Chapter 1: Owls on Lovers Row

There are untold numbers of postal codes across Britain that have unusually high concentrations of magical residents. Some famous examples include Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley, but there are also unassuming places like Burbage Row: an almost entirely muggle-free street situated in a quiet neighborhood in London’s far western suburbs.

On this street, bizarre music would emanate from smart-looking two-story homes: manic voices, often times singing in a language other than English, wailing about mythical creatures, or going on about various spells and enchantments, sometimes even making hissing noises, and so on and so forth. If modern instruments – such as guitars and drums – were employed at all, it seemed that the musicians didn’t know how to use them, or were intentionally misusing them in some ill-conceived artistic statement. (Of course, we students of history know that in those days musical experimentation was getting rather out of hand. It is my strong opinion that the brief era of disco music was payback for all those years of sprawling, incoherent, pseudo-psychedelic noise.) The music alone would usually be enough to keep muggles away; ordinary Britons would hear the ghastly noises and assume the neighborhood had been taken over by foreigners. Then there was the way people would dress – as though every day was Halloween. People wore long, flowing robes dyed in unnatural colors, which were often accompanied by the most peculiar hats you’d ever see. Perhaps most disturbing of all, though, were the smells. Night and day, the residents of Burbage Row seemed to be concocting some truly strange brews which often produced offensive scents like dirt, cow dung, or fungus – odors that hung especially heavy in the muggy summer air, sticking like leeches to sweat-soaked clothes. Muggles, of course, have no idea that a foul odor is often the sign of a well-made potion. For instance, while a non-magical type might gag at the first whiff of an expertly crafted Polyjuice Potion, a witch or wizard would jump for joy, knowing that she or he had made the elixir properly.

 Not all potions smell bad, though. Love potions, for example, generally possess a pleasant fragrance that’s meant to allure one’s target. On Burbage Row, it remains quite common for girls and boys to cook up such a potion for someone for whom they feel a deep longing – a longing that’s always initially unreciprocated. If the potion maker is successful, then eventually the two would become married women and men. However, there comes a point at which the potion maker becomes overly confident; he or she gets duped into believing that amorous feelings have become authentic, at which point the potion maker will decide that he or she can discontinue dosing their alleged “lover.” Then, as you can well imagine, some serious trouble commences. It is for this reason that Burbage Row’s overwhelmingly magical residents will often refer to the street as “Lovers Row.” Those in the know will understand the double meaning straight away: it is lovers’ row because people who live here are often drugging each other with potions and falling in false love, and it is also where lovers row because, once the drugged party is once again in a proper state of mind, legendary rows between the two are almost inevitable.

 Another common household potion is one that deals with erectile dysfunction. Occasionally, a man will make the potion himself and self-administer it with or without his wife’s knowledge. More often than not, though, men are too ashamed by their condition, and will simply deny that there exists a problem for which a potion need be made. In such cases, wives have been known to surreptitiously craft a potion and lace their husband’s tea or brandy with it. Mr. Thompson, the neighborhood drunk, never understood how he could drink almost an entire bottle of bourbon and not only still get a hard-on, but actually have an easier time of doing so.

 As you can surely see by now, witches and wizards drug one another constantly. (Of course, they tend not to call it “drugging,” because that’s generally thought of as a lowly muggle activity. Attitudes, however, have been changing in recent decades – especially among younger generations. Much more on this soon.) The ethics behind dosing a loved one, or dosing oneself to gain an unfair advantage over others (like consuming Liquid Luck to get a promotion that you and a coworker have been competing for), is debated endlessly among intellectuals in the wizarding world. Like so many other contentious subjects, we will likely never reach a consensus on this question; rather, it is well to approach the issue on a case-by-case basis. Mr. Thompson, for his part, was happy to get as drunk as he wanted and still make love to his wife. He was having his cake and eating it, too, as the saying goes.

“What are you thinking about there, Nigel?”

