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Still trying to shake the ice from my shoulders left by Matthew’s stare, I opened the door to my rooms. Inside, the answering machine greeted me with a flashing red “13.” There were nine additional voice-mail messages on my mobile. All of them were from Sarah and reflected an escalating concern about what her sixth sense told her was happening in Oxford.
Unable to face my all-too-prescient aunts, I turned down the volume on the answering machine, turned off the ringers on both phones, and climbed wearily into bed.
Next morning, when I passed through the porter’s lodge for a run, Fred waved a stack of message slips at me.
“I’ll pick them up later,” I called, and he flashed his thumb in acknowledgment.
My feet pounded on familiar dirt paths through the fields and marshes north of the city, the exercise helping to keep at bay both my guilt over not calling my aunts and the memory of Matthew’s cold face.
Back in college I collected the messages and threw them into the trash. Then I staved off the inevitable call home with cherished weekend rituals: boiling an egg, brewing tea, gathering laundry, piling up the drifts of papers that littered every surface. After I’d wasted most of the morning, there was nothing left to do but call New York. It was early there, but there was no chance that anyone was still in bed.
“What do you think you’re up to, Diana?” Sarah demanded in lieu of hello.
“Good morning, Sarah.” I sank into the armchair by the defunct fireplace and crossed my feet on a nearby bookshelf. This was going to take awhile.
“It is not a good morning,” Sarah said tartly. “We’ve been beside ourselves. What’s going on?”
Em picked up the extension.
“Hi, Em,” I said, recrossing my legs. This was going to take a long while.
“Is that vampire bothering you?” Em asked anxiously.
“We know you’ve been spending time with vampires and daemons,” my aunt broke in impatiently. “Have you lost your mind, or is something seriously wrong?”
“I haven’t lost my mind, and nothing’s wrong.” The last bit was a lie, but I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best.
“Do you really think you’re going to fool us? You cannot lie to a fellow witch!” Sarah exclaimed. “Out with it, Diana.”
So much for that plan.
“Let her speak, Sarah,” Em said. “We trust Diana to make the right decisions, remember?”
The ensuing silence led me to believe that this had been a matter of some controversy.
Sarah drew in her breath, but Em cut her off. “Where were you last night?”
“Yoga.” There was no way of squirming out of this inquisition, but it was to my advantage to keep all responses brief and to the point.
“Yoga?” Sarah asked, incredulous. “Why are you doing yoga with those creatures? You know it’s dangerous to mix with daemons and vampires.”
“The class was led by a witch!” I became indignant, seeing Amira’s serene, lovely face before me.
“This yoga class, was it his idea?” Em asked.
“Yes. It was at Clairmont’s house.”
Sarah made a disgusted sound.
“Told you it was him,” Em muttered to my aunt. She directed her next words to me. “I see a vampire standing between you and . . . something. I’m not sure what, exactly.”
“And I keep telling you, Emily Mather, that’s nonsense. Vampires don’t protect witches.” Sarah’s voice was crisp with certainty.
“This one does,” I said.
“What?” Em asked and Sarah shouted.
“He has been for days.” I bit my lip, unsure how to tell the story, then plunged in. “Something happened at the library. I called up a manuscript, and it was bewitched.”
There was silence.
“A bewitched book.” Sarah’s voice was keen with interest. “Was it a grimoire?” She was an expert on grimoires, and her most cherished possession was the ancient volume of spells that had been passed down in the Bishop family.
“I don’t think so,” I said. “All that was visible were alchemical illustrations.”
“What else?” My aunt knew that the visible was only the beginning when it came to bewitched books.
“Someone’s put a spell on the manuscript’s text. There were faint lines of writing—layers upon layers of them—moving underneath the surface of the pages.”
In New York, Sarah put down her coffee mug with a sharp sound. “Was this before or after Matthew Clairmont appeared?”
“Before,” I whispered.
“You didn’t think this was worth mentioning when you told us you’d met a vampire?” Sarah did nothing to disguise her anger. “By the goddess, Diana, you can be so reckless. How was this book bewitched? And don’t tell me you don’t know.”
“It smelled funny. It felt . . . wrong. At first I couldn’t lift the book’s cover. I put my palm on it.” I turned my hand over on my lap, recalling the sense of instant recognition between me and the manuscript, half expecting to see the shimmer that Matthew had mentioned.
“And?” Sarah asked.
“It tingled against my hand, then sighed and . . . relaxed. I could feel it, through the leather and the wooden boards.”
