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Seraphina Dombegh is an ityasaari girl living in the capital city of Goredd. With her incredible musical talent, Seraphina earned herself the job of assistant to the Goreddi court musician, Viridius, who delegated the task of becoming the music tutor to Princess Glisselda.
Intriguingly enough, Seraphina's strange abilities as a hybrid allowed her to remember the time spent in her mother's womb and her own birth. Her mother, Linn, was a dragon who married the human Claude Dombegh, who was unaware of her species until she died in childbirth. As interspecies marriage between human and dragon was utterly forbidden, Claude was frantic in his determination to hide the truth of his wife. He forged thorough documents naming the fictitious Amaline Ducanahan as his late wife and Seraphina's mother. He wished for a fresh start and so moved his family to the capital city, Lavondaville, where he picked up his law practice again, eventually becoming the Crown's expert on the treaty between dragons and humans. He never told his daughter about her true heritage, hoping that he would never have to.
At Seraphina's ritual blessing (similar to a baptism) to determine her patron saint, the infant Seraphina dropped the psalter book as expected where it fell open to the pages of the heretic, St. Yirtrudis, which was not. Horrified, the priest hastily decided that the Heavens meant St. Capiti. Although happy with her substitute saint, Seraphina is forever curious about her true patron, the heretic. No one seems to know why she became a heretic, and the fact that every statue, shrine, and image of her has been destroyed only makes Seraphina more curious.
When Seraphina was eight years old, her father's acquaintance Orma hired the saar Zeyd to be her tutor, despite Claude's objections. Seraphina liked Zeyd very much, right up until she dangled Seraphina over the edge of a tower, allegedly to teach her about gravity. However, in reality, Zeyd was endangering her student's life at the command of the Censors to test Orma's emotional control. Unknown to Seraphina, Orma himself was a dragon and secretly her uncle, causing the Censors to believe he may care for her too much. Somehow, he managed to casually convince Zeyd to put Seraphina down safely. He then departed with Zeyd, leaving Seraphina to sob a the summit of St. Gobnait's tower. When the permanently-acrophobic Seraphina managed to shakily crawl down the tower and return home, Orma was waiting for her, ready to scold her for trusting a saar.
At age eleven, Seraphina found a flute that had belonged to her mother. She began to teach herself how to play, intending to show off her skills to her father's guests at his Treaty Eve party, but her father had forbidden her to learn music and consequently broke her flute and grounded her as punishment. She was devastated, feeling that he was taking away all that she had left of her mother.
The next morning, feeling hurt and reckless, Seraphina snuck out of her room and wandered the streets. She eventually joined a crowd, standing next to an old knight and his squire. To celebrate the treaty, there was a procession of dragons in their natural forms. Unfortunately, the crowd was not friendly towards their former enemies and some even began to throw clods of dirt at them. One dragon spooked and moved out of line, spreading his vast wings, sparking panic and riot. Young Seraphina got caught under the stampede and was nearly trampled, but a dragon moved to protect her, shielding her with his body. She tried to thank him and in doing so, realized that she instinctively understood Mootya, the language of the dragons. The dragon looked directly into her eyes and spoke her name, triggering a maternal memory revealing he was Orma. It overtook her so strongly, Seraphina lost consciousness as she experienced the memory of her birth from her mother's perspective, revealing her true identity and her relationship to Orma.
When she awoke, she discovered that the knight and squire were protecting her from the panicking crowd. They took her home where she was sent straight to bed. Soon after, she had her first manifestation of her latent ityasaari abilities: visions of the grotesques, as she came to call them. For the next week, she was bombarded with uncontrollable visions and developed a band of silver scales on her waist and forearm.
When she was nearly recovered, Seraphina had a conversation with her father and Orma about what was to be done with her. Seraphina acknowledged the need for total secrecy and near-isolation—if she were to be found out, she would undoubtedly be killed. Orma , impassive as ever, recited St. Ogdo's scriptures, "If soe'er the worms defile your women, producing misshapen, miscegenated abominations, suffer not ghastly issue to live. Cleave the infant's skull with a thrice-blessed axe, ere its fontanelles harden like unto steel. Sever its scaly limbs and burn them in separate fires, lest they return in the night, crawling like worms, to kill righteous folk. Tear open the monster child's belly, piss upon its entrails, and set ablaze. Half-breeds are born gravid: if you bury the abdomen intact, twenty more will spring up from the ground– " until Claude stopped him. At Orma's request, Claude agreed to allow him to become Seraphina's teacher in all matters—including music, previously forbidden to her. Seraphina later claimed that Orma saved her life once again by introducing her to the study of music.
