The professor hesitated, vaguely rumpled sheet of paper in hand, and frowned down at it. “That can’t be right,” he said, just loud enough to be heard.
“No, it is,” she told him, from the middle-to-back of the room, where her twin urges to be studious and yet also to rebel had deposited her. She didn’t need him to say it; she knew it was her name tripping him up. “It’s on my birth certificate and everything: Warlock Dowling. Mum was on the good stuff and there were Satanic nuns about.”
Tittering laughter ran about the room, no doubt thinking she was making some blithely sarcastic sort of joke. She slouched a bit further in her seat, knees poking through the ripped holes of her jeans, and drummed her pen on the table.
The professor blinked at her, looking a bit tired of the semester already, and it was only day one. “Preferred nickname?” he asked, as he had every other student in the class.
“Warlock is fine.” Campy names were practically trans culture, after all, and she’d gotten lucky enough to be born with one. As a bonus, it seemed to annoy her father that she held stubbornly to her given name instead of quietly yet effectively disowning herself. There wasn’t much to be said about hanging around, but as long as she played moderately nice and made a vague effort to be a loving daughter, at least her mother didn’t cut off her credit cards.
Money was always handy. Cheers for being loaded.
“Warlock it is,” the professor sighed. “Won’t be forgetting that one.”
You’d be surprised, Warlock thought, but she did not say it aloud. Jokes about childhood negligence were only funny on the internet; they tended to concern people when made in real life.
See, the thing is, most kids dream about being the Chosen One, right? To fall through the portal, fulfill the prophecy, bask in the warmth of a father or mother figure who’s just so proud of you, not just for saving the day but for being you. Kids dream of magic. But Warlock--
See, the thing is, Warlock hadn’t needed to dream, until rather abruptly all that magic had been gone from her life, without any sort of portal opening or cosmic war being fought or anything of the sort.
She was a bit disillusioned with the whole thing. Prophecies were fickle, or something. Who cared. Who needed to be the Chosen One when you could be yourself instead?
Nanny had told her once that she was the most important person in the world, and Brother Francis had elaborated on this to mean that everyone was the most important person in the world, in their own way, and that this was what made life worth living and people worth knowing. Warlock liked that concept a sight more than anything else she’d ever been exposed to, so it stuck around even though they didn’t.
Respect everyone, especially yourself. It was all about confidence, which was always best backed up by competence.
“I’m not bothering to walk you through the syllabus,” the professor said dryly. “You can all read. And you’re never getting out of this class early again, so enjoy it. Scram.”
Scram they did--most of them, anyway. Warlock didn’t see a point in fighting her way out of the crowd till it had thinned a bit, and one girl came to an abrupt stop next to her, holding tight with one hand to a mostly-empty backpack slung over her shoulder. She was chewing gum.
“Your name’s seriously Warlock?” She asked, standing firm against the impatient throng of first years piling up behind her back, all eager to escape the narrow rows of desks before the professor changed his mind.
“Your name’s seriously Gertrude?” Warlock shot back.
She made it a point to be good with names, even when she’d rather save the effort for other, equally important things, like the proper maintenance schedule of the many terrariums arranged about her flat. But that stuff had to stay in her mobile instead.
Gertrude- nicknamed “Pinto” after her mother's car, as she’d insisted even before the professor could finish reading her last name- slowly grinned, fruity gum tucked behind her teeth, and stuck out a hand. “I didn’t know Satanists could be nuns.”
“Bet you didn’t know witches could be named Warlock, either.”
“God, you’re cool,” Pinto told her, trailing behind Warlock (thereby finally releasing their frustrated peers) when she reluctantly rose from her seat and left. “I’m claiming best friend status for life.”
Warlock’s eyebrows shot up. "I didn't know Pintos were a race car."
“Zero to sixty in who cares, slower than me. It’s fine; you’ll love me. I make up for my own lack of disaffection by being stylish and witty and talking very fast.”
“I’m not disaffected. I’m self-assured with a hearty dose of pragmatism that borders on nihilism.”
