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Bidding on Love

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“You’re going to do what?” Hecate asks, lips pursed into a thin line.

 

“It’s for the scholarship fund, Hiccup,” Pippa rolls her eyes. “Surely you can’t begrudge that.”

 

“But it’s…an auction,” she says with undisguised disdain. “You’re going to allow yourself to be auctioned off to some strange wizard…”

 

“Or witch,” Pippa supplies, a faint blush dusting her cheeks. “Anyone can do the bidding. And as long as it’s not Calvin Sludgehorn - the toad,” she shudders, “I don’t suppose it will much matter who wins the bid for me.”

 

“Calvin Sludgehorn?”

 

Pippa waves a hand in dismissal. “He’s been pestering me for a date for years. He writes an opinion column for the Owl Gazette and usually flatters me in his column. He thinks that flattery entitles him to time spent with me, despite my continuous disinterest. He simply won’t take no for an answer and it’s most annoying.”

 

Hecate clenches her hands into fists at her sides, trying to keep from trembling with the exertion to keep her magic reigned in when all it wants to do is destroy things at the moment. How dare he? How dare anyone? And the very idea now of Pippa allowing herself to be auctioned off as if she were no more than some…some object. It’s unendurable.

 

Pippa must notice her feelings however since she gathers Hecate’s fist in her hands, slowly prying her fingers loose and interlocking them with her own, squeezing her hand to offer comfort. “It’s alright, Hecate. I agreed to be a part of the auction. It’s meant to be fun.”

 

“Fun?” Hecate asks as if it’s the first time she’s ever heard the word.

 

“Yes, fun. The auction will take place first, and then whomever wins the bid, I’ll dine with them, converse with them, maybe enjoy a little dancing - all perfectly fun and innocent. After a few hours it will be over and done. And it’s for a good cause; you know that, to fund scholarships for young witches and wizards without the means to pay for schooling. Ada must have mentioned all this to you - all the local schools are participating. Many of the single teachers are taking part in the auction, the same as I am. I even heard your very own Dimity Drill is participating,” Pippa smiles.

 

Hecate didn’t know about Dimity but she’s not surprised. When Ada had started to suggest she might participate, Hecate quickly nipped her suggestion in the bud, resulting in a hearty laugh from her headmistress who did love to tease her on occasion.

 

“I’m not surprised Ada didn’t ask you to participate, knowing such an event would make you uncomfortable, but I would have thought she would have given you the details of the event.”

 

“She did - actually on both counts.”

 

Pippa’s eyes widen in surprise. “Ada asked you to participate in the auction?”

 

“Yes, though the request was more in jest than anything else. Ada knows I would never participate in such a…a display,” she says. “I’m surprised the witches council, that the parents would allow it.”

 

“Indeed? It was my understanding that not only are they allowing it, but the very idea of an auction was suggested by a parent.” That the parent whom made the suggestion was none other than Julie Hubble, Pippa carefully omits, well knowing Hecate’s feelings regarding that particular woman and her daughter.

 

Hecate raises her brow at this. “It’s preposterous.”

 

“It’s taking place. Next Friday evening to be exact so I’m sorry, but I won’t be able to make our standard Friday night dinner and chess game,” she apologizes. “I thought perhaps we could meet on Saturday night instead.”

 

“Saturday night?”

 

“Yes. Unless,” Pippa speaks careful to disguise her hope, her eyes fixed on the chessboard, “you plan to attend the gala too.”

 

Hecate startles at the suggestion. When Ada first mentioned the gala to her, explained about the auction weeks ago, she felt nothing but contempt for such a frivolous display and promptly forgot about it. Now…now she can’t bear the thought of watching Pippa being auctioned to someone else…someone who isn’t…who can’t possibly deserve her.

 

“No,” she says, voiced hardened. “I will not be attending.”

 

Pippa looks up then, and Hecate may be imagining it, but the look that passes through her brown eyes seems to be one of disappointment. But surely that can’t be. What reason would Pippa have to feel disappointment if Hecate doesn’t attend a silly dinner?

 

“Oh. All right then. I just thought…” Pippa trails off.

 

“Thought what?”

 

Pippa forces a smile. “It doesn’t matter. Shall we make plans to meet on Saturday instead then?”

 

“I suppose so,” Hecate replies carefully, feeling that she’s somehow missing something. Something vital.

 

“Splendid. I can regale you with all the details of the gala over tea when we meet then.”

 

Hecate clenches her jaw, already dreading any details Pippa shall provide her with. She makes another attempt to dissuade Pippa from participating in the event. “Isn’t it unethical for a headmistress such as yourself to participate in this…this auction?”

 

“I hardly think so - not when all the money received will be equally distributed among all the schools.”

 

“Then it is unfair to you - for surely you will earn the highest bid of anyone,” Hecate blurts without thought. Pippa’s eyes widen at her words, mirroring Hecate’s own at what she’s let slip. Shoulders tense, pulling her hand free from Pippa’s, she feels a blush creep into her cheeks under Pippa’s stare, and glances away to look down at her hands now folded in her lap, wills them to remain still and not give away anymore of her secrets, most of all how they ache to touch Pippa.

 

The seconds tick by loudly and then Pippa laughs softly and oh so sweetly.

