There isn't any answer at first, and frustrated, I try the knob - locked. Well, a lock won't keep me out, I think with a sense of grim satisfaction, and unlock the door with a spell.
Professor Grabiner's walking around the desk towards the door as I enter. "You could wait for two seconds together," he snaps, clearly irritated at my interruption. But I don't pay any attention.
"She's magic!" I shout at him.
He opens his mouth to respond, then shuts it, looking at me as though I've miraculously sprouted another head. He makes a quick gesture with one hand, and the study door shuts behind me. "What?" he asks.
"Mrs. Craft - she's magic, she just told me!" I say, trying to slow down enough to make my words coherent.
"She's a witch?" He knits his eyebrows.
"Well-" I say, suddenly unsure how to explain. "She's magic, but I think she got memory spelled, she didn't-"
"Make the Choice?" he finishes for me. "If she didn't make the Choice, she's not a witch."
He sounds so smug and condescending that I bristle. "She defused a bomb! With her brain! And her parents - they must have stopped her from making the Choice, and she got memory spelled but it must not have worked right, and then she got packed off to marry some man she didn't even love, and couldn't go to school!"
"And how on earth would that possibly affect me?" he asks with a sneer, and I'm shocked into open-mouthed silence.
He turns back to the desk, saying "now if you'll excuse me-"
"I'm going to tell her about it!" I blurt.
He turns back to me, scowling. "You'll do nothing of the kind."
"She deserves to know! She's been wondering her whole life if magic was real!"
"And do you understand what would happen to you if you did tell her?" His voice has a dangerous edge to it now, and I step back, considering what would happen. I'd be kicked out of the magical community, all my magic taken away and-what would that mean about the manus? Would it come to claim my soul after all?
"I don't care," I say, but even I can hear the uncertain wobble in my voice. He smirks, and I feel my indignation rise from my chest and into my throat. "It isn't fair!"
Professor Grabiner gives me a withering look. "Eliza, you're acting like a spoiled child."
"And you're acting like a selfish one!" I counter. "How on earth would that possibly affect me-how could you say something so disgusting?" His face goes stony, but I don't stop. "You think she's beneath you just because she would have been wildseed? Just because her family stopped her from becoming a witch? You're not better than anyone else, just because you have money, or just because you have magic! Or just because you think you're smarter than they are and it's such a burden just to tolerate them! What happened to Mrs. Craft - that could have been me, you know? That could have been-" but I bite back my words before I can say Violet. "My - my family," I finish. "My parents - you could have been talking about them, saying 'that' or 'it,' like they weren't even human beings!" The vehemence in my voice returns at the last, but I can already tell that I haven't fooled him - that he knows what I was about to say.
He doesn't get angry, and he doesn't shout at me. He doesn't say a single word, but as I watch, something behind his eyes shuts down. It's worse than it would have been if he had gotten angry, even if he'd threatened to lock me in a dungeon. My stomach twists and I feel shame soak through me.
"I-" I start, then drop my eyes, unable to meet his gaze any longer. "I should never have come here."
"No," he says after an interval. "It was self indulgent."
I start and hiss in my breath as though he'd slapped me - and in a way, he has. It's a terrible thing to say, but even worse, I know he's right. Despite all the lies I'd told myself about why I've come here, that's exactly what I've been - self indulgent. I didn't come here to help Professor Grabiner figure anything out about his father or even to distract Lord Montague from his son's actions. I'm here because I couldn't stand to be away from my much-too-old husband because of my little schoolgirl crush. And worse than that, I've shown Professor Grabiner that I'm willing to pull punches for him, but he's shown that he isn't willing to do the same for me.
There's nothing else to do, so I just say "yes," and try not to cry.
His mouth twists, and then he looks away. "I'll have Mr. Lewis put you on the first flight from Newcastle, will that suit?"
"Yes," I say to the floor. I won't cry. I won't cry. I won't.
"Very well. Now if-"
"No - I'll get out of your way-" I say and slam myself out of the room before I can burst into tears. But I can't cry, not out here in the main hall where any of the guests can walk by and see me, and I can't go back to the fussy sitting room where I'd left Mrs. Craft-she's probably furious with me. I run down the hall and up the main staircase half blinded and with one hand over my mouth holding in the sobs I'm afraid will erupt at any moment.
I race down the unoccupied hall of second floor bedrooms. I have to find somewhere to hide, somewhere to cry where I won't be caught, because I can't stand to have anyone see me in this state. Definitely not my bedroom, considering how often Professor Potsdam barges in on me, unannounced. I'm past the music room before I remember that I could probably tuck myself away into one of the spare bedrooms - but then, they might get dusted or aired by the staff. I round a corner, and find myself facing the strange carved red-tinged door that I'd found with Mrs. Craft yesterday afternoon. I'd been frightened of its sinister aspect then, but I'm beyond fear now. Now it seems like the perfect sanctuary, unassailable by anyone. I aim a spell at the door and it unlocks and swings open. I push myself in, then back myself against it, shutting the house out and myself in.
