An owl flew silently through the London night, the night that is never quite dark, never quite still. The owls disliked London, but it was unquestionably the best place in England to buy things, and their destination was the home of one of the best buyers in the nation. This owl, however, had a different purpose to its many fellows who join its silent route. In emerald green ink, the letter it carried was not addressed to the buyer, Talia Levine, but her daughter. It was not the first letter she had ever received by owl, but it was unquestionably the most important.

The daughter in question was at that moment attempting to get to sleep. The apartment smelt of owls. It always smelt of owls. She buried her head in her pillow, the few stalks of lavender contained within providing some relief from the owl smell. In the daytime, she burnt scented candles. Owls were not her favourite creatures. Their claws scratched on the windowledge. Their impatient hoots kept her awake. Tomorrow afternoon was all Maths, and how was she expected to stay awake then when she couldn't get to sleep? Every night was the same. She turned onto her side again and tried to relax, to block out the owl noise and the owl smell and the chaos happening the other side of the partition wall.

Finally, the owl touched down on the windowledge, talons sinking into the well-worn grooves. Well-mannered, he waited patiently until the room's present collection of owls set off, struggling with the four corners of a large wooden box. The windows are larger than they look. The owl carefully entered the room and dropped his small letter. Talia looked at the owl's livery.

"Hogwarts, hmm?" she muttered. "I have a small consignment for you to take back, if you wouldn't mind. For Dumbledore himself."

The owl registered its consent - not precisely nodding, a certain kind of blink - and Talia attached the small plastic bag to his leg. A design on the front of the bag proclaimed 'Sherbet Lemons'. Hopping up to the windowsill, the owl exited through the other side of the window, as there was already another waiting where he entered. This next owl was going to have to wait a little longer, however, as Talia turned her attention to the letter.


Almost asleep, nose deep in her pillow, Kestra groaned as the door flew open and in burst her mother, overexcitedly waving a rather nondescript envelope. Kestra raised her head to mutter sleepily at the unwelcome intruder. "Go away."

"Kestra! Guess what this is!" exclaimed Talia, undeterred by the lack of enthusiasm from her unresponsive daughter, waving the envelope almost in Kestra's face.

"Can it wait?" muttered Kestra, although she did not hold out much hope for this, taking in the emerald green, handwritten address; exactly as Talia had described to her, too many times.

"This, Kestra, is your Hogwarts letter," announced Talia grandly. Standing there expectantly, she waited for a reaction, which failed entirely to materialise.

Kestra was unsurprised by the news, and although she could understand why Talia would choose to wake her up about this, she could not think of anything more worthwhile to do than attempt to get her mother out of the room as soon as possible. Hogwarts may not care about SAT grades, but this did not lessen her wish to avoid the humiliation that failure would bring.

"Oh, Kes! Can't you get even a little excited?" pleaded Talia, forced by the tension in the air to break the silence, knowing that her enthusiasm had once again been defeated by Kestra's indifference. She loved her daughter dearly, but despaired of ever understanding her.

"Too late at night." Kestra turned over, facing away from her mother, a clear signal that the conversation was over. Burying her face back in her pillow, she heard the sigh of disappointment, the careful closing of the door, the impatient hoots of the waiting owls. Sleep did not come easily, but it came.


The letter was waiting for her at breakfast. It was pointedly ignored as she took the two slices of bread from the cupboard and toasted herself two golden slices, casually moved out of her way as she sat to eat. After breakfast, her lunch and schoolbooks were carefully packed, the letter left unopened on the table. Kestra felt that she already knew those aspects of its contents that were of immediate importance, and the details could wait.

Everyone else at Kestra's school had someone to drive them up to the grand oak doors, in massive SUVs or sleek sports cars. Talia was never awake in time to take her daughter to school, and didn't have anywhere to park a road vehicle. In the past, Kestra was woken by the ugly brown screech owl that Talia used to dote on, the taxi driver collecting her from the door of the apartment. By the time of the letter, she was considered old enough to wake herself at the correct time (which was useful, as the screech owl had disappeared), and the taxi driver waited outside. It not being in her nature to complain, she climbed silently into the typically old and battered taxi, greeted the driver quietly, and took out her reading book to while away the journey. She held the firm belief that there were always ways of coping with the circumstances that one was given without making a fuss.

The approach to Kestra's school was an imposing affair, deliberately so. Large wrought-iron gates opened onto a wooded drive which finally deposited those who dared to venture this far into a discrete car park, outside the main entrance. At this point Kestra thanked the driver and left the car. She has arrived, as it has been ever since she first became aware of such things and had a few quiet words with her driver, before the other children arrive in their expensive vehicles with their pitying glances for the girl in the taxi cab. Kestra has always found it relatively easy to tolerate many things, but pity, especially the patronising mock pity of the other girls, was not among them.


