They seemed to think he couldn't hear them, but he could. The Macmillan's voices carried easily through the closed kitchen door to the living room where Seamus sat near the fire, staring evenly into the steadily flickering flames. Susan had lit it for him – his hands and feet in particular were always cold these days, something the Healers said was due to his heart still not up to its old strength after having been punctured – and the little gesture of kindness ached in a way that was almost physical as he listened to the argument.

Of course Ernie's parents didn't want him here. They'd be insane to want him here. Alcoholic, thief, vigilante, serial murderer…the fact that one could technically amend all of those epithets with 'former' didn't make them any nicer. Especially when, in all fairness, 'friend' and 'D.A.' could be granted the same appellation. Still, she seemed to be holding her ground, and whether she won or lost, he was truly beyond caring. He'd already resigned himself to Azkaban, and if this idea of serving his time at the Loch instead proved untenable, he wouldn't fight the more conventional prison.

There wasn't anything left to fight. In so many ways.

Seamus shifted in the old but still comfortable chair, curling his feet beneath him as he rested his head against the winged back. He was tired, so tired, having spent more of the day on his feet than he was properly ready for in the endless series of official proceedings that had surrounded his move from the Ministry holding cell to the farm. His eyes sagged closed, and the thinnest rumble of a chuckle shuddered in the back of his throat.

Fiona was saying he was dangerous. Oh, yes, she was right, or she would have been, not at all so long ago. He'd been an incredibly dangerous man, explosive and violent, not at all to be trusted, but it was blackly funny that she could see any threat in the wreck of a man who had only just barely survived what should have rightfully killed him. What he wished had killed him. What maybe had, even if the Healers had managed to seal the wound of the thick ritual blade itself.

What was alive, anyway, that was the question? It wasn't just a matter of still having a pulse, of still breathing. Fearless Leader's parents had that, and they were far from living. Folk who'd had the Dementor's Kiss weren't exactly counted among the proper living, either. So what about himself? Even the Healers had said it was a miracle he'd survived, because he hadn't fought for it, and that he could be much more recovered if he'd only try.

Try for what? For himself? Load of bull, that. Fighter, true, he'd always been, but never for himself, oh, no. He'd fought for his home, for his country, for his people, for his friends, for revenge, for simple right, or to see someone evil taken down, but for himself? Didn't they know what a silly paradox they were trying to urge? Fight for yourself when you don't exist beyond the fight for others?


His eyes snapped open, startled by the matter-of-fact voice that had intruded on his dark musings. A little girl was standing not three feet away, and he heard himself gasp as he recognized who it must be. Oh, sweet Brigid's tears, Cecily.

He knew how long it had been, but it was still a shivering shock to see that what he remembered as nothing more than a vague swell under Susan's sweater and a proud smile on Ernie's mouth had become a girl of at least four and a half, her long, dark hair in two braids over the shoulders of her nightdress, her eyes reflecting her father's soft, warm hazel at him in the firelight. She was a pretty little thing, wide-eyed and so innocent that it hurt to remember that there were such naïve creatures in the same world he'd seen so much ugliness of.

There was no fear in her expression, and he held himself motionless, unsure what he was supposed to do or say, not wanting to break this spell and see her shy away as she approached him, tiny, plump fingers reaching out to touch the side of his face. "Pretty."

Seamus blinked, taken aback by the term that he couldn't remember ever having been applied to him, and certainly didn't make sense now, and the response came before he could stop himself. "What's pretty?"

"Ye gots ribbons drawed on yer face. They're pretty." Her hand slid down the line of the tattooed knotwork, then without any warning, she clamored up onto his lap. Seamus stiffened, half from pain as she burrowed unwittingly against the fresh scar on his chest, half from how completely alien it was to have a child respond to him as anything other than a figure of fear. Somewhere in the distant past, he knew he'd had cousins, that he'd been good with Dean's sisters, but her solid, squirming warmth was still bizarre.


