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He smiled. ‘You see? You’ve been thinking about this all night, haven’t you? This is why this line of work is so satisfying. The more you chew over a problem, the more interesting it becomes. When a possible solution emerges, even if it’s at three o’clock in the morning, the feeling is like no other.’

I stared at him. I’d slept like a baby; the idea had come to me while I was brushing my teeth. ‘Yeah,’ I said unconvincingly. ‘Sure. Anyway, you’re the lead investigator when it comes to theft and missing objects. So if you’re out of the picture, the Order would have to scramble to find a replacement. Maybe the trap was simply to clear the field for more theft.’

‘You mean the sceptre was stolen in order to cover up something more valuable being stolen?’

‘Exactly.’

The colour drained from Winter’s face. ‘The wards,’ he said. ‘Maidmont and the other librarians were going to reset the wards across the whole building. Yesterday afternoon, while we were being half drowned in the sewer.’

‘Yeah. It would have been the perfect opportunity for a thief to steal something else from the library. The question is, what is more valuable than the sceptre and worth all this effort?’ I already knew the answer but I wanted to hear Winter confirm it. If it was true, then all hell might be about to break loose.

He clenched his fists. ‘The Cypher Manuscripts.’

I sighed. Arse. ‘Great minds think alike.’

***

Unfortunately, Winter didn’t pause to make me another coffee. He all but sprinted for the car. The only way I delayed him slightly was by reminding him that I needed to check on Harold, Alice and Bell End. All the same, he tapped his foot impatiently while I gave them food and water and a loo break then ensured everything was shipshape.

Princess Parma Periwinkle, whose name I was going to have to change soon because it was such a mouthful, nudged Harold with her little pink nose before settling into a comfortable spot in the corner to watch the trussed-up pair and let him have a break. Eve’s cat didn’t quite roll over the way Brutus had but it was a close-run thing.

When we eventually set off, Winter tossed me his phone and told me to get in touch with Arcane Branch so they could send someone round to keep an eye on Diall. I jabbed in the number and leant back, kicking off my shoes and propping my feet on his dashboard as I waited for someone to answer.

‘Ivy,’ Winter said stiffly. ‘Just because we have come to a truce after our shared near-death experience, that does not mean you can get away with whatever you want.’

I turned to him. ‘What do you mean?’

He gestured in irritation at my feet. I waggled my toes in return. Winter was not amused. Unless I almost drowned again, I reckoned I’d used up all his goodwill towards me. For the sake of a quiet life, I dropped my legs to the floor. We had more important things to worry about.

‘I’m sure you don’t permit your customers to treat your taxi like that,’ he said,

Actually, it was much better for me when my passengers were more relaxed. Before I could say as much to Winter, someone finally picked up the phone. ‘Arcane Branch, Practicus Smythe speaking. How may I help you?’

I put on my poshest voice. ‘Oh, good morning, Practicus Smythe. How charming to talk to you.’ Winter gave a long-suffering sigh. I ignored him. ‘I am here with the esteemed Adeptus Exemptus Raphael Winter.’

I could almost hear Smythe sitting bolt upright. ‘Winter?’ He coughed. ‘Yes, of course, what can I do for him?’

‘He would very much like it if you could send someone around tout suite to Adeptus Diall. He needs to be brought in for immediate questioning.’

‘Diall? But…’ Smythe paused. ‘Yes, of course. And if he refuses to come?’

‘Use all force necessary.’ I hung up. I could get used to this; having all manner of uptight witches at my beck and call was rather fun.

Winter tsked. ‘Diall is still a respected member of the Order.’

‘A respected member of the Order that sent out two of his minions to perform an illegal action against a younger witch,’ I pointed out. ‘And who more than likely just tried to have you killed. If he has the Cypher Manuscripts in his possession…’ The consequences could be catastrophic.

‘There are protocols to follow. We can’t act like the Gestapo and drag away whoever we choose.’

‘Why not?’ I arched an eyebrow in his direction.

‘There’s paperwork to be filled in.’

‘In triplicate?’

He seemed to be counting to ten. ‘No, but…’

The ringing phone interrupted his words. He smiled triumphantly. ‘See? That’ll be Smythe calling back to confirm.’

Winter didn’t seem to realise how seriously the rest of the Order took him. Even from the short conversation I’d just had, I knew that Smythe wouldn’t dare to question his orders, whether they were second hand or not. He was probably already on his way to Diall’s with an army of Arcane Branch goons as we spoke. I dug into my pocket and pulled out my own phone. ‘It’s for me,’ I said smugly. ‘Not you.’

I pressed the answer button. ‘This is Ivy,’ I chirped.

‘Hello, gorgeous.’

I beamed. ‘lqbal! How are you?’

‘Good. I’ve got some news for you. And for me. I see karaoke in your future.’ He started to sing, not very tunefully.

I sat up, not looking at Winter. ‘Go on.’

‘There is a loophole to your binding. I found a temporary measure but it won’t last more than a day or two. I figured you were looking for something more permanent so I kept on searching and I think I’ve found just the thing. It’s not going to be easy but if you can get hold of some ossombe root then I have the spell for you.’

‘I’ve never even heard of the stuff.’

‘I’m not surprised. The only reference I found to it was an old text from the seventeenth century. It’s certainly not a typical ingredient.’

‘Where would I find it?’

‘It only grows in one place in the world.’ He paused. I could almost hear the drumroll. ‘The foothills of Mongolia. You’re welcome.’

An odd sensation of relief trickled through me but I quashed it. I was probably mistaking it for disappointment. ‘Iqqy, honey, I can’t get to Mongolia any time soon.’

He was silent for several seconds. ‘Oh,’ he said finally. ‘I didn’t think of that. Maybe you can source it somewhere else.’

‘Have you any idea where?’

‘Um, no.’ He pondered this conundrum. ‘Ebay?’

Pah. I cupped my hand over the receiver. ‘Have you heard of ossombe root?’ I asked Winter.

There was a line forming between his eyebrows and his expression was tight. ‘No.’

If even Winter hadn’t heard of it, then it was highly unlikely that such a rare ingredient would be easy to find. And I didn’t know any Mongolians. ‘Thanks,’ I said drily to Iqbal.

‘You’re welcome!’ he trilled. ‘So how does next weekend suit?’

‘For what?’

‘Karaoke, of course.’

‘The binding is still in place,’ I said. ‘And you don’t know where to get ossombe root from. Ergo, you’ve not fulfilled the terms of our agreement.’

‘Oh yes, I have. I’ve told you what you need to do to gain your freedom.’

I shook my head. ‘Nope.’

‘Ivy…’

‘You really should get back to that thesis. It won’t write itself, you know.’ I ended the call.

Winter drummed his fingers against the steering wheel. ‘What was that about?’

My phone rang again. Iqbal’s name appeared on the screen and I turned it off. ‘I asked someone to look into our binding,’ I said, trying to sound casual. ‘To see whether there was any way of breaking it before the hundred days were up.’

‘And?’ Winter asked stiffly.

‘Ossombe root.’

His mouth tightened. ‘But you don’t know what ossombe root is or where to get it?’

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