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A New Spell

Chapter Text

Oxfordshire, 2002

It had been a long night, and by the time the working was done and Rupert had been sent halfway across the world, hopefully in time to prevent the apocalypse, the sun had long since risen above the hills to the east and was glowing warmly on the mellow stone of the ancient Cotswold buildings. They stumbled outside and sat in the sunlight, not feeling the warmth, all of their thoughts concentrated on California, where it was still night, where the night might never end and the darkness might reach out to swallow the bright Oxfordshire morning, if he failed.

Helena made tea. No-one really wanted tea, least of all her, but tea seemed to be what was called for in this situation, and the sense of responsibility she had felt since childhood meant that she was the person to make it. She wondered vaguely if this was what it had been like during the air-raids she didn’t remember, when she was a baby: but then there would have been an all-clear siren, a definite end, and now they were just waiting, and she didn’t think any of them knew quite what they were waiting for.

The world didn’t end.

***

Rupert’s email came two days later. The crisis had been averted. The world was safe for now, and he was bringing the girl to England.

She needs to learn…great power…untaught…a danger to herself and others until she learns the techniques of control…I understand completely if any or all of you choose not to be involved with this.

Reactions were, understandably, mixed, but most of the coven remembered what it was like to be young and knew that it was only the fact that none of them had powers anything close to this girl’s that had stopped them going the same way. A bed was made up in one of the spare rooms; someone put a vase of wild flowers by the bed, and a selection of books appeared on the table under the window. She has enough to regret. Let her be happy here.

***

Helena drove the estate car to Heathrow; somehow no-one else seemed to be able to, and she was curious anyway. She stood in the crowded arrivals hall, not watching the disembarking passengers but letting herself feel for Rupert’s aura, which, when it came, was accompanied by a presence whose power startled her despite knowing what the girl had done, or nearly done. She was even more surprised when she saw the girl: tall, red-haired, appearing old beyond her years, she reminded Helena irresistibly of the girl she had once been.

‘Helena!’ Rupert said as he came up to her. ‘I’m glad to see you again. This is Willow Rosenberg, who will be spending a few months with us learning what we know of magic; Willow, this is Professor Helena Maynard, who is one of the key members of our coven.’

Willow smiled, shyly, and extended her hand. ‘Professor Maynard. Giles has told me so much about all of you, I feel like I know you already, and I’m so grateful to you for agreeing to have me here.’ A little stilted, uncertainty and fear underneath, and something – what? – that reminded Helena so much of another girl, so many years ago now, and as she led the way to the car she knew that whatever help she could give, she would.

***

A week after Willow’s arrival, Helena was walking in the garden, enjoying the evening sunshine after a day of showers, when she noticed the girl sitting on a bench, her face tilted to the sunlight. Her first thought was to turn aside and leave her in peace, but Willow seemed to sense her presence and smiled a welcome, indicating to Helena to sit down next to her. Helena did so, wondering a little. None of them, other than Rupert, had had much to do with Willow since her arrival.

‘Come and talk to me’, Willow said. ‘It’s dull, having no-one but Giles to talk to all day. I mean, he’s super nice, especially considering, but – well, he’s Giles. He’s so old, and stuffy, and b- old.’ Helena detected the slight stumble before the last word, and deduced that it had probably been intended to be ‘British’ before Willow remembered who she was talking to.

‘My dear girl,’ she said. ‘I am fifteen years older than Rupert, and a professor at one of this country’s most respected universities. I feel certain that I too have old and stuffy written through me like a stick of seaside rock!’

Willow shook her head. ‘I think Giles was born old and stuffy. And you – I mean, I’m trying not to use my powers and everything, really I am, but there’s something about you. When I first met you, I felt as if I knew you, and not just because Giles spent the whole flight telling me about everyone here. And you’re a professor! At Oxford! Wow! When I was a kid, that was what I was going to do. Except then I kind of got sidetracked by the whole fighting evil thing, but I guess that didn’t work out too well, because it kind of turned into the whole being evil thing, which, not so good. But hey! I end up near Oxford anyway, and Giles says maybe we can go there for a day trip sometime. What’s it like?’

Helena smiled. ‘Centuries old. And frequently extremely stuffy. I never planned to be a professor. I was going to go back to my old school and teach. It was all mapped out, until I got to Oxford.’

