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Emergency Portkeys and the Redacted Files at MI6

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R’s voice is quiet and strained on the line, almost completely blanketed in static. “James, you need to come home. My brother is really sick.” He hears her harsh swallow. “The might not make it kind. Please come home. I know you’re busy but, please.”

He’d blown his targets to kingdom come, not caring that he wasn’t quiet and had made quite the scene.

Getting back to Q was all that mattered. No one knew where he was anyway and so he picked one of his unregistered port-keys and grabbed it, barely noticing the world twist around him.

***

When he gets into the private medical room he’s surprised to find R asleep on Mallory. He has his arm around her as she breathes, uneasy even in sleep, against his chest.

Mallory is awake and looks up in greeting at Bond.

“007.”

“003.” But he’s heading straight for the curtain.

Q lies just beyond it. He looks gaunt, his skin grey and his hair limp around his head. There are tubes coming from his mouth and nose, an IV and other tubes in his arm.

James has never seen him look fragile before. But right now that’s a generous assessment.

The bed he’s on is large enough for another person and James takes off his shoes, jacket and trousers and climbs up next to him, one hand resting carefully over that of his husband’s.

***

M comes down to find the tableau much the same. 003 keeping watch and everyone else either asleep, pretending to be or sedated.

“Ma’am,” Mallory greets her.

“How is everyone?”

He grimaces as she takes the only other seat in the room.

“Bond is asleep. There’ve been no change in Q’s vitals and R crashed out from exhaustion. Medical have offered to sedate her if she needs it but she’s been out for about 5 hours now.”

“And there wasn’t anywhere else she could be sleeping?” She asks pointedly.

003 gives her a look she’s all too familiar with and she thinks he might actually retire after this.

“The fact that she’s asleep at all is a blessing. She is, after all, one of the two people who saved him.”

“Is anyone going to tell me how she did that?”

Mallory shakes his head. “You’ll have to ask her.”

“What is it with Q Branch?” She says, exasperated by it all. “And by Q Branch I mean Q, R and a few of the others who’s files are partially redacted from me, of all people. Then there’s you, 004 and 007.”

Mallory doesn’t say anything, choosing to focus on the young woman asleep on him, dark red hair in a messy bun atop her head and her eyes moving rapidly in sleep.

“Will he recover?” M asks finally.

“We still don’t know. We’ve contacted some specialists in this area, the same ones who apprehended the prisoner, and they said they should have an update for us within the next day or so. They’re taking this as seriously as we are.”

“These contacts wouldn’t happen to be from the same agency Q, R and 004 transferred from would they?”

“A part of it, yes.” Neither need him to confirm that he and Bond also came from the same place, albeit much earlier.

“Well, let me know when you know something, anything.”

“I will.”

“Thank you, Mallory.”

Then she leaves, wondering what unearth has been happening in her agency.

***

R wakes up a few hours later, her awareness coming back in snippets. Mallory has her in his arms, they’re in medical. She’s also both physically and magically exhausted. Her wand is safe under her sleeve and her protection spells are still active within the room.

“Laura?” Mallory asks quietly.

“I’m awake. How’s Q?”

He strokes her hair and squeezes her tighter for a moment.

“No change. I transfigured the bed so that James could stay with him. All the potions are already disguised.”

“Good.” She feels anything but but it’s good to focus on the small victories.

“M came down to talk to us. I told her what we can.”

“Alright. Any updates?”

Mallory shakes his head. “Bethany, from Draco’s emporium called to let us know they’re working on it and that the leak in the ministry has been found. And arrested.”

“Good. I’m glad we don’t have to deal with them directly. So many reasons why I’m glad I work here instead.” But her eyes go to Q and James on the bed. “Current incident not with standing.”

“No, this... this was carefully planned and executed. At least it wasn’t personal.” A fact that brings none of them much comfort right now.

“At least they didn’t demand to take him to St. Mungos.”

Mallory sighs. “He can’t be cared for better there at the moment anyway.” He pauses. “Laura, I know Q’s health is our biggest priority but are you okay? What you and 004 did to save him... even if I’d been there quick enough I’m not sure I’d have thought of it.”

R gives him a weak smile. “Professor Potter was very through with his defence lessons at school.”

“Ah, after my time, I’m afraid.”

Laura lays her head back on his chest. “Almost after mine. He started when I was in sixth year.

You’d have thought of something. And, it really might not be enough.”

“Whatever happens, you’ve done all you can for now.”

She nods but feels the sorrow burst open again in her chest.

“Oh, Laura,” Mallory soothes, holding her closer to him and kissing the top of her head.

***

Q is still in the same state when James wakes up. He takes his wand from his arm holster and quickly runs through all the diagnostic charms he knows. They all say the same; critical but stable. Whatever the spell is that did this it’s damage is extensive.

He reaches for Q’s wand on the bedside table next to his glasses. It’s undamaged and thrums slightly in his fingers. He did what he could, then, to protect his Branch and himself.

As he sits up he notices R at the edge of the curtain. It looks as though she’s back from her shower - Mallory must have insisted - and the other agent is absent, likely doing the same.

She walks towards the bed and James pulls her into his arms.

She cries silently into his chest as he holds onto her, knowing she and 004 were all that stopped his husband from being killed. And, more than that, she’s family.

When she’s calmed down, he moves further up on the bed so she can join him and keep her brother within her sights.

“It might take him a week to wake up. It all depends on how he recovers and if we find anything else that might help.”

James nods and takes Q’s hand in his. His wedding band is on his finger and it’s warmer than the rest of him, whereas James’ matching one is cool to the touch. Magic is a strange and wonderful thing, even now after all the years he’s spent in both worlds.

“I take it those responsible are being punished?”

R nods.

“How bad is the damage to Q Branch?”