 Nigel looked up from his toast and saw his father’s face for the first time all morning. He had been avoiding eye contact with his parents all through their breakfast.

“Dunno,” Nigel answered his father lamely. He groped about in the murky waters of his brain for a proper response, but none was forthcoming. Fortunately, he was saved by his mother.

“Oh, can’t you tell, James?” Nigel’s mother spoke imploringly. “His nerves must be absolutely shot. Every day he wonders when he’ll finally be receiving correspondence from Hogwarts about this year’s O.W.L.s. Just look at the state of him.” Penelope looked at her son in total despair. “Look at how red his eyes are. Poor lad is hardly sleeping at all these days. And in summer, too! When boys his age are meant to be on holiday. I often wonder if there’s any justice at all in our examination system. I mean, putting a young child through all that pressure? It’s simply too much!”

“Aye, fifth year’s a bloody tough one,” Penelope’s brother, Freddie, chimed in.

“I suppose you would know all about that wouldn’t you?” James quipped, knowing full well that his brother-in-law dropped out of Hogwarts at the end of his fourth year. He sipped his coffee with great satisfaction; never did he miss an opportunity to insult the man who had been living off and on in his basement for decades.

 Freddie, who was by now so used to James’ rude comments that he hardly registered them as such, simply nodded his head at this remark and turned to address his nephew.

 “Chin up there, Nigel.” Freddie shook Nigel’s shoulder aggressively. “You’re a Ravenclaw!” He roared when he said this, as if forgetting that the lion belonged to another Hogwarts house. “This stuff is in your blood, boy!”

“Indeed.” James begrudgingly agreed with Freddie. “O.W.L.s are damn difficult, son – mind you, not as difficult as the N.E.W.T.s, of course – but you’ll get through it. You’ve got some of the greatest professors in the world teaching you, and you’ve got that big head on your shoulders. Ha!” He laughed triumphantly. “Just you wait, you’ll be a Healer just like your mum and dad.”

Penelope put a hand on her husband’s shoulder to restrain him. “If that’s what he wants, of course,” she added.

“Right,” said James.

Nigel sat back in his chair and sighed dramatically.

“And what if I don’t know what the bloody hell I want?”

Penelope stared at her son crossly. “Nigel, I understand the stress you’re under, but do mind your language at the breakfast table. And, well, at all times really.”

“Honestly,” Nigel continued, ignoring his mother’s chastisement, “how do they expect me to just stare into a crystal ball and predict my future at just fifteen years old?”

“Well, you are apparently quite good at Divination,” Nigel’s father put in.

“James, please, our son doesn’t want to hear your silly jokes right now.”

“I wasn’t making a joke!”

“So, you’re suggesting that prophesying is my future?” Nigel asked his father, a strong hint of sarcasm in his voice.

“Er, no, I don’t think that’s quite what I meant,” James spoke carefully, trying not to set off his son’s volatile emotions. (Puberty usually came a bit late for the McPherson boys, but James knew from experience that when it did, it could be very tempestuous.)

“So, what then? I’m sorry, but I’m afraid I’m at a loss as to how to interpret your comment.”

Dearie me, James thought to himself. Now the boy is speaking lawyerly – a telltale sign of an imminent tantrum. He looked around frantically for a clock; before he could find one, he said: “Oh, but look at the time, Penelope! We best be going…lots of patients in at St. Mungo’s at the moment. We’ve been seeing a rather alarming spike in Unforgivable Curses this year…

“Nigel, we’ll talk later, I promise. In the meantime, try not to dwell on it too much, eh? It’s still the summer after all; relax a bit, enjoy yourself! Maybe go and see what Dipesh is up to!”

“You’re still knockin’ about with that Indian boy?” Freddie blurted out.

“Freddie, for heaven’s sake!” Penelope looked at her brother, aghast that such intolerance would rear its ugly head in the McPherson household.

Freddie made a pathetic attempt to walk back his comment.