“How did you manage to unravel this spell? Did you say any words? What were you thinking?” Sarah’s curiosity was now thoroughly roused.
“There was no witchcraft involved, Sarah. I needed to look at the book for my research, and I laid my palm flat on it, that’s all.” I took a deep breath. “Once it was open, I took some notes, closed it, and returned the manuscript.”
“You returned it?” There was a loud clatter as Sarah’s phone hit the floor. I winced and held the receiver away from my head, but her colorful language was still audible.
“Diana?” Em said faintly. “Are you there?”
“I’m here,” I said sharply.
“Diana Bishop, you know better.” Sarah’s voice was reproachful. “How could you send back a magical object you didn’t fully understand?”
My aunt had taught me how to recognize enchanted and bewitched objects—and what to do with them. You were to avoid touching or moving them until you knew how their magic worked. Spells could be delicate, and many had protective mechanisms built into them.
“What was I supposed to do, Sarah?” I could hear my defensiveness. “Refuse to leave the library until you could examine it? It was a Friday night. I wanted to go home.”
“What happened when you returned it?” Sarah said tightly.
“The air might have been a little funny,” I admitted. “And the library might have given the impression it shrank for just a moment.”
“You sent the manuscript back and the spell reactivated,” Sarah said. She swore again. “Few witches are adept enough to set up a spell that automatically resets when it’s broken. You’re not dealing with an amateur.”
“That’s the energy that drew them to Oxford,” I said, suddenly understanding. “It wasn’t my opening the manuscript. It was the resetting of the spell. The creatures aren’t just at yoga, Sarah. I’m surrounded by vampires and daemons in the Bodleian. Clairmont came to the library on Monday night, hoping to catch a glimpse of the manuscript after he heard two witches talking about it. By Tuesday the library was crawling with them.”
“Here we go again,” Sarah said with a sigh. “Before the month’s out, daemons will be showing up in Madison looking for you.”
“There must be witches you can rely on for help.” Em was making an effort to keep her voice level, but I could hear the concern in it.
“There are witches,” I said haltingly, “but they’re not helpful. A wizard in a brown tweed coat tried to force his way into my head. He would have succeeded, too, if not for Matthew.”
“The vampire put himself between you and another witch?” Em was horrified. “That’s not done. You never interfere in business between witches if you’re not one of us.”
“You should be grateful!” I might not want to be lectured by Clairmont or have breakfast with him again, but the vampire deserved some credit. “If he hadn’t been there, I don’t know what would have happened. No witch has ever been so . . . invasive with me before.”
“Maybe you should get out of Oxford for a while,” Em suggested.
“I’m not going to leave because there’s a witch with no manners in town.”
Em and Sarah whispered to each other, their hands over the receivers.
“I don’t like this one bit,” my aunt finally said in a tone that suggested that the world was falling apart. “Bewitched books? Daemons following you? Vampires taking you to yoga? Witches threatening a Bishop? Witches are supposed to avoid notice, Diana. Even the humans are going to know something’s going on.”
“If you stay in Oxford, you’ll have to be more inconspicuous,” Em agreed. “There’s nothing wrong with coming home for a while and letting the situation cool off, if that becomes impossible. You don’t have the manuscript anymore. Maybe they’ll lose interest.”
None of us believed that was likely.
“I’m not running away.”
“You wouldn’t be,” Em protested.
“I would.” And I wasn’t going to display a shred of cowardice so long as Matthew Clairmont was around.
“He can’t be with you every minute of every day, honey,” Em said sadly, hearing my unspoken thoughts.
“I should think not,” Sarah said darkly.
“I don’t need Matthew Clairmont’s help. I can take care of myself,” I retorted.
“Diana, that vampire isn’t protecting you out of the goodness of his heart,” Em said. “You represent something he wants. You have to figure out what it is.”
“Maybe he is interested in alchemy. Maybe he’s just bored.”
“Vampires do not get bored,” Sarah said crisply, “not when there’s a witch’s blood around.”
There was nothing to be done about my aunt’s prejudices. I was tempted to tell her about yoga class, where for over an hour I’d been gloriously free from fear of other creatures. But there was no point.
“Enough.” I was firm. “Matthew Clairmont won’t get any closer, and you needn’t worry about me fiddling with more bewitched manuscripts. But I’m not leaving Oxford, and that’s final.”
“All right,” Sarah said. “But there’s not much we can do from here if things go wrong.”
“I know, Sarah.”
