Wind's in the east, mist comin' in,
Like something is brewin' about to begin.
Can't put me finger on what lies in store,
But I feel what's to happen, all happened before...
It began as a perfectly normal day at Number 17, Cherry Tree Lane.
Mr. Banks had been taking his customary morning tea whilst browsing the day's financial news, as Mrs. Banks had been updating him on her perusal of available boarding schools-since the children had reached, it must be said, that age and surely must be sent away for schooling soon, if not sooner (in Jane's case), though Mrs. Banks did hate to admit it (and Mr. Banks thought it perhaps a bit old-fashioned himself, if pressed, though he did not like to criticise tradition, as a rule—why, he'd gone to a very well-regarding boarding school himself, as a matter of fact, and remembered his days on the cricket team quite fondly).
"But you know, George, Tonbridge really might not be the right choice at all. You know how Michael is. Such a kind and gentle boy. What will the other lads make of him? Will they like him, do you think?"
"Hm? Oh, yes, Winifred, naturally. He's quite a likeable little chap, really."
"Well, of course he is, George, but what about the other boys? Won't they be a bit...well, rough, you know? He is really-" and here she dropped her voice and leaned over her plate of toast and jam to murmur, "-a bit small for his age, don't you think?"
"Winifred, dear, Michael may be small, but I believe he has amply proven time and again that he is no shrinking violet. Surely you recall that tussle in the park last year?" Mr. Banks said, his expression a mixture of disapproval and proud reminiscence. "I think the lad can take care of himself!" he added
with a chuckle.
Mrs. Banks suddenly steeled herself, but not, apparently, to argue the point further. She quickly stood and turned toward the kitchen door, shouting, "Posts! Everyone!"
Cook and Ellen emerged directly and were only just able to reach the Ming vase and china cabinet before a deafening explosion shook the room. Mrs. Banks clutched at her prize fern, righting it gently in the aftershocks, as Mr. Banks calmly sipped his tea and checked his pocket-watch.
"Admiral's right on time today. Excellent, excellent." He pushed the piano back into place with his foot and put down his cup, stood, and straightened his jacket.
"I understand your concern, darling-it is a bit of a rum go to say good-bye to the children, especially given," and here he paused, remembering how things had been long ago, before certain events had altered the course of his fatherly life forever, "how close we've all been these last few years."
He leaned over to kiss Mrs. Banks on her rosey cheek and said, "But rest assured, we have prepared our children well for this moment, and make no mistake." He gave her his most encouraging smile, which belied the flutters he felt in his stomach at the thought of sending his two small rays of sunshine to schools far away, hoping at the very least that she would feel calmer at the prospect than he.
Ellen was just bringing his coat and hat when the children themselves came tripping down the staircase, Jane dressed, curled, and pressed but Michael still in his rumpled blue pyjamas, dressing gown, and slippers.
"Jane, dear!" Mr. Banks called, smiling broadly, and she was the first to reach him with a morning kiss. He noted with a sigh how little he had to bend for her to reach his cheek these days. "Happy birthday, my dear girl."
"Thank you, Father!" she said breathlessly. "I'm glad I didn't miss you before you went to work!" She turned to kiss Mrs. Banks as well. "Good morning, Mother!"
"Happy birthday, darling," said Mrs. Banks, hugging Jane warmly.
Jane looked from her to Mr. Banks and said with excitement, "It's so exciting to be eleven years old! I can't wait for my birthday tea this afternoon. And to think I'll be going off to school soon! Have you picked one for me yet?"
Mrs. Banks had only just opened her mouth to reply when the doorbell rang.
"Now who could that be this time of the morning?" Mr. Banks murmured, pulling on his overcoat as Ellen opened the door.
Outside stood a person of some interest-a lady, in fact, of fair height and a pleasant, ample figure, wearing a high-necked dress of deep blue and golden striped silk, a Victorian coat-style dress with rather old-fashioned lace bodice at the front, and lace gloves to match. On her head was one of the most enormous leghorn hats Mr. Banks had ever seen, of a vivid white and gold with a sky-blue plume of such prodigious length that he was sure it would brush the top of the doorframe if she stepped through.
He was quite afraid he gaped shamelessly at the sight.
"May I...help you?" Ellen finally managed to say in a voice of some wonder, looking all the way up the curious person's length from the broadly-flared silk hemlines to the tip of the huge hat-plume.
The lady-as rosy of cheek as a certain nanny the children had once known-smiled most pleasantly and said, "Oh, I believe so, yes. I am Professor Galatea Merrythought, and I'm looking for Miss Jane Banks. Might she be at home?"
