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The Mage's Heir

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1 - BAZ

We’re watching Star Wars at Simon’s flat when the goblin bursts through the window.

I’m still not sure exactly why Simon made us watch it. The movie that is, not the goblin. I think he might have hoped I’d learn the droids spell Bunce uses to hide his wings. (That’s not how magic works, but I’m not sure Simon knows that.)(To be fair, as far as I understand it – and I really don’t understand it - that is basically how magic used to work for Simon.)

Either that or it was a sweet, but misguided attempt to help fix some of the bad choices I made during my childhood. I have a vague memory of him telling me that he used to watch all the Star Wars films at Chateau Wellbelove every Christmas – it’s a key part of his life. A key part of everyone’s life (if you can believe Simon) except mine. Christmas was three months ago now (we’re currently in Easter break), but he could easily have been stewing on it since then.

He may have just wanted to watch the film.

Whatever it was, it didn’t work. Spells are more than cultural references, and I still find it hard to sit on a sofa with Simon Snow and watch something that isn’t him, particularly if the something I should be staring at is a dated and predictable hero’s journey narrative the world is still having a mass hallucination about. (It really isn’t that good, and Harrison Ford isn’t that hot.)(If Bunce was here she’d probably point out Luke Skywhatever is more my type, but fortunately she doesn’t get home until seven, so I don’t have to kill her.)

Because I was watching Simon rather than the television, I could see he wasn’t enjoying the movie either. Or watching it. Sometimes this still happens – he lets his attention slip and starts thinking about how much he lost last year. He glazes over, and his tail starts twitching.  

“You said you never thought about things,” I said to him once, accusingly, when I caught him doing it. Phasing out. Brooding.

“You said it was weird that I didn’t think about stuff,” he said.

“It was weird,” I said. “This is also weird. It’s still too much, just the other sort of too much. Typical, obviously, but I thought you were learning.”

Sometimes I needle him out of habit, but this time I thought it might help him to get angry at me. I want to help him, but I have no idea where to start. Simon says I am helping him – which sounds frankly implausible – but he’s not very specific about how. I don’t like feeling helpless, and I don’t like Simon being miserable.

This is what I’m thinking as we both hear the crash.

On reflection, a goblin was possibly the best thing that could have happened to the evening.

Simon is closer and reacts first, of course. The goblin has two long knives, one held in either hand, and he’s dressed like a biker. The window glass doesn’t seem to have hurt him at all. At any rate, he doesn’t flinch – just stabs down at Simon’s seat on the sofa with a shout of triumph

This, of course, turns into rage as Simon rolls away and seizes one of the shitty Ikea chairs I try not to sit in. Simon is used to fighting with a sword – more used to hand-to-hand combat than the goblin is, probably. (Like vampires, they mostly use their teeth to subdue their prey.) Simon swings the chair up to block the knives and the edge of one knife gets stuck deep in the cheap, soft wood.

I’m still trying to work out how I can avoid hitting my boyfriend with the spell I want to fire at the goblin. This flat is so tiny that there’s no room between the sofa and the window except the area that Simon and the goblin are fighting in. Worse, Simon’s wings have flared and so I can see basically nothing from behind him.

“Get out of the way, Snow,” I snarl, taking the easiest option – or what would be the easiest option if Simon didn’t develop tunnel vision in these sorts of scenarios. “Simon!” I repeat.

I’m not sure he’s even heard me, though perhaps he thinks he’s doing well enough without me. He is. He twists the chair with its embedded knife around and smashes it over the goblin’s handsome head. As the creature reels, Simon pulls the lost knife from the wreckage and slashes it towards the goblin.

This is his first mistake, as he misjudges the length (used to a longer blade)(and no, that isn’t a euphemism) and misses, allowing the goblin to get a successful swipe in. The goblin’s knife skims across Simon’s torso, slicing through his t-shirt and into his skin. The smell of his blood floods the room. Distractingly.

Giving up the knife up as a bad job, Simon balls his other hand into a fist and punches the goblin in the face, breaking its nose. More blood. Everything smells like iron. I can’t remember when I last fed – not recently enough apparently. Clearly I have to actually do something soon.

This time Simon stabs the knife into the goblin’s shoulder through its ridiculous leather jacket, but the goblin has a grip on him now and Simon’s lost his knife.

“Baz, get back,” Simon shouts, and so I do. I don’t move out of the room, or cower in a corner, or whatever Simon expects me to do. (It’s sweet that he wants to protect me, but I’m the semi-immortal with magickal powers and extraordinary strength, for Crowley’s sake.) I step back up onto the sofa cushions and then its arm. From there I can see over the top of Simon’s wings towards the target.

As Simon picks up another (better) chair, I aim my wand and chant:

“Rock-a-bye, baby, on the tree top. When the bow breaks, the cradle will rock-”

It’s a powerful enough spell that I don’t need the rest of the nursery rhyme. The goblin slumps, cracking his head against the TV stand, and Simon steps back, sucking his injured knuckles.

“I could have taken him,” he says.

“I’m sure you could have, Snow,” I say, stepping down from the sofa, eyes averted from the sight of him licking his own blood into his mouth (I could do that for him). “But how much furniture would have lived to tell the tale?”

He ignores that. “Are you all right?”

I don’t think I am, actually. Simon is bleeding from several places (his knuckles, his chest, and maybe somewhere on his leg) and the goblin has a knife stuck into his shoulder and is bleeding from the temple. There’s blood on the carpet and the TV stand and on the pieces of broken chair. Neither Simon nor the goblin are wearing Dr Wellbelove’s cross, and so they are both equally vulnerable.

Generally, I try not to remind Simon that, as well as wanting to fuck him, I would also rather like to eat him. He smells different since he lost his magic, but no less edible. When he bleeds my body reminds me how good it would feel to sink my fangs into his neck and draw warm blood into my mouth as he clutches at me.

I should spell his wounds closed, but I can’t remember the words right now. Something from Shakespeare perhaps, or is that the other one?

“Baz?” Simon says, reaching out to me. I jerk away. I wouldn’t even have to bite him. At least – not at first. Perhaps I should just drain the goblin - that would definitely be less weird.

It’s Simon I want, though.

Before the situation can escalate any more I say, “Cross,” through clenched teeth. Or rather, through clenched fangs.

Fortunately, Simon understands immediately. Probably something to do with the way I look hungrily at him as he backs away. He doesn’t wear his cross anymore, because it burns me and Simon likes to cuddle. Most of the time, I can cope with the odd nick he sustains while shaving without jumping him, but this is unreal.

While he’s off tearing the bedroom apart, I lock myself in the bathroom and sink to the floor. An immortal with magickal powers and extraordinary strength, but no self-control. I shiver, breathe in the smell of bleach, and hope Simon hurries up.

 

2 - SIMON

I hear Penny before I see her.

“Great snakes, Simon! This better not be some sort of weird vampire sex game.”  

“It’s not,” I say. I turn to look at her from where I’ve been tying up the goblin with some of Penny’s old school ties knotted together. I’m not sure they’re up to the job, if I’m honest, but we didn’t really have anything else. I would have used mine, but I figured she’d mind less than I did.

She seems mostly to be distracted by the giant goblin-shaped hole in the window out onto the street. I admit, it looks bad. And there’s blood over everything, although most of it isn’t mine.

“That’s not even Baz,” she says when she final looks at who I’ve been tying up.

“I know,” I say patiently. “It’s a goblin. It tried to kill me – as usual.”

“Bunce!” Baz calls from the other side of the closed bathroom door. “Thank Morgana. Heal Simon. Find the cross. And hurry up about it!”

“Is that my tie?” Penny asks me.

“No,” I say guiltily. (Maybe she does mind.) “Look, maybe you should do what Baz says,” I say before she can take a closer look. “He’s been in there a while.”

I feel guilty about that too, but I really don’t remember what happened to the cross. I have a feeling Baz yanked it off me one night a few weeks back when we were fooling around in my room. It probably ended up under one of the cupboards, but I didn’t get up to check at the time. That would have been stupid.

There’s a possibility the cross might be at Baz’s flat, though. His aunt asked if she could take a look at it, and I said she could keep it for a bit, if she wanted, because she asked nicely rather than calling me a cretin, like she normally does. Baz says she’s a vampire hunter. I thought that was a joke at first, but it isn’t. She really hunts vampires for a living. Anyway, you can see how the necklace would interest her, and it’s not as though I have much use for it, anymore. I haven’t thought about wearing it since Baz and I stopped being enemies and started being proper boyfriends. Normally I like it when he looks at me like he’s hungry.

Today he looked scared, though. Like he was worried what he might do.

“I didn’t realise the goblins were still trying to kill you,” Penny says. “They haven’t tried all year – none of the dark creatures have. I thought they’d moved on.”

She punctuates her train of thought with three spells even I know – I didn’t realise the goblins were trying to kill you. “Get well soon,” They haven’t tried all year. “Fine-tooth comb: Simon’s necklace” None of the dark creatures have. “Out damned spot.”

I already suggested Baz use all three of those spells, but he told me to fuck off unless I’d managed to locate my own property, which I hadn’t.

As Penny talks, I feel her sage-flavoured magic roll over me. The wounds in my leg and on my chest close up, and the anti-vampire necklace flies into her hand (I guess it was on the floor). I put it on. The rest of the room shudders slightly and the blood vanishes. It still looks like a bomb site – but one where everyone was out and there was only property damage.

“Do they know you’ve lost your magic?” she asks.

She means – do they know you’re not a threat anymore? I should probably be offended.

“Dunno.”

We didn’t exactly publicise it. It wasn’t even in The Record – there was just a lot of stuff about the Mage that I didn’t read (I couldn’t), and a piece from Professor Martin Bunce about how the Humdrum seemed to be gone, which even Penelope said was so boring that no one was likely to read it.

“We know the goblins still hate me, though,” I say. “And there’s still the king thing.”

“They must be used to anarchy by now.”

Baz appears at my side. “What king thing?” he says, sounding exactly like nothing’s happened and he hasn’t been hiding in a bathroom for more than an hour. “As you were,” he tells the dismantled room – again as though this is all perfectly normal.

I explain my goblin-related history. I suppose I never thought to tell my evil roommate that dark creatures were trying to kill me to help settle a question of secession. I probably should have told my boyfriend, though.

“And you’re all right with this?” Baz says when I’m done. I think he means – how on Earth can you be all right with this? But it’s never really been a big problem.

I shrug. “They’re not very good assassins.”

“He’s right,” Penny says. “It’s like Simon 30, Goblins 0 at this point.”

“You’re not a magician anymore, Snow,” Baz says, slowly, like he’s talking to someone who doesn’t understand English very well. That’s roughly how he talked to me for the first eight years we shared a room, so it’s not surprising, but I roll my eyes anyway. “What if they attacked you when you were alone? What if they attacked in numbers?”

“They wouldn’t.”

“They’re not completely moronic. It must occur to them to try a new strategy at some point.”

I shrug again. “I’ll deal with it.”

I can tell Baz thinks I’m being stupid, which is why I don’t tell him that I’m actually hoping that they do try again.

It’s not that I like being a target. I don’t. And I definitely don’t like being a threat or having to kill anyone. I hated it. It’s been good having this time to try being normal for a while. To be with Baz, and Penny, and my happy ending. But there’s still more to do, isn’t there?

Maybe I’m not the Chosen One any more, maybe I don’t have any powers, but that doesn’t mean everything’s fixed. The Humdrum’s gone, but there were always three wars. He was only part of one of them - well, maybe two if you count him sending dark creatures to kill me, which I suppose I should. I didn’t actively cause either of the other two wars to happen, but I didn’t know I was responsible for the Humdrum until right at the end and I still knew I had to fight it or it’d hurt people I loved. I had powers, then, too much power, but I never really thought I’d win. I thought I was going to die. So how has anything changed?

You fight things because you have to, not because you think you can win.

I’ve been depressed recently. Really depressed. I know it worries Baz and Penny. My therapist says I need time, but maybe I’ve just been focusing on the wrong things. Me. University. A normal life. That’s never been what’s important to me. Baz is important to me, and Penny. And Agatha and Micah and Dr Wellbelove and Miss Possibelf, and the fate of the magickal world.

I think it would make me feel better if I was doing more – like fighting the goblins. Or at least, I don’t think it’d make me feel worse.

 

3 – SIMON

I sleep on it, and when I wake up I decide I ought to start by trying to help Baz rather than launch right back into murdering goblins.

While he and I were still arguing about what to do about the goblins long term, Penny called her mum about the one we had snoozing on the carpet. Half an hour later her dad (both of them are on the Coven now) showed up at our flat with two of his assistants to take the goblin into custody.

“You do realise the goblins are trying to kill Simon?” Baz demanded as Professor Bunce took some readings from the area near the window. “The Coven should do something about those pests. My taxes pay your salary – you’re supposed to protect us.”

I know he was just scared. Penny’s dad must have thought so too, because he didn’t tell Baz to go stuff himself, even though you could see he wanted to. He told Penny he’d see her at the weekend, and he told me the dead spots weren’t getting any bigger, and then he left.

Baz left shortly after that, even though he usually stays the night. He wouldn’t even let me kiss him - I know he stepped back on purpose when I tried, and then just slid out without saying when he’d be back.

“Too much blood,” Penny said sadly. Which made sense.

I’ve been reading plenty of books about vampires since I fell in love with one. I even wrote one of my uni essays about them. Baz thought it was dead embarrassing and Penny thought was hilarious. Dracula was an assigned text, though. I compared it to the Twilight series and concluded that, since the vampires in these books are so different, it felt like we didn’t know anything about vampires at all. At this point in time, our idea of a vampire is basically just someone being cool and dangerous. My lecturer said that was really insightful.

We really don’t know anything, though. Almost every book (including books that claim to be facts) I’ve ever read on the subject says that vampires don’t need to eat normal food, which is utter shit. It’s not just Baz who eats, either – I saw vampires in the weird Soho club eating twiglets. Baz also eats garlic. All the time. Like a dare to himself. Fortunately, he’s also a magician with really good personal hygiene.

Most vampires aren’t even that cool.

I guess it’s because most vampires are really into the mystery and glamour of being undead. Sleeping during the day in coffins, living only on blood and dressing in black probably sounds really romantic if you’re the sort of person who already likes to hang out in graveyards. Maybe some real vampires do sleep in coffins, I don’t know – Baz sleeps on the left of a standard double or King-sized bed, even though that’s the side that I prefer too.

“Adapt,” Baz said when I complained.

I let him win that one - he has super strength. And he pretended to be asleep, badly. It was so lame (which for some reason is something I like.)

Being a vampire generally seems pretty shit, except for the super strength. So I can see why the vampires wouldn’t want to write a book about what it was really like. The Normals think vampires aren’t real, so everything they write is either fiction or pretending to be, and magician authors seem generally really gullible on the subject. They probably didn’t want to get too close. Just accepted the vampires’ word from a distance or made stuff up. It’s not like the publisher was going to check.

I know it bothers Baz he doesn’t know more about himself. Even though his family do this weird posh-people thing where they don’t talk about stuff to each other, they do all like to know stuff. Baz loves to know things. He loves being the smartest person in the room. Like Penny, he gets excited about new information, though unlike Penny he doesn’t high-five me every time we find out a new use for kitchen herbs. What he does is tell me little bits of stuff he’s learned – all the time. Because it’s Baz, most of the time he pretends he’s trying to educate me, trying to help me be less of an idiot, but sometimes he forgets and tells me stuff just because he thinks this new thing he knows is so cool. It’s pretty cute.

If it was me, if I were a vampire, I’d probably try not to think about it. As long as I didn’t murder anyone with my fangs, and I could still eat a chicken Kiev without collapsing, I think I’d be all right.

Baz isn’t like that. The blood today freaked him right out, but the not knowing what he’d do, or what might happen if he did it – I bet that scared him even more.

He needs more information. No problem. I know where I can get it for him.

 

4 – SIMON

I take a quick trip to Watford, using the slightly phoney excuse that I want to see Ebb’s grave. I think I must have been pretty convincing (either that, or the guards just do stuff for anyone who shows up with wings. Or I suppose maybe Professor Bunce might have told the guards on the door to let me in whenever I want – I did save the world, after all.)

It helps that I really do want too see Ebb’s grave. I left some flowers there the day of Baz’s dance, but that’s it. I’m guessing nobody else ever leaves anything there, either. This time I’ve brought a new ceramic goat. It has a nodding head. I’ve had it for a while, waiting for the right moment to come back. I probably should have brought a whole set - I owe her plenty more than that.

They wanted to put her in the catacombs, along with everyone else who died at Watford, but Miss Possibelf said she thought Ebb would prefer to be outside. She has a small, pale gravestone just outside her hut. It looks like the goats like to sit in its shadow. One of them has left its own offering on the grass in front of the stone – I scrape it away, but I don’t think Ebb would mind, really.   

I don’t think she’d mind what I’m really here for, either. Maybe it would even make her happy – well, as happy as Ebb ever was. I know she loved her brother.

For a while, I sit next to the grave, like I used to sit next to Ebb when she was alive. I lean against the gravestone and tell her what’s been going on. I don’t cry, I don’t think she’d want that – crying was her way of dealing with things, but she always said I should do what felt right for me. 

“Expectation’s a powerful thing, Simon,” she said to me once when I was twelve. “And dangerous.”

“Dangerous like a dragon?” I asked.

Like I said – I was twelve and obsessed with dragons. To be fair, I’d only just had to fight one and it had been mega dangerous. But I think I thought everything that was out to get me would be on a scale of Not Dangerous to Dragon, with Dragon right at the very end of dangerous. How thick can you get?

Ebb didn’t blink, though. She just took it at face value. “Exactly. You can always run away, if you want to, Simon. Fight when you think it’s right. You’ve always got a choice, even if it doesn’t look like it.”

I never thought about it before, but Ebb must have been about my age when she told me that – the age I am now, I mean. She seemed so wise (I don’t feel wise at all). Not that I ever took her advice. That would have pissed me off, to be ignored so often, but Ebb just seemed to accept it.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t save you,” I tell her now. “I wish you hadn’t died.”

I don’t say that I’m sorry I was more upset about the Mage’s death, than I was about hers. I think she knows anyway. It would have made her sad, but I think she’d have understood. (“You can’t help who you love, Simon.”)

I set the goat’s head nodding and get up. I take her staff from where its leaning against the side of the hut, and get back on the train to London. The guards don’t stop me on the way out, though I’m blatantly leaving with something I didn’t come in with. One of them does ask, but I tell him it’s to help me remember Ebb, and he lets me go. If I was Baz, I’d be on the phone to Penny’s mum after this, telling her to tighten her security.

I text him while I’m still overground. Miss u. Empire Strk Bk 2moro at mine?

He texts back: I genuinely don’t know what you just said.

I grin. Text-speak pisses him off - that’s why I still use it, even now I have an iPhone. It’s harmless. And I’m helping him stay close to the language, and get his head out of his arse.

I’m glad he feels better enough to bitch about this.

Star Wars 5. My flat. You and me. Tomorrow evening?

He writes: We’ve only seen one SW, haven’t we? And we didn’t even finish that.

New text: NOT that I minded.

And another, all before I can reply: What’s wrong with tonight?

I forgot – Baz has access to my calendar. And he knows I don’t do much without him. But if I tell him where I’m going, he’ll freak out. And if I don’t tell him where I’m going he’ll freak out even more.

Penny’s OK. She’ll just assume I’m at Baz’s.

im at Watford, I write back.

That’s pretty close to the truth. And I don’t think he’ll investigate any more than he already has done. Baz’s family don’t like to talk about bad stuff, and the stuff that happened to me at Watford was about as bad as it gets.

He doesn’t ask anything else. Just says: OK. See you tomorrow, then.

I feel awful. It’s exactly what I thought would happen. It’s what I wanted to happen. But I know he’s probably beating himself up now because I didn’t want him with me and I didn’t tell him. Baz only gives up when he thinks something’s pointless or when he’s too depressed to keep going. He probably thinks I’m as freaked out about the blood thing as he is - fuck, I should have called him this morning. I’m doing this to help him, but I wish I didn’t have to hurt him first.

I get out at Euston and take the tube to Covent Garden. The lift is fucked, so I have to walk up the stairs with hundreds of tourists. One lady has a kid’s buggy, which I offer to carry for her. The kid gets out to walk, so I figure it’ll be easy. I forgot how many stairs there are, though. I’m knackered by the time I get to the top.

I can hear Baz clearly in my head: “That’s what you get for trying to be a hero.”

“Piss off, Baz,” I say out loud, even though he isn’t here. And it’s not like he would have meant it, if he was.

I wish he was here.

When I was here with Baz we waited until after midnight, but I want to do this now. I don’t like the idea of waiting until the vampires have finished murdering people again. They’ll still murder people, I suppose, if they were going to. But after I leave.

That’s still terrible. Fuck, I hate this. Baz told me the Mage made a deal with these vampires – he didn’t want to (Baz, not the Mage, though I doubt he was thrilled either) but it was going to come out in the Inquiry into the Mage’s death, and he thought that’d be worse.

The Mage turned a blind eye (“turn a blind eye” is a good distraction spell, apparently) on the vampires killing people if they helped him. Like I am now, I guess.

Even after everything, I still find that hard to believe.

I remember where the club is - an old building full of flats behind a Toni and Guy. I knock on the door. For a while, no one answers. I knock again, and am about to have a go breaking it down, when a doorman looks out. A different one than before (I wonder if the vampires ate the other one, or if he just doesn’t work on weekdays).

“What do you want?”

I guess I don’t look or smell much like a vampire.

“Nicodemus. Is he here? Or do you have a, um, mobile number? Or a pager or something?”

Shit. I sound so lame. I should have thought about what I’d say before I got here. Do vampires even have phones? Nobody has pagers any more, but that’s why I thought the vampires might be into them. The bouncer starts to close the door, and I jam my elbow into it.

“Tell him Simon Snow wants to talk about his sister in the Café Nero.”

I pull my arm away. That means we don’t have to find out whether it would win in a real fight with the door. These are old flats, so it’s a good door. Heavy wood, edged with metal. Probably about a 0.4 on the dragon-danger scale.

In the coffee shop, I order a tea and sit down to wait. I figure I’ll give Nicodemus an hour or so to get the message and decide to come and meet me. In the end, though, he arrives an hour after that, after I’ve already told myself he’s not coming and I should leave. I didn’t have another plan though, so I stayed. I’m on my fourth tea and my third sandwich.

“There are five Neros round here, you tit,” he says, as he sits opposite me.

Maybe one of the things we don’t know about vampires is that they feel compelled to patronise me whenever they see me - like how Normals used to avoid me because of my magic.

Maybe all vampires are just patronising gits.

“Want anything?” I ask, nodding towards the counter. I know I have to keep buying things so they let us stay here. Nicodemus looks like the kind of person you wouldn’t want in your restaurant, if you had a choice between him and a numpty in a clean dressing gown.

He looks more run down than ever – thin, grey and greasy. His eyes are red-rimmed. His suit looks like the same one he was wearing last time – more of the buttons have fallen off. Maybe he only has one suit. Or maybe he doesn't, but he's been too tired to change.

I guess his twin sister did only die about a year ago.

He shakes his head – no, he doesn’t want anything. “What’s this about? You said it was about Ebb.”

I thought about using the staff as a bribe, withholding it till he told me what he knew. But he seems like he’s been falling apart. It’d feel like bullying.

I put Ebb’s shepherd staff on the table as I stand up. Literally, on the table, next to a little stand advertising types of coffee. For a moment he doesn’t seem to know what it is, and then he looks at me like he’s confused.

“Watch my stuff,” I say. “Don’t let anyone steal it, or anything.”

I buy another tea. Then, because I feel guilty about bringing a vampire in here, I buy another sandwich – I’m not even that hungry.

I use the time Nicodemus is holding my table to go to the loo. When I come back, my tea has arrived and Nicodemus is eating the sandwich and still looking at the staff, which is now on the table between us.

“Do you know what this is?” he asks through a bite of BLT.

I roll my eyes (patronising git) – and my stomach rumbles. Turns out I am hungry after all. He doesn’t even look like he’s enjoying the sandwich.

“It’s your sister’s wand,” I say. “You can use it, can’t you? You’ve got the same blood.”

“Well. Maybe I could,” he says - dead cagily. As though the Coven are hiding behind mochaccinos at the next table and will jump out at him as soon as he makes a move. I’m pretty sure they all have better things to do.

“I won’t tell anyone.”

Sure,” he says, like he really doesn’t believe me.

I shrug and reach out as though I’m going to take the staff back, which, of course, I’m not. His hand shoots out, and he grabs me before either of us can touch it.

 “You’re not worried that I’ll run amuck?”

There are a few answers to that. That plenty of worse people have wands. That Nicodemus is already a vampire who makes shady deals with other vampires and probably murders people anyway to stay alive - how much worse could it get? That he might not murder and deal if he had magic to fall back on. That Baz is a vampire who has a wand, and he doesn’t run amuck. That it’s not for me to say who should have magic and who shouldn’t.

I think the truth is that it felt right, like I’ve matched two puzzle pieces together and they fit. I’ve got it right. I know I only thought of giving Nicodemus the staff because I want his help (I really want his help), but I went to get it because it was right.

That sounds crap, though, so I tell him the other truth, the one he’ll understand. “I want to make a deal. With you. The wand’s my sign of good faith.”

Now the sandwich is gone, he picks up the staff at last. It’s about six-foot long, and it was clearly designed for herding, well, goats, but somehow I don’t think anyone will make fun of him for carrying it. He seems better already – like just having this piece of his sister, this piece of power, or hope, has made everything a bit brighter.

He casts “Turn back the hands of time” on the empty sandwich wrapper. Two more triangles of bread and meat and stuff appear inside, sealed back behind plastic as though I’ve just bought them.

For a moment I think he might be going to offer it to me - like the return of my sandwich is his sign of good faith. I think I might accept, though I don’t think Penny would approve. (“It’s been inside him. It’s not sanitary!”)

Then he rips the package open and bites into the sandwich again. This time he looks like he’s enjoying it.

He grins at me. “All right, Mister Snow – what can I do for you?”

 

5 – BAZ

Retrospectively, I should have come back after feeding that night. It felt impossible, but of course it wasn’t. I just didn’t want to. I wanted to sit in the dark and hate myself in peace.

In the end, I couldn’t even manage that. The dark still freaks me out. Instead I spent the night sitting in my aunt’s living room with the lights on, staring at nothing, and wishing she had a cat. (Not so I could eat it.)(I was just lonely. I don’t even like cats).

I could have gone back to Simon’s. I could’ve spent the same time in Simon’s bed, with Simon’s limbs (wings and tail, included) wrapped around me, Simon’s breath on the back of my neck, and the smell of Simon everywhere. With something else’s blood in my veins, I probably wouldn’t even have wanted to bite him. No more than normal, anyway.

