The map was going to be their finest creation, the capstone of their years at Hogwarts.
That was what Sirius said, anyway, with his usual grandiose dramatics. He'd said the same thing about their Animagus transformations, though James was willing to concede that in that instance it was probably to bolster James' flagging enthusiasm for the project after a solid year of work. Oh sure, being Animagi was loads of fun, but they'd paid for that fun in their own after-class hours in the library.
The Marauder's Map, on the other hand, was pure unadulterated fun. They'd taken what they already knew about the castle and grounds, including Remus' unparalleled knowledge of secret passageways and how to find them, and drawn it out on a parchment one night early in sixth year when none of them could sleep. James had insisted that it ought to be accurate, with his usual attention to detail, and found a cartographer's charm in one of Remus' books, casting it as casually as a Muggle would swat a fly.
(Sirius didn't swat flies. That was unimaginative. He transfigured them so that they flew around squeaking Snivellus Is A Sod! until Evans made him stop).
Aside from correcting Sirius' handwriting into a passable drafting script and regulating the walls and rooms to proper scale, the charm had apparently taken a peek around their dormitory room...and added things.
Sirius and Remus had immediately caught onto the possibilities of this charm on that map, and James had given Remus a significant look. Peter, brow furrowed, was tracing the lines with his finger.
"I didn't draw that there," he said, pointing to a door-symbol behind his bed.
All four of them looked at Peter's bed.
In a minute and a half they'd levitated it out of the way and found a hidden panel that hinged outwards; it let out onto a small porch hidden between two gables, encrusted with gargoyles. Remus, who'd snatched the map off the table, held it up and ordered James to cast the charm again. Immediately the porch appeared on the map, just outside the panel.
"Wicked," Sirius announced.
"Brilliant," James agreed.
"That explains the draft I'm always feeling!" Peter beamed.
"Is this supposed to happen?" Remus asked cautiously.
They mapped the entire Gryffindor tower that evening, using a combination of James' invisibility cloak and Sirius' innate doggy stealth; Peter, clutching the map in rat-teeth, crept up the steps into the girls' side of the dormitory -- they'd learned early on that animagi didn't trigger the alarm -- and came back looking self-satisfied, having found three secret entrances to the dormitory that didn't require going up the booby-trapped stairs.
That full-moon, they expanded the map out to the Shrieking Shack and even parts of Hogsmeade.
Sirius was the one who had the bright idea, during their evening forays out into the castle, to enchant it to show where everyone was so that they could explore without worrying about getting caught or having to wear the invisibility cloak full-time. That was a complicated bit of charmwork, and took all four of them working together to figure out the chain of nested spells required to make it function properly.
Only Remus noticed that after each mapping session, they were always tired; it wasn't just that they mapped at night, he was sure, since on weekends they all slept during the day ahead of time specifically so that they could stay out all night...
...and yet they usually had to go back to the tower by three or so and go to bed. Sometimes Sirius didn't bother to undress and Peter fell into bed with his shoes on. Which is when Remus read the fine print on the spells they were doing.
He kept the information to himself, because James and Sirius would call him Perfect Prefect Lupin and Peter would just get anxious and obnoxiously neurotic; besides, they'd learned in Defence class that intention was nine-tenths of Dark Arts and, unless you were dealing in really heavily dark things, "bad" spells could be put to good use with little harm to the user.
Remus trusted James and Sirius to keep him safe. He had for a long time: first to keep his secret, and then for this past year to physically keep him from harming anyone on their full-moon rambles. They were powerful wizards already; they knew what they were doing. They wouldn't dabble in Dark Arts if they couldn't control it, and these spells weren't so very dark, after all.
They'd put a password on it long ago, right before they added the people-finder to it; unless the proper phrase was uttered while touching a wand to the page, nothing would appear. Then one night, Sirius touched his wand to the map and said "I solemnly swear that I am Sirius Black", much to the surprise of his fellows, and something different showed up. It was about half a page of scrawled notes in Sirius' handwriting.