Mr. Banks stepped forward and said, "I am George Banks." He held out a hand, which she took into her lace-gloved one, and he added, "If I might ask, what business might you have with my daughter?"
Professor (Professor?) Merrythought - and what a suitably odd-sounding name for such a very odd-looking person, thought Mr. Banks - smiled once more and said, "Oh, I assure you, it's nothing nefarious!" She gave a rather jolly, easy laugh, and said, "Oh, dear me, no! Quite the opposite, I'm sure!" She leaned in slightly toward Mr. Banks and said, as if in confidence, "I'm from a school, you see. A quite rather very special school, which we would like to invite Miss Jane to attend."
He heard the children shuffling behind him. "Father? What school is it? May I please talk to her, Father?"
"Hush, Jane," said Mr. Banks quietly, and then turned back to regard Galatea Merrythought. "Miss, ah...Professor Merrythought? I must say this is most irregular. We haven't put Jane's name down for any schools, you see, not yet, so I'm unclear as to how-"
"Oh, yes, bless you, Mr. Banks, I can see how you might be a bit muddled! If you'll only just allow me to give Jane her letter, perhaps it will explain the essentials, you see." And she held out a rather old-fashioned-looking parchment letter, sealed with a great red wax H.
There was something so powerfully familiar about this woman's manner, and the strangeness of the encounter, and her knowing look, and...even the letter seemed to bring back vivid memories of another letter that had been so remarkable only a few years past...but he shook himself as he felt Mrs.
Banks join him at his side.
"I'm sorry, we don't mean to be rude," Mrs. Banks was saying, gesturing toward their front sittingroom. "Please, do come in."
Mr. Banks removed his overcoat - it seemed as though he might have to be late to work on a morning such as this - and handed it to Ellen, who was still gaping at the stranger like a codfish, but who scuttled away at a glance from both Bankses and vanished around the corner (where Cook was probably already waiting so that the two could covertly keep an eye on any developments).
Professor Merrythought was regarding Jane - who had grown, really, quite tall this past year and was looking so much a young lady, though Mr. Banks' heart did fail at the noting of it - with a gentle twinkle and a broad smile, and she handed, as if with great ceremony, the strange letter to Jane. Mr. and Mrs. Banks glanced at one another with some alarm, but after all - what harm could there be in one small letter from a stranger in a giant hat? If she were from a reputable school, after all...
Jane's face changed as she read the letter. Her mouth gradually formed a perfect "o" and her eyes grew wider and wider. Michael, reading over her elbow, looked indignant, his brow growing lower and more deeply creased with every line.
Jane looked up - at the lady, at Mrs. Banks, at Mr. Banks, and then at the letter again-and said, "But...then...does this mean I'm a witch?"
Mrs. Banks gave a gasp and Mr. Banks lunged for the letter and thought privately that he would have to speak to Winifred about her habit of letting just anyone come in the door, but Jane turned, keeping the letter to herself, and said, "No, it's all right! It's just..."
But Michael had snatched the letter from her hand before she could finish the thought. "It's not fair!" he shouted. "It's not fair!"
Mr. Banks lunged now for Michael, and Mrs. Banks had her hands on Jane's shoulders gently, asking her what was wrong, and Ellen was bustling up to tell this stranger just what she could do with her letters and her lace and her ridiculous hat, but the lady put up a hand and in a calm voice said, "Now, now, let us all listen to Jane for just a moment."
And everyone fell silent, nearly as if a spell had been cast.
They all looked expectantly at Jane, who said, "I...it's a magic school. For witches and wizards. I...suppose...I have magic." And her eyes were still wide, and her mouth still hung open, and for a long moment no one said anything.
And then Michael said, "It's not FAIR!" again and ripped the letter to bits. And before anyone could stop him, he'd thrown open the door and taken off down the street. Mrs. Banks called after him, but Jane spoke up quickly.
"It's all right, Mother. I know where he's going - it's just to the park. He'll be all right."
Mrs. Banks looked at Mr. Banks and said, "George..." He gave a small shake of his head; just now they had a stranger in their sitting-room to worry about. Then he knelt to pick up the pieces of the letter.
That's when Galatea Merrythought pulled out what appeared to be a magic wand.
There was some outcry, and everyone made to hide - though behind what, no one seemed really to know - but she only pointed at the pieces of the letter, which immediately flew together and mended themselves seamlessly. The letter, now whole again, found itself in Jane's hand once more, and for the first time that morning, Jane smiled broadly, a bright and brilliant beam at Professor Merrythought.
