Actions

Work Header

Hot Iron

Work Text:

The trains in Twelve-E were quiet, Janet thought, compared to the puffing, blowing, clattering steam trains of Chrestomanci’s world. The Twelve E trains had electric motors with some kind of magical extensions, and slid along their tracks smoothly and all but silently. For some reason they were all monorails; maybe that made the spells simpler.

Cat and Chrestomanci were talking to the virtue engineers, Miss Khan and Mr. Marlow; or rather the virtue engineers were talking, Cat was making occasional I-see noises, and Chrestomanci was observing all three of them with a benevolently vague expression. The first time they had come here, last month, it had been just the two of them; Chrestomanci had apparently found Cat’s report on Twelve E magic interesting enough to say “Perhaps I might join you and Janet on your next visit,” and so it was. Janet was unsure whether this meant he had found something troublesome in Twelve E, whether he wanted to watch Cat in action, or whether it was what she called a dressing-gown-ism: one of Chrestomanci’s mysterious whims.

At least she could wear trousers here without anyone staring; she felt comfortable and rather professional in slacks and a blazer. Possibly she could set a fashion for these back in Twelve A? If she couldn’t find any other role for herself, there were worse fates than being Amelia Bloomer.

Mr. Marlow and the two enchanters were in suits (Cat still looked like a boy in school uniform in his, and Chrestomanci’s, of course, was perfectly splendiferous). Miss Khan was dressed much as Janet was, with a jacket of a gorgeous mulberry color that Janet rather coveted, and a scarf of the same color wrapped over her hair. Cat, whose early life in Wolvercote had not included many women of this persuasion, had stared a bit when they first met her, but recovered his manners quickly enough; she hadn’t seemed to mind. She was talking the most, explaining how much metallurgy work had been necessary before they worked out tracks and wheels that had no iron in them, so that spells could be used alongside the metal. Twelve E seemed to be oddly superstitious about iron: Mr. Marlow had explained that their magic wouldn’t work at all where there was iron, and Janet had seen people wearing wrought-iron charms against curses.

The Royal Institute of Virtue Engineering was in Twelve E’s version of Norfolk, about eighty miles northeast of their London. After the initial meeting, with lunch at the engineers’ club in the city, they were taking the train north.

Cat grew quieter and quieter as the journey proceeded, until his responses were desultory enough almost to sound rude, if they had come from anyone less polite in general demeanor. Train-sick, Janet guessed, recalling his antipathy to cars. To her surprise, Chrestomanci wore very much the same expression; he looked as if he had accidentally put in silver cufflinks that morning, she thought. Perhaps she had missed something in Miss Khan’s metallurgical lecture, and their marvellous trains actually made use of quantities of silver? No, judging by the coins and the jewelry of the other passengers she had seen, silver filled very much the same niche of value that it did in Twelve A and B, so that wasn’t terribly likely.

The train halted at Castle Clun, “the oldest town in the country,” Mr. Marlow said proudly, although the railway station looked sleek and modern to Janet’s eyes. Cat was quite green by this time, she saw, and Chrestomanci’s hand on the armrest was white-knuckled.

Without stopping to think, she heard herself saying, “Oh, do you think we might get off here and look around a bit? We could come and see the Institute on another day.”

Everyone blinked at her, Cat somewhat blearily. “Certainly, if it is important to you,” Miss Khan offered warily, sending Mr. Marlow a quick sidewise look. “Nothing we had planned for today is terribly time-sensitive…”

“I feel I ought to indulge my ward in this matter,” Chrestomanci said. His voice was as smooth as ever, but Janet could see that it cost him effort to rise to his feet. “Have you all your things, Janet? Eric, shall we discuss what we’ve heard so far and regroup on another occasion?”

Cat murmured something inaudible; he did manage to collect himself enough to thank Miss Khan and Mr. Marlow coherently before the three of them detrained.

On the platform, Chrestomanci sat down again, rather heavily, on one of the streamlined modern benches set up for people waiting for their train. Cat leaned on the railings. Janet frowned at both of them and went a little way down the platform to the little kiosk by the entrance. She had a handful of Twelve E money in her trousers pocket, enough to buy three flimsy plastic cups of something that resembled milky coffee (there was no tea).

Chrestomanci’s eyebrows went up and Cat flinched slightly when presented with the hot drinks, but both of them had regained some color by the time they finished drinking. “Thank you, Janet,” Chrestomanci said, disposing of his cup in a handy, if oddly shaped, rubbish bin. “That was a very helpful piece of quick thinking.”

Janet understood that he wasn’t referring to the drinks. “What happened?”

“Let’s go home first,” Cat said fervently, and got no argument.

 

“Cat’s worried about you,” Julia said.

Janet blinked. She was curled up on the windowseat of what everyone called “Henrietta’s sitting room,” which was empty just now with Henrietta away for the week on some secret mission or other. The room was a little fusty, but its windowseat was well padded and deliciously curved and sublimely comfortable. Janet had a book—two books, in fact—and a cup of tea and had been enjoying herself.

“How did you know I was here?”

“I saw you come this way after lessons,” Julia said, as if it should have been obvious. “There isn’t anything else down this corridor, unless you particularly wanted an extra lesson in finance from Bernard.”

“I might not mind that,” Janet said, and it was quite true—she found Bernard’s impromptu lectures on stocks and taxes very interesting, once you got him to stop every now and then to explain his terms—but certainly it wasn’t what she’d had in mind today. “Anyway, what did you say about Cat?”

“He’s worried about you,” Julia repeated. She picked up Janet’s mug of stone-cold tea and blew lightly on the surface, which immediately exuded steam.

“I thought you needed your handkerchief to do that sort of thing.”

Julia winked. “Who says I haven’t got a few knots on me somewhere?”

“Anyway,” Janet sipped her tea and burned her tongue, “how do you know? Did Cat say so?” She doubted it very much. Cat might speak his mind to Marianne occasionally, and even to Chrestomanci himself, but otherwise she thought his nickname should have been Clam.

“Cat say so? Don’t be silly. Not to me, anyway. Daddy got it out of him when they were talking about your trip to Twelve E. And how was that? I know something happened that ought not to have.”

“If you’re going to interrogate me, I wish you’d sit down,” Janet said crossly. Julia scooped up Janet’s stockinged feet, sat down where they had been, and plopped them into her lap. “How much do you know about our series?”

“Twelve? Only that we’re Twelve A and you came from Twelve B.”

