Summary: Fifteen years after he defeated Voldemort, Harry Potter finds himself protecting Snape's daughter from an unknown threat. But while Harry is wrestling with his inner demons, plans are being put in motion, and soon, he won't have time to indulge his premature mid-life crisis.
Notes: Over half of this fic has been written, but since I had rashly given myself a deadline, I decided to assuage my conscience by posting the first two chapters now. The rest will be posted when it's completed. I promise, it will be finished. This story means a lot to me. I'm not going to let it go. Having said that, I really don't like being pestered for updates. I'm sorry, it just irritates me.
Characters: are the property of J. K. Rowling. Further notes are at the end of each chapter.
The beta readers: FearlessDiva sat
me down and made me figure out how the plot and characterisation were linked.
Melina is the Great White Unnecessary Word Hunter. Jerie is the World's
Greatest Beta Reader.. ChristineCGB, Jemima and Lori who were pushing
for a Return to the Blue Lagoon crossover, but I didn't listen.
Seema helpfully figured out what the Big Plottish Secret was. Rebecca
J. Anderson made encouraging noises in all the right moments. Seema
and RJ helped me with the French. This wouldn't exist without them.
A peak you reach
Two men, talking over a cup of tea:
"Is it enough, do you think?"
"It'll have to be. Anything more, and it would be too obvious."
"From what I've heard, you'd have to wear green and silver snakeskin and carry a sign saying 'I Love The Dark Lord' before he'd notice anything." A snort. "Gryffindors."
"You underestimate him. That's a mistake."
"He's one man."
"He's the most powerful wizard of our age." A chuckle. "But, yes, one man. It's enough."
Harry saw her in the shadows: a thin, cloaked figure, retreating into the darkness as the Aurors made their way down Knockturn Alley. He caught a glimpse of black eyes in a pale face, and felt a flicker of recognition. He knew this girl, or at least, he knew who she was. And what she was.
Her gaze had a familiar focus that made Harry's neck prickle, as if she could see through their Invisibility Cloaks.
He'd often wondered the same thing about her father, he recalled.
Somehow, the denizens of the Alley had caught wind that something would happen that night, and the only others around were a huddled man, smelling strongly of carris seeds, and a shabby prostitute sheltering from the rain. Neither showed any interest in the hidden Coterie as it moved through the night with a whisper.
They paused in a cavernous shadow, where a Malfoy-owned carris den once stood.
At the whispered command, the seven Aurors removed their Invisibility Cloaks. Most tucked them into the pockets of their robes; Harry found an unoccupied pocket in his Muggle-style combat pants. He had no desire to get tangled up in voluminous fabric on a dark, rainy night like this.
With the darkness and the rain, Harry couldn't see more than three feet in front of him, but he could sense Ron, excited and worried, and Dennis Creevey, who was fearless and eager to begin. The others, less known to him, were merely a blur of anticipation. As always, Harry found himself straining to identify individuals, like a non-musician attempting to follow an individual instrument in an orchestra.
Stop that, he thought. Empathic abilities were unmeasurable, but he could never shake the feeling that his were duller than the rest.
And whose fault is that?
Harry abandoned the useless line of thought.
He'd never been particularly musical, either.
Silently, the Coterie advanced, taking up their positions.
"Open up on College business!"
Harry watched from the shadows as Enid Zabini leaped forward kicked the door open, demonstrating yet again why a Slytherin with an inferiority complex should never be allowed to watch Muggle action movies. It was all Ron's fault, he mused as he watched his best friend follow Enid through the door. He smiled at the memory of that weekend of beer, bad Muggle movies and Chinese food four years ago, back when they were mostly relative strangers. Ron had been determined to share his newly discovered love of film with the world; the weekend had gone further in developing a cohesive Coterie unit than six months of Ministry-sponsored "camps".
Lisa and Michael entered next, moving more cautiously than their seniors. Next were Dennis and Marion; Dennis bore that slightly manic grin made Harry think twice about considering taking up the Dark Arts as a casual hobby, or even jaywalking. Enid wasn't the only one who'd watched too many Bruce Willis films. Marion merely looked determined, bless her homicidal, Hufflepuff soul.
Harry, as the Coterie's Second, was the last to enter, ready to move quickly if a trap was sprung. That was the way of the Coterie: you formed emotional, empathetic bonds, and you looked after your colleagues.
Before he moved, he turned slightly, but no one met his gaze from the shadows.
Inside the shop, he found the greatest anticlimax of his career: Janus Borgin quietly allowing himself to be magically bound to the Portkey that would take him to the College's cells. He looked up as Harry entered, meeting his eyes through a curtain of limp, greying hair.
"Potter. The Ministry has planned quite a party indeed. And I'm not even dressed."
Borgin was wearing a worn, grey nightshirt, although there was fresh ink on his fingers, and heat radiated from the teapot on the counter. It looked as though he'd been enjoying a peaceful midnight tea party before the entrance of the Aurors, although there were fresh potions in the cauldrons around the counter.
Two teacups rested beside the antique cash register.
"Good evening, Janus," Harry said conversationally, peering into a cauldron with interest. He looked up at Enid. "Is the rest of the building secured?"
"I'm on it." And don't tell me how to do my job, you great Gryffindor prat, she didn't say. Harry took the hint, and hung back as Ron, Marion and Lisa returned to confirm that yes, the shop and the flat above it were completely secured.
"Even the regular wards are down," Lisa added, biting her lip. She glared at Janus and added pointedly, "one might even think he knew we were coming."
"One might even think he had something nasty up his sleeve," said Dennis. He, like everyone else, was still carrying his wand. Borgin had a history of springing nasty surprises on Coteries. This sullen compliance was unprecedented, and Harry found it worrying.
