|Fire and Ice: The Wielder,The Giver and The Heir
Author: lemondropseverus PM
What do you do when everything you have is taken away from you? When an ancient curse takes effect and Cackles Academy becomes the battleground for two indistructible forces, the staff and the students race against time to protect all that they hold dearRated: Fiction T - English - Drama/Friendship - C. Hardbroom & Mildred H. - Chapters: 14 - Words: 145,632 - Reviews: 81 - Favs: 8 - Follows: 12 - Updated: 03-31-13 - Published: 06-11-11 - id: 7072518
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
*emerges from a huge stack of papers*
I need to apologize for taking forever to upload this chapter. Exams are a real pain and unfortunately, they are something that tends to interfere with fanfiction. For those of you who are concerned, I can honestly promise that the only thing that could stop me from discontinuing Fire and Ice is a comet falling on my house (or an equally catastrophic event). That being said, for the next month I cannot promise a steady uploading program. As I said, I have exams and as much as I would like to just forget about them and immerse myself in the wonderful WW world, alas I cannot.
Once again Hope will feel compelled to give all of you a history lesson which while might seem redundant at this point, will be the basis of everything that happens henceforth in both Book 1 and the following two parts. Unfortunately, the wonderful Jill Murphy didn't really give us much of an insight into how her magical world works, so I am taking the liberty to fill that void.
One important change is that I uploaded a cover for this story. In it I drew Hope and Evan the way I see them. Unfortunately fanfiction thumbnails are not even close to being big enough for you to see the picture clearly. So, if you do want to see them as I imagine them (and as far as my drawing skills help me), please let me know and I will find a way of showing you the picture.
Last but not the least, I want to thank all of those who have read the story thus far. A special thanks to all my reviewers: Chrissiemusa,HBrules, PrincessSammi ,chocomoon, AleksandraHardbroom, melissaIvory, dartsagel, DissectingPomegranates, pesi (if I missed someone, please let me know and I will add you ASAP). Also, a special thanks to NCD who reminded me that at least one person wanted to know how this story ends…
Warning: There are some scenes which, while not overly sexual, are somewhat intimate. Reader discretion is advised.
PS: I've been working on this for almost 12 hours straight... so please excuse any spelling/grammar mistakes... coffee-induced frenzy only goes so far...
FIRE AND ICE
BOOK I: THE WIELDER, THE GIVER AND THE HEIR
Chapter 12: I'm not upset that you lied to me, I'm upset that from now on I can't believe you (Friedrich Nietzsche)
Noah Elwood was having one of the most insanely surreal days in his life didn't know whether he should have cried or laughed at the insanity of the situation as he paced the floor of the familiar Cardiology Unit of the London Hospital for Magical Diseases and Afflictions. Sitting numbly on one of the standard blue chairs, the gym mistress cradled a now-cold cup of coffee, while starring blankly at the wall in front of her, her tanned cheeks showing the remains of the still-fresh streaks of tears. The doctor didn't know why he had agreed to accompany the gym teacher to the hospital. Maybe he didn't want to see the woman hurt herself in her distress, or maybe he didn't want to spoil his cover as a responsible doctor in the eyes of the headmistress. Also he had no idea why he was nervously pacing, for he was pretty certain that he wasn't worried for the life or welfare of Hope's direst enemy. Yes, Noah didn't know a lot of things but what he did know was that extremely healthy, extremely powerful, twenty-seven-year old men don't have sudden heart attacks. They don't. So why did Evan Mallard do?
The doctor supposed that his desire to know the answer to that particular question was what made him accompany the gym mistress to the hospital. He had heard two different accounts of what had happened from both the headmistress and Miss Drill and from a medical point of view there was absolutely no reason for the elusive Mr Mallard to be currently strapped to his bed, connected to a myriad of machines. This made Noah think that the cause of Evan's current predicament was a magical one and that intrigued him for a number of reasons. Now, magic could do many things, including, if the spell was deadly enough or had enough killing intent behind it, stop one's heart but as far as he knew, no one had actually cursed Mr Mallard. Plus, having a heart attack didn't stop one's heart; it usually occurred from the rupture of a plaque within the coronary artery which blocked the artery and caused the heart muscle do die. As far as he knew, there were no bloody spells that formed random clots with one's bloodstream or heart for that matter.
Quite frankly, the doctor was at a loss and felt, for the second time in the past month, that all the knowledge he had gathered during the six long years in medical school was absolutely obsolete. Any type of disease or affliction, whether it was magical or not, had to have some sort of cause. At least that was what he had firmly believed until he had been confronted with what was happening to both Constance, and now Mr Mallard. When he had been called by the headmistress he had desperately hoped that the people in the potions lab had managed to somehow come out. His hopes had been soon dashed when he had heard that it was Evan who needed his assistance. For a moment Noah had even pondered if it would be appropriate to help the man. A part of him had wanted to refuse to go to Cackle's and let the man who had done such harm to both Constance and Hope suffer and maybe even succumb to a miserable death. Yet, as he had been holding the phone to his ear and was listening to the desperate voice of the headmistress asking for instructions he remembered that as a doctor he had taken a binding vow to help everyone regardless of his feelings for them. As always, his good conscience won out.
From what he had gathered, the man was touching the blue magical field before the episode happened, so this lead the doctor to make two assumptions, the first one being that for some sort of reason the power of the field had physically overwhelmed the man and had brought him into the present condition. The problem with this particular train of thought was that it was faulty. While a sudden increase in magical exposure could have some physical effects on the body, he doubted that it was the case with Evan for one simple reason: his body was already acclimatised to high levels of magic. The aforementioned lead the doctor to his second assumption.