“Meanin’ nothin’ by it, of course! It’s just a fact that the boy is Indian, is all. Mind, he does sort of smell a bit, doesn’t he?”

“If you’re trying to be funny, it’s not working!” Penelope thundered.

“We really need to be going now,” James said.

With that, Nigel’s parents got their wands out and, with a loud crack, they disapparated from the room.

Stuck there at the breakfast table with his uncle (who was presently laughing fitfully over the effect his uncouth comment had had on his sister), Nigel longed for the day of his seventeenth birthday to arrive, so that at moments like this he could just disappear. Where would I go? He wondered, and his mind was filled with flashes of memories from his childhood: sunny days at the beach in the south of England, hikes through dense pine forests with Dipesh’s nature-loving family, sightseeing tours along Ireland’s rugged coastline. Deep in thought, Nigel nearly dozed off there at the table, but he was brought back to lucidity by his uncle.

“Oi,” Freddie said. “Your parents may be too thick to know what’s goin’ on with you, but I know what bloodshot eyes mean.” He wagged an authoritative finger at his nephew. “You’ve been puffin’ on that magical grass, haven’t you?” Freddie had a talent for inventing new colloquialisms.


“Don’t make me spell it out, boy, you know damn well what I’m referrin’ to. Look, I’m not gonna try to tell you what to do, and I’m not gonna be tellin’ your parents or anything like that, but I’ll tell you this: that stuff is dangerous for a wizard’s mind. What do you think explains all the upheaval these days? It’s the You-Know-What, boy! It’s making witches and wizards go mad – callin’ for abolishin’ the office of Minister of Magic altogether and switchin’ over to communal leadership, bannin’ Azkaban on account of ‘it’s cruel,’ experimentin’ with homosexuality, freely fornicatin’ with muggles, and…”

“I don’t have to listen to this!” Nigel yelled, fighting through the cobwebs of his mind so that he could address his uncle’s lunacy head-on. “Firstly, ‘freely fornicating with muggles’? Are you daft? You’re dad’s a muggle!”

“Well, yeah, but…”

“SECONDLY! There has been found no linkage between the use of recreational drugs”

“Don’t use that word!”

including of the psychedelic variety, and long-term psychosis. In fact, the very narrative you just spewed is nothing but a reactionary attempt to delegitimize radicals’ well-founded concerns about the Ministry’s heavy-handedness and the abuses at Azkaban prison. As for the sex stuff, well, there can be no political revolution without sexual revolution.”

After a sustained silence, Freddie spoke. “You know what I think? I think you’ve been listenin’ to too much muggle radio. You’re startin’ to sound like one of them.” He crept closer to his nephew, peering directly into his eyes so as to get a good look at his soul. “You’re turnin’ out to be a very unusual sort of wizard, I think. That could be a very good thing, but it could also be a very bad thing.”

With that, he retired to his living quarters in the basement, allowing his premonitory words to soak into the adolescent boy’s highly impressionable brain.

Nigel cleaned up the mess his family left for him on the dining table (without magic!); this he did as quickly as he could so that he could spend the rest of the morning – and perhaps much of the afternoon – sulking in his bedroom.

His room was nestled in the far-right corner of the house’s second floor, on the opposite end of his parents’ bedroom. The distance between his own room and that of his parents meant he needn’t worry about the smell of weed drifting into their nostrils. Of course, Nigel reckoned that his parents probably wouldn’t recognize the scent anyways, as they were of a generation who wanted absolutely nothing to do with “muggle drugs,” or You-Know-What, as it was often called in those days. Yet even the most conservative in the magical community took no issue at all with imbibing beer and liquor the way muggles did; this led Nigel to believe that, over the centuries, alcohol had been slowly integrated into the culture of witchcraft and wizardry. He, along with other forward-thinking wizards, was certain that the same would inevitably happen with That-Which-Must-Not-Be-Named – and with a revolution, it could happen very quickly. These and other thoughts swirled delicately through Nigel’s head as he lay in bed, staring at the ceiling, taking a few drags from a half-used joint while the radio played a song from one of his favorite muggle bands.

