ear. Stuff like that. Wow! Have you known you were a wizard all your life?'

        'Pretty much. It's hard to miss when your first memories are of your grandparents arriving for Christmas morning via the fireplace,' James answered, watching the boy's eyes widen. 'Of course, it never seemed strange to me at all, you know. It was just life.'

        The boy whistled appreciatively. 'That's wild and crazy! Lucky you! Anyway, my name's Zane Walker. I'm from the States, if you haven't guessed. My dad is working in England for the year, though. He works on movies, which isn't as exciting as it sounds. I'll probably be going to the wizarding school in America next year, but it looks like it's Hogwarts for me this year, which is fine by me, although if they try to give me any more kidneys or fish for breakfast, I think I'll blow a gasket. Good to meet you.' He finished in a rush, and reached across the compartment to shake James' hand in a gesture that was so guileless and automatic that James almost laughed. He shook Zane's hand happily, relieved to have so quickly made an acquaintance. 'I'm happy to meet you, too, Zane. My name's Potter. James Potter.'

        Zane sat back and looked at James, tilting his head curiously. 'Potter. James Potter?' he repeated. James felt a small, familiar surge of pride and satisfaction. He was used to being recognized, even if he pretended to not always like it. Zane made a sort of quizzical half-frown, half-grin. 'Where's Q, double-oh-seven?'

       James faltered. 'Excuse me?'

'What? Oh, sorry,' Zane said, his expression changing to one of bemusement. 'Thought you were making a James Bond joke. Hard to tell with that accent.'

        'James who?' James said, feeling that the conversation was slipping away from him. 'And what accent? You're the one with the accent!'

        'Your last name's Potter?' This came from the third boy in the compartment. He'd lowered his booklet a little.

        'Yes. James Potter.'

        'Potter!' Zane said in a fairly ridiculous attempt at an English accent. 'James Potter!' He raised his fist next to his face, index finger pointed toward the ceiling like a pistol.

        'Are you related to this Harry Potter kid?' said the bigger boy, ignoring Zane. 'Only I'm reading about him right here in this 'Brief History of the Magical World' article. Seems like he was a pretty big deal.'

        'He's not a kid anymore,' James laughed. 'He's my dad. He's less of a big deal when you see him eating Wheatabix in his boxers each morning.' This wasn't technically true, but it always put people at ease to think they'd gotten a mental glimpse of the great Harry Potter in a candid moment. The large boy raised his eyebrows, frowning slightly. 'Wow! Cool. Says here he defeated the most dangerous evil wizard ever. Some guy named, umm…' He glanced down at the booklet, scanning it. 'It's right here somewhere. Volda-whatsit or something.'

        'Yeah, it's true,' James said. 'But really, now he's just my dad. That was a long time ago.' But the other boy had turned his attention to Zane.

        'You're Muggle-born, too?' he asked. Zane looked baffled for a moment. 'What? I'm what- born?'

        'Non-magical parents. Like me,' said the bigger boy seriously. 'I'm trying to learn the language. My dad says it's important to get a handle on the basics straight off. He's a Muggle, but he's already read Hogwarts: A History cover to cover. He quizzed me on it the whole ride in. Ask me a question. Anything.' He glanced back and forth between Zane and James.

        James raised his eyebrows at Zane, who frowned and shook his head. 'Um. What's seven times forty- three?'

        The bigger boy rolled his eyes and slumped in his seat. 'I meant about Hogwarts and the wizarding world.'

        'I've got a new wand,' Zane said, abandoning the bigger boy and turning to dig in his pack. 'It's made of birch, with a unicorn tail in it or something. Can't get it to do squat, yet. Not for lack of effort, though, I'll tell you that.' He turned, flourishing the wand, which was wrapped in yellow cloth.

        'I'm Ralph, by the way,' said the bigger boy, putting aside his booklet. 'Ralph Deedle. I just got my wand yesterday. It's made of willow, with a Himalayan yeti whisker core.'

James glanced at him. 'A what?'

        'A Himalayan yeti whisker. Very rare, according to the man we bought it from. Cost my dad twenty Galleons. Which translates to a good bit, I think.' He studied Zane's and James' faces in turn. 'Er, why?'

       James raised his eyebrows. 'It's just that I've never heard of a Himalayan yeti.'

        Ralph sat up and leaned forward earnestly. 'Sure! You know what those are. Some people call them abominable snowmen. I always thought they were imaginary, you know. But then on my birthday, my dad and me found out I was a wizard, and I'd always thought wizards were imaginary, too! Well, now I'm learning about all kinds of crazy things that I thought were imaginary that are turning out to be true.' He picked up his booklet again and fanned the pages with one hand, gesturing vaguely with the other.

        'Just out of curiosity,' James said carefully, 'where did you buy your wand?'

        Ralph grinned. 'Oh, well we thought that was going to be the hard part, didn't we? I mean, there don't seem to be wand merchants on every corner where we come from, which is Surrey. So we got down here to the city early and followed the directions to that Diagon Alley place. No problem! There was a man right there on the street corner with a little booth.'

       Zane was watching Ralph with interest.

        'A little booth,' James prodded.

        'Yeah! Of course, he didn't have the wands right there in the open. He was selling maps. Dad bought one and asked directions to the best wandmaker in town. My dad develops security software. For computers. Did I mention that? Anyway, he asked for the best, most state of the art wandmaker. Turned out the man was an expert wandmaker himself. Only makes a few a year, but keeps them special for people who really know what they are looking for. So Dad bought the best one he had.'

       James was trying to keep his face straight. 'The best one he had,' he repeated.

        'Yeah,' Ralph confirmed. He dug in his own backpack and pulled out something about the size of a rolling pin, wrapped in brown paper.

        'The one with the yeti core,' James confirmed.

        Ralph suddenly glanced at him, halfway through unwrapping the package he'd removed from his backpack. 'You know, it starts sounding a little silly when you say it, doesn't it?' he asked a bit morosely. 'Ah, bugger.'

        He pulled the brown paper off. It was about eighteen inches long and as thick as a broomstick. The end had been whittled to a dull point and painted lime green. They all stared at it. After a moment, Ralph looked a bit desperately at James. 'It's not really good for anything magical, is it?'

       James tilted his head. 'Well, it'd be a treat for killing vampires with, I'd think.'

        'Yeah?' Ralph brightened.

        Zane straightened and pointed to the door of the compartment. 'Woo! Food! Hey, James, you got any of that wacky wizard money? I'm starved.'

        The old witch that operated the food cart peered into the open door of their compartment. 'Anything you'd fancy, dears?'

        Zane had jumped up and was looking eagerly over her wares, examining them with a serious, critical eye. He glanced back at James expectantly. 'Come on, Potter, now's your chance to welcome us Muggleborns to the

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