“And your dear darling cousin is permanently locked in Twelve G, much good may it do her,” Janet added, not even trying not to sound malicious. “I wish we knew how much harm she really did to Cat.”

Julia’s round, pretty face looked as alarmed as it was capable of, which wasn’t very. “Did something happen with Gwendolen?”

No. Or at least not in the sense you mean. Or maybe not at all. I just wish there was anyone in this world who knew the first thing about psychology. Oh, it’s all right, Julia, you needn’t look like that, it’s nothing to do with Twelve G or her at all. Twelve E is where we went on Friday.”

“Which of you is there?”

“Which…? Oh. No, it’s not that.” Janet kicked lightly at Julia’s thighs. “Her name is Mally, Chrestomanci says, she’s at university there, but that’s not the point, she’s nothing to do with it.”

“Then what are you all upset about?” Julia said sensibly, trapping Janet’s errant feet under her elbow. “Drink your nice tea.”

“It isn’t nice, it’s all steeped.”

“Shall I turn it into hot chocolate for you?”

“No,” Janet sighed. She took a slug of tea as if it were brandy. “Twelve E is more like my world—like Twelve B, I mean, compared to here. It has machines and things, and people mostly don’t do magic, although they know about it. So Cat and Chrestomanci took me along as a sort of guide.”

“What were they there to do, anyway? Cat never talks about his work with Daddy to the rest of us. Well, not to me and Roger, anyway. Maybe to Marianne.”

“Maybe I should have asked Marianne to interpret. I didn’t get most of it, you know how bad Cat is at explaining things, even when he’s trying. He thinks you already know whatever he knows, so he doesn’t say it. That’s why I wish I knew how much was left over from what Gwendolen did to him and how much is just him.” She thought. “Or dying in all kinds of interesting ways, including losing his parents. Or growing up in this odd place thinking he hadn’t got any magic and actually having more of it than anybody. Or the Castle. Or…oh drat.

“Twelve E,” Julia prompted, showing her well-known ability to stick to the point.

“Right. Twelve E. All I know is that was a sort of diplomatic mission, I suppose you might say, a chat with their magic users about the new things they’re coming up with.” She sipped her tea, which had acquired at some point the fragrance of apples and rosehips. “Cat hasn’t a clue about anything to do with technology, so he asked me to come along. I told him he should take Roger and Joe instead, but…” She shrugged.

“What happened?”

“Nothing terribly exciting. The magic specialists there—they call them virtue engineers—know who the Chrestomanci is, so that was all very straightforward.”

“No renegade magicians? How boring.” Janet couldn’t tell how serious Julia was. “No dramatic conflict at all!”

“What romantic fantasies have you been reading? No, just a talk about fine definitions in spells and whether numbers in spells were distinct or interchangeable. And then--”

“Cat understood all that?”

“After six years of Advanced Theory with Chrestomanci? He seemed to, at least. I certainly didn’t.”

“And is that why you’re moping?” with only slightly exaggerated patience.

“I’m not moping,” Janet pointed out, and drank more tea, noticing that the rosehip flavor was stronger. “Anyway, no.”

“Well?”

Janet sighed. “I’m beginning to think the only thing all you Chants have in common is stubbornness. Cat, Chrestomanci, Roger and those machines, you…”

“I’m sure I don’t know what you mean by ‘you Chants’,” Julia said primly. “You’re a Chant as ever was, just one world removed.”

“It’s a good thing the Chrestomanci isn’t a hereditary post, you know. Anybody as undiplomatic as you would never make it past the first month.”

“Unlike Daddy, I have never found vagueness to be a rewarding strategy. So I hit the gold there?”

“One world removed…” Janet sighed. “I don’t belong in Twelve B, never mind about poor Romillia, I’ve been here too long now―but I’m not who I would be if I’d been born in Twelve A, either.”

“So you’re a sort of hybrid, like Jason says about his new herbs? Like Twelve E?”

“You didn’t have to put it like that,” Janet said crossly. “Twelve E makes me all itchy. I keep thinking it’s like home―I mean like Twelve B―and then the machines work quite differently, and then I revise my opinion and assume it’s like here and then the magic works differently…it’s all wrong.”

“Well, you’re all right,” Julia said firmly, leaning her considerable upper body weight on the elbow propped on Janet’s ankles. “Hybrid vigor, Jason says. So does Daddy,” she added, upon thought.

Does he? About what?”

“That would be telling…Oh, all right. I think he was saying it about us. You and me and Cat and Roger and Joe and Marianne…all our different kinds of magic mixed up together?”

“I haven’t got any magic,” Janet pointed out acerbically. “That’s the problem.”

“Do you really want to be a witch? I always thought you were enough as you are.”

“No, it isn’t…I don’t specially want to, I mean, it would be convenient—“ (her tea was still steaming gently) “—but it isn’t terribly important. But the thing is, what else can I be? If I’m a sort of hybrid, I ought to have strengths from both worlds.”

Julia tickled the soles of Janet’s feet very lightly. “I expect you do. You just haven’t noticed yet. You never notice things about yourself.”

“I don’t?”

“No, only about other people. Now tell me what went wrong in Twelve E.”

Janet recounted briefly the odd ending to their latest visit to Twelve E, and her part in it.

“Oh well, that explains that,” said Julia, and seemed to shift her interest to the pattern of the lace trim on Janet’s outermost petticoat.

“What explains what?”

“Cat hadn’t grasped why you spoke up all of a sudden. He thought you’d all at once got sick of being dragged about on his errands.”

“That’s ridiculous!...oh well, perhaps not, given it’s Cat. He never thinks people will notice anything about him, does he?” Janet trilled her toes against Julia’s knee. “I thought he might be angry at me, actually,” she found herself admitting. “For speaking up out of turn.”

“Daddy was there too, wasn’t he? If he thought you’d overstepped your bounds, you would have known it.”

“In the usual killed-with-kindness manner, I expect,” Janet agreed, shivering reflexively at the thought of Chrestomanci’s icicle-dripping courtesy when he thought you had deserved a reprimand. She sat up in a momentary storm of flying petticoats, tucked her feet under her, and drank off the last of the tea. “So did Cat say what did happen? Or was it just a case of Cat being trainsick and Chrestomanci having forgotten he was carrying Twelve E money with silver in it, or near offer?”

Julia raised both eyebrows and brushed stray dark locks fussily back from her shoulders. “You’re to go and talk with both of them in Daddy’s study after supper, so I expect you’ll find out.”

