Note: Happy birthday to my lovely beta outtabreath! And eternal gratitude to the equally wonderful oranges-and-leather-boots, for betaing this on short notice over Christmas, above and beyond the call of duty. Someday he will stage an intervention and take away my em-dashes, and the world will be a better place. And also, for drawing the amazing illustration which you can find if you look up disastrous-duo on deviantart.
It was summer—the tail end of summer, anyway—when I first arrived in Series Twelve. If it hadn't been, I probably would have turned right around and gone somewhere else, and things would have been very different. But it was, and I didn't, and a few weeks later I found myself packing my school trunk full of things I'd never worn before—petticoats, stockings, pointy black shoes that pinched—and scowling down at the bit of castle lawn I could see from my window.
"Frost," I said scornfully. I had been very scornful over the previous few days. I'd been the Living Asheth, and stolen a life off a nine-lived enchanter, and called fire up on the Dright, so it wasn't as though I was afraid of going to school. "I suppose this is what happens in a world where you haven't got a proper goddess to manage things."
"This is nothing," said Christopher, equally scornful. And he hadn't anything in particular to be not-afraid of. "Wait till it snows."
I bent down to rescue a pair of rolled-up stockings from being batted across the floor by Proudfoot. "What's snow?" I said, too distracted to be scornful.
"Haven't you read all about it in your Millie books?" he said.
"It's something that happens over the hols, isn't it?" Proudfoot had apparently been making a collection of stockings under my bed. Hadn't I packed all these already? "They never really explain."
"Well, it's a bit like rain." Now Christopher was too busy being the expert on everything to be scornful.
"Ugh, no thank you," I said.
"No, it's brilliant," he said. "It's white, and fluffy, and when enough of it falls you can go sledding on it and make it into balls to throw at your obnoxious cousin—I mean, anyone you might want to throw things at."
"Rain balls?" I said dubiously. I shoved the last pair of stockings into the trunk—again—and flipped the inside so that the clothes disappeared and the place to pack my books was showing. Christopher's eyes lit up and he forgot all about snow.
"You've got to show me how to do that," he said. "I don't think even Gabriel knows that one."
So I showed him. He was all afternoon learning, and by the time he finally got it we were both laughing and I forgot to be scornful altogether—in fact I was quite looking forward to school. I said so. Then Christopher went scornful again. Boys, as Millie's friend Sarah was always saying in the books, were a Complete Mystery.
The next day I got on a carriage, and then on a boat. Gabriel sent Mordecai along to escort me to school, and he winced and crinkled his eyes at me the first time he tried to lift my trunk. "It must weigh a ton," he said. "Are you sure this isn't the one with the diamonds?"
It weighed so much because it was two trunks on the inside, the one with my clothes and the one with my books. But that was my secret, and Christopher's, so I just smiled.
The day after that we got on a train, left the coast behind and rode up into the mountains.
"Why are they white on top?" I said.
"Because it's so cold up there," Mordecai explained. "That's snow."
So I had snow at school, but when I came back to the castle for the Christmas holidays, it did nothing but rain for two weeks straight. And that wasn't the only thing that was backwards from what I'd expected.
Millie-in-the-books was always learning useful things in magic class—a lie-detection spell that saved the day when her friend Sarah was accused of stealing, a tailoring charm she used to fix her best dress after spiteful Dorothea ruined it on the night of the school concert. When Millie-me showed up for magic first day, I was given a pocket mirror and told to make it float. I tapped it with a finger, and it floated a few inches off the desk. Mademoiselle sniffed disdainfully.
"You're de Witt's girl, aren't you?" she said, bringing her ruler down across my knuckles with a smack. "Now do it properly."
I tucked my stinging hand under one arm and flipped through the magic book with the other until I found the right spell. I made the motions and spoke the incantation, though I couldn't see why. It seemed like such a fiddly way of doing it. In less than a minute, the mirror was floating above my desk again. Mademoiselle sniffed—it must have been her approving sniff, because I didn't get the ruler that time. But when I looked up I saw there were black looks directed at me from every other corner of the room. None of the other girls' mirrors had moved yet.
