Neville let his broomstick sink to the ground. It was getting late, anyway, and it was time to start helping James Potter make supper. Lily arrived just as it was being served, and James played at being her house elf, earning himself a scowl and an eyeroll, followed by an affectionate tousling of his hair. Harry made fake gagging noises, but Neville watched the interplay with an emotion he couldn't quite name. He wondered if his own parents would have been like this, or if they would have greeted one another differently after a day apart.
Of course, they'd both been Aurors, so maybe they would have come home together, and the greetings would all have been for Neville, the way Lily was when she moved on from James and gave Violet a kiss, then picked up Pete and cuddled him. Harry and Neville were already sitting down, so she settled for giving each of them a kiss on the head. Harry faked a long-suffering look at this, so she pinched his nose and said, "Oo, who's Mummy's ickle Harrykins?"
"Dad," Harry said with faux horror, "I think Aunt Petunia got some Polyjuice Potion!"
Lily, her eyes twinkling, doubled her effort, pinching Harry's cheek and cooing, "Oh, you are just the most wonderful boy! Darling Harrykins!" She kissed him loudly on the cheek, repeatedly, until he collapsed down from his chair, laughing himself red in the face.
"Petunia really is like that with Dudley," Lupin told Neville quietly, sitting down beside him. "It's… revolting." He grinned.
Neville agreed wholeheartedly.
Lily picked up the cauldron of stew and served herself some, taking a slice of bread from a board James Levitated over to the table. "This smells delicious!" she said in her normal voice. "And I'm starving."
"Did you catch any bad people, Mummy?" Vi asked as the stew went around.
"Not today." Lily waited exactly as long as it took for everyone to have stew in a bowl (Harry's might actually still have been falling from the ladle), then dug in. As soon as she swallowed the first bite, she said, "Tonks and I went up to Azkaban for… yearly visits. Did you know that she's quite a good flyer?"
"She was never on her house team," James said, looking surprised.
"Not everyone is Quidditch-mad," Lupin said. "Dora likes racing."
"What color was her hair?" Violet asked. "She said she would make it black like mine someday!"
"It wasn't today." Lily smiled. "Today, it was bright yellow. She said it would make Azkaban more cheerful!"
Neville wondered why Aurors were making yearly visits to Azkaban, and what they hoped to find, but the conversation didn't go in that direction. Lily just told stories about her apprentice's silly hair colors, and how they shocked the more straight-laced Ministry workers. This turned into a general abuse of the Ministry, and speculations on what Sirius's next prank might be at the Wizengamot. Once or twice, Neville considered just asking why they went to Azkaban, but he couldn't bring himself to do it, as no one else seemed interested.
It was eight o'clock when he Flooed home to find Gran sitting beside the fireplace, doing needlework. "I spoke to Mr. Gambol," she said. "He told me you had been fighting outside the joke shop."
"And that you did magic."
"I don't think I did…"
"And that one of the boys was the Malfoy boy."
"He insulted Harry's mum!"
Gran nodded and did a few more stitches. "Have some pudding," she said.
"I had some at the Potters'."
She smiled faintly. "Have a bit more. Apple tart."
Neville nodded, and went to the kitchen.
The full story (except chapter 6, which is still here but as the earlier chapter 7, if I'm not being confusing enough) is at A03.
There were a few people sorted between Neville and Harry -- including Parvati and Padma Patil, who seemed distraught at first to be sorted into different houses; Parvati came to sit by Neville, looking like she was going to cry as Padma went to the Ravenclaw table -- but it didn't take long before he was also sitting at the Gryffindor table. The conversation took longer than Neville had anticipated, and at one point in it, Harry's jaw had dropped, but when Neville asked about it, he just said, "Later." After that, everything happened quickly. Ron Weasley joined the table, much to the merriment of his four older brothers, then the boy who'd been at the Birthday with Sirius and his date -- Blaise Zabini -- joined Slytherin and the Sorting was over.
The tables suddenly filled up with the finest feast Neville had ever seen. It had everything he'd ever liked. Hermione's eyes widened at it. Harry and Ron just dug in. From down the table, one of the older Gryffindors called, "Hey, Longbottom -- let's have the scar!"
