On discovering the Edinburgh that J.K. Rowling used as inspiration for the wizarding world, I’ve got news: I discovered her inspiration for Potions Class. It was quite an accident I stumbled upon this, but when it happened, I knew.
I knew as soon as my waiter approached my table at Mussel Inn. I always go for the special in joints like this. Nothing says to a local that you are here to experience this place like a wave-off of the menu, a glance at the board, and a quick, I’ll do the special. Today, however, I was not offered a menu, as much as I was hit in the back of the head with it.
“Snape,” I said, rubbing my head. His suit was as black as his gaze and as his hair draping both. “I knew you were faking your death. I told everyone you didn’t pull the wool over a Dark Lord so badass you can’t even say his name just to let some non-venomous snake that escaped from a zoo gum you to death. I mean you’re the Half-Blood—”
Once again, Snape hit me across the back of the head with the menu. “Though your muggle bloodline disqualifies you from even…” He looked as if he were of trying to swallow a Dementor… “American schools of witchcraft and wizardry, here at Mussel Inn, you might actually learn a potion or two. You see, I left my position at Hogwarts, so that muggles might not be so detestable, if they learned a thing or two about potions.” He sized me up from behind his curtain of black hair. “Or so I thought.”
Sometimes, when people ask my age, I say, eleven, because that means there’s hope the acceptance letter from Hogwarts is on its way to my house. I’m the child waiting at the top of the steps on Christmas Eve, hoping that it’s Santa’s and not his parents’ feet shuffling to the tree in the living room. I wonder which house Santa was sorted into at Hogwarts. I suppose it would take a Ravenclaw to figure out how to get to so many houses in one night. Then of course there is Mrs. Clause, the inspiration for young Hufflepuffs everywhere.
Anyway, I kissed the snake of Snape’s Hogwarts class ring. “I would mop the very halls of Slytherin, if you would but teach me, professor.” I tried to speak in Parseltongue, but I think he knew I was just whispering the words of a Taylor Swift song.
He placed the cauldron of seafood chowder before me. I knew it was my first test. I stirred my ladle, wafting the scent as the steam ran its fingers along my face and caressed it. Then I realized I was floating. “A levitation spell,” I said.
I thought I detected Snape lighten his expression, but the moment didn’t last because next on my table a witch’s pot was simmering a brew of white wine and mussels. Earlier in the evening, I was standing upon the ramparts of Edinburg Castle, looking across the bay from where these mussels were plucked. It is refreshing, to know that all pettiness eventually drowns back into the cold and clear Scottish waters from whence these mussels came. The pettiness of telling a lie, you realize, is pointless in a place like Scotland, like pointing a flashlight into a black hole, where it is swallowed into somewhere deep, somewhere from which it will never return.
After the mussels begged that if it wouldn’t be altogether too much of an impolite imposition, if they might step inside and do a bit of rearranging, and clear out any clutter one might find along the way, I said, “Ask me anything, professor, and I’ll tell you only the deepest truth of the matter, as I know it.”
The professor snarled with impatience.
“Ah. It’s a veritaserum potion!” I said. “Well, I am no longer mad at Cho. This truth serum of mussels in wine sauce could loosen the tongue of a wild boar.”
Snape held up his hand for silence. “Arrogant,” he said. “You are not yet as clever as you think you are.” Then he placed three glass vials on the table: One vial of coffee. One vial of liqueur. One vial of ice cream. “Show me, Mr. Book, unless you are as lazy as everyone assumes you to be, how one might form this concoction.”
“I’d know this potion anywhere,” I said. “It’s Liquid Luck.”
“Felix Felicis,” the professor snapped, “is its proper name. I would also accept, Affogato, which, unless you are too arrogant to observe, is how it appears on the menu.”
My left hand gripped the liqueur. My right hand, jealous of its twin, rushed to the vial of coffee. I looked up at the professor. His face of stone revealed nothing. He would let me fail, I knew, no matter the enormity of the consequences.
While trying to decide which vial to pour first, my hands, in unison, poured over the ice cream the liqueur and the coffee and any caution that might yet have remained.
The potion fizzed, sparkled, seethed at its rude awakening. I lifted it to my lips. “And this will bring me good luck?”
Snape glared at me. “Did it not bring Mr. Weasly good luck,” he growled, “at quidditch tryouts?”
“He never drank the potion,” I said. “It was just that he thought he did so he had the confidence to try his best at anything, to try like he couldn’t lose, unafraid of failure, which is how all greatness is accomplished. Just look at Scotland.” I sipped from the vial. “Oh,” I mumbled. “I see your point, professor,” and I drank in the invincibility.