|SIYE Time:19:23 on 22nd March 2018|
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Category: Alternate Universe
Characters:Harry/Ginny, Nymphadora Tonks
Warnings: Death, Extreme Language, Intimate Sexual Situations, Negative Alcohol Use, Violence
Story is Complete
Summary: After four years working overseas for the shadowy Department M, a world-weary and dispirited Harry Potter returns to the land of his birth. He meets some old friends and makes some new ones, as he learns that much has changed since he left home. AU, a ‘Harry never went to Hogwarts’ story.
Hitcount: Story Total: 45488; Chapter Total: 3753
Awards: View Trophy Room
I love music. Not in a ‘oh, isn’t so-and-so’s latest track great!’ kind of way. I mean in a total, bonkers, must listen to every day, worship at the feet of my musical gods, kind of way. Perhaps it’s not surprising, therefore, that when I write a story I can get caught up in the vibe of a certain band, and that can flavour the story accordingly. For instance, ‘The Thorny Rose’ series was undoubtedly my Led Zeppelin story, while ‘Hail Odysseus’ was accompanied by a soundtrack from some nasty extreme metal band with cookie monster vocals and songs about what a nice chap Satan really is.
This story? This one is my Sisters of Mercy tale: a sleazy, hip-swivelling, pimpmobile of a story.
I’m back on more familiar ground with this one, and it features some ideas that I was trying to express in my previous stories ‘The List’ and ‘Harry Potter and the Nameless Man’. I also reference classic British TV action show ‘The Professionals’, Ben Aaronovitch’s wondrous ‘Peter Grant’ series of books, and my own experiences of staggering around Camden and Soho smashed out of my tiny skull.
Arnel is back as my beta for this story and, as always, she has my most heartfelt thanks for weeding out my (numerous) errors.
Chapter 1 — The Interview
Harry sprawled across the king-sized bed, watching languidly as Martine did up the zip on her skirt. She’d been wearing that tight, grey business suit that he’d always liked, which accentuated her dangerous curves perfectly.
Reaching for her blouse which had been carefully draped over the back of a chair, she pulled it on and turned to face him. Idly, he pondered the fact that she’d been so careful about folding the garment when she’d been removing her clothing earlier that night. When they’d first started seeing each other, she would have virtually ripped her clothes off as soon as they were alone, but now everything had to be folded and hung up precisely before they could start on more pleasurable activities.
“Harry, we need to talk,” Martine announced in a firm voice as she did up the buttons on her blouse.
Harry just nodded. He had a feeling he knew what was coming, but was really not in the mood to deal with it.
“Matthieu is becoming suspicious. I think he suspects something,” she told him bluntly.
Great, it only took the idiot eighteen months to figure out that someone was screwing his wife, Harry thought sarcastically, but said nothing.
“While this… relationship, if you can call it that, has been fun, there is no way I’m going to risk my marriage over it. We’ve never made any promises to each other, and I’m not about to start now,” she continued brusquely, before her expression softened slightly. “Damn it, Harry, we can’t go on like this anyway! Before tonight, I hadn’t heard from you for over three months. I know your job takes you all over the world with virtually no notice, but you can’t just turn up at random and expect me to drop everything for you.”
“I never expected anything from you,” Harry said quietly.
“Well, it certainly doesn’t feel like that sometimes. I know you can’t talk about your work, but I’ve heard enough from you to know that what you do is very dangerous. If anything happened to you, would I ever know? Would anyone tell me? Would I see it mentioned in the newspapers? I don’t think so. Do you know what it’s like for me each time you walk away, knowing that that it might be the last time I ever see you? Then going months and months without hearing from you? I’m sorry, but I just can’t live like that anymore,” Martine exclaimed angrily, her cool, professional demeanour crumbling at last.
“So, this is it, is it?” Harry asked quietly. In truth, he’d been expecting this for a while. Every rendezvous he’d had with the beautiful woman had been slightly less passionate than the previous one. He wouldn’t have been terribly surprised if he’d discovered that he wasn’t the only young man who had been keeping her company while her husband was off playing politics. He just had no desire to try and find out.