I was too quick at maths, too, and too stupid in geography. The girls giggled when I couldn't find the British Isles on a map, and one of them asked, "Where are you from?"
I couldn't answer, the Temple of Asheth. It would mean as little to her as the British Isles did to me. Also—I didn't think the Goddess had any further grudge against me, but I wasn't ready to risk saying her name.
I squared my shoulders, and lifted my chin, and said, "I'm from Chrestomanci Castle."
This provoked more giggles. "Oh, you're a government ward! So that's why all your dresses are five years out of date!"
I looked down at myself. I could tell a 5th-rank novice from a 6th-rank one by the ties on their sandals, but I hadn't noticed that my dresses were different than any of the other girls'.
If my dresses were five years out of date, it wasn't because there was no money—it was because they'd been chosen by Miss Rosalie, who didn't have any daughters of her own, and who was too busy with real work to keep up with fashion.
The girls at school kept up with fashion. And with gossip about the love lives of film stars and the scandalous behavior of royalty. Only one of them ever wanted to talk about books. She'd come up to me as I was rereading Millie and the Unknown Heiress after dinner, and it was the beginning of—well.
The truth is that Johanna was not much fun. She was afraid of animals, and heights, and getting her clothes dirty, and most things really. Aside from books, her only conversation was complaining. She clung to me like a baby monkey, but she wasn't a friend like Christopher, or even as much of one as Proudfoot. Still, we sat together at lunch, and I lent her my Millie books and she lent me her Golden Stallion ones, and it made things bearable. At the end of term, we exchanged addresses and promised to write. Two weeks before the start of the next year, I even remembered to do it.
I wrote Johanna about Elizabeth, the new enchantress who'd come to study at the castle, and all the trouble the four of us got into, me and Elizabeth and Christopher and Jason. I wrote about lessons with Flavian: magic, so I wouldn't be behind the other enchanters at the castle, and French and geography, so I wouldn't be behind the other girls at school. I wrote that I hoped next year at school would be better, especially since I'd made sure Miss Rosalie bought me proper dresses this time.
Johanna wrote back to complain about her brothers, and her parents, and the weather, and the fact that she wouldn't be going back to school in the fall.
"Do I have to go back?" I asked Gabriel.
"I'm glad you've been enjoying your holidays," he sighed, "although I could wish that you enjoyed them less . . . exuberantly. But I'm sure that you'll forget all about us once you're back at school with your friends."
"No I won't," I said, but he wasn't listening.
"Do you have to go back?" Christopher asked me the day before I left.
"Gabriel says yes," I said glumly.
Christopher had a row with Gabriel that evening. I didn't hear anything, but all of us in the castle could feel it. The next morning, when Jason and Elizabeth came down to see me off, he wasn't there.
School wasn't better second year. It was worse. It wasn't just the lack of Johanna, although I missed her more than I could, that summer, have imagined. It seemed the school's plan was to get any vaguely useful or interesting subjects out of the way first year, and most of the other girls were glad to be done with them. Instead of maths, we had household management. Instead of geography, we had dancing. Short, plump me always ended up paired with tall, angular Grace Beauvior. I'd have laughed, too, if it weren't me being humiliated.
And then there was ski camp. Every year, the week before the Christmas holidays, all the older girls at the Institut Mont Sainte-Agnes went to a ski resort in the Aletsch region. The pedagogical rationale for this was never made clear, not that anyone seemed to mind. Last year we had all—me included—sighed enviously when the older girls set off, and then shrugged and gone back to our lessons. But this year we were to go. At the beginning of term, talk about ski camp made a welcome change from talk about the Prince of Monaco's latest romance, or the best way to achieve sausage curls. But come November, it was all anyone talked about. What they were going to wear to ski camp. The handsome ski instructors they hoped to meet. Sometimes they even talked about skiing. By December I was ready to bite somebody.
