Chapter 2 : Start to an Adventure
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A/N: Everything Harry Potter belongs to J. K. Rowling.
“Sit up straight, Lady Merissa,” Widow Bellum remarked off-handedly. “One must keep up one’s appearance at all times.”
“Yes, Madam Bellum,” Merissa replied automatically as she straightened to sit taller and absently wiped imaginary creases from her skirt. She had taken Widow Bellum’s advice to wear a simple frock instead of her uniform, especially when she had been assured that no student was expected to wear their uniform the day they arrived because it was far too dusty while traveling.
She looked unseeing out the window as she wished she was home with her parents and sisters instead of the coach. They had been traveling for nearly two days and, thanks to Widow Bellum, had stayed in fine establishments where they had been catered to very much.
She wanted the journey to be done and was finding it harder to ignore the aches from sitting for far too long. She sneaked a peak at her companion. While Merissa was wearing a pale blue frock, Widow Bellum had chosen to wear a different style of gown than she had the first day they met though the new gown was still in the colors of half-mourning. The dress continued to remind her of a picture she had once seen depicting a medieval scene. Widow Bellum didn’t seem to have any problems with their journey when her mother would have requested they rest a full day before starting their travels once again.
“No frowning. A young lady does not mar her expression of its perfection.”
Merissa just barely refrained from rolling her eyes before she replied, “Yes, Madam Bellum.”
A click turned her attention and she turned to stare at the watch fob held by Widow Bellum. It must have been too long a trip as her eyes were now deceiving her. Had she been allowed to swear, she would have sworn to seeing several small stars and a tiny moon spinning about with nothing holding them to the gold pocket watch. She blinked before leaning a little closer to see if her eyes were playing tricks on her.
“We are making excellent time,” Widow Bellum stated easily, smiling as she put her watch away. “You should be there easily for the first day. It is a very important day. Sit up straight.”
Merissa stopped leaning towards Widow Bellum and sat up straight as requested. “Why?” She was curious, in spite of her fatigue.
Widow Bellum chuckled. “There is the Sorting Ceremony, of course. Then there is the Headmaster’s speech and announcements as well as the Welcome Feast.” She waved her hand about indicating there was far more to be experienced than told.
“What exactly is a Sorting Ceremony?” Merissa asked, deciding to take the small chance that her questions would be answered.
“It is how your House is decided upon. However, that is all I am able to tell you.” She smiled indulgently. “It is far better experienced than explained. You will do nicely though. No worries there.”
“My house?” Merissa was confused for they had left her house far behind for they had been on the dusty road for several days now.
“There are four Houses. Capital H, my dear. They are Gryffindor, which was my House when I attended school, Slytherin, Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw.” Widow Bellum waited patiently for the other questions she knew were waiting to be asked. Merissa spent her time trying the names for several minutes to Widow Bellum’s delight. “The Houses were named after the Founders,” Widow Bellum continued, “who were Godric Gryffindor, Salazar Slytherin, Helga Hufflepuff and Rowena Ravenclaw.”
A tingle of excitement shot through Merissa at their names and her eyes sparkled with curiosity as she leaned towards Widow Bellum, “Who were they, exactly?”
“They were strong, cunning, loyal and wise wizards and witches. After several years, Slytherin left because he was unhappy.” Widow Bellum explained easily, having introduced Hogwarts to many a new Muggle-born. When the Headmaster had asked for volunteers to bring the new students to Hogwarts, she had been one of many who had offered their services. They had been tasked with bringing the new student to Hogwarts in the safest possible manner without using magic. However, in all her years of introducing the wizarding world, she had seen only a few new students who had the lively curiosity that Merissa displayed so freely.
“Unhappy? Why?” Merissa leaned forward this time in eager anticipation of the answer.
“Because, my dear, he did not agree with the others about the education of the Muggle-born children.” Widow Bellum said delicately, not wishing to speak ill of the Founder though she disagreed with him on many points.