“Yes, I’m afraid so,” Martine confirmed, removing her grey jacket from the back of the chair and slipping over her shoulders. All ready for a hasty escape, Harry noted.
“If that’s your decision,” Harry sighed. If he was honest with himself, he would have to admit he was more upset about the break-up then he his casual demeanour suggested, but he simply didn’t have the energy to start complaining. He had enough other problems to worry about.
“It is,” she said decisively, the façade of a powerful politician’s wife reappearing. “I’ll always treasure the time we had together, Harry, but it’s time for us both to move on.”
She turned and started to walk out of the bedroom, but paused just as she reached the door. “Will you be alright?” she asked, looking over her shoulder.
“I’m fine,” he assured her in a neutral voice.
With a final curt nod, she was gone. A few moments later, Harry heard the door of the hotel room opening and then being shut again. He let out a long sigh and rolled out of bed.
He walked over to the large window and looked out. Below him, the lights of Brussels twinkled in the dark. Over a million people lived down there, he mused, all of them oblivious to him staring down at them. Like that mattered. Like anything really mattered anymore.
Stepping back slightly, he caught sight of his own reflection in the glass. He looked tired, he realised. Tired and worn out. No twenty-two-year-old should look that world-weary and wrung-out. His face may have borne no expression, but any fool giving him more than a cursory glance would have instantly realised that he was not a happy or well contented man. He’d often been told by women that his eyes were his best feature, but tonight they just looked cold and dead.
He sat down on the edge of the bed and pondered how things had reached this state. For the last four years he’d been working as an operative for Department M, the intelligence and counter-espionage section of the International Confederation of Wizards. This highly secretive organisation had recruited him shortly after his final confrontation with Voldemort, impressed with his power and skills. Ever since he joined, his life had been one of constant training and practice, followed by long and arduous missions. It was a largely boring existence, punctuated with short bursts of frantic activity, normally involving extreme violence and danger. It was, however, the only life he knew.
And tomorrow, it could all be over.
Vaguely, he thought about getting dressed and heading home, but he reasoned that he’d already paid for this expensive hotel room for the night, and it was a damn sight more comfortable than his plain, rented flat in Strasbourg. It was late, he was tired, and he had a meeting at the Confederation’s headquarters early in the morning. He might as well sleep here.
Reaching over, he switched off the light and lay back down. The sheets were rumpled, and the room smelt of sex and Martine’s expensive perfume.
Despite his weariness, sleep was slow to come.
With a feeling of apprehension building within him, Harry strode up the last few steps and entered the headquarters of the ICW. Like most major buildings created by wizards, it extended deep underground, with only a squat, ugly grey office block on the surface to mark its location.
Pulling open the glass doors, he walked briskly towards the reception desk, only to be waved straight through by the guard, a man Harry only vaguely recognised. Any ICW security guard worth his salt quickly learnt to identify Department M personal, if only to avoid having them present their identification in the normally crowded entry hall. It was sufficiently early in the day, however, that Harry didn’t have to worry about fighting through crowds.
Finding the lift vacant, he headed down to the sixth level. Ostensibly, this level was largely taken up by a small army of administration personnel, but tucked away behind a heavily-protected false wall was Department M.
Harry felt a slight tingle as he passed through the illusionary wall and through the multiple wards that protected the department’s nerve centre. Nearly a hundred highly-trained witches and wizards worked tirelessly in this dark and stuffy set of rooms, most having absolutely no idea what the others were doing. Operational security was practically a religion here.
With feet of lead, Harry made his way towards the office of his Head of Section. As he approached the desk of his boss’s assistant, he received an unpleasant surprise.
“Oh, Potter? Didn’t they tell you? You’re not seeing Philippe today. You’re to report to Maurice,” the woman informed him. Although her tone was bland, Harry could see the pity in her eyes. Nodding his head in understanding, he turned and made his way back the way he had come.
Maurice? Oh, shit.
