Dangerous Magic – Evie Hart

“YOU CAN’T DO this to me! This is criminal!” Grandma Cherry’s voice went up a few octaves as she followed me through the house, waving her arms frantically. “All the things I’ve done for this town and this is how y’all treat me!” I sighed and walked into the spacious, farmhouse-style kitchen that opened onto a wide porch and overlooked the acres of land our family owned. A big table sat in the middle of the room, covered in various papers and my Daisy Duck coffee cup from this morning. “Grandma, it’s your own fault. If you weren’t going around terrorizin’ everyone, you’d be free to go as you please.” She huffed and floated through the old wood dining table, her ghostly form simply moving as though the table were a fly she could swat away. That was just like her. She’d bulldozed through her life—and everyone in it—and apparently, she was going to treat physical things as if they could be bulldozed in her death. I wanted to hand her a bright yellow hard hat and tell her to check building regulations before she started up her machinery, but I didn’t think that sass would go down too well given the mood she was in. “You cannot bind me to this property! I demand you release the spell immediately!” I slammed the teaspoon onto the granite countertop and turned to glare at her. Most other people would have shrunk away from the infamous Thorn glare, but since she’d been the one to make it infamous—usually following it up with a nifty curse—it didn’t bother her at all. “Absolutely not,” I said firmly. “You pulled me away from my life to come back to Haven Lake just because you can’t behave yourself. The Council ordered your binding, not me. If it were up to me, you’d be bugging Hayley Granger at her stupid shoe store right now.

” She folded her arms like an obstinate teenager and looked down at me over her slightly crooked nose. “Avery Thorn, I am your grandmother and you will do as I say. The Council be damned.” “You watch your mouth, or Betty Lou Harper will be here binding you to more than just this property.” Binding a ghost was the worst possible punishment for those in the afterlife, and it was usually reserved for poltergeists or dark spirits. It removed all their powers and, for the most part, their consciousness. It was the equivalent of dying all over again, except there was no way to return from it. It’d only happened to normal ghosts a handful of times. Not that my grandmother was normal. She was wearing a floral muumuu paired with a grey fedora and cowboy boots, after all.

This was probably a good time to explain who I was. I was Avery Thorn, one of the youngest in a long line of powerful witches. Haven Lake was in southern Georgia, not far north of the FloridaGeorgia line, and it was a magical haven hidden from humans. And the only reason I was here instead of in a human town was because my grandmother was a dang nuisance who couldn’t keep her ghostly hands to herself. At the mention of Betty Lou Harper’s name, she scoffed. “She’s too big for her britches. Ever since she got elected leader of the Haven Lake Witch Council six years ago, she’s swanned around this here town like she owns the place.” I didn’t think it would do any good to remind her that, technically, as the leader of the Council, she did own this town—at least the witches in it—so I kept my mouth shut and finished making my chamomile tea. Lord knew I needed to relax. “She forgets that I own this town.

I might be dead, but not a thing happens that I don’t know about.” Grandma wiggled her finger with her eyes narrowed. “She ain’t as good as me.” “And she never will be,” I finished, only somewhat placating her. Betty Lou was only the Head of the Council because Grandma never wanted to be. Everyone knew that Cherry Thorn was the most powerful witch in town when she’d been alive. Now that she was dead, she was the most powerful pain in the behind this town had ever seen. “I can’t unbind you and you know it, so stop trying to trick me into it by ranting about Betty Lou.” I took my cup of tea and headed out for the back porch. Grandma followed me, deciding against the door.

She floated through the wall and sat on the chair next to me. I rolled my eyes. I guess furniture was solid when she wanted it to be. “I didn’t even do anything bad. Betty Lou Harper and that witch Amanda Snodgrass have had it in for me since we were kids.” She sniffed, looking out at the orchard of peach trees that were responsible for the sweet smell a gentle breeze brought our way. “Grandma, you made Old Bill fall over and bang his head so hard on his floor that he ended up in the hospital with a concussion.” “How’d I know he’d just mopped his floor? Besides, if he shifted, he’d have fixed it himself lickety-split.” That wasn’t the point. “You scared Albert Van der Saar so badly he ran outside and got sunburned.

