"Happy birthday, girls!" my mum said as she walked through the door of our bedroom on the 21st of July. I shared it with my twin sister, Alexia. We shared everything.
"C'mon, Rosa! We have to get our letters!" Alexia shouted, running downstairs, almost tripping my mum over.
Our family's pet horned owl, Pura, screeched as we pounded to the door.
"Why do you have an owl?" any sane person would ask us if they saw her.
Well, our family comes from a long line of wizards. And of course witches.
Alexia got to the door first. It was quite a nice door, mahogany with brass finishings. The circular window above it shone with late summer light. The first term of Hogwarts would start in less than two weeks.
Hogwarts is the greatest wizarding school of all time. With Headmaster Burnsday's new reign, the population of the school sky-rocketed. At least that's what my dad's always said.
I was jolted out of my thoughts when an owl chirped outside.
"Mail's here! C'mon, I want to see my letter!" my sister yelled excitedly. Her brunette curls bounced in her happiness. I opened the door to a snowy owl holding a single letter tied in a red ribbon.
Strange how there's only one letter, I thought. Maybe twins also have to share.
Mum rushed down the stairs and grabbed the letter from the owl's beak. She nodded to it, and it huffily soared away.
It shone somehow with its own light as she broke the scarlet seal. She almost dropped it after she read it.
"What's wrong?" I asked, worried.
"R-read it" she stuttered, her eyes clouded with confusion. She passed the parchment to me.
Dear Alexia Brickstein,
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.
There was a list of equipment after that, then a list of books. I searched for my name frantically but just couldn't find it.
"W-what about me?" I asked.
Mum gave me a look that meant, I don't know...
I ran up to my room to think.
Why? Maybe the owl dropped my letter... Or I just don't have any magical talent... But why? I have everything. Everything!
I popped a fizzing whizzbee in my mouth as I sat on my soft, cushioned bed.
I stared at the wand on my bedside table. Was there something wrong with it? Ebony, 9 inches, unicorn tail hair. Lightly springy, great for care of magical creatures and transfiguration, Ollivander had said.
But it worked when I was in Ollivander's... I thought, suspicious.
"I am not a squib!" I muttered out loud.
I decided to write a letter. I tried to write it all out, but the words just wouldn't come. Finally I switched my showy, plumed eagle feather quill for a blue biro. That's better, I thought. The inky blue words spilled out easier than ever.
Dear Headmaster Burnsday and Professor Sespentile,
My name is Rosa Brickstein. I come from a pure-blood wizarding family and have magical abilities. I was confused when my twin sister Alexia got accepted into Hogwarts, when I didn't. As far as I'm concerned, I have no idea why you would be so unfair when I really believe I deserve a place at your school. I already have all of my school supplies ready. May I ask again, why would you do this to me?
I rolled up the piece of parchment and tied it up with my personalized ribbon. It was blue with silver swirls on it. I felt its velvety texture, then handed the letter to Pura.
"I want you to take this letter to Hogwarts. Fast. Can you do that?" I asked her.
She chirped merrily in reply. I quietly let her out of her enchanted gold cage. She immediately jumped out the window. I sighed as the tawny horned owl soared into the sunset.
This is the worst birthday ever.
I jumped out of my pajamas as something hit the window. I was sorely relieved that Alexia had gone for a sleepover at her (wizard) friend Fred (the second) Weasley's house.
I turned to look at the damage. Alexia would blow up if it was bad. She's a neat freak like that.
There were no cracks, but a strange-looking owl was standing outside of the window, wheezing like it had flown halfway across the world. It looked like an ordinary barn owl, but it had exotic dappled russet feathers and a stately, tall posture.
I searched its beak for the green writing of Hogwarts, but instead there was a bright orange and purple letter clamped in its mouth.
I slowly opened the window, worried. It flew onto my arm, chirping cheerfully.
Weird much? I asked myself.
The 'barn owl' tossed the letter into my face, then nestled itself onto my bed, dozing.
Ignoring the rude bird, I analyzed the paper.
The envelope was striped royal purple and firey-orange, like Fred's hair.
The return address read (in white cursive):
Salem Institute for Young Witches,
I checked again and again. It was still the same address of Salem, Massachusetts.
Finally I decided to open it. My hand hovered over the strange seal, a purple cat.
Frustrated with myself, I tore the envelope open. Inside was a simple, plain letter.
Dear Rosa Brickstein,
We are delighted to invite you to our famous school of witchcraft, the Salem Institute For Girls.
Only very specially selected witches are allowed into our school on scholarship, and we have seen the power and talent within you. You will come to our school with no charge whatsoever!
However, we require that you bring:
A high-quality wand
A pewter or iron cauldron
A set of advanced potion ingredients
I looked at the letter. It went on after the long list of equipment.
We are absolutely delighted that a student from Britain is finally arriving at our school.
Term starts on the 6th of September. We await your owl by the 29th of August.
Salem Institute for Girls.
