As usual – I’m not making a fortune of writing this story. Neither do the characters belong to me. This is rather sad. So let’s stop talking about it.
Well – yes. It’s me. Miss Cat. Again. So rejoice and be merry cos I write such nice stories. And LONG ones. *cough*
What exactly is bound to happen if HB finally meets with a pupil who is actually fond of her? What happened to Mildred‘s fourth year at the Academy? Why did Miss Bat desert Mongolia? Questions over questions... And this story answers them ALL!!! *looks all excited*
Another year rolls on at Cackles... and U might also get a glimpse at Weirdsister and other places. New folks have arrived, old ones are back -Yet, some of the familiar faces are missing. Or are they? Wait and see...
You may encounter some other people you already know and might not have expected to meet here– specially if you pay attention to the roll call...and sit up straight and no munching of sweets!
As Terms Roll By
by Miss Catherine Cat
Bright sunlight sifted through the windows of the Great Hall, transforming the dull coloured pictures of the witchy paraphernalia such as hats, cats, brooms and cauldrons into dazzling images, composed of sparkling prisms.
Even though it was only the third of September, the brilliant sky had an icy tinge to it, as on a bracing December morning. Up here at Cackles, winter already loomed ahead. The swarms of girls had only just arrived half an hour ago in the courtyard and spent the time till assembly chatting through chattering teeth about holidays on the shore, about trips to France or Italy, new bathing suits, sandcastles, beach parties, swimming contests, shell collecting, bicycle tours, sunburns and picnics – and yet feeling that those events must have happened ages ago instead of days – and the already dim memory of them seemed to fade further with every chilly minute they stayed at school.
Among the bigger girls with their confident posture, their hullaballooing welcome shouts, their excited babbling and tongue wagging, little clusters of first years formed – forlorn looking girls in saggy and baggy school uniforms, cloaks that nearly swept the ground, the tips of still stiff, shop-new hats shaking about, badly balanced, crumpled ties bearing fingermarks and blotches of tears – witnesses of the futile attempt to master the first wave of homesickness.
Pushed to and fro in the heaving masses of pupils, the first year girls hardly had a chance of moving on their own, even if they had known where they should be moving to – along with the flock they were swept in when the bell rang.
Miss Cackle had started the first morning of the new term with making an unpleasant discovery. She’d put on weight again. Having spent some happy days during the holidays with shopping (even daringly purchasing a dark red shawl the warm glow of which she had fallen in love with – determined to get it, yet uneasily musing what her deputy head might have to say about it). This morning now, when she had meant to celebrate the new term by wearing a new black skirt and a grey blouse with a cunning cobweb pattern, (combining it with the red shawl while she still had got her courage up) she’d discovered that except for the shawl nothing would fit. Buttons wouldn’t close, folds would bulge, hooks and eyes wouldn’t meet, seams gaped, showing glimpses of her sensible flannels. Sighing, she put on one of her wellworn, soft and stretchy dresses, having no heart to add the gay new shawl to the shabby old garment – and secretly resolving to ban cheese from her table for weeks altogether. Then she had hastened to leave her room as she heard the impatient steps of her deputy approaching.
Miss Hardbroom had arrived late at night and not wanted to wake her colleague. So she had just taped a short notice to Miss Cackle’s door: ”See you tomorrow, seven o’clock sharp! No dawdling for once! Hugs and frowns, Constance.”
Miss Cackle had smiled at the tiny slip of paper, scrawled with pinthin letters. Obviously Constance was still feeling more relaxed, due to holidays – but she was prone to switch to her businesslike illtempered mood first thing in the morning. Now, having slept in, Miss Cackle was guiltily aware that it was half past seven and the first girls were due to arrive about eight. She had hurried outside, practically ran into Miss Hardbroom and was received with a brief embrace and a lengthy sermon about punctuality. After a hasty breakfast, her colleague marched the headmistress straight to assembly.
The school song was rambling on in a dreary fashion – everybody felt chilled and hoarse, the new girls were humming along frantically , trying to catch the odd – mostly wrong -word of the text here and there. Miss Cackle, her ears tingling with the hubbub, made a mental note to tell HB to make the first years learn the words by heart this very morning. She fidgeted in her seat, clenching her fists on her scruffy grey skirt to keep herself from poking her fingers into her ears. Her kind smile, extra wide on this occasion, quivered now and then and the corners of her mouth felt already sore with the effort. She brushed back a strand of silver hair and blinked through her glasses. She’d just polished them the night ago – yet they seemed to be smudged already. Thoughtfully she fumbled for a handkerchief and sighed as she realised she left it in her new skirt. Before she could start to wipe the glasses on her sleeve, a neatly pressed blackrimmed handkerchief was forced into her fingers – Nothing escaped Miss Hardbroom’s piercing eyes.
Next to the headmistress, stiff and dignified as usual, loomed the thin frame of the deputy - clad – also as usual – in one of her skintight outfits which should have made her look less bony, yet somehow only managed to emphasise her lack of curves. Well aware of that fact, Miss Hardbroom glared in return sourly at the limp grey cardigan her employer was wearing – which garment seemed to shrink continually from term to term. At least she and her sister spent a good deal of her holidays sewing up a complete wardrobe for each other so she wouldn’t have to face her classes in worn out dresses with frayed hems. Miss Hardbroom brushed a nonexistent speck of dust from her immaculate shiny satin lap and tugged at the smooth cuffs with their tiny batshaped buttons, which hugged her bony wrists. Feet neatly crossed beneath her skirts, fingers folded on her knees, chin up high and back rigid, she stared at her pupils, resembling a marblefaced statue, her velvet winter cloak cast into even folds as if made of stone.
Miss Bat finished the school song with a long piercing wail of the organ (”Get the organ tuned as soon as possible!” - Miss Cackle made another mental note) and turned around, smiling, her nose twitching to keep the slipping glasses in place, her ringlets already escaping her loose bun and bobbing about her face. Automatically Miss Hardbroom patted her own coiffure, but not a single hair had dared to stray. Only she herself knew how many hours of brushing it took to force her normally curly and unruly hair into that tight coil, but - as she thought smugly, while watching the beaming, yet bedraggled Davina – everyone to his own.
Miss Bat, unaware of her colleague’s critical gaze, flapped her wide cloak while sitting down and pushed back her hat. She looked fondly at the upturned faces in front of her – so many bright eyes and lively features – she could already imagine conducting her great choir again... just in time she let her hands sink again which had already been lifted to pull her baton from her hair, ready for action.
Miss Cackle pushed her glasses on her forehead, while digging for the short speech she had composed a week ago. A slight groan followed when she suddenly remembered she’d just changed and like her hankie, the speech was well tucked away in the cast off skirt. Miss Hardbroom, well aware of her headmistress’ habit of misplacing her speeches till the event in question was over, raised her eyebrows, aiming a discreet nod in direction of the door – should she go and hunt for that literary masterpiece on the loose? Miss Cackle shook her head regretfully – they were late for lessons as it was already and she’d just improvise as she had done on so many former occasions.
”Dear staff, dear pupils – Welcome back to Cackle’s Academy. Some of you have already spent many years under the sheltering roof of this establishment...” (Automatically, most heads tilted back, doubtfully viewing the rickety ceiling of the Great Hall with it’s uneven patches of plaster where holes had been mended and new holes were bound to appear soon) ”...and some of you have crossed our threshold for the first time today – but I’m quite sure that this castle will become your second home in about no time.” (Miss Cackle beamed at the draughty back end of the hall, where the first years were huddling together, like a bunch of discarded, weatherbeaten umbrellas, almost smothered by the folds of their flabby cloaks. The first years blushed to a man – or a girl, rather – and tired to shrink back behind each other, exchanging miserable glances. Home? Home??? Several underlips started wobbling ominously and a general sniffing was heard.)
Miss Hardbroom lifted her chin like a dagger at the sight of those soppy delinquents – showing of emotion was not going to be on the cards as soon as she would take charge of the class!
Miss Cackle smiled even more widely, her blue eyes almost vanishing in a nest of the tiniest crinkles. ”Soon, you’ll understand why all of us are so proud of this school – and what it means to be a Cacklelite. Traditions and school spirit play a major rule here at this Academy – and yet we are always keen to embrace the new...”
Miss Cackle went on and on – once started, she found it sometimes difficult to stop. Miss Drill, not overly fond of what she called the ”stuffy old rituals” her colleagues made so much of, soon grew restless. Her sneakers made little squeaky noises on the floor as she shuffled her feet and she started to play with the zipper of her tracksuit jacket. Sighing, she looked at the bright patches of sunlight, slowly, slowly creeping across the floor, longing to herd her second years outside for a long marathon through the woods.
Miss Bat smiled blissfully, totally absorbed in composing a new song for the Christmas pageant she had in mind. Recovering from an allergy against sour yak milk, she had welcomed the opportunity of taking up her old job again, left vacant as her substitute, Miss Crotchet, had seized the chance of tutoring a girls’ choir in Vienna. Davina had been jealous to hear the enthusiastic reports on last year’s Christmas play – her own attempt of setting up a drama class had always been successfully torpedoed by Miss Hardbroom and Miss Drill – for once united. Miss Hardbroom generally disapproved of any fickle diversion that would get in the way of standards, studies and staunch tradition – and Miss Drill didn’t want to give up her own drama monopol (which though, due to an accident which had involved Ethel Hallow, Mildred Hubble and a toppling piece of scenery from the ”Selfish Giant” had quietened down to almost non-existence). After Miss Crotchet had broken the ice, however, Davina was deadset that she herself should have her own triumph on stage this year – she would talk to Miss Cackle as soon as Constance’s stiff back was turned... As she gazed round the familiar Hall, Miss Bat realised that not much – if anything - had changed during her absence.
