‘But of course, Mr Padfoot!’ James said, running after him, leaving his stunned girlfriend behind. ‘I’ll see you later, Lily!’
Panting from their sprint through the corridors, the pair finally arrived at the library. James was hiding behind Sirius, scared that Madam Pince would see him; he was the one responsible for shifting every book in the library one shelf down and two bookcases over in their third year. The librarian hated him for that, and if she knew he was in the library, they’d never be able to plan alone. The woman had a tendency to hover.
Remus was already waiting at their usual table with a troubled expression.
‘What?’ they both asked.
Remus frowned. ‘I couldn’t find Wormtail.’
‘He’d be with that girl, wouldn’t he?’ Sirius asked, appearing unconcerned. ‘That Hufflepuff sixth year... Pigeon or whatever her name is.’
‘You mean Lara Midgeon?’ Remus asked, grinning. ‘The same girl he’s been with for months. The same girl we gave him advice on, not two days ago? That Lara Midgeon?’
‘Yes, her.’ James and Remus caught each other’s eyes and looked away quickly. Sirius sighed dramatically, flinging an arm around Remus’ shoulders. ‘Free Marauders are becoming an endangered species,’ he said seriously. ‘What with Prongs and his delightful flower-’ James felt his face heat up, ‘-and Pete and his bird.’
‘Midgeon, Sirius, not pidgeon,’ Remus said in a voice of long suffering as he shrugged the boy’s arm off.
‘Whatever,’ Sirius said, waving a hand. ‘We should get to work. This thing isn’t going to plan itself, you know.’
Remus nodded and disappeared to find a book. He returned a few moments later with a heavy book called “Portkeys for Ponces” and began to pore over it with an interested expression.
James had the Marauder’s Map and a blank piece of parchment and was looking for ideal places to set up their prank. Sirius had gone to flatter the librarian so that she might help him find Daily Prophet articles about Portkey travel gone wrong.
‘The incantation is “Portus”,’ Remus said some time later. ‘You have to think of the place you want it to go and if it works, it should glow blue. We can add timers to it and stuff like that.’
‘Brilliant,’ Sirius said, looking up from his yellowing newspaper. ‘It says here there’s not much that can go wrong. I mean, obviously if we tap whatever we’re trying to make into a Portkey and it turns into a kitten or something, we know we’ve gone messed it up.’
James and Remus nodded, grinning slightly at each other. ‘Anything else?’
‘Yeah, there was this one bloke from London who wasn’t sure where he wanted to go and he ended up between places.’ Sirius fixed the other two with a steady look. ‘Let’s not try for that one, gentlemen.’
‘Agreed,’ Remus said fervently. ‘Prongs? Where do you think is the best place?’
James set the Marauder’s Map down with a wide grin. ‘I think we need to alter this slightly.’ Sirius and Remus shared a look. ‘I think we need to set up multiple Portkeys. Imagine, every time a student reaches for a doorknob they end up on the other side to the school...’
Sirius beamed. ‘Brilliant! We could set up the Portkey points to be a physically far as possible from the classroom! It’d drive the teachers mad!’
‘And the students,’ Remus added, grinning hugely.
James nodded. ‘Do you think we could make the Portkeys vanish and return to the door once a student was moved... any “victim” then has to walk, instead of Portkeying their way back.’
‘We could do that with a timer,’ Remus said, consulting his book. ‘Two seconds after the first activation, it returns to its original location... There’s something here about removing the usual blue light. Stealth Portkeys.’ He, James and Sirius shared a wicked grin.
* * *
Students had been disappearing all afternoon.
Professor McGonagall could not believe it; Regulus Black had been standing outside her classroom door, and then he was gone, right before her beady eyes. He appeared twenty minutes later, out of breath, muttering incoherently about the Astronomy tower and his brother. He wasn’t the only one. Frank Lonbottom and Alice Prewett - who were usually the first in and seated - appeared halfway through the lesson, apologising profusely and saying the doorknob was a Portkey. The arrival of Marlene McKinnon several minutes later confirmed this, though no one claimed to have noticed the typical blue lights.
All in all, it was a waste of a lesson. No less than seven students had arrived at various stages throughout her lesson (a very relevant one on Animagi) and she was in a foul mood by the time she arrived at lunch. Next to her, Slughorn was complaining about his fourth years disappearing when they picked up their ladles and returning later saying things about the Owlery, while Gurdan was grumbling about his students and the seventh floor.
McGonagall glared at the Headmaster, who was finding the whole thing funny, and talking nonsense about how he could never hope to understand the secrets the castle held. She knew exactly what “secrets” the castle held. Their names were James Potter and Sirius Black and they were in her house. So were Remus Lupin and Peter Pettigrew, who she also suspected were involved.
