Prologue Part I: Before the Discovery
St. Grogory's Primary School, 2nd September 2003
Sniffling, Holly Potter ran under the big oak tree by the edge of the grounds, buried her head into her knees, and cried. Dudley ruined everything for her. He pushed her around, made fun of her clothes, took her food and even stole the snacks Aunt Petunia would give her once in a while if she didn't do anything "freakish". He always had to spoil her day.
Today was the first day of school. She was finally in year three and two new girls, Angela and Corey, wanted to play with her during break. It was so much fun until her cousin and his friends came and scared them away.
Holly looked up through her black hair and wiped her eyes but more tears fell. This wasn't the first time Dudley scared someone who wanted to be her friend away. Last year it was Emily. Two years ago it was Ava. They both stayed away from her now. The rest of their yearmates did, too. Why did he have to make her upset?
Because you're a freak, she thought, glaring at Dudley.
Dudley kicked a ball high into the air and one of his friends caught it. The boys laughed. She clenched her fists. All she wanted was a friend, someone to play with and share secrets with. Even Dudley, Piers Polkiss, Dennis, Malcolm, and Gordon had each other, and nobody liked them.
Nobody likes you either.
Just as Dudley was about to kick again the ball split, sending him down with a yelp. Holly looked away. She'd done something 'freakish' again. She didn't know how. Whenever she got really angry, something odd would happen and she'd get in big trouble with her family. Her stomach hurt when she saw the break monitors checking over Dudley. What if they found out it was her?
"Are you okay?" said a red-haired boy, looking at her from a few feet away.
Did he know it was her fault? "Yes."
The boy kicked a nearby stone. "Are you sure?"
"Who asked you?" He was going to make fun of her. Dennis did it all the time so Dudley would laugh at her.
"Well, nobody. You just looked sad," he said as he sat down next to her.
"I'm not sad!" She turned away, wiping her cheeks. "Why don't you just leave me alone!"
The boy frowned. "Fine," he said, standing up. He brushed shed grass from his trousers and muttered, "Hope you feel better."
She stared at him in shock as he walked off before looking at Dudley again. He was holding up a piece of the shattered ball. A bunch of their yearmates surrounded him as he puffed out his chest and raised the ruined piece of rubber, like it was a big prize.
Her face soured. Now even more people liked Dudley!
St. Grogory's Primary School, 3rd September 2003
"Good morning," said the red-haired boy cheerfully the next morning, sitting in the empty desk next to her.
Holly frowned. It was the same boy from yesterday at break. "What are you doing here?"
"Sitting," he said and moved his desk closer. "What's your name?"
She narrowed her eyes. Seats slid away from her, not towards her. "Why do you want to know?"
"'Cause I want to be friends."
Friends? This had to be a trick. No one wanted to be her friend. Not with Dudley around. "No."
"But you don't have any," the boy said, confused.
She ignored the pang in her chest and glared at him. She knew she didn't have friends! "I don't need any. Go away."
The boy's cheerful expression fell. "Okay." He took his bag and went to the next closest seat.
Holly leaned against the wall in the corner her desk was next to. The boy didn't want to be her friend. He was probably faking. Dennis did the same thing last year. He told her that he and Dudley weren't friends anymore and that he was sorry for teasing her. Then a few days later he told everyone about the scar on her forehead that she hated and that her Aunt and Uncle didn't get her anything for Christmas. Everybody teased her about it for the rest of the year.
But he didn't seem like the sort to trick her, she thought, looking at him. Could he be telling the truth?
Holly shook her head. No. The boy didn't like her. He'd go away soon enough.
St. Grogory's Primary School, 5th September 2003
"Psst! Holly!" the boy stage-whispered.
Holly grit her teeth and pretended not to hear. Just keep working, she thought. He'll go away.
"Mr Kann," said their teacher, Ms Michaels, from the front of the room. "Is your work complete?"
The boy nodded, holding up a neatly filled out Maths sheet with pride. "Yes Ms Michaels. I finished five whole minutes ago!"
"I finished five whole minutes ago," said Dudley to Piers in an over-the-top boastful tone as he covered his forehead with a fat hand, dramatically leaning back in his seat. "How will I live without work to do?"
Piers and several others laughed.
"What a swot."
The boy turned bright red.
"Mr Dursley, Mr Polkiss," she warned as she sent them a look.
When they went back to their work, Ms Michaels returned her attention to the boy. "If you've completed your work, remain quiet and do not distract your classmates. Do you understand?"
Kann stared at his desk. "Yes Ms Michaels," he muttered.
The room filled with titters before it went silent again. Holly didn't feel bad for him. Kann had to be new. He should have known better. The only person that could be an annoying swot was Elizabeth Hughes, and that was because her parents gave money to the school every year. Even Dudley left her alone.
She looked at him again. His face wasn't red anymore but he was still looking at his desk and twirled his pencil in his right hand. For the rest of class he didn't say a word, even though he clearly knew all the answers when they went over their classwork.
It couldn't hurt to say hello though, maybe during break? She shook off the thought. Today was Friday. By Monday he'd forget about her.
St. Grogory's Primary School, 10th September 2003
"Hi Holly!" said the annoying boy.
