A sequel to “The Rejection Letter”
Disclaimer: This story is fan fiction based on the books of J. K. Rowling. All references that you recognize from the Harry Potter books belong to Rowling, her publishers, and her licensees. The rest belongs to the author.
Author’s Notes: It’s been a pleasant surprise that “The Rejection Letter” still picks up an occasional review. I did not plan to visit with Heather again, but she sent me this story and, as usual, got her own way. So for those who asked for a continuation of this thread, here it is. (Sorry about the continuing Americanisms, but that is where the story is set. With good reason, as it turns out…but Heather doesn’t know it yet.)
Thanks to FernWithy and Katie Bell for their very helpful betas of this story.
Heather Hudson, the most popular girl in school, pedaled her bicycle hard as she rode up the steepest hill in town. A few last pushes to boost her speed over the crest, then—whoosh! She coasted down the other side, her long blonde hair swept back in the wind. She reveled, as she always did, in the feeling of freedom she got from this swift, nearly effortless downhill plunge. It’s almost like flying! she thought.
Almost, but not quite, said a nagging little voice in her head.
Heather still wasn’t used to having a nagging little voice in her head.
Oh sure, her mind had said things to her before, but usually these were along the lines of I can’t believe Caroline did something so stupid! or How can I get Mom to buy me that new outfit? This little voice was something entirely different. She didn’t have a name for the new, uncomfortable feeling it gave her. That nagging little voice had arrived on a May morning seven weeks before, the day that Heather had turned down her acceptance to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
It’s not as if I really wanted to go there, she answered the voice.
The voice did not reply.
Heather swooped across the dip at the bottom of the slope. Momentum carried her partway up the next hill until she had to start pedaling again.
You probably don’t have to pedal to fly on a broom, said the little voice.
Shut up! Heather told it.
Heather coasted down the next hill toward the town center, where the houses and businesses sat close together. She steered her bike up onto the sidewalk, turned sharply around a corner of a large brick building—and collided with another bicycle. Heather fell on the sidewalk, landing hard on her hip.
“Hey! Where d’you think you’re going?” a voice demanded. “You’re not supposed to ride on the sidewalk!”
“Neither are you!” she shouted back, looking at her bike. The frame was kinked and the front wheel was bent.
“I wasn’t! I was walking it!”
Heather looked up. The voice’s owner was a boy a couple of years older than herself. Stringy black hair framed a pale, angular face, held up by a neck something like a plucked chieken’s. His T-shirt looked about as old as the video game it advertised, which had been popular back before Heather could read. What a complete and total dork! Heather thought. She sneered at him. “I’m okay, not that you asked.”
“It was your own fault,” the boy said. Then he looked closely at Heather. “Say, I know who you are,” he said. “You live near the elementary school. I guess that makes us neighbors—I live there, too.” He reached for her hand to help her to her feet.
“I doubt it,” Heather replied, ignoring his hand and getting up on her own. “Only cool people live on my street.”
“Only rich people, you mean,” the boy said. “You live in one of those fancy houses on the road they built next to my house. You’re Heather. I’m Bobby Sampson.”
Bobby Sampson! Her mind raced. She knew that name. When kids at school talked about him—which they rarely did, he was easy to forget—they said he had gone to a juvenile detention center. But Heather had learned the truth. He’s a real wizard! He goes to Hogwarts! Heather realized that her mouth was hanging open. She quickly closed it and looked him over again.
He’s still a complete and total dork, she decided. And he doesn’t know that I know the truth about him. She thought up a snappy reply.
“Well, neighbor,” Heather said. “What are you doing downtown? Doesn’t your parole officer make you wear an ankle bracelet to keep you at home, or something?”
Bobby smirked at her. “You know I’m not out on parole.”
“Oh.” Heather turned her face away. “So Mildred told you.”
Mildred was Bobby’s younger sister and a longtime classmate of Heather’s. Mildred, however, would be at Hogwarts with her brother when the new school year began. Mildred was a social misfit, same as her brother, but that hadn’t kept her from trying to be Heather’s friend. For years Heather had returned Mildred’s friendly overtures with sharp, sarcastic put-downs. But Mildred had been there on that fateful morning when Heather rejected Hogwarts. On that day, Mildred suddenly stopped caring about being Heather’s friend. Since then, the two girls had an unspoken agreement never to speak to each other ever again. This arrangement had served them well through the end of the school year; so far this summer they had simply avoided each other. But now Heather had run into Mildred’s brother Bobby—literally. And all the uncomfortable feelings of that May morning were fresh and raw again. If Mildred wasn’t such a pathetic loser, I might have considered going to that school, Heather mused. In a way, it’s all her fault that I’m not.
