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Chapter 1: Leah
Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry was meant to be home for the one thousand, three hundred students who lived and learned within its walls. A place where young witches and wizards would find themselves, find their friends, escape from the mundane realities of home into the realm of the impossible.
It had never been home for Leah Mulberry. She had made friends within Hufflepuff, of course – six years of sharing dorms and classes had meant that was inevitable – but there was still the underlying resentment towards the school that had driven such a wedge between her and her family and ripped her from the life she had thought she would lead. When she had first come to Hogwarts, she had been struck by the reactions of her classmates to receiving Professor Pomona Sprout’s letter. Most had been expecting it – their parents had been wizards, or one parent had been a wizard – and of the others, they were excited and nervous about finding out they could do magic and would be going to Hogwarts. From the very beginning, Leah had been the only person she knew at Hogwarts who didn’t want to be there.
At the same time, she found herself, for once, looking forward to going back. This Christmas had been the hardest, because for the first time in her life she had stayed home while her family went to church. It didn’t seem right, pretending that she was normal, that she went away to boarding school like the congregation thought. She was sick of living a lie, and after six years of resisting, had finally reached the conclusion that she would have to leave the Muggle world behind. She wasn’t part of it, and she never would be.
Her family had accepted the inevitable, buying Leah’s story that she just wasn’t interested in church anymore and she didn’t think it was part of her life. They didn’t notice the reluctance with which she had forced out the words, because in their minds, Leah had given up her faith when she went to Hogwarts. In fact, it was the one thing she clung to more than anything else. Her Bible still sat, buried, at the bottom of her trunk. She never got it out, worried that it had no place at Hogwarts, but the simple fact it was there gave her comfort. As she repacked to return to school, her hand hovered over it. She never read it anyway, and if she was serious about integrating herself into the wizarding world, maybe she should just leave it behind…
But at the last minute, as she always did, she wrapped it up in her Muggle clothes and tucked it back into her trunk.
“Good Christmas?” Alicia Longbottom asked her, coming into their usual compartment on the Hogwarts Express.
Leah shrugged. “It was okay.”
“What’d you get?”
“Money.” Leah shrugged again. “They don’t really know what to get me. I might buy a new cauldron with it, and some Chocolate Frogs.”
“On our next Hogsmeade weekend?”
“Yeah. What about you?” she asked hastily, aware she wasn’t exactly inviting conversation.
“A book on Charms,” Alicia said, “And this.” She reached inside her robes to show Leah the black and yellow badger pendant on the chain around her neck. “Mum has one as well, it’s pretty cool.”
Not for the first time, Leah envied Alicia’s belonging in the wizarding world. Her parents were both wizards, and Alicia’s father was even a teacher at Hogwarts, and the Head of Gryffindor House. She wasn’t constantly torn between two worlds, and for that reason Leah felt as though their friendship wasn’t as strong as it could be. Alicia was sympathetic, but she didn’t understand what Leah’s situation was like, and often told her it could be worse, her parents were okay about magic. Had she heard the stories about Muggleborns cast out of their homes when they got their letters?
To Leah, though, that would have almost been preferable to the gradual alienation between herself and her family, and particularly her sister Rachel. She didn’t understand how one twin could be magical and one a Muggle, but she knew that their once incredibly strong bond had been somehow severed when Leah had received her letter and Rachel hadn’t. Neither had acknowledged it, which perhaps made it worse. She wanted to talk to her sister, address the distance between them, but she couldn’t find the words, and sometimes it felt like it was too late.
She had seen how students in her year had formed bonds with each other, becoming like family over the past six years, but that had never happened with her and the group she had found herself with, the members of which were slowly filtering through the door of the compartment. Hugo Weasley took a place opposite her, waving a greeting, and was closely followed by his exuberant cousin Lucy. Finally, Kieran Boot, dark hair hanging across his eyes, took a seat by the window and stared broodingly at the rain falling in sheets outside.
“Cheer up, Kieran!” Lucy trilled, bouncing slightly in her seat. “We’re heading back home, it can’t be that bad!”
Leah had always privately thought that Lucy didn’t really fit in with the rest of the group; while the others preferred to go through life unnoticed, Lucy lived to be the centre of attention. Leah knew she wasn’t the only person who found her slightly overpowering, but Lucy seemed to have made it her personal mission to ‘cheer’ up the group and draw them out of their shells. The fact that she hadn’t had any success in the three years that she had been part of the group did nothing to dampen her enthusiasm.
“Lucy,” Hugo began, “Shouldn’t you be in the Prefect’s Carriage?”
“Oh, crap!” she cried, hand flying to her mouth. “Sorry guys, gotta run!” She scurried out of the carriage, leaving those who remained to exchange relieved glances.
“It’s not that I don’t like her,” Alicia said, speaking for them all, “But she’s a bit…”
Hugo, Kieran and Leah nodded in agreement, sparing Alicia the guilt of actually saying something bad about anyone. They then lapsed into a silence that for any other group of people would have been awkward, but they had become accustomed to and understood each other’s need for solitude. Leah often wondered whether the others craved friendship as much as she did, but, like her, had no way of finding it. Alicia was the only person she really confided in, and the fact that she couldn’t relate to any of the struggles Leah faced had put her off trying to connect with others. Even the more quiet and shy among her classmates, or those who were picked on and found school a constant struggle, still had a certain light in their eyes when practicing magic. As if the magic made everything worthwhile, as if there was nothing better on this earth and nothing that could possibly taint it in their view. Though she had overanalysed every possible reason she had for disliking magic and understood it completely, she couldn’t help but wonder why she was the only person in the entire school who reacted that way.
Then, she remembered the promise she had made to herself. From now on, things would be different. She would accept the wizarding world, participate in it, and stop resisting the idea of building a future in it. And maybe, just maybe, she’d be as excited about coming back to Hogwarts as her classmates.