Mr. Banks, however, did not yet feel like smiling. He was now sure - quite sure - that this was somehow related to the last magically patched-up letter he'd seen, though he was not at all sure how. He glanced momentarily at the fireplace, remembering. It was, he had to say, some comfort to him, this small scrap of familiar feeling - hadn't the last time turned out quite well, in the end? - even as he still didn't quite believe what he had just seen with his own eyes. He held out his hand - shaking just a bit, truth be told - and said calmly, "Give me the letter, Jane."
He read it quickly, but he found that he had to keep going back and starting sentences again, for at first nothing seemed to make sense at all. "Pleased to inform you...Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and...what's this? 'We await your owl'? What on earth does..."
Professor Merrythought laughed again, a pleasant and warm thing that sounded like the middle keys on a piano, and said, "I will explain everything, but it will take some time. Shall we sit?"
And with a wave of her wand, she had slid the breakfast table over and a hot, fresh pot of tea was pouring itself out into four clean cups.
Mr. and Mrs. Banks looked at one another and decided that, yes, they had better sit.
As was usual, it only took Bert a half-hour to discover Michael-quite by accident, of course-in the remotest corner of the park, sitting on the back side of a memorial statue (of someone named Bletchley Botts, though no one ever seemed to really know who he was or what he'd done to rate statuary in Hyde Park) with his arms about his knees.
"'Allo, 'allo," Bert said warmly, doffing his cap, and leaned against the plinth next to Michael. "Now, what's with the long face? On a morning such as this? How could anyone be so glum?"
Michael didn't answer, but tucked his admittedly long face into his knees as unsociably as he possibly could.
"Hm, well, now," Bert said, pursing his lips, "that's one unhappy customer, and no mistake." He folded his arms and looked about the green for a moment before saying, "You know, when I'm feeling sad, I-"
"It's not fair!" Michael shouted suddenly, causing Bert to jump and several birds to flutter, twittering, from the trees nearby. "Nobody came to ask me to join a special school. Nobody told me I've got magic. It's bad enough we've got to be split up to go to different schools because I'm a boy and she's a girl. But now she's going to go to a special school and all, and I'm going to be stuck with Tonbridge or Harrow or some other stupid place where I don't even know anybody. It's just not fair!"
And now tears were dripping from his freckled snub of a nose, and Bert slid an arm about him warmly.
"Ah. Today's the day, eh? I was wondering when that might be happening."
Michael looked up from his knees. "What?"
"Your sister's birthday. Her eleventh birthday. When she'd get her letter."
Michael stared, betrayal in every feature. "You knew?"
Bert's smile was gentle and sympathetic. "Now, there ain't much in this part o' town that ol' Bert doesn't know about, is there?" he said in a low voice, giving Michael a small squeeze about the shoulders.
"But...Mother and Father didn't even know!" Michael said, drawing back slightly, his brow ever more thunderous.
"Now, they wouldn't, would they? Your mother and father are muggles, so naturally..."
"Muggles! That is to say, non-magical persons. And there's a law about muggles not knowing-"
Michael stood up suddenly. "Bert! Are you a wizard, too?"
Bert held out his hand placatingly. "Now, don't run off again, Michael. We're just having a conversation, you and me, no need to be so upset." Michael's posture, poised for more running, relaxed perhaps one hair, but no more.
"No, no..." Bert went on. "I'm no wizard. But not quite a muggle, either, as me parents were a witch and wizard. So...I was raised around magic, but never really could manage much of it meself." He doffed his cap to the boy. "I'm what's known as a squib. Pleased to meetcha."
Michael was still frowning, but now his frown seemed more puzzled than angry. "A squib? Isn't that a sea creature?"
Bert grinned. "Not quite, though I do like a little punt on the Thames now and again." He came to stand beside Michael and said, "Come on. Let's take a walk."
They strolled along a lane still slightly chilled by the morning air, and Michael snuggled into his dressing gown, seemingly becoming aware for the first time that he had left his house without his day-clothes. "Your mother and father were a witch and wizard..." he said musingly, "...and Jane's a witch, and..." He stopped, and gaped suddenly up at Bert.
"Mary Poppins!" he exclaimed. "Was she a witch, too?"
Bert's grin grew broader. "Very good, Michael. You are ripe and ready for one of them fancy schools, you are!"