For whatever reason, Kann was still talking to her. Every day he would walk in and sit next to her until she told him to leave her alone. He'd whisper to her, getting himself into trouble during class. He'd find her at break and share some odd fact about space—"Nobody knows how many stars there are up there"—before buggering off.
She was tired of it. He wouldn't leave her alone. How many times did she have to say it? She didn't need friends!
"Did you know that—"
"I don't want to talk to you," snapped Holly, throwing a ball against the tree.
"There's a planet that's made out of diamonds!"
"Yeah right." She threw the ball again. "Bother someone else."
"Go away!" she yelled, slamming the ball on the grass.
"Woah," said Alex, watching the ball shoot up into the air like a rocket.
Uh-oh. Holly's stomach dropped when Dudley pranced over with his friends. "Give us the ball!" he said as he stretched out a chubby hand. "Or else!"
"Leave her alone!" said Kann.
"Shut up, no one was talking to you!" Gordon said.
Holly glared at Dudley. "What ball?"
Said ball fell back into her hands.
Dudley gave her an accusing glare and pointed. "That one!"
"Find your own!"
"No! I want it!"
She looked around. A few of their yearmates were watching what was happening, but none of them came to help.
"You can't have it, it's mine," she said, taking a step back.
Dudley cracked his knuckles. Holly swallowed. He wouldn't really hit her, would he? Boys weren't supposed to hit girls, Aunt Petunia always said so!
"Just leave us alone," the boy said.
"Bugger off, you stupid know-it-all," said Piers with a sneer. "This is between us and the weirdo."
Ignoring the laughter, Holly inched further away. If Kann was distracting Dudley, maybe she'd have a chance to get a break monitor.
"You can't tell us what to do," Kann said.
"Yes we can," Dudley said. The rest of his friends blocked the way, trapping them by the tree. "Why are you helping her? Nobody likes her! That's why she's always by herself! Not even the girls talk to her!"
Holly clutched the ball tighter. It was Dudley's fault no one wanted to talk to her, not hers!
"If you want to play with someone, you can play with us," Malcolm said. "We're better than her."
"Yeah. She's just a dumb girl." Dennis sneered.
Holly could feel tears well in her eyes. She just wanted one day where she would be left alone. Being noticed was never a good thing.
Kann tugged at her sleeve, whispering, "Come on Holly, let's go over there."
"We won't let you!" Dudley shouted. "Let's hit them!"
As they ran towards them, Kann pushed her away. "Stay behind me!"
Where are the break monitors? "Help!"
"Shut up freak!" Dudley shouted as he pushed her to the ground.
Dudley threw a punch and sent Kann down too. Piers, Malcolm and Dennis took turns kicking him while Gordon stopped anyone from getting close.
"Stop it, stop it, stop it!" Holly shouted.
Dudley kicked her leg. "Shut up!"
"My word!" Ms Michaels shouted. The other kids scattered as she rushed over to them. "What on Earth happened here?"
"They started it!" said Dudley quickly, pointing a fat finger at her and Alex. His friends nodded.
"Dudley Dursley, I know full well that's a lie!"
Dudley quivered his lip. "But—!"
"No buts! You're in big trouble, and so are the rest of you!"
Holly couldn't help but grin when Ms Michaels sent Dudley and his friends inside. She looked really angry. Malcolm had even started crying!
"Ow," muttered the boy as he got up. His clothes were covered in dirt and his hair had grass in it. "That hurt."
Oh, right. Kann came to help her.
"Are you okay?" she asked.
Holly bit her lip. No one had ever defended her against Dudley or his friends. Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon didn't care, and he scared everyone else away a long time ago. Maybe she was wrong about him.
"Dudley's a twit," he said, shaking grass out of his hair. "And so are his friends."
Everyone knows that, she thought, letting out a snort by mistake. Her eyes widened.
The boy laughed. "That was cool!"
"I'm not supposed to do that." Aunt Petunia said it was unladylike.
"So? It's still cool. Watch this." He stuck two fingers in his mouth, letting out a whistle she had heard from some of Uncle Vernon's old movies. "My Mum doesn't like it."
"And she still lets you?" asked Holly, surprised.
"Yeah. My dad doesn't care," he said as he sat down next to the tree.
After a moment of hesitation, she followed.
The boy's eyes widened as if she took out a gold bar from her pocket.
"What?" she asked when he wouldn't stop staring.
"You're sitting next to me."
"Aren't you going to tell me to leave you alone?"
Holly shook her head. "No. I was thinking that...if maybe..."
But Holly couldn't say that she wanted to be friends. She'd been really rude to him since they met, and Dudley attacking him because of her wouldn't help. There was no way he'd say yes and then she'd look stupid. And girls and boys couldn't be friends. Could they?
"I still want to be friends with you," the boy said quietly.
He shrugged. "I dunno. I just want to."
"Well...okay," she said.
The boy grinned widely. His teeth were slightly crooked and one was missing. "My name is Alex." He held out a hand.
She shook it firmly like Uncle Vernon always told Dudley to do. "I'm Holly," she said, even though he already knew.
"What month is your birthday in?"
"July," she replied.
"Mine's in May. January, February, March, April, May! Hah! I'm older than you. That means you have to listen to me," Alex said proudly.
