Chapter 1 : She is Special
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This wonderful chapter image was made by visenya. @ TDA! Thank you!
Author’s Note: Everything Harry Potter belongs to J. K. Rowling.
Merissa Ashburn managed to finally sneak out of the nursery while her sharp-eyed governess had her attention diverted by several of their priceless china dolls suddenly deciding to talk and sing. The governess’ face had that pinched look suggesting she would be leaving soon even as her younger sisters were squealing with delight about their lively tea party. She would hide just behind the door to the Informal Parlor because she liked to watch who visited her mother. Today’s first visitor was a rather aged lady who stood in the doorway and spoke with no little asperity to their butler who was behaving rather strangely. If she did not know better, she would suspect that his knees were knocking in fright!
Her curiosity grew when the butler did not just take the gray-haired lady’s calling card but escorted her to the Formal Parlor where her mother was sitting as she worked on her embroidery while she waited. Her mother enjoyed this time before the callers arrived, claiming that paying attention to the pattern helped to settle her mind. Merissa hid in the dubious shadows to hear what the lady had to say that could not have waited for their At Home time.
“Mrs. Bricklesworth, Your Grace,” the butler announced before stepping out of the room.
“Is His Grace at home, Your Grace?” Mrs. Bricklesworth asked briskly, tilting her head slightly.
“I believe he is. Might I inquire about…” the Duchess of Trentawn asked as she put her embroidery of the little robins sitting on a branch onto the small side table next to her. She was surprised at the boldness of their visitor to not only visit unfashionably early but also to not show the respect due the position.
“I have rather important news that I need to tell you and your husband,” Mrs. Bricklesworth replied just as quickly.
“What could be so important that it could not wait until a more reasonable hour?” the duchess asked with a touch of confusion, choosing to ignore that most of the conversations from the visiting ladies and gentlemen tended to be gossip.
Mrs. Bricklesworth frowned at the implications that could be drawn from the statement. “The news I have is not the frivolous type.”
“I see.” There was a slight pause as the duchess rang a small bell to call the butler back into the room.
Merissa made certain that she pulled herself further into the shadows because she wanted to hear what news that both of her parents needed to know. This was far more intriguing than the conversations of Betsy and Peggy, both who enjoyed their gossip until Mrs. Dreary, the housekeeper, caught and scolded them before sending them back to work. She watched as the butler left and her father arrived, flustered that he had not finished reading his freshly-pressed morning paper. He never liked having his routine upset.
“Your Grace?” Mrs. Bricklesworth asked with another small nod of her head. “I have important news both you and your wife need to know.”
“What could not have waited another half hour?” he demanded grumpily.
“I know your schedule’s upset, Trent, but…” the duchess trailed off, not quite knowing how to explain the situation.
“Never mind,” he waved off her words like he did so often.
“My news concerns your daughters. Three of them, are there not?” Mrs. Bricklesworth asked without appearing to be really interested in the answer.
“What foul rumors are being said, then?” he bellowed in rage.
“There are no foul rumors,” Mrs. Bricklesworth replied tartly, “but it does concern their education.”
“The governess is just fine,” he snapped at her, “and she’s being paid top sterling.”
“Which you pay because of the odd happenings?” she asked far too innocently, leading them to believe she already knew the answer.
“Of course…” he broke off the rest of his statement. “Wait, where have you heard of these odd happenings?”
“Your eldest daughter is eleven years?” Mrs. Bricklesworth asked, ignoring his demand.
“I do not see why her age matters…” the duchess was still more than a little confused.
“Have you considered sending her to a boarding school?” Mrs. Bricklesworth asked her gently.
“Whatever for?” he snapped. “The governess will do until she takes her bow to society.”
“I see,” Mrs. Bricklesworth sounded very disappointed. “There is a boarding school where she will receive a far better education than her governess can provide.”
“Why should we choose this particular boarding school?” the duchess asked as she wondered in sending their daughter away might be best for the family. It was already difficult to find governesses and tutors given the rumors concerning the odd happenings. While their youngest daughters might be kept in the nursery, it was nearing the time for Merissa to be seen more often.
“Because, Madam, Lady Merissa is special,” Mrs. Bricklesworth replied gently.
“Special, how?” he demanded harshly. “What else has she done besides to make trouble?”
“I see I need to speak plainly,” she said regretfully. “Your three daughters are witches.”
Silence followed her announcement as the duke and duchess stared at her in shock, unable to believe what they had just been told. “MY DAUGHTERS ARE NOT W… NO!” his bellow could be heard through the whole house.
