“Of course, Miranda,” the demon said, “I could give you your heart’s desire.” His voice was low and silky-smooth.
I licked my lips. “You could help me speak to my mam?” I asked again.
He smiled and spread his hands. “Yes. I could make that possible.”
The demon sat cross-legged in the middle of the labyrinth I’d drawn on the flagstone kitchen floor with a coal from the banked fire. I’d been practicing it for weeks, copying the diagram in Miss Goshawk’s book over and over again to make sure I got it right. I’d waited for a Sunday night, when I knew the entire house would go to their beds early, and crept down to the kitchen with a candle in one hand and the book in the other, my mam’s tarnished silver brooch pinned to the front of my nightgown.
When the clock in the upstairs hall had chimed midnight, I’d said the chant and used Mam’s brooch to prick my arm, spilling blood onto the finished labyrinth. The demon I’d summoned was a tall, slender man with the mannerisms of a fine gentleman. He was dressed like a dandy out for a night at the theater, with a black silk top hat and tails. That had taken me by surprise.
He’d introduced himself as Adrastus, which was Latin, I thought. I’d introduced myself in return, bobbing a quick curtsy, and told him a bit about the girl’s school I’d summoned him to. Adrastus had fine cheekbones and dark hair that curled from underneath his expensive hat, and the dim red glow from the fire washed his white skin. I shivered in my nightgown, self-conscious.
I’d expected an imp with scaly skin and horns.
“What would you want in return?” I asked. The book had said almost nothing about bargaining with the demon, but I wasn’t really worried.
I had learned a few things, since Mam died. I’d gotten a job working in a kitchen then; it was the best I could do, with me naught but a wee slip of a girl with dark hair and eyes and an Irish accent. The other servants had thought I was strange, but I had worked hard – no one could say I didn’t – and at night I’d practiced speaking like the swells I passed in the street.
When I’d been let go – for a tiny thing, really – I’d found another job, and another. In a few years I’d become Cook’s right hand, serving dishes in a fancy household. When Cook took the job at the girls’ school, I’d forged the letters of recommendation I’d needed to pass as a chambermaid, and come with her.
A chambermaid was leagues above any kitchen girl.
“I want nothing which would be unpleasant for you,” Adrastus said, and smiled at me. “I merely wish for you to perform for me a few favors, here in the school. The girls are learning magick, you said, yes?” and something changed in his eyes when he said it.
“Yes,” I said, proudly, “And I am too.”
“And learning your lessons well, I see.” His voice sent a thrill down my spine. “Let’s use their magick against them.” He rubbed his gloved hands together. “They have so much, Miranda. And you, I can see, you who were kind enough to invite me here, have so very little. Let’s make them pay.”
My heart pounded. “Yes!” I wanted to scream. “But how will I know what to do?” I asked, carefully. This couldn’t really be all he wanted, could it? It seemed too simple.
“I will instruct you,” Adrastus said. “You know, there is a way,” he paused, his eyes narrowed as if he was thinking.
“A way what?” I asked.
“That we could speak whenever we wished.”
“How is that?”
Adrastus shrugged, nonchalant. “I was thinking of a minor Possession. On a short-term basis, of course. Just a tiny piece of me, really: my voice in your head when you needed me, to guide you, to help you. We could be friends, Miranda. I would understand you like no one here does.”
“And my mam,” I insisted. “When could I speak to her?”
“Oh, I would not need long.” The demon flicked a bit of ash from his lapel. “Say, four weeks? At the next new moon, on October twenty-second, summon me again, and then I will help you speak to your mother.”
The Misses Banister’s Seminary for Young Girls occupied a tall row house in the middle of a London street that had been fashionable, I could tell, but was now growing a bit shabby. The sisters had done all of the teaching themselves, before the arrival of Miss Goshawk.
The school was small, so my work wasn’t really hard, not like it could have been. The girls mainly ignored me, standing like dumb statues when I did up their dresses and brushing past me in the halls, giggling to one another, their expensive skirts and crinolines making that rustling sound when they walked, their hair I’d brushed and curled gleaming under the gaslights.
