Work Header

Janet's Phantom

Work Text:

Janet was like a character straight out of Tonino's favourite fantasy novels. She'd never even thought magic could be real until she'd been stolen out of her world and into his.

Of course, Tonino made her sit and tell him everything about where she came from. In return, he told her about Caprona.

"Okay, for match makers, we use the newspaper," Janet said one sunny day over lunch. The other children were occupied with their own conversations.

"How does a newspaper find you someone?" asked Tonino. He took a bite of the English food that was served at every meal. Today's specialty was a sandwich, cold meats and white bread. He was getting used to it. His mother would make English dishes from time to time so it wasn't completely alien, but he wasn't sure he liked it when it wasn't a sometimes meal. If it wasn't between two slices of bread, it was boiled, and they'd tried to feed him solid blood the other night.

"Wait!" said Tonino. "I want to guess first. Before you tell me."

Janet nodded and waited, eating her sandwich. Tonino had decided to learn this way. For every bit he could guess on his own, he rewarded himself another secret point. Secretly, he felt it impressed Janet too. He liked impressing Janet. She had been so nice to him in the first year he'd come, all shy and nervous. And each year he came back she was always happy to see him, and his confidence had gotten better and better. Now he could ask her about her world and not even be worried she'd tell him to hush and go play like a little kid. He was only up to her shoulder, but he was sure she saw him as older.

"If they cannot have a match maker brew a potion for them to see someone to love, or buying enchanted folding paper to make birds to fly to their loves, and newspapers are for reporting news… the lonely person is put on the front page like a missing person! For people to find!" Tonino guessed and grinned. He'd cracked it.

"You are so close," said Janet. "So close."

Tonino awarded himself a half point.

Janet's world was a perfect fantasy. It was so different! Tonino was amazed that a world so different could create someone as relatable to him as Janet. But it turned out their worlds had something in common he'd never expected.

It all started when Janet saw the ghost. Tonino tried not to take it personally, but he did.

Tonino found out by chance. Well, by spying. He didn't mean to spy. He'd wanted to talk to Janet and play more of their game. And she'd spent all of breakfast whispering with Julia. Then lessons happened, so his first chance was during break. But Janet had run off, so naturally Tonino followed.

Janet went to Chrestomanci's office and Tonino waited outside. He didn't mean to hear Janet and Chrestomanci's voices so clearly but she hadn't closed the door.

"Sir," said Janet formally, "there was a ghost in my room last night."

Tonino frowned. How did Janet know what a ghost was? Those were magic. But then he relaxed - Janet read so many books, like him, that she must have encountered them there.

"In your room?" said Chrestomanci's mild voice.

There was a sound of a chair being sat in.

"It was a woman. I woke up when I heard a noise and there she was at the end of my bed and I could see myself through the mirror behind her. I didn't know what to do and I thought, just once maybe we should tell an adult before the fairy world invades or a witch tries to sacrifice you," said Janet.

"Very wise," Chrestomanci said drily. "It was probably the Reading Woman. I don't know why she was in your room since she keeps to the library, but there is an established gentlewoman ghost on the premises. The Castle's quite old, people do have an unfortunate habit of dying as time goes on."

"Are you sure?" said Janet.

"Yes, I wouldn't worry. Thank you for trying to keep me from being sacrificed, Janet," said Chrestomanci.

Janet made an uncertain noise and walked out, nearly into Tonino.

Tonino felt a burst of guilt for eavesdropping, but Janet didn't look upset as she looked him in the eye.

"Did you hear that?" she said to him.

Tonino nodded.

She grabbed his shoulders and hissed.

"She didn't have a book."

Janet had decided to take matters into her own hands.

"I need help," said Janet, hunting a stray piece of fish down with a fork. "I'm performing an investigation."

Tonino opened his mouth to say he'd love to volunteer, but before he could get the words out, Julia spoke.

"Hm, about what?" said Julia.

"I need to get a look at a ghost that lives here. To make sure of something," said Janet.

"I'll help!" said Tonino quickly this time, before someone else could offer before him. Janet shot him a smile.

"Which ghost?" said Julia. "They don't all show up at the same time. Or do the same things."

Cat looked deeply uncomfortable. Tonino wondered if it was their own experience with spirits when that horrible man had kidnapped them that Cat was remembering. Or wait, Tonino remembered, Cat told him once he'd seen his dead selves once. Perhaps ghosts weren't Cat's favourite subject.

Tonino wondered what book Janet had read about ghosts in and what new facts he could tell her.

"Your father called her the Reading Woman," said Janet. She caught the piece of fish and ate it without mercy.