The second idea Noah was operating on both excited and terrified him. It was as if something (or someone) had willed the man's heart to stop. Or rather, more accurately, had willed one of his arteries to close up and block the flow of blood to his heart. This idea both excited and terrified Noah for he knew who would benefit the most from Evan's potential death. Did Hope manage to find a way out of the blasted class room? And if it wasn't Hope who was behind the man's predicament, then who was? As far as he knew, although Evan couldn't claim to be the nicest of people, he didn't have heaps of enemies that wished him dead. Or maybe he did. Who knew? Mr Mallard was after all as elusive as Hope herself and he realized that he knew as much about his relations as he knew about Hope's. Which was not much. In fact, apart from himself he had no idea if his best friend had any other friends.
This entire affair was confusing him greatly. For a second Noah wondered if, in retrospect, knowing what he knew now he would have still followed Hope on her mission. He sincerely doubted it. It wasn't that he didn't wish to help his friend. On the contrary, really. It was that the entire affair had cast far too many shadows upon her character.
" …at least you will have the consolation of keeping your best friend and her most noble intentions on a polished pedestal forever" He involuntarily remembered what Evan said what seemed like aeons ago, but was in fact a little more than a week. Was the man right? Had he not come with Hope to the Academy would he have still seen her as he used to? In fact, if he thought about it he realized that most of his doubts about his friend stemmed from her conduct during this particular situation. Beforehand, he had never stopped to analyse her character. He had never felt the need to know why she did certain things the way she did them. He used to simply take her words for granted, her actions as a given and her beliefs as the absolute truth. So what had changed?
Was realizing that he knew next to nothing about the woman that had been his faithful companion for the past ten years enough to dismiss her friendship? Or was he still under the sinister influence of the Master of Water and his ability to influence thoughts? Noah was was in this particular confused state of mind when he felt the irritating vibrations of his cell phone in his pocket. Knowing that the little contraption usually brought nothing but bad news, he hesitated for a moment. Yet, the incessant vibration and his own curiosity won out and with a steady hand he put the small black phone to his ear.
"Doctor Elwood speaking…" he answered in a steady, albeit slightly tired, voice. As he was listening to the voice on the other end, Noah's eyes grew as big as saucers and his mouth spread into a smile of happiness and relief.
When the castle walls violently shook one more time and she could feel a massive wave or energy disappear into nothingness, Amelia Cackle threw any kind of composure she might have had out the window and started to run towards the potions lab. She once again cursed her pudgy form, ill-fitted for any type of exercise, for the exact three seconds it took her to reach the room seemed like an eternity. She didn't know what to expect and it was with an extreme amount of trepidation that she approached the corridor where the potions laboratory was. The blue field that had been plaguing them for days was gone and its cold blue shimmer was replaced by the natural day light flooding the corridor from the small windows. It gave the entire corridor an ill-suited air of normalcy that Amelia immediately resented. After all that had happened, the castle should have not looked so very normal. She wished it would bear some form of battle scar that would remind them of the anxiety, the fear and the trepidation of the past few days. The headmistress had no way of knowing but her wish had been more than granted.
Miss Hawthorne, much paler and thinner than she remembered her to be, was holding the door to the potions lab open and, one by one, the four students and their teacher exited the room on shaky, tired legs. A wave of relief hit Amelia and she walked towards the potions teacher she had come to consider as her own child. For a moment Amelia wondered what to say. There were so many things that she wanted to say to Constance, so many ways in which she wanted to convey the emotion of the past few days that she found herself unable to speak. Instead she looked into the potion mistress' eyes and she knew that Constance understood. In those deep, dark eyes, like long, incessant tunnels, Amelia could see a mirror of everything her soul wanted to express. Words were not necessary between them, and with a certain amount of boldness that was only appropriate after such a dire situation, she pulled the teacher into a heartfelt hug. For a moment she could feel Constance stiffen in her embrace but then, as if the younger woman got used to the contact, she felt her tense muscles relax.
Hope looked at the scene between the headmistress and the deputy with a strange feeling of longing. No matter how hard she tried she would never be able to form such a connection with another human being. Maybe because she hadn't been taught how to properly interact with others... After all, how can you interact with people who are continuously and consistently afraid of you? Or maybe it was because there had always been a part of her that had never been quite human. Bottom line was that she could never hope to have someone look at her with such unconventional love in their eyes. The only person that had seemingly loved her had wanted nothing but to deprive her of her ancestral power. The only person that was supposed to love her unconditionally had instead done so out of parental duty and fear. Her only friend was slipping away from her at an alarming rate. For a second, the realization that she was alone hit her with the force of a truck and she had to control the involuntary wave of resentment that filled her heart. How was it that a woman, as cold and dour as Constance Hardbroom, could inspire such devotion while she, no matter of what she did, could inspire none?
"Miss Hawthorne, I presume?" a male voice rang behind her and Hope instinctively turned to see the face of a middle-aged wizard "Grand Wizard Egbert Hellebore, at your service" he recommended himself and the girl gave a faint smile in return.
The young woman took a long, hard look at the Grand Wizard and appraised him carefully. The man seemed pompous, his gestures unnecessarily embellished and his clothing far too ornamented to be deemed appropriate for everyday use. His shoulder-length hair, trimmed beard and the solid wooden staff he carried spoke of someone who valued tradition, someone who knew and adhered to the Old Ways. She quickly assessed his magical levels and discovered that they were nothing above average for a wizard, which for someone claiming the title of Grand Wizard was highly unusual. Inheritors of Merlin's title, Grand Wizards were usually selected by the High Wizarding Council to be the ones that protected the integrity of the magical world from non-magical people, to help heads of state who truly believed in magic and to protect and maintain the peace within the ever-small convent of magical beings. Since the time of Merlin himself, the Grand Wizard had been chosen from hand-picked, talented individuals whose magical prowess was above those of their peers. Yet the man in front of her seemed to have absolutely normal magical levels. His power wasn't anything out of the ordinary, so why had he been chosen to hold such a title?
