At the End of All Things - Quicksilvermaid - Harry Potter (2024)

Chapter Text

Harry staggered as he landed on the roof. He pulled the Invisibility Cloak up over his head and tried to breathe. Everything around him shimmered with that otherworldly look the cloak created. His mind whirled, his stomach moving with it. He swallowed back bile. He'd just killed someone. f*ck. He could still see the bloody spire erupting from her chest—still feel the hate in himself, building towards the death he'd shot from the end of his wand. f*ck. What had he done?

He shook his head, fighting off the nausea, fighting to take a breath. She'd killed James. He'd been avenging his son. He had to do it. He repeated that to himself. He had to.

His face ached, and pain radiated from several spots on his body where people had hit or kicked him before he'd managed to push them back. He thought of the surging fury of the crowd, the spectral creature he'd seen burst into life. What the f*ck had it been?

Harry saw the woman's dead eyes again. He felt as though his rage and hate were draining away the longer he stood there; as though some outside force was withdrawing them from his mind. He'd been so sure, so sure he was doing the right thing.

He moved to the edge of the flat roof where he'd been storing his bike and looked in the direction of the city. He couldn't see anything from here. The place he'd Apparated from was a mile away, but he thought maybe he could hear faint voices, the roar of a crowd.

He pictured the thing that had erupted into life when he'd killed the woman. He could still feel its eyes burning into him, cold and full of mockery. He'd f*cked up. He had no idea what he'd done, but he knew he'd f*cked up. Big time.

Harry closed his eyes and focused on his breathing. It would be okay. Whatever it was had gone. He breathed in and out as his heartbeat began to slow.

He spent the rest of the day sitting on the rooftop, looking back towards the square, writing sporadic notes of things he remembered from that afternoon, and then tracking back further, over the past week. It was soothing, to go back to his routine of tracing and recording details, looking for the links between them.

His memory was hazy—disjointed—as though his thoughts hadn't been completely his own. It reinforced the conclusion he'd come to in the square, immediately after he'd thrown the killing curse. Something had been influencing him.

He pictured again, the light from the spell; the Avada Kedavra that he had cast. The death that he had wished into life. He shivered and pulled the cloak more tightly around himself. He was always cold, lately.

When night had fallen and his stomach cramped with hunger, Harry pushed back to his feet and rummaged in the bags strapped to his bike until he found a handful of jerky. He re-cast the disillusionment charm and then lay down beside the gleaming machine, making sure the cloak was covering every part of him. His sleep, when it came, was fitful.


Harry turned, the sound ringing in his ears. It was dark, but he could hear the cries. All he could hear were the cries. He turned again, reaching out, trying to find him. James! Where was James?

The sound increased in volume and became shriller. It was screaming he could hear. Screaming getting louder and louder.

Harry jerked awake, pulling his cloak against himself instinctively as he looked out into the night. The darkness was ripped open as he watched, a fireball blooming in the sky. He could hear the screams again, rising around him. He stood, ignoring his stiffness and aches, and hurried to the edge of the roof, looking down at the scene below.

He sucked in a breath at the chaos swirling into the street. People were rushing everywhere. Some were fleeing but many more were chasing, screaming in glee and rage. His eyes darted from scene to scene as he tried to take in the hundreds of people below him, moving back and forth like a storm-tossed sea. Glass shattered as windows were smashed by wands and bats.

The streets lit up again and Harry jerked his head to see figures, arms raised, flames pouring from their wands in great torrents. He looked around, trying to make sense of it, and then cast his gaze wider, looking out over the buildings. Fireballs flared in a dozen spots around the city, ballooning into life like poisonous mushrooms. He shook his head, trying to wake himself up—trying to make sense of it. And then he saw the Preservation symbol curl into the sky, drawing the flames into it until it lit up the night.

Everything clicked into place. The crowd. The figure on the horse. The fury that had poured into him on seeing it, the sense of righteous power that had filled him. This was happening because he'd killed that woman. He'd released the demon rider that was inside her. The horseman was influencing these people, making them crazy. Harry could feel the truth of that thought.

Horseman. That thought echoed strangely and he tried to chase it, to catch hold of it. It was so hard to concentrate, so hard to think, with the destruction playing out in front of him.

This is my fault. The thought hit him with a certainty he couldn't shake. He looked back down over the crowd, despair rising in him as he saw someone fall, engulfed by flames. She rolled, screaming and smacking at her clothes, but within moments the flames overcame her and she stilled. Then he saw it happen again, and again and realised the Preservation members below were targeting people with the fire now. These people were dying because of him. It wasn't from his wand, this time, but it was no less his fault.

He couldn't watch this. He couldn't let it happen.

Harry pulled the wand from his forearm holster and pointed it at the crowd below. He fired Stupefy after Stupefy, watching as the attackers crumpled in the street. He couldn't bring himself to use anything more violent than that. Not now. Not so soon after he'd chosen to bring death. Or been deluded into thinking he should. Had the woman wanted him to kill her? Had she planted that need in his head? That was mad. Everything was still so mixed up inside his mind.

Harry threw shield charms as well, trying to wrap them around those who were running. It made a difference for those he touched, but there were so many of them, moving so quickly, and it was only a minute or two before the attackers noticed the jets of red light raining down from above and the way their flames and curses were being turned away. One by one, heads turned to his location and then Harry was forced to throw up a Protego around himself as a fireball came hurtling back up at him. It burst against his shield, curling back on itself.

At the sign someone was up on the roof, even if those on the street couldn't see him, more fireballs were aimed at him, and then curses as well. Harry felt the impact on his shield and reached down to touch his strength rune quickly. It warmed to life as it released the power he'd stored in it and he drew on it to fortify his own protection. He could hold out against the assault. Every curse the bastards below threw at him was one they weren't directing at the people trying to escape them.

Then he flinched as a flash of green light sliced through his shield like it wasn't there. It went wide, off to his right, and he realised they were throwing AKs now. If he hadn't been wearing the Invisibility Cloak, he'd probably be dead. The people below seemed to have the same idea. The fireballs stopped abruptly and Harry dropped to the ground, rolling as the light of a dozen killing curses speared through the darkness above him. He shivered at the speed at which the people below had changed tactics. It almost felt as though something was directing them. Linking them together.

His mind raced as he took cover behind the edge of the roofline. He had to figure out what to do next. He couldn't leave those people in the street below. The building shuddered and Harry realised it had just been hit by a Bombarda. Then it shook again and again. He could feel the rooftop below him begin to tilt and he pushed into a crouch, making a run for his bike.

Green light shot over his head again, but those below couldn't get the right angle as he moved further back onto the roof. He only hoped they wouldn't think to Apparate up here with him.

As though his thought had brought the action to life, there was a crack behind him and then another and another. Harry gripped the cloak more tightly around himself and threw up a nonverbal Protego behind himself. Three more steps and he was at the bike. He realised his mistake a second too late as he touched it, causing the Disillusionment charm to fall away.

There was a yell of discovery and then death curses were flashing towards him. Harry cast a single despairing glance at his bike before he slashed his wand into a severing charm. He grabbed his rucksack as it fell away and then whirled into a desperate Apparition. The last thing he saw as he disappeared from the rooftop, was a spear of green light headed straight for the place he stood.


Harry landed on his knees and leaned forward, dropping his rucksack to the ground as he panted and gasped in an attempt to bring his heart rate back to normal. Adrenaline flooded through him and his back crawled at the thought of what he'd just escaped. He allowed himself one miserable, despairing thought for his bike. Sirius' bike. Then he locked that grief away with all the rest and stood.

He repaired the strap of his rucksack and slipped it over his shoulder, adjusting it so it sat under the cloak, which he pulled more securely around himself. He let the shimmery unreality of the world through the cloak calm him slightly. He felt safe under it, even after what had just happened. He felt isolated, as though he stood apart from the world.

A vivid image of people screaming, running, burning, flashed into Harry's mind and he flinched. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply for a moment. He had to calm himself. He had to forget about what had happened, just for a moment. Just until he was safe. He took in another deep breath and then opened his eyes and looked around.

He was in Berlin, on the corner near where he'd stayed while he was here researching Erklings. He cast a quick Tempus and was unsurprised to see it was three in the morning. He made his way back to the hostel he'd stayed in six months earlier. It was a Muggle place and it was open twenty-four hours. He could wait there for the sun to rise, while he figured out what to do next.

He didn't even register that he'd left the cloak on as he walked into the building until the overnight clerk looked over with a frown as the automatic door opened and closed. Harry froze, but the man didn't come to investigate. Instead, he turned back to the TV he was watching. Harry's eye was caught by the scenes on it and he stepped closer, only then realising that there were half a dozen people in the front bar, which doubled as the reception, and they were all watching the large screen over the fireplace.

Harry cast a translation charm with his wand, which he realised, belatedly, he was still holding, and then tucked it away. The sound of the newsreader's voice jumped into life.

'—spreading across Europe. We have reports of widespread destruction in at least fifteen cities across four different countries. Mia joins us now from Prague, where the escalation of the violence seems to have originated late yesterday. Mia, what can you tell us?'

'Thank you, Elias. I've spoken to a number of those fleeing the turmoil which is overtaking the city and what they have to say is disturbing. They're reporting the attackers are using flamethrowers and laser guns, and say there has been indiscriminate killing. Police retaliation has been ineffective and the violence seems to be widespread.'

Harry watched the images across the screen as the woman continued to talk. He recognised pictures from the rally at Saint Vitus Cathedral earlier that day. He watched as the crowd surged and the Muggle reporter zoomed in on The First as she stood on the parapet of the Cathedral, speaking down to the crowd. The image turned to static and became jerky, and Harry wondered if the magic he had used was interfering with the camera. But he could see what was happening clearly enough.

Guilt flooded through him again as he saw the green flash of light, then the footage cut before the moment Harry's curse forced her backward onto the spire. He watched in his mind's eye as the spike erupted from her body and then the words of the news report filtered back through. He felt sick over it. Knowing he had done it. But she'd killed James. Those people had said she had. He'd been avenging his son. Hadn't he?

'Authorities have identified the deceased as Eliška Nepovím, a well-known local figure who had been involved in a number of peace-building projects promoting cross-regional security. It is unknown why she rose to become the figurehead of the Preservation movement. Her killer is also unknown at this moment. What is clear is that her death and the way she was killed has sparked anger among followers of the Preservation movement across several countries.'

'Indeed, Mia. Stay safe,' came the voice of the original reporter. He turned back to the viewers. 'And now we will cut to our French correspondent, Elise, who brings similar tidings. Elise, what is the situation in Paris at present?'

'Thank you, Elias,' the next reporter began and Harry could see that the streets behind her were surging with people. This was his fault. All of this death and destruction was his fault. He had let something loose, something awful and now people were dying for it.

He watched the images travel across the screen, burning and terror and death over and over again. The images were inconsistent, flickering, and filled with static. Harry wondered how long it would be before the Statute of Secrecy was torn to pieces. The Muggles may not be able to capture the magic on their cameras properly, but it couldn't be long before they realised that what they were being attacked with were not ordinary weapons.

Harry didn't think there was anything the international Auror forces could do at this point. As he thought that, the television image changed to show a map of Europe, with small icons of fires showing the locations where violence had been reported. As he watched, another half-dozen sites were added to the map.

This was his fault. The continent had been a powder keg and he had directed an Incendio at it.

You rushed in without thinking, came a cold, insidious voice in his mind. Like you always do. Sirius died because you couldn't stop and think.

'Shut up,' Harry muttered, closing his eyes and squeezing his hands against his head.

James died because you weren't there for him when he needed you, the voice continued, mercilessly.

'Shut up,' Harry said again, pulling at his hair. 'Shut up, shut up.'

You killed a woman. And now look at all these people. Dying because of you.

'SHUT UP,' Harry shouted and then jerked his head up to see seven pairs of eyes spinning to look in his direction, looking for the source of the yell.

He cursed and pulled the cloak close to himself as he whirled into Apparition.

When he landed this time, he was in Brussels, in the alley near a dingy little hotel he'd spent a few nights in, what felt like an eternity ago. He made his way there as though in a dream, the images he'd seen flashing through his mind over and over again. Her name had been Eliška Nepovím. She had been a good woman. He'd killed her. Did she have a family? Children? The thought made him want to cry.

She killed James. He drew that thought to himself like a mantra, like a shield. She killed James. She killed James. He didn't know if it was working.

He tried to think instead of the figure on the horse. He couldn't make sense of it. Nothing made sense. What had that thing inside her been? Was that why she had whipped up the Preservation movement? Had it been controlling her?

Harry thought back again to the emotions that had radiated from the demon rider. He'd had such a clear, strong sense of his own power and superiority as it had galloped above the crowd. He'd felt as though the world was his and he should be able to take anything he wanted from it. Was that what every single person out there storming the streets right now was feeling? Had it somehow gotten into their minds? Infected them? Was that what it had done to Eliška? Had he killed her for something that was not her fault? He couldn't deal with that thought so he pushed it away.

Harry cast an Alohom*ora and pushed open the door to the hotel lobby, moving to a corner and locking the door behind himself. He was glad to see there was no telly in this one. The foyer was empty, the front desk unattended, and Harry took a seat on one of the couches. He cast a Notice-Me-Not and then a warming charm, after a moment. He was so bloody cold.

Tucking the cloak around himself more securely, he pulled his rucksack open and glanced inside, relying on the Notice-Me-Not to cover any flashes of his body that his movements revealed. The bag held his field first aid kit, a change of clothes, and some basic rations. He pulled out a pack of smokes and lit one up, moving the cowl of the cloak away from his face as he considered the bag. He'd lost everything else. Even his bike. He winced again at the pain of that loss. It was the only thing he'd had left that had belonged to Sirius. Well, the only thing Sirius had cared about. Grimmauld Place didn't count. He was pretty sure considering a place to be a mouldy death-trap of racism didn't count as caring.

Harry reached down to the Mokeskin pouch at his hip, touching it to reassure himself it was still there. The pouch contained the things he couldn't afford to lose. He let his smoke dangle from his lips and widened the neck of the pouch to look inside, checking each of the bundles of research to make sure they were still there. His fingers brushed over the spine of a book and he pulled it out, tracing his fingers over the letters on the cover.

The Tales of Beedle the Bard

He could see the edge of a photo inside it. He reached up to take the cigarette from his mouth, drawing in a lungful of the smoke before he did, and then he brought a knee up, resting his chin on it as he opened the book and looked down at the image inside.

It was the one he'd taken from the house before he left. The one of James. Harry held it and watched as James cackled in laughter, almost tipping himself off the side of the couch. A moment later Harry's head appeared, as he took off the Invisibility Cloak. James was obscured for a moment and then Harry disappeared again and James returned. His face was startled before he burst back into happy laughter.

Pain speared through Harry's chest at the sight of it, at the joy in it. At his stupidity for thinking he would ever be allowed to be happy.

He was about to put the image back in the book and tuck it away when his eye caught on the title of the chapter it had opened to.

The Tale of the Three Brothers

Harry's skin crawled as he looked at the drawing of a hooded figure on the title page. His earlier thoughts about the connection between the figure in his dreams, Death, his cloak, and what Daniela had told him about being a Dominus—a Master of Death—came rushing back. He took another drag on his cigarette before he vanished it, concentrating on what was in front of him. It felt good to focus, to turn off all the thoughts and fears and guesses, and just try to deal with the puzzle in front of him.

He skimmed through the story, pulling out a pen as he did, underlining and circling key words, scribbling notes in the margin. Doing it reminded him of Hermione for a moment, doing the same, sitting up night after night, poring over this book in a cold and lonely tent, as though she could force it to give her answers with the strength of her quill.

The thought of Hermione gave him that same sense of sick guilt it always did, so he put it aside as well and focused on what he was reading.

Three brothers blocked by hooded figure. He underlined the words 'hooded figure' twice.

Death's prizes: wand—most powerful in existence; stone to bring back the dead; Death's Cloak of Invisibility

Harry paused as he underlined those things, thinking back to what he knew, thinking back to his interactions with each. He ran his fingers over the fabric of the Invisibility Cloak, letting its smooth texture soothe him. It was mad to think this was Death's actual cloak, or that Death was a real figure at all. Hermione had debunked all of this years ago. He remembered her frustrated speech after he'd asked her the same question for the fiftieth time about why they couldn't chase the Hallows.

'It's personification, Harry. People try to give character to things they don't understand or things they fear. Death is simply something that happens naturally at the end of life. It's not some spirit looming over us all cutting threads and deciding when it's time for people to go.'

'How do you explain the cloak, the wand, and the stone then?' Harry had challenged. 'We know the cloak is real.'

'Of course the things are real,' Hermione said, her tone faintly exasperated. 'Someone would have made them. And then other people couldn't understand how it was done, or couldn't replicate it, or were afraid of it, so they made up stories about what or how. It's happened since the dawn of time. It's why Muggles have religion and all manner of other things. We need to stop worrying about the why of the Hallows and think about whether we need the what of them to be able to find these blasted Horcruxes.'

Harry looked back at the words he'd underlined. Cloak, wand, stone. He knew where the wand was; back in Dumbledore's tomb, where it belonged. It couldn't possibly be linked to all of this, could it? He turned his attention back to the story. He knew what happened to the brother with the wand. He was killed for it. And then others killed for it over and over again through history. Harry frowned at the idea, at the possibility that he might need to bring that trouble back into his life.

He continued reading until he got to the part about the second brother.

—he took out the stone that had the power to recall the dead and turned it thrice in his hand.

The Resurrection Stone. Harry thought again of the people he'd seen die in the streets a few hours earlier. The woman he'd killed before that. All the people he hadn't been able to save, starting with his parents.

He thought of James. James, and the idea that he might see him again. Hold him again. For a moment he could almost feel the weight of his baby in his arms, hear the soft babble of his words. Da da da da. Then he shook his head, forcing the idea away.

He knew what happened to the second brother. He killed himself over the shadow of the woman he'd brought back. The woman who didn't belong in the world of the living. Harry remembered his parents, and Sirius and Lupin, joining him on his walk into the forest, not dead and not alive. He couldn't use the stone. It was madness to think he could.

That left the cloak.

Though Death searched for the third brother for many years, he was never able to find him.

Harry rubbed his fingers over the fabric of his cloak again, wondering. His dreams had changed when he started wearing it. The hooded figures had disappeared. His nightmares were ordinary again. Was he hiding from Death, in this cloak, or had his imagination just conjured the entire thing? Was it all just happening inside his mind as some twisted way to make sense of James' death?

That rationalisation sounded like Hermione again and Harry pushed it away with frustration. He was so tired. It was a struggle to make his thoughts connect.

What did any of this have to do with the figure on the horse? Were they even connected? The only thing he had to go on was the words of the DeathKeeper.

Death is wrapped all around you.

The Horsem*n are riding.

Harry shook his head and closed the book, taking one last look at James' laughing eyes before slipping the photo back inside it.

He was going round and round in circles. He needed to talk to someone who knew more about all of this than he did.


It cost him fifty Galleons to make the international Floo call from a pub in the Wizarding district later that day. He pushed the cloak off his head but left it covering his body. He felt safer that way. He stuck his head into the green flames and called out, crossing his fingers that she would be home. When the chime of the call being accepted came, he breathed a sigh of relief.

'Hello, Harry,' Luna said, blinking slowly at him. 'How nice to see you. Are you in some sort of trouble?'

Harry blinked back at her, nonplussed. He'd forgotten what Luna could be like.

'No,' he began and then stopped. 'Well yes, but—look I was hoping I could get in touch with your father, actually.'

Luna blinked at him again. 'I'm sorry, Harry. He chose to cross over. I think it was for the best. There's a lot we don't know about the other side and Father was very interested to find out more.'

Harry paused, trying to digest what he'd just heard. Did Luna mean—

'Sorry,' he said, shaking his head slightly. 'Do you mean... Did your father die?

'Oh yes,' Luna said, a slight frown on her face. 'He was murdered. It was almost six months ago.'

The words rocked through him, linking his suspicions more firmly together.

'Can I come through, Luna? I'd like to talk to you about a few things.'

'Yes,' she said. 'Of course. You have wonderful timing, Harry. They're closing the international Floos in a few more hours.'

'What?' Harry said, the news flooring him. 'Why?'

'Because of the murders, of course. The Ministry is saying it's to stop the Muggles who have been killing Wizards from coming across to us here, but the Muggles don't tend to travel by Floo, do they? And anyway, I think they're discounting how the flames can spread.'

'What flames?' Harry asked, confused again. 'Wait, Muggles killing Wizards?'

'The flames of Conquest,' Luna said, in answer to his first question. She spoke as though the fact was self-evident.

The word hit him like a punch. Daniela had spoken of Conquest—the perversion of Triumph. What the f*ck was going on?

'I'm coming through,' he said. 'Give me a minute to pay for international travel and I'll be over.'

'That will be lovely,' Luna said, beginning to stand. 'It's been years since you visited. I'll put tea on.'

Harry stepped out of the Floo and into Luna's kitchen a few minutes later, wincing at the further depletion of his steadily lowering funds. But he couldn't Apparate across the ocean and without his bike, the Portkey would have cost him just as much. And would have put him on a list that would have eventually told Ron he was back in the country, he thought to himself.