The only consolation I had, when the time came and we all got on the mountain tram to the resort, was that the girls would finally have to talk about something other than how much they were looking forward to ski camp. It was a pretty thin consolation. I hated ski camp like I had never hated anything.
For one thing, at school, there was a limit to how nasty the other girls could be. But the only adults who came with us to ski camp were Mademoiselle Leary, who taught magic and dancing and had never liked me, and the Headmistress, who was mainly interested in drinking sherry and chatting with other blue-haired ladies in the resort's salon. The first night at dinner, anything I tried to pick up disappeared from my plate. I looked up into the pretty, smirking face of Danielle Grosbec, who is so proud of being a sorceress. Then I looked at the Headmistress, who had a hand on the arm of a man in a plush smoking jacket and walrus mustache, and was tittering behind the other hand at something. The next time Danielle picked up her water glass, I gave it a nudge and spilled it all down her front. When I saw her face I wished I hadn't. It was war. I don't really like war.
And then there was skiing. I'm not hopeless at sports—I was the third-best tennis player in my year—but coordinating my arms and legs, on skis, in layers of thick wool skirts, was beyond me. Particularly when I was having trouble breathing, or thinking about anything but how cold and miserable I was. More often than not I ended up face-first in the snow, which didn't help with the cold and misery. Then Giancarlo, the ski instructor who'd been assigned to our group, would say something rueful and sympathetic, and fish me out.
That was another problem. Giancarlo himself wasn't quite as patient as Flavian, quite as handsome as Mordecai, quite as nice as Jason, nor quite as clever as Christopher, all of which added up to pleasant enough. But half of the girls—including Danielle Grosbec—swooned over his blue eyes and Italian-accented French, and looked murder at me every time he had to fetch me out of a snowbank.
The third day at ski camp, we went for a hike on the glacier in snowshoes. I had been in Twelve long enough to be wary of the word glacier, but I figured it couldn't be worse than skiing. And I was right. Getting about on snowshoes wasn't much easier than getting about on skis, but it wasn't much harder, and none of the other girls knew how to do it either. We were all as awkward as storks on sand. And when we skied, went up and down the same slope until I hated every rock and tree and snowflake of it. But now we were going somewhere, and seeing something. The first sight of the glacier, gleaming white between the mountain tops, bowled me over and took my breath away. Which left me once again sitting in a pile of snow and gasping, but for once I didn't mind.
"All right, Millie?" said Giancarlo with a rueful smile, reaching out a hand to pull me up.
I nearly missed seeing the hand. "It's beautiful," I breathed.
Giancarlo might have had limited patience for silly schoolgirls, but he loved the glacier. His smile became less rueful and his eyes lit. "So it is," he said.
That was too much for Danielle Grosbec. A branch of a pine tree above my head bent suddenly and dumped its load of snow down my back. I glared, and one of the lacings on her left snowshoe snapped. She scrambled out of the snow, red-faced and panting, and started gathering power for another spell. I was ready for it this time, and scattered the power before she got started—and then her friend Helen elbowed me in the ribs. I grabbed a tree to keep from going over, and incidentally got another load of snow on the head. I wondered whether I should make a convenient patch of ice for her to slip on, or tangle her skirts in the bracken. I decided I was just tired of it.
I don't really like war. I didn't care, and never had, whose magic was more powerful, or whom Giancarlo liked better. I just wanted them all to go away.
I could do that. It wasn't hard at all. A slight mental nudge, the barest scrap of illusion—and when the road forked, Giancarlo and Mademoiselle Leary took the high path that went over the hilltops and circled back to the resort. Danielle and the rest of the girls took the path down to the glacier. I sat down on a rock overlooking the glacier, tucked my hands into my muff, and settled in to wait.
It wasn't long before I could see the rest of the girls below me, and hear them, too, their happy chatter turning anxious.
"He was right here . . ."
"Has anyone seen Millie?"
"I hope she fell into the glacier!"
If that last had been Danielle, or one of her good friends, I truly don't think I would have done what I did. But it was Grace Beauvoir. I had no quarrel with Grace and had never done her any harm. The other girls were nearly as nasty to her as they were to me—and she wished me inside the glacier. And everyone laughed.
