The shelter

A young girl receives her Hogwarts letter in the middle of the London blitz. She belongs to Rowling.

A bomb exploded not far from them. She could feel the ground shake as the flames illuminated the clouded sky for a short moment before the darkness embraced them yet again. The piercing whistle of the air alarm, which had been drowned out by the explosion, returned full scale. She huddled beneath a low wall, praying that none of the debris thrown up by the bomb would hit her. She waited until the explosion had silenced, and then slowly counted to ten under her breath before she started to run again.

Just in front of her she could see the dark shape that was her mother on her way towards the shelter, just as herself. The pale light that emitted from her wand looked like a single firefly, lost and confused in the dark city. She caught up with her mother in the street corner, just as another bomb hit. Simultaneously they threw themselves to the ground. Her mother cried out a panting "Protego" and she could see the air shimmer as the shield formed in front of them. None of the debris hit them, however, and they jumped up to their feet again. She held her mother's hand hard as they ran as fast as they could down the street.

At last they managed to reach the shelter. It was an old basement, hurriedly reinforced to serve as a refuge for the people of London. The door was firmly shut, but it was quickly opened once they started to beat at it. They were let in by a worried-looking man and walked past worried looking people. Her mother had put her wand away before they reached the shelter. It was a secret that no one else must know about.

There were not many people in the basement. Most of the people who used to live here had either left the city altogether or searched for shelter in the underground, so she and her mother managed to find a room for themselves in the back of the shelter. The small window was firmly shut, and there even was an old mattress on the floor. They threw themselves at it and at last they could allow themselves to let the shock and terror of the bombing resurface. She cried for a long time in her mother's arms, feeling her warm hands gently stroking her hair, listening to the small words of comfort.

They were startled by a knock.

The door was closed behind them, but the knock was not from there. It was from the window. It was a small polite knock, but steadily growing louder. The window was far too small for a person to fit through.

They exchanged a glance. Her mother looked frightened, but she walked over to the window anyway, and after a few moments fumbling with the hatch she opened it. The flames and the explosions could be seen outside, but most of it was blocked by the appearance in the window.

It was an owl.

Not a particularly large owl, but it moved purposefully as it leapt into the room. She couldn't help screaming, but her mother did suddenly not look frightened at all. In fact, she looked relieved.

"What does it want?" she screamed as the bird approached her, but her mother nodded at her and closed the window.

"It has got a letter for you, I think. Why don't you take a look, dear?"

And really, the owl carried a large envelope in its claws. As she cautiously stretched out for it, the bird obediently let go of it and she took it.

"Normally the owls expect some kind of treat for their services," her mother said, "but I think it will accept a 'thank you' due to the circumstances..." But she didn't listen. She stared transfixed at the envelope. It had her name on it.

"It is... for me? What's this, mother?" she asked, nonplussed.

"Aren't you going to open it?" her mother smiled, so she did, and she read the letter with rising surprise.

"Mum!" she cried after having read the first lines. "It's an invitation to a school. It says I'm to go to..."

"... Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry!" her mother filled in with a large grin on her face, contrasting greatly to her haunted expression just a few minutes ago. She gave her daughter a warm hug. "Oh Myrtle!" she cried. "I am so happy for you. I knew you had magic in you, I just knew it. And now you too will be allowed to go to that wonderful place. I am so glad for your sake."

"Wow... mum, that is great!" Myrtle said, trying to make sense of recent events. "It's your old school, isn't it? The one you have told me about."

"Yes it is!" Her mother laughed. "Tomorrow, as soon as it is safe to walk the streets, we will go to Diagon Alley and get you a wand and some robes and everything else you need, and then I will take you to Kings Cross station and you can go away from this crazy town and this crazy war." She bent down and looked straight into her daughter's eyes. "I'll miss you, Myrtle. But you'll have a wonderful time. You will get friends and you can learn magic, proper magic and not the little tricks I have tried to teach you. And most important, you will be safe. There are no bombs there, no air strikes. Nothing will harm you at Hogwarts."

Outside another explosion was heard, closer to the shelter this time. In another part of the basement they could hear someone cry. Myrtle glanced at the letter again. She felt the word spin, but the excitement her mother radiated was catching. She smiled back at her.

"I know I'll love it mum!" she said, and she meant it.