‘I think you should try again,’ I suggested. ‘You know, just to be sure.’
Winter carefully replaced the bowl on its stand. He didn’t bother answering me this time; instead, he walked beyond the first two wards and glanced about for a suitable object to filch. I got bored watching him and headed to the front door, gazing at the people outside. They looked happy. The bastards.
Eventually Winter picked up a gold-tipped quill from a shelf. ‘This will do,’ he muttered. He threw it towards me.
I didn’t even attempt to catch it; I simply stepped back and let it fall to the ground. I grinned. ‘Oops.’
‘Pick up the pen and try to take it through the front door,’ he commanded.
I shook my head. ‘No way.’
Winter smiled at me wolfishly. ‘You won’t get hurt. The final ward is … different to the others.’
I really didn’t like the sound of that. ‘I’m still not doing it.’ I ignored the prickle that ran across my skin again. This was becoming ridiculous. Winter could do it; it didn’t have to be me.
‘As I have to keep reminding you, Ms Wilde, I am in charge here. You will do as I say.’
‘Yesterday you said I wouldn’t have to do anything apart from follow you around. Less than a day later you seem intent on torturing me.’
He raised an eyebrow. ‘I thought you wanted this done quickly.’ He came over to me and picked up the quill. ‘I’ll do it. But I’m in no rush.’
I looked into his eyes. I had the impression that he’d happily hang around for hours before testing the ward, simply to make a point.
I muttered a curse under my breath and snatched the quill from him. ‘Fine. When I’m convulsing on the floor, you’ll be sorry.’ I twisted round and headed for the door. I was barely three feet away when the most god-awful shrieking started up. It was less like an alarm and more like a pack of harpies surrounding me, intent on making my ears bleed. I clamped my hands over my ears and kept going. A moment later there was a whoosh and I was surrounded by ten-foot iron spikes that sprang from nowhere. I was well and truly trapped.
‘All this for a damn quill?’ I screamed.
Beyond the ring of spikes, Winter shrugged. ‘Missing stationery accounts for a lot of the Order’s budget. It’s important to track every item to avoid unnecessary loss.’ He turned away.
Winter didn’t miss a step.
I shouted louder. ‘Hey! You need to let me out!’
‘I can’t. Only the librarians can release you. You’ll need to wait.’ He looked over his shoulder and smirked. ‘Don’t worry. Once I’ve questioned them all, I’ll send one over to get you out. Look on the bright side. This way we get some peace from each other.’
The plonker. He’d done this deliberately. I kicked at the nearest spike; it didn’t budge. I should have chosen prison. Anything would be better than this.
It took bloody Winter ages to send someone to rescue me. It got to the point where I tried to expend my own energy to break through the iron circle but the ward was far too strong. No matter what I threw at it, it stayed firmly put. I wasn’t big-headed enough to believe that I could beat down any magic thrown in my path but I wasn’t without ability. Whoever had got past this with the sceptre in their hand was definitely an incredibly powerful witch.
Philip Maidmont, who performed the spell to remove the spikes, wrung his hands together. ‘The investigation isn’t going at all well,’ he confided. ‘No one knows anything.’
‘Whatever,’ I snapped. I was no longer in the mood to be nice to him. He looked hurt for a second and I felt a surge of guilt but I pushed it away. He was a part of the damned Order just as much as the Ipsissimus and Winter and Tarquin and all the other geeks. And I was done with the lot of them. I spun round to leave the library. Nothing was worth this. No more Miss Nice Ivy.
Unfortunately for me, the binding spell had other ideas. ‘Goddamnit!’ I yelled as my skin flared up in pain once more. Why the bejesus didn’t Winter get these crappy side effects? Why was I the one who had to suffer? ‘Where is he?’ I ground out. ‘Where is Winter?’
Wide-eyed, Maidmont raised a shaky finger and pointed to the right. I nodded. Enough was enough.
I marched through the library with the Wicked Witch theme music from The Wizard of Oz pounding through my head. I was done. I no longer cared what the consequences were. I slammed open the door to the room where Winter was questioning a pale-faced Neophyte.
‘That will be all,’ he said as I entered. ‘Thank you for your time.’
I strode up to him and took a deep breath to prepare for my angry tirade. The Neophyte noted the look on my face and made a quick exit. Smart move.
‘Good to see you again, Ms Wilde,’ Winter said, before I could open my mouth. ‘We need to get hold of bakuli pods, rosemary, tansy, sweetpea and aconite.’
For a moment, his words barely registered. When they did, I froze. ‘Say that again,’ I said slowly.
He ticked off his fingers. ‘Bakuli pods. Rosemary. Tansy. Sweetpea. Aconite.’
I stared at him. With the exception of aconite, which I’d never heard of, I’d come across that combination very recently. ‘Aconite?’
He nodded. ‘It smells like death but it can be very potent.’
Bingo. ‘And,’ I said carefully, ‘do you use these particular herbs often?’
Winter pursed his lips. ‘On occasion. They can be useful.’
‘Useful for what?’
‘Are you suddenly taking an interest in the investigation?’ he enquired.
‘Just answer the question.’
Rather than being offended by my manner, Winter appeared curious. ‘What is it?’
I wasn’t prepared to answer him. Not now he’d become a very real suspect in Eve’s burglary. If it was a burglary; I was starting to wonder if the incursion was something far more nefarious. ‘What are the herbs for?’ I repeated.
His blue eyes were thoughtful. ‘It’s easier to show you than tell you.’ He continued to watch me. He obviously knew something was up but he wasn’t sure what. He was probably also wondering why I wasn’t screaming blue murder at him for trapping me downstairs. Right now, however, the herbal coincidence seemed far more important.
‘Great,’ I said. ‘Show me.’
By the time someone brought us the herbs, it was growing dark outside. Even on my longest taxi-driving days I’d never spent this much time away from home. I stifled a yawn. It didn’t help that Winter still seemed to possess boundless energy. He strode around the library floor, barking orders and making notes. He managed to question and release everyone who’d been present that morning and had made appointments to talk to the others from Maidmont’s logbooks who had been studying last night. It made me tired just watching him.
Truth be told, I found it hard to imagine he’d had anything to do with masterminding the break-in at Eve’s. For one thing he was far too upright and focused on the Order. For another, it didn’t make any sense. But I didn’t like the coincidence and I wanted to know what those damned herbs were for.
I already felt guilty enough that I’d taken Eve’s coveted spot. I might not want it but that didn’t mean she wouldn’t be devastated. If I could figure out what Bell End and his partner had been doing in her flat, at least I’d have something to offer her.
‘So Herb Master,’ I intoned. ‘Let me see a demonstration of your powers.’
Winter’s eyes narrowed, as if he weren’t sure whether I was taking the piss or being deadly serious. ‘It’s important,’ he said stiffly, ‘to pay attention to both the order and the amount of herbs which are used. Different quantities can have different effects.’ Damn. ‘For these purposes, we begin with one part rosemary added to three parts sweetpea.’
I watched as he measured them into a small cast-iron bowl. I wasn’t the only one fascinated by his actions: Maidmont and several of the other librarians also gathered round. If having such a rapt audience disturbed Winter, he didn’t let it show.
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