Well, it happened again. A story idea has managed to take hold of me, and I am powerless as it demands me to write for it. If you're wondering what it is, it's "Canary's Call," a Hunger Games fanfic in which one twist – one warning – changes the lives of the Everdeens and Panem forever. Here's a hint: Someone manages to live longer. In my defence, I'm also using that story as an experiment. I'm writing it by hand in school (which solves the problem of desperately finding time to write) in contrast to typing everything like I do for HJ. Check it out if you want; I'm really sorry for the lack of updates here.

Important announcement: All the musical one-shots I've done are now non-cannon in the HJ universe. I didn't really think them through—I did them on a whim with a huge case of writer's block. So yeah, sorry.

Kamryn- I can only write HJ infrequently, what with the school paper, my own projects, and a blog to run. To make up for it, I usually write extra long chapters (in contrast to how I and probably Ame first began, when I updated almost every day and had very short chapters) or at least something with a plot twist.

Lunaraquafy- Welcome aboard! I'm glad you're liking the HJ chapters. Since you're reading it from the beginning to now, I hope you see improvement in my writing. :)

The Month of Awakening (February) Age 11

Week 1

Uptown seemed almost like a different place that morning.

For one thing, there weren't a lot of people there; there weren't any snobs that looked down on me. At this point everyone had already heard of Elizabeth Windsor's brat that could inherit the entire family fortune, and let's just say these rich folks aren't real welcoming—made more than a little sad than Granny Leslie leaving yesterday, saying that she needed to collect April from Kiko Lake soon or my dear cousin would throw a fit. She's probably right. April's the type of girl who's always confident, snarky, and hates to have the spotlight taken away from her. Annoying how much we're compared with one another, but at least she says she's better than me because of her abilities (read: tight-rope walking while managing to whistle some band's newest song) than how much 'class' she has.

Then there's the scenery. With all the awful stuff that usually happens here and the things that people have to put up with, it's actually really beautiful. When I was little, I remember thinking that rich people had perfect lives or something. Well, Charlie pretty much threw that down the drain when he told me his life story, but you almost couldn't believe it, looking at the place. Flowery gardens that had enough scent to make you a little dizzy? Check. Rose-topped roofs and balconies that made you want to sit there all day? Check. Sunlight streaming through the clouds with a haze of brilliant colours? Double check.

It's also surprising how quiet it is.

I mean, I was a little shocked. All the sound there was were the birds and the petpetpets chirping. It was actually kind of peaceful. For a moment, I allowed to let my guard down – something that Kayley drilled in to my head later was a VERY STUPID THING TO DO – and relaxed….

Only to have something very pointy on my back the next moment. "Put your hands in the air where I can see them," said a familiar voice, and I groaned inwardly. It had been a long time since I dealt with this jerk, but I can all-too-well remember every single thing he did to Brynn and the rest of the Rebellion. "What the heck are you doing here, thief?" Harry demanded. The lanky Lupe did not look happy. This was probably beyond his field of experience. "We have our own security for keeping thieves out of this place."

"Your security must suck," I answered. "I've been visiting this place since I was eight."

He pushed his blade a little deeper. "Well, that depends. I'm guessing you haven't gone too deep in Uptown here, have you?" He huffed. "I suppose you're here to check on my useless cousin, Charles. Have fun begging him for money." I raised my eyebrows for a moment, but then realized—Harry had probably been gone for a long time, and I doubted anyone ever thought to keep him the rich kid loop. Did he really not know about my little revelation?

"Um, no," I said carefully. "I'm not here to see Charlie, for once."

"Well, you're not here to see Hazel, that's for sure," said another voice. Brilliant. Violet and Harry, two of my least favourite rich kids. "Before you say anything," the purple girl told me, "This person and I are not coming here together. We're simply heading to the same place at the same time, so you better not tell Brynn or the rest of the Rebellion about this. Oh, and person, you better let the thief go. We're wasting time." Harry muttered something but took the sword off my back.

"Whatever," I said, not bothering to thank her. I questioned her silently, my eyes darting to Harry's and then locking on hers. Did he know? She shook her head, making a face. I felt a teeny bit relieved and continued on, trying to ignore both of them. But as we walked, it became pretty obvious that we were all heading towards the same place. "Okay, wait. Where are you guys going?"

"None of your business," Harry snapped.

Violet seemed about to say the same thing, but since she probably can't stand to agree with Harry, she replied, "To my house."

My jaw dropped. "Why? You know Hazel isn't there."

"I know," said Violet sadly, "But another friend of mine is."

