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Dirty Dancing

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As soon as I climbed out, I was swarmed by agitated faeries. I must have still been a little wild around the eyes, not to mention clutching my wizard's staff a little tighter than I needed to, because Toot launched himself off of Mouse's head and zipped around me in a defensive spiral, chasing the smaller balls of light back. Then he shot off across the dim parking garage, taking the rest of the lightshow with him. Okay.

I looked around. Hendricks was whispering something in Marcone's ear, even though those verdigris eyes were still fixed on me. I jerked my head at Molly. She bit her lip, hesitating, but slunk after me anyway.

We didn't say anything until we'd gotten out of earshot of Marcone and Hendricks. Molly crossed her arms and met my eyes almost as pointedly as Marcone habitually did. I managed to reign in my anger, or at least my mouth, and took a moment to really look at my apprentice before I went flying off the deep end. Let's hear it for anger management.

Molly had been as tall as her mother for a while now; she hit her growth spurt earlier than I had when I was a kid, but stopped half a foot or so before I finally had. I wouldn't say she was a late bloomer, but it was only in the last year or so that she'd really filled out, achieving the graceful proportions of a woman grown. Also something she'd managed earlier than me—which is to say my proportions still lie just a hair outside the Golden Ratio. Molly was dressed for summer, although not so extremely as the Alphas, whose wardrobe choices are heavily influenced by how easy they are to skin out of.

In fact, it really wasn't as bad as it could have been. Her shorts were black and possessed what an uncharitable person might have called an excess of zippers, but were long enough to accommodate a number of cargo pockets. She was wearing combat boots—since sandals don't really say punk. Her upper half was somewhat less practical, electric blue tube top under a ripped black fishnet shirt and her golden hair shaved up one side and falling in a no-doubt artistic mess over the other, covering one kohl-smeared blue eye. Since last fall she'd at least replaced the gold hoops she wore in her ears and also not-her-ears with barbells and studs, which would be harder to tear out in a fight. Her only other jewellery was a plain leather thong tied around one wrist. The ensemble exposed a lot of youthfully firm flesh and the muscle she'd been building up since I started bringing her along to my stick-fighting lessons. It's important for a woman to know how to defend herself; it's even more important for a wizard—there's a war on, after all.

Fading designs running from her fingertips to her elbows marked where she'd persuaded my upstairs neighbours' daughter to get her all hennaed up for Billy and Georgia's wedding last month. The less-traditional splash of brownscale graffiti spilling between her breasts and down to her navel probably hadn't been done by Caroline Baxingdale, though.

Yeah. When I'm looking at Molly, my friend's daughter, whom I met when she was still in pigtails and carrying around Lisa Frank notebooks, I try to remind myself that when I was in high school, it was still the eighties. I'm still trying to forget the Magical Perm Incident.

The point being that Michael and Charity's eldest wasn't a little girl anymore. She wasn't ready to dive headfirst into the current Faerie Madness, which was why I'd told her to go home; and she hadn't damn well listened and she should have, and I was pissed and scared for her safety. But simply flipping out at her wasn't going to make her listen—I'd seen the way she dug in when Charity used that tactic all too often. Molly was old enough, had seen enough that she wasn't going to follow orders blindly. Not that she'd ever been particularly good at that part—witness all Charity's yelling and Molly's current appearance.

Besides, I'd had a few sharp lessons over the years about what happens when you try to protect people from the truth. I was supposed to be turning Molly into a responsible member of the supernatural community. People don't learn to respect power just because you tell them they should. They learn by having the reality of cause and effect pounded into their skulls, one way or the other. As the master in the master-apprentice equation, I was supposed to see this sort of shit coming and manage it so the effect didn't turn out to be a dead apprentice.

"You got a car," I said at last.

Molly's face coloured, but she held my gaze defiantly. "It's Inari's. The old one kept breaking down."

No kidding.

"I told you you'd need to learn how to drive stick."


"What, grasshopper? What can I say? I told you to do something, and you ignored me." I felt the anger bubbling up in me again.

"But I wanted to help. Mom knows how to keep the Jawas safe; she didn't need me there."

"And it was boring?"

"It was—"

"What?" I demanded.

