Chapter 4 : Sophronia's Tale
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Author’s Note: Everything Harry Potter belongs to J. K. Rowling.
The second week of classes had begun and Merissa wondered when she would become accustomed to seeing magic being used as well as discovering how to attend every class and complete all the assigned homework. At least there was the smallest comfort in that her friends were also finding school to be a challenge. They had, of course, listened to the older students elaborate on the wizarding sport of Quidditch which caused her to smile each time she heard it spoken as it sounded different, but she wondered how anyone was able to add anything more to their schedule.
History of Magic had become boring after becoming used to having a ghostly professor, but the same could not be said about their Charms class which followed. Their Charms professor, Professor Bricklesworth, waited at the front of the classroom. Merissa placed her satchel next to her desk while Helen sat to her right and tried not to fidget. Alice sat to her left and was tapping her fingers softly on her desktop. Merissa waited demurely for Professor Bricklesworth to give her directions for the day. She was also very particular in what she expected of her students and their behavior. That was a lesson they had learned the very first day of class: Professor Bricklesworth preferred for her students to wait patiently with the desks clear.
Merissa had already known that their Charms professor was a lady, though that particular fact had been a surprise during the Welcome Feast. She had been under the impression that Professor Bricklesworth might have been teaching water colors or embroidery. While she had been looking forward to the class, she could not help but wonder how different her teaching style might be: horribly stern or much too easy? The other students who had not paid attention when her subject had been announced during the Feast had raised a cry of outrage, though that seemed to be primarily the boys in the class. Professor Bricklesworth had ignored their fuss as she walked calmly to the front of the classroom and it took only one stern look to quiet the entire class for many of the girls had started to yell at the boys.
She had been grateful that she had not pulled out her wand or her History of Magic book to read while waiting given the Charms book had not yet been passed out. What the class was not aware of was that Professor Bricklesworth had watched from the doorway as many of the students sat playing with their wands while they waited for class to begin. Before they were given the typical first day of class lecture, she had given the entire class a lecture on wand etiquette and the proper behavior while waiting for class to begin. Merissa had been surprised that she made no mention of the furor that had arisen when she had entered the room.
Merissa was very excited about class today because Professor Bricklesworth had promised they would be using their wands today! They had been studying the Levitation Charm for a week, learning the Latin names for commonly used objects as well as the history of the charm.
Professor Bricklesworth stood exactly at ten o’clock. “Please take out your Charms book and place your wand on your desk.”
Merissa obeyed quickly in pulling out both her Charms book and her wand, placing them in front of her. She could hear her classmates doing the same, but refrained from looking around and kept her attention on her professor.
“Who can tell me why there is not a single spell to levitate objects?” Professor Bricklesworth asked the class and waited for one of her students to raise their hand.
Merissa waited to see if anyone else knew the answer to the question. Professor Bricklesworth had explained in their very first lecture why there was not one spell to cover every situation, but it had been difficult to read her notes as it was the first time she had tried writing with a quill and ink instead of a charcoal pencil or chalk.
“Mr. Thomas?” Professor Bricklesworth chose one of the Hufflepuff students who had taken to sitting together in all their classes.
Mr. Thomas stood noisily and cleared his throat making it obvious he was ill at ease with speaking in front of people. “The spell will work better?”
Professor Bricklesworth crossed the room to stand in front of the slate board and remained silent while Mr. Thomas continued to clear his throat several more times. When he did not continue, she motioned for him to sit. “Indeed. and why will the spell work better? Mr. Tremlett?”
Mr. Tremlett stood, albeit far quieter than Mr. Thomas. “The spell will work better as you are telling it precisely what you wish the spell to do.”
Professor Bricklesworth nodded, allowing him to take his seat. “Correct. Please open your books to page ten,” she told them firmly and waited while they opened their books. A grand wave of her wand caused feathers to appear on the desks in front of each student. “This class will be spent on the Levitation Charm practical. Follow the directions on page ten using the feather you have been given,” she instructed them then began to walk around the classroom to observe their efforts.