"I added...well, it's sort of like those invisible journals the girls all keep, only...more," Sirius said proudly. "This way we won't have to all go out together. I can make a note, see..." he wrote 'Sirius Black was here' below the earlier notes, then cleared the page with a quick "Mischief Managed". He turned to James. "And then if you get into your journally bit, you can read what I wrote. I stole some from your book about Pensieves, I think it'll work all right -- it sort of takes a little piece of you with it, so that if someone has a question, they can ask, and I'll answer. Well, I won't, but the parchment will, pretending to be me."
"It takes pieces of us?" Peter asked anxiously.
"Just a little, Wormtail, it's nothing to worry over," Sirius said confidently. "Go on then, you try."
Peter touched his wand to the blank page. "I solemnly swear that I am Peter Pettigrew," he said, and Sirius' notes appeared again, in a lighter shade of ink and off in one corner.
"Here's the best part," Sirius said, clearing the map again. He struck a pose, touched his wand to the page, and said "Show me your secrets, you blank piece of parchment!"
What are you on about, Sirius Black?
"You try," Sirius urged. James took his place.
"Hallo Parchment, tell me what you know," he said.
Come on Prongs, you know the password, replied the map.
"When you've all written a bit, all four of us should respond," Sirius grinned mischievously. "Imagine what it would say if one of the professors found it -- everything you ever wanted to say to a teacher but knew you'd get stabbed with chalk for..."
They broke out into laughter then and, though Remus still had his reservations, he wrote as much as anyone: little notes on new passageways he'd found, questions about where they should meet the next full moon, where he'd be that afternoon if anyone wanted to meet to study.
The map wasn't even near completion at that point, of course, and it took them several months to finish it to James' exacting satisfaction. But one night late in the autumn term they all bent over the map, examined the castle from dungeon to spire, and agreed that it was complete. The troubles with "naming" animagi had been ironed out after Sirius noticed the map froze up whenever Professor McGonagall transformed; the secret passageways were all accounted for, the tracking charms were in place, and the journals were filled with notes and jokes and conversations. It was finished.
Pads was entrusted with the keeping of it, officially, since Wormtail would have lost it and Prongs would sooner or later have tried to use it to impress Evans and Moony said he never slept well when it was nearby. Sirius sort of knew the feeling, though he actually felt better being the official keeper; there were things he'd written in a secret, locked away place on the map, things he didn't want anyone to be able to find. Just his thoughts, really, about how he wasn't like the other boys, though their voices-in-the-map all promised him they didn't care if he fancied blokes or was still afraid of Bellatrix. It was reassuring to be able to tell them anything without the real Prongs and Moony and Wormtail actually knowing.
He folded the map up, the creases already beginning to be a natural part of it, and tucked it into a hidden box behind his headboard after the others had doused their candles and were sleeping quietly.
The next morning he woke to an excruciating pain in his head and the sound of James pleading -- begging -- for Remus to wake up. He pushed himself up on one elbow, bruising it when he assumed wrongly that he was still in his bed, and searched blurrily for James. There -- that was undoubtedly James, he would know those broad shoulders and that messy hair anywhere, but the man James was trying to wake couldn't possibly be Remus. He was three decades too old at least. It could be Remus' father, Mr. Lupin...
James gasped and turned to stare at him and Sirius stared back, shocked and frightened now -- that wasn't James' face. There were subtle differences -- this boy wore glasses and had a scar over one eye --
One green eye.
Harry, still in his pyjamas though it was nearly lunchtime, looked up from the bed where he was reading. He hadn't been expecting a guest, but when he saw who it was, he smiled.
"Hi," he said. Professor Lupin -- Remus, he was Remus now, though old habits died hard -- smiled back at him, leaning in the doorway of his bedroom at 4 Privet Drive. He looked better than he had in the infirmary on the night Dumbledore had...on the night Bill had been attacked. He had looked as though he were on the mend at the funeral, but the hollows in his cheeks had filled out a little since then. "I didn't expect you here."
