Disclaimer: I don't own the characters and I don't own this story.
LOUD AND CLEAR! I DO NOT, HAVE NOT AND WILL NOT EVER OWN THIS STORY!
This story is the property of Tang Guangzhen who was kind enough to give me permission to post this here. Any flames about that will be used to fry your ass.
Harry and Bob stumbled on emerging from the portal's shimmering curtain.
"I forgot to warn you," Eryl said. "There was a step down the last time I did this, too."
"No harm done," Bob said, regaining his balance. "Now, where are we…"
"Um…" Eryl scrubbed at his tearing eyes and then pointed, blinking feircely. "That way."
Harry followed the line of his pointing arm. "How do you…this doesn't look particularly familiar…"
"Eryl has all the memories of the area that you have, Harry; they just make more sense to him because he has a better sense of direction. Follow him and we'll come to things we can use as directional signposts shortly, I'm sure."
"Yeah. Lead on," Harry said, shrugging and smiling at Eryl. They were all dealing with the upset of bidding Megare and Cruachan goodbye--at least for the time--and just tromping on through the sadness to what needed to get done. Bob was the only one who appeared fairly equanimitous, and both of the others knew that it was only an appearance.
"It's not far," Eryl said, mostly for something to say. He hoisted his pack and led the way; the other two settled their own loads and followed.
It wasn't long before they began to recognize Harry's close neighborhood. "I'm glad you already know what to expect," Harry half-joked. "I wouldn't like to have to apologize to someone again, for the place I'm bringing you to."
"Don't worry about it, Harry," Eryl said offhandedly, checked for traffic, and stepped out to cross the last street before Harry's block. "I'm quite used to it."
Harry did some quiet, almost invisible work on the wards--it didn't take much; his wards had been trounced and then reactivated during his absence--to allow Eryl's passage, and they went inside.
"Well, this will take some work," Bob observed, looking around at the unused state of things. "I never cared much before, being noncorporeal, but…"
"But now you're going to be a neat freak," Harry sighed. "I was afraid of that."
"Not only that, my dear progenitor," Eryl said, dumping his pack on the floor and wandering toward the kitchen, gazing around speculatively, hands on his hips. "I think we can do something about your inability to take advantage of many of the modern conveniences available to normals."
"As for me, my first project is that dungeon of a lab," Bob put in, having dropped his pack too; he was now wandering around the place, touching things, smelling them, as though he'd never been here before--he might have Harry's memories, but that wasn't the same as having his own.
Harry groaned but said nothing, sinking down on a sofa.
Actually, having Bob do his worst in the lab would probably only improve his situation--Bob would never forget Harry's most serious peeves and preferences, and he wouldn't interfere with them. After all, it wasn't Bob's lab, and as a matter of professional courtesy Bob would never make such changes without permission, no matter how badly he thought they needed to be made. Bob would have a lab of his own. He had a frisson at the thought of Bob leaving--even if it was only a few streets up to a different abode--then realized that above his floor, there were unused and probably currently unusable floors. He hadn't needed any more space until now, but there was no reason they couldn't make the upstairs sound and livable.
It might at least do to keep Bob content for a while. He'd be doing a lot of practice and perimeter- setting for himself, at first. They all probably would.
"Bob, what do you think of clearing out the upstairs? We could get you a lab up there, and, um, living space and stuff if you wanted…"
"I think we're going to have to render more of this building habitable--your apartment is fine for one wizard with very low requirements for his comfort, and a ghost who had none. Now you have three grown men trying to fit in the same space. I don't see us tolerating it for long." He smiled.
"Yeah, more space," Harry nodded fast.
"But we needn't get started on that right away. Tomorrow's soon enough. We'll find somewhere to put us all for today and tonight."
Suddenly there were clumping noises from overhead.
Harry cracked up. "Eryl's not waiting."
Bob chuckled too. "He's young. Patience is not his strong suit. Well, we should put away the foodstuffs Megare and Cruachan sent with us. It's true we can expect visits from…those who'd notice we're back. They won't be interested in giving us a chance to settle in. And as much a four-alarm situation as they may consider Eryl, I will probably be the focus of their attentions."
"And only Mai will know that you're bound to me, that anything happening to me will not do you much good, either."