When I didn’t go back, he spent about a day ignoring me, before sending me a sarky text. Then he pushed me away the moment I tried to make it up to him.  

Now, I’m back outside his building after two days, and it feels like returning to the scene of a crime. We should talk, probably. About what happened. (“Simon, I’m sorry I almost turned you into a vampire. Or killed you. Whichever it turned out to be.” “That’s OK, Baz – it could happen to anyone.”)  

I doubt I’ll bring it up.

Crowley, I’m not looking forward to an awkward evening watching a bad film. But I suppose we have to start somewhere.

I do have keys, but I knock – that’s how awkward I feel. I want to give Simon time to pretend not to be home, even though he invited me.

For a moment, I hear him moving around inside (I know it’s him – Bunce bangs less), then the door opens.

He’s wearing a suit. The grey one Daphne gave me for Christmas last year. He looks painfully beautiful, and I think, Did he have a job interview he didn’t tell me about? before I notice the candles everywhere. Not real candles obviously – he isn’t that angry with me. Tiny battery-powered tea-lights on all the surfaces, leading a path to his bedroom.

This is for me.

“Penelope’s out,” he says – unnecessarily. Then he takes in my jeans and my LSE hoodie and his face falls. “Shit, I didn’t tell you to dress up.”

I raise an eyebrow. “Will it be a problem for long?”

The whole scenario reeks of sex. My clothes and Simon’s suit will both be on the floor the moment dinner’s over, but until then I like looking at him in this suit. It’s unbearably sweet that he bothered, as well as ridiculously attractive. I don’t mind that he didn’t tell me to wear something better. 

Simon flushes at my insinuation, but he looks pleased as well.

I want to kiss him. I want to bite him, I want to throw myself at him and beg him to have his way with me. He would, too – if I asked him. But I won’t, not yet.

“Do you wanna come in?”

I incline my head and step over the threshold.

From a vampire perspective, I already have carte blanche to enter Simon’s flat whenever I want, of course. He invited me in once and now I can come and go as I please. If he took my keys away, I’d probably find it difficult to get in, though. Particularly if he asked Bunce to put up wards. I wonder if I would try and get in, if he asked me to stay away.

There’s really no reason to think like this right now, though. I drop my satchel and Simon grabs the back of my neck and pulls me towards him. I manage to push the door shut with my foot, and then Simon Snow is kissing me and I’m kissing him back.

I always forget just how good it feels - to have him crushed against me, his hands in my hair (he loves my hair) and our tongues fighting like two boys at the top of the stairs.

I’ve never kissed anyone else - is this how kissing is for other people? If it is, why aren’t they doing it all the time? I suppose I do have to go to some of my classes, and I think my parents would be worried if they didn’t hear from me every so often, but I could certainly spend more time kissing Simon if I re-planned my day. I make a note to do that and slide my hands down his back to see if I can feel his tail.

Right now, it seems to be gone (Bunce must have only just left – the magic is still fresh) so I cup Simon’s arse instead and draw him closer. He’s not hard yet, but then neither am I. We can work up to it, or –

No, we should cool off now, so I can get through dinner without an erection (that never ends well).

“We should eat now,” I say decisively, and pull away. Simon looks confused.  

“Are you hungry?”

“Not particularly.”

“Let’s skip dinner then,” he says huskily.

That may be the most romantic phrase Simon Snow knows.

“Come with me,” he says, holding out a hand in my direction. “Um, please.”

I stare at it for a moment, I stare at him. I know Simon feels disappointed with life and he has every reason to, but sometimes I can’t believe how well mine is turning out. What have I done to deserve him? Nothing. Less than nothing. What does he see in me?

What does he see in me? I suppose I can thank my parents for good genes.

I take his hand and let him lead me into his room. It’s also full of fake candles, flickering weakly from every surface. He shuts the door and locks it. Then he turns back to looks at me. He doesn’t say anything yet, and he doesn’t try and kiss me again – he just looks at me, his skin golden in the candlelight.

I revert to type and raise an eyebrow.

The whole thing feels ridiculously awkward. In fact, it feels like the first time we had sex. I’d been giving Simon space – to work through the loss of his magic and everything else, and to come to terms with being gay, if indeed he was gay. I didn’t want to force my cock on him before he was ready to see one that wasn’t his own. Also – I’d never actually had sex. Just imagined it. Repeatedly. So I wasn’t entirely sure how to begin – I just knew I wanted to.

Fortunately, one day Simon decided he would seduce me. He led me to this very room and gave me what I now know was a very enthusiastic and very bad blowjob.

I came almost immediately, nonetheless. I doubt I’ve ever been happier.

Since then he’s got very good, as good at that as he is at kissing, but that first time was perhaps the most exquisite. Because he was nervous. Because he wanted it so much.

In return I gave him an expert handjob, my moves perfected on myself after many lonely nights. Then I surprised myself, and him I think, by licking up his spunk.

I don’t mind saying, it tasted disgusting. No substitute for blood. I haven’t done it again.

I haven’t ever returned the favour and sucked him off, either. Not because I didn’t want to – because I do. But it doesn’t seem like a very clever idea. Kissing is fine, apparently, but I try not to put other, larger, parts of Simon in my mouth for obvious reasons.  

“Baz,” he says now, as he removes his jacket, “you know I trust you.”

He’s nervous. That’s why it feels like the first time. But there’s no reason why he would be nervous unless— he wants something, something he’s not sure I’ll give. It must be something kinky, if he’s this worked up. Something that involves trust.

Merlin, is he going to ask me to fist him?

I haven’t even thought about it. Well, no, I have thought about it, but in the abstract. I haven’t read up about it. I don’t know exactly what to do.

I could make a good guess, though. Go slowly, use plenty of lube, and for god’s sake, go slowly.

“Baz?” Simon says, eyebrows raised, and I nod. I know he trusts me, for all the good it’s done him.

“And I think you trust me,” Simon says. “At least – I really hope you do, because I’m about to do something pretty dangerous and you’re going out freak out, but I need you to trust me that it’s OK.”

He starts to roll up his shirt sleeves, and I realise I’ve made a mistake. Half a mistake, anyway. Only fifty percent on this one, Basilton. Not up to your usual standards.

He wants to fist me.

Which is fine, obviously. More than fine. I am very far from freaking out. I pull my slobby, unsexy, movie-watching hoodie over my head. Underneath is a perfectly normal shirt.

“I trust you,” I say, a bit breathily. My cheeks feel hot. Simon has large hands. But he’ll do this right. I let him kiss me again and now I am hard, though he still isn’t. That’s fine – he’s nervous, but I want him. I love him. We can do this.

I pull back to undo my shirt buttons and Simon heads for the desk (for lube, presumably, which we are about to need in large amounts). I tug my shirt out of my trousers, and then I smell it. Blood. Simon’s blood. Not a small amount either, not a papercut – enough to flood the room with the heavy iron-y richness of it.

He turns back to me and I see it, a long gash down his well-toned forearm. Blood welling in little droplets I could catch on my tongue before they fall, wasted, to the floor. The white shirt he’s rolled up isn’t stained yet, but it will be if he moves – bright red against the snowy cotton.

That would look—Mm.

No. This is bad. Simon is bleeding, and I have to get out of here. I have no idea what he’s playing at (was it an accident?)(It really doesn’t look like it), but whatever it is, I can’t be a part of it.

“You’re freaking out,” he says, almost accusingly. (I knew it wasn’t an accident.)

“Obviously.”

“It’s OK,” he says. “It’s not deep.”

This is so far beyond the point that I don’t even know how to reply. I choose retreat.

“I’m leaving,” I say and head for the door, knocking over fake tea-lights as I go. I’ve forgotten the door is locked, of course, and as I scrabble with the mechanism Simon catches up with me.

“Baz,” he says, leaning against me – and I could push him away if I wanted to, I’m stronger than he is, but the smell – The scent of him is overwhelming.

“You’re a vampire. You want my blood, we both know it. Well, I’m your boyfriend,” Simon continues, bullishly, as I open my mouth to protest. “I want you to have it.” He reconsiders. “A bit of it anyway.”

I suppose I should have seen it coming. This is exactly what I should have expected from Simon fucking Snow. He gave up his magic to destroy the Humdrum; now he thinks he can give up his blood to save me. If he had any stuff, any actual possessions at all, he’d probably give them up almost immediately to Bunce or someone we passed on the street. Does he not think he deserves anything of his own? Even his blood must be doled out to the needy and the selfish.

And of course, I want it. I want it, and he’s offering it to me – I could take it. But it’s not that simple. What if I get hooked? What if I discover I like the taste of Simon’s blood, more than I love him? What if I can’t control myself once I get a taste of it? I don’t want to turn into the fucking crocodile in Peter Pan.  

“It’s really not that simple,” I tell him.

“Actually, it is,” Simon says. “I know you must have drained something recently – you were blushing and you had a hard on.” (Brilliant, just brilliant. What this conversation needed was an extra dose of humiliation.)(I definitely don’t have a hard on anymore.) “You don’t need it right now, so it’s not like you’re going to go blood crazy. And you don’t even have to bite me. Here––”

He runs one of his fingers through the blood on his other arm, then brings that finger up towards my mouth.  

“Please,” Simon says. “Do this for me. Please.”

He’s using the puppy-dog eyes. This is getting too strange. I want it to be over, and I really want to give in to him on this. I shouldn’t, I definitely shouldn’t, he doesn’t know what he’s asking. But I’ve never been able to resist Simon Snow, not really.

I draw his hand towards me and slide his finger between my lips. He’s watching me. I roll my tongue around the pad of his finger, and he twitches.

“Tickles,” he explains. 

He’s lying. Which is – interesting.

I suck at his finger, although I’ve already swallowed the blood (it tastes like he smells) and he shifts his weight almost imperceptibly. This is getting to him - he should have just asked me to fellate him before moving to straight to this. I wonder if Wellbelove ever did.

Unlikely.

I’m tempted to keep going, to keep sucking, to see how he reacts. But he’s still bleeding somewhere else.

I drop his hand and catch his other arm, raising it to my mouth. I lick all the way up his arm, from his wrist to his elbow, and this time there’s enough blood that I can really taste it. Merlin and Morgana - this is the real stuff. Like a cross between a fillet steak and an orgasm.

Rats are going to taste like shit after this.

But Simon was right. I don’t need any more of his blood, just like I don’t actually need him to fuck me regularly (even if that’s not what it feels like). I swallow, and it’s good – I can feel it warming my veins. Simon inside me, filling me up with himself like the times he gave me his magic. My eyes are flickering, and my breathing’s fucked. It does feel like I’ve come, which is odd because that’s really not how it feels when I drink blood normally. It’s also odd, because instead of falling asleep (which is usually what happens after sex, unfortunately) I want more.

I would take more. Not now, but if he offered again another day. I might even ask for it – but I don’t need it. That’s good to know.

I pull myself together. I take my shirt off and tie it tightly around his arm. I don’t know what I’m going to wear tomorrow. Something of Simon’s, I suppose – the least horrific thing I can find. But it means he stops bleeding and I don’t have to leave to get my wand.

“How was it?” he says.

It’s not an innocent question. He’s grinning.

I kiss him to shut him up – he can probably still taste his own blood in my mouth. His hand, the uninjured one, closes around my cock and squeezes (yes, I’m hard again by this point). I have enough time to think, Sex is going to seem positively tame after this. Then Simon says,

Now you can bite me.”

 

6 - BAZ

“What the fuck is wrong with you?”

I’m staring at him now. Not with barely concealed lust, or at least, if I am, the lust is better concealed now by other things. Horror, definitely. Confusion. Disgust. I don’t think Simon’s actually a moron, which means that this (which sounds like something only a moron would say) makes no sense to me.

“Do you actually want to be a vampire, Snow?”

I told him I would make him one, once. It wasn’t a serious offer. I was just trying to say something comforting. I wanted Simon to know I wasn’t rejecting him and that he still had somewhere to go, that he still had People. I didn’t think he’d really be better off being more like me. Simon Snow is, and has always been, more alive than other people. To make him a vampire would feel like destroying a work of art. (One I liked. My family owns a lot of supposed ‘art’ that I’d be happy to set on fire. Simon is like one of our Rossettis, or the light sculptures we used to have in our stairwell.)

He seems surprised by the question.

“I don’t know,” he says. (How can he not know?) “I wouldn’t choose it over magic – I mean, I wouldn’t want to be kicked out of the World of Mages. Even now. And I wouldn’t do it if I had to kill people--”

“Well, you would. Both of those. That’s exactly what would happen.”

He makes a face at me – implying, presumably, that I am a vampire and I’m still a magician, and that I don’t kill people.

I’d be dooming Simon Snow to eating rats forever.

“We both know you can be a vampire and still be a good person,” he says.

“Do we indeed?”

“But at the moment I don’t really see what’s in it for me,” he continues thoughtfully. “I don’t want to be stronger, and the eternal life thing’s bollocks. I could keep you company at night, I guess. But I could do that now, if you let me.”

My heart breaks a little.

Other people would kill for the power that Simon used to have; they did. Anyone else, anyone (except perhaps some crazy hobo, like Ebb), would be furious at having lost it all. They’d be trying to get it back, or at the very least they’d be trying to find some other way of being stronger and better than everyone else. Vampirism is an easy route back to power. But the only reason Simon can think of to surrender his soul is to make me feel better. I never thought he wanted to be a vampire, but I had no idea he’d think about it like this.

I fold my arms across my chest. “So – what you’re saying is, you don’t want to be a vampire?”

Simon shakes his head. “We can talk about it later, if you like.”

“Thank you, but no.”

“I do still want you to bite me, though.”

“It’s the same thing,” I snap. “I bite you, you become a vampire, goodbye soul, goodbye societal acceptance.”

He shakes his head again, more emphatically. “It’s a myth – that a bite is all you need to change someone. Baz, think about it.” He takes my arms, one in each of his hands, and tries to get me to look at him. “London’s not exactly overrun with vampires is it? Obviously, they want to keep it exclusive. And there aren’t loads of vampire killings either, or we’d hear about it. The Mage couldn’t have got away with letting them live here, even if they were only killing Normals. If vampires have to drink every night, and they’re attacking people, we’d have to have one or the other – lots of dead people or lots of vampires. And we don’t.”

“I’m not biting you to test a theory.”

Though it is a compelling one. Worth investigation later, though Merlin knows how. I should have thought about it before. I haven’t, for obvious reasons. 

“It’ll feel nice for both of us,” Simon says, nuzzling my neck, presumably to give me the right idea. “Really nice.” He bites my earlobe and I can feel myself squirm. “Like when you had my blood earlier, but better. And for me, it’d be––”

“Painful, but brief?”

“Apparently, it’s like a drug,” Simon says. “Like you feel so good you’ll do anything the person says. That’s how they get you to exchange blood, if they want you to. Makes sense, doesn’t it?”

It does make sense. It still doesn’t sound like something Simon would want, exactly, although it’s more plausible. He might want to get out of his own head for a while. Abnegate responsibility. But this is probably another gift for me. That makes sense. But there’s something else tickling inside my brain. Something doesn’t add up. Something other than Simon’s new desire to succumb to my teeth.

“How exactly do you know all this?”

“I asked someone,” Simon says. He’s stopped nuzzling.

“Which someone?”

“Someone who’d know.”

“Obviously, but who?”

I step back so I can look at him. He looks flushed - and guilty. I know what he’s done, what he spent yesterday doing. Idiot. I can’t believe I thought he was just looking soulfully up at the White Chapel or something. My lip curls.

“You went to ask the vampires about our sex life?”

No,” Simon says. “Well, yes. But not on purpose. I mean, I did go and see a vampire on purpose, but I asked him a lot of things. And most of them weren’t about sex.”

“Are you a complete idiot?” I demand.

“I did it for you,” he says, as though that is enough of an excuse, rather than further cause for institutionalisation.

He’s starting to get angry. I can’t feel it in the air any more like I use to, but otherwise the signs are all there. His jaw is set, eyebrows down, one foot forward like he’s about to swing at me. If the tail was visible, it would probably be knocking candles over. This is the point where I should back down, so that he can cool off, but I can’t lose Simon to his own stupidity. 

“You could have been killed. You went in there unarmed, alone, without magic. You went into a place where people hate you and want to eat you. And naturally anything they told you is immediately suspect. They probably want me to kill you.”

“Why would they want that?”

I don’t have an answer for that, but there could be many reasons. Simon doesn’t give me time to think of any.

"Anyway, I trust Nicky now. He wouldn’t lie to me.”

“Snow, he’s a vampire.”

“You have no idea,” he says irritably, pulling off my shirt from around his arm and thrusting it back at me, presumably so I can dress and go home. I don’t put it back on. “You weren’t even there.”

“I didn’t go because you didn’t ask me, and you didn’t ask because you knew I’d try to stop and you.”

Simon shakes his head in disbelief. “You’re so afraid of what you are. You’d walk straight into a den of vampires to avenge your mum, to find out the truth. But when the truth might actually help you? Nah. That’s too scary. You’d rather spend the rest of your life hating yourself and wondering if you’re accidentally going to kill me whenever I get a papercut.”

Since this is almost exactly my plan, there’s not much I can say to this. I sneer, but rather half-heartedly.

It also occurs to me that Simon seems to think about me the same way I think about him. He really is hopelessly naive.

And thoughtful, I suppose.

And possessed of an utterly gorgeous neck that I would love to sink my teeth into. Just once. Where he swallows.

“Your life is probably about ninety years, by the way,” Simon says. “Nicky told me. Unless you eat too much potassium, when you’re a goner.”

I try and process this. “Vampires can’t eat bananas?”

“Weird, huh?”

It is weird. And if true, it’s slightly annoying. I love bananas.

Simon’s calmed down now. Probably because it’s difficult to be angry and talk about fruit at the same time.

“Trust me,” he says, taking my face between his hands. “At worst, I’ll become a vampire and you can spend the rest of eternity saying, I told you so.”

“I’ll probably do that anyway,” I point out, which sounds like giving in. Maybe I have. He kisses me.

“So, what’ve you got to lose?”

 

7 - SIMON

I knew this wasn’t going to be easy. I knew he really didn’t want to. But it’s right – another puzzle piece that I can slot back into place. I’ve always known Baz was a vampire (well – not always, but pretty close), but this is where we find out what it means. For both of us.

I think it’s going to be a good thing, actually. At least, Baz’s reaction to licking my arm made it pretty obvious I’m on the right track – he practically swooned.

Which doesn’t mean I’m not scared shitless. I’m probably more scared than he is at this point. I really don’t want to let a vampire chow down on my neck – but I would like my boyfriend to stop thinking he’s a monster.

I’d also quite like him to suck me off at some point. I think that’s linked, for him, to the other stuff he doesn’t do. No eating in front of people, no blood, and no putting dicks in your mouth. I definitely don’t want him to bite me there, but he has amazing lips. (When he’s just had blood, they’re pinker. Prettier.) And he’s a great kisser. It seems a shame, a waste. I know he wants to – that look he gave me while it was just my finger in there …

I take my shirt off, which is basically a good move at this stage. It gives me something to do and distracts Baz. It always distracts Baz when I take off my shirt. I’d say I don’t know why, but I still feel the same when he strips down. His chest is thin and so pale, like that statue that got brought to life out of love. (Penny would know which one.)

“You’re sure about this?” he says.

His fangs are out. They look sharp. And big. Like having them inside me is going to hurt. And he’s eyeing my neck – looking for the best spot.

I nod – which is a lie. I’m basically terrified. I really want to hit the escape button about now and just have a wank and a sandwich and watch Star Wars.  

But it’s Baz. It’s Baz.

And Nicky said it’d be nice. “Like – have you ever seen the movie Twilight?” he asked, eating a third sandwich (or … I guess, eating the same sandwich for the third time).

“Yeah!” I said. “I have. I read it last year.” I think I thought all my research was finally paying off.

“Right. Well, it’s nothing like that,” Nicky said. He grinned at me – or smirked. “But you’ll like it.”

Baz takes a step towards me. I swallow but stand my ground. It’s not scary; it’s Baz. But I do shut my eyes.

I can hear him breathing, I can smell him – whatever that spicy stuff is he wears. One of his arms goes ‘round my waist, I tense, and then he bites me.

It hurts like fuck.

I hiss and grab at Baz. Probably too tightly, but his fucking teeth are massive and buried in my shoulder. There are tears in my eyes. I try and focus on Baz – on that smell – but now the smell’s mixed with the smell of blood, my blood. I can feel his fangs pushing deeper into me. I want him to pull out, but I don’t want to fail him, so I hang on. And then, suddenly –

It’s all right.

Fuck, it’s better than all right. It’s like … well, it’s like magic, Baz’s magic – rushing all the way through me in a wave that starts at his mouth and reaches down through my thighs and out through my toes. It starts again. It’s like I’m feeling it each time he swallows. And I think I’m moaning a bit, but in a good way. Baz might be as well. Or maybe it’s just him, I dunno. Whatever it is, it feels amazing.

I just want to lie down and let it wash over me. My legs crumple and Baz’s arm tightens around me. I let my head fall backwards too.

“Oh yeah,” I tell the ceiling. “I knew it would be nice.”

I probably don’t weigh much anymore. It’s all gone. All the bad stuff – now I’m just light and air.

I feel like laughing. Everything feels good. Which is weird – I think I’m high, high on Baz drinking my blood. I can definitely still feel his teeth, but it’s a good pain. A good, deep pain that feels like it’s going all the way through me.

There’s something hard digging into my thigh too. That’s good too. I know Baz’s got me, so I let go of his back and bring one of my hands up to grip his hair and the other down to his crotch. I can’t work out the buttons on his jeans, so I just leave them and trace his name over the bulge – B-A-Z. Then I try and write his full name, but I get stuck in the middle of ‘Tyrannus’. Are there two Ns or just one? Whatever. I really don’t think he minds at this point (the moaning is definitely Baz), but he does grab my wrist before I get to his surname. His fangs drag out of me.

Bed,” he says insistently. (It’s a lie that vampires have mesmer powers. Probably a lie made up by gittish vampires.) His eyes are blown wide and his face is flushed and I messed up his hair earlier. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Baz look so fucking pretty.

I should probably tell him that.

“You know, you’re really pretty,” I say out loud. “Especially for a boy.”

He tries to let go of me, but I’m basically boneless at this point. I almost fall, but he picks me up in his arms (with his vampire super strength) and carries me over to my bed.

“I’m made of light,” I tell him as he lets go.

He scoffs, looking more like my Baz again. “I wish.”

He drags his jeans off and clambers back on top of me. His cock is rock hard and dark red – I did that, I think. That’s me.

“Can I …  bite you again?” he asks, like he’s embarrassed. Like this isn’t what we’re here for. Like I’m not enjoying it.

“Yes, darling,” I tell him and he actually whimpers. It’s hot and I want to laugh again. This is so weird.

Slowly, he sinks his fangs back into me, into the same wounds as before. This time it doesn’t hurt at all, it just feels nice.

I grope for his cock and I can feel him groping for mine. Baz’s got all my blood though, so there’s nothing much happening down there for me, but that’s all right. It still feels like Baz is fucking me, his hips pounding against me and his teeth in my neck. I love being fucked. And I love this. I love him.

When he comes, I think I feel it, like I’m the one coming, though I guess I might just be imagining it. Or it might be some sort of vampire magic, I don’t know. It’s me who cries out, anyway.

After a while, Baz rolls away to the other side of the bed, breathing hard.

Fuck,” he says. “Fuck that.”

And at last I do start laughing. 

 

8 - BAZ

Once Simon’s asleep I call my aunt Fiona from the living room. “Did you know vampire bites aren’t contagious?”

Duh,” she says, which is bloody typical. She’s lucky she’s in Venice right now. And that she doesn’t have a cat.

“Well, thank you very much for telling me, Fiona. I’m sure it hasn’t traumatised me at all to not know that.”

“What happened? Did you bite your cretin boyfriend?”

“He’s not a cretin,” I say waspishly. “He was the one who finally told me. Snow also tells me that vampires can’t eat bananas.”

She laughs. “Bullshit.”

“Ask a vampire,” I tell her and hang up.

I go back to the bedroom. Simon’s dragon parts are all visible again. He’s formed his typical ball of limbs in the middle of the bed, with his wings over and around him like a cave. He was completely off his face earlier, but he’s calmed down now. It seems that when Nicodemus said, It acts like a drug, what he actually he meant: It is a drug. You will be drugging yourself if you do this. A lot.

I wonder if my mother knew she wasn’t already doomed when they bit her.

Actually, depressing though it is, I don’t think it would have made much of a difference. Simon was right - he wouldn’t have fought me off if I’d decided to feed him my blood today. She wouldn’t have risked that. And I doubt she’d have wanted to live if she’d been giggling to herself while they Turned her son, even if she had survived.

I don’t remember the euphoria of being bitten myself. I just remember pain. And loss.

Now, though, I also have Simon to remember. Simon laughing and whimpering under me and clutching my head to his throat. I’ve got enough blood in me now that I could probably manage a ridiculous fourth hard-on this evening if I think about it too much. (One is more than average.)

I get back into bed next to him. He lifts up a sleepy wingtip to invite me in and I crawl closer. He wraps an arm around me and pulls me towards him.  

“I knew vampires were sexy,” he murmurs against my ear.

I laugh quietly. “Go to sleep, Simon.”

It still smells like sex and blood in here, but that’s fine. I know I can stop myself from doing anything else to him, if I want to. I also know that Simon will forgive me if I choose not to stop myself.

But right now, he really should sleep or he’ll feel like shit in the morning. He’s lost a lot of blood. I’ll have to take him for steak or something tomorrow. Possibly three steaks, And I suppose I’ll also have to watch him eat them. (A thought that is more than enough to cool any residual ardour I might feel now.)

There’s more I can do for him, too, though. More I should do. (And I’m not just talking about sex, though there is that.)(We can talk more about blowjobs tomorrow.)

I don’t like being the selfish one, the one who takes and doesn’t give back. It’s been my style for almost twenty years, but things can, and will, change. I know Simon’s the hero, but I’m his boyfriend. I can help him, the same way he helped me.

And I think I know where to start.

Chapter Text

1 - PENELOPE

A lot of people in my course took a gap year – mine was one of the less exciting ones. I got a job at Sainsbury’s on the weekends (my parents think it’s important to have a job in the holidays) and I read and I helped Dad. One of the girls on my seminar built a well in Cambodia.

Micah came over for a bit, just after Christmas, which was nice. Better than nice. Last time he came to England, I was still at school and we were still fighting the Humdrum. I’m lucky he thinks sitting in the library, looking up shield charms, is a good way to spend time with someone you fancy. Because it is. I don’t know what I’d do with someone who wanted to go out dancing.