“And the next time you get handed something magical—whether you expected it or not—behave like the witch you are, not some silly human. Don’t ignore it or tell yourself you’re imagining things.” Willful ignorance and dismissing the supernatural were at the top of Sarah’s list of human pet peeves. “Treat it with respect, and if you don’t know what to do, ask for help.”
“Promise,” I said quickly, wanting to get off the phone. But Sarah wasn’t through yet.
“I never thought I’d see the day when a Bishop relied on a vampire for protection, rather than her own power,” she said. “My mother must be turning in her grave. This is what comes from avoiding who you are, Diana. You’ve got a mess on your hands, and it’s all because you thought you could ignore your heritage. It doesn’t work that way.”
Sarah’s bitterness soured the atmosphere in my room long after I’d hung up the phone.
The next morning I stretched my way through some yoga poses for half an hour and then made a pot of tea. Its vanilla and floral aromas were comforting, and it had just enough caffeine to keep me from dozing in the afternoon without keeping me awake at night. After the leaves steeped, I wrapped the white porcelain pot in a towel to hold in the heat and carried it to the chair by the fireplace reserved for my deep thinking.
Calmed by the tea’s familiar scent, I pulled my knees up to my chin and reviewed my week. No matter where I started, I found myself returning to my last conversation with Matthew Clairmont. Had my efforts to prevent magic from seeping into my life and work meant nothing?
Whenever I was stuck with my research, I imagined a white table, gleaming and empty, and the evidence as a jigsaw puzzle that needed to be pieced together. It took the pressure off and felt like a game.
Now I tumbled everything from the past week onto that table—Ashmole 782, Matthew Clairmont, Agatha Wilson’s wandering attention, the tweedy wizard, my tendency to walk with my eyes closed, the creatures in the Bodleian, how I’d fetched Notes and Queries from the shelf, Amira’s yoga class. I swirled the bright pieces around, putting some together and trying to form a picture, but there were too many gaps, and no clear image emerged.
Sometimes picking up a random piece of evidence helped me figure out what was most important. Putting my imaginary fingers on the table, I drew out a shape, expecting to see Ashmole 782.
Matthew Clairmont’s dark eyes looked back at me.
Why was this vampire so important?
The pieces of my puzzle started to move of their own volition, swirling in patterns that were too fast to follow. I slapped my imaginary hands on the table, and the pieces stopped their dance. My palms tingled with recognition.
This didn’t seem like a game anymore. It seemed like magic. And if it was, then I’d been using it in my schoolwork, in my college courses, and now in my scholarship. But there was no room in my life for magic, and my mind closed resolutely against the possibility that I’d been violating my own rules without knowing it.
The next day I arrived in the library’s cloakroom at my normal time, went up the stairs, rounded the corner near the collection desk, and braced myself to see him.
Clairmont wasn’t there.
“Do you need something?” Miriam said in an irritable voice, scraping her chair against the floor as she stood.
“Where is Professor Clairmont?”
“He’s hunting,” Miriam said, eyes snapping with dislike, “in Scotland.”
Hunting. I swallowed hard. “Oh. When will he be back?”
“I honestly don’t know, Dr. Bishop.” Miriam crossed her arms and put out a tiny foot.
“I was hoping he’d take me to yoga at the Old Lodge tonight,” I said faintly, trying to come up with a reasonable excuse for stopping.
Miriam turned and picked up a ball of black fluff. She tossed it at me, and I grabbed it as it flew by my hip. “You left that in his car on Friday.”
“Thank you.” My sweater smelled of carnations and cinnamon.
“You should be more careful with your things,” Miriam muttered. “You’re a witch, Dr. Bishop. Take care of yourself and stop putting Matthew in this impossible situation.”
I turned on my heel without comment and went to pick up my manuscripts from Sean.
“Everything all right?” he asked, eyeing Miriam with a frown.
“Perfectly.” I gave him my usual seat number and, when he still looked concerned, a warm smile.
How dare Miriam speak to me like that? I fumed while settling into my workspace.
My fingers itched as if hundreds of insects were crawling under the skin. Tiny sparks of blue-green were arcing between my fingertips, leaving traces of energy as they erupted from the edges of my body. I clenched my hands and quickly sat on top of them.
This was not good. Like all members of the university, I’d sworn an oath not to bring fire or flame into Bodley’s Library. The last time my fingers had behaved like this, I was thirteen and the fire department had to be called to extinguish the blaze in the kitchen.
When the burning sensation abated, I looked around carefully and sighed with relief. I was alone in the Selden End. No one had witnessed my fireworks display. Pulling my hands from underneath my thighs, I scrutinized them for further signs of supernatural activity. The blue was already diminishing to a silvery gray as the power retreated from my fingertips.