”...and so, my dears, we are all looking forward to working together as good comrades in pursuit of wisdom and knowledge,” concluded Miss Cackle, tactfully ignoring Miss Hardbroom’s slight gasp at the word ”comrades” – and encouragingly eyeing her students, neatly arranged in black rows, trying hard not to yawn. Most of them had left home before the sun was up and felt rather drowsy. Not bad, thought Miss Cackle, pleased with herself – I’ve still got the knack of fixing a peptalk out of the blue. How eager they all look – and how young! Let’s hope Constance will be gentle with them – at least for the first week...”
Davina had been wrong, complaining about a standstill – this year they’d actually try a complete new concept at the Academy. The recent fourth years were the first ones to benefit from the CBTT – The College/Business Training Term. That meant that they would spend some weeks at Cackles, studying for their final exams – and some weeks at college or at various jobs to gather practical experience. With the fourth years gone half of the time, Miss Hardbroom had grimly volunteered to take the upcoming first year for her own form and Miss Cackle herself planned to tutor the first years herself while Miss Hardbroom would be busy with form four when they returned to Cackles for the first time. Maybe she herself would then be able to re-establish some self-confidence in the girls of form one – after a few weeks with Constance there would be not much left to feed on.
School song and speech done with, Miss Cackle dug for her list of names – roll call was due. Before she had a chance to panic, a slight tug on her sleeve made her turn to her stonyfaced colleague who handed her a bunch of papers. Ignoring Constance’s mocking chuckle (she surely was STILL in some kind of holiday mood!) Miss Cackle read out the roll, starting with the oldest pupils.
”Form Three, Miss Bat: Agatha Aconite, Angora Aconite, Leila Cinderdust, Jubilee Doomsday,...” The girls whose names had been called, got up and filed to the front, where Miss Bat waited to lead them to their classroom.
”Form Two, Miss Drill: Gillian Astaroth, Thalia Bluebell, Nanna Darkbury, Suzannah Elderberry,...” Miss Bat led her queue away, while a new line formed in front of Miss Drill. When it was complete, Miss Drill blew her whistle, making everyone start, and jogged outside, the groaning girls quickening their pace behind her.
”Form One, Miss Hardbroom: Celia Anteater, Joyce Crippen, Rosalind Dozer, Lilian Fenmoore, Fiona Feverfew,...” Miss Hardbroom’s eyebrows shot upwards – eyeing the darkhaired girl getting up and into line she strongly suspected that she must have a cousin or even a sister of Fenella in her new class. She clenched her teeth and gazed at the thin pupil with the straight ponytail while Miss Cackle went on . ” Linda Fernsworth, Felicity Firefly...” All girls, big and small, thin and plump, shorthaired, pigtailed, ponytailed, braided, dark and fair queued up behind each other. Miss Hardbroom frowned at the ragged outline of the queue - lineforming surely soon would be on the schedule. ”...Hubble.” Miss Hardbroom practically jumped – not another cousin intruder after she’d finally got rid of her Nemesis for half the term? Miss Cackle shot her colleague a curious glance and after a pause while no one got up, repeated loudly: ”Godfreda Goblet!”. At this second calling of her name a roundfaced girl with tight, coppery pigtails curving in like teapot handles stepped to the front. Miss Hardbroom relaxed visibly – oh good – it had only sounded like Hubble... ”Henrietta Henbane, Jemima Jellyspoon, Dorothy Littleton, Lucinda Nutmeg, Marilla Owlnite, Elizabeth Sphinx...” More girls filed out. ”Selena Tsang, Olive Underhill, Boadicea Viper, Teresa Wormhole.”
The last girl, a tall blackhead with thick glasses, stepped into line.
While Miss Hardbroom strode out, her flock trailing behind her, Miss Cackle rubbed her nose where her glasses had left a red mark and absentmindedly crumpled the list, shoving it under a stack of Davina’s notepaper. The new term was well underway...
Milderd stirred her lukewarm cornflakes, sogging in pale milk and sighed. Food, she had hoped, couldn’t be any worse than at home – at Cackle’s, she corrected herself – but somehow it was. Her new friend Cas had suggested to skip brekker and lunch at some cool cafè she’d discovered on her first trip through town – but as it was, Mildred couldn’t afford such extravagance.
”Looking good, eh?” Cas’ cheerful greeting made Mildred start. Tugging at the short ends of her friend’s wavy hair, Cas slid into the seat next to Mildred, banging her tray on the table as she did so.
”Uhhhh,” mumbled Mildred, gulping down another spoonful. She herself had her strong reservations about her new hairstyle. Much as Cas had tried to praise it, Mildred missed her plaits which she could have tugged or even sucked in an emergency. As it was, she had taken up chewing her fingernails instead which already looked ragged. Apart from that, the haircut she had given herself had come out more than uneven and all her and Cas’ attempts on chopping it into line had made matters only worse. So finally she had to see the hairdressers during lunchbreak who had worked on what was left and even rubbed in some dye without being asked to. The result was not bad, Mildred decided hopefully – more grown up at least – yet, most of her allowance had to be spent on it and besides she was late for spellcasting and had had to pay a fine. ”I need a job,” said Mildred, frowning, secretly shuddering at the thought of what her mother would have to say about the hacking off of her hair and the spending of the next months’ pocketmoney. She’d probably never see a single penny from home again. ”If you’ll act that silly out of a moodswing, you can’t expect us to pay for your foolish escapades...”
”Get one then,” suggested Cas brightly, stuffing the last piece of her sandwich skilfully into her mouth, without smearing her pink lipgloss.
”But what kind of job? I’m lousy at everything!” complained Mildred. Soppy cornflakes were clinging to her spoon and milk ran down onto the table.
”Nonsense,” said Cas loyally (thus reminding Mildred of her friend Maud, who’d backed her up against better knowledge). ”You wouldn’t be here if you were lousy.”
Mildred shrugged. ”I was just lucky, I guess. They liked my picture, that’s all. That’s not going to help me in any course.”
Cas groaned, peeling away at an apple. ”Don’t be so damn negative! You’ve got a foundation scholarship for that College Term thingy of yours – you’ve got soggy cornflakes, you’ve got an exciting new haircut and you’ve got an extremely pretty and amiable roommate.” She patted herself on the shoulder, grinning at Mildred.
Mildred smiled crookedly and pushed back her cornflakes bowl. Promptly it slid over the smooth formicatopped surface and off the table, crashing on the floor. The plastic bowl was spinning round and round, spilling a mess of milk and flakes.
Blushing with embarrassment, Mildred dived under the table and started mopping it up with a paper tissue.
”Oh dear!” Cas’ laughing eyes appeared amongst the chair legs. ”Are you sooooo homesick for that good old academy of yours that you can’t bear the sight of our mensa mess?”
Mildred stopped wiping and stared into space. Yes – she decided – she somehow definitely missed school: Her own room, shabby, yet not to be shared with others, her bats, her friends, even the draughty castle with its chilly corners, slamming shutters, creaking stairs, and crumbling plaster. The farewell on the last day of school had be sad – Miss Cackle had delivered a brave speech about soon meeting again, Mildred as monitor girl had to stumble through a polite reply in front of the whole school and on stage at that! Each girl on the brink of sallying forth into real life shook hands with every teacher – Mildred could still recall the soft touch of Miss Cackle’s plump palm, the bony grip of HB’s icy cold fingers, Miss Crotchet’s scratchy nails and Miss Drill’s firm hearty squeeze. When waving Mildred off at the portal, Miss Cackle had caught her in a warm hug while her glasses misted over and even Miss Hardbroom had patted her pupil’s shoulder in an awkward way, gruffly suggesting that she might write now and then – to tell about her progress at college and improve her orthography and handwriting.
The familiar picture of her teachers, Miss Cackle in front, while HB hovered over her shoulder, framed by the huge portal which made them suddenly look tiny and forlorn, rose before Mildred’s eyes. She had to admit to herself that she even kind of missed the teachers of her former school – and yet she dreaded the return for the Refreshing Courses at the Academy. Unpleasant as her start at college might have been – she had been so much looking forward to the new freedom here – nobody telling her to clean up her room, eat all her veggies and go to bed at ten o’ clock sharp. To buy her own food, to decide all by herself when to take a shower, to study, to eat or to party – that seemed like heaven. To wear what she wanted, to talk in dorms without getting lines, to feast on sweets or pizza, to go for a stroll, to be responsible for everything she did – trying to do the right thing not because her terrifying form mistress frowned at her, but because she herself thought it was the right thing to do. That was what made her life the life of a grownup girl, after all – and that was what she had told her teacher when HB had all of a sudden appeared during the All Seeing Eye Trial. Sure, Mildred might have made a mistake – a really bad mistake right away – yet, she had to cope with it herself – and she felt that she might be able to deal with all the mistakes she might make in the future as well.
The mere thought of getting caught again in the tightly woven net of rules which she seemed to trespass with every move she made, caused her stomach to tie itself into knots. At the same time, spending more weeks at college, amongst the infinite numbers of strange faces, the teachers who couldn’t even remember her name, parties to which everyone but herself seemed to get invited to, sharing a room with Ethel and bumping every other second into her and the hideous Hobbs, struggling through classes, trying to make sense of the schedule which she herself had set and also messed up, getting lost in libraries, hunting for important papers which she was supposed to have handed in three days ago – that seemed also a bleak, if not sickening prospect.
