Disclaimer: Don't own it, but would love to. Do participate and appreciate and hope it goes on forever more.
Buckets of Thank Yous: As always, I cannot say this was a lone effort. Without the input and comments from the BeST this would not be a rounded or finished tale. Having a good beta is vitally important to completing any work and I have the BeST three in the business. Zarathustra46 has her own published work on FFNet and I suggest you go have a really good read. Nathaniel_hp runs Challenges and writes Ron/Remus perfectly, Google him, it's well worth it. The Wicked Bunjhiny doesn't write but that purple pen of her's is a killer and her grasp of punctuation leaves me stunned. (She is so damned good at it!) Thanks again, Guys.
Author's Note: I'm not sure how to classify this tale. It came to me when my partner's daughter emailed us to tell us we were to be Grandparents. Go Guys! Sadly the outcome of that pregnancy was a quick trip to hospital at three and a half months ending in miscarriage, which was a distinct shock to us all, but life goes on and hopefully the next attempt will be more successful. So, enjoy the tale and don't forget to feed the author with lots of tasty reviews.
oo0ooPart 1 – The Ward Smith
The car was an MX5 convertible, sleek, low and extremely impractical for the meandering country lanes around Kilbridie. Guided by an expert hand, it glided to the curb and stopped with a crunch of gravel. The driver pushed longish, blond hair out of his eyes and for a second, grinned a self-satisfied smile through the windscreen before pulling out the keys and climbing out of the low-slung vehicle. Stretching tall, he felt his back crack into place. Shaking his shoulders to remove the residual kinks he turned a slow circle as he studied the businesses lining the cobbled square.
Kilbridie was a Muggle-Wizard village tucked away in the backwaters of Essex, well off the beaten tracks. Anyone not familiar with the area would miss the hidden community, its existence partially masked by Muggle repellent charms. Strangers always attracted a covert but very real scrutiny and this new arrival was no exception. He was tanned, taut and terrific, a trim waist, broad shoulders and narrow hips. Blond hair cut in a trendy Muggle style hung across his forehead in a straight fall, swept from left to right over bright, hazel-green eyes. His black jeans and green shirt clung in all the right places and the leather jacket he slung over his shoulder was quietly expensive. Despite the Muggle clothes and Muggle car, there was something intrinsically wizard about the young man who rounded the short boot of the vehicle and looked down the street toward the chemist shop on the main shopping area.
Harry Potter surveyed the houses, his darting glance taking in the green grass of the village square, the cobbled streets and bulls-eye glass of the old-fashioned shop fronts. He was somewhat startled to see an old-fashioned pony trap down the street, pulled by a rather solid looking bay and a Kneazle lounging on a windowsill in a patch of spring sunshine. A woman in blue robes walked a pair of small black and red crups further down the street and a couple of children played with a ball, also a hoop that jumped and bounced in a very magical way. Smiling softly to himself, he slipped on his jacket, wordlessly checked that his glamour was safely in place, then wandered away from his car toward the apothecary a few shops down.
He didn't look anything like the gawky, birds nest-haired teenager who destroyed Voldemort and vanquished his Death Eaters. Harry took great pride in hiding the tell-tale hair, green eyes and scar behind a glamour cast in parseltongue that was all but unbreakable by the strongest of wizards. Not even Albus Dumbledore, in his prime, could have seen past his cover spell. It was better this way, Harry had decided, days after war's end when public opinion of him had been high but the awe of his power had been fear-tinged. The looks shot him by the Ministry officials, and especially the Minister for Magic himself, were both speculative and nervous.
After foiling an assassination attempt, purely by Potter's luck and not by good management, Harry had taken the advice Hermione gave and had 'slipped into anonymity' to all intent and purpose. Oh, the Daily Prophet had run story after story speculating on where 'The Chosen One' had vanished to and what he was doing. As time went on, the stories faded away until other scandals and excitements drove the memory of The-Boy-Who-Lived off the front page and into the dim recesses of the Archives. Harry Potter had disappeared, and Brian Wardsmith had come into his own.
