chapter 4

then start to bubble

Number 4 Dirac Place had a certain routine. Their house was comfortably certain that the day started at 7am when Bernard Stein meandered sleepily downstairs in a heavy silk dressing gown with a huge golden Chinese dragon embroidered on the back, flicked the switch on the industrial looking coffee machine, drank a glass of water, collected the paper, and returned to bed for 15 minutes of leisurely scoffing at the terrible state of the world.

At 7.15 Bernard would return to the kitchen to make coffee while Sera Stein gently opened the door to Kate’s room, lay down beside her daughter in bed and started singing Sylph morning songs until she woke, after which she joined Bernard for coffee while Kate prepared for school. That was normal…

But this morning was anything but normal.

6.43am

"Yaaaahoooooo, Ohmygod,Ohmygod,Ohmygod,Ohmygod,Ohmygod OH MY GOD!"

The door slammed open in Sera and Bernard’s bedroom. Schrödinger (now at 19.7 kg) was flung onto the bed. Bernard sat bolt upright and bellowed, "No Tracy, not the chickens!" while still completely asleep.

Sera started shouting obscenities that luckily haven’t been translated into English yet, while Kate marched around the room shouting, "Fae Fu-ry, Fae Fu-ry, Fae Fu-ry!!!"

Until, that is, Sera went all Darth Vader on her and started to slowly suck the air out of her lungs with a scary look on her face that revealed the dark side of the sylph.

"Mum, I can’t really breathe," Kate choked out as best she could.

Sera’s eyes hardened.

"Murrrrumm…can’t…breathe…"

Luckily her father saved her before it got too serious.

"Ah, Sera, they won’t take it well if you suffocate her, the media, the police, your cover will be blown. Perhaps just this one time you could, you know, let your daughter live…?"

"You’re right I suppose" she sighed, allowing a little air to pass, “you spoil all my fun.”

With that she push Kate aside unceremoniously and went to the bathroom. Fae mothers are not known for their sentimentality.

"Ha ha, thanks Dad, I thought she meant it that time. But— Woohoo, Fae Fury are coming to the school — can you believe it? OMG this school just keeps getting better, I’m just too excited. Need help — save me!" and with that she flung herself into her father’s arms for a huge morning hug.

While her father had taken the news of a Fae delegation in his stride, at breakfast her mother’s face was a deeper shade of blue and she wrung her hands in alarm.

"What do we do, Bernard?" she asked. “What if they find out about her? About us?”

"Now now, Sera," said Bernard. “Ten minutes ago you were all for terminating her. Seriously what are the chances of them paying any attention to our Kate? No one else at school knows about her. And even if they did, what then? The mages and the Faeries are technically at peace now — well, except for some unpleasantness at the Northern borders and such — but should they find out about Kate, she’s a mage now and under our world’s protection.”

Her mother shook her head. "You don’t understand the Fae like I do, Bernard. There is an order to things that mustn’t be broken, and I’ve broken it. Half Fae are —"

" —absolutely lovely." Bernard cut her mother off mid-sentence and chortled at his small joke, but Kate could feel the tension in the room. Her mum was actually scared, and she didn’t scare too easily. Kate sometimes called her Oppenheimer behind her back, on account of the fact that she went off like a nuclear explosion quite regularly.

Her father sighed and turned to Kate. "Let your mother and I sort this out. I think I heard your dragon. You’d better head off. Oh, and Kate, about Schrödinger? I keep having to water him or he starts to wilt. It’s just not right, honey. I mean he was a cat once, not some giant, semi-feline, goldfishian lily. I’m worried he’ll wind up a triffid and I’ll wake up blind."

"What?" Kate looked very confused. “Dad, you’re weird. He’ll be fine. I’ll sort it, gotta run.”

As the kitchen door closed behind her, she could hear her mother say, "If they want something, they’ll take it. Treaties won’t stop them."

"Why would they be interested in me?" Kate wondered. “I’m just an almost normal girl. What could happen that would be so bad?”

