Author's Note: This is a sequel to How Not To Mend a Broom, but I don't think it's necessary to read that story to understand this one. I wrote this almost a year ago, and only now remembered about it and decided to post it. Actually, there's a lot I've forgotten to post here, so I'll be posting several more stories over the next few days and weeks.
How Not to Cope with Visitors
"Perry," said Will, "my home is about to be invaded by a hideous monster."
Perry blinked, caught badly off-guard. Strange things always happened around Will, but even so a hideous monster invading her home was unexpected to say the least. "Oh, er, has it? What, er, what sort of monster is it?"
"My Aunt Hippolita," said Will in tones of doom.
It was over a month after the disastrous annual Broom Race. Will's broom was still zooming around the race course, but it was easily ignored. The town of Kiltullaroan had more or less returned to normal.
Will hadn't given up on her hopes of stopping the broom. She borrowed from the library a dozen books on Stopping Spells, Speed-Reducing Spells and other spells along the same line, and she spent her days poring over them. Never let it be said Isangild Whiltierna Torchthwaite did not do her best to set right the disasters she caused.
It looked like life would be quite peaceful for the next few weeks. Then came the letter.
My dear Isangild, it read (Will's relatives insisted on calling her by her proper name, despite how much she hated it),
I have heard of very strange things happening in your town. I hope you are not responsible, but since you are so featherbrained – indeed, many of your cousins believe you are next door to an imbecile – I fear the worst. I am coming in a fortnight to visit for a sennight, possibly longer. During my visit I will see if you have abandoned your foolish notions and become a fine, upstanding member of society. I owe it to your father, my dearly departed brother, to keep an eye on you and prevent you embarrassing us more than you already have.
Sincerely, Hippolita Ellingworth
Will read the letter twice through to make sure her eyes weren't playing tricks on her. Then her neighbours were scandalised to hear loud, angry and extremely creative swearing resounding from her house.
At last she exhausted her supply of swear-words. She eyed the letter narrowly, memorizing the return address, then went in search of writing paper and a fountain pen. She turned out half the cupboards in the house during her search, and found everything from an entire, unopened set of teacups and saucers to a nest of mice. The only things she couldn't find were paper and something to write with.
She finally found a dog-eared sheaf of paper behind the cooker, and a fountain pen under a half-broken floorboard. She sat down in the middle of the floor and began to write.
Dear Aunt Hippolita,
There's no need to come to visit. Everything's just fine. I am a fine, upstanding member of society – ask Perry if you don't believe me,
Your niece, Will Torchthwaite
She ran down to the post office and gave her letter to the witch behind the counter. Then she skipped home, feeling like all was well with the world.
Her elation didn't last long. The next day another letter arrived.
I am disappointed to learn you are still associating with Wizard Larkimer. I have asked you repeatedly to break your ties with him. You are related, however distantly, to the Oak Queen herself, after all, while his father was a fisherman and his mother worked in a bakery. But I suppose it is no use talking to you. You are far too intent on going your own way.
No matter how much you try to dissuade you, I will come to visit you. I will believe you are a fine, upstanding member of society when I see the evidence of it, not before. I owe it to my dear brother's memory to keep an eye on his daughter.
Sincerely, Hippolita Ellingworth
Will screamed. It might seem like an overreaction, but she did.
When she calmed down, she tried to think the situation over. Aunt Hippolita was coming, and she would not be put off. The only thing to do was get the house in some sort of order, do something about her broom, try not to do anything too shocking, hope no one revealed anything about certain misadventures and disasters she'd caused, and –
The clock hanging from the ceiling let out a shrill scream. Why was the clock on the ceiling, you ask? Will had decided once that the ceiling would be the best place for a clock, since you could see it from every part of the room. Why did it scream instead of ring, chime, tick or make any of the sounds clocks usually made? It turned out that Will couldn't see the clock from every part of the room, or from other rooms, so she replaced the spell that made it chime every hour with a spell that made it scream every hour. That way, she always knew what time it was, and her neighbours – those of them who didn't know about the clock – always thought she'd injured herself.
Will craned her neck to see what time it was. She promptly said a few words that Aunt Hippolita would not have approved of. She was an hour late for work!
Will ran all the way to Witch Beederby's shop. Any other witch or wizard would have used their broom, but Will's broom was still zooming around the forest, so she ran. The wind blew her hat off and fragments of the dead leaves littering the ground flew up and got stuck in her hair. The people she passed along the way shook their heads and wondered what "that crazy Torchthwaite girl" had done this time, and who would suffer for it.