"Correct." Bob started putting things away in the fridge. "At least, we hope so."
"I'll get hold of the landlady. It's going to do things to the rent."
"Nothing we won't be able to handle, of course," Bob said offhandedly. "We could give her a lump sum for the year, if she seems upset about the sudden arrival of your business associate and your young cousin."
"I think she'll settle for increasing the rent. I can get a big discount if we do the clean-up work up there ourselves."
"I think Eryl's already doing it. He should be finished in half an hour or so."
"So we wait for all the people who don't like me, or you, and are all set not to like Eryl, to come and give us a hard time?"
"That'd be best. Mai, of course, will not condone any negative action on their parts, so all they'll be able to do is complain."
"And tell me on no uncertain terms that they're watching me. Oh, hey, first ones are here." Outside the back door, Mai was tapping. Unusual; Mai hardly ever knocked. Lurking behind her was a huge dark shadow.
"Kind of nice to see them first. Come on in if your intentions are peaceful," he called. But that was Mai. No mistaking her.
She and Morgan came in. "Dresden, Bainbridge," she said. "Where's Eryl?"
A thump sounded from overhead.
"Getting us some more space. Pardon the edges of his spellworking up there," Harry said, digging out a few more things Megare had sent with them, prepatory to putting them away in the lab. "If you feel them, that is. He's pretty focused, not much wasted energy."
"I'll go up and help," Mai said, in her usual phlegmatic tones, and turned toward the door that led to the stairs. Morgan put a hand on her arm; she touched it briefly, and it fell away. She proceeded through the door and up.
Harry stared. "Mai is helping clean up anything?"
Morgan got a constipated expression. "The Ancient does as she feels necessary. I am here to talk to you, Bainbridge--before the Ancient does."
Bob perched on the edge of the kitchen table. "I assume it's to warn me not to take anything she says to me, any deals she cuts with me, any…vulnerabilites she might share with me--as an opportunity, or you will make certain that no matter what I am now, exactly, I will suffer a radical change in the state of my existence."
"You may be the Ancient's equal in some ways, but in numerous others, you'll never hope to compete with her. Or with me, when it comes to enforcing the laws. She has her reasons for what she's doing. I don't have to like it; it isn't my job to like it. It's my job to maintain order, and to defend the Ancient. You, Dresden, and your…offspring, of sorts, are useful to her, and since it's your good will she wants--and not your enforced obedience--you may get the impression she is…soft on you. But it is a matter of practicality. Don't ever think otherwise, and don't ever try to take advantage of it. Or my role will come into play."
"I consider myself enlightened," Bob said. "Harry, my darling. You?"
"Oh, I know. I believe you, Morgan." Harry popped a couple of breaded shrimp into his mouth, out of the food Megare had sent with them, figuring rightly that there was nothing worth discussing in Harry's fridge. Actually, they did, in fact, believe Morgan, but no point kissing his ass about it.
There was a a floompf of minor power upstairs, shimmering the air around them and causing dust and plaster to mist around.
"I think by the time they're done the landlady won't have any cause to complain." Harry was holding a dish containing thinly breaded vegetables and meat morsels. He held the dish out to Morgan.
Morgan eyeballed him a second, and then took an item from the dish. He popped it into his mouth and chewed, still gazing upward.
"They may be a while," Harry said. "It's a pretty big mess up there. I wish…uh. We've got a friend who could have made it livable in a heartbeat. Too bad he's not with us."
"Indeed," Bob said, still watching Morgan closely, with a not-quite-controlled smile on his face.
The building creaked alarmingly, but none of them did anything but look around at the walls and ceiling; that would be Eryl and Mai reinforcing the structure of the place.
"Eryl seemed to feel he could make it possible for me to have things like toasters that don't explode," Harry said idly, having a seat on the couch. "I'll be interested to see how he does it."
"Well," Mai said, "not bad."
They glanced around at the living room of the floor above Harry's; like his, it had originally been converted into a single apartment, but only the ground floor had been kept up. The place was now spotless, all the structural points and woodworking inside the apartment had been fixed, the grates were clean and functional, and the fireplace was now servicable. The gas heat worked, too.
