Actions

Work Header

Though I Sang in My Chains Like the Sea

Work Text:

It was amazing the difference between an empty house and a house containing two medium-sized apprentices and a small dog. Thomas could hear them as he came down to breakfast, and it was a testament to familiarity that he knew immediately that something was off. Peter was speaking a little too loudly, Lesley wasn’t saying unrepeatable things over the paper, and Toby wasn’t yapping at all.

So he wasn’t entirely surprised to find Detective Sergeant Miriam Stephanopoulos seated at the head of the table with a heaped plate before her. Peter and Lesley were in their usual places. Thomas made a wager with himself that this would be the last time Peter ever came down to breakfast in his pajamas.

“Good morning,” Thomas said, lifting his eyebrows.

“Nightingale, good.” Stephanopoulos set down her napkin.

“Is this a social call?” Thomas asked. Not bloody likely.

“Ah, no,” she said, and he realized he’d just headed off a spate of politely lubricating small talk. Good. He needed tea before that sort of thing. “I’ve come to ask a favor. For me personally, not the Met.”

Thomas went to the sideboard and came back with plate in one hand, cup in the other. “I’m listening,” he said.

“I have some friends,” she said. “Well, herself has some friends. A couple, three kids. The oldest is . . . having some difficulties.”

“Difficulties with drugs? A ghost? His curfew?”

She winced. “I don’t know. His parents don’t know. His doctors don’t know. He’s having – hell, it’s probably better if they tell you about it themselves, don’t want to prime you with a third-hand story. Maybe this has nothing to do with you lot and all this –“ she gestured “—crazy bullshit. But I know about this crazy bullshit now, so I want to make sure. Will you go see them? Look into it if it needs looking?”

“We can make some time,” Thomas said mildly. “Where and when?”

“As soon as possible, and here,” she said, sliding a notecard down the table to him. She stood, dropping her napkin over her denuded plate. “Please try not to traumatize the natives,” she said. “Herself will be annoyed.” She swept her jacket off the back of her chair. “And thank you,” she added, and exited in a clatter of sensible heels.

*

The address took them to Highgate. Thomas no longer maintained the Londoner’s instinctive sense for the fine gradations of prosperity that could be judged on a street-by-street basis. He’d lost track of all that at some point during the Thatcher administration, and when he’d looked up a decade later, the tides of commerce had come in and gone out several times, and left a new landscape behind. Luckily, he now had Peter, who supplied judgment with a whistle and a pithy assessment of likely property values, to the precision of at least one decimal place.

Thomas drove. Lesley was off to the doctor again, and Thomas refused to let the dog into the Jag anymore in the absence of dire necessity. Peter sat in the passenger seat, reading out relevant bits of Stephanopoulos’s summaries. He kept his mobile balanced on his knee. It issued a continuous stream of directions – “in the traffic circle ahead, take third exit,” and “keep left and then, keep left,” – which he nonchalantly ignored. Thomas had recently learned, after several instances of badly smothered hilarity on the part of both his insubordinate apprentices, that though this GPS machine talked to them, it could not understand being talked back to.

“Okay,” Peter said. “Mum and – ah – mum and mum. Tana Bixby, 45. Solicitor. Something to do with taxes, looks like. Magic Circle stuff. Thus the house, probably.” He looked over. “Magic Circle – that’s not magic, it’s just –“

“Yes, thank you,” Thomas said. “I am aware of the phrase.” After three hours of increasing alarm and bafflement ten years back, but no need to mention that.

“Right. Mum number two is Rebecca Upton, 41. Clinical psychologist. Doctorate. Splits her time between teaching and private practice. They got civil partnered eight years ago, but they’ve been together much longer. Since the mid-nineties, Stephanopoulos thinks.”

“Turn left ahead,” the mobile instructed.

“Go straight,” Peter countermanded absently. “The kid is Jeremy. Seventeen.” He flipped rapidly through several pages. “Plays football. Academics are fine, but nothing flashy. Supposed to be taking a gap year starting in a few months.” He kept flipping. “Two little sisters. Twelve and ten. Ivy and Ai-ling.”

“Ai-ling,” Thomas corrected, laying the long I appropriately. “So adopted, then?”

“Doesn’t say. But I’d guess adopted, or the parents have some unbearably hipster notions of universal peace through cultural appropriation.” He pondered briefly. “Could also be both.”

Thomas was about seventy percent sure he knew what that meant, which was pretty good as these things went. “Anything else?”

“No criminal history.” He waved a stack of stapled pages. “And I’m not just saying that, she ran all of them.” He made a face. “Bit awkward if you found something on your friends like that.”

Thomas slowed to residential speeds. The mobile instructed him to turn left and Peter concurred for once, squinting at the tiny digital map. “It starts working within 500 yards of the destination,” he said, then riffled the pages of the file with his thumb. “Nothing here is leaping out and screaming ‘magic’ at me.”

“Hm,” Thomas said. “I find it usually whispers, myself.”

The house was a brick and glass two-storey with a generous slope of lawn. Thomas parked on the street and Peter led the way up the drive. The garage door was open, revealing a tiny green sports car and a tan SUV, behemoth by comparison.

The bell was answered by a short, round woman with gray-streaked dark hair twisted severely off her face. “You’d be the police, then,” she said with a faint, disbelieving laugh. “Come in.”

They followed her through to a high-ceilinged living room. Colorful rugs spread over the hardwood. To the right, a pair of pristine white leather couches with purple accent cushions faced each other with a grouping of elegant glass tables between. To the left, across some invisible domestic boundary, was a second cluster of furniture with a tipping pile of magazines on the arm of the sofa, a Lego structure in progress on the floor, and a snarled mass of wires leading from beneath the television to a pair of video game control devices. Thomas recognized them from his own coach house, and he caught Peter nodding approval over the setup.

They were ushered to the right. Feet thumped on stairs, and another woman came around the corner. Taller, thinner, but built like a rower through the shoulders.

“You’re the people Miri sent?” she said. “Rebecca Upton.” The handshakes and introductions were civil, but not exactly warm. Tea was offered; Thomas accepted for both of them and there was a brief passage of cool small talk over milk and so on. They used the good china, a lovely cream and gold set that appeared to mildly alarm Peter. Thomas couldn’t tell whether the intention was to propitiate or intimidate.

When all was said and done they sat four square on the opposing couches. Thomas found himself looking at a photo on the far wall. It showed the two women sitting in plastic chairs. They each had a duffle bag at their feet and an Asian child in their lap, one toddler, one baby.

“That was in the airport in Taiwan,” Ms. . . . Mrs.? Ms. Bixby said, following his look. “We had just adopted the girls and they were coming home for the first time.”

That accounted for the shell-shocked expressions, then. Thomas recalled seeing a similar look in his mirror when he'd learned that he was abruptly responsible for not one young apprentice, but two. “They’re lovely,” Thomas said politely.

