banker who decided he was going to move house. He buys this grand old place in the suburbs, full of plans to do it up real nice. First off, he wants to put some oak planks in the floor in his hall, so he gets the old ones pulled up. And what do you now, underneath the floorboards there’s this box, and in the box is a little golden key. This man goes all round his new house, trying to find somewhere that the key opens. But no matter how hard he looks, he can’t find anything.
‘Well, he’s moving stuff around in his attic one day, and what does he see but a door with a little golden lock? So he goes to get the key, and then opens the door. There’s a room inside with a light on, and to his great surprise there’s a little girl in there! She’s just sitting there, good as gold, reading a book! He’s amazed, of course, but he walks into the room and goes “Hello, little girl.” She looks up at him, and says “Oh, I’m not a little girl…” AAAAARGH!!!’
As he yelled, Remus jumped onto Peter, who screamed and fell into Sirius, who in turn shouted in alarm and leaped backwards, knocking into James. It was a full minute before they had recovered themselves, and Remus sat there laughing his head off.
‘You… you…’ spluttered Peter, ‘you’ll pay for that one. Christ!’
Just when they’d regained their nerves, a voice over their heads made them all jump. ‘You boys sure know how to keep a low profile, don’t you?’
‘Jesus Christ, Lily!’ James was the first to recognise the voice. ‘What the hell are you doing?’
‘Only you bringing you all food and something warm to drink, you ungrateful little maggot!’ Lily dropped a package at their feet. ‘But since I came all the way out here, I may as well join y’all.’
They sat mostly in silence after that, save for the odd muttered remarks followed by a heft ‘ssh!’
An hour or so later, and they heard rustles. ‘Look!’ Lily hissed, pointing out a shadow darting through the moonlight.
‘Right, we’ve got this,’ murmured James, and he and Sirius stood up and crept towards the intruder. James moved to approach from behind, and in one swift movement flung the rope over the culprit’s head and pinned his arms to his sides. After some fumbling, Sirius lit the lantern, and they looked upon the face of the rustler.
‘Well, screw me with a rusty spoon,’ James said in amazement. ‘Snape!’
Snape glared at them both, looking even paler than usual in the flickering light. Remus, Peter and Lily appeared from behind the tree, looking amazed.
‘What the hell were you playing at?’ Lily demanded.
Snape said nothing, just glowered even more.
‘I’ve gotta say, I’m impressed with you boys,’ Al Dore said that morning after they had brought their culprit with them. ‘That took some smart thinking, that did. However, you all knew you weren’t supposed to be out there then, so I’m afraid it’s a day a piece down in the kitchens for all of you.’
The four of them stared at him in horror. Lily smirked.
‘Oh, don’t think you’ve escaped, Miss Lily. Your aunt’s got a lot of sewing she’s gonna need help with this afternoon.’ Al looked at their miserable faces and chuckled.
‘However, once you’ve done that, consider yourselves hired for the drive this year!’
They all burst into beaming smiles. There was much backslapping, and Lily threw herself on James, who looked startled but really quite pleased.
‘Yee-haw!’ cried Peter.
There was a silence as everyone stared at him.
‘No?’ Peter asked timidly.
‘No,’ James said, shaking his head sadly. ‘Don’t say that again.’