chapter 3

things crystalise

Excited — there was no help for it, Kate was beyond excited, and that was bad because when she was excited she tended to babble and become incredibly annoying. Oh, and then there was the really loud, deliberately off-pitch singing…

It was two weeks since Kate had started at Popebear’s, but you’d have thought she started yesterday. She enthused endlessly about everything that happened at school, often while practicing circular breathing so she didn’t actually have to pause.

Sera lost her cool a number of times, sending Kate up to her room to calm down. Sylphs were not known for their patience and could be quite scary when angry. Kate would storm off with the practiced cry of "I hate you!" slamming doors on the way. There’d be fifteen minutes of calm, then she’d be back downstairs, bellowing at the top of her lungs and driving her parents to distraction.

She put shaving cream in the spout of the teapot, and actually used super glue to stick all the slices of a loaf of bread together, then fell about laughing as Bernard tried to prise them apart.

To save their sanity, Bernard suggested that she practice some magic at home — what a disaster.

The next time they saw poor Schrödinger, he was a riot of purple spots, each one sprouting a golden lily. He was also noticeably larger, at least 14kg.

Finally losing it himself, Bernard shouted, "Kate, I said to practice magic, not xenobiology."

"Dad, I’m sorry, I really do want to be gorgeous, loving me, but excited me is absolutely kicking it. I mean," (and here she started regurgitating the same eulogy that they’d heard five times already), “it’s simply amazing. There’s people doing magic everywhere and the wisps are simply incredible and who would ever think that school could be so awesome, and Jonathan Heart is totally peng.”

"Peng?" said Bernard with a vocal scowl, “I have absolutely no idea what that word means, but I don’t like it.”

Through all the babble Bernard and Sera had divined a number of things.

Firstly, Kate was very excited about potions. They knew she loved magic, but this was a new, more focused infatuation.

Secondly, she loved her teacher. Kate’s mother was happy that there was "a good strong female role model".

Thirdly, Potions was taught in one of the lower levels of the school.

Fourthly, Kate’s origins hadn’t been noticed, yet.

And finally, she had already made a friend in Gilda.

That was about it, the rest was mostly noise, interspersed with loud singing and bouts of air guitar.

< ~-~ >

No one can maintain such elevated levels of excitement forever, and so things settled down over the following few weeks. They’d not been doing too much actual magic at Jasper’s, more playing around the edges, however Professor Fluttersquawk had promised them that things would change soon.

The majority of Kate’s time was spent with Professor Fluttersquawk learning the basics of magic with a strong focus on potions. In future years their course work would be streamed around specific disciplines, but right now, for the basics, that wasn’t necessary.

Under normal circumstances they’d also have another class each week which was rather blandly called "Engineering". It focused on making the things that are required to do spells, like Kate’s lensinometer that she’d used to heat her dad’s tea.

For that class they would have had Professor Lalique, however he was currently on a field trip and wouldn’t be back until after Christmas. That meant Fluttersquawk had most of their attention for the next few months.

Right now they were starting to put together some things they’d need in order to build more complex constructs (spells). For example, the previous week they’d been told it was time to find their "divining crystal".

A divining crystal could be any colour of the rainbow and looked like a large lens, cut from crystal of course, and housed in a simple silver frame.

Before a witch or warlock could divine with a crystal they had to be "twinned" with one  —  which was actually really easy.

Kate and her classmates were directed to the grand hall one bright morning that had a decided chill to it. In the hall she found that a huge array of uncut crystals had been suspended in a line, each by a silver thread.

To Kate’s disappointment, they weren’t very pretty, in fact they were positively bland. "Great. All this fuss so we can get a dull rock," Kate whispered to Gilda behind her.

"Oh no," Gilda said with more awe than Kate expected, “when they’re polished they’ll shine, I can’t wait to see mine.”

The professors asked all the students to walk down the line of suspended crystals. The closer a student resonated with a crystal, the more it sang and glowed as they walked past. A professor with a crystolica —  an instrument that measured resonance —  would monitor the students and tell them which crystal was theirs. Simple really.

Kate had to admit she was nervous anyway. What if her half-sylph nature meant that she resonated in a different way to the others?

She walked slowly down the line, half pausing at each one to give it some time to check her out. She was just passing the fifth one, when it shouted at her with Mrs Jasper’s piercing voice, right up close and personal, making her jump a foot in air and bash into Billy Roger’s back, which was lucky really because he was quite rotund and she bounced off him like he was a wall. If it had been someone smaller, the calamity could have spread down the line like dominoes.

