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Prologue

 

Alex frowned as the phone on his desk began to ring. He wasn’t expecting a call from anyone who knew that number, and the Rift had been fairly quiet of late. He picked up the receiver.

“Hopkins.”

Yeah, Alex, I’ve told you repeatedly to get that damned dump site in Canton cleared out by our people! This just takes the biscuit, you know?”

At the sound of the familiar voice, Alex sat up sharply, wide-eyed, and looked out his office window. No, there he was, teasing Marion in his usual way, leaning casually against her desk, a cup of coffee in his hands.

“Jack?”

Yes, it’s Jack,” the other man said impatiently.

“No, wait a minute, I can see you right now, and you are not on the phone…”

Duh.”

“Don’t ‘duh’ me, you wanker! What the hell is going on?”

Three guesses, and the first two don’t count.” Jack was evidently in a snitty mood, and not inclined to hide it.

“Okay – when are you?”

Oh, right now, I’m May 18th, same as you. An hour ago, I was October 9th.”

“October 9th – of this year? 1999?”

Yes, thank God, it’s not too bad.”

“And you fell into some kind of temporal displacement in the waste ground at Canton? Shit – okay, I’ll get that looked into right away…”

No, idiot, you can’t do that now, I’ve still got to fall into it, right?” Jack said testily.

Alex muffled an expletive. Only Jack. Only Jack could get into this kind of head-banging mess.

“Well, where are you?”

Newport. When I came to, I realised I needed to get out of Cardiff ASAP, since I don’t recall precisely what I was doing today, and I can’t risk running into myself. But there’s two things, first of all, you need to tell me – him – what’s happening, more or less, so that I – he doesn’t freak when he sees the activity on my – his – our bank account – Christ, I hate this shit! And you have to keep me – bugger it! – him in Cardiff for the next four months.”

Alex grinned. Jack was seriously cross, because he didn’t swear that much under normal circumstances, and it was amusing to hear Jack cross. He was so laid back usually. “Because that’s what you did originally?” he asked.

Yes. I’m pretty sure I barely left town all that time. You’ll be busy enough, I’ll tell you that for free.” Jack’s tone was very acid.

“And – okay, okay, I get it. What about you?”

Any suggestions? The obvious thing would be for me to go to London, but I’ve no particular desire to get myself on La Hartmann’s radar again. You know how she just loves my company.”

“Yes, but – well, we could tell her the truth. That you’re temporally displaced…”

Fuck that, Alex! She’ll want to dissect me. I’m not having it!”

“Yeah – no, look, she won’t if I tell her hands off. Jack – you said when you came to… Was that – did you come to alive?”

You think you’re talking to a ghost?”

“Oh, sod you, Harkness, you know perfectly well what I mean!” Jack gave him indigestion at times.

There was a pause. “No. I’d died.”

“I’m sorry.” Alex meant it. Jack might have an infinity of lives, but dying hurt, every time, and from what he had seen (though Jack never discussed it) so did resurrecting.

Not your fault. Just an accident, at least from what I recall. Don’t try preventing it, either, that would be B-A-D, let me remind you.”

“Yes, yes, I got the lessons, thank you. So, what are you going to do with yourself for the next four months? I mean, I get that you don’t want to be on One’s radar, but you can’t stay here, and I’ll be blunt, the thought of you running around with nothing to do is terrifying. You’re a menace when you’re bored.”

There was a rich chuckle from the other end of the line. “Well, that’s kind of why I was calling you?”

“Hmm.” An idea suddenly struck Alex. “Torchwood Two could use a hand with the cataloguing…”

I thought you said I was dangerous when bored,” Jack said pointedly. “I’m not spending four months with that – bizarre guy in Glasgow.”

“Yeah, okay, granted, stupid idea.” A thought struck him. “Hey – you’ve tried your hand at any number of jobs, haven’t you?”

Yeah, you could say that.”

“Ever been a bartender?”

What?”

“You heard me.”

Well, yeah, I’ve mixed a few drinks in my time. Why?”

“Because I’ve got an old faculty mate in Edinburgh who runs the Deacon Brodie, on the Royal Mile. He’s been whinging to me lately because he wants to go to NZ for a couple of months, and can’t find a temporary manager.”

The Deacon Brodie? That’s only one of the best-known pubs in town!”

“I figured you’d know it,” Alex commented smugly.

And you think I could manage it for four months?” Jack sounded distinctly amused.

“Yes, if you can behave yourself with the customers!”

Now, where would be the fun in that?”

“Jack…”

Jack’s lascivious chuckle rolled down the line again. Although Alex had never swung that way – and Jack had never made a serious pass at him – he could not help shivering at the sound. The man was indecently seductive.

No, seriously…”

“Seriously – I could give Dan a call, and you could go see him. There are worse ways of spending your time. Plus, you’d be in Edinburgh during Festival time. There are worse places to be, as well.”

That’s true.” Jack sounded interested. “Plenty of activity, plenty of traffic – folk looking for a good time….”

Alex rolled his eyes. “Right. I take it you’ve procured yourself another cell phone, since I obviously can’t call your regular number.”

Yes.” He reeled off the number.

“Got it. I’ll get on to Dan. Sit tight, I’ll get back to you by tomorrow, and I’ll fill in – your current self. Dear God, two Jack Harknesses running around – like one of you isn’t trouble enough!” he sighed.

Oh, you know you love me,” Jack said provocatively. “Tell – me – if he wants to be helpful, to pack a case for me? I don’t really want to have to buy a whole new wardrobe. We can arrange for it to be sent somewhere once I know where I’m spending the next few months.”

“Right. Jack – do try to stay out of trouble, please?” he pleaded.

Alex, you don’t get it, I never look for it, really I don’t.”

“Yeah, right,” he said disbelievingly. “I’ll talk to you later, Jack.”

When he hung up, he rubbed his temples wearily, but got to his feet and went to open his office door. “Jack!” he called out. “A word, please?” Thank goodness Harkness was more accustomed to temporal anomalies than anyone else in Torchwood. They gave Alex headaches, but if he knew Jack, he wouldn’t bat an eyelid.

Chapter Text

Chapter 1

 

“Harry?”

Harry looked up from the documents he was perusing. “Hmm?”

“Are you all right?”

Harry considered his solicitor for a long moment after that question. He had been asked it by countless people over the last year, until his head ached with it, but for some reason, he was less irritated with it from this man than from anyone else he knew, and that included his best friends.

One of the things that had emerged after the Last Battle (as the Daily Prophet persisted in calling it) was that Sirius Black’s solicitor had made himself known to Harry, because there were matters to do with the Black estate of which Harry, now that he was of legal age, needed to be aware. Peregrine Nimbleby was only a year or two older than Sirius would have been, and Harry had taken an immediate liking to him. He felt that Perry (as the lawyer had told him to call him within a few weeks of their meeting) was not unduly interested in the whole Chosen One business, and treated him seriously, and moreover was quite willing to explain things when and as needed without condescension. That said, Harry was not sure he was ready to answer this particular question.

“Why do you ask?” he countered mildly.

“Because, frankly, you look like you could use a good, long holiday.”

“Do I?” Harry was faintly amused. “Well, I have just sat my NEWTS. You do remember those, right?”

“Yes, Harry, I remember my NEWTS,” Nimbleby rolled his eyes.

“Oh, yeah, you were a Ravenclaw. Aced them, right?”

“I got what I wanted out of them. If it reassures you,” he added, a little mockingly, “I was rubbish at Astronomy. Are you worried about your results?”

Harry took some time to think about it, then shrugged. “Maybe. Maybe not. I – I think it – irks me a bit to know that I’ve got a place in the Auror Training Programme whether I pass them or not.”

“Or that everyone’s assuming you want to be an Auror?” Nimbleby asked astutely.

“Yes, that too,” Harry replied honestly.

“Do you?”

“I don’t know.” There was a long pause before he went on. “I thought I did, but – I’m beginning to wonder. Okay, I’m good at Defense, but there are other things I’m really not so hot at, and – the more I think about it, it seems like I’d just have to go on fighting. I’m eighteen, Perry, I’ve been in a war since I was eleven. I know there are still bad guys out there, and yes, I’d do everything I could to stop them if needed – but do I have to go looking for them?”

“No, you don’t,” the lawyer said simply. “I’m glad you’ve realised that for yourself, because I’ll be frank – I think you’re being pushed into it, and that you don’t really want it. I don’t suppose you actually know what you do want; you haven’t been given much chance to find out. I imagine you’ve spent too much of this last year trying to catch up on lost ground from the previous year, too.”

Harry blinked at him. “You think it’s wrong for me?”

“I didn’t say that, but I do think it’s perhaps wrong at this stage. You’re right, you have spent far too many years on the front line already. I think – if you’ll pardon the expression – that you need to get a life. Which is something that you’re finding rather difficult, isn’t it?”

Harry thumped his head back against the high, padded back of the chair he was sitting in, and closed his eyes. “How can I get a life when the damned newspapers report on everything I do, right down to the last flavour of ice cream I chose at Fortescue’s?”

“Take a holiday?”

“I can’t get away from these people. And if I could, there’s still…” He stopped himself before he said something stupid, but it was too late. Nimbleby was nothing if not quick off the mark.

“Your friends and acquaintances?”

Harry looked at him, wide-eyed. Nimbleby shrugged. “I get a lot of questions from people I know are, at heart, your friends. From the Weasleys, from Minerva McGonagall, from Shacklebolt – all sorts of people. They all have a hard time when I tell them that your affairs are none of their business; what’s discussed between you and me is strictly confidential. I’ve noticed the, ah, proprietary attitude. I don’t like it, it’s not healthy. Take a holiday, Harry. Disappear for a couple of months, and let them panic. When you come back tanned, healthy and happy, they might take a step back and realise that you’re quite capable of managing your own life.”

“Yeah – but that’s it, Perry. Am I?”

“You’ll never know until you try.”

“And where the hell could I go I wouldn’t be recognised? I’m not ready to leave the country, I’m sorry.”

“Don’t apologise. You don’t need to leave the country; go into the Muggle world. I mean, do you know anything of Britain? There are loads of Muggles of your age who take a year out between school and university, and just go wandering. A lot go abroad, admittedly, but many stay in the country, get temporary jobs here and there, go visit places they’ve never been, and just generally experience life. I think that’s something that could do you a lot of good.”

“But – I don’t know anything about the Muggle world!”

Nimbleby frowned. “You grew up there, at least until you were eleven. And you spent all your summers there until last year. Of course you know about it.”

“I know that I don’t have an identity there!”

“Nonsense, Harry.”

“How can I have? When I left primary school, my uncle and aunt lied about my enrolment in another school, and I was at Hogwarts. I don’t have an educational record, a health record, anything like that. I don’t think I’ve even got a Social Security number, and if I’d been a Muggle, I’d have got one when I turned sixteen.”

“You have a Social Security number, Harry.”

Nimbleby got up, went to a filing cabinet, and withdrew a file, which he gave to Harry. It was his own and, to his astonishment, he found school transcripts up to his eleventh year, a sketchy medical file with common childhood ailments – and he had had a few, for which the Dursleys, reluctantly, had had him treated – and the notification from the DSS giving his National Insurance number.

“Any wizard born or brought up in the Muggle world has one these days. As for other records, it’s common for wizards returning to the Muggle world to say that illness after their eleventh year prevented them from continuing formal schooling,” Nimbleby explained. “Most claim they’ve been home-schooled. Some even actually get regular Muggle qualifications, GCE’s and the like. You can circulate in that world, it’s not that difficult.”

“How about finances? Everything I have is here.”

“You’re eighteen, that’s legal age over there too. Gringotts has connections to the Muggle world, and we can set you up with a linked bank account in a Muggle bank, and a credit card, cheque book, etcetera. Not a problem, Harry, really, it’ll just take a week or two to ensure everything’s in place.”

Harry stared. “Seriously?”

“Absolutely. They’re already taking care of your tax returns so…”

“I file tax returns?” Harry blinked.

Nimbleby grinned. “Well, yes, Harry. Since last year. Not that you’ve had to pay any, you were still in school, but you’re getting interest from your parents’ vault, and Sirius’s, and the Black estates generate revenue. I imagine there will be a tax bill this year, not that you’ll have any problems meeting it. Yes, you have a tax identity, and although the returns are filed here, with the Ministry, they’re valid for the Muggle side too.”

“How would I get away?”

“Haven’t I told you I operate in both worlds? This office has a door into Stephen Street, in central London. You could walk in the Diagon Alley entrance, and walk out there, and no one would be the wiser. Especially if you managed to walk in the Diagon Alley door unnoticed.”

“And… you wouldn’t say anything?”

“I’d expect to hear from you on a regular basis. Say, a quick call every two days, just to be sure you were okay. Or a text message – we can set you up with a mobile phone, and I can receive messages from Muggle networks. As long as I had that reassurance, however, what you do is your own business, and it’s my business to ensure that you get to do what you like, as long as you’re not breaking any laws. Client confidentiality, remember?

“Even if Kingsley brings in the big guns?”

“Even if. He’d have to have phenomenally good reasons, and I can promise you, the prospect of breaking the confidentiality agreements is more than enough to send half of the Wizengamot into a flat panic. You send me text messages, and I can, with your agreement, pass on one or two to demonstrate that you’re perfectly fine. That is absolutely all anyone is entitled to know without damn good reason.” He leaned forward in his seat, his expression earnest. “Just think about it for a couple of weeks, while we sort out the financials, okay? You’re not happy, and you’re not all that well. You’re too thin, your complexion is a bit grey, and you – your eyes look about a hundred years older than they should. Give yourself some time off, get out and live a little, somewhere your every step isn’t hounded by the people here.”

Harry gave him a rueful smile. “That bad, huh?”

“I was hoping things would get easier for you during the year, that you’d be able to settle back into something like a normal life, since you’d gone back to finish your schooling, but it’s not happened. I like you, you’re a good lad, and you have every right to a happy future. I’d like to see you get it.”

Harry looked away into the distance. “To just – walk out your back door, and disappear for a few weeks…. That’s – that’s really tempting, Perry.”

“Let yourself be tempted. Look, I’ll put together an information package for you. A tourist’s guide to Muggle Britain. I’ve got plenty of contacts on the other side, it won’t be a problem. Come back in a week, and I’ll have it ready, and you can take it away and have a good read through, and see what you think afterwards.”

“Yes, okay,” Harry agreed, feeling a little rush of excitement.

“Let Aminta know on your way out when you’ll be back. There’ll be papers for your new bank account and documents to sign then too.”

“Will do. Thank you, Perry.”

“Any time, Harry. See you soon.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 2

It had been easier than Harry had imagined. Nimbleby’s offer of a couple of months of freedom had been all-too irresistible, and the guide he had prepared for Harry had been clear, concise, informative and, in the end, compelling. So Harry had accepted, and by the start of June had found himself in possession of a Muggle bank account, complete with debit card and cheque-book, an Age Check identification card, to prove he was over eighteen, and various other papers folded into a neat magical wallet that took up next to no space, regardless of the numbers of papers stuffed therein, all designed to allow him to prove his identity to the satisfaction of any possible Muggle authorities.

The next thing he knew, he was walking out the Muggle entrance of Nimbleby’s offices, and into central London, without chaperone, companion, hangers-on, or other shadows, for the first time in long, long weeks.

Harry had not spent long in London, just enough to equip himself with a back-pack, a few changes of easily kept clothing, and a map of Britain. If he stayed in London, the chances that he would be seen by one of his own kind were all too high. If he got out, he stood a far better chance of passing unnoticed. He travelled north, stopping off in Birmingham for a couple of days, then going on to the Lake District, which was beautiful, but not quite what he wanted, then across the country to York. Then he decided to travel still further north, and found himself in Edinburgh by the end of June.

Nimbleby’s guide book (which looked, to Muggles, just like a Rough Guide book) was singularly enthusiastic about Edinburgh, particularly during the summer, and the eager tone was appealing to Harry. Also, when he got out of the station at Waverley, and stood at one end of Princes Street Gardens looking up at the Castle, on its great, triangular plug of rock, something in him seemed to open up and say, “Yes!”

He found a student hostel quickly enough, but looking around the cramped and dingy quarters, decided that he would look for better lodgings immediately. He knew that he had more than enough money to afford considerably better, but he also knew that an eighteen year-old staying on his own in a four- or five-star hotel would only raise eyebrows and questions, and he just wanted to be an ordinary boy for a while. So he talked to people in the hostel and in some of the cafes he went to for food, and paid a great deal of attention to the notice boards everywhere he came across them, and after a couple of days he had found a small lodging house in the Meadows of which he liked the look.