Michael gazed fixedly into some space beyond Bert's head, his cogs grinding hard. "I said she was, the first time we saw her. Jane said she couldn't be. But...well. It explains everything!"
"It does, indeed," Bert concurred.
"And what about Uncle Albert?"
"A wizard, to be sure, though not one of such pro-di-geeous talent as Mary Poppins. I believe he used to teach Charms or summat at Hogwarts, though I don't think he lasted very long..."
"Hogwarts," Michael intoned, his brow going dark again. "Why did they invite Jane and not me?"
"Well, you're not turning eleven yet, are you?" Bert said reasonably. "All magical children get their letters on their eleventh birthdays and not before. You've still got, what, a year to go?"
"A year and a half," Michael responded gloomily, but then he gasped and looked up. "You mean...I'll get one? Am I magical, too?"
"Too right, you are," Bert said with a twinkle. "Though strictly speaking, I'm probably not supposed to be telling you that..."
Michael held up a solemn, though excited, hand. "I promise not to tell!"
He and Bert shook on it.
Just then, Jane came tripping down the lane toward them, her face glowing. "Michael! There you are! Hello, Bert!"
"A most happy birthday to you, Miss Jane," said Bert with a bow and a tip of the hat. "And I hear congratulations are in order, too, on your invitation to Hogwarts."
Jane looked at Michael in surprise, then back to Bert. Michael said eagerly, "He's a squid!"
Bert chuckled, "Well, squib, actually, but close enough, I suppose."
"And Mary Poppins-" Michael began, and Jane said along with him in perfect unison, "-was a witch!"
And they laughed together, and Jane turned to Bert and said, "She must be the greatest witch in the whole world!"
"Well now," Bert said, rubbing his face and looking dreamily into the sky, as if hoping to see a figure with an umbrella floating down from the fat, white clouds overhead, "I reckon she might just be. Did you know," he said quite seriously to the two rapt faces, "that she's one of the very few witches or wizards ever on record who can perform spells without holding a wand in her hand? She just has to have it in her pocket or summat and snap! Magic! Not everyone can do that, you know."
"Wow," said Michael.
Jane looked quite distracted for a moment, as if imagining herself doing magic with (or without) a wand. "We've done magic before, without wands." She looked at Michael. "Remember the kites? And the butterflies? And cleaning our rooms with Mary Poppins?" She giggled suddenly. "And that time we accidentally turned Cook's salt into sugar?" And both children covered their mouths and laughed, remembering.
Bert nodded knowingly. "Lots o' children do magic without realizing. It's not illegal 'til you've got a wand. Then you can only do magic at school. Until you're grown, that is."
"Seven years," Jane explained to Michael. "We'll go to Hogwarts for seven years, and then at 17 we're grown up, in the wizarding world."
"Did Mary Poppins go to Hogwarts, too?" Michael asked.
"Well, of course she did. Practically all the magical children on the 'ole of Britain go to Hogwarts. It's the best wizarding school in the entire world, or so I hear."
"Oh, Michael, it's so exciting!" Jane said breathlessly as they began to wend their way back to thefront gates of the park. "We'll get to go to the same school after all! In another couple of years, I mean...I'll be leaving September the first and going on a train to the school! And I get to buy an owl, mother said so, though for now Professor Merrythought's going to take my reply back to Hogwarts for me since we haven't got one yet. And oh, she's wonderful! Are all the professors like her, Bert?"
"Well, now, I wouldn't really know...squibs don't get to go to Hogwarts."
"Oh, Bert!" Jane put a hand on his arm.
"It's alright, though," Bert said with a smile. "I've never had cause to complain, and that's the truth. Being a squib ain't so bad, really."
"Yeah. You get to know secrets," Michael said, with just a touch of accusation.
"Oh, Michael," Jane said, "Bert had to keep the secret. It's wizarding law!"
They talked of nothing but Hogwarts all the way back to the house, where Mr. and Mrs. Banks were there to greet them with hugs and smiles and, it must be said, rather overwhelmed expressions, and they invited Bert in for some tea and much important conversation. As it turned out, Mr. Banks very late to work, when all was said and done, but no one minded. Not in the least.
And as the sun rose over the trees lining Cherry Tree Lane, lighting up the stately face of Number 17, they all felt that it had turned out to be quite a most unusual day, after all.
Thank you for reading! And yes, I do think that statue of Bletchley Botts has a permanent sticking charm on it. I can well imagine people trying for decades to remove the thing, to no avail, until finally the Crown must have given up and just let it stay.