i. 6 October, 2019
The State Security Forces come not in the middle of a dark night as one might expect, but on a bright, sunshiny Sunday morning just after the sausages are set on the kitchen table.
Teddy reaches for the butter, stretching over Victoire and giving her a faint smile. If he twists just so, he can see the curve of her breast down the vee of her shirt. Sometimes he wishes he could work up the nerve to kiss her, late at night when they're sitting on the roof of some ramshackle safe house like this one, watching the stars and sharing a fag she's nicked from Liam's stash. She blushes and presses her hand to her chest, cutting off his view as she turns towards Anna and whispers something in her ear. The other girl laughs, and Teddy looks away.
It's been eight months they've worked together now, leading refugees--Muggle and wizarding--from the Midlands across the border to the freedom of Wales. Other teams take families to Scotland, Ireland. Britain as they once knew it no longer exists, now that the Coalition Government's in power. The devolved governments broke off as the laws worsened: Wales first, then Scotland following. Northern Ireland had been the last, but even they'd finally realised Catholic Dublin was less of a danger than Coalition London. Now it's just England and those who waited too long to cross the borders before the fences covered with barbed wire and anti-Apparation wards blocking international travel went up.
Teddy never asked to be put with Victoire, but in training it'd been obvious--even to their handlers--that their skills meshed and their personalities even more so. They're practically family, he supposes, if you consider his godfather is her uncle, but that thought makes him uncomfortable. With each crossing, Teddy's more and more certain how he feels. He just wishes he knew if Victoire agrees. This time, he thinks, he'll tell her. After the next mission. They're due in Derby the next morning, the four of them, to transport another two families to Cardiff.
There's no warning beforehand, no rushed communication from the usual rebel sources with enough advance notice to Apparate away. Instead, there's a sharp knock on the back garden door that causes them all to still in their seats, barely breathing, and then the door slams open, splintering against the wall as the first gunshot shatters the window above the sink and sends the wilted geranium tumbling onto the greasy countertop. Dark soil seeps from the broken pot. The dirty curtains, printed with cheerfully smiling Muggle garden gnomes, swing limply in the rain.
A moment's silence, barely enough for a heartbeat, but it stretches into an eternity for Teddy. He turns, his breath catching in his throat, and drops his triangle of toast. It lands on the peeling linoleum floor, butter side down. Blood's splattered across the wall behind him, narrow, ragged smears of crimson that look unreal, like something from one of those Muggle films his godfather took him to back before the world went to hell.
"Victoire," Teddy whispers, and he doesn't care about the black-uniformed police's guns aimed at him. He sinks to the floor next to her. There's blood everywhere, soaking through the white cotton of her shirt, seeping through his fingers as he presses them, shaking, against her breast.
She looks up at him, a confused look in her eyes. Distantly, Teddy can hear the police shouting, screaming for him to get up. Blood streams from Victoire's mouth, from her nose, staining her pale skin.
"Don't." Teddy rocks over her, and he knows he's crying. He can feel the wetness on his cheek. "Don't go. Please. Victoire--" His voice breaks.
She's gone. He can see the light fade from her eyes, and he's seen people die--there's not a witch or wizard in the past three years who hasn't lost someone to the SSF--but this is different. This is Victoire.
Teddy barely realises that the sharp keening wail that fills the kitchen comes from him. He's jerked up by two of the police, their hands rough under his arms, and he tries to pull away, tries to get back to her, to touch her just once more, but he's forced to his feet, his arms bent back behind him painfully. Anna and Liam are across the kitchen, held fast by two more police. A gun is at Liam's temple; the boy's trembling.
The knees of his jeans are soaked with Victoire's blood.
"Smith. Restrain him," one of the bastards says. "This one's to be kept alive."
Smith steps forward. He wears a plain black trench coat over a black Muggle suit, and he's the only one whose face isn't covered by a helmet. Not SSF then. His blond hair is tightly curled; his blue eyes are cold. Teddy can feel a sparking of spellwork across his skin when Smith raises his wand. Only the collaborators are allowed to keep their magic unchecked.
Teddy spits at him. "Traitor."
Smith shrugs. "Stupefy," he says calmly, and as Teddy's world goes black, he hears the sharp retort of gunshots.
ii. 8 October, 2019
The guard at the desk watches Harry pace across the marble lobby of Thames House for the fifth time. The man's face is carefully, studiously blank, but his eyes are sharp, and Harry's quite aware that his every move is being noted not only by the guard himself but by hidden cameras tucked within the columns and behind the oil portraits of great British statesmen Harry doesn't recognise.
His hands shake. He wants a cigarette. A whisky. Something. Thames House always makes him tense. Fucking spooks.
Harry turns at sound of footsteps behind him. "Zacharias," he says, a bit too warmly, he's sure, but he's just come from a breakfast meeting at the Coalition headquarters a few buildings down Millbank. At the moment, any wizarding face, even a bastard ponce like Smith, is a welcome sight.
Zacharias doesn't take his outstretched hand, and, after a moment, Harry drops it awkwardly. "What do you want?" Zacharias asks. "MP or not, Potter, you can't just come here like this. Every time you do it raises questions with my superiors--"
"Fuck them." Harry cuts him off, his jaw tightening. "I want to know what you've done this month to find my son."
The guard sits up straighter at his desk. Harry's almost certain he sees him murmur something into his shoulder. Downing Street will likely hear about this by afternoon. Harry wonders how long it'll take before he's pulled into the Prime Minister's office again. Symes rules England with an iron fist: the whole damned country's terrified of him. Sometimes Harry wonders why he's not; he supposes it boils down to his having nothing left to lose.
"Jesus, Harry." Zacharias grabs his arm and pulls him away from one of the marble columns. "I'm doing what I can," he says, his voice low. "There's only so much--"
"Bollocks." Harry jerks away. He's tired of hearing the same thing, month after month after bloody fucking month. "It's been four years, Zacharias. You're telling me MI5 can't even fucking find out if he's still alive--"
Zacharias steps closer, his blue eyes fixed on Harry. "You know as well as I do he's probably not. Those bastards didn't think anything of killing Ginny to make their point to you. She was one of us. One of them. And they vivisected her."
Harry looks away, swallowing hard. He'd been the one to find his ex-wife, lying naked on the floor of her bath in a pool of thickening blood, her entrails spilled out onto the tiles. It'd been a Sectumsempra. He'd recognised it immediately. And the Mark, drawn crudely on the wall in Ginny's drying blood.
"Do you really think they've kept your son alive this long?" Zacharias asks softly, and Harry closes his eyes, breathing out. His hands are still shaking. He shoves them in his pockets. "They're no better than the Death Eaters, and you know it."
"That's not true." Harry opens his eyes, staring at the column behind Zacharias. He wonders if this conversation is being recorded. Of course it is. The Coalition has files on everyone. His must be half a metre thick by now.
Zacharias shrugs. "You know as well as I do that the ELF's nothing but a terrorist faction, Harry. Half the leaders were Marked themselves or had family members in You-Know-Who's corner. They don't much care for you at the moment."
A buzz in Harry's suit pocket catches his attention. He pulls out his BlackBerry and taps the screen. He sighs at his assistant's text. There were times Morag could be too efficient. Parliament's only been back in session for a week after all. "I have to go. Parliament's sitting this morning, and I've a question in front of the transport minister. I can't be tardy."
"Of course not." Zacharias hesitates. "I'll keep doing what I can about James."
Harry nods. "Thanks." He's not certain whether or not he means it. He doubts he can trust Zacharias any further than he could throw him.
"Zach," a man calls from the steps. He's tall and broad-shouldered with auburn hair that reminds Harry of the Weasleys. His black Auror's robe fits him perfectly; his boots are gleaming. Harry recognises him. They'd been in school together years ago. Kevin Entwhistle. Harry's fairly certain he'd been Ravenclaw.
Zacharias holds his hand up. "A moment, mate." He looks back at Harry. "That's my partner. I have to go."
"Of course," Harry says. He nods at Entwhistle. "Good to see you, Kevin." It's a lie, of course. They know it as well as he does. Harry's persona non grata among the Auror members of the SSF and security services.
He knows Entwhistle is watching him with a stony face as the heavy copper-paned doors close behind him. Stopping to pull a packet of cigarettes and a matchbook from his pocket, Harry looks up at the statue of St. George on his right, guarding the high stone arch.
"God for Harry, England and St. George," Harry murmurs, and he snorts as he lights a fag. "Bloody lot of good any of us did for her, eh?" He sighs a thin stream of smoke and tosses the burnt match to the ground as he walks up Millbank towards Lambeth Bridge and the spired towers of Westminster Palace.
Perhaps Voldemort would have been better than this.
Severus doesn't bother to look up as Pansy takes a seat down from him in the Public Gallery overlooking the green benches of the Commons. Her sleek, bobbed wig is pale blonde today; her eyes are hidden by an enormous pair of dark glasses. She reminds him for a moment of Narcissa, which he suspects was rather her intention. It unsettles him.
"You're late," he snaps softly, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees. He's wearing vicar garb--the black jacket and white collar suits him, ironically enough, despite his agnostic tendencies. The fresh-scrubbed guards at the St. Stephen's Entrance barely glanced at him when he'd entered. In the minds of youth there's nothing more dull and harmless than a dour, aging clergyman, after all--and he's recently cropped his greying hair close to his skull courtesy of the last grainy, half-visible CCTV photo snapped during the McAntry op and aired by the BBC four months ago. He still misses the sweep of hair against his cheek, but he'd rather avoid an SSF bullet in his back. He pushes up the glasses that have slid to the tip of his nose. They've learned to avoid glamours now, particularly in Government buildings. There may be only a handful of former Aurors on the rosters of the various security services, but they've perfected tracking charms. It's one step forward, two back now to keep ahead of the bastards.
"The M25 was horrific." Pansy crosses her legs, and the short, narrow skirt of her secondhand Sloane Square suit rides up her thighs as she leans forward to set her purse on the floor. Severus allows himself a brief moment of enjoying the smooth sweep of pale skin above her knee before she tugs her skirt to a more acceptable level. Pansy purses her glossy red mouth down at the MPs gathered on the Commons floor for Question Time. "I'll be pleased when this nightmare's over and we can go back to Apparating like a civilised race."
Severus glances around at the nearly empty seats around them, then glares at her. "Careful."
Pansy rolls her eyes. "No one's listening."
"You don't know that--" Severus begins, but he's cut off by the bang of a gavel and an order, order from the Speaker in his carved chair.
The hum of voices below stills, and the three wigged clerks sitting behind the desk turn their papers, pens tapping impatiently as a familiar mop of dark hair makes its way around the Speaker's chair to one of the Opposition's--if that's indeed what it could be called in this Government--nearly empty side benches.
Severus leans back in his chair, studying Potter. The boy's grown into a man of thirty-nine, his shoulders slumped in his tailored suit, tired lines etched in his face already. Potter takes a seat two benches back from the floor, crossing his ankle over his knee as the transport minister steps up to the despatch box across from him.
Pansy shifts in her seat, and Severus glances over at her. She's taken her dark glasses off, one leg of them pressed to her bottom lip, and she watches Potter with narrowed eyes. "I don't trust him," she says softly.
Severus snorts. "Wise girl."
The Speaker bangs his gavel again. "The honourable gentleman from the Diagon Diaspora," he says with a sigh and a sharp glare at Potter, who stands with a nod.
"Question one, minister," he says, and he crosses his arms behind his back. His suit jacket swings open, and Severus realises the fool's wearing his Gryffindor school tie. As much as it pains him, he smiles faintly at Potter's small defiance. It's been three years now that English students have been barred from Hogwarts on Government orders, and Symes doesn't take flouting of his decrees well, as the Royal Family learnt early in the Coalition years. Only Beatrice was fortunate enough to be in Paris when her family was executed en masse on the grounds of Sandringham three Christmases ago. The murder had horrified the Muggle world but had cemented the totality of the Prime Minister's rule. The uncoronated queen-in-exile had found protection in North America, it was said; whether in Canada or the States no one knew. One thing was certain, however: should she set foot in England, her life would be over.
The transport minister--Devon, Severus thinks he's called; it makes no sense to keep up with the minor officials, as they're all too often dismissed within a few months for failing to curry Downing Street's favour--coughs nervously and pulls a handkerchief from his pocket. He dabs his upper lip with it, scowling down at the papers in the file before him.
"Ah," Devon says, and Severus is almost certain his hand trembles as he turns a page. "The Floo issue." He coughs again. "The decision was made to restrict your constituency's travel via that mode due to security concerns--"
Potter interrupts with a bitter laugh that causes the skittish minister to flinch. "And what concerns would those be?"
"I think, sir," Devon says coldly, "that you're quite aware of the difficulties with the English Liberation Faction."
"Army," Pansy snaps under her breath, and Severus scowls at her.
Light from the windows above glints off Potter's glasses. "I believe the name they prefer to use is English Liberation Army," he says, and Pansy hmms in approval next to Severus. Potter crosses his arms, wrinkling the line of his suit. "And you've cut off not only my constituents' primary mode of travel inside the country, but also their communications system--"
A chorus of boos from the Government benches drowns Potter out. David Cameron and Hazel Blears are the loudest. The Coalition's made odd bedfellows of the Conservatives and Labour. At least the Lib Dems have the common sense to stay out of the Coalition's pockets. For the most part. Ed Davey is shaking his head on the Commons floor, after all, as he runs his hand over his face, and Severus can see the slight twitch of Potter's jaw that he knows from years of teaching the brat is a sign of a barely held temper.
Devon stiffens. "I fail to see the negative aspects of that. As I was attempting to point out, restricting the communications system of the ELF was one of the Prime Minister's concerns in dismantling this…" his mouth curls in disgust, "…primitive network of yours."
"And you didn't answer the damned question," Potter snaps. "You've broken communications and transportation for nearly a quarter of a million people to isolate one protesting political group--"
"Order, order," the Speaker shouts again, above the cries of the Government's supporters.
Potter only raises his voice "--and this after tracking every Apparation occurring within English borders--"
"A necessity to national security, sir," Devon says tightly, his face flushing. "The crimes upon England these people can commit--"
"Which they wouldn't be forced to commit if you hadn't marginalised them--" Potter slams his fist against his palm. His voice shakes with anger. "We're Englishmen and women just as much as you are--"
He's drowned out by shouts.
"Are you, sir," Devon says when the men and women on the benches behind him settle, "claiming solidarity with a terrorist organisation?" A small, cold smile plays across his thin lips. "I'm certain the Prime Minister will be interested to hear of this."
Potter glares at the transport minister. "Oh, don't be a fucking tit."
"Inappropriate." The Speaker points his gavel at Potter. "You are done, sir."
Potter starts to protest, but the gavel falls again, and the Speaker gives the floor to the honourable lady from Berwick-upon-Tweed. Potter drops onto the green leather bench, shoulders tense, mouth pressed into a thin line. He clenches his fists between his knees, his elbows resting on his thighs, as he glares at Devon. The transport minister ignores him, instead taking a simpering question regarding the necessity of the latest increase in Tube fares.
"Well," Pansy says quietly. She stares down at Potter. "Not what I expected."
"No." Severus leans back in his seat, two fingers pressed to his lips. Potter's reputation in the wizarding world has been significantly tarnished in the past few years due to his insistence on working within the Coalition Government to fight the increasingly restrictive policies placed upon the country's magical citizens.
A Colluder, the Fallen One, the Prophet called him just before it was shut down. One would now be hard-pressed to find a single witch or wizard who didn't believe Potter had sold their society out, despite the fact they'd elected him to his post. When the rebellious factions had risen up, after it became obvious only violence would make any impact upon Symes and his damned Government, they'd used Potter's perceived betrayal as a rallying cry. Lucius, in particular, had set out to knock the pedestal from underneath the Chosen One's feet. He'd been remarkably successful, and his death in an attack on the Tower Bridge had, ironically, made him a martyr and Potter a pariah.
For a moment, Severus wonders why Potter keeps fighting for the idiots who abandoned him, and then he realises how very much of his mother Potter has in him. The thought makes him ache slightly. All these years, and he still misses Lily.
Pansy lays a hand on his arm, and he glances at her. "What do you want me to do?" she asks.
Severus doesn't hesitate. He pulls a mobile from his pocket and hands it to her. "Use this when you've spoken with him. Ring the number in the address book."
"It's clean?" She drops the mobile into her purse.
He snorts. "Our Gryffindor friend purchased it yesterday with Euros from France and installed one of her SIM cards in it. Untraceable and untappable, but destroy it after you ring just to be safe."
Pansy slips her glasses back on and swings her purse onto her shoulder. "Moscow rules then?"
"Moscow rules," Severus agrees.
She flashes him a cheeky grin. Her nails are bright red against the black patent leather of her purse strap. "Always my favourite," she says, standing, and with, a quiet click of her heels against the carpeted floor, she's gone.
Severus glances down at the Commons below. "I'd best not be misjudging you," he murmurs as he pushes himself out of his seat. He doesn't look back as he heads for the stairs.
"Harry! Wait up a moment!"
Harry's halfway across the Members Lobby when he's stopped by Danny Foster, MP for Vauxhall. He pauses, near the statue of Baroness Thatcher, and waits, fingers twisted in the strap of his messenger bag, which is weighed down with his laptop and folders full of fact sheets and research Morag had shoved at him (along with a coffee, black, one sugar) when he'd flown through his office en route to Westminster. He doesn't dislike Danny; in fact, the man's one of the few of his fellow MPs he can tolerate more than five minutes. And he has the common sense to have stood for election as an independent, as Harry himself did. Still, Opposition or not, he sides with the Government more often than Harry is comfortable with.
Danny's dark hair flops in his eyes as he jogs up, a thick sheaf of folders tucked beneath one arm. "Walk with me?" he asks, and Harry nods.
The early autumn sun is still warm on their shoulders as they stroll along the Victoria Embankment towards Portcullis House and its fourteen black chimneys rising above the tree line.
"Devon's an arse," Danny says, dodging a group of uniformed schoolchildren and the haggard-looking chaperone trying to capture their attention with the tale of Guy Fawkes' attempt to blow up Parliament four hundred years past. The children aren't interested. They've heard it every year on Bonfire Night. Danny gives Harry a sly, sideways look. "Bully for you, standing up to him, though."
Harry shrugs. "Fuck the Government. I speak for my constituents."
Danny stops, leans against the thick stone wall of the Embankment. The murky waters of the Thames flow past, sloshing against the concrete barriers holding them back. "You're not alone," he says after a moment, his voice low.
"I'm not?" Harry rests his elbows on the Embankment wall and stares down into the river. Wind ruffles the waves, capping them with lacy white foam. Afternoon sunlight glints gold across the water. He doesn't look at Danny. Instead, he pulls out a packet of Dunhills, tapping one into his palm. He lights the cigarette and inhales slowly, letting the smoke burn the back of his throat before he breathes it out. "It certainly feels that way."
The wind blows Danny's fringe into his eyes; he pushes it back as he turns to face Harry. "I know." He hesitates, but only for a moment. "You're braver than the rest of us."
"Or just stupider." Ash floats from the tip of Harry's Dunhill into the water below.
Danny shakes his head. A scrap of thin, pink paper flutters over the edge of one his folders; he tucks it back in. "You don't give in to Downing Street's pressure. You're not afraid of them. You buck them whenever you can, and, Christ, Harry, you've my respect for that."
"Don't make me into a saint, Foster." Harry looks over at him, a flash of irritation in his voice. He's tired of expectations he can't meet being forced upon him. It's been this way all his life. "I'm a long way from that, trust me."
"We all are." Danny sighs and turns towards the wall, leaning over it, one shoulder against the blackened lamppost next to him. In the bright sunshine, Harry can see the bags under his eyes, puffy, smudged circles. None of them sleep now, not with Symes in charge. One's always on guard, waiting for the knife in one's back from friend or foe, anyone wanting to climb further up the Prime Minister's ladder of sycophants.
Harry passes over his cigarette, and Danny takes a slow drag. They're silent for a moment. "How'd we get here?" Harry asks finally, tiredly, and Danny snorts.
"Collapse of the world economy ten years ago?" Danny shrugs, and his mouth twists bitterly to one side. "Who would have thought bloody sub-prime mortgages and derivative investments would have brought us to an acceptance of fascism?" He spits into the river and wipes the back of his hand across his mouth. "Fuck capitalism."
Harry takes the cigarette back. "Best be careful, or they'll haul you in for Old Labour sentiments unbefitting a Coalition MP." Smoke curls around his fingers. Harry touches it with his thumb, and it dissipates.
"Fuck socialism too." Danny pushes his hair out of his eyes. The wind just blows it back again. He sighs. "I thought the Coalition would be something different. Better. A chance to fix everything we cocked up back then…" He trails off.
"You're too much of a bloody idealist, Danny." Harry blows a thin stream of smoke between his lips. It drifts away. Below, a barge cuts through the water, waves slapping its bow as it makes its way around the river's curves towards the docklands. Harry wonders how far upstream it's come. "Politics is never about anything but power." His mouth twists. "Who has it, who wants it."
Danny leans closer. "And what about you?" His hazel eyes are intense and deep. Harry feels a flare of desire blaze inside of him. If Danny weren't happily married… If Harry didn't work with him… Merlin. Harry looks away and takes another drag off the cigarette, filling his lungs with bitter smoke before he exhales again. Best to keep those wants satisfied with the occasional visit to a well-bribed rent boy these days.
"What about me?" Harry asks, a touch of bitterness audible in his voice. He flicks his cigarette into the water below, watching as a wave rolls over it, sending it bobbing along with the current before it sinks.
"You're just as much an idealist," Danny murmurs. "More so, I'd say."
Harry just shrugs and pushes himself off the balustrade. "I need to get back to my office."
Danny follows him. Neither of them say much until they reach Portcullis House. Danny puts a hand on Harry's arm before he can open the door.
"There was another raid Sunday," he says, so softly that Harry has to lean forward to hear him. "They brought some of your lot in. ELA members. They're being housed at Nemworth for now."
Harry draws in a sharp breath. The reputation of Nemworth Interrogation Unit is well known in Parliamentary circles. It's a holding prison of sorts--unofficial, of course, and run by both branches of the security services. Traitors are brought there, and foreign spies. Anyone the Coalition (as Her Majesty's Government before it) deems a threat to national security. For years human rights activists had decried it. It's only worsened since they were silenced. "How do you know?" he asks, keeping his own voice low.
Danny glances around quickly. "It came up in a committee meeting this morning." His breath is warm against Harry's ear. "Rufus mentioned it in passing, and I thought you should know. He took a little too much glee in the matter, if you understand."
Harry nods. Of course he understands. Thom Rufus is former MI-6; the only time Harry'd ever seen him smile had been during a debate on whether or not waterboarding was an acceptable form of interrogation to use against the ELA. Harry'd fought that fight as well.And lost.
Danny steps past Harry, opening the door. "Coming?"
Harry blinks at him, lost in thought. If Rufus was happy about the raid, it couldn't be good. "No," he says after a moment, and Danny gives him a sympathetic smile.
The door closes behind him; for a moment it catches the reflection of a woman, petite in a crisp black suit and ridiculously high heels, the wind ruffling her blonde hair. She leans against a planter, unlit cigarette in her hand. The sun glints off her wide sunglasses.
"Can I trouble you for a light?" she asks as Harry passes, and he hesitates, then pulls his lighter from his pocket. Her fingers brush his knuckles, cool and soft, as she leans in, the cigarette in her mouth. The tip flares, then a curl of smoke drifts up. "Thanks." Her red mouth curves slightly as she pulls the cigarette away from the flame.
Harry can't shake the sensation that she's watching him intently behind those dark lenses. "Have we met?" he asks, suddenly, and his cheeks warm. Christ. Smooth there, Potter.
She laughs, a soft jeer that strikes some hidden nerve in Harry, and he frowns as she blows smoke towards him. "Whatever would make you think that?" She hands the cigarette to him. "You look like you need this more than I do." She turns away and walks off, heels clicking sharply against the pavement. Harry can't help but notice the way her short skirt hugs her arse. Jesus Christ, it's been too long since he's been laid.
Oddly unsettled, he stubs the cigarette out and almost bins it when he notices a tiny black ink scrawl along one side.
Mediteranneo Cafe, Camden High St. Mornington Crescent tube. Half-three.
The letters twist in on each other; the ink begins to fade. Harry's breath catches, and he looks up, hoping to catch the woman.
Harry shifts his messenger bag higher on his shoulder and checks his watch. It's quarter past one. He doesn't hesitate. Doesn't ask himself if this a mad idea. He's still bloody Gryffindor enough, he thinks, and the woman knew it.
He heads for the Westminster tube station.
Pansy waits across the street from the café until quarter past four. By then Potter still hasn't come out, irate at being set up, so she dashes over the zebra crossing, flipping two fingers at a black cab that has to slam on the brakes to avoid hitting her. The cabbie leans out the window, shouting at her in a manner that would have horrified her mother. Pansy just blows him a kiss, the silver bangles on her wrist jangling, and she pulls open the café door.
The interior is cool and dark. Pansy slips her sunglasses off, dropping them into the vintage (or rather, battered, Severus would say with a snort) Birkin she'd found at a Camden Oxfam shop six months ago. She'd tossed the wig in a rubbish bin two alleys down, covering her dark hair with the sort of Hermès scarf favoured by the ladies who lunch set, and taken off her suit jacket, folding it carefully and tucking it into the bottom of her bag. She doesn't have enough decent clothes to waste now.
Potter's at a table in the back, a beer and a half-eaten sandwich and crisps at his elbow. His suit jacket is draped over the back of his chair, and he frowns into the laptop in front of him as his fingers fly across the keyboard. He looks up, blinking, as she takes the seat across from him.
"Hello, darling," Pansy says brightly, leaning across to kiss Potter's cheek. The stunned look on his face delights her. "Apologies for being so late. Traffic, you know."
"Parkinson?" Potter asks quietly, studying her face.
"No names," Pansy says under her breath. Her fingertips brush Harry's knuckles. "Act pleased to see your date, for God's sake, you idiot."
Understanding flashes across Potter's face. He's not a complete imbecile then, thank God. Pansy was beginning to wonder. He catches her hand, rubs his thumb over hers. "I hope you don't mind me ordering already, love. I got here a bit early."
Pansy smiles. "I'll just have a cup of tea and a salad, please." As Potter gets up to order for her at the counter, Pansy riffles through her bag. She pulls out a compact and flips it open, powdering her nose. Discretely, she presses a secondary latch on the side. A quiet click activates the tiny recording device inside. Pansy prefers to have all of her contacts on record. It helps with blackmail down the road.
She sets the compact aside as Potter returns, handing her a plate filled with lettuce and chicken. A few walnuts and julienned carrots are scattered about. He sits back down and closes his laptop, folding his hands over the lid.
Pansy takes a bite of salad and chews slowly. The Potter she'd known at school would have impatiently demanded what she wanted by now. This one just watches her silently, light from the lamp above them glinting off his glasses. She reaches for her tea, sips, then looks over the rim of her cup at him. "Tell me, Potter, what do you know about me?"
Potter meets her gaze evenly. "I know the security services are interested in you since the last bombing that killed a pregnant woman."
"That wasn't meant to happen." Pansy frowns into her tea. She still has nightmares about that, even two months later. They all do, even Severus. "Our intelligence said there were no civilians in the area."
"Your intelligence was wrong," Potter snaps.
Pansy looks up at him, not bothering to mask the anguish in her face. "I know." She pulls herself together, setting her teacup back in the saucer with a shaking hand. "It happens sometimes."
Potter doesn't answer. Pansy doesn't blame him. She can still recall the look of horror on Granger's face when they'd discovered what had happened--a look that had mirrored her own. Their source inside the SSF had promised them the recruiting office in Liverpool's Victoria House had only security personnel in it that night. They hadn't known one of the secretaries had been granted permission to work late. Symes had used that enormous cock-up against them since. It's one thing Pansy hasn't blamed him for.
"What do you want from me?" Potter asks finally. He sounds tired. Worn down. He tugs at his tie, loosening it and undoing the top button of his shirt.
"Help." Pansy wipes her mouth with a napkin. Her red lipstick smears across the white paper. "We're your kind, Potter."
He snorts. "No, you're not. The Government calls you terrorists."
"What do you call us?" She studies him for a moment. "Not that. You corrected that idiot Devon this morning when he tried to call us a faction." Her mouth twists. "You don't think of us the way they do. You can't."
Potter looks away. He lifts his beer and sips it before setting it down again. His thumb scrapes across the yellow and black Boddingtons label. "I think what you're doing is useless. I think it's the wrong way to change things."
"Sometimes you haven't a choice," Pansy says quietly. "We tried your way. We tried for nearly ten years. They took our money, Potter, to shore up their own decrepit economy, and they lied about paying us back. They destroyed us, decimated our society, took over our Ministry just to get their filthy hands on all of our assets--" She breaks off, biting her lip.
The nationalisation of the London branch of Gringotts nine years ago still haunts her. The goblins had pulled out of England as soon as the Ministry handed over the bank's accounts to the Muggles. Wizarding families across the country lost access to their money immediately; the goblins hadn't cared. They didn't deal with Muggles. Her father had lost almost everything, save for a few small accounts tucked away in Switzerland that Pansy was still living off of as best she could with minimal access. He'd killed himself; Mother had found him at his desk one night, a Muggle revolver in his mouth, blood and brain tissue splattered across the bookshelves behind him. Less than a year later, Pansy had stood in Highgate between Draco and Severus, burying her mother beside her father. All she can remember is the cold rain against her skin, the scent of cigarettes that lingered on Severus's robe and Draco's hand warm in hers.
"Killing innocent people isn't going to do anything to turn public sentiment in your favour." Potter's voice is sharp. "Taking their children--"
Pansy lifts her chin. Potter will always believe the worst of them, she knows. "We didn't kill your ex-wife."
Potter grabs her wrist. His fingers are tight, bruising her skin. "What about my son?"
They sit silent, tense, eyes fixed on each other.
"Get your hand off me," Pansy says after a moment. "Darling." She's surprised when Potter complies. He doesn't look at the dark smudges already purpling beneath her pale skin.
"A Death Eater killed her. A Death Eater took Jamie." Potter stares down at his hands. He rubs his thumb over a ragged hangnail. "You have Death Eaters in your organisation. I know you do."
Pansy feels a flash of sympathy for the bastard. It disappears quickly enough. "We've Muggles too." She curls her lip. "Nothing's the way it was twenty years ago, Potter. You of all people should know that."
Pansy sighs. Fuck the smoking ban; she wants a fag. Instead, she takes a bite of dressing-soaked lettuce and sucks the tines of her fork. "Five years ago, the wizarding world let you and the Ministry talk us out of revolting. None of us wanted another damn war--at least not the sane ones of us, and you know that. We all thought being absorbed into the Muggle Government, as awful as that might be, would still be better than the alternative."
She closes her eyes for a moment, her stomach twisting. It'd been Symes who'd broken the Statute of Secrecy, revealing their existence to the world when he'd decided the only way to pull Britain from the economic depression it'd fallen into was for the Muggle Government to absorb all of the wealth and assets of the wizarding world. They'd had no choice. No defence. It was for the greater good of the country, they were told, and that milksop of a Minister Gawain Robards had rolled over like a bloody Frenchman.
That had been the only time she'd ever seen her father, Lucius Malfoy and Kingsley Shacklebolt on the same side of a political debate.
When she opens her eyes, Potter is watching her, his face inscrutable. "They've stolen our magic," she says quietly. "You take the potion every night, don't you?"
He looks away, his mouth tight. "If I don't, they'll know. Symes doesn't trust me."
Pansy sets her fork down. She's lost her appetite. "They're muzzling you. Don't you hate it?"
"I don't have a choice," Potter says. His jaw tightens, and he takes another sip of beer.
"Yes, you do." She looks at him calmly. Her heart thuds against her chest. She can't fail at this. She won't. "We want your help."
"What the hell for?" Potter gives her a baleful glare. "You've more magic than I do at the moment, I'd say, and if it's to rally the troops, I can damn well tell you that most of the wizarding world loathes me now, so you're shit out of luck."
Pansy leans forward, her elbows on the table, her chin propped on one hand. "You have your uses." When he snorts, she smirks at him. "The Government's agreed to negotiations in regards to the trade of a few of our prisoners for theirs. We want you to be part of that."
Potter frowns. "Negotiations?"
Thick as he was in school, Pansy thinks with a scowl. "Yes, Potter. You've heard of the idea, I assume? One side sits across from the other, and both try to work out an acceptable compromise?"
His face flushes. "Don't be a bitch, Pansy."
"But I'm so very good at it." She raises an eyebrow; he glares at her over the rims of his glasses. "We're not asking much. Just for you to worm your way onto the negotiation committee. It shouldn't be overly difficult for you."
"They'll say I'm biased," Potter points out.
Pansy shrugs. "So are they." She reaches into her Birkin and pulls out a small envelope. She slides it across the table to him. "Perhaps this will help make up your mind."
She knows what he'll see when he opens it. Their source in the Government had gone to Nemworth last night and snapped a few photographs of Teddy Lupin, his face battered and bloody. Potter breathes in sharply and looks at her. "My godson," he says flatly.
"He was caught in a raid yesterday." Pansy runs a finger along the rim of her teacup. "We're asking for his release."
Potter stares down at the photographs. "I haven't seen him in five years," he murmurs. "I used to take him to the cinema every Saturday…"
"You'll do it then," Pansy says. It's not a question.
Potter nods, his eyes still on his godson. "I…" He looks up at her. "What do I need to do?"
It's nearly eleven when Harry stumbles into his Islington flat, dropping his messenger bag next to a bookcase in the sitting room. His jacket ends up tossed over the back of an armchair; he doesn't bother with lights. There's enough light from the streetlamps filtering through the uncurtained bay windows. Pansy had left him six hours ago, his only instructions to get his arse on the negotiation committee and then to wait for someone from the ELA to contact him.
He'd ridden the Tube for hours after their meeting, losing himself in the London crowds. It's a habit of his, a way to be alone without the crushing, silent solitude of his flat. He'd gone past the Angel station three times before he finally pushed himself out of his seat and rode numbly up the long escalator to the street.
Halfway down High Street, he'd pulled out his mobile and rung Danny, leaving a message for him to call him back. If anyone could help him get on that committee, it'd be Danny.
Harry pulls open his stainless steel refrigerator door, staring into its cold depths before pulling out a carton of milk. He's half through it when his mobile rings and he reaches for it. "Potter," he says, setting the milk back in the fridge and wiping his upper lip with the back of his hand.
"You rang?" Danny sounds tired.
"Are you still at work?" Harry leans against the white tile counter. His kitchen, like his flat, is small, practical and barely used.
Danny snorts. "Walking to the Tube. What do you want, Harry? I'm fucking knackered."