Merissa blinked in surprise and edged closer to the door, more curious than ever to know what was happening. Would her parents allow her to attend this boarding school? She glanced back to see her sisters peeking from the nursery and held up a hand to silence them so she could finish listening.
“They are witches,” Mrs. Bricklesworth explained firmly. “The odd happenings are because of their magic.”
“Then they will not use it,” he decided grimly as the duchess stared with wide-eyed horror, leaning away from their visitor.
“It is not as simple as that, Sir. If they do not learn control – which they will at this school – then every extreme emotion will produce odd results. I would suggest that you accept…” Mrs. Bricklesworth was beginning to lose her temper, surprising everyone that she continued to stand up to the duke instead of backing away and expressing her regrets of having crossed him.
“I will NOT!” His anger rolled off of him as he rudely interrupted their visitor. “There is nothing that…”
“It is imperative that Lady Merissa attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry,” Mrs. Bricklesworth stated firmly, not budging on her opinion.
“How do we know that this is not just a rather bad joke?” the duchess asked softly.
“I see,” Mrs. Bricklesworth remarked slowly and calmly, as if she had not just raised her voice. “Do watch carefully.” She pulled out her wand and waved it at the duchess’ embroidery. It rose into the air and hovered in front of both of them. While they watched, the threads began to wriggle across the fabric and fill in the undone stitches to complete the picture. The duke’s lips pressed together tightly as the duchess gasped in shock. “Do you require more proof? Or do you accept that Lady Merissa will attend Hogwarts?”
“Trent, even if we do not want to believe what we have been told, I believe we must let Merissa attend this Hogwarts. She cannot remain in the nursery much longer. Other will soon begin to wonder about her.” The duchess said after a very long moment. “What a strange name for a school.”
“I can assure you that she will receive an exemplary education while she is there. I, myself, attended Hogwarts at her age,” Mrs. Bricklesworth explained lightly.
“She had better,” he bellowed again as he lost his temper. He could not deny that it was becoming more difficult to leave Merissa behind every time and they were running out of excuses. Too many more times and she may as well not have a Season. If she could not control her odd happenings then she may as well not have a Season. He was not pleased with the thought that the odd happenings, or magic, would dare to mess up his plans for his daughter. “If your school is so great, how come I have not heard of it before now?”
“It is tucked away and known only to those who need to know,” Mrs. Bricklesworth stated easily. “Muggles are not aware of its existence unless their children happen to be blessed with magic.”
“Or cursed,” he muttered.
Merissa crept away as the talk turned to travel plans for arranging coaches and obtaining a suitable companion for the trip as well as trustworthy coachmen. The conversation she had overheard was most interesting and full of information and it could take her days to think through everything she had heard. Would the odd things that happened to her and her sisters stop after attending this Hogwarts? She privately agreed with her mother that it was a rather strange name for a school but it would be lovely if it were true because she was getting tired of having to think up of idiotic excuses for the oddities. There was one thing that she wished she could have seen and that was what the lady had done to convince her parents.
It was one of the longest afternoons of Merissa’s young life. Both her younger sisters wanted to know what she had heard, but she did not think that they could keep a secret and she did not want her parents to know that she was listening in on conversations that did not pertain to her again so she tried turning their attention to the blocks, dolls and other various toys scatters about the nursery.
Once their attention was no longer on her, she snuck away to her room just off of the nursery. They each had a door to their own room that opened into the nursery where all their toys were kept. She had seen a glance or two from her mother noticing that she did not play with the toys as much anymore. Instead, she could be found reading a book or drawing, even though the results were nothing of which to be proud. After catching the second look, she began to wonder if her mother might be considering moving her to a grown-up room. She smiled at the thought because she would be allowed to eat at the table with her parents instead of in the nursery and her lessons would change to what she would need to know for her debut in seven years.
She sat at her desk and idly drew as she thought. What would Hogwarts be like exactly? There would be no nurseries, of that she was fairly certain as one had to be at least eleven to attend. It also sounded as if she would be so far away from her family and she would not get to see her mother or sisters. Her feelings were confused on not seeing them even if they could drive her up a wall most of the time.
A soft knock on her door pulled her from her thoughts and she turned to see her mother opening it slightly. “Merissa, might I come in?”
“Yes, Mother,” Merissa put her pencil back in its holder and stood next to her small desk.