Mum and mum and two children from the other side of the globe. They didn't look like what he thought of when he thought of a family. But then again, no one had asked him, and here they were.

Thomas was just about to initiate the interview when Ms. Upton set her teacup down and said, “Miri was very vague. What exactly is it that you investigate?”

Damn. It was usually better to head that one off early. Many people, once established in the role of interviewee, never managed to ask questions of their own. That would clearly not be the case here.

“We’re part of Economic and Specialist crimes,” he said.

“It’s better if we don’t tell you more now,” Peter said, smiling his helpful constable smile. “You’re a psychologist, right? We don’t want to prime the witnesses.”

Ms. Upton nodded once, mouth down-turned. “Miri said you would eliminate a possibility.”

“Precisely.” Thomas touched a napkin to his lips. “It is entirely likely that our expertise will not be required at all.”

Ms. Bixby and Ms. Upton exchanged a look. Thomas wondered which they were hoping for at this point. Was their child having a psychotic break, or was he mixed up in some cutting edge designer drug business?

“So,” he said. “We don’t know much. Tell us about Jeremy.”

Ms. Bixby had been cradling her teacup without sipping. “It started six weeks ago,” she said. Ms. Upton made a small, negative gesture. “Which is up for debate,” Ms. Bixby said.

“What happened six weeks ago?” Peter asked. He had unobtrusively opened his notebook across his knee.

There was a tiny pause, and Thomas realized they had come to the horrible heart of the thing first off, without really meaning to.

“He put his – he said he put his hands through the bathroom mirror,” Ms. Upton said clearly.

Thomas tipped his head to the side. “Was he injured?” he asked.

Two head shakes. “Not like that,” Ms. Bixby said. “There wasn’t a scratch on him.” She made a slate-clearing gesture. “We were making dinner. It was a Sunday, so we’re all supposed to be home for it. The girls were out here, I was chopping vegetables, Beck was out back picking herbs. Jeremy was upstairs. And he just . . . screamed. Really loud.”

“Scared,” Ms. Upton interpolated. “Not hurt.” She shrugged. “You learn the difference when they’re little.”

Thomas knew exactly what she meant, except that he’d learned the difference in France and Russia and Germany, instead of the nursery.

“We ran upstairs,” Ms. Bixby continued. “I got there first. Jeremy was coming out of the bathroom. He wasn’t hurt anywhere that I could see, but he was completely white, shaking, you know. And he said, ‘My hands went into the mirror, and it tried to suck the rest of me through.’”

She stopped, lips pressed tightly together.

“Was the mirror broken?” Thomas asked as gently as he could.

“No. Not even a crack.” She swallowed. “But he was so scared, and he insisted that’s what happened. I kept thinking you know, he’ll calm down, he’ll realize it was just an illusion, just the light or- or. But no. He wouldn’t even go back in the bathroom that night.”

“And he avoids mirrors now,” Ms. Upton put in. “He’ll walk past them, but he won’t look.”

Peter glanced up from his notebook. “Could he see his hands on the other side?” he asked suddenly. “Was it like looking at your hands on the other side of glass, or did they disappear into his reflection?”

There was a startled pause at this willingness to take the story at face value. “You’d have to ask him,” Ms. Upton said finally.

“This wasn’t the first incident, though?” Thomas said before they could get further off track.

There was a brief exchange of looks. “It was never anything so obvious,” Ms. Upton said. “The sort of thing you notice at the time, but then you just forget it. But thinking back now . . . like December last year. We went on a skiing holiday. Little lodge in the Swiss Alps, no civilization for miles. And Jeremy kept saying how the bells woke him up every midnight. Peals and peals of them, apparently, like a thousand churches. But none of the rest of us heard a thing.”

“I see,” Thomas said. “Anything else?”

It came out in a trickle, then a flood from both of them. Odd throwaway comments going back over a year about rainstorms that no one else noticed, feeling the heat of a fire from an empty fireplace, the overpowering smell of cinnamon that no one else could detect. All from an otherwise unimaginative child who was in any case past the age for such games.

“And you’ve been to the doctor,” Thomas prompted when they ran down.

“We’ve done a whole boatload of tests,” Ms. Bixby confirmed. “It’s not a tumor, not any neurological condition.” She inhaled carefully. “They referred us to a psychiatrist,” she said. “We were told to prepare ourselves for the possibility of in-patient treatment, anti-psychotic medications.”

“It’s not schizophrenia,” Ms. Upton burst out suddenly. “Or Bipolar I or Schizoaffective Disorder. His mood is stable, his social interactions haven’t changed, I’ve been watching.” Ah, the psychologist, of course, he’d nearly forgotten.

“Did he get an MRI?” Peter asked.

It was well done, short-circuiting the sudden flare of desperation.

“Three weeks ago,” Ms. Bixby said. “It was normal.”

“We have a colleague with some particularly relevant expertise,” Thomas said. “I’ll put him in contact to release the films to him, if that is acceptable? Good. Now –“

A car door slammed outside.

“That’s the kids,” Ms. Bixby said, hastily standing. “I assume you still want to talk to him.”

“Please,” Thomas said.

Both women excused themselves, and the front door banged. Thomas could hear the two younger girls badgering each other, and another adult voice over theirs.

Peter tipped his head in inquiry as soon as they were alone. “Well?”

“No idea,” Thomas said. He could see Peter’s notebook if he tilted his head far enough. The right-hand page was titled Initial Interview with Tana Bixby and Rebecca Upton re Jeremy Upton-Bixby with the date and full address below. He’d jotted a list of the incidents as they’d been described, and then rearranged them along a rough timeline.

The left-hand page said only MIRI??????

One of the children laughed loudly, and the other said, “Mum!” even louder.

Thomas knew, in an abstract sense, that he ought to feel some form of kinship for these women, that they were in the same category of people. And yet he couldn’t feel it. Could he and Ian ever have built themselves a home like this? Unimaginable. Ian had come home to the Folly more nights than not for years, but that was necessity, not domestic refuge.

And children -- it occurred to Thomas, at the remove of fifteen years, that children had never crossed his mind. Had they crossed Ian’s mind? Thomas had always assumed that his inexorable reverse aging had done them in, but what if there had been more to it? He had very carefully kept himself out of Ian’s way when it was all over, with the exception of necessary professional encounters before Ian transferred up to the Edinburgh police. Was there a wife, after, and babies? They could be teenagers by now, not much younger than Peter and Lesley in the grand scheme. What a thought.

He and Peter stood as everyone piled back in. Ms. Bixby ushered the two girls through to the stairs, apparently uninterested in introducing them. Ms. Upton drew Jeremy forward, a hand at the back of his neck.

Thomas had been expecting another Asian child, but Jeremy was a light nutty brown, several shades lighter than Peter but distinctly not Caucasian. He was tall, broad-shouldered; he looked strong, though he hadn’t quite outgrown all of the adolescent gangle yet. He assessed them warily, biting at his lip.

