Rating: A healthy PG-13
Spoilers: Heavy book references in this one, a few book characters appear later on. No plot spoilers, however. TV references: Storm Front, Birds of a Feather, Things that go Bump
Chapter Length: 2878 words
Summary: An unusual epidemic has hit Chicago and Harry's in the thick of it.
Author's Notes: Most of the Council members are based on their book incarnations, with the exception of Ancient Mai, who is from the TVverse and Squeaky, who is from my head.
Within the next fifteen minutes, the energy potion had worn off enough for me to want to tear my arm off. It burned with pain and throbbed against the tight bindings Ramirez had put on it. It was nothing, though, in comparison to the sheer panic I was experiencing at the thought of the Council showing up. I had been distracted before - I had people to rescue. Now that the threat was over, there was room in my head to decide that I didn’t want to die. In fact, I was very violently opposed to the thought of it.
“What time it is?” I asked Ramirez.
“Uh...” he looked at his watch. “9:30 am.” He tapped it. “It’s been 9:30 am for the last three days, though. I need to get it fixed. Don’t you have a watch?”
“It’s been mummified with the rest of my arm,” I said. “Archeologists will discover it in a few thousand years and marvel at the technology.”
“It’s about eleven,” Chanting Girl informed me, helpfully.
“Thanks,” I said. “Eleven. I like eleven. Eleven is a good time. Eleven isn’t dawn at all.”
“I’m sure it’s dawn somewhere in the world,” Ramirez pointed out. He frowned. “Sorry...that sounded comforting in my head.” He put a hand on my shoulder and gave me a serious look. “It will be alright....Did that help at all?”
“Yes, the universe suddenly makes sense,” I replied, with a roll of my eyes. “Thanks.”
“Hey, I got top marks in personal skills,” he said. “It’s not my fault if you aren’t swayed by my good looks and winning personality.”
“I’m just a bit busy freaking out over my impending death,” I explained. “If there’s some sort of ‘how did you like your warden service?’ comment card, I’d be happy to fill it out for you.”
“I left it in my other pants,” he said.
I don’t know how long it took for the Council to arrive, but it seemed like a very long time. The energy potion ebbed away with every second and by the time the first official looking person came into the room, I was sitting with my back against the wall, yawning every 30 seconds and generally trying not to pass out. I kept my mind alert by trying to figure out how to say ‘it’s not my fault, please don’t kill me’ in Latin.
The High Council (or Senior Council, if you’re old school, and most wizards are) consists of 7 very old and powerful wizards. Six of them entered the basement that night. My mind was too fuzzy to try and think of who was missing. Among those I recognized were Ancient Mai (of course), the Merlin (the head of the High Council) and Ebenezar McCoy (who was an acquaintance of the Morningway family, had known my mother, and saved my ass after my uncle died). A handful of wardens preceded and followed them in, secret service style.
McCoy was a very comforting sight, even if he did give me an extremely grumpy look when he spotted me in the corner. I’d spent a few weeks with him one summer in my teen years, at his farm in Missouri. He augmented the education I had been getting from Bob with the fundamental morals of magic – when and why to use it and when and why not to. Bob, while a master with theory, didn’t quite have a grip on those concepts.
Morgan went to meet the Council, with Ramirez flanking him. He stood quietly while Morgan explained the situation. I couldn’t hear it, but I could see from his gestures what he might be saying. At one point, his arm moved in my direction and six pairs of disapproving eyes landed on me. I hunched down into myself like I was a five-year-old who’d broken an expensive vase and was relieved when the eyes moved back to Morgan. Two pairs lingered longer than the others – Mai’s and McCoy’s. Mai looked as though she wanted to eat me and McCoy looked like he wanted to knock me over the head with the staff he was leaning on. I gave him a weak smile and he nodded to me before turning his attention back to Morgan’s explanation.
Morgan took them on a tour of the room, starting with the demon. They circled the circle and talked amongst themselves about it, then headed over to the circle containing the kids. Weepy, who had temporarily wept herself out, started with fresh sobs as they approached. The rest of the kids shrunk to the back of the circle and even Tattoo was looking a bit nervous. The Council asked various questions, which Cologne Ad fielded. Ramirez snuck over to me while they talked.
