“It’s a shame that this volume doesn’t contain…hm,” Xenophilius searched for the right words, “how shall I put this delicately? More skin. Is it not?” He sat cross-legged with his magazine—a sitting position commonly taken by ordinary Muggle men while reading the newspaper on the commuter train to work. Except rather than being attired in a suit, Xenophilius wore black robes decorated with bizarre plumage; and rather than going to work in an office to conduct “business,” he was off to a well-hidden school to conduct the ancient art of magic; and rather than reading a newspaper filled with information about “markets,” parliamentary squabbles, and Portugal’s embarrassing quagmire in Angola, he read from a smutty magazine all about a species of women whom Muggles foolishly believed to have gone extinct after the bloody witchcraft purges of the Middle Ages.

“I hardly think they would sell pornographic magazines at Flourish and Blott’s,” Dipesh remarked.

Nigel sat by the window, pretending to gaze at the English countryside while surreptitiously peeking over at Xenophilius’ copy of The UK’s Top 100 Sexiest Witches of 1971.

“It would be rather interesting if some publication were to make one of these lists,” Xenophilius said, “but with non-magical women from all over the world included in it. We would then be able to decide once and for all who’s more beautiful: Jane Fonda or Anabelle Delacour?”

“An American woman and a French woman, how typical,” said Dipesh.

“Well, what do you think?” Xenophilius returned.

“I really don’t pay much attention to these things. I’m only suggesting how typical it is that your idea of ‘from all over the world’ still really only includes the West. If you really want a worldwide list of the most beautiful women—non-magical included—why not consider someone like, say, Lakshmi Reeher?”

“Lakshmi Reeher?” Xenophilius clearly didn’t know the name.

“She’s an Indian actress, model, philanthropist, activist, et cetera. She’s been very engaged in the Vietnam War, sort of like your Jane Fonda. And, of course, she’s also quite gorgeous.”

Nigel took his wandering eyes off the magazine and laid them on Dipesh. “And I thought you didn’t pay much attention to ‘these things?’”

“I don’t,” Dipesh replied. “She came to my attention through the course of my Muggle studies.”

“Ha ha!” Xenophilius bellowed. “Studies: that’s a clever way to talk about looking at pictures of women!”

“That’s not what I meant! Lakshmi Reeher doesn’t do lude photos anyway.”

“Though I suppose the only way you would know that for sure is if you looked into it,” Nigel said. His comment caused both him and Xen to giggle, but Dipesh was not at all entertained. 

“I am not a bloody pervert like the two of you!”

“You need to relax, old Dippie,” said Nigel, knowing full well that his friend hated being called “Dippie.” “You’re far too sensitive these days. You need more grass in your system, I think. Wouldn’t you agree, Xen?” Xenophilius looked up from his dirty magazine, nodded vigorously, then returned to the coverage he was reading on sexy witch number 54. “Well,” Nigel continued, “I was saving this last bit of my supply for a special occasion, not knowing when I’d be getting more, but hey, we’ve never tried hot-boxing on the Hogwarts Express before. Should we give it a go?”

Xen was enthusiastic enough to put down his disreputable rag, but Dipesh—being that it was his self-prescribed duty to play the straight man of the group—was fiercely opposed to the idea. Despite Dipesh’s pleas, Nigel and Xen moved ahead with their ill-advised plot, Nigel ordering Xen to close the compartment door, and Nigel doing his part by sliding the window completely shut.

In his best impression of Roger Waters, Nigel yelled, “Like it or not, Dippie, you’re going to get fuckin’ stoned! Ha ha ha!”

Being that it was Nigel’s weed, he was permitted the first drag, after which both he and Xen passed it between each other like two American Indian chieftains coming together to make peace (or at least this was the image that came to Nigel’s mind, thinking back to one of Professor Quirrell’s lectures back in Year Three when they covered pre-colonial North America. Nigel could also recall Xenophilius coming up with a theory—with, of course, no proof to back it up—that even “muggle” American Indians had at least slight magical capabilities. He would later say the same thing with regard to East Asian Buddhists, and for largely the same reasons: if a being were that enlightened, they simply had to have at least some magic in their blood!)

