Anthea said that she wanted to take Conrad clothes shopping before he left. But she also kept glancing at her husband where he stood surrounded by policemen, sorcerers, and special investigators. She bit her lip and pulled at her thumb as Robert shrank into himself and looked more and more wilted. Finally Conrad told her that Robert needed her more than he did, and that Gabriel de Witt was in a hurry to get home with his wards, and that anything she bought would look out of place in Series Twelve anyway. She wasn't hard to persuade. And that was how Conrad ended up arriving at Chrestomanci Castle without so much as a plastic bag full of clean underwear.
Only that made it sound easy, like he had arrived in a twinkle of magic, and it wasn't. It was magic, Conrad supposed, but it wasn't easy. Mostly it involved a lot of walking. Conrad had not thought he would ever hate mountain climbing, but there it was. When they at last came out of the dripping steep place and through the garden, the only thing he could think as he looked at the castle's long arcades and the turrets twinkling with mist in the twilight was, Oh God, not stairs.
There were stairs, and then there was a corridor, and then there was a room, and the room had a bed in it, which was all Conrad was prepared to notice at that point. He woke up with the first gray light of dawn seeping through the window.
He almost leapt out of bed—he was late!—before he remembered where he was, and where he wasn't. There were no shoes to collect, no tables to set, nothing to fold, nothing to polish. Conrad grinned. He was going tolike Chrestomanci Castle. He turned over and went back to sleep.
The sun was up—barely—when he awoke the second time. He closed his eyes again, but it was no use. All of his recent early rising had clearly ruined him for better things. He got up.
It was a large room, without many furnishings. A bureau in one corner, some shelves against the opposite wall, and a chair. Folded neatly—the word lovingly came to mind—on the chair was a pile of clothes. They weren't the cream and green of his Stallery uniform, nor the mustard of his mother's sweater. The jacket and pants were a rich greyish blue, and the shirt was glitteringly white. The fabric of them felt nearly alive as he held them up, warm and soft and sort of slithery. They were Christopher's. Nobody else's clothes could feel like that.
They fit all right after Conrad turned up the pants and the sleeves. It was better than yesterday's torn and travel-stained clothes, even if they hadn't been ridiculous to begin with. There was nothing to be done but shove his feet into his Stallery shoes, though. Conrad frowned down at them. They were spattered with mud, and probably a poor match for the suit he was wearing. But he had never had an eye for that sort of thing, even at home. Anthea had taken care of it for him when he was small, and after she left he had worn whatever came to hand, and got sent home with notes from the Headmistress when it didn't fit.
It was all the spells on the castle that were setting his teeth on edge. That, and the quiet. Stallery at this hour would be bustling with activity, clattering with cooks, frothing with maids. And so too was Chrestomanci Castle, probably, but not where Conrad could hear it. He let himself out into the corridor to have a look around.
What there was to see in the corridor: a thick green carpet. A series of doors like the one he had just let himself out of. And, hanging on the handle of the last door, a battered white silk neckcloth.
Conrad tried not to scowl. It was thoughtful of Christopher, really. He knew that Conrad would be lost and needing a friend—he knew what it was like to wake up in a world where you could not even be sure of the geography. But Christopher always seemed to carry on anyhow. Christopher meant well, and Christopher did well, but Conrad could see that if he didn't do something for himself soon, he would spend the next six years running at Christopher's heel.
Conrad almost made up his mind to ignore the invitation and continue exploring down the staircase at the far end of the corridor. But when he reached the last door, he stopped, and thought again, and walked into Christopher's room.
There was a spell on the castle that muffled your footsteps, and another one that kept the doors from squeaking. It must have made it difficult to stomp off and slam the door behind you after a screaming row, but it made it easy to walk into a room properly. There was no sound, and Christopher didn't stir.
Despite all the time they'd shared a bedroom, this was the first time Conrad had seen Christopher asleep. It would have seemed more fair if he slept with his mouth open, and drooled, or snored—although that Conrad would have noticed already—but in fact he slept as beautifully as he did everything else. One arm, in striped silk pajamas, lay on the pillow next to his head. His hair was beginning to grow out of its expensive cut, and curled at the ends.
Conrad wasn't sure how long he stood by the door like a living piece of furniture. Like Conrad, Christopher woke with a guilty start, but unlike Conrad, he didn't seem glad when he realized he was home. His face went blank, and the air began to crackle like the air before a thunderstorm. He sat up and looked around the room, getting blanker and cracklier all the time. Conrad thought, furniture, and Christopher's eyes slid right over him. Mr. Amos would have been proud.
Christopher got out of bed, and Conrad said, "Good morning," and had the pleasure of seeing Christopher jump.
"Grant!" said Christopher. "Good God! What are you doing?"
"Sorry—" Conrad stammered. He hadn't meant to begin by apologizing, but after all, he had just walked into Christopher's bedroom. He might at least have knocked.
"I should hope so!" said Christopher. "I don't know how you do it in Series Seven, but there's no excuse for treating a defenseless charvet collar that way. It fastens here. It turns down like that. And I realize the sleeves are too long, but haven't you ever fastened a French cuff before?"
