Matthew planted a kiss on my shoulder before the sun rose, and then he slipped downstairs. My muscles were tight in an uncustomary combination of stiffness and languor. At last I dragged myself out of bed and went looking for him.
I found Sarah and Em instead. They were standing by the back window, each clutching a steaming cup of coffee.
Glancing over their shoulders, I went to fil the kettle.
Matthew could wait-tea could not.
"What are you looking at?" I expected them to name some rare bird.
I backed up a few steps.
"He's been out there for hours. I don't think he's moved a muscle. A raven flew by. I believe she plans to perch on him," Sarah continued, taking a sip of her coffee.
Matthew was standing with his feet rooted in the earth and his arms stretched out to the sides at shoulder level, index fingers and thumbs gently touching. In his gray T-shirt and black yoga pants, he did look like an unusual y wel - dressed, robust scarecrow.
"Should we be worried about him? He's got nothing on his feet." Em stared at Matthew over the edge of her coffee cup. "He must be freezing."
"Vampires burn, Em. They don't freeze. He'l come in when he's ready."
After fil ing the kettle, I made tea and stood with my aunts, silently watching Matthew. On my second cup, he final y lowered his arms and folded over at the waist. Sarah and Em moved hastily away from the window.
"He knows we've been watching him. He's a vampire, remember?" I laughed and pushed Sarah's boots on over my wool socks and a frayed pair of leggings and clomped outside.
"Thank you for being so patient," Matthew said after he'd gathered me into his arms and soundly kissed me good morning.
I was stil clutching my mug, which had been in danger of spil ing tea down his back. "Meditation is the only rest you get. I'm not about to disturb it. How long have you been out here?"
"Since dawn. I needed time to think."
"The house does that to people. There are too many voices, too much going on." It was chil y, and I snuggled inside my sweatshirt with the faded maroon bobcat on the back.
Matthew touched the dark circles under my eyes. "You're stil exhausted. Some meditation wouldn't do you any harm either, you know."
My sleep had been fitful, ful of dreams, snatches of alchemical poetry, and mumbled tirades directed at Satu.
Even my grandmother had been worried. She'd been leaning against the chest of drawers with a watchful expression while Matthew soothed me back to sleep.
"I was strictly forbidden to do anything resembling yoga for a week."
"And you obey your aunt when she sets down these rules?" Matthew's eyebrow made a question mark.
"Not usual y." I laughed, grabbing him by the sleeve to pul him back inside.
Matthew had my tea out of my hands and was lifting me out of Sarah's boots in an instant. He arranged my body and stood behind me. "Are your eyes closed?"
"Now they are," I said, closing my eyes and digging my toes through my socks into the cold earth. Thoughts chased around in my mind like playful kittens.
"You're thinking," Matthew said impatiently. "Just breathe."
My mind and breath settled. Matthew came around and lifted my arms, pressing my thumbs to the tips of my ring fingers and pinkies.
"Now I look like a scarecrow, too," I said. "What am I doing with my hands?"
"Prana mudra," Matthew explained. "It encourages the life force and is good for healing."
As I stood with arms outstretched and palms facing the sky, the silence and peace worked their way through my battered body. After about five minutes, the tightness between my eyes lifted and my mind's eye opened. There was a corresponding, subtle change inside me-an ebb and flow like water lapping on the shore. With each breath I took, a drop of cold, fresh water formed in my palm. My mind remained resolutely blank, unconcerned that I might be engulfed in witchwater even as the level of water in my hands slowly rose.
My mind's eye brightened, focusing on my surroundings.
When it did, I saw the fields around the house as never before. Water ran beneath the ground's surface in deep blue veins. The roots of the apple trees extended into them, and finer webs of water shimmered in the leaves as they rustled in the morning breeze. Underneath my feet the water flowed toward me, trying to understand my connection to its power.
Calmly I breathed in and out. The water level in my palms rose and fel in response to the changing tides within and underneath me. When I could control the water no longer, the mudras broke open, water cascading from my flattened palms. I was left standing in the middle of the backyard, eyes open and arms outstretched, a smal puddle on the ground under each hand.
My vampire stood twelve feet away from me with a proud look on his face, his arms crossed. My aunts were on the back porch, astonished.
"That was impressive," Matthew murmured, bending to pick up the stone-cold mug of tea. "You're going to be as good at this as you are at your research, you know. Magic's not just emotional and mental-it's physical, too."
"Have you coached witches before?" I slid back into Sarah's boots, my stomach rumbling loudly.
