Ever After High: Next Top Villain: A School StorySuzanne Selfors
Table of Contents
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For Isabelle and Walker
Don’t miss the companion hextbook: General Villainy: A Destiny Do-Over Diary! Inside the diary are lots of activities inspired by the events of this story. Grab a copy so you can flip the script!
To be born a fairytale princess is a blessing indeed, but hers is not the lazy, carefree life that many imagine. There are numerous, important decisions that a princess must make every day.
For example, how would she like to be awoken in the morning? Should she choose an enchanted alarm clock to sing and dance around her bedroom? Perhaps her parents could employ fairies to gently sprinkle waking dust on her cheeks. Maybe she’d prefer to have a household troll ring a gong or her MirrorPhone blare the latest hit song.
Duchess Swan, a fairytale princess proud and true, chose none of those options. Instead, she liked to be awoken by her favorite sound in the whole world.
“Don’t tell me it’s morning already,” a voice grumbled.
Duchess opened her eyes. While the honking had come from the large nest next to her bed, the complaining had come from across the room. To her constant dismay, Duchess did not sleep alone. This was the girls’ dormitory at a very special school called Ever After High, and her roommate was Lizzie Hearts, daughter of the famously angry Queen of Hearts. Lizzie was not a morning person. Which is why she didn’t own an alarm clock.
“For the love of Wonderland!” Lizzie exclaimed, her voice partially muffled by a pillow. “Off with the duck’s head!”
Duck? Duchess frowned. Seriously?
“Pirouette is not a duck,” Duchess said, sitting up in bed. “Pirouette is a trumpeter swan.”
“Duck, swan, pigeon… she’s loud.” Lizzie burrowed beneath a jumble of blankets.
“Of course she’s loud,” Duchess said. “She’s named after a trumpet, not a flute.”
Duchess waved, to let Pirouette know that she hadn’t gone unnoticed. Then Duchess pushed back the lavender silk comforter and set her bare feet on the stone floor. It was the first day of the new school chapter, and she was looking forward to her new classes. Why? Because each class was another opportunity to get a perfect grade. As a member of the Royals, Duchess took her princess duties very seriously. One of those duties was to be the best student she could be.
But there was another truth, somewhat darker and simmering below her perfect surface. Duchess Swan was well aware that grades were something she could control, while her ill-fated destiny was not.
Tendrils of warm air wafted from the furnace vent, curling around her like a hug. She pointed her toes, then flexed, stretching the muscles. It was important to keep her feet limber, for she was a ballerina, and her feet were her instruments.
“Okay. Hold your feathers.” Duchess slid into her robe, then opened the window. A gust of fresh morning air blew across her face. Pirouette flew outside, heading for the lush green meadow. A swan needs to stretch, too.
Just as Duchess tied the laces on her dress, the bedroom door flew open and two princesses barged in. “Ever heard of a little thing called knocking?” Duchess asked.
“Can we talk?” the first princess said. Her name was Ashlynn Ella, daughter of the famously humble Cinderella. She yawned super-wide. “It’s about your alarm clock.”
The second princess, whose name was Apple White, daughter of the famously beautiful Snow White, also yawned. “Yes. Your goose alarm clock.”
“She’s not a goose,” Duchess sighed. These princesses really knew how to get under her wings. “She’s a swan.”
“Oh, that’s right. Sorry,” Apple said.
The two princesses, having just rolled out of bed, looked unbelievably perfect. No bedhead, no sheet lines, no crusty sandman sand at the corners of their eyes. Apple was known as the Fairest One of All, and Ashlynn couldn’t be any lovelier, even if she tried.
“Apple and I agree, as do the other princesses, that the honking sound that comes from your room every morning is starting to become a bit of a royal pain.”
Royal pain? Duchess looked away for a brief moment so they wouldn’t see the twinge of hurt feelings.
“I’d be happy to lend you some of my songbirds,” Ashlynn said. Then she whistled. Three tiny birds flew through the doorway and landed on her outstretched finger. “It’s such a cheerful way to wake up.”
“Bird alarms aren’t always reliable,” Apple said. “I’d be happy to connect you to my network of dwarves. They’ll send a wake-up call to your MirrorPhone.”
“I don’t need your songbirds or dwarves,” Duchess told them, a bit annoyed.
Okay, she was more than a bit annoyed. Those girls were always acting as if they were better. They really ruffled her feathers!
Ashlynn, Apple, and Lizzie were of royal heritage—the blood daughters of fairytale kings and queens. Being a Royal at Ever After High meant being part of the most popular and the most privileged group. Duchess was also a Royal, but she was different. Most Royals were destined to marry other Royals and rule kingdoms, living out their lives in comfort, health, and fortune. In other words, a big, fat Happily Ever After was waiting for most of them.
But Duchess did not have such a future, nor did she have a future as a dancer. Her destiny, as the daughter of the Swan Queen, was to turn into a swan and live out her days web-footed and feathered.
You can’t perform a graceful grand jeté with webbed feet!
To make matters worse, she had no Happily Ever After with a charming prince written into her story.
