Rating: PG-13 (for violence and some language)
Spoilers: None in this chapter
Chapter Length: 1535 words
Summary: Harry's latest case is uncomfortably familiar and starts him on another quixotic crusade. The only trouble is, how do you stop a killer when you're stuck baby-sitting?
Author's Notes: None for this chapter other than an apology for the cliffhanger. *VBG*
I knew that it was good that Graylin was crying, she had to get it out of her system. It didn't make me feel like any less of a jerk, though. I hugged her tight and she sobbed into my chest for a very long time. Or it might have just felt like a long time. I didn't know what to do except hug and rub her back. Bob quickly disappeared into his skull - lucky him. The number of times I wish I had a disembodied skull to disappear into...
When her sobs had finally calmed down to hiccups, she was understandably exhausted. I was exhausted just looking at her. The hardest part of all this was knowing how she felt. I couldn't remember much of my mom's death, but I'd had a good six years on her when my father died and I remembered how much that messed me up. I couldn't imagine dealing with it at five.
"Why don't you lie down, sweetheart?" I suggested.
"I don'*hup* wanna *hup* dream," she explained, which made my already shattered heart break into two or three more pieces. "*Hup*."
"I can help," I said. I released her and made sure she wasn't going to tumble off the table, then went over to my shelf o' potions and found the right bottle. "I can make you sleep, okay?" I slipped it into my pocket and lifted her up again.
She nodded an assent and rested her head on my shoulder as I carried her over to the kitchen. I set her down on the counter and poured her a glass of milk, dropping a few drops of the potion in it. She sipped at it while I wet a cloth with warm water and cleaned her face.
"You do pretty good," she said.
"Yeah?" I said. "At what?"
"Playin' Daddy," she replied, sleepily.
I felt my cheeks burn at this comment and quickly side-stepped it. "You ready to lie down?"
A yawn. "Yeah."
I carried her upstairs and put her to bed. As an afterthought, I dug around in the back of my closet and retrieved a stuffed bunny that an old girlfriend had given me for Valentine's Day years earlier. He had a name like 'Mr. Fluffy' or 'Snuggles' or something sugary like that and had been tossed back there after we broke up. Apparently I keep too many secrets for a successful relationship. I dusted him off and offered him to Graylin, who accepted him readily and tucked him under her arm. The potion had her snoring in a few minutes and I left her to it, after quickly swapping my tear-stained shirt for something dryer.
I returned to the lab and sat down at the table, letting my forehead fall to it in exhaustion. I felt like total crap. I hadn't slept, my guilt meter was reaching critical and I'd just watched and felt a little girl's mother get murdered. Not my best day ever. Bob peeked out of his skull once he thought the coast was clear and I could see him hovering nearby in my peripheral vision.
"This sucks," I said, muffled by the table.
He nodded, looking at me with concern. "You shouldn't do this to yourself, Harry. You had nothing to do with what happened."
"No, but I'm the only one who can make sure that bastard gets caught and put away. He just took over her brain, Bob. She tried to fight it but he made her stop breathing. He made her tell her body to lie down and die. What kinda sicko does that?"
I went on to explain what else I had seen in Graylin's memory. It was already starting to fade away, my mind rejecting it as being unable to be mine. I still had the memory of the memory though. Hey, I don't make the rules.
Bob frowned and thought for a few moments when I was finished. "It takes a very powerful wizard to exert that kind of control over someone. A very dark wizard, sure in his purpose. He would need a connection her too. You can't enter the mind of a stranger like that, with that much ease. Her mind would have to trust him on some level. Probably very subconsciously."
"You think he knew her well then," I summed up. "She didn't seem to like him much."
"I don't suppose attempting to kidnap one's daughter promotes good relations."
"No. So, what, an old friend?"
"Or lover. Lovers inspire very strong feelings of love and hate. You can use those emotions in magic, you know that."
I think I could actually hear the 'click' in my brain. I raised my head from the table fast enough to make Bob jump back. It's nice to know you can still scare a ghost sometimes.
"No, Graylin's father."
"That's a large leap in logic."
I thought back to the figure from Graylin's memory. "He has the same eyes as her."
Bob reluctantly jumped on my train of thought. "Well, that would certainly work, I suppose. An old love, plus blood ties to the girl. A very powerful combination."
"What does he want her for?" I wondered, getting up to pace. "I mean, if you're looking for a family reunion, killing the mother of your child isn't the best way to start things off."
"There are plenty of rituals requiring the blood of kin," Bob replied. He paced the opposite way to me, passing by me in the other direction. "Or merely someone to whom one has a great bond. Physical bonds are as strong as emotional ones, if not stronger."
"And why didn't he take her in the end, after Tamsin was dead?" I continued. "It was a lot of effort to go through to give up at your moment of victory."
"Perhaps he was unable to touch her," Bob suggested. "Just as Morgan was unable to reach her because of the shield knot."
"Tamsin told her not to take it off," I agreed. Then I shook my head. "But if the point of it is to keep people away from her, how come I don't count? She isn't shielded from me."
"Your intent was to help," Bob said. "Altruism. You weren't a threat to her well-being."
"Her necklace can sense that?" I was skeptical.
"A charm like that can be very powerful, Harry. A mother's will to protect her child is a potent force," Bob gestured to my arm. "Look your bracelet. Do you think it would have half the strength it does if it hadn't been imbued by your mother to protect you?"
I slumped back onto the stool, considering this. "Okay...So, he can't touch her because of the necklace. Still, he doesn't seem the sort to give up easily. He's been after her for months."
"You did not finish the memory," Bob reminded me. "Any number of things could have happened that forced him to flee. Besides, Graylin felt his presence at the scene later. He was most likely waiting for another opportunity to strike."
I wasn't convinced, but I didn't have anymore arguments in me. I spun a beaker absently on the table, thinking. My brain was very tired to be thinking this hard and it wasn't going well. It kept circling back to 'sleep' and 'bed' and 'pajamas'. I yawned and my eyes watered, blurring Bob's image in front of me. He'd folded his arms across his chest and I knew I was about to be ordered.
"Perhaps you should take a nap yourself, Harry," he ordered. "If you can't think, you aren't any use. I'll think, and research while you rest and if I find anything, I'll wake you up."
I wanted to protest, but my brain quickly turned my argument into 'cozy couch' and I just nodded instead. "Alright. Thanks, Bob."
He tipped his head in a gesture I took to be 'you're welcome' and turned his back to me, already set on his task. I got up, feeling heavy and left the lab, on my way to the trusty couch. My pillow was calling to me, I could hear it. I yawned again and my vision blurred once more. I jolted upright as I thought about what Bob had said.
"He was most likely waiting for another opportunity to strike."
"Shit!" I said, out loud.
I turned towards the stairs, urgently. Stumbling out of the hallway, I caught sight of something moving in my peripheral vision, still blurred by the tears. Even blurred, I could tell I was about to be hit with something nasty and I had hardly any time to react to it. I threw up my wrist and forced some Will into my bracelet. That's what prevented him from killing me. His spell sliced through the shield at half force, my head exploded with little sparks in front of my eyes and I slumped to the floor as though I was a puppet whose strings had just been cut.
Little knives were slicing in and out of my brain, trying to get me to give up and pass out. I fought them as best I could. I could see a pair of legs running up the stairs to my bedroom. I crawled about two inches before a particularly nasty stab forced me down again. I screamed out in pain and then blackness fell over my eyes with a snap and I was out cold.