Her mother smiled as she crossed the room, past the bookcases full of books and the white iron frame bed with rose pink drapes. She picked up the drawing Merissa had been working on. “I see we will need to include drawing and painting lessons. However, I suspect you were listening downstairs.”
“Listening downstairs, Mother?” Merissa tried to look innocent, but failed.
A small smile touched her mother’s lips. “Indeed,” she said as she placed the drawing back on the desk and looked around the room. “This summer will be a time of great change for you. I have instructed Betsy to move your belongings to the Lavender Room.”
Merissa’s eyes lit up with happiness, “I love that room, Mother!”
Her mother chuckled softly, “I know. How many times have I caught you in that room? Come with me.”
She followed her mother to her new room. To one side, there was a table set with a modest tea. Merissa waited until her mother settled herself before sitting in a chair with her mother’s permission. Her mother remained silent as she poured them both a cup of tea. Merissa tried her best to copy her mother.
Finally her mother put her cup back on its saucer. “I am certain you already know that your father and I had a visitor earlier today.”
Merissa looked down at the table, unable to meet her mother’s eyes.
“I suspected as much, however there is still more information,” her mother continued gently.
Merissa looked up at her mother, “More information?”
“From whom you received this gift is uncertain,” her mother continued speaking softly. “As with any other gift, it must be trained in order to gain control. This will be especially important for you should you wish to continue in the various social aspects of life.”
“Should I wish to continue in the social aspects of life?” Merissa wished she did not feel like she was parroting.
Her mother artfully raised an eyebrow, “Your Season?”
Merissa blushed. How could she have forgotten about her Season?
“Your professor has convinced your father and me to send you to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.” Her mother watched her carefully as she explained their positions. “We will still hold you to very high standards. Do you understand?”
Merissa nodded, “Yes, Mother.”
“Your father is drafting a letter of introduction that he will send to Hogwarts. Your professor has left a list of items to be brought with you. However, we will write to the shops and have the supplies delivered to the school to await your arrival. The uniform we will have sent here and Betsy can hem the skirts for you.”
“I get to wear a uniform?” Merissa’s eyes lit up.
“It appears so,” he mother replied gently. “I also expect you to write home often. I will look forward to the post and your sisters will be anxious to hear from you.”
“I promise, Mother,” Merissa assured her.
“One last change,” her mother paused as if trying to figure out how best to explain. “Miss Smythe will no longer be your governess. Professor Bricklesworth suggested and we have arranged for a wizarding governess, a Miss Prewett. She is highly recommended. You will begin your studies with her until Mrs. Bellum arrives to escort you to Hogwarts.”
“Yes, Mother,” Merissa’s mind was already turning to what magic she could learn before even stepping one foot at Hogwarts.
“I will own that I will enjoy not having to search for a governess every few months due to magical antics,” her mother took another sip of tea. She put her cup down when she noticed Betsy waiting by the door. “I must go, Merissa. Betsy will clear the table and move your belongings to this room.” She motioned for Betsy to approach and took a small package from her. “Professor Bricklesworth left this book for you to read privately.”
“Yes, Mother,” Merissa took the package carefully and waited until both her mother and Betsy left the room. She turned the package over in her hands before carefully removing the brown paper. “History of Magic in the British Isles,” she read softly, not knowing if Betsy was near. She sat in the window seat and opened the book.
The next day, Merissa was walking quietly, hoping to find a book in her father’s library and was in the foyer when Governess Prewett knocked on the door. The butler passed by her and paused at the door, giving her a significant look before pointing to the Informal Parlor and waited until she had joined her mother before opening the door. When he announced the new governess, Merissa was sitting beside her mother, trying to keep her feet from swinging. The governess curtsied and looked curiously at Merissa who blushed before standing to give a small curtsy.
“Governess Prewett?” the duchess asked with a small smile.
“Yes, Your Grace,” Governess Prewett looked plain in a simple plaid dress with her bright red hair pulled sharply into a bun which was hidden under her hat which had a small bird and a nest on it.
“Please, sit. We have much to discuss,” the duchess gestured to another chair. “I was informed that you are of the… wizarding community?”
“Yes, Madam,” Governess Prewett answered delicately. “Professor Bricklesworth spoke with me about tutoring your daughters as they are gifted with special abilities which Muggle governesses find difficult to comprehend.”
“Muggle?” the duchess frowned at the word.
“I beg your pardon,” Governess Prewett blushed, “a Muggle is a non-wizarding person.”
“I take no offense, though I would appreciate no discussions of magic in front of my husband. He is not receptive at this time,” the duchess answered. “I find it difficult to believe but I also cannot refute what I have seen.”
