"Concentrate on yourself; how you are, how you should be."

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The next morning, when Eli arrives at the mansion at the top of Rosemont Heights, Widow Adeline is waiting for him with a lawnmower.

"You're late," she says, peering down at an diamond-encrusted gold pocket watch.

Eli looks at his own watch. "I'm two minutes early!" 6:58am on a Saturday. Eli hadn't even know this time existed.

"By my watch, you are late."

Eli splutters at the indignity. His watch gets time from his phone, which in turn gets time from wherever it is that phones get the time from. Point being, a place more accurate than Widow Adeline's fingers can wind. Before he can figure out how to explain this, Adeline waves towards the lawnmower.

"Well," she says. "Get on with it. The grass will not cut itself."

Eli looks between Widow Adeline and the lawnmower. The thing must be older than he is, lurking, rust-covered and vicious, in the grass. "I thought you were going to teach me to be a dragon!" It sounds kind of stupid, now that he says it out loud.

It also earns him a scowl and a tsch sort of noise. "Discretion, boy," Adeline scolds. "But, yes. That was the arrangement. This is your first lesson."

"To cut grass?"


"Which is teaching me what?"

"Well," is the answer, smirk curling blood-red lips. "You'll have the entire time you're doing it to work that out."


Which is how Eli spends an hour and a half on the first morning of his life as a dragon mowing some evil old witch's lawn.

He's never mowed a lawn before. They didn't have one in the city and Aunt Addi has more of a weed patch than a garden. Eli's watched people do it in movies, of course, so he gets the general gist: turn on lawnmower, drag across lawn. Completing the first step alone takes him fifteen minutes and Google.

Nonetheless, he gets the job done. Mostly. And even puts the mower away in a space in the huge garage that, judging by the ring of dead grass, it had been removed from. By the time he gets back into the house, he's hot and sweaty and stinks like gas. On the plus side, Widow Adeline greets him in the kitchen and-after admonishing him for tracking dirt into her house (he didn't)-sits him down and serves him an enormous breakfast of eggs, bacon, and sausage.

"I can't eat all of that!" Eli says, although his stomach rumbles in a way that suggests it begs to differ.

"Your appetite will change." Widow Adeline is perched on a stool on the far side of the kitchen counter, drinking more coffee from another tiny little cup. "Your true form takes a great deal of energy. Focus on protein, primarily meat. You may find you start to lose your taste for vegetables and sugars."

"Good thing I'm not a vegetarian," Eli says, and eats a piece of bacon.

Despite his protestations, he practically inhales the breakfast. Even then, he still feels he could eat a whole other portion. Widow Adeline just laughs her husky laugh when he tells her this, patting him on the shoulder as if he's just done something particularly clever.

This morning, she's wearing some kind of silk kaftan and head wrap ensemble in gold and blues that shimmers like an ocean sunrise. She still looks about a hundred years out of date, bare feet slipping quietly across marble as she leads Eli through her home.

They go down, into a surprisingly plain-seeming basement-no velvet or curios in sight-and stop in front of a steel door with a giant wheel on the front. It looks like a bank safe, and Widow Adeline uses a little plastic swipe card, plus a code she types into a little keypad, to open it.

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