Cloudy, with a chance of freak explosions
Blaise swallowed, her expression grim. "It’s over," she said, looking pale but determined.
I nodded. "He knew I was alive. He would have tried to kill me. He had to die."
There was an uncomfortably long pause.
"It’s better that we convinced him it was better to take his own life."
"I know," she repeated, staring down at Fudge’s body.
Another pause. "The alternative was either a compulsion charm encouraging him to kill himself or for one of us to kill him," I added, probing tentatively. "Both would have left evidence."
"I know," she said mechanically a third time.
We both stood silently for a few more moments. Nothing I said was going to make things better. "Right," I said eventually, "I’ll look in his study and bedroom; you take the library. I doubt that there’s anything of value outside the safe, but you know what to look for."
She nodded, and turned without a word. I guess seeing someone kill themselves in front of you would be a little disconcerting. I spared the corpse one final glance, before beginning my own search.
As the fifteen stone lump of fat and protein gently cooled in the next room, I carefully rifled through his effects, taking care not to move anything I couldn’t replace. Besides a lot of letters between Fudge and members of some highly prominent families, there wasn’t a lot of raw material. Besides some minor blackmail opportunities, the letters were benign. After half an hour, I wandered into the library and looked questioningly at Blaise. She shook her head.
"Nothing really. The stuff from the safe is the real gold."
I nodded. "Are you all right?"
She clenched her jaw. "Let’s talk about this later, shall we?"
I nodded. "All right. Are you ready for some pyrotechnic redecorating?"
That put a smile on her face, tentative though it was.
Disillusioned in the park, we watched as the Muggle fire fighters struggled to put out the flames that consumed the house. A large number of wealthy subjects of Her Majesty milled around a hastily erected corral in their nightclothes, watching their neighbour’s house go up in flames. Not one of them paid any attention to the modified howler screaming from a protected portion of the house.
"PURE BLOOD BIGOTS BEWARE! YOUR TIME HAS COME! PURE BLOOD BIGOTS BEWARE! YOUR TIME HAS COME!"
Hermione had done well, ensuring that no Muggle would even notice the magnified voice. I admit, it was less than subtle, but sometimes you had to really hit a wizard over the head for them to get a message.
The bewildered firemen were having a great deal of difficulty with the enchanted fire. For some inexplicable reason, it refused to be extinguished, it didn’t seem to be spreading to the houses next door, and seemed to be fairly contained, despite the intense heat. It wasn’t until some wizards showed up that the fire was extinguished.
Blaise craned her head and checked my watch. "Eight minutes and twelve seconds between alarm and arrival. A pretty poor effort."
I shrugged. "Maybe, but it’s good for us. If that is their usual response time, I can use that well enough. Once more prominent pure bloods get attacked, the time will go down."
She stiffened briefly, but quickly relaxed. I took a stab at what was bothering her.
"You don’t have to come along with me if you’d prefer not to."
She didn’t reply. She just held my hand tighter and sat silently, as we watched Fudge’s place burn to the ground.
I stretched myself awake, feeling the cool air of the bedroom on my exposed arms. Besides me, the bed was empty.
I glanced at the clock. Blaise would have gone to work. We hadn’t spoken about Fudge since leaving the scene; she had been oddly silent all night. We had cuddled platonically in bed; neither of us had felt any sort of arousal.
I suspected that she was beginning to have second thoughts. After all I’d been through, I wasn’t prepared to continue to be a doormat to the world. Blaise however, had only involved by proxy up to now. And she hadn’t even had the five years of Hogwarts adventures that Ron and Hermione had shared with me.
I rose, showered and dressed. Hedwig was waiting for me at the breakfast table with a copy of the Prophet. "Good morning, girl. Let’s see what you have there," I said, turning on the wireless.
As gentle music drifted over me, I munched through Dobby’s cooking, looking at the paper’s headlines. I was expecting some spin, but I could hardly believe even the headline.
ANOTHER HERO MURDERED
Cornelius Fudge, ousted two years ago as Minister for Magic under dubious circumstances, was brutally murdered at his Mayfair home last night.
Emergency workers dispatched to the scene uncovered the gruesome find after battling a magical blaze set to cover the murderer’s tracks. A modified howler was left on the ex-Minister’s body, warning of future attacks on prominent members of society.
The investigating Aurors refused to comment on the crime.
Wizengamot member Anastasia Royston, a long time friend and supporter of Fudge, told of her devastation at hearing the news.
"He was a great man, a great wizard, who had the poor luck of simply being the Minister at the most difficult time in recent history. He will be remembered as a fine, upstanding wizard who did his utmost to serve the people of this country," she said from her Blackpool residence.
Minister Rufus Scrimgeour insisted that the population was safe. "This crime will not go unpunished. Our Aurors will find the perpetrators, and bring them to justice. We did not survive years of terror courtesy of Lord <redacted> simply to roll over at a new threat."
Not everyone shared the Minister’s confidence. Several prominent members of the Wizengamot and Department Heads have petitioned the Minister for greater funding for Auror forces.
Cornelius Fudge was most recently the Warden of Azkaban. He had come under intense fire from the Ministry for two recent ward failures at the maximum-security prison, the second of which resulted in the much publicised attempted mass breakout. Fudge had emphatically denied any wrongdoing on his part, or on the part of his staff for the failure of security.
Continued on page 2.
I turned the page. From the quotes on the page, it certainly hadn’t taken long for the pure-blooded bigots to start yowling for help once they were the targets. Already, after just one attack, it sounded as though they were shitting themselves. Their hypocrisy was already on show, they certainly didn’t call for more Auror funding when Voldy and Co. were only attacking Muggles and Muggleborn.
One interesting bit of information from the article was that the Royston matriarch lives in Blackpool, so that should probably be my next stop. The fact she had my invisibility cloak meant that she would be receiving a visit from me sooner rather than later, but having her name so prominently associated with Fudge would provide a nice cover for my next attack.
Rufus seemed to be developing a spine, if he was referring to Voldemort by name. After a few more attacks, I might have to pay him a visit to scare him, if only to add to the perception that none of them were safe.
I skimmed the rest of the article. The actual story didn’t sound much like what had actually happened, so I didn’t bother trying to wrest many details from it. There was nothing about missing artefacts and documents from a blood-warded safe, nothing about the Aurors breaking the wards an hour before his demise, or anything about his idiocy that cost the Wizarding World more than it could imagine.
