"Calm down, mate, I can see the vein in your temple right through the rest of the fancy lines you've got going there." Zacharias reached a hand out, trying to place it comfortingly on Seamus' shoulder, but it was shrugged off as he wheeled to pace another pass of the room.

"How'm I supposed to calm down when I can't be there for me own child's birth? Feckin' Ministry! What do they think I'm goin' to do, go after the Healers with me knife?!" He stopped at last, his hands gripping the stone windowsill in white-knuckled frustration as he scoured the dark, snowy landscape beyond as if he could see all the way to St. Mungo's by pure force of will. Part of him wished he hadn't ordered Fearless Leader to go with his wife to hospital, but if he couldn't be there himself, there was no man living he trusted more, and Neville had sworn that if anything actually went wrong, he would find a way to get some form of temporary parole. So really, it was good that he was still stuck at the Loch.

Wasn't it?

"It's not all it's made out to be, to tell you the truth." Seamus could see Zach approach again out of the corner of his eye, and his scowl deepened as he saw what the other wizard held towards him.

"I ain't –"

"I'm an Auror, remember? I know the conditions of your sentence as well as anyone, and I personally think if there's a time a man needs a dram, this would be it. It's not like you could keep it hidden if you were still drinking like you used to." He swirled the amber-colored whiskey in the bottom of the small glass, then shrugged. "Besides, it's an open secret you're allowed to use a wand often enough, and you've never abused that."

Seamus took the drink with a grateful half-smile, but his hand froze halfway to his lips, and he stared down into the liquid hesitantly, his eyes lifting to those of the man he had slowly come to call friend; his fellow black sheep and lost soul forgiven among the DA's long roster of abandoned. "Did ya wonder, Zach?"

"I've wondered a lot of things," Zach chuckled thinly, leaning one long arm against the window above Seamus' shoulder, not meeting his eyes, but gazing out with him to the vague, rolling shapes of the mountains. "But I'm willing to bet that you're talking about when Neville was born, about if I was ready."

"That'd be 'bout the size o' it, yeah," Seamus agreed quietly. "Ready…or worth it."

"Considering that Meg and I were married almost at wandpoint by her father when he found out I'd put her up the duff over spring break, and considering that she was in labor before she'd speak to me after what I'd done with the D.A., I have absolutely wondered." It was said with the ease of looking back from the healed side of a wound, but there was still the faint ache beneath his words that held them apart from platitudes, and Seamus saw the reflection of his own humorless smile in the glass.

"Except ya were right, ya were," he admitted heavily. "Fools and children, not understandin' half o' what we were doin' and throwin' our lives away on a song we didn't know the words to."

Zach shook his head, the regrets shadowing the brown eyes so strongly that it seemed to deepen the few lines twenty-eight years had already etched into their corners. "You were brave and strong and you fought like demons that night. I wish I could have been with you."

"Wishes are shite, Zach." Seamus let out a harsh little huff of a sigh, gesturing with the glass. "We knows this, we do. And the demons…ah, but that were later for me." His voice dropped again, and he stepped away from the window, crossing to sit on the couch with his elbows braced on his knees, the drink still untouched as he stared into the fireplace that still flickered the steady oranges and golds of no news yet. "And that's what I'm so afraid o', 'tis."

"You're not going to hurt the baby, Seamus." The other man joined him, and Seamus felt a moment's flicker of annoyance as he gave a borderline patronizing smile that came too close to making light of the fear he apparently hadn't understood in the first place. "I've seen you with Cecily, and you were never that far gone. I don't think you'd have ever laid a finger on an innocent."

"Not that, no," he corrected quickly, then sighed again. "But what do ya tell your boy, mate? Nearly nine, he's got be old enough to be askin' what ya did, where ya were when all's we fought. How do ya tell him ya left, and oh, love o' mercy…." He heard his voice crack, but he didn't care as he set the drink down on the low table, dropping his head heavily into his hands. "How do I ever, ever tell me little one the tenth o' what I done?"

There was a long pause, he heard the rustle of movement beside him, and he felt more than saw as Zach shifted closer to mirror his own curled posture and look as much towards the cupped face as possible. "You don't. Not at first, at least…not for a while. But you don't lie, either. You…well…." He paused uncomfortably, then took a deep breath, letting the rest out in an uncertain rush. "I've just said that sometimes people make mistakes, that I've made mistakes, and he will someday, but we just have to do what we think is best from moment to moment. Just do the best we can."

"To err is human, and ain't we both that enough."

"Truer words, Finnigan. Truer words."

Another silence, so heavy that it seemed to deaden the snapping flames and the keen of the wind outside, and at last Zach conjured a second glass, tossing it back himself as he leaned into the couch cushions with exaggerated insouchance. "So," he said brightly. "Any time now, we'll have a new addition to the junior D.A! This is exciting business! Have you chosen a name?"