“Bad. We put all the quartermasters to sleep and blamed a gas leak, then explosion. No one can tell spell damage from anything else with the state it’s in. I’m guessing clean up has already started but it’s not like I’m needed for that.”

“Is there anything I can do to help him?”

“Aside from be here?” R shakes her head. “No. Not unless we find something else. I might head to Draco’s Emporium, if they think I can help with their analysis but the data is still being collected and it’ll be sent to me then anyway.”

“True.” He feels the need to lighten the mood, and if Q can hear them he’s sure he’ll want hear this next topic. “So, you and 003. Decided to make it public?”

R rolls her eyes, a momentary flash of her usual self. “If you count M as public, then yes.” She shrugs. “It’s way past the time for being ‘professional’ in this kind of situation.”

“Oh, come on, you’ve not said anything to us either,” he says, gesturing between himself and Q.

He’s sure R would blush if she had the energy.

“I’ve not not said anything, either. And we’re certainly not hiding it when we’re out in more magical places.”

“No, that’s true.”

She shrugs. “I love him. And we took it very slowly, when he realised we all went to the same school and that I’d be open to getting to know him.”

James nods. Their age gap isn’t so odd within wizarding culture. Those with magic tend to live into their early to mid hundreds so 20 years, as long as the younger is at least mid twenties, doesn’t cause much of a stir. R was 26 when she and Mallory met five years ago so no one so much as batted an eyelid. But here, well, it’s not just that she’s with a double oh that draws attention; so they’d been very careful at work.

“It was different with us. Me and Mallory had worked together a few times. He’s why I eventually transferred. I needed to help people but with a change of scenery.”

“And then you met Q.”

“You gloss over my history almost better than I do.”

R shrugs. “Eh. We both knew who you were.”

“How? I didn’t make much of a name for myself, given my work back then.”

“You were on the Hufflepuff Quidditch team for six years, Bond. I’d heard of you.”

“You were in Slytherin.”

“Yes, but you were one of the best Beaters the school had ever seen. Right up there with the Weasley twins from Gryffindor. So I studied your plays when I was on the team, best position to play by far.”

James is pleased by this, she’s never mentioned the link before. He’d always thought she and Q were given a briefing when they were transferred to MI6; Moneypenny was.

“Laura?” He asks when their attention focuses back on Q.

“Hmm?”

“What was he like at school?”

R winkles her forehead. “I know he’s talked about it with you,” she says.

“I know he has. But I’d rather hear about it from someone who was there. It can’t have been as boring as it seemed when the war was over.”

“We are five years apart in age, you know. My first year and his fifth were awful. But he did pass his O.W.Ls with Os in all subjects during the late summer exams. Always found time and a place to study.” She looks at her brother fondly and places her hand on his leg. “Did he tell you the hat offered him Ravenclaw or Slytherin?”

“Yes, he did.”

“He says he chose Ravenclaw because there were more books and easier access to charms related resources, which is true, partially. But I still think he’d have been amazing in Slytherin with me.”

James nods his agreement. Rubbing his thumb very gently over Q’s skin.

“Still,” she continues. “Those last two years he was at school with me were awesome. I was always so proud of him and he was the best big brother I could hope for, even back then he made the effort to come to my matches when he was at university.” She’s quiet for a while and James gets lost in his own thoughts and worry for his husband.

“I can tell you about Mallory, if you want? He was a few years above me but I remember him. On the rowing team rather than Quidditch. And the orchestra. One of the best students in the duelling club and ignored all mention of house ‘loyalties’. Only Gryffindor I knew with friends in all the other houses back then.”

“Really?”

James nods. “First war with you-know-Who was not pretty and people are people. You know how they can be. Mallory didn’t care at all. Neither did I, but I didn’t get on too well with many of the Ravenclaws. It was before I realised how attracted I was to people with intelligence. Though that’s an odd house stereotype as well.”

R smiles. “Yup. It’s better now. McGonagall is pretty firm on Inter-house-unity. So I had friends in all houses too. Which is how I know Bethany, her best friend was in Slytherin with me and she took no shit from any of her fellow Gryffindors about it.”

“I did wonder how you knew her.”

“Q knows Draco so I’d have met her eventually.”

“Small world.”

“Yup.”

The door opens and Mallory comes through. He’s freshly showered and shaven but there are large circles under his eyes. He, out of all of them, needs some rest. James glances R’s way in silent communication.

She keeps her hand on Q’s leg for a moment more before sliding off the bed.

“You need to sleep,” James hears her say as she walks away from the curtain.

He hears Mallory’s rumble of protest, then the sound of chairs being transfigured into a bed.

R will take this watch, he knows. So he lays back down and curls himself as close to Q as it’s safe to.

“Q, if you need anything from me, anything, find a way to let me know. I love you.” His husband’s hand still feels cool to the touch but at least that means he’s still holding on. For now.
***

Chapter Text

Q’s vital signs improved over the next few days but he didn’t wake. James only left his side to shower and change, and even then only because he knew he could activate the emergency portkey R had given him. It works in much he same way as some of Q Branch’s weaponry; just magically coded to Bond instead of programmed.

It was actually R who was having the harder time leaving, even though she did, but Mallory knows she needs a change of scenery.

“All I’m saying is we can leave for a few hours, go and see Bethany and come back. 004 can stand guard and Moneypenny has covered things upstairs.”

She hesitates, twirling her wand in her fingers nervously. “I want to, but I still feel like I’m needed here. We’re already down Q.”

“R, your Branch is still being repaired and everything viable has been relocated - you oversaw that yesterday. And Draco said it was fine for us to visit. Wouldn’t you feel better hand-delivering the latest results from the scanning spells?” He has her there and they both know it.

“Has there been any word from the Ministry?”

Mallory shakes his head. “Burocrats are still burocrats; magic or not. We both know Draco’s Emporium is our best bet.”

