Penny’s dad thinks the magic will come back to the dead spots eventually. He’s shown me studies on restoration ecology. And I’ve gone with him a few times to take a look at them, although nothing’s changed yet.
I’m sitting in one of them right now. A hole I caused by sucking magic out of the air, by going off.
“You didn’t cause the holes,” Penny says, whenever she thinks I’m getting too bummed out about it all. “Your dad made them when he decided to make you into the messiah.”
“Don’t call him that,” I always say - and she always sighs.
“You have to get used to it sometime, Simon.”
I think it does help. To be reminded that it’s not my fault I exist. (Not the other thing.) Penny also points out that I stopped letting myself go off as soon as I knew it was connected to the Humdrum. Which is true, even if I only did it because Baz told me to.
I do still feel responsible, though.
Whether or not I meant to do it, or knew what I was doing, I am the reason there are all these holes all over the country. Newcastle. Leicester. Harrogate. Down by the coast. Loads of places I’ve never even been before. Some I have.
I find myself looking around whenever I’m in one. Trying to work out what connects them. What it was that made me fuck up all these places. Penny’s dad has some theories (so does Penny), but none of them sound right to me. I think they could have been anywhere. They didn’t do anything wrong. They were just there. And I hurt them for no reason.
The first time we went to see the holes with Penny’s dad, I tried to push my magic back into the ground, like Ebb and I did with the Humdrum. I don’t need the Sword of Mages anymore (Baz thinks it’s because the Sword was always a part of me. “Much like you and the Humdrum, I made the connection but didn’t take it far enough. You never really needed it – except to stab people, and to sexually frustrate me”) so I just dug my fingernails into the grass.
I thought – I hoped – maybe I could speed up the healing process somehow. Like maybe if I could give the rest of my magic away, I’d be able to put the world back how it was supposed to be.
But I lose my magic the same as everyone else does when I’m inside the dead spots. And I’ve tried pushing my magic in from the outside of the hole – I’ve even cast “Get well soon”.
It doesn’t go anywhere. It doesn’t help.
“It’ll take time,” Ebb says. “It always does, to heal.”
Ebb still lives on the Watford grounds, even though she’s not a magician any more – although she did have to get someone come in and fix the plumbing properly. I was worried that I’d have argue with whoever the new headmaster was about it – and about Baz’s expulsion. And I wasn’t sure anyone would listen to me, since I was the one who’d been stealing everyone’s magic, so I was getting quite anxious about it.
But then the Coven appointed Penny’s mum.
She sorted out what happened to Baz almost immediately – and the Ebb thing never even came up. I guess someone needs to look after the goats and they do keep the weeds down. They’re dead useful.
I’ve thought about bringing the Mage a goat before.
(I know he’s not the Mage anymore, but I don’t know what else to call him in my head. His name’s David, but I can’t call him that. It’d feel too weird.) (And I’m definitely not calling him anything else.)
Right now, I’m sitting on the ground, watching him tug dandelions out between paving stones on the patio outside the house in Wales. There’s a pile of them between us, dirt still clinging to the roots. It’s almost Easter and I guess they’ve all gone crazy with the heat.
There’s still no magic anywhere round this house for about a mile. (That’s why the Coven thought it would be a good place to keep him locked up. There are wards, too, around the outside, but mostly the dead spot itself is enough of a prison. Someone I’ve never met before – also called Simon – from the Coven is sitting in the kitchen drinking tea and keeping an eye on things out the window, but he’s only here because of me. Usually they let the Mage pretty much look after himself.)
The complete lack of magic means the Mage has to do stuff like weeding by hand – a goat would probably be a big help.
Plus, it’d be company for him.
Although I think might likes being alone. Or at least, he doesn’t ever seem that happy that I’m here. Which I think means maybe I should stop coming, but I can’t just leave him. Even if it is what he did to me. I mean, he did come and find me eventually.
The problem is – we don’t really have much to say to each other. Now I’m not the Greatest Mage, and he’s not trying to work out how to win a war. I thought I knew how to talk to him, that I was working it out – but now I know I was just talking to Baz.
