“You did what?” Caroline can hear the disbelief in her own voice, almost tangible in the air around her. She reins it in. ‘Almost tangible’ things spell trouble when one is the senior witch in the House of Commons coven.
Besides, her apprentice’s lip is beginning to tremble, and that’s so unlike Chloe’s usual rebellious clumsiness that Caroline finds herself unwilling to chide her too sternly. Perhaps turning this mishap into a teachable moment is the best course of action.
(If only Chloe’s mishaps weren’t quite so frequent. But impetuousness and passion, for all they make a fine witch, do tend to make a difficult apprentice.)
“I only wanted,” Chloe says, and the tremble in her lip is turning into a wobble, “to get back at George for ignoring me in the Treasury meeting yesterday.”
“And what have I told you about revenge spells?” Caroline says, severely.
“That-they-often-go-wrong-because-our-magic-doesn’t-like-them,” Chloe says, as if reciting a lesson.
Caroline rubs her nose. She can feel a headache rising. “And do you know how this one went wrong?”
“No!” Chloe says, wringing her hands. “That’s just it! That’s why I’m so worried. I’ve gone over my spellbooks, and I just don’t see how it could have gone this wrong.”
Caroline prays to the Green Goddess for patience. “Go back to the beginning for me. Who ended up growing a moustache overnight instead of Osborne?”
Chloe’s lip trembles again. (This time Caroline strongly suspects it’s a mixture of guilt, embarrassment, and more than a soupçon of amusement.) “Peter Mandelson,” she mutters, shuffling her feet and trying for a woebegone look. It’s not particularly convincing.
“Ah,” Caroline says, enlightened.
Chloe looks up hopefully.
Caroline’s brain is racing, adding up clues and indications that she’d stored in the back of her memory, but she pulls a solemn look on for Chloe’s benefit. Teachable moment first. “I think a re-reading of the Second Book of the Stars is in order.”
Chloe makes a face.
“I’ll set this right,” Caroline continues, “but you are going to have to promise to work harder on your studies and not to spend all of your time on Treasury work. Government business is important, but coven work comes above all.”
Chloe looks mulish, but nods.
“And,” Caroline adds, belatedly, “no more revenge spells.”
“Believe me,” Chloe says, “I wouldn’t touch them again for the world. I didn’t realise they were so unstable. Next time I might end up sporting a luxurious moustache that I couldn’t shave off.” The full horror of this terrible fate shows in her eyes.
Caroline waits until Chloe is safely gone to the coven library before she lets herself dissolve into laughter.
While revenge spells are indeed unstable, somehow she doubts that this is the reason that the Dark Lord is currently panicking over the sudden and inexplicable advent of Mandeltache No. 2.
For spells are hard to pinpoint with exact geographical accuracy, and Caroline thinks that, all in all, it was not bad aim for a clumsy apprentice to miss her target but hit his bedfellow instead.
She always has said this apprentice has promise. And now, thanks to an apprentice and a ricocheting revenge spell, Caroline Lucas, Head Witch of the House of Commons coven, has another bargaining chip in her sizeable arsenal.
Just how much will Peter Mandelson and his lover George Osborne want that moustache removed?