Merissa turned her attention to the Charms book in front of her and began to study page ten. She practiced waving her wand as detailed on the page a few times before she tried to speak clearly the Latin words they had been practicing for the past week. “Levare Pinnam!” she stated firmly, but the feather stayed on the desk. She frowned, wondering what had gone wrong. She was nearly positive that she had spoken the incantation correctly. “Levare Pinnam!” she waved her wand at the feather again. It might have been her imagination, but she thought she saw it move just a fraction of an inch. Next to her, Helen spoke louder as she waved her wand yet her feather refused to move. Sitting to her other side, Alice waved her wand more elaborately than was shown on the page and her feather remained unmoving on the desk. She turned her attention back to her feather and tried one more time. This time her eyes widened as she thought she saw it rise just by a breath.
Merissa jumped, startled, before looking around to find that Mr. Pinner, a Ravenclaw student who sat three chairs from her looked as if he had fallen into the lake. How had he gotten wet? She glanced over at Professor Bricklesworth who only watched the tableau calmly, almost as if she expected this to happen. Then she waved her wand and the water disappeared. “Try again, please, Mr. Pinner. Annunciate properly.”
Mr. Pinner’s face turned red as he mumbled, “Yes, Ma’am.”
“Leva Pennam!” Helen waved her wand and squeaked when her quill rose in the air instead of her feather.
“Very good, Miss Vickers,” Professor Bricklesworth clapped softly. “However, the lesson is to levitate the feather not your quill. Try again, please.”
“Yes, Ma’am,” she blushed as her quill suddenly fell to the floor. Without looking at anyone else, she picked up her quill and stuffed it in her satchel instead of placing it back on her desk.
At the end of the hour, Professor Bricklesworth clapped her hands. “You did very well today. Homework for next time: practice the Levitation Charm using the feather you have been provided. Pay attention to your pronunciation and your annunciation. You are dismissed.”
While the other students, including Alice and Helen, rushed from the room, Merissa carefully put her book, wand and feather into her satchel. She knew that her friends would be waiting impatiently just outside the door.
“Lady Merissa? Do you have a question?” Professor Bricklesworth asked.
“No, Ma’am,” Merissa answered. “I was just thinking.”
“About what were you thinking, if I might ask?” Professor Bricklesworth asked, looking interested.
“Why is it so difficult to learn the spells if we have magic?” she was not expecting an answer to what could be termed an impertinent question.
Professor Bricklesworth smiled, “That is a very good question and one you will learn the answer to in time. You have a talent for magic that is untrained at the moment. Your aspiration is to control your magic which you will learn soon enough. Now, that is enough serious discussion and your free time is disappearing rapidly.” She nodded towards the door where Helen and Alice were peeking in to see why it was taking Merissa so long to leave.
Alice and Helen walked beside Merissa quietly for the length of two corridors. They were returning for a short time to their dormitory to pick up their Potions and Transfiguration books during their break and had to wend their way through the crowd of students rushing through the halls not paying attention to anyone else. The corridors became quieter as they drew closer to Ravenclaw Tower, passing many landscapes and Portraits. They paused by one Portrait of a witch in a vile green turban as they waited for the wall to open.
“Why didn’t you leave class when we did?” Alice finally asked Merissa while Helen rolled her eyes.
“What do you mean?” Merissa asked with a sinking feeling she knew what Alice was asking and hoping she was wrong.
Alice waved her hand as if waving off a stray thought. “The discussion you had with Professor Bricklesworth. Why?”
“Did Lady Merissa have to stay after class?” Margaret asked from behind them.
Merissa was both embarrassed and annoyed. Why could Alice not have waited until they were alone to ask her questions? In fact, she really would have preferred to have asked Professor Bricklesworth her question privately instead of others, even if they were her friends. She turned to Margaret whose face wore a slight sneer. “I wanted clarification on a particular point,” she replied evenly and had to trust that Alice would accept the answer for the moment. She did not want to discuss the conversation in front of Margaret.
“I can see why you needed help,” Margaret smirked, watching Merissa with a strange look in her eyes.
