Will their mad magic be enough to help Tom rescue his dad from the clutches of some killer fairies?
|Publisher:||Random House Children's Books|
|Sold by:||Random House|
|File size:||2 MB|
|Age Range:||9 - 12 Years|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
On the morning everything changed, Tom Harding opened his eyes to find his old white cat sitting on his duvet.
“Hi, Elvis,” he said blearily. “How did you get in?” He could have sworn he had shut his bedroom door last night. He sat up in bed with a loud yawn--he had slept very deeply, and his head felt foggy. His bedroom looked perfectly normal, but there was an odd silence in the house. Sunlight blazed through the curtains. Then he caught sight of his alarm clock.
Eleven-thirty? That couldn’t be right. Mum always woke him up early on weekdays, even during the -summer holidays--Tom’s parents, Jonas and Sophie Harding, owned a delicatessen and coffee shop, and he had to be up before they opened at half past eight.
The Harding family lived in a flat above the deli, and there should have been plenty of noise downstairs at this time of the morning--the coffee machine hissing, babies wailing, people talking at the tables outside on the pavement. And yet the strange silence stretched on and on, and Elvis’s green eyes stared at Tom gravely, as if he were trying to say something important.
“Mum?” Tom called. “Mum, are you there? Dad?”
Something was wrong. Tom scrambled out of bed, quickly put on yesterday’s clothes and hurried downstairs to the deli. It was gloomy and deserted. The thick green night blinds were still drawn over the big windows, and the CLOSED sign was up in the door. He looked round at the polished wooden counters and the shelves filled with bottles and packets of fancy food. Beside the till, Dad had made a little pyramid of jars of sun-dried tomatoes, and Tom noticed that the top jar was missing. That was the only change he could put his finger on, but everything felt strange.
He dashed back upstairs to the flat. “Mum? Dad?”
“Good morning!” a voice called from the kitchen.
It was a deep, rough voice that didn’t belong to either of his parents. Cautiously, Tom looked round the kitchen door and saw a very large bottom bent over in front of the open fridge. The owner of the bottom stood up and turned round, and Tom saw that she was a tough-looking lady, with a wrinkled brown face and short gray hair, dressed in a blue jumpsuit and heavy boots.
“So you’re Tom,” she said.
“Er--hello. What’s going on? Have you seen my parents?”
“The name’s Mustard,” the tough lady said cheerfully. “Lorna Mustard. I expect your dad’s mentioned me.”
A single jar of rich red sun-dried tomatoes stood on the draining board. Lorna Mustard picked it up carefully and put it on the top shelf.
“No,” Tom said, “I’m pretty sure he’s never mentioned anyone called Mustard. Do you know where my parents have gone? Why’s the deli shut?”
“Let’s not fly into a panic,” Lorna said in her gruff voice. “Have some eggs and bacon.”
“Did they go out somewhere?”
“You could say that.”
“Why didn’t they tell me?”
“Hmm. How old are you now?”
“Eleven,” Tom said. “Why didn’t they say anything?”
“There wasn’t time--your dad just managed to summon me. Now I’m here to take care of you.”
Tom decided she must be crazy. “I don’t need a baby-sitter, thanks.”
“I’m not a babysitter,” Lorna said. “I’m your fairy godmother.”
“Sorry?” He wondered if he should call the police, or maybe an ambulance.
“Before you ask any more questions, you’d better see this.” Lorna snapped her fingers at the small television on the kitchen counter. The screen flickered, and a face appeared.
“Dad?” Tom gasped.
“Hi, Tom.” Dad was speaking from some dark, murky place, and he looked scared. “If you’re watching this, it means I’ve been forced into hiding. I can’t explain it all now, but I’ve been keeping a secret. A big secret. I’m very sorry, Tom--there’s no easy way to say this--but I’m a fairy.”
“WHAT?” Tom’s heart was thudding uncomfortably. “Look, what’s going on?”
“I thought I could leave my fairy side behind,” the recording of Dad went on. “I thought I could open a deli in Primrose Hill and live like a normal human being. I didn’t tell you or your mother because I wanted to protect you. But they’ve found me, and now there’s a warrant out for my arrest.”
“But that’s stupid!” Tom cried. “He’s not a criminal!”
“Inside the Realm,” Dad said, “I’m wanted for illegal marriage and murder. That’s why I had to go into hiding. It’s true that my marriage to your mother isn’t legal here--but please believe this, Tom”--Tom had never seen Dad so serious--“I did not kill Milly Falconer! The charge is complete nonsense--but there’s no time to explain. Whatever you do, don’t let anyone lure you into the Realm! Not even if they kidnap Mum and hold her hostage.”
