Tilly Lebowski and The Philosopher, Stoned
— Year One (2002–2003)
Our story opens with a broad, sweeping view of a Scottish loch surrounded by gorgeous dense greenery and giant billowing clouds. There, on some unnamed ancient stone outcropping overlooking it all, a mid-40s man walks into view — mousy hair, bright-though-melancholy eyes, a young-looking face.
“Oh hey!” he says, perking up considerably. “It’s so nice to see you all. And if you’re the audience that I suspect you are, then I should begin with an apology. I feel awful that most of you were likely expecting the old stranger I’ve heard so much about — that white-haired, western-talking, sarsaparilla-swigging cowboy everyone loves so much.”
He paces around, looking for words to continue with. “Never met the man,” he explains. “Though so many have told me about him. … Wish I would have, though. I mean, who knew I’d become a narrator? Certainly not me. I could have used some pointers!” He laughs.
Moments later he takes a seat along the cliff’s edge, a precarious position into which no living soul would ever put himself. He looks downward thousands of feet and whistles, all the while perched amid a whipping, crisp fall wind that would seemingly toss him to his death at any moment.
“You’re just in time for me to tell you a story,” he continues. “And hey, I suppose it’s a ghost story, too — not because it’s about a ghost, of course. It’s just that, well, any story I tell is by definition a ghost story. It’s one of the perks of being dead, if you want to look at it that way.”
The man smiles gently. “Me? I’m glad to be dead, to be honest. The dying part is over and, as far as I can tell, maybe I’m even immortal? … Not omniscient, though. Too bad, eh? You know, they jokingly refer to me as “GOD” these days, too, so it’s doubly disappointing to not have all of the answers. Not that I get much regular company.”
He jumps up and begins walking the ledge with his arms outstretched as though he’s on a balance beam. “Still,” he says, looking to his listeners, “I’d like to share an interesting tale with you. So, pull up a stool and turn off the TV for a bit. Lemme see if I can narrate up to the standards of the profession.”
He stops walking and scratches his chin. “Hmmm, where should I start? … Well, I’m sure that most of you muggles know a thing or two about the wizarding world by now, and that’s great for people like me. Saves me time, I suppose, even though I apparently have all of it I’d ever want. But you don’t, on the other hand — have infinite time, that is. There you are, like I was, surfing through your life carefree, not knowing when the reaper might pay you a visit.”
“But that great clock,” he says, gesturing with his hand as though he’s making an important point, “that great metaphorical clock … it always ticks … until your ticker stops, of course. Remember that! But for now, let’s have a look at this young dynamo known as Tilly Lebowski. I think we can expect some great things from her. Weird things, yes, but great!”
Tilly Lebowski’s sorting tale would go down in Hogwarts history as both the most expedient — faster even than Draco Malfoy or Tom Riddle’s historic sortings into Slytherin! — and the most unreservedly flamboyant placement of any young witch in the school’s history. Many would recall that Professor McGonagall (who’d retained her roll call duties, even as headmaster) hadn’t even finished calling out Tilly Lebowski’s full name(!) before the sorting hat shouted Tilly’s assignment and magick’d up a kind of quintessentially tropical ambience — filling the Great Hall with a slow-rocking I-IV-V reggae progression replete steel drums, flourishing the Hufflepuff yellow and black on all Great Hall banners interspersed from time to time with a vibrant green (which many of the more geographically-aware wizards, especially, would recognize as the color combo of the Jamaican flag), and even temporarily transforming everyone’s hair styles to ginger dreadlocks (an arguable overstep that McGonagall would later express some mild perturbation over). All the while, young Tilly more or less grooved across the stage, slightly hamming it up easy-skanking-style, before joining her new housemates at the Hufflepuff table.
They’d all known something like this was in store, of course, as the Sorting Hat had called it out in his annual song. Truly, it marked a rare case of an absolutely predestined witch. His song’s mentioning this included the verse:
I sense among the newly gathered,
a witch who’ll fill our halls with laughter,
a fine young maid who’ll sure abide,
who’ll pass all Dutchies on the left-hand side,
for full she is of true goodwill …
and puff she does, and puff she will.
As is wont to happen for each young witch or wizard, their social circles would constellate into little threesomes that’d shine on indefinitely, long after their matriculation, expanding outward into the magical cosmos of glory days, ever-emerging from that great mysterious source from which all wizardry is born. Just as the previously famous generation gave us the legendary Potter-Weasley-Granger triptych or, say, the evil Malfoy-Crabbe-Goyle troika, a new formation seemed destined for the star atlas — the ever laid-back, always laissez-faire trio of Lebowski-Sobalot-Donopoulos.
Or, more formally, Tilly Lebowski, Wanda Sobalot, and Donatella Donopoulos — the three of whom, together for the very first time on that auspicious day, found themselves lost after the Welcome feast, which they’d left late at Wanda’s insistence. (“I’m staying, I’m finishing my pumpkin juice,” she’d said, defiantly.) There they were, wondering the ancient halls with almost zero idea of the general whereabouts — not to mention the particulars — of the Hufflepuff dormitory entrance (aside from Donatella’s recollection that it was “maybe near the kitchens?”).
In a far-flung corridor, surely the result of a wrong turn, they faced off with an unpleasant group of first-year Slytherins.
“Well, if it isn’t a gaggle of weakling Hufflepuffs,” said one of the Slytherins. “Pathetic house, if you ask me, eh boys?”
“Well that’s like, your opinion, man,” Tilly replied.
“Ahh yeah, the Lebowski girl,” said the Slytherin. “Put on a big show at your sorting, didn’t you? But how are you at dueling, Lebowski?”
“Typical male aggression on display, you see?” she said to her classmates. “Without batting an eye, they whip out their ‘wands’ whenever they feel uncomfortable around young women with vaginas. Does that little anatomy lesson bother you, Slytherins?”
“Lower that wand, you classist scum,” Wanda barked. “This aggression will not stand!”
“Oh, and you’ll be the one to make me?” said the boy.
“Get him, Jackie,” the other Slytherins goaded.
“I’m warning you, lower that wand or you’re entering a world of pain,” Wanda said. Clearly, she’d meant to threaten the boy with physical violence rather than magic. After all, this was her first day and she knew precisely zero spells.
Suddenly, a voice behind them broke through the growing tension: “And where are you lot headed, tenderfeet?”
It was (as they’d soon learn) a Hufflepuff seventh-year prefect. Tilly and Wanda hadn’t known him, but Donatella seemed familiar and spoke up. “Are you Grim Fawley? We’re … well, we’re completely lost, sir!”
He laughed at her use of “sir,” shook his head and said, “you three can follow me, and you Slytherins can head back the other way, as you appear to be just as lost.”
Donatella’s eyes widened and she then quickly gave Tilly and Wanda a look that begged them both to politely do as Grim asked without hesitation.
“Who were those a-holes?” Wanda asked Donatella.
“Slytherin first years,” she replied as they walked. “The one you rammed heads with was Jackie Slughorn, son of our Potions teacher, Professor Slughorn. I don’t expect they’re close, though — Jackie and his father. Word is Jackie grew up in Canada with his mother, who’d met the Professor and had a summer fling during the 1990 Quidditch World Cup. Tell you what, once we’re settled in, I’ll give you two the low-down on this whole place, okay?”