Helen was about to retort when the wall opened and Merissa decided she was not going to continue the discussion and continued to their common room. Alice and Helen hurried after her, leaving Margaret behind. Merissa knocked on the eagle door knocker and answered the riddle almost negligently as it was one she had already learned. Only when they were in their dormitory changing out their books, did Merissa answer their question. “I was thinking about my sisters being able to perform magic as easily as I did before arriving here.”
“And?” Helen asked as she took out her History of Magic book, pausing with it in her hands as she looked at Merissa.
“Once you arrived here, have you done any accidental magic like before?” Merissa asked her friends.
Both Alice and Helen were quiet as they considered her question as they stuffed their textbooks for their next classes in their satchels. Neither of them had an easy answer as they realized that their magic no longer expressed itself in an unusual manner. They remained silent as they left their dormitory and passed Margaret, who called out to them to wait.
Merissa paused with a sigh and wished that Margaret would make up her mind. Alice and Helen did not look pleased to be waiting for her so soon after she had been spiteful, but knew that Merissa was worried about even giving anyone the impression that she was possibly slighting anyone. There was a crash and all three closed their eyes, knowing there would be an interesting sight when they returned after lunch. Margaret hurried down and looked surprised that they had waited, though the dark looks on Alice and Helen’s faces showed their feelings for her. “You waited for me!”
Merissa wanted to sigh again, but replied, “You asked us to wait.” She gave the tiniest frown when she noticed that something was different about Margaret, but she couldn’t decide what it was precisely beyond that Margaret was being nice for the moment.
That evening, the three friends had gathered around one of the tables in the library to work on their homework. Once they were done, they left their books opened on the table as they looked around them, impressed by the sheer number of books trying to fit in the numerous shelves. The students would put the books they had finished on one of the rolling carts that had been placed in seemingly random locations where it remained until a ghost approached and picked up one or two of them and placed them back on the shelves where they belonged. What they found interesting was that if the ghosts became aware of people watching them, they turned invisible and made it appear that the books were floating in the air to re-shelve themselves!
However, tonight Merissa was not paying much attention to the ghostly librarians. Her attention was focused on a piece of parchment in front of her with numerous sentences and most of them having been crossed out.
“Merissa?” Alice asked with a frown.
She looked up from the parchment, “Yes?”
“We’ve finished our homework, what are you doing?” Alice picked up the parchment in front of Merissa and read through the first few sentences. She looked up with disbelief, “You do know you can’t write about Hogwarts or magic to the Muggles?”
“That is why it is taking so long,” Merissa sighed. “Mother wants me to write letters while I am away and I promised her that I would write, but I did not expect it to be so difficult!”
Helen took the parchment from Alice to look it over. “What you’ve written so far sounds plain enough. I don’t see any references to magic.”
Merissa took the parchment back. “I should write more, but how do I describe getting my wand or walking through walls or any of the classes? How do I write about the portions of the classes that were unexpected?”
“Unexpected?” Alice said before she and Helen began laughing, only to get a stern look from Madam Cato who disliked anyone speaking above a whisper and even those needed to be quieter still. Their laughs turned into giggles and Madam Cato’s eyes narrowed.
Merissa smiled at the memories of how spells had gone wrong though some of the results had been a little more unexpected than others and some had been completely unnerving. “Perhaps a better word would be illuminating.”
Again, Alice and Helen began laughing until Madam Cato suddenly appeared at their table and pointed her finger at the door. They quickly put their belongings into their satchels and apologized to Madam Cato before leaving the library.
“What would your parents say about that cauldron exploding like a volcano during Potions?” Helen asked while they walked down the hallway.
“Don’t forget about the needle that grew quills in Transfiguration!” Alice could not quite hide her smile behind her hand.
“How do you explain the creatures that we have been learning about in Defense Against the Dark Arts?” Merissa asked and the three fell silent as they shuddered. Privately they hoped never to encounter any of the creatures they had studied about.
“There wasn’t anything too odd in Herbology,” Alice finally noted as they passed through a corridor filled with vile green tapestries. This was true as they spent most of their time during that class taking notes on how to care for plants, both the regular variations and the more unique variations that Muggles tended to ignore.
