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“Boss,” I said, as I opened the door to Harry Dresden’s apartment. “Boss, you got something in the mail.” The door was a son-of-a-bitch to open and close, and I had to throw my whole weight against it to get it to budge. Once it was open enough, I slipped inside, put my back against it and struggled to get it to close. I swear, my dad could have fixed it in like five minutes, but Harry wouldn’t hear of it.

Sometimes my Boss was an idiot.

“Let me guess,” said Boss replied, climbing up out of the sub-basement where he kept his lab. “Bills.”

“No,” I grunted, pushing the door. Harry’s big dog, Mouse, put a shoulder to the door with me and together we pushed it shut. “I mean, yeah, you got those too, but something else.”

“A Best Buy catalog,” he smiled. Now he was just jerking me around. Stupid thing was I kinda liked it when he did that.

“No,” I stooped to give Mouse a good petting. “They didn’t send one today.” Mister, Harry's cat, gave me an imperious glance before going back to his nap.

“I think my feelings are hurt,” he grinned at me. “You want a Coke?”

“Yes, I want a Coke, but I really think you should look at this letter you got,” I handed him the mail, with the fancy letter on top. It was written on heavy, cream-colored paper with a good rag count and looked formal and important. “Would someone from the Council or one of the Courts send you a message by the U.S. mail?”

“No, they wouldn’t,” Harry said, finally looking interested. He took the mail from my hand, carelessly threw the bulk of it on to the couch and flipped the letter over. “No return address and,” he closed his eyes and balanced the letter on the tips of his spread fingers. “No magical aura, either. Maybe I have a secret admirer.”

A jolt of hot jealously ran through me. I was in love with my boss. God, what a cliché. It would have been embarrassing if it wasn’t so heartbreakingly real.

Harry is a Wizard, the capital ‘w’ kind. He did real magic – so did I actually, but the Boss had a lot more power and control and, well, composure about slinging spells than I had. I utterly lacked at the control and composure part. Harry said I’d grow into it, but I doubt I’d ever be as cool as he was about magic. Harry used his magic to help people, in fact he had saved me from a horrible death when I was kidnapped by a fear-sucking fetch and taken to Arctis Tor in the heart of Winter. (It’s a long story.)

Then Harry had saved me again, first from the ruling body of Wizards and then from myself. He took me under his wing and made me his apprentice. So there it was, a guy I had a crush on since I was eight went out of his way to save my life, twice, then took good, protective care of me – of course I was in love. It was just a reaction. I’d get over it. At least that’s what Harry and my parents thought.

Harry treated me like a kid sister. He’d never feel the same way about me as I felt about him. You would think a girl would take ‘no’ as a rejection and just get over it, right? But the truth was that it was four years later and I loved him more than ever. I was a bit territorial about it, too. Hence the jealousy.

While I was trying to control my emotions, Harry had opened the letter. It took only seconds for him to read it. “Oh, give me a break!” Harry crumpled the parchment into a ball and hurled it into the fireplace. I leapt for it and got it off of the grate just as Harry hurled a ball of fire after it. I was only slightly singed, but all I had of the letter was a corner. The rest was burnt away by Harry’s spell.

I looked at the crispy piece of paper that had been the letter and noticed that it had a crest on it. After a puzzled second I recognized it as the Slytherin House seal from the Harry Potter movies.

“Don’t jump in front of balls of fire, grasshopper,” Harry scolded gently. “You are supposed to jump in the other direction.”

“I don’t understand,” I said. Which was such an utter straight line that I nearly bit my tongue for saying it. But Harry took mercy on me and did not smite me with his twisted wit.

“The Wannabes are back,” Harry explained. “With death threats no less. I thought those guys got a glimpse of the Alphas making the change and got scared off.”

“The Wannabes?” I asked. “Who – or what – are Wannabes?”

“Wannabe wizards,” Harry huffed. “A group of them confronted me last summer. Remember the day I had a date with Luccio and you nearly destroyed my lab screwing up a potion? The Wannabes threw a smoke bomb into my apartment while you were busy melting your clothes off.”

I remembered that day, God, what an embarrassment. I had meant to spy on Harry’s date – just for the masochism of it – and made a total mess in the lab. The good part was that Harry got a good look at my breasts when my shirt and bra melted off. “Wait, what? Why would they throw a smoke bomb at you?”

“I insulted them,” Harry told me. What a shock that wasn’t. Harry insulted everybody. “It wasn’t like I didn’t have enough on my hands with Kirby and Andi stopping by to be flea- dipped. They were – are – a bunch of kids who want to play with magic, only they can’t because they barely have any.”