"You're not the only one," Harry mutters. He can hear the faint sound of traffic. "Do you know anything about the negotiations with the ELA?"
There's a silence. "Might," Danny says finally. "But only from a few hours ago and not much. How did you--"
Harry cuts him off. He tugs at his tie, pulling it off and draping it over the stool next to him. "It doesn't matter. I want to be on that committee, Danny. I need to be. Talk to Fyfe for me. He likes you."
"You can get me on, or find someone who can," Harry says roughly. "Do it as a favour to me, and I'll owe you. I pay my debts, you know that."
Danny sighs. Harry can hear an ambulance go by. "I do this for you, you vote yes on my fuel poverty bill."
"You know Symes hates that one." Harry frowns into the mobile. "It'll never pass."
"Bastard keeps going on about how he wants to help the lower classes, so here's his chance. Vote for it, and I'll see what I can do about the negotiations."
Harry hesitates. What the fuck. "Done."
"Should I ask why you're so keen on being on the committee?" Danny lowers his voice; Harry can barely hear him. He doesn't know why Danny bothers. MI5 taps all their phones. By tomorrow morning, Downing Street will be entirely aware of this conversation, and the fact that Danny called Symes a bastard. Harry wonders what their punishment for this will be.
"I just want to be," he says. "Look, I should let you go…"
"Right." Danny understands, Harry knows. When the spooks are listening in, it's best to keep all calls short. "I'll ring you in the morning then."
Harry pushes the end call button, sets his mobile down and rubs his hands over his face. His stubble scratches his palms. With a sigh, he pushes himself off the counter, unbuttoning his shirt as he heads for the bath.
The bottle's sitting on the shelf, next to the folded towels and flannels his housekeeper leaves for him every week. Harry stares at it. The thick purple liquid glitters through the dull plastic. It arrives on the first Saturday of each month at exactly two in the afternoon, in a postal pouch that he has to sign for, and he knows his signature is immediately transferred back to the Wizarding Registry in the General Register Office. Once, it'd been the Ministry of Magic's records storehouse, Harry thinks bitterly. Now those files were being used against them.
He picks up the bottle with a sigh and turns it over in his hands. He wonders sometimes who makes the potion. It has to be a wizard, or a witch, who's exempt from taking the shite. Probably a Muggleborn--he's found in general they're far more likely to work actively with the Coalition than half-bloods even. Every once in while, you'd find an exception like Zacharias Smith, who'd rather have the power. Harry's mouth twists. He's always loathed Zacharias, ever since school.
Then again, there'd be plenty who'd say the same about him now. He's heard the whispers. Fucking half-blood. The Colluder. The Boy Who Lived To Betray Us.
With a sigh, Harry pours a bit of potion into the measuring cap and swallows it down, scarely able to stop himself from retching. It tastes vile, but at least it'll let him pass the mandatory blood testing all registered witches and wizards undergo every quarter to keep their jobs--and to stay out of places like Nemworth. The Government allows one failed test before imprisonment. With a second failed test, the Aurors and the SSF show up on one's doorstep. Those taken seldom come back, and the few who do--well, at best, they're broken shells of themselves.
Harry caps the bottle and sets it back on the shelf, staring at himself in the mirror. There are bags under his eyes, grey hairs at his temple. The scar on his forehead has faded into a faint white. It hasn't hurt in years, he thinks with a near-hysterical laugh. He leans against the sink, his hands on either side of the bowl. He's only thirty-nine. He shouldn't feel this damn old.
He presses his forehead against the smooth cool glass of the mirror and takes a deep breath. After all they'd gone through with Voldemort, to be subjected to this now, at the hands of the Muggles…
"Christ," he murmurs, and he turns on the water, splashing it against his face. He grabs a towel and dries off before going into his bedroom. He turns on a lamp; light pools across the rumpled sheets of his bed. Crumpled tissues are scattered across the pillow, remnants of last night's wanking. Harry sweeps them into the bin beneath the night stand, then, tugging off his shirt and dropping it on the floor, he sits on the edge of the bed. His wand is next to the lamp; he picks it up, rolling it between his fingers.
He can't even feel the magic any longer. Sometimes he thinks he's forgotten that quiet frisson across his skin each time he used to hold his wand.
Harry knows he's one of the lucky ones. His wand wasn't snapped or taken from him. His position as MP for the Diagon Diaspora means he can keep it as long as he takes the potion. He rubs his thumb over the hilt and then sets the wand back down beside the photograph he keeps next to the bed.
He touches it lightly, his fingers brushing the laughing face of his son, brown eyes bright under a shock of chestnut hair. Jamie had been nine when Harry'd taken that picture at the Burrow. Ginny stands in the background, her long red hair blowing in the wind.
They'd divorced when James was four. No one thing had ended their marriage. Ron had blamed it on Harry's sexuality, but that was bollocks. Ginny had known when they were dating that Harry liked girls and blokes, and she'd been intrigued. She'd always known that Harry was hers. And he had been. Until he wasn't anymore.
The miscarriage had started it. James had been two, and they hadn't wanted another child, but Ginny had got pregnant. They'd talked about an abortion, but neither of them had really considered it seriously, and before they knew it, it wasn't just a foetus any longer to them.
Ginny had started to show, and they'd told family and friends. Everyone had been thrilled, especially Hermione, who was pregnant too, with her Rose. They'd argued names, late at night, lying in bed curled around each other, and had finally decided on Albus Severus for a boy or Lily for a girl.
And then the unthinkable had happened. He'd got the call from Molly whilst he was at work; by the time he'd arrived at St. Mungo's, Ginny had miscarried. She'd been five months along.
It'd been a boy.
Ginny had withdrawn into herself when he'd brought her home. She had been lost in her grief, as had he.
The months had passed slowly, as if in a fog. When it had finally lifted, Harry hadn't known who he was any longer, and he'd no clue who his wife had become. Neither had Ginny. They had become strangers, sitting across from each other at the dinner table, lying together in bed at night. They had stopped fucking. Stopped talking. Stopped kissing.
And one morning, a few weeks after Jamie's fourth birthday, Ginny had looked at him and said quietly, "I want a divorce, Harry," and he'd just nodded, gone out that night and fucked the first pretty boy he'd come across at a Muggle gay bar, the one in Chelsea he'd found during the six months he and Ginny had broken up after the war.
They'd stayed friends when the divorce was finalised. For Jamie's sake, they'd said at first, but Harry knew that was bollocks. You don't just throw away ten years that easily. He had loved Ginny. He always would, even if that love had changed.
And he adored his son. Jamie had always been everything for Harry. Even when Ginny had moved him to Wales when she'd taken a position again with the Harpies, Harry had made certain he saw James every weekend.
Harry touches his son's cheek. His fingertip slides across the glass covering the photograph, leaving behind a smudge. He hasn't given up on finding James. He won't, whatever Smith says. He can't. If he gives up on Jamie, there's nothing left for him, and that thought terrifies Harry.
The wind rattles the tree branches against the window. Harry switches off the lamp and stretches out on the bed, the photograph still clutched in his hands. Moonlight glints off the silver frame.
It takes a long time for him to fall asleep.
From beneath the shadowed tree, Pansy watches the light go off in Potter's flat. She pulls a mobile from her purse and flips it open. There's one number in the contacts list. She dials it, waiting as it rings with the steady buzz-buzz of BT. She can hear the faint crackle of the warding charm. She'll have to keep the call short enough to keep the wards from being picked up by the Aurors. There's a click on the other line; the ringing stops.
"Yes," a woman says, her voice thick with sleep.
"It's done," Pansy says. "Tell him he can contact me in the usual manner."
She presses the end call button, then flips the phone over. One red-polished fingernail finds the right groove in the plastic, and she pries the back off. Within seconds, she has the SIM card out. She drops it on the pavement and steps on it with her heel, cracking the tiny case into fragments. Stooping down, she sweeps them into her hand and dumps them into a nearby bin. She twists the phone in two pieces, separating the display from the number pad with a sharp crack, and tosses them both in dustbin around the corner, then brushes her hands off.
Her car's parked three doors down--a battered silver Vauxhall Corsa, ten years old now and falling apart. It's not registered in her real name. She tugs the door open, cursing under her breath when it sticks, and slides in, fumbling with her keys. It takes a moment to start the car. Pansy despises driving, but Draco had insisted they all learn after brooms and Apparation became, if not impossible, at least ill-advised.
Pansy's throat tightens and her hands clench the steering wheel. She still misses the fucking bastard. She knows she always will.
With one last glance at Potter's dark window, she drives off, barely stopping for the sign at the end of the street.
iii. 9 October, 2019
The negotiations begin after lunch. Harry nicks an apple from the Members Dining Room, then slips into the committee room Danny's told him to be at. His fellow MPs have already begun to gather; Harry takes the seat next to Rufus with a faint smile and a nod.
Rufus scowls at him. "And how might you have managed to end up here?" he asks under his breath.
Harry just shrugs and pulls out a notepad and some sharpened pencils. "Luck, I suppose." He glances over at Richard Fyfe, the head of the negotiations committee, and smiles broadly. Fyfe raises an eyebrow and tilts his head in greeting. Harry wonders what Danny had to promise to get him here.
It takes a good five minutes for the remainder of the committee to trickle in. Bad timing, scheduling a meeting after lunch, Harry thinks, particularly one with old Saunders, who has the bad habit of snoring when he dozes off.
Fyfe finally slams his gavel against the table in annoyance, and the ten MPs settle in their seats. "Show them in," he says to one of the bailiffs, and the door swings open, admitting the ELA members.
The first two men Harry doesn't recognise. Muggles, he suspects, at least one of them. The other is barely older than Teddy.
And then Hermione steps around the bailiff, her bushy curls twisted back into a loose bun at the nape of her neck, and Harry nearly stops breathing. She's thin--too thin, Harry thinks--and her jaw is sharp and fragile. Dark circles rim her dull eyes, and fine lines edge the corners of her mouth. She wears a loose pair of jeans that hang low on her hips, and an olive military-issue jacket buttoned over them. A gold locket hangs over the collar, nestled against the placket. Harry hasn't ever seen her this worn.
To be honest, he hasn't seen her since Ginny's funeral. That was the last day he'd seen any of the Weasley family. They hadn't been able to forgive him for what had happened to her, and he hadn't blamed them.
Hermione takes a seat, the men flanking her, and she sets her briefcase on the table. Her cool eyes survey the room, barely stopping on him. Harry thinks her breath catches, but he's not certain. For all intents and purposes, she appears not to recognise him.
Fyfe holds out his hand. "Richard Fyfe, MP Bermondsey. I trust your travel was well, Ms…" He trails off. "Terribly sorry, but I don't think I caught your name."
"You may call me Jean." Hermione doesn't take his hand; after a moment Fyfe drops it. "I'm the solicitor for the ELA. These are Ben and Michael." She smooths her fingertips over the worn leather of her briefcase. "We were assured you would follow standard negotiation procedures, including providing safe passage for the three of us."
"Yes." Fyfe leans back in his seat and studies her. "Your safety and freedom is guaranteed throughout the negotiation process. With the understanding that you're unarmed, of course."
"Of course." Hermione nods. "Shall we begin then?" she says quietly, and she opens her briefcase with a click. The bailiffs lean forward, their hands on the guns in their holsters, but Fyfe sends them stepping back with a glare.
Hermione pulls a sheaf of papers from the briefcase. She pushes them across the table to Fyfe. "These are the prisoners your contacts have said you want back. All are still alive, of course. I'm authorised to agree to two." She smiles sweetly, but Harry's all too aware of the steel behind her seeming gentleness. "Your turn."
The MPs shift uncomfortably in their seats.
Harry grins. If nothing else he'll enjoy watching them squirm this afternoon.
Three hours later, and they're no closer to a compromise than they were when they started. The Government wants all six of their prisoners released; the ELA refuse without an even exchange, which Fyfe is completely unwilling to grant. He offers three instead. None of them are Teddy. Harry doesn't miss Hermione's subtle insistence on his godson's inclusion in the number. He meets her request with a nod and that seems reasonable. It earns him a sharp glare from Fyfe, who quickly steps in to undo Harry's concession.
They break at half-four, with an agreement to consult with their higher-ups, then meet again before the weekend. Harry's been in Parliament long enough to know Symes won't budge. Not until the ELA bends and gives the Government whatever it is that it truly wants. Somehow Harry doubts it's the return of men, who are, frankly, disposable in Symes's eyes.
Harry stops Hermione just outside of the negotiation room. The name sounds odd on his tongue, even though he's heard it for the past three hours.
The other MPs shoot him suspicious glares, and Hermione's two backers step closer. Hermione tilts her head.
Whatever she's playing at, he knows she recognises him. She rolls a torn scrap of notepaper between her fingertips nervously.
"Do you have a moment?" Harry doesn't take his eyes off her face. "I'd like to speak to you. In private." He knows by the whispers behind him that this will get back to Downing Street by the time he's out of the building. He can already hear the muted beeps of a mobile being dialed.
Hermione hesitates, then her eyes flick back to the men behind him. "I'm afraid not, sir." She meets his gaze directly. "It wouldn't be wise for my side." She holds out her hand. "Until next time?"
Harry takes her hand reluctantly. Her fingers are warm and soft. The rolled paper against his palm is not.
She pulls her hand away and, with a curt nod, walks away, the fall of her boots echoing against the marble walls. Her minions--they remind Harry remarkably of Crabbe and Goyle, though he knows well enough they're both dead--follow.
Harry feels utterly bereft.
"Bit of a cold bitch, that one," Fyfe says in his ear. He's watching Hermione walk down the hall, his face inscrutable. "We'd best be on our toes there."
Harry manages not to deck him as he turns away. "Yes, we'd best," he mutters.
He stalks off in the opposite direction, back stiff, the tiny, almost imperceptible scrap of paper tucked between his fingers.
iv. 11 October, 2019
Harry smooths the paper out for the hundredth time.
Friday, 3 p.m. 27 Tottenham Court, Camden.
His fingertip traces the loops of Hermione's handwriting. It's half-one, and he's called Morag and told her he's working from home this afternoon. She won't bother him, he knows.
He looks out of the bay window again, pretending to look down the road toward the bus stop. The man's still beneath the tree, newspaper in hand. Harry recognises him. There are only so many MI5 officers, after all, and they've all made the rounds watching him over the years.
"Fuck it," Harry says and he goes to pour a mug of tea. It's getting cool outside.
The man looks up when Harry stops in front of him. He blinks. Harry thrusts the tea towards him.
"Thought you might need a bit of something warm," he says. The man takes it, his hesitation obvious, and Harry smiles brightly at him. "I'll be off now to run a few errands, if you'd like to join me."
A cough, and the man looks sheepish. "Can't really do that, sir."
Harry nods and slips into his denim jacket. "Didn't think so. I'll be off then." He checks his watch. "Back in a couple of hours, if the Tube's on time."
Fists stuffed in his pockets, he bounds down the pavement, a stunned MI5 agent in his wake.
Twenty-seven Tottenham Court is a tiny, narrow second-hand bookshop, sandwiched between a pub and the Odeon Tottenham Cinemas. The Dominion Theatre is across the street; the bills on the stucco walls advertise yet another revival of Cats, to Harry's dismay. That damned musical will be playing the day the world ends, he's absolutely certain.
The pink-haired clerk at the till barely looks up at him as he enters, so lost is she in an Austen novel and whatever music's playing on her earphones. Harry can hear the faint, tinny pounding of drums from them. She reminds him of Tonks, and an ache washes over him. It's been twenty-one years, but he still misses all of them.
Dust motes shine in the afternoon light spilling through the grimy window, and the shop smells musty, old. The worn wooden floorboards creak with each step Harry takes. Next to the periodicals rack, he nearly sends a stack of old NMEs toppling over; the girl just eyes him suspiciously for a moment, then picks her book up again.
Harry runs his fingers over book spines as he wanders through the shelves. He doesn't know what he's looking for, or what to expect. With a backwards glance at the girl, who just snaps her gum and flips to the next page, he turns the corner, only to pull back in shock.
Snape--and it has to be him, despite the short, more salt than pepper hair, and the black cable-knit jumper and Muggle jeans, no one else has a nose like that--lifts one finger to his mouth, shushing Harry. Harry blinks, then nods as Snape motions for him to follow.
They make their way carefully through the back of the shop, avoiding piles of ratty paperback books marked 99p, past a door marked gents and ladies, its white paint peeling off in strips. There's a table in the darkened hallway, next to a coat rack, and an electric kettle's sits on it, steam curling lazily from its spout.
Snape pushes open another door, and then they're outside, standing in a filthy alley that reeks of piss and spoilt food from the dustbin behind the pub.
"What--" Harry begins, but Snape slaps a hand over his mouth. His fingers smell like curry.
"Turn to your left," Snape murmurs in his ear; Harry strains to hear him. "Go to the end of the alley, turn right into the car park. There's a warehouse on the other side. Knock on the door twice. I'll be following. Do not look back. Nod if you understand."
Harry nods, and Snape lowers his hand. Harry walks off, down the alley as ordered, his heart pounding against his chest. He doesn't look behind him; he's not certain there's a reason for the command, or if Snape's just fucking about with his head. Knowing the Government, however, it's best not to take chances.
He jogs across the car park. The warehouse is bland, brick and so very Muggle; it reminds Harry of his Uncle Vernon's factory, but with more broken and boarded up windows. The faded white lettering on the brick reads McCavendish Sockets Ltd. He raps twice against the warped wooden door. After a moment, it opens.
"Dennis?" Harry asks incredulously.
Dennis Creevey peers around Harry, his eyes scanning the car park. He's barely taller than Harry, but his shoulders are wide and the muscles in his arms are well defined. "Get in," he says brusquely, and he holds the door open.
It's only when Harry brushes past him that he sees the gun in Dennis's hand. He stops, staring at it, and Dennis gives him an impatient glare.
"Further in," he snaps. "If a sniper followed you--"
"It's clear," Snape says, and he steps into the warehouse, closing the door behind him. "He wasn't followed."
Dennis nods. "We've cleared the meeting room for you."
Snape looks at Harry. "Come."
Wrapping his arms around his chest, Harry follows him down the long, dark corridor.
Severus leaves Potter alone for ten minutes, sending Creevey for tea and stepping into the adjoining room to watch Potter through a wide charmed mirror Granger's smuggled from Holland and had installed on the plaster wall. The girl's proven herself to be quite resourceful, he thinks, running one hand over the carved mahogany frame.
Potter paces the room, rubbing his palms over his elbows. He ignores the metal chairs lining the walls. When Creevey brings in the tea tray, he whirls around, shoulders tense for a moment. Severus wonders if he's aware that he's just reached for a wand he no longer carries.
Creevey sets the tray on the table near the window. "We've only PG Tips," he says with a shrug, and his voice is muted through the mirror. "Bags, I'm afraid."
Potter runs a hand through his hair. "That's fine." He looks at Creevey. "How'd you get involved in this?"
"How didn't I." Creevey has his back to Harry as he pours steaming water from the kettle into a chipped mug holding a triangular teabag. He sets the kettle down and unwraps a small, cellophaned sponge cake from Tesco's and slides it onto a saucer. "Milk and sugar?"
"Just sugar." Potter sits finally, the chair creaking rustily beneath him. "And that's not an answer."
Creevey hands the saucer and cake to Potter, who sets it aside. He sloshes the teabag about with a spoon for a bit, then lifts it out and drops it back on the tray. "I didn't have a choice, really." He tips a spoonful of sugar into the mug and stirs before passing it to Potter. "The SSF came after my parents," he says quietly. "Took them both away for questioning and they never came back."
"Your parents were Muggles," Potter protests. He wraps his hands around the mug of tea, watching the steam drift up from it.
"And you think that made any difference?" Creevey shakes his head. "They had two wizard sons. That was enough to make them suspect."
Potter runs his thumb over the rim of the mug. "I'm sorry."
Creevey looks at him evenly. "I don't like this Government. I want it gone. And I'll do whatever I have to in order for that to happen."
"How long are you going to leave him in there with Dennis?" Granger asks from behind Severus.
He looks back at her. She's leaning against the doorjamb, her arms crossed over her white t-shirt. Her hair hangs loose; she pushes it back behind one ear. He wonders how long her eyes have looked so dull and empty. This life has taken its toll on all of them.
"Just long enough for Creevey to make his point." Severus tugs at the cuffs of his jumper, pulling them down over his bony wrists. They live like scavengers now, stealing tinned beans and tuna flakes from bins behind markets to supplement what little fresh food they can purchase. Their clothes are cast-offs, nicked from Muggle houses and laundry services or bought secondhand in charity shops. Most of the money they make at odd jobs here and there, or through funding from sympathetic wizards and witches outside of England, goes back into the organisation. Weapons and artefacts aren't inexpensive, after all.
"Go speak with him, Severus," Granger says, and she pushes herself off the doorjamb. She walks up next to him, staring into the mirror at Potter. She blinks quickly. "Just do it." Her voice catches.
"You know what we're asking of him," he murmurs, watching her.
She nods, her mouth set. "It's nothing more than we ask of ourselves."
Severus glances back at Potter through the mirror. "You're sure he'll agree."
"I hope he will," Granger whispers. Her fingers press against the small gold locket she always wears.
"Stay here." Severus steps away from the mirror, leaving her standing next to it, watching the other room as she twists the locket's chain between her fingertips.
Potter's still staring into his cup when he opens the door. Severus nods at Creevey. "Fifteen minutes."
Creevey walks out, closing the door behind him. Severus takes a chair opposite Potter. He says nothing, just watches him.
After a moment, Potter sighs. "Is there a potion in this tea?" he asks, not looking up.
"No." Severus leans forward, his elbows on his knees, his hands hanging between his spread thighs. "Would you like there to be?"
Potter snorts. "No." He lifts the mug to his mouth and takes a long drink. "What is it you want from me?" he asks over the rim. He sounds tired. Weary. Severus doesn't speak for a moment. Potter finally looks at him. "Well?" he demands. "I told Parkinson I'd help with the negotiations--"
Severus holds up his hand; Potter falls silent. "The Government tried to oust you from your seat a year ago," Severus says, his eyes fixed on Potter's face. "You fought them. Why?"
"Because we needed some sort of representation, didn't we?" Potter lifts his chin. His mouth turns down as he glares at Severus. "Whatever your lot might think, it'd be worse if someone wasn't in there from our side."
Severus tips his head, granting Potter the point. "You've little power."
"I've enough," Potter says stubbornly.
"You're nothing more than an annoying insect to them." Severus reaches for the kettle and pours a cup. He glares at the teabag. He'd prefer a proper cuppa, but as Granger rightly points out, the bags are cheaper and far more convenient. He sighs.
Potter watches him, his shoulders hunched forward. "At least I'm annoying."
Severus raises one eyebrow. "Your words," he murmurs, and he lifts his teabag from the mug. No milk or sugar for him; instead he slips a flask from his jeans pocket and pours a finger of whisky into the steaming tea. He doesn't offer the flask to Potter before he tucks it away again.
They're silent for a moment, then Potter sighs. "I do what I can," he says. "I know it's not much, and I know what the wizarding world thinks of me now." He takes a sip of tea, grimacing slightly. "Let them." He doesn't bother to hide his bitterness.
"Do you want him gone?" Severus asks. He blows across his tea, rippling the surface.
Severus gives Potter a baleful look. He's many things, Severus thinks, but stupid is no longer one of them.
Potter's fingers tighten on his mug, then he sets it aside and stands. He walks over to the window and stares out at the abandoned rail tracks, his hands in his pockets. "Don't we all?"
"There are those who would rather not challenge the status quo."
Potter rocks forward on the balls of his feet. His breath fogs the windowpane in front of him. "I'd just rather everything go back the way it was." He turns and leans against the windowsill. Severus can see the smudges on his glasses in the fading sunlight. In a few weeks, it will be dark at this hour.
"They destroyed all of our Time-Turners," Severus says with a wry twist of his mouth. "No chance of that possibility."
A soft laugh, and Potter shakes his head. His fringe falls forward, hanging into his eyes. "Damn."
Severus stands then and moves towards him, cautiously, carefully. "There's only one way to end this, you realise." He keeps his voice soft.
Potter just eyes him. He's tense still; Severus can see it in the stiff way he holds his shoulders. "How?" he asks after a moment, almost as if he's afraid of the answer.
"The same way we rid ourselves of Voldemort." Severus stops just shy of Potter. He reaches out slowly, almost without thinking, his fingers brushing Potter's fringe from his forehead.
"No." Potter shudders when Severus's thumb rubs across the faint zigzag of scar tissue. He jerks away, turning back to the window, his arms wrapped around his chest, his breath laboured.
Severus can still feel the warmth of Potter's skin against his fingertips. They tingle faintly, and he clenches his fist. "It's the only way," he says after a moment. "Symes won't leave office. Parliament's either too far under his thumb, or too bloody terrified of the SSF to force him out--and if they did, there'd be one of his bloody handpicked lieutenants waiting in the wings. We have to end this. We have to make a point."
Potter rubs his thumbnail across the windowpane, scraping grime from the glass. "You're talking about cold-blooded murder." He swallows and presses his lips together in a thin line.
"I'm talking about overthrowing the Government," Severus counters. He leans against the other side of the windowsill, watching Potter. "There's a long and noble tradition of it across history, nations desperate enough to rid themselves of a cruel leader by arranging his untimely demise. Sometimes it's even for the best."
"It's a man's life." Potter glares at him. "He has a wife. Children--"
Severus cuts him off. "And it's not an action we're considering lightly."
They're silent for a moment, the only sound in the room Potter's breath. He leans his head against the dirty glass. "And what makes you think it won't be the same as if Parliament sent him packing? You don't think he's a successor he's grooming?" Potter laughs bitterly. "There's probably twenty of them who'd jump at the chance."
"We could make use of the resulting chaos," Severus says. He folds his arms across his chest. The cabled wool of his jumper is rough against his palms. "There wouldn't be time for anyone to have prepared." He smiles grimly. "Not entirely like the fall of the Death Eaters. We've been here before, Potter. All we need is to cut off the beast's head and let it bleed to death."
Potter leans back against the windowsill and looks at him. "You're mad."
Severus nods. "Perhaps."
"Jesus Christ." Potter runs his hands over his face, pushing his glasses up on his forehead before they fall back. "Why are you telling me this?"
"Because we need you." Severus gives him an even look. "As much as I'm loathe to admit that fact."
"Whatever for?" Potter nearly shouts at him. "I've no magic now--what the hell do you expect me to do?"
Severus's jaw tightens. Honestly, the idiot might use his intelligence for once. Severus was damned certain he wasn't as foolish as he acted. Lily had been his mother, for God's sake. Surely some of her common sense must have overcome the inbred loutishness of her husband's weak genetic code. "You are a member of the Government, Potter."
Oh, Circe's tits. Lily would be horrified by her spawn's stupidity. "Do you truly go out of your way to be this impossibly ignorant? Think."
Potter glowers at him. "Fuck off." He pushes away from the windowsill; Severus grabs his arm, stopping him.
"You have access to Symes that we don't," Severus snaps, and he enjoys the look on Potter's face as it all clicks into place.
Potter jerks his arm away. "I'm not killing anyone for you," he spits out. "I already did that for Dumbledore--"
"You did it to keep a megalomaniac from destroying our world."
Potter's face flushes, and he shoves at Severus. "Do you know what it was like--"
"Yes, as a matter of fact." Severus pushes Potter back, stepping forward into his space until Potter's back hits the wall. Albus's face as he fell from the Astronomy Tower--Severus still sees it in his dreams. Every bloody night. He leans forward, his face inches from Potter's. The bastard takes a ragged breath. Severus bares his teeth. "I rather think I do."
The door creaks open. Severus just stares at Potter. "We're not done, Creevey," he says without turning around. Potter's eyelashes flutter behind his glasses, ridiculously thick and black. Severus wonders when he stopped think of Potter's eyes as Lily's.
"You said," Creevey begins, and Severus pulls his wand from his jeans pocket and points it back behind him.
"Get out." A flick of his wand and the door slams shut.
Potter inhales sharply, his body shaking, and Severus smiles.
"None of us take that sodding potion," he murmurs, studying Potter's pale face. He holds his wand up, rolling it between his fingers.
"How…" Potter licks his bottom lip. His eyes flick to Severus's wand, and Severus sees the naked need there. "How do you keep them from tracking the magic?"
Severus steps back. He slides his wand back into his pocket. "We're careful. This warehouse was built on Unplottable ground; it's why we chose it. It didn't take much work to rework the charms and add a Fidelius. And Granger's found other ways of hiding magical signatures to prevent them from being tracked to here."
"And outside?" Potter rubs the back of his neck. His cheeks are pink. "Bit harder to work masking charms in an open area. The Auror tracing charms are too good." He snorts. "I should know; I helped develop them."
"We rarely use direct magic outside of headquarters." Severus sits again, crossing his ankle over his knee. "Charmed objects perhaps. But only when necessary." He shrugs. "For that matter, we rarely use magic in here out of fear of overwhelming Granger's fail-safes."
Potter frowns. "Then what was that display for?"
Severus rubs his fingertips over his denim-clad thigh. "To make a point."
"You're a bastard," Potter says after a moment.
"Yes." Severus looks up at him. "And you miss magic."
Potter drops into the chair next to him. It creaks as he slumps down, his knees spreading. "Being in a place where I can make a difference is more important."
A cloud drifts past the sun, darkening the window. It's nearly dusk, and the light's taken on a faint pink-orange glow.
"Are you making a difference?" Severus asks quietly.
Potter closes his eyes and leans his head against the wall. "I don't know." He pinches the bridge of his nose. "I'm not interested in killing anyone. So you should probably find a different idiot."
They fall silent. Potter opens his eyes finally and looks at Severus. "I mean that. I'm not doing it." He twists his fingers in the hem of his jacket. "Don't ask me to."
Severus nods. He hadn't thought it would be easy to convince Potter. He looks at the wall where the mirror hangs in the other room. Granger will still be watching. Pity. She won't like this.
"I should turn you all in," Potter says, and he sits up, his elbows on his knees.
"You won't." Severus reaches into his pocket and pulls out an envelope. He tosses it to Potter who catches it easily. He still hasn't lost his Seeker skills. "You can't."
Potter opens the envelope and pulls out the photograph inside. His breath catches. "You--This--" He stares at Severus, and the photograph trembles in his hand.
"Is your son, yes." Severus meets Potter's stunned gaze. He'd rather not have done this. It's distasteful. Still, one uses what resources one has. "Young James is fourteen now, isn't he?"
He finds himself on the floor, Potter's knee on his hip and elbow at his throat, his own wand digging into the soft flesh beneath his jaw. "I may not have magic," Potter says tightly, "but I can shove this fucking bit of wood through your oesophagus right now, and trust me when I say I won't blink an eye."
"And yet you won't kill Symes?" Severus quirks an eyebrow. "Hypocrite."
Spittle hits his cheek. Enough. Severus twists beneath Potter, jerking his wand away before he shoves Potter back. The fool's head hits the concrete floor with a sharp crack that makes Potter moan.. Severus leans over him, his fingernails digging into Potter's jaw, his other hand tight around Potter's wrists. "You listen to me, you fucking little shit." Potter blinks up at him "You will do exactly what we want, do you understand me? Because if I want, I can have your brat killed." He smiles thinly at Potter. "And trust me when I say I won't blink an eye." He pulls back slowly, his wand fixed on Potter, and stands. "Now, get up."
Potter pushes himself up, rubbing his jaw. Severus can already see the reddish-purple marks from his fingers on Potter's skin. "Fuck you," Potter says, and he doesn't look at Severus.
"We'll be in contact." Severus strides to the door, his eye still on Potter. He knocks sharply, and Creevey enters. "Send Potter home."
Creevey nods and reaches for Potter. Potter knocks his hand away. "I can see myself out."
Severus Summons the photograph of James. He looks down at the boy's sober face, then back up at his father. "For you," he says, and he hands the photograph to Potter.
Potter grips it tightly, his face unreadable.
"Remember what I said," Severus murmurs. "One wrong move and your son pays."
Potter doesn't look back as he walks out of the room, his shoulders tense. Creevey follows, with a curious glance at Severus.
With a sigh, Severus sits, leaning forward, his head in his hands. His stomach burns. He's tired beyond comprehension. He doesn't think he remembers what it was like to be anything else.
It only takes a moment for Granger to come storming in.
"Have you lost your mind?" she asks, stopping in front of him. "Was that really necessary?"
Severus shrugs. He sits back and rubs his palms over his face. "Possibly."
"It was cruel."
"And yet effective." Severus stands. His hip aches from hitting the floor. He's an old man now, he thinks with a snort. Sixty in January. He's no idea where the years have gone.
"You know, sometimes, Severus," Granger says, "I really can't believe you."
"Neither can I." Severus stops at the door and looks back at her. "Keep your tongue and let me do my damned job, Granger." He ignores her annoyed huff. "You should be more concerned about how you're going to convince those fools in Parliament to release Finnegan and Babcock. We need them back in the field--no one comprehends explosive charms like Malcolm."
He closes the door behind him with a sharp snick.
Harry paces the plaza outside Portcullis House, the photograph of his son clutched tight in his fist, a Dunhill in his other hand. It's his third in the past hour.
The plaza's dark, lit only by a few scattered street lamps. Most MPs and their staff have gone home by now. Only a few office windows still glow palely against the night shadows.
He hasn't stopped shaking since he walked out of the warehouse. An elderly woman had touched his arm on the Tube, asking him worriedly if he was quite all right. She probably thought he was high, he supposes. He doesn't care.
James is alive. The realisation is a rush of relief, followed by a wave of nausea at the memory of Snape's face over his, twisted and bitter as he threatened Harry's son.
Harry slumps against a planter. He doesn't think Snape would hurt James. He's not certain ,though. The ELA's desperate, that much he knows. They'd have to be.
He touches the photograph, stroking his fingertip over his son's nose. It's Muggle and torn along one edge, as if ripped in two. Harry can make out another shoulder next to James's, and he wonders who it belongs to.
James is still thin and wiry, even after four years. His hair's darkened, just slightly, and there's a reddish tint to it. His eyes are Ginny's, dark and bright, and his mouth is Harry's. Chin as well, angled and softly rounded all at once. Harry's throat tightens. He blinks quickly against the sudden burn in his eyes.
"Harry." Zacharias walks towards him, his black robe billowing out behind him, merging with the shadows. He doesn't look best pleased. "I got your message. What couldn't wait until Monday?"
"Don't be a tit. You're always working." Harry holds the photograph out. "It's James."
Zacharias takes it from him, peering down at it. His blond hair falls over his eyes. "You're certain." At Harry's nod, he frowns and leans on the planter next to him. "How'd you get it?"
