I jumped up and clapped my hands. ‘Excellent! You mean I’m free? I can go home?’
‘Don’t be ridiculous. It means we have an assignment.’ Compared to his usual demeanour, he seemed positively aglow.
Winter noted my lack of enthusiasm. ‘We can go back to the gym if you prefer.’ He flung a pile of books at me. ‘And you still need to read those.’
‘Gee, thanks.’ I left the books where they were. ‘What’s the assignment?’
‘The sceptre belonging to the Ipsissimus was on display up on the third floor,’ he told me. ‘It’s been stolen.’
‘Someone stole a big stick?’ Who cared?
‘A big gold stick encrusted with rubies and diamonds,’ Winter said.
Oh. Okay then. ‘Lead the way.’
Winter turned to leave. ‘Bring the books, Ivy.’
‘They’re heavy. I’ll fetch them later.’
‘Be sure that you do.’
I was tempted to stick out my tongue at him. ‘Do you ever get out?’
I waved my hands around. ‘You know. To a pub? Or a party? Maybe even just to the cinema?’
He gave me a look as if to ask why on earth he would ever want to. Then he marched off, leaving me to follow in his wake.
There was still a lot of yelling going on. Perhaps the sceptre was sentient and the librarians thought that shouting and screaming would encourage it to return to its rightful place. One particular red robe went past us, his arms flapping and his robe billowing out so that I wondered whether he was about to take off and fly around the room. No witch had ever managed to fly before – not that many of us over the centuries hadn’t tried – but this guy was making a good stab at it.
I caught up to Winter and nudged him. ‘What’s the big deal? I get that the sceptre thingy is probably worth a lot of money but this amount of panic is ridiculous.’
He glanced at me. ‘You really didn’t pay any attention when you were here as a Neophyte, did you? Objects belonging to the Order, especially valuable important objects, do not just go missing.’
Oh please. ‘Why ever not? You can’t tell me that no one’s ever attempted to boost anything.’ I waved an arm. ‘Anyone could waltz in and take what they wanted. Non-witches who are criminally inclined aren’t so intimidated by the Order that they wouldn’t try to nick something. And if you’re trying to suggest that Order members are too noble or worthy to stoop to stealing, then you’re a naïve fool.’
His jaw clenched. ‘You are treading in dangerous waters, Ms Wilde.’
Apparently so. He’d just started calling me Ivy and now we were back to the Ms business. ‘If the shoe fits, Adeptus Exemptus Winter…’
His glare intensified. ‘Most people know better than to insult me.’
I stopped walking and looked around, a confused expression on my face.
‘What is it?’ he ground out.
‘I was just checking,’ I told him airily.
‘To see whether I was in a school playground rather than a library. I didn’t insult you. I said that if you think the Order witches are too good to steal then you’d be a fool. I didn’t say you were a fool. There’s a vast difference. Besides, I’m only trying to understand.’
Winter muttered something then took a deep breath. ‘You seem intent on testing my patience to its limits. One minute you are almost tolerable, the next I want to throttle you.’
‘Most people feel that way about me,’ I said cheerfully. ‘But cough up the answer. I still don’t get the panic.’
‘Nobody believes that Order members are above reproach. After all, some of them are even prepared to cheat and assault their fellows.’ Touché. ‘And,’ he continued, ‘we are well aware that certain elements of society may wish to steal some of our more valuable items. That is why there are heavy protective wards in place to prevent thefts.’
I shrugged. ‘No ward is infallible.’ Some took more time and effort to break than others but where there was a will there was usually a way. Or so I’d heard.
He pushed back his hair. ‘This library is vital to the Order. Many of the objects and books contained within its walls are highly volatile. I can assure you, Ms Wilde, that the wards surrounding this building are as strong as you’ll find anywhere.’
‘So what you’re saying is that to steal the sceptre, you’d have to be a very powerful witch.’
Winter nodded grimly. ‘Third Level or beyond. In fact, to take it out of the library without anyone noticing, they’d have to be one of the strongest witches we’ve ever seen.’
I absorbed this. ‘Fair enough. At least that narrows down the list of suspects. Let’s examine the crime scene, solve the crime and then we can break for afternoon tea.’
He frowned. ‘Leave the investigations to me. You’re an amateur and I’m the professional.’
While I didn’t object to Winter doing all the work, I was still needled. ‘I thought we were supposed to work in tandem?’
‘As long as you’re with me, the binding will be satisfied,’ he said shortly. ‘If you pay enough attention, you might learn something. Now let’s get moving.’
‘Yessir, Adeptus Exemptus Winter.’ I crossed my fingers and hoped he was good at his job so the sceptre was recovered quickly. More to the point, then I could finally go back home. I did, after all, still have Eve’s burglars to deal with. And Enchantment was on TV tonight.
The third floor was busy. Most people were standing around and staring at the sceptre’s empty display box. I’d seen enough episodes of CSI to know that these onlookers would be doing little more than contaminating the scene but Winter had made it pretty clear what my role was in all of this, so I kept my mouth buttoned shut.
‘What are all these people doing here?’ he barked. ‘We need this area clear so that we don’t lose any evidence.’ Maybe he’d seen the same episodes I had.
‘Come on everyone,’ a nervous-looking red robe said. ‘You need to vacate the area.’ Unfortunately his voice was so quiet and lacking in authority that no one paid him any attention. He tried again. ‘Everyone downstairs.’
For goodness’ sake. ‘Oi!’ I yelled. Every face turned towards me, some pale and in shock, others merely confused. That was more like it. ‘Everyone clear out! No one leaves the building until your details have been noted or you’ve been questioned.’
There was a dissenting murmur from several of the onlookers but they did as I asked, shuffling downstairs no doubt to congregate and gossip about the culprit. The librarian gave me a grateful nod while Winter raised an eyebrow. I shrugged. ‘The sooner you investigate and solve this crime, Sherlock, the sooner we can leave.’
He looked like he was about to say something then thought better of it and turned his attention to the display cabinet. As I watched, he circled round it a few times before pursing his lips and beckoning over the hapless librarian. ‘Talk me through the wards,’ he grunted.
The librarian’s Adam’s apple bobbed nervously. ‘Well, you see, er, there’s, um…’
Winter was obviously growing impatient. He tapped his foot and glared at the man. No wonder he was nervous. We’d be here all day at this rate. I stepped up. ‘What’s your name?’ I asked softly.
‘Philip. Philip Maidmont.’
‘And you’re a librarian here?’ I questioned, ignoring Winter’s frosty demeanour.
‘Yes. Four years now. I’m Practicus but I never managed to proceed to Philosophus.’
‘Those exams are a bugger.’
He tittered slightly. ‘Yes, yes, they are.’
I ignored the question in his eyes about what level I was at and gently touched his arm. ‘Philip, can you tell us what wards were in place around the case?’
His eyes widened. ‘Oh, the very strongest. The Ipsissimus himself put them in place.’
‘When did that happen?’
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