“Tonight’s Meeting of Unlikely Heroes will now come to order. I’m Bob.”
“Hi, Bob,” came a sparse chorus of voices from the circle. There were twenty rusty-legged chairs in the circle, less than half of which were occupied.
“I see a lot of new faces tonight, so, welcome,” continued Bob. “We have coffee and pastries over on the table. Restrooms are down the hall, through the double doors to the left. You’ll need a key. That’s by the coffee. Please bring it back in a timely manner. We only have the one. And if you want to have a smoke, you’ll need to step into the alley. Sorry about that; fire code.”
Bob coughed into his fist and shuffled the papers in his lap.
“Okay, so that looks like all the nuts and bolts. Let’s get started. We’ll go around the circle. Give your name and tell us briefly—briefly, mind you—about your story.”
“Hi, umm, yeah, my name’s Harry. When I was a baby, Lord Volde—“
“Oh, please don’t say his name!” broke in Bob. Harry paused, looked in Bob’s direction, and then went on.
“Lord Voldemort killed my parents and tried to kill me but his curse backfired. Only gave me this.” He gestured to his forehead and shrugged. “For ten years, everyone thought he was gone, but then after I went to Hogwarts—that’s a school for witchcraft and wizardry—he showed up again, and I spent seven years trying to defeat him and prevent him from destroying the Wizarding and Muggle worlds alike. It was a real pain, too, because not only did I have to defeat the most powerful dark wizard ever known, I also had to convince people he was really back.”
“Welcome, Harry!” said Bob, raising his eyebrows and gesturing with his up-turned palm to the rest of the group.
“Welcome, Harry,” the rest echoed. Bob smiled.
“We’ll continue to Harry’s left.”
“That’s me, then,” said the small man—or maybe boy?—next to Harry. “I’m Frodo Baggins formerly of Bag End, Hobbiton. My cousin Bilbo left me a ring that turned out to be the One Ring. You know, the Ring of Power? Isildur’s Bane?” Frodo paused but getting only blank looks from the group, he went on. “Well, it seemed like a great gift at first. Would turn someone invisible if they put it on, which was great fun at parties.”
“That sounds like the invisibility cloak my father left me!” broke in Harry. The woman to his right scowled at him, but Harry didn’t notice. “It really comes in handy, doesn’t it? Invisibility?”
Frodo gave Harry a sideways look. “Like I said, it seemed like a great gift, but then Gandalf, this wise wizard friend of mine—”
“Oh, you know wizards, too? Are you at Hogwarts? What are you, second year? First? What house are you in?”
“Listen, young sir!” The furry-footed fellow on Frodo’s other side leaned forward to look at Harry. “Mister Frodo traveled through dangers untold to defeat the Dark Lord. He’s not been fooling about in some school, not for years and years. I’d bet Mister Frodo here is older than your parents.”
“My parents are dead,” answered Harry.
“Oh, yes. So sorry. Blast it, Samwise Gamgee! The boy said his parents were dead! What would my Old Gaffer say if he were here to—”
“Don’t worry about it,” broke in Harry. “It’s an honest mistake.”
“Frodo, please continue your story,” said Bob.
“Yes. Well, Gandalf said I had to take the ring all the way to Mordor—do you all know Mordor? Out east?”
“Is it in New Jersey?” asked Bob.
“No. It’s near Gondor,” said Frodo.
“Oh, well I’m not great with geography,” said Bob, and he took a sip from his styrofoam cup.
“Anyway, I had to drop it in this volcano in Mordor where it was forged. Sam here came with me. In fact, I couldn’t have done it without Sam.” Sam gave a little wave.
“See, he mentions his friend!” the woman to Harry’s right hissed into Harry’s ear.
“Yeah!” said a tall young man with red hair next to her. “You could give us a little credit, Harry. You didn’t do it all alone.”
“Okay, okay,” said Harry. “I was trying to be brief, but if we’re mentioning who helped us, then yes, I couldn’t have done it without Ron and Hermione.”
“Right,” said Ron. “You wouldn’t even have made it through our first year without my chess skills.”
“Well, technically you lost that game, Ron. But I helped Harry figure out those potions, remember?” added Hermione.
“Fine! Yes, you two are indispensable! Are you happy now?” Harry was nearly shouting at his two friends.
“Okay, then,” said Bob. “Let’s all just take a deep breath.” He paused to demonstrate an elaborate breath. “It’s very stressful to fight evil. We all know that. It’s important not to give vent to that stress by lashing out at those we care about.”
Nods and noises of assent came from around the circle.
“But don’t worry. That’s why we’re here! Now that we’ve saved the world, we’re going to learn some tools to help us live in the world again!” Bob nodded and smiled reassuringly around the circle. “So, let’s take a short break, get some coffee, let this negative energy dissipate, and then we’ll get back to it.”
As the other attendees moved towards the refreshments, Frodo took Bob aside. Bob leaned down to hear what Frodo was saying. “Listen, Bob. I’m sorry about this, but I’m not sure this is the right group for me.”
“Frodo, really, I wish you’d give the group a chance—”
“Thank you, Bob, for the coffee, and the bagels were delicious. But I have a boat to catch.”
And with that, Frodo slipped out. As the door shut behind him, Sam looked up from the pastry tray.
“Mister Frodo! Don’t leave without your Sam!” he called and ran for the door stuffing a pair of crullers into his bag.
“What a pair of nutters,” said Ron. Hermione ducked from under the arm Ron had put around her shoulders.
“I thought they seemed nice,” she said. “I wonder if they could be related to house elves.”
Harry rolled his eyes at his friends and turned to talk to a green-complected boy wearing furry purple skins. “Snakes, I see,” he said, gesturing to the amulet around the boy’s neck. “I can talk to snakes, you know.”