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August 8th, 2021

12 Grimmauld Place

 

“Uh oh. Dad, I think a stray Malfoy followed you home from the Ministry again,” James called from the top of the stairs, spotting a familiar platinum blonde head seated at the dining room table. 

 

His brother Albus turned to James as he cantered down the staircase, his withering gaze intensified by the bright emerald hue of his bespectacled eyes. “Very funny, James. I invited Scorp for dinner.”

 

“Oh no, and he’s trekked in another Slytherin, too. Godric, we may have an infestation on our hands,” James declared with a horrified look, though he didn’t bother hiding his jovial tone. Reaching the pair, he reached out and ruffled the two boys’ hair, knocking their heads together.

 

“Only joking, Scorp,” James said, flashing the younger boy a broad grin as he came around the other side of the table. “But really, isn’t your mother missing you? I think I’ve seen you around more than Lily this week.”

 

“She’s been busy setting the house up for the fundraiser tomorrow...” Scorpius began explaining. Scorpius’s dad been appointed the Senior Finance Secretary under Aunt Hermione at the Ministry just last year. The Malfoys had graciously accommodated a number of events in their stately home in Wiltshire since then, and Mrs. Malfoy was quickly becoming an adept hostess.

 

“...I doubt she’s remembered anything that doesn’t concern seating arrangements,” Scorpius finished with a sheepish smile, as he patted down his mussed hair. 

 

The boy had been Albus’s best mate for five years now, and despite James’ best welcoming efforts (usually consisting of good-hearted teasing), it had taken almost all that time to get Scorpius to a semblance of comfortability with the rest of the Potters.

 

He was a rather quiet kid and probably one of the most serious people that James had ever met (which James usually liked to point out by more or less following this script: “You gotta lighten up, Scorp, you’re more serious than I am,,” “...” “...and it’s my middle name!” “...”). But James also knew that he’d been a genuine friend to Al through the years, which always meant a lot given the crowd their last name usually attracted. 

 

“Oh, yes,” Ginny Potter said, coming up the kitchen stairs carrying a tray of warmed bread and butter. “I meant to ask you, Scorpius, does your mother need more art donated for the auction?”

 

Ginny set the tray on the table in front of the boys, before whirling around and taking a hefty pot of bolognese from James’s dad, Harry, who’d followed her up from the kitchen. “We’ve still got that portrait of Walburga in the attic, and you know how I’ve been meaning to get rid of it for ages now.”

 

Harry chuckled as he sunk down on the seat next to James. “I doubt anyone would want her, Gin. If anything, she’d probably cause an international diplomatic crisis.”

 

Ginny narrowed her eyes and clacked her tongue in annoyance. “Well, it was worth a shot.”

 

“I’ll ask mum if she’d like any additional portraits, Mrs. Potter,” Scorpius said amicably.

 

Ginny smiled at him. “Actually, we’ve also got some nice landscapes by Cassiopeia Black that I’m sure people would actually like having…”

 

“Have you seen your sister, James?” his father asked, turning to him.

 

“Oh yeah, she was in her room on her Muggle mobile with Indira Natarajan when I passed by. She said she’d be down for dinner.”

 

As if on cue, his younger sister’s slender form appeared on the bannister just above them. 

 

“Lily,” his mother called as she began dishing out long lengths of pasta from the pot with a pair of tongs, “Come sit.”

 

Lily sidled up to Ginny to peer at the contents of the pot, and James noted the two redhead’s increasing resemblance. Lily had recently cut her hair to match their mother’s shoulder length bob, but in a richer, darker red than Ginny’s ginger orange hair. His sister also had gone through a rather explosive growth spurt at the beginning of the summer and was now nearing their mother’s height.

 

“Oooh, yum,” Lily said, before plopping down next to Albus and snagging a roll from his plate. Albus, having long ago resigned to his fate as the middle child, only rolled his eyes and took another from the tray and began buttering it. 

 

Albus really had always been the most patient of the three Potter children, a disposition he shared, among many other things, with their dad. Most people described the 15 year old as a perfect carbon copy of the teenaged Boy-Who-Lived, and they’d be nearly right. Albus had inherited the Harry Potter classics - striking green eyes (along with terrible eyesight) under a mop of incurably messy jet-black hair. But he hovered a few inches shorter than Harry’s tall and slender frame, and instead of a lightning-shaped scar, his forehead was dotted with the faint freckles that marked his Weasley side. 