“You know as well as I that none of our conversation can be put in my letter to my parents,” Merissa sighed with regret. “They would not understand for one, and for the other, there are the servants and my father’s place to consider. If it was broadcasted that my sisters and I were able to use magic, my father could lose everything: his lands, his title and possibly even his freedom!”
Alice and Helen looked at her with twin looks of horror.
“That is why I have been attempting to craft them a letter that will give them information on how I am progressing without telling precisely what I am learning,” Merissa sighed again. “I suppose I could tell them about dance, music and etiquette classes. I know they will be very interested in my achievements in those particular studies. Perhaps I might even be able to write about History of Magic if I focus on the history portion, but I doubt they would be interested in the fact that I am learning to garden.”
“How do you expect not to write about anything magical for your entire time here?” Alice shook her head, having trouble believing the predicament her friend was in.
They were surprised when Merissa chuckled. “I do have younger sisters and I have considered writing a set of fairytales for them. Father will ignore them as rubbish, but Mother will read the stories to my sisters.”
“What if another person saw the fairytale letter?” Helen asked, her eyes reflected her worry. “Of if one of the servants read your letter?”
“I can hope that if I write the letter as a child’s fairy story, that anything fantastical will be dismissed as childish nonsense,” Merissa shook her head. “It is simple enough to read a fairytale, but have either of you tried to actually compose one?”
Alice shook her head. “My writing isn’t neat enough. Two days after writing a story, I doubt even I would be able to say what was written.”
Merissa silently agreed with Alice as she had difficulty reading her essays and had already received notes from all their professors about writing neater.
“I’m not creative enough,” Helen replied sadly. “I’m too attached to verifiable facts.”
Merissa walked from the Transfiguration classroom three days later, unhappy at not having been able to transfigure a match into a needle or anything that resembled one. Alice had turned her match silver while Helen’s match had developed an eye in which to thread embroidery floss. Hers had firmly remained a match, just like her feather remained on the desktop instead of floating in the air. What was perhaps more frustrating was that she had not even managed to have odd things happen while attempting to do the spells! Each professor had assured her that all it would take was a little more practice, but that was still disheartening when she was trying her best and practiced.
For once, Alice and Helen remained silent on their way to the Great Hall for lunch. Neither of them could understand why Merissa had not been able to do one spell when she did everything as she ought to. They followed her through the doors of the Great Hall and sat next to her at the Ravenclaw table, politely not mentioning her failure in class. Their plates filled with food and their cups filled with pumpkin juice, which Helen and Merissa agreed was an acquired taste.
“Look, Morfan, it’s Lady Merissa!” a strident voice said from behind them.
“So it is, Miss Tanner” Morfan agreed, sounding too agreeable.
Alice turned around to face Morfan and Catherine. “Why don’t you just go away?” she demanded.
Morfan only raised his eyebrow. “Go where, Miss Culberts?”
“To begin with, to the Slytherin table,” Helen had turned to face them also.
“That wouldn’t be as much fun,” Morfan replied easily before showing off his ugly black stone ring.
Merissa turned around to face Morfan and Catherine, both of whom were smirking. The sight of the ring once again made her feel queasy, but this time she ignored it. “Thank you for your greetings, but I would not want to keep you from your lunch. It would be such a long time until dinner then, would it not?” She tried to keep a smile on her face as Morfan’s sneer dropped from his face and Catherine began to glare at her.
Morfan looked like he wanted to say something impolite, but instead gave a mocking bow, “Thank you for your concern, Lady Merissa.” Then he walked to the Slytherin table with Catherine who kept glancing back with a sour look on her face.
Merissa turned back to her lunch, her appetite gone.
“What’s wrong, Merissa?” Alice asked, noticing that she looked upset.
Merissa shook her head. “Not here…” the rest of her answer was lost when her owl landed in front of her with a letter. “Hello, Ignatia!” she said as she took the letter and picked up a piece of her sandwich to give to her owl who took it neatly. She opened the letter and smiled for the first time in what felt like days. “It’s from Mother!” she exclaimed as she read through it.