“What did he think?” Merissa waited with wide-eyes, sensing there was more to the story than she was being told. That in of itself wasn’t new, nearly every adult she knew would only tell you the parts of the story they felt was proper. She didn’t like not knowing what was happening around her.
“He believed that the school ought to admit only those of pure wizarding ancestry. You must remember that the Middle Ages were fraught with terrible danger. Much more so than now as one could lose their life instead of their reputation.” Widow Bellum tried to keep her annoyance from her voice since she didn’t want Merissa to stop asking questions.
“Why didn’t he like Muggle-borns?” Merissa sat back, pouting a little at the latest revelation, surprised that Widow Bellum had explained when her mother certainly would not have done so and neither would her Nanny or Governess.
“He didn’t believe them to be trust-worthy,” Widow Bellum replied lightly. Merissa would soon learn about the distasteful events and opinions, but she also didn’t want to take away Merissa’s innocence on the Pure-blood and Muggle-born issue. Of course, given the fact that wizards and witches were all once Muggle-born…
“What rubbish,” Merissa scowled, deliberately ignoring the reminder not to cause wrinkles. “What utter nonsense.”
Widow Bellum couldn’t hide her smile.
“What happened after he left Hogwarts?” Merissa watched Widow Bellum carefully.
“No one can say for certain. He and a handful of students left Hogwarts and were never seen or heard from again.” Widow Bellum answered in a whisper as if she were telling Merissa a very great secret.
“An intrigue?” Merissa couldn’t help but be interested. “How…”
“Exciting? Diverting?” Widow Bellum supplied when Merissa didn’t continue.
“No, Madam Bellum, curious. How very curious,” Merissa answered back.
“Why is that?” Widow Bellum asked with true interest in her answer.
Merissa considered carefully, “How curious that they were able to lose a powerful wizard.”
“Where are we?” Merissa pulled the dark red curtain aside just enough to look out the window at the crowded streets and dingy buildings.
“London,” Widow Bellum didn’t look out the window, “We need to stop at Diagon Alley.”
“Diagon Alley?” Merissa let the thick curtain drop back into place as she looked at her in surprise. “My parents have already ordered the items I require.”
“All except for a pet,” Widow Bellum reminded her, “You are allowed one pet.”
“But I would prefer not to have a spider or a rat,” Merissa shuddered at the thought of even touching either choice.
“Which is why I would suggest an owl,” Widow Bellum nodded as the carriage slowed. “It appears we have arrived.” The footman handed her out of the carriage and then helped Merissa, all the while ignoring the sights of London, which Merissa found strange. However curious the footman was behaving, she followed Widow Bellum into a fairly disreputable-looking inn. A haze of purple and blue smoke hung about the place as those gathered about the tables nursed their drinks. It appeared that every person there wore dingy clothes, or what looked suspiciously like robes. A barman glanced in their direction before nodding sharply to the back door. He looked as if life had been extremely difficult for him. Merissa moved closer to Widow Bellum.
She followed Widow Bellum through the roughly-hewn wooden back door into a small courtyard that was barely big enough for the two of them to stand in. The courtyard was enclosed by a decaying brick wall. Nearly every brick she saw had been broken and the dingy mortar was cracking and falling from the wall to collect on the ground as if it were a grayish snowdrift left from the winter before.
She watched with concern then growing amazement when Widow Bellum pulled out her wand and delicately tapped three different bricks. Her mouth dropped open when the bricks began to move all on their own! She stepped back, nervous at what she was watching with wide eyes, unable to even give a cursory explanation as to how this could possibly happen. Soon enough, a rough brick doorway appeared in the wall.
Widow Bellum started through the open arch, “Keep up with me, please.”
Merissa closed her mouth and nodded. “Yes, Madam Bellum,” she tentatively touched the bricks as she passed through the arch, her curiosity getting the better of her once more as she wondered if this was why the brick and mortar were breaking apart.
A much larger surprise was waiting for her when she looked through the open arch. She stared in wonder at the chaos in front of her. The shops were painted in bright colors with interesting wooden signs hanging from the tarnished brass door sign holders. She thought she had seen sparkles hovering about many of the shop signs.
