up and saw him staring. He quickly looked away, pretending to peer out the window behind them, toward the station which still sat bustling with activity. Feeling his cheeks go a little red, he continued down the corridor. If only Rose was a year older she'd be here with him. She was a girl, but she was his cousin and they'd grown up together. It would've been nice to have at least one familiar face along with him.

       Of course, Ted and Victoire were also on the train. Ted, a seventh year, had been so quickly absorbed into a noisy throng of returning friends and classmates that he'd barely had time to wave and wink at James before disappearing into a crammed compartment from which emanated the thump of music on a sleek new wireless. Victoire, five years older than he, had invited him to sit with her during the trip, but James wasn't as comfortable with her as he was with Rose, and didn't relish the idea of listening to her prattle on with the four other girls in her compartment about pixie powder blushes and hair care charms. Being part Veela, Victoire had never had any problem making friends of either gender, quickly and effortlessly. Besides, something in James felt that he needed to assert himself as an individual straight off, even if the thought left him feeling nervous and lonely.

        It wasn't that he was worried about going to Hogwarts exactly. He'd been looking forward to this day for most of his life, ever since he was old enough to understand what it meant to be a wizard, ever since his mum had told him of the school he'd one day attend, the secret school that witches and wizards attended to learn magic. He was positively itching with anticipation of his first classes, of learning to use the brand new wand that he carried proudly in his backpack. More than anything, he was looking forward to Quidditch on the Hogwarts pitch, getting on his first real broom, trying out for the team, maybe, just maybe...

        But that was where his excitement began to melt into cold anxiety. His dad had been the Gryffindor Seeker, the youngest one in Hogwarts history. The best he, James, could hope for was to match that record. That's what everyone would expect of him, the first-born son of the famous hero. He remembered the story, told to him dozens of times (although never by his own dad) of how the young Harry Potter had won his first Golden Snitch by virtually jumping off his broom, catching the golden ball in his mouth and nearly swallowing it. The tellers of the tale would always laugh uproariously, delightedly, and if Dad was there, he'd smile sheepishly as they clapped him on the back. When James was four, he found that famed Snitch in a shoe box in the bottom of the dining room hutch. His mum told him it'd been a gift to Dad from the old school headmaster. The tiny wings no longer worked, and the golden ball had a thin coat of dust and tarnish on it, but James was mesmerized by it. It was the first Snitch he had ever seen close up. It seemed both smaller and larger than he'd imagined, and the weight of it in his small hand was surprising. This is the famous Snitch, James thought reverently, the one from the story, the one caught by my dad. He asked his dad if he could keep it, stored in the shoebox when he wasn't playing with it, in his room. His dad agreed easily, happily, and James moved the shoebox from the bottom of the hutch to a spot under the head of his bed, next to his toy broom. He pretended the dark corner under his headboard was his Quidditch locker. He spent many an hour pretending to zoom and bank over the Quidditch green, chasing the fabled Snitch, in the end, always catching it in a fantastic diving crash, jumping up, producing his dad's tarnished Snitch for the approval of roaring imaginary crowds.

But what if James couldn't catch the Snitch, as his father had done? What if he wasn't as good on the broom? Uncle Ron had said that riding a broom was in the Potter blood as sure as dragons breathed fire, but what if James proved him wrong? What if he was slow, or clumsy, or fell off? What if he didn't even make the team? For the rest of the first years, that would only be a mild disappointment. Even though the rules had been changed to admit them, very few first years ever made the House teams. For James, however, that would mean he already hadn't measured up to expectations. He would already have failed to be as great as the great Harry Potter. And if he couldn't even measure up to his dad in terms of something as elemental as Quidditch, how could he ever hope to live up to the legend of the boy who defeated the Basilisk, won the Triwizard Cup, united the Deathly Hallows and, oh yeah, put old Moldy Voldy, the darkest and most dangerous wizard who ever lived, in the ground for good?