She put the question out of her mind and spent the flight reviewing books. She had to review the five symmetries for magic and medicine, she’d overheard her teacher saying he was going to throw a spot quiz to keep them on their toes.

Arriving at Jasper’s, she was greeted as usual by her wisp in the grand hall. It bobbed up and down at the sight of her, and made a sound like small, delicate bells.

Wisps were the most wonderful things. You had to snatch glances at them because, although they were very small, they were bright to stare at, like little suns. They had tendrils of faint, multicoloured fire arcing out from their tiny bodies, creating a halo which Kate guessed to be about the size of a large orange. These flares seemed to vibrate to make the sound that formed their speech. Kate didn’t know how, but she sort of understood them if they spoke directly at her, and she’d even learnt how to say "hi", and “what a lovely day”, in wispish, although she had to keep that secret along with her half-sylph nature, since humans couldn’t produce sounds like that.

A wisp always met each student and Kate thought hers was the same one each day because while they appeared identical, other wisps had slightly different tones.

These lovely balls of energy would lead each student to their class then hover in the ceiling providing magical light. For this reason Jasper’s had few fixed lights, just the odd large glowing ball at major intersections.

If a student needed to go anywhere inside the building during the school day a wisp would always accompany them.

Eight weeks had passed since that unforgetable first day and Kate was starting to get the hang of Jasper’s. She knew her timetable, had some favourite places for lunch and play, and was starting to find her way around.

She’d become particularly attuned to the sounds of Jaspers. Each day commenced with the cacophony of morning arrivals where the shrieks of children rang and echoed like some unholy battle of midgets, their high-pitched screeching filling every nook and cranny. It was so loud it made Kate wince each time she entered the grand hall.

During class there were whispers in the darkened corridors of the lower levels, the scratching of pencil on paper, and sometimes the muffled sound of an explosion rumbling through the school.

During recess and lunch, sounds crashed through the halls like mighty waves. Classrooms of kids would sprint through the corridors, fly down the stairs, slide down balustrades, and jump statues, all trying to get into the shortest queue for their daily repast. It was a riot of shouted names, giggles, laughs and cries, which slowly subsided as students got on with the business of eating.

The food was generally served in large, odd-shaped wooden trays, each with little compartments for different courses. John Stotes, the class comedian, had started referring to the food by colour, and it had soon spread through her class and beyond. Kate’s favourite was brown-green, green, orange and purple. She was never quite sure what she was eating, but generally it was excellent.

If the weather was good, they all sat in groups in the gardens, sometimes on the lush, soft grass that covered the spaces in between the flower beds, or at any of the many small tables that were positioned among the plants, or even sitting in the branches of the huge Grandolly trees (a gift from the elves when the school was first established).

At any moment during the day, whether in class or at play, the regular sounds of the school could be bizarrely punctuated by Mrs Jasper. Her interjections were so odd that Kate imagined that she had a pair of dice on her desk, each side printed with a subject to rant about, and at random times during the day she’d throw them and bellow at the ventrilomat on her desk. The scary thing was that she knew the names of all 1243 students, but as far as Kate knew, no one had ever seen her. Creepy.

Apart from coming to terms with life at the school, Kate was also beginning to understand the history of magic, and was surprised and intrigued by what she discovered.

Humans had only developed magic around seven hundred years ago and most progress had been made in the past 150 years. No one really knew why it suddenly appeared, though of course there were many theories.

You had the doomsayers: "The universe is cracking open. Energy is flooding our dimension and we are all doomed," or “Satan the Destroyer has granted us his power, the witches will rise up, and we are all going to die,” or “The Higgs energy field has suffered a catastrophic adjustment, flooding the universe with a new energy, and we are all going to demolecularise.” You get the idea.

Then the evolutionists: "The human mind has evolved and can now tap into a previously unknown energy source," or “The human mind has evolved and now collectively creates magical energy.” Kate was quite fond of this one.

And the devout: "The goddess has granted us the power to make the world a better place." All evidence to the contrary, Kate thought cynically.

