“Indeed”, said Zacharias, silently thanking the tea for allowing him to stay silent for most of the conversation. His host, Mrs Jeffrey, took no notice of his silence.
“Of course, I don’t mean to say that it isn’t hard, but what I really would like you to understand, Mr Whyte, is that as a woman I have never felt belittled by any man, ever!” The other ladies in the room nodded along. “And thus, I just don’t understand, exactly, what the Sorceress is trying to do. Women just do not need magic, in my opinion.”
“Well, obviously, I cannot presume to know what the Sorceress wants, Mrs Jeffrey, but I do think there is a case to be made for young magiciennes to be educated in this fine art. But of course, ultimately, the decision of whether to support the scheme monetarily or with a student is entirely yours.” His smile did not quite meet his eyes, and the ladies were not laughing so much anymore.
Zacharias turned to young Miss Jeffrey, sitting embroidering in the settee by the window. “And of course, your daughter’s.”
She held his gaze with what he thought to be hope. He set the teacup on the dainty table by his side, and stood up.
“Now, if you’ll excuse me, ladies, I have a school to run.”
Zacharias sat in his office, and contemplated the mountain of paperwork that awaited him. The wealthier families had decided, once their more illustrious members had started sending their young daughters, that doing so was more financially expedient than supporting the school out of their own pockets. As a result, Zacharias had an ever-growing list of young students awaiting to join in the autumn term, and the not very enjoyable task of finding space for all of them. The building they had purchased with the money from the Society and other backers stood in an estate just outside London, and was large but in dire need of repairs. The spring sun came in through the windows as well as through the gap in the roof. Zacharias thought it was perfect.
He sighed, took a sip of his tea, and was starting to make sense of the documents in front of him, when he heard them. Unless Prunella didn’t want them to, he always heard the flapping of the wings and the hooves of her familiars before he heard her. He adjusted his tie, knowing there was little he could do about the rest of himself… had he even shaved that morning?
Prunella came in through the door, which creaked ominously, and smiled brightly at him.
“Nice day, is it not?” Her hair had come out of her rather severe bun and hung around her face, a beautiful mess of dark locks. He could stare at her all day. “I thought I’d get you out of this stuffy room while the sun lasts. Oh!” She noticed the hole in the roof and a few seconds later, it was mending itself.
“You amaze me more every day, my darling.” He said, avoiding the shower of dust that fell from the now-mended roof and walking towards her.
He kissed her chastely on the cheek, she kissed him back rather less so.
“How were things with the Society?” He asked, after some time had passed, while she tried in vain to put her hair back into some semblance of order. Zacharias did not feel sorry.
“As usual: they complain, I argue, they complain some more, I pretend to give up but don’t, they feel like they have won some amazing price, I complain with slightly harsher words and we all come to the agreement that I am, indeed, right.” She flashed him a large grin. “I love it. How is the school?”
“As usual” he winked at her, “we currently have more students enrolled than we have non-leaky spaces, the parents are rather demanding, and all the teachers have gone to Cornwall to visit someone or other and so I cannot even work on the curriculum yet. Oh, and Damerell keeps coming up with terrible ideas for the wedding, which then requires me to write lengthy letters explaining why inviting the fae is not a good idea, for example. Does he not run these things through you? He is your secretary after all.”
Prunella was looking through the files.
“I’m not entirely sure he does, but then again, he talks rather a lot so I have learned to simply not listen.” She looked up. “You know I’m happy with whatever you decide, right?”
He kissed the top of her head while she continued to read on.
Zacharias stood at the top of the stairs as the students left the assembly room and all but ran to the gardens, where a fine dusting of snow was covering the ground. The children all wore the same uniform and ate the same food, and thus the differences which were obvious when they arrived had diluted, and while a certain degree of separation still existed, he was pleased to see that the measures they had put in place to make sure they mingled were working. He saw the daughter of Mrs Jeffrey running hand in hand with another girl her age, whom she remembered from the orphanage. Both girls looked happier than they had a year before.
He walked into his office, already thinking of the reports he had to write for the Society, and stopped.
Prunella was sitting in his chair, swollen feet propped up on the desk and a disgruntled expression on her face.
“This is becoming rather ridiculous, I really can’t do anything at all!” She lifted up her hand, the glint of the golden ring still making him smile without realising. She started enumerating. “I cannot walk, sit, stand or lie properly; I cannot ride or run, bending is practically impossible. Damerell says I can do very little magic “just in case”, and the Society looks at me as if I were a ticking bomb about to explode!”
He kissed her brow and placed a hand upon her round belly.
“The child will come soon, my dearest.”
She smiled back, her list forgotten, and rubbed her nose against his cheek.
Zacharias heard steps in the gravel behind him, but he was at a particularly difficult stage of the transplanting process and he could not afford to be distracted.
“Papa!”, it could be no one else, as the students were not allowed into his garden. “The robins are fighting again! You said to call you if we saw them.”
Zacharias finished the transplanting, and picked up his daughter in one hand, and, with rather more difficulty, his son in the other.
“You’re getting to old to be lifted up, Henry!” he laughed as he walked them over to the edge of the garden.
“But I’m not!” cried his youngest, resting her curly head on his shoulder.
“The robins are really mean to each other today, Papa,” said his son, pretending not to hear him.
“I said get off my land, you dusty-feathered idiot! I know you’ve been stealing my berries, don’t think that I don’t know!”
“Their your berries now, are they? ‘Cause last time I checked they were on my side of the fence, so it turns out that you are the thief here!”
“How dare you call me a thief!”
“I’ll call you whatever I bloody well like!”
“Indeed, they are”, answered Zacharias as they stood looking at the two robins jumping threateningly in front of each other in the fence. He really needed to perfect that enchantment.