Magic Molly and the Fire Witch
‘Molly Miggins, if you aren’t down these stairs in five minutes flat, I’ll feed your breakfast to the birds.’
Molly lay on her back and stared at the ceiling. She wasn’t too worried. She knew that sparrows don’t like Wheaty Flakes; she tried to feed them some when she was little.
‘Birds don’t like Wheaty Flakes, Mrs McCraggity,’ she shouted. ‘Anyway, it’s Saturday and I always…’
Molly stopped mid-sentence and leapt out of bed. It was Saturday and that meant she was going to have her first flying lesson.
Molly showered in record time and raced down the stairs to the kitchen. She pulled back a chair, threw herself onto it, and poured a generous helping of cereal into her bowl.
‘Is Granny Whitewand up yet?’ she spluttered through a mouthful of Wheaty Flakes.
‘I haven’t seen her,’ said the housekeeper.
‘We’re going to test out my new broomstick today.’
Mrs McCraggity put a rack of hot toast on the table. ‘Don’t talk with your mouth full. It’s not polite.’
Molly swallowed another huge spoonful.
‘It wasn’t full; I swallowed most of it before I spoke.’
‘Don’t be cheeky, young lady. You know what I meant.’
‘Are you coming to watch me fly, Mrs McCraggity?’
The housekeeper thought about it for a moment. ‘I will if I get time. I’ve got a lot to do today. Don’t you need to get a broom licence first?’
‘A broom licence?’ Molly’s spoon stopped half way to her mouth. ‘Why do I need a broom licence?’
‘You can’t fly without a licence, Molly. Someone will have to take you down to the post office to get one.’
The door opened and Granny Whitewand shuffled into the room.
‘Morning, Granny Whitewand,’ said Molly.
The old witch yawned a jaw cracking yawn, sucked her teeth back into place and hobbled towards the table. ‘Good morning, Millie.’
Molly sighed. Granny Whitewand always got her name wrong.
‘It’s Molly, Grandma,’ she reminded her.
Granny Whitewand sat down at the table and hung her walking stick on the back of Molly’s chair.
Molly turned to face her grandmother. ‘Mrs McCraggity says junior witches need a licence before they can fly.’
‘She’s right,’ said Granny Whitewand.
‘Bother,’ said Molly.
Mrs McCraggity placed a china cup and saucer in front of the old witch and poured milk and tea into it. Granny Whitewand splashed in four spoons of sugar and stirred it absentmindedly. ‘Something quite important is happening today, but I can’t think for the life of me what it is.’
Molly looked up from her bowl with a big smile on her face. ‘I’m having my first flying lesson.’
Granny Whitewand drank her tea with a loud slurp.
‘Are you, Millie? That’s nice.’
Molly rolled her eyes to the ceiling. ‘It’s MOLLY, Grandma.’
‘So you keep saying,’ said Granny Whitewand as though she knew better. ‘Who are you going flying with? I might pop along to watch.’
‘You, Granny,’ said Molly. ‘You promised to fix up my broom and give me my first flying lesson.’
‘Did I?’ Granny Whitewand slurped at her tea again. ‘Broom? I can’t remember anything about a broom.’
‘The broom I brought back from my last task?’ said Molly patiently. ‘It was all in bits, remember?’
Granny Whitewand thought for a while.
‘No, I can’t remember. But I saw a broom on my bedroom floor this morning. You can have that one if you like.’
‘That is my broom,’ replied Molly, testily. ‘You fixed it up yesterday.’
Granny Whitewand made a squelching sound as she sucked on her teeth. ‘Did I?’
She finished her tea and rubbed her chin thoughtfully. ‘Do you know, I think you’re right; I must have been working on a broom yesterday because I woke up in a bed full of twigs this morning. It wasn’t very comfortable; I can tell you.’
Mrs McCraggity refilled Granny Whitewand’s cup. ‘Molly hasn’t got a broom licence yet.’
‘Of course she has a licence,’ said Granny Whitewand. She looked at Molly from under the brim of her hat. ‘Haven’t you?’