Tilly and Wanda appreciated the offer. And, once comfortably in their new room (the three of them having claimed a homey, spacious suite in the dormitory), Donatella filled them in.
“Since you’re both new to the wizarding world,” she began, “suffice it to say that we have just a tiny, little bit of catching-up to do.” They stayed up all night long, Donatella regaling them with wizarding world history including every detail of the Harry Potter years, most of which she knew from household gossip, the rest from legends passed around by childhood friends.
“I mean, that’s about all I know,” she yawned, hours later. “When that all happened, or at least the worst of it, I was like six. So, I learned all of that from then until now, I suppose. We’re kind of at the tail end of things, when you think about it. Harry and his crew left Hogwarts five years back, which means that only sixth and seventh year students nowadays were actually here at the time. Well, and the teachers, of course.”
“They saw it first-hand,” Wanda said, amazed. “A lot of those witches must have some veteran-level PTSD.”
“Whoa, can we even ask them about those times?” Tilly wondered.
“Best to avoid the subject, I imagine,” Donatella said. “Now, let’s learn about chocolate frogs…”
The next morning meant finally attending classes and, this year, the Ministry mandated that a new class offering — the Philosophy of Witchcraft and Wizardry — should be taught to all first-year students.
Tilly, Wanda, and Donatella arrived early (at Donatella’s insistence) and took seats up front, which Tilly thought might be a good idea, as she tended to be easily distracted in her muggle-world school days. Back then, which now seemed aeons ago, it was sometimes a punishment to be moved to the front of a classroom, but she reluctantly had acknowledged later on that her grades did tend to improve commensurate with her proximity to the blackboard. And, with a new school, and indeed a whole new world at stake, she figured a little academic umph couldn’t hurt.
Soon the professor — known to them presently as simply “the Philosopher” — entered with a flourish, though somewhat awkwardly owing to a slight limp. What a tall, striking man, Tilly thought — perhaps 60-odd years old, dressed all in black, carrying a silver-handled cane (which seemed to bear a bull-head insignia of some sort — perhaps a family crest) and an outrageously inexplicable feathered boa. He had a long, thin face, and straight, shoulder-length jet-black hair — a superlatively hep-cat fabulous version of Leonard Nimoy.
“That’s Danny Roomlie,” whispered Donatella. “He got that limp in the Battle of Hogwarts — single-handedly took out ten Death Eaters, they say!”
The man walked to the front of the room, set his cane on the lecture table, and slowly surveyed the attendees packed in before him left to right and top to bottom in this vertically oriented lecture hall. Seeming to be formulating his thoughts, he reached into an interior jacket pocket and pulled out a massive calabash pipe. After rifling through his opposite pocket, he located his tobacco, packed his bowl, and lit up with the tip of his wand.
“Arguably,” said the Philosopher in a manner that immediately tipped off the majority of the class that the man would possess an always slow, thoughtful speaking style, “you all in the class of 2009 represent the very heart of the Silent Generation of Wizards, when you come to think of it.”
Now holstering his wand as he drew deeply on his pipe, he continued: “It’s been four relatively glorious years since the Battle of Hogwarts. Much of the wizarding world is still recuperating, rebuilding, and only very slowly letting their guards down. You’re all at least somewhat familiar with the history I’m speaking of, yes?”
Most of the students nodded, the majority of them excited at the prospect of such a serious topic being brought up immediately, the very first lesson of their academic careers.
“When your graduation year, 2009, ends,” he said before taking another giant inhale, a pregnant pause, and then the release of a massive, thick, sweet-smelling cloud, “it’ll be 11 years since Harry Potter defeated the dark lord once and for all.” Terrible scenes from the Battle could be seen taking place within the smoke cloud as it hovered above him for a moment before dissipating. “And does anyone know what that means — what the ramifications of that means for Hogwarts today?”
Few had any solid ideas, so no hands rose.
“Well, what happens when a witch or wizard turns 11?” prompted the Philosopher.
“Oh! You get your Hogwarts letter!” shouted Wanda.
“Correct, Ms. Sobalot. Five points for Hufflepuff.”
Wanda smiled proudly as he continued.
“If we look at World War Two — a terrible time for all of humanity that ended fifty-seven years ago — and the era just afterward, we find that the newfound sense of peace and prosperity lead to a boom in muggle population. And if that happened in the muggle world, you can be sure it’ll happen in the wizarding world as well. As such, we can expect the 2009–2010 class year to be crowded, to say the least. That means your class in particular, will eventually be responsible — along with faculty and benefactors of course — for preparing this school for its rapid future expansion.”
“That’s, like, pretty heavy,” Tilly said, mostly to herself, but noticed that the Philosopher not only heard, but agreed. When prompted to continue, Tilly said, “I mean, we can’t even repairo our oculus, so to speak.” She looked at Donatella, whispering, “Did I get that spell right?” as the room filled with laughter.
“A valid point, Ms. Lebowski,” said the Philosopher.
“Oh, please … Call me Dudette,” Tilly responded. “Or, like you know Duderz or Duderonomy if you’re into the whole biblical thing. But please go on.”
“Thank you,” said the Philosopher. “We’ll have you all repairo-ing your oculi toot suite, no doubt. But this class won’t cover spells or transformations. … Philosophy — or, rather — this philosophy class, newly approved in the curriculum by the Ministry, will focus more on what it means to be a witch or wizard in the post-battle era. Now, more than perhaps ever, we must examine what it is to be a wizard or witch. What should we do with our magical powers to better life for all? And what should we not do? How might we ensure responsibility, accountability, and indeed nobility?”
He paced around, mulling over these questions himself. “What truly makes a witch or wizard? Is it doing what is right over what is easy, as the legendary headmaster Albus Dumbledore put it? … Miss Lebowski?”
“Ummm, sure,” Tilly agreed, adding, “that and a functional wand, I suppose.”
“You’re joking,” said the Philosopher as some students laughed, “but as someone who only recently became aware of this whole world, perhaps you’re right. As homework for everyone, I’d like written responses next week — two rolls of parchment — on what it means to be a wizard or witch today.”
Tilly would ponder over this question obsessively during her first week at Hogwarts. The idea seemed completely natural to so many at this school — especially those raised in the wizarding world. But for newcomers, it seemed absurd to expect them to have any kind of clarity on such a new and significant issue. Or, she thought, was that his point? — to force new witches to introspect, thereby instilling within them that intrepid intellectual drive needed in the pursuit of philosophical enquiry?
She thought back to just before her 11th birthday when that owl arrived at her mother’s studio in Los Angeles. Normal, everyday muggle life, blissfully ignorant of anything beyond. And during one typical evening back then, her mother had invited a friend, John Hughes, over for a weekend respite from a film he’d been working on in New York City — a kind of Cinderella tale called Maid in Manhattan, starring some big names like J-Lo and some man named Fiennes that Hughes had complained about the whole time, stating that the man seemed to “embody evil” like no one else.
Anyway, Hughes insisted that, even at nearly-11, the young Lebowski might enjoy a screening of his earlier film, The Breakfast Club. And sure, Tilly may have been a trifle young to fully appreciate much of the nuance, but then again her mother was an avant-garde artist and never adhered to most norms concerning age-appropriateness when it came to parenting. And so the three of them enjoyed an evening together, Hughes providing insights and anecdotes along the way.
