Set post-HBP and “Birds of a Feather”–mostly movie and TV-verse, respectively, but possibly with one or two elements from the books sneaking in. Thanks to Christina for the emergency beta and title suggestions (the subtitle is hers! *g*).
One of these days I’ve got to learn how to say no to Murphy. It’d make my life so much simpler.
Not that I’m blaming her, not really. She gets a report from the Greyhound terminal about some teenage kid throwing a couple of guys around with what appeared to be magic, it’s only natural she’d drag me out of bed at 3AM to come down and take a look. As natural as it should be for me to pass the buck to Morgan and the Council and let them deal with it. You’d think, anyway.
Instead–naturally–I got it into my head to take a look at this kid myself before I hand him over to anybody. Partly because, except for the victims and some of their friends, we couldn’t get anyone at the bus station to testify against him, which kinda makes one think the tossing might not be entirely undeserved. Mostly, though, I just think no matter what he did or why he did it, a kid that young doesn’t deserve to have a death sentence from the White Council potentially hanging over his head. And for that matter, no one of any age should have to deal with that undeserving of it–I ought to know.
Still, there was a very big part of me that would’ve much rather been home in bed than sneaking into a youth hostel because the receptionist seems to have the idea that I’m some sort of pervert, not a perfectly legal, official police consultant. Not that catching me sneaking in after she threw me out was likely to disabuse her of this notion, so I really, really hoped I wouldn’t get caught. The last thing I needed was for Murphy to leave me to stew in lock-up for the day and maybe overnight because I went to find the kid when she asked me not to, never mind that she should know better by now than to put me onto a scent and then tell me not to follow it.
Unlike a hotel, the hostel didn’t have separate rooms for its guests. Instead, there were a couple of large dormitories and the kind of massive bathrooms you’d find in a college dorm, an army barracks or a high school gym. All I had to do was find this kid’s bed and hope it could tell me something about who and what I was dealing with. Then I’d either do the sensible thing and call Morgan, or I’d leave my card with a note to call me and probably get myself killed.
Fortunately or unfortunately for me, I couldn’t have missed my target if I’d wanted to. The kid’s power radiated off of everything he touched like a giant neon sign reading, “Wizard here.”
He didn’t have much, just one bag stuffed into a foot locker at the end of the bed. No protective wards on said foot locker, either, which either meant he didn’t know to place them or didn’t expect to need them: I was betting on the latter. The description I’d gotten from the kid’s “victim” suggested someone who was pretty damn well trained. Probably better–or at least more formally–trained than I was, which was one more reason why I was out of my mind to even be poking around here.
Inside the bag were two or three changes of clothes, pretty standard attire for a teenager, and a couple of personal items. One in particular caught my eye: a photo album with pictures in it that moved. Huh. I’d heard about that sort of thing, but never seen it. That sort of thing was a lot more common in, say, European countries where the current magical tradition went back a lot further. American magic, like American culture, was a weird amalgamation of spells and traditions from all over the world, which meant it didn’t quite operate by the same rules as the rest of the world. The photo album fit with what one witness had claimed, that his friend’s “attacker” spoke with an English accent.
What I didn’t find, however, was a passport, which meant I now had a pretty good idea how he’d gotten to the US, if not to Chicago.
A sharply spoken word from somewhere behind me and a burst of power ripped the photo album out of my hands a second before the foot locker slammed closed of its own accord. I had enough warning to save my fingers from a nasty accident, but just barely.
I had a good idea what I’d find when I turned around, and sure enough, there was a boy who looked about sixteen, glaring at me from behind a pair of round glasses that were taped over the bridge of the nose. It’d be almost funny if his eyes weren’t dark with fury. I stood slowly, trying to give myself time to get a good look at the kid and compare it to the descriptions we’d been given at the bus station: tall but not too tall, with short black hair that looked like it had tangled with a weed whacker. Said hair was too short to hide the distinctive scar on the forehead–a jagged line like a lightning bolt running from his hairline to his eyebrow. He had a wand in one hand–an honest-to-god wand, not an improvised number like my late, lamented drumstick–yet another indicator that he came from somewhere with a long and stable tradition of wizardry.
