A lad about twelve years old with piercing blue eyes and dark, curly hair sat on the nursery floor with his new sister. He did not, in general, think much of babies, but his parents had told him she was very special and much awaited. Additionally, they informed him it was always his duty to protect her. He enjoyed that. After all, soon he would go away to school and be a man. Men protected their family. It is what his father did every day. Actually, so did his mother. In that case, one day little Georgiana would return the favor, and they would equally protect their family.
“I think the little miss needs a rest,” the nursery maid said then scooped up the baby to take to the night nursery.
Master Fitzwilliam Darcy meandered the halls of his family’s house. In the afternoons, he would sit with his mother in her study. Lady Anne did not know, but her son frequently snuck into her study before their lessons together and watched as she exited the secret chamber. He was not yet tall enough to reach the hidden button which opened the door — not that he would ever intrude. He never broke the rules. His mother forbade him to enter there, and he would obey. She promised, one day, to teach him all about his magical roots. He, too, had a special task.
Approaching his mother’s study, young Darcy peeked his head around the corner in time to see his mother leave her alcove. A booming sound at the front of the great hall drew his notice, and he curiously stepped forward. The butler raced toward the door to block the intruder’s entry.
“Where is your mistress?” a deep voice commanded.
Around a bend in the hall, Darcy could see nothing. However, he did not hear the old, but loyal butler give away his mother’s location. Instead, he heard the old man gasp out.
The intruder spoke in an unknown language to the boy, and the next he heard was a loud thud followed by footsteps going down a different hall. Instinct made Darcy return to his mother’s room.
“Fitzwilliam,” his mother whispered as he entered the study. “Go up the back stairs. Find your sister. Find the nurse.”
“Mama, who is that man?”
“Never mind, obey me now! There is not an instant to lose. Hide anywhere.”
“Come out, come out, Witch.” The intruder called from down the hall.
“Go! Now!” Lady Anne hissed at her son, and he immediately obeyed.
When he reached the nursery, he could not find the nurse. Believing the matter too urgent to look for her, he scooped up his sister. Wisely, considering that if the man intended to harm them — as his mother seemed to think probable — the nursery would be the first place he would look for children. Instead, Darcy planned to hide in a large potting container in the conservatory. He had not tried to hide there since he was ten and had last played with the steward’s son but he thought he could drag it behind a large plant and conceal them. Eventually, his mother would find them.
She never did.
Instead, Darcy awoke to the tormented wails of his father which travelled through the house. He found his father cradling his dead wife in the secret alcove of his mother’s study. Lady Anne’s head leaned back with one arm strewn above her head as Darcy Senior held her to his chest. Except for the vacant stare in her still-open eyes, Darcy might have thought she slept.
Most alarming of all, within feet of her prone body, lay a crystal ball used to contain her prophecies. Apparently, her attacker had desired knowledge of one in particular. Unknown was if he had succeeded.
September 21, 1811
It is a truth universally acknowledged that love is the greatest magic of all and to most of the old families in Britain, just as inconceivable.
As the Bennets of Longbourn in Hertfordshire were neither an ancient family nor had they the distinction of rank or wealth, they must be forgiven for Mr. Bennet learning to dearly love his second wife. Despite this vulgarness, they had not openly spoken of the magical world in sixteen years, at least. When news arrived of returning neighbors after a long absence, the conversation between husband and wife were so discreet as to puzzle their three adult daughters. They gathered in the drawing room to enjoy the last hours of sun through the southern windows.
“Have you heard, Mr. Bennet, that General Tilney is to return to Netherfield Abbey, at last?” Martha Bennet asked her husband.
After several moments of silence, Mr. Bennet replied from behind a newspaper. “Is he? I suppose he has his reasons.”
“Indeed. He has married a Mrs. Bingley.” Mrs. Bennet pulled a lamp closer as she pulled out a pile of stockings to darn for the little children.
“And does the new Mrs. Tilney have any grown children? The General’s should all be past their majority by now.”
“Yes, all of their children and a large party of friends are coming to Netherfield.”
Mr. Bennet put down his paper and raised his eyebrows in silent question.
His wife complied. “They are to be here in time for the ball after Michaelmas.”
Mr. Bennet stroked his jaw line. “I suppose that will turn the neighborhood on its heel.”
“Will you call on him?” Mrs. Bennet gave her darning more attention than it usually warranted and did not meet her husband’s eyes.
Mr. Bennet put aside the newspaper and walked across the room to the bookshelves on a far wall. He scanned it for several minutes, muttering under his breath. “I believe I’ll read Leonora to you all tonight. You like that one, don’t you, Lizzy?”
Their second eldest daughter looked up from where she sat with her sisters. “You know I like all those sorts of novels — ”
She was interrupted by the youngest, Catherine. “Oh, no. Why not The Italian?”
“No, Kate! Not that one again!” Lizzy argued. “I am sick of melodrama.” She tossed a ribbon at her younger sister’s head, who shrieked in undignified shock. “I was aiming for the basket to your side. It’s not my fault your head is so big,” she said with a shrug and a smirk while Kate glowered.
“Elizabeth,” the eldest said in a firm but gentle voice. Her wide, clear blue eyes made it difficult to displease her.
“No need to defend me, Jane,” Kate said. “I know how to get even.”
Elizabeth’s jaw dropped open for a scathing retort, but Mrs. Bennet cleared her throat. “Girls,” she said in a sharp tone and with raised eyebrows. Her dark eyes transformed from gentle to piercing and each daughter ducked their heads and returned to their work.
“Ah, here we are. The Vision of Don Roderick by Scott shall be an agreeable compromise,” Mr. Bennet said as though he had not paid any heed to the squabbling of a moment before.
“Mr. Bennet,” Mrs. Bennet said in a milder tone than she used on her daughters but one that demanded an answer all the same.
Mr. Bennet sighed before speaking. “I think it better should I see him at the ball and allow him to settle in first.”
The answer displeased his wife, who sucked in a breath and pursed her lips in a thin line. However, she said nothing.
The three eldest daughters exchanged curious looks with each other. Ordinarily, their parents had far too much sense to care this much about a neighbor returning to his estate.
Elizabeth mused to herself that her birth mother would have had many flutterings over a wealthy gentleman with available sons coming to the area. The first Mrs. Bennet had passed five winters before in an illness that swept the area and took her three youngest daughters and their nearest neighbor, Mrs. Tilney. The current Mrs. Bennet’s first husband, the Reverend Morland, also passed as they were visiting a relation in Hertfordshire.
Mr. Bennet found himself with two grief-stricken daughters of marriageable age, and Mrs. Morland with several children and no pension, the two married for necessity when their half mourning was complete. General Tilney had quickly left the area and took his children: two sons and a daughter, with him. They had not heard a thing from him or about him in all these years.
“Jane, Lizzy,” said Kate, “do you remember General Tilney or his children?”
“It was years ago,” answered Jane, “but they were all kind.”
“But did you know them well?”
Elizabeth shook her head. “Eleanor is Jane’s age but the boys, Frederick and Henry, are four and two years older than her. They were too old to join in our games.”
