Harry Potter and the Enigma in the Phone Book

I found him in the phone book. I mean, I wasn't expecting to find him in the phone book. We don't flat-out tell the Muggles that the wizarding world exists, but here it was advertised as plain as day:

HARRY DRESDEN — WIZARD
Lost Items Found. Paranormal Investigations.
Consulting. Advice. Reasonable Rates.

No Love Potions, Endless Purses, Parties or Other Entertainment

"You've got to be kidding me…" I muttered under my breath as I fed the payphone the correct amount of coins, but I was out of options. The vampire I tracked into this city had found some hole to hide in and I needed to get in touch with the local Auror branch, and just maybe this was the place I needed to go. It was my first solo mission after my four years training—three if you don't count the apprenticeship phase, so I really did not want to screw this up. I had to do this on my own or they would only think that the Boy Who Lived couldn't manage anything without people to guide him. Granted, I wasn't exactly thinking things through when I latched onto the retreating vampire. Without a firm grip on the PortKey, let alone the perp, I had fallen off miles away from wherever that key was enchanted to. It was a small miracle I ended up where I did, which was the hometown of the vampire. At least I didn't die when I lost my grip. I winced at that thought.

No matter, though. With the help of some local intel, I could complete my mission and capture the target before sunset. All I needed to do was find the local Auror branch. The Ministry taught us that there were clues hidden in phone books for wizards who were looking for other magical communities, as long as one knew what they were looking for. If this was the lead I was searching for, then things were definitely done different here.

The phone line clicked: "We're sorry, but the number you have reached is not in service, or has temporarily been —"

"Tch." I hung up the phone with a grimace and tore the yellow page out of the book. "Bollocks."

About thirty minutes later, after navigating my way through the streets of Chicago, I finally came across the address listed. It was a non-descript brick building that stood several stories high. It was placed on corner lot that was surrounded by other commonplace, albeit rundown buildings. All in all, there was nothing too flashy that screamed to the public "Magic Really Does Exist," nor was it a sleek as some of the more modern skyscrapers that adorned downtown. It just seemed like a regular office complex in a state of disrepair, which would be the perfect hiding place for a Ministry base.

At that point, a man who looked like a security officer walked out of the building in question and lit up a cigarette. Upon noticing me gazing upward as if I had lost my way, like any other tourist, he asked "You lost, man?"

"Yeah." I dragged out slowly. I then pointed to the building in question. "This where I can find Harry Dresden's office?"

The man shook his head with a slight smirk on his face, chuckling silently at some joke that only he understood. "Yeah," he leaned against the wall, "fifth floor, this corner." he gestured upward. "You can't miss it."

"Thanks." I half-whispered to myself. I shoved my hands in my pocket, feeling for my wand. I could feel the wood warm from my touch and it brought me a sense of reassurance. Carefully I made my way inside. A sign, yellowed with age, was taped on the elevator doors that informed me I was to take the stairs upwards.

I was immediately reminded of the entranceways to several of wizarding Britain's important locations. Maybe I didn't have to look any further than this building for the Chicago branch of the American Auror Department. It certainly seemed to fit the bill. I checked to make sure that the guard was still taking his more-than-likely unsanctioned smoke break and discreetly ran the point of my wand down the slight opening between the lift doors. Frowning slightly when there was no indication of enchantment, I reluctantly turned to the stairwell.

After five flights of stairs I was starting to feel a little winded. I might have been trained in stealth, criminal psychology, and law during my years in training, but cardio was definitely not at the top of the academy's priorities. After all, how often do dark wizards run away when they can Apparate? Once on the fifth floor, I didn't have to search for long to locate the correct office. The Security man outside was right: I couldn't have missed this if I had tried. On a frosted glass pane were the words "Harry Dresden, Wizard." I knocked and the sound reverberated loudly through the empty halls.

"Come in." said a voice within.

When I opened the door, my eyes were greeted with the sparsest office I could have ever imagined. There was a sink with an old electric percolator and antique radio behind a worn oak desk that looked like it was fished directly out of a rubbish pile. The desk was only adorned with some writing utensils, a reading lamp and a pink rotary dial telephone that looked as if it had seen better days. Paperback novels littered the floor in haphazard towers, and to the right was a wall of metal filing cabinets. Sitting in the chair behind the desk was a man. He, also, was not what I was expecting. He was young, perhaps a little older than me in age, and had thick brown hair and brown eyes. He wore blue jeans and a plain dark grey tee shirt. Directly to his right was a coat rack with a black leather duster hanging on it. A heavy wooden staff, just within arm's reach, leaned against the white plaster wall which showed some sign of cracking. Dust motes glittered in the sunlight streaming through the office windows. There was a rhythmic squeak emitting from the ceiling fan with every revolution.

"Are you for real?" I asked with amusement in my voice, pointing to the sign on the door.

"Dead serious." he grinned as he stood up to shake hands with me, stretching to his out to a height slightly greater than two meters. "Harry Dresden, wizard for hire. What can I help you with?"

As soon as I grasped his hand, I was immediately hit with a sensation similar to circulation returning to a limb that had been deprived of blood. A tingle started in my palm and spread like a wave up through my arm. I jerked my hand back like I had been burned. "CONSTANT VIGILANCE!" Mad Eye's voice rang through my head. As I shook my hand lightly, I began scanning the immediate vicinity with wariness. With a rundown place like this, there had to be some exposed wires somewhere, perhaps I had accidentally been electrocuted?