She was reminded of the film’s closing — that whole speech about “We think you’re crazy to make us write an essay telling you who we think we are. You see us as you want to see us … but what we found out is that each of us is …” — and then, continuing that iconic speech with her own current situation, “… a professor, a student, a dudette, a gal with a temper, and so on.”
Not exactly a manifesto, she thought (not that she’d committed any of this to parchment). And besides, she didn’t care to plagiarise Hollywood for this assignment.
“You’re overthinking it,” suggested fourth-year Hufflepuff Mason Ogilvy one night in the common room. “Look, you just have to be more enterprising with professors like this. More … entrepreneurial, shall we say. Twist and turn these philosophical problems into economic value propositions — slyly, of course, but also interestingly. Come up with a few salient points, and then use the essay to sell it to them. That’s the strategy.”
Tilly didn’t know if she followed or agreed. But, she’d have to admit that Mason seemed on top of his game. He’d maintained Outstandings in nearly every subject, enjoyed considerable school-wide popularity and renown for a fourth-year student, and seemed destined for Head Boy in a few years if things stayed on course for him. And, sure, economically, he also seemed particularly awash in galleons, having just launched a Harry Potter-themed tour service at the school. The idea there, Mason had explained to Tilly, was that new kids wanted to see for themselves some of the locations about which they’d heard so much.
So Mason’s advice meant a lot to her in some abstract way, but in the end she still found it difficult to execute. Maybe this assignment just wasn’t one she’d ace. So, with some admittedly lackluster effort, she penned an unfortunately uninteresting, unoriginal essay, all the while literally stretching the words out as much as she could by writing as largely as seemed permissible. After all, she was 11. What did the man expect from anyone that age? The Port-Huron statement?! Instead of assertions, her thesis simply stated her approach to witchcraft, and to life in general — to take it easy, to pursue her art, to take things in stride, yet to take control when needed, to stand up for herself when necessary, to stir things up when they need stirring, to follow her curiosity, and even to abide (as her mother summed up her father’s philosophy).
Receiving “A” grades two weeks later filled Tilly and Wanda with happiness for a few minutes, at least until they realized that “A” merely meant “Acceptable” — roughly the equivalent of a muggle C. Donatella received an “Exceeds Expectations” (likely because she’d been raised in the wizarding world and had a leg-up on such introspection), but many students seated around them received Outstandings. Tilly and Wanda were going to need to double-down on their studies in this class, and likely others, if they were going to make it here at Hogwarts.
Not long after that, the girls had been talking about improving their Philosophy grades while working on hairstyling spells in the Hufflepuff common room one night — pleasant, lighter fare, for sure, and in that regard a significant sea change since the old days, as many sixth and seventh-year students observed.
“You see my challenge, right?” Tilly asked Wanda. “I’ve inherited my mom’s bright red hair — fiery, expressive, and defiant — and my father’s windswept frazzle. I could have used these spells in the muggle world.”
“I’d love the California ginger look that you have, Dudette” Wanda said, attempting to turn her jet-black bob into a kind of auburn pageboy. “But, with my husky build, I don’t feel like drawing undue attention.”
“Oh stop,” said Donatella, accidentally giving herself a green mohawk, drawing laughter from her housemates. “Can anyone undo this for me?”
“During my first year,” the much older Grim informed the younger set as he pointed his wand in preparation for fixing Donatella’s botched spell, “we had to immediately learn defense against the dark arts and other protections, seemingly from day one. I’m glad things have changed. … Capppilum naturalis!”
Donatella’s hair snapped back to its usual brown ponytail, for which she thanked him profusely and promised to pay better attention when learning such things.
“Of course,” interrupted fellow seventh-year Densmore Domino, “some might feel all of that training did us good. Toughened us up just in case it happens again.”
“Oh go on, Domino,” snapped Grim. “The worst thing we’ve had in years is some petty gillyweed thievery from Professor Sprout’s cabinetry.”
“We all know who that was,” Densmore said with a naughty chuckle. “And his ears may be ringing this very moment, from what I’ve overheard this evening.”
“Do you mean Professor Roomlie, Densmore?” Tilly asked. “Yeah, we were just talking about his class because Wanda and I aren’t doing so well there.”
“Yeah, but that guy? A thief?” Wanda asked, adding to the Dudette’s inquiry. “He’s a philosopher. That’s not ethical. And let’s not forget, Dudette — that stealing botanical supplies, for uh, philosophical, you know, within the castle — that’s not legal either.”
“What are you, a prefect now?” joked Tilly. “Let’s leave it to the administration, shall we? Strikes me as a complicated case, Densmore.”
“Nah, as always he’s just pursuing his ultimate dream,” Densmore said, smiling at Grim, knowing what was certainly to come.
“The Underworld Strain!” Grim announced to the entire Hufflepuff common room, leaping over a sofa, walking to the front of the room near the fireplace, and pulling down a thick white screen normally used for viewing videos and other projections related to their studies.
Dozens of Hufflepuffs gathered closer in anticipation of one of Grim’s ad hoc lectures that he’d taken to giving sometime during his fourth or fifth year when he’d decided to embrace his inner educator and actively share his knowledge and skills with his classmates. While such an effort could have failed miserably, it turned out that Grim was naturally talented in this respect, and he soon rose in house popularity, eventually becoming prefect in this, his final year. Indeed, some of the sixth-year students privately wondered if, this year in particular, they’d see even more of these impromptu lectures from their leader.
With a flick of his wand and the utterance of “Scribo illustratum!,” a virtual Sharpie appeared on the screen and stood ready to begin illustrating Grim’s speech. It began drawing a circular shape just as he began speaking, suggesting to the more astute in the room that the Sharpie was either independent and psychically gifted or perhaps actually linked, in some fascinating precognitive way, to Grim’s brain.
“Now,” the prefect began, “you’ve all of course heard of, and surely have even tasted … a pomegranate, correct?”
Everyone nodded as the Sharpie finished shading it’s stunningly accurate rendering of the fruit and went to work writing out the word just below.
“You see, the word pomegranate comes to us from Old French and Latin. The Old french pome, meaning apple, and the Latin granum, meaning seed. Thus, the rough etymology of the word describes something that’s the shape of an apple, yet contains many seeds.”
The Sharpie recorded this, adding a quick visual of the many-seeded inside of a pomegranate. It then began working on a series of seemingly unrelated images — an old boot, the Triwizard Cup, a hairbrush.
“Now let’s examine a different, but — importantly — similar word to the Old French pome. I’m speaking of the Latin word porta, meaning doorway or passage. It is from this that we get words like portal or, for wizards, portkey. Great stuff, right? Who here has used one?”
As the Sharpie finished drawing a doorway, a few students raised their hands in response — even Donatella, who leaned in and told Tilly and Wanda that she’d explain later.
The Sharpie then drew a kind of hellscape, along with a beautiful woman. But, it must’ve gotten ahead of Grim, as it then retreated to the margin to doodle as he continued.
“Now, according to legend — and, this is supported by numerous ancient texts available in the Restricted Section of the library (sorry, younger housemates) — an alternative reading exists of the myth of Persephone, famous for her eating some pomegranate seeds while in Hades.”
