Archer opened his mouth to say something, but I held up my hand. "Just a dream," I repeated. "Now, is everyone else already downstairs? Because I don't know about you two, but I'm starving."
I wasn't, actually. The thought of food made my stomach churn, and I'd already lost so much weight that I'd had to use magic to shrink my clothes. I moved past Archer, and as I did, he laid a hand between my shoulder blades. "It's going to be okay, Mercer," he said in my ear, and for just a little bit, I let myself lean against him, soaking in his warmth, his presence. Then I straightened and said, "Come on, let's get downstairs. Nick and Daisy always eat all the bacon."
Sure enough, by the time we reached the kitchen, there were only two slices left. Nick and Daisy sat at the Formica table, their plates nearly empty, while Aislinn scrambled eggs on the stove behind them. I stood in the doorway, taking that image in: a Brannick, cooking breakfast for two demons. Who could have imagined that?
Nick saw me and grinned. Well, tried to. Like me-heck, like all of us-he still had that haunted look in his eyes that made friendly expressions seem sad. "'Morning, Sophia. I saved you a slice of bacon. You too, Jenna," he said, glancing over my shoulder. His eyes flicked to my other side.
"Sorry, cuz, you're out of luck."
Archer gave a little snort of amusement, but there was still something wary in the set of his shoulders as he moved into the kitchen. He also took the chair farthest away from Nick when he sat down. I wasn't sure Archer and Nick could ever have anything approaching a normal relationship, but that was probably to be expected. After all, Nick's parents had murdered Archer's, and Nick had tried to kill Archer not once, but twice.
That would definitely make for awkward family reunions in the future.
It also didn't help that the people who Archer considered family were now determined to kill him, too.
"Soph?" Aislinn said, snapping me out of my thoughts. "Eggs?"
"Um...no, thanks, I'll grab something later."
Nearly everyone in the kitchen frowned at that, so to appease them, I grabbed the slice of bacon and broke it in half. Sitting down across from Daisy, I started to chew and said, "Anything today?"
It was the same question one of us had asked every morning since we left Hex Hall. The first few days, there had been answers. "Yes, the island is still there. Yes, we found Nick and Daisy and can bring them here. Yes, The Eye has put a price on Archer's head that could buy a small island."
That last bit Archer had taken pretty hard. Apparently, his little squad of Eyes had gone back to tell their boss lady that Archer had used some kind of magical artifact to put a compulsion spell on them. That was the only reason they'd fought for Prodigium.
"Is that true?" I'd asked Archer. His eyes had slid away from mine, and he'd given an exaggerated shrug.
I took that as a yes.
But after that, there hadn't been anything. No news of how the rest of the Prodigium world was taking what had happened at Hex Hall. Nothing about what had happened to the other kids we'd freed from being demons.
So yet again this morning, Aislinn sighed and said, "No. Nothing."
"Maybe that's a good thing," Daisy said, buttering her toast. "Maybe they've all just...gone away." Now that she wasn't a demon anymore, Daisy wasn't any kind of Prodigium. She had just been a regular kid the Casnoffs had turned into a demon. I understood her desire to leave all things magical behind.
Daisy leaned over and rested her head on Nick's shoulder. Well, maybe not all magical things. I was glad Nick had Daisy. After everything he'd been through, he needed her. Still, I had to admit there was a haunted-ness in Nick's eyes that made me wonder if, free of the Casnoffs or not, he could ever really be okay.
Outside I could hear the distant clink of metal on metal that meant Finley and Izzy were already up and training, and I thought about going to join them. Not to wield a sword or anything, but maybe to let them block some of my spells. It would be good practice for them, and it would give me something to do other than sit in my room and replay that last night at Hex Hall over and over again.
I was just about to get up when Dad rushed into the kitchen. He was in pajamas, which was totally bizarre. Dad never came down to breakfast until he was completely dressed. Of course, his pajamas even had a little pocket and handkerchief, so maybe he felt dressed.
He had a sheet of paper in his hands and was staring at it, his eyes wide.
"James," Aislinn acknowledged. "You're up kind of late this morning. Is Grace sleeping in, too?" Dad glanced up, and I could swear he blushed. "Hmm? Oh. Yes. Well. In any case. Um...to the point at hand."
"Leave Dad alone," I told Aislinn. "His Britishness is short-circuiting." Instead of being grossed out, I was weirdly happy at the thought of my parents being all ...whatever (okay, I was a little grossed out). In fact, their apparent reconciliation was maybe the one good thing to come out of this whole mess. Well, that and saving the world, obviously.
Dad shook his head and held out the papers. "I didn't come down here to discuss my personal...relations. I came here because this arrived from the Council this morning."
I sat back in my chair. "The Council? Like, the Council Council? But they don't even exist anymore. Maybe you're wrong. Maybe it's the Council For What Breakfast Cereals You Should-"
"Sophia," Dad said, stopping me with a look.
"Sorry. Freaked out."