Bloody hell, Nigel thought to himself. It’s been almost a decade since “Love Me Do” came out! Blimey, how their sound has evolved since then. Mind you, I still think their older songs are bloody brilliant.

He started to sing along out loud, quietly, as if he were half asleep. “You knoowwww aiiigghhh love you! So pleeeeease pleeease please me, whoa yeah – ah, shit, that’s a different song!” Nigel laughed hysterically at the thought of getting “Love Me Do” mixed up with “Please, Please Me” – so hysterically that, by the time he came to, the beloved two-minute pop song was over, to be replaced by the blaring sound of a middle-aged woman selling laundry detergent, an advert which he found nearly as amusing as his musical faux pas.

Nigel splayed out on his mattress, really noticing for the first time how much his feet fell off the bed these days. Last summer, this wasn’t an issue. Last summer, he was still short, chubby, and could sing soprano. Sometime earlier in the year, though, his transformation had begun. This summer, he stood taller than his uncle, he became rather lanky as a consequence of his body suddenly stretching upwards, and if he really tried hard, he could sometimes sound like an adult man when he spoke.

On one hand, his growth spurt made him excited about what girls would think when he got back to Hogwarts. (They hadn’t paid him much attention before, but now he was fast becoming a man. Heads will turn! He thought to himself. This was great news for Nigel, because he and his best mates at school [Xenophilius and Dipesh] had made a pact in their fourth year that they would lose their virginity before leaving school. Shagging – or rather, talking about shagging [the act itself was still quite unfamiliar to them] – had become a favorite topic of conversation, even if such discussions were filled with all of the awkwardness to be expected out of a few young blokes who don’t quite know what they’re saying.) On the other hand, Nigel’s full entry into adolescence made him somewhat melancholy; it reminded him too much of time’s relentless forward march. Yesterday, it feels like I was eight years old, shaking my little fanny around the living room with mum and dad while we listened to “Love Me Do;” indeed, all my troubles seemed so far away. Now, however, it looks as though they’re here to stay.

“Oooohhhh I beeelieve…in yesterrdayayy.”

Nigel rose from his bed and kicked away some rubbish that was strewn about the floor so he could have a clear space to perform. He assumed his best showman-like posture and stared out the window, drawing a deep breath for his favorite bit of the song:


Somewhere in the middle of the chorus, he started to notice an alarming number of owls flying about the rooftops across the street. It took time, however, for his brain to fully process this information; once it did, his heart began beating at a record pace. He knew that to see such a cluster of owls could only mean two things: either there was a major emergency in the wizarding world, or Hogwarts was sending out a mass correspondence. The latter was more likely, and Nigel reckoned he wasn’t ready for the letter that just flew through the front door.

He trampled on the meaty envelope as he made his way out of the house. The muggy air outside greeted him unkindly, but more unwelcome still was the sight of his uncle sitting pointlessly on the stoop, looking at nothing in particular, contributing nothing to the world around him. Seeing Freddie from his backside, hunched over, wearing his white tank top, Nigel thought that his uncle looked very much like a massive hunk of meat left out in the sun, melting, sagging, losing its shape.

Freddie turned to face his nephew. He sniffled dramatically, as if he intended to add to, even to celebrate, his revolting appearance.

“You’ve got yourself a letter there, Nigie,” Freddie teased.

“Fuck off,” Nigel returned, brushing past the rotting mound of meat.  

“Oi! That’s no way to talk to your uncle, boy!”

“I don’t care what you have to say about, about anything!”

“Nigel, get back here right now! We’re gonna go back inside and talk about what you said to me, and then you’re gonna read this bloody letter!”

“Get out of my life, Fred, for fuck’s sake!”