 

“Thank you, Hiccup, but don’t forget, your very own Star of the Sky will be up for bid as well. If anyone is to gain the highest bid, I’m sure it will be Dimity. And anyway, it’s not a competition. It’s for…”

 

“The scholarship fund,” Hecate sighs both in relief and resignation. “So you’ve already mentioned.”

 

“Yes,” Pippa says and Hecate watches Pippa bite at her lip, an obvious sign she wants to say something but isn’t sure she should. Hecate remains silent, bracing herself for the moment Pippa either decides to press on with what she intends to say or let it go altogether.

 

“Are you really not planning to attend, Hiccup?”

 

Hecate glances at Pippa, wonders for a moment what it might be like if she did attend - if she were to be Pippa’s date. But it’s an impossible thought she shakes away as quickly as it forms. “No, definitely not,” she says decidedly.

 

“Oh,” Pippa sighs, the look of disappointment back in her eyes.

 

Hecate watches her reaction perplexed. “Why do you ask?”

 

“No reason,” Pippa shrugs, fingers toying with a chess piece.

 

“Pipsqueak?” she presses.

 

Pippa glances up. “I suppose I…I’m just sorry I won’t see you next Friday. You know I’ve…grown quite fond of these evenings we spend together,” she laughs at herself. “Silly, I know.” And now she’s the one glancing down at hands folded in her lap.

 

“But we’ll meet on Saturday as you suggested. One day later will hardly make a difference. That is if you’re sure you won’t be too tried from the gala the night before,” Hecate says worriedly. “If you have the time…for me.”

 

Pippa meets her eyes, softening at the look of worry across Hecate’s features and smiles reassuringly. “I’ll always have time for you, Hiccup.”

 

Hecate blushes further at the soft-spoken, heart-felt words and clears her throat at the emotion rising there. “Yes, well. I believe it’s your move, Pipsqueak,” she gestures to the chessboard.

 

***

 

Hecate doesn’t have much time to let her thoughts wander to the impending gala fast approaching over the next week. There is too much work to be done, classes to teach, potions to brew, detentions to issue. Mildred Hubble manages to wreak havoc on her classroom no less than three times in two days and her continued antagonism with Ethel Hallow is enough to cause a pulsing headache behind her eyes. Still, sitting in her empty potions classroom, marking the latest sorry excuse for essays written by the first years on the healing properties of dragonflies’ wings, she’s grateful for the distraction, if only to keep her from thinking of the gala occurring in just a few days. To keep her from thinking of Pippa. To keep her from thinking of Pippa on a date with someone…else.

 

Hecate sighs heavily, setting down her quill to slowly extract the pins in her hair to release heavy curls from their tight confine, hoping to release some of the tension she feels as well. She draws fingertips through her hair, letting it flow down her shoulders, closing her eyes at the sensation, imagining Pippa’s fingers stroking her hair as she used to do when they were girls. Imagines what it would feel like now if she’d let her - the intimacy of it. She opens her eyes against the thought. It doesn’t do well to dwell on the unattainable. With a flick of her wrist, she marks through another essay.

 

She’s almost successful in not allowing her thoughts to wander to Pippa or the upcoming gala for the remainder of the week. Almost. Dimity struts about the academy with far more exuberance than is dignified for a grown witch - audibly wondering over breakfast the morning of the gala what lucky witch or wizard will bid on her and what exactly the night will entail. The romance that is sure to be in the air. Hecate curls her lip at the idea. It’s nauseating really. Romance with someone you’ve only just met? The idea is absurd.

 

Probably.

 

Likely.

 

It must be.

 

Otherwise…it doesn’t bear thinking of.

 

She escapes from the dining hall to her potions classroom but finds it fails to provide the usual escape when she overhears Enid Nightshade talking to Mildred Hubble and Maud Spellbody about her parents performing that night at the gala and is forcefully reminded that Pippa will be in attendance at said gala. Not only in attendance, but offering herself in the dreadful auction to take place. Some undeserving wizard (or witch) her mind unhelpfully supplies will bid on her and win her as though she were a prize.

 

She feels sick to her stomach and sharply rebukes the girls for their gossip.

 

She plans for a quiet evening in her rooms, preferably reading with Morgana purring at her side. After seeing that the girls have had dinner and after her nightly rounds of course. She’s just getting ready to head to the dining hall when she hears a knock at her door.

 

“Ada? I thought you were attending the gala tonight?” Hecate asks surprised when the headmistress steps into her rooms.

 

Ada smiles at her. “I did reserve a ticket and though I am interested to see how Dimity fares - I know I’ll hear all about it tomorrow. I’d much rather you went to the gala instead.”

 

“Ada,” Hecate shakes her head and clutches the timepiece around her neck, “why…I mean…I don’t…”

 

“Hecate,” Ada interrupts gently, “I know you care about this gala despite your protests so please save your breath and attend tonight. If you transfer, you should make it before the auction begins.”

 

“I don’t understand.”

 

“I think you do, dear. It’s been long enough now, don’t you think? Thirty years apart and then the last two that you and Miss Pentangle have been dancing around each other.”

 

Hecate blushes.

 

“It’s time now to do something about it.”

 

A witch makes things go her way, Hecate’s own words to Mildred Hubble reverberate inside her head now.

 

“Perhaps it wouldn’t…hurt to attend.”

 

“I don’t think it would hurt at all and might in fact do you some good,” Ada smirks knowingly.

