The kitchen was quite as still and silent as the rest of the Potters’ house apart from the soft, regular ticks made by their ancient self-winding wall-clock.
The minute hand reached the quarter of the hour and the clock chimed once. Almost at once, several soft pops announced the arrival of several wrapped parcels of assorted sizes and finally one enormous green rucksack.
The rucksack sides bulged alarmingly as the contents began to swell but fortunately the magically reinforced pocket straps managed to hold out against the growing forces within.
The clock ticking was then joined briefly by a scraping noise as a metal buckle on the top-heavy backpack slid against a chair leg. Ever so slowly, the rucksack began to topple over whilst a bright scarlet coloured material was pushed out through a growing rip in the side.
By the time the rucksack and its disgorging contents finally fell over onto the quarry tiled floor, several minutes had gone by.
The cold fireplace erupted into green flames and a tall, thin youth stepped out into the room.
The flames died almost at once and he was left standing in a cold, unwelcoming room. He seemed to sense that he was quite alone in the house.
“Welcome back,” he muttered in a distinctly ironic tone under his breath.
He looked around the empty kitchen.
“You really shouldn’t have bothered to meet me,” he said aloud to his expected but distinctly absent reception committee. “I’m sure you all had much better things to be doing.”
James went over to the cooking range. The range was stone cold so he guessed the house must have remained empty for some hours.
At the sight of the kettle he instantly had a strong desire for a cup of tea, something he had neither had nor missed for some weeks now.
He picked up the kettle before glancing up at the clock.
According to the terms of his special licence, he had perhaps one minute left in which he could still use magic legally. Unfortunately, the kettle felt like there was hardly any water left and it would take a few precious seconds to fill it again.
He drew out the small scroll of parchment and expertly unrolled the first inch or so with one hand to reveal the first few lines of text. He had become practised at doing this; the last time being the previous evening when a French Ministry wizard had demanded he surrender his wand. Fortunately, the officious wizard had grudgingly allowed them to continue even though the magical text of the licence was barely visible.
As James watched, the last of the ink vanished into a light wisp of white smoke.
James sighed and replaced the kettle back down on the range.
It would have been pushing things to perform magic now that he was home anyway. Kingsley had made it quite clear that the special licence he had been given for the summer holidays had been granted conditionally.
He went over to the fridge in search of a cold Butterbeer instead.
James rolled his eyes seeing that the fridge was almost empty, containing just an empty bottle that once held pickled gherkins, one of Lily’s special smoothies and a carton of milk.
He wasn’t even tempted to take Lily’s thing; she had been mad at him for a whole half-term holiday after he had tried one before.
James looked at the milk carton and wondered how long it would take to boil some water for a cup of tea. No doubt the cooking range needed refilling with wood fuel too.
Then he decided that he couldn’t be bothered and would settle for a glass of cold milk. James reached in and took the carton from the door shelf.
The carton felt almost empty, so he opened the top intending to save himself the trouble of getting a glass.
James kicked the fridge door closed and heard a loud tapping noise from the kitchen door.
A small face was squashed against one of the lower panes.
“MUM SAYS YOU ARE TO COME ROUND TO US FOR DINNER IF THEY AREN’T BACK BY F-I-V-E!!”
James couldn’t help but smile as Matthew McForlan yelled at the top of his voice, having wrongly assumed that the glass would make it difficult for him to be heard.
James nodded that he understood and made to cross the room and open the kitchen door, but the boy had already gone. Having delivered his message he was again free to pursue more interesting adventures.
Spotting that the milk carton was stamped with a date that had expired some days ago, James sniffed at the milk.
“Urgh!” uttered James before pouring the milk down the sink.
Throwing the carton away, he spotted his rucksack lying half under the table.
James grimaced but decided he ought to at least put his soiled clothes into the laundry hamper. He caught hold of a strap and dragged the rucksack into the utility room, trying to ignore the dreadful smell.
The bag, one of Uncle George’s prototypes, had actually done rather well considering George had admitted he had no idea if the charms would last for the entire trip. The idea was that the bag should hold a supply of clean, laundered clothing and also have enough space to hold the dirty clothes.
With four weeks worth of clothes to hold, George had worked hard to reduce the laden weight as well as magically expand the insides.
