According to Hecate’s research, the Mists of Time returned to Cackle’s every six decades or so. Completing this rather basic mathematics and allowing for irregularities, she predicted the Mists would next return when she had long since retired. She had made a note and prepared instructions for the next Headmistress and Deputy, adding it to the rather colossal stack of papers that she had to pass onto them.
As time had passed, she had happily forgotten about it, hardly being the most pressing of her concerns, but when she woke one summer morning to a curtain of white less than two years after it had last been seen, Hecate felt a very particular sense of apprehension clench her heart. According to her research, twice in the same century was extremely rare. Twice in two years was cause for great alarm.
Thankfully, there were rules in place for events such as this.
Structure. Order. Obedience. The recipe for success.
More than half the students had experience with the Mist, and knowing what would happen if they stepped outside, stayed well away from all exits. The school was sealed and the girls sent to class, monitored closely by the anxious staff. No cats went missing this time, and as such no girls went chasing after them. Even Mildred Hubble and Ethel Hallow seemed to be obeying instructions, which was quite honestly, half the job done.
The first hour passed without event. And the second. And the third. Hecate began to wonder if this was a simple fluke, or if these were even the Mists of Time at all.
But of course, this was Cackle’s, and nothing was a mere fluke.
She was standing in the entrance hall across from the heavy and barred wooden doors, staring down her nose at a gaggle of second years trotting off toward second period, shepherded by Miss Bat, when she felt it. Like a twinge in her magic, like a pixie tapping her shoulder, or an ant calling her name.
She jutted out her chin, eyes narrowing, listening intently and feeling out with her magic. What is that… that sense of…
She reached out, and out, and then recoiled in shock. It was like a tidal wave of magic crashing toward the doors behind her, something intent on cracking the spells that sealed it shut against the Mist. Magic centred around a figure, foggy beyond the door.
She spun, eyes wide, teeth clenched, heart racing.
“Get moving girls,” she ordered.
The second years stopped and turned to look at her, confused.
“Faster, or detention.”
They hurried off, fear etched across their faces. They couldn’t feel the magic. To them, she was simply being cruel. Mrs Bat gave her a resigned look and turned to follow them.
And then Hecate felt the wave hit. She felt the door’s ancient enchantments blasted without finesse and sensed a handful buckle and dissipate under the pressure. But only a few. The ones that denied access without permission, and those that subdued the magic of strangers. The others stayed strong, unharmed.
The magic washed through the door, purple and gold lighting up the flaws in the wood and glistening in the air.
There was something familiar about it. Something dreadfully familiar.
She watch in abject horror as the heavy wooden beams that held the front door in place began to rise from their brackets, and then tossed themselves aside with an unceremonious crack, leaving the doors defenceless.
Defenceless. Except for her.
The heavy oak began to shift inward. She reacted on pure instinct, shifting her stance and tensing her arms, magic gathering at her fingertips.
The doors shifted slowly, wider and wider, thudding open against the stone, the mists swirling greedy beyond the frame, held back by a dozen remaining enchantments. A dark shadow formed in the Mist, clarifying as it walked forward. A human figure.
As she stepped over the threshold, for it was indeed a ‘she’, Hecate flicked her eyes over long flowing robes in deep purples, black hair and a face etched with laughter lines that couldn’t be a day over fifty years old, though perhaps older, given she was a witch. The woman took long, certain strides and stopped a few paces into the hall, casting her eyes about. She stopped on Hecate, magic cackling at her fingers.
Then she raised a hand and the doors slammed shut once again, the beams of wood lifting themselves back into place with a decisive thud.
Hecate breathed deeply, her own voice dangerously low. “State your intentions.”
“Well met,” the woman nodded back, touching her fingers to her forehead, and then pulling off her gloves.
Hecate’s teeth gritted. She didn’t like this one bit. She considered her options, and settled, casting a silent binding spell at the stranger with a forceful jolt of her hand.
In a flash her opponent had thrown up a swift shield and deflected her magic with horrifying ease. An almost practiced ease.
“I am not here to fight you, or harm anyone in this school,” the woman’s voice rang strong, but Hecate didn’t lower her hands. There was something familiar about that voice, something in the accent. “I am here to speak with Mildred Hubble.”
Hecate let the magic at her fingers dissipate slightly and rubbed them together, letting them fall once more back to her side and then clasping them into fists, digging her nails into her palms. None of her tension was released.
Of course, she glowered internally. Of course it had something to do with her.
“And to speak with you, Hecate Hardbroom.”
“Where… or rather, when have you come from?”
“If I am correct, at least thirty-five years from now. Give or take.”