 

James himself also tended more towards his father’s features. The 17-year-old was (proudly) the tallest in his family, gaining a hair of an inch on his dad just this past summer. His hair was not as dark as Harry or Albus’s, but it was a rich dark umber color, which warmly complemented the hazel eyes and freckled skin he inherited from his mother. His dad had once told him that he had his namesake grandfather’s long nose, which was met with much delight as James Sirius regarded James I as a personal hero. 

 

Idle chatter bubbled up around the table as the family tucked into their dinner.

 

“How was work today, dad?”

 

Harry heaved a sigh, “Busy. The conference has got most of the ministry in a scramble, and the department’s got its hands full coordinating auror guards across London.”

 

“At least you’re taking a break from raids,” Ginny quipped.

 

“Honestly, dealing with dementors might actually be easier than appeasing angry diplomats. At least I know how to banish dementors.”

 

James laughed. It was rare to see his dad be flustered by anything these days. After fighting in a war and leading raids against dark wizards for over 20 years, the head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement knew the best line of defense and exit strategy for everything. Everything, apparently, except political diplomacy. But James supposed that was more Aunt Hermione’s forte. 

 

“Oh, that reminds me, Scorpius, could you please remind me to send a memo to Robards tomorrow? He needs to be transferred to the Belgian entourage.”

 

The blonde boy managed to mumble a yes through a mouth full of bread. 

 

Down the table, Ginny and Lily were discussing preparations for the social events surrounding the conference.

 

“...Would I have time to go home change between the gala and the auction?” Lily was asking. 

 

“Probably not, so just wear comfortable shoes for both?”

 

“Ugh, I haven’t got any that match the blue dress though…”

 

“What about those white flats I got you last summer?”

 

“Those are actually really pinchy. I might just keep the extra pair in Rose’s purse - she finally figured out that extension charm...”

 

James turned back to his brother and Scorpius sitting across from him. The two were just showing Harry the schedules and supplies lists Hogwarts had sent that morning. 

 

“By the way, Scorpius. I heard you made Prefect. Congrats!”

 

Scorpius colored slightly at the echoes of congratulations from around the table and smiled, “Oh, thank you very much.”

 

“D’you know who else got it?” James asked, attempting to twirl the remnants of his pasta on his fork. 

 

“Uhm, I’m not sure who else in Slytherin. Probably…” Scorpius turned with a questioning gaze at Al, “...Miranda Fawcett?”

 

“Mmm, she’s got the best grades of the Slytherin girls by far,” Al nodded in agreement. “Rose made Gryffindor prefect because of course. And Louis made Ravenclaw because of course.”

 

“I think Gemma’s also got it for Ravenclaw,” Scorpius added. 

 

“Wow,” Lily said with a low whistle, “Al, your friends are nerds.”

 

Al laughed, “Tell me about it. At this rate, I’ll have to sit with your friends on the ride to school.”

 

“Nah, they’d probably not wanna sit with such a loser,” Lily quipped, and Albus stuck his tongue out. 

 

“Al’s basically lined up to be Slytherin quidditch captain after Roman Pucey graduates this year though,” Scorpius piped up, grinning at his friend. “...now that I’ve quit the team,” he added cheekily.

 

Albus turned pink and furrowed his brows, “What are you on about? Did you forget that Margot exists?”

 

Scorpius chuckled in response. 

 

“What? She’s a year ahead and is our cleverest chaser.”

 

“Yeah,” Scorp rolled his eyes, “But MG’s gunning for Head Girl next year, and she’s likely to pass on captaincy in favor of it.”

 

“Ohhh,” Albus said with a nod of comprehension. “Well, there’s still the Edgecombes...”

 

And so the rest of dinner at 12 Grimmauld Place passed the same way in clinking forks and pleasant chatter. Around 8pm, Scorpius politely excused himself, and after Harry had gently talked Ginny down from basically forcing Walburga’s portrait on the boy, he stepped into the kitchen fireplace to floo back to his parent’s home in Wiltshire. 

 

“See you tomorrow, Scorp,” Al said, and his friend waved back before disappearing in a burst of green flame. 

 

Albus and James were on dish duty that night, as Kreacher had been feeling rather unwell the past few days. The elderly house-elf had been confined to his bed by Ginny for most of the week, but his absence at least had the unexpected perk that Ginny could set her children doing household chores for once. 

 

James and Al didn’t mind much. As they worked side by side in front of the wide copper sink, they sang along to some of their parent’s favorite tapes. James had enchanted an old cassette player with a permanent sonorous charm, and the Weird Sisters’ Do the Hippogriff reverberated loudly in the cavernous space of the basement kitchen. 

 

“Can you dance like a hippogriff nanana nanana nanana flying off from a cLIFF NANANA NANANA NANANA.”

