Hope the wait is worth it. This is the story of how Harry and Rick met.
Unbeta'd since my usual beta is the recipient, as usual anything you recognise isn't mine. Harry is an amalgam of the TV series and some aspects of the books I think might have appeared in the TV show eventually if it had a chance to run.
Faerie Tale Castle
Of course I knew who he was. Magic and technology mix about as well as Coke and a Mento, so put a wizard anywhere near a TV or radio and you end up with a blackened lump of plastic. That leaves very little in the way of entertainment so I read. A lot. And since I barely earn enough to keep a roof over my head and feed myself and my cat, a lot of my books are of the variety of paperback you might find in your local thrift or dime stores.
That’s not to say that Rick Castle’s work is pulp fiction; I really enjoyed the Derrick Storm books, and he’s certainly a better calibre of writer than some authors of the genre. I’m going to stop now before I dig myself any deeper into this hole.
What I’m trying to say is I recognised him from the photograph on the cover of his book. It wasn't long after the first Derrick Storm book that Castle came to Chicago on a book signing tour. He wasn't as famous back then, so the level of crazy wasn't what it is today, but he was already surrounded by a bevy of gorgeous women, a sight now familiar to anyone who follows the celeb gossip.
My business was still new, I'd hung my shingle just three months earlier. Business was even less brisk than it is now, and I was still top of the Wardens' watchlist having only recently dodged the wrath of the White Council. My head was full of worry, I was not the happy and carefree wizard I am today.
So when Castle blew into McAnally's with a girl on each arm I didn't pay any more attention than to acknowledge his identity. He took up a prominent position at the bar and then announced to the room that the next round was on him. As a penniless wizard with a bar tab longer than the Great Wall of China, that got my attention and I quickly got myself one of Mac's microbrews before the author changed his mind.
I didn't give the man any more thought than to raise my bottle in silent toast, and I had no more interaction with him that night. So imagine my surprise when, the following morning, who should I find at my door than one decidedly hungover author.
"Mr Castle," I said as he entered, manfully covering my surprise with an air of wizardly omniscience.
"Mr Harry Dresden, I presume?" Castle replied. I nodded. "Hey. You were in that bar last night!"
"Very observant of you," I commented as I ushered him inside to the desk that acted as my office.
"I'm an author. It pays to be observant. Something I'd guess is a useful skill for wizard P.I.s too?"
"You could say that. So what can a wizard P.I. do for an author, Mr Castle?" I asked. I waited for him to take the smaller wooden chair on one side of the desk before walking around to my more comfortable swivel chair. Best bit of dumpster diving ever, that chair; few spells and bug sprays to ensure no unwelcome guests and it was a perfectly serviceable seat. Bob, of course, hated it, but it's my chair and my office so he didn't get a say.
Castle leaned forward in his seat, looking suddenly nervous or at least uncomfortable, so I leaned towards him in my best effort to sympathetically mirror him. He took a deep breath and let it out in a long sigh.
"Please, when you're ready, tell me how I can help, Mr Castle," I gently prompted. He looked up at me and gave me a nervous grin before replying.
"Call me Rick, please. And I hope you can break a curse for me."
Turned out that Castle came from a long line of mystics, psychics and carnie con artists. No major talents, but a low-level magical ability, some fae blood somewhere in the family tree (his words, not mine). And it was this blood that was causing the problem.
"Family legend tells of a changeling ancestor, born of Winter Court, who defied Mab. He chose his humanity over his Fae side so she had him pegged as her next Winter Knight, but he refused her and cut all ties to the Sidhe. Naturally, Mab was pissed and cursed his bloodline. Any who sided with her were spared, and for some reason the women were immune, but all men of the Rogers family die when they reach forty-two," he explained to me.
My heart sank at the mention of Faerie, and more so when he said Mab's name. I hadn't had much dealings with the Courts in those days, but I had enough problems with my godmother, the Leanansidhe, and I knew that the Winter Queen's power and cruelty made Lea look like an amateur in comparison.
Castle nearly uttered her name a third time, but I shushed him in time.
"Names have power, especially to the Sidhe. Last thing we want is to summon her here," I explained. Castle visibly blanched and nodded.
"So you believe me? Do you think you can help? Is there any way to break this curse? I have a daughter, and I really want to be around to see her grow up," he said.
"I won't lie to you Rick. It won't be easy, if it's even possible," I answered honestly. I could use the payday, but going up against the Fae was insanity, no matter what the per diem.
"I'll pay double your usual going rate, no matter what the outcome," Castle said as if reading my mind. Hell, he could well have been if he possessed any of the family talent.
"It's not about the money, Mr Castle, Rick," I replied. Although it would definitely help; clients had been thin on the ground and I was struggling to make rent. "I'll take your case, I'm just warning you that you might not get the result you want. I'll do everything in my power, but the Unseelie Court is a major force to be reckoned with."
"I understand," he said and pulled out a checkbook before proceeding to write one out to me. "This should cover your first week. Any additional expenses let me know."
I took the check and somehow managed to not stare slack-jawed at the zeros. He'd paid more than double what I charged for a month, let alone a week. I stood up and pocketed the check.
"I'll get started with some research and let you know what I discover. Daily reports or do you just want to know when I've got something?"
"I'd appreciate you keeping me in the loop. Thank you, Mr Dresden," he answered and held out his hand. I shook it firmly.
"It's Harry," I said. For what he was paying, he could call me Shirley if he wanted.
"Thank you, Harry," he repeated with a smile before he let go of my hand then passed me a card with a number I could reach him on and left.