Witch Beederby's shop was tidy and well-organised. There was a place for everything and everything was in its place, and spelled to return to its place if mistakenly put in the wrong place – a necessary precaution, when Will operated on the premises. Witch Beederby herself was wrapping up a parcel of mud-removing spells for a customer.
Will squeezed as unobtrusively as possible between two shelves, one filled with tubs of wart cures and one lined with bottles of dish cleaner. Her sleeve caught on one of the dish cleaner bottles, which in turn knocked over another, and only a hasty wave of her wand avoided a catastrophe. Embarrassed, she picked up a cloth and set the bottles back in their places under the pretense of polishing them. Then she realised the cloth in question was the hem of her cloak, and felt even more embarrassed.
The customer collected her purchases and left. Witch Beederby turned to fix her troublesome employee with a frown.
"You're late," she observed in a casual tone that made Will wince.
"I'm sorry, I'll try not to let it happen again. You see, I got a letter, and -"
"Please, spare me," Witch Beederby begged. Painful experience had taught her that when trying to explain something Will could talk herself blue in the face unless interrupted. "There's a crate of furniture polish in the storeroom. Unload it and put the bottles on that shelf over there, and try not to bring the shop down round us."
The problem of Will's broom solved itself in an unexpected way. And, like everything Will was involved in, it caused a considerable amount of trouble, alarm and inconvenience.
Monulf Tackleton, one of Mayor Wreckwick's assistants, was agonising over whether he should use "myriad" or "innumerous" in the speech he was writing when there was a noise like a window breaking and something heavy crashing into a wall.
"Merciful goodness!" he cried, jumping up. "What was that? An earthquake? Someone's house falling down? The end of the world?"
He fled downstairs, carelessly leaving his fountain pen to leak ink all over the speech the Mayor was to give when the next election was announced.
No earthquake had occurred, nor had someone's house fallen down, and it was certainly not the end of the world. It was, however, the end of his kitchen window and several glass jars that had been sitting on a shelf. Glass lay scattered all over the floor. In the middle of the devastation lay Will's broom, battered and scraped but in considerably better shape than Wizard Tackleton's kitchen.
No one was ever entirely sure what had happened. Their best guess was that the flight spells had finally worn off the broom, and instead of simply dropping to the ground it had gone down diagonally, straight through Wizard Tackleton's window.
On the bright side, at least there was no longer any danger of Aunt Hippolita wondering why a broom was flying around all by itself.
The day of the dreaded visit drew ever closer. Will left her broom with Wizard Knavingford to be repaired and checked for safety – there had never been a case of a broom flying non-stop for more than a month before, after all – and set about preparing her house for the arrival of Aunt Hippolita.
Will scrubbed. She polished. She washed dishes, floors, windows and clothes. She rushed from one task to another without finishing the one she started first. She forgot all about her library books until a letter arrived from Witch Lackfield the librarian, asking if she intended to return them some time this century. She picked up all the clutter scattered around the house and crammed it into the attic.
She was halfway down the stairs when the attic door burst open and an avalanche of books, old clothes and goodness knows what else spilled out onto the landing. There was simply too much clutter for the attic to hold. But there was nowhere else in the house to put those things, so Will shoved them back into the attic and spelled the door to stay closed. There was very little chance Aunt Hippolita would ask to see the attic, so it didn't matter too much.
Aunt Hippolita's visit was only two days away, and Will became uncharacteristically vicious in her anxiety. When her cat, Bastet, jumped on the table and broke a plate, Will was so angry that Bastet decided the wisest course of action would be leaving until her owner calmed down. Will snapped at Witch Beederby, reduced an unlucky customer to tears, and dumbfounded Perry, her best friend, with her bad temper.
"What under the skies is wrong with you?" he asked her through the window. Will had point-blank refused to let him into the house for fear he'd leave dirty footprints on her freshly-mopped floors.
"What's wrong with me?!" Will exclaimed. She seemed about to make a very ill-natured remark, but held herself back just in time. "I'm sorry, Perry. I haven't been myself lately."
"I noticed," said Perry, not intending to be sarcastic. "What's wrong?"
She explained about the hideous monster, otherwise known as Aunt Hippolita. Perry listened with horror. He had met Aunt Hippolita once, years ago. He was in no hurry to meet her again.
"Why don't you say you've been called away on urgent business?" he suggested. "That's what my brother always says to get out of meeting his in-laws."
