It was the Halloween of his seventeenth year when Nirupam found the portal between worlds. This slight tear, this split in the landscape shimmered slightly, like things sometimes do on a hot summer's day. But it was not summer, it was nearly November, so Nirupam took notice.
He was supposed to be meeting Estelle. When they so much as held hands at school the other boys jeered at him (they were just jealous, Nirupam knew) and the girls twittered so that Estelle would blush bright, fire-engine red and become so shy she could barely look at him. It was rather endearing, he reflected, but did somewhat negate the purpose of their spending time together.
Nirupam stuck a finger in the hole, just to see what would happen. It ripped slightly, and he was so startled that he managed to get his finger stuck, and he fell backward clutching a long piece of shimmering, almost cobwebby material.
The tear was so large now that there could be no doubt that something was amiss. He tentatively poked his head through the gap. He could see trees on the other side too, but he somehow knew that they weren't quite the same.
Excited, he pulled out his head and decided to race back to school. When he met Estelle on the path on his way back to school he forgot all about necking and simply pulled enthusiastically on her arm and they ran back to get the others.
"What is it?" Charles asked.
"It's a gateway!" exclaimed Nan, "between… the faerie world and our own!" She finished dramatically.
Charles rolled his eyes and said forcefully, "it is not!"
"Too bad Brian told us to bugger off and let him nap. I bet he would have loved this." Nirupam said, trying to ignore Charles and Nan's bickering.
Estelle grabbed his arm and turned to the others, "let's go through, shall we?"
Nirupam led the way. He felt brave, having stuck his head through once before. He pulled Estelle along with him and the others soon followed.
"This must be some sort of prank for Hallowe'en," said Charles dubiously.
"That's true, it is Witch Week." Nan, for once, seemed to agree with Charles.
"Witch Week" Estelle whispered. "That reminds me of something, I just can't remember what."
"I had a dream once, where we all went to a school that wasn't quite our school--it was a boarding school, you see--and we were all witches and we sent to a man for help…"
Just as Nirupam thought they could all be there rather a long time if Nan began to describe her dreams, Estelle exclaimed, "Chrestomanci!"
The other three stared at her.
"That does sound familiar," Charles conceded.
"Yes, I think I remember…" Nan said slowly.
"Kresto-whatsit?" Nirupam asked confusedly.
"CHRESTOMANCI!" Estelle, Nan, and Charles shouted in unison.
Suddenly, the wind shifted. Almost as soon as Nirupam noticed something amiss, a man landed in their midst, shaking non-existent wrinkles out of a very elaborate blue-patterned dressing gown.
He looked more shocked than they did at his arrival. "Bless my soul!" he exclaimed, "you lot again!"
Nirupam, Estelle and Nan simply gaped at him.
"You!" Charles broke the silence.
Chrestomanci looked slightly amused. "Ah, so you remember me?"
"He… it… we…" Charles fumbled, "we were witches. We were in another world and he gave us the lives we have now." He knew this was not quite the whole story, but it seemed to be all he could manage at the moment.
"Well you helped," Chrestomanci admitted graciously.
"I WANT TO BE A WITCH AGAIN!" Charles shouted suddenly.
Nirupam was taken aback. Even Nan looked startled. Estelle seemed amused.
Chrestomanci sighed and put his fingers to his temple.
"Please sir, I hate chess!" Charles begged.
Chrestomanci tsked, "I can not recall a time that I have ever had such trouble with one group of people from any of the Related Worlds." He looked sternly at them. "Although I suppose it is Witch Week," he mused, "and the double sets of memories and selves were bound to cause confusion at some point."
Estelle nodded sagely although she was not quite sure exactly what Chrestomanci was talking about. Nirupam, who somehow felt protective of Estelle around this Chrestomanci fellow--although he was not sure why--gave him a look Charles would envy.
Chrestomanci looked quite startled, but continued. "I shall have to separate you. I can't have you all running amok in the same world; it will throw things off-balance. So please consider this matter carefully and I will do my best to accommodate you."
He, with the help of Charles, and along with some choice interjections from Nan explained the circumstances of their last encounter. Slowly, Nirupam started to remember everything. His brother being burned… that was awful. Trying to lift Charles' botched 'Simon Says' spell, flying on a hoe across a busy road…. The last two thoughts made him smile. He wanted to be a witch.
They all took the time Chrestomanci gave them to reflect. Nirupam chanced a glance at Estelle and wondered what she was thinking. She flashed him a small smile.
"I--I think I'll stay in my world, please" Nan piped up. "Maybe I was good at witchcraft once, but I don't miss it. I'd have to learn all sorts of new things, and I wouldn't be head of the debate team anymore." She glowed with pride, "I won a prize in debate last year, you know. I'm going to be British champion one day, when I go to uni."
"Very well. Mouth over magic," Chrestomanci agreed. "Estelle?"
Nirupam perked up and wondered if he should if he should glare at Chrestomanci again. To his surprise, Estelle grabbed his hand and ventured shyly, "I don't care, as long as I'm with Nirupam. I'd like to be a witch, but…"
"Nirupam?" Chrestomanci asked.
"I would like to keep my witchcraft," Nirupam said determinedly. "And I would like to go somewhere warm, where they eat both curry and treacle pudding."
Chrestomanci said something which sounded quite a lot like "Millie's world" but Nirupam quickly dismissed it. He turned his attention to Estelle, who was beaming at him. He squeezed her hand and felt fully content for the first time in a long while. Finally all the parts of his life seemed… right. As he was contemplating this, he almost missed Charles' request.
"What about me?" Charles asked sullenly.
Chrestomanci eyed him, then gave a grand sigh. "I should have known you wouldn't be happy with chess. You were a very strong enchanter, and that kind of power doesn't just disappear. You may stay at the castle and receive a magical education along with the rest of my wards, if you wish it"
Charles did not look thrilled at the prospect of being tutored by Chrestomanci, but he couldn't see a better alternative. "Alright," he reluctantly agreed.
The goodbyes were awful, Nirupam thought. Charles shook his hand rather awkwardly and cleared his throat while Nirupam said, "best of luck then."
Next to him, Nan began to cry. "Estelle, what am I going to do without you?"
Estelle smiled through her own tears, "Nan, you've never needed me! You are going to be a great orator! Once you win your prize you can dedicate it to me."
Once they had all embraced and were left shuffling their feet, Chrestomanci took Nan into a pentacle he had drawn on the floor. She was still waving as she disappeared.
Nirupam and Estelle were next. As they stood in the pentacle together, Nirupam put a finger under her chin and promised, "we're going to be okay." She smiled confidently up at him and he leaned down and kissed her as they vanished into the great unknown. Together.