The instructions call for six eyes of newt, but Hecate has a theory about this potion. It’s an old classic of witchcraft, a simple draft for sleep, but it’s been haphazardly modified over the years. The original instructions called for the blood of a virgin, an ingredient which has gone entirely out of fashion. The modern version uses valerian as a substitute, which has startlingly similar runic underlinings to virgin blood. Some idiot switched the recipe up a century ago without even taking into account that valerian reduces the efficacy of eye of newt, which is why Hecate is experimenting with -
“Hecate darling, are you home?” the trilling voice through her mirror makes her jump, and she lets out a startled curse as she spills the spoonful of beetle eyes down her robe. Stifling her annoyance, she grabs a cloth off her work bench and gives herself a cursory wipedown before moving into her bedroom to answer the call. If it was anyone else, they’d receive a piece of her mind for calling unexpectedly in the middle of her workshop hours, but her repaired friendship with Pippa feels too fragile and precious still. Hecate isn’t about to put any strain on it.
“Pippa, how can I help you?” she asks, answering the call, and Pippa beams at her. She’s looking exceptionally pink today, the way she had whenever she’d swooped back into Hecate’s adult life as a professional acquaintance.
For decades, Hecate had convinced herself that that was just what adult Pippa was like - pink and polished and just a little too frivolous. Like a very politically savvy cupcake. It was a kind lie to tell herself; it lessened her sense of loss. But even so, she couldn’t completely ignore the astounding kindness and grace that Pippa wore around herself like a cloak. It was utterly impossible to convince herself that she was better off without Pippa.
She’s never quite been able to ignore Pippa’s goodness - it’s too essential to her, too imbued in her every word and act. Now that they’re friends again, she can admit to herself that she’s always admired Pippa for that. What does surprise Hecate is the occasional intriguing glimpses she gets of Pippa’s quirky intellect. Carefully hidden under that sugary exterior is a rather unique and brilliant mind. Pippa is the only person who has beaten Hecate at chess in over twenty years.
But Pippa doesn’t show that side of herself to Hecate often or easily. It is hard-won, and Hecate is making a habit of devoting slow afternoons to drawing it out of her over afternoon tea.
Every once in awhile, relaxed over a slice of cake, Pippa will let down her guard and share her actual thoughts. But that relaxed, casually brilliant side of Pippa isn’t the version in the mirror in front of her. This Pippa is wearing her pink witch hat, and has absurd pink and gold broomstick charms dangling from her ears, and is smiling her most politic smile. It grows a little bigger at Hecate’s question.
“Do I have to need help to call my oldest friend?” she asks, and Hecate rolls her eyes.
“No, but you look like you want something.” Pippa blushes.
“Yes, alright, it was never any good beating around the bush with you.” Hecate is relieved to see her put the fake smile away. “I just need a tiny little favor, Hecate, it’ll take a single evening of your time, and it would really help me enormously…”
Whatever it is, Hecate is obviously going to do it, but there’s no reason to let on right away. When they were in school, Hecate’s devotion to Pippa had been obvious and a source of much ridicule from her peers. It’s absurd that mere months of friendship have brought all that slavish devotion rushing back, and Hecate is embarrassed of herself, but at least as an adult she knows how to hide it.
“And what would I spend that evening doing, exactly?” she drawls, and Pippa goes redder, close enough to scarlet that it starts to clash with her hat.
“Well, let me start at the beginning,” she stalls, and Hecate becomes morally certain that whatever this favor is, she’s going to hate it. “It’s like this…. I’ve written an article,” Pippa starts, and whatever Hecate was expecting, it wasn’t that.
“An article?” she repeats, and then belatedly realizes that her surprise might be insulting when she sees the flash of hurt across Pippa’s face. “I’m just surprised because you never mentioned any research projects when we’ve talked,” she clarifies hurriedly.
“I just didn’t think research on modern magic would interest you, bastion of traditional witchery that you are,” Pippa says, and the teasing in her voice is so friendly and warm that Hecate can’t really bristle, just has to smile and incline her head to acknowledge the hit.
“All the same, I’d like to read it,” she says, and is gratified by the small real smile that graces Pippa’s face.
