The Sugar Quill
Author: Beaker (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: The Rejection Letter  Chapter: default
The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

The Rejection Letter

The Rejection Letter

by Beaker

Disclaimer: This story is fanfiction based on the books of J. K. Rowling. All references to Hogwarts, Diagon Alley, owl post, and other familiar elements from the Harry Potter books belong to Rowling and her publishers and licensees. The rest belongs to the author, for what it’s worth!

Rated G.

______________________________________________________________________________

“C’mon, you guys! Heather’s leaving already!” Kayla grabbed her backpack and ran out of the school yard, followed by Caroline and Emily. They caught up with Heather Hudson at the corner and waited for the crossing guard to stop traffic.

“You guys are so slow,” Heather said. “What took you so long?”

“Well,” Caroline giggled. “Joey showed up.”

“Joey!” Heather’s face showed surprise. “Joey Murray? I can’t believe you guys didn’t tell me! What was he doing here? He’s in middle school now!”

 “I don’t know what he was doing here. We didn’t get to talk to him because you’d left already,” Caroline replied.

“Maybe he was looking for you, Heather,” Kayla suggested.

“Hey, girls, come on!” The crossing guard yelled. “These people can’t wait all day!”

When they reached the other side of the street, Kayla continued. “Oh, Heather, Joey is so cute. I can’t believe you ignored him so much last year. And he’s a year older than you and everything.”

Heather tossed her long, blonde ponytail. “Well, my mom says a girl shouldn’t act too interested. Keep the boys guessing, it will make you more popular!”

“As if you need any help being more popular, Heather,” Emily said. Heather just smiled.

The neighborhood was changing over. Most of the available land in their suburban town had been built on years ago. It was common for newcomers to buy an old house, tear it down, and put up a new one. So the girls’ walk home from school took them past tiny homes with muddy yards and peeling paint—“tear-downs,” the realtors called them—as well as soaring new mini-mansions with lush, green lawns. Heather and her friends were headed for a cul-de-sac of new homes off the main street.

“Hi, Heather,” Mildred Sampson called out from the worn porch of an old, sagging house on the corner of their street. Mildred’s mouse-brown hair hung, limp and ragged, to her shoulders. Her shapeless, stretched-out sweater reached nearly to the hem of her faded skirt.

“Oh god, Heather, it’s Mildew again,” Kayla hissed. “Why can’t she take a hint?”

“Don’t worry, I’ll take care of her,” Heather replied. “Hi, Mildred,” Heather answered, loudly. “I like your sweater.”

“Thanks!” Mildred beamed.

“Too bad the bag lady you stole it from will go cold tonight!” Heather added. Kayla, Caroline, and Emily laughed as Mildred fled into her house, crying, the wooden screen door banging on its hinges behind her. The four girls turned the corner and headed down their street. Huge, fresh houses stood tall in a continuous carpet of green. Only the differences in the striped patterns in the grass, made by different lawnmowers, showed where one yard left off and another began.

“Honestly, Mildew is just unbelievable!” Caroline said. “How can she live there? That place should be torn down!”

“I heard it was supposed to be,” Emily said. “My dad said that the person who built all our houses offered them a lot of money for it, but they wouldn’t sell.”

“So there would have been another house like ours there?” Kayla asked.

“No, the guy just wanted to get rid of it because it’s so ugly,” Emily answered. “He was going to put up a fancy stone entrance, to make the neighborhood prettier.”

“’Bye, guys!” They had reached Heather’s house. “See you tomorrow!”

“Are you sure you don’t want to come over?” Kayla asked.

“No, my mom promised to take me shopping,” Heather replied. “See ya!” She practiced her new walk on the way up the driveway, bouncing a little to make her ponytail swing back and forth.

“Hi, Mom! What’s for snack?” Heather went into the kitchen.

“Hello, sweetheart! Baby carrots, as usual.” Heather’s mother gave her a peck on the cheek. Her mother was in her gym clothes, the color of her sweatband matching her Lycra shorts and top. Heather had inherited her mother’s tall, blonde looks.

“I’m sick of carrots! Why can’t I have a brownie?” Heather complained.

