AJ looked into the faces of his four bandmates, his four brothers, and found himself at a loss for words. It was surreal; he had imagined this moment and how it might unfold so many times over the past six years, but now that it had finally arrived, he realized he didn’t have the slightest idea where to begin. Might as well start at the beginning, he decided, and so he did.
“Nine years ago…” His raspy voice faltered, as if the words themselves were unwilling to be let out, wanting to remain a secret locked away inside of him forever. He paused to clear his throat, then started again. “Nine years ago, when I was twelve, I got a letter. It was like the one I got yesterday on the bus, delivered by an owl, only this letter came from a school. It was a school of magic, a place for young witches and wizards to be educated.”
“Witches and wizards,” Brian repeated, staring at him incredulously. AJ could tell he was having a hard time believing it, despite what he’d witnessed that very night.
“You saw what I can do,” said AJ. “I didn’t understand it then, but I always knew I was different. When my powers first manifested themselves, I felt like a freak; I tried to hide them, not knowing what I was. My mom didn’t think I had a magical bone in my body, before I got my letter.”
“Your mom?” asked Howie, raising his eyebrows. “You mean Denise-?”
“Yeah, she’s a witch. But she married a Muggle – a non-magical person – and her grandmother was a Squib, meaning someone born to magical parents who doesn’t have any magical ability themselves, so she just figured I got stuck at the shallow end of the gene pool. She was used to living around Muggles, so she just raised me as one, up until the day the owl came.”
“So… magic – it’s inherited?” Deep furrows appeared in Kevin’s forehead as he frowned with the effort of trying to process something that was far beyond his practical way of thinking. AJ doubted Kevin had ever even pretended to have magical powers as a kid, let alone believed magic was real.
“Yeah, it’s passed down just like any other trait.” AJ shrugged. “It’s kind of a big deal to some in the Wizarding world – the purists, who think wizards and witches should only marry their own kind to keep their bloodlines pure. But that’s bullshit – if we didn’t intermarry with Muggles, we’d have died out a long time ago. That said, you’ll find a lot of inbreeding among old Wizarding families, who still insist on marrying their second cousins and stuff.”
“Hey, just like in Kentucky!” quipped Nick, smirking at Kevin and Brian.
AJ laughed at the look on Kevin’s face after that comment. “Yeah, so anyway, you know how I told you my mom and I moved to Kissimmee so I could pursue more acting opportunities? Well, the truth is, we moved so I could go to this Wizarding school in Orlando. The Apollo Academy of Magical Arts, it’s called.”
“There are schools for wizards?” Poor Kevin’s bushy brows were knitted so closely together, he looked like he had a unibrow.
“Yep. I studied there for three years, until the group got going, and then, you know, I got tutored.”
“You mean to tell me our homeschool teacher was a witch?!” cried Nick. “I mean, I know I probably called her that from time to time, but I never really thought it was true. Like, literally true.”
AJ chuckled. “Yeah, she was a witch. Muggle-born, though, so I guess it wasn’t hard for her to tutor little Muggle brats like you.” He paused to grin at Nick. “Now you know why we had some of our lessons separate.”
“I just thought it was because you were older than me…” mused Nick, a light of comprehension dawning on his face. “So the whole time, you were learning how to do magic?”
“Damn… wish I could’ve seen. How come you never told us??”
“We’re not supposed to reveal ourselves to Muggles. Like Harry said, there’s actually an International Statute of Secrecy that was established in the late 1600s, around the same time as the Salem Witch Trials. We were facing so much persecution by Muggles back then, the whole Wizarding community was forced into hiding. We’ve kept ourselves hidden ever since.”
“So the Salem Witch Trials… those people were really witches, then?” asked Howie, his eyes wide.
AJ shrugged. “Maybe some of them, but it’s doubtful. No real witch would allow herself to be burned alive by a Muggle. On the rare occasion they did get caught, all they had to do was cast a Flame Freezing Charm and fake like they were in pain… or just disapparate – disappear into thin air.”
Brian’s eyes were just as huge as Howie’s. “Can you do that? Disappear into thin air?”
“Sure,” said AJ casually. Before they could ask, he focused on a floor tile just behind them, then turned on the spot. He heard a loud crack and felt a crushing pressure closing in on him from all sides, as his body was squeezed through the blackness of space.
Less than second later, he was spat out onto the floor with a pop! The four guys spun around, startled, and leapt back in surprise. “Holy shit!” cried Nick, pointing. The others stared at him, their mouths gaping wide open. AJ offered another shrug, feeling rather like a sideshow freak.
He supposed he couldn’t blame the guys for being shocked. His father’s reaction had been much worse, when he found out his wife was really a witch. It was the reason he had left AJ’s mother, and AJ had never forgiven him for it, though, in his defense, his mother probably should have been a bit more upfront with him before they got married. It was a fine line witches and wizards walked, knowing when to tell and when to keep their secret.
But now that the guys knew the truth, AJ felt like a huge weight had been lifted from his shoulders. For the first time in six years, he could finally be himself around them, and to AJ, that was the most magical thing that had happened all night.
Harry and his friends had moved to the lobby of the exhibition centre, where Obliviators from the Ministry of Magic were stationed at every exit, modifying the memories of Muggle fans on their way out the doors. “Glad to see this is going faster than the security check on the way in,” Harry commented, remembering how they’d each been probed by a sort of Muggle wand meant to detect weapons – but only Muggle weapons, of course.
“It would have gone faster if Hermione here hadn’t brought along that damn beaded bag of hers,” grumbled Ron, rolling his eyes at Hermione.