 

Having Cat explain a situation usually took, at best, approximately two and a half times as much time as it would have done if Chrestomanci had taken over; however, Chrestomanci himself held that his job was a highly political one and required a clever tongue as well as an enchanter’s power. “Maybe Marianne can do all the talking for him,” Janet suggested.

“Marianne will have things of her own to say, I think. Cat needs to speak for himself.”

“I do,” Cat protested.

“Not as much as you think. Now where were we?”

“On the train heading to the Institute,” Janet supplied.”

“Yes. It wasn’t right both me and Chrestomanci feeling ill at that point,” Cat managed. “You’re not an enchantress, but you’ve better than average…oh…instincts? So…”

Chrestomanci stepped in. “An operative of mine…you remember Mordecai, I take it…did some inquiring. He has a great breadth of contacts, and our Mr. Marlow was rather close to one of them. What he found…” He gestured, passing the ball back to Cat.

“We’re all Chants,” Cat said carefully. “In Twelve A, Chant is a Good Name. Have you heard that expression?”

“No―wait, I might have done. People talking about the Family. Will and Euphemia, possibly. But I don’t know what it means.”

Cat grinned sheepishly at her (a zoological confusion, Janet reflected in passing). “I usedn’t to either. It seems to mean different things depending on who you ask―“

“I did recommend that you not raise the issue with Michael, lest it bring his academic bent to the fore,” Chrestomanci put in drily.

“―but one thing it does seem to mean is that there are a lot of sorcerers and witches and so on born Chants.”

“Sort of a magical gene,” Janet reflected. Mordecai’s friend Flavian had brought her a stack of science texts from Twelve B on their last visit to the Castle, supplementing her Upper Third science education. “It might be recessive, that would explain why not everyone is magical…except the strength of magic isn’t on/off, so there must be other genes in there making the difference…unless Cat would’ve been just an ordinary warlock like Gwendolen was a hedgewitch, except for having nine lives…?”

Chrestomanci cleared his throat mildly.

“Oh. Okay, later. All right, Chants, I take your point so far. So?”

“Our counterparts in Twelve E are called Chant too,” Cat went on carefully. “Like in Twelve B. In all the worlds of this series actually―Queen Caroline’s is the Chantian Dynasty, even. That’s why her, er, great-grandfather, I think, was able to overthrow the king of the time and take the throne, on the pretext that the magical lineage of the Chants made them the best fitted to ruling.”

Janet made a face, feeling Chrestomanci’s eyes on her. “Ugh. Well, the Queen of England in Twelve B was…is…definitely Elizabeth Windsor, not Elizabeth Chant. Mum and Dad don’t seem to have had any royal hankerings that I can remember, either.”

“In Twelve E,” Cat continued his lesson, “Chants are prohibited from training as virtue engineers.”

“What?”

“They’re considered…sort of…magical beings, I suppose you might say.” Cat’s colour was higher.

Janet spluttered. “Like fairies? Or elves?”

“I don’t know! That’s what they believe. There’s a sort of registry, listing all the Chants in that world and…and keeping track of them.”

“Like the Pinhoes here?”

“Not exactly,” Chrestomanci said, with more than his usual blandness. “For one thing, the Twelve E Chantsday Boke includes blood from each Chant born in that world.”

“Eeugh!”

“Quite.”

“They don’t…?”

“Use it for black magic? A part of my office has been to make quite sure that this was not done, for many generations now. I understand that one reason my predecessor was less than delighted to find that I was the next nine-lived enchanter was that I was myself a Chant, possibly posing a conflict of interest.”

“I should think so!” Janet recalled herself to the point. “Anyway. Tell me what all this has to do with our visit to Twelve E yesterday.” Although she was beginning to have an unpleasant feeling she might know.

Cat glanced at Chrestomanci. “It’s not…black magic exactly, but we think they did use Chant blood in a spell. Something at their Institute, because of the way we both felt iller the closer we came there…most likely something designed to work that way. It ought not to have that effect, not unless they specifically planned it.”

“Why didn’t I feel anything, then? Oh, because I’m not a witch,” Janet filled in before he needed to say it.

“Just as well too,” said Chrestomanci. “In this case.”

“I expect the two of you would have managed somehow. Or―I mean―are they trying to―to get two for the price of one and break your power?”

Cat blinked. “Er, not exactly…?”

Chrestomanci came in again, quieter. “Given the practices of the Twelve E Institute so far, and Tacroy’s―Mordecai’s information on Mr. Marlow and Miss Khan, we find the presence of such a spell incongruous―if its purpose is to do just that. In both ability and attitude, they are very different types from the Mr. Nostrums―Nostra?―of old.” (He’s being quite honest with us if he’s not pretending to forget anyone’s name, Janet noted.) “Cat and I agree that taking a similar approach, taking away their magic and putting them in prison on the spot, would be short-sighted at best and possibly disastrously counterproductive.”

Janet recalled the red-haired Mr. Marlow, with his serious face, heavy glasses rims, and occasional shy smile, and the elegant Miss Khan with her deep voice and fine-grained skin. “So what are they trying to do?”

“That,” said Chrestomanci, “is where you come in.”

 

Chrestomanci knew the address; Henrietta took Janet across the worlds to Twelve E on the day she chose, and arranged to meet her again later that afternoon to go home again. Janet was partial to Henrietta, another outsider who belonged at the Castle, whose dry common sense was always refreshing; she was momentarily swept with nervousness as Henrietta’s tidy back and thick braid receded down the street.

She rang the bell outside the large house, and the girl who came to the door wore her own face.

It was pure chance, of course, that they happened to be dressed similarly, that Janet had put her hair into a ponytail that morning too—“Seize the day,” she told herself, and blurted “You’re Mally from Twelve F, aren’t you?”

The other girl’s eyes widened, touched with panic. “No! I’m Mary Vanessa Chant. You must have the…the…” As she looked closer, her voice trailed off. “…You’re Vanessa,” she whispered, stricken.

Janet understood in a moment what she was thinking. “No, I’m not. I’m Janet. Sorry, I know who you are here. But I got it right the first time, didn’t I?”

Mally nodded, blinking herself back into control. “Which one are you? Are you after Vanessa?”

“I’m from—I live in Twelve A. Don’t worry, I’m just here visiting—part of the Chrestomanci’s entourage,” she added, wondering if the other girl would recognize the name.

