For as long as Cordelia could remember, she had been helping her family with their craft. Before she could walk, she had crawled between the oak benches in the workshop, carrying ribbons and lace in her mouth. If they arrived a little damp, her uncle would patiently dry them by the fire before stitching them on to his creations. When she began to walk, she staggered across the Trimming Room with feathers for hats held carefully aloft. She toddled through plumes of steam from her aunt’s hat blocks and tottered around eddies of crystal light swirling in the Alchemy Parlour.

The first words she learned were written in spiky runes, from the whispering books in the Library. She made friends with the lush plants that burst from the glasshouse perched on the roof, became acquainted with the stars through her great-aunt’s stargazing telescope, and gave all the Quest Pigeons names. She wrapped the Moon Cactus in a woolly scarf when there was snow on the ground and cooled the Vesuvian Stone with a fan in summer, to stop it oozing lava on to her great-aunt’s table. She knew the brushes that were brusque unless you talked to them politely, and she was the only one who could coax the Timor Fern to unfurl a new frond, by whispering kind things to it.

Hatmakers had lived in this house for more generations than anyone could quite remember. Magic from the ingredients, brought home from adventures all around the world, had seeped into the grain of the wood and into the time-worn stones. The wrinkled glass of the old windows, the walls and even the chimney pots bristled and shivered with their own eccentric magic. Some of the magic was rather exasperating.

For example, if you trod on the workshop hearthrug in the wrong place, it would deliberately trip you up. One of the floorboards was very ticklish and tended to wriggle if you walked over it. Uncle Tiberius often got impatient with the cupboard where invisible things were kept. The door of the cupboard had slowly faded – from being inconspicuous, it had become obscure, then completely invisible. But when her uncle could not fi nd it, Cordelia knew just how to squint at the wall to glimpse the handle.

Useful around the house as Cordelia was, she was not actually allowed to make any hats herself. “Ingredients are unpredictable,” her aunt often warned her. “They can be exceedingly harmful if used in the wrong way. And some ingredients should never be used at all.” These forbidden ingredients were locked away in the Menacing Cabinet, an iron cupboard in the workshop. Cordelia was always sent out of the room when it was opened. She was very curious about the treacherous treasures it contained, but had never managed to glimpse any of them. Anything gathered during a ingredient-seeking expedition that was deemed too perilous to use was locked away behind its iron walls, and the key to the Menacing Cabinet was always on Aunt Ariadne’s belt.

The Hatmakers’ motto was inscribed in Latin across the doors of the cabinet: NOLI NOCERE. It meant “Do no harm”, which was the most important principle in Hatmaking. Cordelia once heard Prospero and Uncle Tiberius weighing a single whisker from a Sabre Tiger. She’d had her ear pressed to the keyhole of the Hat-weighing Room when she heard her uncle sigh: “It’s far heavier than my strongest measure of Menace, Prospero! It will have to go in the Menacing Cabinet.” So the Menacing Cabinet had been opened and the whisker locked away. Cordelia had even heard whispers that the cabinet contained a Croakstone, but she didn’t dare ask about that.

She had, however, tried to bargain with her aunt on several occasions about Hatmaking in general. “I wouldn’t make a bad hat!” she reasoned, making her eyes as big and sincere as she could. “I’d make a really nice hat. A very safe one.”

‘You’re not old enough, Cordelia,’ her aunt always answered. “You still have a lot to learn before you can even think about making your first hat.” But Cordelia did think about making her first hat. She longed to wrap a bright skein of felt round a hat block, cover it with ribbons and feathers and gems and twisting twigs, lace it with pearls and stud it with buttons and shells and flowers and –

“It’s absolutely out of the question,” was always her aunt’s final word on the matter.

Aunt Ariadne had a gold hatpin, decorated with an emerald as big as a gooseberry. She would stick it in her hair with a purposeful jab before rolling up her sleeves to start on a new hat. The hatpin contained the power to make her aunt a brilliant and enchanting Hatmaker. Uncle Tiberius had a sleek silver hatpin that he kept tucked into his breast pocket. Great-aunt Petronella’s was always stuck through her bun, its red stone gleaming. Prospero’s hatpin was whittled from the branch of a Fleetwood tree and he wore it in his captain’s hat. Every birthday Cordelia hoped to be given one of her own: a hatpin that would make her a Hatmaker. Having a hatpin would fi nally allow her to begin the work her fi ngers itched to do. But she knew that, like all Hatmakers before her, she would only be allowed to make her first hat on her sixteenth birthday.

It felt like several lifetimes away.

Excerpted with permission from The Hatmakers, Tamzin Merchant, illustrated by Paola Escobar, Puffin.