In an instant, Professor Grabiner and I wrench away from each other, he stepping back so fast he almost stumbles, and me sliding along the wall to a corner; both of us twisting in the direction of the cough.
It's Lord Montague, looking casually elegant in a purple jacquard dressing gown, with his blond shadow, Mr. Lewis, ascending the staircase just behind him.
"We-ell," Lord Montague says, drawing the syllable out. "Your room is just behind you, hadn't you noticed?"
My face feels blazing, and I can barely bring myself to look at Lord Montague's feet.
"Then again," he continues, "I'm glad I found you both out here; I'd so hate to interrupt."
At this, I risk a glance at Lord Montague's face. The expression there seems to indicate that despite his statement, he certainly would have interrupted whatever might have been going on behind a closed door, if only out of spite. This shocks me - what happened to the kindness he showed me this afternoon, when he treated me as a confidante? His eyes flick to me, and I look away, hardly able to breathe. Professor Grabiner opens his mouth as if to say something, then shuts it again, pressing his lips together so tightly they practically disappear. I look back down at the carpet at my feet.
"I just received a very interesting telephone call, Hieronymous," says Lord Montague, "and I simply couldn't wait to discuss it with you. Shall we go down to the study? I don't want to keep poor Mrs. Grabiner up for much longer." His voice drips with false courtesy, and I feel dread creeping through my extremities.
I look up at Professor Grabiner again, but he's avoiding my eyes. Lord Montague steps towards me and tweaks my chin, as he had done at last night's dinner. "Don't worry my dear, I'll bring him back in one piece. Good night to you." He turns and begins to descend the staircase, followed by Mr. Lewis. Professor Grabiner is still for a long moment after they've gone, and I wait for him to look at me, to say something, even just to wish me good night. But he's silent, and soon follows after them without so much as a glance back. I'm left feeling even more abandoned than I would have if I had just let him say good night five minutes ago.
There's nothing for me to do but go to bed, so I do, locking the door even though I know that wouldn't keep a magician like Lord Montague out for even a minute. As I'm getting ready, and as I lie in the middle of the huge bed by myself, I keep going over and over the whole terrible scenario. My awkward stuttering, the kiss, and the unwanted interruption. The whole scene gets worse and worse every time I think through it, and I cringe at every remembered moment.
I lie awake, unable to stop the cycle playing out in my head, and wishing Professor Grabiner would come up, knock on my door, lie down next to me and tell me it was all a misunderstanding; that everything is going to be all right. But my wishing it doesn't make it any more likely to happen, and just drives me deeper into despair.
And amid all this, I find myself wondering what telephone call would be so important that it would come in the middle of the night, prompting Lord Montague to seek out his son immediately - particularly when he was so ill today that he couldn't even be with his guests at dinner. And - funny, when he interrupted us in the hallway, he hadn't even looked ill.
By the time my windows turn grey with morning light, I feel as though I haven't slept in days, and I dread what awaits me when it's time to get up, go downstairs and face the day with the inhabitants of this strange house. But as it turns out, I don't even have to leave the room for the morning to force itself upon me.
"Good morning!" sings Professor Potsdam as she bursts into the room. I might as well have left the door unlocked. I don't bother to wish her a good morning; I just plop one of my pillows over my head, and hope that she'll go away.
It doesn't work. "Come on, wake up gosling, it's a perfectly lovely day!"
I peer out from under my pillow at the window and see that she's lying. The light that should be streaming through the windows is still grey and diffused - it's raining.
"Well, not perfectly lovely," Professor Potsdam admits, "but I always find the dawn of a new day so cheering, don't you?"
"Not especially," I mutter.
Professor Potsdam clicks her tongue at me. "I'm beginning to think Hieronymous is getting to be a bad influence. Up you get!"
I consider telling her to leave me alone, but decide that even if I'm dreading the start of the day, I can't stand to stay in bed for another minute. I get up.
Potsdam gives me a critical once-over. "A little concealer under the eyes today, I think," she says, producing a tube of makeup in one hand, seemingly out of nowhere, and giving it to me. "And you can borrow this!" She conjures a round powder box in her other hand - it's the sparkly powder she'd used on the day of my wedding. "It always cheers me up!"
I must look terrible if Professor Potsdam is giving me her best makeup, but she doesn't ask why I look as though I've been up all night crying. She does her usual bustling about the room, making a production of delivering my new outfit for the day, which I barely glance at before retreating into the bathroom. She takes the hint and leaves me to take my shower and get dressed. I do use the concealer - my eyes have sprouted deep purple circles under them after my sleepless night - but leave the powder alone. I don't much feel like sparkling today.
Once I'm dry and dressed in the skirt, blouse and cardigan Professor Potsdam left me (this time in dove grey and ivory, to match the day, I suppose), she pops back into the room to walk downstairs to breakfast.
"No excursions today?" I ask.
"Not today, leveret," she replies. "Everyone seems to want to stay close to the house. I suppose I can't blame them, weather and all."