”Hey, Mils – cheer up!” Cas dumped Mildred’s stack of books into her arms, gathered her own untidy files and kicked the upset cornflakes bowl neatly under the table. ”Come on – we’ll leave this stuff in our room before the English lit course will start! And afterwards we need to shop – urgently!”
Sleepwalking, Mildred followed Cas who was elegantly swinging her hips, threading her way in and out between the maze of chairs – she herself feeling too meek even to protest against the suggested shopping tour – what money did she have left to shop with? From the direction of the kitchen, a sickening waft pursued them, boding ill for dinner...
Herding her little flock through the entrance hall towards the potionlab, Miss Hardbroom looked back over her shoulder now and then, scowling. ”Keep in line and step lively, girls! And can we keep the boot clattering down to a minimal noise level, please?” This was not a question, it was a mere threat. How, mused Miss Hardbroom, was it possible, that every new first year seemed to be in possession of boots that would still stomp louder than those of last year’s form one? Or was it just that her nerves finally gave way? Maybe she was on the verge of getting old already – almost twenty years of teaching were sure to have left their marks. Not for the first time she had discovered this morning a few silver threads in her hair, ripping those treacherous traces of time mercilessly out. What with pupils like Mildred Hubble, she thought grimly, she might actually soon have to see a hairdresser for the first time in her life. Much as she in general objected to indulging in vanity, like dying one’s hair, she was not yet ready to give in to any signs of age sneaking up on her. After all, she’d passed the dreaded mark of forty only two years ago...
Miss Hardbroom, lost in such gloomy thoughts, practically hit the ceiling when an inquisitive finger stabbed her in the back. She whirled round, furious, and found herself facing the honeyhaired pigtailed Goblet girl. ”Gosh, Miss, you’re awfully thin!” A wideeyed green gaze carefully examined the chubby finger which had stabbed the teacher’s backbone, then swept over to the enraged form mistress’ face. Miss Hardbroom, speechless for once, rubbed her back, her eyes sparkling with fury.
”How do you do them all up?” wondered Godfreda, completely unaware of the wrath she had caused, beaming confidentally at her new formmistress, who in her eyes resembled a mixture between a victorian governess and an extremely gloomy fairy, escaped from a story book. Godfreda loved stories more than anything. School, she decided instantly, would be incredibly exciting if one met such interesting people.
”I do beg your pardon?” asked HB icily, her eyebrows arching into a frown which would have made the whole school, staff included, run for cover. Godfreda, however, merely admired how one could look so perfectly cross and resolved to spend the evening in front of a mirror, practising cross faces.
”The buttons,” she explained friendly. ”All those tiny, tiny buttons all the way down your back. How do you manage to do them up all by yourself?”
Miss Hardbrooms stared. She’d never actually come across a pupil who seemed immune to her glares and frowns and now felt quite helpless. For a brief, desperate moment she even longed for Fenella and Griselda to be back at school – their famous welcome greetings (”Don’t be afraid of Hardbroom – be very afraid!”) had taught generations of first years what to expect of the school’s deputy head and to quake in their boots the moment they set eyes on HB. Not that she had ever felt the need for relying on Fen’s and Gris’ ghastly tales to intimidate newcomers – this new pupil however was obviously either too naive or too thickskinned to catch the intense vibrations of impatience and ill temper her new form mistress was sending out. Miss Hardbroom’s glowering gaze proved to be mere water off a duck’s back as far as Godfreda was concerned. She still smiled at her terrifying teacher. This impressive lady, she mused, would make a nice centrepiece in her collection of fascinating people. Miss Hardbroom was not yet aware of the fact that Godfreda had a habit of classifying everybody she met, elaborately describing them in various notebooks, labelled ”Dull”, ”Middle” and ”Interesting”. Clearly HB had already made it to the ranks of the latter file – though that would hardly have cheered her up, had she but known it.
”There is only one way of doing up buttons and it certainly is NOT subject to any of our classes and not of public interest either!” The teacher was short of yelling, and, as she gratefully observed, the rest of the new first years was already shifting nervously from foot to foot and eyeing her uncertainly. Godfreda, though, was not put off so easily.
”You must be awfully bendy to reach the buttons right in the middle,” she said thoughtfully.
Miss Hardbroom flinched visibly. She prided herself of her rigid posture and ”bendy” hardly was an adjective she would have welcomed in connection to herself.
”Move ON!” she barked at the class in general, turned around and marched into the potion lab, being uncomfortably aware of thus displaying the neat row of buttons again to any prying eye. That new girl, she thought grimly, most certainly would require a liberal dose of squashing...
Drusilla wiped her brow and heaved a sigh. When having finally realised that she wouldn’t make it to Weirdsister College along with Ethel for the Practical Training (her grades had rapidly slipped when Ethel had been far too busy preparing for exams to spend any time working with her former bosom buddy), it had been too late to apply for another college. Her parents had advised strongly to try and get some real life practise somewhere, anywhere (”All better than just hanging out here, dear!”) and Dru had thought herself lucky to have got this job at a huge hotel in Bath.
She had imagined it would be quite interesting – meeting all kinds of people from all over the world, maybe even some famous filmstars, maybe even some interesting boys. As it was, she was trapped down in the kitchen, slicing tomatoes, onions and cucumbers, washing salad, watching boiling pots and getting yelled at by some of the undercooks (the cook himself was above yelling at the staff).
This was worse than a marathon through the woods and swampy meadows with Drill at the helm, she thought glumly, putting on a new piece of sticking plaster. Her fingers always seemed to get in the way of the knife and the veggies. Worse than chanting when Miss Bat made you sing out a new song in front of the whole class and you did neither know text nor tune. Worse than a talking to by Miss Cackle when one of Ethel’s gorgeous plans had failed. Worse even than potionlab with Miss Hardbroom! This must be hell and she was right in the thick of it...
”Paddock, what about the chips??”
Drusilla jumped, slicing her fingers once again, and remembered about the chip pan – too late. The chips had turned dark brown and hard already. Hastily she dumped them in a bin, pushing it out of sight with her foot. She lowered another helping of chips into the pan, thereby adding several new splashes of grease to the already interesting collection of gravy stains and smears on her white uniform.
”Chips!!! Over here!”
”Not ready yet!” Dru yelled back, once again mopping her brow, thereby setting her hairnet askew. She felt sure she’d never want to see or smell, let alone eat another plate or chips in all her life...
”One, two, one, two...!” Miss Drill kept jogging on, even though she had to wait for the tailenders of her second years. Energy waves flowed through her body, the bracing air just seemed to invite her to run for miles and miles, filling her lungs deeply with oxygen.
The reluctant bunch of girls, dragging their muddy sneakers over the paths still soggy from morning dew did nothing to quell Miss Drill’s enthusiasm. Especially after the holidays the girls needed shaping up! Miss Drill jogged backwards, still shouting ”One, two, one, two, one...!” at the class, who seemed all but eager to follow. Pale faces, stiff legs and pudgy knees prevailed – clearly form two had preferred lolling about and pigging out to exercise for the past few weeks. But her new workout plan which also included the founding of several new sports clubs would soon see to that.
”One, two, one...!” Her rhythmic chanting yet earned her nothing but groans and exasperated glances, but she was determined to be adamant. With the conservative school meals – no salads, mostly overcooked meat, potatoes, rice and slabs of unrecognisable vegetables – plus the endless hours the girls had to spend stooped over books to deal with the enormous amount of homework Miss Hardbroom thought necessary and characterbuilding, the pupils certainly needed a lot of extra PE to prevent fattening up, cramps and stiff backs. Soon they will thank me for that, thought Miss Drill hopefully, pretending that she actually believed it.
”Now everybody fetch a volleyball and choose partners so we can relax while having a little match.”
More groans and reluctant sneakers shuffling towards the toolshed where the balls where kept.
”Move along – keep going, Thalia, Daphne! You won’t always be last if you’d just hurry up a bit!”
After the volleyball match a brisk run round the school pond and a few dozens of knee-bends, calculated Miss Drill – that should make the second years behave meek and subdued during lunchbreak – thus she hoped to butter up Constance. A badtempered HB would hardly be helpful when Imogen wanted to bring up the topic of sports clubs in the staffroom after lunch...
The piercing shrill of her whistle was the sign for the passing of balls to and fro between the girls- much more lamely than she would have preferred it to be.
”How many times have I told you – NO milk and TWO lumps!”
”Oh, shut your face, measly idiotic son of a ...!” mumbled Enid while stomping back to the coffeemachine to fetch another mug.
Who was interested in the second assistant’s assistant’s taste in beverages? That guy thought he was big deal – and yet was just a sad windbag. When she had got this job at the Radio Station she had been totally thrilled – imagining grabbing a lot of free promo CDs and concert tickets, meeting plenty of famous people who would give cool interviews and play their newest songs unplugged, getting invited to all sorts of clubs and VIP lounge parties. Instead she was stuck in the archive section, spent her days filing old tapes of rotten bands away and fetching mugs of coffee, tea or cans of soda for all kind of boring folks.
”Maybe I could fake a fainting fit,” she mused – that had almost worked when she tried to miss the stupid school outing to the Witchcraft Museum at Coxbury last term – with its musty smelling books and dustcovered glasses full of beetles, spidereggs and herbs. Unfortunately, Miss Hardbroom had found her out and she had to write a twenty page essay about the trip – and even worse, to read it out aloud in assembly.
But Miss Hardbroom was not here – the only good point about this beastly place, Enid thought grimly – and judging from the moron look of most of the people around , no one would have the brains to see through her little fainting manoeuvre.