Harry wants to tell him everything. He can't. Instead, he takes another drag off his cigarette, his hand still unsteady. "It was sent to me." Before Zacharias can ask, he adds, "I didn't keep the envelope."
"Right." Zacharias doesn't look as if he believes him, but he lets it pass. "And you're positive it's James."
"I think I'd know my own son," Harry snaps.
Zacharias's eyes soften. "You'd be surprised." He looks back down at the photograph.
"The ELA has him," Harry blurts out. He presses his cigarette to his mouth, watching a pigeon hop along the pavement, pecking at a discarded scrap of bread.
"I see." Zacharias glances at him. "You know this because…."
Harry exhales a puff of smoke and drops his hand. He rubs his elbow with his thumb. "I just do." He swallows past the acrid lump in his throat. "I want him back."
Zacharias doesn't say anything for a moment, then he nods. "I'll see what I can do."
"Don't thank me yet," Zacharias says. "I'll need to keep the photograph."
No, Harry wants to say. It's his only link to James. Alive. He needs it, he wants to cry out. Instead, he just lifts his cigarette again. "All right."
"We'll find him, Harry." Zacharias bumps his shoulder. "I promise. Go home. Rest. Merli--" He catches himself with a frown as he steps away, sliding the photograph into his pocket. "God knows you look like you need it."
Harry nods. "Zacharias," he says, and Zacharias turns around, eyebrow raised. Harry licks his bottom lip, twisting his cigarette between his fingers. "I want into Nemworth to see Teddy. Arrange it for me."
"I don't think that's--"
"Just do it." A breeze swirls the dead leaves at their feet, and Harry pulls his jacket tighter around him. "For old times."
Zacharias hesitates, then sighs. "I'll ring you." His boots thud softly against the pavement as he leaves, and Harry stands alone beneath a dim street lamp, staring into the darkness.
"For old times," he whispers, and he drops his cigarette, grinding it beneath the heel of his trainer.
He heads for the Tube.
The photograph lands on the Prime Minister's desk face-up. Edwin Symes raises one eyebrow and sits back down, his jacket still in hand. It's quarter til midnight and Charlotte will be annoyed he hasn't come upstairs yet. Bad enough that he missed dinner. His wife despises that. Family time is sacred to her.
She thinks running a damn country is only a bloody inconvenience.
"This is what was urgent, Thom?"
Thom Rufus sits across from him, in one of the more comfortable leather chairs they'd retrieved from Prince Phillip's study after the unfortunate incident with the Royals. Edwin regrets that, truly. He'd nothing but the greatest respect for the family and had been raised to be a proper defender of the monarchy. But they'd got in the way in the end, hadn't they, the Queen with her disapproval of all of the Coalition's grand plans, and her son with his whipping a certain faction of the public up in a most inappropriate manner, calling for Edwin's own resignation, as if that were even possible. His country needed him, not Charles, or his arrogant, prattish boys.
They'd done what was necessary at Sandringham; the generals had agreed with him. Pity about Beatrice ,though. Ah well. Sooner or later, the little slag would make her move, expecting a triumphant return to her homeland. They'd be waiting for her.
Thom coughs softly. "This came through MI5," he says, in that careful Eton accent of his. "Potter's son, according to my contacts."
Edwin frowns down at the boy's face. "And?"
"He seems to be claiming the English Liberation Faction has him." Thom steeples his fingers and presses them to his mouth. "Interesting, as he's been seen recently by our operatives in contact with one of them. A woman. By the name of Parkinson. We've CCTV footage of them both entering and leaving the same café a few days ago. Not together, of course. Neither's that foolish. Still, the MP for the Diagon Diaspora in the same building with a known ELF operative?" Thom raises his eyebrow. "Most interesting, yes?"
"Ah." Edwin holds the photograph up to the light. The boy's only a little older than his own Winston. "You think he's working with them?"
The leather chair creaks as Thom leans forward. "Perhaps. It would be curious if he were, given the fact he approached MI5 regarding young James here. However, he did go out of his way to force himself onto the negotiation committee, and I think it best for us to be prepared for any circumstance, wouldn't you agree?"
Edwin swivels his chair back and forth, thinking. He'd never trusted Potter. He saw no reason to start now. "You've surveillance on him already?"
"Continue." Edwin drops the photograph back onto his desk blotter. "Increase it, if you wish."
Thom nods. "Excellent decision." He stands, smoothing his trousers as he does. "I'll keep you informed, of course."
"Of course." Edwin pushes his chair back. "And Thom?"
Thom raises an eyebrow.
"As long as we're on the subject," Edwin says, standing as well and sliding his jacket on, "any further news on the Nemworth experiments?"
"We're still conducting them." Thom opens the door for Edwin and follows him into the empty anteroom. Alice packed up hours ago, after making certain Edwin's dinner had arrived to his satisfaction. Thom stops next to the ficus. "A few more days and we'll have a full report, of course, from the medical staff."
Edwin claps him on the shoulder. "Excellent, excellent. I'll expect it then." The security guard holds the door for them. "I'll see you at church on Sunday, of course."
Thom bows slightly. "As you wish, Prime Minister. Certainly."
Edwin takes the stairs two at a time. The evening's looking better, he thinks. Indeed. Quite a bit better.
He wonders if Charlotte's too angry to have left any trifle for him in the fridge.
v. 13 October, 2019
It's Sunday before Harry goes to Nemworth.
A Government sedan picks him up, its windows tinted black. The driver says nothing, merely opens the back door for him, and Harry slides in, settling himself on the leather seat silently.
They take the A1 up to Bedfordshire. Harry tries to work, pulling folders from his satchel and flipping aimlessly through them. After half an hour, he gives up and spends the next fifty minutes staring out the window at the passing trees and fields, lost in thoughts he'd rather not have.
When they finally pull up to the barbed wire gates of Chicksands, its boxy white guard tower looming twenty feet over the car, he's desperate to get out, to walk, to clear his head in any way he can. Instead, the guard waves them through, and they take a winding, narrow road to the old priory, once a part of the Gilbertine Order of monks, hundreds of years ago. For the past twenty-two years, it's been part of the Army's Defence Intelligence and Security Centre.
The car wheels crunch on the crushed shell driveway, past the riverstone wall. Harry'd come here once, years ago, before the Coalition came into full power. They gave tours then, by appointment on Sundays, and he and Ginny had taken James one spring afternoon. They'd been divorced a year, and Ginny had brought the bloke she'd been seeing.
Harry'd chatted him up when she went running after James, just to see if he could. He'd got nothing but a split lip in return, and Ginny'd been furious with him for being such a shit. He hadn't blamed her.
They hadn't spoken for two months, not even when Harry came by to pick up James. Ginny'd made sure that someone else was there--Ron, or her parents, or Hermione.
The car stops, and Harry blinks at the blaze of sunlight when the door opens. He grabs his satchel and steps out, smoothing his suit jacket.
A uniformed man, tall and broad and wearing a cypress green beret, hurries towards him. "Mr. Potter," he says, holding his hand out. Harry takes it. The man's grip is firm. "Lieutenant Colonel Ayers."
Ayers ushers him into the building where a second lieutenant is waiting. Harry hands over his satchel to be searched, then waits patiently as they pat him down and wave a ridiculously large metal detector over him.
"Sir," the second lieutenant says politely, and Harry turns as requested. He's surprised to find himself face-to-face with a wand. The second lieutenant doesn't blink.
"You're a wizard," Harry says. He doesn't really know why he's so surprised. Not every witch and wizard hates the Government. Look at Zacharias, after all.
The second lieutenant runs the wand across Harry's arms. "Was." His eyes flick up to Harry's forehead, then back down as he stoops to slide the wand tip down Harry's leg. "Now I just watch them."
"What's your name?" Harry murmurs.
"Second Lieutenant Owen Cauldwell, sir." Cauldwell looks up at him, eyes dark. "I was Hufflepuff, though you won't remember me, I'm sure. I was a few years behind you."
Harry just stares at him. "You were friends with Dennis Creevey."
Cauldwell's thin mouth twists down. "A very long time ago, sir." He stands and nods at Ayers. "He's clean."
Ayers motions for Harry to follow him. He doesn't look back. Harry reaches for his satchel, but Cauldwell pulls it away.
"We'll keep it here for you," Cauldwell says, setting it behind the security desk. Harry hesitates, then starts after Ayers.
His boots echo in the empty hall. Harry glances over at him. The lieutenant colonel's face is impassive, his jaw lifted. "How many wizards are here?" Harry asks.
"We've 115 prisoners at the moment." Ayers doesn't look at him. He stops in front of a heavy gunmetal grey door, swipes an access card, then punches in a code. The door slides open slowly.
"That's not what I meant." Harry steps through the door after him. Ayers punches in another code and the door starts to close again. "Your second lieutenant. He's a wizard."
"He takes a modified dose of the suppressant." Ayers starts down the hall. The flickering lights above are fluorescent white-blue, draining the stone walls of any warmth.
Harry has to walk quickly to keep up. "To keep him controllable whilst still allowing him to control the others."
Ayers nods. "It's Army policy. We need your kind to work against terrorist groups such as the ELF." He nearly spits the name. "Our officers understand their position. We take great care to make sure they're properly compensated."
"I can imagine," Harry says under his breath. They turn a corner and walk down a flight of stone steps. If it weren't for the Muggle lights, Harry'd almost believe he was back in the bowels of Hogwarts again.
The thought makes his chest ache.
Ayers leads him through another door, with another routine of card swipe and code punching. The air's thicker now, and Harry finds it hard to breathe at moments. Ayers seems to have no difficulty. He looks over as Harry coughs, his hand pressed to his throat.
"Apologies," Ayers says, though he doesn't sound particularly upset. "We augment the air down here. Our medical staff says the additives help control the prisoners. It doesn't affect us, of course, as our genetic code differs."
Harry swallows and nods. It feels like he's having an attack of allergies. "I suppose you keep the prisoners on the full suppressant as well."
"Some." Ayers stops at a chain-link gate and passes his ID card to the guard on the other side. "It depends on what the physicians recommend."
Bastard, Harry thinks, but he just smiles thinly.
They're ushered through; the guard looks at Harry curiously.
"MP," Ayers explains to him, and the guard nods. He hands Harry a sign-in sheet and a felt-tip pen. Harry scrawls his name on the next open line, and as he crosses the ts in his last name, he sees Thom Rufus written neatly two lines ahead of his. He glances at the date. The eleventh of October. Harry's hands barely shake as he passes the pen and clipboard back to the guard.
They walk down a long sloping corridor lined with heavy metal doors set into the blocks of stone. Harry can hear shouts faintly, anguished screams that unsettle him with each step he takes further into the unit. He tries to block them out as best he can.
Nemworth Interrogation Unit is run jointly by the security services--both MI5 and MI6--and the Force Research Unit of the Army Intelligence Corps.
It's not a place one wishes to stay in for very long.
Teddy's being held in a large, empty room that's split in half by chain link fencing bolted to the walls and the ceiling and the floor. He sits on a metal chair behind the fence, slumped as if it's too much effort to hold his body up. His clothes have been replaced with loose knit trousers and a t-shirt, both standard-issue grey.
His feet are bare; his hair a drab mousy brown save for one faint streak of turquoise hidden beneath a filthy snarl of tangles.
Harry's heart twists.
"You've fifteen minutes," Ayers says, not unkindly, and he steps out of the room, leaving the door open. Harry knows they're being recorded somehow.
He steps up to the fencing. "Teddy," he says softly, and when Teddy raises his head, Harry catches his breath.
His godson's face is bruised and swollen. The blood's been cleaned away, but the cuts on his face are scabbed over. Teddy swallows once, twice, and he blinks, wincing. "Harry?" His voice is thick, muffled.
"What the hell have they done to you?" Harry's throat is tight. His fingers curl around the chain links; the metal bites into his skin.
Teddy stands up slowly, and he shuffles to the fencing. "Beat the shit out of me for starters," he says. He sways slightly before he steadies himself against the fence. "Could be worse. At least it's not Azkaban."
He reeks of piss and sweat and blood. Harry nearly gags at the stench. Instead, he breathes in slowly, through his mouth. "They've not let you shower."
"No." Teddy leans his forehead against the fence. "Sometimes they let me sleep." His bruised fingertips brush Harry's knuckles. "I don't know how long I've been here," he says quietly.
"A week." Harry wants to hit someone. Something. "I'm trying to get you out. If I can."
Teddy nods. "Victoire," he says, then he stops and glances away. Harry can see his mouth tremble before Teddy pulls himself together and looks back at him. "They killed her. In front of me. In the raid…" He trails off, staring blankly at Harry's shoulder. "There was so much blood."
Harry touches Teddy's fingers. "I'm sorry."
It takes a moment for Teddy to realise he's said anything. He jerks his hand back. "Why do you care?" His swollen, cut mouth twists painfully to one side. "We're just terrorists to you too--"
"That's not true." Harry meets Teddy's too-bright eyes. The only sounds in the room are their uneven breaths and the steady drip of water from one of the pipes running along the ceiling.
Teddy looks away.
"Why?" Harry asks after a moment. "Why'd you join them?"
"Because I had to do something," Teddy says dully. "My Mum and Dad died to protect our world. I couldn't just sit there and let you and your lot make us second-class, could I?"
His words sting. Harry steps back and runs his hands through his hair, clasping them on the back of his neck. "There are right ways to change things," he says at last. "And wrong--"
"Is that what you said about Voldemort?" Teddy spits out. "Let the Ministry change him, no need to stand up against the Death Eaters? No need to fight for what you know is right?"
Harry drops his hands. "Teddy."
"Don't." Teddy shakes his head. "Please. Victoire's dead. I don't need you to tell me that's our own fault."
Harry just looks at him. He doesn't know what to say. Doesn't know what to think.
"They've Dementors," Teddy says finally. He rubs his thumb against the metal fencing. "I suppose from Azkaban or something."
Harry's blood chills. "Dementors."
Teddy nods. "They use them against us some. They're always controlled by the wizards." He glances up at Harry. "It's hard not to fight their tests on this potion. It makes your brain slow and fuzzy after you take it."
"What tests?" Harry steps closer to the fencing. He lowers his voice. "What are they doing to you?"
Teddy's eyes flick over Harry's shoulder at the sound of footsteps. "Nothing," he says, and Harry knows he's lying.
"Medical tests, they say," Teddy says under his breath, hurriedly. "Worse than Unforgiveables--" He breaks off as a hand comes down on Harry's shoulder.
Ayers looks at them both, his face shuttered. "Time's up."
Harry knows damn well it hasn't been ten minutes, much less his promised quarter-hour. He looks back at Teddy. His godson's pulled away, mouth tight. He's scared, Harry can tell. "I want him to get a shower," Harry says as he steps back from Ayers. "Or I raise this issue on Wednesday in the Prime Minister's Questions."
Ayers doesn't blink. He looks back and forth between Harry and Teddy, then nods. "I'll arrange for it."
Before the door closes, Harry looks back at Teddy. His godson raises one hand. Scratched in his palm is a ragged, red V.
Harry's still in the car, staring pensively out at the rainy London pavement as it rolls past, when his mobile rings. It's a number he doesn't recognise.
"Potter," he says, with a hesitant glance at the driver. He can see the man's eyes shift in the mirror briefly before he turns his attention back to the road.
"Where are you?" Danny sounds tense.
Harry turns in his seat, pressing his shoulder against the back. "In the car. We're just through East Finchley now. What is it?"
"Don't say anything." Danny hesitates. Harry can hear the rumble of traffic in the background. "The driver might be listening. I'm on a mobile they can't trace--for now at least, but I have to be brief. Wouldn't want GCHQ picking this out of the airwaves."
"Right." Harry casts another glance towards the front seat. The Government Communications Headquarters were well known for scanning the mobile transmissions for what they termed 'chatter'. "Okay."
"There are questions being asked," Danny says quickly. "About you, by people it's best not to have inquiring around. Trust me on this, Harry. You need to be careful. Don't give them anything to use against you. Understand?"
Harry shifts. His seatbelt cuts into his hip. "Yes. Although, I'm still trying to understand why you care--"
The line goes dead.
Harry frowns and drops his mobile back into his satchel.
Rain pours down the window, blurring the street into grey.
Hermione eyes the slick black iron fire escape stairs on the back of the building hesitantly. She's too short to leap up and grab the dangling ladder, and she doesn't dare use magic. Not here.
The rain pours down, seeping through her hooded jacket and jeans. Fuck it. She almost turns away, certain she's mad to even be here after dark, but a shadow moving across the blinds on the second storey stops her.
It takes a few moments for her to crawl up the oak in the back garden. The branches don't reach to the stairs, but they hang over the wall enough to let her drop down onto it and slide her way carefully to the iron stairs. Fingers slipping on the wet metal, she hefts herself over, landing on her arse with a wince and a clang. She stills.
The rain covers the sound.
Hermione climbs two flights, her trainers sliding across the narrow rungs of the steps. She stops next to the wide window at the back of the flat. Light pools through it, and she peers around the windowsill carefully.
Harry's alone, sitting on his sofa with papers spread about him, over the floor, the cushions. There's a fire burning in the small iron grate, and EastEnders is on the telly. She hesitates, then knocks sharply against the glass.
Papers go flying as Harry jumps up. He's wearing a Tottenham Hotspurs t-shirt and baggy khaki shorts. Hermione supposes she should be grateful he's dressed at all at this hour.
He pushes open the window. "What are you--"
She covers his mouth with one hand and climbs through, dripping water on the parquet floor. Harry closes the window behind her. "You could have used the front door," he whispers.
Hermione presses her finger to her lips, lowers her hood. Her hair's soaked; loose tendrils form tight ringlets that hang in her face. "Borrow a towel?" she mouths, miming drying herself off.
She follows Harry to the bath. He rummages in a linen closet, then pulls out a threadbare towel. "Sorry. Haven't done laundry yet."
"It'll do." Hermione dries her hands and face and presses it to her hair before dropping it on the counter. She turns on the shower and the sink and sits on the toilet, looking up at Harry. "As for the front door, I didn't particularly want the spook down front to catch me."
Harry closes the bath door and leans against it. "They've wired my flat then."
"Most likely." They keep their voices low. Water squishes between Hermione's toes as she flexes them in her sodden shoe. "I shouldn't be here."
"Why are you?" The look Harry gives her is almost venomous. She's not entirely certain she blames him.
She tears off a square of loo paper and scrunches it between her fingers. A raindrop slides off her hair, splattering against the white folds. "I had to explain. About Jamie…"
Hermione looks up at him. "It's not what you think, Harry. Severus… Christ, he can be such an arsehole at times. He wanted you to believe…" She sighs and pushes her wet hair back. "He thought you'd be more likely to help if you felt Jamie to be in danger. Which he's not."
"Just say it, Hermione." Harry steps away from the door, leans on the sink, staring down at it for a moment before he glances at her. "Do you or don't you know where my son is?"
"Yes, and no." Hermione licks her lip, flinching at the anger that crosses Harry's face. She holds up her hand. "Let me explain--"
"Explain what?" Harry's voice rises. "Give me one bloody good reason why I shouldn't walk out there right now and tell that sodding MI5 officer to throw you into Nemworth--"
"You wouldn't do that." Hermione doesn't let the fear in her voice show. She's not sure she knows this Harry, no more than he knows her now.
Harry runs his hands over his face, covers his mouth with them. He breathes out. "Where is he?"
"I don't know exactly." Hermione throws the loo paper in the bin. She rests her elbows on her thighs and stares down at the black cotton rug on the tiled floor. She rubs the toe of her trainer along the edge. "But he's safe, Harry."
"That's not helping me." Harry sits on the floor, his knees pulled to his chest. "It's been four years, Hermione. MI5 keeps telling me to give up, that you lot have killed him. And now you're telling me he's alive and safe but no one's wanted to send him back? What the hell is he, your prisoner?"
Hermione looks up at him. "No." She takes a deep breath, thinking of Rose and Hugo and how she'd feel if she'd spent four years searching for them. At least she knows they're safe in Wales, with Molly and Arthur during holidays and at Hogwarts during term. "Severus will never forgive me for this."
"Snape can fuck off for all I care," Harry snaps. "Tell me."
The desperate look in his eyes is Hermione's undoing. She touches his face gently. "Do you know who killed Ginny?" When Harry shakes his head, she drops her hand. "You have to understand how it was. Once the wizarding registration began in 2015, once they executed the Minister… Christ, Harry, there were so many different factions fighting the Government--and each other. That's why the ELA's so important. We stopped the rogue groups. We organised. We made it unacceptable to do the sort of thing that happened to Ginny."
She stands up, her arms crossed over her chest, and she leans against the wall. "And we couldn't count on you. You were busy fighting Symes on the Parliamentary level."
"They were trying to rescind my seat," Harry says blankly. He rubs his thumb over his kneecap. "I was afraid if we didn't have representation in the Government, everything would go to shit even worse--"
"And you were right. Then." Hermione smoothes her hair back behind her ears. A tendril slides forward again immediately. "But there were wizards who didn't like that. They didn't want anything to do with the Muggles, and they thought we'd made an awful mistake in trying to work with them this much."
"Among other purebloods, yes." Hermione kneels next to Harry. "Lucius Malfoy headed one of the factions."
Harry breathes in sharply. He doesn't speak.
"From what we understand, through Draco--don't look that way, Harry, he was working for us, not his father, and I have absolutely no doubt of that." Hermione picks up Harry's hand, weaving her fingers through his. "Draco said Lucius wanted to destroy you, to take away your life the way you'd taken his."
Harry's hand trembles slightly. "Melodramatic fucker, eh?"
Hermione gives him a small smile and she squeezes his hand. "Quite."
"So he killed Ginny and left the Mark." Harry bites his lip. "And James?"
"Took him." Hermione sits next to Harry, her back against the linen closet. She doesn't let go of his hand. "Draco found out.They argued over it. As much as Draco hated you, he thought what his father did to an innocent woman and child was far worse. Even a Weasley didn't deserve that, he used to say."
"Used to." Harry looks at her. "He's…"
Hermione keeps her voice level, though her throat aches with the effort. "Draco died during an SSF raid six months later. We suspect his father tipped them off." At Harry's horrified look, she sighs. "Lucius isn't alive either now." She stares blankly at the sink in front of them. "Severus made sure of that, afterwards."
"Christ," Harry whispers.
Hermione echoes the sentiment. She leans against Harry's shoulder. "Draco took James from his father when they argued. He put him somewhere, until it was safe enough to return him to you. And then he died, and the Government worsened, and Severus was afraid they'd use Jamie against you. We all thought they might. They do that, you know." She looks up at him. "Half the wizards who've agreed to work for them, it's because they've family who've been caught, and they've been told if they do this, if they betray the rest of their kind, their family will at least be safe." Her hand shakes; she pulls away from Harry. "They lie. All they want is to kill us off."
Harry just looks at her for a long moment. "Hermione," he says finally. "Ron…"
She closes her eyes. She can still hear her own screams echoing in her ears when they'd brought him back, covered in blood, his eyes blank and empty and cold. She buries her face in her hands, just breathing.
"Hermione," she hears Harry say again. His hand is gentle on her shoulder. She leans back and pulls the locket from her shirt. She slides it over her head and opens it. Ron looks up at her from one side, Rose and Hugo from the other. Both portraits are frozen in place; she'd removed the magic used to develop the photographs.
She hands the locket to Harry silently.
When she speaks, she barely recognises her own voice. "He was killed with Draco. In the same raid. They were working together, leading families over the border." Her eyes burn; she sniffs and laughs softly. "They hated it at first, both of them. But it changes you, this sort of work, when you have to trust the person you're with, implicitly, or you could both die. They became friends, of a sort." She twists her fingers in her jeans. "We'd sent the children to Molly and Arthur already, to be safe. When he died…" She looks up over at Harry, at his stunned, grief-stricken face. The tears come then, hot and fast, and it's been years since she's cried like this. Since it's broken loose. Christ, it hurts.
Harry holds her close, lets her cry into his t-shirt as he smoothes his hand over her back. She can hear the steady thump of his heartbeat as her tears slow. She lies against him for a moment, enjoying the warmth of arms around her again. It's been so long since she's been touched.
"I stayed here," she says quietly, into Harry's chest. "I haven't seen the children since."
"Why?" he asks against her hair. She can feel the press of the locket against her shoulder blade.
Hermione shakes her head. "I can't," she whispers. Her throat hurts; her eyes are puffy. She hates crying. She always has.
"You could have told me." Harry takes a shaky breath. "About Ron. And Jamie."
"No." Hermione traces the Spurs' logo on his shirt with her thumbnail. "We didn't know if we could trust you, Harry. We didn't know if we could trust anyone."
Harry doesn't say anything for a long moment. "And now you trust me?"
"I don't think we have a choice. And yes, I do."
They sit silently, the water from the shower beating a steady staccato against the glass door. For the first time in years, Hermione feels at peace.
vi. 14 October, 2019
Harry's late to a meeting. He doesn't care. Instead, he rings Morag as he pours a bowl of rice pops from Waitrose and tells her to cancel his morning appointments.
He sits at the table, pushing cereal and milk around in the bowl. All he can think about is Hermione and what she told him last night. She'd stayed until after midnight, and he'd opened a bottle of Macallan eighteen-year to drink to Ron. He'd kept drinking after she'd gone until the bottle was nearly empty, and he'd cried himself to sleep on the sofa.
He'd never got to tell Ron he was sorry.
Pushing his bowl aside, he stands up and walks into the sitting room. His satchel's on the sofa; he picks it up and pulls out his diary and mobile, intending to ring Zacharias. A small tin capsule falls out, bouncing against the floor and rolling onto the rug. Harry frowns and reaches for it.
The capsule twists apart easily enough. Inside is a small, narrow strip of paper. He uncurls it. The only thing written on it is a string of numbers.
Harry sits on the edge of the ottoman. He runs his thumb over the paper. The ink smudges slightly on the final 5. There's only one place it could have come from. He'd cleared out his satchel before the drive to Chicksands. And he'd left it with Cauldwell…
"Bloody fuck," Harry murmurs, realising this message isn't for him, and he shakes his head, a small smile curving his mouth. He stands, catches sight of himself in the mirror over the mantel. His eyes are bright, his cheeks flushed. He looks alive for the first time in years.
He blinks, then laughs. It's mad, all of this. Utterly and completely. But he feels--he bites his lip. He feels as if he might actually be able to do something. Finally. For Ginny. For Ron. For James.
With a pencil, he scrawls a note on the back of the strip of paper, then wrapping the paper back around itself, he tucks it into the capsule again. It takes him a few minutes to find a proper pen, with a barrel thick and round enough. He unscrews it, taking out the ink cartridge and sliding the capsule in its place. It's a tight fit, but it works. He screws the pen back together, and tucks it in his shirt pocket.
It's time for work, he thinks, pulling a tie and jacket from his wardrobe. He glances down at Jamie's picture as he fastens his watch around his wrist.
"I'll find you," he whispers, touching his son's cheek; this time, he believes himself.
Harry stops Hermione after the negotiations break for the day. They've agreed to release Malcolm Baddock in return for two MI5 officers. Hermione's still pressing for Teddy and Seamus Finnegan.
Harry hadn't even realised Seamus was in the ELA. For some inexplicable reason, he feels ridiculously proud of him.
"You dropped this," he says to Hermione, handing her the pen from his pocket.
She looks at it, then at him, before she takes it from him. "Thanks."
He nods and walks on, knowing she's watching him speculatively, her fingers curled around the pen's barrel.
The lift doors are nearly closed when a hand stops them. Danny pushes them open and steps into the lift, squeezing past one of the Chief Whip's researchers on her way back to 9 Downing Street. He smiles at her, then looks at Harry. "I need to talk to you."
Harry slides his file folder back into his satchel. "About?"
Danny pushes the button for the ground floor, despite it already being lit up. "Downstairs," he says.
They pile out of the lift with the staff headed home. "You going over for the vote?" Danny asks, and Harry shakes his head.
"Sitting this one out as a protest." He holds open the door for Danny. "What's got you worked up?"
Danny stops and glances around. "You have a moment?"
Harry looks down at his watch. It's only just half six. He'd written quarter til seven on the note he'd left Hermione. "Walk with me."
They head down Cannon Road towards Westminster Bridge. Danny lights a cigarette and exhales into the breeze. "Going to rain again."
Harry just shifts his satchel on his shoulder. "Danny."
"Right, right." Danny taps the ash off the end of his cigarette. "Look, you know I told you there were others like us, yeah? Ones who didn't quite care for the way things are going?"
"Yes." Harry curls his fingers around the strap of his satchel, oddly nervous. "What about it?"
Danny takes another drag, then tosses his cigarette to the ground and rubs his heel over it. He doesn't look at Harry. "They want to meet."
"Meet me?" Harry's confused. Why be so secretive when he was there in Parliament every bloody day it was in session?
"No." Danny shakes his head. "Your friends."
Harry just looks at him.
Danny sighs and stops, pulling Harry to the side of the pavement. "Your friends," he says. He drops his voice. "The ELA."
"I don't have friends in the ELA." Harry runs his hand through his hair, leaving it standing on end. The breeze pushes it down.
"Don't bullshit me." Danny leans in. "I know, all right?"
Harry doesn't say anything. His stomach twists. If Danny knows, Symes knows. And he's already being watched by MI5. Harry glances behind them nervously. He can't tell if he recognises the woman walking up behind them or not. She passes without giving them a second glance.
"There are plans, Harry." Danny puts his hands in his coat pockets. "To work against the coalition. The only problem is, there's not enough of us. We need more power, and they think that can happen with the ELA's backing. They want you to set up a meeting."
Harry frowns. "I don't know. They don't even really trust me, Danny."
With a sigh, Harry grabs Danny's arm, fingers digging into his elbow as he starts walking again. "I'm not promising anything."
Severus waits on Westminster Bridge, leaning against the red and black railing. It's just gone dusk now, and the cars crossing the bridge have switched on their lights. He can see the Thames Cruises shack, the boats bobbing on the water next to it with the Palace of Westminster rising above on the opposite shore, spires shrouded in fog.
He pulls his black overcoat tighter around himself and settles into the shadows.
Big Ben's just chimed the Westminster Quarters when Potter walks past, satchel slung over his shoulder and another man beside him, bent towards Potter and talking furiously as he pushes his dark hair off his forehead. Potter's eyes slide towards Severus and he tilts his head just enough.
Severus follows them, staying far enough back to not be noticed. Potter bids the man farewell at the end of the bridge road, then turns left on York. The London Eye looms behind them, white and shining as it turns slowly against the darkening sky. With a backwards glance to make certain Severus has kept up, Potter saunters through the Victory Arch at Waterloo station.
Potter buys a ticket for Basingstoke; Severus steps up to the ticket counter immediately afterwards, tucking his copy of the Financial Times beneath his arm and purchasing a ticket for the same train. It leaves at six-forty-two. He makes his way to the platform slowly, stopping by the toilets to piss and splash water on his pale face. He's not fond of wandering about London like this, and he's particularly not fond of being ordered about by Harry bloody Potter.
Severus had nearly refused the meeting when Granger had rung Pansy's mobile with Potter's demand. Pansy had insisted he go, pointing out--rightfully, he supposed--that Potter hadn't needed to pass Cauldwell's message along.
The train doors slide open; Severus watches Potter board, then ducks between the doors himself, wandering down the aisle until he finds Potter sitting, staring out the window onto the platform beside them.
Severus takes the seat next to him and unfurls his paper. He's always thought the salmon pink newsprint was bloody pretentious. Muggles. He snorts.
Potter glances over at him but doesn't say anything. They've nearly reached Clapham Junction (and Severus has been forced to read several idiotic opinion pieces supporting the Government's latest plan to increase taxes on the less-desirable members of the population such as second-generation immigrants and the magical population) before Potter speaks.
"I want to see my son," he says quietly, his eyes on the Parliamentary brief he's been highlighting with an orange pen.
Severus turns a page, shaking the paper as he does. "Don't be ridiculous."
Potter falls silent. His fingers tighten on his pen; his knuckles fade to white. "Hermione told me. About Draco."
The train wheels clack against the rails. Severus stares blankly at a picture of Symes and the head of Barclays. "And what did she say?"
"That he stopped his father--" Potter breaks off as Severus looks at him. "Is something wrong?"
Severus breathes out slowly. "No." He wonders when the pain of thinking about Draco will ease. It's been years now. Sometimes he thinks revenge for Draco and Ron's deaths is the only thing that's kept both him and Granger going. It's all they have, in so many ways.
Potter's just looking at him, with those ridiculously green eyes. "You're lying."
Severus stares out the window into the darkness. "I would prefer not to talk about Draco."
"Why?" Potter sounds confused.
With a grimace, Severus leans back in his seat. "Much for the same reason you'd prefer not to discuss your ex-wife." He meets Potter's gaze evenly. "Minus the ex, of course."
"Oh." Potter blinks rapidly. "You and he--"
For God's sake. Severus loathes having his personal life on display. "Yes," he grits out.
They don't say anything for a moment. Severus pretends to read the stock quotes.
"I'm sorry," Potter says finally, and when he puts his hand on Severus's arm, Severus jerks away.
"I don't particularly need your sympathy, Potter," Severus says coldly.
Potter pushes his glasses up his nose. "Hermione said there was a raid…"
Severus does not want to do this. He snaps his paper shut and lays it on his lap. He flexes his fingertips against the armrests. "Yes. There was. And Draco and Weasley were executed on the spot by the State Security Forces. A bullet to the back of the head, both of them." He draws in a ragged breath.
They'd found them afterwards, lying in the alley outside the safe house. Draco's face had been in a puddle of piss left by one of the bastards. His blond hair had been matted with blood. Severus still has nightmares about that.
Potter swallows and looks away. "I'm sorry."
"It happened," Severus says tightly. "It's done." He looks at Potter, eyes narrowed. "What do want?"
Potter's mouth thins. "My son. I think I've told you more than once."
"You'll get him when you help us."
"Then let me see him." Potter's getting desperate. "Just once."
Severus steels himself. "No."
Potter looks away. "I can't do what you're asking of me." He stares at his reflection in the window. "I can't. I don't think…" He presses his lips together; his eyebrows furrows. "I don't know that it's right."
"Don't be a fool." Severus leans forward. He catches Potter's jaw, turns his face towards his. They're only inches apart; he can feel Potter's breath across his mouth and he shivers. "You've done it once already."
"You've no idea what that cost me," Potter whispers.
They stare at each other, barely moving.
Potter pulls away first, taking a shaky breath. He shuffles the papers in his hands, shoving them back into his satchel.
"Stop taking that damn potion, Potter," Severus says, and his vehemence catches him by surprise.
Potter freezes, his hand still in his satchel. He looks at Snape. "I have to take it. I'm tested every month. If ever I'm caught without, I'll lose my seat, and then where will that leave us? With your lot making decisions for the wizarding world? I think not."
