Swinging her legs underneath the table, Arabella hummed to herself and steadied her quill on the parchment. She took her time in perfecting the window of the pet shop she had drawn, adding in a criss-cross pattern to the windows' frames.
"Has the mail come yet?"
As her sister, Lorena, walked into the kitchen, Arabella stopped humming and glanced out the window. She had been hoping that today would be the day the owl came with her Hogwarts letter—just as she had every day that week. September 1st was drawing closer, and she needed to adequately prepare for her first year at school.
"If you'd been awake earlier, maybe you would know if it has or hasn't," their father said from behind his copy of The Daily Prophet.
Lorena rolled her eyes and sat down. As she reached for the pumpkin juice, she almost knocked over Arabella's ink pot. Just in time, the brunette managed to catch the pot before any ink spilt and ruined her drawing.
"Be careful, Laurie!"
Lorena rolled her eyes again. "What's that supposed to be?"
Arabella lifted her chin. "It's Diagon Alley, of course. See? That's the bookshop. And there, that's the wand shop."
"That looks nothing like Diagon Alley," Lorena replied with a snort.
"It's not my fault I've never been there before."
She looked back down at her drawing and sighed. She had had to go off what she thought the shopping district looked like, based mainly on the tales her sister told. Her parents never really shopped in Diagon Alley; her mother preferred to do groceries in the local Muggle village, and whenever the woman needed new robes, she would go with their father. The only exception was when Lorena needed to buy her school supplies each year. Arabella had been deemed too young to go with them the first three years, and the previous year, her father had forced her to stay home and help him tidy up his already neat office.
It didn't matter, though; soon, she would need to buy her own school supplies, and she would finally be able to see what Diagon Alley looked like for herself.
"I think it looks wonderful, dear. Is that a pet store?"
Arabella beamed at her mother. "Yes! And see, there's a cat—"
Once again, Arabella caught her ink pot before it spilt over her work. She didn't reprimand her sister for knocking it over, though. Instead, she smiled as a large, brown barn owl soared towards the open window.
She watched as the bird skidded across the table, stopping just before it knocked their father's plate of toast to the floor. There was a pile of letters clutched in its beak, and as she craned her neck to get a better look, she caught a glimpse of a red seal on one of the cream-coloured envelopes.
Arabella's heart raced as Lorena snatched up the letters and flipped through them.
"Anything for me, dear?" their mother asked.
Without looking up, Lorena held the envelopes out, clutching the one with the red seal. "There's a letter for you from Aunt Charlotte, and the rest are bills."
"What about me? My Hogwarts letter should be there," Arabella said, standing up.
She tried to pry the envelope with the seal out of her sister's hand, but Lorena held the letter to her chest and glared at her.
"This is my letter, see?" her sister said, ripping open the envelope. "It says 'Lorena,' There's nothing for you."
Arabella's eyes swivelled to the envelopes in their mother's hands, none of which appeared to have her name or any red seals on them. When her eyes trailed up to their mother's face, she saw the woman quickly glance at their father before giving her a small smile.
"Perhaps, perhaps they've sent your letter with Lorena's? You know, just to save a bit of paper, I'm sure. Here, let me look at that."
"Hey! It's just my—"
With a sharp look, their mother took Lorena's envelope out of her hand and flipped through the pieces of parchment inside. Arabella could feel her heart thudding against her chest as she waited for her mother to pull out her list.
It felt like an eternity before she finally pulled out a piece of parchment, and after glancing at their father again, she gave Arabella another smile.
"Here it is: a list of equipment and books for Arabella Cornelia Figg," she said, holding it up.
She tried to get a better look, but her mother then stood and walked over to the cupboard where her bag was. She folded the list back up and tucked it inside her purse.
"There, it seems we have quite a lot of shopping to do. We'll go next Saturday," she said, ignoring the way their father cleared his throat.
Arabella quickly pushed down her disappointment at not getting to see her letter herself and grinned. She was finally going to have her first trip to Diagon Alley, and nothing could ruin it.
Arabella rolled onto her left side, before flipping back to her right. She couldn't help it; she was finally going to Diagon Alley in the morning, and her excitement simply left no room in her mind to contemplate sleep. Her fingers drummed on the top of her blankets as she hummed a tune and thought about where they would go first. Did Diagon Alley have a sweet shop? Did goblins really work in the bank like Lorena said they did?
"Will you be quiet? You sound like an Erumpent," Lorena muttered.
"Sorry," she whispered, but her fingers continued to tap against her blanket.
Arabella turned to face her sister's bed. "What's it like? Do you think Mum will maybe let us get a pet now I'm going, too?"
Her sister sighed and opened her eyes. She gave Arabella a long look before saying, "Look, Diagon Alley is just another shopping area. It's not that great."
