“Anyone else met the new consultant on Keller yet?” Fleur asked, her eyes darting in the direction of Serena.
Serena raised her eyebrows at her friend. “As a matter of fact I happened to bump into her in the car park on her first day.”
Fleur’s grin widened. “And?”
“Hmm. Not sure but I’m leaning towards cynical.”
Sian sighed. “What’s with that hospital of yours? Can’t they employ any open minded members of staff?”
Serena shrugged. “Look I know things have been difficult since Colette moved away but I’m not willing to blow our whole operation by inviting the wrong person to join the coven.”
“I know, I know,” Sian countered, “And I wouldn’t want any different. But promise to give this one the proper chance before writing her off entirely? By the look on Fleur’s face, she might be exactly what we need.”
Fleur nodded behind her, pouring more wine into her glass.
“Fleur only wants her to join because she has legs for days,” Serena said, nudging Fleur.
“Oy! I’m not that shallow! Anyway, I’m far more into curvy brunettes than leggy blondes,” Fleur said, looking Serena up and down and wiggling her eyebrows.
Serena coughed. “Back to business I think. I’ve got the spell ready to renew the protections on the hospital. They’ve been wearing a little thin recently. Ready to lend your spirits?”
The three women shuffled closer to each other and joined hands. Serena felt a wave of power run through her from her friends. It wasn’t as strong as it used to be. Everyone knew that the strongest covens consisted of a witch and three non-magical women to support her but in all the time since Colette had left, no one suitable for the fourth position had come into their lives.
Serena closed her eyes as the spell swept through her. She concentrated the energies on the small cauldron in the centre of the circle and began to chant, Fleur and Sian joining in as they progressed. Holding the image of Holby City hospital in her mind, she pushed the spell out from her home towards the hospital, wrapping it in a warm blanket of protection. She let out a breath as she felt the spell knit together, completely surrounding the hospital and all the patients and staff within. She switched the chant to one more for maintenance and Fleur and Sian followed on. They had been doing this for long enough to need no instructions. They chanted for a few minutes longer, strengthening and supporting the protections, until Serena felt a shudder as the spell reached it’s peak. She instantly dropped her hands from her friends’ grips, solidifying the spell in place.
She opened her eyes slowly to find Sian pushing a full glass of wine towards her and Fleur offering a plate of biscuits. She smiled at the women who knew exactly what to do. Every spell took it out of her but it was worth it. There was a reason why Holby City hospital had the lowest death rates in the entire country.
There really was something about this new consultant on Keller, Serena admitted to herself the next day. She found herself drawn to her inexplicably. But every meeting with her just seemed to confirm once more that Bernie was the type of straight-forward, no nonsense woman that would struggle to believe in magic and witches. There was no way she would respond well to being asked to join the coven. And yet Serena couldn’t leave her alone. She offered drinks, both coffee and wine, and chats. She lingered at Pulses in the mornings to see if Bernie would turn up. When on nights out at Albies with her AAU colleagues, one eye would always be on the door to see if Bernie would turn up. Which she did sometimes, and sometimes she would even come and sit with Serena and they would share a bottle of Albies’ finest Shiraz and set the world to rights. They were fast becoming firm friends and when Bernie appeared on AAU, having been sent by Hanssen as extra hands on deck, Serena closed her eyes and thanked Hecate herself.
Bernie proved herself to be magnificent on AAU. Her trauma skills had been highly developed in the army and they were put to much better use on AAU than they had been on Keller, or that’s what she told Hanssen when she demanded Bernie be made permanent on AAU. Maybe Hanssen hadn’t needed to offer Bernie the extra incentive of the position of co-lead, even Hanssen’s unmovable expression had changed when she had offered that, but he took the whole offer to Bernie who, after checking that Serena was happy with it, had accepted immediately.
