Gran took Cat back into the clearing in the woods that night. Cat fidgeted with her headband, staring up at the moon. It was only a half moon, and thus impossible for them to meet Silverfur today (or at least Silverfur in his werewolf form), but she couldn’t help jumping at every snap of a twig.
“Believe me, dear,” Gran said. “Anything dangerous you’d meet out here tonight… you probably wouldn’t hear coming.”
“Is that supposed to be comforting?”
“Just being honest,” she replied. “I thought that’s what you wanted.”
Cat rolled her eyes and tried to settle into a comfortable seating position. Gran had stationed herself on the tree stump, and she had laid a blanket on the ground for Cat.
“This is a pretty picture.”
Cat jumped and grabbed her headband. Ms. Peregrine, already seated at the edge of the blanket, raised a brow. Gran chuckled.
“I told you,” Gran said.
“Vampires are rather fast,” Ms. Peregrine said. “And quiet. Sorry to scare you, Cat. Would you like a scone?”
She had a picnic basket set in front of her, and she began pulling out several pastries, a thermos, and some chips.
“Oh, um, yes please,” Cat said, putting her dagger away with a sheepish smile. “Thank you.”
Gran pushed herself off the tree stump and sat on the blanket. She cracked open the thermos and sniffed at it, looking disappointed.
“It’s just some tea,” Ms. Peregrine said.
“I was hoping for something stronger,” Gran replied.
“Well, I doubt Cat could drink what you wanted,” Ms. Peregrine said. “Besides, you’ll need all your wits about you if she shows up.”
“I don’t need my wits,” Gran retorted. “That’s what you’re here for.”
Cat glanced at the two of them and caught Gran’s eye. She could have sworn Gran flushed. Ms. Peregrine opened a bag of chips and began toying with the bag. Suddenly, Cat felt like she was a third wheel. Was she supposed to put in her headphones, or excuse herself so they could be alone?
“So this is the portal,” Gran said in a louder tone than necessary, gesturing around her.
“Where?” Cat asked. “Is it, like, a secret door that only you can find?”
“No, it’s this area,” Gran replied. “It’s like a veil between dimensions that I can open… well along with the Guardian on the other side. Then whoever is coming over just pops out.”
“Oh, that’s pretty cool.”
Cat was lowkey hoping to have seen some sort of ancient arch with a secret spell, but she supposed mythical creatures popping out of nowhere was cool too.
“I usually try to come to it every night,” Gran continued. “The portal is usually more susceptible to magic then.”
“Mythics’ magic is usually stronger at night,” Ms. Peregrine replied. “Werewolves transform under the moon, vampires have stronger magic—”
“But, of course, fairies don’t need to rely on some floating rock in space to have strength,” an unfamiliar voice interrupted.
Cat could see Ms. Peregrine crush the bag of chips, even though her expression seemed unchanged. She glanced over and saw a woman standing at the edge of the clearing. She had on a business suit, and her hair was pulled back into a bun. She looked like she would be a “strict but cool” vice principal at a school. If Cat saw her on the street, she wouldn’t have clocked her as a fairy. That is, she thought, except for a look of obvious disdain that seemed abnormal as it was directed at an old lady.
“Rosaria,” Gran said, grabbing the bag of chips from Ms. Peregrine and popping some crumbs in her mouth. “Do you want to join us?”
“No… thank you,” Rosaria said, turning the corners of her lips into a forced smile. “I won’t be here long, I think.”
“I see you got my message.”
“Yes, did you really have to scare my assistant like that?”
“I have the authority to question any Mythic in this realm, especially in matters related to the Portal,” Gran replied calmly.
“He’s not a Mythic.”
Gran looked over like she was studying Rosaria’s face. Rosaria met her gaze calmly.
“Well, then, he can dismiss me as a batty old lady,” Gran replied airily. “Either way, it brought you here so we can have a little chat.”
“I’m not sure what you want to discuss,” Rosaria said. “Is there a message I should deliver to the queen?”
“That depends. Do you still answer to her?”
“All fairies in this realm answer to her.”
“And you follow all of her orders?”
“So was it her order to open the portal?”
Rosaria’s smile flickered for the briefest moment, but Cat caught it. She was sure Gran and Ms. Peregrine saw it as well.
“It looks closed to me,” Rosaria replied.
“When you were first allowed into this realm,” Gran said calmly. “You were given a few rules to follow. Opening the portal without permission was definitely on that list.”
“It was,” Rosaria replied. “So why would I try to break that rule?”
“That’s what I want to know,” Gran said. “Especially when opening that portal allowed a murderer into the realm. Wasn’t another rule to not cause intentional harm to the humans, direct or indirect?”
“I haven’t hurt any mortals,” Rosaria replied.
“You haven’t caused any harm to Betty either, have you?” Ms. Peregrine asked.
Rosaria and Gran gave Ms. Peregrine a puzzled look. Cat glanced over, still trying to follow the conversation, but apparently she wasn’t the only one confused.
“Ms. Betty would have known the portal had been opened,” Ms. Peregrine continued. “Unless someone, oh, touched her mind with a bit of magic to confuse her.”
Realization spread across Gran’s face. Cat took a few moments longer to process.
“Wait,” Cat said slowly. “That time the police found you wandering along the road and took you to the hospital… it was magic?”
“I don’t take kindly to being magicked,” Gran said, her voice turning steely.
“I never claimed to have done that,” Rosaria replied innocently.
“I thought I brewed my vitality potion wrong,” Gran continued. “I have to say, I’m a little impressed. Pissed off, but impressed.”