On the other hand, she’d still have to come back here tomorrow. Maybe she could pour some castor oil into the coffee filter, make everyone retch and get sacked? But in that case she’d have to spend the next weeks at home along with nagging mum and whining sis –
and she would not be able to present a record of her ”Real life” experience when they would have to return to the academy – and accordingly she would have to do an extra magical project under the supervision of HB to make up for the missing grade. Grudgingly she consented that staying on would be the less nasty alternative – yet she would have to do something about her job – otherwise she would die of boredom or empty the next mug of coffee over somebody’s head – and as luck would have it, it might be somebody really important hanging out at the archive for a change.
Maybe she could start a fake fire drill and rescue some popstars helplessly wandering about the upstairs corridors of the Station...
Scheming, Enid dropped four lumps of sugar into the mug, poured in some milk and carried it back to the second assistant’s assistant.
”We will begin our lessons today with memorising the first ten rules of the Witches’ Code. It is absolutely essential that you always keep those basic commandments in mind when practising witchcraft. Boadicea Viper, you will kindly hand out the copies of the books. You will now study the first ten rules thoroughly – and in silence – by the way, there will be a test on them tomorrow morning, so you’d better remember all of them. Later we will proceed to the courtyard where you will have your first lesson in broomstick flying. The art of riding a broomstick is essential for the appearance a distinguished witch should be displaying in public and must be performed in the attempt to obtain perfection. Therefore we will excercise daily and – you, girl! Godfreda – Godfreda Goblet! Will you kindly stop gawping out of the window and listen to me instead?”
The roundfaced girl didn’t stir, she kept dreamily gazing outside, obviously lost to the world. ”Godfreda Goblet!” Miss Hardbroom, by now shouting, whipped her ruler on her desk, thus finally getting her pupil’s attention.
”Oh –” beamed Godfreda – ”Have you been talking to me?”
”Indeed I have!” (Check your bloodpressure, Constance, don’t get yourself all worked up – not yet. Remember it’s the first day of school, remember you’ve got to last through the whole term!) ”Why, may I ask, are you not paying attention right away?”
”Maybe you called me Godfreda,” suggested the hapless girl helpfully. ”Everyone always calls me Goodie, you know. If you call me Goodie, Miss, I’ll listen most of the time.”
”How extraordinarily kind of you!” Miss Hardbroom’s sarcasm was lost on Goodie who never seemed to sense her teacher’s growing wrath.
”What’s your first name then, Miss?”
”I DO beg your pardon?”
”Your first name, Miss Hardbroom – you know, what your friends will call you – unless they use a nickname, like mine. I think it’s ever so funny, the kind of nicknames people will pick for each other, you know, there is this one friend of mine – I’ve known her since nursery school – and she...”
”Constance!” Miss Hardbroom already found herself yelling once more – while her usual method included scaring the new girls each term by beginning to make chilly remarks in a very quiet, threatening voice. She’d then by and by increase the amount of terrifying yelling throughout the term, not wanting to make the girls get too accustomed to it right from the start.
”It’s Constance Hardbroom, for goodness’ sake – MISS Hardbroom for you – and that’s the end of that matter!”
”That’s quite a nice name,” remarked Godfreda approvingly. ”Some people have stupid names like Dolly or Chelsea or Candy or Cherry – but Constance is so nice and distinguished. I bet it’s got a special meaning – most of the oldfashioned names have. Take mine, for example...”
Mesmerised by the continuous chatter, Miss Hardbroom felt her left eyelid starting to twitch uncontrollably.
Mildred dumped her books on her bed and curled up next to them. She accidentally banged her head against the wall and winced. The pillow had toppled out again and the blanket was crumpled, heaped with loads of clothes. Cas had examined Mildred’s wardrobe and tossed aside most of its contents as grannyish or worse: babyish. Yet Mildred saw no chance of soon replacing them all by more cool garments, so she just would have to shake them out, fold them up and put them back again, paying no heed to Cas’ possible disapproval. She might as well start on it right now – at least she then would be able to lie down more comfortably for a while before lunchbreak. Life at college seemed so much more tiresome than at school – and yet, she could sleep two hours longer in the mornings.
Swinging her feet to the floor, Mildred felt something crunching beneath her heels – a plate of leftover toast was upset, crumbs all over the floor. Picking up socks and blouses which back at home she’d still thought lovely (as compared to her school uniform ), but scorned now, she toured the room in a zigzag course to put all stuff back into the drawers and the wardrobe, steering round stacks of CDs, books and papers. Tights, shawls and skirts were festooned over the heating (fancy, a heating!), desk lamps and chairs. When collecting them, her elbow collided with a cereal box on the windowsill, tipping it over. Grabbing for it in a hurry, she sent Cas’ transistor radio plummeting to the floor – luckily it landed safely in a pile of laundry.
Fiddlesticks! thought Mildred rebelliously (not being used to more mundane expressions by now) – there was just too much junk in this room! At least at Cackles she had had to put up only with her own mess . She tossed an open bag of stale crisps on Ethel’s bed, sending them flying all over the place. Not that that made any difference at all...
Waving her baton wildly, her hair tumbling down about her eyes as several curly strands escaped from her bun again, Miss Bat conducted the third class choir with much more vigour than the song required.
”When the full moon is shining/ when the ghosts are whining/ when the bats do flap wildly/ us wee witches snooze so mildly...”
It was a new lullaby Miss Bat had composed during the holidays and it should have been sung sweetly by three different groups weaving a dreamy canon – but it just sounded lame now.
The third years, embarrassed by mouthing what they secretly considered rather stupid lyrics, kept shifting on their seats, coughing and missing the tune.
After Miss Bat, exhausted, threatened that they would have to sing ”Eye of Toad” for practise over and over again if they couldn’t cope with any new song, the girls finally perked up a bit and managed to perform the new song without any major lapses. The teacher, feeling herself getting more calm gradually, then even sleepy, realised that the chanting grew less loud and more slow with every line and was rather satisfied to find that her magic lullaby was working so well. Before form three drifted off into unconsciousness altogether, she stopped the choir in midsong and announced her plans of performing a musical with her class instead of a Christmas panto this year. ”Fancy almost everyone of you will have a solo part!” She adjusted her glasses, blinking eagerly at the girls. The pupils, struck with horror at the thought of having to sing solo parts in front of the whole school, were speechless – overcome with joy at the prospect of performing on stage, Miss Bat supposed.
”It IS rather exciting, to be sure. I’m still considering whether to choose some traditional topic – like Jack and the Beanstalk – or Snow White – or whether to write my own plot -what do you think?”
The silence in class was thickening now, but Miss Bat paid no heed.
”Well – how about one of you trying a solo on our new lullaby? One of you, twins, perhaps? Angora? Agatha?” Miss Bat’s gaze swept to and fro between the lank girls in the back row. ”I’m glad we’ve got two new exchange pupils from Canada this year – new voices always mean a fresh inspiration to any choir. I’m sure the class will appreciate it if you’d go ahead and try the new tune on your own.”
Both girls shook their chestnut haired heads simultaneously. ”We’d rather not, Miss.”
”Oh, don’t be shy – the best thing, if you happen to be afraid of something is to just go ahead and do it. You can’t retreat to a snail’s house for the rest of your life, you know.”
”Yes , we can.”
Four eyes, watching Miss Bat with cold indifference, made her feel somewhat uncomfortable. She coughed slightly. ”Well, if the twins don’t feel up to perform in public yet, how about one of our talented old hands? Sibyl – Clarice? You’ve already been part in the band we set up to welcome Amanda Honeydew – and Clarice starred in last year’s pageant – she surely enjoyed that experience, didn’t you, Clarice?”
Clarice nodded doubtfully, feeling Sibyl’s shaky fingers squeezing her hand. ”I can’t sing on stage, I’m sure I can’t!” Sibyl’s voice sounded as if it was going to turn into a sob every second. ”Don’t you worry!” Clarice whispered back. ”I’ll manage to get us out of it somehow!”
More loudly, she added: ”Don’t you think, Miss, that someone of the name of Crow will hardly make a gifted singer?”
”Nonsense, my dear,” Miss Bat shook her head so violently that hairpins were sent flying into all directions. ”Names are nothing to go by – or I should be blind and move about feeling my way by uttering piercing shrieks.”
A polite snickering worked it’s way through the class – rather half-heartedly.
”I’ll hand out the partiture for the opening song tomorrow – even if I’m not yet sure what the musical will be about, I’ve got the overture all ready. It’s about our school – and the strong friendship that is binding us witches together in perfect harmony – and about the happiness all people feel deep in their hearts around Christmas...” Miss Bat spread her arms dramatically, already hearing the applause and the curtain calls which would ring through the Great Hall. ”And we’ll surely want to start rehearsing as soon as possible – as we’ll probably even have some special visitors for the Christmas Celebration – the Grand Wizard was so enthusiastic about last year’s play that he wants to attend this year’s again, I’ve heard – and maybe I’ll even talk Miss Cackle into inviting all of your families so they can see how well their girls are doing on stage...”
The class looked more glum than ever. Miss Bat, lost in dreams, gripped her baton once more. ”Just to get you into the spirit of things...All together now: one, two: Joy to the world...”
Stumbling through the untimely carol, well four months ahead of Christmas, the girls hung their heads, already composing desperate letters home, begging that no one would show up for that humiliating event...
Maud frowned and stared at the illegible scribble on the yellow post-it stuck to her locker.
It did say something about dogs – she was almost sure it did. And it contained some numbers, probably referring to the amount of meds they should get...
