Celia is lying in Marco’s arms, wishing this moment would never end. She manages to slow down his heartbeat enough to put him to sleep, and as the day dawns, she lets him sleep and gets dressed quietly. She takes her ring off and puts it on the mantel, and as she puts on her coat, she looks at the books on his desk. She decides that she needs to learn his systems in order to make the circus more independent and take some of the weight off her shoulders, which might give them the opportunity to be alone together without breaking the rules of the competition.
After finally giving in to her feelings for Marco, Celia is determined to find a way to escape the competition and hopes that she can use her magic, the only weapon she has, to do it. While she is willing to collaborate with Marco in the competition, Celia has decided that this is something she must do on her own, and even takes Marco’s notebook without telling him.
Celia takes Marco’s notebook with her as she leaves Marco’s flat, and as soon as she is out in the hallway, Hector appears, calling her a “deceitful little slut.” He then asks her what she is doing with Marco’s notebook, and reminds her that she cannot interfere with his work. She notes sarcastically that interference is one of the few things that is officially against the rules, and explains that she is just trying to learn his systems so she doesn’t have to control so much of the circus. Hector tells her that she shouldn’t be concerning herself with that, and adds that he has overestimated her ability to handle the competition.
Hector Bowen’s conversation with his daughter borders on abusive in this scene, as he attempts to shame her for her relationship with Marco and therefore keep control over her and the competition. Again, Hector can only see Celia’s value in terms of her magical abilities, and even then, her magic is only of value to him as a way of winning the competition and gaining advantage over his rival, Mr. A.H.
Celia asks Hector if this is the point of the game, to see how each of the players deals with the repercussions of magic in a public venue, in a world that doesn’t believe in magic anyway; that it is a test of stamina and control rather than skill. Hector replies that it is a test of strength, and that she is weak—weaker than he originally thought. If she is so weak, she says, he should just let her lose because she doesn’t want to play any longer. He explains to her that there is no declaration of a winner, that the game doesn’t stop. It is simply played out.
Despite defending Celia’s strength to Mr. A.H., Hector questions whether or not his daughter actually can handle the weight of the competition, though his concerns come much too late for him to do anything about them. For the first time, Celia overtly expresses her desire to quit, even if that means losing the competition, because she believes that is an option. Finally, however, Hector tells her what she needs to know.
Celia begins to put together the clues in her mind, thinking of all of the vague non-answers Hector has given her in the past, and finally realizes how the competition is supposed to end. She announces that the winner is the one left standing after their opponent can no longer play, and Hector agrees, though he finds it a simplification. Devastated, she turns back to the door of Marco’s flat, and places her hand on the door. Hector ridicules her for believing she loves him, because she is above mundane feelings like love. Celia tells her father that he is willing to sacrifice her life “to prove a point,” and he has let her think it was a simple game of skill.
After years of asking for more information about the competition, wanting to understand the rules, Celia is finally learning something that will change the way she and Marco see their roles as competitors, and will reinforce their desire to find a way out of the competition altogether. For the competition to end, one of them has to die—and the other will have to live with the knowledge that he or she is responsible for the death of someone they love very much.
Celia asks what will happen to the circus after the competition is over, and Hector reminds her that it is simply a venue, and it serves no purpose after the game is finished. She asks why he never told her this before, and he says that he never imagined she might be in a position to lose—to die, Celia corrects him. He then tells her that she should stop imagining that she will play “whore to that nobody Alexander [Mr. A.H.] plucked out of a London gutter” after the competition is over. Celia ignores this comment and asks what happened to the student who won the previous challenge, and he tells her that the winner is Tsukiko, the circus contortionist.
As Celia attempts to wrap her mind around the information she has just learned from her father, her thoughts go to the other people involved in the competition—everyone associated with the circus. But Hector is incapable of understanding how central the circus has become in the lives of the performers, spectators, and organizers. What he tells her next, however, is significant: Tsukiko participated in—and won—the previous competition, which means that she may be able to help Celia learn more about how to escape the inevitable outcome.
The circus train is en route from London to Munich, traveling silently and puffing clouds of grey smoke. On board the train, Celia changes out of her bloody gown and puts Marco’s notebook away among her own. Wearing a gown that she knows was one of Thiessen’s favorites, she walks over to Tsukiko’s train compartment and knocks. Tsukiko invites her in, and she is sitting in the middle of her compartment with Isobel’s head in her lap. Isobel is sobbing softly, and Celia hesitates in the doorway, saying that she doesn’t want to interrupt. Tsukiko tells her she is not interrupting, and asks her to tell Isobel that she needs rest. Isobel wipes her eyes, nods, and gets up to leave, thanking Tsukiko. When she passes Celia, she stops and tells her she is sorry about Thiessen’s death, and looks like she wants to hug her, but doesn’t.
Armed with this new information about the competition and about Tsukiko’s participation in it, Celia goes to speak with the contortionist and learn as much as she can. Celia is surprised to find Isobel in Tsukiko’s compartment, and feels somewhat uncomfortable, knowing that she is partially responsible for Isobel’s suffering. The fact that Isobel pulls herself together and offers her condolences to Celia for Thiessen’s death shows a level of maturity, goodwill, and empathy on Isobel’s part. She cannot bring herself to hug Celia, however, as her feelings of sisterhood have their limits.
Once Isobel is gone, Tsukiko offers Celia tea and tells her that the past hours have been difficult for everyone. She has Celia sit down and she pours out the green matcha tea carefully, though without the full tea ritual that she often does for visitors. When Tsukiko sits down, Celia asks her why Tsukiko never told her before. Tsukiko smiles and asks what she’s talking about, which frustrates Celia and makes her want to break the woman’s tea bowl. Tsukiko points to Celia’s scar and asks if she injured herself, and Celia replies that she was bound to a challenge nearly thirty years earlier.
Tsukiko has suddenly become a much more central character in the narrative, as she holds the answers to many important questions. However, she is also a complex character and rarely forthcoming, frustrating Celia with her non-answers and feigned bewilderment at Celia’s questions. This is Tsukiko’s strategy to keep control of the conversation and only offer information when she is comfortable doing so.
Celia asks to see Tsukiko’s scar, and the contortionist lowers the neckline of her kimono to reveal a faded ring-shaped scar on the nape of her neck, in between various tattoos. She tells Celia that the scars last longer than the competition, and Celia asks if the scar is from one of Hector’s rings. Tsukiko does not answer, asking Celia how her tea is. Celia asks why Tsukiko is at the circus, and she responds that she was hired to be the contortionist. Celia is frustrated, but Tsukiko tells her to ask better questions if she wants better answers. So Celia asks her why Tsukiko never told Celia that she knew about the competition, or that she herself had played. Tsukiko says that she made a promise not to reveal herself unless questioned directly.
Finally, as Celia reveals her scar and the story behind it, Tsukiko shares a bit more about herself and her experience. When Celia asks more pointed questions, however, Tsukiko closes up and replies with more non-answers, establishing a pattern. She even criticizes Celia for not asking the right questions; when Celia asks her why she has not been forthcoming about what she knows of the competition, Tsukiko again places the blame back on Celia by saying that she was waiting to be questioned directly.
