Title: An Uncomfortable Arrangement

Author: Jedi Buttercup

Rating: K+

Disclaimer: The words are mine; the worlds are not.

Summary: Harry Dresden is not the only wizard with a skull-bound familiar. Much to his surprise. 1000 words.

Spoilers: Dresden Files set roughly after "Dead Beat"; Mummy Returns (2001).

Notes: 24 Days of Ficmas 2011, Day 2: for beckyh2112. Prompt: "Jonathan is a wizard, tasked with keeping an eye on Imhotep's skull. He is not a happy camper with this. Neither is Harry when they show up in Chicago."

"You're certain about this?" the stranger standing on the walk in front of my apartment said. "The trail definitely points here?"

I didn't think he was talking to me. I'd wrestled the Blue Beetle into a parking space a block and a half away when the engine abruptly decided it had cooperated enough for the month; the gentleman had already been standing there when I'd levered myself out of the car, and I hadn't walked far before I'd noticed him mumbling and bent an ear to Listen in. I was ninety percent sure he hadn't seen me.

The problem was, there wasn't anyone else within speaking distance of him, either. So if it wasn't me, and he wasn't crazy, there weren't many possibilities left. He had to be talking to someone behind a veil, or a wildfae too small to see from where I stood... or possibly a spirit of some kind. Mort hadn't told me about any new ectomancers in town, but with the British accent audible in his voice, the stranger could easily just be passing through.

Passing through on his way to what, was the question. Especially if it led him to the door of Harry Dresden, the only wizard in the Chicago phone book and keeper of enough secrets that I had no idea which one could have brought him to my city.

I Listened harder, and caught the rough sound of a lower voice rumbling in reply. Lower in both decibel and pitch, which made a lot harder to decipher... over and above the fact that it wasn't even speaking English. Something Middle Eastern, I thought; I recognized the rhythm, though not the words. One of these days I was definitely going to have to branch out beyond just correspondence-grade Latin.

"No, no, I'm not questioning your magnificence," the British wizard spoke again, in the resigned tones of someone having the same tedious conversation for the umpteenth time. "I'm just saying, if this Dresden chap really had access to the source of Kemmler's secrets, don't you think we'd have seen some other sign of dark magic by now? You have to admit, this is a rather... unlikely residence for any wizard, much less a warlock of Kemmler's line."

I gritted my teeth and drew my blasting rod from the pocket of my duster. It hadn't been so long since I'd used the knowledge in the Word of Kemmler to thwart the Darkhallow, then passed the tome on to Mavra in exchange for never bothering my city or my friends again. It didn't sound like he'd been one of the disciples of Kemmler seeking to use the Word for their own purposes that Halloween... but the fact that he knew I'd had it in the first place raised my hackles. I crept forward, hoping to discover the nature of his companion before either of them twigged to my presence.

The lower voice murmured again, and the British wizard gave an aggravated sigh. "Yes, well. My nephew is hardly a typical wizard, either, as you very well know. This Dresden, though; he's been dogged by the Wardens since he was sixteen. Do you honestly think he could have hidden it for that long without its presence becoming obvious?"

I stopped short again at that. Sixteen? When I- when Justin had died and I'd been orphaned for the second time? The first time I'd laid eyes on the Word had been a few months ago. The only thing associated with Kemmler that I'd known about that long ago had been...

"All right, all right. I get it; you're not going to shut up about this until I go in there and bloody look for it. You don't have permission to talk to it, though, even if I do find it, understand? Just because it's the only other spirit ever rumored to have been entrapped in the same manner, and we need it to figure out if those Imhotep cultists actually have a chance of enslaving you again despite the Gatekeeper's bindings, does not mean I want you sharing notes with the instrument of the greatest necromancer of modern times. You were scary enough on your own."

He shuddered then, shoulders moving under his suit jacket- and that's when I registered the rucksack in his hands, just the right size to hold a human skull like the one that housed my lab assistant and spirit of intellect, Bob. Who had once served the same function for Kemmler... and my first master, after Justin had rescued him from the wreckage of Kemmler's last stand.

I thought back to the graveyard-mist chill of the pale eyelights that had appeared amid the cloud of glowing motes that was Bob's nature outside of his bony home when I'd questioned him about Kemmler, and felt the fine hairs stand up along my arms. I'd told Bob to forget his experiences with Kemmler permanently after that fiasco, but no one who hadn't been there could possibly know that.

Might not even believe it, since the necromancer's creed was that the power over life and death was the greatest magic, all other spells and truths only parlor tricks beside it. What warlock raised to that belief would ever order that sort of knowledge destroyed?

Besides me, I mean. It got kind of wearing to always face the nominal good guys' worst suspicions, but I did understand where the prejudice came from. Not that that made it any easier to accept.

"Right." The British wizard took a deep breath, shaking out his arms, then shouldered the rucksack and struck a dramatic pose. He pulled something from one of the inner pockets of his jacket-

-and that's when I took the last few steps to press the tip of my blasting rod against his throat.

"Wrong," I said.

His Adam's apple bobbed. "Ah. Dresden, I presume," he said, weakly.

"Yeah, you do," I replied. "Now how about we step into my parlor and have a little talk."