A/N: I know parents would not be allowed to follow their children around at a British boarding school, but it presents so many opportunities for drama and humor that I couldn't resist :) I decided to keep Minerva McGonagall as Headmistress even though JKR said McGonagall was not Headmistress when the Next-Gen went to Hogwarts. The reason she gave was McGonagall's age, and that just doesn't make sense to me, not with the information we have about Dumbledore. Just for fun, this chapter has a reference to the movie A Christmas Story. Oh, and I will update every Wednesday. And no fanfic is complete without...

Disclaimer: Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and the characters from Harry Potter belong to their author, J. K. Rowling, and are not being used for profit. The plot and original characters are, well, original with me. The cover image is concept art from the Harry Potter movies.


Tuesday morning, October 5, 2021

the Potter residence

Ginny Potter recognized the heavy yellow parchment of the envelope in the owl's beak and groaned.

"Not again." She set down her teacup and took the letter from the owl, feeding her a bit of sausage before she flew off. "This is the third time this year!"

"Maybe it's not about James," Harry said. "We do have two other children at Hogwarts."

"It's James," Ginny said. "And he's—"

"What's he done this time?" Harry folded down one corner of the Daily Prophet to look at her.

"He's—he's—he's made himself hippogriff feed, that's what he's done!" Ginny shouted. "Fireworks! Potions! Hospital wing—I'll show him the hospital wing!"

"Ginny, what—" Truly alarmed now, Harry put down the newspaper and followed his wife upstairs to her office.

"Sixth year! Prefect! Quidditch Captain! We'll see about that!"

"Is James hurt? Is he in the hospital wing? What happened?"

Ginny threw open her roll top desk so forcefully that the tambour bounced halfway closed. She shoved it open again, holding her hand at the edge to keep it in place, then began opening the drawers concealed behind it.

"Where is the Howler paper?"

"Ginny! Is James all right?"

"No. No, he's not, not once I finish with him—aha!" She held up a fistful of red parchment in triumph, then grabbed a quill.

Finally deciding that a Howler would not be the primary thing on Ginny's mind if James were injured, Harry went downstairs to read the letter written on official Hogwarts stationery as Ginny began dictating the Howler.

Dear Harry and Ginny,

I've been cutting James as much slack as I reasonably can, but as two pupils remain in the hospital wing as I write this, I feel I have no choice but to notify you of what happened in Potions today. Professor Fawley's lesson was interrupted when James threw a Weasleys' Wild-Fire Whiz-Bang into one of the cauldrons of Mandrake Draught. Six pupils were injured, but as I mentioned, two were burned badly enough that Madame Branstone wanted to keep them overnight. As far as I have been able to determine, there was absolutely no provocation for this incident; James's only defense was that he was bored.

He most certainly should not be bored: he has six N.E.W.T.-level classes, prefect duties, and Quidditch practice started last week. He is also still in detention with Padma for the boggart incident (it goes without saying that Professor Fawley has put James in weekly detention for the foreseeable future), and his last essay for me was eight inches short of the required twenty-four. I am not sure if he is showing off for Holly Jordan or if he actually wants me to remove him as prefect. I would have done it already if I thought it would have any effect at all. If his behavior doesn't markedly improve and soon, I'm afraid I will be forced to remove him from the Quidditch team, and we all know I don't want to do that.

If you two have any ideas for how to handle James, I'm open to suggestions. He didn't say a word when I kept him after class to discuss his essay, he's avoiding Louis's attempts to counsel him on proper prefect conduct, and he was so sharp with Rose yesterday at dinner that she was nearly in tears. Something is obviously bothering him, but if anyone in the family knows what it is, they're not saying.

And Ginny, would you speak to George about decreasing the family discount? The number of Wheezes floating around here is getting out of hand.

Sincerely yours,

Neville

Professor Neville Longbottom

Head of Gryffindor House

Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

"Six pupils, Harry!" Ginny said, furiously scribbling James's name on the envelope. "Two of them kept overnight! I have never tolerated pranks or horseplay that resulted in someone getting hurt."

"I know," Harry said. "What do you think is bothering him?"

"I don't know and I don't care." She dotted an"i" with a vicious stab. "He thinks because he's hundreds of miles away in another country that he can do whatever he pleases, that he doesn't have to deal with his mother. Well, we'll see about that!"

()()()()

Tuesday morning, October 5

Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

James Potter and Cameron Davies stood outside the Transfiguration classroom under James's Invisibility Cloak. The third-years were studying Animagi and according to James's cousin Hugo, Professor Burke had invited the Headmistress, an Animagus herself, to guest lecture today. James and Cameron heard the tapping of her cane on the stone floor and watched as she appeared from around a corner and entered the classroom. Once the door had closed, James pulled out an Extrasensory Extension, fed the small end under the door, and positioned the screen so he and Cameron could both see it.