The landlady was used to lodging students in term-time, so it was quite normal for her to take in temporary lodgers during the summer months, when the regular students were away. She had been business-like enough when he had presented himself to her, checked his credentials and references, made sure his deposit was good – and then she had gone into mother-hen mode, in a brusque, Scottish way that cheered Harry rather than oppressed him.

Until she had seen him bringing groceries home on a regular basis, she had insisted on supplying him with hot dishes; soup and lasagne and meatball stew. A bit hefty, considering the warmth of the weather, but Harry appreciated the gesture. He wasn’t the only one of her temporary lodgers she treated that way, and like most older women Harry had met, she considered that all boys of a certain age were pretty useless domestically. She wasn’t far wrong either, he reflected, amused. He was realising that he was sort of grateful to the Dursleys, because he did actually know how to look after his living premises himself. He needed a bit of reminding, but it came back quickly enough, and while he was not, by any stretch of the imagination, a neat freak, neither did he like living in an uncontrolled mess.

He had done the rounds of the main Edinburgh tourist sites within a week of intensive sight-seeing, and realised that while he didn’t want to leave the town, he was likely to get a little bored if he didn't find some other way of occupying his time. Maybe it was time to look for something in the way of a job. Cautiously, he broached the subject with Mrs. Anderson, his landlady, over breakfast one morning.

She gave him an amused look. “A job, in Edinburgh, at the start of July? You’ve not been looking in the right places, laddie. The Festival’s opening next month, all the pubs in the middle of town are looking for extra staff.”

“I don’t know anything about bar-tending, though,” he argued.

“Och, don’t be daft. You’re just a lad, you don’t know much about anything at all. They places aren’t looking for professionals, just an extra pair o’ hands in the busy season. You’ll get training on the job. Take a walk down the Royal Mile, any place looking for extra help will have a notice in the window.”

“All right. Thank you for the advice.”

First thing the next morning, he took the bus down to Holyrood, and started the long walk up the Royal Mile, towards the Castle, looking carefully in the windows of all the shops, pubs and eateries along the way. Just as Mrs. Anderson had predicted, there were cards in many windows saying “Help wanted” for the Festival season, the three weeks at the end of August and beginning of September, and a few less indicating they wanted extra staff right away, and not just for the Festival. Harry looked at the various establishments carefully as he walked up, making casual assessments as he went.

The pubs, of course, were all shut until 11 a.m., and by that time he was at St. Giles, approaching the last section of the Mile. By this time, it was warm and he was a little thirsty, and the big pub on the corner, with its gaily coloured flower baskets hanging from the first floor cornices, looked appealing. Here too, there was a “Help wanted” sign, Harry noted. Still, at the moment, what he wanted was a large lime and soda, and there was a man setting the tables and chairs outside, so the place was open. Inside, it was all odd angles and lopsided rooms, old, like most of the buildings on the Mile, and picturesque without being twee, and Harry liked it immediately. He knew the name, of course; the Deacon Brodie Tavern was listed in most of the guides to Edinburgh, but this was the first time he had been in.

At this precise moment, it was quiet, but the place had only just opened its doors, and Harry was sure it would fill quickly, particularly as it served food from midday onwards. There was a blond girl behind the counter, who looked at him a little closely until he ordered his lime and soda, when she immediately relaxed, since he hadn’t wanted anything alcoholic. Harry rolled his eyes to himself, and thought not for the first time that it was really a pain in the neck to be a little shorter than the average, and to get that sort of look in pretty well every pub he had ever set foot in. He took his drink, and went for one of the window tables so he could look out at the human traffic up and down the Royal Mile.

However, his attention was caught by a small table near what he guessed was the kitchen entrance. An auburn-haired girl sat, her head bowed, obviously crying, or very nearly. Opposite her sat a broad-shouldered man, dark-haired, his head inclined towards hers, one hand on her shoulder, speaking to her in a low, private, inaudible tone, clearly trying to comfort her. After a while, she looked up at him. She was a pretty girl, Harry saw, despite the ravages of tears, and she had them under control now, and was looking at the man with gratitude. He put the hand that had been on her shoulder round the back of her head, and kissed her forehead lightly. They both stood, and made their way to the door.

Harry could see the man’s face now, and he felt a strange jolt of shock, without understanding why. He was well into his thirties, and extraordinarily handsome, with clean-cut features and vivid blue eyes. He opened the door for the girl, but spoke to her, with an American accent that also startled Harry.

“Okay, you go home, get an appointment with your GP, get your sick line, you’re on leave as of today, you got that, Tammy? And if that sorry son of a bitch comes round here looking for you, I swear I will kick his ass all the way down to the Canongate!”

She chuckled tearily. “Thank you, Jack. But….”

“No buts. Take your time; decide what you want to do. And if you decide to go to the clinic, call me, you understand? You’re not going through that alone.”

“You’re gonna be short-handed, Jack.”

“What do you think I’ve got the card in the window for, honey? Go. Home,” he said firmly.

“Yes, boss,” she smiled. “And thank you again.”

He pulled a mocking face that made her giggle a little, and she left. He stood watching her for a minute or so, then pulled the door wide open and blocked it in place with a little wedge, letting the warm summer air enter the cooler, darker areas of the pub. He then went up the stairs, and Harry could hear two voices, indistinctly. A few minutes later, he returned back down the stairs with another man, about the same age, thin and reddish-blond, with a lot of freckles.

“I’ve got that kid coming in on Friday, until the end of September,” he was saying to Jack, “but he’s sous-chef material, not bar-staff. Is there no response to the card?”

“We only put it up yesterday, I wasn’t expecting to lose a front-of-house hand this quickly. I don’t have any contacts here, you know that.”

“We’ve always had students, often overseas, for August and September. Give it a couple of days yet, but I’ll put feelers out at the catering schools. Is Tammy okay?”

“No, but she will be. Do you know her boyfriend?”

“Uh – I think I’ve seen him a couple of times, yeah?”

“If he shows his face in here again, I want to know pronto, okay?”

“Sure. Is there a problem?”

“That’s Tammy’s business to tell you, or not. But let’s just say that when I’ve gotten through with that guy, he’s not welcome here anymore.”

“You’re banning him? Jack, we don’t ban people…”

“You’re not serious.”

“Well, Dan hasn’t much…”

“Never wanted to?”

There was a pause. “Uh – I wouldn’t quite say that, but…”

“I’m not Dan. There’s been no problem with the real regulars from what I’ve seen, but if we’re getting into top gear here for August, I’m not going to stand by and watch Johnny-come-latelies make trouble, either with the customers or the staff, are we clear on that, Josh? And if Dan didn’t have the stones to kick ‘em out, trust me, I do.”

“Clear, Jack,” the other man said, with a faint gulp, which Harry could perfectly understand, because Jack (clearly the current manager of the premises) fairly radiated menace at that precise moment.

“Right. All I need now is a couple of extra hands to pick up the slack. Do you want someone on service upstairs?”

“That would be helpful – but I need someone with a little experience, Jack.”

“Or else you need Shirley from down here, and I get someone to fill in for her behind the bar.”

“Yeah, that would work.”

“Okay, that’s what we’ll be looking for, then. When Shirley comes in at five, you get together and work out your new schedule with her, and let me know.”

“Yes, Jack.”

New customers walked into the bar at that moment, and Josh disappeared back upstairs, while Jack moved behind the bar to join the blond girl. He was bright and charming to the newcomers, who were Australians, helping them choose from the considerable range of draft beers available, asking them how they were enjoying their stay, and Harry knew what he was going to do, given a moment’s opportunity. When the Australians were settled at another table, Harry went to the bar. The girl who had served him earlier came towards him again, but he shook his head, and cleared his throat.

“Um – excuse me?”

Jack looked up from whatever he had been doing behind the bar – Harry could not make it out – and gave him a quick once over, so rapid that Harry could not take offence.

“Can I help you?” he asked, amicably enough.

“It’s about your sign in the window,” Harry said. “Help wanted? Uh – I’m interested, if I can.”

Jack’s blue gaze sharpened. He glanced at the girl. “Dee, hold the fort, okay?” He came out from behind the bar, and gestured to the little table he had been occupying when Harry came in earlier.

“What’s your name?” he asked, as Harry took the seat opposite him.

“Harry Potter.”

“English?”

“Yes, sir.”

The manager gave him an amused look. “Public school, right?”

Harry blinked. “How did you know?” Because if you were going to try to fit Hogwarts into a Muggle description, public school was about the closest comparison that could be made.

“Don’t call me sir,” was all the answer he got, with a wry smirk. “My name’s Jack Harkness. I’m temporary manager here, the owner’s away in New Zealand for a few months.”

“New Zealand? In mid-winter?” he couldn’t stop himself from blurting out.

Jack laughed suddenly, and Harry found himself dazzled by the blinding smile. For a second, he thought of Gilderoy Lockhart, but there was something far more genuine about this man than Lockhart had ever possessed.

“Don’t ask me,” Jack chuckled. “I think it’s as crazy as you do, but that’s how it is. Yes, I need extra hands in here for the next three months. You a student in Edinburgh?”

“No, I – I guess you could say I’m doing a gap year. I – I was very ill for a while, and my schooling was disrupted,” Harry recited the lie Nimbleby had concocted for him. “I’ve finished it now, but I’m not really sure what I want to do. I’m just – trying to get to grips with real life.”

“Ill, huh?” Jack’s gaze was assessing, but not unkind. “Yeah, I can see you’ve not been 100%. Bar work’s tiring, you know, you’re on your feet all the time, maybe up to eight hours at a stretch.”

“I’m not feeble,” Harry said firmly.

“Any experience?”

“No, I’m afraid not,” Harry admitted, afraid suddenly that that would spoil his chances.

Jack’s eyes narrowed a little. “That’s not necessarily a problem. You are of age, though?”

Harry sighed, and reached into his pack to pull out his ID. Even as he handed it to the manager, Jack chuckled. “Get carded a lot, Harry?” he asked teasingly.

“Like nobody’s business!”

Jack just grinned, though his attention was on Harry’s papers, assessing them carefully.

“Okay – I can’t do this right now, we’re close to lunch hour. If you’re really interested, come back at three, we’ll talk terms and conditions, okay?”

Harry nodded. “Uh – could I have lunch here?”

“Sure, if you want. Though I should warn you, the restaurant prices are a little steep for a kid on the dole,” Jack replied.

“Well – I kind of want the job for experience, more than for money. It’s – when you’ve been – out of touch for a long time, it’s – it’s a bit like you don’t know what the real world is anymore,” Harry said on impulse.

Jack’s sharp gaze softened a little. “I hear you. Well, right now, you’re a welcome customer, like any other. Stay, leave, whatever you like. Come back at three, and we’ll talk business.”

“Thank you.”

“See you, Harry.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 3

Harry stayed in the pub, finishing his lime and soda in a leisurely manner, and headed upstairs to the restaurant a little after twelve for lunch. He had been aware of Jack’s occasional keen glances in his direction, and upstairs he realised Josh, who was clearly the floor manager for the restaurant, at least during this time slot, had been made aware that he was a potential candidate for a job.

However, he was treated the same as any other customer, which he appreciated. The lunch menu was hearty and good, and Harry chose not to raise any questions by ordering alcohol. At three o’clock he was back downstairs, at the small table near the kitchen, waiting for Jack to find him once more.

Jack emerged from the kitchen, wiping his hands on a tea towel, which he tossed behind the bar. He smiled as he saw Harry at the table, and Harry felt something in him respond to that bright look.

“Punctual. That’s a good start,” Jack approved, going behind the bar to fetch out a slim folder before he took the seat opposite Harry. He opened the file, and slid a form out towards Harry, and placed a pen on top of it. “You can start by filling out a P46. Also, you said you’d just left school – are you a student anywhere yet?”

“No, I don’t expect to go to uni,” Harry said honestly.

“So, no P38. I’m guessing you haven’t signed up with the DSS. You looked a little blank when I mentioned being on the dole, and you’ve more or less implied that you don’t need the money.”

Harry had looked up the “dole” reference during lunch. Fortunately Nimbleby was nothing if not thorough.

“No, I’m not on Social Security. Are – are you hiring me?”

“I think so,” Jack replied. His smile was a shade lop-sided, but friendly. “I’ve got a good feeling about you, even if you’re a bit – unusual. That said, you’re going on the light shifts until I’m sure you know what you’re doing, and we’re talking down here, in the bar, not upstairs. The restaurant can’t afford beginners.”

Harry nodded. “No, I get that. I saw.”

“Okay. So – three to seven, seven days, for the first week at least. Can you cope?”

“Seven days?” Although it wasn’t many hours, Harry was still a little surprised.

“This is one of the busiest pubs in Edinburgh. It’s a major tourist attraction, and this is high season. You’ve no experience. Three to six is the quiet time, it gives us the time to train you, but you need to keep at it. Six to seven, things start heating up, you’ll have one of the more experienced hands at your side all the time. After the first week, we’ll have a better idea what you’re capable of, and your schedule will change. You won’t be the only new hand, I need at least two more. £6.00 an hour, plus your share of tips, which are collected and divided equally, but not with the restaurant staff, understood? They have their own system. You’ll get paid in cash, weekly, taxes deducted, with pay slips for your personal records.”

“So you run three shifts? Eleven to three, three to seven, seven to eleven?”

“That’s right. Except Fridays and Saturdays, when it’s seven to one, with the appropriate overtime, but you’ll not be working those,” Jack smirked. “You’re not nearly big enough.”

Harry shot him a mildly indignant look, but had to suppress a smile when Jack just grinned at him unrepentantly. He had been filling in the P46 while Jack had been talking, and now he pushed it back over the table to him, and when Jack took it and looked it over, he laughed delightedly.

“My God, you actually know your National Insurance number!

Harry gave him a blank look. “Well, yeah – is that so unusual?”

“Oh, you have no idea!” Jack chortled. “Getting a National Insurance number is like pulling teeth!” He held out a large hand to Harry. “Welcome to the Deacon Brodie, Harry Potter.”

Harry shook his hand, a little bemusedly. “Uh, when do I start?”

“Right now, if you want. I can take you through the basics, at any rate, because I don’t suppose you know how to pull a pint, do you?”

Harry blushed. “No.”

Jack stood, and crooked a finger at Harry, to beckon him behind the bar. “There are two basic types of pump behind a bar. There is the pump for draft beer or cider, which is the big levers behind their respective taps, and there is the gun, for softs – soda water, Coke, lemonade, Irn Bru, that sort of thing….”

There was a lot to take in, but Harry was a quick study when his interest was engaged, and he found he liked the bar work well enough. Jack was a good teacher, and he never minded repeating himself if Harry hadn’t got it the first time around. Most of the other staff were friendly too, their teasing good-natured when Harry made mistakes, which he did, inevitably. The hardest thing was the PLU numbers for everything; he was forever consulting the list taped to the back of the bar, which slowed him up a good deal, though by the end of the second day the more common orders were starting to get engraved in his memory.

His landlady was approving when he told her he’d got a job as a seasonal hand at the Deacon Brodie, and when four of his fellow-lodgers showed up one afternoon later in the week, he figured it was more or less unavoidable. There was another new hand, another young man, though as Kenny was bigger than Jack himself, it was clear that as soon as Jack was confident that he had grasped the basics, he’d be going on the night shifts. With two newbies, however, Jack was working alongside them all that week, and when the others turned up, greeting Harry with cheerful hoots, he gave Harry an amused look.

“Friends of yours, Harry?”

“Uh, yeah, kind of. We’re all living at the same place.”

“You know their ages?” he asked, his tone mild, but still cautionary.

Harry coloured a little. “Pretty much. I think only Karen’s under twenty-one. I’m pretty sure she’s over eighteen.”

“Make sure. First round’s on the house, just this once. You can join them for the moment, but keep an eye on the traffic. If there’s any back-log at the bar, I expect you back up here right away.”

“Thanks, Jack.”

Harry wasn’t sure if he’d call the other lodgers friends, but when he repeated Jack’s offer, he found he was grateful when only Stefan (who he knew was 24) ordered a pint, all the rest sticking with non-alcoholic drinks, clearly not wanting to cause Harry any trouble. That said, Linda ordered a Virgin Mary, which he had no idea about, and had to ask Jack to make.

When he got back with the drinks, Linda and Karen had shifted seats so that they were side-by-side, and looking towards the bar. They had their heads together and were almost, but not quite, giggly, and Harry looked at them warily.

“What’s got into them?” he asked Stefan, who just shook his head and rolled his eyes.

Harry had taken the empty seat beside Karen, and she elbowed him jocularly.

“You never said your boss was drop-dead gorgeous!”

“Karen!” he hissed in embarrassment, and shot an anxious look towards the bar.