“Now, now, Heather!” Mrs. Hudson scolded. “You’ll be starting middle school next year. You have to watch your figure if you’re going to be a success.” Heather scowled, but plunked down in a chair and started munching.

“By the way, dear, a letter came for you.” Her mother, busy at the sink, gestured at an envelope on the kitchen table.

“Who’s it from?” Heather reached for the letter.

“I don’t know, dear.” Her mother shrugged. “Someone must have dropped it off. It doesn’t have a stamp.”

Heather opened the letter in her hands, which was addressed to her in green ink. She read silently:

Dear Miss Hudson,

We are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Please find enclosed a brief description of the school and a list of all necessary books and equipment. Term begins September 1. Please inform us of your acceptance by owl post. An owl will visit your home each morning until we receive your reply.

Yours Sincerely,

Minerva McGonagall,

Deputy Headmistress

 “Hunh,” Heather said. “Mom, have you ever heard of this place?”

“What place, dear?” Her mother came around the kitchen island, took the letter, and read it. “No, I’ve never heard of any school like this. Is this a joke?” She looked up at Heather. “Witchcraft and wizardry…Heather, does this mean that you can do magic?”

“Not that I know of,” Heather replied. Suddenly she remembered all the times she had somehow gotten her way, even when both of her parents were dead-set against whatever it was she wanted. Kayla had often said it was just like magic—the madder Heather got, the more quickly her parents gave in. Heather crossed her fingers under the table so she wouldn’t be lying, just in case.

“Well, sweetheart, it wouldn’t surprise me—you certainly work magic when it comes to being popular!” Heather’s mother gave a lilting little laugh and smiled fondly at her daughter. Then she scanned the second page of the letter, which bore the heading, “An Introduction to Hogwarts, for Muggles.” Her mother spoke again. “It sounds like some kind of boarding school. No one I know has sent their children there, or even applied to it. Still, it must be very exclusive, if you can only attend by special invitation.” Heather’s mother patted Heather’s cheek gently, then lifted her chin. “Well, don’t say anything to anyone at school yet. Your father and I will discuss this when he gets home. Come on, let’s go get you some cute new outfits.”

A week later, another moist spring morning, Heather left the house to join her friends for the walk to school. “’Bye, Mom!” she called over her shoulder. The screen door sank slowly back to close itself.

“Hey look, that’s weird,” Kayla’s face wrinkled up, puzzled. “There’s an owl on your mailbox again, Heather.”

“Yeah, that’s funny,” Emily added. “I’ve never seen an owl before outside a zoo, and we’ve seen one every day this week, it seems.”

“Don’t they only come out at night?” Caroline asked.

“Hey, forget the owls, guys,” Heather was in no mood to even look at the owl. Her parents had argued every night for a week about her acceptance to Hogwarts—whatever Hogwarts was. Of course Heather wasn’t supposed to have heard their “discussions,” which took place long after she’d gone to her room and supposedly to bed. But their raised voices easily carried upstairs, and she heard nearly every word. Her mother was convinced that the school must be very prestigious, and was worth looking into. Her father thought it must be a joke, and didn’t even want to talk about it. As far as Heather’s father was concerned, she would start middle school next year—here in town—and they would file her applications to the best prep schools in two years’ time. End of discussion. But her mother kept at him, until last night he had snapped back at her that if she was that interested, then she needed to do some research. They just didn’t have enough information, and he certainly didn’t have the time to look into it. For her part, Heather had had just about enough of not saying anything. What was the point of an exclusive school if you couldn’t brag about it a little? A week was an eternity to hold onto a secret like that.

At Heather’s command, Kayla changed the topic from owls. “Well, at least we won’t have regular school today,” she said brightly. “This afternoon we go up to the middle school to check it out.”

“Oh, that’s right!” Caroline added. “I remember. We go to all the teachers on our schedule, but just for 15 minutes each. Hey Heather, maybe Joey will be there!”

Heather tossed her hair. “Maybe—but I don’t think we’ll see him. Anyway,” she added slyly, looking sideways at her friends, “I’m not sure I’ll be at the middle school next year.”

“What do you mean?”