“I’d like to hear your thoughts on it,” she says, “but that’s not the favor I’m calling to ask. You see, I’m ready to get this article published. I think it’s rather important, and I want it to reach the right audience.”
“Do you want some help submitting it for consideration?” Hecate asks, surprised all over again. She’d thought from Pippa’s hesitation that the requested favor would be more painful than that. “I can certainly walk you through the peer review process.”
But Pippa is rolling her eyes. “Oh Hecate, I don’t need to be walked through the process, I’ve had eleven articles published in The Science of Modern Magic and I have a book out, you must have seen the book, at least!”
Well, Hecate had seen the book. It had come out about five years ago with a pink cover that prominently featured Pippa’s face and a little gold sticker that read “a Rose Tempest’s book-of-the-month club pick!”
She hadn’t known about the articles. She doesn’t read The Science of Modern Magic, though she knows that it’s peer-reviewed and generally well thought of. But - well, peer-reviewed in this case means reviewed by other practitioners of modern magic, not by anyone whose expertise Hecate particularly trusts.
“I didn’t realize, it’s not my field,” Hecate says stiffly, aware that she may have insulted Pippa twice in as many minutes. It’s not all her fault this time; if Pippa would stop drawing this out and just explain herself, Hecate could stop embarrassing them both with bad guesses. “What could you possibly need my help for, then? If you want to publish it, publish it.”
“Well, I don’t want this one in Modern Magic,” Pippa answers. “For precisely the reasons you’ve just illustrated - only people in my field ever read it! I think it’s an important piece of research with interdisciplinary connotations, and it’s difficult to get any traditionalists to listen to me. But if I could get it into Discoveries in European Witchcraft , people would have to respond. I could spark a conversation about it, that’s all I’m looking for.”
It’s a little more clear now why Pippa is calling. Hecate’s work has been published several times in Discoveries, which is undoubtedly the most prestigious journal of witchcraft currently in publication. But it’s also extremely curated - Eldridge Nash, the editor, is a diehard traditionalist and is exceedingly unlikely to let Pippa grace its pages, regardless of the content of her research paper.
Hecate isn’t about to risk insulting Pippa three times in one conversation though, so she only says, “well the review process isn’t fundamentally different from what you’ve done before, but I’m happy to help you with it however you need.”
“Nash wouldn’t publish my work if the great wizard himself asked him to,” Pippa says, and Hecate is privately relieved that Pippa knows that. She didn’t want to be the one to tell her. “Do you know, he was quoted in the paper last year as saying, ‘the degeneration of our craft comes clad in fashionable pink robes’? No question who he was referencing.”
“He’s always been rather inflexible,” Hecate admits.
“If by that you mean he’s a stodgy old goat who thinks we’d all be better off returning to the dark ages, then we’re in complete agreement,” Pippa says briskly. “He adores you, though. If I’m not mistaken, he called you 'the keen mind and impenetrable force of will that set a gold standard of what witchcraft can and should be.'”
Ah. Two things become clear. One, Pippa has read all of Hecate’s published research, including the extremely obscure tome on herbal crossbreeding whose over-flattering introduction she has just quoted, while Hecate has failed to even notice that Pippa is published at all. The other, well -
“If you want me to speak to Nash on your behalf, I will, but I can’t see it doing a lick of good,” Hecate tells her frankly. “He’ll see right through it, and probably be insulted that you tried.”
“Oh, I agree - nothing that tactless would do any good,” Pippa says. “I had something a bit more subtle in mind. You remember Lucinda Brack from school, don’t you?”
“Was she that brown-haired girl who couldn’t stay on tune in chanting?” Hecate asks, trying to keep her tone neutral. Well - not trying that hard.
“That’s the one,” Pippa confirms cheerfully. “She’s getting married next weekend, and Nash will be there; he’s her great uncle, no matter how often he tries to claim she was switched out at birth. If you come along as my date, I think we could bring my research into conversation fairly naturally - after all, it only makes sense that you and Nash would sit around talking research papers while everyone else takes advantage of an open bar.” Her tone is sly and teasing again, and Hecate hates that sometimes she can’t tell when Pippa is being sincere and when she’s being political. She’s gotten too good at it over the years.