"It was what you would have done," Molly said, throwing up her arms. There were bloody scratches underneath some of the rips in her fishnet top. "Okay? It's what you would have done."

I was so flabberghasted I said the first thing that came to mind. "Well what the hell are you doing using me as a role model?"

Molly's mouth froze half-open. Then, unable to control herself, she started laughing again. I groaned, slumping back against a red Mazda.

"I'm serious," I said. My attempt at earnestness was perhaps a trifle undercut by the way I was having a hard time suppressing my own snickers.

"Harry," Molly said quietly after a minute, "are you okay? That woman back there..."

I shrugged, glancing back in the direction we'd left Toot and Marcone. "Er, sorry about that. I was just a little off-balance, is all. She was the one behind the kidnappings. I knew I might end up fighting her if things went wrong, but I'd been concentrating on the trap. Wasn't ready for things to go the way they did."

Molly was silent for a long moment, contemplating the oil-stained concrete. "You don't—I— Look, I get it if you're pissed at me, but I still want to help." Molly looked back up, all the black makeup making her blue eyes look almost cartoonishly big.

"Hey, I trust you. Last fall, remember?"

Molly nodded. I thought she'd maybe already been thinking about last fall.

"But I need you to trust me, too. I won't always be able to tell you everything, and I need to know I can depend on you to do what I tell you, whether or not it makes sense or you think I'm wrong or being a cast-iron bitch." I took a deep breath. "And I'll try not to treat you like a kid just on principle and remember it's not my job to stop you from growing up. It's my job to keep you from turning into a glass crater while you figure out how. Magic doesn't make us infallible; it just makes it more spectacular when we mess up." I brandished my gloved left hand to illustrate. It really was an effective teaching tool.

Molly clicked her tongue-piercing against her teeth. "Are we going to be able to get the kids back?"

"Well, there's still Plan C," I said.

"Which is?"

"The reason you should never ask yourself 'WWHD?'"

Toot-toot had been hovering a little ways off for a while now. I couldn't see any of the rest of his posse, but that didn't necessarily mean they weren't still around. When I held out my hand palm-up, he swooped in for a landing.

"What's up? Any news on Plan B?"

"Oh, that."

"Yes, that, Toot. Did your people get the bird to the wolves?"

Toot shifted uncomfortably, wringing his hands.

"General," I prodded.

"We tried, Harry!" Toot burst out. He stomped one little plastic-shoed foot, shaking loose a cloud of pixie dust. "It was too big."

"How big?" I asked.

"As big as you."

Okay, that was big.

"But Towhen followed it and he says it went through the Way over the lake that leads to the Cold Queen's fortress."

"Are you sure?" I asked.

Toot nodded vigorously. "Lough and Blueblossom saw it too." He hesitated. "Harry, we don't have to, like, go there, do we?"

I shook my head. "I've got something else for you guys here in Chicago."
__ __ __

I went back to my office and made some calls. Marcone nagged me until I agreed to ride in his mob-mobile, even though I explained to him that there was no danger anymore, everything was either dead or in faerie. When we got to my building, I headed straight for the stairs. Marcone glanced once at the elevator, then followed me without a word of comment.

I'd given Molly my keys and some instructions, which she swore she really was going to follow this time, but Hendricks was still making like Mouse and, heh, dogging our footsteps. The Alphas had gotten side-tracked getting people undercover back at the Taste, and some of them had been detained for questioning. Alex and Greg both said they'd seen what sounded like a golden eagle, which in Toot's defence is a seriously large bird. Remember The Rescuers Down Under? That was a golden eagle.

I listened to the Hitchcock-level update while watching Hendricks do a security sweep of my office, possibly out of reflex, possibly to irritate me. Marcone was on the far other end of the room, glued to his cell phone. Apparently, the call wasn't so important he was willing to actually leave the room to get clear reception.

I failed entirely to get hold of Murphy; the morning's chaos had apparently fallen squarely in SI's lap in a handle-this-crazy-shit-we're-running-an-actual-investigation-here way. That at least made me feel less guilty about getting the Alphas in trouble. Murphy was good people, and the Alphas had literally nothing to hide. I left a message for her to call me back, feeling shamefully relieved that I didn't have to have this conversation with Murphy yet. She was going to kick my ass six ways to Sunday. I was not looking forward to it.