"No, I don't!" she shouted and jumped to her feet. Who did he think he was? "You can't tell me what to do!"
Alex looked confused. "What?"
She glared at him. "Just because you're older than me doesn't mean you can boss me around!"
"I'm not! I was just..."
"Joking," he said, looking away from her. "I guess I'm not very good at it."
Holly felt her face grew warm. "Oh." She suddenly felt very silly.
"Sorry," he said.
There was silence for a long moment.
"Did you, um, want to sit back down?"
Holly sat. "I'm sorry too," she muttered, looking down at her shabby dress. She hated saying sorry. Her Aunt and Uncle always made her apologize to Dudley, even when she didn't do anything wrong.
"It's okay," said Alex, still not looking at her.
They sat in uncomfortable silence until the bell rang.
"Um," began Alex, "Can I..."
"Can you what?"
"Can I sit next to you in class?"
"That's what you do every day already," said Holly, confused.
"Yeah, but you tell me to bugger off every time."
Holly shrugged. "If you want to, I guess." No one else was going to.
St. Grogory's Primary School, 11th September 2003
"Psst!" Alex mumbled when Ms Michaels turned to the chalkboard.
"What?" she whispered back for the first time.
"Do you play catch?"
"No," she replied and spared a glance at their teacher to make sure she didn't notice. "Do you?"
Alex nodded again. "It's easy."
"Can you show me?"
"Yeah, but we have to get a ball."
Ms Michaels glanced at the clock. "We'll continue when you get back from break," she said, then eyed Alex and Holly. "And a reminder that there's to be no whispering while you're working."
Holly felt herself grow warm. Alex gave a sheepish smile just before the bell rang.
They headed to the storage cupboard where all the play stuff was kept, dodging a crowd of students. Alex handed her a red ball and started tapping his foot.
"Are you okay?"
Alex pinched his face. "Um...I have to use the fa-cil-ities."
Holly frowned. Sometimes, Alex used big words only their teacher knew. "What does that mean?"
He started hopping from foot to foot. "I have to go to the loo."
Ew. "I'll be at the tree."
She went outside. Everyone was already playing, but she knew Alex would be there soon. He was always 'punctual', which he said meant 'on time'. For a boy, he was okay. Alex made her laugh and have fun. He sat with her at lunch yesterday and helped her with their history work. He was really good at learning dates and places, and he didn't make her feel dumb.
Having a boy for a friend also kept Dudley from bothering her. For the rest of yesterday and today, he didn't look at her once. She hoped it would last by tomorrow. Ms Michaels gave out behaviour reports for the week every Friday afternoon, and she knew Dudley's wouldn't be good.
Alex ran over to her. "Back."
She tossed him the ball and sat under the tree. "How do you play?"
"Just toss the ball back and forth."
That was it? Holly thought it would be harder. "Oh, okay."
They took turns tossing the ball and talking.
"Why do you like space so much?" she asked him after he said that moonlight was really reflected sunlight.
"It's really cool," he said. "It's really big and there could be people on other planets!"
Holly thought about it. A planet full of Dudleys would be terrifying. She shuddered. "Yeah, I guess." She tossed the ball back to him.
"So what do your parents do? My mum's a therapist and my dad's an engineer," said Alex proudly. "She helps people and he builds things."
Holly caught the ball and stiffened. "My parents are dead."
There was silence for a long moment.
"Oh," Alex finally said, shifting uneasily. "Sorry."
She tossed the ball back.
Alex scratched his head. "So, um, who do you live with?"
"Dudley and his parents. He's my cousin."
Alex blinked. He looked between her and Dudley in shock before finally saying, "You two don't look alike."
Holly shrugged. She didn't know what her mum and dad looked like, so she had no way of knowing.
Alex watched him and his friends bother the year twos. "Is he like that all the time?"
"Yeah. My Aunt and Uncle give him whatever he wants," she replied crossly. She had to do everything right just so that they'd accept her, while Dudley could do whatever he wanted.
"Oh." He tossed the ball into the air a few times. "Why just use your powers to make him leave you alone?"
"What do you mean?"
"You know, the thing you did with the ball yesterday to make it go really high. It was in the air for a half a minute before it came back down."
He saw? Holly swallowed. "I don't know what you're talking about. It was only a few seconds."
"No, I saw it disappear," said Alex, frowning as he tossed her the ball. "It went really high."
"It was just a few seconds."
"No it wasn't."
"Yes it was."
"No it wasn't!"
"Yes, it was!" said Holly with a scowl, squeezing the ball tightly. "It only took a few seconds! You just weren't looking!"
"I—" began Alex furiously, then took a deep breath. "Fine. Yeah. Maybe it got stuck in the tree?"
Holly nodded quickly, tossing the ball back to him. "Yeah."
Neither of them mentioned it was less bouncy than it was before.
St. Grogory's Primary School, 12th September 2003
"Is your aunt coming?" Alex asked after school.
Holly looked around. She didn't see Dudley or his friends anywhere. "I don't know."
"Don't worry. Mum can drop you off if she doesn't come."
