At 4, Hecate decides her favorite color is blue. Pale blue like the sky on a clear day or midnight blue like her mother’s favorite dress. She smiles at the bluebells Mother weaves in her hair when Father is away and it’s just the two of them. She hums along to the songs her mother sings, songs that make Hecate feel light, loved, and free. Mother reminds her that a witch need know the entire rainbow as it offers a whole world at her disposal.
At 6, a black veil covers her mother’s dress and the dream of the rainbow her mother spoke of is incinerated along with her body as it succumbs to flames. Hecate stares at the black rose in her hand, unable to look up at her mother, and wonders what Father will do with her now.
Hecate’s room at Aunt Hilda’s is small with grey curtains, a black bed frame and a black desk. Darkness is now her home and when she weeps into her pillow at night, she realizes she must embrace it.
At 11, she reaches Spellsmith’s Academy on an overcast Selection Day. The dark clouds aren’t a comfort exactly, but they’re familiar. It helps her focus. A sea of color almost swallows her whole with her potential peers dressed in different shades of green, purple, yellow, orange and-
A girl with a blonde ponytail bounces over with a bright pink dress that dances along with her. She smiles and Hecate has to blink against its brilliance on such a dark day. The girl bows. “Well met, I’m Pippa, Pippa Pentangle.”
Hecate doesn’t answer her. She knows witches her age (or even slightly older) don’t like her so there’s no point really. Pippa is bound to find Hecate odd and not worth her time. She does bow in a return greeting though and figures they won’t meet again. Pippa doesn’t seem the sort of witch Spellsmith’s is looking for.
At 14, Hecate’s room is dark but there are small splashes of color that she hides when her aunt visits. They exist in such things as flower bracelets Pippa insisted they make during their last school picnic. Hecate pretends the reason she keeps them is to practice preservation spells and not the promise of friendship they bring with them. A friendship she’s scared might shift soon. Her dreams of Pippa have changed of late and she wonders what it might be like to let Pippa’s hand linger in hers.
Pippa comes crashing into her room one evening, her hands full of bluebells. “I thought they’d look lovely in your hair, Hiccup.”
Hecate freezes in front of her. Pippa, who speaks so freely, can always explain how things make her feel a range of emotions. Pippa, her best friend who has no idea what she’s done. Hecate knows even if she was given all the time in the world that she can’t find the words to express the heartbreak the bluebells bring.
When Pippa reaches to place a flower in her hair, all Hecate can do is growl. “Get out,” she grounds out.
Pippa looks confused and retreats, her eyes brimming with unshed tears that Hecate is ashamed she put there, but it’s too overwhelming. Pippa, her shining beacon who convinced color to seep back into Hecate’s life.
It’s all too much and maybe tomorrow Hecate might be able to apologize but today, she can’t do anything more than listen to the echo of Pippa’s footsteps as she hurries out of the room.
At 16, Hecate destroys their flower bracelets and notes, and she misses the broomstick display. She should have known that Pippa’s friendship was so fragile. There had to come a time, she thinks, when Pippa would prefer the company of more normal witches. Hecate wishes she’d realized sooner. She wishes she could take back all the time, all the shared confessions late into the night, all of the things she gave thinking Pippa truly wanted to know her.
Hecate reaches the dark red music box Pippa gave her for her birthday and almost smashes it but can’t bring herself to. She opens it instead, allowing the sonata to soften her rage. Pippa thought it too mournful but gave it to Hecate anyway. Hecate doesn’t want to see her again, is glad that next year means graduation and she can leave all that they shared. All that Pippa didn’t seem to want behind, but she needs to keep this. This one piece of comfort that Pippa brought and Hecate can’t destroy.
At 25, Hecate looks up at Cackle’s Academy and wonders if she has found a place she can finally stay. It’s a solid structure and the school carries a good reputation. Something about the air here, the magic, it feels steady and it’s something Hecate needs more than ever. Three academies in three years and each one found something lacking in Hecate. She straightens her shoulders and vows to do better, to try and be more observant so she won’t be sent away again. She transfers to Mrs. Cackle’s office and knocks firmly.
“Come in,” beckons Alma and Hecate does as instructed, setting her suitcase on the floor.
