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03 May 2013 @ 10:00 am
Dresden Files AU: The Power of Names  
Title: The Power of Names
Characters: Harry, Bob
Rating: PG-13
Warnings/Triggers: nothing explicit, but there are significant parallels to mental illnesses in this which some people may find distressing
Spoilers: What About Bob?, Bad Blood
Pairings: none
Word Count 1,487
Summary: There's a monster in Harry's basement, and it's time to face it head on.
Author's notes: Once upon a long time ago, I wrote something for a meme and dustlines and joonscribble were very enthusiastic about it and asked me to continue it. I had nothing at the time, but both of these lovely people are having some work overload issues, so I've kicked my butt and written a story to give them a bit of a distraction for a few minutes.

GC gave me the prompt of 'what if Bob had never become Bob, and was still Hrothbert'. It went a bit different than I was expecting when I started. A bit on the dark side, but not as bad I thought it would be.

Google and I have attempted some Old English. Apologies for any errors.

Harry doesn't sleep well at night anymore; not since moving into this apartment and having Him in the secret basement, too far down to bother anyone but still there, still walking around and plotting and scheming, still ranting and raving constantly.

When he was a boy, he used to feel sorry for the ghost, a man who had done something for love and been cursed for it for all eternity; he thought it was romantic and showed that deep down, the ghost must have some good in him to have risked so much for the woman he loved.

Maybe that was true, but the years of being stuck in that skull and being in the company of truly evil men, has made the ghost a little insane and it seems like, in the years Harry has been away, it's gotten worse; that anything that Harry had done to humanize him is gone for good and all that's left is the evil, the genius that can't sleep and can't get away from his own mind. He's the monster in the closet–a monster Harry is now in charge of and knows he has to face head on.

It takes a lot of courage to go down to the basement, and Harry only manages to do it on his third attempt. The first two times he chickens out, and even now, he's contemplating running for it.

The ghost is pacing around the little circle Harry has his skull trapped in. It's stupid—the ghost can't do anything. He can't hurt anyone. Harry still feels safer having him contained, though.

The ghost is talking to himself, like he always does when he's without direction. He talks in Latin, and Greek, and Old English, and Middle English, and Modern English. He's favouring Old English today, chanting the same two things in a frenetic mantra.

”Ic mæg hælan híe. Ic þearf hælan híe.

Harry doesn't know what that means. He waits to see if the ghost will notice him, but he's too intent on whatever he's doing. Harry pulls a stool over to the edge of the circle and sits down.

”Ic mæg hælan híe. Ic þearf hælan híe.

“Hello?” Harry tries.

The ghost pauses briefly, tilting his head to one side as though he's listening to a distant sound. He continues pacing after a moment.

“Hey,” Harry says, waving his hand. “Hey, listen.”

Still no response.


The response to that is immediate and violent, the ghost swooping across the circle and right up to Harry's face, stopped by the circle's bounds. “That is not my name,” he growls.

Harry instinctively jumps, even though he knows the ghost can't hurt him. He swallows and tries to recover himself. The ghost saw him jump. He's grinning.

“Names have power,” Harry says. “You taught me that.”

The ghost ticks his tongue. “Oh, it remembers something!” he sneers, with a laugh.“Should I be pleased I taught a puppy a trick? Such a waste of time on such a stupid child. Justin should have known better than to take you in—all that plotting wasted.” The ghost's voice starts raise, until he's yelling in fury. “Your father's life wasn't even worth the spell it took to end it. Justin should have chosen his heirs more wisely. He was true sorcerer, his legacy should be carried on by more than a half-breed, insignificant, failure!”

Harry knows the ghost knows what he's doing. He knows what he's saying is exactly what hurts the most to hear; what Harry fears the most to hear. He can't get angry. He has to remain calm. He has to keep the power.

“Justin is dead,” Harry says, levelly. “I killed him.”

The ghost cocks his head to one side, fury gone as quick as it came. “I'll admit, that does show a bit of promise,” he said. “Did you enjoy it? It felt good, didn't it? The power? Yes, quite a rush.”

Harry doesn't reply.

“I could show you more,” the ghost says, seductively. “I could show you how to disintegrate men a hundred times as powerful as your uncle. You are a Morningway. You have it in you to be more than the waste of space you are. Let me out of this circle and I'll give you all the power you desire.”