“And your business with Mildred Hubble and I?”
There was a long pause as the stranger looked her over, Hecate standing rock solid, every muscle tense. She studied the woman’s face, the twitch in her mouth and the pain in her eyes, and realises with a stab of apprehension that it was grief she saw.
“I’m here to save your life.”
And with a snap of the stranger’s fingers, Hecate found herself in Miss Cackle’s office.
Ada looked up from her desk, a little startled.
“Mell met,” she dipped her head, standing and looking between them. “Miss Hardbroom, were we expecting guests?”
“No,” Hecate growled through gritted teeth, fists clenched by her side. She couldn’t fight back magically, not against such an immensely powerful witch. This would need to be played delicately.
Ada looked to the woman, raising an eyebrow.
“Would you like to introduce yourself, dear?”
“Miss Cackle”, the purple robed woman said softly, “and… Miss Hardbroom. You really don’t recognise me at all?”
For a moment, Hecate’s mind tripped over itself trying to identify her, and then suddenly the fog of unfamiliarity cleared, and her eyes grew very wide, and her breathing grew very still.
“By the Code,” she breathed, every clue falling into place. “Mildred Hubble.”
The woman, Mildred… Mildred!, smiled, and it was definitively her. “The very same.”
Ada took an involuntary step back, gasping “the mist…”.
Hecate’s mouth twitched with an emotion she couldn’t quite identify. She’d known Mildred was powerful, how could she not? But the wave of magic that had crashed through the doors? The ease with which she deflected her binding spell? That was something else altogether.
Her posture had changed, much improved thankfully. She wore beautiful robes of rich purple and black over slacks and a flowing silk shirt, and had her dark hair tied into a single plait down her back. Wrapped around her finger was a wedding band of gold. There was an extraordinary confidence in the way she commanded the air around her, but there was also a sadness behind her eyes, like she’d seen too many things that she’d like to forget. Like the innocence that Hecate often called stupidity had been washed away by the world. But the smile, still the same honest, heartfelt smile.
“Though I’ll admit,” Mildred continued, suddenly nervous, suddenly much more like her young self. “It has been a very long time since anyone has called me that.”
Hecate looked to Ada, who appeared a lot more composed than she felt.
“What do they call you then?” the Headmistress took the bait.
“If I tell you that, I’ll have to wipe your memories.”
“I assumed we would be doing as much anyway,” Hecate drawled, wrestling the surprise from her voice.
Mildred met her eyes, nodding. “Hallow. Mildred Hallow.”
“Hallow,” Hecate chocked out. “You’re a… Hallow?”
“Married a Hallow, yes.”
“Please, in Morgana’s name, do not tell me you married Ethel,” Hecate breathed, already feeling a headache brewing at the mere thought.
Mildred, this older, wiser, more certain Mildred, let out a snort of laughter.
“Bats no, Grand Witch have mercy. Though my sister-in-law has mellowed slightly… very slightly, with age. I married Esmerelda.”
“Es...merelda?” Hecate’s eyebrows shot up into her hairline.
“Yes,” Mildred nodded, as if by way of explanation.
“Esmerelda Hallow?” Hecate asked again.
“Yes, the one you’re thinking. We both found ourselves at Titania after Cackle’s. And things went rather well after that.”
“And that would be the Titania Institute of Experimental Potion Craft,” Ada asked, looking over the rim of her glasses at Mildred.
Hecate found herself without words, opening and closing her mouth as each new question that popped into her mind seemed more foolish than the last.
“Not that this isn’t an extraordinary and welcome occasion,” Ada asked again, smiling fondly at Mildred, “but why are you here?”
Mildred took a deep breath and Hecate watched tension form in her body like ice. “I need to speak with myself…”
“Absolutely not,” Hecate cut in. “I will not allow it.”
“And I need to speak with you.”
“No. Anything we know about the future is dangerous.”
“I will seal your mind until the hour comes when you need to know.”
Hecate felt her lips twitch in disgust, and opened her mouth to say as much.
“And what exactly do we need to know?” Ada cut in first. “I’m assuming it’s rather serious?”
“Yes. One event. One moment, nothing else. Two years ago…”
“No,” Hecate said firmly. “I cannot hear this.”
“Let her speak, Hecate,” Ada said, eyes gentle but voice firm. “I will wipe your mind myself if it is so terrible.”
Hecate didn’t nod, but she didn’t object either, and Ada seemed to take it as confirmation.
“Two years ago, in my life,” Mildred continued. “We were brewing a rather… significant potion. One that would determine the outcome of many battles, and save many lives. We were missing one ingredient. Just one. And we failed. I… failed.”