“Heather, you aren’t moving?”

“What’s happening?”

Her announcement was having the desired effect. “Well…,” Heather looked around at her audience. “No, we’re not moving. I’ve been accepted at an exclusive boarding school. My parents are still deciding whether I’ll go there, or stay here.”

“Oh, my gosh!”

“Where is it?”

“Boarding school!”

“That’s all I’m going to say. I’m not really supposed to talk about it,” Heather said airily.

“But do you want to go?” Caroline asked.

“Will you go if your parents let you?” Kayla added. “You know they’ll let you if you really want to—they always do.”

Heather tossed her hair again and grinned. “I’m not sure yet,” she admitted. “The school uniform is black. I look terrible in black.”

“Hi, Heather.”

The four girls stopped suddenly. They had been so engrossed in conversation, they hadn’t noticed they were at the end of their street already. Mildred Sampson stood near the sidewalk on the corner outside her house. She approached them hesitantly.

“What do you want, Mildew?” Kayla demanded.

“Heather, I…I just wanted to say…I noticed the owls outside your house, and I thought…if you have any questions, maybe you could come over,” Mildred shrank back again, hugging her books to herself.

“Oh, so you’re an expert on owls, are you?” Heather snapped. She tried to think of something clever and cutting, but couldn’t. “Well, I’m not really interested in that nature stuff, thanks anyway.”

“No, its—it’s not that, I just thought maybe…well, g’bye,” Mildred’s voice trailed off as the quartet continued down the sidewalk toward school.

“She is just so creepy!” Caroline said.

“The whole family is,” Kayla added. “Nobody even knows what her parents do for a living. My dad said they don’t work around here, from what he can tell. And their car is so old, there’s no way they could drive it very far to commute.”

“Who cares about her parents, what about that awful brother of hers?” Emily asked.

“What brother?” Heather asked.

“Don’t you remember him, Heather?” Kayla said. “Bobby Sampson. He was a couple of years older than Mildred. The year he was supposed to start middle school, he just disappeared. But nobody ever talks about it.”

“That’s right,” Caroline said, slowly. “What ever happened to him? You don’t see him around much anymore—not that I’m looking. Did he die?”

I heard he was sent to some kind of juvenile detention center,” Emily said.

For the briefest instant, a thought flickered at the edge of Heather’s mind, but she dismissed it quickly. No—not possible. “Hey, guys,” she said brightly, “Forget that loser. Let’s keep score on all the cute boys we see up at the middle school this afternoon, okay? Then we can compare notes and decide who’s worth watching next year.”

When Heather entered the kitchen that afternoon, her mother had on her “worried face.” She spoke nonstop about nothing at all, and Heather knew from long experience that she should eat her snack without complaint (celery sticks today) and wait for her mother to say something important. Finally, when her mother had chattered for nearly five minutes straight, she suddenly fell silent and sat down across the table. Heather stopped chewing, the sound of her own crunching suddenly too loud in her ears.

“Heather, about that school,” her mother began.

Heather swallowed her mouthful of celery. “Yes?”

“Well, your father thinks we should find out more about it before making a decision. He said I should do some research.”

“And?”

“I asked around a little at the gym—not directly, of course, just little hints,” she added hastily. “Just enough to see if anyone else knew anything about it. If it’s some kind of secret society, like Skull and Bones, you wouldn’t want to give away too much.”

“Skull and what?” Heather asked.

“Never mind that. The point is,” her mother leaned forward and looked into Heather’s eyes. “Nobody seems to have heard of it. I dropped a few hints, but when the girls,” (Heather’s mother called her circle of friends girls) “When the girls heard me suggest that witchcraft might be real, they all started laughing like I was making some kind of joke. So I just had to play along and drop it.”

“Well, so what?” Heather replied. “Mom, it’s not like your friends know everything!”

“I realize that, dear,” her mother answered icily. “But what my friends do and do not know about—what they think is worth talking about—matters. They’re very popular people. Anyway,” she went on in her serious tone, “I agree, they are not the only source of information. So when I got back from the gym, I looked on-line.”

“And?” Heather asked again, wondering why she hadn’t thought to do that.

