1. If Nancy's birthday hadn't been in November she might never have got to Hogwarts. The owl carrying the letter with its green ink and school crest came at breakfast, even though Nancy's father had declared, the last time it occurred to him to think about it, that going away to school ruined a girl and no daughter of his would do it.
2. And was known to shoot owls with crossbows if they trespassed on his land.
3. Diana rescued the owl while Nancy sat pale and stormy and shaking rather, in the face of her father's raging about education and girls remaining at home. Pamela was no good at all, and shook harder than Nancy even though Farve barely looked at her.
4. It took almost a year of wheedling and hope and despair and conniving before their father could be convinced to let Nancy go to school. Over the months Nancy's Hogwarts letter weakened and tore at the folds from being opened and reread so many times.
5. Nancy was careful not to let her father see her on the morning she left for Platform 9 ¾, just in case he changed his mind. She got their house-elf to take her to the station. She wouldn't let any of her sisters come, even though Diana cried like the baby she was.
6. On the platform she met two girls called Charis and Cedrella Black, who were having a vicious and tight-faced argument over their luggage. Nancy watched with bright-eyed interest until she spotted a place she could, with studied carelessness, put her oar into the argument.
7. It was enough to stir the Black cousins into new flights of ingenious insult at one another. Nancy sat on her suitcase and beamed.
8. School was brilliant.
9. Some of Nancy's trepidation came back when they put the musty-smelling hat on her head. She couldn't see anything, and she didn't like it when she couldn't see. Mitfords are always Slytherins, she thought loudly, just in case the hat was unaware.
10. She almost felt the hat's interest spike. "Mitfords?" enquired the small voice in her ear. "I remember your father. Fascinating lad, all those sudden fits of rage. Are you the only one, or are there more in your generation?"
11. Pam is nine, but she might be a Squib, Nancy told it chattily. Diana's six. She had the most enormous head when she was a baby, but now the old cats all coo and call her an angel, which she abuses like mad. Birdie's two, and she's a horror. She's Unity Valkyrie really, isn't that extraorder, can you imagine being Unity Valkyrie when you're two?
12. Nancy began to feel as though she was running out of breath, though she hadn't said a word out loud.
13. In any case, the hat must have got impatient at that stage, because it interrupted her to roar, "SLYTHERIN!"
14. Nancy skipped over to join the right table. Charis turned to her with horrified wide eyes and hissed, "Did you see Cedrella get Sorted?" as though Nancy might have missed it. "A Gryffindor," Charis said, heartbreak and despair in her voice. "Look at her, she's talking to a Weasley, do you see her?"
15. "Do we have any classes with Gryffindor, do you know?" Nancy asked under her breath. Charis only shrugged and looked woebegone, but Nancy's imagination was soaring. Two Black cousins in Houses that traditionally hated one another: this was going to offer the best teases.
16. "I think they look lovely together," she said now, just by way of keeping her hand in. "Ceddy and the Weasley boy, I mean. They would have the most wondair children, don't you think, all dark hair and freckles."
17. Charis stabbed the table with her fork and accidentally hit the back of fourth-year Abraxas Malfoy's hand, and in the end they missed the feast because they were hiding from him and his friends in a broom closet.
18. Years later, when they'd all left school, Nancy did feel a bit bad to hear that Cedrella really had married Septimus Weasley.
19. She sent Charis a very kind letter about it, and invited her to come to Paris, where Nancy was shacked up with that nice half-Veela boy they met in Prague last summer, did Charis remember him?
20. HALF-VEELA, Charis's Howler roared in return. YOU NEVER TOLD ME HE WAS HALF-VEELA, YOU STRUMPET, DO YOU HAVE NO PUREBLOOD PRIDE?
21. But of course, by that point Jessica was at Hogwarts, and nothing Nancy said or did would ever be quite as shocking again.
1. When Pamela got her Hogwarts invitation Nancy stopped addressing letters to her with "Dear Squibling", and started addressing them "Darling Huffle".
2. Pamela was privately rather sure that Nancy was right, and she would be a Hufflepuff. When the Hat shouted SLYTHERIN instead she very nearly walked to the wrong table by mistake.
