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Noli me tangere for Crystal
dresden_mod wrote in dresdenficathon
Author: Sam Johnsson
Recipient: Crystal (
Title: Noli me tangere
Rating: PG-13
Word Count: 1950
Pairing/Character(s): Harry Dresden/Hrothbert of Bainbridge
Notes/Warnings: Angst. Foreboding. Prompt request #2: Television canon, Slash / Explore the aftermath of Bob and Harry's relationship after ep. "What about Bob?"
Summary: There is a reason magic that crosses the border between life and death is considered black, regardless of its purpose. No matter who or what it's cast on, everyone is affected. Written specifically as an episode tag to the s01e10 "What About Bob?"

"Harry, are you-"

"Don't talk to me today, Bob."

Hrothbert sighed, walking back through the office wall from the living area to the lab. It was going to be one of those days, then.

It had been one of those days for a while, now, since they got back from the morgue after disposing on Morningway's body. Again.

He knew there was going to be fallout from Morningway's little scheme. One of the earliest things he'd teach his students is that true power doesn't come cheap. The type of power that would pull a dead wizard back into his corpse and revivify him, instead of just animating him, came with a price tag that would have drained the entire Northumbrian kingdom's vault if it were paid in gold.

But magic never made it that simple. Payment was always in kind, and the biblical adage "a life for a life" extended in both directions back before writing existed. He knew what the spell would take, and he knew Morningway Lite considered it.

The spell itself wasn't overly specific. It required a life to power it, and for a wizard, it took the life of a wizard. It was optimal to use a blood relative, but the spell just required a living being with significant supernatural talent. He could name off the top of his head ten different beings in Greater Chicago alone that would have more than adequately powered the spell. None of them meant dealing with the bizarre turns of luck that all too frequently happened near Dresden, as if another supernatural being was keeping an eye on him.

But Morningway was poetic, and to tell the truth, greedy. "Satisfactory" was unacceptable, and "adequate" might have been the foulest curse he'd uttered. It was something he'd witnessed time and again when Morningway was teaching Harry. To be honest, he didn't disagree, but he'd quickly learned to be slightly more tolerant of Harry's short attention. The reward of Harry's smile when he mastered a lesson was, to Hrothbert, worth the aggravation of keeping Harry on task.

Not that Morningway ever saw those smiles, or forged any real connection with Harry. Harry was... a tool for his advancement, a lever for his plans against the Council, a scapegoat if needed, and apparently a handy bit of life insurance. That Harry perfectly satisfied the spell's requirements made it obvious Morningway Lite would want to use him.

"Harry, we really need..."

"I'm going to be at the precinct with Murph all day. Don't wait up."

Hrothbert watched Harry walk out the door. Once the door slammed shut, the cursed wizard vanished back to his skull.

He hadn't planned on getting as attached to Harry as he was. He had been instructed to teach Morningway's apprentice and keep an eye on him. Nothing more. The fact that Harry was used to being raised by an older man and instantly transferred that connection to Hrothbert – even hanging that horrible appellation "Bob" on him – should have surprised neither of them. The powers knew that Morningway's cultured distance kept young Harry from forming a bond there. And to be honest, Harry was one of the more interesting students he'd worked with over the millennium. That he became more...involved, over the years, was less usual.

Not that he took advantage of his position as tutor under Morningway's roof. Black magic he might have practiced, but there were less effective ways to corrupt someone than to … no. That did not happen. Not by Morningway, and certainly not by him.

But he had daily contact with Harry. First, Morningway demanded it, then the High Council found it an amusing penance to leave his skull in Harry's possession. By that point, Harry was an adult, aware of his own mind and of the potential repercussions of their association. As usual, Harry didn't care. To Harry, "Bob" was the only safe constant, the only one on his side. For all his horrid lack of style and abominable manners, he was alluring. Something about the sheer vivacity of Harry drew Hrothbert like a di Medici to scandal. As much as Harry's haphazard approach to magic annoyed him as a teacher, it fascinated him as a mentor, and reminded Hrothbert of his own days among the living. The sheer energy made him want to reach out and touch Harry in the very ways that would have been forbidden a half-decade ago.

It wasn't easy to make anything of it. He was intangible, and there were certain Rules he had to abide by if he wanted to keep living, if living as a ghost trapped in a skull was living. Then, too, Harry didn't help matters. Harry avoided intimacy, especially with those he trusted. As the only one who hadn't betrayed or threatened Harry, he was mostly relegated to keeper of secrets, guardian of emotions, purveyor of dreams, instead of any role more tactile. Researching a spell that would allow them to touch? Unthinkable.

"Dresden, are you still ignoring me?"

Harry smacked his coffee cup down against the counter. "Congratulations, Bob. You've figured me out. Go away."

Ah, the same tone he'd heard since... "It's been over a week, Harry. We need to talk about this. I think something happened."

"Yes, Bob, it's called ‘you betrayed me'."

After Harry turned his back and walked out the door, Hrothbert smashed his hand out at the still-warm coffee cup, a physical reaction of emotion still programmed even after centuries of intangibility.

He stared in shock as the coffee cup went flying into the wall, spilling hot liquid to the ground.

