Disclaimer: I don't own the Worst Witch or Weirdsister College or any of the characters. Having said that, Louise Hardbroom was my own invention, but I can't claim any rights over any of the other characters, sadly. I've just adopted them temporarily for this fanfic. This is just for fun, so I don't make any money out of it (although, in my opinion, I think I should make a fortune from it, but I guess that's just the way it goes...)
Secrets of the Deep
It was Monday morning, and Weirdsister College was buzzing with activity. Students and lecturers alike were rushing around, preparing for classes. Amidst all the chattering, Miss Hardbroom walked in through the main entrance, followed by her niece, Louise. Louise Hardbroom wasn't particularly tall, but was really quite slim, and her long, wavy, dark brown hair fell down to her waist. Miss Hardbroom seemed to have recovered completely from the shock of discovering, only a week ago, that her niece had spent the last year as a cat (due to an unsuccessful magical demonstration given by Dr. Starfinder at a college open day). She walked quickly, and purposefully through the door, with a grim expression on her face.
Just at that moment, Dr. Starfinder was unfortunate enough to come running round the corner, late for his class, and narrowly miss a head-on collision with her. He stopped dead, and the blood drained from his face. He avoided making eye contact with her as he quietly stammered his apologies. He looked so awkward that Louise almost felt sorry for him. Almost. She hadn't been tremendously thrilled about being turned into a cat, however, and the look she wore on her face made her look so much like her aunt that it was unnerving. Miss Hardbroom was so angry she was unable to speak. Not that she had to, though. The look on her face said it all.
"I really am sorry. You've no idea how bad I feel about it now. If I could go back and change it I would." Starfinder stopped talking and looked from Miss Hardbroom to Louise, but Louise looked about as impressed with his apologies as her aunt did. He looked back to Miss Hardbroom, hoping that she would say something. He felt extremely awkward with the way she just looked at him. After a fairly long pause, she seemed to regain her power of speech. When she spoke, she spoke quietly and slowly.
"If you ever ... come anywhere near me or my niece again ... then you'll regret it for the rest of your life." This didn't appear to be the reaction Starfinder had been hoping for, and he fell into silence, unsure of what to say. Miss Hardbroom shot him one last look before marching off, closely followed by her niece. Louise took a few steps before turning to look at him. She stopped for a split second as her eyes met his, then hurried after her aunt.
He stood for a minute, thinking. Louise hadn't looked that angry when she had turned to look at him. He couldn't be sure, but he thought she looked as though she was more upset than angry, and almost as though she pitied him. This, of course, made him feel even worse. He wanted to show her just how sorry he was, to show her that he meant it. However, he was too afraid of Miss Hardbroom to risk it. Besides, even if he did manage to catch her on her own, how would he manage to make her listen, or convince her not to tell her aunt? He knew it was hopeless, so he tried to push it to the back of his mind for the time being and headed off to take his class.
* * *
The atmosphere in Starfinder's class that morning was electric. The sound of excited chatter met him as he walked through the door, fifteen minutes late. He looked extremely flustered as he hastily put the books he was carrying on his desk and turned to the class.
"Alright ... quiet, please," he said in a rather distracted manner as he looked about his desk.
"What's up with you? Aren't you excited about the beach trip?" asked Tim. Starfinder gave him a blank look.
"The what? ... Oh ... yes, right."
Tim and Azmat looked at each other as though Starfinder had gone mad and had just started speaking in tongues.
"How on Earth could you forget about it?" Azmat asked him. The shock was clear in his voice. Starfinder didn't answer as he looked through the sheets of paper on his desk. He didn't seem to have heard. Truth be told, he was too busy thinking about Louise and Miss Hardbroom to notice what was going on around him.
"Have they found another lecturer to go instead of Dr. Wendle yet?" Tim tried again to get Starfinder's attention. Suddenly, Starfinder had a brainwave.
"Alright, there's no point in trying to do anything today. Class dismissed." With that, he turned ran from the room. The students didn't know what to make of Starfinder's strange behaviour, and they looked at each other in bewilderment before heading for the door.
"That was strange," Milly commented.
"Looks like he might be more excited than we thought!" said Tim.
"Oh ... it's going to be amazing!" Cas had an excited, yet distant, dreamy look on her face.
"I know. Just imagine ..." Milly looked like she too had just become lost in a far off, distant fantasy world. "Riding unicorns across the beach, swimming in the sea, exploring the caves ..." She shut her eyes as she pictured the scene.
"Sounds like the perfect fairytale," Hobbes commented, with more than just a slight hint of sarcasm in his voice.
"If you think it'll be so boring then why bother going? We could just as easily stay here," suggested Ethel. Hobbes pulled her to one side; leaving the others to chat about the 'dream holiday' they were all looking forward to.
"I'll tell you why," he said. "Because this place we're going to, this 'Secret Shores', as it's called. It's not just a holiday resort for witches and wizards."
"What do you mean?" Ethel asked him. Hobbes looked around to make sure nobody was listening before lowering his voice and continuing.
"Secret Shores was given it's name for a very good reason. Rumour has it, that a powerful wizard was once resident in Secret Shores. A very powerful wizard. He spent his whole life gathering all the power he could; learning everything there was to know about magic. One other wizard saw what he was doing, and, knowing just how dangerous such power could be, warned him not to let greed overcome him. However, his heart had already turned bitter and cold, and he used his powers to kill the one who had dared to speak against him."
"I've heard that story before," Ethel said. "As he was casting the spell, his victim managed to sum up enough strength to cast a spell of his own; he turned his attacker into a precious stone, which was set into the wall of a cave and covered with rock."
"Yes, covered with rock and hidden from all mankind."
Ethel looked at Hobbes, wondering what he was getting at.
"Wait a minute, you're not suggesting that it's actually true, are you?" she asked. He said nothing, and she interpreted the silence correctly. "It's just a story, a fairytale made up to attract the tourists..."
"Actually, Ethel, it's more than that..." He stopped and looked around to make sure nobody was watching, and then turned back to her. "I spent last summer at Secret Shores, and have reason to believe that it's all true. If it is, and we find the stone, we'll have all that wizard's power in our hands."
"But even if it is true, how on Earth would we be able to use the power? It's trapped inside a stone, along with the wizard..."
"There will be a way, it's just a matter of finding it."
Ethel didn't answer, but remained doubtful.
* * *
Starfinder ran through the corridors of Weirdsister College, looking for Dr. Wendle. He eventually found her in Professor Thunderblast's office. The door was open slightly, and the two of them looked up as Starfinder practically fell through it onto the desk.
"You haven't arranged for anyone to take your place on the trip to Secret Shores yet, have you?" he asked, addressing Dr. Wendle before she had the chance to say anything. Dr. Wendle was taken aback by Starfinder's sudden entrance, and she looked at him in confusion before answering.
"No, I haven't. It looks like I'll just have to go after all and sort out this paper work when I get back. Why?"
Starfinder looked relieved, and his eyes lit up as he spoke.
"I've had an idea."
Dr. Wendle put down her pen and folded her arms on the table, a look of interest on her face.
"Well, lets hear it then!" said Professor Thunderblast.
* * *
Miss Hardbroom was unpacking her belongings, in silence. She worked quickly, her anger clearly visible on her face. Cupboard doors were being closed slightly harder than was necessary, and clothes were literally being fired into the wardrobe. Louise watched from a safe distance.
"Are you alright?"
Miss Hardbroom stopped what she was doing, and her expression softened as she looked at her niece. She sat down on the bed and Louise sat down beside her.
"Yes, it's just ..." She sounded agitated as she spoke. She paused for a moment, before continuing. "I was just so worried about you. And when I found out ... what he did to you." For a few seconds, her eyes filled with fury, just as they had done when she had first discovered what had happened to Louise. Once again, her expression softened as she looked at her niece. Louise smiled kindly at her aunt.