Kate frowned, and Elizabeth passed a newly mended handkerchief to her. Kate had the most patience for embroidery out of all the girls. Elizabeth looked out the window longingly. It was now too dark for a stroll in the garden. Her father took a break from his reading to place lamps around the room. The slightly worn but pale wallpaper and several well-placed mirrors magnified the light. Elizabeth shuddered at how much they would spend monthly in candlesticks otherwise.
Jane stretched out a gown her youngest sister had outgrown and neatly cut a rectangle. She cut a long strip from a contrasting fabric to make an apron string. “Eleanor was at school when her mother died, as was Henry. The eldest was at university. We had seldom been in their company for many years before Mrs. Tilney’s death. I know not being at home bore heavily on them all.”
Elizabeth nodded. “Yes, as much as I wish Mother would have agreed to send us to school, I am glad we were at home for her final hours.”
Her mother had insisted she would have missed her daughters too much to send them to school, but Elizabeth believed the real reason was that her mother was a spendthrift. Of course, her step-mother’s brood of children cost nearly as much, and so the Bennets continued to spend most of their annual income of two thousand pounds a year.
Kate let out a happy sigh. “General Tilney must have loved his wife very much if he could not stand to be home or remarried until now.”
“Perhaps,” Elizabeth said while shrugging. She had been fifteen and in little company of either elder Tilneys.
At the same moment, Jane said, “Of course!”
“Such romantic sensibilities must be passed on to his sons then,” Catherine continued.
“Kate!” Elizabeth chided quietly. Her sister read too many romantic and gothic novels. “Life is not like your books. Do you suppose that your mother felt the loss of your father any less than General Tilney would have felt of his wife? And she remarried quickly.”
“My mother did love Father dearly,” she replied, evidently reconsidering.
“Life is not fair to women, Lizzy,” Jane said. “Mama may love Papa now, but you know that was not the arrangement when they married.”
Elizabeth frowned as she pulled out another handkerchief from the mending basket. At least this one was for a brother and therefore required less fancy needlework. “Mama, is it James that needs more handkerchiefs?”
“Allow me to consult the list,” Mrs. Bennet said and held a ledger toward the lamp at her side. As a mother of nine children of various ages, she managed the household through extreme organizational means. “Yes, James and John both,” she informed Elizabeth. “What they do with them, I don’t know,” she muttered to herself and stabbed a child’s stocking with her needle.
Elizabeth bent her head over her work and blew a wisp of dark hair out of her eyes. She kept her thoughts to herself about the potential personalities of their neighbors. Jane was too apt to trust and like people. No intimacy had existed between the Netherfield and Longbourn families. Jane would only know what she had seen on the civil calls and large dinners. Additionally, she had only been in company for a year before the Tilneys left the area. She had always been predisposed to view everyone in a favorable light.
Elizabeth wondered if the situation of their parents’ demise and remarriage colored the outlooks that Jane and Kate had of romance and marriage. For herself, she was not easily pleased or impressed. A man would have to love her quite ardently to marry her with only fifty pounds to her name and yet that could hardly be sensible. She could never marry a man out of his wits.
September 23, 1811
Fitzwilliam Darcy now just under thirty, with the same dark hair and piercing blue eyes of his youth, leafed through several letters of recommendations. He brushed an unruly and curly lock slightly to the side.
“Richard,” Darcy said in a deep but distinct voice, “I think Mrs. Annesley is the one.”
Richard, around the same age as Darcy and wearing Regimentals, took a sip of wine before replying. “I believe you’re right, which will come as no surprise to you.” He assumed an exaggeratedly pompous posture as his companion scowled. “Fitzwilliam Darcy is never wrong.”
“Very amusing,” Darcy scowled. These days, he felt like everything he did was wrong. “Has she spoken to you at all?”
“No. Father and I only get one-word answers. Mother gets little more. When we mention her returning here, she bursts into tears.”
Darcy glared as Richard drained his glass as though there was nothing unusual with what he just said.
“Well, if you’re sure her references all check out, then I’ll be off. The Major has complained about my absences recently. You’ll be ready for Georgiana at the end of the month?”
Darcy’s grip on the papers tightened. He had checked Mrs. Annesley’s references three times personally and employed half a dozen others to do so as well. He would not be caught unawares again. It was all entirely his fault, but Georgiana could not bear the devastation she almost caused by her planned, but thankfully interrupted, elopement. “Yes. I think redoing the upstairs drawing room will excite her. And by then I will be free of daily correspondence with my steward at Pemberley. I do not want any distractions when she returns.”
Richard stood and shook his head. “You’ll frighten her more if you hover. Don’t treat her like a child — ”
“That is precisely what she is!” Darcy said with a quietness that belied his intense feelings and the temperature in the room dropped. “I never should have allowed her to go to Ramsgate, or to entrust her care to a woman who was not a relation.” His sister, twelve years his junior, was all he had left of his family. His parents had believed he would protect her and instead his selfishness nearly led to her ruin.
“You will not always live with her,” Richard said. “Someday she will marry, and you will have to have faith that man will see to her wants and needs. You will have to trust Georgiana…and yourself,” he added softly.
Rather than replying to his cousin, Darcy turned his attention to other correspondence. His mentor wrote to him of a group of ladies in Hertfordshire that he expected to come into magical powers very soon. The General reminded him of his duty to his mother’s memory. He alone knew all of her prophecies — which ultimately got her killed — and he alone could determine if these sisters fit the prophecy of restoring balance to the forces of good and evil.
Darcy did not need the reminder. He could never forget his duty, even as he loathed the requirement. Did anyone understand the pressure he felt having to straddle two worlds? The mortal world required he present the face of a typical English gentleman: impeccable manners, landlord, with a healthy interest in sporting, ladies, politics, concern for over taxation, and his estate’s drainage ditches. To be entirely mortal would mean sacrificing his magical heritage. The magical world, however, desired he fully embrace his legacy. Yet, how could he want to live in a world which killed his loving mother? A world that now thought they had endless claims on him no matter that he had his own desires. Both worlds had one thing in common: they expected him to marry one of their own.
Memories washed over Darcy. His father and mother had a love story the likes of which few could understand. However, his mother had kept her powers a secret and the older Mr. Darcy did not take to the truth very well. Especially as he only became aware of his wife’s abilities when he began having premonitions himself. It was proof that they were true soul mates but put the Darcy family into even more trouble when the Caligo took over.
While Mr. Darcy had been called away on Council business, Caligo struck at Pemberley. Even now, that day haunted Darcy. If he had been braver, he would have protected his mother instead of hiding. He could have prevented her death, and that tormented him more than any concerns about weaknesses in the magical world. In the years that followed, Darcy’s father could hardly look at the boy who led to his wife’s demise.
“What a monstrous frown, Cousin,” Richard interrupted Darcy’s musings.
“News from the General.”