"What urgent business could I possibly have been called away on?" Will shook her head. "No, I'll have to put up with her. It's only for a week. I can put up with her for a week."
But going by her tone of voice, you'd have thought someone had just told her she was about to be executed, and she was to select the method of execution she'd prefer.
At last the day came. Will sent a note to Witch Beederby, saying she would be unable to go to work today. Then she paced the length and breadth of the kitchen as she waited for Aunt Hippolita's arrival. Nine o'clock came and went. Its arrival reminded Will to disable the spell that made the clock scream.
Ten o'clock came and went. Eleven o'clock. At a quarter to twelve Will put the kettle on for tea, then resumed her pacing. At ten past twelve the tea was brewing on the stove. At a quarter past twelve the tea boiled over. Mopping up the mess meant Will had something to distract her from her unwelcome and mysteriously absent guest. She began to hope Aunt Hippolita had changed her mind.
At exactly half past twelve, the doorbell rang.
Will took a deep breath, steeled her nerves, and went to open the door.
"Hello, Aunt Hippolita! I hope you had a... pleasant... journey..." Will's forced cheerfulness died a quick, painful death at the sight of Aunt Hippolita, large as life and twice as grim, standing on her doorstep and frowning at Will, the house, and the world in general as if they had all personally displeased her merely by existing.
Aunt Hippolita was almost a foot taller than Will, and so thin that, as Will's mother had once said, "She could squeeze through a hole in a twig without difficulty." She wore a grey dress that hadn't a decorative thread in it. Her hair, once dark brown but now mostly grey, was pulled back in a tight bun, and her hat was pressed firmly onto her head. All in all, she looked like the sort of person one would expect to see on one's doorstep only if someone had died.
"Isangild," said Aunt Hippolita, glaring down her long, pointed nose at her niece. "You look as through-other as always. And your hair is a horror to behold. I can already see why you didn't want me to visit."
Will thought this wasn't quite fair, since she'd gone to the trouble of putting on clean clothes. And she'd brushed her hair, too!
"Please come in, aunt," she said as politely as she could. "I have tea ready."
Aunt Hippolita stepped into the kitchen, surveying it with a critical eye. "Your housekeeping certainly hasn't improved. Those cabinets are covered with dust. Did you mop this floor recently?"
Will nodded mutely, not trusting herself to speak. Not only had she mopped the floor, she had dusted the cabinets. And while she knew she hadn't cleaned all the dust, it was a gross exaggeration to say they were covered with dust.
"You did a horrendous job. You've missed large sections of it. I can see," Aunt Hippolita finished with an air of grim resignation, "that you are still the lazy, careless creature you were when I last saw you. Good heavens! What is a cat doing indoors?"
Bastet had come back to see if her owner was in a better temper. The cat took one look at Aunt Hippolita and fled to stay with some of her feline friends.
Will bit her tongue to keep back a nasty remark as she poured out cups of tea for herself and her visitor. It would be a long, long week.
Before the day was over, Aunt Hippolita had taken over housekeeping duties. Will would have happily let her if it meant she left her niece alone, but Aunt Hippolita was simply incapable of leaving people alone. Everything Will did earned her criticism. Her spells weren't performed properly; her potions were substandard; the spellbooks she consulted were unreliable. No matter how neat her clothes and hair were, Aunt Hippolita found something to criticise.
By noon the next day, Will had had all she could stand. She could cope with her unpleasant relative when she was the only one who had to cope with her. But Aunt Hippolita had insisted on seeing where she worked, and then had spent hours haranguing Witch Beederby about the layout of her shop, its location, the suppliers she bought from, and heaven knows what else. Witch Beederby hadn't taken this lying down. She had replied with some highly personal remarks about Aunt Hippolita's appearance, ancestry (which Will resented, since Aunt Hippolita's ancestry was also – partially – her ancestry) and where she could expect to spend the hereafter.
Will left while they were still screaming at each other, and went to take shelter at Perry's house.
Perry was in the kitchen. He had just finished his dinner and was happily munching his way through a slice of strawberry cream cake. He almost choked on his mouthful when Will stormed in without bothering to knock.
"I can't stand it any more," Will burst out, not giving him a chance to speak. "I thought I could cope with it, but she's worse than I thought she could be and she might very well have lost me my job and she's tearing my house apart and–"
Here she had to stop for breath. Perry took advantage of the momentary silence to push a cup of tea and a saucer containing another slice of cream cake into her hands. Will drained the teacup in one go. Fortunately for her, it wasn't very hot tea.