Her mother hesitated. “They’re not on line, sweetheart.

“What? No web site?”

“No. No web site. No e-mail address. It’s like they don’t even exist.”

“But everybody’s on-line!” Heather was in disbelief.

“Well, Hogwarts isn’t,” her mother said. “So I’m going to try one more thing before we give it up. I’ve written a letter back to that McGonagall woman, asking if there are other families nearby with children at Hogwarts, who we could talk to. I’ll give the letter to that owl that shows up every morning. That seems to be the way to get in touch with them. Who knows?” Her mother smiled. “Maybe that boyfriend of yours, Joey Murray, is there.”

“I don’t think so, Mom. I’m sure he’s at the middle school this year,” Heather answered. “And he’s not my boyfriend—not yet,” she added quietly.

“And if we don’t hear back,” her mother continued as if she hadn’t heard, “Well, then, someone’s been playing a joke on us, and they’ll never even know we fell for it. It’s quite likely it is a joke—I can’t imagine a real school would have such a name. Honestly, it sounds like a place for warthogs. Whoever the Hogwarts were, they must have made a very large endowment to the school to have it named for them.”

Four mornings later, Heather came downstairs after getting dressed to find a note on the table.

Sweetheart,

Had to dash off—Kim got some extra court time so we’re playing early today. Daddy left even earlier to catch a plane. Breakfast is on the table, lunch money is on the counter. See you after school!

Love,

Mom

Heather sat down to breakfast. This wasn’t unusual. Last summer, her parents had decided she was old enough to stay on her own for short periods of time. Of course, Heather had very much wanted this privilege. She wondered now whether she really had worked some kind of magic to get it. On the other hand, her parents mostly seemed to use the arrangement to their own advantage—they hadn’t gone out and left her alone with her friends, yet, which was what she really wanted.

A sudden tapping on the kitchen window startled Heather out of her thoughts. A large brown owl clutching a letter in its beak was clinging to the narrow windowsill. Unsure of what to do, Heather opened the window and raised the screen. The owl flew in, perched on the back of a kitchen chair, and looked around the room in an inquiring way.

“Give me that,” Heather said to the owl, reaching for the letter. She could see that it was addressed to her mother. The owl flew up and landed on a different chair. “Hey,” Heather repeated, “Give me that letter!” She grabbed at the owl. Again, the owl flew up and landed a few feet away. “Give it over! I don’t care who it’s addressed to, it’s about me! I have a right to see it!” She kept grabbing for the letter, and the owl kept flapping away.

“Gotcha!” In triumph, Heather snatched the letter from the owl’s grip. The owl nipped at her hand, but missed. It settled for perching on a chair again with its back to her and its feathers ruffled. Heather hesitated only a moment before opening the letter—after all, she was positive that her mother read her diary while she was at school. Why shouldn’t she read her mother’s mail? It was about her, after all.

Dear Mrs. Hudson, the letter began.

Of course we understand your concerns about your daughter attending a school you’ve “never even heard of” as you put it. You are correct that attendance at Hogwarts is by invitation only. It often comes as a surprise to Muggle parents when a child turns out to be magical. I’m sure you have many questions about Hogwarts, and about the wizarding world in general.

The Sampsons, who live in your town, are a wizarding family going back three generations. Angus and Agnes Sampson are both Hogwarts alumni. Their son, Robert, is in his second year here at Hogwarts, while daughter Mildred will be starting with us this September. I have sent an owl to the Sampsons, informing them of Heather’s acceptance and asking if they would be so kind as to meet with you. I am sure they will be able to answer many of your questions.

Please remember to send an owl as soon as you have reached a decision.

Yours sincerely,

Minerva McGonagall

Deputy Headmistress

Heather’s hands turned icy-cold as she read. She felt a huge, horrible weight settle in her stomach, then rise back up toward her throat. Mildred Sampson? Go to her exclusive boarding school? How could this have happened? If this was a joke, it was turning very nasty, indeed.

“HEATH-er!” Kayla stuck her head in the front door. “C’mon, girl, we’ll be late!”

Heather swallowed hard, then called from the kitchen at the back of the house. “Not now, Kayla, I’ll catch up with you!”

