Okay, first things first. This is a side story of Child of the Storm starring Wanda Maximoff and Harry Dresden as they kick ass together. That is why it is filed in the Harry Potter/Avengers crossover section like its parent fic rather than, say, Dresden Files/Avengers, even though Harry Potter himself is only mentioned and it is almost entirely from Dresden's perspective.
If you have not read up to Chapter 58 of Child of the Storm at the very least, and I cannot stress this enough, turn your ass back around and get back to reading that, otherwise you will face spoilers and confusion.
You have been warned.
Now, for those of you who are still here, this was originally going to be a little one shot I put together in my spare time. As with all my projects, it sort of grew. Now, it's a fairly lengthy two shot, the second part of which is almost complete. It just needs a bit of touching up and another scene to be written up.
I was intending to wait until I'd written up both chapters and post them both at once, but since you, my patient fans, have been waiting so long for an update of Child of the Storm that I would give you something. Speaking of which, I swear to every god listening that one is coming. I have the next chapter planned out. I haven't hit writers' block so much as I have temporarily stalled. This largely thinks to RL commitments, essays and the like, the complexity of the extended finale – lots of loose ends to tie up – meaning that I feel the need to tread extremely carefully, my muse being unhelpful and this.
I tried to make this as accessible as I could to non-Dresden fans and cover the recapping, so there's a fair bit of exposition (which I also tried to limit as much as I could), but I realise that it's not perfect.
Also, my crazy brain put together Wanda and Dresden, cackled, and started shipping them. I swear to God, I have no idea how it happened. It just did.
So, for now, enjoy.
When I walked into Mac's, I was hit by a wave of comforting warmth. I savoured it. Normally, Chicago has warmed up by Easter, but not always. There was a definite chill in the air, and the wind had been biting.
Also, my car had broken down. Again.
The Blue Beetle is a noble machine, but even with Mike, my miracle performing mechanic at work; it still breaks down with painful regularity. So, I had to walk.
I'd been called to Mac's by a new client, who had specifically mentioned 'Accorded Neutral Territory'. This meant two things. First, she – and based on the voice, I was dealing with a she – was familiar with the supernatural scene. Very few people outside of it know about Mac's, to the point where I half suspect that Mac's got wards to discourage ordinary people from noticing his tavern. Second, she was wary, whether it was of me or the reason she was calling on my services. Or even both.
This, needless to say, both intrigued me and put me on my guard. After Paris, I had gone out, mystically speaking, armed to the teeth, staff in hand, blasting rod hanging just inside my coat. My hand cannon was in my pocket, fully loaded, along with six of those speed loader things that Murphy had been going on at me to get. Actually dying, however briefly, tends to change your outlook a bit.
While they wouldn't be of much use against the veidrdraugar unless I got a clean head shot, which since they hunt in packs probably wouldn't help me much, I had also asked SHIELD for a handgun version of their 'Deity class' submachine guns. It had been more in hope than expectation, as I severely doubted that SHIELD would be particularly eager to hand out a pocket sized WMD to a civilian, but Coulson must have pulled some strings, because apparently one was on order. That or Gemma was building one for me.
My old, damaged shield bracelet had also been discarded, in favour of one I'd been working on ever since I'd got over my pyrophobia. It would stop just about anything, including heat, a function which I had tested exhaustively. This meant that it required more power, but I found that I preferred getting tired to getting dead.
Leaving all that aside, I was also wearing my enchanted leather duster, which is tougher than any body armour on the market, though some of SHIELD's newer gear might give it a run for its money, and working on new versions of my force ring. Lots of them.
I scanned the room, looking for likely candidates for my client, and was very surprised to Murphy. She was sitting at a table with a woman who was dressed in dark red. A… well, I had to call a spade a spade: an absolutely drop dead gorgeous woman. For a moment, I stared at her, jaw hanging loose, before I cranked it shut and studied her.
She had chestnut brown hair that existed on the edge between curly and wavy, intelligent eyes the colour of new grass and strong, clean cut and ever so slightly elfin bone structure that was only accentuated by her full lips.
Her clothing was fairly interesting too, if only for the fact that it accented her shapely figure. An unzipped ox blood leather coat on top of a cream button down shirt accounted for her upper body, while intriguingly tight red jeans and a pair of black pumps accounted for her lower body.
Examination done, I tried not to stare. While she was an awfully attractive woman, and I hadn't… well, had a girlfriend, for a good couple of years now, not only was it impolite, awfully attractive women tend to set off my alarm bells.
Why? Because extremely good looks are stock in trade for a number of supernatural predators and a fair number of mundane ones, both male and female – though resisting the charms of the former tends to be less of a problem for me. As a culture, we're trained to believe that good looks equal a good person.
Take it from me, they really, really don't.
That isn't to say that pretty people are evil. My brother, Thomas, is very pretty, being a vampire of the White Court, and he's one of the most decent people that I know. Of course, he's also an irritating little shit sometimes, but that's because he's my brother and doesn't specifically pertain to his placing on the Jedi-Sith index. Murphy's certainly pretty, and she's as good a person as I've ever known, though she's one hell of a lot more than that.
And part of the one hell of a lot more is possessing good instincts. Murphy's usually a good judge of when someone's on the level. Usually. Not always. I have the chipped tooth to prove it.
Anyway. What I'm saying is that when I went over, Accorded Neutral Territory or not, I was wary. This wariness was slightly tempered, however, by the conversation I overheard.
"… and it took me years to get respect from all the mystic brotherhoods. I mean, these are guys who get a migraine if they try to light a candle, and the only thing about me that persuaded them to pay attention was the fact that I was young and attractive," the woman was saying, rolling her eyes.
I could empathise with what she was saying. While the White Council itself is a relatively liberal organisation in terms of gender relations, since there is no power difference between men and women, the various allies and hangers on, the Venatori (Masons with added machine guns) and the like weren't always so enlightened, particularly the older members.
I could relate. While I didn't have the problem of being taken seriously, I did have the problem of everyone thinking that I was a ticking time bomb of warlocky evil.
"Hey," I said, being a suave and charming type. "Room for one more?"
Murphy looked up at me and smiled, as did the other woman, though her eyes flicked up and down my body, assessing me.
No, alas, not like that.
"Hey Harry," Murphy said. "Wanda, this is Harry. Harry, Wanda."
I reached and shook the woman's hand. She was tall for a woman, I noticed, and had a strong grip.
Then, it clicked.
And I did something truly shameful.
"I did not."
Murphy's expression could only be described as gleeful. "You went into fangirl mode."
"I did not," I protested.
"That sounded like a squee to me," Wanda Maximoff, a.k.a. the Scarlet Witch, said, smirking and sipping her beer. "Don't worry. I get that a lot."
I would like to set the record straight here. I glowered in a manly fashion. I did not sulk. No matter what Murphy says, I did not sulk. Or pout. I am a wizard and such things are beneath me.
"I know. It's kind of cute on him, isn't it?" Wanda said, a wicked twinkle in her eye.
Murphy went ever so slightly pink. "A little."
Wanda looked between the two of us with the slight, amused smile that was, according to Ebenezar, her mentor's trademark. Well, his exact words had been somewhat blunter and less complimentary. The most printable phrase was 'smug bastard'.
