Very early on, before Nightingale had inducted me into the real world, he'd asked if I was familiar with the scientific method. Observation, hypothesis, experiment, analysis. I doubt he had our current predicament in mind when he asked.
It all began when Nightingale got a call that his “Auntie Jessica” was in hospital and asking to see him. She was in fact the granddaughter of one of Nightingale's sisters.
“Cancer,” he told me. She lived in Hampshire which was an easy enough drive; given current circumstances I don't think he'd have gone otherwise. “From what I gather from her daughter my sister passed down a lot of family history and the tradition continues when the eldest turns 21. A sort of time capsule she called it.” He sounded a little shell shocked.
“Did you see a lot of them, your nieces and nephews?” I asked.
We were sat in the kitchen, having cups of tea while Molly fussed around making sandwiches. I could tell she was as interested in Nightingale's family as I was.
“My mother's birthday was 2 January,” he said, smiling softly to himself. “So even when my brothers and sisters were married and had other obligations at Christmas, we always did our best to celebrate the new year together. 16 nieces and nephews all together. Though I'm not sure I could remember all their names now.” He shifted a little in his seat as he finished his drink. “I certainly don't know how many children they've had between them. Or how many children they've had.”
“When did you stop going to family events?” I asked.
“When I stopped getting out of breath climbing the stairs,” he replied. “We were never all that close,” he added, “not after I went to Casterbrook. My sister Elizabeth, Jessica's grandmother, was the most diligent of my siblings, always writing letters. She even had some poetry published at one point, we have a copy in the library.”
I made a mental note to look for it the minute he left the building.
“You never thought to check up on them?”
“Facebook wasn't an option then,” Nightingale said, rightly guessing what I'd been thinking. “And no, I wouldn't want to disrupt their lives.”
I tried to think of something else to say but Molly had finished making up the sandwiches and a flask and Nightingale was standing up and getting ready to leave.
“I'll call you when I get there. And you'll let me know the minute anything concerning occurs?”
“So long as you remember to keep your phone on,” I replied.
Nightingale patted his pocket where his phone was and nodded as he left.
* * * * *
We had nothing particularly pressing on, another reason why Nightingale had felt secure enough to leave me alone for the day, but I wanted to check out a ghost sighting by the British Museum that might be of interest. So it was there I was heading when I saw Lesley May, standing by the entrance to the Square but I didn't recognise the formae she threw in my direction and I had no way of defending myself.
* * * * *
When the world returned to its normal colour I thought at the very least I must have been shot. But a quick check told me that it only felt like I had a gaping wound in my chest. Instead I was sat on the bottom step to the Folly and all but a couple of tourists were ignoring me. Lesley May was nowhere to be seen, of course, so I headed up the steps into the Folly.
Only the door wouldn't open. I tried it again and then knocked. The door isn't something we lock but Molly should be there. Only she wasn't and the door remained closed to me.
Trying not to get too worried, because being trapped outside was probably better than the alternative, I went round the back. Only there was no back. The whole courtyard area was just...missing. There wasn't any sign of damage, more like it had never been there in the first place.
I called Nightingale but just got his voice mail – he wouldn't pick up while he was driving so I'd have to wait to see if he picked up his messages or I called again. I knew which one was most likely to happen first.
I did try calling the Folly too but I just got an engaged tone. So next I called Frank Caffrey who told me he and his team would set up a perimeter for as long as I needed.
I hesitated over my next call. This was probably not serious enough for the Commissioner, not yet at least. And if it wasn't serious enough for him it probably wasn't serious enough for Seawoll. So, Muslim ninja it was then.
* * * * *
Sahra found me sitting on a bench in the square which gave me a good eyeline to the Folly. She handed me a coffee and sat down, sipping at her own drink.
“You're right,” she said, after a moment. “The courtyard's gone.”
“At least you know you're not any madder now than yesterday,” she said.
“There is that,” I agreed.
“Have you managed to get hold of Nightingale?”
“No. Probably still driving.”
“So, what's our next move?”
I took a sip of my coffee. “We need to work out what Lesley's end game is. Is it just to keep us out of the Folly or to keep someone in? If she thinks Nightingale's still in there...”
“You didn't recognise the spell?”
“No, and I can't check for similar spells without the Folly's library.”
“So, our only hope is tracking Lesley down then?”