The magical world of Britain was one whose rules and regulations had survived for more than a thousand years. It was a cloistered community that was divided into two covenants: that of witches and that of wizards. For non-magical people such segregation would have seemed terribly archaic, yet it suited the purposes of their world well. Witches and wizards had different roles, different purposes, different interactions with normal human being and, as such, different laws and rules of conduct. While the segregation had been lessened somewhat in the recent decades, mostly because higher educational establishments like Weird Sisters, and even some schools, catered to the needs of both sexes, it was ever so present in the workings of the higher government. The reason behind this was simple and somewhat redundant: tradition. The members of the Witches' Guild and those of the High Wizarding Council were members of the oldest families in the land, some of their family trees dating back to King Arthur. There were about twenty such families and the right to sit on either of these forums was inherited. Quite frankly, Hope was surprised that these bloodlines still existed but she guessed that most of them put pressure on the heirs to reproduce. There were even rumours of unlawful potions and spells used to ensure conception, the result being less than satisfactory heirs. Of course, after some incidents involving reckless youths, feeble-minded witches or wizards and just plain evil people, both forums had established certain guidelines to admit someone into their folds: they needed to be more than sixty years of age, sound of mind and free of spiritual blemish. Ever since those rules had been established a couple of hundred years ago, two families had never had members on the council: Hawthorne and Mallard. The reason for the exclusion of two of the oldest, most prominent families was, yet again, ridiculously simple: none of their heirs lived to reach sixty.
These people, raised in a very traditionalist environment were reluctant to make any concessions that were not in accordance with their archaic laws. As such, for centuries the magical world had been ruled by people who scorned progress, valued convention and stifled any attempt to modify the norms. In essence, their small community was in every way backward. That was why people who were coming from a non-magical background, either by affiliation or by simply being born with an extraordinary magical talent, found it hard to adjust to the seemingly senseless rules and partiality towards bureaucracy. Maintaining these ancient traditions the workings of the High Wizarding Council when choosing a Grand Wizard were very much similar to those of the Vatican Cardinals while choosing a pope. Those who sat on the council proposed one or several of their own to claim the title, and after days, or even months in extreme cases when a suitable candidate was not available, of voting the wizard who attained unanimity would be chosen. Much of their choice was based on politics. It was widely known in the intimate circles of the council that there were in fact two fractions: the ones who adhered to the Old Ways Merlin himself had established centuries before and the adepts of more liberal, progressive ideas, who sought to choose someone who would facilitate integration of the magical community into the current affairs of the modern world. Suffice to say that the latter was quite an unpopular notion and that Grand Wizards were usually followers of the Old Ways. Moreover as magical humans had much longer life-spans and that the title of Grand Wizard was granted for life, most voting processes were one-in-a-lifetime affair for the council members. One can only imagine how much pressure was put on those old men to choose the defender of their society properly. As such, they usually tended to choose based on three simple, safe, criteria: magical power, lineage and political views.
It was for that particular reason that Hope could not understand how the man in front of her had attained such a title. His power was not unusual. His lineage was obscure. As far as she knew, the Hellebore family was not one of the grand families of the magical world. She did make a mental note to ask Noah about the family, as she could not claim that she was acquainted with all of them. Only his obvious political view recommended him as a suitable candidate. So how did this obscure, otherwise unimportant man, weasel his way at the top of the highest magical forum in Britain? She did not have an answer to that particular question, but she did realize that if there was something about him that impressed the old hags on High Wizarding Council to the point that they abolished one of their most sacred rules, she needed to be very careful around him.
"Hope Hawthorne, pleased to meet you" she answered calmly, a simpering smile on her lips and a deceivingly pleasant expression plastered on her face. "How can I help you sir?"
"Well, Miss Hawthorne, if you feel up to it, we would all appreciate it if you answered some questions…" the Grand Wizard replied, his face as still as if set in stone.
"Of course…" she replied calmly after a moment of silence, her blue eyes never leaving those of the Grand Wizard. "But first, would you mind if I took a shower and changed out of these clothes?" she followed in a derisory tone and hurried towards her room, leaving the man behind with a smile on his face.
The young man entered the small house, his tall frame bending slightly so he didn't hit his head on the smaller than average door frame. He could hear the sound of pots and pans being shuffled around and, with the beginning of an amused smile of his face, he made his way towards the kitchen of the humble abode. There she was in the middle of the small kitchen, dressed in a red T-shirt, short jeans that barely covered her curves and sandals adorning her small white feet. Her black hair was tied at the nape of her neck in a long braid that reached the small of her back. Her thin hands were busily trying to cut something that looked like chocolate, working surely yet carefully with the big knife. Her face seemed serene yet a look of concentration was clear in her sharp blue eyes, her slightly knitted brows and her pouting lips.
