The only reason I got to go to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry was because my old school burned down. The fire had apparently been started by a student's dropped lantern in a corner of the library that no one noticed until it was too late. It was horrible to see all those books go up in smoke, watching from outside. It was even worse when I found out the librarian, my favorite of all the staff, had died there.
In fact, I almost felt guilty when Hogwarts responded to my plea for a late admission and scholarship to their school with an affirmative. I had dreamed of going to Hogwarts ever since I was twelve or so, when I found out Harry Potter went there. But my family had some qualms about my going off to boarding school at eleven, so I went to Karen Kelley Memorial Academy of Magic, a day school nearer to home, instead. Not that it was a bad school, but after I began reading about all the things Harry Potter had done, I was fixed on Hogwarts. I even stopped reading the Daily Prophet when it so suddenly changed its opinion on him, saying he was dangerous, unbalanced, attention-seeking - they say love is blind, and it's true: I fell in love without ever meeting in person the object of my affections.
On the morning of August 31st, 1995, I pushed my trolley through the train station, trying to find the barrier between Platforms 9 and 10 through all the crowds and hubbub, as I had been told that the entrance to Platform 9 3/4 was there. It was a great deal more difficult to find it than I expected, and not once did I even catch a glimpse of Harry Potter.
Finally, feeling slightly dejected, I found the entrance to the Platform. Wheeling my large luggage trolley through the barrier, I took in the marvelous sight of the Hogwarts Express. It was, I thought, the first day of the rest of my life. And I was, for the most part correct. But I certainly never would have guessed what the rest of my life would be like.
I was quite a bit early for the train, but I wasn't alone - there were quite a few other students on the train when I arrived. Mostly prefects, I think. None of the people there noticed that there was a new student in an upper class. I think it must have had something to do with my looks. People with mouse-brown hair and spectacles tend to pass unnoticed.
As I boarded the train, I thought about how people on the platform ignored me. It's because I'm boring, I thought. No one pays attention to a plain, quiet person. I need to become a more interesting person. But how can I just become more interesting?
It was a bit of a problem. Making friends was not my strong suit, being not naturally outgoing. It was a very select group of people who ever got to hear me speak when not spoken to. But what could I change... quickly?
There was always hair dye and color contacts. There were plenty of wizard things that could do that. Although... something just felt wrong about changing my hair color, even though it would make me more interesting, certainly. I guess I knew my parents would kill me if I changed my hair. But what about my name?
Mary Sue Smith. Boooooring. No one named Mary Sue Smith ever went on to do great things. Andromielle would be such a better name than Mary Sue. Or Kylina, for that matter. Or Candie, or Serenity. Or Lenora. Yeah, Lenora sounds good - kind of dark and mysterious. But Lenora Smith doesn't sound right. So what about... Lenora Starbright! Yeah!
It was then that the door to my compartment slid open. A girl about my age stood in the doorway. She had brown hair, like mine, drawn back into a long braid. The girl reminded me of me - quiet, unassuming, generally nice. "Sorry," she said, "but do you mind if I share your compartment?"
My new life begins now, I reminded myself, and smiled. "No problem. I'm Lenora Starbright, who are you?"
"Susan Bones. Good to meet you. I don't think I've seen you around before?" asked the girl, extending a hand.
"No, you wouldn't have," I said, thinking quickly. "I just transferred from a foreign school, overseas. I'll be in fifth year. What house are you in?" I asked, hoping she was a Gryffindor and could introduce me to Harry Potter.
"Hufflepuff," she said, shattering that hope. "Don't let anyone tell you Hufflepuff is the house for the sad, stupid duffers - we're really not. But everyone thinks we are, even though the house attributes are fairness and loyalty. Honestly." Susan shrugged, and smiled sheepishly. "So... have you been reading the Daily Prophet recently, being out of the country and all?"
"Oh, I subscribe," I said. "Wild about the Triwizard Tournament last year. I thought Harry Potter was really brave, going through with all of it, even though he was just a fourth-year. I wish I could have seen it..." Susan's face went impassive, and I realized my mistake.
"Oh, I'm so sorry..." Cedric Diggory, the first Hogwarts champion, had died last year in what the Prophet had called a freak accident during the third task. I had forgotten he was a Hufflepuff. I guess it never seemed like a Hufflepuff sort of thing to me, the Triwizard Tournament.
Susan took a deep breath. "It's okay. I know you didn't mean anything. I was just kind of hoping it really hadn't happened in the first place, I guess. Cedric was really popular in our house..." She trailed off, staring out the window. It was time for a subject change.
"So, what are the teachers like here?"
Susan was my first friend at Hogwarts, and probably my best friend, although I can't give myself the honour of saying I was her best friend. I guess that's why she was a Hufflepuff - patient, loyal, trustworthy. She stuck by me, even when I was having bad times, and when no one else could look at me without sniggering.
Later, on the train, Susan's friends Eloise Midgen and Justin Finch-Fletchey joined us in the compartment. I introduced myself, again, as Lenora Starbright. And so my new life begins, I thought, smugly. People liked me, and I was interesting, not just a bookish girl who liked hiding in the library. I told them about my studies in an international academy of magic over in Japan, and began to re-invent my entire life. It was amazing how everything fell into place for me.
As I stepped out of our carriage, later, I walked confidently toward the doors of Hogwarts, my new school, and my new life. I could already hear the news spreading about me, the fabulous transfer student who studied in Japan and saw a phoenix in the wild, once.
"Mary Sue Smith?" called a voice.
I jumped. "Yes?" I replied, on reflex, and then realized the fatal error I had made. As I walked away with Professor McGonagall, I could see a lot of people smirking at me out of the corner of my eye.
Bugger, I thought.
Author's Quick Note: Now edited slightly!