The following weeks vanished in a flurry of forms, tears and rushed preparations. There was a LOT of paperwork. There were forms for everything, from leaving the US and getting residency and work permits in the UK to sub-letting my office and being allowed to take Mister, my small mountain lion of a cat, with me. Apparently, he needed to have shots, and spend time in quarantine and a bunch of other funny stuff. Luckily, it seemed that my new employer had someone on the inside in the UK. No government agency anywhere has the right to be that efficient. My applications for a residency permit, work permit and an appropriate visa came through in less than two weeks and without any trouble, which just shouldn't have happened.
I put my sensitive case files in a safety deposit box at my bank, and labeled and cataloged the items in my lab. The people who were going to be using my place would need to know what everything was in case they needed something. I also had a few things in my lab local law enforcement may have "views" on me having, like powdered rhino horn and uranium dust. It didn't feel fair to make the presence of hideously illegal substances a surprise to whoever was going to live here.
I had a few things I didn't want the Wardens to find as well, foremost among them Bob. Bob knew pretty much everything, and no spirit accumulates that level of knowledge without having some serious power to go with it. Also, Bob had been Justin's advisor before he became mine, and Justin had not only been a warlock, but also a Warden, and had kept his activities hidden for decades. Bob was the metaphysical equivalent of a rogue nuke, and if the Wardens found him, I would probably be beheaded as a warlock, no matter what. In the end, I decided to pack him with the rest of my luggage. I wasn't going to leave him here, and I wasn't going to risk his skull getting smashed by some courier, or getting stuck in customs. It was a gamble, but it was how it had to be.
Oh, and I sank my guns into Lake Michigan. No reason to leave illegal firearms lying around. That would just be sloppy.
I decided I'd leave about a week before term started. I'd have plenty of time to get my things in order in Scotland, and have everything ready when the kids arrived. On Saturday evening I'd gone over to the Alphas' place for the weekly game of Arcanos. No matter what you think of the role-playing hobby as such, hanging out with your friends and pretending to be Thorg the Barbarian for one night every now and again is good fun.
As I pulled up in front of the Alphas' building, I smelled wood-smoke and meat, which was kind of strange. Summer night barbecues are common in Chicago, but not so much in areas of cheap student tenement housing. Students tend to leave for the summer.
I walked up the stairs to the Alphas' apartment and rang the doorbell, only to be yanked into the apartment so fast I could barely register it. A loud roar of "SURPRISE!" filled my ears, and before I knew what was happening, I was in a comfortable chair, with a beer in my hand. There was music playing, old jazz records on a hand-cranked gramophone plunked down on a stool. I saw Billy standing on the balcony, flipping burgers on a large grill that looked like it had been made from an old oil drum. The apartment was full of people, talking, drinking and having a good time. The Alphas had thrown me a going-away party. I couldn't remember the last time someone had thrown me a party. I couldn't remember if anyone had ever thrown me a party. My eyes teared up.
Karrin Murphy came over and sat down beside me. Lieutenant Karrin Murphy is Director of Special Investigations for Chicago PD. In essence, she's the top monster hunter on the city's payroll. She doesn't look it. If you saw her on the street, you'd think she was a cheerleader, or perhaps someone's favorite kid sister. Karrin is all of five feet tall in her stockinged feet, with blonde hair, a cute nose and beautiful baby blue eyes, all things which serve to hide one of the sharpest investigators and most formidable fighters I have seen.
"So, Dresden. You're leaving town." Murphy said flatly.
"Yeah.", I answered, slightly embarrassed. "I was offered a job in Scotland, steady work for at least a year. I didn't think I'd ever leave Chicago voluntarily, but work's work and money's money…."
"I understand, Harry." Her voice softened. "I don't like it, but I understand."
"Murphy, have you gone soft on me?" I almost giggled.
Murphy punched me in the arm playfully. At the same time, Billy announced that the burgers were ready and everyone lined up for food. I got buns and burger patties, and assembled two mighty fine burgers with them and the wide selection of trimmings that was set on a side table.
I sat back down in the chair, and tucked in. American food at its finest. Then Billy sat down beside me. Billy was short, but almost as wide as he was tall, rippling with muscle. Running around at night in a wolf's shape will do that to someone, I guess. Billy was the leader of the Alphas, a pack of college kids turned shapeshifters. He was also a good friend and a good ally. He and the other Alphas had turned the University of Chicago campus into a no-go zone for all kinds of lesser bugaboos.
