Molly stared at the pillar of wax, at the small twist of fibers at its center. Focusing with all her might on harnessing that ambient power that flowed through the world. The power that Wizards like her had the ability to harness.
Creating fire was not her forte. She was better at mental magic. Clouding someone's senses, adjusting someone's attitude, those abilities had come naturally to her when her talent emerged...and had gotten her in BIG trouble. Part of her probation agreement with the White Council - the group of old (really old, like centuries old) dudes that governed the world's Wizards - was that she would be tutored in the proper use of magic by her dad's friend Harry Dresden.
So, here she was, sitting on a stool in Harry's chilly basement laboratory trying desperately to use magic to light a candle.
"You look ridiculous with your face scrunched up like that, you know," came a disembodied voice from a shelf to her right. "You're trying too hard, you have to relax, this is a mental exercise, not a physical one."
"Quiet, Bob, I'm trying to focus," Molly hissed.
The orange light emanating from the eye sockets of a rune-covered skull flickered as the voice sighed. "That's what I'm trying to tell you, apprentice, you're focusing too hard."
"What would you know about it, Bob?" Molly replied snarkily. "You're a spirit of intellect bound to a human skull. You're basically a super smart Elf on a Shelf."
"And you're a teenaged human girl who got caught using magic to screw around with people's brains," Bob replied. "I've been sitting on shelves or been carried around by Wizards for over 500 years, I know when an apprentice is 'doing it wrong'..."
Molly groaned in frustration, her head hit the workbench with a solid thump.
"I can't do this. Why can't I stick to the stuff I'm good at instead of this elemental evocation stuff I can barely do? I tried this all day yesterday, and all Harry would say is 'not enough practice, Padawan', and throw Yoda quotes at me. But I practiced - I really, really practiced!" Molly pounded a fist on the workbench, making the myriad arcane and mundane tools rattle on their shelves.
The girl's voice slipped into a whine as her words tumbled out of her. "It's just not coming to me. He doesn't get it, evocation magic, especially fire, comes so easily to him. He just doesn't understand how hard this is for me. He just stands there, thinking he's so superior, but he's a mess, he doesn't even shave half the time, I don't think he's had a haircut in months, he doesn't look and certainly doesn't act like an all-powerful Wizard... And why are you coughing like that, Bob? You don't have a throat to clear, or lungs, or..."
Molly winced, the tickle at the back of her mind finally registering through her frustrated ranting. "He's, uh, standing right behind me, isn't he?"
"Yup. Hi boss!" grinned Bob. Though to be honest, a corner of Molly's mind observed, he always grinned, he was a skull.
"I think it's time for a break, Padawan." Harry announced, patting the teen on the shoulder. "Go up and get yourself a Coke or something."
Harry Dresden watched his apprentice climbing up the steep stairs, more like a ladder, really, up out of his lab. He tried not to notice how... curvy the girl was nowadays.
Bob, however, had no such restraint, and let out at low whistle. "If I were human, Harry--"
"--I'd be keeping you the hell away from her," the Wizard interrupted. "She's a Knight of the Cross' daughter, Bob. Plus, I've known her since she was in pigtails."
"Come on, Harry, there's plenty of May-December romances out there." One of the lights in the eye sockets flickered, Bob's version of a wink. "Though in your case it's probably February or March."
"I'm not THAT old, Bob..." Harry began.
"No, I meant SHE was the February. You only met Michael's family five or six years ago, she's still pretty young -- legal -- but only barely..."
"Damn, has it been that long?" Harry replied. "Time seems to be flying by sometimes."
"There's a word for that, you know."
"Zenosyne: the feeling that time is going by faster and faster. Especially as you grow older. Speeding onward to your life's inevitable conclusion," Bob sighed wistfully. "That would be nice, not to have to put up with you any more."
"Hey, I supply your trashy romance novel habit, buddy, be nice."
Bob made a scoffing sound. "If it wasn't for me, Harry, you'd probably be uncorking wine bottles with your teeth and drinking yourself into oblivion. Or dead, many, many times over."
Harry's retort was interrupted by footsteps approaching overhead, then Molly's black boots appearing through the opening in the ceiling. She climbed down the ladder, two cans of Coca-Cola in one hand as she climbed down with the other.
"Thought you might like one, Master Yoda," Molly said, handing over a can.
'Hmm. Thank you, I do," grunted Harry in a horrible imitation of the Muppet Jedi Master's voice.
"That's horrible, by the way," Molly said, opening her can of soda and taking a swig.
"It really is, Harry." Bob agreed.
"All right, all right, don't everyone gang up on me. I'll do Obi-Wan Kenobi instead: 'Hello there, my young Padawan, are you ready to get back to work?'"
Molly sighed, but had to smile, Harry's "British accent" was almost worse than his Yoda.
"Yeah, I guess so."
"You know, after I nearly burnt down my mentor Ebenezar's barn, he started setting me on really small, detailed magics, super subtle stuff. It was really hard. I'm not generally a patient person, and especially wasn't one back then."
Harry took a swig of his Coke, then continued.
"I asked Ebenezar why he wouldn't let me do what I was good at, this tiny fiddly stuff was useless. He told me 'if ya master the discipline ya need to do the stuff that's hard, it'll make it easier to keep the stuff that's too easy for ya under control.'"
Molly nodded, pondering Harry's words.
"Ok, back to work?" Harry held up his hand for a fist bump.
Molly rolled her eyes, but bumped her fist against Harry's.
"Back to work," she agreed.