Although Duchess’s future did not seem fair, she’d accepted her circumstances. It was her duty to keep her story alive by fulfilling her destiny. She worked hard at her studies and her dancing. She did her best to make her family proud. But it drove her crazy that these girls had nothing more to worry about than being awoken by honking. It was just as Duchess often said: Birds of a feather flock together.
Lizzie popped her head out of the covers and glared at the intruders. “I order this meeting to be over. Now!”
“Sounds good to me,” Duchess said. “Even though I was so enjoying our little chat.” She forced a smile. “However, it’s time to get dressed for class. And you know what happens if you’re late.” She looked directly at Ashlynn.
“Oh my godmother, thanks for the reminder,” Ashlynn said, her eyes widening with worry. If she was even just one second late, her clothes would turn into rags. She picked up the hem of her nightgown and rushed out the door, her songbirds following.
“Well, I’d better go, too. I hear my magic mirror calling. Charm you later,” Apple said.
Duchess’s smile collapsed the moment the princesses were gone. “Good riddance,” she muttered under her breath.
“If my mother were here, she’d order their heads chopped off,” Lizzie said. Then she burrowed back under the blankets.
Just as Duchess closed the bedroom door, Pirouette flew back in thro
ugh the window. She landed at Duchess’s feet, then turned the corners of her beak into a smile. Duchess knelt and gave her a hug. The wonderful scent of wind clung to Pirouette’s white feathers. “Lucky girl,” Duchess whispered. “You don’t have to deal with know-it-all princesses.”
Duchess filled a bowl with swan kibble—a mixture of breadcrumbs and grains—and set it on the floor. Pirouette began eating her breakfast. This was the calmest time of the day for Duchess, before the flurry of classes and activities, while Lizzie snored peacefully. And Duchess usually began each day by writing in her journal.
She sat at her desk and opened the top drawer. There was no need to hide the golden book, because it was enchanted with a security spell. She pressed her fingers against the cover. A click sounded. This was the only place where she shared her truest of feelings—her darkest of secrets. After turning to a blank page, she dipped her quill into ink and began to write. But one thought filled her mind. One thought that never seemed to go away. And so she wrote:
I wish I had a Happily Ever After like Ashlynn’s and Apple’s.
Then Duchess Swan looked out the window and sighed. Being a perfect princess meant she had to accept her destiny, even if that destiny was covered in feathers.
Duchess learned about her destiny on the morning after her eighth birthday, when she awoke and discovered that her feet had changed overnight.
It was a terrifying sight. “Grandma!” she cried. “What happened?”
Her grandmother pulled back the covers, took a peek, then sat calmly at the edge of the bed. “Dear child,” she said. “This is the beginning.”
“The beginning of what?” Duchess asked. She pulled her knees to her chest so she could get a closer look. Her feet, which had been normal when she’d gone to sleep, were now flat, black, and webbed. “Take them off,” she said, pulling on them as if they were shoes. “Make them go away!”
“They will go away,” her grandmother said. “Don’t worry. You will learn how to make them come and go as you please.”
But they didn’t go away. They stayed while she got dressed and they stayed while she ate breakfast. She tried to squeeze them into shoes, but they wouldn’t fit. “I’m not going to school like this!” Duchess insisted.
“A princess must be educated,” her grandmother said, gently pushing her out the palace door. “A princess must never be ashamed of who she is.”
The village kids pointed and laughed as Duchess waddled down the lane, her big, flat feet making flapping sounds. “She looks like a duck,” they said. “Ugly duck, ugly duck.”
She felt ugly.
The webbed feet disappeared later that day. After school, Duchess ran home, barefoot, and didn’t complain about the sharp rocks in the lane. She was so happy to have toes again!
More changes came that year. She grew taller, her legs turning as skinny and gangly as a bird’s. Sometimes when she laughed, she’d honk, which made all the other kids laugh. In the mornings, she’d find white feathers in her bed.
And she began to crave the plants that grew in the pond behind the schoolhouse. Spring green and tender, they looked so delectable. One day she waded in and began to eat them. “Look! The princess has flipped her crown. She’s eating weeds!” Luckily, the village children didn’t notice her also eating the little water bugs that skimmed the pond’s surface. They tasted just as good as the cook’s roasted beast.
What is happening to me?
Then, one morning, while walking home from school, Duchess spied a downy feather floating in the wind. It looked exactly like the feathers she often found in her bed. She chased after it, then saw another, and another, drifting in the distance. The trail led her to the lake behind the palace, where a bevy of swans had gathered. Although they migrated to the palace grounds every winter, Duchess had never paid close attention to them. She knew that they were beautiful, with their snowy white feathers, black beaks, and black eyes. But as she sat in the grass, watching them preen and glide, she came to an amazing realization. Their swan feet looked exactly like the webbed feet she’d grown.
She was one of them!
And so, Duchess began to teach herself how to control the changes. It was not easy, for a sneeze could turn one arm into a wing, or a laughing fit could make a beak appear. By the time she was ten, she could control the transformation. She could turn herself into a swan whenever she wanted.