‘What changed your mind?’

‘Believe it or not, the same thing as you. “The whole fighting evil thing”, as you put it. Before I got to Oxford I thought magic was something that only existed in stories. And then I found out it was real, and I could do it, and that that could help people far more than teaching ever did. And an academic life in Oxford gave me a lot more freedom than going back to somewhere where everyone knew me.’ There was more than that, of course, but that could wait.

Willow looked sympathetic. ‘Small town, huh? Me too. But we had a Hellmouth. Which added thrills and danger aplenty.’

‘We had nothing so exciting. We moved to Switzerland when I was ten and lived on a mountain shelf which contained my school, the Sanatorium my father was head of, and a motley collection of English families who generally had connections to the School, the San or both. It was very beautiful, and only dangerous if you didn’t watch your step on the mountain paths, but it was not somewhere I wanted to go back to. Nor did any of the other people I knew who grew up there – my own siblings and the children of family friends.’

‘That does sound kind of limited. Sunnydale may be a one-Starbucks town, but we have a university, and the Bronze – that’s where all the cool kids hang. And the uncool kids, too, because it’s not like there’s anywhere else to hang out. And we have all the vampires you can stake, although that’s more Buffy’s line than mine.’ She stared into space, and Helena was fairly sure that instead of the garden she was seeing her Californian home, or maybe her friends. ‘I’ve never really been away before. Not this far, and not for this long. And now I don’t even know if I’ll ever be going back. Maybe they won’t want me any more, not after what I did.’ She looked worried and homesick.

‘Of course they will. True friends will stick by you, whatever you did.’ She smiled down into the troubled face. ‘And you are not the only person to have used their powers in ways they regretted. I think you know something of Rupert’s wild youth, do you not? And all of us here have similar stories.’

Willow looked up. ‘Even you? I can’t believe you ever used your powers for anything bad. You seem so steady and responsible.’

‘Oh, my dear girl, responsibility was half the problem. When I discovered I had power I wanted to use it to make everything right, but magic doesn’t work that way, and instead things went terribly wrong.’

Willow nodded, slowly. ‘I got into magic to help Buffy. I mean, she had the superpowers and everything, but it seemed like whenever we came up against some really Big Bad then stakes and super strength weren’t enough and it was the magic everyone was depending on, and I kind of got used to using it to sort stuff out. And then, when Tara…when she…when it happened, it was like something snapped, and I couldn’t stop.’

‘Many of us had similar experiences. Would it help you to hear my story?’ Willow nodded. ‘Well, as I said, I had a very sheltered upbringing. I was the eldest of eleven children, and I was always the responsible one, at home and at school. And then, when I was eighteen, I went up to Oxford, and everything changed.’

Chapter Text

Oxford, 1957

Oxford in November was chilly, grey and damp. The fog that rose from the city’s rivers shrouded it each morning, often barely burning off by midday.

Len Maynard gazed out of the window of her study-bedroom into the fog. She’d imagined Oxford as an extension of her schooldays, with more freedom and no Juniors to supervise, but it was very different. Her sister Con had thrown herself into it with gleeful abandon, living in a whirlwind of friends and parties that made Len wonder how they had ever thought of Con as a dreamer, but Len herself was thrown off-balance by the differentness. And of course, she missed Reg, and no-one else she’d met was engaged. She knew that Con’s group of friends included several boys, and part of the reason she often turned down invitations was that she wasn’t certain whether having fun with these boys would count as disloyalty or not. Not that she’d told Con that, and she knew that her sister just regarded her with a certain amount of pity, thinking that she was hopelessly ‘square’. The other old Chalet girls who were still at Oxford seemed similarly happy with their lot; Mary-Lou Trelawney, in the final year of her archaeology degree now, had told Len robustly that she’d get used to it soon enough, and she should ‘buck up’ and ‘make the most’ of her ‘opportunities’.

The trouble was, Len wasn’t quite sure how to do that. She and Con had agreed on the train from Berne to Paris that they wouldn’t crowd each other, and Len had thought she was as keen as Con to escape being known first and foremost as ‘one of the Maynard triplets’. Although of course most of the people who knew them both here thought they were twins. She’d tried to make friends with the other girls who lived on her staircase, but most of them were second and third years and already had their own friends, while two of the other three freshers had been to the same school and tended to socialise with other girls they had known there, and the fourth girl, Emily, had been distant and unapproachable the few times Len had tried to start up conversations. Her tutorial partner, Susan, was a pleasant enough girl from Doncaster whose only outside interest appeared to be horseriding, something Len knew nothing about.

