Carry On Page 2

That night that we were fighting the chimera, Baz kept yelling at me until I went off.

We both woke up a few hours later in a blackened pit. The boulder we’d been hiding behind was dust, and the chimera was vapour. Or maybe it was just gone.

Baz was sure I’d singed off his eyebrows, but he looked fine to me—not a hair out of place.




I don’t let myself think about Watford over the summers.

After my first year there, when I was 11—I spent the whole summer thinking about it. Thinking about everyone I’d met at school—Penelope, Agatha, the Mage. About the towers and the grounds. The teas. The puddings. The magic. The fact that I was magic.

I made myself sick thinking about the Watford School of Magicks—daydreaming about it—until it started to feel like nothing more than a daydream. Just another fantasy to make the time pass.

Like when I used to dream about becoming a footballer someday—or that my parents, my real parents, were going to come back for me.…

My dad would be a footballer. And my mum would be some posh model type. And they’d explain how they’d had to give me up because they were too young for a baby, and because his career was on the line. “But we always missed you, Simon,” they’d say. “We’ve been looking for you.” And then they’d take me away to live in their mansion.

Footballer mansion … Magickal boarding school …

They both seem like crap in the light of day. (Especially when you wake up in a room with seven other discards.)

That first summer, I’d beaten the memory of Watford to a bloody pulp by the time my bus fare and papers showed up in the autumn, along with a note from the Mage himself.…

Real. It was all real.

So, the next summer, after my second year at Watford, I didn’t let myself think about magic at all. For months. I just shut myself off from it. I didn’t miss it, I didn’t wish for it.

I decided to let the World of Mages come back to me like a big surprise present come September, if it was going to. (And it did come back. It always has, so far.)

The Mage used to say that maybe someday he’d let me spend summers at Watford—or maybe even spend them with him, wherever he goes all summer.

But then he decided I was better off spending part of every year with the Normals. To stay close to the language and to keep my wits about me: “Let hardship sharpen your blade, Simon.”

I thought he meant my actual blade, the Sword of Mages. Eventually I figured out that he meant me.

I’m the blade. The Mage’s sword. And I’m not sure if these summers in children’s homes make me any sharper.… But they do make me hungrier. They make me crave Watford like, I don’t know, like life itself.

Baz and his side—all the old, rich families—they don’t believe that anyone can understand magic the way that they do. They think they’re the only ones who can be trusted with it.

But no one loves magic like I do.

None of the other magicians—none of my classmates, none of their parents—know what it’s like to live without magic.

Only I know.

And I’ll do anything to make sure it’s always here for me to come home to.

*   *   *

I try not to think about Watford when I’m away—but it was almost impossible this summer.

After everything that happened last year, I couldn’t believe the Mage would even pay attention to something like the end of term. Who interrupts a war to send the kids home for summer holidays?

Besides, I’m not a kid anymore. Legally, I could have left care at 16. I could’ve got my own flat somewhere. Maybe in London. (I could afford it. I have an entire bag of leprechaun’s gold—a big, duffel-sized bag, and it only disappears if you try to give it to other magicians.)

But the Mage sent me off to a new children’s home, just like he always does. Still moving me around like a pea under shells after all these years. Like I’d be safe there. Like the Humdrum couldn’t just summon me, or whatever it was he did to me and Penelope at the end of last term.

“He can summon you?” Penny demanded as soon as we got away from him. “Across a body of water? That isn’t possible, Simon. There’s no precedent for that.”

“Next time he summons me like a half-arsed squirrel demon,” I said, “I’ll tell him so!”

Penelope had been unlucky enough to be holding my arm when I was snatched, so she’d been snatched right along with me. Her quick thinking is the only reason either of us escaped.

“Simon,” she said that day, when we were finally on a train back to Watford. “This is serious.”

“Siegfried and fucking Roy, Penny, I know that it’s serious. He’s got my number. I don’t even have my number, but the Humdrum’s got it down.”

“How can we still know so little about him,” she fumed. “He’s so…”

“Insidious,” I said. “‘The Insidious Humdrum’ and all that.”

“Stop teasing, Simon. This is serious.”

“I know, Penny.”

When we got back to Watford, the Mage heard us out and made sure we weren’t hurt, but then he sent us on our way. Just … sent us home.

It didn’t make any sense.

So, of course, I spent this whole summer thinking about Watford. About everything that happened and everything that could happen and everything that’s at stake … I stewed on it.

But I still didn’t let myself dwell on any of the good things, you know? It’s the good things that’ll drive you mad with missing them.

I keep a list—of all the things I miss most—and I’m not allowed to touch it in my head until I’m about an hour from Watford. Then I run through the list one by one. It’s sort of like easing yourself into cold water. But the opposite of that, I suppose—easing yourself into something really good, so the shock of it doesn’t overwhelm you.

I started making my list, my good things list, when I was 11, and I should probably cross a few things off, but that’s harder than you’d think.

Anyway, I’m about an hour from school now, so I mentally take out my list and press my forehead against the train window.

Things I miss most about Watford:

No. 1—Sour cherry scones

I’d never had cherry scones before Watford. Just raisin ones—and more often plain, and always something that came from the shop, then got left in an oven too long.

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