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“You want me to conjure flowers?” I said, sounding more disgusted than I’d meant to. “Isn’t that a bit… fairground attraction? What next, rabbits out of hats?”

“Conjuring a living thing is difficult, young man,” said Nightingale sternly. “And I’m sorry if flowers offend your sense of dignity, but I haven’t forgotten what happened when you got a bit carried away with light and nearly burnt down the lab.”

A complete exaggeration, I thought, but I also admitted he might have a point.

“So, flowers. You can’t do any harm with flowers. Give it a go.”

“What kind of flowers?”

“Don’t get smart, lad.”

“OK,” I said, and attempted to visualize flowers. I wasn’t big on flowers.

I spoke the words, concentrating on the shape of the forma, and shutting my eyes so as to have a better go.

“Is that the best you can do?” said Nightingale.

I opened my eyes, and found – a sludgy mess drooping off stems.

“They look like they were flowers once,” I said defensively.

“They also smell like a compost heap gone wrong,” observed Nightingale. “Try again. Something alive, if you please.”

I shut my eyes again and spoke the words.

“I… no wonder you’re not much of a one for romance,” said Nightingale. “Still, credit where it’s due, it’s alive.”

Reluctantly, I opened my eyes, then shut them again in resignation.

I had, it seemed, conjured a fine, healthy, very prickly, cactus.

I was trying not to see it as symbolic, but Nightingale had already made the connection for me.

At least Lesley would get a laugh out of it.