“Even better.” Pinto did not even come up to Warlock’s shoulder, which would have made her very short if Warlock had not been on the tall side, and therefore left her just a bit shy of average. She was stylish, in that athleisure sort of way that was extremely low effort, and she did also certainly talk fast. Her wit largely remained to be seen, but Warlock was willing to be convinced.
The sun was bright but not warm as they stepped out of the building into a late London summer, and it beat down sharply against their shoulders then glanced off into shadow. Warlock still gravitated towards plaids and dark colors (in a way that she stubbornly insisted to herself was based exclusively off of lesbian fashion trends), and the season was finally beginning to catch up with her aesthetic.
“Dorm?” Pinto asked, as they continued side by side.
“And shamelessly fleecing my transphobic father and negligent mother for all they’re worth.”
“Brilliant,” Pinto said, in a way that said she had noted the sarcastic defense mechanism but was determined to remain cheerful. “Got a cauldron?”
“Just a couple of large spaghetti pots.”
“Perfect. I love to cook; supply enough groceries for us both and you’ll never go hungry.”
“Planning to do the dishes when you’re done?”
“Sounds like a no.”
“Knew you seemed smart.” Pinto blew a bubble with her gum, dark brown hair escaping her bun in curly wisps, and smirked up at her.
“We are going to be friends,” Warlock said wonderingly. “Don’t know if I’ve ever properly had one before.”
It was hard, when you weren’t very interesting, and harder still when you were the first kid in town to say “Fuck it, teenage rebllion” and then, just when everyone else was starting to get moody themselves, you amended it with “Fuck it harder! Queer awakening!”
(And Warlock had never had delusions, or at the very least hadn’t had them for long. Chosen One with faerie godparents or not, she hadn’t been a particularly interesting child. She’d been fond of maths, for Christ’s sake--she might have been on a particularly benign collision course with mundane adequacy, had she not prodded her toes at the ruins of broken promises and decided that she didn’t need the assistance of anybody else at all to discover a bit of magic in the world.)
“Well,” Pinto said, after an awkward moment of visibly wondering if she shouldn’t be concerned, “that’s what uni’s for, I suppose. What are you studying?”
“Philosophy.” Warlock jutted her chin out slightly, as if daring the sort of comment that her father had first offered when he’d heard about her decision. He hadn’t been thrilled of her coming back to England, either, even with her dual citizenship.
But her new friend just snorted, hiking her backpack properly onto both of her shoulders. “I’m hardly surprised.”
The defiant wind left her sails. Slightly awkwardly, Warlock asked, “You?”
Pinto’s answering smile was serene. “I considered some sort of political science thing, really try and browbeat the world into being a better place with my iron fist, but the balancing act of despotism while remaining beloved of the people sounded emotionally taxing, so I’m going in for journalism instead.” She shoved one light brown fist into the air. “Voice of the people, here I come.”
“Always easier to rebel than to rule,” Warlock observed.
“Amen to that. What’s it like being a witch?”
“Just like being anyone else, except I feel responsible for things I shouldn’t.” Warlock’s eyes flicked down, noting the way Pinto’s eyebrows lifted and then lowered, her dark eyes narrowing. She came to a stop on the pavement, and Pinto followed suit, the crowd of university students parting around them with jostled annoyance.
“Not a joke,” Pinto said, in a voice that wasn’t quite disbelieving but was certainly more than a touch skeptical. “Not an internet witch herbalism tarot cards thing? You’re talking about real magic?”
Warlock hesitated, and Pinto huffed a sigh, tossing her chin exasperatedly to the side and then back, with the air of someone who’d kind of wanted to be let in on the secrets of the universe but wasn’t all that surprised to be let down. “You don’t even have a cauldron,” she said, in a way that sounded very much like it meant she should have known better than to even ask. “It’s fine; I don’t mind you being a bit of a nutter.”
“I’m not crazy,” Warlock huffed, “and I am a witch. It’s just-- It’s more subtle than you’re thinking, yeah?”