The news on my apparent death was on pages three, five and seven. My body had still not been recovered (obviously), but there had been twelve reported sightings of me all over the country. Oh, and a further three people had actually claimed to be me. One had even gone so far as to etch a lightning bolt into his forehead. Pity it was on the wrong side. He really needed to do his research better. Oddly, those people hadn’t gone to the goblins for access to my wealth, probably because as much as they enjoyed the notoriety, they probably enjoyed life more.
My plans had revolved around staying dead in the public’s mind. However, if there were a number of â€˜Harry Sightings’ each day, then it probably wouldn’t hurt to appear in front of the odd witch out in the country, or couple on a romantic date. No one would take their claims seriously, and the more it happened, the less people would pay attention. Maybe I could even get Luna to convince her father to run a game in the Quibbler. The best â€˜Potter Spotter’ of the week wins a prize.
It was something to think about. I ate my breakfast in silence while formulating plans.
I wonder how many Dark Lords plotted over Eggs Benedict.
I was mentally miles away when Ron’s voice intruded on my thoughts. I blinked in surprise at the fact that he was talking on the radio. I’d missed part of his rant through my inattention.
"Absolutely! They are completely out of line!" Ron said with conviction.
"Um, yes, Mr. Weasley, but as I said, we were in fact looking to speak withâ€”"
"And another thing," Ron interrupted. "I was there when Fudge was first told What’s-His-Name was back, and he refused point blank to believe it. And after a year, he finally had to admit it anyway! You know, when he actually turned up in the Ministry building. I was there too! And you know what? All these same people did then was to hand out leaflets telling people how to hide."
I winced. In his haste to get air time, Ron wasn’t exactly being clear. He sounded far too excited to actually be interviewed on the radio, and his subject matter jumped around.
"That is a point of view, certainly," the announcer said diplomatically, trying to shut Ron up. "As the man who became Cornelius Fudge’s successor, could I speak with your faâ€”"
"One bloody attack on a cretin and they’re falling over themselves to demand personal protection," Ron continued, talking over the poor fellow. "Seriously, entire Muggle-born families were slaughtered in their sleep for years, and these people couldn’t give a stuff. What’s up with that?"
I sighed. Subtle-Ron was still a fair way off. Maybe a century or two.
The announcer finally managed to get Ron to hand over control of the fire to Mr. Weasley, who took over the interview with far greater tact and diplomacy. He reiterated that he felt in no more danger this morning than he had yesterday, and that he trusted that the Aurors were up to the task of protecting society.
A rational, calming influence after Ron’s outburst.
Hermione arrived through the fire soon after Ron’s outburst ended. I had finished breakfast and was flicking through the rest of the paper.
"Morning, â€˜Mione," I said.
She swallowed nervously. "H-Harry, did you… I mean, I know you didn’t, but I need to know if you…"
I looked at her intently. Her posture screamed discomfort, and she looked on the verge of bolting. "What, Hermione?" I asked, knowing exactly what she was trying to articulate.
She lowered her gaze. "I, I read today’s paper. Is it true?" she finished in a whisper.
I sighed deeply, realising something very fundamental. "It’s the Prophet. In my experience, it gets things true only by accident," I replied, turning my attention back to the paper in question.
She actually started sobbing. "You said you were just going to neutralise him. I thought you meant you were going to obliviate him."
I dropped the tabloid and rose to my feet. "And then you read the paper and found that he had been murdered," I finished for her.
She nodded quickly. She looked up at me tentatively, her eyes red rimmed with tears. "Please tell me you didn’t."
An old, familiar feeling stirred in my gut. The anger I harboured for so long after leaving Hogwarts began to return. "Why should I?" I demanded, my voice rising. "Don’t you remember why I left the Wizarding world in the first place? Well? I was sick of having to justify myself every time someone said something about me. Now you’ve come here and demand the same thing?"
She burst into tears. "Oh, Harry, I don’t believe it, but I’m scared it’s true," she babbled.
I gave a derisory snort and made a dismissive gesture. "You know what? You seem to be more worried about people who tried to kill me than about me."
That got her angry, even through her tears. It was good to see her fire again. "Damn it Harry, I don’t give a stuff about Fudge!" she shouted. "He can rot for all I care. I’m worried about you! I’m terrified that you are turning into a murderer, and I don’t want that to happen."
My expression softened, but I wasn’t prepared to back down entirely. "Ron didn’t need to ask, he just believed in me."
"I’m not Ron."
"You just need to know."
She nodded. "I need to know."
I sighed, and shook my head. "No, I didn’t kill him. I explained some things to him, and threatened that I was going to be using him in the future. He decided that death was preferable to being manipulated by someone who didn’t care whether he lived or died, so he suicided." I tilted my head to one side. "I didn’t even have to put a compulsion on him. He actually had the balls to end it himself."
She swallowed. I could tell that the truth was closer to her fears than she wanted, but still far enough from them that she was placated somewhat. She nodded. "Thank you," she whispered.
I raised an eyebrow. "That’s it?"
"You were expecting something else?"
"Well, yeah, demands for proof at least."
She shook her head. "No, I trust you, Harry, I really do. I just needed to hear it from you. I couldn’t stop the images in my mind of you murdering someone."
I stepped over and put my arm around her shoulders. She slipped both arms around my chest and held me tightly.
"From the way you jumped on board my little conspiracy, I assumed that you would be all for anything that attacked the Ministry."
She sniffed. "Not that part of the Ministry."
I ran my hand up and down her back. "What happened to you? What did the Ministry do?"
She stiffened. "I can’t tell you. Not yet."
I sighed. I’d been thinking about what happened to her ever since I saw her condition. Something medical, something she didn’t want me to know, something that could emotionally cripple her. Time to let her know I could still use my mind. I picked the most probable cause I could think of. "You were pregnant," I said, more a statement of fact than a question.
She gave a sort of strangled gasp and pulled back. "How did you…?"
I swallowed stoically through the sudden icy tendrils around my heart. "Deduction," I said shortly.
Tears welled in her eyes again, and she clutched at my chest once more. "I’m so sorry!" she wailed.
I extracted myself from her embrace and led her to the sitting room by the hand. I pushed her down on one of the sofas and sat next to her, gathering her slight frame in my arms again. "You think I’m going to be angry about it, or that I’ll hate you," I said matter-of-factly. "That could mean that the baby wasn’t mine, or that you lost it through something you did."
She shook her head, burrowing deep into my embrace. "Please stop."
