A/N: The usual disclaimer applies, obviously.
In which Harry meets an old enemy in an unexpected way.
Er, warnings? Bloodthirsty E.M. strikes again, is all I'm saying.
L'Affaire Chez Verduron
Harry scanned the pub rapidly, outlining his options.
OPT1: Floo Pierre. Get backup and swarm the bastard. Or bastards, as it were.
He said hello to the disgruntled-looking female bartender in shy, nearly-fluent-but-with-an-English-accent-y French, and cheerily asked her to order for him, ignoring the fact that she'd probably sell him the most expensive drink in the pub.
OPT2: Lay low. Ascertain the positions of les freres. Follow them, perhaps, to see if where they went would uncover any leads.
«Here you are, sir,» the bartender said, something of a leer coming across her face as he blushed and took the beer (which actually smelled rather good) from her as if he were flustered.
He tried not to think of Gabrielle, as hard as that seemed to have become upon seeing that leer on the bartender's face. Harry sipped at his beer nervously, making shy conversation and flirting back. He didn't want this girl. Wouldn't have wanted her, if she was ten times as hot as Gabby, which he contentedly assumed was impossible.
He wanted to go home. To her flat. Even though the whole thing was just a –
Back on track, Potter!
OPT3: Lay low. Ascertain the positions of the brothers.
Harry gulped slightly, more in response to the unspoken remainder of his last 'option'.
Harry shivered at the feeling of anticipation that washed over him, keeping tight rein on his posture as he sipped nervously at his beer, again. That that was an option was moot, despite the restrictions his superiors had feebly tried to place on him. And he said 'feebly', because he'd done in Avery a year ago, and they'd done nothing except kick up a quiet fuss and give him a mandatory holiday for a month, three weeks of which he used to disappear into Muggle London and party harder than he'd ever done in his life, and sleep around faster than the same.
Harry tried not to grimace, and worried about the fact that he wanted to. It was very strange how any thought of sex he had now was laced heavily with thoughts of Gabrielle's cunt and the way she smelled, and he'd have to explore that thought later, when he wasn't trying not to vibrate with joy at the possibility of killing the Lestrange brothers in cold blood.
Only it would be hot, maybe splashing horribly on his face, mocking the surprised expression he favoured on undercover missions like these as he pretended horror and sickness and sympathy for his thrashing, dying victim if he was on the scene, but Harry didn't quite want to think of it that way, because it was wrong.
It didn't feel wrong, and that was probably wrong too.
And you probably should be scanning the pub instead of brooding about blood, you idiot, he told himself.
So he gave the bartender a last, nervous smile, then took up his drink and began to slowly but surely cover the pub, drifting over to the telly and the anxious Frenchmen clustered around it with a feigned look of interest in the football match on it on his face. He sat down without thinking, positioning himself so he'd be facing the entrance and able to watch it for any newcomers, then found, to his surprise, that the barstool next to his was occupied by a slightly nervous, very English-looking man wearing a fashionably tatty, very English-looking sweater.
Harry smiled and decided for a tentative hello in the man's direction, and leaned over to speak to him.
"Hi. Are you English, by any chance?"
The man was a little startled, but looked up from his beer calmly enough, and that, that was enough. Harry fought back a grin of glee.
It was one of them, he just knew it.
"Yeah," the man next to him said, with a smooth accent, one obviously belonging to the not-quite-upper-class that seemed to swarm France these days.
"Oh thank God," Harry enthused, shifting his beer in an outward show of fake nerves, "Sometimes I never think I'll find anyone to talk to without thinking about it first, you know?"
"I suppose so," Lestrange answered, with a small, quiet smile. "Where are you from, then?"
"Sussex," Harry said, calmly, knocking back some of his beer with giddy abandon. He'd found them, he really had. Against all odds – "God but I miss it – "
"You don't sound like it," Lestrange answered, his smile looking slightly off. "If I didn't know better, I would've thought you were all French, with that accent." Harry waved the slightly suspicious objection off airily, easily projecting an air of relief and comfort.
"I get it from my mum – always good at languages, she was. Makes sense that I'm good at them too – "
"Really." Harry tried not to notice the slight frost in the man's tone as he knocked back another gulp of the (really very good) beer. "How fortunate for you. I wonder how it must have seemed to your teachers, your facility for languages. They must have called it almost unnatural." Lestrange smiled, coldly, and Harry knew he was caught. The murmur of the football fans nearby began to rise, almost in time with the slight increase of his hearbeat, and Harry forced himself to relax further into the chair, and project confidence instead of anger.