A fifth-year, Clifford Paloma, pointed to the screen and chimed in: “And this is what the “Underworld Strain” is all about?”
“Precisely,” answered Grim. “It all boils down to a supposed confusion between pome-granate and porta-granate — with the former being a commonly accepted word describing the fruit we all know, and the latter being a kind of ancient neologism that never took root in our language — a word, to translate literally, meaning a doorway of seeds.”
The Sharpie jumped back into action, if somewhat late this time, and added seed-like markings onto its previous drawing of a door. Most of the students seemed clearly confused, so Grim continued.
“Of course, those pursuing the legend think more figuratively about this. The Underworld Strain is said to be a botanical doorway — and recall that Persephone is the Greek Goddess most closely associated with farming and plants. Thus, the grail here, is a sort of particularly seedy plant that serves as a kind of doorway — or, in short, quite literally … well, a particularly powerful and psychedelic form of cannabis sativa.”
The Sharpie finished up a depiction of a nine-pointed leaf, complete with little squiggly smoke-type lines coming out of it to indicate pungency. Clearly, the shape was recognizable by what Grim found to be a concerning number of Hufflepuffs, judging from the snickering.
“Devotees of this legend — members of a sect known as TAURUS, or Transformative Alchemists United to Restore the Underworld Strain — believe that the plant gillyweed, which existed long before anyone thought to refer to cannabis as “weed,” actually informed the plant’s widely-known nickname. That is to say the word weed actually refers to gillyweed, although certainly no muggles, and indeed few in the magical world, are aware of this bit of trivia.”
“And so, as implied by the TAURUS acronym, the ultimate goal here is alchemical in nature — not just the discovery of the Underworld Strain, but the very production of it, the transformation of gillyweed into this absolute, essential, you might say golden form, to use the parlance of Plato’s time. Simply put, the only way to obtain the Underworld Strain, say the Tauresians, is to produce it via this means, long-forgotten and now lost.”
A fourth-year, Getz Furrington, from the back of the room spoke up: “Grim, what would happen if someone actually smoked the Underworld Strain?”
“No one knows,” Grim answered, amid laughter from those gathered. “Indeed, that is the pursuit — ever further as the Tauresian philosophers like to say.”
That night in their bedchamber, Tilly shared a theory with her roommates. “Of course! … Professor Roomlie is a Tauresian!”
“You think so?” Donatella asked.
“I mean, Dudette,” said Wanda, “I’ll grant you that he’s out there, but-”
“The cane!” Tilly said, excitedly. “Did you notice the insignia? It’s a bull! As in taurus. And you heard it yourself that he’s been associated with liberating gillyweed from Professor Sprout’s stores.”
“To each his own, I suppose,” Donatella figured. “I’ve got no issue with the man having a hobby.”
“But don’t you see? This is our ticket!” Tilly said. “This is how we pass Philosophy with something more than just an Acceptable grade. This is our portkey directly to Outstanding. It’s extra credit, man!”
“Yeah, but Dudette,” said Donatella. “How’re we going to hook this old guy up with his Ultimate whatever?”
“You’re out of your element, Donatella,” snapped Wanda. “It’s called the Underworld Strain. And, well … yeah Dudette, how’re we gonna do that?”
“Well you heard Grim,” Tilly said. “We have to visit the,” lowering her voice, “Restricted Section.”
“Fat chance of that,” Wanda said. “Mr. Filch watches it like a hawk, I’ve heard. Plus he’s always skulking about the library, never too far from it, they say.”
“Hopeless, Dudette,” Donatella said. “Unless we can draw Filch away somehow.”
Just then an impish little man, a fiendish spirit resembling a half-mad jester, materialized in their room. “Planning mayhem against Mr. Filch, are we, m’ladies?” he asked in an animated tone, seeming to take great joy in the thought.
Then three jumped back in astonishment, but stifled screams. “Who’re you?!” they asked together.
“Peeves, Peeves, and Peeves,” answered the man, “to address each of you indi-witch-ially, hee-hee!”
“What do you want?” Wanda asked, still shocked by his intrusion.
“Only to assist your young ladieships with the mischief against a certain … taker of cares,” Peeves giggled.
“You’re … willing to help us distract Filch?” Tilly asked. “That’d be far out, man!”
The jingly-jangly, not-so-subtle jester began singing a song, dancing the whole while:
The spell that you seek, ’tis a spell that survives
from the days of old houses and older housewives
who would carve up the rodents and serve them with chives.
’Tis a rarity cast onto those with nine lives.
T’was a spell dating back to a Great Scourge formation,
that vermin-fueled sickness with no medication.
Outnumbered they were for this plague’s infestation,
And challenged they were to control populations
Of rats and of mice — miscellaneous vermin
Who spread the disease from which death was near certain.
But the brave-hearted cats who were wholly determined,
Needed help from a magical wizard: “the German.”
His name was von Katzen, the situation Gordian,
He looked at his feline, and then his accordion.
If a *cat* could be stretched, multiplied … what fine guardians!
And thus the spell’s birth (or, so sayeth historians).
Point wands unto cats, aim for tails or for spines,
And whisper von Katzen’s spell three perfect times:
“Meine Muschi, Meine Muschi, ausstrecken divine.”
You’ll find you’ve split one cat directly to nine!
“Works like a charm, because it is one, hee-hee!” laughed Peeves as he began to vanish before their eyes. “Always expires at midnight, so plan ahead. Exeunt Jeeves! Exeuent Jeeves!!” And then he was gone, dissolved into thin air.
“Faaaaaar-out, man!” Tilly said, slapping her mattress and laughing. “I mean did anyone write that down? Do either of you sprechen Deutsch so to speak?”
“Yeah Dudette,” said Wanda, taken aback, “I spent a year in Salzburg once and lemme tell you, that spell ain’t exactly kosher. It’s not something you’d hear from Maria von Trapp, anyway.”
“Soooo,” Donatella said, trying to grok the situation, “this ghost suggests we … split Mrs. Norris! … into nine separate cats! … to distract Filch?!”
“I mean … what could go wrong?” Tilly said, with that unique tone that suggests “sure, why not?”
And thus the plan was settled, although each of the young trio felt nervous about having perhaps just one cat around on which to practice. And that would be Bathsheba, a stocky, blue British Shorthair belonging to their third-year classmate Starr Ranger (who could coincidentally be described in the same way — stocky and hair literally dyed blue).
Bathsheba had proven a capable mouser over the years and could usually be found prowling around the house corridors during the nocturnal hours once Starr had fallen asleep. With a house full of Hufflepuffs, though, the need for privacy posed a challenge. But a window of opportunity came later that week.
It was 11:45pm and, by some miracle, the common room was empty. The three of them decided to wait it out and see if Bathsheba might happen by before midnight. Donatella brought along a Furious Feather (an enchanted ostrich plume she’d picked up during a trip to Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes), which she’d hoped might interest and occupy the cat if she showed up. She let Tilly and Wanda have that, as they all agreed that, as the only experienced witch among them, perhaps her chance might be best for successfully splitting Bathsheba into nine cats.
As they set things up, they realized they had far more questions than answers. Would the nine be one official cat and eight copies? Would the eight copies disappear exactly at midnight? What if they all ran off in different directions? What if they fought each other? Would the cat feel any pain from this? Would she be okay?
