"Deal," I said as Archer nodded.
"Are we all going to high-five now?" Jenna asked after a pause.
"No, but I can make up some kind of secret handshake if you want," Archer said, and for a second, they smiled at each other.
But just as quickly, the smile disappeared from Jenna's face, and she said to me, "Let's go. I want to see if our room is as freakified as the rest of this place."
"Good idea," I said. Archer reached out and brushed his fingers over mine.
"See you later, then?" he asked. His voice was casual, but my skin was hot where he touched me.
"Definitely," I answered, figuring that even a girl who has to stop evil witches from taking over the world could make time for kissage in there somewhere.
He turned and walked away. As I watched him go, I could feel Jenna staring at me. "Fine," she acknowledged with a dramatic roll of her eyes.
"He's a little dreamy."
I elbowed her gently in the side. "Thanks."
Jenna started to walk to the stairs. "You coming?"
"Yeah," I said. "I'll be right up. I just want to take a quick look around down here."
"Why, so you can be even more depressed?"
Actually, I wanted to stay downstairs just a little longer to see if anyone else showed up. So far, I'd seen nearly everyone I remembered from last year at Hex Hall. Had Call been dragged here, too? Technically he hadn't been a student, but Mrs. Casnoff had used his powers a lot last year.
Would she still want him here?
To Jenna, I just said, "Yeah, you know me. I like poking bruises."
"Okay. Get your Nancy Drew on."
She jogged up the stairs. I waited in the foyer for about fifteen minutes, but there was no sign of Cal, or either of the Casnoffs. Curious, I wandered in the direction of the cell ar. It was down a narrow hallway just off the foyer, and while the corridor had always been dim, now it was completely covered in shadows. I could barely make out the wooden door and had to move my hands over it for a while before I found the iron doorknob. I twisted it, but it was locked. Of course.
"I already tried it," Archer said from behind me.
I was glad it was dark, so that he couldn't see me blush yet again. "I told you, Cross. It's all kissing in castles and Applebee's from now on." I turned so that my back was to the door.
He walked forward. "Ah, but this is technically outside the cell ar," he murmured as he pulled me into his arms.
As soon as our lips met, I was glad I had my back against the door. My knees were in definite danger of failing me. Archer wrapped his arms around my waist and held me tighter as I clutched the front of his shirt and poured all that I'd been feeling for the past few weeks into that kiss-the despair I'd felt when I'd thought he was dead, the relief I felt now, pressed between him and the cell ar door.
When we finally parted, I rested my forehead on his collarbone and took deep breaths. It was a few moments before I was capable of speech.
"I thought you said we'd do this 'later.'"
He kissed my temple. "It's been like, twenty minutes. That counts as later."
Chuckling, I raised my head to look at him. "I kind of missed you."
Even though it was dark, I could see him smile. "I kind of missed you, too."
"I should probably get upstairs now."
"You probably should," he murmured, lowering his mouth to mine.
By the time I finally made it up to Jenna's and my room, I was practically skipping. But as soon as I walked through the door, my happy feelings evaporated so quickly, I practically heard the pop.
"Oh, man," I said softly. "Why do I keep being surprised when everything turns out gross and depressing?" Jenna was sitting in the middle of her bed. "I thought the window was the worst," she said quietly. "Or, you know. Evan getting eaten. But now I really feel like crying."
Our room had never been what anyone would call luxurious, but thanks to Jenna's obsessive love for pink, it had been...okay, I was going to say "comfortable" but "bright" and "maybe a little insane" were probably better descriptions. Still, it had been ours, and I'd never really realized how much Jenna's lights, scarves, and Electric Raspberry comforter had made that tiny dorm room feel like home.
There were no lights now. Just two beds, shoved to opposite walls; one battered desk; and a dresser that listed heavily to one side. The mirror above the dresser was weathered and cracked, distorting our reflections. Maybe it was that gray light from all the fog, or maybe it was just that this room, like the rest of the house, seemed to have had all the color bled out of it. Whatever it was, this dorm room was not home anymore. In fact, it felt an awful lot like a cell.
I started to say that to Jenna as I moved out of the doorway. But the second I did, the door slammed behind me, hard enough to make me jump.
Down the hallway, I could hear other doors slamming, too, and a few muffled shouts.
"Locked?" Jenna guessed.
I jiggled the handle. "Yup."
"Do you think Archer is right about everyone here being de-magicked? Or maybe the fog, like, made his and Evan's magic...de-magic." Crossing over to the closet, I sighed and said, "I'm betting the kids here are de-magicked, but it doesn't really matter." I flung open the closet.
Just as I'd thought, the only things hung up inside were Hex Hall uniforms. "I'm pretty much de-magicked myself these days," I said to Jenna over my shoulder. "Also, maybe we should stop saying de-magicked. It's starting to sound weird." She sat up straighter. "What?"
"You know, when you say things too much, and-"
"Sophie," Jenna said, tilting her head and frowning at me.
Sighing, I sat down on my own bed, facing her. "Thanks to some mojo from the Council, I'm currently powerless." Her expression softening, Jenna breathed, "Oh, Soph. I'm so sorry."
