A/n: Welcome to the sequel! I'll keep my a/n short and sweet, k? Thank you for the wonderful reviews for PW. You're all fucking wonderful!

A Few Responses: Supreme Dark Lady Moongoose: why you no log in so I can stalk you? Your review had so many awesomes in it that I about turned red permanently from blushing. There's only so much flattery I can take, you know! I get a big head! Ah, but your review had me grinning like mad, and I scared a few people, so I guess your not logging in (stalkstalkstalk) canbe forgiven. Thanks love! Popash123: Thank you! I actually am starting to convert PW and PS into an original. Ana: Hi, dear! Oh, you charmer you. I'll definitely take you up on your offer of positive energy. I need that shit pronto. Ah, but your reviews always have me smiling and laughing, so you're doing a great job! Adore ya! Act V: I love you so much it's not even funny. But hey, sometimes people gotta disappear. I know you'll be back. You're my creeper, after all. How's that rice shrine going by the way? You eat it yet? I would have. Yum. Catch you on the sly, Act V! Anon: Who goes by anon anymore? It's kind of taboo around here, or so I think. I don't know. Internets. Glad you liked PW! Hope you like this one too!

Warnings for this chapter: wordplay, politics, sort of cliffhanger, bad language, and mentions of slash.


Panic Switch

Chapter One

The suit and tie he was wearing made him look more confident than he felt. Certainly, the designer apparel had him looking fairly pound-note-ish to such a degree that he would have thought a chorus of For He's a Jolly Good Fellow would have followed him on his way to Number 10.

People were generally less than kind to those who looked a bit wealthier or handsomer than them, so he wasn't too put-out about the lack of singing in his wake, especially when a rather fit young woman gave him the eye as he walked past. He winked at her, grinning at her fluttery giggles, and made a show of turning around to watch her sway down the road. Very pound-note-ish, indeed. He imagined how an introduction with her would go:

"I've a meeting just up the street, you know, very important. This is Downing, isn't it?"

"Surely not Number 10? To see the Prime Minister?"

"Lord Moppyhead himself. As well as a grand friend of mine, the President, you know?"

"Of America?"

"That's the one!" Here, he would develop a sly and teasing expression, add to it a small tilt of his chin, and solicit her (gentleman-like). "Say, after I've gotten my very important meeting done, how's about you and I—"

Denny!

Snapping out of his fantasy abruptly, Denny Brooks realized he was standing where the woman had left him, gazing into the reflection of a store window with a smug, vainglorious smile on his face. After a pause, he snarled in his head, What?

That's the third time you've gotten distracted. It's five 'till, you lech! Leave the birds alone!

His Henry sounded entirely chagrined. "I'm goin', I'm goin'," he muttered out loud, mutinously.

You'd think you, of all people, the veritable slag that you are, would allow a man his sexual pleasures, Denny said mentally.

Henry sighed. Perhaps after we settle things with the two most powerful politicians in the world, Den.

"Jack-the-lad, you can't deny your father some chief necessities," he admonished, but said nothing more as he approached the flashy wrought-iron gate. Before him, a very sinister looking officer stood atop the tallest step, glaring down at Denny with an air of vexation. "Hello, mate!" Denny greeted him, ignoring the pretence, "I've an appointment. Are you here for me? Where's your busby?"

The officer's lip curled and a sound suspiciously close to a growl trickled past his lips. I rather like busbies, Denny defended himself as the officer motioned him forward. Don't see what he's got against them, aye, look-ye here, the infamous number ten!

True to his eyes, the number on the ebony door was just as white and impressive as it was boasted. The house was long, Denny noticed, and rather antiquated. He looked at the outside as a practiced observer, taking in the notches and out-and-out holes in the sides of the building. The repairs that hadn't been done after shrapnel from the bombs had made their marks were most likely for the sake of firming the visible history of the house. Understanding the kitschy motif but not liking it, Denny reluctantly followed the officer through the door and into the impressive hallway.

Good, Den, Henry praised him. Just keep your head down and that pistol in your pocket.

You're denying me my necessities again, lad. In your company, I'll be flaccid forever.

Jesus, Hen nearly shouted in his head, gross, Den, really!

Grinding to a sudden stop, the officer paused in front of a lone, open entry. They were immediately greeted by a professional looking woman. The officer gave the woman a half-bow before going back the way he came with one last bellicose glare at Denny. The woman glanced at him carefully over her slim silver spectacles, a clipboard in one hand and a pen in the other. A badge on her left breast sported her identity; the picture seemed purposely unflattering. Her pale complexion and soft, curly brown hair made Denny smirk lewdly, but before he could plod her with winning blandishments, Henry gave him what could only be described as a mental ear pull. Fortunately, the woman started speaking just as Denny hissed in pain.

"Welcome to Number 10. I'm Kathleen Brandy, Public Relations Assistant to the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and Head of Her Majesty's Government. If you will follow me, I'll escort you to the Minister's receiving room—"

Denny's mouth, which had dropped open at the staid and entirely serious recitation of the Minister's titles, immediately closed when another lovely lady appeared before them. She ruthlessly shouldered Kathleen out of the way in order to stick a hand in front of Denny's face.