With just minutes to go, Bathsheba sauntered into the room, leaving no time to ponder the nuances. It was now or never.
Wanda launched the Furious Feather in the center of the room, and the three of them then split up, agreeing to each guard one or two of the passageways so as to keep what would hopefully become nine Bathsheba iterations from leaving.
Once Bathsheba engaged with the feather, which turned out to be just about the ultimate cat toy, Donatella hit her with the spell, which landed on the animal with an ear-splitting thunderbolt sure to wake the dead (if any were around). Bathsheba basically exploded into nine cats, who all proceeded to wander the room as though nothing unusual had happened. Three or four stayed interested in the feather, while the rest jumped on furniture or headed toward doorways.
This sent all three witches scrambling to literally herd Bathsheba (or was it Bathshebas?) as best they could, creating a cacophony sure to rouse half the house. They overturned lamps and chairs, knocked portraits off the wall (many of whom found the action compelling), and overall failed to keep Bathsheba gathered as planned.
As the Hogwarts clock tower chimed midnight, the three witches and at least seven Bathshebas had landed in a disheveled pile on the persian rug in the middle of the room. At each door stood a handful of Hufflepuffs who’d been roused by the noise — including Starr Ranger who nearly fainted at the sight of so many of her beloved Bathshebas exploding into puffs of smoke before her eyes.
As the air cleared, one cat remained, seated calmly on Tilly’s lap and playfully batting at the ostrich plume that had landed nearby.
“Uh, like, sorry about that, Starr,” Tilly said. “Cute little marmot, though…she’s okay.”
Starr snatched Bathsheba from Tilly’s lap, gave the three of them a horrified, angry look, and stormed out of the room.
The rest of the Hufflepuffs followed, except for Grim who merely stood there, dumbfounded, shaking his head in disapproval. “You three had better fix this,” he said. “Hufflepuffs do not blow up fellow Hufflepuff house cats. I’m especially disappointed in you, Ms. Lebowski. That was very un-Dudette behavior.”
He walked away in disgust, leaving them to reflect on their actions.
“You know,” Tilly said to Wanda and Donatella, “when trouble is coming … and it *is* coming, I feel certain, after our miserable practice run in the common room … well, that leaves only a small bit of time to act.”
“You mean doing something to make nice with Starr Ranger?” Wanda asked.
“Well, no,” Tilly said. “But we’ll have to do something there, too. I’m talking about the original plan, man — the library!”
“You sure, Dudette?” Donatella asked. “Maybe the Bathsheba debacle was a sign. I mean, look at this note I got from Starr. Our families are friends, Dudette. Like, I grew up knowing her!”
She handed Tilly a scrap of parchment that read, “Donatella, this is Starr. Look, I don’t wanna be a hard-on about this, and I know it wasn’t completely your fault, but I just thought it was fair to tell you that my mother and I will be submitting this to the Headmaster and asking her to summon you, Wanda, and Tilly.”
“Christ,” said Wanda. “We’ll get expelled! Do you think she’s serious?”
“I don’t know,” Donatella said. “Dudette?”
“No idea,” Tilly said. “Look, lemme apologize to her myself. I’ll do it tomorrow. But tonight, we still have our Philosophy marks to think about. And none of that activity happens in the Hufflepuff house, right? It’s all safely over in the library.”
“After hours, though,” Donatella added.
“Well, sure,” Tilly agreed. “But, we’ll be quiet, and we know what to expect now.”
All nodded. The mission was a go.
“This time,” Wanda whispered as they prepared for their journey, “it’s to be done as a military operation, a surgical strike, you understand? We’re in and we’re out. Get into the library, find Mrs. Norris, hit her with that kraut curse, find the book, and go. Donatella, you know the section and book shelf already?”
“Yes,” Donatella said. “Taurus, All the True and All the Bull, by Berman Oliver, section 32, shelf 19.”
“Good work, Donatella!” Tilly said, then pointing to a small box Wanda had brought along. “And what’s that, Wanda?”
“Right, hold the ringer,” she replied. “I gotta make sure my wand’s here.”
“The what?” Tilly said.
“It’s just a cigar box with an old dirty robe stuffed in there, Dudette,” Wanda said, laughing. “I got to thinking, we can’t just read the book there. We have to take it so that we can read and study it. Am I wrong?”
“Wanda, we can’t-” Tilly began, but then realized Wanda had a point. “I guess you’re right. We need that book long term.”
“Right, Dudette,” Wanda said. “This old box will sit in its place while we have it.”
“And we’ll definitely return the real book,” Donatella pointed out. “Once we’re done.”
Tilly nodded. “Let’s roll, then.”
They donned some all-black robes that they’d sewn up just for this occasion, and made sure that they wore no Hufflepuff colors, just in case anyone saw them.
By now, they’d been at Hogwarts long enough to have amassed some savviness with respect to certain best practices — miscellaneous shortcuts, halls to avoid at all costs, halls favorable to sneaking about, the general habits of faculty who might be wandering around at night, considerations involving the changing stairwells, and so on. Risk factored into it all, naturally, but the odds were in their favor for a simple trip to the library.
In no time, the three witches had made it into the library and had taken refuge against a wall beneath a massive wooden table. It was 11:37pm, the castle largely quiet aside from the occasional gust of fall wind whipping through the damp corridor outside.
Donatella remained at the ready, eyes wide open with anticipation, her 13-inch Thunderbird tail-feather-loaded wand of redwood firmly in hand. When she heard his footsteps, she grabbed Wanda’s shoulder and squeezed hard. Wanda did the same to Tilly, and the three sat positively frozen as the old caretaker walked slowly by, lantern raised to help him peer into the aisles.
When he’d passed them by twenty-odd feet, they heard the tiny paw-taps of Mrs. Norris approaching. She gave out a quiet meow as she neared the three, but not enough at the moment to rouse any suspicion from Filch. Still, she seemed interested in them and was sure to let out a much louder greeting at any moment.
Donatella reached into an inside pocket and pulled out the Furious Feather, which she’d brought along just in case (as it’d worked fairly well with Bathsheba). She quickly handed it to Wanda, who knew the spell required to launch it.
“Pluma saltito!” Wanda whispered, sending the feather down an aisle, with Mrs. Norris soon in hot pursuit.
Donatella had just a moment’s chance to administer the cat-split spell before Mrs. Norris would be out of reach. So, she aimed carefully and let off the ultra-lewd German incantation thrice, as prescribed. It hit Mrs. Norris on the tip of her tail, letting out the thunderbolt and cat-explosion they’d previously witnessed, along with a bright flash this time as well.
Unlike Bathsheba’s rather nonvocal reaction, Mrs. Norris — or rather, all nine Mrs. Norrises — let out ear-splitting screeches and other feline vocalizations as the multiple cats darted off screeching all over the place.
Filch could scarcely believe his aging eyes as Mrs. Norris after Mrs. Norris ran past him meowing and hissing. “Whoever you are, you’ll pay for this one!” he screamed as he began chasing after various Mrs. Norris iterations.
“Now’s our chance, Wanda!” Tilly whispered. “Donatella and I will herd some of the cats out into the corridor and, as soon as you get a clear shot, take it!”