Although Dipesh refused to partake, he received a quite potent second-hand high; rather enjoying the sensation, he decided to put himself to sleep so that the other lads wouldn’t know that he was taking pleasure out of the experience. While he slept, Nigel and Xen spent some moments in peace and quiet, during which time they stared out the window and contemplated the scorching and vivid sun and how it seemed to melt the seas of grass and rolling hills outside. My, how the September heat had a blurring effect on the land, creating the sensation of moving languidly about whilst submerged in a body of warm water. The boys looked at the world beyond the train and slunk back in their seats, exhausted and defeated by the might of nature. They had not seen enough years to fully appreciate the fact that this Indian summer too had its end, that in just three months’ time they would be on their way home for the holidays, on that same train heading back to London, and that this time the train ride would feel like an arrow piercing through sharply-defined freezing air.

Nigel’s black cat, whom he encountered during the lads’ brush with danger in Knockturn Alley, began to look pretty drowsy himself, prompting Nigel to ask an important question: “Oi Xen, you think cats get high too?”

Xen trained his red-shot eyes on the cat; he studied the creature carefully. The cat’s yellow eyes flickered on and off; he was trying to sleep while maintaining awareness of the boys at the same time. “I must say, I’m not quite sure,” Xenophilius sleepily uttered. The cat yawned and stretched out his body to the farthest possible extent. Xen did likewise, delighting in the bodily sensation.

“I think they might, man,” said Nigel. “Which would make me feel sort of…bad.”

“They might what?” Xen asked.

“They might get high!”

“Oh. Well, should we open the door then?”

Nigel observed the great cloud of smoke that enveloped them. “Nah,” he said. “Someone would notice.” As he said these words, he was reminded of the existence of multitudes of other people on the train: the entire student body of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, in fact. And whereas in years past their compartment would rank rather low on the “hip” spectrum vis-à-vis those of other students, Nigel suspected that he and Xen had successfully elevated their status on the train’s social hierarchy. Presently, they were a very happening group of lads indeed. Even Dipesh, who refused to directly partake, was something other than a square at the moment.

Nigel’s daydreaming about their coolness factor was quickly replaced with panic when someone knocked on their door. No doubt it was a prefect, perhaps even a professor. He and Xen looked at one another in shock, both waiting for the other to take the lead in their predicament. Throwing caution to the wind, Xenophilius peaked through the window of the door to see who was doing the knocking.

“What are you doing?” Nigel said in a stage whisper.

“Calm down, will you?” said Xen. “It’s nobody. Well, not nobody. But not anyone of authority.”

“Who is it then?”

“He’s some chap I don’t recognize. Shall I let him in?”

“Er…” Nigel relaxed somewhat, but was still unsure of how to proceed.

“I’m letting him in.” Xen flung the door open. Standing before them was a short but sturdy-looking boy with bushy, sandy-blond hair and remarkably tan skin. Unlike most Hogwarts-bound students, he was not yet berobed, opting instead for a plain white shirt and denim jeans. He looked to be about the same age as Nigel and company.

“I smelled somethin’ good over here and thought I’d investigate,” he stated by way of introduction. “Y’all got room for one more?”

“That’s cool with us, man,” Nigel said, “especially if you dig grass.” Nigel was instantly intrigued by this lad whose dress and skin-tone made him look as though he’d been working construction in the Italian Riviera all summer, but whose manner of speech made him sound as though he just finished starring in a hot new spaghetti western.

“I sure do,” the unknown boy happily responded to Nigel’s question. “Haven’t had any marijuana all summer.”

“You might want to close that door!” said Xen.

“Ah, hell, I’m sorry. Y’all are tryin’ to hotbox, huh?” He shut the door firmly, the sound of which was enough to finally stir Dipesh.

“Oh, hello,” Dipesh spoke groggily, surprised to see this strange new lad sitting next to him. “Are either of you going to introduce me to our newcomer?” He over-enunciated his words, trying as hard as he could to appear sober.

“I would if I knew his name,” Nigel answered.

“Yeah, I’m Teddy.” Teddy waved to everyone and stroked the black cat’s head, who responded by pressing his forehead into Teddy’s hand. Nigel, Dipesh, and Xenophilius introduced themselves in turn. “Nice to meet y’all,” Teddy said.

“Why do you keep saying that?” Xen asked a bit too brusquely.

Teddy, casually amused by Xen’s wild-eyed stare and overall strangeness, needed clarification. “Saying what?”

