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Chimes at Midnight

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The foyer had a blank wall where the door to the outside world ought to be. The next wall, where a reproduction Degas should have hung, had a door to the library; that room was on the far side of the house. The mirror on the other side of the foyer reflected the empty kitchen. The antique grandfather clock, treasured by his father for its family history and kept by his stepmother so she would look the sort of person who valued such things, was not there at all.

The Jane Eyre cover in the library opened the story with the insistence that a single man with money must be seeking a wife; the Collected Works of Shakespeare cover, with a series of contradictions in the superlative degree of comparison only. The kitchen, entered from the library though the two rooms were not adjacent, had glasses where the plates belonged, spice jars filling the refrigerator, and no sign of the knife block or its contents or the door to the back garden.

A clock struck—the missing grandfather clock, the sound startling against the unaccustomed silence. The Westminster chimes rang out quarter of the hour. The digital clock above the kitchen stove clearly read twenty-three past.

*  *  *

It happened at the seventh stroke of midnight. Ed was counting the peals out of habit, and on the sixth, Cin turned to him and said "Ed—"

So at the seventh stroke, Ed was looking straight at Cin, and could plainly see how Cin reached for him, kept reaching even after his arms snapped to his sides. How Cin's eyes went blank in the moment before he turned and ran, as an E-flat minor seventh hummed in the air.

Ed chased after him, calling his name, but Cin was faster. Compulsion magic, it had to be (and Ed would make a note of that chord in case he heard it again), which meant someone was confident of not being caught. Stupidly risky, considering that setting such a spell to go off in the middle of a crowd in the middle of the palace was not going to go unnoticed, but—he blinked, and Cin was gone.

There weren't any people-sized things large enough to hide Cin and close enough that he could have reached them in the literal eyeblink. Which meant more magic. Either an invisibility charm or a portal, and invisibility was the simpler of the two, which meant the likelier. "Baby, you thought you had me fooled, but I see right through you," he—it wasn't singing so much as vaguely tuneful gasped words, but his power coiled through the lyric, and—no, no magic being used anywhere in Ed's line of sight.

"Cin?" Ed called again, and tried to breathe, inhale, exhale, not going to do Cin any good while passed out. "Cináed!"

*  *  *

Tracing the compulsion magic on Cináed proved difficult, since Edward himself was the only one who could confirm its existence and he'd kind of sneaked out of that lesson to go busk in the park under an illusion; possibly that was the day he'd met Cin... Tracing the magic that had given Cináed what Yasmin was calling his Cinderella ball gown—his name starts with C-I-N and he ran from the ball at midnight, ha ha ha—that was easier, since Yasmin had gotten a good whiff of the magic and Alice an excellent if brief look at it during the dancing.

"He summoned me," said the fairy Yasmin netted that way, Arista. "He wanted to go to this ball of yours." She looked around: no dancing, no music, nothing but milling people not permitted to leave. "Not much of a ball."

"That might," said Ed flatly, "be because somebody kidnapped my man out of the middle of it."

Arista raised an eyebrow. "So you're why he wanted to go so badly. Didn't you think to give him an invite?"

"I invited him personally," Ed snapped back. "He told me he might not be—" Wait. "Why would he not be able to come?"

"Other obligations?" asked Alice. "Work, family—"

"Ask his family," said Yasmin. "They'd know his schedule."

*  *  *

The ballerina statuette was sturdier than the wall. That was good. That would help him make a hole in the wall big enough to get out. He didn't know what was out, but it had to be better than what was in.

He didn't even know his own name. How odd.

Odd. That was important.

The hole in the wall was gone as if it had never been.

*  *  *

Cináed's surname was McKenna. Deirdre McKenna was not at the ball. Her daughters Anastasia and Drizella Wood were. "Cináed, yes," said Anastasia. "He stayed home to study tonight."

"Not that they'd let Cinderfella in the door," said Drizella, snorting a laugh.

Yasmin glanced at Ed and shrugged. Ed didn't like the implications of Cin's family calling him 'Cinderfella', but that could wait.

"What about your mother?" Yasmin asked.