3. "It's because you're so ruthless, of course," Nancy explained her Sorting once. "You don't see it, because you've got Mitfords all around you, so you think that you're meek. You're not in the least, really."
4. Nancy was flipping through Pamela's clothes at the time, looking for any she might want to steal.
5. "Please not that one, Naunce," Pamela objected. "I want to wear that one to Hogsmeade this weekend, it's one of the only things that looks even a bit nice on me this year."
6. "Tough, I like it," Nancy decided, tucking it away in her own trunk and grinning at Pam. "It makes your waist look awful, anyway."
7. Pamela wasn't sure that Nancy claiming she wasn't meek was all that convincing, in the circumstances.
8. There hadn't been any talk of not sending Pam to Hogwarts. Pamela thought it might have been because by that point there were six of them, and six was rather a lot. And that summer Unity had finally stopped hiding under the table when there were rows, and had started to join in the yelling.
9 Pamela hadn't privately thought that there was much use in packing off a quiet child like her, but she supposed getting rid of even one more of them had probably seemed like a good deal, even if Hogwarts did ruin her with insidious education.
10. Sometimes she wished she'd been the eldest child, and the first to get a Hogwarts letter. She would never have fought to be allowed to go, and then she might have stayed at home forever.
11. She only felt that way on days when Professor Dumbledore's Transfiguration lectures were especially incomprehensible, or when Professor Merrythought made her duel with somebody in Defence Against the Dark Arts and she wound up bruised and with radishes growing out of her head in the hospital wing, or when Nancy's clever stirring turned cruel.
12. Only the problem was that sometimes those days seemed to be all of the days.
13. "Buck up, Woman, darling," Diana told her. "You know Naunce only hurts the ones she loves."
14. This was such rot that not even Diana could make it sound sincere.
15. Nancy did love her, though. And it was much better to be loved by a sister, even one with not as much loyalty as you might want her to have, than hated by her.
16. The one really wondair thing about school was the food. Pamela took to describing her favourite meals in a notebook and carrying it about with her so that she could always remind herself of the good things when she needed to.
17. "You're not really stupid, are you?" Unity asked her over the holidays once. "Honks says you do quite well in Herbology and Care of Magical Creatures." Birdie was ten, and Pamela couldn't tell if she was being comforting, if she was testing whether Diana had lied to her about this, or if she was considering whether she needed to disown Pamela for stupidity.
18. But Unity was right, about the things that Pamela was good at. In her career counselling session with Professor Beery, she learned that there are actually some things that one can do with two NEWTs, if they're the right two.
19. She took off straight after Hogwarts on an expedition to Eastern Europe to map sightings of the rare two-tailed Wrackspurt, tracking by means of the pink-spotted singing vines that sprang up in Wrackspurt droppings.
20. It was while she was halfway up the side of a volcano, directing the unpacking of her instruments and shouting at the unfortunate wizard who had dropped one, that she realised Nancy had had a point, back at school.
21. Meek wasn't the right word for Pamela after all.
1. Diana cried all the way to Kings Cross Station her first year.
2. It wasn't that she was worried about going to school. She was carelessly certain that she would be a great success at school. She was, after all, charming and lovely, and people did love her. Going among strangers wasn't the problem.
3. (And anyway Nancy and Woman were already there, and after the Sorting the three of them were in the same House just as Diana expected them to be, because she was a Mitford, and Mitfords went to Slytherin.)
4. It was because she had to leave Jessica and Deborah. Decca was about to turn four and Deborah was still a baby, and Diana would never love anybody else ever again as much as she loved them, and her heart was going to break right out of her chest.
5. The worst thing was that she would have graduated by the time they started Hogwarts. She wouldn't even be able to look out for them at school.
6. Nancy and Pamela didn't understand at all. "Do you really like it when Debo cries and spits up on you?" Pamela asked cautiously.
7. Diana threw herself onto her bed in her new dorm in Slytherin in a storm of weeping, and Pam left her to it.
8. Diana had been right, though: she was an enormous success at Hogwarts. It made Nancy somewhat jealous of her, even though Nancy was undisputed queen of her own social circle. People didn't fall in love with Nancy the way they did with Diana, though.
