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Standard disclaimers apply. Still don't sue me.

Much ado about Hogwarts letters.

Chapter Two


Once upon a time, there was a young princess who lived in a little house with her mum and dad and her brother and sisters. She could recall being told—she couldn't remember quite where—that all girls were princesses, and she believed it. She was short, plump and mischievous, with sparkling brown eyes and a lopsided grin. She was the sort of girl to climb trees more often than she played with dolls, and watch telly more often than she did her homework. She sang off-key in the shower, read rather a lot of superhero comic books, kept various reptiles in her bedroom and tracked in mud nearly as often as the dogs.

Her name was Jessica Marie Callahan, and she had just turned eleven.

Jessie had always been something of an outsider among her classmates. Because she wasn't interested in playing with dolls, the girls weren't much interested in playing with her, and while the boys tolerated her, she had become something of an annoyance to them ever since they had discovered she could run faster and climb higher than they could. She seemed to have a knack of staying safe on branches that looked as if they should have broken under her weight, or at least dipped and shifted enough to unsettle her perch.

She was in the old oak tree at the bottom of the garden, one sunny Tuesday afternoon in mid-July, when her father called out the back door, 'Jess! You've got a letter!'

Jessie dropped down from branch to branch and darted to the house, snatching the little envelope from her father's hand. 'What is it?'

He grinned. 'How should I know? Open it.'

She tore it open, extracting the letter within. It read:

HOGWARTS SCHOOL OF WITCHCRAFT AND WIZARDRY

Headmaster: Albus Dumbledore
(Order of Merlin, First Class, Grand Sorc., Chf. Warlock, Supreme Mugwump, International Confed. of Wizards)


Dear Miss Callahan,

We are pleased to inform you that you have a place at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Please find enclosed a list of all necessary books and equipment.

Term begins on 1 September. We await your owl by no later than 31 July.

Yours sincerely,

Minerva McGonagall
Deputy Headmistress


Jessie began to giggle, lifting a second piece of paper from behind the first:

HOGWARTS SCHOOL OF WITCHCRAFT AND WIZARDRY


Uniform
First-year students will require:
1. Three sets of plain work robes (black)
2. One plain pointed hat (black) for day wear
3. One pair of protective gloves (dragon hide or similar)
4. One winter cloak (black, silver fastenings)
Please note that all pupils' clothes should carry name tags

Set Books
All students should have a copy of each of the following:
The Standard Book of Spells (Grade 1) by Miranda Goshawk
A History of Magic by Bathilda Bagshot
Magical Theory by Adalbert Waffling
A Beginners' Guide to Transfiguration by Emeric Switch
One Thousand Magical Herbs and Fungi by Phyllida Spore
Magical Drafts and Potions by Arsenius Jigger
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by Newt Scamander
The Dark Forces: A Guide to Self-Protection by Quentin Trimble

Other Equipment
1 wand
1 cauldron (pewter, standard size 2)
1 set glass or crystal phials
1 telescope
1 set brass scales

Students may also bring an owl OR a cat OR a toad

PARENTS ARE REMINDED THAT FIRST-YEARS ARE NOT ALLOWED THEIR OWN BROOMSTICKS


'Daddy, look at this!' said Jessie. 'It's ridiculous. School of magic! What do you suppose it's meant to be?'

Her father took the papers from her, skimming over them briefly. 'It's either a prank or some sort of scam,' he said thoughtfully, a smile tugging at his lips. 'Let's ask your mother.'

The door banged shut behind them as they went into the house, Mr Callahan calling, 'Mary Ann! Come and have a look at this.'

Jessie's mother came out of the study, dropping a sheaf of papers into an open drawer of the filing cabinet as she passed. 'What?'

'Someone's playing a prank on me,' said Jessie. Her father handed her mother the letter.

Mrs Callahan glanced down at the paper in her hands, and her face went suddenly still. There was a long, expectant silence. 'Where did you get this?' she finally said.