While Ebenezar has never been a fan of the White Council's proclivity for internal politics and very much approved of Strange's famous challenge, he's not fond of people acting like they know everything, which, apparently Strange usually does. By which I mean, he usually seems to know everything and almost invariably acts like it. Personally, I rather like the idea of someone asking Council's collective geriatric ass if it's feeling lucky, and I consider being irritating to be a much underrated art form, so I'm less bothered by the idea.
"I'll go and get another beer for Mister Dresden," she said. I began to rise and voice a protest, but she waved it away. "You had to walk down here in the freezing cold because of me. The least I can do is go and get you a drink. Karrin, could you please fill him in on why I'm here?"
"Of course," Murphy said.
"Thanks," Wanda said, and made her way up to the bar. I stared after her, faintly creeped out.
"How did she know that the Beetle was dead?" I asked, slightly worried.
"I told her," Murphy said dryly.
Well, that was rather less eldritch than expected and it raised Wanda's stock in my personal estimation. While she was a legend, there is a reason for the maxim 'never meet your heroes'. They never live up to expectations, and do you know why? It's because they're people. And even the best people screw up massively every now and then.
The reason this mundane answer impressed me was because it's very easy, when you're wielding a fundamental force of the universe and channelling cosmic energies, to lose perspective, to turn to magic to answer all your questions and solve all your problems. And, to an extent, it can. But there's a price. There's always a price. And there's something to be said for the simple solution.
Murphy coughed, drawing me out of my reverie. I started slightly, remembering that Murphy was going to full me in and gave her an expectant look. In response, I got a pair of raised eyebrows that spoke volumes, then she explained.
"Wanda wants her help to stop some demons," she said. "Called something I can't pronounce. Apparently they've been popping up all over the world, sometimes along with another bunch called the Mindless Ones."
I blinked owlishly. "Well, that search won't take long."
"Yeah. I'll just ring up Billy and ask him where Chicago's biggest frat is."
I heard a warm, pleasant chuckle behind me.
Laughter's important. It's something that many of us don't think about, but the way someone laughs is important. There's even a kind of fear demon that's common in Europe which can be hurt, even destroyed, by human laughter. I think it's called a Boggart.
Laughter can warm your heart and make you smile. It can raise the hairs on the back of your neck and set your every nerve on edge. And it can cut you to the bone and make you feel like the smallest most pathetic excuse for a human in the whole world.
I usually hear examples two and three. Number two usually comes from many of the assorted nasties I face, when they're in full on supervillain note. No matter how human they look, or sound, there's usually an undercurrent, a niggling sense of something wrong.
Number three comes in every now and then, when someone feels like being cruel. Children do it, because they don't know better. Adults do it because they want to put someone down. I've heard it in playgrounds and police stations, and it never gets any better, even if it's not directed at you. You just learn to cover up the hurt better. Believe me, I know. Prior to the Battle of New York which made humanity start to believe again, I got a lot of it. Advertising yourself to be a wizard in a world that thinks that it knows everything is asking for trouble.
Some Wizards have speculated that human laughter contains a tone that we instinctively recognise and it sets us at ease, the same tone which kills Boggarts, which is why it sets us on edge when we hear something inhuman laugh. Try it yourself – and I don't mean track down your nearest vampire or troll and start tickling. That is a very good way to end up very dead.
No, instead I would suggest that you look up an audio clip of a hyena's laughter. Listen to it. Just listen. And I guarantee that your hairs will be rising on the back of your neck, because your instincts know, they just know, that something is not right here.
I don't usually hear the first kind of laugh. It can come in many forms. You have the high, piping laughter of a happy child, the indulgent laughter of a parent or the easy laughter of someone whose company you're perfectly comfortable in, whether that person is your friend, your family or your lover. I could list them all day, and I'd still not be done.
Laughter is one of the things that the real monsters can't copy or take away. They can only give the world a twisted, fun house mirror version of it. Laughter can hurt, yes. But it can also heal. It can bring a little bit of warmth, light and joy into the world.
Laughter is important. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.
Wanda's laugh was that kind of laugh. It was a laugh that made you smile and warmed you up a little bit. It was something I could have listened to all day.
"Unfortunately, we're not hunting frat boys, fun as that sounds," she said. "Mindless Ones are a kind of demon. Or, more accurately, a semi-sentient magical construct." She sat down. "And they aren't the main problem."
"What is?" I asked.
I winced. The N'Garai are nasty customers, foot soldiers of the Elder God Chthon, ruled and led by a caste of Generals, Mabdhara, known as the Watchers of the Lost Way. I relayed this to Murphy. Wanda nodded.
"That's a pretty good summary," she said.
"How tough are they?" Murph asked.
"Tough," I said, somewhat unhelpfully. "I'm not sure how, I've never run across them."
"A bit tougher than a Red Court vampire. They're stronger, certainly, but not as fast and certainly not as bright. They're about as smart as the average dog," Wanda said clinically. "Except for the Mabdhara. They're the Generals. Each is about the size of a rubbish truck, weighs in at between eight to ten tons and strong enough to go toe to toe with a powerful Asgardian. They're reasonably smart and have a degree of psychic control over their lesser brethren. They're known as the Watchers of the Lost Way because they're considered to be the heralds of Chthon. That may be because their very presence weakens the boundaries of reality."
I winced again. "Last time I went up against something that powerful, I only got out because your mentor pulled a Deus Ex Machina on my ass," I said.
"Trust me, Gravemoss is a lot worse than one of the Madbhara. And don't worry. I'll handle that side of it," Wanda said calmly, tone suggesting that she'd done it many times before. "What I'm worried about is kicking a hornet's nest, so to speak, and having a couple of dozen N'Garai running around eating people while I'm handling the Mabdhara. And there'll be Mindless Ones too."
"I might be able to manage that," I said, a touch doubtfully. "You said that they were the Heralds of Chthon. That they weaken dimensional barriers." I glanced at Murphy. "Think what Bianca and Mavra were pulling with the Nightmare a few years back."
Murphy grimaced. "Gotcha."
"Yes?" Wanda asked.
"What does it mean if Chthon's already here? Sort of."
"What do you mean, 'sort of'?" Wanda asked. Her voice was carefully measured.
"I looked at one of the veidrdraugar through the Sight under Paris," I said, shivering as the memory played itself back in glorious Technicolor and full Surround Sound. "And… Chthon spoke to me. He shut down my Sight."
Wanda stared at me for a moment, going milk white.
Then she began to swear.
I have never heard so many swear words in my life, let alone ones so exotic and deployed with such vehemence behind them. The tirade got the attention of the entire bar.
I leaned back in my seat, and exchanged a look with Murphy. She looked impressed. I probably looked a little terrified. Wanda Maximoff is not someone to be taken lightly and there isn't much difference, when one really thinks about it, between invective and magic. Both are words with a lot of emotion put behind them that can do a lot of damage, properly applied.
Admittedly, I have yet to see a well applied 'fuck' or 'shit' level a building, but from the (admittedly, rather lovely) mouth of Wanda Maximoff... well. There's a first time for everything.
