James Potter, aged thirteen, was packing. In just two days he would be returning to school, and he knew that his mother would be furious if he delayed their departure by not being ready. He half-heartedly pulled open a few drawers and began throwing armfuls of random clothes into the trunk that stood open by his bed.
‘Mummy will be cross with you if you don’t pack properly,’ came a little voice from the doorway. James looked around to see his younger sister Lily leaning on the doorframe.
‘Of course I’m going to do it properly,’ James said irritably. ‘I’m just, you know, preparing myself.’
‘Only saying!’ Lily called over her shoulder as she danced off down the hall. James scowled at her retreating back, but he had to admit that she was probably right.
‘Just you wait until you have to pack up to go to school, Lily Potter,’ he muttered to himself crossly. ‘Then you’ll see.'
‘Oh, I can’t wait,’ Lily was back again. James jumped and cursed under his breath. Lily had a rather annoying talent for sneaking up on people unintentionally.
‘I bet you can’t,’ James said. ‘But honestly, Lil, it’s not all that it’s cracked up to be. I mean, it’s school
. Sure, it’s Hogwarts, which is better than some boring old Muggle school, but still…’
‘I know that it’s amazing really,’ Lily replied. ‘Everyone I’ve spoken to says so. You just think it’s silly to be excited about going back to school. You’re being cool
‘I am not!’ James retorted, infuriated by the smug look that Lily always wore when she ‘knew’ that she was right. ‘Now, why don’t you go and annoy Albus and let me get on with this rubbish?’
‘Mummy’s with Albus,’ Lily explained, venturing into her brother’s room and perching on the edge of the bed. ‘And you know how crazy she goes with packing, so I don’t really want to go in there.’
‘Well, at least she has Albus to help this year rather than me,’ James muttered. The corners of his sister’s mouth turned down at his words.
‘I can’t believe you’re both going to go off and leave me here this year,’ she said mournfully.
‘Sorry Lils,’ James said, now pulling out handfuls of odd socks and adding them to the mess within his trunk. ‘But you know that you’re too young.’
‘Am not,’ Lily pouted.
‘Are too,’ James shot back. ‘Come on Lily, I’m busy. Unless you’re going to do something helpful please go and bug someone else.’
‘Nice,’ Lily replied, folding her arms. And after a pause, ‘Do you want me to help then?’
‘Well, you could go down to the broomshed and fetch my broomstick if you really want to help,’ he suggested.
‘No thanks,’ Lily got up and skipped to the door, sticking her tongue out.
‘Oh please, Lil,’ James whined, following her. ‘You’d be doing me a really big favour.’
Lily pretended to consider it.
‘No, it’s okay,’ she said. ‘I think I’ll just go and annoy someone else, you know, like you said.’ James rolled his eyes and turned back to his packing. Younger sisters were more trouble than they were worth. ‘Although,’ Lily continued slowly. ‘I might go and get it… if you let me have a go on it before I bring it up.’
'Oh go on then,’ James sighed. ‘It’ll get you out of my way for half an hour or so, I suppose.’
‘Thank you!’ Lily clapped her hands and jiggled up and down on the spot. ‘And then in half an hour Daddy will be home and he’ll do something with me, I know he will.’
‘Good for Dad,’ James mumbled as Lily dashed from the room, a whirlwind of energy and flying red hair.
With Lily gone and no-one to distract him from the dreary task in front of him, James soon tired of packing. He had emptied, almost literally, his wardrobe and chest of drawers in his trunk and was now contemplating hunting down his various school books. After half-heartedly moving around a few stacks of old magazines, a broken Gobstones set and several battered packs of exploding cards, James decided to go downstairs to his father’s study. He was sometimes allowed to sit in there to do his homework during the holidays, and this seemed to be an excellent place to hide from his mother, while having a good excuse – searching for any books he may have left in there – if she came in.
James padded down the stairs and cautiously opened the door to his father’s study. He knew that he was allowed in there, but he didn’t think that his mother, in her packing frenzy, would see it quite that way. Once inside, James eased the door shut again and turned to survey the room. It was organised and tidy, and a quick glance told him that none of his books had been left in there. Not that that would stop him from trying out that excuse on his mother should the need arise.
James settled himself behind the desk and sighed contentedly. Here was his escape from crazy little sisters, panicking, over organised mothers and the horror of preparing for school. Almost immediately, something on the desk caught his eye. James leant closer. A brown cardboard folder that he recognised as coming from the filing cabinet in the corner of the room was lying next to his father’s in tray. James frowned. This cabinet was the one thing in the room that the children had been forbidden to have anything to do with, as it contained secret information from the Ministry that their father had to deal with in his job as Head of the Auror Office. The folders inside were of such a sensitive nature that the cabinet that been given as strong a magical protection as possible, and their mother had also jinxed it so that if any of the children did attempt to open it, there would be no question as to was the guilty party.
