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Hecate’s first instinct upon seeing Ada’s grim expression when she steps into her potions lab is to glance at Mildred Hubble, certain that if there is some impending disaster, the girl probably has something to do with it.

 

Mildred’s head is buried in her potion’s book, however, her brow furrowed tightly and her arm cocked up at an odd angle so that she can stir her cauldron without lifting her head, and as far as Hecate can tell her potion shows no signs of blowing up the lab at any moment. Keeping her expression suitably passive, Hecate turns her back on her students and moves to join Ada by the door.

 

‘Is something wrong, Ada?’

 

Ada’s hands are folded in front of her, her face lined with worry, and her voice trembles a little when she says, ‘it’s important we don’t frighten the girls, you understand’.

 

‘Of course’, Hecate says, keeping her voice level despite the unease prickling at the base of her spine. ‘What is it?’

 

Ada takes a deep breath, and says in a rush, ‘the picture containing my sister and Miss Gullet has vanished’.

 

Hecate stares at her for a moment. She lets out a very slow breath, and murmurs, ‘is there any sign of either of them?’

 

‘Nothing’. Ada wrings her hands together. ‘It’s possible they’ve fled, but knowing my sister…’

 

‘We must get everyone outside’, Hecate says, and she can hear the edge to her voice. ‘Under protective charms. Once the students are safe, we can go about searching the castle’.

 

Ada opens her mouth, as if to protest, but perhaps Hecate doesn’t manage to keep her expression as calm as she hoped, because the woman nods slowly. ‘You’re right, of course’.

 

Hecate nods sharply, turns to announce the news to her class, leaving Ada to transfer to the other classrooms, and the evacuation begins all at once, a frantic flurry of students and worried faces, anxiety winding tighter and tighter in Hecate’s stomach. She wonders if its her imagination, but the air tastes different, heavy and sulphuric, it presses down and clings like clammy hands to her skin, and whenever she turns her head, she imagines she sees Agatha lurking in the shadows.

 

The woman is never there, when she looks more closely, but she’s not sorry when she steps outside the castle, herding the girls towards a large, shimmering bubble in the courtyard, held in place by her colleagues steady hands.

 

Of course, it would be Mildred who somehow manages to go missing in the fray.

 

She’s become used to looking for Mildred in times of disaster, with no other motivation than the desire to prevent her from making things worse, of course, and when she scans the gathered group of confused girls, she’s quick to notice a distinct lack of Hubble plaits. She spots Enid and Maud, their heads bowed close, gaze fixed on the school entrance, wearing identical looks of worry, and she’s just gathering her magic to transfer behind them and demand they explain where the girl is, when Enid points, and lets out a wordless shout.

 

Mildred has appeared on the steps, helping Sybil to stumble down the steps, and briefly Hecate recalls that the young Hallow twisted her ankle during witch ball and would’ve been in her room, unaware of the hurried evacuation. Clarice and Beatrice are right behind her, and as Hecate watches, Mildred exchanges a series of hurried words with them, passing Sybil into their arms as they begin to half carry, half drag her towards the gathered crowd. But Mildred doesn’t follow them, turning instead to face the yawning maw of the school, and Hecate feels her magic spark and crackle along her skin as if in warning.

 

She lifts her hand, transfers the small trio in front of the barrier, and Dimity steps out to urge them underneath it. Mildred glances over her shoulder, and immediately starts to run, apparently having been waiting until they were safe before she moved, and as she does, Agatha steps onto the steps.

 

Even from this distance, she looks different.

 

Even with the protective barrier shielding her, Hecate can feel the press of the other woman’s magic.

 

It feels wrong.

 

It feels dark and twisted and wrong, and there is something in Agatha’s eyes that tells Hecate all she needs to know, that tells her that her time in the nothingness of that picture changed the woman. It’s there when she smiles, something wrong and mad and it never occurred to Hecate that there could be such consequences for leaving the woman in that picture for so long.

 

It never really occurred to any of them. Agatha was trapped and contained, out of sight and out of mind, and no one thought she might get out one day.

 

None of them thought that she might be utterly mad if she did.

 

Hecate steps out of the protective barrier shielding the rest of the students, calling out to Mildred with an urgency that she doesn’t try to hide. ‘Hurry, Mildred!’

