Chapter 1: All the things that are better and worse
I’ve been avoiding Watford. It’s still too painful, even now I have my magic back. Even now I’m on the Coven.
There are events, there, sometimes – Coven things. I’m good at making excuses. Finding things that are more important than mixers, or dinners, or library dedications that I really have to go to.
Plus, I think Welby knows and covers for me.
Last year they asked me to make a speech at the leaver’s ceremony, even though everyone knows I can barely string two words together in front of a crowd. (Makes me think it was someone’s idea of a joke.) Anyway, I said no. Penny did it instead.
Watford used to be my home. Now it’s where Ebb died. Where I killed the Mage. Why would I want to go back?
I wouldn’t, unless it was important.
Unfortunately, this is important.
I joined the Coven during the pandemic. About a year after I finished uni. Just over a year after I realised I could speak with magic again.
I ended up getting a 2.2 (in General Studies) at uni. Baz would probably call that a “second class” degree. Even Mitali once said my degree isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on. She said that to my face – and she likes me. But it was enough to get me a job doing data entry for a charity. And then – well, I guess Welby’s always wanted me to join the Coven. He wanted me to even when I wasn’t magic. All it took was me re-heating my tea with magic during a Zoom catch up with Helen – and he was on the phone the next day. Telling me there was a Coven position vacant and that I should definitely go for it.
Now, I think there probably wasn’t. I think he just made something up to get me through the door (virtually). But it worked, at least.
I started part time – doing little things like giving lectures to kids who used magic in public in front of Normals, or broke lockdown rules; and chasing ghouls out of abandoned buildings. Then I moved up to full time once Lucy Day left. (I told my charity colleagues I was going to work for another charity. Which is true – in a way – although we’re not registered.)
I didn’t mean to do any more than that – I just wanted to help people and pay my rent – but people kept arguing and not doing anything and I guess I just started trying to change that. Not telling people what to do, like Penny would have, just saying what I thought should happen.
Then everyone found out I could still draw the Sword of Mages, after a bunch of cravens attacked one of the meetings, and –
Well, it turns out most people still like the idea of there being a Mage, even though we’ve been getting on all right without one for years now. (Well, not all right. The dark creatures were still attacking us. And half the time no one could agree on what to do. About anything.) It’s like they were just waiting for a sign someone should do it. And apparently the sword was a pretty big sign that someone should be me and a lot of people voted for me in the November elections.
A few years ago, I would’ve refused.
A few years ago, no one would have asked me.
But now, I don’t know. It feels right.
“You don’t have to be Mage, just because everyone expects you to, Simon,” Penny told me. “You already did what you were destined to do.”
“I know,” I told her. And I do.
My destiny was to defeat the Humdrum and put magic back into the world.
Being the Greatest Mage was my destiny. Being the Mage is something I can choose to do or not. Right now, I’m choosing it.
I said I would.
I said I’d do it. (It helped that the salary was about twenty grand more than the normal Coven salary and I needed a new car.)
At which point, Malcolm fucking Grimm pointed out that I wasn’t actually eligible to be Mage, even though I had the sword, because I’d never passed my eighth year at Watford.
“I’m sorry, Mr Snow,” he said, smiling at me in a way that made it clear he’d never forgiven me for – well, existing. “Those are the rules.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. Eighth year has always been optional,” Mitali snapped.
She’s Watford’s headmistress, so I figured she’d know. But it turns out pretty much the only thing that eighth year isn’t optional for is becoming the leader of the Coven. It’s written down in the constitution, sealed by magic.
“Surely, we can change the law,” Welby said.
“The Mage can certainly change the law,” Mr Grimm agreed. “How unfortunate that he died before doing so.”
He was smirking, just like Baz used to.
He thought he’d won.
I do want to be Mage, but honestly, that’s why I did what I did next. Why I said I could pass eighth year if Watford would take me back. Not because I thought I’d be a good leader or because I needed the car. I did it to wipe the smug look off Baz’s dad’s face.
Mitali was delighted. “Of course, Simon – I’ll make the arrangements. You can start after Christmas.”
And now I’m driving to Watford. Coming back for my last two terms, like I never thought I would.
I’m dreading it.
I’ve tried taking out my list of things that I miss about Watford, to remind myself why I loved being there. But Ebb’s on the list, and the Mage, and honestly it just made me feel worse.
Even the football pitch is probably out of bounds, unless I want the Record to run an article about how the next Mage likes to inappropriately watch children doing sport. (I don’t.) Which leaves, what?
And magic, I suppose.
But it’s not really a surprise that the idea of going back to Watford is so depressing, if that’s all there is to look forward to. (I mean, the scones are good.) Which is stupid because my life is better, now.
So. As I turn off the motorway, I decide to make a new list:
All the things that are better now than they were last time I was at Watford:
No. 1 – I’m driving there
I’m good at driving. I like it. (Penny hates it – I drive her everywhere.) I own my own car. It’s a piece of shit, obviously. I have to jump-start with magic basically all the time, but it’s mine. It gives me control over some areas of my own life.
It means I can leave Watford whenever I want. That’s worth a 40 minute commute. I can drive home after class, back to Penny. If it gets bad – if I can’t handle it – I can even take myself off during lunch. I won’t be trapped on campus.
Also, it’s just nice to go on a journey that doesn’t involve weirdos looking at me while I try and sleep. We made a truce with the goblins a few years ago, but I still don’t like getting in taxis.
No. 2 – I don’t have to live with Baz
This probably should’ve been number one. It would’ve been if Baz and I hadn’t had that truce at the beginning of eighth year. Once he came back from wherever he went and I told him about his mum Visiting me.
We still weren’t friends – Baz still hated me – but we had a few nice weeks.
Well, no. I mean, they were horrible, really – a dragon attacked the school and we were trying to work out who killed Headmistress Pitch – but for those few weeks it was almost like we were proper roommates. Like the Crucible had put us together for an actual reason – not just because it had run out of actual soulmates to put together and we were the only ones left. For those few weeks, living with Baz was only a bit annoying, rather than something that drove me up the wall.
Then he went home for Christmas (after we had a fight about how he’d been messing Agatha around). I stayed at Watford – and the Mage tried to kill me. He did kill Ebb, who was only trying to protect me.
If Penny hadn’t stayed at Watford with me, instead of going home like she planned, I’d have been dead too. I lost my magic, gave it away to stop the Humdrum. But Penny spelled me and I ended up killing the Mage instead. I’m over it now, but at the time I was pretty fucked up. He was like a dad to me.
And Baz ...
Baz didn’t even call to find out if I was all right.
He didn’t come round or write. Not even when the investigation into the Mage’s death and whether I’d been justified turned up the information Baz and I had been looking for about his mum. (That was the Mage too – it was so fucked up.) Even then, Baz didn’t even write to say thank you.
Penny says she thinks he was embarrassed. Or grieving. But I think it’s pretty clear Baz was only using me for my mystery-solving skills. Which is fine. That’s all I offered him. I know we weren’t friends.
Anyway, I haven’t spoken to him since.
Penelope has. She sees him at magician gatherings and tells me what happened, what he’s up to – even though I rarely ask.
We live together now. (Me and Penny, not me and Baz.) In a flat in Hounslow, near her parents. Just outside London. It’s the best – if I hadn’t had Penny, and been working for the Coven, I definitely would’ve gone mad during Covid. I thought she was going to go and live with Micah in America, but instead he dumped her. Over FaceTime.
It was brutal. And completely unfair.
I almost got on a plane to America just to beat the shit out of him. I didn’t – because Penny said I shouldn’t – but it was still quite a big moment for me, since I was having problems getting off the sofa back then.
Penny’s going out with someone else now. Sam. A Normal she met in uni.
“But I’m not ready to move in with him,” she told me last time we went down the pub together. “What if it doesn’t work out?”
She’s less sure of herself now, after Micah. (Bastard.) But we’re both sure of each other. I know that even if Penelope and I didn’t live together, we’d still talk every day.
I like that, whatever happens at school, I can go home and she’ll be there.
And she’ll listen. (As long as I don’t talk about Baz too much.)
No. 3 – The Humdrum isn’t going to attack during class
I used to think I was thick. That the reason I was bad at school was because I was a complete idiot, just like Baz said I was. But since then, I’ve come to the realisation that I probably would’ve been all right at most of my lessons if I’d actually been able to go to more of them. Not brilliant like Penny - or Baz, I suppose - but fine. I might have done my homework sometimes if I hadn't had to spend all my spare time fighting the Humdrum. (Or running after my roommate trying to prove he was a vampire.)
Penny swears she would have been able to beat Baz to the top of the year if she hadn’t been helping me with the Humdrum. I believe her.
But I never thought about how that stuff might be affecting me. I just assumed I’d have been shit, anyway, so what was the point? I never thought I might actually be good.
And yeah, I know I didn’t exactly cover myself in glory at uni either, but both Penny and my therapist have reminded me that I was actually having a breakdown for the first year. Then, I was distracted – third year – by my magic coming back. And, from the beginning, I was behind all the Normal kids because I’d spent the last eight years studying magic.
I mean, obviously, that didn’t help.
No. 4 – My magic is normal
This is another thing. My magic – at Watford – was basically a constant source of fear. I was constantly afraid I was going to blow everyone up. Or turn everyone into frogs.
It didn’t work the way everyone else’s did. And I didn’t know what to do to make it work the way everyone else’s did.
My magic, now, doesn’t feel anything like that. It feels like breathing out.
It feels like I’m in control for once.
No. 5 – I know I have a future
I loved Watford, but I also felt like I was just letting time go by. Until I fought the Humdrum, or died. Doing well at school didn’t really matter.
Now I have a purpose. A future. I even know what it is.
I’ll be Mage. And help make the World of Mages better. I’ll live with Penny until she moves out.
I guess I should also try and find a girlfriend. (Not Penny.) Find someone to spend my life with.
I went on a few dates during uni. I even slept with this girl called Gwen - a few times, actually – and it was all right. But it never really felt, you know, right. I never liked any of them enough. Penny even suggested I might be gay, once, because I kept going on about how hot my driving instructor was.
I have thought about it. I even went on a date with another bloke from work (I didn’t realise it was a date until he tried to kiss me goodnight), but that didn’t work out either.
I’m beginning to think maybe I’ll never find someone. Penny says I shouldn’t worry about it: “You’re very loveable, Simon.”
I’m not sure there’s much evidence of that.
But I trust Penny.
Fuck, I wish she was doing this with me.
Which, I guess, brings me to my other list …
All the things that are worse:
No. 1 – Penelope isn’t with me
She was there with me the night the Mage tried to kill me. And she dropped out of school afterwards, like I did. But unlike me, Penny took her final exams anyway. Miss Possibelf came to London to oversee them.
Penelope also isn’t interested in standing for the World of Mage’s highest office, so for her eighth year really would have been optional. University was a big eye-opener for her, she says. Being around all those Normals made a lot of the problems that we deal with (now the Humdrum’s out of the picture) seem small. We’re just arguing about the same things magicians have been arguing about for years, according to her. I guess I can see her point.
That’s why she’s decided she’s going to become Prime Minister. (“You deal with the Coven, Simon,” she told me once. “I’ve got bigger fish to fry.”)
I’d say that isn’t a thing – like you can’t just decide to be Prime Minister – but I know Penelope. When she’s set her mind on something, she usually manages it. She’s already made it onto the local council and - next time we have a General Election - she wants to stand for MP.
I go out leafleting with her sometimes. (When I can’t get out of it.)
Honestly, it makes me appreciate my own job.
No. 2 – I’m much older than all the other students.
And I’ll probably still be the worst in the class.
No. 3 – Baz
I know he’s at Watford. I know I’ll have to see him. Not as my roommate.
I just. I don’t want to think about it.
Chapter 2: First day back
The gates open for me. That’s a relief. A worry I didn’t even know I had about going back to school is gone. I’m magic enough to be here. (I knew I was, but I didn’t know.)
I get back in the car and drive through them. The gates close behind me and I try and work out how to get to the car park. I’ve been there before, but not for years and someone else was always driving. There are signs, though. I don’t get lost.
I park up and get out. Cross the Lawn, which is crunchy with ice this time of year, and the drawbridge. Then the two inner gates.
The courtyard is mostly empty. Mitali sent over my schedule in advance, so I knew I had a free period first thing on a Monday. I arrived late on purpose. The rest of the school are either sleeping in or in their first lesson of the week, but there is one person just crossing from the halls of residence towards the Tower.
Of course, it had to be him. The one person I really don’t want to see until I absolutely have to.
Wearing a three-piece suit and shimmering with magic. (Heat magic, probably. It’s fucking freezing.) He looks good. His hair’s longer than it was when we were at school together and not slicked back. He looks like he belongs here.
I suppose he does. He always has.
There’s no chance he hasn’t seen me. He stopped walking. He’s looking right at me, grey eyes wide. I can’t tell what he’s thinking. Probably something insulting.
I’m not sure what to do. Baz doesn’t seem to know what to do either, even though he must have known I was coming.
I suppose we’re both in the same boat. What do you say to your former roommate, your former nemesis, when you haven’t seen each other for seven years?
So. You’re alive.
I’m sorry I’m here – I didn’t want to be.
I knew you’d remember me. I knew it.
(That’s stupid. Of course he remembers me. We lived together for seven years.)
In the end, I just raise my hand.
Baz doesn’t wave back. Or say anything, actually.
His eyebrows crease together and he strides off, like me saying ‘hey’ has reminded him he has better things to do than acknowledge my existence.
I mean, I knew it wasn’t going to go well. Perhaps I should be glad that Baz refuses to talk to me. Maybe that’s the least painful option.
“Forget about Baz,” Penny would say if she was here. So, I try and do that. For now, at least.
I shove my hands into the pockets of my jeans (I haven’t cast a heating spell, even though I could) and head towards the Weeping Tower where I’m supposed to meet Mitali before my first lesson.
A few kids are still in the dining hall, mostly older years in green and white-piped blazers. The younger ones don’t have any free periods, so they’ll all be in classes. No one stares at me as I wait for the lift. I just get in and ride to the top floor where the headmistress is waiting for me.
This is different at least. Mitali’s hung posters – large blow-ups of album covers – where the portraits of Baz’s family used to hang. And there are pictures of all the Bunce children, even Premal, on all the surfaces. Seeing Penelope’s face – even though I just saw her this morning – makes me feel better.
Mitali herself is sitting behind her desk at her laptop.
“Be with you in a minute, Simon,” she says without looking up. I nod and sit in the chair opposite her desk. “Oh, and tell me about the Manticorps thing – how was it?”
“Oh.” I tug at the neck of my t-shirt. “You know. Tense.”
It always is.
It’s hard to relax around giant lions with human faces, but yesterday’s meeting seemed to generally go okay. Nobody left with fewer limbs than they went in with, anyway. I’m counting that as a win.
“Wait until you’re stuck in a classroom with twenty precocious teenagers,” Mitali says. She shuts the laptop decisively. “Nervous?”
“No,” I lie.
“Excellent. I told the staff you were joining us for the rest of this year before Christmas. And the students will have been briefed this morning. You just have to sign the Book.”
Right. That’s why I’m here.
Normally a parent or guardian signs, but since I’m of age – and since I still have no idea who my parents are, and the man who was sort of my guardian is dead and evil – I'm legally binding myself into the school’s care. (You’d think they’d be able to do this online now, but magicians are all about tradition.) I write my name in under Percy Twiller, signing his eleven-year-old kid – also a Percy – up for eight years of magickal education. I feel like a bit of a twat, even though I sign all kinds of things these days. Letters to people’s families. Contracts for magical workmen. Peace treaties. Even the odd autograph or two.
Magic crackles in my arm as I finish the W of ‘Snow’, sealing the deal. Mitali snaps the Book shut and hands me another, smaller book. My diary for the year.
I flip it open to the lesson plan stuck into the front of it, even though I already know what it’s going to say, since they did send me this one by email. My first class is Elocution, just a single period. Then Greek, Magic Words, lunch, and double Political Science.
That’s the class I’m looking forward to the least.
Not just because I’m supposed to do well at it, given – you know. Everything.
Because my former roommate is the teacher.
He studied Politics at university and now he teaches at Watford.
I wasn’t working for the Coven at that point or I might have tried to block the school from hiring him. (Glad I didn’t. Definitely an abuse of power.) As it was, I got Mitali’s number off Penny and tried to talk her out of it. She assured me that Baz came highly recommended by his supervisor. She also said that, as the headmistress, she’d be sitting in on his initial classes to make sure he was OK. (As though Baz could ever be OK. He’s the most dramatic person ever. He only knows how to be miserable or better than everyone else.)
A year later I asked her whether she regretted her decision - and she told me Baz had been a god-send during the pandemic. He was the only one who’d actually learned how to teach over video call. Sounds like bollocks to me.
Anyway, he’s probably terrible now everyone’s back at school. Now he has to make a real connection with other people.
And what about the curriculum?
He’s probably teaching them to overthrow the Coven and give power back to the oppressed aristocracy. He’s probably telling them why they shouldn’t vote for me next time there’s an election.
“Snow can barely put his clothes on the right way round. He shouldn’t be asked to lead a nation.”
I don’t know. Maybe I’m misjudging him. It has been seven years. But if he asks me to write an essay about where I went wrong as a leader, or why the Greatest Mage prophecy would’ve made more sense if it was about a wet sock, I’m definitely punching him. I don’t care if I get thrown out.
(Yes, I do. Fuck Baz – I have to make this work.)
Mitali and I talk a bit more about the Coven and Penny’s new hairstyle and she makes me tea. The Mage never gave me tea when I was here – it makes me think maybe things are better now – and I head off a few minutes before my first lesson starts. Mitali warns me I’ve forgotten what it’s like to try and navigate corridors swarming with kids and even though I think she’s joking, I also don’t want to risk it.
Elocution is on the third floor of the Tower, right next to the Political Science classroom. All the doors have glass panes set in them, so the headmaster or headmistress can make rounds and check everything’s OK without having to actually interrupt the class.
I watch Baz writing something on a chalkboard (can’t see what it is from here) (probably a homework assignment, although you never know with Baz). Then he sees me watching and glares at me.
Fortunately, at that point the bell rings. The kids from both Baz’s class and the class before mine rush out into the corridor in a noisy torrent and I use the cover to slip into the back row of Elocution.
Surprisingly, it goes all right. I forget everyone’s names almost immediately, except for Yasmin who gets paired up with me, and Jane, who I know is Gareth’s sister. But they’re all really nice, even the ones from the Old Families. Everyone finds it a bit weird that I’m here, obviously, but no one actually calls me out to my face. And Madam Bellamy says I’m much better at elocution than she remembered. Which I think is a compliment.
Greek is worse, of course. A disaster, really – even though I’ve been using Duolingo over Christmas. I’ve basically forgotten anything I ever knew about this language because I never use it, and I was bad to begin with. But Magic Words is actually good.
I don’t know if it’s just that Miss Possibelf planned this for me, specifically, (she might have done – I mean, she is a good teacher), but we’re learning spells from popular music today. The class hasn’t covered them yet because this kind of magic is unstable, but it’s relevant now because they’re new, obviously, and everyone here is supposed to try and come up with a new spell before the end of the year.
The really good thing for me is that I already know all the spells we’re covering.
Hell, Penelope invented two of them: Up all night to get lucky – vital, she said in getting her PhD written – and Don’t need make-up to cover up.
She probably already knows – her mum is the headmistress after all – but I text her under the table to let her know she’s on the curriculum.
Please tell me not for 1D, she texts back. (Ha. She hates that spell.)
Not JUST 1D, I write back and she sends me a gif of Hugh Grant hitting his head on a desk.
After that, Miss Possibelf tells me I have to put my phone away. “Unless it’s important Coven business, Mr Snow.”
“It’s gifs,” I admit. A few people laugh, but not in a mean way, like Baz would have done. Like I’ve made a joke and it’s funny. (Or like they’re surprised that I made a joke because I’m too old to know about them.)
Miss Possibelf tells me I can regain her respect by demonstrating I got smarter, I got harder in the nick of time. And when I do it – easy for me, it’s a battle spell – everyone claps.
It’s a surprise. But a nice one.
Afterwards, one of the boys – Aarav, I think – asks me if I want to go to lunch with them. I do want to, and I want to see if Cook Pritchard is still as good as she was when I was at school. (The first time.) But it’s all getting a bit much, honestly. I need some time to decompress before Political Science with Baz.
And anyway, I wanted to go and see Ebb while there’s still light.
I eat my sandwiches outside her barn (it’s just a barn now) and walk out to the grave. There’s a dryad standing in front of it, head bowed. I think I remember this one – manga girl. She doesn’t look a day older than when she found me hacking up trees as I searched for Baz. Trees age slower than humans, I guess.
“You return at last, Chosen One,” she says as I approach.
“Yeah,” I agree.
“For what reason?”
That’s vague, but it’s how the dryads always talked to me. It seems to satisfy this one, anyway.
“Hm. Leave the forest in peace this time,” she tells me, and floats away when I nod.
I half expect to see Baz running down a deer or something on my way out of the Wood (not that I ever really confirmed he was a vampire, as Penny would probably remind me), but I don’t. He’s probably preparing for his next class.
That makes me worry that I’m late (which would be typical), but when I check my phone, I find I’m not. I’ve got time. I’m just panicking, which is stupid because it’s just Baz. He hasn’t tried to kill me for years.
Still, I pick up the pace and I’m the first to get to the classroom. Not even Baz has arrived yet. I take a seat at the back – which is where I always used to sit, so I could keep my eye on him. (Baz always used to sit at the front, of course. Wanker). Then text Penny again.
First class with Baz about to start!!!
You’ll be fine, Simon <3 <3
Fuck, I hope so.
I put my phone away as Aarav and the other kids I didn’t go to lunch with arrive. I wave, hoping they’ll come and sit with me, helping shield me from Baz. To my relief, they do.
“You missed roast beef,” the half banshee-kid – I think his name might be Brian – tells me.
“Fuck,” I say. “Really?”
I’m legitimately devastated. (I should have known! It’s the first day back. Cook Pritchard always serves roast beef and Yorkshire puddings on the first day back. I wouldn’t have made this mistake before.)
“And duck for those who don’t eat beef,” Aarav says.
“My friend Penny used to say that was good,” I tell him. “Can’t imagine it makes up for not being able to eat the second-best food at Watford, though.”
“Second?” Brian says, wrinkling his nose. “What’s‐?”
The classroom door slams shut and everyone twists round in their seats to face the front, like they’re conditioned to it. Brian doesn’t even finish his question.
I look up and see Baz, of course. At the front of the class taking books out of a briefcase.
“Snow,” he says without looking up at me.
I sit up straighter. It’s a shock hearing his voice. Hearing him say my name after all these years.
“Yeah?” I say.
“You’re not in uniform.”
I’m not. I’m wearing jeans and a t-shirt. (A nice t-shirt though, I checked with Penny before I left. She said it was fine.) I took my jacket off when I got inside. No other teacher has commented on my clothes, so what is this?
Is this a joke?
“Baz, I’m twenty-five.”
“You’re also a student of this school. Go and change.”
“What?” I say.
The rest of the class is completely, unnaturally silent.
“I don’t want to give you detention on your first day,” Baz says. And he’s completely serious. He looks up at me. “Find a uniform and change into it. Don’t come back until you do.”
This is bullshit.
It’s complete bullshit. He just wants to make me feel small – I knew this would happen. I knew he’d do something like this.
I want to tell him to fuck off.
I want to tell him I won’t do it.
But he’s right – I don’t want a detention on my first day. And he could ruin me. He could do worse than this.
I stand up and walk out of Baz’s classroom.
Where the fuck am I going to find a fucking uniform?
I shouldn’t have done that.
