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Cold Hands, Warm Hearts

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Mildred Hubble knew it was all her fault. Her mum would now forever be lost to her - without being dead. And she was more than aware that it was all her own doing.

Miss Cackle kept telling her that it wasn’t - that her mum ought to have done what Mildred and her friends had asked her to do, to give back her magic, to relinquish it. Mildred couldn’t have known that her mother kept it and had just put up an act, had deceived her and everyone else.

Miss Hardbroom even had tried to explain to her that it was the magic itself that changed her mum’s personality. And Mildred knew that to be true. She had changed under the influence of magic coursing through her. But that it had come to this in the first place? That was entirely her fault. And she would have to live with that guilt. The entirely selfish reason for her wish to be granted, so her mum could have her rightful magic - well. She knew now that even though her mum should have had magic, it wasn’t her right to get it in this manner. A curse was a curse, there were no loopholes. Being the first witch in generations had felt awfully lonely. But now she felt even lonelier. Just like Miss Hardbroom had to live with her guilt and loneliness for over thirty years and continuing, Mildred realised. It gave her little comfort. Her teacher in this moment was still more of a mystery to her than ever before, even with the short bonding they experienced when Miss Hardbroom had shown her the statue of Indigo Moon.

Remembering how Miss Hardbroom had saved her by basically sacrificing herself just a short while later, Mildred felt even worse. She can’t remember how she had managed to get her mum to change everyone back, but before she could use the potion to save her, it had been too late and the potion didn’t take effect. Or maybe she had made a mistake while brewing it. Knowing herself, that was entirely possible. She grimaced at herself. Miss Cackle had said how she blamed herself, how she should never have employed a non-magical teacher, Mildred had overheard her talking to Miss Hardbroom, but the young witch solely blamed herself. It had been her wish. She had used the wishing star, not Miss Cackle, not her mum. No one but Mildred was to blame.

Instead, even though she had tried her best to convince her mum to turn everyone back to living, breathing human beings rather than little clay figurines and even though she had succeeded in at least that, her mum had turned to stone. Right in front of her eyes, in the middle of what used to be Mildred’s bedroom at the top of the tower. Now and for the rest of eternity, that room was and would remain sealed away. All of Mildred’s belongings had been transferred out and into the basement for now. They would figure out where she’d stay once everything was back to normal.

None of the people that had been turned into clay by Julie Hubble ended up remembering anything about it - Forgetting Powder, wisely used by Miss Hardbroom and Miss Cackle, made sure that no one remembered the whole disastrous experience.

Mildred could barely look at her friends and all the other people that had been turned to clay by her mother, though. She felt so guilty. She was so lost and caught up in her feelings and thoughts, that she barely spoke to anyone other than Miss Cackle and Miss Hardbroom, and then, never until asked a direct question. The latter had been a source of calm and safety to her. Despite their rocky relationship before this whole situation had happened, and even though now it still felt awkward and stilted between them, she appreciated her presence. The young witch could only imagine how angry and disappointed Miss Hardbroom must’ve been when she found out about what Julie Hubble had done. And so Mildred wasn’t sure why Miss Hardbroom was being so considerate with her, figuring she had repeated a mistake she had tried to warn Mildred about, had not just tried to warn her about, but explicitly told her not to go there. To not do it.

Now, since she was barely able to look at her friends and thus emotionally unable to spend time with them, Miss Hardbroom and her unwavering stoicism that grew ever so slightly softer with each day, were Mildred’s only comfort.

The first few days she had stayed in Maud’s room, but her waking up crying and yelling in the middle of the night due to nightmares and closing herself off from her friends during the day, made Miss Cackle and Miss Hardbroom re-evaluate the situation. Instead, they gave Mildred a small room within the living chambers of the deputy headmistress, she being seemingly the only one who was able to get any kind of reaction out of the young witch, or be able to calm her down after a nightmare. With magic, they created a second doorway so that Mildred could enter and exit her own room from the hallway without having to walk through her teacher’s chambers every time she spent time in her room between classes and mealtimes.

Poor Maud and Enid didn’t know how to help their friend, didn’t know about the guilt, and after a few unresponsive visits, they told Mildred that they’d be waiting for her and she knew where to find them once she was ready. Their visits stopped after that one-sided conversation, but they still kept sitting together in classes and at mealtimes. They simply thought she was mourning, just like all the friends and family in the non-magical world, and were willing to give her the space she needed.

The story Miss Hardbroom and Miss Cackle came up with was that Julie Hubble had died in a tragic accident. There would be a funeral in a few days time, but Mildred did not want to attend. Her teacher, in an uncharacteristic show of unwavering support, assured her she would not have to go alone, but “that her attendance was compulsory”.

“Why, Miss Hardbroom? She isn’t dead. I mean. She is - but she isn’t. She’s not going to be in that coffin!” Mildred’s voice had grown louder while she was talking, her magic sparking a little with the strength of her emotions.

“Because, Mildred, everyone else believes she is. Everyone else must think she is in there. You will attend this funeral. You do not have to go alone, but we are going.” Her voice was calm, but firm and non-negotiable. That was the end to their short conversation.

Mildred felt guilty again, and her magic instantly subsided. If it hadn’t been for her, they wouldn’t have to alter everyone’s memories, wouldn’t have had to pretend someone was dead - that her mum was gone.

With a sigh, she went back to her own room. She didn’t close it all the way. Neither of them usually did, unless Hecate had a meeting or important mirror calls, then she would close it - of course, with a snap of her fingers. Mildred often heard the quiet murmur of her teacher’s voice and Miss Pentangle’s, and knew they talked more and more through mirror calls ever since the Spelling Bee. She was aware Miss Pentangle was important to Miss Hardbroom, and could tell from the look on her teacher’s face whenever someone mentioned her name or after they had seen each other. It only felt a little unusual to Mildred that she could read Miss Hardbroom’s face the way she could now - not that she could all the time. Not in any given situation, but in more than before, that was for certain. It was a welcome distraction to think about her teacher and Miss Pentangle instead of her own feelings and situation. She never thought she’d ever think this, but she genuinely liked her potions teacher now and hoped she’d find happiness with Pentangle’s headmistress.

The connection to each other was still entirely new and very peculiar for both Mildred and her teacher, and it already had been and surely would continue to be a journey for them both. Neither of them would have ever guessed they would start bonding over something so drastic. Miss Hardbroom’s equanimity was becoming more and more of a comfort to Mildred while at the same time, she was starting to open up to her pupil more than either of them ever thought possible. Her features, while remaining calm and steady, turning gentler the more they talked and the more they spent time together.

On the day of the funeral, Miss Cackle and all of the staff attended, wearing Ordinary clothes in black or subdued colours, just like Maud and Enid. Her friends didn’t comment on the fact that Mildred was clinging onto the hand of Miss Hardbroom and that even though their teacher’s face was a stoic mask like it so often was, they noticed whenever her glance fell on their friend, it turned incredibly sad and gentle for a few seconds. Right after the funeral was over, Mildred tugged on Hecate’s hand and whispered something to her. Maud and Enid watched as unobtrusively as possible but with rapt attention, how their teacher raised an eyebrow at Mildred’s words only to nod at her and lay her free hand on Miss Cackle’s shoulder. There were more whispered words before Miss Cackle looked at Mildred and nodded. And then, without a glance at anyone else, Mildred and Miss Hardbroom walked away, and with that, avoiding the onslaught of people that knew Julie Hubble and her daughter and wanted to give the young girl their expressions of condolences. Maud and Enid looked at each other and then stepped closer to their teachers, feeling a bit left alone and lost in the Ordinary world without their friend close by.

That evening, when after dinner they ended up sitting in Miss Hardbroom’s living room, quietly reflecting on the day, she said, “I am proud of you for your strength today, Mildred.”

The young witch looked up at her in surprise. “Proud? What for? There is nothing I have done you should be proud of, Miss Hardbroom.”

“You are being very hard on yourself, Mildred,” her teacher whispered. A tiny voice in the back of her head - and it sounded suspiciously like Pippa’s - whispered that the same went for her, didn’t it? She had been hard on herself, too. Broomhead had made sure of it, for the most part, but the guilt had eaten away at her for years and years. There were a lot of things she felt guilty about. Mostly related to Pippa these days and that turned more into regret than guilt, but Indigo Moon would always be something - someone - she felt guilty about.

Being pulled out of her inner musings by Mildred’s sniffling, she pulled a black handkerchief out of thin air and handed it over. “I was - still am - being very hard on myself, too,” she added quietly, while watching Mildred dab at her eyes to stop tears from falling.

“Because of Indigo Moon?”

“Yes. Because of her. And things I did, did not have a choice or say in, but had to do, that hurt others, myself included. I felt guilty about those, too, for a long time. I am still learning to forgive myself. But with the help of… friends, I daresay it is easier. And you have friends, Mildred.”

“Maud and Enid? I suppose so. But they don’t know what happened. They can’t know and I don’t know how to talk to them at the moment. All they do is look at me with pity. There’s you, though. Are we friends? You’re my teacher and I look up to you...”

Hecate’s eyebrows shot up on her forehead. “You... you do?” her voice clearly showing her disbelief.

Mildred focused on her teacher’s face. “Of course. I mean, I always have, but at first I was scared of you, scared of what you might think of me, coming from a non-magical family - or so we thought - and all that. But with me being absolutely terrible at everything I tried… I always wanted to be like you, Miss Hardbroom, and like Miss Cackle.”

“Like me?” Mildred didn’t think Miss Hardbroom’s eyes could get any wider or her eyebrows could climb any higher, but they did. Only ever so slightly, but they did. She noticed. Her voice sounded rather breathless, too.

“Yes, Miss Hardbroom,” she simply said, waiting for her teacher to digest her words.

It took the older witch a few minutes to calm her breathing and sort her thoughts. With a slightly croaky voice she finally said, “We cannot be friends, Mildred. I am your teacher. But I can be a mentor, of sorts, to you. Someone you can confide in, if you need to. If you would like, of course,” she finally said, her head inclined towards the young witch. There was a slight tinge of pink on Hecate’s cheeks when she finished speaking.

Mildred’s face lit up. “Thank you, Miss Hardbroom. That would mean a great deal to me.”

There was not an overabundance of joy in Mildred’s voice, but there was heartfelt emotion behind the words that made the older witch smile. She reached out a hand and slightly awkwardly patted her pupil on the knee.

“There is something else we need to talk about, Mildred. Miss Cackle has raised the question of… guardianship. Do you think - I mean. I was not sure if I would ever be the right person for that kind of thing but with recent developments and… Would you be opposed to me taking over guardianship for you? It would not mean that I would be or try to replace your mother, but just in case-”

“Miss Hardbroom? Sorry for interrupting you, but I’m aware of what guardianship would mean. There was this show on the telly I watched once,” at the look on her teacher’s face she stopped herself, “- nevermind. But I know what it means. And...” the bravery of interrupting her teacher ebbed away almost completely and Mildred started looking bashful, but continued on, “... I would be honoured if you were to become my guardian. It would be the bats, Miss Hardbroom. I enjoy spending time with you. I feel like you’re the only one that truly understands me. I mean, Miss Cackle tries and she’s so sweet. And I can imagine I must be an annoyance on most days to you. But I’m learning so much from you and I am so grateful for the way you’re there for me. I’m grateful you’re my teacher, Miss Hardbroom. So, yes, please. If you don’t mind, I would love to be under your guardianship.”