"One might even think I was tired," Borgin said. "Take me away, if you will," he said to Enid. "I have no further purpose here."
Enid nodded, her eyes blazing with curiosity, and they both vanished.
Over the sound of the rain, Harry could hear pops and curses as journalists and photographers Apparated into Knockturn Alley. Michael rolled his eyes.
"Your entourage, Mr Potter?"
"They're not mine," Harry snarled, as flashes began to go off in the window and the Fourth Estate of the wizarding world attempted to catch a glimpse of the Man Formerly Known As The Boy Who Lived at work.
See Potter. See Potter work. See Potter save the world. See Potter stare at a cauldron full of gooey sludge and wonder what it does.
He had just decided against poking it, either with a wand or a finger, when the door opened, and a journalist actually threw himself into the room.
"Sorry about that, chaps," he said cheerfully, "but it's raining Snidgets out there, and why hang about in the wet when the story's in here?"
"This is Ministry business," Ron snapped. "Get yourself out. Or get yourself arrested for obstructing the College of Aurors, and see how Malfoy enjoys bailing you out."
"Mr Weasley! Hero of the Diamond Gorge—"
"Out," Ron said, raising his wand.
"How does it feel, playing Third Auror to the Boy Who Lived?"
Harry retreated to the sidelines, glancing outside. Knockturn Alley was more visible now; the rabble of reporters had lit their wands and carried self-illuminating notebooks. On the other side of the narrow street, he caught a glimpse of a cloaked figure moving further into the shadows.
Does Daddy know you're here? he asked the figure.
"Not as good as it will feel to arrest you—"
"Let him out," said Harry wearily. He grabbed the journalist by the scruff of the neck, ignoring the fact that the man was a head and a half taller than he – walk as if you own the school, Potter, cease this ridiculous slinking around. Stand up and look me straight in the eye, like your father did – and made for the door.
"Mr Potter! Allow me to introduce myself: I am Thomas DeMartiller of the Evening Seer—"
"This may amaze you, DeMartiller, but I really don't care."
The door flew open as Harry approached, and the herd of journalists and photographers straightened.
"There," said Harry cheerfully, "that'll make the front page. That's all your lot want, isn't it?"
Somewhat reluctantly, he released DeMartiller without dropping him in a puddle, and faded into the shadows to retrieve his Invisibility Cloak. The journalists were concentrating on Borgin and Burkes; no one noticed Harry as he moved across the Alley.
He was beside the girl, as well concealed as she in the shadows, when he removed his cloak. She spun around, cat-like, wand at the ready. He had half expected her to run away at his approach, like the near feral orphans who'd haunted the Alleyways during and after the War, but she identified him and became still.
Oh yes, there was a lot that he recognised in this girl.
"Knockturn Alley is no place for a teenage girl," he said conversationally, as soon as he was sure that she wouldn't flee.
"It's no place for anyone," she said, looking past him at the prostitute and the addict, who were watching proceedings with interest. Her cloak slipped aside, revealing a flimsy Muggle dress. Harry shuddered at the thought of a girl like this in the Alley, fair game for the illegal Potions merchants, the Dark Wizards, the pimps and drug dealers.
Although, come to think of it, that was a fair summary of her family tree.
"Where's your father?" he asked.
"France." She pushed her hood back, revealing very long, black hair that fell around her face, emphasising the pallor of her skin and the harsh, strong features she'd inherited from her father.
"Does he know you're here?"
"You must be joking."
"You should get home."
She shifted, looking annoyed. "I Floo'd here. Now your Aurors are crawling all over the shop."
"Well, you can't spend the night out here."
"I do realise that."
He held his Cloak out. "Hop under here. I'll take you home."
Harry was not a tall man, but the days when he could share his Cloak with another person were long gone. He sent the girl across to the shop, grabbed his wand and Apparated, beating her there by several minutes.
"Jesus, Harry," breathed Dennis as he appeared. "You almost gave me a heart attack."
"Just keeping you on your toes."
"It's not my toes you should be worried about."
The door opened slightly, and then closed. Dennis, Lisa and Ron raised their wands, but Harry stilled them. He cast Obfuscato – long overdue, in his opinion – on the windows, ignoring the howls of protest from the mob outside as the glass went dark.
"Well," he said, directing his words to a point somewhere near the door, "come on out, then."
There was a whisper of fabric near the fireplace; Harry turned and found himself looking into a pair of slightly amused black eyes.
"I thought you Aurors never let anyone get behind you," she said.
"Let's just assume that I'm very trusting."
Dennis, examining the contents of a concealed cupboard, tried and entirely failed to disguise his laughter. Harry ignored him and lit the fire.
"I'll accompany you home," he said, not bothering to pretend it was a request. She nodded, reluctantly, and threw the powder into the flames.
As he followed her into the fire, Harry heard Dennis say to Lisa, "Isn't that the Snape girl?" Then the fire swallowed him, and Knockturn Alley vanished in a haze of ash.
to be continued
Lilith: originally inspired by Mary Russell, the creation of Laurie R. King. In the Russell novels, the heroine is the arrogant, brilliant fifteen year old apprentice of Sherlock Holmes. I got to wondering how a modern fifteen year old would compare; the conclusions weren't flattering. Lilith's less pleasant characteristics were softened by the influence of Dorothy L. Sayers' Harriet Vane.
Carris seed: an addictive drug from Robin Hobb's Farseer trilogy, which I highly recommend to anyone bored with by-the-numbers Tolkienist fantasy novels.
Oxford. Chosen as the site of the Snape residence since I've read more books set in Oxford than Cambridge. Said books being Laurie R. King's Mary Russell series and Dorothy L. Sayers' Gaudy Night, along with Dorothy L. Sayers: life of a courageous woman.