Authors: Kate Saunders
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Text copyright © 2010 by Kate Saunders
Jacket art copyright © 2011 by Julia Green
All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York. Originally published by Marion Lloyd Books, an imprint of Scholastic Children’s Books, London, in 2010.
Delacorte Press is a registered trademark and the colophon is a trademark of Random House, Inc.
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Beswitched / Kate Saunders.—1st American ed.
Summary: On her way, reluctantly, to a boarding school in present-day England, Flora suddenly finds herself in 1935, the new girl at St. Winifred’s, having been summoned via a magic spell by her new dormitory mates.
[1. Time travel—Fiction. 2. Boarding schools—Fiction. 3. Schools—Fiction.
4. Magic—Fiction. 5. Great Britain—History—George V, 1910–1936—Fiction.]
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t least look at the picture!” Flora’s dad begged. “Don’t you want to know what to expect?”
He pushed the glossy brochure across the table. It had a photo on the cover of a large white house on a very green lawn, and the words “Penrice Hall—Individual Fulfilment in a Homelike Atmosphere.”
Flora scowled and pushed it back. “It doesn’t matter what I expect, does it? Not unless I have a choice about going there.”
Her father opened his mouth to say something, but her mother gently touched his arm to stop him.
“All he means,” she told Flora, “is that you might like it.”
“Well, I won’t,” Flora said. “Nothing on earth could make me like it.”
Dad let out a long sigh that was half a groan. He looked anxious and exhausted, and even more ancient than usual—he had not had time to shave that morning, and the bristles on his chin were gray. The fact that he was a million years older than everyone else’s dad had always been an embarrassment to Flora. Her mother, though not such a relic, also looked annoyingly old.
Flora was angry with them. Why couldn’t they fix this disaster? Why were they being such wimps? They kept saying sorry—but what good was that when they refused to change anything?
“I need another coffee,” Dad said, standing up. “Flora, do you want anything else? Another croissant?”
“No!” Flora snapped. “Stop trying to stuff me with food—do you want me to be fat as well as miserable?”
“We’re fine,” Mum assured him. “Don’t rush, darling. There’s plenty of time.”
They were in a coffee shop at the station. Flora’s gleaming new backpack and laptop case lay at her feet. Dad went to join the long queue at the counter.
“Plenty of time,” Mum muttered again, looking at her watch. “I really think we’ll be fine—though we’re going to have to dash for our plane after we’ve seen you off.” She leaned across the table. “Flora, please don’t be so hard on Dad—he’s having such a horrible time at the moment.”
having a horrible time! What about
voice was tight with fury. “My entire life has just been destroyed!”
“I’ve been separated from all my friends—my house is being torn apart—”
“Flora!” For the first time, her mother’s voice had a hint of snap. “We’re both desperately sorry about this whole situation—but there isn’t a thing we can do about it—so don’t you think you should start trying to accept it?”
“No!” Flora said. “Why do I have to go to a boarding school?”
“I’ve told you a million times,” Mum said, obviously straining to be patient. “We don’t know how long we’re going to have to stay in Italy—or how long the builders are going to be at home—this is the only way we can cope. And it’s only for two terms at the most.”
“Why d’you have to go to Italy?”
“Stop it, Flora. You know perfectly well why—because Granny broke her hip and can’t take care of herself. And because we’ve got to sell her house and about a hundred years’ worth of furniture. And Lord knows when the new flat will be ready at our own house. Why must you make it more difficult? Are you really so selfish that you’re making all this fuss about two terms at a boarding school? A very luxurious and expensive boarding school, I might add.”
The unfairness of this was so enormous that it took Flora’s breath away. “You and Dad are the selfish ones. You just decided everything without asking me.”
Her mother suddenly looked very tired. “OK—what would you have done differently?”
This was even more unfair. Knowing what to do was their job. “I don’t see why Granny has to come and live with us.”
“She’s your dad’s mother and she’s alone,” Mum said. “All her husbands are either dead or married to other people. She’s old and frail, and she can’t look after herself. Where else is she supposed to go?”
“How should I know?” Flora snapped. “Can’t he put her in a home?”
Flora knew how nasty she sounded, but the misery of the past few days weighed on her chest like a stone. If she hadn’t kept up being angry, she might have cried. “Dad doesn’t even like Granny,” she said bitterly.
“Don’t be silly.”
“She deserted him when he was little. She just ran away with her lover.” Flora was scornful.
Mum sighed. “Well, yes, she did. Her lover was a very famous artist—and she got rather famous for inspiring him.”
“For sleeping with him, you mean.”
“Don’t let Dad hear you talking like that.”
“Why not?” Flora muttered. “Why can’t I tell the truth all of a sudden?”
Mum sighed again, and frowned with the effort of choosing her words. “Look. Granny’s not the maternal type—some women are like that. And Dad says he’s glad he did all his growing up with his father and stepmother—you remember
Nana, and how he adored her. He didn’t get to know his real mother until he was in his twenties.”
Flora had heard this story many times. “I know, I know—when he hitchhiked to Italy and turned up on her doorstep.”
“He’s very proud of her,” Mum said firmly. “And you should be too—you’re named after her, and she’s a fascinating woman. The headmaster at Penrice Hall was really impressed when he heard that your granny was Flora Arditti. Lots of the kids at the school have famous parents, but I doubt you can go and see paintings of them in the National Portrait Gallery.”
“Nude paintings,” Flora pointed out. Famous pictures of your granny in the nude—how embarrassing was that?
“She’s met everyone from Winston Churchill to Mick Jagger—Picasso painted her portrait. In her day she was one of the most beautiful women in Europe. She’s practically a legend, and you should be glad you’re getting this chance to know her properly.”
“Well, I’m not.” Flora was sick of hearing how “fascinating” and “wonderful” Granny was. “I’ve seen enough of her to know I don’t like her. She’s spooky and mean and always telling me off. That’s what my life’s going to be like from now on, isn’t it? Nag, nag, nag. Brush your hair. Sit up straight. Stop texting at the table.”
“Hmmm, yes,” Mum said, “you’ve had it pretty easy up to now, I suppose.” And she looked at Flora in a distant, thoughtful way, as if seeing her for the first time. “We’ve run the house around you.”
“Are you saying I’m spoiled?”
“Well, no,” Mum said doubtfully. “But you are rather used to getting your own way—and so is Granny. This isn’t going to be easy for her, don’t forget. She’s used to having her own big house all to herself. A granny flat in a Wimbledon semi might seem like a bit of a comedown.”
Flora said, “I can’t do it, that’s all. Italy was bad enough.”
She suddenly had a vivid memory of Casa Boffi, her grandmother’s big house in Italy, where she had spent two dreary weeks last summer. It was a dark and dusty place, in the middle of baking countryside, with no swimming pool for miles. The furniture was weird, and there were paintings everywhere. It had been like staying in a really hot, uncomfortable art gallery. There had been long, long meals, where Granny told endless stories about her four husbands and countless lovers.
A single tear slid down Flora’s nose. It had been horrible. Flora had been allowed to bring her best friend, Ella, as company. Granny had barely noticed they were there—Mum had to cough loudly to remind her, when her stories got too rude. When she did notice, she forgot their ages and tried to give them gin and tonic.