And so they began working together, as equals. And AAU’s already stellar record (partially thanks to the protective spells, but also due to the skills and efforts of the AAU staff) just kept getting better and better. Everything seemed to be working out just fine, Bernie fitted in nicely with the other staff, joking with Fletch and Raf and mentoring Morven. Serena liked it best though when they both had a moment to shut themselves away from the world in their office and talk. They talked about everything and anything, work, family, politics. Everything except magic. Serena still couldn’t bear to tell Bernie, couldn’t bear to lose her over her inevitable reaction.
The day things changed, Serena had walked into the hospital and noticed that the protective spells were wearing thin. It happened every few months and was soon sorted. She made a mental note to get in contact with Sian and Fleur and get together a gathering. She remembered back to a time when their coven numbered four and the protective spells lasted at least a year. Back then they spent their gatherings dealing with minor issues for friends and family knowing that Holby was taking care of itself.
The day started off alright. There was the usual array of patients and no one stood out particularly except one that seemed to have a particular obsession with Bernie. This by itself, Serena understood. She still hadn’t got to the bottom of what she felt for Bernie but she could completely understand anyone else being obsessed by the beautiful major. Bernie didn’t seem worried at all though so she brushed any uncomfortableness under the table and carried on with her day. Until everything went wrong. Until she was stood across the table from Bernie as they battled to save their friend and colleague. As she saw Raf’s drawn face in the window of the theatre, checking on progress and worrying about the children.
It was Serena that sank to the floor first once the operation was over but Bernie followed within moments. They sat in silence for a while, shoulders pressed against each other. And then Bernie spoke, expressing feelings of guilt. And Serena could do nothing else except to reassure her, complement her, smile at her, anything to relieve the pain she could feel coming off Bernie in waves. And when Bernie’s lips met hers, all the feelings she had been feeling suddenly made sense. So she clung to her, kissed her back and tried her best not to think about anything else.
The coven met in secret after that. Bernie wasn’t to know anything about it, Serena had made this explicitly clear and neither Sian nor Fleur was going to defy her. Bernie was around more and more often and it got harder and harder to find a time to meet. She hoped that no one else was noticing the fact that Holby’s death count was higher than it used to be. It was still one of the best in the country, thanks to their staff, but it wasn’t what it used to be. If anyone had bothered to look more closely at the data, they would notice days and weeks where things were particularly bad followed by a month or more with few deaths and some miraculous recoveries. If they looked even closer, they might be able to line up the start of each good period with a time that Bernie had to go and visit her children or her ailing parents. But no one ever did and Serena was too in love to notice what was going on most of the time, and even when she did notice she refused to feel guilty.
The protective spells around the hospital had begun failing just before Christmas. Serena had done her best to prop them up using spells and enchantments that worked with just one person but she knew she couldn’t sort them out entirely. Fleur and Sian were busy enough over the festive season and Bernie was spending the whole holidays at Serena’s so there was going to be no opportunity to gather the coven. And anyway, Serena had bigger things on her mind like the fact that her daughter was coming home for Christmas and this would be the first time she would meet Bernie. It had the potential to be explosive and so she was busy filling her house with calming talisman.
Christmas day itself wasn’t as bad as she had feared. Bernie had invited her children over and although Elinor had clearly been put out by the presence of extra people in her childhood home, she didn’t kick off like she had been know to before. It might have been the potion that Serena had slipped into her coffee that morning or it might have been that Elinor was finally maturing.
The problem hit when they headed back to the hospital after the holidays, Elinor in tow. At some point in the last term, she had determined that she was going to be a journalist and so she wanted to write an article about Holby City Hospital. Serena couldn’t see a way to argue against it so she agreed. But as they walked into the hospital, Bernie’s had firmly clasped in hers, Serena felt the protective spells shatter. There was nothing left protecting the hospital except the skills of the doctors and nurses within. She shuddered and Bernie pulled her close, thinking she was cold.