"Lauren Chandler," she introduced herself, her American accent particularly poignant after Kathleen's posh speech. "Public Information Assistant to the President of the United States of America."

The two women had a stand-off of sorts, Kathleen glaring at Lauren, and Lauren at Kathleen. Denny, though hankering to see a brawl between to wonderfully fit birds, thought it a bit unwise to cause mischief. Henry would not approve.

"Ladies," he interrupted them, smiling, "It's a pleasure to meet the both of you."

They blushed.

I've still got it.

It's the accent, Henry told him, impatient but also amused.

Kathleen gathered herself, clearing her throat and casting one last threatening look at Laura. "Right this way, Mr. …?" she drawled.

"Connery. Sean Connery."

The girls seemed to be holding back their snickers, obviously afraid of seeming slapdash in their work. As Denny followed them to a lavish room down the hall, he took care to gloat in his head. Unfortunately, his gay son just didn't appreciate his savvy at all. Go figure.

"This way, sir. The Prime Minister and the President are waiting for you," Laura said rather extravagantly. He bowed his way in, feeling very eminent, and came face to face with the two formidable, impressive, and daunting leaders of the free world.

Stop, Den, you're killing me, Henry choked out through his laughter.

They certainly seemed normal, no matter their political worth. In fact, the Prime Minister (who was ridiculously young in Denny's opinion) looked to be sweating profusely despite the comfortable temperature of the room. The President appeared to be an eager sort of man, enthusiastic for no other reason than he could be, personifying the very image of a little boy promised a treat. As if aforethought, the moment Denny walked in the, President hopped to his feet and stretched out a hand.

"Ah, nice to meet you, nice to meet you," he greeted Denny cheerfully, his handshake quite vigorous. "You know who I am, of course. But I have not had the pleasure. Your name, sir?"

Denny swallowed his derision for this man. "Wallace," he informed them a bit sarcastically, "William Wallace."

The Prime Minister suddenly coughed out a laugh. Denny sat down as the two ladies who had greeted him asked if he would fancy a drink. He smiled charmingly.

"Scotch on the rocks," he told them before turning to the President and the Prime Minister. "Drinks, gentlemen?"

"Oh, let's see, I'll have a scotch as well," the President said favorably, "since Mr. Wallace has such excellent taste!"

The Minister cleared his throat. "Tea, please, thank you," he ordered.

When they had left, an awkward silence drifted among them, what with the President far too excited for his own good (just about red in the face with impetuosity) and the Prime Minister seeming frightened of even speaking, lest he look the fool. Denny smacked his lips and nodded decisively.

"You're a bit young to be the minister of anything," Denny pointed out to the Minister. "If I'm free to say," he added when Henry scoffed in his head.

Chuckling merrily, the President nudged the Minister companionably, though it made the man jump in fear and grin nervously. "That's what I said!" he exclaimed, "Word for word, sir!"

"I am young, yes," the Minister finally spoke. "But I was elected by the good people of Great Britain, and if they don't seem a good judge of character—"

"Yeah, well," the President interrupted, looking at his fellow leader with a mystified smile. "It's England, isn't it?"

The drinks arrived, and some of the tension made by Denny's comment left with the promise of alcohol and caffeine.

"I wouldn't have liked a young Minister, I'm sorry to say," Denny couldn't help but whine.

"You didn't vote, I gather," the Prime Minister snapped, appearing defensive. "What with being in prison."

Sharper than he looks, this young fellow, Denny thought, but he wasn't unrehearsed for this eventuality.

He grinned wolfishly. "Am I that notorious?" he asked.

The Prime Minister carefully set down his teacup and saucer. "You are, Mr. Brooks. I knew who you were the moment you arrived. What I wonder is why your leader would send an escaped convict to this meeting. Unless, of course, you are the head of this revolution of sorts?"

"Escaped convict!" The President started just as Denny scoffed. "Me?"

I'm not the leader, no," Denny continued, finishing his drink and leaning forward. "And he sent me because you'll likely have to pardon me if we're going to work together."

"I…" the Minister paused and wiped his brow. "I'm not at liberty—"

"Sure you are!" the President cut him off, invading his companion's space to whisper furiously, "We need their cooperation."

Inside of his head, Henry was dreadfully amused and assaulted by sniggers, which traveled through Denny's brain uninvited. He let out a small guffaw and cleared his throat.

"He is right, Minister," he spoke up mockingly. "You need my help."

The man wiped his forehead and exhaled noisily. "Yes," he breathed, looking like a cornered animal. "I suppose I do."

"That's settled then!" the President whooped happily. "Now, on to business…when can we meet this leader of yours?"

Denny sat back, his eyes still on the wriggling Minister, and said, "You're not likely to meet him at all, sorry."

"I simply must protest, Mr. Brooks," the Minister objected expediently. "Over three thousand people are dead because of him."

"Three thousand people are dead because of wizards, sir," Denny contradicted him. "But I will accept some of the blame on my leader's behalf. We did, indeed, attack first, and they retaliated, which should beconventional in a war."