 

Mildred glances over her shoulder, fear flooding her face when she sees Agatha behind her, her eyes as dark and bottomless as the void within that painting, and her legs move faster, her boots smacking against the cobblestones. Agatha lifts her hands up in a sweeping arc from her sides, red sparks trailing in her wake, and Hecate’s heart jolts when the stones in front of Mildred explode upwards. Mildred skids to a stop, slips on the shifting stones, and falls backwards as Agatha starts to stalk forwards.

 

‘She’s not going to make it’.

 

Maud’s whisper, terrified and shaking, crawls like horror along Hecate’s skin, because she knows the girl is right. Mildred scrambles to her feet, turning to find a way around the hovering stones, her hands bunching into tiny fists at her side when she sees Agatha approaching her. The sparks in the woman’s hands have darkened, sharp flashes of blackness that are hard to look at, and Hecate jerks forwards.

 

She doesn’t know exactly what spell Agatha is casting, but she recognises dark magic when she sees it.

 

She doesn’t think about it, really. It’s as much of an instinct as her decision to herd the children outside, to obey the cold prickle at the back of her neck when Ada told her the picture was gone. She acts. That’s what she does.

 

Hecate materialises behind Mildred as Agatha throws her hands out and sends the spell hurtling towards them, and Hecate knows she doesn’t have time to block it. She doesn’t know what it is, doesn’t know what spell to cast to protect herself, to protect Mildred, and so she grabs Mildred by the shoulders and hauls her backwards, turns on her heel to shelter the girl with her body, curving over her and hunching her shoulders against impending impact of the curse.

 

Someone screams.

 

She feels hyper aware of her body, of how fragile it is against such power, of how her shoulders tremble slightly from the tension in her body, of how Mildred’s head is pressed tightly against her sternum, how her fingers are curled tight in her dress, of how the curse wraps around them and presses in and its warm and soft and -

 

Hecate lifts her head. There is no pain, no death, no consequence of Agatha’s magic, and the spell surrounding them isn’t a curse at all.

 

It’s a bright pink bubble.

 

She lifts her head, straightens to scan the yard, because for a wild moment, she thinks she’s going to see Pippa. Because she’d recognise the feel of her friend’s magic anywhere, would recognise how it makes her feel no matter how exhausted or afraid she was, and this, this opaque, clear bubble surrounding her and Mildred is Pippa’s doing.

 

But she’s not there. Hecate catches a brief glimpse of the students huddled under the protective barrier she cast before she turns to look for Agatha. The woman is standing where she was a moment ago, her eyes dark and narrowed, her hands bubbling with tar. Mildred is still clinging to her waist, and Hecate looks down.

 

Her watch is glowing. A soft pale pink shimmer surrounds the metal, a stream of glittering dust flowing out from the hands to join the barrier around them, and Hecate doesn’t understand what’s going on. Why Pippa’s magic, Pippa’s spell, would originate from her watch that she’s carried with her since her mother died, that she’s never let leave her sight, except when -

 

There is a flash of pink close beside her, and Pippa winks into existence, staggering slightly from transferring so far. Hecate jolts, as if her presence has struck her physically, opening her mouth to demand an explanation, to call for her, to call her name, but Pippa isn’t looking at her. Her fingers move, her arms sweep wide, and tendrils of pink mist shoot along the stones to wrap around Agatha’s ankles, snaking up her body and expanding until she’s surrounded by it. The witch shrieks, struggles against the magic, and Pippa clicks her fingers.

 

The mist solidifies to ice.

 

The pink barrier disappears, and Pippa turns to her immediately, her eyes wide, reaching for her across the small distance as she steps forward, and her knees give out. Hecate transfers from Mildred’s side to grab Pippa by her upper arms, stopping her from falling against the stones, and her voice is pitched high when she says, ‘Pippa?’

 

‘I’m alright’, Pippa’s hands curl around her forearms, and she straightens slowly, standing straight but keeping her grip on her, ‘I’m just not used to transferring so far’.

 

‘You were powering that barrier, too, weren’t you?’ She can’t help the sharp, almost accusing note to her voice, because such a thing is dangerous , to power a protective charm from so far away, to allow it its own mind, its own rules, and the emotion beating rapidly against her throat in time with her heart is something close to fear.

 

Pippa smiles, still soft and bright and beautiful despite how tired she suddenly looks. ‘I was. I know what you’re going to say, and yes, I know the cost’. The corners of her eyes soften, that look that still manages to make Hecate feel warm around her neck despite the situation. ‘But it was worth it’.