Technically, it was far enough away that any normally pitched conversation would not be particularly audible, but the bar was quiet, and Harry had found out early on that Jack had very acute hearing. Sure enough, although he was not looking in their direction, Harry could see the smirk on Jack’s lips.

“Don’t say things like that!” he protested. “He’s my boss.”

“Well, but he is,” she insisted.

“Mmh,” Linda agreed, in a dreamy tone. “Absolutely yummy.”

“Oi!” Dave protested. He was Linda’s boyfriend.

She grinned at him. “Like I haven’t seen you checking out girls as they walk by.”

Dave was the fair-minded sort. “Well, okay, but just remember who you came in with,” he said, in a mock-dignified tone. She made a play of soothing his ruffled feathers, petting his hair fondly, which made the others chuckle.

“Well, you might be taken,” Karen said pertly, “but I’m not. He can chase me around the bar any time he likes.”

“Would you please stop saying things like that?” Harry pleaded, and the girls took pity on him, and desisted, though their eyes strayed often enough in the direction of the gantry.

In truth, Harry thought Jack would probably have few objections to doing exactly as Karen had suggested. One thing he had realised, in the space of less than a week, was that Jack could and frequently did flirt with just about anything that moved, the prettier the better, and Karen was certainly a pretty girl. On the other hand, Jack kept it fairly well within decent limits with the bar staff. Harry had not been on the receiving end particularly so far, but he reckoned that was because Jack was taking the time to get his measure.

Karen’s reaction, however, made Harry look twice, and made him acknowledge to himself that he had very deliberately not been looking; he had been struck by Jack’s looks the moment he had set eyes on him, and since then had been avoiding the issue altogether. Now he was trying to ignore the little voice wondering if Jack would want to chase him round the bar, and if so, would he let himself be caught? He resolutely pushed those thoughts aside again; he wasn’t looking for complications, he told himself firmly.

Chapter Text

Chapter 4

Now that he was working regularly, Harry chose to alter his schedule somewhat. He liked his landlady, and enjoyed chatting to her at breakfast, and the food wasn’t bad, but she made the worst coffee imaginable, and Harry really liked his morning coffee, though he could live without it during the rest of the day. So he got up early now, and only breakfasted at the lodgings at the weekend. Otherwise, he got a bus to one end or the other of the Mile, and explored the small caffs up and down its length.

It was Tuesday, not quite a week after he had started at the Deacon Brodie, and this time he was up near the Castle, and had found a little Italian pasticceria, which only had a couple of tables in addition to a string of bar stools along the counter, but it was almost nine now, so Harry got a table easily enough and was able to settle down with his newspaper, an espresso and some sort of scrunched-looking pastry which was covered in nuts and thickly dusted with sugar and smelled divine. So did the coffee and he closed his eyes in bliss when he tasted it. This was it, this would be his breakfast place for the duration, he decided, and relaxed into his morning.

“Morning, Harry.”

He didn’t even need to look up; the voice was unmistakeable. Still, he could hardly not, and blinked up in surprise.

“Hello, Jack?”

“I see you’ve discovered my favourite coffee shop. Mind if I join you?”

“Uh, no, of course not.”

Harry pulled his pack from the other seat and hooked it round the back of his own. Jack put his own paper down, and gestured at Harry’s breakfast. “Want another?”

“Yes, please. Just the coffee, thanks.”

“Espresso? Single?”

“Yes.”

Jack went up to the counter, where he was greeted like a long-lost son, in voluble Italian, by the woman behind it. Yet another thing Harry had discovered about Jack during the week was that he spoke an almost terrifying number of languages, not all of them fluently, but certainly enough to make himself understood. Italian appeared to be one of the better ones, he was chatting with the proprietress quite comfortably while she drew the two coffees. Having seen that he was acquainted with Harry, she clearly had questions; Harry caught the glance in his direction. Jack answered readily enough, lightly, and the next time Harry caught the woman’s eye, she beamed at him good-naturedly. Jack had obviously given a good report.

“Annamaria thinks you look like a lost boy,” Jack commented as he returned, putting Harry’s cup in front of him and sitting down opposite with his own.

“A lost boy? Thanks – for the coffee, I mean,” he qualified hastily, in case Jack thought he was offended.

“Well, you did sort of say that to me,” he pointed out. “That you felt you’d been out of touch for a long time. Oh, she also says you’re too skinny, and should eat more cannoli.” He indicated Harry’s half-eaten pastry.

Harry smiled shyly. “It’s delicious, but really, really sweet. Do you know what’s in it?”

“Would you believe me if I told you cream cheese?”

“You’re kidding!” Harry was genuinely shocked.

“Nope. Southern Italy doesn’t use much fresh cream in their desserts. Too hot, probably, the cream turns too quickly. Don’t tell me you’ve never tried cheesecake?”

“Well, yes, but – that still tastes of cheese, sort of. I’ve never liked it much.” He extracted a small dollop of the sweet filling with his fork and tasted it carefully. “This is really cheese?”

Jack just grinned at him, and sipped at his coffee. Just like Harry, earlier, he closed his eyes blissfully as the aromatic liquid went down. “Oh, God, that’s good! Wish I could upgrade the beans at the Brodie.”

“You’re the manager – why not?”

“Temporary manager. I’m just there to keep the place running, not to upset the business plan, which is working well enough. Better coffee costs more, it’s not in the budget. So, how did you come across this place?”

“Oh, I’ve been trying out various caffs up and down the Mile this last week.”

“You don’t get breakfast at your digs?”

“Yes – but Mrs. Anderson makes really horrible coffee. I mean, dishwater horrible. And I don’t really like to eat all that much at breakfast now. It can keep for the weekends. How about you?”

Jack gestured vaguely across the street. “I’m living over there.”

Harry gaped. “You’re living here, on the Mile? In one of the closes?”

“Third floor.” Jack’s gesture became more precise as he indicated a set of windows. “Pretty handy for the job.”

“I’ll say.”

They were less than a hundred yards from the pub, and private accommodation in certain parts of the Royal Mile, including here, almost at the entry to the Castle, was rare, prestigious and expensive. Or at least, expensive by Edinburgh standards, though Harry knew now that the cost of living in London was a great deal higher.

“I’ll be drawing up the shifts for next week. Think you could take on some of the lunch hours too? Say, Monday to Wednesday?”

“Yes, I’d be happy to, if you’re sure.”

“You’ve caught on quickly, and the customers like you.”

“They do?” Harry queried, uncertainly.

Jack smiled, and nodded. “Helpful, and you never get the orders wrong.”

“Oh, wait a minute…” Harry protested.

“You never get the orders wrong, not to the customer. You might screw up behind the bar, on occasion, and get the till entries wrong, but the customer always gets just what he’s asked for. That’s what they notice, after all, that’s what matters to them. Plus, you have great reflexes. You drop stuff, it never hits the floor,” he added jokingly.

Harry laughed. “Okay.”

“Okay. Lists’ll be up on Thursday.” He got up, collecting his paper. “See you this afternoon.”

With a little wave to Annamaria, behind her counter, he strolled off down the Mile towards the pub. Harry watched his long, easy stride, uncertain as to what, if anything, had just happened.

The next morning, though, he was back at the pasticceria, at the same time. Five minutes after he had settled down with his espresso and a different type of pastry, Jack showed up, and this went on for the rest of the week. Jack would always get him a second cup of coffee, not even bothering to ask after the third morning, and they would talk idly, sometimes about the pub, sometimes about current events in their respective papers. Harry was still looking for the paper he preferred, and showed up with a different one every morning, much to Jack’s amusement. Jack, on the other hand, was a pretty steady Guardian reader, though occasionally he had the Times. They were in complete agreement about their contempt for the seedier tabloids, Harry’s fuelled by his perennial disgust with the Daily Prophet, which he increasingly wished he could show to Jack, who could be killingly funny in his mockery when he chose.

Harry never mentioned to any of his work-mates that he and the boss now had a pretty steady morning date going, and evidently Jack didn’t either, though when it came down to it, Jack didn’t really talk all that much about himself, certainly a lot less than he appeared to. You had to ask him direct, specific questions. Sometimes an answer was forthcoming; oft-times Jack evaded the issue deftly. It didn’t take a week of this for Harry to register that Jack sort of sounded like he did, like he was using a well-worn and well-constructed set of parallels to describe his life, and to conceal a real truth that would be impossible to divulge.

“What’s your day job,” Harry asked bluntly one morning, “if this is just temporary?”

“Ah, well, I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you,” Jack joked, but there was just the faintest hint of something behind those smiling blue eyes that had Harry wondering if he wasn’t absolutely serious about that.

It took him rather more than a week to register something else. Harry was at the coffee shop usually about ten to or five to nine. Jack showed up at nine sharp. In the intervening minutes, one morning, Harry noticed a young woman he knew was a customer at the pub leaving Jack’s close. There was a group of them that showed up almost every evening just after six. They’d order a bottle of white wine, and took the large table beside the stairs to the dining room, and from what Harry had seen in the time before he left for the night, they were there to ogle Jack. That evening, as he brought their bottle and glasses to their table, he noticed that the woman he had seen that morning was not there. He asked after her; having seen them almost every evening for the last two weeks, he was on friendly enough terms with them that a casual query would not be seen amiss. He was told that she had only been on temporary assignment with their office, and had returned south that day.

A few mornings later, it was another customer. This one was a man, a prosperous and self-confident forty-something, Harry had judged, maybe one of the numerous lawyers to be found in that area round the High Court. This one, this morning, definitely had a smug look that Harry did not hesitate to qualify as ‘just laid’, though really, he had little grounds to base it on. After that, he started noticing more often the people that emerged from that particular close in the minutes before Jack joined him for breakfast. He quickly pegged the regulars, the ones he thought were also living there, but there was no question now that a selection of the pub’s customers were spending the night somewhere in the building, especially once he started noticing those he had seen come in to the pub the previous evening, and were now leaving the close wearing the same clothes. What surprised Harry somewhat was the variety; men and women, any age from around twenty to at least fifty, most of them good-looking, and if not always obviously so, always possessed of some quality or other that made them noticeable in some way.

Harry had absolutely no notion how to ask his boss if he really was sleeping with all these different people, so he kept his thoughts to himself on that matter, but he suspected that Jack had noticed him noticing, and was amused at Harry’s struggle to know what to say, and how to say it. There were a lot of things that amused Jack, especially about Harry, or so Harry felt. Then again, the more time Harry spent with the man, the more intriguing he got, because Jack really wasn’t like anyone else Harry had ever met.

He had bat-ears, he had reflexes every bit as good as Harry’s own, he seemed to note everything – and by that, Harry meant absolutely everything – going on, and he seemed to have solutions to most things without even thinking about it. Then there were the multiple languages and the inexhaustible charm, not to mention the energy, because Jack appeared to work more hours than any other member of staff, but was never tired. He was surprisingly well-informed about an astonishing variety of subjects, but Harry would catch him censoring himself every so often, for no good reason Harry could discern. He also turned out to have a pretty spectacular singing voice, as Harry discovered one evening when someone had hired the Brodie for a birthday party, complete with karaoke. Harry was sure Jack had to have spent some time as a performer, he was too good at it, and his big, bright, ringing voice was too well-placed and controlled. The next morning, over breakfast, he commented on it.

“You’re not going to tell me you’ve never sung professionally,” he challenged, when Jack demurred.

“Well – not exactly professionally, though I have performed. I mean, it was kind of a professional amateur thing. Or maybe that should be the other way around,” he remarked pensively. “It was a cabaret. Kind of the sort of thing you’ll find on the Fringe next month. But it wasn’t really on a professional stage. It was a couple of weeks’ run in a private club.”

“A private club?”

“Mmh – a drag club.”

Harry choked on his coffee, and Jack reached across the table to give him a solid thump between the shoulder blades.

“You okay?” he asked solicitously, his eyes dancing with humour.

“You’re fibbing!” Harry protested. “A drag club. You mean you were got up as a girl? You? I don’t believe it!”

“I have great legs,” Jack said sincerely. Then he cracked up. “You should see your face!”

“Well, yeah, if you’re going to tell me big fat lies!”

“I’m not lying. Cross my heart,” Jack laughed.

Harry remained incredulous, despite Jack’s protests, but Jack was like that. He told the most outrageous stories with that irrepressible twinkle in his blue eyes, and Harry could never be sure whether they were the truth – because they were just barely plausible – or whether his leg was being comprehensively pulled. After all, Jack had admitted that he enjoyed teasing Harry; he said Harry was too serious for his age.

No, Jack was turning out to be almost a little too fascinating for Harry’s peace of mind, and yet he would not forgo their morning meetings, he enjoyed them too much. Jack was exhilarating company, yet at the same time gave him a sense of security such as he had not felt since the early days with Dumbledore, and he could neither comprehend it, nor reject it.

Chapter Text

Chapter 5

Harry’s exam results came in earlier than anticipated. They were better than he had expected, to his surprise, and he found himself wondering if they had been doctored. On the other hand, he was pretty sure that McGonagall would never stand for that, so they had to be accurate. It opened doors for him, he knew that, but the problem remained the same as it had been at the start of the summer. He had no idea what he wanted to do, and that worried him; he wasn’t used to having a choice, particularly one where he knew there were other roads, but didn’t know what they looked like.

Just before his quitting time that evening, seven p.m., Jack’s hand descended, heavy, on his shoulder.

“Are you okay, Harry?”

Harry gave him a startled look. “Yes, of course. Why shouldn’t I be?”

“You’ve been distracted all day. I noticed this morning, and it hasn’t gotten any better.”

Harry coloured. “Sorry.”

“It’s not a criticism. Is there anything I can do to help?”

Harry found he desperately wanted to confide in him. “I – I got my exam results this morning.”

“Good, bad, indifferent?”

“Good. Better than I expected, in some subjects.”

“And that’s a problem?” Jack smiled faintly.

Harry shrugged. “I don’t know what to do with it. With them.”

Jack studied him for a moment. “Get your jacket. Let’s take a walk, down the Mile and out to the Royal Park. I know you can pick up a bus from there to the Meadows, when you’re ready.” When Harry blinked at him, he smiled. “It’s Monday. Upstairs is shut, it’s quiet, I’m not really needed here till closing.”

The Royal Park was the lands immediately outside Holyrood Palace, from which the smallest of the three volcanic plugs that were the dominant feature of Edinburgh’s topography rose. Apart from grass, it was a fairly bare place, and one didn’t usually go there after nightfall, but this was Edinburgh in late July and nightfall came very late, and with the warm weather to boot, it was a popular place for a stroll during the twilight hours. Jack was right, too, there was a bus service well placed for Harry to return to his lodgings. Harry nodded, and fetched his denim jacket, and a few minutes later, they were walking down the Royal Mile at a leisurely pace.

While hemmed in by the tall, narrow buildings of the Mile, the conversation was inconsequential. Jack was not pushing for more details, but rather wanted to know what Harry had decided to sample from this year’s Festival programme, and to show him some of the more obscure venues on the Mile popular with the Fringe acts.

They were walking at a leisurely pace past the Palace towards the park, shoulder to shoulder, Jack matching his normally long stride to Harry’s shorter pace.

“So – good results? Isn’t that good?” he prompted.

“Yes. Yes, of course it is.”

“But…?”

“I don’t know. I – ” He hesitated for a long time, but Jack waited patiently. “There are people – close to me – who – who think I should choose one particular career path. If – if I hadn’t got certain results, I could have said, no, I can’t do that, and there wouldn’t have been much argument. That’s not possible now, because I have the qualifications. I really didn’t think I’d get them. Last year’s been – really difficult. I mean, I did study, hard, harder than I ever have before, but I wasn’t happy, and there was a lot of pressure…” He took a deep breath, and looked up at Jack suddenly. “Tell me something, did you always know what you wanted to do with yourself?”

Jack nodded. “My world turned upside down when I was twelve. After that, I knew exactly what I wanted to do, and I did it.” He smiled wryly. “Wasn’t the best decision, in retrospect, yet I’d probably choose it all over again, regardless.”

“Twelve, huh? I was eleven. Except I didn’t exactly choose, either.”

“Your path was chosen for you?”

“Yes. It feels like there are people still trying to choose it, too. Oh, they mean well, I just …” His voice tailed off.

“Don’t know where they end, and you begin,” Jack completed for him.

“Yes, something like that.”

Jack’s hand descended on the nape of his neck, large, warm and comforting. “I got the impression that’s what this is all about. This summer, at any rate.”

“Yes, it is. It’s been good – it is good, I’m – I’m enjoying my time here, really. I just – I don’t know if I’m going to be able to come to any useful decisions.”