"Oh, her. She's all right. She shows up in the library after midnight. That's too late for me," said Julia. "I don't really like looking in on them."

"I'm out too, sorry, Janet," said Roger. "It's just not that interesting."

"I can't," said Cat. "I've got practice in the morning, I can't sleep in." Tonino wondered how truthful Cat was being. But Marianne and Klartch nodded as Cat said it.

"I'm doing the same lesson as Cat," said Marianne. "But you should be fine. All you're doing is going in and glancing around, yes?"

"I didn't even know the Castle had ghosts," said Janet, "and it's all commonplace for all of you."

Joe, the last one to pipe up, spoke cheerfully. "Well, they're a bit embarrassing to talk about, dead who won't go away. And they don't really do anything but the same thing on the same schedule. Of course you wouldn't have seen them. How often do you go to the library after midnight?"

"One only shows up every five years, the phantom cats like to run around corners and you can't really tell them from the real ones. It's nothing bad that you didn't know, Janet," said Julia, reaching over to squeeze Janet's fingers. "Why are you interested?"

"I just need to check something," said Janet. "And if you're all too busy except Tonino, I'll do it myself. With him."

Tonino nodded vigorously.

To Tonino's heartbreak, Janet had not learned about ghosts from a book. She'd learned about it from her own world. Her world was a little too real after all.

"A ghost isn't magic, Tonino," said Janet as they walked the halls, lit only by the moonlight and the artificial light from Janet's torch. She swung her torch around every corner before she dared walk down it. "It's… it's a person. A dead person."

"It is too!" said Tonino. He winced, he sounded whiny. "You told me your world had none at all."

"It doesn't," said Janet. "But ghosts aren't magical, they're just scary. And stop going ahead of me, I don't want it to get me when I'm alone!"

Tonino stayed close to her. He might be heartbroken, but he was a gentleman. And the halls were oddly quiet and creepy so late at night.

However. He felt a deep sense of affront that his notions of Janet's world had been shaken up so deeply. Janet didn't seem to notice.

Sometimes Tonino forgot how large Chrestomanci Castle was, and going through it after hours with just a torch in hand seemed to make it even larger. This corridor was the fourth they'd gone down. Fortunately for Tonino's growing unease in the dark, it wasn't long before they reached the library.

Tonino was keeping an eye out, for both Janet's ghost and the ghost cats that had been mentioned over lunch. He hadn't even noticed them before! For a moment he was sure he saw something glowing dart around a corner. He was going to run after, until he remembered his obligations to Janet's safety. Affront or no.

"Maybe she was just passing through?" said Tonino. He decided he couldn't blame Janet for her world not being a perfect fantasy world. It was time to mend bridges.

"No, she very definitely was giving me the eye. I'm going to find her and tell her that she's not welcome in my bedroom. And we're almost to the library, so if she's indeed the 'Reading Woman', that's where Julia said she'd be. I'm just like Sherlock Holmes, Tonino, I know how to solve a mystery."

"Who?" Tonino asked.

"Uh, a fantasy detective," said Janet. She stopped and looked up.

They'd reached the doors of the library. Janet grabbed Tonino's hand in a squeeze, then creaked the doors open. Tonino was realizing that maybe he should have asked Julia privately to reconsider and join them, even if he got annoyed that Janet ignored him when Julia was around.

These were not the thoughts of a hero, however. And who was afraid of ghosts? It wasn't as if it would be anything new.

Tonino stood up straight, his head reaching all the way to Janet's shoulder, and walked in.

The room temperature dropped five degrees instantly. Janet gasped. Tonino did not; he was used to this when there was a ghost about. His great great great great grand uncle, Dante Montana, always made winter mornings that much more unpleasant when he'd go by on his final walk every January.

There at the central table, as Julia had said, was a woman. She was bent over a book, turning the pages. In her back was a knife. She turned and looked at them, nodded in greeting, then returned her gaze to the ghostly book in front of her.

Janet gripped Tonino's hand so hard it hurt.

"That wasn't the woman in my room."

Now the adults were involved. A ghost was one thing. A dead person no one knew about was something else entirely.

Tonino kept glancing up from his book to watch Janet, face deep in concentration, trying to recall more about the woman she'd seen for the enchanted quill drawing a portrait of the uneasily deceased.

"Her hair was up. Except some bits around her neck. And she had… a pointy nose. She was looking down it at me. And she was all Edwardian like the rest of you."

Tonino put his nose back in his book before Janet saw him watching her.

Julia was waiting beside Tonino. She'd insisted on coming to help Janet out in her time of need now that it was serious.