Neville pretended not to hear him. Harry flicked a forkful of mashed potatoes at the older student, who laughed and went back to his own business. While Neville ate, at least four more asked him to reveal his forehead. Hermione shook her head and muttered about rudeness. Harry rolled his eyes and shrugged as if to say, I told you so. Ron looked like he was curious, but didn't say anything.
Halfway through the feast, the ghosts arrived, shocking the Muggleborns and chatting with the older students. Sir Nicholas, the Gryffindor ghost, came to greet the new Gryffindors. Neville lost his appetite a bit when he demonstrated why he was called "Nearly Headless." Hermione, who'd been tucking into a plate of ribs, turned a bit green and shoved them away.
Neville looked around the room. He saw several students that he knew at least vaguely, but his interest was in the head table, where the teachers sat. He knew Professor McGonagall, of course, and Lupin, who was chatting amiably with Hagrid. Neville had never seen him at Hogwarts, and he looked strange in full wizarding robes. Neville usually knew him in old trainers, tattered khaki trousers, and tee shirts that billowed around his thin body. Now, he was wearing fancy looking robes -- most likely a gift -- that suggested his life as a Gryffindor. They were a deep red, edged with a muted sort of gold. His hat was velvet. None of it made him look entirely healthy. He was chatting amiably with Hagrid and a witch with flyaway hair. On the other side of the witch was Horace Slughorn, looking bored. There was a very small wizard in dark cloak adorned with stars. Neville thought he might be the Professor Flitwick that Professor McGonagall sometimes talked about. There was a tall woman in green, and a man in purple. Altogether, there were about thirty people there.
At the center was a tall man with a long silver beard. Albus Dumbledore. Neville had only met him once or twice, but he was always impressive. He wore deep purple velvet robes, and little half-moon glasses rested on his crooked nose. He looked like he stepped out of one of the storybooks Neville had loved when he was little. He caught Neville looking at him, and raised a goblet.
"He was up at the Hollow last week, with Moony," Harry whispered to Neville, catching the exchange. "Talked to my mum and dad and Sirius about something. I think something bad happened, but no one would tell me what. Even Sirius, and he usually tells me everything."
Neville frowned. "What do you think it was?"
Ron, on Harry's other side, grabbed a chicken leg and said around a mouthful, "Could be anything. Dad reckons there's a lot going on right now. People at the Ministry have been running about a lot. He doesn't know why. Something happened at Gringotts."
"The bank?" Hermione asked. "Professor Lupin told us that Gringotts was --"
But what Lupin had told them -- probably that it was very safe and they could start keeping wizard gold there when they came of age -- she never said, as, with the feast winding down, Dumbledore stood and welcomed the new students. He smiled, but Neville could see something weighing on him.
"I do have a few notes for new students, and returning ones," he said. "Mr. Filch reminds you that there is to be no magic in the corridors between classes. Quidditch trials will be held in the second week of the term. Anyone interested in playing for their house team should contact Madam Hooch."
Harry fumbled for a quill, as though he meant to owl the Quidditch coach before pudding.
"Finally, it is very important this year to remember that the forest on our grounds -- which is always out of bounds, I will remind you -- is forbidden to all students who do not wish to disappear for a century or more."
"Is he joking?" Hermione asked.
"I doubt it," Harry said, looking excited. "We should find out what that's about."
Dumbledore sighed and said, "Perhaps we should sing the school song. Everyone, pick your own tune!"
He gave a good impression of happiness, but Neville could see that he wasn't singing along himself, though he directed the ribbon of lyrics that wound around the hall.
Once everyone finished singing -- with many different tunes, it took some time -- Dumbledore declared that it was time for bed, and sent everyone packing.
Ron's older brother, Percy, was a fifth year prefect, and tasked with bringing the first years upstairs. He led them up the marble staircase, past portraits that whispered and pointed. Neville caught his own name once or twice.
About halfway up, an excited witch in a small gilt frame, who danced beside an endlessly bubbling cauldron said, "HARRY!"
Harry grabbed the sleeve of Neville's coat and led him over. Closer to the small portrait, Neville recognized her as the inhabitant of another small portrait that hung in James's little office (what he did there, Neville had no idea; as far as he knew gentlemen of leisure didn't need to write reports). She was some variety of Potter aunt. "Oh, you're in Gryffindor!" she cooed. "James will be so happy!"