I was astounded. A schooling in America for free? There must be a catch.
But my thoughts were rudely interrupted again when another owl fluttered through my still-open window.
This one was a common British short-eared owl, dappled brown. It held a green letter.
I shrieked in happiness, ignoring the strange message from the strange school. My letter from Hogwarts had finally come!
I ran to the owl, ripped the letter out of its beak and opened it.
Dear Rosa Brickstein,
We want to confirm that you did qualify for our school, but since you now have a scholarship for Salem, we think that you would go there instead.
Salem is a very high quality school and we assumed that you would accept its invitation.
If you really do want to go to Hogwarts, we await your owl by the 1st of September.
I stopped reading after that.
Hogwarts is a school you trust! You don't know anything about the Salem Institute! one voice inside of me kept arguing.
But Salem is free of charge! Your parents can spend the school money on something more important! And everyone is saying it's a great and impressive school... another, less selfish voice screeched.
What do I do? I asked myself childishly. There was nothing I could do except choose at random.
I went with my gut.
I was on the plane. Time had skipped forward like a stone on water. My parents were delighted to hear about the Salem Institute, clapping and cheering when they saw the letter.
But Alexia was thoroughly disappointed that she didn't get into a high-quality school. She kept looking for purple-and-orange objects. I was sorry for her. If the tables had turned, she would be too.
I stepped onto the US Airlines jet. I found my seat, 13 A, and plopped down on the less-than-comfy chair. Muggle Transport, I thought, annoyed. I quickly snatched my wand out of my pocket and performed a cushioning charm while no one was looking.
Ahh... I thought. That's better.
I jumped when a girl my age sat next to me. She had bright ginger hair and sported freckles all over her face. I knew her at once. The daughter of Ginny and Harry Potter.
"Lily!" I exclaimed.
"Lily! It is you! Why are you going to America?" I asked my friend.
"I got this weird letter from this school in Salem.." she started.
"Same!" I interrupted.
"Weird, huh?" Lily chuckled. A sign flashed, signaling that we were about to take flight. I buckled my seatbelt.
My 'Velly-Tision' snapped on after 15 minutes. I was confused by the buttons so I tentatively switched it off and sighed. Lily was already asleep.
I tried too, but there was a faint muttering noise in the seat behind me. It sounded like a spell. I looked through the crack of my seat.
It was a blonde-haired girl with beautiful features.
She smiled at me as she caught me watching her and announced, "Hi. My name is Dominique Weasley."
"Wait... you and Lily are cousins?"
"Yep. I have to go to a school in Salem..." she said, tossing her silky, corn-tassel hair.
I was astounded. Three girls from England, all going to the same school? On the same plane?
I dragged my plain brown suitcase to the exit of the airport. Lily was pulling her heavy black one, while Dominique was gently tugging on her patterned pink wheelie-bag. We called for a taxi, using strange American Muggle money.
Dominique, Lily and I had bonded on the airplane while the Muggles were all sleeping.
They both laughed as a brown Muggle liquid, called 'Coca Cola', went up my nose as I jumped at the fizzyness.
I had istened carefully to Dominique's story of her brother's serious case of Dragon-Pox, which he had barely survived, and if it wasn't for her mother Fleur's careful nursing, he would have died..
Lily's tale of her father's Auror duties spell-bounded me, especially the one with Malfoy and the Arcturiana plant. Mr Potter had to bring Professor Longbottom from Hogwarts to calm it down!
We got into the white-and-yellow taxi, muttering, "The Witch's Tavern" to the cabbie when he asked us where we were going.
He looked surprised, probably at our accents, but made no comment as he started the engine.
Dominique and Lily had marveled at my knowledge of Muggle transportation and objects, but I shrugged. I had survived elementary school in the Muggle world, even though most wizard families chose to keep their children at home. My parents had insisted on Alexia and I's education of facts and figures.
We were silent the whole journey to the Witches Cavern. All I knew about it was that is was much like 'The Leaky Cauldron' in London, except that it was the entrance to the school. I thought with a dreaded pang of Alexia, who would be starting at Hogwarts tomorrow.
Lily was gasping as she looked out of the window, shaking me out of my thoughts. I looked over her shoulder and spotted a sign that said, 'Welcome to the Witch's City!'
We looked at each other, Lily's freckled face filled with dread. I had learned in Year 5 that trials for suspected witchcraft were conducted in Salem. All the kids in my class laughed as my face went white when my teacher mentioned it.
I shook all thoughts of England from my mind as I concentrated on the fact that we were stopping. I thanked the cabbie, who was still looking like he had been confunded by Ronald Weasley, Lily's uncle, who was famous for confusing all sorts of evil wizards with his spells.
Dominique finished filing her nails, which were painted a pale pink, and stepped out of the taxi, tipping her fashionable pageboy cap to a buisnessman in a suit who stared at her with wide eyes. She smiled at him and he left.
"Come on, guys!" Lily exclaimed, bouncing around like a chocolate frog. "Lets go in!"