Sometimes she did think she was a bit off her rocker. Most of what a witch did wasn’t really magic, unless people believed that it was, and obviously almost nobody really bought into that sort of thing any more.
“Hmm,” Pinto said, with polite skepticism. “Well, thoughts on astrology?”
“I’ve been reliably informed that the Earth is a libra.”
Pinto’s eyebrows rose and fell again. “Fascinating. Lunch?”
Warlock shoved her hands in the stupid small pockets of her jeans, bemoaning the fashion industry’s vendetta against women’s pants and feeling all hot and awkward along the back of her neck. She wasn’t good at this, as you may have noticed what with all the oversharing and the sarcasm.
“I’ve got another class,” she said, because it was true, and she was probably already going to be late. It was easy to blame that on the first day of classes, of course. She pulled her mobile from her pocket, pulling up the contacts list. “Er, if you were serious about the whole best friend thing--”
Pinto plucked the phone away immediately, and saved herself under a little red car emoji. She even snapped a purposefully atrocious selfie, straight up her nostrils, for the contact picture. “Just try and get rid of me, madam. I’ve got this one cool roommate, and I wasn’t kidding about the cooking thing either, so…”
“Text me a grocery list,” Warlock told her, shoulders slumping with relief. “I just sent you my address.”
Pinto’s grin was borderline manic, and sparkled in the sunlight. “Absolute mad lad. Absolute nutter.” She glanced at her phone, mouth twisting with a shocked, delighted sort of disgust. “This is in Mayfair!”
“Absolute witch,” Warlock corrected patiently, “And I told you, I’m bloody well loaded. See you tonight.”
That stupid fucking car was parked in her spot again. The spot wasn’t even designed for cars; the pretentious vintage piece of shit was parked half on the curb, for Christ’s fucking--
Warlock breathed in deep, breathed out longer, flipped off the building because some sixth sense told her the owner of the car happened to be glancing out their window at that very moment, and then parked her Vespa down the street. The next time she had a chance to steal her spot back, she was taking a taxi to her classes for a week straight, just see if she didn’t.
[16:02 message to: ] just come over whenever u & the roommate are free, we can hang out at mine
She didn’t bother checking her mailbox--she was juggling too many bags, slave to the many whimsical ingredient requests Pinto had sent sporadically throughout the day. Besides, she’d lost the key almost as soon as it had been handed to her when she’d moved back to London a couple of months ago. Enough of the building were lazy, entitled bastards that the mailman occasionally got fed up with the overflowing little boxes and had the maintenance guys shove stuff under everyone’s doors, so she hadn't coughed up the cash to get a replacement yet.
It’s not like she got anything but spam mail and bills, anyway, and she had automatic payments set up for the latter. Ludicrous, how much spam seemed attracted to this building, though.
“Afternoon,” she mumbled, passing one of her neighbors on the stairs, but the little old lady barely spared her a glance. And people said Americans were rude--at least everybody who lived in her mother’s apartment building was willing to do that white-people-grimace-smile thing.
“Hey, kiddos.” Warlock flipped on the light, even though the many sun lamps around the room were enough, in conjunction with the thin curtains, to decently illuminate the space. “Did you miss me?”
There was a smattering of ribitting from the far left corner, but it probably didn’t have all that much to do with her actual presence in the room. That was fine. It was kind of what she liked about keeping amphibians, arthropods, and insects; they needed her to tend for them, but they didn’t really care who she was as a person. They got on with their lives regardless.
She got everything shuffled off into the fridge and the pantry, and then suddenly she knew, with one brief flash of insight, that there was about to be a knock at the door. Warlock was in place to answer it before knock number two could fall.
“Witchy woman,” Pinto greeted, projecting an exuberant aura (in the metaphorical sense) that swept behind her as she pushed past Warlock into the apartment. “God, this is bougie. Is that a tarantula?”