Hecate watched Mildred blink tears from her eyes, and felt a deep guilt, and a deeper pity.
“What battles? What outcomes?” Ada leaned forward.
Mildred met their eyes, and they saw in her all the pain she’d been holding back. All the relief at being in a place that was not burning or freezing, where she needn’t fear the shrieking of creatures in the sky. And all the hurt that came with seeing Hecate again. This younger, sharper but still deeply passionate Hecate. And Ada, who had been so soft, yet so fierce until the very end.
She breathed in and hardened her face.
“The return of dragons.”
Ada gasped involuntarily, and Hecate felt her blood run cold.
“So far, just one dragon, but one so powerful and so full of rage, even alongside the greatest witches and wizards of the age, we failed to stop it before it had destroyed so much of what we love.”
The room was very quiet, and Hecate felt the cold take root in her bones.
“And we can end it before it even begins. Our plan was simple… is simple. Banish the dragon back to the Astral Plain where it belongs, and seal the breach it had used to escape. But the spell is complex, with many rare components. And we were missing one. Just one. And the dragon found us first. When it was done with us, it came for the world. We will win, eventually. But the cost is too high… already has been too high.”
Ada turned and sought refuge in a nearby chair.
Hecate remained frozen in place, mind running a mile a minute. “And what component was missing?”
Mildred reached into the folds of her robes and brought out a small vial of glittering blue liquid.
“A vial of the creatures own blood.”
“How did you procure the blood of the dragon?” Hecate asked, eyes locked on it. That, in Mildred’s hand, must be the rarest potion ingredient in the world.
“Would you believe me if I said I asked nicely?”
“No, not especially.”
“Well, I suppose that’s for the better,” Mildred nodded, but offered no further explanation.
“Why do you need to speak with Mildred Hubble… with… yourself?” Ada asked from the chair at her desk, concern evident. “We can take care of the vial, until the hour comes.”
“I have enchanted it. Only she… only I can break the seal, and only when my magic is strong enough.”
“You don’t trust us?” Ada’s brow creased.
“On the contrary, I trust you absolutely. It is the rest of world I do not trust. If somehow it got out that there was a vial of Ice Dragon blood in the world, someone, somewhere, would get it into their head to steal it. And they would waste it on some frivolity.”
“An Ice Dragon?” Hecate’s eyes widened.
“Yes, an Ancient Ice Dragon, calling itself Ragnar, and vowing vengeance for some long forgotten wrongdoing.”
Hecate dug deep into her mind and tried to recall what little was known about Ice Dragons. It was believe they had near impervious scales, and some had breath that left magical blackspots, like the ice that had nearly consumer the school last year. Most stories spoke of a legendary taste for vengeance, with intelligence to match. If this was all true, maybe the future needed a little nudge in the right direction after all.
Hecate met Ada’s gaze, and nodded very slightly.
“She is… or rather you are in Spell Science,” Hecate recalled.
“Then, shall we summon me?” Mildred asked, seemingly taking this twisting logic in her stride.
Ada stood again and snapped her finger. Mildred Hubble materialised before them, halfway through a chant, and quickly shut her mouth.
“I didn’t do it! I don’t know what it is but I didn’t, I swear,” she blurted out.
“You’re not in trouble, dear,” Ada reassured her.
“Oh,” Mildred blinked. “Okay then, um, well met.”
She looked to her older self, no recognition registering on her face, and touched her palm to her forehead.
“Mildred this is… a friend, who has come back from the future through the Mists of Time, and needs to have a word with you.”
“With me?” Mildred asked, obliviously surprised.
“Yes, dear, with you. Why don’t you take a seat,” Ada nodded, gesturing toward her fireplace.
Mildred looked among them and bounced over, innocence painted all across her face.
Hecate met the elder Mildred’s eyes and said in a low voice, “Be gentle with… her.”
Mildred’s mouth tugged into a smiled, and she nodded, taking the seat across from her younger, delightful self.
“Now, Mildred Hubble, first, I need to be very clear. When we are done, I will lock this memory away in your mind, and set a recall trigger. When the trigger is activated, you will remember this entire conversation, and all the instructions I will give you.”
The younger Mildred nodded, face serious.
“So you’re from the Mists? From the future?”
The elder Mildred nodded with an encouraging smile.
“But won’t that change time? Are you allowed to...?”
“Everything else will happen exactly as it should. Just my last two years will be different. But they’ll be different for the better. Nothing will change for you. I promise that. But I trust you, Mildred. When the time comes and you recall this conversation, you can make the decision for yourself.”
“Are we sure that’s wise?” Hecate queried before realising exactly what she’d done. She’d questioned Mildred’s capabilities… to Mildred.