True, there is a dress code and Snow was flouting it, but this is hardly his first lesson of the day. I can only assume the headmistress has tacitly agreed to him wearing whatever he likes – Mitali Bunce is hardly a stickler for rules or proper standards of clothing. Last year I called on her in her office – during office hours, no less – and found her in her dressing gown.
Snow’s probably gone to complain about me. He’ll probably be back in fifteen minutes with a note that will make me look like an idiot and demean me in front of my eighth-year class.
Crowley, it’s only his first day and already I’m losing my grip.
You’d think after years – decades, at this point – I’d be over him. I’ve had boyfriends, though admittedly not for a while. (The pandemic didn’t help.) I’ve had sex. I have a job. I like myself - sometimes. (And since I spend my day terrorising children and my nights sucking down pig's blood to survive, I think that's fairly good progress.)
I’m not the same person I was at school. I shouldn’t still be saddled with an adolescent crush on my former roommate.
But it’s just as painful as ever. To be in the same room as him. To smell him, even now I’ve learned how to control my fangs. To hear him laughing easily with people he’s only just fucking met. (Simon and I lived together seven years. He never once laughed with me.)
I used to think I was in love with him.
Seeing him again makes me think I was right.
It’s difficult to breathe around him. To remember that breathing is important. (Surely, I can survive on just the sight of him?)
Really, I sent him out of the room because, even though Mitali told us this would happen before Christmas (completely ruining the holidays), even though I’ve seen him twice already today, I still wasn’t prepared to actually see him.
Sitting in my classroom. With a good haircut and his toned and freckled forearms out on display for anyone to see. (I had hoped he’d look worse than he did in school, not better. Isn’t aging supposed to make people look worse? Or is that smoking?) (It probably is. Smoking, and stress. And, of course, I’ve been stress smoking almost non-stop since I heard the fucking news, so I probably look fifty by now.)
Anyway, I did what I could.
Well, no. I panicked.
I sent him away on a flimsy pretext that I know makes me look foolish. (Fuck, I need a cigarette.) And now I’m trying to introduce today’s lesson to the class while my brain works furiously on excuses to give the headmistress.
It’s never happened before.
(It hasn’t. I have an exemplary record.)
Magic is about exactness, adherence to the law.
No one ever said he would be allowed to wear his own clothes.
I’m young and inexperienced. It won’t happen again.
Crowley. At least I planned ahead for this eventuality. (Not for the uniform thing – I admit that one was a surprise.) I knew I’d find this class difficult, and so what I’ve scheduled is a debate on compulsory voting. It means all I have to do is set them up into groups, let them talk to each other for half an hour while they gather sources. Then I encourage the other students to judge their work for me.
Normally, I try harder to earn my salary – I think I do earn it – but it’s the first day of the new term. That’s always challenging. It would be even if Snow wasn’t here.
Anyway, it’s on the bloody curriculum.
The noise level rises immediately once the group work begins. It’s the one downside to my otherwise flawless strategy, but at least it helps drown out my own thoughts.
I drift between the groups silently. (Typically I’ll ask them to share what they’re working on with me, but I can’t right now. I’m too shaken.) Then I see the door start to open and hurry across the room to intercept them.
Or rather Snow, because he’s come alone.
He’s also … found a school uniform somewhere and is now wearing it. Like I asked him to.
My mouth feels dry – and wet at the same time, which shouldn’t even be possible. I feel like I’m going to swoon in the middle of the classroom, or possibly sink my teeth into him – my body hasn’t decided yet.
He looks like he’s in a porn film, like I’m supposed to take him over my knee after this and spank him. He looks like he did at school. Which is to say, like every one of my teenage fantasies about him brought to life. Except broader. With better hair.
And I did this to myself. (Idiot.)
“Out in the corridor, Snow,” I tell him over the hubbub. “I need a word.”
He growls, but he does go. I follow him, shutting the door behind us.
Snow whirls on me immediately. He’s worked himself into a froth of course. Tugging on his hair. (I think about tugging on it for him.)
“What is it now, Baz?”
I want to apologise. But I’ve never apologised to Snow before. I wouldn’t know where to start.
“You shouldn’t call me that,” I say instead. “Not in front of the class.”
Snow shakes his head. “I knew this would happen. I knew you’d be like this.” He sighs. “What do you want then? Sir?”
I swallow. (I definitely do not want Simon Snow to call me sir in front of other people – but it’s too late now. Apparently, I just keep making bad decisions today.)
“Or you can call me Mr Pitch,” I say. “Just give me the respect you’d give any other teacher.”
“Right,” Snow says gruffly. “Well, you have to call me Mr Snow, then. Or Simon. Like I’m any other student. Not Snow like I’m something you found on the bottom of your shoe.”
“Fine,” I say. “Agreed.”
“Is that all, sir?” Snow says patronisingly. (I think about that porno again.)
“Yes, that’s all.”
He shakes his head. “Just for the record, if I ever get to Mage, I’ll make you call me sir for the rest of your life.”
It’s what I deserve, honestly. But at least we probably won’t see each other. He’s managed to avoid me successfully for the last seven years. I’ve stopped looking for him at parties or gatherings – places I might have been able to meet him on equal terms and apologise. He’s never there. What’s a few more decades?
I let Snow join whatever group he wants to join – he chooses non-mandatory voting, of course – and let the rest of the class play out.
Some of the students make good points; some of them don’t. Snow arrived late and is therefore the last one to speak.
“People shouldn’t be made to do things they don’t want to do,” he announces. “The idea of forcing people to make a choice is just stupid. It’s the opposite of democracy. You think you’re helping make things fairer by listening to everyone – but you’re actually just oppressing them in a different way. Just to make yourself feel better.”
“Is that all?” I prompt.
Snow shrugs. “That’s all that matters.”
Annoyingly, he’s right. No one else said it as clearly, although most of those arguing against did mention the violation of personal freedom, since it’s obvious. Snow’s the only one who feels the injustice personally, though. He’s also right that – at the end of the day – voting is about personal choice, not the mandate of the state.
It’s why I let myself vote for him, after all. Even though it goes against everything my family has been trying to achieve.
Thank magic he’ll never find out.
I encourage the class to give Snow feedback, but it’s surprisingly hard work. This group is full of people who love giving their opinion. Usually, the hard thing is generally trying to make them stop. Not today.
I think they’re all in awe of him, or just embarrassed to criticise the Mage Elect.
Eventually it falls to me to point out that he didn’t counter any of his opponent’s points, use any secondary sources, or include any of the other arguments that might have helped his case.
“Thank you, sir, I’ll bear that in mind,” Snow says. His eyes bore through me.
Fortunately, the bell rings soon after that, signalling the end of the day and – for now – my current torment. Snow gives me another dirty look on his way out, which I pretend to ignore, and then he’s gone. For the day. For the evening. Leaving me in peace.
I open a window and light a cigarette, drawing the comforting smoke as deep into myself as it will go. Then I call Niall.
We’re still friends after all these years. He’s probably my only real friend, or at least the only one I’m not related to. I know that’s pathetic, but my main interests are magic, magickal politics, and football. And I can only talk about football to Normal men for so long. Less, if they’re straight.
Which leaves me with people I met at school or other staff members. (I have thought about trying to befriend the headmistress – she’s smart and interesting, she’s written some fascinating books – but her daughter is Simon Snow’s best friend. And she works closely with him on the Coven, so I’m avoiding her for the same reason I never tried to make nice to Penelope.) Fortunately, I do like Niall and he’s still willing to tolerate me.
“How was it?” he says as soon as he picks up.
Straight to the point, no nonsense. Good man.
I lean out of the window. Snow will be at the bottom of the Tower soon and – even though we’ve just had a terrible couple of hours together – I still want to catch a final glimpse of him if possible.
“I made him put on a school uniform and told him to call me sir.”
“Shit,” Niall says. “Baz.” I notice he doesn’t ask me if I’m joking. “He’s going to get you fired.”
My eighth-year class emerge at the bottom of the Tower, Snow’s tawny curls and broader shoulders amongst them. As if he can sense me watching, he looks up. Scowling.
I flick ash off my cigarette, down onto him – as though that was my plan all along – and shut the window.
“He probably should.”
“Now you’re just being melodramatic,” Niall says. “Get drunk and forget about him. I can be free in an hour, if you need company.”
I had other plans, but I like this suggestion. An evening with Niall will require nothing from me. I don’t even have to be nice to him.
“All right. I’ll cancel my date.”
“Hold on – what date?”
“Just some man I met on the internet.” Grindr actually, not that Niall needs to know that. “It’s fine. I was thinking of cancelling it anyway.”
“Ah – no, you don’t,” Niall says. “That’s much better. And I don’t have to leave the house. Get drunk and laid, and then just try not to tell Snow to lick your shoes next time you see him.”
“Hm. But what if they’re really dirty?”
Niall knows me well enough not to find that funny.
“Call me tomorrow with a hangover and a sore arse,” he tells me.
Then he hangs up before I can tell him to go fuck himself.
Baz is such a twat.
I’m fuming as I get out of class – the other students steer well clear of me. It’s exactly like when we were both at school. (Well, not the last few weeks, I guess. But the seven years before that.) He should count himself lucky I don’t have my Chosen One magic anymore. I’d have gone off in the middle of his classroom. Evaporated his stupid collection of propaganda posters. But he barely seemed bothered.
I swear when I saw him leaning out the window, smirking, I almost ran right back inside to plant my fist in his face. I didn’t, but only because he’d get me expelled for sure.
(I didn’t even know he smoked. He probably took it up just so people stop calling him a vampire. Or because it makes him look cool.)
I text Penny – “Total fucking disaster” – and head into town, trying to find the nearest pub.
The first one refuses to serve me, even though I have my driver’s licence. They think it’s faked – and clearly that I’m a moron who’d fake an ID but still try and get alcohol while wearing a school uniform. Fortunately, the second pub has lower standards.
It’s also empty, because it’s a Monday and it’s four in the afternoon. Most of the other adults are still at work. That suits me, though.
I get through three pints while I do my Greek homework. Then another two while I tackle Magic Words. I don’t do Baz’s homework, because fuck him. Whenever I get bored, I answer another email from work. (I’m technically on sabbatical from today, but I don’t like being out of the loop. Besides, I like to think I’m being useful.)
By eight, the pub’s started filling up and they’ve put a match on the telly. It’s too distracting. I can watch sport at home. I stand up and realise just how pissed I am. I’ll definitely have to leave the car here. Brilliant. I mean, I knew that, but I guess I forgot how far away my flat is.
I text Penny to let her know I’m on my way home and stagger out of the pub. I can’t really remember where the McDonalds is, or if there even is a McDonalds in Watford, but if it exists (and I think it does – I think I remember it has, like, a massive wasp outside it for some reason), then I want to eat there. I hate pub food. And I have to eat something, or I’ll feel like complete shit tomorrow. Worse than I feel now.
I’m trying not to think about Baz. We don’t have class together tomorrow, I don’t have to see him until Thursday, thank Christ, but I’m drunk enough that every slim, dark-haired bloke I pass looks like Baz.
And then – fuck me – it really is Baz. Which isn’t completely absurd, I mean – he does live here. But I dunno, I guess I thought the teachers all stayed in the school grounds in the evening – except for the Mage – and Baz is just sitting in a restaurant, on a Monday. With someone I don’t know. Some man in a suit and designer fucking stubble.
There’s no one stopping people at the door, so I just push my way in. I like to think I wouldn’t be doing this if I wasn’t drunk, but I might be lying to myself. Whatever. Baz deserves it. And he told me I couldn’t talk back to him in class. So what other choice do I have?
He looks alarmed when he sees me. “Snow—”
“You’re an arsehole,” I snarl at him. “And you’re a shit teacher.”
We’ve only had one class together, but I already know he is.
Who humiliates their students? You’re supposed to make it safe for people to learn. And it’s not just me. The rest of the class are clearly terrified of him.
“One of your students?” the guy with Baz asks him. He seems amused. (Baz’s friend seems amused; Baz definitely isn’t.)
“I’m his roommate,” I say. “Or I mean, I was. I’ve known him since he was eleven. And he’s always been a complete twat.”
“Whereas barging in on someone during dinner and insulting them is the height of good manners,” Baz says coldly.
“And he’s a vampire,” I continue doggedly. “Did you know that?”
A waiter tugs on my sleeve. “Sir, perhaps you should step outside?”
“My name’s Simon,” I say. “You don’t have to call me sir.” I point at Baz, who is still frozen in horror, his grey eyes wide. “I have to call him sir and it’s fucking demeaning.”
“Sir—” the waiter tries again, but I ignore him. I’m still focused on Baz.
“Well, fuck you, Baz. Fuck. You. I’m going to graduate and then I’ll never have to see you again. Good fucking riddance.”
That said, I let the waiters usher me out. Into the street. Into the gutter. (Baz always makes me feel so small. Why? How? I’m twenty-five. I'm practically Mage.)
I feel like throwing up.
I don’t. I get on the train.
I don’t have a hangover the next morning, although I drank enough that I would have if I was normal. But I still feel like shit as I haul myself back through the school gates in yesterday’s suit.
I had worried that Snow’s accusations would put Andre – the man I was meeting – off me completely. I’d just have to crawl back to my room and masturbate pathetically while thinking about someone who hates me.
Fortunately, Andre seemed to think the whole thing was funny. I think it helped that Snow called me a vampire, which made him look mad, since Andre’s Normal. And that he – Snow – made himself so unpleasant. It made me seem justified in disliking him. Or pretending to.
Also, when you’re meeting someone for sex, I suppose their personality and professional abilities aren’t particularly relevant. Fortunate, really, as I don’t think Andre and I have anything in common, besides the obvious. He doesn’t even like football.
It would be just my luck to run into Snow before I get back to my room – while I look my worst, when I’ve clearly been out doing something disreputable – but mercifully I seem to have arrived early enough to beat even Simon Snow. Miss Possibelf is out and about, of course – she likes to welcome the day. (It’s an elf thing.) She gives me a knowing look, but doesn’t say anything. Doesn’t push. It’s why she was always my favourite teacher.
I feel better after the shower, but not much. The dirt – the feeling of disgust – is on the inside, where the water can’t reach.
It would be better if I could feed. I wasn't able to do it last night before I went out, because the school was so busy I knew I'd get caught, but that was fine. Last night. Andre's blood wasn't that tempting. But I regret it now. The school is even busier now it's the morning, which means I'll have to wait until tonight.
I practically sleepwalk through the first two classes. Concentrating more on holding my fangs back than what I'm saying. One of my first years even asks me if I’m sick and then the whole class starts suggesting all the healing spells they know. It’s sweet and it’s useful – if not in this particular subject – so I let them do it. (Although I absolutely do not let any of them cast anything on me. I’m not insane.) Miss Craft, from my fifth-year class, tells me I should work on cleansing my aura. I tell her that isn’t a thing, and she leaves in a huff, much to the satisfaction of her enemy/roommate, Miss Williams.
Fortunately, I don’t have any classes with Snow today – I don’t even see him – but it doesn’t make a difference. I’m thinking about him all the time. Not just about how much I want him and how disgusted he is by me. I knew all that already. But – he said I was a bad teacher. And I can’t help but wonder – is he right?
Snow’s always seen me for what I am. He’s surprisingly perceptive. He knew I was a vampire long before anyone else did. Is he right about this, too?
I don’t think he is. I think I try hard. I prepare. I listen to my students. But maybe that’s not enough. Or maybe I’m just not as good as I think I am.
He’s clearly already made friends with all the eighth years and I’ve been teaching them for the last two years, even if the first year was over Zoom. They could have told him how much worse I am than my predecessor. They might have asked him to tell me.
The thought follows me around from class to class. It makes me anxious. I feel myself making more mistakes. By the time I get to Thursday and my next class with Snow – the pre-lunchtime slot; notoriously difficult – I’m practically a nervous wreck.
The situation is not improved by the fact that in the last seven years Snow seems to have acquired an encyclopaedic knowledge about British magickal creatures and the way they govern themselves.
I suppose it is his job, and he has been working with – or possibly killing – magickal creatures since he was eleven. But I’d assumed other people handled the political sensitivity, and Snow mostly showed up to shake people’s hands and look earnest.
Instead, he keeps correcting me as I try and elucidate the differences between the different systems of consensus building used by the non-human magic users.
“Would you like to teach this class, Mr Snow?” I snap as he mentions yet another minor point of dragon etiquette that I’ve misinterpreted.
“No, thank you, sir. I’m sure you know best.”
I want to strangle him.
I also want to shove my tongue down his throat, because there’s little I find more attractive than Simon Snow smug and confident, except possibly Simon Snow showing a surprisingly deep knowledge of my own specialist subject.
I don’t do either of those things, but mostly, I suspect, because the girl sitting next to him puts her hand up.
“Yes, Miss Walker?”
“I was just wondering if you and Simon could tell us about the time you fought a dragon together,” she says.
“Seven snakes,” one of the boys says. “That was so sick. I remember it from first year.”
“I thought we were going to die!”
“I don’t think it’s relevant,” I say, frowning. They’re all quiet, instantly. “Since we didn’t engage that dragon in conversation, let alone in diplomatic relations …”
But I can see that practically every member of the class is looking at me, sat forward in their seats, as though someone’s cast the same spell Snow did that day over all of them: Your attention, please. The only one who isn’t looking at me is Snow.
“Actually,” he says awkwardly – at which point everyone turns to look at him instead. “It is sort of relevant. Since the dragons only talked to me at all because they thought they could trust me after that. Even though it was mostly you.”
His eyes flick up to meet mine. And for the first time in … well, a long time, anyway, he doesn’t look angry to be looking at me.
I suppose it’s possible that, even after everything that’s happened, he does still remember that moment with some sort of fondness. The first time we worked together. The first time he wasn’t forced to go off and kill something just because he didn’t know what to do.
“Fine,” I say softly. “Tell them if you want, Snow.”
He doesn’t pull me up on that mistake. Or comment on the way my voice cracks slightly, although he must have heard it.
I stare out the window and wish to Crowley that I had a cigarette, as Simon Snow describes the brief, glorious moment when he trusted me, pushed his magic into me and I chanted back a dragon.
As he talks, I remember how warm his hand was on my shoulder. I remember how his magic felt, burning me through like some sort of sacred flame.
I remember how I thought that it might change everything. That we might become friends – or more.
And how it didn’t.
It didn’t change anything.
Chapter 3: It's all Greek to me
“Why’re you so salty with Mr Pitch?” Yasmin asks me at lunch.
We’ve just left Political Science and my mouth’s full of potato.
It’s the first time I’ve been brave enough to eat lunch with the eighth years – I know everyone’s names now, at least in the group that’s adopted me. Yasmin, Keira, Aarav, Brian, and Lewis, who’s the only one in the class who doesn’t speak with an RP accent. (He’s Scottish.) I wish I could say that after four days I thought it was time, but I’m here mainly because Brian told me he thought Cook Pritchard would be serving shepherd’s pie.
He was right. (And Merlin, it tastes good. Just as good as I remember.) (It must be magic. I’ve decided. No one could be this good at cooking, no matter how much butter they use.) But it does mean that I’m stuck here and they can interrogate me as much as they like.
Thinking about it, it probably wasn’t a good idea to do my lunchtime debut on the same day as I just outed myself as Baz’s sort-of-ex-friend, but the pie is almost enough to make up for it.
I swallow. (The potato.)
“Well,” I say. “I mean, he’s a prick, isn’t he?”
Most of them laugh – in surprise, I think – although Keira doesn’t. She’s very serious.
“You mean he was a prick to you in school?” Yasmin says.
“Yeah,” I say. “And now.”
“Nah,” Aarav says. “He’s all right. He’s just strict.”
“It’s because he’s young,” Kiera says, nodding. “He has to be strict to assert his authority.”
“He’s always been like that,” I say. “Always.”
“You make him nervous,” Yasmin says.
“Fuck off. I don’t make Baz nervous.”
“Yeah. Usually he’s more fun,” Brian says. “And he’s super smart.”
“And hot,” Yasmin says.
I make a face as Keira and Brian nod. (I don’t think Baz being hot is relevant to whether or not he’s a prick. If anything, it’s more proof that he is one, since he knows everyone fancies him and just lets them fall all over him.)
“If you hate him so much, why give him your magic? With the dragon?” Lewis wants to know.
I shrug helplessly. It was seven years ago. I don’t remember why I did things seven years ago. I barely know why I do things now.
“Because. He was going to die if I didn’t. And we had this truce…”
It’s a mistake, because then I have to tell them about the truce and why we had a truce. And nothing makes Baz seem more sexy and mysterious than talking about how his dead mother came back specifically so he’d avenge her murder. (I mean, he didn’t do it, I did. And she didn’t ask him, she asked me – but Baz is still the one who comes out the story looking cool.)
By the end of it, the kids are all swearing they knew Baz had a traumatic past and that’s why he looks so sad sometimes. I have to beg them to talk about something else – literally, anything else.
When I tell Penelope about this later, she’s going to laugh and laugh.
The rest of the day – and then the rest of my first week – goes fine. I have another terrible, embarrassing Greek lesson, but at least it’s only embarrassing because I don’t know Greek, rather than because the Minotaur makes me stand on the desk and do a dance. (Not that Baz has done that, but I wouldn’t put it past him.)
I spend the weekend sleeping as much as possible; catching up with my Coven emails and watching shit, brainless movies with Penelope. She’s been getting blow-by-blow summaries of my days at school and everything that’s happening with Baz during the week, so I figure I can give her a few days off and we don’t have to talk about that. Except when I ask for her to read over my Political Science essay.
“What am I looking for, Simon?”
“I don’t know. Anything Baz will take the piss out of.”
“Like the fact you’ve used Comic Sans?”
“It’s good for dyslexics!”
She waits until Monday morning, when I’m about to leave, to tell me that she thinks the eighth years might have a point about me making Baz nervous.
“I can’t believe you’re taking his side,” I tell her.
“I’m not taking his side. I’m just saying that maybe your friends are right. Maybe he’s doing it because he’s as embarrassed about this situation as you are.”
“It’s more embarrassing for me.”
“At least you can leave afterwards,” Penny says. “Baz has to keep teaching at Watford, if he wants to teach magicians. He’s probably worried what you might say about him – it could ruin his career.”
“He deserves it,” I say, but my heart’s not in it.
Penelope narrows her eyes. “He’s probably not even that bad of a teacher.”
“I know, Penny.”
I do know that. I mean, I still haven’t actually seen it, but after last Thursday I asked around – not because I was trying to get Baz fired, just to try and prove my point – and it turns out a lot of students like Baz. It’s not even just the smart, rich ones, which is what I’d have expected. Apparently, he can be surprisingly patient.
“Just – try not to antagonise him,” Penelope says.
This still seems very unfair to me – is someone giving Baz the same speech? – but I don’t have time to argue with her or I’ll be late for Elocution.
It’s another Monday, so I have the same lessons as on my first day. It’s already starting to feel familiar. Elocution is good, Greek is bad, and Magic Words is more spells I already know. Double Political Science looms at the end of the day, like the fucking black spot, but before that we have lunch. And it’s roast beef again and this time, I don’t miss it.
It’s so good I decide to give Baz another chance. Just for one lesson, though.
Well, maybe it should be longer, I haven’t decided yet. Penny’s stopped short of reminding me I’m not a child anymore, but isn’t that what I keep telling myself? After resolving a bunch of in-fighting in the Coven, I’m pretty sure ‘he hit me first’ isn’t as brilliant of a defence as I used to think it was.
Anyway. Baz and I have two hours together today. Somehow, I manage to keep my mouth shut for pretty much the whole thing.