After a while, she began to repeat herself, and, recognising this, she began to run out of steam, letting out a sigh when she finished. "You're sure," she said. It wasn't a question, but I answered it as such.
She pinched the brow of her nose and sighed. "Dammit. This makes things much more urgent."
"Why?" Murphy asked. "Who's this Chthon guy?"
"Chthon is an Elder God," Wanda said. "Specifically, his domain was Chaos, though he was a dab hand with dark magic too, to the point that some consider him the God of Black Magic too. He was banished from this dimension millions upon millions of years ago. But he left behind the Darkhold. It's a book of dark magic, the book of dark magic, but it's much more than that. It is to Chthon what the One Ring was to Sauron, but infinitely worse. It's sentient, it wants to free him, it's totally indestructible and its very existence outside of its prison is degrading the walls of reality."
"What does that mean?"
"It means that things that look at humanity as toys or lunch can come through much more easily than they would otherwise be able to," Wanda said. "You've dealt with the Fae before?"
"Once," Murphy said slowly. "I think."
"Yeah," I confirmed. "Walmart."
"Oh," Murphy said, and rubbed her knee, glowering at me. "That plan of yours put me out of action for three months, you know." She turned to Wanda. "We were being chased by a plant monster in a Walmart, so his brilliant idea was to throw marbles everywhere. And it was foggy."
Wanda winced. "Knee?"
"I said I was sorry," I mumbled.
Murphy rolled her eyes at me, then frowned at Wanda. "You're saying that more like that is coming through?"
"We're probably looking at the entire collection of Grimm's Fairytales and then some," Wanda said. "And that's just the start: Surtur's stirring. Lucifer's testing his bonds. The big guns down below are on the move."
"You mean, the forces of hell," Murphy said flatly.
"Not just one hell," Wanda said. "Every hell. Every two bit dimension lord is looking to get in on the Earth real estate market." She met my gaze briefly. "And if we don't stop them... a few N'Garai running loose won't even register as a blip on the radar."
Some days, I just love my job.
Shortly afterwards, we finished our beers and all piled into Murphy's Saturn. Or, more accurately, I ceded the front seat to Wanda, then folded myself into the kitchen cupboard that Murphy claims is a backseat. I considered the fact that I only fell on my face once, legs waving out the open door like those of an overturned beetle, to be an achievement.
Wanda very kindly didn't laugh, or if she did, hid it well. Murphy, on the other hand, pointed and laughed. At length. In response, I informed her that her car was clearly designed by and for Hobbits. We have that sort of friendship.
The drive from Mac's to my apartment isn't long, so I managed to lever myself out of Murphy's Iron Maiden on wheels in fairly short order, ineffectually shake off pins and needles and let us all in, where we found my apprentice, Bruce Wayne. I'd left him reviewing my notes on some of my more mundane old cases, going through them and making notes on what he would have done differently, while Mouse, my living sofa, sat with him. He'd done this whenever I set Bruce this particular exercise since he was a few weeks old, and I was getting a niggling feeling that the dog was learning to read. He certainly had enough opportunity. I set Bruce this exercise fairly regularly, and it was getting to the point where the two of us knew each other's investigative styles inside out. Plus, I'd been teaching him since he was about eight years old. So his response to being apprised of the situation was entirely predictable.
"Can I come along?" he asked.
I sighed. I was very rarely actually angry with Bruce, and when I was, it was usually because he'd done something stupid and I was worried about him.
Like, for instance, giving his butler/minder, Alfred, the slip and trying to sneak into Undertown, the vast network of tunnels, caverns and sunken buildings under Chicago.
Or trying to whistle up Mab, yes, that Mab, Queen of Air and Darkness, She Who Must Be Obeyed, for a chat.
Or trying to get involved in my most recent case, involving SHIELD, the Darkhold and an immortal necromancer called Gravemoss.
As you can probably tell, Bruce usually gets into trouble if left unsupervised. That's usually something of a problem, since even Thomas, an actual freaking vampire, thinks that he moves unnervingly quietly. If you're not looking, he can and will disappear from right under your nose.
The only one who's ever reliably managed to catch him at it is Murphy. No one's sure how she does it. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that she's his martial arts teacher. I've managed to stop him once or twice, as have Michael and Charity, who both seem to have some kind of sixth sense with children, but most of the time, he gets away clean. Alfred complains about it every now and then.
He and I chat every now and then, mostly on the grounds that due to his parents' working hours, we're the ones who do the day to day looking after of Bruce, it's best if we keep each other posted. Truth be told, he's not all that wild on the idea of Bruce coming with me on cases, or, indeed, learning about investigation and the supernatural, but the Undertown incident convinced him that if Bruce didn't do it with me, he'd just go out and do it by himself, and he has more than enough knowledge to get himself into one hell of a lot of trouble.
And that's the trouble with the kid, really. He's brilliant and he devours knowledge. He knows more about magical theory than I did at that age, hell, probably more than I did until relatively recently. But he has a thirst to know more, and that usually overrides his common sense.
On top of that, he has a serious yen for justice, which is often what gets him into one mess or another. He seems to think that his knowledge and his skills will get him out of trouble as fast as they get him into it.
Take it from me. They don't.
Thankfully, he's got better about it recently, but that doesn't change the fact that he's reckless in the extreme.
Stop looking at me like that. I'm not that bad. Any more.
Don't get me wrong, he's a great kid. When push comes to shove, he does do as I or Murph say. He's eager to learn, he knows how to listen (most of the time) and he doesn't complain when a case goes south and he ends up cold and wet or covered in gunk.
He's also a natural PI. He's got a very good eye for detail, he's excellent for bouncing ideas off and he's more methodical than a number of detectives, both private and police, that I could name. I can think of a couple of cases that I might not have solved without his assistance, and quite a few others that would have taken longer if he wasn't there.
Hell, take all that away, and he's still good with people, knowing when to charm, when to wheedle and when to use his family name to smooth our path.
But he's still reckless, and because there were some things it simply isn't safe for him to know, I'd kept a few things secret.
Like the fact that, on my last case, I'd died.
Doctor Strange, the Sorcerer Supreme, and Wanda's former teacher had brought me back. He'd brought me back because he felt that I was still needed. For what, I had absolutely no idea, but Strange doesn't intervene lightly and when he does, it has far reaching effects.
It occurred to me that technically he'd broken one of the Council's seven Laws of Magic, specifically the one about raising the dead. It also occurred to me that, as Wanda's experience showed, Stephen Strange cares very little about the views and rulings of the White Council.
And by Wanda's experience, I mean, the White Council wanted to take her into custody as a kid, either to train her up or, considering how badly how powers were flaring up, to have her quietly disposed of. After a stand-off with Albus Dumbledore and Charles Xavier, neither of them men to be taken lightly and neither of them men particularly inclined to hand over a child to the dubious justice of the White Council, Strange swept in and promptly challenged the entire Council to a duel.
All of them, against him.
Since just one member of the Senior Council, my former mentor, was the Blackstaff, assassin of the White Council, given the license to break the Laws of Magic at will and in that office had touched off Krakatoa, unleashed the New Madrid Earthquake, drawn down a meteor storm that became known as the Tunguska Incident and dropped a decommissioned Soviet satellite on Casaverde, this was something to think about. The entire White Council, working in concert, could theoretically bring down Thor and Loki, maybe both at once. And Strange would have known all of that and considerably more besides.
