Disclaimer - I own neither Harry Potter nor Katekyo Hitman Reborn. Both are amazing series in their own right, and belong to the people who thought them up. I'm just… messing around with the characters for my own amusement.
Rating - PG-13
WARNINGS - Slash, Het, infidelity, swearing, dark-ish themes.
Timeline - The timeframe will make sense as the story continues. Major changes with regard to both KHR timelines and HP canon. In KHR, the cradle affair lasted for a shorter period than the 8 years mentioned in the manga. And, for HP, just assume that everyone in HP canon was born two years earlier. In other words, Harry, Ron and Hermione were all born in 1978 rather than 1980, and Ginny was born in 1979.
NOTE: The fate of Kreacher after the Battle for Hogwarts is turning out to be rather vague. From the information available, some say that he worked at Hogwarts after the war, others say that he worked for the Potter family, and in some cases some wonder if he actually survived at all. I'm sticking with him having gone into Harry's service after the war.
Shiro Sagisu – Never Meant to Belong
Saliva – Weight of the World
VAST – Touched
Beirut – Scenic World
Emilie Autumn – Manic Depression
The Pierces – Secret
Saliva – Famous Monsters
Cat Power – Metal Heart
Bat for Lashes – Horse and I
1997 – Curse or Cure
Collide – White Rabbit
Apocalyptica – Path vol. 2 (Feat. Sandra Nasic)
P.O.D. – Sleeping Awake
AN 1: It Lives!
"Would you believe me if I told you that Harry cheated on Ginny?"
I looked up from my book, blinking for a moment, and waited for the thought to actually get through the haze clouding my mind. However much I believed that house elves needed to be given their legal rights, the process of actually going through data to support my case was proving to be utterly mind-numbing. Not that either Harry or Ron would ever succeed in making me admit to the thought, of course.
Once the statement actually registered, I was hard-pressed not to laugh.
"Are we still talking about the same Harry here?" I asked amusedly, carefully pressing the aged tome shut and looking over my shoulder to smile at Ron. He had just stepped out of the fireplace, and was dusting soot out of his mussed up hair. He paused for a moment, and gave me a slow smile in return.
"Probably not. Funny thought, isn't it?"
I finally gave in to the urge to laugh, and never thought to question how strained the smile looked on his face. Or how closed his usually mirth filled eyes had become.
To be honest, Hermione didn't know what was more damning about the tableau in front of her. The raw, pink ridges she had seen on Harry's back, or the fact that Harry hadn't been willing to meet her eyes since he had turned back around to face her.
She felt strangely numb, as though the situation hadn't really sunk in yet. A fleeting thought in the far reaches of her mind told her that she didn't want the situation to sink in. Not really. Not when it had caused Harry to go still, face blank with his shoulders hunched up and tense, standing with his head bowed against some unknown enemy. So clearly guilt-ridden that she couldn't even begin to convince herself that she was jumping to conclusions.
It was ironic, the way the perfectly constructed structure of your world could seem so fragile when the smallest of details went awry. Her world was relatively simple – she had a live-in relationship with a man she loved dearly, her best friend was also the best friend of her lover, and said best friend was engaged to her lover's younger sister. Easy.
Not so easy when she realised that her best friend had been keeping life changing secrets from her. Like the fact that he was… was…
A shudder coursed down her spine. She wasn't sure if it was because of anger or confusion - or even revulsion, rearing up from some primal space within her, unable to understand why Harry was doing something like this to himself.
When her thoughts slowly turned towards the other, missing half of the equation, her fingers involuntarily tightened over the vial that was still grasped between her fingers. Merlin, how could she had been blind enough to miss all the subtle hints that she had seen the night before? There had been enough for her to catch, and that was completely ignoring the fact that Harry hadn't wanted his fiancée around when Superbi was in town.
(And the way Ron had acted whenever Superbi was around or was brought up in conversation, later, but she wasn't thinking about that. She wasn't.)
Her earlier shudder was repeated, except this time, it was accompanied by a lick of rage that was all too tempting to give in to. She ruthlessly shoved it down, and did her best to look at the situation analytically. Since her mind was the only stronghold she had left, at this point.
But how ever many times she called the facts up to herself, she still couldn't comprehend what possessed Harry to cheat on the woman he had loved so very much since he had been sixteen.
The hot burst of anger that ignited in her gut at that thought was disconcerting. She tried to will it away, but nothing she did was soothing her mind. This wasn't the time for blind rage. This was the time for logic, rationality, facts, a steady understanding of the situation, and-and-and-
By God, she wanted to deck her idiot of a friend. Lay into him, and make him hurt as much as her brain was right now. Shake him wildly until answers came tumbling out, along with some kind of explanation for his behaviour, any kind. Because, how ever much this situation was making her ache inside, she knew that it couldn't even begin to come close to what Ginny would feel if this ever came to light.
But inspite of everything, despite the white hot anger that made her fingers curl into fists, she knew that she would never be able to strike the man. Not because she was afraid of hurting him, and not even because she was afraid of any retaliation on his part. No, she would never be able to punch him because he was her friend, and damn it, friends listened to each other, and at least tried to understand a situation before they blew up in each other's faces.
No matter how infuriating or painful said situation was.
Taking a steadying breath, she tried to figure out what to say without railing like a madwoman. But, the sound of heavy footsteps pounding down the corridor from somewhere behind her, coinciding with the sound of Superbi's voice calling out from deeper within the apartment immediately ripped her attention away. And, somehow, in the gut-wrenching seconds that followed, she wasn't at all surprised that her first instinct had been to somehow protect Harry from Ron's all-consuming wrath once the volatile redhead figured out what was going on.
And then, all of a sudden, it was like the unnatural stillness of the world around them had decided to fall to pieces, reality abruptly kick-starting itself. Ron appeared behind her – fingers curling around the doorjamb and gasping for breath – at the same time as Superbi, who smoothly stepped out of the corridor leading to the bedrooms, still in the process of languidly slipping on a white shirt
Both men paused at the same instant, Ron looming behind her like some kind of giant, while Superbi's arms slowly lowered, his pale eyes as sharp as a blade while he swiftly took in the building tension in the room. She had to hand it to her sable haired friend; at least he had the good sense to involve himself with someone with a halfway decent brain - wherever it was buried underneath all that silver hair.
The breath exhaled roughly over her head sounded like a sigh and an oath, all at the same time. She wondered distantly why it hadn't sounded more surprised, or angry, or something other than the blankness that it conveyed. She started when she felt Ron's hand drop heavily onto her shoulder, radiating warmth and giving some comfort in a situation that was beginning to seem more unbelievable by the second. Her eyes narrowed reflexively when Superbi silently glided forward, stopping a few steps behind Harry. She was quick to note the way her friend's fingers tightened near-imperceptibly over the coffee mug still in his grasp, though his knuckles went white.
"…Ever heard of control, you two?"
She blinked once, momentarily disoriented, then stiffened in shock after the words registered. She tried to pull away from the fingers twisted over her shoulder, but the warm hand that had previously felt like her only tether to reality had mutated into a vice, stopping her from moving in any way.
Her skin crawled at the harsh bark of laughter that tore out of the man standing behind her friend; her eyes rounded, unable to leave the sight of the Italian just standing there, with the most unapologetic expression she had ever seen on anyone's face to date.
"I'll take that as a no, then." And, Merlin, but she'd never heard Ron sound like this before. At least, not when he was around her. Cold, sharp, and vaguely amused with a febrile heat burning just below the surface.
It made her feel sick to the stomach, with an insufferably cold feeling sliding down her spine to sit sickly in her gut, like a leaden weight.
"You knew about this?" the words escaped her lips almost soundlessly, her emotions far past the realm of disbelief and swiftly heading towards denial. His hand squeezed down slowly – not even close to the comfort it had given her earlier – before he pushed her forward. She felt herself sway inside, still in shock, hearing more than seeing him step in after her, carelessly tugging the door shut behind him.
The sound of the lock clicking shut seemed unnaturally loud in the charged atmosphere of the room, and she couldn't stop herself from wincing. With her mind still floundering somewhere between denial, shock and horrified realisation, she allowed herself to be propelled forward towards the chairs spread out around the multi-purpose counter bordering the kitchen. Catching a glimpse of movement from the corner of her eye, she peered around Ron's solid frame to stare as Superbi first stepped closer to Harry, then dropped the shirt that he had been wearing onto her friend's shoulders, murmuring something softly to him in an undertone. Before she could see anymore, Ron smoothly shifted in to block her sight. When she looked up to frown at him, she was unnerved to see the grimly amused glint in his eyes. It disturbed her enough to wordlessly let him deposit her in a chair, though it didn't stop her from swatting at his hands irately when he tried to turn the chair inwards to face the kitchen.
"How long has this been going on?" her words cut out roughly, but even the caustic quality of the words wasn't enough to stop the confused pain thrumming within her from spilling out ever so slightly into her voice.
There was no answer.
Her fingers clenched reflexively, though her eyes didn't move away from where they had locked sightlessly onto Ron's muscled torso, and she shook with the effort of holding back the rawness of the emotion that was slowly bubbling up.
"How long has this been going on?" she repeated, raising her voice so that it rang out mercilessly through the room.
"Would 'long enough' be an acceptable answer?"
She stiffened, and her eyes shot up to lock fiercely onto Superbi's form. He had comfortably sidled in to stand beside Ron, still wearing the shirt he had tried to force on Harry before, staring down at her with an oddly appraising expression shifting across his face before it went blank.
"I didn't ask you," she hissed out at him. The bastard had the audacity to snort in amusement, his eyes sliding to the side to eye Ron for a moment before drifting back to her.
"You didn't exactly address that to anyone in particular, you know," he threw back blandly. She had to stop herself from baring her teeth in some primitively barbaric display in response.
Hermione had always known that she had a typically 'Gryffindor-ical' short fuse lurking somewhere beneath her more scholarly tendencies, but she had never realised just how short it could get until this situation - Superbi was pushing all the right buttons to make her want to scream instead of looking at things practically.
"Where'd Harry go?" she asked belatedly, looking up at Ron for an answer, but the redhead shrugged rather lackadaisically, the sharp humour in his eyes and form seemingly having evaporated when Superbi had stepped up beside him. Yet another reason to get angry with Superbi for being here, then. But, if she was reading that shrug correctly…
She frowned up at the redhead in frustration, just wishing that he would meet her eyes, instead of silently conveying that he wasn't planning on taking sides in this.
"He went in to get some clothes on," Superbi said in a mockingly helpful tone. "You did notice that you managed to catch him when he'd just woken up?"
Oh, she had noticed that. All too well. She just didn't know whether catching him unawares was good or bad, seeing as if she hadn't caught her friend right after he had woken up, she would never have seen the marks on his back. Ergo, she would never have figured out that he was involved with Superbi. Or, at least, she wouldn't have figured it out quite so soon. She was certain that she would have figured it out at some point in the future, even without that considerable piece of evidence.
Looking back at the Italian lounging against the counter, she stared hard, honestly wondering what about the man had been special enough that Harry had decided to have anything to do with him. And, that was another thing that had been bothering her – she'd been quite certain that Harry was interested only in women. She might have gone as far to say that he was interested only in Ginny, for that matter, but there had been Cho, back when they'd been in school. And, it wasn't like she hadn't seen him and Ron smirking after any particularly striking women that happened to pass by…
But, she had known that those kinds of reactions weren't going anywhere, and that they weren't any more than 'aesthetic' appreciation - to put it politely. They had all been together long enough for her to completely trust the both of them, which is why this-this thing with Superbi had blindsided her so completely.
When she noticed a pale, long fingered hand waving in front of her face, she started back in surprise, glaring at Superbi when he pulled his hand back with a smirk.
"How long is 'long enough'?" she bit out, not letting the expression on the Italian's face distract her. She heard Ron sigh, and settle into a seat on her other side, but she didn't look away. Superbi stared right back at her, and she caught a quick shift of emotion over his face before it went blank again, leaving nothing but a smirk that seemed strangely hollow, without any emotion backing it up.
"Long enough… is long enough," he repeated in a lazy drawl, eyes glinting slightly. She frowned at him, vexed, and was about to ask again, when she was interrupted.
"It's okay, Squalo. I wasn't planning on hiding anything."
Hermione went stiff instantly, and twisted around to watch as Harry first walked up to the counter, then sidled through into the kitchen. She didn't let her eyes leave his tee-shirt covered back; watching as he slowly poured himself another cup of coffee.
"You know, you've really got a thing for staring at people."
Her eyes immediately shifted towards Superbi, narrowing dangerously. The choking sound coming from both Harry and Ron did nothing to make her soften her expression.
"I do not have a 'thing' for staring at people." She ground out, twitching slightly when the Italian's lips parted in a truly frightening grin. Her attention had been completely focused on whatever the man had been about to say, so she was understandably startled when Harry leaned in between them to press a hand to the silveret's shoulder.
"Squalo." He muttered, and she was surprised to hear the thin vein of amusement in his voice. She knew that tone. It meant that Harry would have been laughing, if the situation hadn't been so tense.
"Stop teasing her."
She blinked. What in the world?
Hearing the soft cough from behind her, she looked over her shoulder, and was even more surprised to see the small grin on Ron's face. Really, what had just happened?
"I'm not teasing her."
And Superbi sounded strangely amused himself, the grin still painted across his face. Harry rolled his eyes and swatted the Italian across the back, ignoring his irate squawk to turn and face her instead.
Hermione felt a strange twinge of satisfaction when she saw the set of his shoulders. At least she could see her friend somewhere in there now – the unease and guilt from earlier had not been what the man she knew would show.
"How long is 'long enough'?" she asked again, expectant. Harry didn't let his gaze drop, the light in his eyes all too serious.
"Long enough… is actually a difficult question to answer. Long enough… as in, how long have I known Squalo, or how long we've been, well…" he trailed off, looking a little embarrassed, but unrepentant. Hermione couldn't quite hold back a snort; she was still angry, very angry, but the situation seemed so ridiculous that she couldn't help but feel at least a little amused, however reluctant.