Conrad had to laugh. He ought to have been annoyed, but having Christopher fuss with his clothes was . . . nice. His fingers were quick and clever, and when they grazed Conrad's skin, at the wrist and neck, little hairs stood up all along his arms. "Most of what you told my uncle Amos was lies," said Conrad, "but when you said that looking after clothes and keeping secrets were what you did best, that was the truth, wasn't it?"
"It wasn't lies," said Christopher, with a little crackle of annoyance. "It was misdirection. But yes."
"Can you keep this one?" said Conrad.
Christopher's eyes lit with curiosity. His lips formed the w of what, but the word was never spoken. Conrad stopped it with his mouth.
Christopher's mouth was warm and tasted of sleep, and his eyes were wide and bright and astonished, and his fingers on Conrad's arms were no longer fiddling, but frankly clutching. Conrad was no longer puzzled by how much time Anthea and Robert, or Hugo and Felice, spent kissing. He wanted to go on doing this forhours.
But Christopher broke for breath. "Grant," he gasped, slightly hoarse. When Christopher called him Grant inthat voice, Conrad didn't mind it at all.
Conrad raised a hand to touch Christopher's hair—he was itching to know how it felt—and Christopher bent his head to go for seconds on kisses, when there was a knock at the door.
"Drat," hissed Christopher. Conrad felt a spell take hold as Christopher's hands left him, and when he looked at his feet he couldn't see them. But that was no use against magicians, and Conrad had got the impression that anyone in the castle was likely to be at least that. He backed up against the wall and thought furniture.
He could see out of the corner of his eye that Christopher had opened the door, and was talking to someone. The muffling spells on the castle, and the other person's quiet way of speaking, meant that Conrad couldn't hear what they said.
"Thank you," said Christopher blandly. "Isn't it lovely to be home? One feels that one has been so missed."
Conrad realized that even with a pile of silver to polish, or after finding Millie and then losing her again, he had never seen Christopher really miserable. This was what he sounded like when he was. Thoroughly miserable, and angry with it. The air crackled like anything.
The other person spoke again. Conrad still couldn't make out words, but he had heard the voice before, dry and quietly furious. It was Gabriel de Witt. Not all the crackling was coming from Christopher. And the muffling spells were clearly not just because someone on the castle staff liked things to be stately. The amount of hostility the two nine-lived enchanters were pouring out at each other would have brought any ordinary building down by now.
It wouldn't help Christopher's case to be caught with Conrad in his room. And Conrad wasn't in trouble with Gabriel de Witt yet, and fervently hoped never to be. But he would rather have faced down another Walker than stay in that room any longer.
There was a window, but it shimmered when Conrad looked at it, and he was willing to bet there were spells on it—at least, he wasn't willing to bet that there weren't. That left the door he'd come in by. There were no spells on that—just Chistopher and Gabriel de Witt.
Hurry, thought Conrad, but never look like you're in a hurry. Be unobtrusive, but don't look like you're skulking . . . He detached himself from the wall and made his silent way across the room. Three steps, and he could see Gabriel de Witt as well as hear him, skinny arms folded across his chest, tufty eyebrows drawn down over his nose. Furniture, thought Conrad desperately. Furniture, furniture.
Gabriel de Witt bit off a rebuke, dry and searing as a forest fire. Christopher drawled a sarcastic response, slim and elegant as a garrote. They were entirely focused on each other. Conrad slid past them, unhurried, unobtrusive, and didn't dare start running until he reached the stairs at the end of the corridor.
At the bottom of the stairs, he paused for breath, and his heart stopped racing, and he decided he might as well do some exploring of the castle on his own after all. He found a large elegant room full of elegant uncomfortable couches, and tried, without success, to work out what the spells on the gold-framed pictures did. Then he felt something snap, and he could see his hands, and he turned around and there was Christopher. His clothes were impeccable as always, but he had forgotten to put on shoes, and he looked rather out of breath. "Someone's going to see you if you go wandering around invisible like that," said Christopher smoothly.
Conrad scowled. Christopher had no business using that voice on him. "I didn't turn me invisible," he pointed out. "Anyway, I walked right past you. Did you see me?"
"Naturally I did. I've just been turning my room inside out looking for you because I was bored with the way the furniture was arranged. And I've been charging around the castle because I like to take a bit of exercise in the morning. And—no," said Christopher, Conrad's point catching up with him at last.
"Did Monsignor de Witt?" said Conrad.
Christopher laughed bitterly. "I feel sure he would have mentioned it if he had. He dwelt on all my other faults in such loving detail." But Christopher's bitterness was no match for Christopher's curiosity. "How did you do it, Grant?"
"Furniture," said Conrad.
Christopher laughed, a real one this time, and Conrad smiled too. It was going to be all right. He was going to like it at Chrestomanci Castle.
"Oh, and about your question," said Christopher, looking around the room. But there was nobody else there, invisible or otherwise.
"Yes?" said Conrad.
Christopher bent and kissed Conrad on the neck, right below his ear. "As long as you like," he whispered.