It had been a long time since she used her powers. After her birth family left hurriedly for Spain and Jennifer Honey formally adopted the young girl, Matilda’s frustrations and anger dissolved overnight, replaced with a warmth and love in her heart that hadn’t been there before. She either didn’t have the compulsions to act out in her special way or she simply couldn’t if she didn’t have the anger to fuel her. Whatever the reason was, Matilda didn’t mind, nor did she try to exercise her gifts again. That is, until the owl came.
Matilda heard a strange tapping that roused her from a deep sleep. Squinting at her bedside clock, it was nearly midnight. She figured she was imagining things and pulled her Punky Brewster duvet over her head.
The tapping echoed again, this time more persistent. Matilda froze, pretending if she didn’t move, the noise would go away. But she was not a dumb child and knew she wasn’t alone.
Bravely, she peered over the hem of the duvet and could just make out an ominous shadow outside her window. She instantly started screaming.
Miss Honey must have had springs in her feet, because she bounced through Matilda’s bedroom door within a split second. Her mousy hair was tightly coiled in pink foamy curlers and made a frightful halo around her night crème-covered face, which startled Matilda even more.
“What is it?” she cried, rushing to Matilda, who was still releasing a disturbing shriek. The angry tapping continued and Miss Honey joined Matilda in her panicked song when she saw what was on the other side of the glass.
A rather plain and regular-sized horned owl impatiently bonked his beak against the window. His spread wings made him look awful fearsome, however, and one of his talons gripped a thick square. It was surely a frightening sight to see an owl at the window when one wasn’t expecting such a visitor but, he wasn’t mean-looking and the strange indifference in his amber eyes gave Miss Honey a peculiar thought.
“Matilda, calm down! I think.. I think he has a delivery.”
Miss Honey crept cautiously toward the window, despite Matilda’s anxious whimpers and pleadings for her to step away. The owl politely stepped aside on the sill to let Miss Honey push open one of the hinged windows and waited until she lunged backward before letting himself in. He hopped in front of Matilda’s bed, leaving the letter on the floor, then turned his head up to stare at her expectantly.
“Open it,” Miss Honey whispered.
Matilda reached for the letter but before her fingertips could graze it, it flew right into her open hand. Miss Honey tried to muffle a cry of surprise – it had been nearly a year since she adopted Matilda and almost that long since she saw her use her gift.
The owl preened under his wing, bored.
Matilda turned the square over. It was thick and beige with a browned edge, perhaps from fire or dirt from being carried by an owl. A red circle of wax sealed it shut; the wax was still a bit warm and for some reason that gave Matilda the chills. She carefully picked at the seal and the envelope opened up. She stared at it for a few moments, using the moonlight to read its contents.
“What does it say?”
Matilda looked up at her adoptive mother, with a mix of confusion, fear, joy, and anger on her face all at once. “Here. Read it for yourself.”
Miss Honey took the letter, sat down on the be next to Matilda, and began reading.
“To Miss Matilda Honey nee Wordwood”
Matilda stiffened at the mention of her old name.
“12 Haddenham Road Stokenchurch, Buckinghamshire.
Dear Miss Honey,
We are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted at Hogwart’s School of Witchcraft and..”
The elder Miss Honey glanced up at the owl, who was watching her with unblinking eyes.
“..and Wizardry. Please find enclosed a list of all necessary books and equipment. Term begins on 1 September. We await your owl by no later than 31 July. Yours sincerely, Minerva McGonagall. Deputy Headmistress.
Post-script: it is generally unconventional for Hogwart’s to accept students before their 11th birthday; your exquisite talents have been noted and are reason to extend an invitation three years early. Please arrive one week prior to term commencement for special instruction and orientation.”
Matilda and Miss Honey sat in silence, the former staring steely ahead at the wall, which made the latter nervous.
“Sweetheart?” Miss Honey gently laid her hand on the girl’s knee. It was then she noticed Matilda was trembling.
“Don’t you see it?” Matilda hissed with a stiff jaw. She was trying hard to keep from crying, but a couple tears streaked down her cheeks. “It’s my parents. They’ve found me. They probably got kicked out of Spain and now they’re back and now they want me back. Mikey probably needs a kidney transplant or something stupid, and that’s why they’re looking for me. It’s just some stupid trick!” Matilda lunged from her bed, snatching her robe and wrapping herself in it. “Well, they can’t have me!” And with that, she took off running.
“Wait!” Miss Honey yelled, chasing after her. The owl, suddenly interested in the commotion, followed on silent wings.
Matilda ignored them both, frantically running down the narrow stairs, out the front door, and into the street. The rage. The fury. It had been dormant for so long and now rushed back like an angry tide, sweeping in and washing away all the good things that had been there, carrying it all away. A storm raged, creating huge waves that crashed relentlessly at the wall around her heart, whittling it down until anger washed over it and consumed her. It felt wrong but also so good. She hadn’t felt this way in a long time and it scared her a bit. But then she padded past the neighbor’s stupid, ugly lawn gnome that leered at Matilda every day when she walked by it on the way to school and with one simple flick of her wrist, the putrid little man exploded into a million plastic bits.
“Matilda!” Miss Honey was catching up. “Stop!”
She did not. Matilda picked up the pace. It was liberating. She dreamed of finally getting back her stupid parents and her stupid brother. It took this unwelcome intrusion of theirs to finally liberate her from the pent-up feelings she had smushed deep down and ignored. What fantasies she had of exacting her revenge!
“Matilda!” Miss Honey’s voice was sharp, frantic.
Matilda concentrated on the light bulbs in the street lamps above her. Each popped as she scurried past, leaving a trail of darkness behind her.
“Matilda, that is enough!”
Suddenly, there was light in the darkness. A warm green glow surrounded her and suspended her in mid-step. Matilda realized she was frozen in the air, held by whatever mysterious light encased her. She struggled to free herself but whatever imprisoned her was much stronger than she. Shuffling footsteps came up behind her and the owl circled above.
Sighing, Miss Honey twisted a curler back into her hair that had loosened. “Matilda.”
Matilda’s eyes nearly bugged out of her head. She couldn’t speak, but her face said it all.
Miss Honey crooked her mouth into an apologetic half-smile. “I’ll let you go. But you can’t run off.” She whisked her hand in the air and Matilda went crashing to the concrete sidewalk.
Miss Honey crouched down to be at eye-level with her daughter. “That’s not a letter from your parents. And that’s not a prank.”
Matilda opened and closed her mouth like a dumb fish. Words escaped her. “Um, wha..?” was all she could utter.
“What is this?” Miss Honey held up the letter, now crumpled and worse for the wear. “It’s an invitation to a very special school.”
“H-how do you know? How do you know it’s real? How do you know it’s special?”
“Because, my dear,” Miss Honey said. “I was a student at Hogwart’s.”
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