 

‘But…’ Hecate trails off, becoming aware all at once of their audience, and her back stiffens at the realisation that there have been a lot of witnesses to her very open display of emotion.

 

Pippa seems to understand, just as she’s always been able to read her, as she was able to so, so long ago, and gives her arms a brief squeeze before releasing her. She straightens, smiling as if she didn’t just expend so much magic that Hecate itches to tell her to rest, and turns towards Mildred, waiting close by with her eyes cast down.

 

‘Mildred? Are you alright?’

 

Mildred looks up, nodding slowly. ‘I’m okay’. Beyond her, the other students have started to trickle out from under the barrier Hecate erected, and she waves a hand to let it fall. Maud and Enid break away from the group in a sprint towards their friend, and Mildred barely manages to get a hurried, ‘thank you, Miss Pentangle’, out before they’re on her, hugging her and scuffling their feet against the stones as they try to keep their balance.

 

Hecate looks away, left a little uncomfortable by such an open display of affection, of love , as she always is, towards Agatha’s frozen form. ‘Clever’, she says quietly, aware of Pippa’s presence close to her side. She can see Ada hurrying over, Dimity and Gwen working to herd the students back inside while Algernon begins to repair the broken pavement. ‘How long will it last?’

 

‘Maybe twenty four hours. But arrangements should be made’. Pippa’s voice is soft, and Hecate yearns to reach for her, but her hands remain stiff by her sides.

 

‘I’ll contact the Great Wizard’, she says, lowering her voice as Ada draws nearer. ‘Will you…’

 

‘I’ll wait’. Pippa reaches out to brush her hand over her shoulder, a small, yet reassuring contact, and takes a step towards the castle, only to pause with a faint grimace. ‘Would you…?’

 

Hecate nods. She waves her hand, transfering Pippa to her private quarters, leaving Pippa’s grateful smile burned behind her eyes. She takes a deep breath, dropping her hands to curl her fingers around her watch, trying to steady herself, trying to calm her breathing.

 

Under her hands, the metal is still warm with Pippa’s magic.

 


 

Pippa is dozing when Hecate returns to her room. She’s curled up in Hecate’s chair by the fire, her bare feet tucked up underneath her, arms wrapped loosely around herself. Morgana lies across her lap, her tail curled over her forearm, the sound of her purring mixing pleasantly with the crackle of the fire beside them. Something warm swells in Hecate’s chest at the sight of Pippa so at ease in her personal space, and the bright pink of her dress doesn't look as out of place as she’d expected. Her heels lie discarded beside her chair like she’s kicked them off haphazardly, and Hecate flicks her fingers automatically to send them to the cupboard.

 

Pippa stirs at that, as if sensing the hum of her magic, lifting her head from the curved headrest, lifting a hand to push a loose lock of hair out of her eyes. ‘Hiccup?’

 

Her voice sounds sleepy and young, and Hecate thinks with a jolt of how familiar it is, struggling against the memories of curling up in bed with Pippa when they were children. She moves closer, lowers herself into the chair opposite her, the low table between them, and says, ‘yes’.

 

Pippa smiles at her, rubbing at her eyes. ‘I’m sorry. I didn't mean to nap’.

 

‘It's logical that you did’, Hecate says, more sharply than she intended, ‘considering the stunt you pulled today’.

 

Pippa laughs softly, scratching lightly behind Morgana’s ear. ‘I stand by what I said, Hecate. The risk was worth it’.

 

Hecate’s jaw clenches, and she says, a little desperately, ‘how did you even do it? I… the spell… I don't…’

 

Her fingers stray to her pocket watch, and the metal feels warm under her fingers. Pippa follows the movement, and her face softens. ‘I was never sure if it worked, you know. I was a child, dealing with magic far beyond my capabilities. I had no way of knowing if I’d been successful’.

 

‘What are you…’ Hecate trails off, her eyes widening as she begins to understand what Pippa is saying. Something like horror prickles in her gut, and when she tightens her hand around her watch, she can feel the lingering traces of Pippa’s magic. ‘You… you did it then? When you… when you fixed it?’

 

Pippa smiles gently, and Hecate’s heart does something odd when she nods. ‘I thought I might as well. I was already reading tomes so thick with dust that I couldn't stop sneezing. They were full of enchantments for protection, and I… I wanted to make sure that no one could ever break it again, and I thought… well. You are infinitely more precious than your watch’.