“So now they are sending you death threats? Shouldn’t we be worried?” I asked, staring stupidly at the Slytherin crest. A box of Gryphindor stationary would have been a great gift for Harry. Looking closer at letter fragment, I realized that the crest was stamped on the paper, not imprinted. Homemade, then.

Harry was also teaching me the detective business.

“Why?” Harry replied. “It’s not like they could do anything. And, before you object, I already beefed up the wards to repel any thrown objects.”

“Still, Harry, a bomb could take out the whole house.”

“I doubt if they’ll take it that far,” Harry stretched, arching his back and showing off his tall, slender body to perfection. I have great willpower and did not drool. “It’s just more melodramatics. You ready for today’s lesson?”

And that was the end of the subject.

 

 

Harry got a phone call in the middle of my thaumaturgy lesson. “Don’t practice,” he said as picked up the phone. “Don’t even think about practicing without me. In fact, go write down some notes or something.”

So I went down to the lab to give the Boss some privacy. It was getting easier for me to light the candles down there with a spell. Harry would toss off the candle-lighting spell carelessly, like it didn’t cost him a thing – it took me ten seconds of concentration to do it and left me with a little spike of a headache afterwards. I just wasn’t that strong with overt magics like that. On the other hand I could call up a veil in about a half-an-instant that was better than Harry’s best, so it wasn’t like I wasn’t capable of being a capital ‘w’ Wizard, too.

Harry’s apartment was a tiny rat-hole in the basement of an old Victorian boardinghouse. His lab was in the sub-basement, a little concrete box of a room that was filled with all sorts of junk. Stuff was packed into old cardboard boxes on the floor, hung from the ceiling and covered the cheap wire shelving that covered the walls. There was a permanent summoning circle that took up about a third of the floor space, but right now Harry’s model of Chicago was pushed over it. There was my desk, with all my journals and stuff and there was a tiny worktable table with about two-square feet of free space, where we made potions and worked on foci.

And there was a single wooden shelf with piles of melted candles at the ends. All it held were six racy romances, a copy of Hustler and a human skull. There was room left over, but Harry never put anything up there. I had been told to never, ever, under any circumstances to touch anything on the shelf.

Naturally I had checked everything out thoroughly when Harry wasn’t around.

I couldn’t figure it out – the titles of the romances changed once in a while, or there would be five or seven of them on the shelf instead of six. I just couldn’t picture Harry reading those sort of tawdry bodice-rippers – all they were was porn for girls. The Hustler magazine was ancient but well worn, and the skull was just a skull. It didn’t have mystic runes carved anywhere on it, and only a faint magical aura so I doubted it was a foci. I thought about Harry and sex a lot, but that shelf of sexy stuff plus skull just didn’t seem to suit him. It was weird.

I was so curious about that shelf that it was killing me. I checked it out automatically, just like I did every time I was alone in the lab. Nothing had changed, so I went over to my tiny desk, pulled out my Thaumaturgy journal, and wrote down a few notes. Upstairs I could hear Harry shouting into the phone, which probably meant that there was another Wizard on the other end of the line. He yelled “What?” and “Damnit” a lot, but I couldn’t make out much else that he was saying.

I found out a few minutes later when Harry came half-way down the sub-basement’s stairs. “I got to go, padawan, Carlos needs back-up in San Francisco. I don’t know how long I’ll be a way – at least a couple of days.”

“You have to go now?” I wasn’t precisely startled, just disappointed.

“Yeah,” Harry sighed. “I’m going to throw a few things together and head out right away. You should go home. Work on mediation and focus.”

“Let me finish up my notes,” I lied. I hated working on mediation, it was killer boring. “And walk Mouse. I can lock up.”

“Yeah, okay,” Harry nodded. “Maybe you should take Mister and Mouse home with you. I can handle the Wannabes, but I don’t want them getting tangled up with you, now.”

“You said that they were vanilla losers.”

“Yeah, but even vanilla losers can carry a gun.”

“I’ll…”

“Do as I say, padawan,” Harry finished for me. “Like a good apprentice. Then when I come back we can work on evocations for a day, okay?”

Oh, making big explosions was fun. “Sure, Mouse and Mister can stay at Mom and Dad’s for a few days,” I agreed easily. “I’ll pack up their food and everything before I lock up. See you in a couple of days.”

“See you,” Harry retreated up the stairs.

“Be careful!” I shouted after him. All I heard was some mumbling in response.

It didn’t take Harry more than five minutes to pack up and head out. I jumped up from my seat as soon as I heard the door creak shut. I grabbed one of Harry’s old notebooks from his stack, sat down again and began reading. It was mostly descriptions of various monsters, complete with some pretty good sketches. Each had a list of their strengths, weaknesses and affiliations. There were some potion recipes thrown in at random, too. I knew that Harry wouldn’t want me to get into them, but that was half the allure. Besides, learning stuff was always a good thing, right?