Although Darcy did not serve in the military or the magical community’s counterpart the agmen, he headed the Cabinet of Premonition. In particular, he had taken over his father’s tasks of investigating claims of an ancient prophecy regarding three sisters who would restore the balance of power between good and evil. His mother had the sight and became a renowned oracle. In her later years, most of her prophecies proclaimed the impending arrival of the Bewitched Sisters. Darcy did not realize it at the time, but most of the things his mother taught him, from nursery rhymes to fables, held some degree of memorizing her prophecies. The instruction served as insurance should she be killed and evil infiltrate the Council.
“He and the family will return to their estate in Hertfordshire around Michaelmas to investigate a claim to the prophecy.”
“Ah,” Richard said with raised eyebrows. “So it begins again. Are you ready for it?”
Darcy sighed and leaned back in his chair. “I only wish I did not have to leave Georgiana, but she must stay.” In the years since he had become Minister of Prophecy, he had investigated many claims between sisters.
“This is the first time you will be staying with the Tilneys, however,” Richard said. “Bingley’s sister—”
“I know she’s a devious, grasping woman, and a powerful witch. I will not fall prey to her wiles — magical or mortal.”
“I did not mean to insinuate you would,” Richard raised his hands to cease Darcy’s tirade. “I only worry about the added stress you must bear.”
“Thank you,” Darcy gave his cousin a soft but sincere smile.
He had few he could count on and few who understood him. Richard had reason to fear Darcy’s travels to Hertfordshire with the General. Tilney’s first wife had died five years ago, and he remarried last year. It was not a love match by any means. Mrs. Bingley was still lovely at forty and had a substantial fortune. Additionally, she had a noble magical legacy. Darcy, however, had reason to rejoice and mourn the match. His good friend Charles Bingley was now the General’s step-son, and that would naturally help advance his career and position in both worlds. On the other hand, Charles’ sister Caroline had set her cap at Darcy years ago and would not give him up.
“I had best be off,” Richard said and stood. “Give my regards to Charles and Henry.”
“Is that all you wish me to do?” Darcy asked with a raised brow.
“Oh, I’ll be around with a letter for Ellie. Why would I trust you to give her my sentiments? She might just as easily fall for my loving words from your rich mouth.”
Darcy laughed. “She is far too intelligent for that.”
“That she is,” Richard smiled and agreed. “She loves me, after all.” The gentlemen shared a laugh and Richard took his leave.
After his cousin had left, Darcy perused the General’s letter again. It was an unusual set of circumstances. Mr. Bennet had two daughters. The eldest was an empath, and the younger had the ability to create and control fire. His step-daughter had just come out and was rumored to have the sight. However, Darcy did not think as step-sisters they would have the required bond to manifest the strength of the Bewitched Sisters. Additionally, their powers were currently bound, and while they would soon be released, they would be utter novices at the craft. It seemed unlikely they would fulfill the prophecy, but Darcy’s duty required he examine them anyway. Too many mortals and witches both had perished in the last twenty years. Once peace was restored, Darcy could have the peaceful country existence he had always craved.
October 4, 1811
Without much more fuss, the days passed until the next Meryton assembly. It was not the ladies’ first desire to get to know their prodigal neighbors at a public ball, but their father had been adamant in not calling earlier. As it happened, General Tilney had only been at Netherfield for a day or two before leaving for London. Mrs. Long, the circulator of all local gossip, claimed he would be arriving with five gentlemen and five ladies.
The single women of the area pouted at the possibility that all the men were already attached. At last, the moment of truth came. When only four women and five gentlemen, including the General, arrived, the crowd, unanimously gave up Mrs. Long as once again wrong in her information and before so much as a word was spoken had settled it in their heads that the four young gentlemen were unattached. One lady was surely Mrs. Tilney, given her age, and the others must only be sisters.
The truth was something to the effect. One lady was indeed Mrs. Tilney. She brought a son and two daughters — one married with her husband in attendance. This left the two sons of General Tilney, but no one could claim to recognize the eldest. His age looked correct, but there was no family resemblance.
They were soon to find out, that it was not Frederick Tilney, heir of Netherfield Abbey of four thousand a year and houses in Town and Bath. Instead, it was a Mr. Darcy of Pemberley in Derbyshire. His reported income was ten thousand pounds; he was cried up as good as a lord. He was the particular friend of Mrs. Tilney’s son, Charles Bingley, and it would have been the prize of the night to attain his admiration if his manners had not given a disgust. Compared with the amiability of Mr. and Mrs. Tilney’s sons, Mr. Darcy was seen as intolerably proud.
Mr. Bingley was without a house, although his inheritance was large, and he declared a desire to lease an estate in the neighborhood. Mr. Henry Tilney had just taken orders and was to take over for Dr. Harrison in a nearby parish. The ladies of Meryton, both sensible and romantic, sighed at the elegant figures the two gentlemen cut and their dancing skill. Mr. Darcy was the most handsome and tallest, but no one could admire his way of staring critically at the crowd.
General Tilney was declared as much improved from when he was last seen. Town gossips determined him very much in love with his new wife who came from a good family but married into trade with her first marriage.
Elizabeth saw, with much joy, that Mr. Bingley had immediately sought an introduction with Jane at his earliest opportunity.
Jane smiled at her handsome partner. “We were so pleased to hear of your arrival in the neighborhood, Mr. Bingley,” she said. “We have all missed General Tilney’s presence, and I am sure your mother and sisters will be welcome additions as well.”
“My mother seems most fortunate in her marriage.” Mr. Bingley’s brown eyes danced in the surrounding candlelight.
“I believe I heard they married last year?” Elizabeth asked.
“Yes, and you may wonder at the delay for their taking residence at Netherfield again.”
Jane and Elizabeth nodded.
“They met in Bath and chose to stay there until all their children finished their educations. I have just completed my master’s examinations at Cambridge. Henry completed his studies just before the marriage but then served as a deacon until he came of age. Frederick’s regiment was also stationed nearby.”
Jane smiled at the mention of the eldest Tilney son. “I knew him as a boy. He has joined the military?”
“Yes, a Captain in the Militia,” Mr. Bingley said. “There was talk of him going into the regulars, but he has not yet, and as heir to Netherfield I rather doubt that he will. His father insisted in some form of employment for his son, however, to keep him occupied.” Mr. Bingley gazed out across the crowd as though to be sure his step-father had not heard the remark.
Jane furrowed her brow. “And have you had the same demands put upon you?”
Uncertainty clouded Bingley’s eyes. “I am charged with purchasing an estate as soon as may be.”
Elizabeth observed that although Jane’s expression did not change, disappointment momentarily flashed in her eyes.
“Oh, then you will not stay long at Netherfield?” Jane asked.
Bingley grinned, and his white teeth dazzled like diamonds. “I doubt I shall find anything until next Spring. The autumn and winter are hardly conducive to looking at estates.”
Jane blushed but did not reply. Elizabeth felt it necessary to say something. “I suppose so. We are fortunate, though, with our easy distance to London.”
“Indeed. My sisters enjoy that as well.”
This, at last, roused Jane to speech. “They seem like very elegant ladies!”