“Alright. Fine. I’ll speak to James then we can go.” She squeezes Mallory’s hand and heads down to Q’s room.

***

James wakes from a dream involving his and Q’s patronus’s dancing around Q’s sleeping form - a sleeping prince in the woodland.

R is standing little way back, so he sits up and waves her forward.

“We’re going to Draco’s Emporium. We might be a few hours but we’ll be back later,” she says, placing her hand over her brother’s gently.

“I’ll contact you immediately if there is any change or anything comes up, I promise. So if you want to go home afterwards, you can,” he tells her, getting up from the bed to put an arm around her shoulder. They’re of a height but he hopes it still brings her comfort.

“I want to find who attacked my brother. And punish them.”

“And we will. There isn’t anyone else Q trusts to do this.”

“I know.” R bites her lip. “I still want to end whoever did this.”

“I promise you, Laura, they’ll get what they deserve.”

Their eyes meet and she nods. Bond may have a license to kill from the British government but he also holds the magical equivalent.

“Anything you need whilst I’m gone?”

“Could you pick a few things up from the sweet shop across from the Emporium?”

R nods. “Sure, of course.”

She pats her brother’s hand and hugs James before walking to Mallory at the door.

***

Grand Western Wizarding is in Birmingham City Centre, and it’s entrance is across from a train station. Within it is the Midlands only wizarding shopping arcade. It’s no Diagon Ally but it’s gotten larger over the years and was quietly popular in its own right before that.

R breathes a sigh of relief when they land at the apparition point. As much as she loves her job and her work she misses being surrounded by magic.

Mallory brushes his hand against hers and she rocks into him, lacing her fingers with his.

They can do this here.

Draco’s Emporium is next to Scrolls, Inks & Quills and a branch of Flourish and Blotts.

The bell above the door rings when it opens for them. The inside of the shop is always brighter than she expects - because most shops of this sort are.

Shelves line the left wall with items, ingredients and books. There are displays in the window and a couple of tables near the front. The right side has a long counter with more restricted ingredients behind it.

A door just before the counter leads up to the potions and charms rooms, the offices and stock rooms. Being friends with Bethany has meant more than a few visits.

Draco is behind the counter today, talking to a couple of customers who hand over money with a smile and handshake.

R can’t help but smile but she turns it into Mallory’s shoulder. The war ended 19 years ago but some stigmas took a while to fade. Sometimes the reminder is a welcome thing.

Mallory kisses her temple in understanding.

As soon as Draco has finished with his customer he comes over to them, leaving the counter to another of his employees that R recognises but doesn’t know by name.
“Gareth, Laura, Lovely to see you,” he says, with warm handshakes for them both. “Bethany is upstairs in one of the research labs, I’ll take you up.”

They follow him through the door - which he opens with a swish of his wand and a silent incantation.

He knocks on the door next to the potions lab and across from the charms room Bethany usually works in.

Then he lets them in after a series of spells to prove he’s allowed entry.

The sight and feel of magic runs through R’s body and she longs to take out her wand and perform some sort of spell just because she can.

Bethany looks up from a table she’s sat on, pages all around her on the surface and floating to the side on a board hovered next to the table. There are threads of magic as well as physical linking the known clues together, and another of them being run through what R knows to be diagnostic spells.

She’s twirling her wand around in her fingers but stops when she gets down from the table, taking Draco’s offered hand, and comes to meet them.

“Laura,” she says, smiling and brings her into a warm hug. When she steps back she smiles at Mallory. “You must be Gareth Mallory, lovely to meet you in person.” He takes her hand and she holds it within both of hers for a moment, her wand tucked into her sleeve. “We all wish it was under better circumstances, but it is what it is.”

She and Draco point their wands to tea-making equipment along the back wall and make drinks for the four of them, as well as pulling out stools from the table.

Bethany is around Laura’s height and age but with a curvier build, green eyes and curly hair that is, on this occasion, blue and purple ombré. She isn’t an animagus but DE is known for it’s hair dye potions and spells to prolong them.

Draco’s hair has been cut since R last saw him, but isn’t slicked back the way he used to wear it. In many ways he’s found his own place in the world.

“We don’t have much yet,” he explains. “But the new information you have for us might yield some positive results. Whoever it was - and we can’t rule out multiple assailants - are clearly very powerful but lack refinement. Which is both a good and a bad thing.”

Bethany nods and continues. “They caused a lot of damage and destruction but their hap-handed approach means you were much better equip to deal with them.” She winces, probably knowing it’s likely little comfort, but R appreciates it regardless.

“They still escaped before we could catch them,” she says.

“The leak from the ministry is what allowed them to get in at all; he’s being questioned but they don’t know if he was obliviated after the fact or involved,” Draco tells them. “I don’t have many connections there but I spoke to Harry yesterday when we were at his and Hermione’s for dinner and well, the officials were very happy to speak to him.” Bethany laughs and Draco gives her a fond smile. “He told them he has a personal connection to this so when he finds out he’ll tell me and we’ll pass it along, along with anything the ministry tells me about themselves.”

“Thank you,” R says, so grateful for their help.

“You know you’re always welcome,” he tells her seriously. “You’re Bethany’s friend and you’ve helped here a few times in the past.”

“True,” she agrees with a smile. “Here.” She hands over the diagnostic scrolls and some of the rubble that had been hit with the spells. “This is all I could get away with but you already have the shirt my brother was wearing and the readings from his desk.”

Bethany takes them and moves to stand behind the table, already casting spells over the pieces of stone and wood.

“Do you need any help?” R asks.

Bethany shakes her head. “No, not at the moment, but I wrote down some questions before that you might be able to help with. Draco will go through them with you, if none of you mind?”