I forced the split in my mind as my rage threatened to overwhelm me. "The way Blaise and Ron acted on the night I returned indicates that the baby was mine. You are angry at the Ministry, or at least, someone in the Ministry. So that tells me who is responsible forâ€”"
"It was Croaker," she said with her face buried in my chest.
"Croaker, the Unspeakable," I clarified. Her nod, I asked, "What in Merlin’s name did he do?"
She was silent for a long while. "He summoned me to the Ministry to be interviewed about what I knew about the Horcruxes. He slipped a potion in my tea that made me erratic. Blaise and your old Master think it was to make you come home to make sure I was alright."
I stiffened. Potions that controlled or influenced emotions did weird things to your hormones. "It was the potion that…?"
She started weeping softly again, clutching me tighter. It was all the answer I needed.
"Why did he want me back? What the fuck was so important?" I demanded, before working the answer out for myself. "Those bloody Horcruxes. He wanted to know what I knew about them."
Hermione nodded, still crying softly.
"Damn him," I growled, my anger rising to new heights in moments. Hermione gripped me even more tightly and held me down.
"Don’t. Please!" she pleaded.
"He killed our baby!"
She refused to let me go. "This is why I didn’t want to tell you! I don’t want you to do something you’ll regret!"
I closed my eyes briefly and took stock. I was breathing very heavily, as though I’d just got back from a Quidditch training session. I held out one hand, noting that my fingers were trembling badly. Hermione was right. Acting now would be a bad idea. Acting when I’d calmed down and had thought through the consequences would be better. Well, worse for Croaker.
"All right," I said, relaxing muscles I didn’t know I’d tensed. "Have you pressed charges?"
"I can’t. He’s got immunity."
"Huh? Immunity from what?"
She sniffed again, and pulled away enough to look into my eyes. "You can’t press charges against an Unspeakable for anything they do in the course of an investigation, their actions are considered protected. There’s nothing the law can do. Tonks was kind enough to explain that to me when I was at my worst."
"Fucking wonderful. Yet another delightful aspect of the Wizarding world that needs fixing. I’ll add it to the list, shall I?" I asked rhetorically. She struggled from my grip, and stood up. "What are you doing?" I asked.
"I’m sorry Harry, I can’t… I didn’t want… I need to be alone," she said through her tears, before disapparating.
I paused. Following was probably the chivalrous thing to do, but she wasn’t the only one who needed to be alone with their thoughts. I needed to decide what to do about this. I summoned my coat and apparated away.
I was in a foul mood for the rest of the morning. I wandered around London’s parks, kicking pebbles and scaring pigeons and small children.
Croaker had all but murdered an unborn child with his wilful neglect. He had put Hermione’s health at risk, simply to get me to come home from a trip early. That sort of blind arrogance in someone in a position of power was supremely dangerous. That he was protected from any consequences to his actions was completely believable, given my experience of the Wizarding world, and totally unnecessary.
As angry as I was with politicians and bureaucrats in general, some of my anger was directed at me.
I certainly wasn’t ready to be a father, and the instant Hermione had confirmed that she had indeed been pregnant, I felt a flash of relief that she had miscarried. I studied the feeling tentatively, not particularly wanting to discover something like this about myself.
I could tell myself that I didn’t want to bring a child into the world now. Or that it would be in danger simply because if who sired it. Or that I would be a bad father, like Vernon. I thought up a dozen reasons that explained why I could have felt that sensation of relief, but there was only one that was true.
I had enjoyed my life since finishing my NEWTs. Despite being dragged into another idiotic quest to fight Riddle’s legacy, I had finally been living my life. Enjoying my responsibility-free time.
And I didn’t want that to stop. I didn’t want the responsibility that went with parenthood just yet.
And finally, I was pretty sure I didn’t want Hermione to be the mother of my children.
Once or twice during the morning I was on the verge of apparating to the Ministry and confronting the Unspeakable. Each time, I contented myself with a fantasy of somehow punishing him painfully.
Eventually, however, I calmed down. The most damaging thing I could do to these bastards was to bring my plan to fruition. Breaking cover and charging in half-cocked would do nothing in the long term, no matter how satisfying. No, I added Croaker’s sins to my mental list of trespasses against me, and tried to put it out of my mind.
I spent the afternoon in London, lingering in various Muggle shops that dealt with wigs, makeup and disguises. Ironically, I discovered that it was their so-called â€˜magic’ shops that provided the best equipment. I figured that appearing with non-magical disguises when I went hunting was the best way to prevent accidental unmasking. A simple Finite Incantatem could remove a glamour, but not makeup. I spent a great deal of money on some very pretty things.
By the time I got home, darkness was falling. I took my purchases upstairs to my room and practised making myself look different. My efforts were largely successful, in that they changed my appearance. They did little to make me unremarkable. I looked like a panda after my first attempt.
It was getting late by the time I gave up and simply combined a wig and false nose with liberal use of glamours. It made me look different, but I smoothed out the imperfections with illusions. I told myself that I’d get better with practise, and that it wasn’t bad for a first go, but damn it was annoying to waste an hour putting on makeup only to have to wipe it off and start again repeatedly.
I picked up a few things, and apparated to Diagon Alley.
Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes in Diagon Alley looked very like I last remembered. Though it was late evening, more than one owl arrived unburdened and left carrying a parcel, so it looked like business was still good.
Deciding to surprise the twins, I carefully removed the obvious locking charm on the front door, and then spent a minute or so gently removing the rest of the enchantments. Well, the ones that I knew about, anyway. Gritting my teeth, I silenced the door and entered.
Nothing. No bangs, no flashes, no unexpected transfigurations.
I was vaguely disappointed. The twins were losing their touch.
The entire store floor was dark and silent. The only light in the store came from behind Butt, giving the statue a sort of whole body halo. I made my way over to the statue and whispered "Voldemort’s a wanker." Butt obligingly grinded out of the way.
One of the twins was making notes in a ledger, while the other was seeing to a line of three owls, carefully assembling an order and tying it to the relevant bird. Both turned to face me on my entrance. My disguises did their job, since they drew their wands in an identical, threatening flourish. A fair reaction, given the fact that I had my own out and ready.
"Who are you?" they demanded in unison.
I grinned. "The Ghost of Christmas Past," I replied in a harsh whispered voice.
That didn’t go down well.
"Should we call the Aurors, Fred?"
"Maybe later, George. I think we should take advantage of this trespasser."