When I came in I'd started a pot of coffee, so I was perched on the edge of my filing cabinets, waiting for it to perk. Hendricks stopped in front of my armchairs and stood staring down at my crappy plastic chess set. He reached out with one enormous hand and nudged a white pawn two spaces.

Without really thinking about it, I leaned over and moved a black pawn forward. Hendricks grunted. He didn't think very long before making his next move.

Turns out he didn't really need to. Although in my defence, just the cognitive dissonance from discovering Cujo knew how to play chess was enough to make my head spin. And I mean, I'm not the world's greatest chess player. I don't have the patience for it and I may occasionally have a hard time with things like subtlety. And rules.

But still. I've sucker-punched faerie queens and busted up demonic conspiracies. I'm a wizard of the White Council, not to mention a trained PI. I've got, you know. Game. I thought, anyway.

"Hell's bells," I groused, staring in disbelief at the chess board.

"Checkmate," Hendricks rumbled.

I glared at him. Had that been emotion in his voice? It had. Cujo was totally feeling intellectually superior to me. That was just wrong on so many levels.

Marcone coughed, and I switched my glare to him. When he'd finished his phone call, he'd come over and sat at my desk, started drinking my coffee, and watched us like we were freaking gazelles or something and it was dinner time. Under any other circumstances, it would have been hilarious, actually. I didn't know what Marcone was used to drinking, but I drank cheap it-may-once-have-been-part-of-a-tree-maybe coffee and covered up the taste by filling half the cup with sugar. Every time he took a sip he coughed to conceal, I was certain, a sound of existential pain, but he didn't stop drinking it.

"Oh, shut up," I told Marcone.

"I wasn't saying anything."

"Did you know he could do that?" I complained.

Marcone somehow managed to radiate smugness without moving a muscle. "I taught him how to do that."

"Of course you did."

Thankfully, my office was suddenly overrun by werewolves, led by a vampire. The vampire was carrying several shopping bags. The werewolves were carrying food.

"Hey, look what followed me home," Thomas said. "Can I keep them?"

"Oh my god food." I gave Marcone's shoulder a shove. "Get out of my chair, Marcone."

"The lines were really short for some reason," Georgia said, dropping a couple red and white paper trays on the desk. I pounced on them eagerly. "And Lieutenant Murphy told us she wasn't going to question us at the station, but you're supposed to call her when it's over. And definitely before anything else blows up."
__ __ __

After I'd consumed the first several hundred calories, I ruthlessly kicked everyone out and sat down with my thaumaturgy kit, the contents of my desk drawers, the stuff from Thomas' shopping bags, and as much of the food as I could reasonably snitch to make some magic.

Plan C wasn't, strictly speaking, really a new plan. I was pretty much always going to have to go into the Nevernever after the kids. I'd been hoping for some inside information, sure, but that had never been guaranteed either.

I picked up the phone to make the call I hadn't wanted to with everyone else in the room but hesitated before dialling. This was black magic and human kids: I absolutely had a right to call in the Wardens for backup. And, no disrespect to how far the Alphas had come, if I could get trained combat wizards to back me up on this one, I wanted them. Under the Accords, we as the wronged party would be completely justified busting in wherever in Faerie those kids were being held, I was pretty sure.

On the other hand, free use of Winter's Ways was arguably the only reason the White Council hadn't folded like a card table before now, and I was supposed to be making up to the faeries and coaxing them into helping us bitchslap the Red Court back down to Tierra del Fuego. Not, you know, completely alienating them. If this thing was going where I thought it was going, it might be better to leave the rest of the Council out of it.

I made the call. I figured at least I could get a lead on someone who would have a better chance of changing the kids back without frying their brains than me, but it turned out I might as well not have bothered. I couldn't reach Ramirez, the other Warden on the continent. Which made sense when I called into HQ and learned there was some kind of trouble brewing in the Northwest. It was all I could do to persuade the Warden on dispatch that what I had going on here was time-sensitive. I'd also made a deal with Captain Luccio, the Wardens' commander, that I would take up the damned cloak so long as I didn't get called away from Chicago, on account of the Scamp.