"Look, I'm alright! I mean, I wasn't exactly pleased to be turned into a cat ... but I think Dr. Starfinder really meant it when he said sorry. I know he shouldn't have done what he did, and I am still angry at him for that, but I've been turned back now and I'm alright."
Miss Hardbroom gave her niece a weak smile. Just then, there was a tentative knock on the door.
"Come in," Miss Hardbroom called. The door opened to reveal Dr. Starfinder himself. He spoke very quickly, before Louise or Miss Hardbroom had the chance to stop him.
"OK, I just want to talk, so please hear me out. I'm not sure if anyone's told you, but some of the students and teachers are leaving tonight to go to Secret Shores. It's a holiday resort for witches and wizards. There's beaches where you can fly broomsticks, ride unicorns, or practise magic without anyone non-magical seeing you. Dr. Wendle was supposed to be going, but she's got a stack of paper work she needs to get through. I've spoken to both Dr. Wendle and Professor Thunderblast, and I've managed to convince them to let you go in her place, Miss Hardbroom, and Louise, if you want, there's a space for you too." He stopped talking and held his breath as he waited for a response. There was silence as he looked from Louise to Miss Hardbroom and back again.
"What makes you think I'd want to go?" Miss Hardbroom asked quietly, visibly restraining her anger. Louise, on the other hand, looked as though she was about to explode with excitement.
"What on Earth are you talking about!" she screamed at her aunt. "You said yourself you always wanted to go to Secret Shores! It'll be fantastic!"
Miss Hardbroom looked at her niece and sighed. She knew she was going to have to give in.
"Well, I suppose it won't do any harm ..."
"Thank you!" Louise hugged her aunt, who suddenly looked really quite awkward, only too aware of Starfinder watching. She tried to fend her niece off, but to no avail.
"Alright ... Yes ... Thank you, Louise!" Although the tone of her voice was an exasperated one, she was secretly pleased, and the corners of her mouth twitched into a faint smile. Starfinder breathed a sigh of relief.
"I'll ... ah ... go and tell Professor Thunderblast that you said yes. She'll be able to give you all the details, so it would be a good idea to see her as soon as possible." After a brief pause, Starfinder turned and walked out of the room.
* * *
There was an air of excitement and anticipation as everyone going to Secret Shores prepared to leave. Everything was packed in bags, and the two busses were waiting to be loaded. Everyone was gathered at the main entrance. Even some of the lecturers were having trouble containing their excitement. Tim and Azmat arrived on the scene and sat their bags on the floor.
"This is amazing!" commented Tim.
"I know!" Azmat was beaming as he looked around. "Hey, who's that?" He had just spotted Louise, who was going through her things, double-checking she hadn't forgotten anything. She was wearing a pair of black trousers, and a deep red, floaty top. Her hair was in a high ponytail, fastened with a red scrunchy, and two strands of hair left to fall down on either side of her face. "I don't think I've seen her before. She must be a first year."
"Hey, she's not bad lookin', is she?! Look at the hair, the length of it, the way it shines!" Tim seemed particularly taken with Louise.
"Do you reckon she'll be on the same bus as us?" Azmat sounded hopeful, obviously feeling the same way as Tim.
"I hope so!" He paused, not taking his eyes off Louise. "I'll tell you something, I don't normally go obsessin' over girls, but that is one hot chick!"
"That, I'll have you know, is my niece!" Tim and Azmat froze on the spot. They hadn't seen Miss Hardbroom standing behind them. They hadn't known Louise was her niece, either. They hadn't witnessed her being turned from cat to human, or when she had put out the fire. They had only heard about these things from other students.
"I take it that must be Louise Hardbroom," Tim commented quietly, as he turned to face Miss Hardbroom. Luckily for Tim and Azmat, Professor Thunderblast came to their rescue by choosing that particular moment to appear.
"Alright, can I have your attention, please!" she bellowed above the noise. Everyone quietened down to listen. "The busses are waiting, so hurry up and get yourselves organised! The sooner we're ready, the sooner we can leave!" An excited murmur rose up from the students. Professor Thunderblast raised her voice, in order to be heard above it. "I wouldn't want to split up any groups of friends, so you can decide for yourselves which busses you're going on." The chatter picked up instantly, even louder and more excited than before. The students headed out to the busses, followed by the teachers.
"Hi, you're new here, aren't you?"
Louise turned round as she picked up her bags.
"Yeah, I am," she replied.
"I'm Cas, Cas Crowfeather."
"Oh right! You're Miss Hardbroom's niece, aren't you?" Cas looked at her in a friendly way. Louise laughed, glad that Cas hadn't been put off by the fact that she was 'HB's niece'.
"I should've known it wouldn't take long for that to get around!" she laughed.
"Come on, keep it moving!" Miss Hardbroom's voice was easily heard above everyone else's. "You'll have plenty of time to chat on the bus." There was a pause as she looked around. "Louise, come on."
Louise looked up when she heard her name. She walked past her aunt, followed by Cas, and out to the waiting busses.
"So, I take it you'll be studying here, then?" Cas asked as they boarded the bus. Milly, Tim and Azmat came up from behind and listened in. Ethel and Hobbes didn't seem to notice them as they walked by, deep in conversation, towards the other bus.
"Yes, I had been accepted here just before I was turned into a cat. Professor Thunderblast said that was good enough for her, and seeing as the term's barely started, she said she didn't see any reason why I couldn't start straight away." The five of them sat down on the back seat, as it was the only one that would let them all sit together. Miss Hardbroom then boarded that same bus, and stopped dead when she saw who her niece was talking to. She was about to say something, but thought better of it and shot a meaningful look at Tim and Azmat, making them cringe, before sitting down at the front beside Professor Thunderblast. Louise noticed the way Tim and Azmat suddenly looked so awkward, and gave them a puzzled look.
"What's up?" she asked. They avoided making eye contact with her and shuffled, uncomfortably, in their seats. Azmat eventually plucked up the courage to fill them in on what had happened.
"When we first saw you," he said, glancing up at Louise then quickly looking away again, "we didn't know who you were. We ... started saying ... just how ... nice looking you were." Milly and Cas were listening with keen interest, and Louise started to blush. When Azmat stopped talking, they looked at him, wanting to know more.
"So ... what's so bad about that?" Cas asked. Tim answered, speaking quickly, as though trying to defend himself.
"Well we didn't know Miss Hardbroom was standing behind us, did we!" Everyone burst out laughing, including Louise. She knew what her aunt was like, and had no trouble imagining the kind of things she would have said.
"So what did she say?" Milly asked, between giggles. Tim responded by mimicking Miss Hardbroom, "That. I'll have you know, is my niece!" which set them all off laughing again. Cas wiped the tears from her eyes as Professor Thunderblast stood up at the front of the bus.
"Are we all ready?" Professor Thunderblast sounded as excited as the students. She looked out of the window, towards the bus behind them. Dr. Starfinder leaned out of the door and gave her the thumbs up to show that everyone on his bus was ready. "Off we go then!" She sat down as the bus driver started the engine, and they were off.
* * *
"I can't wait to get there!" Milly had a distant, dreamy look on her face. They had been travelling for three hours and it was now completely dark, save for the streetlights outside and the tiny lights inside the bus. Many of the students were asleep, exhausted from all the earlier excitement. "Cas, are you awake?" whispered Milly. No answer. "Is anyone awake?"
"I am," Louise replied, in an equally quiet whisper.
"It looks like we're the only ones awake, apart from the driver!" Milly continued whispering, trying not to waken anyone. "We're due to stop soon, aren't we?" Louise looked at her watch, illuminated by the tiny, dim light above her.
"I think so," she replied. Right on cue, the bus turned into a service station. "Well, there's your answer!" she laughed quietly. The bus stopped and a few people stirred. Professor Thunderblast got up and walked halfway up the aisle.