There were tears in the young witch’s eyes. It indeed meant a lot to her to have her teacher even suggest it. She hadn’t thought Miss Hardbroom would really want to take on that kind of responsibility for her, of all people.

Hecate held out a hand to her and Mildred took it, remembering how it had felt earlier that day to hold onto an adult’s hand and feel grounded and safe. Not like she had the past two weeks, where she had felt lost and like she was floating at least two feet above ground, but not in the pleasant way. Miss Hardbroom seemed to be the only person that had the effect of grounding her.

“Then, Mildred Hubble, I will take care of the paperwork first thing tomorrow morning. Do not think I will be any easier on you in class or our private lessons. I expect you to study hard.”

“I will make you proud, Miss Hardbroom. I promise. And maybe... we’re good for each other, you know? You teach me things and we both learn how to deal with our feelings along the way?”

“I think we might feel the same way about this, Mildred. I think we might be able to learn from each other.”

If Mildred was surprised at her teacher’s gentle words of admittance, she didn’t show it. Hecate was surprised at herself, though, for voicing them out loud. But after long talks with Pippa about this peculiar situation and connection she and Mildred now seemed to share, she knew the words to be true. Maybe together they could learn to deal with their guilt.

The day after, Miss Hardbroom stayed true to her word and took care of the magical, as well as the Ordinary, paperwork to take on the task of guardianship. Mildred suspected that with the latter she had help from Miss Pentangle because she could’ve sworn she had heard her voice while in a state of still being half asleep.

After breakfast, she and Miss Hardbroom transferred to Mildred’s flat. The young witch tried to steel herself for the onslaught of emotions but ended up just feeling numb. Her eyes hurt from crying all night and she felt like there were no tears left.

A cool but gentle hand landed on her shoulder, squeezing reassuringly but vanished just as quickly as it had appeared. It made Mildred smile sadly for a few seconds. Miss Hardbroom wasn’t very good with dealing with emotions or emotional outbursts, she was aware of that. That she tried to be supportive nonetheless meant everything to the young witch.

“I don’t know where to begin or what to do with all the furniture and all of my mum’s things…” she trailed off in a whisper. Shrugging slightly she looked around the familiar flat. She grew up here for most of her life and now.. today would be the last day she’d come back here.

She walked aimlessly around for a good few minutes until she ended up in her mum’s bedroom. A sob tore from her throat she couldn’t stifle. Miss Hardbroom transferred to her side in a second. A tentative hand landed on her arm and a black handkerchief was pressed into her own hand.

“We can pack everything up, shrink it and store everything in a box in the cellar at Cackle’s. I know this is not easy for you, Mildred, but it needs to be done.” The stoic staccato of her teacher’s voice was comforting, in a way.

With a deep breath and newly formed resolve, Mildred nodded and together they started on packing up her life. There were incidents were Mildred became too overwhelmed with her emotions - she hurled a book her mum had got for her across the room, and later it was a mug that read “#1 MUM” (it shattered on the floor, but Miss Hardbroom vanished the shards before she could even realise what she had done). After that she broke down crying again, her teacher an unwavering presence by her side. Never judging, but nonetheless slightly awkward. After a few minutes, a quiet murmur of encouragement brought Mildred back to the moment and with a deep breath, she soldiered on again.

Even with the help of magic, it took them the whole day to finish their task. They didn’t talk much, but the quiet presence of her teacher lent Mildred the strength she needed to finish their undertaking.

They ended up being back at school way after dinner, but Miss Cackle invited them to her office for a light snack she sent for, so they wouldn’t go to bed hungry. Of course she asked about the progress they had made. Mildred didn’t say anything, couldn’t get herself to speak. After looking at her for a few seconds, Miss Hardbroom told the headmistress how they had put everything in boxes and emptied out the whole flat. She didn’t mention the first or the second breakdown Mildred had. Didn’t mention how she had thrown things around in grief and guilt and anger. Mildred was thankful for that, but resented her at the same time. Why, she didn’t know. She still was so angry, but not at Miss Hardbroom or anyone else. Just at herself. She realised with her silent treatment she was being unfair towards her teacher, who would soon, whenever the paperwork was approved, be her legal guardian. She knew she was being unfair. But she couldn’t stop herself.

Having barely touched her food, she stood up and asked to be excused. Miss Cackle nodded in surprise and then shared a look with her deputy. Mildred didn’t pay attention, and instead just walked out, leaving the two adults behind.

When she reached her room, the door to Miss Hardbroom’s chambers was cracked as usual. Through it, in the moonlight, she could see Tabby lying on the sofa, curled up with Morgana, her teacher’s familiar. Quietly, as to not disturb them, she opened the door wider and silently walked inside the room. She sat down on the floor in front of the two cats, just watching them sleep.

She wasn’t sure how long she’d been sitting like that, on the cold floor, but she startled slightly when suddenly a fire was lit and Miss Hardbroom sat down beside her, on the floor. Mildred waited for her to berate her for leaving their headmistress without even touching her food or for entering her living chambers without her explicit consent, but instead was met with silence.

When she chanced a glance over towards her teacher, Miss Hardbroom was sitting turned towards her, already looking at her. Her face was gentle in the firelight, shadows dancing with light all across her skin. Mildred looked down at her hands in her lap. She started to wring them nervously, still unable to get any words out. Instead tears started to gather and fall again, quietly this time, no violent sobbing, just tears in an endless stream. Bending her upper body forward, she leaned her forehead against the edge of the couch where both cats were still lying curled up, but now watching the silent pair of humans intently.

Hecate again did not know what to do, so she just rested her hand on Mildred’s shoulder again, squeezing gently. She was not comfortable with showing too much affection, even though in this moment she longed to take the young girl in her arms. She wasn’t sure where that feeling came from or what to do about it, so she sat helplessly, trying to lend as much comfort as she felt capable of.

They remained in that exact position until she felt the movement indicating Mildred’s breathing underneath her hand slow down. The girl had fallen asleep. With a gentle wave of her hand, she transferred them both to Mildred’s room, tucked the girl in, quietly and gently, whispered a goodnight. Tucking the girl in would become somewhat of a ritual over time. She did not know yet how important that would one day be to her. With one last look at the sleeping form of the girl, she pulled the door almost closed, just in case, and left to retire to her own bedroom.

And so they moved from silently staring into a fire side by side in the cold winter evenings, to quietly talking - and every other day, to the studying of all things magic, as they had agreed on before the funeral, as well as the occasional chess game when spring started coming around.

Time seemed to pass without Mildred even realising. Hallowe’en came around, and then Yule. The festivities on school grounds passed the young witch by without her participating. She stayed in her room for most days. Maud and Enid, after Miss Cackle’s urging, brought her food, and Mildred was glad for the company, even though she reckoned she wasn’t very good company to them. She loved them for trying and not giving up on her and said as much, before they left with a smile on their faces, to join the festivities in the Great Hall again.

And so the seasons changed, the winter holidays came and went with Mildred staying behind with the staff and a few other pupils. But with every passing day, Miss Hardbroom became even less of a mystery. Their chess games became a ritual for Sunday evenings after studying together. At some point it became official that Mildred was now an orphan, but her legal guardian was one Hecate Hardbroom. They didn’t make a big deal out of it when the paperwork came in, other than Miss Hardbroom showing her the documents over a cup of tea and biscuits.

Even more weeks went by, blurring together into months. It was almost the end of term when Mildred, with gentle support of Miss Hardbroom, started reaching out to her friends more and more again. And even though it had been a while, Enid and Maud - not remembering any of what had transpired with her mum other than the false memories they had been given - were happy to see her outside of classes and mealtimes again.

When the summer break approached, Mildred was once again painfully confronted with the fact that her mum was gone and she had no place to go, no place to call home.

“Miss Hardbroom?” she asked one warm evening, while they were sitting across from each other over a game of chess.

“Yes, Mildred?” Hecate’s voice was quietly inquisitive, without sounding nagging.

“Can I... that is. Is it at all possible for me to stay with you during the summer? Since you’re my legal guardian and all?” Mildred became bashful, looking down to her hands that were wringing nervously in her lap.

There was no reaction other than a sharp intake of breath.

“I... I mean. I can ask Miss Cackle to remain here, in the castle. I guess I can stay here, if she’s staying here. It’s just... I can’t stay with my aunt, since she’s too old. I doubt she could take care of me for the whole summer, if even for a few days, and -” she was rambling. She knew she was rambling, but her teacher’s lack of reaction other than the breathing in sharply, had her second-guessing her request.

“Mildred Hubble. You are more than welcome to stay with me.”

At the very soft tone of voice that sounded almost, almost, tearful, Mildred looked up again. There was the smallest of smiles on her teacher’s lips, but her eyes were sparkling with a warmth she had grown accustomed to whenever they were alone.

“I’m glad, Miss Hardbroom,” she quietly said, feeling herself blush.

“And Mildred?”


“Check mate.” A delighted grin broke out on Hecate’s face, while Mildred groaned. With a lighthearted giggle, she reset the game under her teacher’s watchful eye.

Since Mildred had been given extra lessons with Miss Hardbroom, studying for her end of year exams wasn’t as hard as the years before. The time studying with her teacher certainly wasn’t a walk in the park, and had led to many outbursts of frustration from Mildred and annoyance from Miss Hardbroom, but they managed in the end. And it paid off. She received an overall 86%, which she was so happy about that, she burst into Miss Hardbroom’s office later in the evening and ran up to her guardian and flung herself at her, hugging her tightly. She hadn’t even knocked or paid attention to what her teacher was doing, so when she heard a soft chuckle while the body underneath her went rigid, she looked up and blushed.

“Sorry Miss Hardbroom, and well met, Miss Pentangle.”

When she loosened her grip and was about to pull away, cold hands caught her wrists. Carefully and stiffly Miss Hardbroom lowered herself and pulled Mildred into her arms. It was the first real hug Mildred had received since she lost her mum - and while it wasn’t at all like a hug from her mum, it felt good and right, and she couldn’t stop the tears from falling, even though she tried.

Hecate looked up and into Pippa’s eyes. They had got to a point where they were now once again able to communicate with just a glance between them, just like when they were young.

I will mirror you again later,” Hecate’s eyes seemed to say.

Of course, Hiccup,” said Pippa’s smile back. And within a second, Pippa’s face vanished from the mirror, showing the older witch a reflection of herself kneeling on the floor, holding a crying Mildred tightly in her arms. She closed her eyes and willed her body to soften and hold the young girl tighter.

