“You’re, like. My best friend.”

Zoe doesn’t scream, although it’s mostly because she has her hands clamped over her mouth. Above them, her eyes are anime-girl wide; almost grotesque and comical. Eli shifts, awkward in the silence that’s dragging on far too long.

“So, um,” he says. “Ta-daa?” He sits up on his haunches as he says it, making a sort of car salesman gesture with his arms. Zoe’s eyes, if anything, go even wider, and a muffled squeak emerges from behind her fingers.

Eli lowers himself back down again. There’s no way he can be smaller than Zoe, short of lying on the ground, but he does his best anyway to make himself non-threatening. “Um. Zee? Say something, please?”

“You can talk!” Still muffled behind Zoe’s hands and woolen bracer things. But it’s a start.

“Um. Yeah?”

“You . . . you’re a dragon!”

“Apparently?”

“Since when?”

Eli shrugs. It’s more in the wings than the shoulders, and he doesn’t miss the way Zoe’s eyes follow the motion.

“A week?” he hazards, in answer to her question. “Since the peryton, really.”

Zoe drops her hands. She’s shifting back and forth, craning to look more at Eli now her shock is being replaced by curiosity. Something inside Eli unclenches in relief. If Zoe had been frightened by him . . .

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