There was an argument, of course there was an argument, there was always an argument when Elinor was around. And usually Serena could just let it go, be the grown up. But this time the argument had been about Bernie. And about Serena’s newfound sexuality. And about their relationship. She couldn’t let it go. She followed Elinor down the corridor, trying to talk her down as Elinor picked up her phone.
“Hey Auntie Sian, can you come and get me? Mum’s lost it.”
Elinor sat in the entranceway to wait, her back firmly to Serena’s and refusing to engage. Serena sat nearby, watching and waiting. She was glad that Elinor had rung Sian and not Edward. The last thing she needed now was her ex-husband appearing to gloat. At least Sian was ultimately on her side.
Bernie came down to check on them after a while. She sat down in the chair next to Serena and pulled her close.
“You okay?” she whispered.
Serena nodded. Then shook her head.
Bernie pulled her close and pressed her lips against Serena’s. There was a sound of disgust from across the room and Elinor stood up and ran out of the door.
Serena stood and followed her, Bernie just behind. They were just in time to see Elinor run out into the road in front of the hospital and straight into the path of a car.
Time seemed to slow as Elinor was hit by the car, her body being thrown up into the air and then landing on the road with an almighty thud. Serena’s heart leapt out of her mouth and she fell back into Bernie’s firm hold. Three cars back, Sian jumped out of her own car and ran for Serena, holding her up on the other side. It freed up Bernie to run towards Elinor and kneel down next to her broken body.
“Get me a trolley,” she called to anyone who was listening, “She need to go straight to AAU.”
The rest of the operating team followed Bernie into theatre as the anaesthetist finished putting Elinor under. Sian and Serena were visible through the viewing window and were soon joined by Fleur. Serena wished that she could have Bernie by her side but knew that it was more important that Bernie was in theatre, particularly with no protective spells to help.
The operation lasted hours. Bernie paged specialists from other departments to help and Sian and Fleur had eventually persuaded Serena that she would be better off waiting it out in her own office rather than watching it all through the window. When Bernie finally appeared in the office, her eyes tired and her scrub cap in hand, Serena could tell by the look on her face that the news wasn’t great.
“She’s alive,” Bernie started and then paused.
“But?” Serena knew it was coming and she wasn’t just going to sit around and wait for it.
Bernie sighed and ran a hand through her hair. “But it is still very much touch and go. She’s sustained many life threatening injuries and I’m particularly worried about bleeding in her brain. She’s up on HDU in the side room if you want to go see her?”
Serena nodded. She took Bernie’s proffered hand and let her lead her upstairs. Her daughter was there in a bed with multiple monitors attached. Serena didn’t need a medical degree to know that it was bad. One of them was bleeping incessantly and Bernie peered at it, a worried expression on her face. It was then that she knew there was only one thing she could do. Something that went firmly against the code of her sisterhood but at that moment she couldn’t care less.
“Can you go and find Sian and Fleur?” she asked Bernie. “And ask Sian to bring my bag?”
Bernie nodded and left the room. Serena sank down into a chair and grasped Elinor’s hand.
“We’re going to fix you,” she whispered, “We’re going to make it all better, don’t you worry.”
Bernie returned shortly with Sian and Fleur in tow. Sian silently handed over a bag to Serena. She’d been right to ask Sian who knew that she was uninterested in her normal handbag and really wanted the bag containing the spell ingredients she stored in the bottom drawer of her desk.
“Bernie you must be exhausted,” she said kindly, “Why don’t you go and get yourself something to eat. I’ll be fine here with Sian and Fleur.”
Bernie looked at her for a moment before nodding. “Ring me if you need anything. I’ll be back soon.” She bent and placed a gentle kiss on Serena’s lips before withdrawing and leaving the room.
Sian looked at Serena and asked calmly. “What are you thinking?”
Serena began lifting out ingredients from the bag. There was a small cauldron within that she placed on the bedside table. She turned to find Fleur turning the lock in the door.
“Whatever you need,” Fleur said, “I’m here.”
“It’s not legal. We’re not supposed to perform magic in public places,” Serena said.