I took the check out again and stared at the number for a bit. I'm not ashamed to say I may have drooled a little. But was it enough zeros to go up against the Queen of Winter?
Oh, who was I trying to kid? I'd be looking into this for free. Something about me and needing windmills to tilt at. I folded the check up and put it back in my pocket before I locked the front door and headed to my lab.
A wizard's laboratory is just that; a place to study and experiment, except instead of chemistry or physics the wizard works with spells and potions. Mine is safely behind a hidden and warded door off the corridor between my office and my living space and contains everything I need to create magic, including the worlds most valuable magical resource (but please don't let him know I said that). Hrothbert of Bainbridge was a powerful necromancer that lived a thousand or so years ago. His soul was thrice cursed to remain on the mortal plane, bound to his remains, for all eternity. I am the current keeper of said remains (by which, I mean his skull) and as such Bob, as I call him, is companion, teacher, advisor and all round pain in my ass.
He was down in the lab, doodling magically in the air.
"Trying to take over the world again, Bob?" I said as I walked through the glowing gold writing that hung in the air, dispersing it.
"Hardly. No, I thought I'd attempt cracking alchemy. The way you're going it's the only way you'll be able to pay the rent."
I looked at the spirit with a raised eyebrow, assessing if he was joking or not. Deciding he was, I continued my previous business.
"Not going to be a problem."
"Don't tell me you've finally seen sense about using your inheritance? Good job too, Harry."
My Uncle Justin had left me everything in his will, the entire Morningway Estate, which was... significant to say the least. But as I had killed Justin, it didn't feel right to use the money. Plus, although the White Council had ruled it self-defence, they were still watching my every move and living like a prince on his money might be considered motive. And if they decided I was guilty after all, well lets just say that unlike regular courts, the White Council could try you twice for the same crime. And Morgan, chief warden and president of the Harry Dresden Haters Club, would be all too happy to execute me for that crime.
So no, I would not be using that inheritance and I did not dignify Bob with a response. I simply pulled out the check and held it in front of him.
"My goodness. What unspeakable thing did you do to get that?"
"Nothing yet. It's a retainer, I replied, stowing the check in my pocket once more. "For taking on the Winter Queen," I added almost under my breath.
"Taking on the Winter Queen? Have you finally lost your mind? You don't challenge the head of the Unseelie Court lightly, Harry," Bob admonished. It was sweet, really.
I explained the situation to him and asked him if his knowledge of the Unseelie Accords or of the Sidhe in general could lead to a way out of the curse, preferably without bloodshed or either me or Castle ending up bound to Winter.
“Sidhe politics are a delicate matter, Harry. It takes finesse, a quality in which you are sadly lacking,” he said pointedly. “But I think... yes, we'll need the third fom the left, top shelf.”
I followed his instructions and located the tome in question, grabbing the book and placing it on the workbench where it landed with a thud, a cloud of dust being expelled in its wake.
“Careful, Harry! That copy of the Accords was mine when I was alive,” Bob admonished but without much feeling.
“Maybe so, but it’s heavy,” I replied. That’s the kind of witty repartee we exchange on a daily basis. “Don’t tell me you’ve got this thing memorised.”
“Hardly. But if we’re going to find anything, it will be in the Accords. You can skip the first hundred pages; those are to do with neutral territories and how they were set out. The next section defines the circumstances where the White Council may enter the Nevernever and their access to the Ways... hmm, try about halfway,” he instructed, getting that far off and excited look he always gets when we’re trawling through old books of magic and magical lore. Or law in this instance.
I duly opened the book halfway and then thumbed back a few pages to find the title of the section. It was titled “Humans Claimed by Faerie”. He may claim not to have it memorised, but Bob clearly knew the Accords better than he was letting on. Or at least this section of it; I noticed that the book fell open to the section very easily. A question for another time though, right now I needed to focus on the Rogers’ family curse.
Bob began reading the pages, instructing me to page turn for him as necessary. I would have helped in the research in a more constructive way but the book was not only written in Latin, but also was one of those books where all the ‘s’ look like ‘f’. My Latin is about as good as my Welsh so I left the reading to Bob, who kindly translated aloud anything he found of note.
“Hmm...how about...no, that’s only useful in a dispute over goats,” he muttered, making me squint down at the page, trying to translate for myself, although it was no good.
“I thought that the Sidhe aren’t allowed to harm humans who haven’t made some kind of pact with them,” I pointed out. “So how come Mab can kill Rick’s family?”
“Loophole. The Sidhe love loopholes. In this instance, the bloodline allows for the original pact that was broken to be carried through the generations. That’s why she does not kill women; the pact was with a male. And those who side with Winter are fulfilling the pact so she is bound to let them live also,” Bob explained. “It’s very clever. That’s why this will be difficult; Sidhe deals are notoriously intricate.”
We spent a good few hours like that, but nothing quite seemed to fit our needs. It seemed that Mab had made the curse watertight, legally speaking. But then I should have expected no less. The Sidhe cannot tell a direct lie, but they are very adept at telling the truth in ways that make them as misleading as a lie so of course they are experts at finding loopholes and preventing them too.
"Well," Bob said, drawing the word out to express a multitude of emotions in a way that only he can. "There's really only one option left, isn't there?"
I sighed and scrubbed a hand across my tired face.
"I know. But she might decide she wants to keep him. Or worse yet make him the new Winter Knight. How is that any better?"
"At least he'd be alive," Bob replied wryly.
"But without his daughter. Which was the point all along."
"Then we will need to tread very carefully."