“Who are you?” the boy rasped in a voice that was raw with anger but still definitely English. “What do you want from me?”
“Hey, take it easy.” I held up both hands in a gesture of goodwill that I hoped would work, since I’d left my staff on the floor just in case waving a hockey stick around would only alarm the kid. It was still within reach if I needed it. “I just want to talk. You’ve been calling a lot of attention to yourself, so you’re lucky it’s just me snooping around and not someone representing the Council.”
The wand didn’t move, but I could see his eyes and mouth tighten into defensive lines. Wonderful.
“Look,” I decided to press the advantage while I still had it, if I ever did. “It’s obvious you don’t know really know much about things work over here. All I want to do is give you a hand.”
“And why should I trust you?”
“Because I know what it’s like to have that bunch of self-righteous navel gazers give you hell for not following the letter of the Law, never mind that I’d be dead if I’d done things their way. Believe me, that’s not something you ever want to deal with.”
The distrustful look on his face degenerated into a sneer, an expression that didn’t look natural on his face. But at least the hand holding the wand dropped–apparently he didn’t consider me a threat. “I don’t know who you are, or what sort of help you think you can give me, but I don’t need it. Get out.”
“You’re a wizard,” I stated baldly.
The wand snapped back up like a catapult and a spell was on his tongue almost before it got level with me. Luckily, I’d anticipated just such a reaction and had both staff and shield bracelet up to block it in time. “Look, kid, I told you, I’m just trying to help you. Will you stop jumping the goddamned gun and just listen for a minute?”
“My name’s not ‘kid,'” he spat out, enough venom in his voice that you’d think I’d called him a lot worse.
Nah, it couldn’t be that easy, could it? “So what is it?”
“You know,” he stated bitterly.
I shook my head. “Trust me, if I did, I’d be using it.” I wasn’t lying. As much of a handful as this kid was proving to be, I could use a little true name magic right about now, even if using it would bring Morgan down on me like the proverbial ton of bricks.
His eyes narrowed suspiciously. “Harry. Harry Potter.”
Oh, didn’t that just take the cake. Even though I didn’t dare lower my staff and end our little stalemate, I had to laugh.
“I’m not going back,” he stated defiantly.
I shrugged, still pondering ways I could get revenge on Murphy for sending me after a renegade kid who was not only a wizard, but also practically my namesake. “Back where?”
That seemed to throw him a little, but he recovered and answered, “to Hogwarts.”
“Okay. Can’t say I’d want to be sent back to a hog’s warts either.”
Young Mr. Potter faltered. “You…you honestly don’t know…who I am?”
For the first time since we’d so inauspiciously met a few seconds ago, I had a feeling the kid might actually be listening to me. “Should I?”
The wand wavered. “But then…why were you laughing?”
I nodded vaguely in its direction. “Put the wand down and promise me you’ll at least hear me out, and I’ll tell you.”
Still looking confused but wary, he lowered the wand and, at a gesture from me, took a seat on the bed. I relaxed my own grip on my staff and offered him my hand. “Pleased to meet you, Harry Potter. My name’s Harry Dresden.”
Half an hour later, we were back at my place and I was heating up a cup of tea for my guest over a bunsen burner. Okay, so it was probably still an incredibly stupid idea for me to try to handle this kid without some sort of back-up, but what can I say? He reminded me of me, moreso even than Scott, and not just because of the name.
Potter accepted the cup of tea and took a sip. When he didn’t declare me an ignorant Yankee and upend it over my head, I figured things were looking up.
“So. What brings you to Chicago?” I asked.
His entire bearing shifted. Shoulders that had started to relax once he had the tea in his hands tensed up again, and I could see his knuckles turn white where they gripped the cup. He answered with just one word. “Voldemort.”
Voldemort? It sounded like something you’d take for indigestion. “Who or what is that? Someone you’re running from?”