‘Er, no. I haven’t actually got one yet,’ said Molly.
‘Well then, you can’t fly and that’s all there is to it,’ said Granny Whitewand. ‘You’ll get arrested if you don’t have a proper licence.’
Molly was getting seriously confused. She was about to reply when her mother came into the kitchen. Molly’s mum was a High Witch and taught at the Witch’s Academy.
‘Good morning, everyone.’ Mrs Miggins sat down, poured herself a cup of tea and took a slice of toast from the rack.
‘Mum, I’m supposed to be having a flying lesson today but I don’t have a licence.’
Mrs Miggins nibbled the corner of her toast. ‘I’ll give you a lift down to the post office later on, Molly. Granny Whitewand will have to come with us if she’s going to be your instructor.’
‘Eh, what’s that?’ Granny Whitewand cupped her hand to her ear.
‘I was just telling Molly that you’ll have to sign her licence application as you’re her instructor, Granny Whitewand.’
‘Am I? It’s the first I’ve heard of it.’
Molly shook her head; Granny Whitewand was hard work at times. She got up from the table and put her bowl in the sink. ‘When are we going, Mum? I can’t wait to get started. I want to be solo flying by next week.’
‘You’ll only get a learner licence to start with, Molly, you’ll have to be accompanied at all times.’
‘That’s not fair,’ said Molly. ‘I can fly it; I flew by myself on my last task.’
‘I’m aware of that, Molly but it’s the law. You can’t go out on your own until you pass your test. There’s more to flying that sitting on a broom you know. You have to be able to fly safely and not be a danger to other flyers. Someone will have to be at your side until you pass your test.’
Mrs Miggins finished her toast and got up to return to her study.
‘Make sure you bring your latest spell book with you, Molly, the one with the fly spell in it. You’ll have to prove that you’re capable of casting it because you’re only nine and you’re supposed to be twelve to get a learner’s licence. I’ll be ready to go in about an hour.’
Molly walked back to the kitchen table to make sure that Granny Whitewand had heard, but she was fast asleep in her chair.
An hour later, Molly, and a now wide-awake Granny Whitewand, climbed into Mrs Miggins’ car and they set off for the post office.
Granny Whitewand looked at Molly and smacked her lips. ‘I wouldn’t mind a nice hot mug of tea while we’re in town.’
‘You had four cups for breakfast, Granny.’ Molly was amazed that anyone could drink so much tea.
‘They were little cups,’ said the old witch. ‘I’m awake now, I need a proper drink.’
Molly frowned. ‘We need to get back as soon as I get my licence so we can start my flying lessons.’
Mrs Miggins laughed. ‘Granny Whitewand loves her tea, Molly. We’ll go to that little café opposite the post office. They do lovely cakes there. You have the rest of the day to practice flying.’
Molly put her elbows on her lap and stuck her chin in her hands. ‘If she can stay awake long enough between cups of tea,’ she muttered. Granny Whitewand was very old and she needed a lot of what she called, “forty winks”. Molly knew she needed a lot more than forty, she counted them once, when Granny Whitewand was asleep in her chair and gave up at nine hundred.
Mrs Miggins parked up behind the post office and helped Granny Whitewand out of the car. Molly ran in front and held the shop door open.
The post office counter was so high that Molly couldn’t see over the top of it. Mrs Miggins took a pen from her bag and asked for a learner’s broom licence. A woman, with a thin face and pair of tiny spectacles perched on the end of her nose, took a form from a pigeonhole, and slid it under the glass-dividing screen. Mrs Miggins filled in Molly’s details and passed it back. The woman examined it and picked up an inky stamper. She tilted her head back and looked around the post office.
‘Is the applicant present?’
‘I’m here,’ said Molly.
The women leaned forward and looked over the counter.
‘You’re a bit short for flying.’
Molly was indignant. ‘I’m just the right height for my age.’
The woman looked at the form again.
‘I see you’re only nine, this is very unusual, we don’t usually issue broom licences to girls under twelve. Are you sure you qualify?’
Molly reached up and slapped her new spell book on the counter.