The noise was indistinguishable as crowds of people hurried about the street with parchment floating beside them. Each person appeared to be wearing the same style of robes as Widow Bellum, though many looked more ragged. Young children were hurried along by frazzled mothers while older children had snuck away from their parents and were pressing their noses against the fragile glass to peer at the wonders inside.
She was taken by the sheer amount of color that was everywhere, all bright colors! There were bright reds, blues, oranges, yellows, maroons, azures, greens and more colors she couldn’t quite see. Most definitely not just the pale colors she typically wore or the lavenders or roses with which her mother had decorated their house.
She pulled back as the smell reached her nose. It smelled of many things which she wasn’t actually supposed to know about and she couldn’t help but to wrinkle her nose hoping that it wasn’t from spoiled food.
Widow Bellum watched Merissa with amusement. How well she remembered her very first time of walking into Diagon Alley. “Come along, we haven’t much time.”
Merissa followed Widow Bellum while trying to look around at everything she could see. Thankfully, where they were going to was only a few stores away from the open arch, but it was busy with crowds of people clamoring to be let inside. She expected they would be spending the rest of their day waiting in line but she didn’t count on magic.
Widow Bellum, on the other hand, merely lifted her eyebrow and touched her wand to her throat, “Please, let us through, we really must be on our way to Hogwarts.”
Merissa was beginning to suspect she ought to stop being astonished at every little piece of magic otherwise her professors might believe she had the brains of a fish. She was startled when the crowd abruptly parted, letting them enter the store and Widow Bellum’s voice returned to her normal volume with another touch of her wand.
“Now, take a look and let me know which one you prefer,” Widow Bellum motioned at the owls.
Merissa had never seen so many different owls in one place before. There were huge owls and little owls and were those owls no more than a bit of feathers? She saw a white owl that stared back at her thoughtfully. She stopped to look at a golden-colored owl which was slightly smaller than the white owl and was nearly certain that this owl had been watching her the entire time, “I would like this owl, please.”
“Good choice there, miss,” the bespeckled clerk replied as he brought over a cage for the owl to step in. “Mr. Ollivander goes on and on about wands having feelings and such, but having just the right owl makes all the difference.” Widow Bellum smiled as she gave the clerk odd-looking money.
Merissa decided to buy a few owl treats, thinking it might be nice way to make friends with hew new owl. She pulled a small handful of coins from her new reticule her mother had just given her for her eleventh birthday.
The clerk frowned when he saw her coins, “Sorry there, miss, but I only accept Sickles and Knuts and Galleons. I don’t take Muggle money.”
“Why would you take a ship?” Merissa gave him a very odd look.
The clerk laughed, “This one has a wicked sense of humor, don’t she?” He waited while Widow Bellum handed Merissa a few coins.
Merissa looked at the strange coins, “With which of these do I pay?”
“I gave you the exact change, dear,” Widow Bellum answered softly.
Merissa put the money on the counter. The clerk swept them up in his hand and dropped them in an old tin can nearby, “Thank you much, miss. And have a right good time at Hogwarts.”
“Thank you,” Merissa picked up the cage after placing the owl treats in her reticule, hoping that it wouldn’t smell like owl treats for too long.
Back at the carriage, the footman helped them up and then settled the owl’s cage on the floor before shutting the door.
“What will you name your owl?” Widow Bellum asked after they were on their way once more. “Choose its name wisely.”
Merissa considered. Since this was her very first pet, she hadn’t been able to name anything before. After several miles, she made her decision, “Ignatia.”
“A very sound name,” Widow Bellum smiled, “But if I might ask, why Ignatia? Her name has largely been forgotten.”
“Professor Bricklesworth left me an interesting book to read. I thought it was intriguing that one could travel by fire.” Merissa pulled the book from her satchel to show Widow Bellum who smiled.
“That is a very good book,” Widow Bellum agreed, “And very informative. I suspect you enjoy reading?”
“Very much,” Merissa sighed, “and more than my mother believes I ought.”