"Come on, waken up everyone!" The sound of groaning could be heard as the students stirred. "This is the only stop before we reach Secret Shores, so make the best of it."
Cas stretched as she opened her eyes. Tim and Azmat woke up, and Tim covered his mouth with the back of his hand as he yawned.
"Well come on then, chop chop! We don't have all night!" Deirdre Swoop had just gotten up from the seat in front of them. Even though it was late at night, she was still her usual bright, chirpy self. None of them had seen her sitting there, and Milly sounded pleased to see her as she spoke.
"Hey, I didn't see you there. I would've talked to you if I had!"
"Oh, that's alright! I wouldn't have wanted to intrude on the conversation!" She smiled at them all as she spoke. Suddenly, she spotted Louise. "Allow me to introduce myself; Dee Swoop. I'm in the year above this lot!" She shook Louise's hand. "You're Louise Hardbroom, aren't you?"
"Is there anyone who doesn't know who I am?" laughed Louise. Deirdre laughed too, before turning and marching down the bus.
"Come on then, look lively! We can't sit here all night!"
Milly, Cas, Louise, Tim, and Azmat got up and followed her, in a slightly less energetic fashion.
"Do you think she ever gets tired?" Azmat asked.
"Probably not," replied Tim. "I reckon she must sleep with that smile on!" Everyone laughed, except Deirdre, who hadn't heard.
* * *
"What?" Hobbes asked, as though Ethel was being totally unreasonable. Ethel shook her head as she walked past him, put the magazine she had been flicking through back on the shelf, then walked out of the shop and into the main area of the service station. Hobbes followed her.
"Look, just wait until we get there..."
"You're talking nonsense!" Ethel cut him off before he could say any more. "I think all the excitement of this beach trip's going to your head..."
Ethel swung round as Milly approached along with the rest of the gang.
"We're just heading off to get something to eat," Deirdre announced. "Why don't you join us?" Ethel and Hobbes looked at each other and hesitated.
"Why not?" answered Ethel, trying to act as though nothing was going on.
"Jolly good! Let's go then!" Deirdre led the way to the canteen, chatting away to the rest of them as she went. Ethel and Hobbes joined in the discussion, putting all thoughts of powerful wizards and precious stones to the back of their minds for the time being.
* * *
"All present and correct?" Professor Thunderblast's voice rose above the voices of her students. They were back on the busses, preparing for the final part of the journey to Secret Shores. Once again, Professor Thunderblast looked out of the window towards the other bus, and once again, Dr. Starfinder leaned out of the door and gave her the thumbs up. "Secret Shores, here we come!"
Miss Hardbroom looked at Professor Thunderblast, her disapproval apparent on her face. "Oh, come on! Lighten up a bit, enjoy yourself! That's the whole reason we're going on this trip!"
Miss Hardbroom looked at Professor Thunderblast, but didn't say anything. She sat back as the bus started to move, a look of doubt replacing the one of disapproval. She turned to look at her niece, who was chatting away excitedly to Milly and the gang. She sighed as she turned back round, and made a mental note to keep a close eye on Louise when they got there, especially around Tim and Azmat.
Professor Thunderblast was taken aback and looked at Miss Hardbroom in surprise. She hadn't thought it was possible for anyone to always be so serious, especially on occasions like this. Come to think of it, she couldn't remember seeing Miss Hardbroom smile once since she had returned to Weirdsister with her niece. She looked at Miss Hardbroom, sitting there with folded arms, looking as though she strongly disapproved of something, as though she was in the huff. The look on her face, as she looked out of the window, quite clearly stated that she wasn't in a mood to be messed with, so Professor Thunderblast made the wise decision to keep her distance for the time being, and she sat back and let her thoughts wander off to Secret Shores.
* * *
It was three in the morning when the busses arrived at Secret Shores. Tired, yet excited, the students clambered sleepily off the busses. Miss Hardbroom narrowed her eyes as she looked at Dr. Starfinder, who, in turn, flinched and looked away.
"Can I have everyone's attention!" Professor Thunderblast shouted. "You will be divided into ten groups while you're here. Once again, I wouldn't want to split up any friends, so arrange yourselves into groups of about ten students each!" She paused for a minute, and then turned towards Milly, Cas, Louise, Tim, Azmat, Ethel, Hobbes and Deirdre. "You lot look like a decent group, why don't you go with Miss Hardbroom?"
They all exchanged looks. Ethel and Hobbes weren't thrilled about the group they were in, but they didn't say anything. Milly looked at her old form mistress in despair, but she didn't want to make things worse by complaining. Tim and Azmat were dreading the thought of facing up to Miss Hardbroom after what she'd heard them say about her niece. Cas didn't really want to be stuck with Ethel and Hobbes, but she decided to try and make the best of it. Louise didn't look at all bothered by the arrangements, and she couldn't help but laugh to herself as she looked at the rest of the group. Deirdre, as per usual, was beaming at them all.
"Well, isn't this fantastic! Especially seeing as we're all in the same group!" She paused, looking at the rest of them. "Oh, come on! You're supposed to be excited about this!"
"Come on then," sighed Miss Hardbroom as she headed off towards the hotel. The eight students followed on behind.
"It won't be that bad!" Deirdre was determined to get everyone's spirits up somehow.
"I knew that smile had to a permanent fixture!" muttered Tim. Everyone
laughed, and Deirdre turned round.
"What did you say?" she asked Tim, still smiling.
"Nothing," he answered.
"He was just talking to himself, as usual!" Azmat couldn't resist putting a comment in. Deirdre seemed satisfied, and didn't pursue the subject any further.
The group of students were practically running to keep up with Miss Hardbroom as she marched towards the hotel. She didn't look at any of them or say anything, she just kept walking.
"Well, isn't this exciting!" Deirdre looked round the group of students.
"You're not half kidding!" Louise was looking up, in amazement, at the hotel they were headed for. The sight was astounding. The hotel was massive, and there was a strong feeling of magic about it. It looked like a huge castle, which had been done up; new windows, doors, balconies, etc. The lights, which lit up the building, seemed to add to the sense of magic. There was a large sign above the doors, which read 'The Unicorn,' and there was an impressive picture of a unicorn rearing up behind the writing.
"Wow!" Azmat was clearly impressed. The rest of the group were speechless, completely taken aback by the sheer size of the hotel. Miss Hardbroom led the way up the steps, into the hotel, and up to the desk. She informed the girl working there that they were with the Weirdsister College party. After a quick head count, they were each handed a key and given directions on where to go.
"Enjoy your stay at The Unicorn!" The girl at the desk smiled at them as they headed off. The students followed Miss Hardbroom through the hotel until they turned off into a corridor, which came to a dead end, apart from two rooms right at the end of it.
The boys had each been given a key for the smaller room, and they couldn't believe their eyes when they walked in. The room, despite being the smaller of the two, was a lot larger than your average hotel room. Everything looked extremely expensive, and the decoration around the door and windowsill was incredible. Winged horses and unicorns had been carved into the woodwork; unicorns rearing up through the waves of the sea, others kicking up the sand as they galloped across the beach, winged horses soaring through the sky.
The large window looked out onto one of the hotel gardens, which could only be described in one way: breathtaking. There was a stream running through the garden, and an impressive water fountain right in the centre. There were trees, which grew higher than the hotel itself, their branches and leaves growing thickly. The walls of the garden were mostly obscured by climbing plants, different sized trees, magnificent hanging baskets, and other impressive plants, some brightly coloured, others more subtle, but still breathtakingly beautiful. The whole garden was illuminated by lanterns; some positioned along the edge of the stream, others in between plants so they would be difficult to see in the daytime; hidden from view by the natural plant growth.