Maurice Goossens was a legend in the intelligence community, despite the fact that hardly any hard facts were known about him. It was rumoured that he’d been a brilliant, but ruthless, field agent for many years, but his cool, calculating mind had soon marked him out for greater things. He’d assumed the position as Head of Department M eight years ago, and had led the organisation with crisp efficiency ever since. He’d never lost that ruthless streak, however, which meant that if Maurice wanted to see him personally, then Harry was in deep, deep shit.
Reluctantly, Harry walked back along the central corridor of the office before pausing in front of a plain, wooden door. Knocking once, he entered and was immediately confronted by the sight of Madam Kowalski, Maurice’s dower but ruthlessly efficient assistant.
Worryingly, Madam Kowalski waved him towards the glass door that served Maurice’s office without a word. Normally, one would expect to be waiting for some time to see the Department’s Head, but clearly today Harry was expected. He did his best to straighten his shoulders before rapping on the glass once with his knuckles and entering.
Harry had only been in this office once before, right at the start of his career with the Department. He’d been struck by the overwhelming blandness of the room, and little appeared to have changed since then. The walls were still painted an uninspiring magnolia colour, the furniture looked cheap and unattractive, and the single picture mounted on the wall was of some grey city scape.
Behind the plain, functional desk sat Maurice. He was an average looking man in every way: average height and build, thin brown hair and the slightly downtrodden posture that suggested a person who had spent their life in mediocrity. The only hint that Harry could detect that this appearance was a fabrication was the man’s eyes, which seemed to glitter with a strange intensity. He may look like a weary, middle-aged accountant, but Maurice Goossens was probably the most dangerous man you could ever meet.
“Ah, Agent Potter, do take a seat,” Maurice said, indicating a basic, low-backed chair situated in front of the desk. Harry sank into the uncomfortable piece of furniture with trepidation.
For the moment, Maurice said nothing. Instead, he picked up a buff-coloured folder, which Harry recognised to be a personal file, quite probably his own. As Maurice examined the file, seconds dragged into minutes, but Harry knew better than to try and interrupt the man in his contemplations.
Eventually, Maurice dropped the file back onto his desk and looked Harry directly in the eye.
“You know, Potter, I find myself in a usual position today,” he began, the Translation Spells all Department M staff used flattening out his thick Belgium accent. “I find myself being proved right about something, but deeply regretting it.”
Harry blinked. “I’m sorry?” he asked in confusion.
“Four years ago, I was approached by your mentor, Javier Dominguez. A fine man, in whom I placed a great deal of trust,” Maurice began.
It was all Harry could do not to jump at the mention of Javier’s name. Guiltily, he realised he’d not given his friend and mentor a single thought in the last year. Without him, Harry knew, he would never have made it through the Department’s rigorous training program alive, let alone become a field agent. Dominguez had vanished while on an operation in Africa two years previously. Like many of the Department’s field staff, no one ever found out exactly what had happened to him.
“Javier was extremely excited that day, I recall,” Maurice continued in a quiet voice. “He’d just met with a young English wizard who had succeeded in bringing down one of the most powerful Dark Lords the world had seen in years. He felt that wizard would be a superb asset for the Department, and should be recruited immediately.”
Maurice paused to take a sip from the cup of black coffee that had been sitting on his desk. Harry just stared at the man, wondering what was coming next.
“Of course, the Department never recruits personnel just on a single recommendation, even from someone as competent as Javier,” Maurice explained after putting his cup down. “So, we brought you here to Strasbourg and tested you. I have to tell you, Mr Potter, that after reading your psychological evaluation, I rejected your application to join the Department.”
“Oh, really?” Harry exclaimed in genuine surprise. It had always seemed to him that they’d fallen over themselves to ensure he joined. To now find out that there had been doubt about him was a shock.
“Indeed, you see, I felt you were completely unsuited to the type of work we do. Oh, that’s not to say that you’re not a powerful and skilful wizard, because you most certainly are. No, I’m referring more to your morality and ethics. You, Mr Potter, are a very forthright and opinionated young wizard. You have a strong sense of justice and are a champion of the down-trodden. All perfectly good qualities, but completely useless in an organisation such as ourselves,” Maurice explained in a matter-of-fact tone.