 

The brothers howled along with Myron Wagtail’s screeching vocals, splashing water everywhere. During the bridge, James made the unwise decision to use the sink’s sprayer hose as a prop for an impromptu guitar solo, and both of the boys ended up thoroughly soaked by the time they had finished cleaning. 

 

Sitting on the warm stone in front of fireplace, Albus giggled, pointing to a stray strand of spaghetti stuck in James’s dripping hair.

 

As his brother reached up to pick it out, Albus started, “James…?”

 

“Mmm?”

 

“Do you think… you’re gonna move out after you graduate this year?” 

 

James blinked at his brother surprisedly for a moment before turning his gaze toward the fire. After a few seconds, he said in contemplative tone, “...I’m not sure, Al… I barely have an idea of what I wanna do after Hogwarts.” 

 

“What do you mean? Aren’t you still thinking about going pro?”

 

Playing professional quidditch had been James’ dream since he was old enough to get on a broom, as Albus well knew. 

 

“That was the plan… But I’m not sure. It’s getting a lot more competitive, and loads of the British teams scout for players internationally now,” James sighed. 

 

Albus only nodded, knowing James had more on his mind to unload. 

 

“I know I’ve got connections with mum, but I wanna get into a squad of my own accord, you know? Work my way up from a minor league or reserve team or something, instead of being scouted because someone wants a Potter on the roster.”

 

Al hummed in agreement, knowing the feeling well. The Potter name in the wizarding world had given the siblings tons of privilege growing up, but as they got older, it became increasingly frustrating not to know where their successes were coming from. They never could be too sure about the value of their accomplishments as individuals under the weight of “The-Boy-Who-Lived”.

 

“I don’t know if I’m good enough to get in if it was just on pure talent,” James said quietly, staring into the flames. 

 

Al looked at his brother for a moment, before leaning sideways slightly to bump his shoulders. “From a quidditch-captain-to-be’s perspective… I think you’re a brilliant keeper.”

 

James broke out into a smile, punching his arm teasingly, “Oh, so you have let Malfoy inflate your head then! What happened to my sweet and humble Al? Is this what the prospect of power does to you Slytherins?”

 

Al broke out into laughter, waving his hands in defeat, “I take it back, I take it back!”

 

“You know I’d love to see your face if one of the Edgecombes actually gets the badge instead of you…”

 

“Merlin take me…”

 

The pair lapsed into a beat of silence. Then, “Hey Al? You know if I do move away, for quidditch training or something, I’d still come visit you and Lily and mum and dad all the time?”

 

“Yeah, I know… It’s just…”

 

“...Yeah, I miss Teddy when he’s away on trips, too.”

 

“It was so weird going from seeing him almost every day to seeing him like, three times a year,” Al said. Then, laughing, “Professional quidditch is only marginally a more real-person job than literal wizard Indiana Jones, so please promise me you won’t disappear on me.”

 

“Pinky swear. And if he’s not back from Bulgaria by September, we’re gonna take a portkey and drag him back from those mountains ourselves,” James declared, holding out his finger. 

 

Smiling, Albus linked his pinky with his brother’s. 

 

“Deal.”

 

------

August 9th, 2021

Malfoy Manor

 

Despite all the cool things about having Harry Potter as a father, James thought, decidedly the least cool thing about his life (at least how it felt at the moment) was being obliged to attend ministry parties.

 

His parents had been shuffling him, Al, and Lily to various official events all afternoon. James’ feet ached from the pinchy set of dress shoes he’d picked out to wear with his tux. And he’d lost track of how many different officials’ hands he’d shaken, how many times he’d been asked about his NEWTs and his post-graduation plans, how many times he’d been called “a handsome young man” (okay, that last one wasn’t so bad).

 

To his parents’ credit, they had mostly held off on dragging the kids to the Ministry’s extensive schedule of events this past week, with Harry usually opting to attend the galas and dinners alone, or occasionally with Ginny if things weren’t too busy at the Prophet. But as it was the last official day of the EMU conference, all of the Potters were due for an appearance. 

 

At least, James conceded, he had it marginally better than Rose and Hugo. He looked toward the huge crowd of people gathered toward the front of the Malfoy’s ballroom, trying to make out Rose’s distinctive mane of bushy red hair in the throngs. 

 

His cousins were essentially the first kids of wizarding Britain, and they had stuck faithfully to their mother’s side for most of the evening. James couldn’t exactly tell if it was because of filial loyalty or if they genuinely couldn’t escape the retinue of aurors and politicians that surrounded Minister for Magic, Hermione Granger, but James admired their fortitude regardless. 