 

Hecate looks down, cradling the watch in her hands, unable to bear the way Pippa is looking at her, or the… feeling in her voice. She traces the familiar, intricate patterns with her thumb, recalling the day she lost it, and how her devastation was only emphasised by Pippa’s absence from classes all day.

 

She’d felt cast adrift, without the last thing she had of her mother, without the familiar weight around her neck, naked without the press of it against her skin, but by the time the sun had set and night had well and truly settled over the school, she’d been more concerned about Pippa’s unexplained absence.

 

That was, until hours later, when the sky was tinged pale pink by the rising sun, and her door had swung open to reveal a very exhausted, very welcome Pippa. She’d run forward as Pippa stumbled over the threshold, catching her friend in her arms, too relieved and too frightened to care think about her touch being unwelcome. Pippa had mumbled that she was alright against her shoulder, and then, to Hecate’s utter astonishment, pressed her watch into her hands.

 

It’d been a little difficult to understand Pippa with her speech slurred from exhaustion. But finally, she gathered that some of their fellow students, some of the girls who followed Pippa around like they were part of her shadow, who loved her as much as they hated Hecate, who despised her all the more for her friendship with Pippa, had stolen her watch when they'd changed for witchball. They’d broken it, smashed it to pieces against the old stone floor, and Pippa, returning just a little ahead of Hecate, couldn't bear to let Hecate see her most precious possession destroyed almost beyond recognition.

 

And so she’d gathered up every little piece, and disappeared to the library, slipped into the restricted section without anyone seeing, and stayed there, through all day and all her classes and almost the whole night, fixing it. Repairing it so that there was no mark, no crack, nothing to show that it had been broken, making it just as it had been before. Adding layers of protective charms between the gears and cogs, making sure that it could never be damaged again.

 

Hecate never suspected that she'd added anything else.

 

‘The charm’, she says quietly, ‘what… what was it?’

 

‘The most powerful protective spell I could find, and was able to cast. That would activate if your life was threatened, and hold until it wasn't’.

 

‘How… how did you do it? I don't…’ she lets out a slow, trembling breath, trying to gather some of her composure, to push away emotions that come with that memory.

 

Pippa had fallen asleep the moment her head hit the pillow, exhausted from all the hours spent propped up in the library, from all the magic she’d used, and Hecate had pulled her boots off and drawn the covers up to her chin and laid curled under the blankets with her, watching the rise and fall of her chest and letting her own magic seep into Pippa’s soft skin, eager to return some of what had been given. And Pippa had given so much, so much more than Hecate had realised, just to return something she treasured.

 

Looking back, Hecate thinks that that might have been when things really changed for her. When she fell in love, and fell hard.

 

She closes her eyes, curls her fingers tighter around her watch, and repeats, ‘how did you do it? How were you able to perform so much advanced magic?’

 

Pippa lets out a soft sigh, and Hecate glances up at her. Pippa is looking into the fire, her gaze far off, and the corner of her mouth is ticked up slightly. ‘Have you ever wondered why I turned from traditional magic to modern magic, when I had the same education as you?’

 

Hecate shakes her head slightly, watching her intently. Her hair looks like soft spun gold in the firelight, her eyes pools of deep amber in the reflecting flames, and her skin seems to glow. She’s beautiful in that way that has always taken Hecate’s breath away, that has her wanting to lean closer like a moth drawn towards a flame, and she sits up straighter.

 

Pippa’s fingers stroke lazily through Morgana’s fur, and she murmurs, ‘that was… the first time I realised how our magic is… so heavily influenced by our emotions. We were taught that we had to control our emotions, that we had to push them away and not let them affect our magic, because things could get out of control if we did. But I… I wanted to fix your watch so badly, Hiccup. I wanted to make sure it could never be broken again. I wanted to make sure you could never be broken like that. I wanted so badly, and it… I forgot to push that away. And in doing so, I learned that our emotions can be a fuel, not a deterrent’. Pippa turns her head to look at her, and her smile widens, the corners of her eyes crinkling with affection. ‘You always have been incredibly inspiring, Hiccup’.

 

Hecate looks away again, her heart beating hard against her ribs, and she can feel heat rising in her cheeks. ‘I… I had no idea. I knew that you’d used a lot of magic. Too much ’.

 

Pippa laughs softly. ‘I wouldn’t say that’.

 

‘You were exhausted’, Hecate says, and her fear from earlier mixes in with her terror from that night, chokes her throat when she says, ‘I couldn’t sleep for fear you’d stop breathing during the night’.