I froze. "This friend has to have an awful lot of influence, getting you both to come here at the same time. I thought you two can't stand each other."

"We can't," Violet stated. "I am not even acknowledging his presence right now." Harry rolled his eyes. "As for the friend, yes, she does. I haven't seen her in years, though I think she's dropped in once or twice. I kind of missed her; and she's one of the few people that he-who-is-not-here-right-now –" Harry shot her a look –"has a soft spot for."

"Exactly who is this person?"

"Why do you want to know?" Harry cut in. "It's not as if you actually know her. She's way above your league. My league, even," he admitted. "Most people her type only hang out in the palace, since they're too important."

"She's royalty?" I was getting really alarmed—it was getting clearer and clearer who this mystery person is. "Please don't say it's Emerald." The shock in their eyes was all the answer I needed. I sighed. I should have expected this, devious trickster she is. "I got an invite, too," I told them. "She wanted to speak with me, for some reason."

"And how would you know her?" Harry questioned.

"I've been around Uptown a lot, lately." Violet and I shared a significant look. "Anyway, we've crossed paths. With you two in tow, though, I'm seriously doubting if I should even come."

"Oh, you should," Harry warned. "When Emerald Navarrete calls, you better answer. The consequences aren't pretty if you don't, both because she has very powerful friends"- and with that, he cracked his knuckles- "And because, more often than not, she has very important information, especially if you're in a fix." He made a face. "Though why she would help a thief, I have no idea."

"Because he's a gentleman, that's why," Emerald herself said, popping up the street. "He knows how to say please and all that." For a moment, I was slightly taken aback—she was entirely dressed in black, right from her hat down to her shoes. But that didn't stop her from donning an easy smile and a relaxed manner. She held her arms out; to my surprise, Violet quickly ran into the older girl's embrace. Much more affectionate than Hazel's reception. "Well, look at you," the duchess said admiringly, twirling Violet around. "All grown up and as pretty as we all guessed."

"Not all of us, Em," said a red Wocky with long brown hair.

Another Wocky, a green one that slightly resembled the other girl, chided her, "Be nice, Ivy."

"You can't tell me what to do!"

"I'm your brother. Of course I can."

"Um, no you can't," Violet chimed in.

"Well, this seems like a nice little reunion," Charlie mused. He was also sitting on a step, reading a book. He smiled at me. "Hullo, Hanso." He frowned when he saw the guards. "Harry."

"Charles."

"Let's get the introductions out of the way," said Emerald pleasantly. "Most of you obviously already know each other, but just to make it clear that's Harry, a guard whom you might have already seen around-"

"Oh, trust me, I have," I muttered.

She shot me a questioning look, but if she was keeping information then so was I. She continued. "This is Charlie, his cousin, and Ivy and Harley, Ebony's cousins. We've all known each other since childhood, except maybe for Charlie here." She frowned at Ivy. "Where are your other sisters?"

"They're in bed with a cold," Ivy said in a bored voice. "They got really frustrated that they wouldn't be able to see you today."

"They probably would have felt better if you hadn't rubbed it in their faces," Harley told her. "'I'm seeing Emmy! I'm seeing Emmy! And you guys are in bed, sick! Ha ha ha ha!'"

"I couldn't stop myself," Ivy said, not sounding the least bit guilty. "Hey, wait a minute. Where's my cousin? My favourite cousin," she clarified, shooting Violet a disdainful look. "I thought he'd be the first person here, what with him being your best friend and all."

"It's seven a.m.," Emerald reminded them. They nodded like that made sense. "You can never get Eb up before nine," she said, for my benefit.

"We can try, though," Harley suggested, a slightly evil smile tugging at his lips. "It would be an excellent ice-breaking activity, if I do say so myself, Miss Navarette. Then later you can tell us why you dragged us down here for."

"I did not drag you," Emerald replied primly. "I simply called, and you all came to me."

"I apologize if we seemed too eager. We are just so delighted to be graced by your oh-so-brilliant presence," Charlie piped up. Emerald stuck her tongue out at him, and the rich kids all laughed. It was really weird. I never saw them get along this well, having such a friendly time with each other.

"In any case, it's not for me to decide. It's not my house, is it?" she said pointedly to Violet.

Violet grinned. "Oh, go ahead. I don't mind."

"Brilliant," Harley said, rubbing his hands together. "I can finally get back at him for super-gluing a wig on my head when we visited Meridell and convincing everyone that I was a girl."

"An ugly girl," Ivy stated.