"Get a move on, Stein, if you go any slower we’ll all be dead before you reach the end. The crystals won’t love you any more because you’re a ninny."

Kate quickly recovered from Mrs Jasper’s sonic injection, because just then a crystal caught her eye. It was so lovely. Most crystals were a dull greyish rock colour, but this one was light blue at the edges deepening to almost black in the centre. It wasn’t cut, but she could almost see how beautiful it would be.

She couldn’t believe that no one else was appreciating it, it was glorious. "Good," she thought, “this one’s mine.”

As she approached, she felt a shiver start in her feet and at the top of her head. It expanded down her body like she was conducting electricity. In answer the jewel started to glow more and more brightly and the sound, wow, it was like a full choir in her head. It was not at all what she expected, and she realised with horror that it wasn’t happening to anyone else.

By the time she was next to it, it was shining like a bright torch wrapped in cloth. The other kids turned to stare, and Kate stumbled up to it, half mesmerised by the electricity running through her.

"Well, that’s a match!" exclaimed Fluttersquawk, snatching it away quickly and placing it in her pocket. “Wow, you don’t see one go off like that too often — haha. You’ll have it in a week, Kate,” she shouted over her shoulder, and with that she walked away quickly.

"Odd," thought Kate, “that was odd…”

< ~-~>

A week later it arrived cut as a simple octagon with a broad open face for seeing through, and seriously, Kate’s crystal was so beautiful — it toned perfectly with her skin (not that she could show anyone) and she loved it. Kate had also been delighted to find that the mount fashioned for her crystalwas in an Art Nouveau style with dragonflies and tiny smiling Fae faces worked around the edges.

So far this week had been nicely normal. There had been no dramas, she’d settled a little at home, and she felt a small amount of the tension of hiding her true identity start to leave her belly. She knew it never would completely disappear, the little worry knots that jabbed at her insides occasionally, but it was starting to melt into her a little. "Perhaps," she smiled to herself, “I actually can hold this all in.”

Potions that day started with a tranquil walk, when they spent a couple of hours wandering through the woods behind the school looking for "a special branch". Fluttersquawk said “Right you lot, there’s no time like the present to start practicing with those crystals”, and set them to work searching for a branch that “resonated with their core”.

"Blah", Kate whispered to Glinda, “What a load of dragon piffle”, but she became a believer when, about one hour in their search, she wandered around a large granite stone and felt a tug at the corner of her eye.

Looking through her crystal lens, she saw a large oak, and in the crook of the tree saw that a small beautiful branch had fallen and become stuck there. It shone like sunlight, golden with a silver edge. She knew in an instant that this was the one for her.

Over the next few hours the others all eventually found theirs, and so armed with a multitude of different branches all of different sizes, variety and shape, returned to the school.

Kate & Gilda couldn’t stop staring at their branches, in fact they were so distracted that Kate almost missed Mathylda and her ride home. Luckily she was still there but gave Kate an irritated look.

"Hurry up, Miss Stein, I can’t be waiting all day for little things, I have big things to do." snapped the Dragon. She didn’t even wait for her to be properly seated before the longboat leapt into the sky.

< ~-~ >

When Monday came around again, Kate couldn’t leave her house fast enough. She grabbed five toads (an odd form of magical money used in the Jasper’s canteen), snatched a lump of golden goo cake, stuffed it in a bag and ran out to meet Mathylda.

For some reason, the dragon wasn’t looking her best that day. She glanced at the cake for a minute before licking it down with a slight wince. Kate didn’t really notice, as the amazing dragon had already started to seem somewhat ordinary. She was actually, really excited to get back to class.

That day, however, things got off to an unusual start.

Kate arrived to find some of her classmates snickering around Nathan’s desk. Kate had extraordinary hearing — it wasn’t magic, just part of being half sylph — and she couldn’t help but hear Nathan say "blue like Fae poo", as the others tittered. She didn’t have time to think about it, however, because Gilda was all in a tizz.

"Blistered frogs legs, where did I put it?" she cried. “Come on guys, has anyone seen my birch branch?”

Most of the others ignored her, but Kate bent to help her look, saying, "I’m sure it’s here somewhere, do you think you dropped it?"

"I had it, and it was perfect. Baba’s bollocks Kate, Professor Fluttersquawk reminded us over and over that we needed to have the branch for today’s project."