Severus grabs Potter's wrist. His skin is soft and warm beneath Severus's fingertips. "You're poisoning yourself with it, you fool."
"That's my choice to make." Potter pulls away and closes his satchel. He hesitates, then glances at Severus. "There's a group of MPs who want to meet with you," he says under his breath. "They don't care for the Government the way it is, and they want to discuss a possible…" He drags his tongue across his bottom lip, leaving it wet. Severus looks away. "A possible intersecting of interests, if you will."
"We don't work with Parliament," Severus says flatly.
Potter snorts. "You're trying to work with me."
The train rolls into Surbiton station. Potter stands up. "Think about it," he says, as he lifts his satchel to his shoulder. "Then think about taking me to my son. And maybe after that…" He shrugs. "I might say yes."
Potter steps into the aisle and doesn't look back.
Edwin stands in the back garden of Number Ten, watching Winston and Emma chase each other through the flowerbeds. The gardener will be displeased in the morning, but really, the children deserve their moments of fun.
"Is that it, Thom?" he asks, not bothering to look over his shoulder. He can hear Thom close the laptop.
"It's all our operative was able to record." Thom steps up beside him. "I think it's clear Potter's willing to work with them."
Edwin grunts. There are times when Thom's a master of the obvious. Across the garden, Winston grabs his sister's jacket and shoves her into the boxwood. She screeches and the nanny hurries towards them, clucking at Winston. Edwin scowls at his son. "And the MPs he mentions?"
"MI5 is looking into it." Thom hesitates, delicately. "Should we bring them in when we find them."
"No." Edwin sits down in one of the striped garden chairs. "Let them make contact first. I want to see how far they'll go. Give them enough rope, and perhaps they'll hang themselves for us." He takes the cup of tea one of his aides brings to him. "Keep an eye on Potter. Do whatever you need in order to discredit the ELF."
Thom bows slightly. "Of course." He turns back to the house, only to be stopped by Edwin's Thom. He swivels back around. "Sir?"
Edwin sips his tea. "The Potter boy. I think finding him should become one of our top priorities."
"As you wish, Prime Minister."
As Thom's footsteps fade from the crushed shell path, Edwin crosses one leg over the other and leans back in his chair, pleased. It's taken over twenty years, but he's finally finding revenge for his parents' deaths. He'd always known it was more than just a bridge accident. When, as a young MP, he'd found out the collapse had been due to wizards and a war of theirs fought on British soil, he'd vowed he'd make them all pay.
In the end, doing so had been ridiculously easy. Such a foolish society. Far too sheltered and antiquated. Far too frightened.
He lifts his teacup to his mouth and smiles.
It's late when Severus reaches the house in Prestbury. He's been careful not to be followed to Gloucestershire, doubling back twice when he thinks he sees the same car trailing behind. Cheltenham's only a few kilometres away after all, and the GCHQ is headquartered there. Granger'd thought him mad when he'd chosen Prestbury; he'd told her bluntly there was no better hiding place than right under the bastards' noses.
Besides, he's hedged their bets by installing Finch-Fletchley in the GCHQ as a systems engineer, courtesy of Justin's father's Eton connections. One uses what one has at one's disposal, after all.
He's barely climbed out of the Jeep when the front door opens, and he can see the gleam of blond hair in the lamplight on the stoop.
Slumped against the doorjamb, Scorpius waits for him to come up the walk. He's twelve now, with his father's long limbs and angular jaw, and there are times Severus has forgotten and called him Draco, much to their mutual horror. Scorpius is his son; Draco was his lover.
"You're late," Scorpius says, frowning. "You said you'd be here for dinner."
"I lied." Severus touches the boy's shoulder lightly as he passes by him. He's the only father Scorpius has now; it still surprises him to be a paternal figure, of any sort. It has since Draco first laid Scorpius in his arms, the morning after his birth. The boy had been merely his godson at the time, and Severus and Draco had been two years away from their first night tangled in sweaty sheets together. Nonetheless, Severus has yet to become comfortable with his role.
Scorpius follows him into the house, locking the door behind him. He hurries to catch up with Severus, and his fingers brush Severus's elbow hesitantly as they walk down the hall. Severus rests his hand on the boy's shoulder; Scorpius beams up at him.
"What'd you bring me?" he asks cheerfully.
Severus snorts. "What makes you think I would?" Scorpius just rolls his grey eyes, and Severus is struck again by how very much a Malfoy to the core he is. "Spoilt brat."
"I know." Scorpius's wide smile, however, is his mother's. In many ways, Severus thinks, though he'd resented her on more than one occasion, Astoria had been good for Draco. And his son.
The kitchen is warm and cosy, painted a pale yellow, and a pot of stew still simmers on the gas burner, filling the air with the scent of bay leaves and chicken stock. James looks up from his book--a secondhand copy of Huxley's Brave New World Severus had given him on his visit last week. Severus finds it quite odd that Potter's spawn would have any interest in reading, but the boy inhales every book he can lay his hands upon.
Severus tosses a copy of the complete Sherlock Holmes on the table. James's face lights up.
"Brilliant," he says, reaching for it immediately. Severus drops into a chair across from him. "I've only read Hound of the Baskervilles so far."
"He was a Squib, you know," Severus says. He ruffles Scorpius's hair as the boy sits next to him with an expectant look. "What do you want?"
Scorpius sighs. "Present?"
"Don't hound Severus, love. It's not polite." Astoria sweeps into the kitchen, a silk dressing gown wrapped around her flannel pajamas. Her feet are bare and her short blonde curls are mussed. "You're late," she says to Severus, a yawn nearly hiding her smile. "Are you hungry? There's stew still--"
"I cooked it," James says wryly, "so you don't have to worry about being poisoned."
Astoria sits next to him. "Brat," she says, resting her chin on his shoulder, and James laughs. "I can't help it that I'm cookery-challenged. We had house elves for that." She looks up at Severus, her blue eyes bright. "I am capable of dishing up a bowl, however, if you would like one."
He shakes his head. "I ate earlier."
"Yorkie bars do not a proper dinner make, Severus," Astoria says with a frown.
Severus snorts. "They do with crisps." He looks down at Scorpius, who's begun to fidget in his chair. "Difficulties, Mr. Malfoy?"
"I've done everything I'm supposed to," Scorpius says plaintively. "I made my bed every morning this week and even James missed Friday--"
"I felt ill," James protests.
Scorpius gives him a baleful look. "Did not. You just didn't want to do lessons and Mummy fell for it." He looks back at Severus, his face pained. "I had to read history of magic all afternoon."
Astoria raises one shoulder. "It was that or maths."
"Fine," Severus says. From his pocket, he pulls a handkerchief, wrapped tightly around a small round bauble. He hands it to Scorpius. "This was your father's, many, many years ago, before he attended Hogwarts even."
"What is it?" Scorpius peels back the handkerchief curiously. He holds the gleaming ball up to the light. White smoke twists inside of it.
"A Remembrall," Astoria says quietly, and she reaches out, brushes a finger against the smooth surface.
James stares at it intently. "Why's it turning red?"
"Because there's something Scorpius appears to have forgotten." Severus glances at Astoria.
"Probably a great many things," she says with a sigh.
Scorpius stares at the little ball. He swallows hard and clutches it tight in his hand. "Was it really Father's?" he asks softly.
"Yes." Severus looks down at Scorpius's clenched fist. His fingernails are digging into his palm. "I found it in the Manor ruins." Not even the MI5 Aurors had been able to break through the warded doors at Malfoy Manor. Instead, they'd chosen to retaliate by burning the whole house to the ground. All that remained now were two charred chimneys and a pile of ashes still sparking with magic.
"Thank you," Scorpius says, and his bottom lip trembles before he catches himself. He stands up. "I'm going upstairs." He blinks a few times, then looks at Severus. "You'll be here for breakfast, right?"
Severus nods. "If you'd like."
James pushes his chair back as Scorpius flees the kitchen. "I'll go," he says, putting a hand on Astoria's arm before she can stand. "He'll talk to me."
Astoria smiles sadly up at him. "All right." She sighs and pulls her dressing gown tighter around her shoulders as James walks out. She looks at Severus, a furrow between her eyebrows. "The magic--"
"The charm's weak enough to be lost in the ley lines." The house sits on a crossing of two minor lines that produce enough natural energy to mask magical signatures for the most part. With Finch-Fletchley's help, Severus had managed to weave wards and alarm charms and Muggle-Repellent spells through the ley lines and around the house without GCHQ detection.
"Of course." Astoria relaxes in her chair. She looks tired and worn. He knows the hiding is taking its toll on her. He should send them across the border, but he finds the thought unsettling. As irrational as it is, he can't bear the idea of losing Scorpius. He's the last bit of Draco Severus has left.
The chair creaks as Astoria shifts in it. She leans her elbows against the table. "Thank you for that. He misses Draco."
"He's not alone." Severus smoothes a fingertip across the scratched wooden tabletop and scowls. The tiny terraced house isn't what Astoria is used to, he knows. Or what Scorpius deserves, as the last remaining Malfoy.
"I know." Astoria's hand covers his. "Are you actually staying the night?" she asks softly. Her thumb strokes across his knuckles. "Or are you planning on sleeping in that horrible hotel again?"
Severus hesitates, looking up at her. He knows what she's asking. The first anniversary of Draco's death, they'd gone through a bottle and a half of Firewhisky together. He'd woken up the next morning in Astoria's bed, their bare legs entwined, her head pillowed on his chest.
Don't go, she'd said when he tried to pull away without waking her. She'd looked up at him, her eyes red and swollen. You know what it's like to miss him.
He did. And he stayed.
Astoria had never objected to his relationship with Draco. More than once, Severus has wondered why. The only time he asked, Astoria merely touched his cheek and said, her eyes sad, you kept him from being his father, Severus.
She looks at him now, and she curls her fingers around his. "Stay," she murmurs.
"I shouldn't." He lets her pull his hand to her breast. "The boys…"
"Won't think anything of it." Astoria's breath catches as he slips his fingers beneath her pyjama top. Her skin is soft, warm. She smiles as his thumb brushes her nipple and arches into his palm. "Severus."
It's been months since he's touched her. Since he's touched anyone. He misses it.
When she stands, Severus leans in to brush his mouth across her throat, his fingers still kneading her breast. She laughs and turns to kiss to him.
"Is that a yes?" she whispers against his lips, and Severus nods, pulling her against him for another kiss, his hands splayed across her back. Astoria breathes out slowly, her palm smoothing and squeezing across the front of his trousers. "Upstairs then."
For a little while, at least, he'd rather not think.
vii. 15 October, 2019
The bomb goes off in Trafalgar Square at half eight in the morning.
Smoke billows from the wreckage of the pavement, from the coiled metal twists of cars and a bus, from the gaping hole in the front of the National Gallery.
Sixty-eight die immediately in the blast. Another four hundred and five are sent to casualty wards throughout the city. Forty of those are dead before NHS admits them.
It's the worst bombing London's suffered since the 7/7 attacks fourteen years before.
Harry can still see the plumes of smoke from down Whitehall. He stops in the middle of the pavement with the rest of London, watching as the emergency services speed down the street in their white vans, striped with orange and yellow reflectors.
The Government's already fingered the ELA as responsible.
Harry's not so sure any more.
It starts to rain.
"How many dead?" Edwin's back is to the window; he has no interest in watching the smoky sky this morning.
"One hundred and twenty that we know of so far," his assistant Andrew says, handing him the preliminary MI5 reports. He peers at Edwin over the rims of his glasses. "That number will most likely rise as the hospitals continue to revise their counts."
Edwin steeples his fingers and presses them against his mouth. "Good, good. And the negotiations?"
"Terminated at your request." Andrew's face pales as he turns towards the window. He shakes his head, tugging on his tie. "We don't negotiate with terrorists."
"Make certain the BBC leads with that in their coverage." Edwin stirs his tea slowly, watching the milky brown surface swirl, distorting the reflection of the spoon. "What are we saying about the perpetrators?
Andrew coughs. "MI5 made arrangements for Baddock to be on the scene. He's their explosions specialist, the one they were negotiating for. We're floating the story to the media that we released him earlier in exchange for two of our officers."
"We'll take a hit on that."
"Yes, sir." Andrew rubs the back of his neck. "Briefly. But we're hedging that the public will be more horrified by the terrorism than by our reputedly taking the organisation at their word."
Edwin spreads plum jam across one triangle of toast and takes a bite. He wipes his fingertips on a small white linen napkin. "And Baddock?"
"He was dead before the bombs went off, sir. Or might as well have been. Dementor-kissed three hours before."
"Excellent." Edwin lifts his teacup to his mouth. "See that the press blame him. Whatever information you have to release, do so."
Edwin smiles as Andrew hurries from his office, heading for the pressroom. This week is shaping up to be quite pleasant.
With a flick of a finger, he turns on Radio Three and leans back in his chair, hands folded across his chest as Beethoven's Symphony Number 1 in C drowns out the faint wails of the ambulances.
Most pleasant indeed.
"Where've you been?" Pansy demands as Severus walks into the warehouse. She follows him down the corridor, her anxiety only increasing. It's been a horrid morning so far, and the day doesn't show any signs of improving at all. She's already snapped at Granger twice, and even that--normally a bright spot in her day--didn't relieve any of her tension. "I've tried every mobile number you've had--" She breaks off, her eyes narrowing dangerously. "You were in Gloucestershire."
Severus walks into the old factory manager's office, sets his paper coffee cup down on the battered desk and shrugs out of his jacket. "That's none of your business."
Pansy follows him in. "Do I need to point out how utterly unhealthy it is that you're fucking your dead partner's ex-wife as some bizarre way of holding on to him?" She twists her mouth in distaste. She's no objection to Astoria herself, but she worries about Severus. He needs someone, she thinks, who sees him for himself, without Draco's spectre hanging over him. Or vice versa. She sighs. "Even Muggles think that's mad, and given that you're the one giving orders around here…"
"I would hold my tongue if I were you," Severus says tightly, and he drops into the chair behind the desk.
"You're not me." Pansy slaps a thin sheaf of papers on the desk in front of him. "And you need therapy. Rather a lot of it."
"Your father would roll in his grave to hear you go on about Muggle medicine like that."
Pansy shrugs. "If he had to live without magic, he'd be resorting to those brilliant, marvelous little white pills and a glass of wine at the end of every day too."
"What is this?" Severus picks up the papers, frowning down at them.
"Everything we have on the bombing." Pansy sits gingerly in one of the wooden chair across the desk from him. It rocks back slightly, one leg wobbling. "Newswire reports, mostly, and a transcript of the call to emergency services."
"Which I've tracked down to a mobile registered to 12 Downing Street." Granger comes in, Anthony Goldstein at her heels. "In other words, most likely someone in Symes's Press Office or Strategic Communications Unit."
Anthony tugs at the back of Pansy's hair. "Don't ask how long that took." She slaps his hand away, and he takes the chair next to her with a grin. Honestly, Pansy thinks, you fuck a bloke once, and he assumes that gives him carte blanche to be a prick.
"Where's Creevey?" Severus leans forward, his elbows on the desk.
"Here." Creevey pushes the door open with one foot, an open laptop perched precariously in one hand, a coffee pot in the other. Paper cups hang from one finger. "This would be a hell of a lot easier with a Levitation spell."
Granger grabs the laptop just as it tilts. "Too dangerous today. MI5's tracking all individual magical signatures the next few days. Better safe than sorry." She sets the laptop on the desk; Creevey passes out the cups and pours the coffee. Pansy takes hers with a sigh. She'd prefer a proper pot of Earl Grey to the bitter cack Dennis brews, but beggars can't be choosers these days.
"I hacked into the Government servers," Creevey says, settling into the last chair. "Really, they're shite at security. I went through one of the charmed proxies out of Amsterdam and set up a brute force botnet attack on their SSH server--and really, why they haven't switched over to RSA authentication rather than passwords yet is beyond me--or just set up some bloody iptables rules for that matter--"
"Oh, for God's sake, get to the point," Pansy snaps. Creevey spends too much time staring into that machine in her opinion. It's boggled his brain. Anthony smirks at her. "Shut it," she murmurs. "And give me a cigarette. It's been a wretched morning."
Anthony pulls a crumpled, half full packet of Silk Cut from his pocket and hands it to her, along with a pack of matches. Pansy lights one, shaking the match out and tossing it into the ashtray on the desk, already overflowing with Severus's ground-out butts. She tucks the packet into her bag with a grateful smile at Anthony. "I'll buy you another, darling."
He rolls his eyes.
Granger glares at them both. "Do you mind?"
Pansy blows a thin stream of smoke towards her. "Not usually." She sips her coffee and crosses her legs, letting one black ballet flat dangle from her toes.
"Go on, Dennis," Granger says.
Creevey tugs at his ear, the way he always does when he's nervous. Pansy does enjoy unsettling him. "Long story short, I got back door access into their system a lot faster than I should have. Did a bit of poking about in some of the deeper files, and this is what we found." He points to the laptop. "I didn't want to waste time printing, so I just took screenshots."
Severus pulls a pair of wire-rimmed glasses out of his pocket and slides them on. He peers at the laptop. "What am I looking at?"
"Encrypted communication between Downing Street and Thames House," Creevey says. He leans forward, his brown hair falling into his eyes. "They set up the bombing specifically to place the blame on us."
"Despite it obviously not being our modus operandi." Pansy sits up and taps ash from the end of her cigarette. "We don't take civilian lives if we can help it."
Granger's mouth is set in a thin, grim line. "They've thought of that. The BBC's opining that we've ratcheted up our attacks to put pressure on the Government due to the closing of the Floo network."
"During the middle of negotiations?" Pansy snaps. "We'd have to be mad--"
"And a good portion of the Muggle public already thinks we are," Anthony says. He pushes his glasses up his nose. Pansy hates that she finds that attractive. He's a half-blood, for Christ's sake. Her parents would be appalled. "They'll accept any cack the Government spoon feeds them about us."
Severus drums his fingers against the desktop. "How do we get this information out? The media's useless; Symes controls the mainstream."
"Release it to the Internet," Creevey says. At Severus's frown, he sighs. "I know you don't care for it, but between the screenshots and Hermione's mobile trace, it's a solid pack of evidence, and the Internet will bypass the media. Symes can't control it, it's anonymous, and it'll spread like wildfire through the underground."
"Can they trace it back to us?" Anthony asks. He always was a bright boy, asking the important questions. Pansy smiles at him; a faint flush colours his cheeks.
Creevey shakes his head. "I can make it bloody well difficult for them."
"Symes will deny it," Pansy points out, waving her cigarette in the air. A chunk of ash falls off, drifting to the floor. "He'll call it a hoax."
"There's nothing we can do about that." Granger shifts in her chair. Sunlight from the window falls across her face, and Pansy's surprised at the weary lines at the corners of her eyes. She looks older than her years suddenly. They all do. Pansy touches her forehead, smoothing the faint wrinkles between her brows out with one finger.
Severus presses his knuckles to his mouth, thinking. After a moment, he drops his hand and nods to Creevey. "Put it out there."
"There's another thing," Granger says quietly. She glances at Creevey, then down at her hands. "Malcolm."
They all fall silent.
"Millicent and the baby." Pansy meets Severus's eyes, her worry evident. Three-year-old Ella is her goddaughter. "They're still in Dorchester."
"How long do we have before they're tracked down?" Severus sits up, frowning. Even all these years later, he still takes care of his House. It's one of the things Pansy loves about the cantankerous bastard.
Creevey chews his bottom lip. "Probably by tea."
Severus swears under his breath, then looks over at Anthony. "Get to Dorchester as quickly as you can." He glances at Pansy. "Where's her family?"
"Her father's dead." Pansy stubs her cigarette out in the ashtray. She runs a hand through her hair. Dark strands fall into her eyes. "Mrs. Bulstrode crossed over to Wales last year. Caernarfon, near the ocean. She was born there, still has family, I think. Millie wouldn't go with her. She didn't want to leave Malcolm."
Anthony stands up, his chair scraping across the floor. "I'll have her out and over the border by tonight."
"Be careful," Severus says. "They'll be looking for us."
"Thare's no mony fowk war thinkin' the wee Jewish lad wad weir the Scotsman well, aye?" Anthony asks, in the pitch-perfect accent of an Edinburgian born and bred--which his mother had been.
Severus snorts. "Just keep from being followed."
Pansy catches Anthony's elbow. He looks down at her. " I've still got your fags, Goldstein," she says, hiding her fear well. "You'd better come back safe before I smoke them all."
He ruffles her hair. "Stop worrying."
That earns him a glare. "I'm not worried about you," Pansy snaps. "I'm more concerned about us losing our only local Healer. I'd hate for us to have to send to Leeds for Longbottom."
Anthony just shakes his head and pulls out his car keys. "Let me borrow your Corsa? I'll leave my car down at Canary Wharf for you. Off Garford Street."
Pansy sighs and digs in her purse for the keys and swaps with him. "Don't wreck it. I'm behind on the insurance."
"You'll need this too." Granger tosses him a mobile. "New SIM card. When you ring back in, use the number in the contacts."
"Will do." Anthony tucks the mobile and keys into his pocket, and with a cheery salute, heads for the hallway.
"I mean it, Anthony," Pansy calls after him. Her stomach twists. She hates him taking on these sorts of assignments. She shouldn't care, she knows, but Anthony was the one who'd taken care of her when she'd been released from Nemworth. As much as she hates it, she's attached. "Not a scratch."
Her only answer is the slam of the door.
Severus leans back in his chair. He looks at Granger. "How much money do we have in the Swiss account?"
"As of yesterday, thirty thousand pounds." She rubs at the back of her neck. "Zabini's supposed to be depositing another round of funding he's raised on the Continent next week. Ernie's going to launder it through two of his shops in France before it hits our account."
"Good." Severus nods. "Creevey, transfer five thousand of what we have now into a Welsh bank under Millicent's maiden name. That'll get her started; it's the least we can do for Malcolm." He runs his hands over his face. "We'll need to replace him."
"Eddie Carmichael and Terry Boot," Pansy says. It hurts to brush Malcolm aside so callously; she knows it's necessary. People die. They have to be replaced. "They both did a few runs with Malcolm earlier this year. We have them on transport detail up in Leeds."
Severus breathes out. "Bring them in then." Pansy starts to stand. Severus waves her back into her seat. "Before you go--I met with Potter last night."
Pansy exchanges a glance with Granger. Creevey doesn't look up from his laptop, his fingers flying across the keyboard.
"It appears we have friends in Parliament." Severus hesitates. "Or non-enemies at least. A group wants to meet with us to see if we can find common ground. I think we should."
"Have you lost your mind?" Pansy asks, horrified. "Potter aside, we don't work with the Government."
Severus shrugs. "It's only a meeting, Pansy. Not a bloody peace treaty."
"No." Pansy shakes her head. "Therein lies madness, Severus, and you know it. The last thing we need is to look like Colluders. We can get by with Potter: he's the sodding Saviour of the Wizarding World, even if he has sold us down the river." She ignores Granger's huff. "You can't agree."
He turns in the chair, swiveling it back and forth. "I think we should."
Pansy just stares at him. "You want to do something that Potter suggested. Christ." She looks at Granger. "Help me here."
"I don't know," Granger says slowly. "If they want to break away from Government control…"
"They could be an asset down the road." Severus stacks the file folders on his desk. "One meeting, neutral territory, high security. It's a chance we have to take. I'm going to tell Potter yes."
"I don't like this," Pansy mutters. She hasn't liked working with the Muggles in the ELA from the start. She doesn't trust them, and she's certain Severus and Granger are mad for letting them in the organisation at all.
Granger's mobile rings. She answers it, standing to walk across the room for privacy. Pansy takes the moment to lean in and hiss, "This is insane," at Severus.
He rolls his eyes. "Don't let your prejudices blind you, Pansy."
"It's not prejudiced to think it's absolutely idiotic to meet with members of a Government trying to find us and throw our arses into some damned containment centre."
Severus looks at her calmly. "You think they don't know where we are at this moment? MI5's had us under surveillance from the moment we brought Potter here. They're letting us sit, Pansy, waiting until they figure out what we're doing and they can tighten the net around us."
Her blood chills. "What are we still doing here then?"
"Tightening the net around them, I'd say." Creevey looks up from his laptop. "The longer they think we don't know they're watching, the more lax they'll get."
"Precisely," Severus says with a faint smile. He glances at Pansy. "Don't fret. I've another place waiting for us."
Pansy just glares at him. "Where?"
"You'll find out when it's necessary." Severus drains the last of his coffee.
Oh, for God's sake. Sometimes Pansy wants to strangle him. "If I end up in some MI5 holding cell because of you--"
"That was Ben," Granger says, snapping her mobile shut. "We've official word now. Negotiations are broken off. And it's not looking good for Seamus." She looks at Severus, her brow furrowed. "We need Harry on board. Soon."
Pansy pulls out another cigarette and lights it. Her hand shakes, and she swears and drops the match when it burns her fingertips.
She's a bad feeling about all of this, and she doesn't like that.
Harry's two streets away from his flat when a battered Jeep stops at the zebra crossing, its wheels sending a spray of rainwater over his trousers.
The driver rolls down the window. "Get in," Snape says, and Harry blinks for a moment, then furls his umbrella and climbs into the cab. He drops his satchel at his feet. It's been a long day. He'd finally left Westminister, unable to deal with the suspicious looks and outright hostility any longer.
"What do you want?" he asks.
Snape doesn't say anything; his hands twist the steering wheel, turning the Jeep out into the intersecting street. The windscreen wipers thump rhythmically across the wet glass. Harry eyes Snape. A brown and grey cap covers his hair and ears, and glasses are perched precariously on the tip of his beaked nose. His black leather jacket is worn and creased; the damp scent of it hangs heavy in the air.
A car barrels into the lane in front of them, nearly cutting them off, and Snape swears, stomping on the brake. Harry catches himself with one hand splayed against the dashboard. "When'd you learn how to drive?"
Snape glances over at him, then looks back at the rainy street. "My father taught me when I was sixteen."
"Oh." Harry doesn't know what to say. He can't help but think of the angry, hooked-nose man he'd seen so many years ago in Snape's memories. "I don't drive."
"I'm aware," Snape says drily.
Harry feels his cheeks warm. "I don't like it."
"Neither do I." Snape shifts the gear lever and slows to turn another corner. "I've not much choice in the matter, given the CCTV in the Tube stations and on every damned street corner." He snorts. "We've bloody sodding Labour to thank for that."
"I'm fairly certain the Conservatives started it," Harry says mildly. It still earns him a glare. He rolls his eyes. "Where are we going?"
The Jeep speeds up to pass a bus, and Severus hunches over the wheel, his hands tight on it. "Shut it, Potter, and let me drive."
"Right." Harry settles back and buckles his seatbelt. He doesn't have a death wish, after all. Not entirely.
He recognises Charing Cross when they pass Foyles. "Snape," he says, his stomach twisting.
"I want you to see something." Snape pulls the Jeep onto a narrow street and parks. He's out of the cab before Harry can undo his seatbelt.
Harry grabs his satchel and slides out, slamming the door behind him. He hurries to catch up with Snape. "I know where we're going."
Snape doesn't stop. "Good."
The Leaky Cauldron is still there, next to the book shop. The record shop's been replaced by a secondhand clothing boutique. People stopped buying music a long time ago.
Harry doesn't expect the door to open for them, but it does. He follows Snape into the pub. It's empty. Dark. Filled with dust that floats in the air, thick and grey. Symes closed Diagon Alley in the first wave of wizard registration. Harry hasn't been here since.
He'd proposed to Ginny in the back corner booth. She'd thrown him his twenty-fifth birthday party here. Everyone had come, and the pub had been filled with music and laughter.
Snape leans over the bar, reaching for a bottle of Firewhisky on the back counter. His jumper rides up, exposing a swathe of pale skin above the waistband of his jeans. Harry doesn't know why the sight startles him, or why he can't look away. Snape slides back, bottle in hand and holds it up. "We'll need this, I suspect."
Their footsteps echo in the silence as they make their way out to the courtyard. Snape pulls his wand from his pocket and taps it against the back wall. It takes a moment, but slowly the bricks rearrange themselves, creaking as they do.
Snape motions for him to go through, and hesitantly, his heart aching, Harry steps into Diagon Alley for the first time in four years.
A faint breeze flutters the tattered awnings over the empty shops. Weeds poke up between cobblestones. Shattered glass from windows is strewn across the street; a rat scampers between Harry's feet, squeaking softly.
Harry turns, slowly, looking around him. Flourish and Blotts. Fortescue's. Quality Quidditch. Weasleys' Wizarding Wheezes. All boarded up, Government closure notices nailed to their doors.
He walks down the street, his throat tight. Snape follows him, silent. Harry closes his eyes. He can still see it as it was the first time he'd walked through that arch. Crowded, bright, filled with sounds and scents and sights that had enthralled him. Colourful swirls of robes. Miniature dragons roasting chestnuts behind the glass of street vendors' carts. The wide sweep of owls' wings.
Harry opens his eyes and sinks down onto a bench in front of Eeylops Owl Emporium. He'd bought Hedwig here. His hands shake as he runs them through his hair. "Everything's dead," he whispers.
Snape sits next to him, his thigh brushing Harry's. Harry doesn't pull away; the touch is oddly comforting. "Yes," Snape says. He sets the bottle of Firewhisky between his thighs and looks around, his eyes shuttered and dark behind his glasses. "I suppose we should be glad, however, that Symes has yet to burn any of us at the stake. Publicly, at least."
Harry leans his head against the window. One of the panes beside him is missing and the wooden sign above them creaks in the wind. "I tried to stop it." His eyes burn; he blinks hard. "It was one of the first things that came up after the election. I thought I had power to help us all."
"You didn't." Snape pulls a packet of Dunhills and a lighter out of his pocket. Settling one cigarette between his lips, he sparks the flame, cups it in one hand as he leans forward to light the end of the fag. He puffs slowly, then exhales, passing the cigarette over to Harry before pulling out another and lighting it for himself.
They sit quietly for a moment, smoking.
"I still don't," Harry says finally. He twists his cigarette between his fingers. "I've pretended I might." He looks over at Snape. "That's what you've been trying to get across, isn't it?"
Snape shrugs. "You've always been thick."
"I suppose." Harry smiles faintly. He takes another drag off his cigarette.
The shadows lengthen. Harry holds his breath for a moment, hoping to feel the faint prickle of Diagon's magic across his skin, but there's nothing. He knows he shouldn't be disappointed. But still. Here, he'd thought, perhaps…
"I miss magic," Harry says, the words coming out in puffs of grey smoke. He coughs slightly, tasting the bitter nicotine on the roof of his mouth. He looks over at Snape. "I envy you."
"Don't." Snape drops his cigarette to the ground, rubbing his boot across the smoking tip. "It's worse to have it and barely use it."
Harry studies him for a long moment. "Do you ever regret not leaving? You could have gone to Wales or Scotland--"
Snape shakes his head. "I didn't have a choice."
"Draco?" Harry asks softly, and Snape leans forward, his elbows on his knees. The bottle of Firewhisky presses against his jumper.
"To a certain extent." Snape laces his fingers together and looks down the street. "He wouldn't leave, knowing what Lucius was attempting. For all his faults as a child, Draco did make an attempt to grow up in his latter years." He picks at a hangnail. "For his son's sake."
Harry taps ash off the end of his cigarette. "Why else did you stay?"
"Merlin." Snape rubs his thumb against his bottom lip and sighs. "For the same reason as you, I suppose. A misguided belief that I needed to do something to stop this, after all the years I spent working against Voldemort." He looks at Harry. "To be blunt, the whole bloody situation annoyed the piss out of me."
Harry laughs--an easy, free bark of amusement--and for the first time in years, he doesn't feel guilty. He stubs his cigarette out on the wall behind him. "I know what you mean." He hesitates. "Have you thought about meeting with the MPs?"
"Yes," Snape says. He sits up, catches the Firewhisky before it falls. "Have you thought about our offer?"
"Yes." Harry flicks his cigarette butt across the street. It skitters on the cobblestones. "Here's an offer: you say yes, and I'll say maybe."
Snape just looks at him for a moment, then shakes his head. "Are you quite certain you're still Gryffindor?"
"I'm a politician." Harry grins. "Sorting Hat nearly put me in Slytherin."
"God preserve us all," Snape says. Then, after a moment's pause, "It nearly put me in Gryffindor and I will hex your bollocks off, Symes be damned, if you ever breathe a word of that to anyone."
Harry reaches over and plucks the Firewhisky from between Snape's legs. "Say yes?"
"Oh, for God's sake." Snape scowls at him. "Fine. Arrange the bloody meeting, but if anything goes pear-shaped, you'll answer for it."
"Open the bottle," Harry says, holding it out to him. "We've ghosts to drink to."
Potter is an irritating drunk, Severus thinks, as he maneuvers him from the Jeep to the pavement.
"Where're we going?" Potter asks, his voice slurred and too loud for the late hour.
Severus winces. He glances down the street, keeping his head tucked. It won't do for the spooks to recognise him. He pulls his cap lower on his forehead and pushes his glasses up to mask his crooked nose.
"Home," he says finally, "and keep your voice down. You don't want to wake the neighbours."
Potter blinks at him, then drapes his arm over Severus's shoulders. "Oh. Right." He bumps against Severus's hip as they stumble towards the door of his building. "Sorry," he says, then he puts his finger to his lips. "Shhh."
Severus rolls his eyes. "Keys."
"I don't--" Potter stops and thinks for a long moment, then rummages in his satchel before pulling them out with a pleased smile. "I found them."
Good God. Severus grabs them, taking his hand off Potter's back long enough to open the door. Potter wobbles for a moment, then leans against him, his breath warm on Severus's cheek. Severus's hand trembles as he pushes the door open, then shoves Potter through.
One last look around the quiet street, and he closes the door behind them.
Potter's already halfway up the stairs. He stops and sits, looking slightly green. "I think I drank too much."
"Slightly." Severus starts up the stairs. "Get up."
"I think I'll just sleep here." Potter leans against the banister.
With a sigh, Severus pulls him up and wraps his arm around Potter's waist. "Never again do I let you drink two-thirds of a bottle of Firewhisky."
"It's not wise," Potter agrees. They climb the stairs slowly. Potter stops on the landing to breathe, bent over, his hands on his knees. For a moment Severus is sure Potter's about to sick up, but he straightens. "You don't like me much, do you?"
"No." Severus puts his hand between Potter's shoulder blades and pushes him up the last flight of stairs. "But I don't hate you."
Potter leans against the wall outside his flat door as Severus unlocks it. "You used to."
Severus doesn't answer; he merely ushers Potter into the dark flat. He switches on the television for background noise. MI5 would be idiots not to have bugged Potter's rooms.