Bobby surveyed the damage done to both of their bicycles. “Looks like we’ll have to walk home. Shall we?”
Heather hesitated before answering, “Uh, yeah. Okay, I guess.” It isn’t as if we’re doing something together, she rationalized. And I might get him to tell me more about that school. Besides, most of my friends are away. They’ll never know I walked home with Bobby Sampson.
Heather and Bobby began their walk in silence. After a few minutes, Bobby said, “Too bad about your bike. It looks really expensive.”
Heather shrugged. “Dad’ll yell at me for half an hour, then buy me another one. I’m more worried about your bike.” That came out wrong, thought Heather, so she quickly added, “Was that all your family could afford?”
Bobby was either clueless or chose to ignore her tone. “Yeah, it came from a tag sale, but don’t worry about it, my folks can fix it.” Bobby grinned a little. “Besides, I only ride it when I’m home.”
Heather gave him a cautious glance. “What do you use at school, a broom?”
Bobby quickly glanced back, then looked away, his grin widening. “How do you know about brooms? Mildred says you never asked her about anything.”
I don’t believe this, Heather thought. I’m turning red! But I have nothing to be ashamed of. Out loud she said, “I was just reading that acceptance letter again the other day. There’s something about brooms on the equipment list. So… do you, like, fly them or something?
“What’s it like?” Heather asked, trying hard not to sound eager.
“Better than anything Muggles have for getting around,” Bobby answered.
“People who aren’t magic.”
“Oh, yeah,” Heather replied. “Now I remember.”
They walked on in silence for awhile. Then Bobby asked, “Still holding on to your letter, huh?” When Heather didn’t answer, Bobby continued. “It’s all right. I can understand how you’d be scared to go to a new school where nobody knows you.”
“I wasn’t scared!” Heather retorted. “I just didn’t want to go.”
“Didn’t want to go with Mildred, you mean,” Bobby answered.
“So what if that was the reason?” Heather said, defensively. “Why would I want to go to a school where somebody like Mildred could be homecoming queen?”
Bobby stopped and gaped at Heather. Then he started laughing, leaning over his damaged bicycle for support. His laugh annoyed Heather—it was high-pitched, full of snorts and wheezes. Like a dorky donkey, she thought. “What is it?” she demanded. “What’s so funny?”
“Oh—ee—ee!” he gasped. “I dunno! You. Mildred. The thought of Mildred being queen of—of ANYthing!” He kept on laughing until Heather couldn’t help it, she started laughing too. It felt surprisingly good—not at all like laughs she shared with her friends. But I can’t lose control like this, she thought. It’s definitely uncool.
She caught her breath and wiped her eyes carefully on her bare arm. “The idea of Mildred being homecoming queen is pretty funny, I guess.”
“You’re funny, too,” Bobby said. “The way you think about things. Hogwarts doesn’t even have a homecoming dance. Homecoming is an American thing. Hogwarts is in Scotland.”
Heather’s eyes flew wide in spite of herself. “Scotland?”
“Yes,” Bobby answered. “You mean you don’t even know where it is?”
“No,” Heather answered. “Like Mildred said, I never asked her about anything.” Scotland? she thought, still stunned. Boarding school abroad? Now that is way cool.
Bobby was saying something. “…I mean, our parents and grandparents and even our great-great-grandparents have gone there since before we even came to America, so it makes sense for us, but Millie and I can’t figure out why they invited you. I mean, there’s plenty of witches and wizards in America, but there’re schools here, too. So why Hogwarts? Why not the school in Salem, or Santa Fe, or some place like that? Do you have family over there?”
Heather considered this puzzle. “No.”
“Any connection with the U.K.?”
“My parents honeymooned in London,” she finally recalled. “Well—sort of a honeymoon. It was really a business trip for Dad, and Mom tagged along. I think she was really P.O.’ed that he cancelled their trip to Aruba.”
Bobby shrugged. “Well, they’ve been watching you for some reason. Guess we still don’t know what it was.”
The idea that she was being watched by unseen witches gave Heather a chill across the back of her neck. She raised her shoulders a little to shake off the feeling, then changed the subject. “Anyway, some brother you are, laughing at Mildred like that,” Heather chided him. “Maybe she secretly dreams about being crowned homecoming queen, even if it’s impossible.”