The next evening, Merissa was sitting in one of the comfortable chairs in the common room as she considered what to write to her parents. Her mother had written of her surprise when the golden owl had landed at the window and tapped on the window until she had opened it after seeing it holding a letter. Merissa considered and would give Ignatia a suggestion to perhaps deliver the letter a different way that would not draw attention.
Dear Mother and Father,
I hope this letter finds you well. I am doing well.
It has been two weeks and I have only now had time to sit and write. The classes are intriguing and the professors enjoy having us writing down their every word. I have been learning to write with a quill instead of a pen and it is challenging as you can see. Perhaps soon I will be able to write as neatly as I have learned to do so with a pen.
I have written to Mrs. Bellum and thanked her for escorting me to school. She told me numerous stories about when she attended so that when we finally arrived, it already felt like home. I assure you though nothing will ever replace home in my heart. I have missed you and my sisters very much.
The professors seem pleased with my work and I have achieved high marks on my exams and homework. The grading criteria are different than what my governesses used. The least passing grade is Acceptable, the next highest grade is Exceeds Expectations and the highest grade is Outstanding.
I have learned there were four Founders for this school and so the students are divided into four Houses, one for each Founder. I was placed in Rowena of Ravenclaw’s House. Our colors are blue and bronze and I live in a turret!
Our history class has been interesting and there is a tremendous library here, far larger than Father’s. There are at least four levels! There is a circular staircase that leads to the higher levels! Our professors have assured us that most, if not all, the books were written in ages long since gone. His lectures are full of information though I wish for even the slightest inflection in his voice.
Music class has been a challenge as I am certain you may already have guessed. The professor is exceedingly patient and refrains from expressing pain when I choose the wrong note. Etiquette class has been a review of what Mr. Smyth has taught me. I assure you that I am not taking my ease during the class and not just because the professor is quick to hand out detentions. Dance class has also been a review of what Mr. Waters taught. The class has been studying the Minuet, even though he has said that it has become less popular. Soon we will be learning the Gavotte.
The Head of the House has chosen a companion for me while I am at Hogwarts. I believe you would like her. Her name is Milly and she is very nice even if she watches me too closely.
I nearly forgot, another student asked me if our family was related to the Ashburns of Snow Forest. I admitted that I did not know and resolved to ask you if we are. Unfortunately, I have no more information on this family.
Your loving daughter,
She looked over her letter to her parents once more with a critical eye and saw no reference to magic. She didn’t like keeping secrets from her mother who always seemed to know what was happening in her life anyways, but if Alice was correct then she had to keep magic a secret from those who weren’t part of the wizarding world. She tapped her quill against her cheek as she considered the problem. Her parents already knew about magic because they had been told by Professor Bricklesworth. Did that mean she could write more in her letter? What would the punishment be if she unknowingly broke a restriction? Perhaps it would be wiser to send this letter as written and ask one of the professors.
She folded the parchment and stuck it into a large creamy blue envelope that Alice had given her. Alice had promised to show her how to order what she needed by owl and then she might order her own stationery! She turned her attention to the fairytale she was determined to write for her sisters. She had not realized how difficult it would be to write a simple tale, even if it was what had really happened! If it would only be Governess Prewett or her sisters reading the fairytale, it might be easier to write. However, she had a suspicion that her mother would also read the fairytale which made it much more troublesome to write.
Once there was a young girl named Sophronia who was very kind. She was also very special. She had a deep, dark secret that only she knew. Until one day, she found a letter addressed to her. She opened the letter and it changed her world forever for the letter told her that she had been selected to attend classes at a faraway castle named Hogwarts.
Sophronia traveled very far indeed to attend Hogwarts and when she arrived, she was escorted to a small room to wait with other children her own age. A tall professor led them into a very magical Great Hall where flickering candles floated in the air, high above every person’s head. The ceiling was not a ceiling at all, but appeared to have been opened in order to see the full moon and twinkling stars. Four long tables ran the length of the hall and were filled with older students. Another table ran the width of the hall and there the professors sat silently, watching their new students walking hesitantly nearer to them. A dingy hat sat upon a stool and the tall professor stopped next to the hat.