“Pleased to meet you,” Thomas said, extending his hand. It was easy, after all this time, to keep on performing the pleasantries while he let his mind go loose and quiet and receptive, listening for –

Hounds barking at a great distance, a whole pack of them, and a starry expanse of sky over snow, and the satisfying thunk of foot powerfully meeting ball.

The vestigia was so powerful it all but knocked him over. Thomas blinked, and Peter was suddenly there, squinting at him out of the corner of one eye with an unobtrusive hand hovering. Thomas briefly considered trying to warn him, but decided there was no purpose, they would need to compare notes anyway.

That was not a whisper. That was, in fact, a hell of a shout.

*

The first thing Peter said when they got back in the car was, “Is checking for vestigia a search in the legal sense? Do we need reasonable grounds for it?”

Thomas blinked. “Tell you what,” he said. “Why don’t you find out and let me know.”

Peter opened up his notebook and pointedly wrote something down. “You realize I know whenever you say that, it means you don’t know the answer, right?”

Thomas smiled a little grimly to himself. He wasn’t worried. Peter’s faith in him and his knowledge was actually quite humbling. Someday, Peter would put the pieces together and realize that he was Thomas’s first formal apprentice – first long-term pupil ever – and it would be a short leap to the realization that he was still trying to figure out how the entire business of edifying instruction was supposed to work from this end.

“Initial thoughts on our young man?” he asked.

“Not until we get the MRI,” Peter said. “Is it possible to tell whether thaumaturgical degradation is caused by being a practitioner or being the object of magic?”

“Not as far as I’m aware,” Thomas said. “On those occasions that we can get an MRI for Dr. Walid, we can infer the cause of damage from the circumstances.” He glanced over as they exited a roundabout. Peter was chewing his lip. Thinking of his father, probably, the object of an ensorcelment and still showing the signs decades later. “You think someone is creating illusions for him?”

“God I hope not,” Peter said frankly. “Because unless you’ve been holding back on me and you can cast a spell from another country, it would have to be someone who was with him both at home and in Switzerland. And that means it’s one of the family.”

“There are slow-acting higher-order spells,” Thomas said. “Or secondary magical effects from an enchanted object.” He sighed. “I take your point, though. No more than the usual background vestigia on the mothers, and the daughters are awfully young. And who would have taught them, in any case?”

There was a brief, unpleasant silence while they both pondered recent experiences regarding unexpected magicians and the clandestine training thereof.

“We should have stayed, gone through the house,” Peter said.

“It wouldn’t have done us any good, not after we met him. A blast of vestigia as powerful as that is overwhelming. It’s like walking past a perfume counter – you can’t smell anything else for a while.”

“Guess we need an excuse to go back, anyway,” Peter said. “I want a crack at the kid without mum and mum around.”

“Yes.” Young Mr. Bixby-Upton had said maybe a half dozen words to them in total under his mothers’ attentive eyes. Peter had given up on an attempt at an interview quickly; Thomas had been eager to leave, with the echoes of vestigia practically ringing in his ears.

“So say it is him doing it,” Peter said. “But he doesn’t know it. Maybe he’s . . . coming into his magic?”

Thomas sighed. “Peter, did you experience a period of turmoil and inexplicable occurrences during your teens?”

“Well, yeah,” Peter said. “Wasn’t magical, though.”

“Newtonian magic is not like acne,” Thomas said. “It does not arrive at puberty. It is a discipline, not a birthright. It is a set of interlocked and extremely difficult skills that can only be learned over the course of years.” He cast a frown upon his apprentice. “With the application of diligence.”

“Oi, I’m plenty diligent,” Peter said, straightening.

Thomas sighed. This was absolutely true. Peter was industrious and curious and by no measure lazy. He could bend his mind to any problem for hours on end. That was the rub, though – it could be any bloody problem.

“Well, apply your diligence to some basic background investigation, please. We need to know if the boy has any enemies. Or the mothers, for that matter.”

“Run known associates, see if any of them are secretly wizards, got it,” Peter said. “And I’ll call Dr. Walid about that MRI.” He flicked a page back in the notebook, skimming. “The mirror thing,” he said abruptly. “Is that real? Can someone get sucked into a mirror?”

“If so, I’m not aware of it,” Thomas said. “There were rumors of travel by looking glass, but I believe trying it only ever netted anyone a persistent case of bad luck.”

“Hmm,” Peter said absently, and Thomas just knew he was off on a tangent, imagining how he’d experiment. Good God.

“Shielding practice when we get home,” Thomas said firmly.

Peter glanced up. There was no protest, no objection to the way Thomas had summarily interrupted the orderly progression of his training to introduce self-defense magic that in the ordinary course they wouldn’t be approaching for another three years. Thomas’s post-secondary training in offensive magic had been similarly accelerated. He’d compressed the usual four years of one-on-one instruction down to twenty eight months. It was 1937 – they’d all been in a rush. Or all been rushed. It was hard to remember now.

*

Lesley was home before them, applying herself to Latin in the library.

“Appointment okay?” Peter asked. He did that now. Thomas didn’t know what had happened, but overnight Peter had gone from never asking about her face to always asking. Thomas had the notion Lesley was equally unhappy with either option.

She rocked a hand in the air, ambivalent. “How was the interview?”

“We can debrief downstairs,” Thomas put in. “I want to try something.”

It was quite convenient, actually, having two apprentices now. Thomas had worried that they would distract each other, become unhealthily competitive, indulge in romantic dalliances, any one of a hundred other disruptive scenarios. And they did distract each other, that was certain. But he hadn’t thought of the advantages of one apprentice who needed to improve his shielding, and the other apprentice who needed to improve her fine control of projectiles.

Thomas set Peter up at one end of the firing range in full protective gear and Lesley at the other with a wide array of missiles to hand, from an innocuous stack of couch cushions to a potentially dangerous bag of ball bearings. And then he let them wear each other out like a pair of over-energetic puppies, without needing to lift a finger himself.

Lesley’s formae were smooth, calligraphic, very effective. Peter’s signare was looser, his technique perpetually changing. Thomas hovered close for a time, critiquing.

“I’ve always found it works better if you get the shield up before the projectile arrives,” he observed.

“Learned that when you were off fighting Grindelwald, did you?” Peter said breathlessly.

“Focus, please,” Thomas said, and retreated to the far end of the range.

He lingered down by Lesley, summarizing their morning’s activities between volleys. Peter put in his observations at a gentle bellow. Lesley wasn’t permitted to overtax herself, magically, and she did tire with alarming speed. But she still had the whole story by the time Thomas called a halt.

“We can do some background interviews tomorrow,” she said as they retreated upstairs to the lab. “If we weren’t dealing with a possible magician, I’d say we needed to start with the school.”