“Don’t tap on the glass.” Warlock offered a tight smile to Pinto’s roommate. “I’m Warlock,” she said, in lieu of anything better, and stepped aside to let the girl in.
The roommate smiled back, similarly awkward, and shoved her hands in the pockets of her green skinny jeans. “Pinto says I don’t get a name till we come up with something dumb enough that I won’t stick out between you two. I usually go by Karen, though.”
“Does Pinto generally run your life for you?”
“Well, I’ve only known her for about forty-eight hours.”
“That’s not a no. We had a five minute conversation and then I bought her a week of groceries.”
“It’s a talent,” Pinto called, already disappeared into Warlock’s bedroom. “I’m disappointed by the lack of spiderwebs, excluding the various, y’know, terrariums. Where’s the panache, Warlock? The ambiance? The pentagrams? The big black floppy hat?”
“I only pull it out for special occasions.”
Karen looked faintly amused. “Really?”
“No.” Warlock shut the front door, locking it with a dramatic flick of her wrist and tipping her chin up into that haughty angle that went best with a little ruthless sarcasm. “I keep it under my pillow and sleep in it every night.”
She got a laugh in response, and felt inordinately pleased with herself as she gestured Karen towards the couch. It was a massive L-shape, designed for comfort first and style second, though it managed to deliver on both, more or less.
"This really is a very posh place," Karen said, hesitating by the couch for a moment and then bypassing it in favor of investigating the salamanders in their enclosure on the table next to it. "Is this a witch thing or a Warlock thing?" She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear and pulled a face. "You know what I mean," she muttered.
Warlock huffed a quiet agreement, flopping into the corner of the L and kicking her feet- combat boots and all- up onto the couch. "I'm not raising them for potions ingredients or whatever, if that's what you're asking."
Karen's lips twitched. "I suppose it was."
"I just like them."
"They're a bit slimy." Karen did not say it with judgement; merely hesitancy.
"That's the appeal," Pinto declared, reappearing from the back rooms with a substantive encyclopedia of bugs hefted in both hands. "Can I borrow this? My brother'd fucking flip for the beetle bits, I wanna make some scans."
Warlock chewed her lip. She didn't mind the nosiness, and was even a bit grateful for the overfamiliarity, but she'd had that book since her ninth birthday and had annotated it quite heavily in parts. "Get it back to me before Friday?"
"Tomorrow. We're best friends now, we see each other every day; it's part of the deal." Pinto dropped the book onto the coffee table from just high enough to make a satisfying thud without risking damaging the book. "Your downstairs neighbors are going to hate it."
"I deserve the opportunity to let off a bit of steam, considering how big of a wanker my upstairs neighbor is." She pointed up, lip curling in disgust. "He'll be quiet for weeks and then bam, Queen. All hours of the night."
Her new friends exchanged a look. Pinto pointed out, "Could be worse; could be constant."
"Could be Nickleback," Karen added.
Warlock couldn’t bite back the bark of laughter. "Small blessings,” she agreed, and raised her eyebrows as Pinto dropped heavily down next to her on the couch. “There’s a whole other cushion, mate.”
“Budge over, I want to put my feet up, too.” Pinto crowded Warlock further into the corner, kicking off her trainers to reveal mismatched socks, and patted the couch on her other side. “Join us, Karen.”
“I’m still looking at the creepy crawlies.” And she was--she’d moved on to the millipedes, and their multitude of legs which occasionally gave even Warlock pause. A shiver ran down her spine, but her voice was calm as she asked, “How long do they live?”
“Up to ten years, generally.”
“Do you ever take them out?”
“We don’t have that kind of relationship.”
“God, you’re weird," Pinto said. She’d known Warlock for less than twelve hours and already sounded inexplicably fond of her idiosyncrasies, on top of her usual cheer.
“I’m weird? You want to be a journalist so you can change the world.” Warlock picked at nonexistent dirt beneath her fingernails, sniffing judgmentally. “Shouldn’t you want to be famous or earn awards, or something?”
