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The Boy in the Crystal Ball

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Crystal balls were not generally used in the great spell-houses of Italy. When Angelica asked about them once, Aunt Adelina had wrinkled her nose. "Crystal balls are all very well for blundering oafs who only want something to happen, but we are Petrocchis. We have standards," she said. "I hope you are not picking up bad habits at school, Angelica."

"They have a mind of their own," Great-Aunt Vincenza said, shaking her head.

All of that ought to have made Angelica curious about crystal balls, because Angelica's magic had a mind of its own as well, but she'd been listening to the tone and not the words and so had thoughtlessly dismissed crystal balls as fit only for hedge-witches, until Roger Chant brought one to show her.

"This one is a hundred years old, and I had to combine my birthday and Christmas money to be able to buy it," he said proudly. "Crystal balls are good for focus and control, so sometimes unskilled practitioners use them, but that's not the only reason to have one. I use mine for all sorts of things."

Angelica could see that he thought her family was, to put it politely, set in their ways. Old fossils, to put it impolitely. She didn't want him to think the same of her. "It's gorgeous," she said sincerely. It really was; it glowed with an old unchangeable magic that had settled deeply into the crystal. "Can you show me how it works?"

So Roger concentrated and pretty soon he and Angelica were looking at Julia, Roger's sister, who was sitting in her room reading what looked like a really gripping book. They checked in on Janet, Roger's cousin -- playing a game with Cat, Roger's other cousin. Joe Pinhoe, who Angelica didn't know, was in school. Marianne Pinhoe, who Angelica also didn't know... Angelica drifted.

"I can show you Tonino, too," Roger said, regaining her attention with a thump. But since Tonino Montana was in Italy, that didn't work as easily. The image wavered and blurred, but Angelica could still see the courtyard of Casa Montana, and she could imagine the smell of frying onions from the kitchen, the shouts of family members...

Angelica sighed. She wished she could see her family like that, but Roger hadn't met any of them, so he wouldn't be able to direct the vision.

"I'm not strong enough to do Italy for long," Roger said apologetically as the wavering image dissolved.

"No, that was very good," Angelica said politely, and sighed again. "I was just thinking about my family."

"Oh," Roger said, looking thoughtful.

 

A couple of days later, Roger led Angelica eagerly up to the room where he did his magical tinkering. His crystal ball was set up on the table, and there was a lot of other bits of this and that arranged in a way that Angelica recognized as distinctively Roger.

"What's this one do?" she asked, leaning in to get a better look. There was a leather glove, a scrap of a spell that seemed to have been ripped from Chrestomanci Castle's layers of defenses, and the strong smell of herbs, but the main part of it was made of brass gears all hooked together.

"It's so you can use my crystal ball," Roger said. "You're strong enough to see Italy without any problem."

"I couldn't possibly do that!" Angelica exclaimed. Her spells always went wrong, and however much she wished for a glimpse of her family, she didn't think it was worth the risk of blowing up Roger's crystal ball.

"Of course you can, I made this for you," Roger said. "I don't think anyone's ever done anything like it, it'll only transfer the magical energy that's compatible with the crystal ball. I've already tested it with everything I could think of, and it works perfectly."

Looking at the solid magic of the crystal ball, Angelica couldn't imagine anything she could do actually breaking it, but she knew that her spells were stranger than anything Roger could think of. That's why he liked them so much. She shook her head at him.

"Besides, if you don't use it, I can't brag to Joe about it," Roger said persuasively. "You've got to test it for me."

It took a few more tries, but eventually Angelica could hold out no longer. She put on the glove, and fitted the scrap of spell over her face like a veil, and started humming softly to herself, thinking of home.

The gears turned, the crystal ball started to glow, and a picture formed in the middle. Angelica kept humming and the gears turned faster and it was actually working. She could see her father, she could see Casa Petrocchi...

And then Roger reached in to poke at one of the gears that threatened to stick, and there was a flash of magic. Angelica blinked, and Roger was gone.

Angelica stopped singing. The crystal ball kept glowing, and Angelica could see Roger inside of it, right in the middle of the courtyard of Casa Petrocchi.

Crystal balls have a mind of their own, Angelica remembered.

 

The gears were turning and the magic was flowing into the crystal ball, and the crystal ball was channeling and focusing it and using it to keep Roger inside -- that much Angelica could tell. And it was Roger's own spell that had gone wrong, maybe helped along by some stray bit of Angelica's magic pulling things out of alignment. It wouldn't surprise her one bit.

She ought to be able to break the spell and get Roger back with no one the wiser, but two things stood in her way. She didn't dare do any magic near the crystal ball without protection, and she didn't dare touch anything or move any of the gears for fear of being pulled inside just like Roger.