"Neither did your uncle and aunt. They're downstairs with Tonks."
"I bet that's an interesting scene."
"You would think," Remus said, grinning. "As it turns out, she's quite as imperious as her mother, and has your aunt serving her tea while your uncle dances around in what I must say is a very imbecilic manner. Enjoying your holiday?"
Harry shrugged. "It's what I have to do."
"Yes...Hermione said you'd say that," Remus answered. "I've brought you a birthday present, by the by. I know it's a day early..." he reached into his pocket and pulled out something secured to his belt loop by a thin gold chain, "...but you'll be needing it."
His fingers unclasped the chain and looped it around a small steel ring on which hung a series of keys. He held it out to Harry.
"Twelve Grimmauld Place?" Harry asked. Remus nodded. "What about the Fidelius?"
"Broken when -- well," Remus said hastily, "Broken and replaced."
"Are you my secret-keeper?"
Remus nodded. "Ironic, isn't it?"
"Oh?" Harry asked. He studied the keys, curiously. Then it occurred to him. "Oh. I guess so."
"The good news is, I'm more or less indestructible and I seem to have a track record of survival. If you'd like to choose someone more appropriate, however -- "
"No, that's fine," Harry said. He closed his book and set it aside. "Can I go today?"
"Of course. I was going to suggest it; you'll be protected there when the blood-shelter spell breaks tomorrow. That's why we've come."
Harry nodded and kicked open the trunk next to his bed. Lupin helped him pile up his books and clothes, packing them away. This time he would not leave anything behind; it took a couple of shrinking spells from Lupin's wand to fit everything in, but the room was still too bare too quickly.
"I'm never coming back here," Harry said. Lupin merely nodded. "I won't miss it."
"You'd be surprised what you miss," the older man answered. "Though I hope you never do."
They descended the stairs, Harry dragging his trunk and Lupin following after, carrying Hedwig on his shoulder and her cage in his hand. In the kitchen, Tonks was talking blithely to the Dursleys over a cup of tea.
"And so then I said, well, what's a little pixie blood when you get down to -- oh, wotcha Harry," she said, smiling at him. "Coming along, then?"
"Yes," Harry answered. Tonks took his trunk from him.
"Thank you for the tea," she said to Petunia.
"We'll be outside, Harry," Lupin added, clapping him on the shoulder and following Tonks out.
Harry was left in his still-too-large denim jeans, the frayed and oversized t-shirt, the worn belt that hardly held the jeans over his hips, all hand-me-downs from Dudley.
"Goodbye, then," he said.
Dudley stuffed a biscuit in his face.
"Goodbye, boy," Vernon said, shortly.
"I won't be back," Harry repeated.
"I should think not," Vernon grunted. Dudley slurped his tea.
"So you won't see me again."
Vernon merely huffed. Petunia hadn't yet looked up from her tea.
"Bye," Harry said, feeling stupid.
"Harry -- wait," Petunia said. She looked up. "Be -- be a credit to your mother," she said. "And brush your teeth."
Harry wanted to laugh at sixteen years of proper mothering being condensed into three seconds of advice, but she looked hurt and regretful, so he didn't.
"I will, Aunt Petunia," he said.
It wasn't far to London and they went by car; it was odd to see Lupin behind the wheel of a giant black Vauxhall with government plates, operating a gear stick as if he didn't spend most of his time in wizarding robes with a wand in one hand.
"Ministry lent it to us," Tonks said, leaning forward over Harry's shoulder from the backseat. "Scrimgeour still trying to get on your good side, I think. He's trying to bribe Arthur Weasley now too."
"The result of which is mainly that Arthur is enjoying himself immensely," Remus added. "Scrimgeour's after Bill just as much as you; he's a decorated hero."
There was a bitter tinge in his voice which surprised Harry until he realised that Bill was, at least in part, a werewolf now -- and yet he enjoyed all the prestige of a normal human, while Remus was still clearly struggling just to survive.
