Grazhir :: Harry Potter :: The Nightmare Before Bedtime :: 01 :: Nimby Says...

01 • Nimby Says...

Our story begins as I was sitting on the front porch enjoying my breakfast cigarette. Yes, I know, it’s a nasty habit, going outside and inhaling what Floridians claim is fresh air, but one must make sacrifices in life.

And so there I was, innocently enjoying the morning (approximately 2.40pm) when I noticed movement round about my tummy area where there ought not to have been any.

I confess, my first impulse was to shriek like a little girl and leap to my feet, then slap at my clothing while squealing, “Get it off! Get it off!” And yet, I screwed up my courage and bravely dropped my gaze to meet the eyes of my foe.

And there he was, brazenly occupying territory belonging strictly to me, a silky piece of dandelion fluff. So I reached down with a sure hand and a firm pincer grip and snatched the bastard up off my shirt, then tossed him into the air where a passing breeze caught him and swept him off to the hinterlands.

And lo, evil was vanquished once again and the front porch made moderately safe (if you don’t count all the bugs and flying roaches that seem to appear at this time of year). And so I sat back, basking in the glory of victory, and finished my cigarette.

Thus, our story ends, with the triumph of good over evil, as it should be.

. . . .Or rather, that would be the case had it not been for a short side trip via an especially weird dream I had to the Fountain of Youth in Xanth, where I magically (and dare I say it, conveniently) was stripped of a few decades of time, but only in body.

Obviously, I retained all my knowledge, confidence, talent, and other sorts of things that actually mattered. Well, and it is true that I looked, before that fortunate occurrence, far younger than my chronological age, but at least I managed to lose that odd quirk with my right knee.

Anyhoo, it was shortly after that when I realized that I had, in fact, magical powers. Another side effect, perhaps, of my unscheduled trip? The silver in my hair remained, but I decided that was perfectly all right and gave me a certain sort of je ne sais quoi. I thought it went splendidly with the vivid blue streak in my hair, not to mention the mermaid-ish blue-green ends I was sporting.

Mind you, I might not have realized I had magical powers were it not for the interesting coincidence of receiving a letter from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, all the way from Scotland! Why, in all the times I had visited family in England, I’d never managed to touch base in that particular country.

This, I must confess, was an unparalleled opportunity for me, so naturally I packed up a few small suitcases. I discovered almost immediately that I could bend space (and possibly even time) and make them much, much larger on the inside, which was handy for fitting in those larger items, such as my several computers, desk, queen-sized waterbed, favorite lamp, and any number of items I could not bear to part with, like the blanket I’ve had since I was eight years old.

Now, having read any number of novels in the science fiction/fantasy genres, I was well prepared to assume that literally anything was possible in the world of magic. Rules, I must believe, were meant for science, not flights of fancy. And so, with my suitcases on (they made for lovely, if peculiar earrings once shrunk with a wave of my hand) and cat carriers in hand, I hied off to the nearest ATM and proceeded to loot it for cash.

Yes, I know, that’s a terrible thing to do, but really, how could they catch me when I had magic on my side? After I had divested any number of said machines of their funds, I thought for a moment about how Belgarath and company handled the issue of travel, and promptly turned myself into an albatross and flew across the Atlantic, landing somewhere in London that I only vaguely recognized.

It was then that I realized I only had American currency on me, and felt the need to sigh heavily.

Much, much later on, after a good night’s sleep at a hotel near Charing Cross Road, I had my breakfast cigarette while I strolled to that ‘Leaky Cauldron’ place mentioned in the helpful informational package I had received along with my invitation to Hogwarts, and entered, finding it necessary to pause just inside the door to let my eyes adjust to the dim light.

Shockingly, it was even dimmer than the atmosphere outside, which is saying a lot considering I was in frequently rainy England.

The man in charge was an odd duck, his appearance changing every so often from a visage that was vaguely within the realm of normality to something I think I once saw in a Disney interpretation of ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’. Frankly, it was quite nearly frightening, and definitely disturbing. Still, I am terribly brave (except when it comes to bugs), so I asked him politely for assistance on accessing Diagon Alley.

Naturally, he was immediately charmed by my quaint accent and escorted me to the entrance to that fabled place. I watched with sharp eyes as he tapped the odd brick or three and memorized the positioning and sequence, then thanked him prettily before I skipped through the arch that had formed.

