Not Exactly a Report Card
Emily flinched as a softball whizzed past her face. She hadn’t even noticed the throw happening in the first place; she’d been preoccupied by contemplating a deep abstract concept.
“You’re supposed to throw the ball at me, Harriet!” a girl with short, brown hair and pale skin shouted to whomever had thrown the ball as she ran past Emily to retrieve the projectile. She flashed her an apologetic grin, “Sorry, Emily,” as she passed, and then continued to the yellow sphere’s resting place.
Emily was surprised this girl even knew her name. They were in the same class, yes, but Emily hardly ever said a word unless asked to by the teacher, effectively solidifying her conversational invisibility. Most of the students didn’t even know she existed until she said something, and then forgot right after she stopped talking.
She shrugged this off as an exception to prove the rule and continued walking through her school, the Elridge School for Girls, courtyard. It was the last day of school for the middle school there, and Emily couldn’t wait to be out so she could just celebrate her birthday in peace.
That wasn’t normal thinking for her.
See, Emily loved school. She would’ve preferred it to go year-round if possible. However, after she’d made the large skip of fourth grade to seventh, that attitude had started to change. It wasn’t that the course material was too hard. That wasn’t a problem at all. In fact, she had wanted to skip straight to eighth grade, but the school had put its food down at seventh. No, it was the other children.
She didn’t fit in. It wasn’t like one of those teenage drama things that people always put on television or wrote about or anything; it was that she was three years younger than most of her classmates.
Emily had always been extremely intelligent for her age. Her only limitation was that she could never work up he courage to ask the questions she needed answers to in class. Therefore she turned to books to allow her to learn at her level of knowledge accumulation. She started simple, learning only the things she needed to know or her classes. Then she borrowed some of the future material… and then the next year’s, and then the year’s after that…. until she was three years ahead of where she should be–and learning faster than many people thought possible. Her fourth grade teacher had even told her parents in a conference that she was an ‘anomaly of the modern age with a mind like a natural information siphon’. Thus had come the grade skipping and inevitable age difference.
A ten year old in a class of thirteen year olds didn’t strike most people as normal, and so any feeble attempt she made at fitting in always fell flat, and from that came the feeling of being the unfitting piece in the picture puzzle, and the abstract concept she’d been pondering: loneliness.
The weird incidents didn’t help either.
There was that time in second grade when a bully had been chasing her, and then she’d passed straight through a locked door. She couldn’t explain how she’d gotten into the principal’s office, which was locked from the inside, while he was still inside it without touching the door at all. Then a year after, the only teacher she’d ever not liked had somehow had all her hair fall out during a lesson after falsely accusing her of hiding all the chalk. That teacher had been more than ready to accuse her least favorite student (Emily) of ‘unwavering eye contact during the incident’, even though nobody was exactly sure how eye contact could make hair fall out.
Thunder clapped over her head, and Emily flinched at the sound before pulling her jacket’s hood over her long, pale blond hair in defense against the first drops of rain, and quickened her pace.
Those were the two words that Emily was greeted with when she opened the door to her parents’ apartment, met with the four smiling faces of her mother, father, little brother, and Grandmother Abby. She returned the smile as she saw how silly they looked in their multicolored birthday hats, especially her grandmother, whose frizzy gray hair hadn’t changed a bit since Emily had last seen her, two whole years ago.
Her grandmother, on her mom’s side, because the one on her dad’s was dead, didn’t visit much, always seeming to be traveling in her retirement to some place or another. It was a genuinely rare sight to see her welcoming her granddaughter home from the last day of school.
Emily realized that pressure was now on her to say something, and so she said, “Guys, my birthday’s at nine o’clock,” as she took off her backpack and jacket, setting the former on the ground and hanging the latter on the coat hooks.
“I know, and I told your parents, “9:37:25, on the second or it won’t be right”, but then insisted on surprising you now. Hello, by the way, dear,” her grandmother said, eyes glowing almost literally, ending her story with a greeting which Emily quietly returned.
“Oh, don’t mind her,” her mother told her father, who looked almost offended by the indirectly offensive comment. She then turned her attention to Emily. “So were you surprised?”
Emily frowned, thinking back to when she’d first opened the door. It didn’t usually take much to startle her, but this time she’d almost been expecting a surprise party, since it was considered to her parents to be a double special occasion, the end of the school year and her birthday. She actually hadn’t been surprised at all this time. “Erm, no, I wasn’t.”