“Who do you keep saying that, that ‘y’all’ thing?” The contraction sounded clumsy and forced when produced by Xenophilius.

Though embarrassed by Xen’s behavior, Dipesh and Nigel were equally curious to hear an explanation for Teddy’s unusual diction.

“Oh, that,” Teddy laughed. “It’s a pretty common thing to say where I’m from. It just means ‘you all.’”

“Well, we sort of figured,” Dipesh said, “we’ve just never heard anyone talk like that. Where is it that you’re from? You sound American, but not like a lot of Americans I’ve encountered.”

“That’s right, Dipesh,” (saying Dipesh’s name like someone who’s trying not to forget a recently learned name) “I am indeed American, from a place called Texas.” The lads gasped at this. “Y’all know of it?”

“Only a little bit,” Dipesh said. “I’ve read a little about the magical school system in the United States, and I know one of the schools is located in Texas. And Nigel here has seen a lot of the famous westerns.”

“Well, Nigel, you might be sad to learn that most Texans don’t live the way they do in all those movies, especially not where I live—a city called Austin, kinda in the middle of the state. I was born in the town of Lubbock, though. Now, out there in the panhandle, you’d still find some ‘traditional’ folks like that, who carry guns and drive cattle and what have you. Hell, there’s people like that around Austin, too, just not anywhere near as much.”

The lads were enthralled, like anthropologists meeting a remote Amazonian tribesman.

“Tell me, do you find many strange insects living in the desert?” Xen asked.

Teddy laughed. “There’s another misconception, that Texas is all just one big desert. In fact, where I live it’s pretty damn green. Lubbock is pretty desert-like, though, much closer to what outsiders imagine Texas to look like. And to answer your question, Xenopho—Xen…?” (he needed assistance with pronunciation) “Xenophilius. Right. To answer your question, I’m not familiar with anything too out of the ordinary. We’ve got cicadas and other big obnoxious flyin’ bugs. And in some places, they’ve got these things called locusts, which are a goddamn nightmare in large numbers.”

Xenophilius was disappointed not to hear any reports of exotic variants of Higgledy Digglebies and so forth, but also knew that the uninitiated—even magical people—often had a hard time identifying the sorts of mysterious insects and animals that he knew about. He reckoned he would have to visit Texas himself if he wanted to gain a more accurate understanding of the region’s fauna.

“Y’all got a name for this nice cat here?” Teddy asked.

“Come to think of it,” said Nigel, “I haven’t given him one yet. Do you have any ideas, Theodore?” He inhaled deeply from his joint, which was now halfway gone.

“Not yet,” Teddy replied, “but maybe that’ll give me some inspiration.” Nigel giggled, passed his joint to Teddy. “Thanks,” Teddy said. He inhaled…then exhaled. “What about Max?”

Nigel shook his head. “Too simple. That cat’s not—” (his speaking was interrupted by coughing) “that cat’s not simple,” he managed to choke out after coughing.  

“You only say that because you think he’s your familiar,” Dipesh said.

“Well he is, isn’t he?” said Nigel. “Teddy, this cat here saved all our skins not too long ago when we were messing about in Knockturn Alley.”

“What’s that?” Teddy asked. “Another name for Diagon Alley?”

“Oh, right,” Nigel said, “you’re not from around here. Knockturn Alley is near Diagon Alley, except it’s a seedy area, known for harboring Dark Magic and nefarious types of wizards.”

“I see,” Teddy said. “So, what were y’all doin’ there?”

“I hardly think that’s relevant!” Xen shouted anxiously.

“These two,” Dipesh said, “were trying to buy weed. As usual, their bad habits got us all into some rather serious trouble.”

“Sod off Dipesh!” said Nigel. “You were there too. Anyway, as I was saying—don’t interrupt Dipesh—as I was saying Teddy, the three of us were in Knockturn Alley, yes, trying to score grass, though in my defense none of us knew where we had ended up, and while we were there these two mysterious fellows happened to pass us by. And who were these two blokes, you might ask? The same characters I overheard in the bathroom of the lower levels of the Ministry of Magic talking about some government plot to infiltrate Hogwarts!”

“Why were you at the Ministry of Magic?” asked Teddy.

“Me and Dipesh had a hearing to, like, clarify? No, that’s not the word I’m looking for…”

“Corroborate?” Xen chimed in unhelpfully. It was the only legal term he could think of at present.