“CCTV in the area won't be any use,” I reminded her.
“I remember,” she replied, “but we might be able to pick up something useful from all these sunbathers”.
It was true, for a chilly January morning there were an awful lot of people enjoying the surprisingly bright sunshine.
“You go left, I'll go right, meet in the middle,” Sahra suggested.
I nodded and we got to work. “Sahra,” I said, just before she moved off, “thanks.”
“You owe me,” she replied.
I didn't doubt it.
* * * * *
We spent the next hour questioning potential witnesses. Unsurprisingly a lot of the information was irrelevant or just plain wrong, but one or two came through with the description of a masked blonde woman stepping off the number 68 bus. Which at least gave us a start.
I tried Nightingale again at lunch while I ate half a sandwich but he still wasn't picking up. I then tried the hospital where his great-niece was a patient. Only she wasn't.
“I'm sorry, can you say that again?” Something in my face must have given me away because Sahra dropped what she was doing with the CCTV footage and came over to the desk where I was perched.
“Nightingale's niece was discharged home,” I told her, “three weeks ago.”
“He was lured out of London,” she said. “I'll find Stephanopoulos. You find Seawoll.”
* * * * *
“We're already looking for his car and we've got alerts out to all the local hospitals, just in case,” Stephanopoulos said.
I shifted in my seat, wanting to do something but not actually sure what more I could be doing. Nightingale wouldn't let himself get taken without a fight and we'd surely have heard about that by now. Which meant he either didn't know or he was protecting someone by not putting up a fight. The idea that he might be hurt was unthinkable.
“Do you have any other weird contacts you could call?” Seawoll asked, scrunching up his face the same way he always did when me and Nightingale were involved.
“I don't want to alert them that he's missing, not yet,” I said.
Seawoll looked like he was about to object but then thought better of it. “It's your call. For the moment. We're still looking for Lesley May but she's good, she knows how to avoid the CCTV when she wants. Any way you can find her without it?”
He and Stephanopoulos both looked at me expectantly. Sahra kept on writing in her notebook.
“No,” I said, because apparently it needed to be said out loud.
“I wish you could be useful just once,” Seawoll muttered under his breath. I tried not to take it personally.
“Just keep me posted,” Stephanopoulos said. She looked so sympathetic I was starting to feel sick.
* * * *
I went back home that night, to my Mum and Dad's, and ended up having an uncomfortable night's sleep on the sofa.
I woke up in the Folly.
“What the bloody hell?” I asked myself, staring around my familiar room with my familiar clothes and my familiar books spilling off the writing desk to the floor.
I wasn't dressed in the clothes I'd gone to sleep in and my phone was still resting on the bedside table where I'd left it the night before last. I didn't pinch myself, but I did think about it.
I heard sound outside my bedroom and opened the door with a flourish that managed to startle Nightingale who was just coming down the stairs.
“Peter? Are you all right?”
“You're here,” I said. Because say what you see was apparently the level of my discourse right then.
“What's happened?” he asked, immediately alert. “Are you hurt?”
“No, I'm fine. Lesley attacked us last night.”
“Last night? When?”
“Not last night, this morning. She will attack us,” I amended.
“Peter, you're making even less sense than usual.”
“You're about to get a call from your sister Elizabeth's great-granddaughter...”
“How do you...”
The phone started to ring before he could finish. Molly answered it and then appeared at the bottom of the stairs, looking up at us both expectantly.
Nightingale looked at me curiously and then went to answer the phone.
“How did you know about the phone call?” Nightingale asked, once he was finished.
“I think I'm reliving the previous day,” I said. “Is there anything in the magical library...” I stopped talking because Nightingale had that look on his face, the one that didn't bode well for anyone who got in his way. “Sir?”
“There is something....It's very complex, far above Lesley May's abilities, and requires the death of a living creature.”
I swallowed, hard. Surely Lesley wasn't that far gone?
“I'll need to do more research...” Nightingale's words were cut off as the Folly seemed to shake around us and the lights flickered and then went out.
We all seemed to hold our breaths and I looked at Nightingale for a clue as to what had just happened.
“The protections have held,” he said. He relaxed his stance a little and I realised he'd been worried that they wouldn't. Not something I wanted to dwell on just then.
I went over to the phone and just got an engaged tone for my trouble. “I guess we're stuck.”