“Yes,” the elder nodded, meeting Hecate’s eyes with a strength of conviction she didn’t recognise.
With an extraordinarily deft hand, keeping the details as bare as possible, Mildred Hallow began explaining the events of her past, and her future. But the further into the tale she went, the less Hecate recognised it.
She spoke of how a dragon would return without warning, breaking the seal that held it in the Astral Plain, and finding itself in this world, angry and confused, would begin destroying everything in its path.
“The Magic Council will act quickly, assembling a Coven of the most powerful witches and wizards in the world. You will be among them, Mildred.”
“Me?” young Mildred sat up straight, suddenly paying a lot more attention.
“Yes, you. And Miss Hardbroom, and Esme… Esmerelda Hallow, and many, many others. And you will devise a plan. There is an ancient and immensely powerful spell, written to banish things beyond Vanishment, back to the Astral. Together, you will gather all the ingredients necessary, except one. I am here to give you the final ingredient. To keep safe, until the hour comes.”
“What is it?” Mildred Hubble asked, completely engrossed.
“It is vial of Ragnar’s own blood. The first and last vial. Unfortunately, there is no plan B here, Mildred. This must succeed, or the unimaginable will be real.”
The elder Mildred cast her eyes to the ground, and blinked rapidly, forcing the tears back.
“I was too late, Mildred. Two years too late. And so many people were lost in that time. But you can make this right. Make sure it never happens at all.”
“Who… who died?” Mildred asked tentatively.
“I… I don’t think I should tell you that.”
“But maybe it’ll help me decide.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of. You need to make this decision without my… bias.”
Mildred seemed to nod in acceptance, but Hecate felt her heart tense.
“I will die.”
The elder Mildred’s head snapped up to meet her eyes.
“I think Miss Cackle will die also,” Hecate looked at their visitor, a challenge written across her face.
“Is that true?” Mildred looked back to herself, who nodded in resignation.
“Yes. And your mother, and most of your coven. And… so many others. The world is left scarred with magical blackspots, cities frozen, inconceivable destruction. The witching community is exposed, and sent deep into hiding once again.”
“Well, we should definitely stop that from happening.”
“Yes, we absolutely should. I will give to you the ingredient in question.”
“Where are you going to keep it?” Hecate asked, barely keeping the rising anxiety out of her voice. “Where would even be safe?”
“I have created something just for you, Mildred. Your own pocket of Vanishment, so to speak. Unfortunately, it is still locked in time, so you can only Vanish things in and take them out at some future point, but it will function as a safe enough haven for this.”
“How do I know if I’m vanishing things there or not?”
“When you Vanish it, simply say ‘Mine’, and it will go there. For example,” Mildred picked up a book from Ada’s table and before Hecate could object, she waved a hand. “Vanish Mine.”
The book sunk from existence, and both Mildreds smiled.
“Now, summon it.”
The young Mildred raised a tentative hand.
“Summon mine,” she cast, and the book reappeared in the young witch’s hand. “Whoa.”
She blinked, looking up at the purple robed witch before her.
“But, if it’s my own personal pocket of Vanishment, how come you can put stuff there?”
“I am… the exception,” the elder Mildred smiled, but it wasn’t as warm as it had been before. She pulled the vial of Ice Dragon Blood from her robes and wrapped younger Mildred’s fingers around it. “What do we say?”
“Vanish mine,” Mildred commanded, and the vial dissolved from the world, leaving their fingers empty.
“So, when I need it, I’ll just, remember where it is?”
“Yes. And you can summon it without any trouble.”
“Cool,” she nodded, absorbing her words. “I have one more question.”
“If I can answer, I will.”
“Will it hurt the dragon?”
Hecate’s heart quietly swelled with pride. Of course that was what she would asked.
“No, not at all. It will feel nothing, only the fabric of itself being transferred onto another plain of existence, where it can live forever, without hurting anyone. But if we don’t succeed… they will kill it. And that will hurt terribly.”
“Okay. Umm, can I ask just one more question?” young Mildred looked up at herself, still unaware that was what she was doing.
“Of course,” she nodded with a gentle laugh.
“Who are you?”
Hecate tensed and Ada’s smile dissolved.
“Ah, well…” Elder Mildred looked to her former teachers.
Ada nodded, but Hecate remained wide eyed and pursed lips.
“Wait, do I know you? Maud, is that you?”
Hecate wanted desperately to vanish from existence and save Mildred from her own embarrassment.
“No,” Mildred chuckled. “I’m… we’re… yet to meet.”
“Oh… when will we then?”
“Can I have a clue?”
