THE SCHOOL OF WITCHCRAFT AND WIZARDRY
The School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
It was dark in his room. The wind was howling outside, making the branches of a tree tap against the window. He couldn't sleep, what couldn't be said for his little brother who was slightly snoring and drooling on his pillow in the next bed. Rick got out of bed. If he was quiet maybe he could sneak downstairs into the kitchen and grab a cookie from the batch his mother had baked that afternoon. Careful not to make a noise, he made his way down stairs and found his way into the kitchen, undetected by his parents who were in the living room watching television. The cookie jar was still on the counter. He opened it and took a cookie and put it in his mouth. They were delicious. He ate two, three, four and he was just grabbing a fifth when his mother unexpectedly appeared at the scene of the crime.
"Richard O'Connell, you should be in bed!" Rick froze and looked sheepishly at his mother.
"I couldn't sleep." He tried to explain.
"Well you certainly won't be able to sleep now with all that sugar in you." His mom replied annoyed. She took the cookie jar from him, closed it and put it on top of the cupboard.
"Come on, let's get you back to bed." She had not finished her sentence when they heard the front door burst open with a crash. Both occupants of the kitchen froze, staring at the door leading to the hall. Rick heard his father's confront the unwelcome visitor, but a green flash so bright Rick could see the glow from under the living room door quickly silenced him. Rick didn't understand what was happening but his mother seemed scared.
"Hide! There!" She whispered quietly and urgently, opening a cupboard door storing a range of cleaning products and pushing him in. "Don't make a sound, no matter what you hear." And with that, she closed the cupboard door. Through a crack Rick saw his mother grabbing a kitchen knife and hurrying to the living room to help her husband. She's only just disappeared behind the door when Rick heard her yell in fright. He wanted to go out there and help but she had told him to stay put and he was terrified. He calmed down somewhat when he heard voices. The intruder and his mother were talking now but although Rick was straining his ears to hear what they were saying, he couldn't make out the words. At least his mother seemed unharmed and he was starting to think everything would be alright. The intruder and his mother were talking and the man would leave and they would be fine. His mother's blood curdling scream a few minutes later made him freeze. He could no longer just sit by, he wanted to help her. He made to get out of his hiding place to go help her but before he could, the living room door swung open and his mother stumbled through it, a big, hairy shadow on top of her. It wasn't human but it wasn't like any animal Rick had ever seen. The beast's claws tore open the his mother's throat and she fell to the ground, her lifeless glassy eyes staring right into Rick's. Rick stared back into his mother's eyes, frozen, unable to comprehend fully what had just happened. He soon became aware of panting and another pair of eyes staring at him. The beast was staring right at him, a murderous look in its feral eyes. There was something almost human about his face but Rick didn't get the time to study it long. With unnatural speed the beast lunged forward. Rick was just able to close the cupboard door again but it was no match for the strength of the beast. With its long claws, it tore right through it and Rick pressed himself against the back wall. He had no way out. The foul smell of the beast reached his nostrils. The creature extended its arm, its bloody claws slowly grasping Rick's shirt. He tried to get away, to free himself from the creature's grasp but there was something wrong with his legs. He tried to run but his legs were so heavy he couldn't move them. This was not supposed to happen!
Thunder struck again and with a jolt, an older Rick bolted upright in his bed, panting heavily. His shirt was soaked and cold sweat covered his forehead. Quickly he scanned his room, looking for the beast but the only things he saw were his usual, worn-down furniture pieces, the damp stains on the wall and the crack in the ceiling. He lay back down, rubbing his aching shoulder and tried to calm his racing heart, repeating to himself that it had been a dream, that he was safe. It wasn't the first time he'd had that dream, he'd had it a number of times since his parents were killed, always the same one. He'd see the monster kill his mother and see it come after him next and he wouldn't be able to get away this time. 'You did get away' he repeated to himself to make his racing heart calm down. The monster had come after him in the cupboard and had torn his shoulder open trying to pull the boy out, only to pull its bloodied paw back in pain seconds later, blisters and burn marks covering it. Not willing to touch the boy again, the creature had backhanded Rick, knocking him unconscious. When Rick had come to, it was in the hospital, where they told him his parents had died and he was to live with his paternal grandmother with his brother and sisters. Rick still felt guilty about not being able to save his mother that night and he often spent hours after a nightmare, coming up with things he should have done differently to save his mother. Tonight was no different and Rick lay awake for hours tormenting himself until he finally drifted back to sleep.