"Aren't both those answers technically the same?" Ron cut in, making Superbi actually laugh out loud.
"Vooooi, you know about Taiwan, too? Why the fuck am I not surprised."
"Well, I didn't exactly know a damn thing about him in Taiwan, so I don't think that counts." Harry shot back. She stared at her sable haired friend, watching in fascination as a light flush broke out over his face.
"Why don't you just give me both answers?" she suggested. Harry finally winced, and looked down, while Superbi gave her a wide smirk.
"Well, the thing in Taiwan happened about… four years ago." Superbi put up a hand to forestall any interruptions on her part, very likely because of the horrified expression that must have crept onto her face.
"Like Harry said, though, we really didn't know a fucking thing about each other back then. And it was messed up." He paused and glanced over his shoulder at Harry, who sighed and looked back up to meet her gaze.
"Messed up, as in, we were attacked by a large group of Triad grunts, he saved my life…"
"And we fell into bed later, but I think you must have figured out that part yourself." Superbi continued, swaying away from the hands that reached out to swat at him. Harry turned his face slightly to take a peek at her face, then flinched, and quickly looked away again. He shouldered on, though, obviously having resigned himself to explaining the entirety of the odd relationship he had with the Italian.
"We ran into each other again back when I'd been in Sicily for some work three years ago, though. That's when we actually got to know anything about each other."
Hermione first blinked, and then, her eyes went wide.
"Wait… Are you talking about that trip where you disappeared for ten days without so much as staying in touch with anyone?"
"Yeah, that's the one." Harry answered, smiling faintly, while Superbi gave a low snort. Hermione stared at him, feeling something that felt very much like nausea spreading through her system, as she looked from one man to the other. She didn't even need to ask if Superbi was the reason Harry hadn't stayed at the place Ginny had arranged - the answer was already apparent.
"But… didn't you say that trip was - that you were doing a favour for-" she broke off the sentence, dropping her gaze to Superbi and staring at him, almost as though she could stare through him and possibly into his head as well.
"Yeah, I was doing a favour for the Vongola Family's head on that trip." Harry completed, not budging an inch when she turned her very disturbed sights on him.
She was actually hesitant to ask him anything else. She wasn't very sure if she wanted to get an answer – or a clarification, for that matter, since she got the feeling that she'd already figured outthe answer to the question she wanted to ask.
Superbi answered it without her even needing to ask, though.
"Yes, Granger. I am a part of the Vongola Famiglia."
His voice was coldly amused, and far too calculating for comfort. As were his eyes, for that matter; a pair of icy, pale blue lasers focused on her face. This time, when she twitched, she could feel it travel through her entire system. And the nausea that was creeping up on her only got worse. Because, if Superbi was a member of the Vongola Family, and if Harry had stayed with him during the time he had been in Sicily, that meant… that Ron…
Had known the entire time.
Ron had known about the fact that Harry had been cheating on his younger sister, had known who Superbi was, and had- had lied to her, to Ginny, to anyone and everyone that had asked after Harry when Ron had returned from his mission in Italy.
"We haven't seriously been seeing each other or anything, though."
She blinked once, twice, trying to clear her vision and look back at the sable haired man standing on the other side of the counter. Harry was staring down at the counter, but Superbi was staring straight at her, looking as though he knew exactly what was running through her head. She shivered, feeling oddly exposed.
She blinked again, trying to pay attention to what Harry was saying, since what he was saying was at least a little more important than the fact that he was shagging a mafioso.
"It's only been an on and off thing, you can't even call it an affair, if that's what you were expecting. I mean, this is the first time I've seen Squalo in three years."
The way Superbi was smirking looked far too self-satisfied. Almost as though it didn't make a difference whatever Harry thought, and-
She started, and stared up into the dark, emerald green eyes that were staring into her own, waiting for some kind of verdict. She swallowed slowly, and stood up.
Harry must have seen something in the blankness of her face, because he went pale, straightening immediately.
"Don't, Harry. I need some time to absorb this."
When Ron started to straighten himself, she turned a dark look on him, making him go still, a wary expression flashing across his face before it subsided into the earlier inscrutable look he had been affecting.
With that, she spun around and headed for the front door, not stopping until she had wrenched it open and stepped out. She did pause there for a moment, though, and glanced over her shoulder to eye Superbi and then, in turn, Harry. Superbi looked thoroughly amused with the proceedings, but Harry looked sick to the stomach -something she could empathise with. She gave him a tight smile.
"Don't worry; I'm not planning on telling Ginny anything. But, for Merlin's sake, Harry. Get your act together."
She slammed the door shut, and then, forced herself to walk away.
Because, more than trying to get her head around the fact that Harry was involved with someone other than his fiancée, not to mention that it was a 'someone else' who was very male, she needed to get away from what the conversation inside had brought up.
She needed to get away from Ron. And the fact that he had been willing to lie so thoroughly, to her, about their best friend.
Squalo glanced up and back at the sable haired wizard standing frozen behind him, and rolled his eyes.
"Get over it, Potter. She doesn't have anything against you. If anything, she's more freaked out because I'm in the mafia."
"No. She was definitely worried about that, but I think she was focusing more on the fact that I didn't tell her what was going on with you two, even though I knew."
Squalo's eyes narrowed slightly, and he shifted his eyes from Harry and over to the Weasley sitting to his left. The agent had a pained look on his face, and was staring listlessly down at dark wood of the counter. Harry didn't say anything, though he made a wounded sound that made Squalo want to groan out loud.
Why, exactly, was he here again?
"Weasley, if you think she's got a problem with you, then fucking go after her and set it straight."
The redhead stiffened, and when his eyes rose up from the counter, Squalo just had to smirk in appreciation at the harsh heat burning in his gaze. He raised an eyebrow, all but daring the man to say something. Ron growled lowly at him in response, and then pushed himself up and off the chair - though he paused a beat before heading towards the door.
"Harry, don't forget about the lunch plans at my place. Fleur's coming over, and she won't be happy if you're not there. Especially not after Ginny told her about you having a friend over; you know she'll want to be introduced."
"Fleur?" Squalo repeated curiously, turning slightly so that he could look up at the man standing behind him without looking over his shoulder continuously. Harry still looked dead on his feet, and all too pale, but he shook himself and slowly reached for his long forgotten cup of coffee.
"Friend of ours. Also Ron's older brother's wife. And very insistent on meeting up with friends of the family; she won't be very happy with me if I don't introduce you to her."
"So I've gone from being your dirty little secret to the family friend, now?" he asked amusedly, reaching up to run two fingers down the side of the older man's face. Harry went still, cup grasped tightly in his hands as his eyes shot to where Ron was stepping out the door, but he leaned into the light touch all the same.
"Very funny, Squalo. We'll be there, Ron."
"You had better be, because I'm not bloody well covering for you. Not when Hermione's already pissed enough at me."
The door banged shut a second time, making Squalo grin while Harry winced.
"My door's being put through the ringer today," he muttered in an undertone.
"Your door's not the only one." the silveret replied idly, eying the wizard's haggard expression contemplatively. Harry gave a mirthless snort, taking a small sip of the coffee before making a revolted face and banging it back onto the counter. He wordlessly ran his fingers over the rim of the cup, and Squalo made an interested sound, watching as the dark liquid in the mug began to steam.
"It's faster this way. Coffee's the one thing I'm willing to abuse my privileges as wizard on, at least in the morning. I don't need to lose time waiting for it to get heated in the microwave."
"Figures. It's all about the coffee for you, isn't it?" Squalo mused, smoothly reaching in to snatch the mug away and down a sip before Harry could consider lifting it. Smirking at the glower being shot at him, he kept his fingers tight around the ceramic container, unwilling to let it go without a fight. It wasn't like he couldn't get a mug of his own, and he didn't even lust after caffeine as much as the wizard did, but the expression on the older man's face was well worth the effort.
"So. Any plans for today? I was given two days to finish the mission, but I already cleared out the people I'd been sent after. And I've only got a flight booked for tomorrow morning…"
The blank look on Harry face was more than a little amusing. Squalo shrugged, and knocked back another sip of the quickly cooling coffee he was holding hostage. The sable haired wizard reached out, trying to wrest the mug away, but Squalo easily avoided his outstretched hands.
"After all that, do you really think I'm focusing on a plan to go out?" Harry asked snidely, making the silveret snigger.
"Oh, I don't know. It might give you something else to think about."
"The only thing I want to think about right now is coffee. And may be bed, since I'd like to hide away from the world for a couple hours before I have to face 'Mione again…"
"Bed's always a good plan." Squalo drawled, twisting slightly to keep the coffee mug away from the wizard, and smirking up at him when he leant as far over the counter as he could, trying to get the mug back.
Harry paused, one hand pressed to the wooden surface in front of him to balance himself, only just noticing how close he'd inadvertently managed to bring himself to the silveret. Most of his torso was hanging over the counter and above Squalo, one arm stretched far out and fingers only just skimming the mug holding his panacea, and their faces were separated by barely a hair's breadth. Breathing in deeply, he slowly pulled back to give the other man an exasperated look.
Not that he wasn't tempted to laugh, of course. The damned idiot was far too gifted at distracting people – whether they wanted to be distracted or not.
"Is that all you think about?" he asked amusedly, hiding the instinctive twitch that went through him when the Italian took another sip from his mug. His.
The gleam of amusement in Squalo's eyes told him that he hadn't been all that successful at hiding it, though.
"Not necessarily. But, we've got time, and you're barely awake-"
"Quit that." Harry warned, raising a hand to ward the man off when he stood up and leant closer, an irrepressible smirk tugging at his lips.
"Quit what?" Squalo countered, smirk only broadening when he felt the older man's fingers curl involuntarily into his shirt. Harry growled up at him, caught between laughing and scowling.
"What." Squalo countered, lowering his face and just about brushing their lips together while he spoke. He felt Harry's fingers tighten minutely before the wizard managed to shove him away.
"At any rate, I have a better idea." Harry said cryptically, turning away to get himself another mug, and pointedly ignoring the sniggers escaping the mafioso leaning over the counter behind him.
"Yes, really." He finally decided on one of the Gryffindor red-and-gold mugs that someone had got him as a gag present, tugging it out and then he turned around to lean back against the inner counter behind him. Squalo's eyebrows were raised, and he looked surprisingly curious, despite himself. Harry tilted his head to the side, and didn't even try to hide the grin that was threatening to break out on his face.
"Let's go visit my godson."
Harry might have wondered if this was as much of a good idea as it had seemed when he had first considered it, but the disbelieving expression on Squalo's face had made the entire debacle worthwhile. Trying to control the strange, bubbling feeling of laughter welling up inside him, he shot the younger man a broad grin as he stepped out of the car.
"Godson. We're going to visit your godson. Potter, I offer you hours of mind-blowing sex, possibly right up until Weasley tried to drag us away to his place for 'lunch with the family', and you turn it down to visit you fucking godson?"
"…Yes?" Harry answered slowly, smiling impishly at the disgusted look that was shot in his direction. And if the look weren't enough, he could still hear Squalo grumbling and cursing under his breath in Italian, even as he stepped up the stairs leading to the house in front of him. Standing on the porch while pressing the doorbell, he found himself struggling to rein his amusement in.
"I'm supposed to be the dirty little secret, the guy you're having a scandalous, illicit affair with. Can't you see something at least a little wrong with this picture, Potter?"
"No, not really. Why?" Harry might have felt slighted - if he thought the younger man meant even half the things he was saying. On the contrary, however mulish and irate Squalo was acting, Harry had detected a hint of curiosity in the mafioso ever since he had mentioned the existence of his godson.
He wasn't mistaking the curiosity for anything other than what it was, of course. The thought of Squalo having any kind of affection for kids was… remotely disturbing. He couldn't see any of the Varia squad heads that he had heard about having any kind of fondness for children brought up outside the shadow of the mafia – from their reputations, it was unlikely that any of them had the patience to suffer fools. Or, in this case, suffer squalling brats that had been raised in warm, soft and innocence-filled environments.
Children that had already been blooded in the violence-soaked atmosphere that the mafia was infamous for, on the other hand...
When the door finally swung open, Harry was already prepared for the child-sized bullet that attacked his legs. He heard Squalo make an interested sound, and felt more than saw the taller man step up behind him. Squalo peered over his shoulder, some of the unbound silver-white strands of his hair slipping forward heavily.
He looked almost morbidly curious. Like a kid stumbling upon a dead animal and then deciding to poke it with a stick.
"Hey, Teddy." Harry chirped, bending down and hoisting up the now black-haired and green eyed boy up with the ease of long familiarity.
The black hair didn't last for long, of course. Not after his godson noticed Squalo staring at him. Teddy gawped back, and his hair went from messy black to feathery silver faster than you could say 'metamorphmagus'.
…or, more appropriately in this case, faster than you could say 'hello'. Teddy looked too tongue-tied to say anything, so Harry had to deal with one head of silver hair being shyly snuggled away between his neck and shoulder, while the other was beginning to look supremely amused.
"Can't say I was expecting that," Squalo drawled, making Harry smirk.
"I would have been very suspicious if you had been expecting this. Seeing as I haven't mentioned Teddy to anyone in Italy yet."
"Not even to the Ninth?" the mafioso asked, expression not shifting an inch. Harry was reluctantly impressed.
"No. Not even to Timoteo."
They were interrupted before Harry could think of anything else to say. He was strangely relieved – because, really, what else could he say to something like that. And, also, he didn't want to think through his decision to introduce a well known and rather infamous assassin to his godson. At least, not until said assassin was far, far away.
"Teddy, how many times must I tell you not to open that door on your own; it's not safe-" the beautiful, ebon-and-grey haired woman coming up on the other side of the door stopped short, a surprised expression quickly overtaking the exasperation that had been filling her voice.
"Andromeda." Harry said, a warm smile spreading on his face. Andromeda smiled back, though her expression was far more understated than his.
