James Potter had always been fond of theatrics. After all, he'd always loved causing an effect on people, especially if that effect left them gaping for hours while they tried to get into their heads how cool he was. Theatrics always helped with that: they created an atmosphere already ripe with drama and awe for other people to bathe in. That was why he'd chosen one of the unused classrooms high up in the east tower for their first meeting. The cobwebs hanging from the ceiling, the scratches in the desks belonging to students long forgotten and the moonlight seeping in from the windows all contributed to the aura of timelessness and permanency that James had been so eager to convey.
Padfoot had helped him drag the teacher's desk to one of the darkest corners of the classroom, where they were both going to sit. Padfoot had also gone the extra mile in theatrics: instead of torches, he'd made Wormtail bring a dozen candles, which he then lit with a blue flame and scattered in the air around the classroom. The effect was both spooky and magical, and James liked it very much. It was almost midnight, and both James and Sirius sat down on the old teacher's desk to wait.
One by one, the students they had called filed into the classroom. James was pleased to see Lily come in the company of Alice Pryde and Mary Macdonald, the three of them looking as solemn as the occasion required. Next came two Hufflepuffs and two Ravenclaws, then a couple of sixth-year Gryffindors. By the time James decided it was about time to begin the meeting, a total of a dozen people, including the Marauders, were sitting at the classroom, looking both excited and apprehensive.
"Welcome," said James. "I'm glad the routes we outlined for you brought you here without any unpleasant encounters. Well, then. I'll just get straight to the point, shall I? We all know the basics of why we're here. We believe the Death Eaters have successfully infiltrated the school in the guise of students, and we are going to stop them."
Alice Pryde raised her hand.
"Yes?" asked James.
"Do the teachers know about this?" she asked. "I mean we should tell them first, before before " But she lost her thread and finally shut up under the strength of Sirius's glare. James shot his friend a dirty look as Sirius rolled his eyes in exasperation and sat back against the wall.
"There is one good reason we haven't," said James, trying to ignore Sirius's unsporting attitude. "You know how power structures are. The teachers even Dumbledore can't do a single thing about those students because there's no tangible, conclusive proof about what they're doing. Sadly, you can't just expel people without good reason, much less send them to Azkaban on the ground of mere suspicion. Let's face it, these guys have been really careful. We all know who they are, but can we prove it? Since the parents of half those kids are School Governors, we need to make sure we have damn good proof that they've been doing illegal things before we decide to act, otherwise it might come back and bite us in the arse."
"And that's where we come in," quipped Sirius, looking impatient. "We're going to find that proof and then get rid of all of them. We've already got names, it isn't that hard. Mulciber, Rosier, Avery, Beadling, the Lestranges, the Blacks, Snape" James saw with triumph that Lily winced upon hearing her old friend's name " the Carrows, Calaginis, Wattle, Pemford "
"There's also the fact that Dumbledore is already growing suspicious," said Remus. "We know from a very reliable source that just yesterday, he gathered them all up to his office to have a talk with them. While it's obvious none of them were expelled as we hoped, it means that our own suspicions are not groundless and we're not the only ones trying to find dirt on them."
"Exactly, thank you, Moony," said James. "Dumbledore would be very grateful to all of us if we managed to produce him some proof of what he already suspects. And teachers, being teachers, have a limit to what they can really do to the students."
"Fortunately," said Sirius, grinning. "We don't have said limitations, so we can go the extra mile to catch those bloody bastards and clean the halls of our school."
"I'm guessing you've already got a plan, then," said Lily. James smiled at her.
"Of course we do!" he said. "We've already thought this out very carefully, but we need to wait a bit before we act. We need intelligence, we need to wait to see how they are handling themselves, and we need to establish a battle plan knowing exactly who we have on our side. So what we really want to know right now is who among you would be up to this. It will be risky, and probably earn you the wrath of many dangerous people, but it's for a good cause. Hogwarts has always been the last safe bastion in Britain, and we can't allow Voldemort" there was a series of collective gasps that made James feel very proud of his own bravery " to run it over with a bunch of Death Eaters disguised as students. It is our duty to stop it."
"So?" said Sirius. "Who's with us?"
"Before you sign in hastily," said Remus. "I need to tell you that this is not a joke. We intend to take ourselves very seriously and ask that you do the same. Which is why, if you decide to join us in our efforts, we're going to have to ask of you to sign a magical contract that will stop you from ever saying a word of this outside the group. So please, take a few moments and think carefully about what you're going to do and what is at stake here. There will be no hard feelings from our part if you decide to go."
There was silence in the room. One of the Ravenclaws, a guy named Lockhart, stood up and left without a word, but the other one remained in her place, turning steadily crimson as she pointedly ignored her friend's empty seat. Lily, Alice and Mary were whispering to each other hurriedly. The rest of the classroom was completely silent, and after a while one of the Gryffindors stood up and left. Lily's talk with her friends turned into an argument, and finally Mary Macdonald left as well. To James's relief, however, Lily stayed put, along with Alice Pryde.
They waited for another couple of minutes, until it became obvious that no one else was going to leave.
"Right then," said James. "If you'll please sign this paper over here that's the magical contract. Bear in mind that once you sign this, you're bound to secrecy. That doesn't mean you can't turn back if you get cold feet, it just means you're bound to keep quiet about this whole business the rest of your lives."
"Not that you're allowed to get cold feet, mind," said Sirius, grinning malevolently at the shocked faces of the rest of the students.
"He's only joking," James assured, glaring at Sirius to shut him up.
James extracted the parchment and put it on the desk table, while the other students made a line to sign the paper.