“If,” Rosaria began, emphasizing the first word. “I had put you under a spell, that wouldn’t be a breach of the rules. You aren’t a human by the legal definition, Betty. You’re a Guardian, which is, according to the Fairy Accords, outside of the human species.”
“And releasing a murderer into this world?” Gran asked.
“Again, if I did anything, there are no humans who frequent these woods,” Rosaria replied with a shrug. “So if I released something in the woods, where it couldn’t harm humans, and it left the woods, it can’t be my fault, can it?”
“Pete was in the woods.”
“Well, he’s a werewolf, too, so he isn’t human.”
“To his knowledge he is.”
“Well, now, if he still has no memory of his transformations, then it hasn’t harmed him at all.”
“You fairies sure can find a loophole for everything,” Ms. Peregrine said, in a tone that suggested that it was not at all a compliment.
“And you vampires always overstep,” Rosaria said. “Unless you’re a Guardian, I don’t answer to you.” She glanced between Gran and Ms. Peregrine. “Don’t tell me I’m witnessing a rekindled flame.”
Ms. Peregrine’s upper lip curled, like she was showing her teeth.
“Don’t forget that it’s common courtesy, not a contract, that keeps us from ripping you pixies apart,” Ms. Peregrine snarled.
“And don’t think we would go down quietly,” Rosaria countered. “Imagine all the human casualties in a vampire and fairy battle. What a headache that’d be for any Guardian to clean up.”
“Enough,” Gran snapped. “Since you’ve all but confessed, let me give you this one warning, Rosaria. Hand him over, cut off whatever deal you’ve made, and maybe I’ll show a little mercy in return.”
Rosaria looked up at the sky and frowned.
“Well, if I made a deal with a werewolf, I’d have to wait til the next full moon to find him again, wouldn’t I?” she asked. “Don’t worry. I’m sure this whole situation will resolve itself then.”
“I could resolve it now,” Ms. Peregrine offered.
“Jules,” Gran began in a warning tone.
With a chuckle and a wave, Rosaria vanished. At least, that’s what it looked like to Cat. Just poof and she wasn’t there.
“Did she…” Cat began slowly, looking around.
Maybe she jumped behind a tree? Or shrunk into a mini fairy, like in the cartoons?
“They do that sometimes,” Ms. Peregrine said darkly, rising to her feet. “I suppose this means the picnic is over?”
Gran nodded and used the cane to help herself to her feet. Cat noted Ms. Peregrine’s outstretched hand that Gran seemed to ignore. Ms. Peregrine bent down and folded the blanket quickly, acting like that’s what she had been reaching for.
“Are you okay, Gran?” Cat asked.
Gran cast a dark look towards Cat. She looked like she was going to pull her sword, Cat thought. She hoped not on her, though.
“I’ll be fine,” she muttered, her expression suggesting otherwise. “Just… no one talk to me until I figure out how to deal with this, ok?”
Cat nodded silently and let Gran lead the way. She thought Gran was muttering to herself, but she couldn’t hear any comprehensible words. She glanced over at Ms. Peregrine, who was also studying Gran.
“Is she gonna be ok?” Cat whispered.
Ms. Peregrine gave a small smile.
“She’s always ok,” Ms. Peregrine replied, with almost a trace of bitterness in her voice.
“Have you known her for a long time?” Cat asked.
“Decades,” Ms. Peregrine replied, her eyes looking distant. “I moved here when your Gran was just going into university.”
Cat figured that must have been at least seventy years.
“So… do you know about,” Cat began and lowered her voice even more. “Silverfur?”
Ms. Peregrine’s expression clouded over, but it looked more sad than angry. She gave a silent nod, her eyes fixed on Gran.
“Who is he?”
“A monster,” Ms. Peregrine replied.
“Why does Gran hate him so much?” Cat pressed.
Ms. Peregrine put a cold hand on Cat’s shoulder and shook her head.
“That is a story that isn’t mine to tell,” Ms. Peregrine said and then paused. “It isn’t Betty’s to hide, either.”
Gran had reached the house and was busy unlocking the door, still muttering to herself.
“Maybe wait until the morning and then ask her,” Ms. Peregrine suggested. “I wouldn’t ask her about that relationship when she’s in this mood.”
“How they know each other,” Ms. Peregrine amended. “Relationship isn’t the right word, perhaps.”
Cat nodded slowly. Ms. Peregrine was standing at the edge of the protective circle, and Cat wondered if she was supposed to invite her in. It felt more like Ms. Peregrine was trying to leave, though.
“What about you?” Cat blurted out. “What’s your relationship with Gran?”
“That’s… complicated,” Ms. Peregrine said, clearing her throat.
“I’m a vampire,” she remarked, gesturing to herself. “I can’t have a mortal partner.”
“One of us will always age. The other can’t age even if she wanted to.”
Ms. Peregrine was still focused on Gran. Cat couldn’t help but feel those excuses were halfhearted at best, and she raised a brow at Ms. Peregrine. As if sensing it, Ms. Peregrine gave a small smile.
“And, as a Guardian, your Gran gave up her life to protect others,” Ms. Peregrine said. “She swore off all distractions… including love. For the job.”
“She can’t have a relationship and be a Guardian?”
Ms. Peregrine shook her head and pulled her eyes away from Gran as Gran finally pried open the door.
“It’s time for me to go,” she said. “Take care of Ms. Betty, and call me if you need anything.”
Cat nodded. Ms. Peregrine inclined her head at Gran and was swallowed up by the shadows.
“Are you coming in or not?” Gran asked, walking in without waiting for an answer.