"Not for forty minutes worth of work," Eryl said.
"Who'll be staying up here? You?"
"I'd rather thought, that since I'll be moving out before too long, it might be better to situate Bob up here. He'll love that great empty windowed room at the end of the hall, it'd make a lovely lab."
"He'll have to do something about the windows."
"Yes, well. This is Bob. I'm sure he can keep them without their presenting any kind of danger, whether in terms of visibility or breakage. He'll disguise it, rather like Harry did with the hidden room he turned into a lab."
Mai shrugged. "It's clean, at least, and functional, but…I think I can make it a bit more comfortable."
Eryl blinked at her, then smiled and nodded. "As you think best, of course."
Mai wandered around the apartment--which was empty and spotless, not even a speck of dust in the way now, much less the ripped-out walls, trash, and skittering creatures they'd had to contend with earlier. The glass in all the windows shone like crystal. The woodwork was pristine, as though it'd just been varnished. Eryl had thought that would be quite good enough.
When Mai came strolling back up the hallway to the room he was waiting in, he was looking at expensive rugs on the wood floor, sleek, stylish mahogany and oak furniture, and hearing the ca-chunk of the pipes as they commenced carrying water again. Around the upper walls were worked wooden decorations, mostly of vines and leaves, with the occasional flower or Celtic-looking knotwork animals and faces. The walls and ceiling were bright with fresh stucco.
"The hot water tank was broken," Mai said, "had to fix it, so sorry about the noise. So, what do you think?"
"I think…I think that none of this is conjured, Mai. These are real…things, real items. How do you…sorry. You're entitled to your secrets."
"It's not an operation you could have done anyway." She glanced around. "I left room for Bainbridge's personality, assuming he has one, which I've yet to see any evidence of. But this should do as basics. Small items--kitchenware and such--I'll leave to him to choose. And if there's anything he doesn't like, he can always change it with a minumum of effort." She turned to him with an air of having completed a task. "So. Does it meet with your approval?"
"It's lovely, Mai. If I weren't the one moving out, I'd co-opt it."
She smirked. "There are other floors. We reinforced the entire structure. But I get the feeling you'd like a bit more space."
"You may have been speaking from selfish motives when you said Bob would protect me into a box and Harry would nail it shut, but you're not wrong. I'd planned on looking for studio space with adjoinding living quarters."
"I can help you with that."
"So long as you don't oust anyone from their rightful place of residence, I would be grateful for your help, Mai."
He realized he'd addressed her in a rather familiar fashion only after he'd said it, but she only nodded and glanced around the room one more time. "Well. Bainbridge will have a list of complaints, so perhaps we should give him the opportunity to get started."
They went to the stairs and down; one of the things Bob would want would be his own entrance, Eryl thought, as they emerged into Harry's abode.
"We're done," he said brightly. "Bob, would you care to take a look?"
Bob blinked in a "me?" fashion, and Eryl said "I'm going to be moving out soon. We thought we'd keep you in mind in cleaning and fixing up the next floor."
Bob thought a moment, head tilted, then nodded abruptly and stood. "I'll be happy to, my dear boy."
Everyone went upstairs, and Harry said "Holy shit. You guys were gone for like what? Half an hour, an hour or so?"
"Eryl did the greater part of the stripping away of refuse, dust, eroded woodwork, and other assorted crap," Mai said. "We worked together on the structural reinforcing, and the furnishings were my idea."
"And no, they're not conjured," Eryl said. "I was gobsmacked myself."
Bob was wandering through the place, while Harry stared and contemplated just how and what they'd done to accomplish this; Bob finally came back, his expression calm as usual. "It's quite livable," he said. "Thank you, Eryl, Ancient. This will save us a great deal of trouble."
Mai only nodded her acknowledgement; Eryl said "Oh, I'd've done the same no matter who was going to get the new apartment." He grinned.
On Harry's floor, everyone but Morgan was drinking Megare's tea/juice potion, some of which she'd included in their baggage. Morgan remained outside of things, seeming more comfortable with his role as Mai's bodyguard than with interacting as himself, which was hardly to wonder at, considering who he'd be interacting with.
