Ella lived this way, a servant to her own family, for a year before she saw hope for escape.
She was serving her stepsisters breakfast when the envoy came. He wore the uniform of the servants of the Minister. Bowing to the butler, he handed him a thick piece of parchment and asked that it be delivered to the lady of the house. Ella had only seen an envoy appear at the house once, when the Minister had requested her father’s presence at a dinner. The fact that this mysterious letter had been brought by person rather than owl meant that this was a matter of utmost importance.
As her stepmother read the message at the table, her eyes begin to shine with delight. “The Minister’s son has arrived home from his Grand Tour and has decided to seek a bride. All eligible witches of good birth and breeding have been invited to attend a ball. That includes you, my dears.” Ella’s stepsisters dropped their silverware and began to clap with glee. Reading further, their mother frowned.
“The ball is in three days time! Why, that’s hardly any notice! We must go and purchase new dress robes and shoes, we must find ornaments for your hair and fans and jewelry…Ella! Come here my child!” Ella stepped cautiously forward. “You must run and inform the robeswoman that we will be visiting her at once. She must close her shop immediately and have all her seamstresses on standby.” Ella pulled off her stained apron and hurried toward the door, but stopped before leaving the room.
“Stepmother…” she ventured cautiously. Her stepmother glared at her.
“What is it?”
“May…may I go to the ball? It says all witches of good birth…and my father…” Her voice trailed off and she gazed hopefully at her only remaining parent. Her stepmother’s lips quirked into what may have once been a smile.
“If you do exactly as we say over these three days, and if you perform to my satisfaction then yes, you may attend the ball.” Ella’s joy gave her feet wings as she rushed from the room to do as her stepmother bade her.
Ella barely slept over the three short days before the ball. She dressed and undressed her sisters, fixed their hair into endless arrays of curls and braids, clasped bracelets around their wrists and necklaces around their throats. While her family ate, she swept the house from top to bottom and scrubbed every floor until they gleamed with polish. She collapsed into a fitful rest long after midnight and arose before the dawn to make her stepmother’s tea.
As Ella fastened the last clasp on her stepmother’s sumptuous robes, she stepped back. “Stephmother” she ventured tentatively. “The ball is in a few hours. I’ve done all you’ve asked of me these past three days. Please, oh please, might I come with you?”
Her stepmother turned and gave her a cold, hard look. “Look at yourself, Cinders-Ella. Your face is covered in soot, your robes are torn and filthy, and your shoes are not fit to be seen in the scullery let alone the Minister’s mansion. What makes you think I would ever allow you to humiliate us in such a public fashion? Go back to your attic and don’t ask such a foolish thing ever again.”
She was curled on her cot, exhausted from her sobs, when she heard the carriage leave the house with her stepfamily. The thought of three such unworthy persons gaining the attention of the Minister and his son brought Ella to tears again. But before she could lose herself in grief, a loud crack echoed through the attic. A plump witch with inky black hair and purple spangled robes now stood in the center of the tiny room.
“Merlin’s beard, I thought I would never break those wards. Your stepmother is a dab hand with protection spells, but she never did know how to tie off the ends properly. What your mother would say if she could see you in this state! Ella my dear, you are a sorry sight.”
Ella was agape. She had seen no one from outside the house since her father died, and now this loud woman was standing in her room and speaking to her as if they’d known each other all their lives.
“Excuse me Madame but…who exactly are you?” The plump witch sighed and pulled her wand out from her pocket, polishing it vigorously with the corner of her robe.
“Why, I’m your godmother child. Your mother and I were the same year at Hogwarts. Now, would you like to go to the Minister’s ball or wouldn’t you?”
~Part 2 of the Cinderella story as told to pureblood children
(Source: Millicent Sowerby via Flickr)