‘I’ve got the fly spell; I’m a grade three witch. The Magic Council keeps giving me tasks.’
The woman examined the spell book as though it might be a forgery. She checked Molly’s name and address in the front of the book and then made a big fuss of checking the Academy’s official stamp. Eventually she seemed satisfied.
‘This is very unusual but everything seems to be in order. Who will be instructing the applicant?’
Mrs Miggins began to explain but Molly butted in.
‘Granny Whitewand is going to be my instructor; she fixed up my broom and…’
‘Granny Whitewand,’ repeated the woman. She filled in a line at the bottom of the form and looked back through the glass.
‘Is she present?’
Molly looked around, Granny Whitewand had fallen asleep leaning against the birthday card stand.
Molly tugged at her sleeve. ‘Granny Whitewand, we need you to sign the form.’
Granny Whitewand’s head snapped back. ‘Eh? what?’
‘My broom licence, we need you to sign it.’
The old witch shuffled forward towards the counter. The post office official looked at her over her spectacles.
‘Is she capable of giving flying lessons? She looks a little past-it to me.’
‘Plastic? Who’s she calling plastic?’ Granny Whitewand leaned on the counter and fixed the woman with a stern eye.
‘I might have to get my supervisor to look at this,’ said the official. ‘Molly might be too young and this lady might be too old.’
The woman turned away and walked briskly through a door at the back of the shop. She returned with a smug look on her face.
‘You’ll have to come back in half an hour. Mr Stickitt says he will need to make a few phone calls to check your credentials.’
Mrs Miggins put her pen back into her bag. ‘Very well but I can assure you that everything is in order. I am the High Witch at the Academy.’
‘That’s as maybe,’ sniffed the assistant. ‘But we have to check these things, we can’t go handing licences out willy-nilly, or anyone could get hold of one.’
Mrs Miggins led a very disappointed Molly out of the post office. ‘Shall we go for that mug of tea while we wait?’ she said.
Granny Whitewand smacked her lips. ‘Mmm tea. My throat’s as dry as a camel’s big toe.’
‘I don’t want tea, or cake. Can I just have a walk around to look at the shops?’ asked Molly.
Mrs Miggins nodded. ‘All right, Molly, but only for fifteen minutes. Meet us in the café. I’ll save you a bit of cake.’
Molly wandered along the street looking into the shop windows. She wasn’t really interested in buying anything, she just didn’t like the idea of sitting in a stuffy café while old people queued up to pat her on the head and call her, ‘cute’.
As she walked past an alley at the side of the cycle shop, she heard a pssst, sound. Molly looked up just in time to see the wizard from the Magic Council appear from a cloud of mist.
‘Bother,’ muttered Molly under her breath. She turned on her heels and began to hurry away. Every time she met the wizard, he insisted on giving her a new task.
‘Molly Miggins, daughter of a witch,’ said a deep voice.
Molly tried to keep walking but her feet wouldn’t move. Eventually she gave up and turned back to the alleyway.
‘Yes, that’s me, but I don’t have time for any tasks at the moment, I’m getting my learner’s broom licence. Granny Whitewand’s going to teach me to fly, she’s with Mum in the café and…’
The wizard held up his hand for silence.
‘You will have time for this task. It shouldn’t take long; no more than an hour in fact.’
Molly wasn’t convinced.
‘No sulking dragons? No sniffing witches? No jelly ghosts?’
‘None of those things,’ agreed the wizard.
‘And I won’t have to go to the void again?’
‘Not this time. This is a nice, easy task.’
Molly looked at the scroll in the wizard’s hand suspiciously. ‘What do you want me to do this time?’
‘The Magic Council merely requires you to go somewhere and bring someone back with you.’
Molly’s suspicions were aroused again. She didn’t trust the wizard. Nothing was ever easy with him. ‘Where is somewhere? Who am I bringing back and why can’t they come on their own?’ she asked.
‘So many questions,’ chuckled the wizard. He held out the scroll to Molly. She took it reluctantly.