This . . . this was the part I dreaded. After all, shopping is not for the faint of heart, or for those with a delicate constitution, which I assuredly had. But I said to myself, “Self, onward Christian soldiers,” totally overlooking the fact that I’m hardly the religious sort, and marched off toward a Leaning Tower of Pisa-type building that I had been told was the bank.

I ignored the words carved into the edifice, being very accustomed to banks splashing all sorts of nonsense anywhere possible, and marched on in through the ginormous double doors, and then through a second set. I wondered, idly, what the deal was with redundancy.

Luckily, it did not take long to exchange all my ill-gotten gains from ATM raids into wizarding coin, and I promptly opened a vault and secured myself a debit card so I wouldn’t have the inconvenience of carrying around the equivalent of Fort Knox in gold on my person.

The only real interesting thing I noticed during the entire transactory period was that the goblins would have been fired from a Bank of America within the first five minutes of employment. Back outside I sighed once more, still dreading enormously the idea of having to shop.

Hours and hours and hours later (most of which was admittedly spent at Flourish & Blotts), I was sinking wearily onto my hotel bed, pausing long enough to order room service before hauling open the several trunks of books I had purchased so I could acquaint myself with my new environment—magic and the wizarding world, not the UK.

I was shocked—shocked, I tell you—to realize that electronics did not actually work in magic-saturated areas. This called for desperate measures! There was no way in hell I would be living isolated from my beloved computer, and I would most assuredly die were I to be denied internet access. Hogwarts: A History be damned, this sort of thing was not acceptable.

So, I dug out my ginormous tome of ancient-long-since-lost-to-the-known-universe potions and magic (it’s amazing what you can find in the shed when your father comes from a family of dedicated packrats of the Downeast variety) and flipped through it until I found a number of interesting pages which seemed to address my needs.

*

(Weeks later . . . or perhaps days. . . . Time, wither thou goest?)

I was escorted to the school by an overly large man of dubious lineage two weeks early in order to sit my exams and handed off into the care of the deputy headmistress, a woman I immediately dubbed the Lady of Tartan. She showed me to the room I would be inhabiting for the duration so I could drop off my things, and then to the Great Hall so I could have lunch.

What followed was a plethora of tests designed to plunder the depths of my self-taught knowledge. I found them all to be alarmingly easy, but given the fact that I had years of useless bits of information floating around in my memory cells (when I could access them, that is), that didn’t come as any particular surprise, and I was hardly astonished when I was then invited to sit the exams for something called OWLs.

In the end it was determined that I would enter Hogwarts as a seventh year, which coincided nicely with my present age of seventeen. Ministry laws aside, that was convenient should I be required to use the wand I had been forced to waste money on, a rather lovely specimen of ebony with a phoenix feather core, at 9¾ inches and rather springy in nature.

The Lady of Tartan then informed me that I would need to return to my previous lodgings to await the train ride to the school with the rest of the students.

“Let me get this straight,” I said, one brow arched incredulously. “I need to return to London so I can take the train tomorrow, back here to Scotland, where I already am?” I belatedly added, “Ma’am.”

She nodded and said briskly, “That is correct, Miss Brown. All students must ride the Hogwarts Express. It’s in the school charter.”

“I see,” I replied, even though I thought it was the stupidest thing I’d heard of since Bush got re-elected. “Very well. Rules are meant to be made, after all. May I ask how I’ll be getting back to London, ma’am?”

She handed me another portkey at that point and explained how to trigger it, then wished me a safe trip before bustling off to do whatever it was deputy headmistresses did. I suspected, given the faint, lingering scent of catnip, that it was more likely to be a rollicking good night for her last evening of freedom.

The next day, after sleeping in the dubious comforts of a room at the Leaky Cauldron, I arrived at the station fairly early and was lucky enough to catch which specific instance of the barrier between platforms 9 and 10 I needed to slip through (in an oh-so casual manner), and found myself an empty compartment that didn’t smell and had clean windows.

I’m a people watcher, you see, so clean windows are important for watching people, assuming you’re even in the mood to watch people, because it’s a good way to learn things about them, especially when they don’t realize you’re people watching in the first place.

I immediately whipped out something to read, that being a selection of stories at any one of a number of fanfiction archives thanks to my laptop, which had a magically boosted wireless network card in it, not to mention a tweaked power supply. That book from the shed had been enormously helpful, and could double as a blunt weapon in times of extreme stress.