“Oh no, she’d think the idea was funny, too,” Bobby answered. “But she wouldn’t have the last time I was home.” He and Heather started walking again, pushing their bicycles. “Mildred used to be really touchy. Something happened this year. She won’t talk about it, but she’s changed. I can’t get her goat anymore, she just takes it and throws it right back at me. Just in time, too. The teasing can get pretty bad at Hogwarts, especially for first years.”
“Teasing?” Heather asked.
“Yeah, sure,” Bobby replied. “Hogwarts is like any other school. Everybody takes some abuse sometimes.”
“I don’t,” Heather snapped.
Bobby looked at her thoughtfully. “No, you probably don’t. I guess you just dish it out. Well, you’d take some abuse at Hogwarts, for sure. At least from the Slytherins.”
“Slytherins.” Heather furrowed her brow, remembering. “Mildred said something about Slytherins.”
“Probably, that kids in Slytherin house want to be on top more than anything else, and they’ll do anything to get there,” Bobby explained. “Is that what Millie said?”
Heather smiled and tossed her hair. “No, not exactly, but that sounds about right. She said that I’d probably be a Slytherin.” Heather faltered at the look on Bobby’s face. “What? What did I say?”
Bobby turned away, wordlessly pushing his bicycle up the steep hill that Heather had earlier flown down so effortlessly. Heather’s mind raced with a dozen questions, but something about the older boy’s manner kept her quiet. She passed the time thinking about what he had said so far. The more she thought, the harder it was to stay quiet. This might be your last chance to talk to a real wizard, the little voice said.
“So…what are Slytherins, anyway?” Heather asked when she could wait no longer. “And if I’d be one of them, why would they make fun of me?”
Bobby took so long to answer that Heather wasn’t sure he’d heard. Finally he said, “Slytherin is a house at Hogwarts. Houses are kind of like families inside the school. All the students are sorted into one of four houses, depending on what they’re like. And from what Mildred has told me about you, she’s probably right, you would be a Slytherin, except for one thing.”
“You’re Muggle-born,” Bobby said.
“Muggle-born?” Heather repeated. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Your parents are Muggles. They aren’t magic.”
Heather snorted in disgust. “So what? If I can do magic, what difference does it make about my parents?”
Bobby looked at her as they walked side by side, considering his reply. “What if Mildred showed up at that homecoming dance? She’s so beautiful she really could be crowned queen, and she’s there with the hottest guy in school. What would you do? How would you treat her?”
His question puzzled Heather. What is he getting at? she wondered. And how would I treat her? “I—I don’t know,” Heather answered. “I’d be happy for her, I guess.”
“Would you?” Bobby challenged. “Think about it. You’re standing there with your friends. You all see Mildred come in. She’s beautiful, and she’s popular, and she’s got the guy everybody wants. She’s every bit as good as you are. But she came from a rotten old house that a builder wanted to tear down, up at the corner of your street. How would you feel? What would you do?”
Heather tried to think about it, but the nagging little voice was already answering. You’d hate her guts. And you’d do everything in your power to rip her to shreds. Heather looked at Bobby, but kept her mouth closed firmly. And so what if I did? she thought. It’s a game, like Mom always says. Survival of the fittest. Send the losers back where they belong. Those are the rules. Anybody who can’t take it should stay out of the game.
Bobby looked Heather in the eye for a moment. “That’s what I thought,” he said, just as if he’d heard what was going through her head. “You see? That’s what the Slytherins would think of you. Because you came from Muggles. Because you’re not a pure-blood.”
Heather’s mind reeled. I am not used to thinking like this, she thought. It’s hard.
They walked in silence for a time, each lost in thought. When they reached the top of the hill, Heather said, “Well, they can’t really help it, can they?”
“Huh? Who can’t help what?”
“The Slytherins,” Heather replied. “I understand where they’re coming from. They can’t help feeling that way. It’s just who they are.”
Bobby raised his eyebrows. “Sympathy for the Slytherins! That’s a first,” he said. “Bet you won’t feel that way once you’re living with them. If you’re even sorted into Slytherin—I don’t know whether any Muggle-born ever has been.”
“I won’t be sorted into it,” Heather said quickly. “I’m not going, remember?”
“Right,” Bobby said. “That’s why you’re asking me so much about it.”
Heather quickly changed the subject. “So, Mildred wouldn’t be Queen of the May or anything, at Hogwarts?” she asked lightly.
“No, she wouldn’t,” Bobby answered, matter-of-factly. “We’re both dweebs, Mildred and me.”
Heather’s eyebrows went up this time.