Together, we made our way up to his room. Both Honey and Black were out for the day, which seemed odd, but I didn't mind it too much. The chamber was surprisingly pretty cheerful, with none of the dead portraits of relatives hanging on the walls. Instead, the place had a huge bookcase, a sword (oh, no, Ebony can fence?), a fireplace, a chessboard, a walk-in closet, and a comfortable-looking four-poster bed with a sleeping sixteen-year-old in it. Not for long, though. "So, how are we going to do this?" Harry asked.

"We could just throw a bucket of water on him," I suggested.

Ivy looked at me with disdain. "And what fun would that be?"

"We could take him to the bucket of water," Charlie suggested, a smirk on his face. "Or maybe a bathtub of something vile. He'll have to clean the bathtub up himself and take a bath. Then we could pick his clothes for him-"

"-Instead of those boring business suits that he always wears," Harley agreed. "Wow. Didn't know you had it in you, Charlie."

"I might even reconsider denying that I'm related to you," Harry said. Charlie scowled. "What do we put in the bathtub?"

"We have a couple of unis," Ivy said. "Our house is just a few blocks away. And we have an extra pile of manure."

"How are we going to get him to the bathtub without him waking up?" Harry asked.

"Leave that to me," Ivy said wickedly. "The rest of you, put manure in the bathtub and pick out Master Adonai's most embarrassing clothes."

Thankfully, I was assigned for clothes-duty, not the manure. But it proved to be a more difficult ask than I thought. Ebony didn't seem to have any embarrassing clothes at all—his wardrobe consisted of different types of business suits, no doubt chosen for him by his dad. Briefly, I wondered what the closet would look like if he got to choose the clothes himself, or maybe his mother. In the end, Charlie and I decided on a t-shirt and a pair of slacks, which I really couldn't see Ebony wearing by choice. Grinning, we put it in the rack by the shower just as Harry and Harley finished dumping in the last load of manure.

Emerald, meanwhile, was helping Ivy make some sort of slide with sheets and a few chairs they found lying around. It was a clear path straight to the bathtub. Inwardly, I was impressed with how Ivy could think of something that cool in just a few minutes and do it, too, but I didn't say so. I had a feeling that her head was already big enough.

"Just one question, though," Emerald said as she knotted the last sheet. "How do we know that he won't just storm out of the bathroom in a fit of rage, manure or no manure?"

"Oh, he won't," Ivy said confidently. Emerald just shrugged and accepted her statement, and then walked away to talk to Harry. "Not when Em's here, that is," Ivy said under her breath, smirking. She winked at me. "He loathes appearing less than his best when she's around."

"Then I think we picked just the right clothes for him," I replied. She just chuckled. I'm not sure I liked this brown-haired tinkering diva, but I couldn't deny that she was interesting.

"Ready?" Harry asked, taking one side of the mattress.

"Ready," Harley agreed, taking the other. Ivy cheerfully took of the teen's blanket, though it spurred no reaction from the him…yet. But after Ebony got slipped onto Ivy's slide by Harry and Harley and unceremoniously dumped in a bathtub full of manure with a bunch of laughing kids shutting the door behind him, I think he got the message that it was time to get up.

His scream confirmed it.


"You will all pay for this," Ebony warned. Most of us just chuckled. "I mean it. One day, when you least expect it, I shall get you all back and have my vengeance. You won't even let me change my clothes!"

"What's the fun of dressing you up like that if you're just going to take it off right away?" Ivy asked. "Don't worry. The lock in your closet will open by the end of the day."

"I'm not going outside dressed like this."

"Oh, come now, dearest," said Emerald sweetly. She linked her arm through his. "You actually look quite cute in that outfit. Don't be such a drama queen." He scowled at her, but he stopped complaining. I hate to admit it, but he actually was quite good-looking even without his usual get-up. In fact, maybe more so because he wasn't dressed like a mini-version of his dad. "Anyway, it got us all to be friendly with each other."

"That was fun," Charlie chimed in, "But I do still wonder, Em, why you got us together like this."

She sat down on Ebony's bed. For a moment, her face looked a little weary. "My uncle's dead."

There was a gasp. "Your uncle…the king of Richmond?" Harry goggled. "Wow. I was wondering why you were all dressed in black. Though, of course, you still look pretty." Em punched him on the arm lightly.

"And my father's the Lord Protector. He has to rule until Princess Jewel, my little cousin, comes of age. My aunt, the Queen Dowager, will be retiring to a few estates quite far away; she won't be seeing her daughter much. Father will be keeping them separated." Emerald's voice was soft when she said that. The rich kids exchanged glances. "You all probably know what this means for me."