“Are you alright, Mildred?” she whispered in her hair.

The girl nodded her head and opened her mouth to speak but only a sob came out.

“It’s okay. Hush. You’re fine. I saw your overall mark was good. I am so proud of you, Mildred. I am proud of what you have accomplished this year. And I am sure your mother would be, too.”

“D-do you th-think s-so?” Mildred stuttered out between gasping for air.

Pulling back without letting go fully, she said in a gentle but firm tone, “Yes, Mildred. I do believe so. She still loved you very much, even though the magic had changed her. You must know that.”

Their eyes met and Hecate could tell there was that feeling of guilt in her student again. Not wanting to change the topic but feeling out of depth with all the displayed emotions she was quiet for a second.

“We might spend some time with Miss Pentangle at her cottage during the summer, if you would like. Perhaps this next weekend, actually, if you feel up to it. She has a cottage that she has invited us to. It is in Scotland, and there is plenty of space around - space to explore and scenery to draw. I know you like doing that.” And she is better equipped to deal with this stage of guilt and grief than I am, or ever will be, she thought to herself.

Taking a deep breath, she accepted the change in conversation with a nod and a small smile. “That sounds nice. Thank you, Miss Hardbroom. I bet you’re looking forward to spending time with Miss Pentangle.”

There was a knowing glint in the young girl’s eyes that Hecate resented just a tiny bit. “Mildred. Hubble. I knew you would be trouble the first second I saw you,” she replied with a sharp intake of breath, but there was a sparkle in her eyes that took the sting out of her words.

“Hubble-trouble, it rhymes. That should tell you everything...” Mildred giggled and waggled her eyebrows in a teasing manner. It got a small smile out of her teacher, so she counted it as a success.

But then it reminded her of her mother again. Another Hubble that had brought nothing but trouble to the school. Her face hardened a little. “The Hubbles have caused enough trouble for you and this school, though, haven’t they?” she whispered, sounding resentful of the name.

“They also saved us before, have they not?” Hecate countered quietly. Mildred shrugged in response and then just sat down on one of the armchairs, staring out the window. Hecate let her be for now. They would talk about this again, she knew.

The next day found Mildred slightly teary eyed while saying goodbye to her friends for the summer. They promised to zapchat each other and maybe even mirror call, if Mildred were to be so inclined. They didn’t know she would be spending her summer with "HB", as they called her. Well. Whenever she wasn’t around, of course. Maud and Enid were still terrified of their teacher. But Mildred hadn’t told them much other than that she’d probably stay at Cackle’s for the summer, maybe go see her aunt for a spell. Maud had looked appalled, knowing her aunt was not magical.

“Not that kind of spell, Maud.” The trio laughed quietly at that.

Mildred then stole a look of Miss Cackle and Miss Hardbroom standing side by side in their formal dresses and hats, talking to students and their parents, saying goodbyes as one after the other flocked towards them. Soon Enid’s mum urged her towards the headmistress and her deputy as well and shortly after Maud’s parents did the same, leaving Mildred standing alone, watching pupil after pupil and classmate after classmate leave.

After her friends left with a last wave, Mildred moved towards the entrance to the main building. Sitting down on the stairs, she waited until it was just the staff left, ignoring pitying glances from classmates and adults alike. The only glances that counted were Miss Hardbroom’s. She felt her mentor’s eyes on her every so often, but knew she was only making sure she was doing okay. It still felt unusual to Mildred, to have the strictest teacher she ever knew to be so gentle and considerate with her. She realised a while ago that HB’s strictness was nothing but concern for her students. Did she think her teacher would need to be so harsh and mean in class? No. But she still could see that the potions mistress didn’t do it out of any malicious intent, only ever wanting to protect “the girls”. Looking back now, she was grateful to her for that.

A shadow fell over her and she looked up. Miss Hardbroom was standing over her, one of her half smiles on her face. “Are you quite alright, Mildred?”

“Yes, Miss Hardbroom,” she answered with a small smile of her own.

“Then go and get your things. We are going to meet Miss Pentangle in about an hour. Get Tabby, your backpack and your broom and meet me here in, let us say, fifteen minutes?” She had opened her watch to confirm the time and then closed it with a soft snap. They would be there early, but she knew Pippa knew that they quite possibly would be.

Mildred nodded at her and got up. “Of course, Miss Hardbroom. See you in a bit!”

Exactly fifteen minutes later found Hecate standing with Morgana on her shoulder, broom in one hand and a bag in the other, waiting for Mildred in front of the stairs. She was ready to go and start her summer break. She gave an insufferable sigh and rolled her eyes. If one thing had not changed about Mildred, it was her tendency to be late.

Usually she would have transferred back up to their rooms to see why she was kept waiting, but refrained for once. It was the first summer Mildred would spend without her mother and with her instead. A teacher, merely a guardian, never her parent. And she went and added an almost stranger into the mix, as Hecate could not stay away from Miss Pentangle any longer than absolutely necessary, it seemed. And since Mildred and she now were more or less a package deal… Well. She was not sure how that was going to go over.

Hecate had been able to open up more around both of them, just never to both of them at the same time. And she was a very private person. She would just have to talk to Mildred that whatever happened at Miss Pentangle’s cottage and in the privacy of their rooms, would need to stay exactly there, and kept private. She doubted it would be any problem for Mildred. She had not told Maud and Enid or anyone else so far, but Hecate was still worried. She was not ready for the rest of the world to know about her private life. Except for Ada and Pippa - and Mildred herself, of course - no one else knew about her taking on the responsibility of assuming Mildred’s guardianship. And as long as Mildred did not want to tell anyone, she would not either. She and Pippa... they were just friends for now, but Hecate knew there was more between them. She knew at least that her feelings for Pippa ran deeper than simply friendship, even though they had not broached that subject as of yet. They might soon. She might feel brave enough, soon.

A breathless, “Sorry, Miss Hardbroom!” startled her out of her thoughts.

“That is quite alright, Mildred,” she said after clearing her throat quietly. “I assume you have reasons for being late. But let us not waste any more time. The flight up to Scotland will take us a while.” She raised an eyebrow and looked fully at Mildred, who was wearing Ordinary clothes. “What in the world are you wearing, Mildred?!”

The girl looked down and over herself. “My favourite pair of dungarees and a T-shirt?” she asked confused.

Hecate’s eyebrows rose up to her hairline and she breathed in and out through her nose.

“What’s wrong with what I’m wearing?”

Her teacher set her bag down, waved her hand and suddenly a black wool cardigan wrapped around her upper body.

“You do realise flying over Scotland will be colder than flying around here, do you not?” Her voice sounded exasperated.

A giggle escaped the young witch. She knew very well there were spells to keep her warm, if she needed them. She wasn’t quite sure why her teacher had given her a cardigan, but it was maternal worry, she supposed. Something she’d never expected to ever think about her teacher. “Maternal” and “Miss Hardbroom” just a year ago seemed like a gap never to be crossed. And now here they were. Mildred guessed that made her the bridge. With another short giggle she looked up at her mentor.

“Thank you, Miss Hardbroom.” It was heartfelt and her eyes were glittering dangerously close to tears. Happy tears, but tears nonetheless. The cardigan smelled distinctively like Miss Hardbroom and Mildred inhaled deeply as she pulled it tighter around her, the smell comforting, but the fabric slightly too loose around her frame.

Hecate sniffed and bent down to pick her bag up again. “Do not mention it. And call me Hecate. We are on holiday now.” Without waiting for a reaction or a reply, she turned around, readied her broom to mount it and looked over her shoulder while Morgana settled down on her broom. “Ready?”

To her surprise, Mildred already was hovering on hers. “Ready, Miss Ha- Hecate,” she said with a grin, legs swinging out to the side wildly, making her wobble a little.

With another exasperated sigh and an amused eye roll, Hecate gingerly sat down on her own broom. Together they flew off into the blue sky of a warm summer day, ready to start a short vacation together, away from school and all the memories.

When they slowed down and started to descend, they were not in Scotland yet, but had arrived at another school - Pentangle’s, to be exact.

“Miss Pentangle is going to fly the rest of the way with us.” Hecate told Mildred once they had touched down in the empty courtyard.

Mildred looked around with wide eyes. The school was wildly different from her own, she realised, and even though the building looked like it had been built more recently and was painted in friendlier colours, she much preferred the castle she now called home, with its weathered stonewalls and even the drafts. The sudden appearance of a very pink person right in front of her snapped her out of her thoughts and made her wobble on her broomstick again. A chuckle and a steadying warm hand on her arm made her look up and into Pippa Pentangle’s face.

One hand shot up to her forehead. “Well met, Miss Pentangle!”

“Well met, Mildred. I’m glad you two are joining me up there for a bit. It’d get awfully lonely without you, I’d reckon. Has been the past few years…” she trailed off, with a slightly sad smile but then seemed to snap herself out of it. Her smile brightened again and she turned towards Hecate. “Well met, Hiccup.”

Mildred could see a tinge of pink forming on her guardian’s cheeks and smiled to herself.
“Well met, P-Pipsqueak.”

The brilliant smile the blonde witch directed at her at the use of the nickname warmed Hecate’s insides in ways she would never admit out loud. Especially not with Mildred present. But she could not help but smile back and stare at her beautiful friend.

Mildred watched the scene unfold and smiled brightly. If anyone deserved some happiness, it was definitely Hecate. She didn’t quite know the extent of what exactly had happened, but she knew for a fact that her teacher and mentor carried a lot of guilt, hurt and regrets around with herself. She deserved happiness and love. As much as she could possibly get. Mildred swore to herself that as soon as they arrived and they were off their brooms, she’d hug Hecate again, even if she would stiffen and get all awkward again. She needed another hug. Swinging her legs again, she remembered how it had felt to hug her just the day before - and promptly tumbled off her broomstick with a squeak.

“Whoops,” she said, face-down in the grass. At first there was silence above her but then she heard a giggle that sounded like Miss Pentangle’s, and a sigh that definitely came from Hecate.

“Sorry, Hecate!” she said, still face down on the ground.

Another sigh and then cool hands grabbed her forearms to pull her up. The same hands then brushed off her pants and then, slightly less sure of themselves but very gently, made sure her face was okay.

“I’m sorry for falling off my broom. I’m okay, though, I promise.” She smiled up at Hecate. Her face was guarded and closed off, though. Mildred bit her lip. “Are you mad at me?”

That seemed to startle her teacher.

“Why ever would I be mad at you, Mildred?” her voice sounded rough.

“Because I’m a witch and I fell off my broomstick and witches shouldn’t fall off their broomsticks at my age anymore and I’m sorry, I guess I was kinda daydreaming-”

Pippa’s hand came to rest on the young witch’s shoulder, efficiently quieting her. “I doubt she’s mad at you, Mildred. I think you scared her for a second,” she stage-whispered.