It was easy talking to Baz.
There are things I want to ask the Mage. About his life. About my mum. But it just feels really awkward. And it’s not like he’s ever volunteered any of it.
I don’t know even know what he likes doing when he’s not being the Mage. I mean, judging by the evidence, maybe he likes gardening, but maybe he just doesn’t have anything else to do – the Coven did take most of the books he had back to the library.
“Don’t take it personally,” Baz told me yesterday when I was stressing out about this visit. “I don’t know how to speak to my father either. In fact, I prefer not to. And he isn’t even a homicidal maniac.”
“You’re not helping,” I told him.
“Well, I don’t actually think you should go, do I?”
So far, this time, I’ve been here an hour. The Mage has asked me how I’m doing at school (“Fine,” I said) and whether I'm still with Baz. (“I don’t really want to talk about him with you,” I said, which he seemed to accept – although obviously I am still with Baz. We’ve been together almost four months now. We’ve had sex. I’ve had sex with a boy. With Baz. And it was – Well. Basically, I still find the whole thing as weird and amazing as I did on the first day I kissed him and this was like that but even weirder and more amazing.) (I definitely don’t want to tell the Mage any of that. I wouldn’t, even if he wasn’t my dad.)
Then, I asked the Mage what he’d been getting up (“This and that,” he said. “Keeping myself busy.") (Not exactly informative) and whether he’s been watching the football (he hasn’t – even though I brought him a telly last time I was here, so he could.)
And now we’re back to sitting in silence.
It’s really awkward.
I dunno, maybe Baz is right. Maybe I should stop visiting.
It’s not like I need a relationship with the Mage. I’ve been fine without knowing who my parents are for eighteen years, and things are good now. I’ve got Baz – and I’ve got Penny and Miss Possibelf and Agatha and Doctor Wellbelove. I’ve got a family, even if it’s not the one I thought I’d have when I was eleven. I’ve got more than I ever thought I could have.
I don’t need him.
But if he is my dad (and I guess he must be), I feel like I should probably try.
I don’t think I owe him anything, but I probably do owe it to myself – to the kid who wanted his dad to be a famous footballer. I mean, my dad turned out to be a wizard. A wizard who wanted to change the world, even if he went about it the wrong way.
I think the eleven-year-old me would’ve thought that was pretty cool.
And I don’t think he’d give up this easily.
The Mage is levering one of the paving slabs up with a trowel to get at the weeds underneath it. It looks a bit like he’s struggling.
“Can I help?” I ask.
The Mage looks up at me, wiping his forehead with the back of his wrist as he does so. Somehow, even though he’s been digging in the garden a few hours, he’s still spotless. (I still don’t know how he does it, but it’s clearly not magic.) (No wonder I never worked out we were related. I’d be completely covered in mud by now.)
It’s a familiar look. I know he’s weighing me up. Working out whether I know what I’m doing. Whether it will be a problem if I don’t. (I really don’t. I’d never even seen a garden until I came to Watford – only public parks and not many of those. I take Botany at Watford, but it’s more about what you can do with plants once they’re dead than anything.)
“If you like,” he says eventually. “There are extra gloves over by the outhouse – and you can bring back the spade, if you’re going.”
Once I bring the stuff back, he shows me what to do (I get the trowel, he keeps the spade) and then we’re back to silence again. Although at least I’ve got something to do with my hands, this time.
After a while I notice the Mage has stopped working. He’s just watching me again.
“What?” I say. “What is it? Am I doing it wrong?”
I don’t see how I could be, but then I also don’t know what the fuck I’m doing.
The Mage shakes his head. “It’s just – you look so much like your mother right now.”
I try and look like this isn’t a big deal. The fact that he’s talking about my mum. That he’s talking about me. I don’t want to freak him out by freaking out. So, I don’t say anything.
“She liked gardening,” the Mage explains. “She liked doing things by hand. She kept chickens over there.” He points out in the direction of the forest. “Spelled not to wander away, of course. But she cleaned them out herself. Fed them.”
“Right,” I say.
