I got PM'ed with a challenge. CHALLENGE ACCEPTED!
Short, sweet chapters. Minimal re-treading of What Has Gone Before. A little time-shifting right at the start, to line up the fandoms.
Warning: Possible minor cheap-as-chips plot device, because I'm a lazy writer.
The Obligatory Piggyback Fic
Harry Potter died outside Schwarz Toy Store in New York.
He was fifteen.
Not permitted to enter with Dudley and the rest of his family, who'd taken malicious joy in denying him on his birthday no less, he'd been leaning against the glass front when out of nowhere a screaming man tackled him backwards through it.
He saw his own blood spray through the air as the rabid man tore into his throat, jaws inhumanly tight, flesh ripping away with each twist of his head.
He heard screaming, felt people running, may have seen a large dark shape tackle his attacker off of him before everything faded.
It was just one attack out of dozens. The only thing that stood out about it later, that was recorded in the news, was that the entire store burned to the ground.
Two days later and more than thirty surrounding hospitals were hotbeds of infection, spilling out crazed killers like human pus into the world.
A nameless, black-haired, green-eyed baby lying in the smoking ruins of a cordoned off building had its neck violently snapped through rough handling, as a set of teeth closed around its ribcage.
The ruins burned again.
Five years later
Mark half-glared at his partner's impatient voice. Tess - no last name these days, nothing the government could track you with - had always been a strong woman, but with curled hair and pretty nails she'd been strong like gilded steel.
Now she was just steel, rusted and raw, unyielding and unfeminine.
But she was still a woman. He was counting on that, because he couldn't justify his own desires any more. The world no longer had room for a SNAG.
"Found this." He heaved the bundle up into the back of the flatbed, Tess pulling aside the blanket-
She levelled a flat look at him.
"And what're we supposed to do with this?"
Mark shrugged and tossed his duffel up into the flatbed behind her. He'd scored a hypochondriac's house this run, a veritable goldmine of meds that everyone wanted even if they weren't as rare as the prescription stuff.
"Hunters'll trade for 'im." He offered blandly, casting another eye around. The exterior of Greensboro had been heavily bombed to give the construction crews time to fortify the city itself, but it had been long enough now that infected were creeping back in.
Tess spat a curse at him and he turned away to hide his grin.
"Now Tess, you know how people talk. There ain't no proof they actually eat people."
"Sure." Tess cut back, the baby in her arms by the time he turned around. It was a skinny thing, naturally, its skin a bit blackened by the soot of its surroundings but otherwise healthy. As naked as it had been, it'd been easy to check for bites.
"Cannibalism, maybe, slave trade? Definitely."
"Fer a baby?" Mark got in the truck, eyeing the low fuel glumly. It was gettin' harder and harder to find an un-siphoned source. The window between the cab and the back was open and he heard Tess settling down beside it. He started the engine and raised his voice.
"Worse that happens is they sell it to some woman who wants a kid but can't have it herself without the right vouchers."
"Don't be stupid." Tess grumbled. "You should have left it where you found it. Hell, we don't even know if it's clean. It mighta breathed in some spores, you don't know."
"Then we get it checked out. Macy's got one of 'em new scanners back at base."
"And then what? Another mouth to feed?"
"There's always the hunt-"
"We ain't sellin' it to the damned hunters!"
"Yes ma'am." He grinned.
"Ohh, whattya gonna call him?"
His partner scowled over at him, still sour at having been somewhat pushed into keeping the baby. Macy, twenty three years old and as book-smart as she was street-dumb, cooed over it.
"We can still get rid of it." Tess argued, weaker than she probably intended. "Just- dump it at the hospital, like all the other illegal babies."
Macy gasped shrilly and snatched the baby up into her arms. Eye twitching, Tess reached out and righted it so it wasn't upside down.
"You can't do that!" Marcy hissed, oblivious. "They euthanize them!"
"There's a reason for that." Tess reminded her dryly. "People are cheap, food isn't." She shook her head and turned to Mark.
"This is a fool idea. He'll cost us more than food. Clothing, medicine, time - at least ten years before he's good for anything and then what? Pack him off to a work group? Hope he'll provide for us in our old age? C'mon, Mark, let's just-"
"Let's just what?" Mark confronted her directly, waving at Marcy who took the hint - for once in her life - and carried the baby into the next room. "What, Tess? Snap its little neck ourselves? Because that's what we'd be doing by getting rid of it. Are you that kinda woman now? Infanticide a part of your skill set?"