 

Pippa’s smile falls, her brow furrowing tightly, and she leans forward, gently dislodging Morgana from her lap, and gently takes her hand. ‘I’m sorry’, she says, and something within Hecate stills at the sincerity in her voice, ‘I never… I didn’t mean to worry you, Hecate’.

 

‘You frightened me’, she says, and then, before she can stop herself, ‘you frightened me today’.

 

It sends a sharp, cold lance of fear down her spine to admit such a thing, but Pippa’s eyes only widen, her grip tightening on her hand. ‘Oh, Hecate. I’m so sorry. I never meant to scare you’.

 

Hecate shakes her head, clinging to Pippa’s hand like a lifeline. ‘Why did you do it? Why would you risk it? You were a child then, Pippa. If that protective spell ever activated, it could’ve drained your magic within moments. Even today, if Agatha had tried to break it, it might’ve -’

 

‘I’m a big girl, Hecate. She would’ve had a fight on her hands’.

 

Hecate makes a frustrated sound. ‘But -’

 

‘Oh, Hiccup’, Pippa’s voice is gentle and fond, but her eyes are somehow sad, ‘do you really not know? It’s because I love you’.

 

Hecate stares at her. For a moment, she wonders if she’s misheard her. But Pippa doesn't take her eyes off hers, and there is emotion welling up in Hecate’s throat, in her chest, in her lungs, bubbling under her skin and fizzing like her magic in her blood, consuming her like a wild fire, like every repressed thought and feeling she's had towards her friend that she believed was unwelcome has come rushing up to the surface all at once. It's almost hard to breathe with the intensity of it, and when she opens her mouth to speak, the fire leaps, pops and sparks, flames licking up the chimney.

 

Pippa starts, her grip tightening, her eyes widening slightly, and she whispers, ‘Hecate, it's alright’.

 

Hecate shakes her head, grips Pippa’s fingers tighter, reaches out to cover her hand with her other, holding on life a lifeline, like a sailor tossed overboard to the mercy of the sea, and breathes, ‘I’ve been such a fool, Pipsqueak’.

 

Pippa’s brow creases, and she moves to kneel at her feet, reaching up with her free hand to cup Hecate’s cheek. Hecate leans forward, curves her body down and leans into her touch, and Pippa murmurs, ‘you’re not a fool, Hecate. You’re the most intelligent person I know’.

 

Hecate shakes her head again, closes her eyes against the well of emotion her body has become. Pippa’s thumb smoothes over her cheek, and her shoulders shake. There is a soft, humming noise, not unpleasant, but persistent, and Hecate feels like her magic is leaking out of her skin. ‘I… I thought…’

 

‘Shhh’, Pippa says softly, ‘just breathe, Hecate. There's time’.

 

Time. She lifts a hand to grasp shakily at her watch, trying to find some comfort in the familiarity of it, but she can feel Pippa’s magic under her hand, and it makes her magic leap, reaching out to seek more, more of the woman she's loved for as long as she can remember.

 

Goddess, she’s wasted so much time.

 

‘I used to imagine’, she whispers, curling her fingers tighter in Pippa’s hand, ‘that I could… that I could feel you, in this. That I could still feel your magic’.

 

‘You wouldn't have been imagining it, Hecate’, Pippa murmurs, and Hecate lifts a trembling hand to cover Pippa’s fingers on her cheek, to hold her there. ‘Part of me… I wondered whether it would bother you, after you… left. Having something so precious to you taste of my magic’.

 

Hecate shakes her head, opens her eyes to gaze down at Pippa, and her breath catches. Pippa’s eyes are wet, her mouth curved in a small, gentle smile, and particles of magic float between them, glittering fragments of dust that settle in Pippa’s hair like stars. In the light from the roaring fire, the magic creates a halo of gold in her hair, and Hecate croakes, ‘no, no, Pippa, I… I took comfort in it. I… it felt like I hadn't… I hadn't completely lost you’.

 

‘Oh, Hecate’, Pippa whispers, and there is a faint glow on her skin, too, like her magic is reacting to Hecate’s, pink and gold and silver intertwining like they used to, with such ease, all those years ago, ‘you never really lost me’.

 

‘But you hated me’, she mumbles, and she hates that she has to bring it up. ‘I made you hate me’.