'It's just come in the post,' said Mr Callahan.

'Come on, Mum, it's only a joke,' said Jessie.

'No,' said Mrs Callahan. 'It's no joke.'

'What?' said Jessie and her father together.

'Peter,' said Mrs Callahan, 'go and get Kelly and the twins. It's time for a family meeting. Jessica...' She paused, taking a deep breath, and looked up from the letter to meet her daughter's gaze. 'I think you'd better sit down.'

'Why?' said Jessie, as her mother ushered her over to the sofa. 'Not a joke? What?'

'Sit down, darling.'

'Mum, what's going on?' Jessie sat down, hugging her knees to her chest; her mother was too distracted to reprimand her for putting her trainers on the sofa.

'I was afraid of this,' said Mrs Callahan, sitting down in the easy chair. 'Ever since that incident with your maths homework when you were nine. I hoped I was imagining it, but it seems I wasn't.'

'Mum, what are you talking about?' said Jessie.

Mrs Callahan closed her eyes and folded her hands on top of the letter in her lap. 'You're a witch, Jessie.'

Jessie burst out laughing. 'It's someone you know, isn't it? You're in on it. What is this about, Mum?'

Mrs Callahan was shaking her head. 'It isn't a trick, that's what I've been trying to tell you. You're really a witch. You can do magic.'

'But that's impossible!' cried Jessie. 'Everyone knows magic isn't real.'

'But it is real, Jessica,' said Mrs Callahan severely. 'And I was silly to think it wouldn't come out in you children, just because I...'

'You what, Mum?'

The rest of the family trooped into the living room. Jessie's baby sister Kelly, all of five, flung herself onto the sofa next to Jessie and folded her little arms. 'I was busy,' she said acidly.

'Her doll was just about to get beheaded,' said Alex, Jessie's younger brother. Jane, his twin, nodded.

'She's playing awfully gruesome games for a five-year-old these days. Mum, Dad, are you sure you should let her?'

'She's only—' Mr Callahan began.

'We'll talk about that later,' said Mrs Callahan. 'This is important.'

Jessie sighed in exasperation. 'Mum, will you please just explain to me why you keep insisting I'm a witch?'

'Because you are,' said Mrs Callahan.

'What?' said Kelly, fascinated; she looked at her big sister with new eyes.

Alex grinned wickedly. 'Is she gonna get warts?'

'This is serious,' said Mrs Callahan. 'Jessie's a witch, and the rest of you children probably are as well.'

'Mary Ann,' said Mr Callahan, 'what in God's name are you talking about?'

'I should have told you, Peter,' said Mrs Callahan. 'You see, I come from a magical family.'

'What?' said Jessie, as Mr Callahan said, 'What do you mean, magical?'

Mrs Callahan sighed. 'My father was a wizard. My mother is a witch.' She looked at the children, forestalling their questions. 'Yes, Granny Higgins is a witch. Your Aunt Amanda was a witch, too. I was the first non-magical child in the family for generations.'

Alex stared at his mother, wide-eyed. 'Mum, are you a mutant?'

'No!' said Mrs Callahan, crossly. 'Well, perhaps, I suppose. I'm what's called a Squib, which is a Muggle—that's a regular person—born into a magical family. And Jessie is, well, the opposite.'

'And the rest of us are witches too?' said Kelly.

'We can't be sure,' said Mrs Callahan. 'You may well be. Well, Alex would be a wizard.'

'Cool,' said Alex fervently.

'I'm not certain I believe any of this,' said Jane, folding her arms.

'No,' said Mr Callahan. 'No, think about it. Wouldn't it explain a lot about your grandmother?'

'Exactly,' said Jessie, nodding. 'It's got to be true, when you think about her.'

'You've got a point,' said Jane.

Mrs Callahan looked heavenward. 'I will not deny that your grandmother might very well seem odd to a Muggle observer, but she is well within the bounds of normality for the wizarding world.'