There were many theories, but what was known was this:

Human magic was quite powerful, however it came with an important constraint. For all but the simplest spells, human magic required tools. A magician’s laboratory was filled with powders, liquids, lenses, crystals, bones, braces and beakers. With the correct apparatus, a skilled practitioner could do wonders, but it took time — often days or weeks — to assemble everything, to create the construct, that brought forth the magic.

The better the craftsmanship involved in building the apparatus, the more powerful the spell, and because of this single fact magicians employed armies of craftsmen. The most powerful mages were always highly adept in one or more supporting fields including metal- and wood-work, pottery, glass-blowing and the making of fine jewellery.

Fae magic, however, was natural — it came from within. The Fae could do magic instantly, but they had to provide all the energy and this tired them quickly. A great Fae magician could conjure, entrance, and weave awe-inspiring spells, but afterwards would be left exhausted and needing to recharge, almost like a battery.

For this reason, the most powerful Fae magics were produced by teams, often lifelong partners or entire families. Together they would provide the energy needed for whatever magic they were doing.

In theory, Kate was a mix of both human and Fae magic — the only one she knew of. Maybe the only one in the world, however it wasn’t that simple. Kate could do pretty advanced magic, especially on living things (she just sort of felt it), but she didn’t feel any innate magic power dwelling inside her. She wasn’t too worried about it: right now she just wanted to focus on being a great magician.

She was kind of on-track to keep her promise to her mother, she was certainly ace-ing Potions, but she was having trouble with some of the other activities, and oddly, it was because of the wind. Potions was down a level where the air was still, but many of her other studies were held in the large halls above ground where the wind constantly buzzed around, distracting her.

She couldn’t work out how the other kids managed it — maybe regular humans just had a better ability to focus. The wind brought her all sorts of sounds, snippets of conversation, and smells (good, bad and sometimes truly terrible — what were they feeding to the school animals?) She tried really hard to ignore these distractions and blend in, but…argh!

It wasn’t all bad of course. Kate and Gilda had become friends over time. Gilda had bought a lovely gift for Kate to say thanks for finding her birch branch. It was a small glass bottle with a silver screw-on cap. Attached to the inside of the top was a small silver loop.

The bottle was filled with bubble juice, a simple potion that made beautiful iridescent bubbles. In the sunlight they shone, and in a dark room they glowed. Best of all, if you tried you could catch the bubbles and throw them between your hands. Kate knew she would always treasure it.

Experiment 4  — Perfect Bubbles

They’d taken to having lunch together, and often paired up for their magic projects. Gilda was lovely, but it wasn’t a particularly comfortable friendship.

"Hey Kate," Kate turned to find Gilda looking at her, with one hand holding a vicious looking, blood covered scalpel that she’d been using to remove the guts from a fire salamander. It was a sight, especially given the pink designer rubber gloves complete with faux fur trim that she was wearing which perfectly matched her knee-length pink leather boots. “You almost ready to head to lunch? I hear they’re serving Northern lamp eels today.”

"Yeah sure, let me finish preparing this crystal solution — should only be five minutes." Kate returned to her work dissolving the fine, violet powder that the class had recovered from the edge of Sohos volcano (some weeks after it had finished erupting of course) into boiling water, while singing an ancient Fae earth song that her mother had taught her. It was supposed to help the crystals align as they precipitated, increasing the amount of charge they could hold.

Suddenly Gilda burst out, "Do you have to sing that Fae crap all the time, Kate? It’s so irritating."

Kate was surprised at the intensity of the statement, but it wasn’t the first time. Whenever the subject of the Fae delegation, or Fae in general, came up, Gilda would get a distasteful look and become distant. Kate didn’t get it. She knew that Gilda’s town had fought the Fae in the second Border war, but that was years ago, in the time of their grandparents.

So while Kate liked Gilda a lot, this put a real strain on things. The Fae were coming to Jasper’s, everyone was talking about them constantly, and each time Gilda reacted this way, it angered her because it was racist and hurtful, and made her feel like a total liar.

"Yeah, sure," Kate replied with a sigh. She’d already decided that she’d somehow work things out over time, and for now at least, just enjoy having a friend.