Celia then asks why Tsukiko came to the circus in the first place, and she responds that she was curious, and there had not been a challenge since she won hers. She adds that she never intended to stick around, but she liked Chandresh, found the venue unique, and wanted to stay and observe. Celia asks her to talk about the game, and Tsukiko tells her that there is more to it than she thinks, and that it is about more than magic. Everything is a part of the competition, and it’s something that they carry within themselves, regardless of the venue. It is like chess, but without the discreet squares for each to stand on.
Finally, Tsukiko begins to reveal something of herself, when she talks about the circus and how she enjoyed being a part of it. She does not state this directly, but Tsukiko has also found a sense of belonging in the circus, and later on she will show that she is willing to do just about anything to preserve that. But for the moment, Tsukiko lets Celia know how all-encompassing the competition can be for the opponents.
Tsukiko asks Celia if she loves Marco, and Celia says that she does. Tsukiko then asks if she believes that Marco loves her, and Celia suddenly begins to doubt it, based on the wording of the question. Tsukiko tells her that “love is fickle and fleeting,” and that Celia should not use it as a basis for decision-making in the competition. Isobel thought Marco loved her too, and she even came to the circus to assist him. Celia insists that Marco loves her, but even as she says it she continues to doubt it. Tsukiko suggests that he may just be very good at manipulation, lying to people to tell them what they want to hear.
When Tsukiko brings up the relationship between Celia and Marco, she is able to plant a small seed of doubt in Celia’s mind regarding Marco’s feelings and intentions. Tsukiko paints Marco as unreliable and manipulative, using his recent rejection of Isobel as an example. This strikes a chord with Celia, because she feels that her father manipulated her mother and is to blame for her death.
Celia is heartbroken and can’t decide which is more upsetting: that one of them will have to die for the competition to be over, or to think that she means nothing to him and is just a piece on a board, waiting to lose. Tsukiko tells her that it is a fine line between partner and opponent, and it can be difficult to know which face is true. Also, Celia has much more to deal with beyond just her opponent. Tsukiko’s own competition was in a more private venue, with fewer people—the space itself is now a tea garden, though she hasn’t been back since the competition ended.
Playing on Celia’s insecurities about her family’s past, Tsukiko is able to erode Celia’s confidence in Marco, which is part of the contortionist’s strategy to control Celia’s next moves in the competition. Tsukiko then shares some details about her own competition, noting that hers was a much more private venue and that she has not returned to the place where her opponent died.
Celia wonders if the circus could continue after the challenge has ended, and Tsukiko notes that it would be a good tribute to Herr Thiessen, but it would be complicated to make it completely independent of Celia and Marco. She notes that Celia has taken on too much responsibility for it all, and if Tsukiko were to stab her, the train would crash. Celia considers it and agrees that it is possible. Tsukiko asks if it would also be problematic if she were to extinguish the bonfire, and Celia nods.
Once again, Celia is concerned about the fate of the circus beyond its use for the competition, and is ready to discuss with Tsukiko some ways to preserve it. However, at the same time, Tsukiko is also gathering information on Celia’s role in maintaining the circus. Celia is unaware of the fact that Tsukiko has a plan in mind and is ready to take action.
Tsukiko tells Celia that there is much work to do if she wants the circus to survive. Celia asks if she is offering to help, and Tsukiko says no—but if Celia is unable to do it, Tsukiko will step in. She will give Celia some time to work it out, but it has gone on for too long already. Celia asks how much time, and Tsukiko cannot give her a number. They sit in silence for a while, and then Celia asks her what happened to her opponent. Tsukiko responds that her opponent is a pillar of ash in Kyoto, unless she has been blown away by the wind.
Finally, Tsukiko is direct with Celia, giving her an ultimatum. She does not give her a time frame, but makes it clear to Celia that she is responsible for saving the circus, or Tsukiko will do the work for her. Tsukiko then talks about her opponent, who lit herself on fire as a way of ending the competition. This conversation provides some foreshadowing for the end of the competition between Celia and Marco.
Concord and Boston, 1902: Bailey walks into the empty field, not fully believing that the circus left without him. There is not even a blade of grass out of place to indicate that it was ever there. He sits down with his head in his hands, and then remembers that Poppet mentioned a train. Deciding that any train would have to go through Boston to get to another city, he runs as fast as he can to the train station, and when he arrives, he finds no trains. He was hoping it would be there, waiting for him, but then he sees two people on the platform—a man and woman in black coats and red scarves.
Bailey is too late to leave with the circus, and instead of giving up and going back home, he decides to search for the circus train and meet them at their next destination. This is a new sense of determination for Bailey, who only hours earlier was struggling with his lack of agency in his own future. However, making the decision to join Poppet has emboldened him, and he embarks on a journey to create his own future.
The woman asks Bailey if he is okay, because he is panting, and he asks if they are following the circus. They are, and he asks if they know Poppet and Widget, but they do not. He explains that they’re the twins with the kitten show, and they’re his friends. The couple remembers the kitten show and the twins, and they ask how he became friends with them. He says that it is a long story, and they tell him that he can explain on the way to Boston. He tells them that he is trying to follow the circus, and they say that they are doing the same, but won’t find out where it is going to be for another day.
Bailey connects with a group of rêveurs at the train station, who will help him join up with the circus at their new location. They will also provide Bailey with a further sense of community and purpose, reinforcing his decision to make this monumental step towards the future of his choosing. Bailey also realizes that while he does not yet consider himself a rêveur, he has a deeper connection to the circus than most others do.
Bailey asks them how they find out, and they tell him that rêveurs have their methods. They introduce themselves as Lorena and Victor, and they are following the circus around North America. Bailey shares his story of how he knows the twins and then another rêveur, Elizabeth, joins the group. Lorena introduces Bailey as a fellow rêveur, though he is not yet comfortable with the term. Elizabeth asks him if he adores the circus more than anything in the world, and he says that he does. She tells him that this makes him a rêveur, even without the customary black-and-white outfit or red scarf.
Bailey is introduced to the culture and community of the rêveurs, whom he had previously recognized within the circus by their black, white, and red uniforms. And while Bailey continues to think of himself as an outsider, not daring to use the term rêveur to describe himself, his new friends and traveling partners assure him that he is part of their tribe simply based on his love for the circus. Bailey struggles with this new sense of belonging.
When they arrive in Boston, they ask Bailey where he is staying, and he tells them he will probably just stay at the station until it is time to travel again. They offer to let him stay with them at the Parker House. Bailey tries to turn them down, but Lorena tells him that Victor is stubborn and will not take no for an answer. When they arrive at the hotel, Bailey is overwhelmed by the opulence of it, and he tells Lorena that he feels like a girl in a fairytale who doesn’t have the right shoes but is attending a ball at the castle. Lorena laughs loudly at this, attracting stares from other guests.
