The night is still but chilly as Head Porter and I head with some trepidation across College towards the rooms of Professor Duke. The stars above light our way through the courtyards and Old College has an air of quiet confidence about it tonight. The moods of Old College are often palpable and this is no doubt because it invariably knows something we don’t. It knows everything we don’t.
Head Porter is still transfixed by his phone and is poking at it furiously. It would appear that the game of text tennis with The Headmistress has resumed.
“She’s speaking to you again, then, is she?”
“Oh yes, yes” Head Porter replies vaguely. “She left her phone behind today, that’s all.”
“See? I told you.”
“You told me she was busy!” retorts Head Porter, as if it makes a difference. “I’m sorry, it’s just that I really like her and I think she rather likes me too.”
“That’s brilliant!” I reply, genuinely delighted.
“Of course, I’ve been playing it pretty cool so far, you know,” Oh, yes. So very cool. “But I’m thinking maybe I should tell her how I feel? What do you think?”
The words that leap instantly to my mouth would wish to convey that this is absolutely the wrong thing to do. But I reign them in as they hit my lips. Why shouldn’t he take a leap of faith and be true to his heart? It is a very British thing to hide one’s feelings and I am not entirely certain that any good ever comes of it. I wonder now how many assignations of love have failed to flourish by way of this very British problem. When is it right to risk one’s heart? I wonder…
We arrive at F Staircase with the question still unanswered. As I reach for the handle to the Professor’s rooms, Head Porter stops me.
“You must do whatever you think is right,” I reply. “But I think we must be brave when it comes to matters of the heart. Faint heart n’er won fair lady!”
“You know, people in general…”
My hand still on the handle, the door suddenly flies open and I fall head first into a rather surprised Professor Duke.
“Goodness me, I say!” he says. “Spying on the landing I see! Get in here at once.”
The Professor’s rooms are indeed a sight to behold. Somewhere between a sinister treasure trove and a museum of Wonderland, they are packed to the very rafters with interesting articles that invite caution and curiosity in equal measure. Unusual creatures of indeterminate origin peer through glass eyes from their high shelves; once they roamed the plains of goodness knows where but now they stalk silently from the shadows. If I didn’t know better I would say they looked rather hungry.
As with all Old College Fellows’ rooms, there are huge bookcases looming large on several walls. But tucked along the shelves amongst the books are numerous things of great fearsome qualities – what seem to be knives or weapons of civilisations most foul. In the far corner by the window sits an umbrella stand filled with some rather more magnificent weaponry; finely crafted blades of all sizes with ornate hilts fashioned from strange materials.
I make myself comfortable on a red velvet stool that has an alarmingly high back and short stubby legs, whilst Head Porter elects for a more practical looking wooden chair placed with care by a small round table. Hershel, Penelope and Organ Scholar are already cosily ensconced on a huge, battered brown leather settee that has been patched up in numerous places with an array of varying fabrics.
The Professor pours himself a cup of tea from a tall silver teapot and strides dramatically to the centre of the room, positioning himself carefully in the middle of a rug that looks for all the world like it might once have been alive. He is about to speak, but something seems to stop him. He is looking at me very carefully, as if trying to inspect whatever might lay at the back of my skull.
“Umm…hey…are you okay, Deputy Head Porter? It seems something is floating about your mind. Maybe?”
“Hmm?” His disconcerting ability to notice such things is indeed a wonder. “I am understandably rather nervous about Hershel’s plan.”