“Oh yes, of course. But I haven’t…I mean…”

“It’s nothing to do with you,” Janet reassured her. “I only, that is, I wanted to see you. I’ve only met one of us before and I wasn’t impressed.”

“Vanessa, was that?” Mally asked, then covered her mouth with one hand. “Oh dear.”

They both giggled. “No, not Vanessa. What, was she that bad?” Another Gwendolen would be too much.

“Oh, not bad. I’m sure she’s lovely in her own context. Just, well, her world now seems to have spoiled her a bit…” Mally shrugged. “Of course, she’s probably much better now. That was when we were thirteen, and all I really knew of her was the letter she wrote me that afternoon…”

Janet, too, remembered well that panicked hour of being called back. “Could we go and have some tea somewhere?” she suggested. “Does your world do tea?”

Mally laughed. “We could probably find you some if you really wanted it, but it’s a bit expensive. Ordinary students like me wouldn’t dream of sitting down to a cup of tea for no special reason.”

Janet resolved to mention to Chrestomanci that there was probably a thriving tea-smuggling business from Twelve A and B to Twelve E—and if there wasn’t, there should be. It turned out that what ordinary Twelve E people drank instead was something they called couff, which was rather like coffee with an aftertaste of chocolate and cinnamon. Milly might like it, Janet thought. Julia would probably adore it, if she were allowed to add three heaping spoonfuls of sugar.

Since Janet had rashly used up all her Twelve E pounds, Mally bought them both mugs of couff and a couple of pastries as well—ordinary pastry dough with a sweet, grainy filling a bit like marzipan—and they sat across from each other in the students’ café with its large squashy seats and small round tables, and made plans.

Janet had been nervous beforehand about explaining Cat’s theory about the blood spell―after all, that might be Mally’s own blood they were using (no, if it was taken shortly after birth it would be Vanessa’s, wouldn’t it), and nobody would like to hear a thing like that. To her relief, however, Mally took it in stride. She was disconcertingly open and friendly, with the habit of speaking her mind that seemed to be a trait all of them shared, yet completely without Gwendolen’s air of being on the make. Being almost incapable of lying, she also turned out to be the only Dear Replacement other than Janet whose origins were known to the family in her new world. “Here-Dad and Mum call me Mally now―the blood certificate’s got Mary Vanessa Chant, the same way here-Mum is Mary Caroline, so it all fitted in quite well. I’d hate having to pretend all the time. I can’t think how the others do it.”

“I wasn’t very good at it,” Janet said ruefully, thinking back to her brief time in disguise. The only time she’d really felt herself in Gwendolen’s skin was when she was having a slanging match with Julia. “Perhaps none of them liked who they were before.”

“We’ll find out,” Mally sighed.

“We will?”

“Oh yes. I think we need all of us.”

“Not Gwendolen,” Janet said, automatically. Even if Twelve G were to be opened again, she wouldn’t let that happen to Cat.

“I expect we couldn’t have her anyway, with the walls of the worlds the way they are. The rest of us, though. We’re blood Chants on both sides―no one else alive is that in the worlds now, except the young Chrestomanci, and there’s only one of him and it’s him the spell is aimed at. And we form a chain across the worlds.” Mally fingered the links of wrought iron at her throat. “We should be able to do something.”

Janet considered the effects of dragon’s blood. “As long as it doesn’t backfire.”

“That’s the province of whoever makes the spell. Can you?”

“Me! I’m from Twelve B. I haven’t got any magic. Don’t you--?”

“I’m not allowed,” Mally said flatly. “That’s what being a Chant means. We are acted upon magically, we don’t act.”

“Well,” Janet regrouped, “I know a few people in my world who are good at making spells. Including an enchantress or two.” Cat and Chrestomanci would not be able to help with this one at all; however, Marianne and Julia…

 

“I can’t do something like that by myself,” Marianne said immediately.

“You’re an enchantress!”

“It’s not a matter of how strong one’s magic is. I wouldn’t even know where to start. Really we need Roger and Joe and their inventors’ brains.”

Janet groaned. “Lay it out logically, then. A spell cast by Twelve E virtue engineers, using Chant blood, designed to discomfort―or incapacitate―“

“―or worse―“

“Leave worse out of it for the moment―any Chants-by-blood with magical power, as they approach the home of the virtue engineers’ strength. Don’t you think that’s an inappropriate name in the circumstances?” she tacked off.

“Vice engineers would give quite the wrong impression,” Julia sniffed. “Do we know why it was done? It seems like rather a lot of trouble to go to just to keep Daddy off the premises, when they could just as easily have slipped a bit of something in his tea.”

“You’ve been reading too many detective novels,” Janet said automatically. Her tastes and Julia’s diverged on this ground. “Mally―my Dear Replacement in Twelve E―she wasn’t sure either. But she told me two things that might be useful.”

Marianne and Julia waited patiently.

“One.” Janet turned to Marianne. “The virtue engineers have quite a good reputation in Twelve E. Not that they’re madly popular, I mean, but it’s not considered at all a dodgy career, and nobody thinks they’re black magicians or frightening or anything―although Mally sent me home with a couple of popular novels about virtue engineers who go rogue,” she added.

“Lend me!”

“All in good time. Two.” Turning to Julia, “Twelve E―Brythania, our bit of it―was in mourning nearly all last year because their King died rather suddenly. They’ve got a new Queen now and she’s supposed to be quite young and quite progressive, with lots of new ideas. People like Mally’s parents who are on the conservative side are a bit doubtful about some of the things she and her ministers are coming up with.”

“So which side are the virtue engineers on? Conservative or progressive?”

“I think they must be the progressives. I think something has changed when the Queen took the throne, and they’re showing it.”

“Change can be a good thing,” Marianne pointed out, briefly faraway-eyed.

“Yes, but in that case do you cast blood spells that make people sick?”

“Well, you might. If the alternative is casting blood spells that make people die.”

“Well, I am not casting a spell that’s going to make anyone die,” Julia announced. “Not even Gwendolen, tempted though I might be. Let’s start with breaking this spell, then we can find out what’s going on behind it.”

“You Chants!” Marianne snorted. “Practical to the teeth. Okay. Now. Here’s what we have to work with…” and she and Julia dropped into magical technicalities.

Janet listened to them talk about patterns of world overlap and dark-versus-light (neither one apparently a bad thing) and will and dwimmer and counterpart balance, until she was pretty sure she’d heard all the words at least three times.

“Not that I know anything about it…but it sounds as if you’re going around in circles.”

