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Chapter Three: Professors Get Shorter Every Year


The morning of September 1st dawned bright and cheery. James opened his eyes to sun streaming in and illuminating his neatly packed trunk, catching the reflection of the silver fastenings that held it closed. The eleven-year old pushed aside his thick plush comforter and swung his legs over the bed until his feet rested gently on the hardwood floor. He rubbed his eyes and yawned, shaking his head to dispel the remaining lethargy of a good night's sleep. His owl hooted gently to welcome him to the waking world. He looked around his room as if to reacquaint himself with his surroundings. Window, side table, alarm clock, packed trunk…

James stood up quickly as though a firecracker had been lit. Today was the day! He eagerly divested of his pyjamas and grabbed his uniform from where it had been hanging. Shirt, tie, and then last of all, robes pulled over his head, James surveyed himself in the mirror with satisfaction. "A true wizard…" he murmured.

He paused for a moment before grabbing his trunk and pulling it out of the room. It 'thunk'ed loudly as he dragged it down the steps of the stairway, James paying no heed to the fragility of its contents. His excited ruckus aroused the rest of the household. Katie Potter poked her head out of her doorway, blearily gazing at her younger brother in annoyance. James smiled broadly, and Katie shook her head, thoroughly exasperated.

"James, we don't have to leave for another hour."

James's exhilaration deflated. He pulled his trunk down one more step until it rested calmly on the bottom of the stairway and sighed. He sank down onto it, his head in his hands, patiently prepared to wait for that last little bit of time.

* * * *

After inhaling a very quick breakfast of banana waffles and a glass of orange juice, it was finally time to leave. The Potter parents had argued about whether to take the car or to Floo, but decided that since the train would be leaving in just about half an hour, it would be safer to take the quicker route. James scowled; he'd always disliked the messiness and uncertainty of travelling by Floo, but did not voice his complaint. Any mode of transportation was a mode of transportation, even one that left soot covering your clothing. Luckily, he'd taken off his robe and placed it in his trunk, both to keep it clean and avert suspicion when among Muggles.

Katie went first, tossing her handful into the fire and stepping cautiously into it. "Eusten Road!" She disappeared with a pop.

Roerva poured a bit of the powder into James's open hand. "Now, dear, the Floo network will let you out right down the street from the station. Just follow your sister and your father and I will Apparate with your owls and trunks in a moment."

Nervously, James threw the powder into the fire, stepping back slightly as it flashed into a bright green. With his mother urging him on, he stepped carefully into the fire.

"Don't forget to tell it where to go!" Roerva called out nervously.

Just in time, James remembered to shout out his destination and off he went. He held his arms close to his sides as he spun dizzily through the network. Fireplaces of all sorts flashed by as he travelled the long distance to London. Finally, he slowed to a stop, coughing soot out of his throat as he stepped out of the fireplace.

He surveyed his new surroundings with interest. On either side of him were dark, dingy brick walls that soared upwards for maybe four storeys. The ground below him was covered with debris, dirt, and thousands of footsteps, clear evidence that this was a route well-travelled. It was about a metre across and four metres until it ended at a busy street, cars and people passing by quickly without a second glance. They never seemed to notice a small boy standing alone in a dark back-alley, which he supposed was a very good thing.

"James!" a voice called. James looked around wildly, unable to identify the source. Suddenly, Katie appeared in the alley, looking rather flustered. "Mum and dad are already out here, what are you doing still in there!"

James shrugged sheepishly and walked out towards the street. As soon as he reached the end of the alleyway, something very odd happened; he heard a light 'woosh' noise and turned back around to find that the entrance of the alley was now camouflaged by a wall that blended inconspicuously with the buildings on either side. No wonder no one had paid any attention to him while he had been standing there!

Luckily for James, who was now rolling along his trunk with his owl on top while his parents chatted among themselves, the station was less than a block away. His mother and father directed him and Katie through the maze of platforms until they reached the platforms '9' and '10'.

Roerva smiled at her children. "Here we are!" she kissed each of them on the top of their heads. "James, Katie knows what to do, follow her. Don't be afraid to run into it if you get nervous. If you run into trouble, don't talk to Muggles; find one of our own to help you." She looked around to make sure that attention was diverted away from her, then Disapparated with a quiet 'pop!'.

Edward placed a hand on James's shoulder. "Now, son, in order to get through, you have to close your eyes and trust it. Watch Katie."

She backed up, aimed her cart at the barrier, and, clenching her eyes shut, dashed forward at full speed. Silently, she slipped through the solid brick and was lost from view.

"Now take your turn," Edward said encouragingly.

James steeled himself. He couldn't believe that he was about to willingly run, headfirst, into a brick wall. He clenched his eyes tightly, just as Katie had done, and began to sprint towards the wall.
His owl squawked and James opened an eye to see if he had made it through or not. He hadn't! The brick wall was still there, less then a foot away. He was going to crash!

With a loud thunk and a crash and another complaint from his owl, his prediction came true. Tears rolled down his face as he fell to the ground. It wasn't letting him in, maybe he wasn't a wizard, he was a Squib, it was all a great mistake…

Edward rushed forward and waved away the watching Muggles with a quick, "It's my son, please go on." He grabbed the boy's shoulders and lifted him up until he was standing.

"James, no crying. You have got to be a man now, and I will not stand for this." Lovingly, Edward wiped a tear from James's cheek. He lowered his voice, "You must trust yourself."

James wiped tears from his eyes with the back of his hand and nodded.

Edward gave his son a shake. "If you don't trust yourself, then you can't trust anybody. You have to try again." He pushed James towards his cart. "Keep your eyes closed this time."