I can think of another explanation - no one wants to be out of the house on the day of Lord Montague's illusion, just in case he decides to start early. This thought gives me an uncomfortable feeling-should I tell Professor Potsdam about Lord Montague's plan? I consider telling her for a moment before deciding on keeping my silence for now. Professor Potsdam had told me yesterday that she wouldn't interfere with what Lord Montague does in his own house. And anyway, her immediate rapport with some of the guests means she hasn't been avoiding them as Professor Grabiner has, and she's probably heard about the illusion by now. If she does decide to do something about it, I'd rather not be involved.
We cross the front hall into the dining room, where, unlike yesterday, a good number of the guests have congregated to eat and chat. The group seems subdued, which I find strange after the buoyant mood that pervaded dinner last night, and in a moment I see - or rather hear - why. The sound of a raised voice permeates the dining room from somewhere in the next hall. At first, it sounds like someone ranting at a high volume, though it's difficult to make out what he's saying. But I realize, as I survey the uncomfortable expressions on the faces of the guests, that it's actually two voices shouting - voices so alike, they sound like one. And any hope I had that the day might actually go well disappears.
Professor Potsdam ignores the distant argument to chirp a cheerful "good morning!" to the nearest guest, and start to dish herself some eggs from a covered dish. I hesitate on the threshold for a moment, wondering whether I should join the guests in their uneasy silence over breakfast or to-well, what, exactly?
Professor Potsdam looks over her shoulder at me. "Eliza," she says, and several of the guests turn to look at where I'm standing. "Come and get some breakfast, dear," Professor Potsdam continues, and there's a hint of steel in her voice.
I take a step into the room, but as I do, I see Dame Sutworth - seated at the near end of the table - wince at a particularly loud exchange in the distant argument. I whirl around and take off at a jog through the hall. I take a wrong turn or two, but I'm able to orient myself by the volume of the argument still going on until I find myself before the large, intricately carved door to Lord Montague's study. I steel myself and knock on the door. Nothing happens, but the voices continue-still at high volume, but muffled enough that I still can't make out the words they're saying. I knock again, harder, bruising my knuckles against the carved wood. Still nothing. I raise my hand to knock a third time, but before I can, the door's opened a crack, revealing a narrow sliver of Mr. Lewis's face, along with an exponential increase in the volume of the argument going on inside the room.
"-not yours to do whatever you please with; believe it or not I'm not in the grave yet, as much as I'm sure you'd like to usher me along-"
Mr. Lewis's face is stark white, and he doesn't seem to know what to do with my arrival at the door. He looks back into the room, then at me, then into the room again. I raise my eyebrows at him, but he still doesn't let me in, so I push the door further open and squeeze myself through.
"-authorized me to act as I saw fit only to question my judgment? If you want me to leave immediately, I'm perfectly happy to-"
When I'm inside the study with the door shut behind me by Mr. Lewis, the volume of the argument is nearly deafening. I'd noticed Professor Grabiner's resonant voice the first time he'd ever spoken to me, but I'd only heard it employed in full force once, and then only briefly. Listening to father and son, I have to marvel at the sheer lung power behind each of their voices - they could have a career in opera.
"-completely disregarded my wishes for your own personal agenda, appropriating your own family's legacy for selfish-"
"Prof - Hieronymous-" I start, but it's no good-their eyes are locked on each other, and neither notices me.
"Did it ever occur to you that I DON'T WANT ANY OF IT?" Professor Grabiner is fairly screaming at this point, the tendons in his neck standing out.
I see Lord Montague take in a breath to try to outmatch him in volume, and I decide this entire argument has gone long enough. I take my own breath and yell at the top of my lungs. "HEY!"
This finally gets their attention, and both Grabiners turn to face me, looking as though I had just materialized out of one of the walls.
"Uh - gentlemen," I say, slowly, trying to think of what to say next. "I just wanted to let you know that your voices are - ah - carrying, and that for the comfort of your guests-" with this, I glare at Lord Montague- "you might want to so-" I stop myself before I say "soundproof the room," remembering that Mr. Lewis is here, and not knowing if he's magic. "I mean - keep your voices down."
Lord Montague's face smooths into a genial smile. "Oh my dear!" he says. "How thoughtless of me; thank you for reminding me." He takes my hands in his and squeezes them.
It's my turn to be shocked - Lord Montague calmed down so fast from his fury, it's hard for me to believe I'm even looking at the same person who was shouting a moment ago. Professor Grabiner isn't recovering quite so easily. He sputters something incomprehensible, but Lord Montague gives him an airy wave.
"Now now, Hieronymous, your wife is absolutely right. I'm neglecting my guests. We'll continue our discussion later - after you and Mr. Hoffman come up with a new estate plan." And with that, he breezes out of the room, Mr. Lewis close at his heels.
I stare at the closed door for a long moment before turning back to Professor Grabiner. "What the hell was that?" I say.