There were just six of them. Evelynn Swann, the eldest, had a secret suitor in the navy who wrote her letters from abroad, and she hid them in the most obvious place imaginable: underneath her mattress. Isabelle Carstairs was vain, and spiteful to everyone but Evelynn. Letitia Winters had arrived at the school with bruises on her forearms, according to Annabeth, the other maid, and was afraid of her own shadow. Charlotte Evans was dark and serious. Bea Clerkenwell cried every night for her parents, though when I’d tried to comfort her, she told me I overstepped my position. Pet Peabody was the baby, and her parents were wealthy enough that she had her own bedroom.
They were all detestable. I’d lose no sleep over using magick against them, though it did prick my conscience when I imagined what Miss Goshawk would think of me, if she knew.
The day Miss Goshawk had arrived at the school, all the girls had stood with their noses pressed to the front window in the downstairs parlor, whispering to one another and snickering over how ugly she was.
I snuck a glance myself as I opened the door and showed her inside, Bob, our groom and handyman, hurrying out of the kitchen to take her bags. She was young, only a little older than myself or Evelynn, but she was ugly sure enough. She had a long, hooked nose and sharp grey eyes, and big boney hands like a man. Her mousey brown hair was falling out of her tight bun.
After she’d been settled in, Cook had me take a tray of tea things up to her.
“And be polite,” Cook had warned. “None of your sass, mind.”
Miss Goshawk was a magician.
No person of quality’s education was complete without learning a bit of magick, and frankly I was surprised that the sisters, poor magicians themselves, hadn’t engaged someone sooner. Magickal Theory was good enough for most girls, though the lucky ones also learned a few household magicks: Gentle Influence and cleaning spells and the like. “The Angel in the Home,” demure lady magicians were called. The girls, of course, thought they were going to be turning their exercise books into doves and their dinner rolls into diamonds. I’d smiled to myself at the disappointment they were in for as I carried the tray up to Miss Goshawk’s room.
I knocked on her door, the tray balanced against my body with one hand. “Tea, Miss.”
Her voice was low and musical, not at all what I’d expected. I eased the door open a crack and slipped inside.
She was kneeling on the floor, staring into a huge silver bowl the size of Cook’s mixing bowl. The empty pitcher from her washstand was beside her – she’d poured all of the water out into the bowl. She was murmuring to herself as I entered, and didn’t look up, but waved me towards the little table beside the bed, impatiently.
An open trunk of books had been pushed neatly against the wall beside her wardrobe, and I snuck a glance inside as I passed. There was a stack of new, cloth-bound exercise books, but the trunk was mostly full of dusty old leather-bound tomes, gilt-stamped and covered in dark stains. A tiny red volume with a pentagram on the cover rested on top of the stack.
I set down the tea tray and crossed the room back to the door, slipping the top volume into my apron pocket almost without thinking.
“Will you be needing anything else, Miss?” I kept my eyes on the floor, as I had been taught, though I longed to ask what she was doing. It was obviously something magickal. The silence stretched, save for her muttering. She broke off with a huff of frustration.
“What’s your name?” she asked, and I looked up.
“Miranda.” She glanced up from the bowl, taking in first my face, then mam’s brooch pinned to the collar of my red dress, then my broken-down work boots, with one quick swoop of those piercing eyes.
“Miranda,” she said, “Run down to the kitchen and have them send me up a knife. A sharp one, if you please.”
“Yes, Miss.” I backed out of the room, one hand over my pocket.
One thing was sure, Miss Goshawk didn’t seem to go in much for Gentle Influence.
Back in the kitchen, I sent Annabeth upstairs with the knife and hid in the larder to sneak a look at the book I’d stolen. I slipped it out of my pocket and ran my fingers over the cracked leather, shivers climbing up my spine. “The Summoning of Daemons and Spirits from Beyonde the Veil,” read the title, in thick, Old English Gothic.
