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Drown My Books

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“There’s simply no help for it,” said Harriet, exasperated and ink-blotted. Two weeks of research in the Bodleian had merely confused her further.

Miss DeVine blinked at her, not unsympathetically. “Sometimes, Miss Vane, one has to consult the authority direct.” She did not add a cavil as to the value of Harriet’s work. The dons of Shrewsbury had been tactful about her decision to leave off LeFanu and return to Robert Templeton, for reasons financial after the late crash. And Miss DeVine, of all people, would never devalue effective research, however pecuniary its intended rewards.

Gritting her teeth, Harriet wrote a short note, and just caught the porter’s boy before he went out with the last post.


And so it was that three days later Harriet sat tensely at the Coventry Street Corner House, awaiting her fate. It arrived amid a positive flurry of Nippies. Lord Peter was presumably not an entire stranger to the world of Lyons; this one was virtually on his doorstep. But perhaps it had not been the discreet choice Harriet had thought. His difference was simply too pronounced; he was too entirely not of their world.

But he was most agreeable as his coat was taken and coffee ordered and settled to his quotidian fare without a flinch. “I was intrigued by your letter,” he eventually said, breaking an awkward pause in Harriet’s effortful small talk.

“Oh?” Harriet buried her face as far as possible into Lyons’ minimalist teacup. Excruciating, to be a supplicant.

“You don’t ask for favours,” he said, simply.

Well. One could never say that Wimsey lacked acuity. “No, I loathe it,” she said, with some relaxation. “But I’ve been getting into the most awful tangle, and I realised it is because I’m an utter outsider in the world I’m trying to write. And you are not.”

“Ah,” said Wimsey, simply. “Robert Templeton among the wizards, is it?”

“I’m afraid so. It will sell, you see.”

“Quite.” He did not linger on the implied financial strains; merely finished his coffee, and contemplated the vacancy remaining. He did not comment, either, on the essential tastelessness of someone from outside the charmed circle daring to write about the almost unspeakable. But then, he had never been coy about magic. He had used it to divine her innocence, and free her from doom, and talked quite freely about his methods in so doing. He might never demonstrate his powers to her, but he showed no revulsion now at her exploitation of the difference in their status. Perhaps he was so far above her it simply did not register. But she was grateful.

“Well, I’d be more than happy to help you, insofar as the laws of magic allow. But I wonder – might Bunter be a better resource to you? More available, what? I’m off to Vienna shortly, to see about this cursed Mitteleuropa business-“

Harriet nodded silently, uncertain how literal said curse might be. It was unlikely to be clarified to Muggles, in any event. And she was happy with his proposal too. Time with Lord Peter, probing the intricacies of his powers would have been excruciating – was, indeed, why she had postponed coming to this obvious source for longer than sensible. But with Bunter, one might have a discussion. “Thank you, Peter. That would be marvellous.”


“I think, ma’am, that you may be labouring under a misapprehension,” said Bunter, not one hour into his assigned support for Robert Templeton’s latest mission.

“Very probably,” Harriet sighed. “The whole world of magic is so improbable from the outside-“

“Yes, ma’am,” said Bunter, smoothly interrupting. “It was not the complexity of the interplay of the magical within the earthly world to which I referred. Nor, indeed, the scale of the world of those with the Art compared with those with merely Earthly powers.”

“Hmm,” said Harriet, trying to sound more interested than nettled.

“It is to my own place within the magical world that I referred. I believe, ma’am, that you may be under the impression that I do not myself, despite my familiarity with the norms and contexts of the world, possess the Art myself. That I am, in common parlance, a Squib-“

“-Squib,” said Harriet, simultaneously, trying to save him the pain of the term. Bunter looked wholly unperturbed by her efforts.

“Precisely. I believe you believe me to be an unmagical scion of a family of Art. In fact, the reverse is the case. My parents, my entire lineage, are perfectly-“


“Mundane,” said Bunter, firmly. “I do not have the Art to the pitch of Lord Peter, but my schoolmasters were most flattering in their assessment of my powers.”

Harriet could hardly contain her bafflement. Bunter, the manservant, had powers beyond her ken. “Could you show- No. I’m sorry, I understand the Art is not for frivolity.”

Bunter smiled, and opened his palm. A ball of light wavered there, simply. “A werelight, ma’am. Child’s play, but it will suffice, I hope?”


It was entirely possible that Harriet had seen magic before, she learned. There were more practitioners than she had realised, from the whisperings of the gutter press, and the very, very occasional references in more august publications. They came from all backgrounds, not merely Peter’s rarefied family. Power could get you a long way. No, not power. Art. Although in Bunter’s hands, the art appeared more a science.

He was, she realised over the next few days, a very powerful warlock. His wartime service alongside Peter in the most desperate battalions had been distinguished, reckless, and mind-breaking. But Bunter would never be among the elite mages, at the head of society. “Not a Pureblood, ma’am. Not bred to it, merely born with the Art and well trained.”

“Whereas Peter-“

“Is of the best families,” said Bunter. Firmly. Exclusively.

Harriet had needed no further illustration of the incompatibility of her station and Peter’s than the ease with which he had freed her from the death chamber. But this was bitter. Pureblood was something the Vanes could never aspire to, even if they had the Art, which they emphatically did not. There were ugly words for those who married beyond the circle, she learned, and uglier words for their offspring. And yet Peter would ask her again, she was quite certain. He was a fool.

Not a topic of conversation for his acolyte, of course. Harriet and Bunter spent almost two full weeks re-plotting the Templeton mystery, and not a word of romance, emotion or even Wimsey was allowed to break in thereafter. A crime was designed with sufficient mystery, and sufficient transparency, to support the mundane reader. An expired spellbook, of prophecies relevant to no later than 1842, was employed for purposes of authentic quotation. Templeton was revealed, naturally, to have a cousin with the Art who happened to be free for consultation in the solution, and at no point referred to him as a wizard. (Bunter looked revolted at the very possibility.)

It was productive, and successful, and gall-bitter in Harriet’s mouth.


Harriet’s manuscript was submitted to an anxious publisher no more than three days past her deadline. Ripe with accomplishment, she thanked Wimsey for the loan of his man, with a meal more suited to his milieu. No Lyons this time, but a fine rib of beef, and a maitre d’ who greeted his lordship with a fine blend of recognition and discretion.

“Do you truly not mind?” she said, when the Corton had been opened, and the remnants of paté removed, and an air of relaxation established.

“What, the breaking of the confessional? Hardly,” said Peter, cheerfully. “Magic is a messy thing, and a risky one, and there are reasons why one doesn’t want the populace trying their hand at necromancy. But the secret has been out for decades, and the world hasn’t entirely come apart at the seams. Well, so long as one doesn’t look at Russia. Or Germany.”

“Quite.” Harriet paused, and not merely to allow the waiters to deliver the beef. She was on thin ice. At least in her own mind.

Always sensitive, he paused in turn. Not a hint of impatience, merely inquiry, in his cocked head.

“I feel there are so many things that come between us,” she said, finally.

“Piffle, most of it. Don’t give it a thought.” But he did not turn to his plate, nor break her gaze.

“You know I must. And you must, in all truth. We can’t wish away division, any more than I could wish away my trial. But I- I am glad, Peter. I am glad this is one barrier reduced.”

“I should be delighted to tell you more, you know.” He was quiet, but clear. “You, I would trust with my secrets. The secrets of us all, if you wanted, but I know you won’t ask that of me.”

There was something in his certainty. Of her, and what he would do for her, and what she would not ask. It chimed with her inner self, irresistible. “I won’t ask that,” she said. Leaving, quite consciously, a space for other requests that someday might be made.