From the middle of the street, Nigel called out to his uncle: “Yeah? You’d – you reckon you – that you’d draw your wand against an underage wizard, eh? Someone who can’t even defend himself? Big man! Well go on then! P-pull…pull it out, man! Let’s uh, you know, see what that stubby little thing can do!”

Nigel didn’t stick around long enough to see if his uncle picked up on the innuendo. Before Freddie could offer a riposte, Nigel was already out of earshot.

Wait till Dipesh hears what I just said to that blithering idiot! Nigel thought. He’ll say, “Hang on, you said what to him mate?” And I’ll go, “Well, technically I was talking about his wand, but basically I told him to pull out his tiny cock when he threatened to hex me. Can you believe that, mate? He said he was gonna draw his wand on me? Like…wow, they’ll send you off to Azkaban for certain, and then, THEN let’s see if you still don’t agree with people who want to close that bloody medieval prison down!”

“Waz thad yer uncle goin’ on abou’ hexin’ yeh back there?” Mrs. Thompson slurred.

“What?!” Nigel was alarmed by Mrs. Thompson’s sudden appearance directly in front of his face. With her saggy skin, bushy, mean-looking eyebrows, and her thinning mane of unkempt hair, he initially mistook her for the loathsome Hogwarts caretaker, Argus Filch. Nigel was not one to hate, but he made special exception for Filch. And his uncle. And a few others, besides (mainly Slytherins, but also a couple of Gryffindors).

“Yer uncle, lad! Couldasworn I heard him sayin’ I’LL HEX YEH! Don’t he know the muggles can hear ‘im??”

“Muggles don’t live on this street, Mrs. Thompson, you know that.”

“Whaddabou’…whaddabou’…” While she spluttered, she wagged a tremulous finger somewhere down the row of houses before them.

Nigel scanned the street with her, trying desperately to help her find the muggles she was referring to so that the conversation could be over and he could get on with his day. Having failed to find anyone wearing bellbottoms or corduroy, he decided to placate her by making up a fictional muggle family, the Robinsons (inspired by a scandalous film he saw during Muggle Studies last year), who lived at the very end of Burbage Row, who probably heard nothing about hexes, and even if they did they probably would think nothing of it (just more crazy foreigners!).

“All else fails, Mrs. Thompson, we can just put a Memory Charm on the Robinsons; no harm done! Anyway, best be going now…do enjoy this lovely day!”

“Yezz well, look affer yerself there, lad.”

Owls seemed to fly tauntingly just over Nigel’s head as he walked, then jogged, then ran to Dipesh’s house. Why couldn’t they just leave Burbage Row already?

Not wanting Mr. and Mrs. Patil to see him in his disheveled state, Nigel decided against knocking on their front door and asking to see Dipesh, as he might ordinarily do. Instead, he chose the very clandestine option of throwing bits of gravel at Dipesh’s window and calling out his name. After Nigel felt his voice starting to go hoarse, Dipesh finally opened his window. A short teenager with a boyish, slightly pudgy face and a sort of overgrown mop of hair poked his head out the window.

“Blimey! Where were you?” Nigel asked his friend annoyedly. “Were you wankin’ it?”

“Quiet!” Dipesh pleaded. “Mum might be able to hear you. I’ll come down in a moment.”

Nigel passed the time by lying on the grass. Looking up at the bright blue sky, he was relieved to find that it was no longer so blotted by the silhouettes of owls flying about. After some time of staring into nothingness, his sharpened senses (he was convinced that You-Know-What endowed him with cat-like ears) could distinctly make out the sound of feet shuffling through grass. Dipesh stood right above him.

“I was on the toilet, if you must know,” Dipesh announced to his friend.

“Blech, I most certainly do not want to know that.” Nigel rose from his friend’s lawn and wiped blades of grass off his backside. He asked Dipesh if he’d gotten any letters from Hogwarts today.

“Sure I have,” Dipesh replied. “Haven’t you seen all the owls?”

“Well? Have you opened it?”