With all that in mind, that's one hell of a gauntlet to throw down.
In the end, though, no one picked it up and Strange left, Wanda at his side, without a backward glance.
To this day, no one's figured out whether he was bluffing or not. Equally, no one doubts that Strange possessed a truly humongous pair of balls for daring to make the challenge in the first place.
So, yeah, a piddly little thing like bringing me back from the dead and the potential consequences of that was unlikely to knock him off his stride.
The fact that I'd needed to be brought back in the first place, though... that scared me. It really, really scared me. I've had any number of close shaves over the years, occasionally escaping death by a literal hairsbreadth.
But, even if it's been by the skin of my teeth, I've managed to dodge the reaper and everything that's tried to bring her – according to a number of Wizards, Death is a beautiful young woman. Until recently, I'd ascribed this to wishful thinking. Now, while I hadn't seen Her, I had more of an open mind – down upon me.
I pushed it out of my mind. Brooding over it could wait. Now, I would have to deal with my apprentice.
Or rather, I didn't, because at that moment, Murphy rescued me.
"Come on, Bruce," she said. "I need to get ready. You can help me put together my gear."
"Because," Wanda said. "I and your teacher need to get changed." And there's not much space to do it in, she didn't add. She had a point. My rooms were basically confined to a bathroom, a living room/kitchen area, a bedroom and a small sub-basement.
Bruce frowned, nodded his comprehension, then followed Murphy out, shutting the door behind him.
She'd probably have him round up and check her guns and ammo while she got changed into tactical gear and take it as an opportunity to test him. While Bruce is my apprentice, Murphy is the one who teaches him the ins and outs of hand to hand combat and marksmanship. Like just about everything else he puts his mind to, he's very good at both of them – though he isn't all that fond of guns, and for good reason.
Thomas says that he respects her more than he does me. He's probably right. Murphy may be a tiny little person and look like a favourite aunt – and considering the size of her family, she probably is one – but this is the woman who was running Chicago PD's lacklustre answer to the weirdness back when the supernatural was, to most people, a joke. As a beat cop, took on a troll with only her night stick and a Loup-Garou, a werewolf on steroids, with only a .22 pistol.
Admittedly, that .22 pistol was loaded with bullets cast from inherited silver, so they packed more of a punch (the inherited part is a requirement, probably because that particular brand of werewolf is created by a curse on a bloodline), but still. It took serious guts. She's a major badass and the first name on any list of people who I trust without reserve to back me up.
For these reasons and many, many more, Bruce is simultaneously in awe of her and, though he'd never admit it, crushing on her. So, for the most part, he does as she says. For the most part.
With his and Murphy's leaving, Wanda and I were alone. I fidgeted for a moment. "Uh," I said eloquently.
"Yes?" she asked.
"I'll just go grab my stuff from my bedroom, then you can change in there," I said, then paused. I hadn't noticed her bring any bag of equipment.
As if reading my mind, she patted her jeans' pocket. "Extendable pockets," she said. "I've got it all in here."
"Well, that must make travelling easier," I said, going to my bedroom and trying not to think about the fact that she'd be following me in. I informed my libido that she would be going in after I had left and that now was really not the time.
"Much," she agreed, as I gathered up my combat clothes. "See you in a few."
Not knowing what to say in response, I mumbled an acknowledgement and stepped into the living room, and started getting dressed. As I did, morbid thoughts began to creep into my head. For instance, if I died again, would it be as relatively painless as it was last time? Or would it be that much more painful, since I would probably be eaten alive?
All morbid thoughts, however, were soon driven out of my head.
I jumped, turned and froze. Wanda had changed her pants into a close fitting, but not skin tight, pair of pants made of some strange material that I couldn't identify. Whatever it was, it looked like it had seen more than one fight, with scorch marks and mended tears visible even from here. That wasn't what caught my attention, however.
She had stripped off her shirt, revealing that the promise of her clothes held not a patch on the reality. To use an old, hackneyed term, she had curves in all the right places and it was all I could do not to stare. Instead, I focused on the more practical sports bra type arrangement.
"Uh, yeah?" I asked, trying to prevent my voice from rising several octaves. Mercifully, I had changed my clothes, so I wasn't caught even half naked.
"Could you undo my bra? The catch is stuck," she said, turning around and pointing at the offending catch.
This may come as a surprise, but being a professional wizard, PI and occasional consultant for CPD and SHIELD is not exactly something that has women flocking to your side. Most straights, normal people, think that I'm a crook and most people in the supernatural community are wary of me. The former is steadily changing, because people are beginning to accept that magic is real and dangerous. Which often means that they go from thinking that I'm a crook to thinking that I'm Darth Dresden.
That's not exactly surprising. I'm one of the 'haves' of the supernatural world. The White Council is, by definition, the one percent of the wandless magical community. And I'm powerful, even by the standards of the White Council. On my best day, I'm in the top twenty or thirty wandless Wizards on the planet, one of the top fifty general magical practitioners, and probably well within the top one hundred superpowered people.
At this point I should mention that while I'm far more powerful than, say, Captain America, Hawkeye or Black Widow that doesn't mean that each of them couldn't kick my ass six ways to Sunday without really trying. There's more than one kind of power. Plus, having power and applying it effectively are two very different things.
That power gives me abilities, resources and, frankly, options that a lot of the supernatural community don't have. Most of them have trouble lighting candles. Some of them are pretty powerful, and I've given them a few lessons on power control and taught them the Laws. But none of them are White Council level, let alone my level.
And then there's the things that I've done. I've faced down some very nasty people and not-people, and bloodied their noses. I've even killed a few of them. Most of that was by luck, careful planning and doing something that no one expected, but to the uninformed, I was just a little bit terrifying. Hell, quite a lot of the informed felt the same way.
What I'm trying to say is that, since my last girlfriend, Susan, got halfway turned into a being a vampire, turned down my proposal and skipped town to join an order of monster hunters, I haven't really had much in the way of dating action.
Scratch that, I haven't had any. The closest I've come is one encounter with Susan when she briefly returned on a mission last year and nearly having my life force eaten by Thomas' half-sister from the vampire side of his family, Inari Raith, an incipient succubus, who hadn't known what she was.
And before Susan, I hadn't really done much dating since my first girlfriend, Elaine. That one hadn't ended well either, and I'd spent a decade believing that a) she'd betrayed me to our teacher and foster father, Justin du Morne, who'd gone full Darth Vader on my ass, b) that the fire in which I'd killed Justin had killed her too.
We'd both been sixteen. At that point, most kids are just worrying about homework. Us, not so much.
As it turned out, she'd been enthralled. Enthrallment is a subtle form of mind control and the target does the spell caster's bidding, apparently of their own will. It also, like all forms of magical mind control, does severe damage to the target's mind. The fact that the spell had been broken so violently by Justin's death, which came at the same time as her losing literally everything she had ever known, hadn't helped. Elaine had ended up running and seeking asylum with the Summer Court of the Fae for a decade.
That one hadn't turned out so well either, but that's another story.