“You don’t have to. Your only responsibility is to yourself now, right?”

Harry shrugged. He couldn’t answer that one, he couldn’t explain to Jack that he was famous for killing a Dark Lord, and that the wizarding world watched him constantly, always looking to see which way he jumped.

“Is there any good reason you don’t want to go to university?” Jack asked.

“Oh – I don’t know what I’d study,” Harry replied.

“Don’t think of it in terms of something useful. There are lots of kids who just pick a subject, and then go on to do something completely different. They just want to take that time to put a step in between school and the working world, something to ease them into it, maybe.”

Unconsciously, Harry leaned in towards Jack, who slid his hand across to encircle Harry’s shoulders lightly. “I feel like I’ve never been a child, but that whatever adult world I’m in isn’t the same as everyone else’s. Or else that they’re trying to retrograde me; that I’ve been an adult, and now they want me to be a child, and I can’t go back, it’s not possible.”

“Family can do that to you.”

He was going to object that his family didn’t give a damn about him, but he stopped in time. The Dursleys weren’t really his family, it was the people in the wizarding world who were, surrogates though they may be.

“I know they mean well. It’s just – it feels like they’re trying to compensate, and it’s way too late for that. I just want to go forward, but I don’t know where to go. Everyone seems to think that – that I should be doing what my parents did, that I should follow the same path now.”

“And you’re not so sure of that?”

“No. On the other hand, I’ve not got any other bright ideas,” he said wryly.

“Bright ideas at eighteen – pardon me, nearly nineteen,” Jack corrected mockingly, when Harry shot him a slight glare, “are rarely all that bright. Trust me, been there, done that. On the other hand, knowing that you don’t want to do something is always worth listening to.”

“What’s the difference?” Harry frowned.

“Oh, plenty, believe me. Sometimes it makes no difference, sure, you do something you know you don’t really want to do, but you do it anyway because – because it’s right, because it’s something someone important to you needs you to do. That can be okay, as long as you’re aware of what you’re doing, either way. But doing something just because others want it, no, that’s not usually a brilliant idea.”

Harry smiled lopsidedly up at him. “Done that too?”

“Oh yes,” Jack confirmed with his own rueful smile.

They walked on in companionable silence for a little, Harry comfortable under Jack’s arm.

“What did your parents do, if you don’t mind my asking?” Jack said, after a moment.

“Um – they were in law enforcement,” Harry replied obliquely. It was as close as he knew how to get to the truth.

“You lose them early?”

“I don’t remember them. I was a baby when they died.”

“Sorry.”

“I keep getting told that I look just like my dad, except I have my mother’s eyes.”

There was a choked laugh from Jack. “Bet you’re sick of that.”

“Yeah, now. At first, I kind of liked it, it was like a connection back to them, but later it…”

“It felt like they weren’t seeing you, but them.”

“Yeah. You get that too?”

“No, but I’ve seen it happen. I don’t know who I look like. Neither of my parents particularly, as I recall, but that might not be very accurate. It’s been a long time since I left home.”

“And you’ve never been back?” Harry guessed that from the tone of Jack’s voice.

“Nothing to go back to.”

Harry glanced up at the handsome profile. Jack was in a different place at that moment, eyes looking back in time, far from here.

“Jack, what do you do for a living?” he asked again, as he had done once before, but more seriously.

Jack looked at him with a faint, cool smile. “I really can’t tell you, Harry. Why do you want to know?”

“You're in exile. You don’t belong here,” he said simply.

“No,” Jack agreed. “No, I don’t. But I’ve made it my home, and that’s all there is to say or do about it.” His smile turned a little sly. “And it takes one to know one, right?”

“Something like that,” Harry acknowledged, with a wry smile of his own.

They were silent again for a little while, walking on slowly, heading up the hill in the gathering twilight. Harry made no attempt to get out from under Jack’s arm, he liked it there, feeling strangely safe and at ease. At the top of the rise, Jack let go of Harry to drop to the grass, right at the edge of the cliff, and sit facing out towards the Old Town. Harry sat beside him, pulling his knees up and wrapping his arms about them, close enough to Jack to rub shoulders again, feeling the warmth that radiated from the older man.

“Why don’t you want to go into law enforcement?” Jack asked. “For what it’s worth, I think you could be pretty good at it.”

“Why?” Harry asked, in genuine curiosity.

“You’re observant, and you have a certain natural authority. It’s a bit buried,” he smiled, “you tend to be shy too, but you don’t find it hard to step up to the plate when needed. You’re tolerant, but you have your own code, and it's a strong one. You see things clearly.”

“How do you know these things about me?”

“Hey, we’ve had breakfast together every morning for the last month, pretty much.”

“I don’t think I could say I know as much about you.”

“You might be surprised, if you thought about it. Besides, what you’ve learnt about me, you’ve learnt more from watching me at work than from talking to me. I’m the other way about; I learn a lot reading between the lines.”

Harry grinned. “The problem with reading between your lines is you tell such whoppers sometimes. I still don’t believe you were ever a drag queen in a cabaret. Not to mention that you don’t sound remotely female when you sing.”

“It’s not about trying to pass yourself off as a woman, it’s a about releasing the intangible feminine in you. It’s about being more, about expanding yourself, your inner self, if you like,” Jack said solemnly.

“You seem pretty expansive naturally,” Harry remarked dryly.

“Well, see, it was a beneficial exercise.”

“Okay, if you did it – and I’m still not buying it – why did you do it?”

Jack laughed. “Why do you think? I needed the money. I was flat broke. Wasn’t managing to get a job anywhere else, then the girl I was seeing at the time introduced me to her brother, who worked at this club, and he suggested I try out. Simple.”

Harry was silent for a moment. “Jack, may I ask you a personal question?”

“You can always ask,” he smiled.

“I’ve noticed the – the people who come from your flat in the mornings…”

“I know,” Jack smirked. “I’ve been wondering when and if you were going to comment.”

“I can’t figure out if you prefer women or men.”

“Does it matter?”

“Isn’t it – confusing?”

“No, why should it be?”

“Well, but it’s – it’s not the same? Or is it?”

“There’s not a whole lot of difference, really. Not if you’re not after a relationship.”

“And you’re not?”

“Rarely.”

“Doesn’t that get lonely?”

Jack was silent for so long that Harry grew worried that he had offended him.

“Jack…”

“No, it’s okay. I can’t answer that one. This is what works for me, that’s all. And no, it doesn’t matter what gender my partners are, all that matters is the pleasure, the moment of connection. The instant. Each instant is unique, never to be repeated; even with the same person, each time is its own special event, when you’re doing it right. You’ll find that out for yourself, eventually. That is, once you finally decide to get between the sheets with somebody,” he added teasingly.

Harry went scarlet. “How did you…” he blurted out, and then clamped his mouth firmly shut.

“Oh, I have a nose for that kind of thing,” Jack said glibly, tapping said prominence lightly.

Harry groaned, dropping his head into the circle of his arms. He felt Jack shift a little, and then the light pat on his back.

“Hey, there’s nothing wrong with taking your time about it.”

“I know,” Harry said glumly, “but I still feel retarded.”

“Because all your friends – especially the guys – are getting their rocks off on a regular basis?”

Harry could hear the smile in Jack’s voice.

“My best friends are even talking of getting married.”

“I’d get laid before I thought about getting married, if I were you.”

“Jack…!” Harry’s head shot up, but Jack, although still smiling, looked perfectly serious. He had not been teasing.

“This is part of the whole path-choosing thing, right?” he asked shrewdly. “They’ve even got a candidate picked out for you.”

“You’re too bloody good at reading between the lines,” Harry grumbled.

“So who is she?”

“Ron’s little sister.”

“Ron being one of the best friends you mentioned?”

“Yeah.”

“She buying into it?”

“I’m not sure. I think she might be, a bit. We – we did date. Have dated – whatever. It’s been kind of on-and-off, what with one thing and another.”

“Doesn’t sound like fertile ground for a good marriage, unless you just want to add to the statistics.”

“What statistics?”

“The divorce rate. One in four, currently, I think? Things will get so much easier when marriage gets abolished,” Jack sighed.

“What will people do instead?” Harry asked, momentarily distracted.

“Oh, partnership agreements. Legal contracts. Much neater and more flexible.”

“Doesn’t sound very romantic.”

“Harry, romance is for the birds. It’s a chemical reaction. It’s a lot of fun, granted, but it’s not any way to build a stable relationship. You need to be able to be friends, more than anything else, real partners, people who trust each other and can shoulder each other’s burdens, as well as share their joys. Anything else is going to be temporary; very enjoyable, sure, but temporary.”

Harry stared at him. “That’s a very – pragmatic approach from somebody with so many lovers.”

“Trust me, they weren’t looking for anything more than I was, a one-night stand. It’s just physical.”

“Don’t you want something more?”

“I’ve no objections to finding someone to spend time with, of course not.”

“But not a romance?”

Jack wagged a finger at him. “You’re not listening. On the contrary. Right now, romance is great, I could do that very well. But I’d have no expectations of it lasting, and I’d try to make sure that the other party got that too.”

“But don’t you – if you get into a romance, don’t you fall in love?”

“It’s possible. I try to avoid it. I usually warn my partners not to as well.”

Harry wasn’t quite sure he could get his head completely round that. It still sounded lonely to him. On the other hand, a no-strings affair also sounded like something he could get behind right now, to get him into the swim, as it were. He sighed.

“Of course, it’s easy for you. People throw themselves at you,” he remarked, a little wryly.

Jack shifted a little so he was facing Harry, and put up a hand to cup his cheek lightly. Harry started fractionally, but relaxed quickly enough, and looked into Jack’s smiling face, wide-eyed.

“Whoever taught you to think you were unattractive should be taken out and shot,” Jack said quietly.

And then he leaned in and kissed Harry.

Harry’s hands flew up to grasp at Jack’s arms, but not for one second did he have the impulse to push the other man away, and it was not long before he had closed his own arms around Jack to draw him closer, to deepen that amazing, heady kiss. After that, Harry was conscious of very little that was distinct, just an overwhelming sea of sensation. He was not aware of being laid gently back against the grass, and Jack leaning over him, never breaking the kiss.

When it finally ended, it felt like they had been kissing for hours, days even, and Harry was short of breath, and only now extremely aware of the pressure of his erection against the zipper of his jeans. Jack was still leaning over him, his weight supported by his forearms, bracketing Harry’s shoulders, but otherwise his body was not actually touching Harry’s, though he was close enough for Harry to feel the heat he generated. For a long moment, all Harry could do was stare into the vivid blue eyes.

When he had recovered something resembling his senses, he did what he often did when he really didn’t know what to do, and said the first thing that came into his head.

“How…” He cleared his throat, his voice had dropped somewhere into the basement and swallowed a pint of gravel. “How did you know I wouldn’t freak out when you kissed me?”

Jack’s smile widened. “People don’t usually freak out when I kiss them.”

“Smug git!” Harry said, trying to be cross, but it was very difficult with Jack, particularly as he suspected that he was telling the strict truth.

“Guilty as charged,” Jack admitted shamelessly, and then he kissed Harry again, just as thoroughly and dizzyingly as the first time.

Harry gave a little moan of pleasure, and wrapped his arms back around Jack’s neck, and kissed him back eagerly. He was only dimly conscious of trying to move closer to Jack, and Jack holding back, keeping that little space between the full lengths of their bodies. Again, the kiss ended mostly due to lack of oxygen.

“Jack…!” Harry protested in exasperation.

“I’m trying not to get us arrested for public indecency,” Jack defended, smirking.

The fact that they were outdoors, in a public place that was often a popular walk with locals and tourists alike, abruptly impinged on Harry, who sat up, blushing hotly. He blushed even more when sitting up sharply increased the pressure on his trapped erection, and whimpered. Jack, infuriatingly, just grinned.

“Don’t panic, there’s no one here, and hasn’t been for a good ten minutes.”

He straightened Harry’s tilted glasses on his nose, and then carded his fingers gently through Harry’s hair. It might have been a teasing gesture, but it felt affectionate to Harry. Then he leant in for a third kiss, and Harry thought he knew what a sunflower must feel like as it turns towards the heat of the sun.

This kiss was still intense, but quieter, calmer than the previous two. Harry’s thoughts were clearer, he was more aware of the softness of Jack’s dark hair as he ran his own fingers through it, of the heat of his body, of the indefinable, delicious scent of the man, and the rich, complex flavour of his mouth. This was nothing like any kissing he had done before; that had been awkward and odd and so tentative it had almost felt wrong. This was sure, and natural, and nothing had ever felt so right, and when Jack stopped, Harry protested wordlessly, even though he was less breathless – and less aroused – than he had been.

“More, Jack!”

“Think we should take this somewhere more comfortable, if you want to go any further,” Jack suggested, smiling. “Like my place?”

Harry let his head droop against Jack’s shoulder. “You want me to walk somewhere? Now? In this state?” he complained.

He felt, more than heard Jack’s chuckle. “We can wait a little.” Jack’s arms closed in a warm hug around him, and Harry once again enjoyed that feeling of warmth and security he got from the other man, leaning easily against his bigger frame, as his own pulse calmed, and the blood stopped rushing frantically to parts south.

Do you want to take this further?” Jack asked.

“You need to ask?”

“Well – I’m kind of taking advantage of you.”

Harry looked up, blinking at him quizzically. “This is me being taken advantage of?”

“Could be seen that way. You’re uncertain about a lot of things right now, so, yeah, if I was being completely honest, I’d say I’m taking a little advantage of that.”

“Please don’t let me stop you,” Harry said, with complete conviction, putting his head back down again.

“Okay,” Jack chuckled again, “that was clear enough. How’re you doing there?”

“Few more minutes.”

Jack waited patiently, one hand stroking soothingly up and down Harry’s back, until Harry sat up properly.

“Okay, I’m good,” he declared.

“I’m sure you will be,” Jack returned, deadpan, standing easily and holding out a hand to help Harry up.

Harry coloured hotly. “Jack…!”

“Okay, no innuendo, I get it.”

“The problem with you,” Harry grumbled, taking Jack’s hand and letting himself be pulled to his feet, “is that you’re capable of making a shopping list sound sexy.”

“Depends what you’re shopping for….”

“Knock it off! I’ve got to walk back up the High Street without disgracing myself. And you’re not even breathing hard.”

“Experience tells. Don’t go thinking I wasn’t affected,” Jack smiled.

“Why am I doing this again?”

Jack’s smile turned a little sly. “Because you want to. Because it’s something outwith anyone’s expectations – yours or anyone you know. Because you’ve taken your own leash off, finally, and you’re learning to reach out to take the things you want. And because I’m irresistible, of course,” he added provocatively.

Harry groaned. “Argh! The ego! Does that line really work?”

“You’d be surprised,” he laughed.

The walk back up the street was just as companionable as it had been on the way down, even if their chat had taken on a new edge. Jack was right, of course, Harry mused, he was doing this because he felt free for the first time in a very long time, free to make his own choices. He was right about being irresistible too, Harry thought wryly, and wondered how it was that Lockhart, who had pretty much the same attitude, only came across as irritating, whereas Jack was just this endearing mix of outrageous and adorable.

“What’s on your mind?” Jack prompted, made curious by Harry’s momentary lapse into silence.

“Oh, I was thinking that I knew someone sort of like you, by which,” Harry expanded, “I mean ridiculously good-looking, very self-confident, very – very forward. He was a complete prat, I couldn’t stand him. I’m trying to work out the differences.”

“Well, thanks, I think,” Jack chuckled.

“Yes, it was a compliment,” Harry rolled his eyes. “Like you didn’t know. You should be just as annoying as he was.”

“Why was he annoying?”

“Oh, he was a glory hound, and a social climber, and ultimately a fraud.”

“More similarities.” He sounded amused, rather than offended.

“You’re not any of those things,” Harry objected.

“I’m not a social climber, granted. I have been a bit of a glory hound, but I outgrew that a while back,” he said thoughtfully. “As for a fraud – it kind of comes with the territory, you know. I mean, if you’re born with the looks and the charm, and you’ve been indulged much of your life because of them, the inclination to keep on using them to get what you want comes pretty naturally. I know I have.”

“Well, okay, if you like, but Lockhart really was a fraud. He was – quite well known for being a sort of explorer, you know, the kind who goes off into uncharted territory and comes back and writes books or gives talks about his exploits, and everyone thought he was incredibly brave and really talented and – and it was all lies. He was – well, it was a kind of identity theft, I suppose, in the end, he was taking credit for other people’s work.”

“A con man.”

“Yes, I guess you could say that.”

“Been there, done that too.”

Harry looked up at him, startled. “Seriously?”