When I was done with that one I carefully put it back in the exact place I had found it, then grabbed two more to read at home. I snuffed out the candles with another little spell and went upstairs to pack up the stuff for Harry’s pets. Well, they were sort of pets, I guess. Really big pets who were a lot smarter than animals had a right to be. Maybe ‘furry friends’ was a better appellation.

There was a knock at the door. I checked the wards, which told me everything was okay, and dragged the door open a few inches. It was two of Harry’s werewolf friends. I didn’t know their names, I just knew that they were married and some of the Good Guys.

“Hey, you’re Molly, right?” Mrs. Werewolf asked. “Is Harry in?”

“Um, he just left,” I confessed.

“Oh, can we come in and wait?”

“You’ll be waiting a long time,” I said. “He’s gone out of town for a few days.”

“Oh, too bad,” Mr. Werewolf sounded relieved. “Harry must have forgotten to call us. We’ll have to do it some other time. Come on, Honey.”

Mrs. Werewolf grabbed his arm and planted her feet. “No, we are doing this today, Billy Borden,” she snarled sweetly. “Maybe Molly could do us the favor.”

“What favor?”

“You know how we patrol around the university area and keep the riffraff out, right?” Mrs. Werewolf said. “Well, last night while we were patrolling we ran into a big problem. A rabid rat.”

That wasn’t what I expected her to say. “A rat is a big problem?”

“It bit Ted and now he has to get those rabies shots,” she continued. “Now the Chicago Animal Control Unit is going to search the area for more rabid animals, but we just want to be careful. We need to get vaccinated.”

“Why do you need me?”

“Because they won’t just give the vaccine to people without a lot of paperwork and explanation,” she said slowly. I didn’t say anything and she bit her lips a little before finishing. “However they give them routinely to dogs.”

“You need me to take you to the vet?” I had to put my hand over my mouth to hide my smile. Mr. Werewolf looked really sour at this point.

“Yes,” Mrs. Werewolf nodded. “Not just Billy and I, but the whole group. I’ve made appointments with several veterinarians, to spread the work around, so they shouldn’t be suspicious.”

“Yeah,” I agreed. “Who would be suspicious of a girl who brings in a bunch of wolves for their shots?”

“Exactly,” Mr. Werewolf said, scowling.

“I have forged papers for all of us,” Mrs. Werewolf ignored her husband and was focused totally on me. Her intense amber-brown eyes made me kind of nervous. “We’ll go two at a time and each group will go to a different vet. It is legal to own a wolf-dog hybrid in Illinois, and the papers will back you up. Will you do this for us?”

“Why not just do it for each others? I mean, you are human most of the time.”

“Too many scheduling conflicts,” Mrs. Werewolf replied. Her husband glared at her, and it was pretty obvious that not everybody was completely willing to visit an animal doctor. Harry must have agreed and forgotten to tell me. He’d want me to do this and I knew it. “I- I guess so, Mrs. uh,” I had forgotten the name she’s used already.

“It’s Georgia, please,” Mrs. Werewolf smiled and it was a really nice, pleasant one. “And my husband is Billy.”

“Okay, Georgia,” I nodded. “I’d be happy to take you and your friends to the veterinarians for the shots. When are the appointments?”

“The first is in an hour,” Georgia said. “That one is for my husband and I. Kirby and Andi will be next at seven o’clock tonight. There are a couple more on Saturday, but I think we can handle those.”

“Um, I don’t think the two of you will fit into the back of my car, not in wolf-shape.”

“We wouldn’t fit in Harry’s beetle, either,” Georgia said, she pointed to a silver-gray SUV parked in the tiny parking area. “You’ll have to take our car. We’ve got leashes, collars, everything you’ll need.” She showed me a Pet Smart shopping bag.

“Okay,” I looked back into the apartment at Mouse. “Uh, could you do me a favor in return? Harry asked me to take Mouse and Mister over to my parents’ so I could watch them while he’s gone. When we’re done could we swing back and load them in your car? They’d be kind of crowded in mine.”

“Not a problem,” Georgia replied. Her husband sort of grunted his approval. “Do you mind if we come in to change?”

“Do I have to invite you in?”

“Harry already has,” Billy muttered and pushed the door open. He was strong and the door swung open without visible strain. “Let’s get this over with.”

I stepped back a couple of paces, nervous about letting people I really didn’t know into Harry’s place, but Mouse greeted them both with his tail wagging. Georgia started pulling stuff from the shopping bag, while Billy closed the door behind us – one handed. Show-off. “This is my collar and this is Billy’s. Here are the leashes and some rawhides and a pet toy…”

“Why? Why would you need the toy and the rawhides?”