So, to recap, I hadn't done much in the way of dating recently, or overall.
What dating I have done has invariably ended very badly.
And Wanda was an awfully attractive woman.
"Harry?" she prompted.
I paused for a moment, trying both not to stare and think that I'd walked into a Penthouse letter, then said, "Sure."
I walked over, stepping over my small, hairy sofa, Mouse. He seemed to be grinning at me. I sighed slightly. This is the state of my life. I am getting sassed by my freaking dog.
Wanda waited patiently as I stepped up behind her. She wasn't a short woman, but I'm NBA tall, so her head came up to my shoulders, giving me a fine view down her not inconsiderable cleavage, which rose and fell as she breathed. I tore my gaze away and focused fiercely on the catch of her bra. It was one of those strange catch things.
I fiddled with it for a few moments, putting my tongue between my teeth and trying resolutely not to notice how both she and I responded when my fingers ghosted over her skin.
Eventually, I managed to unhook it, causing the two straps to flop out to either side. "There," I said, firmly squashing a feeling of faint disappointment that the entire thing hadn't fallen off there and then. "Done."
Wanda looked over her shoulder and gave me a dazzling smile. "Thank you," she said, then turned around, put her hands on my bare shoulders, went up on her tip toes and gave me a soft kiss on the cheek, bra covered breasts lightly brushing against my chest.
Maybe it was the fact that I hadn't got any, or even really been actually touched by a woman who wasn't trying to kill me, in a while, but it felt like someone had hit me with a jolt of electricity, warmth flooding through my cheeks and, for that matter, the rest of my body.
It took me a moment to realise that I was blushing, like a damn teenager.
I coughed and turned away, partly to conceal my blush and partly to conceal my body's other, significantly more embarrassing, response. "Right, well, I should go and, uh, do things. Important things," I said, and cast about for the black cotton shirt I usually wore to fights. Then I realised that I was wearing it.
"I thought you were planning to have a shower," Wanda said, voice full of amusement.
I went bright red.
Mouse let out a chuffing sound that almost seemed to approximate laughter. I glared at him and merely got a doggy grin in response.
"Right," I said. "Shower time. Don't worry, I'll be quick."
Wanda stifled a giggle – which, as it happened, did some very interesting things to her chest – and I realised what I'd just said.
How do I get out of this one?
"I didn't mean," I began.
"Go on," she said, grinning. "And I don't mind if you take a while." Her eyes took on a wicked gleam. "No, I don't mind at all..."
Wanda grinned as the tall wizard practically ran into the bathroom. She had to confess, he wasn't what she'd been expecting. She'd heard the stories, of course. Everyone had.
Harry Dresden, the Black Sheep of the White Council.
Harry Dresden, the man who had singlehandedly started a war between the White Council and the Red Court of Vampires for the sake of a woman he loved.
Harry Dresden, the adorable dork, who practically started stuttering every time he saw an attractive woman?
That last part, she hadn't been expecting. The first two, along with the numerous other stories which floated around him, whispers of how he'd killed the insane Summer Lady Aurora in single combat, taken on the Fallen and took the fight to Gravemoss beneath the catacombs of Paris, unleashing a strike that had practically punted the immortal necromancer into orbit, had given her certain expectations. Among those were that she would be working with a shadowy, brooding vigilante, a dark knight who unleashed terrible vengeance on the evil.
A good ally, in short, but not the most enjoyable of companions. What she had found, however, was significantly different.
He was tall and dark, and he definitely cut an imposing figure, all almost seven feet of him, wrapped in a long, black leather duster that belonged on the set of a spaghetti western.
He was well armed, too. The duster was enchanted, if she was any judge, to turn aside most things short of a rocket propelled grenade. A bracelet, surprisingly balanced and well made for his age, ringed with a series of miniature shields served as a defensive focus. The well carved staff in his right hand looked to be powerful and versatile focus, one that she reckoned would serve as an effective bludgeon if magic failed. Holstered in his duster was a blasting rod, good for more destructive battle magic. Reputation aside, she could see that he would be a good candidate.
If that weren't enough, he had a deep voice, too, a resonant baritone that could probably be heard halfway across a city, though he spoke softly much of the time, and he moved like he could handle himself, with or without magic.
And yet... he almost seemed shy.
It was different. Historically speaking, the men in her life had been supremely confident. Her father, Magneto, had always been magnificently self-possessed, getting people to follow him largely through sheer force of personality.
Her mentor, even surrogate father in many respects, Doctor Stephen Strange, had never seemed to be unsure for a single moment, as if everything that happened was following a script that he had not merely memorised, but written.
Her first really memorable boyfriend – and, let it not be forgotten, father of her child – John Constantine had practically defined insouciance, wandering into and out of trouble with a lazy quip and a lit cigarette. Admittedly, there had been fear and uncertainty under the façade, but you had to look quite hard to find it.
Her second memorable boyfriend, and most recent boyfriend full stop, had been Clint Barton, who had never been anything less than casually self-confident. Being the legendary Hawkeye, a master marksman without equal, able to hit just about anything that he aimed at, whether in snow, rain, heat or gloom of night, even if he wasn't actually looking at the target – one of his party tricks – or the target was behind him – another one of his party tricks – would instil that in a person.
Even her godson, Harry, had a certain magnetic and brash self-confidence about him, once you got past his immediate uncertainty and reserve.
Of course, all of those relationships had fallen apart, one way or another, with the possible exception of Stephen and her godson. The former, she hadn't seen more than once or twice in the last decade, and the latter, well... the rebuilding process was ongoing.
Maybe Dresden would be different, she thought, then stopped herself. She was getting a very long way ahead of herself.
First, she was here on business.
Second, for all she knew, he was dating someone else.
Third, even if he wasn't, and he happened to be interested – which, she thought with a smirk, he definitely was, if only on a physical level – he had some fairly considerable trauma in his past, as far as relationships went. His most recent girlfriend had been half turned by the Red Court, and he'd promptly kicked off a war to get her back.
A small, selfish part of her thought that, at the very least, it showed that he wasn't as commitment-phobic as her last two boyfriends. Most of her most felt very sorry for him, while another small part, this one pragmatic, pointed out that he was likely in no mental shape to sign the checks that his body seemed interested in writing. And to be honest, she wasn't sure that she was either.
Shortly after my shower, in which cold water proved an effective (but probably temporary) antidote for my sexual frustration – after my extremities started turning blue, anyway – Wanda, now fully dressed, left to scout out the N'Garai's lair. She did so alone on the grounds that she knew how the creatures in question operated, so was best suited to defend herself if caught unawares. What she didn't say was that if she went alone, she wouldn't have to worry about trying simultaneously to find the demons, scout the area, watch her own back and watch mine.
I was fine with this as it left with time to put together my gear and get myself in the right frame of mind for a big fight. This wasn't exactly a process that required meditation, incense and total calm – that's rituals – so I wasn't entirely out of it and thus wasn't surprised when Murphy and Bruce walked in. Murphy was present because she was helping and my flat had been designated as HQ. Bruce was present because Murphy wouldn't have had time to drop him off at home, so probably felt that it was best to keep him where she could see him. Also, he's my apprentice, so he's often around my apartment in one capacity or another and has an almost unparalleled nose for trouble.