Jack had an odd, slightly rueful expression, but he nodded. “Yep.”

“Why? I mean – okay, see, the thing I think is the difference between you and Lockhart is, all those adventure-type things, I think you – you're the kind of person who'd have actually done them. You wouldn’t have had to lie about them. Completely mad, sure, but still real. So if you’re capable of that, why lie about it, why not just do it?”

“I ran cons for money, mostly. Also – also to get back at some people I used to work for. They’d done something I really didn’t like, and my cons were pretty well exclusively aimed at them. I wanted to hurt them.”

“Did it work?” Harry asked curiously.

“For a little while. Then I met someone who showed me I was wasting my time, and my talents, and I got out of it. The instinct’s still there, though. I can still use it, get inside people’s heads, persuade them Edinburgh Castle's for sale, that they couldn't live without it, and close the deal.”

“But you don’t do it anymore, right?”

“Not for profit, no. Or not for my profit, at any rate. Does that reassure you?” he mocked lightly.

“Yes,” Harry smiled, and laughed when Jack pretended to cuff his ear for cheekiness.

Outside the pub, Jack stopped, and fished in his pocket for his keys. He pulled one off the laden ring, and handed it to Harry.

“You know where I live. I have to let Josh know to close up himself tonight, I’ll be along in ten, okay?”

“Okay,” Harry said shyly, taking the key. It felt oddly personal, almost more so than the kissing earlier, or what they were about to do – whatever that was, exactly. But it felt fine, anyway, especially when Jack stroked his cheek lightly and swiftly with one finger before disappearing into the pub. Jack was like the Cheshire Cat, Harry thought inconsequentially, walking on up the street. His smile lingered even when he was gone.

Chapter Text

Chapter 6

Sex with Jack, Harry decided very quickly after a few days, or rather nights, spent in Jack’s bed, had all the advantages of going on a good binge, and none of the disadvantages of the blinding hangover the next morning. He did ache a little physically, but it was kind of the sensation he had after a Quidditch match, like he’d had a thorough work-out, and he felt the better for it after a few hours. The only disadvantage was that he’d been unable to conceal that he was ‘getting some’, as Karen put it gleefully, when he’d finally called back at his lodgings, or even in the pub, where his co-workers chaffed him cheerfully.

Jack had merely smiled his usual dazzling smile, but since everyone knew that he was never in short supply of transitory partners, they did not think to connect the two, and Jack treated Harry no differently at work than before. At night, though, since Jack had given him a key right away, Harry would be tucked up in Jack’s bed by around eleven-thirty, sometimes asleep if Jack was running late, but always ready and eager to be awoken, and even when half-asleep reaching for the older man hungrily.

Jack felt so good in bed beside him. He was large and warm and solid and there, and he made Harry feel just as solid and real and good about himself and everything around him, and Harry craved that. His concerns faded away, he was living in the moment, and enjoying it thoroughly, and Jack was a damned persuasive advocate of the carpe diem philosophy. He was also irresistibly uninhibited.

When they had lazy mornings together, Harry had to get used to Jack wandering around his flat stark naked. At first, Harry had been embarrassed, but Jack clearly wasn't; plus, he was beautiful all over, and Harry couldn't deny that he enjoyed looking at the other man. Eventually, far sooner than Harry would have expected of himself, he found himself relaxing physically around Jack. He made it perfectly clear that he liked Harry, both as an appealing, attractive body with which to interact, as well as as a person, and that made it difficult for Harry to feel embarrassed about appearing naked in front of Jack. Well, he could still be embarrassed, but only because Jack got that really hungry look at times, like he wanted to devour Harry, which usually preceded him pretty well doing it, and Harry found that he was still shy of the flood of sensation he experienced in Jack's arms. He wondered if that would ever change, with Jack or with anyone else.

"Is it always like this?" he asked lazily one morning, as they lounged in bed with coffee and croissants smeared with butter and honey.

"What?"

"Sex. Or, you know, being with someone on a fairly regular basis."

Jack chuckled. "You know, just because it's not permanent doesn't mean you can't use the word relationship. We do have a relationship, Harry."

Harry rolled his eyes. "Okay, whatever. You're going to do one of your Houdini acts, aren't you?"

"You mean, not answering the question?" It was an accusation Harry had levelled at him often enough before.

"Mmh," Harry confirmed, his mouth full of the buttery pastry.

"Your problem is you still haven't learned to ask the right questions. I could say yes, I could say no, you wouldn't be any the wiser."

"Why the options?"

"Well, it's yes, when things are good, and it's no, when things are not good, and it's, it could be better, or it could be worse. Too many parameters."

"Okay. Sex, then. Is it always like this?"

"Define 'this'," Jack smirked.

"Don't make me hit you with the pillow!" Harry threatened.

"Not before we've got the coffee out the road." He laughed when Harry scowled at him, and held up his hands in a peace gesture. "Okay, okay. Sex - it should always at least be like this. If it's not, something's wrong. It can be better, and it can get better. But it should always, at the very least, be fun, because if it's not, what's the point? Relationships, that's not the same thing."

"No, I think I get that," Harry said dryly.

"Don't kid yourself. You never will. Nobody ever does, it's all intensely individual. Every time is different, every person is different, every set of dynamics between two or more people is different. The worst thing you can do is get complacent about it, because what works for one will not work for another. So you need to treat every time, every person, as different and new, no matter how much hard work that might look like."

"Like I was hard work," Harry scoffed, grinning.

"Hey, don't sell yourself short. I fancied you the minute I saw you, but it was how long before I made a move? Three weeks? That's slow, for me."

"You didn't want to find yourself short-handed on the eve of the Festival opening," he smirked, but then winced a little as he was cuffed, lightly but firmly, over the ear.

"Will you stop that? That is your worst habit, putting yourself down all the time. You've nothing to be shy of, or ashamed of. You're cute, you're good company, you're hung - " Harry blushed hotly at that, "- and you're hot in the sack. I daresay there's quite a few other qualities too, I just haven't met them all yet."

"I'm hot in the sack?" Harry queried shyly, blushing again as Jack grinned.

"Hey, you still need convincing you turn me on? I get you to forget there's a world out there you think is looking at you, and you are a whole bagful of tiger!"

"We've still not - I mean, you've not…"

Because he had fucked Jack, by now. Not just once, either, and it had been the most extraordinary experience, sinking into that hot, strong body, feeling Jack clench around him, thrust up and back at him, feeling him respond to his own thrusts, and writhe beneath him, and gasp his name in pure pleasure. Jack had made his own satisfaction quite clear, and Harry was increasingly keen to experience that for himself.

"Are you ever going to be able to say it, flat out?" Jack teased him.

Harry rolled his eyes. "Fine, you haven't fucked me yet. Don't you want to?"

And there was that deep, gleaming smile, that Harry had learned to associate with being driven out of his mind, when Jack teased him and tantalised him until he forgot his own name, till he was begging to come in hoarse, hungry cries.

"What's today's date?" Jack asked.

"What?"

"The date?"

Jack was the most infuriating man on earth, Harry decided, not for the first time. What the hell had the date to do with any…. "Oh! It's - July 31st."

"The penny drops." He leaned in to kiss Harry lingeringly. "Hello, birthday boy."

They had the whole day off, Harry distinctly remembered Jack organising that. "Oh!" he breathed again. "So, today…"

"You're not getting out of bed today."

"Jack…" He was blushing all over, and from Jack's lustful glance sliding across his skin, the other man was well aware of it.

"It's raining, that helps," Jack commented teasingly. "And tomorrow's your day off."

Harry met the vivid, blue gaze, excitement beginning to bubble up in him. "I'm going to need it?"

"Oh, I think so.”

Jack's voice was smooth and rich as honey, and he poured sweet, terrible, filthy promises into Harry's ears so that Harry's hands shook and Jack had to remove the coffee cup from his trembling grasp, but never letting up with the wonderful, wicked whispers, until Harry shuddered, and came, with only Jack's voice coiled around his prick, just as effectively as his fingers or his mouth. Jack laughed, low and exultant, and bore Harry back into the bed, descending on his still spurting cock to catch the white jets in his mouth, and apply his hot tongue to Harry's heated skin with lascivious little licks that only served to rev Harry's engine all over again.

If that wasn't enough, Jack then went and actually did everything he had promised, and the next time Harry surfaced (or so it felt like) it was almost dinner time the next day. He had never, ever imagined spending a whole day (more than a whole day!) having sex, again and again and again, until he was dizzy and delirious with it. He felt like he was both starved and gorged, he ached in places he never even knew existed, his legs felt like they should still and always be wrapped around Jack's waist, and there was a slight, burning tingle in his arse that made him blush to think about it.

His stomach growled, and Jack laughed.

"Another country heard from."

"Have I eaten at all?" Harry slurred, still not completely coherent.

"Not counting cum? A little."

"Not counting cum."

"It's protein," Jack teased.

"So is tofu." Harry had discovered that during his first weeks a-wandering. "Still not appetising."

"You can be a fussy brat, you know that?" Jack's tone was affectionate.

"I think," Harry said, and it would have sounded prim if his voice wasn't so hoarse, "that considering you've shagged me six ways from Sunday, you could at least feed me now."

"Want to go out for pizza?" Jack asked innocently.

"Wanker!" Jack knew perfectly well Harry's legs were rubber right now, never mind anything else.

Jack laughed again, and reached out to snag the bedside phone. "Okay, okay. What's it to be?"

They debated food choices for a couple of minutes, finally opting for Thai, and Harry wriggled back down under the covers again while Jack made the call.

"I don't remember you getting me out of bed to change the sheets," he remarked, surprised, when Jack had hung up, having registered the bed was freshly made.

"I told you I'd make you forget your name."

Harry laughed, and stretched languorously, then held out his arms for Jack, who obliged willingly.

"I don't work you over nearly as hard, when I take you."

"You didn't know how. Now you do, so next time, feel free."

"I'll do my best," Harry promised, grinning.

"And I'll be looking forward to it."

The doorbell rang, and Jack climbed out of bed, snagging a bathrobe as he left the room. When he came back with the cartons of fragrant, spicy food, Harry asked curiously, "Have you ever answered the door starkers?"

"Only when I'm pretty sure who's doing the delivery," Jack answered unconcernedly. "Besides, suggestion is often better for the imagination than full disclosure. Feel like getting up to eat?"

"Not really, but I don't feel like picking rice out the bed-clothes either, so I guess…."

Jack just smiled, and disappeared back into the living room, where Harry could hear the chink of crockery. He stretched again, slowly, feeling the sweet pull in his muscles, and then sat up, rather gingerly, because his arse was definitely feeling - tenderised, Harry thought wryly. His thighs ached like he'd been in a twenty-four hour Quidditch match too, he registered as he finally got out of bed, and he sort of waddled into the next room, tying the sash of his own robe about him as he went. Jack looked up with a smirk.

"Feeling okay?"

"Used. I'm feeling distinctly used," Harry said, with what dignity he could muster, but then he laughed, and went to Jack and kissed him soundly. "Thanks. That was some birthday present."

"My pleasure."

"Why do I feel drunk?" Harry wondered out loud, sitting down, slightly gingerly, at the table.

"Endorphins. You've kind of been drugged, but naturally, and now you're coming down."

"I feel like the world could have ended, and I couldn't care less."

"No such luck. It's all still there."

"How do you know, you don't even have a TV set here."

"I think the delivery boy would have said something."

Harry giggled. "I'm definitely drunk, or high, or whatever. This is a really silly conversation."

"You're entitled. Eat your dinner," Jack said indulgently.

Chapter Text

Chapter 7

The other thing Harry was discovering was that sex with Jack was easy . He had felt so much pressure, back in his own world, in those of his relationships with others that might eventually, perhaps, have progressed to the physical level, that he had felt oppressed. Most of all with Ginny, of course, because there was that whole thing of marrying and settling down behind it, and Harry just didn't want to settle down right now. He was too young. He wanted to live a little - which was basically what Nimbleby had been telling him before he had done his AWOL thing, and disappeared into the Muggle world for the summer.

Now he was with Jack, and Jack was quite clear that he had no expectations beyond the immediate, and that this was absolutely a finite thing, it would end when they both had to resume their normal lives, which would be at the end of September. In the meantime, Jack saw no reason why they both shouldn't have as much fun as possible with the attraction that had sparked between them from the first day. It was a novel thing for Harry, but he appreciated it, because Jack was a lot of fun to be around, even if he was a little strange at times.

Harry couldn't put his finger on it, but he was pretty sure Jack was different from normal Muggles, save that Harry had no idea how. If he thought about it, he had to admit that his experience of normal Muggles was somewhat limited; he didn't count his family, for one thing. He had only been meeting regular, everyday people since he had left London. There was still something about Jack that eluded Harry – until the morning Jack saw him summon his glasses from across the room, because he had been gone when Harry woke up, and Harry was feeling too lazy and well-fucked to actually get up and look for the damned glasses for himself.

"Now that's a neat trick," Jack commented in an admiring tone from the doorway, where he stood with their customary morning expressos and some sort of sweet pastry, courtesy of Annamaria, as he had done on many a previous morning.

Harry turned whiter than the sheets and stared at Jack silently, immobilised by shock. Jack's amused look turned concerned; he put down the coffee tray and the pastry bag and hastened to Harry's side.

"Hey, hey, don't panic!"

"I - you - you can't have seen - it's not - it's not allowed…" Harry stuttered.

"No, listen to me, Harry. No one's going to know, I promise you, this place is shielded, I took care of it when I moved in, as I always do with my lodgings. I've known from the day we met that you weren't exactly what you appeared. It doesn't matter. I don't care."

Harry stared at him. "You've - you've known all this time….?"

"Look, I'm a bit more talented than a standard human at this time. I've known from the start, I could feel your mind pressing against mine. You're much more powerful than the average Joe in the streets, not to mention me. Of course I felt the weight of your mind against mine."

If anything, that scared Harry even more. "No, no - I - there's the Statutes of Secrecy - Jack, they'll find you, and - and change things, so you don't remember…."

"I told you, don't panic. You're not the first of your kind I've met. I think, if you ask the right people, you'll find there's - well, I'm exempt from your Statutes."

"You - what?"

"I don't know the wherefores, but like I said, I've run into your kind before. I always know. Isn't there someone you could contact to verify? I can see you'll be easier in your mind if you know you've nothing to worry about from me."

Harry looked at him, and swallowed, nodding. Could Jack be a Squib, and not know it? But then he said he knew about wizards. He got out of bed and went to get his phone from his pack, and called Nimbleby.

The solicitor responded promptly, despite the early hour.

"Harry?"

"Yes, morning, Perry."

"How are you? Is there a problem?"

"I'm fine, and - there might be. Can you get to see Kingsley this morning, with your phone, and then call me back? I need to talk to him."

"You want me to get in to see the Minister, at no notice whatsoever?" Nimbleby sounded more amused than aghast.

"Please. Just - do what you can, you know?"

"Are you sure you're alright, Harry?"

"I'm in no danger, I've just - run into a bit of a situation." He could see Jack from the corner of his eye looking mildly offended at being described as a 'situation'.

"Okay, okay, sit tight, I'll see what I can do."

Harry hung up, and found his coffee being wafted under his nose. He took it gratefully.

"This Kingsley you referred to," Jack asked casually, "he wouldn't be a big Jamaican called Shacklebolt, would he?"

Harry coughed as his sip of coffee went down the wrong set of pipes. "You know Kingsley?" he asked hoarsely.

Jack nodded. "Haven't seen him in a few years, but, yes, we're acquainted." His blue eyes got that devilish gleam Harry had already learnt to be wary of. "Intimately, in fact."

"But - but he's married…!"

"Is he? I wasn't aware," he said, completely unconcerned. "Maybe he wasn't at the time, it's been, oh, eight, maybe nine years. Used to work for MI6, as I recall."

"Yes, he was the PM's private secretary, I think. He certainly worked security for Downing Street."

"That's right; he was new there when I met him," Jack reminisced.

"Oh, God, how am I supposed to ask Kingsley about you now, when - when we've both slept with you?" Harry groaned.

"Well, the guy I knew used to have quite the sense of humour. If that hasn't changed, I'd think he'd see the funny side of it," Jack said cheerfully. "Stop stressing out about this, and have your breakfast, it's unlikely he'll be able to get back to you that quickly."

In fact it was almost nine in the evening before Harry's phone rang again with Nimbleby's number coming up on the display.

"Hello?"

"Harry?" Kingsley's deep voice boomed out at him. "Your lawyer said you absolutely had to talk to me. Sorry I couldn't get back to you earlier, but he swore you were at no immediate risk. What's up, lad?"