Mildred looked from Pippa back to Hecate, her eyes wide. Guess that hug can’t wait then! she thought to herself and surged forward, barrelling face-first right into Hecate’s middle.

This time, to Hecate’s credit Mildred noted, she didn’t stiffen at all, but her arms still came up a little awkwardly. As if she didn’t really know how to hug people back. As if she didn’t remember yet. At that thought she just held on tighter.

Squeezing her eyes shut, she concentrated on how she felt in that moment. Remembering all the little moments when she had been wrecked with guilt and regret or woke up sobbing from a nightmare and Hecate had been there in an instant, calming her thoughts and mind. Remembering all the evenings spent studying with her, all the Sunday nights playing chess together... it filled Mildred with a warmth she hadn’t felt ever since that fateful day. Ever since she lost her mum.

Remembering Hecate’s words, “Would you be opposed to me taking over guardianship for you? It would not mean that I would be or try to replace your mother, but just in case-” as clear as the day she had said them to her and how it had filled Mildred with a relief she didn’t know she needed. Hecate had made her feel less alone, had made her feel understood and seen without being judged over her huge mistake. At first, Mildred thought back, she was sure her teacher had been judging her. But now that she knew about Indigo Moon, knew about Hecate’s past, she knew it wasn’t really judgment. She had wanted to protect Mildred. But Mildred had to be her usual stubborn self... and now they had ended up here. With her hugging her teacher, of all people. The teacher she thought had hated her, but that she’d grown to really, really like and adore.

When Hecate gave a gasp, Mildred looked up with tears in her eyes. A slightly shaky and still cool hand came up to rest on her cheek.

“Mildred…” she started but was searching for words. “Thank you for sharing these thoughts and memories with me. I did not realise you could do that... And I never… hated you. I didn’t know what to think about you, your existence. But I never hated you. Never. Do you understand?” Her voice had become very intense, determined for Mildred to understand that she had never harboured any ill-feelings towards her.

The look in the older witch’s eyes was so earnest, Mildred couldn’t look away. “Y- yes, Hecate. I understand. And I know now.”

“Good. Now,” she cleared her throat and gave a small smile, “how about we get you back on that broom of yours?”

Mildred nodded and before she let go, squeezed her arms around Hecate’s middle one last time. The hand resting on her cheek curled around her shoulders and pulled her close for an answering squeeze before letting go entirely.

When the young witch looked around, Pippa Pentangle was nowhere to be found.

“Where did Miss Pentangle go?” she asked curiously.

“She will be back in just a bit -” Hecate started but was interrupted by the appearance of said witch.

“I forgot something, Mildred. But I’m all set now. And so are you?” Pippa said with a smile, directed at them both.

“Yes, Miss Pentangle!” Mildred couldn’t keep the excitement out of her voice now.

Hecate watched her. It seemed it was a bit easier for her to let go of the guilt when she was not constantly reminded of what had happened and she supposed, the school was a constant reminder of exactly that. Just like for her. And had she not had to stay there, too? Only, she had to stay the summers as well. In fact, she had not been allowed to leave, for a very long time. With a resolve forming inside of her, she got back up on her broom, after watching Pippa lending a steadying hand to her pupil again. She would not do the same thing to Mildred that Broomhead had done to her. She would try to do much better. For Mildred, and for herself. She would.

Finding and locking eyes first with Mildred and then with Pippa, she smiled at both of them. Not just one of her half smiles, a full one. The answering smiles made her heart soar. The answering smiles as a reward were worth the uneasiness.

Together, all three of them pointed their broomsticks upwards and flew off towards Scotland.

The little cottage that belonged to Miss Pentangle was located in the Trossachs. Close by was Loch Lomond, but of course the cottage was hidden from the eyes of the Ordinary and only reachable by broom, on foot, or by transference.

It was in the middle of the forest, but close enough to the shore of the Loch to hear the waves every once in a while - depending on the wind carrying the sound over to them. It was nestled into a big and well-lit meadow, surrounded by soft grass, wildflowers and lots of tall, old trees. There was a fence around a wide perimeter that had sections of gardens with herbs and vegetables and berry bushes. Maintained by magic, Mildred was sure, at least during the time Miss Pentangle wasn’t there.

With wide eyes she took in the sight of it all. The beautiful cottage, the walls slightly overgrown with roses, had two stories but seemed small and cute despite its slightly higher built. Mildred smiled. She was looking forward to spending time here with her favourite teacher, mentor and her... well. Companion, she decided on for now. Friends seemed what they were to each other but even though she was still just a young witch, she knew love when she saw it. And she could see these two were most definitely in love with each other. She had seen it back when Miss Pentangle had been at Cackle’s for the Spelling Bee, after the blonde witch had returned Tabby to Mildred and she in turn had set them up in Miss Cackle’s office. That hug seemed like the first step in the right direction.

Bringing herself out of her musings she hopped off her broomstick and grabbed it from the air, following the two adults through the gate.

Walking along a small path towards the front door of the cottage, she kept looking around.

There were tomato plants growing, cucumbers and courgettes. Towards the back she could see vines of pumpkin plants growing. On the other side she saw raspberry and red currant bushes, a small patch of strawberry plants, as well as two goosegog bushes.

When Pippa opened the door with a slightly complicated looking flurry of hand movements, Mildred turned her attention towards the inner parts of the house.

They stepped inside and Mildred felt immediately a sense of ‘home’. It embarrassed and saddened her a little, to feel at home in a place she’d never been to and might not even go back to, so she decided not to say anything about it out loud. It filled her with a pang of melancholy. She didn’t want to betray her mum or the memory of the home they had made for each other, but she knew she’d eventually have to open her mind to the idea of making new memories with someone who was almost a mum to her, in a new home. She didn’t want it to be anyone other than Hecate. While the thought startled her, she also couldn't find it in herself to be too surprised either. She had bonded with her guardian.

Pippa showed them around the first floor, which was an open plan, for the most part. The living and dining area gently flowed over into the kitchen. It was all painted in warm, earthy colours - dark greens complementing the warm browns of the wooden furniture - with lighter colours creating the feeling of homeliness. Two doors were towards the back and left side of the living room, leading to, as Mildred found out just a few minutes later, to the guest bedroom, which would be hers for the time being, and a small bathroom.

She put her bag and broom down in the corner of her bedroom and let Tabby out to explore the cottage by himself. Morgana hopped off Hecate’s shoulder as soon as he got out of his backpack and joined him.

Hecate and Mildred both smiled at their familiars and watched them walk off, before continuing after Pippa to the upstairs area.

There was another sitting room with lots of bookshelves and books, cosy armchairs and a comfortable looking wide-seated couch, but the room was in a dark blue colour scheme this time, with sand-coloured accents highlighting the style. Another door led to the master bedroom that had an en-suite bathroom that could be accessed through the bedroom only. That room was painted in dark red and black, nothing at all what she would have suspected of the witch always dressed in pink. Mildred could see at the surprised look on Hecate’s face that she must have similar thoughts.

The young witch knew that Hecate and Miss Pentangle would be sharing this room, but was also conscious of how very private her guardian was. She didn’t draw attention to the fact that she was aware of their situation and their apparent sleeping arrangement.

In this moment, a black cat with the tiniest freckle of white fur at her throat ran up to Hecate and meowed at her.

“Oh, Lilith!” Hecate instantly recognised Pippa’s familiar. She kneeled down to pet the cat in greeting. “How are you, you little rascal?” she murmured. The blonde witch watched them with a fond smile. Her familiar rubbed her face all over the offered hand, whose owner she could still identify, even after thirty years.

Mildred left the adults to their own devices and went back down to her room. She unpacked her clothes from the backpack and grabbed her drawing utensils. Quietly she walked outside to sit down in the warm grass, the view of the lovely cottage filling her vision. For the first time in a while she was itching to draw.

The sun started to set when Hecate sat down beside Mildred on the grass. “How are you feeling?” she asked quietly, looking at her.

“I’m okay. It’s nice to be drawing again. I haven’t in so long... I almost forgot how calming it is to me,” she looked up and smiled at Hecate.

“May I see?” the older witch asked, inclining her head towards the drawing pad to indicate what she meant.

“I’m not quite finished yet, but almost. And once I am, I’ll show you and Miss Pentangle. Is that alright?”

Hecate smiled at her. “Of course, Mildred.” She looked back towards the cottage. “Miss Pentangle and I…” she trailed off, at a loss for words.

Mildred waited for her to collect her thoughts, focusing her eyes back on her drawing pad and starting to put the last finishing touches to it.

“Pippa and I, we were friends a long, long time ago. But there were things that happened and someone… confined me to the school during the terms and somewhere on the castle grounds during the holidays. It is not of importance and I will not burden you with details, Mildred.” She cleared her throat. Mildred grabbed one of her hands in support and held it tightly. Hecate looked at her. “The thing is, I hurt Miss Pentangle very badly. Very badly. Not by choice. It would have never been my choice, but there was no option for me. I had no alternative. I was bound. She was angry with me for so long but... and I think it is partly thanks to you, that day I thought Miss Cackle wanted to talk to me and then she walked in... and we talked. We have been talking a lot, as I am sure you noticed. She is very, very important to me, Mildred. Just like you, but in a different way. I think... I-” she interrupted herself, swallowing roughly.

Mildred let her drawing pad slip out of her hand and curled into Hecate’s side, holding onto her tightly. Hecate patted her arm gratefully, albeit a bit awkwardly. She knew Hecate had difficulties forming coherent sentences when she was emotional.

“I think I love her, Mildred. I think I have loved her since the day I met her when we were just school girls.” Her voice had dropped to a whisper.

“I think she feels the same way about you, really. I’ve seen the way she looks at you.” Mildred whispered back, looking up at her mentor’s face from where her head was resting against her mentor’s arm. Hecate’s eyebrows shot all the way up her forehead. A look Mildred was more than familiar with. She grinned. “Don’t look so suspicious. I truly believe what I said. Miss Pentangle feels the same way about you,” she repeated and felt a bit cheeky for saying it again. But she knew Hecate better now, and knew she needed to hear things more than once sometimes to truly believe them.

“I feel like I should not discuss this with you, Mildred.” Hecate’s voice was still a whisper. “I am supposed to be your mentor, your guardian. Not- not asking you…”

“But maybe this is exactly why I’m here. I see it for what it is, Miss Hardbroom. Miss Pentangle loves you just as much as you love her. And I absolutely mean no disrespect. Just tell her. You’ll see, everything will be okay.” Mildred smiled encouragingly at her teacher. She had used her last name on purpose, to show her she truly did not mean to be disrespectful or talk out of line.

“Sometimes I wonder how after everything you have been through, you are still this kind-hearted, open-minded and very insightful young witch.” She took a deep breath, “I am not good with… emotions and talking about them, as I am sure you have noticed over the time you have known me, but you should know that I am very glad to have you in my life, Mildred. You are too kind to me, but I am the richer for it.” She slowly and hesitatingly slipped one arm around the young witch’s shoulders to pull her close.