The split in the side told James that four weeks might just be the limit of this particular item of luggage.
James scooped out all the contents until he was knee deep in dirty clothes.
He eyed the washing machine for a long while.
James pushed a few buttons, but it refused to show any sign of life. It had a Muggle plug but he suspected that was just for show. In the end he gathered up the clothes and dumped as much as possible in the faded plastic hamper. The considerable surplus was shoved behind, on top and between the adjacent cupboards.
He could almost hear his mother’s scornful remarks, but at least he could claim to have made an effort.
Returning to the kitchen, he spotted a note on the table.
Welcome home, stranger!
Sorry we’re out, but I need to collect Lily and then we’re all going over to join Al and your Dad. I’d have liked to wait and take you too but we weren’t sure if you’d be back in time. If all goes to plan we’ll all be back sometime early evening.
Anyway, you’ll have a little while to come up with a better excuse why you didn’t write more often!
Got to go now. Your Dad’s already sent two owls this morning saying I’m going to be late again!
See you soon,
James smiled. He was about to pocket the paper when curiosity made him turn it over.
He smirked seeing what she had written on. It was a flyer advertising the very International Wizard Confederation that they were collecting Al from.
James still didn’t know how he felt about this kind of thing. His brother Albus had first been published while he was still in his Second Year, and he had just been invited to give a small talk about something or other in Austria.
James knew he ought to be proud of his younger brother’s achievements; he was really. It was just that…
He shook his head.
He supposed this was why his parents had agreed to packing him off for the Summer holidays. At least this way he wouldn’t upset the boy-wonder.
James decided to take a bath and then go around to Jenny’s for dinner.
James took his time to get to the bathroom. He had missed being home more than he had admitted even to himself and just being in the presence of his family’s clutter made him feel closer to them.
Downstairs was fairly tidy, although the scattered newspapers suggested that, as usual, there had been a minor panic before they finally left.
Upstairs he paused by the open door of Albus’ unnaturally tidy room. There were now more shelves than he remembered to hold his brother’s ever expanding collection of academic books, but the chalkboard with the complicated scribbling remained.
On the side table there were several more copies of the flyer James now had in his pocket.
Rather cruelly, he wondered if his brother was giving away autographed copies.
He moved on towards his own room. Opposite his door was Lily’s bedroom. Her door was closed and sported several “Keep Out” signs that made him smile. He didn’t dare open the door even just to look inside; Lily had managed to persuade their parents to allow her a magical lock some time ago.
He remembered her room was furnished in incredibly bright colours; so much so that he was still amazed she got any sleep at all.
He opened the door to his own room and paused before going inside.
James supposed that this room must reflect some of his own personality, as did the other bedrooms of their occupants.
If nothing else, it certainly showed he didn’t quite have the same degree of academic interests as his brother. The few books on show were mostly about Quidditch.
On his desk was a scroll of parchment which had the holiday homework he had abandoned some weeks ago. He re-read his beginning paragraph before screwing it up and throwing it away. A detention would be preferable to wasting any more holiday time anyway.
His bed had been made with clean linen and he assumed his mother couldn’t stand the idea of his bed remaining unmade until he returned.
The posters on the walls and ceilings were mostly faded now. He hadn’t added any new ones in years now and couldn’t even name most of the sports and rock stars any more. Still, he mused, at least they covered the fading wallpaper that his mother insisted he had chosen himself as a four-year old.
He went over to the window and raised the net curtains.
The view was unchanged, but he only ever looked in one direction from this window. From a particular angle, he could see past the old barn and across the fallow field to the backs of the houses in the newer end of the village.
James sighed and dropped the curtain.
James woke with a start. He had just laid down for a moment after his bath and must have fallen asleep.
In a panic, he dragged his jeans and tee-shirt on and hurtled down the stairs and into the kitchen. He stubbed his big toe painfully on the table leg, but ignored the pain in his desperation to get back to his rucksack.
The faint but familiar sound of a key turning in the front door confirmed his subconscious awareness that the others had returned.
James riffled through the pockets until he found a particular scrap of paper.
Sighing with relief, he stuffed it into a trouser pocket and tried to compose himself. His mother always went through all his pockets before washing anything, and this was one piece of paper he did not want her to find.