"Neville, too," Harry said. "Tell Mum and Dad and Sirius, all right, Aunt Udela?"
Aunt Udela (who might well actually have been Neville's aunt as well, for all he knew), clapped her hands and ran excitedly out of the picture.
They had fallen behind the rest of the first years, and Hermione and Ron were standing at the rear now, beckoning them up. They took the next few steps at a run and caught up.
"I didn't know you" -- Neville caught his breath -- "had a double portrait."
"Yeah, Mum found her in the attic. She was out of the frame, and Mum knew she was a Potions Mistress here in the fourteen-hundreds or something, so Dad sent Moony -- Professor Lupin -- on a hunt for a matching one. Sure enough…" He gestured toward the wall.
Hermione didn't seem surprised by this; Neville guessed she'd read about it in Hogwarts, A History. Ron sighed and shook his head. "My parents don't have portraits in the house."
"Wish mine didn't," Harry grumbled. "I'll have to watch for that one spying on me all year."
"Do you have portraits?" Hermione asked Neville.
"A few," he said. "No doubles."
"So you can't -- OUCH!"
Hermione was interrupted by a walking stick that came flying through the air out of nowhere.
"PEEVES!" Percy Weasley ran down the stairs and caught another flying stick, then said, exasperated. "I mean it! I will call the Baron!"
Neville looked up and saw a brightly dressed poltergeist hovering at the top of the stairs. It gave Percy a sarcastic little salute, then disappeared.
"Sorry," Percy said. "Are you all right, Miss…?"
"Granger. Hermione," Hermione said. "And yes. Fine."
"You'll become accustomed to the oddities of Hogwarts," Percy said bracingly, as if Hermione had started weeping and screaming instead of assuring him that she was fine.
As soon as Percy's back was turned, Ron made a face and a few questionable gestures in his brother's general direction.
Percy led the group to a stop in front of what seemed no more than a very large portrait of an overweight woman in a silk dress, but the woman turned to look at them and said, "Password?"
"Caput draconis," Percy said, and the portrait swung open to reveal a hole in the wall, leading into a scarlet-draped sitting room.
"Great," Neville muttered. "Passwords. I'm terrible at passwords!"
Harry rolled his eyes. "Right. And you can't do magic, and they'll put you in Hufflepuff if you don't go to a Muggle school."
"No, I really am."
No one seemed to care.
They all clambered through the hole and into Gryffindor Tower.
Neville paused in the round room while Percy told them which staircase was for boys and which for girls. It was comfortable, but strangely intimidating. Neville could feel his grandmother's presence here, and James and Lily Potter's, and Sirius Black's, and Remus Lupin's. He fancied he could even feel Dumbledore himself wandering among the old high-backed chairs.
I don't belong here, he thought. I should have made the Hat put me in Hufflepuff.
But there was no time to ruminate on it. Harry and Ron led the way up the stairs to the top, where a door was marked, "First Year Dormitory." They went in.
Harry ran to one of the four-posters, the one nearest a window, and flung himself onto it. Ron chose one across the way, and the other two boys, Dean Thomas and Seamus Finnegan, chose the ones closest to the door. There was only one bed left. Apparently, the room knew how many new students it would need to hold. Neville took it. It was only when everyone had settled in that they realized all of their luggage was in the middle of the space.
They got up again, almost at the same unspoken signal, and went to the pile. Harry first got Hedwig the owl situated, then wrote a quick letter and attached it to her foot. She was flying out into the night before Neville even found the two transfigured satchels, shoved unceremoniously behind Ron's and Seamus's trunks. Dean had a large, Muggle-style case with wheels and a handle that pulled out of it from one end.
"Whoa," Ron said, "that's neat."
Dean raised his eyebrows. "It's… a suitcase."
"My dad would go wild for that handle. How does it work?"
While Dean demonstrated it several times, Harry and Neville picked up their satchels and set them down.
"Ready?" Harry asked, taking out his wand.
"Guess I have to be."
Harry cleared his throat and pointed his wand at his own bag. "Finite incantatem," he said.
"Er…" He raised the wand again. "Finite incantatem?" Nothing happened. He looked sheepishly at Neville. "You try."