 

James continued scanning the ballroom, hoping to spot one of his siblings. He’d been whisked away nearly an hour ago by the enthusiastic Finbar Quigley, Head of the Department of Magical Games and Sports, after he’d learned of James’s interest in professional quidditch. James had only managed to extricate himself moments ago, after making several half-hearted promises to look into the trial dates for Quigley’s former team, the Ballycastle Bats. 

 

As his eyes wandered around, James recognized a few familiar faces dotted throughout the room. His father stood a little ways off, speaking to Former Minister Kingsley Shacklebolt and another tall middle-aged woman James didn’t recognize. James also noted a few acquaintances from Hogwarts - Oscar Belby, a Slytherin in his year whose mother was on the Wizengamot; Eleanor Cooper, who played chaser for the Ravenclaw quidditch team and whose father was a Head Obliviator; and Lorcan and Lysander Scamander, sitting with Aunt Luna and Uncle Rolf, who was Head of the Magical Creatures Department. Unfortunately, Albus and Lily seemed to have wandered off long ago, and James crinkled his brow in annoyance. 

 

For the most part, James stuck with his siblings during these types of events. He would have usually invited his cousin and best friend, Fred Weasley, along for company, but since that incident where Freddie unleashed a niffler on one of Aunt Hermione’s fundraising dinners last year, he had been banned from attending official ministry events indefinitely. 

 

Admittedly, it hadn’t been one of Freddie’s most well thought out schemes, but Uncle Rolf had been able to stun the creature fairly efficiently, only shortly after it had collected its twelfth belt buckle. However, the long-standing ban remained, and now James was left to stick out the pleasantries and pageantry alone. He mentally kicked himself. He ought to have at least invited Lewis or Archie… 

 

In an effort to look a little less misplaced, James accepted a flute of effervescently bubbling liquid from a waiter before wandering towards the open set of double doors that led outside. A pleasantly cooling breeze hit him shortly before he stepped out onto the large balcony. 

 

Extending out the back of Malfoy Manor, the terrace offered a lovely view of the elaborate gardens that surrounded the chateaux-style home. A glassy reflecting pool surrounded by dozens of snowy white rose bushes glinted with the bright house lights, and further back in the garden atop a walled maze, the ghostly figure of a white peacock glowed in the pale moonlight.

 

The balcony itself was nearly as quiet as the gardens. Most guests had begun gathering inside for the start of the auction, but spotting the unmistakable brick red of his sister’s hair, James sighed in relief. 

 

Gathered around in the corner by the balustrade were Lily, Albus, Scorpius, and a pretty blonde witch who James recognized as Scorpius’s cousin, Margot Beauregard. Lily was holding a small bundle in her arms, and the others were clustered around her, speaking in quiet tones.

 

Curious, James approached the group slowly. Scorpius spotted him first and nodded towards him, causing Albus to turn around and wave him over. 

 

“Hey, you got away from Quigley,” Albus said, congratulatory. 

 

“I think I accidentally signed my soul away to the Ballycastle Bats for my freedom though,” James sighed wearily.

 

 “James!” Lily whispered excitedly, “Come look at what Aunt Luna gave me for my birthday.”

 

His sister’s birthday had just passed two days ago, and knowing Lily’s magizoologist god-mother’s track record, the “present” was likely to be something that was alive, furry, and possibly a little dangerous. 

 

James could feel the creature before he even got a good look at it - the air immediately surrounding the group was about 10 degrees warmer than the cool night air. Curious, James peered over Albus’s shoulder to get a better look.

 

“...Is that... a cat?”

 

Lily beamed, holding the tiny bundle out for James’s inspection. Swaddled up in a woolen blanket, a small feline animal was sleeping. Its fur was a most peculiar coloring, a blazing bright orange James had never seen on a creature before. Wrapped around its curled form was a bushy tail, larger than its whole body and ringed with deep red stripes. 

 

“It’s a firecat,” Lily said proudly, “Aunt Luna found an abandoned litter on her trip to Hokkaido.”

 

“What’s a- ...is it... glowing?”

 

Lily had shifted slightly away from the light of one of the ballroom windows, and it became quite apparent in the evening shadows. The kitten was giving off the faintest orange glow, reminiscent of the embers of a cooling fire. 

 

“Mhmmm,” Lily said adoringly, “She’s only a kitten, but apparently their fur is supposed to get much brighter when they get older. They’re supposed to be able to give off much more heat too.”

 

James had already started warming considerably in the creatures’ presence. 