She looked around again. Aunt Petunia picked up and dropped off Dudley every day. She took Holly too, even though she didn't want to because she didn't want to look bad. But if she got the report from Ms Michaels, she wouldn't want her in the car. She probably already left.
As much as she wanted to refuse, Privet Drive was three and a half miles from the school, and she wasn't completely certain of the way there.
"Alright," she said grudgingly, just as a grey car came into view.
"That's my mum," Alex said with a grin and pulled her up as he ran to it. "Mum! Mum! This is my friend, Holly."
The open window revealed a woman around her Aunt's age with chestnut hair and honey brown eyes. She looked at Holly with a kind smile. "Hello dear."
"Hi," she said shyly.
"Do you need a lift, Holly?"
"She does Mum," Alex said before she could reply. Holly shot him a dirty look.
"Do you know where you live?"
She nodded. "Privet Drive."
"That isn't too far from where we are. Let's get you home."
Mrs Kann was a better driver than Aunt Petunia, and they were in Little Whinging in no time at all.
"What's your house number?" asked Mrs Kann as she turned onto Magnolia Road. Like Privet Drive, it was full of large, square houses with perfectly manicured lawns, all owned by large, square owners who drove very clean cars similar to Uncle Vernon's.
"Four," she said. Riding in a car was much more relaxing when she didn't have to worry about Dudley pinching her.
Alex's mum turned onto Hazel Grove and made a right onto Privet Drive. Her stomach gave a funny lurch when she saw Aunt Petunia's car in the driveway.
"That's number four," she said and unbuckled her belt. "Thank you Mrs Kann."
"Not a problem, dear."
"See you Monday!" Alex waved as she slammed the door.
Holly waved back before she walked up to the house. She made sure they had driven away before she let herself in.
"Brat, get over here!" came Uncle Vernon's angry voice.
With a wince, she made her way into the kitchen. The Dursleys sat around the table with Dudley in the middle.
"We got a report from that teacher of yours. Saying our Diddydums and his friends beat up you and another student," said Petunia with a screech. "How dare you?"
That wasn't what happened, but Holly knew better than to say that. "I didn't lie, the teacher saw everything!" said Holly instead even though she knew they wouldn't believe her.
"She made that boy hit me!" Dudley quivered his lip. His eyes filled with fake tears. "And I didn't do anything!"
Dudley's whinging had convinced her Aunt and Uncle to send her to her room for the rest of the day. More than ever, she wished she could get away from Privet Drive.
St. Grogory's Primary School, 24th October 2003
"Morning Holly," said Alex cheerfully.
Holly glowered, watching Dudley run in before she took her seat. "Morning."
He looked over her. "Are you okay?"
Holly opted to cover her bruised and scraped knees rather than answer.
"Belt up," she hissed.
"I just wanna know what's wrong," said Alex, looking upset.
Holly sighed. It wasn't Alex's fault. "Dudley pushed me out of the car because Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon didn't want to get him the Halloween costume he wants."
Alex turned to look at Dudley, who was laughing in a corner with the rest of his friends. "What did your Aunt say?"
Alex looked confused. "But didn't she see him do it?"
"She doesn't care," said Holly, sinking in her seat when Ms Michaels came in.
For the rest of the lesson, Alex was very quiet. He didn't answer any questions or whisper anything to her. It was only when they left the classroom for break that he talked to her.
"Maybe you should go to the nurse," he said as they went outside.
She shook her head. Going to the nurse meant Aunt Petunia would be called and she'd get into trouble again. "It'll go away."
"No. Please don't tell anyone?" Holly said, her eyes boring into his. "Just this once?"
Alex looked between her and Dudley, who was now bullying the year ones. He sighed. "Fine."
She let out a relieved breath. "Thanks Alex."
He didn't respond. They sat in silence under the tree, but it was nice. She took her time gathering the changing leaves around them and putting them into a pile.
"Wanna come to my house after school?" asked Alex suddenly.
Her stack fell over. "What?"
"Do you want to come over to my house after school?" Alex repeated, now more excited. "I wanted to ask earlier, but I kept forgetting."
Holly wasn't surprised at that. She couldn't help but feel doubtful though. "Really?"
"Yeah! I have all sorts of new toys!"
"New toys?" asked Holly in wonder. She never got new toys, or new anything at that. All she had was broken, old stuff that nobody wanted anymore.
"Yeah, and I got a beanbag chair for my birthday. It has planets and stars on it."
"What's a beanbag chair?"
"It's..." Alex furrowed his brow, "a chair that you can sit on and it moves with you."
"Kinda. There's loads of tiny beads in it."
Now she was confused. "Isn't it itchy?"
"No, it's really nice to sit on."
"So will you?" Alex asked hopefully.
Holly frowned. "I dunno. My Aunt and Uncle won't let me."
"Why? It's Friday and we're friends. Friends go to each other's houses."
"I'm not allowed to have friends over."
Alex looked thoughtful for a moment before lighting up. "Yeah, to your house, not mine," he said with a grin.
That wouldn't work with Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon. "They still won't let me."
"But you don't have to tell them where you went."
Holly rolled her eyes. That would just be asking for no food for the weekend. "What if I say no?"
Alex gave her an unblinking stare. "Then I'll have to do this." He widened his eyes and pouted, resembling an adorable puppy.
