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Charlotte’s look was warning, but “Jem is unwell” was all she said. “He’s having one of his days.”
“He’s always having one of his days.” Jessamine sounded disgusted.
Tessa was about to inquire as to who Jem might be, when Sophie entered, followed by a plump woman of middle age whose gray hair was escaping from a bun at the back of her head. The two of them began to serve food from the sideboard. There was roast pork, potatoes, savory soup, and fluffy dinner rolls with creamy yellow butter. Tessa felt suddenly light-headed; she had forgotten how hungry she was. She bit into a roll, only to check herself when she saw Jessamine staring.
“You know,” Jessamine said airily, “I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a warlock eat before. I suppose you needn’t ever bant, do you? You can just use magic to make yourself slender.”
“We don’t know for certain that she’s a warlock, Jessie,” said Will.
Jessamine ignored him. “Is it dreadful, being so evil? Are you worried you’ll go to Hell?” She leaned closer to Tessa. “What do you think the Devil’s like?”
Tessa set her fork down. “Would you like to meet him? I could summon him up in a trice if you like. Being a warlock, and all.”
Will let out a whoop of laughter. Jessamine’s eyes narrowed. “There’s no call to be rude,” she began—then broke off as Charlotte sat bolt upright with an astonished shriek.
A man was standing in the dining room’s arched doorway—a familiar-looking tall man, with a shock of ginger hair and hazel eyes. He wore a torn tweed Norfolk jacket over a shockingly bright striped waistcoat; his trousers were covered in what looked peculiarly like coal dust. But none of that was what had made Charlotte scream; it was the fact that his left arm appeared to be on fire. Little flames licked up his arm from a point above his elbow, releasing tendrils of black smoke.
“Charlotte, darling,” Henry said to his wife, who was staring at him in gape-mouthed horror. Jessamine, beside her, was wide eyed. “Sorry I’m late. You know, I think I might nearly have the Sensor working—”
Will interrupted. “Henry,” he said, “you’re on fire. You do know that, don’t you?”
“Oh, yes,” Henry said eagerly. The flames were now nearly to his shoulder. “I’ve been working like a man possessed all day. Charlotte, did you hear what I said about the Sensor?”
Charlotte dropped her hand from her mouth. “Henry!” she shrieked. “Your arm!”
Henry glanced down at his arm, and his mouth dropped open. “Bloody hell” was all he had time to say before Will, exhibiting a startling presence of mind, stood up, seized the vase of flowers off the table, and hurled the contents over Henry. The flames went out, with a faint protesting sizzle, leaving Henry standing soaking wet in the doorway, one sleeve of his jacket blackened and a dozen damp white flowers strewn at his feet.
Henry beamed and patted the burned sleeve of his jacket with a look of satisfaction. “You know what this means?”
Will set the vase down. “That you set yourself on fire and didn’t even notice?”
“That the flame-retardant mixture I developed last week works!” Henry said proudly. “This material must have been burning for a good ten minutes, and it isn’t even half burned through!” He squinted down at his arm. “Perhaps I ought to set the other sleeve on fire and see how long—”
“Henry,” said Charlotte, who appeared to have recovered from her shock, “if you set yourself on fire deliberately, I will institute divorce proceedings. Now sit down and eat your supper. And say hello to our guest.”
Henry sat, glanced across the table at Tessa—and blinked in surprise. “I know you,” he said. “You bit me!” He sounded pleased about it, as if recollecting a pleasant memory they’d both shared.
Charlotte shot a despairing look at her husband.
“Have you asked Miss Gray about the Pandemonium Club yet?” Will asked.
The Pandemonium Club. “I know the words. They were written on the side of Mrs. Dark’s carriage,” Tessa said.
“It’s an organization,” Charlotte said. “A rather old organization of mundanes who have interested themselves in the magical arts. At their meetings they do spells and try to summon up demons and spirits.” She sighed.
Jessamine snorted. “I can’t imagine why they bother,” she said. “Messing about with spells and wearing hooded robes and setting little fires. It’s ridiculous.”
“Oh, they do more than that,” said Will. “They’re more powerful in Downworld than you might think. Many rich and important figures in mundane society are members—”
“That only makes it sillier.” Jessamine tossed her hair. “They have money and power. Why are they playing around with magic?”
“A good question,” said Charlotte. “Mundanes who involve themselves in things they know nothing about are likely to meet unpleasant ends.”
Will shrugged. “When I was trying to track down the source of the symbol on that knife Jem and I found in the alley, I was directed to the Pandemonium Club. The members of it in turn directed me to the Dark Sisters. It’s their symbol—the two serpents. They supervised a set of secret gambling dens frequented by Downworlders. They existed to lure mundanes in and trick them into losing all their money in magical games, then, when the mundanes fell into debt, the Dark Sisters would extort the money back at ruinous rates.” Will looked over at Charlotte. “They ran some other businesses as well, most unsavory ones. The house in which they kept Tessa, I had been told, was a Downworlder brothel catering to mundanes with unusual tastes.”