Draco chuckles fondly and takes hold of the piece of paper Bethany flies over to him, a dictation-quill following right behind.

He goes through the questions one by one, adding his own and answering some of Mallory’s as they talk.

Despite feeling as though she should be by her brother’s side, R finds herself calming down simply by being able to answer questions and help. It’s clear Draco and his staff have taken this assignment very seriously - and they had even before she authorised a transfer from the Q Branch budget to them to do so. Draco is a shrewd businessman but also a caring and compassionate person, however reluctant he sometimes is to admit it.

And he looks after his employees properly, which according to him is just good business practice.

***

James sits up in the bed with Q propped up to rest against his chest. The healer - who also works in MI6 medical - said it might help.

Moneypenny comes in a while later. Her file isn’t redacted, meaning she faces none of the suspicion the others do, while knowing the contents of those redacted files.

“004 said to let you know things are fine downstairs. I popped down before coming to see you,” she says.

“Thank you, Eve.”

She smiles kindly and walks over to them, taking the offered perch on the bed. She and Q were at Hogwarts together (Eve was in Gryffindor) and maintained contact when she became an Auror, a career she changed almost as quickly as she’d attained it. James doesn’t blame her. He doesn’t quite know how he managed to many years as an unspeakable, but there was a war on.

“Has there been any change?” she asks.

“Some. His body temperature has returned to normal and every now and again it feels as though he responds when I hold his hand. The doctors and healers say his brain activity is normal, for someone in a coma. But we don’t know if he’ll wake up or when.” He can’t help his pragmatism; it’s a part of who he is, as much as he despises it.

“R and 003 are in the best place to find out,” Eve says. “I can watch him for a while if there’s anything you want to get or do.”

James shakes his head. “Maybe later, but Mallory watched him while I showered this morning and I have everything I need either here or a spell away. But you can stay. Apparently the age-old advice of hearing familiar voices might help in this as well.”

“Have you tried legillimens?”

James shakes his head. “He’s as good at Occlumency unconscious as in any other state. I’ve tried a few times, so has Mallory but R says they both trained when they were children to avoid prying minds.

Eve’s eyebrows raise. “That young? He was good at school but I had no idea.”

James smiles kindly. “Not many do, but he won’t mind you knowing.” He tightens his arm around his husband’s waist. “I’m surprised you don’t.”

“Oh I know he’s good. I’ve never been able to get past his defences, but I didn’t know how young he was when he learnt.”

“Their grandparents taught them whilst their parents were treated.”

“Oh,” Eve says, her eyes going wide for a moment. “Definitely a good idea on their part. Exploding Snap while we wait for R and Mallory?”

James chuckles, jostling Q a little in the process but he doesn’t stir at all.

Eve floats over a table and opens the box. “No need to bother holding them, I know your wandless magic knows almost no bounds.”

“Almost?” he jokes, holding his cards up in front of him by magic alone.

“I know never to push you far enough to find out.”

***

“Hmm, interesting,” Draco comments as he looks over the results with Bethany and R. “A haphazard approach but it did almost work.”

Laura traces her wand over some of the spell reconstruction and nudges it into Bethany’s simulation spell.

The damage it shows makes her go cold, she already knows only she and 004 stood in the way of her brothers death but it appears they also saved the Branch as well.

She then adds her counter spells and those 004 reported they cast. The result is as close to what actually happened as she thinks they’re likely to get.

“So now we know for certain what caused the damage, how do we heal my brother?” she asks the room.

Draco frowns, Mallory shakes his head and Bethany taps her wand against her arm.

“I don’t know, at least not yet. There are a couple of people here we can ask to look over this - once you approve them,” she adds, looking at Draco. “But, I’m a Charms Master rather than a healer. If you give these results to your’s at MI6 do you think they’ll be able to work something out?”

“Possibly,” she says. “Madeline is one of the best at what she does. And she has contacts with the French Ministry that might prove more useful.”

“Healer Swann?” Draco asks.

R nods. “Do you know her?”

“No, but I’ve heard of her and read some of her work. A prodigy from Beauxbatons, but she went into hiding for several years until her father was tracked down and caught.”

“She came to MI6 and decided to stay afterwards,” Mallory says.

“So many of you do,” Draco replies kindly. “Must be something in it for you all.”

R shrugs. “There’s not that many of us but it works both ways, I think. Some parts of the wizarding world work with their opposite number amongst the muggles, sometimes visa versa. If there weren’t at least a few of us in each organisation we’d all be left open. Plus, for me and my brother, coding is similar to spell work. Then there’s the charms we cast on equipment and the things our agents get themselves involved in.”

“But, and forgive me if this is too personal a question, isn’t it strange to go from living your entire life surrounded by magic and then working there?” Draco asks.

R smiles. “Yeah, sometimes. And I do miss the constant presence of magic everywhere but I live close to Diagon Alley and I have Mallory, my brother and a few of my more magical friends close by. Works been so busy I just have’t had too much time to enjoy magic lately.”

Bethany steps closer to her friend. “I’m guessing there’s a but.” She winks.

R nods. “Of course. I enjoy my work. Covert magic is still magic. And most wizards and witches go on to work office jobs and forget most of the spells they ever learn. At least I’m still using them.”

Draco nods. “Fair and true. You do know that if you ever decide to change jobs you can work here. We’re always happy to accommodate another Charms Master.”

R beams. “Thank you, that’s much appreciated, but it won’t be for a while yet.” She can’t help but glance at Mallory, who takes her hand. He’s more likely to be looking for a more… magical job in the future than she is.

“We should head back. Thank you so much for all your work on this.”

“We’ll let you know as soon as whoever did this is caught,” Draco says. “Take care of yourselves.” He shakes both their hands, then Bethany hands everything over to R and hugs her.

“See you soon, okay?”

R nods. “I promise.”

