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My hair swept back from my face and gathered itself into a bun on top of my head. It was so tight my eyes watered.

"Sophia," Alice said in the tone used to placate a tantrum-throwing toddler, "you only think you're crappy."

The word "crappy" sounded ridiculously classy in Alice's cut-glass accent, and I had to smile a little. I guess she saw that as a good sign, because she took my hand. Her skin was soft and ice-cold to the touch.

"Sophia," she said in a softer voice, "you're incredibly powerful.

You're just at a disadvantage because you've been raised by a human. With the right training and guidance, you could put those other girls--what do you and your half-breed friend call them? 'The Witches of Noxema'?"

"Jenna's not a half-breed," I said quickly, but she ignored me. "You could be far, far more powerful than any of them. And I can show you how."

"But why?" I asked.

She smiled in that enigmatic way again and patted my arm. Even though I knew Alice had died at eighteen, which made her just two years older than me, there was something very grandmotherly in her touch. And after a lifetime of having just Mom as family, it felt nice.

"Because you're my blood," she answered. "Because you deserve to be better. To become what you are meant to be."

I didn't know what to say to that. Was head of the Council what I was meant to be? I thought of my onetime fantasy of owning one of those New Age bookshops, reading palms and wearing a big purple caftan. That seemed very far away now and, honestly, kind of stupid.

And then I thought of Elodie, Chaston, and Anna glowing and levitating in the library. They had looked like goddesses, and even though I'd been scared, I'd envied them. Was it really possible that I could become better than them?

Alice laughed. "Oh, you'll be much better than those girls."

Great, she could read my mind.

"Come, we haven't much time left."

We walked past the cemetery and into a clearing inside a ring of oak trees. "This is where we'll meet," Alice said. "This is where I'll train you to be the witch you should be."

"You do know that I have class, right? I can't stay up all night."

Alice reached down and slipped a necklace off her neck. Her hands glowed with a light brighter than the orb still floating above us. Then the light abruptly went out and she handed the necklace to me. It was almost too hot to touch. Just a simple silver chain with a square pendant about the size of a postage stamp. In the center was a teardrop-shaped black stone.

"There. Family heirloom," she said. "As long as you're wearing that, you'll never become too tired."

I looked at the necklace with appreciation. "Will I learn that spell?"

And for the first time, Alice smiled a real smile, a broad one that lit her whole face and made her slightly plain features beautiful.

She leaned in and took both my hands in hers, pulling me close until our faces were inches apart. "All that and more," she whispered. And when she broke out into giggles, I found myself laughing too.

Several hours later, I was not laughing. I wasn't even cracking a smile.

"Again!" Alice barked. How did a girl so tiny have a voice so loud? I sighed and rolled my shoulders. I focused as hard as I could on the empty space in front of me, willing with all my might for a pencil to appear. For the first hour, we'd just worked on blocking spells. I'd done pretty well blocking Alice's attack spells, even though I hadn't been able to sense them coming.

But for the past hour we'd been working on making something appear out of nothing. We'd started small, hence the pencil, and Alice claimed it was just a matter of concentrating.

But I'd been concentrating so hard that I was afraid I'd now be seeing bright yellow Number 2 pencils every time I closed my eyes. I'd vibrated the grass a bunch, and after one particularly frustrating moment, I'd sent a rock flying toward Alice, but no pencils.

"Should we start even smaller?" Alice asked. "A paper clip, perhaps?

An ant?"

I cut my eyes at her and took another deep breath.

Pencil, pencil, pencil, I thought. Bright yellow pencil, soft pink eraser, SAT, please, please . . .

And then I felt it. That feeling like water rushing up from the soles of my feet and into my fingertips. But this wasn't just water. This was a river.

Everything inside of me seemed to be vibrating. I felt a burning behind my eyes, but it was a good sort of heat, the way a sunwarmed car seat feels on your back on a cool day. My face ached, and I realized it was because I was smiling.

The pencil faded in slowly, looking like a ghost of itself at first, before finally becoming solid. I kept my hands out, the magic still pulsing through me, and turned to Alice to say something along the lines of "Neener neener!"

But then I saw that she wasn't looking at me. She was looking past me, where the pencil was. I turned back and gasped.

Now there wasn't just one pencil in front of me. There was a pile of maybe thirty spilling over each other, and more were popping up.

I dropped my hands and felt the magic stop instantly, like a connection had been severed.

"Holy crap!" I exclaimed softly.

"My, my," was Alice's only comment.

"I . . ." I stared at the pile. "I did that," I said finally, even as I mentally kicked myself for sounding so stupid.

"Indeed you did," Alice said, shaking her head a little. Then she smiled. "I told you so."

I laughed, but then a thought occurred to me.

"Wait. You said your sleeping spell lasts for only four hours." I glanced at my watch. "It's been almost four hours now, and it took us at least half an hour to get out here. How are we going to get back in time?"

