I sagged in relief. Unfortunately it didn’t last long. The ‘idiot’ Grenville referred to strode up to me. The friendly smile on his face didn’t make me feel any better. ‘Ms Wilde. How lovely to see you.’
I grimaced weakly at Ipsissimus Collings, the living, breathing Ipsissimus Collings. ‘Hey.’ Then I frowned at Maidmont and he offered a helpless shrug.
‘Sorry,’ he mouthed.
‘I presume you’re here to see me,’ the Ipsissimus said. ‘Has Adeptus Exemptus Winter come to his senses and decided to return to the fold?’
‘If he had,’ I said, ‘then he’d be here himself.’
I received a faint furrowing of the brow in response. ‘Indeed. So why are you here?’
‘She’s seeing ghosts!’ Maidmont blurted out. ‘Ever since she took away the necromantic magic from the boy! It’s obviously a side-effect. Something must be done!’ His eyes swung wildly between us. ‘I’ve already offended Grenville. They’re going to be after me! I…’
I put what was supposed to be a reassuring hand on Maidmont’s arm. He jerked away in fright. So much for a bit of quiet research on the side; my secret was out.
The Ipsissimus raised his eyebrows. ‘Ghosts? Are you quite sure, Ms Wilde?’
‘Nope, not sure at all. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I’m sure they’re just residual hallucinations. I should probably go home and lie down with a cold compress.’
‘Let’s go to my office.’ I knew it wasn’t a suggestion. Tough; I wasn’t his to order around.
I stepped back. ‘No.’ I looked at Maidmont, who was beginning to cower. ‘It would be helpful if you could find out what exactly is going on and if this means I’m about to become Oxford’s next necromancer. But the only place I’m going right now is home.’
The Ipsissimus tightened his mouth. ‘Ms Wilde…’
I held up a palm. ‘I like you,’ I said. ‘I think you’re a good guy. I think you mean well. But I didn’t come here to see you, I came here to get some research done about my current … condition. You have to understand that my allegiance is to Winter. Until I’ve spoken to him, I’m not going to speak to you. I don’t yet feel the need to drain any sheep of their blood or attempt to raise the undead, so I’m going to assume that I’m not a danger to anyone. For now that will have to be enough.’ I turned, half expecting to be body slammed to the ground at any moment.
‘Ivy, wait!’ It was Maidmont.
Still irritated by his fickleness, I glanced over my shoulder. ‘What?’
‘Don’t try any spells, not until I’ve had a chance to research what’s happening to you. Spells of any sort might be a bad idea if it is necromantic magic in your system.’
I grimaced. Fabulous.
‘Alistair has been asking after you,’ the Ipsissimus called, referring to the original teenage necromancer.
I couldn’t imagine why. All the same, I paused. ‘Is he alright?’
‘He’s doing well, all things considered. His brother Gareth is with him. I believe they are repairing their relationship and coming to terms with everything that has happened. They’d both appreciate seeing a familiar face.’
‘I’m sure they would,’ I said softly. And then I got the hell out of there while I still could.
By the time I got home, Winter was back. He was sitting on the sofa with Brutus and looking deceptively casual. That would be fine for anyone else, but Winter didn’t do casual. At least there was no sign of Cobweb Lady.
‘You’ve been out,’ he said.
I walked over and planted a sloppy kiss on his lips. ‘I have.’
His eyes met mine. Not for the first time, I felt myself being sucked into their deep blue depths. ‘I bumped into Villeneuve. He was sure he’d seen you at the Order. But that would be impossible – there’s no way you’d be at the Order.’ He raised a single questioning eyebrow.
I looked down. ‘I was there. I’m sorry.’
Winter reached over and tilted my chin upwards. ‘I’m not your keeper, Ivy. You’re free to do whatever you want – and I don’t think I could stop you from doing something if you put your mind to it. Yes, I would like to know why you were there. And no, I don’t think you should be running around Oxford when you’re still recovering. But I’m not going to demand answers, not if you don’t want to give them.’ His voice was soft. ‘I trust you. In everything.’
‘I trust you too,’ I said, even though my actions seemed to belie my words. ‘I didn’t tell you because I didn’t want to worry you.’ I ran a hand through my hair, realising how knotted my curls were. ‘Some strange things have been happening to me and I thought I might be able to get some answers from the Order.’
He nodded. ‘You’ve been jumping at shadows and staring at things that aren’t there. I know you, Ivy Wilde. I know something is up. I wish you’d felt you could confide in me sooner.’
‘I don’t want you to think that I’m crazy.’
He laughed slightly. ‘You’re the craziest person I know.’ He paused. ‘And I love you for it.’
I leaned my forehead against his. I wasn’t sure what I’d done to deserve such a divine being. ‘I’m being visited by ghosts,’ I told him. ‘It might be a side-effect of the necromancy. Alternatively, I might be turning evil and, if that’s the case, I’ll have to be put down.’
Whatever Winter had been expecting, it obviously wasn’t that. He drew back and stared at me. ‘Are you alright?’
‘I think so. I don’t actually think I’m evil – for one thing, being a villain would take too much energy. Hopefully Philip Maidmont will find some answers for me.’
Winter relaxed a little. ‘That’s who you went to see?’
‘Yeah. Although,’ I added reluctantly, ‘now the Ipsissimus knows as well.’ I told him everything. To his credit, he simply listened. He didn’t question the truth of my words and he didn’t tell me off. I’d been right the first time around: he was far too stressed and worried about me than was natural. I’d expected a telling off; I deserved a telling off.
‘You know the Order aren’t going to be able to leave you alone now,’ he said once I’d finished. ‘You’re having conversations with long-dead people. You’ve met Ipsissimus Grenville, who is credited with turning the Order into what it is today. A lot of witches are going to have a lot of questions.’ His expression turned hard. ‘And the last thing you should be doing is meeting a ghost during the damned witching hour.’
‘It won’t be dangerous if you’re there to protect me,’ I said with a sidelong glance.
Winter snorted. ‘Try and stop me from coming.’ He hesitated. ‘If I’m going to do this though, you need to do something for me.’
I felt a tingle of dread. ‘What?’
‘You owe me, Ivy Wilde. You’ve been running around behind my back. Keeping secrets. Potentially throwing yourself into the path of danger yet again…’ He pasted on an innocent expression. ‘I think I’ve been very reasonable so far. You need to—’
‘Fine,’ I interrupted. ‘What do you need?’
He grinned, the action lending his face a gorgeously boyish slant. ‘You to have dinner with my family on Sunday.’
Uh-oh. ‘You’re right,’ I said quickly. ‘I’m putting myself in far too much danger. I’m going to stay under my duvet for the next fortnight at least.’
Arse. It was clearly important to him. ‘Okay,’ I sighed. ‘I’ll come.’ How bad could one meal with a military family be?
Cobweb Lady flashed into existence, cackling away to herself. ‘This is priceless!’ she gasped. ‘I can’t wait to see what this man’s family makes of you! Hahahahaha!’
I threw her a nasty look. I’d just have to make sure I was on my best behaviour. I might even go all out and brush my hair beforehand. If I could charm the pants off Winter, then his mum and dad would be easy. And those definitely weren’t butterflies I was feeling in the pit of my stomach, no sirree. Bring on the in-laws. At least the thought of meeting them made those ghosts seem like fluffy kittens in comparison.
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