My feet were hurting so much. Not just my feet, all over my legs, my abdominal muscles, my arms, even my neck hurt. It was almost unbearable, but I’d be home soon, just around the corner. Mademoiselle Comoret was in a particularly bad mood that day. I must have done that last pointe section at least twenty times, to perfection, might I add, and she still wasn’t happy. Hence the aching muscles, on the slow walk home. Every arabesque, every pirouette, every plié she would screech at me ‘Moyenne!’ ‘désordonné!’, ‘oubliables!’, ‘atroce!’, ‘encore!’, ‘vous ne faites pas attention!’, ‘essayez à nouveau!’, ‘le render pur!’, ‘regardez-moi!’. ‘average!’, ‘untidy!’, ‘forgetable!’, ‘atrocious!’, ‘again!’, ‘you are not paying attention!’, ‘try again!’, ‘make it neat!’, ‘watch me!’.
This was pretty much all I heard from her in the entire two hour one-on-one morning session. You would think that she would cut me some slack considering it was my birthday and I was her star pupil. I hate that phrase. Star pupil. It makes me sound ridiculously snobbish and boastful. I wouldn’t say it if everyone else didn’t. I’ve always been average. Average complexion, average hair colour, average height, average friends, average sense of humour, with an average family in an average seaside town. If it wasn’t for my dancing, I’d be a nobody.
I love to dance. Ever since I can remember all I’ve wanted to be is a dancer. Any style or genre; ballet, tap, contemporary, ballroom, jazz, disco. Charleston, foxtrot, jive, waltz. Everything. Mademoiselle Comoret had been my teacher for at least five years, and despite our close relationship outside the studio, she’d constantly push me forwards to reach my ‘Pavlova’s Dying Swan moment’, that inspiring step sequence. That final standing ovation.
“I’m home!” I called as I stepped through the doorway of the terraced three-bedroom house we’d lived in since my sister, Emily, was born 7 years ago. “We’re in here!” came my step-mother Janet’s chipper reply. She always got excited at birthdays and other such occasions. As I walked through the hallway I was welcomed by the smell of bacon and eggs, wafting out of the kitchen. In the dining room, my little family was gathered around out small table feasting on a cooked breakfast, which they had apparently deemed too delicious to wait for my return. “How was your lesson baby?”, Dad asked, a huge grin on his face.
“It was good”, came my reply “Mademoiselle Comoret was in a slightly bad mood, so I’m aching all over, and I’m starving. Have you left any for me?” I asked gesturing towards the empty plate in front of him.
“Yes, it’s in the kitchen, I’ll go and get it for you” and he rose from his chair and disappeared through the doorway.
“So, what’s the occasion?” I asked Janet whilst sitting at my usual place at the table, and gesturing the toward the fabulous spread of breakfast.
“It’s not every day one’s step-daughter turns eleven now is it?”
I loved how with a few simple words about breakfast can make me feel happy and loved. I suppose this is the same with every family, but seeing as I’ve only known my own, I can’t really say.
Dad returned with my cooked breakfast which consisted of bacon, sausages, fried eggs, baked beans, toast and a cup of tea, with a huge pile of envelopes under his left arm.
“Here you are darling,” he said placing my plate and tea in front of me. “and there’s quite a bit of post for you as well.”
“Fangs dad.” I replied, with my mouth full of egg and baked beans. I wouldn’t normally talk with food in my mouth, nor eat so much so early in the day, but as Janet said, it’s not every day one turns eleven.
“Eloquently put, there Scarlet. Congratulations on raising your daughter to be such a charming young woman David” Janet commented sarcastically.
“We raised her if remember correctly, Janet.” Came Dad’s reply. My mother died when I was young,
and Janet had been my mother for all intents and purposes for 8 years .
“Open your cards!” urged Emily, my six year old half-sister. She looks exactly like Janet, It’s almost scary. She’s like a carbon copy of my step-mother in miniature form.
“Okay! What about…. This one” I said plucking the handmade looking envelope from the pile. It was made from pink sugar paper and had the word ‘Scarlet’ scribbled on the front in a blue felt-tip pen. “I wonder who it’s from?” I commented, sneaking a sideways glance at Emily who was sniggering behind her clasped hands.
I gently prized open the envelope and pulled out the homemade card, it like the envelope was made from pink sugar paper and had a drawing of a ballerina on the front with roses at her feet as she performed an almost perfect arabesque.
“It’s you!” shrieked Emily, “I drewed it myself!”
“I can see the resemblance” I replied, “Although, I reckon Mademoiselle Comoret would say that her arabesque is far superior to mine”
Inside, Emily had written, ‘Happy birthday Scarlet, you’re the best sister in the world. Apart from me!’
The other cards were from distant family, the kind you see at weddings and funerals, and at no other time in the year, there was a card from Janet and Dad, with a badge with the number 11 printed on it surrounded my little pink flowers. Inside they had written something about how proud they were of me, and they knew I could achieve whatever I wanted if I put my mind to it.
At the time I remember thinking, ‘how ironic, considering you won’t let me go to the school I want in order to become a professional dancer. Instead I have to go to stupid Pebble Street High, a school run by a nobody, in the middle of nowhere, attended by nobodies.’
There was one envelope left untouched. It looked as though it was homemade, although more professionally done than Emily’s humble attempt. It had no stamp or post mark in the top right-hand corner, which struck me as odd, ‘but then’ I thought, ’it could have been hand delivered’. The address was very peculiar indeed. It was written in an elegant script in emerald green ink, but that wasn’t why it was peculiar. It said;
Miss Scarlet Jones
Second largest Bedroom
20 Pier View Road
I picked up the envelope slowly, aware of everyone watching me intently. I flipped it over and saw that it had been sealed with red wax. I didn’t think anyone did that anymore, above the seal was what I took to be a crest, or a coat of arms, with the words; Draco dormiens nunquam titillandus written underneath. The crest itself was quartered. In the top left-hand quarter, there was a picture of a lion, to the right of it, a snake, below it a badger, to the right of a badger there was an eagle. In the centre there was the letter ‘H’. plain and simple.
