When the dishes were away, Timothy wandered out to ‘go home'. He actually went upstairs, turned into a cat and ran downstairs (surprising Leanne, who'd thought ‘Tim'thy' had gone to sleep) and got let out by me when he arrived at the front door.
Leanne and I went upstairs to get ready to go out shopping.
An hour later, Timothy returned. The three of us walked to Alex's house, where Alex was delighted to see his girlfriend again but slightly embarrassed to see Timothy who was fortunately very forgiving. We took the bus to town, and once at the bus station we split up and agreed to meet at midday in front of a café where we would have lunch.
Timothy turned to face me, once we'd waved Leanne and Alex off. He smiled.
"Right. Let's go and see Lily."
"Lily?" I asked, slightly puzzled.
He nodded, smiling mysteriously. "What I'm buying you is sold at Mystic Wonders."
"I told you, you don't have to buy me anything."
"Yeah, but I want to. Also, at Mystic Wonders you can buy appropriate clothing for tomorrow. In fact, the most appropriate clothes would be sold there. What do think you'll wear? A dress?"
I shrugged. "It depends on what I like at the shop. I do like wearing dresses, though. Will you tell me a bit more about this celebration we're going to?"
"Oh, sure. Let's go get my car first and then I'll tell you all about it."
"Where's your car?"
"Outside my flat."
"You live in a flat?"
Timothy nodded. "Loads of other witches rent out flats in the same block. It's owned by a witch and provides housing for the students who've left home at 18 and are waiting until they finish university to buy a property."
"How does witch education work?" We were walking now. I guessed the block of flats was quite close to the bus station if it was within walking distance.
"Well, witches are home-schooled until they're 21 so they can learn witchcraft. What you'd call primary education is from 6 to 12. The sort of equivalent to SATs is taken at the end of year 7, which is the year the witch is 12."
"Wait," I interrupted. "What d'you mean the year the witch is 12?"
"Oh well, a school year for witches is from their birthday until the day before their next birthday. The holidays are the whole of August and December and a week in each phase."
"What's a phase? Is it like a term?"
"No, it's more like a season, though there are 5 of them and there aren't any physical changes in the weather or anything like that each time it's a new one. It's just how the year's split up. They're named after the four elements and Nature - that's the phase we're in now, actually. Next phase is Fire. Anyway, during each phase, a potion ingredient is most powerful and this substance can also aid in casting the strongest spell. Currently, it's plants and things, but not soil. Soil is more magical in Earth, the first phase."
"How interesting. Sorry for interrupting. You were saying about the SATs?"
"Oh yeah, after the witch SATs, the next big exams are the middle exams, which are GCSE level and then a witch takes 3 subjects for the Senior exams which are like A levels. Then they work until they look old enough to go to university. I started uni last year."
"Oh, wow, what are you studying?"
"I'm reading History. Are you going to uni soon?"
"Yeah, next September - I'm taking a gap year. I'm going to read French and then I'll do a course in Translation."
"Cool. Which university are you going to?"
"Cambridge." I was about to ask which one Timothy was going to but he suddenly looked elated.
"That's brilliant! I know there are loads of colleges in Cambridge, but still, it means we can meet up a lot!"
"You're going to Cambridge too?" I asked, pleasantly surprised.
Timothy nodded. "And one of my friends lives there, so I don't need to rent out a flat. When you start going, you could probably stay with us too."
He surprised me further by stopping to throw his arms around me in a big hug. Slightly bewildered, I patted his back.
I noticed we were standing outside a tall block of apartments.
When Timothy had let go, he led me around to the side where his car was parked.
"I can't believe the last time you went in my car was the day we first met," Timothy murmured. "Our relationship has changed so much since then."
"Just be glad you don't have to carry me and I'm not attacking you."
"I'd just use my sapphire if you did. Have you got it, by the way?"
"Oh, yeah." I pulled the gem out from my jeans pocket and handed it to him.
He gazed intently at me. "Did you try to use it at all?"
"No. Why would I?"
"I thought it would be a slight temptation. You've probably figured that spells are just rhyming couplets and that the stone itself holds the magical powers, though the witch has a few of his or her own. You might have wanted to try casting a spell out of curiosity."
"Would it have worked?"
"No. Your birthstone's cornelian so only that stone would help you cast a spell if you did have magical powers, but as it is, you're not a witch."
"Well, I promise I didn't use it then."
Timothy smiled. "That's good."
We climbed into the car and Timothy drove us to Mystic Wonders.
Lily was elated to see us together. When she saw me walking in, followed by Timothy and both of us smiling, she beamed.
"Oh, you worked things out! That's brilliant! I'm actually slightly envious now. I've wanted a kingfisher since I was about 14. And, then, Timothy, who absolutely hated the idea of having a rose-dove, is blessed by Fate and gets one. You're so..."
"Okay, Lily, we get the picture," Timothy interrupted. "We're lucky. Now, we're actually here to buy stuff."
Lily's eyes were still shining but she nodded and contained her excitement as she turned business-like. "Sure. What can I do for you?"
"Well, I'd like to buy a cornelian and Tani needs a dress or some sort of costume for tomorrow."
Lily's brow furrowed. "You know the cornelian won't do much for her, right?"
"Yeah, but it's a nice accessory. It would match very well with tomorrow's colours. And if she ever got hold of some foxglove..."
"She'd be able to cast a couple of spells," Lily finished. "I presume you've told her about the dangers of magic, if you're buying her a magical object."
I frowned. "Dangers? What, like, getting a dark aura? Can that be harmful?"
Lily raised an eyebrow at Timothy. "Obviously not. That's rather irresponsible of you, don't you think?"
Timothy shrugged. "I wasn't planning on giving her foxglove, so she'd never be able to use it to perform magic."