"Well, I may be going to have some trouble with the Statutes of Secrecy," he began hesitantly.

"You did magic in public…"

"No, nothing like that, you'd have heard about that already, if it had happened. No, it was in private, but I've been seen. The thing is, he already knows about us, or so he says, and he thinks he might be exempt from the Statutes. Do you know a man called Jack Harkness?"

There was the sound of sharply indrawn breath from the other end. "Captain Jack Harkness?"

"Uh, he's never used that title around me."

"Tall man, well built, dark hair, blue eyes, American accent? Extremely handsome? That Jack Harkness?"

"Sounds right. He says he knew you some eight or nine years ago, when you were starting out in security at Downing Street. Kingsley, who is he?"

"I'm more interested in how the deuce you ended up in his vicinity!"

"Complete accident, Kingsley, I'm pretty sure. Who is he?" Harry repeated. "Is he safe?"

There was a reluctant chuckle from the Minister. "Safe's not a word I'd ever apply to Harkness. On the contrary, he's one of the most dangerous men I've ever met. That said, I don't think you've anything to fear from him. He's known about our kind for a long time, and in his own way, seeks to protect us. He's right about the exemption too. There are only three Muggles in this country who are ever exempt, outside parents. Two of them change on an irregular basis; the reigning monarch and the current Prime Minister. The third is Captain Jack Harkness."

"So he is a Muggle? I wondered if he might be a Squib. He said he felt me."

"No, I'm pretty sure he's a Muggle, but he's no ordinary one, not by a long chalk. Harry - forgive the indiscreet question, but are you sleeping with him?"

Harry wondered if his blush could be felt at the other end. He certainly wasn't able to say the words, but stammered something faint and unintelligible. Kingsley sighed, but with another little chuckle in it.

"I take it he's just as irresistible as he was when I met him?"

"Th-," Harry cleared his throat, "that would pretty well sum it up. He did say you and he…" He let his voice tail off.

"He's showing you a good time, at least?" Kingsley evaded the issue neatly.

"No complaints," Harry agreed faintly.

"Well then, I think all I can say is, enjoy yourself - but remember to let go when the time comes. You can tell him what you like about us, you'll find he already knows a great deal. He's got some funny theories, I wouldn't pay too much attention to them, but you don't need to hide who you are from him, he does know how to be discreet, despite appearances. He is a good man, most of the time."

"Most of the time?"

"I told you, he's one of the most dangerous men I've ever come across. You've probably not had the occasion to see it, but I did. He can be incredibly ruthless, and he's certainly more than capable of making the tough decisions. Don't ask him about his job, he won't be able to tell you, and it'll just make things awkward for him. I'll explain what I can when you get back. You are coming back, right, Harry?"

Harry smiled faintly. "Yes, I'm coming back. October, probably. I just really, really needed a breather."

"Well, you've had rather a lot of us worried, even though your lawyer's been good about keeping us informed up to a point. I think it'd be fair to say we're over the worst of the panic. I suppose I'm using Nimbleby's phone because you don't want us to know your number just yet?"

"That's right. I'm pretty sure some people wouldn't be able to leave well alone, if they had that information."

"Harry, they're your friends."

"I know that, but lately they were acting like they owned me. I can't live with that."

"All right, I understand. I could wish you'd been a trifle less melodramatic about simply disappearing off the face of the earth for a couple of months, but you sound as if you're well."

"I'm fine, Kingsley, really. Been having a good time - even before Jack," he couldn't help adding.

Kingsley laughed. "But he's just made it a whole lot more interesting, right? Yes, that's Jack alright. Give him my best."

"Will do. Thanks, Kingsley."

"You're welcome. See you in a couple of months."

Jack came home a little early that night, having clearly left one of the others to complete the lock-up for the night. He eyed Harry a little warily as he came into the flat.

"Well? Did I get a clean bill of health?"

Harry nodded, with a faint smile. "Kingsley said to give you his best."

"Oh, really?" Jack smirked. "His best was pretty limber for a guy that big…"

Harry put his hands over his ears. "Stop! I don't want to hear it, Kingsley's our Minister for Magic these days. I really don't want to know what he was like in bed."

Jack relented. "Minister, eh? Good for him. I liked him, struck me as the right sort. So I take it he confirmed the exemption."

"He says you're one of only three Muggles who're allowed exemption in this country at any one time. The other two being the Queen and the Prime Minister."

"I've always known how to mix with the right people."

"Smug git," Harry laughed. "Seriously, what I'd like to know is how you know about us in the first place?"

Jack sighed "I've not even told Kingsley that."

"He said you had some strange theories about us."

"Well, you might find them strange," Jack smiled. "They make perfect sense to me." He looked at Harry with an odd glint in his eyes. "Shall I trade you a secret for yours?"

"If you want, Jack," Harry said seriously, "but you don't have to."

"I think you're halfway to guessing anyway. You know I'm not normal, not by current standards. I wasn't born in this time, or on this planet."

Harry's eyes widened. "You're an alien?"

"I'm human, just from elsewhere. We're already stretching this planet to its limits, you don't imagine it's going to be enough for much longer, do you?"

"A colonist," Harry breathed. "In the stars. Wow!" The idea enchanted him.

"Something like that," Jack confirmed, smiling faintly.

"But - that means you're from the future."

Jack nodded.

"How did you end up here?"

"I can't answer that. It's very long, and very complicated, and I don't entirely know the truth of it myself. But yes, I'm from the future, and that's where I first met your kind. When I first got to - to this time, and I met others, I found they were very different from their future versions, and they had a very different lifestyle. Here you have a world to yourselves, an independent social system. Because I know what your future holds, I know some things about yourselves that you're not yet prepared to face. Those are the strange theories Kingsley mentioned."

"But you can't really tell because that would be dangerous, could change the future," Harry nodded.

Jack smiled at him proudly, and leaned in to buss his forehead noisily. "Next person who tries to tell you you're not smart, you just go ahead and smack 'em one."

Harry batted him off, laughing. "Not that smart, I've done a little time-travelling myself. A matter of hours, not centuries, but I still got the general idea."

Jack raised an inquisitive eyebrow. "This gets more and more intriguing. So, you want to tell me a little more about yourself, Harry Potter?"

Harry did. It felt good, too, telling all his convoluted story to a relative stranger, who had few preconceptions. In the telling, he gained some perspective himself. Jack was a patient listener, occasionally interrupting for clarification, but not often, and once or twice helping Harry get back on track when his thoughts had led him astray.

What Harry found most curious, however, was Jack's attitude regarding death - both Harry's own, and Voldemort's pathological fear of it. He was not remotely phased by the former, and he was visibly intrigued by the latter, as if he could not completely understand such a fear. Neither Hermione nor Ron, who were the only two who really knew about the Horcruxes before now, had said it out loud, but Harry knew them well enough to read between the lines, and he knew they had both thought, fleetingly, at least, that they too might resort to drastic measures to cheat death. The overwhelming impression he was getting from Jack was that death was nothing, in the most literal sense, an absence of everything, and that it was simply useless to fear it. It was decidedly odd, and Harry did not understand it, but neither did he know how to question Jack about it. He could sense that he would only get one of the older man's easy brush-offs in response. The one thing that seemed to trouble Jack slightly was the concept of the Horcruxes themselves, the idea that you could split off part of your soul through an act of murder, and store it somewhere for safe-keeping, and Harry eventually called him on it.

"I don't get why you're having such a problem swallowing that, when the whole dying thing, or rather, doing anything in order to avoid dying, doesn't seem to bother you in the least."

"Oh, that one's fairly easy. Most humans will do anything to avoid dying, it's natural. It's not called a survival instinct for nothing. But the mechanics of it, that's a different matter."

"It's just a spell. A pretty horrible one, granted, but just a spell."

"Mmh. See, I don't see your 'magic'," and Harry could hear the quotes around the word as clearly as if Jack had drawn them in the air, "the same way you do, because I know how it evolves in the future. Because of that, I'm not really getting this particular spell, it's - difficult to fit into the logic of what I know."

"So how do you see magic?" Harry asked, frowning, slightly "Come to that, can you see magic? I mean, can you see the places that we have concealed from Muggles normally?"

"I'm sort of aware they're there. I occasionally get glimpses, out of the corner of my eye, so to speak. Your magic, to me, is advanced psychical abilities."

"Psychical - you mean, like fortune-tellers and mediums?" Harry frowned.

"No, Harry, they're mostly frauds," Jack said patiently. "You lot are the real thing."

"And you think it's all about that? It's all in our minds?"

"It's all controlled by your minds."

"That's not possible, Jack. There are all the artefacts, and the magical creatures."

"Don't get me started. You wouldn't believe me anyway," he smiled ruefully. "I'm not sure I should even have said this much, but none of your kind has ever remotely believed me, not in this time-stream. I've got my reasons, though.”

“It still doesn't explain why you can see our magic at all, if you're not one of us."

"I'm not one of you, but I'm sort of getting there. Colonist, remember? Genetically engineered stock, third generation, certain factors have become hard-wired; I'm simply better designed than most people today. Humans are more psychically aware by my time in any event. I was born a little better than average, and then I got training for what I had. If you rate human psychic ability on a scale of 0 to 12, the average human today is a 0, with a small proportion of 1s, and the extremely rare 2. You lot, we know as the 12-pluses, you rate off the scale. By my time, the average human is a 2; I rate as a 4. The higher the figure gets, the more evident you become to us."

"And this is a measure of psychic ability, like mind-reading, or being able to move things without touching them, or…."

"Or anything in that line you may care to imagine. I don't want to argue with you about this, Harry. I've had the discussion before, and I know that it's not time yet for you to hear me. Just - be aware that the Statutes of Secrecy exist for a very good reason. The normal human population isn't ready for you lot yet, but at the same time there are many who would be all too interested, for entirely the wrong reasons, in getting their hands on some of you, so they could find out what makes you tick and try to turn it to their own purposes. So you do need to keep a low profile as yet."

His tone was as serious as Harry had ever heard him, and Harry nodded. "Okay, I get it. But do you also realise that there are those amongst us who think they're better than the rest of you, and that Muggles should be completely subservient to our kind?"

"Never gonna happen. You're outnumbered about 500 to 1 even now, and standard humans have ways of killing that nothing you people could do would defend against. It would, on the other hand, be the worst sort of massacre."

Harry gave him an odd look. "You sound as thought you've dealt with - or at least seen - this sort of thing before."

Jack made no answer, just began to undress for bed. Harry came up behind him as he removed his shirt, and moved in close, putting his hands to Jack's waist, and resting his cheek against the broad back, between his shoulder-blades. Jack stilled in his movements, but said and did nothing else.

"Kingsley also said you're one of the most dangerous men he's ever known," Harry said quietly. "Is that true?"

"Oh yes," Jack confirmed, without hesitation.

"To me?"

"Not unless you give me cause."

"What would that be?"

Jack turned and embraced Harry. "Right now, I can't imagine," he answered, with a wry smile. "Forget about it, Harry, all that has nothing to do with you and me, here and now."

"I told you I was a worrier," Harry admitted.

"I'd noticed. Luckily for you, I'm very good at providing distraction."

"No kidding," Harry returned dryly, and submitted cheerfully to said distraction.

Chapter Text

Chapter 8

There was a phone ringing somewhere, annoyingly. Reluctantly, Harry pushed himself to wake up, but a stronger movement beside him, and the loss of the warmth of Jack's body, told him that Jack had sat up and that it was probably his phone.

"Harkness… Archie? How did you get this number? No one's supposed to know…."

There was a prolonged silence, as Jack listened to his interlocutor explain something, and there was something about that silence that disturbed Harry, who opened his eyes properly to look at Jack, sitting on the edge of the bed. The handsome face was dark, and growing darker by the second; whatever the news, it wasn't good.

"You're sure of the ID? …. Archie, I'm not armed for that sort of intervention, I'm not supposed to be operative just now. If you spoke to Alex, you know why…."

Harry could not hear what was being said on the other side, but it sounded like a man, and right now, it sounded pleading. Jack sighed, rubbing the bridge of his nose wearily.

"No, no, I get it, of course I do, but it's suicide under these conditions…. Yes, if you can get that to me, I can give it a shot, but it's still under the worst possible conditions…. No, I know. Do you have any idea what happened? It's hardly normal, to get incursions up here…"

There was another long pause, and Jack was looking like he wanted to kill someone. "For the love of…. I hope you've put a stop to it!..." He was cut off short, and when the other person had finished speaking, he just looked indescribably weary. "What a mess! Okay - I'll be looking for that package tomorrow. You know where to send it?… Yes, that's right. I'll let you know, you'll have to have a clean-up crew ready, I doubt I'll be in any state to take care of that…. No, more like four in the morning. I have to leave it that late, Archie, it's Festival time, and the weather's been pretty good. The town's hopping till early in the morning, the fewer around to see, the better…. Yeah, okay…. okay…. talk to you later."

He hung up, and then just sat there, head down, eyes closed, long fingers clenched around his phone as if he wished to crush it. Harry had never seen him that grim, and he reached out carefully to stroke Jack's back lightly.

“Is something wrong?” he asked, a little cautiously. “Can I help?”

For a moment, Jack did not react, then he looked round at Harry as if he had forgotten he was there, and his expression was almost terrifyingly blank. Then it relaxed, and he smiled, though it was a pale copy of his usual, breathtaking smile.

“It's nothing, Harry. Just my day job catching up with me. Go back to sleep.”

“The day job Kingsley told me not to ask you about?” Harry asked.

Jack's eyes narrowed a little, and his smile turned crooked. “Yeah, that one. There's nothing you can do, forget about it.”

Harry could see plainly enough he was going to get nothing more from the older man, and shrugged, letting himself apparently be dragged under by sleep once more. He was too used to being on his guard, however, and he was acutely aware that Jack never returned to the bed, but paced restlessly, if silently, around the apartment for the rest of the night.

The next day at the pub, Jack received a courier delivery of a medium-sized box, without any distinguishing marks other than the address label, and he did not open it but put it away in the office. As usual, Harry had the evening off, but all his senses were on alert and he went back to Jack's flat, retrieved his wand, and settled back to rest for a little while until the bar's closing time. Then he went back down the street and waited in the shadows of a close opposite for Jack to appear.

Sure enough, when he did, he turned down the Mile, rather than up towards his flat. There was no sign of the box, but Jack was wearing a leather jacket he had not had earlier, and despite the mild temperature of the night it was closed to the neck. Harry followed after him, silently and at a safe distance. Jack was easy enough to follow; he was making no attempt at stealth himself, not yet, and his tall figure and easy gait were distinctive, even from ten yards or so. They proceeded down to the Canongate, and Jack turned in to a small diner that Harry knew stayed open pretty well all night long. Harry watched from outside as Jack got himself a coffee and settled at a table with a selection of the day's papers, and realised that Jack was killing time. With an internal sigh, Harry found another shadowed close to observe from and prepared himself for a long wait. It was fortunate, he thought wryly, that he had learned patience during the hunt for the Horcruxes.

It was almost three in the morning before Jack moved again. Now Harry was much more circumspect about following him, as there was hardly anyone else around; he cast concealment charms, even though he realised there was a chance Jack could see through them. He was counting on the fact that Jack was not expecting to be followed for them to operate as usual, however.

Jack's manner had changed. If he had appeared relaxed and casual walking down the street earlier, now he moved with purpose and a set to his back that Harry could only define as grim determination. They progressed down into the Royal Park and into the woodlands behind Holyrood, and then Harry realised that Jack was tracking someone or something. Following him without revealing his own presence was starting to get really challenging. Jack himself was getting increasingly circumspect; always able to move very quietly, now he was clearly making an effort at making himself as unobtrusive as possible in these woods.

Finally, he stopped abruptly, and after holding his position for a few moments, clearly listening for something, he knelt and began quietly clearing away some undergrowth. It was dark here, and Harry could not see clearly what he was doing, but after a moment, he perceived something glimmering faintly in the gaps where Jack was clearing up, a strange, sickly light like nothing he had ever seen before. After a few minutes, Jack straightened up, and stood looking down at what he had uncovered, and Harry could now see a mass of palely glowing oval objects that he knew instinctively were eggs.

Then Jack unzipped his jacket, drew out a weapon, and turned it on the nest. Blue-white flame belched forth, washing over the eggs, burning them slowly to a crisp. In the light of the flames, Jack looked a different man, hard and uncompromising, deeply angry about something, although whether it was about the nest in the first place, or about what he was doing, it was impossible to tell. Harry was more than a little shocked at the act; destroying a nest of eggs seemed a terrible thing to him, but that was before the progenitor appeared, with a terrifying shriek, and flung itself at Jack.