On Miss Goshawk’s first day teaching, I had loitered down the hall from the classroom, pretending to polish the glass sconces for the gaslights, as the girls filed inside, giggling with excitement.
“Ladies, please take your seats,” I heard Miss Goshawk say, and the chatter died down. I tiptoed to the sconce directly beside the door, which had been left open, where I could hear everything.
“Practical Magick,” Miss Goshawk was saying, “Is typically reserved for your male counterparts. However, I see no purpose in the study of Magickal Theory without putting those theories into practice, and so our lessons here may be considered a little,” she paused, “Unconventional.”
Chatter broke out in the classroom, and I froze, the polishing rag hanging from my hand. Girls were never taught Practical Magick; what would they use it for? Doctors even claimed that wielding magickal power made women unfit for marriage and childbirth. Miss Goshawk rapped on the blackboard for silence. Was it true? Would they actually be casting the spells in her books?
I peeked around the doorframe. Miss Goshawk was walking up and down the rows of wooden desks now, handing out exercise books and slim willow wands.
“Magick,” Miss Goshawk’s voice was harder now, “Is a dangerous tool. It is not a toy, a flight of fancy. You will be wielding magick because I, unlike most of the world, believe you to possess the strength of mind necessary to control it. Do not,” her sharp eyes swept the room, and I ducked out of sight, “disappoint me”
For their first lesson, the girls used the willow wands to create a Gentle Breeze, flicking their wrists and reciting a few words of Latin that I couldn’t translate. I whispered the words along with them, flicking my wrist even though I didn’t have a wand, and felt a thrill down my spine when the drapes rustled at the end of the hall.
With the girls learning real magick, I lingered outside the classroom door during every lesson, a pencil stub and a receipt book I’d nicked from the kitchen with me to take notes. There had yet to be an opportunity this good I’d passed up.
The gossip in the kitchen was that the sisters were letting Miss Goshawk teach Practical Magick because she was the cheapest teacher they’d interviewed. No one had thought it would actually work.
The girls soon progressed past Gentle Breezes. They froze water in simple clay cups. They started tiny fires with twists of paper and straw. One day, they learned to move objects with their minds, chalkboard erasers and books and hairpins flying around the room.
The girls were alright for beginners, I supposed, though Charlotte was learning quicker than the others, and Pet, I noticed with smug satisfaction, regularly concentrated until she was crying angry tears, but as of yet couldn’t cast anything harder than the spell to freeze water.
Whenever Miss Goshawk demonstrated a new spell, all the girls sat forward in their seats to watch, their faces slack with awe. Her fire burned the wee bundle of paper and straw away in a few second’s blaze, a bright column, there and then gone. Her eraser whipped around the room, weaving through everyone else’s objects with ease, her lank brown hair flying around her head. I’m not too proud to admit that envy curled in my chest when I watched her.
The girls quickly forgot they’d ever laughed at Miss Goshawk. She and magick were all they talked about, now. They chanted spells and made excuses to run up to Miss Goshawk’s room for help at all hours of the day and night, and the sisters, who probably already regretted taking her on, could barely get them to concentrate on their other lessons.
I eavesdropped one night as they gossiped together in Evelynn and Isabelle’s room, trading rumors in hushed voices about the bohemian enclaves of magicians in Paris. Pet claimed her older brother had stayed in one, a rowdy warren of apartments on the Boulevard Saint Michel. I tried to imagine it, when I felt the walls of my tiny attic room closing in on me: a life of color and adventure, worlds away from the school rooms and the suffocating London fog.
Doing magick made me happier than I’d been since Mam died. I was practicing too, every night in my bedroom, hunched over my hurriedly scribbled notes. Afterwards, before my candle burned out, I read snatches of Miss Goshawk’s book, and then practiced drawing and redrawing the diagram of the labyrinth.
After a sleepless night not long before I cast the Summoning, I buried my face in my pillow and sobbed when, just before I had to wash and dress and go downstairs, I finally mastered the spell to move objects, and sent Mam’s brooch whirling around the room.
