I did my best to appear innocent. ‘Nothing.’
‘You have that look in your eyes.’
‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’
Winter persisted. ‘Yes, you do. It’s the same look you get when you start thinking about getting off the sofa to do crazy things like answer the door or go out to work in order to pay your bills.’
I drew myself up. ‘Well, you have that look in your eyes too. The one that says you just had to speak to the Order and you secretly wish you were still with them so you could feel important and wanted, and had a nice shiny badge to wave at everyone.’
Winter frowned at me. ‘The Order don’t have badges.’
‘I bet you wish they did though. That way, when you went to talk to someone, you could take it out and flip it open.’ I mimed doing just that. Then I deepened my voice. ‘“Raphael Winter. That’s Adeptus Exemptus Raphael Winter to you. Arcane Branch. That’s Arcane Branch in the Hallowed Order of Magical Enlightenment. I take my coffee black and strong. And I glower at everyone who dares to look at me without receiving permission first. And I enjoy venturing into buildings where there’s a good chance I might get blown up.”’
Somewhere behind me, Clare snickered.
Winter tilted his head, something dangerous glinting in his blue eyes. Then he let his body sag and his shoulders slump. ‘ “Ivy,”’ he mumbled in a higher-pitched tone than normal. ‘“Can’t be bothered to form sentences or to shake hands with you because it’s too much effort.”’ He froze. ‘“Wait,”’ he said with a sudden toss of his hair, ‘“do I smell pizza?”’
I put my hands on my hips. ‘Ha. Ha. Ha.’
‘“I might have to sit down,”’ Winter said. ‘“I’ve walked at least twenty steps already today and it’s been a bit too much.”’
I stuck out my tongue and he grinned. ‘Actually,’ he said in a low voice as if he were afraid someone would overhear, ‘I did want badges. I put in a suggestion to get them for everyone when I first joined Arcane Branch.’
I winced. ‘In the shape of witch’s hats?’
‘Not quite that bad. They needed to look official, not ridiculous.’
‘Of course,’ I smiled. ‘I once put in a suggestion that we pay a teenager to hang around our building and help with deliveries. You know, escort takeaways up to our door, that kind of thing.’
Winter’s eyes danced with amusement.
Clare peered at us. ‘I don’t get it,’ she said finally.
I dragged my attention away from Winter and glanced at her. ‘What do you mean?’
‘That was…’ she hesitated as if searching for the right word ‘…mean. You were mean to him and he was mean to you.’
I tapped the corner of my mouth. We’d needed a moment of levity amid all this serial-killer stuff but I understood what she meant. ‘It wasn’t mean,’ I said finally. ‘It was honest. We know each other very well. I suppose what we’re really saying is that we know the worst about each other and it doesn’t matter. We accept each other for who we are, regardless of our faults.’
Winter reached across and squeezed my hand while Clare stared at me. ‘I think I hate you both.’
I beamed back at her cheerfully. ‘I would hate us both too.’ I lifted my head up. ‘Now let’s crack on. Which window is going to be the easiest?’ I pointed at one on the second floor. ‘That looks large enough to wiggle through.’
‘It’s sealed shut,’ Clare said. ‘The only one which opens is that one.’ She floated upwards until she was hovering in front of the highest – and smallest – window in the house.
Winter followed my eyes. ‘The window on the right?’ he enquired.
‘Apparently it’s the only one that will open.’ I flicked him a look from under my eyelashes. ‘We should definitely wait for the bomb squad.’
‘Clare?’ Winter said, looking in the wrong direction. ‘Can you check whether there are any more booby traps?’
She nodded eagerly and disappeared back through the walls of her house.
‘She said she can’t,’ I told him. ‘On account of the fact that her ghostly presence might upset the spiritual atoms and set them off, blowing us all to smithereens.’
Clare’s head appeared from the chimney top. ‘There’s nothing else here!’ she called. ‘It’s only the front door that’s been tampered with.’
Winter, reading my expression, smiled. ‘Great.’ He gestured in front of him. ‘Ladies first.’
I stared at him. ‘What do you expect me to do? Scale the wall? I’m not Spiderman.’ I shifted my body slightly so he couldn’t see what I was doing, then I put my hands behind my back and drew out a rune. Ever so slowly, Winter began to rise up. The best part was that, because it happened at such a snail’s pace, he didn’t even notice until he was at least a foot in the air.
I smirked and continued raising him. I had the most amazing view of his arse from here.
Clare’s mouth was hanging open in astonishment. ‘He can fly?’
‘I’m making Winter levitate,’ I explained. ‘But it takes a lot of energy and I can’t hold him for long.’ We both watched as he reached the window and began to tug at it, trying to open it up. ‘Do you have any wards in place?’ I asked. If there were any, they should have been blown when Blackbeard entered but it didn’t hurt to ask.
‘Oh yes,’ Clare said proudly. ‘I have several.’
Winter finally managed to open the window and stuck his head inside. A beat later he was violently thrown backwards, somersaulting through the air and down to the ground. In the nick of time I managed to cast a rune to cushion his fall but he still groaned very loudly.
I ran over. ‘Are you okay?’
He squinted up at me, pain clouding his gaze. ‘We should have waited for the bomb squad.’
Alarmed now, I crouched down, searching for visible wounds. ‘That was a bomb? Another grenade?’
‘No.’ He raised his head then thought better of it and dropped it down again with a thud. ‘A ward. Your mate Clare might have been non-Order but she knew her guard magic.’
A huge smile cracked Clare’s face, spreading from ear to ear. Almost as quickly as it appeared, it vanished. ‘It wasn’t really me,’ she said, her head hanging. ‘It was part of the protective spells the coven put in place when we thought we were being followed. We worked together to set them up on all our homes.’
I sucked on my lip. ‘And yet Blackbeard wasn’t troubled by them in the slightest.’ The magic plot thickened.
She frowned. ‘You’re right. He’s definitely doing something to avoid being affected by magic.’
Of any sort. I sighed. If even latent spells like wards didn’t stop him, what would? The fact that he’d managed to gain entry and set up his own entirely non-magical yet death-inducing ward was incredibly worrisome.
I helped Winter up to his feet. ‘My turn,’ I said grimly.
‘You don’t want to wait?’
My mouth flattened. ‘No. They’ll be hours and I’ve had enough of this place. I want to go home. The faster we do this, the faster that can happen. No serial killer is going to get the better of us.’
I must have sounded determined because Clare looked impressed. ‘You go girl.’
‘You can disarm them with the password. Coventastic.’
Coventastic? Good grief. It was probably wise not to say anything aloud. If Winter realised he could have avoided being thrown out of Clare’s window at great speed by simply uttering a word, he wouldn’t be best pleased. I avoided his eyes. ‘Beam me up, Scotty,’ I muttered.
Winter used the same rune I had, sending me up smoothly through the air towards the window. All the same, I could feel gravity working against me. The laws of science never enjoy coming up against the laws of magic – it’s like oil and water. At least Clare’s house was only three-storeys high. It could have been much worse.
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