 

Pippa sighs heavily. ‘Not as much as I tried to pretend’. She gives her hand a soft squeeze. ‘I hated that you left. I hated losing you. But I never hated you’.

 

Hecate bites her lip, and fits her fingers between Pippa’s against her cheek. ‘I… I left because I…’

 

Pippa shuffles closer on her knees, and her face is suddenly very close. Her eyes are soft and wide and sincere, and Hecate wants to tip forward and drown in them. In her. To let herself become part of Pippa’s life in a way she's always dreamed of, no matter how hard she tried to push those thoughts away. ‘It's alright, Hecate. I know -’

 

‘No’, Hecate disentangles her hand from Pippa’s on the armrest, and hesitantly touches her cheek. Pippa’s skin is warm and soft, and her magic flares with the desire in her heart. ‘I left because I thought that how I felt was… was unwelcome’.

 

Pippa blinks, and lifts her hand to cover her own, so that they're mirroring each other, and hope bleeds like sunlight from her eyes. ‘How you felt?’

 

‘How I feel’, she corrects, and she barely recognises her own voice for how quiet it is, ‘how I still feel’.

 

Pippa bites her lip, and then she's leaning closer and the air between them crackles like static, and when she's so close Hecate can feel her breath on her cheek, she whispers, ‘stop me if I’m wrong’.

 

Hecate doesn't stop her.

 

Instead, she tilts her chin up, sways forward, and kisses her.

 

Pippa kisses her back immediately, kneels up higher to move closer, kisses her back with such intensity that Hecate feels the breath rush out of her, her magic expanding and bursting along with the love that swells in her chest. Pippa tastes sweet and warm, like sugar and sunshine, like her , and Hecate whimpers, ‘say it again, please’.

 

Pippa groans, breaks away to rest their foreheads together, holding onto her cheek and her hand almost reverently. ‘I love you’, she whispers, like a spell made just for her, ‘I love you, Hiccup’.

 

Hecate quakes, her breathing ragged and uneven, and her cheeks feel damp. ‘I love you too’, she breathes, ‘I always have’.

 

Pippa shudders, lifts her arms to encircle Hecate’s neck, and Hecate slips from the chair to kneel on the floor with her, to press her face into Pippa’s shoulder and wrap her arms around her waist. Like the last time they embraced, after Mildred’s interference, the press of Pippa’s body against her own is almost overwhelming, and the skin of her shoulder is warm and soft and as welcoming as she’s always been. Pippa’s hand settles at the nape of her neck, gently stroking through the wisps of hair that have come loose from her bun, and Hecate feels herself melt into her embrace.

 

‘I love you’, she mumbles, lets herself say it again when she's deprived herself for so long, ‘I love you, Pipsqueak’.

 

Pippa sighs against her hair, and Hecate dares to think it's a happy sound. ‘I've dreamed about you saying that for so long’.

 

Hecate swallows tightly. ‘I’m sorry’.

 

Pippa shakes her head. ‘Oh, Hecate, don’t be. If you've been a fool, then so have I. But we’re here now, aren't we?’

 

Affection bubbles up in her chest, and Hecate almost smiles. ‘You always have been unfailingly optimistic’.

 

Pippa huffs a laugh, squeezes her shoulders, but before she can say anything, there is a knock at the door. It's tentative and light, and Hecate launches to her feet immediately. Pippa rises, gives her shoulder a squeeze, and moves to stand out of sight from the door, her smile soft, telling her without words that she’s not going anywhere.

 

Hecate lets out a slow breath, brushes specs of magic from her arms, and wrenches the door open.

 

Mildred Hubble stands on the threshold with her hand raised to knock, snatching it away as the door swings open. Hecate raises her eyebrows, and says, ‘skipping class, are we?’

 

Mildred coughs, scuffs her boot on the stones, her hands clasped behind her back, and mumbles, ‘I… Miss Bat fell asleep’.

 

Hecate feels a muscle jump in her jaw. ‘Typical. Is that all?’

 

Mildred takes a deep breath, her shoulders hunching to her ears, and she says, ‘no’. She looks up, her jaw set and her eyes bright. ‘You saved me’.

 

Hecate blinks, momentarily taken aback by the way Mildred is looking at her. With everything that’s happened and everything she’s felt since she and Pippa began to speak, she’d almost forgotten what begun it all. ‘Oh’, she says, her shoulders loosening a little, caught off guard and left momentarily floundering, ‘I suppose I did’.