Which he had plenty of, in the face of this bastard. Looking at him again, now, Harry could almost see that regal, cruel tilt, that handsome edge under the nondescript eyes and skin, and it infuriated him, because it meant Lestrange was consciously toning down his concealing charms to spite Harry. Rodolphus had been in charge of the whole disastrous attack on Bill and Fleur's wedding, had been in charge of the mass action that had turned the dancing into weeping, the sedate, commonplace enjoyment into terror. Had been in charge of that final, awful attack, and had probably been in charge of creating the poor, twisted Veelas that had fought alongside the Death Eaters on that day. Why, Harry found himself thinking, anger starting to sweep a slightly pink haze over his vision, he probably tortured people like Gabby, probably raped them –
That's enough, he ordered himself, setting down the drink, ignoring the way his skin had started to heat, and the way his hands had started to shake.
"Well, then we're two of a kind, aren't we, Rodolphus?" The man sneered slightly, whatever charm he was using seeming to solidify his features back into bored, listless English toff, and Harry could nearly not restrain the movement of his hand to his wand, could not even think past the idea of Gabrielle being hurt by this monster, this monster who would soon be dead, deader than Voldemort, if Harry had to fling him down to the very centre of the earth to accomplish that.
There were spells for that, even though he'd never tried them –
Harry reached for his wand, and tried to contain the shock on his face as his fingers discreetly combed an empty pocket. The shock and the smirk on Rodolphus' face helped to centre him a little, and he forcibly calmed down, taking another sip of his beer.
He couldn't afford another slip now, the way this encounter was careening out of control –
"You really are brave, continuing to drink that," Rodolphus said conversationally, affecting to glance up at the telly nearby before shaking his head. "The hysteria that's always surrounded your abilities has never failed to amuse me – "
Harry snorted, suddenly blindingly angry again. "What do you know of magic, Rodolphus? It repels you, resists your efforts to tame and control it. Of course you wouldn't understand – do you think I have to beg the magic to conform to my will?" Harry smiled, letting it become as dangerous as he really wanted. "Let me tell you something – magic loves me. It's almost frightening, sometimes, how much I can do. Now, be honest." He leant forward slightly, relishing the slight alarm in Rodolphus' eyes. "Do you really think I wouldn't know if you'd poisoned my drink?"
"I knew someone from the Organisation was after me, you know," Rodolphus said, ignoring Harry's question outright, taking a forcedly calm sip of his drink. "I wondered who they would send, too. Can't say I expected them to send a useless little half-blood to try to bring me in – "
"Enough talk." Harry rose suddenly, knocking over his barstool and drink in the process, and, an angry, confused sort of look now properly in place, seized Rodolphus by the neck and shoved him down to the floor. "Let's get this over with, shall we?"
Harry swung and hit, relishing the slight crack of bone under his fist as it connected solidly with Rodolphus' jawline. Another painful punch produced a louder, more satisfying crack that had Rodolphus gasping raggedly around his broken jaw, unable to verbalise any last minute insults – or, more importantly, any of the really lethal curses that needed verbalisation.
Harry kicked out viciously at him, adrenaline flooding his system beautifully as Rodolphus curled under his assault. He ignored the shouts of alarm going on around him, rage gaining control of his actions, his magic lending them an accuracy and preciseness that Rodolphus groaned under again and again.
"Thought I'd be useless without my wand, did you?" Harry half-shouted, the slight drunken slur he was forced to affect to avoid suspicion not masking his outright. "Just because you are – " he ground his heel into Rodolphus' groping, desperate wand hand, relishing the sounds of stressing, breaking bones and tearing skin – " – doesn't mean I am – "
"Monsieur – "
"Appelez la police – "
The pink haze suddenly lifted from Harry's mind as strident French hands and French words were thrown at him, as people tore him away from Rodolphus' now heavily bleeding form, and he did not resist, knowing the crowd in here were definitely now on Rodolphus' side, and –
"You BASTARD – "
Harry ducked instinctively, ignoring the wrenching pain in his shoulder as his sharp downward motion dragged his arm out of the grip of the person holding him, and his heart stopped cold, because the sizzle of magic was definitely there in the air now, and the person that had shouted –
– was Rabastan Lestrange. Harry curled and ducked out of the way as the clamouring Muggles surrounding him were peeled back by the force of the wild-eyed bastard's spell, smashing backwards into tables and surfaces as Rabastan stared at the twitching, crumpled form of his brother on the floor just before them. Harry didn't even bother watching him – what he needed now was his wand, and Merlin but he'd been a fool for not getting it back from Rodolphus while he could, and now –
– he would pay for his carelessness. The wild light in Rabastan's eyes suggested nothing but a healthy round of curses Harry hadn't been put under for years, and with nothing but a vestful of shrunken brooms, healing potions and one or two stupid little comms devices that mightn't even work here –
Focus, for fuck's sake!