“Still do so,” Thomas said, more than willing to bow to her investigatory instincts. Seawoll had told him in no uncertain terms that the Folly had stolen one of the most prodigiously talented young investigators of the past five years. Thomas had wanted to say that she had stolen herself, refined devastation into power the way some people could. But he’d taken the point.

Lesley went back to her books while Thomas put Peter through a rapid cycle of every forma he’d been taught so far and, predictably, two he hadn’t. Thomas hadn’t known that he missed magic until he had apprentices. London was a simmering cauldron of the stuff, but that was different. That was genii locorum and every breed and cross-breed of faerie imaginable and a polyglot stew of multicultural tradition. He’d missed Newtonian magic, British magic, its fiddly articulations and familiar fussiness and deep well of force. It was strange to believe, for the first time in decades, that he would not be its last practitioner.

Peter yawned at last, stretching out his shoulders. “Think that’s it for me,” he said.

“Headache?” Thomas asked sharply.

“No. But will be in about twenty minutes.” Peter flapped his hands in the air, loosening up. He always appeared unconcerned by the prospect of his brain liquefying in his skull, but Thomas knew he’d had the requisite scare or two, and it showed. Some of Thomas’s classmates had never learned, no matter how many blood vessels hemorrhaged in their eyes or migraines they suffered.

Peter joined Lesley at the table, but he was restless, refusing to settle. Finally he said, “Coffee?” and Thomas agreed, if only to give him something to do.

“Do you have a tenner on you?” Lesley asked as soon as he wandered off.

“I believe so, why?” He’d tried, but plastic currency just wasn’t the same.

Lesley grinned. “Because Peter had that look on his face. I bet you that when he gets back he’s going to ask one of those questions that makes you want to smack him upside the head because it’s so ridiculous, except then you’ll wake up in the middle of the night a week from now thinking but wait, what if there is Einsteinian magic?”

“No bet,” Thomas said.

Peter wandered back in with a tray. He distributed coffee in silence, then settled back to his books. There was a minute of peace.

Then Peter looked up and said, “So if a genius loci is the magical presence that arises from a sufficiently complex system, do you think human consciousness is the presence that arises from the complex biological system?”

*

The inside of the MRI machine was close and loud. Thomas kept his eyes shut, his hands folded loosely across his chest. He was quite adept at tuning out the racket by now, but he’d never gotten used to the plasticky antiseptic smell.

Time was, Abdul had shoved him into this thing at every opportunity, hungry for data. Thomas had been curious too, at first. But these days they were both satisfied with a single annual scan supplemented by an extra for particularly taxing events. And of course now Abdul had Peter and Lesley to play with.

The thumping and whirring stopped at last, and Thomas slid out of the maw of the machine. Abdul was sitting with his back politely turned, giving Thomas the time to redon his shoes and jacket.

“Here you are,” Abdul said after a minute. He turned the monitor so Thomas could see the images. “And here’s an overlay from last year. And another from five years ago. And ten.”

Thomas came and stood behind him, hands clasped. The machine showed him his brain in odd, unimpressive two dimensions.

“Here, here, and here,” Abdul said, pointing with a light pen. “The hypothalamus, mostly. And the same last year. See it?”

Thomas could remember thinking, late in the war, that there would be no wizard survivors. Even if he lived, if any of them did, they had all used magic so profligately, they were practically hemorrhaging it. He remembered thinking, in the middle of a particularly long, cold night, that some of them might get home, but they were marked men now. If Abdul had been there with them, he would have found a notebook, crouched in a muddy trench, and recorded their magic use, duration and strength and intensity. And then he would have followed them longitudinally to see how long it took them to die of it.

Of course some of them had made it home, but Thomas had no idea what had become of his fellows who had broken their staffs. Dead now, most of them, though whether of time or magic it hardly seemed to matter at this late date.

But neither time nor magic had touched him. His brain looked more or less the same as it had last year, five years ago, a decade. There was damage, yes, but the scar tissue was old, largely unchanging. Much like his face in the mirror.

Sometimes Thomas thought about the men he’d known who weren’t wizards, all the ones who had made it home alive only to have their brains rot on them, of drink or shock or both. And then he wondered what the bloody buggering unbelievable fucking hell he was doing here in this steel and glass hospital with a machine that could peer astonishingly into his skull, with so much magic and time under the bridge that they should have drowned a whole platoon decades ago.

“Nothing new, then?” Thomas said.

Abdul shook his head slowly. He clicked here and there, enlarging, changing contrast. “No,” he said more definitively. “You’re still fine.”

“Clean living,” Thomas said, desert dry. “And I assume I would hear if Peter or Lesley were showing signs?”

Abdul obligingly brought up two more films on the screen. Thomas felt oddly protective over the grayscale images.

“Peter,” Abdul said of the first. “That might be the beginnings of degradation behind the optic chiasm, but it could also be normal variation. I’ll watch it.” He sighed, clicked. “Lesley.”

Thomas realized he was gripping the back of Abdul’s chair. He made himself let go. The damage was visible to the naked, untrained eye. Thomas had not been present when Abdul first showed this to her; he didn’t know what was said, what wasn’t. But he could guess. Abdul had probably been kind but blunt. She might live a full and healthy life, she might die at ninety with seven grandchildren. Or she might drop dead in a year.

Or, then again, she might find herself swept inexplicably out of her rightful time, living forward and forward and forward in a stranger and stranger world.

“It’s not advancing,” Abdul said. “Which is a good sign, considering there’s no way she’s been following the restrictions I suggested.”

“In her defense, circumstances have been . . . trying,” Thomas said. “But I take your point.”

“And speaking of young people,” Abdul said. “I received a film connected to a new case of yours.”

“That was fast,” Thomas said. “Though it’s not a case. Not yet. It’s currently a favor for a friend of the Folly.”

“Hm, well, here you are,” Abdul said, and brought up another film. “The record says seventeen-year-old male, is that correct?”

“Yes.” Thomas leaned in, squinting. “I don’t see anything.”

Abdul hummed. “There are traces, here and here,” he said, highlighting. Thomas still couldn’t see it. “If he were older I wouldn’t make anything of it. But at seventeen the brain is still relatively plastic, so even infinitesimal damage can be significant. Though as usual, I can’t guarantee the cause. What’s the story here?”

“Unclear,” Thomas said. “If he weren’t giving off such strong vestigia, I would be tempted to conclude his experiences were the result of illness, physical or psychological. They’re largely benign, if strange.”

“Like what?”

Thomas counted them off on his fingers – the bells, the fire, the rainstorm, the mirror.

“What?” Abdul said sharply.

“Through the glass,” Thomas confirmed. “At least that’s what the mothers report. Why?”

Abdul was sitting up straight in his chair, a deep frown etched on his forehead. “I . . .” he said. Then he shook himself and stood up. “Wait right here,” he said, and jogged out.

Thomas looked a little dubiously over at the MRI machine. Surely he would be evicted for an actual patient? But he sat obediently in the chair by the computer to wait.