I glanced up at Dresden's face to see if he had felt the same sensation that I had. His look was one of mild confusion, and when I met his eyes he quickly looked away, discretely rubbing the hand I shook. I happened to notice he wore a silver ring, and for a moment I wondered if he was wearing a hand buzzer. But that makes no sense, I logically pointed out to myself. I was still trying to reach a plausible conclusion when he cleared his throat and asked "Can I interest you in come coffee?" He began stepping towards the table to my left that had foam cups, packets of sugar and pamphlets reading "Why Witches Don't Sink Any Faster Than Anyone Else A Wizard's Perspective" scattered about it. My brain locked in on this bit of information, and I instantaneously felt dread sink to the pit of my stomach. I couldn't seem articulate anything at all as I was trying to process what lay before me. I shook my head no and he walked back to his chair, gesturing for me to take one of the two opposite of him.

"Ummm…" I paused, not really knowing where to begin, seeing as I was thrown off kilter. My eyes kept flickering back to the pamphlets on the table. "Magic for Dummies."

It was during this moment of silence that Dresden spoke haltingly, as if he was at a loss for words too. "Er...Have you…Um...Has anyone…..I'm sorry, what was your name again?"

Still being mildly distracted—"Want to do Magic—Ask me How!" Not good, not good, not good—I answered "Oh, I'm sorry. Harry. Harry Potter."

"Harry. Huh. Small world. So, uh, has anyone ever told you you're a wizard, Harry?"

My mind went completely blank. Every thought in my head flew out the window as I tried to grapple with the idea that this was increasingly looking like an undesirable situation. This man was either an idiot from the Wizarding world, or he was some Muggle scam artist out to get my money. The seconds ticked by slowly as I tried to regain my composure and come up with a quick plan of action. I had to play things close to the chest now. If I exposed our secrets, I could lose my job.

Dresden heaved in a big breath and began rummaging in one of the desk drawers. "With a reaction like that, I'm going to take a wild guess and say no." He slid a few pamphlets across the desk, which I picked up and read Wizarding 101: A Guide for Wizards in Training.

Irrationally, I found the pamphlets to be mildly insulting. This guy had a lot of nerve. I was surer than ever that things were not going to go smoothly for me. It was becoming more and more probable that this entire thing was a set up to lure unsuspecting victims out of their cash. My theory about the joke buzzer was becoming more likely. I put the stack down in disbelief.

"That… is very—" I took a deep breath to gather my thoughts. Keep calm, Harry, I thought to myself. Maybe this is how they weed out the Muggles from the magical community. Make it seem blatantly like a scam, and either the really naive Muggle or true wizard sticks around. "I'm sure I've heard it once before." I drawled sarcastically. If this guy was trying to swindle people, he sure was being presumptuous with his clientele. I was half surprised he hadn't insulted someone in the past and gotten cursed for it. Then again, Americans tend to be pretty thick skinned. "I didn't come here for that, though."

"Well," Dresden nodded his head slightly, "just keep those in mind for the future." As I slid the stack back towards him, he gave my hand a light pat as if to say 'That is that' before placing them back in his desk. "So what brings you into my office, Harry?"

Since I was already there, I decided tell Dresden the basics of the situation even though I was certain that this wasn't going anywhere. Just to make sure that I was in the right place, I could test him by dropping bits and pieces about the wizarding world and see if he catches on. If he didn't, then I could resume my search in the phone book. No harm, no foul.

"Well," I began candidly, "I'm looking for a Muggle by the name of—"

"I'm sorry. What?"

"Muggle."

"What the hell are those?"

"I'm sorry, I forgot you American's use a different term for non-magic people… What is it? No-maj? Anyways-"

"You call non-magic people Muggles? That's kind of elitist, isn't it?"

"What?" I answered, a bit taken aback by the question.

"Discriminatory?"

"No!" I stated firmly, dropping my gaze because I was completely exasperated by this man's brash behavior. This was going nowhere fast, so I decided to get straight to the point. I had to find the American branch, and I had to find that blooming vampire before it started attacking again. I glanced back up at Dresden with steely eyes and disdainfully said "You know what? I think we need to go over your credentials."

"Really now?" Dresden drawled out, raising an eyebrow.

"Does the Ministry even know about this operation you have going on? Hasn't anyone tried to shut you down yet? I mean, this is pretty out in the open."

Dresden leaned back in his chair, folding his arms across his chest. "Nah, the Council thinks it's in poor taste, but they can't really do anything about it. Basically, I just have to keep my name out of the real news. Articles in tabloids, however, are perfectly fine because half the stories in them are made up anyways."

"How do you explain the ad in the phone book?" I retorted contemptuously.

"If wannabe psychics can hoc their wares, why can't I? It falls under the same principle. Only the desperate come to me, and some by word of mouth testimonials. Besides, in the end I can choose to take a case or not if it's in my realm of expertise."

"Explain the pamphlets then. What if a Muggle sees them?"

