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An untitled, 800-word short story was written by J. K. Rowling in 2008, for sale in a charity auction.[1] The story is set many years before the Harry Potter novels, during the first First Wizarding War, and recounts an adventure had by Sirius Black and James Potter.[1] To date, it has only been officially published in a limited-release, UK-exclusive book.[2]

Plot synopsis

Policemen PC Anderson and Sergeant Fisher are chasing a motorbike which is breaking the speed limit into a dead-end alley. They confront the two youths riding the bike, who introduce themselves as Sirius Black and James Potter. As the policemen attempt to arrest them for speeding and riding without helmets, three men on broomsticks fly down the alley towards them. James and Sirius use their wands to lift the police car up to form a barrier, and the broomstick riders crash into it. Sirius and James then leave the frightened policemen in the alley.

Background

Charity auction

On 29 May 2008, J. K. Rowling announced on her official site that she and 12 other authors had been invited to contribute hand-written cards to "What's Your Story?", a charity auction organized by UK bookseller Waterstones.[3][4] The proceeds from the auction of these "storycards" would benefit English PEN and Dyslexia Action.[4] Rowling stated that she had written a "short [...] excerpt from a prequel to the Potter series" on her card.[3] However, although she stated she wrote the story with "frightening ease," she noted that she was not working on a full-length prequel.[3]

The cards from the 13 participating authors were auctioned on 10 June 2008, raising a total of £47,150.[5][1] Rowling's card sold for £25,000.[1][5] This was more than all the other cards put together, which fetched between £800 and £1,500.[1] The winning bidder was a Tokyo-based investment banker.[6][7]

Publication

In August 2008, the UK bookseller Waterstones released a book featuring facsimiles of all thirteen storycards, including Rowling's, entitled What's Your Story: The Postcard Collection.[2][8] The book, which was available exclusively in Waterstones stores, reportedly sold out its entire 10,000-copy print run on the first day.[2]

The thirteen storycards were also published on a now-defunct promotional website by Waterstones.[9]

Manuscript theft

The hand-written storycard was stolen during a burglary carried out in Birmingham in April 2017.[10] Rowling tweeted about the incident, asking fans not to buy the stolen manuscript.[10] The original purchaser stated he was in "shock" over the loss of the "priceless" item and that he would be "over the moon" to see it returned.[10]

As of 2018, the stolen manuscript has apparently not been located.

Behind the scenes

  • Sirius and James appear to be in their late teens to the policemen. The story itself is undated. with no direct reference to established events, but J. K. Rowling stated that it took place "around 3 years before Harry is born."[3] That would mean the story was set in 1977.
  • Both Sirius and James are described in the story as wearing "T-shirts emblazoned with a large golden bird". This is presumably a reference to the Order of the Phoenix.
  • When the policemen ask for their names, Sirius gives him three apparently random names: Wilberforce, Bathsheba, and Elvendork. The middle name may be a reference to Hogwarts professor Bathsheba Babbling.
  • Additionally, the three names given may be the ones of their pursuers, as Sirius might have thought that the policeman was asking for their pursuers' name, but then corrected himself by giving their own names.
  • The boys' motorcycle is likely the same one Rubeus Hagrid later borrows from Sirius following James' death in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone.
  • The reason for the three individuals on broomsticks chasing the two is not made clear. The boys' use of magic to defend themselves in front of Muggles may have been a violation of rules set out by the Improper Use of Magic Office, particularly the International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy. However, as they are seventeen, they have not violated the Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery.

Notes and references