On a whim, he took the mouse device in hand. He’d never gotten the hang of the things, and the pictograms on the screen were never as intuitive as everyone else seemed to think. But eventually he was able to locate The Google. He typed what is grindlewald? and was immediately presented with some machine cheek for his spelling, and a great deal more information than he could possibly want. It seemed more likely, all things considered, that Peter had been referring to the Harry Potter character and not the geographic location.

Hmm. Yes, well. It was a nice thought of Peter’s, an enemy that could be vanquished in a duel. Instead of an inexorable, many-headed evil rolling insidiously across the land.

Some day, and it might be a day very soon, Thomas was going to have to tell both of them the terrible, shameful story, all the way through from first mistake to last failure. He was giving them Newtonian magic, British magic. The very least he owed them was the truth of its legacy.

Abdul stuck his head in. “Come to my office,” he said, and waved a thick file. “I think I have something for you.”

*

“Twin girls,” Abdul said. He dropped the file on his desk and went for the coffeemaker. “I know about this because it was odd, and doctors gossip. Never bloody occurred to me it was one of yours, though.”

“Not everything odd is,” Thomas said, and made a thankful gesture to the heavens.

“Yes, well,” Abdul propped his hip against his desk. “Get a load of this. Twin girls, like I said. Seventeen when the parents first brought them in. Both reporting hallucinatory experiences in which they believed they were being sucked into a mirror.”

“That’s very specific,” Thomas said.

Abdul nodded, unfolding a long arm backward to collect the file. “They were reporting all sorts of things. Other auditory and visual hallucinations, some delusions – well. Apparent delusions. Like one was firmly convinced she could make trees grow faster with her mind.”

“And I assume there was no sign of illness?”

“Nothing. They were tested in one end and out the other. Finally Applethorpe – neurologist, he’s a friend, and the particular gossip in this instance. He finally sat the parents down and told them he thought they were dealing with a sort of folie a deux, a shared set of reinforcing delusions. He recommended psychiatric treatment, thought the girls would have to be separated to break the cycle.”

“And were they?”

Abdul flipped to the end of the file, then shrugged. “If so, it wasn’t under the auspices of this hospital,” he said. He closed the file and eyed Thomas steadily over the top of it. “I’ve broken many rules for you,” he said evenly.

“I am aware,” Thomas said. “And grateful.”

Abdul accepted this with a faint dip of the chin. “How sure are you that this is magic?” he asked. “I’m not setting your lot loose on the parents unless you’re bloody sure.”

Thomas sighed out a long breath. “I haven’t the faintest idea what’s going on here,” he said. “But with that sort of vestigia on the boy . . . it’s one of ours, yes. I’d stake my reputation on it.”

Abdul gave this all due consideration. He’d known Thomas for a very long time, and he was one of the few who had an idea just what sort of tarnished coin that was.

“Good enough,” he said. He turned to the desk, opened the file, and pulled a notepad close to write. “You never got this from me, of course,” he said. “For I am an upstanding medical professional who would never violate privacy laws.”

“Of course,” Thomas said gravely, and took the paper offered.

“Oh, and if I don’t see you before then, many happy returns,” Abdul added.

“I’m sorry?” Thomas looked up, startled. “Oh, goodness, is it already – I suppose it is. Thank you.”

*

He was tiredly contemplating the necessity of returning to the Folly for at least one of his apprentices, both of whom were quite good interviewers. It would be a long drive this late in the afternoon, and then he’d have to turn around and come right back this way. Then it occurred to him that there was a solution to this problem.

He found a bench outside the underground car park and located the mobile phone. It had been a very thoughtful gift on Peter’s part, though Thomas didn’t think Peter realized the main value was in knowing his apprentices could now reach him in distress no matter where he was. It only took him a few minutes to remember how to dial the thing.

“Sir?” Peter answered promptly.

“Where are you?” Thomas asked.

“Halfway back to Russell Square,” Peter said. “Interviews were a bust. We got some amazingly salacious gossip on what goes on at young footballers' parties, but other than that, nothing interesting. You?”

“I believe I have a lead,” Thomas said. “A connected case. I want to interview the parents tonight if we can. Meet me – I have an address.” He rattled it off, and the parents’ names for good measure.

“Got it,” Peter said. “Give us forty-five minutes.”

It was closer to an hour, and most of the office workers were settling in at home by the time they met up at the end of a long, shady street in Stoke Newington. Thomas had gotten there early enough to park antisocially in the center of two street spaces. He waited in the car, weathering the glares of passing motorists, then backed up to make room for Lesley to slip into the slot in front of him when they pulled up.

“We called Stephanopoulos,” Peter said when they met on the sidewalk. “Got some quick and dirty background. Angelica and David Moss. Mum is white, born in Edinburgh, came to London with her parents as a baby. Teaches music, mostly to kids. Dad is David now – he changed his name in the nineties. Ugandan, originally. He’s been here since he was eighteen. Engineering school, and then he stayed.”

“And the daughters?”

Peter winced slightly. “Parents committed them,” he said. “They were minors at the time, so it didn’t require legal action, and the girls were able to release themselves a few months after they turned eighteen. No known address since.”

“Hmm,” Thomas said. He was beginning to suspect that this would not go well.

It didn’t. A thin, short woman answered Peter’s knock. She took one look at their credentials and her face went taut and brittle.

“What did they do?” she asked.

“Nothing,” Lesley said instantly. Mrs. Moss’s eyes skipped right over the mask; she had other things on her mind. “I assume we are speaking of your daughters. May we come in?”

Mrs. Moss didn’t step back, even when Peter leaned his weight forward, subliminally cuing her. “What’s this about?” she asked.

“We’re trying to reach your daughters,” Peter said. “We think they might be helpful in an ongoing investigation of another matter.”

“They aren’t here.” Initial alarm had rebounded to hostility. “And we don’t know where they are.”

“When’s the last time you saw them?” Lesley asked.

“A year ago,” Mrs. Moss said, with a bleak twist of the mouth. “We can’t help you.” She rattled the door, visibly desperate to get out of the conversation.

Thomas lifted a gentling hand. “What happened to your children is happening to other young people,” he said. “We’re trying to put a stop to it.”

She glared with sudden, hot rage. “Kids go crazy,” she said. “It happens. There was nothing I could do. At least that’s what the support group tells me.” And she closed the door on them.

Thomas about faced and marched back down the path. “Find the girls,” he said when they reached the street. “After shielding practice tomorrow. The psychiatric facility, the former school, friends, start there.”

Lesley made a small, negating noise. She was tapping at her phone as they walked. “I was thinking we could just start with Facebook,” she said.

“. . . Fine,” Thomas said, dimly recalling such an animal being explained to him at great length. “Good. Do that.”

*

There were several downsides to having apprentices: they made noise, they made messes, they made him, with startling regularity, helplessly terrified or overwhelmed. On the upside, however, they could do all the legwork.

