"Sorry," she said. Her hand felt small and cold in his. "Wasn't really paying attention."
"I know." He tried to keep the worry out of his voice. She hadn't really been "paying attention" to anything for the past two weeks. At first she'd cried, and then been angry-angry that she couldn't join the patrols looking for Jace, angry at the Council's endless grilling, angry that she was being kept virtually a prisoner at home because she was under suspicion from the Clave. Most of all she'd been angry at herself for not being able to come up with a rune that would help. She would sit at her desk at night for hours, her stele clutched so tightly in whitening fingers that Simon was afraid it would snap in half. She'd try to force her mind to present her with a picture that would tell her where Jace was. But night after night nothing happened.
She looked older, he thought as they entered the park through a gap in the stone wall on Fifth Avenue. Not in a bad way, but she was different from the girl she'd been when they had walked into the Pandemonium Club on that night that had changed everything. She was taller, but it was more than that. Her expression was more serious, there was more grace and force in the way she walked, her green eyes were less dancing, more focused. She was starting to look, he realized with a jolt of surprise, like Jocelyn.
Clary paused in a circle of dripping trees; the branches blocked most of the rain here, and Isabelle and Clary leaned their umbrellas against the trunks of nearby trees. Clary unclasped the chain around her neck and let the bell slide into her palm. She looked around at all of them, her expression serious. "This is a risk," she said, "and I'm pretty sure if I take it, I can't go back from it. So if any of you don't want to come with me, it's all right. I'll understand."
Simon reached out and put his hand over hers. There was no need to think. Where Clary went, he went. They had been through too much for it to be any other way. Isabelle followed suit, and lastly Alec; rain dripped off his long black lashes like tears, but his expression was resolute. The four of them held hands tightly.
Clary rang the bell.
There was a sensation as if the world were spinning-not the same sensation as being flung through a Portal, Clary thought, into the heart of a maelstrom, but more as if she were sitting on a merry-go-round that had begun to spin faster and faster. She was dizzy and gasping when the sensation stopped suddenly and she was standing still again, her hand clasped with Isabelle's, Alec's, and Simon's.
They released one another, and Clary glanced around. She had been here before, in this dark brown, shining corridor that looked as if it had been carved out of a tiger's eye gemstone. The floor was smooth, worn down by the passage of thousands of years' worth of faerie feet. Light came from glinting chips of gold in the walls, and at the end of the passage was a multicolored curtain that swayed back and forth as if moved by wind, though there was no wind here underground. As Clary drew near to it, she saw that it was sewed out of butterflies. Some of them were still alive, and their struggles made the curtain flutter as if in a stiff breeze.
She swallowed back the acid taste in her throat. "Hello?" she called. "Is anyone there?"
The curtain rustled aside, and the faerie knight Meliorn stepped out into the hallway. He wore the white armor Clary remembered, but there was a sigil over his left breast now-the four Cs that also decorated Luke's Council robes, marking him as a member. There was a scar, also, on Meliorn's face that was new, just under his leaf-colored eyes. He regarded her frigidly. "One does not greet the Queen of the Seelie Court with the barbarous human 'hello,'" he said, "as if you were hailing a servant. The proper address is 'Well met.'"
"But we haven't met," said Clary. "I don't even know if she's here."
Meliorn looked at her with scorn. "If the Queen were not present and ready to receive you, ringing the bell would not have brought you. Now come: follow me, and bring your companions with you."
Clary turned to gesture at the others, then followed Meliorn through the curtain of tortured butterflies, hunching her shoulders in the hopes that no part of their wings would touch her.
One by one the four of them stepped into the Queen's chamber. Clary blinked in surprise. It looked entirely different from how it had the last time she'd been here. The Queen reclined on a white and gold divan, and all around her stretched a floor made of alternating squares of black and white, like a great checkerboard. Strings of dangerous-looking thorns hung from the ceiling, and on each thorn was impaled a will-o'-the-wisp, its normally blinding light flickering as it died. The room shimmered in their glow.