"For a time, your father will stall," Ebony guessed. "Keep you guys in a stalemate for as long as possible. But when Princess Jewel gets old enough to form her own opinions, he will arrange an unfortunate accident, clearing the way for himself and Ekanite to become kings after her." She nodded, giving him a slight smile. "But for now…he wants to give a united front with his family. Show who's really in power. Which means we're probably not going to see you again for quite some time."

"That depends on if I displease my father or not."

"You won't," I said confidently.

She shook her head. "I'm the most irritable to him, Hanso. I get sent away the most. It's ridiculously easy for me to lose his favour, and terribly hard for me to get it back again. But," she said, a note of hope creeping into her voice, "He did promise to spend my sixteenth birthday with me for once, and this is sure to get him in a good mood. Not that I don't want to see you guys, though. I've missed you these past few years."

"So that's why you dragged us here?" Ivy said disgustedly. "To say good-bye?"

"To ask a favour."

"Brilliant. And what is this little favour?"

Her voice was soft but clear when she spoke. "Help Hanso with his little rich-kid problem."

"Wait," Harry said, confused. "Hanso has a rich-kid problem?"

"Didn't anyone tell you?" Ebony asked. "Hanso's your other third cousin twice-removed or something."

Harry opened his mouth. Then he closed it. Then he opened his mouth. Then he closed it. The he said, "The thief is my cousin?" He was answered by a number of nods. He opened his mouth again, and then he shook his head. "Excuse me for a moment." He entered the bathroom and closed the door. We distinctly heard a huge scream. Then he re-entered. "Right. What were we talking about? Helping my….the thief?" He frowned. "You know I can't do that, Em, even if I wanted to. I'm a guard. If you really wanted someone to help him, you should know he already has an accomplice-"

"Brynn is not an accomplice!" Violet protested.

"Sure she isn't," Harry said sarcastically.

"Be that as it may, I think he could use a few more ….allies," Emerald spoke up. "At least for now." Her eyes locked with mine, and I suddenly I knew why she was doing this. She knew that I was still deciding whether she could be an ally or not; and she was showing me exactly how useful she could be. I got a glimpse of Ebony frown slightly. I had a feeling he knew something was up. Regardless to how I felt about it, all of the rich kids with the exception of Charlie broke out protesting.

"But Emerald, he's a thief!"

"He's a thief with horrible hair!"

"I don't even know him! What use could he have to me?"

"I have too much to worry about without needing someone else to look after-"

"Why should we do it, anyway?" Ebony asked. Immediately, everyone fell silent. It was a good question. Why should they try to help a scrawny thief like me, especially when they had their own problems and lives to worry about? And maybe some of the rich kids were a little surprised. I doubt they've seen many arguments between Ebony and Emerald before. "We barely see each other, anyway," he added, gesturing to them. "We don't really work together much. Why should we set that aside just to help this guy?"

"Because of Rule Number One," she told him. All the rich kids had shocked faces—apparently, 'Rule Number One' held a lot of weight to them.

"But he might not-"

"Even if he's not, I am," she answered. "You will help him, right? For me?" She looked at them pleadingly.

"Of course," Charlie said immediately.

Harley frowned. "Well, if it's truly necessary, then my answer is yes."

"Ivy?" Emerald prompted.

The Wocky huffed, but said, "If I'm not in the middle of a project or something, I'll help him when he needs me."

"You know this will conflict with my duty as a guard," said Harry, who never so much cared as his duty as a guard as that he was allowed to beat thieves up. "But if it's for you, then sure."

"Depends on what type of mood I'm in, what I'm doing, or if my friends are with me," Violet said snobbishly. "But fine. I'm not going to steal anything or sell out the Guard to the Thieves' Guild, though. Nor the Rebellion."

"Never asked you to," I replied.

"Good!" Emerald smiled brightly, and then looks at the last person who hasn't stated his answer yet. "Eb?"

The Usul folded his arms. Emerald frowned. "Look, you've obviously got this lot agreeing. Why do you need me?"

She threw him a look that says "Are you kidding me?" but he remained frowning. So, she sidled up closer. Unlike the time at the chessboard, he doesn't even turn red. Instead, he looked back at her fearlessly, his dark eyes boring to her green ones. I noticed, then, that they're just as intimidating as hers in a different way—instead of that cold green that regards you dispassionately if you could be useful or not, his was an intense dark black, focusing all his energy and completely entrapping you. "Because, Ebony," she said softly enough that the others couldn't hear except me, "You're the only one in this lot who can manage to spring a plan together."