It helps that he’s picked something that I really don’t know anything about to lecture us on – eighteenth century Mage Law, bit fucked up, apparently – and that it’s quite interesting. (Fuck, maybe he isn’t a terrible teacher.) But at the end he asks us to think about how we might apply the lessons of the past to our current system of government, which is just asking for trouble.
Yasmin keeps looking at me, expecting me to kick off. Baz doesn’t look at me at all.
See, that wasn’t so hard, Penny texts me afterwards. Should I start dinner?
I tell her she can eat without me. My plans involve hanging around here a few more hours, and I know Penny likes to eat early. I don’t go to the pub this time, though – I do what I should have done last Monday, which is go to tea.
I eat six of Cook Pritchard’s best scones and have a chat with the lady herself when she comes out to drop off a new plate of Battenberg. She tells me she’s been watching my career with interest, and also that they’ve had to make a lot less scones since I left.
After that, I head for Mummers House.
I’ve been thinking about my old room since I got here. Seeing Baz again kind of brings it all back. How much I loved that room, even if I did have to share it. It was one of my favourite things about Watford and, since I’m here, I’ve decided I’d like to see it again, even if someone else is living there now. Seventh years, I guess. Two boys I don’t even know.
I think I’m hoping it might bring me some closure, although I’m not entirely sure what for.
Or I can just tell the new residents about the time Baz tried to spell his wardrobe bigger on the inside, and accidentally opened a portal to the kitchen. (He wouldn’t even let me use it. He insisted we had to close it – is it any wonder I don’t like him?)
Whatever it is, I just feel like I want to do it. That’s why I’ve been hanging around after school. I want to give myself a good chance of finding someone in the room. That means I can’t go during the day, even when I have a free period, since they’ll probably have lessons. I know I might be able to get in anyway (it was my room for a long time and I feel like that should count for something), but going in without an invitation seems a bit invasive. Well, more than a bit.
I’d have hated it if some random bloke had waltzed in while Baz and I lived there, claiming it was his room really.
So, when I get to the door – my door – I don’t try and open it.
But somehow the door swings open anyway. I try to catch it, but it’s determined. Still opening.
“Yes?” a male voice says from inside. “What is it?”
“Er,” I say because the door’s fully open now and I can see it’s Baz. Sitting, facing away from me at his desk. “Sorry. I think I’ve just gone back in time.”
Baz gets to his feet so quickly that he actually knocks over the chair he was sitting on. It rattles to a stop next to the foot of his bed. He looks embarrassed – I’ve never seen Baz look embarrassed before.
I don’t correct him – we’re not in class, and the ‘Mr Snow’ thing is annoying anyway. I wish I’d never asked for it. I should just have told him to call me Simon and stopped at that.
“What’re you doing here?” I ask him.
“I live here,” Baz says. “What’re you doing here?”
“What do you mean, you live here?”
“I mean, I live here,” Baz says. “What else could I mean?”
“Yeah, but why?”
“It used to be staff accommodation,” Baz says defensively. He picks up the chair and rights it. “And the room sealed itself up once I left, so it’s not like anyone was using it.”
“I guess that makes sense,” I say. Grudgingly.
I mean, I get it. It is a good room. I used to dream about living here forever. (Alone, obviously.) It’s kind of annoying that Baz got to do it – like he’s living my dream, or something. I even feel a bit hurt that no one told me our room disappeared. But I know it’s stupid to feel that way. I haven’t been back to Watford for years. And it’s not like I need it.
I’m surprised Baz does. Surely he could afford to live somewhere better? Somewhere with more than one room, no matter how convenient the commute is.
But the weirdest thing – the thing that surprises me the most about all this (apart from Baz being here at all) – is that my bed is still here. OK, so Baz has pushed it up against his to make one giant bed – but it’s definitely my bed under his fancy Egyptian cotton sheets, or whatever the fuck they are.
If I was Baz, living here as a grown-up on the staff, I’d have got rid of both beds and bought a proper double – one without lumps and 'I hate Baz' scratched onto one of the legs. (Not that I can see that from here. He might have spelled it away.)
He has got rid of my wardrobe and my desk. There’s a TV there now, and an armchair – just one, though. He lives alone, then. Not married or anything; although I’m not surprised about that. (Not that I think Baz is incapable of pulling anyone, I just haven’t heard about him doing it. And I would have. Particularly if he was married. Even though I’ve been avoiding him. The World of Mages isn't that big.)
“Snow, are you … staring at my bed?” Baz says, breaking me out of my contemplation.
I nearly strain my neck, I look away so fast.
“No. I’m staring at my bed,” I say accusingly.
Baz’s eyes flick over to it – awkwardly – then back to me.
“It was convenient,” he says. I scoff at that. “And it means I have a spare bed if Daphne stays over.”
I frown, because I don’t know the name. (Baz shouldn’t have random women staying over, though. This is a boys dormitory.)
“My stepmother?” Baz clarifies. “She stays over sometimes. Visiting my siblings.”
“You still haven’t told me why you’re here,” Baz reminds me. “Is it about class? You don’t need to be worried. Your essay was fine.”
Merlin, he’s read it already. I only gave it to him an hour ago – how dedicated is he?
“No,” I say. “I didn’t even know you’d be here. I just wanted to see the place.”
“Well, now you’ve seen it,” Baz says.
It’s a dismissal, but not a bad one. I think he just wants me out of – well, I guess it’s his room now. Christ, maybe Penny and Yasmin are onto something; Baz looks like he’s about to crawl out of his skin just because I’m standing here. (And I’d say it’s because he’s covering something up – like a dead body, or a bottle of blood – but he isn’t.) (I checked for that when I got in, obviously.)
“Yeah,” I say. “I guess I have.”
I don’t want to leave just yet, though. I didn’t get my closure, or to tell my funny story. And the air smells just like I remember it...
“Is there something else?” Baz says. I notice his free hand is clenched around the back of the chair he was sitting in.
“You’re not a bad teacher,” I say before I can think better of it. “Sorry. I shouldn’t have said that.”
Baz blinks in surprise. “Oh.”
“I was drunk.”
“I realised that.”
“And you were mean,” I say – because he was, and I’m not letting him off. “But everyone seems to really like you, so. It feels like it’s something to do with me, rather than you.”
Baz’s jaw works. He doesn’t say anything, though, even though I’m leaving a pretty obvious gap in the conversation for him to say: Sorry, Simon, you’re right – I was out of line.
Does he think I’d tell everyone and ruin his reputation as a jerk? Or maybe he thinks if he admits that he was a dick then I’ll take it as evidence to the headmistress. I’m not really sure how that plan would work, but I can see Baz might be worried about it.
“So, yeah,” I say, when it’s obvious Baz isn’t going to apologise – or thank me for being the bigger person and saying sorry to him. “I’ll try and accuse you of real shit in the future.”
Baz rolls his eyes. “Thank you for that.”
I guess that’s probably the best I’m going to get. I don’t tell him he’s welcome, though.
“Like how you’re still a vampire,” I say instead.
“Right. Well, I think I’d like to get back to my marking now,” Baz says briskly. “Do you mind leaving?”
It feels weird to leave him there, to hear the lock click behind me like I don’t belong. It’s always been our room. Baz’s and mine.
For a moment, I think about trying the handle again. Just to see – if I can still get in. If the room still wants me.
But I don’t know what I’d do if it did and I burst in on Baz again.
Frighten the shit out of him, probably.
Snarl something like: “Change the locks, arsehole.”
I shake myself. It’s annoying that Baz did this to me, but Penny’s right. I’m only here for six months; Baz is in it for the long haul. Besides, I have a toaster by my bed now and wifi and my own television. I don’t need a room at Watford, even if it would be more convenient.
I take the stairs two at a time down the tower. And by the time I get to the bottom, I’ve decided I won’t come back. I’ll avoid Mummers House for the rest of the year. Forever. It’s in the past.
Baz can have it.
Good. Glad that’s settled.
I’m in the school library – checking that they have enough copies of Harry Potter in stock that I can safely use it in my first-year class without causing a mass panic – when I hear Simon Snow’s voice from the other side of the stacks.
It’s been almost three weeks since he found out where exactly I live. We haven’t spoken outside of class since it happened – for which I’m grateful. It was nice of Snow to apologise and, I admit, it’s allowed me to relax again in front of – most of – my classes. All the ones that don’t have Snow in them, essentially.
I could tell he wanted me to say sorry too. And then we just could put all of this behind us, stop being nemeses, and go to being … whatever we were. Acquaintances. Who lived together. Reluctant allies.
It would have been easy.
For someone else.
Meanwhile, I found myself completely incapacitated. I probably would have been regardless, but I definitely couldn’t apologise to him while he was standing in the middle of that room. It used to be ours. And now Fiona alternates between calling it “Basil’s Bachelor Pad” and “Basil’s Simon Snow Shrine”, both of which I hate, since it’s neither. It’s just my room.
(I do wish I’d bought another bed, though. It was convenient – I didn’t fancy spelling a new mattress up the spiral staircase, and perhaps Daphne or my father will need to stay over at some point, even though they never have. I can see it looks bad, though. Intentional. Crowley, I don’t know – perhaps it was intentional. Subconsciously. Not that it matters because now that Snow’s reminded me that I’m sleeping on his bed, I haven’t been able to bloody forget it.)
I spent the entire time he was in Mummers House panicking that I’d left something incriminating out (just the bed, apparently); and trying to work out how I could make him leave as soon as possible.
In retrospect, I should have predicted this might happen. Naturally, as soon as Snow was back in Watford on a regular basis, he’d think about visiting his old room.
It was the first thing I did when I got the job – once the pandemic was over, anyway, and the headmistress let us back onto the grounds. Visit – and then coax the room out of hiding.
Not that it was that hard.
I think the room hid itself because Snow lost his magic. It stayed around for me until I didn’t need it anymore, but I never felt entirely right there after that. I thought it was just because I was alone and missing Snow – but now I think the room was missing him too. Not just physically – the feeling of him. His magic, in the world.
By the time I was back at Watford and trying to get back into the tower, though, Snow had managed to get his magic back. Or he’d discovered how to use his own magic. I’m not entirely sure what happened – how similar it is – but he smells different. Both when he uses his magic and when he’s just sitting in front of me, blue eyes boring into me.
He smells more like a man than an explosion, these days. (Naturally, I still find whatever he smells like irresistible.) But I think the room still recognises him. I felt it aching as he left.
I’m aching now, as I watch him. Which I’ve been doing for the past ten minutes. No one’s seen me, though, so I just … don’t stop. I keep watching.
(I’m not over him. I’ll never be over him.)
He’s with some of my students, all of them supposedly working on some assignment or another, but actually they seem to mostly be talking about themselves. Lewis Murphy is describing 2020’s Zoom call madness – “Yaz’s baby brother wouldnae stop flying into frame” – and Snow is laughing.
He’s always been better at talking to people than I am – other people, obviously.
It would be infuriating if I didn’t find it so attractive.
“Hey, Mr Pitch,” Yasmin Walker says loudly from behind me as she passes on the way to Snow’s table. “Good class today.”
Everyone turns to look at me, except Snow. I try not to look as though I’ve been caught out.
“No need to flatter me, Miss Walker. It won’t improve your grade.”
I hear Snow huff as the girl’s expression clouds over – both signs that I’ve been too brutal. Again. Just because he’s there and I’m embarrassed. (I was trying to make a joke.)
I sigh and try and soften my tone.
“Because there’s nowhere for it to go – your work has been consistently exemplary.”
The children laugh. Snow doesn’t.
“Thanks, sir,” Miss Walker says. “Come on, Lou – we’ll be late for Botany.”
There’s a mad scramble as the others realise they’re also late for something. Only Snow doesn’t move. He’s completely still. It’s as though he thinks if he doesn’t move, I might not notice him. Sadly, there’s no chance of that.
“Simon, you going our way?” Murphy asks.
He shakes his head. “I’ve got a free before Greek.”
“Catch you later then.”
They all file past me. I consider taking my copy of the Philosopher’s Stone and exiting the library with as much dignity as I have left. Instead, I let myself step forward towards Snow, look down, over his shoulder.
Snow’s working on a translation of the Odyssey. (Not a very good one, though.)
“You’re blocking my light,” he grunts.
It’s surprisingly easy to say when it doesn’t matter. I cross round to the other side of the table. I think about leaving again – and don’t.
“Do you mind if I say something that will sound rude but actually isn’t?” I ask him.
He looks up at me, eyebrows raised. That’s probably as close to an invitation as I’m going to get.
“You’re not very good at Greek.”
“How is that not rude?” Snow says.
I hasten to correct myself. “What I mean is, you are good at other things. You’re fine at Political Science, and you can probably scrape by in Magic Words and Elocution without too much effort since you do magic for a living.” I’ve been talking to the other teachers, so I know he’s doing much better than that. Snow doesn’t need to know that, though. He looks surprised enough already. “It doesn’t make sense for you to be taking Greek when you don’t have to.”
“It doesn’t make sense for me to be doing any of this,” Snow says. “I’m only here because of some stupid law your dad found.”
I wondered when that would come up. (Father thought he’d ruin Simon with that one. I could have told him it wouldn’t work. Simon Snow is far too stubborn.)
“You need to pass eighth year,” I agree. “You don’t need to pass this class. You’re only taking it now because you were taking it when you left, for whatever reason, and no one told you not to do it again. It’s obvious it’s not your forte.”
“You’re saying I should drop Greek?”
I nod. “Yes.”
“And do what?”
“I don’t know. Anything else? Whatever fits in your schedule.”
Snow’s eyes narrow. I can tell he’s wondering if I’m trying to entrap him, make everything he’s done so far a wasted effort.
“It’s not a trick, Snow.”
“Then why are you suggesting it?”
The answer is, of course, that I’m in love with him (why deny it to myself?) and I desperately want to help him.
My father did this to him.
And I humiliated him on his first day, and I still haven’t managed to apologise.
Not that I can tell him any of that.
“Because I am a good teacher,” I tell him loftily.
Snow laughs. “I think I just said not shit, mate.”
It’s an accident. The word and the tone. Both far too friendly.
I know that - I know it’s an accident, and that he’s insulting me – but my breath catches anyway. Snow frowns, undoubtedly realising what he’s said.
I don’t want him to be awkward. I don’t even want to make him like me – that’s not why I did this. I do know we’re not mates. We’re not anything.
So I overcompensate. I sneer at him.
“Make your own choices, Snow. It’s no skin off my nose what you do.”
And with that, I do finally sweep out of the library. I’m not sure where I’m going. Anywhere he isn’t, probably. Somewhere I can smoke a cigarette in peace and pull myself together before my next class.
I talk it over with Penelope, and with Welby, and on Friday afternoon, once school is over, I ask the headmistress if I can drop Greek.
“That is,” I tell her, “as long as you can’t think of any reason I shouldn’t.”
She frowns at me. “Greek is at the root of many of the words we use for magic, Simon. And the Classical references alone––”
“I meant, a political reason?”
I already asked Welby to go through the Coven records for me with a fine tooth comb and he hasn’t found anything. But Mitali is the headmistress – she might have access to files or papers we don’t. Something Baz might have found and read that will screw me over in the future. (Not that I really think he is screwing me over on this. But it doesn’t hurt to be careful.)
Mitali shakes her head. “There’s no reason as far as I can see. Although I think you’ll regret it.”
I’m pretty sure of it, in fact, although there was a moment where I thought I should ignore Baz’s advice. Mostly just because it came from Baz. And because there’s always a part of me that wants to show someone they’re wrong about me if they’re a dick about it.
The truth is, though, that Baz is right … this time. (Which sounds weird to say, even in my head.) And he wasn’t that much of a dick. (For Baz, anyway.)
I really don’t know why I was carrying on with Greek. I’m shit at languages and although the Coven do have dealings with mages in other countries, none of them speak ancient Greek. Anyway, most people use a translation spell instead. I definitely do.
I think I chose Greek the first time because I didn’t know what else to take. Penelope was doing it and I didn’t want to be alone. Baz is a fiend for languages – speaks at least three or four fluently, or at least he did – so he was obviously going to take it too. I probably wanted to keep an eye on him, if I could.
Neither Baz nor Penelope are in my Greek class anymore, though. It’s just me, and a bunch of eighteen-year olds who are much better at it than I am. I like the Odyssey – and the Iliad – but I like them better in English. (Already in English, I mean. I know my translation’s horrible. Baz was right about that too.)
“What are you planning to do instead?” Mitali says.
Penelope and I talked about this too. It’s a harder question than just whether I should drop Greek (I definitely should) because there are only a few options and I haven’t studied any of them recently. Then again, I haven’t studied any of this recently – so maybe it doesn’t matter as much as I think.
“I was thinking – Botany?” I say and Mitali frowns harder. Penny told me her mum doesn’t think Botany is a real subject because it’s not based on language.
“Which is stupid,” Penny said, “since our family magic literally smells like sage. I’ve often thought if we did more investigation into herbs, we might find ways of amplifying our power.”
Obviously, Penny has never taken Botany herself – she wouldn’t – but I think she meant what she said. And I like plants. I like the idea of growing things. Also, I know this class fits in my timetable, since Yasmin and Lewis both have it while I have free periods.
“Well, if you’re quite sure,” Mitali says, and I nod. “Wait here, then, while I call Miss Greyspark and see if she has space for you in her class.”
She leaves the room with her phone to her ear.
While I’m waiting, I check my phone (although I already cleared all my Coven emails today). Then – when Mitali doesn’t come back immediately – I walk over to the window.
The Weeping Tower is the tallest building in Watford, even with its structural instability. Back when this office used to belong to the Mage and he’d summon me up here, I’d often take the opportunity to look out over the school. (If there was time, anyway. Sometimes the mission was too urgent.) You can see everything from up here, even over the walls.
Today my attention’s caught by the football pitch. It’s pretty cold right now, but there are people out there playing. I cast a quick What do your elf eyes see? on myself and my vision sharpens, but it’s still too far away really to see anything clearly. I feel like I know one of the figures, though – how he moves. And I’ve definitely spent enough time watching Baz play that I should be able to pick him out, even this far away.
He still moves faster than anyone else. More precisely.
“Right,” Mitali says. She’s back so suddenly that for a moment my eyes can’t focus on her. (I have to blink to get rid of my spell.) “That’s all fine. I also spoke to Professor Minos and he says he doesn’t take it personally. Although if you wanted to drop in on Monday with a bottle of ouzo, that wouldn’t be a bad idea.”
“Cool,” I say. “Thanks. I will.”
We chat briefly about the upcoming vote on mer-territory (she thinks the Grimms are going to oppose it) and she asks me how I’m doing with my eighth-year spell (I haven’t thought about it at all), and then I tell her I have to be getting home and I’ll say hi to Penelope.
I don’t go straight to my car, though. I push my hands into the pockets of my school blazer and head out the gates. Outside the walls. Then, up towards the pitch. The team aren’t playing at the moment. They’re running drills, Baz wandering between them. He’s looking away from me for now – I must be downwind.
“Aren’t you a bit too old for the team, sir?” I shout once I’m close enough for him to hear me.
Baz turns at the sound of my voice, then rolls his eyes. (Just to make sure I saw it.)
“I’m the assistant coach.”
I’m sure he is. He’s not wearing his Watford strip – just a pair of shorts and a tight, long-sleeved jersey. (He’s clearly still in great shape, which pisses me off. Because I’m not.) Also, he’s a teacher. But I act like I’m confused anyway as he jogs over to me.
“If you’re not on the team, why did I see you playing earlier?”
Baz shakes his head, as if he can’t believe this is happening – even though I’m sure he knows I’m joking.
“To make up the numbers.”
I frown. “Er – are you sure you don’t pretend to be a student when we really need to win?”
“That would hardly be very convincing,” Baz says.
“Like a grown man in a school uniform?” I suggest.
He has the decency to look embarrassed – which frankly I wasn’t expecting.
“Sorry about that.”
“It’s all right,” I say – and I’m surprised to find I mean it. It’s been a few weeks and I’m over it. Besides, he apologised. “You were only doing your job.”
Baz’s lips part in surprise. He doesn’t know what to say. (There’s a first time for everything, apparently.) I fill the silence before it gets awkward.
“I just dropped Greek.”
I nod. “Now I have to spend my weekend looking for Greek liquor to make it up to the Minotaur.”
Baz looks like he might laugh if he was someone else. “What are you doing instead? What subject, I mean.”
I expect him to react the same way Mitali did, but he actually smiles. “My aunt is a botanist.”
“Simon!” someone else shouts before I have to respond to that. (I work with Fiona Pitch sometimes. Generally, on the most unpleasant Coven assignments – the ones no one else wants to. She volunteers for them. And she spent my school years tormenting me, because – like Baz – she lives for drama and I represented The Man, or something. I can’t imagine Fiona fucking Pitch quietly cultivating green plants.) (Except maybe marijuana.)
It’s Lewis, jogging over and waving.
“Are you hanging around?” he asks me. “We usually go for a drink after.” I almost say yes, but then his eyes flick to Baz and I realise that Baz is somehow included in this too. “That’s all right, isn’t it, sir?”
Baz nods – presumably not trusting himself to sound convincingly welcoming out loud.
“Thanks,” I say. “But I’ve got the car. And I should probably get going – I told Penny I’d be back.”
That’s a lie. I was thinking about staying and watching for a bit. And I’ve been spending a few of my evenings in the library, so it’s not like Penny would think I’d died or anything, even if I forgot to text.
But I don’t want to make things awkward for the lads. And Baz and I going to the pub together is about as awkward as it gets.
(What would Baz even do in a pub? Can he get drunk? Surely, he wouldn’t want to. Not with students, even if they are all over eighteen.)
“Next time, yeah?” I suggest.
That’s a lie, too. Since, obviously, there won’t be a next time. Unless Baz is sick or something, and he’s never sick. (Because he’s a vampire.)
Baz’s grey eyes narrow – like he knows I’m full of shit. (And also like, somehow, he knows I’m thinking about how he’s a vampire.) I raise my eyebrows at him.
Lewis still doesn’t know me that well, though. He believes me.
“Aye. See you Monday, then, Simon.”
“Yeah,” I say as Lewis heads back to the team. Baz turns, as though he’s going back too.
“Have a nice weekend, sir,” I call after him.
He turns back to give me another sour look. “Thank you. But since I’ll be marking a set of abysmal second-year essays on Simon Snow’s improbable rise to political power, I doubt that’s possible.”
I feel my jaw drop. “You’re kidding.”
Baz shakes his head, grinning a bit.
“Can I read them?” I say.
I’m grinning as well – the idea of Baz teaching people about me is probably the funniest thing I’ve ever heard. He must think so too.
“You may, if you’re willing to criticise them for content, tone, and historical accuracy,” he tells me.
“I’ll give it a shot.”
“Sir?” Aarav shouts from the back on the pitch. “Are you playing the next one?”
Baz nods in their direction.
“Have a good weekend, then,” he tells me.
“Yeah. You too.”
At which point I have to go – home – or look like a complete pillock. Even though I kind of do want to stay, now.
(I wasn’t joking. I really want to read those essays.)
Half-way down the hill, I turn and look back at the pitch. I think I might tell everyone I’ve changed my mind. I could do that.
But Baz has already gone back to the team.
Chapter 4: Black pudding in the dark
We have a few more good weeks.
Without talking about it, Snow and I seem to have agreed upon an unofficial cease-fire. Another truce. He stops trying to make it seem as though I don’t know what I’m talking about, and I try not to make all of this harder for him than it needs to be. In one memorable class, I even praise the current administration’s stance on tax reforms – something I know Snow forced through, against my family’s wishes – and he smiles at me.
“Careful, sir,” he tells me on the way out of the class. “That almost sounded like you think I’m not a complete waste of space.”
I could say the same of you, Simon Snow.
Sometimes I think you don’t hate that I’m back in your life.
