Characters: Young!Harry, Malcolm Dresden
Word count: 1589
Summary: "Things were going well. Which was exactly why, Harry would decide later, things had to start going badly again."
Author's notes: Written for the 'fire' challenge at dresdenflashfic a bit ago, forgot to post it in my own journal until now.
Rather unusually for the Dresdens, things had been going well. Malcolm had a steady gig that had been extended twice and he and Harry were living in a shabby but quite adequate motel room. They had been there for three weeks and Harry couldn’t remember a time they had stayed in one place for so long. Things were going well. Which was exactly why, Harry would decide later, things had to start going badly again.
He was sitting backstage one evening, in the very small, somewhat dirty and really quite disgusting room that was assigned to be Malcolm’s dressing room. Harry had very helpfully drawn a star and wrote ‘The Astounding Dresden’ on the door, which had caused him no end of grief from the dinner club’s manager. He’d spent the next evening scrubbing it off again. The night after that, he’d taped a piece of paper to the door, because Harry Dresden was not easily defeated.
It hadn’t been long since he’d come into his magic and he still wasn’t entirely sure what it did or how he was supposed to turn it on or off. Malcolm was not helpful in either of these departments, though he did his best. He shared as much as he could remember from what Maggie had told him, but Harry often suspected there were things that Malcolm was holding back.
Harry was reading a comic book, waiting for Malcolm’s show to be done. He loved watching his father perform, but the show did occassionally get old as Malcolm repeated each trick and joke every night. Harry had been scratching at his palms but the implication of that was lost as he was too busy wondering how Spider-Man would save the day to really take note. The itching became severe, however, and Harry was drawn back into the real world with a start.
“Not good,” he muttered, looking at his palms. “Not good.”
There was a correlation, he had found, with itching palms and weird things happening. Even when he was little, before he’d gotten the magic, he sometimes felt like something was trying to escape through his hands. Now that feeling usually meant bad things and, indeed, this time was no exception.
His comic book burst into flames. He yelped in surprise and dropped it, cupping a slightly burned hand to his chest. The flaming paper hit the floor and spread, jumping onto the chair Harry was sitting in and climbing up the little table in front of the mirror with a surprising speed.
“Uh, help?” Harry called, scooting back from the flames. No one came so he ran to the door, choking slightly on the smoke. “Help?”
The manager’s wife, who was fond of Harry and tended to coo about his thinness and try to feed him, came running down the hall. “What’s wrong, de- oh! Oh!”
She flailed her hands for a moment and then raced back down the hall to the fire extinguisher. Her high-heeled shoes clattered loudly as she ran back, enough to attract the manager himself to come and shush her.
“Harry, get out, for Heaven’s sake!” she hissed, pushing him out of the room into the manager’s path.
He caught Harry as the boy stumbled and gripped his shoulder firmly before Harry could run away. “What did you do?”
“Nothing!” Harry said. The response was automatic, but no less true. “I didn’t do anything!”
The sound of the fire extinguisher spewing foam pulled the manager’s attention away from him, though the grip on his shoulder remained firm and somewhat painful. He dragged Harry back into the room to investigate.
“Jesus Christ!” The manager swore. This was followed by a series of expletives.
“It’s out now, dear,” his wife soothed, panting heavily. “No one was hurt.”
“No one was hurt,” The manager echoed, with a laugh. “Look at this place!”
The fire had climbed up one of the walls a bit before it had been tamed and there were heavy black marks over much of the rest the wall. The charred ashes of Harry’s comic book were scattered around the floor.
“If you kept it clean, the fire wouldn’t have spread so fast,” Harry said, before he thought about it.
“Oh, you’d know about that, wouldn’t you?” The manager snapped.
“It’s not my fault!” Harry said.
The sound of applause drowned out the reply, which Harry strongly suspected was more cursing. A few moments later, Malcolm Dresden appeared in the doorway, still wearing his stage smile. It dropped when he saw the scene before him.
“Harry?” he asked. “What’s going on?”
“What’s going on is that your...son is an arsonist!” the manager barked, saying ‘son’ like it was another curse word.
“It’s not my fault!” Harry yelled. “My comic book just...combusted!”
“Fires don’t start by themselves!” the manager hissed.