'Which is me, too, now,' said Jessie, wonderingly. 'Mum—can I see my letter again?'

Her mother handed it to her, and Jessie read it over again. By the end she was starting to smile.

'How much are these things going to cost?' she asked.

'I'm not sure,' said Mrs Callahan. 'If the exchange rate is still fixed at five pounds to the Galleon... Well, but I don't know how bad inflation has gotten in the wizarding world.' She blinked, then nodded. 'I may have to ring your aunt's old flatmate. Yes, that would be wise...'

'Who?' said Jessie. 'Why?'

'Badb Winthrop,' said Mrs Callahan. 'Your grandmother's kept in touch with her; she'll have the number. Mrs Winthrop might help us if we ask nicely, Jessica, but you must be on your best behaviour. She was very upset when your aunt passed away, and she might not wish to be reminded.'

'Help us do what, Mum?'

'Who is this person?' said Mr Callahan.

'Amanda's old flatmate, dear,' said Mrs Callahan. 'I met her several times when I was younger. She's very trustworthy. I wonder if she might not be willing to take Jessie shopping for her supplies.'

'Can't we do that ourselves?' said Mr Callahan.

'We can't get into the wizarding district in London, dear; we don't have the power.'

'Wait a minute,' said Alex. 'There's a secret magical underworld in London, right under our noses?'

Mrs Callahan nodded. 'Something like that.'

Alex leaned forward. 'Mother. Mother. Can I go there?'

Mrs Callahan smiled. 'Of course you can, Alex—as soon as your Hogwarts letter arrives.'

***

Lilith Davis lived in a temple. She had lived there most of her life, and thought it might be rather strange to live in a house like other people. The temple was made of shining alabaster, and was called the Hwt-m-Wadjet, located in what had used to be the twin cities of Pe-Dep on the floating isle of Chemis, somewhere in the Nile Delta. It was generally full of chantresses—Lilith's various cousins—holy cobras, the odd temple cat and a few rather harried house elves, as well as the usual statuary, offerings and golden treasure. The statuary got grander the further in you went, and the perfume of incense hung heavier in the air the closer you got to the inner sanctum.

Lilith didn't care much about all that. She liked the sun-bathed courtyards with their carefully cultivated stands of papyrus artfully arranged around crystalline pools and tinkling fountains. She liked the lush gardens, full of flowers most of the time, and the shaded balconies outside her rooms, where her cat Bast liked to play tightrope-walker on the balustrades. Most of all, she liked the Hwt's extensive library.

This was not only because she was so very amused by the pillar-statue of Thoth, who, while he was meant to be the god of writing and wisdom, had it in him to be very silly at times.

The library was a spacious, airy room in the Hwt's west wing. The walls were covered up with shelves, chests, bookcases and scroll racks. There were comfortable chairs, couches, long tables and writing desks, and plenty of papyrus, parchment, brushes and quills. Lilith liked to spend most of her time in the library, or in the garden outside it, reading literature from throughout history and around the world. Sometimes there was something in particular she was after, when she was combing the shelves or digging through a trunk; but most of the time, she just picked something at random. It was like a game—you never knew what something might be until you read it. It was like opening a gift.

Usually she would sprawl out on one of the long couches and get lost in her book, scroll or papyrus; but sometimes she would carry it up the three flights of stairs to her rooms, to read on her bed and keep on her own shelves until she tired of it. Sometimes she would read the something-or-other; sometimes she would just leaf through it; and sometimes, like today, she would be taking copious notes on it, because she just knew she was almost on to something.

Unlike most not-quite-eleven-year-olds, Lilith knew absolutely who she was and what she wanted to do with her life. She was going to spend her early adulthood—until she was perhaps sixty or so—teaching Potions at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, then she would retire and dedicate herself to research, and she planned on single-handedly inventing a record-breaking number of new potions, draughts and elixirs. She had chosen this path when she was only eight and a half; Lilith was capable of pretty much anything, given the time and solitude to learn how, and her mother had always been as encouraging as anyone could have wished.