"I guess I thought she was an old ghost because of her clothes, but when when you're tired you forget everyone dresses old fashioned…" Janet continued. Julia snorted, and Janet shot her a bright smile. "Well, it wasn't fancy like yours. I got confused."

Tonino frowned at his book.

The police constable, a minor warlock on the force sent there to operate the sketching quill, showed her the drawing. Janet nodded.

"That's her! That's who was in my room."

"I bet Gwendolen did her in," chimed in Julia. "When she couldn't get Cat one night. She's under your bed."

"That's not funny!" said Janet.

Tonino rose to agree with her, but stopped when he realized Janet was laughing, despite what she said.

"Gwendolen?" asked the constable.

"I'll fill you in," said Millie. "Is that all you need Janet for?"

"Oh yes. We'll start the search of the grounds immediately, and send out a missing persons," said the constable. "And I'll take that filling in."

"Well, she was our ward…" began Millie, leading off the constable, leaving the children to their own devices.

"I expect we're not allowed to go searching," said Julia. "It'll warp our minds. And, I suppose, we'll get in the way of the authorities."

"In my world," said Janet, starting up Tonino's favourite game, "children solve mysteries all the time. We could do that."

"Or we could play checkers," said Julia. "There's no bodies in checkers."

The day continued with lessons, drifting into discussion of what grisly crime might be on the grounds. Julia reveled in creating new scenarios until Cat pleaded with her to stop. The whole time, Tonino thought to himself what must be done next, and what a hero would do. And how scared Janet must be!

When night came, Tonino snuck to Janet's room to tell her that he'd help her look. He was just in time to catch her climbing out the window in day clothes.

"Wait for me!" he whispered.

Searching was fruitless. They'd gone back and forth on the grounds in the dark and all they'd gotten for it was some night insect biting Tonino's neck. Despite this, the night had not been a waste of time in his eyes.

When the moon was high above them, they spotted a mass near the end of the garden.

"That's it!" hissed Janet. "We found where they disposed of her!"

"You sound like Julia," answered Tonino, but he he ran forward with her anyway. There were no police tracks around this part that they could see in the moonlight. His blood chilled. They might really have found her.

However, it turned out to merely be leftover pots from gardening making odd shadows in the night.

"You know," said Janet, as she toed a pot in disappointment, although Tonino fancied he could hear some relief in her voice, "Sherlock Holmes would have figured this out in the first night. He'd have gone, oh, look at the cut of her dress, that must mean she's from 42 Dreary Lane and she came here on the 6 o'clock train and so on until she ended up under the gazebo."

"All that from the dress?"

"Sherlock Holmes was amazing."

"Are you sure he didn't use magic?" asked Tonino, as they walked away from the pots to continue his search.

"It was all his amazing mind. There were others, like Miss Marple who could figure out who did it simply because they reminded her of someone she knew at her village. And…" Janet told Tonino about all sorts of thrilling fantasy detectives from her world as they looked. Tonino was beginning to consider life as a detective instead of a hero. He was still young, he had time to learn.

Eventually they stopped to rest on a stone bench in the garden. The garden was filled with a thin mist and the chill was working its way through Tonino's clothes. Tonino edged closer to Janet. She put an arm around him.

"Cold? You know, in my world," said Janet, legs crossed up on the bench, "mysteries are fun and only last the hour it takes for them to be solved on television."

Tonino yawned.

"Are they just easy to solve?" he asked.

"No, it's just writing. It's all writing. It's not real. I don't know how long it takes when it's real. The papers are always full of police solved this, police solved that, it's all tidy now. But I guess there's also ‘manhunt continues’." The night was coming to an end. They were destined to get into trouble, but Tonino had gotten to spend the entire night with Janet exploring the grounds and he'd loved it.

The gardens were beautiful in the dawn. Fingers of light lit up the green grass and fall foliage. The rising sun glistened off the dew drops left on the grass, and lit up the see-through figure of the woman at the entrance to the garden.

Both children leapt to their feet and ran at her as if it were possible to tackle a ghost. Tonino didn't stop to think about this.

Instead of disappearing, the woman turned and bolted.

That was when Tonino saw she was leaving footprints in the grass.

"Get her!" he cried, pumping his little legs as he chased her. Janet, longer-limbed and a bit of an athlete, overtook him easily. But the real winner of the chase was the dawn-wet grass, sending the woman head over heels, the two children landing on her right after.

"I'd felt an incursion, but I thought it was something else entirely," said Chrestomanci. He had just walked into the foyer from resetting the security for the Castle. The not-a-ghost was sitting on the couch, under close guard until the constabulary arrived.