Brian lived in Oxford, and was a well-respected curse breaker and crafter of wards. He earned a respectable living, breaking curses on objects and people, dispelling war damage and repairing wards that had been torn or destroyed by accidents or the war. He was blond, not albino blond like Malfoy, but the golden blond of California, America, where he hailed from, according to his bio and accent. His eyes had been spelled to a hazel-green and a few days of sun-bathing had sported him a convincing tan. The famous scar, which faded somewhat on the demise of Voldemort, had been completely removed by a Muggle cosmetic surgeon at a discrete clinic actually situated in California. Hermione helped draw up the paperwork and Arthur had helped to file it, all very quietly, of course. Then the elder Weasley 'forgot', a carefully crafted Obliviate, administered with his permission. It had been a blow but the tailored Obliviate had also been applied to Ron, and a specially modified memory blocker, rather than remover, had been installed in Hermione's memory appended with a password to protect Harry's new identity.
It had been hard some five years later being made known to Hermione and Ron at a party and have them gaze right through him as if he was no one, but over the next few months he had established a casual friendship with them. Neville and Luna, oddly enough, had become good friends before they left the country on an extended holiday. Neville was seeking out new and rare plants while Luna pursued whichever mythical beast caught her fancy. When first introduced to Brian at a Ministry function, Luna took one look at him and laughed as she called him Hidden, which made Neville blink at her. The Seeress had simply waved away Neville's question of 'Why 'Hidden'?' and gave Harry a small tortoise-shell comb, a cup of tea, and an enigmatic smile that said all and nothing, just as usual.
On the current job, Brian had been contacted by a newly-risen Head of Family named Jorensecle who wanted all the tainted wards on the family property removed and remade with something more suitable to the new owner's affiliations. Jorensecle Senior had been a minor Death Eater who met his demise on the fields of Hogwarts in the final battle. The current Head of Family was so eager to project a squeaky clean image, he was willing to have his whole manor magically 'fumigated' to rid it of the taint of Dark magic and make it over into something more suitable to an up-an-coming Light politician.
After doing a little research, Brian had taken up the commission with a pinch of salt. He had demanded obscene amounts of money, insisting that he receive half in down-payment. It seemed the last Master Ward Smith who had tackled the job ended up spread thinly over a few square miles of countryside. This one was a good job, with enough of a challenge to keep Harry interested. The contract Hermione's law firm had drawn up was iron-clad and signed in blood. It contained an additional clause that, if Harry disappeared or the client reneged, the goblins were contracted to take out in flesh and pain the rest of the payment and twice as much again as a penalty. Harry would once have thought that was a little harsh, but a job the year before had almost been his last when his client thought to save money by murdering him in lieu of paying him. Again Potter's luck had won the day and Harry had not taken such chances since.
So, here he was in the middle of nowhere, looking for Farsee, the Jorensecle Manor which was doing a good job of pretending to be unplottable. Having found the village, he had decided to stop for directions. As it was, the only place that seemed to be open still was the Muggle Chemist shop.
The little bell on the door jangled as he pushed into the old-fashioned shop-front. Inside, the place was brighter than expected, indirect lighting supplementing the sunshine from the small display windows. To his right were glass shelves holding brightly coloured Muggle boxes and packages displaying familiar names like Vaseline and Kleenex. A young woman in a neat white overall stood behind a counter laden with perfume and make-up displays while a round fixture of assorted hair ornaments bracketed the far end of the glass and light-tube counter arrangement.
On his left the area was darker and sported highly polished wooden counters with a set of high stools before it. Long shelves disappeared into a dimness that seemed far too deep to be natural. Jars displayed high on the wooden racks hinted at disquieting things floating in their depths. The smells of modern cosmetics and ancient potions ingredients blended with an unusual harmony as he stepped further into the shop.