"No. You're my one and only." Matthew laughed. "And yes, I know you're hungry. We'l talk more about this after breakfast." He held out his hand, and we walked together toward the house.
"You can make a lot of money water witching, you know,"
Sarah cal ed as we approached. "Everyone in town needs a new wel , and old Harry was buried with his dowsing rod when he died last year."
"I don't need a dowsing rod-I am a dowsing rod. And if you're thinking of digging, do it there." I pointed to a cluster of apple trees that looked less scraggy than the rest.
Inside, Matthew boiled fresh water for my tea before turning his attention to the Syracuse Post-Standard. It could not compete with Le Monde, but he seemed content. With my vampire occupied, I ate slice after slice of bread hot from the toaster. Em and Sarah refil ed their coffee cups and looked warily at my hands every time I got near the electrical appliances.
"This is going to be a three-pot morning," Sarah announced, dumping the used grounds out of the coffeemaker. I looked at Em in alarm.
It's mostly decaf, she said without speaking, her lips pressed together in silent mirth. I've been adulterating it for years. Like text messaging, silent speech was useful if you wanted to have a private discussion in this house.
Smiling broadly, I returned my attention to the toaster. I scraped the last of the butter onto my toast and wondered idly if there was more.
A plastic tub appeared at my elbow.
I turned to thank Em, but she was on the other side of the kitchen. So was Sarah. Matthew looked up from his paper and stared at the refrigerator.
The door was open, and the jams and mustards were rearranging themselves on the top shelf. When they were in place, the door quietly closed.
"Was that the house?" Matthew asked casual y.
"No," Sarah replied, looking at me with interest. "That was Diana."
"What happened?" I gasped, looking at the butter.
"You tel us," Sarah said crisply. "You were fiddling with your ninth piece of toast when the refrigerator opened and the butter sailed out."
"Al I did was wonder if there was more." I picked up the empty container.
Em clapped her hands with delight at my newest sign of power, and Sarah insisted that I try to get something else out of the refrigerator. No matter what I cal ed, it refused to come.
"Try the cabinets," Em suggested. "The doors aren't as heavy."
Matthew had been watching the activity with interest.
"You just wondered about the butter because you needed it?"
"And when you flew yesterday, did you command the air to cooperate?"
"I thought 'Fly,' and I flew. I needed to do it more than I needed the butter, though-you were about to kil me.
"Diana flew?" Sarah asked faintly.
"Is there anything you need now?" inquired Matthew.
"To sit down." My knees felt a little shaky.
A kitchen stool traveled across the floor and parked obligingly beneath my backside.
Matthew smiled with satisfaction and picked up the paper. "It's just as I thought," he murmured, returning to the headlines.
Sarah tore the paper from his hands. "Stop grinning like the Cheshire cat. What did you think?"
At the mention of another member of her species, Tabitha strutted into the house through the cat door. With a look of complete devotion, she dropped a tiny, dead field mouse at Matthew's feet.
"Merci, ma petite, " Matthew said gravely. "Unfortunately, I am not hungry at present."
Tabitha yowled in frustration and hauled her offering off to the corner, where she punished it by batting it between her paws for failing to please Matthew.
Undeterred, Sarah repeated her question. "What do you think?"
"The spel s that Rebecca and Stephen cast ensure that nobody can force the magic from Diana. Her magic is bound up in necessity. Very clever." He smoothed out his rumpled paper and resumed reading.
"Clever and impossible," Sarah grumbled.
"Not impossible," he replied. "We just have to think like her parents. Rebecca had seen what would happen at La Pierre-not every detail, but she knew that her daughter would be held captive by a witch. Rebecca also knew that she would get away. That's why the spel binding held fast.
Diana didn't need her magic."
"How are we supposed to teach Diana how to control her power if she can't command it?" demanded my aunt.
The house gave us no chance to consider the options.
There was a sound like cannon fire, fol owed by tap dancing.
"Oh, hel ." Sarah groaned. "What does it want now?"
Matthew put down his paper. "Is something wrong?"
"The house wants us. It slams the coffin doors on the keeping room and then moves the furniture around to get our attention." I licked the butter off my fingers and padded through the family room. The lights flickered in the front hal .
"Al right, al right," Sarah said testily. "We're coming."
We fol owed my aunts into the keeping room. The house sent a wing chair careening across the floor in my direction.
"It wants Diana," Emily said unnecessarily.