"Harry. What a pleasant surprise; I didn't think you were planning on coming by today."
Harry coughed, marginally embarrassed, while Teddy all but beamed up at him with what was possibly the happiest smile the agent had ever seen.
"Yeah, well… Things have been hectic lately, and I didn't get a chance to call before I started out. I hope we're not interrupting anything?" Harry shifted his godson's weight, the six-year-old utterly unwilling to be let down now that he had been hoisted up into the air. Checking his grip, he sidled past the older woman when she waved him in.
"And, who is this?" she asked pleasantly while tugging the door shut, eying Squalo as he followed Harry inside. The tall, stately woman's aristocratic features were set in a mild, unassuming look - but her eyes were sharp. And very suspicious.
Seeing the edge that suddenly seemed to manifest in the Italian standing beside him, Harry grimaced, opening his mouth to try and assure Andromeda that Squalo was perfectly harmless - no matter how unbelievable the set of Squalo's shoulders and his violently expectant grin made that sound.
The tension slowly beginning to fill the anteroom fizzled out as abruptly as it had come into being, though, when Teddy saw fit to speak up in favour of his new found inspiration.
"Whoever he is, he's wicked! Look at his hair, grandma!" Teddy's sudden and excited interjection was enough to draw Andromeda's attention away from the assassin that had just stepped into her home. Harry was more than a little thankful that she was ignorant about that particular fact.
Godfather to her grandson or not, Harry knew exactly where he stood with Andromeda. A loving and accepting woman she may be, but she considered Teddy's safety paramount to anything else. And if she ever found out just what Squalo did for a living, Harry didn't doubt the chances of his getting away unscathed.
That is to say, no chance whatsoever.
"Teddy, it's unseemly to point at people like that, put down your hand…"
"But his hair, grandma! His hair!"
Harry coughed, trying and failing to mask his laughter, while simultaneously struggling to maintain his hold on the squirming child held in his arms. Squalo looked caught between looking flummoxed and looking entertained. Teddy's very obvious appreciation for his hair seemed to have ensured irritability and anger wouldn't make it into the equation.
Watching the increasingly vexed expression beginning to appear on Andromeda's face, Harry tried to figure out some way to draw the metamorphmagus' attention away from the topic of Squalo's hair, but surprisingly, the younger man managed to take care of the situation himself.
"It's fine, he isn't the first person to have reacted like that." Squalo offered peaceably. Harry was admittedly unnerved by the relatively polite and non-hostile words, but the warning look Squalo shot at him was enough to make him stay silent.
And Andromeda was looking between the two of them, her suspicious look having been traded for one of shrewd curiosity.
Deciding that he really didn't want to deal with anymore questions with regard to himself and Squalo, not after the inquisition he had faced earlier in the morning, he turned around began walking towards the hall, ignoring Teddy's protests at being separated from the silveret, who hadn't moved to follow them further inside.
He also ignored the fact that Andromeda had begun to question said silveret in a low and politely-inquisitive tone. It's not like the older woman would have stopped even if he had asked her to, and anyway, Squalo could take care of himself.
He wasn't running away. He wasn't.
Okay. Maybe he was. But he had every right to do so when it was Andromeda doing the questioning.
He didn't think any other woman could pull off the cold, untouchable aristocrat and somehow manage to merge it with old gossipy grandmother, but Andromeda somehow did. And the results were terrifying to watch.
So, yes. He had every right to sound the retreat. It wasn't his fault if Squalo hadn't seen fit to retreat right after him, right?
The Noble and Most Ancient House of Black.
If he had been asked in his teenage years if the ancestral house of the Blacks could ever come across as a warm and comfortable home, Harry might have laughed in the questioner's face. Actually, he would have laughed. Possibly derisively.
But, seated in a now well-lit drawing room with the heavy, luxuriant blue curtains pulled apart to let natural light inside, and surrounded by an eclectic mix of antique and modern furniture that must have taken years to accumulate, he had to admit that the new avatar of Grimmauld Place was startlingly welcoming. Squalo was lounging on the couch beside him, a pained look still stuck on his face.
"You've called me that one too many times for it to sound like an insult anymore, mate."
"The emotion is conveyed. I don't have the energy to find anything better to swear at you with. I'll find something given time, though."
"You should have followed me up the stairs."
"I fucking dare you to have done that if you'd been in my place."
"I would have."
Harry leant away, avoiding the dangerous look that the silveret was shooting at him, but his smirk remained unaffected. Once Squalo had managed to escape from the older woman, he had beaten a hasty retreat into the drawing room where Harry had cloistered himself. Teddy had had enough mental presence to back down himself, quietly informing Harry that he was going down to the kitchen to help his grandmother before disappearing without another word.
And Harry had been left behind to placate a very irritated swordsman, one who might just have decided to skewer him for leaving him behind to fend off Andromeda's questions all alone.
The irritation had eventually degenerated into the petty name calling that was currently going on, though. Harry didn't think Squalo was actually all that irate about what he'd been forced to put up with – the Italian seemed to have a healthy amount of respect for anyone that managed to pull one over him. Not that he would actually show any of that respect or camaraderie unless he believed they deserved it, of course. If he didn't think they deserved it, he would probably do his level best to rip them apart at any given opportunity.
"So. What do you think of Teddy?" Harry asked suddenly, all but springing the question at the mafioso. Squalo blinked at him slowly, before snorting in amusement.
"Interesting." He offered succinctly. When he noticed the dissatisfied look Harry was shooting at him, the younger man rolled his eyes.
"Did you really think that I was going say any more than that?" he drawled out, eyes gleaming strangely in the light that was streaming in through the windows. Harry frowned back at him, head tilting slightly to the side as he considered the question. Finally, he sighed and shook his head.
"Not really, no. Though I was expecting something along the lines of 'shitty, over-excitable brat'." He answered, grinning slightly. He was gratified to see the little tension remaining in Squalo's lithe frame drain out.
"I might have said that. If he couldn't make his hair look like a fucking rainbow."
Harry nearly choked on the laughter that statement brought up.
"Don't let Andromeda hear that," he warned, shoulders still shaking in silent mirth once he managed to get himself under control. The damned silver-haired arse looked far to pleased with the reaction his words had brought out.
"Oh, I don't know. She might just agree with me." Squalo threw back, smirking slightly. Harry was saved from having to dignify that with an answer, since Teddy chose that moment to make a reappearance.
"Harry, grandma's asking the two of you to come down. Kreacher's made some tea and snacks for all of us."
"Oh, has he now?" Harry rose with a small grin, fondly amused to hear of the crotchety old elf's rather predictable reaction to his arrival at Grimmauld Place. After the war, Kreacher had returned to him and had quite insistently suggested that he continue in the service of the Potter family, but Harry himself hadn't been quite sure of the idea. Especially since he'd already had rough plans to stay in a small apartment of his own by that point, and an apartment didn't require the kind of upkeep that a house elf could provide. He'd been stuck wondering what to do with the elf, since Kreacher obviously didn't want to be set free the way Dobby had, and didn't want to work at Hogwarts either.
His decision had been made for him when Andromeda arrived out of the blue to take charge of her grandson, and he had cheerfully handed over both ownership of Grimmauld Place as well as Kreacher's service to her. Kreacher hadn't been very happy with the sudden turn of events, but Harry had mollified him by saying that at least this way Kreacher could still remain in charge of the upkeep of the ancestral home of the Black family. And once Kreacher realised that Harry would still be stopping by regularly to visit his godson, the elf reluctantly gave in.
Initially, on returning to the Black's ancestral home after the war, Andromeda had been completely blown away by Kreacher's apparent turn around in demeanour. Especially since in her youth, the elf had been utterly irreverent to anyone going against the Black Family Code of Ethics (or lack, thereof) – and as far as her family had been concerned, Andromeda had committed the most heinous of crimes. Therefore, no friendly overtures from the cantankerous elf. Or so she had assumed.
However, upon returning to her old house, she had been met with the existence of a Kreacher who had been as amicable as any house elf could be. The fact that his devotion to Harry bordered on the obsessive was a major determining factor, too.
It was only once they had reached the kitchen that Harry realised he hadn't said or done anything to prepare Squalo for his first encounter with a house elf. Shooting the younger man a particularly impish look, he stepped in without another word, instead heading inside to greet Kreacher with a wide smile.
Kreacher in turn greeted him with a large mug of spiced tea, and a plate of delectable looking sandwiches already placed on the table.
The odd, choking sound that came from behind him was Harry's only clue to Squalo's reaction, but when he glanced over his shoulder, the younger man had a perfectly composed face. He then accepted the mug of tea that Kreacher offered him with as much grace as anyone could. Harry might have been completely fooled if it weren't for Squalo's white-knuckled grip on the mug and the way the fingers of his left hand kept jerking reflexively. As though reaching for a sword hilt that was unfortunately absent.
Harry used the opportunity to hide his smirk behind his mug while sliding simultaneously into a chair at the table. Squalo was quick to follow him, and Harry didn't fail to notice that the silveret chose to sit on his other side, as far from Kreacher as he could get.
He couldn't quite muffle his low chuckle, at least not enough for it to pass Squalo's notice.
"You planned this." He ground out in an undertone, though his expression somehow managed to stay utterly unruffled. Harry sniggered in response.
"No, actually. Though I don't deny that I enjoyed the outcome all the same. Aren't you glad that I asked you to leave your sword in the car? I'd hate to have been the one who explained why, exactly, Andromeda's house help was strewn in gory bits on the kitchen floor…" he teased in just as soft a voice. He couldn't help but laugh when Squalo suddenly acquired a rather disturbing smile that showed far too many teeth.
The two were distracted from their quiet conversation only when Andromeda cleared her voice rather pointedly.
"Help yourselves to the sandwiches, boys." She said pleasantly, but Harry didn't miss the inquisitive glint in her eyes. Teddy didn't show nearly as much subtlety in his curiosity, choosing instead to hop into a chair that had been fitted for his height and staring at the two of them in undisguised interest.
"Grandma said that he said that you two were ac-quaintan-ces?" Teddy asked with childishly wide eyes, carefully sounding out the word. Harry shot Squalo a look, one that the mafioso returned with a raised eyebrow, perfectly poised while taking a small sip of his tea. Harry rolled his eyes and turned his attention back to his godson.
"Yes, but it would be more appropriate to call us friends. We've known each other for long enough, after all." He said blandly. He ignored the way Squalo's shoulders suddenly went taut and then relaxed right after.
"For long enough? Oh, Squalo neglected to mention how long you've actually known each other," Andromeda left the sentence open ended, obviously waiting for him to offer more information. Harry hummed, and took a sip of his own tea.
"Well, the first time we actually met was around four years ago, so…" he began, before the flavour of the tea managed to derail his thoughts completely.
"Oh, Kreacher! This blend is brilliant. You must tell me how you managed this; I can never make tea even half as well as you do."
The old house elf puffed up in very obvious pride, making Teddy giggle.
"Of course, Master Harry. Kreacher will be sure to tell Master before he leaves." He said solemnly, though the delight at pleasing the man he still considered his true master in some sense showed in the elf's eyes.
Harry was interrupted before he could consider saying any more when Squalo snorted in disbelief.
"Voooi, since when did you start flipping out over fu- over tea?" he asked snidely, biting back the characteristic expletive when he noticed the brat's eyes lock onto him. Harry coughed self-consciously, rubbing the back of his neck.
"I'm pathetic at making good tea. That's originally why I started making and drinking coffee, though I actually prefer tea." He said defensively.
"Prefer tea? I don't think I've seen you drink any in all the time I've known you." Squalo shot back contemptuously.
"Just because you haven't seen me drink it doesn't mean that I've sworn off it completely," Harry bit out. The derisive sneer that broke out over the silveret's face was magnificent enough to make Teddy burst into delighted laughter, while Andromeda first gave a startled cough.
"You must know each other well," the older woman mused, once her surprise had faded. Squalo gave another snort, while Harry rolled his eyes.
"Not really-" Harry began, when he was interrupted yet again when Squalo spoke over him in a bored drawl.
"I don't need to know him well to know that he's obsessed with coffee. To an unnatural degree."
Harry pursed his lips irately.
"The term is addicted."
"And that's supposed to make it sound better?"
Teddy was beginning to go blue in the face with the way he was giggling uncontrollably, while Andromeda finally gave in to the soft laughter that was bubbling up because of the spectacle the two men were making of themselves. Both Harry and Squalo paused in the midst of their argument while the process of leaning forward to growl out more snide remarks at each other, and turned as one to stare at their hosts. Harry was doubly unnerved when he noticed the way Kreacher's shoulders were shaking in barely hidden mirth.
Once the last three members of the Black household had calmed down enough to continue the conversation – and Kreacher had calmed down enough to set a plate of chocolate biscuits and full pot of freshly prepared tea on the table – Andromeda leaned forward with a far too interested gleam in her eyes.
Harry shifted uncomfortably in his seat, while Squalo unobtrusively drew his chair a little away from the table.
"You've been friends for four years, have you?" she said amusedly. Harry made a face, while Squalo looked away, noncommittal.
"Yeah, in a way. It's not like we talk all that much, and we barely know each other, but-"
"But you brought him here! To visit!" Teddy declared loudly. That made Harry pause, staring at his frighteningly observant godson and distantly noting that Squalo had gone completely still beside him.
Teddy had brought up an interesting point. One that Squalo had brought up earlier, actually, when they'd first arrived at Grimmauld Place, though he hadn't paid much attention to it then. What the hell did it mean when he went around dragging Squalo to the homes of close friends and family when he was supposed to be the guy Harry was having an 'illicit affair' with, to use the mafioso's words?
He couldn't help but smile at Teddy's exuberant expression, though, and told himself that he'd think about what the boy had said later.
"That I did," he agreed, sighing good-naturedly when Andromeda predictably turned the line of conversation to how he'd met Squalo for the first time, and then towards the more general line of questioning about work, health and Ron and Hermione.