He was debating whether the young woman with the come-hither smile would know anything about his destination, when he was arrested by the appearance of a man in the gloom of the potions shelving. He was tall and quite thin, moving with a subtle grace despite being in deep concentration over the paperwork he held. A shining black ponytail hung down his very straight back while a black shirt with fine red pin-striping clung to narrow but squared shoulders. Black cashmere trousers hugged a tight backside and long, slender legs. Long, elegant fingers trailed over the shelves, tapping at certain points to emphasise the finding of an ingredient. His profile was Egyptian and his skin a warm golden brown over high cheekbones and a firm jaw.
Harry knew he shouldn't drool over the sight of a well presented body but this one was perfect in its entirety. Another good reason for the Boy-Who-Lived to completely disappear. The Daily Prophet would have a field day speculating on the love life of the Man-Who-Preferred-Men.
Feeling himself under scrutiny, the man turned slowly and over the length of the counter met the eyes of the newcomer, as a small smirk lifted one corner of his mouth. He returned the blond's stare with a bold black-eyed gaze. For a moment Harry nearly yelped, the look and eyes all too familiar, but then he checked himself. No way Snape could look that young, that tanned or handsome, and the nose was straight and elegant, not mashed and hooked. Besides, Snape had been killed in the final battle, by Nagini, no less.
Harry smiled back and gracefully hitched a hip onto one of the stools at the counter, leaning an elbow on the polished wood. "Hi," he murmured, somewhat inanely. Small talk was not something he excelled at.
"Hello," the man replied, his voice silky smooth as he carefully placed his paperwork aside and strolled over. "How may I serve you?"
Harry shivered and thought inappropriate thoughts about serving, only to ruthlessly squash them down. "I have to confess, I'm lost. My Magical Marker took a hit on the motorway when I had to do some fancy braking and bounced it off the dashboard; hasn't been right since. I need two things to start with: directions to Farsee Manor and directions to a Magical Marker repairer."
The man's smile came slow and sexy, lending a sparkle to his eyes. "For the Magical Marker repair, I have no help. Farsee Manor, however, there I can take you. My name is Sarasvat Narsimha Rao, Nash to my friends." He offered his hand in the Muggle way and Harry blinked as he took it, warmth coursing up his arm and making him shiver happily.
"Brian James Wardsmith, just Brian usually," he replied, with a contented smile. It was like coming home, just staring up into those dark chocolate brown eyes.
Without letting go of his hand, Nash called out to the girl at the other counter who was watching them with a wide grin. "I am going to take Brian to the Manor, look after the shop for half an hour, please."
"Sure, Lover Boy, take your time."
Opening the door, Nash bowed the beautiful stranger out and followed him to the curb side. He cautiously approached the small, fast looking car, unsure of what to do with the machine. It was obvious he had not had much to do with Muggle toys, so Brian opened the door and helped him in, much to the bigger man's surprise. Slipping around the bonnet, Brian started the car and backed out neatly, still very pleased with his hard-won skill and the agility of his new car. Taking direction, he headed out of the village and up the hill on what proved to be a terribly disappointing short drive indeed. Pulling onto an extremely rough track, he carefully manoeuvred the car up to a pair of disillusioned gates masquerading as a fallen tree. He could feel the wards sparking even before Nash stirred and sighed.
"Well, this is it," he remarked, turning to face Harry across the seats. "You know, if you need a guide to the area, just fire-call me at my home, Laburnum Cottage, or if you have access to a Muggle phone you can call the shop."
Harry pulled out a thin, slide mobile and grinned as Nash chuckling gave him the number before climbing out of the car. "I better get going back to the shop. Mandy fears that some of the more exotic potions ingredients may escape and devour her while I am not present."
"Okay. Thanks for your help, I appreciate it. Er, can I ask you out for a drink tonight? There must be somewhere local we can get a meal and butterbeer."
"A butterbeer might be difficult to come by but they do a very acceptable counter meal at the Fox and Crown."
"I'll meet you in front of the Apothecary," Nash agreed, before pulling out a slim beech wand and apparating neatly and almost silently away.