He went straight to the point. "I'll be sad to see you go, Harry. Gaming night won't be the same without you.". He smiled. "Plus, without you there to complain about the magic rules, I'm going to have to buy more beer.". That was one of our house rules. He who kills the cheer, goes for beer. I couldn't stop myself from complaining about the unrealism of the magic rules every now and again. Often. Okay, twice a night, more often than not.
Billy turned serious again. "Seriously, Harry, we'll miss you. Keep in touch. Send us a letter or two. And don't worry too much. The city will still be standing when you get back. The Alphas will see to that.". The last was said with a young man's complete belief that he was invulnerable. I hadn't felt that way in a long time, but Billy's enthusiasm and confidence was almost infectious. He was right, though, I thought to myself. Chicago had managed without me before, and between the Alphas, Special Investigations, Michael Carpenter and the Wardens, my town was in good hands. I smiled contently, and leaned back into my chair.
The evening went on. I received well-wishes, hugs, and slaps on the back from everyone. There were a few tears. Some of them were mine. Michael Carpenter gave me a Gerber multi-tool, and a few choice words. "Remember, Harry. The Lord works in mysterious ways. Sometimes he chooses strange tools and strange ways to do His work, but He always comes through for us in the end."
I smiled again. This was an old debate between us. I have never been big on the whole religion thing. I don't doubt that there is a God, I just don't see why He would be interested in the life and times of Harry Dresden. Michael, on the other hand, has a very palpable reason to believe God takes an interest in him. God does. Michael had been given a holy sword by an Archangel, and charged to do God's work in the world. Michael is a Knight of the Cross, one of three men in the world chosen to carry a sword with a nail from the Crucifixion forged into the hilt. Yes, the Crucifixion, capital C.
Michael is probably the only truly good and righteous person I have ever met. Devout in his Catholic faith, loving towards his wife and his unruly horde of boisterous children, fussy about his work ethic, steely in his resolve to fight the forces of darkness wherever they arise. He is the kind of man that makes the rest of us feel completely inadequate, and he's humble about it all too. Michael is good people. I was going to miss him.
Finally, the party wrapped up and I headed home. I was taking a leap into the unknown by going to Scotland, but it was good to know I had friends back here. No matter what else, Chicago was always going to be home.
The day had come. I was going to Scotland. I'd packed a backpack with some clothes, hygiene articles, the last of my money, Bob, contracts and keys to my apartment and office, and a few odds and ends. I had put on hiking boots, chinos, a button-down shirt and my long black leather duster. My blasting rod was hanging from its loop inside my duster. My shield bracelet was on my wrist and my kinetic energy ring was on my finger. My apartment and lab were in order. There was nothing incriminating left. I was as ready as I was ever going to be. I felt there was something I'd forgotten, but, seriously, how important could it be?
There was a knock on the door. I opened it. Outside stood Ebenezer, just as we had agreed. Ebenezer was heading to White Council HQ in Edinburgh, to take up his duties as a member of the Senior Council, and had promised to guide me there through the Nevernever.
"Ready to go, Hoss?" he asked.
"As ready as I'll ever be, Sir", I answered. I picked up my staff, six feet of solid oak from a lightning-struck tree on Ebenezer's farm, carved along its entire length with mystic runes. We left in companionable silence.
We took a taxi out to an abandoned warehouse down by the docks. The cabbie looked like he thought we were insane, but Ebenezer paid and tipped well, so he didn't do more than give us some funny looks.
"Alright, Hoss. This is the place. You wanna do the honours?" Ebenezer asked.
I nodded, focused my will through my staff and said "Apparturum!" A circular opening opened up in front of us. On the other side was a beautiful winter landscape, all snow and crystalline formations of ice hanging from tree branches. It looked almost like a Christmas card. I looked at Ebenezer. He nodded, so I squared my shoulders and walked through.
The Nevernever is the realm of spirit. It is the home of fae of every stripe, ghosts, demons… pretty much any entity you've heard about from folklore. The Nevernever is a strange place. The landscape changes while you look at it. Streams flow uphill. Distances in the Nevernever don't correspond to distances in the real world. This means that it's possible to use the Nevernever to travel, faster than we could in the mortal world. The parts of the Nevernever closest to the mortal world are called Faerie, and the White Council had an arrangement with the Winter Court of the Fae, also known as the Winter Sidhe or the Unseelie, to use paths through their domain in the Nevernever. The idea was that since we couldn't get on a plane to Europe, we would simply enter the Nevernever, walk for half an hour, and step out of the Nevernever in the White Council Headquarters under Edinburgh castle.