"Me mother's flat sure it's a boy, and Fiona too," Seamus answered flatly. "So we're goin' for Thomas Icarus. Deanna if it's a girl anyway, but still fussin' o'er a middle name there. Probably Lucy after her Mam. Name's Lucinda, but 'tis too posh for me."

"Good name…they were good men." It was a little bit stilted, but the sentiment behind it was true enough, and Seamus nodded solemnly in return.

"Gave their lives for me, the both o' them. Least I could do's remember them when I finally get to bring a life into the world after I've done taken so many."

The dark reply wasn't helping Zach's efforts to lighten the mood, and Seamus almost felt sorry for him, though not enough to force any false enthusiasm he couldn't have felt further from. It didn't even make sense; he'd been excited for months now, only last night lying in bed with Susan and playing with the baby, making her laugh as he outlined the little foot so clearly through the taut skin of her round belly, chattering away about how strong, how active the baby already was to anyone who would listen or not. Bragging, to his wife's chagrin, about how big she had gotten, and thinking almost constantly about what it would be like to be a father.

Now, it was like he'd never thought about it at all. The spectre of his own father prickled his skin, and he shivered. Would he ever abandon his child? So easy to say no, never, impossible, but was it really? His mother had always said how alike they were; he knew he looked like Patrick, had his temper, his passion. Maybe it wasn't about her secret at all, maybe it had just been too much, too difficult, too intimidating and impossible to have responsibility for a child at once so sickly and so headstrong as he had been. In the same situation, could he honestly swear he'd have done better? That he would do better?

"Have you told Dean's family? I'm sure they'd be honored to know." Zach's question startled him, and Seamus' head snapped up, blinking in confusion as the ghostly images of the fire danced for a few seconds in his eyes across his friend's gently curious expression.

"Huh?"

"Dean's family," Zach repeated. "Have you told them you're naming the baby after him?"

"Oh, aye," he agreed quickly, feeling like more than half an idiot for getting lost in himself. "And thanked me for it too, they did." Seamus smiled in sharply self-aware irony. "Ya'd think it weren't me what took him in t'first place."

"Meg says he fell at the doors," Zach frowned bemusedly. "I don't see how –" He cut himself off, his eyes narrowing shrewdly with the practiced perceptiveness of an Auror. "What really happened, then?"

He thought at first about not answering, about allowing the easy lie or the witty misdirection, but somehow it seemed as if ducking his sins tonight would be wrong in a way that went beyond superstition, and he closed his eyes instead, sagging back into the couch with his arms loose and spread across the back, face tipped to the ceiling as though abandoning himself to a literal dream rather than a nightmare memory.

Seamus didn't think often about that night, because when he did, it was too easy to remember too much. The grit on your lips, the adrenaline in your throat, the tears on your cheeks that came without you ever having stopped to cry, the bang and crash of spells in your ears so loudly that you were left half-deaf but screams could still cut through, and being so tired that it could circle around and thrill you with a manic strength…

From far away, he could feel his lips moving, but what he heard was a voice that seemed too old and too thickly brogued for the boy whose memories it told. "It were just him and Ernie left, and fightin' like ya wouldn't believe, but it were less fair than most o' the battles that night, and they were both clear hurt. Ernie'd had his hand torn half off, and Dean were bleedin' so many places ya couldn't even tell where from, and I tried to join them, tried to help, but it's me fault, 'tis. Not that I didn't get there in time, but that I didn't get there 'tall. Didn't watch me back, and next thing I knew, I were flat on me face with me shirt goin' up like me own pyre. Hurt like…ah, nothin' like burnin', there ain't. And not a thing I could think to do, just –"

"Are you telling me that you've been beating yourself up for years because you couldn't help Dean when you were on fire?" Zach's disbelieving exclamation cut him off, and he shrugged half-heartedly as he continued.

"He come to me, he did. Put it out, numbed it down, got me to me feet…and then…. He took it for me, Zach." His hands were shaking, and he fisted them hard, pushing away the tears he did not want. "Before I could say a word o' thanks or apology for the things I'd said 'afore, there were a flash o' green, he shoved me down, and…he were gone. Just like that."

"Shit."

"Aye."

"I'm…sorry."

Seamus opened his eyes, turning his head to arch a thin smile onto his lips at the gentle sympathy that meant nothing and did less. "'Tis past."

"Is it?"

"Ten years come spring."

"But it's not past for you," Zach pressed softly, "and Seamus, it's got to be now. You've got to let it go…kids, they can tell if you hate yourself. I know." There was so much more beyond the simple words in the last, and Seamus sat up again, studying the other wizard's expression that was too layered to truly read, but in which lay not so much guilt as the remembrance of something that seemed impossible: guilt forgiven.

"How d'ya do it?" He asked at last. "The ghosts…they don't ever just leave ya."

