Authors: Titania Woods
Nobody was there. The long strands of grass around the doorway waved gently, as though something had left in a hurry.
Twink swallowed as the blades of grass slowly stilled.
It was probably just a cricket
she told herself.
That's all. Nothing to worry about.
But even so, her wings felt as cold as ice.
The first-year Common Branch was a long, comfortable room with soft moss carpets. Glow-worm lanterns dotted the ceiling, and a cluster of fire rocks glowed warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Now, in early autumn, the rocks gave off a friendly heat that the young fairies found very welcome.
Sitting at one of the mushroom desks, Twink tried to do her Flower Power homework â perking up a pot of drooping clover. But no matter what she tried, the round green leaves still sagged sadly.
Finally Twink sighed and pushed the acorn pot away. It was no use. You had to really concentrate to heal a plant, and all she could think of was Stripe, alone in his stump.
I hope he's not cold
she thought, glancing at the dark windows.
Around her, the other first-year fairies chattered and worked on their projects. Everyone seemed to be having great fun with them. Even Bimi was busy, drawing on a piece of oak-leaf parchment.
âWatch, everyone!' called Sooze. âThis is my new dance!'
Twink looked up as Sooze leapt to the centre of the branch. Sili laughed. âGo on, Sooze, impress us!'
âRight, here it is.' Sooze pushed her oak-leaf cap jauntily over one eye and then did a high kick that sent several fairies flitting backwards. Snapping her fingers, she strutted across the branch on the points of her toes, kicking with every step. Then with a sudden high leap she started twisting and spinning, shaking her hips and clapping her hands.
With a final prance, Sooze shot over their heads, pink wings fluttering. She drifted down to earth with a
and punched the air.
âWell, what do you think?' she demanded.
The fairies had held back their laughter as Sooze danced, but now they erupted into shouts of merriment. âOh, Sooze!' gasped Pix, holding her sides. âWhat kind of a dance is
âA new one!' grinned Sooze. âMadame will never have seen anything like it before.'
âWell, that's true â
has,' said Zena. She shook her head with an admiring smile. âSooze, you're too much!'
âHa! You're all just jealous of my wonderful dancing skills!' Sooze plunged into her whirlwind dance again, snapping her fingers. Sili jumped up to join her, following her moves. The two girls collided midair, and collapsed into giggles.
Pix rolled her eyes. âYou two will get us into trouble if you're not careful! You know we're not supposed to fly in here.'
Sooze pulled Sili to her feet. âOh, stop worrying, Pix. Come on, Sili, let's do it again!'
Twink smiled as Sooze and Sili high-kicked their way across the branch. Zena was right â Sooze was too much sometimes! And unlike Twink, she never seemed to have a care in the world. Twink turned back to her clover with a sigh.
But before she could get started on it again, Bimi came over, bouncing with excitement. âLook, I've done a plan for our tapestry!' She held out the oak-leaf parchment. âWhat do you think?'
Twink made room for Bimi on the mushroom seat, and the two fairies sat side by side, wings touching, as they looked at the parchment.
As Bimi had said, it showed the history of the fairies: kings and queens in old-fashioned clothing; Glitterwings as a tiny sapling; the Great Wasp Wars; Queen Mab as a young ruler. In the final drawings, Glitterwings had grown to a mighty tree, and Queen Mab sat wise and ancient on her fairy throne.
âBimi, it's wonderful!' said Twink in surprise. Somehow she had half-believed her friend when she'd insisted she wouldn't do a good job.
Bimi ducked her head down with a shy smile. âIt's not too bad, is it?'
-mi!' Twink flapped her wings, laughing. âWeren't you listening? It's completely glimmery!'
Bimi's pretty face flushed with pleasure. âAnd guess what â I asked Mrs Lightwing if we could do our project together, and she said yes! So I reckon we'll need to start sewing in all our spare time â during break, and our free periods, and maybe even a few lunches â'
Twink's heart sank to the floor. She needed all of her spare time to take care of Stripe. âBimi, I'm sorry, but . . . I can't,' she forced out.
Bimi's eyes widened. âBut I thought we were doing it together!'
Twink tried to laugh. âYou don't need me. Look how well you've done already! Besides, I â I've got an idea for a project of my own that I want to do.'
Hurt creased Bimi's face. âBut you said you'd help! Twink, please â I can't do it without you.'
