Turn Coat Chapter 2223

Chapter Twenty-two

Smith Cohen and Mackleroy, as it turned out, was an upscale law firm in downtown Chicago. The building their offices occupied stood in the shadow of the Sears Tower, and must have had a fantastic view of the lake. Having plucked out the enemy's eyes, so to speak, I thought that I might have bought us some breathing space. Without Vince on our tail, I hoped that Morgan could get a few hours of rest in relative safety.

I'd figure out somewhere else to move him-just as soon as I leaned on Ms. Evelyn Derek and found out to whom she reported Vince's findings.

I guess I looked sort of mussed and scraggly, because the building's security guard gave me a wary look as I entered solidly in the middle of lunch hour. I could practically see him deciding whether or not to stop me.

I gave him my friendliest smile-which my weariness and stress probably reduced to merely polite-and said, ’’Excuse me, sir. I have an appointment with an attorney at Smith Cohen and Mackleroy. They're on the twenty-second floor, right?’’

He relaxed, which was good. Beneath his suit, he looked like he had enough muscle to bounce me handily out the door. ’’Twenty-four, sir.’’

’’Right, thanks.’’ I smiled at him and strode confidently past. Confidence is critical to convincing people that you really are supposed to be somewhere-especially when you aren't.

’’Sir,’’ said the guard from behind me. ’’I'd appreciate it if you left your club here.’’

I paused and looked over my shoulder.

He had a gun. His hand wasn't exactly resting on it, but he'd tucked his thumb into his belt about half an inch away.

’’It isn't a club,’’ I said calmly. ’’It's a walking stick.’’

’’Six feet long.’’

’’It's traditional Ozark folk art.’’

’’With dents and nicks all over it.’’

I thought about it for a second. ’’I'm insecure?’’

’’Get a blanket.’’ He held out his hand.

I sighed and passed my staff over to him. ’’Do I get a receipt?’’

He took a notepad from his pocket and wrote on it. Then he passed it over to me. It read: Received, one six foot traditional Ozark walking club from Mr. Smart-ass.

’’That's Doctor Smart-ass,’’ I said. ’’I didn't spend eight years in insult college to be called Mister.’’

He leaned the staff against the wall behind his desk and sat back down at his chair.

I went to the elevator and rode up. It was one of those express contraptions that goes fast enough to compress your spine and make your ears pop. It opened on the twenty-fourth floor facing a reception desk. The law office, apparently, took up the entire floor.

The receptionist was, inevitably, a young woman, and just as unavoidably attractive. She went with the solid-oak furnishings, the actual oil paintings, and the handcrafted furniture in the reception area, and the faint scent of lemon wood polish in the air-variations on a theme of beautiful practicality.

She looked up at me with a polite smile, her dark hair long and appealing, her shirt cut just low enough to make you notice, but not so low as to make you think less of her. I liked the smile. Maybe I didn't look like a beaten-up bum. Maybe on me it just looked ruggedly determined.

’’I'm sorry, sir,’’ she said, ’’but the addiction-counseling center is on twenty-six.’’

Sigh.

’’I'm actually here to see someone,’’ I said. ’’Assuming that this is Smith Cohen and Mackleroy?’’

She glanced rather pointedly-but still politely-at the front of her desk, where a plaque bore the firm's name in simple sans serif lettering. ’’I see, sir. Who are you looking for?’’

’’Ms. Evelyn Derek, please.’’

’’Do you have an appointment?’’

’’No,’’ I said. ’’But she'll want to talk to me.’’

The receptionist looked at me as though she had some kind of bitter, unpleasant taste in her mouth. I'd timed my arrival correctly, then. The young lady clearly would have been much more comfortable handing me off to a secretary, or executive assistant, or whatever you're supposed to call them now, and letting someone else decide if I was supposed to be there. And Ms. Evelyn Derek's assistant was just as clearly out to lunch, which was the point of showing up during lunch hour. ’’Who shall I say is here?’’

I produced Vincent Graver's business card and passed it to her. ’’Please tell her that Vince has acquired some unexpected information and that she needs to hear about it.’’

She pushed a button, adjusted her headset, and dutifully passed on the message to whoever was on the other end. She listened and nodded. ’’Straight back down the hall, sir, the second door on the left.’’

