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Chapter 21: Return to the Academy

Saffron searches for answers
Chapter 21: Return to the Academy
An image of a brick building is overlaid with the text "Saffron and Bear" and "Chapter 21: Return to the Academy"

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The Academy’s campus was different in every way from the last time Saffron had visited. The budding trees and dewy grass of spring were long gone, replaced by the first crunchy leaves of autumn. The students were no longer worn down from a year of study, but returning bright-eyed after a summer of adventure and relaxation.

More than that, though, she no longer trusted it. The Academy had been her home for five years, and had always felt like a place she could go back to and be safe. Where professors had their students’ best interests at heart and the pupils themselves looked out for one another. She’d learned everything she knew about being a witch there, and a lot of what she knew about being a person.

Professor Burton had been the shining star of the whole thing. Her teacher, her mentor, her friend. Saffron had trusted her implicitly.

Coming back now, knowing that old friend was involved in a dangerous game of powerful artifacts and vicious beasts, and willing to put both Saffron’s town and her sister in harm’s way, the shine had worn off the whole place. She felt as though an illusion had fallen away, and for the first time she noticed the missing shingles on the roof of the main hall and the way the teachers’ cottages leaned drunkenly towards one another.

But she had come here for a reason, so she pushed her feelings aside, and marched toward her purpose. Bear followed behind, not letting himself get too distracted by the students who once again wanted to pet his soft fur.

Saffron rapped sharply on the door to the Professor’s cottage. There was no answer. She knocked again. “Professor Burton? Are you in there?”

“She’s not here, I’m afraid.”

The door to the next cottage had popped open and a familiar face peeked out.

“Hi, Professor Tamboli. How are you?”

The professor’s face broke into a smile, her brown skin creased with laugh lines. “Good. It’s nice to see you. Have you been well?”

“Yes. Well, mostly.” She shook her head. “Is Professor Burton teaching at the moment?”

“No dear, she’s gone.”

“Gone? Gone where?”

“I don’t know. No one does. One day about two weeks ago she just didn’t show up to breakfast or any of her classes. We’ve been scrambling to cover her courses ever since, let me tell you.”

“I can only imagine. That must have been quite the shock for everyone.”

“Not as much as you’d think. Anita’s been getting odder, these past few years. Quiet. Squirrely. Secretive.” She shook her head. “I don’t know what to call it, but there’s been a change in her, for sure. Did anyone expect her to disappear out of the blue? No, probably not. But were we shocked by it? Not entirely.” She smiled again, but sadly this time. “I’m sorry dear, I know you were quite close with her. This probably does come as a shock to you.”

Saffron nodded slowly. “It does and it doesn’t. I’ve been learning recently that she’s not quite the person I thought she was, either.”

“I’m sorry, that must be difficult. Now then, I need to get going to a class of my own. If you’re sticking around, I’m sure any of the professors would be glad to catch up with you. You could even do a guest stint in one of the classes if you like. The students love that sort of thing.” She winked.

“Thank you,” Saffron laughed, “but I couldn’t begin to know what I would have to share with them. Thanks for the information on Professor Burton.”

“You’re very welcome.” Professor Tamboli locked the door to her cottage. “I just wish I had better news to give. Ta ta!”

“Goodbye!” Saffron watched the older woman cross the campus toward the main hall. Students were trickling along the paths to the main building as well. It must be time for classes to start.

“A good time for us to make our exit, huh boy?” She looked down at Bear, but he wasn’t paying the slightest bit of attention to her; he was enraptured by the sight of all the students who could be petting him. “Alright, we’ll walk by and let you get some attention, you big baby. But then we’re leaving.”

As Bear twined his way among the legs of the students, Saffron was lost in thought. What was Professor Burton really up to? And where had she gone?

There were no more answers for her here. There was nothing for it but to go home and muddle through things on her own, like always.

Not on her own, she reminded herself. She had Sage, now. And Alistair. And Meg and Henry, and all her other friends.

And Bear, of course. Always Bear.

When the students had disappeared into the classrooms and there was no one else for Bear to demand attention from, the two of them set off for home once more.

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If you enjoy my writing, consider checking out my story “Soar Away and Never Sigh” in the anthology Mosaic from TL;DR Press.

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