I opened the first box only after ascertaining I wouldn’t set fire to it and pretended that nothing unusual had happened. Still, I hesitated to touch my computer for fear that my fingers would fuse to the plastic keys.
Not surprisingly, it was difficult to concentrate, and that same manuscript was still before me at lunchtime. Maybe some tea would calm me down.
At the beginning of term, one would expect to see a handful of human readers in Duke Humfrey’s medieval wing. Today there was only one: an elderly human woman examining an illuminated manuscript with a magnifying glass. She was squashed between an unfamiliar daemon and one of the female vampires from last week. Gillian Chamberlain was there, too, glowering at me along with four other witches as if I’d let down our entire species.
Hurrying past, I stopped at Miriam’s desk. “I presume you have instructions to follow me to lunch. Are you coming?”
She put down her pencil with exaggerated care. “After you.”
Miriam was in front of me by the time I reached the back staircase. She pointed to the steps on the other side. “Go down that way.”
“Why? What difference does it make?”
“Suit yourself.” She shrugged.
One flight down I glanced through the small window stuck into the swinging door that led to the Upper Reading Room, and I gasped.
The room was full to bursting with creatures. They had segregated themselves. One long table held nothing but daemons, conspicuous because not a single book—open or closed—sat in front of them. Vampires sat at another table, their bodies perfectly still and their eyes never blinking. The witches appeared studious, but their frowns were signs of irritation rather than concentration, since the daemons and vampires had staked out the tables closest to the staircase.
“No wonder we’re not supposed to mix. No human could ignore this,” Miriam observed.
“What have I done now?” I asked in a whisper.
“Nothing. Matthew’s not here,” she said matter-of-factly.
“Why are they so afraid of Matthew?”
“You’ll have to ask him. Vampires don’t tell tales. But don’t worry,” she continued, baring her sharp, white teeth, “these work perfectly, so you’ve got nothing to fear.”
Shoving my hands into my pockets, I clattered down the stairs, pushing through the tourists in the quadrangle. At Blackwell’s, I swallowed a sandwich and a bottle of water. Miriam caught my eye as I passed by her on the way to the exit. She put aside a murder mystery and followed me.
“Diana,” she said quietly as we passed through the library’s gates, “what are you up to?”
“None of your business,” I snapped.
Back in Duke Humfrey’s, I located the wizard in brown tweed. Miriam watched intently from the center aisle, still as a statue.
“Are you in charge?”
He tipped his head to the side in acknowledgment.
“I’m Diana Bishop,” I said, sticking out my hand.
“Peter Knox. And I know very well who you are. You’re Rebecca and Stephen’s child.” He touched my fingertips lightly with his own. There was a nineteenth-century grimoire sitting in front of him, a stack of reference books at his side.
The name was familiar, though I couldn’t place it, and hearing my parents’ names come out of this wizard’s mouth was disquieting. I swallowed, hard. “Please clear your . . . friends out of the library. The new students arrive today, and we wouldn’t want to frighten them.”
“If we could have a quiet word, Dr. Bishop, I’m sure we could come to some arrangement.” He pushed his glasses up over the bridge of his nose. The closer I was to Knox, the more danger I felt. The skin under my fingernails started to prickle ominously.
“You have nothing to fear from me,” he said sorrowfully. “That vampire, on the other hand—”
“You think I found something that belongs to the witches,” I interrupted. “I no longer have it. If you want Ashmole 782, there are request slips on the desk in front of you.”
“You don’t understand the complexity of the situation.”
“No, and I don’t want to know. Please, leave me alone.”
“Physically you are very like your mother.” Knox’s eyes swept over my face. “But you have some of Stephen’s stubbornness as well, I see.”
I felt the usual combination of envy and irritation that accompanied a witch’s references to my parents or family history—as if they had an equal claim to mine.
“I’ll try,” he continued, “but I don’t control those animals.” He waved across the aisle, where one of the Scary Sisters was watching Knox and me with interest. I hesitated, then crossed over to her seat.
“I’m sure you heard our conversation, and you must know I’m under the direct supervision of two vampires already,” I said. “You’re welcome to stay, if you don’t trust Matthew and Miriam. But clear the others out of the Upper Reading Room.”
“Witches are hardly ever worth a moment of a vampire’s time, but you are full of surprises today, Diana Bishop. Wait until I tell my sister Clarissa what she’s missed.” The female vampire’s words came out in a lush, unhurried drawl redolent of impeccable breeding and a fine education. She smiled, teeth gleaming in the low light of the medieval wing. “Challenging Knox—a child like you? What a tale I’ll have to tell.”