9. People fell in love with Diana all the time, in fact. It was occasionally tiresome. But mostly she liked it.
10. In Diana's sixth year, the news was full of the Grindelwald Revolution in Europe.
11. At first Diana was only really aware of it because the trip her mother had planned to take her and Unity on to the Continent had to be cancelled: Europe wasn't safe anymore, even for pureblood witches. (Even the Muggles were having a war, they said.)
12. Slowly she began to listen to more of the talk in the Slytherin common room. Walden Macnair liked to gather students around him when he passed on news his elder brother had sent him.
13. "It's about security, really," Macnair drawled one afternoon when he and Diana and a handful of other sixth and seventh years were up in the battlements, smoking an illicit cigarette. "People might think Muggles are tame enough, but how long ago was it that they were hunting and burning witches and wizards? It's safer to muzzle them or simply put them down before they get any ideas, you know."
14. "It just sounds ... a bit distasteful, really," Diana said cautiously, taking a go with the cigarette. "Don't you think? If Muggles are such beasts isn't it better we have nothing to do with them?"
15. "Oh, Diana," Macnair said. "Pretty Diana. Nobody ever achieved greatness by avoiding the distasteful jobs that needed to be done."
16. Diana didn't really think that Macnair himself was going to achieve greatness in any case, but the idea stuck with her all the same.
17. If you could find a leader, one you could put all of your trust in; one you could know was right, whether he was shining or doing the distasteful things one needed him to do; wouldn't that make things better? People were so muddled, and so afraid, and things seemed such a mess. It would be marvellous if only there was somebody one could really trust to just tell everybody else what to do.
18. "What rot," nine-year-old Jessica exclaimed when Diana found herself explaining some of this, over summer. Her little face screwed up in outrage as she declared, "Nobody shall ever tell me what to do." Diana laughed, and tousled her hair, and then Unity dragged Decca away so that the two of them could work on their made-up language before Birdie had to go back to school.
19. For a while people said Grindelwald's war was going to come to England, but in the end it was all over a few years after Diana graduated, before any of her friends had finished deciding whether they wanted any part of it.
20. "It was only a European war, anyway, wasn't it," Walden pointed out. They were on a balcony in Malfoy Manor, spilling out of one of the house parties Abraxas had been giving so regularly since he inherited the estate.
21. "If there was an English cause," Diana agreed, gazing out over the shrubbery to the mist lying low over the fields, green as only English fields could be. "I think I could follow an English pureblood cause."
1. Unity got her first detention for fighting on her first night in the common room.
2. She gave Antonin Dolohov a black eye and a split lip. When Professor Slughorn demanded to know what had made her attack another Slytherin, she told him that Antonin was being pathetic and homesick and she couldn't bear to look at him.
3. "You understand, don't you, Sir," she said earnestly. "Some people try you too far only by breathing. I can barely breathe when Antonin is fouling up the air."
4. "You only met him a few hours ago," Slughorn objected. He was beginning to think he'd been too quick to accept the position of Head of Slytherin House.
5. "I'm very good at people," Unity said. "I can just tell, when I meet someone."
6. Slughorn found it within him to let the fighting slide – and there was rather a lot of it, detentions two and three just in the first week, with Unity coming off worst quite as often as she won – when it turned out that Unity was absolutely brilliant at Potions. Brilliant enough, in fact, that by third year Slughorn had moved her into TOADS, his Tuition for Outstanding And Daring Students.
7. It was only once a week that the group met, but it included students from upper years as well as Unity. Third years, Unity quickly discovered, were basically amoebas. Not even people yet. Upper years had ideas, had talents, were worth talking to.
8. Lucretia Black knew about poetry and rhetoric and could talk about them in a way that made you feel as though you were expanding inside. Walburga Black knew everything about everybody's family, and could tell you things about your classmates you would never in a million years have guessed. Sylvanus Kettleburn could mimic any professor in Hogwarts almost as well as Nancy could, down to Dumbledore's asinine twinkle and Merrythought's slippery intonation.
9. Tom, though. Tom Riddle was something else.
10. The first words he said to her, turning carelessly to include her in a conversation she'd been pretending not to eavesdrop on, were, "So, Birdie Mitford, what about you? Would you be happy to be ordinary?"