“Don’t look so surprised,” Bobby laughed. “You think we don’t know? We’re dweebs here, and we’re dweebs at Hogwarts, too. Our parents were both dweebs there before us. And you know what?” Bobby smiled. “It doesn’t matter, because I know what I am. I’m a wizard, and I’m a dweeb. It took me a long time to figure that out. But now that I have, I’m going to be the best wizard dweeb I can be. It’s a waste of energy trying to be something you’re not. The important thing is being yourself, and seeing where you can go from there.”
Heather was laughing.
“What’s so funny?” Bobby asked.
“You. Mildred. I don’t know,” Heather answered. “But isn’t it lonely, without any friends?”
“What makes you think I don’t have friends?” Bobby asked.
“Well—how could you?” Heather demanded. “You’re not popular!”
“You’ve got some strange ideas,” Bobby said. “You don’t have to be popular to have friends.”
“Isn’t that the definition of being popular?” Heather argued. “Having lots of friends?”
“Oh, I see.” Bobby nodded. “I thought it meant having a lot of people who want to be your friend.”
“Same difference,” Heather answered.
“Not at all.” Bobby contradicted. “Anyway, no, I don’t have lots of friends. But I have enough, and they’re the right ones for me.” He smiled at some private thought. “And I’m right for them, too.”
Heather considered what Bobby had said. Well, I know what I am, too, she decided. I’m Muggle-born, and I’m a Slytherin. Or I would be, anyway, if I went, she quickly added. I don’t really want to go!
Yes, you do, the nagging voice replied. Because you’re a witch. That’s part of what you are, too. And if the dork is right, you’d just better accept it and go from there.
How can a dork possibly be right? Heather asked the voice. The voice did not answer.
They had reached the corner of Heather’s street, where the Sampsons’ ramshackle house stood. Mildred, sitting on the battered porch swing, looked up from the book she was reading. At first, her eyes opened wide. Then she narrowed them at Heather.
“After my brother now? You’re too late, Heather, he’s got a girlfriend at school already,” Mildred said. “She sends him an owl every day.”
“She is not my girlfriend!” Bobby protested, but his face was turning red.
“Have it your way,” Mildred shrugged. “Hey Bobby, Mom went shopping this morning, d’you want something to eat?”
“Sure,” her brother replied. Mildred went through the shabby screen door into the house, leaving them alone. Heather felt out of place in the muddy, overgrown yard, but she did not feel ready to leave. She leaned her bicycle against the sagging front porch.
“So…can you really do magic?” Heather asked Bobby.
“Yup. Wouldn’t have gotten into Hogwarts if I couldn’t.”
“Do you think you could…maybe…teach me one magic trick?” Heather asked.
“They’re called charms, not tricks. And no, I can’t,” Bobby answered, flatly. “Students aren’t allowed to do magic outside of school.”
“Oh. Too bad,” Heather said, disappointed.
“Hey, I can show you something, though.” Bobby pulled a thin brown stick out of his pocket. “It’s nothing fancy, but it works great. It’s my wand.”
Heather reached for the stick, but Bobby pulled it away. “Uh—sorry, no, I can’t let you touch it.”
“Why not? You said it yourself, I’m just as magic as someone with wizard parents!”
“That’s why I can’t let you touch it,” Bobby said. “I probably shouldn’t have showed it to you in the first place.” He stowed the wand back in the front pocket of his shorts.
Heather’s eyes narrowed. What makes you think that’s a safe place? She lunged at Bobby, reaching into the depths of his pocket. Bobby looked surprised, but he was quick. Just as her fingertips found the wand, he spun away, holding the wand firmly in one hand.
“Oh, come on! Give it to me!” Heather demanded.
“No!” Bobby backed quickly across the yard. He held the wand up out of Heather’s reach.
Heather followed, annoyed. Who is he to say no to me? She stretched out her arm and shouted, “Bobby Sampson! You give that to me!”
The wand flew out of Bobby’s hand. Heather caught it and stopped in her tracks, astonished. “Wow, that’s never happened before!” she said.
“What hasn’t?” He was watching her closely.
“That! Or anything like that!” Heather’s face glowed. “I really can do magic!”
“Oh, c’mon!” Bobby protested. “You must have shown some sign of magic or they wouldn’t have let you into Hogwarts. What can you do?”
Heather hesitated. Seven weeks of unaccustomed self-reflection, aided by the nagging little voice, had left her quite sure just what form her magic took. But her power didn’t show, and she had never told anyone about it.
“It’s not very impressive,” she told Bobby. “What I can do, I mean.”