I dragged my eyes away from her flawless features and went off in search of a familiar daemonic face.
The latte-loving daemon was drifting around the computer terminals wearing headphones and humming under his breath to some unheard music as the end of the cord was swinging freely around the tops of his thighs. Once he pulled the white plastic disks from his ears, I tried to impress upon him the seriousness of the situation.
“Listen, you’re welcome to keep surfing the Net up here. But we’ve got a problem downstairs. It’s not necessary for two dozen daemons to be watching me.”
The daemon made an indulgent sound. “You’ll know soon enough.”
“Could they watch me from farther away? The Sheldonian? The White Horse?” I was trying to be helpful. “If not, the human readers will start asking questions.”
“We’re not like you,” he said dreamily.
“Does that mean you can’t help or you won’t?” I tried not to sound impatient.
“It’s all the same thing. We need to know, too.”
This was impossible. “Whatever you can do to take some of the pressure off the seats would be greatly appreciated.”
Miriam was still watching me. Ignoring her, I returned to my desk.
At the end of the completely unproductive day, I pinched the bridge of my nose, swore under my breath, and packed up my things.
The next morning the Bodleian was far less crowded. Miriam was scribbling furiously and didn’t look up when I passed. There was still no sign of Clairmont. Even so, everybody was observing the rules that he had clearly, if silently, laid down, and they stayed out of the Selden End. Gillian was in the medieval wing, crouched over her papyri, as were both Scary Sisters and a few daemons. With the exception of Gillian, who was doing real work, the rest went through the motions with perfect respectability. And when I stuck my head around the swinging door into the Upper Reading Room after a hot cup of tea at midmorning, only a few creatures looked up. The musical, coffee-loving daemon was among them. He tipped his fingers and winked at me knowingly.
I got a reasonable amount of work done, although not enough to make up for yesterday. I began by reading alchemical poems—the trickiest of texts—that were attributed to Mary, the sister of Moses. “Three things if you three hours attend,” read one part of the poem, “Are chained together in the End.” The meaning of the verses remained a mystery, although the most likely subject was the chemical combination of silver, gold, and mercury. Could Chris produce an experiment from this poem? I wondered, noting the possible chemical processes involved.
When I turned to another, anonymous poem, entitled “Verse on the Threefold Sophic Fire,” the similarities between its imagery and an illumination I’d seen yesterday of an alchemical mountain, riddled with mines and miners digging in the ground for precious metals and stones, were unmistakable.
Within this Mine two Stones of old were found, Whence this the Ancients called Holy Ground; Who knew their Value, Power and Extent, And Nature how with Nature to Ferment For these if you Ferment with Natural Gold Or Silver, their hid Treasures they unfold.
I stifled a groan. My research would become exponentially more complicated if I had to connect not only art and science but art and poetry.
“It must be hard to concentrate on your research with vampires watching you.”
Gillian Chamberlain was standing next to me, her hazel eyes sparking with suppressed malevolence.
“What do you want, Gillian?”
“I’m just being friendly, Diana. We’re sisters, remember?” Gillian’s shiny black hair swung above her collar. Its smoothness suggested that she was not troubled by surges of static electricity. Her power must be regularly released. I shivered.
“I have no sisters, Gillian. I’m an only child.”
“It’s a good thing, too. Your family has caused more than enough trouble. Look at what happened at Salem. It was all Bridget Bishop’s fault.” Gillian’s tone was vicious.
Here we go again, I thought, closing the volume before me. As usual, the Bishops were proving to be an irresistible topic of conversation.
“What are you talking about, Gillian?” My voice was sharp. “Bridget Bishop was found guilty of witchcraft and executed. She didn’t instigate the witch-hunt—she was a victim of it, just like the others. You know that, as does every other witch in this library.”
“Bridget Bishop drew human attention, first with those poppets of hers and then with her provocative clothes and immorality. The human hysteria would have passed if not for her.”
“She was found innocent of practicing witchcraft,” I retorted, bristling.
“In 1680—but no one believed it. Not after they found the poppets in her cellar wall, pins stuck through them and the heads ripped off. Afterward Bridget did nothing to protect her fellow witches from falling under suspicion. She was so independent.” Gillian’s voice dropped. “That was your mother’s fatal flaw, too.”
“Stop it, Gillian.” The air around us seemed unnaturally cold and clear.