Then Pippa’s words catch up with her fully. “You want me to attend your friend’s wedding as your date ?” she repeats, trying to catch up.
“Well, yes, Hiccup - it’s a wedding, I can’t exactly bring you along as my work colleague. And anyways, that’s what makes it subtle. If we’re dating, then it’s perfectly natural that you would know about my unpublished research and that you’d want to gush about me a bit. And if it’s coming from you, then Nash won’t dismiss it out-of-hand before he’s even heard it.” Her face turns a little pleading. “I’m not trying to cheat my way in or anything, Hecate, really. I just want him to look at my paper and give it a fair hearing, that’s all.”
It’s really every bit as terrible a favor as Hecate had feared. Lucinda Brack was easily Hecate’s least favorite of Pippa’s friends when they were in school, and that was an impressive accomplishment given the competition.
She’d always been the kind of girl who desperately wanted to be on top, and who thought the easiest way to get there was to shove others down below her. She’d caught on to Hecate’s little crush immediately, of course, and she’d tormented Hecate about it constantly, sly little comments that were just sneaky enough that Hecate couldn’t call her out for them.
Of course, all their classmates had noticed, really. The only person who ever seemed oblivious to Hecate’s feelings was Pippa herself, and Hecate had to assume that that was Pippa’s way of letting her down gently, with a minimum of fuss.
Lucinda had been the worst, though. To turn up thirty years later as Pippa’s fake date to her wedding - it has all the elements for a comedic farce, with Hecate as most likely candidate to be the butt of the joke.
“Pippa, do you really want all your friends to think you’re dating me?” she points out gently. “They’re going to gossip about it, you know - it would be the most exciting thing that’s happened to them this year.”
Pippa looks briefly uncomfortable. “I don’t care what that group of ninnies thinks in the slightest,” she says, but Hecate thinks there’s an element of bravado to her tone.
“Don’t you?” she asks, and Pippa narrows her eyes.
“I really don’t,” she repeats. “Why, do you? I wouldn’t want to mess with your reputation, of course, Hecate…”
It sounds like an accusation, and Hecate is utterly thrown. She isn’t trying to be insulting or rude, in fact for once in her life she is actively trying not to be, so she doesn’t understand how she can make so many missteps. She doesn’t understand even a little what Pippa is upset about this time.
But she know she doesn’t want to make Pippa upset. She’s done enough of that for a lifetime. She doesn’t press. If she presses too hard, Pippa might smile that political smile again and end this conversation, and Hecate will have proven, once again, that she’s nobody Pippa should rely on. So instead she nods once decisively, lets this misunderstanding go unchallenged, and says, “alright, what am I meant to wear for this spectacle?”
The thing is, Hecate decides - the thing is, Pippa thinks she has something to prove. Hecate isn’t sure what she’s trying to prove, or who she’s trying to prove it to. But all of this - it doesn’t quite make sense. She’s read Pippa’s write-up, and it’s a well-designed study. Hecate doesn’t know if she agrees with all of Pippa’s conclusions, but the research is sound. It deserves to spark a conversation, just as Pippa had said. It also stands on its own - if Pippa would settle for having it in any other journal, she wouldn’t need Hecate’s help for this. So it doesn’t make sense.
All else aside, if there’s one thing Hecate knows about Pippa and has never been able to deny, it’s that Pippa is kind. It’s not like Pippa to be so, well - insensitive. Hecate has the niggling, uncomfortable thought that it’s not very nice to ask anyone who has pined for you to be your fake date to an event. But that’s catastrophically confusing; it conflicts with Hecate’s firmest and deepest certainties about the universe. She cannot make sense of a world in which Pippa would ever be thoughtless or unkind. So all Hecate can think is that there must be a great deal more to this favor than Pippa has explained.
She can live with that. She even puts on a formal dress, something deep green and covering that would qualify more as formal than festive, if it weren’t for the long daring slit up the side. She hopes, rather self-consciously, that Pippa will like it, and then damns herself for even thinking it.
Pippa knew how Hecate dressed before she asked this favor, so if she doesn’t like how Hecate looks, she has no one to blame but herself.