"I wrote most of them. I think it's important for we practitioners of the Art to keep up a good public image. Anything to avoid another Inquisition." He looked me over with a measured gaze, as if reassessing his original opinion of me. Perhaps he is trying to figure out how gullible I am to know when the game is up, I thought cynically. "But enough about me," he drolled wryly, leaning back towards his desk to steeple his fingers, "tell me why a nice, British fellow like you is in my office this afternoon."

"I told you" I emphasized slowly. "I am looking for someone. I am part of the National Crime Squad and we are on the hunt for a person of interest."

"Person of interest? Do tell."

"I'm sorry, that's classified." I smirked. "His name is Phillip Babinski and he is a native of this area who happened to be backpacking with some mates out in Kent when something went horribly wrong. He was the sole survivor of a series of attacks, and we just want to ask him some follow up questions. You know, see if he has remembered anything else."

Dresden tilted his head. "And why did you feel that this was a job for a wizard, and not the Chicago PD? I didn't think that it was standard practice for foreign crime officials to seek out private investigators."

"It just so happens that this person has gone into deep hiding. I lost track of him when he got to the city and it is imperative that we find him soon. Seeing as this is a missing person's case, I decided to get some outside help in order to not task the force too much with my request."

Dresden gazed intently at me and began slowly drumming his fingers together. "Just a simple missing person's case?"

"Just a simple missing person's case."

The drumming stopped. "I don't feel as if you're being completely honest with me, kid."

"And why's that?"

"I don't know. Call it a gut feeling. Why didn't you try calling before stopping by the office. We're a hell of a ways away from the airport, skippy."

"I tried. Your phone seems to be out of service." I ground out through clenched teeth.

He blinked, then shrugged as if this wasn't a big surprise. "It was bound to happen sooner or later." He resumed drumming his fingers, assessing me skeptically though cool eyes. "How long has he been holed up?"

"A few days now. I only got here last night."

"How long ago was the attack?"

"About a week ago."

Dresden's eyes lit up for just a second before he regained his calm demeanor. "A week, you say. And when was he discharged from the hospital?'

"Who said he was in a hospital?" I retorted defensively.

"You said he was the sole survivor of a series of attacks. One would have to assume he was laid up in the hospital for a bit once authorities found him. You are looking for him because you want to ask if he has remembered anything, so I would have to conclude that he was attacked and was too traumatized to remember everything at once, so you are doing this follow up. Except you can't find him. So when was he discharged?"

I attempted to put on a poker face. "A few days ago."

"A few days ago?" he stated incredulously.

"Yes! A few days ago! Blimey, how many times do I have to repeat myself!"

"And yet, you've managed to lose him in such a short space of time?"

"I was only recently brought in on the case!"

Dresden clucked his tongue. "So, you're telling me that this poor sap was attacked a week ago, discharged from the hospital a few short days after arriving, and flew home only to go hiding deep underground... Something here smells fishy."

"I wouldn't exactly say he was discharged." I said through grit teeth.

"But you just said he was discharged a few days ago."

"I meant to say that he ran away a few days ago. That's one of the reasons we can't find him."

"But you managed to track him to Chicago. I mean, if I was on the run after being attacked, which implies that he is in hiding for a reason, I certainly wouldn't go back to the first place people would come looking to find me."

"Maybe he just feels safer in his home turf." I mentally cursed my reply when I saw Dresden sit up a little straighter in his seat. My non-answer and subsequent hedging had definitely alerted him that I has not being entirely truthful about the situation. "I mean, after someone is attacked, their whole world is turned upside down. Wouldn't you go running to someplace familiar if you were in his shoes?"

The constant squeak from the ceiling fan was the only thing that broke the silence as we both dug in our feet, assessing one another. Even if this guy is a phony wizard, he certainly seemed like a damned good PI. He was asking the right questions, and correctly came to the conclusion that I wasn't being fully honest with him. He could see through the holes in my story which those of lesser intelligence would take at face value. Besides, he knew the layout for Chicago, which was something I was sorely lacking. If anyone knew the dirty underbelly of the city, it was this guy, and he could help me locate the rock my target had crawled under.

I was about to open my mouth to ask if he was going to help me when Dresden broke the silence. "Do you have anything of his? A t-shirt, some hair... blood perhaps?"

"Unfortunately, no."

"Have you checked his residence yet?"

"Yes, and that's how I know he wasn't home."

"You have the address?"

"Of course." I recited the address to him, and he nodded thoughtfully.

Dresden rose from his chair. "Well," he began as he donned his heavy leather jacket, "let's start there. Maybe I can see something that you overlooked."

He grabbed his staff and began walking briskly towards the door. I rose to follow him. "What about your fee? Will I get billed at the end for services rendered?"

Dresden paused, then grimaced painfully. "Nah, for the police, I work for free."

We took the stairs down and when we got outside, Dresden did a quick glance up and down the streets. "I take it you didn't rent a car to drive here?" he asked.

"Why would I have done that?" I remarked.

"I was just curious. No matter, we can take my car. It's this way."

His car was an old Volkswagen Beetle that had definitely seen better days. One would have to assume the car was originally blue, but it was hard telling where it all began with all the patchwork done on it. The front of the car sported a crumpled red hood being held in place with a hanger wire while the engine in the back still remained blue. One of the doors was white while its mate wore green and the gashes in the upholstery were stitched together with duct tape. All in all, this looked like an ad hoc compilation of parts salvaged from a shop. Half off, even.