Holly stared at him in disbelief. It was what Dudley did to get extra pudding at dinner or a new toy from the store, but much cuter. She looked up and watched a red squirrel run across the branches.
Maybe if I ignore it, he'll stop doing it. She glanced back but he was still pouting, now with his head tilted to the side for extra effect.
"Knock it off," she said, feeling her conviction weaken by the second.
But Alex remained silent, still looking at her with puppy-dog eyes. Holly slouched against the tree. "Fine. You win."
He pumped a fist. "Yes! It worked!"
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw an empty area on the pavement and smirked. "Come on," she said, pulling them both to their feet.
Alex stopped cheering and looked at her in confusion. "Why? Where are we going?"
"Spot's free," she said as she walked them over to the chalk bin. Holly examined a bright green piece casually before kneeling down.
"What do you—" Understanding came to his face. "No."
"Yes," said Holly as she drew the squares.
"But I'm a boy!"
"Boys aren't supposed to play hopscotch!"
"And boys aren't supposed to be friends with girls!" she said. Holly knew that he couldn't—and wouldn't—argue with that.
Alex crossed his arms and looked between the court and her in silence. "...Fine," he finally said, not looking very happy.
Holly beamed. "I'll go get some stones!"
"What do engineers do?" she asked after she took a forkful of noodles. The choice to stay for dinner was easy. Mrs Kann had loaded her plate with as much food she wanted. Her plate was almost as full as Alex's! That never happened at her house.
The drive to Alex's house was similar to going to hers', only shorter. They turned into a funny-shaped road called Magnolia Crescent and parked in the first house on the street. While a lot of the houses looked 'identical', his house was different. There were grey lined panels on the roof and small green bushes lining the path instead of flowers. The inside had wooden floors and light brown walls that made the house feel warm and welcoming.
Alex's room was what she expected, too. Space stuff everywhere, with a ceiling painted black that showed all "eighty-eight con-stel-la-tions" when it was dark outside. The beanbag chair was much more comfortable than he made it out to be. She was nearly asleep on it by dinnertime.
Mr Kann, Alex's father, looked surprised for a moment before cracking a grin. "An excellent question, Holly! It greatly depends on what you choose. Civil focuses on things that don't move, like bridges and buildings. Mechanical centres on things that do move, from components to machines to the human body itself."
"Wow, that's really interesting!"
"It is," he nodded. "There is some overlap between fields. Aerospace and mechanical, electrical and computer, chemical and petroleum...there are hundreds of different subsets."
She had no idea what any of that meant, so she asked, "What do you work as, Mr Kann?"
"I'm a mechanical engineer. We're currently creating satellites and researching interplanetary internet at Surrey Satellite Technology."
Alex perked up at that. "Interplanetary internet?"
Mr Kann went into detail about how a computer network would work in space with the speed of light delays and other problems, but Holly was more interested in the idea of creating things. It would be so cool to make things like flying cars and jetpacks, or even helpful stuff like a cloth that dried dishes on its own. Could she design a broomstick from a fairy tale to fly?
That's ridiculous. She wanted to shake her head but speared a meatball instead. If it was possible, someone would have done it already.
"So dad," began Alex, "can normal humans make things happen?"
Oh no. Holly's fork froze on the way to her mouth. Alex, you twit!
His father frowned. "What do you mean?"
"Like making things stay really high up in the air. I know that we saw—I mean, it happened on—um, yeah." He ate a meatball and stared down on his plate.
His parents didn't look pleased with what Alex had said. His father was giving her a strange look, and his mother looked pale. With a gulp, Holly speared a piece of broccoli. Nothing good could come out of this.
"Well, I'm going home," she said fifteen minutes later after polishing her plate. The silence had become too much. "Thank you for the food!"
Mrs Kann smiled. "I'll drive you home dear, it's a bit late to be walking."
Alex leapt from his seat. "I'll come too!"
"Alexander," his father said in a tone that reminded her of Uncle Vernon's whenever Dudley got into trouble.
"Or not." He sat back down.
Holly felt a pang of worry for him. "See you Monday."
"If I'm still alive."
"Where have you been?" started Petunia when she opened the door and saw Holly. "I won't have you—"
"Good evening, Mrs Dursley," said Mrs Kann with narrowed eyes.
Petunia stepped back. She clearly hadn't noticed there was another adult. "Brought her home now, did you? This one is always causing trouble."
"As a matter of fact, Holly has been a delight. My son invited her over and we're happy to have her," Mrs Kann said.
Petunia flustered. "Yes, well. I won't have her burden you any longer."
Holly stiffened. With the word 'burden' came talks about how lucky she was that they decided to take her in and how grateful she should be.
Mrs Kann seemed to know that Aunt Petunia wasn't telling the truth. She pursed her lips. "Actually, we'd like to have her over again. My son's siblings are quite young and he needs friends his age. Especially after that Dudley boy attacked him."
Aunt Petunia went pale and Holly's eyes widened in disbelief. "Yes, well, if the girl—ahem, Holly, agrees, I suppose it's all right."
She looked between the two women and nodded slowly.
Mrs Kann smiled. "Then it's settled." She bent to her level. "You can call us if you need anything."