“To sell the idea that we are just pets,” Georgia said seriously. “It’ll make us look friendlier if we just act like dumb dogs.”

Mouse picked the package of rawhides off the table and dropped them at my feet, his tail wagging. I sighed, opened the package and gave him one. I glanced up for a second and saw that Billy had stripped naked. I blushed crimson and spun around so I couldn’t look at him.

“We can’t change with our clothes on, Molly,” Georgia said, obviously trying not to smile. “There is no need to be embarrassed.” She fumbled through the papers on the table and handed me two sets of them. “This is Billy’s ID and this is mine and these are the directions to the vet’s office. Here is the money to pay for it.”

“How am I going to tell the two of you apart?”

Georgia looked at me as if I were stupid and I felt my face heat up again. I was not going to look between their legs. I mean, they were practically strangers! “I’m smaller and lighter colored than Billy is,” she said, taking pity on me. “But just to be sure I’ll pick up the stuffy once I’ve changed. Just remember that I get the pink collar and he gets the brown one.”

“Okay,” I nodded. I saw her reach for a tie at the neck of her sundress and quickly turned around again. Billy was in his wolf-shape, so I grabbed the brown collar off of the table and knelt down to put it around his neck. When I looked over my shoulder, Georgia had also turned furry and was holding the partially stuffed dog toy in her mouth. I fastened the pink collar on her, then attached the leads.

“Okay,” I said. I grabbed the papers, money and two of the rawhides and stuffed them in my pocket. “Mouse, I’ll be back in about an hour. No more rawhides until I get back, okay?” He gave me a reproachful look, but I stood firm. “They are Billy and Georgia’s, not yours, so paws off, okay?” Mouse sighed and went back to chewing on the rawhide I’d already given him.

I picked up Georgia’s keys from the table and dragged the door back open, then pulled shut it behind the two werewolves. Mouse helped shut the door from the inside. I felt the wards snap into place, then, gathering up their leashes, I walked the two werewolves to the car.

 

 

I don’t know what I had expected, but the trip to the vet’s was fairly easy. Georgia and Billy didn’t pull at their leashes and no one accused them of being werewolves. Every pet in the waiting room either showed them their bellies or hid behind their owners, but Georgia and Billy sniffed around and acted just like dogs would. Billy nosed my hand a bit so I gave him a rawhide and Georgia kept dropping the stuffed toy in my lap like she wanted to play, so everything was fine. I got a few comments about how big they were, but that was all.

The only problem happened during the actual examination when the veterinarian found scars on Georgia’s torso and hip. “Um, um, um,” I stammered for a long minute, caught completely off guard.

“Are these fighting dogs?” The vet demanded. “We don’t care for fighting dogs at our clinic. Dog fighting is illegal in the State of Illinois and….”

“No!” I exclaimed. “Well, they got into a fight. One fight! With each other! But that was a while back! They are really good pets now. I swear.” The doctor peered at me dubiously.

“Seriously,” I babbled. “They’re great with Harry. I mean my little brother, Harry, not my boss, Harry. He’s only six. My brother. They love him.”

Georgia threw her stuffy at my stomach, then rolled over to show her tummy. I figured that meant ‘shut up’, so I did. She gave me a pointed look and I rubbed her exposed belly, feeling completely creeped out. She lolled as if that was the greatest sensation in the world, giving the doctor an upside down and goofy grin as I did so.

The vet smiled at her, relaxed and gave her a series of shots. Not just the rabies vaccinations, but also distemper, canine parvovirus and panleukopenia, whatever those were. She took them stoically and the vet rubbed behind her ears and told her what a good girl she was. I nodded where it seemed appropriate, then went through the same thing with Billy.

“He looks like he came off worse in that fight,” the veterinarian said, ruffling through Billy’s fur and checking his scars out too. “This one looks like a burn.”

“It got infected,” I shrugged. “He kept worrying it. You know how dogs are.” I tried to look like I knew what I was talking about. What the hell did I know about dogs? Mom wouldn’t ever let us get one. The doctor just shrugged, gave Billy the same shots and then asked if I was planning to get him fixed.

“No!” I half shouted. “Absolutely not. No!”

Billy glared at the doctor and showed one fang. He didn’t snarl, didn’t growl, but the doctor backed up anyway. Georgia hit Billy with her stuffed toy and he backed down resentfully. He glowered for the rest of the appointment.

Once we were done with the veterinarian, I had to fill out some paperwork. I copied what I could off the papers that Georgia had given me and totally made up the rest. The bill was over three hundred dollars, which shocked me – maybe that is why Mom never let us have pets. They were expensive.

