Emily Feather and the Secret Mirror

“Why are you staring at me?” Lory gazed back at Emily over the top of her piece of toast.

“I'm not!” Emily tried to sound convincing, but it was tricky. She had been staring. She hadn't even meant to. She just kept finding herself doing it, to all of her family. Lark and Lory, and Robin, and her mum and dad.

Staring was hardly surprising, though. It was only a week since they'd told Emily that she was adopted. And not even properly adopted – just found. She was a
foundling
, Emily thought, stirring her cereal, and deciding she didn't feel like eating it. Foundlings were something out of history. That kind of thing wasn't supposed to happen now.

Having your older twin sisters grow wings in front of you probably wasn't supposed to happen either, though. Most people thought fairies didn't exist. Emily had proof – she lived with five of them.

“You're doing it again!” Lory put down the toast and glared. “Is my make-up looking weird or something?”

“No … no weirder than usual, anyway.” Emily shrugged. Lory liked glittery eyeshadow, but the secondary school had a no make-up policy, so she only got to wear it at the weekends. That meant she spent at least half an hour using every product she could find. Today she had small purple jewels stuck on the ends of her eyelashes.

“Can you actually see?” Emily asked, leaning over the table and peering up under the feathery fan of lashes.

“Of course,” Lory said irritably. Her eyelashes fluttered as she scowled, and the purple jewels shook and danced. Emily bit into her upper lip and kept looking as the tiny purple gems grew glittering wings and flew away, humming and buzzing around Lory's hair before they settled on her eyelashes again. Emily wasn't sure if Lory was actually wearing tiny fairy insects as make-up, or if they were jewels, and her sister had just charmed her into seeing them fly.

“Mmmm, she can see perfectly. That's why she fell down the stairs,” Lark put in, elbowing her twin slyly, as she slathered marmalade on to another piece of toast. Lark and Lory weren't identical twins, even without Lory's glitter obsession. Lory was blonde and Lark had brownish streaky hair – but even though they were easy to tell apart, there was still something about them that obviously made them sisters. Emily's younger brother, Robin, had the same pointed chin and huge eyes. They belonged together.

The way she didn't look like the rest of her family had been one of the first things that had made Emily wonder why she didn't seem to fit in properly sometimes. She was normal-looking. She had dark, wavy hair that curled on a good day, and always looked like a straggly mess when she got out of bed. Dark eyes that were pretty-ish when she caught herself sideways in a mirror. But she wasn't striking like all the others. Even her dad was beautiful. People were always interviewing him about the books he wrote, and they generally said more about his film-star cheekbones and silver hair than they did about the books he wrote.

Lory looked over at her, smirking. “You stare at me, I'll give you something to watch.”

Emily swallowed. “They weren't real, then? Those things?”

Lory rolled her eyes. “I keep forgetting how much you don't know.”

“So tell me!” Emily huffed, but Lory and Lark only glanced at each other, and shrugged with an identical twitch of their shoulders. “Ask Mum,” Lory said. “Or Dad. Although good luck getting any sense out of him today. I asked him if he wanted breakfast, and he said that was an interesting question, and did I think teeth always had to be attached to something. He's obviously writing another monster.”

Emily sighed. “All right. So tell me about the beetle eyelashes. You didn't really just turn those glittery bits into beetles, then?”

“We're not supposed to use fairy stuff here, Ems,” Lark explained. She was always more patient than Lory. It was usually Lark who persuaded her twin to let Emily hang around with the pair of them. Now that they were thirteen, they seemed to have got suddenly old, and far too cool for little sisters.

“But Lory made me see them!” Emily protested. “Isn't that using magic?”

“We-elll, yes,” Lory admitted. “Only a teensy bit, though. No one's going to complain about that. Mum and Dad wouldn't notice it.”

“I don't see why you don't do all your make-up by spells,” Emily muttered. “Then you wouldn't always take so long getting ready to go out.”

“Because I can't.” Lory was obviously about to say something snappish, but Lark nudged her, and she added, quite nicely, “If I did that, it would have to last all day, wouldn't it?”

“Not necessarily,” Emily shot back. Lory changed her nail polish four times a day if she felt like it.

“It would be a full glamour spell,” Lark explained. “Making you see her as something she actually isn't. And not just you – everyone who saw her.
And
she'd have to keep it going all the time. That's loads of magic.”

“Mmmmm.” Emily nodded, seeing the difference. “So what would happen if you did that? Something awful?” She frowned, wondering what it would be – the sky falling in, perhaps, or the sudden appearance of a flight of dragons ready to blast her sister to ashes.

“Mum would ground me.” Lory stuffed the rest of the toast into her mouth and got up, wandering out into the garden.

Emily sighed, vaguely stirring the last of her milk. There was still so much she didn't understand. She was glad that Ash, her dad, had brought her home, all those years ago, after finding her abandoned on the riverbank. Of course she was – she couldn't imagine living anywhere else. But this last week, she couldn't stop wondering about her real parents. Why had they left her wrapped in a blanket by the river? Emily kept picturing the day. Her adopted dad walking along under the willow trees, by the water – he'd told her it was a beautiful afternoon – and then coming across this strange little bundle. Had her real mother been hidden close by all the time, watching to see if someone came across her baby? Had she wanted to leap out and snatch her back?

And what would Emily be like if she had kept her?

Â

“Perhaps your real parents were brilliant cooks,” Robin suggested, as he watched Emily picking hot muffins out of the baking tray and blowing on her fingers. Their huge black dog, Gruff, was watching too, edging closer and closer. He was tall enough that his whiskers were already at muffin-level, and they were twitching.