Neville made his best effort, but the only effect was a little shower of sparks from his wand, just like he'd got at Ollivander's.
They looked at each other. Harry ground his teeth. "Great, Dad. Good idea."
"What's wrong?" Ron asked, coming over.
Harry filled him in while Neville tried the spell a few more times. Ron also tried it, to absolutely no effect. Seamus made the bag scoot across the room, yelping. Dean picked it up and examined it for a while, then just shrugged and said, "You're on your own."
"Reckon we could find the twins," Ron suggested. "They're third year. They can probably do it."
"We'll never hear the end of this," Harry muttered.
Neville agreed, but he couldn't think of any other solution. Ron led the way back downstairs.
Unfortunately, the twins were nowhere in sight. Percy was there, but Ron flatly refused to ask him. ("He'll give us a huge lecture on why no one ought to do magical experiments. I promise, you don't want to hear it.") The three of them hid by the fireplace until Percy retired to the fifth year dormitory.
A few other older students were milling about. Neville wondered if any of them were the girls' fifth year prefect -- no one had helped Percy with leading the first years, so Neville had no idea who she'd be -- but no one seemed like an obvious choice. Most of the older students who were still up seemed to be downstairs only to reunite with their boyfriends or girlfriends, judging by the sucking sounds coming from the shadows. It seemed like it might be rude to interrupt.
Harry bit his lip. "Er… maybe Professor Lupin could help, if we, er… Maybe we could ask a portrait to find him."
"Professor McGonagall is head of our House," a voice said. "If you're looking for help from staff members. She's quite a talented witch. I've been reading about her."
Hermione Granger came out of a shadow near a bookcase, carrying several heavy tomes. "I thought I'd do some reading," she told them unnecessarily. "I couldn't possibly get to sleep. It's all very exciting. My dormitory mates wanted to sleep right away and…" She shrugged. "I suppose they're used to all of this. What did you need a teacher for? I think we can call Professor McGonagall with the portraits, or by… well, we could ask…"
"Can you do a Finite spell?" Harry asked, interrupting the monologue.
"And ending spell." He put his bag down. "My dad transfigured Neville's and my trunks, and they're supposed to fix with Finite Incantatem, but I can't work it." He shook his head. "They should let us practice before school."
"She hasn't had any more practice than you have!" Ron said indignantly.
"Neither did Seamus and Dean, and I let them have a go."
Hermione, looking very pleased at being asked, raised her wand. "I saw it in the Standard Book of Spells," she said. "I think I can do it. It's just Latin, right?" She took a deep breath, then, in sure accent, said, "Finite incantatem!"
Harry's trunk burst up out of the bag. Ron's jaw dropped.
"Can you do mine?" Neville asked.
Preening, Hermione repeated the spell. "It's all in the pronunciation," she said. "Fi-nee-tay, not fi-nee-day." She looked at Harry, then looked away. "When you said it, it sounded a bit like "Fi-nee-day."
"Oh. It sounds the same to me."
"Well, thanks." Harry sat down. "I want some spell to work." He opened his trunk, and from the very top, took out the piece of parchment. "I've got this, but all of you have to swear not to tell about it… if I can make the spell work."
"Me, too?" Hermione asked, unsure.
"Sure. You're good at magic."
"Are you sure about me?" Ron asked. "I'm not very good at it."
"You're fine. And four seems more right than five." He looked around the room. No one was paying attention, but he still pulled the chairs inward and set his trunk and Neville's trunk up as blockades. Now, the four of them were all huddled close together. Harry set the parchment down on a little decorative table. "We're to be Marauders," he said.
"Like… Vikings?" Hermione asked.
"Well…marauding. Raiding the coast. Pirates… you know."
"Well, not like Vikings. Like… friends."
"You want me for a friend?" Hermione asked, genuinely surprised.
"Not if you keep asking," Harry said, and did not look like he was joking.
Hermione nodded. "All right. What's a marauder?"
"No idea. We make it up, according to my dad."
"What if we decide we want to be Vikings?" Ron asked.
"We'll get you a little hat with horns on it," Harry told him, grinning.
Hermione smiled nervously.
Neville shrugged. "I already said I'm in."
"All right. Ron, Hermione?"