“You’re imagining things,” I tell him. But I let myself smile at him as I do it, so he knows I’m joking, and he smiles back. Again.
He never used to smile at me. I’m already addicted to the curve of Simon Snow’s lips.
I think about asking him to come and speak to my second years, since they’re essentially studying him. I also – in a moment of weakness – think about inviting him to my birthday drinks.
I don’t do either of those things, of course. But it feels like I’m getting somewhere. To a point where it doesn’t feel impossible to ask – I just don’t want to.
(I’m embarrassed enough about inviting him to spend Christmas with me, and that was seven years ago. I don’t need something else to regret in 2030. I have a long enough list already.)
He even comes to watch another practice after school. We talk afterwards. (He’s thinking about setting up a five-aside for the Coven. It’s a horrible idea, so of course I tell him he should do it.) Though I notice he still makes excuses instead of coming to the pub afterwards.
That’s fine, though. I don’t push it.
I’m happy enough with this. Whatever this is. It’s already better than I could have hoped for.
Which means that when Simon walks in on me reheating a pint of pig’s blood in the deserted school kitchen, I realise I should have known something like this would happen. My life is never kind for long.
It’s late. Ten in the evening at least, well after the final dinner serving.
Snow should have been gone hours ago. His last class ended at three. I suppose I have seen him working late in the library a few times, although usually he leaves earlier than this. And, of course I know Snow gets hungry, on the hour every hour. And Watford doesn’t have vending machines.
If I’d put those things together maybe I would have been more careful. I didn’t know Cook Pritchard had given him the key to the kitchen. (At least I assume that’s what happened, since I can see it in his hand.) But she’s always been fond of him. And he’s always been fond of the food here.
Normally, I try and stay awake until midnight at least before heading down to the kitchen through the portal I accidentally cast in my wardrobe in sixth year. (Then re-created on purpose once I moved back in as an adult.) (I never liked the Catacombs, and it’s too cold to go hunting in the Wood in February. Also, the dryads don’t like it. Although right now, I’m beginning to think I should have ignored their whinging and done it anyway.)
But we’re deep into the term, which means I’ve been running on five hours’ sleep for weeks. Better still, some nights I can barely sleep at all for thinking about Snow, which hasn’t happened in years. I’m exhausted, and I have to be awake at seven to prepare for my first class. (Honestly, I wouldn’t do this job if I didn’t love it.) I couldn’t face waiting tonight. I just wanted to feed and go to sleep.
The kitchen smells very obviously like warm blood. It’s heavy in the air. Normally I spell the place clean before I leave, but I haven’t finished. I haven’t even started.
Snow’s staring at me. (And somehow, I can still smell his blood beneath the smell of the pig’s. It’s pumping faster through his veins now under his tawny skin.) He turned the light on when he came in and there’s no avoiding the confrontation. No hiding behind a fridge and pretending he didn’t see me.
“You’re a vampire,” Snow says.
I think about telling him that I’m not. That I’m just making black pudding. In the dark. At ten o’clock at night.
“Yes,” I agree.
“I knew you were.”
“Well, you were right.”
Snow doesn’t look as pleased as he usually is to hear that. He doesn’t look triumphant either, the way I imagined he would if he found me out – really found me out – at school.
He looks sick. Lost.
I imagine that’s how I’d look too if I hadn’t trained myself for years not to react to exactly this kind of thing. I keep my face completely still as he clutches at his hair, even though I almost want to cry.
“Does Mitali know?”
“I’m not sure. We’ve never talked about it.”
“She can’t do,” Snow decides. “Vampires can’t hold jobs in the magickal world.”
“Thank you for that.”
“Sorry,” Snow says. “I know you know that. Fuck, this is such a mess.”
“You’ve misunderstood,” I say lightly as I take the blood off the stove, so it doesn’t burn. “What I actually meant was, thank you for ensuring that I’ll be fired and unemployable once this gets out.”
He gapes at me, as though I’m being completely unreasonable. And the iron hold I’ve had on my patience until now snaps.
“Have you forgotten you’re on the Coven? You literally make the laws.”
“So’s your dad,” Snow blusters.
I scoff. “He wouldn’t risk exposing me by suggesting the de-criminalisation of vampirism.”
“What? You think it should be de-criminalised?” Snow asks and I realise what I’ve said.
It’s a straightforward question, but actually I’m not sure.
It's never seemed like an option, so I’ve never really considered it. It’s why I mostly don’t blame Snow for not doing anything about it; even I’m not sure I should be allowed to be a vampire. That doesn’t mean I’m happy to be fired.
So, I ask the teacher’s question instead of answering.
“What do you think?”
“Vampires are dark creatures,” Snow says – stupidly. (If this was a classroom debate, I’d be sighing and marking him down for reiterating stereotypes in favour of an actual argument.) “They hurt people.”
“Banshees are dark creatures,” I remind him. “You changed the law to protect them three years ago and now I have one in my class.”
“Yeah, I know, but—”
“Because banshees don’t hurt anyone unless they choose to.”
He looks relieved. “Exactly.”
“And what have you actually caught me doing, Simon?”
My voice sounds desperate now, even to me. I hate it. But I keep going because I’ll never say any of this in court. I can only say this to him now because –
I don’t know.
Because it’s the middle of the night. And I’m tired and wretched. And because we’ll never be friends and I know that now. There’s no reason not to be honest.
“Tell me,” I demand. “What act of vampiric villainy is this? Am I draining the blood of helpless first years? Responsible for a string of student murders? Or am I, in fact, consuming legally acquired animal products in the fucking dark?”
He blinks. I try and regain some of my composure.
“You don’t bite people?” he says.
“You’ve never bitten anyone?”
I shake my head. (Crowley, I’m so tired.)
“What about the others?” Snow says. He’s frowning at the blood on the stove, rather than me, now. Perhaps wondering if it really is animal. “The other vampires, I mean.”
“I don’t know.”
I’ve never met another vampire. Perhaps there are others like me who are just trying to live their lives. Who wish this had never happened to them. It’s possible at least.
“Okay,” Snow says firmly. “I can find out. I can fix this.”
“There’s nothing to fix,” I tell him listlessly.
Because there isn’t. It’s not like Snow can turn me human.
He rolls his eyes. At me. (Very much the wrong way round.)
“I think you’ve made it pretty clear there is, Baz.”
He pulls open the fridge next to me. It’s full of breakfast sandwiches, prepped ready for tomorrow – that must be why he’s here. Snow takes one and takes a bite.
“I have to talk to a few people about this, so I might not make it in tomorrow,” he says through bread and sausage. “Can you tell the other teachers I’m sorry?”
“I can,” I say acidly. “Assuming I still have a job tomorrow.”
Snow shakes his head. “Fuck off. I won’t tell anyone. Now drink your blood – it’s getting cold.”
I glare at him and he leaves, turning the lights off on the way out. I do drink the blood. And then I spell the kitchen clean and go back to my room. (Our room?) Brush my teeth. Wash my face. Change. Think about knocking Snow’s most recent essay down to a C, just because I can.
(I wouldn’t. But it’s nice to be reminded I have some power over him. For now, at least.)
Crowley, I need to go to sleep. But the confrontation with Snow is still buzzing in my veins along with the blood of half a pig.
I briefly think about calling Fiona. The only member of my family willing to talk about how I’m a vampire. (She’d probably offer to kill Snow before he told anyone. Knowing Fiona, it wouldn’t even be a joke.) But while I’m still flicking through my contacts, a text pops onto my screen.
Hi, it’s Simon (Snow). Got your number from Mitali. (Don’t worry. I didn’t say why I wanted it.) Just wondering if your dad would support me if I put forward a motion about you know what.
I stare at this message for longer than I’m willing to admit, trying to process what I’m reading.
The first thought that crosses my mind is completely ridiculous (fuck me, I have Simon Snow’s phone number) but the ones that follow are more reasonable.
He was serious.
I’m not going to be fired or thrown out of my world. (Not yet, anyway.)
Simon Snow wants to help me.
He wants my help to help me. He doesn’t ask for it exactly, but I think we both know there’s no way any of the Old Families would support a motion on the decriminalisation of vampirism – and especially not my father, unless I specifically asked him to.
It’s a good opportunity for him. For both of them.
I can’t believe I’m even thinking these words, but Simon Snow might actually be politically acute enough to see this motion for what it could be. An opportunity to build support with the Old Families.
They’ve opposed him for years, but now he has something to offer Malcolm Grimm. Something he could use to build an alliance.
Oh, I’m sure Snow won’t take it any further if he finds out every other vampire apart from me is a serial murderer; but the more I think about it, the less likely that seems. I’m hardly special, or significantly more moral than most other people I know – although I admit, Fiona does skew the data.
I think my father might see it the same way. And for him, it would also be an opportunity to wipe at least one of the stains off our family tree, assuming what I am becomes somewhat more acceptable.
I’ve been telling him for weeks now that I’m fairly sure Simon is going to pass eighth year. Which means that I’m also fairly sure he’s about to become Mage, with almost unlimited power over the rest of us. It’s one thing to be Simon Snow’s enemy when he’s an eleven-year-old boy unable to control his magic; it’s quite another to be the enemy of this Simon Snow.
Powerful. Decisive. Determined.
Handsome – not that that’s relevant to my father; it’s just very relevant to me. (I have his phone number. He texted me.) (I can’t fucking believe I’m fixating on this instead of how greatly my life will change if Snow gets his way. Get a grip, Basilton.)
I write back with trembling fingers:
Yes, I think he would.
A few moments later another text from Snow appears on my phone:
Cool. I’ll give you an update on Monday.
And then another:
Now go to sleep. You looked knackered.
And then another:
Not in a bad way. You just look tired.
I do want to sleep.
(I’d sleep better if he were here, in his bed opposite me, rather than at the other end of the phone. If I could hear him breathing.)
I also want to masturbate – a side effect of Snow’s commanding, confident, considerate tone over text.
I do one; and then the other. (Not in that order.) And when I wake up there’s another message from Snow that he must have sent during the night:
Don’t worry. I’ll sort it.
I try not to think about how much it means to me.
(It doesn’t mean anything. Does it? Just that Snow is actually a good person. He agreed to help me investigate my mother’s death with just as little thought.) (Unless it does mean something. Unless he is doing it for me – because we’re friends now.) (Are we friends though? I was certain we weren’t.)
I don’t text him back. (I can’t trust myself not to confess everything to him, or accidentally send him a kiss. Not when he’s like this.)
I have a shower. I shave. I get dressed.
And try and take Snow’s advice. (Don’t worry. Because he’s going to fix everything for me, apparently.)
I get on with my day.
Chapter 5: Look at us now
Dealing with the vampire thing (which eventually becomes ‘the dark creature thing’ after I realise that being were is also still illegal) takes longer than I hoped. I try not to be annoyed. Penelope reminds me that changing the law takes months, even years, in Normal politics, but it’s just so frustrating. It still isn’t agreed by the final week of term, although we’re getting close.
I don’t know why the Old Families don’t get it.
I’m not trying to say murder should be legalised. Or assault. But being a vampire – or a werewolf, or a werebadger or whatever the fuck you happen to be – is just like having red hair. (Well, not exactly like that – being a redhead doesn’t mean you have to drink blood to live. But it’s really just a thing people can be.) If you’re a vampire who kills people, you should still be stopped, and it’s the Coven’s place to do that. But otherwise, I think we should let people live their lives.
It’s a big enough issue of policy that we have to have total agreement from the whole Coven, and at least partial support from the magickal community. Nicodemus (who turns out to be Ebb’s fucking brother and a vampire) comes out of hiding for the first time in years to help with the campaign. It’s a surprise, to say the least.
“We were looking for you,” I tell him excitedly. “Seven years ago. Mistress Pitch told me you knew who killed her.”
“Didn’t look very hard, then, did you?” he says. “I’ve been in London the whole time.”
I couldn’t argue with that.
I would have liked Baz to help too, but I know he won’t. I’m not annoyed about it. I get it – he doesn’t feel safe. It takes a while for that to leave you.
His dad told me he doesn’t think Baz will come out even if we do change the law.
“But it will be a relief to know Basilton’s safer,” he added. “Whatever he chooses.”
It’s practically the first thing Malcolm Grimm has ever said to me that I don’t hate. And he’s right. Baz doesn’t have to tell people. I wish he would. But only because lying about it must be exhausting. I think it’d be a relief.
I know he has told Mitali because she told me he did. (I tried to act surprised; she didn’t buy it.) So he knows his job is safe, at least.
The thing I am a bit annoyed about – even though I know I shouldn’t be – is that I’ve been working on this for weeks now. And Baz has yet to say thank you.
Like, I know Baz doesn’t owe me anything. I’m not doing it for him – I’m doing it because it’s right.
I also know it shouldn’t have been necessary for him to call me out like that. I should have fixed this years ago. I know Baz was right to be pissed off.
But I’ve had to miss loads of classes – just like when I was at school – to get it done. I had to give up all my weekends, too, and have dinner with lots of awful people.
I feel like that deserves some kind of acknowledgement. But Baz won’t even give me an extension on my homework. Not even when I bombard him with text messages pointing out why he should.
I’m doing you a favour, he texts back. Unless you want people to think I bribed you?
They wouldn’t. Everyone knows I prefer hard cash, I reply.
(Because my options now seem limited to going back to my homework, or annoying Baz. And I haven’t changed that much in seven years.)
Well, I’m not giving you any of that either. Now stop texting me blackmail material and get on with your essay. It’s due on Monday.
I think you just don’t want people to know I’m your favourite now, I tell him.
You’re not my favourite, Baz writes back. It’s Yasmin.
She’s dead to me.
Then I feel bad because Yasmin isn’t dead to me. (She’s helping me with my Botany homework and she’s really nice, unlike Baz.) So, then I do stop texting him.
He smiles at me, at least, when I hand my homework in on the last Thursday of term. And his eyes are the softest I’ve ever seen them.
“You’re welcome,” I tell him, because I don’t think we’re talking about the essay. (I’m still annoyed about the essay.)
Baz just nods.
I guess that’s all I can expect.
Good thing I didn’t get into this job for the praise, really.
Then, suddenly, term’s over. That means this – this whole back-to-Watford thing – is half over for me, since I started the year late. One term down; one to go.
The teachers – Baz included – give us a tonne of work to do during the holidays, and Miss Possibelf reminds us all that we’re supposed to be working on a new spell. I still haven’t thought of anything. I haven’t had time. I have listened to a lot of One Direction, but all the songs seem to be about love and nothing sticks.
(You can’t spell someone to fall in love with you. It just happens – to other people anyway.)
I’m still not worried, though. About the spell. I’ll work something out eventually, or I won’t. And in the meantime, I’ve finally got some time off and the shops are full of chocolate eggs.
It’s weird, though. Not being at school again after being at school for so long. Bit boring, if I’m honest. (Penelope has a grown-up job, so she’s not around.)
That’s probably why I end up driving back to Watford the day after Easter for a Coven mixer – even though I hate both mixers and most of the Coven. Plus Malcolm Grimm texted me (so weird) to tell me he’s been working on Victor Crowe, one of the last anti-vampirists on the Coven. Malcolm thinks we’ll get Crowe’s agreement to our policy change if I show up and promise to be nice(ish) to him once I’m Mage. It sounds like a terrible evening. But at least the food’ll be good.
It’s in the dining hall. With the tables all pushed to one side, like they used to for school dances.
I spot Baz almost immediately. Taller than everyone else, better looking, and not dressed down at all, even though it’s the holidays. (Today, he’s wearing a shirt covered in flowers under a grey suit - I’d say I don’t know how he has the confidence to wear these things, if he didn’t always look so good in everything. That probably helps.) He’s not on the Coven, although a lot of the teachers are, but I knew he’d be here.
It’s one of the main reasons I never wanted to come to things like this at Watford. I didn’t want to see Baz. But I see Baz all the time, now. It makes avoiding him seem a bit pointless. And it’s good, actually, that it’s like this – at my thing. Right now, I’m his equal, not his student.
He’s talking to Miss Possibelf and I swear his head twitches when I walk in before he gets himself under control. Like he’s sensed me arrive. (Or, more likely, like he scented my blood.)
(I still haven’t worked out if I’m allowed to make fun of Baz for being a vampire, now I know that he actually is one. I think Penny would tell me it’s culturally insensitive – but it’s not being a vampire that’s funny. It’s the way Baz does it. The fact he tries to pretend he can’t identify me from smell alone, but so badly it’s embarrassing. I feel like that’s got to be fair game still.)
I don’t go and talk to him.
Not right away, anyway. I do the rounds – let Malcolm pull me into a conversation with Crowe that makes me feel dirty, before excusing myself so I end up at the buffet table about the same time as Baz decides to refresh his drink.
“Fancy seeing you here,” I say – giving Baz another excuse to roll his eyes. (He does.)
“In the school where I work? Yes, what a surprise.”
I ignore that. He’s not walking away, which he would if he didn’t want to talk to me.
“How’ve you been?”
“Fine,” Baz says. “I’ve just been— Wait, Snow, don’t eat that!”
I’d been about to bite into one of the pastries from the buffet. I don’t think any of this lot would actually poison me right now, but Baz sounds genuinely worried, and I stop myself just in time.
“What’s wrong with it?”
“Cook Pritchard has the holidays off like the rest of the teachers,” Baz explains. “She always goes to visit her relatives in Portugal.”
Is that it? I mean, I’m not going to lie – it is disappointing. But Baz must know I’ve spent most of my life eating things that Cook Pritchard didn’t make.
I put the pastry in my mouth and instantly regret it.
Baz grimaces as I try and swallow, almost apologetically though. Like he’s sorry he didn’t stop me. I feel sorry too, although for myself. The pastry’s dry, but it’s not just that. It tastes heavy and like nothing at the same time. I feel like spitting it out. I probably would if Baz wasn’t here.
“Who made this?” I ask once I can get words out.
“No one did, that’s what I’m trying to tell you. I think the headmistress summoned the whole spread with magic.”
Fuck. The whole spread. That means there’s nothing edible here.
“Why didn’t she just go to M&S?”
“Because she’s a magician,” Baz says, as though it’s obvious. (I suppose it is. I just would have thought it would be even more obvious to provide food people could actually eat. Why have food if you can’t eat it?)
“Isn’t there anything in the kitchen?”
“No. You’ll just have to hang on until the end.”
“Sod that.” I haven’t eaten since breakfast because I thought the food here would be good. “We should just go to Maccies. And then, maybe, a pint?”
Baz raises an eyebrow and I change my offer.
“Or a glass of wine and a restaurant, I don’t mind. Unless you want to stay here?”
Baz shakes his head, his hair swishing softly around his face.
“I don’t want to stay here. It’s just– actually, never mind. I’ll get my coat and see you outside. Give me ten minutes?”
I nod and he strides off. I notice Malcolm Grimm has been frowning and watching me talk to Baz. I give him a wave to let him know it’s all right, Baz doesn’t seem worried about how slow we’re being or anything. (Malcolm doesn’t look reassured, but whatever.) Then I let Welby know I’m leaving – he doesn’t seem surprised – and join Baz out the front of the Weeping Tower.
He’s smoking. Again.
He seems to be doing that a lot now. It can’t be good for him, even if it really does look cool.
“Those things will kill you,” I tell him.
“They used to say that about you, too,” Baz says dryly. “And look at us now.”
I laugh at that. A bit. Even though I’m still kind of worried.
Baz stubs the cigarette out on the stones of the Tower. “Come on, Snow. Let’s find you something to eat before your blood sugar drops even further.”
“Is it distracting you?” I ask him as we set out across the courtyard. “Can you smell how hungry I am?”
“No,” Baz says. “And don’t talk to me about what I am.”
He still can’t say it, even though we’re alone. I let it go.
“Er. What’s that, then?”
“Easily annoyed,” Baz says, but he’s smiling. Like he appreciates me backing off.
It’s not until we’re crossing the skate park – half-way into town – that I realise Baz and I are going for a drink together. Alone. Although he agreed, so he can’t think it’s that weird.
Maybe it’s not anymore.
Look at us now, Baz said earlier and he’s right.
Things are different.
We’re not trying to kill each other. We’re not enemies. We’re not even roommates.
I don’t know what we are, now.
But it’s nice, whatever it is. It’s better, so I don’t question it. I don’t want to ruin it.
Snow returns from the bar, somehow balancing four shot glasses between two pints of pale ale. (It must be actual magic – his hands aren’t that big. And no one’s balance is that good.)
“If you’re expecting me to carry you home, you’ll be disappointed,” I tell him.
“What?” Snow says. “Oh. No, I’m not.”
I didn’t really think he did. We’re not that close.
Then he slides all four of the shots – and one of the pints – towards me.
“These are all for you.”
I raise my eyebrow – and think about asking him if he wants to carry me home.
I don’t. I don’t want to ruin this. I can still barely believe I’m here. That Snow asked me to go for a drink with him and now we’re on some sort of weird straight-man friend date together. (Well, one of us is straight; the other one is trying hard not to read too much into this or obviously check out Snow’s biceps now he’s back in a t-shirt.) (Hopeless.)
“I don’t recall asking for them.”
“No, but I’ve been reading about your lot,” Snow explains as he sips his beer. “If we just drink the same stuff, I’ll be off my face by the time you’re starting to get slightly merry. That’d be embarrassing, so drink up.”
He’s being oddly careful about using the word vampire now we’re in public, even though the pub is noisy and no one can hear him. I probably shouldn’t be pleased by that. (It’s just common sense.) Or touched that he’s been reading up about vampires. (He’s just doing his job.)
He just asked me to drink with him because I was there. I know that. It doesn’t mean I can’t still make the most of it.
I try and sound as haughty as possible when I reply, because I think it’ll make him laugh.
“I’m never merry.”
Snow grins and I think, Close enough.
“Maybe not yet.”
He takes another swig from his own drink. I try not to watch the way his throat works.
Snow has no similar compunction about staring. Probably because he has no reason to fear what I think of him. (Or he doesn’t think he does.) He’s watching me closely, waiting to see if I’m going to play along.
I probably shouldn’t. Getting drunk with Simon Snow is only going to lead to me embarrassing myself horribly. I don’t even like being drunk. When I come here with my students, I drink one pint before moving to soda and lime. And I hate drunk people.
But I’ve never seen Simon Snow drunk. I like him in every aspect I’ve ever seen him in. Why should drunk be any different?
I’d like to see him drunk. I like seeing him full stop, being allowed to look at him. (He’s just had a haircut and his curls are spilling over his forehead. And the arms I’m trying not to ogle are stretched out over the table towards me, as though Snow is inviting me to fall forward and lick every one of the moles on view. Or possibly just sink my teeth into his muscles.)
I don’t know that I’ll ever get a chance to do this again – to see this again – if I turn it down now.
So, of course, I’m not going to turn it down.
“I’m not drinking all of these,” I tell him, deciding on what feels like a safe middle ground. “You have to take at least one.”
“Deal,” Snow says. He takes one of the shots, which means I have to take one too, and clinks it against mine. “Happy Easter.”
He raises the glass to his lips, then knocks it back once he sees that I’m drinking too. Whatever it is he’s bought me (tequila?) burns the back of my throat. I drink the next two as quickly as I can and chase it with the Camden Pale.
“Disgusting,” I tell him.
“I’m sure you’ve had worse things in your mouth.”
I’m not sure if that’s a gay joke – does Snow even know I’m gay? – or a vampire joke.
It’s incredibly rude, whichever it is. I’d be offended if Snow’s eyes weren’t twinkling. And if the tequila wasn’t already doing its dirty work on my inhibitions.
“You’re quite right, Snow,” I tell him – and he chokes on his beer.