“No, we’ll wait! But hurry up!”

“Later, I said,” Heather felt panicked. “I’m not ready yet! Mom went out, and I slept late! You go on.”

“Okay, but we’ll walk slow! Don’t take too long!” Heather gave them a head start, then crept to the door to watch them go down the street. She heaved a sigh, then went back to the kitchen and picked up her backpack. Slowly, she walked out the door and started down the sidewalk, far behind the other three. She needed time to think before she faced her friends.

There was no way around it. Somehow, magic was real. Somehow, this school really existed. And somehow, incredibly, Mildred’s family had been going there for generations. If the Sampsons were magical, then why were they so weird? Why not use magical powers to make yourself rich, or attractive? And if the Sampsons were the kind of exclusive people Hogwarts accepted, then she, Heather, could never show her face in town again if she went there. On the other hand, if she didn’t go, she might never know what kinds of magic she could do. And didn’t every kid wish they could do magic?

Looking up, she saw that the disgruntled owl was following her. She must have left the kitchen window open—her mother would have a fit, but she could deal with her later. The owl hopped and flapped its way along, landing on lampposts, shrubs, and mailboxes as it went. It was looking pointedly at the letter, which Heather realized too late was still clutched in her hand. Just as she was trying to decide what to do about the owl, a skinny figure in shabby clothes came running down the street toward her.

“Heather! HEATHER! Oh, I only guessed before, but it’s true! This is GREAT!”

It was Mildred Sampson. She rushed past Kayla, Caroline, and Emily, who turned their heads to see what was going on.

“My mom got an owl this morning, Heather! It said you’ve been accepted to Hogwarts, too!” Mildred’s face positively shone with excitement as she rushed toward Heather. Kayla, Caroline, and Emily exchanged glances, then deliberately turned around and walked back to watch what was happening.

Mildred had reached Heather. “I thought maybe you had been, when I saw all those owls outside your house, y’know?” Mildred rushed on, her enthusiasm unstoppable. “But then you didn’t seem to get it when I asked you about them last week, so I wasn’t sure. But it’s true!”

Heather felt her face starting to burn. She kept walking, looking straight ahead, trying hard to just ignore Mildred, just to make her go away, make her shut up, already. But Mildred kept on jabbering, practically skipping alongside Heather.

“Heather, this is going to be so great!” Mildred gushed. “Don’t worry, I’ll help you out! We can go shopping together in Diagon Alley—I’ll show you where to get your wand, and robes, and cauldron, and everything!”

Heather walked past her three friends, who were starting to nudge each other and whisper. Heather kept walking toward school, still staring straight ahead and working very hard to just ignore Mildred.

“And we can ride the Hogwarts Express together,” Mildred went on. “And oh! Maybe we’ll be sorted in the same House, and then we’d share a dormitory!”

Behind them, Kayla, Caroline, and Emily made snorting sounds, as if they were trying hard not to laugh. The crossing guard waved them over to the school side of the busy street. The girls all crossed, following Heather’s grimly determined lead. The owl followed, landing on the monkey bars in the playground ahead of them.

Still Mildred wouldn’t quit. “Bobby—you remember my brother Bobby, Heather?—he’s a Hufflepuff, but all the houses are good, really, except for Slytherin. That’s because Slytherins only care about themselves, really. But oh, Heather!” Mildred smiled, bouncing on her toes, as they stopped at a playground picnic table and set down their bags. “I knew there was something special about you! I just always knew it! And there is! It will be so fun to have a friend who’s a witch to start school with next year!”

Kayla, Caroline, and Emily were laughing out loud now. “Witch?” Kayla gasped out between laughs. “Your ‘exclusive boarding school’ is a school for witches, Heather?”

“And Mildred Sampson is going there, too?” Caroline shrieked in mirth.

“As if you…need any help…being more of a witch, Heather!” Emily leaned on Caroline for support, gasping for breath.

Heather had had enough. Pulling a pen from her backpack, she scrawled a quick reply on the back of the letter in her hand. The owl flew down to the table and held out its leg. Heather shoved the piece of parchment at its feathery face.