Once I'm safely behind the huge red door, I can't hold myself in any longer. I sink to the floor and start to cry in huge gulping sobs, the way a toddler cries when it's having a tantrum. Some distant part of me knows this, and the shame of it sends me sobbing even harder. I've lost-he doesn't love me, and how could he? I'm just a stupid, silly child who can't control herself. I press my hands against my mouth, hardly able to breathe and feeling like I'm vomiting tears.
"Oh now," says a voice above me. "It can't be that bad."
I gasp, choking on a wad of snot and scrabbling my feet to press myself into the door. Looking up, I see a tall, slim figure half obscured by my tears, holding a floppy white object before my face. It's Lord Montague - just the person I don't want to see.
"Well go on, take it," he says, and I reach one hand out to clutch the handkerchief he's holding out to me. I look down and start dabbing at my streaming eyes and nose, sniffling as I go. When I look back up he's still standing there, smiling down at me. "Come now my dear, what's a handkerchief for?" he asks. Resigned, I blow my nose with a sonorous honk - embarrassing, but I do feel better afterwards.
"Excuse me," I mutter, wiping my eyes with a clean corner of the linen square.
"Perfectly all right," says Lord Montague with a kind smile. He holds out one hand to me, so I take it with the hand that's the least sticky and stand with his assistance. "You've been fighting with Hieronymous, haven't you?"
"I - how-" I start, baffled, and he chuckles.
"Dear, I'm his father - and I've never seen anyone who could upset someone so thoroughly and so quickly as he could."
Despite myself I break into a tentative smile at this.
"Ah, that's what I wanted to see. One smile from you and the world kneels." He pats my cheek in a comforting way. "Now don't tell me you've been here this whole time and haven't even seen my library?"
He steps to my side after saying this, leaving me to clutch the handkerchief to my chest and look up. It's true, I haven't seen one foot of the room since entering, and the sight makes me gawk in wonder.
The room is octagonal in shape with bookshelves lining nearly every part of its eight walls. It has to be at least four stories high - another impossibility, considering that the room would comprise a tower that could be seen from the outside of the house - it must be another magically manipulated space. The ceiling is made entirely of faceted glass with a lattice that looks like a spider's web supporting the panes. A cold, grey light shines through the clouds above and gives the room a subdued glow. A spiral staircase snakes up the walls, ensuring that a browser might have access to any book she wished just by ascending it. From time to time the stair levels into a small alcove which houses a chair or settee, each flanked by a narrow window to ensure that a reader would have some outside light. And the books - they gleam even in the dim, suffused sunlight, bound in leather and gilt, practically giving off a light of their own. It's a majestic, imposing library, and I feel like a small child who's stumbled into something far too grand to comprehend.
"I'm - I'm so sorry to disturb you," I stammer, ashamed that I've been caught crying in such a room.
Lord Montague chuckles again. "Oh my dear, I've been waiting for you to get curious enough to try to force your way in. Another rather special white magic spell, you see - it keeps people who I don't want here out, while drawing those I'd like to see in. All you needed to do was give the door a slight push, and it would have opened for you. I've been dying to show it off."
"Oh," I say, unsure how else to respond. "That's very kind."
"Kindness has nothing to do with it," he says with an enigmatic smile, then takes my elbow and starts leading me up the stairs. "What you see, dear daughter-in-law, is nothing less than the second largest collection of books on the Otherworld in Britannia."
"It's incredible," I breathe, marvelling at the spiralling view before me.
"Yes, it's taken generations to bring it to the marvel you see today," Lord Montague says. "Only Saint Amphibalus' has a larger collection - as it should, it's the best magical college in Britain, and my own alma mater. Ah-have you given a thought to what you'd like to study at university?"
"Oh... I don't-" I start, flummoxed, and then blurt out "history," because it's the first thing I can think of.
"Then that's where you should go!" crows Lord Montague. "I've always been a little disappointed that Hieronymous never had the inclination to pursue a classical education, but it would be lovely to have another Grabiner at Saint Amphibalus'. There's no better place for studying history - other than our own house." He chuckles, gesturing to the rows of books. "We have books dating back to the fourteenth century - handwritten and illuminated, of course. Terribly beautiful. Look at this one!" He turns to a bookshelf and raises a glass cover that protects a row of volumes from the open air. He chooses a book, eases it out of the case, and opens it to an illustration on the tissue-thin paper.
The picture in the book is indeed terribly beautiful - both beautiful and terrible. In it, a group of red-tinged creatures with long tails and yellow teeth are seizing and dismembering a group of terrified children. Some of the children have already been torn to pieces, and a group of demons are fighting one another for each plump limb, while one - a bit larger and more ferocious looking than the others - seems to be chewing on a dismembered head that looks as though it's still screaming. The picture is hand-drawn, embellished in rich inks, and accented with thin threads of gold leaf for the demons' claws.
"Is that what it's like there?" I ask, a cold horror creeping up my spine.
"Not anymore," says Lord Montague, shutting the book with care and replacing it on its shelf. "Did I scare you, dear? I really must apologize - I'm always stumbling about and doing the wrong thing, you know."