The two of them settled down, Bruce with a bunch of my notebooks in his lap and a pair of earphones in his ears – clearly he'd got round to magic proofing that MP3 player of his, Murphy with her weapons, which she set about cleaning. We soon got to chatting, because I don't tend to stay silent around other people and it was a good way to distract ourselves from the fact that we were soon to be fighting fiends from the Netherworld.
Since Bruce was apparently dead to the world and Murphy and I are close friends, I mentioned what happened earlier, if only to simply talk about it. I could have spoken to Thomas or Bob, but neither of them would have been even close to helpful.
Murphy listened, gave me a level look, then said calmly, "Wanda's attracted to you."
I stared stupidly at Murphy for a moment, before I processed what she was saying. "No she's not," I said.
Murphy let out a disgusted sigh. "For the love of god, Harry, she asked you to take off her bra," she said. "What else does she have to do, shove her tits in your face?"
I blushed and there was a loud crash as Bruce, carrying the finished pile of notebooks back towards my basement lab, tripped over his own feet. "The what now?" he asked, dazed and incredulous, from the floor. He removed an earphone as he did, but he might as well not have bothered – I could see the other end of the earphones trailing from his pocket. He'd been listening in on our conversation. The small part of me that wasn't currently mortified and frantically trying to suppress the mental image of Wanda doing exactly as Murphy had suggested was split between admiration for his ingenuity and profound irritation.
"Your teacher is the most oblivious man on the face of the Earth," Murphy said, putting her hands on her hips. "For goodness sake, Harry. This is a woman who you've said is pretty much the most powerful sorceress on the planet."
"Well, second most powerful," I began.
Murphy rolled her eyes. "Not the point," she said. "She told me earlier that she can manipulate probability. If the strap was really stuck, I'm pretty sure that she could have got it off very easily by herself. She could probably have changed her clothes with a snap of her fingers."
"But..." I said. "Nah."
Murphy stared at me. "You are useless with women, you know that?" she said, shaking her head.
"I do," Bruce piped up, gathering up the books.
I glowered at my apprentice. As usual, it had minimal effect. Part of the reason that I'm rarely angry with Bruce is that unless I really blow my top, which I had done only a few months before, it has little or no effect.
"Look, Harry, I know that you're not all that used to a woman actually being interested in you," Murphy said, tone softening. "But Wanda likes you. She's trying to let you know as discreetly as she can, so you can both keep your dignity if you're not interested."
"That was discreet?" Bruce asked, eyebrow raised. When a fifteen year old, even one as mature as Bruce, is questioning your discretion, you have problems. I would know, he does it to me all the time.
"From the sounds of things, she's at least a few years out of practice," Murphy said. "And a little scared of rejection."
"Ah," Bruce said wisely.
"But, we're about to go into a fight against fiends from the Netherworld," I said feebly. "Is now really the time?"
"Harry," Murphy said. "Now may be the only time."
There was a lot more in those words than simply a gentle exhortation to seize the day. What else was in there, I had no idea, but there was something else in there.
"You and she are in the same line of work," she continued. "I've seen how dangerous it can get with what you do. From what you've said, what she does is, somehow, even worse. And to be honest, that's not a career with much of a life expectancy."
I opened my mouth to point out that Wizards routinely lived for centuries, Sorcerers Supreme for even longer, then thought about it. With the exception of Strange, and if I remembered correctly, his immediate predecessor, Sorcerer Supreme wasn't exactly a long term job, by wizarding standards. Among apprentices, like Wanda, there tended to be a frankly alarming mortality rate.
And of the wizards who did live for centuries on end, very few of them tended to look for trouble the way I did.
Hell, I'd died only a few months before. Capital D Died. I'd used my Death Curse, and if it wasn't for Doctor Strange's intervention, I would have been long in my grave.
I had nightmares, sometimes, about just that.
I'd told Murphy because I'd had to tell someone, and I haven't really felt able to talk to Michael since I ended up with the (currently dormant) copy of a Fallen Angel in my head.
There was also Thomas, but, being my brother, he'd either get protective or be absolutely useless.
So maybe Murphy was hinting that I should try and get some happiness while I should.
And that was sound advice, except that, in this case, it presupposed that Wanda actually was interested in me and hadn't just had a dodgy bra strap and wanted to avoid risk using magic on something she couldn't strictly see, so close to her spine.
That was it.
Murphy stared at me for a long moment, then pinched the bridge of her nose and sighed.
At that moment, Thomas walked in, took in the scene and raised an eyebrow. "Have I missed something?" he asked.
"Ms Maximoff is shoving her boobs in Harry's face," Bruce said, tone and expression perfectly deadpan.
Thomas' other eyebrow shot upwards. "Well, well, little brother," he said, grinning. "I didn't think you had it in you."
"I think that Ms Maximoff is the one who's interested in having 'it' in her," Bruce said, tone still impressively deadpan.
I scowled at the pair of them, and at Murphy for good measure, as she started laughing.
"She did, does, not," I said. "She... Bruce and Murphy think that she's interested in me."
"Not think, boss. Know," Bruce said sagely. He turned to Thomas. "Basically, they were changing, she asked him to undo her bra strap because it was 'stuck'." He provided the requisite air commas.
Thomas shrugged. "Sounds pretty clear cut to me," he said.
"Try telling him that," Murphy said, still giggling slightly – though I was aware that if I ever described it as such to her face, she would cut my heart out with a spoon.
"He's in denial," Bruce explained.
"I am not," I protested.
Thomas slung an arm round my shoulder and gently rapped me on the skull. "Of course you are, brother mine," he said. "But since your skull is made of concrete, that's hardly surprising."
I glowered at him and shoved him off. "I am not," I said.
"You got all the brains, didn't you?" Murphy said to Thomas. She'd calmed down and resumed her expression of mingled compassion and exasperation. It was one she did very well. It occurred to me that she might just have had practice.
My brother preened slightly. "I like to think so," he said, then caught my expression and sighed. "By the sounds of things, she's into you, Harry. She's trying to let you know without coming out and telling you."
"That was my assessment," Murphy agreed. "It's sloppy."
"Sloppy?" I asked incredulously.
"Yeah," Thomas said. "She's coming onto you a little too strong, too fast." He smirked slightly. "That or she's noticed how completely blind you are."
"And clearly underestimated how blind that really is," Murphy said, with another sigh.
"She really has," Bruce said. He was leaning against the door frame now, expression amused.
"See? From the mouths of the babes," Thomas said, as I regained enough self-possession to glare at my traitor of an apprentice. Said traitor of an apprentice merely smirked at me with the sort of smugness that only the scion of one of the most powerful old money families in the entirety of North America could muster. For those who don't know, that's a lot of smug.
"She's not," I said.
Okay, even to me, that sounded feeble.
"Right. And you would know because you have such a great track record of spotting when a woman is into you," Thomas said, voice dripping with sarcasm.
"You've only been living with me for a few months," I protested.
"And I've been keeping an eye on you for considerably longer than that, brother mine," he retorted.
"She spends a lot of time looking at you," Murphy put in. "And she actually laughs at your jokes."