Ginny appeared at the kitchen door at a rush.
She rushed forward him hugged him tightly.
“Oh, we’ve missed you! How have you been?”
“Mum! I’m fine; you can let go.”
Ginny didn’t let go, but she did eventually hold him at arms length to examine him closely.
“It’s only been four weeks, Mum.”
“Harry, hasn’t he grown? I’m sure he has.”
James smiled seeing his father roll his eyes behind Ginny’s back.
“And, you’re so tanned!”
“Well, it was a bit sunny.”
“What’s that?” she demanded, pulling his right forearm towards her.
“It’s only a small burn, Mum. It’s almost healed now.”
“Oh, but you’ll have a scar! Mr Ollivander should have taken more care of you!”
“He did, but that night it was my turn to do the cooking.”
“You cooked?” asked a new, incredulous sounding voice.
James did a double take at the sight of his little sister. She had changed her hair to a much shorter style and wore rather too much make-up, but it was her bare midriff and rather too short skirt that caught his attention.
“Hm, I think you may have got a little taller,” said Harry, perhaps sensing James might be tempted to pass comment.
“Where’s Al got to?” asked Ginny, still looking intently at James. “He’ll want to see James.”
It was James who rolled his eyes this time.
“He’s gone up to his room,” answered Lily. “Anyway, I’m off out.”
“No, you’re not,” said Ginny without turning. “You agreed.”
“I agreed to be here to see James when he got home. Well, he’s home and I’ve seen him. I’ve made arrangements to go to the cinema.”
Ginny ignored her and instead attempted to inspect James’ hands which he had kept closed. He gently pulled them away, knowing the sight of fresh friction burns on his palms would upset her.
“I’m fine,” he said gently.
His mother looked up at him with watery eyes and said, “I’m so glad you’re home.”
She hugged him again and James did not resist.
“Do you want your haircut before or after dinner?”
“Mum! I don’t need a haircut!”
“You do look a bit shaggy,” commented Lily as she left the kitchen.
James knew better than to ask his father for support. He always sided with their mother on these things, although for some reason he would never complain about the state of their hair himself.
Harry unlocked the kitchen door and went outside and it was only then that Ginny finally released her eldest son.
“Go on,” she said. “He’ll want to hear about all your adventures.”
James didn’t say anything, but Ginny said quietly, “You know why.”
James closed the back door after him and stepped out onto the mown green lawn. For some reason he always wanted to resist his mother’s dogged insistence that he work at improving his relationship with his father.
Things had been getting progressively worse over the last year, and James knew full well that the fault was all on his own part.
While he had been away, James had reflected upon many things and now recognised that his father had actually been remarkably tolerant towards him and his angry mood swings.
However, it was what his mother had told him the day before he left that had given him the most cause for thought. They had been alone in the house, packing his things and checking that nothing for the trip had been forgotten.
She had just sat down and unprompted told him as much as she knew about his father’s upbringing with the Dursleys. The story of Harry Potter and his defeat of Voldemort was well known to James, but before then he had known little more than was described in the standard texts.
James found it difficult to imagine being brought up with such an absence of love.
He had been on the other side of the world when James had been forced to acknowledge the hurt some of his remarks must have caused.
For some reason, he kept remembering all the letters he had received when he had first gone away to school. He found himself writing home on the flimsiest excuse, but every time a long and encouraging reply would be there at breakfast. Those letters seemed to have new meaning now.
He knew he had some fences to mend, but now that he was back, James wasn’t sure what he could do.
Perhaps not flying off in a rage at the slightest provocation would be a start.
He walked around the Yorkstone path beside the house to where the garage side door had been left open. From inside he could hear something heavy being dragged along.
“Need a hand?” called James.
“Sure,” came his reply with a slight echo.
James stepped inside the spacious double garage that had been converted into his father’s workshop. He never bothered to park the car in there, so the work benches had been expanded on three sides.
In the middle of the floor was a timber pallet with something wrapped in tarpaulin sitting on top.
“What is it?” asked James.
“I thought your Grandad would like it. It’s just an old engine. I think I’ve finally found enough parts to make another bike.”
“Will Gran let him keep it?”
“Ah, well I’m planning on telling her that it’s a laser printer or something.”
