"Watch this."

He obliges, guilty with anticipation, as the water swirls in slow, steady waves. Manek surreptitiously nudges the table a little harder and the glass itself starts to teeter dangerously. Liir thinks of telling Five next to him, who is casting sidelong glances at the last pasty and sighing well if you must insist, but too late: with a decisive drive of his foot, Manek succeeds.

All heads turn as their guest leaps up with a shriek, a shining splash arcing towards her. The beaker shatters, a chair overturns, Killyjoy yelps excitedly: chaos. Three clucks apologetically, bustling off to fetch a broom and dustpan while the rest of the sisters snigger into their palms. Manek and Irji snort knowingly and Nor cackles with unbridled glee; even Sarima has to bite back a smile. Auntie Guest simply glowers and crossly bats away Six's half-hearted attempts to dab at her dress.

Yet the air still reverberates with the naked terror he saw slicing across her features. If even someone as fearlessly barbed as she shies away from water, what hope can there be for weak, frightened Liir? Liir, who runs from spiders; Liir, who slinks around the castle in fear of Manek's blows; Liir, who tosses sleepless on his pallet and imagines all sorts of creatures in the dark corners. Manek's taunting words echo in his ears: Auntie Witch is your mother. He reaches out tentatively to the small pool of water slowly dissipating into the stained tablecloth, but his finger retracts damply unscathed. He suddenly feels very small and tired, and, like a lost child, he begins to cry.

"Stop snivelling, stupid boy," Auntie Guest snaps venomously, reinstated at the head of the table. He wishes then that someone would throw a bucket of water at the old Witch.