“So, basically you’re saying I don’t have the stomach to do your dirty work,” Harry said bitterly.
“Quite so, Mr Potter,” Maurice confirmed, ignoring Harry’s sudden anger. “I have often compared this Department with a surgeon’s scalpel. We are sharp and cruel, but we need to be if we are to cut out the cancerous growth of undesirables across the globe. I make no apologies for the fact that we occasionally have to take strong and decisive action, even if that action results in the death of innocents. It’s an old argument; is it justified to take the life of one innocent if it saves the lives of countless others? An old argument, but one I firmly believe I know the answer to. Yes, it’s completely justified. In my life, I’ve seen murder and genocide committed on a horrendous scale, Mr Potter, and if I have to shed the blood of a few guiltless people to prevent such horrors occurring again, I will do so without remorse.”
Harry sat in silence and pondered the man’s words. He understood what was being said to him, he really did, but he also believed that in most cases there was another way. It may not always be the safest or most expedient way, but it was always the right path, in his book. Harry looked up to see Maurice looking at him with a faint smile, like he knew exactly what Harry had been thinking.
“The moment I read your evaluation, I knew you would never truly be comfortable doing what needed to be done. Oh, I knew that you would rationalise things and always strive to try and find an acceptable compromise, but you would never react sharply and decisively. You, Agent Potter, will always be the blunt knife that leaves traces of the cancer still festering,” he said decisively.
“Then why was I recruited?” Harry demanded. In truth, he could not argue with anything that Maurice said, even if he felt angry at having his beliefs so glibly dismissed.
“Simply, because I allowed Javier to change my mind. He convinced me that you were a young wizard, and that we had gotten you early enough that we could train you effectively. Your sheer magical power and undisputed bravery were large factors, too. Sadly, I now feel that my first instincts about you were indeed correct. Tell me about Istanbul,” Maurice asked suddenly.
Harry jumped as if he’d been slapped. He’d known the question would be coming, but it was still like a knife in his heart.
“I screwed up,” he said simply. “I disobeyed direct orders and it all nearly ended in disaster.”
“You did indeed, as you so succinctly put it, screw up. What I am truly interested in, however, is why. Your orders were quite clear, to terminate this wizard, Uzay Demir, yet you failed to do so. Why is that?” Maurice asked intently.
For a second, Harry considered lying, but immediately realised it was futile. Maurice wouldn’t have asked the question unless he already knew the answer.
“I met his daughter,” Harry said, purposely avoiding his superior’s gaze.
“I see,” Maurice replied. “I surmised that you identified yourself with the young lady and, being an orphan yourself, could not bring yourself to inflict that fate on her, yes?”
“True enough, I guess,” Harry confirmed. The young girl had been truly beautiful. Although she must have only been four or five years old, her large, dark eyes had captivated him, and pulled at his heart-strings ruthlessly. He remembered her terrified look when she’d stumbled upon them. Harry, at that exact moment, had been on the verge of killing her father, not that the man didn’t deserve it. Death was almost too good for that psychopath. But to the little girl, Uzay hadn’t been a ruthless killer; he’d simply been her father. One pleading look from her had been enough to stay his hand.
“You realise, of course, the consequences your actions had?” Maurice asked bluntly. “Not only did you nearly get yourself killed, you ruined the entire operation. Six months of undercover work wasted, an angry Turkish Ministry howling in protest and, worst of all, the Muggle authorities involved. To say you screwed up, Agent Potter, would be a major understatement!”
“So, what happens now?” Harry asked reluctantly.
“That’s the question, isn’t it?” Maurice said blandly. “I can’t risk sending you out on further operations as you have proved yourself unreliable. Unfortunately, due to your extensive knowledge of restricted information and involvement in previous sensitive tasks, I can’t just simply sack you, either. The Salem incident alone would be enough to ensure that. You know how those Americans are about ICW staff operating on their soil. No, we’re going to have to find another option for you.”
Harry felt a cold stab of fear. He’d heard rumours of what happened to operatives who couldn’t cut it anymore. Total Obliviation was one of the nicer options available, apparently. He was damned if he was going to let that happen to him.