***

Chapter Text

Once they’ve done all they can at DE they head back and fill James in with all they’ve learnt, which isn’t very much, and all the things that are being done to work on in the meantime.

James reluctantly leaves once they’ve done so, to shower and get something to eat - other than all the snacks and sweets R and Mallory brought back with them.

Mallory kisses R on the cheek. “I’ll leave you to it; apparently M wants an update. I don’t think she was too pleased by how tightlipped Moneypenny is being but I’ll tell her what I can.”

“Alright,” R agrees, reaching up to kiss him and hold him in her arms for a moment. “I’ll be here when you get back.”

Mallory squeezes her before letting her go and heading out.

R sinks down on the mattress next to her brother - on the other side to where James has been sleeping. He’s been cleaned with spells and showered in a floating magical contraption they apparently use at St. Mungos, so he smells of his usual soaps.

“It would be great if you could wake up soon,” she says, brushing his curls off his forehead. “James isn’t doing so well without you, none of us really are but you know what I mean. He lost his parents and Vesper to Voldermort; he can’t lose you to this. And I can’t lose my brother. You’re the only one who understands what I went through, probably because we were both there. And um, from a purely selfish point of view, if the deep love of your friends and family can’t undo this damage, I really, really don’t want to be Q.”

He doesn’t move, but she hopes if he is able to hear her he’s at least amused.

R is so tired that she eventually drifts off, her head resting on her brothers shoulder the way she used to when she was little and scared, hiding in the attic surrounded by spells her brother had taught her after also finding a way around the magic tracking laws after his first year at Hogwarts.

***
She dreams she’s back in the Ministry, at her job in the Department of Magical Defence and Intelligence, a new branch of the ministry designed to replicate the work done by MI5&6. She’d initially not been sure what to do with her Charms Mastery Degree but this had seemed interesting. Before, Laura had considered Unspeakable or possibly Curse Breaker, as her brother had done before immediately transferring to this a couple of years ago.

She’s in the practice room, trying several diagnostic spells and then working out how to mask the spell on the object from some of them when her brother walks in.

His face is ashen.

“Simon?” she asks.

He comes into the room, locks the door behind him and flicks his wand over the surface to make sure whatever it is he needs to say is private.

“Laura.” He walks up to her and pulls her into his arms. “I wasn’t sure that this would work.”

She tilts her head to the side. “That what would work?”

He points to the door once he’s let her go. “They must not have reinforced things yet.”

Laura rolls her eyes. “You’d think they’d have learnt by now.”

“Achieving progress quickly never has been their forte,” he says.

Laura makes a face, pained but agreeing with him. “But that’s not why you look so upset.”

“Ah, no. It’s about Mum and Dad.”

“Are we still calling them that?” she asks, not meaning to sound quite so harsh as she does.

“I don’t know what else to call them.”

“Have they had their sentence commuted?”

He shakes his head.

“Then what is it?” she asks, a little gentler this time.

“They’ve petitioned the ministry, to ask if they can see us.”

“That’s a very hard no from me.”

Simon looks away. “Me too, but we’ve been invited to a hearing about it regardless. It’s this Thursday.”

“Can we decline?”

“I don’t know.”

Laura shakes her head and throws a couple of powerful spells at the box. It survives, barely.

Simon looks from her to the box and back again. “Good work.”

She shrugs. “I’m not here to play politics and make people look good. Both you and I know our parents haven’t changed and won’t change. The drugs are a symptom not the cause.”

“I know but -“

***

 

“Laura?” James shakes her gently and she blinks herself awake. “You were mumbling and you didn’t sound happy,” he explains.

“Oh. Sorry.” She sits up and takes in her brother sleeping next to her. The only comfort it brings is that his hand somehow moved to her knee when she was asleep. James had said he’d been doing that.

“Dreaming?”

“Yes. But of something that actually happened. Something today must have reminded me.” She doesn’t do it often but it has happened over the years, dreaming of things and people, situations, and places she’s been involved in. “Probably all the talk about the ministry with Draco and Bethany. And then this.” She gestures to her brother.

James gives her a pained smile then settles himself back on Q’s other side.

“You should go home, you know,” James says.

She sighs. “Probably. How long was I asleep? Has Mallory been back?”

“Not yet no. An hour at the longest; that’s how long I was away.”

“Okay, well, when he gets back I’ll go home.”

“Without Mallory?”

“Of course not,” she says. “Absolutely not. I don’t want to be alone and besides, given we’re now out in the open I want to take advantage of it and spend the time with him I’ve been wanting for a long time.”

James nods his agreement and throws her a box of fizzing whizzbees.

“Thanks.”

***
The dream bothers her even once she’s at home, curled up on her sofa with a large mug of tea next to her and Mallory at her side, snuggled close with his arm around her.

“You know how we’re pretty sure this isn’t personal?”

“Yes.”

“Could that just be what we’re supposed to think?” she asks.

Mallory puts down his drink and shifts on the sofa to look at her properly as he talks.

“We shouldn’t be discounting anything.”

She searches his face for anything he might not be saying and finds nothing but the usual - and expected curiosity about her background.

“Go on, Laura,” he prompts.

“Well, it just seems that that’s the only reason we’ve ruled out; all our evidence points in the other direction.”

Mallory nods. “It’s always plausible. How many people know that you and your brother are Q and R?”

“Outside of those I trust?” Which is a small number, granted. “Those at the Ministry that offered us the positions when the muggles asked if they had anyone who could step in.”

“One day you’re going to tell me that story,” Mallory put in.

“I will.” R smiles then goes back to serious. “Most others think we’re Unspeakables asked to work on a project we couldn’t turn down. So, at most? including those at MI6? less than 12 people.”

“What do you tell friends from school or university?”

“That I work for the ministry or government depending on who it is. I usually add that I’m a researcher.”

