“Miss Hardbroom asked me to help her save Miss Cackle,” Mildred explained, lying on her stomach on her bed with her feet in the air and her chin in her hands. “I think she didn’t feel she had a choice but still…It didn’t work,” Mildred laughed self-deprecatingly. “She was very kind about it though. Kinder than I’ve seen her about anything, really.”
“I’m not convinced HB is as much the dragon as she’d like us to think she is,” Maud replied.
“I’m not so sure about that,” Enid interjected. “She’s pretty scary.”
“Oh, she’s definitely scary,” Mildred agreed. “But…maybe she’s not only that. I mean, the other teachers like her, I think.”
Enid dismissed this with a wave of her hand. “That’s different, they’re grown-ups.”
Maud rolled her eyes. “Grown-ups are allowed to have friends.”
“I didn’t think much of it at the time because of everything” Mildred mused, “but I think HB was really close to crying.”
“That’s hard to picture—Tabby, I’m trying to read that, thank you,” Enid gently nudged Tabby off her revision sheet.
“It was weird,” Mildred agreed.
Maud flipped through her stack of papers. “Here,” she said, handing a piece of paper to Mildred “I made you some blank copies of the circle of fifths so you can practice filling them in.”
Mildred sighed. “I can’t believe we still have exams after all this.”
“And yet, we still do, no matter how many times you say that,” Maud said. “Come on Millie, if you can get the entire school working together to save everyone from Agatha, then you can pass your exams.”
“Yes, Mum,” Mildred replied in an exaggerated fashion.
Maud stuck out her tongue.
“Do you think there’s been something different about Miss Hardbroom, since Agatha tried to destroy the school?” Mildred wondered aloud as they sat on the lawn, staring up at the clouds.
“How so?” Enid asked.
“Have you noticed how close she stands to Miss Cackle?”
“She always does that,” Enid pointed out.
“Yes, but, I don’t know, I think there’s something different about it now. I saw her actually put her hand on Miss Cackle’s shoulder the other day.”
“I can’t believe I’m saying this,” Enid began, “but maybe you’ve been revising too much.”
“I think they’re pretty close,” Maud said quietly, rubbing a blade of grass between her thumb and forefinger. “And you have to admit, Miss Cackle’s been a bit—she’s trying really hard to be cheerful, you know? Almost like she’s trying too hard.”
“Yeah, I know what you mean,” Enid agreed. “Like when your parents are trying to pretend everything’s fine and you can just tell something’s wrong, but when you ask them they just tell you not to worry.”
“I wonder if there’s something we can do for them,” Mildred mused.
“Uh, I’m pretty sure this is the sort of thing that is best left to the grownups to sort out themselves,” Maud turned on her side and pushed her glasses up.
“We could try to find out what—“
“No,” Maud interrupted. “We should not. We really, really should not.”
“Maybe I could make them something, that might cheer them up.”
“You could draw them something,” Enid suggested. “You’re wicked good at art.”
“Millie, your exams?” Maud reminded her with an air of desperation.
“I can do both,” Mildred replied with confidence. “I’ve already got an idea.”
“Besides, we can’t spend all our time revising,” Enid added.
“We’re not revising right now,” Maud pointed out.
“Exactly,” Enid agreed.
Maud sighed and mumbled something under her breath.
“What was that?”
Mildred’s eyes flicked guiltily to where Maud was nose-deep in her spell science notes, and flipped to the back of her notebook where she was working on a sketch. Tiny, blob-shaped versions of Miss Cackle and Miss Hardbroom stood in front of Cackles, and fluffy clouds dotted the sky. It was alright, she thought, but it was definitely missing something. She chewed the end of her pencil, pondering. A border? She closed her notebook and stood up.
“Where are you going?” Maud asked.
“I uh, want to look something up,” Mildred replied.