Altogether, she manages to work herself into a foul mood before she even lands her broom, and she lingers at the outskirts of the Brack’s manor, hesitant to enter. What if Pippa isn’t there yet? It’s bad enough to be at Lucinda’s wedding uninvited, she at least wants to walk in at an invitee’s side.
A pair of arms snake up from behind her, and cool hands cover her eyes.
“Well hello there,” Pippa says, sounding delighted. “Well met, Hecate - you look lovely.”
“Well met, Pippa,” Hecate answers wryly, and takes a step forward as she turns around, forcing Pippa to let go of her.
She is momentarily stunned. Pippa saying she looks lovely is like the sky telling Hecate she looks a bit blue. Her long blonde hair has been let out of its customary bun to hang in loose curls around her face, providing a radiant background for her sunny smile. Her dress is deep pink and sleeveless, and something about the way it sits upon her chest suggests that it is held up by magic alone. It produces the strangest illusion that it is in the process of falling away, that if Hecate lingers for a moment, more skin will reveal itself to her waiting gaze.
She can feel her cheeks heating at the thought, and she snaps her eyes back to Pippa’s face, sorry that she’d let them wander.
“Hecate darling, what on earth has put that look onto your face?” Pippa asks with a laugh, and slips her arm through Hecate’s, locking them companionably together as they start up the long drive.
“I was thinking about how completely you will outshine the bride,” Hecate answers honestly, before her brain catches up with her. She tacks on a hasty, “I doubt it will be hard, unless I am misremembering a great many of Lucinda Brack’s features.”
Pippa laughs, and smacks her lightly. “Honestly, Hecate - there’s no need to be unkind,” she says, but there’s laughter dancing in her voice, and maybe some pleasure at the compliment. She’s gotten harder to read over the years, but in this, she has stayed the same - she has never liked to insult people, and it has always been Hecate’s role to be rude enough for both of them. She thinks it made things easier for Pippa, somehow, when they were children - easier for Pippa to bear the weight of her performance, if Hecate gave voice to the things that Pippa would never let herself say. Even then, Pippa had been political - her friendships had not been based in genuine affection. Hecate doesn’t think they were based in selfishness or manipulation either, though. They came from a need to live up to expectation, something which has dominated Pippa’s life, and which Hecate has never been able to fully comprehend.
She had been genuinely fond of Hecate, though. Hecate is almost sure of it.
It occurs to her for the first time to wonder if that might be part of this ruse - if perhaps, alongside anything else going on in her electrifyingly complex brain, Pippa might have asked Hecate to come simply because she wants her there.
The day is bright and sunny, and they’re directed through the house into a backyard that has been beautifully adorned for the wedding. Tables are set up beneath a rather lovely white gauze tent. Flowers and vines are strategically placed to create a charming sense of abandonment, as though nature has reclaimed the space.
They’re running a bit late, and there aren’t many open seats left, so they settle into the first two they see. Pippa only releases Hecate’s arm when the mechanics of sitting require her to, and she leans her body back into Hecate’s space immediately. She’s always been like this, bulldozing through Hecate’s boundaries and personal space as though they are foreign concepts to her, and it’s utterly impossible not to melt into it. Hecate mentally apologizes to her past self for being so harshly judgmental - braver soldiers have fallen in the face of such extreme tactics. Anyone would turn into a pathetic lovelorn mess if they were overexposed to Pippa, what defenses could a teenage girl have possibly raised?
Pippa, meanwhile, has started the process of greeting others at their table. “Amaranth, darling, well met! It’s so lovely to see you!” she trills, and the political smile makes its first appearance of the evening. “And you remember Hecate, of course?”
If she does, then Hecate is outmatched; she has no memory of ever meeting Amaranth before in her life.
“Yes of course,” Amaranth says, smiling and nodding politely. “Well met, Hecate - I’m glad to see you again.”
“Well met,” Hecate responds politely, and tries a fake smile of her own, though she’s sure it doesn’t look half as natural on her as it does on Pippa.
