The house Sensei has brought her to is the biggest she has seen in her six-and-a-half years and beautiful and filled with a heavy silence that makes her whisper and tip-toe and be careful not to leave a trace of herself behind. She feels like an intruder, eyes watching her from empty rooms, and every stair is a memory she dares not to disturb.

The house has many stairs. Small ones, big ones, stone, wood, iron-lattice, spiral and straight, everything from what is little more than a glorified ladder in the attic to a sweeping grand staircase in the main hall, with a soft, vivid red carpet that makes her feel small and grubby.

Her favourite is a narrow stone spiral in the south-east corner of the house that goes from the ground floor to a small round window. She is not sure what it is for, but the floor is covered in thick dust and the only footprints are hers. She can sit on the second step from the top and look through the round window into the sunny garden. Sometimes she brings boxes to sit on, books to read, water to drink, and little by little the abandoned corner with its winding stair turns into her place. It feels different from the rest of the house—the air seems lighter and the quiet not so oppressive.

Sometimes she wonders which staircase he would like best. She thinks it would be the big one off the parlour with its wide, gleaming banisters. He would run up and slide back down, going faster and faster until he shot off the end and crashed into her. She would catch him and scold him and he would beam at her with his gap-toothed smile and make her completely forget that she is supposed to be angry at him, the rascal!

But then she looks around and the banister is gleaming, with no scuff marks or greasy fingerprints, and he is not here. And she will wonder what she is doing here without him, didn't she promise Mother she would look out for him?

These are the times Sensei will walk up to her silently and take her into the study, so that soon she is immersed in equations and transmutation theories and all the wonders of alchemy and forgets how much she misses him, for a little while.

The house has many stairs, a veritable maze of passageways. The house has too many stairs, leading to a window or a wall or spiralling back to the place it started. She asked Sensei about them once and the silence was an answer in itself.

For every stair is a secret, and Izumi will respect that.