Mildred had been noticing in the past few weeks how, whenever her teacher had called her by her name, she hadn’t used her last name again, except for that one time with the Hubble-trouble comment from Mildred after. Maybe she was afraid of reminding her of her mistake, or of her mum, she wasn’t sure.

“It’s all I could ever be to you, Miss Hardbroom. You deserve only love, kindness and happiness. We all do, don’t we?”

They sat in silence, huddled together, until Pippa waved them inside for a late but light tea.

Mildred still had the occasional nightmares, but she rarely woke up screaming and crying anymore. The first night at the cottage, Hecate stayed with her until she was asleep as usual. She managed to sleep through the night, but woke up with the first sun rays tickling her nose. It was early enough to still be quiet everywhere around her.

She knew Hecate was an early riser but suspected that Miss Pentangle and her had had a lot to discuss and stayed up late into the night. She hoped her mentor had felt brave enough to tell the other witch how she truly felt.

Quietly, Mildred pushed back the duvet and swung her legs out of the bed. Barefoot she padded out of her room and over to the kitchen to get herself a glass of water. Looking out the kitchen window while sipping on her water, she quietly reminisced on how she had got here, to this exact point in her life. Her mum was gone, which she still felt guilty about, but at least she was no longer as angry. She had a firm but gentle legal guardian, who was still the same strict teacher on the outside. But in private and underneath, she was understanding and overall exactly what Mildred had needed, still needed. She was, even if it wasn’t always easy for her mentor to open up to her and often didn’t know how to handle Mildred showing her affection or feelings in general, the person that helped her save herself. The stoic but gentle guidance, the relentlessness, the not-giving-up and the “non-judgemental-ness”. All of it meant everything to Mildred.

Having finished her glass of water, she put it down into the sink and walked back towards her room to get dressed. Pulling on a fresh pair of pants and t-shirt, she put Hecate’s black cardigan on, before picking up her shoes.

Grabbing her drawing pad and her pens, she walked back outside to sit down in the exact same spot she had sat in the evening before, when Hecate had come out to find her.

The morning air was crisp, but smelled faintly of flowers and forest, while the cardigan still smelled like Hecate. Like lavender and something that was unique to the older witch.

Still thinking about her mentor and how she had changed the more Mildred had got to know her outside of class, she continued and finished the drawing she had started the night before.

She wasn’t entirely sure how much time had passed, but the sun was up a little higher by now and she could see a slight flurry of movement behind the living room window. She remained seated for a little bit longer, letting the sun hit her face, before getting up, holding the drawing against herself and walking lightly, lighter than she had felt in months, back inside the cottage.

“Good morning, Miss Pentangle”, she greeted the blonde witch, who was looking up from what she was doing when she heard the door open.

“Oh, Mildred! Good morning to you, too. And please, call me Pippa! You’re up awfully early?”

“If you’re sure? I’ll try to remember… Pippa. I woke up and went outside. It was very nice out this morning. Where is Hecate?”

“She should be down soon, I’m sure,” she said with a smile. “Are you hungry? We could make breakfast together, if you’d like?”

Mildred laid her sketch pad face down on the table and, with a smile, walked over to the sink to wash her hands so she could help Miss Pentangle prepare breakfast for the three of them.

And that’s how Hecate found them - elbow-deep in preparation for pancakes with fresh fruit they had gathered outside. One of her half smiles played around her lips when she cleared her throat to get their attention.

“Oh! Hiccup! There you are! We’re almost ready,” Miss Pentangle said, and then stuck out an elbow towards the table where a cup of tea was sitting. “We made tea just a few minutes ago. This is yours!”

Mildred was watching her teacher intently. The first thing she had noticed after looking at her was her hair. It wasn’t up in its usual bun, but instead braided in one thick plait down her back. Her hair was really long and beautiful. She had seen it worn down before, but it usually had been pulled back and it had always been the middle of the night. The other thing she noticed was that, at the mention of the nickname, she blushed very lightly again.

“I like your hair this way, Hecate,” Mildred said quietly with a small smile on her face.

“Thank you, Mildred.” The slight tinge of pink on her cheeks grew a bit deeper in colour, but Mildred didn’t bring any attention to it, just filed it away under “things about HB”.

Once the pancakes were made and the three of them were sitting around the table - Mildred sitting across from the two adults - passing bowls of fruit around to put on their pancakes, she remembered what she had wanted to show the older witches.

“Oh, Hecate, Miss Pentangle - Pippa, sorry - I finished my drawing this morning and wanted to show you now that we’re all together.” She picked up her drawing pad and turned it around so the two witches could see it.

Two gasps came from across the table.

“Mildred…” she heard Miss Pentangle whisper. Hecate’s fingers reached out for the paper, and Mildred relinquished the pad to her mentor for closer inspection.

It was a colourful drawing of the cottage they were currently in. In front of the door she had drawn three people. Two adult figures, one with blonde flowing hair, and one with a dark bun atop her head. In front of them was a smaller figure with two dark brown braids. The adults each had a hand on one of the little girl’s shoulders. They were all smiling.

“This... This is us?” Hecate’s voice was barely a whisper. “You drew us? In the few hours you sat out there yesterday and this morning?” Mildred nodded, almost afraid to speak. Hecate looked at her and then at Pippa. They seemed to communicate without using words.

“You are very talented, Mildred,” Pippa said quietly. Her voice was warm and full of wonder. She leaned over towards Hecate to get a closer look at the details of the drawing. “Look, Hiccup, you’re wearing your watch! And there’s Morgana, Lilith and Tabby!”

Hecate looked up at Mildred, who was keeping her head down, staring intently at her plate of food. She exchanged a quick look with Pippa before clearing her throat.

“I’m very impressed with your art, Mildred,” she then simply said, raising an eyebrow while waiting for a reaction from the young witch.

“It’s just a quick sketch, really. I mean. A coloured sketch, yes. But I want to practice more,” she blushed.

“Practice is always good, you know that,” Hecate murmured, her gaze falling once again on the drawing. Mildred had done a great job with their facial expressions. Pippa looked very much like.. well. Pippa. While not too detailed, she still had a full smile on her lips and glittering eyes. She loved it. Next there was Mildred’s face, sporting a very much similar expression on her smaller features. And then there was her face. Stoic, one eyebrow raised but a gentle smile on her lips. She almost did not recognise the expression as hers but felt the corners of her mouth lift almost on their own accord and realised, she must look exactly like in the drawing, right this moment.

“I made this for you, Hecate,” Mildred said.

Her mentor thought she was being uncharacteristically shy ever since they had been shown her art, but decided not to comment on that.

“I shall frame it and hang it up in our living chambers at Cackle’s,” she promised as much to Mildred as to herself. Her living room was connected to Mildred’s bedroom and had become just as much the young witch’s space as it was her own. But Miss Hardbroom received guests there, from time to time, so there were not many personal effects such as pictures to find in that room. She was a very private person. Apparently, that was about to change.

Mildred looked up at her with slightly widened eyes. “You… you will? I don’t expect you to. I mean. I wanted you to have it as a memory…” she trailed off.

Hecate still smiled at her when she waved a hand and a black frame appeared in her hand.

Mildred reached for her drawing pad, which Hecate gave her back, to ever so carefully separate the page from the pad.

The older witch waved her hand again and the drawing disappeared from Mildred’s hand, only to reappear in the frame.

“It’s perfect,” Pippa said and there was a slight sniffle heard from her direction. But Hecate had her gaze locked with Mildred’s.

“You are my family now,” Mildred whispered, heart beating fast in her chest at the admission. She couldn’t keep the watery smile off of her face.

And at that, a small sob tore from Hecate’s throat. A sound so unfamiliar from the witch who had never had any emotional outbursts of this kind in front of people, not before Mildred had started to get to know her better outside of class and rarely after, so it came to no surprise to her when a second later, Hecate vanished, picture still in hand.

Nonetheless, tears started falling from her eyes, once her mentor was gone. Pippa grabbed her hand and held onto it, squeezing it lightly. “She isn’t used to-” Pippa started, but was interrupted by Mildred.

“-Showing emotions, I know.” The smile was back full force, despite the tears still falling.

“I feel like I’m betraying my mum,” she whispered after a short time of quiet. Pippa was still holding onto her hand.

“Oh, honey, no. You aren’t. You love her so much and she knows that. What happened… you couldn’t have known it would end this way, Mildred. It’s not your fault. You wanted to give your mum something, wanted to give her what you thought should’ve been hers.”

“Miss Hardbroom, Hecate. She tried to warn me. I didn’t listen to her. And now she’s stuck with me…”

“I don’t think she sees it that way, Millie.” Pippa tried to reassure her, but Mildred just shrugged.

“Pippa is right, I don’t see it that way,” a rough voice said from behind her.

Mildred’s head snapped around towards the source. The dark-haired witch was standing behind where Mildred was sitting, voice evidently in the state it was in from crying, as her eyes were red-rimmed and glassy, her hands were twitching where she held them at her sides. She seemed to hesitate but then moved around to be right beside the girl. With a questioning look on her face, she made a hand movement that asked Mildred to approach her. And of course, the younger witch did so instantly, without any indecision on her part. As soon as she was stood before her guardian, she did something uncharacteristic to her and surprised Mildred. She pulled her into a hug so tight, the younger witch could barely breathe.

“I will not ever attempt to replace your mother, Mildred, you know that. But we can be family. I would like that very much,” she whispered. Instead of a verbal answer, she hugged her back tightly.

That day, after breakfast was eaten and cleared away, they all agreed to go for a hike. Hecate was not very happy about it at first - “Walking. For... fffun?” - but Pippa’s and Mildred’s enthusiasm made her come along, not wanting to miss out on time with the two witches most important to her.

Mildred asked Hecate while Pippa was busy getting ready, if the two of them could prepare a picnic together that they could store at the cottage and then transfer to them once they had found a suitable place to sit down and eat, as a surprise for the blonde. She readily agreed and together they made quick work of it, by now used to doing tasks together. The young witch kept stealing glances towards her mentor and couldn’t stop the smile from spreading.

She felt happier today, less guilty for the moment, but still full of regrets. Sometimes she still wished to never have gone through with her plan for the wishing star. It was too late now, there was no going back.

Other times she felt like she didn’t deserve to have this life that she had now - a sort of family in Hecate and Pippa, to support and love her. Instead her mum should be here with her, and no matter how often Hecate would tell her that it wasn’t her fault, she still believed it was. It didn’t hurt as much anymore and she wasn’t as angry at herself anymore, but she still firmly believed it.

It wasn’t that she was ungrateful or didn’t want Hecate around herself. She did. And she was grateful. She just wasn’t sure if it was okay to love her like she loved her mother.

“Eyes of Newt … for your thoughts?” Hecate’s voice quietly interrupted her, her hands busy packing everything away for later.

Mildred pulled a face. “Eww no, thank you,” she chuckled lightly, “But maybe we can talk later? I’ve been thinking about something...”