He sent them out after morning practice, and went about his business in peace for five entire hours until Peter called, late in the afternoon.

“Got ‘em,” he said without greeting. “After some truly astonishing detective work by yours truly.”

“I beg your pardon,” Lesley said in the background.

“Have you conducted an interview?” Thomas asked.

“Not yet. They’ve agreed to meet us tonight in Soho.” A car passed noisily in the background, and when the line cleared Peter said, “Sir, they’re involved in magic. The Nazareth, one of them was there, I’m almost positive.”

“Hm.” That particular subculture had always seemed to Thomas to be nine parts sound and fury to one part substance. But there was always that one part . . . “Where and when?” he asked.

*

Soho reminded him of Ian. Strange, because they’d practically lived together in the Folly for nearly eight years, and the Folly hadn’t changed so much as a single rug since, but he didn’t see Ian around every corner there. Soho, though. It had remade itself entirely since the last dinner they’d spent out, the last brandy. And yet there was something essential and unchanged about the entire neighborhood that spoke to him of Ian, the way things had been.

Peter and Lesley had staked out a table under the shelter of two potted citrus trees in the corner of a coffee shop by day, bar by night. Thomas pulled up a chair, settling his cane against the wall.

“How did you find them?” he asked.

“Detecting,” Peter said.

“Badgering,” Lesley said.

“Same thing,” Peter said. He had some sort of complicated multi-layered modern coffee concoction in a tall glass. Thomas was always intrigued and a little wistful over those sorts of drinks; he suspected he might like them, but he had no idea how to order.

“They’re involved in the – what are we calling it? The ‘magical underground,’” Lesley said. “Lots of people know them, turns out. Hard to say whether they’re practitioners, but they sell supposedly magical items, some books, that sort of thing.”

“They might’ve lived rough for a while,” Peter said. “There’s a four month gap after they left the facility. But now they share an apartment with four to six others. It changes on a weekly basis.”

Thomas suppressed a wince. He had spent his formative years in dormitories and then barracks and then tents. There had been a time when he was horrified and desolated by empty living quarters. These days, adding two people to the house was an enormous adjustment.

“Here we go,” Lesley murmured.

Thomas turned, stood automatically. The girls were tall, dark-eyed, with a lean, high-cheekboned facial structure they must have gotten from their father. They wore jeans and work boots and brightly-colored tops; there were beads in their hair, their ears, around their wrists and forearms and biceps. They weren’t identical, but the resemblance was very close.

They came up and stood behind the empty chairs, wary. “You the Isaacs?” one of them asked.

“That’s us,” Peter said easily. He swiveled a pointing finger around the table. “Lesley. Peter. … Inspector.”

The taller girl mimicked the gesture. “Amethyst. Jade.”

Those were definitely not the names on their birth certificates.

“Can I fetch either you a drink? Thomas asked.

“No thanks.” Amethyst dropped into a chair, and her sister followed. “We won’t be here long.”

Thomas sat with them, crossing one ankle over the other. Peter seemed set on a casual tone, and that was probably the best course.

“We’re not interested in getting you in trouble,” Lesley said. “Or any of your friends. We don’t care how you make a living or whatever else.”

Jade narrowed her big dark eyes. “Really? What else is there for you lot to care about, then?”

“What it’s like to be sucked into a mirror,” Thomas said.

Jade sat back and smirked. “Oh, I see,” she said. “You want to know how to do it. You probably can’t, y’know. Most people can’t.”

“I beg your pardon?” Thomas said, startled.

“The mirror thing,” Amethyst said. “Step in, step out. It’s not really good for anything but impressing the pants off someone.”

“You –“ Thomas fumbled, “you can actually do it?”

They exchanged a startled glance. “Well . . . yeah,” Amethyst said more cautiously. “It took lots of practice. And like she said, it isn’t practical for anything.” She broke into a sudden grin. “Fucking cool, though.”

“Can you do anything else?” Lesley asked.

“. . . Maybe,” Amethyst said, looking from one startled face to the next. “What’s it to you?”

“Who taught you?” Thomas asked swiftly.

“Ha.” Amethyst jabbed a contemptuous finger at him. “No one. Us. Each other. We don’t all need to memorize chants for twenty years, or whatever it is you people do.”

“Okay, hold up,” Peter said. “We’re trying to figure out what happened to you a few years ago, back when this all started.”

They laughed. Both of them at once, quite genuinely. “You don’t have to figure that out,” Jade said. “We already know. It was our power coming.”

“No,” Thomas said definitely. “That is not how magic works.”

“Yes it is,” Amethyst said. She was still laughing, but her mouth was curling, a little disdainful. “We turned seventeen and it was like . . . it was like we were waking up.”

“No,” Thomas said.

Amethyst slapped her hands down on the table and leaned forward. “The fuck,” she said fiercely. “This is bullshit. Our parents, did you know they thought we were crazy? They locked us up and pumped us full of drugs until we could barely remember who we are.”

“We know you’re not crazy,” Peter put in quickly.

“No shit.” She glared around at them. “You think we don’t know about you people? Magic cops from the ivory tower, that’s what you are. No fucking clue what’s really going on.”

“What’s really going on?” Lesley asked.

“The magic is—“ Jade made an expanding gesture. “The magic is rising. Coming back. Whatever. Through people like us. Special people. And not your magic, either. Not book magic. Street magic.”

Peter was making a face like he was trying very hard not to laugh. Thomas looked quickly away.

“Special people like you,” he said. “And some of your friends, yes?”

They paused, looked at each other. “I think we’re done here,” Jade said.

“Wait.” Thomas put out both hands. He made like he was trying to stop them, but all he wanted was the quick brush of fingers down their bare forearms, from which he got –

The scent of beeswax candles, the texture of denim, a hint of cannabis.

The vestigia seemed to echo between the two of them, connected and reinforcing.

They both froze, staring hard, and Thomas wondered suddenly what they had gotten off him.

“Yeah,” Jade said. “Definitely done.” And they were gone in a jingle of bracelets and a clatter of boots.

“Well,” Peter said.

“Well well,” Lesley said.

Peter pushed back from the table. “I want another round. Lesley? Inspector?”

“I’ll have what you had,” Thomas said.

The drink, when it arrived, had a complex and lovely pattern of stems and leaves drawn in the foam on top. Truly, this was an age of miracles.

“Question,” Peter said, dropping back into his seat. “How did you end up at Hogwarts?”

That was not what Thomas had been expecting. “How do you mean?”

“Big school like that,” Peter said. “At least a hundred students—“

“One hundred sixty-six my year,” Thomas said.

“Right. A hundred sixty-six. How did you all end up there? There must have been a system, recruitment, something.”

“Not exactly.” Thomas sipped the coffee. It was raspberry flavored and utterly delightful. “In my case, I went because I was the youngest. The youngest boy, that is. And none of my brothers could be spared. I believe that was the common pattern.”