“No, no, Xen, that’s not it either, just let me think! Oh! I know. We were there to answer a, uh, claim that me and Dipesh had been using magic outside of school. Now, Teddy, I don’t know how things work in America, but underage magic is a fairly serious offense here in England. It is over there, too? Ok, right on, so you know what I’m talking about. Well, at any rate, we were ultimately cleared of our charges. My uncle was the one who was using magic, but that’s a whole other story, not important…Why did I bring up any of this?”

“Well, you were telling me why you were at the Ministry of Magic,” said Teddy.

“Yes, that’s right, but why did I bring that…oh! Right, so when we got out of court, I saw these two men coming in our direction and, well, they just looked like they were up to no good, didn’t they?. They were wearing these, like, bowler hats? Or top hats? Either way, who wears hats like that anymore? Anytime I see someone dressing from a different era I think: now that’s got to be a real reactionary sort, you know? So, I followed these two gents into the toilets, and I took one of the stalls, pretending to have a shit, so they wouldn’t see me? While they’re doing their thing at the urinals, I hear them talking about how Hogwarts has become quite a hippy place of late, how Dumbledore has gotten out of control and needs to be reined in. Like, basically what they’re saying is the Ministry needs to take back control of Hogwarts? Then, one of them suggested that the Ministry has a plan to do just that, but that he couldn’t go into detail about it because it was classified.”

“That’s some heavy shit!” said Teddy. “What kind of stuff do you think they got planned for the school?”

Heartened to see a fellow enthusiast of conspiracy theories, Xenophilius squirmed giddily in his seat. Nigel, however, half suspected that Teddy actually gave little credence to the story, was merely having a laugh at their expense. Nevertheless, he explained to Teddy that he had little clue what precisely the Ministry might be up to.

“Whatever it is, though,” Nigel said, “I imagine that they’ll try to frame Dumbledore for something or…I don’t know, devise some kind of scheme to make him look unfit for his role? He is a rather old man; they could use his age against him.” Nigel, Teddy, and Xen pondered things for a moment. Dipesh, uninterested in these deliberations, looked out the window. After some time, Nigel spoke again. “Oh! But I haven’t even finished explaining how I got this cat. So…so, yeah, I saw those two Ministry men again when we were down in Knockturn Alley, right? So I followed them.”

Here, Dipesh cut in, not being able to stand the madness any longer. “Which meant that we had to follow you.” His hands grew more animated as he spoke, flying about so uncontrollably that he nearly back-handed Teddy. “Which necessitated us all going even deeper into Knockturn Alley. Deeper into danger, in other words!”

“Yes, yes, and I’m sorry about that!” Nigel waved away Dipesh’s condemnations. “Anyway, I lost sight of the blokes around Borgin and Burke’s, a real dodgy shop, man—that’s when we knew we were definitely not in Diagon Alley anymore. Around that point, well, Dipesh here sort of got surrounded, I guess, by some criminal types.”

“Followers of the dark?” Teddy asked. Nigel was clearly confused, so he clarified. “You know, wizards who are on the wrong side of magic. The dark side.”

“Oh, I dig. Followers of the dark. Yeah man, I like that. But no, I don’t think these chaps were necessarily evil quite to that extent. Just like, muggers, gang members, petty criminals, that kind of thing. Well, whoever they were, they were harassing Dipesh. Their leader even said some racist things about him, and about me for that matter. Anyway, I dunno why, but eventually I stepped in. I guess I was trying to draw some heat away from Dipesh.”

“You wouldn’t have needed to if none of us were there in the first place!” Dipesh argued, quite reasonably of course.

“Hey, man, I get it! I’m sorry! Look, either way, I very nearly got caught up in a duel with this gang’s leader. Can you imagine? Me, a teenager, about to be in a duel with some street rat who probably wouldn’t mind dueling to kill? Thankfully, though, before any of that bad shit could come to pass, this cat comes out of nowhere and, for whatever, reason, these gangster blokes are scared out of their skins by him! They seemed to believe he was some creature of great evil. If you ask me, though, any animal that is the enemy of characters like that is quite the opposite of evil.”

“Maybe you should call him ‘Angel’ then,” Teddy suggested.

