I told Mum over Christmas holidays that I sometimes wonder whether or not I made the right choice, coming here.
That was a lie.
The truth is that every single morning, I wake up and know that I will leave tomorrow. I can't stay any longer. I don't belong here; I will never belong here. I am not a witch, and it will never matter how many charms and hexes I master. I'll never really be one of them.
I wake up in my strange bed and see the other girls in my dormitory charming their hair into pretty curls, or giggling about the love potions we're not allowed to use. Olive Hornby has learned a trick to make her cosmetics sparkle like fireworks, which looks silly and will certainly not be allowed by the teachers, but the other girls sigh and pet her over it, and I know that if I'd learned to do such a thing, it would be the school's running joke for weeks.
I burrow back under the covers, feigning sleep. I will miss breakfast, but that's all right. Herbology ends rather early, and I can slip in for a large lunch before the rest of the girls come in. They always stop at the lake to gossip about boys and the monster that killed Ogg's dog and the message in blood on the walls--"Mudbloods beware!"
I am not afraid of the monster, or of people calling me Mudblood. At home, there are murderers and thieves and people who call me names because my dad is German. He talks sometimes about changing our name, at least until the War is over, but it won't help. His accent is thicker than wool socks around his tongue, even though he's been here since he was sixteen. Besides, they always know.
Olive Hornby teases me about my glasses, but so did Kate Clarendon at home. I will never be pretty, no matter what world I live in. I thought at first that going to a world where there were hags and giants would make me seem less ugly, but I suppose I always knew that was just a wish. Boys here pull my hair and make fun of me, but that would be true at home as well.
The cruelties aren't why I'm leaving tomorrow. The cruelties will never go away.
I'm leaving tomorrow--and I know this every morning as the others go through their routine--because this is not my world. The other one may be ignorant of things I know are true, but at least I exist in it. I can go to secondary school and uni, and perhaps I'll read maths or physics and become a great scientist. They will make me break my wand, and maybe they will make me forget all of this, forget what I know is real and true, but in the morning, hiding beneath the heavy blue quilts and pretending to sleep, the truth seems like a very small thing to give up, if I could just exist again.
They finally finish giggling, and I hear them titter out of the dormitory. I know they are nearly prancing, gracefully skipping down the steps I've tripped on more times than I can count, swirling their robes majestically. I tried to let my robes sway perfectly once, and the hem hit Nora Belby and she said, "Watch where you're going, will you?" before turning away and ignoring me again.
I lower the covers and peek around the dormitory to make sure I'm alone, then pull on the robes at the base of my bed. They stink from Potions yesterday, but one of the other sets was torn by a fanged geranium and the other is stiff with mud from an older boy shoving me down by the lake. I consider trying to clean them with a charm, but I might burn them up, and then I'd have nothing at all. Instead, I spritz them with some perfume Mum gave me and hope no one comes too close.
There is no one in the common room by the time I get there, and I scramble out into the corridors alone. There are many signs saying that we shouldn't do this, with a monster on the prowl, but I doubt the monster will pay any more attention to me than my housemates do. I've been running about alone for three months, and haven't seen so much as a fang.
I want to be running to a class in history--perhaps the Tudors or the roundheads or Queen Victoria--or one where we might talk about the war, but I am running to Divination, where Professor Starling will see something in everyone's cup, until she comes to mine and says "Dear, you haven't swirled this properly" and moves on.
Tomorrow. I am going home tomorrow.
I fly around the corner into a walking wall of a boy in my year, who is coming up from the dungeons. He jumps and looks very nervous. "What're yeh doin' here? Yeh shouln' be runnin' abou'!"
"Nor should you! Why are you sneaking?"
We look at each other for a long time, and no one else has looked me in the eye for weeks, but there is nothing to say, because I am running and he is sneaking, so we go off in different directions. I go to Divination, and we have moved on to reading wax shapes dropped into cold water. My wax melts into a flattish lump at the bottom of my glass, and Olive whispers something that I can't hear and points to her chest. Her friends laugh. Her wax has turned into a pretty star shape, and Professor Starling says that it means she has a luminous soul.
After class, I stay to ask Professor Starling what I did wrong, but she doesn't notice me standing in the door, and I assume she's busy getting ready for her next class. No one has waited for me, so I have to walk to Herbology alone. I am five minutes late, but no one says anything when I walk in.