She set her jaw but looked away.
"Look, Tess. It's just… I can't. Okay? I found him and… I dunno, he looked at me and I just… I couldn't. I'll take care of the ration cards, the medicine - whatever he needs, I swear. I just… I need you to-"
"To be the irrational, emotional woman?" Tess raised an eyebrow, scorn concealing her understanding. Mark risked a chuckle.
"Naw, nobody'd ever believe that of you, Tess. But stubborn? Yeah. Ornery too. If'n I tell people that you decided to keep him, ain't nobody gonna look at you sideways lest they get shot. But me?"
Tess scrubbed a hand through her hair. Stared at the wall. Looked at him.
He broke out his biggest smile, snatching her to him and doing his best to spin them around.
"Yeah yeah, dance later princess." Tess shook her head at him, smiling despite herself even as she shoved him back. A finger was thrust in his face. "But you are goin' short if the rations run low, y'hear me?"
She snorted, but allowed him to crowd closer again for a quick kiss.
"You gotta name for him?" She asked once they'd parted. "Because I'm not gonna lie, Dog Food's kinda growing on me."
Mark tilted his head a little.
"Eh. Actually, I was thinkin'… Harry?"
She stilled. Harry was a risk, a mine waiting to blow. But he loved her and she'd loved him. Her big brother, Harry, the first infected she'd ever had to kill.
"…Harry it is."
Seven years later
"Mom! Mom! Over here!"
Tess snarled silently as Mark chuckled.
"I am gonna tan that boy's hide." She growled, the two of them picking their way through the unstable building. One of the primary support beams had crumpled but the rest were still standing. For now. Worse was that the infected could be anywhere and by God she'd taught the boy better than to make so much goddamn noise, hadn't she?
"You know he's found a motherlode." Mark grinned at her, maybe to calm her down for their son's sake but probably just enjoying her temper. He always did get a kick out of it, when it wasn't directed at him. "He always does. We shoulda named him 'bloodhound'."
"That ain't no excuse fer shoutin'." She bit back, ears pricked for the shuffle and moans of the newly infected or - god help them - clicking.
When they got to the place their wild-child brat of a kid had run off to, however, Mark was proven right.
Green eyes shining over a shit-eating grin, Harry held open a concealed door to reveal what must have once been somebody's panic room. It was floor-to-ceiling stocked with everything an end-of-the-world enthusiast with too much money could want. Not just food and medicine but batteries, compact generators, a still, any-weather gear and more.
"I don't know how you do it." Tess shook her head. "But you're damned lucky you do." She swatted him upside the head, measures more gentle than she would have without such a haul softening her ire. Harry just ducked his head under it, grinning still. The cheeky brat knew just how much he could get away with, with her. "Or I'd put you over my knee right here and now, forget the infected."
Inside the room, Mark whistled.
"There's a goddamn solar hot water system in here. I'd like to find this crazy bastard and shake his goddamn hand."
"You may get the chance." Tess warned. "Grab the best items and let's go. We've got a walk ahead of us we don't want to be weighed down for."
"But what if other people find the stash and take it?" He asked, young voice still holding that weird British tinge to every other vowel. It baffled everyone in their group. One day he'd sound as American as every other kid on the street, the next like he'd stepped out of a BBC tv show. Mostly he spoke with a bastardised mix that got him mocked a whole lot.
"Is that gonna happen?" Mark asked, faux-casual. That was another thing about Harry. Sometimes he just knew things. As he got older, it got easier to tell when he knew and when he was fronting a guess as fact. The squint on top of his frown meant he wasn't sure himself.
"Maybe we can hide it." She suggested, already casting an eye over the wall. Looking at it now, she had no idea how Harry could have spotted it. The door had been painted over and - judging by the amount of paint chips on the ground not covered in dust - hadn't been opened again until just now.
Although that then begged the question of how seven-year-old Harry had opened it.
"Not much we can do." Mark observed, coming out to stand with her and dragging his son into a hug under one arm. "'Cept push it closed and hope for the best."
Sighing, she nodded. It'd be a shame to lose such good pickings to another group of scavengers, though.
A thought occurred and she slanted a speculative look down at Harry.