Shortly thereafter I was joined by several people I had never met before, all of whom had that typically ‘English’ look about them, something that is, I confess, extremely difficult to put into words. No, not the teeth thing, but that might have been part of it. In any case, the trip north was largely untroubled by time-wasting activities such as having a conversation, so I happily endured, pausing only long enough to purchase a few treats from the trolley when it trundled by mid-way through the journey.

Thank heavens there wasn’t something that might have been convenient, like a buffet bar in one of the cars. And that reminded me of that one train ride with my mother and aunt, wherein we were all confused for a time when an announcement came over the PA stating, “The buffet bar will be open in ten minutes.” The problem was that the anonymous voice pronounced it more like ‘boofy bar’, and that made absolutely no sense whatsoever to those of us too long away from the more esoteric of English accents.

And then there was the bee that flew in the open window. . . . But really, I digress.

About the only thing I managed to pick up in the way of information prior to our arrival at a place called Hogsmeade was that I was . . . a surprise of sorts. Not only was I an American (half English, actually, which surely counts for something), but I was transferring in rather than starting as a first year. Come to think of it, I was quite sure I’d read something along those lines in Hogwarts: A History, so I supposed I should feel quite special.

I was spared the indignity of a ride across the lake with the puny first years and was able to hitch a ride in one of the carriages. They were drawn by creatures that strongly reminded me of the amdusias from Final Fantasy IX, but I knew from my perusal of Hogwarts: A History that they were, in fact, called thestrals, and could only be seen by those who had witnessed death.

That was rather peculiar in my opinion, since I couldn’t recall having that particular fortune, but brushed off the anomaly as having watched a movie in which an actual death occurred, but was passed off as the work of an excellent special effects crew. It was likely a stunt person, and everyone knows those sorts are a dime a dozen, right? I wouldn’t be surprised if they all came from China, in an effort to do something about the horrendous population problem over there.

At any rate, it was raining (surprise) as my carriage came to a halt, and I blessed the fact that I had already researched and cast a spell to repel water. It already took ages for my hair to air-dry given the fact that it flowed down my back in a waterfall of silky chestnut to nearly reach the tops of my thighs. It was simply asking for trouble to let it get wet in such a damp climate.

Inside the castle I was politely requested by the Lady of Tartan to wait with the first years. Something about being sorted, she said, before disappearing through a set of doors. The children around me were a noisy bunch, their high-pitched chattering a definite cause for mass murder in my opinion. I could feel my headache worsening by the second, but I would have to wait until I could unobtrusively knock back a swig of a potion I’d made recently while bored.

The Lady of Tartan reappeared and gestured for silence, then gave a simplistic speech loaded with propaganda about houses or something—I couldn’t honestly be bothered to listen—then bid us all to form a line and follow her into the Great Hall. So we did.

Thankfully, I was called early on given my surname’s delightful position in the Alphabet Race, and I sat on the uncomfortable stool provided and prayed as the hat slipped onto my head that nobody before me suffered from lice. And then, a voice I did not recognize as either me, myself, or I, spoke into my head.

‘Well, well, well. You are a puzzle, aren’t you.’

I arched one brow and mourned the fact that another of my fingernails had torn. Perhaps there was a spell to fix things of that nature? I had always been disgusted by the fact that they were weak and prone to splitting.

‘You, my dear girl, are definitely a puzzle, and incredibly hard to place. An excellent mind, though a touch lazy, definitely sly and cunning, though a touch lacking in ambition, and quite loyal, assuming you interact with the real world long enough to form any friendships. However, those are minor issues, and I can see that you really need your bravery bolstered, so after rolling the imaginary dice and fixing the outcome, you’d better be . . .’

Then it shouted for all to hear, “GRYFFINDOR!” I winced; all this shouting was making my head hurt even worse. And then I winced again, though mentally, feeling rather outraged that I hadn’t been placed in Ravenclaw. Was a fear of bugs such an important thing to overcome in the wizarding world? Should I expect to be swarmed in the near future? I wanted to protest, but the Lady of Tartan was already removing the hat and giving me a firmly stern look.

So I rose gracefully, making my way to a spot at the indicated table. I was crushed when I realized that I couldn’t self-medicate yet, not having the preferred drink of some sort to use as a chaser, and settled myself (bad posture a given) to endure the remainder of the sorting process, stealthily turning my iPod back on so I could listen to my favorite music instead of sporking myself.