“Your mother and father were standoffish, just like you, thinking they didn’t need the Cambridge coven’s support after they got married. They learned, didn’t they?”
I shut my eyes, but it was impossible to block out the image I’d spent most of my life trying to forget: my mother and father lying dead in the middle of a chalk-marked circle somewhere in Nigeria, their bodies broken and bloody. My aunt wouldn’t share the details of their death at the time, so I’d slipped into the public library to look them up. That’s where I’d first seen the picture and the lurid headline that accompanied it. The nightmares had gone on for years afterward.
“There was nothing the Cambridge coven could do to prevent my parents’ murder. They were killed on another continent by fearful humans.” I gripped the arms of my chair, hoping that she wouldn’t see my white knuckles.
Gillian gave an unpleasant laugh. “It wasn’t humans, Diana. If it had been, their killers would have been caught and dealt with.” She crouched down, her face close to mine. “Rebecca Bishop and Stephen Proctor were keeping secrets from other witches. We needed to discover them. Their deaths were unfortunate, but necessary. Your father had more power than we ever dreamed.”
“Stop talking about my family and my parents as though they belong to you,” I warned. “They were killed by humans.” There was a roaring in my ears, and the coldness that surrounded us was intensifying.
“Are you sure?” Gillian whispered, sending a fresh chill into my bones. “As a witch, you’d know if I was lying to you.”
I governed my features, determined not to show my confusion. What Gillian said about my parents couldn’t be true, and yet there were none of the subtle alarms that typically accompanied untruths between witches—the spark of anger, an overwhelming feeling of contempt.
“Think about what happened to Bridget Bishop and your parents the next time you turn down an invitation to a coven gathering,” Gillian murmured, her lips so close to my ear that her breath swept against my skin. “A witch shouldn’t keep secrets from other witches. Bad things happen when she does.”
Gillian straightened and stared at me for a few seconds, the tingle of her glance growing uncomfortable the longer it lasted. Staring fixedly at the closed manuscript before me, I refused to meet her eyes.
After she left, the air’s temperature returned to normal. When my heart stopped pounding and the roaring in my ears abated, I packed my belongings with shaking hands, badly wanting to be back in my rooms. Adrenaline was coursing through my body, and I wasn’t sure how long it would be possible to fend off my panic.
I managed to get out of the library without incident, avoiding Miriam’s sharp glance. If Gillian was right, it was the jealousy of fellow witches that I needed to be wary of, not human fear. And the mention of my father’s hidden powers made something half remembered flit at the edges of my mind, but it eluded me when I tried to fix it in place long enough to see it clearly.
At New College, Fred hailed me from the porter’s lodge with a fistful of mail. A creamy envelope, thick with a distinctive woven feeling, lay on top.
It was a note from the warden, summoning me for a drink before dinner.
In my rooms I considered calling his secretary and feigning illness to get out of the invitation. My head was reeling, and there was little chance I could keep down even a drop of sherry in my present state.
But the college had behaved handsomely when I’d requested a place to stay. The least I could do was express my thanks personally. My sense of professional obligation began to supplant the anxiety stirred up by Gillian. Holding on to my identity as a scholar like a lifeline, I resolved to make my appreciation known.
After changing, I made my way to the warden’s lodgings and rang the bell. A member of the college staff opened the door and ushered me inside, leading me to the parlor.
“Hello, Dr. Bishop.” Nicholas Marsh’s blue eyes crinkled at the corners, and his snowy white hair and round red cheeks made him look like Santa Claus. Soothed by his warmth and armored with a sense of professional duty, I smiled.
“Professor Marsh.” I took his outstretched hand. “Thank you for inviting me.”
“It’s overdue, I’m afraid. I was in Italy, you know.”
“Yes, the bursar told me.”
“Then you have forgiven me for neglecting you for so long,” he said. “I hope to make it up to you by introducing you to an old friend of mine who is in Oxford for a few days. He’s a well-known author and writes about subjects that might interest you.”
Marsh stood aside, giving me a glimpse of a thick head of brown hair peppered with gray and the sleeve of a brown tweed jacket. I froze in confusion.
“Come and meet Peter Knox,” the warden said, taking my elbow gently. “He’s acquainted with your work.”
The wizard stood. Finally I recognized what had been eluding me. Knox’s name had been in the newspaper story about vampire murders. He was the expert the police called in to examine deaths that had an occult twist. My fingers started to itch.
“Dr. Bishop,” Knox said, holding out his hand. “I’ve seen you in the Bodleian.”