Tonino and Janet's punishment was unintentional, but effective and swift: They had to sit and explain what had happened over and over instead of being allowed to go to bed. They were soon slurring their words, heads nodding, by the time Chrestomanci made his appearance to the party. Mercifully, Chrestomanci did not ask them to explain yet again and instead sat in front of the not-a-ghost woman.

"You're so lucky she didn't hurt you," said Millie. They hadn't come out of it with anything worse than grass stains, but Millie was keeping an eye on them nonetheless. Tonino was glad she cared, but it made him feel like he'd been naughty at the same time.

Tonino hoped they got to stay up until the police arrived, so they could be congratulated on catching a criminal. A bit of credit would be nice! So far the adults had only told them they were foolhardy, or dismissed the catch as luck. Luck!

What they'd done had taken pure guts. Tonino said as much to Janet, who nodded.

"I'm sure your mother wouldn't be thinking that if she'd known what you were going to do, Tonino," said Millie, overhearing them.

"We're all right, really," said Janet. Tonino put a brave face on.

"Only because the Castle sent an alarm when you started fighting her!" said Millie. She gave the children cups of water. Tonino gulped his down; all the explaining was dry business. Millie put them in chairs, but to Tonino's glee didn't make them go. Janet was drooping hard from the lack of sleep, but Tonino was already preparing his police statement in his head. Janet could nap on his shoulder.

Millie glanced venomously at the woman. "Sneaking into a child's room like that. She's lucky we're just arresting her. Back home…"

"Now," said Chrestomanci to the woman and looked her somewhere around the eye. An easy task now. With a gesture he'd wiped the spell of invisibility - already in tatters from the Castle's defenses - on her clean away.

"They tell me you're keeping your own counsel on what you were doing following around my ward."

The woman glared at him.

Chrestomanci smiled in his vague way. "I would appreciate an explanation before I decide on what your punishment for misuse of shadowing magic will be."

It had turned out, in the end, to be Gwendolen's fault.

"It was for business," said the woman, "Chant's old teacher told us that she knew some clever little tricks. There's nothing wrong with wanting to learn, is there? Or is this not a free country?"

"My Castle is not a free country, no," said Chrestomanci. He steepled his fingers. "Why now?"

"They saw you in the village. Knew you weren't gone," said the woman, giving Janet an acid look.

Janet shuddered. "I'm really not her. She's horrid and she's gone." Tonino reached up to hold Janet's hand comfortingly. He couldn't imagine having an evil double. He wondered what the Toninos in other worlds were like. Well-behaved, he hoped.

"That useless little girl," the woman said, arms crossed and sullen. "If she'd just said she wasn't Chant! I would have gone right on my way."

She wasn't as scary now as she'd been as a 'ghost.' Her outfit was cheap material, her hair was scraggly, and her nose was indeed very pointy now that she could be seen clearly. She hadn't tried to hurt Tonino and Janet when they'd tackled her, unless you counted thrashing for freedom beneath them.

"You know," said Chrestomanci mildly, "that doesn't sound quite like you've excused going into her room at night to spy. To us, that is. I'm sure it works for you. And I'll appreciate an explanation of the how, now that I have the why, as feeble as it is."

"No one should have even seen me. It's an invisibility charm I made, get in, get out. Your bloody castle made a mess of it," said the woman sulkily, sinking down into the couch. "I wasn't causing any trouble. I was just trying to do business." She picked at the cloth over her knee.

"Alas, that was not the case. I'd like to hear more about the people who told you about Gwendolen's skills, hm?" said Chrestomanci, then glanced over his shoulder at Tonino and Janet.

"And you two can go to sleep, I'm sure your night has been long enough."

Tonino pouted, his police plans scattered to the wind and made his way up to bed, escorted by one of the adults to make sure that he and Janet didn't escape on another adventure.

"Well, I don't think you would have felt all that great if you had found a body," said Julia, kinging one of Janet's pieces the next day when Janet had finally slept enough that she felt prepared to rejoin the world. "It's not as fun as it is in books."

"I knew I didn't smell one," said Klartch.

"You might have eaten it," teased Roger.

Klartch looked shifty, an interesting expression on a griffin.

"Well," said Janet, hopping her king to take another of Julia's pieces, "I had my loyal little friend with me to help if anything had gone wrong."

Tonino beamed. And he had enjoyed their adventure. With Janet, he'd been like a hero in one of his books: she had no magic for him to amplify, so together they were normal children with nothing but their wits to go on. And she'd relied on him! She might spend most of her time with Julia, talking and holding hands, but that night he'd been the one she needed.

And that made for a happy thought to go on.