"I don't want to kill anyone again," Potter says softly, and he turns towards Severus. The streetlight from the bay window shines in his dark hair, pales his skin. "I haven't recovered from the first time."
Guilt twists through Severus. He'd always thought Albus was cruel, using Potter as a weapon the way he had. Not to mention utterly foolish to place their hope in a boy barely wet behind the ears. "Walls have ears," he says, after a moment.
Potter just looks at him. "I don't know if I trust you." He reaches out; his fingertips brush Severus's cheek. "But I don't hate you either."
His mouth is soft and warm and takes Severus completely by surprise. Potter cups Severus's face in both hands, holding him still as he kisses him, slowly, carefully, and then he pulls back, swaying on his feet, his hair mussed, his eyes shadowed.
"I need to sleep," he says, and he stumbles to the couch, falling on it and curling onto his side. "Tired."
Severus just stares at him. He can still feel the heated, dry press of Potter's lips against his. He touches his mouth with his fingertips, shaken.
"Don't go," Potter murmurs, his face against a cushion.
"You're pissed." Severus sits in the armchair across from him.
Potter rolls over, his back to him. "Mmmhmm."
Severus stays long after Potter's breathing evens.
He doesn't know why.
viii. 16 October, 2019
"You look like shit, mate," Danny says, clapping Harry on the shoulder as they walk out of the Commons chamber. He's in high spirits; his fuel poverty bill's passed the second reading and gone into committee now. Harry winces and rubs his temple. "Bad night?"
"Too much whisky," Harry says. He'd forgotten how badly Firewhisky could knock him on his arse. It was twice as potent as the Glenfiddich in his sideboard. He has vague memories of stumbling up his stairs with Snape last night, and he hopes to God he didn't do anything too humiliating.
Danny raises an eyebrow. "Celebration or commiseration?"
"The latter." Harry sighs and stops at the message board in the Member's Lobby. His name is lit up; there's a note tucked in the pigeon hole above it. Harry pulls it out, tearing the edge of the envelope as he opens it. Written in Morag's neat hand is A Mrs. Weasley rang at 9.52. Said to arrange for tomorrow afternoon if possible. You'd know what she was referring to? Also, cleaners dropped off your shirts. Don't forget to take them home tonight. -MG
Harry frowns down at the note, then crumples it.
"Everything okay?" Danny asks, moving aside as David Cameron reaches past him to pull a sheaf of notes from his pigeon hole.
"Yeah." Harry smiles tightly at Cameron--he still hasn't forgiven the bastard for supporting the Floo closure--and grabs Danny's elbow, pulling him away. "I need to talk to you."
He waits until they're outside, the sun bright and the breeze ruffling their hair.
"Well?" Danny asks.
Harry hands him the note and stuffs his hands in his pockets.
Danny looks up at him. "I'm assuming the part we need to discuss isn't about your shirts."
"My friends have agreed to meet you," Harry says under his breath. "Tomorrow afternoon, obviously. Can you pull your side together?"
"By then, yeah." Danny pulls his tweed jacket tighter and crosses his arms across his chest. "Where and what time?"
Harry hesitates; there's only one truly safe place he can think of in London now. "There's a book shop at 84 Charing Cross. Meet me there at half-two, and I'll take you to them."
Danny nods. "I'll make it happen." He eyes Harry. "You sure you're all right?"
"Mostly." Harry rubs his thumb absently over the strap of his satchel. "Can I ask you a potentially mad question?" At Danny's nod, he chews his lip, then blurts out, "How far would you go? For England. If you felt you had to?"
"What do you mean?" Danny keeps his voice low as they walk down Parliament Street.
Harry stares at the black Government cars passing by on their way up to Whitehall. "If you could change England. If there was the slightest possibility. How far would you be willing to go?"
Danny breathes out, a soft whistle as he ponders. "Change her for the better?"
"Then as far as I needed to," Danny says softly. He meets Harry's eyes evenly.
"What if it affected Kirsty?" Harry stops and looks at him. "Would that make a difference?"
Danny shakes his head. "If it was something important, she'd understand." He hesitates. "I hope."
With a wry smile, Harry sighs. Danny gives him a shrewd look. "Thinking about doing something rash, Potter?"
"Don't know." Harry doesn't look at him. "Maybe. Maybe not."
"Want to talk about it?"
Harry just snorts. "Do I ever?"
"Touché." Danny laughs. "Look, let's head over to St Stephen's and I'll buy you a bit of the hair of the dog, all right?"
"Can't." Harry looks up and down the street. He wonders who's watching him now, and whether he'll ever get used to it. "Tomorrow. Half two. I'll see you then."
He walks away, leaving Danny staring after him with a peculiar expression on his face.
"You're certain that's what they said?" Rufus turns, looking back at Zacharias, his arms crossed behind his back. His black suit is impeccable as always, not a speck of lint on the wool.
Zacharias nods, attempting to keep his temper. Politicians were all the same in his book. Dull and bloody-minded. Even Potter. Especially Potter. "Half-two tomorrow."
"And you think you know where this meeting's been held at."
"Only one place it could be in Charing Cross." Zacharias crosses his ankle over his knee and drums his fingers against his boot. "Do you want my team to stop them?"
"No." Rufus stares out his window down onto Whitehall. He presses a finger to his narrow lips. "Let them meet. You follow Foster afterwards. Must needs, etcetera. You understand."
"Of course." Zacharias nods and stands. "If that's all?"
Rufus waves him away, then stops him before he reaches the door. "Smith."
Zacharias looks back, eyebrow raised.
"I understand you've located the Potter boy."
The cool statement startles Zacharias. "That's not known outside division D, sir."
Rufus smiles thinly. "I have my sources." He sits in his chair. "Go."
Zacharias bows, just barely, and closes the door behind him, distinctly unsettled.
He doesn't particularly care for the feeling.
ix. 17 October, 2019
Pansy grabs Harry's arm as he ushers five members of Parliament into the Leaky Cauldron. "This is a horrid idea," she says under her breath, as she smiles at Danny.
Harry extracts himself. "Snape agreed." When Danny looks back, he nods at him. "I'll be there in a moment." He glances back at Pansy, his brow furrowed. "He's not backing out now, is he?"
"No," Pansy snaps. "More's the pity. I've told him we should." She pulls Harry into a shadowed corner. "This doesn't feel right. And I don't trust them. They're Muggles." She spits the last word out.
Harry catches her arm, hard enough to make her wince. "Don't spout off any of that pureblood shite, Pansy."
She jerks away. "It's practicality these days. How much do you trust them not to be setting you up?"
It's a question he's asked himself already. He looks away. "Danny's a decent sort."
"They said that about Pettigrew too," she says.
Harry narrows his eyes and moves closer to her. He takes a perverse satisfaction in her half-step back. "And why should I trust you?"
Her gaze doesn't falter. A small smile curves her red mouth. "You probably shouldn't."
The door clanks as Snape comes in, shutting it firmly behind him. He looks at Harry and stiffens, his shoulders tensing and his mouth drawing down. Harry's sure it must just be the light, but he almost thinks Snape flushes before he turns away. "Goldstein," he barks, and Anthony hurries over to him. Harry watches as they whisper to each other, their heads bent together.
It annoys him.
He looks back at Pansy. "Are you done?"
She shrugs. "You're not going to listen, so I suppose." She touches his shoulder as he turns away. "Be careful, Potter."
Harry's sarcastic retort dies on his lips when he sees the worried furrow in her brow. "Why?" he asks softly.
"I don't particularly like you," Pansy says bluntly. "But Granger does, and I don't particularly despise her. Much. So let's just say a little garden gnome or two may have mentioned that you should watch your step with the Government."
Harry studies her. She looks away, her mouth tight, her arms crossed over her white silk shirt. He can see where she's mended the collar in neat, even stitches. "Don't worry about me, Pansy. I can take care of myself."
She sniffs. "I highly doubt it."
"Might we begin, you two?" Severus calls out from across the room.
Harry squeezes Pansy's shoulder gently as he walks past. He pretends not to notice her faint smile. He thinks she'd rather he not.
He takes a seat next to Danny. "Ready for this?" Snape leans against a booth, his arms crossed, watching him balefully.
Danny grins. "Let's take the bastard down."
Zacharias would rather be anywhere than on Charing Cross Road.
He doesn't like it here. Too many memories. Too many things he'd rather forget. Like Marietta.
Zacharias barely allows himself to think of her. It's been six years, and he's done everything he can to shut that part of his life away. Here, though, the regrets come back.
If he closes his eyes, he can still hear the shouts and smell the acrid smoke of the curses, the overpowering stench of blood.
He'd walked away from the wizarding world the night Lucius Malfoy had killed Marietta and nineteen others--Muggles and magical folk--outside the Leaky Cauldron. Perhaps it's fitting Potter's brought the rogue MPs here.
The door opens, and they file out, slowly, carefully. Watching for someone like him. It's a pity they'll never find him. He turns his wand slowly between his fingers.
Zacharias wishes he'd asked Marietta to marry him. She'd wanted it; he'd told her they didn't need to. They were happy the way things were. Or he was, at least.
He'll never forgive fucking Malfoy for taking her from him.
The group splinters, the MPs heading for their slick cars or the Tube, depending upon the public face they wished to portray. Snape and Parkinson walk down the street, not looking back. Goldstein runs to catch them, his arm sliding around Parkinson's waist when he does. Potter stays with Granger and Creevey, his hands shoved in his pockets. He looks solemn, the way he has since they were children. Sometimes Zacharias had wondered if Potter'd forgotten how to smile. He still does.
He's not interested in Potter at the moment. Or any of the ELA.
Instead, he waits for Foster to pass, then falls into step behind him, barely a shadow against the wall.
He has his orders, and as much as he hates this part of his job, he'll fulfill them. Better him than Entwhistle.
Zacharias never enjoys killing people. Kevin does. A little too much.
He waits until they pass the camera shop before he reaches out.
Foster turns just before Zacharias's hand brushes his shoulder, and Zacharias swears. He'd hoped it could have been easier.
"What the hell," Foster says, but Zacharias is quick, pulling him into an alleyway and throwing him against the wall, his hand over Foster's mouth. Foster's eyes are wild, desperate. He says something, muffled against Zacharias's palm.
"I'm sorry," Zacharias says, and he raises his wand.
No one hears Foster's scream.
Severus's flat--if that's what you could term a one-room bedsit in Somers Town--is functional at best. There are no decorations other than a solitary framed photo of his mother and himself at age five that once graced the mantel of Spinner's End.
He doesn't entertain visitors, other than the occasional rent boy he brings in when his need for cock grows too overwhelming. They're never blond. Ever.
The sun's just barely disappeared over the roof of the council estate across the road. Teenage boys are hanging off the balconies, trying to charm the passing girls with insults and wildly overstated claims of sexual prowess. Severus gets up from the table and closes the window. It barely muffles them.
He's made beans and toast--it's what he'll always remember about this night in the future--and he's just taken the first spoonful when there's a pounding at his door.
At first he's certain it's the Aurors, finding him despite his best efforts, and he thinks of going out the window. He can easily climb down the three storeys using the fire ladder.
"Severus," Pansy says, and it's the frantic note in her voice that gets through to him. "Severus, open up, now--"
He throws the door open. "What--"
Pansy's stricken face stops him. "Severus," she says again, and her voice cracks. She launches herself at him, her arms wrapping around his neck. He's too startled to push her away. Instead, his hands settle at her shoulders.
"What is it?" he asks, carefully. A pit of dread settles in his stomach. Goldstein, perhaps. Or Granger….
Pansy presses her face against the cotton of his shirt. "The safe house," she says, and Severus jerks back. He stares at her, eyes wide. "The boys-- Astoria--"
"What happened?" He shakes her. Pansy doesn't pull away.
"The distress alarm came in," she says, and she presses her fist to her mouth. "Anthony and Granger went immediately, but they'd already been--"
"No. And we can't reach Justin at all. Granger's been trying." Pansy draws in a deep breath. "It had to be the SSF."
Severus doesn't hesitate. Doesn't think.
Harry turns the tiny under-the-counter television set in his kitchen on as he pulls out a pot from the lower cupboard. His flat's too quiet, and he's far too wired from the meeting with the MPs.
The quiet murmur of the news presenter is oddly calming. Harry's fairly certain that the world could literally implode on itself and the BBC News Channel would relay that fact in the most soothing, panic-reducing tones possible.
He sets water on to boil and pulls a bag of penne from the pantry. He doesn't often cook; it's easier to order takeaway from the curry shop down the corner or stop off at a restaurant on his way home.
Harry's just opened a bottle of pinot noir when the telly catches his eye. Video of Danny is playing, showing him speaking to the press on St Stephen's Green, the towers of Westminster behind him. Harry pours a glass of wine and turns up the sound.
"--no official reports yet as to the reason behind Foster's death, but sources close to the Government have suggested strongly that the English Liberation Faction is responsible--"
Harry's wine glass shatters against the tile floor. He doesn't care. He's already reaching for his mobile.
Kirsty doesn't answer.
"Fuck," Harry says. He sinks to the floor, surrounded by broken glass and spilt wine, clutching his mobile in one white-knuckled hand. He knows damn well who's responsible for Danny's death. The ELA would never be so stupid.
He doesn't know how long he sits there. The news presenter drones on. Harry doesn't have it in him to turn her off. He can't breathe. Can't feel. Can't anything.
It's a joke, a bad dream, he thinks, until he looks up at the television again and Danny's walking across it, smiling cheerfully, the wind blowing his hair as he slides into a Government car. Daniel Matthew Foster, 1982-2019 is written in neat white copperplate beneath a still image of him.
Harry's mobile rings.
There's a pause. "Sorry to disappoint," Snape snaps. "Meet me at the end of your street in five minutes."
Snape hangs up.
"Bastard fuck," Harry says under his breath, but he pushes himself up from the floor. Wine stains his jeans; he doesn't care. He doesn't even bother to clean up the glass.
He grabs a jacket from the rack next to the door and walks out.
The door to Snape's flat gives way with a single Blasting Charm.
Zacharias walks through the splintered wood, two Aurors at his heels. He stops in the middle of the solitary room, turning slowly, his wand out. Traces of the earlier Apparation still linger in the air, sparkling as Zacharias's charm strikes them. Stupid of Snape, really. They'd been looking for his flat for months now.
He nods towards the bath. "Kevin. Check in there."
"You know we won't find anything," Entwhistle says. He's already rifling through a stack of papers on the desk. He sweeps them aside, scattering them across the floor. "Sudoku." His lip curls. "Snape's too smart to leave anything incriminating lying about."
Zacharias stoops to pick up one of the papers--the only one on pale yellow stock. "Just look," he says. He frowns down at the neatly penciled numbers in black-lined boxes. Entwhistle groans and shoves the door to the bath open.
"What's that?" Moll looks over Zacharias' shoulder.
"Nothing." Zacharias tucks the paper in his pocket. The boys in the lab can analyse the others. He turns to the kitchen cupboards. A crash of glass against tile comes from the bath, and he smiles. "I think Kevin has the right idea, don't you?" He pulls a plate from the dish drainer and drops it on the floor. It shatters, sending bits of pottery skittering across the floor.
Moll laughs, a deep, ugly chuckle. "Whatever you'd like, sir." He sends three bowls onto the floor with a grin.
Zacharias sends a Diffindo towards the sofa. Stuffing explodes out of the rip, drifting over the room.
He smiles and turns his wand towards the near-empty bookshelves.
Watching them explode is highly satisfying.
Severus lights another cigarette and leans against the post box. His hand has stopped shaking. Finally.
There's still blood beneath his fingernails.
He shudders and draws in a ragged breath, coughing as the smoke catches on the back of his throat.
Potter walks up, his brow furrowed, the light from the streetlamp glinting off his glasses. "Are you going to tell me what the fuck's going on?" he asks, belligerent.
Severus doesn't answer; he just holds out one end of a worn leather belt. Potter looks at it suspiciously.
"Oh, for Christ's sake, it's a Portkey," Severus snaps.
"They'll trace us." Potter gives him a mulish look. "I can't--"
Severus grabs his wrist and wraps the belt around it, his fingers tight on Potter's. He doesn't even know if this will work in Potter's magic-suppressed state, but an illegal Portkey's far less trackable than Apparition.
Just as Potter starts to protest, Severus feels the familiar tug in his gut and the shadowed trees and passing headlamps from the busy street fade away into a dark swirl.
They land outside the house in Prestbury, Potter half in the shrubs. He pulls his hand from Severus's and clambers out of the bush he's landed in. "Thanks," he says with a scowl.
Severus shrugs. It'd taken himself and Granger all of five minutes to fashion the damned Portkey. There'd been no time for proper calibration.
The house is empty; the door still stands ajar. Granger and Goldstein have gone back to headquarters with instructions to pack every damned thing as quickly as possible. Granger had protested; she'd wanted to be with Harry she'd said. Severus had flatly refused. The last thing Potter needed at the moment was a Gryffindor's idiotic sympathy. Not tonight. And he'd known Potter would need to see this. It's what he would have wanted were he in Potter's position.
"Where are we?" Potter looks at him, his confusion obvious.
A curtain flutters at the front window of the house next door. No one steps out, however. They're not foolish enough. Not after the SSF's been here.
"A safe house," Severus says finally. His throat is tight, thick. "Or what used to be one."
Potter follows him into the house. "Used to be?"
Severus turns on the foyer lamp and closes the door behind them. He feels detached. Empty.
"Snape?" Potter's voice rises. Severus walks into the sitting room. It'd happened here. He switches on the overhead light. There's still blood on the wall, on the floor. He stares at it blankly.
Potter stops next to him. He inhales sharply. "What happened here?"
"The SSF." Severus presses his knuckles to his mouth and forces himself to breathe. In. Out. In. Out. Goldstein had carried her body out. Her blonde hair had been matted with blood, just like Draco's. Her eyes had stared at him, open and glassy. "I failed all three of them," he says quietly. He closes his eyes for a moment, then opens them again, looking at Potter. "I failed you."
"How?" Potter asks, but Severus can see the fear in his eyes. A part of him knows.
Severus walks to the mantel. There's a photograph there, in a silver frame, of the boys with Astoria, smiling into the camera. James and Scorpius lean against each other; Astoria stands behind them, one hand on each boy's shoulder. He hands the photograph to Potter.
"Jamie," Potter whispers. The frame shakes in his hand as he looks down at the blood smeared across the beige carpet. "He's--"
"Not dead." Severus walks into the kitchen. He can't be in the sitting room any more. Draco would never forgive him for not keeping his promise to protect her. He turns the water in the sink on, letting it pour over his hands, washing away the last dried vestiges of her blood.
Potter stops in the doorway. "Where is he?" He looks down at the photograph. "Who are these--"
"Astoria was Draco's wife," Severus says. The water's ice cold against his skin. "Scorpius was--is their son." He stops, staring out the window into the tiny back garden. In the darkness, he can barely make out the white Adirondack Astoria claimed as her own. She liked to sit out there on nice evenings and read. He takes a shallow breath. "Scorpius is also my godson."
"You brought James here." Potter's voice is flat.
Severus turns off the water and dries his hands on a tea towel left on the counter. He wonders which one of them touched it last. The thought aches. "To keep him safe. Yes."
Potter sets the photograph on the table. "What went wrong?"
"They found him." Severus's mouth twists. "After all these years of hiding them all to keep them out of Symes's hands--"
"I told you to let me see him," Potter says angrily. "He's my son."
Severus's anger explodes. "And for all intents and purposes," he hisses, stepping closer to Potter, "Scorpius is mine."
They glare at each other, then Potter looks away. His hand trembles as he runs it through his hair. "Where are they?"
"Somewhere the Government would prefer for us not to discover."
Potter starts to towards the door. Severus grabs his arm, stopping him. "We have to find them," Potter nearly shouts.
"Don't be a fool." Severus digs his fingernails into Potter's skin, enjoying the idiot's flinch. "Going after them half-cocked will only get all of us killed. Them included."
Potter stills. Severus knows he's made his point when Potter breathes out in a furious huff, then sinks into one of the chairs at the table. It's James' usual, Severus notes bitterly. "If they hurt them--"
"They won't. Not yet at least." Severus is fully aware he sounds grim. He's no desire to comfort Potter.
"It's all Astoria's." Severus turns away. "We've made sure." He grabs the edge of the sink with both hands, his shoulders hunched. He's never loved Astoria. He knows that. But he'd cared for her. Protected her. Whether or not he found himself in her bed from time to time, she'd still been the mother of Draco's son, for God's sake, and he'd bloody well liked the damned cow.
Losing her hurts, and he's sodding tired of it all.
Potter's hand brushes his back almost hesitantly. "She's…" He stops.
"Dead. Yes." Severus stares down at the wet steel of the sink. A droplet of water rolls towards the drain. "They shot her. If I know Astoria, she put herself between them and the boys when she realised they couldn't escape fast enough."
Potter doesn't say anything.
"Fuck Symes," Severus says tightly; he grabs a mug on the counter and whirls around, throwing it against the opposite wall. It shatters, shards of pottery skittering across the floor.
He only feels marginally better.
And then Potter's next to him, his hands on Severus's arms, holding him still. He smells like wine and sweat. "They killed Danny too," he says, and his voice breaks. "In some fucking alley tonight--"
Severus stops him with a kiss. He tells himself he doesn't want to think. Doesn't want to feel. Part of him knows he's thought of this for two days, wanted to feel Potter's mouth against his again. He ignores that.
Potter breathes in, a soft huff of air across Severus's mouth, and then he's kissing Severus back, his hands catching Severus's face. They stumble back a few steps, Potter's teeth scraping Severus's bottom lip, and then Potter's shoulders hit the refrigerator, stopping them. Severus barely notices.
His mouth drags along the curve of Potter's jaw, stubble rough against his lips. Severus has missed the taste of a man, the feel of a hard chest against his, wide hands splayed on his back. He pushes his hips forward, and Potter groans, swearing softly into his ear as their cocks rub together.
Potter's getting hard with each press of Severus's hips, and his fingers dig into Severus's shoulder blades, twisting in the cotton of his shirt. "Don't stop," Potter says, turning his face against Severus's throat. His tongue flicks against Severus's skin.
"Shit," Severus gasps. He couldn't stop if he wanted to. He doesn't.
Somehow his hand finds its way between them, and he pulls at the zip of Potter's jeans, not even bothering with the button at the waistband before he shoves his hand inside, pushing at the soft cotton of Potter's pants, his fingers curling around Potter's prick as he draws it out.
Potter kisses him, all teeth and tongue, and his hand cups the back of Severus's head, holding him still as their mouths move together. Potter's glasses dig into Severus's cheek; the refrigerator rocks behind them. Something falls off the top and crashes to the floor.
They still don't stop.
Severus slides his thumb up the underside of Potter's cock. His skin is hot and smooth, and when Severus presses against the ridge of his head, Potter's hands scrabble against his back. "Fuck," Potter says against Severus's jaw. He bites and sucks the skin there, his tongue soothing the sting.
They end up on the floor; Severus doesn't care how. Potter's beneath him, his hard, red prick jutting from the open fly of his jeans. Severus pushes the denim down, shoving it over Potter's thighs as Potter's hands pull at Severus's shirt. Buttons pop off, rolling beneath the cooker and the cupboards, and then Potter's reaching up, sucking at Severus's nipple.
Severus groans and leans into Potter's mouth. His fingers fumble with his trouser buttons; he pushes Potter back against the linoleum, leaning in to kiss him as he drags his hard cock across Potter's.
Potter hisses, and Severus nudges his thighs apart. He ruts against Potter as they kiss fiercely, desperately, their mouths hard and angry. Severus knows Potter's using him just as much as he's using Potter at the moment, and he doesn't give a damn.
It doesn't take long for either of them. Potter comes first, pressing his hips into Severus's thrusts, and he bites Severus's lip as he arches beneath him. "I'm--" he cries, and Severus cuts him off with a kiss as Potter's cock bursts against his, covering them both with hot, sticky spunk.
Severus wraps his fingers around their pricks, jerking quickly, smearing Potter's slick come across their skin as he raises up, watching as he wanks them both. Potter falls back against the floor, his t-shirt ruched beneath his arms. He closes his eyes, breathing hard, his cheeks flushed, and Severus twists his palm over the head of his cock, dropping Potter's prick as he tugs harder at his own.
He comes with a groan, his body shaking, his palm slipping against the worn linoleum. He lurches forward and presses his prick against Potter's stomach. The head slides through the warm wetness
They lie together for a moment, the only sound in the room their uneven breathing.
Potter's mobile rings. Severus catches his hand as he reaches for it. "Don't," he says. "They can trace…"
Potter nods and lets his hand fall to his side. Severus looks down at him; Potter turns his head, staring instead at the legs of the table. Anger rushes through Severus, and he rolls off Potter, pushing himself to his feet. He pulls his trousers together. "Get up."
"I said get up." Severus won't let himself look at Potter. "And you needn't fear I'll say anything about this horrific lapse of judgment. After all, it was nothing more than a grief fuck. It happens." He fastens the few buttons that remain on his shirt. His hands shake.
Potter stumbles to his feet. He turns away from Severus to pull himself back together. "Right." He hesitates. "I want to see James' room."
"Upstairs." Severus isn't certain this is a good idea. He doesn't have it in him to stop Potter, though. He doesn't look at the blood when they pass through the sitting room. Draco watches him from a photograph on a shelf in the hall as they pass.
Severus turns his head.
They climb the stairs silently. Severus doesn't look past Scorpius's open door. The glimpse of clothes scattered across the floor is enough to close his throat. He points Potter toward James's room.
The bed's rumpled and a pair of jeans lie tossed across the oval rag rug. Potter walks in, slowly, turning to take in the small room. He stops at the small bookcase. "Where'd he get these?" he asks, touching one of the book spines.
Severus leans against the doorjamb. "I brought them to him."
"Oh." Potter glances at the Tottenham Hotspurs poster on the wall. "And this?"
Severus looks away. "He and Scorpius liked to watch football."
"I used to take him to matches in White Hart Lane," Potter says softly. He lays his palm against the edge of the poster and flattens it back against the wall.
"He liked Markham best." Severus doesn't know why he's sharing this with Potter.
Potter smiles. "Good taste, that one." He walks over to the window, pushing back the plaid curtain and looking down onto the street. Moonlight catches the traces of silver in his hair. He picks up a tiny, roughly whittled bear that sits on the windowsill, rubbing his thumb over it.
Severus walks across the hall into Scorpius' room. It reeks of boy--sweaty and musty. Scorpius, much like his father, had never been neat. Not without benefit of house elves, at least. He stumbles over a pair of trainers, catching his hip painfully on the footboard of the bed. He swears, kicking the trainers out of the way, and reaches for the small carved fox on the desk as he drops into the chair next to it.
The wood's rough and uneven beneath his fingertips, the ridges left by the knife caught forever in the grain.
"Snape," Potter says, and Severus looks up. Potter's standing in the middle of the room, still holding James's bear.
Severus's fingers tighten on the fox. "They carved them," he says, and he hates the thickness of his voice. "It was James's idea, and anything James wanted to learn, Scorpius insisted on taking up as well." He snorts. "Scorpius nearly lost the tip of his thumb in the process, but…" He trails off and rolls the fox between his fingers. "I told him to be careful with the knife. Just like his father, he never listens."
Across the desktop, a photograph of Draco laughs silently down at a young Scorpius wriggling on his lap. Scorpius throws his arms around his father's neck and beams, his blond hair falling into his face. Draco smooths it back with a quick, almost embarrassed brush of lips against his son's cheek.
Severus's faint smile hurts. He'd taken that photgraph on Scorpius's sixth birthday. He stares back down at the fox in his hand.
Potter crouches next to him. He holds the carved bear next to the fox. James had been better with the knife, Severus thinks. "What you asked me for," Potter says hesitantly, softly, his eyes fixed on the tiny carvings, "about Symes…" He licks his bottom lip; the light from the window illuminates his pale face as he looks up at Severus. "I think I'm ready."
Severus nods slowly. Their hands brush for a moment, a quick slide of skin over skin that sends a flush flooding Potter's cheeks. "You're certain."
"He took my son," Potter says, his face hardening. "That was fucking stupid of him."
"Not one of their brighter moves," Severus agrees.
Potter's mouth twitches. "No." He's only inches from Severus now, and it takes all Severus has not to pull him closer. He's no idea what's got into him, and he's certain he doesn't like it.
Severus stands abruptly, nearly knocking Potter onto his arse. "I need to get you home." He doesn't bother to look back as he strides out the door, the carved fox still clutched tightly in his fist.
Potter will follow, that much Severus knows.
"You're all right for tonight then?" Harry asks as he unlocks the door to his flat.
The mobile connection crackles, nearly covering Kirsty's sniff. "I'm fine. My mum's here with me and the kids for now, and Scott--Danny's brother--he and Ashika are driving down from Cheltenham in the morning. I told them not to come until then."
Harry doesn't think he should tell her he was just in Gloucestershire. "Good." He shuts the door behind him and drops his keys on the hall table. "Look, Kirsty, I'm so sorry about--"
"Don't," she says quietly. Harry leans against the door, his mobile pressed to his ear. "I know what he was doing. He and I talked about it before--" Her voice cracks, and she takes a shallow breath. "Before he approached you. We both knew the risks."
"I never meant for this--"
She cuts him off. "We just didn't want Sam and Sophie to grow up in a world like this."
Harry doesn't know what to say. "He was a good man."
"I know." Kirsty falls silent. Harry almost thinks he's lost the connection when she sighs. "I have children to think about now, Harry. Don't call me again."
"Please," she whispers, and she clicks off.
Harry runs a hand through his hair as he shoves his mobile back into his pocket. It's been a long night. An exhausting night. He doesn't know if he can sleep.
He flips on the light in the sitting room and freezes.
"Out late?" Thom Rufus unfolds himself from the armchair next to the window and stands, brushing the wrinkles from his trousers. "You weren't working."
Harry shrugs off his jacket and tosses it on the sofa. His heart thuds against his chest. "Social call."
Rufus raises an eyebrow. "I see."
"Want to tell me how you managed to get in here?" Harry walks over to the sideboard and pours a glass of whisky. He puts the decanter away without offering Rufus any. Bastard's probably already drunk some.
"I was MI6 once," Rufus says mildly. He crosses his arms behind his back and looks out the window. "My condolences on Foster's passing. You were friends, yes?"
Harry leans against the sideboard. "Colleagues." He twists his glass, watching the whisky swirl. "Did MI5 kill him?"
Rufus gives him an incredulous look, then laughs. "Really, Potter, the ideas you come up with." He flicks an invisible piece of lint from his suit jacket. "How preposterous. It was the ELF. Of course."
"Of course." Harry takes a sip of whisky. Lying bastard. His fingers tighten on the glass. "Do you have a reason for breaking into my flat, or should I call the police?"
"Really." Rufus's nostrils flare. "You're so very droll." He turns towards Harry, his arms crossed over his chest. "I'm here on the Prime Minister's behalf. He's heard through various sources you're in search of your son still."
Harry drains his whisky and pours another. "It's not something you give up on easily."
"No." Rufus tries to smile. It doesn't work. "Edwin's a family man himself. He understands the need to protect one's own."
"Is this going somewhere?" Harry asks over the rim of his glass. "I'm tired, and I'd like to try to sleep before I go to work tomorrow to deal with more of the shite your Prime Minister wants to shovel onto the country."
Rufus's frown deepens, and he takes a step towards Harry. "Your attitude, Potter, is not pro-Coalition."
Harry meets his gaze. He sets his glass aside. "No. I never said I was."
There's a long silence. Harry can feel Rufus sizing him up, his cold eyes narrowed. "Perhaps," Rufus says finally, "you should ask yourself if your friends have your best interests at heart." He walks to the door and looks back, his hand on the doorknob. "Or your son's, for that matter."
Harry doesn't answer.
Rufus's thin mouth twists into a sneer. "They have him, you know. Tucked away. Waiting to use him against you when you least expect. They're that sort. Untrustworthy at best." He raises an eyebrow. "Or perhaps they've already killed him."
"Get out," Harry says as calmly as he can muster. He digs his fingernails into the wood of the sideboard. "Now."
The door snicks shut behind Rufus.
Harry reaches for the bottle of whisky, leaving his glass on the sideboard. He takes a long swig from the bottle as he walks towards his bedroom. Tomorrow, he thinks, tomorrow he'll ask Severus to ward the flat.
He goes into his bath and sets the whisky bottle on the edge of the sink. The potion's in its usual place, dark purple against the white bath towels. Harry picks it up, turning the bottle in his hand.
It's been years now. Night after night of downing the cack. Being tested. Falling into line because it's the only way he thought he could fix his country. And he's tired of it. Tired of beating his head against a brick wall. Tired of letting them limit who he is.
Harry opens the bottle and turns on the water in the sink. The faint, familiar scent of camphor and cabbages wafts up. He only hesitates a moment before he pours it down the drain, watching it dilute and wash away.
He looks at himself in the mirror, pale and haggard, dark circles smudged beneath his eyes, hair wild.
And he smiles.
x. 18 October, 2019
It's not even dawn when Harry wakes up. He lies still for a moment, barely breathing as another drawer thumps closed. He can barely see the figure in the shadows, rifling through his dresser.
His head aches, he's nauseous and he's had damned enough. Sitting up, he flips on the lamp.
Pansy Parkinson jumps, one of his t-shirts still clutched in her hand. "For God's sake, Potter," she whispers. She's dressed in tight black jeans and a snug black jumper that's been carefully mended at the elbow. Her hair's in a sleek dark bob this time, the way he remembers it from school.
"What the hell are you doing?" Harry stands, not caring that he's wearing nothing but boxers. His head swims and his stomach lurches.
Pansy eyes his bare chest appreciatively. "Packing your bag. I thought I'd let you sleep a bit longer."
Harry jerks the t-shirt out of her hand and puts it on. It's an old Morrissey shirt from a concert he'd taken Ginny to when they were dating. "I have to install a security system."
"It's rather easy to climb in your back windows," Pansy agrees. She drops a half-filled rucksack on the bed. "Get dressed. We should have about half an hour before the spook outside your building wakes up."
"Since when did MI5 start falling asleep on the job?" Harry pulls on a pair of jeans and shoves his bare feet into trainers. He pauses to breathe. Moving makes the nausea worse.
Pansy tosses two jumpers into the rucksack. "I'd call it more forced unconsciousness." She looks at Harry. "Aren't you curious?"
Harry rubs his temple. Her voice makes his head pound. "I assume you'll tell me what this is about, when you're ready to."
She smiles faintly. "Quick learner."
"Not really in the mood to banter." Harry sits on the edge of the bed, breathing in slowly.
"What's wrong?" Pansy frowns at him as she zips the rucksack and tosses it over her shoulder.
Harry shakes his head as his stomach lurches again. He can taste bile in the back of his throat.
"Potter?" Pansy says, concern tingeing her voice.