Wanda nodded, and the two others ran out, crouched down the whole time. They’d occasionally run while holding open their robes to more or less corral the cats toward the library doors. Three or four took their direction and could be heard loudly meowing in the corridor, which caught Filch’s ears. He ran after them, already holding one Mrs. Norris in each hand.
Wanda glanced down at her watch — 11:58pm. She jumped out from under the table, executed a couple of rolls in order to stay low, and then sprinted to the Restricted Section.
By now, even Hogwarts’ librarian, Madam Pince, could be heard approaching, complaining as she walked. She entered the library and didn’t know where to head first, as several cats were busy knocking books from shelves very near to her.
Wanda, having executed the switch, shoved the book into her trousers and made a beeline for the exit. When she caught up with Tilly and Donatella, the three of them pulled their robe hoods over their heads and ran as hard as they could, with Tilly knocking into Professor Roomlie, who almost certainly would have stopped them under any other circumstances, but was more intent at the moment on investigating the ruckus at the library.
Several small puffs could be heard in the moments that followed, and soon books stopped being overturned in the library. Things grew quiet again and Filch, Madam Pince, and Professor Roomlie stood there alone. The real Mrs. Norris, who hadn’t exploded into a puff of smoke, happened to be one of the ones in Filch’s arms.
Filch looked at his empty hand, wondering what had just transpired. “When I catch the ones responsible, they’ll pay dearly!” he shouted.
Just then Peeves popped in on the three. “Cat troubles, Argus?!” he giggled.
“I’ll kill you, Peeves!” Filch shouted. “You may be dead, but mark my words, I’ll kill you!”
Filch walked away muttering, accompanied by Madam Pince, who’d put an arm around him as they walked. He seemed convinced that the whole mess had been another of Peeves’ acts of chaos.
Roomie looked down at his cloak, at the spot where the black-robed student had bumped into him moments ago. There, a single strand of hair had snagged on a silver lapel pin. He snatched it and held it up to his lantern. A vivid, unmistakable, fiery red shone in his lantern’s light. He certainly didn’t understand the commotion that had just transpired, but filed it away as highly suspicious.
He set his lantern down on a table, pulled out his pipe, and packed the bowl as he mulled over things. Once he lit up, he decided for now to continue his own business. So, puffing away quietly in the darkness, he headed to the Restricted area (section 32, shelf 19 — a favorite and frequent destination for Roomlie) for some casual research into his beloved obsession.
When they returned unscathed, miraculously, to their suite in the Hufflepuff dormitory, the place had been trashed, every one of their personal possessions smashed to bits, including Tilly’s brand new Nimbus Celeritas, a bright-red model painted in candy-apply sportscar red.
“Awww, no, not my Nimbus,” Tilly said, scanning the room in disbelief. “I was going to try out for Chaser next year, man!”
“They even ripped your custom aftermarket grip,” Wanda pointed out, retrieving half of it from beneath her bed. “The kasbah grip … great design … really tied the broom together, Dudette.”
There was a note pinned to the woodwork along the doorframe. It read, “You see what happens, Lebowski? THIS is what happens, Lebowski, when you jinx a Ranger or her cat! THIS is what happens, Lebowski, when you JINX a RANGER or her CAT!”
If anything seemed in order for Tilly, Wanda, and Donatella, lying low stuck out as the most advisable over the coming weeks. It gave Tilly time, most importantly, to study their painfully acquired volume, Taurus, All the True and All the Bull.
The book’s author, Berman Oliver, had included tangential material of any and all potential assistance to the mystery of the Underworld Strain. One reference in particular caught Tilly’s eye. It was a quote from William Blake’s book from the late 1700s entitled The Marriage of Heaven and Hell: “If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite.”
Amid all of the other quotes within Taurus about light, levity, levitation, portals, doors, and the like, something different caught Tilly’s eye here — namely, the notion of what cleansing meant. Aldous Huxley and others had written about it, too, she’d come to learn.
“The contemplative whose perception has been cleansed,” wrote Huxley “does not have to stay in his room. He can go about his business, so completely satisfied to see and be a part of the divine Order of Things that he will never even be tempted to indulge in what Traherne called the dirty Devices of the world. When we feel ourselves to be sole heirs of the universe, when the sea flows in our veins … and the stars are our jewels, when all things are perceived as infinite and holy, what motive can we have for covetousness or self-assertion, for the pursuit of power or the drearier forms of pleasure?”
The Underworld Strain is not merely a doorway, she supposed, but the direct doorway to that pure, cleansed, contemplative existence — the ultimate high, she figured, as certain adults would put it. At 11, though, she felt … well, not cleansed, really. But, never yet soiled, with soiled being the condition that slowly descends on witches and wizards alike as they age. And the big mental leap here, for Tilly — surely aided by her unique, innocent approach to all of this as an 11-year old who’d never altered her own perception by more than the occasional sugar high — was so simple, so elegant, and so unabashedly honest that no one before had ever seen it. Via its own purity, the solution remained hidden to adults who’d, by their nature, overthink every aspect of the quest.
We cleanse here quite literally, she imagined. And we find illumination by creating illumination itself, dark to light, just like Persephone. She knew it to be true intuitively. It was more about intention than technique, she felt. So, she would prove it and present her childlike gift to Professor Roomlie, solving an ancient psychedelic-philosophical issue and gaining some much-needed extra credit in the process.
She knew who to ask for the next step in this quest — none other than Hufflepuff entrepreneur Mason Ogilvy.
“Mason?” she asked, approaching the boy during a free study period in the Hufflepuff common room, “Might Wanda, Donatella, and I possibly get a private, custom tour from you?”
“Cross my palm with five sickles each and I’m yours,” he replied. “Anything special you’d like to see? The Shrieking Shack, perhaps, or maybe-”
“Something far underground here at Hogwarts,” Tilly said. “Like, a cavernous basement or-”
“How about the Underground Chambers?” Mason suggested.
“Interesting,” Tilly replied. “So, that’s below ground, basically.”
“Sure,” he replied. “Downright spooky in parts, really. I don’t get terribly much call for tours down there, with most clients requesting locales from the Battle of Hogwarts. But, sure, I can arrange it. Is tonight good?”
“Perfecto,” Tilly said. “The spookier the better!”
As the girls got geared up for their spelunking adventure with Mason, they started reviewing the goals for the evening, and also just general thoughts and ideas. “I feel that this quest is all about two things,” Tilly told Wanda and Donatella. “First, it’s about illumination — both literally and figuratively. Persephone moves from the Underworld where it’s dark upward into the light.”
“Dudette, she also goes back to Hades, right?” Donatella asked.
“You’re out of your element, Donatella,” Wanda insisted. “Let the girl finish.”
“It’s a fair point, Wanda,” said Tilly.
“Thanks, Dudette,” Donatella said.
“So sure,” Tilly agreed, “Persephone may reverse the trip as well but from, a metaphorical standpoint, she’s all about the light. You might even say that, when she descends into Hades, she brings the light with her, and when she returns in the Spring, she awakens everything that had been asleep. So, we are descending, and we must bring our A game in terms of creating brightness.”
“Lumos maxima,” Donatella said. “As opposed to, you know, just standard lumos.”
“Thank God,” Wanda said with a sigh of relief. “That’s a spell I can definitely manage. But Dudette, what about the gillyweed?”
