Chapter Five

The Ravendore School for Girls

Saturday, 21 November, 1925

Dearest Miriam,

You darling! I just heard the news, though the story will come as no surprise to you. Miss McGonagall called a meeting of the staff and told us all about it. And she told me very particularly about your part in it - - about what you've done to help Ravendore. You dear, dear thing!

As you might imagine, rumour has been swirling here; even the students caught wind of it. Miss Granger came to my room almost in tears at the thought of the school closing, and last week when I escorted Miss Bulstrode to the stables, I could tell she had something on her mind. When I asked what was wrong, she put her hands on her hips and said, "Tell me straight, Miss M. Is Ravendore for the chop?"

Finally Miss McGonagall had to make an announcement at morning assembly. She said, "Young ladies, a culture of rumour seems to have developed here at Ravendore, and that's a situation I want us to avoid. Perfectly ordinary events become magnified out of all proportion if they are whispered about in secret.

"For example, many of you have heard that Ravendore School is presently undergoing some financial reorganisation. Such changes often occur in the running of institutions and are nothing to become alarmed about. But it seems that some of you also have been hearing that the school is closing and that you're to be sent home within the week.

"Let me assure you that such stories are completely without foundation. Ravendore School is in excellent financial health, and in fact, we will be welcoming several new scholars next week.

"In the future, girls, if you have any questions about the state of Ravendore, I suggest that you ask me or one of your forms mistresses directly. Facts are always to be preferred over unsupported speculation."

She dismissed everyone soon after, and it wasn't until this evening that she told the staff the full story: that Ravendore is in better shape than ever! Not only is Lady Longbottom going to continue her support, but we've received a substantial endowment and nearly a dozen new students!

And to think that you were part of our salvation, dear Miriam, and you never let on! However did you manage to convince your mother to let both your sisters switch schools mid-term? I never guessed you were working so hard to help us.

It's funny, because last week, as I glanced out the library window, I could have sworn I saw your mother's motor being driven up to the front of the school. My first thought was that something had happened to you, and she was coming to tell me the dreadful news.

But I was not sent for, and the guest parlour was empty (yes, I sneaked down to check, just like any schoolgirl). Now I realise that your mother must have been in Headmistress McGonagall's office, arranging to transfer the girls.

I'm sure that it was her experience of seeing Miss McG face-to-face that helped your mother decide to send Dorothy and Ida here. I don't see how anyone could listen to our dear headmistress, could see and hear how fine she is, without being converted to whatever cause she chose to champion.

And there's more: Remember the wealthy woman with the horse, Mrs Malfoy? She comes into the story as well. I told you in my last letter about how she came to spend an afternoon at GP's while her horse was shod. I assumed that she had waited in GP's sitting room, but it seems that Mrs M didn't want to let her horse out of her sight, so she stayed with her while the work was done.

In the course of the afternoon, she met Millicent Bulstrode, our Ravendore student. Millicent is not generally a talkative sort, but Mrs Malfoy seems to have got her to open up - - I suspect because they're both so dotty about horses - - and Millicent told the grand lady all about our school. Mrs. Malfoy was most interested.

Over the last few weeks, she came to visit the stable several times while Millicent was there; she seemed quite taken with the girl. (I even met Mrs M once when I was chaperoning Millicent. She's very blond and languid and drawling, and I would never have guessed that she had so many passions - - for horses and girls' education, among other things. She has a son whom she is simply mad about, but she told Millicent that she always wanted a girl, too. So that's why she is so interested in our school.)

Evidently Millicent told her about the rumours of the school's closing (at some point I shall have to talk with her about the impropriety of gossiping about Ravendore to near-strangers, but given the happy consequences, I can't be sorry she did!) Because here is what happened:

Mrs Malfoy seems to have talked the matter over with GP, and GP put her on to the Triumvirate. And she (Mrs Malfoy) met several times with all of them together and with the headmistress separately, and the result is, she's going to donate a large sum of money to establish an endowment!

It also turns out that Lady Longbottom knows the Malfoy family very well (they are apparently quite an old and established family hereabouts; Mrs Malfoy's father-in-law was at school with the headmistress's late father), so Lady L has been persuaded to continue backing Ravendore. Apparently she isn't so frightened of girls going to university if it's something the Malfoy family supports!

So it seems that Mr Shakespeare had it right: all's well that ends well.

- / - / -

I didn't have time to finish and post this letter last night, Miriam dear, and now I'm very glad I didn't, for now I have even more happy news to report.

I was in the staffroom this afternoon during the relaxation hour, and who should come in but the Triumvirate. We're all so busy lately that the staff rarely spends much time together; I don't think I've been in the staffroom with just the Misses Hooch, Sprout, and McGonagall since that night before term, when they told Alice and me about their schooldays.

They didn't see me at first. The headmistress appeared to be in quite high spirits as they came in, and Miss Sprout said, "Minerva, it does my heart good to see you like this; I don't think you've been this happy since the day we went to the solicitor's office to sign the partnership papers for Ravendore."

"Don't forget, Pomona," Miss Hooch put in, "that's also the day we actually succeed in getting her to take a bit of champagne in celebration. Minerva, you haven't been into the cooking sherry, have you? You seem quite exuberant."

Miss McGonagall just laughed. "My dears, I admit to being a trifle tipsy, but not from any actual spirits. From the beginning, I felt reasonably certain that we could make a success of Ravendore, but now I am fully convinced of it. We faced a crisis, and we have triumphed! Oh, I know that pride goeth, and we may have rocky times again in the future, but at this moment, I feel utterly invincible!"

And then guess what she did next! On second thought, don't even try; you'll never guess in a million years - - she seized Miss Sprout by the waist and actually waltzed her around the room!

When they reached the fender, she saw me sitting in the chair next to the fire and stopped short. I believe she was genuinely flustered; she started smoothing her hair and skirts even though there was not a pin out of place. It was very endearing.

Miss Hooch laughed, and Miss McG said, "Goodness, Miss Moody! I had no idea you were here. I do beg your pardon."

I think my reply sounded cool and collected, though I don't know how I managed it since I felt all tingly and nervous, the way I always do when she speaks to me directly. I said, "Not at all, Miss McGonagall. I'm just as excited as you are."

Miss Sprout tried to smooth her own escaping hair (with no success, I fear) and beamed at me and said, "Oh, no need to apologise to Miss Moody, Minerva. She's family, aren't you, dear? Ravendore family, I mean."

Miss McGonagall gave me that rare beautiful smile of hers, and then she actually took my hand and patted it! And said, "that she is, Pomona."

Family! Miss McGonagall said I was part of the Ravendore family! Oh, I know I sound like a great silly, but if I had expired on the spot, I would have died happy.

I love my life here, Miriam. I want to get my degree and then come back and spend the rest of my life at Ravendore. What a grand and noble calling this is. When your granddaughters are ready to come to school here, don't be surprised if they find me still in place.

I wouldn't even mind spending eternity here as a ghost - - flitting about, watching generation after generation of bright, fun girls be educated, letting the older ones catch rare glimpses of my ectoplasmic self. I'd become a legend: the Grey Lady of Ravendore.

It would be Heaven.


Your friend forevermore,

Fiona Moody, TEACHER