“Oh—no, you want to tie it to its leg,” Mildred said, helpfully. “Do you have a piece of string? It can take it in its beak, but it’s more comfortable having it tied to its leg. Here, let me show you,” Mildred reached for the letter. “After all, you’ll need to learn how to do these things.”

“Oh no I won’t!” Heather wrenched the letter back from Mildred’s hand and shoved it at the owl again. “I’m telling them no. You couldn’t pay me to go there with you, Mildred Sampson!” The owl hissed at Heather and nipped her hand before seizing the letter in its beak. Then the owl took wing, flew across the playground, and disappeared over the roof of the school. The girls watched the owl until it was out of sight. The sound of other kids arriving at school by foot and by bus filled their silence.

When the owl was gone, Heather looked back at the others. Mildred stood clutching her school bag on the other side of the picnic table, her jaw hanging open in surprise. Kayla, Caroline, and Emily stood nearby, once more whispering, laughing, and nudging each other. Suddenly, Heather hated them all. Hated that they knew her secret. Hated that they had laughed at her—at her! How dare they! They had no right! She was Heather Hudson, the most popular girl in school, and she was going to stay that way! Heather felt her anger well up inside, as it had so many times before. It swelled until she felt it burst from her chest, expanding outward, surrounding her, until suddenly, her three friends stopped laughing. A glazed look crossed each of their faces briefly. Kayla shook her head slightly, then spoke.

“Cripes, Mildew, I can’t believe you still can’t take a hint! Leave Heather alone already, will ya?”

“Yeah, Silly-Milly. Buzz off. Leave us all alone,” Emily added.

“C’mon, Heather,” Caroline said. “We’ll be late.”

“In a minute, you guys,” Heather replied. “You go on. I’ll get there.”

“Whatever you say, Heather,” Caroline answered. The three girls walked to the school and through the door, following the other students. Heather watched her friends leave, then turned back toward Mildred.

Mildred was staring at Heather in disbelief, her mouth still open. She closed and opened it a few times. Then she spoke.

Charismata.”

“Excuse me?” Heather scowled.

Charismata. You’re using a Charisma Charm. I don’t know why I didn’t see it before. No wonder you’re so popular,” Mildred walked around the table, faced Heather, and looked her straight in the eye. “And to think I fell under your spell! Me, of all people! I live with magic every day, why didn’t I see it? Well, guess what, Heather? It’s over. It didn’t work this time. You got me so mad, I threw it off! I guess Mum is right—I am more magical than I thought.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Heather replied, icily.

“No, you don’t, do you?” Mildred said. She regarded Heather thoughtfully. “And your chance to find out just flew away with that owl,” Mildred gestured over the roof of the school. “I can’t believe you turned it down. Nobody turns down Hogwarts. It’s the best wizarding school in the whole world.”

“I don’t need your stupid old school!” A note of panic crept into Heather’s voice. Truly, she didn’t want to go to that ridiculous place…but still…what had she done? What had she just given up? “Besides,” she said, grasping at straws, “All my friends will be at the middle school next year!”

“If you can call them friends,” Mildred replied, coolly. “When you’re using Charismata, you can never be sure.” It was Heather’s turn to gape. Was this really Mildred? Mildred had never acted this way before—not with her, not with anybody.

Mildred picked up her school bag from the picnic table and turned toward the building. She hesitated, then turned back.

“Goodbye, Heather. Stay with the Muggles. Be their queen. You’d probably be a Slytherin, anyway.” Then she turned toward the school again.

Heather watched Mildred walk into the building. That was a new walk for Mildred. Straighter, taller somehow, with firm steps and head high. Instead of scrawny, the new walk made Mildred’s slim figure looked more like a model’s. Even her hand-me-down clothes looked less like a mistake and more like some edgy fashion statement.

The doors closed behind Mildred. Feeling suddenly weak, Heather sat down at the picnic table. The late bell rang. The last few students ran into the school. Heather still sat, staring at the door.

Suddenly, her eyes filled with tears. She put her head down on her arms and began to sob. What had she just done? And what would she do next year, without Mildred to push around?

//
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