This time, though, I was in London (well, Hounslow) and, thanks to my parents, I had a disposable income. We went into town and visited all the most magickal places, like we were tourists. Highgate, St Pauls, Seven Sisters and that carpark in Ealing that has the portal on Tuesdays.

At that point, I hadn’t moved in with Simon, so Micah was in Premal’s old room, but everyone was out during the day (it was still school-time for them). I think Mum was even doing two jobs at that point.

So, sometimes we only said we’d been out during the day.

Simon tries to be fairly discrete about his relationship with Baz, but I’ve always been good at getting information out of him. (If Baz thinks I don’t know basically everything about his sex life at this point, he’s delusional.)

And I know it’s not a competition, I’m not trying to win at sex – but I did lose my virginity first, before either of them did.

It was lovely. Or at least, it was lovely once Micah and I got the hang of it anyway. Two weeks is long enough to get very good.

But it was only for two weeks. And visiting a bunch of dead spots and taking the same measurements over and over again with your dad is about as interesting as working at Sainsbury’s.

So I was really excited about starting uni.

I’m doing French and Spanish at UCL, which is a really good university, Mum says, even if it isn’t a red brick. (Simon got into Roehampton, which Mum says is very pretty.)

Thanks to Micah I was already semi-fluent in Spanish before I joined, and I practiced my French behind the tills and with Baz at weekends. I thought this course would be a good way of learning more spells in different languages, practicing diction – just like we used to do at Watford.  

And to some extent it is.

But the focus is different. To stay at the top of the class I don’t just have to see the potential for magic in Huis Clos, I have to spend hours analysing the characters and writing essays (in French) about what it has to say about the nature of existence.

It’s fun – doing something different (we even put on a play towards the end of term). And it’s all useful context for the spellcaster.

You definitely need to know that Hamlet isn’t talking about taking a quick nap when he says sleep, perchance to dream” (it’s a really dangerous spell, especially if you’re depressed) – but that would be enough, if you wanted to stop there. If it was me, I’d probably still want to know more about how the line sounded in the rest of the play, to be sure I really understood it, and I’d be interested in the historical background – but all that would be extra-credit, rather than what my entire grade is based on.

I know I could just scrape by with my uni work, get a two-one, and focus on my magic. A two-one would be all right, except it really wouldn’t. I dropped out of Watford, but eighth year was always optional. I already had all my A Levels.

This time, I’d know I could do better.

(And Baz’d never let me forget it.)

In lots of ways I've had a good first term. My seminar leaders say I have a natural ear (they don’t know how long I spent in elocution classes). I’m not worried about either of the essays I have to write over the holidays (which is good because Mum made me and Prem come home for the week and there is no space to think). If I carry on the way I am, I should get a first, comfortably.

But I feel like I’m wasting most of my time on something that doesn’t really matter.

And that – I don’t know really where to start. That’s people do have further education, isn’t it? Because even if you’re clever, you need someone to help you along. I’d feel better learning Spanish on my own – there are apps for it. There's no apps for advanced magic. I can’t just read read all the magickal books ever published – where would I even start?

“How did you stand not doing magic? Doesn’t it drive you mad?” I ask Mum when she wanders into the kitchen. She’s typing into her phone, which keeps pinging with new messages.

Mum is one of the most invested magickal historians in the world, but she spent the last two decades studying and teaching Normal medieval studies. This is because the only jobs that exist for magickal scholars are at Watford. Apparently, she did ask the Mage to hire her when Professor Kostas left, but he told her he’d already given the role to the Minotaur. Since her speciality was the Middle Ages and the Minotaur had actually been alive in Ancient Greece, this made a lot of sense. And I know Mum was happy that a half-man-half-bull (someone who had the qualifications to teach, but who had been working on the Watford grounds because of what he was for years) had finally been given a teaching position.

But that was the only vacancy that ever came up during the time I was at school. (Until the Mage’s.)

I think she would have still been OK with it if she’d known – that it was her one chance, I mean. But I think it would have been difficult to let it go. I know she's happier now, even though I heard she’s running an extracurricular course on the Crusades for Watford students.

“Just tune it out,” she says now.

This makes no sense, but then I realise she’s talking about her phone – how can she stand how annoying it is and not magic it silent?

“No,” I say as she puts the kettle on. “I mean – how were you able to cope with not working at a magickal school?”

“It wasn’t as though I was in Nam, Penelope.”

She’s pulling mugs out of the cupboard now – lots of mugs. And they look like ones that mostly don’t have chips. That means people must be coming over. Which means the Coven. Which means I’m probably going to have to clear out of the kitchen and find somewhere else to sit, unless Mum forgets I’m not allowed to stay.

“But didn’t you miss magic?” I persist.

“Why would I miss magic?” she says. “I am magic.”

That’s true, but it’s really not the whole story. If she felt that secure in magic, why did she take the Watford Headmistress position so quickly? I don’t think it pays better. And she has to commute over an hour to get there every day. She has to drive.

I’m about to hit her with all of these points when the doorbell rings and the kettle boils. Mum’s phone makes another seven or eight pinging noises.

“Get that would you, please, Pen?” Mum says. She means the door. “It’ll just be Bernard – aggressively punctual, as always.”

I slide out of my chair and walk over to the lobby. The Coven hold a lot of meetings in our kitchen nowadays. Hounslow isn’t one of London’s great beauties, but it is roughly in the centre of where almost everyone else lives (magicians like to stay close to Watford, so a lot of us are from the South). You can even take the train and the tube, which is good for us, because Mum hates to drive.

Bernard Grimm is one of Baz’s second cousins or something – one of the ones who got back onto the Coven after the Mage’s death, and one of the few who don't live near London. He runs a farm in Scotland, so he flies down the night before any Coven meeting. Always arrives early, Mum says, and then spends the rest of the day making rude remarks about anyone who was late.

Dad is often late, even though he’s only coming from upstairs.

The silhouette looks familiar through the frosted glass – tall, sunglasses, dark hair (the door pane hides the sneer, but I’m guessing it’s there). Looks like Mum was right.

I brace myself for the usual comments about my hair (it’s been brown for more than a year, but people like the Grimms still tell me how much better it looks now, when what they mean is how much more normal it looks. It makes me want to go blue again) and open the door.

It’s not who I was expecting. It’s not Baz’s cousin.

It’s Baz.

For a moment, that doesn’t strike me as odd – Baz is always turning up at my door these days, and he always rings the bell when he knows Simon isn’t back yet and it’s just me. (I think he’s worried about catching me in a state of undress.) I almost just step back and let him in.

But this is my parents’ house, not my flat. And there’s a sling on Baz’s arm that looks recent. And I can only think of one reason Baz would be at my parents’ house in the middle of the Easter holidays after what looks like a battle.

“Baz," I say, feeling my heart rise to my throat, "what’s happened to Simon?”

 

2 – BAZ

Father refused to let me drive.

“Only one person is allowed to drive my car,” he told me, blocking the driver’s door as I tried to get in. “I’ll give you three guesses who that might be.” 

“Then let’s take my car,” I said.

“We’re taking my car.”

Somehow my father has the idea that I’m a terrible driver who will rapidly kill us both if he lets me behind the wheel. (I did try and explain that the speeding tickets he got last year were a one-time response to an extreme situation.) (And that I didn’t mean to leave the Jag to be impounded as part of a murder investigation – it was quite literally a life or death matter.)

He bought me a car for my last birthday, anyway, but I think mostly to protect the other family vehicles. It’s also a piece of shit – an old VW that probably used to be belong to our gardener, or something. I can see why my father wouldn’t want to be seen it.

He probably thought I wouldn’t want to be seen in it either (more of an insult, than a gift), but I like it. It’s easy to steer (I can drive it one-handed – the sling wouldn’t have been a problem), easy to clean and I can use it whenever I want.

I can also leave it outside in the street without worrying that someone will steal it.

The same can’t be said for the Jag, which Father is now covering with five or six layers of protection and obfuscation spells. (This isn’t a good neighbourhood.) I’m not sure even he will be able to find it when we want to leave.

I should probably stay and watch, to see if there’s anything new I can use on Simon’s wings, but he might ask me why I was so interested. That would be awkward for everyone.

Father does know Simon and I are dating (Fiona told him), but he’s willing to pretend it isn’t happening as long as I don’t bring it up.

Since this is preferable to us having another man-to-man talk about what will happen to the Pitch family name, I’m very happy to go along with it. It’s not as though I want to subject Simon to another Christmas at my house. If anything, Simon’s approval rating has gone down since the last time he visited. Yes, he’s no longer the Chosen One and he did help kill the Mage, but he’s also the reason we had to leave the Pitch family home and he’s sodomising the family heir.

Pretending Simon doesn’t exist is probably the best my father can do for him.

The Bunces live in a semi-detached red-brick monstrosity, built in the 1960s or ‘70s. From the outside it looks as though it only has two stories. Maybe four bedrooms at most. That means at some point somebody, probably Headmistress Bunce, must have used illegal magic to install the other three bedrooms I’ve seen, and the office space at the top of the house.

It’s a lot of power. And it shows a lot of gall to bring the whole Coven here on a regular basis and dare them not to see it. (I’ve always liked Headmistress Bunce. I’m even glad she has my mother’s job – nobody else we have left comes close.) (Fiona is powerful, but self-obsessed and possibly insane. She’d be a terrible teacher.)

Penelope opens the door and her face falls when she sees it’s me. Too late I realise I should have texted ahead of my arrival.

But I forgot she’d be here.

At her house. (Not my brightest moment.)

“Baz - what’s happened to Simon?”

I can see why she’d think my visit was a portent of disaster. The last time I was here, I came to tell the two of them that Simon was the Humdrum. I haven’t been back since – it’s not like there’s anything to see or do in Hounslow.

“Nothing’s happened,” I say, pushing my sunglasses up onto my head.

“Is he all right? Where is he?”

She hasn’t so much as remarked on the fact that my arm is (apparently) seriously wounded. On the one hand, this is extremely convenient, since my arm isn’t seriously wounded. On the other – it’s a bracing reminder that Penelope Bunce is Simon’s best friend, not mine. I’ve sort of adopted her, since Dev and Niall are still sore about me taking up with my sworn enemy, and almost everyone at LSE is a Normal. And obsessed with making money, which I find rather gauche. (That’s obviously why I’m there, too – I’d rather not live on my family’s estate forever, like Fiona – but at least I have the decency to have other interests. All the LSE lot seem to like doing is drinking and talking about what they’ll buy once they’re rich.)

Bunce is smart and she’s good fun. I thought Simon and I could share her, but apparently not.

“He’s fine. He’s in London with— some friends, I think.”

Actually, Simon has gone back to London to see Nicodemus Petty, who somehow managed to get Simon’s telephone number from somewhere. (Most likely explanation: Simon gave it to him and now doesn’t want to admit it). I doubt even Simon would classify Nicodemus as a friend. But I know better than to say Petty’s name or the word ‘vampires’ in front of the Coven or my father. I don’t think Bunce would find it very comforting to know where Simon’s actually gone, either.

“And what happened to your arm?”

At last.

“Goblins,” I say, shortly. (Best to get the story straight now.)

“Again?” she says.

“Not exactly,” I say, but I’m spared having to elaborate any further because Bunce has her phone in her hand and has already called her actual best friend for more details.

“Simon? … Yeah … Are you all right? … No, it’s– Baz’s here and he says–- “

A pause in which Simon presumably puts his foot in his mouth, tries to second guess what it is that I might have told her and quickly deny it. I roll my eyes.

Then Bunce says: “What do you mean Nicodemus? Are you visiting the--?”

“Really, Bunce, do you mind?” I say – loudly, because, although my father still hasn’t arrived yet, my least favourite cousin has just stepped through the open door. “Nobody here is interested in your conversation.”

Mercifully, she moves further off to continue it.

“Basilton,” cousin Bernard says. He doesn’t look surprised to see me here. Father would have told him. “Still haven’t cut your hair, I see.”

“I have not.”

“Hm. Well, it makes you look like a poof.”

It’s on the tip of my tongue to say, My boyfriend likes it this way, but the timing is wrong. Today I still need Bernard.

While my father only pretends not to know, I think the rest of the Old Families may genuinely be in the dark about what I am. One day, if they all annoy me too much, I’ll announce at a family Christening that the heir to the House of Pitch is a gay vampire in love with Simon Snow, of all people.

I don’t think I’d mind being disinherited, so long as at least some of them fainted.

Not that I think I would be disinherited (the Pitches are too important and I’m practically the only one left. Anyone with my name is allowed more than a little leeway). But it would be difficult. For a while, anyway.

“I’ll bear that in mind,” I say smoothly. “Father’s on his way, incidentally. He’s just hiding the car.”

Cousin Bernard grunts an acknowledgement. “How’s the arm?”

“Painful.”

“It’s an absolute disgrace that those creatures are still allowed to roam free,” my cousin says. “I lost two herds last year to goblins. Two. And after the Mage swore to me that they would only attack Normal farms if we chased them out of the city.”

The Mage is dead and I’m fairly sure that goblins only picking off the odd cow is almost the best we can hope for, so I decline to answer that one. I’m not sure it required a response.

“Absolute disgrace,” he says again.

“Bernard!” Headmistress Bunce says as she emerges from the kitchen. “How lovely to see you.”

Her voice is strained (clearly, I’m not the only one who would prefer some of my relatives visit significantly less often than they currently do) but she brightens when she sees me.

“Oh, hello, Basil. Come to see Penelope?”

“Certainly not,” I say haughtily.

She shakes her head, like she can’t believe people like us still exist.

“Right. Fine. Does anyone want any tea? Ah, Malcolm––” (my father has finally arrived.) “Tea?”

“Darjeeling?” my father says, and she shakes her head. “Well, I’m sure whatever you have will be acceptable, Mitali. I’m sorry I didn’t get here sooner – I had some trouble with my final Somebody else’s problem. Have we started talking about the goblins yet?”

“We’re not due to start the meeting for another five minutes,” Penelope’s mother says wearily.

“Nobody else is even here yet, Malcolm,” cousin Bernard says. “It’s unbelievable. Or at least, it would be, if it didn’t happen every bloody time.”

The two of them follow her into the kitchen. I’m not due at the meeting immediately, so I go looking for Penelope.

I find her sitting outside in a tiny garden, pretending to read Sartre, amongst mismatched garden furniture.  

There’s what passes for a conservatory off the back of the house. From here, we can see all the way through it into the kitchen to where Headmistress Bunce is making small talk with two men she presumably hates. I imagine this is where Penelope comes to spy on Coven meetings she hasn’t been invited to. I wonder if any of the people inside would notice if I cast a listening spell. Bunce will know, if it’s been done.

She grins (lewdly) at me as I sit down next to her in a white plastic garden chair. Clearly her call with Simon has more than reassured her.

“He told you,” I observe.

“What?” she says. “About vampire bites not turning you into a vampire immediately? Or about you biting him? Because yes.”

“Keep your voice down.”

Through the conservatory I can see that Dr Wellbelove has arrived, along with Abigail Fischer and two or three others I don’t recognise. Any one of them would, I’m sure, be very interested in who was and who wasn’t a vampire.

Baz!” Bunce continues, as though I’m being idiotic. “You do realise this is possibly the most exciting discovery in the field of dark-creature studies? This could revolutionise the way we think about vampires.”

She’s right, of course, but now is not the time or place for the discussion. 

“For Crowley’s sake, Bunce: keep your voice down,” I repeat.

“How was it?” she whispers, leaning over the table. “For you? What was it like?”

Mm.

I can feel myself smiling stupidly, now, just thinking about it.

Rich and deep. Heady. Like the first time he let me come inside him. A blissful, overwhelming release. A relief. Like being had until I couldn’t breathe and taking at the same time.

Like being a vampire might not be so bad after all.

“Private,” I say.

“Spoilsport.” She abandons the book, anyway. “So, what happened to your arm? Simon said you were fine this morning.”

I probably shouldn’t tell her – it might ruin everything. But I’m also rather pleased with this plan. It’s simple, but elegant. Effective (hopefully). Simon and Bunce would probably tell me that doing good is its own reward, but I’m new to it. I don’t think I’d mind if someone appreciated what I’ve done. As long as I put some safeguards in place it should be fine.

“Promise not to tell your parents? Or Snow, for that matter.”

“Cross my heart,” she says.

I raise my eyebrows. That’s a serious spell. It’s worth the truth.

“It’s a present for him. For Snow.” The idea I thought up as I dozed, post-coital, under the canopy of his wings – the selfless act.

That’s not how I sold it to my father, of course.

I knew a formal discussion about the goblins must be coming up soon. Father’s eyelid twitched when I told him I’d been at the site of the attack – practically full on panic for him. (Presumably he knew that the goblin had been found at Simon’s flat, which meant that I too had been found at Simon’s flat).

The Coven’s agenda note had it as a minor item. Less important than a proposed ban on Greek agricultural imports, the need for more magical physicians, and planning permission for Verity Chausible’s new summoning circle in the centre of Leeds. The official suggestion (which Father expected would pass) was that the goblin situation be monitored but not taken any further. The Coven’s time and resources were to be spent on other business.

The Mage came down very strongly on the goblins while he was head of the Coven, so all the Old Families have convinced themselves they must be in favour of them.

“Live and let live,” I heard my cousin Beryl say once at a party. “I mean, it’s not like any of us has ever had a problem with them, is it?”

My father and his various cousins and uncles do a lot of business with Greece. According to him, the Greeks breed the best khalkotauroi and they grow exceptionally pure alchemical wheat. The Grimms had been planning to try and block the import ban for ages. Unfortunately, since the Coven membership has expanded significantly since the Mage’s day, it’s harder to buy the necessary number of votes, even though more of us have seats.

“Why not stir up outrage about the goblin raids?” I suggested. “Everyone knows the former Chosen One was injured in a recent attack – that should provoke the liberals. Then I appear as a witness––”

“To … another attack?” my father asked.

I tried not to roll my eyes. “Fine. Some other goblins attacked the House of Pitch a few days after they attacked Snow. We dealt with it, but I was injured in the fight. No one is safe. The Coven must take action. It must deal with this problem first. I think that will work, don’t you?”

Even with the Mage’s taxes and increased membership, the Coven is criminally under-resourced. Almost everyone has another job and they can just about deal with one or two major problems at once. Breaking off trade deals with the Greek mages would have been a major diplomatic problem. It would have taken a lot of time, time from busy people, to handle it properly.

If something else comes up, the import ban would have to be delayed.

“I’ll speak to the Families,” my father said. And I know he was pleased – he shook my hand on the way out.

Bunce, though, seems dubious as I explain my brilliant plan. In a mere week, I have successfully mobilised the Old Families to protect their former nemesis – it is brilliant.

If the Coven wipes out the goblins, then it doesn’t matter that Simon takes zero interest in his own safety. I don’t have to worry that if I leave him alone for an afternoon I’ll come home to find twenty of them lured him to an all-you-can-eat buffet without telling him he was the main course.

I couldn’t bear it. I can’t lose him.

“Are you sure Simon wants you to do this?” she asks.

I try not to take the criticism personally. Like Bunce, I also know Simon would never ask to be protected.

“He wants to stay alive.”

“Yeah,” she persists, “but – he’s always beaten them. And I think he quite likes fighting.”

Ridiculous, if true. But possible, I suppose. Simon is ridiculous.

“And anyway, aren’t the imports being blocked because of an epidemic or something?”

This at least I can dismiss.

“My father would never risk endangering the native populations by bringing contaminated livestock into this country. The ban is political. Part of a chain of micro-aggressions between one of the other Families and the Loukas syndicate.”

“Then can’t your father use that to stop it? Instead of the goblin thing.”

“Bunce, this is about the goblins.”

And you don’t go against the Families if you are one of the Families. Not in public anyway. Even Bunce should know that. It’s just not an option.

“I’m just saying you should think about it,” she says. “Before you do something you might regret.”

“There’s nothing to think about,” I say coldly.

The conservatory door slides open. My father leans out and says gravely, “Basilton – would you please step inside for a moment? The Coven would like to hear from you personally.”

“You have no idea what you’re talking about,” I tell Bunce as a parting shot.

Then I follow my father into the house.

 

3 – SIMON

This time Nicky and I meet outside the Globe. (Baz made me promise not to go back into the vampire club without him. I said he could come, if he wanted, but he said he had family stuff he couldn’t get out of.) (And that, even if he didn’t, he wouldn’t spend the day underground with a bunch of goth wannabes.)

It’s a nice day, the first really good day of the year. The riverbank is swarming with tourists. And I’m just chilling with a vampire and drinking a Frappuccino. I mean – another vampire. I’ve been here with Baz before.

Nicky looks about a million times better than he did last time I saw him. He’s got a new suit and a new haircut and what looks like a new pair of Dr Martens. He’s clean and he carries the shepherd’s staff like it’s a totally normal thing to do. While we’re chatting, he signs someone’s Tempest tickets and they tell him they loved him as Prospero.

“It’s a living,” he says, grinning. Then he winks at me while they aren’t looking. It’s the grin that really makes the difference. He looks more like Ebb now than ever.

When I got the text from him this morning I thought Nicky had something really important to tell me. Like he’d uncovered a secret vampire plot or something and he wanted me to help with it.

Now, I think he just wanted to make sure I was all right.

“Well, you don’t look anaemic,” he said eventually, after I’d told him I was taking iron, and I was eating spinach, and that I hadn’t operated heavy machinery ever. “But make sure that boy looks after you, all right? The Pitches aren’t exactly the nurturing type – even Fi dropped me immediately when I Turned.”

“Baz is loads nicer than Fiona,” I said.

“Fuck he is,” Nicky said, looking like he would probably still murder Baz’s entire family if he had the chance. “All they care about is magic.”

“Right. How’s your magic working out?” I said to change this subject.

He was telling me all about how great it’s been, how he can’t stop casting spells just for the joy of using magic, when Penelope rang. I left Nicky to bother some pigeons and walked further down the river to get a bit of privacy because I knew it was one of those conversations.

I don’t think she did know that Baz had bitten me – but, well. She does now.

When I get back, Nicky is talking to a woman who looks like she walked out of a Neil Gaiman comic. Big hair, dark eyes and pale skin. She smiles at me as I walk over.

“Hello Thrall. Want to do something amazing?”

“I’m sorry?” I say.

“Piss off, he’s got a boyfriend,” Nicky says.

She smiles again and this time I see her fangs.

“Another time, perhaps,” she says and drifts off into the crowd.

“Was that a vampire?” I say, even though it’s fucking obvious it was a vampire. I just never thought one would hit on me while I was hanging out on the South Bank.

“Yeah,” Nicky says. “There’s another den under here. A better one than the shit hole I used to frequent.”

“Wicked,” I say. “It’s actually under the theatre?”

Nicky looks surprised for about a second and then he laughs. “I don’t suppose you’d like to see such a place?”

I hesitate - because obviously I promised Baz I wouldn’t go back to the Soho vampire club, so it wouldn’t technically be breaking his trust if I said yes to going into a totally different club.

I mean, technically it wouldn’t, though I still don’t think he’d like it very much.

But it’s not every day that you get invited to a vampire club underneath a Tudor theatre. Even if it is a reconstruction.

“Er – yeah. Sure. I mean, if we’re quick,” I say, which in my head is some sort of compromise between not going at all and buying a membership. I figure, if it’s nice I can tell Baz about it later. And if it isn’t, I’ll just say I saw a play. About vampires. With a vampire.

Which reminds me –

“I know it was a come on,” I say to Nicky as I follow him down a dark flight of stairs behind the gift shop, “but what did that vampire actually say to me?”

“Oh that. Well, Mister Snow, she asked if you would be interested in her exsanguinating you,” he says. He lights his staff. “Biting, to the layman. Do something amazing’s the Give Blood campaign, isn’t it?”

“OK. But how did she know it was cool to show me her fangs?” I say. “I mean, I could have just been a Normal.”

“How did she–? Well, Sherlock, for a start, you’re with me. I don’t hang out with Normals,” Nicky says as we come out into a sort of pitch-black hipster cavern. There are fake plants hanging from the ceiling. And actual live crows flapping around between them. It must cost the vampires an absolute bomb.

“And secondly,” Nicky says, turning to look at me, “you have fucking bite marks on your neck. ‘Round here that means you’re part of the scene. How was she to know you were just a dumb kid dating a Tory?”

I’m still looking around – at what I can see, anyway. There are a few (fake) flaming torches. The walls are lined with booths furnished with scrap furniture (some armchairs, a pew, and lots of theatre seats still joined together) which a lot of pale people are sitting on, mostly in pairs.

“So not everyone in here’s a vampire?” I ask Nicky.

It’s really difficult to tell, because everyone looks like a vampire. I pretty sure someone should have stopped me coming in here. I’m just wearing shorts and a t-shirt. It’s not even a black t-shirt.

Everyone is staring at me. I check to see if my wings are out, but they’re not.

“It’s about half and half,” Nicky says. “Normals and vampires. No magicians.”

We sit in one of the hipster booths. There’s a jam jar full of twiglets in the middle of the table. Nicky offers me one and then shakes the rest of them into his pocket.

“Salt,” he says, like that explains everything. He licks his fingers and then cleans them with a spell. “Beer’s on the house if you want one. I fixed the stairs here last week with a good Stand firm, so now they love me – it’s just like magic, they say.” He grins.

“No magicians,” I say, thinking it through. “And no other vampires have magic?”

“Some used to,” Nicky says. “They had it taken away when they got Turned. And some might have had it, but never learned how to use it.”

As he talks, it’s like I can see a cupboard in the White Chapel full of broken wands and magic rings and a walking stick. It’s so vivid, I’m pretty sure Nicky’s cast a See What I Mean without me hearing it.

The cupboard is probably the same one that they used to store things that students aren’t supposed to have. A broken vampire wand next to a Dire Straits album and flip knife. It just feels wrong – and not only because I’m fairly sure that lost property has changed a lot since the ‘90s.

“But you’re the only one who actually chose to be a vampire,” I say as beers arrive without us ordering them. “Why does everyone lose their power?”

“Sick, innit?” Nicky says.

He conjures two tiny cocktail umbrellas in our beers for the hell of it.

“The illustrious and sadly missed ex-Mage”, he begins and I flinch (people don’t usually talk about the Mage around me anymore) “once said he was sorry he’d used the vampires to put the shakes on the World of Mages. He didn’t know they were going to kill anyone, but then they did, and wouldn’t you know? Then it was impossible to turn around and say vampires should be educated just like anyone else with magic, and that he really regretted it. Funny thing. I think he meant it and all.”

“How could he mean it?” I say hotly.

Then I realise how that sounds (like I don’t think vampires should be educated), so I say, a bit pathetically, “I mean – he hated vampires.”