11. Unity lifted her chin. "Of course not," she said, scowling a little. "You may as well be a Muggle."
12. Tom grinned, a quick flash of appreciation in his dark eyes. "Or a Muggle-born," he said, "which is even worse, because they go around imagining that they're something after all, when they never can be."
13. Unity's mouth was dry. "You," she said, trying for nonchalant. "You're not going to be ordinary, are you?"
14. Tom leaned close, slinging an arm around Unity's shoulders. "I'm going to take over the world," he said, soft like a promise. Unity shivered, and thought, Yes. Please do.
15. In Unity's fourth year, the talk around the castle changed track violently, from idle talk of Grindelwald's war in Europe to a rash of attacks on Muggle-born students in Hogwarts itself. Unity was the only Mitford sister at school that year, and she was daily terrified that her parents were going to take her away for her own safety.
16. "You're in no danger, you know," Tom said, as though Unity was afraid, which she wasn't. "The girl who died was a halfblood." Unity only hoped her parents would understand that.
17. In Unity's fifth year, when Jessica was Sorted, Unity wished, passionately, that her parents had taken her away in fourth year, and never let any of them come back. I feel like she's dead, Honks, Unity wrote to Diana, devastated and tearful.
18. Diana was the one who understood about these things. When Tom took some of them aside and told them some of his plans for the future, trialled the word Death Eater for the first time to see how it sounded, it was Diana whom Unity told about it.
19. Do you really think it will come to anything? Diana wrote back. I'm not saying they aren't inspiring ideas, and that I don't wish my circle at school had had vision a little more like it, but boys have grand ideas all the time. Do you think this Tom Riddle can make something real of them, outside school?
20. Unity's reply was so fierce her quill tore the paper.
21. I'm sure.
1. Jessica didn't need to say a word to be marked out as Trouble at school. All she had to do was sit on the stool with her eyes in darkness and let the hat roar "GRYFFINDOR!" And saunter to her new table while all hell broke around her.
2. Nancy wrote to her with ill-disguised glee. I wish I could be there to see it, she confided. Oh what a brilliant tease. Diana wrote a long letter that didn't mention the Sorting at all, as though she couldn't bear to touch it. Debo wrote to say that their father had raged for six hours straight, and could Decca please come home now, because it was miserable without her.
3. Unity stared at her from across the tables, stricken and pale. Decca gave her a small wave and a small smile. Buck up, she mouthed. Unity gave her a woebegone smile in return.
4. They were special, Jessica and Unity. These last four years where Jessica and Deborah were the only sisters still at home, they'd formed a Decca-and-Debo duo, everything in life feeling like a secret kept between them from the rest of the world. But before that, and enduring even through that, Decca and Birdie were special with each other.
5. They met near the lake between classes, leaning against the boat shed with the reeds tickling their legs.
6. "Sometimes I wish you'd never been born," Unity said, low and passionate.
7. Decca hugged Unity. "Sometimes I wish your head would explode," Decca said with a grin, but a fierce sort of meaning-it note underneath. Unity hugged her back.
8. Decca masterminded her first revolution in second year. She founded HELP US, the House-Elf Liberation Party's United Syndicate, a coalition of students and rather uncertain house-elves, and convinced the elves to strike for four hours, disrupting the Halloween Feast.
9. In the end Decca and several other students had to go down to the kitchens and physically sit on the house-elves to bolster their nerves, but she counted it a victory nonetheless.
10. "The house-elves won't be punished," Professor Dippet told her sternly, "because it seems clear that they were coerced, but you and the other ringleaders will be washing pots by hand for the next month."
11. Decca lifted her chin. "I will do it in solidarity with the elves," she said. "Proudly." Professor Dippet rubbed the bridge of his nose as though he had a headache.
12. Jessica thought carefully about her next revolution. The house-elves, possibly, hadn't been ready for rebellion on that scale. And real rebellion had to come from within, so possibly, Decca could see from the wisdom of fourth year, sitting on them had been a step too far.
13. What she needed was an oppressed minority who burned to fight.
14. "You say you think you can get Hogsmeade visits extended to third years," Pomona Sprout, self-appointed spokesperson for the group of third years Jessica had cornered, said cautiously.
15. "If you all fight," Decca said.