“Angel! I like that!” Nigel, the current holder of the peace pipe, used the instrument to punctuate the words as he spoke. Making gestures with his marijuana cigarettes made him feel quite hip. “Yes! A name like Angel, that’s not too ordinary at all! You must be familiar with Muggle theology.”

Teddy chuckled, said, “A little too familiar. Speaking of familiar, I’m still not quite sure I understand how this cat’s your familiar?”

Nigel had to think for a moment. “It’s hard to explain, man. There was just something about the way he looked into my eyes when I first picked him up. Like he, like we…understood each other, you know? You think I’m fucking mad, don’t you?”

“Not at all,” Teddy said.

“Honest?”

“Honest to God. Some things just can’t be explained, but that doesn’t make them untrue. Hell, some of the truest things out there are things we can’t even see, things that not even the Seers can see. Even with all our magic, all our Divination, what have you, there’s power above us that we’ll never understand, never be able to wield.” Teddy passed the nearly-expired joint, first to Dipesh (who refused), then to Xen (who did not).

“Powers above us?” Nigel said. “That’s a far out thought. Do you mean like, God?”

Teddy laughed. “I guess I’m givin’ off the impression that I’m some kinda Jesus freak.” The lads looked ready to protest, but he continued talking before he could be interrupted. “Like I said, I know a little too much about what Nigel there calls ‘Muggle theology.’ See, my parents are Christians.”

“Muggles, I gather?” Dipesh asked.

“That’s right,” Teddy said. “I go to Church with them, but I myself don’t really believe much of it. Guess I just don’t think that any human, be they magical or not, has all the answers about what all is out there, and it’s arrogant to think you might. I talk about God, use the name, but it’s really just a shorthand for that higher power that really doesn’t have a name—and it never rightly will, because we’ll never really know what it is. But it’s out there, and good or bad it’s havin’ some kind of impact on our lives.” Nobody said anything, which made everyone somewhat uncomfortable, so Teddy added: “Or, I don’t know, maybe that’s just the weed talkin’.”

“Is that really what you think?” Nigel asked. “That it’s just the weed?”

Teddy frowned in contemplation. “No,” he spoke defiantly, “that’s not what I think. I meant what I said.”

“Well,” Nigel said. “I think that’s groovy man.” Dipesh and Xen nodded their heads in agreement. The joint finally burnt out in Xenophilius’ inattentive hands, and Nigel mourned its passing with longing eyes.

“We know so little about you, newcomer Ted,” Xen said. “Yet while we may know little about you, your family, what you do for amusement, or why you’re to be studying at our school, at least we know where you stand on religious matters!”

At once, the compartment door slid open violently. Everyone’s hearts sprang—including the black cat who was recently named Angel. This person, whoever it was, had not the patience to knock like Teddy had done, meaning that, unlike Teddy, this person was probably a hostile intruder. The lads searched through the smoke to try to identify this agent of doom. When enough of it had cleared, they saw standing before them a girl with large, almost glassy eyes, a pronounced nose, and brown hair tinged slightly blonde with summer sun.

“Julianna?” Dipesh recognized the object of his unspoken affection sooner than the other lads—this despite her look having changed a bit over the summer: her hair was longer and parted down the middle; even in her Hogwarts robes she looked just a bit more a la mode than in previous years; her face had grown in maturity and confidence, so that now she appeared to wear her larger-than-normal nose as a badge of pride rather than a mark of shame. Presently, she also looked rather harried, and the lads were surely about to find out why.

“Have you all gone barking mad?” Julianna seethed. “I can smell that shit practically on the other end of the train!” (Xen winced, the girl’s use of profanity activating the social conservative within him that existed jarringly alongside his radical anti-establishment strand.) “Is it your goal to get expelled?”

“Be cool, Jules,” Nigel said.

“Oh, fuck off with that groovy talk, Nigel.” Julianna was half serious, half teasing. Even with the severity of her words, Julianna returned Nigel’s stoned smile with a slight smirk, both quietly acknowledging that this was their first actual conversation in months. “Anyway, it is my job to get you lads to behave.” Her stance became increasingly imperious.

“Will you close that door, dearest?” Xen asked. He didn’t seem to understand what was happening: no more hot-boxing, the fun was over.

“I’m doing you a favor, Xen,” Julianna said. “If you start airing out the compartment now, the teachers won’t be able to tell where the smell is coming from by the time we get to the castle.”