He straightened up to see Luna looking around with interest.

'Are you invisible now, Harry?' she asked.

Harry realised he'd pulled his cloak back up over his head as a matter of habit and he reached up to lower the hood, hesitating a moment before he pushed it back over his shoulders as well. He winced at the sensation of being vulnerable—exposed—as his whole body became visible.

'Sorry,' he said, as he gave her a quick smile, which he didn't think reached his eyes. 'Force of habit.'

'Have you been hiding a lot?' she asked, sitting at the small table and looking at him with curiosity.

'You could say that,' he said, crossing to the table and sitting opposite her, glad she hadn't made any move to stand and embrace him.

She poured him a cup of tea and he took a moment to look around her kitchen. It was small and bright, cluttered with all manner of books and papers as well as sculptures and trinkets. It was a homey sort of chaos that reminded him, with a pang, of the Burrow.

'How did your father die?' he asked as he lifted his cup, wrapping his hands around it.

Luna took a sip of her tea and closed her eyes for a moment.

'The Aurors said it was an accident,' she said when she opened them. Harry met her gaze and deep within it he saw an echo of his own certainty, that something was wrong in the world and only he knew what it was.

'You don't agree?' he asked. It wasn't really a question.

'He was collecting Brumbling Bizzingtons when he was stung to death. I checked afterward, and he was wearing his yellow-spotted wellingtons. They never would have stung him if he was wearing those. He's worked with that colony my whole life.'

Harry looked at her, unsure what to think about her statement.

'Was there anything else unusual about his death?' he asked. For a moment he considered using Legilimency on her, entering her mind and taking the memories the same way he had with so many others. Then he pushed that thought away, faintly ashamed of himself. She was his friend. Or had been.

'His necklace was missing,' Luna said, taking another sip of tea. 'He never took it off. The Aurors thought it may have burned its way onto his body because the skin on his chest had blistered away, but the chain would still have been there. I don't think they wanted to listen to me. They didn't take any notes about the things I told them.'

Harry stilled at her description of the skin on her father's chest being damaged. It was the same, he knew it was. Xenophilius Lovegood had been killed because he had some connection to the Seal of Triumph—the sigil Daniela had tattooed onto her chest. Then another thought came to him, and he looked back at Luna.

'Before—in the Floo. What did you say? About Conquest?'

Luna tilted her head to one side, considering him. 'Do you see them too?'

'See who?' Harry asked, a tendril of fear curling through him.

'The Horsem*n,' Luna said simply, as though the answer were obvious.

Harry's heart began to thud, hard and fast. He put his cup of tea down as his hand started to tremble and reached into his pockets to pull out his smokes, lighting one up. He'd kill for some Gillyweed.

'It's real?' he said, his voice almost a whisper as he thought back to the spectral demon that had burst from the body of the woman on the spire. It wasn't until he said it out loud that he realised how worried he'd been that he was going insane, was creating some reality inside his mind to try and explain what was going on around him. To prove to himself that his son's death—all the death that was now occurring—was not his fault.

'They're real,' Luna said, emphasising the word.

'Wait,' Harry said, smoothing one hand out on the table to try and stop it trembling. He took another deep drag on his smoke. He wanted to pull the cloak back over his shoulders and wrap its comfort around himself. 'How many of them are there?'

Luna opened her mouth, but Harry knew the answer before she spoke.


Her confirmation sent his mind reeling, connections beginning to form faster than thought, as the threads of his research and the images from his dreams began to come together, finally forming a picture he could understand.

'There are four of them. The Four Horsem*n of the Apocalypse, the Muggles call them.'

'What do we call them?' Harry asked quietly.

'Victorum, Bellum, Jajunium, and Mortem.' The words sounded thick on her tongue, laced with pain and fear, heavy with power.

'Can they be stopped?' Harry asked, feeling as he did so like he'd been moving towards this moment—this choice—for months now.

Luna watched him for a long, unblinking moment before she spoke again. 'This does not have to be your fight, Harry. You've vanquished one great evil. There are others in the world who can fight this one.'

Harry tried to think of all the reasons why he couldn't walk away from this. In the end, it came down to just one. If they were the reason James was gone, he needed to know why.

'I dream of hooded figures,' he said, and Luna watched him silently. He took another pull on his cigarette before vanishing it. 'Sometimes there are four, and sometimes just one. They... they always hold the dead body of my son. They taunt me with his death. They want me to know that they're the ones who took him from me. And—' he hesitated, not sure he should say this part.

'I killed one of them... or released it, maybe. I think I made things worse.'

Luna's face was unreadable in response to his words and Harry fought the urge to fidget under her gaze. She wouldn't turn him away. She couldn't. It was clear she knew much more than he did about what was going on in the world, and he needed what she knew. Despite his reservations, he knew he'd take the knowledge from her if he had to.

'There's someone you need to meet,' Luna said at last. 'If you finish your tea quickly, we can Floo there before they close the borders.'

She stood and left the kitchen. Harry gulped down his tea and then pushed to his feet, pacing as he waited. Just when he was about to go and see what was taking her so long, she came back with a small bag slung over her shoulder.

'What did you mean, before, about Wizards being killed?' Harry asked as she walked into the room. He'd realised while she was gone that she hadn't answered his question.

'Oh,' Luna said, blinking, 'haven't you heard? It's been all over the papers this past week. Twenty-eight Wixen have been killed across Europe. Some of them with guns.' Luna frowned. 'It's horrible news. No one knows why it's happened.'

Harry tried to make sense of it. 'It was Muggles, who killed them?'

Luna nodded, turning to the Floo to pick up some powder. 'Yes, it's very sad. Every one of them, caught by surprise. None of them even defended themselves.'

Harry tried to digest that news. First, the Preservation movement was whipping people with magic up into a supremacist fear about the need to rule Muggles before they became too much of a danger. Now Muggles were somehow locating and killing magical folk. It had to be connected. It was too neat a pattern—something to hold up to those who were against violence. See, they will get us if we don't act first.

'You can put the cloak back on if you prefer,' Luna said, interrupting Harry's spiralling thoughts. 'I think I would be hiding too, if the Horsem*n were inside my dreams.'

Harry's hands were moving before she'd even finished speaking and he sighed in relief as the familiar distortion to his vision fell into place and the cloak enveloped him once more. He let his shoulders uncurl slightly.

'You'll need to say "The Oratory,"' Luna said. 'We need to go to Ireland.' With that, she opened a small jar of Floo powder and threw a pinch into the fire. The flames flared bright, and with a word, she stepped in and whirled away.

Harry stepped up and grabbed a pinch for himself. He paused for just a moment, knowing this was his chance to get out. His chance to leave all of this behind, rather than getting deeper into it than he already was.

But he knew there was no real choice. He had to know what had happened to his son. He threw his powder into the flames and closed his eyes as he stepped through.

When he stepped out of the Floo, he was in a classy-looking restaurant. It had high arched ceilings and the walls were stone, lit up with purple lights. It was clearly magical, as barely anyone was watching Luna, even though she was wearing a bright yellow overcoat and a very purple dress and had just stepped out of nowhere.

Harry shook off those thoughts and looked to Luna for some indication of what they should do next.

'This way,' she said, with a smile at the air off to the left of him, then she turned and walked from the restaurant.

Harry followed behind and they stepped out onto a path which gave way to a large grassy lawn, spotted with towering oaks.

'We'll have to walk for a bit,' Luna said. 'We need to get to Gallarus Oratory before we can Apparate to the islands.'

'What islands?' Harry asked, uncomfortable with the fact that he had no idea where they were going.

'It's probably best if I don't tell you more, Harry,' Luna said. 'I'm not supposed to bring people with me, so I probably should wait and see what they would like to tell you.'

'Why are you bringing me, then?' Harry asked, not wanting to dissuade her, but a bit bewildered by everything that had just happened.

'You're Harry Potter,' she said simply.

Harry followed behind her as they walked through the town and then down a road with fields on either side. He looked around, unable to shake the feeling that something would go wrong and that they were in danger. He couldn't see anything that was giving him that impression, and Luna seemed perfectly comfortable, but the ease of all of this didn't sit right with him.

It took them about twenty minutes to come to a large stone structure that seemed to rise from the earth. It was a simple design, with large walls and a peaked roof with a door in the front. Luna led them inside and then turned to him and held out her arm.

'What is this place?' he asked, looking up at the stone roof above him, almost lost in the gloom.

'Gallarus Oratory. It's an ancient site. It's the only place you can Apparate to the islands from. If you take my arm, I'll Side-Along you.'

'Have you been there before, then?' Harry asked, not reaching for her yet.

Luna looked across at him, eyes not focusing on the right place. 'Oh yes,' she said. 'Many times. My father consulted with them often on his journey for the truth of the Hallows.'

Harry looked at her dubiously, wondering suddenly if this was just some crazy flight of fancy, some group of nutters that Luna and her father had been connected to. But then he reached out and took her arm. He didn't have any other leads at this point.

The Apparition hooked him in the guts, spinning him away. He staggered as they landed, letting go of Luna's arm immediately. When he pushed himself straight it was to see that they were in another stone chamber, this one far larger and more elaborate. There were around a dozen people in the room, moving around it with an air of urgency. It was lit not by torches, but by electrical lights, buzzing from the ceiling. Harry looked around, getting his bearings.

He and Luna had landed on top of a stone dais in the middle of a circular room. The room seemed to be divided into quarters and his eyes flicked quickly across. One wall contained a multitude of technology, computer monitors lit up and flickering with a dozen different images. Across from that was what looked like a rookery, crows, and owls fighting for space on perches, above them a circle of light shining down from a hole in the roof. Further around were doors, leading off to other spaces.

Harry turned to focus on a person approaching them. He was a tall man, broad-shouldered with a thick, dark beard. Harry glanced at Luna, but she didn't seem perturbed by his approach. He took his cue from her and stood, waiting.

The man climbed the two steps to the dais, his dark robes swirling around him, and stepped towards them.

'Hello, Luna,' he said, greeting her with a strained smile. 'What brings you to visit us today? I'm afraid there's rather a lot happening, so we probably can't give you our normal hospitality.'

Luna smiled back at him. 'Hello, Conor. I'm not visiting for myself. I've brought a friend.'

Conor glanced beside her, face taking on a slightly perplexed look, and Harry realised he was still wearing his cloak. He had a small prick of unease at the thought of how natural it felt to do so. The feeling was drowned, a moment later, by the greater discomfort at the thought of removing it before this room full of strangers. He would have no defences from them. Harry shook his head, reminding himself Luna was a friend. She wouldn't bring him into harm. Not knowingly. And besides, he had his wand. He touched it for reassurance. He wasn't defenceless.

Harry took a deep breath and reached up to pull his hood back. Then he shrugged the cloak over his shoulders so that his body was revealed as well.

Conor's eyes widened slightly but he didn't show any more obvious signs of surprise. He merely turned to face Harry, his expression becoming more serious.

'Welcome to Skellig Michael. I'm Conor Gibbons and I lead the sect.' He reached out his hand and Harry eyed it for a moment, remembering what had happened when his bare skin touched Daniela's. If this man was the same sort as she was...

'I'm Harry Potter,' he said as he reached out slowly and they clasped hands. Nothing happened and Harry relaxed slightly.

Then Conor looked him in the eye and Harry saw that same ageless look that he'd seen in the eyes of Daniela and Jakub. Something shivered up his spine at it. Was he the same as them? Was he connected to some ancient power as well?

'You're a Catalyst,' Conor said, voice deep and certain.

Harry looked back at him, nonplussed, feeling his sense that Conor was connected to everything that was happening deepen. Jakub and Daniela had called him a Dominus—a Master of Death. Now Conor thought he was a what? A Catalyst? Why couldn't these people just speak plainly? He was so sick of riddles and mysteries.

'What does that mean?' he asked, voice coming out more unfriendly than he'd meant it to. He pulled his hand back, crossing his arms so that his fingertips rested on his wand in its holster.

'You're a pebble in the pond,' Conor said, as though that was any more enlightening.

'Again—' Harry said, but Conor cut him off.

'Thank you for coming to us. The timing is tight for the changes needed. There's someone you need to speak to,' he said, gesturing off the dais to the wall which was lit up with a variety of computer screens.

There was a figure seated in front of the screens and Harry could make out her fingers flying across keyboards as she moved back and forth from one terminal to another.

Conor didn't look to see if Harry was complying, instead, he stepped down off the dais and began to walk across the stone chamber. Harry bit his tongue and stepped down after him. The timing is tight for the changes needed? What the f*ck did that mean? He barely looked to see whether Luna was following them.

As they walked closer to the woman, Harry glanced beyond her, to the displays that were lighting up the room with flickering images. They changed almost faster than he could focus on them. He saw fires, burned buildings, bodies piled in death, an oil spill, a flood, dead livestock, mass shootings, a bomb exploding, a woman holding her hand out, pleading. He dropped his eyes down to the woman at the desk. She was short, with long black hair that was braided in an elaborate design. Over the top of it, she wore Muggle headphones, big bulky things, and her fingers tapped the keyboards, moving in a blur. He wondered what on earth she was doing.

Conor reached out to put a hand on her shoulder and she jumped and whirled around, looking up with wide, startled eyes.

'Oh,' she said, a little too loudly. 'Hello, Conor. Have I forgotten to eat again? It can't be that time already. I feel like I just had breakfast a moment ago, but there's so much happening right now. Perhaps I could just have another coffee and get back into it, what do you think? Only I don't want to miss a moment of it. The change is happening too fast and I think we're on the precipice of the second rising, only I can't quite figure out where it's going to be yet, but if you could just give me a moment more to keep looking.'

Harry watched her, slightly stunned at the speed at which she was speaking. Her words were almost merging into each other in a continuous stream. She seemed not to have noticed him and Luna at all. Instead, her eyes were inching sideways, back to the endlessly scrolling images, and Harry could see her fingers twitching, as though she needed to be touching her keys again, manipulating the stories she was seeing.

'This is Aoife,' Conor said, angling his body back towards Harry. 'She's our Gatherer. Knows more about what's going on in the world than probably anyone else, certainly anyone else in the Skellig sect.' He looked down at her with a smile that Harry saw was fond, though it held an undercurrent of worry.

Aoife had already turned back to the computers and was clicking a bunch of images, grouping them and sending them onto the one screen, where they continued to unfold. They were all Muggle images, Harry realised, recognising the icons of the news channels on some of them and the strange static buzz that came from the footage where magic had been captured.

'I need you to take a break, love,' Conor said, reaching out again and gently pulling her headphones off, to sit around her neck. 'Get Cara in here for an hour. Harry,' Conor tilted his head and Aoife turned to him, seeming to notice him for the first time, 'Harry is a Catalyst.'

Aoife’s protests about moving away from her computers seemed to freeze on her lips. Harry saw her mouth the word Catalyst and then she stood abruptly, walking forward five paces until she was outside of a dark line painted to the stones, which Harry hadn't noticed. He realised it must be some sort of barrier, which allowed the technology she looked after to function.

Aoife pulled her wand and cast a Patronus. A small creature leapt from the end of her wand and looked back up at her, blinking in the light of the cavern. Harry was surprised to see it was a mole. Aoife told it to 'get Cara here right now,' and then turned to him.

'Catalyst,' she said, and her voice was flat. 'You'll be the one who caused the first rising, then?'

Harry could tell it wasn't a question. 'Ah, that depends what you mean by first rising?' he said, having a sinking, uncomfortable feeling he knew exactly what she meant.

'Victorum—Conquest. You set it free, no?' Her tone was scathing, as though she was talking to a child who had behaved incredibly stupidly.

Harry felt himself bristle and he didn't try to stop his response. He was too tired for this sh*t.

'If you mean that a demon rider came bursting out of the chest of a woman I killed—the woman who killed my son—then yes, I set it free.' He gritted his teeth, fingers itching for his wand. That same mix of guilt and uncertainty over what he'd done flooded back through him.

Aoife's face changed with his words, sympathy twisting across her features for a moment, at the mention of his son.

'Right,' she said brusquely. 'Well. I think it's highly unlikely that Host in particular was responsible for the death of your child, though the rider may have been. Catalysts like you always get the bad end of the stick.'

Harry could hear her words but they weren't making any sense. None of this was making any sense and he couldn't do it anymore. Couldn't stand here with this uncertainty whirling around him. He hated being kept in the dark more than anything. The idea that he might have killed that woman for nothing made him sick to his bones.

'Enough!' he said, and his voice was almost a shout, echoing around the chamber. He glared at Aoife and then at Conor. He even turned his look to Luna, who just gazed back at him placidly. 'You all need to stop and someone needs to tell me what the hell is happening and why it's happening to me.'

'Of course, Catalyst,' Conor said, stepping closely and raising his hand as though he was soothing a skittish horse.

'My name is Harry,' he said, stepping away and reaching into his pocket for his smokes. He tapped one out and lit it up.

'Of course, Harry,' Conor said. 'Let's go somewhere a little quieter and we'll explain.'

Harry took a drag on his smoke and stayed silent, watching as Aoife's replacement arrived and slipped into the terminal, setting the streams to life again. Aoife seemed to give the screens a wistful look and Harry noticed she kept her headphones on, looped around her neck. He could hear tinny voices coming out of them, their faint sounds chopping and changing and hissing.

Conor gestured across the chamber and the four of them set off. He led them through one door after another, until they were in a large room, this one lit by magic, and lined with cases upon cases of books and scrolls. It was easily four times as large as the initial cavern they'd Apparated into, and this one had no signs of technology in it. Conor held the door open and gestured to a large, old table near the entrance.

'Here will do fine. The Record Keepers won't bother us.'

Harry took a seat at the table and finished his smoke, vanishing it and itching to light up another in its place. Instead, he crossed his arms over his chest, brushing against his runes as he did so, setting the ones for Need and the Unknown into life. They would sharpen him—help him to sort fact from fiction and help him to make the connections and understand just what the hell was going on. He pushed against the one for Stamina on his ribs as well, almost grunting as the hit of adrenaline entered his system and helped to burn away some of his exhaustion. He'd pay for it when he crashed later, but he needed the stimulant now.

Conor took a seat and then turned to Harry. 'Have you heard of the Statera?' he asked.

Harry thought for a moment, thinking back to all of the people and ideas he'd come across in ten years of travelling as a Curse Breaker. He shook his head.

'We are an old group, as old as magic, some believe. We represent a balance. We do not strive for life and we do not strive for death. Instead, we work to contain both to manageable levels.'

Harry tried to take this in, remembering Daniela's words: Unfettered life is no less dangerous than unfettered death.

'What does that have to do with me?' he asked, needing the dots to be joined.

'An old force is rising in the world again. We call it the Inaequalis. There are other names for it. The Horsem*n. Death. Chaos. Our role is to contain it. To push it back towards balance.'

'What does that have to do with me?' Harry asked again, tone harder this time. He didn't want to be drawn into this. Didn't want to be a part of this madness.

'You are central to it,' Aoife said, looking at him with eyes that held a hint of sadness. 'You are a source of change. You can affect the balance. You can push it to life, or to death, or you can help us hold it steady. You have more power than you can imagine.' Her voice turned bitter and Harry remembered her accusation about him causing the first rising.

'Why me?' he asked, aware his voice held a bitter note. Why did it always have to be him? Why couldn't he just live a normal life, just have one piece of happiness that he could keep? He didn't want to be a Catalyst. Didn't want to be a Chosen One. A Dominus. He just wanted James back.

'You wear a piece of Death wrapped around you,' Conor said and Harry turned back to him, blinking in surprise. His words, again, were very similar to the ones Daniela had spoken to him what seemed like months ago but had been little more than a week.

'Because of my scar?' he asked, and Conor's eyes moved to his forehead, as though he were seeing the lightning bolt that cut across his forehead and spilled down onto his cheek for the first time.

'You are twice marked by Death?' Conor asked, gesturing to Harry's scar and then to the cloak hanging over his shoulders, a flat silver now that Harry wasn't enveloped in it.

Harry reached down to run his fingers over the fabric, feeling soothed by its touch. He rubbed it between his fingers as he thought, as he wondered just how much he should reveal. He looked at Luna, sitting beside him and somehow her eyes held a hint of that same ageless wisdom as well.

'Thrice,' he said abruptly. 'I died. When I was seventeen. Instead of crossing over, I came back.'

Conor and Aoife exchanged looks, and the air in the library seemed to become much heavier.

Harry had an uncomfortable thought. He didn't know if he should voice it but at the same time, he felt like the words were crawling out of his throat. 'I—I met two people,' he said. 'In Prague. One was a DeathKeeper at an Ossuary, the other was... I'm not sure, a tree spirit maybe. They both named me a Dominus—a Master of Death.' He paused, nausea rising in him at the memory of their bodies. 'They were both killed and mutilated.'

'Master of Death,' Aoife murmured, giving Conor a wide-eyed look. Conor shook his head minutely in an expression Harry didn't know if he was supposed to catch. Luna had leaned forward and was studying Harry with interest. Harry remembered her father's area of study—the Hallows—and thought that perhaps mentioning this had been a mistake.