As this is his first experience with the generosity and sense of community that the rêveurs are known for, Bailey is nervous about accepting help and support from them. When he sees the opulent hotel where he will be staying, he still feels slightly out of place, but appreciates his luck. Comparing himself to a girl in a fairytale seems humorous to his new friend, but Bailey has embarked on a whole new world.
The following day, Victor and Lorena take Bailey out to buy a suit. He is measured and fitted for a grey suit that is nicer than his father’s best suit, along with a pair of shiny shoes and a hat. Bailey has difficulty recognizing himself in the mirror. They return to the hotel just in time for Elizabeth to join them and bring them down for dinner. There are more than a dozen rêveurs at dinner, creating a casual and joyful atmosphere. Lorena notices that Bailey is not wearing any red and plucks a red rose from a nearby vase and places it in his lapel.
Before he can even catch up with the circus, Bailey is already immersed in a world that seems a million miles away from his home, where he would never have had these kinds of experiences. This is the journey that Isobel mentioned when she read his fortune, and it is a necessary experience to help Bailey transform into the person who will save the circus.
Bailey listens to all of their stories of the circus, amazed to be among people who love it as much as he does. He asks if anyone thinks anything is wrong with the circus, and Victor responds that it is not quite the same since Herr Thiessen died. Bailey asks who he is and they explain that he is one of the original rêveurs, and that he made the clock just inside of the circus gates. Bailey is surprised that someone outside the circus made the clock, because he always assumed it was born from the circus. Victor continues that Thiessen was also a writer, which is how they met him: they read one of his columns and began to write to him, well before the term rêveur was even established.
Bailey is finally completely immersed in his element, fully dressed the part and surrounded by people who share his love for the circus. He takes the opportunity to find out more about the cryptic statements that Poppet made to him the previous morning, and learns a lot of the circus’s history, as well as the effect of Thiessen’s death. Bailey is also surprised that someone outside of the circus, someone who is probably not so different from him, could have had such an impact on the circus.
Lorena tells him that Thiessen made her a clock that looks like the Carousel that she absolutely loves. Bailey asks why the circus has not been the same since Thiessen’s death, and wonders if this is related to what he heard from Poppet. They all agree that there is something off about the circus now, though they cannot specify what it is exactly. Bailey asks when he died, and they reply that it was exactly a year earlier. They toast to the memory of Friedrick Thiessen, and continue to tell stories about him through dessert. Victor slips out and comes back with the news that the circus will be in New York next.
As the rêveurs share stories of the circus and especially of Thiessen’s contributions, it is clear that the circus has immense value beyond its use as the venue for the competition between Mr. A.H. and Hector Bowen. It reinforces the fact that the circus should continue after the end of the competition, and that even without Marco and Celia, it will provide a thoroughly magical experience and community for spectators.
Montreal, 1902: After Celia finishes her performance and her audience leaves, there is one man sitting, waiting for her. She sits down across from Marco and tells him that he usually sits in the back. He asks her if she expected him to come so far to see her, and she says that she didn’t expect it at all. He tells her that she can’t hide, and she insists that she hasn’t been hiding. She thanks him for the Pool of Tears, a special place where she feels safe enough to cry when he cannot be with her. Then he mentions that she stole his notebook, for which she apologizes. He is okay with that, as long as it is somewhere safe, but he wishes that she had asked, or even said goodbye when she left his flat.
As before, Celia recognizes the real face of Marco in her crowd. He enjoys watching her show, but he has also come to visit her because he feels that she has been avoiding him since the evening when they made love at his flat. Celia denies that she is avoiding him, but there is clearly something different about their interaction at this moment in time. Marco is worried that it has to do with the death of Herr Thiessen, but he does not know of Celia’s conversation with Tsukiko, which has had a strong effect on her.
Celia tells Marco that she is trying to make the circus independent, to untie it from the challenge and from the two of them. She needed to learn his system in order to do that. She does not want to let the circus fade away, because it is too important to too many people. It is wonder and comfort and mystery, and that is something that many people do not get anywhere else, and she wants them to be able to keep it. Marco tells her that he has that when he is with her, and asks to let him help her. She tells him that she doesn’t need his help, but he argues that she cannot do it alone.
Finally, Marco realizes that Celia has been working on her own, and has taken his magical notebook rather than discussing it with him, because she does not trust him. He believes that she cannot achieve her ambitious goals without his help—it is true that their collaborations bring out the best magic in both of them, but at the same time, Celia is a stronger and more intuitive magician, and may not really need Marco’s help.
Marco realizes that Celia is not looking him in the eye, and asks if she doesn’t trust him. She responds that Isobel trusted him, as did Chandresh, and she has no reason to believe that he is being honest with her, and not with them, especially since he has the most reason to deceive her, as she is his opponent in the competition. Marco insists that he never once told Isobel he loved her—they were together because he was young and lonely, and he should not have let her believe that he loved her, but what he feels for Celia is much more intense than anything he ever felt for Isobel.
Celia has been put into a difficult situation: on one hand, Tsukiko was very convincing with Celia, easily convincing her that Marco does not authentically love her and cannot be trusted. Marco’s long history of manipulating perceptions does not help his case, either. But Tsukiko has her own motives for wanting to separate Marco and Celia, and was not acting in Celia’s best interest.
Marco asks if Celia thinks he is cruel enough to do such a thing to her, and she ignores him and rises to leave. He tells her that she is breaking his heart: she once said that she would never suffer the way her mother did, but now she is making him suffer in exactly the same way. She keeps leaving him when he wants her to stay, and it is killing him.
In a moment of pain, Marco blames Celia for his heartache, even subtly comparing her to her heartless and self-centered father. Celia is attempting to leave the tent and return to her research into how to save the circus, while Marco claims she is killing him.
Celia tells Marco that the competition has to kill one of them, and when Marco doesn’t understand, she explains to him that the one who survives is the winner, and the loser dies, which is how the game ends. Marco cannot believe it, and she continues to explain that it is a test of endurance rather than skill, and that she is preparing to make the circus self-sufficient, trailing off before she can finish her sentence. Marco finishes for her, realizing that she is planning on taking herself “off the board,” much the way her father did. She says that it is the only way to stop the game, and Marco insists that they should just continue playing, but Celia cannot do that. She cannot hold on any longer, and just wants to let him win.
Celia shares with Marco the one, most important piece of information about the competition: one of them will have to die for the competition to end. Celia has been carrying this heavy secret around since Hector told her, and this is the other reason why she is not willing to open up to Marco or collaborate with him right now: she does not want to get any closer to him, if one of them is just going to die soon. She has been planning to commit suicide, but only once she figured out how to keep the circus alive.
Marco tells her that he doesn’t want to win, he just wants Celia, even though she doesn’t believe that. Incredulous, he asks her how she can believe that he doesn’t love her, and doesn’t know who she has been talking to, but he insists that he is telling her the truth. They look into each other’s eyes and Marco shows her when he first knew he loved her: they are suddenly standing in a small round room under a chandelier. Then the room changes to the ballroom of Chandresh’s house, and Celia tells him that this is when she knew she loved him. They kiss, and the bonfire burns brighter, and the circus is perfect for just one moment.