At first I enjoyed having Adrastus in my head. He had been right. I was lonely here, invisible to the girls, and even the crowds I hurried through when Cook sent me on errands – just another girl in a servant’s cap, no one of importance. I spoke to him sometimes at night, telling him about my childhood in Ireland, the days in London before Mam took sick, my struggles to learn magick.
“I can help with that,” he whispered to me, and I felt a warm tingle deep in my chest.
The first week, when Evelynn elbowed me out of her way in the hallway, Adra taught me a spell to change the words of her latest letter, to say that her sweetheart had forsaken her for a dusky girl of the West Indies. We giggled together when we entered she and Isabelle’s room the next morning to find her pale and tired, her eyes ringed with red from crying.
The second week, when Isabelle called me lazy for not picking up the mess in their room, we shattered every mirror she passed, until she refused to leave her bed, but sat in the middle of a nest of blankets with her hair unbound around her and her face hidden in her skirts.
The third week, when Letitia cursed at me for burning her crinoline with the iron, we sent Bob’s shadow stretching over her bed at night. I don’t believe she slept all week.
The sisters and Miss Goshawk were beside themselves. They assumed it was one of the girls, of course, and Adra and I laughed to ourselves as they threatened and cajoled.
Meanwhile, the girls’ magick lessons continued, though as they learned harder and harder magick, it was more difficult for me, by myself, to keep up. Soon the girls were attempting spells which were too big to cast alone, but required them to hold hands and work together.
“Common Magick,” Miss Goshawk called it – “common” in the fact that the group who casted it together would share the magick, and everything else, “in common” while they worked. I’d smirked.
“Despite what we’ve focused on so far, magick is not a solo enterprise,” Miss Goshawk had said the first day they’d tried it, standing with her back to the blackboard, a willow wand tapping against her palm. “These magickal pranks,” she continued, and frowned, “Must stop now.”
I’d flinched, and Adra, in my head, gloated.
“Understand that they are something I will not, will not,” Miss Goshawk repeated, “Stand for. Common Magick requires you to work together, to rely on one another and open yourselves to one another completely. If anyone here sabotages that, they will be removed from my classroom.” She raised her eyebrows. “Do I make myself clear?”
By the end of the third week, Charlotte was on to us. It all started when she’d raised her hand during a lecture on what Common Magick could accomplish. I was still listening at the door. Even though I couldn’t try any of the spells, I didn’t seem to be able to stay away.
“Miss Evans?” Miss Goshawk had said.
I’d leaned closer to the open door to catch every word.
“I don’t mean to be rude, Miss Goshawk,” Charlotte said, and all the other girls leaned forward too, “But isn’t there a more powerful form of magick even than Common Magick? One that could enable the wielder to build an entire city, or speak to the dead?”
The girls elbowed one another and whispered. My fingers curled tightly around the doorframe. Miss Goshawk drew herself up in surprise.
“Yes,” she said carefully, “There is. Such magick relies on the use of magickal creatures, demons and the like, whom the magician summons for help. Usually some sort of bargain is struck, to pay for the creature’s help.”
“But such magick is extremely dangerous,” Miss Goshawk said, more firmly. “In these instances, one can never truly be sure one is in control. It is not a magick we will attempt in my classroom, or one I recommend you use, ever.”
My heart pounded. Adrastus had gone silent. Had I been wrong, to summon him? But why, then, had Miss Goshawk had the book? Had she never used it?
“She is afraid,” scoffed Adrastus. “Not like you.”
That night, as I was making my way down to the kitchens after helping Pet undress for bed, I came upon Charlotte in the hallway. She was still fully dressed, and glanced around herself, furtively. Adrastus stirred inside me.
I stepped forward. “Do you need help, Miss?”
She jumped. “No,” she said, crossing her arms over her body. “Where did you come from, anyway?”