Back inside the room, the beds were extremely comfortable and well spaced out. The bathroom was huge, with a separate bath and shower in it, and there was a large heated towel rail with fluffy white towels hanging on it. The wardrobes were absolutely massive.
"Hey, you could probably fit all three of us in here, along with all our clothes, and still have room to spare!" commented Tim as he looked inside one of the wardrobes.
"Do you want to try?" Azmat asked him. Hobbes shook his head to himself as he listened to them.
"What do you reckon Hobbes? You up for a bit of a laugh?"
Hobbes looked at Tim as though he had gone crazy.
"I think I'll pass."
"You're no fun."
Hobbes carried on unpacking, and didn't look up as he responded to Tim's comment.
"Fun, Tim Wraithewight, is a pastime for fools. If you want to get somewhere in life, you have to focus your sights on more serious issues." Tim and Azmat looked at each other, wondering what was eating Hobbes this time. They decided just to leave him, and set about unpacking their own things.
* * *
If the boys' room was impressive, there were no words to describe the girls' room. It was twice the size of the boys' room, and the decoration and furniture were equally impressive. They had a separate bathroom and shower room, both of which were about the size you would expect a normal hotel bedroom to be. There was a large glass door, leading to a balcony, which allowed direct access to the beach, via a spiralling flight of stairs. The six beds were arranged in three pairs. Each pair had a wardrobe on either side, and a highly decorated cabinet between the two beds. The wardrobes were joined by an overhead cabinet, which had lights set into it to allow bedtime reading. The view from the windows and balcony was astounding. The beach seemed to stretch into eternity, and the sea sparkled in the moonlight. Even though it was dark, the sound of seagulls could still be heard, carried on the sea breeze.
Louise opened the balcony door and stepped out into the warm summer night. She had finished unpacking, and was wearing a black, silk nightdress, with her hair down. She found it hard to believe that it was the start of the college year, and not the middle of the summer holidays. She shut her eyes as she leaned over the railing and took in the sound of the seagulls and the waves, and the smell of the sea air. The sea breeze caught her hair and lightly played with the strands about her face.
She opened her eyes and looked down at the waves breaking on the shore, catching the moonlight as they did so. She froze for a moment. She hardly dared to breath, in case the sight should vanish. She couldn't take in what she was seeing; she thought she must be imagining it. She was scared to let herself believe it, just in case it wasn't true. She stood completely still, frozen in time, as her eyes fell upon the unicorn; a magnificent, majestic creature, ghostly white body, silken mane and tail glinting in the moonlight, as it stood, letting the waves break against it's legs. It lifted its head slightly, looking out to sea. After a few moments, it turned, slowly, the seawater dragging on its legs. Louise held her breath as its gaze met hers. It just looked at her, calmly, quietly. She watched as it turned towards the shore and stepped out of the water, sending small showers of spray onto the sand.
Miss Hardbroom watched Milly, Cas, Ethel and Deirdre unpack. Ethel didn't look too happy, and Milly and Cas had fallen silent as they worked. Deirdre had given up trying to get them to speak; she had tried everything and didn't know what else she could do. Miss Hardbroom gave a small sigh, before turning to look at her niece. She could see Louise, but she couldn't see the unicorn. She smiled to herself as she watched her.
"At least one of us seems to be having a good time," she muttered to herself. She walked over to the balcony and stood beside Louise. Louise didn't show any sign of acknowledging her aunt's presence. Her eyes were fixed on the unicorn, as it slowly wandered along the sand.
Miss Hardbroom followed Louise's gaze and froze up when she saw what her niece was looking at. It took a few minutes for the sight to register in her mind. She had known that there were wild unicorns around these areas, and that she would be likely to see them from time to time, but she was still caught in amazement and wonder by the sight. Once she had realized it was real, she spoke in a whisper. The unicorn was already aware of Louise's presence, and it didn't seem at all bothered. Even if it had been, it was too far away to hear them talk, but the atmosphere was such that whispering seemed the only thing to do. Both felt too afraid to speak, as though it was forbidden by some unwritten law.
"It's beautiful!" Even though she spoke in a very quiet whisper, Louise had no trouble in hearing what her aunt said.
"It's incredible," she agreed. Both of them fell into silence as they watched the unicorn. "Still wishing you'd stayed behind?" whispered Louise with a smile. Miss Hardbroom knew her niece was teasing her, and she knew she had to admit defeat.
"Alright, fine!" She couldn't help smiling herself as she whispered back, although there did still seem to be something forced, and unnatural about it. "I'll admit it, you were right and I was wrong! I'm really glad you talked me into coming." She sounded quite awkward as she said this last sentence. Louise smiled, a satisfied, almost triumphant look on her face. Something caught her eye, over in the shadows by the rocks. She realised what it was as it stepped out into the moonlight.
"Look, there's another one!"
Miss Hardbroom looked to where her niece was pointing, and she saw it too. It trotted over to the other unicorn, and they greeted each other, briefly touching noses. They stood still for a moment; ears pricked forward, skin twitching, looking past the hotel to something in the distance. They could obviously hear something that Louise and Miss Hardbroom couldn't. They stood stalk-still, tensed up, ready for flight.
"Hey, what's up?" said Cas by way of greeting. She had finished unpacking and had decided to see what Louise and Miss Hardbroom were up to. She got no answer, and followed their gaze to the unicorns on the beach. All of a sudden, the two unicorns spun round on their hind legs and galloped off into the shadows, kicking up the sand as they went.
"Wow!" Cas sounded breathless.
"That, was amazing!" stated Louise. The three of them stood for a minute, looking to the rocks and shadows where the unicorns had just fled. Louise felt herself shiver, even though it was a very warm night.
"Come on then, let's get to bed." Miss Hardbroom spoke quietly, and, after a brief pause, Louise and Cas followed her back inside.
* * *
It was midday before anyone from Weirdsister College woke up. The hotel had prepared a special brunch for them, seeing as they had only arrived in the early hours of the morning. The pleasant sound of chatter rose above that of plates and cutlery, as everyone talked about what would be happening that afternoon.
Miss Hardbroom wasn't looking particularly hopeful about the impending day, but she didn't say anything. She felt out of place, not being able to tell the students how to behave or to calm it down, and she didn't feel able to join in with the excitement either. She wanted to be able to take part in the discussions, but she disregarded the idea without much consideration. After all, it was ridiculous to think that any of the students would actually want to talk to her. It was just impossible; she was a lecturer, they were students.
She sighed as she watched the others as they ate and talked, and her gaze wandered from her own table, around the rest of the dining room. Everyone looked happy, and excited. She spotted Dr. Starfinder at the other end of the room, talking to the group of students he had been landed with. He looked just as happy and carefree as the students did. This, of course, didn't do much to lift her spirits. It forced her to realize that the reason she couldn't talk to the students wasn't simply because she was a lecturer; it was, in fact, her own personality that was preventing her from getting on with them.
"Are you alright?" Louise asked her aunt as she moved round beside her.
"Yes, I'm fine." Miss Hardbroom managed a half-hearted smile as she answered her niece. Louise, however, knew her aunt well enough to work out what was bothering her.
"Just try and relax. Enjoy yourself. Forget you're a lecturer while you're here and you'll have a great time!"
"But I am a lecturer." Miss Hardbroom stated the obvious.
"Not while you're here, you're not. You'll be doing the exact same things as the rest of us. We're all old enough to go on holiday by ourselves, and we don't need supervision. Why can't you just forget about being a lecturer and just be yourself for a change?"
Miss Hardbroom suddenly felt even more out of place. At least as a lecturer she had a purpose, and knew what she was supposed to do. She wanted to defend herself, but wasn't really sure what to say.