Once this vital piece of information is revealed, Marco and Celia are able to communicate more clearly, and Marco manages to convince Celia that he does, indeed, love her. He correctly suspects that she has been influenced by someone else, but instead of questioning the motives of those around him, he focuses on winning Celia over by reminding her of some of the more romantic moments they have shared.
Celia pulls away and tells him that she is sorry. Marco holds on to her, begging her not to leave him. She tells him that it is too late. There are too many people involved, and anything they do has an effect on every single person who has ever been to the circus—hundreds, maybe thousands of people. They are all flies in a web, spun back when she was six, and they cannot disentangle themselves. She asks Marco if he will do her a favor, and he says he will do anything. She asks him not to come back, nearly breaking into tears. She disappears before he can respond.
For as much as she loves Marco, Celia feels responsible for everyone associated with the circus and is not willing to put them at risk for her own desires. She is held back by her feelings about her mother’s death, her conversation with Lainie Burgess, guilt over the death of Friedrick Thiessen, and her maternal feelings towards the Murray twins. She will not put anyone else at risk, even if it means that she cannot be with the man she loves.
Back in her room, Celia attempts once again to decipher Marco’s notebook. The raven caws, and Celia addresses her father, who has shown up, hovering over her. Hector calls the notebook “a god-awful mess,” but Celia explains that it is just because he doesn’t understand it. Hector calls it messy work, overly complicated like all of Mr. A.H.’s magic. Celia responds that anyone can do it, if they study enough, which contradicts Hector’s lectures about how Celia is unique and special.
Hector Bowen continues to intervene in Celia’s life, even as Celia frantically searches for a way to escape from the competition he forced her into as a child. But now, when he discusses Marco’s magic spells, Celia knows enough to contradict him, telling her father that he was wrong when he called her special. Magic can be learned, she argues.
Hector replies that Celia is special, and well beyond the kind of magic that Marco is doing. There is so much more that she could be doing, he notes. Celia quotes from Shakespeare, that there “are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy,” which annoys Hector. She tells him that she is haunted by the ghost of her father, so she considers Hamlet an appropriate context for her. She reminds him that he once called himself Prospero, as well. Hector tells her that she is too intelligent for this behavior, and she sarcastically apologizes for not living up to his expectations, asking him if he can bother someone else.
Hector Bowen still sees Celia as an extension of himself, in terms of magic, and now that he is retired and only half alive, he must project his self-esteem and ambitions onto her. This is the root of their relationship and the reason he is willing to risk her life in the competition with Mr. A.H.—he is using Celia to build up his own self-image. Celia is no longer interested in pleasing her father—if she ever was in the first place—and reminds him that he is nothing more than a ghost, haunting her.
He mentions Chandresh, and Celia realizes that it was Hector who told him that Mr. A.H. would be at the circus the night Thiessen died. He sent Chandresh there. Hector defends himself by noting that he simply made a suggestion to a drunk. Celia tells him that he must have known that Chandresh could do nothing to hurt Mr. A.H., and does not understand his reasoning; she asks about his rule of no interference, and Hector replies that it only applies to the opponents, and he can interfere with anyone else at any time. Angry, Celia tells him that his interference got Thiessen killed, and he coldly responds that “there are other clockmakers in the world.”
Hector’s motives for sending Chandresh to kill Mr. A.H. are unclear because, as Celia notes, Mr. A.H. seems to be immune to death and injury, and thus Hector had little to gain from this move. Hector feels no need to explain himself, however, and is unconcerned about his daughter’s objections. Reinforcing even further his self-centered worldview, Hector reminds her that there are other clockmakers in the world, undermining her view of Thiessen as a close friend.
Celia throws a volume of Shakespeare at Hector, and it goes right through him and hits the wall of the tent. She demands that he go away, and he tells her that she cannot keep pushing him away. When she turns back to her work, he tells her that she is not really making personal connections with the people of the circus, that they are all going to die eventually, and she should not let her emotions take away her power. She replies that he and Mr. A.H. are both cowards, fighting by proxy because they fear challenging each other directly, afraid to fail. He disagrees, but Celia finishes the conversation by telling him she hates him, and he vanishes.
In this part of the conversation, Hector demonstrates his disdain for other people as well as his fear that emotions will deprive Celia of her powers. His immortality has separated him from other people, which is likely the reason he has become so self-centered and bereft of empathy. Celia points out that the competition is rooted in fear, as both Hector and Mr. A.H. are unwilling to risk their own lives or reputations, and instead chose to put others at risk.
Marco uses ink to inscribe an A on the window of his flat, and waits for Mr. A.H. When he arrives, he stands in the hallway expectantly. Marco tells him that Celia thinks one of the competitors has to die for the game to be over, and Mr. A.H. confirms this. Marco tells him that winning would be worse than losing, and his teacher responds that he has already warned Marco that his feelings for Celia will make the challenge difficult. Marco asks why he would do such a thing to him, and Mr. A.H. replies that he thought it was better than the life he would have had otherwise. Marco says nothing and shuts the door in his face. Mr. A.H. thinks to knock again, but decides against it and leaves.
Marco feels the need to confirm what Celia has told him, because it seems incredible to him that all of their work is simply leading up to one of their deaths. His comment that winning would be the worst outcome reveals the depth of his feelings for Celia, as he would rather die than live without her; Mr. A.H., meanwhile, is solely focused on the competition, and maintains that feelings only get in the way. He truly believes that he has given Marco a better life, but Marco’s lack of response leaves that in question.
The circus train is on its way from Boston to New York City, and the passengers have mostly fallen asleep or are simply reading or having quiet time in their compartments. Widget and Poppet find Celia’s compartment and knock softly on the door to tell her that there is a problem: Bailey was supposed to come along with them. Poppet says that they waited for him and he didn’t come, though that may be because they left early. Celia asks Poppet if she had another vision, and Poppet responds that she did, sort of, but that it’s not clear and it is in bits and pieces. She hasn’t been able to see clearly and nothing has made sense for a year, though Celia calls that an exaggeration.
While most of the circus members are unaware of what is going on, Poppet is becoming increasingly anxious about her visions, and the fact that Bailey did not leave with them. Celia responds calmly, because she is aware of the possible danger to the circus but does not want to scare Widget and Poppet. She needs to know exactly what was in Poppet’s vision, but the girl is unable to give her a complete answer, as her visions still do not make sense to her.
As Poppet gets more anxious, Celia tells her that she is also very upset by what happened the year prior, but that no one could have done anything to prevent it. Poppet responds that she understands, but wonders about the value of seeing the future if she can’t do anything to stop it. Celia tells her that she cannot stop the future, she can only be prepared for it. Poppet responds that Celia could stop things from happening, and Celia replies that Poppet cannot even comprehend the scope of what is going on and would not like it if she did know.
Poppet’s concern, about the value of clairvoyance if one cannot take any action, is a valid one. Even when Poppet took direct action to help save the circus—by specifically asking Bailey to join them, so that he would be there to re-light the bonfire—she was not successful. Out of anger and frustration, Poppet pushes the responsibility to Celia, who already has enough to worry about at this point.
