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Chapter 17: The Professor

Saffron visits a friend at The Academy
An image of a greenhouse is overlaid with the text "Saffron and Bear" and "Chapter 17: The Professor"

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The Academy was much smaller than Saffron remembered. As a teenager it had been her whole world, but after a few years of having an entire town and part of a forest under her care, the school’s campus felt small.

She found Professor Burton in the large greenhouse behind the main building.

“The plants are looking healthy,” Saffron said, admiring the leaves.

Professor Burton looked up with a start from the juniper she’d been pruning.

“Saffron?” She blinked and adjusted her glasses. “Is that you? What on earth brings you here?”

“Just paying a visit. It’s good to see you.”

“It’s good to see you too, of course, my apologies.” Her mentor smiled. “I was just surprised. Why didn’t you tell me you were coming? I’d have arranged for lunch.”

Saffron waved away her concern. “I only just decided to come. It was such short notice I figured I would arrive before a letter anyway. Sorry if it’s an inconvenience.

“Not at all. Let me get cleaned up and we’ll go find a cup of tea.”

The Professor led her across the back lawn to the row of cottages that stood along the edge of the woods. Saffron had never been in any of the professors’ homes before–students weren’t allowed to–and she couldn’t shake the feeling that she was trespassing.

Bear stayed outside to explore and try to persuade any passing students to stop and pet him on their way to class. Saffron left him to it and followed Professor Burton inside.

The cottage was filled with almost as many plants as the greenhouse, and Saffron admired her specimens while the professor brewed the tea. On the mantle, between a pot of basil and a trailing ivy, was a portrait of the professor, much younger, with a man Saffron had never seen. She’d known Professor Burton had been married when she was younger, but Saffron didn’t know the details. She didn’t want to intrude, so she pulled her eyes away from the portrait and focused on the plants.

“Now then,” Professor Burton started once they were seated in the two rocking chairs by the hearth, “what brings you back to the Academy? The same troubles that you wrote to me about in the fall?”

“No,” Saffron said, looking into her tea. “Though, in some ways, yes. I’ve found Sage.”

“You have?” The professor leaned forward. “Where was she?”

“In my own backyard. In a house in the centre of wood. The very place the poison was coming from. Isn’t that odd?”

“It is. What was she doing there?”

“I don’t know.” Saffron sighed. “For months after I found her, she didn’t speak at all. She’s finally talking again, but not about that. She won’t tell me a thing about where she’s been or what she’s been doing these past few years.”

“That must be frustrating. I’m sure she’ll come around eventually.”

“I hope so. In the meantime, I wanted to know what you know about all of this?”

“Me?” Professor Burton’s small dark eyes widened in surprise. “What makes you think I know anything about it?”

Saffron frowned. “That note you wrote me last year. In response to my questions. You said, ‘All of your questions lead to the centre.’ What do you know about it?”

“Ah, that.” The professor leaned back again, taking a long sip of her tea before she continued. “I don’t know much, I’m afraid. I had heard a few stories about those woods. About the family that lived there, how powerful they were, and how they disappeared.”


“Yes. Something went wrong and they all left. Vanished without a trace, the stories say. That’s about all they say, though. I don’t suppose you learned more about it in your adventures?”

“The son. The son went bad, poisoned from the outside in. He became… a creature. A Beast. Terrorizing the local wildlife, spreading poison through the woods.” She swallowed, not wanting to meet her mentor’s eyes. “I killed him.”

Professor Burton set down her teacup and laid a hand on Saffron’s arm. “I’m sorry, Saffron. That must have been very difficult. But we do what we have to do to keep our wards safe.”

“I know. I wish I could have found another way, but…” She shook her head. “People were getting hurt. I guess that’s probably what happened to the rest of the family, anyway.”

“Perhaps,” Professor Burton mused. “But the story had to come from somewhere.”

“I guess we’ll never know. They must be long gone by now. That house was ancient.”

“That house was full of poison. This was all, oh, twenty, twenty-five years ago. There might be some family members still around.”

Saffron considered this. “Well, it’s no use now. I’ve killed their son and burnt down their house. Hopefully they all moved on to happier lives.”

“Indeed. And hopefully you and your sister can move on from this and find happiness, too.”

“Thank you, professor.”

There was a scratching at the door, and when Professor Burton opened it, Bear came prancing in, stretching up on his hind legs to nuzzle her hand.

“Well aren’t you a charming little boy,” she said, crouching down to pet him properly. “You take good care of Saffron now, you hear?”

“Oh, he does.” Saffron smiled. “I don’t know what I’d do without him.”

When she had finished her tea, she stood and stretched and took her leave from the professor.

“Don’t be a stranger, now. Feel free to write or visit any time you like. I’m sure your other teachers would be glad to see you too, you were always a bit of a favourite around here.”

“Thank you. I’ll try to come again soon. And thanks again for your help.”

“I only wish I could do more.” The professor shook her head. “Such a shame about that house, though. I don’t suppose you found anything while you were there?”

“Found anything? Like what?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Like I said, the rumour was the whole family was quite powerful. Rich, of course, but magical, too. Some said they kept a stash of artifacts hidden away there.”

Saffron shook her head. “I didn’t see anything. And whatever might have been there, it’s all gone now.”

“Ah well. That’s the way of things, I suppose. Now then, you have a safe trip home. And tell Sage hello for me, would you? I’m glad you found her.”

“Me too. I just wish…” Saffron trailed off. “Well, I’m glad she’s safe anyway.”

“Chin up, my dear. It will all be alright.”

The Professor’s words echoed in her ears as she walked across the sun-drenched lawn, Bear at her side and the school at her back, ready for the long trip home. She only hoped alright would come a little faster.

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Katie Conrad is a speculative fiction writer living in Halifax, Nova Scotia. You can find her on twitter or instagram.