Elizabeth looked across the ballroom and immediately saw the women in question. Their delicate silk gowns and ornate headpieces with feathers stood out amongst the crowd of patterned muslins and fresh flowers as they lined the dark paneled walls. Mr. Bingley’s elder sister, Mrs. Hurst, toyed with a shining necklace of emeralds and sapphires. Elizabeth guessed it cost half her father’s annual income. Firm to believe in first impressions, Elizabeth perceived the ladies felt above their company and could not like them.
“Thank you. Caroline and Louisa do count themselves as such. I am afraid my newest sister, Eleanor, is more reserved.”
Elizabeth looked around the room and saw Miss Tilney, dressed not nearly as finely as her step-sisters, standing alone.
Jane smiled gently. “I know my sisters and I will enjoy getting to know her better. It simply takes some people longer to warm up to a crowd of strangers.”
Mr. Bingley cocked his head. “I think you speak from experience.”
Jane blushed. “Yes, I find new people and situations uncomfortable.”
The musicians began to strike up for a new set, and Mr. Bingley civilly requested Jane and Elizabeth as partners. As Jane was lead to the dance floor, Elizabeth overheard what she said to Bingley.
“I have never revealed so much to a new acquaintance before,” she confessed.
While Jane and Bingley danced, Elizabeth sat out due to the absence of partners. She had not minded and was busy watching the new neighbors. Mr. Darcy had caught her eye early in the evening, and she now amused herself imagining his inner thoughts as he circled about the room with an expression of disdain. His strong jaw was firmly set. Now and then someone bumped into him and his face contorted. She was busy wondering if the spasm was an expression of revulsion or pain when Mr. Bingley left his second dance with Jane to approach his friend.
“Darcy! I must have you dance!” Mr. Bingley’s face was flushed from the heat of the ballroom and the exertion of dancing.
Mr. Darcy looked amongst the crowd. The baker and his wife promenaded past, and Elizabeth thought she saw his lip curl.
“I loathe dancing with strangers. Save your sisters I do not know a soul here.”
Elizabeth found that strange wording but was too taken with the rest of their conversation to pay much heed to it.
“I have not seen prettier girls in my life!” said Mr. Bingley and he turned his whole body to look at Jane.
Darcy loosened his cravat and then stared at his gloved hand while responding. “You are dancing with the only beautiful one.”
Bingley grinned but shook his head. “No, there is her sister just behind you. She is very lovely and quite amiable too. Let me call Miss Bennet to introduce you.”
Elizabeth’s breath caught. The last thing she desired was to be inspected by Mr. Darcy. She reminded herself she had no reason to want his good opinion, all the same, she wished she had worn a different gown or spent more time on her hair.
“Which do you mean?”
Darcy looked over his shoulder and his eyes locked with Elizabeth. Perhaps it was just from the peculiar inspection, but she had the strangest feeling settle in her at that moment. First, she felt heat, then a chill. He quickly tore his gaze away.
“She is tolerable, I suppose, but not handsome enough to tempt me. Return to your partner and enjoy her smiles for you are wasting your time with me.”
Although she felt like a puddle after the riot of feelings meeting his eyes gave, Elizabeth’s courage always rose to every occasion of intimidation. The minute Darcy walked on to find fault with another dancer, she promptly left her seat and retold the scene to her closest friend, Charlotte Lucas.
Charlotte laughed at Elizabeth’s description of the haughty interchange. Once calmed, she whispered into Elizabeth’s ear, “His eyesight must be weak for him to make such a remark! My mother and I have just the tonic which would help him…”
Elizabeth sincerely doubted such a specimen of a man could have any fault so mundane as weak eyesight but laughed at the image provoked. She imagined Darcy with a quizzing glass which magnified objects tenfold and yet he still needed to bring items close. Perhaps he might mistake a dirty stocking for a posy and sniff it.
“Oh, Charlotte! He is too proud to want any of your homemade tonics or even to admit to such a deficiency at all. I daresay he is entitled to his opinion, and I could much easier forgive his pride if he had not wounded mine.”
Charlotte’s sharp eyes met her friend’s. “Was it your pride or your vanity, Lizzy? Did he affect how you think of yourself, or only what you want everyone else to think?”
Elizabeth scoffed. “As if I care what the neighborhood thinks of me!”
“Little more than you do what a stranger thinks of you? I am your dearest friend, and I know the truth. You desire to project the image of a quick-witted and lively, pretty girl. You dislike close examination.”
Elizabeth shook her head. Her dark curls dancing at the movement. “You would not understand, Charlotte. I’ve always felt so…different than the other girls.”
Miss Lucas was saved the trouble of replying by the arrival of Jane. She was astonished at Elizabeth’s report of Mr. Darcy.
“I cannot believe he meant it in that way!” Jane’s blue eyes went wide in shock and disbelief. “Mr. Bingley is the friendliest man I have ever met, surely his friend must be as kind. No, you shall not laugh me out of my opinion no matter how much you roll your eyes at me, Lizzy. You must have misunderstood Mr. Darcy.” Jane could be firm where she believed herself right.
Mr. Bingley approached, ending the conversation. He asked Elizabeth for a dance but spent every other possible moment talking with Jane, ensuring he was in the same set as her. Elizabeth was too happy for her sister to feel slighted. As the evening wore on, however, it seemed Mr. Darcy was always watching her. Finding more fault with her, she assumed. She did not care about his close inspection.
At one point, Mr. Bingley’s younger sister was led to the dance floor by Darcy. Her orange silk gown floated around her in an almost magical quality. At first, Elizabeth admired the dress but believed it did not flatter Miss Bingley’s complexion. Additionally, her nose quite literally stuck in the air lest she suffer from the aroma of her fellow dancers. Elizabeth watched Miss Bingley cringe before touching every other partner. If Mr. Darcy’s eyes wandered, Miss Bingley would say some joke, judging by the way she laughed at her words, and Mr. Darcy’s lips tilted up in a small smile. Elizabeth suspected snide comments being made and hoped someone in Miss Bingley’s set would trample on her train. Elizabeth grinned at the possibility then immediately felt guilty about what Jane’s reaction would be.
Rolling her eyes at herself, she turned her attention to her sisters. Kate danced with Henry Tilney, and Elizabeth smiled to herself as the gentleman made her younger sister laugh. Kate had just come out a few weeks earlier, and Elizabeth applauded her parents for allowing their other daughters of close age out even while the eldest remained unmarried. Elizabeth happily saw her sister’s first ball must be everything a lady needed. For once, Elizabeth did not even regret Kate’s fanciful imagination. Growing too warm, she stationed herself near an open window until Mr. Bingley collected her for their set.
Instead of dreaming of gentlemen as might be supposed after a ball, each lady dreamed of their deceased parent. Mr. Morland came to Kate bathed in a white glow and bade her go to the woods behind the east garden. The deceased Mrs. Bennet ordered her daughters there as well. Jane obeyed readily enough, although she trembled at the strangeness of her mother’s ghost appearing before her. Elizabeth, however, was too sensible even in her dreams. At length, as she felt as though her limbs were on fire, she determined the cool autumn air would bring relief.
