The Midnight HeirCassandra Clare
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It took Magnus nearly twenty minutes to notice the boy shooting out all the lights in the room, but to be fair, he had been distracted by the décor.
It had been nearly a quarter century since Magnus had been in London. He had missed the place. Certainly New York had an energy at the turn of the century that no other city could match. Magnus loved being in a carriage rattling into the dazzling lights of Longacre Square, pulling up outside the Olympia Theatre’s elaborate French Renaissance facade, or rubbing elbows with a dozen different kinds of people at the hot dog festival in Greenwich Village. He enjoyed traveling on the elevated railways, squealing brakes and all, and he was much looking forward to traveling through the vast underground systems they were building below the very heart of the city. He had seen the construction of the great station at Columbus Circle just before he had left, and hoped to return to find it finished at last.
But London was London, wearing its history in layers, with every age contained in the new age. Magnus had history here too. Magnus had loved people here, and hated them. There had been one woman whom he had both loved and hated, and he had fled London to escape that memory. He sometimes wondered if he had been wrong to leave, if he should have endured the bad memories for the sake of the good, and suffered, and stayed.
Magnus slouched down in the tufted velvet chair—shabby at the arms, worn by decades of sleeves rubbing away the fabric—and gazed around the room. There was a gentility to English places that America, in all her brash youthfulness, could not match. Glimmering chandeliers dripped from the ceiling—cut glass, of course, not crystal, but it shed a pretty light—and electric sconces lined the walls. Magnus still found electricity rather thrilling, though it was duller than witchlight.
Groups of gentlemen sat at tables, playing rounds of faro and piquet. Ladies who were no better than they should be, whose dresses were too tight and too bright and too all the things Magnus liked most, lounged on velvet–covered benches along the walls. Gentlemen who had done well at the tables approached them, flushed with victory and pound notes; those whom Lady Luck had not smiled on drew on their coats at the door and slunk off silently into the night, bereft of money and companionship.
It was all very dramatic, which Magnus enjoyed. He had not yet grown tired of the pageantry of ordinary life and ordinary people, despite the passage of time and the fact that people were all very much the same in the end.
A loud explosion caused him to look up. There was a boy standing in the middle of the room, a cocked silver pistol in his hand. He was surrounded by broken glass, having just shot off one arm of the chandelier.
Magnus was overwhelmed with the feeling the French called déjà vu, the feeling that I have been here before. He had, of course, been in London before, twenty-five years past.
This boy’s face was a face to recall the past. This was a face from the past, one of the most beautiful faces Magnus could ever recall seeing. It was a face so finely cut that it cast the shabbiness of this place into stark relief—a beauty that burned so fiercely that it put the glare of the electric lights to shame. The boy’s skin was so white and clear that it seemed to have a light shining behind it. The lines of his cheekbones, his jaw, and his throat—exposed by a linen shirt open at the collar—were so clean and perfect that he almost would have looked like a statue were it not for the much disheveled and slightly curling hair falling into his face, as black as midnight against his lucent pallor.
The years drew Magnus back again, the fog and gaslight of a London more than twenty years lost rising to claim Magnus. He found his lips shaping a name: Will. Will Herondale.
Magnus stepped forward instinctively, the movement feeling as if it were not of his own volition.
The boy’s eyes went to him, and a shock passed through Magnus. They were not Will’s eyes, the eyes Magnus remembered being as blue as a night sky in Hell, eyes Magnus had seen both despairing and tender.
This boy had shining golden eyes, like a crystal glass filled brimful with crisp white wine and held up to catch the light of a blazing sun. If his skin was luminous, his eyes were radiant. Magnus could not imagine these eyes as tender. The boy was very, very lovely, but his was a beauty like that Helen of Troy might have had once, disaster written in every line. The light of his beauty made Magnus think of cities burning.
Fog and gaslight receded into memory. His momentary lapse into foolish nostalgia was over. This was not Will. That broken, beautiful boy would be a man now, and this boy was a stranger.
Still, Magnus did not think that such a great resemblance could be a coincidence. He made his way toward the boy with little effort, as the other denizens of the gaming hell seemed, perhaps understandably, reluctant to approach him. The boy was standing alone as though the broken glass all around him were a shining sea and he were an island.
“Not precisely a Shadowhunter weapon,” Magnus murmured. “Is it?”
Those golden eyes narrowed into bright slits, and the long–fingered hand not holding the pistol went to the boy’s sleeve, where Magnus presumed his nearest blade was concealed. His hands were not quite steady.
“Peace,” Magnus added. “I mean you no harm. I am a warlock the Whitelaws of New York will vouch for as being quite—well, mostly—harmless.”
There was a long pause that felt somewhat dangerous. The boy’s eyes were like stars, shining but giving no clue to his feelings. Magnus was generally good at reading people, but he found it difficult to predict what this boy might do.
Magnus was truly surprised by what the boy said next.
“I know who you are.” His voice was not like his face; it had gentleness to it.
Magnus managed to hide his surprise and raised his eyebrows in silent inquiry. He had not lived three hundred years without learning not to rise to every bait offered.