We finish our pints while Snow tells me about his Easter holidays – which mostly seems to involve playing video games – and I tell him about going back home.
“My sisters spent most of the time avoiding me, since they see enough of me at school, apparently.”
“And you’re all right with that?”
I nod. “Definitely.”
I do like my siblings, but my life is so noisy at the moment. So many children everywhere. So many demands on my attention all the time. It’s a relief to go home, avoid my father’s questions about when I’ll bring someone – preferably a woman – home with me, and sit in silence with Daphne while we both drink tea and read different books.
“Is it weird to teach your siblings?” Snow asks.
“Not as weird as teaching you.”
I expected him to laugh. Instead, he looks uncomfortable.
“Right. I can see how that would put it in perspective.”
“Not that you’re a bad student,” I say, hastily.
“Sorry. Do you mind if we don’t talk about school?” Snow says, still grimacing. “It’s just a bit weird for me. I don’t want to think of you as my teacher right now.”
My heart flutters painfully. (What do you want to think of me as, Simon?) But it’s easy enough to agree.
Snow doesn’t want to think of me as his teacher – well, I don’t want to think of him as my student, either. (Not unless we count the inappropriate fantasies brought on by the school uniform, but he’s not even wearing it right now.) Aside from a few sadistic moments, I never wanted to have that sort of power over him.
And I don’t want him to be uncomfortable. If he’s uncomfortable, he might leave.
Snow gestures towards my now empty glass with a freckled hand. “Another?”
Fortunately, by the time he’s back from the bar – laden with yet another set of shots – the awkwardness seems to be gone. Just to be sure, though, I ask after Penelope Bunce while I drink my shots without complaining.
It’s a good choice.
Snow has a hundred things to say about Penelope, many of them surprisingly interesting. I’ve seen her since we graduated, of course. Even spoken to her. Occasionally her mother will drop hints at her life. But there are things I didn’t know.
Spells she’s invented. Her views on Snow’s career. (“She’s happy for me,” he says. “Even though she’d never do it herself.”) Funny stories about failed home repairs and bad cooking.
I’m also surprised – and pleased – to find out she has a Normal boyfriend. (Not that it affects my prospects with Snow at all, but they have been living together for years. I had wondered.)
“What about you?” I ask him, since the tequila has definitely gone to my brain.
“Do I have a boyfriend?” Snow asks cheekily. “Not at the moment.”
I feel myself flushing. “You know I didn’t mean that.”
“What did you mean then?”
“I meant, do you have a girlfriend? Obviously.”
“I don’t have a girlfriend,” Snow says. “Or a boyfriend. Which is shit, but there it is.”
What the actual fuck?
Is this a joke to him? It doesn’t sound like he’s joking. It sounds like he’s correcting my heteronormative assumptions. (I didn’t know I had any, honestly. But apparently I might have done when it comes to Snow. Which means … Fuck, I don’t know what it means.)
“Would you actually want a boyfriend?” I say before I can stop myself. To be sure.
Snow laughs. I want to bite him. (More than usual.)
“Are you offering?”
“No,” I say – which is officially the biggest lie I’ve ever told. (Although I suppose I’m not offering. Not unless he wants me to.) “I’m making conversation.”
“I wouldn’t mind,” Snow says, completely unaware that he’s turning my whole world upside down. “I just didn’t really like any of the ones I’ve been out with.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” I say. (Not quite as big of a lie, this time, but not far off.) (I’m delighted – or about to throw up – but definitely not sorry.) “Not that you’re gay – if you are gay. I’m fine with that. I’m just sorry it didn’t work out. With your ex-boyfriends.”
I want to disappear into my seat. I want to set this place on fire so that everyone will be distracted and forget what I’ve just said. I definitely want to stop myself talking, but I can’t seem to do that. The words just keep coming out of my mouth, obviously incriminating me – or at least, it’s obvious to me – but Snow seems not to notice me digging this pit for myself, so perhaps this is just what drunk people normally sound like.
“Cheers,” he says. “Although it was really only the one boyfriend.”
Or possibly worrying.
(I’m not panicking just yet, though. Snow definitely said he wouldn’t mind another boyfriend. He’s gay enough to consider it. Me. Possibly.)
“I notice you’re not asking about me,” I say because I just can’t seem to stop. (Fucking tequila.) And because I want to tell him I’m gay, too, but without it looking like a come on.
Even though it would absolutely be a come on.
Snow just laughs. “I’ve seen your room, mate. I know you live alone.”
I think that means he’s not interested.
This is Snow letting me down gently. I should go with dignity.
Or as much of it as I can muster, anyway.
“You’re just jealous you didn’t think of moving in before I did,” I say.
“Fucking right,” Snow says. “I love that room. Although my flat with Penny is pretty good too.”
He shows me pictures of it on his phone. (It does seem nice. Clean, modern. Tidier than I’d expect from the Simon Snow I went to school with.) (“I left my stuff everywhere mostly to annoy you,” Snow says when I question it.) I get another round of drinks.
We talk about football – until I find out Snow supports Manchester United – and about how terrible the town centre is now all the good restaurants are closed. Then, we end up talking about Bunce again, and her baffling decision to move into Normal politics.
“She thinks the Normals affect our lives more than we’re willing to admit,” Snow explains. “She says if Brexit wasn’t enough of an alarm bell, then the pandemic certainly should have been. I guess I can see her point.”
“You’re not thinking of leaving the Coven yourself?”
“Good,” I say. He looks surprised – and I just …. keep talking. “I mean, Bunce probably isn’t wrong. But there’s lots more to do here, as well. For the World of Mages.”
Snow smiles. He rests his head against one of his hands and regards me thoughtfully from this new angle. “You really do think I’m doing a good job.”
I roll my eyes.
He’s making it legal for me to exist, to have a job, to continue to do magic. He’s the best thing to ever happen to me – even without … everything else that makes him the best thing that’s ever happened to me. And the worst.
“You’re all right,” I tell him.
“Have you ever thought about joining the Coven?”
I shake my head.
“Why not?” Snow says.
“Well, you work there for a start,” I say – which is a joke, but also the truth. I didn’t want to force him out. Or bring myself painfully back into contact with him when I’ve never managed to get over how I feel. “And I like teaching.”
“You could do both,” Snow says. “You can work part-time. Most people do.”
“Do you want me to join the Coven?”
He shrugs. “You said yourself, there’s a lot to fix. And your ideas aren’t all terrible.”
“You’ve just failed my class,” I tell him and he laughs. “I’m serious, Snow. You’ve ruined any chance of passing and now you’ll never be Mage.”
“Sorry. I meant, your ideas are brilliant.”
“You’re a lying bastard.”
“You’re a genius, Baz. You’re so clever.”
“I said it’s too late.”
“Fuck. What about if I bought you another drink?”
I pretend to relent and he disappears off to the bar again.
Somehow, we spend nearly five hours together; talking and drinking. (I usually manage about one hour with most of the men I go out with. Just enough conversation to get us through dinner, so I can justify going home with them without feeling too cheap.) Every time I go out for a cigarette break, I think I’ll come back and find Snow gone. But he’s always there, waiting for me; his golden skin flushing more warmly with every drink.
And there are always more drinks – and more things to talk about.
By the time Snow looks at his phone and discovers how late it is, I’ve consumed magic knows how many shots, and my self-preservation instincts are at an all-time low.
“You should come back to mine,” I tell him.
Snow has been trying to bring up the Trainline app on his phone. (Unsuccessfully. Honestly, very embarrassing.) Now he blinks up at me.
I’m still myself enough to think: This is why I shouldn’t drink. I get desperate.
But there’s another part of my brain active too, and that part is thinking: This could work. I should go for it.
Why shouldn’t I?
It’s completely logical for Snow to stay with me. And it’s the Easter holiday and Snow and I already agreed we wouldn’t think of each other as teacher and student tonight. That means this is a perfectly respectable offer from one adult ex-roommate to another.
So what if Simon doesn’t know I’m gay and in love with him? He didn’t know that before and we lived together for seven years quite happily. (Well, not happily. But not because of that.)
“The trains will be slow,” I tell him “If there are any. It’ll take hours to get home. And you’re drunk. You might fall onto the track.”
“Well, you might.”
“I’ll get an Uber.”
“Snow, I live half an hour away. I have a spare bed. And it’s not like we haven’t shared a room before.”
“All right,” Snow says, yawning. “Stop using your teacher voice.”
I didn’t know I was using my teacher voice – how drunk am I? – but I need him to say yes. He’s still focusing on his phone.
“You could die,” I say.
“I said yes,” Snow huffs. “I’m just not walking back up the hill – I’m calling us an Uber.”
“Oh,” I say. “Right. Good idea.”
It occurs to me – as Simon steers me into the back of a Toyota Prius ten minutes later – that perhaps that is the biggest lie I’ve ever come up with.
This isn't a good idea. I’m just letting myself in for more pain later.
But right now, that doesn’t matter.
Right now, the only thing that matters is that Simon’s here. He’s coming home with me. After what was somehow the best date I’ve ever been on without actually being a date. We haven’t kissed – I can’t kiss him. That would be wrong, and he probably doesn’t want to. But he’s letting me rest my head against his shoulder because I can’t keep it up any longer.
“Your blood smells like brown butter,” I tell Simon, because it does. I’ve got my nose buried in his jacket. I can hardly avoid smelling it. I’m sure he understands.
He laughs. “You’re so drunk.”
I am. But that doesn’t matter either.
Nothing does, except that he isn’t pushing me away.
Baz keeps shushing me as we try and climb the steps to the tower.
“Children are trying to sleep, Snow,” he says as I turn a corner too fast and collide with what used to be Gareth and Rhys’s door.
It’s a bit rich if you ask me, since he’s making just as much noise as I am. (The sexy teacher voice is very carrying.) Particularly when he slips off the stair and almost falls on his face.
I catch him by the elbow. “Oi. Careful.”
“I’m fine,” Baz says.
“Be quiet,” Baz says, very loudly.
I start giggling, which sets Baz off too – until he realises that he’s being irresponsible and shushes me again.
“Sorry,” I say to the door as contritely as I can. “Sorry– No, wait. Baz, it’s the holidays. No one’s here.”
“Fuck,” Baz says, crumpling almost to the floor. “I’m so drunk.”
I catch him again. “It’s all right. Only one more floor to go.”
“Thank Crowley you remember where it is.”
I practically have to drag him up the rest of the stairs – fortunately not that many – and he leans his weight on me the entire time. I don’t mind though, he’s not that heavy. I just wish he didn’t smell like smoke. I liked the cedar and bergamot better.
Once we get to the door, I help him swing his hand towards the handle. Then I have a better idea.
“Baz. Can I re-introduce myself to the room?”
I’m expecting him to refuse, even pissed. It’s all right if he does. This is his room after all. But I don’t even have to break out the puppy-dog eyes, or remind him about how I recently saved his career. He just agrees, moving away from the door to give me space.
“Make it quick, Snow. I need to wash pub off myself.”
I’m grinning as I pull out the Sword of Mages. I barely notice Baz sinking to the floor as I slice my thumb open and press it against the stone of the doorway. But I do hear him whimper.
“What?” I ask him.
I thought he liked the smell of my blood. He told me he did – I was even thinking about offering it to him. (Unless that would be weird? I can’t really tell anymore.) But he’s got his hands over his face.
“I thought you were going to use the spell,” Baz groans, voice slurring like he's talking around his fangs. They must have dropped.
“Never learnt it.” I tuck the sword away and get out my wand. “But I know this one at least – Get well soon.”
Sometimes your magic doesn’t work when you’re drunk. This time it does, though, thank Morgana. The tiny cut on my thumb heals. I stick it into my mouth to get rid of the remaining blood and offer Baz my other hand. He takes it and lets me haul him to his feet.
I open my mouth to say sorry. But I’m still quite drunk, so what I actually say is:
“Let me see your fangs.”
I know I’m drunk, but I feel like this is important. I really want to see his fangs.
Baz shakes his head vigorously and pushes me away.
“Spoilsport,” I tell him and he shoves me again. But he’s smiling – not opening his mouth – and he does still let me follow him into the room. Which is good because I don’t have any way of getting home now; the trains have stopped running.
And it’s good, because it’s good. It’s so good to be here.
Our room. (And it is ours again. For tonight, at least.)
It feels different from the last time I was here. That’s probably the magic. Or the alcohol.
It feels like I belong. Like I’ve come home.
Baz and I pull the beds apart – he makes me put clean sheets on both of them while he deals with the blankets – and then I just throw myself down onto mine. My bed. It feels the same as I remember. Just as soft, except for the feathers. Just as welcoming. It even smells the same. Mostly the same. (The pillow smells more of him, than of anything.) Baz must use the school’s fabric softener. I groan happily as I breathe it in.
Then I think about how weird I probably look – and sound – and sit up. Just in time to get a pair of pyjamas in the face.
“You did that on purpose,” I say accusingly.
Baz smirks. Or tries to – I think he’s a bit too drunk to pull it off.
Or maybe just too happy. (I’ve never seen him happy until tonight.)
“I’m going to shower,” he tells me. His fangs must be gone because he sounds normal. He’s still swaying a bit, though. “So, you can change. Or have your traditional first-day back cry in peace.”
“Piss off,” I say and he disappears into the bathroom, laughing.
I don’t wear pyjamas at home – I just sleep naked – but since Baz has given them to me, I do put them on. Out of respect. Then I turn the light off and get into bed before texting Penny.
Guess where I am
Hopefully not: dead on the side of the road, she writes back.
Mummers h. Baz letting me stay
That gets her attention. The phone rings immediately.
I don’t answer it, though, as Baz has just come out of the bathroom in a cloud of familiar-smelling steam. (He used to only shower in the mornings, but I guess he can do what he likes now.) He’s in his pyjamas too. Nice pyjamas. He could probably wear them to class and everyone would just think he was being handsomely eccentric. (Same as usual, basically.)
I’m guessing he probably wants to sleep, not listen to me talking to Penny.
I’m fine, I text back. Just drunk.call you tomorrow
I put my phone down, even though I know she must have lots of questions. My eyes haven’t adjusted to the dark yet, but I hear Baz get into bed, even if I can’t see it. I remember these sounds. The rustle of the sheets as he moves. The soft huff of his breath.
I’ve missed this too, I realise. Not just the bed.
These sounds are what makes it feel like home here.
It doesn’t make sense. Most of the time I lived here with Baz we hated each other – and I always slept better before he got back. Until I didn’t. That time he was missing at the start of eighth year, I could barely sleep at all. Too many ghosts. Too much silence. It was a relief when he came back from wherever he was.
I wonder how Baz slept when I didn’t come back.
Better, probably. He always wanted to be rid of me.
At least, I thought he did.
Maybe he didn’t. I thought I always wanted to be rid of him, but I didn’t. And then I did – but only because I was so angry that he cast me aside. Even now, all these years later, I still don’t know why he didn’t get in touch. He’s never told me. I still don’t even know where he was at the start of eighth year.
Everything is different now.
I’ve got a job. Baz is a teacher. We went to the pub together, we had a good time, we talked – about lots of things.
But some things are still the same.
I’m still back here, lying two metres away from him, and I still have no idea what’s going on in his head.
“Why didn’t you try and contact me after that Christmas?” I ask him, softly enough that he can ignore me if he wants to.
I hear Baz shift on his bed, probably towards me. I still can’t see him.
“The Christmas I defeated the Humdrum,” I say. “I didn’t come back and you just – didn’t speak to me again. Didn’t you care if I was all right?”
“Yes,” Baz says quietly.
“You didn’t write to me. Or call. Or come over.”
“I thought you wouldn’t want me to,” Baz says. “We had that argument. About Wellbelove. You said—”
“I know,” I say sharply. Because I do.
I remember every conversation I ever had with Baz. Every argument. I know I said I didn’t want to see him again.
“You should have tried to see me anyway,” I tell him. “I wanted you to.”
“… I’m sorry,” Baz says – and the way he says it makes me wish I could see his face. He sounds sorry, not just embarrassed. He sounds so gentle. Like sleep and alcohol and time have worn away all his edges. “I would have called you if I’d known it was important.”
That’s enough, apparently.
It’s just like the last time he said sorry to me, out on the pitch. I’ve been angry with him for so long. I’ve spent most of my life being angry at him – but all I wanted was to know he regretted what he did, even a bit. Now I know he does, that he’s been carrying this around as long as I have, I feel almost embarrassed for bringing it up. Wrong. Like I don’t want to hurt him with his mistakes, just because those mistakes hurt me.
“Yeah, well. I could’ve told you.”
I yawn – to let him know he doesn’t have to answer anymore – and turn over. Then I turn back.
“Where were you? At the start of eighth year.”
I’m not sure I should still be pushing him. He’s still drunk, after all. But it feels like this might be my only chance, ever. To get some sort of answers. And Baz doesn’t have to tell me.
But he does, although it sounds like it hurts him to admit it.
“I was kidnapped. By numpties.”
“Don’t laugh,” he says as I start laughing. “It was very traumatic at the time.” But I think he’s smiling again too. My eyes are used to the dark now and I can almost see it. And I can hear it in his voice as he tells me:
“Go to sleep, Snow.”
Chapter 6: Hair of the dog
I wake up with what can only be described as a terrible hangover. Is this what it’s like being human? If so, perhaps I don’t miss it after all. I’ve been wrong about vampirism all along. It’s a blessing – and Simon Snow is a curse.
Everything aches. Mostly my head.
Bits and pieces of the previous night come back to me as I drag myself out of bed, trying not to look at Snow who is still mercifully unconscious and sprawled across his bed. (For all he’s the worst man in the world, he’s still unfairly beautiful.)
I remember insisting Snow come home with me.
I don’t really remember how we got here, although I definitely remember the sword and the blood. My fangs filling my mouth. Snow asking to see them with his hand still in mine. The pornographic groan as he hit the bed.
He told me he liked men.
Then me standing under the shower until such time as I sobered up enough to stop thinking about it.
That was only a few hours ago – my hair’s still damp – but I head back to the bathroom anyway, back into the shower. It wakes me up enough that I remember Snow’s voice in the darkness:
“You should have tried to see me anyway. I wanted you to.”
What in magic does that mean?
I handled it well, I think. I didn’t grab him and shake him. I didn’t demand he explain himself, even though I wanted to. I didn’t throw myself at him. I didn’t tell him that I was trying to exercise some self-respect and let him move on with his life without me. Not in so many words.
Could I have spent the last seven years pining after Simon Snow as his friend, rather than from a distance?
Would it have made a difference?
If I’d been there? If I hadn’t hurt him?
Maybe we’d have been enemies again by now. I’d have pushed him away – or told him the truth. (But he also told me he’s dated a man before. That might have been me. It could have been me. It might still… )
It’s not really a good idea to think about this. Not when Snow’s still asleep in the other room. When I can still smell his blood through the bathroom wall. Unfortunately, the massive quantity of alcohol he encouraged me to drink last night has made me both thirsty and thirsty.
I’m too tired to put proper clothes on, even though Simon is here. He’s seen me look worse. I pull on jeans and a loose, plain shirt – frankly, even the idea of patterns hurts my eyes right now – and return to the bedroom. It’s still dark, because I didn’t open the curtains.
Snow’s awake, though. He looks unhappy about it. Good.
“Hey,” he rasps.
I’m not sure what to do with him this morning. How to act. Whether Snow is going to stagger out to his car and drive away, or whether we’re going to talk about what happened last night. (And what didn’t.)
I pull the curtains and Snow recoils.
“Baz,” he groans.
“You deserve it.”
That almost makes me feel better.
“I need to … drink,” I tell him, because he’s got the collar of his pyjama shirt – my pyjama shirt – very open. I need to stop thinking about sinking my teeth into his exposed throat.
“Me too,” Snow says. I raise my eyebrow and he flushes. Invitingly. “Not like that.”
“There’s water in the fridge.”
A vast improvement over the time he and I spent living here as teenagers when I’d have to spell tap water cold and it still tasted like metal.
He nods. “Thanks.”
For a moment, I think I see his eyes flick down from my face and linger on my thighs before I convince myself that I’m imagining it. (He does like men, though. And these jeans are tighter than the trousers I wear for work.) (Fucking Snow. I’ve known him for more than a decade, he knows almost everything about me – and, somehow, last night he managed to give me a new reason to be paranoid around him.)
I think about asking him whether he’ll be here when I get back. It’s on the tip of my tongue, but I’m hungover now, not drunk, so that’s where it stays. I open the wardrobe and climb through into the kitchen.
Once there, I manage to heat myself some blood without setting myself on fire and drink it. Then I walk back to our room across the school grounds to give Snow time to leave, if he’s going to, and to clear my head. I think about smoking, but I don’t have anything on me. And anyway, Snow made it clear last night that he finds it both unattractive and dangerous and I’ve been thinking about quitting anyway. (That’s a lie – I haven’t thought about it at all. I am now, though.) I’m fairly sure I can do it. If I try. I’m used to denying my body the things it desperately wants. I might as well add something else to the list.
When I get to my own door, I knock and then – after a moment – let myself in. If Snow is naked, and still here, and he hasn’t covered himself up by now it’s not my fault. (I warned him.)
He’s still there. He isn’t naked. Unfortunately. He’s back in his own clothes. The pyjamas I gave him are already in the laundry, which is probably for the best.
He’s sitting on his bed, his phone in his hand. I’m rather surprised it’s still working. Perhaps Bunce has worked out a charging spell.
“Better?” he asks.
I do feel better. A bit. (I feel better knowing he didn’t escape the moment I was gone.) But I also still feel terrible.
I shake my head. It hurts.
“Are you a good enough magician to spell my headache away?”
“Yeah,” he says eagerly. He scrambles to his feet. “You really trust me to spell you?”
“Desperate times, Snow.”
“All right. Where’s your alcohol then?”
I blink at him. “What?”
“Your fridge is just full of water,” Snow says. “And chocolate – thanks by the way – but I need booze to make the hangover spell work.”
I frown – I didn’t tell him he could eat the chocolate – as I try and work out what the hell he’s on about. Since I don’t get drunk, any hangover spells I once knew have been pushed aside in my memory to make way for spells I might actually use in my actual life.
That seems a mistake now.
He’s probably talking about Hair of the dog. I think that might require alcohol to work. Thematically. If it does, then I’m fucked. I don’t have alcohol.
“Forget it,” I decide, flopping back down on my childhood bed. “I’ll just die here.”
“No,” Simon says. “Come on, get up. We have to get breakfast anyway.”
He tugs me up by my hand, like he did yesterday. Except this time, we’re both sober and I know I’ll remember this moment clearly. Probably forever.
Snow’s hand in mine is incredibly warm. When he pulls me into him, I smell the scent of my own hair products mixing with the buttery scent of Simon’s flesh. I’m full of blood, so it’s not difficult not to bite him; but it makes me ache, anyway. For a universe where he stays over and uses my things. Where he’d stay, not just for the night.
He might stay if I kissed him. (Or he might just leave faster.)
I don’t kiss him.
“I despise breakfast,” I grumble as I follow him down the tower steps. “I refuse to eat it.”
Snow doesn’t mind, though.
I think he might even prefer it. He orders for both of us, and then eats everything he ordered. I sip my Bloody Mary (Snow ordered it for me) (because he thinks he’s funny) and I try not to smile at him too often (because he isn’t). I spend half the meal fixated on the idea of smoking and how I can’t; and the other half fixated on the way Snow’s mouth moves. His table manners are still disgraceful. I enjoy myself anyway.
Like last night, I can’t help but feel this is a date. Between two men who aren’t straight.
I almost ask him: Is this what I think it is?
Or could it be?
Do you even think of me like that?
I always thought Snow was completely transparent. Completely truthful. I thought I’d know if he felt anything for me other than disgust. But apparently, he liked me enough to want me with him after he killed his mentor.
