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Emma L Adams

Potions & Paperbacks: A Library Witch Mystery Book 12 (Paperback)

Potions & Paperbacks: A Library Witch Mystery Book 12 (Paperback)

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Book 12 of : A Library Witch Mystery

Rory and her magical family have been through their fair share of tribulations. The sudden reappearance of a hidden corridor in the library has unleashed a series of baffling riddles left by the library’s creator, but Rory’s deceased grandmother’s motives are as shrouded in mystery as ever.

When a professor is poisoned to death at the local university, everyone thinks it’s an accident. Only Rory and her family know of a potential link with a notorious group of vampires who are tangled up with her family’s own history. Before she knows it, danger is afoot, and the past is intruding on the present in unexpected ways.

Can Rory unearth the truth before she ends up consigned to the pages of history herself?

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Read a sample

“Never poke a sleeping vampire with a stick.”

I stared at the first sentence I’d written for a long moment before striking through the words with my pen. They were fine, just… lacking something. “Aunt Candace never told me starting a book was this difficult.”

“What is that?” Cass walked up behind me. “That’s not your dad’s journal, is it?”

“No.” I swiftly closed the notebook, but my cousin had already read the scratched-out words over my shoulder.

“Poke a vampire with a stick?” she asked. “Never a good idea, but your friend Laney might let you poke her without decapitating you. Evangeline, though? Not a chance.”

I made a noncommittal noise, but it didn’t deter her. 

Cass peered over my shoulder. “You’re not talking about actually poking a vampire,” she observed. “What’re you writing?”

“Nothing.” I shrugged, a flush creeping up my neck. “I just figured I ought to take notes for the next unsuspecting person who might need them.”

“You’re writing your own journal?” At my cousin’s words, I tensed, but her expression showed no hint of mockery. “You’re not writing it in code?”

“Definitely not,” I said firmly. “Dad meant well, but I don’t know if he expected it to take months or years for me to decipher all his journal entries.”

He’d been worried about his words falling into the wrong hands, which was fair; many extremely dangerous people had wanted their hands on that journal and had gone as far as to threaten my life to get it. If I followed in his footsteps, my own journal would likely end up inspiring similar behaviour, but as long as I didn’t take it outside of the library like my dad took his, I’d theoretically be fine to risk writing it in plain English rather than an elaborate code I’d made up that nobody else knew.

I’d been working on my dad’s journal for months, and while I’d already extracted the most useful pieces of information, my chaotic life at the library left little time for painstaking side projects. My aunt Adelaide was currently up to her neck in the year’s taxes, leaving me to watch the front desk, but even the lack of new visitors to the library didn’t stop the constant interruptions. When my cousin departed, my familiar, Jet, fluttered down and landed on the desk.

The little crow peered at the notebook, eyes bright and intrigued. “Are you writing a story?”

“No, and please don’t tell Aunt Candace,” I muttered to him. “We don’t need her asking questions—” 

“Don’t tell me what?” My aunt appeared from behind a bookcase, as if summoned by my words. Typical. 

“What’re you doing downstairs?” My aunt wore the jumbled clothing she usually did on a deadline—a flowery red dress with pink leggings that clashed horribly with her red hair—and was accompanied by the usual pen and notebook floating at her side. I knew, however, that it wasn’t a normal deadline that held her attention.

“Taking a walk, and don’t change the subject,” she said. “What exactly are you writing?”

“Nothing now.” I picked up the notebook and slipped it into my pocket. “I was going to start a list to keep track of what I’m reading. That’s all.”

“Why use a list when you can just start a dozen books at once and never finish any of them?” She laughed, her notebook and pen bobbing up and down next to her. “No, I don’t think you’re being quite truthful.” 

“Aunt Candace, stop bothering Rory.” Estelle approached the desk, carrying a stack of books, which she deposited in the returns box. “Care to help me put these back where they belong? The students decided to leave them lying around instead of returning them to their shelves.”

“No thanks.” Aunt Candace sidestepped the desk. “I have a mystery to solve.” 

She vanished amid the shelves in a swirl of red hair, her notebook and pen flying in pursuit. 

Estelle bent over the box, red curls bouncing around her round, friendly face. “Can you help me with these, Rory?”’

“Of course.” At times like these, I understood why Aunt Candace often locked herself in her room upstairs for days at a time when she needed to finish a book. I’d have no chance of getting anything written down at this rate.

I got up and helped Estelle return the books to their correct shelves, wishing the students would clean up after themselves for once. Since it was the start of the new school year, we had fewer summer school attendees showing up for various activities throughout the day, but that didn’t stop the undergraduates from Ivory Beach’s only university from coming in at all hours and leaving a mess behind them. Luckily, most of the books had come from the ground floor, which contained the reference area as well as the fiction section. Upstairs were more specialised areas, covering three floors—or four, if you counted the newly rediscovered fourth-floor corridor—and including some of the library’s more dangerous inhabitants.