 

***

Hecate transfers just outside the great hall that is often used for important magical conferences throughout the year and also hosts the annual Yule ball. It’s been years since Hecate attended a ball, but she does keep up with the conferences, attending at least one a year. This will be the first time she’s attending an auction however and the idea still leaves her bitter despite the fact the proceeds will all go towards scholarships.

 

It occurs to her as she joins the crowd entering the hall that she didn’t dress for the occasion. Her usual black dress is in stark contrast to the more colorfully dressed witches among her. Oh well. She doesn’t intend to stay long, nor does she intend to be seen by anyone…of importance. She’ll find a dark corner to stay out of the way and observe the ridiculous debacle.

 

She finds such a corner easily enough standing beside a large potted fern that does well to conceal her.

 

Or so the thought.

 

“Miss Hardbroom! I didn’t think you were coming here tonight.”

 

Hecate turns sharply at the familiar young voice. “Why are you hiding all the way back here? Wouldn’t you rather be seated at a table closer to the stage?”

 

Mildred. Hubble. What are you doing here?” Hecate asks her own questions, ignoring Mildred’s.

 

The girl shrugs. Mum helped organize tonight so she said I could come as her date. Miss Cackle said it was alright.”

 

“Your mother?”

 

“Yeah. This auction was her idea. She’s done a few to raise money at the hospital where she works.”

 

“I might have known a Hubble is responsible for this…this atrocity.”

 

“It’s not an atrocity, Miss Hardbroom,” Mildred says offended. “These kind of auctions are fun and Mum says they always bring in a lot of money. And once it even brought together two of her coworkers. They’re married now with a baby.”

 

Hecate clenches her hands into fists. Married. It’s on her lips to tell the girl to go away when her eyes are inadvertently drawn to a lithe figure flitting from table to table, welcoming guests. Pippa. She’s beautiful in her trademark bright pink dresses - Pippa would be beautiful no matter what she wore, even it were nothing more than a paper sack, Hecate reasons. But tonight Pippa wears a gown of the faintest pink to be almost white and the affect is beyond words. She is breathtaking. Hecate watches mesmerized as Pippa flits from one table to another, checking flower arrangements and laughing with the patrons.

 

“Miss Pentangle is very pretty, isn’t she?” Mildred smiles appreciatively.

 

“Mildred, please,” Hecate practically hisses.

 

“What?” the girl asks confused. “She is pretty, everyone thinks so. Don’t you, Miss Hardbroom?”

 

Hecate sighs in defeat. Pretty doesn’t begin to describe Pippa adequately. Beautiful, stunning, gorgeous are all more accurate words in Hecate’s mind to describe the woman she has been in love with for over thirty years. However Mildred is still waiting for her answer so she agrees, “Yes, Miss Pentangle is very pretty.”

 

Mildred smiles widely, a smile Hecate fears all too well. “Are you going to bid for her tonight?”

 

Hecate reels back stunned. “I am absolutely not,” she replies, watching the smile vanish from the girl’s face.

 

“Why not? I thought you were best friends.”

 

Hecate struggles for a response and is luckily saved by a bell, quite literally. Their attention is drawn to the ringing coming from Julie Hubble on stage to quiet the audience that moves to take their seats at the tables spread throughout the room. Hecate watches Pippa take a seat at a table near the front of the stage. Dimity is seated next to her and Hecate surmises all the contestants must be at the same table for easy access to and from the stage. How organized.

 

“Welcome witches and wizards to tonight’s festivities!” Julie exclaims.

 

The auction drones on as witch after witch and wizard after wizard is presented on stage and bid on by audience members. It’s enough to put one to sleep, though Hecate has to grudgingly admit it is rather entertaining to see Dimity on the stage playfully flexing her muscles before summoning her broom to give potential bidders a reason to see why she holds the title Star of the Sky as she flies tricks about the room. The bidding is quite competitive after that but Dimity seems pleased with the final bid and her date for the night when they walk off the stage together.

 

“Now, for our last bid of the night,” Julie says.   “You will all know this witch as the headmistress of an academy that is becoming well-renowned for its focus on modern magic - it’s none other than Miss Pippa Pentangle!”

 

The crowd breaks out into a roaring applause - and why wouldn’t they Hecate thinks. Pippa is a vision as she carefully climbs the few steps onto the center of the stage. Her golden hair is perfectly coifed into a low chignon, her smile is bright, eyes shining and her dress fits her womanly figure perfectly.

 

“We’ll start the bidding then at fifty jeweled coins.”

 

“Sixty jeweled coins!” Mr. Rowan-Webb shouts from his table earning an appreciative smile from Pippa and an elbow in the ribs from Miss Bat sitting beside him. “Ow, what’d you do that for? I’m just trying to get the bidding started.”

 

“She hardly needs help in that department,” Miss Bat retorts. And it’s true. The bids keep pouring in - it’s up to four hundred jeweled coins in no time. Five hundred…

 

Hecate scowls as several wizards seem to be in the midst of a bidding war. She wants to hex them all. And just when one drops from the bidding, another rises in his place. Hecate idly wonders if the one wizard that continues to out-bid all others is the dreaded Calvin Sludgehorn Pippa mentioned the other night and her mood grows darker.

 

“Miss Pentangle is getting a lot of bids. More than Miss Drill even,” Mildred says.

 

“I knew she would,” Hecate remarks sullenly.

 

“Especially from that one wizard,” Mildred says, frowning.