Celia demands that Poppet tell her what she saw in her vision. Poppet closes her eyes to see it again, and tells her that she saw something bright, that everything was on fire, and that Bailey was there. Celia asks for more, but Poppet says that she can’t see any more than that, and Celia replies that it is probably because she doesn’t want to see anything. She advises Poppet to give her more information if she wants Celia to do something to prevent it. She then takes off her necklace and holds the pocket watch in front of Poppet’s eyes, telling her to focus her attention on it.
Poppet’s vision is enough to worry her and Celia, but does not give them any real information about what will happen or when. Celia notes that Poppet may be too scared to see any more than she has, but since Poppet is not able to offer her more information, Celia takes matters into her own hands, hypnotizing Poppet so that she can have more control over the girl’s mind.
Poppet’s eyes follow the pocket watch Celia holds in front of her, and Poppet starts to sway and then falls backwards. Widget catches her, and he and Celia move her to one of the benches. She then asks what Poppet saw this time, even if it doesn’t make any sense to her. Poppet describes a fire, starting with the bonfire but bigger and uncontained, like the courtyard is on fire. There is also a loud noise and heat, and Celia is there, with someone else, and it’s raining, and then she is both there and not, though Poppet cannot explain what she means by that. And then Bailey is there, after the fire.
Finally, Poppet has more information to offer Celia, even though it hurt her to fully engage with her vision. Poppet’s vision is only slightly more detailed, giving them a context—the courtyard and the bonfire—and a description of Celia that suggests that she may also be a ghost at that point. Like always, however, Bailey is present at the end, reinforcing Poppet’s belief that he is essential to the survival of the circus after whatever disaster she envisioned.
Celia asks Poppet what the man looks like, and she explains it is a tall man in a suit with a bowler hat, but it was hard to tell. Celia tells her that if it is who she thinks it is, he is in London, so Poppet’s vision is not as immediate as she thinks. Poppet disagrees, believing it is imminent, and Celia responds that it could be weeks or months or years. Poppet slams her teacup on the table and demands that they do something, that they prepare for it somehow. Celia tells her that she will do whatever possible to prevent the circus from going up in flames, fireproofing it as much as she can. She asks if that is enough for the moment, and Poppet nods.
Although Poppet has seen Marco in the past, she does not know him well enough to recognize him in her vision, but Celia is sure that is who Poppet has seen. The fact that Marco is still in London reassures her a bit, though Celia is obviously going to do as much as she can to prevent the destruction of the circus—she has already begun those preparations, beginning when she took Marco’s magic notebook to study his protective charms.
Suddenly Widget, who has been sitting on the bench silently, asks if what is going on in the circus, the thing that the twins don’t understand the scope of, is a game of some sort. Celia smiles and tells him she is disappointed that it took him so long to figure that out. Poppet asks what kind of game, and Widget says it’s like chess, though Celia says it is not as straightforward as that. Poppet asks if they’re all playing the game, and Widget answers that it is only Celia and someone else, and that they are all extra pieces. Celia corrects him, and then stares into his eyes for a moment until he blinks, with a look of surprise on his face.
Though Poppet’s powers of vision have been significant to the story thus far, Widget’s ability to see the past offers some essential context in this moment, allowing him to understand how they arrived at this point. Like Marco, Celia struggles to define the competition to others, but she wants Widget to understand what has been going on. Despite being an intensely private person, Celia actually lets Widget read her mind completely for the very first time.
Celia apologizes for not being completely honest with them, and asks them to trust her when she says she is trying to make things better. She then ushers them out of her compartment, though Widget lingers for a moment, tells her he is sorry, and kisses her on the cheek. Once they are out, Poppet asks what that was all about, and Widget tells her that Celia let him read her mind, without concealing anything. Meanwhile, in her compartment, Celia is tearing a handkerchief into strips and dropping them into her teacup, lighting it on fire. She practices until the cloth burns without charring.
Widget has seen everything, even the relationship between Celia and Marco, and is able to empathize with Celia’s struggles at the moment. The fact that she has revealed herself to Widget also demonstrates how much she trusts and relies on the twins, and that she no longer them as children to be taken care of. Once they leave, however, Celia returns to her work keeping the circus safe from ruin.
Bailey takes the first train to New York, and while he sits and watches the scenery, Victor comes and hands him a scrapbook of the circus, with newspaper clippings and letters that go back over a decade. Lorena tells Victor that he has never taken such an interest in a new rêveur, and he replies that Bailey reminds him of Thiessen. Elizabeth comes and sits next to Bailey when they are close to New York, and tells him she has never met anyone so young who feels as strongly about the circus as the older rêveurs do, and then she takes off the scarf she has been knitting and gives it to him. He tells her he cannot accept it, but she insists, saying it was clearly meant for him.
Not only is Bailey a bona fide member of the rêveur community, the people he has met along the way consider him special, for his deep dedication to the circus. Once again, Bailey is learning a lot about himself along this journey to join the circus, and quickly transforming from a young farmer with an interest in the circus into someone who will be ready and willing to take responsibility for it and continue its traditions. The comparison with Thiessen is significant, as he was another regular person who influenced the destiny of the circus.
They arrive in New York, and Bailey is struck by how strange everything looks to him and how far from home he is. They meet up with another rêveur named August, who tells them that he has good and bad news: the good news is that the circus is right where he predicted. The bad news is that there was a storm the previous night and the circus is closed for inclement weather. In addition, there was some sort of crashing noise around midnight, so loud it nearly shook the house, followed by smoke and a bright flash of light. Upon hearing this, Bailey runs out of the house, through the trees, and in the direction of the tents.
Bailey’s personal journey finally ends when they all arrive in New York City, and find that the circus has also arrived. When Bailey hears news of something catastrophic, he is reminded of what Poppet has said about the destruction of the circus and his role in saving it. While he still does not know what it is he will be called on to do, Bailey still recognizes that it is his time to intervene if he is to fulfill Poppet’s prophecy.
In London, Isobel stands on the street in front of Marco’s flat, waiting for hours for him to return. When he sees her, he asks what she is doing in London, because she is supposed to be in the United States. She tells him that she left the circus, and that Celia gave her permission. She asks if she can come up to his flat, and he says no, asking her to simply say what she has come to say. She tells him she is sorry for not telling him she was tempering the circus, and feels that what happened the previous year was partly her fault. He tells her she should apologize to Celia, and she tells him she already has.
For Isobel, the decision to leave the circus was a difficult one: on one hand, it is filled with memories of Marco, who has spurned her for Celia. The circus has served as Isobel’s true home for a long time, however, and her fellow performers were like family to her. Before she leaves, however, she must talk to Marco and apologize for her part in the downfall of the circus.