“We are,” Julia said gloomily. “Have you any better ideas?”

Janet looked around at the familiar classroom, still with its six battered desks (although it was rare now for all six of them to have the same lesson at the same time), Michael’s scrawls on the board from a French lesson that morning, the grounds green and placid outside the window, the pot of tea and plate of biscuits with only two Maries left (Julia didn’t care for them), a faint scent of herb wash from Marianne’s new cardigan. “Mally said,” she began carefully, “that she and I and the other Dear Replacements had to be involved in the spell, because we were the only ones anywhere—not counting Cat—to be blood Chants on both sides. I thought she was just being Twelve E-ish, because of the way they think of Chants there, like your dwimmer-beings almost, but I think she had something there. Perhaps it’s like influenza. If you’ve had it and recovered, your blood can be used in a serum that will keep other people safe from it, did you know that? Couldn’t you break—no, vaccinate—a blood spell with another blood spell?”

Marianne’s eyes widened. “That’s strong magic. And it goes bad awfully easily.”

“Yes, but strong magic is what we need,” Julia pointed out readily. “You don’t faint at the sight of blood, do you, Janet?”

“You know I don’t! Honestly, I’m sure no girl over the age of thirteen ever did,” Janet retorted, making all three of them giggle.

Julia nodded firmly. “Okay, I think I know where to go from here.”

 

The Congress of Dear Replacements (for lack of a better name) was held in Twelve E; Mally volunteered her house while her parents were at work. Henrietta and Milly took on the task of ferrying six identical eighteen-year-old girls of varying social status and position among worlds, as well as the exponentially more difficult one of finding a time when they could all assemble; in the end Janet wasn’t convinced that Milly hadn’t done some gentle expanding and contracting of time itself.

Mally brought out a tray of couff and cardamom biscuits, and the six of them sat in a rough circle on one hard shiny couch, two fat padded armchairs, a straight-backed wooden chair, and a backless stool from the kitchen, mutually unnerved.

One thing Janet hadn’t thought of was that most of them had learned to answer to their Dear Replacement’s names: when she began with her own name, Romillia turned around, and Jennifer called herself Romi at first, while Vanessa introduced herself as the Honorable Jennie Chant du Chant. After a few moments of confusion, they all managed to agree to use the names that had been theirs until age thirteen, for the duration.

At the first possible opportunity, Romillia turned to Jennifer and blurted out “I’m sorry!” Janet could almost hear her heart pounding behind the words. “I’m so sorry. It was the only thing I kept worrying about, once I was sure I could stay—that another me had to be there in my place—it didn’t seem fair when my life was so lovely now—I’m so sorry!”

Jennifer laughed. “Girl, are you out of your tree? Becoming Romi is the best thing that ever happened to me. I would’ve gone crazy if I’d had to spend my whole life a pampered little rich girl.” She winked at Vanessa, who sniffed and fingered a precise blond curl. “This way, I’m on the way to having my own syndicate.”

“You’re a crime boss!” Janet was delighted, until she began to wonder if she’d invited another Gwendolen into the fold. “I mean, you don’t…um…”

“Want to expand operations into your world too?” Jennifer finished. “Well, I wouldn’t turn down the opportunity if you handed it to me on a platter, but not without your say-so, you know? Professional courtesy. I won’t do another Chant girl wrong.”

Vanessa rolled her eyes and turned to Caroline, widening her eyes again. “You really aren’t angry at the other me—Gwendolen, did you say? I mean, she deposed you. You were the Queen, and she usurped your throne.”

Caroline, sunburned and broad-shouldered in farmer’s overalls, smiled. “I know you say she wasn’t a good person,” she said to Janet, “but Gwendolen did me the greatest kindness anyone has ever done me in my whole life. I hated being the Queen. Waking up every morning and thinking I had to be the Queen again that day, it was…you can’t imagine.”

“I can,” Romillia said quietly.

“Well, I certainly can’t,” Vanessa sniffed. “I think you’re all mad. This Gwendolen is the only one with any sense of any of us.”

“Trust me,” Janet said dryly, “you wouldn’t have thought so if you’d met her.”

“What exactly did she do that was so bad?” Romillia asked, a little timidly still. “I mean—I know it’s down to her that we’re all not where we started out—but like Caro says, for most of us that was a good thing. I know it isn’t terribly fair to you, but…”

Janet looked around at the five pretty, blue-eyed faces—Vanessa’s elaborate makeup, Caroline’s sun-weathered cheeks, the blue mark of an underworld tattoo under Jennifer’s left eye, Mally’s wrought-iron necklace, Romillia’s school tie. “Gwendolen tried to destroy the Chrestomanci,” she said. “Root and branch—to strike at the source of his power.” Confusion on Romillia’s face, amusement on Jennifer’s, faint horror in Caroline’s and Mally’s expressions, indifference from Vanessa. “The way she set out to do it was to make a human sacrifice of her little brother,” she added deliberately. “My little brother—at least, he is now. She can’t lay claim to him any more. She’d been stealing his magic his whole life, and at the end she was ready to see him dead to get what she wanted.”

Mally and Romillia now both looked openly aghast, and even Vanessa was frowning. Jennifer and Caroline, though, were exchanging glances. “Look, family’s not on, right, but I won’t say I’ve never killed no one,” Jennifer said. “In the line of business, like. Them that had it coming. And Caro, how many times you said ‘off with his head’ when you was the Queen? Oh, all right, I ain’t saying you liked it, but it was part of the job, eh? Only difference is who Gwendolen picked on.”

Caroline was paler under her tan. Janet brought deliberately to mind the way an almost murmured comment from Chrestomanci could ring through silence at the dinner table, and said mildly “That’s part of why this spell now is important—it’s striking at the same place.” She waited a breath. “Are you with us?”

“Who, me? Never said I wasn’t.” Jennifer blinked at her cheerfully. “Pity we ain’t up against Gwendolen this time, though. I’d of liked to see how her and me would stack up. So go on, what’s your plan this time around?”

“I am not killing anyone! Or casting any spells. I couldn’t anyway,” Vanessa broke in tremulously.

Mally fingered her necklace. “I wouldn’t be allowed to, even if I could.”

“We don’t cast the spell. We’re…er…raw ingredients in it,” Janet explained, not without a qualm. “And we definitely aren’t planning to kill anyone, good gravy. What we actually have to do is quite simple…”

 

At the appointed time, Janet settled herself in her own blue and gold bedroom, which seemed both suitable, in view of past events, and the simplest alternative. The others were in their own worlds, each armed with a sharp object and a mirror. Janet had a little brooch that Cat had brought back from Italy for her last summer, and the round hand-mirror they’d so often used for the mirror game.