Uncertainly, her gaze swept to the row of bottles and cardboard packages set aside on a table in the corner. If only she knew which dog should get which...
Coming from a pet-free household (”Your little brother is hardly responsible for being allergic, is he?”) Maud had longed fervently for a dog of her own throughout all of her childhood. Now, with the College/Business Term Project coming up, she’d welcomed the opportunity to relish in caring for pets of all sorts and sizes.
She’d imagined feeding sick puppies, their tongues delicately licking her fingers, cuddling guinea pigs and cheering up depressed parrots – but practise, however, had shown that the everyday business in a vet’s life was going to be more mucky than cuddly.
At first she had thought that the grey labcoat, supposed to be white, they had given her was nothing but a nuisance –and besides, it made her look decidedly fat! - and had refused to wear it. However, when on her second day as a vet’s assistant, a litter of kits had simultaneously thrown up on her new Lewis jeans, she resolved that wearing a lab coat wasn’t such a bad idea after all. Who’d ever thought that a bunch of kittens, yet fed on nothing but watered milk, could retch up something that would smell so EXTREME!
By the end of the first week of her Business Term Project, Maud had been bitten more times that she could count – by a rabbit, by gerbils, by several dogs, by kittens, by tame hedgehogs and even twice by canaries. Now she was ready to believe that God created animals as a kind of punishment for the human race – there must be some point to the Fall of Man after all. If only Noah hadn’t built his darned ark that big...
She swivelled round, facing Tansy, a broadshouldered, fatcheeked eversmiling girl who kept patting her on the back and telling her to cheer up. Maud could never exactly tell whether she liked Tansy or not – she surely tried to spread an atmosphere of good will, yet sometimes it seemed that she was overdoing things.
”See – I’ve got this nasty throbbing in my cheek for all the weekend – the Doc said I could see the dentist today. Yet, there’s all the litter boxes to be cleared still – and No. 3 has thrown up again.. That should be not much of a prob, really – you’ve already worked with the pet so well... And I won’t have any time to change the dressings of those two Rottweilers – could U be an angel and take over? My tooth is killing me...”
”Sure,” said Maud, slowly, deciding there and then that she hated Tansy as she’d never hated anyone before. ”Don’t you worry – I’ll be just fine.”
”Oh, good – I told the Doc you could cope with it!” Tansy beamed at Maud, already slipping out of her lab coat and into her jacket. ”What would we do without you? There are so few people who’ll actually care about the dear pets, you know – but from the first sight, I could tell, you’d be different. Oh, and there’s the rabbits’ hutch to be cleared today as well – seems like Snuffy’s still not got over that diarrhoea of his...”
Maud’s shoulders sagged as she grabbed her wellies. ”Don’t you worry,” she repeated mechanically. ”Everything’s going to be all right.” (Now, why do I keep saying that? I don’t want to mess with yucky poo or retching, I don’t even know which pill I should feed to which dog! Why can’t I just admit I hate to be responsible of things, that I want to clear out this instant...?) ”I’ll check on him right away.”
”Oh, good!” Tansy’s voice, along with a relieved chuckle, came down the corridor as she was backing to the door. ”And if you wouldn’t mind that much – you can use a puter, can’t you? Cos there’s all those bills which should be sent out today...”
”Sure!” Maud warbled, grabbing for the stack of meds cardboard boxes that had slipped from the table as Tansy cleared out. ”I could do them during lunch break, I’m on that diet as it is...” (Secretly, she longed for boxing her own ears as soon as she’d said it.)
”Fine!” echoed Tansy’s voice from out of doors. ”I knew you could cope with it all right – See ya!”
A door banged and Maud found herself all alone within the sterile white walls – desperately deciphering her list of Bingos, Timmies and Lassies and so on.
”Right now, everybody!” Miss Hardbroom shouted warily. She could already feel her throat going sore and allowed herself one of the soothing violet-aniseed pastilles she carried around in a little tin box for emergencies. Actually, she caught herself biting the pastille into tiny bits with some vigour, instead of just sucking it gently. ”Line up and hold your broomsticks up in front of you. Give them a little tap, tell them to hover....” As in a trance she went through the first broomstick flying lesson – a ritual she had performed so many times before that she had lost count long ago.
”Do hold it about waist height – no, that’s too high, Dorothy – it IS Dorothy Littleton, isn’t it?”
”Yes, Miss!” replied the plump girl, blowing her bangs away from her forehead and struggling to pull down the broomstick which kept trying to ascend over her head.
”I had your older sister here five years ago!” observed Miss Hardbroom – she didn’t look exactly happy at the recollection.
”Yes, Miss, she told me so!” Dotty’s eyes were already wide with fear – Minnie’s wild stories about her boarding school had always struck her down-to-earth little sister as being rather tall tales – but after she had got a good glimpse at the academy when unpacking and attending assembly and the first lessons, she’d decided that Minnie had actually for once stuck to understatement instead of exaggeration. As for her new form mistress and her obviously irate temper, Dotty could already see that she herself would never be able to do Miss Hardbroom credit, should she try to describe her to her own little sister. And even if she would try, she’d get scolded and told not to frighten Tilly with make-believe horror stories...
”I told you to sit ON the broomstick, Dorothy!”
Dotty jumped and hastily scrambled onto her broom, wobbling, as she tried to steady herself. Finally, she lost her balance and toppled off. Luckily, it was only three feet to the floor.
”SIT!!! I said! And you, Elizabeth, why do you think it’s called a broomstick flying lesson – and not a ”monkeying about , hanging upside down from a broom” lesson?”
”It’s Lizzy, if you don’t mind, Miss!” came the muffled voice from beneath a tangle of blond hair already sweeping the floor. Lizzy’s face was flushed red as she tried to heave herself onto the broomstick and thus sent it swaying about so badly that she had to do a kind of flipflop to land safely on her knees instead of her head.
Miss Hardbroom eyed her with ill conceded disgust. ”If you please, ELIZABETH Lizard, get back into line AT ONCE and try to behave yourself!”
Lizzy hung her head and grabbed her broomstick, retreating to her former place. So much for the great fun of flying. She stuffed her tie back down the neckline of her gymslip, thus regardlessly crumpling it. Why couldn’t they hand out some decent clothes at least? Blah...
”Stop sulking this instant and get back on the broom! And as for you, Rosalind -!”
Rosalind Dozer decided there and then that it wouldn’t be the appropriate moment telling her new teacher that she was generally called Rosy, not Rosalind. A stupid name in fact – thanks to the greataunt she was named after. She had complained to her parents for ages and begged them to change it into Rosy or at least Rose but they had been deaf to her requests. The broomstick flying proved to be as much fun as she had expected it to be – yet, somehow her formmistress didn’t seem too pleased with Rosy’s efforts of rising straight into the air and then diving down at breathtaking speed, then jumping off just before she would hit the ground. It was as much fun as a rollercoaster – if not more – and as Rosy watched scornfully the timid attempts of her fellow pupils who barely dared to rise above one metre from the ground, she thought she actually was doing very well. Ignoring Miss Hardbroom’s terrifying glares, she swept up for another tummy-tingling nose dive.
”There is no need to thread your legs around your broomstick like this, Felicity! Once you’ve balanced yourself well on it, you won’t fall off!”
The Firefly girl, Miss Hardbroom decided, would be one of the diligent pupils which wouldn’t cause that much of distress – obviously she was trying really hard – too hard in fact. ”Just try to relax – there’s no need to stiffen up like that. Just accustom yourself to the movements of the broom – if you won’t make it jerk, it won’t jerk on it’s own accord!”
Somehow relieved, the teacher watched Felicity carefully flying circles over the heaving mass of struggling pupils. Here at last was a girl who seemed to be gifted with a natural flying talent – if only she would ease up a bit and not make flying an uphill struggle.
”Celia, Joyce, Olive – what are you playing at?” The three girls who had been chatting away at the back, hidden between the rows of girls fighting with their broomsticks, quickly mounted their brooms again, pretending to be busy. ”If you’ll stick to practising, instead of fooling around, you might actually find it easy to command your broomstick. Look at the way Selena Tsang is handling things – you might learn a thing or two!”
Selena, startled by her teacher’s voice, involuntarily chose that moment to plummet down again, panting hard as her feet hit the ground. ”Sorry, Miss!” she gasped – ”I’m not accustomed to heights – they make me go all dizzy.”
Miss Hardbroom sighed deeply. ”All right, Selena – you did well for a start. You may rest for a minute and then try again – it’s like riding a horse, you know – once you’ve fallen off, you must try again at once.”
”Yes, Miss,” Selena sounded everything but happy as she dusted her frock. Who’d have thought that a broomstick would be that slippery and so hard to sit on? When she had watched her cousin (who had attended Pentangles, and why, by the way wasn’t she allowed to go there as well? At least they had heating there and hot water for the showers and decent meals...) flying had seemed to be so easy...
”You’re doing well, Boadicea – keep steady! Linda, you simply MUST open your eyes or you’ll never be able to see where you’re going! Joyce, there’s no need to STRANGLE your broomstick – you’ve just got to hold on to its handle. Don’t grip it that hard – all you’ve got to do is to steer it into the direction you want to go to... Now for you, Jemima...
Jemima Jellyspoon! Stop capering about when I’m talking to you!”
”Soo-ooo-oorry, Miss!” Jemima’s voice shook as the broomstick was jumping up and down beneath her. ”It’s hopping around on its own – I don’t know what to do!”
”Just hold on!” shouted Miss Hardbroom, wiping her brow and doubtfully watching Jemima’s broom which seemed to play hopscotch all around the yard. ”Tell it: ”Steady!”