In addition to music and other topics of education, he taught his niece the draconian skill of "cognitive architecture", believing it could stop visions of her grotesques from assaulting and knocking Seraphina out unawares. He trained her to build special spaces and mental avatars for each of her grotesques so they wouldn't seek her attention at inconvenient times. He also taught her everything she knew about dragons, ranging from their history to their social-ineptness to higher mathematics and physiology.
Seraphina's love for music drove her to audition for the position of primary assistant of the crotchety old court composer, Viridius. Since her saar of a music teacher Orma lacked passion as a musician, having only achieved technical perfection, her talent was astonishing. But to determine her worth, she was ordered to give the musically-disinclined princess her harpsichord lesson. Dodging the Princess's clever traps laid out for the other contestants, Seraphina managed to succeed in interesting Princess Glisselda in music, earning her place as Assistant Music Mistress. Seraphina moved out of her father's house and into a suite in the palace as a result.
Seraphina was preparing the musical entertainment for the fortieth anniversary of Comonot's Treaty, and Ardmagar Comonot's arrival, when Prince Rufus was found decapitated two weeks before the celebration.
Due to Viridius's painful gout, Seraphina is put in charge of the music for Prince Rufus's funeral. When her flutist and his backup are unable perform, Seraphina is forced to perform the flute onstage herself, despite her promises to her father that she would not draw attention to herself by playing in public.
And draw attention she does. Moved by the grief of the royal family, Seraphina plays her best, bringing the crowd to awestruck tears. Orma later tells her that the crying of the audience might have been caused by the way she tends to hum along to her music and her odd way of playing certain notes. Before she can set him straight, a beggar girl approaches Orma and hands him a gold coin, baffling Seraphina, but Orma refused to elaborate. She does not get much chance to question him, however, as a brewing riot interrupts their conversation. Despite Seraphina's fear of being noticed, Orma heads into the thick of things to help a newskin, called Basind, whom the crowd is harrassing. The palace Guard soon intervenes, led by Prince Lucian Kiggs.
Seraphina, seeing that Kiggs is unused to dealing with dragons, steps in to help question Basind. Kiggs shrewdly guesses that Orma is a dragon scholar, exempt from the distinctive silver bell that all saarantrai must wear. This accuracy disturbs Seraphina; for someone with a secret like hers, his intelligence and inclination to thoroughly investigate mysteries makes him a dangerous person for her to be around. She politely dodges his questions until she can't handle them anymore and turns her back on him, intentionally forgoing courtesy to escape his curiosity of her.
Feeling a headache threatening impending visions, Seraphina hurries home and delves straight into her mind's garden to tend to her grotesques. However, she discovers that her favorite grotesque, whom she has named Fruit Bat, has wandered from his designated area for the first time ever. When a panicky Seraphina finally finds him, he offers her his hands, trying to induce a vision. If Seraphina touches the hands of any of her grotesques, she is able to "enter" their real-life counterparts' minds and see exactly what they're doing wherever they are. However, Seraphina refuses and guides him back to his area of fruit trees.
The following morning, Seraphina oversleeps and arrives late to choir practice, drawing Viridius's ire. He reminds her that he wants her to meet his protegee, Lars, ordering her to attend Princess Glisselda's nightly soiree at the Blue Salon that evening or risk getting fired. Seraphina reluctantly agrees before hurrying to her lesson with Glisselda, where she accidently overhears Glisselda telling her lady-in-waiting that her music teacher is prickly.