Pinto snapped her fingers. “Right; nihilist. Don’t think the world can change, hm? Or it will it just not matter if it does?”
“I’d much rather be of the opinion that nothing is important- and therefore everything is- than that only some things are important and everything else can suck it.” Warlock turned to look over her shoulder, watching Karen watch the axolotl where she floated merrily beneath the leafy fronds of whatever aquatic flora the webforum had suggested Warlock invest in. “It’s what makes me a good witch. And a meticulous keeper of unconventional pets."
Karen straightened, setting her hands on her hips as she declared, “I like this one. Does it have a name?”
“Bernice. She’s only three, so she could live another decade, or possibly two.”
“I don’t really think magic is real,” she added, apologetically, and finally joined them on the couch (shooting the tanks with the tarantula and the preying mantis a distrustful glance as she gave them ample berth). “My cousins made me do that whole Bloody Mary thing one time, and it scared the daylights out of me when they started banging on the door afterwards, but I still knew it was them.”
“I totally believe in ghosts," Pinto declared.
Warlock scoffed. She didn't believe in ghosts, or at least not the kind that haunted anything more than people's consciences. (She hadn't the experience, personally, but she'd seen it happen.) “Ghosts aren’t really a thing, Pinto.”
“What, who says? Sometimes I hear things moving around my parents’ house at night and I think, ‘yeah, that could be some kind of ghoul’.” She made a motion with her fingers, as if to indicate spookiness, and wiggled her eyebrows. This was less of a statement of a belief than of a willingness to believe, which was something Warlock had already noticed about Pinto.
She desperately wanted something to believe in, and she seemed, for whatever reason, to be considering investing in three possibilities in particular:
- the innate goodness of humanity
- the existence of the paranormal, and
- Warlock Dowling.
“How old is your parents’ house, Pinto?” Karen asked. It was hard to say if she was searching for solid ground, or merely humoring her new roommate.
“It’s a farmhouse from the eighteen hundreds, or something.” Pinto did dramatic jazz hands. “Totally legit someone could have died there!”
“People could have died anywhere," Warlock said patiently, "and given the whole of history, probably someone has died just about everywhere, except maybe most of Antarctica. But your parents live in a two hundred year old house, of course you hear shit at night. Wood expands and contracts with temperature and humidity, you know.”
"I'm sorry, is the witch being the skeptic right now? Yank the other one."
"Charming." Karen nudged Pinto with her elbow. "I was promised food in exchange for doing the dishes, you know."
"It's not even five PM!"
"By the time you're done, it'll be a reasonably human time to eat."
Pinto pursed her lips, fingers drumming on the couch cushions as she shot a narrow eyed glance to her left. "Are your kitchen implements as swanky as the rest of this place?"
Warlock gazed back at her steadily. "What answer would make you feel better?"
"Touché." Pinto got up from the couch, nabbing the remote for Warlock's modestly sized smart TV as she went. Her tongue stuck slightly out from between her teeth as she deciphered the vast array of buttons, and she explained, "I refuse to work under these conditions.”
(Apparently this meant she intended to play music via Youtube.)
She also proceeded to open every cabinet in Warlock's kitchen, just to see what she was working with, and bopped along to some pop song or other along the way. Warlock watched her for a moment, chin resting on her own forearm and something deeply confused and quietly entertained rumbling around her chest.
"University has been a bit bizarre so far," Karen commented, drawing Warlock's attention away from the kitchen.
Karen was hard to read, curious and hesitant and polite and a tad standoffish, all at once. Warlock supposed she had very little room to judge, as she had done nothing but be vaguely aloof and sardonic since her guests had arrived. Somewhere on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, her mother was furious that she'd forgotten to offer them a drink the moment they walked in the door.
“You’re a first year uni student as well, I assume?” Warlock asked, ignoring the gyration of Brendon Urie’s hips on the TV.
“Mm. All in pursuit of that starving artist aesthetic,” Karen declared, and Warlock tipped an imaginary hat to a kindred spirit. (Not, of course, that Warlock would ever be starving, with the sort of trust fund she had--not unless her father got up the guts to disown her.)