"Which means that she's either into you, or she's clinically insane," Bruce added.
I gestured rudely at him. He merely grinned, knowing I meant nothing by it.
"The two aren't mutually exclusive," Thomas pointed out. "Indeed, you could argue that they go hand in hand."
I gestured rudely at him, too. This time, I meant something by it, but he simply grinned and opened his mouth.
Before he could say anything, however, I heard a knock on the door, and nodded at Thomas, who opened it with a single powerful yank. Vampirism has its upsides.
The door opened to reveal Wanda, who Thomas favoured with a winning smile. "I didn't know angels were doing house calls," he said.
Okay, even I think that that line is cheesy. Thomas is pretty, however, which means that he gets away with it, and much more besides. Normally, I regard this as a minor annoyance. This time, however, I found it obscurely irritating, so I stepped forward and glowered at him.
Thomas merely grinned and waggled his eyebrows at me.
Not for the first time in recent months, I contemplated fratricide.
Wanda, meanwhile, cocked an eyebrow. "I think any angel would have their work cut out with you, Mister Raith," she said wryly.
"Perhaps we could discuss it some time," Thomas suggested. "Over dinner."
I let out an incoherent growl and my knuckles whitened against my staff. Thomas was crossing a line. I was damned if I knew what that line was, but he was crossing it.
Before I could say anything on that matter, such as 'eat hot lead, Kincaid' – I know a guy called Kincaid. Trying to recreate this line in real life would be a Bad Idea – Wanda replied.
"Maybe not," she said calmly and politely.
My inner Hulk roared its approval, causing me to frown.
Thomas had flirted with a lot of extremely attractive women during his time as my housemate, and brought a number of them back to the apartment, or gone 'round to theirs, for what you might expect a psychic vampire who feeds through sex to go back for. He tries to take as little as possible, only to sip from their life force, but he still has to do it. It's that or... well. Things get unpleasant.
So, until now, I'd most regarded his actions with faint annoyance and mild envy. But when he flirted with Wanda... that was different. Why was she different?
And that was exactly the reaction my brother had wanted. Jerk.
As it was, Thomas inclined his head in graceful acknowledgement, smirked at me out of the corner of his mouth – I repeat, jerk – and went over to the side, where he set about cleaning his personal hand cannon, a Desert Eagle.
I glowered at him for a moment, then cleared my throat and turned back to Wanda, who was watching our interactions with a sharp, shrewd gaze.
"Hey," I said. "What's the nest like?"
Murphy let out a disgusted little noise, which my ego bore with good grace. Bruce also let out a disgusted little noise, which my ego didn't. I swear, apprentices' shouldn't be this insubordinate. I never was.
... Okay, so that's a complete and utter lie. My first teacher and foster father turned out to be a Warlock, a Wizard gone bad, so I ended up frying him in a duel. My relationship with my second teacher was much better, until recently, but I wasn't exactly Mister Respectful at first.
Perhaps Bruce's attitude was karma's way of saying, 'right, now it's your turn'. Or I was a bad influence on him and Thomas was worse. Both are entirely possibly.
"Not too bad," Wanda said. "It's in a quiet part of town. I've set up a few suggestion spells to clear the area, but that won't get everyone out."
"Show me where and I'll start an evacuation," Murphy said. "Set up a perimeter too."
Wanda nodded. "Make sure that whoever's on perimeter is steady and armed with large calibre weaponry. N'Garai are fast, strong, vicious and, frankly, look like they escaped from the Alien movies," she said. "I can set up some light spells..."
"No need," Bruce said. "I've got some floodlights we can use."
Wanda smiled. "Thanks, Bruce," she said. "But the N'Garai are creatures of chaos. They've got their own hex field around them. It isn't very strong, but it is enough to blow fuses."
Bruce opened his mouth to counter that he'd figured a way around that, but I cut him off. Not because he hadn't – he had – but because I was damned if he was going anywhere near these things.
"No, kid," I said firmly. He turned to me, frowning. "I promised your parents that I wouldn't let you get eaten."
He stuck out his chin and folded his arms. "I'd like to see them try."
Normally, Bruce, though he's only fifteen, looks and acts several years older than he is, being the best part of six feet tall and well-built with it. With careful application of makeup, he's comfortably passed for a man in his twenties. However, right now, he looked like a sulky five year old and I was keeping up a desperate poker face.
Mustn't laugh. Mustn't laugh. Mustn't laugh.
Why? Well, it would break his heart. And piss him off.
Thomas wasn't quite so restrained, snickering, before hurriedly turning it into a coughing fit when I glared at him.
"I've called Alfred," I said. "He should be here any minute."
"I'm not a little kid anymore, boss," Bruce said, sounding quiet and hurt. "I can help."
"One day, kid," I said. "One day."
That was probably, on reflection, the wrong thing to say.
"And when will that be?" he snapped, mood swinging like a pendulum. "When I'm thirty? When you get sick of wrapping me up in cotton wool?"
"When you're older," I said quietly. "And when you can keep your temper."
Bruce's eyebrows shot up. "You. You are telling me to keep my temper?" he demanded incredulously. "Remind me, boss, which one of us is famous for getting angry and setting things on fire?"
"He's got you there," Thomas said.
"Ixnay," I growled, and sighed, pinching my brow and getting my steadily growing temper under control. I did not have time for a teenage temper tantrum. "Look, kid," I began.
"Save it," he snapped, and made to storm out. Wanda checked his path. While she was tall for a woman, Bruce had several inches on her. This, however, didn't seem to faze her in the slightest and something about that communicated itself to Bruce, who stopped as she gave him a considering look.
"You know," she said. "You're about my godson's age, give or take a year. Similar height, similar build, similar nose for trouble..." She smiled slightly. "Similar temper. And a similar hatred for being treated like a child."
"So what?" Bruce asked, tone somewhat sullen. He's normally a charming, well behaved, if cheeky, young man. But, grumpiness, thy name is teenager.
"So I think that you would do well to talk to him," Wanda said, voice calm and reasonable. "Because he tends to wander into trouble like this every other day. And he could tell you that it isn't a game. It isn't safe, it isn't fun and it is nothing like an adventure film. It's more like a horror movie, with lots of people dying horribly and no one coming out unscathed, physically or mentally." She glanced at me, and the slight smile returned. "I'm guessing that your mentor has told you this, but you haven't listened, because, let's face it, he makes it look cool."
"I do?" I asked, then wheezed as Murphy shoved an elbow into my stomach.
Wanda's smile grew briefly, before fading into a serious expression. "Your teacher isn't being overprotective," she said. "Well, not much, anyway. He's protecting you until you're ready. And I think a very large part of him is hoping that you're never ready."
Bruce shot me a betrayed look. I couldn't exactly deny it, as that was exactly what part of me was hoping.
"Because if you aren't, you'll never face the monsters," Wanda said. "You'll never see how bad it really is. You'll be safe. And he wants you safe because he cares about you, Bruce."
"I know," Bruce said, in a tone that suggested that he probably didn't. And I wasn't the only one who noticed.