He gave a little smile. "I know that, darling. And to be perfectly honest, perhaps you should be." He handed the papers to me, and I saw it was some kind of official letter. It was addressed to Dad, but I saw my name in the first paragraph. I laid it on the table so no one would see my hands shake. "Did this come by owl?" I muttered. "Please tell me it came-"
"Sophie!" nearly everyone in the kitchen shouted. Even Archer gave an exasperated, "Come on, Mercer." I took a deep breath and started to read. When I got about halfway down the page, I stopped, my eyes going wide, my heart racing. I looked back at Dad. "Are they serious?"
"I believe that they are."
I read the words again. "Holy hell weasel."
I got out of the car, feet crunching on the shell-and-gravel driveway, and stared at the house looming up in front of me. "Well?" Dad asked, getting out of the passenger side.
Behind me, Archer and Jenna got out of the backseat and came to stand on either side of me.
Pushing my sunglasses up onto my head, I said, "It looks better. I mean, it's still creepy as hell, but it's back to its regular level of creepy." Hex Hall shone under a fresh coat of paint, and the windows were repaired. The ferns bracketing the front door were back to being a lush green, and someone had fixed the sag in the porch. Still, the trees around it were black, and the grass was gray.
"It'll probably never be the same," Mom said, coming around the car to stand with Dad and me.
Heaving a sigh, I said, "Maybe that's a good thing."
"What do you think they'll do with it?" Jenna asked, studying the house.
"I kind of wish they'd burn it down," Archer said. "Maybe sink the island while they're at it." A breeze off the sea ruffled my hair as we made our way to the house. Inside there was no longer that sense of decay and desiccation, but I thought the house would probably always feel a little sad. Or maybe that was just me. We passed under the stained-glass window, and I looked up, pleased to see that everyone had their heads again, the colored glass glittering in the autumn light. I could already hear the murmur of voices as we approached the ball room, and Mom took my hand. "Nervous?"
"Nah," I replied, but since I bleated it like a sheep, I doubt she was convinced.
All the mismatched tables where we used to eat were gone. They'd been replaced by a sea of black chairs, but all of them were empty. Up on the dais where the teachers had once sat were twelve chairs that probably should have been called thrones. All but one of them were occupied.
The newly formed Council all rose to their feet as I entered the room, but I immediately raised my hands. "Oh, God, please don't do that. I'm freaked out enough as it is."
One of the faeries, a huge man with emerald green wings, frowned at me. "But as heir presumptive to the Head of the Council, you're afforded a certain degree of respect."
"I can feel respected with you all sitting down. Honestly."
I thought they might argue some more, but in the end, they all sat down.
"Have you considered our offer?" a woman asked. I thought she was a witch, but it was hard to be sure.
Instead of answering that, I took a seat in one of the black chairs. "Can I ask you guys something?" No one nodded, but I kept going anyway.
"Why did you pick me? I mean, sure, I'm a demon, but so is Nick. Why not ask him? Is it because of the whole 'He Once Went Crazy And Killed A Bunch Of People' thing?"
The green-winged faerie stared at me. "That is a large part of it, yes."
"But not the only reason," the woman spoke up. She linked her fingers, folding them in her lap, and I saw a few tiny purple sparks. A witch after all. "The courage, the fortitude, the...initiative you showed in stopping Lara Casnoff was very impressive. Especially in one so young. You didn't let fear blind you to what needed to be done." She glanced at her colleagues. "Which is perhaps something we could all stand to learn."
"Now," a tall man with white hair said, "have you made your-"
"Why did you fix up Hex Hall?"
I felt a sigh ripple through the entire Council. "Because," the witch said, "Hecate Hall has always been a useful institution to us, and we have no intention of letting these...unfortunate occurrences kill over a hundred years of tradition. In the next month, all students who've been sentenced to this school will return here, and life can go on as normal."
I wanted to laugh at that. Normal. Like life here had ever been that.
But still. She'd given me my answer.
Taking a deep breath, I stood up and said, "Okay. Yes, I accept your offer to become Head of the Council." Relieved grins broke out on a few faces, but I held up my hand. "On two conditions." The grins deflated.
"I will become Head of the Council, but not until I've finished school."
"Certainly," the witch said. "We can arrange for your transfer to Prentiss immediately." Prentiss was the fancy boarding school that wealthier witches and warlocks sent their kids to. It was supposedly the opposite of Hex Hall in nearly every way. I shook my head. "No, I don't mean Prodigium schooling.
I mean real schooling. college. A normal, human college."
The green-winged faerie frowned. "But you still have another year before you can go to college, correct? Isn't that how it works? And if you won't go to Prentiss, then where? A human high school seems unfeasible."
Another deep breath. "I know. That's my other condition. I want you to reopen Hex Hall. Not as a reform school, or a place of punishment, but what it used to be. A safe place. A school for all Prodigium who want to come here. Although, have to admit after the last year, there might not be many of them. But we can try. So those are my conditions."