It had been the mirror game that had set Julia’s ideas off: something that reflected your face, and yet could be used to slide from one dimension to another. Janet remembered her earliest idea that Gwendolen might be watching her through the dressing-table mirror.

She spared a thought, reluctantly, for Gwendolen sealed away in her hard-won kingdom. Cat had insisted that a message be sent to let her know what her Dear Replacements were doing and when, so that―if the spirit moved her―she could do it too. Chrestomanci said that it was unwise, although he didn’t specify why; Marianne protested that the spell didn’t need Gwendolen in it to work; Janet argued that Cat had earned the right not to concern himself with anything to do with Gwendolen ever again.


Cat said “Yes, but I think we should send a message,” to each of them.

Even Chrestomanci could not prevail against Cat at his stubbornest, and he knew it. The message was sent―Cat gave it, unasked, to Chrestomanci for a vetting of the contents―in such a way that no reply was possible. That, Janet guessed, was Chrestomanci’s kindness.

She turned from the hand-mirror to the dressing-table mirror, contemplating her own looks, hair in a practical ponytail again, although it looked odd with her good dress. She was already starting to feel the room closing in around her, and regretted choosing it rather than, say, the Castle lawn (or even the treehouse).

Marianne, who was responsible for setting the spell off, was in the great hall with Milly. Cat and Chrestomanci were at their factor’s office in Twelve E’s London, ready to approach the RIVE as soon as it turned out they could; Milly had insisted that they have Michael and Henrietta along too.

Julia was sprawled on Janet’s bed with a book, trying to look as if she had simply come in to borrow the last Queenscote story, and very clearly not to be moved. Janet decided she was better off not even trying to negotiate.

“I brought you something from Twelve E,” she remembered suddenly. “There’s been so much backing and forthing, I never got around to it. Would you like it now?”

“If it will stop you from pacing back and forth like Daddy when he’s frustrated with something? Only with less swirling dressing gown,” Julia added thoughtfully. “Yes, thank you, how terribly sweet of you to think of me, I’d be delighted.”

Janet rolled her eyes. The jeweler’s box was at the back of her desk; she held it out, waiting until Julia sat up and came to take it from her.

Julia ran the delicate links through her fingers with interest. “Pewter? No, too heavy.”

“Wrought iron. It’s common for jewelry in Twelve E, they think it’s a charm against magic.”

“Cold iron?” Julia laughed. “You could make it one, but the iron alone wouldn’t do it.”

“Wear it long enough and it won’t be cold,” Janet suggested, taking the necklace from Julia. She draped the fine links carefully over Julia's collarbone, dulled silver against alloy-pale copper, then took Julia's shoulder lightly to turn her around and fasten the necklace at the nape of her neck, under the heavy dark bun and the stray wisps of hair that Julia never bothered keeping tidy for more than ten minutes after she'd put her hair up. Julia's skin was warmer than the metal and Janet's fingers both.

Janet filled the silence after the small click of the clasp by voicing what she’d had on her mind for some time: “I think it has to do with blood magic. There’s iron in your blood, did you know that? We’re all part cold…no, hot iron, serum and amulet in one…” These uncharacteristically metaphysical reflections were interrupted by a twang along her spine: two stories below, Marianne had begun the machinery of the spell.

Janet took a deep breath, reached out to touch Julia’s necklace once again, then turned her back and sat down at the dressing table, setting the hand mirror flat in front of her beside the blue and gold cloisonné brooch. In both mirrors, she began to see a halo of other faces around and behind her own. Romillia at the familiar desk where Janet had written thousands of words of ink-splashed stories before she was thirteen, with a compact—Mum’s old one, she recognized with a sudden pang—in one hand and an X-Acto knife in the other. Jennifer in what looked like a sort of black leather cave, gripping a car’s side mirror, sans car, and a short, vicious shiv. Vanessa in an improbably pink and flowery boudoir, positively surrounded by mirrors, with an elaborately jeweled hatpin. Mally in her sunny bedroom, rather uncertainly clutching what seemed to be a kitchen knife and a mirror of polished bronze. Caroline somewhere outside, blinking in a shaft of sun, ready with a leather-handled belt knife and a piece of clouded glass.

She was never sure whether there might have been a seventh face there or not, mirror and knife blade and crown all glinting gold.

The spell took up more and more space in the room, a streamlined, geometrical feeling, almost mechanical if it hadn’t been so strongly flavored with the senses of its creators and participants. Janet took a deep breath, sat up straighter (feeling Julia’s presence just behind her) and jabbed the brooch pin good and hard into the pad of her left index finger. The small pain seemed to be absorbed into the spell in a way that was both frightening and exciting. She drew the pin out again, holding the brooch in the palm of her right hand, and waited until a slow bright drop had gathered at the pinprick; then, feeling more like a chemist than a witch, she let it fall carefully onto the surface of the hand mirror.

Her blood glowed against the silver-backed glass, ruby as stained glass or a fresh raspberry in a shaft of sunlight. Instead of puddling, the single drop made a sphere like mercury, quivering on the glass and reflecting in kaleidoscope patterns. Janet felt the spell’s long clean lines stir into motion, a gentle almost imperceptible shift at first, and then before she could register it spinning so fast it seemed hardly to be moving at all. She remembered the long-ago afternoon in Chrestomanci’s garden.

Gradually the sphere of blood began to flatten out across the mirror, making a film over the glass through which light still seemed to shine.

The vivid garnet color faded…no, deepened…toward amber, finally seeming to be drawn entirely into the surface of the mirror so that the glass took on its own shine again. As it did so, the spell drew out and deepened in the same way, sinking into the worlds with no visible trace, except that things were not as they had been before.

Janet, recalled to her normal consciousness, felt the brooch warm and solid in her right hand, the pin-prick on her left stinging faintly. Too distracted to find a handkerchief, she hitched up a handy bit of petticoat hem to wipe off the brooch pin, then stuck her sore finger into her mouth to suck on. The faint coppery tang of her own blood was reassuring.