“Sorry, no deal,” Harry says, his mouth a little dry. He has to swallow again to get enough saliva to keep going. “Not as much of a Morningway as you think. Too much Dresden in there.”

“Weakness,” the ghost snarls.

“We'll see,” Harry says. He stands up from the stool. “Good chat, Bob. I'll see you tomorrow.”

His knees give out on him as soon as he makes it upstairs.

It takes 372 days.

372 days of Harry coming down in the morning and speaking calmly to a ghost who is so far gone, he starts to despair of him ever returning. First he stays five minutes. It's all he can take. Then, he manages ten minutes. Then twenty, then thirty. Up to an hour. He doesn't miss a day, no matter what's going on his life.

The council offers to take Hrothbert off Harry's hand more than once; and more than once Harry considers it. There's a part of him that still thinks there's hope, though, and that he can get Hrothbert to a place where, if not sane, than at least useful. He keeps trying.

Gradually, he gives Hrothbert things to work on. Little problems. At first the solutions are all the same—kill it, kill her, torture him until he speaks, bring him back and torture him again. Harry has to add caveats—'find me an answer where no one gets hurt'. He words them like challenges, implying that the ghost couldn't possibly be clever enough to think of something non-violent. Hrothbert has trouble with these at first, but starts to come through. He starts to give helpful solutions, not just death and destruction.

It's still bad. He still rants and raves when he's not working on something, and Harry can only give him so much to do. Harry never orders, he makes it clear that he's not going to use Hrothbert as a servant or a tool. Everything he asks is a request, open to Hrothbert to comply with. Sometimes he does, sometimes he just sneers and rambles on.

It gets easier to sleep. Harry is less afraid. He doesn't know if it's because Hrothbert is less scary, or Harry is getting braver. He's not a kid any more, and he can't be manipulated. Once the leftover fear of doing something wrong and being abandoned is gone, Harry starts to get the upper hand.

Hrothbert regresses a little around that point, but Harry coaxes him back.

He never calls him Hrothbert to his face. Always Bob. Names have power, and if you call something by a name long enough, it turns into that thing. Before a rock was a rock, it was nothing. It became a rock because someone called it that.

Bob isn't Bob until Harry calls him that. He starts to become it—become what Harry expects of him. He becomes what the name Bob means to Harry. It's slow. It's 372 days.

But it works.

Bob surveys the lab Harry has installed upstairs. It's his first visit above ground. He's anxious, and suspicious of the new surroundings, like a puppy adopted from a shelter. He mutters to himself, but the words aren't as angry as they used to be.

“You should move your table to face north-south,” he says. “You'll work better that way. The energy flow will be more conducive for your potions.”

“Oh, yeah, good thinking,” Harry says. He rotates the table around. “I was worried about the pillar on the other side of this wall.”

“No, I understand your thinking, but you're wrong as usual,” Bob says. “It won't block it, it will disperse it. If you lose control, which God knows you will, it will act like a breakwater. It will flow around and lose some of its potency. You'll be less destructive that way.”

Harry grins stupidly at him. Bob is thinking about safety. It's a huge milestone. Bob looks nervous, and mutters something in Latin. Harry brings him back before he gets too withdrawn.

“So, I was thinking we could work up here today, if that's all right with you?” Harry asks. “There's this cop I'm working with, and she's got a weird case. I'd like to talk to you about it.”

Bob's mutterings die away, and he gives Harry a wary look. “If you wish,” he says.

“What do you wish?” Harry asks.

Bob blinks and mutters to himself again, before answering. “It's congenial to me,” he says.

Harry grins again. “Good. Awesome. All right, let's get started.”

And day 373 begins.
aelfgyfu_mead: helmetaelfgyfu_mead on May 3rd, 2013 02:27 pm (UTC)
You wrote Old English and you didn't ask me? I'm hurt! ;-) Did you not realize that I'm a professional Anglo-Saxonist? (Yes! I get paid real money to do this! Read OE, that is. I don't actually write in OE.)

Your OE looks correct, if a little stilted; I'd have used a different word order.

If you ever want help with OE, just ask!