The house might have wanted me, but it didn't anticipate the interference of a protective vampire with quick reflexes.
Matthew shot his foot out and stopped the chair before it hit me in the back of the knees. There was a crack of old wood on strong bones.
"Don't worry, Matthew. The house only wants me to sit down." I did so, waiting for its next move.
"The house needs to learn some manners," he retorted.
"Where did Mom's rocker come from? We got rid of it years ago," Sarah said, pursing her lips at the old chair near the front window.
"The rocking chair is back, and so is Grandma," I said.
"She said hel o when we arrived."
"Was Elizabeth with her?" Em sat on the uncomfortable Victorian sofa. "Tal ? Serious expression?"
"Yes. I didn't get a good look, though. She was mostly behind the door."
"The ghosts don't hang around much these days," Sarah said. "We think she's some distant Bishop cousin who died in the 1870s."
A bal of green wool and two knitting needles rocketed down the chimney and rol ed across the hearth.
"Does the house think I should take up knitting?" I asked.
"That's mine-I started making a sweater a few years ago, and then one day it disappeared. The house takes al sorts of things and keeps them," Em explained to Matthew as she retrieved her project. She gestured at the sofa's hideous floral upholstery. "Come sit with me. Sometimes it takes the house awhile to get to the point. And we're missing some photographs, a telephone book, the turkey platter, and my favorite winter coat."
Matthew, not surprisingly, found it difficult to relax, given that a porcelain serving dish might decapitate him, but he did his best. Sarah sat in a Windsor chair nearby, looking annoyed.
"Come on, out with it," she snapped several minutes later. "I've got things to do."
A thick brown envelope wormed its way through a crack in the green-painted paneling next to the fireplace. Once it had worked itself free, it shot across the keeping room and landed, faceup, in my lap.
"Diana" was scrawled on the front in blue bal point ink.
My mother's smal , feminine handwriting was recognizable from permission slips and birthday cards.
"It's from Mom." I looked at Sarah, amazed. "What is it?"
She was equal y startled. "I have no idea."
Inside were a smal er envelope and something careful y wrapped in layers of tissue paper. The envelope was pale green, with a darker green border around the edges. My father had helped me pick it out for my mother's birthday. It had a cluster of white and green lily of the val ey raised up slightly on the corner of each page. My eyes fil ed with tears.
"Do you want to be alone?" Matthew asked quietly, already on his feet.
Shaking, I tore the envelope open and unfolded the papers inside. The date underneath the lily of the val ey- August 13, 1983-caught my eye immediately.
My seventh birthday. It had fal en only days before my parents left for Nigeria.
I gal oped through the first page of my mother's letter.
The sheet fel from my fingers, drifted onto the floor, and came to rest at my feet.
Em's fear was palpable. "Diana? What is it?"
Without answering, I tucked the rest of the letter next to my thigh and picked up the brown envelope the house had been hiding for my mother. Pul ing at the tissue paper, I wriggled a flat, rectangular object into the open. It was heavier than it should be, and it tingled with power.
I recognized that power and had felt it before.
Matthew heard my blood begin to sing. He came to stand behind me, his hands resting lightly on my shoulders.
I unfolded the wrappings. On top, blocking Mathew's view and separated by stil more tissue from what lay beneath, was a piece of ordinary white paper, the edges brown with age. There were three lines written on it in spidery script.
"'It begins with absence and desire,'" I whispered around the tightness in my throat. "'It begins with blood and fear.'"
"' It begins with a discovery of witches,'" Matthew finished, looking over my shoulder.
After I'd delivered the note to Matthew's waiting fingers, he held it to his nose for a moment before passing it silently to Sarah. I lifted the top sheet of tissue paper.
Sitting in my lap was one of the missing pages from Ashmole 782.
"Christ," he breathed. "Is that what I think it is? How did your mother get it?"
"She explains in the letter," I said numbly, staring down at the brightly colored image.
Matthew bent and picked up the dropped sheet of stationery. "' My darling Diana,'" he read aloud. "'Today you are seven-a magical age for a witch, when your powers should begin to stir and take shape. But your powers have been stirring since you were born. You have always been different.'"
My knees shifted under the image's uncanny weight.
"'That you are reading this means that your father and I succeeded. We were able to convince the Congregation that it was your father-and not you-whose power they sought. You mustn't blame yourself. It was the only decision we could possibly make. We trust that you are old enough now to understand.'" Matthew gave my shoulder a gentle squeeze before continuing.