"I didn't know you knew how to drive," Harry said uncomfortably.
"Advanced Muggle Studies NEWT," Remus answered. "I've kept it up when I can. It's a useful skill."
"Remus likes to be useful," Tonks said teasingly, but she was met with a grave look in the rearview mirror.
"Yes," Remus said. "I do."
They arrived at Twelve Grimmauld Place before evening had full set in. Kingsley Shacklebolt was waiting outside, and Remus handed him the car keys. Harry turned to watch Shacklebolt drive away, then realised the other two were waiting for him.
"Go on," Tonks said, squeezing Harry's shoulders. "Unlock it, then."
Harry couldn't summon up the excitement she clearly felt; this might be a house for him to live in, but it was hardly a home. Still, he lifted the heavy, solid key and slid it into the lock, which snicked open with freshly-oiled ease. He pulled it out and pushed the door open, stepping inside.
It was quiet inside, echoingly so, and Harry bit his lip. It felt as though someone had died.
Someone had. Too many someones. Not just Sirius who had owned the house or Dumbledore who had filled it with the Order, but Emmeline Vance and Amelia Bones and too many others.
He would not cry in front of Remus Lupin and Nymphadora Tonks. That would be ridiculous and embarrassing.
"We thought you'd like a quiet night before everyone arrived," Remus said softly. "And you and I have a few things to discuss."
Harry turned to shoot a questioning glance at him, but Remus merely gestured him into the kitchen. There was soup warming on the stove and fresh bread in the oven; they helped themselves and sat down. Harry saw Tonks sit so close to Remus that he could hardly move his arm, but he simply switched hands and continued to eat.
"I know you told Dumbledore that the house could still be used as headquarters, and so we have," Remus said, dipping some of his bread in the thick soup. "Things are changing, however, and now that you're of age and without a home other than this..."
"It's fine," Harry said.
"You do understand that I have been living here?"
"You don't mind?"
Harry shrugged. "S'got like...four floors, doesn't it?"
"Basement, three floors, and an attic. I've been staying on the ground floor, but I can move if you'd prefer it."
Harry shook his head. "Stay where you are. You know the place better than I do. I'll take my old room on the first floor."
"There's a better -- a suite of rooms..." Remus said, gesturing over his head with his spoon. "Bedroom, sitting room, and bath. You might like the privacy. More suited for a bachelor than a schoolboy," he added.
"Ron and Hermione told you," Harry said.
"That you're not returning to the school? Yes."
"You're not going to be tiresome about it, are you?" Harry asked. Remus laughed.
"Harry, you forget who you're talking to, I think. It's a miracle I wasn't expelled from Hogwarts with Sirius and your father any number of times. It's not my place to lecture you. I don't think it's terribly bright to skip your last year of school if you plan to become an Auror, but your becoming an Auror is predicated on your survival, and you are at war. Why should you spend another year playing Quidditch and going to lessons? You know what needs to be done."
Harry ducked his head. "Yes. I do."
"So..." Tonks spread her hands. "We're here to do what you need done."
"The problem, Harry," Remus said, "with acting like an adult, is that people are liable to treat you like one. I'm afraid the Order needs someone who knows what they're doing, and you may be it."
"Oh bollocks," Harry said, alarmed. "I'm only sixteen, you know."
"Seventeen, in about twelve hours," Tonks put in.
"I don't know what I'm doing!"
Remus dabbed more soup up with his bread. "Better learn how to fake it then, hadn't you?" he asked. "Ron and Hermione intimated that you had a plan of a sort."
"Well, sort of."
"Let's hear it. If you like, I can pretend I know what I'm doing, too. I'm very good at it."
Harry hesitated. He had sworn to Dumbledore not to tell anyone other than Ron and Hermione, but he needed real adults, too, people who had fought in the last war and who knew more than he did about magic one couldn't teach in schools.
"Would you rather wait?" Remus asked. Harry nodded.