“After they’re done with the kids, they’re going to send the demon back,” he whispered. “And then they’re going to deal with you.”
“I have until dawn,” I objected.
“They said that nothing you do in the next few hours is going to help or hurt you, so they might as well get it over with,” he shrugged. “Sorry.”
“Not your fault,” I said. “Thanks for telling me.”
He nodded and went back to Morgan’s side.
“What is the demon’s name?” Mai was demanding of Cologne Ad.
“I don’t know,” he answered. “Jamie never told us...”
Everyone looked to Tattoo. He raised his chin defiantly, which lasted all of two seconds before Mai broke out her angry demon face and he cracked. “Deimus.”
“Thank you,” Mai said, sarcastically.
She snapped her fingers at the wardens who had accompanied the Council in. A few of them came over while the rest stayed watching the door. There was a huddle and then they broke off, with Morgan and Ramirez, to the demon’s circle. Within two minutes, the demon was gone and the wardens were back wardening. Focus turned to me.
“Wizard Dresden,” the Merlin addressed me. “Do you have any objections to your trial being conducted here?”
“Um...no, I guess,” I answered. “I have few objections to it being done now, though.”
“Your objections are noted,” the Merlin said. “Your trial will begin in fifteen minutes.”
“Thanks,” I muttered.
I got to my feet and an ocean in my brain sloshed around in a nauseating fashion. Exhaustion has its own kind of nausea that is particularly unpleasant. I braced myself against the wall until the ocean settled again. When I opened my eyes, McCoy was standing in front of me.
“You look like hell, hoss,” he said.
“Yes, sir,” I agreed. He’s one of those people who you call sir. It’s instinctive.
“Gonna make it?”
“Is that a trick question, sir?”
He raised an eyebrow at me. “Don’t be a smartass.”
“Mai’s our for yer blood.”
He gave me an appraising look. “Try not to be an idiot.”
“Bit late for that,” I said. “Er...yes, sir.”
He nodded and left to join the Council again. I took an unsteady step away from the wall and fought against the urge to face plant. One step, two steps.
“Red steps,” I muttered. “Blue steps.” I frowned at myself and drawled in a Bob-like accent: “Now is not the appropriate time for Dr. Seuss, Harry.” Bob, scarily enough, is often the voice reason in my head. Which is probably a good thing, since I seem to have misplaced my own somewhere along the way.
Fifteen minutes passed very quickly and it took me all of them to make it over to the middle of the room where the Council stood. They formed a semi-circle in front of me and some of the wardens, including Morgan and Ramirez, formed another one behind me for that nice, claustrophobic feel.
“I’ll need your pentacle and shield bracelet,” Morgan told me, wearing his best stone face.
I slung the necklace off and held out my left arm for him to take the bracelet. I couldn’t do it myself with one hand. It felt very odd to have the bracelet off - I couldn’t remember the last time it hadn’t been on my wrist. I felt very vulnerable, which was probably the point. Morgan handed my jewelry off to Ramirez and gave me a pat down to make sure I wasn’t harbouring any guns in my pants or anything.
“Kneel,” he ordered.
I was very happy to kneel. Standing was highly overrated, especially when you are suffering from the drop after an energy potion and intense pain. I didn’t do it very elegantly, but I got on my knees and steadied myself. Morgan took a black piece of fabric from Ramirez.
“Oh, do we have to do the - “ I began. The fabric was dropped over my head. “ - hood thing. Guess so.”
“Wizard Harry Dresden,” the Merlin intoned from somewhere in front of me. “You are to stand trial for breaking the Third Law of Magic.”
At least, I think that’s what he said. It was in Latin. Despite Bob’s best efforts, my Latin still sucked. I got the gist of what was going on.
“Do you need a translation?” McCoy’s voice interrupted.
“No, sir,” I mumbled. “I’m getting it. If I have to speak, though...”