"Harry and you are good friends, right?"
Squalo started, and looked down at Potter's brat of a godson with some bemusement. The kid was still sporting familiarly shaded silver hair, and his eyes were the same arresting shade of green that his godfather had. The combination was disconcerting to look at for too long. Ignoring the strange flash of warmth and satisfaction that shot through him whenever he focused on the hair alone – because, honestly, impersonation was abso-fucking-lutely the best when it came to flattery, as long as it wasn't his swordsmanship that was being impersonated – he raised an eyebrow questioningly.
"Harry and you, Mr. Superbi. You are good friends, right?"
Squalo rolled his eyes, and looked away.
"Don't fu- don't call me that. It's disturbing. Squalo's good enough."
"But, are you?"
Squalo nearly groaned in exasperation. This was why he couldn't stand brats; they didn't know when to shut up. This one had at least been marginally bearable, until he'd been cornered outside while waiting for Harry to come out.
"None of your business." He said harshly, but sadly enough, it wasn't enough to warn the brat away.
"I'm just asking 'cause he looks happier with you than he does with Ginny."
Squalo muttered a curse under his breath, and was in the process of spitting out another harsh comment when what the brat said actually caught up with him. His eyebrows shot up, and he straightened from where he'd been leaning indolently against the car, focusing all of his attention on the boy staring up at him with a deceptively innocent expression.
"Any particular reason why you're clubbing him getting along well with me with the way he looks around Ginny?" he asked flatly. The brat, Teddy, tilted his head and smiled up at him beatifically.
Squalo couldn't help but twitch. It just figured. The godfather was bad enough, with how perceptive he'd turned out to be at times, but the godson was worse.
"…how old are you again, kid?"
Teddy lost the smile and crossed his arms in an obvious show of distaste.
"How old I am doesn't have anything to do with my question." He grumbled sullenly.
"It does when you're asking about my-" Squalo cut himself off before he said more than any six year old had a right to hear. Or understand, for that matter. When Teddy continued to look up at him expectantly, he sighed, and leant back against the car.
"Cute and shy kid my ass, brat. You fucking play to the crowd."
Teddy smiled up at him pleasantly.
"Grandma'll get pissed if she hears you say that around me."
"Your grandma'll get pissed if she hears you say 'pissed'."
The two silverets remained quiet for a few moments, listening to the voices drifting out through the open door. Teddy shifted silently and leant back against the car door.
"…I don't, you know. Play to the crowd. Grandma's just good at ignoring what she doesn't want to see."
"He doesn't treat me like a kid unless I want to be."
"Do you want to be?"
They found themselves lost in silence yet again, but it wasn't as uncomfortable as it could have been. It was Squalo's turn to shift in place, sighing as he looked up to stare sightlessly at the sky.
"…I don't know what the fuck you mean when you ask if we're good friends, brat."
"Are you, though?"
"We get along well enough."
"I guess that'll have to do, then."
He blinked, and looked down to stare at the brat. Teddy had already disappeared in a flurry of exited energy, though, all but bouncing towards the porch of the house where his godfather had just stepped through the doorway, still talking to Andromeda. Squalo watched as the sable haired man lifted the kid with a grin, and as Teddy waved his arms this way and that, acting just like the kid he was supposed to be.
He sighed, forcing back the urge to press his fingers to his aching head, and wondered why the fuck he'd bothered to indulge the kid.
By the time Harry had arrived at the car, Teddy had managed to both calm down and wrangle a self-invitation to the lunch they were heading for. Squalo was sorely tempted to ask the older man sliding into the driver's seat if he knew of the abominable intelligence his godson had tucked away inside his head. Then again, if the amused patience Harry was showing while biding farewell to Andromeda and warning Teddy to stay in one place in the back seat was anything to go by, the man already knew.
Squalo didn't do much more than offer a fleetingly polite nod to the aristocratic woman, and gained a similarly fleeting nod in response before he slid into the car himself.
It was only once they were well on their way to Ron Weasley's home that Harry spoke up.
"The two of you seemed to be talking about something interesting earlier," he said mildly. Squalo shook his head and looked out the window.
"You don't want to know. Trust me."
He watched from the corner of his eye as Harry blinked in surprise, then glanced up into the rear view mirror, presumably staring at the brat sitting complacently in the back. The unrepentant giggle that emerged from the back was rewarded with a grimace from the wizard sitting beside him.
"…Right. Teddy, what have I told you about antagonising people?"
"That people feel weird if I say weird things?"
"And what did you do?"
"I didn't! An-tagonise him, I mean."
Squalo coughed pointedly, not bothering to hide the smirk that spread across his face. Harry, catching sight of the expression, winced uneasily.
The fact that Teddy didn't defend himself against the 'saying weird things' clause of Harry's warning said a lot.
"…I really don't want to know, do I."
"You don't." Squalo agreed. Teddy's soft sniggering from the back only seemed to cement the statement.
Harry sighed, and turned his attention back to the road ahead.
("Hermione- Hermione, stop- Please. Just listen to-"
"This is wrong, Ron! You know that! How in the world could you ever condone something like this?"
"For the last time, I'm not 'condoning' anything!"
"Not condoning? If this isn't condoning, I shudder to think how it would appear if you actually were encouraging something!"
"Ron, just… I can't talk about this anymore. I can't. The longer you're here, the longer we discuss this… the less I can hear myself think."
"…Have you ever seen him look as relaxed as he did around Superbi, Hermione? Has he looked that relaxed at any point, since the end of the war?"
"…That has nothing to do with this."
"…How can you say-"
"No, Ron. I have nothing against him being happy, relaxed or anything else. I love him as much as you do, believe me, and I will always want what's best for him. But this? Nothing you say is going to convince me that this is for the best, Ron. Nothing.")
Listening to the intermittent clash and bang of vessels flying into each other from the relative safety of the living room, Ron Weasley did his level best to hide a wince. Openly showing his uneasiness would have been a horrible idea under the best of circumstances, but the very thought of leaving himself open to attack while certain un-named individuals were nearby was intolerable.
The sight of the pleasantly curious smile on his sister-in-law's tilted face made him bite back an oath. A particularly loud crash from the kitchen then had him ducking his head in silent dismay, though it drew a thoughtful hum from the blond seated elegantly on one of the many throw-cushions spread out on the rug-strewn floor.
"You must have managed something truly unmatchable zis time, Ronald." Fleur murmured, voice mockingly awful.
"Not helping, sister dear." He bit out, pasting a saccharine smile to his face. The pale blonde woman sitting in the couch gave him a considering look. Then, a slow smile stretched itself across her face, even as she elegantly tucked her legs beneath herself, barely shifting the throw cushion she was seated on.
"I am sure." She murmured. Ron sighed, a little exasperated.
"I don't need this right now, Fleur. You can play around with our heads on another day, alright?"
The unamused look that his sister-in-law shot him made Ron wince yet again. Fleur had truly turned out to be a formidable den mother once she came into her own, following right in the footsteps of his mother. He didn't know whether to be impressed or wary – an uncertainty that plagued not only him, but the rest of his brothers as well. Including Bill.
It was times like this that made him sympathise with Harry, at least to some extent. The poor bloke needed to deal with Hermione and himself poking their noses into everything, much the same way Fleur ran interrogation the moment she thought something was wrong in the family. If this was what it felt like each and every time he sat Harry down to talk… Granted, he didn't pester his friend unless it was absolutely necessary…
'Doesn't make it any less traumatising,' whispered a voice inside his head. It sounded suspiciously like Hermione. He pushed the thought back into the depths of his mind. The last thing he needed was a voice of reason that impersonated his pissed off girlfriend.
Jerking in surprise at the sudden intrusion in his thoughts, he glanced up sharply, relaxing a little once he realised it was only Fleur. Now seated a lot closer than she had been earlier. The relief dissolved all too quickly when he took in the faint frown on her face.
"Ron, eez something wrong? Truly? If zis eez something zat needs time, I'm sure we could cancel ze lunch date for today.Iln'est pas..."
"No, Fleur," he cut in hurriedly, before the beautiful blonde worried herself into a right state. The very fact that she'd slipped in some French without noticing while speaking to him, of all people… It wasn't a good sign. "I don't think we need to cancel anything at this point. I'm sure." He added, when he saw the worry in her eyes shift ever-so-slightly towards scepticism.
The crash and tinkle of glass inside the kitchen made both Ron and Fleur sit up with a start, and Fleur managed to fling herself upwards before he could even begin to untangle himself from the throw cushions Hermione had strewn across the carpeted floor of their sitting room. By the time he reached the kitchen, Fleur was already helping Hermione clear up the remains of a large crystal bowl from the floor. She was simultaneously scolding the contrite looking four year old standing beside the refrigerator.
"Victoire! 'ow many times must I tell you not to go near ze glassware, mon Dieu…!" Ron quickly tuned out her exasperated voice, hearing the last remaining traces of Fleur's French accent rear up in her speech, even stronger than before. Not that it was surprising in any sense, since it was a common characteristic of her 'I am angry and worried and why can't you be more careful' speeches. He instead strode forward, flicking his wrist and catching the wand that slid into his fingers without a second thought. A bare glance from chocolate brown eyes that stared up at him, soon followed by an involuntarily pursing of her lips, told him that Hermione wasn't ready to acknowledge him in any way. Not yet. But that didn't mean that he couldn't help, right? It was only once they were done that his attention returned to the conversation taking place behind them.
"You don't sound very sorry to me." Ron said mildly from behind her. Victoire squeaked, and peeked up at him with a far less contrite expression than her posture hinted at.
"Oh, but I am, Uncle Ron!" Victoire was quick to defend herself, though her blue eyes were twinkling impishly up at him. He rolled his eyes and scooped her up without another word, glancing back into the kitchen to see if they needed any more help. Hermione looked up from where she was trying to put the glass shards together again, and quickly waved him on. He left the kitchen soon after, thankfully trading one blonde relative for the other, far more diminutive and less frightening one. As long as she wasn't left around anything too sharp. Or breakable.
He collapsed into a cushion that was closer to the merrily crackling fireplace, and a giggling Victoire collapsed onto him in turn, making him groan theatrically. His playful dismay only served to make his niece trade her giggles for laughter. Very proper, demure and ladylike laughter, true, but laughter all the same. He grinned in triumph, though he tried to tone his expression down immediately. He was supposed to be the responsible adult here, after all.
There was an unspoken rule in the Weasley Household. And in the Potter Household (however measly it was at this point). And in any household that was in any way acquainted with the extended family of the Weasleys' – which included not only Harry, but also Teddy Lupin and Andromeda Black. Whatever you do, do not leave Victoire Weasley and Teddy Lupin alone and unsupervised in a kitchen together. Or anywhere else, for that matter, but the kitchen in particular. Not unless you were prepared to replace your entire collection of breakable dishes. And everything else in the kitchen, too.
Victoire and Teddy were turning out to be a pair of veritable hellions when left to themselves.
"Victoire, darling, must you do this every single time?" he asked her seriously, once he'd had her seated on top of a large cushion beside him. She batted her large blue eyes at him, looking as innocent as ever. The giggle that eventually spilt passed her lips made him smile helplessly.
"Blimey, girl. Try to be a little more careful, yeah? You don't want mum to find out about this."
She looked a little confused, but managed to link the 'mum' with the idea that breaking things was bad, and nodded vigorously all the same.
The unexpected burst of emerald green flames in the grate made his eyes dart up in surprise, though he didn't get more than a second to smile at the slim, auburn-haired form of his sister before the door bell rang.
"Ron, could you get that, please? We're still busy in here!"
Calling back an affirmative to Hermione, he dragged himself to his feet, trading a mutually amused glance with Ginny. His sister was eying Victoire with familiar wariness, coupled with exasperated fondness.
"Struck again, has she?"
"What do you think?" he countered with a sigh, gently pushing his suddenly shy niece towards her aunt.
Leaving the two to themselves, he quickly made his way to the front door, only pausing to check the master ward built into the wood. One was, as expected, Harry's all too familiar signature, which was already tied into the wards, and another signature that felt distinctly younger than and nearly as familiar as Harry's. The third was relatively unfamiliar, sharper, and yet had a cool comforting texture that left Ron a little surprised, especially considering he already knew the identity of the man to whom the signature belonged. Undoing the locking mechanism, he'd barely opened the door before Teddy pushed his way through, stumbling only once before he was off like a shot.
Victoire's answering squeal made him flinch instinctively.
"Harry, Superbi," He greeted with a tight smile, then turned to raise an eyebrow at the sable haired man still standing on the other side of the door. Harry looked vaguely apologetic, and very exasperated. Superbi had an amused expression on his face as he stared after Teddy – who was already cheerfully involved with Victoire, no doubt.
"I'm guessing the brat came to meet up with the mini-blondie?" he asked snidely, looking down at Harry's bowed head. The shorter man pinched the bridge of his nose, a shadow of irritation passing over his face before it died down again.
"Probably. You do realise that Victoire's Ron's niece?"
Ron had to ignore the urge to smirk when the comment made Superbi glance at him instinctually.
"Juvenile name-calling aside, I really don't mind it all that much. Victoire can be a real nuisance if she gets her mind up to it; she's probably going to earn every name she gets tagged with the older she gets." He said cryptically. Harry's snigger and mumble of 'Don't I know it,' made Superbi look between them with a curious expression. His mouth opened, likely to ask after the claim, when he was cut off by a surprised call from the living room behind him.
Ron blinked, and looked over his shoulder. Ginny had a cheerful grin on her face, though it shifted to polite curiosity when she caught sight of Squalo looming behind Harry's shorter form like a silver-haired scarecrow.
He hated himself for the way his body seized up at the sight of his sister. With the cold war going on between Hermione and himself, he hadn't even had the time to prepare himself for the inevitable meeting between Superbi and Ginny. He was unsurprised to see a look of similar unease appear on Harry's face before it was forced away. Ron felt a momentary sense of disquiet over Superbi's possible reaction, but the silveret's expression was completely inscrutable except for its mild curiosity.