Did he like me as a friend, or more than that? (Why the fuck am I still thinking about this?)
I don’t ask.
Because I’m a coward.
Because even now, I still don’t believe I might be able to have something I’ve wanted to have for so long. And because in a week’s time school will start again and I’ll have to stand in front of Simon Snow’s class and attempt to teach them something. I don’t think I can do that if he knows I want to put my tongue in his mouth.
I walk him back to his car and wave him off. Then I go back to my room – which is our room again, now, thanks to my terrible decisions – and strip his bed before I can do anything foolish like fall into it. I just need to put it back where it was. Forget about this.
Niall would probably tell me that what I actually need to do is go out and get laid again. (By someone else.) Go on an actual date. It would be easy enough. So what if I don’t really like them?
I’d do it – if it didn’t feel like cheating on Simon.
(Who isn’t even my boyfriend. Who hasn’t even said he’s interested. Who probably isn’t.)
Instead, I drag myself back out to town to buy more nicotine patches.
The Easter holidays don’t really get any more interesting. My law passes, legalising vampirism, lycanthropy and all the rest. I don’t make a big deal of it. (Malcolm Grimm and Victor Crowe both send me congratulations emails. Baz doesn’t.)
I wait a few days before FaceTiming Baz. I don’t want to look desperate to see him. Or like I’m prompting him to be grateful to me. I’m not.
It’s just, he is the only other person I know who is my age and also on holiday, so. I’m sure he understands.
Baz answers from his laptop, which means I have a good view of his shoulders and the room behind. He’s still at Watford. And wearing a suit, again. And a tie. Merlin. I mean, it’s a nice one, the silver brings out his eyes, but it’s still a tie. In his own home. Baz is such a loser.
He starts complaining immediately – “Crowley, Snow, haven’t we had enough video calls this decade?” – but he looks like he’s pleased to see me. Or not not pleased, anyway.
“You didn’t have to answer.”
Baz scoffs. “I think you made it clear I did.”
“Well, anyway,” I say, although it’s nice to know he remembers, “I was wondering if you were doing anything tonight. And if you weren’t, whether you fancied doing something with me. I’ll come to Watford, I don’t mind.”
Baz looks awkward. “I’d love to, but—”
“Or not,” I say quickly. “I mean, it’s fine.”
“No. I would,” he says – and it feels like he wants to reassure me. “It’s just, I am doing something tonight. With someone else.”
“Right,” I say.
“I was just about to leave.”
“That’s why I’m dressed like this,” Baz explains, even though I get it. He’s got better things to do. “I don’t just sit around in a suit and tie for fun, you know.”
I should probably make a joke about how that’s exactly what I expect of him. But it feels like the joke would be that I’m stupid, so I don’t.
“How about tomorrow, then?” I say instead.
Baz nods. “What did you have in mind?”
I was thinking about persuading him to join the Coven. We talked about it in the pub, but we were both pissed, so I know he wasn’t taking it seriously. I had some good arguments lined up. How we need people like him ... Vampires, and wickedly smart people, committed to change. Plus, it’d be an excuse to keep seeing each other, which I think would be nice. But I already feel embarrassed for bothering him. And about the clothes. I don’t fancy another rejection right now.
So I just shrug.
“All right,” Baz says. He runs a hand through his hair. “Look, can I call you later to talk about it? It’s just I should probably go…”
Great, now I’m wasting more of his time.
“Yeah,” I say. “Have fun on your date.”
“It’s … not a date,” Baz says, which surprises me. (I just assumed… Baz looks nice. I figured he must be trying to impress someone.) “It’s Dev’s birthday.”
“You should know that - you’re friends on Facebook.”
How does Baz know who I’m friends with on Facebook? Are we friends on Facebook? Has Baz been stalking me? (Why does it make me happy to think that Baz might be stalking me?)
“Why aren’t I invited, then?” I say – although now I am joking.
Baz shakes his head. “I’m not sure. Probably because he doesn’t actually like you.”
“That’s harsh. I’m much less of an arsehole than he is.”
“I’ll be sure to mention that,” Baz says wryly. “Can I go now?”
“If you think Dev’s birthday is more important than me.”
He hangs up.
I don’t hold it against him. Instead, I send him a Facebook friend request.
Chapter 7: A big step, friendship-wise
I thought it might be weird once we got back to school. I know Baz did. He avoids eye-contact all the way through double Political Science on Monday, even though we’re literally talking about what the new policy – my new policy – on magical beings means for the World of Mages.
I don’t want it to be weird, though. I want to keep spending time with him. So, I hang back after class – letting Yasmin and Aarav and the others go ahead – and invite Baz to the cinema. The Tiger’s Apprentice.
I’ve been waiting to see it with Penny, but she’s too busy with work, so if Baz accepts it’ll work out really well. For me. Not really for Penny, although she’s had her chance.
Also, she finds me voluntarily hanging out with Baz much more interesting than me hating him. To the point where she doesn’t mind me talking about him so much now.
“It’s a plot twist I didn’t see coming, Simon,” she said to me over Easter. “I thought you might eventually learn to stand him, but this!”
“He’s not that bad.”
“That’s what I said. And he’s always had very good opinions about magic. You should bring him round some time.”
I haven’t done that, though. It feels like a pretty big step. Friendship-wise and literally, since I live miles away. (Would Baz even let me drive him? I don’t know if he trusts me that much. He did let me spell him, but it was an emergency.) It’d be less weird if Penny wanted to come to Watford to see Baz, but she hasn’t got time for that.
That’s fine, though. I like it when it’s just the two of us.
Going to the cinema is safe. It’s ten minutes away. We can take an Uber.
“I know it’s a kids’ film,” I say quickly, when Baz doesn’t immediately take me up on my generous offer of company. “But everyone says it’s really good.”
“It is good,” Baz says. “I saw it weeks ago.”
My surprise must show – I thought I’d have to talk him into it, I haven’t prepared for this – because he looks a bit embarrassed.
“I have four younger siblings. And the book is a bestseller. About magic. There’s probably lots of spells in it.” He crosses his arms. “What’s your excuse, Snow? Apart from the fact you are a child.”
“Funny,” I say, although it isn’t. I’m back in school uniform again and I think both of us find that awkward. “So, do you want to go again?”
“… Fine,” Baz says after a moment. “But I’m lending you something else to wear.”
I nod. “Works for me.”
It’s not like I wanted to spend the evening dressed like this.
We go back to our room. Baz grumbles about how he feels it pining for me, since I reintroduced myself. I think he’s just joking, though.
He tries to give me a jumper, but it’s too warm for that now. He doesn’t have any t-shirts. I end up in one of his shirts – one of the ones that isn’t covered with flowers – with the sleeves pushed up.
I can see Baz is uncomfortable with me creasing the material, but it’s that or look like a complete twat. Anyway, he can spell the creases out with magic later.
The film is good. Although Baz is a dick who keeps leaning over and telling me when all the best parts are about to happen, just before they do. At least he doesn’t want any popcorn.
The next week he stops me in the corridor and asks whether I’d mind talking to one of his classes. It’s the ones who have been studying me, he says, and they keep bothering him about bringing me to see them, since everyone knows we were roommates.
“That must be annoying,” I say, grinning.
“You have no idea.”
“Well, anyway, I’d like to do it.”
I nod and Baz smiles. Every time he does it, I realise how nervous he must have been at the start of the conversation. It’s like I see the tension leave him.
He has a nice smile. It softens his whole face. He should do it more often.
And he should definitely be less nervous. (What does Baz have to be nervous of? I’m not even Mage yet.)
“I’ve already told them they can’t ask you about the former headmaster, unless you bring it up first,” he tells me. Unexpectedly thoughtful. “Or what I was like at school.”
“What if I bring that up first?”
“Well, I can’t stop you,” Baz says.
He says it dangerously, though, which makes me think he definitely can.
That’s not why I don’t talk about him once I end up in front of his class a few days later, though. I don’t want to embarrass him. And the kids have lots of good questions. (They know a lot more about international trade agreements than I did when I was twelve, and I was supposed to be the Chosen One.) They do ask about the new laws about magical-beings. I want to say that I couldn’t have done it without Baz’s dad – without Baz – but I don’t because I think this lot are smart enough to smell out a story, there. I just say I had help and leave it at that.
Baz himself spends the whole time leaning against his desk, like he’s ready to interrupt, but he doesn’t. He doesn’t say anything. Just lets the class get on with the interrogation.
He’s clearly proud of them, even though he won’t admit it.
In fact, the more I see Baz teach, the more I see why the other eighth years like him so much. And why Mitali wouldn’t listen when I tried to tell her how Baz would ruin his students’ lives given half the chance.
The other teachers are all good – good enough, anyway – but Baz is just … When he talks, you can’t look away from him.
And he really cares. He takes everything personally. He wants everyone to do well, even me.
If Baz had been my teacher at school – last time I was at school, I mean – he wouldn’t have let me drift through my classes. Forget to do my homework. Leave without understanding what the fuck anyone was talking about for the previous hour.
That makes him difficult to be around, particularly if you don’t want to learn. But I do – now. I want to pass this year, so I can move on. I want to show Baz I’m not useless or stupid. And I know he wants that for me too.
I mean, he wants it for everyone.
“I think I liked you better when you hated Mr Pitch for no reason,” Yasmin tells me the day I get a higher mark than her on one of Baz’s essays.
We’re walking out of the Tower together at the end of another Monday. As we exit, I look up – out of habit – to see if Baz has taken advantage of the empty classroom to have a quick fag out the window, like he usually does. He’s not there, though. I think he’s trying to quit.
I didn’t like thinking about how easily he might set himself on fire if he was careless. And Baz isn’t stupid. He’ll have worked that one out for himself.
“It wasn’t for no reason,” I say. “And I don’t think you need to worry – he told me you’re his favourite.”
“Who is?” Brian asks, coming up alongside us with Lewis.
“Er. All of you,” I lie. (I mean, is it a lie if Baz was only joking anyway? I’m definitely his favourite. We go to the cinema together. We’re friends on Facebook.) “This group. I’m just his ex-roommate.”
“I wish I could believe it,” Yasmin says. “You know, it’s really unfair of you to show up half-way through the final year and end up top of the class, Simon.”
“Merlin,” I laugh. “I’m really not.”
“True, though,” Lewis says. “We’ve all been working hard for years. But we cannae compete with the next Mage.”
“Yeah, in Political Science,” I say. “You’ve seen me in Botany.”
Yasmin and Lewis, who have Botany with me, both grimace a bit.
(I’m all right at Botany – especially considering I’ve never studied it before. Much better than I was at Greek. I don’t want Baz to have been wrong about me, so I am trying. Also, I don’t want to fail. But honestly, I don’t remember half the uses of most plants and it shows every time we have a test. I’ve always been shit at reading books and memorising stuff I don’t really care about.) (I’m bad at History of Magic for the same reason. But at least some of what we cover this year has come up at work, so it’s less noticeable.)
“And I haven’t even started on my new spell,” I say without thinking.
The kids all stare at me.
“You’re kidding,” Yasmin says. She’s stopped walking. They all have.
“Simon, what the fuck?” Brian says.
“You know you have to at least have a credible theory or you won’t pass the year.”
I shrug. I guess I just thought that since Penelope has invented half a dozen spells since she graduated from Watford, I’d probably be able to come up with something at the last minute. I’m good at improvising, even if I’ve never actually improvised a spell. (Beyond the way I used to cast magic, anyway. And I don’t think that counts.)
“I’ve been busy,” I say defensively. And I have.
I’ve had work. And homework. And I’ve had to make time to see Baz. (Well, I didn’t have to do that, but I did if I didn’t want him to get bored with me and never talk to me again.) (Not that I think he would do that, not after he apologised for doing it before. But I don’t want to risk it.)
“Do you at least have an idea?” Yasmin says. “Like you’re thinking about using Shakespeare …?”
I’m not. I’m not sure there’s anything left in Shakespeare. Nothing that hasn’t been used, anyway. Even Penny’s never got any new phrases to work – she says we have to wait for another adaptation. Plus, I’m just not really a fan. I can’t see how words most people don’t understand can become spells.
“Or what about the movie you watched with Mr Pitch?” Brian says. “The tiger thing.”
That’s not a bad idea. Baz did say it would be full of spells, even though he couldn’t think of any himself.
I’m about to say I’ll think about it when I hear the shouting.
I’m instantly taken back to my first time at Watford. To the dragon and the flying monkeys. I’m drawing the Sword of Mages before I even think about how the Humdrum doesn’t exist anymore. It’s just instinct.
When I look around, though, there’s no monster.
Just a small group of kids a few feet away from us, yelling at each other. I think it’s a fight. I recognise the sounds. The feeling. Even though I was usually at the centre of this sort of thing, rather than on the outside.
I’m not sure whether I should put the sword away – it feels like overkill – or whether I should do anything at all. I’m not sure it’s my place.
But I don’t have to, because Baz is already running past me. He must have seen it from the window. He’s so fast.
“Throw your mistempered weapons to the ground,” he shouts.
Shakespeare again. Not a massively well-known phrase, but it works. I think this kind of spell is more powerful in Watford, since everyone here has been studying Romeo and Juliet since they were eleven. Even I drop my sword.
Baz wades into the scrum of students, presumably in search of the troublemakers. Everyone else backs away, not wanting to be caught up in the punishment.
He’s fuming. (Not literally, though.)
“Charlotte Williams, Kasdeya Craft. What have I already told you about fighting on the school grounds? And where I can see you.”
Huh, I think, as I sheath my sword.
Girls. That’s new.
“She started it, sir,” one of the girls says, panting.
The other girl’s nose is bleeding. Possibly broken. She sniffs pathetically.
“Sir, I didn’t!”
“She’s a dark creature! She’s provoking me!”
I’m close enough that I see it happen. Baz bares his fangs.
Quite a few people shriek, even though it’s fine. (He still looks good.)
My heart’s pounding, though. Even though I’m not scared at all, not of Baz. I think I might be scared for him.
Even though nothing can happen to him. I made sure of it.
Even though Baz can take care of himself.
He’s got everything under control.
“Is there anything wrong with being a dark creature, Miss Craft?” he asks calmly. He raises his voice over the sound of everyone whispering about him. “Perhaps Mr Snow can tell you.”
I wasn’t expecting to be drawn into this.
I’m still shaken by Baz outing himself in front of everyone to prove a point. (And in the most dramatic way possible – sometimes I think he hasn’t changed at all.) I think he wants someone else to be a voice of reason, though. And I’m the only other adult here, so he hasn’t got many options.
“There’s no such thing as dark creatures,” I say, trying to make myself sound calm about this. Only Baz will be able to hear how fast my heart is still going. “We got rid of the classification. Because it was basically just racist.”
“There, you see,” Baz sneers. “Words of wisdom from our future Mage. You both have detention.”
That seems fair. More than fair, really. When Baz and I were caught fighting in fourth year Miss Possibelf spelled us both mute and invisible for a week.
I wonder if Baz remembers that.
(I mean, he’s probably got other things to think about right now. But generally.)
Baz sighs. “Miss Williams, come with me. Let’s see if we can stop your nose setting like mine.”
A few kids laugh, but like they’re not sure they’re allowed to.
I can see some of Charlotte’s friends trying to tell her not to go with Baz, like they think he’s going to suck her blood or something. (He wouldn’t.) But I guess she must not want to get in any more trouble – or she’s worried about her nose – because she shakes her head and goes after him.
I want to go, too. I need to make sure he’s all right, if he regrets his decision. But everyone else around me has come back to life and they all want to talk to me about how Baz is a vampire.
“Did you know?” Lewis keeps asking me. “You must’ve known!”
“This is why I’ve always felt so close to him,” Brian says excitedly. “I knew we had a connection.”
I’m sure it’s hard being half-banshee, but I almost tell Brian what a load of shit this is. He doesn’t have a connection with Baz – Baz is just his teacher.
“You don’t have a connection,” Yasmin says. “You just fancy him.”
That doesn’t make me feel any better, even though it’s exactly what I was thinking.
“I can have a connection with him and fancy him,” Brian says.
“I have to go,” I say.
No one asks me why I’m walking back into the Weeping Tower, rather than back to my car. They must know I mean I have to check on Baz. That’s fine, though. That’s what a friend would do. And we’re friends.
Baz’s classroom is three floors up.
By the time I get there, Baz has already spelled the girl’s nose back into shape. He’s kneeling in front of her. (He seems all right, though – that’s good.) She’s sitting, checking her nose in a compact mirror.
(I wonder if she’s thinking about how vampires aren’t supposed to show up in mirrors. And how Baz gets his hair to look that good if he can’t see it.) (Obviously he can see himself in mirrors, but she doesn’t know that for sure.)
I don’t want to interrupt. I just wait outside the doorway. Baz doesn’t look up, or even twitch. He must not be able to smell me right now.
“Is it back the way it was?” he asks the girl.
She shrugs and shuts the compact. “Does it matter? I’ll always know Kasdeya disfigured me.”
Baz looks like he wants to roll his eyes. He’s a good enough teacher not to do it, though.
“Did you provoke her?” he asks.
“No. I just existed near her.”
“Hm. Are you sure you aren’t … trying to steal her boyfriend, perhaps?” Baz suggests.
The girl – Charlotte – looks annoyed. “She told you?”
Baz shakes his head. “I can feel your power, even if I don’t have to act on it. I know you use it in class.”
“Oh, snakes. Fuck. I’m sorry, sir.”
She does look it. Deeply embarrassed.
Baz doesn’t seem to mind. His voice is oddly gentle.
“You do know he’s an idiot?”
“Yeah, I know,” the girl says – but not defensively. Like she agrees.
Baz laughs quietly. “Ah. Well then, I should tell you that it’s not a good idea to try and take someone’s boyfriend just to get their attention. Not if you like your face the way it is.”
“I guess,” the girl grumbles.
Baz shakes his head. “I’m glad you’ve learned your lesson,” he says wryly. “Please don’t let me see you fighting again. Again.”
I choose this moment to knock. Announce my presence.
Both Baz and the girl look up. The girl, awkward; Baz breaking into a smile when he sees me. His lovely grey eyes are bright.
“Are you all right?” I ask. (Him. I feel bad about Charlotte but I don’t really know her. I kind of want her to leave.)
Baz nods. “I’m fine, Snow.” He jerks his head towards the door and the girl takes the hint, snatching up her stuff and heading past me.
“Thanks for the first aid, sir,” she shouts.
“You’re welcome,” Baz says. He raises his voice. “Your detention’s on Wednesday.”
“I think she’s already gone,” I say.
Now, finally, Baz does roll his eyes. Like he’s been saving it.
He pushes himself to his feet as I join him inside the room. “I’ll send them both birds later.”
“What was that all about?” I say, even though I guess I have some idea.
Baz leans back against his desk. So cool, like he does this sort of thing all the time.
“Miss Williams is a succubus,” he explains. “The other girl is from the Old Families. Natural enemies. Or at least, I thought so. Now I think they might have a thing for each other.”
That seems like a bit of a leap to me, but I guess Baz knows his students better than I do.
And anyway, I don’t care about them. Not right now, anyway. My brain is too full of Baz.
“You were amazing out there,” I tell him. Because he was. He was so strong and confident.
And then, afterwards – in here. It’s like he knew exactly what to say to that girl.
Now he looks embarrassed, but pleased too. I take another step towards him, even though we could talk comfortably from here. I just want to be closer. Like, I’ve got a secret to tell him, or something, that I don’t want anyone else to hear. (Maybe I do. I just have to work out what it is, first; but I feel like I’m closer to getting it the closer I get to Baz.)
“Everyone’s completely in love with you now,” I tell him.
Baz laughs awkwardly. He pushes his hair behind his ear.
“Crowley. All I did was come out as a vampire.”
“You’re wrong,” I say – and then I kiss him.
Because I’ve realised, I don’t mean everyone. I mean me.
I’m the one completely in love with Baz. (That’s the secret. The one I was keeping even from myself.)
I think I always have been. It’s why I was so angry when he didn’t call – I couldn’t stand the idea that I didn’t matter to him, at all. But I know I do, now. I know it.
And fuck, I’m in love with him.
I’m in love with his strength and his bravery. His passion for his work. How much he cares. How much of a dick he is, but only when it doesn’t matter.
And Merlin, he’s beautiful – he makes that driving instructor look like a were-badger – and the sounds he’s making into my mouth …
I’m obsessed with them. With him.
I must have imagined kissing Baz a hundred times without realising it. I have to tilt my chin up to kiss him and it feels right. I’ve got my hands in the thick, soft waves of his hair, and I know I’ve wanted to do this for years. He doesn’t even smell like smoke anymore. He smells like cedar and bergamot. Like Baz. Like home.
I’ve dreamt of this. His cold lips opening under mine. His hard body pressed against me, his hands in my hair. I’m bending him back, over the desk, and he’s letting me. I think I’ve fantasised specifically about this in class. Snogging Baz on his desk, maybe shagging him on it.
I have one brief moment where I think we’ve finally – finally – worked everything out.
Then, he pushes me away.
Chapter 8: A normal day
It seems strange now that I thought today would be a normal day. Admittedly a day where I get to spend the final two periods trying not to flirt with Snow, but just another Monday.
And it was, until about ten minutes ago.
Now the whole school knows I’m a vampire, and I know what the inside of Simon Snow’s mouth tastes like. (Cook Pritchard’s steak and ale pie, I think. And Simon. A combination that shouldn’t be as arousing as it is.)
He took me by surprise. Well, of course he did. After our string of chaste non-dates, I’d resigned myself to being his friend.
No, not resigned. I was happy to be his friend. I thought that’s what he wanted, and I want what Snow wants.
I didn’t think he wanted me.
That’s why I let him kiss me so long. Because I was surprised. (And because I’ve wanted him to kiss me for years and he’s very good at kissing.) I knew it was a bad idea.
Snow looks crushed when I push him away. Crushed, and a little bit mussed from where I couldn’t help myself from mauling his curls. I want to tidy them for him – and then maul them again.
“Sorry.” He’s stepping back, walking away from me. “I didn’t— I mean, I shouldn’t have—”
“It’s all right, Snow,” I say to call him back.
He shakes his head. “It isn’t. I’m sorry. Fuck. I’ve fucked it all up.” He looks lost, unmoored. “I just – I really wanted to kiss you.”
My knees feel unsteady. I lean back against the desk again. I’ve had dreams like this. (Is this a dream? It better fucking not be.)
“Right,” I say. Inadequately.
It occurs to me that in more than ten years of fantasising about Snow kissing me, I never once imagined what I’d actually say to him if he ever did it.
I suppose, I never thought it would really happen. Or I thought that, if it did happen, I’d be too busy trying to get into his trousers to worry about my dialogue. Unfortunately, that’s completely impossible right now.
Which means that now I’m standing here, hearing him apologising for wanting me the way I want him, and I have no idea what to say.
Snow is still fretting, tugging at his lovely hair.
“I should’ve at least asked if you were gay first.”
“I am gay,” I say, because now I’ve had his tongue in my mouth it seems a bit pointless not to admit it. “Completely gay. Very gay.”
“Oh.” Snow frowns – like he’s actually surprised. (That answers one question at least.) “But you don’t like me that way. I get it.”
That startles a laugh out of me. “Crowley, you’re an idiot.”
He frowns harder. “All right, I said I’m sorry.”
I wish I could kiss him to show him how wrong he is.
Words are so inadequate for how I feel about him.
“You don’t need to be sorry,” I say. “You really, really don’t.”
At first, I think Baz is letting me down gently – which is a surprise, honestly. Even from the kinder, gentler Baz of 2023. Then he clears his throat.
“I like you. Like that. A lot. You’re only an idiot for not realising it. I haven’t been subtle.”