 

Mildred gnaws at her lower lip, stares up at her as the silence between them grows, open and closes her mouth several times without saying a word. Hecate raises her eyebrows.

 

Mildred exhales sharply, steps forwards, and wraps her arms around her waist. Hecate freezes, every muscle in her body going rigid as Mildred presses her forehead against her sternum and winds her arms tighter, and almost misses it when the girl breathes, ‘thank you’.

 

Hecate doesn't know what to do. Being hugged by Pippa is one thing, and holding Mildred to protect her is another, but this is… utterly incomprehensible to her. She stands there with her arms held out from her body awkwardly, trying to work out what to do, or say, while Mildred’s grip on her gets tighter, and her heart continues to twist oddly in her chest.

 

There is a soft sound from her left, and when she turns her head, craning her neck to look over her shoulder, she sees that Pippa is watching from close by, her eyes shining, and the hand over her mouth doesn't quite hide her smile.

 

Hecate clears her throat, lowering her hands slowly to place them awkwardly on Mildred’s back, and says quietly, ‘you’re welcome, Mildred’.

 

Mildred sighs, grips her tighter, and mumbles, ‘I’m glad you didn’t get hurt’.

 

‘Yes, well. You have Miss Pentangle to thank for that’. Hecate shifts, slightly surprised by how strong Mildred’s grip is, and adds, ‘are you trying to suffocate me, Mildred Hubble?’

 

Mildred releases her immediately, her face red as she steps backwards, fiddling with the ends of her plaits. ‘Sorry, Miss Hardbroom’.

 

Hecate shakes her head, fighting the twitch at the corner of her mouth. ‘No matter. Now, off to charms with you’.

 

Mildred smiles at her, nods as if she’s understood something Hecate hasn’t voiced, and turns to run off down the hall. Hecate shakes her head slightly, her lips curving in a smile that isn’t entirely conscious, and waves her hand to close the door. She stands there for a moment, marvelling at Mildred’s daring. Pippa’s arms snake around her waist, her body pressing warm and solid against her back, and Hecate lets herself lean back against her. ‘That was precious’.

 

Hecate huffs. ‘That girl still manages to find ways to surprise me’.

 

‘You like her’. Pippa gives her waist a squeeze, and Hecate covers the woman’s hands with her own without thinking about it. ‘Admit it’.

 

Hecate grumbles. ‘Perhaps’.

 

Pippa laughs, and Hecate feels the vibration curl through her body to settle warm and vibrant in her heart. ‘I do love you, Hiccup’.

 

Hecate turns in her arms, and carefully cups Pippa’s face in her hands. Pippa’s hands settle st the small of her back, and she turns her head to kiss the inside of her hand. Pippa’s lips feel warm and soft against her palm, and the tender touch sends a spark racing up her arm. The fire pops again, and Pippa smiles. ‘It's been a long time since I've seen any spontaneous errant magic from you’.

 

Hecate ducks her head, her cheeks heating, embarrassed by her lack of control. ‘Yes, well. You've always had a remarkable affect on me’.

 

Pippa places a finger underneath her chin to tilt her head up, up until Hecate looks over her head, and she's momentarily too distracted by the realisation that without her heels on, Pippa is almost a full head shorter than her to understand what the woman is doing. Pippa leans in to press a soft kiss to the line of her jaw, and murmurs, ‘and you on me’.

 

Her room is shrouded in a soft haze of magic, rose gold mist twinkling with particles of silver dust, like the pink dawn sliding over a sky still shining with stars, and Hecate’s breath catches. ‘Oh’. She can feel Pippa smiling against her jaw, and she feels all at once overwhelmed by their sight of their magic mingling in the air and the press of Pippa’s body against her own. ‘It’s beautiful’.

 

Pippa lets out a soft sound, and rests her head on Hecate’s shoulder. ‘It is’.

 

Hecate glances down at her, wraps her arms around her waist, and murmurs, ‘you should stay. You’re in no state to transfer back, not after you used so much energy, and if you go by broom you might fall off’.

 

Pippa chuckles. ‘You had me at stay’.

 

Hecate smiles, and with their magic curling around them and Pippa in her arms, with her love nestled so comfortably against her heart, she feels lighter than she has in years. ‘Stay’, she repeats, tilting her head and brushing her lips over Pippa’s temple, ‘please, Pipsqueak’.

 

Pippa lifts her head to kiss her, warm and soft and tender, and whispers, ‘I will, Hiccup’.