"You must be Harry's mysterious friend, then." Ginny's curious words quickly broke him out of the worry he'd fallen prey to. Harry's suddenly panicky expression was enough to tell him that his friend was just as wary over anything that might spill out of Squalo's mouth, but the easy smile that the younger man had on his face managed to stop them from saying anything they might have regretted.
"Voooi, I don't know how fucking mysterious I am, but I'm a friend alright."
The statement brought a moment of awkward silence to the corridor. Ron couldn't help but stare at Squalo's bored expression, and he noted distantly that Harry had turned away with a hand pressed to his mouth, shoulders quivering in a rather alarming way. He couldn't see Ginny's face, since she had moved away from behind him, but the stillness in her form, in the hand resting lightly on his back, carried enough of an indication of her surprise.
"…I see. Well, it's a pleasure to meet you all the same. I'm Ginevra Weasley, but please, call me Ginny." She offered after another moment, her voice carefully controlled. Squalo politely shook the hand she held out, the vaguely placid expression pasted onto his face not budging an inch.
Ron quickly took his sister by the shoulders and ushered her inside, keeping up a steady stream of inane conversation about how practice matches with other teams had been going since the last time he'd seen her - even though he'd already exhausted that topic of conversation when the family had met up for lunch over the weekend. Ginny told him as much, but quickly began describing a more recent match she hadn't mentioned to him yet. He kept one ear focused on Harry and Squalo, still standing near the door.
"What was that, exactly?"
"I was being nice!"
"Oh, really now."
"What the fuck is that supposed to mean-"
Merlin's balls, he didn't want to know. As long as Superbi didn't purposely do anything to create trouble, he didn't think he needed to know what made the man tick. It was going to be enough of a headache managing Fleur, Hermione and Ginny at the same time anyway, without two hyperactive kids and a pair of dysfunctional illicit lovers being added to the mix.
He really didn't know how he managed to put up with everything his life tended to throw at him. Bloody hell.
By the time he'd taken a detour to the kitchen to let Hermione and Fleur know that Harry and Squalo had arrived with Teddy in tow ("Teddy? Teddy's here too?" "…Hermione, I think we should lock up ze more expensive glassware now…"), it was clear that they were a lot more comfortable with each other. Harry was sitting on the same cushion as Ginny, with Ginny cuddled up into his side with a smile. Harry, for his part, was smirking as he recounted some interesting incident from work, probably as some odd kind of ice-breaker. Listening carefully, he couldn't help but smirk as well.
"-And Seamus had the gall to say 'But they're pink! I don't like pink!'. I thought Kingsley was going to have an aneurism then and there."
"I remember that. It was after the Huxley case, wasn't it?" he asked, dropping onto a cushion beside Superbi. The younger man looked supremely amused, though Ron couldn't make out whether it was the story or the situation that had put that smirk on his face.
"Yeah, Ma Huxley was so relieved that we'd gotten her son back that she insisted on giving us all gifts, remember?"
"Homemade tea cosies. Pink tea cosies. Forget Kingsley having an aneurism, I thought Seamus was going to commit ritual suicide when he was forced to accept them."
"'And you'll like them. You will like them enough that you won't be able to sleep without them. Do you hear me, Finnegan?'"
The imitation was spot on. Ron and Ginny collapsed in laughter, while Harry looked quite smug with himself.
"Kingsley's the head of your department, isn't he?" Superbi asked with a raised eyebrow. Ron nodded in assent, still trying to catch his breath. Ginny took a deep breath, trying to still the laughter, then her head tilted to the side, a confused look on her face.
"Didn't you already know that? I could have sworn that Harry said you were a friend from work…"
Ron choked in the middle of his laughter, while Superbi's lips spread in a disturbingly wide grin.
"Oh he did, did he?"
"I met him while I was out on work, Gin. In the middle of a case," Harry cut in hurriedly, shooting a hard look at silveret seated beside Ron. Ron, for his part, muttered an oath, raising a hand to rub at his eyes. From what angle did Superbi come across as a 'friend from work'? If anything, their agency was required to keep an eye on people like the mafioso, to make sure they didn't get involved in anything to do with the shadier side of magic.
By the time he'd looked up, Ginny's expression had shifted slightly. The smile seemed a lot more forced than it had a second ago. His shoulders went stiff for a moment before he forced himself to relax, though not before Superbi had shot him a shrewd look from the corner of his eyes.
"Oh? A friend from work?" the lilting voice that came from their left made Ron jerk in surprise, and he turned his face towards the Fleur with a vaguely defeated feeling curling through him.
"I met him on a case, Fleur. I don't think anyone in the department'll know him except for Ron here." Said Harry with a groan, collapsing sideways into Ginny, who came back to herself with a start and then propped him up with a surprised laugh.
"Bon jour, friend of 'Arry from a case. I would have introduced myself with more propriety if it weren't for 'Arry neglecting to mention or introduce you before zis," Fleur said mildly, making Harry wince. Ron was too caught up with the way Superbi was staring at Fleur.
I doubt he's met a Veela before. Or a part-Veela.
Ron jerked again when Superbi gave a bark of laughter, rose up in one fluid motion and then proceeded to introduce himself. In flawless French.
Ron could only stare in horrified fascination, feeling vaguely as though he was an innocent bystander watching a train crash taking place. When Fleur laughed in delight, and all but grabbed the silveret by the wrist to lead him back to the kitchen with her, already in the process of discussing something-or-the-other with him, he knew that there was something horribly wrong with the scenario. The choking sound coming from Harry let him know that he wasn't the only one facing disbelief at this point.
"Erm… is he French by any chance, Harry?" Ginny's voice was a welcome reprieve, however bemused it sounded.
"Ah, no… He's Italian, actually. But he's a polyglot, from what I can make out…" Harry mumbled, shaking his head in what seemed to be a practised motion.
"Sure he's not been caught up in her allure? I've seen better-informed men falling to pieces in front of Fleur." She said amusedly, beginning to look thoroughly entertained, if the grin she shot at him was anything to go by. Ron rolled his eyes with a huff. He'd been fourteen. And Fleur had been stringing along seventeen year olds. Harry, however, gave a rather rude snort in reply.
"Squalo, caught up in a veela's allure? I'd feel sorry for the veela. No, Gin. Whatever the hell that was, it was all natural, not allure-controlled."
Ron had to snigger in response, especially since he had a better understanding of why Harry would feel so sorry for anyone trying to reel the violent swordsman in. He didn't think the insanity of the situation could get any worse. At least, not until he noticed Hermione leaning out of the kitchen entrance on the far side of the dining room, glancing towards him with an expression of horrified stupefaction on her face. Taking that as his cue, he gathered up the other two and headed for the kitchen, hoping to be of some use at least. And that bonding with Hermione over the utter surreality of a possible kinship between Fleur and Squalo would be enough to make her talk to him normally again.
"This is the point at which we run screaming into the hills," Harry mumbled in an undertone to the redhead standing beside him. Ron nodded wordlessly, though he looked just as horrified. Not that Harry could blame him. He'd arrived at Ron and Hermione's apartment only marginally prepared to deal with the expected amount of vitriol on Squalo's part while the silveret interacted with so many people. The little interaction between Squalo and Ginny had been enough of an indication that he had woefully misjudged his ability to handle Squalo's harsh attitude towards humanity in general, but nothing could have prepared him to deal with the rather frightening sight of Fleur and Squalo chatting like a pair of old friends. In French, which was all the more bemusing, since he'd never heard Squalo speak a word of it until that day.
'I really shouldn't be surprised about this,' he thought to himself rather ruefully, watching as Fleur all but frog-marched Teddy and Victoire into helping with setting the table. He belatedly stepped forward along with Ron to help, and gave a wary smile when Fleur's lips tilted in what would have been a mostly pleasant expression - that is, if it hadn't brought to mind a hungry snake of some sort.
Possibly a basilisk.
"A very interesting friend you've made, 'Arry." She offered mildly, though the wicked light glinting in her eyes warned him to be careful while answering her.
"Ah, you're not the first to say so?" he said finally, while grabbing a set of forks and knives from the central drawer of the large set of cupboards covering nearly the entire wall opposite the open archway leading towards the kitchen.
"I'm sure I'm not – Victoire! You are not to 'andle any of ze knives unless you're already seated at ze table, where someone can keep an eye on you!"
"But mama, Teddy's got one too…"
"Teddy, you aren't to encourage 'er!
Glancing out of the corner of his eye at the two children staring down at the floor while Fleur raged over them, he wondered absently where the two could have picked up such a large pair of knives - carving knives, no less - without anyone noticing. He couldn't contain the sigh that escaped him when Fleur snatched both knives out of their hands and whirled away towards the kitchen, already calling out in French for Squalo to take them away.
Teddy looked up with an all too innocent expression, though the wide grin beginning to break out on his face waylaid any pretensions of innocence. Victoire glanced up with a similarly 'innocent' expression, giggles already beginning to escape her.
Ron groaned lowly.
"Really, you two. Can't you at least try to be a little more controlled? At least for today?" he asked tiredly. Harry blinked, and gave a quick, searching glance towards the other man. Ron seemed far too tired, his weary expression hinting at a deeper sense of exhaustion than the usual variety caused by Teddy and Victoire's destructive behaviour. He bit his lip, feeling the guilt lurking in the far reaches of his mind rearing its ugly head yet again. This hadn't been an easy day for his friend, more so because of the way Hermione had reacted after stumbling across evidence of his and Squalo's less than platonic relationship.
"No more mischief out of the two of you brats. I mean it." Harry cut in, immediately catching the attention of both kids while they'd been trying to play to Ron's better nature. Teddy looked up at him sharply, clearly hearing the warning in his words, and then looked down again, this time more honestly apologetic. Victoire took a peek at her companion's expression and then looked down as well, mumbling a small 'sorry' to go along with Teddy's own apology.
"Maybe they should just sit in one place over here," Ron said thoughtfully, setting out the last of the plates while Harry moved around him with the ease of long practice, arranging the rest of the cutlery to go along with the plates and napkins.
"May be they should," he murmured, smiling inspite of himself as both children all but wilted where they were standing. Ginny's clear, bell-like laughter while she brought out a large bowl of salad sent a wave of warm affection spiralling through him.
"Oh, now you're being too harsh, Harry." She said, nudging him playfully before heading back inside to pick up another dish. He followed right after, since the table was already set. He heard Ron warning Teddy and Victoire to at least try and stay out of trouble before following them inside.
Whatever he'd been expecting to see, it hadn't been the sight of Squalo and Fleur working together to clear up the remains of what had obviously been the makings of the salad. Squalo had his hair pulled back in a loose braid and his sleeves pulled up, his disturbingly domestic appearance warring with the sharp ease with which he was cleaning the variety of knives still set out on the counter before him. Catching him staring, the silveret raised a brow at him, obviously amused. Harry made a face at him, making the younger man nearly chortle with controlled laughter.
He belatedly turned his attention to Ginny, who was in the process of explaining and praising the fact that Squalo had decided to offer his aid in preparing the salad, which Harry assumed was a last minute addition to the line up for lunch. The hint of a smirk that blazed across the silveret's face nearly made Harry curse out loud, especially he noticed the rattled expression on Hermione's face.
Of course he decided to help. What better way to mess with Hermione a little further? Not to say that Squalo wasn't quite capable of handling himself in a kitchen, especially when there was any cutting work of any kind to be dealt with, but the timing was a little too coincidental for comfort.
He might have been tempted to say something to Squalo directly if the ringing of his phone hadn't distracted him. Startled by the unexpected interruption, the phone had already rung a few times before he managed to pull it out. The flash of 'protected number – muggle' in lieu of an actual caller identification made his eyes narrow in immediate suspicion. Despite his wide and rather eclectic set of contacts and informants in the muggle world, there weren't many that actually used protected numbers. Seeing no harm in answering, he accepted the call and held it warily to his ear.
The very cheerful "Buon Pomeriggio!" that rang out over the line had him answering near reflexively in response even before he placed the voice. It was only when he noticed Squalo going still over the knives that that he realised his reflexive answer had also been in Italian.
He blinked once, twice, before carefully speaking up. If only to be perfectly sure.
The resulting babble of overexcited Italian had him laughing in response, and waving Squalo away when he whipped around in surprise.
"Slow down, I'm not going anywhere. Any reason for the sudden call- wait, what? Please tell me you're joking." His amused start slowly dwindled into bewildered disbelief. Squalo's expression was growing more narrow-eyed by the second. And Harry really couldn't blame him.
He really, really shouldn't be surprised by the random twists his life could take anymore.
"No, of course not. Why would I joke about being in London? I thought I could stop by for a bit, since I still have some time before I need to deal with the actual reason for my visit."
Harry cleared his throat carefully, and glanced around. Hermione, Ginny and Fleur all looked properly curious, since he'd been sticking to Italian for the entire conversation. Ron looked only mildly interested, but Squalo had a very suspicious glint in his eye. Harry shot him a helpless look, since the Italian was the only other person in the vicinity who had any familiarity with the insanity that tended to follow Dino Cavallone everywhere he went.
"That's… very nice of you. Where are you, right now?"
Harry could almost see the realisation materialise in Squalo's eyes before they shut in a very exasperated and irritable expression. And not surprised in the least.
"Outside your front door, actually." Was the sheepish response. Harry gave a surprised cough, then dissolved into helpless and almost painful sniggers. Outside his front door. Circe.
"I'm at a friend's place for lunch. Wait a few minutes, I'll come by and let you in – no, wait." He shot a look a Ron, who neatly guessed just what he wanted to ask and turned the question to Hermione. Hermione looked surprised, but gave an accepting nod all the same. He gave them both a grateful smile before returning to the conversation.
"You might have to wait a little longer, but I'll pick you up. You can join us for lunch."