 

“Leave it to Aunt Luna to gift you a literal walking fire hazard… and bring it to you during a ministry event.”

 

“Oh, they’re quite safe as long as they’re trained properly!” Albus piped, “Aunt Luna promised mum she wouldn’t burn the house down… as long as we keep her away from the curtains for a few months.”

 

James laughed incredulously, “And mum went along with it?”

 

“How could she say no to that face?” 

 

Albus grinned with a vague nod, and James was unsure if his brother was talking about the firecat, their sister, or both. Most people already found it difficult to say no to Lily Potter. The 13-year-old was brimming with too much charm for her own good, and that coupled with the adorable orange face now sleepily blinking up at the group - James could see why his mum didn’t have a chance.  

 

Lily was cooing gently and slowly rocking the thing in her arms. 

 

“James, Aunt Luna says it looks like me!” she whispered proudly and a little smugly, “She said it’s funnier and cuter when pets look like their owners... Well, unless their pet is a changeling. In which case 'you must immediately call her or Uncle Rolf, to take preventative actions against getting carried away by fairies'… Anyway, don’t you think it looks like me?”

 

James laughed, “It’s very cute, Lils… And very… uh, red.”

 

He heard a small snicker to his left and glanced over curiously. 

 

Margot Beauregard was perched on the balustrade. James had almost forgotten she was there - her trailing grey dress and pin straight posture nearly made her pass for one of the Malfoy’s garden ornaments.

 

But her nose was buried in an enormous and explosively colorful volume - ‘Fantastic Beasts of East Asia by Luna Scamander’, it said in glaring yellow script . It was the latest edition, and James presumed it had been gifted along with the firecat. 

 

Margot barely passed him a glance when she looked up at his sister, “Apparently firecats are quite popular pets at Mahoutokoro, Lily. Mrs. Scamander writes that ‘they’re a cost-effective way to heat the dorms.’”

 

Albus and Scorpius both snorted at this.

 

“Wouldn’t it be warm enough there already, with the school being on an actual volcano and all…?”

 

They exchanged bemused looks, but Lily had already started prattling excitedly at the mention of bringing her new pet to school

 

Oooh, I hadn’t even thought about Hogwarts..! My roommates would love her! And Alice is always complaining about how our room is too cold in the winter. She could sleep in the middle of our beds... like a furnace, but cuter…!”

 

As if on cue, the cat hopped from Lily’s arms and began pacing the center of their huddle, blowing little puffs of white smoke from its mouth. Every time its long tail swished past James, he noted that it did actually feel like he were standing next to a small furnace. In the coolness of the night, the creature’s warmth felt quite comforting. The others must have thought the same, as they all hushed for a few moments, admiring the creature’s movements. 

 

“I’ve decided to name her Ginger by the way,” Lily said with finality after a beat of silence. The cat blinked up at them and mewed. Somehow James doubted that was for approval, but Lily grinned anyway. 

 

“Aw see, she likes it!” 

 

“Don’t you think she’s hungry, Lily?” Albus said, looking at her amusedly, “Did Aunt Luna tell you what to give her?”

 

“Oh shoot, no she didn’t…”

 

“That’s alright, I can go fetch her. I see her right there by the banquet table…”

 

Albus was peering in through one of the windows. Aunt Luna was on the other side of the ballroom, loitering by the desserts and holding a tubular glass contraption that James had learned to recognize as one of her patented Blibbering Humdinger Detectors. 

 

He grinned to himself, comforted in knowing that his Yorkshire pudding would be Humdinger-free tonight.

 

“Scorp, d’you mind coming with? Maybe we’ll be able to grab something from your mum’s kitchens…” Albus said, making to head inside.

 

“Oh, yeah, sure… We could ask one of the house elves or something...?”

 

------

 

While they waited for the two younger boys to return, Lily, James, and Margot walked Ginger down to the lower gardens. Glow worms had started appearing in the grass, and the group entertained themselves by watching the cat pounce after the tiny light beetles. Ginger was surprisingly fast for her tiny size, springing across the garden with ease, and soon enough, Lily was chasing after them too, laughing as she ran with her new pet. 

 

That left James alone with Margot on the lawn, and the two of them lapsed into a silence long enough that it began to make him jittery. Unconsciously, he was bouncing on the balls of his feet as he thought of a thing to say, making the pinchiness of his dress shoes worse. 

 

James rarely had trouble talking to people - his parent’s older friends often told him that he had the liquid charm of his other namesake, Sirius Black. 

