“You shouldn’t live here. Your uncle is degenerate.”
“You shouldn’t watch him at his private vices.”
“He corrupts this house.”
“Does he corrupt you?” Simon said, pausing in his perusal of Lohman’s Bodily Fluids.
“Oh, I’m too resilient.”
Simon allowed himself a smile.
“But you,” she continued. “Why do you reside alongside such disgusting behavior?”
“My uncle no longer holds parties.”
“I make his guests uneasy.”
Simon nodded. He’d heard the stories: “The floor shifts under your feet . . . The stairs and banisters actually move!” Simon had even encouraged them: "My uncle's house is filled with . . . things . . . in the walls."
Students wanted jollification--not exposure to soiled, stinking corpses.
Luckily, his uncle deemed the desertion of his guests as another good story. A temporary hiatus--they would all return eventually. He didn't blame Simon. Yet.
“You remain,” Hannah pointed out.
“Because you are.” He’d said it before.
“You were ensconced in this cesspool before I arrived.”
She had a relentless moral center that overlooked her own safety. It wasn’t her choices she debated anyway.
She said, “Why didn’t you leave before—knowing what he was?”
“I’m good with potions.”
It was a sideways answer but one at least that she understood: the recklessness of the passionate mind that wanted more knowledge, more solutions, more control.
Except this time, she didn't relent.
“He doesn’t care about potions.”
“He has money.” And a house, which would someday be Simon’s.
“That’s a good enough reason to live with evil?”
“He is,” she said sharply and was gone, whisking out of the desktop. She moved through furniture as easily as walls, ceilings, and floors.
He hated her absence more than her needling, more than her watchful gaze. “Does the house swallow you?” he asked her once; she didn’t seem to know.
“There are no rules,” she said once. “You created a false world for me to live in.”
He no longer argued, “I saved you.” He was no longer sure that he had.
* * *
According to Professor Nerfause, the Academy’s mixture of Simon’s vanishing formula did not produce the same effects as Simon’s; students who drank the potion rarely vanished for more than a minute, some for less.
“Perhaps the formula’s effects depend on the recipient,” he suggested when Professor Nerfause confronted him.
“Nonsense.” The man shook like a beleaguered puppy. “Balderdash. Dated rubbish: Magic is more art than science—blah, blah, blah. Spells can be replicated. Magic does not reside in the hands of the few and privileged.”
Nor in the hands of the many and querulous. Simon shrugged.
But he returned home and studied his own copy of the formula. Perhaps Hannah was a better than usual recipient except the potion had also worked on Simon.
He added his spit to a reappearance potion that he'd cobbled together from Poven and Bradelyne. The next time Hannah visited, Simon threw a cup of the stuff at the wall under which she moved.
For a moment, nothing happened. Then Hannah’s face and her form rose from the wall followed by shoulders, her hands breaking through a moment later. She glanced down at herself and laughed, wiggling her toes. Simon waited, breath held, sure it was working, that she was nearly free.
And then she sank back, legs and torso, finally her head. Simon shrieked and hurled himself against the wall, covering it with the potion’s last dregs, which he pressed into cracks and crevices with bare hands until his invisible fingers bled visible blood.
* * *
He’d tried the same potion many times since—had even finally added his own urine. More batches. More applications until the walls of the solarium were soaked inches through. He began to grab for Hannah, clutching her hands tight until she cried out in pain.
“Don’t let go,” she cried the last time.
And was gone.
* * *
“Why couldn’t you live at the Academy?”
Simon sighed and turned a page of Lohman’s book.
“You’d be alone.”
“I think I could bear it.”
Simon couldn’t. Suppose he was the tether—suppose he left the house and she sank so far into its foundations, she couldn't speak or move? Invisible bones at the base of his uncle’s house.
“What day is it?”
She hadn’t asked in a long time. Simon felt himself cringe and focused on a list of blood elements, face expressionless. The last time she asked, he told her that a year had past: it was 1818 rather than 1817.
She had cried. Water streaked the glass panes, even though they’d been no rain.
This time—“December 16th,” he said.
She didn’t press him for the year.