“So, wait, you’re saying there were families who each sent a son to Hogwarts every generation?” Lesley said. “Sort of like how the church did it centuries ago?”

“Something like that,” Thomas said. “It was a tradition, a duty to crown and country. It was . . . a fact of life.” It could just as easily have been Robert or James instead of him. Thomas could hardly remember not being a wizard. He dimly recalled feeling ambivalent over the prospect of magic – the dangers were no secret -- but he was pretty sure there had never been a competing passion.

“Those old wizarding families, you know,” Peter murmured to Lesley. “The Nightingales, the Malfoys…”

“Shut up, mudblood,” she said, elbowing him.

“What does this have to do with our current problem?” Thomas asked before it could degenerate any further.

There was a sudden, noticeable silence. The only foolproof method Thomas had previously discovered to shut his apprentices up was to request Latin recitation from them. They looked at each other, down at their drinks, not at him.

“All right,” Thomas said. “Out with it, please.”

Peter looked up, squaring his shoulders. “You told me that you thought the magic was dying out after the war,” he said. “And then another time you said it was coming back, starting in the sixties.”

Thomas’s pulse was beginning to beat in his wrists. Was this it, so soon? Was Peter going to ask for the whole story right now in the middle of a Soho bar?

“And if there’s anything I’ve learned about magic, it’s that it’s responsive,” Peter said. “It takes on properties of the world and reflects them back. Like Mama Thames. She came because the world had changed and the river needed a new spirit.”

“That is a series of gross generalizations that nevertheless roughly approximates truth,” Thomas said. “Where is this going?”

Another exchange of looks. They’d talked about this with each other, whatever it was. Very specifically out of his hearing, Thomas was increasingly sure.

“The world has changed,” Peter said quietly. “Since the war. Since Hogwarts closed. So maybe magic has changed too. Maybe – maybe the rules you think you know aren’t right anymore.”

Thomas took a deliberate sip of his coffee. It only bought him a few seconds. “And?”

“And maybe young people are going to start acquiring magic,” Peter said. “Maybe, I don’t know. Maybe we all read Harry Potter, and we thought about what it would be like to go to Hogwarts – that Hogwarts – and we dreamed about waking up one day with magic. And maybe that changed us, somehow.”

Thomas considered his words carefully. “I am . . . sympathetic to your underlying premise,” he said. “I understand that this life is not what you expected it to be.”

“That’s not—“ Peter began.

“And a similar train of thought has occurred to me,” Thomas continued. “The world has changed. Yes. I receive undeniable proof of that every day when that electronic coffee pot of yours starts up on its own.” He shook his head. “But there are fundamental facts of Newtonian magic, and I simply do not believe they can change like you’re suggesting.”

There was another pause, another exchange of looks.

“Okay,” Lesley said, and he knew they weren’t convinced, he knew they would spend weeks or months pushing at this idea. Which was fine with him, because it was a safer distraction than anything else they’d come up with recently. And on the tiny, incomprehensible chance that they were right . . .

“So where do we go from here?” Peter said. “We have three teenagers, all putting off strong vestigia. Stronger than anything I’ve ever run into. Two of them say they can do magic. The third is just scared.”

“We should go back to Jeremy,” Lesley said. “Conduct an in-depth interview. We’re not going to get anything else out of the girls, even if they’d talk to us again.”

“But what are we looking for?” Peter asked. “If we don’t even know that—“

“The mirror,” Thomas said abruptly.

“They said they could step into it,” Peter said. “It’s not travel, like you were talking about, but they seemed sincere about it.”

“They did,” Thomas agreed. “I’m trying to remember – there were rumors about this. I heard them at school, I think, and then later. It was one of those things – what do you call it? Like Bloody Mary.”

“An urban legend,” Lesley said.

“Precisely. But there’s something I’m not remembering . . .” He hunched over his coffee, frustrated. If things were different, he would have several dozen colleagues to ask, and one of them would know what he was thinking of, could point him to the right book in the library and the page he could almost see . . .

“Let’s go,” he said. “I want to try and jog my memory with some reading.

*

The reading did no good at all. Or maybe it did, it was impossible to say what composite stew of thoughts he took to bed with him, and which exactly of them bubbled up to the surface and catapulted him out of sleep just after five in the morning. With one of Peter’s questions barreling around his head, damn it all to hell.

And for once, an answer, of sorts.

He rose and dressed rapidly. Charcoal slacks and blazer, white shirt, dark cranberry pocket square for accent.

Peter, when he eventually stumbled out of bed to answer Thomas’s knock, was wearing a t-shirt displaying a picture of a pile of dice with too many sides.

“Problem?” Peter asked, leaning against the doorframe.

“They’re mixed race,” Thomas said, “all three of them.”

Peter yawned. “Yeah?” he said. “So?”

“No, Peter. They’re mixed race,” Thomas said. “You asked once whether there’s such a thing as Einsteinian magic. There isn’t, but there are sources of power other than the Newtonian disciplines or the Taoist practice or – or any human system.”

“Any hum – oh,” Peter said. “Oh.”

“Yes. We need to find out where Jeremy was adopted from.”

“I’m pretty sure those records are sealed,” Peter said. “And hang on, what is he, then?”

“I don’t know,” Thomas said. “There are entire – races might not even be the right word. There are lines of faerie creatures that we know only through word of mouth. Often we don’t even know what they call themselves, because no one ever wrote it down, or if they did, it would vanish off the page.”

“You can do that?” Peter asked, looking intrigued.

Thomas gestured impatiently. “I can’t, no. That’s the point I’m trying to make – magic as practiced by some of these creatures is not as we know it.”

“Oh,” said Peter. “They’re changelings.”

“Yes,” Thomas said. “No. I don’t know. I understood that changelings were always watched. They were given a choice of what world to live in, or to live between. Children are precious to most fae – changeling children can be unpredictably powerful. They aren’t just set loose upon the world to come into their heritage willy-nilly.”

“But if they were misplaced somehow,” Peter said, working it through, “by the adoption system, say. Though what about Jade and Amethyst? We never did meet the father.”

“Yes. Though they could be adopted as well,” Thomas said. “I finally remembered what I was thinking of. Those rumors about travel by mirrors – they were about fae. Very rare, powerful fae. I should have spotted it as soon as Abdul said one of the girls believed she could make trees grow.”

“Oh my God, are they elves?” Peter asked. He looked utterly delighted.

“Let’s not get into the finer points of taxonomy,” Thomas said. That way lay only headaches and unanswerable questions.

“Okay,” Peter said, in that way which meant he would be sure to bring it up again at some future inopportune moment. “But can I just ask – what’s the end game, here?”

“I’m sorry?”

“You want to track down where they came from,” Peter said. “I get that. But then what?”

“Then we will know what they are,” Thomas said.