Little Whinging Play Park, Magnolia Road, 25th March 2004
It's colder up here. Holly shivered as she looked at the ground. She was going to be in so much trouble.
"Holly?" called Alex from below. "Holly!"
She swallowed. It happened again. She had no clue why and now Alex was going to hate her once he found out how strange she was.
Holly wanted to cry.
Alex huffed beneath her. He looked tiny. "You won, okay? Now come out! Mum said we have to go soon!"
"I can't," she whispered. She had no clue how high up she was.
"Up here!" She was never playing hide-and-seek again.
"Where? Keep talking so I can hear you!"
"In the tree! Help! I don't know what happened!"
Alex reached the base of the trunk and looked up. "Woah! How'd you climb that high?"
"I don't know!"
"Will you be able to get down?"
"No! Can you help me?"
"You're really high up!"
"Can you reach the next branch?"
Holly eyed one a few feet away. "I think so!"
"Try to climb to it!"
She calmed her shaky fingers and slowly made her way down.
"There's a few more," Alex said after she was safe. "One's only a few feet away."
They did it again and again. Alex pointed out strong branches for her to climb to and Holly slowly made her way to the ground. As she went further down, there were far fewer branches she could reach. Then, on the second to last branch, she slipped.
I don't want to die, I don't want to die, I don't want to die, she thought, even as her friend rushed towards her. Holly felt something odd, though. The wind didn't rush past her anymore—she wasn't falling as fast as she thought she should. She touched the ground gently with a smile.
"I'm okay!" She turned to Alex.
He looked at her strangely, as if...well, as if she had flown. "You floated," he said matter-of-factly, his eyes wide.
Holly didn't know what to say. "Yeah."
Alex continued to eye her. "That had to be at least a storey high."
She nodded timidly. She knew she should have some bruises, no less, from a fall that high. Her freakishness saved her. But what would happen now? Alex was still staring at her, his face oddly blank.
He's going to leave. He's going to leave and be Dudley's friend now.
"That," began Alex slowly.
Holly tensed. He's going to leave. He's going to leave. He's going to leave.
Then his face widened into a grin. "Was awesome!"
Relief filled her chest. "Really?" she asked.
"Yeah!" nodded Alex eagerly. "You went from rushing to the ground to floating! How'd you do it? Is that how Dudley's ball exploded? And how it took ages for the other one to get to the ground?"
She bit her lip. Could she tell him her secret? He was her best friend and it had been months and he still hadn't gone away. Dennis only lasted a few days. Angela and Corey didn't even last half an hour. If Alex was going to blab, he would have done it already. She could trust him.
"I...I don't know. Sometimes when I'm angry, or sad, or happy, things happen around me. I can't control it, it just happens."
Alex hmmed and put his left hand on his right elbow. He tapped his chin. "So you can't do it whenever you want?"
Holly shook her head.
"Have you ever tried?"
Another shake. "I wish I could. That'd be wicked."
He nodded as if she was a teacher who said something interesting. "I've got an idea. You could practice!"
"Yeah! Like experiments my dad does. What did you want to happen when you were floating?"
Holly shrugged. "I just didn't want to fall."
"Is that what you were thinking?"
"Yeah. I didn't want to get hurt."
"Maybe that's what you need to do!" Alex's eyes sparked with excitement. "You have to really really want it to happen!"
"I don't know if it'll work..."
"It's worth a go. Besides, if you can control it, maybe your Aunt won't be so mean to you."
That was good enough for her. "Okay."
Alex picked up a rock. "Alright, I'm going to toss it and you'll make it float."
Float, float, float. Please float.
Unmoved by her wishes, the rock fell to the ground.
"Don't worry," said Alex. "We'll figure it out."
"We?" said Holly in shock. She thought Alex would give her a few ideas but stay out of it. He wanted to help her?
"Well, yeah," Alex said with a shrug. "There has to be something about it somewhere."
With a happy smile, Holly hugged him as hard as she could. When she let go, Alex gave her a confused look.
"Why'd you hug me?" he asked.
"'Cause I was happy you're still my friend." Did she do something bad? "I'm sorry, I've never hugged anyone before."
Alex gasped. "Never?"
Holly shook her head. Petunia would always hug Dudley and kiss him on the cheek, but not her.
"Oh," Alex said. He frowned. "Well, I guess it's okay sometimes. But no one else can see. Boys don't hug."
Holly grinned and hugged him again. This time, he hugged her back.
Kann house, 3rd July 2004
"Uno," said Holly after placing a red seven.
Alex groaned and picked up a card from the deck. Holly grinned and put down a red four. "Uno out! I win again!"
"I'll shuffle this time," grumbled Alex as he used his foot to mix up the cards.
"I thought winner got to mix-up."
Alex huffed, collecting them. "That was before you won four times in a row."
She giggled as he arranged the deck. "This is fun. How'd you get the game?"
"Dad bought it at Tesco." Alex dealt out the cards. "You first."
Holly dropped a red five on the starting card. "How's summer?"
"Good! We're going to go on holiday soon." He placed a yellow five. "I can't wait!"
Holly paused with her hand on a yellow skip card. "Holiday? When are you going?"
"Next Saturday. My parents want to explore other...places."
