Chapter 1 : Hope At Last
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A beautiful brown and white owl soared high above the edge of France. It caught a thermal and rose high into the moonless night and then, seeing its goal, swooped closer. In ever-shrinking spirals it floated downwards, until it was level with the rooftops of the small town. It began to search, looking for the right building. Finally, on the outskirts of the small town, it found what it was looking for. It dropped its burden, rose to the roof, and perched there.
In the still darkness of their room, a girl woke. She lay still for a moment, trying to sense what it was that had woken her. Giving it up, she climbed carefully over the other bodies sharing the room. She reached the door and opened it, careful not to disturb her roommates. She closed the door just as carefully behind her, and then stretched. She shivered in the pre-dawn air, clad only in thin rags. She looked about carefully for the cause of the draft and saw an open window. Windows were not supposed to be closed during the spring. That was why it was always a bit cold outside the sleep room. But, then, she wasn’t supposed to even be outside the sleep room until the manager came. She had found, though, that it was better to be awake when he came. He was not a nice man. He was always blaming accidents on the children, and his favorite way to wake them up was with a kick and a lecture on how it was all their fault that he was here in this godforsaken town that wasn’t even on the map. Yes, it was better to be awake when he came. She quietly crept down the hall and through the kitchen to the front door. There was a small white package lying on the ground. She bent and picked it up. It was a letter. She examined it closely. It was common knowledge that all mail was screened by the manager before one of them ever got close, but this letter was untouched. She tried to read the faint writing to see who it was addressed to, but it was in English. She spoke English very well for a French orphan, or so she had been told, but she couldn’t read French or English well at all. It said…T …O …O …R …P …H …A …N …O …F …T …H …E …T …O …W …N …O …U …B …L … I …E … To Orphan Of The Town Oublie! Excited, she clutched the letter to her chest. It was addressed to her! She had never been officially given a name, so that was how she was recorded. She would not show this letter to anyone else. She went outside and sat in one of the pools of lamplight. Bit by bit, she deciphered the letter, after carefully opening it. A school? Away from the orphanage? She couldn’t quite grasp the concept of leaving. It was a dream beyond her reach. And yet, this letter offered the key to that tantalizing dream. And then her hopes fell. She had no money. Everything cost money. She took out the pen she had carefully saved in a fold of her rags. Painstakingly, she began to write, on the back of the letter. In a childish hand she wrote a reply. Master. I no can come. I no have money. I write letter to say. Sorry. Proud of her accomplishment, she put the letter in the envelope and wrote the name Hogwarts on the back. She checked the envelope to make sure she had spelled that funny word correctly. She picked up the other piece of the letter and put it, and the pen, back in her secret pocket. She would treasure that glimpse of freedom forever. She ran and dropped the paper outside the door, and then went in. With a soft cry the owl dropped off the roof and picked it up, to begin the long journey home.
Three days later she was once again up in the dark hours before dawn. She tried to force herself to go back to sleep, but like that other morning, she was wide awake. She finally repeated the same procedure, until she was out in the slight chill of the hall. She walked through the kitchens to the front door. There was another white package lying there. Trembling with excitement and fear, she picked it up. Her letter had done whatever letters did and gone to the letter-writer. And he had written back! Yes, the same letters were on the back. It was her letter. Once again she went out and sat in a pool of lamplight. The letter said: We have made an exception to the rules. We will pay for all requirements. Someone will come to collect you the day before the train leaves to buy all things. Your ticket is included. Then it said something else she didn’t understand, but she didn’t care. She was leaving after all!
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by Natalie Brown