Everyone does – although most people also think that vampires are going to murder them in their beds. (Nicky told me that some vampires genuinely are murderers, like the ones who killed Baz’s mum – but that they aren’t allowed in “respectable establishments”.) 

Maybe what I mean is that I have no idea why someone like Nicodemus Petty would ever believe anything the Mage had ever said to him. Unless it was a threat.

I don’t believe anything the Mage said to me, any more.

I do talk to my therapist about him – she says I have to. About how I thought for ages that he found me when no one else could have done (thought Penny says it must have really obvious for anyone with power) and how he got me into Watford and changed my life. How I thought he would always look out for me. I told her that I never thought of the Mage as my dad – but she says that I must have done, on some level. Which is why, she says, I still feel so betrayed. (“No”, I say, every time it comes up. “It’s because he used me and then he tried to kill me.”)

“Pretty sure he hated everyone,” Nicky says now. “And he was a total hypocrite – it was no social call when he told me this. Nah, he’d just dropped by to make sure I hadn’t said anything about him to anyone important. Said he’d set my place alight if I did. But he kept his word to the rest of us – never came after us, let us live here. And the new spells he forced through are fucking incredible. I reckon politically he was all right.”

I don’t really understand what I’m hearing. Was there something in the beer? I’ve hardly had any of it.

“He killed your sister,” I say – I think just to be sure we’re still talking about the same Mage. Not some old geezer who lived in the 16th century. The Mage. David Owain Evans. (I didn’t even know his name until he was dead.)

“Yeah,” Nicky says. “I fucking hate him. He was a tosser and I’m glad he’s dead. But who else would have let pixies and shit into Watford?”

                                    

4 - SIMON

By the time we leave the vampire den, it’s late, but it’s still light outside. I have to blink a few times before my eyes adjust. Nicky re-spells my wings and then walks me back towards the tube to make sure I get there OK (“Don’t want you getting recruited by any vampires. Or, worse – by any actors”).

Tonight, I’m taking the Northern line towards Angel, which is where Baz’s aunt lives. I didn’t tell Nicky this, but I think he guessed or maybe he knows where she lives, because he asked whether it was weird for me to see Fiona so much, since she tried to kill me all those times – and then looked disappointed when I said she was in Italy and Baz basically has the run of the place.

We don’t even go there much, usually. I’m only going there now because he (Baz) said his dad refused to drop him off at Penny's and mine, so I might as well come over to his, or we wouldn’t get to see each other until tomorrow.

Nicky’s whistling through the gaps in his teeth and he’s spelling the street lamps on and off with his staff (it’s all right – you can’t really tell as it's not dark. And I love being around magic users, so I don’t stop him). As we reach Blackfriars Bridge, he stops messing around and points.

“This where I saved your boyfriend from the numpties.”

I must look confused, because he says, “The second time he nearly died there, not the first.”

I didn’t know that.

The Time He Got Captured By Numpties is one of the things that Baz is too posh to talk about – I still don’t know the whole story. I do know it was bad, though. Probably the worst thing that ever happened to him. He definitely never told me Nicky had to save him when he went back at Christmas.

“Thanks,” I say – which feels really inadequate.

Nicky shrugs. “I needed him. Wouldn’t have done it otherwise.”

“Still.”

“I suppose you’ll be looking for revenge.”

“Huh?” I say. I’m still thinking about Baz – I don’t want revenge against Baz.

“No trouble. I’m happy to do it,” Nicky says. “There’s some beautiful rock-based shit we could use – I’ve been wanting to try it out.” He wriggles his fingers and they spark a bit. “And I’m full of juice – it’s gotta go somewhere.”

“Right,” I say, catching up. “Thanks, but – no. Really no.”

I’m a bit pissed at this point from all the free beers, so I say what it is that I think every time someone reminds me that the Mage hired the numpties to kidnap Baz.

“It’s not as though I like what happened to him, but they were just doing what he told them to do, right? And it’s the same, I’m the same – I would have kidnapped Baz too if the Mage had told me it was important. I was going to kill him.”

Never mind that I apparently fancied Baz from day one, or that if the two of us had ever actually talked we could have worked most of it out between us. I did what I was told. (Plus, Baz was really annoying.)

“O-kay,” Nicky says slowly, like he didn’t realise this sort of can of worms would spring open and smack him in the face.

“They just wanted to be warm,” I say, a bit pathetically. (And that’s probably a metaphor too, but I don’t want to think about what for right now.)

“Got it,” Nicky says. “Well, it’s not as fun, but I can help with that instead, if you like.”

I’m feeling really thick today. Thicker than usual – like I’m listening to Baz and Penelope practice French by talking about quantum mechanics. (It was just once, but I had turn the telly up to drown it out since magic has taught me just enough French that I kept getting distracted, but not enough that I had the faintest idea what was going on.) (I don’t think either of them know anything about quantum mechanics either, but Baz said that was the point – to be able to have a fluent conversation even if you didn’t know what you were saying.)  

Either that or Nicky just doesn’t make a lot of sense. He said he doesn’t talk to a lot of Normals, but maybe what he meant is he doesn’t talk to a lot of people. He doesn’t know how to have a conversation where both sides understand each other.

But I get it as he starts telling me how good Baby, it’s cold outside is for this sort of thing (“even though it’s not Christmas – it’d be wonderful at Christmas”). Nicky wants to do more magic and I’m just the excuse.

Or maybe the numpties are just an excuse – I’m pretty sure after today that Nicky thinks he has a debt to repay (to me. Or maybe to Ebb). If I want to blow the numpties up, he’ll help me do that. Or if I want them to be warm, he’d help me do that too, even though that must make no sense to him. Why would I want to help the trolls who kidnapped my boyfriend? Oh well. Whatever it is, it’s magic, and it’s for me.

“You don’t owe me,” I tell him. “You really don’t. You already helped me with Baz.”

“I know,” Nicky says. “This isn’t for you – it’s for them. Think of ‘em, freezing their pebbles off down there, huddling for warmth around a smouldering fag end. We have to do something, Simon. We have to keep ‘em warm. What d’you say?”

What do I say? It’s all bullshit. It’s not even a cold day (though I don’t think the numpties would agree). I know exactly where Nicky’s coming from, and I get it – I don’t like feeling like a scrounger, either – but I don’t need anything from him. I don’t want people to do things for me.

I really don’t know how I feel about the numpties.

The numpties kidnapped Baz, they almost killed him. But I don't know, maybe they wouldn’t have done if they hadn’t been desperate, if anyone had ever looked after them. Maybe they thought it was the only way. Maybe the Mage told them they were doing the right thing – that they were heroes. 

Morgan’s tits, Baz is going to hate me when he finds out.

“Shall we?” Nicky says, gesturing under the bridge. 

“Yeah, all right,” I say. “Let’s do it.”

 

5 – BAZ

Simon’s in a reasonably good mood when I arrive back at the flat, better than usual these days. Normally that would be a cause for celebration, or at least sex, but I’m definitely not in a good mood, and so Simon’s good mood (entirely caused by someone who wasn’t me) is just the icing on the fucking cake. As though the universe is mocking me.

Father didn’t talk to me, at all, the entire way home, except to say he was very disappointed. This was entirely superfluous. I could see he was disappointed.

I, of course, was equally livid and chose not to fill the silence.

My talk with Bunce had confused me to the extent that I’d forgotten how many goblins were supposed to have attacked our house. (I ended up saying one and that I’d won the duel quickly – hardly front-page news.) In the end, the Coven voted that, although the situation was worrying, it wasn’t yet worthy of dedicated attention with so many other issues at stake.

“I’m making eggs, if you want some,” Simon says now from the kitchen area of the living room. (I gave him a key. It felt weird not to once he’d given me one to his place – but he had to promise, first, that he wouldn’t use it if Fiona was in the country.) He’s actually not a bad cook for someone who’s literally never ever had to do it before in his life, but he’s terrible at cleaning up. I’ll have to spell the kitchen clean before I go to sleep tonight.

“I want to kill something,” I tell him. I leave my bag by the door. “I’ll be back in an hour.”

I find a fox snuffling round the bins and break its neck. I feel better after that, with its blood in my veins. More grounded. Then I find some alley rats and drain those as well, to be safe. My mood tends to deteriorate when I'm thirsty - that's something I really don't need right now.

When I get back, Simon has the television on. He’s watching football (as predicted, the kitchen is a nightmare) and eating egg-on-toast on Fiona’s sofa.

“It’s Reading,” Simon says as I sit down next to him. “And they’re winning for once.”

Reading is my team. They were promoted in the league this year, but they’ve had indifferent success. Simon has enjoyed taking the piss each time we’re crushed by some nonentity, but I think he must have found this particular match on Fiona’s cable in an attempt to cheer me up. I’d forgotten it was on.

Simon himself is a fan of Manchester United. Depressingly. He’s never even been to Manchester. Even Watford would have been an improvement.

“Why wouldn’t I like Man U? They’re the best,” he explained when I tried to mock him for his terrible taste.

“Only because they’re the richest,” I retorted.

His eyes widened in mock disbelief. “Baz - are you actually saying that being rich doesn’t make someone better?”

“Very funny, Snow.”

I start to eat the eggs Simon left me and let him lean into me. He smells like cooking fat and he’s caught the sun today. His skin’s warm and there are extra freckles on his legs (I like it when he wears shorts – all that skin). I feel myself relaxing.

“How was it today?” he asks. “With your family.”

“Fine,” I lie. I don’t want to talk about it yet, though I probably will at some point.

“Did you really go to Penny’s?”

“Briefly. My father had some business there. How was Nicodemus Petty?”

“Good. Loving his magic.”

“Learn anything new about vampires?”

It still feels strange that this is a safe topic of conversation, but it’s been a week since I bit Simon. Apparently one week is enough time to normalise the whole vampire thing – at least between the two of us. It’s better than talking about what happened at the Bunces’, anyway.

“Er,” Simon says, getting up to take our plates back to the sink, “no, not really. Oh – they like twiglets for the salt.”

“Obvious,” I say. “So, you went back to that club after all, did you?”

He said he wouldn’t, but it’s obvious he’s hiding something (or trying to, anyway). And it would be just like Simon to let a vital clue drop while trying to distract someone’s attention from that exact thing.

“Nope,” Simon says. “We just sort of hung around outside the Globe. Nicky bought some from a shop. And we ate them on the riverbank. It was nice.”                                                       

That sounds like a lie, but I let him get away with it. For now, anyway. (Bunce will tell me later if it was anything important.)

As he sits back down, the television cheers as the other team score for the first time. It’s one all. The picture switches to reaction shots of the players – rapid cuts between joy and outrage.

Simon groans in exaggerated, fake sympathy.

I shove him away from me. “Fuck off.”

He gives me a shit-eating grin and nods towards the TV. “Which one of them do you fancy again?”

I’ve never told him I fancy any of the Reading players.

“Ah, of course,” I drawl. “I’m gay so I must watch sport purely to ogle men in shorts.”

Although I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t at least part of the attraction.

I pointedly do not look at Simon’s bare legs, even when he swings them into my lap. (But my hand does accidentally wander onto his thigh.)

“I’m just trying to work out what you see in this crap team,” he says.

“Hm. How about the fact that I used to live in Reading?”

“You don’t anymore.”

“And whose fault is that, Snow?”

“I used to come and watch you play because I fancied you,” he says as though he’s only just remembered it. He shifts his weight down the sofa towards me.

“You used to come and watch me play because you thought I was plotting to kill you,” I say.

I try to sound bored, as though all of this is old news, but I love it when Simon acknowledges that he must have wanted me for years before he knew he liked men. It makes all that pining I did seem worthwhile.

“Yeah,” Simon says, running his fingers through my hair. “Because you were definitely going to let crucial information slip in the middle of the pitch. It was definitely nothing at all to do with me liking to look at your arse and your legs, and watching you get all sweaty––”

He’s practically in my lap now – his cock is hard against my stomach and my eyes are practically level with his bite marks. The bite marks I left on his neck.

Mm. I could bite him again, now, if I wanted to, he’s practically asking for it – I don’t think I will, though. It would be a waste of Simon’s erection. I have enough blood in me now that mine isn’t far behind – I knew I would feel better if I drained something.

I lean up and he kisses me.

The football match has basically been forgotten at this point (Reading will have to do what they can without me – I just hope they win).

“You were always so graceful out there,” Simon says into my neck. “I loved watching you. And hated it at the same time.”

“I wish I’d known,” I say. (I’d have worn tighter shorts for a start.)

I wish I’d known,” he says. “But we’re all right now, yeah?”

I kiss him again and then I push him down to the sofa, so that he’s on his back and I’m back on top. I tug his shorts down. And there he is – his cock deliciously dark with blood and his balls tight and perfect beneath. I can feel my mouth watering.

I sucked Simon off for the first time three days ago. I don’t think I did it very well, to be honest, but he was very vocal about how good it was and how he wanted me to do it again. So I’ve been practicing. Every day since then. 

If I can’t give him safety, I can at least give him this. And maybe the Coven’s right, maybe Simon’s right, and the goblins really aren’t that much of the problem. Maybe they’ll leave us alone for another year.

“Baz,” Simon says, bringing a hand up to cup my face. “Whatever it is - stop thinking about it. For a moment, all right?”

His blue eyes look touchingly desperate for me to do something. I am about to – and then we both hear the sound of a key in the lock.

I practically fall off the sofa (graceful, my arse) as Simon pulls his shorts back up. I just about manage to feign interest in the match again (2-1, not bad) as the front door opens.

And then my aunt Fiona, who is supposed to be in Italy, says,

“Bloody hell, Baz – what the fuck have you done to my kitchen?”

 

6 – SIMON

I try to leave but Baz isn’t having any of it.

“It’s all right – she’s probably just here on a layover, or something. She never stays more than an hour.”

“Even so,” I say. “Maybe we should just go to mine, so she can have her place to herself for a bit.”

“I want to find out why she’s here.”

“Fine. You can meet me there when you’re done, though, can’t you?”

“Just watch the rest of the match. She’ll be gone by the time it’s over.”

Which is why I’m sitting here in the middle of Baz’s living room, watching his shitty team play some other shitty team, while he and his aunt talk about me over the other side of the room.

Apparently, Fiona’s not here on a layover. She came back because Baz told her I’d found out loads of stuff about vampires and she wanted to make sure he didn’t try and come out or join up with the vampires on a permeant basis. Because then she’d be asked to kill him and she doesn’t want to do that. (None of it makes any sense to me. Why wouldn’t she just resign if that happened? Why doesn’t she resign now? Her nephew is literally a vampire.)

“Why would I join up with the vampires?” Baz says.

“I don’t know – you’re dating Simon bloody Snow,” she says. “No offense,” she says, presumably to me, “but honestly, Basil. It’s like you want to be cast out.”

“For fuck’s sake, I’ve been in love with him for years,” Baz says impatiently. (I really wish I was somewhere else.) “He’s brave, funny, gorgeous – when was the last time you dated anyone you actually liked, Fi? Because I think your perspective––”

There’s a clang, interrupting the conversation, and then Baz says slowly,

“What – in snakes – is that, Fiona? Is that vampire blood?”

Finally, I do turn around (like I’m saying, Oh, hello – this is awkward, but I’ve been here the entire time). Baz’s aunt has emptied out her handbag and now, along with lots of bottles and tissues and other shit, there’s what looks like a fold-away halberd on the kitchen counter. And like Baz says, it’s covered in blood, although it’s not vampire as far as I can tell.

“It's goblin,” I say. I’ve seen enough of it by now – almost human coloured, but slightly purpley.

“The idiot’s right,” Fiona says (because she’s a bitch and she can’t just say Simon’s right). “I ran into one in the lobby.”

“It was probably coming to kill me,” I say as Baz shouts,

Fuck!” so loudly that both Fiona and I jump.

Then he looks around for something to throw, but his aunt snatches the weapon away, so he ends up with a mug. It smashes beautifully when he hurls it into the kitchen wall.

“Fucking wankers. Fucking goblins. Fuck. Fuck.

Hey,” I get up and try to catch Baz, but he’s pacing like crazy, “hey, it’s all right. It’s dead now.”

“You were here on your own,” Baz says. He sounds like he’s being strangled and his fangs are out. “If it had just shown up an hour earlier––”

“I had no idea,” Fiona says. “If I’d known what it wanted, I would have shown it in. Joke,” she says as Baz rounds on her. “Although if you’re that worried, Baz, I don’t know why you don’t just do something about it.”

Which is how I find out that Baz has spent the day convincing the Coven to crack down on the goblins. Unsuccessfully. Unsuccessfully trying to convince the Coven to stop the goblins. To try and save me. Fiona gets the whole story out of him.

That explains why he looked so deflated when he arrived back tonight, I suppose.

I wish he’d told me. Ideally before he went.

I know he was trying to be nice, but I hate the idea of the Professor Bunces, Dr Wellbelove and Baz’s dad all teaming up to kill the goblins, just to save me. I’m not a burden just because I lost my magic, I won’t be. I want to be useful.

“The Coven’s just a talking shop now,” Fiona is saying now – trying to talk Baz off the ledge, or probably out of breaking any more of her stuff faster than she can fix it. “Especially now everyone and their mother is on it. If it makes you feel better, boyo, they’d have completely bollocksed it up. You and I could do a better job in an evening.”

“Awesome. I’ll come with you,” I say, because that sounds more like it. A fair fight between me and the goblins, with maybe some help from Baz and his horrible aunt.

I mean, it would still mostly be for me, because the goblins are still mostly coming after me, but if they’re still trying to eat people in bathrooms, then those people will be better off too. (Not the ones who were already eaten – the ones in the future. Who won’t be eaten anymore.) And the Coven will be better off as Baz won't ever convince them to risk their lives for me in the future.

Both Baz and Fiona turn to look at me. They don’t look like I’ve just seconded a great plan. Or indeed, like there is a plan at all.

“Oh, right,” I say. “You were probably speaking rhetorically.”

“I thought I was,” Fiona says.

“You were,” Baz says firmly.

“It’s just – Well, you do work for the Coven,” I say, trying to ignore the death glare Baz is giving me. “So they’d probably give you the address of the goblin hive, would they? And you do kill dark creatures for a living, even though it’s really weird that you do that, under the circumstances.”

“What circumstances exactly?” Fiona says. As though I haven’t been sitting here listening to them arguing about Baz being a vampire and do not actually still have Baz’s fang marks in my neck.

“Snow – it would defeat the point of the whole exercise if you barge into the goblin lair,” Baz says patiently. “Fiona could go, I suppose. But we have no idea how many goblins there would be. She’d need a lot of back-up, which we don’t have.”

“It’s all right. I usually work alone,” Fiona says. “So, if you two come along we’re already quids in. When are we thinking? I’m free now.”

“Brilliant,” I say. 

Not brilliant,” Baz says. “I’m not walking into a goblin lair at ten o’clock at night. It’s suicide.”

“It’ll just be me and Simon, then,” Fiona says – like suddenly we’re old friends. (It took Baz years to call me Simon and he still doesn’t do it all the time.) She wraps an arm around my shoulders and thrusts the halberd into my hand. “How many goblins have you killed, boyo?”

“I dunno,” I say. “Thirty at least. I lost count. How about you?”

This is not happening,” Baz interrupts, gesturing at the two of us. He gets out his wand and points it first at his aunt and then at me. “I mean it. I spell the doors shut if I have to.”

He looks hectic – spots of red high on his pale cheeks, and his hairs a mess where he’s been pulling it. It’s hot – and it’s sad, at the same time.

I pull away from his aunt’s grip on my arm. “Baz,” I say gently, “you were right – the goblins are always going to come after me. Other people could get hurt. So, we take the fight to them – on our terms, with you there to protect me. That makes sense, doesn’t it?”

He looks defeated. I want to hug him, but I don’t know if he’d want that with his aunt in the room.

“You really want to do this?”

“Yeah,” I say. “I really want to do this. And we can get more back-up. It’ll be all right.”

“Who?” he says. “Bunce! I suppose. That’s one more. Four of us against an army of goblins.”

“Strictly speaking, we don’t know it’s an army,” Baz’s aunt says. She’s conjuring more weapons out of her handbag. “Just that there were at least thirty of them once.”

“I apologise. Four of us against an unknown but probably still quite large number of goblins,” Baz says. “Those odds are still fairly bad. Unless, Snow, you know any other idiots happy to spend an evening walking into unknown danger?”

“Er, yeah,” I say. “Actually, I can think of at least one more person who’d be up for it.”

 

7 – PENELOPE

I’ve never been to Baz’s aunt’s flat before. It’s in a really nice part of town – like, really nice. Georgian townhouses and Arcadian greenery everywhere.

A long way from Hounslow, in other words. It’s eleven before I get there.

I have to walk past this weird, tall guy who looks like he fell out of a worm hole in the 1980s before I can get to the front door of the building. He’s just leaning against one of the streetlamps outside, not even smoking. Just standing. He doesn’t look homeless – he just looks like he’s waiting. He also looks really familiar, but I don’t think I’ve seen him before. (I’m not that good with faces.) He grins at me, though, like we know each other and says,

“All right?”

The door opens before I have to answer.

“This is all your fault,” Baz says flatly and steps aside to let me in.

“I was right then?” I say.

His aunt’s living room was probably quite nice earlier. Now, though, it bears all the hallmarks of Simon’s attempts at both cooking and battle prep.

He and Baz’s aunt seem to have bonded over different types of medieval weapons. They have about six different swords out on the table and Simon’s waving another one around (to test the weight, I guess – despite being Simon’s friend for years, I don’t know that much about swords. It’s never really seemed that interesting).

He looks like he’s enjoying himself – I haven’t seen that look in a while.

“This one’s good,” he says, handing it back to Baz’s aunt. “I’d rather have it than the mace.” He catches sight of me and beams. “Penny! You came.”

“Of course I did,” I say. “I wouldn’t miss it.”

Simon and I have always faced danger together. There’s no way I’m letting him walk into a goblin lair without me. And besides, this is a chance to do real magic again.

“Swords are for losers,” Baz’s aunt says.

“I thought I was a loser,” Simon says.

“Go on, then, have it.” She dumps the mace back onto the table where it crunches. “Basil? Someone must want this thing.”

“I’m fine with my wand, thank you.”

“So, what’s the plan?” I ask. “Simon wasn’t very clear on the phone.”

“Yes, Snow,” Baz says sarcastically. “What is your brilliant plan?”

Simon shrugs. “It’s only in Waterloo. We could walk.”

“That’s not a plan,” Baz says.

“All right. We go in, I ask the goblins not to attack me anymore, and if they don’t agree then we probably have to fight them.”

“That’s still barely a plan.”

“Coven information is that each hive is only about twenty goblins,” Fiona says. “The ones who hit Simon must have been from all over the place. So, we’re only outnumbered four to one tonight. It’s doable – if Nicky ever shows.”

I put it together. Nicky. Nicodemus – Ebb’s vampire brother. The weird guy on the street who looked familiar because he’s Ebb’s brother.

“I think he’s outside,” I say.

Fiona stubs her cigarette out and moves over the window. Then she opens it and leans out. “Oi,” she yells. “Fuckstick. No loitering, and no magic after dark or I’ll call the cops!”

“Come down here and say that,” he yells back.

She laughs and rushes down stairs, leaving the door open and most of the weapons behind.

“They used to have a thing,” Simon says to me happily.

He slides the sword into the scabbard and both it and the sword vanish. It’s obviously pre-spelled. (I’ll take a look at it once we’re done.)

Please tell me you aren’t trying to set my aunt up with a washed-up vampire gangster,” Baz says, as though this is the worst part of the night so far.

"All right, I won't," Simon says, and he's grinning.

 

8 – BAZ

I’m probably going to die tonight.

I feel it quite strongly as I walk down my aunt’s street next to Penelope Bunce – the sense of impending doom. The finality of it all.

It’s funny – I always knew Simon Snow would kill me. But I thought he’d do it cleanly. Not murder me by second-degree goblins and guilt.

I hate that I protested so little. I hate that I didn’t think of a better plan.

But he looked so happy. And that’s it, apparently. That’s all it took.

Surely love – actual love – would be less irresponsible.

I don’t know, perhaps Simon will win. He always has before.

Bunce and I a few steps behind the advance party of suicidal morons – my boyfriend, my aunt, and her soon-to-be vampire-boyfriend. And obviously they seem to be having a wonderful time, whereas the two of us are walking in silence. I suppose I’m still annoyed with Penelope for ruining my own perfectly good plan to deal with the goblins. And for knowing Simon better than I do. And for liking him better than she likes me. (A whole host of contradictory emotions, but trust me – they all seem relevant.)

I don’t think Fiona has seen Nicodemus since he got himself Turned, and she’s been avoiding him out of a sense of loyalty to me, I think. (And because he hurt her feelings.) That means she missed him at his most unattractive – a hopeless, greasy reptile living with other drop-outs in a doss house below a hairdressers.

In a week, Simon’s turned Nicodemus Petty back into someone she might seriously consider. Then he brought him here.

And the thing is, I’m not even angry. Not really, anyway. Not at Simon.

I definitely wish he hadn’t done it (or that he had at least asked first), but I can’t deny that I would like my aunt to have a real relationship for once. There’s also a part of me that thinks, if Fiona tells the Families that she’s dating a vampire, then it might be easier for me to tell them I’m dating Simon Snow.

Assuming any of us live through this.

Simon is still wearing the shorts from earlier and he’s practically bouncing as he talks to Fiona. It looks like his punk-rock parents are taking him to the beach.

It should have been me who made him look like that – that’s what makes me angry. I hate that it wasn’t me.

“Nice to see him happy, isn’t it?” Bunce says to me, as though she can hear what I’m thinking.

I give her a cold stare. And then I think - what's the point? I might as well talk to her.  

“Is that why you went along with this fiasco, too?” I say.

She gives me a look – amusement coupled with sympathy. Apparently, she can’t read my mind, but she probably got a pretty good look at it there.

“Sort of,” she says. “I mean I love Simon and he needs my help, so of course. But I think I’m mostly here because I’m bored.”

“You’re bored?” I repeat.

She doesn’t seem bored – she spent weeks telling me and Simon all about her play and making me read Cyrano for her. She’s always busy, either at her parents’ house or on the sofa at Simon’s flat – Penelope Bunce is the last person I’d ever accuse of being bored. 

“I miss studying magic, don’t you? Properly studying it.”

“Not really,” I say.

Her face falls and I hurry to explain. “My mother left very detailed notes about the direction her own study took after Watford – she didn’t want to give magic up, either. That’s why she leapt at the chance to become headmistress. Fiona used my mother's notes after she gave up on botany, which is probably why she’s as good as she is now. And I’m following the same reading list – in my spare time.”