"Oh, absolutely, Fred. How many experimental wheezes to we need to test?"
Before answering, George snapped his wand in my direction. An intense seven second flurry of magical energy followed as spells were exchanged.
"I’ve told you two before that you need to vary your tactics," I said in my usual voice, pulling off my wig and false nose. "When you two fight together, you always use the same opening combination. Being able to fight effectively in a co-ordinated manner means nothing if your opponent knows what to expect." I removed my remaining glamours with a wave of my wand.
"Mmammmfff," they said, indistinctly.
"Yes, yes, your opening salvo combination is exceedingly likely to overwhelm an unprepared opponent, perhaps even one ready and expecting an attack. That is exactly what we designed it for. But as I just demonstrated, a modified Aegis charm works perfectly well to deflect both initial hexes, and a pair of overlapping duelling shields negate the three following curses, making it trivial for me to counter-attack in the time it takes you to recover," I continued, most amused at the sight in front of me.
My spells had the pair lip-locked, with their arms stuck tightly around the other. They were struggling mightily to free themselves from the embrace, which only added to the scene.
"Fred, you need to keep you wrist straighter. George, you need to kick your brother’s arse every now and again. He’s getting lazy."
With that, I wandered over to the triangular table and sat down at the visitor’s end. I threw my discarded disguises onto the table and put my feet up. "Are you two ready to talk, or did you want to curse each other some more?"
I gave my wand a wave, removing the enchantments. Immediately, the twins burst apart, coughing and spluttering.
"Fred, you really need to use the mouthwash you got for Christmas," George complained, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.
"Likewise, brother mine."
"Good. Now that we’ve established that, what shall we do with the dead man walking in our shop?"
"Ask him just how he is actually alive, perhaps?
I chuckled at their banter. "Hello? Boy-Who-Lived, remember?" I said, pointing at my chest with my thumb.
"Harry!" they burst out, leaping forward and grabbing me in a dual hug. I only just managed to get my feet down in time to avoid being knocked over backwards.
"Ugh, guys, you weren’t kidding about the mouthwash thing."
"You know what this means, Gred?"
"I think I do, Forge. But I’m not sure we can get our hands on a colony of Veela at this time of night."
I shrugged myself out of their embrace. "Nice to see my death hasn’t affected you at all. How’re things?"
"Oh, no, you don’t get out of it that easily! What the hell happened?"
I smiled wickedly, and gestured at the table. "Take a seat guys, you’re going to need it."
They sat. I spoke.
"Let me get this straight," George finally said, once I’d finished my tale. "You were kidnapped, held in…" he paused and shook his head disbelievingly before continuing, "in Azkaban for three months, stole a priceless work of art, escaped, and made old Fudgie believe you would blackmail him so badly that he preferred to commit suicide. And if that isn’t enough, you want to remain dead for a year. Is that about right?"
I nodded happily. "Pretty much. The year thing might be a bit inaccurate. That’s about the longest I want to stay dead."
Fred actually pouted and gave a juvenile whine. "I want to prank the world like you!"
I snickered. "Well, I do have some plans involving the humiliation and impoverishment of a certain group of people, who may just happen be pure-blood bigots. It’s not exactly a harmless prank though. While there are a few tedious tasks I need someone to do, I do expect that in the meantime there will be large amounts of mayhem and chaos. Enormous explosions may well feature. At least, I hope so. Are you both, mayhap, interested?"
Hook. Line. Sinker.
Hermione’s house was dark.
It was with trepidation that I stepped out of her fire. We needed to finish the conversation that she’d walked out of, but I sure as hell didn’t want to. But, if our relationship had taught me anything, it was never to let a ruinous conversation go unfinished.
I stood there in the dim light working up the courage to speak to her when the lights flicked on, momentarily blinding me.
"Hi, Hermione," I said, blinking, holding my hand up in front of my eyes. As they got used to the sudden illumination, I noted that Hermione was wearing the same clothes that she had been wearing this morning. Her hair was rumpled. Well, more rumpled than usual. With my hand up, I could see my watch. It was after midnight.
She swallowed, but lowered her wand. "What are you doing here?"
"Iâ€”, you know, I’m not entirely sure."
That brought a small smile to her face. "I hoped you’d come over."
I looked around the room and picked an armchair to sit in, gesturing to another for her. It was a deliberate choice. I wanted her to be comfortable, but equally wanted to keep out of reach. The rest of our interrupted conversation from this morning needed to be conducted at arm’s length.
She sat in the indicated chair, looking resigned. "Am I going to read about some Ministry attack in the paper tomorrow?"
I shook my head, burying the flash of anger at her lack of faith in me. I had been fantasising about exactly that scenario for a sizable part of the day. "I doubt it. Not unless someone else independently decides to take the initiative." I paused. "Or the twins decide to surprise me. That’s possible too."
Her head rose in surprise. "You’ve told the twins that you’re alive?"
I nodded with a smirk, and related my latest Weasley adventure. The mental image of Fred and George kissing even got her to giggle a bit. We sat in comfortable silence for almost a minute before she continued. "I’m sorry I ran out again. I wanted to wait until this was over before telling you, but you figured it out and all the memories just came flooding back."
I nodded, sobering up quickly. "I understand. No, wait, I can’t say that. I understand how I feel, but I imagine that you feel a lot worse."
She smiled weakly. "Thank you, but I’ve had several weeks to come to terms with it. You’ve had a day."
I swallowed. "Right, now that we’ve had a chance to justify the other’s feelings, can we talk about this?"
She took a deep breath and let it out slowly, with a nod. "Okay," she said in a childish voice.
"When did you find out?"
"Five weeks after you killed Snape," she replied. "You were gallivanting around, looking for the remaining Horcruxes. I was feeling run down and exhausted, and went to Madam Pomfrey to get checked. While I was there, Professor Dumbledore came down to see me. I think he has the Map."
Naturally. "I thought Ron gave it to Ginny?"
"He did. But you know the Headmaster."
I sighed. "Yeah, I suppose I do. What did he say?"
Hermione swallowed again. "He was apologetic, but insistent. He said there was someone in his office who wanted to speak to me."
She nodded. "He gave me a sort of official speech, and then invited me to the Ministry the next day to do a proper interview. Professor Dumbledore looked surprised at that, and objected on my behalf, but Croaker insisted."
"And we all know what you are like at defying authority," I said with a wry grin.