“Your blouse is white.”
“People can change clothes, you know.” Karen’s gaze flicked over Warlock, taking in the boots and the ripped black jeans and the somber flannel and considering them in light of her insistent title of “witch”. She smirked. “Well, perhaps you don’t.”
Warlock flushed red with a pulse of embarrassment, and covered it by twisting in her seat, barking out sharply, “Watch yourself, Pinto!”
Her newest and only best friend froze, hand a centimeter from the burner. “Shit, thanks.” She moved the cast iron pan from the burner she’d thought she’d turned on, to the one she actually had. “Eagle eye. How’d you see that, all the way over there?”
“I’ve a sixth sense for stupidity,” she answered blithely.
“But doesn’t it get annoying, going off every time you’re in your own presence?”
Warlock made a noise, low in the back of her throat. “Is that how this is going to be?” she asked, faking insult to cover how utterly delighted she was. There was the promised Pintovian wit.
“It’s what best friends are for.” Pinto shoved her fist slightly into the air in a sarcastic sort of salute, and then she grinned, wide and white and crinkling up her slightly crooked nose, as she turned back to the stovetop. “Back me up, Karen!”
“Yeah,” Karen said. She didn’t seem to be paying much attention to Pinto; she was watching Warlock with a hazy kind of suspicion. It was the kind that came from knowing that she had watched Warlock turn around specifically to give the warning, rather than give it because she’d happened to turn around, but she wasn’t really willing to believe herself on the subject.
Warlock offered her a smile--the kind that came with a few too many teeth and had been practiced carefully in the mirror through the whole of her American high school experience. “So are you a watercolor kind of girl, or do you prefer oil paints?”
“Whatever, really,” she said weakly. “How did you--”
“I’m a witch.”
“That’s not the answer you seem to think it is!”
She shrugged. “It’s the only answer there is.” And it was: she was a witch, so she knew things. She noticed things.
“Oh, woe is me! I need a lady knight in shitty black jeans to come to my rescue!”
Sometimes, she opened jars of pesto for overdramatic journalism majors.
Warlock Dowling may have been a witch, but she was not, in the grand scheme of things, a naturally powerful witch. She would never be capable of, say, sensing ley lines, or of brewing a love potion, or of healing so much as a papercut. The spark of power within her was so minute as to have been unnoticeable, had her childhood not predisposed her towards a belief in its existence, and it was sheer stubbornness and dedication which had allowed her to fan that spark into an especially modest flame.
She was not inclined towards precognition; merely to momentary flashes of insight into the world around her. An unheard footstep on the landing heralding Pinto’s arrival at her door; that particular creaking noise of an overheated burner sending a pulse of adrenaline into her heart.
So tucking the occasional business card into a library book or the lip of a mirror in a public restroom or the bulletin board of a dorm she didn’t live in was certainly not a matter of prophecy--”An younge wymon shall finde thee at thyme of herr most dearest need”, or something of the sort.
Warlock was simply of the opinion that, occasionally, people needed help, and sometimes she was in a position to help them. Magic wasn’t necessary for that, generally; so what if she couldn’t heal a papercut? That was why she kept plasters in her wallet.
She was also good for a lift when you found yourself a bit drunker than you intended, or for a place to crash when your boyfriend turned out to not be as nice as you’d thought him, or for a shoulder to cry on when your studies were getting a bit overwhelming.
People would see that white little card with its empty space and simple phone number, and somehow they would recognize it for the outstretched hand that it was; that was magic. When they decided to reach back, that was magic. There was no prophecy guiding her, and of that, Warlock was certain.
There was a sort of faith in the action, though.
She printed them in sets of fifty, because that was the best price available per card through the online retailer she ordered them from, and in an afternoon of procrastination from the essay she should have been writing, she had found places for a full forty-nine of them, across campus and the nearby Soho neighborhood. Most of them would probably end up in a trash bin or blown across the lawn and down the gutter, and others would result in crank calls because uni students and party scene twenty-somethings alike were a specific brand of bastard. But some of them would reach people who needed them, and that was all that mattered.