As I climbed into the passenger's seat I asked "So, does this thing even run?"

"Of course she does!" Dresden turned the ignition, and with a rumbling groan and a puff of black smoke, the car came to life. "The Blue Beetle may not look like much, but she's my faithful steed. My mechanic says she's the easiest car in the world to repair."

I grimaced as we lurched into traffic. I decided to occupy my time with watching the setting sun reflect off of the skyscrapers we passed. At the very least, it helped me keep my mind from picturing images of this car falling apart on us.

Twenty minutes later, we stood in front of Phillip's ramshackle apartment. Even I could tell it was a seedier part of town, only a few steps down from Dresden's office in terms of livability. Dresden knocked, and waited a beat for someone to answer before he covertly looked up and down the hall. "You got the key?" he asked.

"Oh. Yeah." I fished in my pocket for my wand, sliding it up into my jacket sleeve as I made it appear that I was searching my pocket for the key to the place. With the wand tip just barely between my fingers, I made the motions as if I was putting a key in a lock and mentally whispered Alohomora. The lock clicked, and I discreetly slid my wand back into my pocket. I pushed open the door with one hand and gestured for Dresden to enter before me.

He stepped cautiously inside, his eyes sweeping the room in quick glances but his feet treaded carefully among the piles of rubbish left on the floor, not disturbing a thing. He spent ten minutes or so flipping through stacks of papers left on the coffee table and counters, then moved on to the kitchen where he examined the photographs taped to the freezer door.

"You follow-up with this guy?" Dresden pointed at a particular photo of two smiling men in graduation caps.

"Not really." I replied.

"Why?" Dresden retorted with a puzzled expression.

"Well, he was one of the people killed."

"Ah." He resumed his search, opening and closing cupboard doors as he went. Eventually he made his way into the bathroom, and called "That man in the photograph, he from around here?"

"No, he lived a couple of cities over. Why?"

As I asked that question, Dresden walked out of the bathroom in an extreme state of excitement. His eyes lit up when he spotted me.

"What'd you find?" I asked, curious to know what he had managed to stumble across that I had overlooked.

"A toothbrush."

I gave him an incredulous look. "A toothbrush."

"Uh-huh."

"And that's useful to us how?"

"I can track him with this."

My faith in him dropped immediately, but I went along with it anyways. Maybe this was just a shtick to keep up the wizarding act. After all, he did sift through much more than the bathroom and could have found a lead there. "Show me." I stated blandly, letting my voice ooze with the disbelief of his abilities.

"Here?"

"Yes."

"Can't do that, Hoss." I leveled him with a stare. "My stuff's in the trunk." He patted me firmly on the shoulder as he made his way back outside. I pinched the bridge of my nose, thinking to myself that if he would just drop the whole wizarding act, we would have been much more productive in my search. Perhaps there was something wrong with him, some kind of mental tick that made him incapable of ditching the facade. I sighed wearily before I exited the apartment, doing a quick wrist flick in my pocket to lock the place back up.

When I finally got back to the car, Dresden was throwing a worn green duffle bag into the trunk.

"What's that?"

"My exorcism bag." He stated matter of factly as he reattached the hanger wire to the hood.

I rolled my eyes at this comment and shoved my hands deep into my pocket. Sure it is, I drolled inwardly, leaning against the building.

Dresden did a cursory glance around the streets, then began slowly drawing a wide circle around himself with an odd look on his face. It was a combination between pure concentration and a blissful state of zen. After a moment's pause, Dresden placed a long, silver object in the center of the circle and put the toothbrush on top of it so they were creating a 'T' shape. He then stood over the objects, carefully not disturbing them, and closed his eyes. His hands hung loosely at his side, except his palms were facing upward, almost as if he was praying to God. As the seconds ticked by, I felt the hairs on the back of my neck raise with anticipation, though I do not know why. Nothing extraordinary was happening.

"Duo et unum." he whispered, then smudged the chalk circle with his foot.

A faint, cool breeze washed over me, and the goosebumps on my neck lowered to their normal level. He picked up each of the objects, placing the toothbrush in his pocket and took a few steps away from the circle he had made. He then began slowly turning around in a circle, his glance flicking from the silver rod in his hand to the direction he was currently facing.

"And that?" I gestured to the object he was brandishing before he had faced completely away from me.

"A tuning fork."

"You're joking, right? How's that going to help us?" I asked, disgruntled at the prospect of trudging through the city following someone who is off his trolley, especially when there was a vampire loose.

"Patience, young grasshopper."

I waited a minute longer watching him slowly turn almost all the way around before I removed myself from the wall. "Listen, Dresden," I began, "it's been fun and all, but it's getting late." I took a few steps towards him. "It's about 6:19 now, and I'm really beat. Maybe we can resume this in the mor —"
"Shh!" he held up a hand to stop me, the tuning fork in his hand shivering slightly before an audible crystalline tone rang in the night air. He sighted along the tines of the fork, then began lightly jogging away. "This way."

I sighed in annoyance, but dutifully trotted after him. If there was one perk to having a car like his in this part of town, it was that nobody would think there was anything valuable in it. Not that there is, I thought ruefully to myself.