When I’d first met my late father’s estranged family just under a year ago, I’d never have guessed that their magical library would become my home. Nor would I have guessed how familiar I’d become with its towering stacks and hidden alcoves—though parts of it always remained hidden to me. From trapdoors hiding sleeping vampires to shelves that moved where they pleased, the library contained a seemingly infinite number of secrets, and the rediscovered fourth-floor corridor that had vanished years ago was only the most recent of them. 

“If Aunt Candace spends much more time upstairs, she’ll end up missing her deadline,” I told Estelle as we returned a stack of yellowing manuscripts to a cabinet inside one of the private rooms off the lobby. “If she hasn’t already. I know there’s not much we can do when she gets like this, but I don’t really want her legions of angry fans to show up on the doorstep if she doesn’t put out a new title soon.”

“You know Aunt Candace. She can only have one obsession at a time.” Estelle closed the cabinet door on the manuscripts. “I can guarantee she’ll get bored eventually and go back to her books. She hasn’t made any progress on opening those doors.” 

“True.” I followed Estelle out of the room and returned to the front desk, where we found Jet chattering away to the library’s resident pixie, Spark. I suspected Spark didn’t understand much English and was just being polite, but Jet didn’t get to gather as much gossip for Aunt Candace now that her fixation was on the upstairs corridor instead.

“Where’s Sylvester?” I asked. “I haven’t seen him in a while.”

“Haven’t a clue.” Estelle tipped out the last couple of books from the returns box. “Probably napping.”

“Or spying on Aunt Candace.” The owl had taken the existence of the fourth floor as a personal insult, since it was the only part of the library outside of the vast realm of his knowledge, and he refused to get involved directly. He would still be watching the situation from afar, however.

As a genius loci, or the animal-shaped embodiment of the library itself, Sylvester prided himself on being privy to all of its secrets and had gone into a tremendous sulk when the corridor had reappeared after decades of being hidden even from the owl’s watchful eyes. Therefore, he’d even stopped hanging out with Cass, Estelle’s younger sister, who spent most of her time on the third floor with her dangerous magical pets.

“Is it just me, or is it quieter than usual down here?” I said while helping Estelle carry the three remaining books to the reference area. “I know everyone went back to school this week, but the library isn’t normally this calm.”

“That means someone’s about to cause trouble, in my experience.” Estelle pushed one book into place on its shelf, and I did the same to my own. “Like Cass is going to adopt a new pet, or Aunt Candace is going to lose her memory again.”

“I bet on the latter.” Temporarily losing her memory hadn’t been enough to deter my aunt from probing the depths of the fourth-floor corridor in the hopes of unearthing its secrets. “Or Evangeline’s about to show up and want a tour of the corridor.”

“I hope not.” Estelle shuddered. “Why would she be interested in what’s up there?”

“She’s a vampire. Knowledge and secrets are to her what dangerous magical monsters are to Cass.”

Vampires prided themselves on knowledge, and Evangeline was no exception. She’d taken more than a passing interest in my dad’s journal, given his previous entanglements with the dangerous group known as the Founders, but my grandmother’s secret corridor had yet to capture her attention.

Granted, the corridor was mostly empty, but that was because nobody could figure out how to get through any of the doors. The library’s keys didn’t work on the locks, and my grandmother had left no maps or other clues for us to follow. Although we’d managed to get the guardian of the corridor to stop cursing anyone who set foot in there, that didn’t mean we’d figured out how to crack its secrets—though that didn’t stop Aunt Candace’s relentless efforts.

“They’ve been quiet lately too,” Estelle said. “The vampires.” 

“Yeah.” I might have worried about tempting fate by mentioning them, but rarely had I gone through this long a stretch of time without seeing one of the fanged locals. “Not counting Laney, of course.”

My best friend had been turned by one of the Founders—the vampires who’d wanted my dad’s journal and had been prepared to commit murder to get it. Unfortunately, I wasn’t the only person they’d targeted, and by the time I’d realised the extent of their network, it’d been too late to stop my best friend from suffering permanent consequences. Luckily for everyone involved, she was having the time of her life being one of the undead. Or should that be time of her afterlife?

“Of course, but she’s not one of them,” Estelle said. “Has she mentioned Evangeline recently?”

“Aside from her habit of swooping around being terrifying?” I wasn’t entirely sure how most vampires spent their endless days except by playing mind games and trying to outwit one another. “No, and she didn’t bring up the Founders either.”

“You haven’t heard from her since the note… right?”