“Straight away. You haven’t?”

“I can’t bring myself to open it yet. Dunno why, really. What’s it say?”

“The usual stuff, of course: ‘here’s the classes you’re taking and here’s all the required course materials. See you in September.’”

“Don’t be thick. I’m talking about the other letter.”

“Oh, the one about the O.W.L.s? Come on, mate, we’ve been expecting that one all summer. It doesn’t say anything you don’t already know. The basic gist of it was, ‘expect to study extra hard this year and be prepared for a shellacking in the spring.’ I found it all perfectly perfunctory, really.” Dipesh wiped sweat from his forehead theatrically. “Look, mate, can we talk about this inside, where there’s air conditioning?”

“NO! No! Bad idea. If your parents saw me like this, and then they’d tell my mum and dad…no good.”

“Blimey, Nigel, you’re high again? It’s no wonder this stupid letter has you all frazzled. You haven’t suggested so much as a hint of worry about the O.W.L.s all summer, and now you look on the verge of a panic attack. You wouldn’t be feeling this way if you were straight, honest.”

Or I’m just able to see things perfectly clearly now!”

Dipesh grew concerned over the expression on Nigel’s face – he took on the appearance of a Seer who had read one too many tea leaves. “Let’s at least go for a walk. Might help you calm down a bit.”

Nigel begrudgingly agreed. “Where are we going, then?”

“Ice cream?”

“Fuck me, that sounds good right now. Do you think they’ll have water there as well?”

“I’m quite certain the ice cream shop will have water, yes.”

To get to Albert’s Frozen Wonderland, the boys needed to follow Lovers Row back in the direction Nigel came from. As the two passed by the McPherson house, Nigel could’ve sworn he saw Uncle Freddie peering at them through the blinds. How am I related to that man? Nigel wondered to himself. And since when does talking about revolution make me a muggle? Do they have a monopoly over progress? “I’m not meanin’ to offend, but the Indian boy does smell a bit, doesn’t he?” Racist git! Hey! I thought only muggles cared about the color of one’s skin? Like, isn’t that sort of prejudice meant to be beneath us wizards? I think it’s actually you who’s starting to sound like a muggle, Freddie. Not me!

The giant ice cream cone in front of Albert’s shop was covered in a thick film of soot – the result of years of pollution from coal-powered factories, many of which were on their dying breaths in the face of Britain’s de-industrialization. Despite the shop’s rather bleak exterior, locals knew better than to think that the physical state of Albert’s Frozen Wonderland meant that the ice cream itself was foul. Rather, just the opposite was true: those who frequented the shop – magical and non-magical alike – swore by the stuff, often referring to Albert’s product affectionately as the best ice cream available anywhere on the British Isles.

An arctic blast hit unsuspecting Nigel in the face when Dipesh swung open the door to the Frozen Wonderland. The boys panicked when they saw that almost all the tables inside were occupied by families, young couples, or bands of unaccompanied children who had free reign of the neighborhood all summer long.

“How about I order for the both of us and you save us that empty table in the far corner next to the toilets?” Dipesh suggested.

“Good idea,” said Nigel. He handed Dipesh a few bronze coins. “Here you go, that should cover it.”

“Er, mate,” Dipesh whispered. “Wrong currency?”

Nigel snatched his knuts back from Dipesh and frantically stowed them in his pocket before any other patrons could notice, then he handed him some muggle coins. A few adult wizards in the shop noticed what happened and rolled their eyes.

“Rocky Road?” Dipesh asked.

“Yes, please! And a water? My throat’s drier than a…” He trailed off, never able to find the appropriate analogy.

Nigel seated himself at the table nearest the toilets; while he waited, he couldn’t help but feel that Dipesh was being inappropriately chummy with Albert today, asking him for several samples of different flavors (even though they always ordered Rocky Road) and droning on about the recent football match. He wanted to yell at his friend to hurry up, but he restrained himself, soothing his angst by swishing his long black hair from side to side. This hair thing was becoming a new twitch for him, one that his mother didn’t fail to notice. Several times this summer she had warned him that he was going to suffer a neck spasm if he kept it up, and why wouldn’t he just let her cut his hair anyway?