Harry barely makes it to the toilet before he sicks up. He curls against the cool porcelain of the tub, waiting for the shivering in his gut to subside.
A soft hand brushes his forehead, and Pansy's squatting next to him. "You haven't a fever."
"No." Harry rests his head against the tiled wall. "I didn't take my potion last night."
"Ah." Pansy disappears for a moment, and he hears running water and rustling in his cupboard. He doesn't turn his head. He doesn't think he can. She sits next to him, handing over his toothbrush cup filled with water and two paracetamol. "Not as effective as a potion," she says. "But it'll help."
Harry snorts, then winces. He pops the pills in his mouth and takes a long swallow of water. It tastes vaguely minty. "Thanks."
Pansy nods. "It's withdrawal. It takes a day or two for your magical levels to even out. Don't be surprised if you do a bit of wandless work accidentally." She studies him, her upturned nose wrinkling slightly. "I've a car down the street. You need to make it there. Soon."
"Can do." Harry drains the rest of the water and hands the cup back to her. "I've had worse hangovers."
She pulls him to his feet and hands him the rucksack. "Let's go."
"Wait." Harry walks back into the bedroom, Pansy trailing behind him.
"We don't have time, Potter--"
He ignores her and grabs his wand from the nightstand. The moment his fingers curl around it, he can feel it vibrate faintly. He flicks it and sparks spiral across the room in a burst, brushing past Pansy.
"Do you mind?" she snaps. Smoke curls from the fabric at her shoulder and she swears, patting down the singed knit. "I liked this jumper, you bastard."
"Sorry." Harry starts to slide his wand into the waistband of his jeans, then thinks better of it and slips it into a side pocket of the rucksack before opening his wardrobe.
Pansy pokes a finger through a hole in her jumper, frowning at him. "I packed clothes already."
"I need cash." Harry digs through the back of the wardrobe, pushing aside shoeboxes and bags of old clothes he'd meant to take down to the Oxfam donation bank last winter. He finds the biscuit tin he's tucked a few thousand pounds in--just in case an emergency occurs, and he thinks this qualifies as one. He shoves the wrapped notes into the rucksack before turning back to the wardrobe. "Besides, you didn't pack this." He pulls out his old Invisibility Cloak, the slick, silver grey fabric dangling from his fingers.
"Is that what I think it is?" Pansy grabs it from him, wrapping it around her shoulders. She looks at him in delight when her body disappears. "Draco always hated you for having this."
"I can imagine." Harry settles the rucksack on one shoulder and grabs his satchel. "Shouldn't we be going?"
Reluctantly, Pansy shoves the cloak into the rucksack and heads for the still open dining room window. She swings a long leg over the windowsill and looks back at him. "Ready for this?"
"What the hell," Harry says flatly and he follows her out into the dusky early morning.
"Any time you'd like to tell me where we're going would be brilliant," Harry says over the plastic lid of his coffee cup. They've just stopped in Slough for petrol and breakfast--in Pansy's case, a packet of Hobnobs that currently rests between her thighs as she eases the Corsa back onto the M4. She'd remembered to swap out the license plates this time, lest Granger bitch at her again. She hopes Dennis has hacked into the DVLA to switch out the name and registration like he'd promised.
She pulls a biscuit from the packet and bites into it, pausing to shoot two fingers at a Mercedes that doesn't want to let her merge. Fucking Muggle bastards ought to learn how to drive.
"I," she says through a mouthful of crumbs, "am bringing you to Severus, as requested." She glances over at Potter. "He thinks, all things considered, you'll be safer with us for now."
Potter takes another sip of coffee and slumps further in his seat. He looks pale and sweaty. Pansy almost feels sorry for him. She remembers what coming off the suppressant had been like. "He's probably right," Potter mumbles. "I had a visit from Thom Rufus last night."
"And?" Pansy swerves into the right lane, narrowly avoiding a Volvo estate car. Potter grabs his seatbelt, holding tight.
"Jesus." He sets his coffee cup into the cup holder next to the gear shift. "It was made clear they know I'm fucking about with you lot, and there was a definite implication that Jamie's being held by your side to force me to cooperate with you."
Pansy rolls her eyes and brushes her hair back behind one ear, ignoring Potter's flinch as she takes her hand off the steering wheel. "Bollocks."
"I know." He shifts in his seat looking at her. "Snape's not that good an actor."
"You'd be surprised," she says. She downshifts to pass a large lorry. "But no, not so much when it comes to Scorpius."
Potter nods and fiddles with the radio, switching it to Radio One. "He and Malfoy…"
"They were together." Pansy reaches for another Hobnob, against her better judgment. She'll have to run another half-mile tonight if she eats the whole damn packet. "Astoria looked the other way."
"Why?" Potter tries to cross his ankle over his knee, but there's not enough room without bumping the gear shift. Instead, he pulls one foot onto the seat and wraps his arm around his knee. A bit of pale skin shows through a frayed hole on his thigh.
Pansy shrugs. She doesn't like thinking about Astoria. "Better than fighting a losing battle, I suppose. And she loved them both in her own way." Her throat constricts for a moment; she hides it in a cough. "And they both cared about her. She was Scorpius's mother, after all."
Potter falls silent, staring out the window at the green fields rolling past. After a long moment, he sighs and shifts in his seat, his foot hitting the floor. "Why are you doing this?" he asks.
"Because there's no other choice," Pansy says quietly.
He looks over at her then. "There's always another choice. You had a choice in the war--"
"I was a child." Pansy's hands tighten on the wheel. "I'd been raised to think--"
"That's shite, and you know it." Potter's eyes narrow.
Pansy doesn't say anything. She takes a shallow breath. The radio presenters joke with one another in muted tones, and the sun breaks free of the grey haze of clouds just long enough to brighten the motorway before disappearing again.
"Maybe it is," she says finally. "But I can't go back and change things, and I don't know that I'd want to." She looks over at Potter. "I'm not a Gryffindor, Potter. I won't ever be."
Potter rubs at a greasy spot on the window, smearing it. "So, what made this time different? Was it just a chance to get back at the Muggles?"
"No." Pansy hesitates. "Not in the way you mean it." Her mouth twists. "I don't care about Muggles in general."
"But in specific?" Potter leans his head back against the seat, watching her.
Pansy flexes her fingers against the steering wheel, staring out at the road in front of her. The white dashes painted on the tarmac flick past. She counts fifty of them before she answers. "They brought me in," she says finally. "In the early days, before we really knew what was happening in the Government. Those of us who weren't registered--they said we were in violation of the Magical Standards Act."
Potter nods and reaches for his coffee.
"Merlin," Pansy murmurs. She hates thinking of those days. She hates Potter for making her explain. She's done everything she can to put them behind her, to forget the shrieks and the pleading and the pain and the white-hot burning throughout her body. The scars down her spine have faded white thanks to Anthony's dittany salve. All she has left are the nightmares that wake her screaming from time to time. "I need a fag. They're in my purse." Potter lights one for her and hands it over. She takes it gratefully and inhales, rolling her window down enough for the smoke to drift out. "I lived with someone once, you know."
"Really?" Potter drops the packet and lighter back into her purse.
"Theo Nott." Pansy rolls the cigarette between her fingertips. "I'm not certain where the fuck he is now. Millie once heard through the grapevine he may have made it to Canada, but I don't know." A plumber's van passes them, and Pansy eases into the lane behind it. "I'd like to think he is, though. It's better than the alternatives."
"Did he leave you?" Potter asks.
"No." Pansy shakes her head, then hesitates. "Or maybe he did. All I know is that when I finally got out of Nemworth after eight months, he wasn't at our flat any longer. Everything was there but him. No note. Nothing out of order." She lifts the cigarette to her mouth with an unsteady hand and takes a long drag. She can still recall standing in the middle of their bedroom, days after her return, when the realisation that Theo wasn't coming back hit. Draco had found her on the floor, hours later, exhausted and tear-streaked. It was the first and only time she'd ever fallen apart. "It was just as if he'd vanished."
Potter just watches her. "I'm sorry."
Pansy lifts one shoulder and exhales a thin stream of smoke. "It is what it is." She licks her bottom lip. She can still taste the faint bite of menthol. "The day the SSF took me in for questioning, I was going to tell Theo I was pregnant." She laughs bitterly. "I was six months along when I finally miscarried. The Muggles at Nemworth were furious with me. It was their chance to have a magical infant to run their damned tests on."
"Christ." Potter runs a hand through his hair, a horrified expression on his face.
"I heard later they used the foetus for experiments." Pansy throws her cigarette out the window; she rubs the back of her hand across her eyes. They sting from the smoke, she tells herself. "It would have been a girl." She doesn't know why that detail is so important. Why it's always been so important. It was just a foetus. Nothing more.
She moves her hand when Potter's fingers brush hers.
"You're not the only one who's lost people," she says, and she doesn't bother to hide her anger. "Every fucking one of us has."
They drive on.
Pansy throws the rucksack at Harry after pulling it from the Corsa's boot; he barely catches it. When she reaches for his satchel next to a cardboard box, filled with what looks like broken electronics, he steps forward, taking it from her hand before she can lift it out.
"Laptop," he says, and Pansy shrugs. There are Hobnob crumbs on her chest. She brushes them off, frowning.
"Whatever." She grabs the box of electronics and closes the boot with a thump.
The door slams behind them, and Harry turns around to see Hermione, her feet bare in the still damp ankle-deep grass that wets the rolled-up hem of her khakis as she runs toward them. She throws her arms around his neck.
"The Forest of Dean?" Harry says against her hair, holding her tight before pulling back, his arm still around her waist. He looks around the small clearing surrounded by a thick thatch of trees. It looks familiar. "Didn't we spend enough time wandering about here during seventh year?"
Hermione steps back, her mouth twitching. "Technically, that wasn't seventh year." She glances over at Pansy. "Is that for Dennis?"
"Carmichael and Boot." Pansy balances the box on her jutting hip. She heads towards the grey stone farmhouse. "For the timers."
"They're in the kitchen." Hermione watches as Pansy disappears past the heavy oak door. "She's in a mood."
Harry shifts the satchel onto his shoulder. "That might be my fault."
"She's worried." Hermione takes the rucksack from him. "After last night…" She trails off.
Harry doesn't answer. He can't.
"I'll show you your room," Hermione says, starting for the house. "It's close quarters here. You'll have to share."
The foyer is cool and dark. A corridor leads back into the shadowed recesses of the house; a narrow stair on Harry's left twists upwards. Hermione takes the steps, her feet pale against the threadbare strip of carpet stretched over worn wooden boards. The plaster walls are bare, but Harry can see small holes where pictures once hung.
"Who owns this place?" Harry asks, following her. "It's better than camping out in the woods in the middle of the bloody winter."
Hermione laughs. "It belongs to a second cousin of Dennis's mum. They don't use it any longer. Too far from London for them."
"So they've loaned it to the ELA?" Harry stops at the top of the stairs. A long landing stretches out on either side of them.
"They don't know we're here and wouldn't be best pleased to know we are," Hermione says coolly. "They support the Government." She nods to her right. "Pansy and I are down there with Dennis and Anthony. Eddie and Terry are on the other side of Dennis and Anthony. You're this way." She starts down the hall. It's lit only by the light from a tall window at the end.
"What if they show up?" Harry glances past an open door. There are two mattresses on the floor, sheets bundled on top of them.
Hermione pushes open a door at the end. "They won't." The room's scrupulously neat; two iron beds stand side-by-side with a small, rickety table between the headboards. An alarm clock sits on the table, red LED light washed out in the sunlight from the window. Motes of dust swirl in the air.
A familiar leather jacket hangs on the end of one of the bedsteads. Harry blinks. "Hermione," he says, "not Snape--"
"He said to put you here." Hermione sets Harry's rucksack on the other bed and sits, the mattress creaking beneath her. A tendril of hair brushes her cheek, having escaped from the knot at the nape of her neck. "There's no other empty space."
"It's a bad idea." There's a desk in the corner, its surface covered with orderly stacks of paper. Harry represses the urge to shuffle them.
Hermione doesn't say anything for a moment, then she sighs. "What happened last night? He woke us up at three insisting Pansy go after you."
"Nothing." Harry's head starts to throb again. "Look, I need to lie down for a bit--"
"Right." Hermione stands up. "I'll come get you in an hour or two."
Harry nods. "Thanks." He waits until the door closes behind her before he reaches for Snape's jacket. It smells like cigarettes and musk, and Harry's certain he's lost his mind. But he can still feel Snape pressed against him, can still feel Snape's mouth--and his cock--against his. He shudders, feeling himself harden.
Christ. This is Snape. Harry's appalled at himself for even thinking the man'd grown attractive in his later years. Ron would have laughed his head off and told Harry he'd gone mental.
After he decked him, maybe.
Harry hangs the jacket back on the bedframe and falls onto his bed, tucking his knees against his chest. He misses Ron desperately. He'd give anything for one last conversation. Harry runs his hands over his face, pushing his glasses up over his forehead. He feels oddly empty. Achy. For the first time in years, he wishes Dumbledore was here. He'd know what to do. He always had.
His fingers begin to prickle, and Harry holds his hand up, looking at it curiously as the tingle turns into a burn that spreads across his palm.
The light on the ceiling above the beds shatters, showering glass and bits of plaster down onto Harry. He curls himself into a ball, wincing as a shard cuts his cheek. He touches the stinging skin; his fingers come away bloody.
And still burning.
Harry closes his eyes, his fingers tightening into a fist.
The burning spreads.
Potter's asleep when Severus comes in.
Blood streaks his cheek and his hand. Glass and plaster are scattered across the floor and both the beds. Severus glances up. The entire light fixture is gone; what remains is a gaping hole with dangling wires.
"Lovely," he murmurs, and Potter turns on the bed, breathing out in his sleep, stretching like a cat. His hair is mussed, his glasses askew.
Severus resists the urge to kiss him. Instead, he brushes the debris from the bed before Potter, idiot that he is, rolls onto it. The last thing he needs to deal with is the Saviour of the bloody Wizarding World bleeding out on his watch.
Squatting next to the bed, he takes Potter's glasses off, then freezes as his knuckles brush Potter's cheek. His skin is hot--too hot--and Severus can see a trickle of sweat from the thick hair at Potter's temple.
Potter mumbles something in his sleep and shifts again, his eyes fluttering open. He looks at Severus, pupils wide and eyes glassy. "Hot," he whispers, tugging at the neck of his t-shirt. It's soaked with sweat.
"Bloody hell," Severus says beneath his breath. He pushes himself to his feet. Potter sinks back against the pillow, closing his eyes again. "Anthony!"
He flings the door open, hurrying down the hall. "Anthony," he bellows again, leaning over the banister. Footsteps echo in the hallway below, and Goldstein's face appears, turned up toward him.
"Potter," Severus says. "A fever--"
"Shit." Goldstein disappears.
Severus goes back to the bedroom. Potter's twisted himself on the bed and somehow managed to pull his t-shirt off. It hangs from one shoulder, exposing the damp, flushed skin of Potter's back and the knobs of his spine.
There's a fresh bruise over one shoulder blade. Five of them, actually, each one the size of a fingertip. Severus feels his face warm.
Goldstein pushes him out of the way. "Pansy says he stopped taking his potion last night." He drops a black leather Healer's bag onto the bed, next to Potter. "Help me roll him over."
Severus doesn't want to touch Potter. Not in front of Anthony. He does so anyway, settling his hands on Potter's shoulders and lifting him as Goldstein holds his hips.
Potter's eyes open again. He looks up at Severus. "Hey," he whispers, and he licks his bottom lip. "I--"
"Quiet," Severus says, cutting Potter off. Goldstein gives him a curious look as they switch places. He bends over Potter, his fingers pressing against the underside of Potter's jaw, against his throat. Severus fists his hands at his sides. He doesn't like Goldstein touching Potter and doesn't like that he doesn't like it.
"How is he?" Granger steps into the room, her arms crossed over her chest, her brow furrowed in worry.
Goldstein rummages in his bag. "It's a reaction to the potion withdrawal. It happens occasionally, when someone's magic is too strong and they're too stubborn to wean themselves off the potion." He pulls out a phial of bright blue liquid. "Not that anyone in this room would be stupid enough to do that."
Severus glares at him. "It wasn't that awful."
"You were delirious for two days and you nearly set the whole damn house on fire." Goldstein shakes the phial. "Sit him up."
Potter groans when Severus slides his arm beneath him, lifting him from the pillow. He's limp and warm against Severus's shoulder. "Hurts." Granger sits at the foot of the bed, her hand lightly resting on Potter's calf.
"Good." Severus grasps Potter's chin with one hand, holding his mouth open. "Potion, Anthony."
Goldstein pours the potion down Potter's throat, and Potter sputters as he swallows. Severus almost feels pity for him. He knows full well the potion tastes like burnt dragon shit.
"That should settle him," Goldstein says. His glasses glint in the light from the window as he steps back. "It'll put him to sleep for a while."
Potter's already curled against Severus' chest, his breathing evening. "Someone will need to watch him to make certain he doesn't bring the house down around our heads." His fingers make small circles against Potter's warm skin. He stills his hand when he sees Granger looking at him.
"I'll stay with him," Granger says lightly. He doesn't like the curious expression on her face. "If you want."
Severus frowns at her. "You've work to do."
"So've you." Granger meets his gaze evenly.
"It's less pressing." He doesn't know why he's arguing with her. Or why he wants to stay. "Get out, the both of you. I want your full reports ready for the meeting when Boot and Carmichael get back."
Goldstein snaps his bag shut and heads for the door. "If his fever doesn't break in a few hours, let me know."
Granger follows him slowly, then turns back at the door. "I don't know what's going on here," she says, lowering her voice, "but you've already hurt him enough, Severus."
Severus's fingers tighten on Potter's shoulder. Potter whimpers softly in his sleep. "I said get out, Granger."
The door closes behind her with an angry thump.
Second Lieutenant Owen Cauldwell sits at the back table of the Royal Stag off Fishponds Road, drinking a pint of Timothy Taylor. Or pretending to, at least. He's nervous. He always is at these meetings--especially ones that are set up at the last minute. It doesn't matter that he's in civilian clothes and there's not a soul from Chicksands about. He knows enough not to trust anyone or expect MI5 not to be listening.
The door opens, letting in a draft of cold air. Rain pours off the trilby brim of the man who enters. He takes it off, shaking it as he runs a hand through his brown hair. He catches sight of Owen and nods as he heads to the bar. Finch-Fletchley has always had his priorities.
"Apologies for the short notice," Justin says a few moments later as he sits down, a whisky in hand. "There was a situation last night and I had to lie low. I thought it best to meet with you. There are things afoot, my friend."
Owen leans forward, his shoulders tense and tight. "What's going on?"
The bell above the door clanks again. Justin sips his whisky as two other men take the chairs next to him.
"Owen," Terry Boot says with a warm smile. Owen flushes. He'd spent most of his second year following Boot around Hogwarts like some sort of pathetic puppy. His wife Emma still teases him about it. She's Muggleborn, like him. She works at a shop now on Shefford High Street, selling tea towels and bed linens. Emma'd been in Ravenclaw. Brilliant girl. Her Charms work had been flawless, Flitwick had said.
Terry gestures to the man on the other side of Justin. "I don't know if you've met Eddie."
"I think you once sold me some Baruffio's Brain Elixir to help me with a Potions exam," Owen says, extending his hand. "It didn't work."
Eddie laughs. "God, I was a shit back then."
Justin leans forward. "We're going to need you to be a bit more proactive now, Owen. Not just pass on information."
Owen takes a long drink of his beer, wiping the back of his hand against his mouth as he sets his glass down. "Right." His heart thuds against his chest. Sometimes he wishes he'd told Justin no when he'd approached him a year ago. It's not himself he's worried about, but Emma, if they find out. He knows what happens at Nemworth; he has nightmares about the screams.
Eddie sets a small satchel on the table between them. It's military issue. Owen recognises the regimental numbers stamped on the front flap. Fourth battalion of the 1 MI Brigade in Bulford.
"What's that?" he asks. He doesn't expect an answer.
Terry smiles again. This time it doesn't reach his eyes. "That is going to help us finally bring Nemworth down."
Owen touches it lightly with one finger. The olive-grey burlap is rough against his skin. "You want me to smuggle it in."
"Right in one." Justin pulls the fronts of his suit jacket together. The usually crisp white handkerchief in the pocket has wilted in the rain. He swirls his whisky in his glass. "Among other things."
The table's silent for a moment. Owen stares into his beer. "Emma--"
"We'll take care of her if anything goes wrong," Eddie says gently.
Owen nods, then lifts his glass. He drains it in one gulp.
"What do you want me to do?"
Teddy's curled in the corner of his cell. His toilet's been broken for two days now, and the stench of piss is nearly overwhelming. He hurts over every inch of his body.
They'd waterboarded him today, or at least that's what they'd called it. Teddy could think of better names. Hell, for one. He doesn't think he'll ever be able to shake the horrifying sensation of water pouring down his throat, his nose, through a thick, wet towel wrapped around his head. He'd gagged and begged to be released.
He hadn't told them anything, however. Or, at least, anything true. Snape had taught them that much in basic. If absolutely necessary, give up information, but never anything important, and never anything entirely true.
There's a clank of metal against metal at his door, and it slowly swings open, one of the soldiers stepping in with a plate of food. Teddy's no interest in the stale toast and cold beans, but he pushes himself up, shuffling into the middle of the cell painfully. Food is energy. Energy is hope.
The soldier sets the plate on the bed. Teddy recognises him vaguely. He's seen him about, just watching from the sidelines. "I don't have much time," the soldier says under his breath. "The computer system's just failed and they're rebooting the surveillance cameras." He looks up at Teddy. "I've another three cells to get to in the next five minutes."
"I don't understand--"
" You have to trust me." The soldier cuts him off. He reaches into a satchel at his side and pulls out a small, flat black box smaller than Teddy's palm. "Tomorrow evening you'll have open exercise in the gym. Take this box and plant it somewhere. It's important."
Teddy takes the box. It's light, and the plastic is smooth against his hand. "What is it?" There are no markings, no openings. Just a small LED light on the top next to a black button.
The soldier smiles faintly. "A bomb."
"Merlin," Teddy whispers. He sets it down on the bed carefully. "How'm I going to hide it?"
"You'll have to figure that out on your own." The soldier looks back at him from the door. "Just make sure it's set and the button on the top is pushed."
Teddy nods. "Who are you?" He licks his split lower lip.
The soldier hesitates, then his shoulders straighten. "Owen Cauldwell. Second Lieutenant. Proud Hufflepuff." He salutes Teddy with a smile. The door closes behind him; the lock clangs shut.
For the first time in weeks, Teddy grins.
Revenge feels good.
Harry wakes up alone. The room's quiet and dark; he can see the moon hanging low over tree branches through the paned window. He sits up, his body aching. His t-shirt's neatly folded over the footboard of the bed. He pulls it on and stands slowly. His back twinges.
He can vaguely remember a potion being forced down his throat. And Snape. He remembers Snape stroking his back, his fingers cool against Harry's heated skin. Christ. He can't believe he'd curled up against the man like that. What Snape must think…
With a groan, Harry runs his hands over his face and up through his hair. He has to get past this, he knows.
The hallway's silent and dark, but light glows from the staircase. Harry takes the steps slowly, shaking a bit as he grips the banister. He can hear the soft murmur of voices below, punctuated by the occasional louder, sharp reply. The carpet is rough against his bare feet, and he stumbles once, catching himself just before he pitches headfirst down the last few stairs. Instead, he falls backward with a grunt, and his hip wrenches to the side painfully.
"Fuck," he groans. There's a splinter in his palm now.
The voices stop, and footsteps echo in the shadows.
"What the hell are you doing, Potter?" Snape asks, scowling as he walks towards Harry.
Harry just gives him a baleful look from his sprawl on the stairs. "It should be bloody obvious."
Snape rolls his eyes. "Idiot," he mutters, and he helps Harry up. His hand is warm and firm around Harry's wrist. Harry wonders why he's never noticed before how long and pale Snape's fingers are. He wobbles slightly, and Snape's arm slides around his waist, holding him up. Harry shivers as Snape's huff of annoyance gusts across the skin of his throat.
"You shouldn't be out of bed," Anthony says, stopping in front of them. He looks put out, Harry thinks, just like Madam Pomfrey used to whenever Harry'd shown up in the infirmary yet again. Anthony's fingers press against Harry's neck. "Your pulse has slowed at least."
"I'm not as hot," Harry offers.
Anthony rolls his eyes. "That still doesn't mean you should be on your feet yet." Harry just gives him a look and Anthony throws his hands up, turning to go back in the room. "Fine. Your funeral, Potter."
Snape snorts. "Typical Healer hyperbole."
"Don't get me started on you," Anthony says over his shoulder darkly.
"Bastard," Snape mutters beneath his breath, and Harry chokes back a laugh. Snape glares at him. "It doesn't make him wrong regarding your current state."
"I'm not going back upstairs," Harry says. He pulls away from Snape and takes a few steps down the hall. "I feel better." His knee gives way and he lurches.
Snape catches him and pulls him upright, his hands on Harry's waist. Harry can feel their heavy warmth through his t-shirt. "You're a damn fool." Snape sighs at Harry's mulish frown. "Fine. You might as well sit through this." He slides one hand to the small of Harry's back and gives him a small push. "Walk."
The curtains are drawn in the tiny sitting room, and two lamps that Harry'd seen before in Marks and Spencer's cast a cosy yellow glow across the chintz and gingham upholstery. A fire burns in the hearth; Pansy and Hermione are curled on opposite sides of the sofa, Justin Finch-Fletchley between them. Smoke curls from the cigarette in Pansy's hand, disappearing into the shadows of the timbered ceiling.
Dennis and Anthony have taken a pair of straight-backed chairs; Terry Booth and Eddie Carmichael--Christ, Harry hasn't seen either of them in years--are sprawled on the floor. Terry tugs his fringe and grins at Harry.
"Potter," he says cheerfully. "Don't fall over."
Hermione pushes Justin with one foot. "Floor."
Justin slides off the sofa, settling next to Hermione and pulling her socked foot over his shoulder. He rubs it absently as Harry takes the seat he's vacated. "Feeling better?"
"A bit." Harry eyes Pansy's fag.
She rolls her eyes and hands it over. "You're pathetic."
Harry takes a slow drag, holding the smoke in his lungs until it burns. He blows it out towards her. "Horribly." She tries to hide her small smile. He sees it anyway.
Snape sits in the one armchair in the room, an overstuffed monstrosity that he somehow manages to invest with a certain dignity. "I do believe, before we were interrupted by a certain bull-headed idiot, that Boot was explaining the explosives."
"Right." Terry sits up, crossing his legs. "The timers are set for half ten tomorrow night. Even if only two or three of them go off, that'll be enough of a diversion for us to get in."
Harry hands the cigarette back to Pansy. "Get in where?" he asks softly.
"Nemworth." She taps the cigarette against the side of the ashtray balancing on the sofa arm. "Justin thinks that's where they've taken the boys."
"It makes sense." Justin looks up at them. "I used a back door to get into the GCHQ system this morning. They cut my access last night. Just before…" He trails off for a moment; the whole room falls silent. No one looks at Snape, Harry notices. This is a family, he realises. In some strange, dysfunctional, mad way. And Snape's the centre, sitting in his armchair, steepled fingers pressed to his lips.
Harry's stomach knots. He sits forward, his elbows on his knees. "Before the SSF showed up in Gloucestershire."
"Yes." Justin coughs. "Anyway. I was locked out of the computers by half five."
"You managed to get out of the building," Hermione says softly. Her fingertips brush the top of his head, smoothing back his hair. "It could have been worse."
Justin curls his fingers around her ankle and nods. Harry wonders how long they've been sleeping together. "And I designed the system, so I put safeguards in place for this." He looks at Harry. "I knew I had fifteen minutes once I opened the link to GCHQ. Dennis and I downloaded all the files we could get to and started decrypting them."
"We used the Norway proxy," Dennis says. He looks at Snape. "And I doubletracked through Berlin, Moscow and a magical side server in New Jersey that scrubbed our location. So don't worry."
Snape lowers his hands to his lap. "I wasn't."
"There are enough hints in the files to extrapolate that the boys are at Nemworth," Justin says. "And since we were planning a move on there as it was…"
"We've moved it up." Snape looks at Harry directly. "To tomorrow."
Harry nods. "It's risky." If they fail… he doesn't want to think about what will happen to the boys.
"Does that bother you?" Snape doesn't break his gaze. His eyes are dark and shadowed. Harry has no idea what the man's thinking. He doesn't think he ever will.
He takes a deep breath. "No."
Snape smiles and leans back in his chair. "Good."
"What about Symes?" Pansy asks quietly. She stubs her cigarette out.
"The boys first," Snape says. His eyes narrow; his mouth tightens. "Then we'll make the fucking bastard pay."
Harry agrees completely.
Everyone's gone up to bed. Severus rinses out the last of the glasses, turning it upside down in the dish drainer, and wipes his hands with a tea towel. He prefers the house at this hour, quiet and subdued. He's never cared for large, loud groups, particularly ones two decades younger than himself.
"Knut for your thoughts." Granger leans against the doorpost, an empty wine glass in her hand.
Severus takes it from her with a frown. "I thought you'd gone upstairs already."
"I had." Granger pulls the grips from her bun; her hair tumbles loosely around her shoulders. "Pansy has Anthony in our room."
"And Finch-Fletchley can't keep you occupied?" Severus turns the water back on and reaches for the sponge.
Granger shrugs. She twists a lock of brown hair between her fingers. "I was talking to Harry for a bit until he got tired."
The water's cool against Severus's hands. He soaps the glass with the sponge. "Am I supposed to care about this?"
"I don't know." Granger moves closer. She grabs the tea towel and takes the wet glass from him, drying it. "Are you?"
Severus squeezes out the sponge and turns off the water. "What's that supposed to mean?"
Granger sets the glass down. She folds the tea towel and lays it next to the drainer. "Neither one of you could stop looking at each other, when you thought the other wasn't paying attention."
"Don't be ridiculous." Severus's cheeks warm. He'd been careful to ignore the wretch. He was damn certain about that. He'd had his doubts about Potter's ability to dissemble, however. He's oddly pleased and that annoys him.
"I don't think I am being." Granger watches him. She takes a deep breath. "If it's Astoria--" She breaks off at Severus's fierce glare. "Before Astoria and the boys?" she asks, her surprise evident. "It's not just--"
Severus puts his hand over her mouth. "I am going to walk out of this room before you cause me to hex you. Do you understand?"
Granger nods; he drops his hand. He's almost at the door when she says softly, "He thinks it's just about Astoria." He looks back at her; she lifts her chin defiantly. "A grief fuck, he said it was." Her hand grip the edge of the counter, her knuckles white.
"It was," Severus says finally. He leaves her standing in the kitchen, her quiet liar echoing behind him.
Harry's awake, staring up at the fuzzy shadows that move across the ceiling each time the wind rustles the tree branches outside. His glasses are on the night table next to the clock.
When Snape comes in, he doesn't turn on the lamp Harry'd brought up from the sitting room. He's just another shadow in the dark as he sits on the edge of his bed, his back to Harry. He pulls his jumper off, folding it before he drops it on the floor. Moonlight spills through the window, across his white shirt and cropped grey-black hair and over the faded blanket.
Silently, Harry watches as Snape untucks his shirt, his hands disappearing as he unbuttons it, and when he shrugs it off, revealing pale skin and taut, wiry shoulders, Harry can't stop the quiet breath he takes.
Snape stills, then he stands, his back to Harry. He pushes his trousers down over his narrow hips and kicks them off. He's only a pair of thin, dark boxers left, and Harry wants desperately for Snape to slide them away, to let him see a glimpse of pale, flat arse. Instead, Snape pulls his blanket down and crawls into bed.
He doesn't look over.
"Snape," Harry says after a moment. He doesn't expect an answer. "I should have trusted you. Back in the war." He licks his bottom lip, suddenly nervous. "I thought--"
"I know what you thought." Snape's voice is low.
Harry feels seventeen again. It's a strange sensation. "I just--" He shifts in bed; the mattress creaks beneath him. "I never really apologised for that, I think. To you."
There's a heavy sigh, then Snape says, wearily, "Go to sleep, Potter." He rolls over, pulling the blanket tight around his shoulders. All Harry can see is the back of his head, dark against the white cotton pillowcase.
Harry waits until Snape's breathing evens out before he wiggles his hand past the tight waistband of his pyjama bottoms. He's already half-hard; it only takes a few strokes before the muscles in his stomach are tense and his cock is heavy in his palm. If he closes his eyes, he can imagine his fingers are Snape's, warm and tight as they press his foreskin back over the head of his prick. He presses his other hand to his mouth, biting down on the ball of his palm. The mattress squeaks as he digs his heels into it.
"Severus," Harry whispers against his palm, nearly silent, the last s catching in the back of his throat in a groan, and with a jerk of his hips, come spurts warm and thick across his thumb.
He sinks back onto the pillow slowly, his fingertips ghosting across his slick, sticky shaft. He bites back a hysterical snort. It's been years since he's done this--wanked so furtively with someone else in the room. Not since Hogwarts, he thinks, and they'd all used privacy spells for that.
At least Snape's asleep. Harry's face burns. If he hadn't been…
A soft shift and murmur in the bed next him makes Harry freeze. He draws his hand out of his pyjama bottoms, wipes it on the underside of the blanket, willing his ragged breaths to slow.
It takes a very long time for him to fall asleep.
xi. 19 October, 2019
Edwin lays his Times down. Charlotte gives him the eye across the breakfast table. She never cares for work intruding this early, especially on Saturdays. "You're certain this information is correct?"
Thom shrugs and sets his teacup in the saucer. "It's a fairly reputable source." He raises an eyebrow. "What would you like us to do?"
Newsprint stains Edwin's fingertips. He wipes it away with a napkin, frowning. He'll have to make it clear once more to the Times editor that the paper will be shut down if a better ink isn't obtained. He's quite tired of his shirt cuffs being grey in patches. "The public is still outraged about the bombing, I trust?"
"And calling for the ELF leaders' heads on silver platters, yes." Thom folds his hands on the tabletop. His wedding ring glints gold against the white damask.
Charlotte stands, her annoyance evident. She brushes her smooth blonde bob back from her face, tucking her hair behind her ear. "I'll leave you two to this idiocy. I'm taking the children to the park this morning."
Edwin nods at her, then leans forward, his elbows on the table. He barely notices when she walks away. "Then let them attempt this unchecked. They'll be stopped, of course. We outnumber them by far."
"Of course." Thom looks after Charlotte. "Your wife--"
"Is no concern at all." Edwin waves him off. "She's never understood how dangerous these people are. Bit of a bleeding heart, she can be at times. Not that I'd like that spread about, mind. I'm perfectly capable of keeping my wife in line."