We navigated as best as we could with one direction in mind, having to trek through side alleys and dodge vehicles whenever we crossed streets. Every so often we would pause and Dresden would turn in his circle until the tines sung once more before he realigned our path with wherever it was pointing. I have to admit, I was running out of steam. This wasn't a lazy stroll through the park on a Sunday afternoon, and just trying to keep up with this locomotive's long gait was tiring me. What seemed like an easy pace for him was me doing an unrelenting cardio jog and we had traversed blocks by now. With all the different directions we took, I had lost our original location, so I had no real clue exactly how far away we were from the car, but I was mentally cursing my stupidity at just following this buggers lead. I had no idea what time it was either, but dusk was setting in rather quickly. If I had to guess, it was about 6:40 P.M., but my calculations could have been off. I had no idea what time the sun sets in this place, not to mention with all the tall buildings, it could easily cast our alley into darkness.

"We're almost there." Dresden beamed at me as I bent over, catching my breath.

"How do you know?" I panted.

He pointed to a building just in front of us, maybe thirty yards away. "The readings are pointing to that building, no question about it." He proceeded to put the tuning fork in his pocket.

In my head, I mentally wished we had taken a car out here in case we needed to travel elsewhere when this trail turned cold, but all I could manage was gulping down the cool night air. Sweat dripped onto my glasses, so I quickly took them off and wiped it away. "Do you think we can walk the rest of the way?" I wheezed.

"Sure." he shrugged. "You know, you really need to get out more, kid. Don't stay behind a desk your entire life."

Too weak to reply, I just nodded in agreement. After a few moments pause, I took a deep breath. "Alright," I began marching forward on wobbly legs, "let's go."

As we made our way towards our target at a pace I was more comfortable with, I began thinking of just how I was going to proceed if Phillip really was where Dresden claimed he would be. He's not going to come quietly, I thought, not to mention it's dangerous having an unarmed Muggle in the vicinity. I needed to get Dresden out of here, but first I needed to make sure that his hypothesis was correct in order to formulate a plan of action. To do that, I would have to ditch him and investigate on my own. It was too risky keeping him along, especially since he didn't know what he was getting into. If I could memorize what the building looked like, I could Apparate back here after we parted ways.

I called Dresden to a stop in the alleyway behind the building in order to inform him of the current situation. We had to be on the same page in order for this to work well in my favor. "Listen," I began matter-of-factly, "it's getting late. Maybe we should come back in the morning?"

"What?" Dresden seemed perplexed at my words. "We've come all this way and you want to back out now? Why?'"

"I don't know," I hedged. "It's been a long day for me, so I don't know how much longer I can keep this up. I'd rather just get a good night's rest and continue when it's daylight."

Dresden leveled me with a cool stare. "There's something you're not telling me, isn't there?"

"No, I've told you everything that you need to know."

"Really? Because I've been getting the distinct impression that you've been holding something back from the get-go."

"No, honest, I am just really, really—"

It was at that point that the alley door to the building swung open with a bang. Dresden and I both were visibly startled by this, but our presence in the shadows went by unperceived as we flattened ourselves against the building. It was a good thing, too, because when I peered around the corner to assess the situation, it just so happened that it was the vampire I was chasing. It was either a case of dumb luck, or there really was something that I had missed in that apartment. I could have my questions answered later, though, because the only things that mattered right now was capturing my target and keeping the Muggle beside me safe.

I rapidly began forming a plan. I knew that I had to do this quick in order to keep the vampire unaware of us, so that meant I had to use magic. I decided I would use the Full-Body Bind curse on him to stop him from getting anywhere, but the problem with that is I would actually have to pull my wand out of my pocket to cast it. The issue in that situation is that Dresden isn't supposed to know I can do magic, no matter if he claims he is a wizard or not. I could fix that with a Memory Charm later, but the thought didn't set well with me because I did not want to damage too much of it. Delicate work like that was never really my forte. At the very least, if I didn't alter his mind, no one would believe his crackpot story anyways.

Deciding that I would figure out what to do with Dresden later, I turned towards him and motioned that he should stay put. I did not turn around to check that he understood as I stealthily slipped around the corner towards the vampire. I really did not want to lose my target again. As I got closer, I felt the adrenaline coursing through my system. My palms began sweating and my heart beat so loudly in my ears that I was surprised that the vampire couldn't hear it. With a shaking hand, I pulled my wand from my pocket. "Perfect-"

"FORZARE!"

All the air in my lungs came whooshing out in an instant. It felt like the full force of a bludger had slammed directly into my ribcage and I was thrown against the wall. There was a loud thump as my head connected with the brick behind me and my vision went black for a second. I slid limply to the ground, my ears ringing and my stomach feeling squeamish. It was hard to keep my eyes open.

I watched in a surreal daze as a skeletal arm with black claws came slicing through the air where my head was mere moments before. I don't know if it was due to the knock to my head, but instead of seeing an extremely pissed off humanoid vampire, I was met with the stuff of nightmares. The creature I saw before me was unlike anything I've seen before. It had a terrible bat-like face, with a head too big for its body. The hooded jacket that it wore ripped as it spread its huge, membranous wings. Its jet black eyes glittered maliciously, and with a hiss, the creature's jaw split into a wide sneer, showing rows of yellow fangs. It bunched its shoulders up in a show of menacing force, preparing to strike once more. Dresden leapt between me and the beast, brandishing something in front of him that emitted a cool, bright light.