“Natasha Grimm-Pitch left an advanced reading list,” Bunce says, eyes wide.

It's like I’ve just revealed I have the holy grail at home and that I use it occasionally for weekend cocktails. I forgot how much she idolises my mother.

I suppose I could share the notes with her. It never occurred to me before, because – well, she’s not family (she’s not even Family), but she is clever. Clever enough to appreciate my mother’s work.

“Bunce, would you like--?”

“Yeah, I’d love to work on it with you,” she says excitedly before I can finish. And then she hugs me. In the middle of the street. “This is exactly what I’ve been looking for,” she says into my shoulder.

Merlin, I think she might even be crying. Who on Earth cares this much about magic? (Stupid question. The answer is me and everyone else in my entire family.)

When I made the offer, I’d been thinking I would study at home and then give the notes I’d finished with to Bunce – but I suppose it wouldn’t be bad to work on it with her.

It sounds like the kind of thing friends might do together.

“Hey,” Simon says, sounding concerned. He must have realised the two of us have fallen behind and come to check, only to find his best friend weeping into my shirt. He tugs her gently away from me. “Pen, are you all right?”

“Yeah,” Penny says. “It’s just – I think I love your boyfriend.”

The smile Simon gives me is one of his best, one of the ones that make it all seem worthwhile.

“Yeah,” he says. “Me too.”

 

9 –

BAZ

We’re in the tunnels under Waterloo station. Someone’s done them up in luminous paint and filled them with bars and fringe theatres, design to attract Normal tourists. I imagine that's very convenient if you’re a species who survives by eating the kind of people everyone expects to go missing anyway.

Bunce walks confidentially through the crowds before stopping beside a table where three businessmen are enjoying what look like craft beers.

“How about this?”

It definitely smells like magic underneath the smell of stale alcohol. Goblins have their own magic, which, to be honest, I’ve never really bothered to find out much about. This feels enough like a concealment and locking spell, though, that we should be able to get through it.

I nod and cast a “Nothing to see here” on the businessmen. “All right, let’s take a look.”

“I’ll go first,” Simon says. It isn’t a question. Simon is going to protect us, whether we like it or not.

At least, he’s covered in a thick layer of protection spells from four of Watford’s best students. And we do also now have something I’m be willing to call a plan, even if it’s not a good one. Fiona and Nicodemus have gone to find the back entrance, to help secure our exit route and to help us trap the goblins in a pincer movement. Nicodemus also plans to bring down the ceiling if we find anything we can’t handle underground.

“Why doesn’t he just do that to begin with?” I said.

“He doesn’t want to mess up the train lines,” Simon told me. “He commutes from Farnborough. Plus – think of the property damage.”

Ironic, coming from him.

Ignoring the businessmen’s banal conversation, I try a “golden key” on the wall of the bar. (It’s a family spell that has always worked for me. Open Sesame would probably have done the job, but I think we are still trying for the element of surprise.)

Slowly, a door that none of us could see before creaks open. And Simon leads us into the goblin lair.

 

PENELOPE

I follow Simon and Baz into the darkness. (Baz refuses to cast a light spell because it would give our position away. He says he can see fine in the dark anyway – I just hope he remembers to tell the two of us who can’t, if there’s going to be a sudden drop.)

There’s probably something I could do to my eyes, but by time I’ve remember a good spell, it starts getting lighter. I can see Baz has got his wand out although Simon doesn’t have his sword.

“Hello?” Simon shouts. “Is anyone here?”

Something around us rustles and Baz mutters,

“So much for the element of surprise."

“It’s Simon Snow,” Simon continues. “I want to talk to you.”

The rustling sound happens again. I cast my own light spell, since (as Baz says) Simon’s already told everyone we’re here now. I thought this would just be a small tunnel, like the ones outside, but it’s a huge cavern. A huge empty cavern.

I blink and shake my head. There’s magic here, strong magic. That doesn’t feel like a good sign.

“Simon,” I say. “Maybe we should–– ”

And then suddenly the illusion drops and we’re in a huge not-empty cavern filled with goblins.

There are way, way more than twenty of them. Maybe more like sixty. They must have been having a meeting. The rustling sound was them whispering. Probably goblins asking each other what the hell we think we’re doing here.

I can hear Baz swearing quietly behind me. I’d be swearing too, except that’s a distraction when you’re trying to think of spells.

“I don’t want to hurt you,” Simon says, as though this is what he expected to find down here. “But I don’t want to spend the rest of my life fighting you off one by one either. So, we’re here to find out if you’re still trying to choose a king by killing me. Or if – you might be willing to consider a vote. Or something.”

I have to hand it to him – he’s sticking to the plan. It would definitely be better if we can talk our way out of here without having to fight. Twenty goblins we could handle, but this is crazy.

One of them steps forward. He’s wearing a nice suit, which could be a sign of status, I suppose. Or it could just be what the last person he ate was wearing.

“Your hands are soaked in goblin blood, Simon Snow.”

“Right. Sorry,” Simon says, and weirdly he sounds like he means it. “But you see, you were eating people. And you tried to kill me. A lot.”

“Our species has sworn an oath against you,” the goblin says.

“The one who ends your life will take the crown,” another goblin says. This one’s dressed like a hipster barista. Both of them are more beautiful than anyone else I’ve ever seen (like seriously – Baz looks like a normal bloke next to these two), but that’s goblins for you.

“OK. But you don’t need to do it really, though,” Simon says. “There are lots of ways to get a new leader – if you don’t want to vote, you could draw straws. And if you stop eating people and leave me alone, I’ll leave you alone. OK?”

“I think I’ll rule wisely,” the first goblin says, grinning.

He takes a step towards Simon. Then he does something with his hands and I feel all the protection spells around Simon drop. Goblin magic – like nothing I’ve ever seen before. I thought they were just into illusion spells. Another time I’d be interested, but it’s too late now. We’re here.

Simon draws his sword. Baz tries to get him to stand behind the two of us.

And then the lights go out.

 

10 – 

SIMON

I think for a moment that it’s the ceiling coming down, that I’m about to get crushed, but it is just the lights.

Nicky must have arrived, though, and I think he was the one who made it dark, as I can hear him shouting spells at goblins somewhere and slagging off Baz’s aunt’s spellwork. I guess he doesn’t think the situation is that serious yet.

I think it might be serious.

In fact, I’m beginning to think I might have messed up bringing us here in the first place. But how was I supposed to know the Coven was wrong about how many goblins there were down here? It's their job to know this stuff

Anyway, it’s dark – but I can see Baz and Penelope lit by their magic. Somehow, we got separated when the goblins rushed us in Nicky’s darkness. But that’s OK actually – it means I’m not going to hurt my friends by accident. I’m good with a sword, but it’s difficult to see down here and there are so many goblins. It would be easy to make a mistake.

I swing Fiona’s sword and take out a goblin as it tries to jump on me. Another one grabs me from behind and almost bites me, but I elbow it in the gut and twist the sword round and he falls away. My shoulder hurts, I think he got his fingernails into my skin, but I’m fine. I kick another goblin in the chest and he falls backwards, knocking over the one behind him as well. They’re still not very good fighters. Or maybe I’m just really good at this.

I can hear Nicky laughing, probably because Baz’s aunt is amazing – I can see her taking out two or three goblins with each spell. Penelope’s protecting all of us. And I know Baz must be fine, because he’s brilliant.

It’s worse than we thought it would be, but I think we’re going to win.

 

BAZ

We’re going to die. (I knew this would happen.)

Why didn’t I look up goblin magic properly before we came?

Why didn’t I kiss Simon one last time?

 

PENELOPE

It’s chaos down here. It’s so weird that behind the door we came through people are probably still drinking cocktails and craft beer, that they have no idea.

I manage to push my way through the goblins, over to where Nicodemus is casting spells with his shepherd’s staff.

“Are you still going to bring the ceiling down?” I yell.

He shakes his head and shouts back. “Not unless I have to.”

The point is that I do think we have to. We can't deal with this many of them. I don't want to hurt anyone, but I’ve been thinking about it, and I think if Nicodemus and I worked together, he could bring down the bottom layer of the ceiling and I could keep everything else up long enough for everyone to get out.

I’m trying to explain this to him, when I see a goblin wave its arm and send Simon’s sword flying.

“Simon!” I shout – as though that can possibly do any good, except that he knows I’m coming for him. Snakes, I should never have left him.

I push goblins out of the way with shunting spells. It feels like I must be too late, like there’s no possible way I can there on time, but then I see that Baz is with him and they’re surrounded by fire.

And that Simon, somehow, has another sword, and it’s his sword.

And I think, Maybe everything will be all right now.

Even though I know it won’t.

 

SIMON

I wouldn’t have thought to call the sword, but I panicked.

I suppose it’s still a reflex action – to try and draw the Sword of Mages when I’m surrounded by people who want to kill me. If I’d thought about it, properly, I’d have known the sword wouldn’t come and I wouldn’t have bothered. I don’t have any magic, so I can’t be the Mage’s Heir any more. There isn’t even a Mage right now. Which means the Sword of Mages doesn’t belong to me anymore.

But I guess no one told the sword that.

Or maybe it still trusts me.

Maybe it knows I’m still trying to keep the pledge:

“In justice. In courage. In defence of the weak. In the face of the mighty. Through magic and wisdom and good.”

Except – I’m not sure this is justice, anymore. The goblins are right (I did hurt them), even though I’m right too and they are trying to kill me. Wouldn’t it be justice if I died?

I wish they’d been willing to talk. 

 

BAZ

When I see Simon disarmed, I panic. Without thinking, I do what I’m best at – I summon a long column of fire, even though this is an enclosed space I’m probably far more flammable than anyone else in here, besides Nicodemus. If anything, they should have brought fire to deal with me.

But apparently even goblins fear being burned alive.

They back away – letting me get close to Simon, which I’ve been trying to do from the beginning. Because I think I know what to do now.

I pull the fire around us in a ring. We’ll be fine, we’ll be safe (as long as no one casts a light breeze).

Simon is golden in the firelight: gold on his skin, darker gold in his hair. And I don’t think I could resist the relief of kissing him, even if I didn’t think we were going to die. He grips me hard with the hand not holding the sword. He smells of blood – a cut on his ankle, several identical gashes on his shoulder – and his lips are warm. Obviously neither of us can really afford to let our guard down right now. But I let myself be distracted. Just for a moment.

This could be the last time, after all.

“Is that the Sword of Mages?” I ask when he lets go of me. I have to shout over the noise of the flames, and goblins screaming curses and everything going to hell around us.

“Yeah,” Simon says. “It came when I called.”

We’ll have to work that one out later. If there is a later.

“I think I know how we can get out of here,” I shout in his ear.

He shakes his head. “I don’t think we should bring the ceiling down – I’m not sure the goblins deserve to die.”

Which is probably the stupidest thing anyone’s said to me in the long time (why are we even here if the goblins don’t deserve to die?), but fine. Whatever. It actually ties into my plan.

“What I’m proposing is dangerous, but only for you.”

“All right. Let’s do it,” Simon says without asking what it is.

Because he’s an idiot. A stupidly brave, selfless, beautiful idiot.

A hero, in other words.

Well, I’m a vampire (an anti-hero at best). But Simon has taught me that might actually be useful on occasion.

Goblins and vampires avoid each other, according to Nicodemus. They’re natural rivals, too similar to do anything other than hate each other. It’s a gamble, I admit, but I’m fairly sure they must therefore believe the same rubbish that everyone else does. Vampires don’t eat human food, and they can’t be seen in mirrors, and a vampire bite will either kill you or Turn you – no middle ground.

I let the ring of fire around us drop down to ankle level (I want everyone get a good look at what I’m going to do now).

And then I draw Simon towards me again.

 

PENELOPE

It takes me a while to understand what I’m seeing. It’s not Simon and Baz making out in the middle of the battlefield (although I think they did do that). Baz is drinking Simon’s blood, draining him. Right here in front of everyone.

Simon’s getting paler and paler until he’s as grey as Baz usually is. I want to believe that Baz knows what he’s doing – I know they’ve done this before – but it’s terrifying. I want to do something, but I don’t know what.

Everyone else has stopped fighting too. Everyone is watching Baz.

And then at last he lets Simon drop to the floor and Simon lies there, in the centre of the ring of fire, unmoving.

“Simon Snow is dead,” Baz says and his lips are red with Simon’s blood. “It’s over. It’s finished. We have no quarrel with the rest of you.”

I don’t know what he expected. I definitely don’t know what I expected would happen – but it wasn’t this. The goblins are sinking to their knees in concentric circles around him, until only Baz, Nicodemus, Fiona and I are still standing.

“Hail,” one of the goblins says. And then another one says it, and another.

Then one of them says, “Long live the king!” and the others cheer. Next to me, Fiona Pitch whoops.

I meet Baz’s eyes accusingly across the room. He raises an eyebrow, as if to say: Well – it was always going to happen, wasn’t it?

And then he raises a hand to wave graciously at his new subjects.

 

Chapter Text

1 – BAZ

My family has trained me for years to assume power. Mage by thirty or, at the very least, Headmaster of Watford.

Since my twentieth birthday is still a few months away, there’s plenty of time for me to take either job, or both. If I want them. And if either role still exists in ten years. (And if nobody finds out I’m a vampire before then. That would almost certainly disqualify me.)

Nobody ever expected I would literally become a king (I know I didn’t). But it’s practically the same thing.

Anyway, the rules are the same.

Listen well and speak with assurance. Be liberal with praise - it costs nothing and fosters good feeling. Form strong alliances and look after your best people, but don’t ever put your absolute trust in anyone who isn’t family. Don’t allow dissent to go unchecked. Most importantly – keep your subjects busy, because if they’re busy they’ll feel useful, and they won’t have time to strike against you.

I’ve been king for almost three days now, and about the only thing I’ve thought of to keep my subjects busy is tidying up the place. (It’s dark down here, but that’s no excuse.)

I suppose I’ve also made them tell me about their magic. That was difficult enough, since, as king, I refused to admit that I didn’t know how the trick was done. Fortunately, I had Bunce around to demand answers on my behalf.

As it turns out, goblins do specialise in illusion. When we felt that goblin break the wards around Simon, it wasn’t the frankly impossible feat it seemed to be. You can’t just cancel magic with a wave of your hand (or maybe Simon could have once, but even he can’t any more). That meant, the wards didn’t actually break. But they did appear to – and not just visually. Magically.

I was relieved when we discovered this, even though it meant I wasn’t going to learn invincibility. I don’t like to think of magic being that fallible. Besides, the illusion spell was more than impressive on its own. (At school we were taught illusions to confuse the five Normal senses, nothing like this.)

It’s particularly impressive considering that the goblins don’t seem use anything like a wand (or indeed spells) to focus their magic. Neither Bunce nor I have worked out how they do it yet, though we’re both getting quite good at our own illusions of sorcery. (We use Just like magic. My idea.) Perhaps if this charade goes on long enough I’ll just order them to tell me. Even if it’s a dark-creature thing, I should be able to manage it, since I am one.

The only other thing that I’ve asked the goblins to do is bring me food from Pret and blood from the local butchers. (“I only bite my greatest enemies,” I told the goblins, trying to sound like a serial killer. “I don’t want other human blood contaminating the purity of my hatred for Snow.” Ridiculous, but they seemed to buy it.)

That’s hardly a strong set of engaging policies – good housekeeping; and sandwiches and a strong magical education for your king.

I expect the riots any day now.

The truth is, I may have been groomed for greatness, but I wasn’t prepared for this. I don’t have any pet projects that a hundred-odd goblins could help me with (my only recent project was trying to stop the goblins attacking Simon. Which strangely, I seem to have achieved, if not at all in the way I hoped). I need more than three days to think of something actually worth doing.

Naturally Fiona has dozens of half-baked schemes already. These range from putting on a play for our general amusement (both she and Nicodemus used to be in the drama society and she misses it) to an all-out military rebellion against the Coven.

When I told her I didn’t think a coup was necessary (with the Families’ existing resources, we’ll be able to control the Coven within the next few years anyway – without killing anyone), she told me the least I could do would be to stop the Greek import ban for my father.

How?” I said.

I find it difficult to imagine any goblin has a good knowledge of trade law or international diplomacy at the best of times.

My aunt had cornered me during an apparently routine inspection of the treasury. Two goblin caretakers were having an argument about the exact position of the piles of gold. Not because either position was in any way dangerous to passers-by or might be more likely to prevent theft – simply because one thought the gold looked better if it flowed towards the right, whereas the other favoured a more natural arrangement. While they talked my new chancellor weighed in with his own theory. (He liked orderly stacks, if you really want to know.) 

It certainly wasn't the best of times.

Fiona rolled her eyes. “Send the goblins to attack some children. Or even better – a member of the Coven. They only voted to prioritise the ban because the goblins hadn’t caused enough trouble yet.”

“Isn’t that almost exactly how the Mage rose to power?”

“And?” Fiona said. “It bloody well worked.”

Bunce, too, has ideas for how I can put my newly acquired sovereignty to best use. Her ideas are vaguer than Fiona’s, but no less irritating.

“A good king thinks about the needs of his subjects before himself,” she told me as I tried to pick out something to wear from an array of beautiful regal garments – without thinking about who had died in them before they reached me. “You need to find out what they want. What’s important to the goblins.”

“I don’t care what they want,” I said.

Because I really don’t. I honestly wouldn’t mind if I never had to think about or see another goblin again.

There were two of them in that room at that point, my personal bodyguard (both horrifically good-looking), but I don’t think they were insulted. I think they expected that sort of statement from their king.

“Are they seeking more general acceptance in the World of Mages?” Bunce persisted as though she hadn’t heard this. “Because you could negotiate with the Coven, couldn’t you? Or maybe they’d like to live above ground. Or have access to the National Health Service.”

“I’m fairly sure they want to eat people and polish their gold,” I said. (I’d seen the treasury by then.) “Which, forgive me, I don’t feel much like facilitating.”

“They’ve been without law for years,” Bunce said. “So, even if that is true––”

I glanced towards the guards. “Is it?”

“Quite true, your majesty,” one of them said. John, I think. The one with the razer-sharp cheekbones.

Bunce turned to look at them too (the guards, generally. Not John’s cheekbones) (I assume).

“Right. But that doesn’t mean you wouldn’t want more if someone raised your expectations a bit,” she said to Probably John.

He ignored her.

Bunce was not put off. “If someone expanded your ideas about what was possible. You don’t even really think of yourself as a collective.” She turned back to me as though she’d always meant to. “It’s an incredible opportunity for change.”

“And you think that someone sounds like me, do you?”

“Obviously not,” she said – which hurt, even though I agreed with her. “I’m telling you what I’d do, aren’t I? But I’m not the one who seized power here.”

Nicodemus mercifully keeps his opinions (if he has any) to himself. Although I can tell he still hates me.

Obviously, I’m not keeping any of these people here. In fact, I tried to insist that Bunce at least go home and go to class. (She kept going on about whether missing one lecture would affect her grade. I pointed out that I missed six weeks of my final year at school and still finished top of the year, but that she should go if she wanted to. She didn’t.)

But I’m glad that they’re all staying. For now, anyway. It makes the whole thing seem slightly less dreadful.

Because it is dreadful.

Not because of anything the goblins have done (frankly, given what I’d heard about them, I expected them to be a lot worse) or the lack of privacy. Or because the responsibility of leadership is weighing me down, either, whatever Bunce might think.

It’s dreadful because there’s one thing I really care about, one thing that makes my life genuinely worth living. One person.

And he’s locked in a dungeon somewhere I can’t reach him.

 

2 – BAZ

I didn’t expect the goblins would make me their king. (I’m not even a goblin, for Crowley’s sake.)

Simon had told me that the reason they kept attacking him was something to do with succession, but a lot was going on in that battle – and I forgot. I just remembered that it was Simon they had a feud with. I thought we could talk our way out after he was “dead”.

I’d imagined that, as part of the negotiations, we would agree to remove Simon’s body, so it wouldn’t clutter the place up. Then, once we were all outside, I’d call a taxi and get him to Dr Wellbelove’s before he bled out. (I would have lied about exactly which vampire had bitten him.)

Obviously, it wasn’t a fool-proof plan. The goblins might have refused to let us take him. And even if we did get out, someone would have to constantly spell the taxi driver into ignorance while the rest of us covered Simon in healing spells.

But we were out of options.

At least, we were out of options that didn’t include getting ourselves buried under ten tonnes of train station.

At least, I thought we were.

And then when the goblins responded as they did, when they hailed me as the new king, I thought: That’s fine. I can use this as cover to get Simon out.

(I may also have been enjoying the moment.) (You have to remember I had more of Simon’s blood inside me than I’d allowed myself to take before, so I was already feeling good. And I was surrounded by handsome men, even if they were goblins. And they were all desperate to put a crown on my head. It would have been difficult not to enjoy it.)

But the problem with being king (one of the problems) is that everyone is always looking at you. That meant my plan to pull Simon into my arms and throw him into an Uber before his heart stopped became impossible.

So I did the next best thing. I ordered Nicodemus to dispose of the body.

As a vampire, he was more than capable of carrying Simon on his own. And he would have seen other people at this stage of bloodloss before. If anyone knew the right spells to keep Simon alive, it would (I reasoned) be him.

I thought he’d “dispose of the body” outside. As I would have done.

But obviously, we hadn’t talked the plan through.

We still haven’t really spoken about what happened, but I think now that Nicodemus had decided we were too far underground. That it would take too long to get back to the surface, even if the goblins didn’t stop him. He wanted to get out of sight and do whatever it was he needed to do quickly.

He took my Aunt Fiona. (I didn’t notice at the time.) (Although I do remember being grateful that no one around me seemed to think that the high-five was an appropriate response to a coronation.)

He did not take Bunce – that I do remember, because she put up a big fight about allowing to go too. I had to remind her that we were all happy Simon was dead, weren't we? (And that therefore nobody needed to arrest or eat her for treason.)

When the two of them emerged from the lower tunnels an hour later (obviously not back from a trip to the hospital), I almost fainted.

By then all the contentment from Simon’s blood had gone. Bunce had to restrain me from shaking Nicodemus until he told me what he’d done with my boyfriend.

“You can’t draw attention to him,” she hissed in my ear.

And she was right. As I’d moved, half a dozen goblins had moved with me – as though I’d become a magnet for handsome green men. Clearly, if I tried to talk to anyone about what had happened, goblins would be watching. And if I tried to visit Simon, to see whether he was all right, to check Nicodemus hadn’t Turned him by mistake––

Well, essentially, I can’t visit Simon.

If I do, I make it obvious not only that I became king under significant false pretences, but also that Simon is alive. Working out who would be king instead of me would turn into a fish-in-a-barrel exercise. 

The others have checked on him. I think (I can’t be sure). I think he’s still alive. And that he’s not a vampire.

I can’t stand that I don’t know for sure. That I’m not with him. That he isn’t with me.

He should be here, offering me his own stupid ideas about what I should do with my kingdom (“How about a football team? Or a soup kitchen for orphans – although you should probably get the goblins to stop eating people, before you do that.”) (Actually, I probably should get them to stop eating people, assuming I can work out how.)

He should be here, reminding me of the obvious things I’ve missed. (I miss him.)

“How do you feel about cows?” I ask the nearest of my guards. John. The same one Penelope tried to radicalise earlier. “Beef. Would you eat a cow?”

“Er,” John says. (Reminding me depressingly of Simon.)

“Do goblins eat cows?” I clarify in case the question is too difficult for him.

“I have done, your majesty.”

“No many cows in central London, your majesty,” my other guard says.

I give him a long, hard stare. “Are you bound by the M25? A curse I’m not aware of?”

“I just like London,” he mutters.

Ridiculous. No wonder the Coven didn't think these people were worth dealing with. 

I’m writing my cousin Bernard’s address onto the back of a craft-beer menu when the sirens go off.

“What in snakes is that?” I demand.

“High-security prisoner escaping, your majesty!” the guards say, practically in union.

It must be Simon. (Resourceful idiot.)

The two guards are heading for the door – so am I. I’m not sure what I’m going to do, but I know that I have to do something and that it has to be good. Other goblins are also flocking in a direction I can only assume leads to the dungeons. To where Simon is.

I pull out my wand. “Your attention, please.”

They all turn to look at me. Some of them even sink into low bows. (It occurs to me that I didn’t need to use magic to get their attention – I am king, after all. But better safe than sorry.)

Since I already have my wand out, I cast a “Shut up!to turn the alarms off. Now I have to think of what to do next.

Fortunately, I spot Nicodemus standing at the back of the crowd with Fiona, both of them trying to shake off the attention spell. I know he’s less watched than the rest of us (presumably because he’s neither edible, nor royalty).

“Dealing with prisoners is a one-man job,” I tell the goblins who are all still paying attention. “At most.” Then I pretend to notice Nicodemus. “You there – vampire.”

He turns to scowl at me.

“Get down to the lower levels. Tell any prisoner you meet that they’d better stay where they are if they want to remain alive. If they attract attention to themselves, or break out, they’re dead. Understand?”

“Yeah,” he says. “I got it.” (Crowley, I hope he does. This time.)

“The rest of you, with me,” I say. “I need you to help me strike against my cousin.”

Back in the throne room, I spin them a tale about how Bernard Grimm has slighted me for the last time. Now I’m king, he will naturally pay for his insolence. (Though not with his life – he is family, after all. I make it clear that if any of them so much as nibbles anything that isn’t a cow while they’re away, they’ll answer to me personally.)

It’s not hard to be convincing. Family he may be, but I loathe Bernard. I’m delighted that dark creatures are going to eat his precious livestock.

“Nice work, Basil,” Fiona says, as we watch about half of my subjects (it wasn’t plausible to send absolutely all of them, unfortunately) leaving through the back exit, which comes up near Waterloo East. “Although you could have chosen another bloody member of the Coven to attack. Since Bernard is a dick, but actually already on our side.”

I raise an eyebrow at her. “You’re right, Fiona,” I say. “He is a dick.”

Kings don’t take shit from their own aunts. (That’s another rule. One that I just invented.)

Anyway, I know what I’m doing. This isn’t a long-term solution – to the food problem, or the problem of keeping the goblins occupied – but it’s better than anything else I had. And now half of the goblins are making their way to Scotland. That means there are fewer goblins watching me.

Time for some more magic.

 

3 – SIMON

“So,” I say eventually. “What’re you in for?”

There’s only one other person in the goblin prison (I’m trying not to think about why that is. What happened to everyone else the goblins fell out with). I know it’s a girl, because she told me to stop making so much noise while I hacked at the lock on my cell door with the Sword of Mages. Then Nicky arrived and told me I’d been in a healing coma for three days and that Baz was king now and that I’d better lie low because I was supposed to be dead. The girl seemed to think that was very funny – which I think means she’s also a goblin.