“No clue,” Tilly admitted. “But, for now, let’s at least just go see this chamber and get a lay of the land … scout out a primo location for when we’re ready. By the way, Donatella, does every spell have a maxima, or just lumos? I kinda feel like all spells should have little intensity parameters.”
“Hey, I’m also just 11 years old,” Donatella said. “A lot of this world is a mystery to me, too.”
Around 7:00 p.m., Mason showed up and knocked. “Is my tour group ready to depart?”
When all nodded and got up to follow him, he said, “let’s head out, then. To get to the underground chambers, we have to hike upward for a spell, to the third floor!” He marched out, followed by the three witches.
Mason’s style was to do everything boldly and with a confident flair. This possibly explained how he was able to get away with so much of what he always got away with — not that he ever did too much that anyone considered obviously wrong. But, for example, with these school tours, he simply had taken it upon himself to conduct them, the more boldly the better. And, as it was so painfully obvious to anyone passing by one of his groups that a tour was in progress, no one — not faculty, other students, ministry members, or other administration — seemed to mind at all. In fact, they seemed to smile and wave at him during these tours, as though Mason was performing a true service to the school via his little enterprising programs.
And so the boy would boldly flourish his cape at various points of interest along the halls and loudly explain not only to his group but to anyone within earshot the significance of a place — the legendary personalities who’d done great things here, the dramatic conflicts that had taken place there, the backstories to significant portraiture (which the portraits always found flattering to the point where, during many tours, the men and women depicted would make a point to greet young Mason in hopes that the boy would stop and enlighten his group with a biographical anecdote from the portrait’s life — and, being such a fine young man, he would!).
As a side benefit from this enterprise, Mason had built up, more or less by precedent or by default, permission to go or be almost anywhere in the entirety of the Hogwarts castle. Where average students happening upon a forbidden corridor might be stopped and interrogated by a faculty member or even by Filch, Mason got a free pass.
When they reached the trapdoor, Mason filled them in on the most recent history of the area, which hadn’t seen much action in many years. As they climbed downward, he told them of the many barriers each place or room would have had in place years ago — Fluffy, the Devil’s Snare, the Winged Keys, the Chessboard chamber. All of that was gone now, though some remnants of the giant chess set could be seen still, which was pretty trippy, Tilly thought.
Mason seemed to be trying to do his best to ham up the excitement value of it all, occasionally peering back suspiciously as though they were being followed. The girls appreciated his efforts and found the mood adventuresome, with Tilly and Wanda equating it to the excitement of a muggle haunted house.
“And of course, this is the end,” Mason said, finally, gesturing around and seeming to truly appreciate the significance of the place. “This would be where the Mirror of Erised once stood, where young Harry first defeated the dark lord. Quite a lot of history here, young friends, though much of that must sound to you like legend.”
“Oh yes,” Tilly said, now ignoring Mason. “This place will do nicely!”
“Sorry, what?” Mason said.
“For the transformation,” Tilly said. “It’s ideal!”
“Wait, I thought you were interested in Hogwarts history,” Mason said, feeling somewhat disappointed. “Was this whole tour just to get me to show you this chamber? I mean, you could have just asked.”
“Hey man,” Tilly said, “the tour was outta-sight. We’re all first-years, you know? We don’t know any of this stuff. It was fascinating the whole time, right Wanda?”
“Right, Dudette,” said Wanda. “Truly so.”
“Hmmmph,” Mason grumbled, realizing his services were no longer needed. “I trust you can find your own ways back to the dormitory.” He then left looking crestfallen.
“Seems we could have handled that better,” Donatella said, taking a seat on a stone ledge at the back of the chamber. “Sure is spooky here. Is that good for the spell, Dudette?”
“Can’t hurt,” Tilly said. “All we need now is-”
A voice from behind them boomed out “Gillyweed?”
The girls turned around, absolutely startled, only to see Professor Roomlie entering the room, Taurus cane in hand, looking half disappointed, half excited.
“You thought I hadn’t known it was you three in the library that evening with Mrs. Norris? And that you’d stolen a treasured volume from the Restricted Section? What were your intentions, Ms. Lebowski?” he asked. “Sell the book used at Flourish and Blotts for a few galleons? I’ve had my eye on you three since that night, and-”
“Professor Roomlie,” Tilly pleaded. “We did it for you! We solved it — the whole Tauresian quest, man.”
Roomlie looked confused.
“We’ll return the book,” Tilly said, upset at Roomlie’s ideas about her and her friends. “But look, I’ve got certain information — certain things have literally come to light. I mean, with all you Tauresians, has it ever occurred to you, man, that given the nature of all this new stuff, that, uh, instead of following us around the underground chambers with accusations, that this whole thing might just be, not, you know, not just such a simple theft, but uh-”
“What in God’s holy name are you blathering about?” Roomlie asked.
“Tell him, Dudette,” Wanda said.
“I’ll tell you what I’m blathering about!” Tilly said. “I got information — new stuff has come to light and — man, I cracked the case. I mean we cracked it — the royal we: Wanda, Donatella, and me — for extra credit, you see? … We found the Underworld Strain, man!”
Roomie squinted at her, and then all of them. “You … cracked the case, did you?” he said, raising his fingers in the air like quote marks and beginning to laugh. “Deciphered the secret that generations of loyal Tauresians have devoted their lives to resolving? And you saunter onto the scene, a first-year who only recently learned she’s magical at all, and-”
“-right, man, right!” Tilly said. “That’s what’s so far-out about it!”
“Well then,” Roomie said, fully prepared to march the three young witches straight to detention. He waved his wand in a large circle over his head and various items materialized all around them. The walls now had fiery torch sconces, a giant persian rug appeared beneath their feet, and in the center was a kind of altar holding a large stone bowl. Roomie reached into a cloak pocket, produced a massive handful of dried gillyweed, and placed it into the bowl. “Enlighten me.”
“That’s one of the keys to the whole enchilada,” Tilly said. “Lotta ins, lotta outs to this. And a lotta strands to keep in my head, man. But right, we need light, massive light!” She then said “girls?” prompting Wanda and Donatella to execute lumos maxima spells as Tilly paced around the altar ready to explain her magic.
“We need to bring all manner of light to the gillyweed,” Tilly explained. “Literal light that you see here, and figurative light, which we can achieve through any means we feel makes sense. But we also need to keep in mind the concept of cleansing, as the Tauresian book says in reference to Blake and Huxley and other magical psychonauts of the day. So, to transform this gillyweed, we need to both enlighten and literally clean it. And so I’ve devised a little light verse to facilitate all of these goals at once.”
Roomlie remained intrigued, if doubtful.
Tilly then whipped out her wand — coincidentally, or perhaps not entirely coincidentally, made of a thick 13-inch piece of hempstalk fitted over a core of Wampus cat hair — and cleared her throat to begin the incantation, delivered slowly enough so that she’d completely circumvent the altar once clockwise by the time it was complete:
When the Spring has grown near, yet the air lingers chilly,
The return of Persephone brings daffodillies,
We beseech you, sweet goddess, oh please if you willie:
Transmute this here gillyweed. Remove the gilly!