She took a second to see if I was making fun of her, before accepting the small jab with good grace. "I know. I agreed, went there, and answered his questions. We spoke for a long time about how the fake locket was protected, but he was very eager to talk to you. I told him that we weren’t on speaking terms at the time, that you wouldn’t come back just because I asked you to. That surprised him a bit. It was then that I made a big mistake. I clarified my answer and said that I’d have to be in some distress for you to come back. I only meant that it would take something more important that just me asking, but he left the room, then came back with the spiked tea, and asked me more questions about you."
I wasn’t sure I was quite comfortable with being the object of interest to someone who had no accountability. "Anything interesting?"
Hermione made a face and tilted her head from side to side. "Yes and no. He wanted to know everything about the diary, but wasn’t interested at all in the basilisk. He asked what I knew about Ravenclaw’s journal, and how you destroyed it. He was very interested in Voldemort’s resurrection. Even after I showed him every memory I had of you talking about it, he wanted to know more. I couldn’t tell him much about Nagini, or about the locket. I only saw the fake."
I leaned back in the chair and nodded. "It sounds like he really is just interested in the Horcruxes and how they are used. How did you feel after taking the tea?"
She shuddered. "At first, not too bad. I just thought the tea was poor quality. I began to feel anxious within about an hour, after which he just sort of lost interest in me. For days afterwards, I got progressively worse; I argued with my parents, with Blaise, I even thought about dropping out of university."
"Wow, that’s a powerful potion," I jested weakly.
"It’s not funny, Harry. I was a raving and shrieking mess before Ron came to visit. He almost knocked me out to take me to Madam Pomfrey. I was in the infirmary when I miscarried," she finished in a whisper.
I felt my hands clench into fists unconsciously. Once more, I was ready to hurt someone. "I’m sorry. I wish I was there."
She shook her head sadly. "You were in St. Mungo’s by… no, you were in prison. There was nothing you could have done."
"That doesn’t stop me wishing differently," I pointed out.
She smiled softly. "Thank you."
We sat in silence for a time. While there was still a great deal of emotional baggage between us, I couldn’t help but feel that our friendship would grow stronger. But I couldn’t say the same for our romantic relationship. "Can we talk about us?"
Her breath hitched, but she nodded. "I still love you, Harry."
I closed my eyes. "And I never stopped loving you." She started to speak but I held up a hand. "Please, let me finish. I love you, Hermione. But you need to understand that I love Blaise too." I opened my eyes to look at her.
"I know that, but we can…"
I shook my head. "That sort of relationship won’t work unless the two of you love each other. And you don’t, you never have. You’ve always been rivals, even in the midst of our lovemaking. Even before we entered our relationship. You resented her from the moment you learned that we had been staying together when I began my apprenticeship." I chuckled softly. "Oddly enough, she resented you even before that."
"What? What do you mean?"
"She was jealous of you. I discerned that from her mind during one of our conversations that summer. The more I learn about women, the more confused I get, but I think she had a crush on me before then, or at least that she was interested in me."
Hermione swallowed audibly. "So you’re picking her over me?"
I clenched my jaw. "I wish you wouldn’t put it like that."
"But it’s true," she said, her eyes filling.
I sighed. "Crudely, I suppose it is. When you left me, I was a wreck. I must have stood in the doorway to your room at Grimmauld Place for ages, just staring in, wondering what the hell happened."
"I’m sorry, but you need to understand that-"
I shook my head. "I know. I don’t blame you." At her dubious expression, I quickly continued. "Seriously, I don’t blame you. But consider this; I committed myself to both of you. The night the three of us became lovers I decided that I would love both of you for as long as you both would let me. But the majority of our lovemaking was in separate beds. I can count the number of times the three of us made love together on one hand. No matter how much you protest, our relationship was not stable.
"You left for your own reasons. It does not matter what they were, if they were good or bad. It’s the consequences that matter now. Tell me, would you want to get back with me, if it meant that I had to leave Blaise? Would you, could you, ever really be happy, knowing that I would readily leave one girl for another?"
Her eyes brightened momentarily during my little speech, before clouding. "She doesn’t want me back."
I shook my head. "No."
"And unless she does, you won’t have me back."
"It’s not quite that simple, but yes."
She drew her knees up and wrapped her arms around her legs, resting her forehead on her knees. "So that’s it? We’re over?" she asked, her face hidden.
Man, this was painful. It was seriously tempting to tell her that Blaise was prepared to accept her as my girlfriend, but Zab had drilled me mercilessly about thinking past actions and to the consequences. "’Mione, say we chose to go down that path, back to the way things were before. No matter how good things would be now, it would be much worse later on. The two of you would eventually go from respectful rivals to bitter competitors, and I would be stuck in the middle. Eventually, I’d be forced to make a decision that would to alienate one of you, and I would lose one or both as friends."
She raised her head, looking at me indecipherably.
"I’m not prepared to do that. If hurting now means that we will always be friends, then I am prepared to do that."
She blinked a few times, then lowered her head back to her knees. A few moments later, her shoulders started shaking. I tentatively reached out to comfort her, only to pull back when I made a sudden realisation.
She wasn’t crying. She was chuckling.
"You are a complete cad, you know that," she said, her voice muffled. "You sit there, and patiently explain exactly why we can’t get back together, and make me realise that I’m the one not thinking clearly." She looked up at me ruefully. "You are as sexy like that as I can possibly imagine, and I can’t do a damned thing about it."
I joined her in chuckling ruefully. "It is a weird situation, isn’t it?"
She took a deep breath and let it out with a shudder. Even though she did find some modicum of humour, it was clear that she was still devastated. "For what it’s worth, I’m sorry it turned out this way," I said.
Hermione put her legs down. "You wouldn’t be the Harry I loved if you weren’t. And if I’d been honest with myself before, I should have realised that you wouldn’t have been the Harry I wanted if you had accepted me back against Blaise’s wishes."
I swallowed and nodded. For a long minute, we sat in silence. Eventually, when a yawn threatened to overtake my, I asked, "How are you going with University now? Is it better?"
She nodded. "Now that you’re back, I’m slowly catching up. I’ve been reviewing the work I did between being under the influence of the potion and your reappearance. Quite frankly, it was disgraceful. But I should be back on track in two months, just in time for my exams."
I nodded. "Good. After that, are you able to take some time off?"
"I get a couple of months off, why?"
I grinned at her. "Things should be coming to a head around then. It could get exciting. I wouldn’t want you being distracted."