"Yes, but what if she obtained some foxglove?"
Timothy looked at me. "You wouldn't cast a spell, would you, Tani?"
I shook my head. "I don't think so."
"But she'd be tempted," Lily said, as if pointing out a blatant fact.
"Would I?" I asked, surprised by the certainty in her voice.
Lily looked exasperated. "Did you fail your Witchcraft CE, Timothy? Because I'm pretty sure you needed to remember the ‘Humans and Magic' Theory to pass. That you should have known since year 9, if not earlier."
Timothy looked annoyed. "Of course not! I just didn't think Tani would appreciate her kingfisher giving her a lecture on the potential dangers of finding herself in possession of a magical stone while also possessing foxglove. If your kingfisher was human and all you wanted to do was give him a gift, would you bore him with such irrelevancies?"
Lily flared up. "Irrelevancies?! Oh, so it's irrelevant if her soul becomes streaked with evil, is it? It's irrelevant if she ends up causing unintentional harm? She needs to understand these things!"
"Hey, calm down, Lily," I said gently. "You can tell me about the dangers if Timothy's not going to."
Lily seemed less flustered as she nodded. "It really was his duty though. He's your kingfisher. He's meant to protect you.
‘As the stronger of the two,
the witch is duty-bound
to protect and to care for
the human they've found'" she recited, before adding, "‘With superior knowledge comes the job to inform'."
Timothy rolled his eyes. "I know the poem, Lily. My friend found their rose-dove and used to recite it to her every so often, so the words stuck. It was what I was thinking about before I met Tani."
"Oh, was that before thinking about never finding your rose-dove?"
"Yeah, I was hoping I never would. Of course, I'm glad I found you, now."
"Yeah, I wonder if you'll be as glad when she's in grave danger," Lily muttered.
"Well, tell her about the dangers, then. I'll go and look for a cornelian."
Lily muttered something incomprehensible which might have been, "stupid jerk," before inviting me to come and sit down with her behind the counter.
I sat with her and shrugged as if to say, ‘What can we do?' I was also thinking the question and Lily startled me by replying, "Show him how much of a jerk he is."
I grinned. She seemed to cheer up a bit, too.
"So, what dangers are being brought into my life by my negligent kingfisher?"
Lily frowned slightly. "It's actually quite serious. If you wear that cornelian or even have it in a pocket, you'll be tempted to attempt a spell, which wouldn't be too clever. Oh, it wouldn't work if the cornelian was the only thing in your possession - you're a human after all. But if you come into contact with foxglove, or any other magical item that doesn't require the spell-caster to have magical powers, for that matter, you'll be able to perform magic."
"And what would be the dangers of that?" I asked.
"Well, if you use dark magic, you can become an evil sorceress."
Anywhere else, I would have burst out laughing at the absurdity of such a concept. But, here, being told by Lily, who was wearing an expression so serious it scared me slightly, I totally believed this could happen.
I jumped as a hand stroked my shoulder. I looked up at Timothy who I hadn't notice come up behind me. "It's okay, Tani. I wouldn't let that happen."
"And ...," I gulped, "what would I do as an evil sorceress?" I barely took notice of the open space inside my mind - all my thoughts were about the normal perception of witches: ugly, cackling, crazy old women.
Lily shrugged. "Who knows? All evil magicians are power-hungry with twisted senses of humour and a desire to cause harm. Some spend their time plotting how to force people into submission so their life becomes more comfortable and some want to kill for the ‘fun' of it. A common factor in all of them is that they're people to stay away from."
The hand on my shoulder was a reassurance and I was glad Timothy was there to comfort me. Lily gazed off into the distance, looking scared herself but slightly detached and immune to the fear I was feeling.
Then she shook herself slightly and seemed to return to the room. She saw me trembling and her face took on a concerned look. "Are you okay?"
I nodded. "I just hope I never become like that."
"You won't," Timothy murmured in my ear, He'd knelt down beside me and was caressing my hair and kissing my cheek, distracting me from the terror and pulling me into a world where only the two of us mattered - a bubble which no one could invade or burs. It was a place just for us where I was safe, secure and, most importantly, loved. I turned my head and kissed him back, allowing his thoughts of calm and protectiveness to flood into my mind and wash away my anxiety. I was filled with an overwhelming sense of peace. Everything was a beautiful, swirling mass of tranquillity...
I vaguely noticed someone coughing politely, but I was too absorbed in Timothy to even stop kissing him. Gentle but strong hands pushed me away. Timothy smiled at me and I smiled back. I turned to face Lily who was looking down at her thumbs which she was twiddling awkwardly.
"Sorry," I murmured, slightly embarrassed at the intimacy of the moment I had just shared before a witness.
Lily shook her head. "Don't worry about it."
Timothy stood up, but held my hand as if worried I would begin to be scared again.
He handed Lily a pendant. It was an orange smooth, translucent stone which had been held in a sort of basket of black string which was tied to a piece of the same thin cord on either side. The loose strings were long enough to go around someone's neck and they ended with silver clasps that could be undone when the jewellery was put on and taken off.
"That'll be £2 please," Lily said.
"What, no discount for a friend?" Timothy pretended to look hurt.
"It would usually be £3."
Timothy gazed at her with wide eyes. "But you like me."
Lily blushed furiously. "Timothy!"
"You know you do."
I elbowed Timothy in a gesture for him to stop being unfair. Lily was able to take control of the situation though.
"I'll charge full price in a minute."
"Fine. Here you go."
Timothy thrust a couple of pound coins to Lily as if she had just ripped him off.
He spoke coolly when he asked Lily to help me find a dress. I could see a trace of his dark aura shimmering faintly to show he was simmering.
"You're so out of line," I murmured to him as I stood up and followed Lily.
"Don't provoke him," Lily whispered.