"But the casualties…!"

"Are necessary, sir," he said forcefully. "We could have wished for a peaceable negotiation after the attacks, but the wizards chose to extend the hand of brutality. Which doesn't catch me unawares at all, considering how violent they are."

The President shifted keenly. "I agree," he nodded. "Better us attacking first, rather than them staying hidden and taking advantage of our ignorance at any time."

In harmony, they both looked towards the Prime Minister, though Denny chose not to appear as pugnacious as the President. The man, now vastly conflicted, took a while to come to a resolution, but, when he did, he did not disappoint.

"I do not like wizards," the Minister said, and coughed a bit. "I don't trust them, and I have no doubt they would have attacked us in the future." He met Denny's eyes and said hesitantly, "I'm glad of our advantage."

"Hear, hear!" the President shouted. "Speaking of…what can you tell me about these guns?"

Denny smiled. "They make us invincible to wizards," he professed proudly. "We wouldn't have even thought of war if they hadn't have been invented."

"It has them shaking in their boots, I bet," the man laughed heartily.

With an ear on what Henry was telling him, Denny recited, "They are skeptical of the power of the weaponry, yes, and frightened, but they are too confident in their magic tricks to truly fear us. That'll change soon, markedly. Right now, they're distracted with their unstable economy."

"Those places that you destroyed," The Prime Minister began, raising a finger. "They were markets, yes?"

Nodding, Denny tipped a piece of ice into his mouth and chewed. "All markets, from every Wizarding foundation in the world. All business hubs, with banks. Banks run by creatures who have abandoned the failing government, having been oppressed by wizard-kind for centuries. With them, they took valuable resources, such as gold and specialized metals." He stopped and winked. "They're out of money, out of support, and out of time."

"Brilliant maneuver," the President complimented, raising his glass.

"What if they go after our economy, Brooks?" the Minister countered tightly. "Have you thought of that?"

"We have, thank you," Denny huffed. "And that's why you'll be gathering the United Nations with the intention of—"

Startled, the Minister sat back as the President eyed him knowingly. "We were planning on it, Brooks," the President said.

"With the intention," Denny continued as if he hadn't been cut off rather rudely, "of combining monetary forces and military forces with the world leaders against the wizards. If they cripple one economy, another shall be allied to hold up the foundations. Besides all of that, our money is in multiple forms and too convoluted for them to truly destroy. They haven't a chance against a united front."

"You mean to say that they only depended upon the banks and one form of currency?" the Minister gaped.

Denny dipped his head. "Only gold," he agreed.

"How stupid of them!"

"Stupid, yes," he remarked. "But you don't understand their mentality, see? They were too arrogant to expect an attack from us. They believed, until a week ago, that their world was hidden and only vulnerable to attack from other wizards. Equals, they thought."

Anxiously, the Prime Minister licked his lips. "I don't understand how you knew they existed, or how you know so much about their government."

Laughing, Denny sat back and refilled his glass, topping off the President's while he was at it. "There are wizards who dislike wizards. Some of their own are on our side. They won't expect that, though they'll have quite the rude awakening when they realize the weapons that destroyed them so easily were made by magic. They think we're using nuclear power, of all things."

I'd rather that be a last resort, to be honest, Henry told him with a mental flinch.

You scare me.

"When you call the UN," Denny went on when the others remained silent. "You'll have to neutralize India and Japan. The Prime Minister of India is a wizard, and he'll be unlikely to join us. Likewise, the Minister of Japan's supports are almost all wizards. He's a puppet for them. Also, France will natter about until they declare indecision."

"As they always do," the President muttered nastily. "And what's this about Jawahar? He seemed like a nice man."

Denny agreed with a blink. "Powerful wizards are all about deception," he explained. "He will fight you on this and try to say the magical community of India has no wish to fight. Expose him; it will do well for morale. The Russians would approve, in any case."

"They like no better proof than public persecution, yes," the Minister said, grimacing at his lukewarm tea and giving a strained smile.

Denny handed them both folders. "Inside, you'll find the leaders and everything you could want to know about them. Included, also, are their sympathies to and proof that Prime Minister Jawahar is a wizard. Also, there's a list of attacks on us conceived by wizards in the last century, all unpunished and all ignored by the Wizarding government. The casualties from wizard involvement in our world are—"

"Six hundred thousand!" the Prime Minister howled. "Two hundred thousand of them citizens of Britain!"

"The Americas didn't do much better," the President said angrily.

"Your Hit Wizards are the cause of that," Denny told him, rather sympathetically. "They were under the assumption that keeping the Magical world secret meant killing our people left and right."

"Bloody hell," the Minister breathed.

"I'd use stronger words than that, Jimmy," the President snapped, his face now entirely red. "They'll be exterminated. Every last one of them."

"Now that's not on," Denny objected, holding out a hand. "Many wizards are on our side. What we want is for them to assimilate, to share their power with those they think could never use it."

"We've proved what we can do to them," the Prime Minister choked out. "The guns are obviously—"

"However true that may be, Minister, they'll need more convincing than that. An alliance with them would be unprecedented," Denny (or Henry) said. "A tie between two very capable worlds would lead to the advancement of all mankind."