The next afternoon, I bought some props and travelled to the outskirts of Blackpool.
Blaise’s father and grandfather had received invitations to a private wake being held in honour of our recently departed ex-Minister, held by the delightful Anastasia Royston. My lovely girlfriend had given me the details and wished me luck before heading off to work. I wasn’t sure if she was unhappy that she wouldn’t be there to get me out of trouble, or relieved that she wouldn’t have to potentially be involved in another death. In all honesty, I hadn’t wanted her to come along on this one, and was pleased that she couldn’t get out of her shift.
The Royston residence was not the grand mansion or sweeping villa I’d come to expect. It was on a beautiful bit of property, but the house itself was unimpressive when compared to Zab’s manor or Fudge’s old Mayfair house. At least, before some complete bastard burned the later to the ground. The house in front of me had the kind of view that many land-locked people would kill for.
The modest bluestone building was much too large to be referred to as a cottage, though still retained a sort of homely feel. You could imagine that generations of ennobled country folk had resided there during some part of their annual twelve month holiday. The front face was well presented, with geometric flower beds leading up to the front door and ivy framing the ground floor windows. It stood tall, overlooking the beach, and out over the water. On a clear day, I’d be surprised if you couldn’t see Ireland, if not Iceland. The grounds were beautifully maintained, and expertly manicured. A large number of white chairs were being arranged in the orchard, and several marquees were in the process of being erected.
I continued up the white gravel path slowly, peaking out through the thick foliage I was carrying. A pompous chap with a clipboard intercepted me before I could get close to the house itself.
"The flowers were supposed to come later," he said sternly.
I peaked around my recently purchased blooms. They were my excuse to be here without an invitation. To enable the subterfuge, Hermione had been rather helpful, and oddly eager, in creating a stereotype that would be ignored by most people. "Que?"
He blinked. Raising his voice, he said slowly and clearly, "THE FLOWERS ARE SUPPOSED TO COME LATER!"
I blinked several times, and looked down at the flowers in my arms. "Delivery," I said back, with the thickest Spanish accent my untrained ear could manage. Practising with Hermione had actually set her to giggling.
She had looked through my collection of disguises and picked out several pieces, helping me put them on correctly. Apparently, in my black slacks, white jacket, bowtie and facial disguises, I was the spitting image of someone called â€˜Manuel’. Whoever that was, Hermione seemed to find his appearance amusing. Every time I asked her just who it was I was impersonating, she just kept breaking down into laughter. Also, apparently, I was not supposed to mention a war. Which war, I’ve got no idea, my delightfully infuriating ex-girlfriend couldn’t keep a straight face long enough to tell me.
I shifted uncomfortably as the moustache became itchy under the man’s gaze. "Merlin preserve us from bloody foreigners," he muttered, before ticking something off on his clipboard. "I’ll be speaking with your supervisor!" he threatened.
"Delivery," I repeated. Hermione had advised incomprehension as a defence. Looking at the reaction it got, I’d say it was more of an offence than defence.
"Just get over there," the man spat in disgust, pointing at the group of women setting out the chairs. A delivery van arrived as I departed, and his attention was drawn away.
Hiding a smirk in the flowers, I made my way over to the indicated people.
One flustered woman who was issuing a stream of commands and setting out a rather generous portrait of the dearly departed paused to look at me. "Flowers here already? Go and put them over there, love, until the chairs are all out. Do you need to get more? There was supposed to be one bloom for each guest.
I shrugged, looking at the number of chairs. If I didn’t know better, I’d say the Roystons were hosting a wedding, not a wake.
"Well, don’t just stand there, get to it. There’s a lot to do," she said forcefully, but not unkindly.
I carefully followed her instructions, placing the flowers on one of the tables, and began separating them. Surreptitiously looking around, I drew my wand and gave it a little flick, sending a silent hex towards the closest marquee. It creaked, and folded in on itself, burying equipment beneath it.
In the commotion that followed, I disillusioned myself and quickly made my way to the house proper. I almost gave a sigh of relief as I pulled the itchy moustache from my lip. Avoiding the white gravel paths where possible, I reached the house unmolested and stood listening near an open window, trying to get a feel for those inside. Nothing.
Quietly moving around the building further towards the front, some voices became audible.
"Honestly, Mother, why must you persist with this charade? You’ve opened up the grounds of our holiday home to the masses as if it were the sort of uncultured carnival destination like those that infest the town below. And with all the riff-raff in the kitchens, we may need to fumigate afterwards. Grandfather would be horrified at the fact that there are deliveries being made using Muggle transportation, of all things."
I froze and pressed my back against the bluestone wall, listening hard.
I recognised the next speaker’s voice. "It is distasteful to me as well, but we must do what is necessary to repair the damage to our family’s name. Cornelius was an imbecile, but for all his faults, he did manage to amass a sizable amount of power. If opening the property and honouring him after his death is the price to pay for that, then so be it," said Anastasia Royston.
There was an unladylike snort. "The name Royston is mud. This farce won’t change that. If it wasn’t for that idiot…" the first voice said sulkily.
"If the Dark Lord had been successful, we would have been rewarded well for your cousin’s actions."
"You don’t honestly believe that, do you? That half-blood was insane."
"His parentage may have been sullied, but his vision was noble. If his father had been from one of the great families, he would have cleansed this country of the low-born mongrels by now. Blood will out, dear, always remember that."
"Yes Mother. It is our family motto, after all. I fear that I may get a migraine dealing with all the social posturing. Malcolm and Gertrude will no doubt try to be so crass as to offer their spawn for betrothal to my little Julius again."
"The unsubtle social climbing efforts of half-bloods bore me too. Remember that the house is off limits to everyone but you and me, dear. If they won’t take a hint, claim a headache and retreat to your rooms."
I heard a couple of clinks, and a liquid pouring. The two women were probably having tea. I crept along the side of the house and around the back, expecting to find some sort of servants’ entrance.
I suspect that normally, such a portal would be well secured. But today, with so many new faces working inside, security would be a little more lax. Indeed, with all the people coming and going into the house and from property, it wasn’t even locked. I grinned and entered quietly, finding myself in a short hallway. The nearest doorway on my right opened into a generous kitchen, while the doorway on my left led to a laundry. This was definitely the end of the house where the real work was done.
The kitchen was filled with a kind of orderly chaos, with several caterers putting the finishing touches on some very elegant looking trays of hor d’oeuvres. I slipped down the hallway, further into the house.