 

“Mmm. Indeed.”

 

“Aren’t you going to do something Miss Hardbroom? Bid on her yourself maybe?”

 

“Why would I do that, Mildred Hubble?”

 

“Because you love her.”

 

Hecate turns sharply to look at the girl. “What did you say?” she hisses.

 

“Umm,” Mildred starts unsure. “You love Miss Pentangle…don’t you? I mean…isn’t that why you’re here now - even after you told Miss Pentangle you wouldn’t be.”

 

“How do you know I told her I wouldn’t be here tonight?” Hecate asks suspicious.

 

“I heard Miss Pentangle tell Mum when they were setting up the tables tonight you weren’t coming. She seemed sad about it and Mum gave her a hug.”

 

Hecate wants to deny the claim, to shout at the girl, to transfer away but she can’t. She can’t deny the truth any longer and her eyes well with tears without her permission. She glances away from the girl. “My…feelings,” Hecate struggles, “for Miss Pentangle are no concern of yours.”

 

Mildred rolls her eyes.

 

“But, yes, Mildred. I love her,” she admits oh so softly.

 

“Then you have to do something now, Miss Hardbroom!”

 

Hecate can see that Pippa is putting on a large smile but it isn’t a true smile - it fails to reach her eyes. In fact, what her eyes do reveal is worry over the wizard who continues to aggressively outbid anyone else that tries to make a bid. Fewer patrons are placing bids as the sum grows. It isn’t long before the bidding comes down to just two wizards. Hecate watches Pippa cast a worried glance at Julie Hubble, a silent plea for her to do something but Julie is at a loss what to do. The rules have been laid out plainly, highest bid wins a night of dinner and dancing with the one they placed the bid on.

 

Hecate can’t stand to watch any longer. She can’t stand Mildred’s silent stare for her to do something. She can’t stand to watch Pippa’s worried smile or the gloating wizard. She can’t bear the thought of his grimy hands touching Pippa when he goes up on the stage to collect his prize. To collect Pippa. She can’t bear to watch another moment of it all and so she doesn’t.

 

With a wave of her hand, she transfers away.

 

Directly in front of the stage.

 

Several witches gasp in surprise at her sudden appearance but Hecate has eyes only for Pippa’s worried ones, now looking startled and confused to see her there.

 

Hecate holds her gaze and speaks clearly. “Seven thousand four hundred and ninety-three jeweled coins!”

 

There’s a moment of complete silence where no one seems to dare breathe and Pippa stares at Hecate, her worried smile beginning to transform beautifully into a genuine one - into the one Hecate is used to seeing every week over their chess game. It makes her catch her breath at the sight of it.

 

Pippa only breaks eye contact briefly to glance at Julie, a conversation quickly taking place in that second. Pippa returns her gaze to Hecate and Hecate can hear Julie call out in a rush, “Going once, going twice, sold!” She bangs her gavel so hard it breaks. “To Miss Hardbroom for the largest sum of the night!”

 

The audience breaks out into a loud applause.

 

Pippa laughs.

 

Hecate stares.

 

“All right, come on up now and gather your date for the evening,” Julie says.

 

Hecate stiffens, feeling not only Pippa’s eyes on her but the rest of the room as well. Pippa must notice her discomfort because before Hecate can force her legs to move towards the stage or attempt a transfer, she’s watching Pippa lift her skirt in her hand and make her way down the steps of the stage to come to her.

 

“Hecate,” she shakes her head in wonderment, “you said you weren’t coming tonight.”

 

“Yes, well,” Hecate looks away, “I…was curious to just what exactly the night would entail,” she explains as Pippa leads her away from the stage. “And then when that boorish wizard seemed to be winning the bid for you…I thought perhaps you weren’t keen on his advances. I’m sorry if I misinterpreted the situation,” she says, suddenly wishing she hadn’t come at all.

 

“Oh, Hiccup, of course you didn’t misinterpret anything. I was dreading having to spend the evening with him. Calvin Sludgehorn - the toad,” she shudders. “You saved me, Hiccup,” she smiles so brightly, her hands clinging to Hecate’s in a way that makes Hecate feel heat radiate from her chest to cheeks. “But over seven thousand jeweled coins…surely it’s too much, Hiccup,” and the worried look is back in Pippa’s brown eyes.

 

Not for you, Hecate almost says, wants to say, but doesn’t. “Yes, well,” she clears her throat nervously, “as you said yourself, it’s for a good cause - the scholarship fund.”  

 

Pippa beams. “If you’re sure.”

 

“I am.”

 

“Well then. I believe we have a date this evening,” Pippa smiles brightly, taking Hecate’s arm as though to lead her to a table.

 

Hecate panics. “No, that’s not necessary. I only came here tonight to make sure you were all right. You don’t have to go through with this evening. I can just return to Cackle’s,” Hecate tries to excuse.

 

“Oh. Of course if that’s what you want. You must have important matters to attend to,” Pippa says quietly, dropping her hand from Hecate’s arm and diverting her eyes but not before Hecate sees the hurt reflected in their depths.

 

Hecate can’t bear to see Pippa hurt and knows she’s miss-stepped - again. She has to attempt to set things right. “It’s not what I want,” Hecate speaks up, relief washing over her when Pippa meets her gaze again, a glimmer of hope in her eyes.

 

“It’s not? What do you want?”