"Yes," Mai said, answering a question Eryl had asked. "I will be asking you to provide services for me that you're in a unique position to provide--Bainbridge and Eryl both, for different reasons. The services will be compensated, of course."
"I had a look at the bank books for the accounts you started for me," Eryl said, and cleared his throat in a bit of discomfort. "I may be in debt to you for service for quite a while."
Harry and Bob both gave him worried looks, but Mai only said "I told you that was for the service you provided me already. If you're worried, the money did not come from a source that will miss it. Not to mention the fact that when you've been around as long as I have, you have quite a nest egg of your own." She smirked. "If it weren't so well hidden, I would be listed among the ten personally richest people in the United States."
"Oh. So, then…I shouldn't become…flustered at the sums that I encounter with respect to you," Eryl essayed.
"That's right. Don't worry about it. I'll let you know, if there's anything you need to worry about. This tea is very pleasant. Mild relaxation effect without affecting one's state of alertness."
"It's also good for headache, and belly cramps," Eryl volunteered.
Mai smiled, staring into her cup, and for a minute she didn't look like Mai at all.
But it was only for a minute.
She looked back up. "In any case, I'll see that you have time to settle in without being harassed. Dresden, if you want to continue taking clients, you'll have to show a great deal of discretion with them."
"I always have. Not always intelligence per se, but discrection with clients--I've got that down."
Bob gave a small snort, just after swallowing his sip of tea.
"I can't say yet exactly how I plan to approach the two of you as resources. Bainbridge, I have definite ideas, but Eryl--" she eyed him narrowly. "I don't know how things will progress there. But your goodwill is important to our agenda, just as Bainbridge's is."
"What am I, chopped liver?" Harry mumbled into his cup.
Mai focused her attention on him. When she either did that, or removed said attention, it was heavily palpable. He stopped sipping and looked up.
"As I have said before, you have untapped resources. Eryl, when he was a combination of Bainbridge and you, tapped them fine. I doubt, that having happened, that you will be able to bury them forever. And you are important for reasons we both know."
Right, Bob's anchor to this life. Apparently, even Morgan didn't know about that.
"I have even more reason to watch you now, Dresden. Don't screw up."
"Ancient, this is me."
"All right then, don't screw up to the point Bainbridge and Eryl can't rescue your half-cocked ass. We need you." She warded off a sharp glance from Morgan at this point, and said "We need him," sotto voce, before returning to the conversation with Harry. "Apparently what makes you such a big pain in the ass also makes you valuable. But someday, you're going to burst your floodgates. Listen; I have reason to believe that power, even at that level, does not corrupt--it takes more power than you could ever muster. You are overly fearful of your uncle's transgressions. Power is power. It is neither black nor white. Our definitions of same are arbitrary, suiting our culture. You could use your uncle's power--sorry, it'd be your own power--for purposes other than he did. You have a very experienced guide to warn you when your thinking is devolving into rationalizing." She glanced at Bob, who glanced expressionlessly back.
"There's more to it than that, Ancient."
"Of course. But you're not your uncle. And unlike with him, your magical partner is not bound to obey you. If nothing else, Hrothbert of Bainbridge could probably put the kibosh on anyone's ill-considered trains of thought and subsequent spells. Deny that, if you can."
"Don't forget me," Eryl muttered.
Mai's mouth turned up at the quarners. "I'm not. But Harry has."
Harry very nearly stomped out of the room, but took a deep breath and said "Yeah, okay. I'll…work on it."
"You don't need to do it alone. You have plenty of qualified help." Mai sipped her tea again and thought. "I'll do as much spin doctoring as possible with the Wizarding world at large. And Eryl's being a drake should probaby stay a secret as long as we can manage it, but with the sensitivies at large in our community, that won't last long. A month or two at the outside, before rumour becomes fact. That the ghost is no longer a ghost is all they need to know; no specific details need be divulged."
"I appreciate that, ancient." Bob spoke quietly, but it was obvious he was sincere. Making a target out of Harry would be the last thing he could stand.
"I have business this eveing--rather, Morgan and I do," Mai said. She set her cup down and rose. "I'll be checking in again soon."
"I'm sure," Bob said.
She and Morgan started for the door, and Morgan, helping her into her jacket, paused to give them an utter death glare.