The clerk seemed surprised that I paid in cash, but wrote me out a receipt and asked me if I wanted to schedule another appointment in a year for their booster shots. I said that I’d call when it was time. Then we were out the door.

“You guys are going to have to go through that every year?” I asked on the drive back. “That sucks.”

Billy gave a small whine, which I took as agreement.

“Well, I guess I know what to do with the next bunch at least,” I chatted. “Thank you, Georgia, for saving my bacon with the scars thing. I won’t freak out next time, I promise. That went pretty okay. Didn’t you guys think that went okay?” They didn’t answer, of course, but I was used to having one-sided conversations with Mouse.

We got back to Harry’s and Billy added his weight to mine when we opened the door. As soon as they were inside Billy and Georgia changed back into human form and got dressed again while Mouse and I shoved the door closed. I kept my eyes on the carpets, not on the naked people, but I could feel myself blush anyway. I had to do this with two complete strangers next time!

“Thank you, Molly,” Georgia said, “You did fine. Let’s get Mouse and Mister over to your parent’s house then you can drop us off and pick up Kirby and Andi.”

“Why are you taking Mouse and Mister to your folks’ place anyway?” Billy asked. He’d pulled on a pair of sweat pants and a tee-shirt instead of the work clothes he’s had on earlier. “Don’t they normally stay here when Harry is out Wardening?”

“Well, there is a little problem this time,” I said, trying to look innocent. It would have been much easier if I could have turned invisible like I wanted to. “No big thing, you know.”

I can’t lie worth spit. Billy and Georgia were staring at me, Billy intense and Georgia concerned.

“What problem?” Billy growled. It was interesting how he could do that when he wasn’t in wolf-shape.

“Nothing…” I trailed off, Billy was looking decidedly menacing now. Like he really could attack me. Harry got a death threat,” I blurted without meaning too. “But it was just from a bunch of jokers, vanilla mortals, no big deal. He just didn’t want me around in case they came around looking for him. In case they had guns or something. And if I can’t come around, then Mouse doesn’t get his walks, and Mister doesn’t get fed and…”

“Who threatened Harry?” Billy’s voice was even growlier than before.

Georgia grabbed Billy’s arm. “For god’s sake, Billy, you are frightening the poor girl!”

“I think we should set up around here for a few nights,” Billy said to Georgia. “In case these guys come around.” She started to protest but he overrode her. “Harry’s going to be exhausted when he gets back, Georgia, you know how he is. We should take care of them for him. He’d do it for us. He has done it for us.”

“Well,” Georgia sighed. “Maybe some of the pack, but only for a few nights. I don’t think Harry would want us to risk our territory over this.”

Billy’s eyes never left my face, but I was careful to keep us from Soulgazing one another. “Who are they, Molly?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I never saw them, just the letter with the threat on it. Harry called them the Wannabes.” Something clicked in my mind. “But two of the pack might know them, Harry said that he had to flea-dip two of the Alphas the night he first met them.”

“Flea-dip?” Billy’s eyebrows rose up. “How did two of the Alphas get fleas?”

“The regular way, I imagine,” Georgia smiled.

“They were psychic fleas from the Nevernever, or something,” I volunteered, dredging up my memory. It had been Harry’s day off and he’d been pretty annoyed he hadn’t gotten to enjoy it. Which meant he complained about it to me. A lot.

“Why didn’t we know about this?” Billy asked Georgia.

“If you got fleas, Billy Borden, would you want the whole pack to know? Of course they didn’t tell anyone, we would have teased them unmercifully.”

“They should have said,” Billy grumbled.

“I think I remember Harry talking about these people,” Georgia said. “It was about four months ago, right? He called them Darth Wannabe and the Darthettes. I think he said that they wanted a magical duel with him and they ended up throwing a smoke-bomb into his apartment when he refused. The smoke-bomb had some kind of stupid note attached to it.”

“That’s them,” I said.

“Maybe it’s just as well that Mouse and Mister stay at your parents’ house,” Georgia said to me. “It would kill Harry if they – or you – got hurt. Do you need a hand with their stuff?”

We spent a few minutes gathering up food and catnip and leads and bowls. Georgia chatted with me like we were friends, asking me how my magical studies were going and telling me about her graduate school. It was just after dusk and we were going to have to hustle to get Mouse and Mister to my parent’s place before taking Kirby and Andi to the vet. Billy pulled open the door without even puffing hard, and Georgia started to load him up with the bags of Mouse’s and Mister’s stuff.

Billy had just asked for the car keys back and I was protesting that I should drive when the van pulled up. It was big and black, with a huge downward-pointing pentacle superimposed with a goat’s head on the side. Flaming skills and inverted crosses were swirled around the goat’s head, keeping it company. A young man with long dark hair and a matching goatee got out of the driver’s door, fumbling a little with his staff. He was wearing a lacy shirt with black leather pants and a ruby-red velvet trench-coat. It wasn’t as spiffy as Harry’s, nor did his billow dramatically, but I could tell that this coat was inspired by Harry’s leather duster.