"It's not as bad as it sounds," I told her. "My powers aren't gone gone. They're still bumping around in here, but I can't use them unless I touch this particular-whoa."
I crossed the room to grip the footboard of Jenna's bed. "There's this spell in the Thorne family grimoire. If I touch it, my powers will be restored. And Dad was sure the Casnoffs had the grimoire. It might be here, Jenna." I let go of her bed to pace as my magic pounded inside me. "If we find it, I could be demoning up the place by dinnertime." And possibly using my powers for the Casnoffs. Fear, oily and hot, slid over me at the idea, and I suddenly felt sick.
"Or Lara could have it."
"What?" I asked. "Oh. Lara. Damn it, I didn't think of that." I felt my magic slide back down to settle in the pit of my stomach, almost like it was disappointed, too.
"We can still look for it," Jenna said quickly. "Or Lara might show up. We'll find some way to get your powers back, Soph." I smiled at her. "Jenna, once again, your powers of Awesome amaze me."
"It's a skill," she agreed, nodding somberly.
Giggling, I tossed a pillow at her, and for a moment it was like nothing had changed; we were just Sophie and Jenna, hanging out in our dorm room, getting ready to go to Methods of Magical Execution 1500-Present, or some other boring class. For the next hour or so, we sat on our beds and filled each other in on everything we'd been through the past month. She told me what life had been like at Byron's (no surprise, there had been lots of crushed velvet, and drinking blood out of skulls, and "Byron's version of open mic night," Jenna had said with a shudder).
"I wonder what Vix thinks happened to me," Jenna said. "I was standing right next to her when I whooshed back here."
"You'll get back to her, Jenna. Promise."
I wasn't sure how much Jenna believed that, but she nodded. "I know. Okay, so now tell me all about the Brannicks." So I did, including Finley and Izzy and the reappearance of my dad and Cal. I even fessed up about Cal's and my betrothal, the kiss, and everything that had happened with Archer back at Thorne Abbey. Until I started spilling them, I hadn't realized just how many secrets I'd been keeping from Jenna.
I think even she was a little bit shocked, because she raised her eyebrows and said, "Wow. You were busier than I thought this summer."
"Are you mad?"
She considered it, and then said, "No. I feel like I should be, but..." She sighed. "I get why it wasn't easy to talk to me about the Archer stuff.
Besides, I went through nearly a month thinking you were dead, so it's hard to feel anything but Yay, Sophie, you know?" Relief surged through me. "Well, good. Because if I'm gonna get to the bottom of whatever is going on here, I'm definitely going to need my vampire sidekick."
Jenna snorted and tossed her hair. "Whatever. You're obviously the sidekick. With that hair, and all the sarcastic remarks?"
"Hmmm," I said, pretending to think it over. "And you do have a way more angsty backstory." Jenna waved her hand. "Exactly. Vampire for the win!"
We laughed again. Then I glanced out the window. The gray sky was already darkening, and the fog that surrounded the house seemed to slither.
Jenna had gotten quiet. "What do you think is going to happen to us?"
The first thing that came to mind was "Nothing good," but instead I wrapped an arm around her shoulders and said, "We're going to be fine.
Think of all the stuff we've already been through. You think a little killer fog is gonna get in our way? Ha!" Jenna didn't look convinced, but she did say, "I'm not sure if you're confident or delusional, but thanks anyway." The sky was nearly black by the time our door finally creaked open. Mrs. Casnoff's voice, as thin and reedy as before, drifted through the school. "Students, at this time, please report to the ball room."
Jenna and I joined the groups of kids headed down the stairs. No one was crying now, so I guess that was an improvement. "Sophie," Taylor said, appearing at my elbow. Her voice was kind of garbled because her fangs were out. "So, what's all this about?"
"How would I know? I'm every bit as clueless as everyone else."
She frowned, which had the effect of shoving her incisors even farther out. It had been a while since I'd been around shapeshifters; I'd forgotten how unsettling they could be. Caught in between humans and animals, they could definitely cause the heebie-jeebies.
"But your dad was Head of the Council," she said. "And you were with the Council all summer. You must know something."
"And why is Archer Cross here?" That was from Justin. His voice had apparently changed over the summer, since he actually said the words instead of squeaking them. "He's an Eye."
"Didn't he try to kill you?" Nausicaa had drifted up, and she narrowed her eyes at me. "And if so, why exactly were you holding his hand earlier?"
Conversations like this usually ended in pitchforks and torches, so I held my hands out in what I hoped was an "everyone just calm the heck down" gesture. But then Jenna spoke up. "Sophie doesn't know anything," she said, nudging me behind her. That might've been more effective if Jenna weren't so short. "And whatever reason we're here, the Council had nothing to do with it." Jenna didn't add that that was because the entire Council, with the exception of Lara Casnoff and my dad, was dead. "She's just as freaked out as the rest of us, so back. Off." From the expressions on the other kids' faces, I guessed Jenna had bared her fangs, and maybe even given a flash of red eyes.