He took a long, hard look at her and was, for a moment, struck at the air of normality surrounding the entire situation. There, in the small cabin he had rented they stopped being the mistress of fire and the master of air. They stopped being mortal enemies. Instead, they were just Hope and Evan. More so, they were a man and a woman who were madly in love with one another. This entire moment, him coming home after a long tedious day of studying the horribly boring laws of the government and her making… whatever she was making while waiting for him, seemed so surreal, so idyllic that he had to take a double take to make sure it was all real. This mock-suburban life wasn't for them. People like them, who had the fate of the entire world in their hands, did not deserve this degree of normalcy. Yet, he had to admit that it did send an odd ward current through him. He wanted this life. He wanted to wake up every morning and go about his tedious tasks knowing that she would be waiting for him. Moreover, he craved it. He would have stood there and looked at her forever but hearing him come she turned to face him.
"Hey… welcome back. Wasn't expecting you so early…" the girl came to him and placed a quick kiss on his lips and he fought the urge to laugh.
"What are you doing, Hope?" he asked a small chuckle escaping his lips. Looking at her from such a close distance he could see patches of flour and cocoa powder on her face, neck and clothes. He found it endearing. He knew that if she could help it she would have never even set foot into the kitchen. She was absolutely, completely pants at cooking anyway.
"Isn't it obvious? I am baking you a cake…" she answered as if it was the most obvious, natural thing to do and he once again refrained to laugh by placing a kiss on one of the chocolaty patches on her neck.
"You are baking? And why is that? Weren't the confectionary delights that we ordered from London enough to satisfy your craving for sugary treats?" he replied in an amused voice, his long arms circling her waist, drawing her closer to him. It still amazed him how perfectly she fit into his arms. It was as if she was a small piece broken from his frame.
"Don't laugh at me…" she said with a smirk her small fists lightly punching his chest." I wanted to make something special for our anniversary…"
"Anniversary? Sorry to disappoint you, my love, but that is on the 25th of the month… today is the 13th" he replied with mock-seriousness, his lips leaving trails down her neck.
"I know, silly… the anniversary of when I first saw you… when you first came to my house and you were scared of me, remember?" she answered seriously, her voice quieter than normal.
He lifted his head from the nape of her neck and looked into the deep blue eyes, a lump promptly forming into his throat. He had no idea how to respond to that. While Hope was quite affectionate when she wanted to be, she was also rather careless. He was usually the one to remember things like birthdays, anniversaries, and prior commitments. For her to remember something like that was close to extraordinary. For her to ask him if he remembered the moment he had first laid eyes on her was borderline insane. How could he have not remembered when her face, her movements, her eyes, her clothes, her laughter had been engraved into the depths of his heart? How could he have forgotten the moment that had changed his life forever? He wondered how he should answer her question. How he could explain the magnitude of what had happened on that hot summer day on the lawn of the Hawthorne Mansion. He didn't have enough words to explain the importance of that day for him. The English language and its extensive vocabulary failed to produce something even close to the nondescript feelings he had experienced. Yet, when he looked into her eyes he knew that he didn't need to explain himself. She understood. Instead he pulled her closer to him, and she rested her head on his chest while he kissed the top of her messy dark brown locks.
They would have stayed in that position longer than they did but the small kitchen was filling with a thick cloud of smoke. Smelling the pungent odour, Hope leaped from his arms and moved towards the oven. A series of fluid movements later, she had opened the oven, took a strange-looking round object from it and threw on the counter. For a moment Evan wanted to remind her to use some gloves before shoving her hands into the burning oven but then he mentally chastised himself for forgetting who the girl in front of him was. Instead, his eyes focused on the burning object on the counter and how she tried to will the flames away. It obviously wasn't working. While her natural power was great, her control of it was lacking. Not wishing to burn the entire house to the ground, he lazily waved his hand and a jet of cold water fell on the burning mass. For a second she seemed startled by the stream of water in front of her, but then her body relaxed, her surprised expression being replaced with one of sheer sadness and disappointment.
"Granny used to say that life is like a chocolate cake… sometimes it turns out right and sometimes it doesn't…and how it turns out depends on the skills of the baker" she said softly looking at the mass of burned gunge on the kitchen counter. Her tone, her sad eyes made his heart break. Without saying anything he walked behind her and pulled her into a warm hug.
Evan sluggishly opened his eyes, feeling his air supply cut short, his heart threatening to beat out of his chest. Even after his dream was dispelled, he could still feel her in his arms. He could still hear her voice, smell her expensive perfume, and feel her soft skin under his fingertips. Why was his mind, treacherous thing, torturing him like this? Ten years had passed since he had made that fatal choice, ten years since he had lost her forever. Ten years was a long time. What couldn't he forget her? Why couldn't he get her out of his mind, his soul, his heart?
Hope remembered Noah saying once, in one of his bouts of stating completely random facts, that when someone looks into a mirror they don't see themselves as the people around them do. They see an embellished metal image that the brain has concocted of the body. She remembered that particular fact because she had often wondered how others truly see her. Did they see a young woman with a perfectly lean body, appropriate curves, smooth skin and perfectly lovely face? Or did they see what she saw?
She passed thin hand through her wet, black hair and could not help but offer a loop-sided, derisory grin to her reflection. It wasn't that she had a distorted image of her own body. Far from it, really. She was perfectly aware that she was a fairly attractive woman and had used this particular feat to her advantage a great deal of times. Yet, when she looked into the mirror she couldn't help but shudder. She saw beyond the empty, pretty carcass that everyone looked at on a daily basis. She saw her eyes, big and blue, and apparently beautiful, yet so very vacant and cold. She saw her lips, full and red, drawn into a harsh line. She was her skin, unnaturally pale to the point of looking dead. It made her feel terrified for the reflection in the mirror didn't look like that of a flesh and blood woman but like that of a spectre, a ghost, an apparition.