“Of course, whenever you’re ready.” The older witch inclined her head with a small smile and with a curl of her fingers, the basket with the prepared picnic foods vanished. She was sure, whatever was on Mildred’s mind would be another emotional turmoil she would have to get through, but she would, for the girl.

The basket vanished just in time, as Pippa walked down the stairs only two seconds later.

Hecate and Mildred shared a secretive look, before the three of them walked out the cottage door and on a barely wide enough path for the three of them to walk side by side, they started their little adventure of the day.

Their day went as expected, up to a certain point. The surprise for Pippa was a success and the blonde witch had clapped her hands in delight right before kissing Hecate’s cheek - who then furiously blushed - and hugging Mildred for the first time since the Spelling Bee. They had found a lovely little spot right at the Loch, their quiet conversations and occasional laughter accompanied by the sound of soft waves hitting the shore.

There were ducks a little further down from where they were sitting that Mildred kept an eye on. It was a little family and it made her smile to see the ducklings waddle behind their mother, up and down on the beach area. It was mostly sand they were sitting on, with occasional pebbles strewn in. Mildred had promised herself to look at a few of them once she had finished eating. Even with the slight waves, she wanted to try to let a few skip. Pippa helped her pick out all the best ones, while Hecate took care of the remaining food and magicked it back to the cottage. Then she sat and watched how Pippa showed Mildred the best techniques to skip the pebbles the furthest and found herself smiling at the two witches.

Hecate had, albeit hesitantly and nervous as she had never been before, heeded Mildred’s suggestion the night before, believing the young witch when she said that she saw how Pippa felt about her. It had created a rather big spark of hope glowing inside her heart. And so, after her young charge had gone to bed, she had asked Pippa if they could talk.

And talk they did. They had sat down in the sitting room upstairs, facing each other. Hecate had left a small patch of space between them, but not too much. She could not help but want to be close to Pippa. She was still slightly embarrassed by herself today, over how she stumbled over words, and confessions. But Pippa had been patient, oh ever so patient, and calm and loving and understanding. Hecate still firmly believed she did not deserve anyone the likes of Pippa. Or Mildred. Not after what she had done to Indigo, and to Pippa, even, before. But she had told the blonde witch everything. Had told her about everything she had been only hinting at in their previous conversations. Had told her about her confinement, Broomhead, Indigo Moon and how she had felt when she had to let the blonde witch go. Pippa had silently cried and only when she had reached up a trembling hand to Hecate’s own face to brush away the tears, did she realise she was crying, too.

“Oh, Hiccup. My dear Hiccup,” the blonde had finally sobbed, failing to stay calm any longer in the face of all the sorrow and guilt Hecate had confessed to her, had been carrying around with her, and pulled her close, holding her tightly.

Hecate had stiffened at first, but Pippa either did not notice, or just gave her time to adjust to the sensation. And after a short while, Hecate crumbled, clinging to her companion, clawing at her shoulders, trying to get closer, closer, closer.

“I never wanted to let you go,” she got out in between sobs. “It broke my heart. And Broomhead, she figured it out, and kept rubbing salt in the wound.”

“Let me mend your broken heart, Hecate Hardbroom,” Pippa had then whispered in her ear, lips so close, she could feel not just her breath ghosting over her skin. It made her shiver.

“I loved you, but I had given up hope of ever being able to tell you. I had given up hope of my feelings ever being reciprocated after what I had done to you.” Face full of shame, Hecate pulled back and turned her head away. But Pippa did not let her go.

“I still love you, Hiccup. During our conversations in the past few months, I realised, with what you were hinting at, that you must never have had a choice. You betraying me, leaving me, ignoring me, was never of your own choice. And I already forgave you for it. I forgive you, Hecate, because it was never your fault. Not even stealing that wishing star and using it on Indigo Moon... You were lonely. But that wasn’t your fault. It was your community that failed you. And Broomhead… can be glad she’s already dead. I might just bring her back to kill her myself.”

There was anger and a sharpness in the voice that usually only very rarely failed to be kind, that Hecate almost didn’t recognise it for what it was. Anger on her behalf, not directed at her. Her eyes wide, she had pulled back again to stare at the woman in front of her.

“You... You forgive me? Me?” she had asked rather breathlessly.

Yes, Hecate Hardbroom. I forgive you. Even though I still think, there’s nothing to forgive.”

The trembling hand came back to rest on her cheek again and without having any control over her body, Hecate leaned into the touch.

“I love you. Do you understand? I love you with all my heart, Hiccup. Always have, always will.”

“I-I... I love you, P-Pipsqueak. Always have, al-always will…” she trailed off, echoing Pippa’s words.

Her tears started anew, while her heart started beating even faster than it had when it registered with her that Pippa started to lean closer to her. Her eyes wide in panic, she clutched at Pippa’s hand to ground herself. And then her lips were on her forehead, her cheeks, the tip of her nose, kissing ever so lightly, lovingly, tenderly, all over her face, that another quiet sob broke out of Hecate. Finally, her lips touched Hecate’s own, softly, barely there, but then growing firmer, evolving from barely a ghost of a kiss to an actual one. With a trembling breath, Hecate succumbed to the temptation and at last, kissed her back fiercely, Pippa’s lips oh so soft underneath her own, smelling sweet and tasting salty due to the tears they had both been crying.

Neither of them had realised how much time had passed when they finally broke their kiss due to Pippa being no longer able to stop a yawn from breaking free.

“I am terribly sorry, Hiccup. It has been an emotional and long day, hasn’t it?” she whispered and pulled her close against her. Hecate was unable to speak, so she just nodded.

“I’m never letting you go again,” Pippa whispered and then, with a wave of her hand, transferred both of them over to the bedroom. She was unwilling to physically let go of Hecate in this moment, unwilling to move away from her for even a few seconds. So they stumbled the last few steps towards the bed and sat down.

“I want us to be comfortable and get into pyjamas, but I don’t want to leave your side. I don’t want you to leave my side…” again Pippa was whispering to Hecate.

The dark-haired witch held up a trembling hand and curled it slightly, changing magically into her nightwear. Pippa smiled and did the same, realising her Hiccup was just as unwilling to let go of her as she was. With a slight urging, they managed to crawl up the bed, shuffle the comforter and duvet out from underneath them and curl up together under the covers. Hecate moved closer to the blonde, as close as physically possible.

“I never dared to dream of a first kiss this wonderful.” She whispered against Pippa’s skin, eyes closed in what the blonde only could describe as pure bliss.

“I love you, Hecate,” she said equally quietly in response, aware of the fact that she was about to drift off. It was the last thing Hecate heard before succumbing to the heavy tendrils of sleep clawing at her mind.

Coming out of the memory from last night and back to the present, Hecate watched how once again, Pippa corrected Mildred’s stance and hold on the pebble before showing her the wrist movement in theory and when the girl threw the small, flat stone and it skipped four times, she watched them both cheer. Mildred was jumping up and down, grinning from ear to ear, as she flung herself at Pippa. The blonde caught her easily and swung her around once, legs flying behind her. After she sat her back down on her own two feet, Mildred ran up to her, waving wildly.

“Did you see? Hecate, did you see? It skipped four times!”

Unable to hold back a smile, she nodded at the girl. “I saw. Very impressive.” The r’s rolled over her tongue in her usual over-pronunciation and it made Mildred grin even wider.

She sat down beside her guardian while they watched Pippa pick up a flat pebble of her own and watched her skip it. Mildred chanced a glance towards the dark-haired witch.

“Sooo.. did you tell her last night?” she asked, her voice barely above a whisper.

Hecate’s eyebrows rose and she looked over and down at her charge.

Mildred giggled at the very familiar look her teacher was sporting right now. “You look like I messed up one of your potions,” she managed to say between her fits of giggles and then collapsed against her guardian, finally starting to calm down.

Together, in companionable silence, they watched Pippa skip two more pebbles, with Mildred cheering her on when she managed to let one skip five times in a row.

After taking a deep breath, Hecate at last said quietly, “Yes, I told her. Everything. I told her everything,” without taking her eyes off Pippa.

“I take it everything went well then?” If the kiss on the cheek wasn’t any indication to her already - which it was, a very clear one, actually - she wouldn’t know what was. She smiled contentedly up at Hecate, knowing she’d see it out of the corner of her eye. “I’m very happy for you and Pippa. You both deserve to feel loved.”

At her words, Hecate’s hand suddenly came to rest on hers, squeezing it lightly.

“We all do,” the older witch echoed Mildred’s words back at her from the night before and looked down at her charge. She had a soft smile on her face and Mildred couldn’t help but think how beautiful her mentor looked in that moment. She closed her eyes and snuggled closer, glad that Hecate wasn’t shying away from her in this moment.

A few minutes later, Pippa came back up to them and was about to say something when she noticed that Mildred had fallen asleep, cuddled into Hecate, who had tears rolling down her face.

Instantly, Pippa was kneeling by her side, putting her hands up to cup the other witch’s face. “What’s wrong, Hiccup?” she whispered almost frantically, but mindful of the sleeping girl lying halfway in Hecate’s lap.

The dark-haired woman shook her head.

“Nothing. It’s nothing serious. I just. She is so precious, Pipsqueak. She loves me so unconditionally, just like... just like you. And you both deserve so much better. But here is this girl, telling me I, I, deserve all the love and happiness in the world, when I do not. And all I can do is try to be the very best version of myself and hope that it is good enough for you two… I. Pipsqueak. I love you both so much. I could not... I cannot...”

“Shh, Hiccup...” Pippa kissed Hecate’s forehead just like she had last night. Tenderly and lovingly. She could only imagine the struggle the dark-haired witch had gone through the past thirty years. Could only imagine the guilt and the regrets weighing on her beautiful soul and the scars left behind by them and Broomhead. She could see and feel the struggle, wanting to show her emotions, but knowing what she knew now about Broomhead’s methods and ideologies... it would take a lot of time, patience and healing and she was more than willing to stick around for it. And she was pretty sure, so was Mildred.

They stayed where they were for a while longer. Pippa sitting down beside Hecate, shoulders touching, just enjoying the closeness they were able to now share once more. They quietly talked until Mildred stirred in Hecate’s arms.

“Hey sleepyhead!” Pippa greeted her once two eyes were blinking up at them.

“I-I didn’t mean to…” she tried to sit up, but Hecate stilled her movements by holding her tighter.

“Don’t worry, Mildred. You seemed comfortable or I would have woken you up already,” she said quietly.

A sleepy but careful smile was directed at Hecate and it made her heart beat faster.

“How long have I been asleep for?” she asked, snuggling back into her mentor’s side.

“A good while,” Pippa replied. “We should head back soon. We’ve been incredibly lucky with the weather today.”

“Indeed…” Hecate murmured and threw a suspicious glance towards the blonde witch.

Pippa just smiled at her, trying for a very innocent look. Hecate’s eyebrows rose up on her forehead, looking more than doubtful now.