He pulled away. "Mother's going to be on his side, anyway," he muttered. "She's still planning to make the first move. She's just waiting for him to lay all his pieces on the table."

"Oh, so that's it? You don't want to help him because that would mean also helping your mother."

"Yes," he said bluntly.

"That's ridiculous."

"And petty," he agreed. "But I'm standing by my decision."

She shook her head. Then she gave him a hug. He had a priceless look of astonishment on his face, but he hugged her back. "Okay, dearest. If that's what you want. But I'm really going to miss you the next few months." She let go.

"Don't stay away as long as last time, okay?" Ebony said.

"Please. Now that I've met all of you again, there's not a chance you can keep me away." That was met with huge grins from the rich kids. Emerald sighed and looked out the window. "Well, Carlos – my driver – is waiting for me. I've got to go." She fixed her green eyes at him. "You'll change your mind about helping, Ebony. I know it."

He snorted. "Because I'm so fond of helping people?"

"No." She smiled at him sweetly as she walked out the door. "Because the Ebony Adonai I know could never resist a chess game."

Week 2

Master Sahira gave us a little field trip today. I was kind of relieved. I almost thought that that they were gone once Jacques left.

The triplets stuck like glue to me. Sadly, that meant Juliet stayed away – though she did smile at me, a little wistfully, I guess – before she stalked off by herself. Surprisingly, her brother didn't follow her example. It's usually the opposite. It isn't like he was following us; on the contrary, he simply went doing his own thing like he always did, as if he didn't care whether the triplets were there or not. Rosaline didn't look pleased, but she resolved not to comment. "So," she said, looking around. "This is fascinating. What are we to do here, habibi?"

"Steal stuff," I said matter-of-factly. "What?" I asked when I saw her surprised expression. "Aren't you supposed to do this in the desert?"

She shrugged. "My class always worked together. Create a distraction, grab the goods, make an escape route—though I suppose the risks were higher around there. They might cut off your hand if you get caught." I winced. "And there are some people in the class whom I would prefer not to be working with." She glared pointedly at Julius, but he was absorbed yards away examining a stall selling precious metals and didn't see her.

"What's the deal with you and the Capulets, anyway?" I asked them.

Romeo coughed. "I really don't think we should talk about that."

"Bad idea," Mercutio agreed. He has decided to stick to small phrases for now. I guess he didn't want to see how behind he was in learning our language than Rosaline and Romeo. Still, even if he's not quick in that respect I can tell he's really smart—I saw him once sketching a highly accurate map of Brightvale, and he always wears this thoughtful expression on his face.

"Why not?"

"Our families always had a bit of a rivalry between us," Romeo admitted. "A long, and bloody history. Nothing's really changed, though a few years ago…never mind."

"What happened a few years ago?"

He hesitated, and then sighed. "Okay, I'll admit this. The most recent Capulets – Julius and Juliet – and us didn't hate each other right away. There was a huge fuss about that when we were little, our distant relatives freaking out; but Mom believed that we should be able to choose our own friends, and that we had to make our own mistakes. So yeah. We were all really close. Until…"

"Until what?"

"Nothing." His face darkened. "They just took away our chance on—on something really important to us. It's not possible anymore. But my family was humiliated."

"And you moved away," I guessed. He nodded. "You know, it's kind of hard to picture Juliet doing anything bad."

"Of course it is," he said, and I was surprised by how much venom there was in his voice. "No one could ever suspect little Miss Perfect, could they? Nooooo. It was always someone else."

"Julius doesn't hate you, though."

He snorted. "You're kidding, right? He loathes me."

"Well, yeah, but…no offense…it kind of seems that it's only directed at you. He seems okay with Mercutio and Rosaline."

He smirked. "Of course he'd be okay with Rosaline. They were best friends when they were little."

"Romeo!" The Aisha girl kicked her brother in the shin.

"What? It's true."

"I do not want any association with a Capulet—especially if he's standing right there!" Julius was still standing by the precious metal stand – with probably more than a few in his pocket – but he also had a smirk on his face, as if he heard every word we said. Sure enough, he gave me a little wave before running away from a guard. "He is impossible," Rosaline huffed.

I knew that the topic was getting old for them, so I changed the subject. "So, Rosaline, does that mean you've never been caught by the guards since you still have both your hands?"

