“Once you cross this particular Rubicon there will be no going back,” Nightingale said.
‘I don’t think real wizards ride broomsticks,’ who am I even kidding?
There is a brief flicker of a moment between me spotting Nightingale and him opening his mouth during which time I considered every permutation that would allow me to end up in his bed without somehow abandoning my post. Is it any wonder that I fell into innuendo the moment I knew what he really was?
Things I know about Thomas Nightingale: he makes ghosts uneasy, he carries a silver cane which may or may not include some sort of wand, he can survive being slammed into fairly sturdy bannisters by someone who may or may not be entirely human, and he drives a very beautiful car which is not for show.
Things I do not know about Thomas Nightingale: everything else.
Inspector Nightingale looked me over carefully upon my arrival at the mortuary and frowned, a small line wrinkling his forehead. “You seem perturbed this morning,” he said.
I’d spent the night curled up in my room at the section house pretending that I wasn’t seeing Brandon Coopertown’s face, and reassuring Lesley that she couldn’t taste the baby’s blood in her mouth. So my sleep hadn’t exactly been pristine and relaxing. “I’m eager to rejoin the investigation,” I said, aware of just how ridiculous I sounded. My head hurt and my scalp itched, on account of my overzealousness with the soap in attempting to make sure that I was no longer covered in blood.
Inspector Nightingale gave me a small nod, as if appreciating the candor of my lie, and gestured me inside.
The corpse of Brandon Coopertown was waiting for me, sans face.
I want to make it clear that at no point did the words “ten year apprenticeship” pass anyone’s lips prior to the meeting with the Commissioner. And then, there I was, swearing a whole new oath, and suddenly a trainee for another sizeable chunk of time.
“All right?” Nightingale asked quietly as we made our way out.
“What happened at Ettersburg?” This seemed like an important thing to have clarification on as it appeared to have a fairly strong bearing on whether I’d be at risk in the future.
His lips tightened. “Nothing you will need to be concerned with,” he said, with an air of finality.
If wishing made it so… It should have reassured me. It didn’t.
“You should collect your things,” he said instead. “As my apprentice, you will live with me in the Folly.” He handed me a business card, because apparently police wizards have business cards these days. I stared at the embossed address. The Folly, Russell Square, London. SCIENTIA POTESTAS EST. “I’ll see you this evening.” He walked away, leaving me standing outside the Commissioner’s office having just sworn to uphold the Queen’s peace, and possibly her clothes. (I’d have to check on the precise meaning of that oath later; I had a feeling no parts of it were optional and it would be good to know what exactly I’d sworn to do, possibly in perpetuity.)
After a while, I shrugged and called Lesley. “You know that favour you owe me?”
“I don’t owe you any favours, Peter, you’re delusional.”
“OK, let’s try this again. Want to help me pack for Hogwarts?”
The Folly is what would happen if someone turned one of those grand Georgian mansions back from a boutique hotel into a family home, and then forgot to put a family in there. Just the two of us and Molly, Nightingale said.
In my defence - and given that the alternative was the station house - it seemed like a good idea at the time.
After the incident at the cinema, I found myself standing in a corridor full of identical looking doors, wondering which one led to Nightingale’s bedroom. It’s not that I had some grand plan of seduction - after all, my grand plan of seducing Lesley hadn’t exactly progressed beyond a vague interest - but I would have felt a lot more settled if I knew exactly how far away, or not, he was. I should probably have asked this when I was first shown to my room, but as Lesley says, I was too easily distracted.
After standing at the landing for a while, I gave up and went to bed.
The following day I practiced the forma for the werelight until my hand cramped.
By the end, I’d managed to produce a faint echo in my thoughts of what the forma should be, but I wasn’t sure whether that was just my imagination acting up. Nightingale made me take half-hour breaks in between each two-hour stint - for my concentration, he claimed. He thought my progress with the werelight was sufficient for the day, and Molly ensured that I was well compensated for my efforts by providing a small feast able to feed at least half a station house.
That night, I trudged up to bed exhausted, and paused at the top of the stairs. “Which room is yours?” I asked.
Behind me, Nightingale stared back impassively. “If you have a question you want to ask, now is probably the time,” he said. “No need to dance around the issue.”
I shook my head. “That was my question. Where do you sleep?”
“Yes? Well.” He inclined his head towards a door on the right, two doors down. “For the moment, this room suffices.”
For the moment. I swallowed. “All right. What question should I be asking?”
Nightingale smiled a little at that. “Why am I sleeping so close to you this early on?”
Maybe I’ve read too many bad books and seen too many questionable films, but I had a feeling I knew. He’d frowned a little as he looked me over that first day after I took the oath, and asked me to write my entire sexual history. He’d stared at it for long enough to make me paranoid, shaken his head, and said that I should think about branching out, just so I had all eventualities covered.
‘Eventualities’. As if sex was something in which the maximum number of combinations could score you some points. “Do I… is this something I need to resolve on my own? Or…”
I could feel the heat in my cheeks. It was as close to propositioning a senior officer as I was ever likely to get, but I’d read up on the oath from the book he’d given me, and it had also included some basic precepts and responsibilities. One of these was the responsibility of the Master to take care of any vulnerabilities the Apprentice may be sporting, unawares.
