Sybil and Clarice caught Mildred, Maud and Enid in the corridors in between classes.
“We need your help,” Sybil said.
Maud blinked and sagged slightly. “Oh no.”
“Why us?” Enid said, a tad defensively.
“Firstly,” Clarice started, “we’re confined to our rooms outside classes for being in possession of an unauthorised animal and HB says we’re lucky we’re not in quarantine. Secondly, it was your potion that got us into this mess.”
Mildred turned. “What did you do, Enid?”
“It was all for a good cause!” Enid protested. “I was being generous.”
Clarice pushed her glasses up her nose. “Now Bea is a guinea pig locked in Miss Cackle’s confiscation cupboard.”
“We need to get her out before someone goes looking for her,” Sybil added.
“This sounds familiar,” Mildred said and suddenly she and Enid were grinning at each other. “Maud?”
Maud sighed. “Let’s hope we don’t need rescuing.”
“So you’ll do it?” Sybil asked.
“We’ll do it,” Mildred confirmed.
Her grin dropped as Miss Hardbroom materialised in front of them in the now-empty corridor.
“Girls. To class, now.”
“Yes, Miss Hardbroom,” all five chorused and hurried on.
Having imbibed their freshly created invisibility potion, Mildred, Maud and Enid crept out on their mission in the dead of night and made their way to Miss Cackle’s rooms without difficulty.
“Do you think she’s asleep?” Maud whispered.
“Of course she’s asleep,” Enid whispered back. “It’s two in the morning: why wouldn’t she be asleep?”
They stood and listened for a long minute but heard only silence from within.
“Come on,” Mildred murmured, pushing open the door just enough to allow them to slip inside. She made her way to the far wall and the key cabinet.
“Enid, bring the lantern over here; I can’t see the keys.”
“Millie,” Maud squeaked, “I think we’re in the wrong room.”
“Wha—” Mildred turned and found her friends standing close behind, the lantern upraised in Enid’s hand making visible a puddle of dark hair on the pillows.
Mildred frowned. “This is definitely Miss Cackle’s room. We saw her when we came in… didn’t we?”
A couple of steps closer, the lantern a little higher revealed a fair head close to the dark head, cast light across their faces, Miss Cackle sleeping next to…
Maud gasped softly. “HB?”
The silence stretched in shock. Mildred couldn’t look away, from HB’s dark hair flowing over the pillows, from her face so soft in sleep, from the comfort evident in her closeness with Miss Cackle. Such concepts seemed a mile away from their teacher, stern and tightly wound in presentation and manner.
“Maybe the roof fell in on her rooms?” Enid suggested, a little too loudly. “There was a virulent attack of mould?”
“Ssh, they’ll hear us,” Maud hissed.
They all froze as Miss Hardbroom made a small noise and snuggled (snuggled? Mildred’s brain rebelled but it was clearly an appropriate verb for the action) further into Miss Cackle. Holding her breath, Mildred considered just how expelled they would be if they were caught here. So expelled. They would be readmitted just so they could be expelled again.
Several seconds of silence passed. HB appeared to have settled.
Keys, Mildred mouthed to Enid, and they tiptoed with exaggerated care to the cabinet.
With Bea restored and returned to her room and Miss Cackle’s keys safely replaced without disturbing either occupant of her bed, one of Mildred’s more nerve-racking nights came to an end.
The morning wasn’t that much better.
“Thank you!” Bea bounded up to them as they arrived at breakfast. “I think I was too guinea pig-brained to say it last night.”
“Yes, thank you,” Sybil said.
Bea nudged Clarice.
“It’s still their fault…” Clarice began and trailed off. “But thank you. Did you have any trouble?”
Mildred, Maud and Enid shared a look.
“Oh, no trouble at all,” Mildred said heartily. “Everything was just fine, wasn’t it?”
Maud nodded. “Fine!”
“Nothing happened at all,” Enid asserted.
Bea looked between them. “You’re being strange.”
“Who, us? No, never. Must go now, don’t want to miss that delicious cold porridge.” Mildred grabbed Maud and Enid by the arms and they hurried to their seats.
The girls next to them finished and left, providing them with rather a good view as Miss Hardbroom bent her head towards Miss Cackle’s, whatever she was saying causing Miss Cackle to be wreathed in smiles.
Enid groaned and buried her head in her arms. “Will things ever be normal again?”
Maud sighed rather more happily. “I think it’s sweet.”
“If you think of it,” Mildred said, “this is normal. We just didn’t know it.”