'Some people are fated,' Conor said. 'To touch life or to touch death more closely. And some walk the line in the middle.'

'I don't believe in fate,' Harry said, frowning, distracted from his thoughts about Jakub and Daniela as he remembered the prophecy that had torn everything from him. 'People have free will. It's their choices that turn them to one direction or another.' His anger stirred at just the thought of fate, and prophecy. If Voldemort had never acted on the prophecy, he would never have brought his own downfall. He had created Harry, in trying to stop him. Prophecies were an attempt to manipulate the future and Harry was so, so sick of being manipulated.

'You don't have to believe in it for it to be real,' said Aoife, the words bursting from her as though she'd been holding her tongue. 'I've been working here for the past twenty years, watching the world shape and change, watching it get ready for the next cycle. Whether you believe something is directing these changes or not, the fact remains they occur and we're entering the next big one. The question is what are you going to do to help stop what you caused?' She was breathing faster when she finished and there was a scowl on her face.

Conor reached out to place a hand on her arm. He gave her a look that seemed to be urging her to caution.

'There are people who are susceptible to becoming agents for Inaequalis, or Death, or agents for Aeterna, the Eternal,' Conor said. 'They tend to be the same people, often. It just depends on which forces get to them first. They don't usually rise in the same cycle, Death and the Eternal. As one waxes in power, the other wanes.'

'What do you mean, which forces get them first?' Harry asked, his mind reeling as he tried to come to terms with it all. 'Do you mean the Horsem*n?'

'In a crude sense, yes,' Conor said. 'What Muggles call the Four Horsem*n of the Apocalypse are four of the most powerful elements of Inaequalis. In Muggle religion, they name them Conquest, War, Plague, and Death. I think over time the forces have come to like those concepts.' Conor gave an almost wry smile. 'We've certainly seen them choosing to confine themselves to those forms more regularly in the past few hundred years.'

'And life?' Harry asked, still not understanding. 'What's so wrong with life winning? Shouldn't we be pushing for that?' He wanted to get his notes out and see if he could link any of what he was hearing to the research he'd been doing. None of it yet explained why James had been killed.

Aoife made a disparaging noise and rolled her eyes. 'Unfettered life is stagnation. It's lawful good. It's the death of creativity and risk. Life without death—the very concept of the Eternal—leads to corruption in the name of virtue.' Harry thought suddenly of Voldemort and his quest for eternal life, of Umbridge and her drive for regulated freedom. He shivered.

'Balance is what we work for,' Aoife said. 'That woman in Prague, the one who became the Host for Conquest. Did you hear her story?' Aoife barely waited for Harry's nod. 'She would have been an agent—a person who is a suitable Host for one of the forces. She was working for peace—dedicated her life to it. That would have been why Conquest took her. They like to corrupt the agents who stand against them most strongly. I think the power they get is stronger because of it. I've been tracking agents, you see, over the past several hundred years. Most of them get killed, of course, taken out by one side before the other side can have them, but those who live to be subverted are the most interesting ones, and often the most powerful. Those are the ones who can do the real damage.'

'So how do you stop them?' Harry asked, interrupting the flow of her words. He needed specifics, not all this mumbo jumbo. He needed to know how this linked to James.

Aoife frowned. 'That's the hard part. We don't kill the agent who hosts them, setting the source free.' She frowned at him again. 'You lit the bloody continent on fire. That was a bloody stupid thing to do. Once a force is inside a Host, we have them for a bit. The Inaequalis put themselves in an agent so they can interact with the corporeal world, but they can't take themselves back out.'

'What do you mean, they can't take themselves back out?' Harry interrupted. 'These huge powerful forces for Death just choose to put themselves inside a human body and then they get stuck?' His tone was disbelieving. It sounded mad.

Aoife leaned back in her chair, tapping on the table as though she didn't have the time to be filling him in on all of this. 'Yes, they get stuck. They have to possess a human body to do anything more useful than get inside people's dreams and try to corrupt them that way.'

Harry flinched at her words, but Aoife didn't seem to notice. She continued speaking.

'Once they're in there, the Host body becomes invulnerable to normal death, so they can't even get one of their other agents to kill the Host. They need someone like you—a Catalyst—to do it for them and to let them back out once they've finished their task.'

Aoife paused and scowled again. 'And up you waltz and just bloody kill that woman, letting Conquest loose, happy as you please, no heed for the consequences. No heed for the damage a source can do when it's loose in the world again, looking for a secondary agent to subvert.' Aoife smacked her hand on the table, making her disgust and anger clear. She barely drew a breath before she continued, her words getting faster and faster.

'It will join with War now, mark my words. We're going to see an all-out global conflict. Right up War's alley, of course. And with it, we'll see Plague joining the party and Death reigning over them all, like the carrion bird he is. It will be Wizard against Muggle, this cycle. They've already set it up that way. They're so close to breaking the Statute of Secrecy this time. We got them last time, with the Salem Witch Trials, but this time, I don't know if we—'

'Enough,' Conor said quietly, and she subsided, shutting her mouth with a snap and glaring at Harry with crossed arms.

'We've stopped the Inaequalis many times before,' Conor said. 'They're part of a cycle of life and death, chaos and stagnation. We can stop them again. We just need to understand where they will be next. We think War has manifested in an agent—there is a lot of activity in America, in the New York region, in particular, that is out of the ordinary. But we haven't managed to link it to an individual and we haven't sighted Plague at all yet.'

Harry frowned at the complexity of what he was hearing. The unreality of it. Could there be huge forces manipulating humanity in endless cycles over time? He thought of the hooded figure that watched him from his son's bedroom. 'And Death? Have you found Death?'

Conor shook his head, face grim. 'Death never manifests until the end is near. That's why we need people like you, Harry, who can combat them. The rest of us can only influence from the sidelines. You and other Catalysts like you, can challenge them.'

'How do you stop them?' Harry said again, pulling out his smokes and lighting another one up. He knew the words came across as noncommittal, but he had nothing more than that to give at this point. The idea that he could stop Death. It was madness.

'When they are newly manifested,' Conor said, 'they're easier to defeat. The Muggles have part of it right, those that follow the Christian religion. It's in their Book of Revelation. They place a scroll in God's right hand, sealed with seven seals. Their Jesus, the Lamb of God, opens the first four seals which summons four beings that ride out on horses. They go a bit off track after that. The Christian apocalyptic vision is that the Four Horsem*n are to set a divine apocalypse upon the world as harbingers of the Last Judgment from their God. Their role is to give the people of the world a chance to repent before they die. It's quite macabre stuff. But the heart of it is right. There are seals, for each of the forces. The force that responds to the name of Conquest can be sealed back away using the Seal of Triumph.'

The Seal of Triumph, that was what Daniela had called the tattooed sigil she had on her chest. 'These seals,' he asked, leaning forward. 'People wear them?'

At his question, both Conor and Aoife reached up to touch the centre of their chests.

'Yes,' Conor said, 'it's a form of protection, though it also makes us a target. The seal that each of us chooses aligns with which force, for life or for death, we feel most called to combat.'

'And what happens when you don't get them at the start of their power?' Harry asked, coming back to Conor's earlier statement.

He tried to focus on everything he was hearing. He was so tired, though. He could feel it breaking through the artificial boost of his Stamina rune. He'd been pushing too hard for too long, and it was an effort to make himself follow the complexity of what he was hearing.

Hermione had always been better at this sort of thing than he was. For a moment he felt a fierce stab of longing for her. He imagined being able to lean on her, to share this burden with her. He forced himself not to think of Hermione. She had no place here.

'Unless the Catalyst that faces them is exceptionally powerful, if we don't get them at the start of their power, we need to wait until they need to burn themselves out,' Conor said grimly.

Harry made himself pay attention.

'You know the Black Plague?' Aoife asked.

Harry nodded. Of course, he knew the Black Plague. He'd learned about it in primary school as well as in History of Magic. Twenty-five million people had died.

'We got Conquest and War that cycle, but we missed Plague. Death feasted for years.' Aoife made a face. 'If you want another example of a time we failed, take the Muggle war—World War Two they called it. Eighty-five million people died. We got Conquest reasonably early, but War moved around so much. The Catalysts were all young men who were too eager to kill. There was so much hate in that cycle. Then Plague ran rampant in the Death Camps.' Her face was sad, as though she remembered those times, rather than just having read about them.

'I could give you a hundred more examples just the same,' she said, gesturing at the shelves of scrolls around them. 'We have to lock them back down as quickly as we can. That's the only way to avoid wide-scale suffering.'

'And what about my son?' Harry asked, his mind coming back to that thought again and again, unable to make the connection as to why James had had to die. 'What does he have to do with all of this?'

Aoife looked at him, her eyes knowing again, but it was Conor who spoke, his voice strangely gentle. 'You are a Catalyst, Harry. Death marked you for his own. The forces—they like to play with the Catalysts or kill them before they can be brought against them. It's possible that however your child died, he took a death that had been aimed at you. Or it's possible the Inaequalis took him from you because they knew it would motivate you to make change that led you to darker places.'

Abruptly Harry realised how dark a place he'd been in when he'd decided to kill the First—Eliška, he reminded himself, her name had been Eliška—and let the Horseman free. He'd walked right into their trap, like the blind idiot he was.

They had killed James instead of him or killed James to manipulate him, and he'd done exactly as they expected. He was a f*cking fool. He had let his son down in the worst of ways.

'Right,' Harry said, pushing to his feet. 'Right.'

Conor stood too, and the look on his face held concern.

'Where are you going?' he asked.

Harry just shook his head. 'I need to think.' He needed a smoke. He needed some Gillyweed. He needed something to calm the thoughts that were swirling faster and faster in his mind. Guilt rose in his throat like toxic bile. He wanted to vomit it up, let it spew forth, and show the world how sick he was inside.

'You can't leave, Harry,' Conor said. 'We have to talk more about this.'

Harry shook his head and kept walking. He was done talking. He couldn't hear anymore. Couldn't think anymore.

James' death is your fault, a voice whispered in his mind. This is all because of you. You were never meant to have happiness. They killed him because you tried to have something better than what you deserved.

Harry pulled the cloak up over his head and shrugged it back over his shoulders, feeling its comforting presence wrap around him, shielding him from the world. He heard footsteps beside him and looked around to see Luna hurrying after him. A voice came from behind him, but he didn't turn.

'Catalyst, wait!'

Harry kept walking.

'You can't do this alone. It's not safe.'

Harry ignored the words as he stepped up onto the dais and whirled himself into Apparition.


The stone walls of Gallarus Oratory materialised around him and Harry took a second to catch his breath, everything he'd just heard still swirling in his mind. He felt dizzy and tried to think how long it had been since he had last eaten. A moment later he heard another pop of Apparition and Luna appeared beside him. It was with her appearance that two figures stepped inside the stone building.

Harry's eyes widened and he sucked in a sharp breath, anxiety racing through him. He couldn't do this. Not now. Not after what he'd just heard. He had to be prepared before he did this. Had to have time to think. The pressure of everything he'd just heard pushed at him until he couldn't breathe. He stepped forward, speaking just to break himself out of his thoughts.

'What are you doing here?' Harry said, voice rough as he faced Ron and Hermione for the first time in over a year.

'Harry?' Hermione said, twisting to look around at the place his voice had come from. Harry realised he'd forgotten he was wearing the cloak and he cursed himself. He could have Apparated away without them even knowing he was there.

Instead, he pushed the cloak off, his heart beating hard in his chest. He felt sick at seeing them, a scared tension twisting its way through him. It was overlaid by longing. A part of him wanted to go to them, to lean on them and be told everything would be okay, that they would work it out together.

He couldn't. He knew he couldn't. He'd tried that a year ago and nearly ended up locked up, for his 'own good'. Just the thought of it sent anger stirring through him, chasing away the uncertainty and longing. Harry embraced the heat of it, pulling it closer. He couldn't afford to be weak. Not now. Not after what he'd just heard.

'Did you tell them I would be here?' Harry demanded, rounding on Luna.

Luna blinked, her only reaction to his anger. 'Of course. We all would. It's something Ron and Hermione asked of us when you disappeared. If you made contact with anyone, we were to let them know, straight away.'

Harry's fury grew at the idea that all of his friends were spying on him, reporting back. He was suddenly glad that he'd made contact with no one but Ron while he'd been gone. And he'd been able to tell Ron only the things he wanted him to know.

'So you've stooped to that level?' Harry asked, fixing the two of them with a glare. It was easier to look at them when he was wrapped in anger—easier to hide away the part that wanted to weep at seeing them. 'Turning my friends against me.'

'You're being dramatic, Harry,' Hermione said, her voice low and almost toneless. She sounded tired.

He looked more closely at her. She looked exhausted; there were shadows under her eyes and her hair was a messy tangle. He felt abruptly guilty and had to stop himself from asking her if she was okay.

'Luna's hardly a friend—sorry, Luna,' Hermione said, turning to her for a second. 'You haven't even spoken to her in years, and you're probably just here now because you need something from her.'

Harry wanted to argue back but it struck him abruptly that she was right. He was only with Luna because he wanted information from her. Her father, really. He wouldn't have given her a second thought if the idea of the Hallows hadn't made him think of Xenophilius and the information they'd gotten from him last time they'd been on a mad search no one else believed in.

And now look at him. He'd certainly gotten information. And so much more to boot.

You're a Catalyst. We need you to save the world.

It's possible however your child died, he took a death that had been aimed at you.

f*cking f*ck. He still didn't know if he believed it. The whole thing was so mad. But so much of what he had just heard brought the threads of his research over the last year together in a way that had a frightening ring of truth to it.

'Are you okay?' Ron asked, stepping forward and breaking Harry out of his thoughts. He reached up, as though to bring Harry into an embrace but dropped his arms when Harry stepped back half a pace. He couldn't let Ron hold him. He couldn't or he'd break into pieces.

'Do you need help?' Ron asked, the look on his face pleading, as though asking Harry to turn to him, like he had so many times before. Ron looked tired too, Harry thought, and he was moving slowly, as though he was recovering from an injury.

That connection pulled at him more strongly, just for a moment. That wish to unburden himself, to share everything he'd found with Ron and Hermione, to have them bear it with him. But then he brushed his hand against the cloak, rubbing it between his fingers, and the thought was gone, smothered in the blanket of nothingness that covered him so often lately.

'I'm fine,' he said instead, retreating into the numbness. It was better than the pain of feeling. 'What are you doing here?'

Hermione looked hurt at that question. 'We came here for you,' she said, voice soft. 'Like we always would. You've been getting our letters, I know you have. We're worried about you, Harry. We haven't heard from you in over a year and now you turn up and you need something from Luna?'

'I'm fine,' Harry said again, realising as thoughts and fears churned inside him, how far from fine he was. His heart began to thud again. Having Ron and Hermione right in front of him, looking at him like he'd somehow let them down, wasn't helping in the slightest. He reached for his smokes and lit one, sucking back on it and trying to let the nicotine calm him slightly. It didn't work. But it gave him something to do with his hands, something to do aside from feel guilty over the hurt radiating from his two best friends.

'Where did you take Harry, Luna?' Hermione asked, turning to her.

Luna looked unfazed by Hermione's demanding tone. She just smiled. 'To visit the Statera. I'm afraid I can't take you. I could send an owl to see if someone wants to come across and have a conversation with you, though? If you like?'

But Hermione had turned away, looking instead to Harry, with disbelief in her voice. 'The Statera? What do you want with them, Harry? They're a bunch of deluded mystics, and absurd ones at that.'

Harry watched her, taking another drag on his smoke as her words made it clear just how much space there was between the two of them now. The void felt too large to bridge. He'd known she'd react like this. Known she wouldn't understand. How could he even begin to tell her what he'd found over the last year, what he'd done? Hermione never did trust things she couldn't see for herself.

'They're like the Wizarding world's version of the Illuminati,' Hermione continued. 'A bunch of crackpots believe in them and that's about it.'

'I guess I must be a crackpot, nowadays,' Harry said, voice flat, as he took a step closer to Luna. He realised as he said it, that he'd picked a side. He knew what he'd just been told by Conor and Aoife was the truth. Something about it resonated with him down to his very bones.

There were forces in the world that had taken James from him, and he was going to f*cking make them pay.

'You have no idea what I've been through since James was killed,' Harry said, voice hard now. He pulled his cloak more tightly around himself, as though it were armour. He ignored the look of distress on Hermione's face, as she realised she may have overstepped.

'Death took James from me,' Harry continued, voice determined. 'And these people know how to stop it.'

Hermione's mouth worked for a moment, soundlessly, and then she stepped forward, face lined with a desperate concern. 'You can't stop Death, Harry. No one can. You—you need help. You're sick.'

Harry's anger flared to life again at her words, hotter than before. He'd known she would react this way. He'd known she would. He wanted to shout at her—shake her—make her understand that he couldn't trust her when she didn't believe him; when she'd abandoned him. It was supposed to be the three of them against the world. A year ago, after James had died, Hermione had pitted herself against him, and she clearly hadn't changed that stance.

Harry took a step back, fighting to control the anger and betrayal surging through him, cutting new wounds, over the old.

'Come home with us, Harry,' Ron said, glancing with Hermione, as though telling her to stop speaking. 'We have about forty-five minutes before the international Floo routes are closed. Come home with us and we can help you figure all this out. If you don't come home now, you won't be able to.'

Harry thought about that, and about everything he'd heard. He heard Hermione's words in his mind again. You're sick. He knew there was only one option.

'Don't try and come after me,' he said to Ron and Hermione, and then as Ron pulled his wand out, Harry Apparated away.


He landed in an alley in Dublin, near a pub he liked to frequent when he visited. He'd thought for a split second of going back to Skellig Michael, but with only one route in and out, he couldn't guarantee there wouldn't be a trap lying in wait for him when he came back out. He'd seen the look on Ron's face. That was his Auror face. It said he thought he knew what was best for Harry and if that involved stunning him and dragging him to St Mungo's, Ron would have no hesitation in doing so.

Harry paused for a moment, trying to force his racing thoughts to calm. He pulled his cloak back on, almost absently, and leaned against the wall of the alley, closing his eyes. Gods, but he was so tired. He could feel the crash from using his Stamina rune fast approaching. He knew he couldn't stay here long, but it would take Ron a while to get a trace expert to follow his Apparition trail, if he even had the resources to do that, with the borders closing.

He tried to think how long it had been since he had eaten, and couldn't remember. He also didn't think he'd slept since the night of the riots in Prague. That had been a day ago? Two? He wasn't sure. Everything was starting to blur together.

He opened his eyes and pushed off the wall, making his way toward Buswells. He slipped in the door behind a couple who looked like they were entering for dinner. A quick trip through the kitchen and he'd filched a meat pie and then a bottle of whiskey from the bar. He made his way upstairs, listening at the doors before casting Alohom*ora at a vacant room. A few moments later and it was warded and silenced and he felt like he could rest for a minute.

He put the pie down on the table and lay down across the bed, fully dressed. He paused only to drop his rucksack over the edge before pulling his boots up under his cloak so that none of him was showing. Lying curled around himself, he let unconsciousness take him.


Harry stood upon a field of bent and broken bodies.

He turned, looking around at the mounds of people, as far as the eye could see. There were people of all ages, genders, backgrounds. Some wore Auror uniforms or soldier uniforms, but many more were dressed for school, for the bakery, for the office. They wore robes, pyjamas, and party clothes. Every one of them was torn or rent, slashes, and wounds across their bodies, blood leaving them to form great rivers running along the ground.

Harry looked down at his feet, feeling a dull sickness at the realisation that he was standing on the legs of a child, her eyes sightless as she screamed silently up at the sky.

He jumped down, moving across the bodies, trying to keep his footing so he didn't have to touch them with his hands.

Harry moved through the landscape of the dead for an age, or a heartbeat. The only sound was the harsh panting of his own breath. Everywhere he looked were sightless eyes, and accusing faces.

Everywhere he looked the dead screamed at him: This is your fault.

He walked until he was covered in blood, until its sticky coldness coated every part of him, and then he saw them.

A bent, bewildered old woman leading a weeping child by the hand. He approached them slowly, after an eternity of walking alone upon the field of death.

'Hello?' he asked.

They didn't speak. Neither of them acknowledged his existence. They just kept moving, endlessly searching. And Harry knew. Harry knew they had lost everybody in the world that cared for them, and they were alone.

Harry knew that what he was seeing was a truth that would come to pass.

With that thought he looked up, looked past the woman and the child, to see a figure on a horse.

He took a stumbling step forward, and then another, climbing over the bodies with increasing speed until he was pulling them out of his way. All the while the figure stayed still, aside from the banner it held, a deep crimson, which flapped in the absence of any wind.

As Harry got closer he could make out details. The horse was stained with red and black streaks like dried and clotted blood. Its eyes shone crimson and long teeth extended from its muzzle, pointed and vicious. It shifted on its hooves, as though it wanted to run. Upon its back, its rider held the reins in an iron-clad fist.

The figure on the horse wore armour that was viciously spiked. It was a dark, smoky black that was dented from combat. It wore a helmet that covered its eyes and left its mouth clear. Long pale hair whipped in the non-existent wind. Strapped to its back was a deadly-looking greatsword, the type that could cut a man in half.