I’m trying to keep calm, play it cool, but my brain is shouting – My mum kept chickens!
I pull a few more dandelions out of the patio. And then I figure, I might as well go for it. Since we’re already at this point. Since we’re already talking about her.
“What was she like?”
The Mage frowns and turns away. For a moment I think he’s not going to answer me. Just pretend he didn’t hear, which is OK. I know it’s difficult for him. But then he says,
“Kind. Patient. A bit silly – she could make almost anything into a joke.” I see him smile. “She used to make me laugh. Which was rare, even then.”
“She sounds good,” I say.
And then neither of us talk again for a while. But it feels better this time. Like we’re both quiet because we’re thinking, and not just because we have nothing to say.
After a while, my phone buzzes in my pocket. (Magic doesn’t work in dead spots, but fortunately technology still does.) I pull it out and grin as I see it’s a string of texts from Baz.
- Has he murdered you yet? Please say yes. I’ve been looking for an excuse to go on another vengeance quest.
- Naturally, I’d miss you, but sacrifices have to be made.
- Obviously, I didn’t mean that. If you’ve been murdered, I will probably never forgive myself. Let me know immediately if anything’s wrong.
Apparently, Penny guessed immediately – that the texts I got from the Mage were actually from Baz.
I don’t see how I could have done. OK, so some stuff he said didn’t exactly fit with what I knew about the Mage, but I thought that was us getting to know each other. I thought I was learning more about him.
Now I know I was actually learning about Baz, it makes a lot more sense.
Looking back, all the texts I got (including these) are very Baz. Or at least, the Baz I know now.
Smart. And funny. A really amazing teacher. Really good at football.
A total asshole. (Even though we’re going out now, he still likes to insult me, although at least I know he feels bad about it now.)
Completely obsessed with me, the same way I am with him.
I wipe my muddy gloves on my jeans and write back:
- Is this your way of saying you’re back from McDs?
The dots at the bottom of the screen flicker as Baz types back.
- I am.
- Are you ready to leave?
I imagine him leaning against his car, just outside the dead spot, while he’s typing. McDonalds bag at his feet (he got that for me) (he’s only here because of me – he didn’t have to come to Wales on a Sunday). Sunglasses pushed up into his hair so he can see the phone screen. Cigarette between his lips.
Classic catalogue model shot.
My beautiful, thoughtful, asshole boyfriend. The bloke I get to go home with.
And I’m definitely ready to go home now. Back to Watford.
- Just give me a second
“Time to go?” the Mage says as I get to my feet.
“Yeah,” I say. “Baz’s driving me.”
“Fine,” the Mage says.
He stands too (no excuse for informality, even when you’re a criminal under house arrest in a non-magical bubble). “You know,” he says, as I strip off the gardening gloves, “I think I have some VHSes, home videos Lucy made. Somewhere in the house. I’ll find them before you come back next time. If you’d like to see them.”
I almost hug him – but I don’t think the Mage and I are there yet. I’m not even sure I’d want us to be.
But it’s a start.
It feels like we can go somewhere from here.
“Yeah,” I tell him. “I’d like that.”
Fiona is obsessed with my mother’s office. So, of course, she started crying when I told her I’ve got it – even though the only reason I have it is a technicality about who can and can’t get in there.
My mother set the wards to welcome me and my immediate family; the Mage only set them to allow Simon, and his Men. And nobody thought to ask him to make any changes before they hustled him off to Wales. So, when Headmistress Bunce offered me a job on the faculty, she also said I could take the headmaster’s office and the personal rooms in the Weeping Tower. Apparently, she doesn’t want to live on campus, which means it’s not worth her time to try and break in there. Not when she has so many other things to do.
I can see the logic. And it’s what I’ve always wanted – to have my mother’s rooms back in our family. To continue her legacy.
But even though I was already re-arranging the office furniture in my head, what I actually said when Professor Bunce made this generous offer was:
“I really don’t mind staying in my old room in Mummer’s House.”
Because my mother’s office isn’t the only thing I’ve always wanted.
