“Do you really think Teddy shall remain friends with us,” Dipesh began, “even after going over to Gryffindor?”

“Who’s to say we shall even desire his acquaintanceship?” Xenophilius retorted, bunching up his robe so that the extra fabric did not cause him to stumble over Hogwarts’ great marble stairs.

“Cool it, Xen,” Nigel said. “I think Teddy has proved himself to be a standout lad.” He ran out of breath whilst clambering the stone stairwells whose positions were ever-changing. “And anyway, we could use an inside source in Gryffindor tower. Someone who’s on our side who can keep us up to date with the goings-on of that fascist-adjacent house. Dig what I’m saying?”

Fascist-adjacent?” Dipesh was incredulous. “Now you’ve really gone too far, Nigel. Don’t let a little inter-house rivalry get the better of you. You should remember that Elisabeth Small is a Gryffindor, after all. Is she a fascist too, Nigel?”

“No, no…” Nigel huffed and puffed. “Of course not. She’s a, you know, a bona fide revolutionary, that one.”

Nigel did appear quite exhausted after a long day of traveling, feasting, and listening to the many hundreds of new students get sorted into houses. Too, it must be remembered that he endured all of this whilst under a heavy dosage of marijuana; and presently, Nigel felt as though, far from the effects of the drug finally wearing off—as they very well should have done—he was somehow experiencing a resurgent high. For the life of him, he couldn’t figure out how such a thing could be possible. Did someone put something in his food? One of the house elves? For what purpose? Did that ogre Harold Bigsby put a charm on Nigel as a joke? Such magic was likely out of Harold’s reach…

The historic figures whose visages decorated the school’s paintings taunted poor Nigel with their searching expressions. Their eyes scorched Nigel’s soul; their expressions indicated that they knew of the lad’s indiscretions. Surely, they would be in touch with Dumbledore about this shortly. Perhaps the headmaster would be so outraged by the boy’s use of illicit drugs that he would be willing to sell Nigel out to the Ministry’s Inquisitors.

Spanish Inquisition! Nigel was proud of himself for the quality of this historical allusion, which he felt might be even more powerful than comparing the Ministry to the Nazis. The fascists were terrible people, are terrible people, Nigel thought. But the Nazis were modern. Wouldn’t it be even more insulting if I were to compare the Ministry of Magic to the Inquisitors, the fascists of the medieval era?

The paintings on the wall gave him a confused look. Nigel wanted to scream at them to fuck off, but rightly intuited that such a sudden outburst would cause fellow Ravenclaws to believe he’d gone mad.

“If a broken clock is still right twice a day,” began the eagle knocker affixed to the entrance to Ravenclaw Tower, “at what time will its bell ring?”

“Impossible to know without further information!” Nigel blurted out.

The entirety of House Ravenclaw, that army of first-class intellectuals, turned round to cast contemptuous stares at young Nigel.

“What on earth are you saying now, Nigel?” Dipesh sneered.

“What?” Nigel looked shocked and hurt by the nasty looks he received. “I was only answering the riddle! Now why isn’t the bloody door opening? That was an easy one!”

“I don’t think you heard the eagle properly?” said some snobbish youth in the Ravenclaw throng. The haughty London elite continued: “I believe it said, ‘Take away the whole and some remains. What is it?’” With a bored face, he paused to give Nigel some time for deliberation. “The answer, which ought to be obvious enough, is ‘wholesome!’”

The door to Ravenclaw tower swung open, and the students gratefully entered.

“Impossible to know without further information?” a student mocked. “That’s a laugh.”

Julianna approached Nigel, Dipesh, and Xen appearing very frantic. She swished her brownish-blonde hair out of her face and said to Nigel, “What the hell has gotten into you? Your eyes are like two blood moons!”

“Be cool, Jules,” Nigel attempted to wave her off. “I’m just tired. Doesn’t a fellow have a right to be tired after a long day?” But Dipesh and Julianna appeared unconvinced. “Or maybe someone who has it out for me has put some kind of hex on me? I do feel quite unlike my normal self.” Maybe, Nigel thought, if he simply admitted he was out of sorts, that would be enough to get his friends off his back.

“If you wish to be stoned all year long,” Julianna said, her arms folded, “then I don’t know how long I’ll be able to keep my mouth shut before I’m compelled to report you to Professor Aurelius.”

“Don’t worry, Julianna,” Dipesh cut in, rather fearing the consequences of his rash decision to engage in impromptu conversation with her. “I’ll keep a close eye on him. M-make sure he doesn’t-doesn’t get into too mmmuch trouble, you know? Ha-ha.”