"Oh don't bother, Harry, I could just grab some food with Romario…" And now Dino was beginning to sound a bit awkward over the phone. Harry sighed and gave a small smile. Really, the man was so open to affection that he tended to stumble over basic social niceties when he was speaking to someone he was comfortable with. It showed in the way Dino had waltzed up to his doorway, undoubtedly with not only Romario but with multiple bodyguards in tow as well, not even thinking that his unexpected appearance would cause any kind of trouble for Harry.
"No, no, I insist - It'll be nice to see you again after so long. Lunch is already prepared over here, and there's plenty of it, so it won't be any trouble at all. Just wait right there, okay?"
The very embarrassed affirmative before he cut the call made him want to laugh all over again. The openly expectant expression on everyone's faces made him roll his eyes.
"I should be back soon, I'll just go pick them up and come back. Feel free to start if you like," he offered, but Hermione huffed at him in aggravation before he could continue.
"Just go pick up your friend and come back, Harry. You're just going home and returning right?"
Harry had just begun to nod when Fleur cut in with an impatient gesture of her hand.
"Why don't you just side-along apparate with him?"
He tilted his head to the side, wondering if that could work. Careful research in the field had indicated that the flame wielding members of the mafia families in Italy were definitely using magic, if in a different form, but he had no idea if it would be a good idea. Recorded instances of apparition with muggles 'in the know' already proved that muggles were far more prone to splinching that wizards, and even if there weren't any accidents, the entire process was horribly uncomfortable for the muggle involved – much more so than for a wizard, and Harry already tried to avoid apparating if he had enough time to spare on a more comfortable means of transport. He turned a questioning glance towards Squalo, who he was sure would have at least some idea about the process. There was no way Vongola's most infamous independent assassination force would have left the practices of an entire society to chance once the existence of magic was out in the open.
Squalo hummed thoughtfully, then gave a slow shake of his head. No. Not a good idea. Especially not when the person he was considering to side-along apparate was the Don of a Family as powerful and overprotective as the Cavallone were. Harry nodded back, unquestioningly accepting the younger man's diagnosis.
…why were Ron and Hermione staring at them like that?
"Get going, the fucking horse gets into enough trouble by himself even when he's not all worried about insulting your delicate sensibilities." Squalo snapped out snidely, making everyone except Ron jump in surprise. Fleur shot a very surprised look at the silveret, and murmured something in a very pointed undertone. Ron gave a snort of laughter at Squalo's harsh response, and Harry didn't think there was any other situation in which he wished he actually understood French without use of a translating charm.
He shook his head with a sigh and figured, not for the first time that day, that he was better off not knowing.
"You said you were here on work?"
Dino gave a cheerful nod to the question, standing to the side with his sable-haired friend while Romario bustled about, bringing in the two suitcases that he'd brought up from the car for their use. He might have offered, but he already knew for a fact that the older man would never let him take on such a 'mundane' job when he was there to take care of it in his stead.
"I don't need to deal with it immediately, though, so I have some time. Where should we keep the suitcases?"
Dino blinked when he saw the odd flash of emotion over the other man's face before his expression settled.
"You can keep your stuff in the guestroom. I've got someone else staying here, too, but there shouldn't be too much trouble." He said blandly. Dino's eyes narrowed at the way Harry pointedly didn't meet his gaze when he spoke.
"Oh? Anyone I know?" he asked casually. There was a momentary grimace before the older man locked it down with admirable control.
The uncomfortable answer gave him enough reason to stride after Romario with a frown on his face. The sight of the black canvas bag sitting in a corner of the guestroom wasn't much cause for concern, nor was it enough to help him guess the identity of Harry's other guest. He was gearing up to ask the older man when he noticed the folded up pair of leather pants sitting neatly on top of a chair by the window. His mind quickly equated leather, Harry and the fact that he supposedly knew this person and came up with only one possible answer. Even if it had been a long time since he'd needed to think about that particular situation.
"Squalo?" he asked in an even tone, glancing over his shoulder at the agent. Harry raised a shoulder in reply, still not really meeting his eyes, making the blond mob boss sigh.
"I really don't have anything against it, you know." He said seriously, turning to face the man. Harry gave a single, wordless nod, making it obvious that while he did understand that Dino didn't have anything to say, he had enough qualms against the situation personally. Which made Dino's eyes narrow all the more, since Harry hadn't been looking very much at ease even before their initially light-hearted conversation had turned towards their mutual friend.
He didn't ask after it, though, since he was certain that Harry would rather push his unease to the back of his mind than bring it up as a topic for conversation.
Twisting his frown into a more easy-going smile, he swung an arm over the older man's shoulders and dragged him back towards the door, signalling to Romario to follow behind them with his free hand. He left it to his right hand to inform the rest of the men stationed both in the corridor and throughout the rest of the apartment complex to follow them discreetly while they travelled to Harry's friends' home.
Not that he wasn't certain that the agent would notice their followers, but he was also certain that Harry would let the matter slide. It wasn't the first time they'd travelled anywhere together, after all. The bodyguards came part and parcel with being the Don of a mafia Famiglia, even if his men tended to be more… eager than certainly loved them for it. Even if it got trying at some times, and very awkward in others.
"So, whom all are we meeting? Is it the pair of friends you've had since you were in school, by any chance? Because you've told me a lot about them…"
The smile that Harry shot up at him, even as he playfully struggled to get away from the arm wrapped around his shoulders, was gratifying. Dino gave a wide grin in response, and kept up the babble of mindless chatter all the way the until they reached the car, and through the short trip after.
"-And then he fell straight into the bushes below. From the second floor! And without a scratch! Can you believe it?" Harry gave a wordless snigger at the mental image that brought up, and the image of the hordes of angry women chasing after Dino's hapless subordinate, too.
"How in the world did he manage to get away from them, finally?" he asked, curious despite himself, while ringing the bell and waiting for someone to key Dino and Romario into the wards. Dino gave a smirk and cheerfully shook the arm that he had wrapped around Harry's shoulders. Harry gave a startled laugh at the way the motion made him sway back and forth.
"Probably the same way we got away from them."
"Not the same situation, Dino. Or the same women. The only reason they let us go that time was because one of the muggleborn agents with us had the sense to get the head of security to broadcast a warning about an escaped convict running wild inside the facility. The announcement worked well with the badge I had back then." He said pointedly, making the Cavallone boss stifle the inappropriate burst of sniggers that threatened to escape him. Harry rolled his eyes, and glanced over his shoulder at Romario, but the older man had as unreadable an expression as ever. He did give a vaguely polite smile, though it did nothing to hide the laughter in his eyes.
Harry snorted. The boss and right hand were made for each other.
By the time Hermione finally tugged the door open, Dino had already spiralled into another amusing incident that his subordinates had been forced to report to him. This one was about the man in question being chased by pack of stray dogs while undercover. Harry was nearly in splits over the thought of the unfortunate man. It must have been horrible, needing to report a loss of cover because of a pack of dogs, of all things.
"You're Dino, then?" Hermione cut in, looking bemused. Dino treated her to a wide, guileless smile and the laidback charm that had nearly all the women he met swooning over him. Harry shook his head in poorly disguised amusement, watching as Hermione first went red, then visibly shook herself before shaking his proffered hand with a polite smile.
"Dino Cavallone, to be precise. It's a pleasure to meet you. Hermione Granger, if I'm not mistaken?"
Hermione could only blink, looking a little dazed. Harry didn't bother hiding his smirk, deciding to take pity on her and smoothly dragging the blond inside. Romario quickly followed them without a word, though he paused momentarily to offer Hermione a polite nod.
"What the fuck are you doing here?" were the first words out of Squalo's mouth, obviously, when he'd managed to get Dino inside. Fleur winced and frowned disapprovingly, but Harry noticed both Ginny and Ron covering their mouths to hide the twin wicked grins that had broken out on their faces. Clearly Fleur hadn't had much luck in making Squalo control his tongue. Not that Harry was very surprised, to be honest. Squalo didn't listen to anyone except himself.
Though it was amusing to see how dumbfounded Fleur – not to mention Hermione - looked when all Squalo's words garnered was a wide, delighted smile from Dino.
"Oh, don't say that, I'm happy to see you too, Squalo!" he declared happily, all but throwing himself at the silveret and adroitly managing not to get whacked by the flailing that his action created. Harry gave a small grin, watching the two speak rapidly in their mother tongue, Dino still acting endearingly happy while Squalo was beginning to look like he was going to explode. Either that, or he was just going to stick a knife between Dino's ribs and deal with the consequences afterward.
"He's… always like this?" Fleur asked him quietly, settling into a chair beside him. Harry looked at her, a bit confused at the amount of curiosity that Fleur was showing for the silveret. He hadn't seen her this curious about any of his or Ron's friends to date. Not even the multiple partners they had gone through from work before Kingsley had just decided to club them together (and, therefore, freed himself from needing to deal with their weekly tendency to partner-hop) had brought out this kind of curiosity.
"Yeah. He was being surprisingly polite earlier." He offered reluctantly. He still didn't understand why Squalo had decided to act so amicable earlier, because he knew with even a slightest hint of doubt that it had been an act.
It was only after they were all seated at the table and a more proper round of introductions had gone around that Harry realised in retrospect that bringing a mob boss and his right hand to a table that also had his friends – one frighteningly sharp and the other a fellow agent from work – might have been a bad idea. Ron had gone round eyed, staring at Dino in shock ever since his surname had been mentioned in conversation, while Hermione had been glancing from Romario's silent vigil to Dino's exuberant interaction with everyone at the table with an increasingly shocked expression.
"So, how long are you in town?" Ron asked finally, and Harry was vaguely amused to note that the redhead's voice didn't carry any hint of the obvious horror he was feeling.
"Oh, I'm not sure. Not more than two days, I should think." Dino said cheerfully. Ron nodded slowly, and Hermione took up the questioning right after.
"You aren't sure?" she repeated, making Dino shoot her another one of his smiles, this one slow and pleasant. Hermione flushed a pale pink, unconsciously smiling back at him, while Squalo choked on his mouthful of herbed chicken, quickly downing a draught of water and then staring at the blond seated opposite him in disbelief.
"No, I'm afraid not. It depends on how my business meeting goes later. If negotiations are unsuccessful, I might just be leaving for Palermo tonight." Dino said with a deeply regretful sigh. Harry was reluctantly impressed. He bet anything that neither Fleur nor Ginny had seen anything suspicious about his words, since they made him sound like a businessman who just wanted some free time. The way both Ron and Hermione went white made it obvious that they didn't need any more hints to figure out that Dino's words weren't nearly as innocent.
"Enough about my trials with work; I must give my compliments to whoever is responsible for this delectable spread. Particularly this dish, I don't think I've ever tasted eggplant made in quite this way-"
Harry could only stare as Dino somehow steered the conversation into something very different from the route it had been tumbling down. He managed to pull his awed gaze away from the younger man, who seemed to be in his element as he easily drew even a very shy Victoire and an overly curious Teddy into a conversation about food, of all things, and stared instead at the way Squalo had his fingers curled against his temple. The silveret was beginning to look more than a little irate as the conversation continued, but amazingly he managed to keep almost any of his usually harsh comments to himself. Harry might have been worried, because Squalo wasn't the kind to hold back anything, but the answer was readily apparent every time he glanced at either Hermione or Ron and the way they were being drawn into the conversation despite themselves.
Squalo might have had something against the way Dino was carrying on, but the ready conversation the Cavallone boss was keeping up ensured that no awkward questions were being asked. In fact, at the rate at which things were going, he doubted anyone at the table even had any dubious thoughts about the mafiosi sitting in their midst.
"Oh! What's that?"
The sudden interruption to the flow of conversation made Harry start, and he turned a questioning look towards Teddy, who was nearly falling over himself trying to get a clear look at Dino's left hand. The Cavallone blinked in open bemusement, and glanced down himself, wondering what could have caught the attention of the six-year-old, and the flash of inked flesh clearly visible now that his jacket's sleeve had drawn back during the course of the meal gave him a ready answer. Dino winced, then gave a sheepish laugh, shaking his wrist to let the cuff of his jacket slide back down enough to cover the back of his hand. Teddy continued to stare up at him, though, with a wide-eyed curiosity that did nothing to hide the gleam of intelligence that was clearly visible in his eyes. Teddy's inquisitiveness served to draw Victoire right after him, making Dino nearly groan with dismay.
"Sorry, Ted, I doubt your godfather'll be very pleased with me if I show you." He said apologetically. Teddy instantly went wide-eyed, and turned an imploring gaze towards Harry, who was poorly prepared for the onslaught. He sank down in his chair with a sigh, and shot a pleading look towards Fleur, who was looking mildly amused.
"Oh, I don't think there's anything wrong. Go ahead, Mr. Cavallone."
"Dino, please. 'Mr. Cavallone' is my father." Dino countered with a playful grimace, though Harry noticed a shred of honest discomfort in the slouch of the blond's shoulders before it was whisked away behind a showman's teasing smile. Dino tugged the edge of the jacket sleeve up again, and offered the hand for the perusal of the two children nearly wriggling in their seats with excitement.
"It goes further, right?" Teddy asked suddenly. Dino blinked, then tilted his face to the side with a small smirk, the tilt of his lips at once more honest than a majority of the cheerful smiles that had been flashing across his face for the entirety of the meal.
"Why yes, it does." He agreed, his amusement obvious to the rest of the adults seated around the table. Teddy's eyes widened enough to make him look nearly goggle-eyed, while Victoire clutched at him in equal amazement. Squalo slapped a hand over his eyes with badly hidden growl of disgust, though the rest of the table smiled at the way Dino was stringing the two along. Harry slumped lower in his seat, trying not to laugh himself.
"How far does it go?" Teddy asked eagerly. Harry choked on the laugh that had been in his throat, horrified.
"Teddy!" he snapped out, taken aback at how nosy his godson was being. Teddy winced and settled down again, marginally chastened for once. The question had had the added bonus of being enough to made Squalo double over in his seat with ill-hidden amusement, though.