Alice smiled, and with a snap of her fingers, two brooms suddenly materialized beside her.

"You're joking," I said.

The smile broadened, and she threw one leg over a broom and zoomed off into the sky. She came back down and hovered a few feet above my head, and her laugh echoed throughout the woods. "Come on, Sophia!"

she called. "Be traditional for once!"

Heaving myself off the ground, I grabbed the slender neck of the broom. "Is this thing gonna hold me?" I called up to her. "We don't all shop at Baby Gap!"

This time she didn't bother to ask me what I was talking about. She just laughed and said, "I'd hurry if I were you! Fifteen minutes stand between you and year-long cellar duty!"

So I straddled the broom. I wasn't quite as ladylike as Alice, but when the broom suddenly lifted into the air, I didn't care how undignified I looked.

I grabbed the handle tighter and gave a startled yelp as the night air rushed over me. And then I was in the sky.

I'd assumed the broom would rush off and that I'd be hanging on for dear life, but instead it sort of glided, and I caught my breath, not out of fear but out of a feeling of sheer exhilaration. The air was cold but soft around me, and as I followed Alice back to the school, I gathered the courage to look down at the trees below me. Alice had extinguished the orb, so all I could really make out were dark blobs, but I didn't care. I was flying--

actually honest-to-God flying.

The stars overhead felt close enough to touch, and my heart felt like it was floating free in my chest. In the distance I could see the green glow of the bubble around Hecate, and I hoped we would never get there, that I could just go on feeling this light, this free, forever.

Too soon, we touched down just in front of the porch. My cheeks felt chapped and my hands were numb, but I was smiling like a lunatic.

"That," I pronounced, "was the most awesome thing ever. Why don't all witches do that?"

Alice laughed as she dismounted. "I suppose it's thought of as a cliche."

"Well, screw that noise," I said. "When I'm head of the Council, that's going to be the only way to travel."

Alice laughed again. "Glad to hear it."

As we watched, the bubble around Hecate began to dim.

"Guess that means I should go in," I said. "So, same time, same place tomorrow?"

Alice nodded and then reached into the pocket of her dress and pulled out a small pouch. "Take this with you."

The bag was soft in my hand, and I could feel its contents shifting.

"What is this?"

"Dirt from my grave. Should you ever need extra power for a spell, just pour a little on your hands and that should do it."

"Okay. Um, thanks." It would be nice to have a little extra magic mojo, but inside, all I could think was, Grave dirt? Gross.

"And, Sophia," Alice added as I turned to go.


She walked up to me and took my shoulders, pulling my head down to her mouth. For a second I thought she was going to kiss me on the cheek or something, but then she whispered, "Be careful. The Eye sees you, even here."

I jerked back, my heart pounding and my mouth dry, but before I could reply, Alice gave a sad smile and faded away.


"So," I breathlessly asked Archer a week later, "have you picked out the perfect shade of pink for your tux yet?"

We were in Defense, and I was only winded because I'd just delivered a blow that had sent Archer to the mat for the fifth time that day. My lack of oxygen had nothing to do with how good he looked in his tight T-shirt. I couldn't believe I'd knocked him down so many times. Either he was getting worse, or I was getting a lot better. I mean, I was never going to be on American Gladiators, but I wasn't half bad. And I'd been out all night.

My necklace bumped against my chest as I leaned down to offer Archer a hand. Alice's charm had worked like a . . . well, you get it. I'd only gotten about two hours of sleep for the first three nights, and yet I'd woken up feeling fine. The first morning I'd lived in fear that Mrs. Casnoff was going to pull me into her office and ask if I knew anything about a sleeping spell someone had put on the school, but when that hadn't happened, I'd started to relax a little. Now I didn't even bother to sleep. I'd just lie there in the dark, feeling as antsy as a kid on Christmas Eve until I saw the soft green glow spill through my windows. Then I'd rush outside, jump onto my broom, and soar through the night sky until I got to the cemetery.

I knew what I was doing was dangerous and maybe a little stupid. But when I rode through the sky or did spells so powerful I'd never dreamed they existed, it was hard to remember that.

Archer grinned as I helped him to his feet.

"No, seriously," I said. "Elodie was saying earlier that you two were going to match. So what shade is it? 'Tickled Pink'? 'Rambling Rose,'

maybe? Ooh, ooh, I know! 'Virgin's Blush'!"

The All Hallow's Eve Ball was just a week away, and it seemed like that was all anyone was talking about. Even in Byron's class our assignment had been to compose a sonnet about the outfit we were going to wear. I still had no idea what I was wearing. Ms. East was in charge of teaching us the transformation spell that would create our dresses and tuxes. Just yesterday she'd given us each a dummy dressed in something that looked like a pillowcase with armholes. I didn't know why we couldn't just transform clothes we already owned, but I figured it was just another one of Hecate's dumb rules.

The shapeshifters and faeries had to get their own clothes, which meant that boxes had been arriving nonstop for the past few days.