She ignored the odd pause and placed the skip followed by a yellow five. "Even with the twins?" she asked as she referenced Alex's younger brother and sister Samuel and Rhea. They were adorable three-year-olds that always hid Alex's things. Holly found the sibling rivalry sweet.
Alex nodded, placing a blue five.
"When will you guys come back?" Holly asked, holding in a breath as she added a blue one.
"I dunno. Dad said he wants to spend at least two weeks there, so that's"—he counted softly—"fourteen days." A green one.
Holly gasped. "That's half of the month!"
"I know. I asked if you could come, but my parents said—"
"I can't leave unless the Dursleys say so." Holly finished annoyed. "Right."
"I'm sorry," Alex said.
"Where are you guys going?"
He immediately looked off to the side. "No clue."
Holly rolled her eyes. "That's rubbish. You know everything." Alex had one of the highest grades in the class. His parents were Doctors, after all.
"No, I don't. Elizabeth scored higher on me on the last test." He frowned. "I was so close too."
"It was one point!"
Alex's competitiveness was something she'd never understand, but at least he wasn't too obnoxious about it. She nudged him to get back to the topic at hand. "Where are you guys going?"
He looked at his cards. "I'm not supposed to say anything. Mum and Dad only told me because I said I'd keep it to myself."
"Please? I won't tell anyone." Granted, she had no one to tell, but that had to count for something, right?
Alex looked at her, uncertain now. "You're not gonna believe me."
Holly put a card down. "Yes I will."
"Positive," Holly grinned and set her cards face down next to her. "Now tell me!"
"We're going into space," Alex said excitedly, forgetting the game entirely. "My dad rented a spaceship and we're going to visit all the planets and stuff. Seeing Mars should be fun and all, but I want to see all of the Galilean moons. Did you know Jupiter's smallest moon, Europa, is covered in ice? Dad says that water might be under the surface! It'll be really cool to visit, don't you think? And then we're going to tour—"
"Wait a minute, did you say you're going to space?" asked Holly, confused. That was impossible.
But Alex seemed to think it was true and nodded so quickly she thought his head would fall off. "Yeah! I mean, there's not a lot there and we'll have to stay inside the ship because the gravity and at-mos-phere of some planets and moons, but Dad said I can add some rocks to my collection—"
"You don't have to lie to me," Holly snapped.
"What do you mean? I'm not lying!" defended Alex.
"Yes you are! You told me it's been almost five years since the last spacewalk!"
"Yeah, but that was before dad told me about the spaceship."
"Spaceship? People don't have spaceships! That's impossible!"
"No it's not!"
"Yes it is!"
Alex crossed his arms. He looked angry. "I knew I shouldn't have told you about my family holiday. It's not like you're going with us."
Holly reeled back as if slapped. How could he? She felt sick. "Yeah? Well...well—"
"Well what?" Alex said, challenging her.
"Don't bring it up then!"
Alex leaned back in his chair and rolled his eyes. "Whatever. You're just jealous."
With a snarl, Holly threw her cards in his face and stormed out of the room, down the stairs and out of the house.
How could he? He's supposed to be my friend! Holly made her way down the Crescent. If he thinks he can lie to me he can bugger off! She crossed the road and entered the Alley through Wisteria Walk.
She kicked a stone. Stupid Alex and his stupid space obsession! Everyone knew only grown-ups with special training could go into space. They had to train for years and years and years and only a few people got the chance to go. Every single VHS tape they watched about space said that! He told her that! Now he was lying to her and she hated it.
In her anger she'd crossed from Wisteria to Hazel Grove and was at Privet Drive. Both cars were gone.
But deep down, she was hurt. She knew Alex and his family were a little strange, but they were always nice to her. She spent more time at number thirty than at number four and had even slept over more than once. Why would they lie to her? Was it because she wasn't part of the family?
Holly kicked off her shoes and fell back on the bed.
"I'm not jealous," she muttered as she wrapped herself in a thin sheet. "I'm not."
Little Whinging play park, 28th July 2004
Holly could feel her dress cling to her back. Her ice lolly was melting faster than she could eat it, and by the time she got to the park, a large chunk fell off the stick.
She glared at the half-melted treat. That was a pound fifty. She tossed the rest away and went to the play area. The swings were free, so she sat there. A few of her yearmates were there with their parents, running through the grass and playing catch. She began to move, going as high up as she could.
I wonder what it would be like to fly? she thought as a summer breeze drifted by. Alex would—
Holly stopped swinging. She wouldn't think about it. Weeks had passed since the fight and he hadn't apologized for lying to her. She would rather he didn't tell her anything at all instead of making something up.
"Holly?" a familiar voice asked.
She didn't turn around. "What?"
"Can—May I sit with you?"
Holly shrugged and he sat on the swing next to her. Neither looked at the other.
"I'm back," he said.
"Clearly." She began to swing again.
Alex followed. "Can I talk to you?"
"Fine," she snapped, stopping for a second time. "What do you want?"
Alex took a deep breath. "I'm sorry for lying to you and calling you jealous. I shouldn't have."
She finally looked at him. He was far less cheerful and seemed sorry for what he did.
"Alright. Where did you really go then?"