“Fortunately for you, Agent Potter, you still have some powerful friends,” Maurice said, causing Harry to look up at him in surprise.
“Powerful friends? I didn’t know I had any friends left, let alone powerful ones,” Harry snorted.
“Come, come, you must remember Kingsley Shacklebolt? He is, after all, the current British Minister for Magic,” Maurice prompted.
“Of course, I remember him,” Harry replied. “I’ve known him for years. In fact, along with Alastor Moody, he is one of the main people responsible for my combat training. Without him, I doubt I would have ever gotten close to Voldemort, let alone taken him down. I’m surprised he remembers me, though. I would have thought he’d have more important things to worry about.”
“Oh, he remembers you quite vividly,” Maurice confirmed. “In fact, a few days ago I took the liberty of visiting the Minister in England, purely to discuss you. He was most distressed to learn of your difficulties, and asked me to pass on his regards to you.”
“That’s… very kind of him,” Harry replied carefully, unclear where the conversation was going.
“I mentioned to him that I felt you would be unable to continue working for the Department. He understood completely, and suggested an alternative position for you within the British Ministry,” Maurice explained.
“The Ministry?” Harry exclaimed in surprise. “Doing what? Working as an Auror, perhaps?”
“Oh, dear me, no. That would be a terrible waste of your experience and training,” Maurice said dismissively. “No, Shacklebolt maintains a small, secretive unit that reports directly to his office. He formed it shortly after he took up his post as Minister, primarily to prevent the rise of any future Dark Lords. The unit’s mandate is quite sweeping, and quite challenging, I understand. With your level of training and field experience, however, I think you would fit right in.”
“Wouldn’t I have the same problems there that I have here?” Harry demanded, not quite sure what to think about the suggestion.
“I very much doubt it,” Maurice shrugged. “Although Minister Shacklebolt is a firm and decisive leader, he still has the soul of an Auror. This unit of his works very much to the letter of the law, even if they push right up against the boundaries of what is legal. I very much doubt you will suffer the same challenges to your ethics with them that you so evidently do with this Department.”
“What exactly would I be doing?” Harry asked, his interest growing.
“Essentially, the unit is an intelligence gathering and monitoring organisation. They’re constantly on the look-out for the rise of dissident groups, hostile foreign agencies and any other direct threats to the office of the Minister. They’re also directly responsible for the protection of Shacklebolt, beyond the protection afforded by the Aurors and other sections of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement,” Maurice explained.
A thought occurred to Harry. “Why?” he asked brusquely. “Why would I be allowed to walk away from the Department like this? I’ve never heard of any other operative being allowed to leave in this manner.”
“Several reasons,” Maurice conceded. “Firstly, your name still carries some political power behind it. As much as the Department wanted that influence and power when we recruited you, we now find it’s a liability when we come to… terminate… your service. Secondly, this is a good option for us. By having you report directly to the British Minister for Magic, you are placed in a situation where operation security is paramount. This protects us as well as the British Ministry. We will, of course, require a number of Unbreakable Vows from you to ensure the Department’s secrets are protected, but nothing too onerous. Finally, I actively sought out this position for you because I felt that I owed it to you. If it wasn’t for my weakness four years ago, you would never have been put in the situation you were on that fateful night in Istanbul. I’m not a man who tolerates errors in others, so for myself to allow such a thing to occur is completely unacceptable. I was compelled, therefore, to fix my previous mistake.”
Harry stared at the man in surprise. For the legendary Maurice Goossens to admit that he’d been in error was one thing, but for him to actively intercede on behalf of one of his agents was another, entirely. Suddenly, Harry began to realise just how lucky he was.
“I don’t know what to say,” he began lamely.
“You don’t need to say anything,” Maurice interrupted, “other than to confirm that you are happy to take the position with the British Ministry.”
“Yes, I do,” Harry agreed before smiling wryly, “not that I have much choice, I suspect.”
