Title: Common Cause

Author: Jedi Buttercup

Rating: T

Disclaimer: The words are mine; the worlds are not.

Summary: The dark-haired young man standing in the flaming circle would definitely qualify for White Council ranks someday, if he hadn't graduated from brown robes already. 1200 words.

Spoilers: DF post-Dead Beat & pre-Changes; Sorcerer's Apprentice (2010)

Notes: 24 Days of Ficmas 2011, Day 8: for polgara_5. Prompt: "On the run from a Red Court Vampire attack, Harry makes a wrong turn in the NeverNever and ends up in the middle of Dave's lab."

I wasn't sure just where I'd gone wrong, but I must have taken a left turn in the Nevernever at some point, because the exit I'd been aiming for definitely wasn't an old brickwork subway turnaround with a flaming network of circles rising from its center.

I blinked in surprise, then lifted my staff to stop the rip in the fabric of reality from sealing behind me. Running for my life or not, I doubted it was a good idea to interrupt a wizard in the middle of a powerful working. I could practically taste the magic hovering in the air; the dark-haired young man standing in the centermost circle would definitely qualify for White Council ranks someday, if he hadn't graduated from brown robes already. And since the d├ęcor was still American, and I didn't recognize him... that didn't bode well for the kid's allegiances. There just weren't that many wizards left in my territory, not since the Council had stooped low enough to draft one Harry Dresden as a Warden.

Unfortunately, we weren't alone. A brilliant yellow-green light flared just to the left of my range of vision, and the staff jerked as though someone were trying to tug it out of my hands. The countering spell utterly skewed the path of my will before I'd even completely finished calling it up, and a coruscating shimmer of light flared out as the working tore apart. I swore at the sting of the recoil in my fingers, then shook out my shield bracelet as I turned to face whatever might come at me next.

"Interesting," my attacker said, stepping out of the shadows to the side of the vaulted underground space. He gestured idly with one hand, and the staff twitched in my grip again.

I wove a little extra application of will between my fingers and raised my eyebrows in return. "Interesting isn't the word I'd choose," I said, eyeing the man's attire.

"What word would you choose, then?" the guy replied, dryly.

He was definitely one of those wizards who defined the word 'eccentric'; I would be surprised if he'd updated his wardrobe in the last half a century. Fingerless gloves over arm warmers over a dark, long-sleeved shirt topped by a woolen vest? He had longish, unkempt blond hair, and he was wearing nearly as many rings as I was, too. Most were set with large, square stones, and the one on his index finger glowed the same color as the spell that had disrupted my exit- probably his focus object. Oddly, his very eccentricity relaxed my nerves a little; he just didn't come off like another Cowl.

Then again, my instincts about people had been wrong enough times to make me a cautionary story in certain circles. I raised my shield hand, palm open and empty, and adopted my best impersonation of Mouse sitting by the front door with his leash in his mouth.

"Look, I didn't mean to intrude," I said. "I obviously came through the wrong door; all I want to do is leave the same way, and you can get back to whatever it is you're doing..." I trailed off as I glanced back at the flaming circles, and the shapes they outlined abruptly triggered a memory. "Wait. Are you guys Merlineans? I thought you were extinct!"

They certainly hadn't responded to the ally bond the White Council had invoked when the Red Court war began; the two orders had parted in the seventh century A.D. when the Merlin who'd given the White Council's chief seat its current title had broken with the governing group of wizards and set himself up in a tower with three new apprentices and a brand new approach to magic. The Council had let him for three main reasons: he was the most powerful wizard alive at the time; he hadn't broken any of the Laws in doing so; and his little group of sorcerers had become the lightning rod for an order of warlocks run by the Merlin's bitter enemy. Generally, the Council left them all well alone to pursue their little feud without interference, but none of them had been seen in nearly eleven years now. Consensus was, they'd finally exterminated each other.

The Merlinean's eyes narrowed, and he took a longer look at my staff, then my grey cloak. "Warden," he said, grimly. "I thought your kind knew to leave New York to me. Has something changed in the last ten years?"

I'd read a lot about the order during the three years I'd lived on Ebenezar McCoy's farm. They were kind of a cautionary story to wizards who wanted to strike out on their own, especially since the peculiarity of their approach to magic meant they were easily killed if you could just strip their foci away from them, but I'd been kind of fascinated by some of their more esoteric techniques. And I certainly remembered which sorcerer had supposedly set up shop in the Big Apple.

...which was nowhere near where I was supposed to have ended up. "Wait, I'm in New York?" I blurted, staring in disbelief at a man who could only be the infamous Balthazar Blake.

"What do you mean, Warden?" the dark-haired kid said, finally stepping out of the spellwork circles to glance between me and his mentor. "Are you a sorcerer, too?"

"You're not done yet, Dave," Blake said, gesturing at him without even turning to look at him. "No, he's not a Morganian. Yes, he's a magic user. You'll find his Council in the back pages of the Incantus, if you ever bother to do the study-work I've assigned you. And yes, I'm serious. You have a date tonight, remember? But only if you finish your exercises, first."

Dave opened his mouth to interrupt at least twice during that recitation, raising a finger for attention, then shut it again both times, stymied by the bland delivery and utter disregard in Blake's expression. I knew how he felt; both of my Masters had been hard-asses in their own ways, though luckily for the kid I was getting more of a McCoy vibe from Blake than a du Morne. Nurturing, but not nice. And with the amount of power radiating off him, he probably needed that just as much as I had.

"Fine, fine," Dave grumbled, and walked back into the circles, raising the flames again with a careless wave of his hand. Which wasn't wearing a ring- I frowned at that, then shook my head and turned my attention back to Blake.

According to the clock on the wall- and presuming this was the same day I'd left Chicago- I'd just lost three hours in the Nevernever. I didn't currently have anything on my plate, though, besides the ambush I'd walked into on my way back from a simple lost and found case. I could spare some time to explain.

"A lot has changed, actually. How much do you know about the Red Court?"

Blake's expression shifted from coolly nonchalant to intense enough to ignite flame in half a heartbeat. "The Morganians have contracted with them from time to time," he said, grimly. "Tell me more."