Kate heard one of the other girls, Jemima Smugly, whisper under her breath, "You wouldn’t remember your own name if you didn’t have it on your lovely Bahoey bag. What a dill…"

"What a rat faced toad", thought Kate. “Remind me to ignore her for at least a day.” Somehow that didn’t seem punishment enough, but it was all she could come up with at the moment—she was into mischief, not being mean.

Kate took a deep breath and then slowly, with concentration, scanned the room. After no more than a minute she saw the tip of a birch branch sitting under the bottom row of the large set of shelves that rested against the wall on the far side of the room. No-one else would have seen it, but to her Sylph eyes, birch shone lightly of silver. It was why her mother’s people treasured it and planted it everywhere.

"I see it!" Kate shouted , and ran over to the shelves. She plucked it from underneath and handed it to Gilda.

"Wicked, you saved my bacon," said the other girl, sighing in relief. “I thought I was zombie vomit for a bit there. How on earth did you see it under there?”

"Oh, um, I just caught a glimpse of the tip," Kate said quickly. “Just lucky, I guess.”

The girls turned to the class to find the rest of the kids staring at them.

"Look, we found it," Kate said brightly. “No need to worry. Don’t get up.” She couldn’t help being a little sarcastic, given they’d not been in the slightest concerned.

Nathan, however, started clapping slowly and loudly. While not exactly nasty it wasn’t nice either. "Well, well, you’re the saviour again," he finally said smugly, while the annoying girl with pale blond hair tittered.

Kate could feel her blood rise and was about to get fully bothered, but then Gilda whispered, "He’s actually nice enough once you get to know him. He just likes to play around."

"Yeah sure, he’s a prince," Kate replied turning away. The last thing I need to do now is have an argument over nothing, she thought, but she really wanted to.

Luckily, Professor Fluttersquawk bustled in, trailing multicoloured feathers in her wake.

"Attention, everyone!" she said as she reached the podium. “I have some very exciting news for you all. In some months’ time, in fact just before Christmas, a delegation from the Faerie Kingdom will grace Popebear’s with a formal visit.”

Gasps went through the class. Kate felt her ears buzz and her hands get clammy. Faeries. Her mother’s people. Coming here. She had no idea what to feel.

Fluttersquawk went on, "They are sending dignitaries and scholars who are interested in our school system and want to inspect our Academy."

There was no stopping the flood of discussion now. Beside Kate, Siobhan Hawthorn was getting all gushy, "I wonder if an elven prince will come. They are just so dreamy."

Fluttersquawk rapped the podium for silence. "No, there won’t be any of the Fae royal family among the visitors, but I hear, well it’s just a rumour, and not at all important, but perhaps, just perhaps, the delegation will be lead by, ah, Baron Avicenna."

At least seven girls in the class instantly screamed at the top of their lungs.

Nathan pretended to faint, yelling in a silly high voice and slumping to the floor clutching his heart .  "Oh, the baron, the baron, oh puke," he shouted.

Kate herself was hyperventilating, while Siobhan jumped up and down shouting "I want to be a Faery, I want to be a Faery", at the top of her lungs.


Insufferable mewling munchkins," bellowed the classroom walls, "The baron will be here on official business and this school, including every living thing inside it, will — be — perfect, or they will think that not being living was a very good thing to be.”

"Ah, yes, thank you, Mrs Jasper. I believe I can take it from here."

Fluttersquawk clearly detested Mrs Jasper’s frequent interruptions. Her voice would pop up all over the place, emanating from walls, clocks, flowers, even once from the third toilet in the girls’ bathroom (which was just icky). In general, the kids had learned to mostly ignore her. Honestly, how much notice should you take of a shouting, grumpy wall?

"Of course Professor, you know I’m always more than happy to jump in to help the team."

The look on the Professor’s face said it all, really.

Abū ʿAlī al-Ḥusayn ibnʿAbd Allāh ibn Al-Hasan ibn Ali ibn Sīnā, known in human realms as Baron Avicenna (or simply the Baron), was coming to Jasper’s.


He was the enigmatic and flamboyant leader of one of the Fae border clans, a skilled politician, noted healer, philosopher and mathematician, who was often in the press because of his frequent visits to human lands. He was also the lead singer of one of the biggest rock groups on the planet:

Fae Fury!

"Yes the Baron is coming, which is why," Fluttersquawk shouted over the continuing pandemonium, “you must all be on your best behaviour. Your VERY BEST.

