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‘Fine!’ Tarquin snapped.

I smiled. Winter might think I could charm the pants off Tarquin but all that was actually needed was the threat of public humiliation.

He pushed back his chair, sending it flying into the poor woman sitting behind him, and stomped over to the Records section. I tailed behind him so closely that I stepped on his heels. He glowered but didn’t say anything. Ha! He was learning.

Tarquin grabbed the logbook and thrust it at me. ‘Here.’

I took it and found the page that Price had shown us earlier. I tracked my finger along the line: it was definitely Oscar Marsh’s file that was noted and the signature, which was almost illegible, could belong to Tobias Worth-Jones. It would be possible to alter the logbook using magic but I had the feeling that such a spell would be more trouble than it was worth. The logbook was probably warded against such magic. Worth-Jones’s signature didn’t look as if it would be easy to replicate free hand and Winter didn’t seem to think there was anything untoward about his casual denial of involvement.

I adjusted my grip on the book while Tarquin looked on, amused. The darn thing was bloody heavy. As I moved my thumb, I realised that the page opposite was indented from the writing on the other side. I flipped back, then forward, then back again. No magic at all: Worth-Jones had been implicated through an action that even a child could manage.

‘What is it?’ Tarquin asked.

‘You lot are incompetent,’ I said. ‘Don’t you pay any attention to who wanders in and takes files out?’

‘That’s Rebecca’s job,’ he answered, gesturing irritably at the receptionist.

Always passing the buck, that was how people like Tarquin worked. Everything was someone else’s fault. I sighed and pointed to the previous page. ‘Look. Here is Tobias Worth-Jones checking out the file for someone in his department. See?’

Tarquin reluctantly looked over my shoulder. ‘Yeah? So?’

He was a plonker. I turned back to Marsh’s entry. It matched perfectly. ‘Someone went over his signature, pressing down so that it would appear on the next page. Then they traced over it and made it look like Worth-Jones had taken away Marsh’s file. It was probably a bonus that his handwriting is so appalling.’

Tarquin’s eyes took in the evidence. ‘That’s … that’s … preposterous,’ he said, his eyes darting to and fro as if I were accusing him of doing it.

‘What’s preposterous,’ I said, ‘is using the word “preposterous”. Say it several times. It’s a daft word.’

‘Look, Ivy,’ Tarquin said through gritted teeth. ‘I don’t know what you’re trying to say but I can assure you that Human Resources takes its duties very seriously. We do not let just anybody waltz in here and mess around with the logbook. These files are private, they’re not given out to anyone who simply shows up.’

‘And yet,’ I told him softly, ‘the evidence that they are is right here.’ I paused. ‘I still need the file.’

‘I don’t know where it is.’ He lowered his voice. ‘I know I did you wrong all those years ago but I wouldn’t do this.’

I arched an eyebrow. ‘At no point have I suggested this was your doing but you’re protesting quite…’ I paused ‘…vociferously.’ I grinned, very pleased with myself.

Tarquin waved a hand at the rows of filing cabinets. ‘You are welcome to look through them.’ His manner was stiff and unyielding. ‘But on Adeptus Price’s orders, I’ve already searched all of them in case the file was returned to the wrong place.’

That was interesting. Why would Price ask Tarquin to do that if he thought that someone else had checked out the file?

Tarquin wasn’t finished. ‘What are you doing here anyway? You don’t want to be in the Order, Ivy. When you left eight years ago, you swore you’d never be back.’

‘I didn’t leave,’ I reminded him. ‘I was kicked out. Because of you.’

‘All the same, this isn’t your kind of thing. Even back then you never wanted to be in Arcane Branch. Why now? Why not leave and let someone else do your job? There are plenty of people who want it.’

‘Oh, we all know it’s you who wants it, Tarquin,’ I responded. ‘But you can’t have it. I’m magically bound to work with Winter, whether I want to or not. So there’s not a damn thing you can do about it.’

‘It can’t be that strong a binding,’ he retorted. ‘You’re here and he’s not. How does that work?’

I opened my mouth to answer then I realised he was right. The terms of the binding were that Winter and I worked in tandem, not just remain within five miles of each other; it had seemed that we were supposed to stay together while investigations were actively under way. But this time when we were apart, I hadn’t experienced any strange prickling along my skin like before. Maybe it was because the spell was somehow aware I was here doing Winter’s bidding. Or maybe it was for another reason.

‘You’re not much of a magic expert, are you, Tarquin?’ I said dismissively. ‘No wonder you had to cheat to get where you are.’ He glared at me and I smiled in return. ‘Oh, if only looks could kill.’ I patted him on the shoulder. ‘But they can’t. So I’ll have to get on with the vital business of the Arcane Branch and you can get back to your personnel files.’

And with that, I swiftly made my exit.

Chapter Twenty-One

Arcane Branch was bustling. There was a buzz in the air that I’d not noticed when I came in with Winter the first time and there were many happy and relieved faces. I clocked two red robes slapping each other on the back and pursed my lips. Something was up.

I went back to the interrogation room. As soon as I entered, I saw Winter cuffing Oscar Marsh. ‘What’s going on?’ I asked.

‘The missing Manuscript has been found,’ Winter told me.

I blinked in surprise. ‘Really?’

‘Apart from the one burnt page we already know about, it’s intact.’ He gave Marsh a little jab. ‘It’s just as well.’

I found my voice. ‘Where was it?’

Winter smiled grimly. ‘Here. It was at the Order all along.’

I looked from Winter to Marsh and back again. I had a feeling I already knew the answer but I asked anyway. ‘Where exactly?’

‘In Oscar’s desk drawer.’

No shit. ‘Was it locked? Warded? Was it difficult to get hold of?’

‘None of the above.’

I licked my lips. ‘Isn’t that a little strange?’

‘I don’t know what it was doing there!’ Marsh shouted. ‘I’m being set up!’ The effort of making this outburst seemed to affect him adversely; he’d only just finished speaking when his skin turned a faint shade of green. I hoped Winter was going to keep that bin handy in case Marsh threw up.

‘Shut up,’ Winter said, although his tone was mild. He looked at me. ‘Did you get hold of his personnel file?’

‘Nope.’

Winter’s mouth tightened but otherwise he didn’t react.

Another two red robes entered. The disgust in their eyes when they looked at Marsh was obvious. Winter passed him over into their custody then turned to me. ‘All’s well that ends well,’ he said.

I considered this. ‘Unless you’re dead like Adeptus Diall. Isn’t Marsh just a little too convenient? Isn’t this all a bit too easy?’

Winter raised an eyebrow. ‘I thought you liked the easy way out.’

I did and I was experienced at seeking it out, which was why Marsh’s guilt was too straightforward. The man seemed barely capable of holding a conversation, let alone masterminding this kind of crime. Winter, however, didn’t appear to give my concerns a second thought.

I pressed ahead. ‘Does the blood on Marsh’s shirt match Diall’s?’ I asked.

‘We’re still waiting on the lab results.’ Winter smiled briefly. ‘Come on. I’ll take you home and you can sprawl out and snooze away the rest of the day.’

I stared at him. ‘You do realise what time it is? The day is already over.’

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