Hurry. Soon it would be evening, shadows gathering in the city’s crooked places. Pickpockets would slink out, madams looking to trap young girls, men who didn’t keep their hands to themselves.

“Oui, mademoiselle?”

Camille nodded at the day-old loaves. “I’ll take one of those.” She hesitated. “And a sweet pastry, s’il vous pla?t.”

Snugging her cloak around her shoulders, Camille stepped out into the lane. Over the rooftops of Paris, the sky hung like a lead curtain, and the air tasted of metal. This morning she’d found a skin of ice stretched over the water jug in the kitchen. But cold May or not, there was nothing for it; she had one last errand and the blurry sun was already sinking behind the towers of Notre-Dame. Leaving the lane for a busy street, Camille dodged piles of manure and pools of horse piss, not to mention whatever filth people tossed from their windows. To keep from gagging, she burrowed her nose into her worn cloak. It smelled faintly of her mother’s perfume.

Her pocket felt too large and empty, only a few sous wedged against its lining. With her fingertips, she traced the coins’ thin edges. Still round. She didn’t dare to take them out and count them, not on the street. There’d be enough for Alain’s wine.

As long as the coins didn’t change.

At the wine merchant’s, she chewed the edge of her fingernail, waiting for him to fill a wine bottle from a barrel. When she left, she kept her basket pressed close to her side. She avoided the quarter’s crumbling passageways, their entrances as narrow as the doors of tombs. She could almost feel the hands that waited there. Somewhere above her in the tilting buildings, a child sobbed.

As Camille turned the corner, a girl as young as her sister came running down the street. Her white face was rouged with hectic circles, her hair aflame, her eyebrows darkened to seduce, and her corset pulled tight to give curves to her child’s body. Under the dirty hem of her dress, bare feet flashed as she dodged shoppers and workmen.

“Stop, whore!” shouted a constable as he pushed through the crowd.

A prickling of fear made Camille pull her cloak up over her own red hair. But she couldn’t take her eyes from the half-dressed girl, running like a spreading fire. She was living the life Camille feared—her nightmares made flesh.

“You there!” the constable shouted at Camille. “Stop her!”

Camille shrank back against the wall. As the running girl dashed closer, Camille glimpsed the whites of her eyes in the half-dark. The raw leanness of her face, the bruises on her arms—and the tiny roll of bread she clutched in her hand. How many days could she make that last while her stomach churned with hunger? And then what? Camille felt in her pocket for her last few real sous.

“Thief!” yelled the constable. His face was wild with anger as the girl slipped away through the crowds.

It was too risky. Camille clenched her empty hand as the sadness welled up inside her. It was wrong not to help—but it was too dangerous. With the constable coming, there was nothing she could do. The horror of living on the streets was too big, a wall of fear that blocked out everything.

As the girl fled past, her scared eyes flicked to Camille’s.

Then both girls vanished into darkening Paris.


Camille lived at the top of an ancient building on the rue Charlot. The stone edifice had once stood proudly, but now it leaned against its neighbor, as if tired from standing straight all those years. Unlocking a heavy door, Camille let herself into the courtyard. In the close darkness, a dog yelped; a neighbor’s hen flapped against her skirts. Up in their garret window, a light glowed: Alain had returned. She imagined her older brother hanging up his officer’s cloak and kicking off his boots, sitting by the fire and roaring with laughter at some jest, tickling the cat. The way he used to be.

She started to climb the stairs, the heavy basket bumping against her legs. The once-grand staircase spiraled up seven treacherous flights, but she knew where the rotten spots were. As she passed the third-floor landing, a door swung open.

“Mademoiselle Durbonne? A word.” Wearing a grease-flecked apron, Madame Lamotte raised her candlestick toward Camille. “The rent is two weeks overdue. This is not a charity home.”

Camille blinked. She had nothing close to the full rent of two hundred livres—eight fat gold louis—and she couldn’t risk giving magicked coins to Madame. When they reverted to scraps—and they would, because Camille couldn’t get the metal to hold its shape—Madame would throw them out, bien s?r, no matter how much she’d liked their parents and felt sorry for the orphans. Then they would be tramps, living under a bridge. Prostitutes. Or dead.

Camille hated to beg. “A few days?”

Madame Lamotte nodded begrudgingly. Camille curtsied and began to climb the stairs again. “One more thing,” the landlady called after her. “Your brother.”

Camille stopped. Even Madame had noticed. “I’m sorry,” she said, trying to keep the exasperation from her voice.

“I haven’t said anything yet!”

“Go on, madame.” If it had to do with Alain, it was bound to be bad news.

The landlady pitched her voice low. “Just be careful. Keep an eye on him.”

“Of course, madame.” It was impossible, a fairy-tale task. It’d take a thousand eyes to watch him.

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