“Will, I’m not at all sure—,” Charlotte began dubiously.
“Hmph,” Jessamine said. “No wonder you were so keen to go there, William.”
If she had hoped to annoy Will, it didn’t work; she might as well not have spoken, for all the attention he paid her. He was looking at Tessa across the table, his eyebrows arched slightly. “Have I offended you, Miss Gray? I imagined that after all you’ve seen, you would not be easily shocked.”
“I am not offended, Mr. Herondale.” Despite her words, Tessa felt her cheeks flame. Well-brought-up young ladies didn’t know what a brothel was, and certainly wouldn’t say the word in mixed company. Murder was one thing, but this … “I, ah, don’t see how it could have been a … place like that,” she said as firmly as she could. “No one ever came or went, and other than the maidservant and the coachman, I never saw anyone else who lived there.”
“No, by the time I got there, it was quite deserted,” Will agreed. “Clearly they had decided to suspend business, perhaps in the interests of keeping you isolated.” He glanced over at Charlotte. “Do you think Miss Gray’s brother has the same ability she does? Is that, perhaps, why the Dark Sisters captured him in the first place?”
Tessa interjected, glad for the change of subject. “My brother never showed any sign of such a thing—but, then, neither did I until the Dark Sisters found me.”
“What is your ability?” Jessamine demanded. “Charlotte won’t say.”
“Jessamine!” Charlotte scowled at her.
“I don’t believe she has one,” Jessamine went on. “I think she’s simply a little sneak who knows that if we believe she’s a Downworlder, we’ll have to treat her well because of the Accords.”
Tessa set her jaw. She thought of her Aunt Harriet saying Don’t lose your temper, Tessa, and Don’t fight with your brother simply because he teases you. But she didn’t care. They were all looking at her—Henry with curious hazel eyes, Charlotte with a gaze as sharp as glass, Jessamine with thinly veiled contempt, and Will with cool amusement. What if they all thought what Jessamine thought? What if they all thought she was angling for charity? Aunt Harriet would have hated accepting charity even more than she’d disapproved of Tessa’s temper.
It was Will who spoke next, leaning forward to look intently into her face. “You can keep it a secret,” he said softly. “But secrets have their own weight, and it can be a very heavy one.”
Tessa raised her head. “It needn’t be a secret. But it would be easier for me to show you than to tell you.”
“Excellent!” Henry looked pleased. “I enjoy being shown things. Is there anything you require, like a spirit lamp, or—”
“It’s not a séance, Henry,” Charlotte said wearily. She turned to Tessa. “You don’t need to do this if you don’t want to, Miss Gray.”
Tessa ignored her. “Actually, I do require something.” She turned to Jessamine. “Something of yours, please. A ring, or a handkerchief—”
Jessamine wrinkled her nose. “Dear me, it sounds to me rather as if your special power is pickpocketing!”
Will looked exasperated. “Give her a ring, Jessie. You’re wearing enough of them.”
“You give her something, then.” Jessamine set her chin.
“No.” Tessa spoke firmly. “It must be something of yours.” Because of everyone here, you’re the closest to me in size and shape. If I transform into tiny Charlotte, this dress will simply fall off me, Tessa thought. She had considered trying to use the dress itself, but since Jessamine had never worn it, Tessa wasn’t sure the Change would work and didn’t want to take any chances.
“Oh, very well then.” Petulantly Jessamine detached from her smallest finger a ring with a red stone set in it, and passed it across the table to Tessa. “This had better be worth the trouble.”
Oh, it will be. Unsmiling, Tessa put the ring in the palm of her left hand and closed her fingers around it. Then she shut her eyes.
It was always the same: nothing at first, then the flicker of something at the back of her mind, like someone lighting a candle in a dark room. She groped her way toward it, as the Dark Sisters had taught her. It was hard to strip away the fear and the shyness, but she had done it enough times now to know what to expect—the reaching forward to touch the light at the center of the darkness; the sense of light and enveloping warmth, as if she were drawing a blanket, something thick and heavy, around herself, covering every layer of her own skin; and then the light blazing up and surrounding her—and she was inside it. Inside someone else’s skin. Inside their mind.
She was only at the edge of it, her thoughts skimming the surface of Jessamine’s like fingers skimming the surface of water. Still, it took her breath away. Tessa had a sudden, flashing image of a bright piece of candy with something dark at its center, like a worm at the core of an apple. She felt resentment, bitter hatred, anger—a terrible fierce longing for something—
Her eyes flew open. She was still sitting at the table, Jessamine’s ring clutched in her hand. Her skin zinged with the sharp pins and needles that always accompanied her transformations. She could feel the oddness that was the different weight of another body, not her own; could feel the brush of Jessamine’s light hair against her shoulders. Too thick to be held back by the pins that had clasped Tessa’s hair, it had come down around her neck in a pale cascade.