I broke the seal and unfolded the letter, and read aloud the contents to my now slightly worried looking family.
Headmaster: Albus Dumbledore
(Order of merlin, First Class, Grand Sorc., Chf. Warlock, Supreme
Mugwump, International Confed. of Wizards.)
Dear Miss, Jones,
We are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted at Hogwart’s School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Please find enclosed a list of all necessary books and equipment. Term begins on September 1st, We await your owl by no later than July 31st.
Headmaster of Hogwarts.*
I had to re-read the letter at least twice in my head, before I could look at my family. Janet looked as though someone had just told her the best joke she’d ever heard at a funeral. Emily looked confused. Dad’s expression shocked me most of all. He looked utterly petrified. He looked as though his whole world was slowly crashing down around him. He looked as though he knew this day was coming but was dreading it with all the energy he had. This is not how a father should look when his children are around. This was singularly the most terrifying thing that had happened to me.
“What a load of codswallop.” Janet said laughing, although sounding a little tense.
Dad said nothing.
“Hogwarts School of what and what?” she continued.
Still, dad said nothing.
“That is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard!”
Dad remained silent.
“Do you know of anyone who would play such a prank on you Scarlet?”
“It’s not a prank” Dad mumbled. It was so quiet that I almost thought I’d imagined it. Until.
“IT’S NOT A PRANK!” he shouted, throwing back his chair as he rises to his feet. His chair clattered to the ground loudly.
“What do you mean it’s not a prank?” Janet said, still laughing although sounding a lot more worried.
“Scarlet’s mother was… she..." he exhaled sharply, "She was a witch”
“What?” Janet and I chorused.
“She was a witch and she studied at Hogwarts, she left at the age of 16, when her best friend died. She didn’t want you to know about any of this Scarlet. The magical world is dangerous; she thought by keeping you in the dark, you would be safe. And I happen to agree. You are not going to that place.”
I was about to dispute this when there was a sharp knock at the door.
“Emily, go and get that will you.” Dad snapped. Apparently thinking this conversation was over, until he caught the expression on my face, and added, “Tell whoever it is to bugger off. Politely.”
Emily got up reluctantly, obviously not wanting to miss out on any drama.
“Dad” she called nervously from the hallway. “There’s a lady here, she says she needs to speak to Scarlet. She said her name is Professor McDonalds.”
“Actually it’s McGonagall,” came a stern voice with a heavy Scottish accent. A few seconds later she was standing in my living room, looking at us all gathered around the table.
She was dressed in a long coat that brushed the floor as she walked, I didn’t think people still wore those. Yet this was not the oddest thing about her appearance. She looked old, and stern, the kind of teacher you wouldn’t want to be late for, or miss any deadlines for. At the same time she looked kind and sad, she had sad eyes. She was smiling warmly, as if trying to make me feel comfortable, when she was in an alien environment. Yet this was not the oddest thing about her appearance. To me in my confused eleven year old state, the oddest thing about Professor McGonagall was her hat. She was wearing a pointed hat that sat a little crooked on her head, it was tartan.
“Hello Miss Jones. My Name is Professor McGonagall, and I teach Transfiguration at Hogwart’s School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. I gather that you have received your acceptance letter, and I am sure you have a fair few questions for me.”
“To say the least” I replied sarcastically.
“Well, as you muggles like to say, fire away”
“Okay to start with, what’s a muggle?”
“A muggle is somebody who has no magical ability, like your family here. You on the other hand are a witch.”
“I’m a witch?”
“Yes, your mother was a witch too. And if my memory serves correctly, she was a very talented young woman as well.”
“You knew my mother?”
“I did, she was in the year above me at Hogwarts, I used to idolise her, she was smart, beautiful, and very friendly. In her sixth year, her best friend Myrtle was killed accidently, your mother being the passionate young woman that she was, was understandably distraught, and vowed never to return to Hogwarts, nor to have children so they could be spared the ‘danger’ she faced there. Although I can assure you, that Hogwarts now has the best Headmaster in its history, and is now the safest place in the country, save for the wizard bank, Gringotts, but that’s another story.”
“Aren’t witches just a Halloween costume? Just something from a children’s fairy story?”
“No, we’re not,” Replied McGonagall kindly, considering I had just insulted her. “We are a race of people who contain the ability to perform magic. And Hogwarts is the place where you can learn to control your magic and use it to the best of your ability.”
“I’m sorry, but I don’t think I am a witch, you’ve got the wrong girl. There must be another Scarlet Marie Jones”
“Your mother’s name was Marie Anna Pilliwickle. She was born on January 15th 1935 and she tragically died 9 years ago on April 17th, is that correct?”
“Y-yes” I stammered, shocked that this stranger knew so much about my mother, when I couldn’t even remember how she smelled, or what it felt like to hug her, or the sound of her voice.
The rest of the evening passed in a blur of confusing questions and even more confusing answers. Dad asked McGonagall to stay for tea, more out of politeness than actually wanting her there. She kindly declined, stating she had to be back at Hogwarts to convey the news to Professor Dumbledore, the Headmaster that I would be attending in September.
*Hogwarts Letter, paraphrased and adapted from Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Great Britain, 1997 edition, bloomsbury Books. Page 42, Chapter 4, Keeper of the Keys.
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