My head snaps to one side. The speed and force of the blow are so strong, I can tell immediately that Mr. Lewis has reinforced his strength with magic. Time seems to slow as I'm knocked off of my feet, and I have a moment to think how stupid it was to try to hide my spellcasting from Mr. Lewis before my temple hits the corner of a bookshelf and I collapse.
Bright white dots appear in my vision as pain shoots through the side of my head, so intense that every word of every spell I've ever learned seems to have been dissolved in it. I know I should get up and fight, shoot a bolt of red magic at his face, or at least heal myself so I can think straight, but I can't do anything except hold the side of my head and inwardly beg the pain to subside. A whimpering sound seems to float up from a distance, and it's a minute before I realize that I'm the one making it.
When my vision clears, I look up. Mr. Lewis is still standing in the doorway, waiting against the frame, still watching me with that half bored expression on his face. Despairing, I realize that I can't fight him after only one year's worth of magical education.
"What do you want?" I ask, in a hoarse whisper.
"You in here, obviously. You'll have to forgive me for prevaricating a bit, but I'm afraid you do not take orders." He lets the contempt drip from the last words, mocking my former display of bravado. "Now if you'll excuse me, I have a few things to take care of, but I'll be back before you know it. And then we can have some fun." The smirk on his face turns to a menacing smile, and he picks up my suitcase and steps out of the room, closing the door behind him.
I want no part of whatever "fun" Mr. Lewis - Mr. Currie - wants to have with me, so after healing the bruise on my temple, I try to teleport myself out of the room. It doesn't work. I can feel the magic flow through me, so I know I've done the spell correctly, but I don't go anywhere at all. Mr. Lewis must have warded the room, just as the professors ward the dungeons during our examinations.
I get up to have a look at the door. Not only has he magically locked the thing, but he's removed the knob and lock mechanism - there's nothing for me to try to unlock. I try anyway, aiming all the spells I can think of at the door, only to have them all repelled - even the flare fizzles and dies as soon as it touches the carved wood. Finally, I give up and try to attack the hinges, first with magic, then with a letter opener I find in the drawer of the desk. The screws don't budge. I even try prying at the door with my fingers, achieving only two broken nails for all my pains. By the time Mr. Lewis returns, I've given up, and have curled up in the chair behind the desk, sucking on one of my injured fingers, and trying to decide whether it's worth it to try to ambush him when he comes back through the door. In the end, I figure it's probably only going to get me another slap across the face or worse, so I sit still as the knob on the door reappears, and he enters the room.
"I hope you didn't get too bored waiting," he purrs at me, still smiling, and back to his English accent. "Everything's taken care of, and I can give you my undivided attention."
That doesn't sound pleasant at all. "What happens now?" I ask, glad that I've at least put the desk between us.
"Now we wait," he says, lighting one of the standing lamps and settling himself into a chair in the corner.
"For your husband."
My heart lifts. "Is he coming?"
"Eventually," says Mr. Lewis, with a smile that I don't like in the slightest.
"Can you tell me what-"
"No," he says. "Unlike you, I do take orders, and mine are to wait and keep you here until your husband returns. That is all you need to know."
"Returns from where?" I ask, but Mr. Lewis stays silent, just staring at me with that nasty smile on his face.
Dread curdles in my stomach. When Professor Grabiner returns from wherever he is, it's obvious that Mr. Lewis doesn't intend for him to get me out of here and let me go home. But maybe it's Professor Grabiner who needs help - when he comes back, he could be hurt, or even killed - though by what or whom, I don't know.
"So," I start, "speaking of taking orders, I assume you were the one who was tracking me this summer?"
Again, Mr. Lewis doesn't say anything, but keeps smiling.
"And that's why you were posing as a stationery customer?" I prod. Absurdly, I start to feel sorry for the Weis - they must have been wondering why their best customer had suddenly abandoned them once I'd left the office.
He keeps smiling, but after a minute, he surprises me by saying something. "I think it's interesting the way humans drop their guard whenever money is concerned. Your co-workers for example - they'd give me whatever information about you I wanted, just so long as I kept buying their little trinkets."