Billy and Georgia and I climbed up the stairs from Harry’s apartment as four other Wannabes climbed out of the van’s side door. They were wearing tacky store-bought gothware. At least when I was in my goth stage I had the decency to rip-up my own clothes. These guys looked ridiculous in their Slytherin scarves and clip-on piercings. One girl with a crew cut had a Dark Mark tattooed on her left-arm. These must be the Wannabes.

“Where is Harry Dresden, so-called Wizard, pretender to magic?” The driver declaimed like a bad actor doing Shakespeare. “We have a score to settle this night!”

I couldn’t help it, I started to giggle. Georgia hid her smile behind her hand but Billy scowled. I guess he was still in a bad mood after the veterinary appointment. “Harry is out of town for a few days,” Billy replied, his arms still full of pet stuff. “But if you want to leave a message, we’d be glad to give it to him.”

The leader of the group glared at me and I stopped giggling. He looked a little crazy and it generally wasn’t a good idea to laugh where the crazy people could hear you. Besides, Harry thought he might have a gun. "He has fled, then. Good.” He tried to give me the evil eye, but I had gotten much, much worse from my Mom.

“No, he’s gone to help a friend in San Francisco,” I corrected.

“He has fled,” Darth Wannabe repeated. I had no doubt that this was the guy Harry had dealt with four months ago. “The charlatan has fled before my wrath! And, you, girl – what are you doing on the pretender’s doorstep?”

“I’m Harry’s apprentice,” I said. Who was he calling me ‘girl’? He looked about my age if not younger. “I’m taking care of his pets. And Harry has not fled. He just has more important things to do than deal with a bunch of losers like you guys.”

“The fraud has fled!” Darth insisted. “He knew that his so-called ‘magic’ was no match for someone truly versed in the Arts of Darkness. His fakery could not stand my assault!”

“Harry is not a fake!” I retorted, really outraged at the accusation. “He’s a Warden! He could eat all five of you for breakfast.”

“Calm down, Molly,” Georgia said soothingly. She turned to Darth, “If Harry has fled, as you say, then why don’t you go home and declare victory?”

Darth scowled at Georgia’s suggestion. “He must be taught a lesson! He dares name himself a wizard! It will not stand!” He pounded his staff on the ground in what was probably supposed to be a dramatic emphasis. It just made him look petulant.

Georgia touched my arm before I could make a rude suggestion about lessons. “Why do you think that Harry isn’t a wizard? I promise you he is.”

“Then why did he resort to threatening me with a gun when last we met?”

“Why did you resort to throwing a smoke bomb?” I asked.

“I had not yet come into my full power,” Darth declared. “Now that I have he will repent having ever insulted me.”

“Look, Mr. Whoever-you-are,” Billy said, scowling harder than ever. “Back-off of Harry. Or we’ll make you back-off.”

“You think you are more powerful than I? What do you know of magic, little man?” Darth should have his visions checked, he was a good three-inches shorter than Billy and about fifty pounds of muscle lighter. With a flambouyant gesture he drew a twisted length of wood from the inside of his coat with his free hand - I guessed it was supposed to be a wand or something.

“I know one spell,” Billy replied, unfazed by the show. “But it is a doozy. Now why don’t you do like my wife suggested; declare victory and get out. Molly, the keys, please.”

“I’m driving,” I corrected automatically. “I have to drive, I am the huma-”

Darth Wannabe didn’t like being ignored. He waved his wand dramatically and shouted “Adava Kedevra!” To my utter shock, Billy was knocked backwards almost all the way to the car. The pet supplies he had been holding rolled everywhere.

“Billy!” Georgia exclaimed. Billy made a groaning noise in response. I saw him try to sit up.

“Oh, boy, did you just make a big mistake,” I said to Darth. “You have no idea how big.”

“False apprentice!” Darth Wannabe cried, aiming his wand at me. I quickly threw up a veil and jumped out of the path of the wand.

“Adava Kedevra!” He cried again and the pavement where I had been standing cracked. Okay, he was throwing around a force effect. A pretty powerful one, from the looks of it. I guess that Harry was wrong about how vanilla these guys were.

There was a murmur of wonder from the group of four Wannabes. “Where did she go?” one of the Wannabes asked. “I didn’t even see her move,” said another. “Do you think she used magic?”

“I’m okay,” Billy called, shaking his head dizzily. “Don’t worry about me, Honey.”