        The train gave a protracted, noisy lurch. Outside, the conductor's voice called for the doors to be shut. James stopped in the corridor, suddenly overcome by a cold certainty that the worst had already happened, he had already failed miserably even before he'd begun to try. He felt a deep, sudden stab of homesickness and blinked back tears, looking quickly into the next compartment. There were two boys inside, neither talking, both looking out the window as Platform Nine and Three Quarters began to slip slowly past. James opened the door and blundered in quickly, hoping to see his family outside the window, feeling an enormous need to make eye contact with them one last time before it was too late. His own reflection in the glass, lit by the hard morning sun, blotted the view of the crowd outside. There were so many people; he would never find them in that throng. He scanned the crowd desperately anyway. And then there they were. They were just where he'd left them, a tiny knot of people standing still in the milling faces, like rocks in a stream. They didn't see him, didn't know where he was in the train. Uncle Bill and Aunt Fleur were waving to a point further back on the train, apparently mouthing goodbyes to Victoire. Dad and Mum stood smiling somewhat wistfully at the train, scanning the windows. Albus stood next to Dad, and Lily held Mum's hand, transfixed by the gigantic crimson engine as it chuffed great bursts of steam and hissed and rang, picking up speed. And then Mum's eye caught James and her face lit up. She said something and Dad turned, looked, and found him. They both waved, smiling proudly. Mum wiped her eye with one hand, held up Lily's hand with the other, waving it to James. James didn't smile back, but watched them and felt a bit better anyway. They receded backward as if they were on a conveyor belt, more faces, more waving hands and milling bodies coming between them. James watched until they all vanished behind a wall at the end of the platform, then he sighed, dropped his backpack onto the floor, and plopped into a seat.

Several minutes of silence went by as James watched London scroll past the windows. The city thinned into crowded suburbs and industrial areas, all looking busy and purposeful in the bright morning sunlight. He wondered, as he sometimes did, what life was like as a non-magical person, and for once he envied them, going to their non- magical, less intimidating (or so he thought) schools and jobs. Finally he turned his attention to the two other boys sharing his compartment. One was seated on the same side as him, closer to the door. He was big, with a squarish head and short dark hair. He was flipping avidly through an illustrated booklet called Elemental Magic: What to Know for the New Witch and Wizard. James had seen copies of these being sold from a small stall on the platform. On the cover, a good-looking teenaged wizard in school robes was winking as he conjured a series of objects from a trunk. He had just produced a full-sized tree with cheeseburgers for fruit when the boy flipped the cover backwards and settled in to read one of the articles. James turned his attention to the boy across from him, who was looking at him openly, smiling.

        'I've got a cat,' said the boy, unexpectedly. James blinked at him, and then noticed the box sitting on the seat next to the boy. It had a hinged grate for a door and a small black and white cat could be seen inside, lounging and licking its forepaw. 'You aren't allergic to cats, are you?' the boy asked James earnestly.

        'Oh. No,' James replied, 'I don't think so. My family has a dog, but my Aunt Hermione has a big old carpet of a cat. I've never had a problem with it.'

        'That's good,' the boy answered matter-of-factly. He had an American accent that James found a little amusing. 'My mom and dad are both allergic to cats so we could never have one, but I like them. When I saw that I could bring a cat, I knew that was what I wanted. This is Thumbs. He has extra toes, see? One on each paw. It's not particularly magical, I suppose, but it makes him interesting. What'd you bring?'

        'I've got an owl. He's been in the family for a few years. A big, old barn owl with plenty of miles on him. I wanted a frog, but my dad says a boy should start school with an owl. He says there's no more useful animal for a first year, but I think he just wanted me to have one because he had one.'

        The boy grinned happily. 'So your dad is a wizard, too? Mine isn't. Neither is my mom. I'm the first in my family. We just found out about the magical world last year. I could hardly believe it! I always thought magic was the sort of thing that happened at little kids' birthday parties. Guys in tall black hats pulling silver dollars out of your

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