Harry watched as its mouth curved into a cruel smile, its teeth filed into points and stained with blood.

'I will see you soon, Catalyst,' the Horseman said.

Harry woke, sitting bolt upright and gasping. He reached up to feel for his hood and pull it closer, only to realise it had come off in his sleep. He must have knocked it off with his tossing and turning. He pulled it around himself and curled his knees up to his chest as he tried to swallow the bile and stop himself from shaking.

He knew what he had seen. That had been War. The next of the Horsem*n. And it knew him now. It knew he was coming. He swallowed again, at the terror of that thought.

He couldn't do this. It was mad to think he could.

He pushed his way out of bed and slumped heavily into the chair by the window. He reached for the bottle of whiskey he'd stolen, not even bothering with a glass. He cracked it open and lifted it to his lips, drinking deeply, wincing against the burn.

He kept going until half the bottle was gone and the immediacy of his terror was dulled. Then he picked up his fork and poked at the pie. He knew he needed to eat. He lifted the fork to his mouth and then gagged at the feeling of the sinewy meat in his mouth. It made him think of the bodies, torn open and left as some obscene tribute to death. He spat the meat out and vanished the whole plate, picking up the bottle and taking another deep swallow to clear his mouth.

He needed to figure out what to do next. He couldn't go back to Skellig Michael, that much was clear. But he knew there was a lot more he needed to learn from them. If only everything hadn't happened so fast.

That thought gave him an idea and he reached into his Mokeskin pouch, pulled out his modified Pensieve, and placed it on the table before him. Then he raised his wand to his temple and pulled the memory forth, dropping it in and letting it play over the wall opposite him.

He reached for a notepad and a pen too and began to jot down his thoughts, everything from the moment he'd Floo'd Luna to the moment he'd Apparated away from Ron and Hermione. He ignored the flare of pain the thought of them caused. He couldn't think of them. He took notes on his dream as well, all of the details he could recall from it.

It was only as he viewed the day back for the second time that he realised Conor hadn't elaborated on the idea that Harry might be the Master of Death. He noted that down. Had it been an oversight? Or had Conor deliberately steered clear of speaking about it? Aoife had reacted strongly to the idea that he might be.

Harry put that thought aside and watched the memories again and again. It was only as the level of the whiskey bottle dropped to the last inch that he noticed something he'd missed the other times. He tapped his wand on the Pensive to pause the memory and then stood up, stumbling slightly as he crossed the room to examine the images Aoife had been monitoring. There were events from all over the world playing across the screens, but Harry was sure he'd caught something that wasn't right.

He flicked his wand to let the memory play again and then froze it.

There. He checked the news source. CNN. And then the scrolling by-line at the bottom of it.


Then he looked back up at the image of fifteen men in Muggle suits standing to watch the US and Russian Presidents shake hands.

None of the men in the image were important. None except the one in the far left corner, almost hidden behind two others. Harry took another step closer to the image projected onto the wall, steadying himself with one outstretched hand, and frowned as he saw a small, satisfied smirk on a very familiar face.

'Malfoy,' Harry muttered grimly. 'What the f*ck are you doing at an American arms deal?'


When Harry woke the next day, his mouth felt like a toilet, and a headache thumped through his skull. He opened his rucksack and fished out the potions kit he used in the field. Hangover potion wasn't a standard item, but he'd been sure to make it one in his own kit.

A quick shower and a change of clothes and he felt semi-human, if in need of something to eat. He was lightheaded and knew it was because of the way he'd been abusing his body lately. He tidied the room with a quick flick of his wand and headed downstairs, stealing an egg muffin from the bain-marie on his way back out the door. This, at least, didn't make him want to gag, and he was able to finish it quickly.

He'd figured out his next steps the night before and made his way to the Dublin Owlery. He scribbled a quick note to Conor asking for more information about the American connections they'd mentioned the day before. He also left his London Post Box address, the one that was linked to his replicating box. He couldn't risk going back to see them again, but the idea of cutting off all contact seemed mad. They clearly knew more than he did about all of this.

While he was there, he picked up a copy of the Dublin Times, then he crossed back into Muggle Dublin to pick up a copy of the Muggle version. He went for a walk down to the harbour and sat by the water as he read through each of the papers. The Wizarding version told him a whole lot more than the Muggle one did. Cross-border travel had indeed been closed. Harry wondered for a moment if Hermione, Ron, and Luna had got back alright.

He ached at the thought of them. Seeing them again, out of nowhere like that, had shaken him up more than he'd realised. For a moment, he had a mad desire to check on them—to owl them or try and Floo them or something, but he pushed it down. He was better off without them. They didn't believe him, either of them, and he couldn't do what he needed to if they were chasing him down.

He forced himself to focus on the newspaper again, scanning through it. There were no attacks against Muggles on Irish soil yet, though the newspaper reported darkly of an increase in graffiti and anti-Muggle sentiment. In Paris and Berlin, Muggles had killed another fifteen Wixen overnight. The paper was thick with outrage and fear. There were letters to the editor about pre-emptive strikes, pleas to seal off magical areas permanently, and calls for strong leadership from the Ministry.

The Muggle paper was full of stories about the conflict across the water and what it might mean. It told him nothing new. He vanished both and looked out over the harbour, thinking about his next steps. It was clear the conflict was escalating rapidly, sucking more and more people into its maw. He thought again of what he had seen in the Pensieve memory. He needed to find out more about what Malfoy had to do with all of this.

The Muggles hadn't stopped travel between borders yet and it only took him a few minutes to invade the minds of a few dock workers, locate a ship that was headed to Liverpool, and stow himself on board.

He stepped off later that day, concentrated on where he needed to be, and Apparated. Weaving on his feet slightly as he landed, Harry reflected a single egg muffin probably wasn't enough food to sustain him. He pushed the thought away. He had more important things to focus on.

Stepping forward, he looked through the gates of Malfoy Manor. The place looked abandoned. The hedges, so trim and neat in his memories, were scraggly and overgrown, and there was no sign of movement across the expansive lawns. Even the peaco*cks that normally swarmed around the place seemed to be gone. Harry wondered if anyone had been back since the Aurors had left, almost a year ago.

He wondered if Malfoy had been back.

He pushed the thought aside and reminded himself why he was here. Malfoy was a loose end. Malfoy had mentioned hooded figures when he'd pushed his way into James' funeral. Gods, but it seemed like so long ago. He'd looked desperate to tell Harry something, and he'd disappeared not long after, leaving a pile of bodies behind him. Now Harry had seen him in news footage from across the world, at a key strategic event. There had to be something to it.

Was Malfoy a Catalyst, like him?

Hopefully, he would get more information from Conor and Aoife, but in the meantime, Harry needed to do the investigation he'd not been able to on the night he'd fled the country.

He lifted his wand and sent one of his diagnostic charms chasing around the wards. It came back to tell him the only impediment to his access was the standard Auror spell to secure a crime scene. He raised his wand again and gave a neat twist and flick, creating a loop for himself to pass through. Compared to what he normally dealt with, these spells were laughably easy to bypass. It wouldn't even register that he'd been there.

He checked again when he got to the house. This time he could feel other spells, older spells, layered beneath the crime scene ones. He considered them, watching them move slowly across the surface of the entrance, undulating sluggishly. His diagnostics came back free of threat. The spells knew he was there but didn't plan to harm him.

I must still be keyed to the wards, Harry thought, a small twinge of something tugging at him. Regret, maybe? He pushed it away. It had been a long time since he'd thought of Malfoy and what had been between them. He wasn't about to start second-guessing why Malfoy had left his wards open eight years later.

Instead, he performed that same flick and twist and stepped through the Auror-created barrier, pushing the door open and moving into the large marble entrance. His eyes moved to the place he remembered seeing the body, the night he'd come to force Malfoy to tell him what he knew.

The floor was clean, as he knew it would be. The bodies and any evidence the Manor contained would have been long removed by the Aurors. A part of him wasn't sure why he was here. Another part hated to wait idly; he needed something, anything, to do. Even if he turned up nothing of use while he waited for Conor and Aoife to respond to him, at least he wasn't sitting in a hotel room drinking himself stupid.

He made his way through the house slowly, noting the magical markers that indicated evidence, which were still tagged throughout the house. He remembered what Ron had said about the crime scene. Malfoy's magical signature had been linked to every single death. Harry remembered his disbelief at the time, that Malfoy could be capable of killing fifteen people—the entire staff of his house—and then disappearing with his son.

At the thought of the boy, Harry made his journey through the house a little more purposeful. It was a few minutes before he found it. A child's bedroom. He deliberately didn't think about how he knew Malfoy favoured the East wing for a child's room because it was the one his mother used to manage, which his father never entered.

Harry stood in the doorway and looked around at Scorpius Malfoy's room. It was a bright space, with large windows on one wall and a mural painted across another. Dragons swooped majestically over a scene that looked much like the Great Lake at Hogwarts. The bed was a four-poster, with pale green hangings. There were wooden blocks piled up and then scattered across the floor, as though the boy had been in the middle of building a castle when he was interrupted.

For a moment, Harry could almost see him there, blond head bent over the blocks, concentration on his face. He wondered if the boy looked like Draco had, as a child. The though gave him a pang of grief. James had had Harry's hair, dark and unruly. He wondered as he had so many times before, whether his son would have grown up to look like him. That thought had no place here, and Harry shook it off.

His eye caught on a photo beside the bed and he stepped slowly into the room, feeling all the while like an unwelcome visitor, as though at any moment the boy would barrel back into the space.

He reached the side table and stretched down to pick up the framed picture. It was of Malfoy and his son. They were riding a broom together. The boy looked to be around four years old and his face shone with happiness as he gripped the broom handle, leaning down as though to make it go faster. Malfoy was sitting behind him with one arm wrapped around him. The look on his face was one of pride mixed with a desperate tenderness that made something crack in Harry's chest.

Suddenly he couldn't be there, in the room of Malfoy's child, looking at the boy's happiness and not knowing if he was even alive. He must be alive. Surely. Malfoy couldn't have been in that news report from Harry's memories, doing whatever it was he was doing with such smugness if his son wasn't alive.

Harry began to move through the house more quickly. He had a job to do—figure out the connection between Malfoy and everything that was going on. That was all. He looked into Malfoy's study, but everything inside it had clearly been taken by the Aurors long ago. He sent his diagnostic charms running through the room but they returned no results. The library looked to have been cleared out too. Harry felt like a ghost as he wandered the halls, invisible and alone.

He couldn't help but remember, as he walked, other times he'd been in this house. He had a vivid image, as he entered the kitchen, of Malfoy on his knees, licking treacle from Harry's stomach, opening his jeans with needy hands. He pushed the image away. He'd locked those memories up a long time ago, and refused to give them the power to hurt him. Malfoy had left. Everything between them before that had been a lie.

He was lost in his head, his feet taking a familiar path, and he didn't realise it until he found himself in the doorway of Malfoy's bedroom. He looked around, unable to help himself, as he noted the changes. It had been redecorated, painted in tasteful blues and creams. Harry wondered if that was Malfoy's doing, or that of the wife he'd lost with the birth of his son.

The bed was the same. Harry found his eyes lingering on the mahogany headboard for just a moment. He felt the phantom grip of restraints around his wrists as he curled his hands around the wood. He heard the murmur of Malfoy's voice in his ear.

You like that, Potter? You take it so well. I knew you would.

Harry flushed and looked away, snapping himself out of it. Instead, he took a cursory look around the room, sending his diagnostic charms out in front of him as he had in every other room. Only this time, one of them returned a result that was more than just centuries of magic imbued into the building.

He walked to the bedside table, where charm that amplified his gut instinct was wiggling with glee, and waved his wand to slide the drawer out. It was empty and he frowned, glancing down at his charm, which was showing no sign of losing interest. Harry looked at it for a long moment before something occurred to him. He returned his attention to the drawer and thought about another charm Malfoy had taught him, so many years ago, when they'd been wine drunk and maudlin, talking of the war.

'I kept a journal. My own form of Occlumency. Put all the thoughts in there the Dark Lord could never know and then locked them up.' Malfoy had mimed a key, locking it tight, and throwing it away.

'How could you create a lock he couldn't get into?' Harry asked, interested, but sleepy, his head on Malfoy's chest as he watched the fire crackling in the grate in front of them.

'I didn't use a key,' Malfoy said, and his voice was serious. 'I sent it elsewhere.'

'What do you mean elsewhere,' Harry said, lifting his head in puzzlement.

'There's a white place,' Malfoy said. 'A waiting place. Sometimes I put things there, to wait.'

Harry had shivered, at his own memories of a white place where things waited. He didn't want to talk about it. He hadn't told anyone about that place. So he changed the subject, reaching up to pull Malfoy into a kiss. They weren't good at talking, but at least they were good at f*cking.

Harry came back to himself as he looked down at the drawer again, remembering that moment in a new light. Was Malfoy connected to Death too? Had that been what he was doing, all those years ago, when he put things elsewhere? Harry's earlier thought came back to him. Was Malfoy a Catalyst, too? Was he mixed up in all of this? Or had his appearance in the news footage been a coincidence?

He looked back down at the drawer and thought of the movement Malfoy had made that night, thought of the place between worlds.

He concentrated on that place, feeling the cloak ripple around him as he closed his eyes, almost as though it were drawing him closer, making the bridge easier to cross. He breathed out slowly, stilling his mind, then he reached out with his wand and copied the movement Malfoy had made so long ago, the twist and pull. Something resisted him for a moment and he pulled harder, breathing out as it let go.

Harry didn't have to open his eyes to know it had worked. But when he looked down, he didn't see the journal he had expected to see. Instead, there was a photo in the open drawer.

He reached down to pick it up with fingers that shook slightly.

It was a picture of the two of them. It had been taken on Harry's twenty-third birthday. Malfoy had surprised him, taken him to Amsterdam for the first time. They'd smoked Gillyweed together, sitting on a rooftop bar where no one particularly cared who they were. A random Wizard had been handing pictures out to people all night.

Harry watched as the image of himself reached across to cup Malfoy's face, drawing him into a kiss, before tilting his head to whisper in Malfoy's ear.

Harry's chest clenched as he remembered what he had said. It had been the first time he told Draco he loved him.

A few weeks later, Draco had walked out on him.

Harry stared at the photo, his eyes catching on the look of transparent happiness on Malfoy's face.

His mood soured further. What the f*ck was Malfoy doing with this photo, still? How dare he pretend that any of it had mattered?

With an angry flick, Harry threw the photo into the air and directed an Incendio at it. Then he turned and walked from the room.

This had been a waste of his time. All it had done was stir memories better left dead.


Harry spent two days thinking and planning before he visited his London post box. He half-thought Ron might jump out of the shadows, but he opened it unmolested. He'd expected a letter back from Conor, but it was Aoife who had written to him. He wasn't surprised to see she wrote the way she spoke. It was pages and pages of information in a quick, scribbled hand. He skimmed it.

I'm getting an increasing number of reports that make me think Conquest has moved into the United States as well, possibly to join War. We're hearing the word Preservation far more than even a few days ago, and there are a number of tensions already boiling that it wouldn't take much to tap into. There have been at least fifty magical deaths in the States, reportedly caused by Muggles. Everyone's on edge. The two forces are being bloody smart about it this cycle.

The magical community in America experiences significant discrimination and has suffered cycles of persecution over several hundred years. It won't take much to bring them into the fold, not when Conquest has the entire uprising in Europe to feed off.

The sub-text was obvious; this is entirely your fault.

Harry ignored it and kept reading, filing away the various sightings and connections she had made. They would all be valuable.

If you're going, you'll need to make contact with Blake Williams. They're the Gatherer from the New York Chapter. They'll be able to get you sorted. The New York Chapter is based in the Upper West Side and you'll need to access them by visiting the American Museum of Natural History. They're underneath. PLEASE CONTACT BLAKE. This is too important to f*ck up again, Catalyst.

He flicked to the last two pages to see four images drawn there. Each was named in turn. He recognised the first, the Seal of Triumph. It was the circle containing the diamond and the infinity triangles which he'd seen on Daniela, and which the Preservation was perverting.

The other three weren't familiar.

The Seal of Scattering looked like crossed blades again and again within a circle. It figured that that one was related to War. It looked like a battle just sitting there on the page.

The Seal of the Curse-Carrier looked poisonous. It had a solid black bar up the centre of the circle, from which came pointed barbs, spiked backward like hooks. Other spines pointed up to meet them.

The final one was the Seal of the Veil. It was a circle divided by an X, with a V shape coming off each side. It made Harry think of eyes opening in the darkness. He hated it with a visceral sense of terror that came from somewhere deep inside him.

Each of the seals had the name of the force they worked against written next to them, with words below that looked like some sort of invocation.

Underneath all of this was Aoife's handwriting again. She had written the words in heavy ink and then underlined them.

Don't f*ck this up!

Harry read the lot again and then placed everything inside his Mokeskin pouch, tucking it away with his other notes.

He knew what he had to do next. He had to find a way to get on board a Muggle aeroplane and make his way to New York. Then he had to find Malfoy and figure out what the hell he knew about all of this.


In the end, crossing countries the Muggle way was far easier than Harry expected. It didn't take him long to find a bus that was headed to the airport. With his Invisibility Cloak on, he simply bypassed the lines and the scanners. There were people in uniforms everywhere and for some reason a bunch of them had dogs pulling them about the place. Twice he had to use a mild Confundus charm when one of the animals looked interested in heading his way. Harry wondered if this was how the airport always was, or if the Muggles were reacting to the increasingly severe reports of violence and unrest on the news. Everywhere he looked he could see TV screens and newspaper headlines screaming about the rise in death and destruction.

The atmosphere in the airport was tense. People didn't meet each other's eyes for long, lowering their heads and hurrying past. No one was browsing the shops. Instead, they all looked like they were determined just to get to where they were going, as quickly as possible. Harry slipped between them soundlessly, feeling like he was walking through a world that was separated from theirs, as though he were behind a veil that was more solid than the cloak he wore.

It took him a few minutes to work out the departures board, to figure out where he needed to be for a London to New York flight. Then it was just a matter of waiting. He settled himself in a corner of the lounge with a mild Muggle-repelling charm around him and closed his eyes, just for a moment.

He woke forty-five minutes later when the boarding call was piped across the speakers, and he waited for all the other passengers to queue first. The sleep didn't seem to have helped much. He still felt foggy, as though he was at a remove from everything around him. He wondered if he could sleep again on the flight, but decided it would be too dangerous. If he was discovered, he would have nowhere to go, and he wasn't sure that trying to attempt a mass Obliviation on an aeroplane mid-flight was advisable.

The aeroplane didn't seem to be full, which meant there was a spare seat in the front section he could tuck himself into as he entered behind the last of the crew. The seat was roomier and more comfortable than he expected, and he made sure the cloak was covering his whole body before he put the same Muggle-repellent charms up, stronger this time, as well as a Notice-Me-Not. He couldn't chance someone deciding to swap seats mid-flight or to use this spare one for storage.

The board had said the flight was eight hours, and as Harry settled in, he wondered how much of their lives Muggles spent travelling, and what they could be doing with their time if they had access to magic instead. Then he leaned forward so his cloak hung out over his bent knees and unfolded the maps he'd stolen at the airport. He'd need to get from JFK airport to the American Museum of Natural History. It took about half an hour of reading the tourist labels before he found it, and then he wondered how he'd get there. He couldn't Floo since he didn't know where the nearest place he could access one was.

He supposed there must be a bus or a taxi or something he could take. He wouldn't be able to do anything about it until he landed and saw what was available though. He put the matter aside, which left his mind free to cycle onto other thoughts. So much had happened in the last few days. He could feel it whirling through him, round and round until he was almost sick with it. He pulled out the notes from Aoife and reviewed them again, thinking about the people she had identified as possible hosts for War and Conquest.

The thought of Malfoy hovered in the back of his mind, like an itch he couldn't scratch. How the hell was he tied up in all of this?


The airport, when they landed, was busier than it had been in London. It took him twenty minutes to make his way outside, leaving behind the travellers queuing through customs. In the end, he needed to take a bus and then the subway. That was an experience in itself. More than once he had to squeeze himself into a corner, to avoid being stepped on or jostled. He almost thought it would have been easier to take his cloak off and be visible, but the very thought of it left him feeling deeply uncomfortable.

A few hours later, Harry stood at the front steps of the Natural History Museum. It was a huge, imposing building, with stone columns reaching high into the air over a grand entryway. Harry frowned at it and then began walking. That was the Muggle entrance. He knew the one he was looking for would be far less flashy.

The museum opened onto a street across from Central Park. It took Harry about fifteen minutes to find what must be the Wizarding entrance. It was a small courtyard in a part of the building that looked much older. The crumbling bricks and stonework reminded him of Hogwarts. There were no Muggles moving around this area, and when Harry concentrated, he could feel the charms wrapped around the space. Instead of pushing him away, they seemed to be doing the opposite, calling him closer. There was something seductive about them, as though they were speaking just to him.