I drummed my fingers on my desk after the call ended, scowling at the light leaking through my window blinds. One floated and clicked gently in the breeze; the window behind it was open. A few minutes later, the first of my couriers arrived.
__ __ __

When I stuck my head back out into the hall, there was a bodyguard lurking by my door again. It was Andi, voted least-likely to ever be kicked out of anywhere, including bed for eating crackers. She was sitting with her legs tucked up under her and Mouse's head on her lap, scratching his ears. The hem of her skirt was showing quite a lot of muscular, bronzed thigh in that position. I repaid Mouse for the look he'd given me this morning, with interest. He didn't look very ashamed.

"Everybody else go outside to eat Marcone?" I asked her. "I appreciate them not getting him all over the carpet."

"We thought we'd get out of your hair," Andi said. "Everyone else went to the café across the street; I don't know where the, uh, other guys went."

"It's okay, you can say crooks. I've heard the term before."

Andi flashed me a nervous grin. "I can call them if you're ready for us now," she offered, pulling out a cellphone and pushing a button. She paused then, muffling it against her ample chest. "That one guy is really hot; is he your new boyfriend?"

"What? I—of course not. I don't have a—a boyfriend," I spluttered. I had to agree that Marcone was really hot, though. Damn his eyes. "He got mixed up in the kidnappings all on his own. And he's a criminal. Which I already said. So."

Andi raised her eyebrows. "I was talking about the guy with the hair."

I froze in the doorway with a big oops written pretty transparently across my face. "Oh. Him."

"But if you'd like to tell me who you were talking about..."

I scowled down at Andi. "Thomas is White Court; I'd keep my knees together if I were you."

"You must really like whoever it is. Nice hickey, by the way."

"Oh, just call the Twilight Bark already," I told her, then retreated back into my office to nurse my wounded pride, slamming the door behind me. I tried to feel like a wizard, and not like my two-year-old in a snit.

The Scoobies came thundering up, and Marcone crawled out from whatever rock he'd been hiding under, and no way was I going to ask where Thomas had been when he was looking that rumpled. At least no one else was looking rumpled. Besides me, I mean.

I surveyed everyone's faces when I'd finished outlining the plan. "That's it. Anyone wants out, now's the time."

Silence. My friends are all as stupid as I am. And, judging by Marcone's continued involvement, my enemies. So there was that.

"So if the portal's way up there, do we get to go up the invisible staircase again?" Billy asked.

"No penthouse view this time," I replied. "Alternate route."

Billy looked disappointed, by my knees were just as glad. I told them where we were going and drafted help to lug the stuff down to my car.

"Hey, Marcone," I said, hanging back by the door to my office building.

Marcone, about to step out onto the street, paused. He cocked his head to one side, his expression one of polite inquiry. "Yes?"

"You're committed to getting Trevor Abbascia back, right?"

Marcone's eyes flashed coldly, a glacial, wintery pale green. "We're going to get all of them back."

There was absolutely no reason that his patient, homicidal certainty should be giving me the warm fuzzies. But somewhere under my own anger and automatic response of damn right we are, my stomach was doing a little happy flip-flop.

"Good," I said.
__ __ __

We pulled into the parking lot behind an abandoned greenhouse way out on the west side of town. There was already a motorcycle gleaming incongruously on the faded and cracked tarmac. The grass and weeds sprouting up through the cracks around it were taller and more verdant than the ones growing in the rest of the lot.

The rest of our convoy arrived while Thomas, Mouse, and I were piling out of the Beetle. Everything except the Beetle looked wildly out of place, although the incredibly suspicious-looking white van Marcone had apparently traded in for came closest.

A trail of tall, waving grass liberally interspersed with bright dandelions and other wildflowers led to a pair of young people standing by the cracked plexiglass panels. Both had long, straight white hair and an unmistakably supernatural ability to wear tight pants and make it look good.

"Hi," I said, walking up to them. "Thanks for showing."

Lily gave me a slight bow. Beside her, Fix inclined his head but kept his eyes on the others coming up behind me.

"Lily, Fix, you remember Billy and the Alphas."

Billy nodded, also obviously sizing up Fix, who had been shorter than him and a lot more noodley the last time they met, and the business-like rapier hanging at his side. "Been awhile. Looks like you've done all right for yourselves."

"You too. Congratulations."