At the same time, she wasn’t quite looking forward to going home at the end of term. Of course, it would be simply super to see Reg again, and Mamma and Papa and the tinies, but almost without realising it she was becoming used to being able to live by her own timetable, and to being in a busy city with shops and theatres, cinemas and cafes, which she could visit as she chose. She didn’t relish the idea of being back on the Platz and having to ask permission to go into Interlaken just to buy a new pair of stockings or some writing-paper.

She turned back to the letter she was writing.

My dearest Reg

Of course I understand that you’re far too busy with your work at the San to come to Oxford, and I do see that Papa is right that it might not be considered quite proper, even though we are engaged. And it’ll be quite divine to have you at the Tiernsee with us in the summer. I do miss you, though, and I would love to show you Oxford. It’s such a beautiful city, quite as lovely as Zurich or Berne.

My work is going very well. It’s at a far higher level than school, but I expected that, and my tutor was very pleased with my last essay. They do keep us busy, though!

I’m surprised it’s snowed so early this year – you must be in for a hard winter! Here it’s just grey and damp – so different from the dear old Platz! I hope we can get some skiing in when I’m home for Christmas!


Len frowned at the letter, wishing the jolly tone didn’t sound so forced. She put the letter to one side and started making notes for her next tutorial essay instead. She hadn’t got very far when there was a knock at her door. Probably Con, she thought, and almost gave in to the temptation to pretend she wasn’t there before the politeness she’d been trained in since childhood won out and she called ‘Come in!’ in a voice that was as falsely cheery as her half-written letter.

When the door opened, however, it revealed not Con, but the normally-distant Emily.

‘Hello, Len. Can I ask a favour of you?’

‘As my headmistress would have said, you certainly can; the question is, may you?’ She laughed at Emily’s bewildered look. ‘Ask away! I’m getting nowhere with letter-writing or my next essay, so I may as well make myself useful to you.’

‘Oh, thank you! I know we don’t know each other terribly well, but – you’re doing languages, and you speak German, don’t you? I wondered whether you could translate something for me? It’s rather old, and I don’t know how much the language will have changed. I suppose it’ll be a bit like reading Chaucer in English to modern eyes…’

‘Well, I’m willing to give it a try, and I studied a little mediaeval German at school. Do you have it with you?’ Emily nodded, and handed over a sheet of exercise-paper on which several lines of German had been copied down. ‘If you’d like to put the kettle on the fire while I look over this, there’s a tin of cocoa on the mantelpiece, and mugs on the shelf there.’

The German was indeed very old; Len suspected that it was far older than the mediaeval stuff she’d studied with Sally-go-round-the-moon back at the Chalet School, and privately opined that it was closer to Beowulf than Emily’s suggestion of Chaucer. However, she could make most of it out; a list of ingredients, although for no recipe Len could imagine, not even the odd domestic potions which they had occasionally had to guess at as part of Saturday night entertainments at school, and then details on how to combine them – in a cauldron? – and then something that she could only describe as an incantation. Historical curiosity, she supposed, some kind of social history study, but even as she thought that she could feel the power in the words, almost taste it as a chalkiness at the back of her mouth, and when she looked up Emily was standing there with a mug of cocoa in each hand and staring at her open-mouthed.

‘Len – your feet!’ was all she managed to gasp out, and Len suddenly realised that she was hovering a few inches off the ground. With an effort of will she made herself return to floor level.

Emily still looked astonished, although her mouth had closed. ‘None of us have ever been able to do anything like that! Have you done magic before?’

‘Magic? Magic is in stories! But what was that? And what was I reading?’

‘That was magic. You were reading a spell; one of us found it, and we weren’t sure what it was supposed to do, although it was obviously powerful. And just reading it made you levitate!’

‘Us? But – who? And how did I levitate?’

‘We’re a coven. There aren’t many of us, and even fewer who have much talent. But oh, Len, you’re a natural!’