James snorted and together they pushed the heavy pallet under one of the benches.
He had never really understood why someone reputed to be so powerful hardly ever used magic around the house. His father seemed to actually enjoy doing things the Muggle way.
“So, how was your trip?” Harry asked.
“It was good,” replied James. “I learned loads more than I have at school.”
“I’m sure; but you’re still staying on to do your Newts.”
“I didn’t mean that.”
They fell silent for a moment, each perhaps realising that now wasn’t the time to reopen old wounds.
James hadn’t done at all well in his Sixth Year examinations. He’d actually scored well in his Owls, but struggled to maintain the slightest degree of interest in any of his classes during his last year.
He knew that his parents had seriously considered refusing him permission to go off with Ollivander.
In fact, James constantly wondered himself why on earth they had let him go. Seeing more of the world might just give him more wanderlust.
“Thanks for my birthday present, by the way.”
James smiled and asked, “It got here then? Ollivander said it might take a while because it had to be charmed more for concealment than speed. I had assumed we could send it faster, so I left it a bit late.”
“It arrived on the day and I’ve been trying to work out how it works ever since,” said Harry, opening a small drawer in a bench and taking out a small object.
“Dad, it was supposed to be small so you can carry it around with you; not keep it in a drawer!”
James scooped the tiny cube from his father’s hand and placed it in the middle of his upturned right palm. He then inverted his hand, but the cube remained in place.
“Here,” said James, holding his hand over his father’s before grasping him in a firm handshake that pressed the cube into both their palms.
Instantly the garage was gone. James and Harry were standing in the middle of a green valley with imposing mountains all around them and the sky above was a brilliant blue.
“See that fallen tree over there?” asked James enthusiastically, pointing with his left hand. “That’s where I found the wood to make the cube. You’ll find it contains memories of most of the fine weather days of our trip.
“The schools are down that way,” he said twisting and pointing up the valley. “The closest is just out of sight from here. I went and had a look at the first two, but the third school was too high up to get back without Ollivander suspecting. He said there might be trouble if they caught me trespassing.”
Harry rolled his eyes, but James knew full well that he’d have done exactly the same thing.
“We were here about a week. There are other places too, but I left out the trip over the mountains because it got a bit cold.”
James grinned at his father and lifted his hand to break the connection and the illusion. Once again they were back in the dark garage.
Harry frowned and examined the cube carefully.
“I thought you could use it to get out of the office occasionally,” said James. “A short walk in the sun during a boring meeting might be quite refreshing.”
“You made this?” Harry asked seriously.
“Sure. Don’t you like it?”
“James, of course I like it. It’s just that I’ve never experienced anything that realistic. There was a fresh breeze and I could smell the wild flowers. That was every bit as good as Dumbledore’s Pensieve memories. Better, actually.”
“Really? Ollivander was more impressed with the case, actually. I picked it up in Morocco when we passed through.”
Harry smiled and his slight blush told James that the elaborately carved hardwood presentation case hadn’t been relegated to the garage as well.
“Ollivander’s letters didn’t give much of a clue what you were up to. Did you get all the materials he needed?”
James smiled to himself. Ollivander had invited him along on his regular annual excursion supposedly to replenish his wand-making supplies. He had even delayed his departure so that the trip coincided with the school holidays.
“I think so. As a matter of fact, we’d done collecting by the end of the first week.”
“So, what were you up to?”
“Mr Ollivander decided I needed some holiday schooling; except he decided not to tell me that until this morning.”
“How do you mean?”
“Well, the whole trip seemed to cover my entire Hogwarts syllabus for last year. He found excuses to get me to do just about every spell in the textbooks.”
“He made me do stuff like brew up Potions that we could trade for food. It wasn’t easy trying to recognise the ingredients in the wild and we went hungry if I got it wrong.”
“I suppose that’s one way.”
“You really didn’t know?” asked James. “Someone must have put him up to it and I assumed it was you.”
“No. Ollivander said he’d teach you a few things if he had time, but I assumed that meant duelling.”
“Oh. Well, I have learnt a bit more duelling; only that wasn’t so much from Ollivander. For the last two weeks we have been staying with the Montis Monks. Their monastery is in the next valley to the one we just stood in.”