Louise saw how awkward her aunt looked, and she felt sorry for her. She decided that she would make sure her aunt wound up joining in the fun, if it was the last thing she did, and when Louise made up her mind like that, she always got what she wanted. Even though she was always up for a laugh and she really knew how to have fun, she could, just like her aunt, be very strong willed and determined. She never gave up easily, if at all. Miss Hardbroom still looked really awkward, unable to think of anything to say. Louise gave her a sympathetic smile.
"Look, just be yourself. That's all there is to it!" Miss Hardbroom, however, didn't look convinced. She gave her niece a doubtful look. "As far as I'm concerned, you're my aunt, not my lecturer. Just imagine you're on holiday with me and my parents, you never had any trouble relaxing there!"
"Yes, but that was different!"
"Because... It just was! I wasn't surrounded by a group of my students!"
"I am one of your students," Louise reminded her. There was a pause before Miss Hardbroom continued.
"Yes, but you're also my niece!" She almost whispered these last words, just in case anyone should be listening in.
"So? What difference does that make?"
Once again, Miss Hardbroom didn't quite know what to say.
"Just give them a chance."
Miss Hardbroom looked over to Milly, Cas, Deirdre and Ethel, who were sitting at the other end of the table, discussing ideas for what they could do that afternoon. She sighed as she watched them, wishing she really was on holiday with her family. Still, Louise was there, so maybe it wouldn't be that bad...
Once they had finished, they headed back up to their room, bumping into Tim, Azmat and Hobbes on the way. The three of still looked half asleep, as they headed down for something to eat. Each of them grunted a "Good morning" as they passed. The girls laughed at them, but they weren't awake enough to retaliate.
A few minutes later, they arrived at their room. Deirdre opened the balcony door seeing as it was absolutely roasting, and the sound of waves and seagulls' cries filled the room. There were a few people on the beach; two of them witches, perfecting their broomstick flying skills, and a wizard, on board a unicorn. Milly walked over to Deirdre and looked down at the people on the beach. Both of them thought the unicorn was beautiful, but Deirdre seemed particularly excited by it.
"Well, I don't know about you, but I can't wait to go unicorn riding!"
Milly kept looking at the unicorn, but she didn't seem quite as keen on the idea of riding as Deirdre.
"I'd like to go riding, but I've never been before. What if I make a mess of it?"
"Oh, don't be silly! Of course you won't make a mess of it! All you have to do to start with is just sit there, and someone will lead you round to let you get used to it. It's really very easy, once you get the hang of it!" Milly, however, still looked doubtful.
"Trust me, I think I really could make a mess of it. I crashed my broomstick into the school dustbins on my first day at Cackles..."
"Well we all make mistakes, and besides, that was your first day at school. You're at college now. Just enjoy the experience! Once you've had your first lesson, you'll look back, and wonder what you were so worried about. The whole point of this is to have fun!" Milly seemed slightly reassured, and smiled.
"Milly, Dee," shouted Cas from the other end of the room. "We're trying to decide what to do today. Any ideas?"
"I still say we should head round to the stables!" Louise wasn't shy about voicing her opinions, whether anyone agreed with her or not. Deirdre's eyes lit up.
"Well I think that's a fantastic idea! What do you all say?"
"Why not?" replied Cas, after a pause.
"Excellent!" Deirdre looked really excited, as though she was charged up and full of energy. "We'll wait till the boys get here, and ask them if they want to join us." That was the afternoon's activities sorted. They all started getting ready, chatting away as they did so. Cas' smile faded from her face as she turned and saw Miss Hardbroom. She was standing on the balcony facing out to sea, looking as though she had the whole world on her shoulders.
"What's up with her?"
Milly turned to see who Cas was talking about.
"I don't think she's finding it very easy, having to get on with us like this." Milly couldn't help feeling sorry for her former potions teacher.
"Well if she wants to sulk, then that's her problem." As per usual, Ethel didn't seem to care what anyone else was feeling, just as long as they didn't bother her. Milly ignored her, and continued talking to Cas.
"She was the strictest, most terrifying teacher at Cackles academy. Everyone was terrified of her. She wasn't very popular with the pupils. I think she's just so used to being in charge, and giving out orders to a group of pupils that don't really like her, but have to do what she says just because she's their teacher, that she doesn't know how to relax and have fun. She probably thinks we're all just going to make a fool of her, or that we don't really want her around." Deirdre had been listening in, and she looked at Miss Hardbroom thoughtfully.
"Well, we'll just have to show her that she's wrong, then, won't we?" This was more of a statement than a question. "Louise, you're closest to her, what with her being you're aunt and all." Louise had also been listening in, and she looked at Deirdre with keen interest, wondering what she had planned. "See if you can't get her talking. Try to, soften her up a bit, so she won't feel as awkward around the rest of us. Is she like this with you as well?"
"No, she's not. I think I'm the only one she feels she can talk to..." Louise trailed off as her aunt came back into the room. She looked at the group of gathered students, suspicions automatically forming in her mind.
Just then, there was a knock on the door. Cas opened it, and Tim, Azmat and Hobbes walked in, looking slightly more awake than they had done earlier. In fact, they were virtually bouncing up and down with excitement, or at least, Tim and Azmat were. Hobbes regarded them as though they were mad, and stood silently by the door.
"So, what's the plan for today then?" asked Tim.
"Unicorn riding," replied Louise. Tim and Azmat were so excited, they couldn't stand still.
"When do we go?" Azmat wanted to know.
"As soon as you're ready!" Cas told them.
"We are ready," Tim informed her.
"Well, let's go then!" Deirdre led the way out of the room and down the hall. She was dressed in jodhpurs and knee-high leather riding boots, giving her the appearance of an experienced rider.
"Are you ready?" Louise asked her aunt. Miss Hardbroom sighed. She had been hoping to stay behind, but it didn't look like there was much chance of that happening with Louise there. She hesitated, and then followed her niece out of the room.
* * *
The stables were impressive, to say the least. They were situated behind the hotel, and the sign above the gate, 'The Unicorn Stables', was written in the same style as the sign above the hotel. Once through the large metal gates, which, like the woodwork in the hotel, were decorated with unicorns and winged horses, the eight students and their teacher found themselves standing in a large, open stable yard.
There were three rows of stables arranged in a square, but with one side missing where the gate was. On one side, there was a gap between two of the stables, and a sign above it, which read 'Office', with an arrow pointing downwards. They walked towards the office, passing unicorns looking over stable doors, one or two whinnying as they walked by. None of them had ever seen so many unicorns all in one place. They walked through the passage between the two stables, and stopped when they reached a door labelled 'Office'. Miss Hardbroom knocked on the door, and was greeted by a cheery looking woman, dressed in jeans, mucker boots, and a T-shirt.
"Hi there, I take it you're with the Weirdsister College party?"
"Yes, we are."
"Alright, if you'd like to follow me, I'll get you sorted out for unicorns to ride." She walked through the remainder of the passageway, and led them into another open space with more stables around it. She continued on to a large barn, inside which, there were even more stables.
"How many unicorns have you got here?" asked Deirdre.
"We've got sixty seven unicorns in total. Some are liveries, but most belong to the stables."
"That's a lot of unicorns!" commented Tim. The woman laughed.
"Yes, I suppose it is. My name's Kerry, by the way."
"And I'm Azmat."
"I'm not very good with names, but I'll do my best to remember everyone!" She stopped in the middle of the barn. "Can anyone here already ride?"
"I can," replied Deirdre.
"How experienced are you?"
"Well, I can walk, trot, canter and jump. I've been riding since I was four."
"Trust her!" muttered Tim, just loud enough for Azmat to hear.
"Alright, I'll give you Lady, then. She can be a bit head strong, but if you show her who's the boss, you should have no problems at all. Do you know how to tack up?"
"Yes, of course."
"Well, in that case, Lady's tack's hanging on the wall over there with a name plate above it. She's in that stable there, so are you alright to get her ready?"
