Characters: Harry, Bob
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
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 favoring 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! 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 to rise 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 a 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 that 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 and that he can get Hrothbert to a place where, if not sane, then 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 anymore, 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 as 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.”
“What do you wish?” Harry asks.
Bob blinks and mutters to himself again, before answering. “It's congenial to me.”
Harry grins again. “Good. Awesome. All right, let's get started.”
And day 373 begins.