"Out of all the awesome stuff in your uncle's shop, this is my favorite," Cameron whispered as the classroom came into view.

Headmistress McGonagall stood beside the teacher's desk, then in the blink of an eye, transformed into a tabby cat, leapt on top of it, and surveyed the classroom with the same beady-eyed stare she possessed in her human form. The third years, including Hugo and James's sister Lily, gasped and applauded.

"Any minute now…." James held his breath.

Kitty McGonagall sniffed. She turned her head. She sniffed again. Her whiskers twitched, and … she leapt over Professor Burke's shoulder, trotted along the ledge of the blackboard, and jumped onto the windowsill. She knocked over Professor Burke's display of carriage clocks (which just last week had been wristwatches) with a series of crashes that sent the nearest row of pupils scrambling out of their seats, nudged aside the curtain, and pounced on the catnip placed there late last night by James. Lily grabbed the pot and held it over her head, but the cat meowed in protest and sprang onto Lily's shoulder, balancing with one front paw on the girl's head and swatting at the plant with the other.

Lily ducked and cringed. "Ow! Professor! Ow, your claws are digging into my shoulder—Professor!"

James and Cameron roared with laughter, shaking so hard it was difficult to keep the screen of the Extrasensory Extension in view. Professor Burke rushed to Lily's aid and pried the tabby away from her as the cat yowled and struggled to reach the treat. Ginger hair dangling from her plait, Lily opened the storage cupboard, set the catnip inside, and slammed the door shut. Professor Burke carried the hissing Headmistress to the front of the room, set her on the floor, pointed her wand, and Professor McGonagall was herself again.

The classroom door banged open, and James felt himself frozen in place. He listed against Cameron, balanced for the briefest moment, then both boys fell into an undignified heap. Cameron's elbow was digging into James's ribs, and his neck was bent uncomfortably against the cold stone floor. James heard Professor Burke apologizing profusely to the Headmistress and her crisp voice issuing an apology in return. There was the clamor and chimes of the repairing clocks and an apology to his sister accompanied by a healing charm. He heard the tap, tap, tap of Professor McGonagall's cane but was unable to cringe in horror; Professor Burke had cast a Full Body-Bind. He felt a touch on his ankle and then a draft of air as the Invisibility Cloak was pulled away. Professor McGonagall moved into his line of vision. Her robes were rumpled, and her mouth was very, very thin.

"Professor Burke, perhaps you would be so kind as to release them? I hardly trust myself to point a wand in their direction."

James and Cameron followed McGonagall through the halls and up the stairs to her office on the seventh floor. She moved the gargoyle aside with a wave of her wand, and they rode up the spiral staircase in silence.

"Mr. Potter, wait here. Mr. Davies." She opened the door and followed Cameron into her office.

James leaned against the wall and tried not to think about how his parents would react to this latest indiscretion. He and Cameron weren't supposed to get caught; that's what the Cloak was for. Ginny had sent a rather stern letter a fortnight ago, after James stashed a boggart in the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom and terrified a group of second years, including his cousin Roxie. Uncle George had threatened to eliminate his family discount at the shop. Even Harry had signed that letter, saying he expected more mature behavior from his oldest son. James snorted. That was the problem, wasn't it? Everyone had expectations of Harry and Ginny Potter's oldest son.

Cameron came out in a surprisingly short time.

"What did she say?"

"Detention with—"

"Mr. Potter," McGonagall called.

Cameron grimaced his sympathy, and James entered the Headmistress's office. The usual chairs in front of her desk were absent. She was fingering the Invisibility Cloak.

"The last time I saw this was the night of the Final Battle. Your father and Luna Lovegood appeared from underneath it in Ravenclaw Tower."

James stared straight over the Headmistress's head and suppressed his curiosity. His dad had been a Gryffindor like he was.

"I am keeping it. I will discuss with your parents when, and if, you may have it back."

He clenched his jaw but made no protest.

"Turn out your pockets."

James handed over his wand, the Extrasensory Extension, two Chocolate Frogs, a broken quill, and—his heart stopped. The Marauder's Map was still in his pocket!

"Both pockets, Mr. Potter."

James slapped the blank parchment onto her desk. McGonagall didn't flinch. She tossed the quill in the bin, stacked the map and the Extrasensory Extension on top of the folded Invisibility Cloak, and returned his wand and the Chocolate Frogs.

"I would like to know," she said evenly, "what it is I have done to anger you such that you would humiliate me in that way."

James looked at her for the first time. "I—there isn't—"

She met his gaze without blinking, and he felt the first touch of shame.

"It wasn't anything personal, Professor," he said, staring at the stack of magical items on her desk. "We just thought it would be funny."

"I see. When did you place the catnip in the window?"