"Do you?" Wanda asked, folding her arms. "Because right now, I'm just seeing someone who wants to go out and fight the bad guys. That's not a bad thing. But it is if you let it control you. My godson did it last year and only survived thanks to a minor miracle. I did it a few times when I wasn't much older than you, and I only got out alive because of my mentor, Doctor Strange. And on one occasion, I got a scar." She reached down and pressed her right index finger to her left leg, slowly tracing a line up the inside of her thigh.
I gulped slightly and tugged at my shirt, wondering why the temperature had risen all of a sudden. Thomas gave me a feline grin, and received a stuck out tongue in return. I didn't even bother looking at Murphy. Even if I didn't have a fair idea of her expression – either a knowing look, probably suffused with a tincture of smugness or disgust at my one track mind – I'd probably see it when she mocked me mercilessly later on.
If nothing else, however, it had succeeded in gaining Bruce's undivided attention. This one I couldn't blame solely on Bruce being a teenager. As previously noted, Wanda was a very attractive woman.
"It was a minor demon," Wanda said. "Nothing serious. I've dealt with hundreds, thousands, both before and since. But this one got lucky." Her expression grew distant. "It slashed at me, and its claws laid me open to the bone, slicing through my femoral artery. If it wasn't for my teacher, the most powerful magic user on the planet and a trained surgeon, I wouldn't be here today."
She looked Bruce in the eye. "And I was several years older than you, a trained sorceress. I'd been taught how to fight with my powers and without and I had experience, lots of it. I had everything going for me, and I still nearly ended up dead," she said. "Your teacher is not asking you to stay out of it because he doesn't think you're capable. He's asking you to stay out of it because he wants you safe and he doesn't think that you're ready. He doesn't think you know what you'd be getting yourself into, and perhaps more pertinently, that you'd be doing it for the right reasons." Her tone gained a hint of tartness. "And leaving all else aside, judging by the way that you're sulking, I think that he's right."
Bruce actually pouted. But he didn't say anything. Neither did I, as, well, I had to give it to her. She'd got it pretty much bang on the nose.
Thomas decided to defuse any remaining tension by chatting with Murphy and Wanda about absolutely nothing at all, and in short order, there was another knock at the door. I got up and opened it, revealing exactly who I'd been expecting.
He wasn't particularly tall, about average height, which made him most of a foot shorter than me, and not particularly bulky. He had steadily greying hair that had once been black and he was going bald on top. His only real distinguishing features were his pale blue eyes, sharp and insightful, missing nothing.
"Alfred," I said, nodding to the older man. He was the Wayne family's butler, and he and I got on reasonably well, which was unsurprising. Saving the family from a mugging that could easily have turned into a multiple murder had made a pretty good first impression. We weren't particularly close, but we were friendly enough, and since we did much of the day to day looking after of Bruce, we often ended up exchanging notes. As I've mentioned before, he'd never been entirely happy about my teaching Bruce, but he'd always abided by the wishes of Bruce's parents, and after the Mab incident, he was resigned to the fact that Bruce was best off as my apprentice.
"Mister Dresden," he said. His eyes flickered over me, taking in my clothes and reading my body language. "Trouble?" It wasn't really a question. Alfred had been a soldier before he'd taken the path that ended in his current job, and he hadn't lost the instincts.
"Bad trouble," I confirmed. "Wayne Enterprises and the Mansion should be safe, but the rest..." I shook my head. "Look, whatever else happens, keep the family north of the Loop and off the streets." I glanced over his shoulder at Bruce, who was now in the car. He was either thinking or sulking, I wasn't quite sure. "Particularly Bruce."
"I take it that Master Bruce wanted to get involved."
I nodded and sighed. "Yeah, he did. I said no, so he won't be in a particularly good mood," I said. "And he'll probably try and give you the slip."
"I'd never have guessed," Alfred said dryly. He looked thoughtful for a moment. "I'll take him down to Applied Sciences. That generally keeps him amused and I think that Mister Fox enjoys his company."
Applied Sciences is Wayne Enterprise's mad science division. Well, not officially, but that's what it boils down to. They basically play around with theoretical technology, occasionally turning out something that they sell to SHIELD. It's not a big division, because Stark has a stranglehold on high end tech, it doesn't really do weapons and the Army prefers Hammer and Roxxon because they're cheap and not so bothered by little things like ethics.
Or at least, that's what Lucius Fox says. He's Wayne Enterprises' Company President, second in charge after Bruce's father, but he also runs Applied Sciences. He's only capable of this because it's a small division, he's got teams that deal with most of the day to day stuff in both offices and because I swear to God that man never sleeps. Ever.
He and Bruce get on like a house on fire, and if Bruce isn't at school, at home with his parents, in the dojo with Murphy or with me, he's usually at Applied Sciences, tinkering with whatever crazy project that they're working on this week.
Bruce would be safely out of the way there.
"Yeah, I think he does," I said. "Safe driving, Alfred."
"Happy Hunting, Mister Dresden."
I watched as he drove off, then went back inside. I had a briefing to attend.
Brief profile for the confused (if you've read as far as you should have in COS, you should know who Wanda and Dresden are):
Lieutenant Karrin Murphy: small, deceptively cute looking head of Chicago PD's monster hunter division. Not half as glamorous as it sounds, as until recently in-universe, acknowledging the existence of the supernatural was a major no-no (think Section 13 from Jackie Chan Adventures or Torchwood 3 from Torchwood, minus the sci-fi tech and mega budget). Patronise at your own risk. Five feet and change of pure awesome. Think Buffy without the powers and double the badass.
Bruce Wayne: do I even have to say it? In this 'verse, Harry Dresden's apprentice after Dresden saved his family from Joe Chill. Scarily talented detective (though this is not immediately evident as he hasn't had the chance to show it. That will come, don't you worry). Has no magic. Does not feel that he needs it. Is probably right.
Thomas Raith: What Edward Cullen desperately wishes that he was. White Court Vampire (emotions, not blood. Specifically, lust). Older half-brother of Harry Dresden. Current lodger on Harry Dresden's sofa after being kicked out by his fairly evil (but quite polite) family. Love is his kryptonite. Is deeply in love with his girlfriend... who he can't touch because of said love. Also ridiculously pretty - vampirism has its upsides.
Next up, Wanda, Dresden, Thomas and Murphy take on demons. Lots of demons. Meanwhile, Bruce... well. That would be telling.
As yet, Dresden doesn't know that Magneto is Wanda's father. It isn't exactly common knowledge, even in magical circles, and Magneto made sure to keep his involvement with Wanda low key. She, for her part, is hardly like to mention it. To anyone. Ever.
Murphy and Bruce both know that Thomas is Dresden's half-brother. Murphy knew in canon, and Bruce figured it out. If you're new to the Dresden Files, White Court vampires are different to most. The White Court feed on lifeforce and emotions, each House picking something different. Thomas is a Raith, making him an incubus (male succubus, basically), though, unlike the rest of his family, he tries to limit his feeding, only taking what he needs to survive.
There's an info dump on them in chapter 42 of Child of the Storm. Failing that, google 'em. Wikipedia/the Dresden Files Wikia/ TV Tropes is your friend. In short, though, he and Dresden shared a mother (yes, I know, this spoils for those who haven't read up to book 6. Sorry) and recently, he got kicked out by his family, so he's now living on Dresden's sofa.