I clenched my fists. “I was helping Pet into bed. I might ask you the same thing,” I added. Charlotte glared at me. “I was with Miss Goshawk, not that it’s any of your business. She thinks I show promise,” she added loftily. “She’s teaching me ahead of the others. We do magick together.”
Jealousy curled in the pit of my stomach. Precious Charlotte and her precious Miss Goshawk. It wasn’t fair, that she got freely everything I had to skulk and scrimp for.
“Hurt her,” Adra whispered.
Charlotte was eying me warily now, as if sensing how I felt. She took a step back.
“I’ve seen you, you know,” she said suddenly, “You’re always sneaking around somewhere. I’ve even felt you listening outside of the classroom.” She cocked her head, as if considering something for the first time. “Does it hurt,” she said, “To be so close and not a part of things?”
“Hurt her!” Adra roared.
I reached out with my magick, gripping Charlotte’s corset laces with the simple spell to move objects, the one I’d cried over an entire night before mastering it. I yanked her laces tighter, and she gasped, choking.
I yanked harder, and she rose from the floor, her toes skimming the Turkey carpet, her mouth open, gurgling. Her eyes widened, in fear, and something else. Recognition.
Footsteps, at the other end of the hall.
“Run!” screamed Adrastus.
Later, I paced my tiny room, my thoughts racing. What had I done? I had hurt Charlotte. Worse, I had hurt myself. She’d recognized my magick. She knew it was me who was playing the tricks. She would tell the others. I’d be thrown out on the streets.
I could feel Adrastus curled in my mind, watching me. I hadn’t noticed it before, but he had grown stronger. Every secret I’d told him, his voice had grown louder. Every trick we had played, each one had been worse than the last.
We had hurt them, all of them. Whatever had come over me, to do that to Letitia? To take away Evelynn’s only freedom? The only thing Isabelle was proud of? He’d become too strong, and now he’d betrayed me.
I had to end this, now.
“I want you gone,” I said out loud, surprised by how little my voice shook. “Our agreement is over. I won’t summon you again, to speak to my mam. I want
you gone, now.”
“The agreement has already been made.” Adrastus’s voice was the same: warm, smooth, confident. “You cannot break it off now, before your four weeks are ended.”
I shook my head, and reached for Miss Goshawk’s book, thumbing through the pages. “No. There must be a way.”
Adrastus said a word, and my hands froze, the book falling to the floor with a thump.
“Cream and sugar?” Miss Goshawk asked.
The teacup rattled where it rested on my knee. “No thank you, Miss.”
It was the day after the incident with Charlotte. Annabeth had dressed her that morning, and I had managed to avoid her all day, hurrying through the halls with my back bent, waiting for some doom to fall. When it did, it was not in the way I’d expected.
When I had returned to my room after luncheon for a moment to myself, there had been a note slipped under my door. It had been written on thick, cream paper with a strong hand: an invitation to share tea with Miss Goshawk, when my afternoon duties were complete.
Miss Goshawk frowned at me. We sat in two cushioned chairs across from each other, our knees almost touching. The little table she used as a nightstand had been pulled over, to hold a plate of biscuits. I longed to take one, but was afraid to move.
The trunk of books against the wall was closed and padlocked, now.
Miss Goshawk sipped her tea. The teacup looked impossibly delicate in her huge hand. “Do you know why I invited you here?” she asked.
“No, Miss,” I lied. She lowered her teacup and studied me, and I tried not to squirm under her piercing eyes.
“Let’s curse her,” Adrastus whispered, reaching out for my hands, and I gritted my teeth, willing him away. No. I had only a week left of his company, and then he had promised I could speak to my mam.
“These magickal tricks someone has played,” Miss Goshawk said, “Are quite dangerous, wouldn’t you agree?”
“Oh yes, Miss.” My hands shook.
“And strange,” Miss Goshawk frowned. “The mirrors especially – “ she trailed off, looking past me, and laughed once. “The idea seems hardly human.”
I took deep breaths, forcing myself not to glance at her trunk. Adrastus was listening intently.