“Sometimes they do,” Harry muttered.
“My son did not start a fire,” Malcolm said, looking dazed at all the information being thrown at him.
“Like hell he didn’t,” the manager said. He shook Harry’s shoulder hard and the boy yelped a little.
“Let him go,” Malcolm ordered, quietly.
It was always a bad sign when Malcolm went quiet. Some people yelled when they were angry but Malcolm rarely did. It made people underestimate him, which was a mistake. Given the right prompting, Malcolm could have just as much of a temper as Harry. And the right prompting tended to be threats to his son’s welfare.
“Like -” the manager began.
“Let him go,” Malcolm said, again. “Now.”
“Paul, for Heaven’s sake!” the manager’s wife said, softly. “I’m sure it was an accident.”
“Shut up, Grace,” the manager snapped.
That was the last straw for Malcolm, who hated anyone disrespecting women almost as much as he hated anyone threatening his son. He stepped forward and grabbed a hold of the manager’s wrist, squeezing tightly until he was forced to let Harry go. Harry was smart enough to get out the door, fast.
There was a very long conversation that followed, with a lot of yelling on the manager’s part and calm, but firm answering on Malcolm’s part. Harry didn’t hear all of it, because he was hiding outside of the room. He sunk to the floor outside the door and drew his knees to his chest, trying to appear as small as possible to avoid further wrath. The conversation culminated in Malcolm’s firing and Malcolm’s retort that he had no intention of staying to work for someone who suspected his son of arson. He stormed out and Harry got to his feet quickly and ran after him.
The car ride to the motel was mostly in silence. Malcolm was furious and Harry didn’t want to give him an opportunity to punish him. After awhile, however, Harry couldn’t take it anymore.
“It was my fault,” he admitted, softly.
Malcolm nodded. “I know.”
And that was all that was said until they reached the motel room. Harry hurried in and sat down on the far bed. Malcolm went into the bathroom and changed out of his performance clothes, then sat down on the opposite bed.
“I’m sorry,” Harry said.
“It’s alright,” Malcolm said. “I’m not mad at you. You can’t help it.”
“I got you fired,” Harry said.
Malcolm smiled a little. “I woulda quit.”
“But...it’s the best gig you ever had!”
“It doesn’t matter. You’re more important, Harry.”
Harry sighed. There was something about that response, the ‘you’re more important’ response, which made him feel both loved and guilty. He nodded a little. There was another long silence where Harry looked at his feet and Malcolm looked into the middle distance, seeming to be lost in thought.
“Your mother set our hotel room on fire on our honeymoon,” he said, suddenly.
Harry’s head snapped up. “What?!”
“I went out to get us breakfast from the bakery down the street,” Malcolm said. “And when I got back, there were all these fire trucks outside the hotel. Your mother burnt out one of the lights and it sparked and startled her and...I don’t know. The bed was ashes.” He was smiling now, amusement sparkling in his eyes.
“What happened?” Harry asked. “After?”
“The owners of the hotel thought it was faulty wiring. They gave us a free room – a suite.”
“No way!” Harry said.
Malcolm nodded. “It was a nice room, too. Nicer than anything we could have afforded. Your mother said she should try doing it more often. She broke all sorts of stuff at our first place, too. Pretty much every electric gift we got for our wedding. Waffle iron, blender...and the smoke alarm.” Harry laughed. “So, it’s not your fault, kid. And I’m not mad. I wish I could help you control it, but I don’t know how it works, really. I’m sorry your mother’s not around to help you out.”
“Me too,” Harry said. “I miss her.”
“Me too,” Malcolm said.
They fell silent again, only this time Harry didn’t feel bad about it. He looked around at the simple little motel room he’d gotten use to sleeping in. “I guess I better start packing.”
Malcolm shooed away the thought. “Nah. We’re paid up until the end of the week. We can take a vacation.”
“I don’t go to school, Dad,” Harry pointed out. “Every day is a vacation.”
Malcolm laughed and reached over to ruffle his hair. “I’ll take a vacation, then.”
“Deal,” Harry agreed. “...Dad?”
“Can I get a new comic book?”
Malcolm rolled his eyes and smiled. “Sure, kiddo.”