” She scoffed. “He’s a pathetic excuse for a vampire. The man is three-hundred-years-old. The things he’s lived through, and he gets a tickle of sunburn because of a dang ghost. If I thought it was possible, I’d tell him to grow a pair. That, or he needs to watch some of these here movies they make about scary vampires these days. The old git might learn a thing or two about terrifyin’ people.” This was why I didn’t live in Haven Lake. Living here was like being responsible for a toddler. Except the toddler wasn’t mine, it was adult-sized, and it had the ability to walk through walls.

Like toddlers weren’t hard enough work. I put my tea down on the small tiled table next to me and gave her a hard look. “It’s not the point. Between those incidents and you scaring the Fae Council into turning all the water in the town into glitter, you’ve caused enough problems. You’re damn lucky I agreed to come home. Betty Lou was fit to be tied when she called me. She was about ready to hang up and dial the number for Sheriff Bones and have him come trap you.” Even that elicited a shudder from her. Not much scared Cherry Thorn, but as the notorious creator of the ghost traps used by supernatural law enforcement all over the country, she knew exactly what those black crystal balls did to their captives. Think of them like holding cells for wayward and evil ghosts.

Except those holding cells were infinite, and light didn’t exist inside them. A little like a black hole in a ball. Yeah. Exactly. She grumbled something under her breath and glared out at the trees as if they were to blame for her misbehavior. She didn’t even brighten when Angus, her familiar, jumped up onto the porch in an agile swoop. The jet-black kitty stopped and licked his paw. He took his sweet dang time cleaning his already clean fur before he finally decided to grace us with his attention. He was such a little snot. Angus stared at Grandma with large amber eyes.

“I told you,” he said in an impossibly polished British accent. “I told you not to do those things, and you didn’t listen to me, and now you’ve been bloody well bound to this house.” “State the obvious, you cantankerous old coot,” she shot back. “Mind your mouth and remember who feeds you.” “Rose has fed me since before you died, you insufferable woman,” Angus pointed out, flicking his tail up to a ninety-degree angle in that indignant way cats did when someone had annoyed them. How they’d coexisted for one hundred odd years was beyond me. I’d have pushed one of them into oncoming traffic after ten. And by ten, I meant minutes. That was all the attention he allowed her before he jumped into my lap and shoved his head under my hand for some love. Despite his ornery nature, I loved the stupid animal, and I was always game for a chin-scratch.

I obliged and scratched under his chin. “Hey, Angus. Still tryin’ to tell her what to do, eh?” “I never learn,” he purred. “Did you come alone?” “I figured I’d be here for a few days at least,” I replied vaguely, knowing exactly the information he was fishing for. “That doesn’t answer my question, Avery.” I sighed and smiled at him. “No, I’m not alone. Snow is upstairs on my bed, but she hated the drive here, and I don’t think she’ll thank you for waking her.” “I’m a delight. She won’t mind.

” He jumped off me to the sound of Grandma snorting with laughter and stalked inside to find my familiar. Snow was pure white with the biggest blue eyes I’d ever seen on a cat, and Angus was besotted with her. He had been ever since she’d shown up on my windowsill when I was nine and declared me as her human. Because, no, that really was a cat thing. Snow had jumped up on my windowsill, and the moment I’d opened my window as a curious, cat-loving kid, she’d bounded onto my bed, circled my pillow, and settled down. She’d given me the courtesy of opening one eye to tell me I was her witch, then slept for nine hours. Never mind the wand choosing the wizard. The cat chose the witch. As for Snow returning Angus’ affections, she tolerated him. It was all mostly based upon her mood, which as a female, was stupidly up and down.

One trip she liked him, the next he ground her gears—it was a little like managing an entire girl gang in high school, except the girl gang slept on your chest and demanded cheese and sushi every Sunday. Still, Angus tried, but he wasn’t going to get into my cat’s good books by waking her up. “Snow,” Grandma muttered, still looking out at the trees. “Stupid name for a familiar.” I side-eyed her and gave a derivative snort she’d be proud of. “Your familiar sounds like an eighteenth-century English duke with a bamboo stick up his butt.” She sniffed. “I can see this conversation is done and I ain’t gettin’ my own way today. I’m going to visit with Lady Barnacles in the attic. She’ll understand my plight.