She smiled dazzlingly at me. "Of course not, habibi. I doubt there is any thief who has never made a mistake…except you, perhaps." I turned red at her compliment. Behind her, Mercutio made a gagging face, but he was elbowed by Romeo. "No, some of the guards were very lenient. One of them was actually quite sweet to me—a little seven year old who had recently joined."

"Really?" I brightened up. "I have a guard friend, too."

She blinked. "You're friends with one? Mohammad and I fairly liked each other, but we were never close."

"Well, yeah-"

"Aw, come on, sis," Romeo said. "He's just messing with you. You know you can't be friends with a guard—he was just spying on this one, right?"

"Uh….yeah. Sure."

"You are not a very good liar, habibi. You are really friends with this guy, yes?"

"Actually, the guard's a girl."

"Oh." Rosaline frowned, clearly not happy about it. "I see."

"Want me to show you?"

"Okay," they agreed.

I looked around the marketplace for the familiar electric blue eyes and the red hair tied in a ponytail—and there she was, sitting on a bench and keeping watch as she always did. I grinned mischievously. This was going to be fun. I snuck really close to her—I was getting a lot better in sneaking around. She didn't notice a thing. Then, when it looked like she was about to fall asleep from boredom, I shouted "BOO!" really loudly.

She shrieked, fell on her rump, grabbed her blade and pointed it right at me. I couldn't help but laugh. "Brynn, calm down," I said. "It's just me!" And a couple of friends watching, but she didn't need to know that.

"What were you thinking?" she seethed. "You nearly gave me a heart-attack."

What are friends for?

"Sorry," I said nonchalantly, sitting on the bench. She glared at me. I bumped her on the shoulder. "Aw, did I scare you?"

"No!" she exclaimed, a little too quickly. Lie. "It will take far more than you jumping on me and shouting 'boo' in my ear to scare me."

"Of course it will," I said, my voice laced with sarcasm. She just rolled her eyes and sat next to me. Glancing from the corner of my eye, I saw the triplets chuckling. Then I saw past them and paled. A girl leaned on a lamp post, her arms crossed, her face disapproving. I needed to get away, fast. "Brynn?"

"Yeah?"

"If someone robs the Brighvale bank later today…don't arrest them!" I said as a good-bye before running away. She opened her mouth to protest, but probably thought better of it and just sat back down, looking grumpy. I made my way back to the triplets.

"That was hilarious, Hanso," Rosaline gushed. Romeo and Mercutio nodded.

"But very, very foolish," said another voice wryly. Kayley stepped out of the shadows and put her hands on her hips.

Romeo raised his eyebrows. "You're the girl who doesn't show up the class."

"Yeah. What's it to you?"

He seemed taken aback by her hostile tone. "Uh, nothing really. But since you're here, does that mean you're going to come back?"

"Definitely not. I only came here now because you're not goring each other." She looked at me. "Can I have a word?"

"Sure."

"What were you doing?" she asked once we were out of earshot.

"What do you mean?"

"You know I'm usually the last person to defend prissy miss guard girl, but showing off that you're friends with her? Really, Hanso? I expected better form you."

I flushed. "I wasn't doing anything wrong."

"Yes, you were. And since you are an immature preteen boy that wanted to impress his crush, I'll forgive you. But listen carefully to me, Hanso. If you ever showed off that we were…allies," she said, before the word 'friend' could slip out, "I'd have strangled you and never have trusted you again. Just think for a moment how that guard girl would feel." I frowned. "You don't have to show off to flower-girl, Hanso. If she really likes you, she won't ask you to do that."

"She didn't."

"Good. By the way, even if you don't think my opinion is important enough, at least consider Juliet's. Beside the fact that flower-girl over there is her sworn enemy, she'd have been really disappointed in you anyway."

And with that, Kayley vanished, leaving me with guilt churning at the pit of my stomach.

I resolved showing off my awesome thieving skills would do, next time.

Week 3

"Long time no see," said the little kid stiffly when he saw me. His arms were crossed, his face pouty.

"Aw, come on, Timmy," I groaned. "Haven't you heard of all the craziness?" We were walking randomly around the kingdom, away from the square. I felt a teeny bit guilty about the whole thing. Earlier this morning, it just occurred to me that they didn't really match us up with the little any more. I knew Kayley was still visiting Lilia a lot, but with all my problems, I sort of forgot Tiny Tim.

"Yeah," he admitted. "Are you weally a wich kid?" For a moment, he looked almost angry with himself. "I mean, really a rich kid?"

"I don't know," I sighed. "I hope not. That means I can't be a thief anymore."

