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"Look, I'm sorry your girlfriend is upset, but the only friend I have here is being accused of something she didn't do, and Elodie is leading the charge. I just can't feel sorry for her right now, okay?"

I waited for him to fire back, but apparently he decided to drop it. He got up off the steps and went back to his clipboard.

"Have you seen anything that looks like 'Demon-possessed Instrument: J. Mompesson'?"

"Possibly." I hopped off the shelf and went to the space where I'd found a drum the other day, but of course it had vanished. By the time we found it (it had hidden itself behind a pile of books that disintegrated when we moved them. "Really, really hope those weren't important" had been Archer's only comment), our hour was nearly up.

I heard the lock above us click open. The Vandy had stopped coming down to the cellar to get us; she just unlocked the door.

We tossed our clipboards down and headed for the stairs.

As we started up, I could've sworn I saw a flash of green out of the corner of my eye, but when I turned around to look, there was nothing. The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end, and I rubbed my hand absently over them.

"You okay?" Archer asked as he opened the door.

"Yeah," I said, but I was freaked out. "It's just . . . Can I ask you something really weird?"

"Those are my favorite kinds of questions."

"Do you think anyone around here could raise a demon?"

I thought he'd laugh or make a sarcastic comment, but instead he paused outside the cellar door and looked at me in that intense way he had.

"Why would you ask that?"

"Something Jenna said the other night. She thinks Holly may have been killed because, uh, some people raised a demon."

Archer took that in before shaking his head and saying, "Nah, there's no way. Mrs. Casnoff would know if there was a demon on campus. They're pretty conspicuous."

"Why? Are they green and horny?" I willed a blush away and said, "I mean, as in having horns, not . . . the other."

"Not necessarily. They can look as human as you and me. Some of them even used to be human."

"Have you ever seen one?"

He looked at me incredulously. "Uh, no. Thank God. I like my face where it is and not eaten off."

"Yeah," I said as we reached the main staircase. "But you're a warlock. Couldn't you take a demon?"

"Not unless I had that," he said, pointing to the stained-glass angel above the stairs. "See that sword? Demonglass. Only thing that can kill demons."

"And so originally named," I commented, making him laugh.

"You mock," he said, "but that's some hardcore stuff. The only place you can find it is in hell, so it's kinda hard to come by."

"Wow," I said, looking at the window with new appreciation.

"Archer!" I heard Elodie trill from somewhere upstairs. I walked past him. "Well, thanks. See ya."


I turned around.

He was standing at the bottom of the stairs, and in the soft lights of the chandelier he was so handsome that my chest hurt. It was easy to forget how irritating he was when he looked that good. "What?" I asked in the most bored voice I could manage.


Elodie came bounding past me, and Archer's eyes went from me to her.

I turned and ran up the stairs before I had to see her in his arms.


By the beginning of October, Chaston had sent written testimony into the Council, stating she couldn't remember anything about the attack, so Jenna was allowed to stay. I'd thought that news would do something to remove the shadows from under her eyes, but it didn't. She hardly talked to anyone besides me, and even then she barely smiled, and she never laughed.

As for me, I started to feel like I might actually be getting the hang of life at Hecate. My classes were going well. Elodie and Anna had been shaken up for about two weeks after Chaston and temporarily lost their sadistic urge to torture me. Instead they pretty much ignored me. But by the middle of October they were back to normal, which for them meant making nasty remarks and talking about clothes.

I avoided trouble with the Vandy even though she'd made Archer my permanent Defense partner, probably in the hopes that he'd inadvertently kill me. But even that wasn't going too badly, although being forced to spend more time in close proximity to him was its own type of torture. In fact, the more time we spent cataloguing in the cellar or blocking each other's blows in Defense, the more I began to suspect that my crush might be deepening into something else, something that I really didn't want to put a name to. It wasn't just that he was hot--although, believe me, that was definitely part of it--it was the way he ran his fingers through his hair. The way he looked at me like I was actually interesting to talk to. The way his eyes lit up when he laughed at my jokes. Hell, the fact that he laughed at my jokes.

And the more I got to know him, the more wrong his dating Elodie seemed. He'd sworn there was more to Elodie than met the eye, but in the two months I'd been at Hecate, practically the only things I'd heard her talk about were spells for making your hair shinier or freckles disappear. She'd looked at me when mentioning that one. Even her essay for Lord Byron's class was about the way physical beauty enhanced a witch's power, supposedly because it gave her easier access to humans. It was ridiculous.

Now, sitting behind her in Ms. East's Magical Evolution class, I couldn't help but roll my eyes as she prattled on to Anna about the dress she was planning on conjuring for the school's annual All Hallow's Eve Ball in two weeks.