Isobel knew Celia was in love with someone, but she thought it was Thiessen, and didn’t realize until that night that it was Marco. Celia loved Thiessen, as well, though, and lost him because of Isobel. Isobel felt like she had a home where she belonged. After a while, she didn’t feel she needed to protect Marco from Celia, but instead she needed to protect everyone from the two of them and them from each other. It was only ever the two of them, and Isobel was only a diversion. Marco tells her she wasn’t a diversion, but that he didn’t ever love her. She says she thought he did, even though he never said it to her, but it was wishful thinking. She thought it would be temporary—that if Celia were gone, Marco would come back to her. But Isobel was the one who was temporary.
Isobel is working through her feelings about the circus, Celia, and her relationship with Marco. She feels responsible for the death of Thiessen, who also loved Celia. But Isobel cast the tempering charm on the circus with good intentions, hoping to protect the people she loved from the repercussions of the competition. She did this out of love for Marco, and she also convinced herself that he loved her—though he makes it very clear that he did not lie to her, because he never told her he loved her. But Isobel is not angry with him, just sad.
Isobel and Marco stand in the street in silence for a long time, and then Marco starts up the stairs to his flat, saying goodbye to her. She tells him that the most difficult thing to read is time. She says it was a matter of timing: Isobel’s train was late the day they met, and if it had been on time, it would not have happened. She wonders if they were never actually meant to meet. Marco apologizes for not telling her sooner about his feelings for Celia. But he doesn’t know what else to tell her.
Marco is done rehashing their relationship, and is ready to go up to his flat, leaving her to go on her way. But Isobel continues, wondering if their timing was simply off, and if circumstances would have been different if her train had not been late. Marco does not understand why they are still talking, and he apologizes again to her, but has nothing more to say.
Isobel tells Marco about a boy she read for recently, and everything was in his cards. It was like reading for Celia—his future was the future of the circus. She thought maybe he could save Marco, that everything would end differently, but she was wrong. Marco grows pale and asks what Isobel is trying to say. She says that he had a chance to be with Celia, but the timing isn’t right. She then takes her hand from her pocket, and opens her hand to reveal a pile of black crystals, fine as ash. When Marco asks what it is, she blows the ash into Marco’s face. When the ash clears, Marco is gone, and Isobel picks up his briefcase and walks away.
As Isobel is speaking, Marco realizes that she is not just there to say goodbye, and that there is something more dangerous going on. Isobel mentions Bailey, and how she saw that he was destined to save the circus, but she returns to her concerns about timing, noting that she believes it is too late—though she does not specify for what. Her final move, blowing black crystals into Marco’s face, is a triumphant use of magic to say goodbye to the man she loved.
In New York, Bailey arrives at the circus, which looks exactly as it did back in Massachusetts, except that the circus is closed due to inclement weather. He can smell something from inside, something burned and wet that makes him nauseous. Once he gets into the circus, he wanders around looking for Poppet, but the grounds are empty. He turns a corner to see the cauldron where the bonfire is supposed to be, but the fire is not burning anymore, and there is someone there waiting for him. But it is not Poppet—she is short, with dark hair and a cigarette holder against her lips as she turns to look at him.
Embodying the dream he had after his first visit to the circus, Bailey has come to the rescue, slipping into the circus to find out what has happened and how he can help. He does not find Poppet, who is in a state of suspension until someone re-lights the bonfire, but he does find the empty cauldron and Tsukiko, who has been waiting for him. She knows that he has come to save the circus, though she will do very little to help him.
It is the contortionist, and she asks him if he is Bailey. He says yes and wonders how everyone knows his name. She tells him that he is late, and when he asks what he is late for, she says she doesn’t know if the woman can hold on for much longer. He asks where Poppet is, and the contortionist tells him that she is unavailable, but Bailey cannot believe that Poppet doesn’t already know he is there. He asks her name, and she tells him he may call her Tsukiko. He looks past her and tells her that he thought the bonfire never went out, to which she responds that it never has before.
Bailey is not sure exactly what he needs to do to save the circus, and has always relied on Poppet and, to a lesser extent, Widget, to help him understand what is going on around him. He is slightly less comfortable with Tsukiko’s presence, but is clear that there is something going on, and that his help is needed. He and Tsukiko are standing next to the extinguished bonfire, and that is Bailey’s first clue that something is wrong.
Bailey asks what happened, and Tsukiko tells him it is a long and complicated story that she is not planning on telling him. She points to his red scarf and notes that he is a rêveur now, and then changes the subject again, telling him that it was a kind of explosion. He asks if the bonfire exploded and how, and she reminds him it is difficult to explain. He wonders why the tents did not burn, and she notes that Miss Bowen must have fireproofed them. He asks who Miss Bowen is, and she tells him that he asks a lot of questions. He responds that she doesn’t answer many.
Bailey has many questions about what has happened and how he can help, but Tsukiko’s makes no effort to clarify the situation, as usual. She does, however, identify him as a rêveur, which establishes him as part of the circus community. They both also note that Celia has fireproofed the tents, which she was practicing on the train to New York, thanks to Poppet’s warnings about a fire.
Tsukiko tells Bailey she is only the messenger, and she must bring him to meet with someone. Despite noting that she is the only living person who knows what happened and why he is here, she says he should save his questions for someone else. She leads him to a tent with a sign that says “Fearsome Beasts and Strange Creatures, Wonders in Paper and Mist.” He asks if she is coming in with him, and she reminds him she is only the messenger and will be waiting back in the courtyard. Bailey enters the tent alone.
Thankfully for Bailey, he will meet with someone else—two people, in fact—who can help to answer his questions and guide him in the right direction. But his journey is not over, and he will have to go alone to find Marco and Celia. This is part of Bailey’s rite of passage, which will prepare him for the responsibility of taking over the circus.
Marco falls to the ground in a cloud of black ash, coughing from the impact. He gets up and realizes that he is standing in the rain next to the clock at the center of the circus. It is nearly midnight, and the circus is closed for inclement weather, though the rain is hardly more than a heavy mist. Marco sees Tsukiko standing near the ticket booth, and she comes to greet him. He asks how Isobel managed to transport him to the circus from London, and Tsukiko tells him she taught Isobel that trick, asking him if he feels unsteady. He tells her he is fine, and she ushers him out of the wind.
The narrative has bounced back and forth between the story of the circus, leading up to the turn of the century, and Bailey’s story in the early 1900s. The gap between those perspectives is rapidly closing, and the final scenes of this part of the novel will alternate between the moments before the bonfire goes out, and what happens immediately afterwards. Marco’s magical arrival at the circus now places everyone in the same setting.
Marco asks where everyone is, and Tsukiko tells him they are at an inclement-weather party. He asks why he is there, and she does not answer him, asking instead what Isobel told him. He doesn’t remember much of their conversation, which doesn’t bother Tsukiko. Tsukiko then tells him that they have something in common, that they both had the same teacher, which confuses him. She notes her surprise that Mr. A.H. used such an open venue for this competition, that he always preferred seclusion, and that he is probably disappointed with how the challenge has progressed thus far. Marco realizes that Tsukiko won the last competition, and asks when. She tells him it was “eighty-three years, six months, and twenty one days” earlier, on a cherry-blossom day.