The sisters stood around a neglected fountain currently covered in overgrown ivy. They looked at each other in confusion.
“How strange that we are all here,” Jane said.
“Yes,” Kate agreed. “I do not recall leaving my bed. I have never roamed about when asleep before.”
“Nor I,” said Elizabeth. “However, now that I am here, I feel like I ought to remain. That is ridiculousness, is it not? Leaving feels somehow wrong.”
Jane looked around the area with dawning comprehension. “Lizzy, do you remember how we used to play here? I think I was about eleven when we stopped coming.”
Elizabeth slowly nodded. They had not visited this fountain in many years, long before her mother and sisters died. Playing here was one of her first memories. “Yes, we would dance around it with Mary. I don’t think Kitty was born yet. I used to pretend the most fantastical things happened. The trees and flowers would dance with us and sing a special song.”
“Why did you stop coming?” Kate questioned.
Elizabeth shrugged her shoulders. “Mary had a nightmare, and then we were not allowed to come here anymore.”
“They frightened her so much,” Jane murmured. She had always been very sensitive to the feelings of others.
“I used to have bad dreams,” Kate said. “Sometimes it seemed like they came true.”
“What do you mean?” Elizabeth asked while Jane gasped in alarm. Why had Kate never mentioned that before? Is that what had happened with Mary? Elizabeth could not remember.
“It started with small things. I dreamed my cat had kittens and the next day she did.”
“That is rather explainable,” said Elizabeth dubiously. “Someone probably told you she would soon have them.”
Kate nodded. “I dreamed of a man in a carriage during a terrible storm one night. There was a large rut in the ground, and it broke the carriage wheel. The man came to no harm, but one of the horses went lame.”
Elizabeth’s eyes widened. “Did that come to be as well?”
“Yes, my uncle came to visit us the next day, and the exact scenario had happened to him.”
“What else?” Elizabeth asked as her curiosity grew. Jane trembled beside her.
“The last dream I had was of my grandmother dying. She sang some strange song to me as she held my hand.”
Words lodged in Elizabeth’s throat. She felt as though she were on the cusp of something, like looking over the edge of a cliff and deciding to jump. “Did…did…that come true?”
“Yes. I was so upset and terrified. I wept at her side, and I remember thinking that I had caused her death because of my dream.”
“Surely that was not so!” Jane cried, tears shimmered in her eyes as though she could now feel the despair Kate must have experienced.
“It was my last dream,” Kate whispered.
“How old were you?” Elizabeth asked.
“Eleven. We soon came to Hertfordshire and…”
Kate trailed off as each girl knew what happened afterward. An illness swept the county and claimed their parents.
“Sometimes, I still feel as though I have seen something in a dream. The ball this evening, for example, seemed eerily familiar.”
Recalling her strange dream of her dead mother earlier this night, Elizabeth looked at Kate intently and asked, “Did you dream tonight?”
Kate slowly nodded. “Yes. My father told me to come here.”
Jane spoke up. “I have never had such strange dreams before, but tonight my mother appeared clothed in white and asked me to come to the fountain.”
Elizabeth laughed. “How strange that I should dream the same thing. I am sure you obediently went, even while still asleep, whereas I argued with her!”
“What made you leave your bed then?” asked Jane.
“I suddenly felt so hot. It was as if I held my hand over a fire too closely.” A breeze rustled in the nearby trees, and Elizabeth shuddered. “Now I feel cold.”
“Come, share my wrap,” Jane said.
Their youngest sister suddenly looked in need of comforting. She held out her other arm to Kate.
“You too, Kate.”
The three sisters huddled together before the fountain when a great rush of wind parted the sky. The moon shone so brightly they had to cover their eyes.
“Look up, children.”
Elizabeth and Jane gasped in unison when they saw their deceased mother bathed in white and floating like an angel.
“Kate, all is well.”
A ghostly gentleman said next to Elizabeth’s mother, and she presumed it was Mr. Morland.
“This cannot be!” cried Elizabeth.
“It is real,” Mr. Bennet said from behind them.
The sisters spun on their heel to see their living parents standing hand in hand and with no expressions of shock.
“Have no fear,”
“Are we dead?” Kate asked in confusion.
“No, dearest,” Mrs. Bennet explained. “The time is now right for your powers to be returned. You are descendants from great lines of witches.”
Still in each other’s arms, Elizabeth could feel Kate and Jane tremble at such news.
“No,” Jane whispered and vehemently shook her head. “I would never want to harm a soul.”
Elizabeth squeezed her older sister’s hand. “Of course not, Janie. You are the sweetest person in the world!”
“We must be fevered or going mad!” Kate exclaimed.
“I see your fear,” Mr. Bennet said and raised his hands to silence them. “You do not recall for we bound your powers and erased the memories. However, you were born with gifts and for many years knew of the magical world. Contrary to the contemporary representation, we come from good witches.”
“Powers? Gifts? Magic?” Elizabeth spoke. It appeared her sisters could not utter a word through their terror. “Good witches? What of the stories of evil?” She shook her head and rushed on before her father could answer. “No, this is nonsense. It defies logic. Science proves magic does not exist.”
Mr. Bennet smirked. “Does this seem real?”
He held out his hand, and a flame appeared. Elizabeth’s eyes went wide. Her sisters gasped.
“You may touch it.” He motioned for his wife to hold her hand over it for a moment. She then displayed her unblemished hand. “Try it,” he suggested to his daughters.
Tentatively, Elizabeth reached out a hand. She felt no heat or discomfort. Giving her father a skeptical look, she pulled away from her sisters and walked a few steps until she had gathered some sticks and leaves. Placing them over the flame in her father’s hand, Elizabeth marveled that the fire consumed them but had not harmed flesh.
“You can do it too, Lizzy,” Mr. Bennet said. “Hold out your hand and focus. Think about unleashing the burning you feel under your skin.”
Surprised to hear her father had known the sensations she had been feeling, Elizabeth met his eyes. Unclenching a palm, she extended her hand out and thought about forcing the fiery prickles coursing through her body outward. A flame jumped from her hand, reaching over a foot high. Startled, Elizabeth and her sisters shrieked. The flame sputtered out.
“And that is somehow used for good?” Elizabeth asked.
Mr. Bennet nodded. “You have always had a fiery temper, Lizzy. Our powers are harder to control when our emotions are overwrought. Likewise, Kate often feels she has experienced things before, and Jane can sympathize with nearly anyone.
“There is good and evil in this world, tended to by witches fighting for either side. It was a curse from the dark side which brought illness here five years ago. A family of great female witches had been prophesied about. Three sisters would have the powers of empathy, fire, and premonition.”
Mr. Morland, who Elizabeth had nearly forgotten about, floated around to stand beside his earthly wife, confirmed what Elizabeth knew instinctively. “That family was the Bennets of Longbourn.”
Mr. Bennet paused at his daughters’ gasp. Seeing none had fainted, he continued the tale. “We did not know how the prophecy would be fulfilled. No family name was included in the prophecy.”