Billy and Georgia exchanged a truly sappy look. "Thanks. Er, your word to us has been good, forsooth. No Summer fae have transgressed on our demesne."

I raised my eyebrows. This was news to me, but it made sense. Lily owed the Alphas for their part in the Battle of the Stone Table—even though they had been acting under my aegis at the time—and the sidhe don't like being in the red. The thought of Billy making deals with faeries worried me, though.

"I am glad you are satisfied," Lily said, smiling a little at Billy's game-night vocabulary. "And who are these others?"

"Mouse, Marcone, Thomas, and Hendricks," I answered. "In order of descending intelligence. Guys, Lily and Fix, the Summer Lady and Summer Knight."

Thomas was making a weird face at me, although whether it was because I'd put the dog first on the list or because of surprise faeries I couldn't tell. He'd lived with Mouse as long as I have, though; he couldn't really argue.

I turned my head to look at Marcone properly for the first time since he'd rolled up and my jaw almost hit the ground. He and Hendricks had both ditched their suits in favour of black fatigue-ish things. It was kind of hard to tell under the chain mail. There was a sword at Marcone's hip and a rifle slung across his back; Hendricks had an axe. Both were also sporting visible knives. Well, they'd sure figured out faeries don't like iron.

Everybody—including Mouse, ha—made polite noises while I tried to get over the image of Marcone dressed as Rambo Goes to Camelot. By the time Lily turned back to me, I had mostly managed it.

"I am not sure what help I can be to you," Lily apologised.

Like I said before: faerie power games. I thought I'd figured out a way around this one, though. I nodded.

"Well, that's kind of why I asked you here. I, too, have debts I must repay. I owe John Marcone a life-debt; yours has passed to him."

I gave Marcone a hard look. If he screwed me over here, I was going to drop-kick him off the top of Sears Tower.

Fix choked; he wasn't the only one. Hendricks was looking between me and Marcone with an indecipherable expression on his smushed face, which Marcone was ignoring. Marcone ignored everything but me for a sharp beat, and then he was back on track.

Lily's eyebrows flew into graceful arcs. Fix was now looking at me like he thought I was some kind of shape-shifter. I guess they knew who Marcone was.

"A life for a life; it is meet. Do you deem it so, Sir Marcone?" Lily asked. If she had any misgivings about what the crime kingpin of Chicago could do with a debt from a queen of faerie, she was doing a good job of hiding it.

"Yes," Marcone said, meeting her gaze squarely.

"So mote it be." Lily dipped her head in acknowledgement. "What would you ask of me?"

I shouldn't have worried. "A child was abducted from under my guest-hold. My society takes such a violation as seriously as does your own. I have discovered," I, Marcone? I thought sourly, but didn't interrupt, "that he was transformed and taken across to the provinces of Winter. It is imperative that I recover the child and restore him to his father, if possible alive, unharmed, and in a timely fashion."

"You will have all the aid it is in my remit to provide," Lily said. "Do you know where in Winter the child has been taken?"

Some usually-banked fire blazed up in Marcone's eyes. In that instant, he didn't look anything like a business man. He looked like a knight setting out to face a dragon. "Arctis Tor."

Fix covered his eyes with one hand, shaking his head. Lily broke character to give me a pained look.

Okay, so I may not have given them all the details over the phone.

"Hey, I didn't tell the bad guys where to go," I protested.

"Would you please explain your previous remark?" Marcone asked, firmly steering us all back to business.

"They're not always free to act," I said. "Lily has to answer to the other Summer Queens, Titania and Mother Summer."

"And one of them has forbidden her from aiding you in this matter?"

"Naw, something else. Faerie power-games. You know. And she can't just go trucking around Winter blowing up chunks of it without starting another civil war."

"I'm afraid I'll have to leave the blowing things up to you, Harry. I can open the Way, but so deep into Winter it will require all my power to maintain. And Fix will have to stay behind as guard." Lily turned back to Marcone. "I think you would not like the denizens of Winter given free run of Chicago."

Yeah, Lily definitely knew who Marcone was.

"Indeed not," Marcone agreed. "You will undertake to provide us safe passage between here and Arctis Tor and hold the gate until our return to this place?"

"You have my word on it, sir."

Marcone nodded. "Agreed, then."