I nodded to her and walked through the door behind her. The carpet got even thicker and the decor more expensive. A nook in the wall showcased a small rock fountain between a pair of two-thousand-dollar leather chairs. I shook my head as I walked through a hall that absolutely reeked of success, power, and the desire for everyone to know about it.

I bet they would have been seethingly jealous of the Ostentatiatory in Edinburgh.

I opened the second door on the left, went in, and closed it behind me, to find a secretary's desk, currently unoccupied, and an open door to what would doubtless be an executive office appropriate to the status of Evelyn Derek, attorney at law.

’’Come in, Mr. Graver,’’ said an impatient woman's voice from inside the office.

I walked in and shut the door behind me. The office was big, but not monstrous. She probably wasn't a full partner in the firm. The furnishings were sleek and ultramodern, with a lot of glass and space-age metal. There was only one small filing cabinet in the room, a shelf with a row of legal texts, a slender and fragile-looking laptop computer, and a framed sheepskin from somewhere expensive on the wall. She had a window, but it had been frosted over into bare translucency. The glass desk and sitting table and liquor cabinet all shone, without a smudge or a fingerprint to be seen anywhere. It had all the warmth of an operating theater.

The woman typing on the laptop might have come with the office as part of a complete set. She wore rimless glasses in front of the deepest green eyes I had ever seen. Her hair was raven black, and cut close to her head, showcasing her narrow, elegant features and the slender line of her neck. She wore a dark silk suit jacket with a matching skirt and a white blouse. She had long legs, ending in shoes that must have cost more than most mortgage payments, but she wore no rings, no earrings, and no necklace. There was something cold and reserved about her posture, and her fingers struck the keys at a rapid, decisive cadence, like a military drummer.

She said nothing for two full minutes, focusing intently on whatever she was typing. Obviously, she had something to prove to Vince for daring to intrude upon her day.

’’I hope you don't think you can convince me to rehire you, Mr. Graver,’’ she said, eventually, without looking up. ’’What is it that you think is so important?’’

Ah. Vince had quit already. He didn't let much grass grow under his feet, did he?

This woman was evidently used to being taken very seriously. I debated several answers and decided to start things off by annoying her.

I know. Me. Shocking, right?

I stood there treating her the same way she had treated me, saying nothing, until Evelyn Derek exhaled impatiently through her nose and turned a cool and disapproving stare toward me.

’’Hi, cuddles,’’ I said.

I'll give the lady this much-she had a great poker face. The disapproval turned into a neutral mask. She straightened slightly in her chair, though she looked more attentive than nervous, and put her palms flat on the desktop.

’’You're going to leave smudges,’’ I said.

She stared at me for a few more seconds before she said, ’’Get out of my office.’’

’’I don't see any Windex in here,’’ I mused, looking around.

’’Did you hear me?’’ she said, her voice growing harder. ’’Get. Out.’’

I scratched my chin. ’’Maybe it's in your secretary's desk. You want me to get it for you?’’

Spots of color appeared on her cheeks. She reached for the phone on her desk.

I pointed a finger at it, sent out an effort of will, and hissed, ’’Hexus.’’

Fouling up technology is a fairly simple thing for a wizard to do. But it isn't surgical in its precision. Sparks erupted from the phone, from her computer, from the overhead lights, and from something inside her coat pocket, accompanied by several sharp popping sounds.

Ms. Derek let out a small shriek and tried to flinch in three directions at once. Her chair rolled backward without her, and she wound up sprawled on the floor behind her glass-topped desk in a most undignified manner. Her delicate-looking glasses hung from one ear, and her deep green eyes were wide, the whites showing all around them.

Purely for effect, I walked a couple of steps closer and stood looking down at her in silence for a long moment. There was not a sound in that room, and it was a lot darker in there without the lights.

I spoke very, very quietly. ’’There are two shut doors between you and the rest of this office-which is mostly empty anyway. You've got great carpets, solid-oak paneling, and a burbling water feature out in the hallway.’’ I smiled slightly. ’’Nobody heard what just happened. Or they would have come running by now.’’

She swallowed, and didn't move.

’’I want you to tell me who had you hire a detective to snoop on me.’’

She made a visible effort to gather herself together. ’’I-I don't know what you're talking about.’’