And then, my depression lifted. The last sprog had been sorted, the headmaster made some short speech I didn’t pay attention to, and food, blessed food, appeared at the table, along with a selection of beverages, none of which resembled chocolate milk. Water it was, then. I quickly had a sip of my potion, chased it with water and filled my plate, then began to eat, glancing up briefly when an older girl pushed a first year over and slipped onto the bench beside me.

“Hi!” she chirped and aimed a smile at me that could have blinded an Alaskan.

“Yo,” I replied.

She blinked at me in mild confusion; apparently that was not a proper sort of greeting in her worldview. Then she said, “I’m Lavender, a seventh year. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

“Likewise,” I said, feeling it was only polite to lie. “Also a seventh year, apparently.” She struck me as the type of girl who would chatter at a piece of statuary for hours if she had bad enough eyesight to not realize it wasn’t a person. “So tell me, what can I expect from Hogwarts?” I inquired lazily.

That set her off on a long, rambling discourse about everything under the sun that pertained to her beloved school, giving me a chance to satisfy my hunger. I listened as she gushed, nodding every so often and faking a look of interest. But really, I was mourning the fact that there was no such thing as a chip buttie on the many platters of food, though I did have to admit that the roast potatoes gave my Uncle Stephen’s version a run for its money.

It was when she started waxing eloquent about the house system that I paid more than passing interest to her verbosity, and began to muse on just how much trouble members outside Gryffindor would be, and was delighted to learn that Slytherin house was, happily, our natural enemy, due to some silly bigot back in the dark ages. Joy. Colour me thrilled beyond coherent speech.

The first years sitting around us were enthralled to the point of barely eating, but that might have been due to nerves, I suppose. And then, dinner was declared to be over, and the headmaster gave another speech before sending us all off to bed.

I could tell this was going to be a right pain in the tuckas what with being expected to wake up in the morning, something no sane person would consider a good idea, as opposed to morning being the correct time to go to bed. I trailed along behind Lavender, climbing the many staircases necessary in order to arrive at our destination, the entrance to Gryffindor tower, and by then I was lost in horrified contemplation of the fact that I would have to indulge in exercise whether I wanted to or not.

One of the girls made a big production of speaking a password to a portrait of a fat lady who seemed to have delusions of grandeur, ostensibly for the purpose of educating the first years on the correct way to gain entrance to one’s house area. I tucked away the password in a safe corner of memory and filed in along with everyone else, quite nearly reeling back in shock at the hideous display of bad taste when it came to colour selections in terms of decoration.

I watched as the children were instructed on where things were within the tower, making note of which staircase led to where I might find my dormitory, then slumped into a chair to recover from the excessively fatiguing journey. Truth be told, at that point I was having flashbacks of a sinister kind to all those Enid Blyton stories about boarding school.

Lavender dropped into a nearby chair with a perky smile (I cringed inwardly) and a moment later another girl did as well. Her hair was quite bushy, making me think she wasn’t the sort to care all that much about girly things, and also making me think she might possibly, just maybe, be a decent sort when it came to the female gender. It was already glaringly obvious that Lavender was not.

The brunette smiled at me and said, “Hello, my name is Hermione Granger. I’m head girl this year. It’s quite nice that we have a new addition to the house. You’re a seventh year, I’m told?”

I nodded, resigning myself to a round of Let’s Get to Know One Another, and wondering if I’d taken a big enough swig earlier given the prospects for the next space of time. “It’s very nice to meet you,” I said with as much sincerity as I could fake.

Lavender immediately jumped on the split second of silence following my statement and in a bizarre change of topic said, “You’ve got such interesting hair, but I notice you don’t seem to wear makeup, Nicole.”

“Yes, that would be correct.”

“But you’re a girl,” Lavender protested.

I glanced over, then said, “Oh?”

“A girl,” she repeated. “Cosmetics are your friend!”

I nodded in an agreeable fashion and said, “Yes, I suppose I am.” And then I launched into a long, rambling story about how I was allergic to many brands of makeup and liable to not only develop a rash or a migraine, but also made sure to point out that I had a marked tendency to rub my eyes frequently, which was certain death for eye shadow and liner, not to mention many brands of mascara.

To top things off, I then divulged (in confidence, naturally) that terribly embarrassing story from my childhood, wherein a boy had made rude references to my lips (the sort of lips Angelina Jolie might have had if she hadn’t succumbed to collagen injections), and how since then, I simply couldn’t bear to wear lipstick and bring attention to them. After all, such comments had persisted for years, and a girl can only take so much, right?