” “You do that,” I drawled right as she popped out of sight. I’d rather she told Lady Barnacles than me. The old ghost was a whiner—she could moan more than people with any kind of political opinions on the internet—and Grandma would regret that choice soon enough. Not that any of us had any idea how Lady Barnacles had ended up on the Thorn farm, given that she wasn’t one of our ancestors, and this house had been built by our family. With a sigh, I sat back in my chair. Being home felt weird—I’d only been here for flying visits since I’d left to live in the human world. Grandma’s funeral had been one of them, but nothing had convinced me to stay in Haven Lake. It wasn’t like I couldn’t go out in the sun or turned into an animal on a regular basis. I was a witch. A powerful one.

And I had the ability to hide my magic from other people, should I choose. I’d chosen, but it felt as though that time for choosing had come to an end. Not only had Betty Lou threatened me with a Council Order if I didn’t come home—thus teleporting me back to Haven Lake immediately—but the second I stepped onto the Thorn family farm I knew. Me, my cat, and my suitcase weren’t going to leave this town again. Call it intuition, call it witchy, call it what you want. But as a Thorn witch, I was rarely wrong, and my intuition told me I was home for good this time. I almost dropped my cup of tea as Snow’s voice exploded inside my head. I’M GOING TO KILL THAT DANG CAT. I righted myself and brought the cup to my lips. Yep.

I was definitely home. Whether it was sweet remained to be seen. Nothing was a given with my grandmother, after all. CHAPTER TWO AUNT ROSE STARED at the two cats fighting over the food bowl. And by fighting, I mean they were half-heartedly swatting at each other with their paws and yelling at each other. “I’m the guest!” Snow shouted. “I should eat first!” “It’s my food bowl!” Angus replied, bristling. “I’m your guest, you useless excuse for a gentleman!” There it was. Angus’ tail shot up to ninety degrees, and he froze for a second before he stepped back. “I’ll be a gentleman when you act like a lady.

” Oh, Goddess. No, he didn’t just challenge her. “If your being a gentleman is dependent on me being a lady, then you’re gonna be waitin’ a long time, sir!” Snow waved her paw at him in a manner all too similar to how Grandma Cherry waved her finger. “That makes you a terrible gentleman. It makes you a pig and a bigot and—” “A cat,” Aunt Rose interrupted, putting a china bowl full of tuna down on the floor next to the bowl of cat food. “Snow, be my guest and enjoy this from me.” My kitty circled her ankles, purring loudly. “You’re so pretty, Rose.” “Mm. Eat your tuna before I pull out the cat biscuits and make you eat like a peasant.

” Snow bolted toward the china bowl and stuck her mouth into the tuna before my aunt could make good on her threat. And no doubt about it; she would. Aunt Rose might not have been a Thorn by blood, but only those worthy married into the name, according to Grandma. Long story short, Rose was a Thorn by attitude, if not by blood, and my Goddess, everyone knew it. She didn’t have the raw power of a blood Thorn witch, but she had the attitude of ten. I didn’t know what was scarier. Angus stuck his nose in the air. “I’m not eating that cat food. I’ve been here for sixty years, and nobody ever took the time to give me tuna for dinner. It’s blasphemy.

” Rose blinked at him. “Cat, you get tuna every Sunday. You sit your behind down and eat your meat before I switch it out with bread and butter.” For all his verbal pomp, Angus was still a cat, and he knew when his food was threatened. I watched the feline aristocrat as he snapped into action and dug into his cat meat like there was a hunger strike on the horizon. Stupid animal. Why couldn’t the Thorn family familiars be something nice and less argumentative like oh, a rabbit? Or a bird? I didn’t know how the rules worked. Hell, nobody did. The rules of witchery were as old as time, but only the primary witch families were awarded the ever-rude cats as familiars. Some were lucky, but others were stuck with bugs.

I once met a witch from Singapore whose familiar was a stick insect with a smart mouth and an even smarter brain. I’d never underestimated a bug since then, and I was from the South. Aunt Rose didn’t say a word until the two felines were done with their meals and had slinked out of the kitchen. Angus was likely off to catch any wayward mice, and Snow was probably hot on his tail. For all her airs, she was still a cat, and she’d spent two years bemoaning the lack of mice at my apartment in Atlanta. She’d be in her element here. “So.” Aunt Rose stirred the pasta in the boiling pan. “How long are you here for this time?” I didn’t miss the bitter tone in her voice. I didn’t begrudge her it either.