The portal marking the transition from servant’s area to living area was quite profound. An archway with a bi-directional privacy charm prevented anyone on either side from seeing or hearing what was on the other. Stepping through was a study of contrasts, between spartan and decadent. Worn grey slate floors gave way to thick, plush carpeting. Unadorned stone walls turned into vibrantly coloured plaster, with impressive artwork liberally scattered around. For a holiday home, this was really rather opulent.
I stopped and listened hard for a conversation between two whiney, bitchy women. Faint strains could be heard coming from down the hallway in front of me. Heading in that direction, I heard a woman say, "That will be all, Farnsley. You may go."
I had to press myself against the wall as an elderly man in a butler’s uniform drifted past with a tea set delicately placed on a silver tray. The scene wouldn’t have looked out of place in an old movie, except for the fact that the tray drifted along unsupported behind the man.
I readied my wand, but didn’t need to use it. The butler passed me and disappeared without incident into the warded archway. I took a moment to erect and Confundus charm on the portal, making it confusing for anyone walking through to remember what they were doing. That done, I took a breath and quickly moved down the hallway towards the doorway from which the butler had appeared. I peeked into the room.
The two women were running through an internal, pre-flight checklist, making sure their pointed hats were straight, that their makeup was just so, and that their robes were sitting exactly right. Foregoing subtlety, I simply stunned the younger witch and turned my wand on the Wizengamot member. In the time it took for her to draw a breath to scream, I snapped off an Imperius Curse.
It occurred to me that I was really racking up the lifetime sentences. Good thing I knew how to escape Azkaban.
"Be quiet," I ordered, feeling her struggle uselessly against the spell. "Tell me what the most valuable things you have in the house are," I demanded, figuring that my invisibility cloak would definitely be at the top of the list. The plan was to make her believe that I was funding my activities through the theft of valuables from my targets. I didn’t want her to know what I was really after.
She paused before answering. "A Cummersleigh, an invisibility cloak, and my engagement ring."
I grinned tightly. Perhaps I should start an art collection, specialising in stolen masterpieces by insane magical artists. "Speak to no one. Go and get them, along with all your jewellery, and bring them to me. Do not put the cloak on."
She wordlessly walked towards the door, and left the room. I grinned tightly at the idea that my thieving would possibly terrify the rich more than simply attacking them. I reached into my robes, pulled forth the portkey sock and extracted a red envelope, which I secreted upon the unconscious witch’s person. I then spent the next few minutes pulling out all the goodies I’d picked up from the twins’ storeroom. Five years of Potions lessons with a Longbottom meant that I knew of dozens of ways to make things fizz, ooze, turn acidic or bubble and spit. Most importantly, however, I knew how to make things go boom.
Adding a few Muggle ingredients would give the process a little more kick. With a few pointers from the twins, who’d had to refurbish their testing lab a few times, I finished setting up my explosives and began preparing the triggering ward.
Anastasia returned, carrying a small mahogany frame, a polished box and a pile of silvery material that made my heart leap with recognition. I snatched the cloak from her and pushed it into the sock. The painting and jewellery box followed. "Right, sit down over there on the sofa."
I finished up with my amateur demolition preparations and turned back to them, erecting an anti-apparition jinx with clear, concise wand movements. I wanted them to know exactly what I was doing. "Pure-blooded bigots like you don’t deserve to live. You’ve led a privileged life built on the sweat and toil of those who aren’t as inbred as you. You are social parasites, and will finally be exterminated, just like Fudge. Enjoy your last moments. They should be exciting. Explosively so, if you take my meaning. Anyone who tries to apparate in or out will be history. Or at least, geography."
With that, I turned and left the room.
I made my way to the front door and carefully opened it and made sure no one was looking before I stepped through. I quickly placed the anchoring trigger ward on the doorstep. With my booby-trap set, I surveyed the beautifully presented grounds and selected a visible spot with the characteristics I had in mind. I apparated there as quietly as I could.
In my new position, I made myself comfortable. I could see the house, and the area set up for Fudge’s wake. I could still feel the old woman desperately try and break my curse, but her efforts were pitiful. I guess that inbreeding really does weaken the will. I took out my robe, and examined it for any damage.
There was none. It had been looked after well. I gently rubbed the slippery, silvery material between my fingers. It helped to confirm that I had a piece of my father back in my possession. I slipped it on over my head.
After nearly fifteen minutes, several well-dressed people began to arrive. In small, sombre groups, they made their way towards the pavilions and marquees. I didn’t recognise any of the early arrivals. Eventually, in the midst of a full Auror escort, a pair of wizards appeared who were simple to identify. One I recognised from his whiskers as the Minister. The other had several titles — the Supreme Mugwump, Chief Warlock, Grand Poobar and Royal Pain In The Arse.
Well, I was hoping for a high-profile witness. That ought to do it.
I allowed the Imperius Curse to fade, and began counting under my breath. I got to seven before the two witches exited the front door at high speed, screaming for help. Their shrieks managed to attract the attention of everyone on the property before the ward triggered the potions, giving everyone a nice view of my handiwork.
The explosion was pretty in many ways. Pretty loud, pretty powerful and pretty frightening. Even though I was expecting it, the sudden flash startled me, and the impressive boom that hit me a moment later made me wonder if I’d over done it just a little. Every visible window shattered, and judging by the way the upper floor sagged a few seconds later, I’d probably done significant damage to the load-bearing sections of the front quarter of the house. The house wasn’t exactly a smoking crater with chunks of bluestone raining over the grounds, but the damage was certainly visible.
Within seconds, the Aurors on detail around the Minister apparated him away. Pity, I would have liked to see Rufus’ reaction to the scene.
More amusingly, most of the guests decided to depart too, leaving the two flattened women to fend for themselves. Dumbledore appeared to be the one Gryffindor among them, instantly apparating to their aid.
I didn’t bother sticking around to see if the two Royston women were alive. I certainly hoped they would survive, to tell the world of their harrowing ordeal at the hands of a crazed maniac. It would make drawing parallels to how they acted when Muggles and Muggleborn were targeted by Voldemort so much easier.
I apparated home, only to discover that I was officially dead.
Grimmauld Place had been decorated with rather vivid tastelessness. There were plenty of banners and home-made posters celebrating the announcement of my death on display, each more eye-catching than the last. I ran my eye over the many congratulatory cards and notes sitting on the dining table, before pondering my response to the twins.