Hope closed her eyes and drew a deep, harsh breath, taking in the humid air of the bathroom. Her hands quickly busied themselves with the clean clothes she had chosen. Her eyes firmly refused to meet the eyes of the creature in the mirror. She didn't want to believe that the person who had been staring at her was in fact herself. It could not be. That person was far too unhappy, far too void of any human feeling to be her. And yet, when was the last time she had been truly happy? When was the last time she had felt something beyond rage and an arduous desire to take revenge? She stopped dead in her tracks, the crisp, white T-shirt she was planning to wear limp in her hands. She hadn't been happy in so long that she actually forgot how it felt like.
Hope realized that she had everything anyone required to be happy. She had a house, she had plenty of money, and she had the power to do whatever she wished, whenever she wished it. She had a faithful friend that was willing to do anything for her and she was certain that if she tried hard enough she would effortlessly be able to find a nice bloke to have at her side. Yet, it wasn't enough. So betraying, so deceitful is the nature of man that no matter how much she had, she couldn't help but long for more. In her heart she could feel a deep desire burn. It made her tired and gave her a sense of purpose at the same time. It was the kind of thirst that no matter what she did, no matter how hard she tried, she could never aspire to quench.
She could, after all, just leave everything behind and move to some remote location. She could build a family and live what other human beings deigned as the perfect life. She could just tell Noah all her secrets and give up on this insane crusade what would end their friendship. But something inside her refused to let go. For so many years Hope had been set on taking revenge and on fulfilling the wish of her ancestors that she had no idea how to live otherwise. Nor did she wish to. No matter how twisted it was, the path she had constructed for herself was the only path she knew. Without it she would have no purpose. Leaving it would not quench the thirst that was crawling at her insides on a daily basis. As such, she realized that in order to fulfil her goals she was ready to give up the most precious thing she had. The only thing that still made her somewhat human: Noah. She would not, could not, tell the doctor all that she knew. She would not allow him to know everything even if it meant losing him forever. She would not allow him to interfere with the only thing that would potentially make her happy and give her a sense of closure. As she stood once again in front of the mirror, dressed in a dark pair of jeans and a white T-shirt, Hope realized that she wasn't in the least bit worried about her choice. After all, there was something oddly poetic about taking all your secrets into an early grave.
As Constance Hardbroom climbed the old wooden stairs that lead to her quarters she felt like she was in a daze. For eight days, eight incredibly long days she had been preparing herself to die. At that time it had seemed like the most logical thing to do. She had been sick, weak, and all the odds had been against her. Yet, she was alive, breathing in the familiar smell of old paint and wood, walking on the creaky staircases of the Academy. Why? As much as she wanted to just enjoy the moment she couldn't help but wonder why she was alive. Why was she able to walk without feeling any weakness? Why wasn't she fallen on the floor somewhere expelling gallons of her own blood? These questions were circling through her mind and as much as she wanted to put them to rest she found that her pedantic mind would not.
She opened the wooden door and took a step inside her bedroom. The air was stale and dust had been gathering on the polished wood of the furniture. It was obvious that no one had entered the room while she had been trapped in the potions lab. For a second she was tempted to remove the dust with a wave of her hand but something inside her stopped her. For how long would have the room remained in the desolate state it was now if she had died in the class room? Would have Amelia kept the room like that for all eternity like a sad, empty reminder of her potions mistress? Would it have been kept preserved until Amelia herself passed on? Would it be longer? Somehow knowing that her disappearance would leave behind an empty room, stuck in time, made Constance feel oddly touched and disturbed at the same time. For once, she realized, with the amazement that usually accompanies such realizations, that her death would have a tangible impact on the inhabitants of the castle.
She took a deep breath, still slightly shocked that she was able to do so, allowed the dusty air to invade her still tender lungs and gracefully seated herself at the small desk littered by close to twenty bottles of pills and potions. Her fingers traced the cap of each and every one of them a feeling of immense pleasure rising in her breast. Did her miraculous recovery mean that she would never have to depend on those vile, artificial life preservers? She resented them. Each and every small, dark yellow bottle. Each and very small vile of potions. She hated them with burning passion for those bottles were twenty undeniable, little proofs that she was weak and unable to control the workings of her own body. For a split second, Constance entertained the notion of vanishing them but once again restrained herself from waving her hand. What if after the adrenaline of the traumatic experience wore off she found herself in the same wretched state as before?
"How are you, Constance?" Amelia asked with an obvious trace of worry in her tone. She had followed the potion mistress into her room and now observed her closely. Strangely enough, Constance seemed better that she had been before the entire potions lab ordeal and that concerned Amelia. It wasn't that she wished her teacher to be sick, but this apparently amazing recovery did raise a lot of questions. What had happened in that potions lab? Apart from being tried and rather thin, all those directly involved in the ordeal seemed otherwise fine. The students, promptly fed by Miss Tapioca and cuddled by both Miss Drill and Miss Bat, seemed to bear no obvious physical scar. The same was true for both adults. Amelia considered immediately asking Constance but she instinctively knew that it wasn't the right time for it. Instead, she was resolute to ask the Grand Wizard about his interview with Miss Hawthorne and to request Doctor Elwood to check on the potion mistress' health. She somehow suspected that he would be more than happy to comply with her request.
"I am fine… Better than I have been in days, in fact" Constance answered truthfully, her eyes still fixated on the myriad of bottles on the desk. Why was one of them missing?
"We had an incident with Mr Mallard…he had an attack of some sort yesterday and Doctor Elwood told us to give him that…" Amelia replied to the unvoiced question, noticing that the potion mistress was focusing on the empty spot.