"Humans? So you're not human?" I press, trying not to focus on how irritated I am at my co-workers' gossiping. Mr. Lewis just sits and smiles. I wonder if this was his idea of having "fun" together. If it is, I'm getting sick of it, fast.
All right, so Mr. Lewis isn't human. I start to cycle through the non-human types of creatures that I know about... there are sylphs with butterfly wings, like Pastel, Minnie's roommate. There are goblins, which are apparently red with gold claws, and who like to eat children. There are hodags, which are big, green, lizardy and kind of stupid. There are blue demony-looking people, like Damien who'd been my senior at Initiation. He turned out to be even more of a jerk than Professor Grabiner, and had gotten himself expelled for... something, attacking a fellow student, I think. And then there's the manus, that large blue creature who'd forced me into this marriage.
Now that's something to think about, I realize. The manus - it was a creature bound to the Grabiner family, meaning it wasn't allowed to harm them - that's why I had to marry Professor Grabiner, to join the family and keep the manus from killing and eating me. It hadn't seemed particularly clever or devious, more a user of brute strength. No manus could have put on a show like the one Mr. Lewis has - first posing as a Boston shop owner, then as a timid secretary scared of his own shadow. But a manus has to follow orders, and apparently, Mr. Lewis does too. And that gives me an idea.
"Fine, you don't have to tell me. I know what you are," I say, trying to sound as brash and confident as I had earlier. "You're a manus."
Almost the second the word is out of my mouth, Mr. Lewis leaps at me over the desk, pushing my chair to the wall and locking one hand around my throat. He brings his face to within an inch of mine.
"Say that again," he hisses, "and I'll tear open your ribcage, and eat your thymus." He's still smiling when he says it.
I'm flooded with a mix of triumph and terror. I've succeeded in wounding Mr. Lewis's pride at least. But I have to follow through, call his bluff.
"No you won't," I say, a little hoarse from the pressure against my neck. "You follow orders - you're supposed to keep me alive, aren't you?"
His smile drops, and he growls at me - a strange sound, coming from this thin, blond wisp of a man. But one by one, his fingers loosen, and he straightens and lets me go. "Yes," he admits, and then adds "for now."
That isn't very encouraging, but my mind is still racing. I allow my face to display a bit more of the fear that I'm feeling, and I watch Mr. Lewis smile when he sees it. "Well," I say, putting a bit of a tremor in my voice, "as a legitimate member of the Grabiner family, I order you to-"
"No," he interrupts, holding up one finger. "I take orders, yes, but not from you."
It had been a long shot, anyway, but at least he hadn't hit me again. "From whom then?" I ask. "Lord Montague?" Again, Mr. Lewis doesn't answer, but stares fixedly at me. All right - try something else. "Manuses take orders," I say, and this time Mr. Lewis does hit me, one sharp slap across the face. But this one wasn't magically augmented, and I can ignore the stinging after a moment. I edge out of the chair and wheel it in front of me, as though I'm using it as a shield. Mr. Lewis seems amused by this - his smile widens.
"A manus is a feral beast-" he starts, but I interrupt.
"Yes, and you're so sophisticated - the way you've been hitting me is downright refined," I say.
At this, Mr. Lewis bats the chair away from me, and it spins on its wheels, hitting the far wall, while I jump backwards.
"Stay back there!" I shout, letting my voice go up into a squeak. "You're not supposed to-"
"Kill you," he says, jutting his head forward in a very bestial way, "but no one said anything about a bit of maiming."
I let out another whimper, hoping that I'm not overdoing it, and back straight into the bookshelf behind me, starting in dismay when I can't go any further. I turn back to Mr. Lewis, who is staring at me.
"Maiming," I repeat, "isn't that what feral beasts do?"
This proves to be too much for Mr. Lewis's pride, and he leaps at me again, but this time I'm prepared and teleport myself - two feet to the left.
Mr. Lewis smashes into the bookshelf head first, and before he can recover himself I aim the most powerful sleeping spell I can muster straight at his back. He collapses to the ground and doesn't move. For a moment, neither do I, terrified that the spell hadn't worked, considering that Mr. Lewis isn't human. But he stays still, even when I nudge his foot with mine.
