Barbara Havisham sat behind her desk, trying to ignore her throbbing headache. Most of the time she foisted disciplinary matters onto one of her deputy principals, but protocol required that the principal be involved in incidents of this nature. Not for the first time in her career, Barbara cursed protocol. She poured her frustration into an icy glare at the girl sitting across the desk from Barbara. Molly Carpenter certainly deserved a glare or two. The girl's hair was a deep violet, shot through with canary-yellow streaks; her clothes (as always) skated the edge of the school's dress code, carefully cut and shortened to be ragged but fashionable. Not only that, but the girl was consistently troublesome in class, detached and distracted. Barbara hoped that this incident would alert the girl's guardian to her attitude problems. Barbara resisted the urge to look at the clock.
"Does your guardian make a habit of being late, Miss Carpenter?"
The reminder of familial authority made the girl shift in her chair.
"No, Ms. Havisham." Barbara nodded approvingly at the title as Carpenter went on. "He must have got caught up in...work."
"Oh? What does he do?" Barbara injected interest into her voice; the more she knew about this Mr. Dresden, the easier it would be to ease him into a conversation about his ward. Interestingly, Carpenter seemed to think for a moment.
"He's a private investigator. He, uh, specialises in finding people. Sometimes he works with the police."
"Admirable." And useful. Barbara would be able to talk to Mr. Dresden about today's incident frankly, and his contacts with the police would be useful in dealing with the consequences.
"Yes." Carpenter said, and she smiled - the first emotion Barbara had seen from her since she had sat down. "Harry's a really good guy."
The silence stretched, eventually broken by a knock at the door.
"Come in," Barbara said calmly, and a man opened the door and stepped through, closing it after himself. Barbara's first reaction was a pulse of fear, quickly suppressed. The man looked almost nefarious, wearing a black leather coat that was totally inappropriate for summer wear; Barbara thought she saw a flash of silver at the collar, matching the silver rings on his left hand. His face was pale and unshaven, given an air of violence by two thin straight scars. He glanced at Carpenter, touched her on the shoulder briefly, and only then looked to Barbara.
"Miss Havisham. I'm Harry Dresden."
"Thank you for coming, Mr. Dresden. Please have a seat." Dresden sat, looking attentive without meeting Barbara's eyes. "I was slightly surprised to find that Miss Carpenter's parents were not her emergency contact number."
"Michael's work used to take him out of town for extended periods," Dresden said smoothly, and Barbara thought it had the ring of rehearsal. "So when Molly enrolled here, he listed me as the contact."
"And you are...her uncle?"
"A friend of the family," Dresden said with a smile. Barbara noted with a frown that Carpenter was suppressing a smile as well.
"Well, I'm sure you're quite busy, Mr. Dresden," Barbar said with a falsely sympathetic smile. "So I'll explain why the office called you here. Miss Carpenter was involved in a fight, and--"
"A fight?" Dresden blurted out. He looked sideways at Carpenter, who looked at the floor and nodded. "Are they all right?"
"Mister Lenore has some bruising, but the school nurse assures me it is not serious. However, this school has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to violence, and as a result Miss Carpenter has been suspended for one week."
Dresden thought for a moment. "Did Molly start the fight?"
"I didn't--" Carpenter began, but Dresden raised a hand without looking at her, and she fell silent.
"I am not aware of what caused the incident," Barbara said slowly, a little concerned about the level of control Dresden had just exerted. "But rest assured that Mister Lenore will be receiving the same punishment as Miss Carpenter."
"Lenore," said Dresden, scratching his chin. "I know that name."
"His dad runs drugs in the south-west," said Carpenter. Dresden and Barbara both frowned at her. "What?" She said defensively. "Everyone knows it's true. And he's stepping right into his dad's shoes here at school."
"Molly," Dresden said in a cold voice. "This is not the place." She flinched, and Dresden turned back to Barbara. "Thank you for explaining everything to me, Miss Havisham. I'll pass this on to Molly's parents, and I'm sure they'll be speaking with her about this. Before we go, I have a request."