“Listen,” Nicky told me, “if you want to start a revolution let me know. Otherwise, sit tight, eat this, and I’ll bring more news when I have it, OK?”

Then he gave me a can of spinach (unopened) and left me in the dark again.

On the other side of the wall I’m leaning against, I can hear the girl prisoner tut. Probably because my question’s such a cliché. But there’s literally no one else to talk to.

I’m hungry. And I’m bored. And when I’m bored all I can think about is how hungry I am and how much I wish Baz was here. Or better yet, that neither of us were here. That we were both somewhere else, together. With a lot of food.

“Come on,” I plead. “Talk to me.”

“Fine,” the girl says. “If you really want to know, I murdered thirty other goblins in cold blood.”

“Fucking hell.”

I wasn’t expecting that. I’m stuck in here with a lunatic serial killer.

But before I lose it completely, the girl says,

“Oh wait. No. That wasn’t me – that was you, wasn’t it, dickface?”

Right. I get it.

Trust my luck to get another roommate who hates me. I mean, I suppose Baz didn’t actually hate me. Well, maybe he did a bit, but he didn’t only hate me.

I don’t think this girl is secretly in love with me, though. I think she just hates me. (She’s also definitely a goblin. She said other.)

“Listen,” I say, trying to sound like a normal bloke, the sort of normal bloke it’d be OK to be friends, or at least allies, with in a prison situation. Definitely not a crazy murderer.

“I was fifteen. And really impressionable.” (That’s a word from therapy.) “And it wasn’t cold blood – they were eating other people. But despite all that, I’m still sorry, all right? And I’m particularly sorry if I, like, killed your dad or something.”

“Yeah,” she says.

“Yeah?”

“Yeah, you killed my dad.”

Merlin, I want to get out of here.

I suppose nobody ever said prison was supposed to be fun. Or guilt, for that matter.

I mean, she could be joking again, trying to wind me up. But I don’t think she is. Her voice has gone quiet and raspy, like mine does when I’m trying not to cry.

I think I really did kill her dad.

“Sorry,” I say again. (Great, Simon. Really fucking inadequate.)

She still doesn’t say anything, so I say,

“I killed my own–– I mean, I’m an orphan, so I don’t know who my parents are, but I killed my––” (Fuck. What do I even call him? I never worked this out) “mentor, I suppose. It was an accident, but it happened. I mean, he’d just murdered one of my best friends, so you could say he deserved it. But I didn’t want him dead. I probably killed your dad by accident too. But it’s still shit.”

I sink down lower against the wall.

“Sorry. I should probably shut up. It’s just, I’ve been doing a lot of therapy, if you can’t tell. Part of it is saying the bad stuff out loud to acknowledge what happened.”

Perhaps I should just try and sleep again – at least it would pass the time until I get out of here.

Or I suppose I should say, until Baz works out how to get me out of here since Nicky told me to wait for him. But I’ve already noticed that thinking about Baz makes me feel even worse, so I’m trying not to. Unfortunately, I still mostly think about Baz most of the time, so it’s difficult.

I really hope he’s OK. Although I guess he must be, if he’s the king.

I wonder if he’s enjoying it.

Probably. He was born to it, after all.

But I’d like to hear him say it. I’d like to know he was all right.  

“I didn’t know you killed the Mage,” the girl says at last. 

“Yeah,” I say. Mostly I don’t even feel sad about it, any more. I just feel hollow. “Penny helped.”

“My father was the king,” the goblin girl says.

I twist to look in her direction (which is pointless, basically. It’s dark and there’s a wall between us. But it feels important).

“I was put in here because I tried to make peace with the World of Mages,” she says. “I thought it made sense. You were all too powerful. The others preferred revenge. They called me a traitor, said it was suicide to parlay with a bunch of Olaf-riding magicians. They won’t kill me, because of who I am, but they won’t let me out, either.”

“Wow,” I say. “Is that true?”

I half expect her to laugh and say, “You’re so gullible.” Or something like that. But she doesn’t.

“I’m not a liar, Goblinslayer,” she says sharply.

We sit in silence for a while, each in our own cells. Then I figure – what the hell? How much worse can it get?

“I would have wanted to make peace. If you’d asked,” I say. “I don’t know about the Mage and the rest of the Coven, maybe they wouldn’t have agreed, but I would’ve.”

“Whatever,” she says.

“No, seriously. I’m not a liar, either,” I say. “I’m not good enough at making stuff up. And if I did somehow get away with telling a lie, I definitely wouldn’t remember what I’d said if anyone asked me about it later. So, I mostly just tell the truth all the time. It’s easier.”

“You’re not like I thought you’d be,” she says.

“People always say that,” I say. And they always mean: You’re not as impressive as I thought you’d be.

I don’t mind, though. I don’t think I’m as impressive as I sound on paper, either.

“I’m sorry you had to kill your mentor,” she says.

“… Thanks,” I say cautiously, when she still doesn’t laugh.

And then I tell her the rest of it, because I sort of can’t stop.

It’s easier than talking to my therapist, partly because I can’t see this girl at all, but mostly because I’m not paying her to talk to me. So I know she must either want to hear all this, or be too polite to tell me to stop. (And since she told me I was a murderer and called me ‘dickface’, I don’t think it’s that she’s too polite.)

I guess it probably is quite an interesting story, particularly if you care about the fate of the magickal world, which the goblins must do since they live and breathe magic. Plus, this is the unvarnished truth. The bits they wouldn’t print in the paper. The real story from someone who was really there. (And who caused the whole fucking thing.)

“I can’t believe you gave up your magic,” Holly says eventually.

(Her name’s Holly. I asked somewhere around Baz’s house catching on fire, because it felt weird not knowing who I was talking to.)

I shrug – even though she can’t see me – and then I remember.

My magic is coming back.

 

4 - SIMON

It's amazing. And kind of unbelievable. But my magic must be coming back if I'm able to draw the Sword of Mages. Only a magician can do that. I didn’t have time to think about it during the battle, and then I guess I forgot, but holy shit. Baz is going to absolutely love this – it’s what he wanted. And Penny, oh my God.

I’m grinning just thinking about telling them, I’m that excited. Grinning in the dark in a prison cell, like a lunatic.

Penny will probably cry and Baz – well, he’ll probably pretend he always knew I’d get it back, although he really didn’t.

He won’t have to feel sorry for me anymore. Or worry that I can’t protect myself.

And we can share magic again, I know he loved that. Now. I know he loved that now. I didn’t understand how much at the time, because I thought I hated him and he hated me. But I think it felt for him like it does when he bites me. Floaty. And warm. Overwhelming.

He must miss it. I would.

I haven’t missed my magic, exactly, but I’m glad its back. For Baz and for Penny.

Maybe I’ll even be better at spellwork this time. Now that it’s my own magic. Obviously, I can still summon the sword, but I’ve always been able to get that spell right.

It was the first spell I ever learnt. The Mage felt I should be armed from the beginning.

“It will be a burden,” he said as I swung the sword around his office that first day. “A heavy one. But you must be able to protect yourself, Simon – I won’t always be there.”

At the time I didn’t understand what he meant about it being a burden. (It was a magic sword, a sword I could pull from the air just by saying a few words. How was that anything other than Fucking Amazing?)

I do now, though.

He meant things were going to try and kill me and that I was going to have to kill them first, even though I was only eleven. I didn’t really mind back then, I just felt I had no choice. I guess eleven-year-olds aren’t really ready for the big questions.

“Use the sword well and it will always come back to you, so long as you are my heir,” the Mage told me. He put his hand on my shoulder. “Use it with courage and with wisdom. Be worthy of it.”

“I’ll try, sir.”

“I know you will, Simon.”

And I meant it. Obviously. But over the years I was at Watford, I used the Sword of Mages for all sorts of stuff I probably could have used a less-magical sword for. Things like spilling blood for my room at Mummer’s House or opening tins of beans (I used it again, just now, to open that spinach.) (There was no ring-pull and I was hungry). It’s just, it’s easy to get used to things. Take them for granted. And the sword seemed to be all right with it.

But if I’m getting my magic back, I can start over – do things right. Which means not murdering people (unless they really deserve it), even if they’re goblins.

“Holly,” I say. “About your dad––”

Quiet,” she says suddenly. “Someone’s coming.”

It’s probably just Nicky again, but I edge back away from the cell bars just in case. If it’s not Nicky then I don’t want to draw attention to myself.

A thin line of light appears and then widens into an arch. It’s another goblin, carrying fire in his hand. He steps through into the prison walkway and I hear Holly hissing something, but I can’t make out what it is. It sounds like a spell, though.

“Snow?” the other goblin says. “Are you in here?” 

I scoot further backwards, as though that’ll be enough to stop him noticing the boy with the massive fuck-off wings. A bit of shadow. But it’s not like I have a tonne of options right now, unless I pull out the Sword of Mages again. Baz told me not to break out of prison. And I don’t want to kill a guard who’s just doing his job.

The guy walks a bit further along the cells, holding his fire up to light the cells. Like all goblins, he’s ridiculously fit. Full lips and sharp David Bowie cheekbones. Nothing to Baz, obviously, who is probably the most beautiful person alive, but definitely hot. (Which is exactly the kind of thing I used to think all the time without realising that it meant anything. Nobody ever said that most straight blokes don’t go around noticing how hot other blokes are.) (Although I probably could have figured it out for myself.)

He looks in at me and then moves out towards Holly’s cell. I don’t think he even saw me. Which is impossible, unless Holly’s done something. Shielded me somehow. (I guess I did hear her cast the spell.) Which doesn’t sound very sensible but is the only thing I can come up with.

“What happened to the other prisoner?” the guard demands.

“What other prisoner?” Holly says. (She’s actually a pretty good liar.)

“The boy. Simon Snow. He was here.”

“No. It’s just me. Please tell me you’ve come to let me out.”

“Fuck,” the goblin says.

And something about the way he says it, the vulnerability and frustration of it, sounds so familiar that I know exactly who he is. I feel warm suddenly all the way through.

I stand up and my wings flex behind me after so long crushed against the wall. I walk up to the bars and stare hard at the goblin, who still can’t see me. He has his hands scrunched in his hair, like he’s not sure what to do now. And also, like he’s used to his hair being a lot longer.

It’s definitely him. I know it is. I’d know him anywhere.

Baz,” I say and he jumps.

 

5 – BAZ

That was Simon. That was definitely Simon. (Yes, I know what it sounds like when Simon says my name. And no – that isn’t in any way embarrassing. Now that we’re dating.)

I cancel the illusion spell with I am what I am.”  

Now I look like myself again, rather than John the guard, so it had better be Simon, rather than rebel goblins trying to expose the fact that I know Simon Snow is actually still alive. Which is possible, I suppose – but not likely.

It’s unlikely enough that I’m willing to risk further incriminating myself anyway.

“Snow?”

I still can’t see him, but I suppose I don’t know my own prisons very well yet. I don’t know what spells Nicodemus and my aunt left on him, either. It smells like Simon is here, now I’m not too on edge to use my senses. Bacon and cinnamon buns. Blood and sweat.

Comforting. And delicious, in roughly equal measure. Simon.

I left a simulacrum of myself sitting in the throne room, sent the real John to get me a coffee and snuck out into the corridors. Clothes were a problem, because for some reason the goblin spell doesn’t work on clothes (why the fuck doesn’t it work on clothes?), but I managed to locate a uniform that very nearly fits me.

Then I just walked down here as though I had every right to be here. (As indeed I do. Just not usefully.)

“It’s all right, Holly,” Simon’s voice says.

And then I see him, standing in the first cell I passed. The one that was obviously empty ten seconds ago.

Simon Snow. With three-day-old stubble over the freckles on his jaw. In the same shorts and t-shirt he was wearing three days ago when we watched the football together, although now both items of clothing seem to be covered in blood and who knows what else (I mean, I could probably guess, but I’d prefer not to). His skin is pale, though thankfully not vampire pale. Even his wings look a bit grey. But he’s alive. Alive.

I couldn’t be more relieved. I want to grab him and take him home, wrap my arms around him and save him from all this.

“You look like shit,” I tell him.

“So do you,” he says, grinning.

Which makes sense (I haven’t been sleeping very well. And the guard uniform I stole is designed to favour someone with green skin, rather than grey. And the light here is awful.). But I think I must still pout.

Simon notices and softens his assessment. “Comparatively.”

“I thought this was your boyfriend,” the goblin in the next cell says dubiously.

“It is my boyfriend,” Simon says. “This is how we talk to each other.”

I ignore that because I don’t really want to discuss my relationship with a goblin criminal. I barely want to discuss it with Simon himself.

“I’ve brought you some food,” I tell him, pulling three Pret sandwiches out of my satchel.

Simon’s face lights up. “Thanks.”

The cell bars are wide enough that I can pass them to him and he lets me hold the hand that isn’t currently pushing rye bread into his mouth. I lean my cheek against his knuckles and try not to feel like a kidnapper bent on instilling Stockholm Syndrome in an attractive victim.

“I’m sorry,” I tell his fingers.

“Wow,” Simon says through a sandwich, “I must look bad.”

I grimace, but obviously I understand. Simon apologises all the time, for everything; I never do. But this is an emergency.

“Do you mind if I clean you up?” I offer.

He shakes his head. That’s fine. I know he hates people casting spells on him.

“All right.”

I probably should be getting back anyway.

“No, I meant – No, I don’t mind you doing it,” Simon says hanging onto me as I try extract my hand from his. “Why would I? It’s you. And you asked. And I really do smell terrible.”

I don’t tell him that he doesn’t. Not to me, anyway.

If there weren’t bars between us, I’d probably kiss him now. If he’d brushed his teeth in the last three days. And if it weren’t stupidly dangerous to be caught kissing Simon Snow in the middle of a goblin prison. (Although the bars are the main problem, unfortunately.) (Naturally, I could unspell them, but I’m not sure if that would set off an alarm.) Simon looks like he’d quite like to kiss me, too.

Fuck, I really need to abdicate. And get out of here. In whatever order becomes convenient. And then I will kiss Simon Snow until one of other of us has to leave to get food. (Him, presumably.)

I kiss the moles on the back of his hand instead and breathe in the scent of his unwashed skin. Then I step back and point my wand at his chest.

“Clean as a whistle.”

“You really do still use wands, then,” the goblin in the next cell says. “Like actual babies. What’s it made of? Non-toxic plastic you can chew on?”

Before I can respond, the lock in the main prison door, the one I came through earlier, clanks. Very much as though someone’s just stuck a key into it and then turned it.

It’s presumably going to open any second.

“Baz! In here,” Simon hisses and pushes the door of his cell open. Now I look at it I can see that someone (Simon) must have cut through it earlier with a sword. The mechanism is completely fucked.

I think about shouting, You could do that the entire time? but I don’t. Instead I slide through the open cell door and cast “There’s nothing to see here!” over both of us. Simon crushes me into his chest, as though that will help conceal me. (I love that he thinks that will work.)

The prison door opens and I thread my fingers through his.

“Simon?” a familiar voice says.

Simon’s head jerks up away from my shoulder. “Penny!” he says, delighted.

“How many of your friends are planning on visiting us today?” the goblin says. “Because it’s getting ridiculous.”

I suppose it is a bit ridiculous. But with Bunce here and Simon holding my hand, it feels like the good sort of ridiculous my life has become.

 

6 – PENELOPE

Living with goblins has been fascinating. No other magician has done anything like this before – for good reason, obviously, but it means that Baz and I are the only ones who’ve even scratched the surface of what goblin magic could mean for the World of Mages. We’ve already codified six spells that didn’t exist last week – or at least, didn’t exist for magicians. A few more and we can publish.

I would have been all right with staying longer. We might even be able to do some good, if Baz manages to push through any of the socialist programmes I’ve suggested. But I’m still a bit worried we’re going to be eaten. Also Baz kept whinging about missing the first day of class. (“Microeconomics isn’t something you can just make up, Bunce. It’s not literary criticism, for fuck’s sake.”)

Even that would have been OK, but neither of us wanted to leave Simon in a cell for any longer than we had to.

It’s been difficult not to run down to check on him every hour on the hour. When I saw that Baz was gone, I barely bothered with my own illusion spell. (Although I did do one. I’m not stupid.)

It really is grim down here.

Simon looks all right, though. Weirdly. A bit pale, but I’ve seen him look a lot worse. He’s holding Baz’s hand, but in a normal haven’t-seen-your-boyfriend-for-three-days sort of way, rather than in a post-traumatic stress way, like he did after what happened with the Mage.

“I figured you’d be down here when I couldn’t find the real you,” I tell Baz.

He frowns. “Is anyone else likely to spot the substitution, do you think?”

I shake my head. “It was good. If I hadn’t touched it, I wouldn’t have guessed.”

“Fuck. Too hot?”

Baz’s simulacrum felt like it has his magic, which is good, but it also felt exactly like Baz’s magic feels – which is basically like being on fire. The real Baz feels cold even in summer, which is why he’s always wearing about five layers of clothes. So it was a bit of a giveaway when I tapped him on the shoulder and practically burnt myself.

“You need to at least try and hide your signature,” I say.

“Obviously I am trying.”

“What are you even talking about?” Simon says.

“Magic,” Baz and I say in unison.

Then we both look at each other – trying to work out whether it’s embarrassing or cool that we’re starting to do that. Like we’re friends. Good friends.

Eventually Baz rolls his eyes. I’m pretty sure that means that he thinks it’s cool but doesn’t want anyone to know that he does. (Everyone here being me, his boyfriend, and a complete stranger who is also a goblin. How self-conscious can you get?)

Simon shakes his head. “Right. Of course. No wonder I didn’t get it.” He brightens. “Although I might do soon.”

“I wouldn’t count on that,” Baz says.

Simon swats him. “Shut up. I meant––” He shakes his head. “It’s all right, it’s not important right now. We need to talk about how we’re going to get out of here.”

Thank Erlkönig,” the goblin says, clearly frustrated. 

There’s something about what Simon said that’s bothering me (why would he suddenly understand what Baz and I were saying?), but I also know he’s right. I don’t want to stay down here forever.

I dig in my pockets and come up triumphant.

“Right. I brought chalk. Let’s get to work.”

 

7 – SIMON

In the end it’s easy.

Well, it’s not easy, but given that we need a plan that will get Baz out of being king (“Paperwork,” he says briefly, when Holly asks what’s so bad about it); me out of pretending to be dead; and all of us out of the cells under Waterloo, alive and in one piece, it’s actually pretty simple.

“Right,” Penny says, wielding the chalk like a wand. “What are our assets?”

We end up with a list chalked up next to Holly’s cell (which I can’t help noticing is much nicer than mine).

  1. Baz is the king of the goblins – somehow. He can tell goblins what to do. (Within reason).
  2. Nicodemus – less watched than everyone else.
  3. Baz’s aunt – utter badass. (Still a bit of a bitch, though – What? She is)
  4. Lots of weapons – although they’re mostly with Baz’s aunt. (And we don’t want to kill anyone. This time – Really? That seems unlikely. – And impractical. – I’m trying!)
  5. Magic – both goblin and magician.
  6. A brief window of opportunity while most of the goblins are in Scotland eating my cousin’s cattle.
  7. Everyone thinks Simon is dead – element of surprise?
  8. Mobile numbers for most of the Coven (But there’s no signal down here – Then go outside – You go outside. – I can’t. But Nicodemus can)

“Good. Anything else?” Penny asks.

“What about Holly being the rightful king?” I say. “We can use that. Can’t we?”

I look at Holly. She huffs as though to say, I suppose. So, I take the blue chalk and add this information beneath Baz and Penny arguing about phone reception.

  1. Holly is the rightful king. Or queen. Whatever goblins have.

Queen,” Holly says firmly.

Penny sits up. “You mean you really are? What are your policies?”

“Unimportant,” Baz says. “What is important is that you two geniuses have been sitting on this information for the last hour. It’s clearly relevant.”

I glare at him and he squeezes my hand, which is his normal way of apologising. That means he’s not feeling stupidly guilty anymore, so I let it go. (I always do now I know he doesn't mean it.)

“It definitely makes things easier,” Penny says. “I assume we all agree that there’s now a pretty obvious solution here, yeah?”

“Yes,” everyone says. Even I do. (I assume that the solution is obvious. It just isn’t obvious to me.)

“Well?” Penelope says.

“We call the Coven and get them to deal with this,” Baz says promptly. “Which is what we should have done from the beginning, I might add.”

“Don’t be thick,” Holly says. Which is hilarious. (You should see Baz's face.) “Magicians can’t just walk in here – it’ll be a bloodbath. And you need to actually hand over power to me, preferably with some sort of binding magic so it sticks. Then you lot run away as fast as you can.”

“I’m not running,” Baz says, extra scathingly. “That implies they still want to come after us, which is the only unacceptable outcome of all of this.”

Penny sighs. “Simon?”

She favours the Socratic method, so I know I have to guess, even though I also know she’s already got an answer.

“Um. Why not do both of them?” I say.

Penelope beams at me. I must be on the right track.

“I mean, Holly wanted to make a deal with the Coven earlier,” I say. “And if she actually makes one, it’ll prove she was right all along – and help the other goblins take her seriously. Also, it’ll be easier for us to sneak out as part of the crowd when everyone leaves.”

“I don’t want a herd of magicians in here,” Holly says.

“But don’t you see,” Penny says encouragingly, “it’ll be different this time. We’d be coming in peace. To help you.”

Holly still looks unconvinced.

I get it. Really, I do.

She’s been in here since the Mage led me and the rest of his Men (all magicians) to wipe out Holly’s dad and half his allies. But we’ve all got to start making amends sometime. Things are different now.

Hell, I’m not even a magician any more (not at the moment, anyway). I’m not the Mage’s Heir. I’m not anything – but I definitely still believe in justice. I think I might even know what that means now.  I mean, I always knew what it meant. As a word. But now I know.  

“Holly, I won’t let anyone hurt you or your family again. I promise.”

Baz’s probably rolling his eyes. (I don’t look at him to check.) I know, I know – it’s classic hero dialogue.

Idiotic, in other words.

But I mean it. Probably because I am one. An idiot.

“You have no idea how weird it is to hear you say that,” Holly says. “For years, I’ve been thinking that I’d eat you first, if I ever got out of here.”

There’s no way for that not to be disturbing.

Except that I guess she’s changed her mind. Or that was just a joke. Because I really think she believes me – that I want to help her (which Baz would say makes her an idiot too). Or maybe she just doesn’t think she has any other options (which she probably doesn’t). Anyway, she agrees to go along with it.

And it’s actually really good fun.

Since I’m supposed to be dead, Holly spells me to look like one of the goblins who used to work for her father but is still around. Louis. Pronounced Lou-ee. Like he’s French. Or more probably, like he’s a twat.  

But apparently, people listen to this guy. Or at least they used to. (No one points out that Holly’s running on information that’s four years out of date – that would be rude. Although Penny does tell me privately that I should just leg it if the goblins don’t look convinced.) I’m a bit worried that I’ll be rumbled by the real Louis turning up, but Baz says he (Louis) was definitely one of the goblins who are in Scotland right now, so it should be all right. Unless anyone texts him to ask what the fuck he thinks he’s doing – but there’s no signal under Waterloo so it should be all right.  

My job is to say, “Hear, hear!” when Baz says he wants to hand power back to Holly. And then to shake Dr Wellbelove’s hand when he arrives along with Baz’s dad, and say some posh-sounding stuff about how the friendship between our people will live forever.

That’s a bit of a surprise actually. Baz’s dad being there. I know Penny would have told Nicky just to ring Agatha’s dad and then make himself scarce (we’re still not allowed to know Nicky’s alive, so it’d be awkward if he was still here when the Coven showed up). And I know Nicky would have told Dr Wellbelove to come alone. That’s what we agreed.

There’s nothing wrong with the rest of the Coven (well – not with most of them), but I know Agatha’s dad is really into Normal-magickal equality. He’s told me about it enough times. So I told the others we should only call him because he wouldn’t flip his shit at the prospect of an alliance with the goblins. He’d probably welcome it. Penny’s mum might, too, but none of us are really sure. Even Penny. (We’re leaving that to Dr Wellbelove to explain. To her and to everyone else.)

As for Baz’s dad, well – I wouldn’t have invited him, but he takes it all pretty well.

I guess, like Baz, he’s used to not reacting very much to anything. Not on the outside, anyway. That means he can show up in a tunnel under a train station, to find his son is in the middle of resigning the goblin throne in order to cement a treaty with Holly’s people, and just take it all in his stride.

Obviously, I can’t resist shaking his hand, as well. “His former Majesty is an inspiration to us all, Mister Grimm. So selfless – to give up the crown. And so wise. But, of course, I can see he comes by it honestly. Your face speaks of wisdom, sir. And selflessness. The very essence.”

“Thank you,” Baz’s dad says pointedly, extracting his hand from my green one, but not actually spelling me away from him. Which he probably would do if I tried to shake his hand on a normal day.

“Simon, I think maybe you’re overdoing it a bit,” Penny hisses at me as I start telling everyone that it’s clear Dr Wellbelove is a man to be trusted, due to his noble brow and fine posture. Holly gives me a thumbs-up, though, so I guess I was right and it’s in character for the sort of person who pretends to be French but isn’t.

Afterwards, as Baz’s dad is driving me, Baz, and Fiona home, Fiona tells me it was an amazing performance and that she’s dead jealous that I got to play a goblin Count while she was just an extra.

I tried to take the tube, but Fiona insisted we all go together – I think just to see what Baz’s dad would do, rather than because we’re friends now. Or because she actually wants me to be going out with her nephew. Although maybe I'm wrong. Maybe we are friends now. She's being really nice.

“You must have done acting before, though, Simon,” she says now. “At school. Something!”

“Nope,” I say. “Never.”

I can’t help feeling pleased, because I wasn’t even really trying. Maybe I’m just that good.

Baz is sitting next to me in the backseat. He’s got his eyes shut, and I think he might be asleep, but he’s also still holding my hand. He’s never done that anywhere his family might be able to see it. And obviously they can’t see exactly – since his dad has his eyes on the road and it’s dark inside the car – but it would have bothered him before. So, this is different. Good different. I like it.

I guess it feels like something has changed.

“Fiona’s taking the piss,” he tells me.

In the front seat, Fiona starts laughing.

Because she’s a bitch.

 

8 – PENELOPE

I go back to Hounslow after we get out from the goblin hive. There’s something about spending three days underground, worried about being eaten and Baz’s dodgy politics, that makes you really want to go home. (Plus, Simon and Baz seem particularly clingy. I figure I’ll let it get normal again before I try and talk to either of them, even one-on-one.)

I don’t tell Mum where we’ve been, but she knows something’s up because I don’t come home much during term time.

“It was just goblins,” I say.