"You been workin' on your aim?"
Harry looked up at her and nodded. Mark frowned at her. She ignored him.
"How'd you feel about runnin' escort, this time around?"
Harry brightened, Mark darkened. The kid was issued a gun on these runs as a last-resort, normally being little more than a pack mule learning the ropes - except for when he bucked orders and ran off to discover something. He was normally the protected, not protector.
"Tess.." Mark started. She waved a hand at him, impatient.
"The two of us can carry more, faster, than he could. You know he's a crack shot on the range and it was quiet comin' in. If'n there's any trouble, he's only gotta buy us enough time to drop what we're carryin' and draw ourselves."
"Turnin' one into a dozen." He argued. She shrugged.
"So, we sneak." She turned to Harry. "You got that, kiddo? We wanna be nice and quiet headin' back. If you see somethin', don't go shootin' all at once. Y'hear?"
Harry nodded, excitement leeching away to leave something more reassuringly serious. His little hands unsnapped and checked his pistol, making sure the safety was on before checking his rounds. He only had five.
Mark was still glaring at her, but he knew as well as she did that kids couldn't stay kids forever. Especially not one raised by a couple of scavengers. Today would be one of those days where what he learned would help keep him alive later in life.
"Alright then." Tess settled the matter. "Let's load up."
Harry wound up stuffing his own backpack full of candy. He'd plead long and hard for the bars of chocolate but after more than a decade they weren't worth risking. Luckily, the little room had a store of hard candy and Harry had contented himself with opening and emptying tin after tin of fruit-flavoured sugarballs into his backpack - no doubt he'd portion them out and trade them with other kids for comics and coloured pencils back in the city, a little black market all of his own.
Tess had to admit, if only to herself, that she was damned proud of the cute little brat. For all the times he disappeared and threatened her with heart failure or a stroke from pure rage, he followed it up with canny suspicion of strangers and a selfless affection for her and his father. She never called him son, never claimed him as such and had never taught him to call her 'mom' but…
But if she was ever gonna have a kid, she couldn't ask for better than the likes of Harry.
He was doing a good job of escorting her and Mark, too. He moved much more slowly than usual, cautious with the weight of their safety on his shoulders. Maybe a little too slowly, but one look at Mark's stern expression had her biting her tongue.
She and Mark were loaded to the gills and she just wanted to get to the damned truck already, but if shit hit the fan there was no way they'd be able to outrun anything but a bloater. So, she followed their littlest member silently, hanging back to watch their six as Mark paced along behind his son.
None of them saw the stalker until it was too late.
Harry was leading and it went for him first, screeching as it sprung the ambush. Jolting like a startled cat, Harry couldn't get his gun up in time-
Tess had barely dropped her armload before Mark dove in front of his son, shielding the boy with nothing but his own body. His arm and shoulder were bitten, torn, once, twice, three times before the stalker's head exploded in a mess of blood and fungal brain matter.
Tess found her gun in her hands, no memory of how it got there, her lungs burning as she stared at the bloodied form of her best friend, partner, lover, Mark no!
Mark groaned and pushed up, off of his son, whose eyes were so wide they were like little white beacons in the gloom. His pistol was still clenched in one hand, unfired.
Through the drone of horror and denial, Tess felt a surge of… of anger.
"You okay?" Mark checked, eyes and hands running over his boy, ignoring the messy - fatal - wounds of his own. Harry just nodded, silent. Only then did Mark look up to her.
He knew. She knew. It was in both of their eyes, the new reality of their lives. The ugly, brutal, gut-wrenching nightmare that everyone feared but no-one thought would happen to them until… it did.
He was infected. He would turn, possibly within hours.
He stood, slowly, gathering the items he'd dropped, hiding the pain.
"Let's get this to the truck." He said into the silence. "Then… we'll take it from there."
They moved. Tess, almost numb to the world, couldn't take her eyes off of him. She moved when he did, crouched when he did, was blind to everything but him.
Then they were at the road, the truck, the sun dipping below the horizon and their backpacks and armloads of junk - useless junk, why had they fucking even bothered with it - piled in the flatbed.
Mark crouched by Harry first, hugging him gently with his one unbitten arm. Harry barely responded, eyes still wide, arms stiff at his side.