She saved this reveal for a special day at spellementary school. It was late spring and the class was lined up along the edge of the swimming pool. “Today we will learn how to do a swan dive,” her teacher, Mrs. Watersprite, said, pointing to the highest board. The students lined up at the bottom of the ladder. There were many trembling legs and terrified squeals as they climbed. “This is the most graceful dive of all,” Mrs. Watersprite explained. “Put your hands above your head, lean forward, and jump! Then spread your arms wide, like wings.”
One by one, the students jumped. Some clawed at the air as if trying to stop the fall. Some landed on their bellies. Others went feet first. “No, no, no!” Mrs. Watersprite hollered. “That was not graceful!”
Duchess went last. She raised her arms above her head and gripped the end of the board with her toes. It was a long way down. The other students looked small, some shivering beneath their towels. With their faces turned upward, they waited for the ugly duck girl to jump.
“Dive!” Mrs. Watersprite ordered.
Duchess bounced three times, then jumped. Just as gravity grabbed hold of her, she reached out her arms, closed her eyes, and transformed.
The dive was perfection. When she rose to the surface, the village kids cheered.
And that day, the ugly duck girl became the swan princess.
Soon after all the various alarm clocks had chimed, buzzed, tweeted, and chirped, the class lists for the new chapter were delivered. A fairy-godmother-in-training poofed into the room and dropped two envelopes onto Duchess’s desk and one envelope onto Lizzie’s.
Duchess was dressed and waiting. As usual, she’d laid out her clothes the night before. She’d neatly packed her bag with her tutu, tights, and pointe shoes. She’d already brushed her long hair, which hung in lavender, white, and black stripes. And she’d selected her favorite headpiece—a strand of pearls that looped around her head and was secured by a single, perfect white feather.
As the fairy-godmother-in-training disappeared in a cloud of pink smoke, a flurry of activity arose on the other side of the dorm room. Lizzie Hearts was running late, as usual. Mornings were always a major drama. “Why didn’t anyone lay out my clothes? Why do I have to choose what to wear? Has anyone seen my scepter?”
“If you took the time to be organized the night before, then you wouldn’t have to go through this every morning,” Duchess said.
“The word organized doesn’t even exist in Wonderland,” Lizzie said. “Besides, if I were back in Wonderland, I’d have my own playing-card army to help me in the morning. I’m still not used to doing all these chores by myself.” She pulled a comb out of her black hair. “Oooh, I’ve been looking for this.”
Duchess hurried over to her desk and picked up the first scroll. A swan symbol had been pressed into the wax seal.
Although Duchess missed her home and her family, there was no time for homesickness at that moment. There was another envelope to open, and it contained the list of new classes. After breaking Headmaster Grimm’s wax seal, she unfolded the parchment. Everything looked to be in order: Advanced Ballet at the Red Shoes Studio, Princessology with Mrs. Her Majesty the White Queen, Home Economyths with Professor Momma Bear, Damsel-In-Distressing, and—she gasped.
“What the hex? Why am I registered for General Villainy with Mr. Badwolf?”
Pirouette, who was sitting in her nest, looked up from her preening and shrugged her wings. The nest was made from rushes that had grown in Duchess’s backyard.
/> “This must be a mistake.” Duchess reread the list. “I’m not supposed to be in that class.”
“We have a saying in Wonderland,” Lizzie said. She sat on her closet floor, tossing things over her head as she put her outfit together. A heart-shaped purse whizzed past Duchess and hit the wall. “If you’re not supposed to be, you should not be supposing.”
Duchess frowned. That sort of nonsensical thing came out of Lizzie’s mouth all the time. It was called Riddlish, and only those from Wonderland seemed to understand it.
Why’d we get assigned as roommates? Duchess wondered for the umpteenth time. Over the chapter break, she’d filled out the roommate selection form. She’d even submitted an essay, describing her perfect match as someone who is tidy and organized, and likes birds. The word messy had not appeared anywhere in her essay. No matter how many times the cleaning fairies visited, Lizzie’s side of the room always returned to disaster status.
It was a mystery why they’d been assigned to the same room. Just as it was a mystery why Duchess had been placed in General Villainy.
“Aren’t you going to read your scroll?” Duchess asked.
“I will, as soon as I find my deck of cards.” Lizzie crawled under the bed, then reemerged with the deck in hand. While Duchess possessed the magical power of transformation, Lizzie’s power was to build anything with her deck of Wonderland cards. This came in handy if an extra chair was needed, or a ladder, or an umbrella.
Lizzie opened her envelope and read out loud. “Princessology. That will be super-easy. I already know all that stuff. Anger Magicment. Why do I have to keep taking that class? I’m trying to control my temper, not lose it. It makes me so angry that everyone expects me to be angry!” She stomped her foot, then kept reading. “Drama. Ooh, that will be fun. Maybe I’ll get the lead role this year. And General Villainy. Ick, that sounds dreadful. And it’s the first class. Talk about starting the day on the wrong side of the card deck. But at least we have it together.”