“Ugh. Are they still after Simon?”

“Not anymore."

This starts her off in a rant about how she knew that was the case and that it was just the Grimms making stuff up to try and subvert Coven process. As always.

Obviously, I Crossed my heart, so I can’t say anything about it to her. So I just nod.

I stay for a day or two, commuting into uni and using my parents’ more expensive internet connection to Skype Micah in higher resolution.

He’s studying Anthropology now at uni. So when I tell him I got to live with another magickal species for a week he totally freaks out – in a good way. He was already really jealous of me living with Trixie forever (you can tell he barely knows her). I think he’s even jealous that I know Baz, even though I've told him Baz knows nothing about being a vampire.

But American magicians barely even see other magicians, let alone other magickal species.

Which is why (I told Micah) I could never live there.

At which point Micah told me he’s applied for a visa to study here next academic year and I got too excited to keep talking about goblins, even though I knew he still really wanted to. 

Eventually some of what happened with under Waterloo comes out officially, but Dr Wellbelove must be handling it because Mum doesn’t go crazy and put me under house arrest. 

I text Simon every day, just to make sure he’s all right, which he is. And I just chill.

Then, after about a week, I get stir crazy and come back to my own flat. Mine and Simon’s. I really love my flat – and I’m really pleased no more goblins are going to jump through the windows. Despite Baz’s As you were, I’ve been stepping on glass since it happened. It’s really annoying.

It looks like Baz must have been here recently (I mean, obviously, Baz has been here, but I can tell) because the flat’s really tidy. It might even be tidier than when I left it.

Even better, it also looks like neither of them are here at the moment. I have the place to myself. Which means it’s time for a bath and Madam Bovary. Too many people use the bathroom too often in my house in Hounslow, so you can’t read in the bath. And obviously you couldn’t at Watford, because most of us had to share a bathroom with about ten other kids.

Being able to read in the bath is actually probably my favourite thing about living with Simon. (Apart from living with Simon.) (And not living with Trixie or my parents.) 

I hear a key twist in the lock just as I’ve decided to stop casting warming spells on the water.

“Hi Simon. I’ll be out in a sec,” I call.      

Bunce!” Baz’s voice yells. “How the fuck did you break that spell?”

“Which spell?” I say. There are warm towels on the side where I left them and I wrap one of them around me. “Although I’m sure the answer is because by being incredibly brilliant.”

I open the bathroom door, letting the heat out. I don’t think Baz was expecting me to be having a bath, probably just washing my hands or something. He makes a strangled noise and turns to face the wall. Which – is hilarious.

“Which spell?” I say again.

“You know very well which spell,” Baz tells the wall angrily.

“I really don’t.”

Cross my heart. That’s not just a hand cramp, if you break it. You should be dead.”

“Oh that,” I say. “Well, I didn’t tell my mum. Or Simon, did I?”

“Then how do the Coven know about–– ?” He shakes his head. “Sorry, this is ridiculous. You have to put on some clothes, if we’re going to continue this conversation.”

“You started it,” I say.

But as funny as it is to see Baz flustered (Baz flustered. Baz), I don’t want to wear a towel all evening. I pull on some pyjamas and come back in. Baz is still facing the wall, just in case.

“I didn’t break the spell,” I tell Baz, settling down in the sofa.

“Can I turn around now?”

“Do what you like.”

He risks it. I raise my eyebrows, and he scowls at me, not sitting down. I grin.

“You must have told someone,” he says.

“They could have figured it out like you did,” I say.

But Baz isn’t buying it.

“All right,” I admit. “I told Nicodemus and Fiona that you’d said there was a reason that the Coven were being pressured to cut ties with Greece that was nothing to do with bad livestock. Then I told her what it was, and she said it was bullshit and that she’d tell the Coven. I guess she did.”

Fiona?”

“Yep.”

“Crowley,” he groans.

And now he does finally sit down, although he doesn’t like he’s enjoying the Ikea chair. “Does she want to get disowned?”

“Maybe she thinks she’s a Pitch and she can get away with whatever she wants,” I say. “Seriously. Or she doesn’t care.”

Baz has his head in his hands. I’ve never seen him like this. It makes me feel a bit guilty for what I did – even though I know I helped him.

“Did you father mind?” I say.

“I don’t know. It’s difficult to tell because he’s so relieved about the import ban being lifted. But I suppose we’ll find out how he really feels when the dinner invitations stop. My mother would be furious.”

That makes sense. But from everything I know, Baz’s mother’s standards were too high. Even if she was a genius.

“Speaking of your mother ... Did you bring her notes?” I say – mostly to distract him. (Partly, anyway.)

Baz raises an eyebrow. “No, I forgot. Which is odd, given that you texted me half a dozen times today to remind me to bring them.”

I bounce up and down on the sofa as he pulls a notebook from his bag. It’s black, the notebook – which is exactly what I would expect from Natasha Grimm-Pitch. Moleskin probably. Classy.

Baz holds it out and I grab it – way too quickly for cool. But I don’t care. I’m holding a book full of Natasha Grimm Pitch’s notes and trying not to hyperventilate. I want to read it all, absorb it into my skin. But I also want to savour it.

“How long until Simon’s back?” I ask Baz. (That’s how long I’ll have Baz’s full attention – it tends to snag on Simon when he’s in the room).

He checks his phone, smiling slightly as he does so. (I don’t think he even notices. That’s how far gone he is). “Probably about half an hour.”

“Let’s get to work then!”

I open the book.

The handwriting is freakishly perfect – like Baz’s actually. I guess they probably had lessons as young Pitches. His mum probably insisted. My mum says good handwriting’s pointless. (“We have computers for that.”) And she’s right, but this is still impressive. Every letter is neatly formed, even when Baz’s mum is just writing something like:

Started with ‘Wind’s Battletome’. Total shit. I now understand why we weren’t allowed to read it at school.

Baz’s has already read this part, but I think he’ll still find it funny. I look up to read it to him, but he’s frowning again. His eyebrows have a thick groove between them, like someone’s carved it there.

“You all right?”

“Penny,” Baz says. Which is how I know it’s serious, even before he says anything else. It’s not that he doesn’t use my name, it’s just he doesn’t use it very often.

“I think Simon is going to tell us that he’s getting his magic back soon," he says.

As I shut Baz’s mother’s book, I realise I’m not surprised.

I guess I thought something like this might happen when I saw Simon pull out that sword in the middle of the fight with the goblins. And then there was that thing he said when we were in the cells, about maybe understanding what Baz and I were talking about later.

I just didn’t want to think about it – like Baz clearly doesn’t want to talk about it right now.

Maybe that’s why I’ve been staying at my mum’s house for the past few days. So he couldn’t tell me.

So I wouldn’t have to be the one who hurts him by telling him.

“He knows it’s impossible, though,” I say quietly. “Right?”

Simon’s the first to say that he’s no genius – but he’s not stupid, either.

“I’m not sure,” Baz says. “Your father keeps telling him magic will come back to the land. Why wouldn’t it also come back to a person?”

“You don’t think it is coming back?”

Baz shakes his head. He looks really pained.

I wonder if he’s seen Simon trying to cast spells while I haven’t been here.

“I can’t feel it. And he smells the same, as he has done since – it happened. But Simon doesn’t have those same references, and he––”

We both hear the key in the lock. And we both get to our feet – like we’ve been caught red-handed doing something we shouldn’t.

This time it is Simon.

Last time I saw him, he looked pale and ill, and even though I’ve been texting him every day, it’s really good to see him looking all Simon-y again.

“Penny!” he says, lighting up – because he’s always so pleased to see me. Every time. Even though we see each other all the time. “You’re back.”

My heart aches with how much I love him. I don’t even mind that he looks even happier to see Baz than he is to see me, even though Simon must have seen him this morning.

He’s my best friend and I’m not going to fail him.

“Simon. You’re not getting your magic back,” I say, interrupting the snogging session that was probably about to start in my living room.

Maybe Baz was going to pussyfoot around this thing a bit more (I’m pretty sure he was, given the stinkeye he’s giving me), but now I know, I’m telling Simon.

“Huh?” Simon says.

I’ve started now, so I continue. It’s like ripping off a plaster, the truth. You just have to get it over with.

“You were able to draw the Sword of Mages because the Mage cast a spell on you when he made you his heir. So, even though he’s dead, it’s still working. It’s like how you still have your wings, even though––”

“Even though I don’t have my magic anymore,” Simon finishes for me.

“Yeah.”

“Maybe you should sit down,” Baz says to him. He glares at me. “And maybe Bunce should take some sort of sensitivity class.”

“Piss off,” I say. “Remember how you told him he was the Humdrum?”

I’m getting angry because I’m trying not to cry. I can feel tears welling up. Big ones. And because Simon is who he is – because he’s Simon – he notices. He lets me snuffle into his t-shirt, even though I know he doesn’t like hugging. He pats my back awkwardly.

“Hey, it’s all right. I’m sorry.”

“Why are you sorry?” Baz says. “It’s Bunce who should be sorry. And me for telling her.”

“It’s just – I know you wanted me to be a magician again,” Simon says. “Both of you. And I wanted it for you.”

“Simon,” I say, slowly. “Baz and I – we really don’t care if you’re a magician or not.”

“And you should know that,” Baz says, “because I’ve told you it doesn’t matter at least half a dozen times since we started dating. I am happy with you as you are. I am delirious.”

“Yeah,” Simon says. “But I thought you were lying.”

“What?”

“To be nice.”

“Aleister fucking Crowley,” Baz says. “I’m not nice.”

“You’re quite nice,” Simon says defensively. “To me, anyway.”

Baz gestures at me. “What about Bunce? Do you think Bunce is lying? You two have a No Secrets pact. Which is ridiculous, by the way. But must be good for something.”

Simon looks at me – for help, I think (I shrug. Baz is right) – and then back at Baz.

“You really don’t care?” he says, incredulously. “But there’s nothing more important to you than magic.”

Baz sighs. “Obviously that isn’t true, Snow. In case you haven’t noticed, I just gave up being king of a magical people so that I could be with you.” He swallows. “I’m willing to get disowned, if necessary. Even though I love my family. And if it would help you, you must know I’d give up––”

I don’t see Simon move, but he’s stopped Baz talking before he can finish that promise, dragging him into a kiss that looks like it hurts.

Not that Baz seems to mind (I suppose vampires are pretty hardy).

I sigh. There goes my use of the living room for the evening.

It’s lucky we’re friends.

 

9 – SIMON

A few days after we get home (a few days after we have the conversation about my magic), Dr Wellbelove calls me in the middle of a seminar about William Blake. I’m trying not to flinch every time someone says “Tyger, Tyger”, even though I do know Normals can say those words without setting themselves on fire. 

We’re not supposed to have our phones on in lessons, but I take the call anyway because I think it must be Coven business. Or that he’s going to tell me that someone’s died. 

“Is everything OK? Is Agatha all right?”

“No, no. Everyone’s fine, son. Nothing to worry about.”

It’s the same soothing voice he probably uses to tell his patients that their scan’s come up clean, but there are a few more tests he has to run.

“I just thought you could pop round this evening,” he says – like he’s only just thought of it. “If you’re free, that is. I know we’d all like to see you. Just because Agatha’s in America, doesn’t mean you aren’t still part of the family, does it?”

I’d have thought that Agatha breaking up with me would, actually, stop me being part of the family, but it’s nice that he said that.

I mean, I don’t believe he “just thought I could pop round” because he wants to see me, coincidentally a few days after he got called out to make a deal with goblins – I’m not an idiot. But I think he probably means what he said too. That photo of me and Agatha, together at the winter solstice, is still up above the mantlepiece in the living room. And it’s not as if there aren’t other nice photos of Agatha. (There are. Lots of them.)  

Baz’s aunt is back in Italy (I'm pretty sure Nicky went with her, although he denied it) so Baz is supposed to be coming over this evening. But I know he and Penny have stuff to talk about.

Also, I probably do owe Dr Wellbelove an explanation about the goblins.

I tell him I’ll meet him, and then I text Baz to say I’ll be back late tonight, so he doesn’t think I’ve been abducted or anything.

Baz writes back: “I prefer Bunce anyway.”

Then, a few seconds later: “Not really, in case that wasn’t clear. But we’ll be fine without you.”

Which makes me feel happy all the way through the rest of the seminar, even though I already knew that.

I just like really hearing Baz tell me he wants to be with me. He’s started to do it more, recently. Not just on special occasions (like us defeating the Humdrum together. Or him not killing me in the goblin hive). It’s nice. I don’t need it (although my therapist would probably disagree – she says a need for affirmation is very common in kids from care), but it’s nice.

I’m still grinning as I ride the tube to Ealing where the Wellbeloves live. In fact, I might be grinning even more.

A few weeks ago, I’d’ve had to go home after uni, because whatever spell Baz or Penny had cast on me to hide my wings would have worn off. Either that or I’d need to meet up with one of them in town somewhere. Which was all right, but made me feel like a child. 

Goblins are better at illusion spells though – it’s practically the main thing they do. Their illusion spells are longer lasting. And they’re better. Baz picked up a few of them while he was there (he says it’s an entirely new form of magic and I should be impressed, but it sounds like bollocks he made up to get me to blow him. Which – I would have done anyway). Now he can cast something in the morning that lasts for a few days, if we need it to. It’s amazing. And nobody walks into me or ignores me if I’m trying to answer a question in class.

I don’t think I’d realised how much being ignored whenever someone cast Nothing to see here on me was upsetting me. I guess it must have been, though.

Right now, there’s a little girl sitting across from me, kicking her heels loudly into the base of the carriage. I grin at her (I get it – I love bashing into things too) and she grins back and then presses her face into her dad’s arm, embarrassed. He gives me a tired smile and goes back to reading his book. That’s practically a full-on conversation for the London Underground.

I text Baz to tell him I’m almost there. And then I text him again, just because I want to, with all the things I want to do him later.

This time, he sends back a single emoji. The one with a raised eyebrow.

Git.

I still really want to lick him though. Maybe on the eyebrow. (Is that weird? I think it is.) I hope he lets me.

When I get to the house, Helen opens the door but doesn’t let me in yet.

“What do you think of Peter Capaldi?” she asks. Like it’s a password I have to get right before she’ll let me in.

It might actually be a password, come to think of it. Helen takes Doctor Who very seriously.

“I like him,” I say. “More than Smith. But less than Tennant and Eccleston.”

Helen considers this for a moment, before nodding. “Acceptable.” She stands back to let me in. “But the real answer is Eccleston, Capaldi, Tennant, Smith.”

I don’t get a chance to correct her (er, hello? David Tennant is the Doctor. He’s definitive) because Dr Wellbelove is already there. Shaking my hand, like this time he’s playing the over-the-top goblin Count.

“Ah, Simon. Good to see you, son. Listen, do you mind if we have a quick word before dinner? Privately.”  

All right, I think. Here we go.

I follow him into his study. And he shuts the door, so that Helen can’t eavesdrop.

I brace myself to explain how the goblins were still after me. How we went to try and stop them (which I know we shouldn’t have done), but then Baz became the king, and there was no mobile phone signal, and anyway I was unconscious. It got complicated really fast, but it’s good now.

“It’s about the numpties,” he says.

“Er,” I say – stupidly. “Are you sure?”

“Sit down, Simon,” he says, pointing at the armchair on the other side of his desk.

He takes a seat himself (behind the desk), and steeples his hands together on top of the wood. I fidget and try not to look guilty as he tells me about how he was called out a week ago to investigate illegal magic under Blackfriars Bridge.

“Oh. Right. OK,” I say. Like he’s just telling me about his work and like I’m not sure why, but I’m obviously happy to listen to him because we’re family.

I’m sweating already, though.

What if he asks me what I know about all this? What if he asks about Nicky? I’m a terrible liar.

He keeps telling me about the spells they found, and I keep nodding. He says the spells turned out not to be illegal (which is good – because I wouldn’t know if they were), but that it’s worrying for the Coven that people are using unrecorded spells.

“Yeah,” I say. “I can see that. Have you, er, left the spells running? Since they’re not illegal.”

“For now,” Dr Wellbelove says. “Although it would help us decide what to do in the long-term if we knew who cast those spells. And why.”

“Right,” I say. “Yeah.”

He definitely knows I have something to do with it.

Maybe I could say that Penny cast the spells. (Not Baz, for obvious reasons. I did tell him what I did – eventually – but I don’t think he’d be very convincing about helping numpties. I can practically see his lip curling now.) Penny wouldn’t mind, though.

Although she’s rubbish at lying too.

“It was me,” I say, because I can’t of anything else to do. “I cast the spells. I’m getting my magic back.”

I can't help thinking it would have been easier to say back when I thought I was getting it back.

Dr Wellbelove narrows his eyes. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t believe me. Which is fair. I wouldn’t believe me either.

“Why?” he says.

This is where it gets tricky.

The Coven don’t officially know about what happened to Baz. Because he doesn’t like to talk about it and because it would be difficult to explain it all without explaining that Baz was a vampire. Somehow (because he’s a Pitch, probably) it didn’t come out in the Inquiry. Nobody even knows the numpties were involved with the Mage.

I’m not about to blow Baz’s cover now, by explaining that I asked Nicky to help the numpties because I didn’t think it was fair to punish them because of what the Mage told them to do. (Even though it’s stupid that magicians hate vampires since it’s only the crazy vampires who kill people. The others just seem to really like crisps and hanging around in the dark. But that's for Baz to deal with.)

So I just shrug.

“All right. I must say I don’t think it was you who cast those spells, Simon,” Dr Wellbelove says. “I think it was the same person who called me two nights ago to tell me that I was needed to seal a bargain with the goblin empire. A person whose voice I naturally recognised because I went to school with him for eight years.”

Shit.

I must look panicked because Dr Wellbelove says.

“But whose name neither you nor I have to mention right now. Unless you really want to, Simon?”

I shake my head. A lot.

This one I know. I know you’re not allowed to acknowledge that Nicky’s still alive, so basically saying his name to a member of the Coven is a bad idea. I don’t know what the penalty is, but I don’t think I want to.

It makes all makes sense now – the urgent phone call, this meeting.

Dr Wellbelove wants me to know he’s going to cover for me (because we’re still sort of family. And maybe because he used to be friends with Nicky at school) but that I should be more careful in the future.

Got it.

“Thanks,” I say.

I figure this must be the end of our chat, that we can go back out and eat dinner now. This has all been pretty heavy, but now we can just go and eat (good – I’m starving) and I can talk to Helen about Doctor Who. Dr Wellbelove can tell me what Agatha’s getting up to in America and we can talk about football. He supports Man City, because his dad did. It’s the wrong one, but at least it’s a real team.

I start to get up, but Dr Wellbelove isn’t moving, so I sit back down again.

“Not many people would have done what you did for the numpties,” he says when I’m back in my chair.

“Yeah,” I say. “Well. You know. They’re not actually bad, are they?”

I’m confused, though. I thought we weren’t talking about this anymore. Isn’t that why I’m here? So we can agree not to talk about it.

“I hear you’ve also been spending time with the vampires,” Dr Wellbelove says. “And, of course, I know all about your recent visit to the goblins, which has resulted in the new treaty between the Coven and Queen Ilex.”

Ilex is Holly’s royal name. So yeah, I know all about this. (She texted me.)

The treaty was signed a few days ago and has stuff about how we’re not going to attack the goblins anymore and they’re not going to eat any more Normals, because it turns out beef tastes better than drunk people. Baz’s cousin wasn’t very happy about that to begin with, but I think the Coven are going to pay for the cows he’s already lost, so he might actually make a profit.

“Well. It was the Easter holidays,” I say. “I didn’t have much to do.”

He laughs. “I suppose you’ve found the fairies as well, have you?”

I grin. “Not yet.”

“I’m sure you realise just how valuable these relationships could be vital to our future,” Dr Wellbelove says. “This is exactly what I was hoping for, but I never expected––”

He shakes his head, as though none of this is important, and then focuses back on me.

“Listen, Simon. Have you thought any more about my suggestion that you run for the Mage’s seat on the Coven?”

I start laughing.

Then I stop, because this time he isn’t laughing as well.

Merlin, I think he might be serious. Which means either he’s really confused or I am. One of definitely is.

“I’m not really looking for the fairies,” I explain, in case it’s him. (Maybe he just doesn’t get jokes and I haven’t noticed. I thought I was more observant than that, but Baz is always saying I don’t notice anything.)

“I also don’t really have my magic back,” I say. “You were right – it was Nicky. Nicodemus Petty. Who helped the numpties. It wasn’t me.”

“Ah. But you asked him to,” Dr Wellbelove says, like he’s got me there. (Which I don’t get either. I clearly already admitted it.)  

“Not because I wanted to be Mage,” I say. “I didn’t even know that numpties got votes.”

“Obviously they don’t.”

“So what’s the big deal?” I say. Because I have no idea how any of this links together.

Dr Wellbelove sighs. It’s an annoyed sigh. The kind of sigh I’ve only heard from him before when someone confuses Man City with Man U.

“Simon. Do you really not know why I want you on the Coven, or are you being deliberately obtuse?”

Conversations with the Mage used to go a bit like this. He used to get really angry, although he’d try not to show it.

I don’t think it’s me, though. I think it’s the fucking Socratic method again. Nobody ever says what they mean, not all of it anyway. They want me to figure it out for myself. Then they get pissed off because I don’t do it fast enough. 

“Because I’m a Normal now,” I say. “And you believe in Normal-magickal equality––”

He’s shaking his head.

“Because I used to be the Chosen One, then,” I say instead. “And that means that people will listen to me, even though they probably shouldn’t.”

“Closer,” he says. “Although I think all of that is debatable. You can still draw the Sword of Mages, can’t you?”

“Yeah – because the Mage cast a spell on me and even though he’s dead, it’s still active,” I say. Because I am now very, very aware of this fact. “It’s nothing to do with me being magic.”

“On the contrary. Only a sitting Mage can draw that sword. A sitting Mage or, in this case, his heir.”

He’s sitting forward now, leaning over the desk.

“The spell Davy Evans cast eight years ago doesn’t simply allow you to pull a magic sword from the air, Simon. It tied you to that particular role. The Mage’s Heir. And that role tied you to the sword – as long as you continue to act in justice. In courage. In defence of the weak. In the face of the mighty. Through magic and wisdom and good.”

The pledge.

He doesn’t say it with magic, and he’s not the Mage’s Heir I guess, so nothing actually happens. But the words still feel important, like maybe the air’s tingling. (I wonder if Dr Wellbelove did it on purpose to make this seem more dramatic.) (Probably not – I don’t think he’s that sort of a bloke. Baz might have done)

“Have you never wondered why the sword came to you while Davy was still alive?” Dr Wellbelove says.

“No,” I say. “I mean, yes. I did.” (Inside I’m thinking: Fucking Socratic method.)  “But he said it always went to the Heir.”

Dr Wellbelove shakes his head once. “Not traditionally – though of course Davy could have cast a spell to force the sword to leave him and go to you. That’s exactly what I believed, what I wanted believed. You know I was probably his strongest advocate on the Coven – so many of his policies were exactly what I’d been hoping for. Things I’d never thought would be possible were pushed through under his reign. I was delighted the Pitches and people like them were out of power. I didn’t question it.

Then,” he says carefully, “Davy started raiding the houses of innocent magicians like the Bunces and the Mitchells. So I started to question that assumption I’d made. And then, after the Inquiry, after we found out everything he’d done, I knew. He couldn’t draw it. The sword had jumped straight to you at the age of eleven. It trusted you. And it still does, doesn’t it?”

I don’t really know what to say.

He’s looking at me like … Well, like I’m the Chosen One.

Like I’m going to save everyone.

Like I’m the answer.

And I know I’m not. Maybe I was once, but I was only the answer to a problem I caused by existing. I did the thing I was supposed to do and now I’m just hanging around, trying not to be completely useless. I didn’t help the numpties because I’m the next Gandhi – I just felt bad. And I went to see the vampires because of Baz. And the goblins just basically wouldn’t stop attacking me.

I didn’t even do anything while we were there – Baz and Penny did most of it. And Nicky. And Baz’s aunt. I was unconscious. If anyone should be on the Coven, it’s one of them. Maybe all of them.

I’m not who he wants me to be.

I only wish I was.

For a moment, though, I do imagine it. I can’t help it. Me – on the Coven. Voting on stuff like whether Baz’s family is able to buy magic beans from Timbuktu. Or giving Penny’s dad more money to study the Humdrum. Or changing the law so that vampires can go to Watford, just like everyone else.

It’s a stupid idea, obviously.

I used to do all right in Political Science, but I wasn’t the best (that was Penny). I don’t have any grand political plans (Penny again). And I wasn’t raised to power (like Baz) – I wasn’t really raised at all.

“I’m not even a magician,” I say, a bit pathetically.

“The best magicians aren’t always the best leaders,” Dr Wellbelove says. “Look at Davy. Look at Natasha Pitch.”

“But I’m not any kind of magician,” I say – a lot louder than I expected, surprising both of us.

Dr Wellbelove flinches and I apologise. He says it’s all right, even if it isn’t, and I sit down in my chair again. At this point, I’m almost grateful I’m not a magician any more. Because if I still had my magic, the room would probably be on fire right now.

I didn’t realise I was so upset.

“I know this is difficult,” Dr Wellbelove says. “I know you’ve been through more than almost anyone in our history, Simon. And I honestly don’t know whether you are a magician any more. But what you are – indisputably – is Davy’s heir. You are heir to all of his decisions, all of his actions – good and bad. That is a burden and a heavy one, I know it is. But it is also an opportunity.”

And it’s like I’m back in the Mage’s office again – eleven years old. Swinging a sword around the room and so wanting magic to be real.

“Think about it?” Dr Wellbelove says. Like a question. Like it’s a choice, rather than something that’s chosen for me already.

“Yeah,” I say. “I will.”

And I’m honestly not sure whether I mean it or not.

 

10 – BAZ

Simon is in one of his too-quiet phases when he returns to the flat. I don’t even hear him opening or shutting the door, which is practically unprecedented. That’s not a vampire thing. Normally (since the whole flat seems to be made of cardboard) the walls actually shake when Simon shuts the door. Things fall off shelves.

I suppose I am watching the same film Simon and I tried to watch together a few weeks ago – Star Wars. The first one, which is somehow also the fourth one. As a film, it features little to recommend it apart from loud music and louder special effects, either of which could have covered Simon’s arrival. Particularly since I have actually been concentrating on what was happening. (I wouldn’t say I enjoyed what I’ve seen, but I didn’t hate it this time, either. Perhaps after an evening crunching interdimensional transfiguration problems with Penelope, what I needed was some mindless optimism.)

But Simon’s face is thoughtful, bordering on blank. Even with the recent revelation about his magic, I didn’t expect this backsliding into morose brooding. I honestly thought we were past it. 