Do you now, I thought, and leaned with all my strength against the rock I was sitting on, and felt deep down into the bones of the mountain. There was a shudder, down where no one but me could feel it, and a sharp report, and a flurry and a shriek as they all fell into the crack that had opened in the ice.
I sat there trying to catch my breath, my hands tingling with the power I'd spent, and my ears ringing in the sudden silence. My stomach gave a lurch of relief when I heard voices once more.
"Let's have a look at your ankle, Helen." That was Danielle's voice, calm and strong and clear. "I think it's only twisted. Give me your scarf, I'll wrap it up. Don't fret, girls—I'm sure they're looking for us right now."
Some small part of my heart couldn't help but thrill to hear it. All the things I read about in the Millie books—bravery, and good sense, and standing by your friends—they weren't lies after all. Only they weren't for me. Danielle was like Millie. And I was like spiteful Dorothea. I could have wept. It wasn't fair.
But it also wasn't fair that the girls were trapped in a crack in the ice with the Alpine night coming on. Even poor silly Grace Beauvoir—she'd thought she'd found an easy target. She didn't deserve to freeze for it.
Danielle was right. It was only a minute before a group of men with dogs and ropes and climbing equipment came down the glacier trail. Danielle sent up a burst of light so the rescuers could find them, and the rescuers fetched all the girls out. I shrunk into the scenery and hid until they were past. I couldn't bear for anyone to see me.
A sharp wind, and the sun setting over the mountains, brought me to my senses. Whatever I'd done, I had to get back. I got up on my snowshoes, and tried to start a translocate, but it was no good. I didn't have a clear enough picture of the resort and the glacier in my mind. The next gust of wind carried a dozen stinging snowflakes into my face, and I had to swallow back tears.
"Asheth," I whispered. "I know I haven't always been a good daughter to you. But if you ever loved me—could you at least stop this snow?"
There was no answer. Of course there wasn't. I had come to Twelve precisely because it was a place that Asheth had no power. That, and to go to school. I put my head down and started to walk.
I don't know how long it took me to get back to the resort; I only know it was dark, and I was shaking and light-headed. The Headmistress was waiting for me when I arrived. "Are you proud of yourself, Millie?" she said. "Your guardian will be hearing from me, you can be sure of that."
A nurse took me to the resort's infirmary, and put me in a bed next to Helen, with the twisted ankle. Some of the girls came to see Helen. No one spoke to me. When my hands stopped shaking and my head cleared, I asked for pen and paper. If Gabriel was going to hear from the Headmistress, he should hear from me, too. Dear Gabriel, I wrote. Please get me out of this horrible school.
So that was the end of ski camp for me. I was sent back to school in disgrace, where Mordecai met me a few days later. "Did Gabriel get my latter? And the Headmistress'?" I asked him. I didn't ask, is he very angry?
Mordecai shook his head. "I don't know if he's seen them. He's been in One for the past week, consulting with the Council of Mages. But I hope he'll be back for Christmas."
Throughout the journey back, he kept me entertained with the news of the castle, and never once asked why I was so quiet.
When we finally got home, I met the two new enchanters had come to study at the castle. Henrietta was a small dark girl and Bernard was a medium-sized wide boy, and Christopher introduced me to them and got their names right, too. So I understood why they, and Jason and Elizabeth, were at the castle for Christmas instead of with their families; Christopher had arranged it somehow. It's a funny thing, but once Christopher manages to learn someone's name, he hates to turn them loose for any reason.
But I could see that he was beginning to regret his arrangements. There are only a few ways you can react to coming to a place as intimidating as the castle, and finding out that you don't have the strongest magic of everyone you know anymore, and Henrietta and Bernard had both reacted with prickliness. Pointed remarks flew across the schoolroom at breakfast, and there were small magical mischancings at lunch. Jason's attempts to make peace only annoyed all three of them. Elizabeth loudly proclaimed herself Too Old For All This Nonsense, and tucked herself into a corner to knit. I was tempted to join her, but I didn't know if her temper would bear my nosing in and asking how it was done. Everyone jumped when the schoolroom door opened, but it was only Mordecai with a parcel under his arm.