Because this is how wizards are wearing their hair now, mum, deal with it!

Once Dipesh set his ice cream down in front of him, Nigel forgot all about his irritation over his friend’s slowness and took to attacking the generously portioned treat.

To avoid brain freeze, the two occasionally took breaks from their Rocky Road to chat. During one of these intermissions, Dipesh asked Nigel if he’d heard from their other close friends at Hogwarts lately.

“Xen sent me a letter last week,” Nigel said. “He’s alright. You know, usual nonsense about him and his dad trying to catch ‘Cackling Willawonks’ or whatever creature it is that they’re making up these days.”

Dipesh laughed. “That whole family is mental.”

Of course, Nigel and Dipesh both found it quite cruel that other students at Hogwarts went around calling their best friend Loony Lovegood; at the same time, however, they couldn’t help but see at least a smidgen of truth behind the name-calling. Yet while others at Hogwarts avoided Xenophilius because of his eccentricities, Dipesh and Nigel were drawn to him precisely for that reason.

“Got a letter from Julianna as well,” Nigel announced.

“Oh, yeah?” Dipesh studied his spoonful of ice cream carefully, pretending not to be very interested in their other good friend, Julianna Fioretti.

“She’s going around with a new guy now, apparently. Some Christopher bloke? From Hufflepuff? A seventh year, supposedly.”

Though he tried to hide it, Dipesh looked crestfallen at this bit of news. Nigel immediately wished he hadn’t brought it up; he knew his friend fancied Julianna very much. In fact, they all did – Xenophilius included. It was why they sort of kept Julianna’s friendship at arm’s length. To be sure, they thought she was out of sight, and they loved spending time with her, but they all tried too hard to be cool when she came round, and that could become exhausting.

“I hear he’s a real git.” Nigel attempted to comfort his friend. “And, like, most of his O.W.L. marks were so bad that he’s hardly taking any N.E.W.T.s at all? I mean, what’s the point of even sticking around school? Just get on with your pathetic life already.”

“Ah, so we’ve come back round to the O.W.L.s,” Dipesh observed sagely.

“Oh, we have, haven’t we? Well, we don’t need to talk about it.” Nigel’s efforts to sound casual weren’t working.

“Honestly, I don’t understand what’s bringing all this on. All I can say is that you’ve got nothing to worry about. You’re a Ravenclaw!”

“But what if the Sorting Hat made a mistake?” Nigel said hastily, almost monosyllabically.


“What if, like, I’m not meant to be a Ravenclaw?”

Dipesh set his cup of ice cream down. “You’re sounding daft now, mate, just daft. Of course you were meant to be one. Your father was, your mum was, even your bloody uncle was! And if he was good enough for Ravenclaw then you sure as hell are! Honestly, Nigel, you’re a brilliant…” He looked round the shop and, seeing how crowded it still was, he lowered his voice. “You’re a brilliant wizard, absolutely brilliant.”

“Not as brilliant as you are…”

“Please, Nigel, we all have our strengths. Perhaps I can brew potions better than you can, but your knowledge of muggles is truly vast – almost equal to that of the professor. At the very least I would say that no one, not even Professor Quirrell, knows more about contemporary muggle culture at Hogwarts than you do.”

“Kind words, but false words.” Nigel could see his friend becoming exasperated, but he went on anyway. “I mean it! You know the Sorting Hat almost put me in Hufflepuff?”

Dipesh nearly screamed before catching himself. “But it didn’t, did it?! Really Nigel, come off it, you’re not thinking straight.”

“Don’t you dare try and blame this on the grass again!” He pointed his finger at Dipesh emphatically, once again taking on the look of a crazed prophet. “I am stone-cold sober now, man.”