Unfortunately, unlike the previous headmaster, Headmistress Bunce has some actual pedagogical training. She also has moral standards. I think she thought I was testing her.
“Obviously it would be completely inappropriate for a teacher and a student to share a room.”
I was forced to admit that I agreed. In principle.
I did not tell her I was dating Simon – although I suspect she knows. Penelope will have told her, if it isn’t already blindingly obvious. But I do actually want to stay at Watford, so I didn’t want to push it. Headmistress Bunce has made it clear she wasn’t going to overrule my expulsion. That means staying as a teacher is the best option available. At least until Simon graduates. At that point, we can both reconsider our options.
He doesn’t have a plan for what happens next (obviously). I don’t think he expected to survive.
I did have a plan.
I thought I’d study Economics. (I have a place at LSE already.)
I thought I’d move into banking.
I thought I’d gather funding and power and then – when the time was right – I thought I’d strike out at the Mage. Take his place and then spend the rest of my life trying to get over Simon Snow. Watching from a distance as he got married to someone else, had children with someone else, and eventually forgot I even existed.
I didn’t expect there might be a future where I wouldn’t finish Watford – assuming I made it out of the war alive.
But then I never expected any of this.
I never expected I’d get to choose Simon.
I never expected Simon would choose me.
I teach Elocution now.
Apparently, Madam Bellamy has been thinking about retiring all year. Her husband visited her while the Veil was open and she hasn’t been the same since. When I inherited her notes, I discovered she hasn’t written an actual lesson plan in months. Which explains why I spent the first term of my final year at Watford practicing free-form spell casting against my idiot peer group. I assumed this was yet more proof that eighth year was a waste of everyone’s time, but it turns out that the curriculum is usually more challenging – it’s just Madam Bellamy wasn’t in in any fit state to work out what to do with it, and the Mage either didn’t notice or didn’t care.
Headmistress Bunce, on the other hand, noticed immediately. She’s as sharp as her daughter. Before I’d even approached her about my expulsion, she’d worked the whole thing out. Madam Bellamy would retire during the Christmas break, which meant that someone else would have to take over. I was available – and Bunce Junior must have suggested me.
Much harder than anything I’ve ever done.
I have no formal training, although Miss Possibelf coaches me during the evenings and the headmistress sits in on most of my lessons. (She’s also got me a place on a part-time PGCE at her former university next year, if I want it). I have no idea what I’m doing. Which I’m fairly sure is obvious to everyone.
Teaching the eighth years – my former classmates – is an absolute fucking car crash almost every time.
As their peer, I was someone to be afraid of (I assume). Someone who was ruthless and far ahead of almost everyone else in the class. Someone not to be trifled with.
As their teacher, though, I’m callow. Inexperienced. A joke none of them quite get.
The first time the headmistress left me alone with them, I thought there was going to be a riot. No one was paying attention, not even Penelope. The only person who was even looking in my direction was Simon. Which made me feel even worse, because he clearly felt bad for me. It was embarrassing.
Just as I was about to walk out (of the classroom; probably not out of the school), he turned and yelled at everyone.
“Oi – shut the fuck up!”
It didn’t work, obviously. They laughed. But it was enough of a prompt to snap me out of my shame spiral, and I cast, “Cat got your tongue” on the lot of them.
“I’m not sure that was technically allowed,” I told my silent class. “But I haven’t done the training and I don’t actually need this job, so I don’t care if I get fired. I suggest you bear that in mind next time you consider stepping out of line. Now – did anyone manage to counter that spell before it hit?”
Bunce’s hand went up (of course). As did Simon’s. But I’m still not sure how to treat him in my classroom (I can’t treat him the same as everyone else. He isn’t anything like the same), so I asked her.
“U Can’t Touch This. I cast it ages ago when I noticed your eye start twitching.”
Not a bad answer, but probably not one to rely on. Shield charms take significant magic. Casting them pre-emptively is only a good idea if you’re certain you’re going to be attacked. Bunce knows this. (Which means she must have been fairly sure I was at my wits’ end and didn’t do anything about it.)
So, I let myself look at Simon.