"Package for you, Christopher," he said. Christopher eyed it as if he thought it might burn him. Ordinarily Mordecai—who is not quite as tactless as most of the castle people—would have caught that look and given Christopher whatever it was later, privately. But he was clearly distracted, so he just shoved the parcel into Christopher's hands and dashed off.
"Oh, it's from Japan!" said Elizabeth.
"Is it from your parents?" said Jason.
"Let's see what's inside, then," said Henrietta.
So Christopher had to open it. There was a layer of brown paper, and then another, and then something blindingly electric blue. Christopher shook it out.
Elizabeth set her knitting in her lap and goggled. "It's…. It's very…. What is it?"
"It's a dressing gown. Obviously," said Christopher, and he put it on. The fabric had a pattern of waves, in hundreds of shades of white and blue, and there was a twisting silver fish embroidered across the back. It hung in rich folds from his shoulders, and I could see by the way his hands lingered over it that he liked the way it felt.
"It's a haori," said Henrietta, reading from a sheet of delicately flower-scented writing paper she hadn't had in her hand a second ago.
"Henrietta! You can't read other people's letters!" said Elizabeth.
"It's not addressed to Christopher," Henrietta replied innocently. "It's addressed to 'My Darling Child.' Does she think you're five?"
Christopher didn't say anything, but his face went very expressionless, and then he had the letter crumpled in his hand, and Henrietta had an arm covered in spiders. She shrieked and started flinging them away in every direction.
From which I understood—though I'd never met Christopher's mother—that the answer to Henrietta's question was most likely yes.
"I think it's lovely," I said, which wasn't entirely a lie. It was a bit incongruous, but no stranger than anything else people in Twelve wore.
"And I think it's ridiculous," said Bernard. "Do you have a mother in Japan, or a magpie?"
Elizabeth let out a gasp, and even Henrietta paused in her mad scramble after spiders. I'd never felt so much power being gathered, ever.
"You," said Christopher, "apologize to my mother right now."
Bernard's eyes were round and panicked, and he made desperate motions with his hands, but he couldn't speak. Christopher had quite simply stopped his breathing, and was too whitely furious to notice that he was never going to get his apology that way.
"Christopher, stop it!" said Jason. "D'you want to get Gabriel in here?"
Whatever it was Christopher wanted, Gabriel was what he got—but not before he'd turned Jason's head back-to-front on his shoulders, and Bernard had gone blue.
It was Gabriel as I'd been dreading seeing him for a week. The thundercloud expression, the crushing weight of disapproval. He was wearing a long overcoat and a tall hat—he had clearly just got back. He said only, "Christopher, see me in my office." Christopher followed him almost meekly.
Bernard took a long, ragged breath, and then another. I breathed a sigh of relief myself—I was nearly thankful to Christopher for drawing Gabriel's fire.
"My body's on backwards!" Jason said, high and thin. "How'll I piss?"
Elizabeth tried to smother her giggles. "You shouldn't say that in mixed company, Jason—don't panic, we'll sort you out. Can you give me a hand with this spell, Henrietta? It's awfully fiddly."
That was probably to take Henrietta's mind off spiders. I turned to Bernard. "Are you all right?" I said.
He touched his face gingerly, as if he thought it might be on backwards too. "I . . . probably shouldn't have said that, should I."
"We all do things we shouldn't," I said. "It generally comes out right in the end." He was still looking spooked, so I cast about for something to distract him. "Do you want to play chess?"
He did, and I soon saw why. Five moves in, and he was already slaughtering me. I didn't mind too much, and it seemed to cheer him up. My forces had been reduced to two pawns, a knight, and a bishop, when Miss Rosalie came into the schoolroom.
"Gabriel wants to see you, Millie," she said.
"It wasn't Millie's fault," said Jason stoutly. "She didn't do anything."