She’d married my uncle, and he’d been killed in the same battle that had taken the life of my parents nine years ago. Witch laws said any property had to go to the next blood relative, and I knew it killed her that I’d built a life away from Haven Lake, yet this farm belonged to me. I had two aunts, but they’d moved into the properties their husbands had owned, rendering their claim and that of my cousins’ on the property moot. Also, my mother had been the eldest of the three, meaning the house would have been hers if she’d still been alive. Thus, it’d fallen to the youngest Thorn grandchild: me. I’d tried to pass the farm to Aunt Rose. Believe me, I had, but without the blessing of a living female relative, it was impossible. Witches were matriarchal, and Grandma Cherry was the only one who could give permission. Alive. That ship had sailed.

The Thorn Farm was mine, no matter who liked it or loathed it. For the record, I mostly definitely did not like it. “As long as Grandma keeps up her games,” I replied, looking into the glass of sweet tea she’d handed me seconds before her question. “You bound her. The only people she can harass are me, TJ, and the resident ghosts,” she said, referring to her son. I sighed. “You know what I mean, Aunt Rose. She can’t be bound here forever. She’ll go crazy, and you know what happens to those.” “They’re removed,” she said flatly, referring to the process of formally removing a spirit from the world.

“But you won’t do that to her.” “Of course I won’t. She’s my grandmother. She’s as crazy as a clowder of cats in a catnip farm, but I’d never let her get that fate. Unless she really deserved it, but I don’t think being a nuisance is technically illegal.” “Depends how many times you’re a nuisance,” Rose muttered, moving from one stove to another to stir whatever potion she was brewing. “So, you’ll figure out to contain her behaviors and go back to your human life.” I sucked the inside of my cheek into my mouth. My choices had long been a sore spot, especially for my aunt. I loved her more than anything, same with my cousin, but we weren’t all cut out for this life.

I was a witch, but it’d never brought me anything but trouble. I’d always been the weird one in my family and, hell, in the entire town. I didn’t have special powers like all the other witches. Living outside of Haven Lake had been something I’d had control over. There was something about this town that reinvigorated me in the worst way. It was compelling and irresistible. Like a pastry on a low-carb diet or coffee ten minutes after waking up. Haven Lake fed my magic. The atmosphere was an elixir, dangerous and heady, and completely against everything I’d fought against for the past two years. Haven Lake was to me what drugs were to humans.

Irresistible. Accessible. Right-the-hell-there. “Aunt Rose,” I said softly. She stopped, back to me, and held up her hands, one of which still clutched a spoon. “I don’t want your excuses, Avery. Do you know how hard it is? Everyone in town felt the ripple the moment you entered the town. The wards knew you were home.” No magic was powerful enough to shield someone from the town wards. They were thousands of years old—maybe even older than time itself for all we knew.

“You flit in and out as you please, not thinking about your family—” “Do you want the farm?” The words escaped me before I could reconsider them. “Is that what this is about?” Rose turned, her green eyes piercing my soul. “No. I don’t want the farm. I want my niece, and I want my son to have his aunt and his godmother.” My swallow was hard, and I looked away from her. I couldn’t deal with it right now. There were too many things going on, not least that I had to go to the town hall tomorrow to report the fact I’d bound Grandma. You couldn’t just do that willy-nilly. There were rules.

Rules that included proper spells and registrations. A member of the Council had to come out to ensure I’d performed the spell correctly and that Grandma wouldn’t be able to escape. It also had to be registered that a live ghost who wasn’t technically bad was bound. Red tape everywhere. You’d think by now that they’d have some magical alarm system, but no. They didn’t. “I don’t know how to reply to that,” I said honestly. “It’s not that I don’t care about Haven Lake, because I do, but I don’t know if it’s where I’m supposed to be.” “You’re a Thorn witch. Where else are you supposed to be? Conducting scientific experiments in the Arctic?” “No.

I’m more of a deity created the world in seven days kinda girl,” I bit back with as much sarcasm as she’d tossed my way. Aunt Rose sighed, waving her hand over the stove that had the pasta bubbling away on. The power on the stove instantly cut off, and with one flick of a finger, she motioned the pot to move a few inches off the hot ring. It did her bidding. The urge to use my own magic to make the glass dish of cheese tip into the pasta was overwhelming. It tickled at my skin, making goosebumps prickle up my arms. It was too natural. My finger flicked before I had any control over it. The small glass dish lifted into the air, hovered for a second, and dumped its entire contents of parmesan into the pan. One more flick of my finger had the wooden spoon mixing the cheese into the sauce-coated pasta.