With Nathan on the other hand, things were simpler. She didn’t like him at all. Occasionally he tried to be charming in a snotty, pretentious sort of way, but mostly he was simply obnixious.

In the canteen one day he’d been particularly nasty. He sauntered up to their lunch table and said, "Well well, the princess and the teacher’s pet." He turned to Gilda, “Perhaps I should buy you a collar and leash and you can take the pet for a walk? Haaaa!” He slapped his hands together, delighted at his joke.

"Nathan, sometimes you’re just horrible and a stupid bully," replied Gilda with a practiced tone. Nathan’s expression hardened. “It was just a joke,” he offered, then pulled a chair and sat down, lounging with his hands behind head.

"So, d’you hear that fat Konnel got into a fight with one of the brats, Frazer I think. That must been a hoot watching all that lard wobbling around. Imagine if he’d tripped and fell on him, it woulda been all over an’ ugly."

"Ssh," Kate interjected without thinking, “he’s just over there, he’ll hear you.”

"Don’t be daft, from over there? He’d have to be a filthy little sprite to hear me from over there." Nathan looked directly at Kate with a smirk. “Imagine if some disgusting Fae found their way in here, I’m sure the school would expel them immediately.”

"Nathan, go away now or I’ll make sure my dad chats with yours," said Gilda with unexpected command and arrogance.

Nathan looked like he was about to respond, then abruptly stood and walked away.

"Thanks." Kate was relieved to have someone on her side, and Gilda was clearly more privileged than she’d imagined.

So while she was doing magic, which she loved, by the end of each day, she was exhausted from juggling uncomfortable relationships and trying not to be discovered while doing her best in class. It was making her grumpy.

Luckily at Jasper’s there were always new and interesting things to do to prepare for some spell or other, which was a sure cure for the grumps, and provided constant adventure.

One afternoon, as Kate and Gilda went looking out in the fields for some wild mushrooms that Fluttersquawk wanted for a dream potion, a breeze brought a loud, beastly moan to Kate’s ears.

"Did you hear that?" she asked Gilda.

"No, what do you —" Then the moan came again, even louder this time, rumbling through the earth like a minor earthquake. The pair tiptoed over a nearby rise and peered downhill a short distance to where Mathylda the dragon lay groaning on the ground, both forepaws clutching her snout. Each heaving breath sent blue flame spouting out of her nostrils. The once green grass in front of her was now scorched and blackened.

"Mathylda?" said Kate. “Are you alright?”

"Do I look alright, you silly girl?" One amber eye opened to glare down at them. “Isn’t it obvious that I’m in an unbearable amount of pain?”

"Oh you poor thing, what’s wrong?" Gilda asked.

"What’s wrong, she asks," Mathylda mimicked through clenched teeth. “As if it weren’t patently obvious that the last thing I wish to do right now is talk!” She clutched at her snout tighter and rolled to face away from them.

Kate slid down the slope to stand beside Mathylda’s head. She observed the dragon’s sinuous tongue licking one of her molars and realised what had happened.

"Mathylda, do you have a toothache?"

The dragon glared at her. "No, I most definitely do not have a — ow! — toothache. Now go away, you insufferable little know-it-all!"

Kate hurriedly stepped back. "Gilda," she said, “I think you should go tell Professor Fluttersquawk.”

"No." growled Mathylda. “Don’t tell anyone!” But the blonde girl had vanished behind the rise, so she glared at Kate instead, who took another step back.

"Has anyone ever told you how much of a busybody you are?"

"My father. He also told me that toothaches only get worse unless you treat them, which is why we’re getting the Professor. Don’t worry, I’m sure she can help."

The dragon simply moaned.

A short while later, Gilda scurried back to them with Fluttersquawk in tow. "Right, let’s take a look. Open your mouth," the teacher instructed Mathylda in her usual brisk manner.

"No!"

"Yes!" Fluttersquawk jabbed the dragon’s nose with her staff, forcing Mathylda to comply. The professor promptly peered into her maw, adjusting her half-moon spectacles.

"Cavity," she sniffed. “Right lower second molar. You will definitely need treatment.”