Meliorn went to stand beside the Queen; other than him the room was empty of courtiers. Slowly the Queen sat up straight. She was as beautiful as ever, her dress a diaphanous mixture of silver and gold, her hair like rosy copper as she arranged it gently over one white shoulder. Clary wondered why she was bothering. Of all of them there, the only one likely to be moved by her beauty was Simon, and he hated her.
"Well met, Nephilim, Daylighter," she said, inclining her head in their direction. "Daughter of Valentine, what brings you to me?"
Clary opened her hand. The bell shone there like an accusation. "You sent your handmaiden to tell me to ring this if I ever needed your help."
"And you told me you wanted nothing from me," said the Queen. "That you had everything you desired."
Clary thought back desperately to what Jace had said when they had had an audience with the Queen before, how he had flattered and charmed her. It was as if he had suddenly acquired a whole new vocabulary. She glanced back over her shoulder at Isabelle and Alec, but Isabelle only made an irritable motion at her, indicating that she should keep going.
"Things change," Clary said.
The Queen stretched her legs out luxuriously. "Very well. What is it you want from me?"
"I want you to find Jace Lightwood."
In the silence that followed, the sound of the will-o'-the-wisps, crying in their agony, was softly audible. At last the Queen said, "You must think us powerful indeed if you believe the Fair Folk can succeed where the Clave has failed."
"The Clave wants to find Sebastian. I don't care about Sebastian. I want Jace," Clary said. "Besides, I already know you know more than you're letting on. You predicted this would happen. No one else knew, but I don't believe you sent me that bell when you did-the same night Jace disappeared-without knowing something was brewing."
"Perhaps I did," said the Queen, admiring her shimmering toenails.
"I've noticed the Fair Folk often say 'perhaps' when there is a truth they want to hide," Clary said. "It keeps you from having to give a straight answer."
"Perhaps so," said the Queen with an amused smile.
"'Mayhap' is a good word too," Alec suggested.
"Also 'perchance,'" Izzy said.
"I see nothing wrong with 'maybe,'" said Simon. "A little modern, but the gist of the idea comes across."
The Queen waved away their words as if they were annoying bees buzzing around her head. "I do not trust you, Valentine's daughter," she said. "There was a time I wanted a favor from you, but that time is over. Meliorn has his place on the Council. I am not sure there is anything you can offer me."
"If you thought that," said Clary, "you never would have sent the bell."
For a moment their eyes locked. The Queen was beautiful, but there was something behind her face, something that made Clary think of the bones of a small animal, whitening in the sun. At last the Queen said, "Very well. I may be able to help you. But I will desire recompense."
"Shocker," Simon muttered. He had his hands jammed into his pockets and was looking at the Queen with loathing.
The Queen's eyes flashed. A moment later Alec staggered back with a cry. He was holding his hands out before him, gaping, as the skin on them wrinkled and his hands curved inward, bent, the joints swollen. His back hunched, his hair graying, his blue eyes fading and sinking into deep wrinkles. Clary gasped. Where Alec had been, an old man, bent and white-haired, stood trembling.
"How swift mortal loveliness does fade," the Queen gloated. "Look at yourself, Alexander Lightwood. I give you a glimpse of yourself in a mere threescore years. What will your warlock lover say then of your beauty?"
Alec's chest was heaving. Isabelle stepped quickly to his side and took his arm. "Alec, it's nothing. It's a glamour." She turned on the Queen. "Take it off him! Take it off!"
"If you and yours will speak to me with more respect, then I might consider it."
"We will," Clary said quickly. "We apologize for any rudeness."
The Queen sniffed. "I rather miss your Jace," she said. "Of all of you, he was the prettiest and the best-mannered."
"We miss him too," said Clary in a low voice. "We didn't mean to be ill-mannered. We humans can be difficult in our grief."
"Hmph," said the Queen, but she snapped her fingers and the glamour fell from Alec. He was himself again, though white-faced and stunned-looking. The Queen shot him a superior look, and turned her attention to Clary.