 

You, always you. “To spend our usual Friday evening together - despite this gala attempting to interfere with our standard date - meeting,” Hecate quickly corrects.

 

Pippa laughs loud and bright. “It’s not our usual game of chess, but I think the night could still be enjoyable.”

 

“Mmm. Perhaps.”

 

“We may even find something we enjoy doing together more than chess,” Pippa says coyly in a way that makes Hecate forget how to breathe and her mouth to become suddenly dry.

 

Surely Pippa isn’t suggesting…No. It’s impossible. They’re only friends. “But I…I’m not suited…I mean, I’m not properly dressed,” she chokes out instead, glancing down at the black dress she wears - practical for teaching potions to students - quite impractical for dinner and possibly dancing with Pippa. The thought makes her light-headed.

 

“You always look lovely, Hiccup. But if you want a different outfit this evening, that’s easily mended. Do you trust me?”

 

“Without question,” Hecate whispers.

 

Pippa blushes but looks pleased.

 

“Well then, perhaps we can step out on the terrace for a bit of privacy,” she says leading Hecate by the hand out the French doors to the vacant terrace beyond. The night is warm but there is a slight breeze. It’s quiet except for the faint cooing of birds settling in their nest for the night.

 

Pippa turns soft eyes on Hecate, appraising her and Hecate feels herself flushing.

 

“I really am sorry about my dress…it’s not very formal as I didn’t plan to come here until the last moment.”

 

“You look beautiful to me no matter what you wear,” Pippa tells her then blushes at her boldness.

 

Hecate stammers for something to say. Pippa thinks her beautiful? “I’ve always thought you beautiful, Pipsqueak.”

 

Pippa beams at her. “I had hoped you did.”

 

“I do. You’re stunning,” Hecate says, allowing her eyes to take in the vision that is Pippa, blushing when she realizes her gaze lingers a little too long on the bodice of her dress and the expanse of skin on display. She clears her throat. “Are you sure this is all right?” she asks uncertain, not wanting to trap Pippa into spending an evening with her so publicly if she’d rather not.

 

“It’s more than alright, Hiccup,” Pippa smiles. “You saved me from the clutches of that horrible wizard. And it’s you. There’s no one else I’d rather spend my evening with than you.”

 

Hecate feels her cheeks flush warmer.

 

Pippa bites at her lip before hesitantly asking, “Why did you come here tonight?”

 

“It is Friday night, our night we usually spend together. I saw no reason why this foolish gala should get in the way of that.”

 

It’s not the real reason, Pippa knows, but she’s just so happy in this moment that Hecate is here with her that she doesn’t push, not when she’s relieved Hecate is here at all, rescued her from the clutches of an amorous wizard and his unwanted attention. Not when she knows Hecate reacted on instinct and doesn’t likely know the extent of her feelings that made her react so. Pippa is a patient woman - has been patient for the last thirty years. She can wait a little longer if necessary. Well, to the end of the night anyway.

 

Pippa laughs. “As good a reason as any, I suppose. It is our night as you say. And, back to the matter at hand - your dress. I have an idea in mind if you allow me?”

 

Hecate nods, her trust in Pippa implicit.

 

With a wave of her hand, Pippa transforms the black dress Hecate had been wearing into a deep purple. The tight skirt loosens, a slit along one leg opens the dress enough to allow for better movement and though the long sleeves remain, the high-neck is replaced with a lower cut, just enough to show off Hecate’s delicate collarbones. Pippa can’t help the gasp that falls from her lips at the sight.

 

“You’re the stunning one, Hiccup,” she breathes.

 

Hecate looks at her still uncertain, a hand coming up to brush against her exposed collarbone nervously.

 

Pippa quickly magics a mirror into her hand to give to Hecate so she can take in her own appearance. “I hope this is alright. I can change it if you want, but you look gorgeous.”

 

Hecate glances in the mirror, startled by the transformation. She looks softer somehow. It must be the dress. Less rigid than the one she came in, it’s somehow makes her appear that way too. Hecate vanishes away the mirror. “Thank you, Pipsqueak. This will do fine,” she speaks quietly, almost afraid to meet Pippa’s eyes, seeing in their depths a look she can’t quite decipher.

 

She does however notice the way Pippa is biting at her lip again. A sure sign she wants to say something but is unsure she should. “What is it?” Hecate asks worriedly.

 

Pippa startles at the question. “You look beautiful, Hecate, truly. But there is one last request I’d like to make if I may?” she asks hesitantly.

 

“Yes?”

 

“Your hair. Will you…will you wear it down?”

 

Hecate looks at her surprised by the request.

 

“It’s just, I remember when we were girls together…at night, you used to wear it down for sleep, and it was so lovely. I just wonder…if it’s lovely still,” she stammers out.

 

Hecate wonders how long Pippa has wondered about her hair. It’s always been a source of pride for her. But working with potions that are often made unstable in the hands of young witches learning their craft, she always wears it in a tightly coiled bun out of necessity. It’s become such a habit to wear it that way, she never thinks that perhaps on the nights when it’s just she and Pippa enjoying a game of chess that she could let it down. That she should let it down.

 

Tonight she is with Pippa. On a date, no less. Blushing at the realization, she quickly busies herself with the task of removing pins from her dark hair. She could easily remove the pins with magic, but finds she wants the extra task to help steady her racing mind and heart.