A few bumps and thumps from the next room caught my attention, which indicated that a long fantasised throttling was in fact in progress. Ron’s voice easily carried through the wall, berating the twins for telling everyone that I was alive. From the occasional jumping of the artwork on the wall, I’d say that Ron was using his larger size to great advantage, and that I’d probably need to hire a plasterer.
Through a flash of irritation, I forced myself to remember that Ron still had trouble making connections. I knew that the twins would not be the ones to let my secret slip; at least not deliberately. It wasn’t in their nature. What was in their nature was to prank the hell out of everyone and everything. Cautiously, I picked up a pair of the cards, noting that they were all written in the same messy handwriting. My grumpiness quickly dissipated, replaced with humour, and I picked up several other cards, chuckling at the signatures.
Apparently someone called Tom’s Marvellous Giggle was pleased to hear of my death, and so was somebody called Luscious Malfart. Oh, how sweet, I even got a card from â€˜Bellytricks the Strange’ and her husband, whose name the twins apparently couldn’t remember. Poor guy. Imagine being defined by who your wife was. Well, I suppose Prince Phillip could commiserate. And, oddly enough, his eldest son.
I put all the cards back except for Mr. Giggle’s, and wandered through into the next room to save the twins from their vengeful brother. "Afternoon, Ron. Hey Fred, George. Nice to see you. What’s happening?" I asked as I nonchalantly wandered past the trio and poured myself a drink from the sideboard.
Ron had one twin in each hand. Fred (I think) was pressed hard against the wall and George was being shaken back and forth so vigorously that his toes were dragging along the ground. "Harry! Did you see what these idiots have done?" Ron shouted, his face almost purple.
Fred and George tried to speak, but were silenced by another abrupt shaking. I imagine that they were beginning to rue some of the pranks they’d played on their younger brother over the years. Having someone you always looked down to suddenly become two metres tall almost overnight does wonders for introspection.
I took a sip of my drink. "Of course I did. Nice work guys. I especially liked this one," I said, holding the card out.
Ron blinked, and looked down at the card in my hands. "Huh? They told everyone you were alive!"
Finally given an opportunity to mount a defence, the twins blurted, in slightly out-of-synch stereo, "No we didn’t!"
I smirked at them, and read from the card. "Congratulations on your death. So sorry I wasn’t involved. If you are ever passing by my level of hell, do take the time to stop by and catch up. I’m sure the imps would enjoy a break from torturing me. Regards, Tom’s Marvellous Giggle." I looked up. "Nice work guys, I like it."
One cleared his throat. "Thank you, my dear investor. My twin and I were wondering if you could possibly convince our esteemed younger brother here to perhaps let us go?" he asked hopefully, obviously figuring that a kind word would get further with someone who was actually listening.
Ron blinked rapidly looking between me and his captives. Eventually, he appeared to catch up to the flow of the conversation. "They didn’t tell anyone?"
I burst into laughter as both twins shook their heads vigorously. "No Ron, they didn’t."
He absently lowered them to the carpet enough so that they could support themselves. Both seemed rather relieved to be able to take some of their own weight. "But all those cards…"
"Were jokes. From Voldy and his henchmen. Luscious Malfart and so forth. Tell me guys, why the big party?"
One of them pointed over at the newspaper on the sofa. "You’re dead. Front page."
"Oh," Ron said, still holding onto his brothers’ robes. "Well, I suppose that’s pretty funny," he eventually decided.
"Quite, brother mine."
"Indubitably. Now, could we convince you to unhand us?"
Ron let them go, apologising with a shrug. "Good one," he mumbled.
Fred and George straightened their clothes. "No harm done."
"Indeed. Fred my twin, it’s nice to know that our efforts were not in vain. As a matter of fact, I’m rather chuffed that they invoked such a reaction."
"Quite, George. We must have outdone ourselves. No hard feelings then, Ron?" Fred finished, holding out a hand.
Ron took it rather bashfully. George dutifully patted his large brother on the shoulder. With that gruff action done, the pair turned and made a beeline for the door, almost colliding in their haste to exit. Ron turned to me and shrugged. "Sorry about that, I just thought thatâ€”"
I held up a hand to stop him. "Mate, you might want to check your shoulder," I said, delicately pointing towards the offending area.
"My what?" he said looking down to where George had patted him. A green patch of cloth was sitting there, which began rippling. "SHIT!" he finished, brushing it away as though it was a live spider. It landed on the floor, where it began to smoke.
"Come back here you bastards!" Ron shouted, barrelling out the door after his brothers. Dual apparition cracks echoed through the house, right before Ron’s own. Ah, a game of magical tag. So much more interesting than the usual kind.
The green cloth patch suddenly bubbled and burst with a foul-smelling goo. I’m quite sure the prank would have been amusing to watch through to its conclusion, but Ron was my friend after all. I just shook my head at his gullibility. Imagine trusting Fred and George when they appeared contrite. You’d have thought he’d have learned by now.
I picked up the paper and sat down on the couch. The formal announcement of my death was front page material, knocking the story of the new terrorist into the bowels of the paper. "Boy-Who-Died," screamed the headline. Skimming the article, I discovered that my body was â€˜unrecoverable’ from the wreckage. My mini-biography was light on facts, and heavy on rumour, only getting things right by accident. Like being involved with Hermione — that was right, but four or so years after it was first â€˜reported’. Apparently, since I was the last member of an Ancient and Noble House, and the last Potter as well, my will would be executed publicly, in a week’s time, despite my objections.
I flicked through the rest of the usual tripe. From the initial negative public reaction, a lot of people were backtracking from their initial demands for more Auror funding, though not withdrawing them entirely. I wondered absently if their stand would change when word of another attack on a Wizengamot member surfaced tomorrow morning. Some of them however, definitely needed to speak to a PR consultant before opening their mouths. One Wizengamot member even managed to blow his own buttock off with one comment, saying that he now realised how dangerous it was to have a homicidal maniac on the loose, and that the Aurors needed to focus specifically on protecting those being targeted.
The reporter who took his statement actually did some digging, and found that he was one of the co-authors of a bill introduced during Voldy’s first reign, designed to make Aurors give priority protection to pure-bloods. I sighed with pleasure. There’s nothing like watching a politician’s career go down in flames.
I folded the paper up and put it on the sofa next to me. Slowly sipping my drink, I carefully worked over in my mind how I wanted things to go at the reading of my will. Not to mention, crashing my own funeral.