The broom came to a sudden halt, nearly sending Jemima shooting off over its handle. It quivered in midair, while the girl desperately clung to it.
”Say: ”Down!”, then tap it again, tell it to hover and mount, making sure you’ll not tell it to go ”Up” or ”Down” too rapidly – then it will stop jumping about.”
The result looked more promising now, Miss Hardbroom decided – Jemima’s broom was flying steady now, only swaying slightly whenever the girl steered it into a curve.
”Yes, Godfreda, what is it NOW?”
”My broomstick is creaking, Miss!”
Miss Hardbroom looked aghast. ”Creaking? What on earth are you talking about?”
”Creaking – you know – as if it would break any second.” Goodie stood, broomstick in hand, eyeing it suspiciously. She didn’t make any attempt of climbing on again.
”Don’t be such a goose, Godfreda,” snapped Miss Hardbroom. ”You, like all of the others own a perfectly normal beginners’ broom. It can cope with every weight up to seventy kilos – the broom manufacturers see to that.”
”But it’s creaking like anything – it might break! Maybe it’s not stabile enough for me – I’m a bit on the plump side, you know, Miss..”
”So I observe!” said Miss Hardbroom coldly. ”Yet, this broomstick is absolutely capable of carrying you about – we’ve never had any case of a broomstick breaking unless some careless girl chose to steer it into the dustbins or against a wall...” Closing her eyes, she recalled Mildred’s first approach to the Academy – almost fondly, as even Mildred had never caused that much trouble as this new pupil. And Mildred, one had to grant her that, had never been one to talk back – she’d just shrank timidly against a wall and gazed at Miss Hardbroom like a rabbit would gaze at a snake.
”It’s all very well for really thin people like you!” shouted Goodie, almost desperate. She was sure she had heard the broomstick groan and creak beneath her – she couldn’t get back on – suppose it would break in two just when she was flying high above the cobblestone ground of the yard? ”If I was that skinny, I would...”
”Oh, just SHUT up and get back on!” yelled Miss Hardbroom, flying into a temper at last. Godfreda had hit a sore spot and she was not going to get away with it. ”You can’t be such a wet blanket worrying about every sound your broomstick might make – or you’ll never become a real witch!”
Goodie reluctantly mounted her broomstick again, caught in the fierce glance of her teacher. It would snap in half, she was sure it would... Cautiously she started flying miniature circles, barely rising two feet above the ground.
Miss Hardbroom, breathing deeply, averted her gaze, looking for another victim.
”Now for you again, Dorothy -....”
Miss Hardbroom, on her way back to the Littleton girl who was once again on the verge of toppling off her broom, stopped short in her tracks at an unusual sight by the broomshed. A boy? Actually a boy hanging around in her yard? Gawping at her first years?
”And what are you supposed to be doing here, boy?” Miss Hardbroom’s disgust at the sight of the tall lad crouching in the doorway of the broomstick shed was not well disguised.
The boy got up, bowing rather crookedly. ”I’m just polishing the spare boots, Miss – my uncle told me to.”
”And who, pray, might be that relation of yours?”
Blinking, the lad pointed vaguely into the direction of the greenhouse. ”Uh, Miss, my uncle – he’s working here as caretaker – you know... I’m staying with him for a couple of months...”
Another of Frank Blossom’s everlasting nephews, mused Miss Hardbroom – so much for nepotism. But if even the headmistress wasn’t above sneaking her own relatives into the school...
”And your name might be...?”
”Uh, Lenneth. Lenneth Quinn Marrow...” First wiping his grubby hand, stained with shoe polish, on his trousers, Lenneth politely extended it towards the teacher who shrank back. ”Um, you see, my uncle...”
”Yes, I DO see, in fact. Very well, go on then!”
Lenneth breathed a sigh of relief as the scowling black clad lady turned her back on her and marched towards the girls, shooing them into the doorway of the school as the bell rang. His uncle in fact had strongly admonished him to steer clear of the pupils and the staff in general, and of Miss Hardbroom especially. By intensely watching her class doing broomstick practise in the yard, he felt that he hadn’t exactly followed the given instructions. Still, the sight of all those girls, swooping about on their brooms, had been so intriguing that he couldn’t concentrate on polishing the boots anymore. A wide grin slowly spreading across his face, Lenneth watched on as the girls filed back into the school. One or two of them were rather stunning – and most of them were cute, to say the least... He wondered whether they would ever get away for a little midnight feast – or would the horrid teacher watch them day and night?
Mildred yawned. Once again her head had almost hit her book. She had really meant to study hard during lunchbreak– as there was a test on spells due tomorrow first thing. Yet, somehow, time had slipped and it was almost time for the afternoon lessons. She rubbed her eyes, blinking at her notes. What was that supposed to mean – trifold? triple? trepartitus? She really oughtn’t to put any abbreviations in, HB had told her that over and over again... Maybe she could borrow some of Cas’ notes – though she wasn’t actually sure whether they would be more legible after all. Besides, Cas was going to that Freshmen’s party tonight and would be hardly back before daybreak – Mildred always admired her ability of sneaking back into the students’ home at the wee hours without getting caught. She squinted over at Ethel’s desk – surely Ethel’s notes would be a model of neatness and she was hardly prone to have left anything out. Surely there would be no harm in having a look at them – Ethel would never know and besides...
The door crashed open and Ethel flounced in, carelessly dropping a bunch of shopping bags on her bed.
”Well, Hubble Bubble – what’s up?”
Ethel shrugged off her smart jeans jacket, displaying another of her strapless tops. Dazzling white, this one was, and ”Angel” was printed all over the chest in bright silver letters.
”Angel, my elbow,” thought Mildred, diving again into her exercise books. ”If she gets any more angelic, devil will resign and offer her his throne.”
”Oh dear, what a day!” exclaimed Ethel, gracefully sliding onto her bed, stretching her long legs swathed in violet tights, adorned with a delicate barbed wire pattern all over. ”My feet are totally sore – and Nick and me are going to the freshmen’s dance night...”
She watched Mildred from the corner of her eye. ”You’re going too, eh, Hubble?”
Mildred shook her head, biting her lips. ”I want to prepare for that test...”
”Sour grapes, huh?”
Ethel laughed, getting up, grabbed a hairbrush and started to backcomb her smooth hair.
”Loose or pinned up?” She held up her hair to try the effect, then let it fall down on her shoulders again. Shaking a can of hairspray till the clicking sound made Mildred set her teeth on edge, Ethel started working on her party outfit.
”Why won’t anyone ever invite YOU to a party?” she mused, while applying some silver blue mascara. ”Isn’t that strange, not a single boy around who’d want to go out with you?”
”I wouldn’t want to go out!” Mildred said loudly – too loudly, in fact. She realised she sounded desperate.
Ethel was painting her lips now, blowing kisses at the mirror. ”Whatever you say.”
”Don’t YOU want to work for the test tomorrow then? And besides, we’ve got this extra lesson with Starfinder today!”
Ethel’s nose crinkled in disgust. ”I don’t need any more practising for this test – I can do it blindfolded, with one hand tied behind my back. Sure, there are other folks like you, who’ll need all the practise they can get.” She dipped a scent bottle on her wrist, rubbing the perfume on her neck and behind her ears as well. ”And who cares for scruffy old Starfinder’s lessons? Nick and me are going to a barbecue at the river and later there’s the freshmen’s party – that’s gonna last all night...”
She picked up a black velvet jacket, shaking off some crumbs. ”Well, I’ll be off – see you in the morning. Good luck with that test, Hubble Bubble...”
The door banged and Mildred felt herself fuming. What good was it, trying to study, if you could never concentrate for all the people barging in and out, warbling on about boys and parties and outings? At least, when you’d been studying at Cackles, you were sure you weren’t missing some exciting action... cos everyone else was forced to study as well.
Regretfully, Mildred recalled having told Cas that she’d rather work all day than attending any party. She shut her book and went hunting for a pair of shoes amongst all the trash on the floor. At least she needn’t sit around here for hours – she’d go for a walk and maybe pop into a cafe for a cappuccino or so...
Fumbling in her pocket, she started to count her small change. Yes – that should do... and she could finish that studying tonight – or not at all. Who cared whether she worked or not, after all?
Miss Cackle set down her cup of tea on the table and stifled a sigh. This day had been rather tiresome so far – even if she had not had any classes to teach. She had spent hours at her desk, helplessly filing through masses of paperwork – bills for new books and stationary, herb deliverances from Hags and Horrocks, parents’ cheques which the bank had returned because they were illegible or had been filled out the wrong way, schedules and room lists (apparently, several girls had been signed up to the same room). While meddling with the stacks of paper which toppled over to the floor now and then, increasing Miss Cackle’s confusion, the headmistress had finally given up, collecting all files and scraps into one neat big heap. She then had settled down with a steaming mug of cocoa and an extra fat piece of cheesecake to console herself – and at that very moment, Miss Hardbroom had stormed in, obviously in an extremely bad mood. Her eyes, ablaze with anger, had startled Amelia, who promptly upset her cocoa. It spilled all over the desk and soaked every piece of paper within reach. The deputy head, her lips set in a firm line, had wordlessly fetched a cloth and Miss Cackle spent the next half an hour alternately wiping dripping files and apologising while her colleague watched her in grim silence. (Though I’d like to know why exactly I should apologise, the headmistress thought rebelliously – after all, it’s my school, it’s my study, it’s my desk, my mug of cocoa, my stacks of paper. I can pour cocoa over everything within sight, whenever I please - all day long! Of course she’d never dare to say that out loud while Constance was wearing that irate look on her face.)