Governess Prewett nodded once in understanding. “Might I meet Lady Merissa’s younger sisters?”
“You have not asked about your half-day, holidays, living accommodations or wages!” the duchess was astonished.
Governess Prewett smiled, “I expect to receive exactly what I earn, Madam.”
The duchess chuckled as she rang a small bell. When Betsy appeared, she asked, “Please bring Isabelle and Violet.” Betsy bobbed and returned quickly with two young children in tow. She curtsied and the twins wobbled as they tried to do the same. “As you can see, Isabelle and Violet are twins and will soon be turning five. Isabelle is the more daring twin,” she gestured to the twin on the right whose brown hair hung in braids that were about to fall out and her dress was mussed. “Violet is not so adventuresome,” her light brown hair had been braided into a crown with small curls dangling in the back. Surprisingly her dress was neat.
“I accept the position,” Governess Prewett said after considering the two young girls. “In normal circumstances, they could wait until eleven to being learning control, but it is evident that they need to learn sooner.” She studied Merissa for a moment. “I am surprised that representatives from the Ministry have not already visited and arranged for these lessons.”
The duchess looked worried, “A visit from representatives from the Ministry?”
“I apologize, Madam,” Governess Prewett explained hurriedly. “The Ministry for Magic has a department whose task is to deal with under-aged magic. In cases where the young witch or wizard is blessed with strong magic and live in non-wizarding areas, they arrange for lessons in control.”
“Interesting,” the duchess considered whether they had received a visit from an unknown person. “Perhaps I should write to this Ministry asking if they have sent a representative.”
“If you like, Madam, I could send an inquiry to them.” Governess Prewett offered.
The duchess sighed with relief. “Wonderful! Betsy will help you get settled.”
Merissa watched as her new governess led her sisters from the room as buttons started falling from the ceiling. The governess only smiled before stating a word she did not quite understand that made the buttons disappear and the twins look at her with shock.
“You were sneaking to your father’s library?” her mother asked once they were alone, knowing the answer.
“A lady does not mar her features,” her mother reminded her daughter, “and sit tall.”
“Yes, Mother,” Merissa replied trying to sit straighter in her chair.
“How much have you studied in the book your professor gave you?” she looked at her eldest child with pride.
“A few chapters,” Merissa brushed her brown hair from her face as she wished once more that her hair would stay in curls or braids. “I was curious about something written in the book and wanted to look in father’s encyclopedia.”
“I would suggest you delay looking in the encyclopedia. I will bring it to your room later. Go practice the pianoforte, please.” Her mother smiled.
“Yes, Mother,” Merissa inwardly sighed as she entered the music room. She did not like playing the pianoforte and was more interested in other instruments. However, her mother felt she should learn the pianoforte first. She sat on the bench and held her fingers over the keys. Slowly she began practicing her scales and winced as she immediately hit the wrong notes.
It had been two months since Merissa had moved into the Lavender Room and her daily routine had changed considerably. She spent every morning with her mother as she began learning to embroider, draw and reluctantly practiced the pianoforte. While her mother sat at her desk managing the household accounts, Merissa wrote practice letters to accept or decline an invitation from a list her mother handed her. Writing these letters were more difficult that Merissa had believed because each letter depended on both the rank as well as what the invitation was for. Her handwriting also had to be neat and tidy, even if it had not reached the flourishes that her mother’s script held. She was also given carefully written lists to memorize the different ways to greet another depending on their status. Before they took their break for lunch, which included lessons on comportment and etiquette, she was given another list containing the names of their peers and what event to which she would invite them.
After lunch, she went upstairs to the nursery to study reading, writing and arithmetic from Governess Prewett who insisted on the correct answers because she would find all three extremely useful while at school. Once she was dismissed from lessons, she would study the book Professor Bricklesworth had given her and write out the practice invitations to give her mother after dinner.
Dinner was served promptly in the Dining Room which still fascinated Merissa. She would hand her mother the practice invitations before sitting in her chair at the side of the table as her parents sat at each end. While she ate her dinner in silence, she would listen to her parents talk about their plans for the evening. Over pudding, her mother would read through the practice invitations and gently suggest corrections. Her father would frown at the errors though they were now less severe than when she first began writing her invitations.
Directly after dinner, Merissa and her mother would sit in the Informal Parlor and Merissa would practice her curtsies which also depended on their peer’s rank. When her father joined them, he would quiz her on simple arithmetic before dismissing her for the evening.