He was about to step closer when he remembered Conor's reaction to his cloak. He'd said Harry was wrapping himself in Death. Harry touched the fabric briefly, fingers almost clutching, before he forced himself to let go. He wasn't sure why, but he didn't want whoever was inside this building to know he had the cloak yet, or maybe at all. He moved back around the side of the building until he was out of sight and then pulled the fabric back, blinking as the bright sunlight stabbed into his eyes without the shadowy barrier filtering it away for him.

He considered for a second stowing it away in his pack, but the idea of taking it off completely, of not being able to reach up and draw it forward when he needed it, made him too uncomfortable. He left it on but placed a glamour over himself so that the cloak would appear to be a plain, brown travelling cloak and nothing more. He hesitated a moment longer and then conjured a pair of leather gloves, pulling them on over his hands. He didn't need any of them touching his bare skin, either.

Then, shoulders stiff with discomfort, he made his way back to the Wizarding entrance. He was stopped at the doorway by a figure that materialised out of the shadows. Harry was abruptly glad he'd moved away to change his cloak.

'State your name and purpose,' the man in front of him said, his wand out, and pointed at Harry. He was dressed in sharp black robes that were fitted and buttoned at his chest, flaring open at his legs. They looked like Auror robes, and something about the way he held himself made Harry think the man was well-trained.

Harry raised both hands, brushing over the runes on his forearms, pushing through the fabric to activate the ones he needed. He didn't pull his wand. He wanted these people to let him in, after all.

'My name is Harry Potter,' he said, watching the dark-haired man in front of him. He showed no reaction to Harry's name, so he continued.

'I've been told to come looking for Blake Williams, your Gatherer. I was sent by Conor Gibbons, from Skellig Michael, in Ireland.'

At those words the man relaxed, lowering his wand slightly, though he didn't put it away. He simply nodded and said, 'Follow me.'

The large wooden door behind him opened with a flick of his wand and Harry stepped into a small chamber containing a cupboard on one wall, a table, and a chair. There were no other doors.

The man crossed to the cupboard and pulled out a small vial. He was shorter than Harry and had to reach slightly for it. He still had his wand in his hand. He held it like someone who knew what he was doing. He gestured Harry to the chair and Harry sat.

'This is Veritaserum,' the man said, indicating the vial. 'I will administer you two drops and ask you a series of questions. If you answer them successfully, you will be allowed inside. If you do not, I will take you into custody. Do you consent?'

Harry eyed the vial and then glanced around the room. It didn't give him any hints about what to do next. He glanced up into the corner opposite him and saw the small, red eye of a Muggle camera, embedded in the ceiling. They were watching him.

'Fine,' he said, and opened his mouth, tilting his head back.

The drops hit his tongue and slid down his throat with the faint saltiness of tears. f*ck, he hated Veritaserum. He could feel it working its way through his body almost immediately, digging into his mind in search of his secrets. He gritted his teeth as he tried to corral it mentally. There were some things he would not be willing to share.

'What is your name?' the man asked again.

'Harry Potter,' he repeated, happy to allow the Veritaserum to pull that from him, and glad he hadn't given a fake identity a few minutes earlier.

'What is your business with the New York Chapter?'

'I've come to offer my help and to do what I can to stop two of the Inaequalis,' Harry said, grimacing as he mangled the name. 'The Horsem*n.'

The man in front of him raised an eyebrow but didn't follow up.

'How did you find out about us?'

'I was given directions by Conor Gibbons and Aoife, the Gatherer of the Skellig Michael Sect. I found out about them through my friend Luna Lovegood.' Harry bit off the end of his sentence before the Veritaserum kept him going. He could feel the words crowding his mouth, about how he'd gone to Luna because he was looking for the Hallows. How he had a connection to Death. He swallowed them back down. He'd given the Veritaserum an answer. It would be content with that.

'Why did they give you the directions to find us?'

'Because I'm a Catalyst,' Harry said, voice flat. The words were true, whether he wanted them to be or not.

The man's face twisted briefly in surprise and then he spoke again.

'Do you mean to work for good, for evil, or for balance?'

Harry opened his mouth but didn't speak right away, not sure he understood the question. Good and evil weren't the terms Conor and Aoife had used. The way they'd explained the cycles of change over time sounded a lot more complex than that.

'I want to stop the Horsem*n and stop the deaths,' he said, after a moment. Whether that was the right answer, or not, the man in front of him simply nodded.

'Do you mean any harm to the people within the New York Chapter of the Statera?' The question was asked with an air of finality like this was the last in a list.

Harry shook his head and he could feel the Veritaserum begin to loosen its hold, as it let him answer with a simple but emphatic, 'No.'

The man opposite him glanced backward, looking up at the camera behind him. The blinking red light changed to green momentarily and then went dark.

'Welcome to New York,' he said with a brief smile as he reached his hand out. Harry clasped it in a firm handshake, glad he'd thought to put the gloves on. 'I'm Ethan. Sorry for all the security, but we've got a lot going on at the moment. There have been several attempts by agents to infiltrate our sect in the last few weeks.'

Ethan turned to his left and made a complicated gesture with his arm. Harry couldn't see the wand movements with the way his body was angled, but a moment later a door materialised on the stone wall. It was dull, grey steel and Ethan stepped forward to push it open. Beyond it, Harry could see a white corridor, lit with electric lights. A woman walked up it, towards him. She was tall and had frizzy black hair.

'Hello,' she said, as she reached them. 'I'm Mac. Conor told us you'd be coming. Follow me and I'll show you through. We need to get you up to speed as soon as possible. Things are changing rapidly at the moment and we could do with another one of you out there.'

She'd turned away and started back down the corridor almost before she'd finished speaking. Harry moved after her, something in her words catching at him.

'What do you mean by "another one"?' he asked.

'Another Catalyst,' Mac said, not slowing her stride. 'One is not enough when we're going to be up against two forces simultaneously.'

'There are other Catalysts?' Harry asked, feeling something in him twist at that thought. He couldn't tell if it was relief or dread. He didn't have to do this alone. When Conor had talked about bad things happening to Catalysts, Harry had assumed... well, he didn't know what he had assumed. Maybe that this would be his burden to bear until he died of it, and then it would pass to another.

Mac glanced at him, dark eyes unfathomable. 'Of course there are. This way,' she said, indicating a dark metal door that looked no different from the half dozen they'd already passed.

It opened into a huge room that was filled with people moving back and forth, weaving in and out of each other's space with a purposeful speed that made Harry think of bees in a hive. There was far more tech than magic in the space. Harry could see a huge map of the city on the far wall, with digital images pinned to it and moving around, flashing up photographs and video of whoever the targets were.

In the centre of the room was a bank of computers, with a dozen people at them, searching and clicking away, lost in the feeds on their screens. They reminded him of Aoife and her dedication to information, but there were so many more of them here. Glass-fronted rooms lined one wall, all occupied with people who looked to be extremely serious about whatever they were listening to.

Harry glanced back at Mac, but she was already striding across the room, toward the map at the back. He looked around once more, then followed her, reaching to touch the smooth fabric of his cloak for reassurance as he did so.

As they approached the back wall, Harry watched the map, seeing some of the names Aoife had given him in her paperwork—the list of possible hosts. There was a cluster of them meeting right now, and Harry wondered just what they were doing. He remembered the photo with Malfoy in it. A group of the world's rich and powerful people together in one room. Whatever was being decided, wouldn't be good.

As they stepped onto the raised platform, a slim person with spiky purple hair and piercings turned to face them. They looked Harry up and down. 'You're the Catalyst that A mentioned, then?' they said, sounding supremely unimpressed. 'She said you're clueless. You need to get up to speed before you can do anything more than blunder around.' They gestured to a chair off to one side, in front of a table with a pile of papers on it.

'He caused the first rising,' they said to Mac, gesturing at Harry and making a shooing motion towards the chair. 'Did you know that?' They turned to Harry next. 'You caused the first rising. You won't be doing that again. Not under my watch.'

Mac's face didn't change. 'This is Blake,' she said to Harry. 'They'll be seeing to your education. You'll be put into play when they judge that you have sufficient knowledge. Someone will be by later to show you to your room. Have you eaten?'

Harry shook his head, feeling overwhelmed by the speed at which everything was happening.

'Food will be brought for you.' Mac began to leave but then turned back. 'Welcome to New York, Catalyst,' she said, with a brief incline of her head, face still cold. 'Let's see that we make the right change, this time.'

Harry's anger begin to stir, fighting through the rush of information he was seeing and hearing. Where did these people get off, judging him? He hadn't released the Horseman on purpose. No one had been there holding his hand and telling him what he should or shouldn't be doing. He'd done the best he bloody well could.

He ground back on the feelings, rubbing the cloak between his fingers and imagining it numbing the anger, hiding it behind a cloud of fog. Getting angry wasn't going to help anyone. These people had things he needed to know.

Blake gestured him into the chair again and then sat down opposite him.

'Right,' they said. 'Let's start like you know nothing and go from there.' They didn't wait for his nod, just pulled the first four sheets of paper off the pile in front of him and laid them out on the table. They had images of riders on horses and a number of the symbols Harry already recognised.

'Four forces for evil. In terms you can understand: Conquest, War, Plague, and Death,' Blake said, jabbing at each in turn with a finger. 'Four forces for good: Law, Order, Abundance, and the Eternal. Following me so far?'

Harry nodded, but his eye caught on one of the images in front of him. It was the Horseman from his dreams. War. He leaned closer to look at it. The horse was a brighter red than the blood-soaked creature he'd been faced with, but the feeling he got from the image was the same. There was a vicious challenge of combat and violence emanating from the figure on the red horse. War had its great sword raised as its mount reared over a group of people below. There was a triumphant and hungry grin on its skeletal face.

Harry leaned closer to read the caption:

From the eternal sea he rises,
creating armies on either shore,
turning man against his brother,
until man exists no more.

'Why is it a skeleton?' Harry asked, interrupting the flow of Blake's words to point to the image of War.

They looked at him, nonplussed. 'What?'

'War,' Harry said. 'Why is it depicted as a skeleton? In my dream, it was a man. He had bloody teeth and pale hair.'

Blake reached down to grip the table. 'You dreamed of War?' they asked, voice suddenly hoarse.

'Yes,' Harry said, tangling his fingers in his cloak.

Blake's eyes were suddenly razor-sharp. 'This is important, Catalyst,' they said, leaning forward. 'Did it speak to you?'

Harry paused and then nodded slowly. 'It said it would see me soon.'

'sh*t,' Blake said. Then again. 'sh*t, sh*t, sh*t.' They stood and moved to a clock on the wall beside the map, which Harry hadn't noticed. The face of it read Rising: Approaching. As Harry watched, Blake clicked something on the side that made the display change to show the words Rising: Imminent. The display went red and a light above the map began flashing. All around the room, heads looked over; there was a moment of silence before the activity increased, more furiously than before.

'What does that mean?' Harry said, pushing to his feet to stand beside them.

'If War is taunting you, it means it's close to finishing the tasks it needs to use its Host's body for. It's almost ready for you to kill the Host and release it like you did for Conquest.' Blake's lip curled at this and suddenly Harry had had enough. Enough of being judged and found wanting for something he knew nothing about. Gods, but he hated being left in the dark.

'I did the best I could,' he growled at the figure next to him. 'No one was helping me. No one told me a single thing about what was going on or what it all meant. I thought I was bringing justice to my son's killer. If you want me to do better next time, f*cking show me how.' He was spitting the words by the end of it and to his surprise, instead of stepping back, Blake smiled.

'There you are,' they said, considering him with that look that was as old as time. 'I was beginning to wonder if you had any fight left in you. Right. I'll put you through a proper briefing soon, but here's what we know. The Inaequalis are gearing up for World War Three. The war to end all wars. Wizard versus No-Maj. Magic versus might.'

It was the same thing Aoife had predicted.

'I've seen it,' Harry said, reaching for the reassurance of the cloak as he remembered the field of bodies. The memory took all the fire out of him. He remembered the endless piles of dead and their silent screams of accusation.

Blake started to speak but seemed to see something on his face that made them hesitate.

'Right. Well. We have our eye on several people who are key players in bringing this to a head: arms dealers, political leaders, terrorist groups, lobbyists, and the like. We've narrowed the list of possible Hosts down to eleven.' They waved up at the board and the display changed to show eleven faces, predominantly older, white men. Harry scanned them quickly but then his eyes caught on one. He sucked in a sharp breath.

Malfoy was in the bottom right corner, dressed in an expensive-looking Muggle suit. His hair was shaved close to the sides but left tousled on top and his face was expressionless, eyes hard. The caption under his name said: David Masterson, political advisor.

Harry opened his mouth to point him out and then paused, something in him cautioning him against making that connection public. He took a deep breath in, hand shaking as his heart started to beat faster. Tension coiled through his body, and suddenly, he desperately wanted a smoke. He crossed his arms over his chest to hide the tremor in his hands.

'We assume Conquest will be choosing a new Host nearby soon, though we haven't seen any signs yet. We've been watching each of these people constantly for the last few months,' Blake continued, not noticing Harry's moment of recognition. 'But we need you and Rick to get closer to them. You'll be drawn to them if they're hosting War. You won't be able to help yourselves. So far, we've only been able to get near four of them to cross them off the list. This cycle, we're almost certain that War's placed itself inside a high-profile agent. All of these people have magical protection as well, even though half of them are No-Majs. Rick's been having a lot of trouble.'

'Who's Rick?' Harry asked, his eyes straying back to the image of Malfoy. He looked older and harder, as though all the parts of him that cared—that wanted and needed and cried and laughed—had been cast off. He looked nothing like he had the last time Harry had seen him in person, so many years before. James' funeral barely counted. Harry's memory of that moment was so blurred, wrapped in pain and grief. All he remembered was the feeling of Malfoy's body giving way underneath his fist. What the f*ck was Malfoy doing mixed up in all of this?

'Rick Hanson. He's our other Catalyst,' Blake said. 'He's out at the moment, trying to get a read on Jackson Saunders.' They flipped their hand at a thickset older man up on the screen. The line below his mugshot said he was a Senator.

'Right,' Harry said, looking back at all of the images. 'So I track them, try and see if I'm drawn to any of them, and then what, if I can't kill them?' He saw Eliška's face again. Could he do that again? Send that hate spreading forth in the form of death?

Blake laughed, a short bark of sound. 'Is that what A told you?'

Harry nodded, remembering Aoife's emphasis on the fact that killing the hosts would only set the force inside them free. He knew the truth of that down to his bones. He would never forget the spectral figure he'd seen wheeling above the crowded square.

'Honestly, they're so soft over there, it's little wonder they've had so many failed cycles. We most certainly can kill the Host, but only after you've applied the seal. If you trap the Horseman inside the body and kill the body, you'll stop its ability to re-form. You'll take it out of play for the rest of the cycle.' Their face had a vicious satisfaction as they said that.

'So, in Ireland, they... what?' Harry asked, not understanding.

Blake flapped a hand dismissively. 'They muck around using the seal to separate the force from the Host so they can keep the Host alive. It's finicky and fails more often than not. Their Catalysts end up doing the opposite of what they meant to.' Blake paused to give him a judgemental look. 'We won't be having any of that soft rubbish from you, will we?'

Harry looked back up at the board of faces, his eyes catching again on Malfoy's unforgiving gaze.

'Show me how the seals work,' was all he said in response.


It was two days before Harry was judged as knowledgeable enough to be let outside. He'd been given five of the remaining ten names to investigate. Rick had apparently returned and crossed Saunders off the list while Harry had been practising the forms of the seals. He looked at his list. He knew which one he should track down first; John O'Neill, arms dealer. But there had never been any question in his mind about which name he'd start with. He'd copied every piece of information they had about Malfoy, despite the fact that he wasn't on Harry's list. The sheets he'd stolen were tucked away inside his Mokeskin pouch.

From what Harry could gather, Malfoy was using every cent left in his family coffers to buy his way into the ears of every powerful person in the country. He'd spent the last twelve months embedding himself into American politics under the guise of David Masterson, and he was dangerous. Several people in key positions had died suddenly after meetings with Malfoy, and others had changed their behaviour with a swiftness so dramatic that it indicated magical coercion. Mac's team had compiled a very thick dossier on him, and it made for grim reading.

As he reviewed it, circling and taking notes on the things that stood out to him, Harry found himself wondering just what had happened to Malfoy in the last eight years that had turned him into someone capable of this level of vicious manipulation. Then he thought of Lucius Malfoy and stopped being surprised. It was in the blood, after all. Harry had seen it himself—Draco's skill at lying, at telling someone exactly what they wanted to hear, right up until the moment he tore them to pieces with the truth.

Harry shook himself, focusing back on what he was doing. The moment he was far enough away from the Statera headquarters, he slipped into a restaurant, entering the toilets to pull his cloak back up over his head and shoulders. Its cool presence flow over his body like water he'd been thirsty for without realising. It soothed a prickling tension inside him that he hadn't even noticed growing. He closed his eyes and relaxed into it, opening them again to the familiar smoky barrier the cloak put between him and the world.

Somehow, the Statera had made modifications to tech that allowed it to co-exist alongside magic. There was a camera in the room he'd been given, so he hadn't been able to wear the cloak to sleep, but something, maybe the images of the Seals carved throughout the building, had kept hooded figures from his dreams. To keep the cloak off out in the open, though, was too much to ask. He relaxed into the comfort of wearing it again and slipped silently out of the restaurant. The papers he'd stolen included Apparition coordinates for several points around the city. Apparently, Malfoy had established a routine.

At this time of day, he should be in a business lunch meeting at Masa, a high-class Japanese restaurant that had both Muggle and magical protections at the door, according to the notes on file. Rick hadn't yet managed to get close enough to do more than take a few photos. Harry pulled his cloak tighter as he stepped onto the street, walking down the side of Central Park to make his way to the Time Warner building.

He hadn't been outside to see the beauty of the park since he arrived. It was slightly jarring to be this close to the living forest and to see it completely enclosed inside another forest made of concrete and steel. He almost wanted to walk into it—to join the people thronging through the park and get lost inside the life of it. As he walked, it called to him, the trees seeming to whisper. An image came into his mind of Jakub hanging in the great, old oak, his guts sown into the earth below him. Harry shivered and turned away from the park.

Malfoy couldn't have had anything to do with that, could he? Harry remembered the fifteen bodies, bleeding out all over the Manor. He remembered the notes in the pouch at his side, linking Malfoy to many more deaths. He needed to figure out what the f*ck was going on.

Harry turned his attention to the streets around him, trying to gauge the mood of the people he passed. Although it was a bright, warm day, people were hurrying to their destinations and most of the faces he saw were grim. It was as though they knew that something was coming for them. The first Preservation attacks had happened on US soil, the day before. They had come on the heels of another forty-two magical deaths at the hands of Muggles across the country. Those who were calling for moderation were finding it increasingly hard to be heard in the face of the persecution.

The reprisal attacks underneath the Preservation symbol had been the talk of the American chapter. There had been Wizard-on-Muggle violence reported in three major cities so far. MACUSA had cracked down immediately, but Harry could see the same signs of hatred, anger, and fear; the ones Europe had hosted for months. Except that he knew here, built on a foundation of racism and intolerance, they would flare to life far quicker. Here, as well, they would be fanned by the flames of rage from across the ocean. Who the hell had Conquest re-manifest into?

He put those thoughts from his mind. The Statera could worry about the bigger picture and how to calm things down. His only job was to find the agent hosting War and take the force out of action for the cycle. He could do that... he hoped he could, anyway.

Harry ignored the niggling feeling of guilt in the back of his mind that said that Malfoy wasn't even on his list and that what he was doing right now—chasing him down, instead of following the other five leads—was the exact opposite of doing his job.

As he got closer to the Time Warner building, he found himself getting more and more nervous. His hands began to shake, and he shoved them into his pockets under his cloak. He was fine, he told himself. He just hadn't had anything to drink or smoke in a few days, was all. This was just his body's reaction to that. Nothing else.

He made his way inside and up to the top floor, where the restaurant was located, and stood near the entrance for a moment, catching his breath and trying to slow his racing heartbeat. Malfoy may not even be inside. Harry tried to gather his focus. He could do this. Getting inside was no more difficult than teasing out the solution to a curse.

He studied what was in front of him, noting the Japanese designs carved into the doors of the entrance. He could see the symbols of power entwined with the flowing patterns. A man was standing beside the door, looking out with the gaze of a professional. Harry watched the entryway as well. He'd prefer to come in the main door. The staff entrances would likely be warded to specific magical signatures, or facial recognition in the case of any Muggles working here. The main doors, by their nature, would need to be more forgiving of strangers.

He waited fifteen minutes before he got his chance. A group of four arrived, stepping off the escalator and into the entryway for the restaurant. Harry slipped in behind them, moving silently, watching the doorman the whole time. One of the group showed him some sort of token and Harry could feel the magical residue emanating from it from a metre away. The doorman studied it for just a moment before he opened the double doors.

Harry walked in behind the group, as closely as he dared. As he approached the wards, he emptied his mind, the way he would right before he pulled the threads of a curse apart. He was not a threat. He meant no one any harm. He was nothing. He may as well not be here.