Marco’s presence at the circus means that, in contrast to what Celia told Poppet on the train, the catastrophic events the girl envisioned will come to pass, sooner rather than later. Marco is confused about how he was transported from London to New York, but Tsukiko is much more interested in talking to him about the competition, and how they are going to end it. She reveals to him that she won the previous competition, information that will help her to guide Marco towards a very important decision.
Tsukiko tells Marco that their teachers do not understand how it feels to be so intimately tied to another person; “They think it simple to pit two any people against each other,” but the competitors begin to define themselves through each other, and they become necessary to each other to go on. She then asks if Marco loves Celia, and he tells her that he loves her more than anything in the world. She responds that she loved her opponent more than anything in the world, as well. Her name was Hinata, and she set herself on fire, stepping into a pillar of flame like it was water.
Tsukiko capitalizes on her unique connection to Marco—the fact that they are both students of Mr. A.H., and that she too has endured a competition and its extreme consequences—to convince Marco to commit suicide, thus removing himself from the competition. Like Marco, she loved her opponent very much, and found it difficult to see her solely as a rival. The fact that Tsukiko’s opponent died by fire foreshadows the ending of this competition between Celia and Marco.
Marco tells her he is sorry, and Tsukiko informs him that Celia was planning to do something similar for him to let him win. She does not wish that pain on anyone, however. She then asks if he knows the story of Merlin, the wizard in the tree. She tells him that there are many trees that would suffice, but the bonfire would be more appropriate. He looks at the bonfire and realizes that the story of Merlin involves him being imprisoned in a tree or a cave or a rock, as a punishment for foolish love. He tells Tsukiko that he understands, and she tells him that she knew he would.
Tsukiko focuses on how painful it has been to be the one to win the competition, to survive after her competitor is gone. She is leading up to a very direct suggestion that Marco be the one to commit suicide, so that he does not have to live with the pain of Celia’s death. She even reminds him of the Merlin story, which has come up a number of times in the narrative, in which the magician is punished for giving away his magic for love.
At that moment, Celia arrives and asks Tsukiko what she is doing. She tells Celia to return to the party, because she will not want to be present for what is about to happen. Celia asks what is about to happen, and Tsukiko tells her that she has been surrounded by the love letters she and Marco have built for each other, in the form of tents, and it reminds her of what it was like to be with Hinata. She will not give it up, but the two of them are letting it fade. Celia tells Tsukiko that she thought “love was fickle and fleeting,” and Tsukiko admits that she lied, because it would be easier if Celia harbored doubts about Marco’s love.
Tsukiko brings up the image of using the tents as love letters to one another, a recurring image in the narrative. Marco and Celia have used their magic not as weapons against one another in the competition, but as a way of connecting emotionally and intellectually to one another. Tsukiko has had to intervene and even lie to Celia about Marco’s feelings for her, in order to begin separating them from one another in preparation for the end.
Tsukiko gave Celia a year to find a way for the circus to continue without her, but she plans to step in now. She says that Celia is the greater loss to the circus, because she carries it within herself, while Marco uses the fire as a tool. Celia just asks for more time, but Tsukiko refuses. Marco tells her that he would rather burn by Celia’s side than live without her, and Celia screams, but he focuses his attention on Tsukiko and what she is about to do to him. He asks if it will end the game, even if he is trapped in the fire and not dead. Tsukiko tells him that he will be unable to continue, and that is all that matters.
Tsukiko’s first priority is to save the circus, and is willing to make some difficult choices that Celia and Marco would not be able to make. Tsukiko is essentially—though unofficially—calling Celia the winner, as she is the stronger magician with a deeper connection to the circus. However, Tsukiko will find that there is a third option that she had not considered, that does not require anyone to declare a winner and a loser.
Marco tells Tsukiko to go ahead with her plan, and she bows to him and flicks her lit cigarette at the fire. They do not see Celia run towards Marco and leap into his arms. He pulls her close, and as the pain starts, she whispers for him to trust her. They dissolve into the air in the moment before the bonfire explodes, turning into nothing more than light and shadow. They are gone and the circus is in flames, and Tsukiko is alone in the courtyard. Suddenly, the flames die down and go out, and the only sound is the rain hitting the metal of the cauldron.
Marco has stated before that he would prefer to die than to live without Celia, and with Tsukiko’s help, he plans to do exactly that. Celia’s quick move to join Marco in the fire is surprising, as she has tended to be more careful and even reluctant in their relationship. But with her doubts about Marco’s love erased, she is willing to risk her life to try an innovative magic trick that even her father could not complete successfully.
Celia chooses a location that is familiar to her, and brings herself back to her tent at the circus, feeling slightly dizzy. She notices that she is whole, but that everyone around her is transparent, and that Marco is nowhere to be seen. Marco loses Celia in the moment of the explosion. She can feel him somewhere, but cannot find him as she wanders through the Labyrinth. Marco finally finds himself in the middle of the Ice Garden, and when he attempts to touch a nearby rose, his fingers pass through it. Then, suddenly, he hears a gasp behind him and turns around to see Celia, who immediately tells him is that she loves him. They come together, and he touches her face and pulls her into his arms and tells her he loves her too.
Similar to the magical spell that her father attempted decades earlier, Celia is attempting to remove herself and Marco from the physical world. Like Merlin, they will be imprisoned inside of a specific location, but they will gain immortality and they will be together, if the magic is successful. At first, Celia and Marco cannot find each other and are worried that they have been imprisoned separately, but they soon find each other, and their final magical collaboration is complete.
They hold each other as Celia tells Marco that she couldn’t let him go without her, and he asks her how she did it. She used the circus as a touchstone, and she didn’t know if it would work, but she had to try. He is happy to be with her, and he doesn’t feel trapped in the circus, but when he looks around he realizes that the Ice Garden is melting. He tells Celia that the bonfire went out, and that she is the only thing holding it together. She nods, and notices how difficult it is to manage without the bonfire. But if she lets go, she knows that it will collapse, so she has suspended it, and it needs a new caretaker.
As Celia explained to Marco previously, by using a touchstone of some kind, she was able to do what her father could not, and they are both safely encased within the circus. Their actions were not without consequences, however, and now they must find a way to save the circus. Celia mentions finding a new caretaker, and this is where Bailey comes in—but at this moment in the story, as Poppet has noted, Bailey has not joined them and is nowhere to be found.
Bailey enters the tent, which only days before had seemed endless; now, without the mist, he can see everything, though the animals are all suspended and motionless. Standing next to a stag with tall antlers is a man in a dark suit who looks like a ghost, transparent and shadowy, and Bailey wonders if it is a figment of his imagination. The man introduces himself as Marco. Bailey asks if he is dead, and Marco replies, “not precisely.” Bailey asks him what happened, and Marco tells him it is a long story, which is exactly what Tsukiko had told him.
The narrative returns to Bailey’s perspective, immediately after the bonfire has gone out, and he is searching for someone—though he still does not know whom—so that he can find out how to save the circus. He finds Marco, who will guide him to Celia, who will explain how to re-light the fire. Bailey still has many questions about what is going on and why he is the one to help out, but Marco initially gives him the same non-answer that Tsukiko did.