Sighing happily, Harry faced the gates and murmured the security password he had been given, then drove up the curved carriageway to the rather imposing house. As he slid out of the car, he felt the wards' hostility and carefully cast Protego over himself as he climbed the three steps leading to the portico. As he approached, the door creaked open and a disgruntled house-elf with a strong resemblance to Kreacher glared at him from the gloomy depths. Suppressing a shiver, Harry introduced himself and allowed the muttering, swearing creature to lead him inside, the door banging shut with a clang of finality behind him.
Harry had been in evil old houses before, much more deadly than the low-level grinding malice this house exuded. Shaking his head, he allowed the elf to show him over the house, ending in the corner room provided for his stay. It was grimy and smelled of damp and stale sweat, very unpleasant and quite unsuitable he decided, as a cloud of dust rose from the quilt when he patted it. Sneezing a few times, he made a frustrated noise and retrieved his shrunken trunk from his pocket. Slowly, he placed the trunk on the floor near the far wall, engorged and opened it to pull out some chalk powder. Studying the floor, he moved a rug and Banished the worst of the grime and desiccated remains of lavender polish to expose the hardwood floorboards below. With careful exactitude, he drew warding runes on the wood in a wide circle to enclose the trunk and the cleared floor space, and then activated the wards. The chalk disappeared so that no clue was left to the type of warding he had raised. Satisfied with his work, and against everything he could think of, he keyed the wards to his own magical signature to protect the trunk and surrounding space on all six sides. Job done, he strode out into the hall where the house-elf still lurked with a malicious grin.
"I am going to walk the perimeter now and will be back at four o'clock," he told the smirking creature, then set off out into the fresh air, pleased to get away from the claustrophobic house.
The gardens were not much better, overgrown and weed ridden, but even with his abysmal scores in Herbology, Harry recognised quite a few potions ingredients, which brought back the pleasant remembrance of white teeth in a wide smile and softly glowing golden skin. Pulling out his mobile, he climbed a small hillock and found signal to make the call to the Chemist's shop where Nash should still be working.
When Mandy answered the shop phone, Nash rolled his eyes. The poor girl had brothers and a father who were always on her case about something. Her mother seemed to feel the need to have any decision she made endorsed by her daughter, no matter what time of day it was. He felt quite sorry for Mandy at times. It took him a moment to realise she was calling him over, holding out the phone. "It's the blond bombshell from this afternoon. Fast work, my Man, very fast work," she teased lightly, handing over the instrument.
"Hi, Nash, sorry to disturb you but, how do you feel about fresh potions ingredients? The greenhouses here have been neglected for years and there are plants all over the place. If you want to have a look at them and pick some, you are very welcome."
"Sounds good. How about tomorrow?" the surprised Potions Honorarium replied, a slow smile curving his mouth.
"We can discuss the details over that beer tonight. Can I pick you up from the shop at five?"
"Very well. I usually apparate so it won't be a problem."
"See you at five then."
Closing his phone, Harry continued his survey, a happy bounce in his step as he anticipated their meeting that evening. He didn't date much, preferring to keep away from the over-charged gay scenes in the wizarding and Muggle communities. He was still coming to terms with the poor reaction he received from Ron when told Harry was gay. The red-head had hit the roof and it had taken both Hermione and Neville to keep Ron from destroying Harry right there in the middle of Molly's sitting room! Their friendship had never been the same after that, and slowly Harry had drifted away from the group. In fact, that scene had been the decider in Harry's planned and carefully executed vanishing act.
Ron had been devastated when he received a letter from Harry saying he was leaving the wizarding world for good, no blame, no strings, and thank you for being a friend for so long. And if Ron ever needed anything, to simply put a note in the Quibbler and Harry would be in touch, although the lack of logic in that statement failed to register with the red-head. That letter and the consequences of his own outburst had helped Ron to make the tentative acquaintance with Brian Wardsmith when they had been introduced to him and his very male date de jour. Ron felt it made a small atonement for his bad behaviour around his best friend, Hermione had explained to Brian one afternoon.