He held his breath and held his calm, and in the space of a few heartbeats, he was through and into the restaurant. He took a few steps away from the group, moving over to a wall, and surveyed the room. It wasn't as large as he expected. There were around thirty people in the restaurant, spread out among the tables. On one side of the room were large windows, looking out onto the city. From the ceiling hung a wooden lighting design that ran almost the length of the space and made him think of a serpent, the way it undulated. The whole restaurant spoke of a tasteful display of money and power.

Harry looked at the people next, getting the same impression from them. They reminded him of those he sometimes worked for, who called him into their mansions to deal with their old heirlooms. The people in this room had that same sense of entitled arrogance. It was in everything from the way they dressed to the way they held themselves.

His eyes flitted from person to person, until he found what he was looking for. His heart stopped for a moment as he saw a slim man seated near the window, his hair almost white, his posture rigid. He could only see the back of the man's head as he tilted it to say something to the person opposite him, but Harry knew. This was Malfoy. He'd found him. Abruptly, nausea came curling back, more powerfully than before, and for a moment, Harry was worried he would be sick. He pushed the impulse away. He was better than this. He was more in control than this.

He pushed away from the wall, shaking his head to ground himself. He needed to get closer, to see Malfoy's face, to hear what he was talking about. He wouldn't be able to exclude him from the list by looking at the back of his head.

He slipped between the diners silently. Nobody even glanced towards him. It was as if he wasn't there at all. He kept his eyes off Malfoy as he moved, concentrating on where he was going. He couldn't afford to be found here if he co*cked up and bumped into someone. It took him a few minutes to find a vantage point beside a pillar, near the windows. He was about three metres away from Malfoy, close enough that he'd be able to hear anything Malfoy and his companion said, provided they didn't whisper.

Harry leaned against the wall and then looked up and into the face of Draco Malfoy for the first time in a year. He was smiling at his lunch companion, a dark-haired, slightly balding man in a military uniform. The smile was sharp on Malfoy's face, and there was something cruel around the edges of it. His hair was the same as it had been in the photo Harry had seen—artfully styled, probably in the latest fashion. Harry rolled his eyes at the thought. But he couldn't help noticing it emphasised the lines of Malfoy's cheekbones and the angles of his face in a way that made him look harshly beautiful. His suit, charcoal, with a white, open-necked shirt, fit his shoulders in a way that clearly said it was expensive and had been tailored to him.

Malfoy looked every inch like someone who had been born to money. He looked like a weapon; something that was beautiful from afar, but if you came too close, would cut you to pieces. For just a moment, Harry had a memory of sitting on the back porch of Grimmauld Place, with a Draco who was dressed in a pair of Harry's joggers and a t-shirt that was far too loose on him, picking chips out of a wrapper with his fingers. His hair had been soft then, ruffled from Harry's hands in it, gripping him to pull him closer.

Harry shook his head, forcing the memory away. That Draco was a lifetime ago. It may as well be a different person from the man in front of him. He needed to know what was happening now. He concentrated, picking up the threads of the conversation.

'General Andrews, surely you can see the way the winds are blowing,' Malfoy said, picking up his glass of wine and taking a sip.

'There are two sides to this thing,' he continued, his voice a confident drawl. 'You know that and I know that. The question is whether you want to be on the losing side.'

The man in front of Malfoy was silent, but Harry could see the interest in the lines of his body, in the way he leaned forward and his knuckles whitened slightly as he gripped the table. It seemed Malfoy could see the same signs, as he leaned back in his seat and took another sip of wine, the hint of a smile at the edges of his mouth.

'Congress will vote for war,' Malfoy said, raising one smooth eyebrow. 'There have been too many attacks on US soil already. People are scared and now is the time to show strength. What we need to do is make sure that we show the right kind of strength.' Malfoy paused, and his smile had a coldness to it that made Harry shiver. 'This is a time to make history.'

The man—Andrews—murmured something, and Harry took a step closer to listen.

'—have a lot to lose,' Andrews said, reaching for his glass of wine and taking a deep gulp.

Malfoy smiled again, that razor-sharp smile. 'General Andrews,' he said, his eyes dark. 'The sweetest of wins are the ones where we have the most to lose, are they not?'

Andrews was silent and Malfoy leaned in, lowering his voice. Harry took another step closer. What the hell was Malfoy talking about? What kind of strength was needed? Was there really going to be a vote for war? Harry thought of the image on the news reel—Malfoy standing in the background of an arms deal between the United States and Russia. Had he been more than just a background player in that process, too?

'Come by tonight,' Malfoy said, reaching into his jacket pocket and pulling a piece of paper and a pen out, and scribbling something down. 'There are a few things I want to show you that I think will help you make up your mind.'

He slid the piece of paper across the table and Harry took another two silent steps forward until he was almost touching Andrews. Harry's heart was hammering so loudly that he thought they might hear him, but they were both oblivious. Andrews was looking down at the table in front of him and Malfoy was watching Andrews. Harry's eyes were caught by the look on Malfoy's face. It was as though he were a predator, waiting for his prey to take that final, irrevocable step into his grasp.

Andrews glanced around swiftly and then reached out to take the slip of paper. Harry glanced down at it as he did, noting the details on it.

Plaza Hotel
Royal Suite

Malfoy had signed underneath it, though the signature wasn't his. It must be the fake name he was using, Harry realised. Andrews palmed the piece of paper into his pocket, giving Malfoy a nod that had a hint of a shake in it. He braced his hands on the table, and Harry realised with a second to spare that he was about to stand. He took several steps back, quickly and silently, and continued to watch.

'Nine, then, Andrews?' Malfoy said as the man turned to leave. 'I'll look forward to it.' There was a light in Malfoy's eyes, as he said the words, that Harry found disturbing. He moved back again, leaning against the pillar he'd started at. Malfoy watched Andrews until he'd left the room, and then lifted his wine glass, draining it. He placed it back on the table and then sat, looking at the seat Andrews had vacated.

He was still for a long moment, unnaturally so. It was as though he had been hit with an Immobulus. His face twisted, as though he was struggling with something internally. Then he blinked, his face smoothed out and he moved his chair back, standing gracefully and pulling his suit jacket back into place with a sharp tug. He made his way back through the restaurant swiftly, nodding or murmuring a word to several people as he passed them.

Harry didn't even have to think. As soon as Malfoy moved, he was following him, trailing behind. He needed to see where he went next. Malfoy strode to a door beside the entrance, which Harry hadn't noticed, but which was clearly magical, from the wards Harry could feel buzzing over it. Malfoy waved his hand in a careless gesture and the door opened for him.

Harry frowned. Malfoy never had been much good at wandless magic. It was one of the things he used to get shirty about when Harry did one of the few spells he knew without thinking about it. Another thing that had changed in the years since they'd seen each other.

He followed Malfoy through, not sure where he was going and not sure what his own plan was. Was he going to confront Malfoy? Ask him what was going on? What he was doing here and what the damned cryptic conversation he'd just had meant?

The very thought of confronting Malfoy, of speaking to him face to face, made Harry feel sick. He couldn't. He was here to watch Malfoy. To see if he had any link to the Horsem*n, that was all. If he blew his cover and let Malfoy know he was here, he wouldn't be able to do that. That was the reason he couldn't talk to Malfoy.

He was two steps into the space when he realised it was a travelling room, and then he cursed as he heard the crack of Malfoy's Apparition.

Buggering f*ck. He never had been any good at tracking Apparition. He stared at the place Malfoy had disappeared from a moment longer before he cursed to himself again and turned away. There was no point trying to guess where he'd gone to now. Harry would just have to track him that night. Nine o'clock, he'd said. At the Plaza.

In the meantime, Harry would have to do something about the actual job he'd been assigned. He sighed and Apparated away.


It was late afternoon when he walked through the backdoor to the Museum. Ethan let him in with a smile and a query about his hunting. Harry smiled back but didn't answer. When he was inside, he made his way to Blake, installed at their computer terminal at the back of the room. There was a new banner across the top of the digital display, stating there was now active and ongoing violence in six US cities. Harry glanced at it, then away, the urgency of his task prickling at him.

Blake looked up at his approach, one pierced eyebrow raised in question.

'It's not John O'Neill,' Harry said, nodding his head at the swarthy man with a scar across his cheek, listed along the bottom of the board. He made no mention of Malfoy. Malfoy wasn't on Harry's list, after all. Besides, Harry felt no closer to understanding just how he was involved than he had before he came face to face with him.

Blake leaned back in their chair, crossing their arms. 'One day, you've been out. How do you know it's not O'Neill?'

Harry shrugged, refusing to be drawn in. 'You told me I was a Catalyst. You told me I'd "know" if I was close enough. I'm telling you, I was close enough. Believe me, or waste more time trying to figure it out yourself. It's not him.'

Blake gave him a sceptical look but nodded.

'I need to know about someone called General Andrews,' Harry said, thinking of the man Malfoy had been meeting with.

Blake hummed and turned to their computer, tapping away for a few moments. Half a dozen headshots came up on the big screen behind them. Harry scanned them quickly and then nodded to the one in the bottom left.

'Him,' he said. 'Joseph Andrews.' The title under his name said 'Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff'. 'Who is he?'

Blake clicked a few more buttons and a bio came up. 'He's President Johnson's Senior Military Advisor,' Blake said. 'Why?'

Harry frowned, eyes flicking over the information on the screen. 'I think he might be connected to one of my names,' Harry said absently, as he took it in. What the hell was Malfoy doing making deals with the guy who set the military direction for the entire bloody country?

Blake frowned, but didn't push him, instead they glanced across the room and raised their arm, gesturing to someone who had just walked in. Harry turned to see a tall, well-built man making his way towards them. He was dressed in cargo pants and a tight black t-shirt and his blond hair was cropped close to his head. Something about the way he walked made Harry think of the Muggle military. He wondered if he was MACUSA.

'Rick,' Blake said when the man reached them. 'Meet Harry, our newest Catalyst.'

Rick's eyes snapped to Harry's at that. They were a pale blue and there was nothing warm in them as he smiled in greeting and reached out his hand.

Harry returned his handshake, glad he'd taken to wearing his gloves constantly. Rick squeezed his hand in a way that was clearly meant to intimidate and dominate him. Harry let him, the slight sneer on Rick's face telling him what he needed to know. The man was a bully.

'Hi,' Harry said, withdrawing his hand and crossing his arms.

'Nice to meet you,' Rick said, his voice deep, and his accent making it broader and slower. He was American, but Harry didn't think he was from New York.

'Harry's crossed O'Neill off the list,' Blake said.

Rick narrowed his eyes. 'How did you get near the prick? He has three rings of rotating guards. Bastard's the most well-protected No-Maj I've ever seen.'

Harry shrugged, deliberately not reaching for his cloak. The longer he kept the fact that he had it a secret, the more right that decision felt.

'Maybe I'm just better at surveillance than you,' he said, letting a little bit of his instant dislike for the man leak into his voice.

'Bullsh*t,' Rick said. 'You didn't even see him.'

Harry shrugged. 'I don't care if you believe it or not,' he turned slightly to include Blake in this statement as well. 'I told you. I saw him up close and nothing about him made me think he could be holding a Horseman. He's Muggle. He has no magical aura at all. He wasn't acting off. He didn't give me any sort of feeling of attraction or concern. I've seen one of the Horsem*n in the flesh. I know what I'm looking for.'

'That's right,' Rick said. 'You're the one that f*cked up the kill for the first rising.'

Harry opened his mouth and then closed it again. He was sick of defending himself. And he'd be damned if he defended himself to this idiot. The fact that Rick was right just made him grit his teeth harder.

Rick stepped closer, until he was in Harry's space, clearly trying to loom over him as an intimidation tactic. Harry looked up at him, feeling something dark coil inside his chest.

'Perhaps you should just stay out of my way, Harry,' Rick said, that same disrespect back in his voice. 'I've been training for these kills for the last year. Worst comes to worst, I'll just Seal and take out every one of the targets and we can worry about who it was later.'

Harry caught Blake's frown out of the corner of his eye. He felt his anger rise in response to those words.

'Perhaps you should stay out of my way, Rick,' Harry said, and he knew his voice was cold and hard. 'I have seen and done things you haven't experienced in your worst nightmares. I killed someone I could have saved when I freed the first Horseman. I'm not going to let you kill a bunch of other people because you're too f*cking lazy or stupid to tell where the next one is hosted.'

Harry saw it in the man's eyes. The mercurial shift as rage rose, overcoming rational thought. A second later Rick's fist connected with his cheek. Harry tilted his head so that it was a glancing blow and then stepped in closer, driving his own fist up hard into Rick's stomach, sending the air gushing from him in a huff. He pulled the man forward as he bent in response to the punch and rammed his knee into the same place his fist had just been. Rick groaned and moved to grab Harry's leg.

Harry stepped back a pace and grabbed the back of Rick's t-shirt, pulling him up and then slamming him back down so that his head hit the table in front of him and he slumped to the floor.

Harry stood, breathing harshly for a moment, the adrenaline still pumping through him, then he straightened, looking first into Blake's shocked face, and then out over the normally busy room. All eyes were on him, and they held varying levels of shock, anger, or strangely, in some, satisfaction.

Harry turned more fully, to face the room.

'I am a Catalyst,' he said, letting his voice ring out. 'I will let you guide me and help me. But I will be the one who makes the changes. Death, for the sake of death,' Harry's eyes flicked back to Rick's still-prone form and he felt his anger stir again, 'is not something I will tolerate.'

There were a few nods from the people watching him, and then two stepped forward, clearly making their way toward Rick. Harry spared him another glance then looked back at Blake, determination in his face.

'Take O'Neill off your board,' he said, voice leaving no room for argument. 'I'm going back out.'


Harry's blood was still pumping as he stalked down Central Park West, his cloak wrapped tightly around him. He thought briefly about Apparating closer to the Plaza, but he had about an hour until Malfoy would be meeting with General Andrews, and he could feel the adrenaline from his confrontation with Rick still pumping through him. He tapped out a smoke and sucked back on it deeply, breathing it out as he walked.

He shouldn't have done what he did, he knew. But the guy was an absolute twat. Harry couldn't just stand by as he talked about killing a bunch of people like it was nothing. He remembered his feelings after he'd killed the woman hosting Conquest. He'd been so muddied beforehand, so tangled in his own mind and his thoughts of what was needed. He knew, now, that the Horseman had been influencing him, and wondered if it was the same for Rick. Was he under the spell of War already? Was that why he was so willing to kill without worrying about the consequences?

Harry passed a newspaper stand and he paused, scanning the headlines. He vanished the butt of his cigarette and leaned closer.





The pictures attached to them were grim; surging crowds, burnt-out cars, people running, screaming from those who pursued them. He didn't need to see the Wizarding newspapers to know he would get the same story of fear and hate and violence from the other side. It was Prague, all over again. Harry turned away. He had to figure out how to stop this.

Stalking Malfoy probably isn't the answer, whispered a voice in his mind. Perhaps you should be doing your actual job and tracking down the people you have on your list.

He ignored it. He could track down the next person on his list after he was finished with Malfoy tonight. But he had to see him first. The idea of not doing so made something prickle under his skin, just this side of painful.

The Plaza wasn't warded, but Harry could tell that a number of the security staff were Wizards, just by watching them. He didn't bother trying to make his way up to Malfoy's room. He knew it would have protections he couldn't breach by himself. Instead, he stood against the wall in a place that would give him a clear view of the door and settled in to watch.

It was only fifteen minutes before he caught sight of the man Malfoy had been having lunch with, as he walked in the door. He was shorter than Harry had realised and he was out of his military uniform this time, instead, his plain black suit jacket was tight over the curve of his stomach. He walked with the air of someone who wasn't quite sure that they were making the right choice, but despite that, he strode across the foyer to the reception desk.

Harry moved closer to him so that he was standing behind Andrews as he pulled the slip of paper, with Malfoy's fake signature on it, from his pocket. The woman at the desk glanced at it and then gestured Andrews to the lift. 'Show that to the man inside and he will scan you up. Thank you for your visit.' Her smile didn't reach her eyes, and she turned her attention to the next person approaching the desk.

Harry followed closely behind Andrews as he entered the lift and then moved to one side. The attendant was a Wizard as well. Harry could feel the magic in him. He assessed Andrews with a glance and Harry saw him relax slightly as he realised Andrews was a Muggle. He smiled at the proffered paper and scanned his pass against the console for the lift, pushing a button with an elaborate letter 'R' on it.

Harry stepped out of the lift behind Andrews and shivered, biting his cheek to stifle his discomfort as an illusion-shattering spell flooded over him. He glanced at the lift attendant but was relieved to see that his eyes were casting over Andrews and around the room, completely ignoring Harry, a few paces in front of him. The spell had been a powerful one. Harry didn't think any other form of concealment or disillusionment would have survived it.

As Harry watched, the attendant made a subtle gesture with his hand. Harry turned to the door opposite them to realise it had been a brief dismantling of the wards. Harry would bet they'd give Andrews approximately a minute to step inside that door before they snapped back into place.

'Enjoy your evening, sir,' came a murmured voice from behind them.

Andrews didn't look back, and neither did Harry as he moved on silent feet. If he was left outside the door, he didn't think he'd have a hope of getting in, not without a day or two to pick the wards apart, and he didn't have that sort of time.

The door in front of them was cream with gold inlay and the plaque proclaimed the significance of the space in flowing etching. Andrews reached for the ornate handle, pushing it open to reveal an entryway, done in the same cream and gold, wall sconces and chandeliers lighting the space. A huge silver vase displayed a bouquet of lilies on a table in the centre of the entrance. Harry could hear the lilting sounds of piano music coming from somewhere inside. It tugged at him, catching at something in his memory, just out of reach.

There was no sight of Malfoy in the entry and Andrews hesitated. Harry slipped in behind him and waited for him to close the door and continue through. He wanted Andrews to go first. Who knew what sort of situation the man was walking into. Malfoy could have hidden all sorts of traps in the rooms. Harry didn't want to be the one to spring them.

The melody coming from the other room continued. Something in it sounded sad. Yearning. Harry's memory stirred further. He knew this song. He followed Andrews and the entry opened up into a large, lavishly decorated room. There were chairs in a deep green velvet, edged with gold, scattered around the room, but Harry's gaze was drawn instantly by Malfoy sitting at the piano on the far side of the room. His fingers moved smoothly over the keys and his eyes were closed.

Harry watched him play, feeling like he couldn't look away, even if he wanted to. He remembered how he knew this particular music. He'd come across Draco playing it, one night, a few weeks after his mother had died. His eyes were closed, just like now and he'd had tears running down his cheeks.

Harry had dropped by after a night at the Leaky, half-drunk and looking for a f*ck, and instead, he had watched, spellbound, for what felt like hours, as Draco played out his pain.

He watched it again now, felt the emotions flowing from him, and wondered what Draco was grieving this time.

Andrews stopped at the edge of the room and cleared his throat.

The music broke off abruptly and Draco opened his eyes, standing smoothly. All of the emotion in the room seemed to dry up, the atmosphere becoming instantly sharper. Malfoy smiled, but the gesture didn't reach his eyes. He was dressed in the same pair of charcoal trousers from earlier that day but he'd removed his suit jacket. His shirt was rolled up to his elbows. Harry glanced down as he walked across the room, surprised to see Malfoy's Mark on display.

He'd never shown it openly like that when he and Harry had been together. He hadn't even let Harry see it anything more than accidentally. After they'd started taking their clothes off—after the thing between them had become more than quick, hard f*cks in the loo—it had taken Harry a while to realise that Draco always placed his body just so, or turned the lights out as they started to undress. It had been months before Draco would stand naked in front of him and not try to hide himself.

Harry's thoughts were broken by Malfoy's voice.

'Hello, Joseph, can I offer you a drink?' Malfoy gestured to the liquor cabinet off to one side, through a doorway into a room hosting a dining table that seated ten.

'Hello, David,' Andrews replied. 'Yes. Please.'

Malfoy turned away and Harry saw Andrews' take a deep breath, as though to steady himself.

'You're a gin drinker, no?' Malfoy's voice floated back into the room, from where he busied himself at the cabinet.

'Yes, please,' Andrews said, swallowing heavily.

Harry took the chance while Malfoy was turned away to move to a space between a chair and the wall. It would give him a good view of the whole room without the chance of accidental discovery. Night had fallen, but Malfoy hadn't bothered to draw the curtains. Harry could see the lights of the city outside. The place he was standing was reflected in the windows opposite him and his absence from the reflection calmed him. This would be fine. He would watch Malfoy, find out more about what he was doing, and then he would get out.

Malfoy returned with a gin in one hand and something that looked like whisky in the other. Harry frowned. Malfoy had never been a whisky drinker, not when Harry had known him anyway. He'd always turned his nose up at Harry's drink of choice.

'So,' Malfoy said, gesturing Andrews to a chair and taking one opposite him. 'We both know why you're here. Shall we cut to the chase?'

He took a sip of his drink as he watched Andrews, who stared down at his glass, as though he didn't want to meet Malfoy's eyes. Harry returned his attention to Malfoy, seeing in the lines of his body and the restrained eagerness on his face, something that reminded him of the fierceness of a hunting cat as it stalked.