"If you can't sleep, why don't you go get a drink?" Lorena turned away and closed her eyes.
Arabella tried to do the same, but when images of goblins ran through her mind, she huffed and threw off her blankets. Tumbling out of bed, she headed out of their bedroom and down the hallway. She wasn't really thirsty, but if she worked on her drawing a little more it would help the time pass faster.
She paused, however, as a pool of light flooded the hallway. Tip-toeing up to the kitchen door, she peered through the crack and saw that her parents were sitting at the table.
"This is ridiculous!"
When her father spoke, she quickly ducked back into the hallway, sure he was angry that she was still up. His next words, however, made her realise that he was speaking to her mother instead.
"I've told you, Lilith, this is not a good idea. In fact, I forbid it."
"Forbid it? This is 1945, not 1912. Besides, I've already told the girls we're going tomorrow," her mother said.
Arabella pressed her back against the wall, sighing. Her parents never usually argued, but when they did, it was almost always about money. In all her enthusiasm to shop, she hadn't thought about how much the items on her school list might cost.
"All you're doing is getting her hopes up," her father said, hitting the table.
"Shh! You'll wake them up! Look, she'll have fun tomorrow. Who knows? Maybe something will change with all that magic in the air…"
She hated to admit it, but Arabella could understand why her father was frustrated. Her mother seemed to be hooked on the new Magic Lottery the Prophet had been publishing, hoping that she would somehow beat the million-to-one odds and win thousands of Galleons.
Her father was silent for a moment. Biting her lip, she peered through the door again to see that he was massaging his forehead. Her mother was wringing her hands together.
With a heavy sigh, her father said, "We've known for years now, Lilith. We just can't force it; she's not ready."
"She has to be! I was, you were, Lorena is. The other children will not be kind to her if—"
"Forget those other children. Will it be worth it having her see all those things only to tell her she can't have them?"
Her mother looked like she was about to burst into tears, and her father looked no better.
Arabella quietly backed away from the door. She still desperately wanted to go to Diagon Alley, but now, she knew she would have to focus only on the necessary items for school rather than trivial things like sweets.
"Alright, I think I've got all the books I need. Can we head over to Amanuensis Quills now?" Lorena asked, dumping a pile of textbooks onto the counter.
"Hold on, your sister might want to look at some books first," their mother said, smiling at her.
Arabella grinned back, her chest swelling with excitement. She loved the smell of books, and with a few weeks of summer still left, she would have plenty of time to get a head start on some spells. Perhaps her very first display of magic would come from performing a spell perfectly on the first go? That would certainly be something interesting to tell her new classmates.
"Why? It's not like she—"
"This trip is for your sister, too, Lorena," their mother said, cutting her sister off.
Arabella's cheeks burned, and she remembered the conversation she had heard the night before. "It's okay, Mum; I can just use Lorena's old books. All I want is my wand, anyway," she said, smiling at her.
Her mother looked a little uncomfortable but nodded. "Alright."
Arabella grinned, and as her mother paid for her sister's books, she danced about the store. They had already passed by the wand shop several times that morning, but every time they had, Lorena would suddenly remember she needed to tick something else off her list. She didn't mind, though; one of those stops had been at Eeylops Owl Emporium, and she would have happily stayed all day playing with the Kneazle kittens inside.
"Will you calm down? You're acting like a Squ—you're embarrassing yourself!" Lorena hissed as she danced from Flourish and Blotts to Amanuensis.
Arabella shrugged and slowed down to a walk. When they entered the quill store, however, her dancing resumed.
"Wow! I didn't realise how many quills there were!" she said, spinning in a circle and taking in the enormous shelves of quills in all different shapes, colours, and sizes.
"Alright, girls, you can each pick out a special item," their mother said, clapping her hands together.
Lorena smiled and headed straight for a table of glitter-filled ink pots. Arabella hesitated, but when her mother nodded and smiled, she walked over to an assorted box of quills and parchment that were on sale.
She ran her hand over the quills, marvelling at how soft their feathers were. Her eyes were soon drawn to something else in the box though, and she beckoned her mother over.
"That looks pretty."
Arabella nodded, trailing a finger over the parchment and quill set. The quill itself was quite ordinary, but the border around the parchment was decorated with tiny black and white cats. It was perfect.
"Are you all set, Lorena?" When her sister walked over, her hand full of a variety of quills and ink pots, her mother smiled.
"Excellent," she said, heading to the counter.
Arabella watched as her mother handed over a few Sickles, but she didn't look the least bit worried about doing so. If anything, she appeared to be quite relieved.
"Alright, your father is probably wondering where we are," her mother said, glancing at the silver watch on her wrist.