Pippa certainly sees through it; she waits until the conversational attention has shifted elsewhere to lean into Hecate and whisper, “we went to school with her, Hiccup - she was in the year below us, she was scared of broomsticks,” and then abruptly Hecate does remember Amaranth, as the chubby awkward child Pippa had mothered endlessly through her first few months at Alcina School for Girls.
Well. That was alright then. Amaranth had never been catty or unkind, and she looks as though she’s grown into herself quite a lot in the years since school. Hecate regards her with moderate approval, and Amaranth notices her look and throws her a warm smile, which only grows warmer as she looks at the way that Pippa has overlapped into Hecate’s space, the way that she has left her head on Hecate’s shoulder even though she’s done whispering.
“It’s so lovely to see you two here,” she says. “When did you get back together?”
Hecate is too stuck on the word back to compose any kind of answer, but she probably would have left it up to Pippa to come up with something suitable anyways - this is her scheme, after all. Luckily they are both saved answering by the collective squeal of instruments, and a moment later music starts up, and the ceremony begins.
In some part of her mind, Hecate hadn’t expected the girls they went to school with to grow up. Her memory has left them frozen in time, static while Hecate herself has changed, until they became caricatures, built out of a few moments and impressions, and out of the deep social discomfort that had characterized all Hecate’s interactions with them in school.
She doesn’t realize that she is half-expecting a teenage Lucinda Brack to come down the aisle until she is startled by the fully adult version of her. She walks to the podium at the front of the tent in a flowing white gown, the long sleeves that are reminiscent of a formal wizard robe trailing behind her.
Hecate doesn’t know the woman Lucinda is marrying, but both of them have completely soppy expressions on their faces, are absolutely glowing with it, and as the priestess wraps red yarn around their joined hands, Hecate is struck by a surprising warmth. They have all grown up; all of them, not just Hecate and Pippa. They have grown and changed and learned themselves, the way that people should, and it is time for Hecate to let go of the past. Time to let go of childhood fear, and childhood yearning.
If she had hated Lucinda in school, then that has only a little to do with the adult woman in front of her now, whom Hecate has never met. And if she was in love with Pippa as a child, well - that is a piece of what it means to be sitting here now, with Pippa’s head resting on her shoulder, but it is by no means the whole.
The ceremony is short, and afterward the podium is waved into a dance floor in a frivolous but charming use of transfiguration. Pippa seems content to leave her head resting on Hecate’s shoulder, murmuring occasional comments into her ear as they observe the proceedings.
“I love weddings,” she confides as the happy couple finishes their first dance, and other people begin trickling onto the dance floor. “It’s a special kind of magic that makes you believe in happy endings.”
Happy endings. Hecate can see that. With Pippa’s breath warm and soft against her neck, happiness feels closer than Hecate has ever let it approach before.
“Dance with me,” she requests, surprising herself with her own boldness, with the low rough note in her voice.
Pippa detaches and turns to look at her. She looks surprised, but pleased. “Alright,” she says, and gives Hecate her hands so that Hecate can stand and pull both of them out of their seats.
It’s been a long time since Hecate has danced, but she’d learned the steps in school, and her body remembers quickly enough for her to lead Pippa through the steps of a waltz without embarrassment. Her hand follows the curve of Pippa’s waist, and Pippa steps in closer than the waltz strictly allows, bringing her head back to its apparent favorite resting place on Hecate’s shoulder.
“You smell nice,” she murmurs, “like a garden.”
Hecate has no response to that, but she dares to stroke her thumb along Pippa’s side, and when there’s no objection, she repeats the gesture, barely able to believe her luck as they circle the dance floor, pressed together.
When the song comes to an end countless moments later, Pippa pulls slowly away, looking at Hecate with something unnameable shining out of her eyes. “I think I’ll go get a drink,” she says, smoothing her hands absently over nonexistent wrinkles in her dress. “Can I get you something?”
“Perhaps some water,” Hecate murmurs, feeling as though her mouth has suddenly dried up. Pippa nods and almost flees the scene, and Hecate stares after her, abruptly overwhelmed. What on earth had possessed her to be so forward?
She makes her way back toward their seats, and then pauses when a balding head catches her attention. Eldridge Nash is sitting alone at a table in a stately set of traditional purple robes, nursing something alcoholic.