Maud nodded, and went back to her notes. Mildred headed to the card catalogue and flipped through it. She found what she was looking for and headed into the stacks. She pulled Patterns Through the Ages: A Brief Encyclopedia and sat down on the floor. She blew the dust off the top of the book and cracked it open. The printing did not look terribly modern and she flipped to the publishing information. Published 1915 she read.
She leafed through the book, and her eye caught on a pattern that put her in mind of stylized cloud shapes. The more she looked at them, the more intricate she realized it was. She glanced at the text accompanying the illustration. The text filled the rest of the column and appeared to run onto the next page at some length.
Jugate amicitia: Commonly used in the present time to denote strong bonds of friendships, this pattern has a long and rich history. The pleasing and intricate design has appeared in numerous—
“Millie!” Maud whispered. “What are you doing, I thought you were revising for potions?”
Mildred snapped the book shut and more dust rose into the air.
“Sorry,” she coughed. “I uh, got distracted, I guess.”
Maud sighed. “It is almost lunchtime, maybe we’d better take a break.”
“Sure, let me just check this book out.”
It had come out rather well, Mildred thought, if she did say so herself. In the drawing Miss Cackle and Miss Hardbroom smiled just a little out at the viewer, with the backdrop of the school behind them. Their hands hadn’t come out very well, and they were standing so close that indeed their hands overlapped a little, almost as though they were holding hands. Each witch’s remaining hand was more of a suggestion of a hand than anything else, but it was much better than when she’d tried to be more realistic about it. Over their heads the clouds were composed entirely of the pattern she’d found. She’d abandoned the idea of a border - the more intricate cloud design had seemed fitting, in and of itself.
She slipped it into an envelope, sealed it, and wrote: “To Miss Cackle and Miss Hardbroom, From Mildred Hubble”.
There was a knock on the door.
“Millie, are you in there?” Enid called. “It’s almost time for the broomstick exam.”
“It’s been quite a year,” Ada said, glancing at the picture of Agatha and Geraldine on the wall.
“That is certainly one way of putting it,” Hecate replied, summoning the tea things and settling the kettle over the fire. “Ada, would you mind if we moved your sister somewhere else for a little while? It is…difficult to relax with her peering over our shoulders.”
“I hadn’t thought about it in that light, but I see your point.”
“If you really want to keep her here in your office from now on then I will endeavor to get used to her, but, for today, could we have a little privacy?”
“Certainly, if you wish it.” Ada vanished the photo. “Hello, what’s this?” she picked up an envelope on her desk. “It appears Mildred Hubble has left us something.”
“And I thought we were free of Mildred Hubble until the autumn,” Hecate muttered under her breath.
Ada came back over to the sofa and sat down, slitting open the envelope. The kettle whistled and Hecate poured the water into the teapot.
“Oh, how nice! Look Hecate, she has drawn us a picture. Very well done. Mildred may have trouble with her magic, but she’s a very gifted artist. Have a look,” she held the paper out Hecate.
Hecate took the paper and light arced from Ada’s hand to her own. They dropped the paper in surprise. Hecate picked it up.
“I take it,” she began, “it did not have this before?” She pointed with her free hand to the small, interlocking rings positioned below her and Ada’s image on the paper, and the date written below that.
“Oh dear,” Ada replied. “No, it did not.”
Hecate looked at the drawing more closely. “Of all the foolish—“ she bit her tongue. “Ada, look at the patterns of those clouds.”
Ada brought the paper closer to her. “Jugate amicitia? Where on earth did she find that? And why did it—there’s so many bonds that that can signify or stand in for—she can’t have known that it could do this.”
“I should be very surprised indeed to discover that Mildred had had any such intention,” Hecate replied dryly. “I have no trouble, however, imagining that she did not properly research the history behind this symbol when she decided to incorporate it into her artwork. I will need to confirm this, but I strongly suspect it was unhappy chance that completed her unintentional spell-work. Had you and I not held the drawing at the same time, I very much doubt we would now be legally married. This spell generally needs some type of physical joining of two persons to complete it.”