âOf course you can!' cried Twink. Guilt pinched at her. âYou'll do a fantastic job, wait and see.'
Bimi slowly rose from the mushroom and tucked the parchment under her arm.
âBimi, I'm sorry,' said Twink miserably. âI'd love to do the project with you. I just can't.'
Bimi stared at her. âWhy not?'
Twink faltered. In the middle of the branch, Sooze and Sili were still dancing noisily. Several of the others had joined in, too â including Pix, who had given up trying to keep order and was now kicking higher than anybody.
âI just can't, that's all.' Twink played with her snail-trail pen, unable to meet her friend's eyes. âLike I said, there's something else I want to do, on my own.'
Bimi shrugged and looked away. âWell . . . whatever. Have fun with your project, I suppose.'
âBimi, wait!' Twink called after the blue-haired fairy as she flew from the branch. But it was too late. Bimi was gone.
Twink slumped her chin on her hands. Oh, and she and Bimi had been getting on so well this term, too! Last term they'd fallen out for days, because Bimi had been jealous of Twink's friendship with Sooze. Now, just when that finally seemed sorted, this had to happen.
And there was nothing Twink could do to fix it. She couldn't abandon Stripe, and she could never explain to Bimi what she was
doing. Twink's eyes stung with unspilled tears.
âOh, deary me. Having problems, are we?' cooed a voice.
Twink started. Mariella stood leaning against the desk, fluttering her pale green wings innocently.
want?' muttered Twink. She wiped her eyes with the back of her hand.
âNothing,' said Mariella, widening her eyes. âI just overheard your little tiff with Bimi, that's all. Such a shame, isn't it?'
âWhat is?' asked Twink warily.
Mariella flapped a wing. âYou know â when you can't do two things at once.
, I really hate it when that happens!'
Twink's breath caught in her throat.
Did Mariella mean â
Lola sidled up beside Mariella, smirking. âYeah,
,' she echoed. âOr . . . just
wasp, maybe.' She and Mariella looked at each other and sniggered.
Twink jumped up and grabbed Mariella's arm. âYou know, don't you?' she whispered fiercely. âYou found out, somehow!'
Mariella's green eyes widened until they looked like they might pop out. âFound out what? I can't imagine what you mean. Lola, do
know what she means?'
Lola shook her head, imitating Mariella's wide-eyed expression.
Twink dropped her hand as she suddenly realised what had happened. âIt was you, wasn't it?' she demanded. âOutside the stump this afternoon. You were spying on me!'
Mariella's eyebrows arched. âWell, that's nothing compared to
! Stealing honey from the school, sneaking off into the wood, making friends with a
âShh!' Twink looked over her shoulder. The others were still dancing and laughing, not paying any attention to them. She clenched her fists. âYou â you won't tell, will you?'
Mariella folded her arms across her chest. âI really feel it's my duty to,' she said primly. âYou're betraying the fairies, Twink. Have you even
how ashamed your parents would be? Not to mention Miss Shimmery! Why, she'd probably expel you!'
Twink swallowed hard. Sickeningly, she knew that Mariella was right. Both her parents and Miss Shimmery would probably be horrified at what she had done.
âPlease, Mariella,' she whispered. âYou can't tell! It's not just me, it's Stripe. He's hurt, and â'
Twink stopped as an expression of wicked delight burst across Mariella's face. â
' she repeated. âYou've given it a
? Oh, that's just glimmery!' She nudged Lola, and they dissolved into snorts and splutters.
Twink's face was on fire. âMariella, you can't tell!' she said desperately. âRemember what happened last term? No one thinks much of tell-tales here!'
Mariella stopped laughing as a look of doubt crossed her face. She recovered herself with a sneer. âIt's not telling tales when it's this serious! You heard what Madame said â no fairy has helped a wasp for a thousand years. No one would ever forgive you, Twink. And they'd probably banish that wasp friend of yours â or worse!'
Twink's blood turned to ice. â
don't tell, Mariella!' she begged.
âHmm.' Propping her finger on her chin, Mariella tilted her head to one side in exaggerated consideration.
âPlease!' said Twink again. She swallowed hard. âI'll do anything you want!'
Mariella slowly dropped her finger. Her green eyes glinted like a flash of snakeskin.
âAnything?' she asked.