“You won’t need one. I promise.”
Hecate felt the muscles in her cheeks twitch, though whether it was a smile or a frown, she couldn’t quiet place.
“Now,” Mildred the elder produced another small vial from her pocket, and handed it to Mildred the younger. “Drink this.”
“What is it?”
“For this, powder will not be strong enough.”
“Okay,” Mildred nodded, eyeing the liquid. “So I’ll forget all of this?”
“Until you need to remember.”
Mildred uncorked the little bottle and downed it in one sip. Without warning, her elder self leant forward and grasped her head in two hands.
“Until the hour that I have set,
All this time you will forget,
When dragons come and midnight dies,
You will forget my quiet lies,
From this burden, your mind is free,
Until Ragnar, I clean our memory.”
Young Mildred’s eyes glowed a gentle gold and she shook her head, tipping forward into her older self’s arms.
“What…?” she looked about, bleary eyed. “What happened?”
“Nothing my child,” Mildred Hallow smiled softly, standing her upright. “Just head back to class now.”
“Eh… okay,” she nodded, confusion evident as she walked herself to the door. She pulled it open and turned back as if to ask another question, but shut her mouth, nodded to herself, and closed the door behind her.
Mildred breathed a deep sigh.
“I’m afraid that is all the Forgetting Potion I had with me. I don’t suppose you have some for yourselves?”
“I have the necessary ingredients,” Hecate turned to Ada. Brewing potions, that was something she could do. Something to calm her rapidly fraying nerves.
“Then I suggest we get brewing,” Ada nodded, looking pensive. “Enough for the both of us will do nicely, thank you Hecate.”
“Of course, Ada,” Hecate nodded and waved a hand to transfer herself to the Potions Lab.
She breathed out a deep sigh, letting the tension and the fear drain from her shoulders, before she heard a soft whoosh, and looked back to find Mildred Hallow standing behind her.
“I thought I might be of some assistance.”
“I’m quite capable,” Hecate bit back harder than she intended.
“Of course you are. I’m afraid my motivations are… quite selfish,” Mildred glanced around the Lab, smiling softly, almost knowingly. “You see I… I miss you.”
“Please, tell me nothing else,” Hecate met her eyes, squashing her curiosity with fear. “I already know more than I am comfortable with.”
“Of course, I’m sorry.”
“But, it never hurt to have another witch look over one’s ingredients. Especially one who went to Titania,” Hecate nodded by way of thanks, and Mildred moved up to her desk, empty cauldron waiting.
“One Extra Potent Forgetting Potion, coming up.”
It took a great deal of self-control to stop Hecate from rolling her eyes. Beneath all the grandness and power it was still Mildred Hubble.
“Well what’s this?” Mildred asked, and Hecate turned to find her staring down at an escaped frog who appeared to have hoped its way onto the desk. “How did you get out of your…”
She trailed off and the frog seemed to quake before her as Mildred’s forehead creased, and then her face dissolved into shock.
“Please, by the Goddess…”
Before Hecate could ask what she meant, Mildred snapped her fingers and she and the frog disappeared. Hecate blinked rapidly, rather surprised at finding herself on the other end of a sudden transference. She momentarily considered letting her go, but then again, the security of Cackle’s and the very fabric of the future was more important than any private chat with a frog.
She reached out with a finding spell and detected Mildred in an empty classroom not two doors down from the Lab. Another wave and she materialised behind her towering over a desk, the frog croaking up at her, just in time to hear…
“Hecate Adaline Hallow. Please, in the name of all that is sacred, tell me you did not follow me through the Mists. Your Mother is going to be worried sick.”
Hecate’s heart skipped a beat. Hecate… Adaline… Hallow…
The frog croaked again, and then with a flurry of movement its shape twisted and contorted and was replaced by a little girl with dark hair, bright blue eyes, and a very, very sheepish smile.
Hecate’s eyes nearly popped right out of her head. Completing a successful full body self-transformation… so young…
“…I’m sorry,” the girl yelped, not meeting her mother’s eyes. Mildred took in a long breath, eyes shut, pinching the bridge of her nose. But the girl rushed on, and by the code, it couldn’t have been clearer that this was a little Mildred Hubble.
“But you said you were going to bring Nana and Gran back and I just wanted to see her because I miss her and I just wanted to say goodbye and don’t worry Mother wants them back too she’ll be okay that I came but I didn’t tell her where I was going because I thought maybe you were going to the Beyond to get Nana and Gran and I just… I just wanted to help.”
The little girl peaked around Mildred, looking up at Hecate, eyes uncertain.
“But Nana looks funny. What happened to her grey hair and all the lines on her face? Nana, why did you dye your hair black?”