“No way,” breathed Harry.
“Don’t tell your mother,” warned Harry. “In fact, I’m not sure you should tell anyone.”
“Okay,” agreed James, who had already agreed that when Ollivander told him the same thing. Ollivander had said he would be wise to tell only his father, and then Aberforth would be the only other person who would know.
“You didn’t do anything daft like make any oaths, did you?”
“Dad, do I look that stupid?”
Harry sighed deeply, and James saw the early signs that they were about to have a major argument.
James checked himself and forced himself to calm down.
“When I was your age, I’d have jumped at an opportunity like that. What with the Dursleys and Sirius and Dumbledore.”
Harry stopped, apparently unable to continue and James saw his father trying to banish the painful memories.
“They invited us to stay as guests, Dad,” said James gently. “They tried to help you, you know? I spent some time with one of the gardeners who knew all about the Monks and he said they sent several people to help. Voldemort had them all murdered, though.”
His father nodded solemnly, saying, “Dumbledore’s protections kept me hidden from them as well as from Voldemort. They set themselves an impossible task.”
James didn’t answer.
“Time,” said his father suspiciously. “The Monks use time, don’t they?”
“According to Ollivander, their last Time-Turner was lost years ago. I promise you, I’m only four weeks older than when we last spoke.”
“Physically, maybe,” agreed Harry. “The Monks don’t use conventional Time-Turners, though, do they?”
“Ask Ollivander if you don’t believe me,” demanded James sharply.
Harry looked at him intensely for a long moment before finally nodding.
“I’m sorry, James. I should have believed you straight away.”
James looked into his father’s green eyes and found he had no hesitation in accepting his apology. This was proof indeed that his trip must have changed James, since only weeks ago he would certainly have flown off in a rage.
“How did Al’s thing go?” asked James, keen to keep a friendly dialog going.
“I’m not too sure, to be honest. I only sat through his first talk and I haven’t a clue what the thing was about. I had the impression that perhaps two people in the audience was following his new magical theory.”
“How many talks did he give?”
“Three, overall, but the last one was actually held in one of the Professors’ apartments.”
James nodded but said nothing.
“As a matter of fact, Al has asked if he could transfer from Hogwarts.”
Harry paused, perhaps expecting a reaction.
“I thought you’d be pleased,” said Harry at once, seeing James’ slight frown.
“He ought to at least finish his Owls first,” said James. “But why does he want to go to Durmstrang anyway?”
“Well, they do currently enjoy the services of three of the most eminent magical theoreticians alive today.”
“What does Mum say?”
Harry snorted and asked, “You have to ask? No, Al has absolutely no chance of leaving for anywhere so distant just yet.”
James smiled and for some reason felt a little relieved at this news.
“I suppose your licence has expired?” asked his father casually, walking around back of him towards one of the back benches. “Pity, really.”
James felt his wand twitch urgently and by the time he had spun around his wand was in his hand and ready to fire.
Harry grinned broadly as they faced each other in the expansive garage.
“So, you have learned a thing or two this summer,” said his father as he pocketed his wand again. “I’m not sure what should impress me more: your reaction speed or your restraint. Kinglsey has a bet on that they’ll be despatching at least four Owls with official warnings before midnight.”
James hesitated before lowering his own wand, but forced down his annoyance.
“However,” his father continued slowly.
“Yeah, I know,” said James irritably.
“James, this is important,” said his father gently. “You have a serious vulnerability. If anyone …”
“You’ve said,” James insisted, hoping to avoid yet another lecture. “Besides, I think you’ll find I’m not quite as vulnerable as you think I am.”
“Um, so what did the monks say when you told them that?”
“I take it they weren’t impressed?”
James just looked down at the cracked concrete. In fact, it had been his friend the gardener that hadn’t been impressed; unlike Ollivander, he hadn’t even been worthy of the monks’ attention let alone opinion. He had never even met one of the real monks.
“James, you have a unique wand and a unique ability. I know it’s difficult, but you must keep this hidden. You’ve done so well up to know, but an experienced Wizard could so easily trick you.”
“Constant vigilance?” asked James with a smile, but he was disconcerted to see his father wasn’t smiling.