"Marauders' Army?" asked Lily, looking down at the title Sirius had written on the paper. "That doesn't make us sound like the good guys, does it?"
"If you have a better suggestion" began James, but Sirius cut over him.
"It has flair to it," he said simply. "Come on then, sign up."
James could feel his heart skip a beat when Lily signed the sheet with her beautiful, round handwriting. She smiled at him and then went to join Moony by the window. James couldn't help but overhear their conversation years of clinging to every word of Lily's like a thief had trained him to always pay attention to her, in case he heard something that might help him find a way to win her heart.
"It's beautiful, isn't it?" he heard Lily ask. "It's nearly full as well. I love the full moon, don't you?"
"I er no," finally said Moony. "I hate it." James turned his head a bit, he saw that Remus's hands were becoming clammy and he was getting nervous.
"Why?" asked Lily, sounding surprised. "I thought you would after all, your nickname"
"Oh you wouldn't want to know that story," interrupted James, grinning as much as he could and wrapping his arm around Moony's shoulders, giving him a small shake. "You'd have to scrub your brain out if we ever told you."
Lily looked confused for a moment, but then her eyes opened wide in comprehension.
"Oh!" she said with a small giggle, which caused Remus to mutter darkly under his breath about 'not helping any'. "Well I guess I better be going."
"No, no, stay with us a bit," said James.
"But if they catch us outside at these hours"
"They won't, I promise," said James. "We're nearly done." The last of the students had finished signing, and all of them were looking expectantly at the Marauders.
"That's all for today," said Sirius. "We've already got a lead that pins Avery and Snape as the leaders of these Death Eaters wannabes, but we need to establish when and where they meet before we do anything about it. When the time comes for action, we'll tell you, okay? In the meantime, lay low and collect as much information as you can. We'll contact you for our next meeting."
There were a couple murmurs of dissatisfaction at the lack of immediate action, but Moony was able to quell all of their doubts and eventually they all left except for Lily, whom James convinced to stay just a bit more.
"Well then," said James. "Bring out the map."
"But Prongs " said Sirius, shooting Lily a very pointed look.
"She's fine," said James. "Come on, open it up."
"What map?" asked Lily. James grinned.
"Oh, you'll see. It's our finest creation," he said.
Sirius took out the map from the inner pocket in his jacket and spread it out over the desk. Lily looked curiously at the very used piece of parchment, and even smiled amusedly when Sirius tapped it with his wand and said: "I solemnly swear that I'm up to no good". She gave an audible gasp when black lines started flowing through the map, crisscrossing and drawing themselves in the shape of the castle. Soon, the map was complete: every single room at Hogwarts, every single inhabitant of the castle was displayed as they were at that moment. Even the rooms that changed place according to the day of the week and the sneaky staircases that kept moving around following no particular order were correctly displayed by the map. Lily began running her fingers through the black lines, and soon she had found the tiny dot on the east tower marked "Lily Evans", standing right next to "Sirius Black", "James Potter", "Remus Lupin" and "Peter Pettigrew". She could also see the rest of the dots of her fellow classmates sneaking through the hallways in a bid to get back to their dormitories undetected.
"But this is wonderful!" she exclaimed. "Where did you get this?"
"We made it!" squealed Wormtail.
"It's amazing!" exclaimed Lily.
"It is also very secret," said Sirius, but even he could not refrain from looking proud. James knew (because he felt the same way) that Sirius had always resented the fact that they weren't able to show off such a cool piece of magic in front of the other students.
"I can see why," said Lily, amused. "So this is how you've been planning your shenanigans without getting caught? I always wondered. Wow, I can see Alice going back to the Common Room And look! There's McGonagall at her office, I can't believe she's still awake."
"The only person that sleeps less than McGonagall in this castle is Dumbledore," said James. "And yes, this is exactly what I was looking for. See?"
He pointed at the Slytherin Common Room down in the dungeons. While most of the dots representing their students were in their beds, a small and close-knit group was huddled in one of the corners of the Common Room. Lily felt her stomach drop when she saw who it was: Irwin Mulciber, Augustus Avery, Severus Snape, Evan Rosier, Regulus Black, and Amycus and Alecto Carrow. She didn't feel too surprised when she found Boa Beadling's dot pacing around the girl's dormitory, stopping at the door every now and then.
"They're up to something," muttered Wormtail, rather obviously, James thought. "Probably having a meeting just like us!"
"Don't be thick, Wormtail, it's nothing at all like us," snapped Sirius. "They are the bad guys and they're bound to be planning something evil. We are the good guys. Shame we have no way of getting into their Common Room. Making a map of it was hard enough the password will not be the same, obviously. Oh, to be a fly on the wall at their Common Room or perhaps a rat scuttling beneath the chairs." Sirius's voice trailed away thoughtfully and he turned to look at Wormtail, who immediately raised his eyebrows.
"Not now, Padfoot," said Remus quickly, shooting Lily a panicked look. She was so enthralled by the map, however, that she did not notice anything strange. "Perhaps at another moment yes. I'm not feeling so splendid myself right now so maybe we should go back to the Common Room?"
James looked out the window and saw the enormous moon probably only a day or two until it was full.
"You're right," he said. "Let's just go back to sleep we need it. Wormtail, you're on map duty, you're going to guide us through the hallways so we don't meet any of the teachers standing guard." Peter nearly wet himself with excitement at being given such a big responsibility, and immediately grabbed the Marauder's map and began studying it. Sirius and James exchanged amused looks and nearly burst out laughing.
It was the perfect ending to the day: Lily even let him put his arm around her shoulder as they walked back together toward the Gryffindor Common Room, just behind Moony, Wormtail and Padfoot.