Christmas was drawing near at Cackle's academy. She wore her painridden expression that morning. The one that only one person could crease upon her face. Miss Hardbroom announced today's topic with dread.

"Mistress Heckitty Broomhead. She does not even like the holiday! Does not approve of it in any way." "She would not." agreed Miss Bat in a small voice. She was alone in the staffroom, apart from the flaring black fury that just entered. Her hands slowly drew away from her hair which she had been decorating with ivy into an even bigger mess than usual. She blew away a crispy lock that fell before her mouth. Then followed her colleague's guilty, no forlorn downward glance to the neatly tied up package in her slender hands.

"That is..?" "I am afraid so." "Oh dear." "This morning's mail."

"Do you need to sit down?" Instigated by those words, sounding entirely novel to her ears, Miss Hardbroom made her way to the cranky table. Miss Bat risked hovering an arm around her waist, Constance was too upset to notice. She placed the package before her impeccably parallel to the table's edge. Miss Bat silently poured her tea, placed the cup in front of the concentrated woman, considered seeking out the solace of her cupboard, reconsidered bravely and sat down in her own chair.

Moments passed in silence and in an utter stillness that could break either's spirit. Miss Bat figured she'd be first to cave and crumble, her shattered lacy remains to be found underneath the table by some unfortunate student or colleague bless their sweet souls. "What are we looking at?" the door creaked its usual uplifting creak, a horrid sound now, at Miss Drill's entrance. Miss Hardbroom's grim face looking up from the grey box silenced her.

What was a bomb to Miss Hardbroom, judging by her conduct and not by the actual seemingly harmless form of the parcel, was a bomb to them all. The witch's hard stare locked back onto her original target. Only then Miss Drill found the courage, not to come near, but to act responsibly: to fetch Miss Cackle.

:p

Not even Miss Bat dared suggest a present from that witch couldn't be all bad. A hoarse whisper left Constance, she spoke to herself, attempted to address her ever present reason. "It can't be worse than any other time." knowing that Miss Bat was still present she briefly acknowledged her presence with a sidewards look and explained. "She used to give me a holiday present" She swallowed. "every year." Eyes back to the box. Miss Bat did not want to be in this room, or the entire freaking castle! She could no longer bear the abhorring death ray gaze on Miss Hardbroom's face. No cupboard to protect her from this, even though the gaze was solely directed at the present it would burn through everything in existence. "Throw it away!" She almost reached out for the present.

"Pretend it never arrived." "It did." Silence. Miss Bat folded her cosy warm layered arms around her chest. "well what did she used to get you?"

Miss Hardbroom sighed, frustrated, defeated, any other emotion or none. She would have kept it to herself. She should have opened it in her room. Opened it and be done with it. Hid it, think about it all day, and the next day and the next... and be done with it. Her morning routine had brought her here. Now the weight of the situation had fully descended upon her she couldn't stomach the prospect of opening it all alone.

Miss Cackle arrived just in time, the crumbling Miss Bat skittered out of the room. Her cupboard would provide more comfort, but she did not want to be stuck there to hear this conversation only to come out hours later still trembling like a leaf. She liked to pretend dark things, like Miss HB's private life, did not exist.

Miss Cackle immediately sat down beside the potions teacher in her unforced motherly manner. She held Constance's cold hand which was lying on the table. To Miss Drill standing by the door, she said. "Inform the girls that there will be no potions class this morning." Miss Hardbroom sprang up. "That is out of the question." Miss Cackle shushed her back on her seat, kindly laying her hands on her rigid shoulders. "Potions class will start later today."

"Miss Cackle," came Constance's self-assured order as Miss Drill carefully shut the door. After some time this was followed by a heartbroken whisper of "stay here. I don't want it." "Let me have a look at that." "You are not opening it for me, I am not putting anyone else in danger." "Of course not." "If there is a curse on it, it is mine." She already knew there wasn't, not an obvious one at least, she had performed some spells on it already.

The package lay still untouched. "Give yourself some time, Constance." "I am already wasting too much worry over this." Miss Hardbroom securely locked the staff room door by spell. She went back to the package only to not open it. "Perhaps you could open the letter first." Amelia opted extremely carefully. "Her letters are even worse." "Then the package..." "No. It would make little sense without the letter. She expects the correct order to be followed."

There was hurt there, an overfamiliarity with it. An accustomed hurt. "Am I right that this has happened before?" "When I was a student under her." Miss Hardbroom undid the sober wrappings now. "She gave me items she particularly hates, confiscated, then personalised."

Being rebellious, she opened the box before reading the letter. She took one look inside, then moved her attention to what season's greetings her enemy, she could think of no better fitting word, wrote to her.

Miss Cackle put her hand on the envelope and, however completely unlikely to others it would seem that HB would allow this to happen, gave her deputy a warm hug.

When she let go, or rather Constance leaned back and Amelia took the hint. Miss Hardbroom forcefully shoved her chair back, letting the letter rip itself apart unread and marched out of the room to be sick.

Hours later Miss Drill and Miss Bat returned to the staff room after their first lesson periods. "How is she?" "I left her in the potions lab with a glass of red wine." "That should help." Miss Drill said sarcastically. "What a waste, she won't drink it. She should try some yack milk." "No, Davina, not now. Not even that could help her now. Food, drink and support is all we can give." "And a bed." "Well, you know how she is. Teaching comes first." "So what was in the box?" Miss Drill almost succeeded in not sounding afraid or excited about the thing they really came here for, apart from Christmas cream cakes. Miss Bat patted her on the arm. "You don't want to know, dear." Yet going against her wishes of not wanting to know, she went directly to the table and took a peek. "Chalk, charcoal and small bottle." contributed Miss Drill, naming the objects of evil. "Don't, touch. It may be poison." "It's worse." said Miss Cackle. "A potion?" "Perfume." her dead pan tone clearly imitating Constance's. Miss Bat sprayed a whiff on her wrist. "Ew horrid scent."

FIN