“Okay, well, we can ask Draco to ask his contacts and see what they know.”

“The non-ministry ones, I’m guessing.”

“Yeah. We’ll have to be careful how much we say and who we say it to if we suspect this.”
R sighs. “Yeah, you’re right.” she snuggles back into Mallory’s warmth, grateful when he wraps her up in his arms. “We have to tell James.”

“I agree, but he’s already told me he’s not trusting anyone outside of us with the details.”

“Okay. Okay,” the second one comes out a more of a whisper as she sinks further into the comfort of Mallory’s arms and the exhaustion that’s been plaguing her for days.

***

Q feels the world come back to him one small piece at a time. Not that time means anything at all to him. Sometimes he’s unconscious; others he hears a familiar voice for a moment, then feels a hand brush his. He can sense their magic so he knows it’s James and R. Later there’s 003, Eve then James again. It’s nice, he thinks, to know they’re there, but the thought has no longer appeared before he’s under again.

His greatest comfort is slipping in and out to James’ arms wrapped around him, resting against his warm chest or shoulder.

Once he’s aware of R sleeping on his shoulder and he wants to tell her not to worry so much but words are unreachable. He does move his hand just enough to rest on her, to let her know he’s still there.

Dimly he knows he shouldn’t be this calm but whether a spell or his own magic trying to protect him, he is. Every time something comes back to him is a step father and he’s never alone - even when they wash him with spells and leave him to sleep. Always James. His wonderful husband who must have come back early for him. He hopes he’s not too worried. Glad that R is safe and worried about the rest of his Branch.

He hears James and R ask him to wake up and come back to them and he will, he’s sure. He just doesn’t know when.

***

In the morning R and Mallory make a quick trip back to Grand Western. They meet Draco and Bethany for breakfast in the cafe a few doors down from the emporium.

They cast discrete privacy spells and R, ever careful, also uses one of Q Branch’s devices to check for any prying ears - magical or otherwise.

Draco looks half asleep, resting on Bethany’s shoulder and closing his eyes whenever he can.

“He was out with Harry, Blaze, and Ginny yesterday and had apparently forgotten why he stopped doing that on a night before work,” Bethany explains, refilling his coffee, with a flick of her wand, from the pot on their table.

He mumbles thanks and sits up again. It’s only really his eyes that give away how tired - and hungover - he is.

“Where were you?” Mallory asks, looking amused.

“Working on our current problem. And looking after Floret, my kneazel,” she explains to a couple fused Mallory.

Draco looks grateful. “She also kept an eye on the others working on more time-sensitive projects.”

“Any progress on ours?” R asks.

“Some, yes. Enough to know that the spell shouldn’t cause any lasting damage.... and I agree with you, by the way, they probably did target you deliberately. You and your brother.”

“Shit.” Her heart sinks. “I didn’t want to be right.”

Bethany gives her a pained expression of agreement. “My guess is they couldn’t get you at home and at least at work you’re in the same place. Now, now they figured that part out? We’ll have to wait on Harry’s contacts for that. But if you have anyone who can look into things on your side then do. They had help getting in. I know how well you have that place locked down.”

R nods. “Yeah. Plus we were both there at the same time. Easier to blame it on an attack on MI6 on both sides.” Bethany meets and holds her gaze for a moment and Laura sighs. “Do either of you know?” She asks, looking at Draco.

“I know enough,” Draco says, raising his hand slightly. “Though it took me a while to realise you and Simon were their children.”

“You probably do,” she says to Mallory, taking his hand. “You just don’t know how we’re connected.”

He frowns but she explains. “Our parents weren’t Death Eaters but they probably killed as many - if not more - than most. When they were arrested, Simon took legal custody of me. I was 14.” She takes a deep breath and bites her lip. “They were very good at certain kinds of addictive and deadly potions. Drugs. They were excellent at covering their tracks but they were eventually found out. Apparently, they’d been operating for years but the war with Voldermort let them operate under the radar.”

“I’m sorry,” Mallory tells her softly.

She nods and accepts the same from Draco.

“So it could be revenge,” Mallory adds.

“Yes. But there were so many victims both magical and muggle that I’m not sure the ministry’s current known list is going to be any help.”

Draco clears his throat. “We should check it anyway. If we can work out how to get hold of it.”

Mallory nods. “I think I know how we can.”

***

Mallory pulls Laura against him as soon as they’re back at MI6 and in his office.

He doesn’t know what to say or how to express how sorry he is that she had to face that. He knows their connection to Simon and Laura was always kept quiet - but those who had been affected would have been able to find out.

“I’ll speak to one of my contacts. Someone I know I can trust and we’ll take it from there.”

She’s shaking in his arms so he guides them to the sofa he used to use as a bed more often than not.

He rubs her back and kisses her hair. “But there’s no rush.”

Laura nods against his chest, her breath shaky but calming.

“Thank you,” she says, voice muffled against his shirt.

“Anytime. Whenever and wherever.”

Chapter Text

Mallory goes with Laura to her brother’s room to give James time for a shower and to get something to eat.

Laura had showered with him in the private bathroom attached to his office. )His desire for a private and immaculate bathroom complete with magical and muggle first aid lead to him concealing its existence. But it’s useful for times like these.)

She’s back to her professional self; the only concession being his held in hers.

He doesn’t know which of them is holding on tightest.

James sits up from where he’s curled around his husband. He leans in and whispers in his ear, stroking his hair and kissing his cheek before he gets up from the bed.

He hugs Laura and steers her towards the bed.

“Get some rest,” he suggests, looking to Mallory for his agreement.

She looks between them but nods, holding Mallory close before slipping off her shoes and joining her brother on the bed, bringing a blanket to her with her wand.

Mallory watches until he sees her rest her head on his shoulder then leaves the room.