“Yes, I believe you have.” I extended my own and was relieved to see that it was not emitting sparks. We clasped hands as briefly as possible.
His right fingertips flickered slightly, a tiny furl and a release of bones and skin that no human would have noticed. It reminded me of my childhood, when my mother’s hands had flickered and furled to produce pancakes and fold laundry. Shutting my eyes, I braced for an outpouring of magic.
The phone rang.
“I must get that, I’m afraid,” Marsh apologized. “Do sit down.”
I sat as far from Knox as possible, perched on a straight-backed wooden chair usually reserved for disgraced junior members of the college.
Knox and I remained silent while Marsh murmured and tutted into the phone. He punched a button on the console and approached me, a glass of sherry in his hand. “That’s the vice-chancellor. Two freshers have gone missing,” he said, using the university’s slang term for new students. “You two chat while I deal with this in my study. Please excuse me.”
Distant doors opened and closed, and muffled voices conferred in the hall before there was silence.
“Missing students?” I said blandly. Surely Knox had magically engineered both the crisis and the phone call that had drawn Marsh away.
“I don’t understand, Dr. Bishop,” Knox murmured. “It seems unfortunate for the university to misplace two children. Besides, this gives us a chance to talk privately.”
“What do we have to talk about?” I sniffed my sherry and prayed for the warden’s return.
“A great many things.”
I glanced at the door.
“Nicholas will be quite busy until we’re through.”
“Let’s get this over with, then, so that the warden can return to his drink.”
“As you wish,” Knox said. “Tell me what brought you to Oxford, Dr. Bishop.”
“Alchemy.” I would answer the man’s questions, if only to get Marsh back into the room, but wasn’t going to tell him more than was necessary.
“You must have known that Ashmole 782 was bewitched. No one with even a drop of Bishop blood in her veins could have failed to notice. Why did you send it back?” Knox’s brown eyes were sharp. He wanted the manuscript as much as Matthew Clairmont did—if not more.
“I was done with it.” It was difficult to keep my voice even.
“Was there nothing about the manuscript that piqued your interest?”
Peter Knox’s mouth twisted into an ugly expression. He knew I was lying. “Have you shared your observations with the vampire?”
“I take it you mean Professor Clairmont.” When creatures refused to use proper names, it was a way of denying that those who were not like you were your equals.
Knox’s fingers unwound once more. When I thought he might point them at me, he curled them around the arms of his chair instead. “We all respect your family and what you’ve endured. Nevertheless, questions have been raised about your unorthodox relationship with this creature. You are betraying your ancestral lineage with this self-indulgent behavior. It must stop.”
“Professor Clairmont is a professional colleague,” I said, steering the conversation away from my family, “and I know nothing about the manuscript. It was in my possession for a matter of minutes. Yes, I knew it was under a spell. But that was immaterial to me, since I’d requested it to study the contents.”
“The vampire has wanted that book for more than a century,” Knox said, his voice vicious. “He mustn’t be allowed to have it.”
“Why?” My voice crackled with suppressed anger. “Because it belongs to the witches? Vampires and daemons can’t enchant objects. A witch put that book under a spell, and now it’s back under the same spell. What are you worried about?”
“More than you could possibly comprehend, Dr. Bishop.”
“I’m confident I can keep up, Mr. Knox,” I replied. Knox’s mouth tightened with displeasure when I emphasized his position outside the academy. Every time the wizard used my title, his formality sounded like a taunt, as if he were trying to make a point that he, not I, was the real expert. I might not use my power, and I couldn’t have conjured up my own lost keys, but being patronized by this wizard was intolerable.
“I am disturbed that you—a Bishop—are associating with a vampire.” He held up his hand as a protest bubbled to my lips. “Let’s not insult each other with further untruths. Instead of the natural revulsion you should feel for that animal, you feel gratitude.”
I remained silent, seething.
“And I’m concerned because we are perilously close to catching human attention,” he continued.
“I tried to get the creatures out of the library.”
“Ah, but it’s not just the library, is it? A vampire is leaving drained, bloodless corpses around Westminster. The daemons are unusually restless, vulnerable as ever to their own madness and the swings of energy in the world. We can’t afford to be noticed.”
“You told the reporters that there was nothing supernatural about those deaths.”
Knox looked incredulous. “You don’t expect me to tell humans everything ?”
“I do, actually, when they’re paying you.”
“You’re not only self-indulgent, you’re foolish. That surprises me, Dr. Bishop. Your father was known for his good sense.”