“Okay.” Heather turned to face him. “I always get whatever I want.”
Bobby drew in a sharp breath. “And you just did again.”
Heather laughed, pleased with herself. “Yes I did, didn’t I?”
“Just don’t count on getting your way all the time at Hogwarts,” Bobby warned her. “They teach us how to resist that kind of magic.”
“Really?” Heather said with interest. “There’s a class for that?”
“Yes,” Bobby said bluntly. “It’s called Defense Against the Dark Arts.”
Heather looked again at the wand in her hand. She felt a thrill run up her arm and down her spine, a feeling of power and fear and excitement all mixed together. If I can get my own way that easily without a magic wand, what could I do with one? she wondered. She raised the wand, ready to experiment with it.
Bobby quickly reached out his hand. “I think you should give that back now. If you made it work—which you probably could—I’d be the one in trouble for it.”
For an instant, Heather thought she’d keep the wand. But the little voice spoke up. Be reasonable. You can’t use something like that around here without being labeled a flake, and besides, you don’t even know how to use it. But there is somewhere you could learn… Reluctantly, she placed the wand in Bobby’s hand. She noticed that he relaxed as soon as he had it back.
I made him nervous just holding a wand, she thought. “What makes it so special?” she asked, curiously. “It just looks like a stick.”
Bobby twirled the wand in his fingers. “You’re right, it’s nothing fancy. It’s made of oak, with a brown owl feather in its core—the kind of owl that carries mail. Some wands are made of special woods like olive or holly, with cool stuff like unicorn hair or phoenix feather in the middle. This one is pretty plain.”
Heather watched as Bobby pocketed his wand again. “Still, it’s a magic wand,” she said. That would be a very cool thing to have, she added silently.
Mildred came back out on the porch carrying a grocery bag. “Still here, huh?” she asked Heather. “Want to stick around for a snack, or are you going home?”
Mildred’s tone held no trace of the desperate desire for Heather’s friendship that used to color her invitations. Heather looked her up and down, scrutinizing her, finally looking her straight in the eye; Mildred did not look away. Her face said quite plainly that she didn’t care what Heather did next, she just needed to get on with her own life—that she actually had a life that didn’t involve paying attention to Heather. You used to worship me, you little twit! Heather thought. What happened?
“I’ll go home, thanks anyway,” Heather decided. For now, that is, she added to herself. But I wonder…would you still sound so bored if I had a wand in my hand?
“You must be hungry after your bike ride,” Mildred said, rummaging in the bag. “Here,” she handed Heather a striped box. “At least take some candy.”
The apparent peace offering surprised Heather. “Thanks.” She took the box and picked up her damaged bicycle from where it leaned against the porch. “Bye, Bobby. Maybe I’ll see you around.” She started down the street toward her house, pushing the bicycle.
“Term starts September 1,” Bobby called after her. “They might still let you in.”
“Yeah, well—whatever,” Heather replied. They will if I want them to, she thought, but I’ve got a lot more to think about, first.
Heather reached her front walk feeling drained. She let the dented bike fall to the grass and sat down heavily on her own front step. Her mind was spinning: Scotland. Magic wands. Flying broomsticks. Homecoming queens. So what big dances do they have at Hogwarts, anyway? Muggle-borns. Wizard dweebs. They can’t all be dweebs. I got in, after all. Dark arts. Slytherins. Sorting. What are the other houses? How do they feel about Muggle-borns? Unseen witches watching her grow up. Slytherins who would look at her like she was Mildred. Mildred acting like she didn’t want to be Heather’s friend, then giving her a box of candy.
What’s up with that, anyway? Heather looked at the striped box in her hand. “Bertie Botts’ Every Flavor Beans.” I’ve never heard of that brand, she thought. Maybe they’re from Scotland. She tore open the top and popped a jelly bean in her mouth. Spearmint. Unusual, but not bad. She popped another bean in her mouth—and gagged.
Ugh! That tastes like nail polish remover! The sound of laughter floated down the street—Bobby’s donkey-wheeze laugh and Mildred’s familiar high-pitched, annoying giggle. Heather looked up and saw the two of them leaning against their house. Watching her. Laughing at her.
You knew what was in that box, and you didn’t warn me, she thought. You thought you could put one over on me, just because your family’s been going to Hogwarts for years and mine hasn’t.
Okay. I get it now. Survival of the fittest. Maybe you can play the game, after all, Mildred Sampson. Just remember, I’ve been playing it a lot longer than you have.
And this fall, I’ll be playing with a wand in my hand.