Mrs. Gwendolyn Lowerbanks from Shock and Accommodation, was not used to working outside the Office. Sunshine made her sneeze, and the buzzing of little creatures returning to life in spring, made her skin crawl. But it was her duty to ensure that all witches placed by the Giver were well-adjusted to their given assignment, and it seemed a certain Toadmila Wartly, placed in Grimwood Forest only a few months earlier, had not quite managed to adapt. Gwendolyn shuddered as she passed by a dead tree crawling with ants, and she realized that she too would have had some difficulties in adapting to this sort of life. But that was hardly the point. Gwendolyn had adapted to her given place at the Office. It was Miss Wartly who had to be reminded that when one was given an assignment, it was usually for life, however harsh a life that might be.
Gwendolyn passed through rows of dead trees, covered in spiderwebs, nodding in approval of such appropriate decorations for the dilapidated building that was supposed to house the local witch. Then, suddenly, the path among the dead trees widened, and Gwendolyn reached a clearing, carpeted with tall grass and cheerful dandelions. And at the center of the clearing, there was a house, made of stone, with large windows framed by opened wooden shutters painted in bright green and overlooking a garden of blossoming jasmine, lilac, and a magnolia tree. The house, impressive in size, was completed by a tall roof, boldly painted in bright green, and a wooden sign just outside the front door, which read, in bold letters, “The Dilapidated Hut”.
Gwendolyn gasped and nearly fainted at the outrageous transformations of Toadmila's assigned lodgings. Things were worse than the Office had foreseen, it seemed. Gwendolyn marched across the flower garden and knocked vigorously on the front door with the handle of her broom.
The view inside the house, when the door opened on its own, was just as troubling. The stone floor was covered in thick carpets of woven grass, magically transformed into soft, silky threads of a cheerful green. A stone table and two chairs stood in the middle of the room, and a cheerful green fire – of the smokeless variety – danced in the hearth. On the walls, shelves filled with jars of potions and potion ingredients, were the only thing that Gwendolyn found she could approve of. And, of course, she could approve of the appearance of the witch herself, Toadmila Wartly, with her hooked nose and sharp chin and gray hair in spite of her young age of only eighteen – or perhaps nineteen, one could never know or sure with foundlings – who was still, thankfully, wearing her standard uniform.
“Miss Wartly!” Gwendolyn began, trying to sound as official as possible. “What is this nonsense? Where is the dilapidated hut you were assigned to?”
“It got burned down,” Toadmila answered with a shrug, “so I've rebuilt it. You said it needn't be dilapidated.”
“Well, no, it needn't be,” Gwendolyn admitted. “But it must look dilapidated to the villagers. The villagers must be made to think that this is a dilapidated hut.”
“Well, it says it is, on the sign y the door,” Toadmila pointed out.
“Villagers can't read!” Gwendolyn huffed. “They have no schools and no money for schooling. They start working in the fields as soon as they can walk, and if they need to read or to write anything, they ask the local priest to do it for them.”
“It's their problem if they can't read,” she said. “masking enchantments are a waste of energy. I've been getting more customers now that the place looks nicer, and I don't intend to lose them just because I was assigned to a place called the Dilapidated Hut.”
“We'll just have to see what the Office says when they hear you haven't adapted,” Gwendolyn threatened, shaking a finger at Toadmila.
“I have adapted,” Toadmila answered. “I have adapted this place to my needs. Would you like some tea, Gwendolyn? You look like you could use it.”
Gwendolyn was just about to refuse, but she found a cup pressed against her lips, and the warm magic tea flowed down her throat before she could say a word. And, suddenly, she felt a pleasant warmth envelop her like a soft blanket.
“Well, the place is nice,” she said, taking the cup of tea into her hands. She took a long, satisfying sip, analyzing the pleasant aroma. “Very nice indeed.”
“I hope you like your tea,” Toadmila said with a smile, one of heer practiced, professional smiles. “I've added a touch of chamomile to your recipe.”
“Very, very nice,” Gwendolyn said, fully absorbed in her tea, which, she found with some regret, did not come out of a self-filling cup.
“And I hope you will agree that this is better,” Toadmila added.
“Much better,” Gwendolyn agreed.
“You will inform the Office that it is better,” Toadmila added.
“Of course,” Gwendolyn said, finishing her tea. “You have adapted splendidly. In your own way, but you have adapted.”