CHAPTER ONE: Great Expectations
James Potter was bored.
He had never really considered the possibility of getting bored at Hogwarts. He had spent the first eleven years of his life dreaming of going there. When he had managed to persuade his parents, and his aunts and his uncles and their friends, to talk about their time at the school in unguarded moments, it had sounded like a place of magic and adventure. Well, it had magic. But not in the sense of being magical. The magic there was… well, schoolwork. At first, riding a broom, using a wand, transfiguration and the rest had been new and exciting. But now he was in his fourth year, the novelty was beginning to wear off. He was sure that if he told his Muggle neighbours all the things they were taught, they would be filled with envy. But as James had never been to any other school, he found the lessons just as tedious as they found Maths and Physics.
He knew he wasn't being fair. There were subjects and activities that he enjoyed: Flying lessons, the Duelling Club, Defence Against Dark Arts. But he longed for just a hint of the thrill and danger that his parents had known. Take Professor Slughorn, for instance. Stories were still told about his predecessor as both Potions Master and Head of Slytherin House and James had approached his lessons with a feeling of both dread and anticiption. But although Slughorn was rather vain and not above favouring his own students in Slytherin, he was hardly the menace that James had been expecting.
Things had become worse in his second year, when his brother Albus and cousin Rose had come to Hogwarts. James had had his hopes raised when his best friend Martin Longbottom's younger sister Emily had been sorted into Ravenclaw. But they were quickly dashed as the Sorting Hat sent both "Potter, Albus" and "Weasley, Rose" into Gryffindor with him. And this year, with his sister Lily and his youngest cousin Hugo also in Gryffindor, he couldn't move in the common room for relatives, all of whom seemed to have more enthusiasm for subjects than he did.
Sometimes, being a wizard wasn't all it was cracked up to be.
If Harry Potter had been aware of his eldest son's thoughts, he might have agreed with him. When he had first heard about Aurors and dreamed of being one, he had expected it to be a thrilling and dangerous job, tracking down and defeating dangerous Dark Wizards. Well, he had tracked down a few dangerous Dark Wizards, who were now safely away in Azkaban. But he spent just as much time dealing with false alarms, with the almost weekly reports from people convinced that Voldemort was still alive and living on the same street as them and with checking everyone had the correct magic licenses. And paperwork, as the large pile he was currently working through in his office demonstrated.
Harry checked the clock and breathed a sigh of relief as he realised it was time for him to escape his office and head to the Ministry canteen. "Quill down,"he ordered the quill that had been doing his writing for him and the implement obliged, settling down on his desk and waiting for further instructions.
After collecting his food, he found his friends Ron and Hermione Weasley and joined them at their table. Ron worked as his father's deputy in the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts department. Harry had heard murmured accusations of nepotism but he knew Ron deserved his job. He'd inherited his father's belief in defending the rights of those who were unable to protect themselves. As for Hermione, no-one would ever accuse her of owing her job to nepotism. She worked in the Ministry's Law department, casually switching between defending the accused and prosecuting cases depending on where her sense of justice felt the truth lay.
"Rose got an A in her Herbology test,"she remarked as Harry sat, a strong note of pride in her voice.
"Albus got a C,"Harry supplied, equally proud.
Ron shook his head in mock disappointment. "You need to buy Neville better Christmas presents, Harry. Then he might raise his mark."
"Ron!" Hermione scolded him. "I don't think Neville would give Rose a good mark just because we're friends with him."
Ron gave a slight smile at her predictable indignation. "So, is my sister ready for us tonight?" he asked Harry.
Harry nodded. "Ginny knows you're coming round."
"We would have you round,"Hermione interjected,"but…"
"But the greatest witch of her generation is the only person I know whose cooking is worse than mine," Ron concluded.
Hermione scowled at him, causing Harry and Ron to laugh. She relaxed and gave a reluctant smile. "I swear you two haven't got any better since we were all at school together."
And Harry remembered that there were worse places to be than working in the same building as his two best friends.
James headed into the Great Hall with Martin for lunch. Emily waved at them from the Ravenclaw table and James waved back while Martin pretended he hadn't seen. The attractive, blonde-haired Emily was so different from her ordinary-looking dark-haired brother it was hard to imagine they were siblings. The pair's father, Neville, the Head of Gryffindor House, watched them from the teachers' table but knew better than to attempt to get a wave out of them.
James winced slightly as he realised the only free seats were near Albus and Rose. At least Lily and Hugo were up the other end of the table, chatting animatedly with their friends. They'd probably just turned matches into needles for the first time or something.