“You are Magnus Bane.”
Magnus hesitated, then inclined his head. “And you are?”
“I,” the boy announced, “am James Herondale.”
“You know,” Magnus murmured, “I rather thought you might be called something like that. I am delighted to hear that I am famous.”
“You’re my father’s warlock friend. He would always speak of you to my sister and me whenever other Shadowhunters spoke slightingly of Downworlders in our presence. He would say he knew a warlock who was a better friend, and more worth trusting, than many a Nephilim warrior.”
The boy’s lips curled as he said it, and he spoke mockingly but with more contempt than amusement behind the mockery, as if his father had been a fool to tell him this, and James himself was a fool to repeat it.
Magnus found himself in no mood for cynicism.
They had parted well, he and Will, but he knew Shadowhunters. The Nephilim were swift to judge and condemn a Downworlder for ill deeds, acting as if every sin were graven in stone for all time, proving that Magnus’s people were evil by nature. Shadowhunters’ conviction of their own angelic virtue and righteousness made it easy for them to let a warlock’s good deeds slip their minds, as if they were written in water.
He had not expected to see or hear of Will Herondale on this journey, but if Magnus had thought of it, he would have been unsurprised to be all but forgotten, a petty player in a boy’s tragedy. Being remembered, and remem
bered so kindly, touched him more than he would have thought possible.
The boy’s star-shining, burning-city eyes traveled across Magnus’s face and saw too much.
“I would not set any great store by it. My father trusts a great many people,” James Herondale said, and laughed. It was quite clear suddenly that he was extremely drunk. Not that Magnus had imagined he was firing at chandeliers while stone-cold sober. “Trust. It is like placing a blade in someone’s hand and setting the very point against your own heart.”
“I have not asked you to trust me,” Magnus pointed out mildly. “We have just met.”
“Oh, I’ll trust you,” the boy told him carelessly. “It hardly matters. We are all betrayed sooner or later—all betrayed, or traitors.”
“I see that a flair for the dramatic runs in the blood,” Magnus said under his breath. It was a different kind of dramatics, though. Will had made an exhibition of vice in private, to drive away those nearest and dearest to him. James was making a public spectacle.
Perhaps he loved vice for vice’s own sake.
“What?” James asked.
“Nothing,” said Magnus. “I was merely wondering what the chandelier had done to offend you.”
James looked up at the ruined chandelier, and down at the shards of glass at his feet, as if he were noticing them only now.
“I was bet,” he said, “twenty pounds that I would not shoot out all the lights of the chandelier.”
“And who bet you?” said Magnus, not divulging a hint of what he thought—that anyone who bet a drunk seventeen-year-old boy that he could wave around a deadly weapon with impunity ought to be in gaol.
“That fellow there,” James announced, pointing.
Magnus looked in the general direction James was gesturing toward, and spied a familiar face at the faro table.
“The green one?” Magnus inquired. Coaxing drunken Shadowhunters into making fools of themselves was a favorite occupation among the Downworlders, and this performance had been a tremendous success. Ragnor Fell, the High Warlock of London, shrugged, and Magnus sighed inwardly. Perhaps gaol would be a bit extreme, though Magnus still felt his emerald friend could use taking down a peg or two.
“Is he really green?” James asked, not seeming to care overmuch. “I thought that was the absinthe.”
Then James Herondale, son of William Herondale and Theresa Gray, the two Shadowhunters who had been the closest of their kind to friends that Magnus had ever known—though Tessa had not been quite a Shadowhunter, or not entirely—turned his back on Magnus, set his sights on a woman serving drinks to a table surrounded by werewolves, and shot her down. She collapsed on the floor with a cry, and all the gamblers sprang from their tables, cards flying and drinks spilling.
James laughed, and the laugh was clear and bright, and it was then that Magnus began to be truly alarmed. Will’s voice would have shaken, betraying that his cruelty had been part of his playacting, but his son’s laugh was that of someone genuinely delighted by the chaos erupting all around him.
Magnus’s hand shot out and grasped the boy’s wrist, the hum and light of magic crackling along his fingers like a promise. “That’s enough.”
“Be easy,” James said, still laughing. “I am a very good shot, and Peg the tavern maid is famous for her wooden leg. I think that is why they call her Peg. Her real name, I believe, is Ermentrude.”
“And I suppose Ragnor Fell bet you twenty pounds that you couldn’t shoot her without managing to draw blood? How very clever of you both.”
James drew his hand back from Magnus’s, shaking his head. His black locks fell around a face so like his father’s that it prompted an indrawn breath from Magnus. “My father told me you acted as a sort of protector to him, but I do not need your protection, warlock.”
“I rather disagree with that.”
“I have taken a great many bets tonight,” James Herondale informed him. “I must perform all the terrible deeds I have promised. For am I not a man of my word? I want to preserve my honor. And I want another drink!”
“What an excellent idea,” Magnus said. “I have heard alcohol only improves a man’s aim. The night is young. Imagine how many barmaids you can shoot before dawn.”