“I didn’t want any rain or hail interrupting our lovely date out together…” she said with a shrug. It made Mildred giggle.

“We did have… ffffun, right, Hecate?”

“Do not test my patience, Mildred.” Her tone of voice was clipped and harsh, but there was a glint in the older witch’s eyes and the corners of her mouth were twitching. The cheek of that girl. She sighed and shook her head, but then she couldn’t stop the smile from spreading anymore.

“You lo- uh. Appreciate... it…” Mildred bit her lip and tried once again to move away from her mentor. Thinking she had messed up by almost putting words into her teacher’s voice.

But again, the dark-haired witch tightened her hold. “I do appreciate it. And, Mildred, yes. I have grown to... love you. You are very important to me.”

She could feel Pippa’s hand slipping into her free one that was not curled around Mildred. However, she could not bring herself to look at either of the two witches, instead staring at her lap. It has always been hard for her to talk about her emotions so freely, but she felt she owed it to Mildred, their unique situation making it important to use the word “love” more freely than she ever had let herself before, no matter how hard it was for her. It was not that she had not ever felt love, it was just that it had been drilled into her to leave such trivial and frivolous things as love and fondness behind. And it was hard to let go of that, as much as she longed to just be free - free in showing her emotions and giving her love to others. She knew she had a long journey ahead of her, but for Pippa and Mildred, she was willing to try. All she needed was a bit of patience from them, since both of them seemed rather used to showing and showering others in their love and affection. She wanted to, at least with them, be able to do that, too.

Mildred was speechless. Her first instinct was to blurt out how much she loved her mentor, too, but didn’t want to scare her away. She looked over at Pippa, unsure how to react. The blonde had tears in her eyes and nodded encouragingly at her.

“I love you, too, Hecate. You’ve become a very important person in my life and I think that without you, I wouldn’t … I wouldn’t be on my way to being me again. I’d still be lost, angry and while I still feel… I still feel guilty, I know I’ll learn how to live with the situation one day. I still love and miss my mum. So much. And I hate what I did to her, what magic did to her… and what she did to herself, in the end. But. You… I never thought I’d ever say this, never thought I’d ever feel like this, but Hecate, you are not just my teacher or my legal guardian. You’re my mentor. You’re so much more to me than those words could ever mean. You’re so great, just like… just like my mum, and I... I wish… Sometimes I wish you could be my mum.”

There. She had said it out loud. It had been on her mind for a few weeks now. She had fought with herself a lot, had felt like she was betraying her mum for wanting this, for wishing she could call Hecate her mum. For wanting to be part of a family again. After the situation at breakfast this morning and her short talk with Pippa, she had felt a resolve forming inside of her. And now she had said it out loud.

When she felt the body she had been curled up against, vanish, she let her body fall the rest of the way towards the blanket and then sighed partly in defeat and partly in acknowledgment. It didn’t really come as a surprise to her that Hecate transferred away. This was a more than emotional conversation and she’d just need some time to process. Rationally, she knew that, but she still felt a slight pang of rejection. When tears started to fall, unbidden, Pippa’s hands puller her up and against her, her arms coming around her in an instant.

“She’ll be back, Millie. She will be.”

“I know… I just. I don’t want her to feel like she has to hide from me, or from us…”

“She doesn’t feel like that, believe me. She doesn’t. We talked, last night - about a lot of things, and I won’t tell you all the details. Just, believe me when I say that she doesn’t feel like she has to hide.” Pippa squeezed her arms around Mildred to reassure her.

“Okay.” Mildred nodded and wiped away her tears with her sleeves.

They sat quietly for a few minutes, Pippa just holding Mildred while they stared out over the water, watching the waves. When a few minutes turned to ten, and then to fifteen, and Hecate hadn’t returned, Pippa urged Mildred up, who had cuddled into her for comfort.
To anyone else it might have been weird that the girl was snuggling with her, despite the two of them technically barely knowing each other, but they had bonded a while ago and, through Hecate, felt a certain connection to each other.

It was easy to talk to Pippa about whatever was on her mind. The blonde witch was so open-minded and understanding. Mildred knew she could be harsh and cold, too, and had seen it when she and Miss Hardbroom had met for the first time at Cackle’s back at the Spelling Bee event.

They picked up the blanket they had been sitting on and Pippa, instead of transferring it back to the cottage, hung it around her shoulders. She took Mildred’s hand and together they started to walk the same path they had taken this morning, back towards the cottage. Towards home.

They talked while walking back. Mostly about how Mildred had been doing in school, how Ethel Hallow had been leaving her - suspiciously so? - alone ever since her mother had “died”. She realised that Pippa must be aware of the true reason she was now an orphan. Hecate must have told her.

They talked about Maud and Enid and how Mildred was grateful to have them in her life, even though she felt bad for having been unable to be there for them like they had been there for her the past few months. But Pippa reassured her that it was okay, that they certainly understood and that they knew if the roles were reversed, Mildred would be just as understanding toward them. With a lighter heart, the young witch agreed.

Once they reached the cottage, Hecate was sitting on the small step leading inside, the door behind her open. Her hands were wringing in her lap and her hair was slightly disheveled. When she heard them approach, she was on her feet in seconds.

“I transferred back to the Loch but you were gone, so I came back here and waited, but…” she interrupted herself. “Mildred. I… I have something for you. Ada - Miss Cackle, that is, helped me, which is why I didn’t come back right away. I talked to her and…” she grabbed Mildred’s right hand, the girl’s left still in Pippa’s, and pulled both of them inside.

On the table was a mess of papers cluttered all over the surface.

“What is this, Hiccup?” Pippa asked, suspicion forming as she could see certain words written on the papers.

“It is something… I have been thinking about. I - I had meant to talk to you about this, Mildred, but then I always felt… I didn’t… I was unsure how to approach the subject.” She tugged on Mildred’s hand and pulled her closer towards her. “But when you mentioned today at breakfast…” her voice started to break, but she cleared her throat and continued, gripping onto the young girl’s hand tightly, “how you thought of us, me, as family, I thought… I thought, maybe we have been wanting the same thing. I had discussed it with Ada and Pippa before, to hear their thoughts. And. Mildred... After our talk this afternoon - and I do apologise for leaving - I just. I could not wait anymore.”

Mildred had a little trouble following her mentor. Her usual nervousness when talking about something emotional seemed heightened, but she was nervous herself now and the words coming out of her mentor’s mouth did not make much sense to her yet.

Hecate looked dejected when Mildred did not react. Pippa laid a hand on her shoulder and squeezed it, before turning to Mildred.

“I think what Hecate is trying to say is, that she feels the same way you do about you and her being a family. That she has been feeling like that for a bit and has talked to Miss Cackle and me about something important. A step she thought you weren’t ready for. She wasn’t even sure if you’d ever be ready for it.”

Hecate looked at Pippa with a weird mix of emotions. “This family includes you, Pipsqueak,” she whispered. “At least for me.”

Mildred was still digesting what Pippa had reiterated for her. Finally catching up, she looked up at Hecate. “Ready for what, Hecate?” she asked in a whisper, not daring to speak louder, afraid it was all just a dream, too good to be true.

“Ready for us to become a family. Officially. Lawfully.” There were tears in Hecate’s dark eyes.

“You mean. You’ll … adopt me?” Mildred’s eyes widened.

“I… Y-yes. I would like to. I-if that is… If it is okay with you. Nothing has changed. I-I still won’t- I am still not trying to take your mother away from you. Or… or replace her. I just. I…” she visibly gulped and then remained quiet, looking expectantly at Mildred, body posture stiff.

“I think... I would like that. I would like that a lot.” Mildred brought out and then surged forward, letting go of Pippa’s hand and hugging Hecate tightly. She knew she was crying again, but this time it was a mix of happiness, relief, and sadness. Happiness - because she didn’t want anything more than to be part of a family again. Relief - because she wanted this family with Hecate - and Pippa - and they wanted the same thing. And then there was the sadness - sadness over the fact that this adoption would make the fact that her mother was never coming back, final. She’d always be a part of her, would always carry her memories of her mum, of how she used to be before magic changed her. But maybe it was time to move on. And maybe, just maybe, it was okay to do so with her newfound family.

Pippa watched the two of them, her hand still on Hecate’s shoulder, when both at the same time, Mildred and the older witch, pulled away from each other slightly, only to include her in their circle. In the end, it turned into what they’d later refer to - and keep referring to - as “a Mildred sandwich”.

After a few minutes of hugging, Hecate pulled back, needing space to calm her racing thoughts and emotions. She cleared her throat and asked the other two to sit down at the table with her. With Pippa’s help, Mildred and she went through the necessary paperwork for the Magic Council and signed it in all the right places. They would probably have to speak to a Family Court that was put together from members of the council, to get the adoption approved, but Pippa was certain there’d be no problems.

“You’re already her legal guardian. They can’t say anything against it, especially after almost a year. And Mildred hasn’t got in any trouble with the Great Wizard since then, has she?” Pippa asked Hecate, but looked at Mildred and winked at her.

“Not that he remembers, anyway…” Mildred whispered, but at the wide-eyed look from Hecate she went quiet.

Pippa looked back and forth between them, raising an eyebrow. “Hecate…” She laid one hand on her arm.

“She… you keep blaming yourself, Mildred. It is not your fault. You gave her a chance, twice. I am glad she changed all of us back. I do not know what would have happened if she had not. But it is not your-”

“It is. If i hadn't given her magic to begin with-”

“Enough, you two!” The blonde witch forcefully stood up, chair scraping back only the tiniest of bits. “Mildred”, she addressed the younger witch first, “you feel guilty and we understand. We do. But Hecate is right. What happened, happened, and you gave your mum the chance to give up her magic and she didn’t. That’s on her. It was out of your hands the moment you wished for it. If you hadn’t wished for it, none of this would be happening, that is true. But you can’t change the past. We’re here now. You are here now. Make the best of it and don’t dwell on the past - or your mistakes. Learn from them.

“And you, Hecate. You know exactly what she feels like, right now. Your situations are vastly different and yet very similar. You were both very alone. You know what that feels like. Don’t condemn her for still feeling guilty. You are both on a path of healing and it’s a long path. You’ll make steps forward and backwards and you won’t always make them at the same time or in the same rhythm. Accept it. Accept yourself and Mildred for who you are, the wonderful, magnificent people you are.” Deflated, Pippa sank back into her chair, looking suddenly very tired.

Mildred watched her and then looked over at Hecate, who was still looking wide eyed at Pippa. “I’m sorry, Hecate.”

“I… I am sorry, too, Mildred. Pippa is right.” Mildred could see her swallow. “I just… I do not want you to feel guilty anymore. You deserve so much better. You deserve to be... free.”

The young witch knew how hard it was for her mentor to say these things out loud and how difficult today had been, especially in regards to emotional conversations. There was still so much they would need to talk about eventually.