“Say, Jules,” Nigel began, “since when is it your job to be monitoring our behavior like the damn fascists at the goddamn Ministry?”

“Since…” Julianna paused for a moment, tried to hold back a smile. “Since I was made a prefect.”

Dipesh glowed in full admiration. “You must be joking!” he said.

Though Teddy did not know what a prefect was, he made himself look impressed anyways. He also silently wondered if he was ever going to be introduced. Based on the cat’s searching expression in his luminous eyes, Angel might have been wondering the same thing about himself.

“What, Dipesh,” said Julianna, “is it so hard to believe that Professor Aurelius would think to make me prefect?”

“Sorry, no, that’s not what I meant.” Dipesh laughed falsely and, with a concerned expression, looked down at his feet, questioning why it was that he often found himself saying the wrong thing to girls. Perhaps he should have been more like Nigel, making gratuitous use of expressions like “groovy” and “far out”—words that Nigel so clearly did not truly own—for the sole purpose of filling out space in the air.

“Relax, Dipesh, if I was genuinely upset, you would know it. But yes, lads, it’s true: as of this school year I am a newly minted prefect. As such, I have to at least pretend to be keeping you three (or four?) in line.”

 “So, what is that?” Teddy finally spoke. “Is a prefect like an officer?”

“An off—” Julianna was thrown off by the way this new boy spoke. “Officer? Who—who is this anyway?”

“Apologies, Julianna,” said Xen. “This mysterious fellow is Teddy. He comes from America and, to be more precise since it is such a colossal country, the state of Texas.”

“Is that different from New York or California?” Julianna asked.

Teddy, wanting to err on the side of politeness, assumed the question to be genuine, and so offered a matter-of-fact yes, Texas is indeed different from New York or California.

“I’m only joking, Teddy,” Julianna said, “I know my geography a little better than that.”

“Careful, Theodore,” Nigel began groggily, “Jules is a cheeky one.” He stretched out his arms and grinned like an idiot. “Why don’t you sit down, Julianna? Stick around for a while, eh? Wouldn’t that be nice?” In a fit of stoned-out inspiration, he then began singing the beginning of “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” by the Beach Boys. Teddy nodded happily; he seemed to know the song—if not for being an enthusiast of Muggle culture, which remained to be seen, then at least by virtue of being an American. Julianna, however, was bemused; she didn’t appreciate Muggle music as much as the lads, and she certainly didn’t know as much about contemporary culture in the U.S.—magical or non-magical.

Julianna took an open seat next to Angel and Teddy (Dipesh might have been wishing that there was an opening next to him, but alas, the sort of magic that would enable him to produce more seating space out of thin air was beyond him). “I can’t stay for very long though,” she said. “I’m actually on patrol right now. There’s been some disturbances.”

Xen let out an intrigued sounding “Ahhhh.”

“Care to fill us in,” Nigel said, “or is it top secret?”

“Well,” she replied, “for one, there’s you lot. Practically the whole train’s been gabbing about the smell, so if your goal was to cause a sensation, then congratulations, you’ve done it. That being said, it turns out that you aren’t the only ones causing trouble. Did any of you happen to hear a sort of hooping sound along with strange war cries?”

“I think I might have heard something along those lines,” Dipesh said, though he was probably lying.

“That would be our good friend Harold Bigsby and his merry band of men.” Of course, Julianna was being quite sarcastic when she suggested Harold was their friend. He was nothing of the sort. “It would seem that old Harold got his hands on a special type of candy that turns you into an African tribesman when you eat it. He and his lads have been parading up and down the train with that nonsense. I’m surprised none of you really heard it.” Then she took a look round at their red, watery eyes, and had second thoughts. “But then again, maybe I shouldn’t be so surprised.”

“I think we have a similar kind of candy in America,” Teddy said. “Kinds that turn you into an Indian—er, Native American—or a wacky Asian fella, or some obnoxious black guy like in those old minstrel shows. Not real representations of these groups of people, obviously. More like insulting caricatures. Supposed to be funny, I guess. That’s odd, though, those candies aren’t very popular anymore. Usually it’s only old people that still like ‘em.”

“Yep,” Nigel said. “Well, what can I say? Harold and his friends are livin’ in the past, man.”