“A warlock as dull as a scholar,” said James, narrowing his amber eyes. “Who would have thought such a thing existed?”
“Magnus has not always been so dull,” said Ragnor, appearing at James’s shoulder with a glass of wine in hand. He gave it to the boy, who took it and downed it in a distressingly practiced manner. “There was a time, in Peru, with a boat full of pirates—”
James wiped his mouth on his sleeve and set down his glass. “I should love to sit and listen to old men reminiscing about their lives, but I have a pressing appointment to do something that is actually interesting. Another time, chaps.”
He turned upon his heel and left. Magnus made to follow him.
“Let the Nephilim control their brat, if they can,” Ragnor said, always happy to see chaos but not be involved in it. “Come have a drink with me.”
“Another night,” Magnus promised.
“Still such a soft touch, Magnus,” Ragnor called after him. “Nothing you like better than a lost soul or a bad idea.”
Magnus wanted to argue with that, but it was difficult when he was already forsaking warmth and the promise of a drink and a few rounds of cards, and running out into the cold after a deranged Shadowhunter.
Said deranged Shadowhunter turned on him, as if the narrow cobbled street were a cage and he some wild, hungry animal held there too long.
“I wouldn’t follow me,” James warned. “I am in no mood for company. Especially the company of a prim magical chaperone who does not know how to enjoy himself.”
“I know perfectly well how to enjoy myself,” remarked Magnus, amused, and he made a small gesture so that for an instant all the iron streetlamps lining the street rained down varicolored sparks of light. For an instant he thought he saw a light that was softer and less like burning in James Herondale’s golden eyes, the beginnings of a childlike smile of delight.
The next moment, it was quenched. James’s eyes were as bright as the jewels in a dragon’s hoard, and no more alive or joyful. He shook his head, black locks flying in the night air, where the magic lights were fading.
“But you do not wish to enjoy yourself, do you, James Herondale?” Magnus asked. “Not really. You want to go to the devil.”
“Perhaps I think I will enjoy going to the devil,” said James Herondale, and his eyes burned like the fires of Hell, enticing, and promising unimaginable suffering. “Though I see no need to take anyone else with me.”
No sooner had he spoken than he vanished, to all appearances softly and silently stolen away by the night air, with no one but the winking stars, the glaring streetlamps, and Magnus as witnesses.
Magnus knew magic when he saw it. He spun, and at the same moment heard the click of a decided footstep against a cobblestone. He turned to face a policeman walking his beat, truncheon swinging at his side, and a look of suspicion on his stolid face as he surveyed Magnus.
It was not Magnus the man had to watch out for.
Magnus saw the buttons on the man’s uniform cease their gleaming, even though he was under a streetlamp. Magnus was able to discern a shadow falling where there was nothing to cast it, a surge of dark within the greater darkness of the night.
The policeman gave a shout of surprise as his helmet was whisked away by unseen hands. He stumbled forward, hands fumbling blindly in the air to retrieve what was long gone.
Magnus gave him a consoling smile. “Cheer up,” he said. “You can find far more flattering headgear at any shop in Bond Street.”
The man fainted. Magnus considered pausing to help him, but there was being a soft touch, and then there was being ridiculous enough to not pursue a most enticing mystery. A Shadowhunter who could turn into a shadow? Magnus turned and bolted after the bobbing policeman’s helmet, held alo
ft only by a taunting darkness.
They ran down street after street, Magnus and the darkness, until the Thames barred their path. Magnus heard the sound of its rushing swiftness rather than saw it, the dark waters at one with the night.
What he did see was white fingers suddenly clenched on the brim of the policeman’s helmet, the turn of James Herondale’s head, darkness replaced with the tilt of his slowly appearing grin. Magnus saw a shadow coalescing once more into flesh.
So the boy had inherited something from his mother as well as his father, then. Tessa’s father had been a fallen angel, one of the kings of demons. The boy’s lambent golden eyes seemed to Magnus like his own eyes suddenly, a token of infernal blood.
James saw Magnus looking, and winked before he hurled the helmet up into the air. It flew for a moment like a strange bird, spinning gently around in the air, then hit the water. The darkness was disrupted by a silver splash.
“A Shadowhunter who knows magic tricks,” Magnus observed. “How novel.”
A Shadowhunter who attacked the mundanes it was his mandate to protect—how delighted the Clave would be by that.
“We are but dust and shadows, as the saying goes,” said James. “Of course, the saying does not add, ‘Some of us also turn into shadows occasionally, when the mood takes us.’ I suppose nobody predicted that I would come to pass. It’s true that I have been told I am somewhat unpredictable.”
“May I ask who bet you that you could steal a policeman’s helmet, and why?”
“Foolish question. Never ask about the last bet, Bane,” James advised him, and reached casually to his belt, where his gun was slung, and then he drew it in one fluid, easy motion. “You should be worrying about the next one.”
“There isn’t any chance,” Magnus asked, without much hope, “that you are rather a nice fellow who believes he is cursed and must make himself seem unlovable to spare those around him from a terrible fate? Because I have heard that happens sometimes.”