It didn’t happen very often, but every once in awhile Howl would become infatuated with a member of his own sex. Michael could usually tell when one of these episodes of “love that dare not speak its name” was occurring: the perfumed air that followed Howl out of the shower would smell more of musk than flora, his hair would be slicked back, and even his arrogant strut would take on an air less of fluid grace and more of confident masculinity. When Michael saw the signs, he and Calcifer tried to look Very Busy whenever Howl went on about what lovely thing he was wooing this time; it was bad enough constantly listening to his stories about the conquest of young women, but ones about young men were where boy and demon both drew the line.
There hadn’t been any warning signs when the tall, hook-nosed man barged in from the world on the other side of the black door at some god-awful hour of the morning, or Calcifer wouldn’t have let him in.
Michael looked at the man, startled. “May I help you?” he asked, discreetly pushing the spell he’d been working on since the previous evening to the side of the bench.
“Howl,” the man replied with folded arms and disinterested eyes. “Get him.”
“The wizard Howl is—”
“I did not ask you to make excuses for him. Get him.”
Michael almost retorted with something very rude, but decided that if Howl had gotten some frightening man so riled up as to barge in without explanation, then he deserved to be woken up at some god-awful hour and forced to greet the world with less than perfect hair. The young apprentice ascended the rickety stairs with a casual “Wait here, then,” thrown to the stranger at the door.
“Howl.” Michael poked the sleeping wizard with a stick he’d found on the floor. “There’s someone here for you.”
“Then tell them I’m sleeping, Michael, what’s wrong with you?”
“I tried, but he wouldn’t let me get two words out.” This is of course a lie: Michael had in fact gotten four words out, but ‘two’ seemed to fit better and was close enough to the sentiment, at any rate. “It’s some pale, sort of greasy bloke with a hooked nose, do you know—”
Blur of blond hair and fine-boned limbs cramming themselves into a crushed velvet suit swept passed Michael with a high-pitched “Why didn’t you say so EARLIER?” Things began to fly across the room as Howl tore apart the contents of one of his many trunks. “My hair is a mess and he so hates to be kept waiting what shall I do this is a TRAGEDY!”
“You could wear a hat,” Michael suggested in an attempt to be helpful and getting a jar of pickles thrown at his head for his trouble. He might’ve asked what the jar of pickles had been doing in Howl’s room in the first place, but there were more important matters to attend to. “Howl, why does it—”
“Get down there and distract him!” Howl shrieked, “I have to cram two hours of prep time into under ten minutes and you are not helping!” He opened a jar of something colored a sort of green one can’t find in nature, and Michael decided that he’d rather be anywhere but near whatever Howl was doing right then, anyway.
The stranger was standing stiffly right where Michael had left him. “He’ll be down in a moment,” the boy called, settling himself at the workbench once more. “I’m supposed to be distracting you but I haven’t the faintest idea how to go about it, so I shall save us both the trouble.”
The man’s stance relaxed almost imperceptibly and he gave Michael a faintly surprised look. “That is without doubt the most intelligent remark I have ever heard from a resident of this floating deathtrap.”
Michael told him that was hardly saying anything, but thanks all the same.
“Sevvie!” Howl cried approximately ten minutes later as he leapt down the stairs, all perfumes and perfect hair as usual, “What brings you here? Have you finally decided to admit your love for me?”
“There is as much chance of that happening as of Longbottom successfully completing a Potions class without Granger whispering instructions in his ear,” ‘Sevvie’ replied in his usual dry tone. “Dumbledore has sent me to fetch you for the day.”
“Don’t I come every day to see you, anyway? And doesn’t he usually send that werewolf chap to get me?” Howl sidled up to the other wizard, pulling the man down by the collar to bring their faces together. “Admit it, Severus, you’re starting to like me!”
“I will admit it if it ever comes to pass.” Severus tugged his cloak out of Howl’s grasp. “We’re leaving now.”
“Michael, don’t give up on that spell!” Howl called as he followed his strange acquaintance out the door, “You’ve almost got it! I’ll be back… sometime, I suppose.”
After they left, Michael and Calcifer exchanged Looks.
“That was… interesting,” the fire demon finally said, breaking the stunned silence.
“S’funny,” Michael mused as he scratched his nose with the end of his quill, “I always thought he preferred the pretty sort.”