Before Julianna resumed her prefect duties, she caught the lads up on what she had been doing the past summer. Much of it was the usual Julianna stuff. A good deal of her time was spent in Sicily on a fine sliver of beach owned by her grandparents (to Julianna, nothing too extravagant; but Nigel and Dipesh pictured beautiful tan people laughing wealthily in stylish sunglasses and swimsuits of loud vivid colors—not that the color of this imaginary scene could be made out in the black-and-white film tones in which their minds rendered it. Xen, meanwhile, was probably wondering what the gubuglioos were up to in Italy in the summer: were they quite active, or did the heat drive them into dormancy?). One thing that differed from this summer break compared to previous ones: romance. Nigel was only vaguely familiar with this story; she had written him a letter declaring that she had a new boyfriend, but did not provide many details. Apparently, Julianna’s many solo walks through town drew the attention of a working lad, aged about seventeen. Nothing too scandalous came of it, apart from a fair amount of snogging. In fact, he never even asked for more than that. A nice boy, really. Dipesh, practically snarling, would hear nothing positive about this Sicilian chap (“He’s basically a man!” Dipesh argued). Fortunately for him, though, the liaison did not last the summer. Without any words needing to be said or feelings getting hurt, both parties allowed whatever they were doing to fizzle out.

Julianna reported on all this quite matter-of-factly, but her story elicited strong emotional responses from Nigel, Dipesh, and Xen. Teddy seemed to not think too much of it, leading Nigel to wonder if the youngsters in Texas really are as casually carnal as they’re depicted in The Last Picture Show.

The drama of Julianna’s summer forced the lads to embellish the records on their comparatively dull months away from school. While Nigel tried to spin into an epic novel his summer of visits to Albert’s Frozen Wonderland and his many viewings of mostly American programming, he resolved within himself to turn his boring life around…starting this fucking school year damn it! Year five shall be the year of my blossoming! The year I tango with some reactionaries, get my hands on some otherworldly substances, and meet a free-lovin’ girl who’s down to do the real thing. (Even in his head Nigel was a bit hesitant about using the word “sex.”)

“It sounds like you all had some pretty rocking summers,” Julianna forced herself to say. “I’m sorry I wasn’t in greater touch with my letters. I was a bit preoccupied, I suppose. But I’m excited to catch up with you guys when we’re back at school! And I’m sorry we didn’t really get a chance to meet properly, Teddy. You’ll have to tell me all about yourself very soon.” Teddy beamed. “Good luck with getting situated and everything. I’m sure it’s all a little bewildering. Hopefully you get sorted into Ravenclaw, or this lot will probably never speak to you again.” She wasn’t entirely joking. “Anyway, I really want to catch that git Harold. I would love to shove that stupid headdress up his fat ass.” Xen gasped, alarmed by the imagery.

Julianna closed the door behind her.

“Yeah,” Nigel filled the silence left in Julianna’s wake, “Jules can be kind of a lot to handle sometimes, Teddy.” Dipesh shook his head in agreement, liking to think that he knew her personality better than anyone. “But she’s pretty far out.”

“She seems real nice to me,” Teddy said. “Probably just a little frazzled ‘cause she’s got that new job.”

Nigel snorted. “‘Job.’ Unpaid internship, more like. Training for a future role in the gestapo.”

“The gestapo?” Like most people, Teddy understood that secret police force to have dissolved after the Nazis were thrown out of power.

“The Ministry of Magic!” Nigel said. “We have a lot to teach you, Teddy.”

The door flew open again. Julianna was back.

“Caught Harold already?” Nigel asked.

“No,” Julianna said. “I forgot to tell you something!”

“What is it?” Dipesh moved to the edge of his seat.

“I can’t believe I nearly forgot to warn you guys!”

Xen quickly grew impatient with these theatrics. “Well, if it’s suspense you’re after then I think you’ve done your job well enough!” 

“Sorry,” she said. “So, I wouldn’t make too terribly much of this, but apparently we’re going to have some visitors from the Ministry this year. Dunno how long they plan to stay or why they’ll be coming to Hogwarts, but that’s what I’ve been told. Don’t spread that information round! I’m not sure how much of this Dumbledore is going to want to share with the general student body. And, like I said, don’t think too much into it? For all I know it could be some periodic security audit.”

Little did Julianna know that she had essentially just proved correct all of Nigel’s theories about ministerial interventions into Hogwarts affairs. As such, he would certainly make entirely too much of what she just told them.  

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