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My mouth dropped open in astonishment. Winter looked away, trying not to laugh. ‘Elbow grease never did anyone any harm, Ivy,’ he said, with barely suppressed mirth.

I took the spray bottle from Eve and passed it to him. ‘Go on, then. You are really into your cleaning, you can sort this out.’

‘I can’t. I have to call the Order and warn them about what’s going on. If Blackbeard is trying to gain entry, they need to know straight away.’ He hurried out of the room.

I sighed. ‘Two days ago all he wanted to do was clean. I should have stayed ill for a bit longer.’

Eve looked almost as amused as Winter had. ‘Who’s Blackbeard?’ she asked.

I grimaced. ‘Long story.’

Brutus got to his feet and stretched out before turning towards us and yawning pointedly. ‘Bitch,’ he hissed.

‘I’m going home,’ Eve said hastily.

I waved a hand at her. ‘Yeah, that’s probably a good idea.’

She flashed me a quick smile then departed almost as quickly as Winter. I glared at Brutus. ‘You made everyone run away.’

I could swear he shrugged. Jumping down from the windowsill, he padded towards me, coiling himself around my legs. ‘Bitch,’ he said again.

I crouched down and scratched him behind his ears. ‘I’m sorry,’ I said. ‘I didn’t mean to leave you behind. I didn’t think we’d be away overnight. I did miss you a lot.’

Brutus sniffed and gave me a head butt. He let out the tiniest purr.

‘You shouldn’t have done that in here, though. We all live here. It’s not just your home.’ Remembering how my old geography teacher had managed to make me feel guilty when I’d used to magic instead of brain power to complete my earthquake project, and had got not just the entire school but the entire town evacuated because of dangerous tremors, I pasted on a suitably serious but sad expression. ‘I expected more from you. It’s not that I’m surprised, Brutus. It’s that I’m disappointed.’

His head drooped as if in apology. ‘Miaow.’

I wiggled a finger in my ear. ‘Pardon?’

Brutus slowly looked up at me, his yellow eyes wide and limpid. ‘Brutus sorry.’ He rubbed himself against my leg once again, although this time there was a hint of desperation to the action. I nodded, satisfied. Brutus understood that what he’d done was wrong and that he shouldn’t do it again. It was the best I could ask for. He tilted his head to one side and blinked slowly at me. For a big cat, he could do cute when he wanted to.

‘I wouldn’t have stayed away if it wasn’t important,’ I told him. ‘And you had Eve. You like her. And Princess Parma Periwinkle.’

His tail began to flick dangerously from side to side. ‘Love Ivy,’ he said.

My heart melted. Eve was right, he’d missed me. Abandoning all pretence that I wasn’t his slave, I did the one thing that I’d promised myself I wouldn’t. ‘Before I go looking for the pee which you’ve left behind, would you like some food? Some tuna treats?’

Brutus purred. Yeah, no surprise there then.

I got him what I’d promised and, while he gobbled the treats down at breakneck speed, I flicked out a quick rune to dim the natural light in my flat. With my other hand, I created a rune for blacklight. It was the fastest way to locate where exactly Brutus had peed. There were probably just a few spatters somewhere in the corner. I just had to… My mouth dropped open.

Winter, wandering back in, stopped in his tracks and stared at the wall. ‘Is that…?’

I folded my arms and nodded grimly. The little shit. ‘Brutus!’ I yelled.

He came sauntering back in, having finished his treats in record time. No wonder; if I’d seen this, I’d have denied him tuna until his next life. He sat down in the middle of the floor, washed his face then glanced up to admire his handiwork. There, across my entire wall, sprayed in cat pee was the word ‘bitch’.

In the corner, the old cobweb-covered woman appeared. She craned her neck, took in the full effect of what Brutus had achieved and started to cackle loudly. I sighed. I was being driven out of my home by ghosts and cat piss.

‘Screw this,’ I said to Winter. ‘Let’s go catch ourselves a serial killer.’

***

Although I was still pissed off at him – and making sure he knew it – Brutus appeared determined to come with us. Rather than leave him to destroy my flat completely, I let him. Winter seemed more amused than anything. When Iqbal beamed delightedly at the sight of my furry frenemy and made a fuss over him, I glared, Winter smiled and Brutus purred.

‘You’re not going to believe this,’ my old friend said. ‘But I’ve finished my first draft.’ He twirled in delight. ‘Sixty-three thousand words.’

Impressed, I reached across a tottering pile of books and gave him a hug. ‘That’s brilliant!’

He nodded. ‘Yes, I am brilliant. I will accept any and all accolades.’ He bowed.

‘I don’t know why he’s making such a big deal about it,’ sniffed a white-coated man with crazy hair springing out in all directions. ‘It’s not very good.’

I flicked the ghost a look. ‘Don’t be mean,’ I said sternly. After seeing what Brutus had achieved, I wasn’t in the mood for dissenters.

Iqbal stared at me. ‘Who are you talking to?’

‘Well,’ I said, ‘while you’ve been busy writing, I’ve been busy having conversations with the dead.’ In a loud stage whisper, I added, ‘They’re not very interesting. And they don’t know as much as they think they do.’

The Einstein-esque ghost scoffed loudly. ‘Oh yeah? Well you didn’t know there was a mass murderer on the loose, did you? We told you that. He’d have carried on without any of you realising, if it wasn’t for us.’

‘You’re dead,’ I said. ‘You can see everything and go everywhere. There are thousands of you – and yet none of you can tell me who the killer is or where I can find him.’

‘We’re dead, not omniscient. Anyway,’ he sniffed, ‘I’m supposed to tell you that Ipsissimus Grenville wants to see you.’

‘He’ll have to wait,’ I growled.

Iqbal glanced at Winter. ‘Has this been happening a lot?’

‘You get used to it,’ Winter said. ‘And it’s not all that bad. It keeps her occupied and makes her feel wanted.’

‘Oi!’

He grinned.

Iqbal’s hands rose to his cheeks and he gazed at the pair of us. ‘Look at you. It’s like you’ve just discovered your first spell.’ He sighed happily. ‘Young love.’ The ghost pretended to vomit and I was pretty certain that Brutus rolled his eyes. ‘When do I get my wedding invite?’ Iqbal enquired.

I laughed. ‘Hold your horses.’

‘Have you met your future in-laws?’

‘No,’ I shot back. ‘I haven’t.’

He visibly deflated. Winter jumped right in. ‘But she will tomorrow. We’re all having dinner together.’

Iqbal lit up all over again. ‘See? One minute you’re lounging on your own sofa eating cold pizza in your knickers, and the next you’ll be wearing pearls and baking cupcakes to bring to your mother-in-law.’

Fear widened my eyes. ‘Baking cupcakes? Do I really have to do that?’

‘Of course not,’ Winter said. I began to relax. ‘My mother despises cupcakes. She prefers old-fashioned Victoria sponge cakes.’

I half choked. Domestic goddess I am not. Hastily changing the subject to the reason why we were here, I picked up Brutus to prevent him sending the pile of papers that he was batting at from falling to the floor. I looked at Iqbal. ‘We’re not here to banter about my culinary skills,’ I said. ‘We’re here because—’

‘You need my help,’ he finished for me. ‘Of course. Now that I’ve finished sixty-three thousand thesis words, I will be happy to oblige. It’s either that or I have to start editing the damn thing. I got a lot of leeway from my supervisor because I helped you save Scotland from zombies. Any more world-rescuing operations I can sidle into are very welcome.’

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