When he awoke again, the sun was already high in the sky. It had to be a little before noon he suspected and he wondered what had awoken him. He thought it had been the doorbell but that had to be a mistake, no one ever came calling at the Clayton House. He had to have been dreaming so he dismissed the idea and started thinking about what he would do that day when Mad Maggie's voice rang up the stairs.
"Boy, get down here!" She yelled. Wondering what he had done wrong this time, Rick took his time going down the stairs. When he got to the hall, he could hear a voice coming from the living room, a voice that was distinctly not Mad Maggie's. He wondered who it could be. Had Mrs. Taylor or Mrs. Brown finally been true to their word and called the police on him? Or perhaps Stryker and his friends had told someone what they'd seen and they were here to take him to the loony bin. Rick crept closer, trying not to make a sound. All sorts of wild theories and crazy escape plans were running through his mind. If it was the police, he had two options, make a run for it or try to fight them off with magic, though that would probably make him even more of a target. Maybe he needed to let them take him away and make a run for it on route? In any case, he wasn't about to let them lock him away. He peered around the living room door, fully expecting to see uniformed people talking to his guardian but what he actually saw threw him off completely. Sitting on an old chair was a strangely dressed young woman. A large yellow pointy hat sat on top of her head and she was wearing a long bright yellow dress to match it. He could not see her face – she was sitting sideways from him - but her voice was rather high and shrill. Who could this be? At that moment, Mad Maggie caught sight of him.
"Get over here boy, you have a visitor." She said brusquely, interrupting the young woman's explanation. Rick stepped forward as the strange woman got up and turned to greet him. He could now see that she had a kind, round face with big blue eyes and a friendly, welcoming smile as he walked up to her. She was hardly taller than he was, even though she must have had at least twenty years on him. She offered her hand in greeting.
"Richard O'Connell, I presume?" She asked enthusiastically, a big smile on her face.
"Yes?" Rick replied, rather unsure what to make of this woman. People were generally not friendly towards him and when they were, it usually meant their intentions were not sincere.
"I am professor Harewell and I am here with exciting news for you." It certainly seemed exciting to her, he thought.
"Professor?" He inquired, checking to see he heard correctly.
"Yes, I am here to discuss your future school career with you and your parents, or in this case, guardian." She motioned to Mad Maggie, who did not look to be at all pleased at having the strange woman there. Now Rick was really on his guard. A professor who wanted to talk about school and thought it would excite him? This was going to be bad. Fortunately, Mad Maggie seemed to feel the same way.
"I don't know why you bother." She said. "The boy's an idiot, hasn't been to school in years." Good old Mad Maggie, at least she was good for something.
"That will be no problem, Madam, he can still attend." Harewell replied, completely undisturbed. "Please, Richard, take a seat so that we can talk." She addressed him. Her enthusiastic manner was starting to annoy Rick. He also didn't care for her use of his full name, no one ever called him that and he didn't think she could say anything that could possibly interest him but he was curious as to the undoubtedly idiotic idea that was going to follow so he obliged and took a seat on the armrest of an old, broken sofa as Harewell sat back down on the rickety chair she'd occupied before.
The living room was a complete mess as it had probably not been properly cleaned in over a decade. The curtains were full of moth holes, the floor was strewn with wrappers and empty boxes of crackers, dirty dishes, some of which you could no longer tell what they had contained were littering every available surface and some had even been left on the floor. A thick layer of dust covered practically everything in the room, except for the bottles of liquor on the floor and the couch where Mad Maggie usually snored the morning away in an alcohol infused haze. Harewell looked appalled as she looked around the room. pulling up her nose when she caught sight of a dish with something hairy on it that used to be food. Rick was intrigued by this woman, the way she kept smiling, her dress, her reason for coming here. Mad Maggie was right, he hadn't been to school in three years so why was she here to offer him a place now?
"So, who sent you?" The professor seemed a little taken aback at Mad Maggie's accusatory tone.
"I'm a professor, I was sent here to offer your nephew a place at our school." Harewell explained.