Georgia turned back towards Darth and calmly undid the ribbon at the top of her sundress. “I guess that some people just have to be taught before they’ll learn,” she said, letting the simple sundress flutter to her feet. She wasn’t wearing anything under it and I really had to learn not to blush so much.

The Wannabes seemed to be taken aback by Georgia’s action. “Nice tits, lady,” the girl with the Dark Mark sneered.

Georgia smiled at her. “I always thought my teeth were my best feature,” she said sweetly, then melted into her wolf shape. Georgia-wolf took one step towards Darth and gave a snarl that showed all of her teeth. They were very white and shiny.

“Oh, shit,” one of the other Wannabes, a guy, said.

Behind Georgia, Billy tried to remove his tee-shirt. The blast must have rang his chimes pretty good because he ended up with the shirt tangled around his head. I heard him say “Fuck it,” then there was the sound of cloth tearing.

Darth Wannabe raised his wand up and started to cast again. Whatever force spell he was using, it was powerful, and I didn’t want Georgia hurt. I threw a handful of light and sound into Darth’s face. I hadn’t meditated or gotten ready to use magic, so it wasn’t my best spell, but it worked. Darth screamed, “Adava Kede-ahh!”. The light startled him off balance and he stumbled back a few steps. Georgia was on him in just one jump, knocking Darth onto his back. He made a surprised sort of grunting noise when he hit the pavement.

The other Wannabes screamed and turned to run, but I drew up my best illusion spell and another dozen wolves slid out of the shadows and circled them. The illusion was a little distorted and rough, with all the wolves looking the same and their eyes too red. I guess Harry was right about me needing to work on my focus. It didn’t seem to matter to the Wannabes though, because they all scampered back to the van. One of the girls cried, “Don’t hurt us!”

I was distracted by movement behind me. Billy had changed, but he was tangled in his sweatpants. He growled and snapped at the waistband, trying to free himself. I quickly refocused on Darth. The Wannabe Dork Lord struggled madly for a minute until Georgia-wolf took his nose in her teeth. Darth froze.

I had had to drop the veil to focus on the illusion, but I managed to keep my concentration enough to keep the illusory wolves in place while I reached out to touch Darth’s out flung hand. A tiny bit of power surged beneath his skin, but it wasn’t even as strong a charge as the Alphas had. I realized that the magic must have come from the wand just as he raised it in his other hand and pointed it at Georgia.

“Look out!” I shouted, too late. He didn’t even have to chant his little curse to activate the thing. Georgia-wolf was flung across the pavement and rolled into the wall of the boardinghouse with a startled yipe. The illusions of the other wolves fell to dust as my concentration broke. Billy-wolf tried to leap at Darth, but he was still tangled in his trousers and stumbled into a pratfall, nearly doing a somersault.

God, we were pathetic.

Darth stood up, panting, his wand aimed at me. His hand was shaking wildly. “Your master has taught you well, but you are no match for me,” he said unsteadily. “Join me and I will allow you to live.”

“I’ll never join you – even if you tell me you’re my father, Darth,” I stalled as Billy fumbled his way free of his pants. Darth didn’t get the reference.

I needn’t have waited for Billy.

Mouse charged up the stairs from the apartment and hit Darth like a freight train. Darth stumbled as Mouse bit down hard on the Dork Lord’s wrist. I heard bones crunch and Darth screamed in pain. The wand fell to the pavement. I dove for the wand. So did the girl with the Slytherin tattoo. We both had our hands on it and it just thrummed with Power. Above us I heard Mouse knock Darth back down again. Dark Mark-girl was twisting the wand towards my face when Billy, finally free of his clothes, landed on her back. She grunted but didn’t release her hold. Growling, Billy took her throat in his teeth.

“He will kill you,” I promised and she reluctantly dropped the wand.

“Georgia?” I called, climbing to my feet with the wand in my hand. No way was I going to let any of the Wannabes touch it again. “Are you okay?” Mouse had Darth pinned face-first on the concrete. It looked like the Dork Lord had bit his tongue during the fall; he was bleeding a little from his mouth.

Georgia-wolf tottered back to her dress then transformed back into a human again. “I think that idiot wrenched my back,” she winced. Putting her dress back on made her groan a little.

“You can’t do this,” Darth whined beneath Mouse’s bulk.

“Not only can we do it,” I replied. “But we did do it. You idiot.” I knelt down beside him and showed him the wand. “Where did you get this?”

He twitched as if he wanted to make a grab for the wand again so I threw a spike of bright light into his eyes. “Ahh!” he shrieked. “What have you done? I’m blind! I’m blind!”

“You want to be deaf, too?” I asked in my sweetest voice. “Cause I can do that.”

“No! No! Please, I’ll do anything you want!”