“Sophronia,” the tall professor called out for everyone to hear.
The young girl approached as the line parted to let her pass. She stood near the hat and heard another loud voice call out, “RAVENCLAW!”
She turned to see the table where the students dressed in blue clapped. The tall professor motioned for her to join her classmates. She was glad to be sitting down and out of the light. When the last student sat at their new table, she was surprised once more for in front of her was a gold plate and golden flatware with a crystal goblet where none had stood before. More food than at a Christmas party had been laid on the table. After the Feast, Sophronia sleepily followed the other students to a tower room where she fell asleep.
The next day was exceedingly delightful for Sophronia. For on that day she found her wand! A gentleman arrived soon after breakfast disappeared from the tables, laden with boxes. More boxes followed him as if they were a small puppy. He waved his wand to place each box on the table near him. Is it any surprise that he called Sophronia first? He handed her one wand then another and yet another until at last when she waved the wand in her hand, blue and bronze sparkles floated from the tip.
The rest of the week flew by so quickly. Lessons in magic were held every day and lessons in etiquette, dance and music were held in the evenings.
Sophronia found the lessons intriguing and far more interesting than arithmetic and spelling. Learning to write with a quill and ink on parchment was particularly messy requiring Sophronia to learn a simple cleaning charm to get ink out of her uniform. She worked diligently on her homework and learned how to levitate objects, how to brew potions, how to create a needle and how to care for plants. She also studied the history of the magical world which needless to say was far more interesting than memorizing lists of long gone events.
Nothing even runs smoothly and learning magic is no exception. Mistakes are made with interesting consequences. Levitating the wrong object or having a bucketful of water fall on you makes for fascinating memories. Even the stray brewing of a potion erupting like a volcano can create excitement.
Now I must close this so I might send this letter to you by golden owl. I miss you both very much.
Your loving sister,
She looked over the finished fairytale wondering if it was complete or if she needed to add to it. She knew her sisters would like it, but would her mother? She began staring at the parchment without really seeing it. What would her father think if he read it? Would he insist on her returning home that instant? He already had been just a little more than a stranger because with his busy schedule, the three sisters rarely saw him.
She had seen a little more of him before Mrs. Bellum had arrived to escort her to Hogwarts. It was a bittersweet memory to dine for the first time with her parents who had chosen to eat dinner a little earlier after she had been moved to the Lavender Room. She was thrilled to be included for the first time. Betsy had escorted her to the Formal Dining Room with the rich mahogany table and chairs and thick green drapes that had been drawn for the night. Light had sparkled here and there from the lit candles hanging from the holders in the ceiling with chips of mirrored glass and crystals that reflected the tiny flames. A long white tablecloth had been spread along the table with a surprisingly simple centerpiece of barely-opened white roses. Her mother sat to one end and her father on the other. Betsy led her to where another place setting waited.
She had snuck a glance at her father who watched her expressionlessly and she couldn’t figure out what he was thinking. A covert glance at her mother eased her mind more than a little. The servants brought in a simple dinner, nothing like what her mother had described while at a ball. They are in silence until near the end when her father began to quiz her over pudding about her lessons. Once pudding was cleared, she followed her mother into a Drawing Room where her mother motioned for her to sit at the pianoforte. She had tried to play her best though it fell flat. It was difficult enough to play while her mother attempting to refrain from wincing as she struck the wrong notes, but it became near impossible to play once her father entered the room with a dour expression on his face. She shrank a little when his expression turned disappointed. She played a clashing chord and hoped to end the wretched music since she had lost her place in the cramped handwritten score.
Finally, she shook her head clear of the memories though she chuckled ruefully because her playing was not any better. There was very little light in the common room now, the candles having burned to nearly gone and the fire had been banked for the night. It was long past time for sleep.
“Levare Pinnam” = Latin for “lift the feather”
“Leva Pennam” = Latin for “lift the quill”
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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