Widow Bellum chuckled softly. “You will find that at Hogwarts you may read as much as you wish and at a future point, you might decide to read less than you should.” But as much as Merissa begged to know the answer to what sound like a riddle, Widow Bellum didn’t answer.
Widow Bellum and Merissa arrived at Hogwarts after nearly a week of traveling. Many other carriages and coaches were scattered about the courtyard. People gathered about in small groups talking excitedly. “It appears we made good time.” Widow Bellum looked out the window briefly then let the heavy curtain fall back into place. She noticed a fearful look crossed Merissa’s face. “Whatever is the matter, dear?”
“What if… what if no one likes me? What if I…” Merissa had trouble finishing a complete thought as she realized that she would be living among strangers for several months.
“Nonsense,” Widow Bellum shook her head. “You will find friends quick enough as make no mind. No worries on that score.”
“You are certain?” Merissa’s face held a fragile hope.
“Indeed. It might be hard to believe, but I was once your age. It is quite normal, you know.” Widow Bellum tried reassuring Merissa.
“What is normal?” Merissa turned worried again.
“Your worries, they are just the same as every other person growing up.” Widow Bellum nodded at Merissa’s look of disbelief. “Now, keep your chin up and you will be fine. Look, just two more coaches.”
Merissa looked out the window. The coach in front of the one ahead of them was unloading. A lady was handed down then she turned to speak with another person in the carriage. Finally the lady’s visage turned very stern and she pointed forcefully to the ground. A young girl in a simple pale green frock stepped down with her shiny black hair was pinned up in braids in a crown style.
She fingered her own non-descript hair, it wasn’t blonde and it wasn’t quite brown, it was something in between. It was not as interesting as shiny black hair and it never behaved well enough to stay in braids and she had finally pulled back in a horse tail. It was about the only style that she could manage on her own.
She didn’t pay attention to the carriage in front of them unload or the people get out for she was lost in thought.
“Lady Merissa? Dearie, it is time,” Widow Bellum interrupted her thoughts.
She gave a confused look, “Time?”
“Why, dear, it is time to start your adventure,” Widow Bellum smiled warmly.
Merissa looked startled at her statement, “My adventure?”
Widow Bellum chuckled, “Hogwarts always has an adventure or two for everyone. Be brave.”
“Allow me, madam,” a young man dressed in blue trimmed robes stepped forward. He bowed to the two of them before helping Widow Bellum from the carriage then he turned back to the carriage’s open door. “Miss, it would be my pleasure.” He held out his hand, waiting for Merissa to take it.
Merissa glanced at Widow Bellum who nodded patiently. She tentatively placed her hand in his hand, letting him help her from the coach. “Thank you, sir… I apologize. I do not know your name.”
The young man blushed. “My most abject apologies, my name is Stephen Harmond of Ravenclaw. Might I inquire about your name?”
“Are you by chance related to the Ashburns of Snow Forest?” he asked politely.
“I do not believe so,” she replied. “I do not remember my parents speaking of them.”
Stephen’s cheeks flamed with embarrassment. “I apologize. I did not mean…”
“We were lately at our home just southwest of London,” she explained.
“London?” He glanced back at the carriage and saw the crest just before it turned away. “I beg your pardon, Lady Merissa.”
“Please, just Merissa,” she begged. Really, how was she to know if people liked her because of her or her station in life?
“Are you certain?” When she nodded, he continued, “What are your thoughts concerning Hogwarts so far?” He kept her hand as they started walking towards the castle’s foyer.
“It is overwhelming. There is so much to see!” Merissa glanced around at the turrets and pennants flying from the rooftops while the gray stones were covered by unfurled banners hung at the windows. Bright greens, vivid blues, fiery reds and glowing yellows assailed her eyes. When she looked around the courtyard, the same colors could be seen trimming the cloaks of those in their second year and above. Some, like Mr. Harmond, were helping ladies from the carriages or escorting other young students who were not yet in uniform like herself. Many of the young girls also wore simple traveling frocks in various pale colors. The young boys, dressed much like their fathers, ran around adding to the confusion.