“Come on, mom, why do you even ask her?” Emily’s brother Jonathan, eight years old, said sarcastically, rolling his eyes. “Emily never gets surprised.”
Emily flushed and tried to hide behind her hair as she edged her way towards the left-side wall, starting to feel uncomfortable at the entrance of the apartment.
“Oh come on, Jon, it’s her special day,” her father chided. He then grinned his usual wild grin at his daughter. “We’ve got pizza and cake, Emily, your favorite!”
“I’m lighting the cake this time!” Grandmother Abby said excitedly, hurrying into the kitchen just a little too fast. “I love fire!”
“The candles, mother, not the cake,” Emily’s mom called, running in after grandmother to stop her from potentially lighting the cake on fire, and the rest of the family followed after.
Throughout the whole pizza dinner and awkward conversation until the minute of Emily’s actual birthday, her grandmother seemed to be more fidgety than usual, constantly checking her wristwatch or glancing out the windows as if she was expecting something. Emily wanted to say something, but was unsure of what the consequences might be. Her grandmother was a bit of a wild card, and intimidating as she was old.
The hours went by with an agonizing lack of haste, and the time was 9:36. Emily had protested as usual, but her mother and father insisted that they had to sing happy birthday like they did every year.
Her father turned the lights down a little and then stuck eleven candles in the shape of an eleven in the cake, lighting them with a match so that the candles burned two fiery lines above the frosting, so that it seemed to draw all attention in the room. It was almost as if that fire meant something more than just burning carbon.
“Make a wish, sis,” Jonathan murmured, as fixated on the blazing eleven as she was.
Emily heard her grandmother muttering under her breath. It sounded like she was saying something every second, as if she was counting down the seconds. Focusing on what she was saying, Emily caught that she was on ‘fifteen’, and began counting in her own mind.
Fourteen… What did she wish for? Was there anything she actually wanted… or needed?
Eleven… Did she want to fit in with the other students at Elridge? Was that really what she wanted?
Five… Or did she maybe want to start over with her studies?
Two… Perhaps something that she could learn with others her age… some sort of study she was completely new to. Yes. That was her wish.
One… ‘I wish,’ she thought, closing her eyes, ‘I wish for a chance to start over. To be able to fit in for once.’
One second later, there was a thud on the window.
Emily jumped at the sound, and then blushed at how surprised she’d been by it. She’d almost forgotten that she could hear other sounds besides her grandmother’s whispering, her heartbeat, and her own thoughts. What could that noise have been caused by, though?
Grandmother Abby let out a sound that seemed somewhere in between scolding and disdain, hurrying over towards the glass door that separated the small balcony from the interior of the apartment. “I swear,” she muttered as she flung back the curtains, letting the darkness of the storm stream inside. “This new generation of post owls is so incompetent! What kind of owl are you if you can’t even fly in a storm!”
She opened the door and quickly yanked in a brown… thing by what appeared to be one of its legs before slamming the door shut once more before too much rain could seep in. The thing seemed to Emily to be some sort of feathered bird, but not in the shape of a falcon, hawk, crow, robin, pigeon… that ruled out everything but owl, like her grandmother had said.
“Dear Lord, it’s unconscious!” Emily’s mother exclaimed, seeing the way the owl hung limply upside down. Her father rushed forward and quickly took the owl, setting it down on Jonathan’s unused plate.
“Eww, that’s nasty!” Jon drew himself backward at that action, but then laughed as their father began pressing on the owl’s stomach with his pointer fingers, as if he was pumping its stomach. “Dad, I’m pretty sure that’s not how you wake up an owl.”
“Bah, we don’t need the actual owl!” Grandmother Abby waved a hand in front of her to show the exact extent of how dismissing she was of the owl. She then stared pointedly at her daughter. “Joanna, I certainly hope you at least know what’s going on!”
Emily’s mother sighed. “Yes, I do.” She reached down and removed a pouch from the owl’s leg, and then looked at Emily. “Mom, Emily, you two come with me into the main room. Frank, Jon…” She looked at Emily’s father and Jonathan, the former now poking the owl in between its closed eyes, getting increasingly worried, and the latter still in a fit of laughter over the entire incident. “Just keep doing what you’re doing.”
In the main room, Emily was told to sit down in the chair by her mother, who took a seat on the table island herself, and her grandmother slouched on the couch, to Emily’s left, seeming unperturbed by the events.