Kate loved Fae Fury. They weren’t just a band, they were a multi sensual musical experience. She turned immediately to Gilda to share the excitement, and was surprised to find she didn’t look happy at all.

"Aren’t you excited they’re coming, G?" Kate asked, worried.

Before she got an answer Fluttersquawk shouted again, "Nathan Jackson, will you desist before I send you home in your lunch box. Trust me, I can make you fit".

Nathan was up off the floor very quickly.

"I promise you all," she continued, “and especially you, Mr Jackson, the school will not look kindly on any shenanigans or tomfoolery during their stay. Fae Fury are exciting, but remember, while every encounter with the Fae represents an opportunity to strengthen our mutual trust, it’s also an opportunity to destroy it. The Fae are proud and easily insulted. We must be careful.”

"Now, what are we doing? Oh, goodness, I nearly forgot. We need to help decorate and provide the school with additional magical power, we’ll need lots of it for the welcome ceremony. So, do all of you have your branches ready? Yes? Excellent."

Fluttersquawk rubbed her pointy chin as she inspected their branches. "Now this requires a bit of patience, but it can be done. We’re going to make power crystals. As you probably know, crystals absorb and retain magical energy better than most other substances. The larger the crystal, the more magic it can store. So try and make yours as big as you can because I will grade all your crystals, and the one with top marks gets a prize from the school.

"We’ll try with sugar for the white ones and of course bluestone for the blue. That should give us what we need. Is everyone ready, let’s begin."

Experiment 3 — Making crystals

"Remember children", Fluttersquawk began lecturing. “Crystals capture magical energy from the air, but if you want to charge them more quickly, expose them for an hour under a focussed ray of moonlight or for a few minutes using sunlight.”

< ~-~ >

"Kate?" said Gilda, nudging her.

"Hmm? What is it?" Kate asked distractedly. She was busy dipping their branch into the solution.

"What’s with your hand?"

Kate lifted her eyes from the mixture, and discovered to her horror that the steam from the hot solution had dissolved the makeup on her hand. Her skin was showing its bluish hue.

Gilda pulled a handkerchief from her pocket. "Probably from the bluestone. Here, let me."

She grabbed Kate’s hand and started to wipe it, then looked confused when more makeup came off Kate’s skin.

"Um…ouch, that itches, gotta use the bathroom. Excuse me." Kate snatched her hand away and broke for the door, leaving Gilda staring down at her white stained handkerchief.

Nathan, who had been watching from nearby, stepped towards her. "May I see that?"

"Hmm?" said Gilda, who clearly wasn’t interested. “Yeah, sure. Looks like she had some sort of reaction to the powder on her.” She handed him the piece of cloth.

"Really?" Nathan inspected and sniffed the cloth in his hand. “How interesting.”

< ~-~ >

Experiment 3 — making crystals

Experiment, making crystals (sugar and epson salts):

We’re going to start making crystals with gypson or epson salts. Why? Well it’s easier to get a good result. Mind you, it takes a few days (more with sugar). If you have two jars of the right size you can try with both sugar and gypson or epson salts.

Of course it’s easier to get sugar, but you should be able to order epson salts online or get it from your local pharmacy.

The pink Flower below is made from sugar with red food colouring.

Find something like a small branch with lots of twigs coming off it.

crystal flower

(sugar crystal flower with pink food dye)

Find a container that will hold the entire branch inside suspended upside down without touching the sides. Clean the container thoroughly, the crystals will form on spots of dirt just as well as on the branch so it must be clean..

Make a saturated solution

(this links to a cool video about making rock candy, but it’s basically the same thing).

To do this, take enough water to just cover the branch. You want as little water as possible, so make sure your container is only just bigger than your branch.

Directions with gypsum or epson salts.

If you’re using gypson or epson salts the water doesn’t have to be too hot, certainly not boiling. Add gypson or epson salts and stir until it dissolves. Normally you use 3 parts salts to 2 parts water.

Keep adding until no more dissolves (you’ll see granules at the bottom of the container once it’s saturated). It can take a lot of salts to saturate the water (which is why we use as little water as possible).

Take a branch (a small interesting one) and suspend it in the container by a string for several days. It should not touch the sides or bottom if possible.

If you’re really stuck and you can’t find a twig, you can simply suspend the string . In fact with gypson you can simply let the water evaporate and you’ll get a nice crystal. Check out this video Epson Salt Crystals

If crystals form on the sides of the jar, take the flower gently out then heat the mixture till the crystals on the side dissolve. Reinsert the flower.