"This is not impossible," Angelica muttered to herself. After all, she was Angelica Petrocchi, famed throughout Italy for her ability to creatively demolish even the simplest of spells. All she needed to do was produce a bit of magic that could get inside Roger's spell and break it open to let let him out. How hard could it be?

Half an hour later, Angelica stared at the moving gears and muttered, "I can do this," but she wasn't so sure any more. She'd tried chanting a cancel spell, and nothing had happened. She'd tried changing the location the crystal ball was focused on, but it seemed to be stuck on Casa Petrocchi. She'd tried singing a dozen other spells she knew, and still nothing had happened.

"I don't understand magic," Angelica moaned. "Why isn't anything working?"

The only thing that was changing was that she was getting tired and hungry, and in the back of her mind, a tiny voice was advising her to call in Chrestomanci. It's not even your fault, that tiny voice said. It's Roger's fault.

"And that's exactly what I'll tell Roger, after I get him back," Angelica said loudly. Even if it was Roger's fault, Roger had covered for Angelica before -- and Chrestomanci would look at her with that stare that he had, like she ought to have tried harder, she just knew it. Besides, Roger didn't look unhappy inside the crystal ball, and Casa Petrocchi wasn't dangerous. "I'll just have to try every spell I know until I find one that breaks," Angelica decided. The tiny voice in the back of her head squealed, but she ignored it.

An hour later, Angelica stopped again. Her stomach was growling to remind her it was empty, and the clock told her that if she didn't act fast someone was going to come looking for her and Roger for lunch. She dashed down to the kitchen and asked breathlessly for a picnic lunch for herself and Roger. The cook grumbled -- should have asked earlier, don't expect anything fancy -- but Angelica smiled sweetly and apologized in Italian, which the cook liked for some reason, she succeeding in securing a large hamper. Cover up accomplished, Angelica thought.

Back upstairs, she pulled open the hamper and grinned at all the food. Leftovers and a pile of the plainest sandwiches imaginable, but Angelica was so hungry she ate all of her share and most of Roger's too. Then she squared her shoulders and got to work.

She sang happy spells and sad spells, silly spells and powerful spells. She sang spells for locking and spells for unlocking and spells for growth and decay. She sang spells for turning things into stone, and spells for bringing things to life. None of it got through Roger's spell, but as the afternoon wore on, the gears whirred faster and faster.

Finally, exhausted, Angelica turned to picnic hamper to get one of the strawberry tarts she'd left in there for Roger when he got back. Right now, she was absolutely certain she needed it more. She was so tired she fumbled with the latch, and then the latch wasn't there any more because it had turned into a frog.

Angelica just stared at it tiredly for a few seconds. The frog hopped down onto the table.

"All afternoon, nothing works," Angelica said. "But my spells always work, they just don't do it as they should. No wonder I feel so strange."

Somehow, Roger's spell had bottled up the part of Angelica's magic that always worked, along with the part of Angelica's magic that turned everything she did peculiar. And then she'd done so much magic it was dripping off the ends of her fingers because it had no other way out.

Angelica laughed, oddly relieved. That was more like it. She hadn't recognized her own magic when it didn't work, she'd felt powerless in a way she'd never felt before. But now her tiredness fell away, replaced with excitement and certainty.

She tiptoed past Roger's spell and stood in front of the crystal ball. Roger was playing soldiers with Angelica's cousin Claudio, but he looked bored. Time to go, Angelica thought gleefully.

Very carefully, Angelica wrapped the veil around her hand, and then reached through the crystal. She could feel the warmth of the scrying spell, the warmth of Roger's spell, but it didn't touch her. She was still protected by the veil.

When she was close enough, she wiggled a finger through the veil and tapped Roger on the shoulder. He started; Angelica giggled; the gears stopped turning. Then they started turning the other way, pulling Angelica's peculiar magic out of the crystal ball with the same power they'd used to block her magic all afternoon.

And Roger was back, with iridescent scales shimmering through every bit of exposed skin, wearing a shirt made out of lizards and snakes and tiny purple feathers. "Took you long enough," Roger said placidly, as reptiles fell in a shower at his feet.

"It was your fault," Angelica said. She'd been waiting all afternoon to say that. "And I figured it out by myself."

"I knew you would," Roger said. "Oh, and your family says hi. All seventy of them." He turned his attention to brushing feathers off of the big komodo dragon perched on his shoulder. "Hey Angelica, do you think this lizard is conjured, or transformed? Because I have an idea about lizards, but it can't be an enchanted lizard..."

Angelica beamed at Roger. He was just as calm about a magical mix-up as the most jaded of the Petrocchis. That, and the luxurious smell of fried onions that clung to him made Angelica feel a little less homesick. Or maybe it was just the cheering effects of a good triumph.

"I bet we can find out," Angelica said.