“Constant vigilance!” repeated his father with feeling. “You know? I used to think it was a joke too when I was your age. Believe me, it isn’t.”
James cleared his throat and decided he would get the bad news over and done with.
“So, can I have your permission to visit Hogsmeade this year?”
His parents had withdrawn their permission for him to visit the village last year when his academic results began to suffer, although they had actually got much worse afterwards.
“Aberforth asked me the same thing,” Harry admitted. “He has assured me that he will personally guarantee not only your good behaviour but also a set of Outstanding Newt results.”
“Sounds like he’s found a way to cheat the exam board,” quipped James.
“James, this is your future. All I need is your promise that you’ll try your hardest this year. I’ve no idea what was wrong last year, but do you really think you’ll be able to start over? You’ve an awful lot to catch up on.”
James swallowed and said, “I’ll try.”
James knocked louder on Albus’ bedroom door and said again, “Al? An owl came for you.”
James pushed open the door and found Al standing in front of his chalkboard. As usual he looked like he was far away.
“Here,” said James, not wishing to waste any more time.
James rolled his eyes and stepped forward before actually placing the thick envelope in his brother’s hands.
“Oh. This looks like it’s from Professor Nadel. He said he might write and ask more questions.”
“What about?” asked James, despite himself. He knew from bitter experience that such an open question was liable to be punished with a long discourse.
“Well, he kept trying to find fault with my presentations. He kept demanding proofs, even though he knew this is all still theoretical.”
James instantly warmed to whoever this awkward Professor was, and said, “Well, do give him my regards when you reply.”
“He’s hardly likely to appreciate any such regards,” said Albus sharply, his eyes having reverted to the chalkboard.
James recognised his brother’s irritation and could not help but add to it.
“So, Professor Nadel had some good points to make did he? Never mind, maybe you’ll have time to work up a brand new magical theory for next year’s conference.”
“My theory is perfectly valid, thank you. It is perfectly acceptable to modify one’s theories.”
“Sure,” agreed James, although he had no idea what he was agreeing to. “I’m sure you’ll give Professor Nadel full credit for his ideas that you’ll be using.”
“My ideas are entirely original,” Albus insisted pompously. “This is all far beyond Nadel’s work.”
“Really?” James said with as much condescension as he could muster. Unfortunately this was lost on Albus.
“Yes. As a matter of fact, hardly anyone at the conference was even able to grasp the implications of this new theory; and some of the finest minds in the Wizarding world attended.”
“Ah, that accounts for the sharp decline in attendances, does it? The child genius was just too far ahead of those old dullards? Or, maybe they decided being talked down to by a prat of any age wasn’t worth the ticket price?”
“I was very well received, as a matter of fact.”
James looked at the series of meaningless symbols drawn upon the chalkboard and wondered what Professor Nadel really thought of his brother.
“Mum says you’re to get ready because she wants us to be early.”
“Why do I have to go, anyway?” asked Albus irritably.
“Because, you and Rose are supposed to be the guests of honour. New Prefects, and all that.”
“That’s no big deal.”
“Try telling Gran that later. Besides, I wasn’t a Prefect and that makes it-”
“That’s hardly surprising,” said Albus, cutting across James.
James had never coveted the role of Prefect, but the venom in his brother’s words hurt him a little, especially as he was about to pay him a small compliment. He left the room leaving Albus staring at his peculiar symbols.
It was perfectly true that James wasn’t an ideal candidate for Prefect, although Hagrid had confided in him once that he had nominated him for a badge. Headmaster Bode had overruled Hagrid, and at the time James had been in entire agreement with his Headmaster.
At the same time, James didn’t think that his brother deserved a Prefect Badge either.
He was certainly very good academically, but Prefects were expected to maintain the school rules and although his brother was full of talk he hardly ever stood up to people.
However, in truth, his main objection was the excruciating celebration that the family was being called to later that evening. No doubt he would be forced to endure reminders of his little brother’s achievements; and his own lack of the same.
AN: Next time:-
Chapter Two – An Apology or Two
“Would you care for a seat? Be careful of that purple plant in the corner. It has a rather unpleasant bite and the antidote is at the other end of the train.”
On the train journey to Hogwarts, James wastes no time in offering some long overdue apologies for his behaviour during the previous year.
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