“I’ll take care of it,” McCoy said.
“Thank you, sir.”
There was a lot of talking after that. The Merlin went on for awhile about my crimes and how I had done them. I could hear Morgan murmuring behind me, translating for Ramirez, I think. Figures his Latin would be better than mine. Robot.
After the Merlin was done with how horrible I was, the Council was given a chance to voice their opinions. They seemed to be split down the middle – three were inclined to give me lenience and three were inclined to cut my head off immediately. Mai led the latter, claiming that I had broken the laws before and been shown mercy and what had I done with it? She was also eager to detail every time she and I had butted heads in the past five years. McCoy countered that nobody was hurt by my actions, that, in fact, lives were saved by them and no lasting damage was inflicted upon the ‘victim’. I didn’t like them referring to Murphy as the victim, but I didn’t know how to say ‘she’ll kill you if she knew you said that’ in Latin.
A man with a pseudo-British accent and a squeaky voice spoke up. I didn’t recognize his voice, nor had I gotten a good look at him, and so my mind decided he was about 3 feet tall, with a white beard and a pointy hat and possibly wore those pointy shoes with the toes that curled up. His opinion of the situation came down to ‘Mai scares me and I’m going to agree with everything she says’. The Merlin also favoured Mai’s side. He hasn’t liked me since I insulted his tie when I was fourteen.
Martha Liberty, a tall, stern black woman, claimed that I was a nice young man and that I had perhaps acted hastily, but understandably given my friendship with the ‘victim’. Listens-To-Wind, an ancient Native-American, was with Liberty and McCoy and so, it seemed, was his raccoon. I could hear him chittering on Listens-To-Wind’s shoulder. You give a raccoon a candy bar and he’s your friend for life.
“What about the Gatekeeper?” I broke in, suddenly realizing who was missing. McCoy quickly translated for me. “He’s not here, but he should have a vote, right?”
“I will vote as his proxy,” the Merlin informed me.
“That’s - “ I started.
“Dresden,” McCoy warned.
“Unfortunate,” I finished.
“Do you have anything to say your own behalf Wizard Dresden?” Liberty asked me.
I tried to come up with some stroke of genius, but I was so far beyond it at that point that all I could do was shake my hooded head. “I’m sorry for breaking the law,” I finally said. “I thought I had no other choice.”
“Would you do it again, given the result?” The squeaky voiced wizard asked.
“Yes,” I admitted, tiredly. “I wouldn’t let Murphy die.”
“Thank you,” the Merlin said, briskly. “I will give everyone a minute to make their final decisions.”
Blinded, exhausted, hurt and feeling very alone, I had a hard time staying conscious. I couldn’t see a thing and there were times when I had trouble deciding whether I had already lost consciousness or not. I reminded myself that if I was unconscious, I wouldn’t be conscious enough to wonder whether I was conscious or not. Then my brain hurt and I decided to stop thinking all together. It never occurred to me to take the hood off, despite the fact that my hands weren’t bound. They couldn’t be, with one arm in a sling.
“We will now vote,” the Merlin announced, a minute later. I actually heard it as ‘we will now choke’, but realized my mistranslation fairly quickly.
There were three ayes – Squeaky, Mai and the Merlin. Listens-to-Wind, McCoy and Liberty gave three nays.
“As I have the Gatekeeper’s vote,” the Merlin announced. “That makes four in favour and three against. Therefore, it is the decision of the Council that Wizard Dresden be put to death, immediately.”
“That’s crap!” Someone broke out, from behind me. I almost missed it because of the loud whine my heart was making as it dropped into my shoes.
“Ramirez,” Morgan barked.
“Let him speak,” McCoy said, amused.
“Do you have something to say, Wizard ...?” Liberty began.
“Ramirez,” Morgan filled in, sounding as though Ramirez was some embarrassing relative he was attempting to hide.
“Ramirez?” Liberty finished.