Emily slowly sat down, unsure of what was supposed to happen here and what was in the pouch her mother was holding, refusing to let herself sink into the chair’s cushions. It wasn’t too much of a problem for her; she was small and light, and the cushions were pretty solid. She spoke for the first time since the owl had rammed into the window. “Wh-what’s going on?”
Her mother cleared her throat, giving her that almost panicky look she got when she wasn’t sure how to approach a topic. She’d looked the exact same way when Emily had asked her what exactly ‘intercourse’ meant when it was brought up in books. “Well, dear, you know how sometimes those strange things happen to you? Like when you passed straight through a door?”
“Um…” Emily wasn’t sure where this was going, and wherever it was, she already didn’t like it. “Yes?”
“You see, those kinds of things are completely natural for…” Her mother did the motion she often did when she stopped in the middle of a sentence and couldn’t figure out how to complete it without it sounding wrong, where she would briefly bury her face in her hand and sigh. “For… the kind of person you are. Not,” she added hastily. “To say that you’re not normal, which you are completely, just in your own special way…”
Emily felt hurt at that statement. All her life her mother and father had told her that she was as normal as she could possibly be, that she wasn’t different in a bad way at all. Why would that suddenly shift to talking about normal as if it weren’t normal, and instead a bad thing. “B-but what do you mean?”
Grandmother Abby made the scolding/disdainful noise again. “Joanna, I thought you were better at this parenting thing than this!” She gestured towards Emily. “If you don’t stop this right now your daughter’s going to cry!”
Emily was about to say something to the contrary, when her grandmother continued.
“Oh, if you’re going to be such a chicken about it, I’ll tell her!” She reached forward and turned Emily’s shoulders so that they were looking at each other face to face. “Emily, you’re a witch.”
That was the final straw on the camel’s back. Emily couldn’t believe that even her grandmother was talking bad about her, and had stooped to the level of petty insults to do so. “W-well, I see how it is,” she said weakly, feeling tears spring to her eyes. “Thanks for the insults… and the worst birthday ever!” She wiped at her eyes as she rose to walk out, but felt her mother’s hand on her shoulder pushing her back down into her seat rather roughly, and so she sat back down with her arms crossed angrily, biting her lower lip in an attempt to stop her crying.
“I’m sorry about that, Emily,” her mother apologized, her expression sympathetic. “But you can’t leave just yet. Not until we’ve explained.”
“I didn’t mean it as an insult, dear,” her grandmother rolled her eyes. “Why would I? I only said it because it’s the truth. I’m one too, and your mother would be one as well, if I hadn’t been young and stupid and married a muggle.”
Emily wasn’t sure whether to be offended for her mother or not, mostly because she was just too confused at the comment. “A muggle?”
“Nonmagic folk.” Her grandmother waved her hand in what seemed to be a dismissive motion. “Don’t get me wrong, Richard was a perfectly nice man, but he just wasn’t magic.”
Emily began to wonder whether ‘magic’ was some sort of code word for something else, and considered maybe trying to leave again before something ‘magical’ actually happened.
Grandmother Abby sat up all of a sudden, a gleam in her eyes. “But I don’t think I’m the best person for you to talk to right now. Why don’t you just tell Mister Buzzy how you feel?”
Mister Buzzy had been a childhood stuffed animal of Emily’s that she had once used as a mechanism of emotional relief to tell all her darker feelings to. Now she recognized that it was simply a child’s psychological diversion away from the stress of having to have an actual internal confrontation of the issues, but what did that have to do with what was going on right now?
She then felt the familiar fuzzy texture of the stuffed bee on her arm, and jumped as she looked down and saw the yellow and black striped stuffed animal sitting on the arm of the chair she occupied. She slowly, hesitantly took one of the thread fibers of the bee’s fuzzy coat and gingerly lowered it onto the ground, now somewhat scared of the once-friendly Mister Buzzy.
“Mother, stop showing off,” Emily’s mother chided, glaring at Grandmother Abby. “You’re going to scare her.”
“Like that one, dear?” Emily’s grandmother asked with a large, toothy grin. “Short-range, external, summoning apparation. If it’ll prove it to you that magic’s real, I can snap my fingers and make all your clothes disappear just like that.”
Emily suddenly felt inclined to cross her legs and pull down her uniform skirt more than usual.
Her mother cleared her throat almost so loudly that it sounded as if she might have caught some sort of sickness. “My mother’s point is that all those strange incidents you had where things happened that you couldn’t explain were all just caused by you releasing some of your innate magic that you simply couldn’t control. Completely normal.”
