Elder blossoms can be used for exorcism, protection, or prosperity, Bonnie read, lying flopped down on her bed, chin propped on her hands. Mix with comfrey and coltsfoot and bind in red silk during a waxing moon to make a charm bag for attracting wealth. Distill in a bath with lavender, feverfew, and motherwort for personal protection. Burn with hyssop, white sage, and devil's shoestring to create a smoke that can be used in exorcising bad spirits.

Devil's shoestring? Was that real y an herb? Unlike most of the others, it didn't sound like something she'd find in her mother's garden. She sighed noisily and skipped ahead a little.

The best herbs for aiding meditation are agrimony, chamomile, damiana, eyebright, and ginseng. They may be tossed together and burned to create smoke or, when picked at dawn, dried and sprinkled around the subject in a circle.

Bonnie eyed the thick book baleful y. Pages and pages and pages of herbs and what their properties were in different circumstances, and when to gather them, and how to use them. Al written as dryly and dul y as her high school geometry textbook.

She had always hated studying. The best thing about the summer between high school and col ege was that no one could expect her to spend any time tucked up with a heavy book, trying to memorize excessively boring facts. Yet here she was, doing just that, and she'd total y brought it on herself.

But when she had asked Mrs. Flowers to teach her magic, she had expected something, wel , cooler than being handed a heavy book on herbs. Secretly, she had been hoping for one-on-one sessions that involved casting spel s, or flying, or summoning fantastical servants to do her bidding. Less reading quietly to herself, anyway. Shouldn't there be some way that magical knowledge could just implant itself in her brain? Like, wel , magical y?

She flipped forward a few more pages. Ooh, this looked a bit more interesting.

An amulet filled with cinnamon, cowslip, and dandelion leaves will help in attracting love and fulfilling secret desires. Gather the herbs in a gentle rain and, after drying, bind them with red velvet and gold thread. Bonnie giggled and kicked her feet against the mattress, thinking that she could probably come up with some secret desires to fulfil . Did she need to pick the cinnamon, or would it be okay to just get it out of the spice cupboard?

She turned a few more pages. Herbs for clarity of sight, herbs for cleansing, herbs that had to be gathered under the ful moon or on a sunny day in June. She sighed once more and closed the book.

It was past midnight. She listened, but the house was quiet. Her parents were sleeping.

Now that her sister Mary, who'd been the last of Bonnie's three older sisters to leave home, had moved in with her boyfriend, Bonnie missed having her right down the hal . But there were also advantages to not having her nosy, bossy big sister so close.

She climbed out of bed as quietly and cautiously as she could. Her parents weren't as sharp-eared as Mary, but they would come and check on her if they heard her getting up in the middle of the night.

Careful y, Bonnie pried up a floorboard under her bed. She had used it as her hiding place ever since she was a little girl. At first she had kept a dol she'd borrowed from Mary without permission; a secret candy stash bought with her al owance; her favorite red silk ribbon. Later, she'd hidden notes from her first boyfriend, or tests she'd failed. Nothing as sinister as what was hidden there now, though.

She lifted out another book just as thick as the volume on herbs Mrs. Flowers had lent her. But this one was olderlooking, with a dark leather cover wrinkled and softened by time. This book was from Mrs. Flowers's library, too, but Mrs. Flowers hadn't given it to her. Bonnie had snuck it off the shelf while Mrs. Flowers's back was turned, sliding it into her backpack and projecting her most innocent face when Mrs. Flowers's sharp eyes lingered on her afterward. Bonnie felt a bit guilty tricking Mrs. Flowers like that, especial y after the old woman agreed to mentor her. But, honestly, no one else would have had to sneak the book out in the first place. Any reason Meredith or Elena gave for wanting it would have immediately been accepted by everybody as right and true. They wouldn't even have to give a reason, just say that they needed the book. It was only Bonnie who would be sighed at and patted on the head - sweet, silly Bonnie - and stopped from doing what she wanted.

Bonnie stubbornly set her chin and traced the letters on the book's cover. Traversing the Boundaries Between the Quick and the Dead, they read.

Her heart was pounding as she opened the book to the page she'd marked earlier. But her hands were quite steady as she removed four candles, two white and two black, from beneath the floorboard.

She struck a match, lit one of the black candles, and tilted it to drip wax on the floor beside her bed. When there was a little pool of melted wax, Bonnie pressed the bottom of the candle into it, so that it stood upright on the floor.

"Fire in the North, protect me," she intoned. She reached for a white candle.

Plugged into its charger on the bedside table, her phone rang. Bonnie dropped the candle and swore.

Leaning over, she picked up the phone to see who was cal ing. Elena. Of course. Elena never realized how late it was when she wanted to talk to somebody.

Bonnie was tempted to press "ignore," but thought better of it. Maybe this was a sign that she shouldn't perform the ritual after al , at least not tonight. Maybe she should do some more research first to make sure she was doing it right. Bonnie blew out the black candle and pushed the button to answer her phone.

"Hey, Elena," she said, hoping her friend didn't sense her irritation as she placed the book gently back under the floorboard. "What's up?"

The ash was unbearably heavy. He strained against it, pushing at the blanket of gray holding him down. He clawed frantical y, a panicked part of him wondering whether he was even going upward at al , whether he might not instead be digging himself farther under the surface. One of his hands was clutched tightly around something

- something fine and fibrous, like thin petals. He didn't know what it was, but he knew he shouldn't let go of it, and despite the fact that it hampered his struggle, he did not question this need to hold on.

It seemed as if he were clawing at the thick ash forever, but final y his other hand broke through the crumbling layers and relief flooded his body. He'd been going the right way; he wasn't going to be buried forever.

He reached out blindly, searching for something he could use to lever himself out. Ash and mud slid under his fingers, giving him nothing firm, and he floundered until he found what felt like a piece of wood in his grasp. The edges of the wood bit into his fingers as he clung to it as though it were a lifeline in a stormy ocean. He gradual y maneuvered his way up, slipping and sliding in the slick mud. With one last great effort, he wrenched his body out of the ash and mud, which gave a thick sucking noise as his shoulders emerged. He climbed to his knees, his muscles screaming in agony, then to his feet. He shuddered and shook, nauseated but euphoric, and wrapped his arms around his torso.

But he couldn't see anything. He panicked until he realized something was holding his eyes shut. He scrubbed at his face until he detached sticky clumps of ashy mud from his eyelashes. After a moment, he was final y able to open his eyes.

A desolate wasteland surrounded him. Blackened mud, puddles of water choked with ash. "Something terrible happened here," he said hoarsely, the sound startling him. It was so profoundly quiet.

It was freezing, and he realized he was naked, covered with only the same muddy ash that was everywhere. He hunched over and then, cursing himself for his momentary weakness, painful y straightened himself up. He had to...


He couldn't remember.

A drop of liquid ran down his face, and he wondered vaguely whether he was crying. Or was it the thick, shimmering fluid that was everywhere here, mixing with the ash and mud?

Who was he? He didn't know that, either, and that blankness triggered a trembling in him that was quite separate from the shivering caused by the cold. His hand was stil clenched protectively around the unknown object, and he raised his fist and stared at it. After a moment, he slowly uncurled his fingers.

Black fibers.

Then a drop of the opalescent fluid ran across his palm, over the middle of the fibers. Where it touched, they transformed. It was hair. Silky blond and copper hair. Quite beautiful.

He closed his fist again and held them against his chest, a new determination building inside him.

He had to go.

Through the haze, a clear picture of his destination sprang into his mind. He shuffled forward through the ash and mud, toward the castlelike gatehouse with high spires and heavy black doors that he somehow knew would be there.

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