“Nope.” The Founders had delivered me an ominous note on behalf of Mortimer Vale, their leader, who was currently incarcerated in one of the magical world’s most high-security prisons. He’d implied that spies for the Founders hid within Ivory Beach itself, and when I’d very reluctantly told Evangeline about the note, she’d responded by going ominously quiet. 

Since then, we’d caught one of Mortimer Vale’s human contacts, Lisa Grubbins, and while I’d been inclined to think Lisa herself had left the note, she’d lost all memory of the library thanks to her own meddling and had likely forgotten the Founders too. For that reason, we had yet to find out if she’d been working alone.

“I found it!” Aunt Candace marched into view wearing a triumphant expression, as if we were supposed to have a clue what she was talking about.

“Found what?” said Estelle. 

“A clue, of course.” She waved a piece of paper in the air. “I’ve been testing different revealing potions and spells on all those closed doors up on the fourth floor, and I finally found one that worked.”

“What’s that, then?” The piece of paper didn’t look remarkable to me. “Was it behind the door?”

“No, the door didn’t open,” she said. “But it did show me some very interesting text. Look at this.”

She thrust the paper in front of my nose. After scrutinizing her illegible handwriting for several moments to decipher the words beneath, what I saw made my heart skip a beat, and Estelle let out a startled gasp.

The words were written in the same code as my dad’s journal.

“What… those were written on the door?” Estelle raised her head to look at our aunt.

My mouth parted. “Did my grandmother know the code?”

“Apparently so.” Aunt Candace’s excitable tone suggested this information was going straight into her next book. “Well?”

“‘Well’ what?” Did she want my opinion? Or… “If you want me to fetch the translation spell, there’s no harm in asking nicely.”

“It was my spell, remember?” she said. “Besides, I thought you might be interested to know how and when your father and grandmother shared that code.” 

I did, but if I handed the translation spell over to my aunt, there were no guarantees I’d get it back anytime soon. However, she’d piqued my curiosity. “Fine.”

“I’ll tell my mum,” Estelle offered. “You’ll watch the desk in the meantime, won’t you, Aunt Candace?”

Aunt Candace gave a world-weary sigh. “I suppose.” 

The spell was upstairs in my room, and fetching it wouldn’t take more than two minutes, but I decided against pointing that out. Estelle shot me a sympathetic look over her shoulder as she proceeded to the back room, while I headed into the small corridor off the lobby that led to our family’s living quarters. I climbed the narrow staircase one floor up and entered my room, where I grabbed the box-shaped spell I’d left on my bedside table. My aunt had crafted the spell to help me crack the code in which my dad had written years of diary entries, but I’d thought the code was one he’d made up himself. Apparently, though, Grandma had known it too. 

Strange. Why hide the truth from her own family? My dad had moved outside of the magical world when he’d married my mother, and discussing magic with normals was strictly forbidden. But Grandma had always lived in the library and would have no need to keep the code hidden.

I returned downstairs with the spell and handed it to Aunt Candace. She placed the box upon the desk and pushed the piece of paper into the letterbox-style slot in the side while Estelle and I watched warily nearby.

“My mum told you not to take any dangerous risks,” Estelle informed Aunt Candace.

“Too late.” Aunt Candace watched the box reverently. “Let’s see what this says…”

A few moments later, the page emerged from the box. So did a second sheet of paper upon which several words were printed. “What language is that?” I asked.

Aunt Candace snatched up the new page. “Another code. How intriguing.”

“It translated the code into another one?” Estelle asked. “Why would it do that?”

“Because my mother loved a good enigma.” Aunt Candace grinned as if all her birthdays and Christmases had come at once. “Excellent.”

“That’s one way of putting it.” I exchanged a baffled look with Estelle and then swivelled to my aunt when she tucked the box under her arm and began to retreat. “Hey! Where are you going with that?”

“To try some experiments,” she answered. “You don’t still need it for your dad’s journal, do you? You’ll be in the grave before you finish, at this rate.”

“That’s because people keep interrupting me.”

She gave another laugh. “Well, if I let people’s interruptions deter me, I’d never finish a book. Fear not, Rory—I’ll return this to you in one piece.” 

She vanished among the shelves, presumably to one of the classrooms at the back, where she could test her most hair-raising spells without affecting the rest of the library.

“Great.” I stifled a sigh. “Shouldn’t she look up the second code before she starts casting spells on the box?”

“Not if it’ll just turn into a third one.” Estelle’s brow furrowed. “If I had to guess, the spell must be woven into the very words themselves. Our grandmother must have been determined that nobody get through that door.”

“Why, though?” That was what I didn’t understand. “We’re her family. And the corridor itself is inaccessible to anyone who isn’t one of us.”