"Yes, Mr. Dresden?" asked Barbara. She was familiar with the routine; this is where the guardian asked whether the child's future would be affected, whether the incident would go on their record.
"I would like to speak to Lenore, if he's still on the grounds."
Barbara blinked. "I...don't think that would be proper, Mr. Dresden."
"Even with you present?" Dresden asked earnestly. "I'd just like to apologise to him for Molly's behaviour. I really do feel partly responsible for her lack of self control." He flicked a glance at Carpenter as he said this, and she turned to stare out the window, cheeks pinkening.
"I suppose that might be acceptable," Barbara said grudgingly. "I believe Mister Lenore is still in the sick bay."
"Excellent," Dresden said, standing. "Molly, I'll meet you at the Beetle. When you come back to school, you can apologise to Lenore yourself." Dresden handed Carpenter a set of keys, and she gave Barbara a cursory nod before slipping out of the office.
"I'll show you to sickbay," said Barbara, choosing to ignore the fact that she had not dismissed Carpenter.
Barbara showed Dresden into the two-bed sickbay, and stood against the wall while Dresden walked over to Lenore, who was sitting up warily.
"Lenore, I'm Molly's guardian," Dresden said calmly. He paused. "I'm sorry, I don't know your first name."
"It's Brian," said Lenore. "And you aren't Carpenter's dad, I've seen him."
"You're right. I'm...sort of her godfather," Dresden said with a chuckle. "I just came to apologise for what Molly did to you."
"It wasn't a big deal, just a couple of bruises. I didn't want to hurt a girl, so..." Lenore let his audience fill in the blanks.
"Still, Molly's supposed to be above schoolyard fights, so I wanted to tell you how sad I was to hear that she was involved in violence." Dresden stopped, and shook his head. "Oh, I'm an idiot. I didn't tell you my name. I'm Harry Dresden."
The blood drained from Lenore's face. "Dresden," he said hoarsely.
"Yeah, I imagine you've heard of me. So, I just wanted to say that I'm sorry Molly was in a fight with you, and that I'm very sure that it won't happen again. Not with you, not with any of your friends. Is that clear?"
"Sure, Mr. Dresden," Lenore said, nodding repeatedly. "I got you."
"Excellent. Have a nice day." Dresden walked out of sick bay without waiting for a response.
Barbara caught up to him in the hall. "Mr. Dresden, what you said to that boy was entirely unacceptable?"
Dresden looked at her, but didn't stop walking. "All I did was apologise."
"You...you threatened him!" Barbara said indignantly.
"No. I enlightened him, rather like the Buddha of implied violence." Dresden sighed. "I understand your concerns, Miss Havisham, but I don't want Molly getting caught up with the local criminal talent. Now that Brian knows that, Molly should have an easier time of it at school."
"Well, she will certainly serve out her suspension first!"
"Oh, of course," Dresden said absently. "It'll free up plenty of time for lessons. Oh, here's the carpark. Goodbye, Miss Havisham." And Dresden pushed open the door, not looking behind him.
The Blue Beetle came to a stop at a red light, and Harry glanced over at his apprentice. She appeared fascinated by her fingernails.
"So, starting a one-wizard war on crime, are we?"
Molly flushed. "It wasn't anything like that. It's just - he was talking to this girl, and then he was holding her, and he wouldn't let go. Everyone was just watching, and they wouldn't do anything, so I...made him let go."
"With magic?" Harry asked, eyebrows raised.
"No! With the wrist lock Murphy taught me. It works."
"Ah." The light changed, and Harry urged the Beetle forward again.
Molly looked at him anxiously. "I didn't use magic, so I thought it would be all right."
Harry sighed, pulled the car over, and used the hand brake. He turned to Molly, and held out a fist. She stared at it for a moment, uncomprehending, then broke out into a luminous grin. Making her own fist, she rapped it against Harry's.
"Wizard heroes represent," said Harry, also grinning. "Saving the damsel in distress, it's enough to make me shed tears of pride."
"Maybe you're rubbing off on me," said Molly.
"Scary thought," Harry mused. "Anyway. Now we have to tell your parents. Yeah, I thought that would sober you up."