Elizabeth’s dead mother joined them. “I grew nervous as each successive daughter exhibited more traits to fulfill the prophecy. When Mary began having premonitions, we advocated the High Council of Witches for protection. A traitor was amongst them. Instead of having protection, your youngest sisters and I met our demise.”
The two Mrs. Bennets stood next to each other now, hand in hand. The former Mrs. Morland spoke. “Kate was so upset over her powers that her father and I bound them just before we visited Hertfordshire. When Mrs. Bennet and her daughters succumbed to their sickness, we were visited by the High Minister. She said Kate’s powers were not well known in the community and were sufficiently cloaked from Caligo — that is the name of the evil warlock who wishes to kill the Bewitched Sisters. The power of the gift lies in the three women forming bonds of sisterly love and unity, not in a bloodline. It was suggested Kate could take Mary Bennet’s place.”
Kate gasped. “Father, you were never ill? You sacrificed yourself so Mama could marry Mr. Bennet?” Kate exclaimed. Tears rolled down her cheeks.
“It was for the greater good. I have never been too far from our family. I did not die from what took Mrs. Bennet and her daughters, but I did suffer from a lingering illness with no known cure. We merely sped up my demise.”
Kate continued to blubber. The young ladies stood still, shocked in wonder.
Elizabeth seemed to be the first to gain her equilibrium. Her mind was racing, and she was the first to speak. “Why are we being told this now?”
“Because now,” her mother said, “it is necessary for you three to use your powers to defeat the darkness returning to Hertfordshire. General Tilney’s return to Netherfield was the signal that Caligo has returned to complete his mission.”
“What is that?” Elizabeth asked. She was eager to know everything she could about this new world.
Mr. Bennet was the most knowledgeable and therefore answered. “We do not know entirely. The Bewitching Sisters were prophesied as guardians of the Kingdom of Magic and of Great Britain. He must mean harm to one or both of them.”
“And he dwells in General Tilney?” Kate asked in a trembling voice and huddled closer to Jane as her eyes searched the woods.
Elizabeth guessed she was wondering how far they were from Netherfield and if he might be overhearing all of this.
Mr. Bennet answered again, “No, the General is a trusted council member. It is he who put the enchantment on Netherfield, as Longbourn’s closest neighbors. Should the spirit of darkness return, the house will be readied for occupancy again.”
“What has changed? What would trigger such a thing?” Elizabeth questioned.
“We do not know,” said Mr. Morland. “We have limited time for visitation this night. We could only appear long enough to explain the history to you and join your living parents in unbinding your powers.” The parents soon surrounded the girls and said a chant returning their powers and memories of magic.
“We must go, but I would caution you girls that enemies often enjoy hiding behind a friendly face. Now, we trust the love which has brought you this far will last as you work together to vanquish this evil,” the deceased Mrs. Bennet said. “Know you have our love.”
After tender embraces, the ghostly parents vanished, and Mr. Bennet led his family back to the house.
The occupants of Netherfield also did not rest well the evening after the ball in Meryton but for different reasons entirely.
“I want to know,” Mrs. Tilney said when everyone was seated with coffee and refreshments, “what you all thought of that…that…I believe I heard the residents refer to it as a ball but with the number of country dances it surely would never qualify!” She shuddered.
“We are not here to worry about friendships or fashion, Agatha,” General Tilney said. “We have been assigned to determine if these are the Bewitched Sisters.”
Mrs. Tilney smiled at the scold. “We might be magical but we are still ladies, and as we frequent London more than Pember Wigan, you must allow that we care about good Society and gowns.”
The General grunted and reached for a newspaper.
“Still, I am curious what the gentlemen of our party thought,” she continued, “because I am sure I can guess the ladies’ opinions. Mr. Darcy, what did you think of Meryton?”
“I saw little beauty and no fashion,” he said disinterestedly.
“You did not think the Bennet ladies worthy of your notice? I thought they seemed quite interested in you,” Miss Caroline Bingley, the General’s younger step-daughter, said.
Darcy, used to Caroline’s prying manners from his long friendship with her brother, knew how to answer her. “I saw no attention or pleasure shown to me.”
Caroline gasped in shock. “You mean to say they ignored you? How could they not know who you are?”
Darcy approached Mrs. Tilney to refill his coffee to keep from rolling his eyes, although it was difficult as she simpered while pouring from the ornate coffee service. He returned to his seat and wondered when he might go to bed, hoping the chamber was more comfortable than the drawing room. Every cushion was stiffly stuffed and upholstered in garish colors the Bingley ladies favored so much. At last, he replied as Caroline did not take her eyes off him. “It is no consequence when they were of equally no interest to me.”
“Of no interest?” the General threw the paper down. “You know, of course, that in this back-country village is a family that claims to harbor the most powerful witches of the era!”
He was beginning to turn red and when worked up could be in a rage for quite some time. Usually, Darcy avoided doing so but collaborating with the General meant Darcy finally had a chance to observe him carefully. Alas, Bingley could never stand for there to be unhappiness or strife.
“Now, I must disagree with something you had said earlier, Darcy,” Bingley shook his head. “The Bennet ladies were exceedingly lovely. The eldest was an angel! Nor did I dislike the manners at the dance. I am not one for formality and stiffness.”
“I believe we generally call it elegance, Charles,” Caroline said with a sly smile. She looked at Darcy for confirmation.
“The eldest Miss Bennet was pretty, I will grant you, but she smiled too much for my taste.” Charles only grinned at Darcy’s words, and he had to hide his own smile. The lady indeed smiled far too much to interest him, but it was all he could say against her as of now. It was a code they used for Darcy to give in approval of Charles’ dance partners. From experience, they both knew far too many ladies would prefer to catch Darcy and only used Charles as a means to an end. Darcy did not pretend to read emotion or minds, but he could at least allow Charles to know that he had no interest in a lady.
“That may be true, but I still found her very agreeable,” Mrs. Louisa Hurst, Charles’ elder sister, interjected.
“Yes, if we are to be trapped here, she is one I would not dislike getting to know better,” Caroline said.
Darcy glanced at Bingley’s step-siblings, Henry and Eleanor Tilney, who had remained silent. “What did you think, Henry? I believe I saw you dancing with one of them.”
The General, who still seemed put out by not venting his spleen earlier, looked at his son with more interest than usual.
“I danced with the youngest one,” Henry said. “I was the only one to dance with her. I don’t know why I go to balls with you two! Charles always heads right for the prettiest girl and plays court to her all night, and Darcy refuses to stand up with anyone he doesn’t already know.”
Caroline grinned at the mention that she had been the only single lady Darcy danced with all evening.
“I danced with the middle daughter!” Charles said. “I tried to get Darcy to dance with her too!”
“I daresay you cannot blame Charles for not dancing with Miss Catherine Morland,” Louisa said in her brother’s defense. “She stood at the back and was hardly noticeable at all.”
“And when you did notice her!” Caroline made an unpleasant face. “Those teeth!”