‘We are about to receive a visitor from the land of Splinge, which hosts the Grey Academy. All you have to do is meet a girl called Ameera at the gateway to the Halfway House, and bring her back with you. She can’t come on her own as she has to be accompanied through the portal. You will leave a package behind in the gateway when you collect her.’
Molly still wasn’t convinced.
‘Why me? Surely there are other witches who could do the job.’
‘You were chosen for the task, Molly Miggins. It’s as simple as that.’
Molly sighed. She knew it was a waste of time arguing.
‘So,’ she said. ‘All I have to do is go through a portal and bring back a junior witch. Does she know I’m coming?’
‘I did not say that she was a junior witch, but she knows you are coming and she will be at the gateway to the Halfway House waiting for you.’
Molly nodded. ‘All right, I’ll go and get her. When do I leave? Please don’t say it’s today; I have my first flying lesson.’
The wizard raised both bushy eyebrows. ‘Today? No, that would indeed be short notice. You can go tomorrow. Meet me at the park gates at nine o’clock in the morning. You will find everything you need to know about the land of Splinge and the Grey Academy in your Witcher computer program.’
The wizard smiled. ‘I think you’ll enjoy this task, Molly Miggins, and I’m sure you’ll like Ameera. Now, I’d better be off, I have important work to do.’
‘Before you go, could you have a word with the people at the post office, please? They are being awkward about my flying licence.’
‘Are they indeed?’ said the wizard.
Molly nodded. ‘The lady said that I’m too young and Granny Whitewand is too old… then she said I was too short and…’
‘We’ll soon see about that,’ said the Wizard. ‘Go back to your mother. I’ll see you in a few moments.’
Before Molly could reply, the wizard vanished in a puff of purple smoke.
When Molly got back to the café, she found the place was full and there wasn’t a spare seat to be had. She stood looking uncomfortable as old witches and some of the elderly, ordinary folk passed comment on her.
‘Ooh, isn’t she lovely, Hazel?’ said one of Granny Whitewand’s best friends.
‘She’s getting to be a proper little witch,’ said another.
Molly hated the way people passed comment about her as though she wasn’t there. She scowled and nudged her mother. ‘Can we go now?’ she whispered.
‘Ten minutes,’ said Mrs Miggins. ‘Granny Whitewand’s only had four cups of tea so far.’
Molly sighed and looked around for a seat.
‘Come and sit with me, my dear,’ said an elderly lady sitting nearby. ‘I’ll show you some photos of my granddaughter. She looks a bit like you.’
Molly was aghast. She didn’t even like looking through old family photo albums.
The café owner took pity on Molly and produced a small stool. Molly sat down quickly; the stool was so low that she found herself at eye level with the tea pot. The effect made Molly look even smaller. It brought another round of comments from the café clientele.
‘Oh, look. Doesn’t she look sweet?’
An old witch called Wanda, wiped a tear from her eye. ‘She looks just like me when I was a junior witch.’ Wanda hobbled over to Molly and pinched her cheek between a bony finger and thumb. ‘Who’s a pretty ‘ickle witchy girl, then?’
Molly’s face went redder than the table cloth; she took off her hat, placed it on the floor and glared at the clock, willing it to move faster. She was just considering asking her wand if he knew of a speed-up-time spell when Granny Whitewand suddenly woke up.
‘Eh, what? Who stole the fire?’
‘Were not at home, Grandma.’ hissed Molly. ‘We’re in town to get my flying licence.’
The old witch looked around, gave a jaw cracking yawn, sucked her wobbly teeth back into place, and picked up her tea cup. She took a huge noisy slurp and put it shakily back onto the saucer. ‘That explains where the fire went, then,’ she said. ‘Has the tea shop started issuing flying licences?’
‘We’ve got a problem with that,’ said Mrs Miggins. ‘The post office officials think Molly’s too young to have a licence and won’t issue it.’
Granny Whitewand pulled her wand from the secret pocket of her cloak and got unsteadily to her feet. ‘They won’t issue our Millie with a licence? We’ll see about that, won’t we girls?’
The old witches got to their feet and waved their wands in the air.
Molly stood on her stool and shouted to make herself heard above the shrieks and cackles.