"It's okay, Morgan. We know where you stand," was the general attitude the three of them projected, with either amusement, blankness or disinterest, depending on who was doing the look.
"I've had it cleaned up," Mai said, "it was a dance studio."
Eryl gazed around at the shiningly polished floor that showed nary a rise or dip; at the floor-to-ceiling mirrors that lined two walls of the room, one lengthwise and one along the slightly shorter wall opposite the door; and the raised platform that ran halfway down one side of the length of the room, in the middle rather than at either end, with an unbroken mirror on the front of it that kept the visual line from the wall mirrors from breaking. It was lit, rather than by flourescent tubes, by what appeared to be incandescent lights hidden behind translucent white panels in the ceiling.
He paused and took his boots off, dropping them on the carpet in the entry that led to the dressing rooms, and stepped forward, looking around. "Where did you find this?"
"I have connections," Mai said shortly, and added nothing else.
"I hoped you'd approve."
She let him walk up and down the place, taking it in, then said, as he came back within range of the entry, "Let's see the rest."
"By all means."
The carpeted entry led into the dressing area; both it and the showers were divided only by banks of lockers, creating a sort of two-sided effect, but there was nothing like separate men's and women's facilities. "Um, I'll be needing separate rooms for men and women," he said at one point, somewhat trepidatiously, and she shook her head.
"Not for a martial arts studio. Actually, shower and changing facilities aren't required at all for a martial arts studio, by Cook county law. That being the case, I suspect one side will become the women's side, and vice versa, even if there are no rules or walls to enforce it. Professional dancers usually aren't terribly worried about things like that; show people are so concentrated on getting changed in time that no one pays much attention to anyone else."
The showers were small cubicles, a row of a dozen on each side, with curtain rods in place, though lacking curtains at the moment. There was a sink with large mirror between each, and a row of mirrored sinks between the shower stalls and out near the entrance of the locker/shower room.
"The office is this way," Mai said, also taking off her shoes before she returned to the main floor and proceeded to a door half-hidden by its position against the wall the shower room was on, leading to a set of stairs. They went up; there was one large room, with windows on two sides. The carpet was a thick blue-grey swirl mix, and seemed freshly installed, just as the whole place looked new or in recent repair.
"The living quarters are this way," she said, moving along to a door in the wall on the left side of the entrance, the side without windows. She flipped keys on her ring and opened the door.
He came in after her slowly, gazing around. The place was done in a modern minimalist style, with any exposed pipes painted bright colors, and the rest of the walls in a bright azure. It was furnished--he could feel that most of the furnishings were conjured, but no matter now--in a single-floor loft style, with a lovely painted screen setting off the bedroom area, and numerous floor lamps that would, he knew, make the place much more homey after dark fell than track lighting would. There was a conversation pit around a brass-accented fireplace, and a bronze grid before it. The hearth was raised, made of grey mortarted stones. The kitchen, while not stocked, contained all the modern conveniences, including a built-in microwave and refrigerator.
"I apologize that much of this is conjured," Mai said matter-of-factly. "I have the resources, of course, but lacked the time to furnish the apartment. My ability to transport real items must not be used for theft or any other misuse."
"Perfectly understandable. I can use the conjured items long enough for the real ones to be obtained." He turned to her. "And not far from Harry's flat. I'm surprised."
She smirked a little. "You should be, really; this is far too classy for this part of town. It was a dance studio; I bought the building and…made a few changes."
"Well. As close as it is to Harry and Bob, I don't think I need to look further. The matter of rent must be discussed, however."
"No, it mustn't. As I say, I own the building. For a small amount--a pittance, actually, and only because it's required by law so the state can get their tax from the sale--I will sell it to you. You may wish to wait until the real furnishings have arrived, however, so you can help plan the décor."
He shook his head. "Mai, I don't know what you expect from me, but--"
"It has been a very long time since anyone did anything for me--let alone anything so heartbreakingly important to them--for friendship. There is not enough money to repay that. I have a possibly overfanciful hope that our relationship might continue on that basis. Consider this a gift from a friend, one you have helped--and will continue to help--in times of great need."
He considered her a moment, then nodded. "Of course, if you were out of coffee, I could help you with that, too."