“Wait until you see the inside. It is never the same. There is always something different,” he smiled.
“This is not your first year here?”
He shook his head, “I am a Fifth Year and Prefect.”
“What is a Prefect?” Merissa asked, not having heard the term before.
He shrugged slightly, “It is only a fancy term stating that I am responsible and do not get in trouble.”
Merissa chuckled at his answer, “Do you like it here?”
“Very much so – which makes it all the better as I will not be returning home until after I have finished school. My family lives too far away for me to go home for the holidays. What about you?”
“I am unsure,” she looked around in panic when she didn’t see Widow Bellum then relaxed when she found her behind them. “Will I?”
“If you wish, though you may need to wait until the summer holidays.” Widow Bellum smiled. “Stephen, be a dear and take her to meet the other first years. I must be leaving now. Now do not start looking scared again, dear. Remember, you will do just fine.” She handed her a small note card. “My direction if you care to write.”
“Thank you, Madam Bellum,” Stephen let go as she gathered her skirt to bob a curtsey. Widow Bellum smiled once again before leaving the way they came.
Stephen and Merissa began walking again. “The first years are this way. The Deputy Headmaster will give a speech and then will escort the group in to the Great Hall for the Sorting Ceremony.”
“Madam Bellum mentioned a Sorting Ceremony. What exactly happens? She didn’t really explain.”
“You will find out,” he promised, “Do not worry. It is nothing difficult. Oh, here we are. There are two girls here that you might like.” He pointed to two of them standing off to one side by themselves. She could see the petulant shiny black haired girl standing with several guys about her, asking her questions. “They are Miss Alice Culberts and Miss Helen Vickers.”
Her nerves stretched when he patted her hand, bowed and left. She forced herself to walk across the room, trying her best to glide as Governess Number Three had instructed her. “Glide as if you walked on air. Do not waddle about like a common carthorse.” Another snippet from another Governess she had detested crossed her mind. “If you cannot be graceful then you may forgo your pudding.”
“Hello, my name is Alice Culberts and this is Helen Vickers.”
She blinked in surprise. She couldn’t believe she’d already crossed the room. “My name is Merissa Ashburn.”
“Aren’t you excited?” Helen asked breathlessly. “Mother and Father nearly went spare when Professor Plotwerth visited. He explained everything! They didn’t believe him, at first. Then he did something and they agreed to send me here instead of gaining another governess.”
“Another governess, you say?” Merissa was interested, “How many did you go through?”
Helen giggled, “Far too many according to Father. Mother blamed the governesses for not having enough of a spine.”
“How did you find out, Alice?” Merissa asked.
“I received a letter.”
“What?” Both Helen and Merissa stared.
“Oh, my family has been wizards and witches for centuries. So they were thrilled to find out when I was little that I was a witch,” Alice smiled.
“So you know lots more than the rest of us?” Helen sighed. “You’ll find classes so much easier.”
Alice chuckled, “Not according to my brothers and sisters.”
“Your brothers and sisters?” Merissa and Helen echoed.
Alice nodded, “Well, Devyn is in his last year and Grady is a year behind. Ellen, my oldest sister, is a fourth year and Myrna is a second year.”
“So did they tell you about the Sorting Ceremony?” Merissa asked.
Alice glanced around, “Grady was telling me all sorts of things.”
“What sorts?” Helen asked, fear blossoming in her eyes.
“Attention, please,” a stern voice caught everyone’s attention, “Line up, if you please.”
Merissa found it difficult to pay attention to his lecture, but tried to look as if she were. She heard a whispered comment “They just let anyone in, don’t they?” She cringed inwardly, just knowing it was directed to her.
She followed Alice and Helen into the Great Hall and tried to think just how she could write her family about the ceiling without much success. Her sisters would find everything she’d seen so far fascinating, but she wasn’t sure about her parents. Would they want to hear about anything magical?