"Okay, kids, you remember the drill," I said breaking the moment. I fished a small jar out of one of the pockets of my duster and uncapped it. "For those of you in the remedial class, this is in case of glamours and illusions. Because, well, faeries. Nice guns, by the way," I said aside to Marcone and Hendricks.

"Steel-jacketed rounds," Marcone said.

"You do remember the part where gunpowder isn't always combustible in the Nevernever, right?"

There was the hint of a grimace. "I'm hardly likely to forget. But I'll take my chances."

Marcone was also wearing a bandoleer of throwing knives. Between that and the sword and the mail, I figured he probably was adequately prepared. But I couldn't resist one last dig, so as I stepped up to apply the ointment, I said, "Here's another tip: don't fall into any deep water."

I could feel Marcone deliberately not reacting to my thumb in gouging-proximity to his eyes. I'd backwards-engineered the ointment from the stuff the Gatekeeper had given me the last time I found myself invading a faerie sanctum, albeit a little imperfectly. I couldn't complain about the improved odour, but it left a lingering, dark stain behind. It's possible I may have smeared the gunk around on Marcone more than was necessary. What can I say? I'm petty like that.

Marcone blinked his eyes open, and they found mine automatically. I realised I was still cupping his face, my thumb covering the bruise on his cheekbone. I jerked back like I'd been stung.

"Right. Hold still, Cujo," I said, and continued on down the line, flatly ignoring the look Thomas gave me when I touched him. And before. And after. Maybe it had less to do with being an incubus and more to do with having eyes.

I came to Mouse, who cocked his head a me sceptically as soon as I got near him with the jar.

"What? All the cool kids are doing it," I told him.

No response.

"You say that now, but when the fur starts flying and the faeries are twisting the fabric of reality into pretzels, who're you going to come crying to then, huh?"

My dog sneezed at me.

"Hey, you're the one who invited himself along, buddy."


I sighed. "Suit yourself."

Mouse gaped his fangy, doggy grin.

"Christ, that's unnatural," rumbled Hendricks, who looked even more like a football player than ever now.

Marcone raised an eyebrow at him. Hendricks made a rueful face and grunted.

"What, did you think that was an arbitrary list, Cujo?"

"Can't say I'm surprised you lost an argument with a dog."

"Tell you what, next time I'll let you argue with him; I could use a good laugh." I clapped my hands together. "All right, everybody suit up!"

The Alphas were already stripping and melting into their wolf-shapes. Each of them was something like Mouse's weight but even taller, lean and savage. It was gratifying to see the effect on Hendricks, amused hostility giving way to wariness as a bunch of naked twenty-somethings abruptly became a couple tons of predator. The last time we were all together like this, it had been night, and Hendricks had had a night-vision scope and several dozen yards between him and the Alphas. The kids were a lot better at being wolves, now. I was pack and Marcone and Hendricks weren't, and they knew it. You can feel it, when that much animal is watching you.

Thomas was holding himself very carefully, a predator outnumbered and in someone else's territory. I checked on Lily and Fix; neither of them seemed unduly alarmed. Well, fair enough. I don't care how big your teeth are: a queen of faerie is nothing to sneeze at.

"Right," I said and went to get the rest of what we'd need from the storage compartment under the Beetle's hood.

Marcone fell in step beside me, Hendricks following like a shadow. "I thought you said all I did was swear at a pregnant woman."

I scowled. "I was thinking of last year." The year before would have done in a pinch, too. Stars, Marcone saved my life way too often. I wasn't sure if the fact I'd saved his hide at least as frequently made up for it or made it that much more alarming. He'd been worming his way into my life for such a long time now.

"Of course; I should have realised."

"Yeah, well, try and be a little quicker on the uptake. We're playing with the big boys, now," I told him. "Here, make yourselves useful."

Between the three of us, we managed all the harnesses in one trip. I had Marcone and Hendricks lay them out in a row on the cracked asphalt walkway. The Alphas came over to investigate, jostling companionably, and I waved them in closer.

"Okay, I need some volunteers, whoever's best at running. Whoever's best at tearing shit apart, you'll be on guard duty. Runners get to be moving targets. There are seven harnesses; Mouse, you're the golden eagle because you gave me attitude."