“Nevermind her looks,” Darcy said through a clenched jaw. “Did you sense anything from her or the others?” Henry was a Kleros, his magical gift was to sense evil.
“Just the usual nerves and village disputes. Nothing malevolent.”
“Charles?” Darcy watched as his friend, a telepath, flushed a little. The others had not remarked on it, but Darcy had noticed how little Charles actually spoke during his dances with Miss Bennet, who rumor had it was an empath. Darcy would have bet Charles conversed through thoughts with her.
“Sir William Lucas has done his job well,” Charles said, at last. “The Bennet ladies seemed sufficiently ignorant of their powers, and all the jobbards had no suspicion of magic being the cause for our return.”
“Eleanor?” The General looked hard at his daughter who had not said a thing all evening.
“I agree they did not seem to know of their powers, but I sensed great potential,” she answered in a gentle voice. “They are strong, confident and unaffected young ladies. They will rise to the task if allowed.”
Before more could be said on the subject of “allowing” the ladies to become true witches, Mr. Hurst let out a loud snore. Judging by the look on the General’s face, it was best to not allow the conversation to continue anyway.
Mrs. Tilney must have noticed as well.
“Louisa,” she said, “I’m afraid Hurst is long overdue his rest. You must wake him.” Mrs. Tilney stood and called for the servant who began using spells to clean the room. “I will bid you all adieu.” She looked at her husband meaningfully.
“Allow me to escort you,” he said and stood. He gave the room a sloppy bow before placing his wife’s hand on his arm and leading her up the stairs.
Before Caroline’s eyes could brighten with the opportunity of more secluded conversation with him, Darcy announced his intention to retire as well. He extended his arm to Eleanor, who sat near the door, as Caroline nearly fell off the sofa trying to stand. Mr. Hurst’s feet rested on her train.
In his chamber, Darcy dismissed his valet and sighed. It continued to feel too stiff and formal. He hated being a guest in other places. He had grown up just outside the one all-wizard town in Britain. The rest of the county, of course, was inhabited by many non-magical people. It was only in Pember Wigan that wizards and witches did not have to worry about blending in with jobbards. He supposed other people that grew up in that environment were more adept at it than he. His parents sent him to jobbard school so he might learn to fit in better, but by that age, it was rather sealed. Unfortunately, he was awkward among wizarding-kind as well.
The necessity of living double lives to avoid detection had caused an interesting revolution in the practice of magic in the last century or so. While the learning of potions and spells continued to be taught, they were increasingly less useful. Even more so, the rich shunned using them at all and instead hired magical servants. Now, a simple spell to carry away tea things was seen as low work. The lack of practical application of magic had an adverse effect on the wizards. Fewer and fewer families had children with any manifesting powers at all. Three sisters with inherited powers was a potentially devastating weapon. Darcy and the other members of the Quorum were tasked with finding the sisters before Napoleon did. Recalling his recent letter from his cousin, Richard Fitzwilliam, who was non-magical but served in the King’s Army added fuel to Darcy’s already steadfast determination.
Darcy punched his pillow without success before climbing out of bed. “Solatium,” he said, and the room was transformed to a mirror image of his bedchamber at Pemberley. He sank into the comfortable mattress that lacked the frilly lace with which Mrs. Tilney decorated. The room was now covered in muted colors and thick carpets, the furniture a dark and sturdy wood. Just before he closed his eyes, the fire went out, and he heard the crackle of ice frost over his windows. He smiled as he felt the tension of the evening ease away. It was his duty to lead the Quorum in this journey to find the Bewitched Sisters, but the truth was, he much preferred solitude.
The following morning, after the food had been cleared from the breakfast table and Mrs. Bennet ordered the school things brought out for the little ones, Jane, Elizabeth, and Kate made their way to Mr. Bennet’s library. He had been asked by the steward to pay a call on a tenant, and so the girls occupied themselves in his absence.
“Did any of you suspect we were witches or that they even existed?” Jane asked.
Elizabeth vehemently shook her head. “No, never! I am not known for a sweet temper, but I had never guessed that I was secretly a pyrotechnic!”
Kate chewed her lip. “I had forgotten entirely about the dreams I used to have until yesterday. In fact, I haven’t dreamt at all in years until last night. I suppose that is why it seemed so unusual to me.”
Elizabeth surveyed her sisters. Like her, Jane seemed to feel no apprehension about their new powers, but Kate appeared less content. Elizabeth wondered if Jane could use her empath powers on Kate. Jane had always been very conscientious of the feelings of others. Perhaps she had retained a bit of her powers all these years. Elizabeth gasped at a sudden memory. “Jane, do you remember that time when Lydia took my ribbon and would not give it back? I singed her hair when I ripped it out of her braid and Mother scolded me like never before.”
Jane laughed. “Now that you mention it, I do. What about when my favorite barn cat disappeared for days, and I was inconsolable? I cried so much I made myself sick!”
Elizabeth smiled. “Then the dratted thing turned up a few days later with six kittens?”
“I named them “happy” in different languages.”
Kate’s eyes grew wide. “How old were you?”
“Seven or eight?” Jane glanced at Elizabeth, who nodded, for confirmation. “Tell us a story, Kate.”
Elizabeth smiled at Jane’s thoughtfulness and hoped it might make Kate feel more at ease. Elizabeth and Jane had immediately accepted Kate, and all the others, into their family but in the last few months, their relationship with Kate had changed. She always wished to tag after them, but being nearly four years younger than Elizabeth, was not in company until only a few weeks ago. Now, it was difficult for Elizabeth to see Kate as a young woman and not as a child. No matter the differences in their ages, it seemed like now there were constant reminders that Kate was a step-sister and not blood. She was now formally “Miss Morland” rather than “Miss Catherine” when in public.
Kate screwed up her face as though she was trying very hard to remember something…anything. “Besides the dreams I told you about last night, I always knew when my brother James would prank us on April Fool Day.”
Elizabeth exchanged glances with Jane. For as long as she had known James he could never keep a secret. He would drop hints about his plans, and in the end, only a true fool would be left unaware.
“Lizzy!” Jane scolded although Elizabeth had said nothing.
Elizabeth tried to look apologetic as she realized Jane must have sensed her thoughts. However, she would not apologize for the truth. Besides, she felt proud of her sister’s abilities and could not hide an expression of pride.
“What?” Kate looked between the two.
“Nothing,” Elizabeth said too quickly, and Kate raised her eyebrows expectantly. “I had a sarcastic thought — but did not say it — and Jane must have sensed it. Well done, Jane!” Lizzy beamed.
“I hardly see why you need to be so excited over being sarcastic at my expense,” Kate frowned.
“Don’t be silly!” Elizabeth said. “I’m happy to see how quickly Jane is learning to use her powers. At least you two can practice and learn without potentially harming someone. I hope Father returns soon so he might begin teaching me.”
Jane nodded. “Let us forget about magic for a few minutes. What did you think of the ball?”