Your Hrothbert is chilling at the start. I like the idea that renaming him helps him to change.
The Writer They Call Tay: Merlin: Thumbs up!awanderingbard on May 3rd, 2013 02:42 pm (UTC)
Oh, I totally did not know that! That's awesome! I am such a language nerd, I think that would be a very cool job.

It's awhile since I did the translating, but I think I used wiki to help me conjugate, and looked up the other words in a dictionary. At one point I was trying to do Middle English, but that made even less sense. I will definitely consult you if I venture further into OE. Please feel free to offer a correction if you want to.

Thanks for commenting!
aelfgyfu_mead: Geoffreyaelfgyfu_mead on May 3rd, 2013 04:04 pm (UTC)
Yes, I'm a medievalist! I do Old and Middle English, some Medieval Latin, and I have some Old French.

There's nothing wrong with what you wrote; you made good use of that wiki. I think it might be more idiomatic to put the object pronoun before the verbs (Ic hie mæg hælan), and I probably would have used sculan instead of þurfan (Ic hie sceal helpan) but it's hard to be sure; the written corpus that survives was written by people who were educated to write, so we don't know how close it is to the spoken language. Also, sculan has the disadvantage of having developed into the much weaker "shall," so it doesn't sound as forceful as it really was in OE (a problem for a lot of students who misrender it in Modern English). I wouldn't go back and change it now. Bob might even have adopted more Modern English word order due to his exposure to people as English was becoming more subject-verb-object dominant.

Peter Baker's Introduction to Old English is online free here; only the anthology isn't included. I should do a post on useful language resources sometime. There are a lot of good ones, but they aren't always the first to come up in Google searches (and who would think to search, for instance, for The Thesaurus of Old English)?

I have a very cool job indeed, except that the grading part is sometimes hard and painful, and to that I should now return.
The Writer They Call Tay: Merlin: Thumbs up!awanderingbard on May 5th, 2013 01:33 am (UTC)
Oh, I see. Sort of like French syntax. 'Je lui ai demandé, not 'J'ai demandé elle'.

I remember having trouble choosing which words to use because of the way they had morphed over the years. 'May' used mean 'know how to' instead of 'might' or 'be conditionally able to', etc.

Thanks for the book reference! I have trouble sorting it all out because, as I've mentioned, my knowledge of the terms and rules of grammar is very lacking. I generally know how to write properly, but I don't know why we write that way, or what the various tenses, parts of sentences and such are called. We were never taught that at my school.

Edited at 2013-05-05 01:03 pm (UTC)
donutsweeperdonutsweeper on May 3rd, 2013 03:27 pm (UTC)
oh INTERESTING, I never thought of Bob as anything other than the Bob we saw with Harry but he was Hrothbert for so long.... I like this, good job!
Dusty: SPN. Cas hugs Deandustlines on May 3rd, 2013 09:59 pm (UTC)

What's so incredible about this story is how clearly I hear Bob's actual voice when I'm reading him here, despite his altered state. It's so refreshing, wow. I didn't realize how much I missed hearing him speak. It's making me ache a bit, but also smile at the same time. Such a poignant dose of nostalgia. Man, I love that character so much. And this is such a beautiful exploration of him.

I mean, here we have this ghost, a man who has been beaten down and valued only for his violence and his power for years, and so, needing to be valued (or at least acknowledged on occasion, lest his descent into madness only grow quicker), he has himself learned only to value these dark, treacherous traits of his. But they're not who he is. That being said, after a certain point, surely they must have become all he thinks he is. And Harry, sweet, lovable Harry, has the mercy and compassion for life in all its forms to be willing to wait out the good in him.

Something I love so much about Harry Dresden is his capacity to look at other people as somehow better than they see themselves. He has seen true darkness, has killed when he didn't want to. In a lot of ways, he may even see himself as worthy of being hated for it, or at least he is rarely seen arguing for his side of the story when the fact of his having killed his uncle is brought up. But he's not this murderer he---though maybe not completely, but as an aspect or a potential of himself that he can't shake off---sees himself as, and, through comparison between himself and others, the goodness in others must seem to shine to him. Maybe that's why he's so good at pulling it to the surface of people.

What someone likes you for, you're very often going to like yourself for. And Harry, in this story, treats, respects, and eventually even likes Bob for being Bob. And Bob starts to like himself for that, too.