“Yes,” Ramirez said. He sounded less confident, but no less angry. “I do. Harry, er, Wizard Dresden, was doing what we would have done and should have been doing. Nobody here has slept in a week, we’re all exhausted and Dresden is the only one of us who bothered to investigate why because we were too busy talking and voting on things.”
Morgan translated rapidly for him, believing maybe, that if he talked fast enough that the words wouldn’t be as offensive. It wouldn’t have worked – the Council all spoke English anyway. They just insisted on Latin to make those of us who were born in the last hundred years feel inferior.
“This guy,” Ramirez continued. I obviously couldn’t see who he was indicating. “Summoned a freakin’ demon that killed three people and then covered it up!” Morgan stumbled on “freakin’”, which I was tired enough to find amusing. “Harry soulgazed a friend, which isn’t a crime, and entered her dream and didn’t do anything but help her get out of it.”
“Were you there as well to see what he did to the victim’s mind?” Mai hissed.
“No,” Ramirez replied. “But neither were the rest of you, and you get to decide whether he should be killed for it after thinking about it for less than a minute. These people?” Again, I couldn’t see who he was indicating. “They were too afraid to contact us for help. If they had known about someone like Harry and been able to go to him for help about what was happening? Nobody would have had to die.”
“That’s enough,” the Merlin said.
“Shut up, Langtry,” McCoy ordered. “The boy has a point.”
“It makes no difference,” the Merlin insisted. “The vote has taken place.”
“No harm in doing another,” McCoy replied, calmly. “All in favour of executing Wizard Dresden for his crimes?”
“Aye!” the Merlin yelled.
“Aye,” Mai hissed.
Silence said Squeaky.
“And all in favour of sparing Wizard Dresden?” McCoy hurried on, quickly.
“Aye,” Liberty declared.
“Aye,” Listens-To-Wind and his racoon said.
“Aye,” McCoy grunted.
“Aye,” Squeaky squeaked.
“Cassian,” Mai barked.
“Aye,” Squeaky repeated, more firmly.
“Aye,” Ramirez muttered from behind me.
“Well then,” McCoy announced. “That makes three in favour and four against. Therefore, it is the decision of the Council that Wizard Dresden be released, immediately.”
“McCoy,” the Merlin warned.
“Can’t stop democracy,” McCoy said. “Warden Morgan, please return Wizard Dresden’s effects to him.”
“Yes, sir,” Morgan said.
The hood was pulled from my head and I toppled over sideways in dizziness and relief. Morgan grabbed my collar to prevent me landing on my broken arm and yanked me back onto my knees by it. He placed my pentacle and shield bracelet into my hand. “You are very, very lucky, Dresden.”
“No kidding,” I agreed. I looked around for Ramirez. He was attempting to ignore Mai’s glare, but at any moment, the left side of his face was likely to burst into flames and melt. “Thank you.”
“She’s going to eat me, isn’t she?” he asked.
“Sleep with one eye open,” I suggested.
He nodded and carefully hid behind a particularly tall security warden.
The Council left, or stormed out and the wardens trailed after them, leaving Morgan and Ramirez to keep an eye on the kids. McCoy also stayed back. I got to my feet, weaving like a sapling in a hurricane and faced him.
“Thank you, sir,” I said.
“You’re an idiot,” he replied.
“Yes, sir,” I agreed. “I’m sorry.”
He nodded, briefly.
“What will happen to the kids?” I asked.
“They’ll get a trial,” he said. “After we’ve had a good night sleep. Should be beneficial to us all.” He leaned on his staff a little and stared at me. “You’re just like your mother, hoss.”
“Thank you, sir,” I said.
“It wasn’t a compliment.”
It was, really. “No, sir.”
“That’s twice I’ve saved your hide. Don’t make it a third time.”
“There will be a third time won’t there?”
“Most likely, sir,” I agreed.
“Just like your mother,” he muttered.
I nodded, which wasn’t the best move. The flooding in my head sloshed around in a sickening fashion. “I’m sorry, sir.”
“What are you apologizing for, now?”
“It’s preemptive,” I explained. “I’m about to pass out on you.”
“Oh,” he said.
And then I did.