'You have something I want,' Malfoy said, tilting his head back and swallowing down his drink in one smooth slide. He placed the glass on the small, wooden table beside himself and reached up to the collar of his shirt. Harry watched Malfoy's fingers move, sipping a button from its hole, as he remembered the earlier conversation in the restaurant, and the mention of a vote, and a show of strength.

Then he made the link to the headline he'd just read, on the street outside. Will a divided Congress vote for war? That wasn't what Malfoy was angling for, was it? Harry felt dread and a growing sense of inevitability spreading through him. Judging by the way he was living and the people he was meeting, Malfoy had the right sort of money and connections to sway people to his aims.

Malfoy spoke again, jolting Harry from his thoughts. He was looking directly into Andrews' eyes and the look on his face was calculating.

'I have something you want,' Malfoy continued as he slipped the button loose, his hands moving down to the next and slipping it free as well.

'If you give me what I want,' Malfoy said, his eyes dark and his fingers smooth as they undid button, after button in an inexorable descent, 'I'll give you what you want.' He smiled at those words and Harry's eyes flicked to Andrews, to find him staring, almost spellbound at Malfoy's naked chest.

Harry couldn't blame him. Malfoy looked decadent, with his legs spread, and feet planted on the floor in front of him. His shirt hung open at the sides, displaying the lines of his body, the hardness of his chest and abs, and the silvery sheen of scars that seemed to entice more than they repelled. They promised danger.

Harry had a vivid memory of kissing his way down those scars, whispering his apologies into them. He forced it away. He needed to focus on what was happening here. What it all meant.

'My testimony,' Andrew said, and Harry thought his voice sounded hoarse. His drink was clutched in one white-knuckled hand, untouched and forgotten.

'Your testimony,' Malfoy confirmed, pushing himself gracefully to his feet and letting his shirt slide off his shoulders, falling behind him. 'America is on the brink of war. You are beset by dangers within and without.' Malfoy moved his hands to the buckle of his belt and drew it out slowly, watching Andrew as a hawk might watch a rabbit.

'To combat your enemies, you need to bring every possible force at your disposal to bear. You and I both know this. What harm is there, in gaining something you want, to help confirm that choice in your mind?'

Once his fly was open, Malfoy paused, hands on the verge of pushing his trousers down and off. Harry could see his darker blond pubic hair and realised he wasn't wearing any pants. He never had liked them, Harry remembered. Said they ruined the line of his clothes.

'And you want me, so very much, don't you Joseph?' Malfoy murmured. 'I've seen you watching me. I've seen your hunger. You don't get to sate your desires very often, do you, Joseph?' Malfoy's voice was almost hypnotic and Harry flicked his attention to Andrews, to see he looked spellbound.

Malfoy arched an eyebrow at Andrews, poised at the edge of no return and then Andrews spoke, setting the glass down hard so his drink slopped over the edge as he did.

'Yes,' he said, voice thick with want, 'I'll say what you need me to say.' He stood abruptly, shrugging out of his own suit jacket and pulling at his tie with fumbling fingers.

Malfoy smiled, coldly, and pushed his trousers down, stepping out of his shoes as he did so. His co*ck lay soft between his legs and Harry glanced at it for just a moment, before ripping his eyes away. It seemed wrong, to look. Obscene.

'You're mine,' Malfoy agreed and Harry knew what he was saying went so much further than what was about to happen here. Malfoy would own this man when he was done with him. The truth of what he was about to witness finally sank in. Malfoy was going to f*ck Andrews. As that thought occurred to him, he felt suddenly, intensely, uncomfortable. He shouldn't be standing here, staring at Malfoy's naked body while he displayed himself for another man.

Harry looked away as Andrews shed more clothing, stumbling slightly as he divested himself of his pants. He could hear the touch of skin and the wet slickness of mouths moving together. Then there was a moan and Harry knew it wasn't Malfoy.

He wanted to leave the room. Surely he'd seen what he needed to. He couldn't leave the suite, not until the wards parted to let Andrews back through, but that didn't mean he had to stay and watch this, did it?

He felt frozen in place. Malfoy had turned and was walking towards the piano. Harry glanced up at the movement and his gaze caught on the muscles of Malfoy's arse and thighs, rippling as he moved. He hadn't lost any of his lean power since Harry had last seen him like this and the sight of him was hard to look away from.

He frowned though, as Andrews pushed Malfoy against the sleek, black instrument and Malfoy boosted himself up so he was sitting on the edge of it. They weren't going to—Malfoy had treated the piano he had at the Manor with reverence. He'd cleaned it himself, not even wanting the House Elves to touch it. He'd had Harry sit, once, and had stood behind him, placing his fingers on the keys as he showed him how to play a simple melody, something short and happy. He'd placed kisses on Harry's neck in between each of his attempts, but the moment Harry had tried to turn it into anything more serious, he'd moved them both away from the instrument with chiding words.

'I made myself ready for you,' Malfoy said, jerking Harry's thoughts back into the present. He watched, unable to look away as Andrews' mouth moved to Malfoy's neck, biting and sucking, and one hand moved down between his legs.

'There's no need to—yes, just like that. Straight in.'

There was a grunt from Andrews and his arse clenched suddenly as he drove himself up into Malfoy and stilled.

Malfoy's hands were on the piano behind himself, holding much of his own weight, and his face was impassive as Andrews drew back and began to thrust. Harry watched, unable to help himself as Malfoy wrapped his legs around Andrews' waist and Andrews moved his hands to Malfoy's hips, gripping him tightly as he began to f*ck harder into him.

Andrews returned his face to Malfoy's neck and Harry watched as Malfoy made all the right sounds, moans and gasps, and words of encouragement. But throughout it all, his face retained that same impassiveness. His eyes moved almost constantly, roaming around the room, staring past Andrews' shoulder, as though he were watching for something.

Andrews began to thrust faster, grunting as he did. He put his head up, clearly looking for a kiss. Malfoy supplied it to him, but the look in his eyes didn't change, as he stared beyond Andrews and let his body be used.

Harry felt something cold slide its way into his chest. This—sex with Draco wasn't like this. It was heat and laughter and losing control and pushing and shoving and so much touch he thought he could die from it. It wasn't some cold, passionless thing that Malfoy endured. The sight of it made him feel sick. He couldn't watch it anymore.

He closed his eyes and tried to focus his mind. There were other things he could be doing right now, with the opportunity presenting itself. He needed to stop thinking about Malfoy and what he did with his body now, and instead think about what he had to do—find a way to follow Malfoy the next time he left these rooms.

Harry moved silently to the pile of discarded clothing on the floor, crouching so he, and it, were hidden by the velvet-covered armchair Malfoy had been sitting in. Then he patted gently, trying to disturb the fabric as little as possible.

When he felt the outline of Malfoy's wand he closed his eyes and breathed a silent sigh of relief. He slipped his finger into the concealed pocket in the pair of trousers, so that he was just touching the end of the wand, then he released the slowest and most gentle tracing spell he'd ever cast.

He couldn't take the risk that Malfoy would feel the magic. He should be sufficiently distracted by his current activity as well as the serious levels of magic wrapping the entire suite, for the casting to go unnoticed.

When it was done, Harry straightened slightly, so he was looking over the back of the couch. Andrews had his face buried in Malfoy's neck again, but his arm was moving in a rhythm with his own, increasingly fast thrusts.

He was jerking Malfoy off, Harry realised, pushing fully to his feet and beginning to back away. He watched, unable to stop himself as Malfoy's body tensed and he came, words spilling from his lips about how good it was and that Andrews should go faster, deeper, fill him up.

All the while his eyes stayed empty.


Harry didn't go back to the Statera Headquarters. He couldn't. Not after what he'd just seen. Instead, he hunted the next name on his list: Marcus Langdon. He was a dead end as well. But at least the focus of getting through security, hunting through his rooms for information, and standing over his sleeping body to get a read on him was enough to take his mind off Malfoy.

At around four in the morning, Harry found an open hotel lobby, made his way to a vacant room, and fell into an exhausted heap, his cloak wrapped tightly around himself. He wanted to sleep but couldn't. The things he'd seen and done in the last few days kept cycling back through his mind in an endless loop.

What was going on with Malfoy? Was he just connected to American politics in the same way his father had been in the Ministry—deals and favours and manipulation—or was it something more than that? He was different now, that much was clear, but was it the difference of getting older, and harder, or was it something more sinister?

Harry thought about himself and snorted. Gods knew he wasn't the person he had been eight years ago. He wondered if the old him would even recognise who he'd become.

The thought that Malfoy was hosting War was mad... wasn't it? Yes, Malfoy was different. Weren't they all? It was too much of a coincidence that Harry would cross half the world only to be brought head-to-head against Malfoy. Malfoy wasn't engineering a vote to send America to war. The idea that he could—that he would want to—was crazy.

But there was something about the man that called to him. Blake had said that would happen if he came into contact with one of the Horsem*n. Was it what was happening now? It felt like the same need Harry had always felt around Malfoy; the need to know what he was doing. The need to know who he was.

He tried to focus on the niggling doubt that the pull he was feeling now was just an extension of that old obsession—was just his inability to separate himself from his old enemy-turned-lover. Was it more than that? The Statera must have put him on their list for a reason. Harry didn't know yet if he believed there was a force inside Malfoy, directing his every move, but he couldn't help the way he was drawn to him. And so many of the things he was doing now just didn't fit with Harry's memories of him.

And where was Scorpius? Harry had made a quick trip around Malfoy's suite as Andrews had been getting re-dressed and he'd seen no sign of a child's bedroom. Malfoy had disappeared with his son a year ago, and now he spent his time without him. Was the boy even still alive? He wondered if he could ask Blake to search for him. He could give them the memory of the photo of him on the broom with Malfoy and they could see if any of their images showed him...

The thought that Malfoy's son might be dead made him think of James again. He was distressed to realise it had been a day or so since James was strongly in his thoughts. The realisation felt like a betrayal. He was doing all of this for James. Would do anything to bring him back.

That idea spun into another, as Harry closed his eyes, bringing James' face to life in his mind, humming a lullaby to him as he thought. He was on the edge of sleep, soothed by the thought of rocking James in the chair in his room when the image of the Resurrection Stone slipped into the back of his mind. Once it was there, it was like a thorn in a sock, scratching away at him, until he looked at it more closely.

He knew he couldn't think about using it, knew that was the way to madness, but the possibility of holding James again, and the aching hope of that thought, wouldn't leave him. He curled himself into a tighter ball, trying to hide away from it.

His last thought as he drifted into sleep was to wonder, if he brought James back, whether he would continue to grow and change—whether he would be given the life that had been stolen.


Harry was standing in the middle of Central Park, on a broad, paved walkway, with huge trees to either side, their branches reaching toward the sky.

He blinked and the walkway was crowded with people, running, pushing, screaming, fighting.

He blinked and the trees were on fire, the flames reaching towards the sky.

He blinked and someone grabbed him by the arm, pulling him around to shout desperate words into his face.

'Harry,' Malfoy said, grey eyes full of desperation. 'Harry, please, find him.'

He blinked and Malfoy was gone. The walkway was full of bodies and the trees were blackened skeletal figures.

He blinked and an armoured figure on a blood-drenched horse stood a few paces away from him. It smiled and its teeth were pointed like needles.

'You're out of time, Catalyst,' it said and its voice held an implacable certainty.

Harry jerked awake to the sound of a fire alarm blaring through the hotel. He sat bolt upright, pulling his hood back on with a curse, and then rushed out of the room and downstairs. The foyer was chaos, as people poured down from the rooms above. Harry was buffeted as people moved into the space he was occupying, and he pushed through the panic, heading for the door.

A voice came over the hotel's announcement system.

'New York City is under attack. Please stay calm. The Central Park area is the centre of the violence. Please stay calm and leave this hotel. Make your way away from this district. I repeat New York City is under attack. Central Park is the centre of the violence. Head east on 59th Street to the river. You are not safe here.'

Harry felt a sick certainty flood through him and he pushed people out of his way faster now, needing to get to the street outside. He broke through the crowd to look out over the Park across the street. Thick black clouds of smoke poured from the trees, and as Harry watched, a fireball burst into life in the branches of another. There were people everywhere, running away from the scene, and Harry saw more than one person, wand out, shooting spells into the crowd indiscriminately.

He hesitated and then spun in place, Apparating to the Museum. He needed help if he was going to try and stop this. The area surrounding the Museum was no less panicked. Harry looked out over the chaos and saw several blue-robed figures Apparate into the gardens, immediately beginning to fire off spells at those who held wands and were terrorising the Muggles they were herding together.

One of the attackers went down and then another and another. It must be MACUSA, Harry realised, as he watched them, and they were paying no heed to the Statute. They were only focused on stopping the rogue magic.

The words of the Horseman came back to him. You're out of time, Catalyst.

Harry watched for a second longer and then pushed his cloak back off his shoulders and entered the Museum. He couldn't see anyone from the Statera out in the swirling mess of people. He had to get the lot of them outside to help stop this.

He expected to find the central room in a state of chaos, but the activity inside was functioning exactly as it had every other time he had walked inside. There was tension in the air; a heightened level of stress and determination, but no one was rushing outside to help those in the street.

'People are being murdered in the Park,' Harry said loudly. Several heads turned to him, before turning back almost immediately to their work.

Mac walked towards him, her face stern.

'We are very well aware of that, Catalyst,' she said, her voice disapproving. Harry wondered for a moment if she was pissed about what he'd done to Rick the day before. It seemed like a lifetime ago.

Harry looked at her, nonplussed. 'Aren't you going to do something about it?' he asked, gesturing around the room. 'People are dying. Shouldn't we be out there saving them?'

Mac's face hardened. 'We do not make direct change against the forces of the dark and the light. We watch and we shape Catalysts, such as yourself, to act as needed.'

'Are you f*cking—' Harry began, then he cut himself off. 'Fine. I'll go out and stop them then.'

'You can't,' Mac said, putting her hand on his arm. 'Your role is not to stop the chaos that the dark instigates but to stop the dark itself. If you're killed by someone the dark has infected, that's one less weapon we have to send against War or Conquest.'

Harry clenched his hand into a fist, pulling his arm away from her grip. He looked around the room, at the heads that were bent and the people that were working, and then looked back up at the board at the other side. There were eight names left.

'Take Langdon off your board,' Harry said through gritted teeth. 'And assign David Masterson to me. There's something about him that I want to look into.'

Mac opened her mouth, as though to argue, but something she saw in Harry's face must have convinced her not to. She merely turned slightly towards Blake, who had come up to them as they spoke, and nodded.

'I'm going back out,' Harry said.

'Steer clear of the fighting, Catalyst,' Mac said to his back, as he strode away from her. 'Your real fight will be much more challenging than what is happening on the streets.'

Harry ignored her as he strode away.

Once he was outside, he pulled his cloak back on, trying to close his eyes and ears against the screams of fear and pain around him. He couldn't. He felt, for a moment, like he was walking through the Battle of Hogwarts again, turning away from his friends, away from those he could have saved. He squared his shoulders, trying to bring back some of the resigned certainty he'd had on that night. He had to think of the bigger picture—he had to chase down the bigger danger.

Harry looked around, and then up, whirling into an Apparition that took him to the roof of a skyscraper nearby. Once up there, he didn't look down at the violence below. He could still hear it faintly. The sound of explosions, sirens blaring, the crackle of flames. He didn't look for the Preservation symbol—the sign of Conquest—but he knew it would be out there.

Instead, he concentrated, thinking of the tracing spell he'd put on Malfoy's wand the night before. Malfoy was still in the same place, in his suite at The Plaza. Harry felt another pang of guilt as he sat down to wait, focusing on the spell so that he would know when Malfoy moved. He tried to push the feeling to one side. Mac was right. He couldn't help anyone if he got caught up in the struggles below.

He remembered his thoughts from the night before. There was something about Malfoy that called to him—something that told Harry he needed to watch him, that something was wrong with him. He closed his eyes as he concentrated on the spell and hoped that he wasn't f*cking everything up by following his gut.

The spell jerked, indicating Malfoy had Apparated elsewhere. Harry concentrated on the new destination as he stood. He needed to act right now. If Malfoy had moved through wards, they would likely only stay open for a few seconds after his entry.

Harry pulled the cloak around himself and cast a Muffliato which should dampen the sound of his arrival. Then he took a deep breath, pulled out his wand, and hoped like hell he wasn't about to jump into a trap.

He landed with a stunning spell on his lips but as he glanced around the room, he saw that it wasn't needed. His Muffliato had held and he'd come inside the wards in time. There were three people in the room and none of them had turned to confront his arrival. Harry looked around quickly, trying to understand where he was. It looked like a living room. It was large but decorated sparsely. There was a couch and a television and no windows in the space.

His attention flicked to the three figures as Malfoy spoke.

'Where's the boy?' he asked.

One of the two men jerked his head at a door off to one side.

'Sleeping still. He's been sulking since your last visit.'

Malfoy just nodded, moving towards the door and pushing it open. He stood for a moment in the doorway, looking inside. Harry could only see the side of his face, and something twisted across it, almost faster than he could catch. It looked like fear, followed by longing. Then the cold, emotionless mask Harry had seen the night before came down again.

Harry caught his breath, threads pulling closer together in his mind, his thoughts on the roof swirling back into life. Malfoy had always had close control of his expressions, but these last few days, it almost seemed like there was something inside him, struggling to get out, smothered every time it tried to surface. A sense of creeping dread began to move through him. Movement interrupted Harry's thoughts and he forced himself to focus.

Malfoy closed the door and turned back to the other two men.

'It won't be long now,' he said. 'Another week at most.'

'And then?' one of the men asked.

Malfoy shrugged. 'Do what you want with him. I won't need him anymore after that.'

For a second something in his eyes seemed to twist, burning brightly, and then it was gone again.

The men both nodded and Malfoy Apparated away.

Harry considered for a second trying to follow him again, but the whole situation was making a sick sort of sense. He turned back to the door, his heart beating loudly, as he hoped he was wrong.

He waited until the men had sat down in front of the telly again, facing away from him, and then he moved silently, cracking the door open and slipping into the room, pulling it closed behind him. It was dark inside, windowless again, and he whispered a silencing spell before casting a gentle Lumos.

There was a mattress on the floor in one corner, and on it, bundled up in blankets, was a tiny figure, tangled blond hair peeking out.

Harry knew, immediately, who it was. His sick realisation solidified. Malfoy had spoken about discarding the child like he was a piece of rubbish that had served its purpose.

'Scorpius,' he whispered, kneeling beside the boy's bed to shake him lightly. 'Scorpius, wake up.'

The boy stirred and twisted, his face emerging from the blankets, eyes blinking sleepily. He was thin and his face looked grimy, tear-stained.

'Papa?' he muttered, spotting Harry's light and looking around.

Harry bit his lip and then said. 'Don't be scared. I'm a friend, okay? I won't hurt you.' Then he pulled his cloak off his head, pushing it back over his shoulders.

Scorpius shrank away from him, fear entering his eyes, despite Harry's words. Harry's anger stirred at the thought of what this child might have been through in the last year. How could Malfoy do this? Harry would never have let something like this happen to James. Malfoy had seemed fine with it... then Harry remembered the look of fear and longing which had flashed across his face. This whole situation was wrong.

'My name's Harry,' he said softly. He forced himself to sit still, despite his quickly growing fears. 'I'm a friend and I've come to help you. Do you want to be here?'

Scorpius shook his head, eyes wide.

'I'm going to go outside and put those men to sleep and then take you somewhere better. Does that sound alright?' Harry pushed away his desire to just grab the child and Apparate out. He had clearly been treated badly. Harry couldn't bring himself to traumatise the boy further.

Scorpius started to nod but then stopped, the fear coming back into his eyes.

'You can't take me away. Papa won't know where to find me. I have to stay here so Papa can find me.'

Scorpius reached into his blankets and pulled a bear out, holding it tightly to his chest as he spoke. Harry's hand dropped down, almost unconsciously, to the Mokeskin pouch at his hip and the bear he had inside. James' bear. His son should have had the chance to grow up. What was being done to this child was an abomination.

'Your Papa is doing a bad thing by putting you here,' Harry said gently, wondering how the hell he was going to explain this to the child. He didn't want to just grab him and take him.

But Scorpius shook his head vehemently.

'Papa loves me. Not Papa is the one who does the bad things!'

Harry paused, the cold sense of dread that had been creeping through him, engulfing him.

'Who is Not Papa?' he asked gently, forcing his voice not to shake. Not Draco, he thought desperately. Please don't let the Horseman be trapped inside Draco

Scorpius frowned. 'Not Papa comes all the time. He hurt me and Papa cried for it.' Scorpius cuddled his bear close to his chest.

'Does Papa come too?' Harry asked, mind racing as all of the pieces fell into place.

'Sometimes,' Scorpius said, his voice small as he spoke into his bear. 'Sometimes Papa watches me in the dark. He tells me he's sorry and he cries.'

War is inside Draco Malfoy.

Harry choked back bile, as the truth of it spread through him. He realised a part of him had suspected it—had seen all the little ways in which Draco was different from the man Harry had known—but he hadn't wanted to join the dots together, to face the idea that Draco had been possessed.