"Of course I am." Deirdre went to get Lady's tack, leaving Kerry to sort out the rest of them.
"Can anyone else ride?"
"I can," Louise informed her. "I've been riding for about six years, and I can walk, trot, canter and jump." Kerry assigned Louise with a unicorn called Coconut, and turned back to the rest of the group.
"Can any more of you ride?" There was a pause.
"I can ride."
Milly and Ethel looked round at their former potion mistress.
"I didn't know you could ride, Miss Hardbroom." Milly sounded genuinely surprised.
"There's a lot you don't know about me, Mildred."
"How experienced are you?" interrupted Kerry.
"Walk, trot, canter and jump."
"I'll put you on Promise, then." After telling Miss Hardbroom which stable Promise was in, and showing her where her tack was, she turned to the slowly diminishing group of students.
"I can ride a bit," replied Cas, "but I can only really walk and trot. Is unicorn riding the same as horse riding?"
"Yes, it's exactly the same. The only real difference is you won't be wearing a riding hat. We use magic to provide better protection than any hat ever could. Anyway, I'll give you Cream." Cas was then sent off to get Cream ready.
"Alright, what about the rest of you?"
"I think we're all beginners," Milly told her.
"What's your names?"
"And you two are Tim and Azmat, aren't you?" They nodded to her. "Alright, Milly, you can have Diamond, Ethel, Tempest, Hobbes, let me think, you can have Moonlight, Tim, you can have Rocky, and Azmat, you can have Storm."
Kerry laughed at the look of concern, which had just crossed Azmat's face.
"It's alright, she's quite safe, really!"
Kerry, along with four of the stable grooms, helped them to tack up. Once they were all ready, She had them lead the unicorns out of the barn, and into a small arena. She then cast a spell on them, to prevent injury in the case of a fall, and borrowed Coconut from Louise in order to show the beginners how to mount. After demonstrating how to dismount, she handed Coconut back to Louise, and told everyone to mount up.
Louise, Deirdre, Cas and Miss Hardbroom were on board their unicorns in a matter of seconds. Hobbes and Ethel, despite never having ridden before, weren't far behind. Milly looked really unsure, but, much to her surprise, she managed to get on Diamond without any problems. Azmat was looking at Storm, unable to hide the concern from his face. Tim was looking at Rocky as though he was some sort of ridiculous joke.
"There's no way, I'm gonna be able to get on THAT." Rocky was quite big, but he wasn't the biggest unicorn there. That award definitely had to go to Promise, Miss Hardbroom's unicorn, who stood at 18.2hh. Ethel's unicorn, Tempest, wasn't far behind at 18hh, and Coconut, Cream, Diamond and Lady were just slightly bigger than Rocky, all four of them being about 16.3hh. Rocky stood at 16.1hh. Storm, standing at 15.2hh couldn't really be described as a small unicorn, despite being the smallest one there.
Azmat decided to be brave and just go for it. He stepped up onto one of the storage boxes which served as mounting blocks, put his foot in the stirrup, took a deep breath, and swung himself up into the saddle. He gave a triumphant smile, and looked down at Tim.
"Come on, it's not that difficult!"
Tim looked at Azmat, clearly wishing he was back in the hotel.
"Just go for it, the worst thing that could happen is you could fall!"
Tim didn't look too encouraged by Azmat's words, but he took a deep breath and stepped up onto the storage box. He put his foot in the Stirrup, and attempted to mount. Everyone else was chatting away, looking forward to their first unicorn-riding lesson.
"Ah ... help ... I think I might be stuck!"
Azmat burst out laughing, and everyone turned round to see Tim, on his stomach, hanging over Rocky's back. Everyone started laughing, apart from Miss Hardbroom, who couldn't see anything amusing about a stupid boy trying unsuccessfully to mount a unicorn. Tim was both worried and embarrassed as he hung there, unable to move.
"It's not funny!" he told everyone.
"I know; it's hilarious!" Azmat didn't bother trying to spare Tim's feelings. Kerry laughed as she ran over to help Tim.
"Hold on to the front of the saddle and swing your right leg over to the other side," she instructed. Tim tried, and almost fell. He was now in an even worse position than when he started. Azmat burst out laughing again.
"You have no idea how ridiculous you look!" Azmat was having a great time. Tim, however, having lost his left stirrup, was now slipping towards the ground. His right leg was partly over Rocky's back; his foot just reaching the top of the saddle.
"Yeah, thanks!" Tim didn't sound particularly happy. Kerry laughed, and tried once again to help him.
"Find your left stirrup first. Move slowly, and sit up as you swing your leg over." Tim tried, and managed, much to his relief. He sat up and looked at everyone else, wishing they would stop laughing, his cheeks burning a bright, crimson red.
"Alright, it wasn't that funny!"
"Yes it was!" Azmat just couldn't resist, he had thought it was brilliant entertainment.
Milly looked at everyone around her. She stopped when she got to Miss Hardbroom and looked for a moment. Miss Hardbroom was wearing black riding jeans and a black top, but Milly was sure she had seen her wearing a dress that morning. She looked strange not wearing a dress. Milly assumed she must have used magic to change before she mounted. She was beginning to realise that she didn't really know Miss Hardbroom. She had never gotten the chance to get to know her at Cackles; she had always kept her feelings hidden from the pupils (except, of course, when she was annoyed about something, in which case she was only to happy to share her feelings with everyone around her).
"Are we all ready?" Kerry asked. She had just finished going round and checking everyone's stirrups and girths. "Louise, I want you to demonstrate walk, trot and canter for our beginners. I'll explain to them what you're doing, so on you go."
Louise asked Coconut for walk by giving her a gentle squeeze. Nothing happened, so she gave her a small nudge, and headed off around the arena at a walk. It didn't take her long to warm up, and she gave quite an impressive display. She made it look so easy. She brought Coconut from canter to trot, and managed to achieve a decent, active walk within a few strides. She halted in front of the rest of the group, and gave Coconut a pat. Kerry looked pleased.
"Well done. Beginners stay here with me, and I hope you were watching carefully, because you're all going to be walking and trotting by the end of the lesson, even if you're not tremendously well balanced! Louise, Deirdre ... Cas?" She got a nod. "And ..." She looked at Miss Hardbroom, waiting for a response.
"Miss Hardbroom." Kerry smiled to herself. She was able to tell that Miss Hardbroom was a lecturer, and that she took her position very seriously, too seriously, perhaps. She got this from both the tone of Miss Hardbroom's voice, and the fact that she wasn't willing to give her first name. She decided to play along by Miss Hardbroom's rules, rather than trying to pressurise her in any way. From experience, she knew that the best thing she could do, was to keep being friendly, but never try forcing her to open up. Given both time and space, Kerry felt sure that Miss Hardbroom would come round eventually. She had dealt with teachers and lecturers like this from schools and colleges before, and had never failed yet.
"Louise, Deirdre, Cas and Miss Hardbroom, do you see that open door over there? That's the entrance to the indoor arena. There's a few jumps and things set up, so you can go and work about in there for a bit, while I deal with this lot. I know you can only walk and trot, Cas, but just do what you feel you're capable of." Kerry had noticed the look of concern on Cas' face, which disappeared as soon as she said this. The four of them headed off, leaving Kerry with the beginners.
Louise, Deirdre, Cas and Miss Hardbroom warmed up and started working; Cas in walk and trot, the other three in walk trot and canter. Before they had the chance to start jumping, Kerry turned up, leading Ethel on Tempest.
"Louise, would you mind swapping unicorns with Ethel? She's a natural from what I've seen so far. She can manage the rising trot perfectly, but Tempest's a bit more highly strung than Coconut, and I'd rather Ethel was on something a bit quieter if she's going to work in here with you lot."