Rose had her head down, engrossed in one of her History of Magic textbooks. James snatched it up. "Anything interesting?"
"James, I was reading that,"Rose protested in annoyance.
"What, this?"James held the book above his head, so Rose couldn't reach it.
"Give it to her back, James,"Albus warned him.
Instead of listening to his brother, James threw the book to Martin. Rose went to retrieve it and Martin threw the book back to him.
"James Potter! Martin Longbottom!" The voice of Professor McGonagall, the headmistress, rang across the hall as she strode towards them. "Will you please give Miss Weaseley her textbook back?" Reluctantly James did as instructed. McGonagall fixed him with a steely glare. "As you should know by now, behaviour of that sort is not tolerated at Hogwarts. Ten points from Gryffindor." She looked at Neville. "Apologies, Professor Longbottom."
Neville was looking at James and Martin with a disappointment that made James feel ashamed. "It's okay, Professor McGonagall. The boys deserved the punishment."
"Nice one, James,"Albus muttered. "How many more points are you going to lose us?"
As he sat down with his lunch, James found himself enjoying life at Hogwarts less and less.
Harry led Ron and Hermione through the door of Grimmauld Place. "Ginny!"he called out.
Ginny came through from the kitchen. "Harry!" She gave him a brief kiss of welcome before hugging her brother and sister-in-law. "We were worried you were going to be late. Kreacher's been slaving away all afternoon."
Kreacher came hobbling through from the kitchen. Given that he had been at the house since Harry's father was a boy, the house elf was extremely elderly by now but still insisted on doing whatever jobs he was capable of. "Welcome home, Master Potter,"he croaked. "Welcome, Mister Weasley, Madame Weasley."
Hermione crouched by him and gave him a hug. "Hello, Kreacher."
Kreacher scowled at the gesture, as he always did, even though Harry had realised many years previous that he secretly enjoyed Hermione's attention. "Kreacher, we would like dinner in fifteen minutes, please,"he told him.
"Yes, Master Potter. Dinner will be on the table in fifteen minutes. Then it's up to you to eat it before it gets cold and all Kreacher's work is ruined." Kreacher hobbled into the kitchen.
"I swear he hasn't mellowed with age,"Ron muttered.
"Ron, how can you say that?"Hermione protested. "He's positively sweet these days!"
"I guess we have different ideas about sweet."
"Well, I know the children love him,"Ginny replied. "And I think he loves them too. He's less cantankerous when they're around."
"We'd better get our guests some drinks,"Harry decided, putting an arm round his wife's shoulder and leading the way into the front room. "How was your day at St. Mungo's?"
"Quiet thankfully,"Ginny replied. "Have you heard Albus' test results?"
"Yeah, he did well."
"Rose got an A,"Hermione interjected.
"It's lucky she got your brains,"Ginny commented.
Ron gave Harry an amused look. "Ever get the feeling people are ganging up on you?"
"Have you heard how James is getting on?"Hermione asked.
Ginny looked at Harry. He looked down at his feet, as uncomfortable as her. "We haven't heard much from him,"she admitted.
James wandered despondently through the school corridor. He had been planning to spend the evening letting off some of the magical fireworks that he'd bought from his uncle George's shop, hiding and giggling as his classmates ran shrieking from the light balls streaking up and down the corridors. But he was beginning to realise he and Martin were getting a reputation as troublemakers. He didn't want people to think of him like that but he was just desperate for some sort of amusement.
He heard voices up ahead of him and some instinct caused him to stop and duck out of sight round a corner. A few moments later, McGonagall came into view, in conversation with Neville, Hagrid and Professor Flitwick. "The last thing I want is for the students to be concerned,"she was saying.
"Are you sure it wasn't the students?"Neville asked. "They have been known to be out of their rooms after hours."
"Well, I've checked with my house as you have with yours,"Flitwick reminded him. "The other houses too. We're confident that no-one has left their dormitories unauthorised."
"Could still be students,"Hagrid interjected. "Some of them know a hundred different ways to get out of their dormitories without being seen."
"Mr. Filch was quite clear on the matter,"McGonagall replied. "He saw a number of robed figures leaving the school and apparating once they were out of the grounds. He is certain from their builds that they are not students and I don't believe Mr. Filch would avoid blaming the students if he could help it. The implication is clear. There have been intruders in Hogwarts."
James felt a broad smile stretch across his face. Perhaps this year at Hogwarts could be an interesting one after all.