It was not impossible, however. Chicago had numerous colleges, and numerous colleges meant numerous adults (for a given value thereof) leaving home and "finding themselves", often via the occult. It was less than a challenge, at times, to be conveniently located when some self-assured imbecile thought that an occult device made of cardboard and plastic from the same people who turned free-market capitalism into an evening's entertainment was a proper way to contact the spirits of the dead. It took little more effort to make an agreement with said budding occultists that they truly wanted to experience a night on the town, visit an out-of-the-way bar, and maybe go home with a certain tall, dark, and scruffy individual who could be guaranteed not to call the next day.

If he made sure to remain present to protect – not possessing, just… occupying – the young occultist from any risk incurred by associating with Harry, then it was because he was concerned, not that he was heartily devouring any spilled-over sensation, sipping up the spatters from the fount that was Harry in ecstasy. As risky as the whole situation was, the chance to touch Harry, even second-hand, was too great to pass up.

Of course, he was a gentleman about it. He always made sure that his acquaintance was safely returned to their dorm room at the end of the night, and even truthfully answered whatever question caused them to consult pop-market hoodoo in the first place. And if the occultist went after another target, well, his desires were specific, not general, so he would consider it a good deed that he led the ignorant away from potential harm and return to his skull.

He knew Harry was aware of his presence on the more successful nights. While Harry might not have been the most paranoid wizard of Hrothbert's acquaintance, he did adequately defend himself when a stranger approached him. Though Harry's ability at logic sometimes left his friends despairing, he had survived for over half a decade as a private detective in a city known for eating the unobservant alive. No, Harry knew full-well when he was present, often picking his host out of a crowd by the traces of Hrothbert's aura and paying full attention to them throughout the night. The grumpy glare after the first time it happened quickly became replaced by smirks and even, on one occasion, an open smile showing more emotion than Hrothbert was comfortable with.

It was if touch between them could only be mediated, which was both obvious and tragic in a way that he wondered if it was an implicit extension of his doom. It wasn't optimal. But it was as close as they had.


"Ah, summoned again by your dulcet tones, Harry. And me comfortable in my skull, napping." He knew better than to push Harry, but habits long established were hard to suppress.

"Who'd you let in, Bob?"

The rage pouring off Harry was new. Since Morningway, it'd been sullen fuming. "Beg your pardon?"

"My favorite coffee mug is shattered and there is coffee spilled across the floor. You aren't able to touch things, and Mister's at the vet. If someone broke in, there'd be signs. Not to mention that the wards would have gone off. So. Who did you let in?"

He felt his eyes roll automatically – a habit he must've acquired from a younger version of Harry. "No one, Harry. As I do not technically ‘live' here, I do not satisfy the requirements you wrote into the wards. Mister would, but as you said, he's not here."

He watched Harry slap his hand against the fresh stain on the wall. "Oh, let me guess. In a fit of pique, you decided to throw my mug across the room. Couldn't find another clone of Morningway to betray me with?"

"Damn it, Harry! How many times do I have to say I'm sorry? The lesser version told me he had a victim in mind. He didn't make it clear it was you until it was too late to stop it."

"So you decided, ‘oh well, let's cast the spell that will kill Harry anyway'? Knew I could count on you."

That…hurt. "No, I decided to go along with the plan so that, when Morningway's clone was dead and his life force barely anchored in his old body, I could reverse the spell and kill him for good. It's called a plan, Harry. A non-optimal one, but sometimes you make do with the tools you have."

"And obviously, I am but a tool for you. At least I'm a useful one. Unlike my mug. What tool did you find to break it? One of the myriad people you kidnap?"

He was trying to keep his own temper in check, but after a fortnight of glares from Harry, it was rather difficult. "Not a one of them have been unwilling, which is irrelevant, Harry! I broke it."

And Harry laughed. "Funny, Bob. I'd believe you. Except that, well, ghost, so you can't touch things. Oh, and after last week, I'm not inclined to believe you anyway."

Hrothbert idly wished his lungs still worked, so he could sigh properly. "I do realize I'm a ghost, Harry. Regardless, I was livid at you this morning. I must've brushed it somehow, and it flew across the room."

Harry immediately froze, considering. "How? Isn't that impossible?"

"I've spent all day trying to figure that out. Maybe when I went from dead to living to dead via a spell meant to return the dead to life, I became stuck a little closer this time. Maybe I'm being punished for my deeds. I don't know, Harry." He reached out, and set a hand on Harry's cheek.

Harry flinched back, shouting, "Don't touch me!" and all but ran out the back door, into the dark cloak of night.

Hrothbert vanished himself, frustrated, to wait for Harry's return. He – they had time. Before he pulled away, he had seen Harry slightly press into his hand, and Hrothbert felt a faint touch that hadn't felt in so very long. As long as Harry was alive – as long as Hrothbert kept him unshrouded by death – they had time.

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Anon - I love my story. It's filled with angst but there's the happy times potential with the open ending. Thanks for writing it for me! :)

I'm glad you like it. I was worried about the angst, but after reading your journal's recs, I hoped you'd enjoy!

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