“Oh dear, I am sorry, Hecate. If only I hadn’t handed it to you—“
“You merely wanted to share Mildred’s gift,” Hecate said gently. “You could have hardly expected it to be booby-trapped.”
Ada gave a little huff of laughter that bordered on hysterical. “I don’t suppose that tea is ready,” she said, pulling herself together with an effort.
“I think it’s just gone past,” Hecate replied, flicking open her watch.
“I’m sure it will be fine.”
Hecate poured them both cups, and handed one to Ada. Their fingers brushed, and Ada flushed bright red.
“We’ll find a solution,” Hecate promised.
Ada took one sip of tea, and then another.
“This is not how I imagined I would be married,” she said with a weak smile.
“You imagined getting married?” Hecate asked, surprise sliding over her face. “That is—I did not mean that the way it sounded, I, any person who cared for you would very fortunate to—“ she trailed off, looking horrified. “I only—I cannot—I beg you will forgive me for being rude and believe me when I say that it was not my intention to be so, not that that makes it better.”
Ada set down her cup and reached for Hecate’s hand.
“My dear, I am quite sure that you did not mean to offend, and I accept your apology although none is needed I assure you. We have been friends these long years and I believe I know what you meant, however it sounded when you said it.”
“I appreciate that.”
“As to your question, yes, I have thought of marriage, occasionally. But for a long time I never found a witch that I wanted to settle down with and when I finally thought I had, well,” Ada sighed and withdrew her hand. “There are many reasons why it might not work but the crowning one is that I do not believe she returns those feelings.”
“Are you certain?” Hecate asked gently.
“As certain as I can be without asking her,” Ada replied. “And there are reasons why I cannot ask.”
Ada shook her head. “I cannot tell you, I am afraid. It is not because I do not trust you Hecate, I do, with every fiber of my being. But you must trust me when I tell you that they are sufficient and insurmountable.”
“As bad as that?”
“Yes,” Ada whispered. “I am afraid so.”
Hecate reached into her sleeve for her handkerchief and handed it to Ada, who dabbed at her eyes.
“Thank you, my dear,” she said, her voice a bit wobbly. “You are very kind.”
“We will get this cleared up,” Hecate promised. “And you will—you will find someone wonderful some day whom you will wish to marry, and who will wish to marry you and you will have a splendid, proper wedding.”
Ada nodded, and then started to cry in earnest.
“Ada,” Hecate began, alarmed. “I—Ada please don’t cry. We will undo this, I promise you.”
“It’s not that. I don’t know why I’m crying,” Ada said between sobs. “It’s ridiculous. This term must have affected me more than I thought.”
Hecate placed a small stack of kerchiefs on the table in front of Ada. She placed an arm somewhat awkwardly around Ada’s shoulders, and Ada leaned against her. After a few minutes she quieted and blew her nose. She pulled away a little and Hecate took back her arm.
“You did not, I imagine, plan for me to cry all over you today,” Ada said with a little laugh, rubbing at her cheek with the handkerchief.
“Allow me?” Hecate asked. Ada handed it to her. Hecate set it aside, and produced a fresh handkerchief. She tested the water remaining in the kettle, and dipped the corner of the handkerchief in it. She took Ada’s chin in her hand ever so gently, and ran the warm cloth over her forehead, and down her nose. She wiped one cheek, and then the other, and Ada turned, ever so slightly, into her hand.
They stayed there, breaths intermingling, and then Hecate pulled away. She twisted the cloth in her lap.
“Would you—would you like me to talk to your friend?” she asked, haltingly. “Perhaps I could ask for you those questions that you cannot. You can trust in my discretion. You said you were certain that she does not share your feelings but—but you could be wrong, Ada. I once hurt someone that I—that I loved, hurt her very badly, because I decided that I knew what was best for her better than she did herself. And I would not wish that on anyone.”
“Dear Hecate,” Ada reached out and took Hecate’s hands. “It is very good of you, and quite impossible. But I thank you for offering.”