Merissa woke this particular morning when Betsy opened the curtains. She hurried to the window, ignoring Betsy’s gasp, and looked outside and smiled when she saw that the day had dawned clear and bright. She was especially happy about this because it was her sisters’ fifth birthday. Both would be very excited as this day had been the only topic they had been able to talk about for the past week! Part of that reason was simple – a birthday was treated as if it was a holiday and they could do as they wish. There were no lessons or practicing music.
She crossed her room to her wardrobe and pulled out two cloth-wrapped presents. She had worked very hard on the watercolors and her mother had ordered gilded wooden frames for them. She sincerely hoped that her sisters would like her presents as she carefully placed the present back into her wardrobe.
During the next two months, their time in London drew to a close and they had moved back to the country. Merissa’s lessons still continued as she tried to improve her correspondence and increase her list of accomplishments that would one day include etiquette, dance and music.
On the day she was to leave, she tried to keep from fidgeting as she sat with her parents in the Formal Parlor waiting for Mrs. Bellum to arrive. Her school trunks had been loaded into the carriage and a pouch of money sat on the table beside her silent father. Mrs. Bellum would make certain that it was used for travel expenses. Her mother cried softly while he father’s temper quickly frayed.
Just as her father lost the last of his patience, there was a knock on the front door. The butler escorted a lady who was dressed in half-mourning into the Formal parlor before shutting the doors behind her. Her dress was a drab gray and her bonnet matched. The lace decorating both dress and bonnet were well-worn purple that had faded while the black ribbing stood out. “Your Graces?” she looked between the duke and duchess before her gaze settled on Merissa. “Lady Merissa, I see Professor Bricklesworth was not elaborating.”
“Elaborating what?” the duke demanded as Merissa studied the lady who would escort her to her new school. Merissa through she looked very much like a grandmother should and wondered if she might be able to persuade Mrs. Bellum into purchasing sweet biscuits.
Her father’s tone did not appear to ruffle Mrs. Bellum in the least. “Is Lady Merissa ready to leave?”
“Yes,” he grumbled. “The coach is in the back already loaded. Take this for travel expenses.”
“Thank you, Sir,” Mrs. Bellum took the pouch before stuffing it in her reticule then turned to Merissa. “If you would, please make your good-byes. It may be some time before you see your family again.” She stepped away to study the various framed embroidery displayed on the wall.
Merissa hugged her mother and her father who was still in a sour mood. Her mother whispered tidbits in her ear before finally letting go. “Try to pay more attention to your professors than you have your governesses, please?”
“Yes, Mother,” Merissa promised. She felt funny, like a cross between waking up Christmas morning and seeing the presents piled high around the Christmas tree and being told by your mother that you were going to visit Auntie Cornelia with her. It was not that she did not like Auntie Cornelia but she never had anything nice to say about anyone and she always lectured Merissa the entire time. She never sat up straight enough or still enough and a smile earned a frown.
Mrs. Bellum nodded. “I believe we must be on our way now.” She followed the family to the back of the house where Merissa waited until Mrs. Bellum had been handed up into the coach. Merissa was surprised when the footman held his hand out to help her in the same way. Trying to copy her mother, she placed her hand on his as she climbed into the carriage and sat next to Mrs. Bellum who pulled out a strange-looking small book. Merissa could have sworn, had she been allowed to swear, that the picture on the front moved.
With a crack of the whip, the coach pulled away from everything Merissa had known.
“Do you think she will be safe at Hogwarts?” her mother worried as the carriage turned the corner and disappeared from view. “What if…”
“Enough,” her father interrupted. “She must attend that school if you want to sponsor her Season. She cannot be doing those odd things.” He went back inside, shutting the door behind him.
“I do hope this was not a mistake,” her mother whispered to no one. “Perhaps we should have…” she shook her head to clear the unhappy thought away. The footman opened the door for her as she went back into their home still unable to shake her worry.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this chapter! I really enjoy reading about the Victorian era and decided to try my hand at writing in this era. I can see so many different stories that can be written that take place in this timeframe. And yes, while at this particular time, the train has been invented, I've noticed that the wizarding world tends to not make scientific advancements as quickly as the Muggle world and they have not incorporated the train into their way of life yet.
There are a few points that I’ve been concentrating on to improve my stories: 1) balancing description and dialogue, 2) the story’s flow, and 3) removing stative verbs from my stories. I’d really appreciate a note letting me know how I did or what I could improve!
Thank you very much for your constructive criticism!
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