“Brava,” said Julia behind her. “Now let’s find out if that took.” She reached over Janet’s shoulder to tap the dressing-table mirror with a corner of her knotted handkerchief. Immediately, the mirror ceased to reflect what it saw and instead showed them a slightly gold-tinted view of a street in―yes, in Lunedin, Twelve E’s capital, Janet recognized their typical squared-off font on the shop signs, and there was a café advertising free cups of couff. In the foreground were familiar figures: Chrestomanci’s elegantly squared shoulders, Cat’s fair hair catching the light, Michael’s unmistakeable loose-limbed stance and Henrietta’s swinging braid. The fifth must be their Twelve E factor, Mr. Eddinton.

“You bugged them,” she said to Julia, amused.

“Bugged? A species of ladybug, maybe. We’re just looking on from a distance.” Julia swung her hips sideways into Janet to make her shift over so that they could both squeeze onto the chair. “Don’t worry. I couldn’t just look at anyone I wanted any time. This only works because it has Daddy and Cat to latch onto, sort of.”

“But if they’ve got to take the train out to RIVE now, they’ll be hours―“ Janet broke off as the five figures shimmered and vanished from the street (she saw a woman behind them clutch at her wrought-iron amulet). Almost immediately, the mirror flickered and refocused on the drive of a grand country house (not unlike the Castle, she thought), where the five had reappeared, Chrestomanci fastidiously adjusting his cravat while Michael hopped on one foot to retie a shoe.

“Well, that’s a relief,” said Milly’s voice from the doorway, and Janet and Julia both jumped, managing to not quite fall off their inadequate seating. “Julia, you bad girl, I’m sure Christopher wouldn’t be a bit pleased if he knew you were doing this.”

“No,” Julia agreed complacently, regaining her balance. “Still, isn’t it useful now I am?”

“Yes, but it isn’t always safe. It looks as if you might be going to have a specialism in mirror magic…but that’s next week’s problem. Do look at the reception.” Milly set Janet’s armchair where she could see the mirror, perching plumply on one arm rather than sitting properly; Marianne, who had come in after her, hopped onto the other arm.

“They look like my dad and all my uncles on a bad day,” she said ruefully, referring to the group of virtue engineers who had emerged from the mansion and were now bearing down on Chrestomanci’s party. “With some aunts thrown in.”

 Janet picked out Miss Khan and Mr. Marlow in the group; Miss Khan looked amused, if anything, though the angle of Julia’s mirrorbug hid most of her face under her scarf; Mr. Marlow was further away. “Julia, can we hear through this thing?”

Julia frowned. “I don’t—“

Behind her, Milly blinked thoughtfully at the mirror, and they could suddenly hear Michael saying cheerfully “—very kind of you to put on such a welcoming committee for the Chrestomanci and his apprentice. They are looking forward to seeing all you’ve got going on here, including some of the more…traditional spells recently put into practice.”

Miss Khan, apparently the spokeswoman for the virtue engineers, gave him a practiced-looking smile. “I’m afraid we weren’t expecting a visit from anyone today. You’ll have to forgive us for our lack of preparation, Mr.--?”

“My associate, Mr. Saunders,” Chrestomanci filled in. He was looking past her shoulder at a man of his own height and very nearly as elegant, Janet thought, immaculately suited and groomed, apart from the grubby lab coat which he had apparently thrown on hastily over his suit jacket. “Lord Vicens, I believe. This is an unexpected pleasure.”

“More unexpected for us than for you, sir,” Vicens replied.

“Who is he?” Julia whispered.

“The new Queen’s half-brother,” Milly murmured. “He also dabbles in virtue engineering, apparently.”

Miss Khan said blandly, “Lord Vicens has been able to take a more active role in our work since Her Majesty’s coronation. I do apologize that he wasn’t one of our party the other day.”

“Perhaps you could elaborate on that active role a little?” Chrestomanci said pleasantly.

“Perhaps we could continue this conversation inside?” Michael added. “I’m sure none of us wants to spend the whole day on our feet.”

Julia’s mirror faithfully followed the group into the entrance hall of the mansion (again, reasonably similar in general design to that of the Castle, but a good deal more battered, and decorated with blackboards in various states of scribble as opposed to brocade). From there they settled into a sort of reception room, unremarkable except for a layer of dust (which set off a string of resounding sneezes from Michael) and sun-faded curtains, suggesting that guests were not a regular event.

Someone brought in a tray of couff and biscuits. Chrestomanci made to raise a cup to his mouth—Janet heard Marianne draw in her breath—and Cat laid a hand on his arm, clearly for effect. “Be careful,” he said, quiet but clear.

“Oh, I am being,” Chrestomanci agreed. “After all, the next blood spell might be a fatal one. That would be extremely inconvenient for all concerned.”

Miss Khan gave a small involuntary giggle; Lord Vicens directed a censorious look at her, but she only arched her eyebrows and looked back innocently. “Perhaps,” she said to Chrestomanci, “you might tell us how you disarmed that particular structure? Failure mode analysis is quite important in our work.”

“Perhaps at some future date,” Chrestomanci said dryly. “My more immediate interest is in knowing what the purpose behind the spell was. I wasn’t aware I had such a blackened name in Twelve E.”

“We are not—“ Lord Vicens’ tone matched his—“either foolhardy or vindictive enough to attempt to murder the Chrestomanci, believe me. We simply had in mind to…acquire some physical and magical distance, ideally on a permanent basis, to allow our work to proceed.”

“Using blood magic?” from Henrietta. She took a biscuit from the tray and broke it in half with a vicious crunch.

“Given that both the current and future Chrestomanci are Chants…yes, it seemed like a uniquely efficient way to get the desired effect.”

“It’s a bit hard for us not to take that personally,” Cat said, sounding apologetic. “I don’t understand what you wanted to keep us away from so badly.”

Miss Khan and Lord Vicens exchanged glances. “We’ve played our hand,” she said to him.

“I am not taking responsibility for this, Aisha.”

“Amazingly enough, no one asked you to,” she snapped, and turned immediately to Cat and Chrestomanci. “Virtue engineering is changing, Mr. Chant. Until a little while ago, magic in Twelve E was very much like what you have in Twelve A. A few years ago, however, some of us began to experiment with new forms and concepts, new practices, new technologies—the train lines were an early example. And when Queen Louise took the throne, we suddenly had much more freedom to experiment, more funding, more support—we at the Institute began to work much more closely with Rowan—“ she nodded in Lord Vicens’ direction—“who is one of our leading spell designers.”

“I follow you so far.”