Chapter Text

It didn't take much persuading on Emily's part to convince Len to accompany her to the meeting of the coven that evening, and she soon became a regular attendee. Her language skills were invaluable to the group when it came to deciphering the ancient spells from many countries that could be found in dusty tomes kept in the remotest stacks of the Bodleian Library. She began to focus more on mediaeval languages in her studies, despite the fact that these would be of little use to her in the teaching career that she planned, and she remained the most accomplished spell-caster in the group, progressing from simple levitation and movement of objects to more complex workings to cure minor ailments, ensure fine weather for picnics and garden-parties and speed the long journeys that she and Con made several times each year to return to the Gornetz Platz for the Christmas and summer vacations.

Returning to Oxford at the start of her final year, with Con sitting opposite her in the compartment barely able to contain her excitement at the imminent prospect of being reuinted with the boyfriend Joey and Jack Maynard had never suspected she had been corresponding with all summer, Len reflected on how much the dullness of life on the Platz was increased by not being able to do magic while she was there, and wondered how she would cope next year when she no longer had the prospect of returning to Oxford.

'Funny to think this is our last time, isn't it?' she commented. 'This time next year we'll be staying at the Platz.'

Con looked up from her book. 'You might be,' she said. 'I don't even intend to go back to the Platz next summer. I'm going to find a flat in London with some other girls and if I can't get a job on a magazine straight away I'll use some of my money from Grannie Maynard to take a secretarial course; but I thought I'd send some of the articles I wrote for the college paper to magzines this term and see if anyone will take me when I graduate. My German isn't good enough for me to work as a journalist in Interlaken, especially after three years in Oxford, so I'll need to stay in England for my career.'

'Have you told Mother this? I'm sure she's expecting us both to go home.'

Con laughed wickedly. 'Oh, she is. I thought I'd break the news by letter, because I do not expect her to take it well. She's a poppet, but I do wish she'd realise that we aren't her little girls any more.' She turned back to her book, then almost as an afterthought added 'What about you, Len? Will you go back?'

'Of course I will!' Len retorted. 'How could I not? Reg's work is there, and I'm sure I'll be able to find a post either at St Hilda's or the Chalet School; it's what I've always planned.'

'Yes, I know you have; but you made those plans years ago. We were such kids when we first came to Oxford. I thought I'd go back to the Platz and write novels and articles to send to publishers in England. I didn't realise how much else there could be to life. And,' glancing up at her sister 'nor did you. Reg is a dear, but will you really give up everything else to go back and marry him?'

'Of course I will! We're engaged: I can't just turn round and tell him I've changed my mind, can I? And...' she faltered a little 'I have thought of asking him to move to England, but Switzerland is a much better place for him to build a career as a TB specialist. So of course I'll go back. And now,' she reached for her purse 'I'm going to get us some coffee from the buffet car.' And the finality with which she drew the compartment door closed behind her left her sister in no doubt that she considered the conversation closed.

***

Nevertheless, Len kept finding her thoughts returning to the topic as the weeks of her last Michaelmas Term flicked by. The work of the coven was going from strength to strength; she had translated an ancient scroll which explained various locator spells and they had successfully retrieved missing fountain-pens, handkerchiefs and paperback books, while the Porter of Shrewsbury College had been delighted that two students had been walking by the Cherwell and had 'just happened' to hear the plaintive mews of the college cat, who had inadvertently been shut in a boathouse and, given the season, might well have starved to death before anyone found her. Her academic work was also progressing steadily, and her tutor had been hinting that, given her great interest in and facility for ancient languages, she should seriously consider staying on to work for her MSt, or maybe even a DPhil. Len listened attentively as Dr Ross set out the various options, twisting Reg's engagement ring on her finger and wondering whether Reg would be happy to wait another year or even two before they were married.

Early in the fifth week of term she was surprised to discover a note in her pigeonhole from one of the college's history tutors, asking her to come to tea. She knew the woman to say hello to, but certainly not well enough to expect an invitation. However, she changed her skirt and jumper for a green frock and presented herself at Dr Green's rooms at the stated time.

'Oh, Miss Maynard,' said Dr Green, looking up from her desk. 'Do sit down, I'll be finished with these in a moment. The tea's just steeping, and do help yourself to a biscuit.' Len sat down, and nibbled at a custard cream. 'Now,' Dr Green continued, seating herself in the chair opposite, 'I hear you're planning to go off and marry some doubtlessly deserving chap and squander all of your exceptional talents in teaching little girls. Which, I must say, would be a shocking waste. Can't we persuade you to reconsider?'