Twink felt as if the next few days would never end. It seemed like every time she turned round, Mariella had another petty little chore for her to do: polishing her pixie boots, carrying her petal bag between classes, even doing her homework.
Twink had baulked at this last task. âMariella, I'm not going to do your homework
for you!' she said hotly. âThat's cheating.'
The pointed-faced fairy had merely raised a silvery eyebrow. âOh. Well, I suppose you don't care about Stripe very much, do you?'
That was always her answer whenever Twink objected. And then Twink had no choice but to grit her teeth and do whatever horrid task Mariella had ordered. The only good thing was that everyone was so wrapped up in their projects that nobody had noticed she'd turned into Mariella's personal slave!
Even Bimi hadn't noticed â which wasn't too surprising, since her best friend seemed to be avoiding her. Every time Twink saw Bimi she was hard at work on her tapestry, keeping her blue head firmly down.
Twink had tried to talk to her a few times, but conversation between the two girls had become stiff and awkward. Finally Twink gave up. She ached to make things up with her friend, but how could she? She didn't dare tell Bimi about Stripe â Bimi hated wasps as much as everyone else!
Twink sighed as she wrote out Mariella's Fairy Dust homework. At least she knew now that the healing spell was working on Stripe. For over a week now, she had applied it faithfully â and to her immense joy, Stripe's wing had first straightened, and then started to mend itself.
It won't be much longer
she told herself fervently.
Stripe will be well soon, he really will!
Then she could let him go, and Mariella could say whatever she liked.
And maybe things could get back to normal with her and Bimi.
âStripe, hold still!' laughed Twink. âI've got to put the salve on.'
In answer, the young wasp rolled on to his back, wiggling his black legs in the air. Twink tickled his stomach and he hummed loudly, waving his legs about.
It was just before dawn: the hour when she and Stripe could spend the most time together. But Twink's nightly excursions were taking their toll. She had to fight to hold back her yawns during class, and had already been told off several times for not paying attention.
Mrs Lightwing had been especially scathing during Flight class yesterday, when Twink had bungled a series of barrel rolls.
âGreat Mab, girl, are you
to look like a bird in a hurricane?' their year Head had demanded, propping her hands on her hips. âBecause you're giving an excellent imitation of it!'
Stripe flipped over on to his front again. His large eyes gleamed in the light of the glow-worm lantern. The battered old stump felt cosy to them both now â a friendly, homely place.
âYou're feeling better, aren't you!' grinned Twink. Holding the lantern up, she peered carefully at his wings. You had to look hard now to see that one of them was still slightly bent and torn.
âGlimmery!' she said happily. âI bet you could fly
But we'll put the salve on one more time, just to make sure. OK?' She tapped Stripe on the head with mock severity.
The wasp settled down. Twink smoothed the salve on to his wing with gentle fingertips as she sang in her high, sweet voice. Closing his eyes, Stripe swayed to the music.
A green flash lit Twink's face as the salve glowed briefly, and then vanished. Grabbing up the lantern, Twink eagerly scrutinised Stripe's wing.
âIt's healed!' she cried. She scooped the wasp up into a hug. âOh, Stripe, it looks as good as new! You can fly now, I'm sure of it!'
Stripe twisted about in astonishment, staring at his wing over his shoulder. He fluttered it, testing it out.
Twink leapt from the bed and darted across the room. âCome on!' she cried. âFly to me!'
Stripe's eyes widened. He hesitated, not moving.
âWhat's wrong?' said Twink. âCome on, you can do it!'
The wasp looked anxious. His legs moved restlessly, as though he was about to take off.
Twink clapped her hands. âThat's it! Just jump into the air!'
Stripe seemed to take a big breath. All at once, he crouched his black legs and jumped. He seemed to hang in the air for a moment, his wings not moving . . . and then he crashed to the floor.
âOh!' gasped Twink. She raced to his side. The little wasp sat up, looking dazed. âStripe, what happened?' she asked, stroking his back. âYou didn't even
to move your wings!'
The wasp's eyes filled with tears. He huddled against the floor, looking miserable.
Twink stared at him. âStripe? What's wrong?' But then all at once she knew. âYou're . . . you're scared, aren't you?' she said slowly.
Stripe looked away. Twink sat cross-legged beside him. âIs it because of whatever happened to you?' she asked in a hushed voice. âHas it made you afraid to fly again?'