Huh, I thought sleepily, trying to focus on the scene before me. That's not what I was—

Everything went black.

As I came to sometime later, the first thing I noticed was the dull pain radiating around my head and chest. I groaned.

"Hurts, doesn't it?" a voice stated almost cheerfully. "I mean, I would know since I'm usually the one who gets beat up."

I winced as I tenderly hoisted myself in an upright position and felt my glasses drop into my lap. Fumbling them on, I saw that Dresden was straddling a chair at the end of the bed with something that looked distinctly like a wand covered in strange symbols pointed menacingly at me.

"You and me...We need to talk."

I sighed wearily and let my head roll back to hit against the wall. I grimaced as fresh pain was reignited through my system. "I'll answer yours if you answer mine."

"Fair enough. You've been formally trained in the arts?" he began.

"For several years now. You're a real wizard?"

"Haven't we already established that? Who do you really work for?"

"The Ministry of Magic. I'm an Auror, a kind of wizarding police that deals with murders and the like in the magical community. What about you?"

"I'm a wizard for hire. Most days I do mundane work like finding lost pets and jewelry. Some days I take unusual cases and help out the local law enforcement when they're dealing with supernatural stuff. It's kind of touch-and-go. The guy you're tracking?"

"A vampire that murdered about fourteen people in Kent earlier this week. Or at least, he was supposed to be. I'm not too sure what the bloody hell he is anymore."

"Oh no, he's a vampire alright. Just probably not the kind you are used to. You see, the wee little beastie you happen to be after is of the Red Court classification, and you never want to cross one unprepared, which is exactly what happened last night."

"I didn't know." I mumbled apologetically. "How do they differ?"

"Well, they are about the same as your run-of-the-mill vamp, in so much that they feed on human blood, except these guys can walk in the daylight if they are old enough. They wear something that I like to call flesh-masks, and faith magic is finicky at best when dealing with them, so holy water, crosses and the like doesn't really work well. The best thing to do is to cut their stomach open. It drains them of the blood they've consumed, weakening them so they are easier to handle."

With a puzzled frown, I asked "So how did we escape last night then?"

"With this." he drew out a silver pentagram necklace from underneath his shirt, "My mother's necklace,"

"I thought faith magic didn't work well?"

"It all depends on how strongly you believe in something. This is a symbol of magic, and that is something that I can get behind."

"And the vampire?"

"Unfortunately, after I used this, your target fled into the night. You were unconscious at that point, so I needed to take care of you first. That's why you are at my place. Be thankful you ended up here," he pointed to the bed. "I was toying with the idea of tying you up in the basement until all my questions were answered, but you remind me a lot of myself, so I'll let you off the hook this once. Back to the vampire. Explain."

"Like I said before, I was tracking this guy in Kent. He was out backpacking with some friends when they were attacked by some vampires. He was the only one to survive. The vampires caught wind of Phillip surviving, and decided to pay him a visit in the hospital. I'm not sure if they were trying to finish the job or recruit him, but Phillip was awake and aware of the situation. He attacked them, then began attacking hospital staff as he fled into the night. It was only then that I was called in on the case." I sighed as I rubbed my face wearily. "There is one thing I don't understand about this, though…" I began, "Why didn't he attack when he was first turned? He had already been bitten for at least twelve hours by the time he bolted, so why didn't we know until after the fact?"

"Red Court can infect people, turning them into half-vampires. They don't fully turn until they feed on human blood, but they still have the perks such as strength and agility. A person with a strong enough will can remain in this half state for the rest of their life, so long as they take care to notice the signs warning them they are dangerously close to turning. How did you guys get here so fast?" Dresden cocked his head inquisitively.

"One of his group— his boyfriend, the one in the picture on the fridge—was a wizard, and they decided to make a Portkey to save on airfare."

"What's that?"

"It's an object that's been enchanted to teleport you to a very specific location. Each Portkey is unique in destination and how they look. They are usually disguised as a mundane piece of rubbish."

"What's to stop normal people from finding them then?"

"The Ministry keeps a tight restriction on them, but people make them illegally all the time. There's no way to know that there is a new one out there until after it comes to our attention, which is usually when we confiscate it and severely punish whomever made it. Our group of backpackers had made some illegally, and had apparently stashed their return key in the woods when they arrived. Phillip went back to that location to escape me. I had barely managed to grab onto him as we were transported here, but I lost my grip before we reached the intended destination. That's why I lost track of him. I needed help once I realized that he wasn't in his apartment, so I was looking for a Ministry contact—"

"And that's when you found me in the phone book..."

I nodded.

"...Why didn't you trust me?" he asked in an almost hurt tone.

"Things...are done differently where I come from, and my job hinges on the fact that the wizarding world needs to be kept secret. You were flamboyantly advertising to the world of your existence, so either you were some nutter off his rocker, or you had complete disregard for the rules. I still needed assistance, though, and since this is your base, I figured you would have knowledge about its underbelly to help me find my target. If you were useless to my case, then I would have moved on."

"Stars and stones, you need to trust more, kid. You could have gotten us both killed last night..." He rubbed his face with a sigh.

"So, what do we do now?" I began meekly.