Thom nods. "Certainly, sir." He lays his napkin on the table. "I'll let the security services know they're to stand back on this one then."
"And make sure the media is kept in a frenzy," Edwin says. He spreads marmalade on his toast. "I'd like more editorials on the bombing. Speak to Hornby at the Guardian. They owe us for that last interview we gave them."
"I'll do so immediately." Thom stands and bows slightly. "Will you be going to the park as well today?"
Edwin bites down into his toast, licking marmalade from his thumb. "Me at the park? I think not." He doesn't care for the outdoors at the best of times. Besides, spending time with Charlotte when she's in a snit is horrific. "I'll be in my office later."
He looks down at the front page of the Times after Thom leaves. The photo of a flattened Trafalgar Square makes him smile. He'd always thought Lord Nelson a complete prick. Even his father had said so.
Edwin eats his toast, content.
Potter's gone when Severus wakes up. His bed is neatly made, the corners of the sheet crisply folded.
Severus sits up. He can almost believe he dreamed it, listening to Potter masturbate in the dark, hearing his name on his lips as Potter came.
It means nothing, he knows. Potter's emotionally bereft and has a history of making reckless, ridiculous choices. His sudden sexual obsession is neither surprising nor significant. Severus is merely the closest and most inappropriate subject. He has no doubt that if Potter had easy access to Edwin Symes that the fool wouldn't pull his prick out in front of him--an uncharitable thought, no doubt, and one it's too early in the damned day to feel ashamed for.
He dresses quickly, pausing only for a quick wank over the toilet to relieve his morning erection. He ignores the fact that he thinks of messy black hair and a soft, pink mouth.
The others are gathered in the kitchen when he goes in, hovering over the table. Severus doesn't look at Potter as he pours coffee from the French press on the counter and stirs in enough milk to fade it a pale tan. He can feel the bastard's eyes on him; it sets his neck to prickling.
No one's foolish enough to speak to him until he's had his first sip of coffee.
Severus leans against the counter and lifts his coffee cup to his mouth. "What the hell are you lot doing?"
"Going over floor plans of Chicksands," Boot says, a pen clutched between his teeth. He points to a spot on the paper rolled out across the table. "We think breaching the fence will be easiest. Cauldwell says there are fewer guards. More electronics." He looks at Creevey and Finch-Fletchley. "You two can handle that?"
Justin nods. "Their system's based off GCHQ's. Give us five minutes to hack in and we should be able to take care of that part. The rest of you will have to handle any actual guards."
"Easy enough," Goldstein says. "I've prepared some syringes filled with sleeping draught--"
"Adjusted for Muggles, I hope?" Severus sets his coffee cup down.
Goldstein gives him an exasperated look. "Of course. No deaths unless absolutely necessary. I'm aware of the rules."
"Simply making certain," Severus says. Potter watches him from across the table. Potter's dark brown jumper is snug across his shoulders and looser over his hips. His jeans are faded, his hair rumpled. Severus wants to shove him against the cupboards and suck him off.
"If we Stun the guards, then inject the draught," Goldstein explains to the others, "any Aurors that come along later won't be able to Rennervate them until after the potion wears off, rendering them useless."
Potter nods. "That's brilliant. How many jabs do you have?"
"Five for each of us?" Goldstein ponders. "Maybe six, if I can find another phial."
"I've one in my room I nicked off your stash last month," Pansy says. At Goldstein's chiding look, she shrugs. "Some nights I can't sleep."
"We know they've anti-Apparation wards in place." Granger tosses a Knut on the table. It rolls a few inches before falling on its side. "So we're going to use Portkeys to transport everyone. Hopefully they'll end up in Wales, where Millicent and her group are waiting for them. But, if nothing else, they'll be out of that hellhole." She sets a Sickle next to the Knut. "These are for us. They'll bring us back here. Just remember which is which."
"Good." Severus moves closer to the table. "And we're certain the security codes Cauldwell smuggled out through Potter are correct?"
Granger and Creevey exchange a look. "From what we can tell," Granger says, "they fit the usual Army standard. That doesn't mean they haven't changed them since, though."
"If they haven't?" Potter asks, his brow furrowing.
Carmichael grins. "That's what Terry and I are for. We're all stocked up on PE4 and Erumpent fluid. We could take down bloody Downing Street if we wanted."
"Keep that in mind for later," Severus says dryly. He meets Potter's gaze.
It's late afternoon when Teddy shuffles into the gym--or so he thinks. The hours tend to blend together after a while. His trainers squeak on the thick mat over the hard concrete. The gym had been a wine cellar in the priory once, he'd been told. He doesn't know whether or not to believe it. There are fifteen of them tonight in the humid room--more than there are stationary bicycles at the end of the room.
This is what passes for exercise in Nemworth. An hour every few days with a bike or calisthenics or running in place in front of the cracked mirror along the wall.
Still, one takes what one can get.
He sees Cauldwell in the corner, with two other guards, laughing at them as they come in, a rag-tag, tired lot of wizards, shoulders slumped, hair ratted. All of them have beards now. They're not allowed to shave. They don't talk. If the guards catch them talking, they'll be clubbed, at best. At worst, they'll be sent to the medical ward for more testing.
No one wants that.
Cauldwell meets his eyes, then looks away with a nod. Teddy can still feel the tiny black box against his hip, tucked into his pants. He's been terrified since he left his cell that he'll be stopped, patted down. Or worse, that the box will slip free.
Teddy's lucky enough to get a bicycle. He sits on it gingerly until he's certain the pumping of his legs won't dislodge the box.
He rides fast and hard for nearly forty minutes, relishing the burn in his thighs, in his lungs, as the second hand on the clock ticks further to the left. When he finally slides off, his legs are rubbery and aching. It's what he wants. He staggers to the wall on the other side of the bicycles, breathing hard, and drops down to the floor.
The edge of the mat digs into his arse; he wipes his sweaty face with his t-shirt. A quick glance around makes certain the guards are looking the other way. He's slightly hidden from the CCTV camera by the others on the bikes.
Slowly, Teddy works the box out of his pants, pulling it from the elastic waistband of his trousers but keeping it hidden beneath the hem of his t-shirt. He knows exactly where the button is; he pushes it and the red LED light glows faintly through the grey cotton.
It only takes a moment for him to let the box drop to the floor, still caught in his shirt, then slide it out and under the edge of the mat. There's not even a bump. Nothing to show it's there.
Teddy breathes out slowly and pulls his knees to his chest. He rubs the scarred V in his palm with his thumb.
Whatever happens tonight, he'll be thinking of Victoire.
Harry sits in the near empty back of the van, tense and taut, his fingers twisting his Invisibility Cloak between his hands. It's been years since he's worn it.
The others are silent as well. Terry and Justin are in the front, dark caps pulled down over their hair; three Muggles Harry's only been briefly introduced to before they climbed into the van outside Tutshill sit behind them, guns in their hands. They make Harry uncomfortable. He reaches for his wand in his jeans pocket, making certain the hilt's still easy to grab. He hopes his magic's settled like Anthony claims it has.
Hermione's next to him. Her shoulder knocks his with every bump Terry drives over. He reaches out and grabs her hand. She smiles at him faintly.
Snape scowls at them both from across the van, his knees at his chest, arms draped over them. Harry's not certain what his problem is, but he's been in a mood all day. He supposes it's just nerves. God knows, he's terrified--there are so many ways this can go wrong.
Pansy's voice crackles in the earpiece he's wearing. "We're nearly there." She and the other three are riding in a different van, just in case they'd been stopped.
"Tell Dennis to link up with me," Justin says. He unfolds his laptop and rests it on the dashboard. Terry turns down a narrow road--barely a path, really--and pulls to the side, turning the van off.
"Already there," Dennis says over the earpiece. "Give me a minute and I'll have a secure connection for us."
Harry tenses, waiting. The steady tap of Justin's fingers across the keyboard is loud in the silent van.
"There we go," Justin says after a moment. "CCTV looping just about…" He hesitates, frowning down at his laptop. "Now." He twists the screen of the laptop, turning it to tablet mode. "I've got a thirty-second segment set for the next half hour. Let's do this."
Snape has the back doors of the van already open. He motions for them to follow. The Muggles jump out, guns held up. Harry pulls on his black knit cap and slides out of the doors, wand in his hand and cloak draped over his shoulders. The Muggles give his floating head a sideways look but don't say anything.
It takes a minute to get from the van to the fence.
"Our fence is down," Dennis says in his ear. "There are a few guards, but we're going through--Jesus, Pansy, you didn't have to kick his balls--"
"Shut up, Creevey," Pansy snaps, her voice fading in and out. "Or I'll jab you."
"Enough." Snape kneels next to the wire fence. He looks up at Justin as he pulls his wand out of the small rucksack on his back. "Cut the electricity."
Justin nods, his face illuminated by the glow of the tablet screen. His fingers move across the smooth surface. "Done. I can hold it off for thirty seconds before the alarm trips."
Snape slashes through the wires of the fence with a single swish of his wand. "Go."
They crawl through, one by one, splashing through the muddy waters of the ditch on the other side. Harry's next to the last. He drops to his knees, the weeds slapping at his face. He's just slid past, one foot in the ditch, when he's pulled short, his cloak catching on the cut wires.
"Ten seconds," Justin says tightly.
Harry jerks his cloak free, wincing at the tearing sound. He rolls out of the way just as Snape ducks through and with a quick wave of his wand mends the wires together. Sparks fly as the last one connects. They wait tensely for the alarm.
It doesn't come.
One of the Muggles--Dickie, Harry thinks he's called--breathes out. "Too fucking close."
"My thoughts exactly," Snape murmurs, eyeing Harry. Harry flushes. Snape stands and brushes himself off. "Pansy, where are you?"
There a silence, then Pansy says faintly, "Coming up on the priory entrance."
"We'll meet you there." Snape looks at them. "Come on."
It takes four minutes to jog from the fence to the priory. Snape pulls Harry back. "Keep your cloak on," he says. "They'll expect one less of us."
Harry nods and pulls the hood over his head. The world shimmers in front of him. Hermione smiles towards where he was last standing.
"Just like the old days," she says quietly, and he snorts.
There's a burst of gunfire as they come around the corner, then a burst of red light. Anthony's crouched over a soldier, pulling a syringe from the man's arm. He drops it on the ground and stands up. "We're inside."
Pansy and the others are waiting for them just past the door. "This is too damn easy," she says to Snape.
"So you say," Anthony whispers. "We've taken out eight guards already."
There's a boom further in the building, followed by another two quickly after. Alarms blare.
Eddie checks his watch. "Half ten," he says with a wide grin. "Right on time."
Terry frowns. "There should have been four."
"Maybe the charm failed." Eddie shifts his bag on his shoulder. "Or the connection to the PE4--"
"Hush." Hermione pulls the two of them back into the shadows with the others just before a cadre of soldiers runs through the entry hall, headed for the back hallways.
"We'll split up," Snape says when the hall's empty again. "Pansy, you'll take your group the back way. Creevey, you've still the blueprints on that machine?"
"Go." Snape looks back at Hermione, Dickie and Harry. "You'll come with me. Justin will take the other two."
They take the corridor Harry'd been down before with Ayers, ducking into side rooms when they hear footsteps. Snape stops in front of a door and pulls out a small box with a card attached to it via cord. He swipes it through the card reader.
"This had damn well better work, Granger," he says, then punches in a code
Hermione swallows. "It will."
The light beneath the card reader goes green and the door clicks open. Hermione's shoulders slump in relief.
They hurry through; Dickie closes the door behind them. Harry can feel the air thicken around him again. It's heavier this time then it was before; his head buzzes and aches. His stomach lurches.
"Breathe as slowly as you can," Snape says quietly behind him. "It helps stabilise your magic and adjust your lungs to whatever shite they've pumped in the air."
Harry draws in a deep breath and exhales slowly with each step down the corridor. Strangely it works. The nausea fades, and his head steadies into a dull throb that he can ignore.
They've almost reached the second door when a shout stops them.
Ayers turns the corner, his gun held out in front of him. "Back away," he says.
Snape's eyes flick towards Harry. "I don't think you want to stop us."
"I rather think you're wrong in that assumption." Ayers keeps his gun trained on Hermione. "You," he says. "Over here." Hermione moves slowly, her wand still out. Ayers' finger tightens on his gun trigger. "Faster, girl."
Harry slides behind Ayers, his wand clutched in his sweaty hand. Please, he thinks, praying to whatever God might be listening, please let my magic work. Properly.
"Stupefy," he whispers, and a jet of red light slams into Ayers' back. He drops to the floor and Hermione kneels next to him, pulling out a syringe from her back pocket and jabbing him with it quickly.
"Thanks," she says. The door clicks open, and Snape waves them through just as another band of soldiers round the corner. Dickie slams the door shut as the bullets spray down the hall. Hermione points her wand at the lock. "That should jam it for a bit. I hope."
"Justin, Pansy," Snape pants as they duck down another corridor. "Status?"
Anthony replies. "Just came up on some guards. I think we've got them all down, but we're nearly out of potion."
"Stun them then," Justin says. He's out of breath. "We're nearly at the medical ward. Terry's going to blow the doors."
"Keep going," Snape says grimly. "Get as many out as you can before we have to pull back." He looks at their small band. "Head for H-block 7."
H-block 7 is silent.
Cauldwell stands in the middle of a swarm of guards, guns at ready, waiting for the door to open.
He can barely breathe, can barely move. His heart pounds loudly against his chest.
He knows what he has to do.
He raises his gun higher.
When the door opens, he pulls the trigger.
A bullet slams through the half-open door, catching Hermione in the shoulder. She cries out and staggers back, blood splattering across the wall next to her. Harry grabs her, keeps her from falling.
She blinks up at him, her hand pressed against her shoulder. "Harry," she says. She breathes out. "Charm--"
"Fuck." Harry presses his wand tip to the wound. He can barely remember the healing charm.
Snape pushes him out of the way. "The door," he says brusquely, and Harry leaves Hermione to him and runs to help Dickie hold the metal door shut. Behind him he can hear Snape chant softly, "Vulnera Sanatur, Vulnera Sanatur, Vulnera Sanatur." Hermione groans, her breath catching. Harry shivers.
"Is she all right?" Harry asks, looking back.
Snape nods. "It'll scar."
"Damn." Hermione winces as Snape shoves her to her feet. "There go my hopes of being a Page Three girl."
Dickie whistles softly next to Harry's ear. "Will you look at that?"
Harry turns back to the door and peers through the thick glass window. A bullet's embedded halfway through the cracked glass. Blood is splashed across it.
Five guards are strewn across the floor, blood pooling beneath them. The few remaining on their feet have turned their guns away from the door and are firing on another guard.
It takes a moment for Harry to recognise Cauldwell through the haze of smoke. His body jerks as the bullets hit it, but he keeps firing as he falls to the floor, until his gun tumbles from his fingers.
The door on the opposite end of the cellblock bursts open. Eddie and Anthony come storming in, throwing Stunners at the guards, Pansy and Dennis on their heels.
Harry throws his door wide, and he picks off the last two guards. He slams syringes into each of them and looks back. Hermione steps through the door, her hand still on her shoulder. Snape follows her. He drops the bullet on the ground.
"You'll be sore for a while," he says to Hermione.
She winces. "Not surprised."
Dickie shoots the lock off the first cell door and pushes it open. Seamus Finnigan stumbles out, his hair greasy, his eyes bright. He flinches at the sight of the gun, but Dickie smiles gently at him and pulls a bag out of his rucksack. He holds it out to him. "Take one," he says. "It'll send you to Wales. Someone will be waiting for you."
"You're a Muggle." Seamus's voice is raw and rough. He's too thin, too gaunt. Harry can see the jut of his collarbones beneath the taut stretch of his grayish skin.
"Seamus," Harry says. He comes up behind Dickie, letting his cloak swing open. Seamus jumps as he appears. His mouth opens, then closes.
"Hey," Harry says with a small smile.
Seamus touches Harry's face lightly, his fingers sliding up to trace his scar. "Harry Potter, you fecking bastard," he whispers, then he wraps Harry in a tight hug before stepping back. He looks around. "Hermione." He swallows. "Malcolm. They Kissed him--"
"We know." Hermione wraps her arm around his waist. "We tried to get you both out…"
He shakes his head. "They were going to Kiss me tomorrow," he whispers. "They'd said…" He trails off, shuddering.
Hermione takes the bag of Portkeys from Dickie. "Here." She steps away. "Millicent will be waiting."
Slowly Seamus reaches into the bag. The moment his fingers close around a Knut, he breathes in sharply and disappears.
There's a moment's pause, then the other prisoners surge forward, clamouring for Portkeys. Harry passes the bag back to Dickie, then turns to Severus.
"I have to find Teddy," he says. "And the boys."
Severus nods. "I'll come with you." He touches Hermione's shoulder. "Clear out the rest of the cellblocks on this end, then go back to the house."
Harry follows him out the door.
The moment the door closes behind them, Severus touches his earpiece. "Justin. I need a location." He starts down the corridor, not bothering to wait for Potter.
There's a crackle of static in his ear, then Justin comes in. "Right. Give me a second." He pauses. "For what?"
"A cell. Three of them, actually." Severus turns a corner, Potter behind him. "Theodore Lupin. Then search for Scorpius and James."
He ducks into an empty office. Potter closes the door. They look at each other, breathing hard. Severus leans against a desk. There's a photo on the wall of a smiling family with a man dressed in camouflage fatigues.
"Lupin's in cell 459, solitary," Justin says finally. "Where are you?"
"Two corridors over from H-7," Severus says. He peers at the nameplate on the desk. "In a Lieutenant Ostrowski's office."
"You're not far." The earpiece pops and hisses. "Keep going down the corridor you're on, then up a flight of stairs. Right at the top, then left at the next corridor. He'll be down there."
"And the boys?" Potter asks.
"Hold on," Justin says. He's silent for another moment, then he comes back on. "The only thing I can find in the system is a transfer order for yesterday afternoon."
Severus tenses. "What?"
"They were here…" Justin hesitates. "They transferred them out. I don't know where-- I can't find a record--"
"Fuck." Potter runs a hand through his hair, leaving it standing on end. "We have to--"
"I need more time," Justin says. "This isn't--"
He's cut off by Terry. "They're coming. Justin-- Justin! Fuck--" There's a sharp cry, then silence.
"Justin." Severus stands up. He presses his finger to his ear. "Justin. Terry. Answer me, damn it--"
There's nothing for a long moment, then there's a crackle in the earpiece again. Severus stares at Potter.
"Well, hello there," a smooth voice says, words clipped and clean. "Fascinating little devices you have here. Rather a lot like the ones we use, wouldn't you say, lads?"
"Who's this?" Pansy snaps tightly. "Severus--"
"Quiet, Gryffindor," Severus barks. Pansy falls silent. Severus hopes she remembers the code. He wants them out and back at the house packing up before whoever this bastard is finds the Portkeys on Justin and Terry.
There's a chuckle in the earpiece. "So. Snape. MI5 here. Quite pleased to actually speak with you finally."
Potter opens his mouth. Severus claps his hand over it and shakes his head. "Give me my men back," he says. Potter's breath is warm against his palm.
"That's not possible," MI5 says calmly. "They're dead. Pity that. Although it's quite satisfying to know your lot die just as quickly when shot in the head as ours do."
"You didn't know that already?" Severus drops his hand from Potter's mouth. He grabs a pen and a piece of paper from the desk and scrawls go after Lupin. Potter nods. "I thought the security services went out of its way to hire intelligent officers." Severus writes the access codes on the scrap of paper and shoves it, along with the box with the swipe card attached, into Potter's hand.
Potter starts for the door. Severus grabs his arm and pulls him close. Be careful, he mouths, and then he leans in and kisses Potter roughly, quickly. When he pulls back, Potter's staring at him in surprise, lips slightly parted.
"What do you want, MI5?" Severus asks.
The door closes behind Potter.
Severus can only hope he can stall long enough. As much as he hates the admission, wants to kiss Potter again.
Harry can still feel the press of Snape's mouth against his as he takes the stairs two at a time. He doesn't know what to think. Doesn't know what it means.
He swipes the card through the card reader and punches in the first code. Nothing. He tries the second. The lock clicks, and Harry shoves the door open, slipping silently into the corridor. He pulls his cloak back over his head.
The solitary block is silent. The cells are empty; the guards gone. Harry stops in front of cell 459. He can hear Snape in his ear, shouting at the MI5 officer. He ignores them and, instead, tries to unlock the cell door.
The card doesn't work.
Harry tries the access codes. None of them do either. "Fuck," he whispers, then louder, "Teddy."
Frost spreads across the thick glass of the window; a shadow crosses it. Harry pounds against the door, bile rising in his throat. He feels sick. Weak. Terrified. "Teddy," he screams.
The shadow moves again, turns towards Harry, and he can see the gaping hole in greying skin where its mouth should be. Behind the creature is Teddy, lying on the floor, staring up with empty dark eyes.
Harry stumbles back. "No." He can't breathe. All he can hear is his mother's voice in his head, begging for him to be spared, all he can see is Ginny's body lying sprawled and broken in a pool of thick, cold blood. "Please." He feels the wall against his shoulders and he presses back against it, trying to escape the cold vise around his heart.
"Potter! Potter! Harry."
It takes him a moment to recognise Snape's voice in his ear.
"Harry," Snape says again, and Harry pulls his gaze from the Dementor behind the door. "Answer me, damn it."
"Dementor." Harry's voice breaks. "Teddy--"
Snape swears in his ear. Harry can hear the MI5 bastard laugh and shout orders for someone to go to the solitary block. Anger surges through Harry; he wants nothing more than to rip the fucker's throat open. Bring it on.
"Sickle," Snape says and, for a moment, Harry isn't certain what he means. "Sickle."
Harry fumbles in his pocket. His fingers curl around the slick, carved surface of the coin. He doesn't want to go. Doesn't want to leave Teddy here like this.
The Portkey jerks him. He doesn't have a choice.
The last thing he sees as the cellblock melts away from him is the stark grey outline of the Dementor's hand against the frosty window.
James is cold.
"I want to go home," Scorpius says.
James looks over at him, rubbing the goose pimples on his arms. He'd give anything for a jumper right now to pull over his t-shirt. Scorpius is wrapped in the only blanket they'd given them. He chews on his thumbnail, his back to the wall, knees at his chest. The mattress he's sitting on is thin and dips in the middle.
"We will." James squats next to Scorpius. "Severus is probably looking for us right now."
Scorpius drops his hand. "What if he can't find us?" Dark circles rim his eyes. He's only slept a few hours. James hasn't slept any.
James snorts. "As if. Severus can find anyone." He doesn't believe it, but he knows Scorpius wants to. Has to, really. James had stopped believing in that sort of thing years ago, after he asked every night, in his prayers before bed, for his Dad to come get him. He never had. James had stopped believing in much of anything after that. God doesn't listen, and neither do grownups. He won't ever tell Scorpius this, though.
Scorpius smiles a bit and James slides onto the mattress next to him, draping his arm around Scorpius' shoulders. "We'll be home soon enough."
There's a silence, then Scorpius nudges closer. "With Mummy." His voice is wistful, sad.
That won't happen. They'd both seen her shot, seen the blood splatter across them, across the wall. Every time he closes his eyes, James still can see Astoria lunge in front of them. His mum had done the same. James' throat tightens. He pulls Scorpius towards him. It's just the two of them now.
Scorpius leans his head on James' shoulder. "Are you scared?"
Yes. James shakes his head. "No. It's okay if you are, though."
"No." Scorpius's fingers twist in his t-shirt like they always do when he's lying. He doesn't look at James.
"I'll protect you. I promise, okay?" James squeezes Scorpius's arm. Scorpius nods.
The door to the room opens and a blond man comes in. He sets a tray on the table across from the bed. James' mouth waters at the smell of bangers and mash.
"You two all right?" the man asks, and he doesn't seem harsh or unkind like the others have been. He hands two bottles of orange squash to James. They're cold against his palm. James shivers.
"I guess," James says warily. Scorpius shifts closer to him, eyeing the man with narrowed eyes.
The man smiles at him. "You look like your father." His eyes flick towards James. "And you've a bit of yours about you too."
James doesn't say anything.
"Right." The man sighs and walks to the door. He looks back at them, his hand on the knob. "You need anything, you tell the guards to send for me. I'm Zacharias. Don't trust them."
"And we should trust you?" James blurts out. He bites his lip, shrinking back against the wall.
Zacharias laughs. He pulls out a small whitish bauble from his pocket. Scorpius' Remembrall. It glows in red in his palm. "I'm your best hope, boys." He tosses the Remembrall at the bed.
Scorpius catches it.
"Wait," James says. Zacharias looks back at him, his hand on the door knob. James sets the orange squash aside and rubs his damp hands on his pyjama bottoms. "May I have a jumper? It's cold in here."
Zacharias nods, a small smile curving his mouth. "I can arrange that."
James stares at the door for a long time after it closes.
Pansy and Hermione are packing the Corsa when Harry pops into the clearing, landing on his knees. The grass is cold and wet beneath his palms.
"Jesus, you scared me," Pansy says, throwing a box into the back seat. "Where's Severus?"
Harry shakes his head. He can't speak. He pushes himself off the ground.
Hermione closes the Corsa door. "Harry?" Her brow is furrowed in worry.
There's another pop of a Portkey, and Snape is there, striding towards them.
"Out," he snaps. "All of you. Moscow rules. Now."
Anthony and Eddie jerk two rucksacks from the open boot. Anthony takes Pansy's hand before she can protest and Apparates with her. Dennis and Eddie follow.
Hermione kisses Harry's cheek. "See you at the safe house."
"Go." Snape grabs Harry's arm just as another Portkey pop sounds. Harry has just enough time to see Hermione disappear with a crack before the world spins away beneath his feet.
They land in a ditch, Snape on top of him, heavy and warm, his breath uneven against Harry's ear. "Don't move," he says softly. "We need to confuse them."
Harry doesn't. They lay silent for a moment, then Snape wraps his arms around Harry and they Apparate again.
This time, Harry opens his eyes to find himself standing in the middle of a road, a lorry bearing down on them, its lights bright white in the darkness. "Snape--"
Harry tumbles onto scratchy-soft, sweet scented hay, Snape falling beside him. Harry pulls at the clasp of the Invisible Cloak, letting it fall off him, pooling beneath him.
"That should work," Snape says against Harry's shoulder. "Three short hops. Just enough to throw off their tracking charms." He sits up, hay in his hair. "We'll need to stay here for a few hours. Lie low until they stop looking."
Harry nods. He feels numb. Empty.
Snape looks at him. "Lupin," he says after a moment, and it's not a question.
"Dementor." Harry stares up at the peaked thatch of the barn roof. He can hear the soft clank of the cowbells in the stalls below and the lowing of cattle. "He'd been Kissed."
"Harry." Snape brushes Harry's hair back from his forehead, then pulls his hand away quickly, his cheeks flushing. "I'm sorry," he murmurs. Harry isn't certain if he's apologising for the touch or for Teddy's living death.
Harry takes a ragged breath. "It never gets easier." A barn owl flutters up to a high rafter, watching them with bright eyes.
"No." Snape pulls his knees to his chest. "It doesn't'."
Harry sits up. "You and Astoria--"
Snape shakes his head. "It's not what you're thinking."
"Then what?" Harry touches Snape's arm hesitantly. Snape tenses, but he doesn't pull away. He sighs.
"We both missed Draco," Snape says after a moment. He runs a hand over his face. Moonlight from a small, open window shadows his eyes, highlights the arch of his nose. He looks tired. Old, even. "It happened, and then it became a habit, I suppose. A comfort of sorts to us both."
Harry twists a piece of hay between his fingers. "You didn't love her."
Snape snorts. "I didn't hate her." He looks away, his mouth turning down. "She was Scorpius's mother and the last connection I had to Draco."
"Whom you did love," Harry says flatly. It's hard for him to comprehend.
"Yes." Snape looks at him then, his face unreadable. "I did."
A rush of sadness washes over Harry. He blinks, refusing to acknowledge the stinging wetness in his eyes. He's exhausted. Nothing more. "I still miss Gin," he says quietly. "We were shit together at the end, but…" He pushes his glasses up on his forehead and presses his fingers to his eyes. He swallows. "Anyway."
"Lucius Malfoy was a bastard," Snape says above him. "But he's dead."
"I know." Harry rubs his eyelids, hoping the burn will subside. He can feel the dampness on his lashes. "I know."
A fingertip brushes his bottom lip, lightly, hesitantly. Harry moves his hands, looks up at Snape. He opens his mouth; Snape stops his question with a kiss.
It's slow and careful, a gentle press of mouths that only turns heated when Harry drags his tongue across the underside of Snape's lip, flicking it against Snape's teeth. Snape groans softly, his fingers tangling in Harry's hair as he pushes him backwards. Harry can feel the Invisiblity Cloak shift beneath him, the fabric pulling tight then loosening as Harry stretches out, Snape leaning over him.
They kiss eagerly, hungrily, all teeth and tongues, and Harry doesn't care how desperate he might seem. He draws Snape down to him, grunting as Snape's weight settles across his hips. Snape tastes like cigarettes and whisky, and Harry can't get enough. "Please," he whispers, and Snape pulls back long enough to pluck Harry's glasses off his nose and set them aside on a small ledge on the rough planked wall.
He looks down at Harry, traces his fingers down the angle of Harry's jaw. "You're beautiful."
"You're mad." Harry smiles, and Snape reaches down to push Harry's jumper up. He presses his mouth against the pale swathe of exposed skin, and Harry shudders, catching Snape's shoulder. "Oh," he whispers as Snape's teeth nip his skin. The soft fabric of the Invisibility Cloak rubs against his back. He can feel the prickle of hay beneath it.
Snape kisses up Harry's stomach, up his chest, ruching the jumper up beneath Harry's arms. He licks across a nipple, circling his tongue around the pebbled brown nub and Harry gasps.
He grabs Snape's hair, pulling his head up. They're both breathing hard; Harry can feel the press of Snape's prick against his hip. "I don't want this to be a grief fuck, Snape," he says, and he smoothes his hand down the side of Snape's face.
"Severus." Snape catches his hand, draws it to his mouth. His tongue laps lightly at the tips of Harry's fingers. Harry's hand shakes.
He meets Snape's eyes. "Severus," he repeats, the name pleasantly odd on his lips, and he laughs, a soft, quiet huff as he pulls Severus up into a long, slow kiss. "I want you," he murmurs against Severus's mouth.
Severus curls one hand around Harry's hip, rolling onto his back. Hay falls from Harry's shoulders; he lifts his arms as Severus tugs his jumper over his head and tosses it aside. Severus's hands slide up Harry's chest. His thumbnails scrape over Harry's nipples and Harry groans, his head falling back.
"Jesus." Harry rocks his arse back, catches Severus's hips with both hands. He's hard and aching already. He pushes at Severus's jumper. "Want to feel you." His hands skim the flat planes of Severus's stomach; he can feel Severus shudder beneath his palms. "All of you."
"Yes." Severus sits up enough to struggle out of his jumper. Hay's caught in the back of his hair; his eyes are bright and dark and hot. Harry's breath catches; he cups Severus's face in his hands and kisses his thin mouth as Severus sinks back against the shimmering silver-grey spread of the cloak.
Severus's skin is warm against his. Harry can't help but drag his fingers across it as he pulls away. "Beautiful," he whispers.
"Take your trousers off," Severus says, and it's a command, despite the breathlessness of it. "I want to see your prick again."
Harry laughs, and he raises up, his fingers catching on the zip of his jeans. He jerks them down, taking his pants with them. He doesn't stop to think about how much he wants this--it would fucking terrify him, he knows. Instead, he kicks his jeans and pants off, one leg, then the other before straddling Severus's hips again. His cock juts out, hard and curved, bobbing heavy against his stomach. Harry brushes his fingers against it, sliding back the foreskin just enough, as Severus watches him.
"Do that again." Severus's hands slide up Harry's bare thighs.
"This?" Harry smoothes his palm over the head of his prick, pulling his foreskin back again. The damp, red head pokes out from between his fist.
Severus's fingers dig into his thighs.
"Taste it," Harry says and he shifts up, moving to press his cock against Severus's lips. He groans as Severus flicks his tongue across the head, lapping at it before he sucks it into his mouth. "Oh, fuck." Severus's hands grab his hips, holding him still.
Harry watches Severus suck him, taking him deeper into his mouth, then sliding back, letting Harry's prick pop free as he leans down to lick at Harry's balls. Harry lurches forward, catches himself on a post. "Severus," he says with a gasp. His wet prick smacks his stomach.
Severus pushes him back. "We don't have lube."
"We can fuck later." Harry slides down Severus, dragging his mouth across Severus's skin. Christ, he loves the way Severus tastes, all salty-sweet-sweaty. He pulls at the buttons on Severus's trousers. "I mean, I'm assuming we're going to do this again?" He slides his hand into Severus's pants, curling his fingers around Severus's cock.
"Oh, God." Severus's hips buck as Harry strokes him. "Yes."
Harry grins. "Yes keep doing that or yes we're doing this again?"
"Just yes," Severus growls and he lifts his hips as Harry pulls his trousers and pants off. His cock is heavy and hard in Harry's palm; the thick thatch of crisp greying curls at its base brushes Harry's knuckles on the next stroke down.
A shudder of want runs through Harry. He wants to feel Severus against him again, wants to feel the press of their pricks together. He shifts over Severus and settles against his hips, enjoying Severus's sharp hiss when their cocks slide against each other. "Like that?" he asks.
Severus answers with a rough kiss, his arm around Harry's neck, pulling him closer as he presses his hips up. His teeth scrape Harry's lip. "When this is all done," he murmurs, licking away the sting, "I'm going to fuck you into the mattress." Severus's fingers slip through the crease of Harry's arse.
"God, I hope so." Harry rocks his hips against Severus's and turns his head, kisses down the damp curve of Severus's neck as Severus rubs gently over the soft pucker of Harry's arsehole. "I want you in me…"
"That can be arranged," Severus says against Harry's jaw. He turns his head and sucks on one of his fingers, wetting it, before sliding his hand down to Harry's arse. "This might hurt a little."
Harry tenses as the blunt tip of Severus's finger presses in him. The stretch burns at first, and Harry hisses when Severus wiggles his finger further in, but he spreads his thighs wider, his hips canting over Severus's, his arse pressing up in the air. Their pricks rub together; Harry's balls drag across Severus's. "Oh, Christ." The cloak bunches beneath his knees.
"Indeed." Severus twists his finger just enough and Harry trembles, his hips arching forward. It feels incredible. Severus does it again. Harry kisses him, desperate and eager.
"Again," Harry gasps and he starts to rock his hips against Severus's, his hand sliding between them to press their cocks together with each quick thrust.