 

Pippa’s eyes never leave hers as pin by pin is carefully removed. Finally the last pin is removed and Hecate’s hair falls like a waterfall, wild and free, down slender shoulders. She hears Pippa gasp and then a muted, “Oh goddess,” but not knowing how to take such a reaction, uses a hand to try to tame the tresses into something more manageable.

 

“No, don’t…please,” Pippa begs her, reaching out to claim that hand in her own. “You look…beautiful, just as you are, darling.”

 

Darling. Hecate feels herself sway at the endearment and the soft look in brown eyes. “Well, if you’re sure…” She clears her throat when Pippa just continues to look at her. “Shall we go back inside?”

 

“Yes, absolutely,” Pippa laughs, shaking herself from the trance she was in and linking her arm with Hecate’s to return inside.

 

The room is alive with activity when they return. Julie rushes over with Mildred in tow to wish them both a lovely evening, a compliment for Hecate of sorts of, “Oi, don’t you clean-up nicely,” and a warning for Pippa to, “don’t do anything I wouldn’t do,” followed by a quick wink that leaves her blushing and Hecate confused.

 

She’s further confused when Mildred grins at them. “You do look especially nice tonight, Miss Hardbroom. Good luck to you both,” she says following after her mother before Hecate has a chance to reply.

 

“I had no idea you were acquaintances with Ms. Hubble.”

 

“Yes, Julie and I have become friends over the last couple years. After the spelling bee and my offer to give Mildred a scholarship, she’s sought my advice and knowledge about the magical world. It’s been mutually beneficial. You know I have several students like Mildred that didn’t grow up with magic - Julie has helped me with my own questions regarding the ordinary world.”

 

“I see,” Hecate responds, trying desperately not to allow the jealousy she feels creeping up overtake her and ruin the evening.

 

Pippa seems to sense her distress for she gathers her slightly closer before speaking, “But you can’t make old friends, Hecate. You are my dearest friend, then, now and always.”

 

The jealousy Hecate felt only a moment ago dissipates as easily as it came with the sincerity of Pippa’s words, the softness of her eyes, and the warmth of her touch. Now she struggles to hold her tears at bay. “You are my dearest friend as well, Pipsqueak, then, now and always.”

 

Pippa beams at her. “I think our friendship spanning over thirty years is worth celebrating. And there’s no time like the present, what do you say?”

 

Hecate looks about the room, watching witches and wizards around them partaking of food and drink. Some are even beginning to make use of the dance floor as she catches Algernon spinning Gwen across the floor. There is laughter and there is love all around them. She glances at Pippa, more beautiful and dearer to her now than when they were young witches at school together.

 

“I couldn’t agree more. It’s time to celebrate.”

 

They find their reserved table, set only for two and Hecate tries to ignore the single red rose placed as a centerpiece. She’s always had a fondness for roses. And red roses, given that they symbolize love and romance…well…she tries not to imagine what it would be like to romance Pippa in the way she’s only dreamed about. They are friends and tonight is about celebrating that friendship. Anything more is only a wish.

 

Dinner is spent pleasantly enough in easy conversation. If it weren’t for the music playing and the increasing number of witches and wizards taking to the dance floor before them, it would seem like tonight was like any other Friday night they spend together.   That is until Pippa stands suddenly and extends her hand to Hecate.

 

“Shall we dance?” Pippa asks hopeful.

 

Hecate feels a familiar sense of panic rise within her. “No - no thank you.”

 

“But, you have me at your disposal for the night - you may as well make sure you get your money’s worth.”

 

Hecate glances up sharply at the words, only registering the teasing lilt they’re delivered in when she sees humor dancing in Pippa’s brown eyes.

 

“I don’t…I don’t,” she struggles for something to say.

 

“You can’t say you don’t know how. I remember you being quite a good dancer when we were young witches. In fact, I remember you enjoying dancing very much.”

 

Hecate closes her eyes in remembrance of those sweeter days. How could she not love dancing when it allowed her to hold Pippa so close?

 

“I love those memories of us dancing together, Hiccup. I’ve thought of them often over the years,” she admits quietly. “Please won’t you create a new memory and dance with me tonight?”

 

Hecate can’t possibly refuse her, not when Pippa looks at her like that. And just for tonight, she won’t deny her own heart either. She wants to share this moment with Pippa. Slowly she rises from the table, taking Pippa’s offered hand and allows to be led onto the dance floor.

 

It’s crowded on the dance floor. Dimity nearly bumps into them leading her partner into an extravagant spin. “Look at you, HB! Didn’t expect to see you on the floor tonight. Good on you, Miss Pentangle, for convincing her to dust of her dancing shoes.”

 

Pippa laughs. “It wasn’t easy, but I simply reminded her she deserves to get her money’s worth for the night.”

 

Dimity laughs boisterously at that as Hecate feels her cheeks flame once more. “Too true. You did earn the highest bid of the night, Pentangle - an honor I felt sure the one and only Star of the Sky would obtain,” she grins good-naturally.  

 

Now Hecate rolls her eyes. “Must you always refer to yourself in the third person when using that overused title?”

 

Dimity pretends to think on the question for a moment. “Absolutely,” she smirks. “But as I can see you two have something more important to attend to than to chat with me, so go on now, get to it,” she winks at them before twirling her partner away.

 

“I quite like Dimity,” Pippa laughs.

 

“She’s a nuisance.”