I shook my head, lifted my hand, and made a beckoning gesture at the liquor cabinet as I murmured, ’’Forzare,’’ and made a gentle effort of will. The door to the cabinet swung open. I picked a bottle of what looked like bourbon and repeated the gesture, causing it to flit from the opened cabinet across the room to my hand. I unscrewed the cap and took a swig. It tasted rich and burned my throat pleasantly on the way down.

Evelyn Derek stared at me in pure shock, her mouth open, her face whiter than rural Maine.

I looked at her steadily. ’’Are you sure?’’

’’Oh, God,’’ she whispered.

’’Evelyn,’’ I said in a chiding voice. ’’Focus. You hired Vince Graver to follow me around and report on my movements. Someone told you to do that. Who was it?’’

’’M-my clients,’’ she stammered. ’’Confidential.’’

I felt bad scaring the poor woman. Her reaction to the use of magic had been typical of a straight who had never encountered the supernatural before-which meant that she probably had no idea of the nature of whoever she was protecting. She was terrified. I mean, I knew I wasn't going to hurt her.

But I was the only one in the room who did.

The thing about playing a bluff is that you have to play it all the way out, even when it gets uncomfortable.

’’I really didn't want this to get ugly,’’ I said sadly.

I took a step closer and put the bottle down on the desk. Then I slowly, dramatically, raised my left hand. It had been badly burned several years before, and while my ability to recover from such things was more intense than other human beings, at least in the long term, my hand still wasn't pretty. It wasn't quite horror-movie special effects anymore, but the molten scars covering my fingers, wrist, and most of my palm were still startling and unpleasant, if you hadn't ever seen them before.

’’No, wait,’’ Evelyn squeaked. She backed across the floor on her buttocks, pressed her back to the wall and lifted her hands. ’’Don't.’’

’’You helped your client try to kill people, Evelyn,’’ I said in a calm voice. ’’Tell me who.’’

Her eyes widened even more. ’’What? No. No, I didn't know anyone would get hurt.’’

I stepped closer and snarled, ’’Talk.’’

’’All right, all right!’’ she stammered. ’’She-’’

She stopped speaking as suddenly as if someone had begun strangling her.

I eased up on the intimidation throttle. ’’Tell me,’’ I said, more quietly.

Evelyn Derek shook her head at me, fear and confusion stripping away the reserve I'd seen in her only moments before. She started shaking. I saw her open her mouth several times, but only small choked sounds emerged. Her eyes lost focus and started flicking randomly around the room like a trapped animal looking for an escape.

That wasn't normal. Not even a little. Someone like Evelyn Derek might panic, might be cowed, might be backed into a corner-but she would never be at a loss for words.

’’Oh,’’ I said, mostly to myself. ’’I hate this crap.’’

I sighed, and walked around the desk to stand over the cowering lawyer. ’’Hell, if I'd known that someone had...’’ I shook my head. She wasn't really listening very hard to me, and she'd started crying.

It was one of about a thousand possible reactions when someone's free will has been directly abrogated by some kind of psychic interdiction. I'd just created a situation in which every part of her logical, rational mind had been completely in favor of telling me who had hired her. Her emotions had been lined up right behind her reasoned thoughts, too.

Only I was betting that someone had gotten into her head. Someone had left something inside her that refused to let Ms. Derek speak about her employer. Hell, she might not even have a conscious memory of who hired her-despite the fact that she wouldn't just hire some detective to spy on somebody for no reason.

Everyone always thinks that such obvious logical inconsistencies wouldn't hold up, that the mind would somehow tear free of the bonds placed upon it using those flaws. But the fact is that the human mind isn't a terribly logical or consistent place. Most people, given the choice to face a hideous or terrifying truth or to conveniently avoid it, choose the convenience and peace of normality. That doesn't make them strong or weak people, or good or bad people. It just makes them people.

It's our nature. There's plenty to distract us from the nastier truths of our lives, if we want to avoid them.

’’Evelyn Derek,’’ I said in a firm, authoritative voice. ’’Look at me.’’

She flinched closer to the wall, shaking her head.

I knelt in front of her. Then I reached out to touch her chin, and gently lifted her face to mine. ’’Evelyn Derek,’’ I said in a gentler voice. ’’Look at me.’’

The woman lifted her dark green eyes to mine and I held her gaze for the space of a long breath before the soulgaze began.

If the eyes are the windows to the soul, then wizards are the souls'voyeurs. When a wizard looks into another person's eyes, we get to see something of that person, a vision of the very core of their being. We each go through the experience a little differently, but it amounts to the same thing-a look into another person's eyes gives you an insight into the most vital portions of their character.