‘It’s all being sorted out now; the wizard from the Magic Council has gone to the post office to have a word.’
The shrieking stopped immediately. The hags sat down and started a dozen different conversations.
‘Ooh, the wizard from the Magic Council…’
‘Fancy that, she must be well in if the wizard is going to get her a licence.’
‘Do you think he can get me a new one? I lost mine for being cheeky to a policeman.’
Just then the door opened and the wizard stepped into the café; he walked quickly to Molly’s table.
‘I think you’ll find that the post office is happy to issue you with your provisional flying licence, Molly Miggins. As I promised, you have been granted a special dispensation.’
The witches bowed their heads and whispered amongst themselves.
‘Ooh, a dispensation, you don’t see many of those.’
Molly blushed again; she hated being the centre of attention.
The wizard smiled and produced a small piece of parchment. ‘You will probably need this spell to finally obtain your licence. Mr Stickitt, the postmaster, is a little indisposed at the moment. It’s up to you when you use it. You can leave it until you come back from your task if you like, it would serve him right really.’
At the mention of the word, task, another dozen conversations began in the café. The wizard bowed to Molly and made his way to the door. Before he opened it he turned back and faced the clientele.
‘Look after this young witch, she is very special. You may all have cause to thank her one day.’
Molly stared at her feet as a rapturous round of applause filled the room; she took hold of her mother’s hand and almost dragged her out of the café.
Once they were on the pavement Molly stuck her hat on her head and sighed.
‘I wish they wouldn’t make such a fuss.’
‘They’re all pleased for you, Molly, that’s all,’ said Mrs Miggins. ‘You didn’t mention that you had been given another task.’
‘I saw the wizard when I went for my walk,’ said Molly. ‘I don’t want the task; I want to take my flying lessons.’
‘I’m sure there’ll be time for both,’ replied Mrs Miggins. ‘Now, let’s go and collect this licence.’
When Molly returned to the post office, she found a very different atmosphere. The counter assistant couldn’t be more helpful. She bowed to Molly and introduced herself as Mrs Stamp. She had even filled in the rest of the form and all that was required to issue the licence was Granny Whitewand’s signature and the signature of Mr Stickitt, the postmaster. The old witch signed it with a shaky hand, muttered, ‘plastic, indeed,’ and stepped back from the counter. Mrs Stamp stamped the top part of the licence and looked apologetically at Molly.
‘We didn’t need to do a background check after all. A gentleman from the Magic Council came in and verified all the details. Please accept out apologies and tell the wizard that your form was processed without further delay.’
The assistant looked down at the floor before continuing. ‘Unfortunately, Mr Stickitt can’t countersign the licence as the wizard turned him into a big, fat, slimy frog.’
Mr Stickitt leapt up onto the counter and stared through the glass at Molly. He looked down at the form he was sitting on and croaked, ‘Reddit, Reddit.’
‘I know you’ve read it, Mr Stickitt, said Mrs Stamp, but we really need you to sign it now. I don’t think a wet, froggy footprint will suffice somehow.’
‘Does he absolutely have to sign it?’ asked Molly. ‘The wizard says I have a special dustbin station.’
‘A what?’ said the puzzled assistant?
‘A special dustbin station,’ repeated Molly, ‘that’s what he said.’
‘It’s a special dispensation, Molly,’ said Mrs Miggins. ‘It means that a special arrangement has been put in place.’
‘Well I’ve got one, whatever it is,’ said Molly smugly.
‘Special dispensation or not, Mr Stickitt still has to sign before the licence becomes official,’ said Mrs Stamp.
Suddenly, Molly remembered the parchment that the wizard had given her.
While Mr Stickitt eyed up a couple of flies that were buzzing around the office, Molly pulled Wonky and the scrap of parchment from her pocket. She unfolded the spell and read the words closely.
‘Hmm, it says this is a kiss-frog spell. Do you know how to use it, Wonky?’
Wonky nodded. ‘I believe this is one of the old fairy tale spells that Granny Whitewand would have used when she was a very young witch. It’s quite an easy one to cast.’