“Where did you get the wand?” I repeated. “You don’t have enough magic in you to light a candle. But this wand is a power focus. Where did you get it?”

“I found it in a mystic cave,” he whined. “It called to me….”

“Liar,” I said, pressing the tip of the wand into his neck. I had no way of knowing if he was lying or not, but it was the sort of thing that Harry would have said.

“The gypsy woman!” Darth confessed. “The gypsy woman gave it to me.”

“And where did you meet the gypsy woman?”

“In Minneapolis!”

I pushed the tip of the wand against his neck even harder. “If I have to keep asking questions, I swear I’ll blow your stupid head off.” At that moment I meant it. “Tell me everything.”

He did. I memorized the details, but I doubt if there was enough information for Harry or the other Wardens to track the ‘gypsy woman’ down. If indeed she was a gypsy, or even a woman.

While Darth spilled all, Georgia collected the other Wannabes and put them back into the van. I heard her lecturing them about how bad things could happen to people when they did stupid things like play with magic. “Unless you want to meet things that are even scarier than werewolves,” she finished. Everybody started promising to give up on the dark magic stuff, go back to school and get a real life. “Molly, it’s late, we’re going to have to pick up Kirby and Andi now if we’re going to make the appointment,” she called to me. She was still moving as if her back hurt.

Billy crouched down on Darth’s other side. Starkers. Oh, my. I think my blush-meter hit ‘atomic’. “I should kill you for attacking my wife,” Billy told the prone man. “But I won’t because it is a pain-in-the-ass to dispose of a dead body around here. But let me tell you this: if I ever catch a scent of you in Chicago, even a whiff, I will track you down and I will end you. Do you understand?”

“Yes,” Darth said in a very small voice.

“Your vision should come back in a little while, Darth,” I said, examining the wrist that Mouse bit. “You might want to get some medical attention for this.”

“They have to report dog bites, Molly,” Georgia informed me. She turned to Darth. “If you give a description of Mouse that leads Animal Control back here, I will personally rip your nose off. Okay?”

“Okay,” Darth answered.

I blotted up the blood at the corner of Darth’s mouth with a handkerchief (yeah, Harry has me carrying them, too), then grabbed hold of his hair and yanked out some strands. “One more thing, Darthy,” I said. “I want you to give me your full name.”

“M-my name? But then you could…”

“Curse you real bad,” I finished for him. “I already have your blood and hair, though, so you are already SOL. Give me your Name and I’ll let you go. Don’t and… I’ll lock you in the sub-basement until Harry comes home. Then he can show you what real magic looks like. Up close and personal.”

“David Alan Carter,” Darth said in a rush.

“Say it again, slower.”

“David Alan Carter,” he repeated.

“David Alan Carter,” I said, trying to use the same inflections he had. “David Alan Carter.” I think I had it right. “David Alan Carter, I call on you to swear, by your True Name, to never bother Harry Dresden ever again, or to influence anyone else to bother him.”

“I swear,” he promised.

“No, you have to say the whole thing, dummy,” I was getting exasperated. “Say ‘I, David Alan Carter, do solemnly swear, on my True Name….’”

He recited the whole thing.

“Okay, Mouse,” I said, standing. “You can let David go now.” Mouse stepped off of David and came around to my side, wagging his tail. I noticed that Harry’s door was standing wide open. “Mister had better not have gotten away,” I warned Mouse. “Or no more rawhides for you tonight.” Mouse’s ears went down and his tail sort of stuttered to a halt. When I didn’t melt at his poor doggy eyes, he sighed and went looking for Harry’s cat.

While Georgia and Billy were gathering up the pet stuff and putting it in the back of the car, Mouse trotted around the side of the boarding house. When he came back, he was herding Mister towards the stairs. Mister tried to make a break for the trashcans, but I grabbed him before he got far. I grunted as I lifted him. Mister is a lot of cat.

“What happens if I break the vow?” David quavered as he got up. Now that he wasn’t being Darth he looked even shorter. I also noticed that the goatee was to hide his lack of chin and that his teeth were stained. Loser.

I gave him my brightest perky smile, the one I gave Harry when he demanded coffee for breakfast. I knew he couldn’t see it, but the other Wannabes would. “You’ll die.” He wouldn’t actually, but he didn’t have to know that. Poor David looked like he was going to faint.

“Molly, we are going to be late!” Georgia called. “We don’t even have time to stop at your parents, now.”

I put Mouse and Mister back in the house with a promise I’d be back for them later. David and his crew got dispiritedly back into the van. Then I picked up the keys from where I had dropped them and climbed back into the driver’s seat of Georgia’s car. As I pulled out on to the street, I waved at the Wannabes. They didn’t wave back.

Taking Kirby and Andi to the vet was a breeze.