"As it's nearly Christmas, I won't ask what wasn't Millie's fault," said Miss Rosalie. "I believe this is about a different matter."
I was fairly sure I knew what the matter was. I tipped my king over with one finger, smiled bravely around the room, and followed Miss Rosalie out.
"I know Gabriel's never at his best after he and Christopher have one of their—" Miss Rosalie waved a hand to indicate Christopher and Gabriel's indefinable relationship. "But he really does care about you, dear. You're like—like a granddaughter to him." She squeezed my arm. "It will be fine."
And if that was meant to be reassuring, I could see why Gabriel usually sent Mordecai rather than Miss Rosalie to talk to victims of magical crimes.
She left me at the door of Gabriel's office, giving me one last encouraging wave before she disappeared down the corridor. I stood with my hand on the knob for a long moment, and then I took a breath, gathered my courage, and walked in.
Gabriel's office always smelled of dust. I don't think he ever let the maids in there. He sat at his desk with a stack of paper and, as usual, not enough light. But I didn't bother imagining demons in every shadowed corner of the office—they couldn't have been more frightening than Gabriel himself.
"Headmistress Rochford writes," he said, "that you've been gravely misusing magic at school."
I knew that the Headmistress had written, but the phrasing, I was sure, was Gabriel's. I swallowed. "Am I—sir, are you arresting me?"
Gabriel stared at me across his desk and let me digest my own question for a minute before he finally spoke. "I gather that what happened was more in the nature of a schoolgirl prank gone awry than serious criminal activity. And I will regard it as such, this time. But, Millie, you are an enchantress. You cannot afford to indulge in displays of temper. People were hurt, very nearly seriously hurt. Next time you may not find me so lenient."
"There won't be a next time, sir," I said.
"Good." He leaned back in his chair, fractionally. "As it is, I had my work cut out for me, persuading Headmistress Rochford to accept you back next term."
"You what?" I gripped the edge of his desk, dizzy with indignation. "How could you?"
"Am I to understand," he said frostily, "that you would rather have been tossed out on your ear?"
"Much rather," I said. "You can't imagine how horrible—didn't you get my letter?"
"I received it. And to think you're the same girl who was so mad for school. But I know how changeable youth is." He steepled his fingers and sighed. "The Institut Mont-Sainte-Agnes is one of the best schools in Switzerland; the Prime Minister's own daughters attended it. I'm not sure you appreciate how vulnerable you are, in this world. You have a vast fortune—and no experience, no family, no position in society. I cannot restore you to your own world, but I mean to get you all the protection I can in this one."
"I can take care of myself. Sir," I said.
"I beg your pardon, but you are fourteen years old," he said. "I don't doubt that your judgment is as good as any other girl's your age, but I would be completely irresponsible if I were to allow myself to be guided by it."
"Allow yourself—" I sputtered.
"I wonder," he went on, "if you've considered my position in the matter? When I gave my life for yours—"
I did owe Gabriel a lot. But I couldn't help feeling it was unfair of him to bring that up now. "I haven't forgotten you died for me. But—"
"Died?" said Gabriel. "If it were that simple, it would be a different story. No. Demonstrably, I am alive. And your goddess has my life. That being the case, I can scarcely go back on my word to her priestess, even if I were inclined to. Do you understand?"
I looked at my feet and nodded. Christopher and I had burned up one of his lives so it wouldn't fall into the Dright's hands, and then we'd turned around and—Asheth wasn't as nasty as the Dright. But I knew from experience, she wasn't nice. Or maybe, she and I having been one at the time, it was just me that wasn't nice. If being nice meant thinking about how the things you do will affect other people, I certainly hadn't.
"Well then," said Gabriel. "You're not a bad-hearted girl, Millie. Can I rely on you to be less hasty in your actions, in the future? I wouldn't like you interrupt your holidays further; they'll be over soon enough as it is."
I nodded again, and Gabriel turned back to his papers. Unlike the headmistress, he didn't insist on a Good day, Gabriel or any parting ceremony of that sort. I don't think I could have got the words out.