"No, of course not," replied Louise. She dismounted in one, fluid motion, and led Coconut over to Ethel. Ethel dismounted and they swapped unicorns. Ethel looked at Louise, a strong feeling of jealousy suddenly developing as she watched her mount the bigger unicorn. She led her over to the mounting block and swung herself easily into the saddle. Kerry helped Ethel onto Coconut, and went back to the other four outside.
Louise adjusted her stirrups and gave a gentle squeeze. Tempest headed off at an active walk. Louise then asked for trot, and she marvelled at Tempest's steady rhythm and flowing gait. She slid her outside leg behind the girth and asked for canter. Tempest obliged by moving into a beautiful, flowing canter. She was working on the bit; head tucked in, using her body properly, like a well-schooled dressage horse. Louise then turned her towards one of the jumps. Tempest kept the same, steady, flowing rhythm right up to the jump. Louise had no trouble seeing a stride, and moved forward into the jumping position as Tempest took off. She moved with Tempest, in complete harmony with the unicorn, over the jump. After a perfect, stylish landing, she maintained the same rhythm in canter, and popped over a few more jumps.
Ethel was drawing a look of venom at Louise. She was so used to being the best at everything, that she couldn't stand seeing someone else take the spotlight. She started working Coconut in walk and trot, avoiding looking at Louise as she did so.
* * *
All eight students, and Miss Hardbroom, were exhausted when they returned to the hotel that night. Every single one was smiling. Everyone, that is, except Miss Hardbroom, and Ethel. Miss Hardbroom didn't look quite as stressed as she had done earlier, though. She was extremely pleased with the way in which Louise had dealt with Tempest. She had been worried that her niece would be out of practice, having spent the whole of last year as a cat, but Louise seemed to be a better rider than she had ever remembered.
She managed to catch Louise on her own, while everyone else was getting ready for dinner, and she told her what she had been thinking. Louise knew that compliments like that from her Aunt Constance were as rare as white cats in witch schools, and, for once, she didn't know what to say to her aunt. She smiled and blushed, and Miss Hardbroom smiled back at her. They both sat there, on one of the beds, and there was a pause before Louise spoke.
"I think that's the first time I've seen you smile since we got here," she commented. Miss Hardbroom looked at her niece.
"That's not true..."
"Yes it is! If you're referring to those half hearted, forced smiles earlier, then I'm sorry, but they don't count!" Miss Hardbroom gave a small laugh, before sighing as she realised just how happy she was to be there. She had never completely given up hope of finding Louise when she disappeared, but she had still been terrified that she would never see her again, and yet here she was; talking to Louise, watching her enjoy herself at Secret Shores. There was one thing bothering her, however, and the smile faded from her face as she thought about it.
"Yes?" There was a pause as Miss Hardbroom looked at her niece, then looked down at the ground.
"Do you blame me for not realising who you were when you were a cat, and not turning you back?" Miss Hardbroom looked up at her niece when she had finished speaking. She looked worried, and frightened, as though she was entirely to blame and expected Louise to turn against her. Louise, however, looked sympathetically at her aunt.
"Of course I don't," she told her. "Is that what's been bothering you?" Miss Hardbroom avoided Louise's gaze as she spoke again.
"Well, partly ..." She hesitated, looking really awkward. "I wouldn't blame you for hating me, I should have realised who you were," she told her niece. Louise was beginning to wonder if she would ever be able to get through to her aunt.
"Look at me."
Miss Hardbroom slowly looked into Louise's eyes, as though she was afraid of what she was about to say.
"What do I have to do to get through to you?! I feel like I'm trying to get through to a brick wall! In fact, I'd probably get more response from a wall... Anyway, you had no way of knowing who I was"
"Yes I did! I should have realised when you started acting so strangely. I've been blaming Dr. Starfinder for turning you into a cat, but really it was my fault you stayed that way!" Miss Hardbroom sounded close to tears, and she quickly looked away.
"For goodness sake, would you just listen to me! I DO NOT blame you for this, at all!" Louise was beginning to sound exasperated, and was quickly cut off by her aunt.
"Well you should, because it was my fault you weren't turned back, and for all you knew I could have been carrying on as normal, not caring where you were..." Miss Hardbroom still avoided Louise's gaze and she was sounding more upset by the second.
"But I did know you cared! I was there, with you, as a cat, remember? I saw how upset you were, and the one thing that drove me round the twist was not being able to tell you I was there and that I was alright! I watched you use advanced magic to try and find me, and I was on your broomstick with you when you went out looking for me. Every single night for four months! Then, after that, every single weekend, until my parents managed to convince you to give up and concentrated on using magic to find me! I knew you cared! I just wished I could have told you that I was absolutely fine, not to worry, and how much I appreciated what you were doing! The worst thing about it all was seeing how upset you were and not being able to do anything about it; it really tore me apart!"
Louise stopped for a breath, and looked at her aunt. She was looking down, and wasn't saying anything. "Aunt Constance?" She thought for a minute, and then worked out what was wrong. She put her arm round her aunt's shoulders, and tried to look at her face. Miss Hardbroom drew a sharp intake of breath when she felt her niece's arm round her shoulders. After a pause, she looked up and Louise's suspicions were confirmed; her aunt's face was streaked with tears. "Please stop blaming yourself. I hate seeing you as upset as this," Louise said gently. "None of it was your fault. I just wish you could see that!"
Miss Hardbroom managed to smile through the tears and quickly dried her eyes as she heard the others returning. Deirdre, being the first one ready, had been sitting outside on the balcony, Milly had been in the bathroom, and Ethel in the shower room. They all came back into the room at the same time, and Milly couldn't help noticing that Miss Hardbroom had been crying. She didn't say anything, though, for fear of making things worse.
"Are we all ready to head down to dinner?" asked Deirdre. Miss Hardbroom knew they could see she had been crying, and was extremely grateful to them for not making a fuss about it.
"Yeah, let's go," replied Louise. She looked at her aunt, who quickly used magic to clear her face from all signs that she had been crying, and they all headed down to the dining room.
* * *
Later that night, Hobbes and Ethel went for a wander around the hotel gardens. They managed to find a secluded spot, away from prying eyes and ears.
"I was beginning to think we'd never get away from them," commented Hobbes.
"I take it you're thinking about that wizard?" Ethel had guessed correctly.
"What are the rest of you girl friends doing just now?" asked Hobbes.
"They're sitting out on the balcony, why?"
"I want to get to the beach, but I don't want them seeing us in case they decide they want to join us."
"If we change what we're wearing and don't look up at the hotel, they shouldn't recognise us, but I still think you're wasting your time."
Hobbes didn't reply, and went to get changed.
Fifteen minutes later, they were both on the beach, heading for the caves. They stopped at the entrance to the first cave. There was nobody else around, and Hobbes stepped through the opening, into the shadows. He quickly disappeared from view, and Ethel gave one last nervous glance towards the hotel, before running in after him.
* * *
It was dark when Ethel and Hobbes finally returned to the hotel.
"There must be something that I missed!" Hobbes was in a foul mood. The cave had turned out just to be an ordinary cave, nothing special about it at all. While Hobbes couldn't hide his frustration and disappointment, Ethel couldn't help but feel slightly relieved. The cave had scared her, and she had hated standing there in the dark, damp, gloomy space while Hobbes walked around, examining little bits of rock with his staff, looking into every little crevice he could find. "Maybe if we try another cave, there might be something more obvious." Hobbes seemed to be speaking more to himself than to Ethel.
"I'm going to bed," Ethel told him. She walked away and let herself into her room, leaving him standing there, lost in thought.
* * *
Next morning, the girls were all up bright and early for breakfast, thanks to Miss Hardbroom. She had cheered up somewhat since her last chat with Louise, and was back to her usual self. She had woken at half past six, and everyone else had woken when they heard the shower running. When she emerged, she responded to their groans in a rather unsympathetic manner.