She smiled, and Eryl was beginning to realize that almost nobody got to see that expression on her. "If that should become a problem, I'll certainly contact you. Now, you'll have details to take care of--I assume, in the papers you found in Harry's desk, you discovered your birth certificate?"
"Yes. And the rest--I'm a citzen of the states, naturalized when was eighteen, having lived with my cousin Harry for a year after my only living relatives in Sussex died. I'm related to him through the Morningway blood; he's my first cousin, but the son of the oldest sister, whereas I'm the get of the youngest, and that late in her life."
"Very good. Make up details as you feel appropriate. Camilla Morningway's paperwork has been altered to include your presence as her son, though it's a very long shot that anyone will go as far as Sussex to verify anything. She did, incidentally, have a son named Harold."
"That's convenient. Many might think Eryl is a diminutive."
"And a namesake of Dreden's. That was our thinking. The son is still alive, but living in Singapore."
"There are also passports, work visas, and citizenship papers, if you hadn't been all the way through the pack. You don't have a driver's licence; we thought that'd be easy enough to get on your own."
"Not in Harry's car."
"A car can be provided."
Eryl was silent for a few minutes, and then said "Is this what they call kissing up?"
Mai thought, then nodded vigorously. "Yes. Definitely kissing up. I'd enjoy it if I were you."
"Oh, I am so far." Eryl grinned.
Harry stared around him. "She bought you this."
"And more," Eryl said easily, leaning against the doorframe, arms folded. As Bob had said, Eryl's easy grace and immaculate personal presentation, as well as his lack of weathering and differing coloring, would never let him be confused with Harry, though their being relatives wasn't hard to buy.
"Don't you know she just wants to get on your good side?" Harry demanded, whirling on him.
"I'm well aware of that. She told me so herself. I like that about her." Eryl smiled a little. "Though I will speak to her about being a bit more respectful toward you. Your parentage is no reason to treat you the way she does. After all, I come from you, as well as Bob."
"You're a Drake," Harry snorted. "So to her, it doesn't count with you."
"Yes, I am. And I plan to charge all the special privileges the traffic will bear, especially since she told me she has it to spare, and then some. Of course, she was heavyhanded with my accounts, as well. You'll never have to worry about the rent again, look at it that way."
Harry made a bearlike sound and tromped though the rest of the studio without benefit of guidance, including up the stairs to the living quarters.
When he came back down, he was much quieter. "Are you moving out, then?"
"I've barely had a chance to move in. And no, I'm not moving out yet. I need you, Harry. And Bob. I need an anchor as to who I am. If you two aren't that, then no one is. I worry…"
"I know. We…" he moved forward and dropped his pissed demeanor to hug Eryl. "I said we won't abandon you. You saved our lives."
"And you saved mine, which some people would consider quits."
"Maybe some people who don't love the people they'd be considering it quits with. I know my apartment's crap next to your own place--she said she was selling it to you?"
"Everybody leaves home sometime, but not…not yet, all right? Not just for you. Bob and I need you around a while longer, too."
"I won't be going yet; don't worry." Eryl kissed him softly. "I need you, too. Emphatically. Never doubt it. And it's not as though I'm far. You could walk it in ten minutes."
"No, it's not far. Sorry, I'm getting all parent-complex on you again. Bob would probably be checking the soundness of the building structure."
"He does things like that to hide when he gets weepy." Eryl smiled against Harry's cheek. "But Mai and I were careful about that."
"'Mai and I', Harry repeated on a sigh, leaning back to rest his forehead on Eryl's. "I'll just have to get used to hearing that."
"I'll try not to flaunt it about."
"Oh, I'm sure Mai will do that for you. Come on, let's see what Bob's done with the place."
The apartment was clean within an inch of its life, and the wards had been changed to allow Eryl's free passage, though alarms would activate if any other Drake tried to shapeshift into his form and gain entrance that way. The wards were really no better off than they were when Harry and Bob had made their trip to Greece, but with a friendly Drake in residence, or at least near enough to sense any others, that mattered less, though Mai would probably fix that up for them too if they asked her.
"Bob?" Eryl called.