It’s really important you are careful when heating liquids. Ask your parents to help and also look at the end of this book for instructions.

Directions using sugar (requires adult assistance)

With sugar it’s a little different. We want to bring the water to a gentle boil and add sugar. Boiling water is very dangerous and can seriously burn so you must ask for help here.

Bring the water to the boil and pour in about 2 times as much sugar, i.e. if you have 500ml of water you need to add 1kg of sugar. The solution must be fully saturated, and you know when you’ve achieved that because no more sugar will dissolve into the water.

The final step is to strain the hot sugar solution through a coffee filter to remove any impurities. Make sure you filter the liquid into a very clean container.

IMPORTANT TIP. Sugar crystals are hard. With three attempts we got one really good result (the pink flower in the photo above).

Here’s the trick. Take your branch and dip it in the sugar solution or water, let the excess drip off, then sprinkle normal sugar all over it so it’s covered in a light layer of sugar crystals. This forms a base layer for the sugar crystals to grow on. I’ve found doing this gives better results.

Once covered, gently lower it back into the sugar solution. Now sugar is tricky, as the water evaporates, you’ll get crystals on the top, bottom and sides of the container, so your twig may become stuck. Filtering the solution in the first place will help limit this.

If this happens you’ll need to heat it again by sitting it in a container of near boiling water (called a bain marie) until it loosens, then remove the twig. Boil the sugar solution till it’s goopy again, and try again.

If after a week, no crystals are forming, then you need to heat the liquid again and add more sugar.

Crystals take patience (particularly if using sugar) but the results can be wonderful. The best thing is to set it up, leave it somewhere dust free and forget it for a week. Try to be patient and don’t fiddle with it too much.

Here’s another great video about growing crystals.

Chemistry: What’s happening?

The liquid is saturated, which means it can’t have any more substance dissolved in it. So as the liquid evaporates the substance (sugar or gypson salts) in the liquid has to come out and forms a solid. The crystals like to form on something, and our branch is the perfect thing, so the crystals precipitate, or come out of, the liquid onto the branch.

What are crystals?

Crystals are a special kind of solid material where the molecules fit together in a repeating pattern. This pattern causes the material to form all sorts of unique shapes.

The process of crystal forming is called crystallization. Crystals often form in nature when liquids cool and start to harden. Certain molecules in the liquid gather together as they attempt to become stable. They do this in a uniform and repeating pattern that forms the crystal.

In nature, crystals can form when liquid rock, called magma, cools. If it cools slowly, then crystals may form. Many valuable crystals such as diamonds, rubies, and emeralds form this way. Another way crystals form is when water evaporates from a mixture. Salt crystals often form as salt water evaporates.

What unique properties do crystals have? Crystals can have very flat surfaces called facets. They can form geometric shapes such as triangles, rectangles, and squares. The shapes are a direct result of the type of molecules and atoms that make up the crystal.

Smaller crystals and larger crystals that were formed of the same molecules and in the same method should have similar shapes. There are seven basic crystal shapes, also called lattices. They are Cubic, Trigonal, Triclinic, Orthorhombic, Hexagonal, Tetragonal, and Monoclinic.

Interesting Types of Crystals

Snowflakes — Snowflakes are ice crystals that are formed high in the clouds when water freezes. They always have six sides or arms, but every one of them is unique.

In fact water can freeze into lovely crystals. Check out the chrystals forming on this branch at the beginning of winter.

water crystals

Timing crystals — When an electric current is sent through some crystals they vibrate at a very precise frequency. Quartz crystals are used in watches and other electronics to keep an accurate time. Quartz — Quartz is a common mineral and crystal. It is one of the hardest common minerals. The gemstone amethyst is a purple type of quartz.

Diamonds — Diamonds are one of the most valuable minerals on Earth. Not only for jewelry, but diamond is also the hardest substance on earth and is used for special tools such as diamond saws. Diamond is a form of the element carbon.

Fun facts About Crystals:

Crystallography is the science of studying crystals and how they form. Some crystals, like diamonds, are really just one giant molecule made from lots of atoms of a single element. A lot of computer screens use liquid crystals for their display.

Crystals are very popular in jewelry because they can sparkle and come in many different colors. Some living organisms are able to produce crystals.

Read more at: ducksters

Crystals can be huge — check this out.

crystal cave

(Cave of Crystals. Mexico)

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