"Something has to be done," she said more calmly, waving the saucer for emphasis and nearly sending her slice of cake flying across the room. She took a large bite of it and continued with her mouth full, "I simply can't go on like this."
"Why don't you talk to her?" Perry suggested timidly.
"Talk to her?" Will repeated with a great deal of scorn. "She never listens to anything anyone says. It would take a miracle to make her listen to me. Or a potion to make someone lose their voice." She took another bite of the cake and chewed it as she thought over the situation. Her eyes widened. "Wait! That's it!"
Perry cringed. If he knew Will, then she was on the verge of doing something stupid. "I hope you don't mean to give your aunt a potion."
"A Bad-News-Reducing Potion! Remember when we were younger and you broke your mother's wedding china? You gave her one of those potions before telling her about it."
"Then, when it wore off, I was in more trouble for the potion than for breaking the china," Perry pointed out. "Those things are more trouble than they're worth. What do you think will happen if you give her one of them, and then it wears off? Don't you think she'll be even more angry?"
Will wasn't listening. "It would make her listen to me without losing her temper! Thanks for the tea, Perry. I have to go to the apothecary."
Too late. She had jumped up and run out, leaving the plate of her half-eaten cake sitting on the table. Perry picked it up with a weary sigh.
"And now, I suppose, we're in for another example of how Will's ideas always lead to disaster," he said aloud to the room at large. "I wonder if I should warn her aunt."
Wizard Ditheny, the apothecary, was standing on a ladder, arranging some of his potions on a high shelf, when Will barged into his shop. She collided with the ladder, making Wizard Ditheny lose his balance. He grabbed hold of the shelf to steady himself. He watched with dismay as the bottles of potions fell over like dominoes and went tumbling to the floor below. It was just as well that potions bottles were designed to survive worst than falling off a shelf, or he would have had a terrible mess to clean up.
"Oh!" Will exclaimed, narrowly dodging a falling bottle. "I'm sorry, sir. I didn't mean to do that."
"Yet you did," Wizard Ditheny said with understandable annoyance. "You seem to cause disasters simply by existing. Was there something you wanted, or did you just decide to do your part in making life more exciting?"
It took Will a moment to remember what she'd come for. "Oh, I wanted to buy a Bad-News-Reducing Potion."
Wizard Ditheny carefully climbed down the ladder and made his way over to a shelf. "I've never understood why those potions are called 'Bad-News-Reducing'," he muttered to no one in particular as he examined the labels on bottles. "It makes them sound like they reduce the amount of bad news when what they actually reduce is how upset you are about the news. Here we are. That will be a shilling."
Will handed over the money and put the potion bottle in her pocket.
"Oh, and don't put it in tea!" Wizard Ditheny shouted after her. "It has strange effects when it's put in tea! Drink it on its own, or with elderflower cordial, but never with tea!"
Unfortunately, Will was already out the door and didn't hear a word of this.
Instead of going in the front door, Will crept around the back of her house, opened the doors leading down to the cellar, and tiptoed through the cellar into the larder. She had often used this method of getting into the house when her parents were alive. It had been an easy way to avoid notice after causing trouble. Of course, her parents had eventually caught on to what she was doing, and many times she had emerged from the larder to find them waiting for her. Since Aunt Hippolita didn't know about it, however, she thought it was safe to use.
Her foot caught on an empty box jutting out from under a shelf, and she found herself coming out of the larder much faster than she expected. She grabbed hold of the larder door to keep herself from falling. Then she froze and listened. Nothing. Either Aunt Hippolita wasn't home yet, or she hadn't heard.
Will got up and dusted herself off. She went over to the sink, filled the kettle, and put it on the stove. She set the potion bottle behind the bread-bin. She got out two teacups, one for herself and one for Aunt Hippolita. When the kettle whistled she filled the teapot, then went over to the table, sat down in one of the chairs, and flicked through a magazine of home decorating ideas while waiting for the tea to boil.
She had just poured the tea into both teacups and added half the potion to Aunt Hippolita's, when the front door flew open. Aunt Hippolita had returned – if "returned" isn't too mild a word to describe the way she stormed in.
"Hello, Aunt," Will said as calmly as possible, suppressing the urge to run for her life. "I made tea."
Her aunt scowled at her from under the brim of her hat, which was mysteriously much more battered and bedraggled than it had been this morning. "I hope you're better at making tea than you are at everything else. I desperately need a cup after the indignities your employer subjected me to. The audacity of that woman! She actually dared to snatch my hat from my head and turn it inside out!"