Simon’s been doing better recently, since the goblins. And I know he was in a good mood less than five hours ago because he sent me a stream of texts from the Underground that were both lewd and ungrammatical. (Although no less interesting for it.)

He usually comes back from the Wellbeloves in high spirits. That’s understandable. It’s all very Country Living over there, like some sort of mirror-universe version of my family home. Unreasonably pleasant. And, as I understand it, since Agatha left, everyone just sits around telling him how nice it is to see him and arguing about the offside rule and which episode of Doctor Who has David Tennant at his most attractive. (I’ve thought about getting myself invited, but Dr Wellbelove is a raging socialist who hates my family, so I think I’d probably ruin it for Simon by existing.) (My parents know we’re dating, but I’m not sure whether Simon has told Agatha’s father who exactly replaced his daughter in the Chosen One’s affections.)

“How was it?” I ask, turning the movie off as Simon sits down next to me.

He shrugs.

(And I think: We’re back to this, are we? Fuck.)

“Bunce has gone to bed,” I say – unnecessarily. (She isn’t here – of course she’s gone to bed.)

I don’t say that I didn’t go to bed. That I’ve been waiting up for him, watching a film that reminds me of him. Looking forward to seeing him, talking to him and, maybe, getting off with at least one of his fingers inside me, as promised.

Right now, it seems as though I can indeed look at him (which is still something, although less than I was hoping for). And I can talk at him, if I want. (I don’t. Not if he’s not going to talk back or listen.)

“Would you like me to put the film back on?”

“What film?” Simon says.

Crowley, he must be out of it. I hope he’s better in the morning.

I lean over and kiss my favourite mole, the one on the side of his face.  “You should sleep.”

“Sorry. Were you watching something?”

“It doesn’t matter.”

“Were you watching Star Wars?” he says. And I can see him waking up, processing information again. Becoming Simon again. “Without me?”

Maybe this evening won’t be a write-off after all.

“Penelope put it on,” I lie.

“You said she’s asleep.”

“She hasn’t always been asleep, Snow,” I say, like he’s thick. Not because I think he is, or because I think I can really get away with this. But because this is working, this argument. This stupid argument about nothing. I can see Simon again.

“Were you enjoying it?” he says.

“No.”

“You were,” Simon crows. He’s practically bouncing on the sofa. “I knew you would. Definitely put it back on.”

He snuggles up to me and I turn the television back on and re-start the film.

It’s almost over. The rebels are launching a ridiculous, badly unfunded, poorly thought-out attack on the Imperial forces. I already know they’re going to win, although not because their plan is in any way feasible. They’ll win because Luke Skywalker is magic and destined to save the galaxy. (The irony of Simon enjoying this film has definitely not escaped me.)

Nevertheless, despite it being ‘70s tosh, I was watching it. Earlier.

Now that Simon’s back, Darth Vader could triumph and take over everything, and I wouldn’t notice.

It’s those fucking texts that he seems to have forgotten all about. And the way he smells - that would be distracting enough on a normal day.

But today I also know there’s something bothering him that he hasn’t told me about. (He should just tell me.) Now we’ve made peace with the goblins, I can’t even count on one of them to burst in and break the tension. Although I suppose I have only myself to blame for that.

I could ask, but what if that makes it worse?

Simon’s relaxed again now. He’s happy.

Bunce would ask, of course. I could wake her up, but that’s pathetic. I don’t need Bunce to help me talk to my own boyfriend. Only earlier this week, I told Simon (again) that I would do anything for him. And I would.

So I can definitely ask him what’s wrong. 

“Did something happen tonight?”  I say casually.

I can feel him tense next to me. But he says: “Yeah. Sort of.”

I know it did, Simon. Come on.

“Do you want to tell me about it?” I prompt.

“No,” Simon says. (Aliester Crowley, I pity that poor woman in America whose job it is to extract confidences from Simon on a weekly basis. She doesn’t even get the consolation of kissing him to make up for it.)

But, then, he reconsiders. “Maybe. It’s just - you’ll probably laugh.”

“Possibly,” I agree. “Is it funny? I tend to laugh if things are funny.”

Simon turns the film off. Without the light from the television, the room is dark. I can still see him, but he probably can’t see me very well. That must make it easier for him.

I watch as he bites his lip (very distracting) and try not to rush him. (Or rush at him and bite his lip for him).

Eventually Simon says:

“Dr Wellbelove asked me to stand for the Coven. Again – but this time he really meant it. He says I’m still the Mage’s Heir and that I could help people if I were on the Coven. I could help fix the things he did.”

We both know he’s not talking about Dr Wellbelove anymore. 

Interesting.

“You’re not laughing,” Simon says suspiciously.

I’m not.

I probably should have expected it. Of course, Benedict Wellbelove (political right-hand of the Mage, ex-unofficial-father-in-law of the Chosen One, and all-round do-gooder) would want Simon Snow to join the Coven. He must imagine Simon can help force through his do-gooder policies.

But the thing is, it does actually make sense. For Simon.

Not forever (at some point, I’d like Simon to be able to do something else, something that is just for him, rather than for everyone else). But right now, Simon is a hero without a mission. Finding little things he can work on, people he can save – Nicodemus Petty, my aunt’s relationship, a goblin treaty, the fucking numpties. And me, obviously.

Maybe having normal life isn’t for Simon Snow. Right now, anyway.     

And from what I know about the Coven, it could use a shake-up. What’s the point of having a governing council, if it’s unable to actually get anything done? Fiona called it a ‘talking shop’. But with Simon on board, even if Dr Wellbelove doesn’t plan to install Simon actually as Mage, the Coven will be lucky if they ever get to articulate a whole problem before he’s forced them to start doing something about it. Or who knows - perhaps some of the Responsible Adults we’ve appointed to lead us might even manage to talk some sense into him.

Either way, it could work. More or less, anyway.

“Your biggest problem will be my family,” I say as I think it through. “All the Old Families. They’ll vote against you every time, simply because of who you are. It’s difficult enough to get consensus in the Coven – you can’t afford to have half the members blocking everything you try and do on principle.”

“You’re taking this seriously,” Simon says. He sounds amazed. (Surely, I’m not that much of a bastard. I don’t laugh at everything he says.)

“Are you?” I say.

Even in the dark Simon looks embarrassed. I can see him flushing. “Yeah.”

“So, let’s take it seriously. If the seat is vacant, you should be able to get yourself elected easily enough, but after that––”

The solution (or at least, a solution – I admit, there could be others) comes to me suddenly. I have to stop mid sentence before I say something that will embarrass us both.

Interestingly, I haven’t allowed myself to think like this before, even though this idea is an obvious next step. The logical conclusion to what we’ve been doing here, together, Simon and I. Something I have always wanted, without ever actually articulating it to myself. Or to him.

“What?” Simon says. Because he is irritatingly persistent. 

Clearly, I don’t have to tell him now.

I could brush it off. In some ways it will definitely spoil the moment of the future if I have to talk it through with Simon now, rather than going ahead with a real plan and executing it flawlessly later.

But what if Simon doesn’t want what I want to give him? I distinctly remember Bunce telling me that perhaps I shouldn’t try to save Simon from the goblins without talking to him about it first. And loathe though I am to admit it, she was definitely right about that one. 

“It occurs to me,” I say slowly, “that the Old Families might not oppose you as strongly, if your surname was Pitch, rather than Snow.”

I see him frown. Then I see him get it. He looks unsure.

“Baz – are you proposing to me?”

“No,” I say. Much like I earlier denied enjoying the movie – quick and presumably unconvincing.

I’m glad it’s dark – and that vampires (unlike Simon) don’t blush easily.

“Believe me, you’ll know if I’m proposing to you,” I inform him.

I haven’t consciously thought about how I would do it, but my brain has obviously been stewing on the idea for the last year (or more likely, the last nine years). There’s already a list of magic I could do for Simon, all the ways I could bind him to me, waiting for me in my mind.

And, of course, I want to do all of them. The showier the better. The more permanent the better.

“I’m merely offering you a good reason to accept – if I did propose to you,” I say. “Later. Which I might.”

“Nineteen’s a bit young to get married,” Simon says dubiously.

Bother Bunce. She’s right about this too, and she’s not even here.

I try and focus on that, or my irritation with Penelope Bunce, rather than on any possible panic trying to rise through my throat. Simon hasn’t said he doesn’t want to marry me. Just that he might not want to do it yet. Which is fine. The wedding would probably have been dreadful, anyway, knowing my family.

But for some reason, even though I've decided that it's completely fine and I'm going to drop the subject, I hear myself say:

“It’s not actually that young for magicians. And we’ve known each other for almost a decade.”

Crowley, I sound pathetic.

Simon clearly thinks so too because he’s grinning. I want to die.

“I don’t think I should marry you for political reasons,” he says.

“How about because you’re desperately in love with me?” I shoot back.

Simon considers this. “I am desperately in love with you.”

“Well, then,” I say, relieved for no logical reason. (I know he is.) “That makes two of us.”

He grins again. “You’re desperately in love with yourself?”

“With you, you idiot.”

That’s the cue for him to kiss me, which he does. Pushing me back against the sofa, his whole weight against me. Which is fine – more than fine, as he’s not in any danger of crushing me but I know for certain that he’s here, that I’ve got him. I can feel him on every part of me.

I grip him tightly, hooking one of my legs over his to drag him closer. I think about biting his lip hard enough to draw blood, but I don’t. I do push my tongue into his mouth. I let him suck on it as my hands roam across his back, where the goblin spell is still keeping his wings hidden, then down to his arse, and back up into his bronze curls. 

Not for the first time, I think about how I want to kiss Simon Snow forever.

And everything else, of course. I want to do everything with Simon forever. Talk to him, watch television with him, grope him in semi-public. Bite him occasionally, with his permission. (I could bite him now, I think – leaving his lips to nuzzle his neck. I can feel his pulse beating there, strong and rapid. It’s tempting, but I don’t like what I did to him with the goblins, and I don’t want to remember that right now. I lick up the column of his throat and return to kiss his mouth.)

Presumably he will still have time for all of this, if he does get onto the Coven. If not, I’ll have to reconsider my position on him joining.

As though he can read my thoughts (he definitely can’t read my thoughts), Simon stops kissing me and breaks away.

“Let’s talk about all of this again in the morning, yeah?” he says.

“Fine,” I say. “Although if you think you’re just going to sleep now, you’re wrong. You are following through on those pornographic texts you sent me earlier.”

He raises an eyebrow. (Bastard. That’s my thing, although it looks good on Simon too.) “I thought I was.”

I look down. He’s right – his hands are already inside my trousers. I didn’t notice because— Well, I didn’t notice.

“Right,” I say, trying to recapture my dignity.

I’m fairly sure I fail when Simon licks my eyebrow (what the fuck? How is that sexy? Somehow it is). I definitely whimper. Fortunately, unlike sex with Simon Snow, dignity is overrated.

“Well,” I say breathily. “Good. Carry on, then.” 

Chapter Text

PENELOPE

Micah comes over at the beginning of September. I’m so excited that I get up at five in the morning to pick him up from Heathrow. Then I find out his plane’s delayed and then they hold him in customs for ages because he’s brought me plants from America. So instead I have to listen to Simon and Baz complaining about how early it is, and how long the wait is, for three hours.

“You didn’t have to come with me,” I snap eventually.

Simon looks hurt. “Penny. Of course, we did.”

“Come now, Bunce. What are friends for?” Baz says, smirking. 

Fortunately, before I can beat him into a bloody, vampire pulp, Micah emerges from the gates. He looks more beautiful than ever (even though objectively he’s been awake thirty-six hours and I admit, it shows) because he’s here for a whole year.

I don't care who's watching. I make a complete scene by running over to him and throwing myself at him, like I’m in Love Actually.

Micah smells like plane and I almost cry, because it’s so good to smell him. That sounds weird, I know, but smell is one of the things I miss the most when we’re in different countries, even more than the kissing. Although that’s good too – particularly because he managed to brush his teeth somewhere between here and the plane.

“Welcome to the UK!” Simon says from over my shoulder. Because he has no concept of personal space. “Again, I mean. Welcome back.”

I let go of Micah, who grins at him. And at Baz, who is pretending he isn’t with us and just happens to be checking his phone.

“Thanks. Hey, I’m sorry I missed the wedding.”

Baz scowls. “Don’t be. Really.”

“Yeah. We don’t talk about it,” Simon says quickly.

But now they’re both looking at each other goopily again, because really they love to talk about it (or at least, Simon loves talking about it and Baz loves people to know Simon agreed to marry him. But it’s the same thing). They only stopped doing it all the time because I said I was moving out.

“But you love this flat,” Simon wailed. “Please. I’ll stop, I promise. And Baz barely talks about it at all. You’ve got to stay.”

Love him though I do, I would have strung Simon on a bit, but Baz ruined it by pointing out that my boyfriend had just moved from America, and that this might have had something to do with my decision. (He could also have mentioned that he’d moved in pretty much permanently after the two of them got hitched, although to be honest, I didn’t notice much of a difference).

Simon's right, I do love the flat. But I was fine leaving it to Simon. Really. I’d chosen our old flat for the two of us, for me and Simon. (And, by extension, for Baz.) It's close to library and my uni, and it’s right next to a bakery. There’s a doorman for Simon to say hi to every day, but there’s also another keyholder exit where you don’t have to see the doorman, if you don’t want to, and that exit is right next to the door to our flat. (That’s for Baz, so he can sneak out in the middle of the night if he needs to.)

My new flat is one I’ve chosen for me and Micah.

Micah doesn’t care about the bakery (he’s gluten intolerant) but he does need a flat with lots of natural light or he gets depressed. Plus, it’ll be great for all the herbs we’re going to grow.

So, obviously, Simon and Baz can have the old flat. I basically found it for them. (Also, I know Baz has done something weird to one of the wardrobes and wouldn’t have been too pleased to be asked to leave whatever he’d done behind.) And it’s still great for me because I just come over and see Simon and Baz after lectures. 

Since Micah has excellent manners, he’s still asking about the wedding, even though I told him not to and Baz’s eye is twitching. Simon’s clearly about to crack and launch into one of the many awful anecdotes, but I’m not having any of it. This is my day.

“Simon,” I say patiently, “Baz. Remember, how you came here with me to be useful? You were going to take Micah’s luggage, weren’t you, so that we can go and see Holly.”

“Crowley,” Baz says. “I thought you were joking. That’s really what you want to do with your first day here? See some goblins?”

Yeah,” Micah says. He sounds like a kid at Christmas who just got a bike and a trainset and a puppy. “Actual goblins. Like, on your actual doorstep. Can you believe it?”

“Unfortunately,” Baz says.

“Tell her I said hi,” Simon says. “Oh – and I’ll be over to see her next week to talk about the funding thing.”

They’re opening a school together. Simon wanted the goblins to be able to go to Watford (along with the vampires and the pixies and any other magickal creature who wanted to go). Obviously the Old Families had a fit and tried to claim Watford wasn’t big enough to take any more students, so Simon asked why we only had one magickal school then. And nobody had an answer.  

It’s still at the planning stage at the moment, but by the time Micah and I have kids it should just be normal. Maybe we’ll even have a university.  

Simon wants me to teach there – at his school. Once I finish my degree, obviously.

“But I don’t know anything about teaching!” I protested when he asked me. I know that sounds stupid, as both my parents are teachers, and I’ve been in education my whole life, but that’s how I felt.  

“Penny,” Simon said patiently. “You’re the only reason I was ever able to get any spell right. Ever.”

“Wow. What an affidavit,” Baz drawled. (Because sometimes I think he just can’t help himself.) “The Chosen One’s actual mentor.”

“Piss off,” Simon said. “Although,” he said to me, looking more serious, “we could call you that, couldn’t we? If it would help get people in, I mean.” 

I know Simon has asked Baz to teach to teach at his school, too, but Baz is still saying he wants to be a banker. (“The only people who say money isn’t important are people who don’t have any – that’s obvious.”)

But (even though he tries really hard to make you think he is) Baz actually isn’t a complete tosser. That means I don’t think he’d really enjoy banking – he hates his classmates. And he loves Simon. So I’m fairly sure by the time he’s out of university, he’ll have changed his mind.

That’s still two years away, though.

And right now I’m off to go and see some goblins with my boyfriend. Twelve months of us being the ones holding hands all the time, and getting all gooey about each other in public, and laughing at each other’s jokes without explaining what’s funny to other people. Me.

Me and Micah. (Just think about how amazing we got at sex in two weeks.)

I think it’s going to be a good year.

 

BAZ

Only an idiot would have invited Grimms, Pitches, Bunces, vampires, and goblins to the same event. True, somebody could have stopped him, but because I’m stupidly in love with him, I let it happen.

The only really good part about the whole event was the end, where I got to take Simon home.

(And his suit, I suppose. It was a beautiful suit. I would have burned all the photographs, if it wasn’t for that. And if Simon hadn’t stopped me.)

As for the worst part of the whole shambolic affair, there are clearly loads of possible contenders. How about the moment Simon told my father we could adopt (by definition, non-magical children) if he was that keen on having a Pitch heir?

Or when we discovered the horses that were supposed to pull the bridal carriage had been eaten by goblins?

Or when Penelope Bunce punched one of my uncles (we got that one on video) for calling Simon barely magical enough to go to Watford, let alone marry into magic’s first family? (Retrospectively, I think I’m lucky she did, or I would have done it myself. As it was, I had to ask him to leave and never speak to me again. But at the time it was humiliating.)

All of these incidents have their own place in the gallery of matrimonial horror. But I think the worst moment of all was when I left Simon so that I could feed, several hours after the wedding was over – and found Nicodemus Petty leaving my aunt’s room, clearly on his way to do exactly the same thing.

“Going out hunting, are we, Mister Pitch?” he asked, smiling his jack-o-lantern smile.

I thought about heading back inside. Waiting until he’d gone, and going out in the other direction. But Pitches don’t cower. So instead I ignored him and strode down the hotel corridor and out the front door.

It was a mistake.

He fell into step beside me. I lit a cigarette, partly because I wanted one, and partly because I thought it might get him to back off a bit, which he did. But not far away enough that I couldn’t hear him.

“I wouldn’t have thought you needed to. Not tonight. Not on your wedding night.”

The insinuation would have been clear even to Simon.

But since nobody has any right to know what goes on between me and the man I’ve chosen to spend my life with, I didn’t tell Nicodemus that I’d wanted to have sex on my wedding night. And that I’d wanted Simon (my Simon, not the endearingly intoxicated Simon caused by heavy blood-loss and vampire saliva) to actually be there with me when I had it.

So no, I hadn’t bitten him. Even though he’d told me I could, if I wanted to. Even though I had wanted to.

At least, the sex had been phenomenal – Simon pleasingly reverent as he fucked me for what felt like hours but was probably just a good ten minutes. I still ached from repeated, measured penetration with something he wouldn’t have been able to use if I had taken his blood.

But, by this point in the evening, Simon was back in our room, sleeping it all off in a ball of golden and burgundy limbs, while I was out trying to drink the blood of vermin (and avoid the conversation of other vermin).

“Vampires have rituals, too, you know,” Nicodemus told me as we reached the hotel park. I’d tried (unsuccessfully) to quicken my pace to shake him off but his legs are even longer than mine. “A whole set of traditions. It’s an old culture, one of those oldest. And for a vampire, it’s not a real wedding if you don’t take his blood.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I snarled for the benefit of anyone listening in.

He winked at me. “‘Course you don’t.”

A particularly stupid rabbit darted out between us at that point.

I watched in what I can only describe as horror as Nicodemus snatched it up and broke its neck in one, quick movement. Then took a pen knife from his jacket, slit its throat (I’d forgotten his fangs were missing), and drained the thing in front of me.

I should probably have used the time he was distracted to make a run for it, but I admit I was curious. After all, I’ve never seen another vampire feeding before.

Now I have.

It was – disturbing. (Although not much more disturbing than watching Simon put an entire Big Mac into his mouth without chewing, which is something he can and does do regularly.) I suppose I should be grateful the rabbit was already dead when Nicodemus started. And that it was furry enough that I couldn’t actually see the blood leaving its body.

He threw it into the bushes once he was done and wiped his lips with the back of his hand.

“That’s what you want, is it? Rabbits?” he said. “I heard you used blood magic for your proposal, Mister Pitch. Don’t tell me that’s not a vampire thing to do?”

I haven’t yet worked out how to stop Simon telling literally everything to anyone he meets.

The rite I performed actually had nothing to do with vampires, and everything to do with Simon, but Nicodemus was still grinning like he knew it all.

“Look. Just fuck off, will you?” I snarled, letting fire flare up in my palm.

Because I was, by then, thinking fixedly about Simon’s neck and his slow, showy swallow and I really didn’t want Nicodemus to be around while I did whatever I was going to do about it.

He held up his hands. “Just trying to help you do the right thing. But I’ll leave you to it. Since you obviously know what you want.”

Then he left, whistling, through his teeth.

I managed to catch and kill a couple of mice. But my heart wasn’t in it. (Needless to say, it’s also difficult to catch and kill rodents when you have an erection.)

Eventually I let myself back into our room. I think I hoped Simon would still be asleep, but of course he wasn’t.

“Nicky called,” he told me as I pulled my jacket off and unlaced my shoes. “He said you were on your way back. And that you had something to ask me – I said I thought we’d gone through all that.”

Simon still sleeps without a shirt on. It’s still exquisitely painful, even now I can touch him.

To prove it to myself, I reached out and touched his bare shoulder. I could feel my fangs trying to pop, straining against my lips. And I know he could see them.

My fingers traced the hollow of Simon’s throat, up his neck to where his pulse fluttered. I felt myself swallowing. I must have looked ridiculous.

“Can I––?”

“Can you...?” Simon repeated helpfully. He was grinning, the beautiful bastard. “What, Baz? Make me deliriously happy with your fangs? Yeah, all right. Although I did think we’d already had this talk.”

Then he pulled me forward into his lap where I could feel how interested he was for myself.

That’s approximately when it stopped being the worst part of the night.

Simon still likes to remind me of these events, which he apparently thinks of as a hilarious comedy of misunderstandings. “It’s like you don’t know I like it.”

“And how much do you like it, exactly?” I ask him. Every time. Because I have no shame and I really don’t think I’ll ever get enough of my husband telling me how sexy vampires are.

He does always tell me. Because he loves it. Because he loves me.

I think I’m going to enjoy marriage.

 

SIMON

It’s all right, being on the Coven. There are a lot of really boring meetings, but I’ve already learned that I can make them longer, but more interesting, by asking what Penny would call “intentionally stupid questions”. Questions everyone else thinks they know the answer to. Usually when someone starts explaining something they think is obvious to me, it turns out half the people there don’t agree with them.

My own ideas now only get shot down most of the time. As it turns out, nobody was that interested in looking for the fairies, but we’re working on a new school (that’s one of mine) and I’ve got funding for more magickal doctors, and for Professor Bunce’s research into how the dead spots affect Normals. (Because they are actually people too.) I’ve even got everyone to agree that we can say Nicky’s name again. And that, generally, it’s not exactly a good idea to just stop talking about something we wish hadn’t happened.  

“Crowley, Snow. Couldn’t you try to appease some of them at least once?” Baz says whenever I tell him I shouted at someone for saying something racist or cruel or just being a dick. (He still calls me Snow sometimes. Mostly when he’s annoyed.) “I can hardly keep buying up all the bonety hunter contracts every time you do this – I’m not made of money.”

We fell out pretty badly when I tried to raise taxes, rather than cut them completely, which was his suggestion. Even though I pointed out that the Coven needed money if it was going to pay salaries to people like me, or fix anything – and that Baz’s family clearly already had more money than they knew what to do with. (I mean, they have five houses. And Baz and Fiona don’t live in any of them.) Baz said I didn’t need a salary because his family had five houses – and I said he was a prat and basically saying that only rich people (or people with rich husbands) could be on the Coven, then. And he said yes, that’s what he’d been saying from the start.

Fortunately (I suppose) for our marriage, I didn’t manage to get that one to go through. Although nobody on the other side managed to cut the taxes either. Dr Wellbelove says I shouldn’t expect to be able to fix everything immediately – or at all, in some cases. But that I should keep trying.

And Baz said he was sorry, and that twenty years of indoctrination into a capitalist mindset had made it difficult for him to appreciate other valid points of view like mine. (I think Penelope had a word with him.) He’s promised to help next time I try and campaign for a tax increase, which I think will really help, even if he doesn’t really believe it. His name is still power.

Because he was dead right about that – things have definitely been easier since we got married. After I changed my name to Simon Snow-Pitch. (Which sounds like some sort of wanky fairy-tale name, but Baz has to put up with Grimm-Pitch-Snow, which is even worse.) (Although he says he likes it.)

Baz says the wedding was awful, but it really wasn’t.

I think he just wanted it to be perfect. He could control the proposal, so that was perfect. (He pulled our old room in Mummer’s House into the wardrobe in my bedroom. Even though I knew he was going to do something, I still started crying when I found it there one day, filled with flowers and little pinpricks of light like stars. Baz says no new students had moved in and Penny’s mum said he could have it. I’m not sure if that’s true, but the room always recognises me and it’s always empty. I like to go in there and think if Coven stuff is really stressing me out. Also, Baz and I finally had sex in his school bed, which is less comfortable than our normal one, but which he said was important after eight years of thinking about it.)

Not even Baz could control the wedding, though.

For a start other people had to be there. The other problem was that Pitches don’t get married that often (there are only two of them left, for one thing), so I think the Families wanted to make a big deal of it, even if the person he was marrying was me.

Baz decided to deal with the situation by getting really, really drunk. He kept pulling me into corners, kissing me, and then either apologising for everything or telling me off for something I’d said to his relatives. I think he’s embarrassed about it now, but I really didn’t mind. (Like I said to him at the time, they started it.)  

I have a wedding photograph of the two of us up in my office. (Yep. I’ve got an office. An office where I do most of my official Coven business.) (It used to be Penny’s bedroom.) As usual Baz looks bloody perfect in the picture, even though he was barely holding it together, while I look like I’ve recently fallen down a hill. My hair’s all over the place and my tie’s not on straight. (Baz had probably just finished groping, apologising and/or shouting at me.)

I like looking at that picture while I’m at work – not only because I like looking at Baz (although I do.) I like looking at me.

That sounds weird. What I mean is, I look happy. And not because it was a picture and I thought I should try and look happy. I just was.

I’m still going to therapy. There’s still plenty of stuff to work through (we haven’t even begun to talk about Care, really), but Baz says I’m not drifting off anymore. And Penny says she’s doesn't worry about me, not normally. Not unless I'm doing something dangerous.  

I’m not worried either.

It’s funny, but I think I’m going to be all right. I think we all are.