Miss Goshawk turned back to me. “Miranda, is there anything you would like to tell me? Anything you can tell me? Anything at all?” A note of desperation had crept into her voice.
“Don’t you dare,” Adrastus hissed. “You wanted this. She cannot help you. Not now.”
I gripped my teacup so hard I imagined the handle might break. “Nothing, Miss.”
A few nights after my interview with Miss Goshawk, I was sitting at the big kitchen table, eating my nighttime morsel of bread, when I felt Adrastus take control of my thoughts. He watched as the sisters cleared their plates, and then hung up their ring of keys on the peg by the kitchen door before leaving for bed.
Cook turned her back, piling the dirty plates and mugs in the sink, and Adrastus shoved me. I dropped my bread and stood up, clumsily, reaching for the keys.
“We don’t need those,” I thought, and they fell from my hand and hit the stone floor with a loud ringing sound.
Cook glanced back at me. “Headed up to bed?”
“Yes,” I called, and bent down, my hand reaching out to snatch the keys and burry them in my pocket. My feet carried me, not up the back staircase to bed, but to the hallway outside of Pet’s room.
“Adrastus, what are you doing?” I whispered frantically as I slipped through her door.
I had put Pet to bed an hour earlier. She was buried in blankets up to her chin, snoring lightly, her blonde hair spread out on her pillow like an angel. My feet carried me over to her fireplace, my hand reaching out to snatch the exercise book from her nightstand on my way there.
I spoke a quick spell I’d never heard before over my bare hand, and dipped the book into the fire, stirring the glowing coals. I couldn’t feel the heat at all. Shadows danced crazily on the wallpaper. I pulled the book up covered in flame, and used it to light the curtains on the window before dropping it on the carpet, which caught, the flames running hungrily toward the bed.
The room was filling with smoke. I coughed, covering my mouth with my sleeve, and stumbled towards the door. I shut it behind me, and turned the key in the lock. I dropped the key ring into a Chinese vase as I fled down the hallway.
I woke up on the front stairwell to smoke and a confusion of voices. Running feet passed me, skirts brushing my face. Cook’s strong hands grasped me under the armpits and pulled me to my feet.
“There’s a fire,” she was saying. “We have to get out. What were you doing on the front staircase?” She sounded afraid.
Outside, on the cold street, the girls huddled in a circle around Miss Goshawk and the sisters. Annabeth held on to Cook’s apron, tears running down her face. The fire department had come, the men handed buckets of water up a ladder to Pet’s window.
Cook’s thick arm was around me, holding me up, and I struggled against her. “Pet,” I cried, “Where’s Pet?”
“The sisters sent for a doctor,” Cook said, “How do you – ”
I could see now that the knot of girls and teachers were gathered around something. I twisted out of Cook’s grip and ran towards them. The girls parted. Pet sat on a blanket in the street, coughing into a handkerchief. Her face was white, and streaked with black soot. The doctor crouched on the ground, holding a glass of water, his suit buttoned crookedly, as if he’d been roused from his bed.
“The fire started in her room,” one of the sisters was saying to him. “Somehow she had been locked in. We had to break down the door. I can’t imagine what might have happened, if Charlotte didn’t see the smoke and wake us.”
Charlotte again. I was shaking. I found her in the crowd, her arms crossed, frowning, and her dark eyes met mine over Pet’s bent head.
On the night of October the twenty-second, I carried Miss Goshawk’s book and Mam’s brooch down the back staircase to the kitchen, running one hand along the wall in the dark, so light I was dizzy. I was going to speak to my mam. And I was going to be free, finally, of Adrastus.
Thanks to Charlotte, the damage from the fire had been less than I’d imagined. The flames hadn’t reached past Pet’s room, and she’d been placed with Evelynn and Isabelle until her parents arrived to take her home.
Annabeth, Cook, and I had spent the next day scrubbing the smoke residue from the wallpaper and airing the carpets, but the smell of burning still lingered in the hallways, a constant reminder of what I had done. Or what I might have done, if not for Charlotte.