Mildred spun around, eyes wide and full of panic.
Hecate couldn’t breathe, her whole chest locked in place.
With a stab of some harsh, unrecognisable emotion, Hecate heard the word like a canon in her mind.
Mildred turned back to her daughter, and Hecate watched her smooth the panic from her face.
“Catie… we came here through the Mists of Time. I… We’ve gone back in time, to make sure, in the future, Nana never has to leave. She’s still Nana, but younger. And she doesn’t know who you are. Not yet.”
Catie blinked back tears, looking from her mother to Hecate. “She doesn’t know who I am?”
“I’m only fourteen in this time, Catie. I haven’t graduated Cackle’s yet. I haven’t even heard of Titania.”
“I’m not… I’m not born?”
“Not yet. But when you are, Nana will be there. She’ll be the first to meet you, I promise.”
“And when we go home, she’ll be waiting for us? Because she’ll never have to go? Because you came here?”
“Exactly,” Mildred smiled, brushing her daughters tears aside with a thumb.
“Nana?” Hecate croaked, swallowing hard.
Mildred’s shoulders fell. “I suppose the cat is out of the bag.”
Hecate’s mind alternated racing and stalling, trying to put the pieces together.
“I’m assuming that means I… adopted you?”
“Adopted me?” Mildred scoffed, tension easing from her shoulders as she turned to smile at Hecate. “Don’t let Mum hear you say that.”
Hecate’s eyes bulged, a strangled yelp rising in her throat.
“Your mother and I?...” she trailed off, mouth hanging open.
“I won’t go into details. Not worth the risk. All I’ll say is that she marched up here to give you a scolding and you were married two years later.”
Hecate’s eyes were very wide, and her mouth very stiff, and her throat very dry.
“And did you, do you… mind?”
“Mind?” Mildred laughed. “Mama, you’re the best I could…”
Mildred suddenly broke off, smile falling from her face, swallowing at her stumble.
“I’m sorry. What I mean to say is, you are a fantastic mother. How in the world do you think I got into Titania? How do you think I won Witch of the Year?! Twice!”
But all that went over Hecate’s head, one word rattling around.
“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have. I was just… a slip of the tongue.”
Hecate gave a single nod. “I like it. If I never told you that, I’m telling you now.”
“You can tell me when I get home.”
Hecate felt tears gathering, and she flicked her eyes back to the girl on the desk.
“How old is she?”
“I’m six!” Catie grinned.
“And was that your transformation spell?”
“Yep,” she nodded beaming.
“How? Your barely…”
“It’s not her magic,” Mildred cut in to explain.
“But she said…”
“Her spell, not her magic.”
“I don’t follow?” Hecate raised her brow.
And then they heard it. A screeching, like a thousand ravenous birds baring down on the castle, and the pounding of wings, just one set of enormous wings.
“Dear god, no,” Mildred breathed, head snapping up to the window where the Mists of Time still swirled.
“Was that?” It couldn’t be…
“It followed me.”
“You didn’t kill it?”
“No, I didn’t kill it.”
Hecate met Mildred’s gaze and she saw something terrible and fierce behind the sorrow.
“You need to get the girls to a safe place. The dungeon, maybe. Take Catie.”
“You can’t fight a dragon alone.”
“I’ve done it before. And I don’t need to kill it. I just need to push it beyond the boundaries of the Mists, back into our time. If everything goes to plan, that will be enough.”
“That is a big if.”
Mildred didn’t respond, just turned back to her daughter and lifted her down from the desk.
“Go with Nana now,” she instructed.
Hecate looked down at the little girl’s wide eyes. She hesitated, and then held out her hand.
The child nodded to herself and muttered, “yeah, it’s definitely you,” before clasping her hand and letting Hecate transfer them both away.
“Mildred Hubble,” Young Nana commanded, and Catie watched a girl with dark plaits and a gaggle of friends break from the huge group of students and look toward them.
“Yes, Miss Hardbroom?” Young Mum piped up, dashing forward.
“Take care of this child. Do not let her out of your sight. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Miss Hardbroom.”
Young Nana turned and met Catie’s gaze.
“This is Mildred Hubble. She will take of you. Do not leave her side.”
Catie nodded and suddenly Young Nana was transferring away and she was standing among very young versions of her family. She blinked up at her mother. Her much younger, smaller mother, who smiled at her kindly.
“What’s your name?” she asked brightly.
“Catie,” she piped up. “Catie Ha-”
She stopped, chocking on the word, panicked eyes looking among the girls before her. She tried desperately to come up with a last name. Hallow? No. Hubble? No. Hardbroom? No.