I could see that I had met my goal after taking another look at her face, which bore a mixture of heavy sympathy and glazed eyes. Hermione, on the other hand, bore an expression of impatience, so I dipped a hand into my abnormally small purse and yanked out a bottle. After flipping the top open in a practiced, one-handed move, I knocked back a sip, then casually closed the bottle and tucked it away. Sort of like how I put on ChapStick®, but not.

“What on earth was that?” Hermione inquired, obviously annoyed that she hadn’t recognized on sight what the mystery mixture was.

I shot her a vaguely coy smile and replied, “Pain potion. I suffer from chronic headaches, you see, in addition to the migraines. And, well, after I learned that I could inexplicably do magic—perhaps it had something to do with all those fantasy books I tend to read—I decided it was far cheaper to mix up a few potions on my own so as not to bother the medics so much.

“As it is, they all seem to think I’m some sort of hypochondriac, which is ridiculous at best. It’s so much easier to carry about a mini-pharmacy, don’t you think? I also suffer from a delicate stomach, and you can never be too careful about that sort of thing.

“At any rate, I made a few improvements to the standard formulas. You know, it was horribly inconvenient to have to worry about addiction, and I am quite nearly a genius according to the last few IQ tests I took online, so it stood to reason I could fix that little problem. I mean really, I’m certain you understand. I’m sure you could do the same if you wanted to, right?”

Hermione nodded weakly and began fidgeting. I got the distinct impression she was itching to dive headfirst into a complex tome of truly humongous proportions just to do some research and prove that she could, in fact, duplicate such a feat. She was, by reputation, the smartest witch of her age, after all. How I knew that was quite a mystery, though.

Lavender seemed to snap out of whatever dream world she’d been in up to that moment and aimed a bright smile at me. “Have you considered using all-natural products?”

For a moment, I was strongly tempted to use my likewise inexplicable powers of wandless magic to summon a large, blunt object and test it out against her head. After all, it wasn’t like she was storing a brain in there or anything. Instead, I stifled a sigh and shook my head lazily. “No, don’t think so. It’s just too much trouble.”

I could almost hear the voices echoing in her head, saying, “Beauty is pain”, over and over like some demented mantra much favored by a bizarre cult of female socialization. Apparently, I’d never received that memo, but she had.

Really, I was almost annoyed. The next thing you knew she’d be criticizing my choice of apparel. And everyone knows that timeless fashion in my home state translated to Levi’s, oversized black t-shirts with witty sayings splashed across the front of a geek-humor nature (such as “SELECT * FROM users WHERE clue > 0. 0 rows returned”), a flannel overshirt (from L.L. Bean, of course), and Bass loafers, right?

However, that line of thought made me remember the time I was sitting at a bus terminal somewhere in England, and was asked by a fellow sufferer of the unseasonably hot weather, “Where are you from?”

And I had replied automatically, “Maine,” because at the time I was living there.

She, with all the innocence of one who had failed world geography, said, “Oh, is that in Canada?”

It was about then that I realized I was dying for a smoke and pushed myself out of the sinfully squashy chair I had been inhabiting. “Right, is there a smoker’s lounge in this travesty of red and gold, or do I have to haul my cookies all the way down and out the castle?”

The looks of horrified shock I received were priceless. For a split second I thought it might have something to do with the truly heinous price of cigarettes in the UK, but then realized they were concerned for my health. Or, perhaps, my dislike of the house colours? I simply didn’t dare ask.

Hermione saved me from my ignorance when she said, “But it’s nearly curfew!”

‘In a few hours,’ I thought to myself, ‘and I can tell I’ll be needing a sleeping potion a bit later on.’ I aimed a casual sort of smile in her direction and said, “Well, that depends on how you define nearly, correct? Should I crack open a window instead and sit on the sill?”

Her eyes went enormously wide as she shook her head, so I continued, “It didn’t take all that long to get up here, so I can’t imagine it’ll be an issue to walk down, indulge, and get back well before curfew. I’ll see you two a bit later, okay? Great.” And before anyone could protest I strode swiftly to the portrait entrance and slipped out, breathing a sigh of relief before wending my way toward temporary bliss.

While I was down there it occurred to me that with my good fortune at having been reduced in bodily age, I now weighed in at -3 years of being a smoker . . . or something like that. After all, I had started smoking at twenty, and I was now seventeen, so. . . .