You're so bloody dramatic, he admonished his son, only receiving a short laugh in return.

He leaned forward confidently. "Are you truly on board, Minister? This is perhaps the biggest movement in the history of the world. There is no choice, the war must be waged, and every loss is worth it. This is the time where we must believe in necessary evils, leave morality behind in order to form a new morality. A new dogma. In order, gentlemen, to create a world powerful enough to conquer anything, we must be united." Denny tapped the folder in the President's hand. "Or we will fail," he intoned.

There was a thoughtful silence, then, as they brooded over his words, and Denny sat back and relaxed minutely.

Good work, Den, Henry praised him.

"This is, er," the Minister began awkwardly, "quite a task for us. But I see the import of it." He cast a quick look at the President. "I'm onboard, Mr. Brooks."

"You know what I think, of course," said the President, waving a hand. "What is our next move?" he asked fervently.

"Rally the United Nations," Denny told them casually, "and we shall see who goes where. In the meantime, we'll begin to mass distribute the modified weapons."

The President grinned. "Now you're speaking my language! I'll call the men to arms!"

"They won't need any training besides an introduction to the guns," Denny affirmed. "The American and British armed forces are well-trained soldiers. The inventor has considered this. Should we expect them ready in a month?"

"We only need the guns," the President nodded.

Denny dipped his head in return. "Good. Meanwhile, we will continue our relentless attacks. While the wizards flounder to steady their economy and assure the people, we'll begin disposing of their most valuable leaders. Eventually, if they have not surrendered before then, they'll be so worn down that conquering them will be brilliantly straightforward."

"Will it be a long war, then?" the Prime Minister asked, cringing at the thought.

"With our weapons, with our numbers, and with our resources? No, not at all. Our fearless leader gives it less than two years."

"Two years to reshape the world?" the President jested, looking happy.

Contrary to popular belief, it can happen, Henry said.

"I have a bit of a problem," the Minister said suddenly. "There is an ambassador of sorts for the wizards. He's promised to visit from time to time, you see. They've a portrait in my office that, well," he paused and bit his lip. "It moves and talks, Brooks."

Denny lifted a shoulder. "Don't talk about confidential information in your office, then. Or outside your office, come to think of it. A wizard is in place of your assistant secretary, anyway. We'll take care of that. Now, who's this ambassador?"

The Prime Minister went very red. "Young boy, very…offensive. His name is Potter," he confessed, his dislike for the kid disclosed.

Denny simply had to laugh. "Harry Potter? Oh, he won't be a problem. He's a wanker, Minister, but all bark and no bite."

All bark! Henry repeated, bemused. Ha, very, ha, Den.

"Your leaders in the UN might have the same problem. Relay the order of complete confidentiality to them. We have eyes in the Wizarding world, and if they propose an assassination attempt, we'll hear about it. I don't know what my fearless leader has planned for your safety, but I can guarantee he has something up his sleeve."

Henry scoffed. It's already goddamn taken care of, you bitch.

"In fact, I wouldn't doubt our leader has already taken care of it," Denny said, nudging Henry with his mind.

"Thought of everything, you guys have." The President smiled appreciatively, rocking back in his chair.

"I…I'm at ease with this plan, as well," the Minister stuttered. "I would have wanted to meet your leader; however, he sounds like a brilliant man."

Mentally, Denny guffawed. Shut up, you old codger, Henry hissed. Now tell them—

"And how do you know my leader is a brilliant man and not a brilliant woman," Denny countered, ignoring Henry. "Or my leader could be a hermaphrodite. Reckon that!"

Jesus, Den.

"You've been saying he," the Minister said. "I just thought—"

"Generic he," Denny interrupted snootily, in obviousness. "But besides how brilliant he or she is," Denny continued, sobering. "He could very well just be an ugly sort of courageous."

"I like this convict!" the President stated cheerfully. "You tell your leader for me that the Minister and I are on task! And I'll be having a talk with the MCS76 when I get home."

The Prime Minister had looked, for the entirety of the meeting, as if he were holding in a question with all of his considerable might. It burst out of him so quickly that Denny was startled. "When will we inform the public?"

"I had that question as well," the President said. "You read my mind, Jimmy!"

He raised an eyebrow. "I you're not adverse to the idea, after the meeting with the United Nations, we've prepared a speech for you. It's bold of us, and I am sorry," Denny said unapologetically.

Denny sat back and scratched his neck. "All of you, every leader, will read the same speech. Puts on a front of unity, doesn't? Though hopefully it won't just be a front, eh?" He chuckled. "Our leader wants you to trust him, but not too much. You know." Denny shrugged. "Politics."

Even though it seemed the Minister had more queries, Denny nodded imperceptibly at Henry's bid to leave. He reached into his pockets and brought out the twin pistols Henry had given him, both beautifully manufactured Smith & Wesson revolvers with a carved symbol on the barrel. Denny set them down on the tea table in front of them and finally noticed the shocked looks on each leader's face.

