I groaned, opened my eyes and looked around. As far as I could tell, I was lying on a narrow camp bed in one of the Enchantment trailers. It was tempting to close my eyes again and rest but then I remembered what had just happened and felt sick instead.
Jerking upwards with a violent movement that made me feel even worse, I searched around desperately for a container. I only just grabbed a plant pot in time before I threw up. Most of the vomit landed inside but some spattered the leaves of what had been a pretty bonsai. I regarded it morosely. Very Zen.
‘Ivy!’ Winter appeared from the depths of the trailer, rushed over and knelt down beside me. ‘How are you feeling?’
I pointed to the plant. ‘Not great,’ I said weakly. Then I burst into tears.
Sheer panic flitted across Winter’s face before he drew me into a loose hug. ‘It’s alright,’ he murmured. ‘You’re alright.’
I hiccupped. ‘It was my fault. Belinda’s dead because of me. I saw that thing in the woods earlier and I didn’t tell anyone. I was too afraid they’d think I was crazy. If I’d said something maybe she’d still be okay.’
He pulled back and smoothed my hair away from my face. ‘Shhh. Everything’s fine. Belinda is fine. The only person who got seriously hurt was you. And that,’ he said in a hard tone, ‘was because we have too many incompetent witches in Arcane Branch.’
‘It wasn’t their fault.’ I sniffed. ‘I was in their way.’ I wiped my nose with the back of my hand and stared into his eyes. ‘How can Belinda be alright? That thing ripped out her throat.’
‘That’s another story. For now, you need to rest.’
He reached into his jacket and pulled out a monogrammed linen handkerchief. I wasn’t in the slightest bit surprised that he was old school enough to carry one. I took it gratefully and blew my nose into it then I offered it back to him. A ghost of a smile crossed his face and he shook his head. ‘Keep it.’
I sniffed again. ‘You don’t want my snot?’
I twisted the handkerchief into a ball, my fingers clutching it for dear life. ‘Are you lying to me? Is Belinda really okay?’
Winter smiled. ‘She’s really okay.’
‘And the zombie?’
‘It’s been taken care of.’
‘Do we know who the necromancer is? I mean, it’s obviously not Belinda Battenapple, is it?’
‘No.’ He sighed. ‘And no, we don’t know who’s raising the dead either.’ He cupped my face in his hands. ‘Stop worrying about it. You should lie down and rest. I’ll stay here with you.’ His eyes searched mine as if he still wasn’t convinced that I wasn’t dying. ‘You took a really nasty hit, Ivy.’
Clearly being smacked by a devastating spell designed to bring down a creature of the undead had caused some seriously adverse effects because I shook my head and stood up, wobbling ever so slightly. ‘I’ve never felt better,’ I said, lying through my teeth. ‘Now explain to me what happened with Belinda. How on earth is she still alive?’
Winter’s response was soft but his expression was intense. ‘You already know. According to Villeneuve anyway. He finagled his way up here. It’s probably just as well he did or the outcome would have been very different.’
I blinked. ‘Tarquin? What on earth does he have to do with anything?’
‘He said you already knew. That he’d told you all about it.’ Winter paused. ‘In fact, he told us that you had given him your blessing.’
I hissed through my teeth. My vapid, idiotic excuse for an ex-boyfriend still wouldn’t hesitate to blame me for everything from the Salem witch trials to the ever-diminishing size of extra-large chocolate bars. ‘Bloody plonker.’
Winter watched me carefully. ‘He said it was the night the Ipsissimus and I came to your block of flats. That he’d told you all about it in the back of your taxi. I knew he had to be lying though.’ He smiled at me.
‘Of course he’s lying! How could he have anything to do with Belinda Battenapple? And if I’d known about it, why wouldn’t I have…’ My voice trailed off. Oh.
I bit my lip. Arse. ‘Actually,’ I said, suddenly unable to meet Winter’s gaze any longer, ‘he did tell me something that night. I just don’t know what it was.’
Unsurprisingly, Winter looked confused.
I squeezed my eyes shut. ‘I set up a spell to block him out. He wanted to talk and I knew he wouldn’t shut up so I put up a barrier in order to avoid listening to him. I only released it when we got home. He did ask me if I thought he’d done the right thing and I said yes.’ I shrugged and groaned at the same time. ‘I didn’t know what on earth he was talking about.’ I opened one eye to risk a glance. Winter’s expression was studiously bland. I winced. ‘What has he done?’
‘He went to school with Moonbeam, some expensive private place in the Lake District. They kept in touch from time to time over the years. Moonbeam went to Villeneuve to ask for help.’
I almost dreaded to ask. But I had to. ‘What kind of help?’
‘Moonbeam’s mother, Belinda Battenapple, has had quite a lot of surgery over the years.’
Winter half-smiled. ‘No. I mean plastic surgery. But things were, uh, advancing to the point where the surgery wasn’t doing what she needed it to do. Moonbeam turned to Villeneuve for help and Villeneuve cast a spell for his old friend.’
‘The vial,’ I breathed. I slapped myself on the forehead. What an idiot. I’d spent all this time trying to work out what was in it when I should have known all along.
Winter nodded. ‘The vial. It was indeed a death-drawing spell. But death drawing in the sense that it kept Belinda looking young and fresh. Villeneuve added to it and improved it from time to time but he increased its power to the point where, if it were destroyed, it’d never be renewed. Now that she’s not wearing it, well, let’s say that her appearance is somewhat … altered.’ He gave me a wry glance. ‘By smashing the vial and releasing the entire spell at once, your boyfriend saved her life. That will go some way towards mitigating the trouble he’s in for creating a vanity spell off the books in the first place.’
‘He’s not my boyfriend.’
Winter met my eyes. ‘I know.’
From outside the trailer there was a sudden scratching sound. I leapt half out of my skin. Winter, almost as alarmed as I was, opened the window and peered down. A heartbeat later, Brutus jumped inside. When he saw me, I like to think that he relaxed slightly.
‘Good?’ he enquired.
I gave him a small smile. ‘Good.’
His tail went up and he sauntered over, rubbing his head against my legs. ‘Good.’ There was a pause. ‘Food?’
I rolled my eyes. ‘No.’ I glanced at both Brutus and Winter. ‘So we still have a necromancer to find. What about Bellows?’
Winter’s mouth flattened into a grim line. ‘He’s being questioned as we speak. So far I don’t believe he’s admitted to anything. He’s a bastard, to be sure but I don’t think he has the power to pull off raising the dead.’
I sighed. ‘No. Neither do I.’
Brutus raised his head. A moment later there was knock on the partition wall and the Ipsissimus stuck his head round, a tentative smile on his face. ‘How’s the patient?’
Somewhat taken aback that the Order Head had made the journey all the way up here, I stared at him dumbly for a second before answering. ‘Er … good. I’m okay.’
‘Pleased to hear it. You had us worried there for a second.’
I eyed him sceptically. Was that worry because I’d been knocked out by his own witches and he was concerned about the ramifications? After all, the whole episode had probably been caught on camera.
‘I won’t press charges,’ I said, only half-jokingly.
The Ipsissimus’s smile grew then he glanced at Winter. ‘Perhaps you should go and check on Morris Armstrong. He seems convinced that the show can still go on.’ He wrinkled his nose. ‘Obviously that’s ridiculous.’