16. Jessica had read that the length of a revolution depended on a) how many people were willing to die, and b) how many of its own people a regime was willing to kill. The Glorious Uprising for Hogsmeade Visits lasted twenty-one days, 261 detentions, and one near expulsion (Jessica's). At the end of it she walked beside Pomona into Honeyduke's, and the world was theirs.
17. You didn't grow out of being a freedom fighter, Decca didn't think, but the problem, she found when she graduated, was that there weren't any wars right now. A storm was coming, maybe, she could feel it in the air. But it was a long way off, and she wanted to fight now.
18. She went along to the first auror training day because she couldn't think of anything else to do. Even though she distrusted the aurors who were, she suspected, tools of government oppression. She spotted Alastor Moody, from her graduating year, talking to an auror Jessica thought was Septimus Weasley, and wandered over to them.
19. Alastor turned to her with his open, trusting grin. "Do you know, apparently there's some kind of popular uprising in America," he said. "Septimus was telling me some wizards are thinking of going over there, joining in the fight."
20. Decca's eyes brightened.
21. "America," she breathed.
1. There were three days in Deborah's life that she counted the worst. The first of them was the day Jessica went to school and left Debo alone. Please do write, Hen, Debo ended every letter to Jessica, even though she tried not to be needy and stupid in the rest of the letter. But Decca's replies got briefer and busier and more taken up with school plans and schemes as her first year turned into her second year.
2. The next of Deborah's worst days was the day her mother took her to Platform 9 ¾, away from her home, and left her there.
3. When they put the hat over her head at school, she stared straight ahead into darkness. "Hmm," the hat mused. "Plenty of wit, that's certain. You could be a Ravenclaw."
4. I could not, Debo thought back, smarting. I never read a book. I'm illiterate.
5. "Definitely loyal," the hat tried. "I can't see a mean bone in your body."
6. I haven't any bones, Debo thought. I'm boneless. Spineless. Perhaps you'd better send me back home.
7. "Brave of heart," the hat offered, the crackly voice beginning to sound a little put upon.
8. I haven't any heart either, Debo thought. She kicked her heels against the stool a little. Really, you know, you could just announce that there's no fit for me, and my parents had better come pick me up.
9. "Well," the hat announced, with an air of brushing its hands of her, "if you're going to be difficult, I can see only one House for you. It had better be SLYTHERIN."
10. Jessica found her after the Sorting. "So," she said, "you've joined the enemy, have you?"
11. "Don't be ridiculous," Debo said. "I haven't any enemies. Hen, can't we just scram somewhere and chat? There must be somewhere."
12. Gryffindors, it turned out, could get used to anything, even a very small Slytherin curled up in their common room as many nights as not, animatedly chatting to everybody within reach.
13. Unity warned her to be careful not to lose all of her allies in Slytherin. "Decca's ragtag band won't do you any good after school, you know," she said.
14. Jessica warned her to be careful of the other Slytherins. "Especially Birdie's crowd," she said. "I think they're going to be getting into some dark stuff after school, if they haven't already."
15. "Exploding Snap?" Debo offered, sitting down between Druella Rosier and little Minerva McGonagall. They looked at her with twin expressions of blank shock, then exchanged a glance as they realised she really was talking to both of them. Debo tried a winning smile. Slowly and uncertainly, they both smiled back.
16. Debo didn't really see the point of the Houses.
17. When Jessica ran away to America, without a word to anybody, even her, Deborah cried all night. Then she got up, scrubbed her face, and wrote Decca a cheery letter. She let the owl go and watched it out of sight, then turned back to her Transfiguration essay. She would have NEWTs next year.
18. Nancy was in Paris, and said that she was never coming home. Pamela was somewhere in the Swiss Alps, searching for animals Deborah was more than half convinced were imaginary. Diana was moving in elevated social circles whose conversations just slightly chilled Deborah. Unity had almost disappeared the moment she left school; Debo thought she talked to Diana, but she rarely contacted the rest of them. Probably she was with that boy Decca had so disliked, Tom Riddle.
19. People kept leaving Deborah, and things kept changing.
20. Only the thing was, she was beginning to realise that she could actually be rather good at standing on her own feet, and meeting the changes as they came. She was a Mitford, when they were together or alone.
21. She could be extraorder.