Arabella had been disappointed when their father had refused to go with them that morning, and she couldn't wait to tell him what he had missed out on. However, there was something important they were all forgetting.
"I still have to get my wand, silly," Arabella said, skipping out the door.
By now, she knew where Ollivanders was, and she headed straight for the tall stone building at the end of the street. She looked over her shoulder to see if her mother and Lorena were following, but they were still at the quill shop's door, sharing a weird look.
"Are you coming?"
Their mother quickly plastered a smile on her face. "Of course."
She saw Lorena tug on her sleeve, but her mother continued walking, and soon, they were all standing inside the wand shop.
"Welcome to Ollivanders, makers of fine wands since 382BC. I'm Garrick Ollivander; how may I help you today?"
Arabella gasped as a man with a tuft of greying brown hair appeared out of nowhere, before giggling when he gave a small bow.
"Ahh, another Figg. A pleasure," he said, his silver eyes twinkling.
"H-how did you know?"
The man's eyes continued twinkling as he stood up and walked over to one of the ceiling-high shelves. Flicking his fingers over the rows of boxes, he tutted before pulling out one.
"Ah, this is the one," he said, bringing the box over to the counter. He waved her over, taking the lid off. "Dragon heartstring, 12 inches; quite like your sister's. Go on, give it a wave."
She wasn't sure who was more nervous: herself, whose hands were suddenly trembling with anticipation, or her mother and sister, both of whom were worrying their lips. They were probably scared that she'd do what Lorena had apparently done and accidentally set the store on fire.
Gulping, Arabella closed her eyes and gave the wand a flick. It felt like just an ordinary stick in her hand, but part of her was sure there was a small jolt when she flicked it.
"Is everything alright?" she asked, opening her eyes and expecting to see something alight. When everything looked exactly the same, she relaxed and smiled at her mother.
Her mother didn't return it, however, nor did the shop owner. Arabella turned instead to Lorena, waiting for the regular snarky remark, but her brown eyes were focused on the shop's dusty floorboards.
"Shall we try another?" her mother said and turned to Ollivander.
The man gave a curt nod and quickly pulled out another box. "Try this one, young lady," he said, handing her another wand.
Arabella relaxed. This time, she kept her eyes open as she flicked the wand, sure a spark or a flame or something would happen. The wand simply gave a quick hiss, however, like a flame being doused by water.
"Perhaps one of these will work?" her mother said, plucking a random wand from a shelf.
The owner walked over to her and placed a hand over hers. "Madam, may I speak with you for a moment?"
As her mother and the owner engaged in a whispered conversation, Arabella glanced over at Lorena. She was hoping to ask if this had happened to her, but her sister was still staring at the floor. When she turned back to her mother, it was to see her glaring at Ollivander.
"I think it best if we just buy a wand and be done with it," her mother said.
"Madam, I've seen this happen many times before… You just have to accept that she is—"
Arabella looked back and forth from the man to her mother. They continued to glare at each other, her mother's gaze fiercer than his.
"There is no shame in being a Squib, madam, but there is no use in trying to change it, either," he said, turning to Arabella. "I'm afraid the wand chooses the wizard, and only a wizard."
Her mouth opened and closed, but she couldn't seem to find the right words. Squib? Did he just call her a Squib? Her heart pounded in her ear, and she started to feel a little dizzy. Sure, she had yet to show magical talent, but she was just a late bloomer like her father; he hadn't displayed signs of magical ability until he was nine.
"No, I got my letter. Show him, Mum," she said, shaking her head.
Her mother chewed on her lip, her eyes shimmering with tears. "I—"
No. No, no, no. It wasn't true; it couldn't be. "But the shopping…"
Her own eyes began to tear up, her body trembling. Surely it was all a joke? The man had probably placed a few fake wands about, or knew that her family was poor and thought they wouldn't be able to pay for his products. Yes, that was it.
"Ha! Haha! You got me," she said, smiling around at them. No one returned it.
She felt a hand on her shoulder, and through her tears, she saw that Lorena was looking at her.
Her sister shook her head and said, "I'm sorry, Bella. I did tell you not to get your hopes up."
No, no, no!
Her head continued to pound, and she dropped her smile. Taking a last look to see if any of them would crack a smile, only to be met with serious, concerned gazes, she swallowed.
"I don't think I'll need this after all, sir," she said, placing the wand in her hand on the counter.
"Arabella, dear, I'm sor—"
"Can we please just go home? I'm tired."
"We could visit Sugarplum's—"
Arabella turned on her heel and left the store, her tears now freely falling. She quickened her pace as her mother and sister called after her. Just a few hours earlier, she couldn't wait to go to Diagon Alley and yet now, all she wanted was to leave.
Perhaps if she did, she would be able to figure out what was worse: not being a witch, or having her family lie that she was one.