“I’ve had a long day. Is that all?” Standing abruptly, I moved toward the door. Even in normal circumstances, it was difficult to listen to anyone but Sarah and Em talking about my parents. Now—after Gillian’s revelations—there was something almost obscene about it.
“No, it is not,” said Knox unpleasantly. “What I am most intrigued by, at present, is the question of how an ignorant witch with no training of any sort managed to break a spell that has defied the efforts of those far more adept than you will ever be.”
“So that’s why you’re all watching me.” I sat down, my back pressing against the chair’s slats.
“Don’t look so pleased with yourself,” he said curtly. “Your success may have been a fluke—an anniversary reaction related to when the spell was first cast. The passage of time can interfere with witchcraft, and anniversaries are particularly volatile moments. You haven’t tried to recall it yet, but when you do, it may not come as easily as it did the first time.”
“And what anniversary would we be celebrating?”
I had wondered why a witch would put a spell on the manuscript in the first place. Someone must have been looking for it all those years ago, too. I blanched.
We were back to Matthew Clairmont and his interest in Ashmole 782.
“You are managing to keep up, aren’t you? The next time you see your vampire, ask him what he was doing in the autumn of 1859. I doubt he’ll tell you the truth, but he might reveal enough for you to figure it out on your own.”
“I’m tired. Why don’t you tell me, witch to witch, what your interest is in Ashmole 782?” I’d heard why the daemons wanted the manuscript. Even Matthew had given me some explanation. Knox’s fascination with it was a missing piece of the puzzle.
“That manuscript belongs to us,” Knox said fiercely. “We’re the only creatures who can understand its secrets and the only creatures who can be trusted to keep them.”
“What is in the manuscript? ” I said, temper flaring at last.
“The first spells ever constructed. Descriptions of the enchantments that bind the world together.” Knox’s face grew dreamy. “The secret of immortality. How witches made the first daemon. How vampires can be destroyed, once and for all.” His eyes pierced mine. “It’s the source of all our power, past and present. It cannot be allowed to fall into the hands of daemons or vampires—or humans.”
The events of the afternoon were catching up with me, and I had to press my knees together to keep them from shaking. “Nobody would put all that information in a single book.”
“The first witch did,” Knox said. “And her sons and daughters, too, down through time. It’s our history, Diana. Surely you want to protect it from prying eyes.”
The warden entered the room as if he’d been waiting by the door. The tension was suffocating, but he seemed blissfully unaware of it.
“What a palaver over nothing.” Marsh shook his white head. “The freshers illegally obtained a punt. They were located, stuck under a bridge and a little worse for wine, utterly content with their situation. A romance may result.”
“I’m so glad,” I murmured. The clocks struck forty-five minutes past the hour, and I stood. “Is that the time? I have a dinner engagement.”
“You won’t be joining us for dinner?” the warden asked with a frown. “Peter has been looking forward to talking to you about alchemy.”
“Our paths will cross again. Soon,” Knox said smoothly. “My visit was such a surprise, and of course the lady has better things to do than have dinner with two men our age.”
Be careful with Matthew Clairmont. Knox’s voice rang in my head. He’s a killer.
Marsh smiled. “Yes, of course. I do hope to see you again—when the freshers have settled down.”
Ask him about 1859. See if he’ll share his secrets with a witch.
It’s hardly a secret if you know it. Surprise registered on Knox’s face when I replied to his mental warning in kind. It was the sixth time I’d used magic this year, but these were surely extenuating circumstances.
“It would be a pleasure, Warden. And thank you again for letting me stay in college this year.” I nodded to the wizard. “Mr. Knox.”
Fleeing from the warden’s lodgings, I turned toward my old refuge in the cloisters and walked among the pillars until my pulse stopped racing. My mind was occupied with only one question: what to do now that two witches—my own people—had threatened me in the space of a single afternoon. With sudden clarity I knew the answer.
In my rooms I searched my bag until my fingers found Clairmont’s crumpled business card, and then I dialed the first number.
He didn’t answer.
After a robotic voice indicated that it was ready to receive my message, I spoke.
“Matthew, it’s Diana. I’m sorry to bother you when you’re out of town.” I took a deep breath, trying to dispel some of the guilt associated with my decision not to tell Clairmont about Gillian and my parents, but only about Knox. “We need to talk. Something has happened. It’s that wizard from the library. His name is Peter Knox. If you get this message, please call me.”
I’d assured Sarah and Em that no vampire would meddle in my life. Gillian Chamberlain and Peter Knox had changed my mind. With shaking hands I lowered the shades and locked the door, wishing I’d never heard of Ashmole 782.
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