"What?" he questioned inelegantly. Then he flushed, mortified. "Oh."

"You've got balls, Mr. Brooks," the President said, getting over his shock and starting to hoot.

The Prime Minister wiped his brow. "I've never met a man brave enough to draw a weapon in here. You're lucky we're alone, Denny Brooks," he warned, still rattled.

Scowling, Denny said, "Our fearless leader has a nasty sense of humor." And, sure enough, Henry was laughing like hell in his head.

"Besides all that," he went on. "We don't communicate through any means but these pistols. I have faith that you both know how to load one?" Denny waited for their nods. "Good. Keep the bullet out of the chamber. You only get one, and it's not for shooting. Load the gun when you need to talk to one of us."

"This is a very nice gun," the President murmured, awed.

Denny smiled. "Guns are the new currency, Mr. President. We only want you to load it for important matters. My fearless leader doesn't care if your lady's being a ham. Remember, only important things."

"This is…magic?" the Minister asked, looking wary. He grew even more frightened when the President spun the chamber and it clicked into place; he was aiming at the Minister's chair with a laugh.

"Magic and science," Denny corrected. "Norms that won't be so shocking when we win the war, sir."

He held out a hand, and they complied, realizing the meeting was over. "We'll be in touch,

Minister, Mr. President," he said with a grin.

"You're off then?" the Minister said unnecessarily, sounding oddly disappointed.

"Back to New York, as it were," Denny was at liberty to say. "Got a lovely little place there, and I'm in need of a kip."

"New York?" the President said, and then grinned. "And I presume your fearless leader is one of ours? An American?"

Though the Prime Minister had struggled during the entire meeting to not be put-off by the Presidents immaturity, he flushed at the thought of the leader of the revolution happening to be an American. Denny looked between them with an amused tilt of his head.

"Sorry to disappoint," Denny chortled. "Our leader isn't a yank; rather, he's a right side more English than our bloody Minister over here."

Seeing the glee turn to mild annoyance on the Minister's face was priceless, and Denny bowed and showed himself out. He was free to laugh once his feet hit Downing Street, and he straightened his suit proudly. Denny rather thought he'd done a bang up job of it all.

You have, dad, Henry told him, very satisfied sounding. I'm sorry for doubting you.

Denny scowled at the reminder of their squabble before the meeting. He rolled his eyes at Henry's desire to put Frankie in front of the two leaders. His stubborn conceit had won out in the end, and all had turned out particularly well.

Aye, he thought as he brought out his Portkey. I'm fucking inspirational. Does this mean I can get my dick wet now?

Henry sighed.

.o00o.

"Crushed Adder scales, Potter." The man had a gift for communicating justhow stupid Harry was with the simplest of words. "Not diced! Crushed," he snapped.

"It says diced in the book, Snape," Harry felt the need to point out.

"Does it?" Snape retorted with faux surprise. "Well, then, you'd best dice them, since you're paying the book to teach."

From above the simmering cauldron, the heat rising and suffocating warm, Harry inched closer to the surface of the bubbling potion and then quickly drew back, his eyes searching the Potions master's suspiciously.

"That was sarcasm, right?"

Snape let out a very loud sigh. "Yes, Potter, that was sarcasm. If you'd rather someone or something else help you pass your O.W.L.'s, by all means…" he waved a stained hand at the book open in front of them. "In the meantime, while I am on your generous payroll, it might be wise to listen when I tell you to crush the scales!"

Harry grinned. "No need to get your knickers in a knot, sir," he said before doing as he was told.

"Do you, in that stagnant mind of yours, know why I have asked you to crush them?"

Snape seemed to be talking to himself rather than Harry, displaying, rather blatantly, that he did not expect an answer to what he thought was a far-too-complicated question. Harry rolled his eyes to the side.

"Because diced pieces of scales will burn slow, reacting with the essence of woodbine, but when they're crushed they'll burn fast, allowing for the addition of the belladonna stems, quickly decreasing the potency but strengthening the next ingredient."

"No, you…" Snape stopped himself. "That's correct," he said, appearing so surprised that the vicious commentary he had used for the better part of the hour finally, miraculously, came to an end.

"It's chemistry, really," Harry muttered idly, knowing it would rile the man. He was right. Again.

"The subject of Potions is not the subject of chemistry!" Snape hissed. "I've told you time and time again: it has little to do with Muggle dalliances in simplified elements!"

"Chemistry Nazi," Harry accused him, waving a finger. "Perhaps if you looked into the subject, you wouldn't think chemistry quite unworthy of being compared to Potions," he prodded with a grin.

"You have told me enough!" Snape nearly shouted, red in the face like a ripe and rather distressed tomato. "This trial and error business is a mockery of the systematic and intellectual procedures of Potions. Your explanation of throwing things together and seeing what happens is entirely foolish!"

Harry scratched his neck. "I'm not the end-all-be-all in chemistry, that might not be the right definition, you know."
"It's absurd! We do not simply cross our fingers to ensure that our experiments will not cause a number of insalubrious effects. Neither should Muggles, for that matter!"

"Insalubrious, huh?"