At five on the dot, Brian leaned against the car, smiled slowly at Nash and watched as Nash ushered Mandy out of the Chemist's and locked up the shop. The two men didn't kiss or even shake hands in greeting, just stared at each other as Brian held the door open and once again helped the taller man into the magically expanded interior of the small green car.
Again, they drove toward Farsee but Nash directed him onward a couple of miles beyond to where a long, low Tudor style cottage with a thatched roof was set back off the road in a stone fenced plot of ground. Nash pulled his wand and made a gesture that opened a double gate and Brian drove up the carriageway toward the black wooden front door.
"Nice," he commented, as they climbed out.
"It's home. Make yourself comfortable," Nash invited, opening the door and ushering him into a nicely furnished sitting room with a Muggle modular lounge suite and a low polished coffee table. Harry was rather surprised to see a computer set up in an alcove off the main lounge and a state-of-the-art sound system under the window, yet no TV in the corner. Nash put a CD on before hurrying away, the sound of a shower running doing interesting things to Brian's imagination as Queen tried to convince him he was a 'Good, Old-fashioned Lover-Boy'. Keeping his libido under control took quite some effort as Nash appeared, still slightly damp but sweetly packed into black, low-rider jeans and a loose dark maroon shirt that billowed around him, allowing a glimpse of a smooth hairless chest through the open front.
Brian hoped he didn't appear too gauche as he helped Nash into the small car for their trip to the pub. He smelled good, he looked good and when he bent to negotiate the low car seat, his jeans slid down a little to reveal the smooth curve of a golden tanned backside. The man was sex on a stick, Brian concluded, as he tried to keep his mind on the road and not be distracted by the soft, sexy voice giving directions.
The Fox and Crown was an old fashioned country pub, converted from an original coaching inn, the horse troughs now planted with flowers. The meal was as good as promised and the two men ate heartily as conversation flowed easily, jumping from subject to subject at whim. It was the nicest, most relaxed date Brian had ever been on and by the time he drove Nash home again, they were well on the way to establishing a firm friendship to augment the spark of attraction between them.
Climbing out of the car parked before the Tudor cottage, Brian kissed Nash at the doorstep before declining the invitation to come inside. For a second Nash frowned, then smiled and nodded his agreement, taking this thing slowly was probably a very good idea if they wanted it to become more than a quick scratching of an itch. He watched as Brian pointed his wand at the car and cast a stasis charm followed by a shrinking spell that turned the car into a tiny matchbox sized replica which he then popped into a pocket. Dropping another kiss on Nash's lips, the blond disapparated, leaving the Potions Honorarium to close his mouth and the door after himself.
Apparating into the warded space around his trunk, Harry stretched and sighed, a grin curving his lips as he opened his trunk and crawled inside. When he first appeared as Brian Wardsmith, Harry had purchased the trunk as a special order from Wizarding Tents Limited. The customised trunk contained inside it a four room flat held in Wizard space; rather like the tent Mr Weasley had brought with them to the Quidditch World Cup, what seemed like eons ago. It was the tent that had given him the idea for making a mobile home. The four rooms were originally two bedrooms, bathroom, and kitchen/dining room, but now the dining room was a study and practical work area. One bedroom was still just that, a comfortable bedroom strewn with personal effects. And they were Harry's personal effects, his photo albums and special keepsakes from his previous life. The second bedroom had been turned into a library and second work area. The bathroom doubled as a makeshift potions lab if necessary, the marble-topped vanity unit acting as a potions bench, with the room connected to an outlet somewhere in England so that the air was always fresh, and water and sewerage facilities were always available no matter where the trunk travelled. Gave living out of a suitcase a whole new meaning Harry thought, as he showered and prepared for bed. Tomorrow would be a long, hard day as he did the initial survey of the wards and artefacts in and around the house.