Molly looked round for Granny Whitewand, but she had fallen asleep with her head on a pile of public information leaflets.
Molly decided to cast the spell herself. ‘How do we do it, Wonky?’
‘First, Mrs Stamp has to pick up the frog.’
‘Could you pick up Mr Stickitt, please?’ asked Molly.
The assistant pulled a face and picked up the postmaster with both hands.
‘Now she must kiss the frog while you say the words, frog kiss,’ said Wonky.
‘Kiss Mr Stickitt, please,’ said Molly.
Mrs Stamp was horrified. ‘I’m not going to kiss Mr Stickitt, it wouldn’t be proper, I’m a married woman.’
‘Well, he’ll have to stay a frog forever then,’ said Molly. ‘It’s the only way to get him back; I can’t kiss him for you.’ Molly shuddered at the thought.
The assistant lifted Mr Stickitt into the air, pursed her lips and pulled them away quickly.
‘I can’t do this, it’s horrible.’ She put the frog down on the form again.
‘Reddit,’ said Mr Stickitt.
‘Bother,’ said Molly, ‘Oh well, I suppose we’ll have to come back another day. It might be quite a while because I have a task to do and that can take ages. It could be a couple of weeks before we can get back and…’
‘I’ll DO IT!’ shouted the assistant. ‘I can’t have Mr Stickitt hopping round the post office for a fortnight, what would I feed him on?’
Mr Stickitt eyed up the flies again.
Molly raised Wonky in the air and waited.
The assistant snatched up the frog, lifted him to her lips and planted a big wet kiss on his forehead. Molly aimed Wonky at Mr Stickitt and shouted. ‘KISS FROG!’
There was a flash of light, the frog disappeared and the assistant found herself nose to nose with her boss. Her lips were still pursed.
Mr Stickitt disentangled himself from the clutches of Mrs Stamp, straightened his tie, leaned forward, and signed Molly’s form with a flourish. He pushed it through the counter and turned back towards his assistant. Suddenly a long, red tongue shot out of his mouth and caught one of the flies. He sucked on it, swallowed it and burped.
‘Lovely,’ he said and looked around for the other fly.
‘He, erm, should be back to normal by tomorrow… hopefully,’ said Molly. She picked up her licence, woke Granny Whitewand, and walked quickly out of the post office.
Molly rushed to the car park with her licence held tightly in her hands. As she waited for Granny Whitewand to catch up she held it high in the air and did a little happy dance.
‘Look out birds; I’m on my way,’ she shouted.
When they were all in the car, Molly took out the task scroll and showed it to her mother. Mrs Miggins read it carefully and passed it to Granny Whitewand.
‘They must think a lot of you at the Magic Council if they keep giving you tasks like this, Molly,’ she said.
Granny Whitewand read the scroll, rolled it up again and tied it with the red ribbon.
‘You are lucky, Millie, I wish I could get my teeth into a nice task. Not that I can get them stuck into anything these days. Granny Whitewand sucked her teeth into place as if to prove the point.’
Molly took the scroll back and shoved it into the secret pocket of her cloak. ‘You can have this task if you want it. I’d much rather go flying.’
‘There’ll be plenty of time for flying after the task is done,’ said Mrs Miggins. ‘Don’t forget you get extra powers each time you finish a new task. You earned the fly spell years before you should have got it.’
‘I know, Mum,’ replied Molly. ‘It’s just that I don’t seem to get a chance to practice many of the new spells before I’m sent off on another task.’
‘This one doesn’t look too difficult,’ said Granny Whitewand.
‘I bet it’s not as easy as it appears,’ said Molly grumpily. ‘The wizard’s tasks never are.’
‘It does seem a little odd,’ agreed Mrs Miggins. ‘I mean, any member of the Magic Council could have gone to meet this Ameera girl. I really can’t understand why they have made it into a task. People usually have to solve a puzzle or do something difficult to gain an extra witch grade. I think you’re right, Molly. It will probably be a bit harder than it appears.’
Molly sighed and leaned back in her seat.
‘Bother,’ she said.