Slightly offended, Seraphina barges in and begins the lesson. Later, when Seraphina's stomach growls, Glisselda makes a disrepectful dragon joke. Seraphina scolds her as politely as possible, reminding the elfish princess that with Ardmagar Comonot arriving for the fortieth anniversary of the treaty, it is not wise to make such jokes. Seraphina is then chagrined, realizing that she is, indeed, prickly. Nevertheless, Glisselda responds ignorantly, believing that the treaty came about as a result of humans dominating them in the dragon war. An aghast Seraphina quickly sets her to rights, startling Glisselda into thinking more deeply about the relationship of dragons and humans. Seraphina uses a metaphor comparing humans to cockroaches: tiny, weak, repulsive little things that nevertheless get everywhere and ruin everything. "But what if they had art?" Seraphina asks her. "What if they were intelligent? What if you found a way to become their size and shape?" Amused by the metaphor, Glisselda asks Seraphina how she knows so much about dragons. Seraphina tells her that her father is the Crown's expert on the treaty, and that he would even read it to her as a bedtime story.
That evening, Seraphina contacts Orma via a draconian device embedded in her spinet to talk to him about Fruit Bat wandering the garden. Orma asks her to meet him at St. Ida's in an hour. On her way, Seraphina was approached by a quigutl, a lesser species of dragon, who sells her a strange little figurine. Although she is in no danger, she and the quig are seen by Silas and Thomas Broadwick who chase the quig off, believing that it was harassing her. Soon after, Seraphina is unfortunately overtaken by a vision and collapses.
Her mind's eye hovering near the ceiling, Seraphina sees a Porphyrian woman and Fruit Bat conversing. Normally the grotesques' real-life counterparts are unaware of Seraphina when she looks in on them, but Fruit Bat keeps looking up at the space near her mind's eye, as if he can see her.
Startled, Seraphina rouses from her faint and is taken home by the Broadwicks. Before she can go into the safety of Castle Orison, Thomas Broadwick takes her aside and tells her that he saw the quigutl figurine in her purse, threatening that "worm-riding quig lovers" like her get thrown in sacks into the river.
In her rooms, a shaken Seraphina enters her garden and confronts Fruit Bat, whose avatar has changed to look more like his real-life counterpart, Abdo, whom she saw in her vision. She explains to Fruit Bat that it's dangerous for her to have visions at random times, and he agrees to not induce any more visions.
Strolling around the rest of her mind's garden, she notices colorful snow beginning to fall from the sky. Upon catching a snowflake on her tongue, Seraphina experiences another memory from her mother. Though Seraphina isn't sure where the memories are coming from or why they're coming now, she knows she can't leave them scattered around her head. She gathers them inside a tin box where they arrange themselves neatly as note cards. Unable to resist, Seraphina takes out one of the cards and experiences a memory of her mother writing a love song and talking with Claude. Seraphina is distressed to learn her mother's name, Linn, and to know the passion Linn had felt for Seraphina's father. Despite sensing everything from her mother's point of view, she still feels disconnected from her and is unable to feel sympathy for this woman who has caused her life to be so troubled.
Seraphina contacts Orma via the spinet again and tells him about Fruit Bat's behavior and the vision. Orma is fascinated and sees it as an opportunity to learn about Seraphina's abilities—perhaps Fruit Bat knows something— and Seraphina sarcastically suggests going to Porphyry to find him, but Orma takes her seriously. She goes to bed very late that night, musing on meeting Fruit Bat in the real world.
The next evening is the night she promised Viridius to attend the Blue Salon. Arriving much earlier than she should have, she is able to observe each guest as they arrive. Eventually, she spots the real-world counterpart of Miss Fusspots, one of her grotesques. A stunned Seraphina tries to approach her, but is stalled by the arrival of Prince Lucian and Princess Glisselda, causing Seraphina to lose her in the chaos the wake of the royal couple's arrival makes. Resigning herself to a night of being social, Seraphina listens to the bragging of one of her musicians, Earl Josef of Apsig, about the hunt that had led to Prince Rufus's death. Josef brazenly claims that a dragon must have done it, but Seraphina suggests that the extreme anti-dragon Sons of St. Ogdo may have set it up to look like a dragon's deed in order to stir dracophobia before the upcoming anniversary. Suddenly appearing at their side, Prince Lucian agrees that her idea is a plausible one. Before much more can be said, Seraphina spots Miss Fusspots across the room and makes to go towards her, completely unaware that Queen Lavonda has entered the room, causing Prince Lucian to physically yank her out of the Queen's way. Lavonda sweeps her way towards her granddaughter, bringing along several saarantrai ambassadors in the expectation that Princess Glisselda and Prince Lucian will make them comfortable and accepted.