“I wish I knew.” She pursed her lips. “A lot of the chaos she left behind was because she didn’t expect to die. Maybe she did intend to show us the corridor herself someday.”

“Along with the map of the library that doesn’t exist,” I added. “What do we do now, then? I’m not sure Aunt Candace’s bull-in-a-china-shop approach is going to crack that code. She’s more likely to set the box on fire.”

“True. I wonder…” Estelle trailed off. “I know at least one professor at the academy who might know. He’s an expert on code spells and the like.” 

“Really?” She hadn’t mentioned that when I’d been working on my dad’s journal, but once I’d got hold of the document in which my dad had laid out the code, the translator spell had been sufficient for me to render the journal in plain English.

“I figured you didn’t want any strangers getting involved when you were struggling with your dad’s journal,” she clarified. “This, though… it’s not just a code. It’s another kind of spell altogether.”

“A spell that causes the text to evade translation spells?” I surmised. “The actual words are bewitched? How is that possible?”

“I’d like to know the same.” Estelle pulled out her phone. “I’ll message Professor Booker and see what he thinks. I’m sure this isn’t news to him—I remember he once told me a story about a translation that melted the eyeballs of anyone who tried to read it.”

“What?” I raised a brow. “Is Aunt Candace aware that might be a possibility?”

“Yes, but she won’t let a bit of mild peril get in her way.”

“She needs her eyeballs to read. You’d think she’d be more careful.”

A rap on the front door made us both jump, then I relaxed; only one person was polite enough to knock before entering. Xavier, my boyfriend and the local Grim Reaper’s current apprentice. 

When I called “Come in,” Xavier entered the library, looking no more dead than I was. Blond curls framed his face, and his eyes were a deep shade of aquamarine. 

“Hey, Rory,” he said. “Is this a bad time?”

“No—it’s fine,” I said. “Just, you know. Aunt Candace.”

“You two can go for a walk and talk about it,” Estelle said to us. “It’s quiet enough in here that I can watch the desk myself.”

“If you’re sure.” I didn’t mind getting some air, though my lunch break wasn’t for another hour or so. “I’ll see you in a bit. If Aunt Candace sets anything on fire, let me know, okay?”

Xavier and I left the library hand in hand, walking out into the cool sea air. The square was as empty as the library, with only a handful of people venturing into the shops and bakeries.

“I guess tourist season is over.” I shivered a little in the brisk wind. The sun was hidden behind a mass of clouds in the overcast sky. “How’s your boss?”

“As sociable as a vampire in the daytime,” he replied. “So, the usual. What’s going on with your aunt?”

“A new development in the fourth-floor corridor,” I said. “My grandmother outdid herself on security measures.”

“Not another guardian monster, I hope?” 

“Nah. Aunt Candace was trying to open one of the doors, and she managed to get it to reveal some text, but it’s… well, it was written in the same code as my dad’s journal.”

His brows shot up. “Did you translate it?”

“We tried, but the words turned into another code instead.”

“That’s inconvenient.” He paused for a moment while we walked past a harried-looking witch with a pushchair containing twin girls who appeared to be engaged in a duel with a pair of fake wands. Their shrieks echoed in the background as we continued towards the seafront, where the scents of ice cream and sand mingled in the cool breeze.

“Pretty much,” I said in response to Xavier. “Aunt Candace ran off with the translation spell to try some experiments, which means I won’t see it for at least a week.”

“That’s not fair of her,” he commented. “Especially since it didn’t actually work.”

“I know.” I faced the turbulent waters of the ocean, as if the sight of the waves lapping against the sand would wash away the uncertainty in my mind. “She also implied I was being too slow to translate my dad’s journal.”

“It’s a big job, and you’re busy, right?” he said. “Besides, you’ve made good progress.”

“Yeah… I do wish he’d written a version in plain English, though.” I shook my head. “Though my grandmother might be worse. I’ve never heard of a spell that makes a text impossible to read, at least, not by someone who actually wanted someone to be able to read it.”

“I imagine she did it for a good reason. Did Estelle have any ideas?”

“Estelle said one of her professors at the university might be able to help, but who knows,” I said. “It’s not urgent by any means, but you know how Aunt Candace gets when she has a mystery she wants to solve. I’m going to be really annoyed if it says something mundane like ‘Grandma Hawthorn was here.’”

“I doubt your grandmother would have gone to the trouble of sealing the door unless it was important enough that she didn’t want to risk anyone outside of your family getting in.”

“Or anyone inside our family, at this rate.” It wouldn’t do any good to dwell on the matter without more clues, yet the question remained in my mind… what had Grandma wanted to hide? 

And since when had she and my father shared a secret code?

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