"Tell me what you've been doing, instead," he said. "Once I know what I'm going to do, I'll tell you the rest."
"Well, Tonks has been busily infiltrating the lower levels of the wizarding underworld," Remus said. "I don't know that Knockturn Alley has ever seen anything quite like her, when she's in disguise."
Harry raised his eyebrows. Tonks grinned at him.
"A lot of people have been...carrying on, I guess you'd call it," Remus continued. "Doing what they'd been told to do before."
Before. What a tidy way to divide it, Harry thought. Before and After.
"And you?" he asked. Remus frowned.
"I...I have to confess I didn't see the point of carrying on. I wasn't doing any good with the werewolves, not really," he said. "I've been here, taking in reports. Making things ready."
"For what?" Harry asked.
"You," Remus said briefly, then spoke again before Harry could say anything. "I think Hedwig might like to stretch her wings -- mind if I send off a note to the Weasleys to let them know you're here?"
He didn't really wait for a reply, but hurried off while Harry was still staring at him over his soup bowl. Tonks watched him go.
"Sorry about that. He knows it isn't fun," she said. "Having everyone looking to you, I mean. He's been trying to talk people round to appointing Arthur or Mad-Eye head of the Order, but Mad-Eye's...well, insane, and Arthur's a bit gormless, when you get down to brass tacks."
"But I'm seventeen..."
Tonks shrugged. "Don't look at me. I don't do politics. I'm throwing my lot in with you and him," she said, tilting her head in the direction Remus had gone.
"Doing all right then, are you?" Harry asked, grateful for a thread of conversation that didn't involve his immediate destiny. Tonks flushed and looked down.
"Guess so," she mumbled.
"Not too old or too poor or too dangerous?" he asked. She grinned.
"Not too old, or too poor, or too dangerous," she agreed. "You know what's really funny?"
"I think he wants your permission. To uh. Well, to court me, I guess is the old-fashioned word for it."
Harry dropped his spoon. "What?"
"Well, mum has always said it's patriarchal for my boyfriends to ask dad's permission but she also says any man who has to ask a woman's mother for permission doesn't deserve her, and any woman who lets him doesn't deserve a man at all, so there's not really anyone for him to ask even if he got up the guts to tell my parents we're involved. It's all very feminist," Tonks said vaguely. "But he does want to ask and, well, you're technically the heir of the house of Black, so it's either you or aunt Narcissa, and for obvious reasons -- "
"So if at some point you wouldn't mind telling him you think I'm grand and we'd make a good pair, that'd be nice," she said. Harry couldn't help but grin. "I don't personally care, but he'd like it."
"Harry," she said, cautiously.
"I'm glad you're here. I sort of think we can win, really."
Harry nodded. "That's a big part of the plan, winning."
That night he had gone up to bed early, leaving Remus and Tonks by the living-room fire with plenty of occupation if they so chose; he heard an occasional laugh from downstairs, mostly Tonks, and Remus' deeper voice echoing up. It was...nice, in a way. That was how a house was supposed to sound. Comforting.
The rooms that Remus had clearly prepared for him were large, filled with the most comfortable of the house's furniture. There was the sitting room with bookshelves lining the walls and books that Remus had probably thought he'd find useful. There were thick persian rugs on the floor, rescued from the attic, and an enormous empty rolltop desk near the window.
The bedroom had an elderly wardrobe and two bedside tables as well as another, smaller desk. It also had the bed, a monstrously big four-poster piled with blankets and pillows. Candles burned brightly in brackets all round the room, and Harry felt oddly secure undressing and changing into a pair of pyjamas. He walked back into the sitting room, studying the books in the shelves, not quite ready to sleep yet.
This was his. All of this; he owned it. His.
Not his home, but nevertheless a place he could come, a refuge. Hogwarts had been taken from him with a flash of green light atop a battlement, but he had Twelve Grimmauld Place, the last remnants of Sirius, even if it was only because Sirius had hated it.