He shifted carefully, easing her away from the half-healed wound to settle into a more comfortable position, but in doing so, the neck of his prisoner's robes pulled down a bit, and those hazel eyes sparkled in delight as she reached for the newly exposed crosses. "Oooh! Gots more! Like Uncle Charlie! D'ye have dragons?"

"No," he admitted. "Just crosses and names and…ribbons."

"Ye must be Shu…shi…" she frowned, her nose scrunching up as she struggled with the unfamiliar name. "Mister Fi'gim?"

"Shay-miss," he said slowly. "Not so hard, love. Just a bit o' a funny name, but 'tis normal where I'm from. Your mam's told ya I was comin', then?"

"Mmm-hmm," Cecily nodded happily. "She sayed we was gonna have ye come live with us 'cuz ye'd got in troubles and gotted grounded forever, but you're DA, and ye was Da's friend, so I's not to be scared of ye."

"You're also not supposed to be out of bed, young lady." Cecily's mouth dropped open into a startled 'o', and her round cheeks flushed as she turned with him to see Susan standing in the open door of the kitchen. He hadn't heard it open, hadn't even realized the fight had ended, and he felt as guilty as if he'd been caught with a far older girl on his lap in a very different way.

After the initial surprise, Cecily did not seem at all ashamed of herself, and she pouted sternly, propping one fist against her hip. "Wanted ta see Mr. Shay-miss," she enunciated carefully, and he was oddly touched to hear her pronounce it correctly, if a bit stiltedly in her dainty burr. "And I want a milk."

"I said you could see him in the morning, and you've already had your milk." Susan was unmoved by the adorable face her daughter was making, and he could see now that this particular brand of combat was one in which the delicate witch by far had the upper hand on him. He would have melted at once. "Now scoot to bed, or it's no sweeties tomorrow!"

Cecily huffed in deeply wounded indignance, fixing him briefly with a look of unendingly patient suffering and oppression before she hopped off his lap, scurrying out of the room again with one last, filthy glare over her shoulder. Susan watched her go, and it was only after she was long vanished that the smile appeared softly on her mouth as she shook her own dark head. "I'm sorry, Mr. Finnigan. She's a bit of a handful…used to being spoiled awfully by any of the old gang."

"So's I noticed, but she's a charmer, she is. Lovely girl. She's got –" he hesitated, not knowing where old wounds might still bleed. "—a way about her."

"You can say she has Ernie's eyes, Mr. Finnigan," Susan replied, her tone unreadable, the awkwardness of the fight she must have known he'd be able to overhear and the charity that had prompted it palpably heavy in the air between them. "You wouldn't be the first one, I assure you."

There was a silence, and he took a deep breath as he forced himself to meet her eyes directly, bracing for the unknown he might find there, not even sure what it was he didn't want to see. "Ya weren't scared t'be findin' your little angel curled up with the likes o' me?"

"To tell you the truth, Mr. Finnigan, it terrified me," she admitted bluntly, and he felt like she had been slapped in a way he hadn't expected. "I just didn't want Cecily to become frightened…she doesn't know what you've done, and I'm taking care that she doesn't find out, not because I want to spare you her rejection, but because I want to spare my daughter the nightmares I've been having ever since I read those files the Minister gave me to show me exactly what I was accepting into my home."

A spark, pale and fleeting, of the old defiance burned briefly in his tone. "Then why'd ya take me? Why'd ya fight for keepin' me just now, 'specially if I ain't even kept the priviledge o' bein' on a first-name basis with me old friend, Mrs. Macmillan?"

"I am a businesswoman," Susan replied coolly. "My late husband left me with a great many investments, two of the most important not being gold at all, but our child and the D.A., both of which he felt were worth his own life. You were a part of the latter – a very important part – and that is why you are not currently in Azkaban, as I think it would be a waste of the man I once knew."

"What o' the man ya know now?"

"I don't know you now," she retorted. "Which is why it remains to be seen whether my inadvertent investment here was wise." Susan started to leave, but then she stopped, turning back, and the fire caught her dark eyes with a fierce, almost lupine gold. "But you should know that the price if I am wrong will be one that YOU will pay."

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