"Last night," he muttered.

"You were out after curfew?"

"No, ma'am. Well, yes, but—I did it during prefect rounds. I said I needed to go to the bathroom and went by the Transfiguration classroom instead."

"Am I correct in assuming this prank was your idea and Mr. Davies was merely your accomplice?"

He nodded.

"What about Mr. Weasley or Miss Potter?"

"Hugo and Lily didn't know anything about it." Which was true. James had simply asked Hugo to tell him when McGonagall was scheduled to speak to the class; James hadn't said anything about what he was planning.

"Mr. Potter, you are temporarily relieved of prefect duties and are confined to the Gryffindor Common Room except for lessons and meals. You will notify your team that all Quidditch practices are cancelled."

"But, Professor—"

"When is the next prefects' meeting?"

"Not until Sunday."

"Very well, I will speak to the Head Boy and Girl and have them call a meeting this evening. You will inform the other prefects they will have to shoulder your duties until further notice."

James's heart sank. That would not go over well. Everyone was busy with lessons and activities of their own, and his cousin Louis, the Head Boy, would be especially upset.

"But, Professor—Quidditch. It's not fair to penalize the other players."

"No, it isn't, Mr. Potter, and if you were not Captain, I would not do so. But as Captain, your actions affect the entire team. Perhaps you will consider that in the future."

"Yes, Professor."

"I will be writing to your parents as well. As I said, I will leave it up to them what to do with the items I have confiscated."

At the mention of his parents, James returned to staring stonily outside the window.

"You may go."

()()()()

Wednesday morning

the Great Hall

James scanned the Slytherin table as he entered the Great Hall, looking for the distinctive ginger hair of his little sister. She was sitting with a group of girls halfway down the table, all of whom smiled brightly at his arrival.

"Lily, can I talk to you for a minute?"

She shrugged.

"How's your shoulder?"

"Fine."

"Look, I just need a minute."

She set down her toast with a scowl and followed him to the back of the hall. James pulled her out of the path of traffic.

"Please don't say anything to Mum and Dad about getting scratched up in Transfiguration yesterday."

"That was really mean, baiting Professor McGonagall like that. Dad's going to go mental when he finds out. You know how much he likes her."

"I wasn't trying to be mean. I just thought it would be funny."

"Fifty years ago, maybe," Lily retorted. "You didn't see her when she transfigured back to a human, all crumpled on the floor. She needed help just to stand up. She's an old woman, James!"

He shifted his weight. "I know, I'm sorry, just—don't tell Mum and Dad you got hurt. They're going to be mad enough as it is. Okay?"

"I won't lie, but I won't volunteer anything, either."

James sighed. "Thanks, Lils. I owe you."

"Just stay away from me. You're on everyone's bad side right now."

James found Cameron and sat down just as the owls flew in with the morning post. Galahad, his parents' owl, soared over the table and dropped a red envelope on his empty plate. Pupils on both sides of the table started backing away, but Cameron stayed by his side.

"It's already smoking, James, I don't think—"

BANG!

"James. Sirius. Potter." His mother's voice, magically magnified yet strangely quiet, filled the Great Hall. "There are many things I have allowed you to get away with, but one thing I have never tolerated—never!—"

Ginny's voice was increasing in volume.

"Is hurting someone else. Six pupils, James! Six! Two of whom may still be in the hospital wing at this very moment, and for what?"

James slouched on the bench and hid behind one hand. She was just getting started.

"I don't know what you were thinking—wait, yes I do! YOU WEREN'T THINKING! SIXTEEN YEARS OLD, AND THAT IS ONE OF THE STUPIDEST, MOST DANGEROUS, MOST POINTLESS PRANKS I HAVE EVER HEARD OF, AND I GREW UP WITH FRED AND GEORGE! YOUR UNCLE DID NOT SELL YOU THOSE FIREWORKS SO YOU COULD BURN SOMEONE'S EYES OUT, AND YOUR FATHER AND I ARE NOT SENDING YOU TO SCHOOL TO BECOME A CRIMINAL! THIS IS THE THIRD LETTER WE'VE RECEIVED THIS YEAR AND IT'S BARELY OCTOBER! IF YOU KEEP THIS UP, IT'S NOT GOING TO BE YOUR PREFECT BADGE THAT'S REVOKED, IT'S GOING TO BE THAT CAPTAIN'S BADGE, AND I'LL BE THE ONE TO TAKE IT! AND YOUR BROOMSTICK! ONE MORE LETTER FROM NEVILLE OR MCGONAGALL, AND I WILL COME UP THERE, AND YOU WILL NOT LIKE IT!

"Love, Mum."

The letter ignited. A hush had settled over the Great Hall as everyone stared at him. James shoved the plateful of ash away and ran out of the hall.