Severus groans, and he twists his finger further into Harry, pulling it out and pressing in again with the rhythm of Harry's hips. His mouth is on Harry's jaw, his throat, kissing and sucking and biting, and Harry can't think--
He cries out when Severus's fingertip brushes his prostate. It's been too long--Harry's body jerks. "I want--" He's cut off with a kiss that curls his toes, makes his hand tighten on their pricks as he tugs at them. "Severus," he says when he can breathe again, but Severus's teeth drag across his shoulder as Severus pushes his hips up into his, his cock rutting quickly against Harry's and it's too fucking much.
Harry comes with a shout, Severus's finger buried in his arse, his spunk spattering over his hand, across Severus's stomach. He's shaking, gasping, whispering Severus's name into his skin, and when Severus pulls his hand away, Harry gives a soft groan of protest before Severus rolls him onto his back. Hay scratches his shoulders, but he doesn't care because Severus is slamming against him, his cock sliding against Harry's slick prick, his shoulders hunched as he holds himself above Harry, their bodies moving together, rutting, pressing, arching. Severus reaches down with one hand and pulls at his cock, the head slipping red and wet through his clenched fingers.
"Please," Harry says, his hands on Severus's back, fingernails slipping on hot, damp skin. He can't stop watching Severus jerk himself; he wants to see Severus's come burst over those long, thin fingers, drip onto his own heated skin. His stomach tenses; he pushes his hips up. "Please, Severus."
Severus comes, his head thrown back, his long pale neck exposed. Harry leans up, sucks at the pulse pounding against Severus's skin and Severus groans. He falls forward, half on Harry, half on the hay, and he's breathing hard, tremors still shuddering through his body.
"Fuck," he whispers.
Harry strokes his palms down Severus's back. "Later."
They lie there for a moment, gasping, then Severus slides down, wraps his arms around Harry's waist. He rolls them both back onto the cloak, his leg between Harry's. There's hay in the back of his hair; Harry picks it away.
"That was decent," Harry says, and he grins as Severus smacks his hip. "Want to go again?"
Severus snorts. "We're neither of us that young." He closes his eyes.
"Says you." Harry clucks his disapproval. "Are you telling me you've stamina problems? I should find a younger bloke…Dennis, maybe?"
Severus rolls him back over into the hay with a snarl.
Harry's laugh is cut off with a kiss.
xii. 20 October, 2019
They're still lying wrapped around each other, tired and sweaty, when Severus's mobile rings.
He fumbles for it, loathe to move his hand from Harry's hip. "What?" he says sitting up and brushing hay from his shoulders. Harry rolls over behind him and presses his mouth to the small of Severus's back.
"We need to talk," Zacharias says.
Severus breathes out. He's been expecting this call. "It took you this long to uncode this mobile number?"
"I'm not that good with Sudoku." Zacharias lowers his voice. "Tutshill. Coleford Road in half an hour. I'll find you. Bring Potter if he's still around."
The mobile goes dead. Severus sets it down slowly.
"What is it?" Harry asks. His skin is pale in the fading moonlight.
"Get dressed." Severus reaches for his trousers. "We're going to have to risk Apparating again." To his surprise, Harry doesn't ask; he just rolls over and pulls on his jeans and jumper, then folds the Invisibility Cloak and drapes it over his arm.
It takes twenty minutes to Apparate twice, then walk through the back fields to Coleford Road. The shops are closed; the street is silent. They find a bench in front of the Cross Keys and sit. Harry huddles in his jacket, dipping his chin so his mouth is hidden beneath the collar.
"Who are we meeting?" he asks.
Severus pulls out a cigarette and lights it. His fingers still smell like Harry's come. He finds that thought highly arousing. "Zacharias Smith."
Harry stares at him. "From MI5."
"Yes." Severus breathes out a thin stream of smoke. "He's a mole for us."
"You fucking bastard," Harry says. He takes the cigarette from Severus and inhales. "Someone might have told me."
Severus lifts a shoulder. "Only Granger knows."
At the crack of Apparation down the street, Harry hands the cigarette back to Severus and stands.
Zacharias walks towards them, his blond hair gleaming in the lamplight. For a moment, Severus can almost imagine he's Draco. The thought doesn't sting tonight as it once had.
"Potter," Zacharias says quietly.
Harry eyes him. "I should deck you, you know."
"Probably." Zacharias looks over at Severus. A faint breeze ruffles his hair, sends his black cloak swirling around his ankles. "The boys are at Downing Street."
Severus takes a slow drag off his cigarette. "They knew we were coming tonight." He knows it's the only answer for the night's fiasco. "They moved the boys and waited for us to walk into a trap."
Zacharias nods. "At least you got a few of the prisoners out. I've suspected they've had someone in the ELA since Astoria was killed."
"And you didn't think to warn us?" Severus glares at him. Smoke drifts in front of him; he taps the ash off the end of his cigarette.
"I don't know who it is." Zacharias pulls his cloak tighter around his chest. He looks unsettled, tired. "And I'd no proof. You wouldn't have believed me before tonight, anyway. You put far too much faith in your inner circle."
"Perhaps." Severus tosses his cigarette to the ground, grinding it out with the toe of his boot as he stands up. He has his suspicions. In a way, he thinks, he's always had them. "We want the boys back. Now."
"They're heavily guarded," Zacharias says, "and the SSF's been alerted to keep you out of Whitehall. He's expecting you to make a move. You're not going to be able to get anywhere near Number Ten without cover."
"That's not going to stop me," Harry says flatly. He shoves his hands in his pockets and looks at Severus. "I'm not walking away from my son."
"No one's suggesting that." Severus meets his gaze.
Harry licks his bottom lip. "Then what?"
"I can get you in." Zacharias steps forward. He raises an eyebrow at Harry's uncertain glance. "Don't trust me?"
"I don't trust anyone lately," Harry admits. He gives Severus a sideways look. "Mostly."
Severus touches Harry's elbow as he turns to Zacharias. "When can you get us in?"
Zacharias holds out both his hands. "Now."
Severus looks at Harry; Harry hesitates, then nods.
They take his hands, gasping when the sharp twist of Apparation pulls them from the street.
The wards of Number Ten sting as they slide through them and into a narrow, dimly lit corridor.
Harry slams into Zacharias' back with a quiet oomph. Sorry, he mouths as Zacharias tosses a backwards glare his way.
"Cloak," Severus says in his ear, and Harry shakes it out, draping it over both their shoulders. It's a tight fit and Severus has to stoop and walk closely behind Harry.
Zacharias eyes them and frowns. "Your feet aren't hidden." He casts a Disillusionment Charm over them. "Keep to the shadows."
He leads them through a door, down a flight of steps into the bowels of the building. The thick, plush carpet gives way to solid concrete. Their footsteps echo softly in the silence; Zacharias's hair gleams gold in the dim light.
They turn a corner. An Auror stands in the corridor, his wand out. Harry recognises him from earlier visits to MI5. Zacharias's partner. Entwhistle, he thinks his name is. "Zach," Entwhistle says pleasantly.
"Kevin." Zacharias stops. "I thought I'd check on our young friends again."
"No need. They're fine." Entwhistle moves closer, his wand still at the ready. Harry tenses; he feels Severus's arm wrap around his waist, pulling him back against the wall. "How long have we been partners, Zach?"
Zacharias pushes his cloak back and puts his hand on the hilt of his wand. "Four years now." His voice is even, calm.
Entwhistle's fingers tighten on his wand. "And how many years have you been a traitor?"
There's a long pause, then Zacharias smiles. "Three," he says and he pulls out his wand.
He's too late.
"Avada Kedavra," Entwhistle says, his mouth twisting, and Zacharias falls the floor in a burst of green light, his brown eyes staring blankly up. His hand lands on Harry's foot; his wand rolls out of his fingers, disappearing into the shadows beneath the cloak.
Neither Harry nor Severus breathes.
Entwhistle looks around. "You might as well come out," he says, twirling his wand between his fingers. He kicks Zacharias's foot out of the way. "I'm fully aware you're there, Potter."
Severus slides his hand over Harry's mouth. "No," he whispers. They watch Entwhistle walk past Zacharias's body, passing them. He stops at the corner, peering around it. "Move," Severus breathes against Harry's ear.
Harry steps forward. His foot slides over Zacharias's wand; it scrapes the floor.
Entwhistle whirls around. "Homenum revelio!" He smiles, looking straight at them before walking over and whipping the cloak away. It lands in a pile at Entwhistle's feet.
Severus shoves Harry out of the way, ducking in front of him as Entwhistle whips his wand at them again. Harry lands on the floor with grunt, his wrist twisting painfully.
Severus's body arches in pain. He snaps his mouth shut, his fists clenching at his sides as the curse subsides and he falls to his knees. He glares up at Entwhistle, breathing hard. "Is that all?"
Harry pulls his wand out. Before he can raise it, Entwhistle's Expelliarmus sends it flying across the hall.
"No, actually," Entwhistle says, striding towards Severus. He jerks Severus's wand from his pocket, then places the tip of his own beneath Severus's chin. "Crucio."
Severus falls backward, a scream of pain jerked out of him as he writhes on the floor.
"Stop it," Harry shouts. He scrabbles behind him, trying to push himself up. His wrist aches.
Entwhistle looks at him. His eyes are cold. "Get up."
Harry feels Zacharias's wand beneath his fingers. He slides it under his hip. "I can't."
"Get up," Entwhistle snaps. "Both of you."
Severus lies curled on his side, his body twitching. Harry pushes Zacharias's wand into the back of his jeans with one hand. It slides past his arse easily, disappearing down the jeans' leg. He rolls over on his knees, then pushes himself to his feet. He helps Severus sit up. "You okay?"
"Utterly," Severus says weakly. His skin is grey. Harry can see the flutter of his pulse in his throat. Severus swallows and breathes out. "Too damn old for this."
Entwhistle kicks Severus's leg. Harry's jaw tightens. "Don't you fucking touch him," Harry snaps.
"Best remember who has the wand here." Entwhistle spits at Severus. It lands on his cheek; Harry wipes it away. "Get him up."
Harry helps Severus to his feet, catching him as he sways. Severus's hand shakes.
Entwhistle smiles, a thin, nasty twist of his lips. "I think you just made my career, gentlemen." He points his wand at them. "Now walk."
Forty minutes later Severus can barely stand.
Two Aurors drag him to the storeroom they've already thrown Harry into. His feet catch on the floor with each step, ankles twisting. He hurts from head to toe.
He lands on Harry with a soft thump. Harry's chest is rigid and hard, and the impact jars every bone in Severus's body. He groans and rolls off of Harry's stiff torso.
The door clangs shut behind the Aurors.
Severus lies on the floor where he's been tossed, limp and weak. He tries not to breathe. It hurts too damned much. After what seems like hours, he feels Harry shift beside him, hears his quiet exhale as the Full Body Bind slowly wears off. He inhales too deeply and his whole body flares with pain.
Cruciatus is his least favourite Unforgiveable, he thinks. He would rather go through any other curse, for Christ's sake, with the possible exception of having his bollocks hexed off, because no man in his right mind would prefer that, no matter how much excruciating pain he was forced to endure.
The shadows of the ceiling seem to swirl and eddy above him. Ridiculous, of course. Such optical illusions are common after extended use of the curse. He knew that well enough from his time under His Lordship's madness.
His objection to Cruciatus is more aesthetic, he supposes. There's very little subtlety in the magical equivalent of sending two thugs to beat the living shite out of a person. It lacks a certain flair, particularly when used more than once at a time. There are so many more elegant hexes and curses.
Harry peers down at him, his brows drawn together over his round glasses. "Are you all right?" He helps Severus sit up slowly. The small, unused storeroom they've been locked in is empty, with four bare brick walls and an even more uncomfortable concrete floor.
Severus winces as pain shoots through his back. He's still trembling after his latest bout with Entwhistle's wand and his heartbeat is erratic against his rib cage. Really, five Cruciatuses at his age is a bit much. "I'm fine," he chokes out. He has his pride, after all.
Harry doesn't look convinced. "If that bastard lays one hand on you again--"
Severus stops him with a kiss. It's far preferable than to hear Harry rant once more. Harry's mouth is soft and dry, and his quiet groan makes Severus want to throw him to the floor and suck him off here. Entirely inappropriate, he knows, and he pulls away slowly, pain still hunching his shoulders.
"Unfair," Harry says, but he gives Severus a small smile. "We need to get out of here."
"Easier said than done." Severus looks around. The door is heavy metal and locked on the outside.
Harry hesitates, then he leans forward. "I have a wand down my jeans," he whispers into Severus's ear. "But it's Zacharias's, so I don't know how well it will work."
Severus stares at him in surprise. Harry looks pleased with himself. "You might have mentioned this half an hour ago."
"What was I supposed to do, whip it out?" Harry glares at him. "Entwhistle had me bound." He looks away, mouth twisting. "It wasn't exactly enjoyable for me to watch you be tortured, you know, and not be able to do anything about it."
After a moment, Severus touches Harry's cheek. "I know."
Harry shifts and carefully works the wand out of his jeans, keeping it hidden between them. Severus is only slightly surprised at his restraint. This Harry is not entirely the reckless one he knew as a student. "Hold still," Harry says, and he casts a healing spell over Severus. It tingles across his skin, sinking into his muscles and kneading away the pain.
"Much better." Severus sinks back against the wall with a sigh of relief.
Harry settles next to him, the wand still in his hand. "Do you think we could blast out of here?"
Severus eyes the door. "A spell could ricochet."
"I know." Harry draws his knees up to his chest. "But we can't stay--"
He's cut off by the creak of the door opening. They both scramble to their feet. Harry keeps the wand hidden behind his back.
A woman enters, her blonde hair swinging forward against her cheek. Her feet are bare; she's wrapped in a red silk dressing gown that brushes her ankles. She looks at them for a long moment, her bottom lip caught between her teeth.
"Mrs. Symes?" Harry asks, incredulously, and Severus frowns.
Charlotte Symes draws back for a moment, pulling her dressing gown tighter around her throat. "I don't--" She hesitates, then sighs. "I don't agree with everything my husband does," she says quietly. "Especially when it comes to locking up children and using them as pawns."
Harry steps forward. "Can you help us?"
"I shouldn't." She rubs a foot against her ankle and breathes out. "He'll be furious, and Edwin's always impossible when he's in a mood. But…"
"But you will," Severus says. He lays his hand on the small of Harry's back. "All we want is to retrieve our sons. Then we'll leave."
Charlotte nods. "I can take you to them." She steps back, the door still open.
Severus follows Harry out of the room. He closes the door behind them. "You should lock it again."
"Of course." Charlotte pulls a ring of keys from her dressing gown. "They haven't been mistreated. Edwin wouldn't--" She breaks off, brushing her hair back from her eyes. "Anyway. Follow me."
She leads them down a corridor and up a curving flight of narrow steps. "I can't go all the way," she says, stopping in front of a simple wooden door on a landing. "I'd prefer that none of Edwin's men to find me." She opens the door onto a hallway of yellow walls and white moulding. The red and beige patterned carpet beneath their feet is thick. Portraits of statesmen from years past, British and non-British alike, stare blankly at them from the walls as they pass by.
Severus stops, Harry next to him. They turn slowly.
An SSF officer stands behind them, his gun drawn. He looks at Charlotte, stone-faced. "I'll be happy to tell your husband you were overpowered by the prisoners."
"I think I'm quite capable of telling my husband exactly what I was doing." Charlotte keeps her voice even, but Severus can see the tremble of her hand against her chest.
"Ma'am," the officer says, "I'm going to have to ask you to move, please. I wouldn't like anything unfortunate to happen."
Harry steps forward, his wand raised. "Stupefy!"
A burst of red light slams against the officer's chest, throwing him back into the wall. Harry winces, but kneels next to him. "Obliviate." The man's body jerks, then sinks back against the carpet.
"Careful with the magic," Severus says. He turns to Charlotte. "Where are the boys?"
She looks up at him, pulling her horrified gaze away from the fallen officer. "Go down the corridor, then take a right. They should be three doors in."
Severus takes the wand from Harry. There's only one thing to be done. He Obliviates Charlotte gently. "Go upstairs to your flat. You never saw anyone; you've been in bed all night."
Charlotte nods sleepily and walks away.
"Why'd you do that?" Harry comes up next to him.
Severus hands him back the wand and looks after Charlotte. "It's the only protection we can offer her. If her husband finds out she helped us…" He shakes his head and starts down the hall. "Come on."
They turn the corner only to find a squad of five Aurors waiting for them, Entwhistle at their head. He raises his wand with a grim smile. "Surely you didn't think we didn't have surveillance charms on your door? Pity for the Prime Minister's wife, though."
"Oh, fuck you," Harry says, and whips a Stunner at Entwhistle who dodges it with ease.
Severus pulls him back around the corner just as a barrage of hexes explode around them. "Have you lost your mind?"
"Go," Harry says quietly, quickly, his eyes glittering behind his glasses. He shoves the wand in Severus's hand. "Get the others."
Severus knows exactly what he's asking. "I'm not leaving you--"
Harry kisses him roughly. "I said go. The others are the only hope of getting out of here the boys have and you know it. I'll be fine." He smiles. "This go around you're more valuable than I am. Just come back for me."
"As if I wouldn't," Severus says, his throat tight. The idea is preposterous. He wonders when that changed.
"Go." Another quick kiss and Harry pushes Severus out of the way, stepping around the corner, his hands up. "You win," Severus hears him say.
Utterly mad idiot. It takes all of Severus's self-control not to rush after him.
He hears the zing of a curse striking and the thud of a body hitting the ground. Fuck. Fuck. Severus grips the wand tighter in his hand. "Stupid fool," he whispers, and he's not certain if he means Harry or himself. At least Zacharias's wand will allow him to circumvent the wards.
"Pick him up," Entwhistle says from down the hall. Severus flattens himself against the wall. "You. Find Snape. He can't have gone far." Footsteps come closer, nearing the corner.
With a sinking feeling in his gut, Severus Apparates.
Harry wakes up to a glass of water being poured on his face. He pushes himself to his hands and knees, letting the water drip down onto the Persian rug beneath him.
A neat Italian leather loafer kicks his arm out from beneath him, and he tumbles back to the rug, his cheek against the red and slate blue tufts of wool and silk. His glasses bite into his eyebrow. "Fuck," he groans, and he lifts his head. He settles his glasses back on his nose and blinks.
"Potter." The loafers cross the rug in front of him, stopping in front of a beige upholstered chair. It creaks as Symes sits.
Harry pushes himself up again, steadying himself against another chair. He's in the Prime Minister's study, he realises, with the bust of George III staring down at him from atop one of the white, lattice-front bookshelves. A fire burns behind the blackened grate in the hearth and early morning light filters greyly through the sheer curtains covering the tall windows.
Thom Rufus is sitting next to the Prime Minister, and Alastair Whitcomb, the party's Chief Whip, pours a whisky from the decanter on the sideboard. Two SSF officers and Entwhistle stand at the door, guns and wand fixed on Harry.
Justin Finch-Fletchley stands next to the hearth, a glass of whisky in his hand.
"Would you care for a drink?" Symes asks, pleasantly. Harry shakes his head. "Pity. It'd make this much easier for you."
"Fuck you," Harry spits out, looking at Justin. His side hurts; he digs his fingers into the upholstered back of the chair in front of him. "You fucking traitor."
Justin has the grace to look ashamed. "You wouldn't understand," he says.
Harry glares at him. "Try me."
"My parents." Justin takes a sip of whisky. He stares down into his glass before he looks back up at Harry, anguish on his face. "I had to protect them."
Symes smiles. "And you did so very well. Until now at least." He looks at Entwhistle. "You've taken care of Lord Finch-Fletchley and his wife, I assume?"
Entwhistle nods, his hand on the hilt of his wand. "Last night. The bodies won't be found."
Justin pales. His fingers slip on his glass. "You promised." He turns towards Symes. "If I gave you Snape--and it's not my fault--but Mother and Father--" He draws a ragged breath. "You lied."
"And you're a fool if you thought otherwise." Symes's voice turns steely. "Do shut him up, Entwhistle."
With a flick of his wand, Entwhistle sends Justin crashing into the wall. His glass of whisky shatters against the hearth. Justin moans softly, trying to rise. Another curse sends him back to the floor, his hand twitching against the carpet.
Harry almost feels sorry for him.
"Dead, sir?" Entwhistle asks, stepping over to Justin's prone body. "Or would you rather…"
Symes waves his hand. "As you wish."
Harry flinches as green light explodes across Justin's chest. Entwhistle shakes his wand lightly, a few sparks tumbling from the tip, then, with a small bow, walks back across the room. Harry's chilled by the look of pleasure on his face.
Whitcomb takes a seat beside Rufus. "Now, what will we do with you, Potter?" He sips his whisky. "Any suggestions, Thom?"
"A few." Rufus steeples his fingers and presses them against his mouth. Symes merely laughs. He reaches for a box on the table next to him and opens it. He pulls out a silver dueling pistol, polished and gleaming.
"Do you know what this is?" Symes asks, stroking his finger along the gun barrel. At Harry's silence, he smiles. "In 1762, a Member of Parliament, one Samuel Martin, condemned in the Commons one of his more radical colleagues to be--and I quote--a 'stabber in the dark, a cowardly and malignant scoundrel.' Mr. John Wilkes, of course, was most insulted and called Mr. Martin out immediately. Unfortunately, he didn't know Mr. Martin had been practicing his shooting for six months prior to his speech."
He pauses and looks at Harry. "Mr. Wilkes once wrote a terribly naughty poem with one of your ancestors, I believe. A Thomas Potter. It was a parody of Pope's Essay on Man. Pricks, cunt, and bollocks in convulsions hurled, and now a hymen burst, and now a world. Not the most original pornography, obviously."
"Am I supposed to care about this?" Harry leans against the chair. The ache in his side is easing slowly.
Symes smiles. "Not particularly." He nods to Entwhistle who opens the door with a murmur to someone standing outside. "I merely find such synchronicities interesting."
James and Scorpius enter, eyes wide, hair mussed, Scorpius holding James' hand tightly. Harry's breath catches. James isn't the little boy Harry remembers.
"Dad?" James stares at him, then drops Scorpius's hand and runs across the room, hurtling himself at Harry.
Harry wraps his arms around his son. "Jamie," he says into his son's hair. He strokes his back. James is taller now, nearly on size with Harry himself.
"I thought you weren't going to come." James twists his fingers into Harry's shirt, his face buried against Harry's shoulder. "After Mum…"
"Sh." Harry's eyes sting. He doesn't blink the tears away this time. "I looked everywhere. I couldn't find you--" His voice cracks and he swallows, taking a ragged breath. He kisses James's temple. "I'm glad Severus hid you. You were safer."
James nods. Harry looks over his head at Scorpius, standing alone, his arms wrapped around himself. He looks small and frightened. Harry holds out a hand, and Scorpius hesitates before taking a step forward.
A cough from Symes, and one of the SSF officers grabs Scorpius, holding him back.
"Let go of me," Scorpius snaps, and Harry can suddenly see his father in him. Scorpius kicks at the SSF officer; the man merely jerks him back harder, fist around his throat, cutting off his breathing.
"Stop it." Harry steps forward, his arm still around James. Anger bubbles through him. "He's a child."
"Is he." Symes motions with one finger and Entwhistle reaches for James, pulling him away from Harry. "I'd hardly realised."
"Bastard--" Harry lunges for James, but Entwhistle flicks his wand, sending Harry staggering back into the side of the chair. James cries out, but Entwhistle pulls him away, twisting his arms behind his back.
Harry pushes himself back up. "They've nothing to do with this."
"I'd disagree." Symes strokes his chin, looking at the two boys. "Let them go, but if they move one step, Hathrow, shoot them."
The SSF officer nods. He and Entwhistle both step back. James and Scorpius exchange a look, then James turns to Harry. "Dad," he whispers. "Please."
Harry's heart clenches. He doesn't want his son to see him helpless like this. He squares his shoulders and glares at Symes. "What do you want? You've got me. Let them go."
"Don't be an idiot, Potter." Symes stands up, the pistol in his hand. "What I want is to cause as much possible pain to a certain wizard as I can." He circles the boys, looking down at them. Harry tenses. "It's amazing the records one has access to as Prime Minister, you realise. Such interesting things one discovers about one's constituents." Symes looks at Harry. The sheer hatred in his eyes takes Harry aback.
"Like what?" Harry steps around the chair, moving closer to Entwhistle. If he can just get a wand…
Symes laughs bitterly. "Your kind killed my parents twenty-two years ago, Potter. I was told it was a bridge collapse. It wasn't." His hand tightens on the pistol. "Death Eaters. I'm sure you've heard of them."
"A time or two," Harry says wryly. He meets Symes gaze, ignoring everyone but him and the boys. "I nearly died fighting against Voldemort."
"And yet you've no problem consorting with them now, do you?" Symes lays a hand on Scorpius's head. The boy only barely flinches. Harry's ridiculously proud of him. "I know who Severus Snape is. Or was. And this one's father, not to mention grandfather…" Symes's fingers tangle in Scorpius's hair, jerking his head back. "Bad blood all around." He shoves Scorpius, sending him sprawling across the floor.
Scorpius stares up at Symes with a curled lip. "You're just a Muggle. My father was worth twenty of you." He spits at Symes; it catches the Prime Minister on his cheek, dripping down his skin.
"Then you'll join him." Symes raises pistol and aims it at Scorpius's head.
"Edwin." Rufus stands. "You can't--"
The door slams open; Severus comes running in, wand out, with Pansy, Hermione and Anthony at his heels. Harry can hear Dennis shouting in the hall.
"Symes," Severus says, his voice dangerously soft. He points his wand at the Prime Minister.
Symes merely looks at him. "This is for you," he says, and he pulls the trigger.
James lunges forward; smoke curls around Symes's hand. Rage surges through Harry; he grabs Entwhistle's arm, twisting it roughly as he jerks the wand from his hand.
"Avada Kedavra," Harry screams, and a burst of green light strikes Symes in the chest, sending him falling to the floor. Harry doesn't care; he runs to the boys as guards race into the room. The whoosh of curses being thrown is answered by the sharp retort of gunfire.
A burning pain shoots through Harry's back, slamming him to the ground. He digs his fingers into the carpet, his body shaking. He can't move. Can't breathe. He lifts his head.
James lies across Scorpius, blood spreading across his shoulder and chest. Scorpius stares up at Harry, his face white. "Please," he whispers.
"It's fine," Harry says. "It's going to be fine." He crawls over to them, wraps his arms around both boys. It jars him; he grits his teeth against the pain. He can feel blood seeping down his back, soaking into his jumper.
The room falls silent. Harry can't look up. Can't know what happened. He doesn't want to see Severus lying there, lifeless. He tightens his grip on James and Scorpius. "It'll be fine," he whispers again. Scorpius sobs softly against his shoulder.
Hands touch him, grasp the boys. "No," Harry says weakly, but he hears Severus whisper Harry into his ear, and, in a rush of relief, tears leak from the corner of his eyes.
He lets Severus pick him up. "Jamie," he says, but Severus shushes him. Harry can barely think through the pain.
The world twists around him in a swirl of colour, then fades to blackness.
xiii. 29 May, 2020
The sun is brilliantly bright in the afternoon sky.
James strides along the cliff path, Scorpius at his heels, the wind from the Atlantic whipping their hair. They're both bare-chested and barefooted, their trousers rolled up at the hems.
Severus watches from the back door of the house, always cautious. He can still see the knot of pink scar tissue on James' upper chest from where the bullet ripped through so many months ago. If Anthony hadn't been there afterwards… Severus doesn't like to think about that. They'd nearly lost both Potters.
"You worry too much," Pansy says. She hands him a mug of tea.
"I'll feel better when his damned father returns." Severus frowns as James strides too close to the edge. Bloody reckless Gryffindor. Next term, the both of them will attend Hogwarts for the first time. Severus has no doubts which House either boy will Sort into.
Pansy laughs. "You're in luck. Granger just rang. They made it past the border." She takes Severus's arm and pulls him back into the house. "Come on. Millie just made those chocolate biscuits you like."
He shoots her a glare; Pansy just rolls her eyes.
They've been in Wales since October, waiting out the aftermath of the assassinations of the Prime Minister and two of his Cabinet. Severus still isn't entirely certain how they escaped that night, leaving behind a swathe of bodies in their wake. They'd Apparated to Shrewsbury where Eddie had been waiting with a lorry to pile them into, carefully tucked behind crates of televisions and microwaves waiting to be carted over the border to Welshpool.
Severus can still smell the blood--Harry's blood, James's blood--that had pooled on the floor at their feet, that had stained his hands, soaked his jumper. Anthony had worked on both Potters, doing what he could to staunch the blood flow without magic until they crossed the border.
Harry'd nearly died from blood loss.
It's a night Severus would prefer to forget.
He sits at the kitchen table. The window's open, and a crisp breeze carries the scent of the ocean into the spotless white room. Millicent sets a plate of biscuits in front of him.
"Eat," she says. "The whole lot of you are too damn thin."
Severus snorts, but he picks up a biscuit and breaks it in half. He watches Millicent's Ella in the corner, playing with a set of stuffed dragons. She pokes one and when it breathes smoke, she looks up at Severus and laughs.
"You too," Millicent snaps at Pansy. She pokes Pansy's protruding belly. "You've a little one to think about."
"I don't think eating a biscuit is going to matter nutritionally," Pansy protests, but Millicent just gives her a glare. Pansy meekly picks up a biscuit and bites into it. "Bitch," she mutters. "I'd have Anthony scold her, but he's already on her side, the bastard."
Severus offers her another biscuit. She takes it from him with a snarl.
By the time the front door slams open, the plate's almost empty.
Harry comes bounding in, Granger at his heels. He grabs Pansy, pulling her from her chair and whirls her around the kitchen. She pulls back, her hand on her stomach. "Oh, don't make me sick up again."
He grins at her, then plops into a chair next to Severus, leaning over to kiss him. "Hey."
"You're in a good mood," Severus says dryly. He banishes crumbs from the tabletop with a whisk of his wand.
"The new Government wants to officially reopen negotiations when Parliament sits again after the Whitsun recess ends next week," Granger says. She leans against the counter. Severus notes the way Millicent eyes her, taking in Granger's neat grey suit and elegant pumps. Millicent blushes and looks away. Severus raises his eyebrow. Interesting.
Harry takes the last biscuit. "That general election in April did some good," he says. The Coalition had fallen apart after Symes's death. Wizards and witches in the SSF and the army had begun to come out, telling their stories, revealing the experiments that had taken place in Nemworth and other holding facilities like it.
The British public had been appalled, and, for the first time ever, the Lib Dems had a Prime Minister in 10 Downing Street. There were even rumours that Beatrice might return, taking her place in Buckingham Palace.
Ella pushes herself up and ambles over to Harry, holding out one of her dragons. "Here, Harry," she says, and he smiles down at her as he picks her up and settles her in his lap.
"You should have seen Hermione," Harry says. He sets the dragon to flying with a tap of his wand, and Ella claps in glee. "Bloody brilliant, she was, in our meeting. Had the PM eating out of her hand."
Granger laughs as she shrugs out of her suit jacket. "And what he's not telling you is that he's been offered a Cabinet position. Secretary of State for Wizard Relations."
Severus eyes Harry. "And you said?"
Harry ruffles Ella's hair, then looks up at Severus. "Would you hate living in London?" He licks his lip. "I made it perfectly clear that I wouldn't take it if there wasn't a pardon for you and everyone else in the ELA."
"Indeed." Severus leans back in his chair. "I see."
Ella wiggles down off Harry's lap. "Do you?" he asks. He doesn't look at Severus.
The kitchen falls silent. Pansy finally pushes her chair back. "I should go ring Anthony," she says. "Or he'll spend all bloody day down at the clinic instead of catering to my every whim."
Granger nods. She drapes her suit jacket over her arm. "I need to collect Rose and Hugo. Molly's had them all day."
"I'll walk you out," Millicent says. She picks up Ella. Severus is fairly certain he sees her glance down at Granger's arse.
The kitchen door swings shut behind them.
Severus raises an eyebrow as he looks at Harry. "That was subtle."
Harry laughs. "Slightly." He runs a finger around the edge of the biscuit plate. "So."
"It's a good opportunity to rebuild." Harry turns sideways in his chair, one elbow on the back, the other on the table. "To mend things with the Muggles." He bites his bottom lip. "We're going to have to eventually. We can't go back to the way things were before. They're not going to forget about us. I won't let them." He hesitates. "Ginny and Draco and Ron and Astoria and Teddy--" Harry breaks off, his voice cracking.
Teddy still hurts, Severus knows. They'd retrieved him when Nemworth was closed, and Harry had sat by his bed, Teddy's hand clutched tight in his, his fingertip tracing the scarred V in Teddy's palm as Anthony administered the potion that would stop Teddy's heart in his sleep. He hadn't left until Severus had gently untwined their fingers, long after the boy's last slow exhale, and led Harry back to their bedroom.
Neither of them talk about that night.
Harry takes a deep breath. "I want their deaths to mean something in the end. Not just be brushed aside." He looks up at Severus. "I know you'll think it's sentimental tripe, but wherever they are now, in whatever form, I want them to know the world's better than it was. That we haven't given up."
Severus sighs, and reaches for Harry, pulling him into his lap. "You're an idiotically idealistic and maudlin Gryffindor, you realise." And yet he can't argue with Harry's logic. He wants the same, wants Draco and Astoria not to have died in vain.
"Is that a 'yes, I'll move to London with you'?" Harry touches Severus's cheek. His fingers are warm and gentle.
"Am I going to end up in Wakefield bending over for the prison guards?" Severus turns his head and kisses Harry's fingertips.
Harry swats the back of his head. "No." He pauses. "I hope not."
"That's reassuring." Severus twines his fingers through Harry's.
The back door swings open, bringing a burst of ocean air and two laughing boys. James and Scorpius pull up short.
"Are we going to have to go back outside so you can shag on the table again?" Scorpius asks with an aggreived sigh only a newly turned thirteen-year-old can produce.
"Millie's still narked off about that," James adds. He gives his father a sideways glance. "She scrubbed it twice."
Harry eyes Severus hopefully.
"No," Severus says to him. "Wretch." He looks over at the boys. "What do you say about moving to London before term starts?"
James crosses his arms over his chest. "Is anyone going to get killed or thrown into prison?"
"I have the utmost assurances that won't happen." Harry drapes his arm over Severus's shoulder.
Scorpius shrugs. "Okay." He pushes James. "Race you upstairs."
"Bastard." James takes off after him.
Harry looks down at Severus. "London, then?"
"London," Severus says, pulling Harry into a long, slow kiss.
They just might be able to change the world, he thinks, pulling back and studying Harry's smiling face.