I take my hand out of my hair. “What?”
“I like you,” Baz repeats slowly and patronisingly. “Don’t make me say it again.”
I think I want him to say it again.
I think I’d be happy if Baz told me he liked me every day for the rest of our lives, even if he did it in that voice. (Honestly, I find it kind of hot.)
But I want to kiss him again even more than that, so I’ll let it go for now. I can do it better this time. When he’s not taken by surprise.
I step closer, trying to get back into his space. Baz blocks me, one hand on my chest, his face twisted away.
“Simon,” he says – and it’s not the first time he’s said my real name, but it’s the first time I’ve heard it sound like that. Like it makes him weak just to think about me. “You have no idea how long I’ve waited for this …”
Baz ignores me.
“Unfortunately, I’m still your teacher. And I will be rightly fired if I’m found snogging one of my students. So, I can’t do this.”
Shit – that sounded a bit desperate.
Baz shakes his head.
“Not while you’re still at Watford, under my care,” he says – and I actually growl.
Because he had to do it. Fucking Baz. Of course he did. He could have chosen any other way to say that; any one of the many ways that exist to describe our current situation. But no. He had to choose the sexiest one. The one that reminds me how good he is at what he does, and how hot I find that, while also making me feel weirdly looked after and respected.
“I think that rule’s supposed to protect gullible fifteen-year olds,” I grumble, but I do step away from him, since I guess I respect him too. And I don’t want him to be fired. Even if I really wish he wasn’t right about this.
Fine. I can accept that.
Thank magic he backed off. That growl nearly undid my resolve completely.
I was moments away from saying, Forget everything I just said, Snow. Ravage me over this desk, immediately.
I let myself take in a breath now that the air nearest to me isn’t quite so heavy with the smell of him.
Snow sits on one of the first row of student desks. He tugs his school tie looser, like he’s trying to breathe more easily, too.
I think about using it to tug his face into mine.
And then I try very hard not to think about that. (It’s not easy.)
“What?” Snow says.
“You really shouldn’t be allowed to look that good in that uniform,” I mutter. “It’s indecent.”
He laughs. “You made me wear it.”
“I’m aware of that.”
It’s one of those times that makes me glad I’m a vampire and rarely blush. (Snow made it OK for me to be a vampire and now everyone knows.) (He wants to kiss me, I want to kiss him, and no one can know. Not yet.)
“Did you like me back then?” Snow asks curiously. “On my first day, with the uniform?”
“No comment,” I say, which incriminates me more than enough.
Snow shakes his head, but fondly. “How about when we were in school?”
“You’re still in school,” I tell him. “That’s why I think we should stop talking about this.”
Well, one of the reasons, anyway.
“I wasn’t,” Simon points out. “I haven’t been for seven years.”
“You should have called me.”
“Simon, I know.”
And I regret it.
But less, now. Now that I know it wasn’t the only chance I had, that I didn’t ruin it.
He’s forgiven me enough that we’re here. In my classroom. Having a conversation about why I won’t kiss him when Simon clearly wants me to.
Frustration looks good on him, though. That helps. And it’s nice not to be the only one left unfulfilled and wanting by our encounters.
Simon lets out another breath. “And now you won’t go out with me until I graduate?”
I shake my head, to disguise how pleased I am to hear him say he wants to actually go out with me, not just kiss me.
“How about afterwards?” he says.
I shrug. “That depends how well you do.”
“Fuck off,” Simon says. “Did you see the mark I got in my last Political Science essay? Even Yasmin thinks I’m serious competition.”
I smile at him, because – of course – I have seen that essay. It was exceptionally well researched and argued; and not even in the way his early work was, when I could clearly see the hand of Penelope Bunce in the way he constructed his sentences. No, this one was all him.
Naturally, my money is still on the redoubtable Miss Yasmin Walker being top of the class, or possibly Aarav Choudry - he’s done some good work. But Simon should still be in the top half of the year. Maybe even the top ten. It’s a far cry from bottom five, which is honestly where he probably would have ended up if he’d finished school the same year I did. It wasn’t for lack of talent, though. I think even he knows that now.
“In that case, you have nothing to worry about,” I say. “Unlike Miss Walker, apparently.”
“Unless,” Simon says, “the sexual tension between you and me is so distracting that I can’t concentrate and fail everything.”
“You always could drop out,” I suggest. “Forget being Mage, and we can go and have sex right now.”
I shouldn’t have said that. But it is funny – and only a little hurtful – to see his mouth briefly drop open in shock and horror … before he remembers that he trusts me, that he kissed me, and I’m therefore probably joking, rather than honey-trapping him.
“You’re such a dick,” he says.
I let myself laugh. “Crowley, your face.”
“I can’t believe I have to wait two months before I can kiss that look off yours,” he retorts.
That makes me shiver. And my shiver makes Simon bite his bottom lip.
(Surely it hasn’t always been so hot in here.)
“Right,” I say briskly, pushing myself away from the desk. “I should go. I have essays to mark.”
“Yeah,” Simon says. “Cool. Me too.”
“You have essays to mark?”
“I meant, I should go too, you arse. I have important head of the Coven business. And – er – homework.”
That makes me want to kiss him, too. (The joke, and the very real power that Simon actually has.) But then everything has always made me want to kiss him. I can probably bear it. Nothing’s changed, even though everything has.
He catches me at the classroom door, with an only slightly school-inappropriate grasp around my wrist.
“You will wait for me, won’t you? You won’t go off with someone else better than me, while I’m finishing school?”
I want to make another joke. (I want to kiss him. Desperately.) But he looks genuinely anxious, and he shouldn’t be. There’s no one better than him; I’ve always known it. And I’ve always been his, the moment he wanted me.
He shouldn’t doubt it.
He should never have had to.
What have I ever achieved by lying to him? By protecting myself? At least one broken heart. Possibly more.
Well, I’m an adult now.
I check the corridor is empty before cupping his cheek with my hand. Stroking my thumb over the mole I’ve wanted to kiss since I was twelve.
He leans into me, his eyelashes flickering closed. His skin is so warm.
“I’ve been hoping you would fall in love with me for more than a decade,” I tell him. “I can wait two more months.”
“That makes one of us,” Simon grumbles.
I realise – as I pull my hand back without kissing him – that he didn’t dispute my choice of words. He didn’t say: I’m not in love with you; I just fancy you, Baz. He certainly wasn’t frightened off.
He hasn’t said he is, either. In love with me. But maybe he doesn’t want to frighten me off. (He should know by now that he can’t. There’s nothing about him that could scare me, least of all the idea of him being in love with me.)
Which means I have yet another reason to regret my professional scruples. Another reason to want to kiss him.
And another reason to hope for what comes next.
Chapter 9: Eighth-year spells
Like I thought, it’s not easy to be around Baz now I know how I feel about him.
Or rather it is easy. All too easy. To talk to him. Listen to him being clever in class. Watch him deal effortlessly with a group of seventh years who want to make something of him being a vampire. Watch him push his hair behind his ear and think about how he did that just before I kissed him.
Then, before I know it, I’m just thinking about kissing him …
Baz is a complete professional. He treats me just the same as everyone else in class, while I’m practically steaming with desire every time he turns his eyes on me. (Baz has lovely eyes. Soft and dark. Full of promises he’s yet to make good on.) He’s smiling more. And I can’t tell if it’s because he’s trying to drive me to insanity, or just because it’s getting warm at last, but he’s stopped wearing a suit jacket to school.
He wears shirts now, sometimes with the sleeves pushed up.
I lose whole minutes thinking about licking my way up his forearm and kissing the crook of his elbow. Baz just tells me off for daydreaming.
I can’t go to football practice anymore – I can’t cope – and he won’t go to the cinema with me, or the pub. Says it’s wrong now he knows I’ll spend the entire time we’re together thinking about kissing him, instead of watching the movie.
“But didn’t you want to kiss me last time we went?” I point out.
“Yes, but you didn’t know that,” Baz says, which he seems to think is the end of that argument. I guess it is. I don’t want to make him uncomfortable.
I just – can’t remember how to act around him.
How did I manage to get through the day without wanting to push him to the ground and snog the living daylights out of him?
It seems impossible.
Baz tells me it will get easier with practice, like everything. I think he’s just a smug tosser. (Who I am – unfortunately – head over heels in love with.)
I thought he might avoid me altogether, but apparently, he does still want to spend time with me. As long as it’s out in the open. Where everyone can see we’re not doing anything.
I’m not entirely sure this makes any sense (no one would be able to see us at the cinema, or back in our room) but if it makes Baz happy, and keeps him close, I don’t mind.
Right now, we’re in the library together.
The school day is over and Baz is marking fourth-year essays. (“This one’s my sister’s,” he told me an hour ago, grimacing as he held up an essay entitled: Why can’t we all get along? “She takes after Daphne, obviously.”) I’m reading a literal book of quotations in the hope something will jump out at me for my eighth-year spell. So far, nothing has.
It's almost exactly what I did the last time I tried this. Think of famous phrases and try and make one of them do something. Anything.
Penelope told me at the time that wasn’t going to work. (“You have to pick something and concentrate on it, Simon.”) I wasn’t really bothered back then. I was more interested in what had happened to Baz.
I must have been worried about him. Missing him. (It seems obvious now.)
When Penny and I left school, I stopped working on any of my “spells.” I didn’t have any magic, and I wouldn’t have finished eighth year even if I had. But Penny always wanted to graduate, even if she couldn’t face being at Watford, so she kept going. Kept working on The game’s afoot. She never made anything of it, though. She still hasn’t. In the end, I had to tell her to submit the spell she cast the night I killed the Mage: Simon says.
Now, Penelope tells me, she should have realised she was going about her spellmaking all wrong, giving me bad advice.
“So, you’re saying I shouldn’t listen to you anymore?” I asked her.
“Only when I don’t know what I’m talking about, Simon. Which, to be fair, is hardly ever.”
I was joking, of course. I’ll always listen to Penny. (If I hadn’t listened to her, I might never have given Baz a chance, which freaks me out now that I finally understand just how much he means to me.) Last night she told me all about her new theory of spellmaking. And, given that she’s invented countless spells by now, I guess she’d say it’s worth listening to her on this one.
And I did. I listened.
So, I know that, according to Penny’s current theories, I should do one of two things. Either:
a) Think about something I really need to happen. (This is what happened when she invented Simon says. The words just came to her when she needed them.) Or,
b) Pick something I know a lot about and care about. Something I deeply understand. Then I’ll be able to understand the nuance that other people are missing.
Neither of these two methods help me. (Or explain Penelope’s One Direction spell.) (Unless they do…)
I’m not a specialist in anything. Magickal politics, maybe. But there aren’t enough magicians in the country to make any of our phrases magickal. (And besides, it’s not like any of them are that memorable. My 2022 campaign slogan was essentially: “Vote for me and I’ll try not to fuck up too badly.” And it was still better than the competition.)
I like football, but I’m not an expert like Baz is. I like most movies. And songs. But because I’m busy, and because I like everything a bit, I don’t really have time to get really into any of them.
Which leaves: things I really need to happen.
You’d think I’d have a long list.
I thought I’d have a long list. But I’ve been thinking about it since yesterday and I just … don’t.
I’ve never used magic to solve my problems. My real problems.
I used my fists as a kid; now I go to lunch with people I don’t like. I make them talk to each other, while I sit there in silence glaring at them. There’s no ‘force everyone to stop arguing’ spell. And if there was, I wouldn’t use it. Too creepy.
I love magic, and I’m so grateful that mine came back. But the magic I really love belongs to other people.
And I’ve got Baz now. And Penelope. I’ve got a job. A car. A life.
There’s nothing I need that I don’t have.
Except Baz in my arms. In my bed, instead of sitting handsomely across the library table from me.
I have thought about casting something to speed up time. Make the next two months go a bit quicker. But that spell does already exist. Time flies. I’d probably cast it, if I wasn’t worried I’d miss something important. I don’t fancy telling Mitali I failed eighth year again, this time because I was too thirsty for my Political Science teacher. Although I think anyone who saw him right now would understand. He’s got his sleeves rolled up again, his hair falling over his face in soft, pretty waves. He’s also sucking on his fangs, like he always does when he’s concentrating. I find that adorable now.
So, I can’t kiss Baz any faster and I don’t need anything else.
There’s definitely nothing I can get from: “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.’ (Eleanor Roosevelt.) Or any of the other quotes in this stupid book.
I slam it shut and flop down onto the table. I’m vaguely hoping that Baz might pet my hair, but he doesn’t.
“This is hopeless.”
“This essay?” Baz says. “Yes, it is. Well observed.”
I glare up at him from the table and he takes pity on me. His expression softens.
“Still having trouble with your spell?”
“Yeah,” I mutter. “I can’t think of anything. And even if I did think of something – which I can’t – I barely have enough time to practice it before the end of the year.”
“Well, you don’t have to come up with anything that actually works,” Baz says reasonably. “Most students don’t. That’s why eighty percent of the mark is for the theory. What would have made the spell work … if it had actually worked.”
“But – don’t you think it’s a bit embarrassing? If the bloke trying to become Mage can’t come up with a simple spell.”
“It’s extremely embarrassing,” Baz says, smirking. (Attractively.) “I’m just telling you that you wouldn’t necessarily fail.”
I kick him under the table. He laughs. (Also attractively.)
“My apologies, Snow. I was trying to be helpful.”
“Well, you’re as bad at that as I am at making up new spells,” I huff. I press my face back into the table and then look up at him again. “Did your eighth-year spell work?”
“Of course. I’m not an imbecile.”
“What was it, then?”
“I don’t remember,” Baz says, which is definitely a lie.
(Baz remembers lots of things that aren’t important, like phone numbers he already has programmed into his phone. He’d remember this. The first spell he ever invented.)
I sit up, suddenly a lot more interested in this line of inquiry.
“How did you come up with it, then? You must remember that.”
Baz nods. “I did a lot of reading into Christopher Marlowe. He was a contemporary of Shakespeare’s—”
“I know who he is,” I say. “I’ve seen Shakespeare in Love.”
“Well, then you’ll know he was extremely popular in the sixteenth century. Arguably more popular than Shakespeare at the time, though he’s less known today.”
I nod – all this was in the movie.
“I thought I’d research which phrases particularly resonated with people from the time,” Baz continues. “Cross-reference them with similar phrases people are still saying today, hoping to find something new … Then, I ended up coming up with something completely different.”
“I think you know why I’m not telling you,” Baz says.
I do, although that confirms it.
Not something teacher-student appropriate. Probably something to do with me. Very probably something that will probably make me want to kiss him. (More than I currently do.) My heart’s already beating faster.
“I’ll find out what it was,” I promise him.
“You do that,” Baz says. “I’ve got six more terrible essays to read.”
I’m not sure if he’s daring me to do it now – right now, this second – but I don’t have anything better to do until I work this thing out.
I pack my stuff up and leave the library. (Baz tries to look unbothered, but I know he watches me do it.) I’m fairly sure Miss Possibelf will know the answer, but she might not tell me if I ask. As far as she knows, I hate Baz. I’d only want to know what his spell was for nefarious reasons.
So instead, when I get to her classroom, I tell her the truth – that I’m having trouble with my eighth-year spell – followed by a lie.
“I think looking at some old student projects would really help me.”
(Well, it’s not entirely a lie – it might really help. But it’s not my main reason, either.)
Miss Possibelf gives me a look that I remember from seven years ago. I’m pretty sure it means she doesn’t believe me. But she has always liked me, even when I was much worse than I am now. That must count for something, or I must look convincingly shit at magic, because she doesn’t say no. She opens a portal to … somewhere in the middle of the classroom, and pulls out a small filing cabinet.
“Perhaps you’d like to do a presentation on what you find, Simon,” she says just as I reach for it. “I believe our next class together is on Friday.”
I try not to let my dismay show on my face. (Because now I actually have to do what I said I was doing.) (She definitely knew I was lying.)
She taps smartly on the top of the filing cabinet with her walking stick. The drawers spring open. They’re stuffed with folders dating back to the Millennium.
I look at a few random ones for show. (Baz really was right, most people’s spells don’t seem to work.) Then I flick through until I find the class of 2016 – my year – and pull them all out. Penelope’s file is close to the top. I read it anyway, even though I know what it says. I take a photo with my phone and send it to her (“Remember this?”) before looking for Baz’s file.
It’s just like the others. Thicker than most – Baz has included a lot of notes – with his name written in stencil along the top. T. Basilton Grimm-Pitch.
I send Baz a photo of the file and then open it.
I was right. It is about me.
I was even there when he cast it for what must have been the first time.
Baz’s notes tell me the spell only works if you’re in love. If you’re stupid with love. Scorched through with it. If the universe feels more magickal, each time you discover something new about that person. More wondrous.
It’s easy for me to cast it.
So I do – even though Miss Possibelf is still here, doing her own marking. I follow Baz’s instructions and think about the boy who wrote these words, months after I’d already left Watford. The man waiting for me, in the library.
“Twinkle, twinkle, little star!”
The room fills up with starlight. Pinpricks of light. Whirls of spiral galaxies.
The illusion isn’t as complete as it was the last time. I can still see Miss Possibelf and the desks, although not clearly.
I think it’s because my magic is normal, now. Rather than because I don’t love Baz as much as he loved me at eighteen. (Although, the thought that that might be the reason is honestly about as breath-taking as this spell.) When Baz and I cast this together back in our room, I’d just given him my nuclear-bomb magic and he’d turned it into this.
I pull my phone out to text him. He’s already replied to my earlier photo:
That was quicker than I thought. You must have really wanted to know what it was.
I should’ve guessed, I write back.
I send him another photo of his notes, my hand, and as many stars as I can fit in the frame. (It’s as good as a confession.) Then I text him again:
And I should’ve kissed you when you cast this for me. I wish I had.
If he was here, I’d kiss him now. I’d have to.
Thank Merlin he’s in the library. I’d have ruined the whole thing.
Baz is texting back. It takes him a moment, then a new message appears on my screen:
That’s hardly an appropriate message to send to your teacher, Mr Snow.
Then, another two messages:
But yes, you should have.
Are you coming back to the library?
I tell him about Miss Possibelf’s extra assignment. How easily I was rumbled. (I can imagine him laughing at that.)
I think I have to stay here for the next hour at least, I tell him. See you tomorrow? X
I hit send before I realise what I’ve done.
It just sort of slipped out.
I’m not sure it counts, though. It’s just a letter. It’s not like I actually put my tongue in Baz’s mouth … again. It’s not worse than me saying I wanted to kiss him. It does feel like maybe I’ve crossed the line, though, which is worrying. I don’t want Baz to say we can’t text anymore.
I don’t regret it, though. Particularly not when I see his reply:
See you tomorrow, Simon. Xx
It’s not easy being around Simon now we’ve kissed. Now I know we both want to do it again.
I mean, it’s never been easy – but at least when it was mutual antagonism keeping us apart, I had someone else to blame. (Simon, mostly. For not being in love with me.) (But he is now, he is. I know what that spell means.) Now it’s just school rules, the fact that Simon isn’t always in the same room with me, and my own willpower.
I’ve survived worse. Far worse. But it is … challenging.
Particularly because Simon isn’t very good at pretending. He’s constantly staring at me in class. Constantly biting his lip or rearranging his tie when I look at him.
He cast my spell – the one that does nothing except make it extremely obvious to everyone in the nearby area that you’re in love.
And I’m supposed to resist this?
(Honestly, I’m regretting giving up smoking at the same time. Trying to curb two addictions at once. What’s next? Coffee? Masturbation? Am I supposed to live a life entirely free of vice? I don’t think I can.)
I’ve got through most of the term by reminding myself that I am deliriously happy. (Crowley, I am – it’s embarrassing.) And that Simon is suffering at least as much as I am – possibly more. Because he wants me. He’s attracted to me. He loves me and it’s killing him not to be with me. (And he’s told me. And shown me. Is it any wonder I can’t stop smiling?)
The summer holidays are nearly here. And once they are, once all this is over, I get to have the one person I’ve always wanted. However painful it is now to wait, to be patient, to spend the evenings without him, I know that in a few weeks my life will change forever. More so than it has already.
In more ways than one.
Right now, I’m writing out an application to the Coven. Simon’s been on at me about it for weeks now – even though I told him I was exhausted enough doing my own job; I didn’t need to do his, too.
“You know I’ll tell you everything that’s going on anyway,” he pointed out. “And you know – you know – you won’t be able to resist telling me what you think about it. You might as well get paid for your opinions.”
“I don’t have time for fieldwork.”
“Who said anything about fieldwork? Just apply as a special advisor. There’s a vacancy opening and everything …”
So, now, here I am. Sitting alone in my room at Watford. Using my Sunday evening – one of the few evenings when I’m not swamped in marking or report writing or doing something with Simon – to finish my cover letter. I’ve already run it past my father.
He wasn’t as pleased as I thought he’d be. I thought he’d like having another ally; instead, he tried to talk me out of it. He likes what I do at the moment, of course – it feels like carrying on my mother’s legacy – but I never said I was going to resign. I’m not.
That isn’t the reason, though. Daphne rang me about half an hour after my father had grudgingly given me his feedback on my letter and explained that she and my father had talked. (By which she means she talked to him.) And that they both agreed that Simon was a very eligible young man, actually, and they’d be delighted if I brought him home during the holidays.
Which means that Simon’s acting is so bad that somehow even Malcom Grimm has heard there’s something going on between us and now he thinks that I’m joining the Coven simply so we can spend more time together. (That’s a factor, yes, but really just one in a number of reasons.)
Either that, or my father has suspected how I feel for a while – possibly since he and Simon worked on the magickal-being legislation together – but now he thinks I might be getting somewhere.
Overall, this second conversation was completely mortifying – and rather wonderful at the same time. (Much like my whole non-relationship with Simon so far.) I told Daphne I’d talk to Simon and find out his plans. She said that was, Lovely.
Which it is. Fuck. It is lovely.
I finish proof-reading, attach both the letter and my CV to an email, and press send.
A few moments later my phone and my laptop start ringing. Video call from Simon. I answer on the laptop, trying to make my voice sound aggrieved when in truth I’m anything but.
“You can’t even have read it yet.”
“Huh?” Simon says.
He’s sitting in the kitchen of a flat I’ve never been to. Also on a laptop, I think. There are clean white cupboards behind him and below them a counter with a toaster and a kettle. Normal everyday things, but parts of Simon’s life I’ve never seen before.
“I just sent you my application to join the Coven,” I explain. “Isn’t that why you called me?”
He shakes his head. “Coincidence.”
“You’re hired, though,” Simon says, grinning.
I roll my eyes. “You haven’t even read it.”
“Do you want me to read it now?”
“I’m reading it now,” he says, obviously flicking through his phone inbox for my email. “Hm, what’s this then? Political Science degree, experience of teaching at Watford …”
“Yes, all right, Simon.”
“It says you’re passionately invested in the future of the World of Mages,” Simon reads.
“Well, I am.”
Although hearing it in Simon’s voice makes me think I could have chosen a less cliché way of saying it.
“You really want to be a part of making it better.”
Crowley, I think I’m blushing – Cook Pritchard warmed the blood for me herself this evening and I drank it during dinner, only a few hours ago. It’s heavy in my veins, or at least it was. Now it’s probably risen to my cheeks in response to Simon’s teasing.
“And,” he continues, “you think your experience as both a member of the Old Families and an outsider – that must mean, gay vampire – uniquely positions you to find compromise between the more conservative and liberal elements of our society.”
I try and cut him off before he reads the whole blasted thing.
“Why did you call, Simon?”
“You forgot to say you’re a good kisser, though. Which I think is a very important skill …”
“Simon,” I repeat.