Nightingale inclined his head. “That is entirely up to you.” He nodded at the closed door. “I shall be here until the end of the week, when I shall retire to my room. You may approach me before then if you need to address your, ah, issue.” He made it sound like a fairly onerous task he was willing to undertake for my sake.
Or I guess the alternative was that I could go out, get drunk, and get fucked. That might solve the problem as well.
I sighed, nodded, and went to bed.
The week came and went with me still not having resolved my vestigial virginity. The more I thought about it in those terms, the more I managed to put it to one side in my mind, as if it were something that was someone else’s problem.
I think I would have found it easier to deal with if I hadn’t had those thoughts about Nightingale when we first met. If my assessment of him had been purely professional.
Coulda woulda shoulda, of course.
At any rate, I spent most of my time managing to embarrass Molly, irritate Toby and avoid Nightingale after hours, which kept me plenty busy. I also met Mama Thames, which highlighted a lot of additional issues I hadn’t been aware of.
“I can arrange for someone else,” Nightingale said over breakfast one morning.
Molly had provided her usual feast, my interruption of two nights’ previous forgotten or forgiven. I’d take either. I ate another bite of my scrambled eggs and made what I hoped was a noncommittal noise.
Nightingale sighed. “It doesn’t have to be a man,” he said finally, skirting around the topic as much as he was able. “There is no requirement as to the… nature of the… act. If you have someone in mind, I can explain what they need to do.”
“I’ll let you know,” I said, and Nightingale sighed again.
It wasn’t the vampires. I mean, it was, because I think that’s what helped me break through and form my first werelight, but it wasn’t the vampires per se.
After I mastered that first forma - and got some burn salve for my hand - my study sessions went from two hours of practical / half hour of theory to two hours of practical / six hours of theory. My Latin homework moved from zero to roughly ten years of owed schoolwork.
Nightingale of course tutored me through it. Once I’d conjured the werelight, all of his academic plans swung into top gear, full speed ahead, to get me caught up as soon as possible. Ten years, he’d said, but that had been based on assuming I’d learned a lot of things in school which we just plain didn’t cover. So there was all of that to go through as well. Ten years was probably a little on the ambitious side.
Within two days my skin started to feel like it was two sizes too small.
Nightingale caught me shifting restlessly at breakfast. “Have you been overdoing it?” he asked.
This is your brain on magic, repeated on a loop in my head, along with the image of Dr Walid showing me the cauliflower brain. I had most certainly not been overdoing it. “I’m just eager to get through to the next stage,” I said, stupidly.
Nightingale made a soft noise under his breath which I took to mean, Spare me.
That night, I went out, and I got laid. Not in the way he’d suggested, though; just your traditional drunken shag with a complete stranger in a nightclub.
By the time I got back, Molly had gone to bed - or wherever it is she spent her nights - and Nightingale was waiting for me at the dinner table.
I stopped in the doorway, feeling obscurely like I’d been caught doing something wrong.
“Did it help?” he asked.
I considered this. Even with the alcohol in my system, and the soft, heavy feeling in my stomach that told me I’d had a truly satisfying evening, there was still the prickling of something around the edges of my mind, making me skittish.
The last thing you want to be as a copper is ‘skittish’.
“No,” I said after a moment. “No, not really.”
Nightingale nodded slowly. “I gave you time,” he said. “I gave you a lot of time, actually, but you don’t seem to have chosen to do anything with it. And now you have your first forma, and you can feel the power you’re accessing. Addictive, isn’t it?”
Numbly, I nodded. This is your brain on magic. No wonder some risk it.
Nightingale nodded again, looking a bit sad. “I’m sorry if this isn’t your choice,” he said eventually. “But it is a vulnerability. And we need to address it before you continue.”
Well, that was the most romantic proposition I’d heard all year.
We went to bed. It wasn’t awful.
The next morning, Molly made even more food, as if somehow sensing that I’d need it. She also gave me the slightest of nods as she glided past, which I took to mean that I’d been forgiven for my earlier nosiness - but really, she lived with coppers, what did she expect - and that I’d been accepted as part of… something.
“OK?” Nightingale asked.
I shifted a little in my seat and nodded. Nightingale had touched me so carefully that he’d left fewer marks on me than the girl I’d fucked in the nightclub earlier that evening. And this morning all I felt was a residual soreness that was more than balanced out by the lack of itching across my skin, as if - finally - I’d settled into it properly.
“Show me,” Nightingale said, putting his cutlery down.
I paused, bite of bacon halfway to my mouth, and lowered my fork. Held out my arm, and opened my hand, letting the forma open up. Key, lock. “Lux.”
I took a breath. And another. And another.
“Very good,” said Nightingale.
I faltered and let the forma close. When I looked over to him, I saw that he’d finished his breakfast; somehow, I’d held the werelight for far beyond my customary five seconds.
Nightingale had put aside his plate and cutlery and was leaning forward. He nodded to me, smiling a little. “Very good indeed,” he said. “Again?”
I swallowed and held out my arm again. “Lux!”