no place like oz Page 34

“I think your aunt and I are going to go take a walk,” he muttered stiffly, just as if I had scripted it myself. Well, I had, hadn’t I? “After all, there’s so much to see in this beautiful land, and I want to take in every single bit of it if it takes me all year.”

Aunt Em looked too surprised to question him when Henry pulled himself away from the banquet table and took her hand to get up. Without even saying good-bye, they walked mechanically out of the room.

The Scarecrow and the Lion and the Tin Woodman were all staring at their backs, confused at what had just happened. “Lovely to meet you!” the Tin Woodman called after them, but they were already gone.

Ozma was the only one not watching my aunt and uncle go. She was looking at me. “Dorothy . . . ,” she said.

I cut her off. “Thank goodness,” I sighed. “Finally, we can have a real conversation without all their bothersome complaining.”

Ozma nodded slowly, her brow furrowing in concern. Frustration started to boil beneath my skin. She was just as bad as they were, in her own way. But she let the issue drop, for now at least, and silently took another dainty sip of her fizzy purple drink.

I wasn’t going to let her ruin my reunion with my best friends—my only friends, really. Actually, I wanted to jump for joy. I had just done magic. Real, live, actual magic! It hadn’t even been that difficult. I’d just imagined what I wanted Henry to do, and he’d done it, like he was a marionette and I was standing over him pulling the strings. If that was all it took, they would never be able to make me go back to Kansas. And imagine what else I could do.

I knew, suddenly, that the shoes weren’t just meant to get me back to Oz. They were meant to teach me things. To show me what Ozma—the spoilsport!—wouldn’t.

Now the Tin Woodman was waxing on about the beauty of Sky Island with its rivers of lemonade and its cloud mountains, and how he so wished we could all visit it together. The Scarecrow was listening closely, interrupting from time to time with a detail the Tin Woodman had forgotten, and the Lion roamed around the room restlessly, with Toto following after him like—well, like a puppy, actually.

Through it all, Ozma was cheerful and bright-eyed, happy to be part of the conversation, but every now and then she’d glance over at me searchingly, like she was looking for something.

I kept wishing that she would just leave. I had to talk to my friends. Alone. The Scarecrow knew it, too. He kept suggesting things to her—things like, “Oh, it’s getting late, isn’t it time for you to go find Jellia and discuss your schedule for the day?” But Ozma didn’t take the bait. I wondered if she was just having a good time or if there was more to it—if maybe she didn’t trust us to be alone together.

It was risky to try using magic on her. Doing a little spell on my uncle was bound to be different than doing it on a fairy who already knew a thing or two about spells herself. Then again, my shoes were powerful. When she’d given me my makeover yesterday, her own magic hadn’t even been able to touch them. If they were powerful, it meant that I was powerful, too. Maybe even more powerful than she was.

So I gave it a spin. I changed her mind. This time, I tried to be more precise about what I was doing, so she wouldn’t be able to detect it and fight back.

I envisioned the magic as a tendril of ruby-red smoke, as thin and delicate as the smoke rings that Henry sometimes blew to make me laugh when he was smoking his pipe. I pulled it up from my shoes and sent it drifting invisibly across the table to burrow itself into Ozma’s ear.

A distant, distracted look made its way across her face. She looked as though she was trying to remember something. “I . . . ,” she said.

Go, I commanded silently. As soon as I thought the word, Ozma’s expression resolved itself into one of surprised realization.

“Please excuse me,” she said. “I think I left something in my chambers. Give me just a few minutes.” With that, she stood up, set her napkin down, and hurried out.

He didn’t say anything, but I was pretty sure I saw the Scarecrow smirk approvingly in my direction.

It wasn’t right. I do realize that. People aren’t little marionettes to be pulled this way and that without their say-so in the matter. On the other hand, just because it wasn’t right didn’t mean it wasn’t fun.

As soon as Her Royal Highness was out of earshot, he turned to me.

“Did you learn anything?” he asked. “Do you know where Glinda is?”

Everyone looked at me eagerly. Apparently the Scarecrow had filled them all in on his suspicions. Our suspicions, now.

“We’ve been waiting to hear,” the Lion rumbled. “We’ve all had our doubts about the princess from the very get-go. The way she just marched in here and acted like she owned the place. As if the Scarecrow here hadn’t been ruling perfectly well in her absence.”

The Tin Woodman set his fork down. “And where did she come from? How do we even know she’s the real princess? Just because she says so? She’ll offer up no explanation for where she’d been. I’m the governor of Winkie Country and the gentlest soul in all the land—you would think she would feel that she owed at least me an explanation. With my heart, I would be sure to understand.”

I leaned in and whispered. “I’m almost certain the princess is keeping something from me,” I confessed. “I don’t know what, but . . .”

“Oh dear,” the Tin Woodman said, a grave expression on his face.