He doesn't answer, but crosses to the large desk at the center of the room, slumps into the chair behind it, and rests his head in his hands.
"Professor-" I start, but stop, unsure how to finish.
"That," says Professor Grabiner, "was my father in his element." He drags the palms of his hands over his eyes, then looks up at me. "Welcome to the family."
Now that the color in his face is draining away, I can see that he looks even worse than I do this morning. His skin has taken on a sallow tinge, and his eyes are bloodshot. I consider offering him Professor Potsdam's concealer and sparkly powder, but decide he's probably not in the mood for a joke right now.
"You haven't been up all night arguing with him, have you?"
He shakes his head. "I let him rant at me for a while last night, and decided to try to talk some sense into him this morning." He grimaces. "As you can see, I was about as successful as I've ever been at reasoning with him."
"But what happened?"
He sighs, and considers me for a moment. "Mr. Hoffman happened - the solicitor."
"He came back and mucked your estate plan up?" I ask.
"Entirely," Professor Grabiner confirms.
He narrows his eyes at me. "It's inheritance law, do you really-"
"Try me," I counter. "Uh... the simple version, please."
"Very well." He tents his fingers in front of him on the desk, and his voice makes the subtle transfer into lecture mode. "In England, when an individual that owns an estate above a certain amount dies and their property passes to their next of kin or heir, the government exercises a sizable tax upon most of the value of the property. Needless to say, my father objects to having nearly half of his estate 'seized by the government,' as he puts it. There are certain ways to get around the tax that are legal, but they require some advanced planning - and unfortunately we don't have the time for that at this stage."
I'm already a little confused, but just nod.
"At any rate, I decided that if my father seriously objected to the estate being taxed, I might as well do something useful with the money instead, so I proposed setting up a charitable trust."
He sighs again, exasperated. "If you give a portion of the estate to a charitable cause, that portion is ineligible for taxation."
"So you're giving part of the estate to charity?"
"That was the plan."
I squint at him. "You were trying to do something nice? For other people?"
"Yes, well, try not to let it get out, I have a certain reputation to maintain."
I smile. "So what kind of charity?"
"I thought I might set up a trust to establish a magical school in Newcastle," he says. "There used to be one until the mid-nineteenth century - most of my family was educated there until it was shuttered. I thought my father might like to have a school named after him."
"No you didn't," I say.
He smirks. "No, I didn't. But I don't see why he cares; it's either give the money up in taxes or give it to charity, and by the time it happens he'll be dead anyway."
I'm a bit taken aback by how callous that sounds. Even if he's angry with his father, his plans about what to do with the money when Lord Montague dies... well, they sound like I had sounded to myself when I was daydreaming yesterday afternoon. "Don't you think he ought to have a say?"
His smirk disappears. "Why should he?"
"Well.. what about family?" I ask, thinking about my conversation with Lord Montague yesterday afternoon. "I mean, keeping the estate in the family? Isn't that kind of the point? I mean-" I see his expression darken, and I start to flounder. "I'm sure he just wants the estate to stay in the family instead of going to some school..."
"How interesting that you'd parrot my father's argument," says Professor Grabiner with an edge to his voice. "I suppose you're equally blind to the fact that there is no alternative?"
"What about that spell, that white magic spell your family does?" I suggest. "The one that makes people get bored and forget about things? The one your father puts on his position in Parliament so no one knows... he..." I trail off. I'm not quite able to categorize the look coming over Professor Grabiner's face, but I know enough to be able to tell it's nothing good.
"If that's what he wants, he can bloody well do it himself - I can play host and wrangle solicitors all he likes but I am not here to engage in tax fraud." His hands resting on the desk are clenched, knuckles white.
"I... I was just..." I start, trying to think of some way to calm him down. "I just don't know that much about it." He glares at me, and I step back, dismayed. It's only been twelve hours since he'd kissed me, and now he looks as though he'd cheerfully see me locked in a dungeon. "Look," I say, "maybe you should take a break and get some rest, and-"
"Maybe," he interrupts, "you should leave me alone and let me get something accomplished for once."
I start, then feel a wave of anger surge over the fear I'd felt a second ago. I set my jaw. "Fine," I snap. "I mean, certainly. Sir." I turn my heels and walk out of the study.
"Eliza-" I hear him say behind me, but I ignore him, shutting the door behind me as I stalk into the hall. If it's more nastiness, I don't want to hear it, and if it's an apology, well, I'm tired of his pattern of constantly losing his temper and chasing me down to apologize afterwards. And if this is what it means to be married to Hieronymous Grabiner, maybe I'm sick of being married.
I make my way back to the dining room where I find Lord Montague flitting amongst his guests, chatting, laughing, and putting everyone at ease. Mrs. Craft waves to me from one end of the table. I don't see Professor Potsdam anywhere.
I ignore the odd, hollow feeling in my chest and fetch a plate from the sideboard to serve myself breakfast.