Eleanor Abbot looked down at the pile of steaming mush in front of her and wiped damp hair out of her eyes. Ichabod – the black cat – glared at her from across the table.
“I know it’s bad, Ichabod,” Eleanor groaned and collapsed onto a nearby chair, “you don’t need to look at me like that.”
The cat swished his tale and walked over to the cast iron pot, took one sniff, and pointedly wrinkled his nose before looking back to Eleanor,
I told you to use the fresh sage. Eleanor heard Ichabod’s disdainful voice in her head.
“Well if you can’t summon the flames directly from hell, store-bought is fine,” Eleanor quipped. The cat flicked his tail and sat licking his paw, ignoring her.
A junior at the Nathaniel Bowditch Academy, 16 year old Eleanor Abbot had spent most of October preparing for the ACT and SAT, rather than studying the thick volumes of Natural Herbices and their Supernatural Properties. Now, in the late afternoon of October 31, she was paying for it. It had taken her a few hours to find just the right potion. Eleanor had brewed successful potions in the past but these were simple remedies for minor itchy throats or tea with the extraordinary capacity to help her stay awake a little bit longer, without nasty side-effects. Eleanor had never successfully brewed something as complicated and time consuming as a love-potion.
She picked up a damp, creamy piece of paper from the workbench, which was now pockmarked with the day’s residue of trial and error, and read from it aloud,
“‘The Beaumont Coven has chosen an Amentien potion, which lasts up to 48 hours and with no dramatic side-effects, as the final task of this second stage of training. Completing this task will show the coven that the Novice has gained an acceptable knowledge of both spell-casting and brewing, and acquired a developed understanding of that more profitable brand of magic. Upon completion of this task, the Novice will be granted a wand.'”
Eleanor sank her head to the table and let it rest there. Muffled, she said, “this would be a lot easier to do with a wand.”
Ichabod’s accented voice chimed in her head, well you won’t get a wand if you can’t turn that pile of mush into a lovely bouquet of roses and a box of chocolates.
She glared at the cat while dumping the contents of the pot onto the smoldering waste pile. Eleanor knew well that without a wand a witch’s magic is harder to focus; wands help increase the power of the caster’s spell. Witches can operate wandless but it is nearly impossible to preform extremely complicated and powerful magic without one. Most witches are granted a wand in a ceremony on midnight of the Halloween of their sixteenth or seventeenth year, depending on the coven. In Eleanor’s case, she had been on the path to get this wand since she was a child. Lessons and experiments in astrology, botany, anatomy, runes, latin, and the rudiments of spell casting, all filled the young witch’s formative years.
The late afternoon sun filled the large shed where Eleanor’s mother and aunt kept their workshop, adjacent to a plain but sturdy greenhouse. With a resigned sigh, Eleanor walked into the greenhouse muttering about sage.
A few hours – and twenty new dollars to Aunt Adelaide’s swear jar – later, Eleanor Abbot stood beaming over a pot of creamy liquid the color of lavender. The potion emanated heat as it swirled gently, quite of its own accord, in the black kettle.
It smells like the seaside, Ichabod noted from his lazy perch on a high shelf.
Eleanor worked quickly bottling the potion into separate vials, setting the full glass containers carefully into a velvet-lined box. She was near the end of the liquid when she ran out of vials.
“I’ll be right back.” Eleanor called to Ichabod cheerily as she nearly skipped the distance between the workshop and the house. It was now past sundown and the Trick-Or-Treaters were out in throngs. After finding extra empty bottles in the kitchen, she walked to the front of the house to enjoy the merriment. Eleanor’s mother, Marguerite Abbott, and her sister, Adelaide Abbott, were on the front lawn dressed as a Suffragette and United States Supreme Court Judge, Ruth Bader Ginsberg.
The neighborhood loved the Abbott house on Halloween: the sisters always made a spectacle of spook for the walk up the drive. The maze incorporated seemingly floating jack-o-lanterns, live bats that swooped in and out, hot cider (spiked, for the parents), and somehow every single child got their very favorite full-size candy-bar. It was like magic. Tonight was no different, families were milling around Eleanor’s front lawn, talking to her aunt and mother and watching as the kids tried – with no success – to catch a bat. She bellowed to Marguerite and Addie from the porch,
“I finished it!”
Both women let out whoops of congratulations and waved to her.
“Big project for chemistry – ” Eleanor could hear Marguerite explain as she raced back to the workshop. At this rate, she thought happily to herself, I might have time to go to Keira’s party before the ceremony. She was just coming upon the workshop when she heard Ichabod hiss. About to call out to him, Eleanor gasped as she was hit straight-on by the force of a running child. Both her and the child, who was eleven or twelve and wearing a Captain America costume, were knocked to the ground.
Eleanor winced and started to pick herself up, hands stinging, bum aching. It wasn’t until she saw the scattered lavender vials on the ground around her that she realized Ichabod’s voice in her head was shouting,
He’s stealing the potion! Your potion! This, intermingled with insistent hissing.
Before she could fully recover, Captain Crime had scooped up a vial and charged past her into the shrubbery surrounding the property. Eleanor tore after him yelling back to Ichabod,
“Get Mom and make sure the rest of it is safe!”
Eleanor was close to the Captain but he was gaining distance through the backyards of neighboring houses. She had tried yelling to him to just give it back, he wouldn’t get in trouble. It quickly became clear that Eleanor could either run or yell, but absolutely not both. Her mind was a jumble of information and scenarios: for some random twelve year old boy – a child – to have his hands on a potent love-draught that she had left unattended, was absolutely the kind of terrible situation to land Eleanor in no-wand-land for the rest of her life.