Mouse shook his ruff at me but went where I pointed. His harness went on easily because I'd used him as a mannequin for the first one, to figure out what I was doing. I'd spent most of the afternoon on the harnesses. They weren't huge magic, but they weren't a cakewalk, either, not doing seven of them. There was a summoning and a binding, and they'd all had to be tied together, the forces and principles involved carefully calculated. Each harness itself was made of paracord, which is what happens when I send Thomas out for supplies. He hides the receipts from me and laughs off any efforts on my part to even things up, even when the bags are clearly from places with a mark-up at least ten times higher than it needs to be. And then Bob makes sugar-daddy comments the whole time I'm working.

The most time-consuming aspect, physically, had been the knotwork pouches to hold the thaumaturgical loci I'd sent Toot and his people out to get. None of the victims had been locals, except for Ayden Washington, and I already had bits from him and Trevor Abbascia, who'd been staying behind Marcone's wards. Hotel rooms don't have thresholds, so it had been a simple matter for the Wee Folk to nip in and grab some stray hairs. They were the anchors of the spell, and I wanted to eliminate even the least little bit of chance that they might fall out or something.

More complex magically was the binding. I double-checked as I went along to make sure the binding-ends didn't dangle enough to trip my couriers. As far as I knew, the golden eagle was the only really big bird, but then the only ones I knew about for sure were the eagle, owl, and falcon, and there's a pretty big range of owls, size-wise. For the rest, I could be dealing with anything from a hummingbird to an albatross, which made things a little tricky.

I was never a girl scout or in the Navy or whatever, and I don't think I want to know where Thomas learned about knots because some of the ones he ties now and then make me deeply suspicious; but my dad was a stage magician, and I'd arguably learned more about rope than magic at Eb's. So once the Alphas all stopped chasing their tails, I got the harnesses together and the spells on them primed in fairly short order.

Lily and I exchanged a nod, and we all followed her into the dilapidated greenhouse, checking to make sure I still had the feather hanging around my neck. The late afternoon sunlight filtering through the dingy, translucent panels gave everything a faded, almost sepia tone. The grass and weeds inside were dead and dry, except where Lily had passed. Most of the debris were either leaning against the curved walls or the rickety tables that had been stacked on top of one another, leaving a long, sort of clear space down the middle of the greenhouse. Lily and Fix had gone all the way down to one end, where they'd drafted Thomas into helping wrestle the remains of an arbour upright in front of the door. An old cavalry sabre hung at one of my brother's hips, a big knife at the other.

I elbowed my way to the front of the crowd. The arbour had apparently been arranged to Lily's satisfaction, and she was looking at it with an uncharacteristic expression of determination on her face.

"Ready to go?" I asked her.

Lily mustered a smile that was downright grim. Well, there's a reason they call it Arctis Tor and not Candyland. "If Sir Marcone is?"

I raised my eyebrows expectantly at Marcone. He eyebrowed coolly back, then turned his attention back to Lily, expression serious and professional. "I believe we are."

Lily took a step towards the arbour. Fire started twining up around her shapely calves; everybody else fell back, including Fix.

The flames licked higher, resolving into a flutter of fiery butterflies. Lily didn't move, and her eyes were closed; but the butterflies streamed out to trace the rickety arbour's arc. Round and around; it took me a moment to see past the orange-red flickers to the frozen landscape beyond. The Way was open. Slick.

It was eerie, looking into the icy mountains at the heart of winter from out here, with summer air thick in my lungs and sweat trickling down my back. I could feel Marcone holding his breath, all his attention on Lily's portal. I nudged him in the shoulder.

"What're we standing around for?"

The wreath of fire had subsided somewhat, enough that it didn't look like you'd automatically get scorched trying to go through. I resettled my grip on my staff and stepped up. As I did so, one of the butterflies detached itself from the arbour and hovered in the air in front of me. I looked a question at Lily.

"The deal was for safe passage. That includes not letting you freeze to death."

"I guess that makes sense."

Lily smiled. "Good luck, Harry."

Because I was going to need it. "Thanks, Lily."

Marcone inclined his head gravely, almost a bow. All he needed was a shield, and maybe a lady's silk favour tied around his arm. Could Marcone ride a horse?

I shook my head. Ridiculous.