"Till here," Dino said blandly, tapping his shoulder for Teddy's sake and shooting a put-upon look at the silveret right after.
Fleur and Hermione's eyebrows shot up at the obvious size of the body-art, while Ginny whistled in open appreciation.
"Is it enchanted ink all the way through or did you get it done at a muggle parlour?" she asked with interest. Dino blinked at her, confused, before turning an inquisitive glance towards Harry, who was seated beside him. Harry rolled his eyes.
"Yeah, you can get them done in enchanted ink if you go to a wizards' parlour. Muggle work, Gin," he added for his girlfriend's understanding. Ginny nodded slowly, curiosity sated, before she realised the import of what he'd said.
"Wait – you're not a wizard?" she asked incredulously. Dino gave a small smile and shrug, while Squalo gave an irreverent snort, finally straightening.
"Not the way you'd recognise it, anyway." He said with a roll of his eyes. Ginny looked even more disbelieving, but Ron interrupted before it could go any further, clearing his throat pointedly. Harry was relieved, since he would have needed to step in if the other agent hadn't.
"He'd right, Gin. They're as magical as anyone else, just not in the same way as most wizards and witches are used to." He explained with a sigh, shooting a very obviously annoyed look at Squalo. The silveret rolled his eyes and looked away. Ginny and Fleur both sat up with open interest, and Hermione's brows had lowered in a frightfully familiar look, one that had once heralded multiple hours spent in a library without rest. Harry and Ron shivered at the same time, still instinctually leery of the expression.
"Magic in Italy supposedly works in different ways," Dino offered with a wave of his hand. Squalo gave another snort, and Harry had to quell the urge to laugh. Hysterically. Magic in Italy was used solely in the fights that broke out in mafia disputes, except in the reported cases of it being used in horrendously inhuman experiments – 'supposedly works in different ways' was an appallingly understated description of it. Ron's tight smile was enough of an indication that his best mate felt much the same about the issue.
"Works in different way? How so?" Hermione asked with a thoughtful frown, and Harry could almost hear her thoughts whirling, falling into well ordered lists of questions that needed to be answered. He hastily shoved himself into the conversation before Squalo could answer. While he was certain Dino would be diplomatic enough to turn the question away, or at least soften the blow, Squalo's sharp smile and laughing eyes didn't give any indication of a like-minded willingness to soften anything.
"Sorry, 'Mione. Can't give any more details, since the International Confederation isn't willing to make them open to the public yet," he said quickly, not looking away when all three women shot him disappointed looks. Dino made a small, surprised sound.
"The Confederation's holding back information?" he asked, frowning. Harry gave a short nod, not looking away from Hermione. Squalo gave a sound of interest himself.
"Fu- really?" he asked, swallowing the expletive with a scowl when Fleur looked at him with a deceptively mild expression. Ron straightened himself, and gave a serious nod.
"They don't think it's a good idea to let anything out yet." He explained, though the wry look he shot at Dino and then Harry in turn made the sable-haired man wince slightly. The very fact that Dino had recognised the existence of a confederation was enough of an indication of his high position in the mafia hierarchy, since the confederation hadn't let its existence become common knowledge among the lower echelons of the mafia families. If Ron hadn't managed to guess Dino's identity based solely on his name, appearance and tattoos, then this last piece of evidence would definitely have been enough to mark the blond as a Don. Squalo had obviously known because of his position as the previous Battle Commander of the Varia squads as well as his current position as interim head since Xanxus had gone MIA. Which was the only information the Vongola were willing to let anyone outside the fold of the Famiglia know about Xanxus' abrupt disappearance.
"Right, that's enough of that. 'Mione, do we have anything for dessert?" Ron asked without a hint of guile or subtlety, shrugging when both Dino and Squalo shot him an amused glance, accompanied by the near-silent rustle of cloth when Romario shifted in his position against the wall. Hermione frowned at all of them, looking vaguely frustrated, before she rose up with a sigh.
"Fleur's brought some homemade apple pie, and I had some vanilla ice cream and hot fudge ready…" the instantly delighted smiles on everyone's faces went a long way to soothing her abused scholarly pride. Harry, for his part, had a beaming smile in place. Dino's fond glance made him try and tone the expression down, but the smirk on both Ron and Squalo's face made it evident that he hadn't been very successful. Ginny's affectionate smile added to the mix was enough to make him flush in embarrassment.
"Stop it, all of you. Right now."
"I wonder what he's talking about. Squalo?" Dino asked, so obviously trying to hide his laughter that Harry frowned at him.
"Not a fu- not a clue." Squalo drawled out, shooting a sharp-toothed grin at Ron when his (traitorous, damn him!) best mate gave a low chuckle of amusement. Ginny's giggles weren't much better, and neither was Teddy's smile, though Victoire looked too confused with the proceedings to add to his grief in any way.
"Still as sweet-toothed as ever, are you." Dino murmured in a teasing undertone once Hermione and Fleur had brought in the desserts. Harry rolled his eyes, tugging his admittedly larger serving towards himself and pointedly ignoring the soft smile on Fleur's face. Really. Did they all have to make such a big deal out of it?
Catching sight of the darkly amused look in Squalo's eyes as he leant back in his chair and stared at him unabashedly made a shiver course down Harry's spine. Okay. Fuck. Damn the stupid arsehole anyway. He wasn't saying anything, but Harry didn't need words to know what was going through the silveret's head. Didn't the damned maniac have any sense of time or place? He quickly engaged himself in a discussion with Dino to distract himself - about enchanted ink and tattoo parlours of all things.
The blond mob boss went along with it rather amicably, with a big smile and honest, delighted interest, but the glimmer of unholy amusement in Dino's eyes told him that the younger man wasn't fooled in the least. Harry hid his grimace in a smile, turning the conversation down a path that more readily caught the blond's attention – the variations in style and enchantment used for magical tattoos seen in other countries. Ron suddenly joined in when Harry mentioned a rather infamous parlour that he'd come across in Japan while on an assignment from the Department, one that used a variation of demonic magic to bring inked figures to life. Literally. Dino looked supremely entertained by the tale, and dragged the two agents deeper into a conversation about darker magicks used in body art enchantment, and soon the conversation grew gruesome enough to draw even Squalo into it.
It quickly came to an end when Fleur noticed the gory turn their conversation had taken, and the matriarch-in-the-making swelled up into a veritable explosion that left all four men looking rather doleful and apologetic, though if the way Squalo was twitching in his seat was anything to go by, he was feeling less apologetic and more incensed. A quiet murmur from Fleur surprisingly mollified him, and Harry watched in bemusement as she somehow managed to draw him into a conversation that couldn't have been anything like the discussion they'd been having earlier, if Ron and Dino's entertained reactions were anything to go by.
"Managed to hit just the right topic to grab his attention, didn't she." Dino muttered with a grin. Ron gave a surprised huff of laughter, nodding in agreement. Noticing the confused expression that Harry was sure was playing across his features, Dino smirked at him and explained "She asked him about his knifework in the kitchen earlier."
"Oh. Hermione did say that Squalo had been helping them with the salad…" Harry immediately noticed the hint of surprise in Dino's eyes before it melted away into a look of wry affection that he shot at the silveret. Squalo either didn't notice it or chose to ignore it, smiling in a strangely indulgent way when Fleur asked something.
Any other topics for conversation that came up soon wound to a slow close afterward, and before long, Harry found himself being pulled aside by Hermione while Squalo, Dino and Romario quickly set about getting their footwear back on.
"Do you have anything to say?" she asked mildly. Harry eyed her carefully, noting that she wasn't angry anymore, not really. She only looked faintly sad.
"No. Not really. Nothing to really make this any better, 'Mione." He said quietly, glancing back at where Dino was crouching in front of the kids and entertaining them with – was that a turtle? It was a definite possibility, especially with the way Squalo was yelling about Dino hiding the small creature in his jacket. Harry blinked, shook his head, and turned back to Hermione. She had an oddly vexed expression on her face, but she shook it away with a sigh, then unexpectedly slipped her arms over his shoulders and reeled him in for a tight hug. Harry stared dumbly over her head, baffled, and it was only after a moment or two that he had the thought to lift a hand and pat her back comfortingly.
"Why do you have to do this to yourself?"
The quiet words were muffled into the material of his shirt, and he closed his eyes, feeling about as weary as Ron had seemed earlier.
"It's not like I planned this." He muttered, but went silent when she drew an arm down to thump her fist against his chest.
"That's not what I meant. Nor does it mean that I'm completely willing to accept this." She pulled away with another sigh and frowned up at him for a few seconds before seemingly deciding to let it go. At least for now. She glanced around him to stare at the way Teddy and Victoire were cooing over the turtle that Dino was holding out to them with a big, childishly gleeful smile.
"Who are they, anyway?" she asked finally, once she managed to tear her gaze away from the strange sight. Harry finally gave in to the urge to laugh – if only under his breath - at the oddness of the situation.
"Are you sure you want to know?" he asked her, caught between seriousness and a vaguely grim feeling of amusement. Hermione looked appropriately wary at his tone, but gave a determined nod all the same. Harry didn't bother hiding the smirk that had been lying in wait.
"Dino Cavallone, rather infamously referred to as Bucking Horse Dino. 10th Generation Head of the Cavallone Famiglia. And Romario, his right hand."
Hermione stared up at him uncomprehendingly, the information still not having sunk in, but once it did, she first went green in something that looked very much like disbelief and nausea. Then, the initial reaction quickly dissipated, and the pall of her skin abruptly warmed, then went lobster-red. He backed away in an instinctive defensive measure, just in time to avoid the crest of the explosion.
"HARRY JAMES POTTER – Get back here!" he threw her a jaunty wave and a grin over her shoulder and was off like a shot before she could grab a hold of him and shake him down to her satisfaction. Ron's raised eyebrow when he got back to the sitting room was expected, since he'd seen Hermione tug him back into the dining area. He gave his redheaded best mate a small smile, and Ron nearly sagged in relief. Squalo had glanced up with a searching look, though he turned away just as quickly once he figured out that everything had been cleared. At least as much as was possible at this point.
He wrapped an arm around Ginny's shoulders when she drew up beside him, slipping an arm low around his waist.
"So, when am I free to come home?" she asked softly. He smiled down at her, and shoved back the guilt that threatened to rear up within him yet again.
"With the number of people at home right now? In a day or two, Gin. Then we'll have the apartment back to ourselves." She smiled up at him impishly, the wickedly mischievous light in her eyes making him laugh in response. He was still chuckling when she twisted a hand in his collar and tugged him down enough to meet his lips. He blinked once, surprised, then sank into the firm motion without another thought, willingly meeting her when she teasingly darted the tip of her tongue against the seam of his lips. He welcomed the sweet, heady feeling that always accompanied all of the kisses he shared with her, and pulled away regretfully before they made too much of a scene of themselves. Fleur looked indignant enough as it was, a hand slipped over both Teddy and Victoire's eyes. Dino had a small smile tugging at his lips, and he reached out a hand to firmly shake Ginny's before they stepped out the door.
"It's been a pleasure to meet you, Miss Weasley." He murmured, suddenly formal. Ginny stared up at him, surprised by the serious look on his face, then gave a quick smile in response.
"It's been a pleasure to meet you as well, Mr. Cavallone. I'm sure everyone agrees."
Dino's smile lost some of the formal edge it had gained at her words, and Harry leant against the door jamb, watching as he took leave of the rest. Fleur looked delighted with his impeccable manners, and good-naturedly swatted at Squalo when he gave only a nod that barely held up to any measure of politeness, the words easily understandable by their tone even when Harry couldn't understand exactly what she said. The wide, unapologetic grin on Squalo's face made Hermione give a sudden, startled laugh, while Ron only rolled his eyes. Ginny still looked baffled as far as dealing with Squalo's mannerisms was concerned, the odd mix of brashness and (possibly) genuine niceness hidden beneath a thin veneer of vitriolic epithets something that took time to get used to, but she gave a surprised smile when Squalo chose to shake her hand instead of giving the stilted nod that he had given everyone else.
Harry stared at the silveret, wishing for once that he could understand just what went through Squalo's head sometimes, but let it go when he heard the vexed sigh that Dino gave from behind him. A glance over his shoulder showed that Dino's face was perfectly composed, though. Frowning in confusion, and no little unease, he looked back at Squalo, but the moment was obviously lost since he drew back without another word, giving only a sharp grin apiece to both Ron and Hermione, and one languid wave to both kids before he was done.
They were off soon after, once Fleur had assured him that she would drop Teddy back home before she headed back to Shell Cottage. Teddy had given him a brilliant smile and hug, darted in to give a similarly enthusiastic hug to a very bemused Dino before tugging Victoire behind himself and disappearing back inside the apartment. Harry gave an absentminded wave and smile for his part, since he would be seeing them again for dinner come Sunday, for Molly's regular weekend dinner (conducted along with the regular Friday luncheon – both an integral part of Molly's plans to keep the entire dispersed Weasley family together).
It wasn't until they'd reached the car and set off on their way that Harry asked "You didn't purposely antagonise anybody, did you?"
Squalo rolled his eyes, and tilted his head back in a bored gesture against the headrest, openly ignoring the sound of muffled laughter coming from Dino, who was sitting right behind him in the back seat.
"I'm not Teddy." He said snidely, making Harry snort in amusement.
"Arse." He muttered in an undertone. The gleam of the younger man's eyes when he glanced over without making any other movement made Harry's fingers tighten against the steering wheel before he consciously loosened his grip.
'You do realise you just met up with Ginny just now.' Whispered a voice inside his head. He was unnerved to notice it sounded vaguely like Ron giving him a lecture that had been tailor-made by Hermione.
Yeah, he'd met up with Ginny. But in the here and now…
He shoved the thought away before it stayed long enough to make him feel sick to the stomach - like most of the other thoughts regarding his situation tended to make him.
'But in the here and now, he's here. In front of you. And she isn't.'