When Glisselda glibly says something impolitic, Seraphina notices that no one else is brave enough to point it out to the princess. Thinking of Orma, Seraphina gathers her courage and gently but frankly tells Glisselda that she's being rude and reminds her that it's her duty as princess to set an example for the people, perhaps by inviting the saarantrai to sit or dance with her. Seeing that his cousin is floundering, Prince Lucian volunteers to ask a saarantras, Eskar, to dance first. Relieved that he's taking the plunge for her, Glisselda obliviously says that she's so glad he's better at this stuff because he's a bastard and thus understands the common people. Seraphina is at first awed that the princess is able to speak of his heritage so bluntly without him minding, but then she sees the look on the prince's face and realizes that he does mind, and very much at that.
Unable to withstand the pressure of being among so many people, and with derogatory dragon jokes running rampant, Seraphina gratefully leaves the Blue Salon when Viridius waves a dismissal at her. On her way out, Seraphina bumps into Lady Corongi, Glisselda's governess who instilled in her such biased ideas about dragons. The two argue briefly about their views on dragons before swiftly parting ways. Once home, Seraphina sinks into her mental garden and takes Miss Fusspots's unresisting hand, inducing a vision. She spots the real Miss Fusspots undressing and sees that Miss Fusspots has a short, silver-scaled dragon tail— meaning that Miss Fusspots must be a human-dragon hybrid like Seraphina herself. This astounding realization makes her wonder if all of her grotesques are actually half-dragons like her. Like Fruit Bat, Miss Fusspots seems to realize that she's being watched and is not at all happy about it.
Sometime soon after the vision ends, a furious Miss Fusspots herself arrives at Seraphina's rooms and hits her hard with a book, enraged at the invasion of her privacy. Partly in self-defense, Seraphina reveals her scaly forearm to the woman. Absolutely stunned, Miss Fusspots restrains herself from beating her up and tells Seraphina her name, Dame Okra Carmine. She is a hundred and ten years old, and went all that time believing she was the only half-dragon in existence. Suddenly becoming very snappish and rude, she mocks Seraphina, saying that scales around the arm are nothing compared to having a tail. Regaining her composure, she says that she's the Ninysh ambassador and grudgingly forgives Seraphina, though warning her to never again invade her privacy. Barely satisfied with Seraphina's promise not to, Dame Carmine leaves.
Seraphina is awed at the thought that she isn't alone, that she's not the only half-dragon, and that all of her grotesques seem to be like her. She feels the urge to go find them but knows that she can't, as she has responsibilities at the moment.
Seraphina is very observant and cautious although slightly bad-tempered which Princess Glisselda pointed out to Lady Milliphrene. Glisselda as well called her "prickly" and "does have a dreadful taste in gowns"
Initially in Seraphina, she was wary of Kiggs as she was afraid that he would realise that she was an Ityasaari. Kiggs' curiosity, intelligence and perceptiveness did not help this at all. However, Kiggs was impressed by her intelligence and awareness of social norms.
During the party, Kiggs becomes more impressed with Seraphina due to her perceptiveness. He is also impressed when Seraphina realises that he is quoting Pontheus, a philosopher.
After seeing her singing so as to give Lars a distraction, Kiggs meets up with Seraphina. Kiggs acts very informally to Seraphina, and tells her to call him Kiggs. Unfortunately, Seraphina is still very wary of Kiggs. This fear causes her to get annoyed with Kiggs, which results in her calling Kiggs a bastard, hurting him.
Kiggs is impressed when Seraphina is able to deceive the guards.
Seraphina and Kiggs try to find Imlann, who appears to attack them when they least expect it. Seraphina is able to trick Imlann such that she goes away,
At the end of the story, Lucian reveals that he is not bothered by the fact that Seraphina is half-dragon. He also confesses his undying love for her. They then share quite a few passionate kisses before deciding to keep their relationship to a minimum as Glisselda needs them. Seraphina was brave and smart enough to bluff Imlann once to save Kiggs' life during their investigation on Prince Rufus' death when Imlann threatened to kill him. Kiggs still loves Seraphina even after she revealed to be half-dragon. They had both initially bonded over philosophy. Kiggs had also given Seraphina a book from one of his favourite philosophers.