The Order of the Phoenix movie, the fifth entry in the Potter series is best remembered as “the one where Harry is extremely angsty and yells a lot,” but it’s also the one that expands on the Marauder’s backstory. Prisoner of Azkaban introduced the Marauders; and Order of the Phoenix dives into their teenage dynamic by giving both Harry and the audience a glimpse through the Pensieve. Naturally, as with any Harry Potter anniversary, everyone celebrates the Boy Who Lived. But Harry wouldn’t have existed without his parent’s generation — so let’s acknowledge that the best thing J.K. Rowling ever wrote was an 800-word Marauders prequel for charity in 2008.
The short story, which you can find online here, is a plotless slice of live vignette about James Potter and Sirius Black having a run-in with Muggle policemen.
They’re presumably on a mission for the Order of the Phoenix, sometime after their graduation from Hogwarts at age seventeen and before James’s death and Sirius’s incarceration at age 21. Told from the sneering, judgmental perspective of a policeman, it’s an utter delight.
Here’s the policeman’s observations about their appearance.
They seemed to be in their late teens. The one who had been driving had long black hair; his insolent good looks reminded Fisher unpleasantly of his daughter’s guitar-playing, layabout boyfriend. The second boy also had black hair, though his was short and stuck up in all directions; he wore glasses and a broad grin. Both were dressed in T-shirts emblazoned with a large golden bird; the emblem, no doubt, of some deafening, tuneless rock band.
When the grumpy police ask for their names, their ensuing dialogue is reminiscent of Fred and George Weasley. Their bond is underscored by the way they finish each other’s sentences. Sirius responds, “Names? Er – well, let’s see. There’s Wilberforce… Bathsheba… Elvendork…” James chimes in, “And what’s nice about that one is, you can use it for a boy or a girl.”
It could still be argued, however, that it’s not the best thing J.K. Rowling wrote because of its actual content. While the story is fun and hilarious, it can’t compete with the mixture of pathos and profundity the Potter series is brimming with. But its value lies in the glimpse of what could have been and might still be — the tale of the Marauders.
Their story is perhaps even more epic than Harry’s. Four misfit boys from different walks of life become best friends and notorious pranksters. James Potter has an enemies-to-lovers romance with Harry’s mom Lily that puts any rom-com to shame, but it ends in tragedy. Meanwhile, Remus Lupin’s relationship with Sirius Black is filled with drama and betrayal. First, Sirius used Lupin’s lycanthropy as a weapon against Snape in their fifth year, and after James’s death each then spent twelve years thinking the other stabbed him in the back.
Do we even need to mention Sirius Black, whose story is the most tragic of all? He was born into privilege, cast out of his family for disagreeing with their closed-minded beliefs, and taken in by his best friend James’s family. He was then wrongfully imprisoned for betraying James, and his reunion with his last remaining friend Lupin was short-lived, as all died before hitting middle age.
The Marauders’ story has everything: high stakes, intense friendships, betrayals, epic love, and and tragedy. That’s why the glimpse of their story J.K. Rowling provided is her best work, however short it is. On the 20th anniversary of the Boy Who Lived, raise your glass of Firewhiskey to the previous generation who managed the mischief that made Harry Potter’s life possible.
The short story, which you can find online here.
It’s still not too late for a Marauders book or TV show, J.K. Rowling.