"Come on, up you get."
Louise couldn't help but wonder whether her last talk with her aunt had been a good idea. She rolled over, covering her head with the sheets.
"Come on, Louise." No response. Miss Hardbroom gave a quick flick of her finger, and Louise's sheets disappeared. Louise sat up, and gave her aunt a rather unamused look. She flopped back down again, her face buried in the pillow. Then the pillow disappeared.
"Why me? Go and annoy someone else!" she groaned. Milly, Cas, Ethel and Deirdre couldn't help but laugh.
"Because you're my niece, and I expect a higher standard from you than anyone else. Besides, I know I can get away with 'annoying' you." A satisfied, almost teasing smile crossed Miss Hardbroom's face. Milly and Ethel looked at each other in surprise, unable to understand the change that had come over their lecturer.
Louise sighed, and gave in. She got up, and the sheets and pillow reappeared, neatly arranged on the bed. She smiled to herself as she realised she didn't have to bother making her bed; that was something, at least.
After breakfast, they decided to go for a wander round the shops and piers that lined the seafront. Hobbes saw his chance, and said he would rather stay in the hotel and read. Ethel said she was still really tired, and would rather sunbathe on the balcony. Miss Hardbroom shot a suspicious look at the two of them, making Hobbes feel nervous. He was worried she would find up what they were up to; he didn't realise that she was just suspicious about a boy and girl wanting to be alone like that.
She didn't have time to say anything, however, before Louise asked if she was going with them. After some persuasion from Milly, Cas and Deirdre, and a lot of persuasion from Louise, she finally relented. Tim and Azmat looked somewhat uncomfortable, but they decided just to hope for the best. After all, Miss Hardbroom hadn't said anything so far about the incident in Weirdsister, so maybe she wasn't going to, they hoped.
Ethel and Hobbes waited till the rest of them had left, and headed for the caves. There were quite a few people on the beach, but as luck would have it, there was nobody around the caves.
"Wait till no one's looking, and we'll slip into that cave," instructed Hobbes, motioning towards an opening just past the one they'd been in the night before.
"Anyone would think it's illegal to explore the caves," commented Ethel.
"You do realise just how serious this is, don't you?" Hobbes asked her. Ethel sighed and shook her head to herself as she looked around.
"I think we're clear," she told him, and they disappeared into the dark cave.
* * *
Milly, Cas, Tim, Azmat, Deirdre, Louise and Miss Hardbroom were having a great time wandering around the shops and piers. Miss Hardbroom still felt quite awkward, but she had decided to take her niece's advice and make an effort to get along with the rest of them. At first, she had felt nervous, and frightened that they wouldn't accept her. However, she soon discovered, much to her surprise, that they were all willing to treat her as 'one of the group', and she began to relax a bit.
It seemed that in every shop they entered, there was either a witch or wizard in traditional dress at the counter, and things weren't much different on Summerhall Pier. They stopped at a sandwich bar on the pier, and sat at a table overlooking the sea to eat their lunch. Milly noticed that about half of the people there were dressed like them, and half were in traditional dress. The girl that had served them wore denim shorts and a lilac, sleeveless top, whereas the girl working at the other end of the counter wore a black cape over a black dress.
"She must be roasting!" stated Milly. Tim followed her gaze.
"Yeah, no kidding!" he said. "I'll bet they're all roasting too." He nodded towards the group of people sitting at the table to the left of them. There were two witches and three wizards, all in traditional dress.
"A lot of people feel very strongly about tradition," said Miss Hardbroom, "and seeing as this is an entirely magical community, there's no reason why they can't wear hats and capes."
"You'd imagine they'd at least come up with a cooler alternative for weather like this," said Louise. "You'd never catch me wearing anything like that in this heat!"
"Fair enough," her aunt replied. "Having said that, you have got your silk cape."
"I know, but that's different. What they're wearing isn't silk! They must be frying in it!" Miss Hardbroom didn't say anything, but laughed as she shook her head to herself. Silence fell between them as they ate their lunch.
"I don't think I've ever seen you all this quiet," Miss Hardbroom commented.
"That's because we're hungry!" Azmat informed her. She gave a small laugh, and glanced round at the rest of them.
"Tim, why on Earth are you staring at my niece like that?" Tim snapped out of the trance he had been in, and turned bright red as he desperately tried to think of a way to defend himself.
Milly, Cas and Deirdre all laughed, and Louise turned as red as Tim.
"Well?" demanded Miss Hardbroom. Tim didn't know what to say, and looked down at the table.
"Sorry," he muttered. Louise was also looking down at the table, and she laughed as she felt her cheeks burn scarlet.
* * *
Ethel shivered as she stood with her arms folded, and a very worried look on her face. Hobbes was standing, staff in hand, head bowed, at the very back of the cave. He was muttering some sort of incantation, which was unfamiliar to Ethel.
"Hobbes?" No response. "Hobbes?" she repeated in a louder, more urgent tone. Hobbes responded by increasing the volume of the chant. Ethel was beginning to look really worried. She glanced towards the cave mouth, before turning her attention back to Hobbes. "Hobbes, you're really beginning to frighten me now," she told him, but he just ignored her. It was as though he was stuck in some sort of trance. The look of concern was growing on Ethel's face.
A strange glowing light slowly started to grow from the end of Hobbes' staff. As it grew, it lit up the back wall of the cave. A small crack appeared in the wall, which started to spread, splitting the cave wall in two. Hobbes' chanting was growing louder and more intense, and the green light coming from his staff had reached blinding point. The cave wall then started to crumble away, causing the gap in the centre to grow bigger. The ground beneath them shook violently, as though an earthquake was beginning directly underneath them.
* * *
Milly, Cas, Tim, Azmat, Deirdre, Louise and Miss Hardbroom had just stood up and were about to leave the sandwich bar, when they felt the tremors originating from the cave. Miss Hardbroom automatically pulled her niece closer to her, and the rest of the students just managed to keep their balance until the ground stopped moving.
"It's a wonder the pier didn't collapse!" stated Louise.
"What do you think that was?" asked Tim.
"I'm not sure," Miss Hardbroom told them, instantly forgetting that Tim had just been starting at her niece as though she were a caged animal n a zoo. "But I think the best thing we can do, is get back on to solid ground, in case it happens again."
It wasn't long before they were all off the pier, and they surveyed the scene around them. Everyone was asking everyone else if anyone knew what had happened, but nobody seemed to have a clue.
"Well, that was a bit hair raising, to say the least," commented Deirdre.
"Do you think anyone's been injured?" asked Azmat.
"I hope not," replied Miss Hardbroom. "It's probably best if we head back to the hotel, just to make sure Ethel and 'Hobbes' are alright." She paused for a minute. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't 'Hobbes' his surname?"
"Yeah, it is," Azmat informed her.
"Well, why don't you call him by his first name?"
"That's just Hobbes for you," Milly answered. Nothing more was said as they made their way back to the hotel.
* * *
Ethel picked herself up from the ground and looked around for Hobbes. He was standing, motionless, looking through the large opening at the back of the cave.
"This is it," he said, although he didn't seem to be addressing Ethel; he seemed to be talking to himself. In fact, he didn't even seem to notice that Ethel was there. "The pathway to power." He suddenly moved forward, and walked quickly through the opening. Ethel hesitated, before running after him.
Once they had travelled a fair distance into the cave, the ground started to shake again. This time, the ground started to part beneath them, revealing a deep lake. An eerie green light seemed to glow from the water's depths, lighting up the dark cave walls. Ethel just managed to avoid falling in, and landed on her back at the side of the lake. The tremors were causing loose rocks to fall from the cave walls and roof, and Ethel looked up, just in time to see a rather large piece of rock break off. She tried to get out of the way, but she wasn't quick enough. She was knocked unconscious and fell to the ground.
* * *