"Oh, she went home," said Drizella. Anastasia's eyes widened. "Right after—" Drizella caught herself and shut up.

"Right after what?" Ed asked, but he already knew.

*  *  *

Deirdre McKenna seemed to be expecting unpleasant company: the borders of her property refused to let Ed cross. Or Yasmin. Or Alice, who frowned at whatever she saw when she touched the barrier; Ed couldn't make any sense of what he heard when doing the same.

"We could wait," Alice said finally. "But she'd probably recast the ward just before this one fell, so we couldn't count on an opening. Or we could stop being the size person she expects to try to cross it."

"Say that again, in words," said Yasmin.

Alice grinned. "She's got it set to only reject adult-sized people. Tiny people should have no trouble." She fumbled in her apron pocket and came out with a canister of breath mints; she dropped two into her hand, put the rest away, and hurried through a chant under her breath. She held one mint out to each companion. "Eat this."

Ed took his but didn't eat it. "What does it do?" he asked warily.

"It won't hurt," Alice assured him. "I'd never risk His Highness."

"I notice you don't have one," said Yasmin.

"Somebody's got to make sure you're back at proper size once you're past the wards." Alice smiled at Yasmin.

Ed popped the breath mint into his mouth. Yasmin followed suit a moment later. Ed rode out the peculiar sensation of being compressed, then looked up, and up, at Alice. Then took three steps and looked up at her from the other side of the ward. "Thanks," he said.

Yasmin followed him across, and a few moments later they were looking at Alice from adult heights. "Go," said Alice, "I'll keep an eye out out here."

"You find him," Yasmin said. "I'll be the distraction."

Ed hummed: I lost myself in a familiar song, closed my eyes and I slipped away... A moment after that, he was looking at the world through the ripple effect caused by an illusion, in this case an illusion that said no one was there.

Yasmin walked right up to the front door and kicked it in. (Ed had already known not to annoy the princess his parents had hoped he'd marry, but that cemented it.) "Deirdre McKenna!" she shouted. "Come out from wherever you're hiding!"

Ed slipped in after her. He glanced into each room, listening intently for magic and looking for Cin. The ground floor was empty. So was the floor above, though there was a tense moment on the stairs as McKenna descended while Ed was climbing.

Basement, then...

The jangling was audible as soon as Ed opened the basement door. He dashed down the steps, less careful not to be heard, and Cin didn't even look up from scrubbing a stain on the concrete.

*  *  *

Someone was singing.

Your love is like a river, peaceful and deep
Your soul is like a secret that I never could keep

Who among his kin would sing to him? Where was the singer?

Kin. Like 'odd', that was important.

Kin. Odd.

Cináed slammed the ballerina statuette into the wall one more time, because the singing was coming from out and he needed to be out

The statuette shattered and the world with it.

Green eyes met his from a few inches away. "Cin?" asked the singer.

"Can this be true?" Cináed asked. "Tell me, can this be real?"

Ed laughed, relief, not scorn. "How can I put into words what I feel?"

Cináed smiled and Ed smiled back, and something exploded upstairs.

*  *  *

Police cars surrounded the McKenna home. Cináed, pleading a splitting headache, had his hands over his eyes to block out the flashing blue and red lights. Ed sat next to him on the sidewalk, one arm over his shoulder, and two police stood guard a few feet away. Two more were several feet away in the other direction, on the opposite side of Yasmin and Alice, while another half dozen or more swarmed the house. Ed was surprised none of them had yet started to politely and calmly explain exactly why it was a very bad idea for the prince of the realm and a visiting princess to throw themselves into danger the way they had.

Deirdre McKenna was escorted out, swearing, hands cuffed behind her back. "You'll want to see this," Ed said to Cin.

"No, not really," Cin answered. "Let the past stay past, y'know?"

"Anything you say, Snow White," Ed said cheerily.

Cin uncovered his eyes to blink at Ed. "Say what?"

"Well, I woke you with a kiss..."

"I broke out all on my own," Cin retorted. "Screw you."

Ed grinned. "Maybe later."

"Boys," said Yasmin and Alice in chorus.