“You had your wand straight out,” he explained, as though it was obvious. “Then you dragged it back. That’s – Cat got your tongue, so I cast Freedom of Speech.”
I raised my eyebrow and he grinned back at me.
I don’t even remember teaching him that.
“That’s right,” I said lightly.
And then I cast the release spell over the others, and somehow got through the rest of the class without kissing him.
It’s a struggle every time, though. Every class I have with Simon. He’s just so good, now – it’s as if it everything finally comes naturally to him. And he’s clearly delighted that he gets it. And he’s always smiling at me – sometimes fairly lewd smiles (I think he likes it when I wear a suit. So obviously I wear one every day.) Frankly, it’s no wonder I find it difficult to keep control of the class; I can barely control myself.
The other years are much easier, though. And not only because Simon isn’t there – or because I’m actually older than the students (if not by much). It’s easier because I’m familiar with the material they’re covering. I remember what it was that helped me connect with it. And I think I’m good at explaining that.
I don’t think I’m a good teacher yet. But I think I could be.
I think it might be what I’m supposed to do.
Right now, I’m writing a lesson plan for my first years. (Elocution is fortunately a subject without much written homework, so at least I don’t have to spend my free evenings marking terrible essays.) I’m sitting under my mother’s portrait, working at her desk – and then I hear someone step out of the lift.
I don’t have to look up to know who it is (I can smell him – bacon and cinnamon) (plus, there are only a few people who can get in here), but I do anyway, because I like to look at him.
Simon’s taken to wearing the clothes I chose for him whenever he’s not actually in class. Snug jeans. And a t-shirt that emphasises the shape of his arms.
I shut my laptop as he comes to sit on the edge of the desk.
“Good class today,” he says. “I liked the way you wore your hair up but still had it falling around your face.”
I roll my eyes (although I’m also pleased that he thought I looked good). “Did you learn anything?”
“I learned I liked it when you wore your hair up,” Simon suggests, although he’s grinning.
I lean up and kiss him to stop him talking. And because I want to. Open mouthed and hungry. I lick at Simon’s tongue in my mouth. And then I push myself up and out of the chair, and push Simon down onto the desk. I don’t give a shit about whatever it was I tried to teach Simon’s class this morning. Or my first-year lesson plan. Not right now.
Everything is Simon. Simon underneath me, breathing hard as I try and unfasten the flies on the too-tight jeans I bought him. We’ve only had sex a few times – not all of them fabulous successes – but I think I’m getting the hang of it now. I think that if I manage to get my hand inside his trousers, I can have him coming apart underneath me fairly quickly, but Simon pushes me away just as I’ve finished worked the button open.
“Baz – stop. I can’t shag you in here. Your mother’s watching.”
He looks scandalised. And awkward. And he’s pointing up at the portrait behind the desk. I have to press my face into his shoulder to stop myself laughing.
Simon smacks me. (Not hard.) “I’m serious, you git.”
“I know.” I try and calm down enough to respond. “Technically, since she’s dead, she could be watching whatever we do. Whenever. And we’d never know.”
“Well, at least in the bedroom, I don’t have to think about it,” Simon says. “Plus, there’s a bed.”
It’s a good point well made, and I let him tug me out in the corridor and then into the living area and the bedroom. (Once we’re inside, Simon takes off his own jeans.)
My mother definitely isn’t watching – I was lying earlier. (And thank Crowley for that. I did things tonight to Simon Snow that nobody’s mother needs to see, let alone mine.)
I know she’s gone. That’s she’s moved on. I did what she wanted. I protected the people I love – the person I love the most. I taught him to protect himself. And because he’s brilliant and powerful, he exposed the whole wretched business around her death and I didn’t need to do anything.
She doesn’t need to linger anymore.
But I think if she was here, she’d be proud of me. Even though I’m queer – and a vampire. Even though I didn’t finish my final year and I’m in love with the Mage’s Heir.
Or maybe because of it. Somehow, I made it all work. Whatever life threw at me.
Somehow, I still got the happy ending I never expected.
Somehow, I’m actually happy.