He updates James and accepts his clap on the shoulder before the split up. James to the shower and Mallory to the safe apparition point.

“Kingsley,” he greets when he arrives.

“Gareth!” They shake hands before Mallory is lead into his friend’s office.

***
R is asleep. She’s not dreaming but she’s asleep.

“Simon?” she asks.

Her brother smiles at her and takes her hand. He looks tired, worn out from what he’s had to do to reach her mind.

“Laura. I’m so glad this worked.”

“We haven’t had to do this in years.”

“I wasn’t sure it would work at all but James’ mind... I can’t reach it.” He looks pained. “I’ve tried but it’s all noise and chaos and panic.”

R opens her arms to him and holds his dream form tight.

“I’m trying to come back to you, to James. I can hear you all now and move a little more each day... but it feels as though someone tried to combine a stun spell with a draught of living death.”

Laura winces. “They tried to kill you without being too obvious about it,” she says.

Q nods in agreement. “I know.”

“Did you get a good look at them?” she asks hopefully.

“Partial at best. No one I recognise and I didn’t detect any masking spells or pollyjuice.”

R grins at her brother; even in the midst of fighting for his life, he’d memorised details.

“Brown eyes. Black or dark brown hair? Short. Male. Wand was light wood though, from the diagnostic I managed, the core is dragons heartstring. Couldn’t get a read on the wood.”

R squeezes his hand. “If it was their wand then it’s as common as their appearance.”

“I think it was, their wand I mean. Or that of someone close to them.”

She hums in thought. “Anything else?”

“Not about the attack, no. But tell James I’m almost there.”

“Alright. Do you think there’s anything we can do to help?”

“Update Draco and Bethany, obviously Mallory as well.”

She grins at that. “He’s out speaking to a Ministry contact.”

“I wonder which one.” His smile breaks and he grits his teeth.

“You need to rest. Save your energy for recovering.”

With one more hug, he kisses her forehead and is then gone. R sleeps into dreams for a while until she wakes again.

***
M is watching when R wakes up, Moneypenny stood just behind her with a careful look on her face.

R reads it with a swift glance around the room.

“M,” she greets.

“R.”

“No one in the government has any leads yet. Any on your mysterious side of things?” she asks, words biting but not unkind.

“Yes. But not directly because of our connections. It’s starting to look as though someone targeted Q and I deliberately and covered it up.”

“Why?”

R keeps her expression calm. “Our parents, more specifically the illegal drug trafficking they were part of.”

She frowns. “What do you mean?”

R’s eyes widen. “I’d assumed you’d read our files, M’am.”

“I have. Twice more since this whole mess started. But parts of them are, as I’m becoming tired of saying, redacted.”

“M, details of our parents and their crimes are listed within the reports, the un-redacted ones. I saw and approved them.”

“R, they say no such thing.”

“Why?” She looks to Moneypenny, who shakes her head.

“I don’t know, R. As far as I know it should all be in there.”

M turns to glare at Moneypenny but she holds her ground.

“R, your files state you and your brother were made orphans and never knew your parents. He legally took custody of you when he turned 18.”

“M’am,” Moneypenny warns. “That’s not true. Someone must have altered the files before they reached MI6. The things that have been removed from our files aren’t related to aspects of our history; just our education and previous work.”

“Or after you got here,” M says then shrugs. “ The right people approved you and we were desperate at the time. I read them maybe a month or two afterward? And even if your parents were international drug dealers, it wouldn’t have changed anything.” She pinches the bridge of her nose. “Except to hide the reason for the attack.”

“Shit,” R mutters.

Q’s hand folds over hers and he squeezes it in morse code.

“When is 003 due to return?” M asks. “Bond says he doesn’t know.”

“Where is James?” R asks in reply.

“Right here.” He walks in with thunder in his eye-blue eyes and heads straight for Q.

“Where were you?” R asks under her breath as soon as he’s close enough.

He looks between Q and M. “003 sent word from our friends at DE. They’ve just confirmed what you know. Three people have been arrested at the ministry but we think they’re working with someone here as well.”

“Bond,” M warns.

James turns to her. “I promise full disclosure on as much as I can once this is over. But we need to leave now.” He places a hand on R’s shoulder.

She checks her wand and reaches for her shoes. Then takes Q’s glasses and wand from the bedside table. She and James both make sure they have a good hold on him and each other.

“Eve, you and 004 stay with M at all times. Do you hear me?” James tells her; she nods and offers them a tight smile.

“007!” M shouts, annoyed.

He takes a deep breath. “M, our safety means the safety of MI6. Trust me.”

Then the world shifts around them as they apparate out.

***

James lays Q down on the sofa in the unfamiliar cottage they’ve landed in.
“Safehouse. Mine. Mallory will know you come here so don’t worry.”

“I’m not,” R says. Then adds. “Or at least not any more than I have been since the explosion. Need me to do anything?”

James points at the table. “I grabbed your laptop and Q’s before coming here, as well as the supplies and to make sure it was safe.”

“I did think your conversation with 004 took a long time.” She adds with a smile. “Are we expecting anyone else.”

James shrugs. “This place is hidden but there’s no filldelius charm on it. I wanted it to be safe if something happened to me.”

R pats his shoulder and walks around the room, taking in the magic and wards James has incorporated. Some of her brother’ work is here too.

“004 has given Draco and Bethany our location so they can relay anything to us they need to. By secure email, not owl.”

Bethany isn’t muggle born but her father grew up with a dislike for the magical world and brought them up as close to muggles as possible. Her mother, on the other hand, was and is a Charms Master, who never barred her children from her office or magic outside of the house. By all accounts, it was a tense childhood but she’d found positives in it then and since. She admitted once, to Laura and other friends one night in the all-houses-lounge McGonagall had set up, that her father had been unhappy that none of his four children were squibs. Then further disappointed by Bethany and one sister being sorted into Gryffindor. He’s the strangest Hufflepuff Laura has ever met... and none too pleased about Bethany’s relationship with Draco.