For the first time, I stared up at The Witch's Tavern.
It was a shabby, gray stone building with a wooden sign on it, stating the name. There was a piece of paper taped to the arched ebony door that said, Unsafe. Closed.
I shivered, and, nodding to my friends, rapped on the heavy gold cat-shaped door knockers.
The door creaked open.
The inside of the building was much different to the outside.
It was a spectacular hall, with finished marble floors and great portraits on the wall, all moving. There were four tapestries on the walls.
The first was purple. It had a dragon on it, and a word on the bottom stated: Dracolia.
The second tapestry was bright orange, with a painting of a spectacular lion on it, with the name Emblazon.
The third painting was bubble-gum pink, with a gracefully leaping spotted deer on it, the name on the bottom declaring: Elkiara.
The fourth and last tapestry was a blazing, bright red. The picture on it was the stately, tall owl that had come to drop my letter off at my house. The name was: Owlsiara.
"Those must be the house teams!" Dominique gasped. I realized this must be true. Concentrating on the rest of the room, I stared at my surroundings.
Girls were milling around, not looking for anything in particular. There was a group of adults gathered in the middle of the room.
"Ayla! C'mon!" a dark girl with long black hair called in a strong american accent to her companion, a fair-skinned girl with blond ringlets and a cheery smile.
Another girl was staring up at the tapestries, a grin wide on her face. She was tall with meanacing dark blue eyes and cropped brown hair.
"I want to be in Dracolia!" she exclaimed to no one in particular.
I shivered. Dracolia sounded evil to me. The tapestry dragon was stubborn looking and was scaly and green.
The girl turned to me. She smiled.
"My name is Scorpia Nagamus. What's your's?" she asked in a steely tone.
"Uh.. Rosa Brickstein," I stammered.
"So you're one of the Brits? I suspect you'll be in Elkaria. No one wants to go there!" she announced.
My cheeks burned. Lily, however, stepped forward.
"How dare you talk about England like that to us! You Americans are worse! With all that pollution you're creating, and all you consume, and you have no right to talk to us like that, as vulgar as you are!"
Everyone gasped. I felt proud of Lily. It was one of the first times she had said anything serious.
"You stinking piece of Martha Corey's bones!" Scorpia shouted.
I had no idea what that meant, but it was surely something bad.
Finally, the adults in the room broke apart and sat down on chairs that had appeared from no where in particular.
"Welcome, all!" a tall, bright looking woman declared. She had flaming orange hair and a great grin on her face. Her eyes were a strange emerald green, and her cloak was lime green, to match with her hat, which was a baseball cap. I had to squint to read the writing on it. It said, The Salem Witch Society.
I had a feeling this woman was a descendant of Dumbledore.
"My name is Ezmeralda Lockdore. 6th graders, I am your principal. I would like you to all be careful of the 6th graders, please! It's their first year, so I don't want them to be disappointed if they get knocked over on the first day!" she declared. "6th graders, meet me in this hall after dinner, so I can explain to you all how this school works, and you will then be Housed. Bon Appetit!"
All of a sudden, a long table appeared, and chairs too. I sat down. On the table were many purple plates. I almost cried out when the food appeared with a bang on the plates, which I discovered changed color from orange to purple and back again. I stuffed myself with mashed potatoes, fried chicken and sweetcorn, desperately trying to not draw attention to myself. Lily lookeed happy enough, but Dominique stared sullenly at her plate, picking half-heartedly at her pork chops.
I was full when the desserts came, rolling my eyes as I realized that there were no scones. Scones were my favourite snack.
Finally everyone finished their meals. The table vanished and the students were left standing in confusion.
"6th graders!" Professor Lockdore called. We hurried to meet her.
"You are about to be Housed!" she announced after the last 11 year old, a tiny girl with jet black hair, glasses and braces, reached her. "There are four house teams, Dracolia, Elkiara, Emblazon and Owlsiara. Come with me."
We had to take two steps to match every step she took. She was a tall woman.
She led us into a doorway. Through that doorway was a small room, with a chair in the middle. This chair was a plushy blue armchair that needed a wash. I gasped as I came to the realization that this chair had a face!
"Children, don't be scared. The Sorting Chair is safe to sit on!" Professor Lockdore exclaimed. "I have to admit, though, I used an idea from Hogwarts, in England, where my cousin, Dumbledore worked."
I jumped, along with several others, when the Sorting Chair began to sing.
I'm the Sorting Chair, as you can see,
So you'll know which house team you will be,
Earn points when you do something fine,
Your house will win the House Cup when it's time!
There's Emblazon, of the daring and true,
Maybe that will be the very best for you,
Or Dracolia, ambitious and cunning,
With you in Dracolia, the other teams will be running!
Or maybe fair Elkiara, of those loyal and sweet,
With no divided loyalties, many different girls you'll meet,
Owlsiara is great for the clever and witty,
So brings the end of this strange ditty.."