James grabbed the cart and pulled it back. He breathed in deeply to calm himself, then closed his eyes and wrapped his hands tightly around the handle. He ran towards the barrier full tilt, his head down and his hands sweating.

Suddenly, there was a change in the atmosphere. The noise was different, the sounds of hundreds of happy kids chattering among themselves surrounded him. He cracked open an eye and saw the teeming masses of children dressed in various degrees of uniform. He stood in awe for a few moments, the huge scarlet engine of the Hogwarts' Express presenting a dramatic backdrop to the crowd. He breathed a sigh of relief as Katie waved him over to where he was supposed to leave his trunk.

As he dropped his trunk and owl off, he felt a tap on his left shoulder. He swivelled his head quickly to that side, but saw no one. Automatically, he looked over his right shoulder and saw his best friend doubled over in laughter.

"Sirius!" James threw up his hands in frustration. He scowled as Sirius stood up straight, still laughing. "It wasn't that funny!"

Sirius waggled his eyebrows. "Hey, let's get on and grab a compartment before they're all full."

Sirius dashed up to the stairs and bounded up them. James followed behind, his heart pounding. This was it; this was the train to Hogwarts. He took a deep breath before jumping up the stairs behind Sirius. By the time he reached the top, Sirius had already run a good way down the aisle.

"Hey, that one!" Sirius called, waving to James and pointing to a compartment close to where the sweets trolley was resting.

As Sirius slid open the door, however, he noticed something rather odd. Firstly, it was already occupied, and secondly, that occupant was soundly asleep. Sirius turned to James and put his finger to his lips to indicate silence, then tiptoed into the compartment. James followed behind curiously. It was a small child, about their age and sporting tatty dirty-blonde hair, curled up into a foetal position on one of the benches. He was already wearing his robes, but, unlike those of Sirius and James, his were faded and clearly second-hand. James snorted; he'd never met anyone who couldn't afford new robes, and attributed it to laziness. Below him was a small, shiny leather case, stamped, with bright golden letters, the words Professor R. J. Lupin.

Sirius coughed loudly. "So, you're a professor then!"

The boy started and stared blearily at the intruders. "Wha--"

James smiled and pointed, "Your case."

An expression of realisation came over the boy. "Oh, yeah, that… that was my dad's. He used to be the Hogwarts defence teacher."

"How come you have it, then?" Sirius asked, smirking.

The boy sat up. "Not that it's any of either of your business," he glared at James as well, "but he passed away last year and left it to me." He sighed. "We have the same initials."

"R. J.?" James asked curiously.

"It's Remus John, for me at least. I don't expect you particularly care about my father's name."

"Not if you don't want to tell us, we don't," Sirius said. He stuck out a hand to shake. "Name's Sirius, Sirius Black."

Remus shook regally, then turned toward James, who offered a hand as well.

"James Potter. We're both first years, what about you?"

"First year as well."

"From a wizarding family, then?"

"Yes, although, well, it doesn't make any difference anyway." Remus turned his head to look out the window at the rest of the boarding students, as though eager to change the subject.

The three sat in the awkward silence of strangers. As more students boarded the train, the excited voices and stomping footsteps grew louder.

James recalled the many parties his parents had hosted and the methods of small-talk that they had used to make their countless friends. He coughed suggestively and Remus turned his head towards him curiously.

"So, er, what do you like to do in your spare time?" James said nervously.

Remus shrugged. "I don't really have all that many friends, wizard or otherwise. I don't go outside much, my mum needs me around. I read."

James was sorry he asked. Remus turned his head back to the window. James noticed that the platform was nearly empty, so there wasn't anything particularly interesting to look at. He couldn't figure out whether Remus was shy, or merely didn't want to have anything to do with them.

Sirius seemed to be thinking along those same lines. He raised his eyebrows and whispered to James. "Quiet one, isn't he?"

Suddenly the door to their compartment slid open, breaking the awkward silence. At first, James was unable to tell who had opened it, but soon a small redhead peeked into the compartment. She stepped forward and asked softly, "Do you have an extra seat in here?"

James opened and closed his mouth a couple times, but before he could answer, Sirius stood up and, acting like such the gentleman, bowed and gestured towards the space next to Remus. "If our resident professor here doesn't mind, you are welcome to that seat."

Graciously, the girl accepted, smiling a bit at Sirius's show. James found himself tongue-tied still. He was captivated by the heart-shape of her face, her soft freckles and wavy red hair, yet it was her eyes that James found the most entrancing. While the rest of her persona exuded joyful simplicity and shyness, her eyes were bright and piercing, and maybe, if one looked closely enough, a bit unhappy. James recalled glimpsing a similarly despondent red-haired girl while in Diagon Alley, and somehow knew that she was one and the same.

He struggled to clear his throat to speak, but was beat to it by Sirius, who, in typical Sirius-around-a-girl fashion, was striving to dominate the conversation.

"So, I suppose you're a first-year too? What may we call you?"

She nodded. "Oh… I'm Lily."

James stuck out his hand, glad for the opportunity to steal the spotlight from Sirius. "James Potter."

Remus had abandoned the window and looked interested in their new acquaintance. He introduced himself as well, then proposed that they play a card game. He snapped open the case and pulled out a well-worn children's deck, with smiling queens and kings in primary colours, waving gaily.

Sirius and James accepted quickly, but Lily took a minute to examine the cards. "They move… " she whispered softly. Lily handed the cards back to Remus, and he took that as an invitation to deal.

They four happily spent the rest of the train ride to school chattering and playing various games, and, after the sweets trolley had passed by, munching on sugary bits of magic. It was, all in all, a pleasant way to begin their first year at school, with the ephemeral innocence and exuberance of childhood.

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