"Same to you, Rab," Harry said back, as softly as he could, knowing it would infuriate him. Knowing the resulting shouts and carrying-on would buy him some time, and erase just enough of Rabastan's cautious, plotting thoughts and replace them with something like the fury he'd been bested by just minutes ago. "You were always last on the scene – "
"If he dies, you little – "
"Potter," Harry said, mockingly. "Harry, to be precise. Although I don't think there are any Potters left apart from me, are there? Shocking."
"You – "
"With any luck, that Dividere you cast will have snapped his spine," Harry said viciously, gathering his strength for an attempt to wandlessly Accio his wand. It was pretty much the only chance he had of surviving this thing with his sanity and life intact – "Not that it'll do him any real damage. He's just kicking, it'll be over soon – "
"You murdering halfblood swine!"
"Careful there, Rab. Technically, there's been more than one of those – I think you still bear the traces of his Mark – "
"Fomentio!" Rabastan hissed, and the battle had really, truly began. Harry dived hard out of the way of the Blood-boiling curse, dread and anticipation prickling sharply at him as he let the magic flow out of him, begging, seeking –
A familiar, tingling length slapped into his hand, and Harry was up and running, finally. He needed to take this fight out of here, before it hurt the shouting, panicking patrons still hiding behind tables and counters within the pub –
"Flaminis!" The Blasting Curse rolled easily enough off his painful arm, taking Rabastan a little by surprise as it whipped him away from his bleeding, groaning brother, slamming him into the tables nearby, disorientating him splendidly, just like Harry needed – "Mobilicorpus!" Harry snarled, ignoring the angry moaning as he roughly levitated Rabastan out of the pub door, smashing him into the lintel on purpose as he lifted the spell, smiling inwardly at the way Rabastan's gathered momentum made him continue to fly across the street into the remnants of terrified traffic. Harry followed sharply, digging out and enlarging almost immediately the device he needed – "Pierre! Backup needed, situation 516, it's getting out of hand down here – "
"He won't answer you, Harry," Rabastan snarled joyously, twisting haphazardly into a sitting position. "How's it feel with no fools guarding your back now, Potter?"
"Jesus Christ," Harry breathed, wand at the ready, the correct spell already forming in his mind as disbelief soared through him, because it meant this was a trap, and he had no idea how – "Dispersio vexillum!" he shouted, keeping an eye firmly on Rabastan as he chuckled evilly, producing his wand with that quaint flourish Harry still remembered from the War, from the destruction at Port –
«Listen, sirs! We require you to cease fighting immediately!»
The small, fiery circle Harry had sent into the air writhed above them, brightening as Harry put as much effort as he could into it, wondering, hoping someone else had at least known of this mission –
"Anything the matter, Potter?" Rabastan challenged lowly, ignoring the increased shouting around them. "Scared?"
Harry quashed the urge to say 'never', knowing it would waste his time. "Converbero!" And the battle had begun again. Harry whirled around within the shouting circle of concerned but not-quite-concerned-enough French police, lashing out at Rabastan's steadily weakening body with everything in him, tightly channelling the sleeping rage within into the most terrible spells he knew. He struck out at every part of his enemy's body without regard, just as Rabastan was doing in return, leavening the mixture of confusion-producing and damaging Dark spells with one of his favourites – the cutting curse Snape had once informed him that he'd turned into a purely lethal weapon: Sectumsempra.
"There's no way out, you know," Harry laughed at him, the impending victory heating his own blood as he cast it once again, serrating the rigid Muggle road beneath a desperate Rabastan as blood continued to stain his robes, torn gaps decorated with bleeding gashes decorating his entire body. "You'll die, just like your brother's dying, right now – "
The crack of Apparition interrupted Harry's low, gloating speech like little thunderclaps in and around him as people dressed in nondescript Muggle clothes burst into action around him, beating back the crowd, casting up a heavy shield that enclosed the area within the tight circle surrounding the combatants and generally behaving like the backup Harry had so earnestly sent for. And was now equally earnestly regretting, because he wouldn't be able to kill Rabastan right in front of them, as that would get him into more trouble –
"Crucio!" The desperate scream of Rabastan's spell caressed Harry's right arm for a moment, a hideously familiar pain latching on and twisting his wand out of his writhing arm even as Harry muttered another cutting curse in reply, and for a few instants, all Harry could feel was that pain travelling up into his entire body, filling his thoughts with fear and anger and random thoughts of just how good the Death Eaters had gotten at graduating Cruciatus Curses, and then –
A harsh, serrated pop sounded ominously nearby as the pain of the Crucio abruptly ceased, and when Harry opened his eyes, there was no Rabastan in sight, and far too many bloody Organisation operatives in his stead.