“Catie Hamburger?” her aunt scoffed. She had the same cruel sneer that Mum said was just hiding the fact that she was afraid.
“Your name is Catie Hamburger?” a young Auntie Enid asked, grinning.
“Yep,” Catie nodded, entirely unconvincing.
“Cool name,” Auntie Enid smiled. “Want to trade?”
“But I like the name Nightshade!” Catie shook her head.
“I didn’t say… how did you know my name is Nightshade?”
Catie panicked, eyes wide, mind suddenly very, very blank.
She was saved by an ear piercing shriek overhead and the sound of glass shattering somewhere way off.
Mildred knew as soon as Ragnar appeared, teeth bared and claws glinting in the Mist, that she may have underestimated the situation.
She summoned her staff slammed it into the ground, pulling power from the earth and from the founding stone buried beneath, and feeling Miss Mould’s magic within. And then she raised her staff and began drawing power from the world around her, from the trees in the forest, from the gaggling brook in the woods, from the winds of the air, and then from the deepest parts of herself.
With all the magic collecting around her, she threw up a shielding spell strong enough to last a minute, maybe two, against Ragnar.
If she lived, she was going to have one hell of a magical hangover tomorrow.
Ragnar glared down at her, and in an instant, she considered the fight from every angle, and realised very quickly that she had miscalculated. The Mists were spread far, and she wasn’t strong enough to throw Ragnar clear. Not alone, anyway.
Even if she could, there would only be a moment between throwing it clear of the castle and sending the Mists away.
There was a way she could make this work.
But if this was the last time, she’d never get to say goodbye.
She wouldn’t need to, she told herself.
She just needed her daughter.
“Catie!” Mildred called, with her mind, with her magic and with her voice.
Hecate appeared in the open doorway of the main entrance, the Mists still obscuring her view, but the horrid shrieking giving away the dragon that clung to the side of the castle.
She weighed up her options. Enter the Mists, and quite possibly never return, throwing out the future as it stood for Mildred Hallow. Or wait and do nothing, and lose everything to the dragon anyway.
The beating of wings, and the Mist swirled frightfully and thinned, giving her a blurry glimpse of what lay beyond. Hecate’s entire soul fled her body at the horrifying sight before her.
Mildred Hallow, a staff raised, magic gathering in the air around her like a dark blight in the Mist. And above her, an enormous dragon of blue and silver and white, claws wrapped around the towers on either side of it, glaring down at the black figure, teeth gnashing against the magical barriers that separated it from its prey. Terrible, intelligent eyes watching her.
As the dragon lunged down again, a third option presented itself to Hecate.
The dragon’s immense claws yanked free of the tower and brought with them a huge chunk of the wall, stone and mortar raining into the empty grounds.
Hecate raised her hands in the doorway and jammed her magic into the frame and into the walls, sending it racing toward the tower and sealing every crack and strengthening every stone.
The bricks fell away, but what should have toppled the tower left only a gaping hole, her strength keeping the rest in place, and keeping the dragon from pulling the entire castle apart.
Catie’s head snapped up.
Catie! It was like a thought in her own mind, like a ripple in magic; her mother’s voice.
“I have to go.”
And with a small pop, Catie vanished.
“Did she just…?” Enid blinked.
“That’s impossible. She was like six!” Ethel scoffed.
Catie popped back into existence beside Hecate, who was still holding the castle’s very fibre together.
“Did you just…?” Hecate’s eyes widened for the thousandth time that day.
“Where’s mum?” Catie demanded.
“Beyond the Mist… but you can’t…”
And she was gone, running into the Mists beyond, calling for her mother.
Mildred sent another shockwave out, knocking Ragnar from its perch on the North Tower and sending it flying up into the Mist, only the beating of its wings and its furious screeching giving it away. Still too close though.
And there she was, dashing through Mists toward her, and then she was at her side, arms wrapped around her waist, holding tight.
“Sweetheart, remember what I said about blasting magic?”
Catie looked up, eyes wide.
“How I shouldn’t use it?”
“We’re going to use some now, and I need you to use all the magic Nana gave you, okay? Reach down deep, get every last drop.”
“When I say now, we’re going to blast Ragnar out of the Mist.”
Catie’s brow creased.
“Will that hurt it?”
“Not if we aim at its armoured chest,” Mildred shook her head, as another shriek sliced the Mist.
Catie’s eyes darted up into the sky, trying to ignore the clawing and crawling Mist that seemed to grasp at her clothes.
“One hand on my staff,” Mildred instructed, eyes darting this way and that, looking for any sign of Ragnar. Catie obeyed, wrapping one hand around her Mother’s witching staff and gathering her own magic in the other.