Emily looked up so sharply she forgot what she was doing, and one of the muffins rolled off the edge of the table.

Robin caught it inhumanly fast, just before it hit the ground, and beamed at her. “It's OK, I'll have that one. Ten-second rule.”

Gruff glared up at him. Anything that fell off the table was his. He knew that.

“It didn't even go on the floor!” Emily protested.

“But it was close.” Robin smiled at her virtuously. “I really don't mind. You know, someone's got to eat it. Do you think I'm right about your mum and dad?”

“I don't know.” Emily turned away to put the baking tray in the sink. “I hadn't thought about it.”

“Liar.” Robin picked at the wrapper round the muffin. “This smells great,” he told her, in between blowing hard at the hot cake. “What's in it? Chocolate and, umm…”

“Orange,” Emily muttered, sitting down at the table next to him and picking out a muffin for herself. She felt like she deserved one.

“Are you cross with me for asking about your mum and dad?” Robin said, with his mouth full.

“No,” Emily sighed. She supposed he must be almost as curious as she was. She looked over at him, suddenly struck by something. “When did you know that I wasn't really your sister?” Robin was two years younger than she was. He had been born after their parents had adopted her, so at some point he must have been told Emily's story.

Robin picked a couple of chunks of chocolate out of his muffin and sucked them, eyeing her thoughtfully. “I suppose I was about five. Maybe six? Old enough to understand that I mustn't tell you. It didn't matter, though. You'd always been there, and you always will be.” He shrugged. “I was used to secrets. Mum had a spell on me; she had to. Otherwise I would have told everyone at preschool that I could fly.”

Emily nodded, feeling hurt all over again. She understood, but she couldn't help it. It was bad enough that she wasn't born part of her family – or even their people. But they had all known, and hidden it from her. She felt as though they had been talking about her behind her back.

“I knew you were different anyway,” Robin added. “You feel different. Humans do. But I wasn't old enough to understand why, then.”

Emily frowned at him. “Why do we?”

Robin shrugged. “You just … do.” Then he glanced over and caught her lost, disappointed face. “It's hard to explain! All right. All right… We're made differently. I mean, we look human now, but you saw how we really look. When we told you the truth.”

Emily nodded, remembering. They had shown themselves to her, one after the other. Unfurling wings from their shoulders, spotted and dappled in gorgeous, eye-watering patterns. Their faces had changed, their eyes huger than ever, and glowing with a magical light. Emily had been able to see, even then, when she was completely shocked, that these were their real selves. They had looked
right
.

And so different from her.

“I saw,” she agreed huskily.

“Well, we're not made the same way as you – we don't really have blood like humans, for a start.”

Emily blinked at him, trying to remember. Had she ever seen Lark or Lory or Robin fall and scrape their knees? Had she ever seen them bleeding? She didn't think so. She had been the clumsy one, who was always tripping over her own feet… “No blood at all?” she asked, frowning, staring at his white wrists and trying to see veins through the thin, pale skin.

“Magic.” Robin shrugged. “Magic instead. It's what makes us alive. But it means that we can sense the blood in you, and it feels special. There's a sort of warmth in humans that we don't have.”

Emily put out her hand and touched his fingers lightly. They were sticky with chocolate smears, and as warm as they always were.

Robin grinned at her and licked the chocolate off. “I'm not explaining it very well. I feel warm, you know I do. Come on, you'd have noticed if we were all freezing all the time.”

“Yee-ees,” Emily agreed, considering. She had always loved sitting snuggled up on the sofa with Robin while their dad read picture books or told them his amazing stories. She'd definitely have noticed if her fairy family were cold-skinned.

“You have a sort of life in you that makes fairies feel stronger. That's why we've always tried to keep you away from them. They want you.” He nibbled the muffin again. “And I guess you've got that even more than most people, because you've lived here, in a house full of fairies. You're sort of human-plus. You've got a little bit of magic in you too; it's just grown into you. And it's stronger since you went through the doors.”

Emily nodded slowly. It made sense, sort of. Although it would be nice if she had a little bit of magic that she could actually do something with, instead of it just making her extra-delicious for evil ancient fairies. It was like she was a double chocolate muffin, with extra chocolate chips. And icing.

“So … you're made of magic?” she asked slowly, trying to get as much out of Robin as she could while he was feeling chatty.

“Mmm.” Robin nodded happily round a huge mouthful of muffin.

“But if you don't have the same insides as humans, how come you can eat human food?” Emily frowned at the muffin, and Robin put his hand over it protectively.

“I still need food! We don't need to eat as often as humans, actually. But I like food.” He beamed at her. “Especially chocolate. I think humans stole chocolate from us somehow. They must have done. It's too good.”

Emily hardly heard him. She was staring down at her hands, and the faint blue lines of the veins running down them. Ever since she'd found out about the fairies, she kept thinking of other things she wanted to know – and some that she wasn't sure she wanted to know at all. “Are vampires real too?”

Robin snorted. “No. Well…”

“They
are
?” Emily gave a little gulp of horror.

“Not the way you think. Not all that stuff with the garlic, and the biting and stupid cloaks. But it's like I said, fairies want to steal humans over to our side, if they can. And the humans, they become sort of drained. Some of the life goes out of them. Especially if they have fairy food. Nothing else ever tastes as good ever again, so people just waste away after that. So you can see where the vampire stories come from.” He grinned at her, drawing his lips back. “And most fairies do have really pointy teeth.”

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