Snape went on, ignoring Harry's wily comments during his diatribe. Harry turned the heat down on the Bunsen and continued to stir, careful to go widdershins under Snape's careful eye, since he had finished his angry fit and was watching Harry silently.

Harry scoffed. "I've told you it's nothing like that. Chemists know the properties of each element, and they take the correct actions to prevent 'insalubrious effects.'" he argued. He didn't progress any further on the topic, choosing to nettle the man about something else. "And, really, can't you say, it's not a roll of the dice, ace. You always gotta be prepared for a buggered experiment, rather than all that roundabout nonsense you just went on about?"

Snape's eyes spat fire. "Am I not speaking idiotically enough for you?" he snarled.

"You are, sir," he said, finally stepping away from the potion that was exactly the correct thickness, color, and aroma it was supposed to be. Ha! There. "I just think you're a prick with a bad attitude."

"Coming from a salaciously obtuse young man such as yourself, forgive me if I find your opinion erroneous."

"Fuck you."

Snape moved toward the cauldron and observed it closely, his hair greasing from the heat. Harry felt greasy himself, but knowing a shower waited for him in his rooms soothed his shocked vanity.

"Acceptable," Snape said reluctantly, which meant Harry had done a beautiful job. He turned off the fire completely and watched as Snape strutted over to his log to jot a mark.

"I'm doing well, aren't I, Professor?"

Receiving positive enforcement from the man was often like pulling teeth, but fortunately, Harry didn't take Professor Snape too seriously, and so was never expecting much in the first place.

Today, however, Snape seemed to be taking the contemptuous but non-violent approach to Harry's provocations.

"Yes, Potter," he responded, looking up from his books to deliver this insight with a scathing stare. "I am overwhelmed and pleased with your brilliance in my most preferred subject. Please cease paying me, for your superb aptitude is more than enough compensation for my instruction."

It was delivered in such an impressively straight-faced, deadpan manner that Harry burst out laughing. "You're so fucking funny," Harry told him sincerely.

"Ha. Ha. Ha."

"Are you sure you don't want to shag? We're a match made in heaven."

"I was under the impression you were monogamous as of late. And if your idea of heaven is real, I'd rather the fire and brimstone, if you don't mind. Now get out."

Harry grinned as he cleaned off his hands at the tap and grabbed his coat. "I'm going," he assured, making for the portrait door. He paused on his way out and couldn't help but make a common and always infuriating remark. "If it's little," he said as Snape gave a warning growl, "I don't mind. Size doesn't always matter."

He barely dodged the jar of beetles Snape threw at him, the third batch of ingredients he would have to replace this week, and laughed all the way to his chambers.

.o00o.

Instead of doing something even mildly productive, Henry found Frankie reclining unreservedly on his sofa, watching Top Gun and commentating on various parts of the film. His excited expression likely meant someone had their shirt off, and Henry gave up sneaking quietly and trundled through the room with a glare. Frankie seemed apologetic when he saw him, immediately lowering the foot rest attached to the seat and grinning tightly.

"How are you, Henry?" he asked, warmly shrugging away his laziness.

"Does John know you're a fan of Top Gun?" Henry questioned seriously, sitting on the sofa.
Frank licked his lips as he turned the film off. "That was the first time I've ever seen it," he lied.

Henry raised an eyebrow. "You were quoting that shit. Quoting," he mentioned.

Straightening up in his seat, Frank sniffed in an affronted manner and said, "Don't tell him," as if determined not to beg.

"Are you sure? He, like every manly man in our world, positively adores that movie," he teased, unable to stop when Frankie had that sour look on his face.

"Henry…."

"Frankie…."

Frank sighed. "What're you doing here?" he blurted out instead.

Relaxing into his seat, Henry lifted a shoulder and jostled his pocket for a cigarette. "I was hoping Rashidi would be here, actually, but I suppose you'll do," he explained, blowing smoke towards Frank.

"Oh, I'm flattered," Frankie retorted, jokingly cynical. "What's the problem?"

"This is a problem, one of many," he said, drawing out the letter from his coat and placing it on the tea table. Frank took it with a quick, nervous glance at him. As he read, Henry got up and poured them drinks, inhaling deep puffs of smoke to keep himself calm. The back of his throat burned harshly at the mix of indulgences, and he closed his eyes briefly as a wave of indifference spread over him.

"Well," Frank coughed, putting the letter down, "Fuck."

"My thoughts exactly," Henry nodded, handing him his drink. "Oscar always said Kort Lukasz was a stubborn old codger, but this is ridiculous."

"I have no idea why he would blame you for Oscar's death. And this cousin of his. Well, yeah…there's some blame, but not all of it. He's fucking crazy," Frank decided.

Henry looked away from him. "I'd anticipated those caught in the crossfire making trouble for us, but Lukasz's cousin? God is laughing at me…" he murmured, tipping the rest of the drink into his mouth.

Sitting back with his glass propped up on his stomach, Frankie eyed the letter and then stared at Henry intently. "What exactly does he mean by a Blood Feud?" he queried curiously.