Forty-five minutes later I was back and immediately noticed that Lavender had gone off in search of a like-minded induhvidual, and Hermione was sitting with two boys, one with messy black hair and one with a striking shade of red often found in the hair dye section of the local drugstore. I wandered over and took a seat when she invited me with a gesture, and suffered to be introduced to yet more new people.

“This is Harry,” she said with a nod in the green-eyed boy’s direction, “and this is Ron.”

We murmured greetings to each other, and I found it faintly odd when Harry seemed surprised about something. I was then questioned about the classes I was enrolled in. I could tell Hermione was desperately hoping I was an intellectual sort of person, so I was kind and told her, “Defense, Charms, Transfiguration, Potions, Arithmancy, and Ancient Runes. I considered Muggle Studies as a soft option, but figured I was good to go as it was.”

She beamed at me and launched into an excited discourse about said classes, to which I nodded politely every so often, much like the boys did, in fact. This did not bode well; she seemed to be a babbler. Eventually she gasped and declared it time to go to sleep, so after she ordered the boys up to bed I followed her to the seventh year girls’ dorm.

The next morning, after a harrowing experience in group showering, we trooped down to breakfast, after which I was given a tour by the apparent trio, which ended somewhere out on the grounds. I was grateful, actually, given that my feet were aching and I was desperately considering the merits of whipping up a pair of arch supports for my shoes.

I was then treated to another long, tedious session of Let’s Get to Know One Another. It almost felt like the very air was being sucked out of the space around me, and I was, for a moment, worried that I might be stuck in a state of mind-numbing boredom. However, there was the odd good point about the entire experience. I learned plenty of gossip about my new housemates, which gave me some very naughty ideas indeed.

I confess, it was somewhat difficult to know just how much to say about myself under the circumstances. Perhaps if I slipped up they could be foisted off with a fib about a time turner accident of truly mind-boggling proportions?

The next morning we went down to eat and receive our schedules. As luck would have it, I shared every class with Hermione, and most with the boys. I was mildly confused by the huge amount of pained groaning that was going on around me until a quiet question to the head girl revealed that it was like a curse of some kind, always ending up with Potions as the first class of the day on Mondays.

I shrugged and gathered up my stylish leather satchel, slung it over my shoulder, and joined the small group of people headed down to the dungeons. Along the way I sidled up to the boy named Neville and gave him a friendly smile. I had heard things about him, interesting things.

“Neville,” I said as we got closer to supposed doom, “I’d like you to be my potions partner.”

He blushed and stammered out some kind of reply I didn’t quite catch, then tried again with a touch more success, seemingly overcome with . . . something.

“Really, I think it’d be fun,” I assured him, wondering what sort of accident he might cause, and if it would save me research time as regards the naughty little fantasy that had popped into my head during a dream the night before. After all, efficiency is intelligent laziness.

I’d had those sorts of dreams in the past, and I really wanted to investigate for real. Neville seemed okay with the idea, though he wouldn’t quite meet my eyes, so we chose a table together once inside and waited for the professor to arrive and attempt to pound knowledge into us.

Snape arrived like a violent gust of wind, slamming the door closed behind him, and came to an abrupt stop in front of his desk, a magnificent sneer twisting his lips. I privately wondered if he was an Elvis fan, but kept my amusement at the idea largely to myself. A mental pause interposed itself, followed by the question of whether or not Elvis going home actually meant returning to the wizarding world, then shook it off as being an incredibly silly notion.

I could tell within moments of the man beginning to speak that he would be ‘that’ sort of teacher, and resolved to become the Ravenclaw of Gryffindor on the spot. Why the sorting hat thought I need work in the bravery section was totally beyond me. After all, bugs aren’t that big of a deal, are they?

Thankfully, Snape stopped talking at us and flicked his wand at the chalkboard, revealing to all the day’s work. Why we were launching into a complex potion on the first day was another bewildering matter, but that was all right, as it might work out nicely for me. Naturally, I ignored the detailed instructions provided by my textbook, having been assured repeatedly by my examiners that I was what was called an ‘intuitive brewer’.

Instead, I glanced at the potion name and ingredients, then gathered up what I would need and began to work, sparing the occasional glance toward Neville, who was already trembling and shooting me anxious looks when he thought my attention was otherwise occupied. It might have been that he was confused by my seemingly haphazard approach to potion making, but I didn’t feel any pressing need to ask.

