Title: Rites of Passage
Date: January 9, 2008
Disclaimer: I make no claim to any of Diana Wynne Jones' characters, her storyline, or her overall universe. I do not write for compensation; I do not hold any copyrights; this is purely a hobby that I pursue for personal pleasure.
Authors Note: I'm not quite sure why I wrote this… it seemed like a good idea at the time. There aren't very many Chrestomanci stories ff-net, so I'm not really expecting a large readership. But it was fun to write and a good deal lighter than anything else I've written lately, so please enjoy. Oh, and although the main storyline itself revolves around the day when Christopher becomes Chrestomanci, there are various sub-stories that are provided as background throughout.
Part One: It Begins in the Rain
It was, truth be told, perhaps the worst handover ever—if you excluded, of course, that unfortunate incident with a rampaging dragon and that greedy half-breed warlock some hundred and twenty years ago. They should have just followed father's advice, Christopher would muse to himself years afterlater the fact. He wasn't famous for his horoscopes for nothing. But hindsight is always twenty-twenty, and he would sternly remind himself that at least everything turned out all right in the end—or at least it was close enough for government work.
It was impossible that the mishaps could have come from a lack of proper prior planning. Quite the opposite in fact. Even if Gabriel de Witt's mind had indeed begun to wander, Christopher was certain that Miss Rosalie had exhaustively calculated every minute detail and charted every probability than anyone could have possibly conceived. But even a studious a hand as hers could have neglected to factor in the improbable chance that against the odds, that which was statistically impossible could in fact occur.
It was an early Monday morning—chilly, dreary, overcast. But the clouds hiding the sun from view and the wind rustling through the autumn foliage also blanketed the Castle in a sort of, well, cloudy cover, and with the help of a strong weather spell, they shielded it from prying eyes that had no right to witness the ceremony that would ensue. Or at least that was what they told Christopher when he grumbled loudly about going out into the melancholy drizzle.
The ceremony had to be outside. They'd been very firm about this as well. "As old as it may appear," Flavian Temple had said in that certain lecturing tone of his, "Chrestomanci Castle was not always the seat of the position you're about to assume." Christopher made no effort to stifle a yawn as he stared vaguely in the general direction of his teacher. "The office used to reside on the outskirts of London in a quaint two-story manor." Flavian paused, as if to see whether his pupil was still awake. "I visited the site myself several years back. Unfortunately nothing remains of the original structure, and there were only the slightest remnants of old magic still clinging to the land."
Christopher, despite himself, pulled his mind back from its wanderings and found himself inquiring, "old magic?"
Flavian smiled faintly. Dealing with Christopher over the years had taught him a thing or two about the boy's mental wheels, and he'd learned exactly which buttons to push when he needed the other's attention. It was difficult, though not as much of the Castle staff thought, impossible. "Some of the oldest magic I've felt anywhere in this series," he continued in earnest. "It was as though it were rooted somewhere deep below the earth and only just managed to seep up through layers upon layers of soil and rock to ground level. It must have been terribly powerful back when it was first set."
Christopher was well aware that Flavian had only mentioned the manor near London because he knew how interested Christopher was in old, perhaps forgotten magic, but he allowed himself to be drawn into the story because his teacher could be a surprisingly good story-teller given the right topic and audience. "Go on," he prompted just to show he was listening.
"I was curious to discover where this magic was rooted and how it had remained there all those centuries, so I returned after sundown and poked around a bit in the nearby houses and gardens." He pressed his lips together as though slightly annoyed at having to admit he—a government employee—had trespassed around other peoples' property. "It took me a good while, but eventually I found the spot where that feeling of old magic was the strongest, and when I stood out on the grass, it was almost as though I could sense the presence of all the Chrestomancis back even before the post was an official government office."
They'd been interrupted at this point by the entrance of Bertha with a tray of tea and biscuits, and as Christopher had absentmindedly squeezed a wedge of lemon into his, he tried to sort out in his mind what this information really meant. "So somehow all those enchanters are still connected with that spot in the ground?" he asked inquisitively, knowing even as he spoke it that this wasn't quite right.
"Well, no," Flavian replied with a slight frown. "And that's the odd part." He added milk and sugar to his cup. "They definitely weren't connected there at that moment, and I knew that some of them had in fact never even set foot there at all." He stirred the caramel-colored liquid with a delicate silver spoon. "There were, you know, other places between that manor and this castle where Chrestomancis lived."
Christopher sighed inwardly, looking somewhat vague again and wishing that Flavian would simply get to the point.
"As far as I could tell, it was as though there was some sort of portal hidden deep within the earth, some portal not for transporting people or objects but rather for channeling magic from one location to another." He fished around mentally for the right word. "An amplifier perhaps, or maybe a conduit." He shrugged. "At any rate, it wasn't anything that I could draw upon no matter how hard I tried. So when I returned to Chrestomanci Castle, I immediately brought up the matter with Gabriel, and he personally went to the site to investigate."