The White Council apparently had a few paths through the Nevernever marked, because Ebenezer seemed to find his way without trouble, which is impressive when there are no landmarks. We travelled in silence, continually on the lookout. The Nevernever isn't a hospitable place, and every nasty ever mentioned in a fairytale, and a few that aren't, are out there somewhere. The Winter fae were supposed to be guarding the Council's pathways, but I wasn't going to take any chances. We walked across the frozen fields, through warm spots, across a small river, and finally Ebenezer opened a portal.
On the other side was a vaulted room that looked more like a medieval dungeon than anything else. There were people standing in the room, five of them, all wearing the long gray cloaks of Wardens. Three of them were young, two men and a woman I didn't recognize. The fourth was an iron-grey matriarch, short but stocky and heavy with muscle. This woman, I realized, had to be Anastasia Luccio, Captain of the Wardens and de facto field commander of the White Council. The fifth, I knew all too well. The long greying hair, the patchy beard, the look on his face which suggested he had spent his entire childhood sucking lemons, and never given up the habit. Morgan. Just what I needed.
Morgan had been my parole officer, for lack of a better word, after my duel with Justin and ensuing trial. Thanks to Ebenezer's intervention, I had been placed under the Doom of Damocles. It's an extremely pretentious name of the kind old wizards love, for what essentially amounts to a parole with extremely severe conditions. If someone under the Doom is so much as suspected of breaking one of the Laws of Magic, it's snicker-snack immediately. No re-trial, no second chances, no extenuating circumstances, just a quick kiss in the neck from a cold silver blade.
Morgan, however, had gone above and beyond the call of duty. He was absolutely certain that I was a warlock, that the only reason no-one had caught me breaking the Laws was that I was too good at covering my tracks, and he had gone to great lengths to prove it. He hadn't found anything was because there was nothing to find, but he couldn't accept that. He was stubborn, inflexible, rule-bound to the point of idiocy and absolutely convinced I was one of the bad guys. As you may have noticed, my opinion of Morgan isn't very high.
Captain Luccio spoke up. She had a very pleasant voice, young-sounding for a woman of her age, tinged with a slight Italian accent. At least I thought it was Italian.
"Senior Council Member McCoy, Wizard Dresden." She bowed. I returned the bow.
"Captain Luccio." I answered.
She gestured to the three young wardens behind me. "These are Warden Steiner…" A blond man with brown eyes, sharp features and a military bearing clicked his heels together.
"Warden Sinclair…" The other man, a shorter, pudgier type, fixed me with an icy, penetrating grey gaze before he dipped his head and showed a bald spot beginning to show in his black hair.
"And Warden Svensson." The last Warden, a blonde woman with grass green eyes, smiled at me. She was pretty, in a willowy sort of way, and had very cute dimples. I had a hard time seeing her as a hardened specialist in arcane combat, but Luccio chose the best, and from what I'd heard, she didn't take kindly to people who couldn't pull their weight. Luccio continued, "They'll be responsible for maintaining a White Council presence in Chicago during your absence.".
Ebenezer spoke up. "Hoss, I need to get to work. Get someone to show you to my office when you're done, and we can talk some more. I've got a few more things you need to know."
I looked at the three Wardens. "Is there somewhere we could talk? I need to go over some things with you before you leave.".
We ended up in the War Room. It was a large room, its walls covered with blackboards, which in turn were covered with arcane scribblings, crude map drawings and all manner of other notes. The room wasn't full of people, I doubt there were enough people in the complex to fill this room, but there was a quiet but frantic activity about the place. People were scurrying back and forth with stacks of paper, typing frantically, or just discussing things in the corners. I knew the war effort wasn't going well, but the tone and feeling of the room had me worried.
We sat down around one of the tables in the room. Sinclair vanished for a bit, and came back with a plate of sandwiches and a pot of coffee. I poured myself a cup and sipped it. I'll say this much for the Council, they at least take care of the people who do their grunt work. The coffee was excellent. The sandwiches were of that small, triangle-cut British kind, but they were filling, and I could definitely get to like British cheese.
