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Well, if Augustus didn’t yet have infinite time in a day—and it seemed as if he still did not—he supposed that the next best option was to come up with a plan that would let him get as much done as possible.
If he wanted to see his husband at all today, he needed to set aside time to perform the ritual, which would take one hour to prepare, two hours for the ingredients to come to readiness, and an additional hour to cast. The problem was that the ingredients spoiled rapidly once they had come to readiness; if he missed the window of preparation, they’d be ruined. He couldn’t afford to waste ingredients willy-nilly, and Em would be none too happy about his bell being rung but the door not opened.
Normally, Augustus would simply spend the whole time observing and overseeing the process, but it was technically possible for him to prepare it, go out for a couple of hours, and then come back in time to finish things off, so long as he minded the clock. Normally he cast it at home, but he had enough ingredients at his workroom here at the school to cast it at least once; that might shave off the small bit of travel time he’d otherwise have to deal with
It was the only way he could justify it when he had so many other things that he felt like he should be doing. But he didn’t want to have another day with no time spent with Em, especially now that he’d already taken his husband’s ambrotype home and couldn’t look at it at work. And that wasn’t his husband’s real appearance, only his disguise in his proper public persona as Emmet Darkfire, handsome and tall and pale, with a rakish grin and a stark white suit. Beautiful, but still not the person he really wanted to be seeing. Not that he had the option of an ambrotype otherwise; he wasn’t sure Em would even show up on a glass plate as he normally appeared.
So: no point in preparing the spell until he was ready to be back and starting to cast in three hours, as he’d just lose the ingredients. That gave him a couple of hours to spend first—might as well return the library book during the hours it was open so that he could hand it back to Fernandez in person. Then, he could try to find Pérez; he believed Pérez had office hours right now, while Fitzfleming might be in class, and one was much easier to interrupt than the other.
That should take a little time; after that, he could pop into his workroom, prepare the ingredients, and head back out. Then, in the two hours while they developed, he could head back to the campus pub for dinner. If he spotted any of the research assistants or professors there, he could ask around—see if the theft was a widespread pattern or if it seemed to be just him. Plus, who knew what useful rumors might be flying about? Finally, he could rush back to his workroom to see his husband.
It was a solid plan, he told himself, and most of the individual stages could be canceled or changed on a dime if something came up that he needed to follow up on immediately. Thus satisfied, he picked up his bag and headed to the university library.
The library was a great old thing in a hulking, ominous stone building. It was deeply haunted, but seemed to reject all attempts to move the hauntings on in any reasonable proportion; their unfinished business seemed tied directly to the library itself. The librarians who stayed long enough to get any sort of rank within their internal processes were made of stern stuff.
Jacinta Maria Fernandez was no exception: a tiny, middle-aged half-elven woman who always dressed to the nines in full suits. Augustus was aware that outside of work, she was a remarkable shot with a pistol and could drink most sailors under the table, but at the library she was prim, proper, and hard-done-by, her hair bound up in a tight knot. She never wore makeup. “Mr. Pennywright,” she said, as he approached. “Here to borrow more materials already? Your assistant borrowed our new loan just yesterday.”
“They did, and I enjoyed it marvelously,” Augustus said, producing the book from his bag. “They also told me that you wanted it back as soon as possible, since many people had requested it, so I thought to return it as quickly as possible.”
Her eyebrows rose, and she seemed to warm a bit to him, though it was possibly his imagination. She took it, pulling down the ledger and making a note of its return. “That was quite quick, Mr. Pennywright.”
“I didn’t want to put you out, Ms. Fernandez,” he said agreeably. “I’ll have Yujin stop by soon with more materials to acquire, I’m sure—but while I’m here, can I ask you something?”
“I cannot guarantee an answer, but you may ask.”
He noted a subtle emphasis on the may. Perhaps Fernandez had been a schoolteacher at some point, or perhaps it was simply underlining her warning. “I found that a few papers and books were missing from my office. All my own books, not the library’s, thankfully, but I was wondering if you’d been having any similar problems here?”
That earned him a fierce frown, and her hand wandered briefly to her waistband under her jacket, as if she were contemplating what to do to any errant book thieves. “I don’t believe so. We do inventory regularly, and we haven’t had any books turn up missing the usual way recently—that’s to say, nobody has asked us to find anything that wasn’t marked checked out but also wasn’t where it was listed as. Of course, there’s always situations where someone holds onto a book too long, but to my best knowledge, they’re all things we have notes on.”
“I see,” Augustus said. He wasn’t sure whether to be disappointed or not. Perhaps the thief didn’t want anything that was too easily traceable from the library, but he thought that they’d be more likely to have tried to steal something in a public space first, not a private one.
Fernandez pondered him for a moment, then abruptly said, “I’ll have Percy do inventory to confirm. And if anyone else—professor or student—comes by with similar complaints, I’ll let you know, shall I?”
It was an uncharacteristic offer from her, and he smiled at her reflexively. Perhaps his quick return of this book had indeed made her more likely to do him some favors. “Thank you. If you can’t get hold of me, please tell my assistant.”
She nodded and turned back to her work; he watched her for a moment, but had clearly been dismissed, and he headed out again soon enough.
Next up on his impromptu schedule was Pérez, and Augustus briskly headed up to the man’s office. As he’d expected, it was within the office hours, so he knocked. If Pérez was with a student, he could always send Augustus away.
“Enter,” he heard, so he did.
Pérez wasn’t with a student, and had the familiar bored look of a professor who hadn’t had a student for the entirety of his office hours. That might be good; he might be more inclined to talk. Nevertheless, Pérez scowled, drawing himself up behind his desk. “Pennywright. My office hours are for students, not professors.”
He didn’t say peers, probably because he didn’t think he had any. He was beautiful, Augustus had to admit; he was currently wearing an almost uncannily gorgeous suit, so dark blue it was nearly black and with stardust threaded through it so it glittered in the light whenever he moved. His silver hair was long enough to touch the floor when unbound, and in some rituals he would leave it down like a waterfall over his robes; today, it was in a long braid draped artfully over his shoulder.
Augustus smiled at Pérez, ignoring the cold reception he was getting. “I was hoping we could talk,” he said.
[What should Augustus do and how should he
approach this conversation? Comment with details!]