Maurice returned his smile. “No, Mr Potter, you don’t,” he confirmed. “Nevertheless, I think this will be a good opportunity for you. I suspect that your new job will allow you to lead a much more normal life than you would have had here with us. I imagine that would be extremely attractive to you, someone who has never really had the chance to be normal.”
“No, no, I’ve not,” Harry confirmed rather sadly. “So, what happens now?”
“You are to report to the main Ministry of Magic building in London at nine a.m. on the fourteenth, that’s one week from today. That will give you a chance to get your affairs in order, hopefully. If you see Madam Kowalski next, she will begin processing the paperwork relating to your transfer.”
Taking this as his cue to leave, Harry stood. Maurice also stood and offered his hand.
“I sincerely hope that things work out better for you in England, Mr Potter,” he said as they shook.
“Me, too,” Harry agreed fervently, noting the sudden change in his title. “Thank you for all your help, sir. I really do appreciate all you’ve done for me.”
Receiving only a curt nod in reply, Harry turned and left the room. Madam Kowalski was waiting for him, and had a small stack of forms for him to complete. Two hours later, Harry walked out of the building an ex-Department M agent. He knew full well how unique a person that made him.
The next morning found Harry shifting through his meagre possessions in his flat. Initially, he’d felt that a week was an unrealistically short period of time to put his affairs here on the continent in order, but once he’d started thinking about it, he realised, if anything, it was over generous.
Although he technically had to give two months’ notice to quit on his flat, in practice Madam Babineaux had simply agreed that he could pay a full month’s rent and hand in the keys at the end of the week. As most of the furniture came with the flat, he didn’t have to worry about that, either.
He was rather distressed to find that the sum total of his possessions fitted neatly into two medium sized boxes, which could easily be shrunk down and fit into his pocket without any problems. He’d rented this flat for nearly four years, but he realised that it was never truly a home to him. He’d never got round to putting pictures on the walls, or dotted little ornaments or knick-knacks around the place. The one plant he’d ever bought in an effort to brighten up the place had died several years before, and the pot it had been planted in was still standing on the windowsill.
Two boxes. That was what his life boiled down to.
He’d briefly thought about letting Martine know he was leaving, but quickly dismissed the idea. There just didn’t seem any point. It was with a slight sense of disgust that he realised that the only other person that he really needed to say goodbye to was Bruno, the bartender at the small bar-cum-bistro that he frequented between missions. Even he would probably miss Harry’s generous tips more than anything else.
Depressed, he decided to head over to the bar to drown his sorrows. Although spring, the weather was overcast and dark, and specks of rain hit his face as he left his apartment building. It was a perfect backdrop to his sombre mood.
When he reached the bar, he found that Bruno wasn’t even working that night. Ordering himself a beer, Harry perched himself on a stool and propped himself up against the bar. It occurred to him that tonight, for once, he could drink as much as he liked without fear that he would suddenly receive a summons to report for duty. With that in mind, he took a long swig from his glass of beer, and tried to relax.
Did he really want to return to England, he wondered? At the time, the offer to join the Department four years previously had seemed a marvellous opportunity to get away from everything. Although the Ministry had done a terrific job of keeping his involvement in the defeat of Voldemort largely a secret, Harry was still cursed with the title of The Boy Who Lived. He would, no doubt, be cursed to be judged for the rest of his life on the events of that night back in 1981. Sirius had been adamant that Harry was never bothered by any attention from the press while growing up, which was one of the reasons he never went to Hogwarts, but he was still a legend in Britain, albeit a reclusive one.
But that wasn’t the main reason for his reluctance to return to the land of his birth. There were just too many bad memories associated with the place. He still had nightmares about the night the Death Eaters had managed to breech the protections around their home at Grimmauld Place. They had managed to fight them off, but not before his godfather had died trying to protect him, along with a sizable chunk of the Order of the Phoenix. It was the death blow to the organisation that had already been reeling from the death of its creator and leader, Albus Dumbledore. Harry had been left with a handful of friends, a burnt-out house, and no clear plan on how to defeat Voldemort. The fact that in the end he’d succeeded had been a near miracle.