Alma gets up and rounds her desk, bowing in greeting. “Well met, Miss Hardbroom.”
“Well met, Mrs. Cackle,” answers Hecate. “I wasn’t sure of where you’d like me to--”
Hecate catches a burst of pink as someone materializes in the office to her right. The color makes Hecate’s heat race and her palms start to sweat.
“Mother, do you have the--”
Alma gestures toward Hecate. “Ada, met Hecate Hardbroom, our new potions mistress. Miss Hardbroom, this is Ada Cackle, our deputy head.”
Ada meets her eyes and Hecate almost curses. They are the most brilliant blue she’s ever seen. Ada smiles and bows in greeting. “Well met, Miss Hardbroom.”
It takes everything Hecate has to return the greeting. “W-well met, Miss Cackle.”
“I was wondering if you might show Miss Hardbroom to her rooms, Ada.” Ada opens her mouth and Hecate hopes it’s to refuse Alma’s request. Hecate needs to breathe, needs the comfort of a dark lab to block out the combination of color Ada brings. Something passes between Alma and Ada that makes Ada sigh and turn to Hecate with a smile that is overwhelmingly bright.
“Of course, this way.”
Hecate takes a deep breath and clicks her fingers to make her suitcase follow her. Luckily, Ada doesn’t have much to say on their way and Hecate can take in the dulled yellow and grey of the academy walls. If she could think clearly, she might scold herself for not taking better note of their direction. It isn’t long before they reach a large brown door.
“Here we are,” offers Ada as she clicks her fingers, the door opening, and a key materializing in Hecate’s hand, “there should be a map of the school in there with a supply request form and lesson timetables. I hope you’ll forgive that I don’t have time to stay. I was looking forward to meeting you, your work is rather impressive.”
Hecate nods and Ada is gone. She takes in the room with its grey walls and silver curtains and finally breathes out.
At 30, Hecate is used to the ever growing collection of pink figurines that adorn Ada’s new office, not to mention the turquoise gemstones she favors spread about in school projects graduating girls have given her over the years. Hecate twirls the red rose in her hands, a gift for Ada’s appointment as headmistress but a gift she’s afraid to give. She considers a preservation spell then shakes her head. It can’t be like the last time she gifted such things. She couldn’t bear if--
Ada walks in behind her and Hecate snaps her fingers to place the rose in the hand of one of Ada’s mouse figurines. Ada stops, surprised probably to see Hecate here so early and Hecate worries she’ll be angry. Instead, Ada smiles as she walks toward her desk.
“To what do I owe the pleasure, Hecate?”
Hecate runs her index fingers over her thumbs and settles her gaze on the paperweight to Ada’s right. No doubt the stack of forms under it needing more attention than Ada pays mind to. “Just dropping in to see if you needed anything.”
Ada chuckles, the kind she uses when she teases Hecate and Hecate realizes she’s been caught. “I’m a little nervous too but we’ve practiced for a term and I’m sure it’ll be just fine.”
Hecate relaxes then and catches Ada’s gaze, seeking solace in the same blue eyes that terrified her to look at for two years. Eyes that have always been so gentle, warm, and soft.
“Still,” starts Hecate, “should you require my assistance.”
Ada winks and Hecate’s heart stops. “I’ll let you know.”
At 40, Hecate sits on a white and red checkered blanket and watches Ada gather wildflowers. Ada is practicing arrangements for their wedding in a month and despite Hecate’s urging of how unimportant it is to find the right bouquet, Ada is insistent. Ada eventually plops at the edge of the blanket in her green sundress and displays her three options.
“What do you think?” she asks as she takes a sip of the lemonade Hecate pours for her.
Hecate shrugs, about to claim once again that it doesn’t matter when she spots a grouping of bluebells, red campion, and yellow daisies. She picks it up gingerly, expecting to feel that familiar ache in her chest. Instead there’s a warmth and a sense of certainty that spreads through her. She looks over at Ada. Ada is smiling tentatively with her bottom lip between her teeth. It’s one of Hecate’s favorite looks and it cements the moment perfectly.
She kisses Ada’s cheek and hands her the bouquet. “This one.”