Talia did not wake until mid-morning. The letter was waiting for her, too, silent and uncomplaining on the table. She turned it over, and saw it was unopened. She thought of her daughter, imagined her laughing and joking with her Muggle friends. The doubts began to creep into her mind, the doubts that her mother had expressed when she had offered to bring up Kestra with the other Levines in Wales, that her father had expressed with his disappointment when she announced she would still pursue her career and support her daughter herself. Perhaps Kestra didn't want to go to Hogwarts, didn't want to learn magic, perhaps she was quite happy in the muggle world, magic characterised for her only by her nocturnal mother and her smelly owls.

Naturally, Talia was wrong. Kestra neither laughed nor joked with her friends, because she did not feel she quite understood their humour, which seemed to mostly involve making fun of anyone they felt was beneath them. Kestra certainly didn't want to go to Queen Mary's, or Sacred Heart, or whichever private girls' school was considered acceptable by her peers. Kestra had no particular love of the talent she had for making things occur that should not, such as when the girl who had informed everyone that Kestra did not know who her father was had repeatedly found that her homework, or her gym kit, was simply not there any more, but neither did she particularly dislike it. As for being happy, Kestra was not precisely sure what that was. She was reasonably content at the prospect of going to Hogwarts, and that was quite sufficient, she felt.

By the time Kestra returned home, Talia had built her worries into a fury of guilt and self-recrimination. A large shipment of sugar was making its way to a troll-hunting patrol in the Midlands, and a supply of chocolate biscuits was about to arrive at the manufactory where the Every Flavour Jelly Beans are made. Kestra walked quietly in the door, placing her schoolbag on the sofa and bringing her lunchbox through to the kitchen, where Talia was frantically burning dinner.

"I'll get the letter, and we can read it over tea," said Kestra, pre-empting any suggestions by Talia. "I didn't want to open it this morning because I'm sure we'll want to discuss aspects of it," she explained. Talia turned off the ring on which some peas were merrily boiling over, gingerly fished the casserole out of the oven with worn brown dragon-hide gloves, and nodded to her daughter, who was trying to find a space on the chaotic work-surface for her lunchbox.

"Just put it on the drainer for now," suggested Talia, preoccupied by her attempts to remove the lid from the casserole dish despite the sealing power of burned-on sauce.

Kestra followed the suggestion, and then took the letter and sat at her place, carefully and neatly detaching the wax seal, inspecting the animals imprinted within the four quarters of the crest. They were not particularly recognisable inscribed in wax, but Kestra knew them anyway, from her mother's ramblings about Hogwarts that she had listened to every teatime since she had first raised the issue of where she was to apply to after primary school. Hufflepuff's badger. Ravenclaw's eagle. Gryffindor's lion. Slytherin's snake. She was not entirely sure there was a house for tidy, neat, undemanding people. Probably Ravenclaw was her best match, although she considered her scholastic ability to be only average.

Talia presented her with a plateful of slightly burnt chicken casserole, and sat behind her own plate with an eager expression. Kestra put down the seal she had been studying and, removing the letter from its envelope, began to read.

"I am writing to inform you that you have a place at Hogwarts' School of Witchcraft and Wizardry," began Kestra.

"You see, I told you we didn't need to worry about Queen Mary's or wherever it was," interrupted Talia, a desperate cheerfulness in her voice. Kestra merely nodded and continued.

"Please find enclosed a list of all necessary books and equipment."

"Oh yes, your equipment!" exclaimed Talia, real excitement in her tone this time. "I'm sure you'll love Diagon Alley, you can buy absolutely anything there, you know," she enthused.

"Can I just finish reading the letter?" she asked, continuing before an answer was given. "Term begins on 1 September. We await your owl by no later than 31 July. Yours sincerely, Minerva McGonagall, Deputy Headmistress."

Kestra spent the next hour, in between mouthfuls of her perfectly serviceable if rather burnt dinner, paying polite attention to her mother's enthusiastic flow of information. She could tell that something else was wrong, but experience in handling her mother told her that it was best to let it come out in its own time.

"Isn't it all so exciting?" asked Talia, after momentarily running out of vital facts to impart. Kestra was about to reply with some meaningless pleasantry, but the look on her mother's face implied that there was more behind the question than Talia's usual enthusiasm.

"I am glad that Hogwarts want me, Talia. Really, I am," replied Kestra, with more sincerity than she could remember speaking with for many years. Whatever Hogwarts was like, it couldn't be as difficult as being a fatherless child in the private school system, where family status was almost overridingly important.

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