When the spellwork part of the meeting was complete, Primrose cleared her throat. "Finally, does anyone have any news they'd like to share?"
"It's okay to say it's time to gossip, Primrose," Mika said merrily. "We all know that's what comes after the spellwork."
"Witches don't gossip," sniffed Primrose.
This was patently untrue, however, because gossiping was precisely what they proceeded to do.
"My ex-husband wanted to get back together last week," said Belinda Nkala, who was in her forties and never had time for anyone's nonsense. "When I turned him down, he informed me that I am apparently nothing without him. Then he left," she added calmly, "but I fear he's going to be suffering from an inexplicable itch in his groin for a few weeks."
Several witches laughed, but Primrose set her lips in a thin line. "And have you been playing such petty tricks lately, Mika?"
"Oh, for the love of fucking god, Primrose, what does this have to do with me?"
"It's not an unreasonable question, precious. You do like to take risks."
"For the millionth time," Mika said, irked beyond belief, "I post videos online pretending to be a witch. It's just a performance." Primrose raised her eyebrows. Mika raised hers right back. "Hundreds of people do the same thing, you know. The whole witch aesthetic is very popular!"
"Witchcore," Hilda said, nodding wisely. "Not quite as popular as cottagecore or fairycore, but it's up there."
Everyone stared at her.
"I didn't know fairies were real!" shouted Agatha Jones, who was almost as old as Primrose and tended to believe all young people needed to be shouted at lest they miss the import of her pronouncements. "Whatever next!"
"You see, Primrose?" said Mika, ignoring this interruption. "People call themselves witches all the time. I'm not putting myself or you or anyone else at risk. Nobody who watches my videos thinks I'm actually a witch."
It was unfortunate for Mika, then, that at that precise moment, over five hundred miles away, in a big house in a quiet, windy corner of the Norfolk countryside, a skinny old man in a magnificent rainbow scarf and enormous fluffy slippers was saying exactly the opposite.
This came from Jamie, the scowling librarian, who was not in fact the skinny old man in the scarf and slippers. That was Ian. And the third person in the library was Lucie, the housekeeper, a chubby, round-cheeked woman in her fifties, who sighed as if she knew exactly how this argument was going to go. (She did know, and she was right.)
Ian smoothed down the tail of his scarf and replied, in the deep voice that had charmed audiences in many a small theatre over his eighty-odd years, "Don't be difficult, dear. It doesn't become you."
Jamie was unmoved by this criticism. "You can't seriously be considering bringing that"-and here he jabbed a finger at the dewy, sparkly face on the screen of Ian's phone-"into the house?"
"Why not?" Ian asked.
"Well, for one thing, there's no way she's a real witch," Jamie said irritably. This was not unusual. Most of the things Jamie said were said irritably. "What kind of witch would show off her magic on a platform with millions of viewers?"
Mika would have been immensely gratified to hear this, had she been there, but it looked like her double bluff had not hoodwinked Ian.
"She's a real witch," he insisted.
"How the hell can you possibly know that?"
"I have excellent observation skills. Just watch part of the video." Ian wiggled his phone like he was dangling a lollipop in front of a toddler. "A minute. That's all I ask."
Jamie's glare stayed firmly in place, but he crossed his arms over his chest and leaned back against his desk to look over Ian's shoulder. Gleeful, Ian tapped the screen and the video started to play.
Excerpted from The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches by Sangu Mandanna Copyright © 2022 by Sangu Mandanna. Excerpted by permission of Berkley. All rights reserved.