"I have not long to live." groaned Mathylda. “I am in such pain. I am in agony!”

"You are a drama queen, that’s all. I’m calling the dracologist. I think he does teeth."

"There is no such thing and you know it. You’re calling a zoo. You’re going to make them take me away, you hard-heart. Oh, what good is an injured dragon with no teeth to anyone?"

Fluttersquawk sighed. "Goodness, the things we must put up with." She turned to Kate. “Thank you, Kate, Gilda. There’s not much more you can do here. I suggest you run along and get back to your schoolwork.”

"Actually, Professor," said Kate. “I have an idea that might help prevent her getting any more cavities. I glimpsed it in our Potions book, there’s a recipe for giant’s toothpaste — apparently they need something fairly strong to deal with their plaque. Well, I wonder if it can be used with dragons?”

"Excellent idea." said Fluttersquawk. “She’s going to love the taste of that, not a bit, I tell you. I can add in some Galen’s restorative and mix it with a little Spanish Cemento Gaudi — that man was truly a wizard. It might just do the trick.

"Right we are, mix me a batch of your finest toothpaste, and I’ll add a little magic at the end."

Experiment  5 — Dragon’s toothpaste

"Bleagh," spat Mathylda. “This tastes ghastly! Did you add any sugar to it at all? ”

"Sugar, in toothpaste." sighed Fluttersquawk. “We’re trying to brush the sugar off, not add more. Listen carefully, I want you to brush twice a day, between meals. This actually might save that tooth. If I’m right, and of course I am, then your tooth should be fully restored in two weeks.”

"Two weeks of this. You must be — Oh fine," sulked the dragon when she saw Fluttersquawk’s expression darken. “What did your last slave die of?”

"Disobedience." came the quick retort. “And no more sweets for the duration, either.”

"What? How can you expect me to live without collecting payment from the students? I can take this up with…with my union."

Professor Fluttersquawk arched an eyebrow. "What in blazes are you talking about? You’re the only dragon in the world employed by humans. So if you won’t pipe down, I will tell Professor Brahms about your little problem."

Mathylda faltered, eyes wide. "You wouldn’t dare," she said in a small voice.

"I don’t suggest you try me." Professor Fluttersquawk turned to Kate. “Well done, Kate. Mathylda may not want to, but let me say thank you. I think she would have survived, but you’ve saved her tooth and the rest of the school from a world of constant, dragon-sized moaning.”

Kate grinned and did a little bow. "It’s my pleasure, Professor."

"Hmph," said the dragon.

Experiment 4  —  perfect bubbles

Do you know why bubbles burst when you touch them? It’s because of oil on your skin. It changes the surface tension across the bubble, destroying it. Light cotton gloves protect the bubble from your skin, and so you can hold them. Try it.

Check out this bubbles video

Did you know, if you make a large bubble on a plate, and cover your hand with bubble liquid, you can push your hand right through the bubble. Try it.

Making bubbles

Now, of course to do this, you need a perfect bubble recipe. This is one that’s worked for us.

6 cups water (distilled is best, but tap water is fine)

1/2 cup or 120 ml of dishwashing detergent (Morning Fresh works well)

1/2 cup or 60gr of cornstarch(US) or corn flour (EU). They’re the same thing, just slightly different names

1 tbsp baking powder (not baking soda see the difference)

1 tbsp Glycerine or glycerol

Once you have your bubble mixture, you need to make bubbles.

Check this video for to make a giant bubble wand

There are lots of other approaches.

E.g. You can take a wire coat hanger and bend it to the size you desire. Anything that makes a loop.

So what’s going on (thanks to the science museum, London).

The smallest unit of water is called a water molecule.

A water molecule is so tiny there are around 1,390,000,000,000,000,000,000 molecules in a single drop of water.

These water molecules are attracted to each other which causes something called surface tension, and this creates a sort of skin on top of the surface of water. This is how pond skaters can sit on top of ponds and how you can balance a paper clip on top of water (try it).

Washing up liquid changes things

We add washing up liquid to water to lower the surface tension. It makes the water stretchy and wibbly-wobbly so that you can blow bubbles.

