Chapter XXII: Ostara Investigations (5/11)Mature

Although irked at Tayna, Will did as she had suggested. Once she had left, he gathered everything together and went in search of Paradam. It was odd walking through the commonroom after hours and seeing only boys, the hallways full of patrolling male teachers, all of the women were at the Ostara celebration, more the reason that Will hoped to find Paradam in his office.

However, he was nowhere to be found. The door to his chambers was left wide open as it often was, and although Will knew he should have left, he had never seen Paradam's office in detail. Waiting for him to return, Will found no harm in looking around in the interim.

The principal's office was full of strange antiques that were worth hundreds of arixel, whilst other decorations were worth nothing, old, filthy knick-knacks that were worth nothing but sentiment to the owner. Neat wooden filing cabinets occupied the gallery, yet the files spent more time outside than in, strewn on the wooden staircases, on the desk, even on the coffee table secured under an empty goblet of spiced milk. The door to Paradam's private quarters remained locked with brass locks and bolts, but Will climbed the staircase towards the top, wondering if Paradam was hidden in the comfortably furnished study area.

The wall behind the study area, as well as covered in ancient maps and documents, was decorated with pictures of Anala.

Most were old photographs, but the newest was a watercolour portrait dated earlier that Spring, a centrepiece that all of the other photographs surrounded. Anala's auburn hair bled onto the paper in rusty strokes, her lips layered in pinkish hues, and her eyes dotted with all the greens of the palette. He gazed at it as he sat down on the arm of the chesterfield armchair behind him.

'Some of my finest work.' The voice startled Will so much that he fell backwards into the chair, his finger catching the portrait and making it swing precariously on the nail. He scrambled into a proper position and looked over the railing. Instead of Paradam, Professor Hellshaw stood behind the principal's desk. He wore a blue cotton shirt tucked into smart, black trousers, and under his arm were several files stuffed with papers.

'Professor Hellshaw,' Will said nervously, 'you - you painted this?' He wondered what the girls in his class would think if they knew their favourite teacher was also an artist.

'Yes,' he smiled, seeming indifferent to the fact that Will was in the office. 'One of my few hobbies beside the psychic arts is the creative arts.' He climbed the stairs and took the portrait from the wall, smiling with self-admiration. 'I used to paint my wife all the time before I came here, she'd catch me sketching whilst she did the washing. Then I used to hang them to dry all around the house, she said she was tired of looking at her own face. I never was, though...' he was silent in thought for a while, gently brushing his thumb across the glass encasing the artwork. Eventually, he spoke again, this time with a chiding tone, 'Will, I don't want to scold you, but you know you aren't supposed to be in here alone.'

'I know, I was waiting for Principal Paradam to come back,' Will said quickly. He didn't fear Hellshaw's chastisement, rather he was the kind of teacher that you never wanted to displease.

'Well, he won't be back for some time. He's been cordially invited to the Ostara celebration. He could be out rather late.'

'Okay,' Will said, his shoulders deflating. He didn't want to put off telling Paradam what he knew, but if he was at the celebration, Tayna would surely tell him. 'That's fine, then. I'll go.' He headed down the stairs and reached the desk before Hellshaw called out to him again.

'However...I am also invited to said celebration. If it's that urgent, I will happily tell him what you need to know.'

'Oh, that's nice but -,'

'What's wrong?' Hellshaw chuckled, 'don't you trust me?'

'No, of course I do, Professor. It's just...' Will twisted his satchel strap as he thought, '...it's delicate.' 

'Then I assure you I will deliver the message delicately,' he grinned kindly and Will felt instantly at ease.

The End

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