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their fine incisions

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Six years after Gwendolen left her homeworld for good, dragging along seven other strangers with her face, each of them was fairly satisfied with their lives. In fact, the least happy of them was Gwendolen, who'd had to manage two assassination attempts and a coup without her magic. She lived in a structure resembling the Tower of London now, with rats for subjects and week-old bread for dinner, so perhaps Cat's choice to let her go wasn't as kind as he'd thought.

Six of the other girls were in their element, enjoying the challenges of their new lives. The seventh girl was Janet, the most displaced, and even she was usually happy. It had taken her ages to adjust to the dresses, to having a brother, and to all of the other differences of Chrestomanci's world, but she had. She was quite determined to be herself and not just Gwendolen's Dear Replacement.

She befriended Julia and the other girls who came to the Castle for lessons. She relearned geography, marveled over history, and even learned to use the small amount of magic she had. She'd never be good enough to be anything stronger than a Certified Witch, but she didn't mind. Janet's talents lay elsewhere.

She was summoned to Chrestomanci's study one day right after breakfast, pausing before the door with a lump in her throat. Years later, and she was still a little scared of her guardian sometimes. She supposed it was a combination of his suits and his vague attentions. He always seemed to be humoring you while you were delaying his important business elsewhere; the thought was disconcerting.

"The doorknob won't bite, I assure you," Chrestomanci said sardonically from within, breaking her hesitation. She pushed the door open and was surprised to notice Millie lingering behind Chrestomanci's desk. He was sitting there with a stack of letters in his hand and it seemed she had been peering over his shoulders at them. Millie smiled sweetly when Janet came in. It was odd for her to be here during meetings like this; in fact, Janet couldn't ever remember having a serious audience with them both. She really began to wonder what this summons was about.

Chrestomanci was wearing a dressing gown of vibrant pear green, with hummingbirds picked out down his shoulders. His relative informality meant nothing, however; it was just after breakfast and he'd issued many a decree without being fully dressed.

She sunk into the chair in front of the desk, clutching her fists in her lap, and she tried to be casual as she said, "You wanted to see me?"

"Ah, yes, Janet," Chrestomanci said. His eyes met Janet's for just a moment before focusing on something above her left eyebrow. Millie straightened and for a moment she rested a hand on her husband's shoulder. She was still smiling at Janet, whose mind was now moving at quite a swift speed, cataloguing all of her recent actions and trying to decide what she was in trouble for. Was it the way she'd tied up her skirts to race Cat down to the village last Wednesday? Or the name she'd called the village boy who'd tried to tease her about it?

"The cook has been somewhat concerned lately," Chrestomanci said vaguely. "Apparently some of his nicer knives have gone missing, although they have all, to my knowledge, been returned within the week, in a clean and acceptable condition."

Oh. Now Janet knew what this was about. Never a great actress, her gasp was noted by Chrestomanci, who lifted one well-groomed eyebrow.

"Further, the stableboys have been well-supplied in coin in exchange for bringing back... recently-dead animals." His mouth pursed in distaste, and this time he looked straight at Janet, who couldn't help cowering back in her chair. She always felt like a child when scolded, no matter that she was seventeen now.

"Mr. Saunders reports that he is satisfied with your schoolwork, and you don't seem more than normally distracted. You will, in fact, be graduating in a few months.

"That makes your recent actions all the more questionable, as you will be of age."

He paused, steepling his fingers and waiting for an answer. For a moment, Janet hesitated. She broke Chrestomanci's gaze, eyes wandering over the books shelved along the walls and the little wrinkle of worry between Millie's eyebrows. If she told them, that would make it real, somehow. Telling Cat hadn't counted. She hadn't expected to have this conversation until she was completely sure. Janet took a deep breath.

"I'd thought I wanted to be a veterinarian," she said, "but I think I'd rather be a doctor. I want to go to London to school after I graduate. And I have been taking care of everything. I just wanted to see how it all worked. I thought that seeing beforehand -- but squirrels aren't anything like the pictures in my biology text. And they can't tell you where it hurts."

Millie's eyes widened. "Not that I've hurt anything living!" Janet added hastily. "But I've heard that helps to diagnose. And I'd like to be thanked for fixing someone, not bitten."

"I don't suppose this is like the pony," Chrestomanci said. Janet sprang up from her chair with indignation.

"Of course not! I'm much older now, you know. I've wanted to do medicine since I was little. I used to bandage all of my friends' injuries. Sometimes imaginary ones. I mean this."

He looked at her until she sank sheepishly into the chair again. Millie said, "Nursing is a very respectable profession nowadays. Tillie North, from my boarding school, you remember, works at a hospital in Birmingham. There's a training school not far from here."

Janet blinked. "No, no, not a nurse. A doctor." A thought occured to her suddenly. "Can women be doctors here?"

There was a moment's uncomfortable silence and an icy fear filled Janet's stomach. For the first time in years, she wished she were back in her home world. There, it would only be a question of money, and not a question of principles.

"I believe that St. Mary's graduated their first female class last May. It was in the papers," Chrestomanci said.

Janet relaxed visibly. She was determined enough to fight for it, and probably would have to sometimes, but at least there was precedent. Sometimes she missed television and cars on every corner, but she'd never thought to worry about something like this. Sure, her friends were all talking about husbands instead of careers, but she'd thought that was something to do with having a boyfriend, not societal structure. She vowed to pay stricter attention to the history lessons she had remaining.

"Are you sure about this, Janet?" Millie asked, her tone uncertain. "Medical school is going to take a very long time, and it won't be easy... I read that article too, and those girls had quite a struggle just to get accepted, much less practice. And it would all go to waste when you married."

Janet shook her head fervently. "Then I won't get married. Why should I have to give up my job for a boy? They aren't that interesting."

Chrestomanci chuckled. Both women stared at him.

"A sensible point of view, I'd think," he said.

"Not one you shared at seventeen," Millie answered, and for a moment they looked at each other. Janet thought they'd suddenly forgotten she was there, and she coughed pointedly.

"That's beside the point," Chrestomanci said with great dignity. He looked back at Janet.

"Kitchen knives are nothing like doctors' knives. Which, I believe, they do try to avoid using unless it is absolutely necessary, in any case. So I'm going to ask you to stop... experimenting. The stableboys can depend on other sources of income."

Janet nodded. It wasn't too much of a sacrifice; after the first couple of creatures, she'd realized it wasn't very helpful. Maybe now that Milly knew, she'd let Janet be around when she patched up people who got injured. Even if she did it with magic, it would still be interesting.

"I'll see what I can do about your admission to St. Mary's," he continued.

"I was thinking of applying to all of the medical colleges in London," Janet said. "I thought it would be good to try several different ones. If you think it might be a problem?"

"I am sure," Chrestomanci said dryly, "that you will be more than capable of facing down any blocks in your way."

Janet grinned. He smiled, just a little. She was just as stubborn as Gwendolen, but in her it had manifested in a positive direction. Neither Janet or her guardian doubted that Janet could make it, if she were determined.

And maybe it was a little strange for this world, but she'd carved out her place. That was all she wanted.

Well, and the right to vote, but one thing at a time. Maybe she'd start working on that next year.