I handed over the contracts and keys to my apartment, office and car along with a letter to Mrs. Spunkelcrief, my landlady, and told my replacements to be nice to her. I told them how to lower my wards, how to find the lab and where the catalog of lab equipment was. I told them about the hot-spots in Chicagoland, and gave them the phone numbers to Karrin, Billy and Michael, in case they needed backup. They seemed a bit awed that I was on a first name basis with a Knight of the Cross. That is kind of awe-inspiring, I guess. I knew Michael the father and family-man, they had only heard of Michael, the Fist of God.
Briefing over, I headed up to Ebenezer's office. As I was walking down one of the corridors, a strong hand grabbed the back of my collar and smashed me up against a wall. I was turned around, and a hand closed around my throat. When the stars faded from my eyes, I saw Morgan's pinched, sour face just a few inches from my own.
"What the hell were they thinking, Dresden?!" he snarled. "Exposing those children to you!?"
I tried to say "Maybe they wanted someone who could teach them something.". It came out as "Gllrk.". Morgan had my throat in a tight grip, and he was strong. I've been slapped around by some pretty nasty things in my day, but this was bad.
You don't become the most notorious Warden in the world by being a 98-pound weakling, but what surprised me the most was the sheer ferocity in his voice. I had seen Morgan angry before, but never like this. His grip on my throat loosened slightly. I gulped for air.
"You're dangerous, Dresden. People around you tend to die. I'm not going to let you endanger those children!" he barked again.
His powerful arms threw me to the ground. This time, I managed to not hit the stone face first, but landed on my hands instead. The stone floor was cold, and hard. I rolled over, looked up, and saw that terrible silver blade, the one that had damn near taken my head off, all those years ago. Its tip rested, almost gently, on my throat. I would like to point out that my only reaction was to gulp; I most certainly did not begin to tremble.
"Senior Council Member McCoy has vouched for you, but that means nothing to me, Dresden. If I ever have reason to believe you've corrupted those children with your dark magic, or endangered them in any way, I will do things to you that would make a quick beheading seem like a world of mercy."
With that, he slammed his sword back in its sheath and stalked away.
Still not trembling, I lurched to my feet, mumbled out a half-hearted "Asshole.", and staggered down the hall. I knew that Morgan had it in for me, but I hadn't expected an all-out attack. Not here, not now. By the time I reached Ebenezer's office, I had almost turned back into a human being. I knocked and heard a mumbled "Come in.", so I went in.
Ebenezer was sitting behind a desk, looking through a large stack of papers. I sat down in a chair opposite him. The old man looked up at my face and sighed.
"What kind of trouble did you get into this time, Hoss?", he asked in a tired voice.
I scratched at my nose. There was some dried blood. "Walked into a door, Sir", was my witty comeback. You can't win them all.
The old man sighed, and threw a small bag onto the table in front of me. It clinked. "Minnie asked me to give you this. It's an advance on your salary. She assumed you would be needing to go to London and buy a few things before school starts.".
I looked into the bag. It was full of gold coins. I looked up at the old man, my jaw hanging slackly.
"That's the second thing I needed to talk to you about. The supernatural community in Britain".
"Gold coins?!", I blurted out, still shocked at receiving gold.
Ebenezer leaned forward, his tone dead serious. "You have to understand this, Hoss. The magical folks here are pretty much a culture apart from the regular one. They have their own communities, their own schools, their own currency, and they don't much like to be around regular folks.". Go, go, gadget culture clash, I thought. "There's even a Ministry of Magic, embedded in the British government, but they only deal with the supernatural community."
I had thought that my paperwork came through quickly, but if there was an entire branch of government to deal with supernaturals, it would explain why. Of course they would see to it that a guest teacher from the U.S. would get through with a minimum of fuss.
"How have the magical community managed to stay hidden?". I wondered.
"They've had centuries to prepare wards, illusions and repelling charms, Hoss, and the sheer levels of ambient magic take care of any technology around. Also, they've perfected mind magic to a level unmatched by anyone else.".
"Mind magic?! That's a violation of the Third Law!" I blurted out, incensed. That an entire community would base their existence on the institutionalized use of dark magic, right under the Council's nose… it was unthinkable!
Ebenezer held up his hands. "Forceful violation of another mind is a violation of the Third Law. Hoss. However, using suggestion to speed up ordinary human memory repression isn't. You know better than most how good normal humans are at forgetting about things that shouldn't exist. The Brits just give it a little extra push.".