Evelyn Derek's deep green eyes almost seemed to expand around me, and then I found myself staring at a room that was, if anything, almost identical to the woman's office. The furniture was beautiful and minimalistic. Ms. Derek, it seemed, was not the kind of person to overly burden her soul with the care and mementos most people collect over the course of a lifetime. She had devoted her life to her mind, to the order and discipline of her thoughts, and she had never left herself much room for personal entanglements.

But as I stared at the room, I saw Ms. Derek herself. I would have expected her in her business clothing, or perhaps in student's attire. Instead, she was wearing...

Well. She was wearing very expensive, very minimalistic black lingerie. Stockings, garters, panties, and bra, all black. She wore them, ahem, very well. She was kneeling on the floor, her knees apart, her hands held behind the small of her back. She faced me with her lips parted, her breath coming in quickened pants. I was able to change my viewpoint slightly, as if walking around her, and those green eyes followed me, pupils wide with desire, her hips shifting in little yearning rolls with every tiny correction of her balance.

Her wrists were bound behind her back with a long, slender ribbon of white silk.

I caught a motion in the corner of my eye, and I snapped my gaze up, to see a slender, feminine form vanish into the corridors of Evelyn Derek's memory, showing me nothing more than a flash of pale skin-

¨C and a gleam of silver eyes.

Son of a bitch.

Someone had bound up Ms. Derek's thoughts, all right, and woven those restraints together with her natural se*ual desire, to give them permanence and strength. The method and the glimpses I'd seen of the perpetrator, flashes of memory that had managed to remain in her thoughts, perhaps, gave strong indicators as to who was responsible.

A vampire of the White Court.

And then there was a wrenching sensation and I was kneeling over Evelyn Derek. Her eyes were wide, her expression a mixture of terror and awe as she stared up at me.

Oh, yeah. That was the thing about a soulgaze. Whoever you look at gets a look back at you. They get to see you in just as much detail as you see them. I've never had anyone soulgaze me who didn't seem... disconcerted by the experience.

Evelyn Derek stared at me and whispered, ’’Who are you?’’

I said, ’’Harry Dresden.’’

She blinked slowly and said, her voice dazed, ’’She ran from you.’’ Tears started forming in her eyes. ’’What is happening to me?’’

Magic that invades the thoughts of another human being is just about as black as it gets, a direct violation of the Laws of Magic that the Wardens uphold. But there are grey areas, like in any set of laws, and there are accepted customs as to what was or was not allowed in practice.

There wasn't much I could do for Evelyn. It would take a hand lighter and more skilled than mine to undo the harm that had been done to her mind, if it could be undone at all. But there was one thing I could do for her, a bit of grey magic that even the White Council acknowledged as an aid and a mercy, especially for those who had suffered the kind of psychic trauma Evelyn had.

I called up my will as gently as I could, and reached out with my right hand. I passed my fingertips gently over her eyes, causing her to close them, and as I passed my palm from her forehead down to her chin, I released that will with as much care as I possibly could, murmuring, ’’Dorme, dormius, Evelyn. Dorme, dormius.’’

She let out a little whimpering sound of relief, and her body sagged to the floor in sudden and complete relaxation. She breathed in deeply once, exhaled, and then passed into simple and dreamless slumber.

I made her as comfortable as I could. With luck, when she woke, she would pass most of our confrontation off as a bad dream. Then I turned and left the law office behind me, quiet anger growing inside me with every step. I went by the security guard at the door as the anger started nudging over into fury. I slapped the receipt down on his desk, and with a gesture and a muttered word caused my staff to leap from where it leaned against the wall and into my hand.

The guard fell out of his chair, and I left without looking back.

The White Court was involved. They were trying to get Morgan killed-and me with him-and what's more, they were preying on people in my town, ripping into their psyches and inflicting harm that could blossom into madness given the right circumstances. There was a broad difference between their usual predation and what had been done to Evelyn Derek.

Someone was going to answer for it.

Chapter Twenty-three

I got back to my apartment, shouldered open my door, and found a bizarre tableau.

Again.