Len gaped at her. 'I know Dr Ross is pleased with my work, but really, I don't think I'm that exceptional.'

'Not as a linguist, perhaps, but I don't think I've seen a stronger talent for magic in all my time here. Oh yes,' at Len's shocked look, 'Who do you think was casting confusion spells to make the Porter miss your staircase when you were casting incantations at midnight? There are always students with a talent for magic, and those of us who have attained positions of authority do all we can to nurture it. There are, I am sorry to say, many ancient and evil powers in the world, and witches like you and me are part of the fight to maintain the balance between light and dark. And while I have no doubt that you would be a beloved and inspirational teacher, you would be doing far more important work here. Now, do say you will at least stay an extra year?'

Chapter Text

Dr Green’s words stayed with Len, adding to the dissatisfaction she had already been feeling at the idea of returning to the Platz and leaving Oxford – and magic – behind her for ever. And then, at the end of that week, she had a visitor.

‘Reg!’ she gasped in surprise, having followed the porter down to the lodge.

‘Len, darling! I have a conference in London this week-end, and your father let me come over a day early so I could motor up and see you. I thought perhaps I could take you to lunch?’

Len glanced quickly at her watch. ‘I have a tutorial at three, but I’m free until then. Where would you like to go?’

Reg had rather hoped to motor out into the countryside with his fiancée and find a pleasant pub for lunch, but given Len’s insistence that she couldn’t miss her tutorial he reluctantly agreed to opt for somewhere in the town.

‘It is super to see you, Reg,’ Len remarked, looking up from her lamb chop. ‘Although it’s not terribly long before I’ll be back at the Platz for Christmas.’

‘I know, darling, but the opportunity was too good to miss. I’m only sorry I can’t stay longer. And,’ he looked at her intently, ‘there’s something I wanted to discuss with you that can’t wait until then.’

Len felt a twinge of something almost like fear, which she hoped her face didn’t betray. ‘What is it, Reg?’

‘Well…’ he put down his knife and fork and reached over to take her hand ‘I know we’ve never discussed plans for our wedding; I always thought there would be plenty of time to make the arrangements once you were back at the Platz. But Mackenzie - do you remember him? Ginger-haired Scot with twin boys – has decided that he doesn’t want to have to send his kiddies back to school in England, or maybe his wife has decided she can’t bear to be so far away from her babies, and he’s moving back to Edinburgh in the summer, so his chalet will be free. It’s a lovely little place, just perfect for a small family, and not far from Freudesheim and the school. He’s making all the arrangements for his move, and he asked me whether I thought we might want to take it on. He needs an answer pronto, so as I was going to be in England anyway I thought I’d come here and ask you how you’d feel about being married in July and moving into our own little house straight away. What do you think of that idea, darling?’

Len’s stomach lurched. ‘Oh, Reg, it does sound lovely. But,’ she blurted ‘there was something I wanted to discuss with you, too. You see, my tutors are really pleased with my work here, and they think I should stay on for an extra year. Would you mind dreadfully if I did?’

‘Well, I can’t say I’d be best pleased. I’ll have waited three years as it is, and I can’t see how spending more time at University is going to be much use when it comes to teaching girls or being a mother to our children. I’ll be thirty-one next year, and that’s past time for a chap to be settled down. I know that you modern girls like your independence, and I’m more than happy for you to teach when we’re married if that makes you happy, but I don’t mind saying that I hope you’ll reconsider this plan. Still,’ and he made a visible effort to clear the annoyance from his face ‘let’s not let this spoil our nice lunch together. Now, darling, what would you like for pudding?’

To all appearances, the meal ended cordially, but both of them felt that there was a slightly strained atmosphere, and Len was relieved when after a short walk during which she pointed out some of the more famous sights of Oxford Reg left her at the lodge of her college to motor back to London.

She was unsurprised, a week later, to receive an air-letter from the Gornetz Platz.

Mary Helena Maynard

I must say I’m disappointed in you. I told you three years ago that you weren’t to play fast and loose with Reg’s emotions, and I don’t know what else you could call this. The poor boy has spent the last two and a half years waiting patiently for you to come home so your life together can begin, and then you spring something like this on him. And Auntie Hilda agrees that there’s no possible benefit another year at University can have for your teaching career; you’ve done all the ground-work and this would be far too advanced to pass on to schoolgirls.