I drew the labyrinth out on the floor as before, the coal crumbling to black dust in my fingers, then said the words and pricked my arm with the brooch.
Adrastus rose up from the center of the labyrinth, an enormous, hunched shadow, bracing one hand against the wall, and the piece of Adrastus in my mind rose up with him. The genteel man from before was almost gone, had morphed into something horrible and strange. Sick fear churned in the pit of my stomach.
His silk top hat brushed the beamed ceiling, sending the hanging pots and pans swinging crazily, their shadows dancing on the walls. Long wings, like a cockroach’s, stirred on his back, a horrible rasping sound filling the room. He had three pairs of arms, his torso stretching upward to his tiny man’s head.
I stumbled backward, the filigreed brooch cutting into my palm. “Where’s my mam?” I screamed up at him. “You promised!”
He laughed, his insect’s wings spreading across the room.
What had happened? Tears rolled down my face, and I dashed them away, angrily. “I kept my part of the bargain. I did everything you asked! You promised me I could speak to my mam,” I covered my face with my hands. “Please. I just want to speak to her again. Just one more time.”
The demon bent down so that we were eye level, and used one of his hands to peel mine away from my face. “Poor, poor Miranda,” he crooned, and his voice was both inside my head and out, an echo. “You knew what was happening. Your tricks made me stronger. The girls’ fear,” he smacked his lips, laughing, “Was almost as delicious as your own.” I backed away from him, my head spinning. He had lied to me and manipulated me. And I had helped him.
“You can speak to your mother,” he said, “When you join her in death.” He raised one foot to step out of the center of the labyrinth, and I screamed.
The kitchen door banged open on the other side of the room, and I whirled around. It was Charlotte and Miss Goshawk, Miss Goshawk’s hair in curling rags, Charlotte leading her by the hand. Behind them, Cook and the sisters held back Annabeth and the girls, who craned their necks to see what was happening.
“Miranda?” Cook asked, confused.
Miss Goshawk swore, like a man, and pushed Charlotte behind her. Her face was very white. “Keep the girls back!” she called to the sisters.
The demon reached the outer edge of the labyrinth in a single step. I backed away from him, putting the wooden table between us, and he reached across it towards me, his six hands opening and closing like claws.
“Miss Goshawk!” I screamed, “Help me!”
She ran across the room, and crouched behind the table with me, taking my hand. “You have to stay calm,” she said, so practically that I took a deep breath and nodded. “We’re going to perform a Banishment.”
“Charlotte,” she called across the kitchen, “Bring the girls into the room slowly, and stay against the wall.” She turned to me. “If you’re afraid, it will only make him stronger. We’re going to run to the girls. Now.”
I ran across the room, Miss Goshawk’s hand clenched in mine. The demon laughed as we fled, and I could feel his breath on my back like a hot wind. Miss Goshawk organized us into a circle, herself on my right side, Charlotte on my left. Charlotte gave me a serious nod, her dark hair braided down her back.
“Join hands,” Miss Goshawk said, as calm as if we were in the classroom, “And repeat after me: Igneus Viator, mittimus te ad lacum de quo egressus…”
I spoke in time with the girls, our voices rising and falling together. I could feel Charlotte twitch beside me, the sweat of her palm. I could hear the girls’ thoughts as we chanted, their fear of the demon, their admiration for Miss Goshawk, even their hope that I would be safe. I could sense more underneath, deeper fears and dreams that I could have sought out.
I left them buried.
I understood, now. The power came from us, from all of us, opening ourselves to one another like sisters. From using our knowledge of one another for good, instead of harm.
The piece of Adrastus inside my mind howled in fury, wrestling to take control. Power flowed through my body, more than I’d ever wielded on my own, and I gasped as it passed through my hands into Charlotte and came back again through Miss Goshawk, like a telegraph running on wires. Adrastus’s power was nothing, compared to us.