“Of course. Your happiness means a great deal to me, Ada.”
“Yes,” Ada replied, a touch of sadness in her tone. “I know.”
“I imagine the tea has gone cold,” Hecate said, after a moment.
“Let me make us some fresh.” Ada squeezed her hands and busied herself with the tea things. “This is none of my business and you may tell me so if you wish” she began, not looking at Hecate “but did you ever reconcile with the woman you loved?”
“Yes, and learned that I had been even more foolish than I had ever realized,” Hecate replied quietly.
“It is shockingly easy to become very foolish when one is in love,” Ada agreed. “It would certainly lower your opinion of me if you knew some of the things I have done.”
“I am certain it wouldn’t,” Hecate replied, accepting a cup from Ada. “You can be very hard on yourself, Ada.”
Ada raised an eyebrow at that.
“Yes, I know,” Hecate said, with a fleeting smile, “but you will admit I should certainly know such behavior when I see it.”
“Very well, I take your point. Now what are we to do about Miss Hubble’s latest accident?”
“I suppose we could have the Great Wizard annul the marriage, though I am extremely loathe to bring him into this.”
“As am I. Surely we can find a solution on our own. I’m not even sure why it worked at all, now that I think about it because surely a marriage ceremony which was officiated in abstentia by an eleven-year-old girl cannot possibly be legal.”
“I wonder if it could be that simple,” Hecate mused.
“This drawing,” she picked it up, “is now the legal proof of our marriage. This drawing, which Mildred Hubble composed entirely on her own (presumably) and by her own hand. Therefore, if we were to amend it with a True Age spell, we could prove that the document was created by a minor and therefore the marriage officiated by a minor thereby nullifying the legal contract.”
“It is certainly worth a try,” Ada agreed.
Hecate spoke the spell over the paper. Her age, and Ada’s appeared above their heads in the drawing. The paper quivered and wriggled, and then a large 11 covered the sheet. Light arced from Hecate to Ada and then to the paper. The 11 faded, and when it was gone, so too were Hecate and Ada’s ages, the intertwined rings, and the date. The paper’s sky was full of smudged ink.
“I believe,” Hecate said, “that you are now officially my ex-wife.”
“I won’t tell if you won’t,” Ada twinkled.
“I do hope Mildred Hubble does not hope to see her drawing hanging in your office,” Hecate continued, “as it looks rather different than it did when she delivered it.”
“She’ll probably have forgotten all about it by next term.”
“Unlikely, given our previous experiences with her, but we can always hope.”
Ada laughed. “More tea, my dear?”
“No, thank you.”
“I hope you do know how much I value your friendship Hecate,” Ada said, transferring the tea things away. “Truly, there isn’t a person I’d rather have by my side.”
“Not even the friend you’re hopelessly in love with?” Hecate asked lightly.
“I apologize Ada, that was out of line. I’ll not disturb you further.”
“No, Hecate, wait.” Ada reached for Hecate’s arm. “Please, stay.”
Ada took a shaky breath. “You’re that friend.”
Hecate blinked, opened her mouth, and shut it again.
“I didn’t want to tell you, because I was more afraid of ruining this than I’ve been afraid of anything in my adult life, besides the school.”
“And you thought I didn’t feel the same way.”
Ada nodded. “I’m so sorry, Hecate. I’ve made an even bigger mess than Mildred did.”
“No,” Hecate smiled. “Ada, I’ve been pining for you for years. I just did not think that you regarded me in that light”
“You’re not just saying that?”
“Ada,” Hecate said in fond exasperation, “of course I am not. Apparently,” she raised her eyebrow, “we are both much better at hiding our feelings than we thought.”
“What a pair we are.”
“I nearly kissed you earlier this afternoon,” Hecate admitted. “I can assure you it took a remarkable amount of self-restraint.”
“Well, now that it’s all out in the open you could. Kiss me, I mean.”
“With all my heart,” Hecate replied and proceeded to do just that.