Then we add Glycerine

This is our special ingredient.

Glycerine stops bubbles from drying out so they don’t pop as quickly.

Remember, bubbles love humid days. When it’s hot and dry they don’t last as long.

For extra toads…

Ask a parent if you can watch a bubble popping in slow motion on youtube. There’s a great video from the slow mo guys

which is incredible.

And this one from the discovery channel

has some interesting things to say.

Can you see what’s happening?

Experiment 5 —  dragons toothpaste

Wear saftey glasses and use gloves for this. H2O2 is bad for your eyes and can bleach your skin

(thanks sciencecafe.org)

Dragon Toothpaste is a fun chemical reaction that creates a huge blob of soapy foam that everyone loves. You can buy 6% peroxide solution from Amazon (see our ingredients list).

dragons toothpaste

The basic science here is that you have hydrogen peroxide, which really should be called hydrogen dioxide, since it is just a water molecule with an extra oxygen added on. Hydrogen peroxide is H2O2, water is of course H2O. By adding another chemical called a catalyst to the peroxide, you create a chemical reaction that releases the extra oxygen attached to the water molecule (H2O2 > H2O + O2).

If you mix in a little detergent you can capture that released oxygen in the form of bubbles. Add food colour and you get coloured bubbles. Here’s the video.

Remember that one drop of liquid contains trillions of molecules, so as the hydrogen peroxide breaks down, you get a lot of oxygen really quickly, so you get A LOT of bubbles.

Here’s what you need

an empty plastic drink bottle (choose one with a narrow opening for best results)

1/2 cup 6% hydrogen peroxide

Dish detergent (2 tablespoons)

Food coloring (a few drops)

1 teaspoon (or half a packet) of yeast dissolved in warm water

Fill your soda bottle with the 1/2 cup or 120mls of peroxide and then add a squirt or two of dish detergent. If you want, you can also add a squirt of food coloring to make things a bit festive.

Now you need to prepare your yeast. Actually you have a couple of options, you could just pour the dry yeast into the bottle. This will create a surge of foam from the bottle with large bubbles. The yeast acting as a catalyst to release oxygen from the hydrogen peroxide. However, if you want a rich creamy foam of tiny bubbles, you should really add your teaspoon of yeast to a few tablespoons of warm water, then add the liquid to your bottle.

If you have ever made bread from scratch, you know that adding yeast to warm water allows the yeast to multiply into a somewhat smelly and foamy froth of more yeast cells. When you add this liquid to the peroxide you will get quite a surge of tiny soapy bubbles. The bubbly mixture is simply detergent, water, and oxygen filled bubbles and quite safe to touch. In fact you might observe that the foam is warm because this reaction is exothermic, meaning it gives off heat.

Play around with the amount of peroxide, detergent, yeast and bottles to create the best geyser of foam.

The reaction will release O2 (Oxygen) gas which will create a large amount of foam, perfect as a toothpaste for dragons.

Now let’s add a different catalyst to the hydrogen peroxide.

Place some magnesium dioxide into a potion jar then pour in some hydrogen peroxide. You can buy the magnesium dioxide from amazon, or if you prefer, pull apart a cheap d-cell battery (cheap batteries are the best source of magnesium dioxide).

You need to make sure you use a copper-zinc d-cell. These have a copper rod in the center, a zinc can on the outside and in between is a black paste of magnesium dioxide. You can see a great video on how to do this on youtube

.

To see what happens when you mix hydrogen peroxide with magnesium dioxide, check out this video

.

(no I’m not sure about the music either….)

The reaction is slightly exothermic as well, and you should use a good Pyrex beaker.

Extra toads

  1. This involves lighting matches, so please ask your parents first. Let’s see if it’s true what they say about oxygen. Does it burn? You bet it does. Add a little H2O2 and yeast in a small test tube and let the oxygen build up. Then light a match, blow it out and dip it into the gas in the tube. What happens and why?

  2. Hydrogen peroxide is highly reactive and has a lot of uses. See if you can find three separate uses for this amazing chemical around the home and in industry.
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