"We found Pierre just after your Dispersio," one of them started saying from immediately above him (how did I get to lying on the floor like a – okay, that's obvious), but Harry was far too angry to listen.
"Do you think you could have Apparated outside the bloody duelling ring we had going, you fucking idiot? Did you even read the files of the Lestranges, or – "
"We set up Anti-Apparition – " came the nervous answer, but Harry was too angry and too keyed up to listen to the familiar hesitation in the harried supporting agent's voice. God, one minute, one minute more, and he'd have had the bastard –
And now, instead, there was just a circle of whirling Agents gently Obliviating here and there, separating out the Muggle police from the circle and getting them done first so they could sort out some of the crowd themselves. Just blood, and torn bits of the bastard's robes and Harry's robes and nothing. Rage filled Harry's throat like a vicious bile – all his work for nothing –
"There is a way around them! The Lestranges practically created the way for getting round Apparition-specific wards, you bloody fools! And I had him, I had him – "
"He had you at the end, Agent Potter," a familiar, foreboding voice said from behind. Harry whipped around, his anger diminishing somewhat as he came face to face with his official Head of Department, Julius Maronin, who was somehow managing to look like the most furious wizard he'd seen in days even in a shabby grey coat and matching shapeless hat. "Have you forgotten all basic training? Why didn't you verify with the Head Office before setting out, you stupid little blighter?"
"Because you," Harry said, trying hard to bring his insolent tone under control, "told me to stay in contact with Pierre and only Pierre, mission-wise. Or do you not remember?"
"Nevertheless, you had no business trying to take on both of those bastards at the same time – " Harry could not stop himself bristling, despite the dread seeping into his limbs now, dread that he'd be taken off the case, just because – and it didn't make sense! He was one of their best agents, he knew it –
"As you well know, I am quite capable of handling the Lestrange brothers on any day – "
" – and your orders were to apprehend, not bludgeon to bits!" Maronin was now firmly in his face, in full screaming-lecture mode. Harry turned his face carefully out of reach of that angry, slightly smelly breath, trying to keep a handle on his own overgrown, mutating temper, which had probably gotten him into this mess in the first place.
"Did anyone really think I'd follow those orders? You know my history, sir – "
"And you said you would disregard it – " Guilt blossomed briefly in Harry's mind, but he swiftly shunted it aside. Anyone who knew him at all had to have known he'd been pretending –
"And you expected me to say no? You know me, Monsieur Maronin. I wouldn't have dreamt of sending myself to apprehend the Lestranges on my best of days. I assumed I had free rein – "
"Which is why you are officially on leave from this day till the first of February, Potter." Harry stared, but knew better than to argue, recognising the all-too-obvious cadence of one of the Organisation's efforts at punishing him for misbehaving. Besides, if he surmised correctly, the period between those dates, was about a month and a half, which would come in handy with reinforcing his cover as a travelling security consultant with his friends. Of course, Harry suddenly realised, it was also at least twice the duration of leave they'd sent him on after Avery, and that couldn't be anything but significant – "Yes, that is intended to be double the penalty for that hideous miscalculation with Avery, as well as an extra two weeks of mandatory training for letting that stupid bastard go after learning you're a part of us. I do not care what you think, Mr. Potter, but we are not in the habit of hiring and sustaining loose cannons. If you know in good conscience that you cannot appropriately fulfil a mission because of your history, then it is your duty as an Agent of ours to refuse it. Is that understood?"
"Yes and no, sir," Harry said, shock starting to pulse through him at the odd, blaming undertone of the whole speech. "You're forgetting," he continued angrily, "that you were the ones that offered me this position at all. If you don't like how I deal with things, then you'd better find a replacement, and fast – " Maronin nearly snarled in frustration, his very posture screaming the situation of the still fragmented nature of the search for the remaining former affiliates of Tom. He sighed and shifted weight from one leg to another, every movement projecting impatience and an odd neediness Harry had never quite seen with him before.
"We need you on Lestrange's trail, Potter," Maronin said, lowly, voice reluctant. Harry nodded despite his chafing instinct. Something was definitely going on, but it didn't take away from that salient fact.