"I'm in," Ron said. "I want the hat."
Hermione bit her lip. "I… if you're sure. I suppose… well, I lied. Parvati and Lavender didn't want to go to sleep right away. They just didn't… well. I suppose they were already friends with each other and had a lot to catch up on."
"I'm giving you one last chance on not asking anymore," Harry said.
"All right. Yes. No more asking. I… I'll be your friend."
"Hands in," Harry said, putting a fist over the map.
Neville put his own fist on top, then Ron put his in, then Hermione put hers.
"All right," Harry said, taking out his wand and opening up the parchment, which seemed to be entirely blank. He pointed his wand at it and said, "I solemnly swear that I am up to no good."
Neville didn't have time to be alarmed by this strange spell.
Immediately, the parchment filled with black lines of ink, dancing about, forming shapes he didn't quite recognize. Then writing appeared at the top:
Purveyors of Aids to Magical Mischief-Makers
are proud to present
THE MARAUDER'S MAP"
"Who are… ?" Hermione started, but apparently decided to leave it be, because Harry seemed to have no attention for anything other than the parchment in front of him.
"Wow," he said. "It's a map… it's…"
The writing disappeared, and now Neville could see the shapes. It was Hogwarts castle, but not just the castle. There were passages and secret doors marked. There were paths into the forest, and passwords on some rooms.
But most striking of all, the map showed dots, moving all over it, each with a tiny label on it. In Gryffindor Tower, he could see a group of four, close together. He wasn't sure how they suddenly seemed clearer and bigger -- it happened just by focusing on them -- but they were clearly labeled "Harry Potter," "Ronald Weasley," "Neville Longbottom," and "Hermione Granger."
"Wow!" Harry said. "We can see everyone! Look, there's McGonagall and Dumbledore, up in the Headmaster's office!"
"Where's Professor Lupin?" Hermione asked.
Harry frowned and scrutinized it. "He's not here. Maybe he's off grounds. But look, there's Nymphadora Tonks. What's she doing here? She's up in the Defense office." He rolled his eyes and made a "pfft" sound. "I bet he's there, too, but we can't see him."
"Why not?" Hermione asked. "Is it because he's… er… he said he said he was…"
"No, it's not that. He probably just doesn't want me to see him. Not fair. He can send a portrait to spy on me."
"He's friends with Harry's dad," Neville explained.
"Oh." She frowned at it. "Why does it only say one Marauder, if there are supposed to be more than one?"
"What?" Harry asked, distracted.
"Well, it says 'Marauder's,' singular -- the apostrophe after the 'r' instead of the 's.' But you said four sounded right."
"Grammar?" Harry asked, nonplused. "Maybe they just couldn't spell."
"Maybe it's like, The Treasure Hunter's Guide to Egypt," Ron suggested. "My brother has that. So it's good for any treasure hunter to use, but it doesn't mean there' only one treasure hunter in the world."
"Well, I think that ought to be plural, too," Hermione said. "If it's going to be proper."
"So we're going to be Viking proofreaders?"
"I still wonder what Tonks is doing there," Harry said, ignoring this. "She's my mum's apprentice, but I don't think she's doing assignments alone yet." He scanned further. "I don't see Mum. Do you, Neville?" He picked up the Map and offered it over.
Neville took it gingerly, aware that he was holding what had immediately become Harry's most prized possession… and that it was, at root, just a flimsy piece of parchment. He held it carefully, trying not to stress the seams where it folded. He tried focusing on "Lily Potter," but none of the dots seemed to jump out at him. He wondered if women who'd got married would have their old names on it. Maybe he should be concentrating on that name… except that he wasn't actually sure what it was.
He shook his head and handed it back.
Harry handed it to Ron next. Ron seemed utterly charmed by it, but also didn't see Harry's Mum. Hermione got it last, and asked, "Er… what name would I be looking for?"
"Lily Potter. Or Evans. Could be Evans." He looked at Neville. "That's why Pete's middle name is Evan. Which would have been a much better sounding name than Peter Potter, if she'd just made it the first name."
Hermione scanned it. "This is really amazing," she said. "But I don't think she's here. Maybe her apprentice is here for something else. Does she know Professor Lupin?"