"Would that really be such a bad thing?" he asked.

I blinked. "What?"

He covered his mouth, as if thinking he said something bad. "Um, nothing. Sowwy. I mean, sorry. Uh, does that mean I can go to the swing without getting knwocked – knocked – out of it again?"

I smirked. "If I remember right, you're the one who knocked Ebony out."

"What?" said a surprised voice. I looked up, and I realized we wandered near the stall which sells spare parts for mechanics in the marketplace. A red Wocky girl around Ebony's age or maybe a little older stood there, her outfit covered with an apron covered in pockets and her long, brown hair tied up in a slightly askew ponytail. I frowned, wondering what a rich girl like Ivy was doing around these parts. "Did I just hear you right? You're the kid that knocked down Ebony?"

"Uh-huh," Timmy said nervously.

She grinned. "Want an ice-cream, kid? I gotta pay you back for that. The look of rage in his face lasted for weeks afterwards." He grinned excitedly, and she bought him a huge chocolate fudge sundae. I was inwardly impressed. "Hey, we're not all mean to little kids," she said in a superior tone when she caught me staring. "And if you're wondering why I'm dressed like this, well, these are my tinkering clothes. "

"What's twinkering?" Timmy asked curiously.

She huffed, as if she couldn't believe anyone could not know the definition of the word. "Tinkering, little boy, is messing around with mechanical stuff." As an example, she grabbed a nearby watch from a stall, grabbed a tool from her pocket, screwed something, and suddenly the arms went wild. The shopkeeper snatched the watch back and looked about ready to yell at her, but a few gold coins from Ivy kept her quiet. "Of course, some might define it 'fixing,' but it wouldn't be fun if that's all I ever did."

"Interesting," I said appreciatively. "And I thought being a rich kid would be boring."

Her face darkened. "It is. If you don't know how to morph your face in to a mask, you're dead. Wouldn't recommend it for you, kid. You're like an open book, and according to Charles dear, you can't lie."

"The traitor!" I cried, grinning slightly.

"Nah. I weaselled it out of him. I'm good at that." She jutted her chin up. "But we're not all like that. Especially not our little group that you saw a week before. We don't want to be fussed-over dolls forever—I definitely don't. And it's not fair that our families could choose who we're married to—or whom we're friends with, because, you know, sometimes we can't control whom we like…" And suddenly she realized she was babbling. "Sorry."

"Wou have a fwiend you can't see," Timmy observed. Then he got angry with himself again and said it in the correct way.

"Smart kid, though I'm definitely not going to tell you."

"Why not?" I asked.

"Ebony's right. You are nosy." She shrugged. "Anyway, we're all different. That's why we made Rule Number One in the first place, you know."

"And what's Rule Number One?" I asked.

She smirked. "Stick with us long enough, and you'll find out." Then she disappeared in to the crowd.

Week 4

Still haven't found what Rule Number One is, but I have learned an important chess technique.

It's weird. I find myself hanging more and more in Uptown, bugging Charlie, Harley, and sometimes his visiting sister Willow (who, I learned, are much more patient than Ivy in being bugged, especially if she's in a project) about any hints that might make it possible to leave it. Part of it wasn't really my fault. My mom usually dragged me along when she went off to argue with Grandmother.

Ebony sometimes showed up, too, but he hasn't helped at all. "Kind of a pity, really," Harley once told me in one of those arguing-with-Grandmother visits. "If you actually got him to help, he'd be quite a strategist."

"Right. Except I'm still mad at him about the fire in Charlie's house, and it won't help."

Charlie looked up. "I'm quite over the fire, thank you Hanso. It was a very long time ago, and I don't think it would be wise to have rifts between possible allies right now."

"He gave you a lasting heart disease which couldn't let you get in to the Guard."

He arched an eyebrow. "They wouldn't have left me in anyway. Even before, I was rather sickly, although Mrs Daley always managed to cure me of whatever it was. Heart diseases don't grow from scratch, Hanso. It's possible that it was already there, and the doctor only detected it while he was examining me after the fire. It's even possible that that might have saved my life." I stared at him. "Well, maybe not. The fire could have triggered something bad-"

"Ah-ha! It's still his fault!" I glared at said fire-starter, who was watching amusedly. "You aren't even sorry for it."

"No, I can't say I am. It was rather fun, watching Charlie's place go up in flames."

"Say that when Emerald's within earshot," Harley dared him.

"Never mind. But seriously, I knew he'd get out."

"He was in the second floor!" I snapped.