Eventually he drew the sitting-room blinds and blew out the candles; next went the candles in the bedroom, and he slid between the crisp white sheets with an oddly calm feeling.
He was not as calm when he woke the next morning, but that was because he woke to someone leaping on his stomach.
"OI BLOODY HELL!" he shouted, all the breath whooshing out of him. There was a laugh as the curtains slid back, blinding him.
"Good morning, Mr. Potter!" cried a voice, and Harry threw one arm over his eyes.
"Language, Harry!" an older voice scolded.
"Oh, let him swear, does the lad good," a third voice chimed in.
Eyes adjusting slowly to the light, Harry pushed himself up on his elbows, confused, to find Ginny sitting happily on his stomach.
"Morning!" she said cheerfully.
"No it's not," Harry declared, and pulled a blanket over his head.
"Yes it is!" she sing-songed, pulling the blanket back. Tonks appeared, upside down.
"Sorry," she said, clearly not meaning it.
"Temper," Hermione said disapprovingly.
"He always had one," Molly added.
"Nothing wrong with a little temper," Mad-Eye Moody, who had given him permission to swear a few minutes earlier, grunted.
"You'd better just give up," Lupin said sympathetically. "They're not going anywhere until you open your presents."
Harry groaned and wriggled upright, shaking his head to try and clear it. A good two thirds of the Order had to be in his bedroom, and the foot of his bed was a veritable mountain of gifts. Hermione, Ron, Ginny, and Fleur were all sitting on the bed; Bill stood behind Fleur, the twins were standing on the ceiling....
("Stickyboots," Fred said, waving. "New invention. You've got a pair in the green box.")
...Mad-Eye Moody was watching the doorway, Kingsley Shacklebolt was watching the windows, Arthur was sitting on a footstool with Molly nearby, Tonks was leaning over the headboard, and Remus had propped himself on the desk.
"Open mine first," Ron commanded, passing Harry a badly-wrapped, slightly squashy package. Ginny punched her brother and presented Harry with a smaller, rather more professional-looking box. Ron rolled his eyes and waved his hand.
There were gifts from everyone in the Order and quite a few people who weren't; Professor Slughorn had even sent him a bottle of firewhiskey and an invitation to dinner. There was a package from the Minister himself. Charlie Weasley had sent greetings from Romania.
"Well, it's not every day you turn seventeen," Molly said, when Harry expressed a certain amount of bewilderment at the sudden shower of gifts.
It was certainly a very crowded birthday; after gifts there was a mass breakfast downstairs at which Harry's health was copiously drunk with champagne and orange juice. There was all kinds of catching-up to do with Ron and Hermione -- and Ginny, who carefully did not sit too close or smile at him too much. There were Order matters to attend to, and Remus was right: in the way people deferred to him, in the way questions were asked and answered, in the way they looked at him, Harry could see that he had become de facto leader of the Order. It would have been absurd if it weren't so awful.
People finally began to drift away after lunch, and though he invited Ron and Hermione to stay, Molly wanted them safely back at the Burrow under her matriarchal eye. She told Harry he ought to come too, but Harry felt an odd reluctance. The silence which had oppressed him last night now seemed desirable, and he wanted nothing more, by afternoon, than to go up to his rooms and curl up in one of the chairs and contemplate being an adult.
It was funny, then, that by the time he had said goodbye to everyone and assured himself that nobody had any further questions for him, what he did when he got to his rooms was take the Marauder's Map out of his trunk and lay it carefully on the desk.
He wanted to see Hogwarts. He didn't know why; perhaps because he might never see it again. He unfolded the map and touched it with his wand. The words sounded childish even to his own ears when he spoke them: I solemnly swear I am up to no good.
When the map appeared, spreading out across the parchment like fast-growing black moss, he watched the names that appeared too: Headmistress McGonagall pacing in Dumbledore's -- in her office, Sinistra in the Astronomy Tower, Hagrid in his vegetable garden.
It was like something out of another life, and Harry rested his head on his folded arms and simply watched for a while, as enthralled as any child.