He received the sense that Bob was in the laboratory, and looked around to where Harry, with an attitude of wonder and delight, was once again going over all the modern conveniences in the kitchen.
"Harry, if you make any more toast just to watch it pop up, I'll have to run to the store for bread."
Harry didn't answer, just grinned at him and started to fill a coffeemaker that had more functional appurtanences than the latest space shuttle.
Eryl sighed and made his way through the living area, past a brightly crackling fire, toward the hallway and the lab.
Inside was what looked, at first glance, like a disaster, but what he knew was simply Bob's way of organizing things until he could get them all put away the way he preferred.
"Is Harry going to kill you for this?" he wondered idly.
"Not at all, dear boy," Bob said, from somewhere under one of the tables. "I think even Harry can manage to follow the alphabet. I would have preferred a system that grouped likes together, but Harry generally doesn't need even that--this much organization is really only for you and I. Harry seems to know what he needs without even looking for it."
"I'd say you have plenty of time to finish. Harry's playing with all the new toys in the kitchen. He's making coffee, but I saw him eyeing the corn popper."
"How did you manage that, by the way?"
"The spell in question is on Harry. Any device that carries no magical charge of its own, such as his sheild bracelets do, will be sheilded from Harry's aura."
"Oh, dear. That could cause him severe difficulties in the field."
"The spell only operates in his own house. Specifically, in the kitchen. His reading lamps and TV sets continue to live lives of danger."
Bob crawled out from under the table, where there was a squat storage cabinet with twelve small drawers in four ranks; he was storing the less-used herbs, stones, and other such items in it, and labeling them. He'd discovered his own sense of smell was suffering from the industrial surroundings, much as Harry's did, and couldn't be relied on to identify shredded or powdered herbs or ground resins. He sneezed once, steadying himself on Eryl's arm, and said "That's very fine control, and a great deal of casual power, considering the devices you intended to effect are electrical."
Eryl gave a nothing-to-it shrug. It wasn't like he was being falsely modest. There really was nothing to it, to him. He looked around and located a fairly clean cloth, probably intended for use as a rag but not yet sacrificed to the cause, to hand to Bob to wipe up with.
Bob did, and blew his nose. "And will I be seeing your studio soon?"
"As soon as you like. Will I be meeting Murphy soon? I feel like she's my best friend outside of you two, and I've never even said hello to her."
"Harry will arrange that, or perhaps Murphy herself; she tends to drop by unannounced." Eryl smiled happily at him, he couldn't really have said why, except that Bob was all dusty, determined, and excited. With the godawful memories Eryl could look at if he so chose--which he seldom did--it seemed too good to be true to see the dead-but-not-ghostly wizard like this.
"Oh, my dear boy." Bob dropped the rag and reached for Eryl, pulling him into a soft kiss. When they broke, he continued "It is not only Mai to whom you are an unexpected windfall."
Eryl smiled, eyes closed, nuzzling Bob's cheek. "I love you, too. And I wouldn't be here if it weren't for you--the incredible Hrothbert of Bainbridge, doing the impossible."
"And I wouldn't be here, if you hadn't made saving Harry and I your first priority. Help me get this…" he began to bat the dust off himself. He was wearing a loose white button-down and a pair of relaxed fit khakis--his idea of bottom-of-the-barrel scut clothes. Harry would have been shirtless in a pair of translucent cutoffs.
Eryl helped brush him off--with only one comment from Bob that his ass couldn't be that dusty--and they adjourned to the kitchen, where Bob went to wash his hands before touching anyone, Eryl and Harry kissed up against the refrigerator, and both of them snagged Bob, while he was still drying his hands, to pull him into the clinch.
As Harry kissed Bob, and Eryl chewed lightly on Bob's ear and started on his shirt buttons, all the wards in the house, as well as Harry's hockey stick, began to glow a soft, even gold, showing no outside disturbances, mundane, magical, or otherwise.
Bob started working his way down Harry's neck as Eryl tugged Bob's shirt free of his pants, and Harry panted "I gotta get some less noisy warding up."
"Later," Eryl panted back, sliding his hands up Bob's chest as he sucked at a particular spot on Bob's neck that produced a heartfelt groan from the older wizard.
The wards were, in fact, adjusted later. A couple of days later.