Will wondered what on Earth her aunt had said to make Witch Beederby do something so childish. Then she wished she'd been there to see it happen – from a safe distance.
"Here's your tea, aunt," she said, holding out the teacup with the potion added. She had taken the precaution of using two teacups with different designs on them so there was no danger of her taking the tea with the potion by mistake.
Aunt Hippolita took the teacup. Will watched with bated breath as she drank from it. Would she sense there was something more than just tea in it?
"Your tea-making skills are better than I expected," Aunt Hippolita said with a rather grudging air, as if it pained her to have to admit Will had in any way shown herself better than her aunt thought. "Still not as good as they could be, but better than expected."
Will released the breath she'd been holding. Her aunt apparently hadn't noticed anything.
Aunt Hippolita continued complaining about Witch Beederby, the town of Kiltullaroan, Will's house, and everything else that came into her mind. Will bit her tongue and waited for the potion to take effect.
Then something utterly unexpected happened. Aunt Hippolita giggled.
Will's eyes widened. She stared, shocked and bewildered, as Aunt Hippolita continued to giggle as if she'd just heard the world's funniest joke.
"...Aunt?" she said at last. "...Are you... do you... are you alright?"
"Ccertnly." Aunt Hippolita spoke with a drunken slur, as if she'd drunk an entire bottle of whiskey instead of a cup of tea. "N'ver felt better. Why're thur two o' you?"
It was rapidly becoming all too apparent that something had gone horribly wrong. Will was reasonably sure that not even she could make tea that intoxicated someone, so it had to be the potion.
"I have to go and... er... I have to go," Will said, snatching up her hat and coat. "Don't go anywhere till I get back."
Aunt Hippolita showed no signs of having heard. She had stopped giggling and was now slumped back in her chair, grinning amiably at the world in general. It was a horrifying sight.
Will fled out the door. She stopped as she reached the end of the garden path and considered the situation. Aunt Hippolita was drunk, or doing a very good impression of being so. She'd caused enough trouble while sober. What would be the consequences if she went wandering around the town while drunk? It didn't bear thinking about.
Instead off going left and heading down the street that led to the main part of the town, Will turned right and went over to Perry's house. She found him in his work-shed. Making toys was Perry's hobby, and when she threw open the door she found him in the middle of carefully painting black spots on a white rocking horse he had made himself. Her arrival startled him so much that his hand shook and left a line of black paint across the horse's side.
"WILL!" he shouted, for once truly angry with her. "Look what you made me do! And when I'd nearly finished it, too!"
Will winced. "I'm sorry, Perry. I should've knocked."
"Yes, you should have," Perry grumbled, taking out his wand and murmuring an incantation over the line of paint. It obligingly slid off the rocking horse and floated back into the paint-can, but left a dark stain on the formerly-pristine white paint. "What do you want?"
"Would you mind keeping an eye on Aunt Hippolita for me? I gave her the potion, but Wizard Ditheny must have given me the wrong potion because she's acting..."
From the direction of Will's house came the sound of loud, off-key singing.
"Anyway," Will said, trying not to wince as Aunt Hippolita utterly butchered "Greensleeves", "I have to ask Wizard Ditheny what he gave me, and I don't dare leave her alone."
Wizard Ditheny was behind the apothecary counter when Will charged in. He took one look at her and sighed.
"You put the potion in tea, didn't you," he said wearily before she could say a word.
"Was I not supposed to?" Will asked, surprised.
Wizard Ditheny prayed for patience. "No. No, you weren't, as you would have known had you listened to me. Give the affected person a spoonful of raw honey; it will make the effects wear off within an hour or two."
Will's entire neighbourhood knew when Aunt Hippolita sobered up.
"ISANGILD WHILTIERNA TORCHTHWAITE!" thundered through the air.
An interested crowd gathered outside Will's house to learn the details of the latest disaster Will was involved in. Within an hour the whole town knew Will had made an ill-advised attempt to tell her aunt what she thought of her, which for some reason involved a potion; that said attempt led to her getting her aunt drunk; and that her aunt took a dim view of such goings on. She took such a dim view of them, in fact, that she refused to spend another minute under Will's roof.
Aunt Hippolita had gone. Will was left standing in the kitchen, her aunt's justifiably furious words echoing in her ears.
"I've done it again," she said aloud. "I'll have to apologise to her somehow... but how?"
Will did, indeed, try to apologise. Did she succeed, you ask? Well, that's another story...