That gave him cause for thought. Grimmauld Place would probably be totally uninhabitable. To Harry’s knowledge, no one had been in the place for years and certainly no effort had been made to repair the damage. Technically, he still owned a house in Godric’s Hollow, but that was likely to be in even worse shape. No, he’d just have to book himself into a hotel until he sorted out some accommodation.
Maurice’s words kept coming back to him as he drank. Apparently, he’d have the chance to lead a normal life, whatever that was. Harry had never been normal, and he strongly doubted that he ever would be. But still, the idea was kind of appealing. After all, the section he would be joining sounded more like a branch of the Law Enforcement Department than a special operations unit. Perhaps it would allow him to sample normality a little. He might have the opportunity to get himself a proper place to live and actually spend some time there. Perhaps, if he was really lucky, he might actually develop some kind of social life. Maybe even a regular girlfriend, and one that didn’t need to return to her suspicious husband at the end of each evening.
After downing the last of his beer and ordering another, Harry pondered that idea. Could it possibly be that simple? Just rock up to the British Ministry, start his new job and actually get a life? He severely doubted it, as things just never seemed to work out like that for him. Still, the image was attractive…
With a faint smile on his lips, Harry took a sip of his second beer. Maybe, just maybe, this new job could be considered a golden opportunity. He knew Kingsley Shacklebolt well, and, as long as the man hadn’t been corrupted by becoming a politician, he doubted that any unit he was in charge of would stoop to the kind of ruthless and unethical practices that had so upset him in his present role. For once, perhaps, he could do a job that he was actually proud to do.
Suddenly feeling more hopeful, Harry took another healthy swig of his lager. Even if the job didn’t turn out to be all that he hoped, it had to be better than the situation he had just left. A weight had been lifted from his shoulders, and he should do his best to enjoy it, starting tonight.
Harry sat back on his stool and looked around. He almost groaned when he realised that he had subconsciously picked a seat that was protected on three sides by walls and the bar, and that also allowed him to surreptitiously monitor everyone who entered or left the bistro. Clearly, he was still thinking like an operative.
Sighing, he took another drink from his glass. He suspected that alcohol was making him a little maudlin, but he really didn’t have any better plan than to sit on his stool and get drunk. Having already packed up his meagre belongings, his flat seemed even less welcoming than normal. At least sitting here in the bistro he was among other people, even if he had no desire to interact with any of them.
Letting his gaze pass lazily across the room, his eyes fell on a young couple eating at a small table near the front window. They were probably about his age, both relatively attractive and well-dressed. They were obviously enchanted by each other, and exchanging those longing looks and gentle touches that young lovers always share. To them, the rest of the world simply didn’t exist at that moment, so caught up in each other they were.
Jealously, Harry thought of Martine and his affair with the beautiful brunette. There had never been any tender moments between them like the young couple shared. It had been a relationship based purely on physical need and expedience. A casual association that they could pick up or leave as required.
Harry turned in his seat and resolutely stared at the mirror behind the bar. He was glad that his own reflection was obscured by the assorted bottles that were placed there. He wasn’t sure that he wanted to look into his own eyes at that exact moment.
It was at that moment that he realised that returning to England was not merely desirable, it was absolutely essential. He couldn’t keep living his life this way, or he’d just end up an empty shell. A burned-out, emotionless husk that lived in the shadows. He’d lost so much already in his short life that he’d be damned if he gave up his soul, too.
Signalling the barman for another beer, Harry made a plan of action. Tonight, he would get very, very drunk. After all, there were no dangerous missions awaiting him in the morning or enemy agents lurking in the shadows. For once, he was free to do what he wanted. Tomorrow, he would probably spend most of the day in bed. He had no reason to get up and, heaven knows, he had several months’ worth of sleep to catch up on. That, he suspected, would be the pattern for the rest of the week.
By the weekend, however, he would return to the land of his birth. He had little idea what his new job would entail, or what exactly was expected of him. He’d lost track of the few people he’d known back in England and was a little dubious about how the near-mythical Boy Who Lived would be received after all this time.
But one thing was abundantly clear to him: anything was better than this shit.
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