"Most people think redheads can't wear pink," she was saying, "but it totally depends on the shade of pink. Either really light pink or dark pink works best. And hot pink, of course, is just trashy."

This last bit was spoken in a louder voice for Jenna's benefit. She was sitting beside me, and even though she pretended to ignore them, I saw her fingers steal up to her pink streak a few minutes later.

I nudged her arm. "Don't listen to them. They're total bitches."

"Excuse me, Miss Mercer?"

I looked up to see Ms. East standing over my desk, one hand on her hip. Ms. East looked like she'd be one of the coolest teachers at Hecate.

Jenna and I privately joked that her look was dominatrix-chic. She was rail thin and always wore her dark maroon hair pulled back in a tight bun. Factor in her all-black wardrobe and sky-high heels, and she looked like she could easily be walking the runways in Paris. But like all the teachers at Hecate, Ms. East seemed to have been born with her sense of humor gland completely absent.

Now I smiled weakly at her and said, "Um . . . there are witches? In this class?"

The class erupted into giggles except for Elodie and Anna, who had probably guessed what I actually said, and were glaring at me.

The corners of Ms. East's mouth turned down a fraction of an inch, which was about as close to a frown as she got. I think she was afraid of creasing her perfectly smooth face.

"What a thrilling observation, Miss Mercer. However, you know that I do not tolerate interruptions in my class--"

"I wasn't interrupting," I interrupted, and Ms. East's mouth tilted down ever farther, which meant I'd just crossed into the land of Royally Screwed.

"Since you have so much to say, perhaps you would like to write it in an essay on the different classes of witches? Two thousand words, let us say? Due tomorrow."

As usual my mouth opened before my brain had a chance to stop it, and I yelped, "What? That's totally unfair!"

"And now you may exit my class. When you come back, kindly have your essay and an apology in hand."

I bit off a retort and gathered my things under Jenna's sympathetic gaze and Elodie's and Anna's smirks. It took a lot of self-control, but I didn't slam the door as I left.

I checked my watch and saw that I had forty minutes to kill until my next class, so I ran upstairs and dropped my books off before heading outside for a little fresh air.

It was one of those insanely beautiful days that only October seems capable of producing. The sky was a deep clear blue. The trees were still mostly green, with a few orange and gold leaves poking out here and there.

There was a pleasant sort of smoky-smelling breeze blowing, which felt just cool enough to make me glad I was wearing my blazer. So even though a part of me was still seething with the unfairness of getting kicked out of class, I was pretty happy about being given an unexpected free period, even though I should have been using it to write my stupid essay.

Just before I could do something super lame like spread my arms wide and burst into the chorus of "Colors of the Wind," I heard a voice say, "Why aren't you in class?"

I turned around to see the groundskeeper, Cal, standing behind me. As usual he was rocking his lumberjack look--all flannel and denim. And this time he even had a prop: a giant ax, which he held in his left hand, the lethal head gleaming dully against his boot.

I don't know what the expression on my face was as I stared at that ax, but I imagined I must have looked like Elmer Fudd when Bugs Bunny had dressed up as a girl--popping eyes, jaw dropped to the ground.

Apparently that wasn't too far off, because Call seemed to stifle a laugh as he lifted the ax and rested it on his shoulder.

"Relax. I'm not a psycho."

"I know that," I snapped. "You're the healing janitor dude."


"Isn't that like a janitor?"

"No, it's like a groundskeeper."

From the two interactions I'd had with him, I'd assumed Call was some sort of Neanderthal jock type. For one thing, he was super buff, and his hair was dark blond, making him look exactly like your average high school quarterback. Plus I'd barely ever heard him speak more than three words at a time. But maybe there was more than met the eye.

"So if you can heal with your touch, why are you working here as like, Hagrid, or whatever?"

He smiled, and I noticed his teeth were very white and very straight.

What was with this place? Even the staff looked like Abercrombie & Fitch models.

"Shouldn't you be out there healing really important people instead of here, pulling weeds and patching up teenagers?"

He shrugged. "When I was released from Hecate last year, I offered my services up to the Council. They decided my talents were most useful here, protecting their most precious treasures. You."

There was something so . . . I don't know, intimate, about the way he said it that I felt like I might burst out in giggles and start blushing. Then I caught myself. I already had one stupid crush. I wasn't about to start lusting after the groundskeeper, for God's sake.

Maybe he realized the way he'd said it was weird too, because he quickly cleared his throat. "I mean, all of you. You know, their kids."


"Anyway, now get back to Portraits of Faeries in Eighteenth Century France, or whatever other dumb-ass class you're skipping."

I crossed my arms, both because I was getting a little pissed and also because the breeze across the lake was turning chilly. "Actually, I got kicked out of Ms. East's class. Magical Evolution."

He snorted. "Man. Cellar duty for a semester, kicked out of class . . ."