 

“You’re fond of her, I know you are.”

 

Hecate sighs. “She has her points, I suppose.”

 

“She absolutely does. Especially her point just now that we have something important to attend to.”

 

“Ah, yes, that,” Hecate agrees, stance rigid. It’s awkward for a moment, Hecate unsure where to place her hands but then Pippa steps forward, taking one hand in hers and guiding Hecate’s other hand around her waist. The touch feels right in a way Hecate doesn’t dare examine. Instead she focuses on the feel of Pippa in her arms at long last. She’s soft and warm against her, the scent of her perfume intoxicating. The music playing is slow in a way that allows them to sway to the gentle rhythm, and soon Pippa is resting her golden head against Hecate’s shoulder. Hecate holds her tighter, closes her eyes and wishes this moment could last forever.

 

It doesn’t of course.

 

Too soon the song comes to an end, a much more lively tune taking its place and the spell she and Pippa seemed to be under is broken. Hecate reluctantly lets her arms fall away back down to her sides. “Thank you for the dance, Pippa. And the rest of the evening as well. It’s getting late - I should probably return to the academy.”

 

“It’s not that late, Hiccup. Please stay a little longer. We can sit out on the terrace for a little fresh air if you’d like?”

 

“Very well,” Hecate agrees beginning to follow Pippa outside. They’re halted however by a loud chime coming from the stage that signals for the music to stop. Julie Hubble stands on the stage ready to make an announcement.

 

“Sorry to interrupt the fun for a moment, but I just wanted to let you all know the final sum has been calculated and the grand total received from tonight’s auction is fifty-six thousand four hundred and ten jeweled coins!” The crowd breaks out into loud applause at the statement. “You should all be so proud. That’s going to help fund the education of so many students. Thank you to all who participated in the auction tonight to make it such a roaring success! And the night is still young. Some of you lucky wizards and witches may be fortunate enough to find something worth far more than any jeweled coin spent tonight,” Julie says with a wink at them.

 

The music begins to play once more and the crowd disperses, some returning to their seats, others to dance. “How about that fresh air?” Pippa asks, offering her hand.

 

Hecate takes it, following her out onto the terrace. It’s fitting she supposes that the night with Pippa should begin and end here. They’re not quite as alone as they were earlier, however. There are several couples scattered about. Some in deep conversation, others clearly oblivious to the rest of the world locked in a heated embrace with each other. Still, Pippa finds a secluded corner that gives them some privacy. She magics a bench just large enough for the two of them to sit on.

 

“It’s a beautiful night, isn’t it?” Pippa asks, looking to the sky where the moon and stars are just starting to make their appearance.

 

“Beautiful,” Hecate agrees, eyes not on the sky at all.

 

Pippa glances away from the beauty of the night sky to turn her gaze to Hecate instead. She’s silent for a moment, eyes searching Hecate’s own - for what, Hecate couldn’t begin to know. But then she’s biting her lip in that way that tells Hecate she wants to say something but is unsure if she should.

 

“What is it?” Hecate asks her.

 

Pippa shakes her head. “It’s nothing.”

 

Hecate is about to tell her that clearly whatever she is thinking is not nothing, but then she watches as Pippa seems to steel herself and speaks again. “I was just thinking about what Julie said just now.”

 

Hecate feels her stomach swoop and her heartbeat begin to race. She fears the next words Pippa is going to speak, certain they are about to embark on a conversation Hecate has long held off for good reason. She can’t bear to reveal her heart to Pippa. What good would come of that? Although she’s certain Pippa would never ridicule her, she might pity her and that would be far worse. She remains silent, willing herself not to transfer away but to hear all that Pippa has to say.

 

“Over fifty-five thousand jeweled coins is quite a lot of money for the scholarship fund.”

 

“It is,” Hecate agrees tersely.

 

“You know, a large part of tonight’s success was your generous donation.”

 

Hecate sits more rigidly, bracing herself for what is sure to follow.

 

“Seven thousand four hundred and ninety-three jeweled coins is quite specific,” Pippa says quietly and Hecate can barely meet her eyes. She sees no amusement in their depths, only curiosity and possibly - is it hope she sees as well?

 

Hecate closes her eyes. She would have bid more if it had become necessary. She has a decent savings she could have dipped into as well. “Yes, well, it was for…” you she doesn’t say, clearing her throat instead, “…for the scholarship fund after all,” she does say feeling her cheeks burning.

 

“I know Hiccup, but seven thousand four hundred and ninety-three jeweled coins? Why that particular sum?”

 

“It was all the currency I had at my immediate disposal.”

 

Pippa’s eyes widen at the admission, seemingly surprised by Hecate’s blatant honesty. “All of it?”

 

Hecate nods, beginning to feel foolish for her impulse earlier in the night. Pippa surely must pity her now. “You needn’t worry. I do have savings in addition to what was given tonight.”

 

“Still, it’s not like you to be so impulsive, Hiccup. I didn’t expect you to be here tonight at all after we made plans to meet tomorrow instead.”

 

When Hecate remains silent, Pippa continues gently. “I asked you before, but I’m asking again. Why, Hiccup? Why did you come here tonight? Especially when we both know we planned to meet tomorrow the way we meet once a week every week and have done for nearly two years now. Why come here tonight?” Pippa asks so softly, pleading for the truth.