"And I don't argue with that. What you need to consider is whether apprehending his dead body is any use to you, versus actually torturing whatever information you need out of him after he's killed off another of the Agents." Harry lowered his voice slightly, ignoring the disapproving look on Maronin's face – what he was about to say was practically commonplace knowledge among the agents, and there was simply no point trying to hide anything – "He's working with someone inside the Organisation – you know that just as well as I do, just as you know that killing him is the only option." Harry let his voice return to normal levels, still ignoring the glare he was now receiving from his boss. "I assume my forced leave begins now, Paul?"
"Agent Maronin, Potter," was the stern reply. "And yes, Potter, it does. Where do you intend to go to ground?"
"Surely you can find that out on your own, Agent Maronin? I'm hardly about to give up my location to the departmental head of an organisation whose integrity of information is compromised, am I?" Maronin looked vaguely displeased, but nodded in acceptance all the same as Harry continued. "I'll be back in Cannes in two and a half months, and that's all I'll say."
"Cannes, eh?" Harry tried not to stiffen at the oddly knowing look Maronin gave him. They'd worked together for well over a year, and Paul knew his habits and subtle signals as well as Harry knew his – he'd know not to push, thankfully. "Well. Walters! Get Mr. Potter cleared to leave the scene immediately. I suppose," he said, turning snidely to Harry in a way that belied the very slight glimmer of concern and wry amusement in his eyes, "that your Muggle injuries are treatable at a Muggle hospital…?"
Harry nodded as insultingly as possible before allowing Walters to lead him off to the tiny temporary Medic tent, seething at the whole thing. Just one minute later, and he'd have had Rabastan writhing on the floor and dying… Harry sighed. Sometimes he really hated working with the Organisation.
"Cannes on February the first, Potter. Don't make me come looking for you, do you understand? Walters, I'll just be off. Send the abbreviated report to me…" Harry grinned as the imperious tone of his boss trailed off into the distance, knowing the man had wandered outside the undoubtedly Silenced barrier. Then again, it meant he got to work with complex, wry individuals like Meronin instead of blind, prejudiced, fawning and/or simpering Ministry officials, so he supposed it had its good moments.
This, of course, was definitely not one of them. Harry sighed, ignoring the concerned, envious looks he got from the harried healer that had just finished flooding him with potions to counteract nerve damage and other sundry unappetising conditions he might end up with from the backlash of Rabastan's other spells, some of which he hadn't even realised had hit him at the time.
"You're never alert to damage in a duel, Potter," he remembered being shouted at him exasperatedly from many, many tutors. "It'll hurt you – it'll hinder you – "
Harry sighed again. Right now, he couldn't help going over all the wrong things he'd done in that duel, all the foolish steps he'd taken, all the mistakes he'd made. What had made him so angry? So obviously unheeding his training, his common sense –
And then he remembered. Gabrielle. The mention, the thought of that horribly botched wedding of Fleur's, the tears, the battle long after – Harry stiffened in shock as he felt anger, that same anger, boiling murderously within despite the fact that Rodolphus was dead or nearing it inside that pub, despite the fact that Rabastan was heavily injured and probably panicked and liable to be caught. He ignored the healer's strident questions about whether he was feeling all right and made his way to the tiny secured area outside of the Apparition boundary, anger and worry colliding severely within him.
He had a problem, he really did. Gabrielle's wellbeing seemed to flood his senses and overwhelm his thoughts as he began to Apparate in short hops, knowing to keep the stress to a minimum, and he wasn't surprised to find himself eventually nearing her area. Confusion and longing added themselves to the painful mix, and Harry suddenly decided it would be okay to Apparate there, that it would be fine. Really. He sneaked a quick look at his watch as he ducked inside the shabby lobby of her apartment building. It was just going half nine or so –
Well, I'm late already, he reasoned stubbornly. So she'll be expecting me –
Pop. Harry stumbled back against her door, eyes widening as he surveyed the carnage. The mess – it was – there was blood in places, he could smell it –
Harry took a deep breath, and gulped in another. He would be calm. He would go home, clean himself – no, don't go into her room – up. Take the Organisation-issued vest off, maybe burn its useless bloody contents. Then he'd take up his wand, come back, and start from here.
And by God, when he found her – when he found who had taken her –
Harry Apparated suddenly, violently, the crushing feeling twisting satisfactorily at his limbs as focused, primal anger ran through them. He'd rip the person limb from limb.
A/N: Wow, settling the ghosts of this chapter gives me a great feeling. (wipes forehead) Well, that's another round of updating gone by, I believe. Hope you didn't mind just how bloodthirsty this chapter was… Well, any errors in this chapter are solely due to my overindulgence of playing the Sims 2 Open for Business. Oh, and the sort-of-stalemate I've had with this story for a bit. Do report any you see...cheers, E. M.