Knowing all these facts, it was therefore with a good deal of caution that James eyed this folder, as interesting as it looked. He knew that to attempt to look inside would be foolish but, he argued with himself, surely if this folder was that important then it would have some charm or other on it to ensure that it could not be left accidently lying around. He was also sure that there were no jinxes or protective enchantments placed on the contents of the cabinet, as it would not have been deemed necessary due to the protection given to the cabinet itself.
James' natural curiosity was growing by the second, and he leant even closer to read the label on the folder. It read ‘I solemnly swear that I am up to no good*’. James hesitated, intrigued. Surely, he reasoned to himself, if opening it does set off some kind of alarm then I can tell Mum that I just knocked it by mistake while looking for my books? With this argument ready in his mind, he tentatively reached out and touched the front of the folder with his fingertips.
Nothing happened. James, who hadn’t realised he had been holding his breath, exhaled in a rush. Despite his relief at the lack of any response, he was nevertheless a little disappointed at the anti-climax. James pulled the folder towards him and opened it. When all that was revealed was a folded, grubby and clearly very old blank piece of parchment he was even more disappointed. He was about to slam the folder shut when two things occurred to him. The first was that he was quite sure that his father was perfectly capable of concealing things that he wanted to be concealed, and the second was that the folder would not have been labelled so precisely if nothing of any worth was inside.
With a feeling of great excitement, James pulled his wand out of his pocket and cautiously prodded the front of the parchment. Nothing happened. James would not be deterred.
‘Come on James, think,’ he muttered to himself as he struck the parchment again. ‘You’re a Potter, after all.’ He almost dropped his wand when words began appeared on the surface.
Mr Moony wishes Mr Potter a good day but believes that he is unwise to risk getting on the wrong side of his mother when she is in such a mood.
James gaped. He could hardly believe it. An invisible hand appeared to be writing the words on the parchment.
Mr Padfoot would like to congratulate Mr Potter on his discovery but advises him not to bring it up in general conversation as it could lead to awkward questions.
James gulped. A blank piece of parchment was trying to give him advice. Then he frowned. He thought it was rather funny that the unknown force that was writing these words should have such accurate knowledge of his parents. Who were these men anyway?
Mr Prongs would like to express his pride in Mr Potter and hopes that he will use his new-found knowledge well to continue the noble work of his grandfather.
A puzzled expression appeared on James’ face. He had had no trouble deciphering the first two messages, baffling as their appearance was, but this one had him more stumped. He wondered if the parchment was finished, but no.
Mr Moony, Mr Padfoot and Mr Prongs very much wish that they could convey Mr Wormtail’s intended good wishes to Mr Potter but they feel that an apology from him would be more appropriate. Seeing as this apology does not appear to be forthcoming they shall merely send Mr Potter their own good wishes.
‘Wow,’ James leant back in his chair, excitement filling him more and more with each breath that he took. The words stayed shining on the page, like ink that had not yet had time to dry. James took a deep breath and tried to be rational. He read and reread the messages several times until he was sure that he had the words more or less committed to memory, and then he tapped the parchment lightly with his wand. It went blank at once.
A plan slowly formed in James’ head, and he sat with his wand poised above the parchment once more. Then he tapped it again and whispered, ‘My name is Albus Severus Potter.’
The effect was instantaneous, and fresh words began appearing.
Mr Moony, Mr Padfoot and Mr Prongs would like to express their disappointment and concern at the dishonesty of Mr Albus Severus Potter’s older brother, and remind him that speaking untruths is a hard habit to break once it is adopted. Mr Wormtail would agree but, given the path that he chose to tread in life, Mr Moony, Mr Padfoot and Mr Prongs would like to disregard his opinion completely.
James had to bite the inside of his cheek to stop himself from laughing out loud. He tapped the parchment one final time and turned to replace it in its folder, happy that he had discovered its secret. Then his hand slowed on the way to the desk. Was it likely, he asked himself sternly, that his father would have kept a piece of parchment that merely gave silly advice to anyone who tried to see what it contained? He was suddenly sure that there was something more. The label on the folder once again caught his eye, and James knew what he had to do.
‘I solemnly swear that I am up to no good*,’ he whispered, tapping the parchment again and feeling thankful that, due to his parents’ presence in the house, he could do magic outside school and remain undetected by the Ministry. Then, in front of James’ astonished eyes, dark lines began snaking their way across the parchment and yet more words wrote themselves in the very centre.
‘The Marauder’s Map,’ James read aloud, puzzled. ‘What on earth is a Marauder’s Map?’
To answer his own question, he began to unfold the parchment, which was more highly folded than he would ever have realised initially. Eventually, a large map was spread across the desk in front of him. It looked strangely familiar, and the closer he looked the more familiar it became.
‘But that’s Hogwarts!’ he finally gasped.