Constance nodded in understanding and Amelia knew that she needed to be left to her own devices. Without adding anything, the headmistress quietly closed the door to the room and made her way to check on the four students. The potion mistress stood straight and still, her mind trying to make sense of what was happening around her. Mr Mallard being sick? Or better said, the man that had trapped them having something potentially dangerous happening to him? It surely couldn't have been a coincidence. But if it wasn't, then what had happened to the man? Had Miss Hawthorne done something to harm him when she dispelled the field? And if she did, what did she do?
Hope entered the staff room fully prepared for an onslaught of questions. Nodding to the two wizards she made her way to one of the old chairs next to the table and sat gracefully, her posture rigid and defensive, yet appearing quite calm and nonchalant. She had already made up her mind not to let herself be cornered by the Grand Wizard. Her earlier observations of the man recommended him as being not a particularly powerful opponent, but an intriguing one. She instinctively knew that the man was more dangerous than others gave him credit for and she was determined not to allow him to get the upper hand.
"It's a bit chilly, isn't it?" Egbert said with a smile, dramatically rubbing his hands together as to emphasize a point "Do you mind lighting the fire, Miss Hawthorne"
"I am pretty certain that the Grand Wizard is more proficient at the fire spell than I am… " she said calmly, crossing her long legs in front of her. Hope could barely contain her smirk at the poorly veiled reference to her Elemental Nature. It was obvious that the wizard knew something about the extent of her power. How much he knew, she did not know. Yet she decided that she would not freely give him any information that he could use.
"And yet, I heard otherwise… I heard that you have a certain… partiality… towards fire" the grand wizard said in a slightly mocking voice. She wondered if the man was an idiot. Or if he had any sense of self-preservation whatsoever. If he indeed knew, or at least suspected, who she was and what she could do, how dared he talk to her in such a way?
"Not more than other witches…" Hope answered with an infuriating degree of innocence, her eyes widening slightly.
"That's not what I heard" Egbert stated more forcefully, sensing that the conversation was going absolutely nowhere. He was being played and he didn't like it one bit.
"What exactly did you hear, sir?" she asked with the same politeness that she had used beforehand, her question laced with insincere confusion.
"I heard that you have a unique command over fire" The Grand Wizard answered almost victoriously.
"Then I fear you have been misinformed" she replied simply, twisting the tip of her curly hair around her fingers.
"I think not… especially in light of recent events. How did you dispel the field, Miss Hawthorne?" He could no longer sit and he had taken to pacing the room, while the woman was looking at him with wide blue eyes. She was infuriating.
"In light of recent events? You are being very vague sir. " she said with fake confusion her eyes widening further as if she was scared of his nervous pacing
"I of course refer to what has happened in the potions lab " he almost screamed in frustration. It was strange, but something about the woman made him want to tear the hair off his head.
"Oh, for God's Sake, Egbert! This isn't one of your former glory days when kings asked you to interrogate their prisoners. " Algernon intervened forcefully looking at the small pale face of Miss Hawthorne. The poor girl had been through so much already, and now Egbert was almost shouting at her, clearly making her more nervous. She looked so small, frail and afraid that Algernon could not help but feel sorry for her. He also knew that he needed to caution Egbert to mind his temper, after all, as far as they knew, the girl was not guilty of anything. As she offered him a small smile in gratitude, he could feel a sense of warmth explode in his chest.
Egbert looked at both his friend and Miss Hawthorne and sighed in frustration. He wondered for a second who the bigger moron was: him for allowing her to get under his skin or Algie for actually believing her cheap acting?
There was something anticlimactic about the way in which Noah saw Constance. While she had been trapped in the potions lab and he had desperately tried to find a way to get her out of there Noah had often imagined how their reunion would be. He had imagined that after such a powerful death and life experience something would dramatically change when he once again laid eyes on her. He had imagined that he would go to her, sweep her off her feet and give voice to the power of the feelings he was nursing for the potions mistress. He had imagined long-winded declarations of love, passionate burning kissed, fireworks and the earth changing its axis. He had not, however, imagined that once he was face to face with Constance Hardbroom he would be completely and utterly tongue-tied.
She was beautiful. Thinner and perhaps more tired than she remembered her to be, but beautiful nonetheless. Her freshly-washed dark hair was plaited at her side and she was wearing dark-purple, silk pyjamas that made her pale skin give off an unearthly, pearly glow. The expression on her face was neutral, but the ever present look of sadness in her eyes seemed more pronounced now as if her soul had suddenly become older, wiser. There were a million and one things that the doctor wanted to say, yet none of them seemed appropriate. He could express regret at what she had been through. He could tell her of the impact of her absence had on his heart and conscience. He could simply tell her of the multitude of feelings he was harbouring for her. But, regardless of how much he tried, he was unable to find the appropriate words. Nothing that he could say could reflect the magnitude of the experience she had been through or soothe the traumatic effects of said experience. Nothing that he could say could reflect what he truly felt for her and the conflicted state of mind he had been for the past eight days. Nothing was good enough for her.