"Kort's a squib," Henry groaned, stubbing out his smoke. "A Blood Feud is an old Wizarding practice. What he wants is a war that involves my blood against his blood, where no one from outside his or my lineage can fight. I can't go after anyone that isn't his blood, and he can't touch anyone that's not my blood. It's a vengeance call, and since I've killed two of his cousins, he's looking to repay me in kind."

"But," Frank stopped him, alert, "do you have any family?"

Henry gave a short laugh. "I do, Frankie, but they're not people I care much about. Kort will go after them, undoubtedly," he said, pouring another drink.

"How the fuck would he know where they are? F.B.I.? C.I.A.?"

He grinned. "You're forgetting magic, Frankie, but I'm counting on him not knowing where they are," Henry told him. "Kort needs my blood to find them, and I'm stingy with my blood, but in the event that they are able to track my family, I'll get an advanced warning. Eyes and ears, mate. Lukasz won't expect me to use them as bait."

Frank shook his head. "Wouldn't it be easier just to kill him?"

Henry shifted in his seat and huffed. "And how do you propose I do that? If he knows about Blood Feuds, which he should if he's called one, he's probably got a few wizards protecting him and the rest of his family. Never mind the strong charms he's got them under, the underlining issue is that I'd have to go in person. No one else can fight."

Going in person was out of the question. Henry didn't need Kort or any of his Wizard guards seeing his face, knowing his name, at least not so early in the game. Frank merely raised his eyebrows but nodded in partial understanding. His casual acceptance was a trait Henry quite liked about him.

"So what's next?" the man said, smiling flatly.

Now that was the question. Henry scowled. "We wait, which I absolutely hate doing, but I will concede in favor of there being no alternative."

"Sounds plausible," Frankie remarked as he topped off his drink. Henry put aside his second glass with the intention of not having anymore for the night. He was pissed off enough. "What did you need to talk to Rashidi about?"

"I wanted to know how his men were taking to the guns."

Frank suddenly chuckled, a warm sound full of appreciation Henry had never heard from him when Rashidi was on their minds. "Can you imagine? Rashidi's sent a missive telling me they are taking to them well. The men sent this!" he hooted, jumping up from his seat and passing a surprised Henry.

He grabbed up a card on the mantel of the fireplace, shoving it at Henry with one last guffaw. There was a bear on the front of the card, and it was holding a giant red heart that said, 'Thank you so much!' Inside were the signatures of Rashidi's men, with little comments and drawings that only served to make Henry think they were all completely mad. He couldn't help but laugh, though.

"This is hilarious," he choked out.

"Yeah, it is," Frank agreed, taking the card back. "Rashidi has a good sense of humor, I'll admit that."

Putting the missive back on the mantel, Frank turned when Henry suddenly laughed again. It looked completely bizarre underneath the upraised portrait of Frank's father and beside two original Colts raised up on a plaque.

"It looks gay as hell up there, I know. John's already told me," Frank added resignedly.

Once he had sobered, Henry smiled and said, "I also wanted to thank Rashidi for getting me Guillermo."

Frank froze as he sat down, gazing at Henry unsurely. "He got Guillermo?" he asked with real alacrity.

"He did." He raised a shoulder and crossed his legs, lighting another smoke. "Apparently, Guillermo has been notifying Mina Novikov of our plans, and, thanks to Rashidi, Guillermo is now our spokesperson for the other Lords. He's slowly rounding up the bigger bosses to our side. Even some wizards."

Leaning back with shocked pleasure, Frank swallowed and blinked. "Well, I'd be happy, but I want to know what Guillermo wants," he finally said.

Henry shrugged. "I have no idea. The Guillermo family is respected everywhere, but they are known for their spite. I can't imagine what Alejandro wants for his help, but I don't think it can be good," he confessed with an impassive toss of his head.

"There's Rashidi to consider," Frank put in, cracking his knuckles. "If he got Guillermo, some kind of bargain had to have happened. They could be in cahoots."

Bemused, Henry gave him a strained smile. "I've considered it, though I kind of can't believe you used the word cahoots. Too much Top Gun can't be healthy, Frankie," Henry warned.

"You're a fucker, you know that?" Frank sneered defensively.

He waved the man's anger away. "Rashidi can't have promised his guns, this much we know. They're aren't on the market, and every single one, down to the archetypes, are heavily guarded. He would need my clearance to even order one more than his men need. But the guns not being what he might've bargained doesn't rule out the thousand other things he could have bartered with," Henry admitted, frustrated.

"I never liked Rashidi," Frankie said to him heatedly.

"I like him," he stated, with a hint of rebuke in his tone of voice. "I don't trust him, but I like him."

Frank glared. "A weakness for Rashidi, eh? Not good, Henry, not good," he said.

Henry rose from his seat and walked over to Frank in order to clap him on the back briefly. "No," he said as he pulled away and out of Frank's space. "I've no problem with killing the people I like," he cheeked.

Grimacing, Frank stood up as well. "Thanks for that, Sparky."

They made towards the door together. "Oh," Henry said, looking as though he'd almost forgotten to bring something up. "Watch out for the Hit Wizards, will you? They've defected from the American government."