Hecate feels oddly deflated. Right; she hadn’t been invited here just to dance with Pippa. She has a mission. She shifts direction.
“Mr. Nash, may I join you?” she requests, and he smiles slightly as he recognizes her.
“Ms Hardbroom, well met. Please, sit.” She does, and he continues, “what brings you to my niece’s wedding? I find it hard to believe you have maintained any correspondence since school.”
Well, that’s certainly getting straight to the point. “You’re right, I had lost touch with Lucinda,” Hecate admits. “But my... partner has not, so I’m here in the capacity of date.”
She hesitates on the word partner. It’s such a permanent word - is that what Pippa meant for her to imply? It has to do, though; she cannot bring herself to utter a word as inane as ‘girlfriend’ in regard to her own relationships, even as a ruse.
“Ah - the little social niceties we must observe, hmm?” Nash says with a conspiring smile, inviting Hecate to share his disdain for the event and the people involved. An hour ago, Hecate would have wholeheartedly agreed with the sentiment, but she remembers Pippa’s wistful joy, and feels a touch of guilt. Still - this is why she’s here, so she makes an agreeable noise, and tries to think of a way to direct the conversation where she wants it.
She’s helped along by Pippa rejoining her a moment later, levitating a couple glasses in front of her. “Hecate, darling, I know you said you only wanted water, but they had a blackberry wine that I thought you’d adore… oh, and who’s this?” She smiles winsomely at Nash and puts both glasses down in front of Hecate, cradling her own pink cocktail as she sits.
Nash is looking between them like he’s been slapped in the face by a fish, and Hecate resigns herself to no small amount of embarrassment and awkwardness as she says, “Mr. Nash, have you had the pleasure of meeting Miss Pentangle, head teacher of Pentangle’s Academy?”
“Well met, Mr. Nash,” Pippa says pleasantly.
“Uh…. well met, Miss Pentangle.”
“Now what were you two talking about before I interrupted?” Pippa asks.
“I was just about to ask after Ms Hardbroom’s latest research,” Nash replies gamely, and Hecate is desperately relieved that he’s brought the topic up himself so that she doesn’t have to manipulate it around. She can’t imagine why Pippa chose her for this task; nobody has ever described Hecate as subtle.
“Oh, how wonderful - Hecate was just telling me about it, you’re looking into potions substitutions, aren’t you?” Pippa prods, and Hecate tries to smile.
“Uh, yes - I mean, it’s hardly a research study, just a critical review,” she explains. “We’ve made so many slapdash substitutions to traditional recipes over the centuries as ingredients lose availability, or simply go out of style. Too many of our potion bases simply aren’t well designed - I had thought to do a review, and perhaps write up some suggested updates…”
The topic carries them for awhile, and as its winding down Hecate finally finds the courage to say, “if you want to hear about a more in-depth study, you might ask after Pippa’s research, Mr. Nash.”
“Oh, are you doing a study, Miss Pentangle?” Nash asks politely, and Hecate winces at the polite surprise in his voice. She wonders if that’s how she had sounded to Pippa the other day, so dismissive of her contributions.
Suddenly Hecate wants to prove herself - wants to prove that she doesn’t look down on Pippa’s work, and that she’s not fooled into thinking that Pippa’s perkiness marks her as brainless.
“She is,” she answers firmly before Pippa has finished opening her mouth. “It’s rather brilliant, actually - I’m not a proponent of modern magic, as you well know, but I cannot find fault with her work, and I cannot deny the implications it has for my field.”
“Well, that’s high praise,” Nash says, eyebrows raised. “Please, elucidate me Miss Pentangle…”
It’s interesting to hear Pippa talk about her own work. She doesn’t talk about it the way Hecate would; there’s a jargon to academia that is second nature to Hecate, that she finds almost comforting. Pippa appears not to speak it; she talks in frank, merry tones, even as she is throwing around advanced concepts of metamagical theory. It’s clear that Nash doesn’t know what to make of her; it’s also clear that he’s listening, since he makes an objection to every other sentence out of her mouth.