“Mum! What’s he talking about?” This was a nightmare. “Where is she?”
“She’s only a mortal,” Dad said. “I’m trusting you to protect her. Tell her I’m sorry about being a secret fairy. I hate leaving you both, but you’ll be safer if you don’t know where I am. I’ve summoned your three fairy godmothers, and they’ll tell you what to do--their names are Iris Moth, Dahlia Pease-Blossom and Lorna Mustard.” In the background there was distant shouting, and what sounded like a gunshot. Dad looked frightened. Very quickly he added, “No more time! Trust your godmothers, Tom--they’re our only hope!”
“This is some kind of trick,” Tom said faintly.
On the television, something strange and dreadful was happening to Dad. His chin melted like wax, his nose stretched into a point, his face turned black and hairy, his mouth filled with fangs, and before Tom’s horrified eyes he changed into a bat. The screen went blank.
Tom collapsed into one of the kitchen chairs.
Maybe I’m still asleep, he thought, and this is a really weird dream.
But the kitchen tap dripped, which it didn’t in dreams, and this lady with the big bum--his “fairy -godmother”--was only too solid.
“I came the minute I got the summons,” Lorna Mustard said. “I don’t know what’s happened to the other two godmothers--lazy old bags--but I know my duty.”
“Mum!” Tom sprang out of his chair. “He said they’d kidnap her! Where is she?” It was horrible to think of his pretty, laughing mother being kidnapped--maybe tied up, or blindfolded.
“Calm down, boy!” Lorna clamped a big hand on his shoulder and pushed him back. “I’m way ahead of you, and I hid your mother the minute I got here.”
Tom breathed a little easier. Lorna had a very confident way of talking, and Dad had told him to trust her. For some reason--though she was a total stranger and hardly seemed normal--he did. “Is she OK? When can I see her?”
“I’m afraid you can’t see her just yet, because it might put her in danger. But please don’t be anxious about her.” For the first time Lorna’s craggy old face was kind. “She’s absolutely fine, and I give you my solemn word that I’m guarding her with my life. Now you’d better have some bacon and eggs--you look shocked.”
“I am shocked.”
“Did you really not know your dad was a fairy?”
“No! I had no idea!” Tom’s best friend, Charlie, had once been sent out of class for calling someone a fairy. What would Charlie say if he heard about this? Once or twice lately he’d made fun of Tom for wearing a “girly” apron when he helped out at the deli on Saturday mornings. It hadn’t done any good telling him it was a man’s apron. Charlie would definitely think being a fairy was girly.
“In the mortal world, the word ‘fairy’ is sometimes used as an insult.” Lorna put the big frying pan on the stove and slapped in six slices of bacon. “Little mortal girls think they’re dressing up as fairies when they wear pink wings and puffy pink skirts. They think fairy godmothers only exist in stories. Mortals have never really understood us.”
“I’m a mortal,” Tom reminded her.
“Oh, you’re not a mortal.”
“Yes, I am!”
Lorna flipped the bacon in the pan. “You’re not, you know.”
“I’m a normal human boy!”
“Well, you’re a boy,” Lorna said cheerfully. “But you’re not entirely human--and you’re definitely not normal.”
Tom was a little scared, but also interested. “What am I, then?”
“You’re a demisprite.”
His fairy godmother held four eggs in her big hand and broke them into the frying pan all at once. “A demi-sprite is half fairy and half mortal. You’re very rare and special because you’re not supposed to exist. Fairies aren’t allowed to mate with mortals.”
“It makes a puncture in the membrane, and magic leaks out.”
“Oh dear, it’s complicated. It’s the thin layer between this world and the Realm.”
“Can a demisprite get into the Realm?”
“Certainly not legally.”
“So--when my dad married my mum, he was really committing a crime? Wow!” Tom was impressed. Dad was a small, smiling man with curly hair, who wore an apron and spent his days making coffee and slicing salami. But if all this fairy stuff was true, he was secretly as brave and romantic as someone in a film.
“We all tried to warn him,” Lorna said, shaking her head. “But nothing beats the power of true love. It doesn’t matter how many laws they make--there have always been a few demisprites. They often have amazing talents that make them stand out in the mortal world. Shakespeare and Mozart were demis. So was Stalin--the power shows up in all sorts of ways.”