“Library it is then.”
We spent the entire day in the library, making notes and discussing theories. I was trying to memorise as much as I could, I suspected that any notes we made today wouldn't be there for us to read the next day.
“Peter,” Nightingale said, resting his hand on my shoulder, “go to bed. When you wake, tell me what's happened again and we can get an early start.”
It wasn't until my head hit the pillow I realised just how grateful I was that Nightingale had believed me without question.
* * * * *
The next day, or the same day, or Day 3 as I decided to call it, was the same. I woke up just as I had before, the date hadn't changed and neither did the first few movements of the morning, where I explained what was going on just as Nightingale's relative rang, again.
“That is concerning,” Nightingale said. “What did your research discover?”
I told him what I could remember and he went off to find the books we needed. It was going to be another long day.
* * * * *
It took over a week of the same day over and over again for Nightingale to teach me the correct formae to counter the spell. We'd agreed on one of the days – five or six, I was losing count – that I had to be the one to do it. It happened so soon after waking that I wouldn't have time to explain what needed to be done before the attack happened. He seemed confident by day twelve that I could do it. I wish I felt the same.
* * * * *
“I'll try tomorrow,” I said, after yet another explanation to Nightingale where again I was grateful he didn't need a lot of convincing.
“Then I suppose I should wish you good luck,” he said. “Not that I think you need it.”
He smiled and squeezed my arm as he went by and up to bed. I went to follow him upstairs but waited a moment by the door, stretching out my hand and tentatively feeling the magic humming around it. At least if past experience was anything to go by, if this all went wrong the next go round at least I'd get another chance.
* * * * *
Things did not go well.
* * * * *
“A hole in the ceiling?” Nightingale asked, on day – eighteen, nineteen? - “How on earth?”
“I don't know,” I replied. My answer was slightly muffled by the fact I was laying my head on my arms on the table. I wasn't sure how much longer I could cope with this. Not being able to go outside, not being able to talk to anyone but Nightingale and Molly, was slowly driving me mad.
“Show me what you did, and maybe we can work it out together.”
* * * * *
Day twenty-five and I was confident at last that I had worked out all the kinks. The night before I'd thanked Nightingale for always believing me, more sincerely than I think he was expecting judging by his expression. And so I woke up with renewed hope; it was now or never.
The spell worked as expected. The protections of the Folly moved out and pushed forward at the exact moment the other spell hit. They cancelled each other out with an explosion that shattered several windows across the square and had the Folly in serious trouble with the Anti-Terrorism lot for a good couple of months.
Nightingale reacted instantly and followed me outside, but Lesley was nowhere to be seen, and neither was the wizard who must have cast the original spell.
* * * * * *
We did our debrief in a cafe in Leicester Square because I wanted to be surrounded by noise and movement. Nightingale bought the food and drinks while I found a table in the corner that still allowed me to take in the sights and sounds of a bustling London.
“Surely our company wasn't that bad?” Nightingale asked. He looked amused more than anything but I could see the faint hint that he was worried the experience had turned me off the Folly all together.
“I've definitely been stuck in worse places,” I replied. And, because I'd become more tactile in my forced exile, I let my leg rest against his for a beat, before moving it away. His expression didn't waver but he did relax into his seat.
“So,” he said. “I presume since nothing untoward has happened that they didn't achieve their aims.”
I nodded. “I'm guessing they were trapped in the loop too. Judging by the research we did it was originally designed to create a safe space to practice the most dangerous of magic without fear of consequences. And then when you were ready to come out, you just did the counter spell. I suppose they hadn't factored in the way the Folly's protections would react to an assault like that.”
Nightingale shook his head. “A more foolhardy and dangerous use of magic I can't imagine. And I don't appreciate my family being used in that way. But it does tell us one thing which I find reassuring.”
“Oh?” I asked. “What might that be?”
He took a sip of his coffee and smiled at me. “Scientia potestas est.”
“I suppose it is,” I replied. “But I'm still petitioning for my boss to let me off translation duty for at least a week.”
Nightingale grinned. “Under the circumstances, I'm sure he can be persuaded.”
* * * * *
I went to visit my parents later in the day. Just because. And ended up crashing at theirs again.
I woke up in the exact same place I'd gone to sleep.
I vowed there and then that I'd never take that for granted again.