It wasn't the lowest I'd ever been. I'd been more miserable half-buried in the snow on the Aletsch Glacier. When Asheth had killed my cat Bethi, as a sign of what she intended to do to me, I'd been more frightened. Then I'd taken a heedless plunge into the unknown, caught between desperate terror and desperate hope. But Gabriel was perfectly right; I couldn't afford to be heedless now. And I couldn't see any hope anywhere. I made it out the door of Gabriel's office before I began to tremble, and out of the spill of light from the window opposite—out of hearing, I hoped—before I started to sob.
Some girls are lovely when they cry. If you saw Danielle Grosbec after a teacher gave her a bad mark, you'd believe in the stories about princesses weeping pearls. I gulped, and blew my nose loudly, and when I ran out of tears my head felt wrung-out and my throat felt raw and my face felt sore and puffy. I heard laughter and the bang of crackers from the schoolroom below, and I tucked my hair behind my ears, turned round, and went to the library.
I paced along the shelves, but there was nothing I wanted to read. Even the spines of the school stories made me queasy. Romances, mysteries, family sagas ten inches thick and probably translated from the Norwegian—I finally settled on a gardening book. Nonfiction, supposedly, but if there was a world like the one in its glossy pictures, full of life and colors and sunshine, you wouldn't know it by looking out the window. It seemed like heaven.
I was reading about the soil requirements of azaleas when I heard Christopher in the stacks. He is not the stomping type, and the castle discourages that sort of thing anyway, but I'd never heard anyone make so much displeasure audible in a quiet, measured walk. He came round the shelves pushing a cart nearly as tall as himself, half-full of books.
"What are you doing here?" I said. Not very polite, I'll admit. But I had come to the library not to be seen by anybody, Christopher especially.
"I'm in disgrace, obviously," he said. "Gabriel sent Mr. Wilkinson home for Christmas early, and I've got to reshelve all these." He moved aside some books to slide a slim volume into place on a bottom shelf.
"The books have got these little tags with numbers on the spine that tell you where they're meant to go on the shelves," I pointed out helpfully.
"I know that," said Christopher.
"Then I imagine you're shelving them by color for your own amusement," I said, turning my attention deliberately back to azaleas. "Far be it from me to interfere with anyone's pleasure."
Christopher straightened up, looked at the cart, and around the library, in a sort of bewildered despair. "I have no idea which books I've already put away," he confessed.
"Can't you summon all the books you've touched in the last hour?" I said. And then had to dive to the floor to avoid being clocked by an enormous dictionary. For a minute, the air was full of fluttering pages and a sound like a flock of pigeons taking flight. When things settled, Christopher was brushing some imaginary dust off his haori, and the cart was completely buried under a teetering mountain of books.
"I, er. May have touched other books than the ones I put back. Moving things aside on the shelves and so on." He picked up a book at random from the pile, checked the tag on its spine, glanced at the shelf, and picked up a different book. The despair on his face deepened. "This is worse than before."
"It would also help to sort through these first, and then put them back on the shelves," I said. "You haven't got a very organized mind, have you?"
"No." He gave me a sunny smile. "But I'm quite good at delegating."
"Humph," I said. But I wasn't comfortable being idle while Christopher worked, and besides, the sight of the books jumbled together like that hurt me in my soul. I beckoned over a table and started making stacks of books. To his credit, when Christopher saw what I was doing, he started stacking too. So I let him make the stacks, and I squared them off; every time I did, a ripple went through the books and the ones with the highest call numbers rose to the top. Christopher raised his eyebrows at me, impressed, but he didn't ask me how I did it. Which was just as well, because I don't think he could have learnt. You have to care, fundamentally, whether Some Notes on the Nesting Habits of Swanmays gets filed under ornithology or lycanthropy, and Christopher, fundamentally, didn't.
(It's lycanthropy. Obviously.)