"I love you." Mark was saying quietly, for Harry's ears only but Tess' ears were ringing with how sharp they were, like she could hear every infected for miles around right now.
"You be a good boy for Tess, okay? Stick with her, take care of her, do what she says. She'll take care of you now."
Tess shook her head, looking away. He didn't get to fucking say that, to make that promise for her. He was… he was fucking leaving and- and it was because-
She cut the thoughts off before they could finish, grief and rage coiled tightly under her iron control. Then Mark was standing in front of her and she couldn't look at him, couldn't, not without losing her last grip on herself.
"Tess." Soft, entreating, apologising. She shut her eyes to it, to him, the selfish stupid bastard.
A warm hand, rough and familiar, cupped her arm and slid up to her shoulder, her neck, her jaw.
She swallowed, something wet leaking from under her eyelids.
"Tess, baby… I'm sorry."
She opened her eyes, glared at him, fought and lost against the wobble in her lips and nose. He was crying too, looking so god-damned guilty she just wanted to hit him.
Or kiss him. But she couldn't kiss him, not ever again because he was infected now and saliva could carry the infection before it manifested anywhere else.
She breathed out, hard, return breath like a sob.
"You'd better go." She ground out, voice crackling. "It's already been at least an hour."
He smiled at her then, a gut-punch reminder of all the times he'd smiled, amused and attracted by her fuck-you, shameless sheer strength.
"Yeah." He agreed. "I'll-"
"I'll do it." She cut him off brutally. They'd spoken about this before, in each other's arms, their fears and wants. To be infected was bad enough. To have to scrounge the strength and courage to defeat their own survival instinct long enough to pull that final trigger was something they'd promised each other they'd never have to do. Not so long as the other could do it for them.
He nodded. Tried to smile for her again. Managed a better one for Harry, then turned and walked painfully away. His arm was already puffy red and blistering.
She shot him the second he stepped off the road, before he could wonder too long.
Something in her heart cracked and Harry started crying, quiet little gasps she didn't have any time for.
"Get in the truck." She ordered, rounding it to get behind the wheel. The passenger door opened and shut, Harry buckling himself in with trembling hands - hands that had never fired a goddamn shot.
She started the car and drove, never looking back.
An hour later, half an hour out from where they could unload to the local smugglers, she heard his belt buckle click open. A small weight moved closer to her, a tiny clammy hand reaching for hers, resting on the bench beside them.
She snatched it away, the violence of the movement making the seven-year-old flinch back.
"…Mom." Harry whispered, voice wet. Her knuckles whitened on the steering wheel.
"I'm not your mom." She bit out, hard and unforgiving. "I was just your dad's partner. Don't ever call me that again."
Harry didn't answer, just retreated back to his side of the cab and curled up. Part of her felt like she should feel guilty. He was just a kid, he didn't deserve being lashed with her pain. It had been her idea that put him in the position of guard. Stalkers were known to successfully ambush even experienced adults, let alone a green pre-teen.
But for once, her rational mind drowned under her emotions. Grief was just too strong and for years her reaction to grief had been anger.
So she didn't feel guilty at all. All through the rest of the drive, the haggling and the sale, she did her level best not to feel anything.
And when they got back to base and found the note Marcy had left - off with the Fireflies for good this time, the idealistic idiot - along with the bed she and Mark had once shared but never would again… well. She was practical. When a situation turned to shit, you moved on.
"Pack up, Harry." She ordered, already moving to do so herself. "We're leaving."
She'd heard they were still working on a cure in Nashville. It was as good a place as any to start over. And this time, she'd leave the scavenging to the fools who didn't know better.
So yeah, I don't normally like the stories that have 'Insert character A into story B's plotline' but when the person-who-does-not-wish-to-be-named brought it up with me, I found it kind of growing in my brain…
…like a FUNGUS!
So yes, in this story Harry will be around for pretty much all the events as it unfolded in Last of Us but I won't just re-write the game with a cut-out of Harry lurking in the background. In fact, after the set-up is complete, I'll probably skip most of the game until and unless Harry's presence actually affects things.
Does he have his magic? YES! Does he have a wand/awareness of such? NO! Will his magic come into play? PROBABLY! Although, it'll likely be in ways similar to what we've seen already.
In other news, today was the first time that I twigged that 'Tess' from Last of Us and 'Tess' from Jak n Daxter share the same name. Hee.