“Needs must. And this is not that public. I’m sure the witch’s council won’t hold it against you.” Fleur tugged the final blind shut and Serena nodded.
She used a small amount of magic to heat the cauldron up. The potion ingredients were added gradually, the requisite chanted performed for each one. And then the three women stood over Elinor’s bed and joined hands.
These chants were different from their usual protective spells. While they had used them before to help heal friends and family in the past, Fleur and Sian were less used to them and Serena found herself having to direct them more than usual. Still, the usual surge of magic passed through them and Serena redirected it at the unconscious Elinor. She chanted and chanted, focusing all the power straight at her daughter. And then she felt the power wane. She opened her eyes and saw that Sian and Fleur looked drawn. They had nothing left to give. She pushed the remaining power towards Elinor and hoped that it would be enough. But as soon as they dropped hands and broke the circle, all the monitors in the room began to beep.
“No, no, no,” Serena repeated. There was nothing more they could do. And Elinor’s vital signs were decreasing at a rate she knew meant it was likely the end.
Nothing to do that is until she heard the rattling of the door handle and the sound of Bernie’s voice outside.
“Serena? It’s me. Let me in!”
Serena nodded her head and Sian reached over to unlock the door. Bernie burst into the room, eyes bulging at the sound of all the monitors going off. Then her eyes fell on the cauldron, still releasing a steady stream of green smoke. Then she closed the door behind her and turned the lock once more.
“What do you need?” she asked, looking imploringly at Serena. And Serena knew instantly that she’d never needed to hide her magic from Bernie. That Bernie had understood all along.
“One more time,” she said, reaching out for Bernie, making a space for her in their circle. Because for the first time since Colette left it looked like their coven might be up to four.
The women joined their hands once more and the rush of power almost knocked Serena off her feet. She began the chant, Sian and Fleur joining in followed by Bernie. Bernie’s voice was strong and Serena briefly wondered how she knew what to do. But soon the wave of power had overwhelmed her and it was all she could do to focus it once more upon her daughter. She had no more space in her thoughts to wonder about Bernie’s past.
The next thing Serena was aware of was Bernie’s strong arms around her holding her up. “You’re okay, you’re okay,” Bernie repeated as she lowered Serena into a waiting chair.
Serena looked around the room to see Elinor sleeping peacefully on the bed, the monitors quiet.
“Elinor?” she asked.
“Everything is looking much more positive,” Fleur said, studying the monitors. “I think we did it.”
Serena spent an uncomfortable night on a chair next to Elinor’s bed. Bernie, despite Serena’s protests, remained with her. They spoke little, Serena mainly being exhausted from the spells and Bernie worn out from the long surgery. But all the tiredness was washed away when in the morning Elinor opened her eyes and asked for breakfast. Serena wrapped her arms around her only daughter and wept. Elinor pushed her away and looked at her disdainfully.
“What on earth has gotten into you mother? Is this some weird side effect of menopause?”
But Serena didn’t care.
Later that day, while Elinor was sleeping once more, Bernie and Serena took a walk around the hospital grounds. Hand in hand they walked slowly through the peace garden before sitting down on a bench.
“My grandmother was a witch,” Bernie started, “And my mother too. But I didn’t inherit the power.”
Serena squeezed her hand. “I’m sorry.”
Bernie shook her head. “Don’t be. I’m not. I was never that interested in it anyway, preferred getting my hands dirty. But I was never allowed to forget the chants, the spells, anything that might help me to join a coven one day. I think my grandmother in particular never wanted me to lose touch with that side of my family.”
“Have you ever been in a coven before?” Serena asked.
Bernie shook her head. “I used to join my mother’s when they were short on numbers but I’ve never found one I wanted to join before now.”
Serena smiled. “And now?”
“There’s nothing I’d like more than to join yours, that is if you’d like to have me?”
Serena leant her head on Bernie’s shoulder and felt Bernie’s lips graze the top of her head. “I’d like that very much.”