Marco then explains that Tsukiko tried to imprison him in the bonfire, and there was a change of plans that led to the current situation. Marco is in a less concentrated state, he says, and holds out his hand for Bailey to touch. Bailey’s fingers move right through Marco’s hand, with only the softest resistance to show that something is there. Marco then tells Bailey to follow him and turns to leave the tent.
When Marco does try to explain the situation to Bailey, he has a hard time grasping the details of the magic involved, but is receptive to what he does not yet understand. Marco does not spend much time explaining the situation to Bailey, as they have urgent work to do.
As they are about to leave the tent, Bailey asks where they are going, and Marco tells him that someone else wants to speak with him, and she is at the Wishing Tree. Bailey has never been there, and Marco explains how it works: the wisher takes a candle from the box at the entrance of the tent and lights it from another candle that is already burning on the tree.
Bailey’s arrival brings the narrative together into the same time and space; the entire narrative has been building up to the moment when Bailey meets Marco and Celia and learns what he is destined to do in the circus.
Marco leads Bailey into the acrobat tent, but instead of the wide-open space he is used to, he is met with a room full of people, all frozen in place. The inclement-weather party was frozen in time, just like the rest of the circus. Bailey walks carefully through the crowd, stopping to look at Widget and Poppet—he is frozen mid-story, while she has turned her head, as if her attention was caught by something outside the tent. He then enters the Wishing Tree tent, which is about the size of his oak tree back at home, with white candles on the bare branches. Bailey sees Marco with his arms around a woman whom he recognizes as the illusionist. She appears as transparent as Marco.
Their walk through the different tents on their way to Celia is a strong reminder of the value of the circus outside of the competition. As Bailey walks through the tent where the circus performers are suspended, waiting to come alive when the bonfire is re-lit, he finally finds Widget and Poppet, though they are in no state to help him, or even greet their friend. When he finally makes it in to the Wishing Tree tent, he finds Marco and Celia, in a ghost-like state.
Celia welcomes Bailey, calling him by name and introducing herself. He asks how she knew he was coming, and she tells him that Poppet mentioned him as part of the events of the evening. She then tells him she needs his help with something—he must take over the circus, because it needs a new caretaker to survive. Bailey is surprised, asking if he is the new caretaker, and she tells him that they would like that. They would all be able to help him, but he would ultimately be responsible for it. He tells her that he isn’t special, and she tells him that he is simply the right person at the right time, but sometimes that is all it takes.
Bailey’s arrival is the final part of Poppet’s prophecy, and now all of the elements fall into place for Celia. Bailey no longer questions how everyone knows his name, because he is beginning to understand that he is an essential part of whatever is happening. But he is surprised when Celia suggests that he should take over the circus because he does not have the same magical or supernatural powers that Celia, Marco, Widget, and Poppet do.
Bailey is about to accept this new responsibility when Celia stops him, because she wants to make sure that he is making a free choice without any pressure or obligation. He asks what happens if he says no and walks away, and Celia tells him that the circus will not survive. As they wait for Bailey to answer, the candles flicker, and Celia starts to sway. Marco has to steady her. Bailey asks what he needs to do, and Celia tells him he needs to finish something she started, and to re-light the bonfire. When he re-lights the fire, that will power half the circus, and he will need to carry the other half within him. He can leave the circus, but not for extended periods of time. He will be bound to it, and she is not sure if he will ever be able to pass it along to someone else.
Celia is honest with Bailey, explaining that he is not special in a magical way, but he is simply the right person for the job. However, she is determined that he have the freedom to choose his future, and gives Bailey the option to refuse this responsibility. This is important because neither Marco nor Celia was given a choice about entering the competition, and each has struggled with their lack of agency throughout their lives. Likewise, Bailey left home to escape the boring and restrictive life his father had planned for him.
Bailey realizes that this is a bigger commitment than Harvard, or even the farm, but he knows his answer anyway. He agrees, and Marco asks if they can make it official, because he is not willing to settle for a verbal agreement. Marco takes off his silver ring, passes a candle along it until it is white hot, and places it in his palm. Bailey wonders whose wish he might have used to heat up the ring, and Marco tells him that three years ago, he made a wish on the tree. Bailey asks what he wished for, but Marco doesn’t answer. Instead, he reaches out his hand and burns the ring into Bailey’s palm. Bailey looks down at the bright red scar on his skin, closes his hand and asks what he needs to do.
Bailey knows what his answer will be, of course, but he is happy to have been able to make the choice. Marco’s use of the ring to bind Bailey to the circus is significant, because this is what will make Bailey special—his eternal connection via the scar on his hand. When Marco mentions making a wish on the tree, Bailey asks him what he wished for—just like Isobel and Celia have done. Again, Marco avoids answering the question, but it seems that Bailey’s next job will help Marco’s wish come true.
Bailey finds Celia’s room in the circus and searches through the books to find Marco’s notebook. He pulls out the pages with Poppet and Widget’s names on them and adds his own name to them. He collects yarn, two cards—a simple playing card and a tarot card—and a pocket watch on a silver chain. He crosses back through the circus, and when he passes Tsukiko, he tells her that he needs to use her lighter. She agrees, though she also tells him to be careful with it, because it is old. She then asks if he is going to try to light the bonfire again, and he tells her he is, and asks if she would like to help. She shrugs, telling him she is not concerned about the outcome, which he does not believe. But he knows he must do it himself.
In order to re-light the fire, Bailey must gather items of importance to different members of the circus, placing them once again under the protective spell of the bonfire. The second version of Marco’s notebook must be updated with his own name, so that he can become part of the circus as well. Once again, Tsukiko observes and comments on the process, and Bailey realizes that she is putting on an act with him, pretending not to care about the circus when she really cares quite a bit.
Bailey mumbles some of Celia’s instructions, wraps the items up in the yarn, and throws it in the cauldron. He sees Marco’s bowler hat next to the cauldron and adds that, and impulsively pulls everything out of his pockets, including his silver ticket, the rose from his lapel, and Poppet’s white glove, and throws it all in the cauldron as well. Finally, he pulls out the glass bottle with the memory of his oak tree, and that goes in, too. He lights a candle and throws it in, wishing harder than ever before. He feels a pair of hands resting on his shoulders, and the flames catch. He is blown back on to the ground by the force of the bonfire, and all around him the circus springs back to life again. From inside the Wishing Tree, Celia and Marco watch the circus come back to life, and they kiss.
As Celia has commented to her father, there are some kinds of magic that can be learned, and Bailey has gotten a brief lesson on how to use Marco’s magic to re-light the fire. He uses items to represent the different members of the circus, including Poppet’s white glove that he has kept with him since his very first visit to the circus, back when he was dared to sneak in during the day. This brings his experiences full circle, as he is now becoming part of the circus that he desperately wanted to explore years earlier. His magic works, and Bailey has fulfilled Poppet’s prophecy and given the circus new life.