"What school? He doesn't go to school." Maggie scoffed. "Besides, what school would want him? He's a little criminal." Harewell threw a curious look at Rick, who felt Maggie had some nerve calling him a criminal when she was the one forcing him to steal food because she spent all her money on liquor. He let the insult slide. She was doing a good job preventing him from having to go to school, after all.
"Well, this is no ordinary school." Harewell continued undeterred in her normal cheery tone. Rick's ears pricked up. No ordinary school? He did not like the sound of that. What school was this that it offered him, who everyone agreed was a juvenile delinquent, a place, unless it was an institution of some sort?
"What kind of school are we talking about?" He asked suspiciously, mentally going over his options if the answer meant spending any time locked up.
"Hogwarts is a school for wizards." Absolute silence followed Harewell's answer. That was absolutely the last thing Rick expected her to say. Who was this woman? Did she see him using magic? Was she trying to make him incriminate himself?
"Excuse me?" Rick said, trying to look completely oblivious to what she was talking about. "There's no such thing as wizards." Harewell looked temporarily taken aback but the smile on her face quickly reappeared.
"I think you know they do, Mr. O'Connell. You are a wizard so I have come here to offer you an education in the ways of magic." The strange woman replied calmly. "A place has been reserved for you since your birth." She was still smiling and it was really annoying him.
"And what makes you think I am a wizard?" He challenged her.
"Are you not able to do strange things when you feel a strong emotion? Perhaps you do not fully comprehend your powers, do not know what they are but that is magic, Mr O'Connell." Rick was starting to feel uncomfortable, this woman knew too much for his comfort.
"And they say I'm crazy." Mad Maggie piped up and Rick startled at the sound of her voice. He'd forgotten she was there. "Don't think I don't know what they say about me, what they call me. 'Mad Maggie'. And you walk in here, trying to make me look like a fool even more? Not today, lady. Get out of my house!" Maggie's voice had been steadily rising and now she resorted to shrieking. For the first time, Rick saw Harewell's ridiculous smile disappear and replaced by a slight look of alarm. "Show her out, boy!" Maggie yelled and Rick got up to guide their guest out of the house.
"You're wrong, professor." Rick explained more calmly as he accompanied Harewell to the hallway. "Whatever you may have seen or whatever someone may have told you, I cannot make objects fly." Professor Harewell's smile reappeared at his denial.
"Yes you can, Mr. O'Connell and so can I." She pulled a thin wooden stick from the pocket of her dress and simply waved it over Rick's shoulder. Immediately, all the dirty dishes in the living room got up of their own accord and danced towards the kitchen, the cutlery in tow. Mad Maggie started screaming at the top of her lungs, terrified at what was happening and swatting at the forks marching around her head. Rick did not pay her any attention, instead looking back and forth from the strange spectacle to the intriguing woman standing before him and he realized that she was not joking after all.
"Do you mean to say that there are more people who can do what I can and I can go to a school to learn to use magic?" He asked amazed, now sharing some of Harewell's enthusiasm.
"Of course." Harewell replied smiling. "That is what I've been trying to tell you." Rick's mind was reeling. A wizard? And he could go to wizarding school? This had to be a dream! For a moment he felt the urge to pinch himself to make sure it wasn't.
"You should know, Mr. O'Connell," Harewell continued as they moved further into the hall to block out Maggie's screaming, "that the magical community values its secrecy. Therefore, wizards and witches do not perform magic in public where all muggles can see it. If you are to join our community, you should also obey these rules. From the moment you get your wand, the ministry of magic will be able to trace any and all magic you perform illegally, until you come of age." Rick barely caught a word of Harewell's explanation. He had so many questions. What were muggles? He was getting a wand? There was a ministry of magic?
"I have a letter for you here. It contains a list of all the things you'll need this school year. There is also a letter included with additional information." Harewell explained as she handed him an envelope made of a thick and heavy yellowish parchment and the address written in bright green ink on the front. Rick turned it over in his hands and opened the red seal on the back imprinted with a coat of arms to reveal the letter it contained.
HOGWARTS SCHOOL OF WITCHCRAFT AND WIZARDRY
Headmaster: Tiberius Aldebourne (Member of the Wizengamot, International Confed. of Wizards)
Dear Mr. O'Connell,
We are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Please find enclosed a list of all necessary books and equipment.