For a peaceoffering she made a pot of tea and even refused to take any sugar (Constance didn’t approve of sugar at all).
When both were settled at the table, Miss Cackle nervously stirring her tea and Miss Hardbroom staring intently at some invisible speck on the wall, breathing deeply and massaging her temples with her long, bony forefingers, the silence grew more intense with every minute. Finally, Miss Cackle felt too jumpy to wait any longer, so she just blurted out: ”Well, Constance, what IS the matter now?”
Miss Hardbroom slowly, trancelike, turned her gaze to her employer, shaking her head. Her wrath seemed to have cooled down to a cold, barely repressed anger, her voice grated, dangerously faint.
”She’ll have to go, headmistress!”
Miss Cackle relaxed visibly – she knew that kind of conversation of old. Every year, Constance would get into a terrible wax about one new pupil or the other – all one had to do was to give her time to get used to the new girls and to butter her up by hinting that if any teacher at all was able to bring up such a difficult pupil, nobody could perform that task any better than Miss Hardbroom.
Miss Cackle fondly patted her deputy’s hand. ”Oh, I’m absolutely sure you’ll manage, Constance – you always do! Think of all the near-failures we’ve had here – and you turned them into responsible young witches, pillars of society, so to say...”
”You don’t understand, headmistress.”
Miss Hardbroom got up, marched over to the cupboard which contained a small flask of brandy kept there by Miss Cackle in case of emergencies and, under the shocked gaze of her colleague, poured a liberal dose of it into her tea.
She dropped on her chair again, finished the whole cup in one second and then glumly stared into the empty cup as if telling a dire fortune from the wet tea leaves clinging to its inside.
Miss Cackle stared. She had seen her colleague drinking wine on several occasions, but never in the afternoon when there were still classes to teach. Strongly opposed to any indulgence of the flesh, Miss Hardbroom was hardly prone to downing alcoholic beverages in the middle of the day.
”Constance, whatever IS the matter?”
”That girl!” Miss Hardbroom said dully. ”That horrible Goblet girl. I can’t put up with her – I tried all morning, but I just can’t.”
”I said I CANT! I have coped with every girl we’ve had here so far – but I can’t deal with her.”
”Well,” said Miss Cackle helplessly, once again gripping her colleague’s hand which lay limply on the table, ”what’s so terribly different about that girl?”
Miss Hardbroom groaned, burying her face in her hands. ”She actually seems to like me, headmistress!”
That bizarre statement almost made Miss Cackle laugh out loud, but she bit her lips in time when she saw the desperate look on her deputy’s face. She racked her brain for a sensitive reply.
”Maybe you’re just imagining that, dear? Surely you can’t tell after just some hours...”
Both teachers turned round, as the door opened and Davina and Imogen entered, storming in at once, both making for the table, both carrying several huge sheets of paper, gaily marked with neoncoloured drawings and lists.
”Ah, Miss Cackle!” said Miss Drill breathlessly, pulling her chair next to the headmistress, ”I’m glad you’re here – I hoped I could have a word or two with you about this new idea I had during the hols – the girls are sadly out of shape and I thought that if we founded some sports clubs this year, we could motivate them, wake their enthusiasm. It would improve their team spirit no end – and they would identify themselves much more strongly with the school if we could establish some contests with other schools – remember that basketball match two years ago? Now, if we...”
”Just a minute, Imogen!” Miss Bat’s curly head dived in between Miss Cackle and Miss Drill. ”I’ve worked out such a brilliant scheme for this year’s Christmas celebration, headmistress. We wouldn’t want it to be less exciting than last year’s, would we? Specially as the Grand Wizard said he’d like to attend this year’s festivities again... Now, I thought, we should try a musical this term – I’ve got several very gifted girls in my form three who can hardly wait for rehearsals to start and I’m sure we could...”
”Now, can I just finish what I was going to say?” Miss Drill, put off by Davina’s interfering, frowned. ”I think, a minimum of politeness between colleagues should be the least one could expect...”
”Exactly.” Miss Hardbroom chose this point to shove her oar in. ”Miss Cackle and I were just having a serious conversation which you’ve interrupted just now. It’s surely more essential than your harebrained schemes about leisure time activities which will only distract the girls and offer them a flimsy excuse for neglecting their real duties.”
Miss Bat looked slightly disturbed by HB’s chilly remark, but Miss Drill snorted. ”And what topic might be so interesting that it can’t wait for half an hour?”
”Constance and I have just been discussing one of the new first years who seems to be a bit of a bother,” Miss Cackle put in cautiously. A major row was brewing, she could feel that – and she really didn’t want to put up with three annoyed teachers at once. As it was, she’d have her hands full with coaxing Constance into not resigning on the spot.
”Not another of your everlasting victims, Miss Hardbroom?” said Miss Drill coldly, toying with the whistle which hung around her neck. ”Don’t you think that you should switch to a new tune now and again? We’re all fed up with your endless tirades about the first years getting more and more unruly every year...Surely, a model teacher like you should be capable of dealing with a couple of little girls?”
”And since when is it your place to tell me how I should fulfil my duties? After all, you’ve only been here five years or hardly that. And you have absolutely no idea about what it means to teach witchcraft to...”
”Ladies, ladies!” Miss Cackle tried to raise her voice over the general noise – which was not easy as Miss Hardbroom and Miss Drill were now talking both at once. Miss Bat, fingering her bright drawings of scenery and costumes sadly, watched on in silence, turning her head this way and that as if following a tennis match.
”There now – let’s just all have a cup of tea, shan’t we? I’m sure we’re all a bit stressed by the first day of term and...”
”I am NOT stressed!” Miss Hardbroom was yelling now, again pressing her fingers to her temples, her throat once more feeling sore. ”Just shut up, the whole lot of you!”
”And who’s stressed now?” sneered Miss Drill. ”I said I’m not stressed!” Miss Hardbroom banged her fist on the desk, upsetting Miss Cackle’s ink jar, which set a stream of black ink running over the tablecloth and as well over Davina’s drawings. With a shocked gasp, Miss Bat burst into tears at once and fled into the staffroom wardrobe.
”Now look at what you’ve done!” Miss Drill grabbed her papers and stormed off, banging the door behind her. There was absolutely no way now to talk anyone into accepting the sports clubs idea – and she had been so happy with the thought of starting on them tomorrow first thing. She even had all the posters ready – had meant to put them up all over the school tonight. ”Looking for a great time? Join one of Cackles’ new sports clubs...”
She dumped her papers in her room and went off for a bicycle ride. If she had to face her colleagues again too soon, she felt that she would give in notice right away...
Miss Cackle stared at the big puddle of ink on the carpet, at the closed door of the wardrobe, at her deputy head who sat, eyes shut, her head resting against the back of the chair.
She had no idea what she should do – run after Miss Drill, who was probably sulking because she felt that as the only nonwitch of the staff she was being discriminated – coax Miss Bat out of the wardrobe – or talk to Constance?
After considering it for a while, she decided that Constance was the most serious matter at presence. Miss Drill and Miss Bat both threw tantrums quite frequently – but Miss Hardbroom showed, apart from shouting at people (which she also did when she was in a good mood), hardly ever any sign of emotion. She must surely be severely under the weather.
”Constance?” Miss Cackle poked her deputy’s shoulder very gently – yet earned a startled stare.
”Have a chocolate, dear?” said Miss Cackle, feeling rather helpless. Desperate situations, however, called for desperate measures. The result was promising – she was rewarded with a crooked smile which turned into Miss Hardbroom’s rare, silent laughter.
”Don’t be so silly – sometimes you absolutely kill me, Amelia.”
”Oh, good,” said Miss Cackle incoherently, looking much relieved. ”Well, let’s talk about that problem of yours – just the two of us.”
”In a moment, headmistress...”
Miss Hardbroom brushed back a strand of hair which had come loose, straightened her shoulders and went over to the wardrobe. Behind the closed door, one could still hear the muffled sounds of Miss Bat’s sobbing.
Miss Hardbroom knocked. ”Davina?” More sobbing and something one might interpret as the equivalence of ”Go away”, uttered by someone who’d hid his nose in a handkerchief.
”Davina? I didn´t mean to, you know. Really.. Won’t you come out?” The noises from within the wardrobe sounded more miserable than ever.
”If I’ll give you an ink removal potion?”
No reply this time, but the sobbing and sniffling had stopped.
Miss Hardbroom shrugged and returned to the table. ”Well, now we can talk, headmistress.”
”Another cup of tea for you? Half water, half brandy?”
The new term didn’t start that badly after all, Miss Cackle decided – not if she managed to make Constance laugh twice in one single day!
Mildred stared at her notebook once again. The letters seemed to swim before her eyes. It had been a good idea to go for a walk – she had met Cas by chance, got a free cup of cappuccino at Misery’s, chatted away for hours and forgotten about dismal things such as pocket money, jobs, haircuts, parties, tests and so on. Her several half-heartened attempts of leaving had calmed her conscience a bit – and by the time she actually tore herself away from the others who had set out to the freshmen’s dance it was almost eleven o’ clock.
She was lucky for once and didn’t meet any teacher in the hall. When she had safely reached her room, she’d kicked off her shoes and dropped on her bed – just to relax a bit before she would start cramming in the stuff she was going to be tested on tomorrow...