“Well, this has been a fascinating conversation,” he says at last, as the sky darkens and the band begins to pack away their instruments. “I won’t say you’ve convinced me, Miss Pentangle, but you’ve certainly given me a great deal to think about.”
“I’ll take that as the highest compliment you could give me, Mr. Nash,” Pippa says warmly, and the stodgy old goat almost smiles. Hecate looks at the way that Pippa is glowing, lit up with passion and success, and she cannot contain the fondness rising up within her for this beautiful, brilliant, strange woman.
“Shall we?” she asks Pippa gently, and offers her arm to her date one last time.
Pippa leans against her as they walk back into the house, collecting their brooms. It’s not the affectionate invasion of before; instead it’s exhaustion, and Pippa trusting Hecate to support her.
They pause outside, among the crowd of witches taking off in bunches into the sky, and Hecate reaches for something to say, uncertain how a night like this should end.
“Can we go for a walk?” Pippa asks. “It’s a beautiful night - I’m not quite ready to fly home yet.”
“Alright,” Hecate allows, and Pippa keeps her arm as they turn and walk along the fence, broomsticks in hand.
It is a beautiful night, and neither of them speak. Eventually, the silence becomes too extended to feel companionable. Hecate is not accustomed to silence from Pippa, and she reaches for something to say that isn’t related to dancing, or Pippa’s head on her shoulder, or the soft feel of Pippa’s dress under her thumb.
“I wish this wasn’t fake,” Pippa says, beating her to it, and Hecate almost falls over, because her wildest dreams can’t be coming true, can they? It’s impossible - impossible that Pippa has been savoring this false intimacy the way that Hecate has. And then Pippa continues, wistfully, “I wish you really did think so highly of my intelligence, and that people like Mr. Nash were impressed by me.”
It’s shattering to have her hopes so instantly raised and dashed. But that’s not Pippa’s fault; Hecate should know better than to think even for a moment that Pippa could want their dance - their partnership - to be real. She sets the heartbreak aside to be dealt with later; Pippa’s actual words are the priority in the moment.
“Pippa, surely you know that I - I think very highly of you,” she protests, and Pippa gives a little laugh.
“Oh, you don’t really, Hecate - not about that, at least. You think modern magic is frivolous at best, and at worst bringing about the destruction of our culture. You think it’s a waste of time and thought, the same way you think donuts are a waste of calories.” She smiles at Hecate, but it’s wobbly. “I don’t mind most of the time, not really. I don’t need to be the smartest person in the room to be happy with myself. But it would be nice sometimes, to think that you - that you valued me as much as I value you. That’s all.”
Hecate stops walking, and Pippa, still linked to her at their elbows, is obliged to do the same.
“You can’t really think that,” Hecate says flatly, horrified at being so misinterpreted. She’s tried to temper her regard for Pippa - to make it quieter and less demanding, to present a rain cloud instead of a hurricane. But surely Pippa cannot have been so thoroughly fooled as to think Hecate looked down on her?
It is evident from the look on her face that she was. Tears are forming in her eyes, though they have not yet spilled over.
“Pippa,” Hecate almost begs, and takes both of Pippa’s hands into her own in a wild expression of sincerity. It is time to come clean. “When I get home, I am going to read your book, and then I will read every article you have written. It was never my intention to make you feel undervalued or dismissed. It never occurred to me that I had that power. You are so brilliant, so - so luminescent. If I have avoided telling you so, it was because I thought my devotion to you was already on embarrassing display. Can you forgive me?”
Pippa gives a little sob, and Hecate lets go of her hands to wipe the tears from her face, running her thumbs across Pippa’s cheeks in a gesture of atonement. “Do you mean that?” Pippa asks, and then when Hecate nods, she surges forward, pressing their mouths together.
Her arms go around Hecate’s neck, and Hecate instinctively reaches out to catch her, balancing both their weights. It’s only for a moment, and then Pippa pulls back to stare searchingly into her eyes.
“That - that is what you meant, isn’t it? You want this too?” she asks breathlessly, and Hecate almost has to laugh, because the thought of Pippa having any question that Hecate adores her is ludicrous.
“I have wanted this my entire life,” she promises, and pulls Pippa back toward her.