"France," he said easily. "We saw the Eiffel Tower, Louvre Museum and loads of other places." He pulled a postcard from his pocket. "See?"
She removed a sticky hand from the chain and held the card by its corners. A photo of the Eiffel Tower was on the back of it, along with a taped picture of him and his family, smiles on their faces as they stood in front of an odd, triangle-shaped building. The beauty of the background was clear even though she was looking through her smudged lenses.
Holly swallowed, handing the card back to him. "Okay."
She looked at him in confusion. What is he going on about—Oh. She stared at the ground in embarrassment. "I'm sorry. For throwing cards in your face."
He patted her back. "It's okay."
They sat in silence for a few minutes.
Alex had an odd expression on his face, looking between her and the sky that was turning orange. "Um...did you want to get something to eat? Mum's picking up lamb curry."
She had never tried curry before. Uncle Vernon said it was too 'foreign'. "Okay."
Kann House, 10th August 2004
"I'll hide this time."
"Because it's your house and you know where all the good spots are."
Alex huffed and covered his eyes. "Fine. One, two, three, four..."
Holly rushed out, tiptoeing past the twins' room and down the stairs. Alex's mum had a patient so they weren't supposed to be playing loud games, but Alex had gotten bored with Uno and there wasn't much else to do.
She dismissed the kitchen and parlour as hiding spots. Outside wasn't an option. The closets were too easy.
"Coming down!" Alex whisper-shouted from the top of the stairway.
Better hurry. The house was larger than it looked. There had to be a spot somewhere.
She could hear pillows hit the ground as Alex looked through the sitting room.
Maybe he won't see my feet if I hide behind here? she thought, looking over the wall hangings. Footsteps came from around the corner and she quickly ducked behind one.
That was close. Holly turned to leave when she noticed the area she was hiding behind wasn't even with the rest of the wall.
"Why's there a door here?"
She turned the handle. It opened easily, revealing a dimly-lit dusty room.
There wasn't much inside. Other than an old record player, an ancient-looking answering machine and some boxes, the room was sparse.
Holly huffed. She had to go fifteen minutes without being found to win, so she was stuck here for a while. She looked through the box of old clothes. They looked like the stuff people used to wear a long time ago, but different. Like a really long coat that went all the way down and didn't open. Holly felt cooler after she tried it on even though it was heavy and too long for her.
The next box was full of old-fashioned books. One title caught her eye.
SO YOUR CHILD IS A SQUIB! by Idris Oakby
"Squib?" That was a strange word. She fixed her glasses and read further.
A Comprehensive Guide created by Squibs for Squibs to pursue their passions to the best of their abilities.
What is a Squib?
A Squib is a non-magical person with two magical parents. They are very rare.
Can Squibs learn magic?
Unfortunately not, but they are capable of seeing through Muggle-Repelling enchantments and caring for magical creatures!
Can Squibs go to Hogwarts?
Hogwarts does not accept non-magical children. They can be accepted as janitorial staff at Hogwarts upon reaching the legal age of an adult (17 in the Wizarding world, 18 in the Muggle world). They can also be accepted as a member of staff, such as a Muggle Studies teacher!
What options do Squibs have?
There are plenty of options for a Squib in the magical world! Education and career opportunities lie in the Muggle world, but in the magical world Squibs can become secretaries or cleaning staff, or if they're really ambitious, a Muggle Studies specialist, or more!
Magic? Magical creatures? Hogwarts? Holly put down the book. Her head was spinning. Magic was real? Was what she could do magic? Was that why her relatives hated her? She could do magic?
She needed to find out more. Most of the books only yielded more Squib stuff, except for one thin title: Magical Concepts Made Easy by —
"Huh, this door's always locked," a voice said.
She slammed the book shut with a yelp. "Alex!"
"Sorry," he replied, but his grin showed he wasn't sorry at all. "You won." Then he frowned. "What's that?"
Holly stood from her crouch and told him everything.
Alex didn't look convinced. "So you think you're a witch?"
"How else would you explain everything?"
He paused. "But magic isn't real."
Holly crossed her arms and huffed. "You think aliens exist."
Alex glared at her but didn't say anything.
"Look, try this on," she said, taking off the robe. "It's really cool."
"I'm not wearing a dress."
"It's not a dress!"
"How would you know?"
"I just know!" She stamped her foot. "Look, just put your hand in it and you'll see."
Alex rolled his eyes but slipped his hand in the sleeve. His eyes widened in shock. "Woah."
"See? I told you," said Holly smugly. "It's a magical robe."
Alex looked bewildered. "That's not possible."
"But it is! And look at this." She picked a book and handed it to him.
"My Life As A Squib by Angus Buchanan? What's a Squib?"
"Someone born without magic. But they have a magical mum and dad," explained Holly.
"Or," corrected Alex briefly as he looked at the Oakby book. "So my mum or dad is a...Squib?"
"Or both of them." She put on a pointy hat. "That's why they have all this magic stuff. What are you doing?"
Alex shifted his armful of books. "We have to learn more, don't we? I don't think mum or dad is going to tell us anything, and we might not be able to get in here again."
"Okay." Holly picked up Magical Concepts eagerly. "We're reading this one first."