Harry had seen some horrors in his short life, but nothing compared to this creature straight out of nightmare; a repulsive, frightful blend of humanoid and insect, six-limbed with a chitinous skin glinting with an oily mix of dark colours, and a broad, triangular head, the jaw split into fearsome-looking mandibles, at least a foot taller than Jack in height, with an additional two or three feet of razor-edged tail.

Jack's flame weapon was giving it pause, but it was clear that the job of burning the nest was not complete, and that it was perhaps even more important than disposing of the adult creature. Jack's attention was divided as a result. His actions and movements were primarily defensive against the creature, trying to stay out of harm's way until the nest was destroyed. He was fast and economical in his moves, and Harry was reminded that Kingsley had given him a military title. That mysterious day job was getting even more mysterious, since Jack was showing no sign of surprise at the sight of the creature attacking him, and obviously knew what he had to do at least to dispose of the nest, though Harry wondered desperately how he planned on putting down the adult. It was hardly going to stand still long enough to be burned.

The fight turned around and around the nest. In between striking out at Jack, the creature was trying to kick earth over it, to smother the flames, but Jack kept renewing the blaze, and the flame was so hot Harry could feel the warmth from where he stood. When Jack aimed at the creature, he aimed for its head, and after a moment Harry realised he was targeting the eyes, but without success so far, and he was being forced to keep moving around, trying to evade the grasping upper limbs and the slashing tail, while the rest of the body seemed impervious to the fire.

They were moving so rapidly that Harry was afraid to try to intervene, not sure if he could land any sort of magical strike effectively and in the right place. For all he knew, the creature was as impervious to magic as it was to flame. He thought, though, that he could do something about the nest. Having seen the adult version, he was quite prepared to believe that a whole clutch of little monsters running around Edinburgh's parks was not a good idea, never mind giving them the time to mature fully, and flame – especially magical flame, which burned hotter and longer than natural flame – was something Harry could easily accomplish.

He began to move towards a position where he would have a clear shot at the nest. In doing so, however, he trod on dried wood, which cracked under his weight with a sharp snap. Both the combatants froze, heads turning in his direction, Jack with a clear expression of shock on his face, but the creature recovered faster, and brought its tail across Jack's momentarily unguarded torso, opening him from hip to shoulder in one lethal swipe that sent him flying back.

Harry cried out in horror and anger, and even as the creature turned towards him, gathering itself to leap on him, he lashed out with his wand and a spell he had used only once before, but called upon now in the clear knowledge of its effects, backed by the full force of his will.

“Sectumsempra!”

If an insect could look surprised, this one did. It was stopped in its tracks, and a moment later, it collapsed to the ground, neatly sliced along a diagonal into two halves.

“Incendio!”

Harry summoned fire to burn the creature to ashes, flung a ward in a circle around the flaming corpse to contain the fire, and then hurried to Jack's side. He knelt beside the stricken man, anguished at the damage he found. Jack's right arm was barely attached to his body, and Harry could see the sharp points of broken ribs protruding from the massive wound, not to mention the heavy bleeding. He hardly dared touch Jack, but could see he was still alive, if only barely. He hovered over him, desperately racking his brain for the few Healing spells he knew.

“I don't know... I don't know how to fix this...,” he half-sobbed. “Jack, I need to get help for you....”

“Let... let it go...” Jack answered him, his voice faint and hoarse.

Harry was amazed he could even answer, and appalled by that answer. “No, Jack, I can't! You – you're dying....”

“Yes. Let it go... burn... burn the nest.”

“I... Jack...!”

“Burn... nest...” His voice was fading, but his insistence was firm. “Nothing... left... important...”

“Jack....”

But that was all Jack had left in him, and Harry heard the death rattle of his last breath. He closed his eyes with a sob, then with a cry of rage he turned and flung the fire spell at the nest, holding it there till all that was left was a fine white ash. Then he dropped to his knees beside Jack's dead body, took hold of his left hand, and wept.

Chapter Text

Chapter 9

When the hand he held suddenly tightened into a grip on his own, and Jack's body convulsed with a gasp for air, Harry almost screamed in terror. He scrambled back, sitting down sharply, eyes wide with shock as he saw Jack sit up painfully, reaching across to cradle his still-injured right arm to his body. In his grief, Harry had not noticed the gaping slash across Jack's body healing itself, but he saw it now, that the broken bone had disappeared under whole skin, and the torn shoulder was knitting itself back together. In the wavering light from the dying flames, Jack still had a rather ghastly pallor, but he was unquestionably alive, if not well, and Harry was completely stunned at this development.

Jack sat for a moment, head bowed and eyes closed, letting his breathing settle, and clearly letting his body complete the healing process which, judging from the harsh lines in his face, was not remotely painless. His first glance was for the nest, and he relaxed perceptibly when he saw that it was completely destroyed. Then he looked at Harry, and something ancient and sorrowful came over his face as he took in the younger man's state of stupefaction. There was silence for a long time, then Jack shook his head slightly, a very faint, bitter smile touching his lips.

“Go home, Harry,” he said, his voice still a little hoarse. “You shouldn't have followed me. Go home, and try to forget you saw anything here.”

He got to his feet unsteadily, reaching out for the nearest tree-trunk for support. He looked around the small clearing, and found his flame-gun, and his leather jacket, and went to pick them up, tucking the gun away, and zipping up the jacket to hide the worst of the damage to his other clothing. His movements were slow and painful, drained of his usual vigour, and for the first time since they had met Harry thought he looked old, far older than his real age – or what Harry had believed to be his real age, he corrected himself mentally. That was when he came to a decision, and got up himself. He went to Jack, and took his arm.

“Harry...?”

“You're in no state to get home by yourself. Close your eyes, and think of your room, and don't move away from me.”

Jack blinked at him, just once, then closed his eyes, and Harry summoned the image of Jack's bedroom, and took a step forward. The compressed feeling of Apparation squeezed him sharply, and Jack was a heavy weight to bring with him, but when he opened his own eyes, they were there, safely and with no missing parts, as far as he could tell at that moment.

“We're there,” he said to Jack.

The other man looked up and around, in some astonishment, and his smile, when it came, was lighter and easier than before.

“Another neat trick,” he commented, sounding more relaxed. “Thanks.”

Harry just nodded, glad it had worked, but still very shaken by the whole proceedings. He set his wand aside, and unzipped Jack's jacket.

“You need a shower,” he said, a little awkwardly.

Jack made a wordless sound of agreement, and let Harry strip him, his own movements weary and sluggish. He winced a little when it came to removing sleeves from his right arm, and Harry hesitated.

“Is it still...?”

“No, it's nearly done. Still some knitting up to do inside, from the feel of it,” Jack replied, matter-of-factly. “Shouldn't be much longer.”

Harry had no idea how to respond to that. He led Jack into the bathroom, and pulled off his own clothes, which were stained with blood, earth and leaf-mold, then turned on the shower. He guided Jack under the hot spray, pulling down the shower head to guide the spray directly over his chest and arms, washing off the heavy streaks of blood.

“What are you doing?” Jack asked, sounding faintly amused.

“You're so exhausted you can barely stand upright,” Harry said gruffly, replacing the shower-head in its holder. “What does it look like I'm doing?”

Jack's hands came up to hold his still, gently. “It looks like you're trying hard not to be scared witless of me,” he answered gravely. “You don't need to. I told you, go home. I could give you something to let you forget, but I'm never sure how well it works on you people. It's best if you tried on your own.”

“I don't think I can ever forget that,” Harry said tightly, looking at Jack's fingers closed around his wrists, rather than at his face.

“You have nothing to prove. Thank you for your help, there and here...”

“My help? I got you killed!” Harry burst out. “I distracted you, and that – that thing got the chance to strike you down, and...” His voice failed him.

“Finish your sentence,” Jack ordered, his voice commanding.

“You died. You were dead and now... and now you're not.” He took a deep breath. “I spent seven years fighting a madman who would have destroyed an entire world for the sake of immortality, and here you are, and – what are you?”

“There are times when I feel like I could destroy an entire world if only I could be sure of going with it,” Jack returned bleakly. “I didn't seek out my immortality, it was forced upon me, I don't know how, and I'm still waiting for the only person I know who might be able to explain it, and fix me.”

Harry looked up at him again. He was calm, but that old and pained light was back in his eyes.

“How long?” Harry asked. “How long have you been like this? Immortal.”

“About a hundred and thirty years, give or take a few.”

“And you still have no idea what happened?”

Jack shook his head. “I was in a battle. I knew I was going to die, but it was – important, and I was prepared. I was killed – and then I was alive again. That was in a different place, and a time far in the future, far beyond even when I was born. I tried to find the person who might have an explanation, but I went astray, ended up here, in Britain, in 1867, not exactly what I had in mind. I went a little mad – went on a bender, I guess you could say, that lasted several years, and got into fights, and got myself killed several times before I realised that it just wasn't sticking. I kept coming back. On top of that, I realised I wasn't ageing either, or only very slowly, which meant that I had to keep moving on before those around me noticed. Eventually I found a place and a position which I could keep. I've been there ever since, and usually I try not to let anyone other than my colleagues see me die and come back to life, but you followed me.”

“I knew something was wrong after the call you got yesterday – day before yesterday,” he corrected automatically. “I wanted to help. And this – position you have, this is what you do? Fight? Fight things that even my worst nightmares couldn't conjure up?”

Jack let go of his hands. “It's a long story. Let me finish the shower, you don't have to stay...”

“Don't be stupid, you can still barely stand upright,” Harry said, a little testily, and poured some of the liquid soap onto a flannel to rub gently over Jack's skin. He did not miss the slight lift to the corners of Jack's mouth, but he was quiet and docile under Harry's hands, turning as directed. Almost reluctantly, Harry felt some amusement; Jack was never docile, though he supposed that extreme fatigue might well produce a similar effect.

He ended the shower, and swathed Jack in one of the large, thirsty bath-towels he favoured, with a smaller one to dry his hair, and dried himself off quickly, then dressed both of them in their robes, and more or less bundled Jack into bed.

“Do you want something to eat or drink?” he asked, but Jack shook his head, silent, his gaze steady on Harry's face.

Harry nodded, and stopped, uncertain, then sighed, and got up on the bed to sit at its foot, facing Jack.

“Okay. Let's hear the rest of it. What was that thing?”

He said something that sounded like rocks ate it for breakfast but spat it out again as indigestible. At any rate, Harry could make neither head nor tail of it.

“It's a carnivorous predator,” Jack went on, “as you've probably realised, and that was a nesting mother, as you've probably also realised. The clutch held around thirty eggs, and would have hatched within the week. The young reach hunting status, though not full growth, within two months. You can see why it wouldn't be a good thing to have that running around Edinburgh.”

“Granted. Where the hell did it come from?”

“Somewhere else. I could tell you exactly, but it wouldn't mean anything to you. Somewhen else too, in all likelihood. Rifts don't usually appear in Edinburgh, it's very rare, but we have detectors for that kind of activity, and since I was already here, even off-duty, the Glasgow office turned to me to sort it out, because that is my day job, more or less.”

“Rifts?”

Jack took a moment to think about how to express himself. “Okay. You said you'd done a little time-travelling yourself. Do you understand that space and time are indissociable? They are woven together, they co-exist, and they have to co-exist for the stability of the universe. So space and time are not a line, but a fabric, and they don't exist in a straight line, or a flat plane, but more like a crumpled ball of tissue, one where the folds never quite touch each other, so that to most of us, with our comparatively short lives, it looks flat and straight. With me so far?”

Harry nodded.

“Good. The problem is, the fabric is very thin, and more fragile than you might imagine, and events can happen that cause tears to appear. When you get a tear, you get – things falling through that tear. Things falling through from a completely different part of space and time. Tears can happen anywhere and anywhen, and most of the time, they repair themselves, because space-time is sort of a living thing, it's not inert. If the event that caused the tear is big enough and violent enough, the injury does not heal, and you get a rift, a permanent, or at least semi-permanent fault that allows the accidental passage of anything unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. There is a rift – a very important one – in Cardiff; I work for an organisation that keeps an eye on it, and on everything it spits out. It can be anything from a paper-clip to living beings, many of whom turn out to be actively hostile, or naturally inimical to life here, such as the creature you saw tonight.”

“You mean that thing came from another planet?”

Jack nodded calmly.

“And you get things like that all the time?”

Another nod.

“And you – deal with them?”

“Yes.”

“Like – like tonight?”

“If necessary.”

Harry stared at him in silence for a moment. “You – you expected to get killed tonight, didn't you? I don't see any way you could have survived, you needed a different weapon for the adult.”

“The important thing was to destroy the nest. If I failed in that, she would have removed it once I was dead, and I'd have had to find it and try again. With the nest gone, she became less of a problem, though we wouldn't have wanted her to go hunting anyway.”

“And you would have revived eventually.”

“Yes.”

Harry closed his eyes briefly. “Did they send you because you were here, or because you can – you can do that? Die, and revive, and go on and do it again.”

“A little of both.”

Harry could not look at him right then. “And I thought I was being used,” he muttered under his breath, forgetting Jack's extremely acute hearing.

“You were. So am I. But apart from the immortality, I think I can finally say I chose this,” he replied calmly.

“You chose it because of the immortality,” Harry objected.

“Maybe. You play the cards as they fall, Harry. In that sense, our choices are always limited, but there are still choices.”

“This is an argument I'm not going to win, am I?”

“Is it really an argument? Things are what they are, and I've already given you my opinion on your own situation. That's not changed because of what you now know about mine.”

Harry nodded reluctantly, looking down again. “So you're, what, about a hundred and sixty years old now?”

“Mm-hm.”

“I'm supposed to live to about that, if I don't get myself killed before then,” Harry informed him, almost off-hand, “but....”

“You'll age,” Jack supplied.

There was something uncanny about his calm, and Harry looked back up at him.

“You've had to do the explaining thing a few times, right?”

Jack nodded.

“Gets boring?”

“Oh, that depends on the circumstances. On how hysterical the other party is feeling about it.”

“I'm not feeling hysterical,” Harry scowled.

“I can see that.” Now he just sounded amused again, though there was nothing in his face. Harry nevertheless felt a passing impulse to thump him.

“It explains a few things, though,” he commented. “How you didn't seem to get Voldemort's phobia of death. Why you have this living in the moment thing all the time. Why you're not looking for anything genuinely long-term; it means something completely different to you than it would to someone else.”

“Yes, I guess it does.”

“Jack – don't just agree with me like that,” Harry said in exasperation.

He chuckled a little. “What do you want me to do? Everything you've said has been perfectly reasonable; why shouldn't I agree with it? Yes, the way I am does explain a few things you clearly found odd. I'd have thought you'd be happy to have found solutions.”

“I wasn't looking for them. And I wasn't looking to have my questions resolved like this!”

“No, well, it's a lot to take in.”

Harry gave up. He grabbed a pillow and whacked Jack solidly with it over the head.

“Ow! Hey, I've already been in one fight tonight!” Jack protested, laughing, his arms over his head.

“I know, I was there!” Harry whacked him again. “You don't have to be so damn calm about it!”

“Well, one of us has to be,” he argued, ducking another swipe.

“No! I – I am this close to freaking out, and you should be – you should be, I don't know, traumatised, or something. This is just – weird. And – and doing this makes me feel better,” he added, brandishing the pillow again, aware that he sounded more than a bit petulant.

Jack let him land another couple of blows, and then deftly removed the pillow from his grasp, and closed his arms about Harry.

“Enough,” he said quietly, though still smiling. “It's late – it's so late it's early, in fact. You've had a shock, and you've been given a lot to think about, and your whacking me with your pillow isn't improving my headache. Let's get some sleep.”

Suddenly acutely conscious of being bone weary, Harry sagged against Jack, and let the other man remove his robe, and pull back the covers so that Harry could get under. Harry found he didn't want to let go, but snuggled close to him once they were both tucked in. He stroked his fingers through Jack's dark hair.

“You have a headache?” he asked tiredly.

“Almost always, coming back after a violent death.”

“Aren't they all?”

“Violent? No, not always. Stop thinking about it, Harry.”

“Difficult,” he mumbled, settling his head on Jack's shoulder. “D'you think,” he yawned around his words, “you could try not to do it again any time soon?”

“That would suit me just fine.”

“Good.”

He was fading fast now, and he was surrounded by Jack's warmth, and that indefinably tantalising scent that was so distinctly and uniquely his, so he just gave up the struggle to concentrate on events, and let sleep overtake him, vaguely aware of Jack's hands, soothing over his back, lulling him down into soft unconsciousness, vaguely aware in the seconds before dropping off of Jack's lips, warm and gentle, against his forehead.