Term begins on September 1. We await your owl by no later than July 31.
"I really should be explaining this to your aunt as well." Harewell said concerned with a look at the living room where said woman was still screaming her head off. "She might not understand." Rick was sure Maggie wouldn't understand and he was in no hurry to try and explain it to her.
"How does this work?" Rick asked indicating the letter and simultaneously distracting the professor from Mad Maggie. Professor Harewell smiled at Rick's enthusiasm.
"If you decide to go, you will buy your school supplies on Diagon Alley, a magical street in London that can only be found by a person with magical abilities. After that, you will go to King's Cross station on September 1 and take the Hogwarts Express from platform 93/4. You'll find your ticket in the envelope." Harewell answered his question eagerly. "But I can explain this better with your aunt present. Could we get back inside -?"
"I'll explain it to her later, once she's calmed down a bit." Rick interrupted her. "I'll make sure she understands." The professor looked a bit unsure but then seemed to decide to let the matter drop.
"You should also know that platform 93/4 only exists for wizards. It can be found by crossing the barrier between platforms nine and ten. The train will take you directly to Hogwarts where you will spend the rest of the school year. Of course, you can choose to return home during the Christmas and Easter holidays, if you wish." She explained. Rick let it all sink in for a minute. He always knew there was something special about him but a magic school? Magic was that common that they had magical shops and trains? It was all a little much to take in so sudden.
"How come I've never met another wizard before?" Rick wondered. Half an hour ago, he had thought he was the only one with magical powers but now it seemed there were enough wizards around to be in need of a school.
"Like I said, we choose to not overtly practise magic. That way, muggles have no knowledge of us and they can have no reason to fear us." Harewell explained.
"So do you have to have parents who are wizards in order to be one?" Rick asked.
"Not necessarily." The professor answered. "Sometimes it occurs that a child of non-magic folk has magic in him or her. We do not know why or how it occurs but it does." 'That explains that.' Rick thought. His parents must have been non-magic folk. He had only been seven when they died but that was not too young to remember that he never saw them do the things he could. This school sounded amazing but a hollow feeling soon overtook him. Amazing things often cost a lot of money, money he did not have.
"I haven't any money." He told Harewell dejectedly. The professor did not seem surprised.
"That is not a problem, Hogwarts has a special fund for students who need help buying their supplies." She retrieved a small purse from inside her robes. Rick could not believe it, it was almost too good to be true. "I should tell you that wizard money is not like muggle money." Harewell went on, smiling as she noticed Rick's amazed expression.
"We have galleons, sickles and knuts. There are 29 knuts in a sickle and 17 sickles in a galleon. However, I must warn you that although the money in this purse will suffice to buy your necessary supplies, you may have to buy some things second-hand and it would be unwise to squander it." Rick nodded in understanding but he only half heeded the warning. Any way he looked at it, for the first time in his life he had money to buy things. He smiled as he realized he would be leaving this place to attend a magic school. He felt happier than he could ever remember being. He was getting out of this life and he would learn how to be a wizard!
"What are muggles?" He asked, eager to learn everything about the wizarding world.
"People with no magical abilities." Harewell clarified. "Shall I take it then that you will be attending?"
"Yes, definitely." Rick happily answered.
"Good. Here are the directions you need to follow in order to get to Diagon Alley." She handed him another little piece of parchment with a London address on it. "Don't forget, your aunt will not be able to see the pub so you'll have to help her find it. If you get in any kind of trouble, I'm sure the landlord, Albert, will be happy to help you." Professor Harewell looked at her wrist watch. "I must be going now. I will see you at Hogwarts at the beginning of term." She said and she walked up to the front door. Rick actually felt a bit put off that she was leaving already. There were so many things he wanted to ask her. He wanted to know more about Hogwarts, about wizards and witches, about magic. He had so many questions, they must all have congested his throat as none of them made it out and he stood by and watched as professor Harewell walked to the door and stepped outside.
"Best of luck, then." She said before she turned around and walked down the path in the front yard. Rick turned to look at the letter still in his hands as the professor left and when he looked up again, Harewell had disappeared. He looked to the right up the street and then to the left but he could see no trace of her and was left wondering where she had gotten off to that quickly.