"Oh - no - it's not-" I start, but he puts a hand up to stop me.
"No, no, please don't make excuses for me. I'd intended to apologize to you for last night, actually, and here I go frightening you and having to apologize again!" He sighs. "I'm afraid I was in a foul mood after being woken by that dreadful solicitor at such an hour, and I took it out on you. It's an unpardonable offense, but I must ask you to pardon me."
"It's all right," I say, stomach churning at the memory of last night.
"It isn't really, but I thank you just the same," says Lord Montague. "My ex-wife was always telling me that the most infuriating thing about me was that I had the nastiest temper and would run about doing and saying horrible things, and having to backtrack and apologize to everyone afterwards. She said it was quite exhausting!" He gives a rueful laugh. "But I'm afraid I've never weaned myself from the habit, and I think that Hieronymous has caught it as well. Forgive me. Forgive us."
I don't know what to say to that, so I just give Lord Montague a nervous smile.
"I suppose he'll have to apologize for himself," says Lord Montague with a sigh. "What were you arguing about?"
"Oh - nothing important," I say, not about to betray Mrs. Craft's secret. Instead, I seize on a change of subject. "So what is the Otherworld like? If it's not all demons eating children."
"Oh, those aren't demons, they're goblins," Lord Montague says airily.
"Right, goblins, of course," I say, frowning. "But-"
"The Otherworld, yes," says Lord Montague with a grin. "Well it's funny you should ask me to describe it, because the first adjective that comes to mind is 'indescribable.'" He crinkles his eyes at me, and I laugh. "But I'll do my best. The Otherworld is... rather like a paradise for people. Ah, I mean for our sort of people, you know. Many of the constraints to using magic that we experience here simply don't exist there; it's very freeing. The concept of space is nearly meaningless - you could think yourself across the length of a continent using only the amount of magical energy it would take to travel one foot in this world. You have to watch out for time, though - if you're not careful in your comings and goings, you may find yourself spending ten minutes in the Otherworld, only to come back to this world ten years after you'd left.
"And it's fascinating to live amongst different species of sentient beings. Until you experience it for yourself, there's really no way to describe just how different they are. Some of them act under a completely different set of rules than we humans do. Some are obsessed with consuming human souls-like the goblins, of course, but there are others - and some are literally incapable of telling or understanding a lie. Some have an incomprehensible craving to enter into agreements or contracts, and once bound, will literally perish before breaking their word. Some are terribly beautiful, some are frightfully ugly, and some look very much like humans."
I'm completely spellbound by Lord Montague's narrative. As he weaves his description of living among the denizens of the Otherworld, I can practically picture a parade of strange, beautiful and horrible creatures before my eyes. It's enough to make me long to visit that mysterious place, despite the frightening story he'd told me yesterday.
Lord Montague is, of course, eating up the undivided attention. "I really do wish Hieronymous would put his past behind him and take you; you'd be quite at home there considering your obvious intelligence and talent."
"It does sound like a fascinating place," I venture. "But I have no idea when I could even go. I mean, how old is old enough, anyway? When are you, like... unappetizing?"
"Children in general or you in particular?" asks Lord Montague, raising one hand and stroking my cheek. "I'd imagine you were rather appetizing at any time."
"Uh..." I start, suddenly uncomfortable.
"In another year or so I think you'll be all right. Though you might find yourself there sooner than you think." His hand continues stroking my cheek, up, down, and back again.
"Well you know the stories don't you? Even a wildseed like you knows them. Little girls who fall down the rabbit hole, or get lost in the woods, or run three times around the church widdershins." He smiles a slow, sly smile and then, with the speed of a striking snake, grabs underneath my jaw, thumb and fingers digging into my cheeks.
At first I think it must be a joke, and try to smile against the pressure of his fingers. But he squeezes tighter, holding my face still in his hand. A stab of fear pierces me, and I try to twist my face out of his grip, scrabbling at his wrist with both hands, but the harder I struggle, the tighter he squeezes. I start to panic, trying to back away, trying anything to extract myself, but I only succeed in making small squeaking noises-the sound of a small animal caught in a trap. And all the while I'm thinking he's supposed to be ill-how can he be so strong?
He doesn't drop his smile as I twist in his clutch. His fingers squeeze tighter and tighter, digging into my cheeks, forcing the flesh between my teeth. I wince as I bite through, filling my mouth with hot salty liquid, but through it all he keeps my face still in front of his.
"Childe Rowland," he starts in his gravelly voice, "to the dark tower came. His word was still fie" - and he draws the word out in a whisper - "fiiiieeee, fohhhhh and fummmmm... I smell the soul..." And here he brings his face next to mine, and breathes deeply, as though smelling my neck and hair - "Of an American."
He must loosen his grip just then, because I'm able to wrench myself free and sprint back down the spiral staircase, running headlong into the door before I'm able to scrabble for the knob, open it, and dash into the hall. I don't stop running until I've shut and locked the door to my Impossible Room and drawn all the curtains around the bed, and then I lie on my side on the coverlet, knees drawn to my chest, panting and gasping in terror.