They had run about a block and the boy had now gained so much distance that Eleanor watched as he paused and decided his next move. He was standing in a yard with a fence blocking his path forward. To his right, a swampy woodland. To his left, the rest of the neighborhood and Trick-Or-Treaters. Panting, Eleanor quickly moved to the front of the houses. While still shrouded in shadow, she picked up a jack-o-lantern from the yard. In her hands it turned into a wearable, latex mask. Putting it on, she was now much closer to the Captain when he popped out onto the street. She walked steadily toward him as he frantically looked into the crowds of costumes. When she was close enough to grab him on the shoulder Eleanor snarled into the boy’s ear,
“Concretus! I think you have something of mine, Cap.” It took only moments for Eleanor to pry the vile out of the boy’s unmoving hand. When she released his shoulder – and broke her spell – he swung around to look at her before yelping and sprinting off in the other direction.
Thinking only of getting back as quickly as possible – and worried Marguerite and Adelaide had already sent the Hounds of Hell after her – Eleanor decided to take a shortcut home. The vial of retrieved potion was tucked safely into her front pocket. She was quietly passing through the backyard of a big brick house when suddenly she was bathed in light from the house. Instinctually, Eleanor jumped into the shadowy garden behind a wall of shrubs. She immediately felt like an idiot; if the homeowners hadn’t thought she was being suspicious, they certainly would now. Cursing herself for wasting so much time – but determined to not be spotted – Eleanor hunkered down in the dirt.
While running through what she would say to her mother when she got home, Eleanor didn’t pay attention to what was going on inside the house until she heard shouting. She caught the end of a man’s angry sentence,
“…and that’s not how you promised this would go! You promised me there would be no evidence! ‘Like magic,’ you said!” By the end of the phrase, the voice had become so sarcastic and poisonous, and Eleanor’s curiosity was so piqued, she decided to peer from around her hiding spot.
From her vantage point, Eleanor could see that the angry man had been shouting at someone with their back toward the enormous windows. All Eleanor could tell about the second person was that they were wearing a long, white, high-collard cape. Eleanor would have considered this extremely fashion-forward on a regular day, but totally appropriate for Halloween. She assumed the figure was responding to the man, as he continued to seethe, but Eleanor couldn’t hear what the person said.
Then, the man, who had been standing in the darker part of the room, stalked toward the caped figure. Eleanor gasped. When he had moved into the lamp light, Eleanor recognized the usually calm but now pale and angry face of her headmaster. Almost as soon as she recognized him, the anger on his face turned to anguish. Confused and, without thinking, Eleanor started to stand. Her intention was to help him, somehow; in the mere moments she had been watching her headmaster had crumpled to the floor and was spitting blood.
Then, he was completely still.
Eleanor was frozen, standing, starring. The figure in the white cape had not moved while the man in front of them collapsed and, apparently, died. A dog barked in a neighbor’s yard and Eleanor screamed, startled. At the same moment, the figure in the cape whipped around to peer into the backyard. Eleanor had still been standing in complete darkness, and they saw only the rustle of branches as the ripped out of the backyard.
Eleanor’s legs, chest and brain were burning when she finally came careening into her own front yard. Marguerite was sending off the last of the Trick-or-Treaters with a great big smile when she caught sight of her daughter. The words of admonition she had been preparing over the last hour about responsibility and the dangerous of unsupervised and unprescribed magic fell away as soon as she saw the terror on the girl’s face. Marguerite yelled to Addie – who would hear her from whenever she was,
“Get the linden and chamomile, something’s happened,” to Eleanor she continued, “oh, sweetheart, did he take it? He’ll be alright, don’t worry about his health we’ll be sure he’s alright. Do you know where -”
Eleanor interrupted her by vomiting on the porch. Through tears, coughs and apologies, she tried to gargle out what she had seen.Marguerite looked over her shoulder into the yard and street before pulling her daughter gently inside the house. She stated firmly,
“Tranquilium filia.” Eleanor’s wrinkled and wet face smoothed; she stood up and took a deep breath before saying,
“Dr. Mather, my headmaster, he’s dead. I saw him die. On my way home from getting the potion back from Captain America. The white cape let it happen. I think they saw me. What if they come after me?” With this, Eleanor pulled the pale purple bottle from her pocket and placed it in the velvet lined box with the rest of her vials of potion, which Addie had brought from the workshop to the kitchen. The calming spell Marguerite cast had run its course; Eleanor slumped into one of the chairs at the table. Her aunt and mother stood dumbfounded. Only Ichabod moved: he hopped into Eleanor’s lap and purred loudly.
Then, the doorbell rang at the same moment that the clock sounded a quarter-hour, making Eleanor jump up, spilling the cat onto the floor. Ichabod’s voice echoed in everyone’s head as he scampered down the hall,
Eleven forty-five! The wand ceremony.
Eleanor, who only hours before could think of nothing but finally getting her wand, simply stared at her mother and aunt. Adelaide moved to put her arm around Eleanor, while Marguerite walked dazed to the door. Eleanor’s body felt sticky, hot and suddenly exhausted. Footsteps sounded in the entry as Marguerite ushered in the first guest. Eleanor immediately recognized the soft, melodic voice of Beatrice Valery, The Elder and highest ranking member of Beaumont Coven. She’s addressing Eleanor when she glides into the kitchen, her tall frame filling the doorway,
“I smell the most excellent Amentien potion, Eleanor. I’m sorry I wasn’t earlier, I got held -” she stops when she sees the color drain from Eleanor’s face, “whatever is the matter, child?” the tall woman asks sweetly.
Eleanor had gone ice-cold. Beatrice was wearing a cape: a long, collared, white cape.