Morgan lay on the floor about five feet from the bedroom door. He'd apparently seized my walking cane from the old popcorn tin by the door, where I keep things like Ozark folk art carved quarter staves, blasting rods, umbrellas, and so on. The cane is an old Victorian-style sword-cane. You twist the handle and pull, and you can draw a slender thirty-inch spring steel blade from the wooden cane. Morgan had. He lay on his side on the floor, his arm extended up at about a forty-five-degree angle, holding the sword.

Its tip rested against Molly's carotid artery, just under her left ear.

Molly, for her part, leaned back against one of my bookcases, her knees bent a little, her arms spread out to either side, as if she'd stumbled over something and flung out her hands to brace herself against the bookcase as she fell back.

To the left of the door, Mouse crouched with his fangs bared and resting lightly against Anastasia Luccio's throat. She lay on her back, and her gun lay on the rug-covered floor about two feet beyond the reach of her hand. She appeared to be quite relaxed, though I couldn't see much of her face from where I stood.

Mouse's deep brown eyes were focused steadily on Morgan. Morgan's steely gaze was locked on Mouse's jaws.

I stared at them aghast for a minute. No one moved. Except Mouse. When I looked at him, his tail wagged hopefully once or twice.

I blew out a heavy breath, set my staff aside, and plodded to the icebox, stepping over Anastasia's leg on the way. I opened it, considered the contents for a moment, and then pulled out a cold Coke. I opened it and took a long drink. Then I picked up a dry kitchen towel, went to the couch, and sat down.

’’I would ask what the hell happened,’’ I said to the room at large. ’’Except that the only one with any sense who witnessed it can't actually talk.’’ I eyed the dog and said, ’’This had better be good.’’

Mouse wagged his tail tentatively again.

’’Okay,’’ I said. ’’Let her go.’’

Mouse opened his jaws and sat up and away from Anastasia at once. He immediately padded over to me, and leaned against me as his gaze flicked from Anastasia to Morgan and back.

’’Morgan,’’ I said. ’’Ease off the psycho throttle a little and put down the sword.’’

’’No,’’ Morgan said in a voice half strangled with fury. ’’Not until this little witch is bound and wearing a gag and a blindfold.’’

’’Molly's already done duty as a beer-calendar model today,’’ I said. ’’We're not dressing her up for a BDSM shoot next.’’ I put the Coke down and thought about it for a second. Threats weren't going to have any effect on Morgan, except to make him more determined. It was one of the charming side effects of having such a rigid old-school personality.

’’Morgan,’’ I said quietly. ’’You are a guest in my home.’’

He flashed me a quick, guilty glance.

’’You came to me for help and I'm doing my best. Hell, the kid has put herself into harm's way, trying to protect you. I've done everything for you that I would have for blood family, because you are my guest. There are monsters from whom I would expect better behavior, once they had accepted my hospitality. What's more, they'd give it to me.’’

Morgan let out a pained sound. Then he turned his head sharply away from Molly and dropped the sword at the same time. The steel of the blade chimed as it bounced off the thin rug.

Morgan settled into a limp heap on the floor, and Molly sagged, lifting her hand and covering the vulnerable skin of her throat for a moment.

I waited until Anastasia sat up to toss her the towel I'd brought from the kitchen. She caught it, her expression neutral, and lifted it to begin drying her neck. Mouse is a great dog, but he has to work hard to control his slobber issues.

’’So I take it things almost devolved into violence again,’’ I said to them. ’’And Mouse had to get involved.’’

’’She just came walking in here,’’ Molly protested. ’’She saw him.’’

I blinked and looked at her. ’’And you did... what, exactly?’’

’’She blinded me,’’ Anastasia said calmly. ’’And then she hit me.’’ She lifted the towel and wiped at her nose. Some blood came away, though most of it stayed crusted and brown below one nostril. So they hadn't been in the standoff for long. Anastasia gave Molly a steady gaze and said, ’’She hit me like a girl. For goodness'sake, child, have you had no combat training at all?’’

’’There's been a lot of material to cover,’’ I growled. ’’Blinded you?’’

’’Not permanently,’’ Molly said, more sullenly now. She rubbed at the knuckles of her right hand with her left. ’’I just... kind of veiled everything that wasn't her.’’

’’An unnecessarily complicated way to go about it,’’ Anastasia said primly.

’’For you, maybe,’’ Molly said defensively. ’’Besides, who was the one on the ground getting pounded?’’

’’Yes. You're forty pounds heavier than me,’’ Anastasia said calmly.