AAH, I just love this so much. I feel notes of Stockholme Syndrome dissipating, a true and meaningful bond growing, redemption and healing in every paragraph.

He never calls him Hrothbert to his face. Always Bob. Names have power, and if you call something by a name long enough, it turns into that thing. Before a rock was a rock, it was nothing. It became a rock because someone called it that.

I like this so much that I'm cursing in shock in my brain.

“So, I was thinking we could work up here today, if that's all right with you?” Harry asks. “There's this cop I'm working with, and she's got a weird case. I'd like to talk to you about it.”

Oh my goddddd, you brought Murphy into this! And through that, they're all heading in the direction the show has them in already, while ALSO adding this sporatidic, flashing angst for Bob that is making me love him even more due to the tragedy of his circumstance and how he's still going to get better anyway. *hyperventilates* THIS IS THE BEST AU I'VE EVER READ.

The conversation about non-lethal ways to solve problems, the conversation about the desk, Harry's own growing bravery that occurs at the same time as Bob is finally starting to feel safe and settled for the first time in what is probably centuries of being unsure and unloved. They start out with Bob sealed in a circle in the basement, and progress until he's practicing the art of interior decorating for comfort's sake. AND DON'T EVEN GET ME STARTED ON HOW HARRY WOULDN'T LET THE COUNCIL TAKE BOB AWAY, BECAUSE HARRY WAS TREATING BOB LIKE A PERSON EVEN BEFORE BOB COULD BELIEVE HE WAS ONE.

Bob's mutterings die away, and he gives Harry a wary look. “If you wish,” he says.

“What do you wish?” Harry asks.

Bob blinks and mutters to himself again, before answering. “It's congenial to me,” he says.

Harry grins again. “Good. Awesome. All right, let's get started.”

And day 373 begins.

*weeps openly*

Edited at 2013-05-03 10:02 pm (UTC)
The Writer They Call Tay: Dresden: Harry and Murphyawanderingbard on May 4th, 2013 12:29 am (UTC)
Oh God, I miss GC comments so much. *huggles you and your rambles forever* I always love how you see what I was trying to write. It's very validating. :-D

I'm super glad you like it. It was quite a test for me, something very different than I've ever tried before. I wasn't sure if the characters sounded right. It's been awhile since I played with them. But I also really, really enjoyed writing it, and I'm very grateful for the prompt.

Thanks so much!
Dusty: SPN. D + Feathersdustlines on May 4th, 2013 02:16 am (UTC)
*huggles you back* Hey, I can only ramble because you know how to write a story that's ramble-worthy. I hope you can give yourself credit for that, too. ^_^

I really like it. Such an inventive take on a world I adore. I appreciate the life you've brought to this tremendously, and if the mood ever strikes you to write for this world again, I'd be super-pleased to see it!

The Writer They Call Tayawanderingbard on May 4th, 2013 03:52 am (UTC)
You know, I might write more. I sort of like what I've started here. I'll see what plot bunnies head my way. :-)
Dusty: SPN. Dean hugs Cas (2)dustlines on May 4th, 2013 03:58 am (UTC)
If you just felt the earth rumbling, don't panic. That was just my happy screaming from another country. *G* Yes, please! That'd be amazing!!
formerly lifeinsomniac: DresdenGuardianjoonscribble on May 4th, 2013 03:25 am (UTC)

There is more of this wondrous idea!!

I really love how you write Hrothbert. He's still very much Bob despite the evilness of his nature. You can clearly hear him as we know him. Only just much more evil.

Harry's persistence is so Harry.

Bob's mutterings die away, and he gives Harry a wary look. “If you wish,” he says.

“What do you wish?” Harry asks.

Bob blinks and mutters to himself again, before answering. “It's congenial to me,” he says.

My heart just grew about ten times its size. I want to hug this part.

Brilliant story!
The Writer They Call Tayawanderingbard on May 4th, 2013 03:51 am (UTC)
Thank you! It's so nice to see you on my blog again. I'm glad you enjoyed the story. I hope your schedule relaxes a little soon!
Dusty: SPN. Dean. You are a Fever.dustlines on May 4th, 2013 03:56 am (UTC)
I think I may always love that icon of yours, my dear 'Scrib. The colors! The character! Everything! I also hope your schedule eases up soon. Take care of yourself, okay?