"You become more than one night…one choice…even a hundred choices," Zach said quietly, but there was a striking intensity to it nonetheless. "You ask yourself what you want your son to see when he looks at you, and you make yourself that man. Give him the Lieutenant who led Gryffindor, the man who stood up to another evil when it was just rumors –"

"-- Studied under Cuchulainn and gave meself for me friends," Seamus interrupted with a sing-song bitterness, waving one hand dismissively against what he had begun to hope would be something new. "Heard it all from Sue, I have."

"Have you listened?"

"Half an ear, maybe," He picked up the glass from the table again, turning it in his fingers, not sure why he still hadn't drank it when it looked so inviting. "It's more…'tis hard to leave the past when I ain't no future for another ten years."

"And if you were paroled tomorrow?" The question annoyed him, and he shot a frustrated glare at Zach out of the corner of his eye.

"I'd go to St. Mungo's and see me baby and me wife, whaddya think I'd do?" he snapped. "Run away t'Jamaica?"

Zach folded his arms stubbornly. "You know what I mean."

He did, it was true, but he didn't want to play games, and he ignored it. "Don't matter."

"Seamus…." It was a warning, that same tone that Susan got sometimes – was it a Hufflepuff thing? – that said this would not be let go, and he scowled, slamming the glass down so hard that some of the whiskey leapt up over the edge.

"Fine! I'd take Sue and Cecily and the baby and get as far from Scotland, far from Ireland, far from anywhere what's ever been full o' blood and graves t'me as I could!" He'd never actually admitted it before, even to himself, not wanting to seem ungrateful to the people who were at once hosts and family and jailers, but now that he'd started, he couldn't seem to stop.

"I'd take me family down t'south coast where she's from – no more bloody tors – or maybe farther. Maybe outa t'UK altogether, and we'd do all's we've ever known, but 'tis what we're damned good at! Folk want us to be ordinary people now, t'repent o' wantin' more like repentin' o' murder, but I ain't ordinary, and neither's she, and ain't no shame should be that! We'd seek us out the lonely and the unloved and the abandoned what ain't got no champions and no caretakers, and we'd see what we could o' this damned world right; one inch, one child, one broken heart at a time. That's what I'd do, that's me dream, but scarce it matters when I'm still payin' for what I's supposed to leave behind me!" He had started shouting at some point, and when he finally stopped, breathing hard, it was impossible to tell which of them was more startled.

Slowly, Zach licked his lips, trying his best to look like the outburst had been perfectly rational. "Well…that's…I mean…it's not what I expected, but that's…." Seamus braced himself, ready to hear that it was irrational, impossible, irresponsible, but not ready at all to see respect or hear what sounded ridiculously like admiration in his friend's tone. "I think that's the dream of a man who has nothing to be ashamed of when he looks at his son."

He had been ready to defend himself, and he was caught off-guard, shaking his head in awkward dismissal as he retrieved the drink as an excuse for something to do with his hands and somewhere else to point his eyes. "Just a dream, though."

"If there are two people with more raw willpower than you and Susan who could make it more," Zach replied bluntly, "I don't know who they'd be. That's a fine dream, and whether or not it comes true, I think you'll make a fine father."

"And what if I can't?" Seamus challenged. "Cecily were already a girl when I met her. I know shite about babies, I were an only child, I –"

"Love him," Zach suggested simply. "Love him and –"

"Love him already so much it hurts, I do!" He spread his hands, hiding nothing now, if ever he had. "'Tis why I's so scared. I've held the fate o' me whole people in me fist, but I feels like I ain't never had nothin' so important as this one wee baby."

"You haven't, and you never will." The hand on his shoulder felt solid in a way that he wasn't used to, and Seamus felt himself wondering madly if this was what it would have been like if Patrick had stayed, and if it was possible to receive paternal advice from someone less than a year your senior, even if he had five children of his own and you technically might or might not have one yet.

But paternal or not, it felt safe and real and honest, and it was easy to listen in a way that surprised him when advice of any kind usually burned so fiercely against his pride as Zach went on. "Even when you have more, you'll love them the same, but it won't be like the first. Everything's different now. The moment they bring that baby through those doors, what you were before doesn't matter, and you're going to have to decide what you really love more: your past or his future."

He said nothing for he didn't know how long, and he was relieved that Zach didn't press the point, didn't seem offended when he shrugged off the hand and took his drink back to the window. In the distance, he could see the hill where the Macmillans had their family graveyard, and he raised the glass, holding it up to the ghosts that lay so far beyond the headstones, to the monument on the grounds of the bloodied school, to the back alleys and dark forests of his own distant homeland, and to one small plot of earth in a Muggle churchyard in Cornwall where so many hours of his childhood lay.

"Slan a mo cairde chroi."

It was over, and maybe, finally, it had begun.

THE END