Inwardly, Elizabeth smiled as Jane was once again the peacemaker. Kate immediately filled with nervous fluttering like a butterfly. The blush on her cheeks confirmed what Elizabeth guessed. Catherine was infatuated with her dance partner from the night before. Elizabeth wished the blush she felt rise in her was from such pleasant thoughts. As thunderous thoughts filled her mind, her skin grew hot.
“Lizzy!” Jane quickly grabbed wine from her father’s cabinet and thrust a glass into her sister’s hand. “Lizzy, calm yourself.”
Steam rose from the glass as Elizabeth brought the drink to her lips.
“That’s it,” Jane encouraged another sip. “Now take a deep breath.”
“Thank you,” Elizabeth said, her voice shaking. “I did not expect… I didn’t know how to stop it,” she said quietly.
“Kate,” Jane said in a voice that was higher than normal. “Tell us about Mr. Henry Tilney. I did not speak with him last night, but I saw you two dancing.”
“I do not quite know what to think of him.”
“He’s very handsome,” Elizabeth said still more subdued than usual.
“He is,” Kate beamed.
“And I thought I saw you laughing?” Jane asked.
Kate giggled and then pressed her hand to her lips in an attempt to muffle the unladylike reaction. “We were having a genuine conversation, and he interrupted it for silly nonsense about if I like music and the theater. Things like that.”
Skepticism flared in Elizabeth, and hot tingles returned. “Does he think that such things are nonsense—”
“It was the way he said things,” Kate spoke over her sister. “The tone and expression… He was making a joke of things.”
“Oh!” Elizabeth calmed and smiled.
“I believe I am indebted to him for bringing up more usual topics of conversation for new acquaintances,” Kate said with a frown. “I quite forgot them and am afraid I was nearly impertinent.”
On the subject of impertinence, Elizabeth had to tell her younger sister what Mr. Darcy had said. Surprisingly, Jane’s expression turned dazed, and soon she closed her eyes as though concentrating. It reminded Elizabeth of attempting to make out a noise in the distance.
“Jane?” Lizzy called sharply.
Jane opened her eyes as Kate waved a hand in front of her face. “Are you ill? Did you hear us?”
“I’m perfectly well,” she smiled at them. “I was only lost in thought. What did you say?”
Elizabeth’s dark feelings returned, but not as unchecked as before. “I told Kate what I heard Mr. Darcy say.”
“Do attempt to forget it,” Jane said. She took Elizabeth’s’s hand in hers. “Do not judge him by one evening.”
Elizabeth’s nostrils flared. “Is not one evening more than fair when he judged me with a mere glance?”
“It was very wrong of him to say such things, and if you were merely finding his looks at fault, I would not reproach you. But you attack his character when you do not truly know it.”
“He attacked mine too. It is not only beauty that attracts dance partners. He supposed I did not make good conversation or was not a good dancer — ”
“You are leaping to conclusions!” Jane interrupted.
“Besides,” said Kate, “how does poor dancing mean bad character?”
“Perhaps — perhaps it would mean I was unintelligent or too arrogant to pay attention during my lessons or lazy or —” Elizabeth broke out in laughter and defeat as she recognized the ridiculousness of her claims.
“What has my girls in such a good mood?” Mr. Bennet said as he came into the room.
The sisters said nothing but grinned at him, and he sat behind his desk.
“I suppose you have many questions,” the ladies nodded their heads in unison. “I have worked up a schedule for each of you. You will have time to learn magical theory as well as practical application. I must warn you,” he gave them each a stern look, “most of Meryton does not know about our magical heritage or of the wizarding world at all. It is imperative they do not learn of it. As of now, everyone in our community is cleared with the High Council and the Quorum as trustworthy, but jobbards are not screened. You must guard your secret.”
The smiles slipped from the girls’ faces, and Elizabeth did not need empathic or telepathic abilities to know the thoughts and feelings of her sisters. Someone had killed their parents. They understood the high cost.
Elizabeth was the first to break the silence. “Only say we will not need to go shopping for funny hats and brooms.”
Mr. Bennet shook his head and chuckled. “You have much to learn,” he said and handed out their schedules.
Later that day, Lady Lucas and Charlotte visited. Elizabeth was surprised to learn that her best friend’s family were magical. They did not have demonstrative powers. Instead, they were proficient in medicines and cookery. Elizabeth smiled at the pride Lady Lucas had as she talked about Charlotte’s abilities with tonics.
Charlotte grinned and then turned to Elizabeth. “Perhaps I should not mention Mr. Darcy, knowing your power is the gift of fire, Eliza. However, now that you know the truth would you like me to give him a “tonic”? I could momentarily turn him into a goat!”
Elizabeth laughed. “That was your thought all along last night when you suggested one for his eyesight! I confess many things in the past now make sense. Mrs. Long was once an oracle was she not?”
“Yes, but now you know her predictions are usually wrong.”
“Why would that be?”
“The Council told us by hiding the existence of the Bewitching Sisters,” Mrs. Bennet explained, “it might affect the strength of magic for the entire area.”
“Like a cloaking,” Elizabeth suggested, and the elder ladies agreed. “Now there ought to be an increase of magical abilities for everyone,” she concluded.
“In that case, I shall turn Mr. Darcy into a hawk. His eyesight does need improving,” Charlotte said.
Elizabeth laughed again. “Unless there is a spell to cure his pride, I am afraid there is nothing to be done.”
The conversation was soon interrupted by the arrival of Mrs. Allen. It was revealed that although she was not magical at all, her mother had been. She had the opportunity to learn spells and potions but chose not to. Elizabeth sighed in relief that they did not need to hide their abilities from so many of their close friends.
Mrs. Allen had called to ask if the girls would like to walk with her into town. Kate quickly agreed. Elizabeth had no desire to stay in the house lest Mr. Bingley and his friend call on them.
“I should like to stay home, Mama,” Jane said.
“You do not wish to stay home as well, Kate?” Elizabeth asked with a teasing smile.
“I feel urged to go,” was her reply.
“Have you had a premonition?” her mother asked.
“I do not think so. Not like before, that is. I did not see a scene unfold. Perhaps before I regain the ability to see I have the talent to sense?”
The other ladies looked at each other, hoping one may have the answer. Lady Lucas, at last, suggested, “It may be impossible to know since powers come to most as children, and they likely could not express it so well if it began in such a way.”
“I know before the ceremony last night I awoke to a burning feeling in my limbs, but I have yet to create fire,” Elizabeth said then sipped her tea. “Not that I have tried or would know how if I wished it.”
Mr. Bennet spoke from the doorway. “Go on with Mrs. Allen, Kate. When you return, if we do not have visitors, we will begin your lessons. You are all bright enough girls and had your powers for many years before the binding, so I have no doubts you shall catch on fast. Elizabeth, I request that you stay here.”
The ladies all agreed, and Kate set out with Mrs. Allen while Elizabeth and Jane continued their visit with Lady Lucas and her daughter. Elizabeth wondered why her father had asked her to remain at home, but her father did not stay in the room. Determined to enjoy herself while she could, she returned her attention to their guests.