’’Bitch, I know you didn't say just say that,’’ Molly bristled, stepping forward with her hands clenched.

Mouse sighed and heaved himself back to his feet.

Molly stopped, eyeing the big dog warily.

’’Good dog,’’ I said, and scratched Mouse's ears.

He wagged his tail without taking his serious brown eyes from Molly.

’’I had to stop her,’’ Molly said. ’’She was going to report Morgan to the Wardens.’’

’’So you physically and magically assaulted her,’’ I said.

’’What choice did I have?’’

I eyed Morgan. ’’And you staggered up out of the bed you're supposed to be staying in, grabbed the first pointy thing you could reach, and forced her off of Anastasia.’’

Morgan eyed me wearily. ’’Obviously.’’

I sighed and looked at Anastasia. ’’And you thought the only solution you had was to take them both down and sort everything out later, and Mouse stopped you.’’

Anastasia sighed. ’’There was a blade out, Harry. The situation had to be controlled.’’

I eyed Mouse. ’’And you wound up holding Anastasia hostage so Morgan wouldn't hurt Molly.’’

Mouse ducked his head.

’’I can't believe I'm about to say this,’’ I said. ’’So think real careful about where this is coming from. Have you people ever considered talking when you've got a problem?’’

That didn't please anybody, and they gave me looks with varying degrees of irritation mixed with chagrin.

Except for Mouse, who sighed and said something like, ’’Uh-woof.’’

’’Sorry,’’ I told him at once. ’’Four-footed nonvocalizing company excepted.’’

’’She was going to get the Wardens,’’ Molly said. ’’If that happened before we proved who really killed LaFortier, all of us would be up the creek.’’

’’Actually,’’ Anastasia said, ’’that's true.’’

I turned my gaze to her. She rose and stretched, wincing slightly. ’’I assumed,’’ she said quietly, ’’that Morgan had recruited your apprentice to assist him in his escape scheme. And that they had done away with you.’’

I made a small frustrated sound. ’’Why the hell would you assume something like that?’’

She narrowed her eyes as she stared at me. ’’Why would Morgan flee to the home of the one wizard in the Council who had the most reason to dislike him?’’ she asked. ’’I believe your words were: 'that would be crazy.'’’

I winced. Ouch. ’’Uh,’’ I said. ’’Yeah. I...’’

’’You lied to me,’’ she said in a level tone. Most people probably wouldn't have noticed the undertone of anger and pain in her voice, or the almost imperceptible pause between each word. I could see bricks being mortared into place behind her eyes and I looked away from her.

The room was completely silent, until Morgan said, in a small and broken voice, ’’What?’’

I looked up at him. His hard sour face had gone gray. His expression was twisted up in shock and surprise, like that of a small child discovering the painful consequences of gravity for the first time.

’’Ana,’’ he said, almost choking on the words. ’’You... you think that I... How could you think that I would...?’’

He turned his face away. It couldn't have been a tear. Not from Morgan. He wouldn't shed tears if he had to execute his own mother.

But for a fraction of a second, something shone on one of his cheeks.

Anastasia rose and walked over to Morgan. She knelt down by him and put her hand on his head. ’’Donald,’’ she said gently, ’’we've been betrayed by those we trusted before. It wouldn't be the first time.’’

’’That was them,’’ he said unsteadily, not looking up. ’’This is me.’’

She stroked his hair once. ’’I never thought you had done it of your own free will, Donald,’’ she whispered quietly. ’’I thought someone had gotten into your mind. Held a hostage against your cooperation. Something.’’

’’Who could they have held hostage?’’ Morgan said in a bitter voice. ’’There's no one. For that very reason. And you know it.’’

She sighed and closed her eyes.

’’You knew his wards,’’ Morgan went on. ’’You've been through them before. Often. You opened them in under a second when you came in. You have a key to his apartment.’’

She said nothing.

His voice turned heavy and hollow. ’’You're involved. With Dresden.’’

Anastasia blinked her eyes several times. ’’Donald,’’ she began.

He looked up at her, his eyes empty of tears or pain or anything but weariness. ’’Don't,’’ he said. ’’Don't you dare.’’

She met his eyes. I'd never seen such gentle pain on her face. ’’You're running a fever. Donald, please. You should be in bed.’’

He laid his head on the rug and closed his eyes. ’’It doesn't matter.’’