Peter was looking increasingly uncomfortable. “All right, I just. You don’t always think of--“ he sucked in a careful breath. “They might not be a threat,” he said. “Right now, given what we know, I’m almost positive they’re not. And I just wanted to say, they don’t become a threat, they don’t . . . get put in another box just because they’re not human.” He looked up. “. . . Right?”

Sometimes the things Peter suspected of him were so hurtfully terrible, Thomas was left speechless. And sometimes they were so hurtfully right, there was nothing left to say. And sometimes, he had absolutely no idea which it was.

“You’re right,” he said quietly. “They don’t. They’re children who don’t know where they come from, and who will need to know as much as possible.”

Peter cleared his throat, shuffled his feet, let his shoulders drop. “So now we, what, go ask the Upton-Bixbys where they picked up a kid?”

“More or less . . . yes,” Thomas said.

“Right,” Peter said. “This won’t be at all awkward."

*

“Oh, he’s not adopted,” Ms. Upton said. “The girls are, I’m sure we mentioned that. But that was a philosophical choice – we could have had more biological children if we wanted.”

How did one politely ask this? “So he’s . . . yours?” Thomas asked delicately.

“No, Tana’s. She was really enthusiastic about the whole process. Gave me the creepy crawlies, so I was happy to leave it to her.”

“And Jeremy’s father?” Thomas persisted.

“Anonymous,” Ms. Upton said. “We could have asked for identity-release, but neither of us felt strongly about it.”

“I’m sorry?” Thomas said, utterly lost. “The father is anonymous?”

“Oh my God,” Peter said in tones of rising awe. “There’s an elf in the sperm bank.”

*

The dining room was dark when Thomas came home for dinner. He paused on the threshold, frowning, beginning to be alarmed. Even if Peter and Lesley were still out, Molly should have –

He nearly set the carpet on fire when the lights snapped on and a dozen people shouted “Surprise!” all at once.

“. . . Goodness,” Thomas said feebly, looking around the room. Several of the younger Rivers, Abdul, Caffrey and some of his boys, Stephanopoulos and Seawoll, and of course his apprentices lurking at the back – he couldn’t remember the last time this many people had set foot in the Folly at once.

“Happy birthday, sir,” Peter said, grinning hopefully.

“How on earth did you know?” Thomas’s heart rate was beginning to return to normal.

“I blabbed,” Abdul said cheerfully. “I’d ask if you minded, but to be honest, I don’t actually care.”

“No,” Thomas said slowly, looking around the room again. There were several bottles of champagne on the table and, unbelievably, a small stack of wrapped gifts. “I don’t mind.”

Molly came in from the far door just then, carrying a cake. Peter managed to convey by dint of semaphore behind her back that it was purchased, not prepared in their own ovens with Molly’s . . . peculiar approach to baking. She set it down and Peter produced a lighter, leaning across the table.

“We couldn’t actually fit enough candles,” he said cheekily. “So you’re turning –“ he counted rapidly “--eighteen, apparently.”

Eighteen. Hell of a year. The First World War was over, he was nearly ready to leave Ambrose House with no idea of the world he was inheriting.

“I don’t know what to say,” he said honestly.

“That’s all right, come make a wish. We’ll have to sing. It’s required, sorry.”

“Well,” Thomas said, gathering himself. “If I must.”

He leaned over the cake. It smelled intensely of chocolate, with a brighter sweetness from the raspberries scattered on top. He blinked into the candle flames, tried to gather his thoughts. It was hard to know what to ask for. It was hard to want things, sometimes. Time seemed to grind want out of you, the way it did so many things.

He made a wish on his apprentices, on their lives and their sanities on this long road to wizardship. And he blew out the candles in one long breath to a round of laughing applause.

Stephanopoulos cornered him by the sideboard half an hour later. He was warmed by champagne, a little overwhelmed by the sheer number of people.

“I talked to Tana and Beck today,” she murmured, slipping quietly up beside him. “And Peter briefed me, if elliptically.”

“Young Jeremy will be all right,” Thomas said. “He knows something of who he is now, that will help.”

“But there are more of them, right?” Stephanopoulos said. “Two other girls, Peter said.”

Thomas laughed a little hollowly. “Yes, those two,” he said. “Plus seventy-two others, so far.”

She sucked in a shocked breath. “So many?”

“Apparently our donor was quite prolific,” Thomas said. “Every week like clockwork for several years. It took some effort to get hold of the records –“ it was easier to get a warrant for a bloody ghost, as a matter of fact “—and apparently not every pregnancy is reported back to, the, ah, institution in question. We have a lot of legwork ahead of us, tracking down all the . . . purchasers.”

“Do you know why?” she asked. “Is it some sort of, I don’t know, some plot to infiltrate the families of Britain from within?”

“I doubt it,” he said. “But no, we don’t know. Perhaps this race is dying out, and they’ll be back some day to collect an infusion of heartier mixed blood. Perhaps he was bored, or mischievous, or lonely.”

He’d seen the file as part of a bizarre, dizzying crash course in modern reproduction. The photo showed a man who might have been South African. He was luminously, preternaturally lovely, and Thomas could see why so many prospective parents had been drawn to him. The accompanying essay had soberly outlined a desire to know that some part of him lived on in the world. Sincere? A horrible trick? Something else unfathomable? They would have to wait and see. And in the meantime, the Folly had acquired an ever-expanding roster of young people ranging from seven to twenty-one with an astonishing cornucopia of magical talents. The magic seemed to come to them in their late teens, exactly as Peter had theorized from the beginning. It sprouted like mushrooms in rich soil, ungoverned by any of the rules he understood the craft to follow. He could almost be jealous. He knew that Peter and Lesley were, to an extent. But he could never begrudge his magic, the magic of a lifetime, its marvelous precision and odd, straight-faced sense of humor.

“Changelings from a test tube,” he said. “It’s a hell of a world.”

She hummed quiet agreement. “What will you do with them?”

“Find them,” he said. “Keep tabs on them. Tell them the truth, as much as we know of it. Leave them alone to figure out the rest.” Some of them already had, and some of them had gone through hell for it.

“I owe you,” she said. “I won’t forget.”

And thus another understanding was born. “The Folly does not run a tab,” he said. Which was a blatant lie, but she would know that.

“Still.” She sighed, threw down the dregs in her glass. “Jeremy’s not undergoing electroshock therapy or what have you.” She spun the glass between two fingers. “Hell of a thing, to grow up and come into an entirely different world.”

Thomas glanced involuntarily up. Peter and Lesley were sitting together at the end of the dining room table, squabbling cheerfully over something. Lesley’s mask was turned toward Peter, who was bent close to hear. His hair was growing out in a dense, wiry thicket. He’d shave it off again soon, but for now he looked a little dangerous, decidedly unregulation.

They didn’t look like what he thought of when he thought of apprentices. But no one had asked him, and here they were.

“Yes,” he said. “Hell of a thing.”