Her mother was an artist—a painter and sculptor—and firmly believed that a child should be supported in whatever she chose to do with her life. 'Besides,' she was fond of saying, 'it isn't as though you'll ever have to worry about making a living.'

Today Lilith had a book entitled An Exhaustive Study of Magical Plants, and she planned on spending her entire afternoon in industrious perusal of it. There were a few things she was learning about satyrion root that she hadn't known, and she was peppering her notes with little comments about how it might be combined with some powdered hens' teeth and feverfew to create a longer-lasting magical fire retardant.

Even this, however, could not completely distract her from the fact that her Hogwarts letter was several days late.

There was no reason, Lilith mused, for her letter not to arrive; she was obviously a witch, or she would not have been able to create most of the potions in her mother's first-year notes. Still, perhaps something had happened with the residency regulations. Lilith and her mother legally lived in London, and had dual citizenship in Egypt and the United Kingdom. However, she thought, perhaps there had been a change in the rules and someone had looked into how much time they spent in each place; they definitely spent more time here than in—she shivered—cold, dreary London.

Or maybe the age cut-off had been changed. Lilith's birthday was very late in August.

In any case, if a letter was to arrive, it should have been here by now. Lilith was terrified that it would be so late she would miss the response deadline. She was certain her mother had not made alternative arrangements.

What would happen to her if she couldn't go to Hogwarts? She would never be admitted to Avalon Institute of Higher Learning, where she intended to earn her degree, and that would throw off her entire life plan. What would she do? Stay in the Hwt and feed cobras for the rest of her days? Marry some useless layabout—because, naturally, no real, decent, self-respecting wizard with any ambition would marry a woman who hadn't even gone to school—and have innumerable babies? It was simply unthinkable. Something would have to be done.

Lilith laid her book down upon her counterpane and left her rooms, striding purposefully down the hall toward her mother's studio. 'Mum!' she called. 'Are you busy?'

A slender brown hand pushed the diaphanous curtain aside, and Lilith's mother's head emerged from the doorway. 'Not particularly.' She took one look at Lilith's expression and said, 'Still no letter?'

'Still no letter,' Lilith confirmed. 'Mum, when did you say yours arrived?'

'Couldn't have been past the twenty-third or twenty-fourth,' her mother said. 'I wonder why yours is so late?'

'Do you think the requirements have changed?' said Lilith.

'I doubt it,' said her mother. 'They hadn't been changed in several years when I was at school. There's no reason for them to change now.'

'Hmm.' Lilith folded her arms, avoiding her mother's eyes. 'Mum...you don't think I'm...'

'You're not a Squib, Lillie.' Lilith's mother gathered her daughter into a warm hug. 'You're very bright and very powerful. Whatever the reason is, it isn't that.'

'But are you sure?' said Lilith, her eyes stinging.

'Yes,' said her mother. 'I'm absolutely certain of it. There has to be some other reason.'

'Maybe something's happened to the owl,' Lilith mused.

'Maybe.'

Comments

( 3 found this pack — howl )
stainedpaper
Nov. 5th, 2005 11:12 pm (UTC)
I found you on okcupid. I'm from Stanwood. You're... interesting. :) My okcupid name is starcrossedslut.
fiere
Nov. 12th, 2005 09:25 pm (UTC)
Question! Do you find it easier to NaNo in a pre-existing world like this, or completely original fiction like you have before?

I'm curious, because I'm doing the former this year as well.
slythwolf
Nov. 13th, 2005 06:38 pm (UTC)
At this point, I can't really say. I've sort of given up on this year's NaNo, but I'm thinking of trying to get back into it. To me, it seems that it's neither easier nor more difficult; it's more about how well I get to know my characters before I start in on the enterprise, and whether I manage to outline a plot in any way.
( 3 found this pack — howl )

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