He had realized during the past few days that his feelings for her surpassed the depth of anything he had ever experienced. What he felt for the woman in front of him wasn't a school boy's crush or infantile teenage infatuation. Was it love? Yes and no. He of course thought her to be very attractive and could feel his heart beat madly in his chest whenever he looked at her. It didn't help that other, more private parts of him, reacted to her beautiful white skin, her tall, lean body and well-placed curves. He had more than once imagined the woman in situations that would probably make the prude potions mistress blush. But apart from the purely physical attraction, Noah truly felt a deep sense of affection towards her. It was the same attachment that one feels towards a kindred spirit, towards someone who understand you and whom you understand in return. That, together with his desolation at the thought of losing the woman in the course of the past few days, would have pointed towards him being in love. Yet, Noah knew that things were far from being so simple. All the feelings he had for her were enrooted in a deep sense of admiration that bordered on adulation. She was the only woman he had ever met in his life that showed such dignity in front of hardships, that had such a hard-line moral compass, that he found it hard not to respect Constance and her strong moral character. It was that deep respect he held for her that prevented him from acting on his more primal impulses and that, at times such as this, robbed him of words. He loved her. He loved what she represented. He loved what she stood up for. He wasn't so certain that he was truly in love with her.
"Miss Hardbroom… I am glad to see that you are… alive…" the words tumbled out of his mouth clumsily and he regretted them immediately after they had left his mouth.
"Thank you, doctor Elwood. I am certainly glad to be alive as well…" Constance answered slightly embarrassed by his clumsiness, a slight sense of derision prevalent in her tone.
"May I?" he asked
Noah opened the top two buttons of her silk pyjama blouse and his fingers came into contact with the smooth skin of her chest. Before he knew what possessed him, he allowed his fingers to gently trace the prominent outline of her sternum, her jugular vein, her jaw bone. Every caress, every touch sent little electric currents though his body and for a second Noah felt like a school boy touching a girl for the first time. His vivid green eyes hungrily watched the rhythmic rising and falling of her chest, her breathing slightly laboured in response to his touch. Although Constance had straightened slightly in discomfort, she did not oppose his ministrations and her elevated pulse told him that despite her better judgement, her body seemed to enjoy this slight newly-found intimacy. Dignity, composure and respect uncharacteristically out of the window, Noah lowered his head and pressed his dry lips to her collar bone. Her back arched slightly and he could, as he left a trail of kisses on her neck, now clearly hear the soft sound of her laboured breathing. She raised her hand and tangled her long, pale fingers into his dark curly hair, gently massaging his scalp. Noah turned his attention from her neck to her lips and he soon found himself pressing his lips to her. Their first kiss had been chaste, respectful and the mark of a beginning. Their second kiss was much rougher for he allowed it to be infused with all his pent up desire. For a blissful few moments he gave himself fully, freely to her and he could feel her doing the same.
When their lips were no longer touching, Constance opened her eyes and an overwhelming sense of shame overtook her. It had been so long, almost fifteen years, since she had allowed someone of the opposite sex to touch her in such an intimate manner and she wasn't quite certain how to respond. While, from a physical point of view, she was shamefully enjoying the doctor's attention, something inside her kept reminding the potions mistress that the last time she had allowed a man to be intimate with her, things had not ended well. Looking into his beautiful green eyes, ablaze with passion of every conceivable kind, she wished she could quiet the voice inside her that urged her not to give into her more primal wishes. For a moment, she wanted to be another woman, one that could just give into him, consequences be damned. But she could not. Her conscience kept reminding her that while she felt she had known him all her life, she realistically knew next to nothing about the man, that she was very likely to get hurt and that if she went through an experience as unpleasant as the last one had been she was more than likely to not survive it.
"I think we need to talk…" she whispered softly, placing a cold hand on his cheek.
"I think you might be right" he replied in a low voice and took her hand in his much bigger one.
"Before we engage in any kind of… arrangement, I feel it is only fair for us to know more about each other…" she did not know how to phrase her words more appropriately. His slightly uncomfortable look made her resent her lack of proficiency in matters of the heart.
For his part, Noah took a deep breath and shifted uncomfortably. It wasn't that he didn't want to tell her whatever she wished about his life, it was that most of his life wasn't his to tell. For ten years his life had been so entangled into Hope's existence that most of his secrets weren't his and betraying them would mean betraying his best friend. He could understand Constance's wish to know more about him and he certainly wanted to know more about her, but he didn't want to be disloyal to or endanger his friend in any way.
"What do you wish to know?" he asked calmly, hoping that his neutral tone hid the discomfort he was experience.
"I know that you came here because of Miss Hawthorne, what I wish… need to know, is why exactly you came to Cackle's…" Constance asked calmly, genuinely hoping that his answer would be one that would put her questions to rest, not only about the nature of his relationship with the younger woman but also about matters of security.
Of all the questions she could have asked, that one was probably the worst. For one, he realized that Hope had told her something about their mission in the academy and that she knew certain things, but he didn't know exactly what had trespassed between the two women. How much had Hope told her? Has she told her the truth? He suddenly resented his best friend for putting him into such a difficult position. He resented her obsession with secrecy and her perchance for deceiving people. For once, he was resolute to untangle himself from her web of lies and answer as frankly as possible without deliberately endangering her.
"My father died ten years ago and at his funeral my mother lost her mind. Ever since I've been trying to find a way to… fix… my mother. I became a recluse, my friends deserted me and the only one that stayed behind was Hope…" he started a bit shakily, choosing his words carefully "She became my best friend… the only stable thing in my life…the only one I could truly count on. Please, don't get me wrong, there is nothing beyond friendship between me and her. I don't love her, quite frankly most of the time I'm not sure I even like her… it's just that I'm indebted to her… for being there and for helping me through some of the most difficult periods of my life. So when she told me she needed help with coming to the academy I felt it was my duty to help. Hope… she isn't the easiest person to get along with, but once you get to know her and accept certain things about her, she truly can be a good, loyal friend…"
"She told me that there are two things she is trying to protect at Cackle's… what are they?" she asked slightly relieved that there was nothing beyond friendship between the two. Constance looked into his green eyes and found absolutely no trace of dishonesty. She also found that, in light of what had happened between herself and the younger woman in the potions lab, she could understand his feelings.