’’Donald-’’

’’It doesn't matter,’’ he repeated dully.

Anastasia started crying in silence. She stayed next to Morgan, stroking her hand over his mottled silver-and-brown hair.

An hour later, Morgan was unconscious in bed again. Molly was down in the lab, pretending to work on potions with the trapdoor closed. I was sitting in the same spot with an empty can of Coke.

Anastasia came out of the bedroom and shut the door silently behind her. Then she leaned back against it. ’’When I saw him,’’ she said, ’’I thought he had come here to hurt you. That he had learned about the two of us and wanted to hurt you.’’

’’You,’’ I asked, ’’and Morgan?’’

She was quiet for a moment before she said, ’’I never allowed it to happen. It wasn't fair to him.’’

’’But he wanted it anyway,’’ I said.

She nodded.

’’Hell's bells,’’ I sighed.

She folded her arms over her stomach, never looking up. ’’Was it any different with your apprentice, Harry?’’

Molly hadn't always been the grasshopper she was today. When I'd first begun teaching her, she'd assumed that I would be teaching her all sorts of things that had nothing to do with magic and everything to do with her being naked. And that had been more than all right with her.

Just not with me.

’’Not much,’’ I acknowledged. ’’But he hasn't been your apprentice for a long, long time.’’

’’I have always been of the opinion that romantic involvement was a vulnerability I could not afford. Not in my position.’’

’’Not always,’’ I said, ’’apparently.’’

She exhaled slowly. ’’It was a much easier opinion to hold in my previous body. It was older. Less prone to...’’

’’Life?’’ I suggested.

She shrugged. ’’Desire. Loneliness. Joy. Pain.’’

’’Life,’’ I said.

’’Perhaps.’’ She closed her eyes for a moment. ’’When I was young, I reveled in love, Harry. In passion. In discovery and in new experiences and in life.’’ She gestured down at herself. ’’I never realized how much of it I had forgotten until Corpsetaker left me like this.’’ She opened her pained eyes and looked at me. ’’I didn't realize how much I missed it until you reminded me. And by then, Morgan wasn't... He was like I had been. Detached.’’

’’In other words,’’ I said, ’’he'd made himself more like you. Patterned himself after you. And because he'd done that, after your change he wasn't capable of giving you what you wanted.’’

She nodded.

I shook my head. ’’A hundred years is a long time to carry a torch,’’ I said. ’’That one must burn like hell.’’

’’I know. And I never wanted to hurt him. You must believe me.’’

’’Here's where you say, 'The heart wants what the heart wants,'’’ I said.

’’Trite,’’ she said, ’’but true all the same.’’ She turned until her right shoulder leaned on the door, facing me. ’’We should talk about where this leaves us.’’

I toyed with the can of Coke. ’’Before we can do that,’’ I said, ’’we have to talk about Morgan and LaFortier.’’

She exhaled slowly. ’’Yes.’’

’’What do you intend to do?’’ I asked.

’’He's wanted by the Council, Harry,’’ she said in a gentle voice. ’’I don't know how he's managed to avoid being located by magical means, but sooner or later, in hours or days, he will be found. And when that happens, you and Molly will be implicated as well. You'll both die with him.’’ She took a deep breath. ’’And if I don't go to the Council with what I know, I'll be right there beside you.’’

’’Yeah,’’ I said.

’’You really think he's innocent?’’ she asked.

’’Of LaFortier's murder,’’ I said. ’’Yes.’’

’’Do you have proof?’’

’’I've found out enough to make me think I'm right. Not enough to clear him-yet.’’

’’If it wasn't Morgan,’’ she said quietly, ’’then the traitor is still running around loose.’’

’’Yeah.’’

’’You're asking me to discard the pursuit of a suspect with strong evidence supporting his guilt in favor of chasing a damn ghost, Harry. Someone we've barely been able to prove exists, much less identify. Not only that, you're asking me to gamble your life, your apprentice's life, and my own against finding this ghost in time.’’

’’Yes. I am.’’

She shook her head. ’’Everything I've ever learned as a Warden tells me that it's far more likely that Morgan is guilty.’’

’’Which brings us back to the question,’’ I said. ’’What are you going to do?’’

Silence yawned.

She pushed off the door and came to sit down on the chair facing my seat on the couch.

’’All right,’’ she said. ’’Tell me everything.’’


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