You made a promise to Reg, and I’m sure I’ve always taught my children that it’s wicked to break promises.

I do hope that you will reconsider this absurd idea. Really, it’s bad enough that Con has this mad idea about moving to London – ten to one the poor child will go off into a dream and forget to feed herself, but I can ask Mary-Lou to keep an eye on her, I suppose, and no doubt she’ll give up on it and come home after a few months – but you were always the sensible one, Len!

Sweetiepie, do write soon and let me know that you’ve come to your senses. Love to Con, and Papa and I are looking forward so much to having you home at Christmas.

Your loving
Mamma

Len screwed the letter into a ball and threw it angrily towards the fire. Well, there was only one thing for it. If she wasn’t going to be allowed to break her promise to Reg and stay in Oxford, he had to be made to break it for her. She’d always been told that love-spells were dangerous, and that probably went for the reverse as well, but she was confident enough in her skills to feel that she could handle it, and she knew that she’d seen a spell to drive away an unwanted lover in one of the grimoires in the basement of the Bodleian.

Chapter Text

The spell was a complicated one, and it took Len several days to assemble all the required ingredients. Parts of it seemed a little obscure, but the description of the ritual was clear enough. She didn’t tell the coven what she was doing, sensing that they would disapprove somehow; instead, she worked the spell by herself, locked in her room at midnight. When it was over, she collapsed into her bed, utterly drained, but at least she would be free of Reg, free to stay in Oxford and continue with her magic.

She dreamt of Reg that night; drowning, falling, being carried away by whirlwinds, always holding out his hand to hers, asking her to save him, and every time she refused, standing steadfastly with her arms at her sides. Despite this, she woke feeling refreshed and happier than she had for months, and in her tutorial she told Dr Ross that she had changed her mind and would like to apply for the MSt. It took an effort to restrain herself from checking her pigeonhole every hour; he wouldn’t cable, of course, and letters from the Gornetz Platz took several days. But soon, surely, she would receive the letter telling her he no longer loved her.

The following evening she was working in her room when there was a knock at the door. She opened it, expecting it to be one of her friends, and was astonished to find a tall woman whose dark hair was wound in great coils around her ears standing there, her face serious.

‘Mamma!’ Len exclaimed. ‘What are you doing here? Is something wrong? It’s not Papa, is it?’

Joey Maynard stepped forward to enfold her firstborn in a warm embrace. ‘I’m so sorry, Len,’ she said, her golden voice full of sorrow. ‘There’s been an accident on the Platz. It’s Reg, darling.’

Len paled. ‘Is he badly hurt?’

‘He was driving back from the San late at night when his car went off the road, just where it runs close to the cliff. We think he must have swerved to avoid an animal and lost control; the car drove straight into the cliff. My darling, I’m afraid he’s with God now.’

Len felt the world start to swim around her. That’s not what I meant was all she thought before collapsing in a dead faint.

***

The weeks that followed were a blur. There were only two weeks of the term left, and the college agreed that Len could return to the Platz with Joey. Reg’s funeral was a quiet affair in the Chalet School’s chapel, attended by his colleagues from the San and friends from the surrounding area. Len sat quietly and said little when anyone spoke to her, knowing that she didn’t deserve their sympathy when it was her selfishness that had caused Reg’s death.

Joey Maynard watched her eldest daughter closely, worried by the way she seemed to have withdrawn into herself. ‘But she’s not a little girl any more,’ she told herself, and remembered how she had been when Jack was believed dead. She was still taken aback when Len announced her intention of returning to Oxford with Con for the start of term.

‘What is there for me here?’ asked Len, in response to her mother’s entreaty that she stay at Freudesheim for longer. ‘Reg is gone, and everything here reminds me of him. At least my life in Oxford will help me to forget, and it would be silly to risk my degree. I’ll need it even more, as it looks like I’ll have to earn my living after all.’

Back in Oxford, she threw herself into her studies and avoided the members of the coven as much as possible, telling them that she no longer wanted to practice magic. She was unsurprised to receive another invitation to tea with Dr Green, which she declined, pleading a prior engagement. However, that lady had listened intently to the accounts Len’s fellow coven members gave of her state of mind, and had privately observed in Hall that the girl looked pale and tired, so she made it her business to seek her out.