She woke up again at half past three. Neither Cas nor Ethel were back – the room and the whole building seemed eerily silent. Panicking at the sight of the watch, Mildred had once more fanned out her notes and pencils on the desk – between half empty packages of rice crispies and hair slides. She felt even more tired than she had before. Her head was heavy and despite of the cappuccino she longed to go to sleep again. The room was stifling hot, but as soon as she opened the window, an armada of moths and mosquitoes made straight for her desk lamp, flapping and buzzing and startling her by dropping down on her papers when they had hit the light bulb. So she shut the window again and once more started sweating over her work. Already September – and still that hot... if only Cas hadn’t broken that fan of hers when she stumbled over a stack of CDs and upset a shelf...
Mildred rubbed her eyes, musing whether she should make herself a sandwich – but at the thought of the kitchen and the state it was in, she decided against it. Absentmindedly she began munching the rice crispies. They were quite old and somehow limp and soggy, yet tasted faintly of cinnamon. The crunching noise made the silence around seem even more smothering.
Chewing on her pen, Mildred sighed and opened a fresh page in her exercise book – the last one had been already crawling with doodles. Her pen scribbled the date, then stopped, uncertainly wavering about. Then it jumped to a new line and went on, spinning a thread of blue letters all over the page.
”Dear Miss Cackle, dear Miss Hardbroom – How are you? I’m quite all right. College isn’t exactly what I thought it would be, but...”
Her eyes following the hypnotising curvy ups and downs of her pen, Mildred felt a queer calm settling down on her.
”That’s a funny nightgown...”
Goodie tugged at her grey sleeves, sogging wet they were and showed a stripe of toothpaste. ”They always get in the way!”
”You’ll get used to them, I reckon,” said Teresa, wiping her glasses. The mist in the shower room kept blurring her sight.
”I think I look fat in that nightgown...” Goodie stood on tiptoes, trying to get a full view of herself in the tiny mirror over the washbasin.
”Nonsense,” said Teresa friendly.
”Do you think so?” Goodie grinned at her new friend. ”Well, YOU look like a beanpole!”
Teresa grinned likewise, grabbing a wet towel and throwing it at Goodie. The latter didn’t bother with picking it up again, but opened the tap and poked one finger in, trying to hit Teresa with the jet of water. Squeaking first years were jumping out of the way or, if less soft, answered with more wet towels or well aimed gushes of water out of toothbrush glasses.
”And WHAT do you think you are doing here?”
The thundering voice from the doorway made the girls stop in their tracks. Even Goodie meekly turned off the tap, yet found she couldn’t extract her finger from it.
”You five – Teresa, Jemima, Dorothy, Felicity, Rosalind – fetch some cloths immediately and mop up this flood before it starts pouring through the ceiling. The rest of you – to bed and lights out at once! And if I find a single one of you out of bed five minutes from now, you’ll spend the next fortnight’s leisure time in detention. Do I make myself clear?”
”Yes, Miss...” Bedraggled girls filed out of the bathroom, seized by timid fits of the giggles as soon as they were outside. Glad they didn’t have any share in mopping the bathroom floor, they huddled quickly under their covers as the air was chilly and most nightgowns rather damp.
Miss Hardbroom stood towering over the remaining first years busily wiping the tiles, tapping her foot impatiently. ”Hurry up, now, will you? Class one is supposed to be in bed at nine o clock sharp – and we don’t want to break the rules on our first evening, do we girls?”
In a mirror, she caught a glimpse of Godfreda, still struggling with the tap.
”You, girl! Didn’t you hear what I said? When I say: bed! I mean: bed!”
”Yes, Miss Hardbroom...it’s just that...”
Goodie tugged and tugged, nearly falling over as she lost her balance on the slippery floor.
Miss Hardbroom breathed deeply once more, carefully picked her way around the puddles and strode over to the trapped pupil.
”Good grief – how on earth did you manage to... No, don’t tell me!” the teacher added hastily as she realised that Godfreda was ready to launch into another longwinded story.
”Just keep still and stop wriggling!” Her formmistress rubbed some soap on Godfreda’s finger which soon slipped from the tap quite easily.
”Oh, thank you, Miss – that was starting to hurt!” Godfreda beamed gratefully at her teacher, obviously attempting to give her a hug. Miss Hardbroom, eyeing Goodie’s soggy nightgown, toothpaste stripes and all, stepped back in a hurry. ”You should have thought of that yourself! Now off to bed – and put on some dry things first!”
The teacher marched Godfreda out into the corridor, leaving the still scrubbing girls behind. ”Now run along and let me never catch you at such mischief again!”
”Yes, Miss – No, Miss... say, Miss, will you come and say ”Good night!” later?”
Several third years who happened to pass and overheard that conversation, nearly burst with suppressed laughter. Miss Hardbroom shot an icy glance at them which sent them hurrying out of sight rather quickly. ”I surely will check whether you’re all in bed. I do that every single night.”
”Oh, good...” Godfreda went off, cheerfully waving back at her teacher, leaving wet traces on the floor with her sodden slippers.
Miss Hardbroom shook her head once more.
Had all first days of term ever been that hard? Or was she just getting older? Miss Cackle thought she’d definitely pulled her weight today and deserved a good night’s rest.
She’d finally, after an endless discussion, persuaded Constance to try her knack with difficult pupils on the Goblet girl again, promising her that she’d dismiss Godfreda if HB thought she really couldn’t face her anymore. Thus, she hoped, she’d challenged Constance to do her best – giving in to her completely usually was the only way to make her relent.
She’d also managed to promise Imogen and Davina likewise to discuss their sports clubs and Christmas musical ideas tomorrow – and at the same time assured Constance in secret that she wouldn’t let herself get easily talked into anything without seeking her deputy’s advise first. (This whole business seemed a bit of a mine field – but she’d worry about it tomorrow. Tonight she was just too tired to think about any troubles that might lie ahead.
Stifling a yawn, she made her way up the stairs, gripping her bedroom candle with the left and running her right hand over the smooth surface of the wooden banister, polished by endless generations of girls passing up and down and (if they believed that no one was watching them ) even sliding down.
She passed the year one corridor on her way to her own bedroom, gratefully noticing that there was no sound of giggling or whispering – obviously Miss Hardbroom had done her usual room checks.
Year two and three were already in bed as well – at least there was no speck of light shining from under any door.
Form four’s corridor was even more eerily quite – all doors were shut firmly, but, as Miss Cackle knew for sure, there were no girls curled up under the blankets, breathing quietly, each wandering her own maze of dreams or nightmares. They were scattered all over the country instead – and Miss Cackle was secretly wondering what they were doing just now. Were they safely in bed, fast asleep – or did they still have to work or to study – or were they out for an exciting party? Their former presence seemed to haunt the rooms, ghostlike – she was almost sure that if she’d open any door, she might encounter a vision of a pupil who in fact was dwelling elsewhere.
One door stood slightly ajar, and the headmistress approached it. The flickering light of her candle showed the labelling ”Mildred Hubble” and Miss Cackle smiled, recalling the many hilarious situations that pupil had caused so far. Some might have been desperate even – but certainly none of them had ever been dull. She was about to close the door, when she caught a glimpse of the bedroom’s inside and was startled by the sight of a tall shadow, apparently sitting on the bed. Miss Cackle gasped in horror, then, realising that she probably hadn’t come across a ghost in fact and mastering all her courage, gently pushed the door to open further, till she could squeeze through. The hinges groaned alarmingly, but the shadow didn’t stir.
The headmistress slipped inside, tiptoed towards the bed till she stood in the silvery bright pool of light the moon was casting on the floor.
Miss Hardbroom turned slowly round, blinking at the candle. A sudden draught snuffed the flame and in the moonlight, Miss Cackle could see her deputy frown.
”I’ve just been in here to check.. you know, some form four girls left their bedrooms in a dreadful mess...”
Miss Cackle took in the sight of the empty bedstead, the blanket neatly folded on the foot end. The wardrobe stood open, displaying nothing but empty hangers, the lid of the desk was closed. No towels, no clothes on the chair...
Miss Hardbroom ostentatiously pushed a rug back into its place in front of the bed with the tip of her boot and patted a dent in the pillow till it curved out in even smoothness. ”Those messy girls...”
”Yes,” said Miss Cackle, sitting down on the bedstead next to her deputy. The bed springs squeaked in protest.
”I’m missing them as well, you know, Constance.”
Miss Hardbroom didn’t reply, staring intensely ahead.
”They’ll soon be back, you know...”
”Yes... so they will...”
Miss Hardbroom sighed slightly, once again patting the pillow.
Miss Cackle ventured as far as to put one arm round her colleague’s bony shoulders, squeezing her firmly. Thus pressed, Miss Hardbroom finally uttered a coherent answer, almost against her will.
”It won’t be the same, headmistress!”
”No, I guess not... but then, nothing ever stays the same...”
”No.... I reckon it doesn’t.”
Miss Hardbroom grabbed the pillow, plumping it up vigorously, then crushing it in her arms as she turned towards the headmistress.
”I hate change, you know.”
Miss Cackle tilted her head, absentmindedly tugging one corner of the pillow. A tiny feather had crept out of the cloth and was clinging to her fingers now. She picked it up, held it out and blew. The feather started whirling its way towards the window.
”But then, Constance – nothing ever comes to an end, after all. You’ll see when they’re back...”
Miss Hardbroom, still clinging to the pillow, didn’t seem convinced. Miss Cackle gazed at her, fondly, searching for a cheerful remark, when something else crossed her mind.
”By the way, you haven’t seen the students’ roll list by any chance, have you? I’ve searched everywhere, but I can’t find it.”
”No, headmistress – I haven’t, actually... Maybe you left it in the hall?”
”Maybe I did...” Miss Cackle thoughtfully looked out of the window, viewing the full moon setting above the trees. ”I’ll have another look tomorrow.”