Christopher sat up ever-so-slightly straighter in his chair. Even if he didn't particularly like the current Chrestomanci, Gabriel de Witt, he generally respected his opinion on matters of magic, and if Gabriel had deemed it necessary to put aside his daily business and see this conduit or whatever himself, it must have been something really interesting.
"What Gabriel told me when he returned was that the old manor had been build on some sort of natural magic amplifier that functioned something like a sponge—meaning that it soaked up bits of the magic that was performed on it and held onto it even centuries later. Even more amazingly, it seemed to be able to pull in magic similar to that which it had already absorbed from a considerable distance away—thus the presence of the Chrestomancis who had never lived at the manor itself." Flavian stared over at Christopher with that particularly look that seemed to say, now listen closely. "Over the next few weeks, Gabriel, goodness knows how he did it, managed to re-route some of this power into the garden here at the castle. The sponge, whatever it really is, is still soaking up traces magic down by London, but Gabriel has been able to study the magical signatures contained in its depths and rediscover some of what we've managed to forget over the years and is now passing these findings along to you."
It was all very fascinating, Christopher thought to himself as he nodded at Flavian's apparent conclusion, but what did it really mean for him? And why would Flavian bring it up on the day before the handover was slated to occur?
"So you see, then, why tomorrow's ceremony has to occur outside?" his teacher asked as if reading his charge's thoughts perfectly. "We want to be as near as possible to the origins of this position. There is the possibility that even if we don't understand the magic, it will somehow help you assume your new post with more knowledge than Gabriel can actively impart onto you."
Christopher didn't have to be a clairvoyant to know that what Flavian really mean by saying this was that he thought Christopher was too young to take over and was going to need all the help he could get. But he nodded vaguely and said simply, "Right, well that's fine."
And so for better or worse, outside it would be—outside beneath the dark clouds that were just beginning to spit rain.
The second indignity, as Christopher liked to call it, were the clothes. Drab would hardly do the attire justice, he scorned as he sullenly buttoned the coarse gray trousers and straightened the plain black cravat at his neck.
The memories of his youth, of his mother applying make-up with her maid in her bedroom before sweeping downstairs to float among the sea of bright-colored dresses and hats in the drawing room, had ingrained themselves in his mind, and as much as he detested his mother's insatiable social climbing, he had inherited an incurable taste for finely-crafted clothing, exquisite ties, and hand-crafted boots.
"Just how much is Chrestomanci paid?" Millie had asked one day with more than a touch of dismay when Christopher appeared at breakfast in a new wonderfully-soft taupe-colored suit and gold cufflinks shaped like doves in mid-flight winking from beneath his jacket sleeves. Despite her disgust at the way he wasted money on such expensive clothes, she had to admit that he was more handsome than any man had the right to be in them.
"Oh, the Castle has an expense account," he'd replied in an off-hand sort of way as he helped himself to toast and jam.
"But you're not even Chrestomanci yet," she pressed in response, determined to make him feel remorse for all his spending while she had him cornered at the table. Fortunately, none of the other castle residents had yet arrived. "What does Gabriel do, just let you buy whatever you want?"
Christopher looked across at her, his eyes focusing sharply on her face with more intensity, she realized, than he rarely gave anything else. "Something like that," he replied obtusely as he returned his knife to the table and brought the toast to his mouth.
Millie scowled. He was just insufferable sometimes. "But what of the all taxpayers? That money's not really yours to spend—"
Seeing that he wasn't going to get any peace until the matter was settled, Christopher sighed and delicately wiped the crumbs from his lips. "—Gabriel's such a spendthrift. He wouldn't part with more than he absolutely had to even if he had a private vault full of gold." He glanced sideways toward the door as if to make sure that they were indeed alone. "And actually, that's about what he has."
Millie raised an eyebrow in disbelief. "A vault of gold?"
"Well, figuratively speaking," Christopher replied. "Essentially, the Castle has an expense account for all of its daily needs or any business-related purchases, but Gabriel is also guaranteed a certain amount per year for any personal expenses he might incur. Apparently, the amount carries over from year to year but will expire when he leave office and revert back to the Ministry of Magic. Or something like that."
"So he's just letting you run down his account…" Millie murmured, still not convinced that Christopher's purchases were entirely legal.
"—I think at some level he still feels bad about holding me captive by putting my last life away that ring." Christopher laughed—a nice change, Millie thought, from his usual vague expression or sarcastic scowl. "Either that or he's just going senile faster than any of us realized." He hesitated, as though unsure of what to say next, but before he could open his mouth again, voices approached from beyond the door, and Conrad and Jason appeared, deep in conversation about some sort of magical herb.
"Looks like the two lovebirds beat us to breakfast," Jason said with a wink as they hurried over to the table. Conrad laughed, and Christopher scowled. The two had been cracking jokes ever since Christopher had asked Conrad to be his best man at the wedding next year, and he was beginning to regret that he'd ever told anyone at all. Of course, that wouldn't have been fair to Millie.
