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“Sophie,” Charlotte said, “did you bring in that dark red dress earlier, as I asked? Can you have it brushed and sponged for Tessa?” She turned back to Tessa as the maid nodded and went to the wardrobe. “I took the liberty of having one of our Jessamine’s old dresses made over for you. The clothes you were wearing were ruined.”
“Much obliged,” Tessa said stiffly. She hated having to be grateful. The Sisters had pretended they were doing her favors, and look how that had turned out.
“Miss Gray.” Charlotte looked at her earnestly. “Shadowhunters and Downworlders are not enemies. Our accord may be an uneasy one, but it is my belief that Downworlders are to be trusted—that, indeed, they hold the key to our eventual success against the demon realms. Is there something I can do to show you that we do not plan to take advantage of you?”
“I …” Tessa took a deep breath. “When the Dark Sisters first told me about my power, I thought they were mad,” she said. “I told them such things didn’t exist. Then I thought I was trapped in some sort of nightmare where they did. But then Mr. Herondale came, and he knew of magic, and had that glowing stone, and I thought, Here is someone who might help me.” She looked up at Charlotte. “But you do not seem to know why I am the way I am, or even what I am. And if even you do not …”
“It can be … difficult to learn how the world truly is, to see it in its true shape and form,” Charlotte said. “Most human beings never do. Most could not bear it. But I have read your letters. And I know that you are strong, Miss Gray. You have withstood what might have killed another young girl, Downworlder or not.”
“I didn’t have a choice. I did it for my brother. They would have murdered him.”
“Some people,” Charlotte said, “would have let that happen. But I know from reading your own words that you never even considered that.” She leaned forward. “Have you any idea where your brother is? Do you think he is most likely dead?”
Tessa sucked in a breath.
“Mrs. Branwell!” Sophie, who had been attending to the hem of a wine-red dress with a brush, looked up and spoke with a reproachful tone that surprised Tessa. It was not the place of servants to correct their employers; the books she’d read had made that very clear.
But Charlotte only looked rueful. “Sophie is my good angel,” she said. “I tend to be a little too blunt. I thought there might be something you knew, something that wasn’t in your letters, that might give us knowledge of his whereabouts.”
Tessa shook her head. “The Dark Sisters told me he was imprisoned in a safe location. I assume he is still there. But I have no idea how to find him.”
“Then you should stay here at the Institute until he can be located.”
“I don’t want your charity.” Tessa said mulishly. “I can find another lodging place.”
“It would not be charity. We are bound by our own laws to help and aid Downworlders. To send you away with nowhere to go would break the Accords, which are important rules we must abide by.”
“And you wouldn’t ask for anything in return?” Tessa’s voice was bitter. “You won’t ask me to use my—my ability? You won’t require me to Change?”
“If,” Charlotte said, “you do not wish to use your power, then no, we will not force you to. Though I do believe you yourself might benefit from learning how it might be controlled and used—”
“No!” Tessa’s cry was so loud that Sophie jumped and dropped her brush. Charlotte glanced over at her and then back at Tessa. She said, “As you wish, Miss Gray. There are other ways you could assist us. I’m sure there is much that you know that was not contained in your letters. And in return, we could help you to search for your brother.”
Tessa’s head went up. “You would do that?”
“You have my word.” Charlotte stood up. Neither of them had touched the tea on its tray. “Sophie, if you could help Miss Gray dress, and then bring her in to dinner?”
“Dinner?” After hearing such a deal about Nephilim, and Downworld, and faeries and vampires and demons, the prospect of dinner was almost shocking in its ordinariness.
“Certainly. It’s nearly seven o’clock. You’ve already met Will; you can meet everyone else. Perhaps you’ll see that we’re to be trusted.”
And with a brisk nod, Charlotte left the room. As the door closed after her, Tessa shook her head mutely. Aunt Harriet had been bossy, but she’d had nothing on Charlotte Branwell.
“She has a strict manner, but she’s really very kind,” Sophie said, laying out on the bed the dress Tessa was meant to wear. “I’ve never known anyone with a better heart.”
Tessa touched the sleeve of the dress with the tip of her finger. It was dark red satin, as Charlotte had said, with black moiré ribbon trim around the waist and hem. She had never worn anything so nice.
“Would you like me to help you get dressed for dinner, miss?” Sophie asked. Tessa remembered something Aunt Harriet had always said—that you could know a man not by what his friends said about him, but by how he treated his servants. If Sophie thought Charlotte had a good heart, then perhaps she did.
She raised her head. “Much obliged, Sophie. I believe I would.”
Tessa had never had anyone assist her in getting dressed before, other than her aunt. Though Tessa was slender, the dress had clearly been made for a smaller girl, and Sophie had to lace Tessa’s stays tightly to make it fit. She clucked under her breath while she did it. “Mrs. Branwell doesn’t believe in tight lacing,” she explained. “She says it causes nervous headaches and weakness, and a Shadowhunter can’t afford to be weak. But Miss Jessamine likes the waists of her dresses very small, and she does insist.”
