Home > Path of Night

Path of Night
Author: Sarah Rees Brennan

 

I woke with daylight transformed to golden prisms through the diamond panes of my windows. I rolled over toward the velvety-black curled-up shape of my sleeping familiar, tucking a smile against my pillow. Through the tangle of dreams warm as bedsheets, a single cold thought intruded.

Something terrible has happened to your boyfriend.

My eyes slammed open. I sat up, spine broomstick-straight, hands closing into fists around my fat, ruffled pillow.

I was safe and warm in my bed this morning because of Nick. Lounging around drowsing felt like a betrayal of him.

I stared around at my wrought-iron headboard, my mirror with roses in the frame, the bedroom I’d had my whole life. Every inch of my room was familiar, but every detail felt alien because there was no chance of Nick teleporting into any of the sunlit-gold corners, dark and handsome and shocking. I’d scolded Nick for doing that a hundred times. Now I’d give anything for him to appear again.

Salem yawned and stretched, kneading the star-patterned comforter with his claws.

“It’s too early for intense angst, Sabrina.”

He leaped off the bed and trotted away, nosing the bedroom door open and heading in search of food. The savory scent of Aunt Hilda’s cooking filtered up the stairs and through the open door. With my luck, Aunt Hilda was making something featuring eyeballs.

I sighed, climbing out of bed. I knew I wasn’t getting back to sleep. I pointed to myself and was instantly clad in a light sweater and short skirt, but I didn’t twirl in front of the mirror the way I used to. I was only getting dressed because we always had company these days.

“My love, you’re up early.” Aunt Hilda glowed as I walked into the kitchen.

Her hair was a golden cloud from bending over her steaming pots, and she wore an apron bearing the legend SEXY WITCH . Her boyfriend, Dr. Cerberus, had given it to her. Her smile dimmed slightly when she saw my face.

Aunt Hilda liked having guests, since it meant more people to appreciate her cooking. And Aunt Hilda was the only Spellman whose love life was currently thriving. My cousin Ambrose’s boyfriend had been killed by witch-hunters. Aunt Zelda’s husband, Father Blackwood, had fled the country after attempting to assassinate our entire coven. My boyfriend was trapped in hell.

No matter how screwed up my life was, I wanted Aunt Hilda to stay happy.

With an effort, I smiled back. “Morning.”

She enfolded me in a hug. Aunt Hilda smelled like rosemary and mugwort, witch’s herbs and childhood love. She stroked my hair. “Sit down and I’ll whip you up some waffles in a jiffy.”

I sat at the kitchen table, feeling soothed despite myself. It was nice to have time alone with my aunt.

Even as I had that thought, the kitchen door slid open. I sighed, then brightened.

In this house brimful of witches, there was a mortal.

Harvey, one of my three best friends in the whole world, walked into my kitchen carrying a teenage witch in his arms. Elspeth was wrapped in a blanket and had her hands clasped around his neck.

He smiled when he saw me. “Hey, ’Brina.”

Only when I told myself sternly to force another smile did I realize I was already smiling at the sight of him. His green flannel shirt and brown hair were sleep-rumpled, and his always small, always sweet smile was drowsy.

“Hey. Didn’t know you were here.”

Harvey settled Elspeth into the rocking chair, tucking the blanket around her. “Elspeth didn’t want to be alone, so I slept over. Miz Spellman said I could,” he added, too embarrassed not to call her Miss Spellman even though Aunt Hilda had been insisting on Hilda for ten years. “Hope that’s okay.”

“Always,” Aunt Hilda and I chimed, as one.

We grinned at each other and him, three points of light each catching brightness through reflection.

Harvey knelt by Elspeth’s rocking chair. “I’ll get you your pillow to lean back on, okay?”

“Very well, beautiful mortal,” said Elspeth happily.

“That’s a weird thing to call me.” Harvey patted her hand and left the room on his pillow quest.

When Father Blackwood tried to murder our coven, his daughter Prudence saved all the witches she could. Those who lived were the few remaining students of the Academy of Unseen Arts, my witch classmates. They were living in my house now, sleeping on floors and recuperating from Father Blackwood’s poisoning attempt. My mortal friends had raced to help me out. Harvey especially was stricken by the sight of suffering, and swooped in to bring meals and medicine to the witches and, if requested, carry the invalids anywhere they wished to go.

Most of the witches were fully recovered. I suspected Elspeth was too, but she was milking the situation for all it was worth.

When the door shut behind Harvey, Elspeth rocked her chair vigorously.

“You wouldn’t believe the freaky things I did with that mortal last night!”

Aunt Hilda dropped her wooden spoon on the floor.

“Oh, yes?” I asked.

Elspeth fixed me with a wide-eyed stare. “I asked him to spend the night with me.”

“Oh, yes?” I repeated, hearing the edge in my voice.

“He said okay. So I thought, ‘Finally!’ I was about to take off my dress when he said, ‘You don’t have to be alone if you’re scared’ and he fetched me blankets and hot chocolate!” Elspeth’s voice was outraged.

I hid my smile with the back of my hand.

“He put marshmallows in the hot chocolate.” Elspeth brooded over her wrongs. “Never in my life have I been treated like this by a man. Even the way he talks would shock my mother to her very core. Who knows what other strange deeds he wants to do in the dark of night?”

Harvey, coming back in with the pillow, caught the end of this and made a scandalized face. “Whoever that is, he sounds horrible.”

Elspeth collapsed back against the pillow with a dramatic sigh, as though too weak even to keep her eyes open.

Aunt Hilda clicked her fingers so her spoon flew up into her hand, and busied herself at the stove. Harvey gravitated toward her.

“Something smells great.”

I twisted around in my chair and made frantic silent gestures to warn Harvey, but he was already peering beneath the pot lids. I watched as the inevitable unfolded.

“I’m making enough satanic shepherd’s pie for everybody. Try some of this, sweet Harvey.”

“Happy to.” Harvey accepted a small bowl with alacrity. He wasn’t as starving-intent as the Academy students, but he was a teenage boy, and he had to do all the cooking at his place.

“I wanted to make the kids a special treat,” Aunt Hilda confided, while Harvey nodded and dived in. “So I didn’t use grass snake intestines for the mince, or anything inferior like that. Only ball python. Nothing but the best!”

Harvey’s face froze around the spoon.

Aunt Hilda beamed. “Is it good?”

“Delicious,” Harvey answered in a small, horrified voice.

“Oh, wow.” Elspeth’s eyes snapped open. “Snake intestines, for real?”

Harvey moved with the speed of, ironically, a snake. He scooped Elspeth from her rocking chair, deposited her at the table, then placed his bowl before her and his spoon firmly in her hand. “You have it.”

Elspeth hesitated. “Do you mean you want to share?”

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