Aunt Rose snorted. “Old habits die hard, huh, Aves?” I tucked my hand into my lap, hating the way the spoon kept stirring. “Shut up,” I muttered. “It’s just the lake.” “Sure. It’s the lake.” Rose took hold of my magical spoon and stilled it, turning off the stove. “It’s nothing to do with you being home in a town full of magical beings and being completely free to use your magic.” I decided not to answer. Turned out, I didn’t have to.

The scent of garlic and chicken pasta being served onto three plates was more than strong enough to send my ten-year-old cousin, TJ, barreling through the front door and sliding into the kitchen. He stopped dead at the sight of me. “Avery!” I shrugged innocently and held out my arms to him. “TJ!” He threw himself at me. My baby cousin was my favorite person. He didn’t judge me for my selfish choices, and he was always happy to see me home. Yes, that was selfish and made me a horrible person, but whatever. I couldn’t be a powerful witch and a perfect person now, could I? Not even pizza pleased everybody, and that was about the closest a food could get to perfection. I hugged TJ tight, breaking after a minute of mutual holding to ruffle his unruly blond hair. He looked up at me with rich hazel eyes that matched those of my late uncle perfectly.

“You’re back!” His grin was wide and made his eyes light up. “I am. Someone had to come control Grandma.” She popped into view. “I do not need controlling.” TJ looked over at her. “You talked Missy Callahan’s dog into eating the flowers at the park.” I put my hands on my hips. “Grandma, for goodness sake!” Aunt Rose narrowed her eyes as she set our food on the table. “TJ.

You didn’t tell me that.” He shook his head. His chair squeaked against the floor as he pulled it out. “I told Detective Sanders, though.” “Detective Sanders?” I frowned. I didn’t know that name. Not that it counted for a lot—Haven Lake hadn’t hired a new detective since TJ was born. Grandma Rose floated onto her back, her hand dramatically fanning her face. “If I were fifty years younger—” “And alive,” Rose muttered, leading me to disguise a snort of amusement. “You stop that.

” Grandma wiggled a finger at that. “That man is ice cream on a hot summer day, and I don’t mind tellin’ you so!” “La la la la la!” TJ stuck his fingers in his ears, his voice getting louder with each “la” he said. Grandma opened her mouth, but a red and gold flash darted through the window. It circled the kitchen before it came to settle on top of the fridge and showed the room its true form. Rose’s familiar, Honey, a red and gold macaw with more attitude in one sharp toe than most Haven Lake residents had in their entire family. She surveyed the room with her beady eyes before they came to rest on me. “Look what the cat dragged in.” I’d always hated that bird. “My cat will eat you, you little—” TJ coughed. Silence fell over the room.

“The dirty creature would have to catch me first.” Honey followed that up with a bird noise and a flap of her wings. Is that vile bird here? Snow sounded way too excited in my head, and I was feeling way too petty to lie to her. On top of the fridge, I replied, digging into my pasta. Mee-row! The next thing I knew, the sound of paws on the steps reverberated through the kitchen. I smirked as a flash of white launched itself at the fridge. Honey cawed and took flight, but I shrugged a shoulder in the direction of the open window, and it slammed shut seconds before she could make her escape. Rose side-eyed me, while TJ grinned into his pasta. Honey circled the room, flapping frantically, while Snow jumped onto any available surface in her pursuit of the bird. Grandma surveyed the scene with barely disguised annoyance.

“This place has gone downhill since my death,” she announced, straightening. “You’ve gone downhill since your death,” Rose snapped. “I heard that.” “Good,” I added. “You were supposed to. She said it loud enough.” She sniffed, and with a pop, disappeared. Rose sighed. “Some things don’t change around here.” “You’d complain if they did,” TJ replied, grabbing his glass of orange juice.

Despite the sass, she couldn’t even deny it, because she knew it to be true. Instead, she snapped her fingers, and the window opened for Honey to make her escape. With another snap, Snow was banished from the kitchen, the door slamming shut behind her. “Animals would be better if they couldn’t talk,” Rose muttered. As someone who’d lived in the human world where animals didn’t talk, I was in full agreement. I heard that, Snow scowled in my mind. Good. Go away and let me eat. I’ve had enough today. Her indignant huff was all I had until my mind went completely silent, and by some miracle, I was able to eat in peace.

Thank heavens for small mercies.

.

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