“What’s with you, mate?” Nigel whispered to Dipesh, far too loudly.

“Thanks, Dipesh,” Julianna said bemusedly, silently wondering at what point in her friendship with the lads had their conversations become so strange…and awkward. “Come on, let’s go inside. Tonight, I’m keeping an eye on all three of you.” (This last comment, one can well imagine, caused a great emotional stirring in Dipesh.)

“Well, Julianna,” said Xen, “I certainly hope you don’t take your duties as prefect too seriously—at least for this one night. For tonight should be all about laughter and merriment, the reuniting of old companions after a long summer! Ah! Well, lads…and lass—sorry Julianna, I really don’t know what you would prefer I call you. Honestly, so touchy! Anyway, what do we all think our very own lady-bard will be performing tonight?”

Nigel hardly heard a word that had been said of this. As he and his friends walked through the short tunnel leading to the common room, his eyes went all fuzzy. Then, he went temporarily blind. This, to Nigel, was far more preoccupying than whatever Xen was yammering on about.

When they entered the common room, Nigel’s vision had fortunately returned, though not to its full faculties. For instance, the midnight-blue carpet, all adorned in stars, appeared to vibrate, spin, even undulate—none of which was likely to actually be happening. On top of his eyes registering distorted versions of reality, Nigel’s ears also malfunctioned. The crowds of students gathered in the common room carried on conversations in muffled voices, as though Nigel had water lodged in his ears, or was wearing an old-fashioned diver’s helmet.

“I need to lie down,” Nigel said vaguely. He found a space to sit on the nearest couch, and immediately was asleep.

But he did not dream all that much—unless one could qualify his semi-lucid hallucination as dreaming. Nigel, you see, imagined himself to be lying down, completely naked and stiff as a plank, in a pitch-black expanse of…nothingness. Perhaps there was a shallow pool of water directly beneath him, though one could not be too sure. Somewhere out there, barely audible to Nigel, the party in Ravenclaw Tower continued; to Nigel, though, such party might as well have been taking place in a different dimension.

Whatever it was of which Nigel was under the influence, it was far more than “straight-up grass.”

Thirty minutes later, or perhaps several hours later, his eyes flickered open. Over by the fireplace, a youth with incredibly soft features and a large, angular nose conducted an impeccable impersonation of Edith Piaf. Though the youth theirself could not have been older than seventeen, they sang with the same deep and smoky confidence of Piaf the chanteuse in her prime—and did so dressed to the nines in stage makeup that accented the eyebrows and a trim 1930s Parisian dress that drew attention to a shapely false bosom. Everyone in the room, but most especially Xenophilius, was delighted by the performance.

Everyone, that is, except for the barely-conscious Nigel—and his two friends, Julianna and Dipesh, who sat worriedly by his side.

“Nigel!” Julianna shouted. “Are you alright?”

“Hmm?” Nigel said. His eyes briefly searched the room, discovered his friends staring at him quite concernedly, but then a voice told him to go back to sleep; and so he did. Julianna tried to shake him back awake, but it was far too late.

“Aaahhhh, there you are. I was worried about you Nigel. Don’t do that again, please.”

Nigel knew not whom that voice belonged to, but it hypnotized him with its calm and reassuring tone. Though he could not see the person speaking to him, he felt that whoever it was (likely a male) was cradling him. It was a bit strange, but Nigel could not help but take comfort in the embrace. (Later, in a more lucid moment, Nigel would reckon that what he was feeling were—ideally—Julianna’s arms holding him; Dipesh, however, could not be ruled out as the one doing the holding.)

The space in the pitch-black room began to shift as though Nigel and his invisible companion were in a moving shipping container.

“Where are we going?” Nigel managed to say, very drowsily.

“Somewhere safe,” the voice answered.

“But where?”

“Don’t worry about that.”

Nigel, very trustingly, obliged.

For hours and hours, nothing happened. Yet, somehow, Nigel was aware of his mind running wild—even if he was not in full possession of his mental faculties. It felt as if someone had placed new thoughts inside him, and that Nigel’s mind worked furiously to draw conclusions from the new data being given to him. Some of these were neutral, innocuous thoughts; others, however, were quite dark. Yet, try though he certainly did, he could not describe the exact substance of these thoughts, only the shape of them. Although an aspect of his subconscious disapproved of these thoughts, Nigel ultimately did nothing to resist.

The next morning, at long last, Nigel awoke.

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