A comment her Father had made to Mother when he didn’t realize she was listening still hurt her. “Blasted woman, why couldn’t she have left well enough alone?” Her mother had made a remark she hadn’t quite heard, but her father’s was clear enough. “Aye, it will out. Doesn’t matter what they learn in that fancy school.” She had snuck away, feeling just about the lowest she had ever felt.
“Ashburn, Lady Merissa.”
Alice nudged her, “Merissa?”
She looked up, confused, to a variety of snickers and glowers. The Deputy Headmaster gave her a sterner look. “Lady Merissa Ashburn.” He motioned to the three-legged stool impatiently. She moved quickly to the stool and he dropped the patched hat on her head.
“Hmm... Interesting,” Merissa started when she heard the voice in her head, “Where to put you. You would do well in any of the Houses.” There was a moment of silence. “RAVENCLAW!”
She relaxed when the hat was pulled from her head. She saw Mr. Harmond waving at her from one of the tables along with a few others. She started towards Mr. Harmond remembering that he had mentioned that he was in Ravenclaw. She didn’t sit next to him, but sat slightly apart.
She watched as Alice sat on the stool and the Sorting Hat proclaimed, “RAVENCLAW!” Alice quickly sat next to her.
A rough-looking ragged-dressed young boy sauntered to the stool with a small sneer on his face. Merissa was confused as to why such a shoddily-dressed person would be wearing a fairly ugly signet ring that had a thick band with a black stone with etchings in it. Just looking at it made her feel queasy.
The hat barely touched his head before it screamed, “SLYTHERIN!”
“Norman, Margaret,” also became a Ravenclaw and found her seat across from Merissa who didn’t like the petulant look on Margaret’s face that reminded her of Isabelle before she began throwing a tantrum.
She watched as the black-haired “Tanner, Catherine” became a Slytherin and Alice muttered something she wouldn’t repeat.
Finally the Deputy Headmaster called, “Vickers, Helen.”
The Sorting Hat didn’t waste any time perched on her head. It called out, “RAVENCLAW!” almost before it had touched a single hair. Helen joined them, blushing furiously.
“That wasn’t so nearly as bad as my brothers made it out to be.” Alice whispered as the Headmaster introduced himself and their professors, each one nodding when their name was called.
Merissa noticed that the lady who had visited was the Charms professor. “She is the one who visited my parents,” she whispered to Alice and Helen.
Merissa found it difficult to pay attention to the Headmaster’s speech. Instead, she looked about. At least, she did until Alice nudged her. She stared at the table in amazement and shock. Where fancy flower arrangements had decorated the tables, food had appeared. A gold plate had been placed in front of her. A crystal tumbler waited to be filled and she suspected that the silverware was sterling, “How?”
“Magic,” Alice said as she reached for the chicken.
“This is more than I’ve ever seen in my life!” Helen cried as she dished out the beans with onions and ham.
Alice shrugged, “It’s easy enough with magic.” She added another spoonful of peas with pearl onions to her plate. “Merissa, do take some food.”
Merissa jumped slightly, embarrassed to have been caught staring. “Oh, right,” she began dishing food.
“Which that reminds me, Merissa…” Alice paused to chew. “Why didn’t you say you were Lady Merissa?”
“Precisely because of that,” Merissa stabbed her meatloaf. She didn’t like the way that Margaret was avidly listening to their conversation.
“Why ever is that a problem?” Helen asked, very curious. “You get to do whatever you want, don’t you?”
Merissa shook her head, “Not really. I have far too many people telling me what to do and when to do it.”
Alice nodded knowingly, “I’d hate that. How did your parents react to you being a witch?”
Merissa looked away, ashamed.
“That’s answer enough, I think,” Helen wrinkled her nose, “So, Merissa, what are you looking forward to the most here?”
Merissa shrugged daintily, “I haven’t learned much about Hogwarts. I mean, Madam Bellum told me stories of when she was here, but other than that…”
“Don’t worry. You’ll find enough to interest you in weeks.” Alice smiled.
A/N: As always, I hope you have enjoyed this next chapter. Please let me know what you thought about this chapter, especially if you have constructive criticism! I am always looking for ways to improve my writing! Thank you very much!
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