"Well, we gear up. Now that we know what we're facing, we'll go into the battle more prepared. That being said, Phillip will also be expecting us to return, so he will be wary." Dresden hopped out of his chair and began striding away. "Let's get going. We've got a lot to do."

I swung my legs off the bed to follow him and was immediately reminded of my wand. I began looking around the room and patting my pockets for it, my motions becoming more distraught as I realized I couldn't find it. "Oh bloody hell." I heaved a sigh of despair.

"What?" Dresden poked his head back into the room.

"I appear to have lost my wand in the alleyway last night." I grimaced. "I don't know how useful I will be in this situation."

"You mean this thing?" Dresden tossed me an object and I caught it reflexively. I was instantaneously relieved when my fingers embraced its familiar texture. I was surprised it was still in once piece. "You shouldn't rely on that too much, you know." he nodded towards my wand. "Not everything you come across will be magically inclined. You need to develop more practical skills, like running. And guns." He flashed me a toothy grin before he ducked back out of sight.

I pondered his words as I followed him out of the room. I entered what I could only assume was his living room, for it had dozens of science-fiction posters adorning the walls, a ratty sofa and piles of woven rugs covering the floor. A fire cheerfully lit the space up. Dresden was peeling back some of these rugs, unearthing a trap door.

"What's that?" I asked.

"In here is my lab. Now stay put while I take care of a few things. Don't come down until I tell you to, got it?" He opened the door and descended into the depths. I heard him rustling around, and curiosity got the better of me, so I decided that I could take a quick peek down while remaining in the room above. I couldn't see much, aside from a pile of paperback novels littering the floor.

"Uh, Harry?" a voice asked timidly. "There's someone above us."

"I know that, Bob. He's fine. Just leave him alone. And you, stay out! I'm almost done!"

"Do we have an apprentice of our very own now?" the voice asked cheerfully, "Can I teach him all sorts of fun things?" The voice got more excited.

"He's not our apprentice. Now, just be quiet for a minute, I'm trying to think."

"Well, I must say, I am a trifle relieved, Harry. If we were to get an apprentice in the future, make sure it's a female with a nice rack." Dresden groaned audibly at this, and began making even more of a racket. "I'm just saying, it'd be a nice change of pace from what I get to deal with on a daily basis. You're not very pleasing to the eyes, you know. I need inspiration every now and then. You know, to raise my work ethic."

"Who is that?" I asked, my curiosity rising as I tried to hide my laughter.

"My assistant." Dresden yelled back curtly.

"Moi? A mere assistant? No, my dear boy, you wouldn't be alive if I hadn't helped you out of all the magical scrapes you've gotten yourself into over the years. You are my assistant."

"Bob... I don't have time for this. I need to find my red notebook, we need to get to work and you need to shut up."

"Tell you what, I will tell you where your precious notebook is if you agree to a few certain terms and conditions...You know. The usual one."

There was a beat of silence.

"Fine." Dresden ground out.

"Here." there was the sound of fluttering pages and a thump as Dresden caught something. "Was nice meeting you, kid." Bob called up to me.

"Same here, I guess."

A few more minutes passed before Dresden called me down into the lab, apparently deeming it safe. When I descended, I noticed that the trapdoor was the only exit. I peered around the cramped corners, looking for the mysterious, yet highly entertaining Bob, but all I saw was three wooden benches, a circle on the floor and shelves cluttered with odds and ends.

"Uh, where's your assistant?" I queried nonchalantly.

"I gave him the night off. Here." he shoved the notebook at me before I could ask more questions and he began digging in boxes "We need to make this potion. Red Court vampires have a narcotic-like saliva. It sends pleasure signals to the brain, which is why you don't see their victims struggling so much. This brew counteracts that by targeting all of our senses with undesirable things. Read me off the list as we go so I don't forget anything."

I began with the item the top of the list, and he tossed it at me before we moved on to the rest.

It was shortly after sundown that we had found our target again. Dresden's tuning fork had located him in an abandoned steel factory on the south side of town. As we approached the building, I took out a small energy drink bottle and chugged its contents down quickly. Dresden assured me that this potion would work, though I question its efficacy for it was the strangest concoction I had ever seen. He was unsure how long the potion would last, so we decided to take it as soon as we found our target. I grimaced at the brews pulpy texture and made a mental note to brush my teeth well when we were done to get rid of the essence of skunk.

I agreed that I would follow his lead, seeing as he could throw out his senses to feel cold spots identifying where the creature was, and we quickly entered the building. My wand gave off a faint blue light, just enough for us to see by, and we began climbing stairs. It was hard not to make noise as we traversed through the building. An empty can kicked here, a creaky door hinge there, the soft whisper of Dresden's coat as we quickly turned to see a rat scurrying out of sight. So far, Phillip had not reacted our presence. I could only imagine that he was waiting to spring out at us. With each new room we entered, the tension rose higher as we expected to meet our prey, and with each failed encounter it only increased our paranoia. We had almost traversed the entire building by now, so where was Phillip?