Mildred reached her hand out and began gathering the Mists into her palm. There, among the white. The edge of a wing. The glint of a horn. The shrieking of the dragon.
Mildred threw her hand out into a wide arc and pulled it back to her chest, feeling the Mist resist her. She pulled harder, it gave, and began sliding back into the palm of her hand.
And as it thinned, Ragnar came into view, speeding toward them over the castle walls, claws outstretched, jaw wide.
With an ear splitting boom, Catie’s little hand shot out and a beam of pure light slamming into Ragnar’s chest.
The dragon pitched sideways, its own momentum sending it hurtling overhead, its course thrown by Catie’s blast, forcing it away into the Mists, on a crash course with whatever lay beyond the boundary.
It shrieked again, louder and furious, but more distant with every note.
Mildred prayed it was far enough.
She turned back and met her Mother’s eyes through the thinning Mist, and silently begged her to come back. Prayed desperately that she would be waiting on the other side.
Hecate met her gaze and Mildred thought she saw tears glistening on her cheeks.
She closed her eyes and began a silent chant.
“Mists, hear me on this day past,
This year is done, at long, long last,
Leave this place to present rest,
And send us home, unwelcome guests.”
With one final pull of her hand, the Mists swept themselves aside, the sun pouring back onto the slopes of the mountain, clearing the sky around Cackle’s, and leaving nothing where once Mildred and Hecate Hallow had stood.
Mildred felt a gentle tug on her robe and opened her eyes to the most welcome, most terribly familiar sight imaginable.
Mama, grey hair pulled back into a tight bun, not a strand out of place, high collar stiff, fingers rubbing the back of the watch that rested on her chest, smiling anxiously.
Mum, her own grey hair hanging loose, her robes flowing freely over jeans and a shirt, smiling her brightest smile.
And Esme, hair still golden, regal as ever.
“Nana! Gran!” Catie squealed, releasing Mildred and dashing forward as fast as her legs would take her.
Mama crouched and opened her arms wide to envelop Catie in a harm hug, lifting her up to Mum and clutching her tight.
“Nana, Gran, you came back,” Catie whispered, eyes glistening.
Mama smiled her softest, most sincere smile.
“Nothing could keep me from you, little one. Not even a dragon.”
“You looked funny with black hair. And you didn’t smile very much.”
“I remember. But everything is better now. All back to normal. I promise.”
Mildred vanished her staff and strode forward, enveloping her wife and her parents in a hug. She tried to say everything that clouded her mind and hurt her heart with the strength of her arms.
“I don’t know if that was very brave or very irresponsible, Millie-love, but thank you.”
Hecate watched the forgetting potion swirl in her cauldron, the gold and green and blue twirling together in a vortex of liberation.
Of everything she’d learned in the last few hours, she couldn’t decide what was most surprising. That Mildred Hubble married Esmerelda Hallow? That they had a daughter, and named her Hecate? That she was a grandmother? That she was married? To Julie Hubble, of all people?! Or perhaps that Mildred had become such an extraordinarily powerful witch? Powerful enough to banish dragons and bend the Mists of Time to her will. Or that her granddaughter, barely six, had stood against a dragon without flinching?
Or maybe it was what all of this meant? That Hecate had a family. That she would find not just contentment, but maybe something more.
There was a gentle knock at her door, and Hecate was torn from her musings. She snapped her fingers and the door swung in to reveal Mildred Hubble, looking extremely guilty.
“Miss Hardbroom, I’m really sorry, I lost Catie Hamburger.”
Catie… Hecate Adaline Hallow…
“She vanished, like she had transferred away but I don’t understand how she was only like six and I…”
“It’s okay Mildred,” Hecate cut her off and Mildred stood up a little straighter. “She’s… gone home.”
Mildred let out a tense breath, relieved, and then blinked, looking at Hecate properly.
“Are you okay, Miss Hardbroom?”
“I will be,” Hecate smiled briefly. “Thank you Mildred. You really are… a very bright girl.”
Mildred’s eyes widened, and she gulped, probably wondering if HB had an evil twin too.
“Thanks, Miss Hardbroom.”
“Now, to class, quickly.”
“Yes, Miss Hardbroom.” Mildred hurried out, pulling the door shut behind her.
And now… now she had to forget all of it.
“Until Ragnar,” she nodded to herself, and cast the recall trigger.
In one swift motion, Hecate lifted the ladle to her lips and downed the contents.
Shaking the fog from her mind, she realised she was holding an empty ladle above what appeared to be a forgetting potion, and worse, realising she couldn’t quiet remember why.