Stripe sighed. He had no way of telling Twink about the magpie that had attacked him, or the nightmares that had haunted him ever since. No matter how he tried, he couldn't forget the terror of tumbling through the air, unable to fly.
âI know whatever happened must have been really scary, but your wings are fine now,' Twink reassured him. âAnd you need to fly again, so you can go home to your family. I bet they miss you!'
Stripe listened intently to her, his large eyes taking in every word. At the mention of his family, he took a deep breath and stood up, fluttering his wings again.
âThat's it!' Twink jumped up. âCome on, fly to me.' She backed away a few steps and held out her hands.
Stripe's mouth was set in determination. His wings buzzed louder and louder, faster and faster, until they became a white blur. Any moment now, he'd take off! Twink watched him, hardly daring to breathe.
Stripe lifted off the floor. Immediately, panic crossed his face. His legs scrambled frantically for a foothold as his wings faltered and stopped. Twink just managed to jump forward and catch him before he fell again.
âOh, Stripe,' she said sadly. She carried him back to the bed. He crawled away to the battered old pillow and hid his head.
He looked so miserable that Twink felt her own eyes fill with tears. âI'm sorry,' she said. âIt was all my fault!'
Stripe peeped out with a quizzical frown.
Twink nodded earnestly. âIf anyone should know what it's like to be scared of flying, it's me! It was stupid of me to push you so soon. I acted like a real â' She stopped, the word
catching in her throat. âI â I acted really stupidly,' she finished lamely.
Stripe stared at her in surprise. He crawled on to her lap and peered into her face, his eyes asking a question.
âIt's true,' said Twink. She told the wasp how she had been too scared to fly during her first term at Glitterwings, and how awful it had been for her.
âBut I got over it, and so will you, Stripe.' She patted his head. âYou really will, I promise. Just keep trying!'
That evening Twink sat in the cosy warmth of the Common Branch, doodling on her petal pad as she did her homework. How could she help Stripe? Somehow, she had to show him that he
fly â even if he thought he was too scared!
Lost in thought, Twink hardly noticed when Mariella and Lola flitted into the room.
The other first-year fairies â most of them hard at work on their projects â raised their eyebrows at each other. Those two hardly ever came into the Common Branch. Mariella could never resist sneering at everything around her, and the jibes that this brought on from Sooze and the others usually had everyone rolling about in fits of laughter â making Mariella look extremely silly! As a result, she and Lola normally kept out of the Common Branch altogether.
âAre you going to behave yourself tonight, Mariella?' asked Sooze with a glint in her violet eyes. âOr are we going to have to give you the usual treatment?'
Mariella sniffed and tossed her silvery-green hair. âI don't know what you mean! Lola and I have just come in to do our homework. Is that allowed?'
Pix grinned. âIt's allowed. Just make sure that's all you do!'
Mariella and Lola went to a pair of spotted mushroom desks and sat side by side, whispering behind their wings as they did their homework. Everyone went back to their own projects, and gradually the buzz of conversation returned to its usual level.
Then, during a brief lull, Mariella yawned and stretched, fluttering her wings. âI'm thirsty,' she announced loudly. âTwink, go and fetch me some fresh morning dew, will you?'
Twink's head jerked up from her petal pad. Her cheeks caught fire as she realised everyone was staring.
I'm already doing your homework for you!
Isn't that enough?
Obviously it wasn't. Mariella sat watching her, her eyes wide and innocent.
âListen to you!' scoffed Sooze, flapping her pink wings. âDo you think Twink's your servant or something?'
Mariella looked hurt. âI'm just asking her to get me some fresh dew, that's all. I'm sure she doesn't mind. Do you, Twink?'
Of course I mind! Get your own dew!
Twink wanted to shout. Then she thought of Stripe, and forced a laugh. âNo, I don't mind. Does â does anybody else want some?'
Sooze propped her hands on her hips. âTwink, you're not actually going to
it for her!'
âI was just about to go and stretch my wings anyway.' Twink stood up, trying to sound casual. She could see Mariella smirking from the corner of her eye. Oh, she was loving this!
âYes, but . . .' Pix trailed off, looking completely baffled. She stared from Twink to Mariella and back again.
Twink gulped. The whole branch was gaping at her like she had lost her mind. Her friends would realise something was up if she didn't think fast! She glanced at Bimi. Her best friend was sitting on the floor working on her tapestry, watching Twink with a strange expression on her face.