Warlock flicked her thumb at the corner of the fiftieth, chewing at the inside of her lip, and- with a huff, rolling her eyes at herself- stepped off the curb in front of some dingy bookstore to tuck the card beneath the wiper of an annoyingly familiar vintage car. She tried not to question her own motives too closely, hooking her thumbs in her pockets as she determinedly strode the other way back towards campus.
Maybe the owner would give her a call and she’d get a chance to chew their ear off for repeatedly stealing her parking spot, or something.
Contrary to popular belief (and by "popular", Warlock just meant Pinto's), she had not challenged Pinto's ability to carry eighteen-year-old witches down the streets of London. All she'd said was that her best friend was a bit on the short side; that was neither a moral judgment nor an intended slight, and didn't mean she wasn't still clearly an athletic person or that she didn't wear sensible shoes. It made sense.
The fact that Warlock had somehow agreed to being carried piggyback did not.
"You have too much hair," she complained, brushing it away from her nose for the third time in as many blocks. Pinto's bony hips dug into her thighs, and Warlock's boots may as well have been dragging the ground; if there was one thing she could be accused of, it was being mostly leg. "How much farther before your ego can take putting me down?"
"How much farther before your ego can only take being put down?"
Warlock sighed. "A stalemate then."
Pinto snickered. "Where's Karen with a little impulse control when you need her?"
"Throwing paint at a canvas and calling it art."
"I'm not a snob. Of course literally."
"That's true. You're kind of aggressively not a snob, actually. What's that about?"
Her mother was a patron of the arts who cared distinctly less about the arts themselves than the status of being a patron. In growing up, Warlock had found that she could enjoy a bit of classic architecture with the best of them, but that there was a much fiercer sort of joy to be found in the culture of the masses, especially when it intersected with the mood of the times and whipped upwards into a zeitgeist of passion and politics and that oh-so-human condition. That was what endured. That was what mattered.
Warlock shrugged, making sure Pinto could feel the motion. "Teenage rebellion."
"Nice." Pinto hitched Warlock a bit higher on her hips, with hands that could be described as “small and strong”, but were most accurately described as only somewhat small and quite scarily strong. "Hey, remember that time I asked you about tarot cards and you said they were a crock of shit?"
"As I recall, the question was less about the cards themselves and more about whether or not I was in pursuit of a trendy witchcraft aesthetic as opposed to actively practicing magic, and I never used the phrase 'crock of shit'."
"Oh. Er, are they a crock of shit?"
"In the hands of someone who knows what they're doing and isn't trying to scam you, no."
"Kind of rubbish at them."
"Right then. My point was--"
"You never have a point."
"I always have a point."
"Your pocket knife doesn't count."
"I'm going to drop you."
"Well, then I'm not going to drop you."
Warlock heaved a sigh, as obnoxiously loudly as she could and right in Pinto's ear, but she continued to hold on with one arm loosely about her shoulders. "I could ask around if you wanted; I'm sure someone in the community back home could point me in the direction of a proper tarot reader."
"Oh, no, that's fine. I like my future obscure and undetermined. Schrödinger's dessert menu choices, etcetera."
"Sure, that means something to me."
Patiently, Pinto elaborated, "I exist in a state of always being prepared to order cheesecake, but I shan't know whether or not I'm actually going to until I've looked at the menu and found out if the restaurant even serves it."
"Sensible, if not strictly analogical."
"I was going to ask about seànces, actually."
“You know it wasn’t--”
“Yes, I know it wasn’t a literal cat, Warlock.”
"Then what, for the ghosts in your parents' farmhouse?"
"For Youtube, mostly."
"You’ve lost me."
"Quite a while ago it seems. Look, I think it could make a fun comedy series, even if we don't find anything properly supernatural--I bring the wit, you bring the expertise, Karen brings the camera--"
"Is this just a scheme to get us to hang out together? As if we don't see each other enough."