“Can I ask you something, Hecate?” The inclination of her head was the only sign for Mildred to continue with her question. “I talked to you earlier about… how I wish for you to be… my mum. And we’re sitting in front of the adoption papers. But…” she bit her lip, unsure how to voice her thoughts.

“Do you not-”

“No! No, that’s not it. I just. I wonder if it’s okay for me to... to want that. If it’s okay to love you just like I loved my mum.” She looked down at her hands, afraid of the answer.

Pippa was listening to their conversation while watching them. Seeing them interact, Hecate being more open with her and Pippa the past two days then she had ever heard Hecate to be and ever known her to be, back when they were still children, was a revelation. There were so many intricacies to the witch that was Hecate Hardbroom, Pippa was absolutely enamoured with her, as difficult as it was to understand her sometimes. It was simple, in the end, really. What she had been through, what had been drilled into her mind… it all made sense.

“Millie.” Pippa brought herself into the conversation at this point, seeing Hecate struggle to reply. She waited until the young girl looked at her before continuing. “It’s okay to feel love for more than one person, whether that’s parental love or romantic love - which is a whole other topic, and not everyone feels that way. I, for example, romantically speaking, only love one person and I can’t imagine myself ever loving someone else beside her. But parental or maternal love? I have plenty of people in my life that I feel were or are like a mother or a father to me, and even when my parents were still alive, I already had those other people in my life. It never diminished the love I feel for my parents and it never will. There’s just more to go around. So it’s okay for you to love your mum, but still wish for Hecate to be a mother figure to you, too, and to love her just as much as you love your mum. It doesn’t mean you’ll forget your mum or won’t honour her memory. It just means there’s more people around you that will take care of you. Does that make sense?”

She looked from Mildred towards Hecate and back to Mildred. Both of them looked wide-eyed and Pippa realised for the first time how similar the two of them were, in looks and some of their character traits, too. She smiled softly at them. “Now. With the paperwork signed and the most pressing issues cleared, can we have tea?”

Mildred laughed loudly at that and got up. “Sure. I’m hungry, too. How about you, Hecate?”

And so the evening went by. They prepared a light dinner and then sat together, talking, while Mildred was once again drawing on her pad. When the girl grew tired enough to almost fall asleep on Hecate, the older witch urged her up to get changed and ready for bed. At Mildred’s questioning look she told her she would be there in five minutes to wish her goodnight. The tucking in and wishing goodnight had become an almost nightly routine now. Rarely did Mildred want to go to bed without Hecate staying with her until she fell asleep. Most nights, the older witch had to transfer a sleeping Mildred from the sofa in their now shared living chambers to her bed, as Mildred insisted on sitting with her to study while she marked essays and homeworks. It felt nice, Hecate had to admit, if only to herself, to share quiet moments like those with Mildred.

It was no surprise for Hecate that Mildred asked her to stay with her tonight as well. She told Pippa she should go ahead and go upstairs, she would join her in a bit. The blonde smiled, calling out, “Goodnight, Millie!” and kissed Hecate on her cheek, preparing to clear the coffee table of their tea cups. Before she could, a small figure barrelled into her and hugged her tightly from the side.
A soft, “Oh,” escaped her lips as she brought her arms around the smaller form.

“Goodnight, Pippa,” was mumbled against her ribs and she smiled softly down at the crown of brown hair.

“Sweet dreams, darling.”

The rest of the week went by in a blur of similar activities. They had sent the paperwork off to the Magic Council and tried not to wait too anxiously for a reply. When the weekend approached, Mildred asked if she could mirror Maud and Enid. She missed her friends.
Hecate set up the mirror in the young witch’s bedroom quietly, shortly before the time she was due to call Maud.

“What are you going to tell them about where you are?” she asked the young girl once she was done.

“I’m not quite sure, actually. I can’t tell them I’m still at Cackle’s. This doesn’t look like my bedroom there. And I don’t really want to lie to them anyways. But I also… don’t want to… I don’t want them to know everything. The way you are with me is special. I… I don’t know if I want the others to know you’re adopting me. Not because I’m ashamed but because… they’ll probably think you were forced to.” Suddenly no longer looking forward to the upcoming mirror calls with her friends, she dejectedly looked down at the floor. Hecate sat down beside her.

“Look, Mildred. You can tell them whatever you like. I do not mind if you tell them the truth. We will not be sharing a last name, unless you want that - and even if you do, no one at school has to find out. You will still be Mildred to your friends and teachers. During breaks, we stay together. Just the two of us, or with Pippa, if her time and schedule permits.” She took hold of Mildred’s hand and squeezed it lightly, her hand cool as always. “I can stay with you while you tell them, or you tell them by yourself and I will be right outside your door, in the living room. You decide.”

At that, Mildred looked up at her. “You would do that?”

When Hecate inclined her head in answer, her eyes went wide. Of course it would be nice to have the support of her mentor and soon to be adoptive parent. But this was her Hecate, not Miss Hardbroom, and neither Maud nor Enid were used to seeing her like that. Nor were they aware she even existed. Mildred was sure just the suggestion must’ve been hard for Hecate. She smiled at her and said, “No, that’s okay. I’ll tell them by myself. I will tell them about the adoption though. And that I’m spending the summer with you up in Scotland. That’s all they need to know.”

There was relief on the older witch’s face, clear as day, and it made the girl chuckle. Hecate raised her eyebrows at her but it didn’t look at all intimidating while her hair was down and falling softly over her shoulders in gentle waves.

She heard Hecate grumble something about “being trouble, as usual” while the older witch was getting up. But before she turned to leave, she bent down to press a kiss to the top of Mildred’s head. “Good luck, Mildred. And have… ffffun.” It turned Mildred’s chuckle into quiet laughter.

In the doorway she turned back to look at the young girl again, who was already waiting for Maud to answer the call. With a gentle smile, she walked out of the room, leaving the door ajar, so she could hear her, but so that Mildred would still have her privacy.

Talking with Maud went fairly well. As did with Enid. They were both suspicious over “HB” wanting to adopt her, but Mildred just told them to let it go. They tried to question her about possibly every rumour that existed about their strict potions mistress, but Mildred just giggled. Enid was the only one that asked if she would take Miss Hardbroom’s last name. Mildred, who hadn’t thought about it until Hecate had mentioned it just before the mirror calls, told her that she hadn’t decided yet. At that, Enid’s eyes had widened.

“Are you really considering it? If you haven’t decided yet, you must be! Are you serious, Millie?” she had asked, voice almost breathless, sounding the tiniest bit accusing. Accusing her of what, Mildred wasn’t sure, but she turned defensive.

“I don’t know, Enid. She offered. And I don’t know if I want to keep Hu- I don’t know if I want to keep my mum’s last name…” Her eyes had turned away from the mirror and Enid had mumbled a “Sorry…”. Their conversation had turned into a lull after that and soon, they said their goodbyes. Enid offering a tentative, “See you soon?” and Mildred mumbling in agreement. Maybe by next weekend she’d feel less miffed with her friend.

The rest of the weekend went by uneventfully. Mildred was drawing a lot, picture after picture filling her book. Drawings of Hecate, of Pippa, both of them together, or a drawing of all three of them. There were drawings of the surrounding area, trees, some detailed flowers, all of their familiars and some of the view down by the Loch.

Currently, on a cool and cloudy Monday morning, she was working on a sketch of Hecate and herself, sitting on her bedroom floor. They had had breakfast together and then Pippa had excused herself to get some work done.

“A headmistress never rests!” she had joked, and with a kiss to first Hecate’s and then Mildred’s cheek, had gone upstairs.

It was then, while she was thinking about earlier that morning and working on the sketch of her and her mentor, that Hecate knocked on her door. Quickly she closed the book and called for her to enter.

“Everything okay?” she asked when she saw Hecate’s face. She wasn’t quite able to read the expression and thus wasn’t sure if it was a good or a bad sign.

“Yes,” Hecate simply said. Mildred noticed there was a letter in her hand, unopened, as of yet.

“Is that a letter from the Magic Council?” Hecate’s eyes widened and her eyebrows shot up on her forehead. Her hands were twitchy and when she walked further inside her room, she walked rather stiffly.

She was nervous. Hecate Hardbroom was nervous because in her hands was the answer from the Magic Council on whether or not she would be allowed to adopt Mildred.

Mildred smiled encouragingly at her and moved to sit on her bed, instead of the floor. She padded the bed beside her, inviting the older witch to sit down. Of course, she was nervous, too, but Pippa had assured both of them that there really wasn’t anything they could have against the adoption. Mildred, ever the optimist, even after everything that had happened, fully believed her. But she knew Hecate was more of a pessimist in that regard - always feeling like anything good might be denied to her, always had made the experience that everything good never lasted and that others, in one way or another, ruled her life.

That was why Mildred waited for her to open the letter. It needed to be her decision to open it. So she just sat quietly beside her, leaned her head against Hecate’s shoulder and waited.

And sure enough, after a few deep breaths, she covered Mildred’s hand that was resting on her arm to squeeze it and then asked, “ready?”

Mildred nodded and sat up straight. “Ready.”

Hecate opened the letter and held it so both of them could read it at the same time. Mildred was only skimming over it though.

She went from, “We, the Magic Council, agree…” to “...Miss Hecate Hardbroom’s request for the formal adoption of Mildred Hubble…” and was looking for any word that either sounded positive or negative. But there were a lot of words in there she wasn’t sure she knew the meaning of, so she waited for Hecate to finish reading.

“Sustained…” Hecate finally whispered and Mildred looked with wide eyes at her.

“What does that mean?” she whispered back, scared by the tone of voice from her mentor.

“It means, Mildred, that you are now officially my adoptive daughter,” she said slowly.

Simultaneously, wide grins broke out on both their faces and they just stared at each other for a long while.

“So you are my… mum now?” It sounded strange saying that, foreign to her own ears. But it filled her with a sense of belonging and warmth.

Hecate’s eyes started to glint with unshed tears and her lips were pressed tightly together. She nodded at Mildred before speaking tremulously, “If you want me to be that…”

Mildred thought about it for a second before replying. “I might not always say it. I’ve got so used to saying Hecate - and once we’re back at school, while in the presence of others, you’ll be Miss Hardbroom again, but… I’d like to call you mum. Do you think that’s okay? Do you… Do you think my mum would mind, if she knew?” Now there were tears in Mildred’s eyes, too.

“No, Mildred. I don’t think she would.” She had that full smile on her face again, that Mildred felt was one of the rarest sights and she treasured it every time she got to see it.

At that, the young witch surged forward, hugging her tightly. “Mum…” she whispered, breathing in the comforting scent of Hecate Hardbroom. Her once oh-so-strict potions mistress, who she thought hated her, but who never had, and who, from now on, would be her new parent. Mildred felt even less alone now, with Hecate not just being her legal guardian, but her adoptive mother. And with Pippa Pentangle by their side, she was sure they would weather any kind of storm life would bring them. The bond of their newfound family - strong and pure and safe.

For the first time in a while, Mildred felt herself excited about the future.