"Yes. Next to an open window, if you recall. I suppose you didn't see the very soft bushes he could have landed in? No, you just had to go to another room and jump over there."

I nearly choked on that, struggling on a better comeback. "Well…how was he supposed to jump if he fainted?"

That got him surprised. "You fainted?" Ebony asked. Charlie nodded. "I didn't expect that. Okay, I apologize for not taking that possibility in to account. Happy?" I shook my head resolutely. "Didn't think so—not that I needed your approval at all. But I was a murderous thirteen-year-old boy, and rather upset about some news that year. Plus, I was surrounded by all kinds of horrible influence of that gang I used to lead."

"Used to?" I asked.

"Well, of course. You didn't think I'd stick with those idiots forever, did you? I'm sixteen. In no time, I'll be eighteen. Might as well spend the next two years of freedom in more favourable company before I'm thrust with someone I can't bear."

"You don't know that," Harley said.

"Yes, I do," he said grumpily. "Mothers choose their sons' betrothed, remember? Father will force her to choose someone high-ranking, but she'll try to make it as unbearable as she can."

"That doesn't sound like her," I pointed out.

"You don't know my mother," he snapped. "The last time your mum probably met her was, what, when she was eighteen, give or take a year? Yes, she might act all meek Lady Honey Adonai, but she's devious under that sweet smile and curtsies."

"Like you," said Harley quietly.

Ebony fixed him with a glare. "No," he said, in a cold tone. "Not like me. At all."

"If she's so devious," I asked, "Why hasn't she helped me with my problem yet?"

"She will, once all the pieces are on the board," he said carelessly. "She'll go all 'mastermind' in the middle of it, I'm sure."

I frowned. "Wait? Pieces on the board?"

"She suspects that they haven't brought their most powerful weapon in yet. Once they do, she'll start helping."

"Uh-huh. So what is this powerful weapon?"

That's when we heard the doorbell.

"We weren't expecting guests," Charlie told us. "Od. It's very unusual to call on someone uninvited, unless it's a casual thing." He stood up. "I better go and get it. My parents certainly won't."

"And I guess that'll all the boring stuff I can take today," Ebony said dryly. "I'll come with you."

"If you hate listening to us so much, why do you have to tag along?" Harley asked. "All you do is just irritate us."

"Exactly."

"Why is it that all the people I'm related with are insufferable?" Harley asked the sky. "Ah, well. It's getting late, anyway. I should probably get going; and your mom's probably done arguing with your grandmother too, Hanso."

"She'll be in a bad mood on the way back home, then," I said glumly. She cheers up when she sees dad – neither of us are over the delight that he's alive – but on the way home she just rants and rants. I love my mom, but sometimes it's kind of annoying.

"You should hear Grandmother. I can't even laugh without someone saying it's too noisy," Charlie complained. Then he put on his most welcoming face and opened the door. "Hello," he said cheerfully. A Nimmo with slick black hair and calculating green eyes stood on the doorstep, his hands clasped behind his back. He looked oddly familiar. He probably thought the same, because he peered at me with a weird expression on his face. "May I help you?"

"Is this the Windsor House?" he asked. His tone was polished, confident, and friendly.

"Yes. I'm Charles Windsor," Charlie introduced himself. "Uh, are you looking for my parents? They're, ah, in the middle of something."

He smiled faintly. "No, I'm not looking for them. I'm looking for-" He hesitated. "Any chance you might have other family around?"

"No…are you trying to find my second cousin's twice removed family? They're also called Windsor. His name if Albert Windsor, and his son's in the Guard."

"You can tell them by his tone he's hoping for the guy to punish Harry," Harley whispered. I chuckled.

"No." The guy seemed really disappointed. "Are you sure you don't have any other family here? Any?"

Charlie and I glanced at each other. I didn't know what, but something made me feel a little uneasy about this. "That depends," said Charlie carefully. "We don't like letting strangers in personal matters. Who are you and what's your business with us?"

"My name is Simon Banks," he said. My eyes widened. "And-"

"This is horrible! They're as awful as I remember," came my mom's angered voice. "You're ready to go, right, sweetheart? I cannot wait to go home. Mind if we just get some dinner out for tonight? I can't stand cooking right now-"

She froze when she saw who was standing in the doorway.

Simon Banks finished with a smile. "-And I've come to see my betrothed."


A/N: I figured Hanso would act a little weird in front of his crushes, if you guys are a little confused about week 2. While Brynn gets jealous (as shown in BD), Hanso will get a little show-offy and arrogant.