“Right, well, if you insist on keeping this conversation going, I suggest we get out of here. The muggles amongst us might not have a clue as to what we’re talking about, but they sure will think we’ve lost our heads.”

Indeed, a man reading a newspaper with still photos all over it had been continually casting glances in their direction. He likely presumed that a smooth-talking guru had lured the poor boys into some hippy cult. Surely, the man thought, this tension between Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs, in which one group is ostensibly superior to the other, is all by design, a way to keep a healthy amount of infighting amongst rank-and-file cult members.

Dipesh and Nigel took a different route back home: a narrow alleyway running parallel to Burbage Row. Here, they would be shaded from the sun by the houses that flanked the alleyway on both sides. Plus, they could speak privately, as people rarely went down this way. Through overflowing trash cans and puddles of mysterious liquids seeping from people’s homes (most likely refuse from the aforementioned love-making potions), the boys rehashed the same debate they had while inhaling their Rocky Road at Albert’s. To add gravitas to his arguments, Nigel kicked a loose stone down the alleyway as they walked.

“Here’s what I think is really getting to me, Dipesh,” Nigel began. “Let’s say that, you know, this year I’m thinking to myself, ‘wow, I’m rather keen on Muggle Studies. Perhaps I’d like to teach it someday? Or maybe I’d want to work in the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts Office, like that Weasley bloke is planning.’ But a lad changes his mind quite a bit, doesn’t he? Maybe in my sixth year I suddenly change course and decide, ‘oh hang on a minute. I’m actually not that keen on muggles, after all. I’d rather chase after dark wizards. Yeah, that’s it! I’ll become an auror!’ Only problem is I haven’t got sufficient marks in Defense Against the Dark Arts and Potions to advance to N.E.W.T. level because I spent all my time toiling away at Muggle Studies! You see the dilemma?”

“I suppose I do,” Dipesh answered truthfully. “But is being an auror something you’re seriously pondering?”

“Well, no, not exactly. Er, not at all really, if I’m being honest. I was just using it as an example. Anyway, I trust you see my point. All I’m trying to say is that we’re sort of being forced to decide our futures early on, aren’t we? It’s quite a lot of –”


A spell issued from an unknown assailant’s wand.

Quite shocked to find himself floating in midair, Nigel turned around wildly, like an astronaut adrift in space, to get a look at his attacker. Meanwhile, at ground level, Dipesh was busy trying to disarm – with his bare hands, mind you, not a wand – Nigel’s mad uncle.

“Let him down, Freddie!” Dipesh yelled.

“Are you laughin’ now, boy?!” Freddie cackled with villainous glee while he kept his helpless nephew suspended above ground with his wand hand and fended off little Dipesh with his free hand. “Still have some snide remark to make about me nethers, boy?”

“Oh, shit,” Nigel said, almost dreamily, overwhelmed by the shock.

“Ah, now you appreciate the…GRAVITY…of the situation, eh?” Freddie laughed some more.

“No, turn around, you dunce.” Nigel could tell by her dress that the woman taking out the trash behind them was not of the magical persuasion. She had dropped her bag of rubbish and stood rooted to the spot when she noticed Nigel being tossed about by Freddie’s wand.

When Freddie noticed what was happening, he dropped his nephew, who hit the concrete hard, and tried desperately to hit the muggle – who was now fleeing down the alleyway – with a Memory Charm.

Obliviate!” He called after her. “Obliviate! Obliviate!” Several impotent sparks of blue light kicked up dust on the ground, barely missing the muggle woman’s feet. “Shit! Shit!”

“Now you’ve done it,” said Nigel, rubbing his bruised chest.

“Oh dear, I think that must’ve been Mrs. Robinson,” said Dipesh.

“Who??” Nigel asked.

“You don’t know the Robinsons? They’re the only muggle family that lives on this street.”

“Hang on, the Robinsons are real?!”