James shouldn’t have been out on his own so late. A Shadowhunter walking city streets after dark was essentially on patrol whether he intended to be or not—and James was only fourteen, had not come anywhere near finishing his training, was wearing no runes suitable for fighting, and had only a single seraph blade tucked into his belt.
Worse, he had no real reason to be out at all. Since Matthew, Christopher, and now Thomas had returned to London with their families, he’d found he had a surfeit of energy, a sense of something important about to happen, though he could not have said what. He lay in bed trying to sleep and his thoughts flitted like agitated birds. He thought of conversations he wanted to have with his friends, he thought of Grace, he thought of his upcoming parabatai ceremony, he thought about his visions of shadow lands and blasted trees. He went through complex knife-fighting maneuvers in his head. Finally he gave up, threw on street clothes, and went for a walk. His parents would not be happy if they found out he’d gone, but he felt sure he’d be fine, remaining only a few blocks from the Institute at most.
What was on his mind as he walked was his friends, and how frustrating it was to try to have something as simple as a private conversation among them. He hadn’t appreciated, he thought wryly, how easy that had been at the Academy, and how annoying it would be in London. His own home was the London Institute, and strange Shadowhunters were forever coming and going there. Matthew’s house, the Consul’s residence, had the same problem. (Besides which, Charles was usually there, regarding them all with a beady eye.) Thomas’s house was far away in Golder’s Green. Christopher’s house in Bedford Square was tricky too. Aunt Cecily had just had a little boy, and Uncle Gabriel was constantly bursting in to warn them not to wake the baby.
“What we need is a gentlemen’s club,” Matthew would say. But they were too young to join a gentlemen’s club. “We’ll start our own, then,” Matthew would mutter.
Lost in thought, James did not notice he had wandered down a narrow alley with no one else around, and did not notice until it was far too late the three Kuri demons that came scuttling over the awning of a chemist’s and, on realizing James could see them, came straight at him. He dispatched one, wounded another, and chased the third off, but not before one of them got a fang into James’s arm and scored a line from elbow to wrist.
James stood in the alley, clutching his arm and swearing. Excellently done, James old boy. It felt like a hot wire was being jammed into his arm. There was nothing for it but to return home and wake at least one family member. He couldn’t get back in his own window; he’d have to come through the front door. And he’d have to clean the wound at the washstand upstairs, at which point he would inevitably face the music.
Or would he? The streets were quiet at this hour, but as he made his way down Fleet Street he came upon a pub still raucous with activity. With some interest, he noticed it was glamoured to be hidden from mundanes. It was called the Devil Tavern, according to the sign, which featured a man pulling the nose of a capering demon.
When he entered, conversation briefly stopped so the pub’s denizens could get a proper gander at the newcomer. James noted immediately that the place was full of Downworlders, which made sense. A gigantic gray-haired man, obviously a werewolf, was pulling a pint of foamy blood for an elderly-looking vampire at the bar, but stopped when James entered. There was a brief murmur at the appearance of a kid, obviously too young to be here by himself, in their pub, and then they noticed James’s Marks and there was a second, more unfriendly murmur.
Possibly this had been a mistake, but James thought turning and fleeing was probably only asking for more trouble, so he gathered his courage and approached the hulking figure tending the bar.
“Hello,” he began. “I’m terribly sorry, but I’ve sustained a bit of an injury, and I wondered if you might have a basin and some water I could make use of.”
The werewolf peered down at him, still holding the pint of blood. After a moment he said, in a surprisingly mild voice, “We don’t get many Shadowhunters in here, lad. We don’t get many children, either. And it’s vanishingly rare we get the combination of the two.”
James stood his ground. “I don’t want to make any trouble. I just need a place to deal with this wound and then I’ll be on my way.”
The werewolf took note of the angry red line along James’s arm. “What got you?”
“Kuri demon,” James said. When the bartender looked blank, he added, “Like a spider the size of a medicine ball. Little bigger, actually.”
The bartender grunted. “Better you than me.” He peered closer at James. “Wait, I recognize you. You’re Will’s boy, aren’t you?”
James blinked in surprise. “You know my father?”
“Oi! Ernie!” the elderly vampire interjected, slapping his hand on the bar with a bang.
“What? Oh.” The bartender, apparently named Ernie, put the pint of blood down in front of the vampire, who rolled his eyes and turned away to speak with his companions.
“Did know him,” Ernie went on. “Haven’t seen him for years, but he used to come in here all the time. Good man. Shadowhunters are bad for business, mostly, but your dad was a charmer, he was. Put everyone at ease. Had a real knack for it.”
James wasn’t sure how to respond. “I like him, personally,” he ventured.
Ernie roared with laughter. “Of course you do,” he said. “Look, there are some rooms upstairs, from way back when we let rooms. Long before my time, mind you. There’s a washstand up there you can use. Don’t have to go home and tell your father you got banged up. I know how it is.”
James was not sure that Ernie did know how it was, but he thanked him and followed his directions up the stairs. He found an interconnected set of rooms with various bits of furniture, all covered in cloths yellowed with age.
He washed his wound in the washstand and set about Marking himself for healing and to dull the pain. Several of the rooms here were tiny and unwelcoming, but one of them had clearly been a parlour of some kind, with tall windows overlooking the street and a pleasantly tiled fireplace at one end. James could tell it could be a nice room if only it was cleaned up a bit and the right furniture put about.
He returned downstairs and thanked Ernie, who told him to send Will over to have a drink on him one of these days. James hesitated, wanting to ask Ernie about the room. It was brazen, and he’d already leaned on Ernie’s hospitality more than was respectable, but now he was in London, his friends were in London, he was in love, and everything was different. So he leaned over and said, “Look, Ernie, can I ask you something about that room upstairs? The big one?”
* * *
“Et voila,” James said, making a wide gesture at the Devil Tavern’s upstairs parlor. It was a few days later, and he’d gathered his friends for a mission he’d refused to explain. Matthew, Christopher, and Thomas had been dubious of James’s taking them through the ground floor of a Downworlder pub but followed gamely. Ernie gave James a nod of greeting as they passed the bar, and Thomas and Christopher exchanged a nonplussed look.
Now they stood in the larger room, which on a sunny afternoon turned out to get decent light falling in sheets through its tall, narrow windows. Dramatically James whipped a yellow cloth off of a large, comfortable-looking armchair and gestured to it.
Matthew figured it out first. “James, you old dog!” he said with a laugh. “You’ve made us a club.”
“What, now?” Christopher said politely.
“The owner says if we clean it up, we can use it whenever we want,” James said. “As long as we order drinks while we’re here.”
“I think,” said Thomas, “that that is a more than fair exchange.”
“We can store the things we don’t want in the bedroom behind,” James added. “There are some more chairs and things we might want to bring in here, too.”
“And everything will need a vigorous dusting,” Matthew added. “But marvelous. This is marvelous.”
A slow smile was growing on Thomas’s face, too. “I’ll bring some books in, I think. Books make a place homier. I daresay, I wasn’t sure at first about this business of relocating to London,” he added.
“Oh, we’ll be proper Londoners now, with a private room above a pub and a pint waiting whenever we need one.” Matthew rubbed his hands together. “James, it’s a pleasure to see you in your element. You were always a bit at loose ends at the Academy, but here in the city you are our guide and our leader.”
James waited for Christopher and Thomas to protest at Matthew calling him their leader, but they only looked pleased.
“I’m glad you’re here,” James said. “I’m glad we’re all here together.”
James felt something settling in him, something that had been restless since he’d first arrived at the Academy and now was, in surprise, finding itself at home.