“But,” Emily held up her hand to get them to stop talking for a moment. Normally she wouldn’t be that assertive, but desperate times called for desperate measures. “Gran’s magic, and you aren’t, but I am?”
“Yeah, so your parents are muggles.” Grandmother Abby shrugged. “You’ve studied that fancy biology. Remember Punnet Squares? This is the same thing.” She began to trace square diagrams in the air with a finger. “You’ve got two half magic parents, you’ve got a one four chance of ending up with a nonmagic kid. But trace that to the next generation, if two recessive magical traces met up just right, you could get a kid who can do magic! That’s you, dear. Your brother, though…”
Emily nodded, having done the math in her head. “Yeah, I get it. I’m magic, but Jon probably isn’t.”
Her mother nodded along, but kept her worried expression. “Emily? Are you okay? You seem to be taking all this rather calmly.”
Calmly? Calmly?! Emily’s mind was reeling with the complete illogic of this whole situation: the owl, the magic, the pouch–for all she knew, that little bag contained magic beans that she could grow a giant beanstalk with, climb, and steal giant gold from giants! And what was she even supposed to try to feel about all this?!
But on the topic of the bag…
“What’s in the pouch?” Emily pointed at the pouch that her mother was clutching the drawstring to. “You grabbed that because it was important, right?”
“Mail.” Her mother opened up the pouch and pulled out an envelope to large to possibly fit in there. She handed Emily the envelope and closed the bag, the worry lines on her face deepening to levels never before reached.
“Is it my report card?” Emily asked in a voice a few pitches higher than usual.
“Not exactly. Emily, dear, I think that you might need to read this alone so you can think about it. Go on to your and Jon’s room and think it over for a while after you’ve read it. It’s a very big choice, and I don’t want you to decide too hastily.”
Emily slowly took the letter and stared at the address printed in calligraphy red print on the back of the envelope:
Ms. E. Busch
Room Shared with her Brother Jonathan
842 Heights Towers
If the letter itself hadn’t intrigued her enough, now there was the eerily accurate information they had on where she lived.
She stared at the ink on the back of the envelope as she stood up and began to walk out of the room, towards her own.
After her grandmother called out, “And I promise not to make your clothes disappear while you’re thinking!” she tuned out all the noise of her brother’s laughter at her father’s futile attempts to wake the unconscious owl, and of the rain on the window, and even of her own heartbeat. All that mattered was that she was going to read this letter now, and she wasn’t going to let anybody stop her from getting to her room so she could do it.
When she’d finally settled down on her mattress on the bottom of the bunk bed that she and her brother shared, she opened the yellowish envelope (which was rather neatly folded and seemed to be actually glued shut), pulling out the contents, two folded sheets of paper.
She unfolded one first, and found a very elaborately designed heading that, without its elegant design, read:
Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
The rest of the letter read something like this:
Headmaster: Albus Dumbledore
(Order of Merlin, First Class, Grand Sorc., Chf. Warlock, Supreme Magwump, International Confed. of Wizards)
Dear Ms. Busch,
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.
Minerva McGonagall, Deputy Headmistress
Emily refolded the letter, having read this. Unsure of what to do next with it, she slid it back into the envelope, and fell backwards so that she rested flat on the bed. The envelope fluttered to the floor, and she rolled over so that her back was facing toward it.
She just needed time to think about what she’d wanted to do. That was all. That was all she needed. By the time she woke up, she’d be ready to make her decision of whether or not to take this strange acceptance letter, or to go back to her normal life.
But then… wasn’t this exactly what she’d wished for? This was a way to restart her studies with other students her age that were on the same level of a completely new topic, wasn’t it? Why shouldn’t she go? It sure would be cool to learn about magic, especially since she was probably the only one out of the apartment who could even use it, besides her grandmother, but when was she around?
She felt herself dozing off. Today had been a very long day, and she could answer the question tomorrow. She would answer the question tomorrow. She would not make her decision tonight. There was absolutely no way she was going to take such a chance without at least a night’s sleep on–
Grandmother Abby was honestly becoming worried. She had to leave soon. There was that conference in Norway concerning some of the bylaws in the International Laws of Magical Practice. She couldn’t afford to miss that for the world.
Then the door to Emily’s room slammed open, and she walked calmly down the hallway, stopping at the mouth of the hall that led to the main room.
“I’m going to Hogwarts to study magic,” she said quietly, in that same whispery voice that had made Grandmother Abby consider hearing aids a few years ago. Then she turned around and walked back inside her room without another word.