He couldn't turn away from it now. More than any of the other things Harry had observed in the last two days, Scorpius' words made it true. The person Harry had known could never leave his child locked in a filthy room, could never hurt him. Something was inside Malfoy's body, forcing him to act this way.

Harry remembered the words "Malfoy" had spoken:

'It won't be long now,' he said. 'Another week at most.'

'And then?' one of the men asked.

Malfoy shrugged. 'Do what you want with him. I won't need him anymore after that.'

More pieces clicked into place. War had possessed Malfoy and taken Scorpius hostage to ensure his compliance. Very soon, War planned to discard the two of them. Harry remembered the spirit of Conquest erupting from the woman he'd killed. He imagined Draco like that, dead from an Avada and he shuddered away from the thought. No matter what was between them—what Malfoy had done to him in the past—there was no way Harry could let him die.

He wouldn't let it happen.

'Scorpius,' Harry said, trying not to let his urgency bleed into his voice. 'I'm friends with your Papa. I'm going to take you away from here and then I'm going to make Not Papa leave. Does that sound good?' He watched for Scorpius' small, tentative nod.

'When your Papa is back to how he should be, I'll bring him to you, okay?'

'You can fix Papa?' Scorpius asked, his voice full of painful hope.

'I can,' Harry said, praying he was right.


It took him a few hours to get Scorpius out and settled with the Statera. He'd known the moment he'd stunned the two guards and torn the wards apart Apparating through them, that War would know what had happened. The trace he'd placed on Malfoy jerked every fifteen minutes or so, as he jumped from one location to the next, searching for the child.

Harry left instructions with Mac about where Scorpius needed to be sent, then he sat, eyes closed as she Obliviated him, taking the directions from his memory. If he was going up against War, he couldn't be the reason that it found Scorpius again. He had no idea what sort of powers the thing inside Malfoy had. If it could draw on all of Malfoy's magic, there was a good chance it could use Legilimency on him.

That had been a bad habit of Malfoy's, in their early days together, when he wanted to circumvent one of their frequent fights by just finding out what Harry was angry about. It had only taken a few unauthorised visits into Harry's mind before he'd found Voldemort there, and he'd stopped looking after that.

'You are certain you've found the Host?' Mac asked, a trace of concern on her face.

Harry shook off his memories and nodded. 'I know which body it is, and I have a trace on where it will be next. It's angry. I'll have no trouble getting it to face me.'

'You must place the Seal,' Mac said, touching the tattoo on the centre of her chest, as though to remind him. 'You can't kill the Host until you've placed the Seal.'

Harry nodded grimly. He had no intention of telling her he wasn't even going to attempt to kill the Host, this time.

'I want to be tattooed,' he said instead, nodding to the symbol on her chest. 'I want the extra protection before I go back out.'

Mac hesitated for a moment and then nodded. 'Catalysts don't, normally,' she said. 'But it may assist, especially if the force knows you are coming for it.'

She gestured him towards the door off to one side which led to the Healer's quarters.

'You will take the Seal of Scattering?' she asked, 'To protect against War?'

Harry shook his head in determination. 'I want them all.'


Harry found Malfoy speaking with a group of five other men in a boardroom. He stared at him, looking for signs that Malfoy was possessed by some demon force. He looked completely normal, completely human, dressed in another of his smart suits, leaning forward with his hands on the table as he spoke to the other men in an authoritative tone. For a moment, Harry felt a tendril of doubt, but then he remembered the look on Malfoy's face as he'd glanced into Scorpius' room. No one who felt that way about his child could treat him so badly without something controlling his movements.

War was inside him. Harry reminded himself of that. Malfoy looked normal, but that didn't mean anything. He brought the image of the Seal to his mind as he prepared to cast, touching the newly tattooed design running down the centre of his chest, from his collarbone to his navel. The Seal of Scattering was second from the top and it warmed under his fingertips as he called on it.

Harry moved closer, the words coming to him as he concentrated.

'We need to bring the meeting of Congress forward,' the thing inside Malfoy said, urgency in its voice. 'It needs to be today.'

'Impossible,' one of the men in the circle said.

'Tomorrow then,' Malfoy snarled. 'It needs to happen.'

Harry gathered his power, breathing deeply. He traced the lines of the image of the Seal of Scattering in his mind. Crossed swords inside a circle, the blades touching the top corners then spiking backward, across to the other side, then up again to the apex of the circle. It was an image of violence and Harry let it into his mind until it was all he could see.

He began to trace the lines of the spell with his wand, whispering them under his breath.

'Paeonium, Casicum, Agrostemma, Consolida.'

He breathed out and released the spell, sending the Seal forth, his eyes on Malfoy.

Nothing happened.

Harry stood, shocked, mind racing as he tried to figure out what had gone wrong. He'd cast everything perfectly. Exactly as he'd been shown. He was doing nothing different now. Nothing... except he was wearing his Invisibility Cloak. Was the cloak interfering with the magic's ability to pass beyond him? It was never normally a problem.

Harry concentrated and cast the Seal again, making the forms and saying the words. Nothing happened.

The six men were standing now, shaking hands as they came to some sort of agreement. Harry cursed, panic rising in him. He was going to lose his chance. The five of them filed out, leaving Malfoy the only one in the room. Harry watched him, trying to figure out what he should do next.

Shock jolted through him when Malfoy turned back to the empty room, eyes casting about. As he watched, Malfoy's posture and expression seemed to change, as though he were shedding a skin. Suddenly Malfoy's eyes were too bright, his smile too wide. He slowly co*cked his head to one side in a movement that made Harry think of a raptor hunting. There was nothing human about it. Abruptly, Harry knew he was looking into the face of War.

'Are you going to face me, Catalyst?' it said, a strange rasp to its voice that didn't sound like it came from a human throat.

Harry shivered and fought the urge to step back. He stared at the creature trapped inside Malfoy's body, unsure how to respond. Did War know he was in the room, or was he just taking the hunch that whoever had taken Scorpius would be following him? Was he just trying to draw Harry out?

'Draco desperately wants to know what you've done with his child,' War continued, its mouth twisting into a cruelly pleased expression. Harry could see the shadow of pointed teeth overlaying Malfoy's own for just a moment. He blinked and the illusion faded. 'He's been battering away inside me since the moment we realised the brat was gone.'

Its unblinking eyes tracked across the room as it spoke, as though looking for some sign of him. As he watched, it sniffed the air, stepping forward and wetting its lips.

Harry could imagine exactly what Malfoy was feeling—the terror and the uncertainty at the thought of something happening to his child. He felt the pain of it down to his bones and he pushed his cloak back before he could think to stop himself.

'Scorpius is safe,' he said, and Malfoy's eyes snapped to him. Malfoy's hand dropped to his wand and then paused, face contorting as though struggling, internally.

After a second his eyes cleared and Draco was looking at him. The otherworldly air faded and Harry knew that this was Draco. His eyes were exhausted and full of suffering and his voice, when he spoke, was raw and desperate, that uncanny edge absent from it.

'Get out, Harry. Now!'

Harry started to respond but Draco's face twisted again before he could speak. The impassive mask descended, broken only by a sharp-edged smile.

'Harry Potter,' War said, voice knowing. 'He cares for you as well.'

War took a step closer, Malfoy's body moving strangely, as though he were a puppet on a string. Harry raised his wand, preparing to cast again. It would work this time, he knew it would.

'He fights so hard, for those he cares for,' War continued, taking another disjointed step. Harry started to trace the sigil in the air. 'It's been an age since I had a Host fight this hard.' Its eyes lit up with satisfaction. It blinked, and they were slit like a cat's. It blinked again and they returned to Malfoy's familiar grey. 'You would not believe the power it gives me to live inside a Host who is so opposed to everything I want to achieve, yet who submits to me to save others.'

'Paeonium,' Harry said, tracing a line in the air. He blocked out the words he was hearing, focusing only on getting this abomination out of Draco.

War's eyes flicked down to his wand and it bared its teeth in anger. Harry caught a flash of the sharp-edged fangs again.

'Draco is the reason your son is dead. Did you know that, Harry Potter?'

Harry's fluid movement jerked to a halt, the second word in the invocation dying on his lips. His eyes snapped to the face of the creature in front of him.

War smiled. A cruel, self-satisfied smile.

'You were not at home the night your child was taken from you so brutally. You were called to do a task, were you not?'

Harry froze, an icy claw scraping down his spine.

'There was a cursed artifact that needed looking at urgently. People's lives were at risk.' War's voice was mocking now, that inhuman rasp filled with a gloating satisfaction.

Harry remembered the note he had received by owl, penned in a hand that looked familiar, but which he couldn't quite place. It had been unsigned, something he had thought was odd at the time, but not a deal breaker. People often didn't like to get themselves caught up in the business of curses. Harry had found the note again much later, tucked among bundles of his papers. He remembered looking over it, wondering if it had anything to do with James' death—if he'd been lured from the house on purpose that night. His investigations had gone nowhere and he'd given up on it, in the end.

'You went to a shop,' War continued, and Harry could do nothing but listen, desperate to know at last what had happened. 'It was an antique shop, a new one. Draco's shop, it turns out, though he operates it under a different name,' War said, watching Harry's face, clearly enjoying his reactions.

The revelation cut through him. Malfoy had sent him a note. Malfoy had lured him out of his house so his son could be killed. Harry felt the thought like it was a sword, speared through his body, cracking his chest open. His relief, at finally knowing the answers, after all this time, finally knowing why mixed with the anguish of what he was hearing. Malfoy had done this.

'He hid from you,' War went on, 'and watched you as you pulled the curse apart. Later he touched himself. While you went home to find your child in a pool of blood, Draco was wanking himself to the scent of you, lingering in his shop.'

Harry took a step back, shaking his head. No. Malfoy—Draco—couldn't have. His hands began to shake and he clenched them into fists to try and stop them. His thoughts were racing and he couldn't make them quiet. James!

'You knew?' he said, his voice a low rasp. He was talking to Malfoy now, not the thing inside him, but it was War who answered again.

'He knew that he wanted to see you and that sending you a job in the middle of the night would draw you to him. He knew it was dangerous, but he let his need override his care for you.' War gave him a mocking smirk, the same one Harry had seen on Malfoy's face a thousand times before he delivered a hex or a punch or a slur. It made the old anger flare to life inside Harry.

'Your son is dead, Harry Potter, because Draco didn't give enough of a damn to stop what we did to him.'

Harry could feel the certainty and truth in those words. Malfoy's action helped to cause James' death. The thought burned him like acid. It mixed with every other thing Malfoy had ever done to hurt him. The list was so, so long. But this one could not be forgiven. Harry raised his wand, his anger flaring higher.

He gritted his teeth and began the form of the Seal again.

War's face twisted at that, and it reached behind itself, as though reaching for the hilt of a sword that wasn't there.

'No curse, Potter?' it asked, the sneer deepening as it dropped its hand. Harry could almost believe it was Malfoy speaking to him. Except for the eyes. Malfoy's eyes had always held a spark of something in them when he looked at Harry. It was only now, when it was gone, that he realised it.

'Don't you want to kill him?' War taunted. 'Take his life from him the way he took your son's from you?'

Harry continued the form of the Seal, his arm moving with more purpose. He wouldn't be baited into releasing another Horseman into the world, no matter how his anguish over James' death, and Malfoy's role in that, screamed at him. The words of the Seal fell from his lips.

'Paeonium, Casicum—'

War shook its head, and it almost seemed disappointed in him.

'I don't think so, Catalyst. I still have a little more to do.'

It grasped Malfoy's wand and turned, graceful now. Harry caught a glimpse of grey eyes that held a world of sorrow before it Disapparated with a crack that echoed through the silence of the room.


Harry went back to the Museum. He didn't know where else to go. The creature inside Malfoy had severed the trace Harry had placed on his wand. It must have found the tracker after he followed it to Scorpius but left it in place to lure Harry in. Now that it knew he wasn't going to be taunted into releasing it from Malfoy's body, it had obviously decided to keep away from him. Harry had no idea where it could have gone.

He looked around dispiritedly as he landed. The streets had calmed somewhat, but there were signs of violence everywhere; bloodstains and curse residue on the walls and pavements, swathes of the park still smoking, rubbish and debris littered everywhere. Harry didn't spare it a glance. He knew it was only going to get worse.

Mac and Blake both approached him as he entered, but Harry merely shook his head. He'd f*cked it up. He knew it. He didn't need to unpack for them how. The only thing he stopped to ask was whether Scorpius had got away safely. At Mac's nod, he went to the kitchens, found himself a bottle of vodka, and retreated to his room.

He drained it in under an hour and passed out in a fitful sleep. When he awoke and stumbled out into the main command room, it was to see everyone gathered around the large screen, watching a televised broadcast. Every face he looked at was grim and Harry turned to watch as well, noticing Rick in the crowd and feeling a stab of dislike, and then disgust at himself. Was he any better? He couldn't even do what he had to when he was properly trained for it.

'We have identified the enemy that is attacking us on American soil,' came a strong, commanding voice from the screen. Harry focused on it to see that it was the Muggle President, a tall, dark-haired man speaking in front of a backdrop of flags.

'This enemy is an old one. One that has hidden behind stories and lies, embedded into the very heart of our society throughout time.'

Harry caught his breath as he realised what was happening. This was it, the aftermath of the vote War had been referring to.

'Those who are killing our people in the streets, pulling innocents from their beds, slaughtering our children—those who use weapons we have never seen, and cannot combat—they are not like us.'

The President paused and his face was grim.

'Magic is real. Those who attack us have magic. They have powers beyond anything we have seen before and they seek to use those powers to dominate us. To enslave us. To rule over us. We will not allow it!'

The camera panned back, showing an array of formally dressed people standing to either side of the President. Harry's eyes flicked over them as he listened. His gaze caught on General Andrews and Harry's fear spiked at the resolution on the man's face. What had he advised in his testimony?

'Congress has just passed an emergency measure,' the President continued. 'We are immediately bringing the power of the entire US armed forces to bear in this global conflict. Every person actively serving will be redeployed immediately, alongside our global allies, to combat this new enemy. Effective immediately, the National Guard will be activated to coordinate local networks to identify magic users.'

The President stared out of the screen and the look on his face was hard and certain. 'We call on you, the American citizens, to protect yourselves and those around you. If you are armed, use that power to defend the weak.'

Harry felt sick, frozen as he stared at the screen. No one around him moved. What he was hearing sounded surreal, like some waking nightmare. He realised this was what War had been pushing Andrews to do—give testimony that led to global persecution. Andrews had advised the President to call on every single American citizen to rise up in the eradication of magic.

'We fight together, now, the world over, for the survival of humanity,' the President continued, his voice commanding. 'Magic, and those who wield it, will be exterminated.'

The camera pulled back to show the group of advisors again as they applauded the words. This was it, Harry knew. The Statute of Secrecy was broken, shattered beyond repair. This was the start of World War Three, and they would all be lucky to survive it. The horror of it rose in him like a wave, ready to pull him down into the depths and drown him.

Then his eye caught on blond hair, and a satisfied smile, as a figure moved out from behind the man in front of him.

Harry's rage boiled to life, immediately replacing the despair, and he ripped his wand from its holster. Secrecy be damned. There was no Statute anymore. He Apparated, forcing himself through the Statera wards, leaving them tattered in his wake.

He landed with a crack, people scattering and screaming as they scrambled out of his way, but he only had eyes for one person. He shouted 'Immobulus!', stepping closer to catch Malfoy's form as he fell, then he whirled back into Apparition, Malfoy's arm tight in his grasp.

He landed on a rooftop and let Malfoy fall to the ground, standing over him with his wand still pointed at him.

War looked at him out of Malfoy's eyes as it twisted his mouth slowly into a grin.

'You're... too... late... Catalyst,' it said, forcing every word through Harry's spell with gloating satisfaction.

Harry ignored it. He raised his wand and closed his eyes. He'd realised, the night before, why the Seal hadn't worked. Somewhere, amid his alcohol-soaked memories, he'd made the connection.

You have to mean it.

All the great spells required intent. Harry knew the way the Statera had taught him the forms hadn't felt quite right, but it hadn't been until the night before that he'd realised why. They taught them with the intent to kill.

Harry was so, so sick of the killing.

He focused on what he wanted. The antithesis of War.

Love. Compassion. Understanding. Compromise.

He thought of these things. Filled his mind with them. The wonder in his heart as he looked into his son's face. The empathy he'd felt for Draco, cut off from his own child. The family he knew waited for him, no matter how many times he'd turned them away. He remembered his parents' glowing forms. Sirius, and the life they could have had together.

He reached for more and more memories, trying to fill himself with them. They were tinged with sadness, every one of them, but he held them inside himself and hoped they would be enough.

He opened his eyes and drew the circle in the air with his wand, seeing it burst into life, a vibrant, shimmering gold.

'Paeonium.' The word fell from his lips like the toll of a bell. He watched as the thing inside Malfoy flinched at the sound.

He drew the first of the crossed swords, up to the right, down to the left, and back up to the apex. Golden light followed in its wake. Harry thought of holding James close to himself, singing to him in the night, Hermione's arm around his shoulders and the scent of her hair against his cheek, Ron's grin, and the steady understanding in his eyes as he knocked against Harry while they walked.


He drew the second of the crossed swords, mirroring the first in every way. He could feel something shifting in the air, drawing tight. Malfoy's eyes went wide, darting from side to side. Harry could see him begin to struggle, twitching against the hold of the spell. His face, for a moment, was that of Draco, eyes desperate and pleading, and then he was gone, submerged by the creature inside of him.

He's fighting back, Harry realised, determination rising in him. However Malfoy had been caught up with War, whatever he had done in its service, Harry had to believe he hadn't wanted to. He had to, or he wouldn't be able to do this. No matter how much Draco had hurt him, Harry couldn't—wouldn't—be responsible for his death. James, a voice inside him cried. Harry felt his heart break, but he held the threads of the spell together.

Harry gathered more memories to himself, the ones he'd locked away, so many years ago. He put aside his hurt and his anguish and he forced himself to only remember the good. He looked into Draco's face and thought about holding him, dancing with him, flying against him. Loving him.


The power flooded from Harry and into the symbol hanging in the air in front of him so that it shone like the sun.

Without any thought, Harry knew what he had to do. It was like he'd always known. He raised both hands and pushed his wand forward. The symbol flew through the air, hitting Draco in the chest and expanding, so that it wrapped around him. It flared bright and vibrant for a moment and then sunk into him. His body jerked and he closed his eyes.

Harry looked at him, strengthening his resolve, and hoped like hell he'd got this right. He opened his mouth and spoke the final word. The one that would kill the spirit inside of him.

He prayed it would leave Draco alive as it did so.


Draco's body convulsed, despite the spell holding him still. His face contorted with pain and his mouth opened in a silent, agonised scream.

Harry took a step back, uncertain, not knowing what should happen now. What was happening didn't look the same as when Conquest had burst forth. This looked like something was fighting a vicious battle inside Draco's body.

Draco twisted again, his back arching fiercely and then he retched, a harsh guttural sound.

Harry severed his Immobulus, worried the force making Draco's body move against the restraint would damage him. As soon as he did, Draco slumped forward onto his hands and knees. He hung his head and then retched again, his body contorting from the force of it.

Fear curled through Harry as he watched Draco's pain. Had he done it wrong? Was he killing Draco after all?

He stepped closer, wand still gripped in his hand, and then swore as blood spewed from Draco's mouth, splashing onto the concrete at his feet.

It was thick and clotted, and Harry felt his own bile rise at the sight of it. Terror flashed through him at the thought that this was not supposed to be happening.

Draco let out a noise that sounded like a sob and vomited again, more blood pouring from his mouth, a pool of dark red staining the ground.

Harry watched as the substance oozed and twitched, moving almost like tar. He realised what it was a second later. This was the thing that had lived inside Draco. This was what it looked like to Seal and destroy a Horseman while leaving the Host alive. Draco threw more and more of it up, one arm around his stomach as he sobbed.

As soon as Draco sat back, spitting and wiping a hand over his blood-stained mouth, Harry directed an Incendio at the sluggishly moving mass, holding it steady until it began to shrivel and curl in on itself. He felt relief flow through him at the sight of the diseased remnants of the Horseman's force burning away into nothing.

'Harry,' Draco said, voice raw, as though he'd been screaming for hours.

He spat again and spoke louder, reaching out, heedless of the flames.


Harry looked up, lowering his wand at the anguish that was written across every line of Draco's body.

Draco's eyes were pleading as he spoke.

'Please. Where's my son?'

At the End of All Things - Quicksilvermaid - Harry Potter (2024)


Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Prof. Nancy Dach

Last Updated:

Views: 6799

Rating: 4.7 / 5 (57 voted)

Reviews: 80% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Prof. Nancy Dach

Birthday: 1993-08-23

Address: 569 Waelchi Ports, South Blainebury, LA 11589

Phone: +9958996486049

Job: Sales Manager

Hobby: Web surfing, Scuba diving, Mountaineering, Writing, Sailing, Dance, Blacksmithing

Introduction: My name is Prof. Nancy Dach, I am a lively, joyous, courageous, lovely, tender, charming, open person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.