It was one of the scariest words a high school senior could think of, and it kept ringing in Thea Harman's mind as her grandmother's car approached the school building.
"This," Grandma Harman said from the front passenger seat, "is your last chance. You do realize that, don't you?"
As the driver pulled the car to the curb, she went on. "I don't know why you got thrown out of the last school, and I don't want to know. But if there's one whiff of trouble at this school, I'm going to give up and send both of you to your Aunt Ursula's. And you don't want that, now, do you?"
Thea shook her head vigorously.
Aunt Ursula's house was nicknamed the Convent, a gray fortress on a deserted mountaintop. Stone walls everywhere, an atmosphere of gloom-and Aunt Ursula watching every move with thin lips. Thea would rather die than go there.
In the backseat next to her, Thea's cousin Blaise was shaking her head, too-but Thea knew better than to hope she was listening.
Thea herself could hardly concentrate. She felt dizzy and very untogether, as if half of her were still back in New Hampshire, in the last principal's office. She kept seeing the look on his face that meant she and Blaise were about to be expelled-again.
But this time had been the worst. She'd never forget the way the police car outside kept flashing red and blue through the windows, or the way the smoke kept rising from the charred remains of the music wing, or the way Randy Marik cried as the police led him off to jail.
Or the way Blaise kept smiling. Triumphantly, as if it had all been a game.
Thea glanced sideways at her cousin.
Blaise looked beautiful and deadly, which wasn't her fault. She always looked that way; it was part of having smoldering gray eyes and hair like stopped smoke. She was as different from Thea's soft blondness as night from day and it was her beauty which kept getting them in trouble, but Thea couldn't help loving her.
After all, they'd been raised as sisters. And the sister bond was the strongest bond there was... to a witch.
But we can't get expelled again. We can't. And I know you're thinking right now that you can do it all over again
and good old Thea will stick with you-but this time you 're wrong. This time I've got to stop you.
"That's all," Gran said abruptly, finishing with her instructions. "Keep your noses clean until the end of October or you'll be sorry. Now, get out." She whacked the headrest of the driver's seat with her stick. "Home, Tobias."
The driver, a college-age boy with curly hair who had the dazed and beaten expression all Grandma's apprentices got after a few days, muttered, "Yes, High Lady," and reached for the gearshift. Thea grabbed for the door handle and slid out of the car fast. Blaise was right behind her.
The ancient Lincoln Continental sped off. Thea was left standing with Blaise under the warm Nevada sun, in front of the two-story adobe building complex. Lake Mead High School.
Thea blinked once or twice, trying to kick-start her brain. Then she turned to her cousin.
"Tell me," she said grimly, "that you're not going to do the same thing here."
Blaise laughed. "I never do the same thing twice."
"You know what I mean."
Blaise pursed her lips and reached down to adjust the top of her boot. "I think Gran overdid it a little with the lecture, don't you? I think there's something she's not telling us about. I mean, what was that bit about the end of the month?" She straightened, tossed back her mane of dark hair and smiled sweetly. "And shouldn't we be going to the office to get our schedules?"
"Are you going to answer my question?"
"Did you ask a question?"
Thea shut her eyes. "Blaise, we are running out of relatives. If it happens again-well, do you want to go to the Convent?"
For the first time, Blaise's expression darkened. Then she shrugged, sending liquid ripples down her loose ruby-colored shirt. "Better hurry. We don't want to be tardy."
"You go ahead," Thea said tiredly. She watched as her cousin walked away, hips swaying in the trademark Blaise lilt.
Thea took another breath, examining the buildings with their arched doorways and pink plaster walls. She knew the drill. Another year of living with them, of walking quietly through halls knowing that she was different from everybody around her, even while she was carefully, expertly pretending to be the