 

But he only knew Margot vaguely from playing quidditch against her or through the passing comments he’d hear from Al or Scorpius... He knew that she was one of Scorpius’s only two cousins... that she was a prefect in the year below him for Slytherin house... and that her dad was in the ministry, as she frequently made appearances at these parties. 

 

And that was about it.

 

Margot had always given off the distinct impression of being a little... straight-laced, and James, a well-known prankster and rabble rouser, figured it was best to keep out of her hair during these kinds of events. So despite James’s usually outgoing nature, he had to admit he found her a little intimidating to talk to. 

 

“So. You’re getting recruited by Ballycastle then?”

 

James started out of his thoughts and looked over at the girl in surprise. She’d sat down on a bench, her gaze still out across the garden, following Lily and Ginger as they traipsed into the rose bushes. James had been standing there pondering if Margot would even talk to him, and yet, she’d spoken so casually in a way that he couldn’t. 

 

He hadn’t noticed he’d been gaping until she cleared her throat, snapping him out of his reverie. 

 

“Oh, sorry, did you not want to talk about it?” she said politely, suddenly meeting his eyes, “I know those kinds of deals can be a little hush-hush... And my mother says I’m always a bit too forward with people.”

 

“Huh? Oh no. No, sorry… It’s just… We’ve never talked before... I don’t think,” said James, unsure why he was babbling.

 

Margot nodded understandingly, “We could just sit and continue to not talk if you’d like.”

 

She smiled at him amicably, but there was a slight lilt to her voice, and James couldn’t quite tell if he was being made fun of or not. 

 

“No, no! We should talk! Let’s… Sorry.”

 

James hoped the high collar of his dress shirt would mask the flush creeping up his neck. Pausing to let his tongue unwind itself, he shot her his best grin and stuck his hand out.

 

“Hi, I’m James. What was the question again?”

 

“Margot,” she said, taking his hand and giving it two good shakes, “I was asking if you’d gotten scouted already. You mentioned it earlier.”

 

“Scouted for quidditch? Oh, Merlin, no…” James laughed incredulously, “I could only wish I was getting scouted this early. Mr. Quigley was just suggesting I look into Ballycastle’s tryout schedules.”

 

“Oh, I see…” Margot said, nodding her head, “...Well, I’d be unsurprised even if teams were calling after you already.”

 

“Ah well, I’m not that good. Mostly the League just waits for people to come to them nowadays, you know,” he rebutted easily.

 

James was used to frequent praise, and some would say he even basked in it, but he knew when it was deserved and when it wasn’t. His hand was on the back of his neck now, feeling the warmth from the blush. 

 

Margot hummed, her gaze trailing from his again, “D’you have any teams you’re looking into? Other than Ballycastle.”

 

“Oh- well, the Bats aren’t actually my first choice… But I’m not exactly sure where else I’d like to look,” he replied sheepishly.

 

“But I’m sure you’ve got favorites in the league?”

 

James smiled. “Well yes... I mean, you probably know from Al that our family’s a little nuts for the Chudley Cannons nowadays. After the Harpies of course, but I can’t exactly play for them, though I suppose I could try wearing a ginger wig to tryouts.”

 

“Oh, they’d never know the difference,” Margot deadpanned, and James, a bit surprised she’d volleyed the jest, flashed her a grin. He was glad that the subject was on quidditch, a topic for which he had a nearly inexhaustible amount of words, no matter who he was talking to. 

 

“Falmouth and Puddlemere both have really solid programs for keepers, so I’d love to get to train with them, too,” he continued more confidently now, “But they’re really competitive to get into, and any half-serious keeper’s probably gonna be going after the same spots.”

 

Margot nodded thoughtfully, “Bell and Llewellyn… They’re graduating, too… Are they trying for pro as well?”

 

“I’m not sure about Natalia,” said James, before scrunching his nose in displeasure, “But Caleb… definitely.” 

 

Margot only smirked, well aware (as the rest of the school populace) of the enmity that simmered behind his words. 

 

Three out of the four starting keepers from the house teams would be 7th Years come September. And James begrudgingly knew that they were all rather good. Natalia Bell, Ravenclaw’s keeper, was as clever as she was nice. Her mum had played with James’ dad back at Hogwarts, and in the few classes that she and James shared, they got on quite well. 

 

However, the same could not be said about Caleb Llewellyn. As both keepers and captains for their house teams, James was often compared to the Hufflepuff, much to their mutual displeasure. Probably largely because of this, the two had developed a bitter rivalry on the quidditch field and an even fiercer one off it. 

 

“...How’s Slytherin looking this season by the way? I hear you’re in the market for a new keeper.”

 

James was partially eager to change the subject, but also partially eager to do a little probing. 

