The crackling ball of energy that had gobbled my mother up was a simple recall spell, or so Grandma Apples explained when she arrived.
In fairness, the spell didn’t sound simple, so I can’t blame any one of Penny’s friends for not knowing what it was. To their credit though, when confronted with something beyond their experience, they had the good sense to call someone with a lot more experience to help sort things out.
“Sounds like the kitty stepped over the line a little too far,” Grandma Apples said. “And a little too often. That’s not the sort of enchantment you put on someone unless they’ve proven disloyal at least a few times already.”
“Does that mean that this witch, Iona, is a danger to Penny?” Penny’s father asked. He brought a cup of tea over to Grandma Apples to go with the mugs of hot chocolate that Penny, Rosie and Betty were drinking.
“So it would seem,” Grandma Apples said. “I’ll have to look into her story. As a rule, witches don’t have much cause to strike against other witches, but this Iona could be the exception.”
I felt like my witch was already an exception, so it seemed unfair that other people would try to horn in on that.
“Autumn, September’s Mom, said she wanted to use me as an offering,” Penny said. “That’s what the Miser King was planning too. Am I particularly tasty or something?”
“To the wrong sort of creature, I suppose you would be,” Grandma Apples said. “Fledgling witches have all this new power and the least idea of how to use that they’re ever going to have. That can attract the sort of parasite that needs to feed on the strength of others. Most creatures are smarter than that though. Even a fledgling witch can cause a lot of problems on their own, and if they know anyone else? Well let’s say that if what Autumn said is true then Inspector Brooks will be looking to make an example of someone so that you never have this problem again.”
“Can a witch be punished without punishing her familiar too?” I asked.
“It’s possible,” Grandma Apples said. “It depends on the relationship the witch and the familiar have.”
Thinking of relationships left me cold. I was still a conflicted mess inside, despite my unperturbed exterior. As a cat, I could be poised and graceful since there was no immediate danger. As a familiar, or any other sort of thinking being, though, I was torn between a dozen different emotions.
“Autumn seems to be working against Iona’s interests,” Rosie said. “I didn’t think that was possible?”
“It is and it isn’t,” Grandma Apples said. “A witch and their familiar share a bond. It’s closer than friendship but they remain separate people. For one to turn against the other, each of them would need to be divided within themselves.”
“So does that mean part of Iona supports what Autumn was trying to do?” Betty asked. The goblin girl seemed to have a positive thirst for knowledge, especially about how magic and witches worked. I suspected that was why she and Rosie got along so well.
“Possibly,” Grandma Apples said. “If she knows and accepts that kidnapping a young witch is wrong and she’s still pursuing that course of action though something much deeper must be driving her on.”
“What will happen to my mother?” I asked. “I mean what will Iona do to her?”
“Cast her out? Lock her in a cage? Turn her into a stuffed toy?” Grandma Apples said. “It’s hard to say, without knowing either one of them.”
None of those options were in any bit reassuring or comforting.
“Can we find them?” I asked. “I mean before anything bad happens?”
“We can certainly try,” Grandma Apples said. “Witches can be hard to locate if they’re focused on staying hidden though, so our success will depend somewhat on whether Iona sticks to her plan or scurries back into the shadows.”
“I hope she comes for me then,” Penny said. Seeming and Shadow had their hands on her shoulders, which was rare.
“No, that isn’t what we want,” her father said. “What we want is for Inspector Brooks to catch her before anyone is hurt or threatened.”
“He takes these kind of cases seriously,” Grandma Apples said. “I’m sure he’ll turn over stones we wouldn’t even think to look twice at.”
“He can’t search everywhere though can he?” Penny asked.
“No, but that doesn’t mean you need to go out and risk yourself to help him,” Grandma Apples said. “Not yet anyways. Once you’ve got a decade or two of experience under your belt, you might be ready for that kind of work, though I’d advise finding a safer calling.”
“What about the person Iona is worried about?” I asked. “Who’s going to help them?”
Grandma Apples looked at me and frowned. I’m not great at reading human expressions, they’re often a jumbled mess on the outside, which I gather is an accurate reflection of what they’re like on the inside too. In this case though I got the sense that I’d brought up a topic that she wished I hadn’t.
“What do you mean?” Penny asked.
“If my mother’s witch is torn up enough that her familiar is working against her, then it’s probably over concern for someone else,” I said.
“She could be thinking of offering up Penny to pay off some debt she owes couldn’t she?” Rosie said.
“It’s possible, but September is right,” Grandma Apples said. “It’s much easier to convince ourselves that we need to do something horrible if it’s in someone else’s name.”
“Could it be for someone my age?” Penny asked. “Substitute one young witch for another? Is that how offerings even work?”
“They can,” Grandma Apples said. “If so it means we’re not just dealing with a witch who desires more power in this case, it means we’re facing a mother trying to protect her daughter.”