It was a bit selfish, in that way that was very human and very hard to pass judgment on, but she felt smugly pleased every time she considered the fact that, while Pinto and Karen shared that particular bond that was being roommates while actually liking one another, Warlock was the one Pinto claimed as a best friend. So she never turned down dinner, or lunch, or a surprise visit at the flat, or a summons away from the campus library and over to Soho. They saw each other nearly every day, and sometimes twice.
Warlock had spent more time with Pinto in the last three weeks than she had with her mother in the last eighteen years, or at least it felt that way.
Pinto snapped her fingers. "That reminds me, you should give me a key to your flat."
"Going to have dinner waiting for me when I get home like a fifties housewife?"
"I'm feeding you beans and toast for a week straight if you keep it up." Pinto made use of the ripped knees of her baggy jeans to pinch her, sharply, and Warlock yelped.
"Turn me into a millipede, witchy woman," Pinto taunted. "If you got the guts and the game for it."
"I have plenty of millipedes. I'd turn you into a frog; you can never have too many frogs." Such a thing was quite outside of Warlock's wheelhouse, but she found it deeply entertaining the way Pinto stumbled, for just a moment, as if considering whether or not she was serious.
"Haha," Pinto finally said. It lacked a bit of her usual fervor. "Look, you live alone. It's a good idea, handing a spare to a trusted second party in case you leave the stove on and can't get home to deal with it or you lock yourself out--"
"I could let myself back in," Warlock said, with thin amusement.
"Well, yes, there is the building super--"
"I said I could let myself in."
"Of course. You're a witch; you can unlock doors with your mind.” Rolling your eyes was an inaudible action, but Pinto managed to project it through her voice anyway. It was one of her many talents.
"If that's what you want to call my lockpicks, sure."
"My nanny called it a crucial life skill."
"Your childhood was bizarre. Can I have a key or not?"
"Yeah, sure." Warlock carefully smoothed down Pinto's hair with one hand, leaving it in place, and rested her chin atop it. She was, at this point, a bit impressed in spite of herself at how far she'd been carried. After a moment's hesitation, the words unfamiliar on her tongue, she added, "What are best friends for?"
"They're for running a paranormal comedy Youtube channel so their journalistically inclined counterpart can practice their research skills and talking in front of a camera?" Pinto said hopefully.
"Oh, the truth sure is out there, hm? 'It'll be fun, Warlock!' And now suddenly it's all about your career--"
"It can be both, you know. The world is more than black and white."
Warlock quieted abruptly. "Yes, it is."
"Right," Pinto said slowly. She was good at reading people, and Warlock in particular. She seemed to sense the landmine in front of them, without having the slightest idea of what it was about. Her grip on Warlock's legs loosened, letting her finally drop to the ground. "Right, but, you know I shan't make you. Say the word, and I'll drop the idea faster than--"
"No, I mean." Warlock cleared her throat, shoving her hands in her pockets and staring resolutely out into space. "It could be fun. If Karen's in, I'm--" she paused, Pinto's statement replaying in her mind. "Wait, sorry, what research do you need to do for a seànce, if I'm the one providing the technical expertise?"
"Ah!" Pinto's face brightened, and she shoved her arm through Warlock's, dragging her off once more. "I may have misrepresented my idea a bit."
"A bit," Warlock echoed.
"Just a tad. But you'll like this more, I promise--helping people is what witches do, right, even if the help people need isn't the help they want?" She pressed her phone into Warlock's hand, a broad smile tugging across her face. "I'm still working on the website."
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY? DON'T SWEAT IT. WE'VE GOT A WITCH.
Tongue-in-cheek paranormal investigative services. Just because we're cracking jokes doesn't mean we aren't also busting ghosts--assuming that's even the problem in the first place.
"For the hatred of everything holy and the love of everything damned," Warlock said, blankly. "We're going to get sued."