"There is a set of rings," said the Queen. "They belonged to my father. I desire the return of these objects, for they are faerie-made and possess great power. They allow us to speak to one another, mind to mind, as your Silent Brothers do. At present I have it on good authority that they are on display in the Institute."
"I remember seeing something like that," Izzy said slowly. "Two faerie-work rings in a glass case on the second floor of the library."
"You want me to steal something from the Institute?" Clary said, surprised. Of all the favors she might have guessed the Queen would ask for, this one wasn't high on the list.
"It is not theft," said the Queen, "to return an item to its rightful owners."
"And then you'll find Jace for us?" said Clary. "And don't say 'perhaps.' What will you do exactly?"
"I will assist you in finding him," said the Queen. "I give you my word that my help would be invaluable. I can tell you, for instance, why all of your tracking spells have been for naught. I can tell you in what city he is most likely to be found-"
"But the Clave questioned you," interrupted Simon. "How did you lie to them?"
"They never asked the correct questions."
"Why lie to them?" demanded Isabelle. "Where is your allegiance in all this?"
"I have none. Jonathan Morgenstern could be a powerful ally if I do not make him an enemy first. Why endanger him or earn his ire at no benefit to ourselves? The Fair Folk are an old people; we do not make hasty decisions but first wait to see in what direction the wind blows."
"But these rings mean enough to you that if we get them, you'll risk making him angry?" Alec asked.
But the Queen only smiled, a lazy smile, ripe with promise. "I think that is quite enough for today," she said. "Return to me with the rings and we will speak again."
Clary hesitated, turning to look at Alec, and then Isabelle. "You're all right with this? Stealing from the Institute?"
"If it means finding Jace," Isabelle said.
Alec nodded. "Whatever it takes."
Clary turned back to the Queen, who was watching her with an expectant gaze. "Then, I think we have ourselves a bargain."
The Queen stretched and gave a contented smile. "Fare thee well, little Shadowhunters. And a word of warning, though you have done nothing to deserve it. You might well consider the wisdom of this hunt for your friend. For as is often the happenstance with that which is precious and lost, when you find him again, he may well not be quite as you left him."
It was nearly eleven when Alec reached the front door of Magnus's apartment in Greenpoint. Isabelle had persuaded Alec to come to Taki's for dinner with Clary and Simon, and though he had protested, he was glad he had. He had needed a few hours to settle his emotions after what had happened in the Seelie Court. He did not want Magnus to see how badly the Queen's glamour had shaken him.
He no longer had to ring the bell for Magnus to buzz him upstairs. He had a key, a fact he was obscurely proud of. He unlocked the door and headed upstairs, passing Magnus's first-floor neighbor as he did so. Though Alec had never seen the occupants of the first-floor loft, they seemed to be engaged in a tempestuous romance. Once there had been a bunch of someone's belongings strewn all over the landing with a note attached to a jacket lapel addressed to "A lying liar who lies." Right now there was a bouquet of flowers taped to the door with a card tucked among the blooms that read I'M SORRY. That was the thing about New York: you always knew more about your neighbors' business than you wanted to.
Magnus's door was cracked slightly open, and the sounds of music playing softly wafted out into the hall. Today it was Tchaikovsky. Alec felt his shoulders relax as the door of the apartment shut behind him. He could never be quite sure how the place was going to look-it was minimalist right now, with white couches, red stacking tables, and stark black-and-white photos of Paris on the walls-but it had begun to feel increasingly familiar, like home. It smelled like the things he associated with Magnus: ink, cologne, Lapsang Souchong tea, the burned-sugar smell of magic. He scooped up Chairman Meow, who was dozing on a windowsill, and made his way into the study.
Magnus looked up as Alec came in. He was wearing what for Magnus was a somber ensemble-jeans and a black T-shirt with rivets around the collar and cuffs. His black hair was down, messy and tangled as if he'd run his hands through it multiple times in annoyance, and his cat's eyes were heavy-lidded with tiredness. He dropped his pen when Alec appeared, and grinned. "The Chairman likes you."
"He likes anyone who scratches behind his ears," Alec said, shifting the dozing cat so that his purring seemed to rumble through Alec's chest.