I sank back in my chair, somewhat mollified. Ordinary people had an amazing ability to ignore things that shouldn't be able to happen, in their view, and those qualifiers had moved their use of mind magic from black to dark grey. I still didn't like it, though.
Ebenezer handed me a smaller bag. I opened it, and saw a fine, silvery powder. "Careful, Hoss. That stuff's valuable.", he cautioned. I peered at the powder suspiciously. "What is it?". I asked. "Floo powder. It's an extract of the floo plant, used to travel.". Ebenezer explained. "Some fireplaces are linked up to what's called the floo network. Find one of those fireplaces and throw a handful of powder into the fire. If the fireplace is linked up right, the flames will turn green. Just walk into the fire, and say loud and clear where you want to go, and you'll end up in the linked up fireplace that's nearest to there.".
"Why haven't I heard of this, Sir?", I asked, feeling perplexed and slightly insulted at why I'd never heard of such a convenient way of magical transportation.
"There's several reasons. First, the floo plant is almost impossible to grow in America. I tried growin' it on the farm, but it wouldn't take, even in a greenhouse. I don't rightly know why. If you're really interested, ask Pomona Sprout, the Herbology teacher, when you get to Hogwarts. Second, makin' the powder ain't exactly something you can do in the bathtub. It's hard to make, and that makes it expensive. Third, linkin' up a fireplace to the floo network, even temporarily, is finicky and time-consuming, and it means you'll have people walkin' through your living room on the way to visit your neighbors. It just ain't worth the trouble for most people back home. Taking a jaunt through the Nevernever is easier and just hopping on the train is cheaper. The folks over here have a different set of priorities, though. Most fireplaces were hooked up centuries ago, people already know each other for the most part, don't mind unexpected guests much when they do show up, and, as I said, they don't like to mix with regular folks much.".
I nodded. Funny Europeans and their strange habits… ah, well. To each his own, when in Rome, and so on, I thought to myself.
Ebenezer told me to stay at the Leaky Cauldron when I was in London. It was a small pub on Charing Cross Road, but the landlord, Tom, was a minor practitioner and had a few rooms he was willing to rent to other practitioners. He also told me that behind the Leaky Cauldron lay Diagon Alley, the hub of London's magical community. He recommended I take a few days in London to see the sights, and set up an account and get a vault at Gringott's Bank since "bags of gold make for a lumpy mattress" as he put it. Finally he gave me some advice.
"Stop by Madam Malkin's or Twilfit & Tatting's in Diagon Alley and get yourself some new robes, son." I began to protest, but he cut me off. "Darn it, boy! Listen to the old man. Buy some new robes, and make sure at least one set's formal. I hear there's something big happening at Hogwarts this year, and I don't want you makin' a fool of yourself in that old bathrobe. Again."
OK. The old man was right. I had always thought formal robes were kind of stupid, but I probably hadn't looked my best when I appeared at the Council meeting before Midsummer in an old tartan bathrobe. I probably hadn't looked entirely sane either.
We said our goodbyes. Ebenezer promised he would come up and visit when I had had a chance to settle in, and I walked over to the fireplace. I opened the bag of… floo powder? Yes, that was it, floo powder, and threw some into the fire. The flames turned a bright emerald green. I walked in gingerly, afraid I might get burned, but the flames were cool. Apparently, there is more in heaven and earth than is dreamt of in even in a wizard's philosophy. Who'da thunk it? I gathered myself, and spoke. "The Leaky Cauldron, London."
I suddenly felt as if I was sucked out through the chimney and flying through the air. I saw chimneys pass beneath me, swishing by like fence poles beside a train. Fields, woods, villages and towns flew past, and were soon replaced by urban housing. Then I was sucked back towards earth, towards a chimney in central London. I braced myself for impact… and staggered out into a small, dingy, dimly lit taproom.
A/N: Wow. It's been a while, huh.
A big thank-you to all my fans who struggled through my god-awfully crappy beginner's formatting, especially those who called out my fact errors concerning Potterverse continuity. I am nowhere near as at home in the Potterverse as I should be, and should read up a lot more than I have before I continue. Also, there have been MANY silly mistakes. For example I forgot all about Dresden's cat Mister... anyway, thanks again for the help. Everything should now be fact-checked and re-written/re-formatted for greater ease.
I don't know how long it will be before the next update. I tend to start things and forget about them. I will feel more motivated now that I know I actually have actual fans!