“Wow,” Tom said again. “I’m a demisprite!” He tried out the sound of the word and decided it was weird but glamorous, and not necessarily girly. “Does that mean I have superpowers?” He was starting a new school in September, and was already worried that Charlie would avoid him for not being cool enough. A superpower or two would come in very handy.
“We shall have to find out about your powers.” Lorna put two plates of bacon and eggs on the table and sat down. “What skills would you like?”
“I don’t know--flying would be good.” He’d always had secret fantasies about being able to fly.
“Can’t you fly?” She tossed a fried egg into her mouth and gulped it down whole. “No, of course not. Well, you must have some lessons.”
“Flying lessons? Seriously?”
“I’ve never been more serious.”
“Can my dad fly?”
“Oh, of course--and he’s jolly good at it. He was on the flying hockey team when we were in college.”
“Is that where you met him? He never talks about his college.” It was incredible to think that his easygoing dad, who had gray hair and a rather round stomach, had been hiding the fact that he could fly--actually fly. And he’d thought he knew Dad so well.
Lorna said, “Eat your food before it gets cold.”
Tom realized he was hungry and began to eat his bacon and eggs, watching Lorna.
She hasn’t done anything magical yet, he thought, except that thing with the television--Cinderella’s fairy godmother was a lot more useful. Lorna had cooked the food herself; a proper fairy would just have conjured it out of nothing.
“Ms. Mustard . . .”
“Call me Lorna.”
“Lorna, can you help my dad?”
She sighed. “I hope so, but I dropped out of the Realm years ago--I own a scrap-metal business these days.”
“Oh.” Tom hadn’t expected this. It didn’t sound very fairylike.
“My magic’s a bit rusty. You probably know more than I do.”
His heart sank. If his fairy godmother couldn’t get him out of this mess, who could? “You couldn’t know less magic than me,” he said gloomily, “because I don’t know any.”
“What--none at all? Did Jonas really teach you nothing?”
“I told you, he never told me anything, and certainly not about magic.”
“That’s a nuisance.”
“Don’t you use magic anymore?”
Lorna sighed again. “There’s not much call for it in the scrap-metal trade. I only used the spells that would make my business successful.”
“Could you change yourself into a bat, like my dad did?”
“I could, but I’d have to look it up--and all my spellbooks are in a box somewhere.”
“Oh.” Tom had decided he liked Lorna, but he couldn’t help being disappointed.
“To tell the truth, when I agreed to be your godmother, I didn’t think I’d actually have to do anything. I just signed the parchment and sent you a christening present.”
This was interesting. Tom tried to remember some of the old fairy tales Mum had read to him when he was little, where godmothers gave wonderful magical gifts. “What was it?”
His godmother grinned suddenly, making her stern face look younger and nicer. “You’re good at math, aren’t you?”
“Well . . . yes.” Tom was very good at math. The headmistress of his primary school had told his parents he was “exceptional.”
“That was my present--math talent.”
“Thanks,” Tom said politely, though he couldn’t help wishing it had been a football talent instead; being great at math didn’t exactly make you popular--Charlie said only nerds were good at math.
“I nearly got you a talent for keeping your bedroom tidy,” Lorna went on, “but math was only a few pounds more and the postage was included, so I thought, What the heck? I always liked Jonas.”
“What about the other godmothers? Did they give me presents?”
“Oh yes, it’s the custom. Dahlia Pease-Blossom got you a handsome-token--she was too mean to fork out for full beauty.”
“Actually, handsome is fine,” Tom said. “I mean, it’s really nice.” His face turned hot. He was a tall, skinny boy with dark brown hair and blue eyes--and apparently he was handsome, which was nice to know, but a bit embarrassing.
“And Iris Moth sent you a whole hour of invisibility, which is very expensive. She’s a nasty old bag in some ways, but she’s not as tightfisted as Dahlia--and she’s a great one for keeping up the old customs. For instance, she still goes back to the Realm twice a year for the nude dancing at the solstices. I haven’t bothered for ages.”
“The Realm is where my dad’s hiding, isn’t it?”
“Yes.” Lorna was very serious.
“So we need to go there and look for him.”
“No, no--you can’t come into the Realm. It’s too dangerous. I have to hide you in this world. You see, the Falconers will be looking for you this very minute. We’d better get out as soon as possible.”
“The . . . Falconers?”
“They’re the ruling family in the Realm. I’ll give you the background later. All you need to know now is that they’re highly dangerous--and, for some reason I don’t understand, they want Jonas dead.”
Tom put down his knife and fork, feeling slightly sick. “Is it because of Milly Falconer?”