"Two things?" he offered a mirthless laugh" I only know of one…"
"What is the one thing you know of?" She asked calmly, her eyes fixed onto his. Noah once again took a deep breath a contrite look passing on his features for a second.
"You" he answered simply "You are one of the things she is trying to protect… there is some sort of connection between the two of you… "
Constance said nothing, allowing the magnitude of his words to sink it. Miss Hawthorne was here to protect her. Why? She did not know. But somehow that statement made sense. After all, during the entire potions lab affair the woman had done nothing but ensure that she was as comfortable as possible during. She had effectively taken care of her and that wasn't something that Constance was accustomed to. Ever since her father had died when she was but twenty years old she had learned not to rely on anyone. And yet, there was this young girl on whom she had learned to rely. For a second, she felt remorseful about all the distrusting thoughts that she bore towards her. Even if they were justified at the time, she couldn't help but feel guilty about them. Then, in the same breath her eyes opened wide in realization.
"Doctor Elwood, I think you should go into the staff room. Miss Hawthorne might need your assistance…" she asked quietly, realizing the woman who had been protecting her for God knows how long was currently undergoing a gruelling interview with the Grand Wizard.
"Gentlemen, I am sorry to interrupt your discussion, but I believe that I need to check on Miss Hawthorne after the ordeal she has been in…" the animated discussion was stopped by the entrance of the tall figure of Doctor Elwood and the Grand Wizard could not help but disapprovingly shake his head at the development.
"Of course, Doctor. Go ahead" Algernon replied quickly making Egbert swallow his disapproving words with a grimace on his face.
"Wait, Doctor Elwood…" Egbert called as an afterthought and the man turned to face him from the doorway " Did Mr Mallard have a pre-existing heart condition?"
"No… he did not" Noah took a moment to respond and decided that it was safe to answer the truth.
"Thank you, Doctor" Egbert said throwing a victorious smile towards his friend.
Noah nodded calmly, his features stern and stoic, emoting close to nothing. With a shake of his head he motioned Hope to follow him and the woman gladly did so. Thanking every divinity possible for sending Noah, Hope gracefully nodded towards the wizards and made her way out of the room, not looking back. Her mind was abuzz with questions and she found that the walk towards her room took far too long. Why did the Grand Wizard ask Noah about Evan's health? Did something happen to him? And if it did, what had happened to him? And more importantly, why? They walked together in complete and utter silence until they reached her room where Noah closed the door being him slightly more forcefully than strictly necessary.
"You have no idea how happy I am to see you, Noah!" Hope offered what she hopped to be a genuine smile in order to dispel the tension between them. She genuinely believed that this was a better opening statement than 'Hi Noah, is my arch enemy / ex-boyfriend / love of my life dead?'. Yet Noah's straight face told her that he did not appreciate her restraint.
Noah said nothing and took a long hard look at the girl who was his best friend, and, until recently, the only one he could trust implicitly. With a deep sigh, he sat on the edge of her bed and motioned her to take a seat as well. Slightly confused and worried by the increased awkwardness between the two Hope did so, gracefully sitting on her desk chair, her legs crossed, her arms tense. To Noah she looked like a panther ready to attack and he felt his courage falter for a second.
"I am tired of this, Hope…" he said calmly, once again sighing, his green eyes showing the weariness that had been building up in his soul for more than two weeks.
"Tired of what?" she asked slightly more defensive than she intended, grateful that the uncomfortable silence between them had finally been broken.
"This" he waved his hands around the room to emphasize his point "The mystery, the secrecy, everything. I am tired of you trying to do things behind my back. Of you trying to hide everything. It's confusing and I am beyond the point of being patient about it… For example, your enemy, who I found out, to my infinite surprise was in some sort of romantic liaison with you, had a heart attack… care to tell me why?" his voice was uncharacteristically bitter and derisory
"He had what?" she asked in genuine surprise, her brain failing to process what Noah was saying.
"A heart attack… I gather by the look of utter surprise on your face that you had nothing to do with it?" he asked equally confused as she was, but for different reasons. He did not doubt that she knew nothing about what had happened to Mr Mallard but that meant that something else was harming that man.
"Is he…" her voice trailed softly not really daring to finish her sentence. A strange form of concern rose in her heart and she cursed it. She was supposed to have killed all form of positive feeling toward that man years ago.
"He is in a surprisingly good condition considering that almost half of his heart muscle is dead " he answered calmly and Hope nodded. She seemed quite distressed and Noah wondered if he should still continue his line of questioning. Something about seeing her so confused, so strangely concerned was unsettling "Hope, what exactly is it hidden here at Cackles? What are you so desperately trying to protect?" he asked in a much softer voice and she tore her eyes from the floor to face him
"Something that has been missing for centuries… the Holy Grail…" she answered softly, her blue gaze looking into his green one with all seriousness.
AN: So, we have reached the end of another eventful chapter… I am currently trying really hard to not go into my usual self-depreciating diatribe and assume that after I've made you guys wait for so long no one will actually read this anymore (can't really help it though…)
Yet, I guess that if you did get thus far you read this chapter (unless you just randomly like to scroll down…) So if you did, feel free to take some time to let me know what you liked/not liked about it/ or about the entire story by pressing the newly embellished review button (isn't the new ff makeover so cool?) I love hearing from you guys and I promise that I will reply ASAP.
Next time: How the girls are coping with the aftermath of the incident, a serious discussion between two characters takes place and the mystery complicates even further