Suddenly, something in one of the corners caught his eye. Along one of the corridors (fifth floor by the looks of it) moved a tiny set of footprints. Beside them, a small scroll proclaimed them to belong to Argus Filch.
‘No way,’ James breathed, astounded.
He quickly searched the map for more footprints, but it being the summer holidays not many people were there. He located Professor Flitwick, stationary in the Headmaster’s Office. From his position within the room, James suspected that he was sat at his desk. In the Hospital Wing, Madam Pomfrey was pottering to and fro rather busily. Perhaps she was replenishing some of her many potions, James thought. He also spotted what he guessed was some kind of ghost’s counsel, for Nearly Headless Nick, The Bloody Baron, The Grey Lady and several other figures were gathered in one of the dungeons.
‘Probably trying to decide what to do about Peeves this year,’ James grinned to himself, noting that the poltergeist was not among them.
James combed every inch of the map, looking at the familiar rooms. He found the Gryffindor Common Room, and tried to picture himself in there as a third year. Harder to picture was Albus being there too. It was going to be strange having his younger brother at school with him. James passed on, and next focused his attention on the kitchens, where pairs of feet were plentiful. He frowned for a moment as he read the names, confused, but he quickly realised that he was looking at the House Elves. James tried to count the feet but soon gave up – there must have been hundreds of them.
The grounds showed up on the map too, and James found Hagrid striding along the boundary of the Forbidden Forest. His faithful dog Fang, who had now reached a great age unobtainable by any ordinary dog, plodded along beside him. The school owls swooped overhead in and out of the Owlery, obviously hunting given that there were no students there to use them.
James watched the scene, feeling something strange stirring inside him. It took him a good few minutes to recognise the feeling as homesickness. Then he laughed at himself. Homesick, for his school? That couldn’t possibly be right. Then James noticed his Uncle Nev – Professor Longbottom at school, of course – working in one of the greenhouses. He thought from the layout that it looked like Greenhouse Four, which James hoped he would finally be allowed to enter this year. Rumour had it that some of the plants inside were incredibly dangerous, and James was always ready for a thrill like that.
feeling homesick,’ James realised out loud. ‘Maybe I should go and pack after all…’
James made to get up, but suddenly realised that he had no idea how to wipe the map clean again. He tapped it hopefully with his wand. The map did not clear, but instead a tiny speech bubble appeared by Professor Longbottom as he worked away.
‘Mischief managed*,’ James read, tapping enthusiastically. Instantly, the map went blank. ‘Thanks for the help, Uncle Nev,’ James grinned.
As he reached out for the folder to put the map away, James felt a pang of longing. He couldn’t let something this good slip through his fingers, could he? He quickly scanned the study. A stack of blank parchment sat on the floor underneath his desk, waiting for his father to use. James pulled a large sheet out from the very bottom of the stack, where the parchment was much older than that on the top. His father was too lazy to replenish his supply from the bottom up, unlike his Aunt Hermione, merely adding to the top of the pile when it became depleted.
James hastily folded the new piece of parchment and stuffed it inside the folder. Hopefully a few extra creases would be added by the process, making the parchment look a little bit more authentically old. He then folded the now blank map with great care and slipped it, along with his wand, into the pocket of his jeans before replacing the folder carefully in its original position on the desk.
Lily came bounding out of the kitchen and into the hall just as the study door clicked shut behind James.
‘Here you go,’ she said breathlessly, brandishing James’ broomstick. ‘Thanks for letting me have a go, James. It was great!’
James smiled at his younger sister.
‘I’m glad you had such a good time, Lils,’ he said, taking the broomstick.
‘Is Daddy home yet?’ Lily asked.
No, thank goodness, James thought, but at that moment the two children heard a disturbance in the living room. The green flames of the Floo Network roared briefly and then they heard their father’s voice.
‘Anybody around?’ he called.
‘We’re out here, Daddy!’ Lily shouted back, and Harry Potter appeared in the doorway. His eyes settled on James’ broom.
‘Getting everything together, Jamesy?’ he asked, placing his briefcase on the floor before putting his arms around Lily and quickly flipping her upside down so that she dangled in the air, squealing with delight.
‘Oh, yeah,’ James nodded nonchalantly. ‘It’s such a pain but I thought I’d better, you know, or Mum will go mental.’
His father smiled a knowing smile, and watched as his son headed upstairs as quickly as he dared without seeming too keen.
In his room, James sat down on his bed and put his hand into his pocket to feel the presence of the map. Then he suddenly leapt up and began to continue his packing with renewed enthusiasm. This year was going to be great, he could just feel it, and he knew that his first priority once he got back to school would be to find out as much as possible about Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot and Prongs. He couldn’t wait.
*Taken from 'The Prisoner of Azkaban', by JK Rowling, pages 143 and 144 (first British edition)
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