Miss Khan hesitated. “Then we heard that you and your protégé would be coming here—routine visits, but—We were concerned. We’re doing what we feel is really important work, and we felt that—we thought that—“

“You thought we would shut it down,” Cat said sadly. “Because—all magic should be like Twelve A? Or something like that?”

The virtue engineers looked embarrassed. “It’s the job description—regulation of magic,” Mr. Marlow said abruptly, speaking for the first time. “We had no desire to be regulated—hoped to present you with a fait accompli. Worried about control—maintaining the status quo—no encouragement for innovation—“

Michael began to speak, and fell silent as Chrestomanci raised a hand slightly. “You appear to have been laboring under a misapprehension,” he said mildly. Janet noticed that Cat was watching him very closely, and that he was looking straight at Miss Khan, with an occasional glance to Mr. Marlow, and not at Lord Vicens at all. “Yes, my job—our job—is the regulation of magic. That does not mean that we attempt to constrain magic throughout the worlds into a single shape and format. We work to regulate harmful magic. So far, the only harm you have attempted that I know of is to Eric here and myself, and even that was caught early by my ward’s quick thinking.” (Julia leaned her shoulder into Janet’s.)

“So you say,” Lord Vicens began.

Miss Khan said to him, “You are taking no responsibility, Rowan, remember?” Turning deliberately back to Chrestomanci, she went on, “In that case—if you are prepared to look positively on our work—may we offer you a tour of our premises? I think you and your colleagues will find it very interesting.”

Janet grinned.

“Better late than never,” Chrestomanci murmured. “What do you say, Eric?”

“I’d like that,” Cat said.

 

Life in the Castle went on much as usual thereafter. Julia began having lessons with Milly on mirror magic, which she seemed to enjoy very much. Cat made occasional visits to Twelve E to observe the progress of the work at RIVE; he brought Roger and Joe with him more than once, having concluded that it was well within their field of expertise. Sometimes Janet came along too, and during the more technical visits she made a habit of going out for couff and cake with Mally, exchanging gossip, among other topics of discussion, on the latest news of the various Dear Replacements which Janet now heard through the various Castle employees throughout the Series.

A month or more had passed by the time Janet made up her mind to talk to Chrestomanci. The obvious way to do it would have been to request a moment of his time while at dinner or on the way to church, but she couldn’t resist having a bit of fun. That morning as the six of them were eating breakfast, she said to Julia with rather exaggerated clarity, “You know, I’ve been thinking that I’d like to talk to Chrestomanci sometime soon.”

“Have you,” said Julia, beginning on her third cup of cocoa.

“Oh, hello, Dad,” said Roger.

Chrestomanci was standing in the doorway, complete with dressing gown of the day. “Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Janet, is there something I can do for you?”

“Could I have a few minutes of your time?” Janet asked, because it didn’t pay to hesitate.

“Certainly. Now?”

Janet followed him down the hallway, after a quick farewell clasp of hands with Julia under the table. His dressing gown was a vaguely Japanesque pattern of vermilion and purple parasols and golden clouds, which she wouldn’t have cared to swear were not drifting across the fabric at their own pace. It took some effort, once they were ensconced in his study, to take her attention from them.

“I’ve been thinking about what I should be doing next,” she began carefully. “I’m eighteen. Back in Twelve B, I’d be thinking about university.”

“That is certainly an option for you here too, if you are interested.”

“I might be. But I mean—where I should be, here.” Janet swallowed. “Breaking the blood spell—what the Dear Replacements and I did? That was awfully exciting, but I was just an ingredient. I was the iron in the blood,” she found herself adding. “Needed, but not…Next time I want to be one of the people storming the castle.”

The corners of Chrestomanci’s mouth twitched. “I’m not sure I would describe it quite so heroically.”

Janet grinned back at him. “Still. I want to do something, not just be—the raw material. That’s what Gwendolen tried to do to Cat, and what you wouldn’t let her do to me, isn’t it? And I can’t do it magically, I’m just never going to be a witch, that was never on the cards. I need to work out what else I can do.”

Chrestomanci leaned back thoughtfully, making the clouds on his dressing gown shift again. “I hope you know, of course, that you always have a place at the Castle if you want it. And in this case I mean not just as your home, but as your workplace. Magic is not in fact a required qualification.”

“What could I do, though?”

“You are,” said Chrestomanci, “a born organizer. A coordinator, a synthesizer if you will—someone capable of identifying a problem, working out a course of action, and motivating the people you need to get it done. If nothing else, this last set of events should make it clear why these are talents that the Castle values. I don’t need to tell you that Cat feels the same way, of course.” He smiled at her, and Janet found herself smiling back without meaning to.

“I have one or two other associates who move between worlds,” he went on, “whom you might enjoy working with while you think about the long term. You know Tacroy—Mordecai Roberts, of course, but I am not sure you’ve met my factor in Series Seven. Grant—Conrad Tesdinic, that is.”

How many names have these people got, Janet wondered, and remembered Cat mentioning one day, more or less apropos of nothing, that it was in the garden that Chrestomanci had first called him Cat instead of Eric; brought to mind also the row of girls’ school stories, read and reread until the sun-faded covers hung by threads, on Milly’s shelf. Calling one out of one’s name seemed to be the highest standard of affection in Chrestomanci’s calendar.

“If you were interested,” Chrestomanci went on, sounding—uncertain?”

“Oh! Sorry, I was thinking about something else. Yes, I might be interested, at least—I’d like the chance to see different worlds.” To find more patterns that she might be able to follow; innovations, like the virtue engineers. “And—to be able to come home here again.”

Chrestomanci, who had risked his own life and Cat’s to protect hers in the garden, who never looked at her as if she was a lesser being because she wasn’t a witch. Milly, at whose banked fire of magic Janet had warmed her hands and her heart many times. Cat, who protected her in affairs of magic and looked up to her in ordinary life and forgave her for not being Gwendolen. Marianne, who read Janet’s stories and let Janet read her own. Roger and Joe and the everyday companionship of siblings. Michael and Bernard and Henrietta and the other adults who would sit down with her whenever she needed to know something about Italian idioms or futures trading or cross-magical coalitions or so many other things. Julia, who was hard to look at straight on these days because she kept flickering among best friend and sister and something else altogether.

“I don’t know if I belong here in Twelve A,” she said finally, “but I belong to the Castle. That’s a good place to start.” I belong to Chrestomanci Castle! sang a choir of furniture voices in her head. But furniture couldn’t leave under its own volition. Or come back.

“I look forward,” said Chrestomanci, “to seeing what you will bring home to us.”