“No!” was the vehement answer, a firm denial the likes of which only an indignant teenager can produce. Then his tone turned more serious, and a hell of a lot more subdued. “I’m not running away, I was…I didn’t want anyone else to get hurt. Or killed.”
Ah, so that’s how it was. “So you decided to act as bait, and figured if you took the bait halfway around the world, the people you cared about wouldn’t accidentally wind up in the way?”
He didn’t answer, just stared at his tea. Which was really answer enough, even taking into consideration the kid was English.
“So tell me about it.”
Potter looked up. “Tell you about what?”
I shrugged. “Everything. Who is this guy, why’s he after you, yadda yadda yadda.”
You could’ve sent the El through his mouth, it dropped open so wide. “You really don’t know?”
“I really don’t. You’d be surprised how much of what’s going on around the world never makes the news over here. Even in what you might call our…smaller circle.”
So he told me. It was pretty much your standard tale of woe–kid loses parents to evil wizard with delusions of world domination, kid miraculously survives attack from said evil wizard and causes spell to backfire on him, turning him into a disembodied spirit, kid spends the next ten years of his life with abusive, non-magical relatives only to discover at the grand old age of eleven that a) he’s a wizard and b) on the downside, the guy who failed to kill him before is still trying. There was a prophecy in there somewhere too, a few more deaths and a betrayal for good measure. Okay, so maybe not your standard tale of woe, although it had a lot of the classic elements, but plenty of woe. And for me, more than a little that’s familiar too.
“Harry…Harry, I know what you’re thinking and I would not advise it. Don’t let the coincidental fact that he shares your given name cloud your judgment.”
On the excuse of making a phone call, I’d left Harry the younger in the lab and wandered out to my office to think, something Bob apparently thought I needed help with.
I sighed. “He’s just a kid.”
Bob shook his nonexistent head. “A ‘kid’ who just happens to have incurred the wrath of one of the most powerful black wizards of our time.”
Okay, that got my attention. “You know this Voldemort character?”
“I know of him,” he answered vaguely. “And trust me, he is not a wizard you want to cross, not even with the entire White Council at your back. If you give this boy sanctuary and Voldemort does come looking for him, it won’t be a question of if you die, only how painfully.”
Perfect. Just what I needed. So then, why was I thinking what I was thinking?
“And what if he’s wrong?” I pointed out. “What if Voldemort doesn’t come after him, but instead decides to use someone he cares about to lure him home?”
“Then perhaps you ought to encourage him to return before that can happen,” Bob suggested. “But if you try to keep him here and protect him, you will fail.”
Always nice to know the skull has faith in you. “Thanks for the vote of confidence.”
“He’s right,” Potter’s subdued voice came from behind me. Should’ve known the phone excuse wouldn’t work.
“I didn’t think, I just ran.” He took a step further into the room, hands shoved deep into his pockets. “I thought…if I could just get far enough away…that my friends were in danger because they were close to me. I didn’t consider the alternative.”
Potter looked at me, and the disgruntled teenager I’d run into at the hostel was gone. “If Voldemort went after Ginny or Ron or Hermione because I wasn’t there…I’d never forgive myself.” His mouth twisted into a bitter smile. “You were right all along, Mr. Dresden. I was running away. I didn’t ask for this, but that doesn’t mean I can just turn my back on it and leave my friends to face the consequences.”
“A wise choice, young Mr. Potter,” Bob agreed with a prim nod.
It was. Even I could see that. But that didn’t mean the part of me that had a hero complex was listening. “So you’re going home. Want me to come along, as back up?”
He shook his head. “Thanks, but as you said, your magic doesn’t work quite the same as ours.”
I shrugged. “Might be just the element of surprise you need.”
Potter smiled. “I think I’ve already got what I need. I just couldn’t see it.”
Right. I held out a hand and he shook it. “Well, if you’re ever in Chicago again, look me up, let me know how it went.”
“I will. And thank you again, Mr. Dresden.”
I couldn’t help it. I grinned. “Call me Harry.”