“Well,” said Tessa, a little breathless, “I’m not a Shadowhunter, anyway.”
“There is that,” Sophie agreed, doing up the back of the dress with a clever little buttonhook. “There. What do you think?”
Tessa looked at herself in the mirror, and was taken aback. The dress was too small on her, and had clearly been designed to be fitted closely to the body as it was. It clung almost shockingly to her figure down to the hips, where it swelled into gathers in the back, draped over a modest bustle. The sleeves were turned back, showing frills of champagne lace at the cuffs. She looked—older, she thought, not the tragic scarecrow she had looked in the Dark House, but not someone entirely familiar to herself either. What if one of the times I Changed, when I turned back into myself, I didn’t do it quite right? What if this isn’t even my true face? The thought sent such a bolt of panic through her that she felt as if she might faint.
“You are a little pale,” Sophie said, examining Tessa’s reflection with a judicious gaze. She didn’t appear particularly shocked by the dress’s tightness, at least. “You could try pinching your cheeks a bit to bring the color. That’s what Miss Jessamine does.”
“It was awfully kind of her—Miss Jessamine, I mean—to lend me this dress.”
Sophie chuckled low in her throat. “Miss Jessamine’s never worn it. Mrs. Branwell gave it to her as a gift, but Miss Jessamine said it made her look sallow and tossed it in the back of her wardrobe. Ungrateful, if you ask me. Now, go on then and pinch your cheeks a bit. You’re pale as milk.”
Having done so, and having thanked Sophie, Tessa emerged from the bedroom into a long stone corridor. Charlotte was there, waiting for her. She set off immediately, with Tessa behind her, limping slightly—the black silk shoes, which did not quite fit, were not kind to her bruised feet.
Being in the Institute was a bit like being inside a castle—the ceiling disappearing up into gloom, the tapestries hanging on the walls. Or at least it was what Tessa imagined the inside of a castle might look like. The tapestries bore repeating motifs of stars, swords, and the same sort of designs she’d seen inked on Will and Charlotte. There was a single repeating image too, of an angel rising out of a lake, carrying a sword in one hand and a cup in the other. “This place used to be a church,” Charlotte said, answering Tessa’s unasked question. “The Church of All-Hallows-the-Less. It burned down during the Great Fire of London. We took over the land after that and built the Institute on the ruins of the old church. It’s useful for our purposes to remain on consecrated ground.”
“Don’t people think it’s odd, you building on the site of an old church like this?” Tessa asked, hurrying to keep up.
“They don’t know about it. Mundanes—that’s what we call ordinary people—aren’t aware of what we do,” Charlotte explained. “To them, from the outside the place looks like an empty patch of land. Beyond that, mundanes aren’t really very interested in what doesn’t affect them directly.” She turned to usher Tessa through a door and into a large brightly lit dining room. “Here we are.”
Tessa stood blinking in the sudden illumination. The room was huge, big enough for a table that could have seated twenty people. An immense gasolier hung down from the ceiling, filling the room with a yellowish glow. Over a sideboard loaded with expensive-looking china, a gilt-framed mirror ran the length of the room. A low glass bowl of white flowers decorated the table’s center. Everything was tasteful, and very ordinary. There was nothing unusual about the room, nothing that might hint at the nature of the house’s occupants.
Though the entire long dining table was draped with white linen, only one end was set, with places for five people. Only two people were already sitting—Will and a fair-haired girl about Tessa’s age in a shimmering low-necked gown. They appeared to be studiously ignoring each other; Will looked up in apparent relief when Charlotte and Tessa came in. “Will,” Charlotte said. “You remember Miss Gray?”
“My recollection of her,” said Will, “is most vivid indeed.” He was no longer wearing the odd black clothes he’d been wearing the day before, but an ordinary pair of trousers and a gray jacket with a black velvet collar. The gray made his eyes look bluer than ever. He grinned at Tessa, who felt herself flush and looked quickly away.
“And Jessamine—Jessie, do look up. Jessie, this is Miss Theresa Gray; Miss Gray, this is Miss Jessamine Lovelace.”
“So pleased to make your acquaintance,” Jessamine murmured. Tessa couldn’t help staring at her. She was almost ridiculously pretty, what one of Tessa’s novels would have called an English rose—all silvery fair hair, soft brown eyes, and creamy complexion. She wore a very bright blue dress, and rings on almost every one of her fingers. If she had the same black skin markings that Will and Charlotte did, they weren’t visible.
Will cast Jessamine a look of plain loathing, and turned to Charlotte. “Where’s your benighted husband, then?”
Charlotte, taking a seat, gestured for Tessa to sit opposite her, in the chair beside Will. “Henry is in his workroom. I’ve sent Thomas to fetch him. He’ll be up in a moment.”