Hermione held up her small, purple purse, allowing it to dangle on the end of its thin strap. “Might I remind you that this ‘damn beaded bag’ of mine saved our lives, on several occasions?” The handbag had been invaluable when they were on the run, due to the Undetectable Extension Charm Hermione had placed on it in order to conceal all of their supplies inside. Evidently, the charm was still in place, because the Muggle security man who had checked her bag was bewildered when his probe couldn’t find the bottom.
It was a good thing the charm was undetectable, but even if the Muggles’ metal-detecting wands had also been able to detect magic, Harry knew that no Muggle security measure would have been capable of keeping the Death Eaters out. Not even Hogwarts, with its many protective enchantments, had been able to withstand an attack by Voldemort’s army when it was at full force. Harry was just relieved there had only been a few Death Eaters present at the concert, and that they hadn’t done any lasting harm.
As for Ron and Hermione…
“Yeah, well, might I remind you that you tried to castrate me, on several occasions, with those jeans you packed that were too tight?”
“Like it’s my fault your jeans no longer fit! Maybe if you’d stop eating for once…”
“Oh, enough already!” With a loud huff, Ginny stepped in between Ron and Hermione before they could cause each other any lasting harm. “Do you two ever stop bickering?”
It was a rhetorical question, but Harry couldn’t resist the opportunity to remark, “Barely! That’s one thing I didn’t miss about Hogwarts this-”
Harry turned, surprised at having been recognized in the midst of so many Muggles, and saw a familiar pair of protuberant gray eyes light up.
“I thought that was you!” their owner cried as she trotted over to him, her tangle of waist-length, dirty blonde hair billowing behind her.
“Luna! What are you doing here?” Harry asked curiously, looking her up and down.
Luna Lovegood looked as dotty as ever, wearing her Butterbeer cork necklace over a Backstreet Boys t-shirt and a bright pair of flowered bellbottoms. Harry was relieved to see she’d left her roaring Gryffindor lion hat at home.
“I’m on assignment for Daddy’s magazine,” answered Luna, whose father published a wizarding tabloid called The Quibbler. “It was rumored Stubby Boardman would make an appearance here tonight, as one of the Backstreet Boys’ opening acts.”
“You mean Sirius?” blurted Ron, ripping open the old, familiar hole in Harry’s stomach. “’Cause there’s no way he could be here tonight; Sirius is dead, remember?”
“Yes, and thank you, Ron, for kindly reminding us all,” snapped Hermione, shooting Harry a sympathetic glance.
Harry just shrugged, as if to say, It’s okay; I’m used to it. After three years, it shouldn’t have hurt so much just to hear his godfather’s name spoken, but when it happened without warning like that, it still felt like a blow straight to the gut, like the wind had been knocked out of him.
“Sorry, mate,” Ron apologized, his ears reddening.
“That’s alright,” said Luna, oblivious. “Stubby didn’t make it either. Do you think those Death Eaters had something to do with it? I don’t think they were Backstreet Boys fans.”
Harry chortled. “Probably not. Looks like you’re fan, though.” He pointed to Luna’s t-shirt.
She looked down at it and smiled. “Well, I do find them rather attractive…”
Ron stuck his finger in his mouth and made a retching noise, as Hermione gushed, “Oh, me too, Luna! Which one’s your favorite?”
“This one, I suppose,” said Luna, pointing out AJ on her t-shirt. “He was interesting.”
“Especially when he whipped out his wand, right?” added Harry with a grin. Ginny elbowed him in the ribs.
“Yes, I didn’t realize he was magical. I thought they were all Muggles.”
“They thought they were all Muggles, too,” said Harry. “Speaking of which, I should probably go make sure they’re still alright. Anyone care to join me?”
Luna and Hermione both nodded, and grudgingly, Ron and Ginny trudged along after them as Harry led them back to the stage. On the way, he asked Luna, “So, how was your last term at Hogwarts? I haven’t seen you in awhile.”
“Quite ordinary, thanks,” Luna replied. “I saw you at King’s Cross the other day. I wanted to say hello, but you seemed a bit preoccupied.”
Harry felt his face heat up as he remembered his reunion with Ginny. “Sorry, Luna, I didn’t even notice you there,” he said truthfully.
“Yes, I seem to have a knack for going unnoticed, don’t I?” Luna replied cheerfully. “It only took you four years to notice me at Hogwarts.”
Luna also had a knack for saying uncomfortably honest things. Outside the stage door, Harry shifted his weight awkwardly. “Er… yeah. Sorry about that, too.”
“That’s alright.” Luna smiled and pointed to the door. “So is this where we go to see the Backstreet Boys?”
“Yeah… through here.” Harry ushered the others into the Boys’ dressing room beneath the stage. “I’m back, and I’ve brought a few friends!” he called out to announce his arrival. “Hope you don’t mind – a couple of them are fans.”
The five Backstreet Boys looked up as they walked in. Harry could tell they had been deep in conversation. “Oh good, you’re back,” said AJ. “I was just telling them about You-Know-Who, but I’m sure you tell it a lot better.” He looked at Harry expectantly. His four bandmates just looked bewildered.
Harry sighed. He really didn’t want to relive what he’d spent the better part of the past year trying to put behind him, but he supposed after what they had witnessed that night, they deserved to know. “Alright,” he agreed, “but just so you know, I don’t buy into all that ‘You-Know-Who’ and ‘He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named’ rubbish. If I’m going to tell the story, I’m going to call him by his proper name: Voldemort.”