"What?" Frank stopped. "Why?"

"Well," Henry said sheepishly, rubbing the back of his neck. "They were sort of fired. The government gave them an ultimatum, but they chose unemployment rather than joining us. There'll be quite a few of them out for blood, just to warn you."

"What if they expose—"

"They never knew my real name," Henry cut him off, grinning. "And if they had, I would know. I've put a taboo on it."

"You've what?"

Henry shoved his hands into his pockets. "It's a simple spell, really. I tweaked the original a bit, however. Whenever a person wishing me ill says my real name, I can track where it came from. The Dark Lord used it in the first war."

Frank was impressed, Henry could tell. "Now that's a nifty piece of trickery," he complimented, seeming pleased. "Thought of everything, haven't you, Hen?"

As he slid half-way out of the door, Henry paused and had to laugh. "No, Frankie, I'm treading on thin ice. But don't tell anyone I told you so," he said, partially teasing, but mostly serious.

"You honestly think the consequences applyto you?" Frank questioned with a mystified frown.

Henry turned, looked at the man closely, and blinked. It was such an odd query. Noticing Henry's rather pained expression, Frankie gave a contrite smile and made to speak. Henry stopped him quickly by saying, "Consequences apply to everyone, you know? Especially me, maybe me more than most. But punished people are always equal. Don't think me exempt, please."

Frank knew he had pissed Henry off somehow, though he wasn't sure where the insult in his unthinking question had been. But having nothing more to say, Henry closed the door and left Frank standing there.

.o00o.

Jana Van Rued had been more useful than Kort would have ever dreamed. As the head of the Lukasz legacy, he had immense pull in political matters amidst the family. When Oscar had grown old enough to be married, Kort had looked at the potential alliances carefully. Jana had been the only worthy woman among them.

She was powerful and ambitions and she was already tied by blood to their family, since her grandmother had married a Lukasz. It wasn't well known that Jana had been his family, but Oscar had known, and, at first, Kort thought his disagreeable attitude towards her stemmed from this relation.

He was wrong. Oscar had been inclined to his own sex, a preference every Lukasz simply could not abide. They were loyal to blood, as it had been since the last head in their family had imposed the traditional beliefs before he had died. Kort himself was a squib, but his father had been a powerful wizard – the very last magic-user in the Lukasz family, in fact – who had taught him to uphold the morality of blood. His death had been the end of any witches or wizards born from the Lukasz line.

Jana had been perfect for Oscar, since they would have had magic back in the bloodline, but months had turned to years, and when Oscar went to the Americas as a partner to his family's business, Jana was still without child. Kort had given up changing his cousin, and he enlisted Jana to follow her ambitions in New York, approving whole-heartedly her decision to join the Mercenaries Guild of Italy.

And then the boy had shown up.

He was well-known in certain circles, mostly as the son of the iniquitous Denny Brooks, but the moment he had set foot in New York, Jana had contacted him and told him of their problem. And the boy was one hell of a problem.

Henry Brooks was a wizard, and, with his power, he had frightened the usually imperious Janavich Van Rued into action.

The plans had gone forth then, moving with a fire's speed towards triumph, but then they'd suddenly halted, seemed to stop when Brooks had brutally killed Jana. And then their plans were finally put to an end by Brooks and his destruction of the Mercenaries Guild. When Kort had heard of their demise, he had realized, very suddenly and coldly, that Henry Brooks was a bigger player than he had ever imagined. He had known that there was going to be a war.

But Kort had an unseen advantage. Henry Brooks did not know about the Archives, and Jana had placed something there before she'd died.

He walked down the short hall of the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute in Venice, heading toward the thin staircase that would wind him underground to the lower levels. Victor Massimiliano had been clever to put the Archives in Venice and not Vatican City. If his Order was to be destroyed, its history would remain in writing.

Not many knew of the Archives, most certainly not the lowly mercenaries who worked for the Guild. Kort was imparted with this information through Jana, who had briefly had an affair with Victor when Oscar continued to refuse to lay with her. She was allowed the knowledge of the Archives for her services rendered to Victor. Though, in body and marriage, it was betrayal, Kort was not complaining.

The staircase led to a door, which led to a hall and another door. He opened it and admitted himself into the underground cavity. It was stacked ceiling-high with shelves, full of neatly lettered boxes, some of them organized by name, location, dates, or loyalties. He found "Henry Brooks" beneath the crest of Brooks and the Guild, marking the boy's father as an ex-member. He reached inside and pulled out a folder, discarding it for the sachet at the bottom of the box. Wrapped around the envelope was a very familiar talisman, burnished with rubies.

There was a short note.

Kort,

Call a Blood Feud, for our family will not survive with out it.

Jana

He emptied the sachet into his hand and couldn't help but grin. Putting the contents in his pocket, he made for the exit, envisioning the end of one of the greatest threats to the Lukasz family in a long, long time, reinstating the name Lukasz into magic and into the world. Kort left the Archives entirely pleased, the vial of Henry Brooks's blood nestled close to his chest.