And sure enough, not long after I had bottled my perfectly brewed potion and delivered it up to the professor’s desk in a neatly labeled vial spelled to be unbreakable, Neville struck with devastating accuracy. His potion exploded in a fountain of rainbow colours, drenching me from head to toe, but thankfully missing any orifices in the direct line of fire.

I shot Neville a reassuring look and turned my gaze on Snape, who looked to be just shy of committing murder. He was headed in our direction, and quite thoughtfully spelled away the mess as he gave Neville a brutal tongue-lashing, then barked out to all and sundry that class was over, and so on and so forth.

“Don’t worry about it,” I told Neville in a low voice as we exited the room. “Accidents happen to everyone.”

He attempted to smile at my understanding nature, but was pushed violently to the side by a blond fellow I vaguely recalled as being in Slytherin.

“Filthy little mudblood,” Draco said at his scathing best, which wasn’t much, really, when you thought about it. Of course, my lack of experience with his nature wasn’t helping at that point, but I had a feeling.

I studied at him for a moment, catching a few glimpses of information for some strange reason from staring into his eyes, then said calmly, “I would call you a ferret, Malfoy, but I shouldn’t like to mimic your complete lack of creativity when it comes to insults. So, instead, I shall call you an elitist son of a bitch with more money than taste, and who obviously has a closet full of kinks dealing with such gems as BDSM, D/s, and a raging ‘O’ complex. You might even be a misogynist, but I haven’t spent enough time around you to decide yet.”

There, I had slayed him with acronyms, one of which was quite difficult to pronounce. Go me! As expected, his brow puckered in confusion, but it quickly smoothed as a sneer twisted his lips. Then, as though he had somehow won the confrontation, he flounced off with his muscle-bound sidekicks in the general direction of the Great Hall. I suspect he fled in the face of a better vocabulary, but it wasn’t the right time to inquire about such things.

So, being the quiet sort of person I am, I merely buffed my nails on my robes and exhaled softly, only to glance up and see a look of near awe on Harry’s face; he was still holding a red-faced Ron away from the now ended action. “Snippy little ferret, isn’t he,” I stated, and was rewarded with much head nodding.

Hermione spoke up then, insisting that we needed to get to our next class, which was Arithmancy. She grabbed my arm in a way I considered to be downright pushy, not to mention being an invasion of my personal space, and dragged me off down the hall. The class was fine—math-type activities always are—and completely lacking in drama. Unless, that is, you get overly excited by numbers, in which case, try not to squee all over my personal space.

Lunch rolled around and I found myself sitting next to Harry, with Ron and Hermione across the table from us. I wasn’t quite sure how I had managed to become associated with these three so quickly, but perhaps they could keep the airheads off me in exchange. Lavender was blessedly at a distance, nodding like a bobblehead doll at something another girl was saying.

I once again mourned the lack of chip butties in the food selection, but bravely managed to carry on, and was quite nearly finished when I felt an extremely odd sensation overcome me. It was . . . not like the usual dizzy spells that frequently hindered my existence, and not like the onset of a migraine, either. I simply couldn’t describe it, though it did bring to mind that time I watched a film in Psychology class at college and had to leave midway through owing to a scene I would rather not have seen, and ended up unconscious in the hallway mere seconds later.

And then, sharp stabbing pains assaulted me, causing me to drop my fork, and I slid off the bench helplessly into obscuring darkness.

When I awoke it was to the sight of bright green eyes staring at me. I then spied sets of blue and brown; for some reason, the trio of friends was sitting at my bedside, and oddly enough, they each seemed to bear rather shocked expressions. It was then that I noticed that something felt . . . different. A quick check revealed a rather interesting turn of events, and I rejoiced (for the moment, at least, diagnosis pending) in having hit the potion accident lottery on my first try.

Somewhat belatedly I realized that I really ought to trim back my nails, as they were probably unfashionable at the moment. “Hello,” I said calmly.

Hermione took that as a cue to rush off, revealing Neville, whose face was a study in anxious misery.

“How long have I been out?” I noticed at that point that my voice had become curiously androgynous. Fitting, I’m sure.

“Two days,” said Harry.

I nodded and sighed slightly. “I hope someone will be able to catch me up on what I’ve missed.”

Hermione rushed back in time to overhear and nodded firmly. “That’s not a problem. You can look over my notes a bit later.”

“Great,” was all I managed to say before the school nurse sailed in and descended on me in all her antiseptic glory.