The four in question were currently sitting at the Gryffindor table, talking loudly over their lunches about how they needed to do their Transfiguration essays during their double free that afternoon. Lily Evans was sitting in Potter’s lap, scolding them for not having done their essays already. The Head Girl then pecked Potter on the cheek and left the table, presumably headed for the library. McGonagall smiled slightly, and then remembered the problem; the Portkeys. Her lips thinned.
She turned to Albus and excused herself. She got to her feet, and made her way around the staff table, only to find the Marauder’s seats vacated. Puzzled, she glanced around and saw them sitting further down, still eating. With a frown she made her way toward them, only to have them disappear and reappear several seats down. What in Merlin’s name was going on?!
The four seventh years got to their feet and headed toward the Great Hall doors. ‘Potter! Black! Lupin! Pettigrew!’ she shouted, hurrying toward them. They ignored her, and pushed out into the Entrance Hall. By the time she reached the doors, she saw their cloaks disappearing around the corner at the top of the Marble Staircase. She shouted their names again as she ran after them. By the time she reached the top of the stairs, they were already three floors up; she could hear them talking loudly about returning to the common room.
She ascended one staircase only to stumble. An arm caught her. ‘Are you all right, Professor?’ a concerned voice asked.
‘I’m fine, thank you, Mr Lupin,’ she said tersely, shaking her arm free. She needed to catch up with Potter and his friends.
‘Come on, Moony!’ James yelled. Remus grinned and ran down the staircase. Minerva froze, turning, and the four seventh years disappeared down a corridor at the bottom of the staircase. How had they managed that?! They hadn’t come past her!
Thankfully she didn’t have any lessons that afternoon because she spent almost two hours chasing them around the castle. She had had them cornered in the dungeons, when they had disappeared into a classroom and not come out. She had marched in, expecting to drag them out by their ears, when she had heard voices behind her; it was them of course, heading back up to the Entrance Hall. She followed them all the way to the seventh floor corridor, where they suddenly disappeared again.
‘Potter! Black!’ she screeched as she flung the portrait open (‘Now really!’ the Fat Lady said, annoyed).
‘Professor McGonagall?’ James Potter asked, rubbing his messy hair. She stopped, staring at him. Neither he nor any of the others were in their robes as they had been seconds before and they were all hunched over a desk, scribbling furiously at homework. She recognised the essay she had set them on how a person’s personality affects the physical manifestations of human transfiguration.
‘Do you want our essays?’ Black asked, confused. ‘I’ve just finished mine if you want it?’ He had ink on his nose, she realised with a sigh. ‘I thought they were due tomorrow, though?’
‘Professor?’ Potter asked again, looking worried. She supposed she did look rather frightful with her hair falling out of its bun and her glasses askew.
‘Detention for all of you!’ she spluttered, trying to catch her breath.
‘What for?!’ Black demanded, leaping to his feet. Dramatic, as always. ‘We haven’t done anything!’
‘The Portkey doorknobs! Leading me around the castle all afternoon! I had expected better of you! Mr Potter, you’re Head Boy and Mr Lupin, as a Prefect you-’
‘What?’ Lupin asked, looking genuinely confused. ‘Professor, I’m sorry, but we’ve been here the whole time, working on our essays.’ She had of course, heard Evans scolding them for not having done them, and there was no possible way for them to have fabricated essays in the thirty seconds it took her to get to the common room.
‘Are you feeling all right, Minnie?’ Black asked cautiously.
‘I will not have you four disrupting my lessons and marauding around the castle like you own it!’ she bellowed, too agitated to bother to tell him off for using “Minnie”. ‘You are seventh years and as such you need to lead by example!’
‘Professor,’ Pettigrew said shakily, ‘we really have been here all afternoon.’
‘Very well,’ she said severely, her nostrils flaring. ‘May I see your wands, please?’ Looking confused, the four of them handed them over and she checked for the last spell each had used. Lupin’s had last used a Summoning charm, Black’s a Silencing charm and Potter’s and Pettigrew’s a Siphoning charm. Refusing to give in she glared around at them. ‘Mr Potter, your essay.’
Potter handed her his finished essay with a puzzled expression. She scanned the first paragraph. It was O–standard work, absent of spelling and grammar errors, and displayed excellent understanding of the Transfiguration theories and how to apply them. It was not work that had been rushed.
She knew they’d been the ones she’d been chasing all afternoon, but how, she didn’t know. Their story was airtight. It was her word against theirs, and they had evidence in the form of essays. She was too old for this. Far, far too old.
With thin lips she handed Potter’s parchment back and stalked out of the portrait hole. She fumed to herself all the way down to her office, almost walking into Dumbledore.
‘Are you all right, Minerva?’ he asked kindly. ‘You seem a little flustered.’
‘Fine, thank you,’ she said stiffly. Dumbledore opened his mouth hopefully. Most people would have thought he was about to say something wise, but she knew better. ‘No, Albus!’ she snapped.
He closed his mouth with a slightly crestfallen expression. Within moments, the twinkle was back in his eye and he strode off down the corridor, placing the sweet he had been about to offer her in his mouth as he went.