I whirl to the door, muttering "oh please, oh please, oh please" under my breath, and trying the knob. It's locked, but when I use an opening spell, the knob turns under my fingers, and I let out a breath in a rush. He must not have bothered warding the room again, trusting that he could keep one little girl in a locked room without it. Well, that will teach him to underestimate me - but it also means that I have to get as far away from him as possible before he wakes up.
The first thing I think of is the dining room, so I run toward it, down the hall. I have to assume that it was Lord Montague giving Mr. Lewis his orders, but he can't do anything to me in front of all his guests - can he? I don't know what I'll do when I get there - maybe get Mrs. Craft away from the crowd and ask her to drive me out of here and try to find Professor Potsdam? No, how would we find her? Maybe just peek into the dining room to see that Lord Montague is there, distracted, and try to find Professor Grabiner, wherever he is?
I'm still trying to figure out a plan when I skid to a halt in front of the dining room doors, and hesitate before trying to ease one open. I almost lose my nerve before remembering that sleep spells don't last forever, and Mr. Lewis will be furious when he wakes up. I turn the knob and look in.
The table is still set with dishes, but the candelabra are no longer lit. The chairs around the table are empty and pushed back, as though by diners who have left the table after the last course. But there are no staff members clearing away plates or tidying things up. The room is completely empty.
My stomach squirms. Something is wrong with this. I step into the room and walk its length, staring at the table, the chairs, the whole scene redolent with an air of abandonment. I walk through the double doors at the other end of the room and enter the large drawing room, but even before I open the doors I know that there won't be anyone in there for one reason - the room is silent. No, the entire house is silent. I mutter a communication spell, reaching with my mind to see if anyone magical is in the vicinity. But all my mental groping meets with nothing. There's no one in the house at all but me - and Mr. Lewis, who'll be waking up any minute.
I turn and sprint out of the room toward the main staircase. It would be faster to teleport, but I can feel that I'm running low on magic, and I can't risk getting caught without any power if Mr. Lewis does wake up and starts to track me down. I pound up the stairs, panting with effort, and race up the second floor hall toward my bedroom, because - because-
The suitcase, I think, Mr. Lewis took my suitcase and did something with it, and it's probably in my Impossible Room, because where else would it be? I force myself to run up the second flight of stairs even though I'm really gasping now. My old track coach would be ashamed of how out of shape I've gotten at magic school. When I get to the hall, the door to my room is partly open, and I can see that my instinct was right.
My suitcase has been tossed on the floor, my clothes are scattered about the room, and the bedclothes are askew. The settee has been shoved to one side, and the small tea-table, tray of sandwiches and all, has been overturned. The mess looks like there was a struggle, and I even see a scorch mark on the ivory paper lining one wall. For a second I freeze with fear at the thought that Professor Grabiner was here, fighting with - whom? Mr. Lewis? His father? But then I remember the suitcase.
Mr. Lewis said he had to take care of a few things, and took my suitcase and... I survey the room again. He must have set this up, making it look like I'd been taken, but that I'd put up a fight. It's all fake - and it's pretty obvious who was intended to find it.
"Oh God," I mutter to myself, under my breath. Professor Grabiner comes up here, and sees all this, and... what?
And then suddenly it comes to me. I start my incantation for the spirit echo spell, but I go too fast and stutter, so I have to slow down and start again, backing against the wall next to the door to steady myself. And then he's there, Professor Grabiner - a transparent shadow of him, anyway - opening the door to my room, saying "Eliza? Eliz-" and then catching the words as he sees what my room looks like. The expression that spreads across his face is first confused, and then so distressed that it's all I can do to keep from throwing my arms around the shadow's neck and kissing it right there.
Instead, I clench my hands into fists. "Come on," I tell the shade. "Cast spirit echoes. See that I left with Mr. Lewis, and that he came back and set this up! Come on!"
But past Professor Grabiner doesn't cast spirit echoes. He walks slowly toward the bed, eyes fixed on the coverlet. He reaches out, and picks up something small and stares at it for a long moment before uttering an expletive and tossing it aside. He turns and dashes out into the hallway, and I see him start down the stairs, and disappear. The spell's worn off.
The scrap is still there, crumpled on the floor by the wall. I pick it up and smooth it between my fingers. It's a small piece of paper, and there's a single word written on it, in block capital letters.