 

Aside from the Hufflepuff drama, the Slytherins were their biggest competition on the pitch. But even though he lived with Al, his brother tended to be… extremely secretive about his own house team. James hadn’t even gotten a flash of a training regimen all summer, and he only just found out about Scorpius’s departure last week. Slytherin’s notorious secrecy only fed into James’s natural curiosity, and it wasn’t just because Gryffindor had lost the House Cup to them last year (he swore). 

 

Margot laughed. 

 

“Are you offering? I’d love to tell Scorpius that we’ve replaced him with James Potter.

 

James chuckled, the effortless evasion in her response not lost on him. But he decided to play along anyway. 

 

“No, thanks. I’m on contract with the Gryffindors for a while longer.”

 

“Mm… If you ever change your mind, we’ve got competitive salary and full benefits.”

 

“That’s tempting,” James laughed, “All we’ve got is the occasional free dungbomb from Fred when Weasley’s overstocks.”

 

“Well, how could anyone say no to that?”

 

James grinned at her, deciding that the girl wasn’t as uptight as he thought at all. He wasn’t sure if Margot was being intentionally funny, but he liked her frankness regardless. 

 

“...We’re probably pulling someone up from reserves,” she conceded after a moment. 

 

“Ah!” James said, surprised and happy at the small crumbs she’d thrown him, “Who?”

 

“-Is he weeding Slytherin team secrets from you?” came Al’s voice suddenly from the terrace above them, “We’ve only gone 10 minutes, MG, I thought you were stronger than that.”

 

Margot rolled her eyes as Albus and Scorpius came around the stairs to meet them. 

 

“Oh no, I’ve accidentally divulged that we are, in fact, getting new keeper to replace Scorpius. How could I have been so loose-lipped?”

 

“Don’t underestimate him, MG. He’s been ‘casually hanging out’ in my room all summer trying to sweep for my playbook.”

 

“Hey, no I haven’t-!”

 

(He had.)

 

“Anyway, listen, Margot,” Albus plowed on, turning his nose up slightly, “These Gryffindors, they’re desperate for the Cup. And remember - we’re defending our Slytherin Pride.”

 

“...”

 

“...”

 

“...God, your Pucey impression has gotten scary good.”

 

The three Slytherins let out simultaneous snorts of laughter, and James knew there was a joke in there somewhere that was completely lost on him. He unsurely laughed along, glancing between the three, until his eyes landed on the small saucer of steaming red liquid that Scorpius held in his hands. 

 

“What’s that? And where’s Aunt Luna?”

 

“Aunt Luna’s busy extracting Humdingers from the berry cobbler. But she said to give Ginger steamed milk and hot peppers.”

 

“Okay…”

 

“So we raided the spice cupboard and found a can of pickled jalapenos and a jar of cayenne powder…”

 

“...And you mixed it in with the milk?” 

 

“Are you sure that’s what she meant for you to do?” 

 

“Well… She didn’t elaborate much.”

 

The two 5th year boys exchanged looks and shrugged. The steam from their volatile concoction blew towards James and began to make his eyes sting.

 

“Uhm-” he began, rubbing his eyes and coughing, but he was interrupted with a tiny mewl from their feet. 

 

Ginger had bounded back across the garden and was now pawing eagerly at Scorpius’s feet. He paused for a moment, looking around at the others in the group, but only Albus gave him a small, hesitant shrug.

 

Tentatively, the blonde boy knelt down and carefully placed the bowl in the grass. The firecat only stopped to give it a cursory sniff before enthusiastically sticking her entire face in the piping hot liquid. 

 

“Oh-”

 

“Wait-!”

 

"What-"

 

“Ginger!” Lily gasped, immediately dropping to her knees to check on the cat. She had only just rejoined the group now, belatedly realizing her playmate had abandoned her in the hedge maze. 

 

A second of astonished and horrified silence passed.

 

And then, Ginger looked up at them with a small pip, her tail swishing happily behind her. She looked positively horrifying, her tiny face dripping with viscous, blood red liquid. But she seemed perfectly content, dipping her head once more to lap enthusiastically at the milk. 

 

“She… likes it?” Albus said confusedly, despite being the one who created the horrifying concoction. But this was going much better than anyone would have expected from five teenagers and a small fire-breathing mammal at that they had been given little to no information on. 

 

“Uh… Yeah, that works, I guess?” James said unsurely, “...But maybe… we should go double check with Aunt Luna.. just in case...”

 

Hums of agreement sounded around the group but no one made a move as they were all transfixed by the strange little creature. The firecat was draining the milk bowl with surprising speed and voracity. 