Chapter Text

Chapter 10

When he opened his eyes again, Harry was alone. He was not surprised at this; since he had begun sleeping with Jack, nine times out of ten, he woke alone, though Jack usually manifested himself pretty shortly. There were times when Harry wondered just how much the other man actually slept. This time, everything seemed quiet in the flat, and the only sounds Harry perceived were outside, from the street. The blinds were down, but it was obviously still day, maybe early afternoon, Harry guessed.

Then he sat up and cursed under his breath. He was supposed to be at work. That was probably where Jack was. He scrambled out of bed and into the bathroom for a hasty wash, and then back to the bedroom for clean clothes. As he passed the living room door, however, he stopped, for there was Jack, seated at the table with a laptop Harry had never previously seen in front of him, typing away quietly.

He looked up and smiled as he saw Harry. “Hey there. How're you feeling?”

Harry blinked. “Late for work. Like you.”

Jack's smile twisted. “Don't be stupid. You think I expected to be up for work today? I made arrangements yesterday. As for you, I called you in sick a few hours ago. If you're hungry there's the makings of ham sandwiches in the fridge.”

“What time is it?”

Jack's glance flicked to the screen before him. “Little after three.”

“Okay. Did you actually sleep at all?” Harry asked abruptly.

“Yes, mom,” he teased.

“Come to think of it, I've hardly ever seen you actually asleep, which is odd considering I'm sleeping here too,” Harry mused, ignoring the tease.

“I don't sleep much. Haven't had to since the change. Don't ask me why, I've no idea,” Jack relented.

He closed the laptop's lid, and got up to approach Harry, putting his hands to Harry's shoulders. With a start, Harry realised all he had on was a towel round his waist, but then living with Jack was like that; inside the flat, clothes had always been strictly optional. He must have grown used to it at some point.

“You have that lost look again,” Jack said gently. “I thought we'd gotten rid of that.”

Harry didn't argue the point, he knew what Jack meant. “I was just thinking it figures that I can't even manage a normal summer fling.”

“Normal's vastly over-rated.”

“Well, I don't know,” Harry said plaintively. “I thought I'd like to try it for a bit.”

“You have,” he smiled. “And look what happens; even when you don't know what I do for a living, you reckon that there's something wrong, and you want to help.”

Harry sighed, and drooped his head. “Hermione calls it the hero complex.”

“Good description.”

“She's not being complimentary.”

Jack chuckled. “No, I imagine not. I've developed my share of it too, it's hard on the people around you sometimes.”

Harry looked up at him again, tilting his head in curiosity. “Developed it? You don't think you were born with it?”

“Oh, no. No, I think it's something that develops in response to the pressure of a certain type of expectations. Somebody who matters to you – really matters – sees you that way, you end up taking it into yourself, and it's damned hard to get rid of afterwards,” he finished dryly.

“Inconvenient,” Harry smiled faintly.

“Definitely.”

“You're a fraud, Jack Harkness,” he said affectionately.

“Not really, but I'm pretty flexible,” Jack returned without missing a beat.

Harry put his arms around Jack. “Feeling flexible just now?”

He laughed. “Always, don't you know that by now?”

“Just checking.”

They went out to dinner together that evening, not something they usually got the chance to do. Jack took Harry to the Grassmarket, and a tiny French bistro-style place, with cramped tables, checked tablecloths and thick tumblers passing for wine glasses. All the staff spoke to each other in French, and the food was incredibly tasty and not nearly as fancy as Harry had expected from a French restaurant. It was busy and noisy and they couldn't talk of anything very personal, never mind the events of the last two days, but it was blessedly relaxing, and Harry had the suspicion that Jack was aware that that would be his reaction. Afterwards, as they took the long way back up to the Mile and strolled up Victoria Street towards the bridge, he smiled slyly at Jack.

“I thought you said normal was over-rated.”

“It is, but it makes for a nice break at times.”

They prolonged the 'normal' until they were back in Jack's flat, and Jack poured them both small brandies.

“Feeling better?” he asked, passing one to Harry.

“More stable, at any rate,” Harry acknowledged. “Jack, why are you here in Edinburgh? You talk as if you're meant to be on holiday.”

“I am, sort of. There was – will be – a temporal accident, and there are two of me around right now. I have to stay out of the way of the 'me' that originally lived through this part of time until I can rejoin the regular time-stream.”

“How long's that going to be?” Harry asked, a little concerned. Jack's life, his time-line, was already complicated enough.

“Not long, early October. As temporal accidents go, it could have been a lot worse. I've been enjoying the break – and the company.” He was sitting on the couch beside Harry, half-turned towards him, and reached out to ruffle Harry's hair lightly.

Harry pretended to scowl, but moved closer under Jack's arm, settling in against his side. He had realised fairly quickly in their affair that he tended to be a little needy when it came to physical contact. He liked to hold and be held, liked the warmth of another body against his, and the feeling of refuge he got in Jack's arms. He was grateful that Jack never called him on it, or seemed to resent or dislike his neediness.

“Is this still normal?” he asked.

There was a muffled laugh from Jack. “I don't think so. An ageless immortal and a teenage psychic phenomenon? Not in any book I've read.”

“When you put it like that....” Harry grinned faintly, then he giggled.

“What?”

“You know that goth guy, the one with the red streaks, who comes in every other afternoon?”

“And drapes himself at the street end of the bar so he can drool over you for the next couple of hours?”

“Oh, so you have noticed.”

“That he fancies you rotten? He's not exactly subtle about it, Harry, we've all noticed,” Jack smiled.

“He's figured it out. That the reason I'm not interested in him is because I'm with you, I mean. Last time I spoke to him, he was mumbling something about cradle-snatching.” Harry sniggered. “He has no idea!”

“Glad you find that so amusing,” Jack pretended offence, but Harry could hear the smile beneath it.

They were silent for a few minutes again, then Harry gave in to his curiosity.

“You said things fall through these rifts, as well as – as beings. What do you do with the objects?”

“File 'em away, usually. See if they can be useful, without being too dangerous to us. Reverse engineer, at times. Most of it comes through too badly damaged to be of real use.”

Harry looked up at Jack. “You must recognise a lot of stuff the others you work with couldn't possibly.”

Jack nodded agreement.

“And all this is just stored away in some warehouse? Isn't that a little risky?”

“It's a bit more secure than that,” Jack smiled, then looked more serious. “The really bad stuff – I've got my own storage the others don't have access to. Developed that a few decades ago, after some fool in the London base came within hailing distance of blowing up the sun.”

“So there's a secret archive within the secret archive?”

“Yes.” He looked down at Harry speculatively. “That seems to interest you particularly. Why?”

“I....” He hesitated, the thought crystallising in his mind. “Wait here a minute.” He got up and went into the bedroom to fetch his wand, and returned to his seat beside Jack, handing it to him. “This is my wand, it's how I cast most spells.”

Jack raised an eyebrow, but turned the slim stick of wood over in his hands, examining it carefully.

“Okay. So?”

Harry gave him a suspicious look. “Just okay? I've heard some of your theories about my kind, remember?”

Jack grinned. “I told you, don't get me started. You say that's your wand and you need it to do your magic, okay. I can leave it at that.” He handed it back. “What about it?”

“Well, the thing is, I have two wands. This is the original, the first one I ever had, and, well, it's sort of – part of me, now. But when I was fighting Voldemort, mine was broken and I gained mastery of another wand – without even realising it – a very powerful one, that we know as the Elder Wand. In order to master it, you have to take it from its current holder. I didn't want to use it, and I didn't want to be known to hold it, because that would just bring people after me, those who wanted to duel me for possession of the Elder Wand. So after Voldemort's death, I used it to repair my own wand, and then buried it, but I'm not convinced it's safe there, and I don't want it to fall into other hands. If I'm still its master when I die, assuming I die a natural death, then it loses its special powers. After that, it doesn't matter who has it. Anything else, though, and it's a dangerous weapon in the wrong hands.”

“You want me to hide it for you?”

“Could you? I don't think anyone from my world would ever guess – maybe Kingsley, since he knows you? I take it he knows what your job is?”

“No. He just knows I work for one of the more secret branches of government service, which isn't strictly accurate, but will do.”

“Well, all the better, then. If you have your own secret archive, even your own people won't know about the wand.”

“And if you have need of it again?”

“I'm going to try very hard not to,” Harry said firmly, “but in the event – well, I know where to find you, right? If you ever saw me in Cardiff, you'd check up on me, wouldn't you?”

“Probably,” Jack conceded, with a little smile.

“If I needed you, I'd make sure you saw me. Well, Jack? Will you take the Elder Wand and put it away somewhere really safe for me? Then you can just forget about it, the whole point is that it never gets used again.”

“Think you can retrieve it safely, without being seen?”

“If I go before the end of the summer. I left it at school, sort of. If I go back before the students return, I can get it. It's not that far away, actually, the school's in the Borders.”

“Okay. I'll take it, if you really want.”

Harry hugged him tightly. “Thank you! That's a huge weight off my mind.”

“You can be very easy to please,” Jack teased him mildly.

“Mmh,” Harry agreed blandly. “Want to please me some more?”

“Anything specific in mind?”

“Nope. Open bar.”

Jack smirked, and used his weight to push Harry to his back on the sofa. “Now that's a dangerous offer to make. I'm likely to take you up on it.”

“That was the general idea.”

Chapter Text

Epilogue

 As Harry collapsed onto Jack's body with a long gasp of satisfaction, he felt Jack chuckle underneath him.

“I told you it would work,” he said airily.

Harry had to agree. Jack had given him a lot of memorable orgasms, but this one was right up there at the top of the list. That still didn't mean Jack wasn't a smug git, and Harry said as much. Just like every other time he had said it, Jack's only response was a grin.

“You've done this before,” Harry said, a little hoarsely.

“Made love on a train? Of course I have. Why do you think I suggested we take the sleeper back down to London? I've always liked it. The movement of the train adds a little something to it all, no?”

Harry nodded, because it had.

“Little cramped though,” he pointed out, wondering vaguely how he was going to detach himself from Jack without falling out.

“Intimate,” Jack corrected, smiling. “You want to move?”

He didn't really, but, “We're going to stick,” he pointed out, reluctantly.

There were times when Harry still wondered if Jack wasn't part-magical. From nowhere, apparently, he produced a dampened washcloth, cleaned them up, and despite the near-total darkness in the cabin, neatly tossed the used cloth into the wash-hand basin with unerring accuracy. Harry goggled a little, then the answer came to him.

“You see better in the dark than I do, don't you?”

He felt Jack chuckle. “I see better most ways than you do, judging from the strength of your glasses.”

He poked him in the ribs. “You know what I mean.”

“Hey! Okay, yes, I see better in the dark than most people right now,” he conceded.

“Better engineered. I remember. It's kind of odd to think of you that way. As – contrived.”

“We've been doing that sort of thing for centuries, you know. At this stage, more with crops and animals than with other humans, but there have already been attempts to engineer humans. From what you've told me, your own wars have kind of been about that too.”

“I suppose so. It doesn't seem right, though.”

“It's a pretty grey area. As a product, I can see the rationale – though it's one that doesn't exist right now. It's one of those things you probably have to take on a case by case basis. I can't say I remember exactly how the legislation worked out. I always did hate politics,” he commented dryly.

“Your job isn't political?” Harry asked curiously.

“Oh, it would be if they had any idea what we really do – which is exactly why we don't tell 'em. Don't worry, Harry, your Elder Wand will be safe with me. Even if I catalogue it, all it's going to read is 'wooden baton, Sambucus racemosa, unidentified organic core, fifteen inches, source unknown'. Only your own people would be likely to recognise it, and even then...”

“Sambu-what?”

“It's the botanical term for elder wood,” Jack explained.

“Blimey. And you just know this...?”

He chuckled again. “No, what do you think I am, an encyclopaedia? I looked it up. Botanical names are great for disguising obvious facts.”

Harry shook his head, and then yawned mightily. “Can I stay here?” he asked sleepily.

He had his own compartment, adjoining, and the connecting door was open, but he was feeling too lazy, and he had always liked just lying on Jack like this. His lethargy even conquered his concerns about falling out of the narrow bunk. He knew Jack wouldn't let it happen, and sure enough, Jack neatly manoeuvred them both into a tightly-spooned position, securing Harry against himself.

“Okay like that?”

“Yeah.” After a moment, he added quietly, “I'm going to miss you.”

Warm lips kissed the back of his neck. “Don't. Don't waste time on regrets, it's not worth it. Just remember the good times.”

“Lots of them,” Harry smiled into the pillow.

“Mm-hm,” Jack agreed, a smile in his voice.

“Jack?” Harry asked after another minute or so.

“Yes?”

“Will I ever see you again?”

“Who knows?” he replied simply.

Harry was content with that, because there was something about Jack's tone that spoke of options, rather than of closure. It wouldn't be something either of them sought, but it wasn't something Jack was rejecting out of hand either. Lulled by the sway of the train's movement, he drifted off to sleep.

When the steward came knocking on their doors at 6:30, they lingered in bed a little longer, but were off the train within the hour. Jack had to change station for his train to Cardiff, and his route lay in a different direction from Harry's, so they took their leave of each other there on the platform. It was good thing it was still early, though, because Jack wasn't satisfied with just a polite farewell, but kissed Harry thoroughly before striding off jauntily, with a laugh and a wave, as if he had no idea he was leaving Harry breathless and blushing. Harry gathered his scattered wits, and his backpack, and headed for the Tube, smiling despite himself.

It was too early to bother Nimbleby, so Harry headed straight back to Grimmauld Place, and was greeted enthusiastically by Kreacher. Having assured the elderly elf that he was safe, sound and sane, and had had a good summer despite being 'stranded' (Kreacher's definition) in the Muggle world all these weeks, he ordered a good breakfast, and went to unpack his affairs.

Returning back downstairs for his breakfast, he found that Mrs. Black's portrait had unfortunately awakened, and she favoured him with her usual stream of invective. However, instead of closing her curtain in another only intermittently successful attempt to stem her tirade, this time he favoured her with a long, contemplative stare, and this was so unusual that after a few minutes she faltered, and fell silent.

“What?” she demanded truculently, after a minute's silence on both their parts.

He raised a querying eyebrow, still silent.

“What are you staring at me for, you ill-bred ragamuffin?”

“Oh, I was just wondering what was used to paint you,” Harry remarked casually.

She sniffed. “Why, the finest oils, of course. What else?”

He smiled, and it wasn't a nice expression at all. “Oh, good, that makes things so much simpler.”

He made as if to leave, and she shrieked after him, “Wait! What do you mean by that?”

He looked back over his shoulder at her. “Just that I'm planning on investing in a bottle of turpentine. If I can't get your painting off the wall and up into the attic, where you can scream to your heart's content, I reckon wiping your mouth off will do the trick just as well.”

He had the immense satisfaction of seeing the portait actually blench with fear. Harry had had no idea that a product existed that could remove oil paints until he had told Jack about the painting, but clearly Mrs. Black was better informed. He still wasn't quite sure he'd actually do it – it was a form of vandalism, after all – but may be the threat would be enough. He strolled into the kitchen feeling just a little smug.

“That smells great, Kreacher,” he smiled, “thanks.”

“Kreacher is happy Master Harry is home where he belongs.”

Harry looked at him. There was an odd tone to his comment, and the house-elf looked just a little awkward.

“Something wrong, Kreacher?”

The elf hemmed and hawed, while serving coffee and scrambled eggs, and then seemed to come to a decision.

“Master Harry has not seen this morning's Daily Prophet?”

Harry sighed. “No, I just got off the train, remember? I imagine they've been printing a whole lot of nonsense over the summer, though.”

“Much nonsense, Master Harry – but...”

Harry eyed him warily. “But?”

“Master Harry will not like the second edition.”

“I've never liked any edition. Let's see it.”

Kreacher reluctantly produced the paper, and laid it on the table in front of Harry.

“Oh, good grief...!”

Occupying half of the front page was a colour photograph of Harry being soundly kissed by Jack on the platform at Euston station that morning. The angle of the photograph had not been good enough to make Jack identifiable, but the heat and enthusiasm of the kiss were unmistakeable, and the screaming headline ran:-

CHOSEN ONE IN SECRET LOVE TRYST!!

Other photographs followed. Fortunately, Jack's own defences had been operating as usual. Harry knew from experience it was well-nigh impossible to get a clear photograph of him, and particularly not with a magical camera. Something about him caused a perpetually blurred image, and Jack had been evasive about the whys and wherefores. The photographer had also lost track of him very quickly after he had left Euston Station. However, that he was older, bigger and undeniably male was quite clear.

Harry groaned. There was going to be hell to pay!