Len had been sitting at her desk with a book open in front of her for half an hour, not taking anything in, when Dr Green opened the door of her room without knocking, walked in and sat in the easy-chair.

‘Now, Miss Maynard, what is all this I hear about you giving up your magic? And Dr Ross is most disappointed that you have changed your mind about further study. I am most dreadfully sorry to hear about your sad loss last term, but I don’t quite see why you should be planning not to stay in Oxford just when you are free to do so.’

Len flushed angrily. ‘I really would prefer not to discuss it,’ she replied coldly. ‘I have changed my mind, and that’s all there is to it.’

‘No,’ said Dr Green. ‘I don’t believe that is all there is to it. And your talent for magic is far too strong to stay bottled up forever. However determined you are not to use it, when you are under great pressure you will find that you can’t help yourself. I’ve seen it in others; the effect is rather akin to a dam bursting, and can have disastrous consequences for those around the witch.’

‘You mean I can’t stop? But…but…but what if I hurt someone else?’

‘That is why you need to stay here, to practice and learn control. The greater the power, the greater the understanding required for control.’

Len looked down. ‘But I’ve already done terrible things. If you knew…’ she broke off.

‘Knew what, Miss Maynard?’

‘I – I killed my fiancé. Reg. It’s all my fault! I just wanted him to stop loving me; I didn’t mean him to die!’

‘Your spell killed him?’ Dr Green looked serious. ‘I find it hard to believe that anyone could have cast such dark magic in this college without alerting me, but my wards aren’t foolproof. Show me the spell you used!’ Len fumbled out her notebook and passed it across. Dr Green studied the spell, and when she looked up relief was written in her features.

‘This isn’t a killing-spell, my dear, although it is a very powerful confusion charm. I do believe that it would have been strong enough to alter your fiancé’s feelings, but it should not have killed him. Can you tell me what actually happened?’

‘His car left the road, and crashed into the cliff. He was killed instantly.’

‘I see. And this was around the time you were working the spell?’ Len nodded. ‘Ah. Then I think I understand. The confusion created by the spell would leave the subject disoriented for a short while. Someone driving a car might well be involved in an accident as a result. If he had been asleep in his bed then he might still be alive.’ She looked into Len’s eyes, and Len looked away. ‘I can’t tell you that you were not to blame, because you were. It was a foolish and irresponsible thing to do, and I sincerely hope that you will think twice or even thrice before trying such a thing again. Magic is truly dangerous, and the real danger is when we try to use it for selfish reasons. However, you are not the only person to have done things they regretted, and those who tried to turn their back on magic after were far more likely to do so again. If you stay in Oxford then there are many people who can help you to learn to control your power and judge the true consequences of spells, and in time you will be able to help others in your turn.’

***

Oxfordshire, 2002

‘So I stayed at Oxford, and I took my doctorate. And then I taught, and I helped Dr Green to find the students who were practicing magic and tried to help them not to make the mistakes I had done. That’s how I met Rupert, and some of the others.’ Helena looked at Willow curiously as she concluded her story; the girl had been listening intently.

‘But you still feel bad? About Reg?’

‘Oh yes. I’ll never escape that; I only hope that the good things I’ve done have outweighed it in the end. It gets easier, though.’

‘And does everyone here have a story like that?’

‘Something along those lines. The lucky ones only caused nasty compound fractures, but several of us have innocent souls on our consciences.’

Willow looked thoughtful. ‘The guy I killed was kind of a pain. In a supervillainy sort of way. And he did kill Tara, and he tried to kill Buffy, so not so much with the innocent there. Although I guess no-one died and made me the law. Plus the whole nearly bringing about the end of the world thing isn’t so good.’ She looked down and scuffed her feet back and forth. ‘But I guess maybe if you guys can all do it so can I. You think?’

Helena smiled at her. ‘I think. We’re all here to help you, and I’m sure you can do it. And now shall we go inside for supper?’

Willow stood up and offered Helena her arm, and they made their way across the twilit lawn back to the house. Rupert glanced from one to the other as they entered the kitchen, sensing a change in Willow, an optimism that hadn’t been there before. He smiled his thanks to Helena; the others picked up on the mood without really understanding it, and there was a levity over supper that had been absent from their meals since the day they had sent Rupert across the world to save it, and to save Willow.