Next Elizabeth and Henrietta arrived with Bernard in tow, and the room was so filled with spirited chatter and the clink of silverware against china that neither Millie nor Christopher had the opportunity to finish the conversation they'd begun. It wasn't until much later, after the morning's lessons and lunch, that Millie was able to pull Christopher aside into one of the empty hallways and remark—"Christopher," she laced her fingers through his and smiled warmly. "Have I told you, it doesn't matter at all what you wear. You'll always be the same to me." She tried unsuccessfully to stifle a giggle. "Though you were kind of cute in that silly Improver uniform while we were in series seven…"
Christopher flinched, though a good-natured sort of flinch, and found himself laughing as well. "I could always put your bridesmaids in real maids get-ups," he remarked in a flat tone that was all seriousness.
Millie feigned offense, but she knew he was joking. "Oh, you wouldn't dare," she retorted. Christopher merely raised an eyebrow in response. Flavian found them at that point and hauled Christopher away for a lesson with Gabriel and sent Millie off in the other direction to help Elizabeth in the library. And Christopher sighed inwardly at the cruelty of their relationship—for it always seemed to be just a never-ending string of unfinished moments.
As soon as Christopher stepped outside, however, he was glad that Gabriel had insisted he dress in government-issued, dull clothes instead those of his own choosing. The sky, which had before been only threatening rain, had at last given in to storm clouds and was intermittently hurling huge drops of water onto the group of castle staff huddled miserably on the lawn below.
"About time he showed up," someone muttered from the crowd, but Christopher paid the voice no heed. He'd long since become immune to any ill-will aimed so blatantly in his direction. At the far side of the group was Gabriel de Witt himself, looking grim as ever in his severe black frock coat and top hat. The ends of his white hair were hanging down the sides of his pale face in damp squiggles, and his deep-set eyes were ringed in dark circles. He looked as though he'd aged a decade overnight.
"Good, we can begin," he said dryly as he spotted Christopher. And without another word he began to lead the party away from the Castle toward the walled garden on the far side of the grounds—or at least that was where it normally resided, though the misdirection spell was apt to send it in all manner of places. Someone held an umbrella over Christopher's head, and he looked up into the face of Mordecai Roberts—otherwise known as Tacroy. The man appeared just as grim as the others present but at the same time also managed to look encouraging down at Christopher, his eyes seeming to say, Don't worry. It's not you. We're just all annoyed with the rain.
They entered the garden without mishap, and inside its walls the rain seemed to let off a little until it just a light mist that hovered stubbornly in the air and made everything smell slightly moldy. Gabriel gazed around the crowd and in his most serious of tones began, "We are all gathered here today to begin the process of passing the office of Chrestomanci from myself to Christopher Chant." Not everyone present, Christopher noticed, seemed altogether pleased with that reality.
"As you undoubtedly know, although Chrestomanci must be a nine-life enchanter, the office itself grants certain powers to its bearer above and beyond that person's innate abilities. Therefore, while it is possible for anyone to claim the title by himself, a true Chrestomanci only becomes such when the present holder of the office willingly relinquishes the powers to him." Gabriel paused for breath, and Christopher studied his face, studied the lines and the hollows and the sheer weight that Gabriel seemed to bear. Was the office really such a heavy burden?
"We shall formally begin the transfer today, and administratively it should be complete within the year. At which point I will retire completely, and Christopher will fully become the next Chrestomanci." By the relieved expression on some of the faces, it was clear that they'd expected the transfer to occur in its entirety that morning and Gabriel to whisk himself away immediately to somewhere quiet and peaceful. I'm sure they're glad that I'll be under his thumb for another year, Christopher grumbled.
He almost missed when Gabriel started gathering magic from within himself, from within the garden, from within everyone present. Or rather, he almost missed when Gabriel began to raise his arms. He could never have missed the enormous cloud of magic that grew and grew and swirled and gathered speed as it filled the confined space within the garden and pressed impatiently at the stone walls that confined it. Although he'd been witness to quite a variety of magical displays, this one was something spectacular—quite unexpected too, given the number of surprised gasps around him.
He squeezed his eyes closed against the dust and dirt that was spinning in the air and digging into his skin as the magic whirl continued to gain speed. He hardly felt himself brining his arm up to shield his face, hardly heard one of the women in the group scream, and definitely didn't feel his feet leave the ground as he concentrated on keeping himself together in one piece. It was a complete surprise when he landed, feet first fortunately, in somewhere completely different and even more of a surprise—when the spots stopped dancing in front of his eyes and the ringing faded from his ears—to notice that wherever it was, Millie had been deposited there beside him.
End Notes: I think I wrote this piece because (1) I like younger Christopher and his character development and (2) because DWJ really don't develop Christopher and Millie's relationship or even show them acting like a couple very often. I know, of course, that she's writing for a kid/young adult audience that probably wouldn't be interested in such things, but… Anyhow, the next part should be out sometime soon.