The hot wind that had filled the room died down. When the chant was over, I stood still for a while with my eyes closed, still holding Charlotte and Miss Goshawk’s hands, searching my mind for any fragment left of Adrastus’s voice. He was gone. Charlotte squeezed my hand, and I opened my eyes.
The girls were smiling at each other, shyly, triumphantly, and I smiled with them.
Miss Goshawk walked into my room as I was packing my carpetbag.
I’d hugged Cook already, downstairs, whispering goodbye into her ear so no one could hear. The sisters had put the girls to bed and retired to their rooms, with promises that we’d speak about the danger I’d caused in the morning. I didn’t plan on being around for that.
“What are you doing?” Miss Goshawk asked.
I laughed a little as I folded my second dress. “You think they’ll let me stay, after that?” I shook my head. “Better to leave now, before they decide to call the constables.”
There would be no new place for me now. I'd forged my recommendation letters before, but it had only worked because Cook had been there to back me up.
Miss Goshawk took the little red book out of her pocket and sat down on my narrow bed, the volume cradled in her lap. She must have rescued it from the kitchen; I’d forgotten all about it. Her curling rags hung limply around her face.
“I know why you did it,” she said. “I could see it in your mind, during the Banishment.” She ran her fingers over the cover. “How old were you, when she died?”
I placed the dress in my bag and sat down beside her. “Twelve.”
“I was fourteen,” Miss Goshawk said, “When my brother Johnnie died. It was in India. Some tropical fever, they said. We were best friends as children, and I hadn’t spoken to him, face to face, since he left England.” Her voice was low and sad.
“I tried it too,” her mouth twisted into a bitter smile, “With similar results. I was a precocious child, and my mother had fought to have me educated past what was usual. I’d thought I could handle it. I had to be rescued by my father.”
She glanced at me. “That’s why I kept the book, Miranda. Not to use it; to keep myself humble. To remind myself that power is dangerous, as dangerous as it is wonderful.”
“I’m so sorry, Miss.” My guilt pressed down on my shoulders, and I hung my head. “I didn’t know – “ but that was a lie. I had known. I just hadn’t cared. “Will the girls –“ I asked.
“They’ll be fine,” Miss Goshawk said firmly. “I’ll take care of them. And better, I’ll teach them to take care of themselves.”
“You don’t have to leave,” she added, nodding towards my bag. “It’s me who should take the blame for what happened tonight, and I’ll tell the sisters that. Charlotte knew what was going on, I think even before I did. She came to me, the night you tried to choke her.” I flinched. “She’d recognized your magick as that of whomever was playing the tricks, and also that you had some unusual help. I realized then that my book was missing, and knew what you had done. Since you wouldn’t – or couldn’t – let me help you, I asked her to help me watch you. You’re very lucky she felt magick being worked tonight, and came to wake me.” She smiled at me, sadly. “You have great potential, Miranda. I’d like to teach you. Properly, this time.”
I gaped at her. It was everything I had dreamed of. She was offering it to me, but I could see no way to take it. After everything that had happened, Miss Goshawk was probably already on dangerous ground with the sisters. If she took the blame for my mistake, it would be she who was dismissed instead. I couldn’t do that to the girls.
“I’m sorry, Miss,” I said, finally. “But I’ve already made my plans. I’m going to Paris, to join the bohemian magicians there. I’ve been saving up my earnings, and I have just enough for my train ticket and a couple of meals. I thought, with what I’ve learned already, they’d take me on as an apprentice. I know it sounds silly,” I said, “But I thought I might find a new family, there. Of people like me.”
Miss Goshawk studied my face, and then she nodded. “If that’s what you want, then I wish you all the best.” She stood up, and I stood up with her, picking my bag up off of the floor.
I held out my hand. She hesitated for a moment, then wrapped me in a tight hug. She smelled like soap and tingling magick. “Farewell, Miranda,” she whispered. “I suppose I knew from the moment I met you that you weren’t meant to be a chambermaid.”
When I opened my bag again, curled up on the hard seat of the train to Paris, the little red book was there, lying on top of my dresses.