 

Hecate struggles with her conflicting emotions. Fear and love war within her but one look into Pippa’s eyes and she knows she can no longer deny her the truth. Doesn’t want to deny it any longer.

 

“For you, Pippa. I came here tonight for you,” she whispers. “Because I couldn’t bear the thought of that wizard…or any wizard…or anyone else…” she trails off, voice wavering.

 

“Yes?” Pippa asks so hopeful, her eyes bright with unshed tears as she slips her hand into Hecate’s holding it tight.

 

The gesture ignites its own source of hope within Hecate so that she continues with her confession. “I couldn’t bear the thought of anyone else holding you the way I’ve held you tonight. The way I’ve always wanted to hold you since we were fourteen. The way I want to go on holding you until I draw my last breath.”

 

“Oh,” Pippa breathes, tears falling from her eyes. “Oh, Hecate, I’ve longed to hold you too, all these years.”

 

Hecate can hardly believe the words Pippa has spoken to be true and yet, she knows they must be for the way Pippa is looking at her now with such…love. It’s a wonder she never noticed it before.

 

“Pippa, I…I love you. I’ve always loved you.”

 

Pippa laughs through her tears. “I love you too, Hecate - I always have.”

 

“You have?”

 

“Yes, Sweetheart. Always,” Pippa says, raising her hand to gently cup Hecate’s cheek, brushing away the tears Hecate didn’t realize had fallen.

 

“Oh,” Hecate breathes. The years they could have spent together rather than apart - it doesn’t bear thinking about. Not now, not when they’re finally here together. Not when Pippa is leaning forward, lips meeting hers in a soft, tentative kiss. Hecate pulls away briefly to look into brown eyes seeing love and desire reflected back. She surges forward, capturing Pippa’s lips once more in a heated kiss that leaves them both breathless when they finally part moments later.

 

Pippa rests her forehead against Hecate’s as she tries to catch her breath and calm her beating heart. “I don’t want this night to end,” Pippa says hoarsely.

 

“Nor I,” Hecate agrees, placing another soft kiss to Pippa’s lips.

 

“Then come home with me?” Pippa asks, biting her lip anxiously.

 

Hecate smiles at the nervous gesture and reaches out to tuck a loose strand of blonde hair behind Pippa’s ear. They’ve lost so much precious time already; she vows not to lose anymore. “Yes,” she whispers.

 

***

 

It’s late morning, sunrays streaking across the bedcovers when Pippa says, “I believe I promised to regale you with the details of the gala last night.” She sits on the bed across from Hecate, her blonde hair tousled and brown eyes alight as she pours a cup of tea for Hecate and herself.

 

“That’s right, you did,” Hecate responds, accepting a cup of tea and taking a sip. “And was it worth forgoing our usual Friday night rousing game of chess?”

 

Pippa takes in Hecate as she sits against the headboard, only a thin sheet covering her lithe figure, her hair falling untamed across bare shoulders. She resists the urge to catch her fingers in dark hair the way she did repeatedly last night and grins over her teacup. “I would say so, though it started out awkwardly. Despite the bravado I presented to you last week, I was nervous about who would win the bid for me.”

 

“Not the dreaded Calvin Sludgehorn I hope,” Hecate says taking another sip of tea.

 

“No, thank goddess. Although it was touch and go for several tense moments, as he was rather aggressive in the bidding. But at last, the bid was settled in the amount of seven thousand four hundred and ninety-three jeweled coins - the highest bid of the night, I’ll have you know.”

 

“That is an impressive sum,” Hecate hums. “But if you recall, I had no doubt you’d receive the highest bid of the night.”

 

“That’s right, you did,” Pippa smiles softly.

 

“Go on. Regale me with more details. Who was the lucky wizard then?”

 

Pippa laughs. “It wasn’t a wizard at all.”

 

“Oh dear. Not an ogre was it? You know they never work out for relationships,” Hecate dryly remarks.

 

Pippa bursts out in a fit of laughter. “I don’t know, she does have a reputation of being ogre-like at times,” she says before taking a generous bite of a pink-frosted donut.

 

Hecate raises a brow. “She?”

 

“Mmm. Indeed. It was a witch that won the bid for me.”

 

“A witch?”

 

Pippa brushes away frosting from her lips, licking her fingers clean before answering, “The most gorgeous witch,” she sighs.

 

“Is that so? And you still found her gorgeous despite her “ogre-like” qualities?”

 

“Definitely. Her ogre-ness never bothered me at all,” Pippa smiles fondly.

 

“That’s fortunate for you both I suppose. And did the evening progress just as you had hoped it would?”

 

“It was far better than I ever hoped actually. I never expected to find the love of my life there, bidding for me,” she says dreamily. “We dined together, danced together and confessed our love for each other under the moonlight.”

 

“How romantic. But, falling in love after only one night is quite unrealistic - even you must admit that, Pipsqueak,” Hecate scoffs.

 

Pippa places her cup of tea on a tray and on hands and knees, stalks forward across the bed. Her pink satin robe left untied falls open leaving enough skin on display that Hecate draws in a sharp breath at the breathtaking sight. She nearly forgets to breathe altogether when Pippa crawls into her lap, wrapping her arms around her neck, fingers tangling in her hair before pulling Hecate into a lingering kiss.

 

“Mmm. Good thing we’ve been in love for decades then,” Pippa husks when they part.

 

“A very good thing,” Hecate agrees.