 

“By the way, MG,” Scorpius said, suddenly, “Aunt Daphne’s looking for you, you know.”

 

“Hm?” Margot said distractedly. She was studying Ginger intently, as if looking for signs that the cat may burst into flames at any second, which James found highly relatable. 

 

“You’re meant to help her and my mum hand out bidding cards.”

 

“Oh... Oh damn - I’d forgotten… I should go before she blows a can...”

 

“She’s in the atrium.”

 

“...Can you lot manage?”

 

James noticed that she’d more directed the question at him than at the group in general, and belatedly, he realized that as the eldest, he was technically the one in charge here. Admittedly, he mourned the loss of the only other NEWT student in case of anything disastrous happening, but Ginger seemed to be… fine... So instead of voicing this, he just produced his wand from his back pocket and gave it a little reassuring wave. 

 

He could handle this, he meant to express, but Margot just raised her eyebrows at him. 

 

“I’ll find Mrs. Scamander on my way in and send her out.”

 

With that, she said hasty goodbyes to everyone before picking up her the long skirts of her gown and disappearing around the corner and up the balcony stairs. 

 

A few minutes ticked by, and their small group waited for Ginger to finish her strange meal over idle chatter about the upcoming year. Lily was trying out for quidditch, Scorpius was taking nine O.W.L.s, Albus was already exhausted from just listening to them…

 

Then from inside the ballroom, Aunt Hermione’s steady, amplified voice wafted out to the gardens.

 

“Firstly, I would like to thank everyone for this past week of communication, compromise, and camaraderie. It has been a pleasure working amongst such esteemed colleagues and friends…”

 

Ginger was nearly at the bottom of her bowl now, and James allowed his mind to wander a bit as he listened to the opening remarks. 

 

Not that Aunt Hermione’s speech was boring or anything - she was actually an excellent speaker. But it was just, whenever James saw his aunt nowadays, he couldn’t help but think about her face last Christmas when that niffler pulled some crown jewels clean off of the Queen of Norway’s neck. 

 

The memory automatically brought a smile to James’s face, and vaguely he wondered what Freddie was doing at the moment. Likely messing around in the Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes workshop back in London… Working on some new joke sweets or fireworks... and probably in significantly more comfy shoes than what James was wearing, too… 

 

“...with representatives from not only over 30 different countries, but also participation from 15 non-human delegations, I am happy to say that this year’s conference has also been the most inclusive in recent history...”

 

There was a lull in the speech as Aunt Hermione paused for a round of applause, and James absentmindedly clapped along. 

 

As he did, he heard the tiniest sneeze. 

 

He looked down at Ginger. The cat was lightly rubbing her face with a tiny paw, apparently having accidentally gotten a bit of pepper milk in her snout. Honestly, James had been wondering how she had managed not to do that earlier - Ginger’s face was totally soaked in red, and it was now staining her paws, too.

 

Despite the visual, Lily cooed at the sight, squishing her face with her own hands.

 

“Aw, that’s so cu-”

 

But then, Ginger let out a second, much louder sneeze. This time, tiny sparks flew from her mouth, and they all sprang back to avoid the tiny embers threatening to ruin their expensive dress shoes. 

 

“Well that’s - um -” James said, flinching in alarm as the third sneeze ricocheted from the tiny creature, eliciting smoke and a few tongues of actual fire, “-a problem.”

 

Despite being in the midst of a violent sneezing fit, Ginger alone seemed to be having a grand time. She began bounding towards Lily, as if asking to be picked up again, and his sister panickedly hitched up her skirts, leaping away from yet another scorching sneeze. Unfortunately, the cat seemed to take that as a game, pouncing after Lily and into the garden. 

 

Into the garden filled with many, many flammable bushes. 

 

Suffice to say, it only took moments for the situation to dissolve into complete chaos. 

 

Not twenty seconds later, James found himself sprinting past Albus (who was busy beating embers from his trouser leg), as he ran headlong into the hedge maze after his sister and the firecat. Inside, from the sound of Lily's panicked yells, he was quite certain that Ginger had already set fire to a few small topiaries. As he readied an aguamenti charm on his lips, James reflected that it might have been better for Aunt Hermione to have extended that blanket ban on most of her nieces and nephews, and not just Freddie.

 

He just hoped the Norwegian Royal family wasn’t in attendance again. 

 

-------------------------------

 

Hello! I hope you enjoyed this first introduction to James. Dunno if you can tell, but he is one of my favorite characters to write :) Also, yes, in this au, the Norwegian Royals are wizards. Not exactly important, but just for fun.

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