Maybe Christopher was aware of his own limits, or maybe he took my spell as a challenge. He lifted a hand, and one of my neat stacks took wing, swooping along the aisles before coming to roost on their proper shelves. I tapped my foot and another stack trooped down from the table and across the floor in perfect ceremonial-guard formation; you could almost hear the flourish of trumpets. They came to a halt at the foot of one of the shelves. I had to admit I shared their confusion. "Where's the xenobotany section?"
"Ah." Point to Christopher; he grinned and put a hand on the shelf, then swung it around into a place that wasn't there, and the xenobotany shelf popped into existence.
"Oh!" I said. "It's like my trunk!"
"So it is." Christopher's face fell. "So Gabriel does know that one."
"Not necessarily," I comforted him. "He didn't build the castle, he just inherited it, same as you will. And you don't know how half of it works."
"I know more than you think," he said, but he said it absently. One of his books wobbled in midair. He was thinking about something else. "So if I turned all the shelves on, say, gourmet cooking outwards, and stuck them there, Gabriel wouldn't be able to get them back."
I threw up my hands. My latest stack of books scuttled away from me nervously, double-time. "What's the use? You can prove you're stronger than Gabriel, or cleverer than Gabriel, but you've still got to live with Gabriel." I was frustrated with myself as much as with him, but—I could afford to lose my temper with Christopher, anyhow. "I don't see how you manage to live with anyone. Elizabeth and Henrietta figured out how to turn Jason's head right-way-round again, in case you were wondering."
"Jason," declared Christopher, several of his books striking home at once, with a sound like a volley going off, "is a baby. And Elizabeth thinks she's his mother. Thinks she's everyone's mother. No-one's property is safe with Henrietta. Bernard is just unbearable. And Gabriel—who does he think he is? I saved his lives, he could go whistle for a successor if it wasn't for me, but it's always, what has that idiot boy done now? Never, much obliged, Christopher, whatever can I do to thank you, Christopher?"
I giggled at the unlikely image. "And what would you say? If he did ask?"
"I'd say, you can take Millie out of that damned school, for starters."
"Oh." I went red, and one of my books fell with a crash between the table and the floor. I hadn't realized Christopher was thinking about anyone's troubles but his own.
"Who does he think he is?" he repeated. "Monsignor Gabriel blooming de Witt, the blooming Chrestomanci. Does he think that gives him the right to make you cry?"
I had to reach for anger, or I'd start crying again. "You were spying on me!"
He made a brief annoyed gesture, and the rest of the books on the cart rose up to the ceiling. "I made two conditions, when I agreed to be Chrestomanci: Mordecai was to go free, and you were to go to school. Well, Mordecai's all right, I guess. But I didn't intend—you know. This."
"And do you suppose," I said, my books thundering into their places like legions, "that things only ever happen because Christopher Chant intends them to?"
Christopher looked around in utter frustration. There was nothing left to file; we'd done them all. "You'd have been all right, wouldn't you, if I'd never come blundering into your temple? They never actually meant to kill you."
I folded my arms. I'd have folded the other pair if I still had them. And maybe I did, a memory of them at least, because Christopher looked at me—really looked—and shut up.
"I remember what Mother Proudfoot said. Do you? 'I usually try to spare their lives.' She was my mother—closest thing I ever had—and she loved me. But I wouldn't have wanted to stake my life on her usually." I lifted my chin. "I got me here. Me, you understand? And I'll deal with—what are you looking like that for?"
"I'm coming up with a plan," said Christopher. "I think it's going to be a clever one."
"Well, stop that," I said. "I don't want a plan. I want—" I'd come to the library to be alone. My eye fell on the gardening book, abandoned beside my chair; none of its lush vistas was spoiled by the presence of people. It had seemed like heaven. It didn't anymore. "I want a friend," I said.
"I can be that," said Christopher hopefully.
"I know." I wandered over to a window seat, and sat looking across the castle's bare, dead gardens. Christopher sat next to me, not quite touching. And slowly, in the gray winter light, white flakes began to fall.
"Look," said Christopher, "it's snowing."
I didn't say, I hate snow. I didn't say, we get this all the time in Switzerland. I leaned my head against his shoulder, and said nothing at all.