He laughs. “Sorry.” He sets his phone aside. “You will get in, though. No, I just rang to say … I finished my spell.”
I sit up straighter. “What?”
He’s clearly delighted – as he should be. I always believed he would come up with something, of course – but I admit, the closer we got to the end of term, the less easy I felt about it. And now he’s done it.
“What is it?” I ask him.
He shakes his head. “Nothing, really. Don’t get too excited.”
“I’m very excited,” I say – and it’s true.
I’d be excited if anyone had rung me to tell me they’d invented a new spell. And this is Simon, the love of my life. Whatever he’s made, I want to know about it. Now.
Simon rubs the back of his neck, sheepishly. “It’s not anything poetic or beautiful.”
“But it works.”
He nods, smiling again.
“Show me?” I say. There’s a catch in my voice that probably shouldn’t be there, but it’s too late anyway. Simon already knows I’m enchanted by him.
“Not now,” he says. “It doesn’t work over the phone. But I’m demonstrating it for Miss Possibelf and Mitali tomorrow morning, before our first lesson.”
“And you want me to be there too?”
He nods and I tell him there’s nothing I’d like more. (It’s an understatement.) We talk for a while longer after that – not about anything in particular. (Somehow, I resist asking about the spell again.) Eventually, we both agree we should go to sleep. I make Simon hang up first.
I do sleep, eventually – on Simon’s half of the bed. Having finally quieted my brain enough to stop running through possibilities for his new spell. (I’m not going to work it out. Even Simon has only just thought of it.) And, in the morning, I present myself bright and early in the Magic Words classroom.
Simon is already there, as is Miss Possibelf and – for some reason – Cook Pritchard.
Has Simon decided to put on catering to try and improve his mark? There’s a plate of vol-au-vents out on the table and a plate of scones, which seems to imply yes, although I’m not sure it’s a good strategy.
Fortunately, nobody asks me why I’m here.
I exchange remarks about the weather with my cousin – it’s very warm, which isn’t a surprise because it’s summer, but we both enjoy it – and I smile encouragingly at Simon. He smiles back. Then Mitali bustles in with her arms full of electronic devices and coffee.
“Sorry I’m late, Simon. One of the sixth-years transfigured the moat into wine again. I had to deal with it before drunken revelry broke out.”
He laughs; the rest of us don’t. We’ve all had to deal with it many, many times before. Drunk teenagers; drunk merwolves. (Who would have thought the Bible could be put to such appalling use?) (Never mind – I know the answer to that one.)
Mitali sets her laptop down and spells her coffee warm. She takes a swig.
“So, what are we looking at?”
“Nothing really,” Simon says. “I mean, you can’t see it – you taste it. Here…”
He holds out the plate of vol-au-vents – to me first (I take one) and then the others.
“Don’t eat too much of it,” he says hurriedly as I take a bite. “I made them with magic.”
I can tell that. The pastry in my mouth tastes like dried paper filled with something a bit like cheese. I give Simon a sour look as I try and swallow. (And to think I tried to rescue him from this very fate, before I even knew he liked me. Maybe he doesn’t. No one who liked me would have invited me to eat that.)
“Absolutely repulsive,” Cook Pritchard announces.
“Seemed fine to me,” Mitali says, shrugging.
“You shouldn’t be allowed in the kitchen.”
“That wasn’t my spell,” Simon says anxiously. “I used Put bread on the table, which I know already exists.”
“Although it shouldn’t,” I grumble. There’s enough liquid in my mouth again now that I can form words, but the chalky taste persists. I envy the headmistress her coffee. “Why did I eat that if you didn’t even make it?”
“Control batch,” Simon says. “So you can tell the difference when this happens …”
He waves his wand over the remains of my disgusting magickal pastry and casts: “I can’t believe it’s not butter!”
I really wish he’d chosen someone else to be his glamorous assistant. I don’t fancy putting this thing back in my mouth, even though I do trust Simon. I’m sure it’s going to be better now. Logically.
I take another bite of pastry. (Crowley, the things I do for love.)
It is better. I wouldn’t say good, exactly, but it’s better. Palatable. Which considering where it started from is frankly – well – magical.
I swallow and nod. “The spell works.”
“Of course it works,” Simon says indignantly. “I said it did.”
He spells everyone else’s pastries and I watch the other Watford staff members chewing thoughtfully.
“Flavour enhancement spell,” Miss Possibelf says approvingly. “Very good, Simon.”
“What about when the food is actually edible to start with?” Cook Pritchard wants to know.
“It still makes it taste better,” Simons says. “Although I admit I haven’t tried it on anything really good. Like your scones. These ones are mine. I made them last night, but I’m not much of a baker …”
He spells the batch of scones – and holds the plate out to Cook Pritchard this time. She takes a scone, bites into it … and raises an eyebrow. (I know that eyebrow, it’s a family eyebrow. She’s impressed.)
“I have to get back to breakfast, but we should talk later,” she tells Simon.
His face lights up. (So beautiful.)
“I’d like that,” he tells her.
“And you have your notes?” Mitali says as Cook Pritchard leaves, and Simon hands me a scone to try. “How you came up with the spell, your thought process …”
He nods. “Yeah. I used Penny’s method of choosing something I already knew a lot about. And something I really needed – Baz and I had to leave the Easter mixer because there was nothing to eat.”
“Is that why you left?” Miss Possibelf asks, amused.
Fuck, I think. She’s onto us. (Really, I should have known it would happen. The woman notices things.) I take a bite of Simon’s scone in what I hope is a casual, unaffected manner.
And then I take another, larger bite because, fuck me, that’s a good scone. Soft and light and creamy. Like eating sunlight studded with raisins.
I’ve never understood Simon’s fascination with scones – it’s just a rich bread – but I’m beginning to think I might literally be tasting it right now. The spell has somehow caught his intention, his love for this food, and amplified it.
(And he said it wasn’t anything romantic. It clearly was. The romance between Simon Snow and baked goods, something not even I could come between.)
I’m staring at Simon as I finish it. Trying to work out how he did it, whether I could do it too. (Whether I could kiss him.) (I definitely can’t kiss him.) And I’m sure Miss Possibelf has noticed it’s not the calm but impressed stare of Simon’s teacher. I’m sure I look hungrier with every bite.
Fortunately, the headmistress is too interested in Simon’s spellwork to call me on it. Either that or she doesn’t care. (She also keeps eating the vol-au-vents, even though the scones are right there. Perhaps she skipped breakfast.)
Right now, she’s quizzing Simon about the limitations of his spell. Whether he’s tested it on food that doesn’t include butter, foods like fruit or vegetables (yes – it works, just not as well). Whether he can cite other equivalent usage of slogans. (He can – Cadbury’s Glass and a half was another inspiration.) He should score well.
Of course he will.
I don’t know if I can be here much longer. It’s not really fair or reasonable to expect me to be around Simon when he’s like this. When I can still taste butter on my tongue.
“I should go too,” I announce. “My first class will be arriving soon.”
Simon’s head jerks up. “Shit, I’ve got Botany. Er, hang on…”
I don’t, obviously.
I leave him to throw food into Tupperware and arrange his notes, since I don’t want to draw more attention to our relationship than I already have. (Although it’s probably a lost cause, to be honest.) Anyway, Botany lessons aren’t even in the Weeping Tower. Simon and I are going in completely different directions.
Which means it’s a surprise when he catches me at the top of the stairs to the third floor and tugs me into the nearest room. Fortunately it’s my classroom rather than a broom cupboard. (I can think of plausible reasons we might be in here, together.) (Other reasons than kissing, I mean.)
He must have run to catch up with me, because he’s slightly out of breath. There’s more colour in his cheeks than usual. I try not to think about biting into him, breaking the surface of his skin with my teeth.
“Was it really OK?” he asks me as I busy myself trying to find a practice exam-paper I can pretend to be giving him. “Not too embarrassing?”
“Not embarrassing at all, Snow.”
He rubs at the back of his neck. “I feel like I should have at least ended world hunger or something. Do you think people will say it’s not enough?”
Honestly, they might do. Even with the tentative alliances that have formed between Snow and the Old Families, there might still be people wanting to score points off him. Sneer at the fact that – when pressed – the Greatest Mage was really better in the kitchen than on the battlefield.
But if anyone says anything like that to Simon’s face or where I can hear them, they will regret it. I can’t be answerable for my actions. I’ll end up giving vampires everywhere a bad name.
(Probably not the right thing to say to Simon right now. It would ruin all his hard work.)
“It’s a brilliant spell,” I tell him. Meaning it. “Will you teach me how to cast it?”
Simon’s chin jerks up. “What?”
“Not now,” I clarify. “After school.”
“You want me to teach you something?”
Oh. I tuck my hair behind my ear. (I do that when I’m nervous.) (And I’m very nervous now, because Simon is smiling at me. It makes me more nervous than when he used to scowl at me.)
“I’d love to,” Simon says – and I think we both know that isn’t quite what he means. “Baz …”
It’s the prelude to a kiss. The softness of his voice. The softness of his eyes.
I love these moments. (And hate them, obviously.)
There’s a massive window in my classroom door. There are twenty students waiting out there at least. If I kiss him, they’ll all see.
Whatever I do, they’ll see.
Simon reaches out for me … and I press the exam paper I’ve found into his hand, just as the bell rings. My fifth years start streaming into the room.
“Let me know if there are any questions you can’t answer, Mr Snow,” I say, loudly enough that at least some of the students will hear my alibi. “Now, you should get going. You must be late for class.”
“Right,” Simon says, recovering quickly. “Thanks, sir. See you after lunch.”
He waves and turns, almost bumping into Kasdeya Craft in his haste to leave. I hear her snarl, “Watch it.” Because apparently some people have no sense of self-preservation.
She’s been in a terrible mood since her useless boyfriend broke up with her for a probably-gay succubus. (Understandable, but unfortunate for the rest of us.) Now, clearly, she feels it’s a good idea to take that anger out on the future Mage.
Simon just laughs and apologises.
“It’ll get better,” he tells her – to her complete confusion. “There’s so much good stuff in the future.”
Chapter 10: Graduation
Sometimes I think I have nothing to worry about.
I’m going to pass my exams. Become Mage. Save the world – or the country at least. Marry Baz. (Eventually. For now, we can just shag each other’s brains out, and kiss and stuff.) Live happily ever after – or as close as we can get, anyway.
But the closer the exams get, the more I start to panic.
Because I might fail. I really might. It could happen. Even though I actually feel pretty good about Magic Words, Elocution and Political Science. The problem is everything else.
“What if I fail?” I ask Penny as we’re watching television together. (Penny’s watching it – I’m trying to decipher my Magickal History notes.)
“That’s not very likely. Almost nobody fails eighth year."
“Yeah, but what if I do? I can do loads of things most people can’t.”
“Then you try again, Simon,” Penny says. “I’m sure my mum would let you.”
I know she’s trying to be comforting, but the idea of being twenty-six and still at school is probably the most depressing thing I’ve ever heard. I have to take myself off to my room to revise, which just feels wrong. I’ve never studied while Penny’s been relaxing. Never. Not once in fifteen years.
I don’t tell Baz how worried I am – he’d just tell me I’ll be fine – but I’m sure he knows anyway. He watches me almost as much as I watch him. He’ll have noticed that I spend every lunchtime in the library now, even when he isn’t there. And that I have the Latin names for several plants written on the back of my hand most days, to try and help me remember them. (It’s not working.)
I think he’s worried about upsetting me. That’s why he doesn’t mention it.
On Saturday morning, though – a week before the exams start – I wake up to the sound of someone ringing my doorbell. Repeatedly.
At first, I think it must be a package. (Sometimes the Coven gets deliveries sent to me, rather than to headquarters, if they know I’m going to be home. And there’s been some weird things. Things I can tell the postman wants to get rid of as soon as possible.) Then the bell somehow gets even louder – and more annoying – and I realise it must be a magician. An impatient one. Not that that narrows it down much.
“Simon!” Penny shouts from inside her room. “Make it stop!”
“All right, I’m getting it.”
I open the door – in yesterday’s pants and a t-shirt I found on the floor – to find Fiona Pitch on my doorstep.
“About fucking time,” she says, pushing past me into the flat. Like she’s got every right to be here. “If the place was on fire, you’d have burned to death.”
I rub my eyes. I’m not awake enough for this.
“Is that a threat?”
Fiona scoffs. “Pitches don’t make threats. We act.”
“Baz has threatened me tonnes of times,” I point out.
“That’s because he’s always been soft on you,” Fiona says sniffily – which makes me happy, even though I already know Baz is soft on me.
What doesn’t make me happy is Fiona taking a seat at my kitchen table. She starts taking things out of her bag. Folders. Notebooks. Two boxes of cigarettes.
I’m actually getting increasingly worried she’s going to be here all day. I don’t even know why. (Although I suppose it’s good the answer doesn’t seem to be: arson. Penny and I don’t even own the place – we just rent.)
“Sorry, what are you doing here?” I ask her.
“Your boyfriend asked me to help you revise for Botany,” Fiona says. “So put some bloody trousers on. Make me some tea. And we’ll get started.”
“Baz isn’t my boyfriend,” I say, even though it’s not even slightly the weirdest thing she’s said. I just feel like Baz would want me to correct his aunt on this.
“Calm down, Snow,” Fiona says. “I’m not going to murder you for dating my nephew.”
“Fuck a nine-toed troll,” Penny shrieks – having arrived at the absolute worst moment, of course. “Simon! You’re going out with Baz?”
“I’m not.” My face is on fire. “I’m not going out with him. Yet.”
That yet is the reason I haven’t already told Penelope about kissing Baz. And wanting to kiss him. I didn’t think he’d want anyone else to know. I definitely didn’t think he’d tell his whole family, although it does explain why Malcolm asked me what I was doing for Christmas last time we spoke. I thought that was weird.
“What do you mean yet?” Penny says. “And I can’t believe you didn’t tell me!”
Her boyfriend, Sam, staggers up behind her, sleepily. “Why’s everyone shouting?”
“Simon’s going out with his worst enemy!” Penny explains.
“No, I’m not.”
Penny waves her hand dismissively. “Former worst enemy, then.”
“Cool,” Sam says. “Congratulations, mate. Glad it worked out.”
“Isn’t anyone going to get me some tea?” Fiona says pointedly.
“Look. Baz and I agreed we couldn’t be in a relationship until I’d finished school,” I explain to Penelope. “So, we’re actually still just friends right now.”
“But you finish school in a week, Simon!”
I feel myself grinning. “Yeah.”
“Nicks and Slicks, I’ve got to tell Agatha,” Penelope says. She rushes away to get her phone. Sam gives me another thumbs up and follows, leaving me with Fiona.
“Tea,” she says again. “And trousers. Or I’m leaving.”
“You know, technically, I’ll be your boss from next week,” I say as I put the kettle on.
“Only if you pass Botany.”
Once I’ve made Fiona her tea – twice, the first cup was too pale, apparently – I go back to my room to put some clothes on and phone Baz.
It takes him a while to answer. When he does, his voice is thick and slurred with sleep, only slightly sharpened by anxiety at my early call.
“Simon? Is something wrong?”
It’s easy to imagine what he looks like right now. Soft and tousled in his fancy pyjamas. All his defences down. I wish I could see him – but I know Baz wouldn’t accept a video call right now. (Too vain.) I wish I could touch him. Be there with him instead of across the other side of the city. I want to wake up with him. It’s why I called, so I could pretend.
(And because Baz sent Fiona to wake me up – on a Saturday – and it only seems fair.)
“Your aunt’s here,” I tell him.
“Disaster, then,” Baz says, sounding amused now.
“She seems to think I’m your boyfriend.”
“I hope you told her she was mistaken.”
“I did. She didn’t believe me.”
“Pitches are like that,” Baz says. “We don’t trust easily.”
I can hear him smiling down the phone. I want to kiss the creases left on his face by his pillow. Lick into his mouth, even if he hasn’t brushed his teeth, and tumble him back into bed.
(Just a few more weeks. A few exams. I can do it.)
“I’m looking forward to it,” I tell him. “Being your boyfriend.”
“Good to know,” Baz says. “As it happens, I’m also looking forward to that.” (It’s not a surprise, but I love hearing him say it.) (Not only because his voice gets a bit breathy.) “Now you should probably get back to my aunt before she sets the house on fire.”
“She promised she wouldn’t,” I say, but I do let him go.
I spend the weekend studying with Fiona. It’s a complete nightmare, although I do learn a lot. (When Penny’s not quizzing her about the magickal properties of sage, anyway. Then I mostly just learn about sage.) She tells me she’ll come back next weekend, too, unless she’s satisfied that I’m not going to embarrass her. Fear helps the facts stick.
The final week before the exams passes so quickly I barely notice.
I spend the final weekend cramming Magickal History with Penny, and when I drive back to Watford on Monday, I feel like I have a good chance.
To pass. To become Mage. To be with Baz. To get the ending I want.
Baz is invigilating my first exam, which isn’t a surprise since it’s Political Science. He’s wearing a dark blue suit. Probably trying not to be distracting. (Basically impossible, but it’s nice of him to try.)
I sit down at the desk marked ‘Snow.’ We’re in the dining hall with all the tables removed and desks set at least two metres apart from each other. Keira is sitting directly in front of me and Yasmin a few seats behind both of us.
“You have 90 minutes,” Baz says from the front of the room. “Starting from … now.”
I open the exam paper and read the first question:
It is currently compulsory to vote in a quarter of the world’s democracies, including Australia, the English Channel, and the Draconic Alliance. Despite the popularity of this methodology, the World of Mages has yet to introduce a similar system. Using your own knowledge, explain why this might be the case and whether you think we should change.
I glance up at Baz as he passes my desk. He winks at me. (It’s definitely not teacher-student appropriate.)
I grin back and start writing.
Simon finishes eighth in his year. Out of fifty-two. Easily in the top half.
I find out several hours before he does, because I cheated and looked at the exam results before we sent them out by bird. I have to stop myself from immediately texting Fiona about his A in Botany, or calling Simon until he knows about it himself.
It’s worth it when he does call. I’m the first person he’s told. He called me even before Bunce and she actually doesn’t know what mark he got.
He’s elated. He tells me he couldn’t have done it without me – I tell him that’s rot, but that I’m glad I could help. I tell him how proud I am of him. I tell him I want him, because I can do that now. He tells me he’s in love with me. Somehow, I manage not to cry. (Because I’m a grown man.) (And I already knew it, it’s not a surprise.) I tell him I’ve always been in love with him.
We talk about whether he should drive to Watford immediately. (So that we can start frantically groping each other as soon as possible.) Unfortunately, it’s not really practical.
Simon is about to be invested as Mage and that takes time to organise. He has to go to meetings with nearly everyone, apparently. If he came to see me, he’d have to leave after an hour. While there’s a lot we could do in an hour, I feel like I’ve waited long enough already that the first time Simon and I have sex should be something slightly more momentous that a brief fumble. He’s also catching up on everything that’s happened since the exams.
Meanwhile, I still have classes to prepare for and teach – since only the eighth years have flown the nest – so it’s not like I can go to see him, either. Besides, I received an email yesterday saying I’d been accepted onto the Coven. (I didn’t ring Simon to tell him about that, since I know it came from him.) This morning my inbox was full of submission papers about mermaids. I haven’t read any of them yet.
“We’ll just have to wait for the leaver’s ceremony,” I tell Simon.
I can last that long. It’s Wednesday and the leaver’s ceremony is on Saturday – that’s just three more days. Less, really. And there’s something pleasing about waiting until the moment the magic binding Simon to the school officially breaks. The moment he unofficially becomes Mage instead, as the constitution is fulfilled.
“You just think it will be more dramatic to wait,” Simon says fondly.
“Don’t pretend you know me.”
“I do know you, and I love you.”
“Well, I love you too.”
“I’m going to call Penny now, all right?”
I tell him that’s all right. I know he’ll call me right back afterwards.
Two days passes swiftly enough. (Especially once I cast Time flies to help it along.) On Saturday I dress in one of my favourite suits – Savile Row tailoring, Liberty’s ‘Ianthe’ print – and make my way to the White Chapel.
It’s busier than usual – because of Simon – but there are still plenty of seats.
Penelope Bunce is sitting in the front row. I think about going to sit next to her, but we haven’t actually spoken since I started teaching Simon. I think I would like to be friends with her eventually, but this probably isn’t the time. I also avoid my father and Daphne, a few rows behind her. Fiona. Nicodemus Petty. Gareth Smith, who was at school with Simon and me. (He must be here to see his sister.) Instead, I sit at the back next to the other teachers.
To nobody’s surprise, Yasmin Walker took the top spot. That means she’s the one to make the end of year speech. It’s clever and funny. Touching, although it lacks the resonance that mine had. (Not that I’m competing with a nineteen-year old. That would be pathetic. It’s only that she doesn’t have the experience of losing her mother and living through a war. She’s lucky, even if her rhetoric suffers for it.)
She finishes to considerable applause and steps aside to let Simon take over the podium. He’s wearing the Mage’s ceremonial cowl – hood down – and cape, over a suit I had made and couriered to him. He looks nervous (because he hates speaking in public) and almost unbearably handsome.
“This isn’t usual,” he tells everyone. “There’s usually only one speech from a student. But Yaz said I could talk too for a bit, because. You know.”
Everyone does know – it’s why most of them are here. Simon clears his throat awkwardly.
“Maybe this will make up for how I was invited to talk last year, and didn’t turn up.”
I haven’t read his speech before. I did offer, but Simon told me that wasn’t necessary. As I listen to him talking now, I realise that he probably had another motive in not sharing it.
The speech is about patience and second chances. It’s about the things that happened in the last year, what coming back to Watford meant to Simon Snow. And it’s a manifesto for the kind of Mage he wants to be. The kind of person who doesn’t act on prejudice without knowing the facts, who is brave enough to ask questions.
It’s also – very obviously – a love letter. To me. That he’s reading out in front of hundreds of people, including my father. Penelope Bunce keeps turning in her chair to look at me. So does Fiona. (I pretend not to notice either of them.)
He finishes by drawing the Sword of Mages, because “whoever came up with the incantation said what I want to better than I ever could.”
I’ll have to tell him later he was wrong about that. His own words were exactly right, although the spell isn't bad, either.
“In justice. In courage. In defence of the weak. In the face of the mighty. Through magic and wisdom and good.”
The sword sings into existence in Simon’s hand. Sparkling in the light filtering through the stained glass.
“Thanks for choosing me,” Simon tells the assembled crowd – and me. He’s always speaking to me. “I’ll try not to fuck it up.”
Some people laugh. Others clap. I try not to swoon too obviously in my chair. Simon sheathes the sword and retires from the stage, for now. Mitali Bunce thanks everyone for coming, and the students for their hard work. The school song plays.
I get to my feet along with everyone else. Several parents try to speak to me, but I excuse myself every time. I have somewhere else to be. Someone else to be with.
And suddenly, there he is.
“Congratulations, sir,” I say as Simon Snow walks purposefully towards me through the crowd. “You must be very proud.”
He shakes his head. “I’ve changed my mind.”
My undead heart lurches.
“I don’t want you to call me sir, I want you to call me Simon,” he says. (He’s laughing.) “Although your face was a fucking picture. I’m not dumping you. Didn’t you hear my speech?”
“Simon,” I say, frustrated – and then I realise that I have nothing to say that’s more important than kissing him and there’s nothing to stop me doing it.
So, I do.
I take his face between my hands and kiss him. He kisses me back. We’re kissing each other, Aleister Crowley, in front of everyone. Then Simon’s arms are around my waist and he pulls me into the air, swinging me round in a delighted circle. Making even more of a spectacle of our happiness.
I love it. I love him. I make him put me down.
He does. He takes my hand.
“Come on,” he tells me. “Let’s go back to our room.”