He shoved that thought away, too. Because it made him feel like a hormonal teenager going after the most convenient – Fuck. No. Damn. Damn was better, since it didn't complete his untoward thoughts.
"You're thinking too much."
He blinked, and glanced up into the pale blue-grey eyes that were watching him closely. He glanced back when Dino gave a low, agreeable hum to go along with the silveret. The Cavallone boss was lounging back in the seat, making it look more like a throne or a royal divan than anything as mundane as a car seat. His golden brown eyes were gleaming sharply with intent, the angle making them gleam as bright as gold itself.
"I have to agree with that. Relax, Harry."
Harry blinked, breathed in slowly, then shot the two a particularly blistering look before turning his attention back to the road.
Maybe he should be a little more cautious about developing a closer bond with the two mafiosi. Because, if their perceptiveness was any indication, any long-term friendships with either of them would prove to be about as trying as his friendship with Ron and Hermione.
"What's a 'cursebreaker'?"
Harry stilled for a second, surprised by the question, before continuing the motion of hanging his coat inside the closet.
"Exactly what it sounds like. Someone who breaks curses for a living." He answered mildly when he shut the closet door and turned around to face Squalo. The silveret was sitting in a relaxed slouch on the bed, one leg pulled underneath himself and the other set on the ground. He had his head tilted to the side, a curious light in his eyes.
"Breaks curses?" he repeated, smirking slightly. Harry rolled his eyes, and leant back against the closet.
"It's a lot more difficult than it sounds. Nearly as difficult as what an agent's expected to do, and in some cases, a whole lot worse." He said seriously. The declaration was enough to make the mocking tilt of Squalo's lips straighten out into something more neutral. Unsurprising, since Harry was certain that the mafioso had at least a partial understanding of the kind of work he and Ron had to put in for the department. And it wasn't an exaggeration when he said that a cursebreaker's job could get more difficult. He could still remember the one time Bill had described one of the really bad missions he'd undertaken, back when he was still a junior cursebreaker. It had taken more than a few drinks to make the eldest Weasley actually describe the entire incident, which had supposedly ended with almost the entirety of Bill's team being torn to shreds by the Inferi they hadn't been expecting while breaking through the curses protecting a newly discovered tomb.
Bill had insisted that it was a one-time scenario, and that it had happened only because the team had been careless. And yet, neither his grin nor his cheerfully blasé attitude about the danger he faced in his chosen career had done anything to make his audience forget the set features of his face or the hard glint of his eyes during the description of the supposed one-off incident.
"What in the world was Fleur telling you?" Harry asked finally, once he'd shaken the vivid memory from his thoughts. Squalo hummed thoughtfully, eyes raised upwards, then gave an indolent shrug.
"Nothing much. She'd been asking after the way I'd handled the knives in the kitchen, and when I said that I had some experience with blades, she mentioned that a friend of her husband's from work was also well experienced with blades."
Harry stared at him.
"What?" the swordsman asked, his earlier smirk slowly returning.
"I feel for Hermione. I really do." Harry muttered, shaking his head. His friend must have gone through hell, listening to that discussion, even if she had no clear idea about what Squalo did for a living. She didn't know any more than what had been said, after all. Unless Ron had chosen to tell her more, which he doubted, since the brunette had been completely unwilling to speak to anyone when she'd left in the morning. He glanced up again with a frown when he heard Squalo give a low snigger of laughter.
"Why did you feel the need to trouble her so much today?" he asked exasperatedly. The question made Squalo shrug again, though this time it looked like he was doing so to stop himself from laughing more obviously.
"For that matter, what was that with Fleur?" Harry continued. That made Squalo pause for a moment, and Harry was bemused to note that the younger man actually looked surprised, before he rolled his eyes and looked away.
"She was very… engaging." He offered eventually.
"Engaging." Harry didn't know if he should be amused, or worried. Squalo's eyes slowly turned back to him, and he blinked once before his eyes shuttered in an odd expression.
"Anything wrong with that?"
Harry shifted against the wooden surface behind him. Was Squalo being… defensive? No, not likely, but something about the tone…
"No, not really. I was just surprised; I hadn't been expecting you to get along with Fleur, of all people."
The odd expression didn't leave his face. Harry sighed, lifting up a hand to rub the back of his neck.
"It's not like I have anything against it, anyway. Fleur can be a force of nature sometimes, though. You'd best be careful."
That did it. Squalo's face went blank for a moment, as if he didn't know how to react to Harry's admission, and then, his eyes lit up with something that looked frighteningly similar to glee.
"You're scared of her!"
Harry went white.
"No! No way in hell, I'm not scared of her, and neither is Ron – uh."
Harry's fingers curled around the edge of the wardrobe behind him, caught between fervently denying the silveret's statement and staring in shock as Squalo nearly collapsed in the bed, choking on the force of his own laughter. He didn't think he'd ever seen the man so overcome with honest amusement. A few more seconds of listening to the uninhibited laughter made him relax and give a small grin of his own. It really was funny, if he thought about it. But Fleur really was a force to be reckoned with, so it wasn't surprising that almost the entire Weasley clan was wary of her.
When Squalo finally straightened, he had a wide, unrestrained grin spread across his features. It made Harry's grin widen as well, at least until the other man spoke.
"And here I thought you were jealous."
That brought him up short.
"Jealous? Why would I be jealous because you were getting along well with Fleur? It's not like I have any right to control whom you speak to, for Merlin's sake." He snapped out, honestly confused with the statement. Then he regretted his words almost immediately, because they made the silveret stare at him fixedly for a few moments, the odd expression back on his face.
It was gone before Harry could do anything to ask after it.
"Why indeed." Squalo muttered, beginning to looked amused all over again. Harry muttered a curse, wondering why he was having such a convoluted conversation with the other man, because Squalo completely stopped making sense sometimes. Which reminded him…
"And, why were you so harsh with Ginny, anyway?"
He bit back a particularly foul epithet when his question made Squalo's face go blank again. Was there something wrong in asking about the way Squalo had spoken to Ginny? Because, he really wanted to know why Squalo had seemed so… mixed in his manner of behaviour towards her. The vexed sigh he had heard from Dino before they had left Ron and Hermione's home had been enough to cement his suspicion that there was something off about Squalo's demeanour – particularly because he knew that Dino had a better understanding about Squalo's habits and actions than he did. But, whatever the reason might have been, he really didn't want to know if asking after it made Squalo act so unlike himself.
"Okay, I take back what I said. I really shouldn't be asking about all this, anyway." He muttered the last part of his statement more to himself than to the mafioso seated opposite him. Hearing the man shift on the bed, he looked up to see Squalo leaning forward slightly, face cradled in his hand and looking strangely contemplative, eyes glazed over in thought.
"What?" Harry asked uncomfortably, when the silveret's gaze suddenly focused on his face.
Harry's brows lowered in an uncomprehending expression, making Squalo roll his eyes and wave his left hand impatiently. The agent stepped closer warily, and then nearly squawked in shock when Squalo reached up to catch him by the wrist and drag him down onto the bed.
"Squalo, what the hell- Dino'sright in the next-"
Harry blinked, unnerved by the abrupt switch over to the younger man's mother tongue, and even more so when Squalo slid his fingers around the back of his neck and tugged him forward.
Harry's breath hitched in his throat, and he clenched his eyes shut, not really comfortable meeting the other man's gaze when they were so close together, forehead to forehead. And Squalo's eyes had been so quietly intense that he could feel them boring into him even when his eyes were closed. The callused fingertips of the swordsman's right hand felt like a brand on the back of his neck, searing into his skin. He shivered unconsciously, then slowly relaxed when Squalo didn't do anything more than stroke them carefully against his skin, lazily curling into the hair at the nape of his neck.
"You really do think too much," Squalo murmured finally, after they had been sitting quietly for a few minutes – the softly spoken words still in Italian. Harry made a face, shoulders tensing as he opened his mouth to support himself in some way, but the fingers on the back of his neck tightened in warning.
"No, listen to me. Stop over-thinking things and just fucking deal with them as they come."
Harry snorted mirthlessly, but didn't say anything, able to make out that Squalo was being dead serious for once.
"You need to stop before you work yourself into a frenzy and collapse at some point."
Harry's eyes snapped open, a harsh retort building in the back of his throat, but he was interrupted by the sound of Squalo's phone ringing. Squalo didn't let go, staring steadily into his eyes, and Harry shifted restlessly when the incessant ringing continued. It stopped for a second, then started up again.
"Harry, is that-" Harry flinched when Dino's voice called out. The last few minutes had been so emotionally tense that he'd nearly forgotten that Squalo and he hadn't been alone in the apartment.
"It's mine." Squalo called back, cutting the blond off as he backed away, pulling his hand back to reach for the phone he'd dropped onto the bedside table once they'd gotten back to Harry's apartment. Harry did his best to stare back defiantly when Squalo's eyes didn't leave his, even when he flipped his phone open to answer it. Then, the silveret's eyes darted away, and he looked surprised for only a moment before his brows lowered in a thoroughly irate expression. Harry wondered if he should use the opportunity to get out of the bedroom, even if it did feel like running away, since he was quite sure that Squalo wouldn't try what he had earlier in a place where they might have an audience.
Or, at least, that's what he'd been wondering before Squalo's face went pale with shock. Harry froze, actually starting to pay attention to the words leaving the other man's mouth only at that point, since he'd been carefully filtering them out to avoid any unnecessary eavesdropping on his part until then.
"…way to free the Boss? Who the- Mammon? Are you sure? VOOOI! Don't fucking yell at me, brat, just answer the fucking- When did he- Tell the fucking baby to do some more research before you- he's sure."
Squalo's words sounded dazed. Harry felt something cold slide down his spine, especially when he caught sight of Dino leaning against the doorjamb, his usually warm, mirth-filled eyes as hard as ice.
"Tell him to start work immediately. I had a flight out tomorrow morning, but- I'll see what I can do. I'll get back as fast as I can. Right. Tell Lussuria to- Yeah."
The sound of Squalo's arm lowering the phone from his ear sounded far too loud within the still confines of the room. Harry couldn't help but notice the way Squalo's fingers had enough of a grip on the phone that he feared the plastic contraption would fall to pieces solely because of the power of Squalo's hands for once, rather than the silveret wrecking his phone by throwing it at a wall instead.
"I need to get a ticket for the night flight to Palermo."
Harry swallowed, not liking the way Squalo's voice had gone blank, seemingly deadened of emotion. Forcing his mind to work, he spoke up cautiously.
"I have a contact in Heathrow; I might be able to do something."
"Please." The word was spoken so quietly that Harry almost doubted the silveret had spoken at all. He only got one glance into glazed over blue-grey eyes before Squalo braced himself against the bed and stood up in one smooth motion. Harry could only watch as he paused at the door, his eyes meeting Dino's for barely a second before the Cavallone stepped side wordlessly. Squalo stayed where he was for a moment, and Harry could see his eyes follow Dino as he moved. And then, the silveret was gone. Harry could only imagine him striding quickly towards the living room, and closed his eyes when he distantly heard the front door open and then shut right after.
His eyes shot open when he heard Dino shift where he was standing. He kept quiet, only watching as the blond lifted his phone to his ear, and didn't look away when Dino's golden-brown eyes locked on him.
He wasn't surprised when the first words out of the other man's mouth were a quiet greeting to the Vongola Ninth.
("Just so you know, the Cavallone are allies of Vongola. Indebted to them, actually.")
Dino's eyes were cold, but Harry could still see the tired cast of the younger man's shoulders. The way he was leaning against the doorjamb more for support than just for something to lean against.
He let himself slip back to collapse into the bed, staring sightlessly up at the ceiling and reminding himself to give a call to his contact. As he heard the Cavallone's voice rise and fall as he continued to speak into the phone, he mused that it was a very good thing that he'd never had any friends either in Slytherin or with dubious loyalties before the start of the war. He doubted he would ever have been able to choose between his friends and his duty the way Dino was right now. Not without hating himself in the process.
He wondered if this was how Snape had felt during the later years of the war.
Because, while he didn't know what exactly had happened to Xanxus, what few rumours he had heard had been enough to tell him that whatever the outcome of the two phone calls he had been witness to today, he would be caught in a rather uncomfortable position between his friends regardless.
AN 2: …Um. Please don't hurt me?
Yes, Serendipity has finally gotten an update. With hope the size of the chapter makes up for how long it's been since I've actually updated this fic. Various reasons contributed to why I've been missing for so long, though all can be relegated to the most common one – Real Life. I'm sure most of you wouldn't be interested in the whys or hows of my absence, suffice to say that this kind of absence shouldn't occur again.
THANK YOU to each and every one of the wonderful people who have read and reviewed this story, and have also seen fit to favourite or follow it. I know that I haven't gotten back to several of you, but I have read and squealed over all the feedback I have gotten. A special thanks to mabidiso, Conpeki, xxserafinxx and XxAlysxX. You PMs were all very encouraging, particularly mabidiso and xxserafinxx. I am truly sorry about how long it's taken for me to show you any hint of this story NOT being on hiatus. Because Serendipity isn't on hiatus, nor is there any chance of it going on a serious hiatus or facing abandonment any time soon.
AN 3: So, this chapter. I have a few things to say – primarily that, while it seems to be a more a filler chapter than not, it isn't. Not really. It's just one of those chapters that are less action and more information, and important information, no less. A lot of the character interaction in this chapter is integral to the build-up of the story as we go, so I was understandably leery about what I was posting. With hope it's enjoyable, not too boring, and actually holds up to what you were expecting.
Please tell me what you think. It'll be a relief to know whether or not the wait's been worthwhile.
Lastly, according to all the online translators I used, 'Zitto' is supposed to mean 'Quiet!'. A more polite, and yet, still a sharp way of saying 'Shut up!', the full form being 'Stai zitto'. If any of you actually speak or understand Italian, please tell me if I've gone wrong with this? Since I don't trust online translators all that much, but it was unavoidable in this situation.
Until next time. With hope, it's not going to be anywhere near as long.