A whirlwind encircled everyone in the room and grew in intensity, whipping up dirt and dust into a swirling whirl behind them. The gillyweed began to shake and vibrate until finally an indescribable brightness, like 10,000 searchlights, shot suddenly from the stash, causing everyone to turn away instantaneously as the room heated to a nearly unbearable temperature amid the fiery light. All wanted to look, but knew they shouldn’t — half out of an intuitive certainty of going blind, half out of some immediately-recognized humility that the light was of a numinous source and should not be experienced directly.
Tilly thought back to Huxley … “when we feel ourselves to be sole heirs of the universe, when the sea flows in our veins … and the stars are our jewels, when all things are perceived as infinite and holy.” It was her Raiders of the Lost Ark finale moment, and she screamed out blindly to her two witch besties, “Don’t look at it!!!”
The four of them had been reduced to cowering on the carpet, forearms pressed tightly against their eyes to shield them from the sheer presence of divinity. And then the whirlwind subsided, the dust settled, and the brightness faded. On the altar, the weed remained — no longer gillyweed, but clearly transformed. It emitted a steady golden light of its own and there was even a vibration to it — a low, nearly imperceptible hum that was apparent to the girls, though possibly not to Roomlie.
They all stood and brushed themselves off. No one spoke, at least not for a full minute. Instead, they merely absorbed the entirety of what had happened, physically and emotionally. It had worked, worked in a big way.
“Remove the gilly,” Roomlie finally said quietly, repeating the final words of the Dudette’s spell in shocked disbelief, eyes impossibly wide and bulging absurdly. He walked around the now pure, gleaming, glowing, pulsating, vibrating weed, staring in awe and beginning to laugh in a crazed manner. “A cleansing spell!! Cast in light verse!!”
Tilly cleared her throat. “So, the uh, professor? About that extra credit, for uh, the three of us?”
But there was no getting through to the old academic stoner. He continued to circle the stash, occasionally pausing to deeply inhale the thick, sweet, dank pungency that had washed over the entire room. “It’s … too simple,” he said, now beginning to cry. “All this time … everything we’ve tried … teams of wizards around the globe working on the problem … and you removed the gilly, just like that … leaving pure weed, and thus transforming this simple green lady into … a queen …”
“Professor?” Wanda said.
But there was no getting through to him now. “… this Latin lettuce into … ambrosia,” he mumbled, now reaching into his jacket and pulling out his calabash pipe.
“Aww jeez, dudette,” Donatella whispered. “He’s gonna hit that right here, right now!”
Roomie selected a fuzzy glowing nug nearly the size (and, surprisingly, the weight) of a golden snitch and held it up to his face, illuminating his eyes. He looked different than before, far more excited than he’d ever been in class, as though all of the melancholy and introspection required of philosophy professors had gone out the window leaving only raw obsession. Roomlie had come to life surely as much as the gillyweed had.
The girls were powerless to do anything but witness the event, and dared not interfere as he packed his bowl.
“Incendio pakalolo!” he shouted at last — lighting up not just for himself, but for Philosophy professors worldwide, and for the thousands of Tauresian devotees over the ages for whom he’d now inhale so deeply. The entire snitch-sized ball glowed bright red like a nuclear maraschino-cherry loaded with 500 LED bulbs. It contracted a bit as he inhaled, and the girls all swore they could see the smoke through Roomlie’s skin(!) as it entered his body, causing his face and entire head to glow as he held in the golden cherry smoke.
Before exhaling, he stepped back, dropped his pipe, and said, “Oh, wowwwwwww” in a low drawn-out drone. And then he somehow released enough smoke in a single breath to fill the entire Great Hall with a thick fog.
“Sweet God, Dudette,” Donatella said as the billowing cloud expanded and spread throughout the room, “we’re gonna get a hell of a contact high.”
The girls tried to retreat to the edge of the room, or even out of it. But, with so much smoke, it became difficult to see and they succumbed, enveloped, one by one, eyes rolling back into their young heads and everyone winding up floor-locked for a period of intense, visionary, stonedness.
When Tilly and Wanda regained the ability to function after some unknown period that could easily have been a minute or several hours, Roomlie was on the persian rug, levitating and now donning a giant turban. “Not necessarily stoned,” he said to the young witches, “but… beautiful.” He and the rug then floated out of the chamber, his laughter trailing off into the distance.
“Do you think we’ll see him again, Dudette?” Wanda asked, yawning.
“I dunno, man,” Tilly supposed. “Huxley said that the man who comes back through the door in the wall will never be quite the same as the man who went out. And I think he went about as far out as you can go.”
They compared trips as Donatella slept it off still. It turns out that each had re-experienced her own life, a flash of the first eleven years since birth and perhaps a glimpse of the years to come. Tilly specifically recounted witnessing her second through seventh years at Hogwarts — Tilly Lebowski and the Changer of Regrets; Tilly Lebowski and The Pensioner of Alakazam; Tilly Lebowski and The Goblet of Nihilists; Tilly Lebowski Orders Some Kleenex; Tilly Lebowski Half-Baked, Listening to Prince; Tilly Lebowski and The Breath We Swallow. She relayed all of these visions to Wanda as they sat there regaining their senses.
“Goblet of Nihilists?” Wanda said, incredulously, shaking her head. “I mean, say what you like about the tenets of National Slitherinism, Dudette, but at least it’s an ethos.”
Tilly chuckled. “Let’s see if we can wake Donatella.”
Outside among the high Scottish hills, a raving Philosopher flew into the night on his magic rug.
Back up on the distant cliff, the narrator, aka “GOD” sits, patiently whiling his time away. “Hi again, everyone!” he says, perking up. “It’s your old friend GOD again. Or, well, the Ghost of Donny if you need me to spell it out for you. I think that about wraps her all up — and not a bad story, right?”
He begins to walk on his cliff, recapping some of his thoughts. “I think it’s fair to assume that Tilly, Wanda, and Donatella earned Outstanding marks in Philosophy — and that Minerva McGonagall probably made them promise to never summon Persephone or transform gillyweed into psychedelic cannabis for extra credit, no matter how many Philosophy professors find their ways onto the school grounds. Why are philosophy professors always so trippy, eh?”
He laughs as Professor Roomlie floats by — not terribly far away, on his rug — and then continues: “Course, I didn’t like seeing the gals get into such a scuffle with their Hufflepuff housemate Starr Ranger, and they might’ve handled things with Grim a bit better. But, Grim will get over it, and I happen to know that Tilly will make Chaser next season, which’ll help smooth things out with Starr.”
“And that’s how it’ll go, I suppose — you win some, you lose some, you get into trouble, you get back out of it.” He appears sad to see things come to an end now, but hides it politely for everyone. “But, don’t listen to me. You’ve got important things to do. So, thanks for the visit, and I hope we’ll meet again sometime. For now, boy how I could sure go for some of that good butterbeer.”
### THE END ###
✍🏻 Jim Dee maintains three blogs — Hawthorne Crow, Web Designer | Web Developer Magazine, and Wonderful Words, Defined — and contributes to various Medium pubs. Connect at JPDbooks.com, Amazon, FB, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Medium, or Jim [at] ArrayWebDevelopment.com. His latest screwball literary novel, CHROO, is a guaranteed good time, and he’d be delighted if you purchased a copy! This fanfiction piece was also cross-posted on Wattpad. :-)