"Behind me!" shouted Dresden, throwing out his arm as if he was telling someone to stop, and Phillip came hurtling towards us from the rafters above. Dresden's bracelet clinked musically as an invisible barrier sprung up between us and the attacking vampire. His back eyes glittered maliciously through the glow of my wand as he bounced lightly off our shield. Phillip apparently had been busy the previous night, for his stomach was now bloated with the blood of innocent people. I grew nauseous by the mere thought of him feeding. He tried for another attack, but Dresden and I had thought this through. Dresden's shield only protected us in one direction, so we formed ourselves back to back. If Phillip managed to get behind us, we had mere seconds to switch positions again. I saw Phillip try to take us from the other side, so I lashed out my wand as Dresden spun around, trying to hit our attacker with a curse, but he was too fast. My spell missed by a fraction of a second and we were now bathed in darkness, Dresden's bracelet providing just enough illumination for us to see our feet. The creature let out a hiss that sounded almost like a laugh.

Our feet scuffled across the concrete floors as we spun in a tight circle, waiting for the vampire's next move. "We need to finish him off quickly," my eyes quickly scanned the shadows, trying to decipher the vampire's whereabouts. Phillip rushed us, and Dresden spun around. I stumbled, my spell ricocheting off one of the many steel beams, "It's too hard to fight in the dark. I can't maintain a light source and try to attack him at the same time."

"Well, that's why you hit him with a spell!"

"I'm trying! He's just too fast for me!" I started whipping spells left and right as I tried to catch our target, each one casting a different colored glow in the darkness, and inevitably missing their mark. To an outsider's perspective, it would have merely looked like some hoodlums had set fireworks off inside the building. "I can't keep this up," My arm was beginning to tire from cutting through the air countless times, "You have to do something."

Phillip tried to rush us again, clearly noticing my fatigue for the spaces between the spells was slowing down gradually. I pulled Dresden around to face him with all my might.

"Forzare!" Dresden shouted, dropping the shield and brandishing his staff. His spell hit Phillip dead on, sending the vampire flying out the window and into the street.

"WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT?!" I screamed, dumfounded.

Dresden shrugged. "Well, he's out where there's light now, isn't he?" He began chasing after our target.

Things were not going well for me. Now that he was out of the confines of the building, he had the option of running away and fighting us another day. Luckily for us, though, Dresden's spell seemed to really piss him off. He had unfurled his wings, darting at Dresden in short bursts, backing him into a corner. Dresden had his shield in place, but his hands were more or less tied, his staff laying some few feet away in the dirt. Though the beast couldn't fly, with its superhuman strength and wings, it managed to hover realistically for a few seconds with each jump. Phillip, though, had somehow forgotten all about my existence as he tried to break through the invisible barrier that got between him and his prey.

It was at that moment that I realized I was in the prime position of actually helping. I lined up my wand, making sure to aim it towards the beast when he was airborne so that I didn't inadvertently hit Dresden. I never had a need to learn the spells reversal after I first cast it, for I had sworn to myself I would never use it again.

Desperate times, desperate measures.

Time slowed down as I saw Phillip jump in the air preparing for another strike, his wings outstretched to keep him balanced. I took a deep breath.

"SECTUMSEMPRA!" I slashed my wand in the air. The vampire screamed as it fell to the ground with a sickening thud, one of its wings sliced clean off. I ran towards the target, slicing out my spell again before he could rise for another attack, this time catching a leg. It writhed in pain, clawing the ground as it emitted a high-pitched shriek. Just for good measure, I hit it a third time, causing his bulbous stomach to explode its contents outward, covering us in putrid goo.

Dresden propped himself up, favoring his left leg as he collected his staff from the ground to use it as a walking stick. We both stood over the downed beast, pondering our next move as it cried piteously. "Well….what now?"

"I can't take him back to the Ministry. It's just too dangerous if he manages to get loose."

"So, it's okay to destroy the evidence?"

I nodded. Dresden pulled his wand from his coat and whispered "Fuego," setting the squirming mass on fire. Soon the beasts' wails turned into silence broken only by the popping of its bones in the dancing flames. Sirens sounded in the distance.

"Well, looks like they're on to us. You better vamoose, kid, before you get asked one too many questions that they won't like the answers to."

"What about you?"

"I'll be fine. It's your job that's on the line, not mine. I can deal with whomever shows up." He grasped my hand firmly. "Just remember: practical skills. And get yourself a gun."

I smiled faintly, then Disapparated.

It was about three months later that I was reminded of my encounter with that strange American wizard from Chicago. I was at my desk, writing up a report for subduing some trolls out in Notts, when I heard a tiny voice say "Mr. Potter?"

I looked up and saw a group of three tiny fairies hovering before me, two of which were holding a white envelope between them like a banner. They couldn't have been more than 5 centimeters tall. The letter-bearers had pale green hair while the other had a deep plum color.

"Yes?" I asked, mildly puzzled.

The purple haired one, apparently the leader marched forward smartly, then screamed at the top of his lungs "Ten huts!" The trio immediately stood at attention, rigidly saluting me with solemn expressions. "Delivery from the Za Lord!" the leader announced. The remaining two began gliding forward, placing the letter in my outstretched hand.

"Uhh, thanks?" They hovered in the air impatiently, apparently awaiting some tiny cue that I was done with their services, so I gave them a small salute.

This seemed to do the trick, for the leader shouted "Dis missy!" before the three shot off like tiny rockets, disappearing from my sight.

I opened the envelope with curiosity, and then proceeded to laugh. Inside was an invoice for services rendered, along with a note which read "Technically speaking, you ain't police. -D"