"Guess so," Harry said. "I mean, she's Sirius's cousin, isn't she? And she just left school last year."
"Then it's probably not what I was thinking," Hermione said. What she was thinking, she didn't elaborate on.
"We need to look over this," Ron said. "We should… oh!" He pointed to Gryffindor Tower, and Neville saw a dot moving rapidly toward them. Percy Weasley had come back downstairs.
"Mischief managed!" Harry hissed.
The map cleared immediately, going blank just as Percy looked over the back of the chair and said jovially, "There will be time for letters tomorrow! You'll want to get some sleep. Off to bed with the lot of you."
They all stood up. Harry re-folded the map and put it into his trunk, then looked at the stairs.
"Why on earth did you bring your trunks back downstairs?" Percy asked.
"Just to annoy you, Perce," Ron muttered.
Percy ignored this, then flicked his wand at the trunks. They rose into the air and floated majestically up the stairs.
"Thanks," Neville said sincerely.
"It's only a matter of time before you can do that as well," Percy said pompously, then turned marched smartly up the stairs to his own dormitory.
They looked at Hermione awkwardly.
She bit her lip. "Er, well, good night, then."
"Remember, it's secret," Harry said.
"I remember," Hermione told him. "Don't ask any more about that." She smiled.
She went up the girls' staircase.
Harry started upstairs. Neville and Ron followed. Somewhere around the fifth level (sixth year dormitory), Ron stopped and said, "You're sure about…?" He looked over his shoulder.
"Yeah," Harry said. "Why not? She's smart, and Mo… Professor Lupin wanted us to be friends with her, didn't he, Neville?"
"Well, he'd know if she could be a Marauder."
"Why?" Ron asked.
"Oh," Ron said. "Moony. I heard them call him Moony at your party. Like… what the map said."
"Well, don't say it to anyone else. He's got to be respectable now." Harry shrugged. "And if I call him Moony where anyone else can hear, deck me one. He doesn't need trouble."
"More than he's got?" Ron asked.
"There's still trouble?" Neville asked, surprised.
Again, Harry nodded.
"That's mad," Ron said. "Percy and the twins say he's really good. Percy will even get to see him transform this year. The OWL students -- under Kettleburn's supervision, of course…"
Neville was shocked. "What, like something from magical creatures?"
"It was his idea," Harry said. "He said that it would help if they could actually see a werewolf, as long as there were precautions. Don't know what the precautions are, but he has them."
They got to the top of the tower and at the door, Neville said, "What about…" He nodded toward where Dean and Seamus were.
"I don't know," Harry said. "Four seems right, but… maybe. We'll wait."
Ron and Neville nodded. The trunks Percy had Levitated up here were waiting for them here. Ron opened the door, and Neville and Harry pushed their trunks inside. Dean and Seamus were still up, putting up posters and pictures from home. (Dean had a Muggle poster of a sports team that fascinated everyone with its stillness.)
Harry and Ron got out their Quidditch posters (clashing over Tutshill versus Chudley again), and Neville put up a funny poster about a kneazle in a tree. He had a picture of Gran as well, but he didn't put it on his bed table until Harry -- without any hesitation at all -- put up a large picture of the Potter clan over his desk. Everyone seemed to take this as permission, and the various family pictures came out. They spent the rest of the evening introducing one another to their family photos (Gran seemed to disapprove of everyone, while Ron's brothers made stupid faces at them), then the lights went out for the night.
Neville climbed into his four-poster and pulled the curtains. For an hour or so, everything had seemed perfectly normal, but now, a little voice started yammering in his head again. What are you doing here? This is the wrong place, you don't belong, they'll expect too much…
He fell asleep listening to it, and dreamed again of the garden where his parents had died. The Potters were having a pleasant family picnic, and Ron and Hermione were arguing about something. Dad was standing beside a cage where Professor Lupin, in full werewolf form, was strutting up and down like a model as Mum explained all of the features of a werewolf. None of them saw the shadow rising up into the sky behind the garden, blotting out the light and spreading thick, black tendrils among the plants. They reached out for Neville, and he ran, but they went right past him, racing through the sudden night, not toward Neville, but toward Harry.
Neville ran forward, yelling for it to stop, but he never reached it.
He awakened with the dawn, not at all ready for his first day of school.