I work with a puffapod for an hour, and it is flourishing, but Professor Greenhand says nothing, as she's absorbed with helping Edward Northanger clean up from an explosion of maltreated spores. I am at the back of the greenhouse, so I slip out quickly at the end of class and go to the Great Hall. I take a seat near the front of my House table and begin to eat. The others file in, but sit very far from me. I look across at the Slytherin table, where an older boy called Tom Riddle is looking at me distastefully. I don't care. At least he sees me. I wave.
For a moment, he looks revolted, but then he covers and smiles in the charming way he has. He is very handsome. Most of the girls like him. I've seen Olive writing "Olive Riddle" on her desk, inside a heart. Once she even made wings on the heart and charmed them to look like they were flying. She talks to him a lot and he always talks back to her, though I don't think I've ever seen him just go up to her and start talking. p>
He turns away from me and starts talking to his housemates.
I look around. The Hall is getting quite crowded now--I am eating too slowly--but still no one is sitting anywhere near me. At the head table, Headmaster Dippet is talking to Professor Starling and not paying attention to anyone. Professor Dumbledore, who teaches Transfiguration, is looking at the Slytherin table. He turns abruptly and looks at me, smiling a bit. I try to smile back, but I'm chewing and something falls out of my mouth. I put my hand over my face while I swallow, and by the time the food is gone, Professor Dumbledore is looking at someone else.
"Going home," I mutter. "Tomorrow."
No one hears me.
I gulp down the last of my lunch, thinking maybe I will go up to the dormitory and pack (and knowing I will really just sit down and do my Herbology homework and practice dropping wax into water so that it makes pretty shapes), and jostle the table as I leave. Olive's pumpkin juice totters and spills.
"Myrtle!" she yells, getting up and coming to me. "Look where you're going, will you?"
"I... I'm sorry. I..."
"Can't you see anything through those bottles you wear on your face?"
Olive makes circles around her eyes with her fingers, then squints. "Oh, I'm Myrtle, I can't see anything! Have I got these on upside down? Or maybe they're covered with something!" She lowers her hands and puts her finger in my plate, dipping it in gravy, and I know she's going to smear it on my glasses, but then there is a heavy hand on my shoulder.
"That will be quite enough, Miss Hornby," someone says, and I see a red beard beside my face.
Olive blushes, and I like her blushing, and mumbles "Sorry, Professor Dumbledore."
"Don't apologize to me, Miss Hornby."
Looking like she's been forced to swallow a vile potion, Olive looks at me and says, "Sorry."
Dumbledore pats my shoulder and I feel him leave. I know his back is still turned because Olive makes the finger-glasses around her eyes again and squints at me. "Teacher's pet," she hisses. "Four-eyed teacher's pet."
Then she goes back to talking to her friends, and pays no more attention to me when I leave. In the entrance hall, I look up, and I feel the stones of the castle all pressing down on me. They stare sometimes, wondering why I'm inside them, I'm sure. I start up to the dormitory, thinking I might sleep through Transfiguration, but by the time I reach the second floor, it seems like too far to go. I nip into the girls' room and lean against the door for a long time, then shut myself into one of the cubicles. I slam my fist against the wall, and a splinter scratches my hand.
"I'm leaving tomorrow!" I yell, and it echoes. No one comes to ask who's yelling alone in the toilet. "Leaving," I mutter again, but now I'm sniffling, and I wish someone would come, but I know that it will be Olive and she'll just call me names and make fun of me for crying, because that's the only thing that happens when people pay attention to me, and that makes it worse, and I cry more, and pull my knees up against my chin, resting my heels on the seat and pressing my face against my robes, trying not to cry anymore. I will go home tomorrow, and if they try to make me stay, I will hex them all, but of course, they won't try to make me stay. Sometime next week, they may notice that I haven't been in any classes.
I have managed to get the tears to almost stop when the door opens, and I have a sudden fear that it's Olive. I am late for Transfiguration, and Dumbledore may have sent her to look for me, since he saw what happened in the Great Hall. I am very quiet. She will only start to say nasty things again, and then drag me to Transfiguration and act like she's apologized and I'm just being huffy. I do my best to breathe quietly.
And then someone speaks.
It is not Olive.