“Is there any Guild men in the tower now?” said Lyra.
“No! They run away like everyone else,” said the girl.
“There ain’ no one in the tower. That’s haunted, that place,” said a boy. “That’s why the cat came from there. We ain’ gonna go in there, all right. Ain’ no kids gonna go in there. That’s scary.”
“The Guild men ain’ afraid to go in there,” said another.
“They got special magic, or something. They’re greedy, they live off the poor people,” said the girl. “The poor people do all the work, and the Guild men just live there for nothing.”
“But there en’t anyone in the tower now?” Lyra said. “No grownups?”
“No grownups in the city at all!”
“They wouldn’ dare, all right.”
But she had seen a young man up there. She was convinced of it. And there was something in the way these children spoke; as a practiced liar, she knew liars when she met them, and they were lying about something.
And suddenly she remembered: little Paolo had mentioned that he and Angelica had an elder brother, Tullio, who was in the city too, and Angelica had hushed him . . . . Could the young man she’d seen have been their brother?
She left them to rescue their boats and pedal back to the beach, and went inside to make some coffee and see if Will was awake. But he was still asleep, with the cat curled up at his feet, and Lyra was impatient to see her Scholar again. So she wrote a note and left it on the floor by his bedside, and took her rucksack and went off to look for the window.
The way she took led her through the little square they’d come to the night before. But it was empty now, and the sunlight dusted the front of the ancient tower and showed up the blurred carvings beside the doorway: humanlike figures with folded wings, their features eroded by centuries of weather, but somehow in their stillness expressing power and compassion and intellectual force.
“Angels,” said Pantalaimon, now a cricket on Lyra’s shoulder.
“Maybe Specters,” Lyra said.
“No! They said this was something angeli,” he insisted. “Bet that’s angels.”
“Shall we go in?”
They looked up at the great oak door on its ornate black hinges. The half-dozen steps up to it were deeply worn, and the door itself stood slightly open. There was nothing to stop Lyra from going in except her own fear.
She tiptoed to the top of the steps and looked through the opening. A dark stone-flagged hall was all she could see, and not much of that; but Pantalaimon was fluttering anxiously on her shoulder, just as he had when they’d played the trick on the skulls in the crypt at Jordan College, and she was a little wiser now. This was a bad place. She ran down the steps and out of the square, making for the bright sunlight of the palm tree boulevard. And as soon as she was sure there was no one looking, she went straight across to the window and through into Will’s Oxford.
Forty minutes later she was inside the physics building once more, arguing with the porter; but this time she had a trump card.
“You just ask Dr. Malone,” she said sweetly. “That’s all you got to do, ask her. She’ll tell you.”
The porter turned to his telephone, and Lyra watched pityingly as he pressed the buttons and spoke into it. They didn’t even give him a proper lodge to sit in, like a real Oxford college, just a big wooden counter, as if it was a shop.
“All right,” said the porter, turning back. “She says go on up. Mind you don’t go anywhere else.”
“No, I won’t,” she said demurely, a good little girl doing what she was told.
At the top of the stairs, though, she had a surprise, because just as she passed a door with a symbol indicating woman on it, it opened and there was Dr. Malone silently beckoning her in.
She entered, puzzled. This wasn’t the laboratory, it was a washroom, and Dr. Malone was agitated.
She said, “Lyra, there’s someone else in the lab—police officers or something. They know you came to see me yesterday—I don’t know what they’re after, but I don’t like it. What’s going on?”
“How do they know I came to see you?”
“I don’t know! They didn’t know your name, but I knew who they meant—”
“Oh. Well, I can lie to them. That’s easy.”
“But what is going on?”
A woman’s voice spoke from the corridor outside: “Dr. Malone? Have you seen the child?”
“Yes,” Dr. Malone called. “I was just showing her where the washroom is . . . ”
There was no need for her to be so anxious, thought Lyra, but perhaps she wasn’t used to danger.
The woman in the corridor was young and dressed very smartly, and she tried to smile when Lyra came out, but her eyes remained hard and suspicious.
“Hello,” she said. “You’re Lyra, are you?”
“Yeah. What’s your name?”
“I’m Sergeant Clifford. Come along in.”
Lyra thought this young woman had a nerve, acting as if it were her own laboratory, but she nodded meekly. That was the moment when she first felt a twinge of regret. She knew she shouldn’t be here; she knew what the alethiometer wanted her to do, and it was not this. She stood doubtfully in the doorway.
In the room already there was a tall powerful man with white eyebrows. Lyra knew what Scholars looked like, and neither of these two was a Scholar.
“Come in, Lyra,” said Sergeant Clifford again. “It’s all right. This is Inspector Walters.”
“Hello, Lyra,” said the man. “I’ve been hearing all about you from Dr. Malone here. I’d like to ask you a few questions, if that’s all right.”
“What sort of questions?” she said.
“Nothing difficult,” he said, smiling. “Come and sit down, Lyra.”
He pushed a chair toward her. Lyra sat down carefully, and heard the door close itself. Dr. Malone was standing nearby. Pantalaimon, cricket-formed in Lyra’s breast pocket, was agitated; she could feel him against her breast, and hoped the tremor didn’t show. She thought to him to keep still.
“Where d’you come from, Lyra?” said Inspector Walters.
If she said Oxford, they’d easily be able to check. But she couldn’t say another world, either. These people were dangerous; they’d want to know more at once. She thought of the only other name she knew of in this world: the place Will had come from.
“Winchester,” she said.
“You’ve been in the wars, haven’t you, Lyra?” said the inspector. “How did you get those bruises? There’s a bruise on your cheek, and another on your leg—has someone been knocking you about?”
“No,” said Lyra.
“Do you go to school, Lyra?”
“Yeah. Sometimes,” she added.
“Shouldn’t you be at school today?”
She said nothing. She was feeling more and more uneasy. She looked at Dr. Malone, whose face was tight and unhappy.
“I just came here to see Dr. Malone,” Lyra said.
“Are you staying in Oxford, Lyra? Where are you staying?”
“With some people,” she said. “Just friends.”
“What’s their address?”
“I don’t know exactly what it’s called. I can find it easy, but I can’t remember the name of the street.”
“Who are these people?”
“Just friends of my father,” she said.
“Oh, I see. How did you find Dr. Malone?”
“ ’Cause my father’s a physicist, and he knows her.”
It was going more easily now, she thought. She began to relax into it and lie more fluently.
“And she showed you what she was working on, did she?”
“Yeah. The engine with the screen . . . Yes, all that.”
“You’re interested in that sort of thing, are you? Science, and so on?”
“Yeah. Physics, especially.”
“You going to be a scientist when you grow up?”
That sort of question deserved a blank stare, which it got. He wasn’t disconcerted. His pale eyes looked briefly at the young woman, and then back to Lyra.
“And were you surprised at what Dr. Malone showed you?”
“Well, sort of, but I knew what to expect.”