Yet, by contrast, he helped protect their town during the second war with Voldemort.

“Could it be siblings? Magical and non-magical doing this?” she asks when her mind stops it’s wandering.

“Possibly. Or at least related in some way. Both for motive and opportunity.”

“They’ve been planning this for a very long time,” R says. “Since we joined. There has to be a way to check who referred us to be transferred to MI6 and everyone else who knew. It would have to be them. And they knew how to doctor the files.” She sighs. “We knew there were more like Silva out there - using magic and muggle technology to bring about their plans.”

Q groans and blinks, instantly bringing all attention to him.

***

He feels lighter, here. Not so weighed down and he doesn’t know if it’s because he’s in a place laced with his own magic or simply way from MI6.

But he’s been able to move more and shift into a more comfortable position in James’ arms.

Now, finally, he can move his jaw and his eyelids.

He knows his speech sounds garbled to start with but James holds water to his lips and he slips slowly as the rest of his mouth remembers how to work again.

When his eyes finally focus - he isn’t wearing his glasses but he’s always been short-sighted anyway - he sees James’ looking at him with hope and relief on his face.

“James,” he says softly, his voice rough and cracking with disuse. “You need to work on your occlumency.”

James frowns. “It’s excellent.”

Q raises his shaking hand and cups his husband’s face. “At stopping anyone and everything getting through, yes. Myself and R will teach you how to make and use a safe room in your mind.”

James looks over to R, who explains.

“He spoke to me; we learned as children. I would have told you but I forgot after, well, M, and arriving here.” She has her wand out and is acting as guard; alert but not willing to let him out of her sight.

“Laura, it might be good to check and see if Draco and Bethany have any updates and tell them what I remember.”

“Okay. Yes. I’m on it,” she flashes him a grateful smile and grabs her laptop, opening it up and setting to work.

“James, I want a shower. I know I’ve been washed but I ache in places I didn’t know I had. And given I’ve only just woken up I’m going to need some help.”

James presses their foreheads together.

“I could run a bath?”

Q shakes his head. “No, James, a shower, please.”

James nods, rubbing their noses together.

“Alright. If you’re sure.”

He helps Q to his shaky feet and guides them over to R; she’s settled at the connected kitchen table.

“Anything?” Q asks, placing his hand on her shoulder.

“I’ve emailed them. And Bethany has a secure phone so she can contact me that way too.”

He squeezes her shoulder.

“We won’t be long,” he tells her, knowing she’ll keep a close watch on the cottage.

“I know. I’ll feel better when Mallory gets here, as silly as that sounds.”

It’s James that replies to her. “It’s not. He’ll be here when he can.”

***

Gareth heads straight for Draco’s Emporium and is sent straight upstairs by two of the staff.

When he gets to Bethany’s research room he finds her, Draco, Harry Potter, and Blaize Zambini.

They’re clearly expecting him.

Over the next hour, they update him with everything they know - including James having taken Q and R to his safe house.

Added to what he’s learnt from Kingsley he has a pretty full picture of what’s happened. Including some names.

Harry checks his watch and stands from the table. He shakes Gareth’s hand.

“Honour to meet you, Auror Mallory. I’ve taught some of your methods and spell work to my students,” he explains.

Gareth smiles. “Good to know, Professor Potter. If you ever want me to visit them let me know. And Laura wants to thank you for your lessons; they helped her and another agent save her brother.”

Harry’s eyes go wide. “Thank you, that’s, it’s lovely to hear. She was always an excellent student. But I didn’t think you’d be available.”

He shrugs. “I’m not sure I’ll be staying in my current role for much longer and it might be good to expand my horizons.”

“Alright. Send me an owl and we’ll work something out. I have to get back.”

Draco flicks his wand at the fireplace in the corner, activating the flu.

Harry says his final goodbyes then he’s off.

Blaise also gets up.

“I’ll look after things here,” he tells them and Gareth feels like he’s missing something.

Draco takes pity on him.

“We’re coming with you.” He gestures between himself and Bethany. “Given the ministry are busy with things on their side and have, as you’ve said, instructed you and James Bond to deal with things, you probably need some help.”

Gareth nods. “Yes, but I wouldn’t ask.”

Draco sighs a put upon sigh. “You don’t have to.” He looks directly at him. “Even before I fell in love with this Gryffindor, two of my closest friends are. And if Bethany is going with you then so am I. Even if it’s just to this safe house to help Laura and Simon.”

Bethany, who’s picked up two bags on her way to them, holds one out to Draco. He takes it with a smile and kisses her cheek.

“I know where we’re going,” she says. “Laura filled me in.”

***

Q lets James remove his clothes, gather towels and adjust the shower.

The last time they’d been here had been a much more pleasant and relaxing time. But needs must and this is, after all, the place James feels safest.
Under the wonderful pressure of the shower, James’ fingers massaging the shampoo in and out of his hair, and the scent of the soap, he feels himself recover.

“Is that new shower gel?” Q asks when James sits him down on a transfigured shower seat.

“Yes. Draco sent it back with R and Mallory. We’ve been using it ever since. It’s meant to help relieve and heal. Madeline said it was a good idea as well,” he explains, rinsing his own hair under the showerhead. Healer Swann’s word is law when it comes to magical injuries so that reassures rather than worries Q.

“I’m going to have to move Q Branch," he says a couple of minutes later

James looks up from scrubbing himself clean. “Why?”

“A multitude of reasons but mostly so I can make sure it’s fortified the way we need it to be. And we might need to call in the ministry’s Unspeakables to find out why I recovered better out of there.”

James, now entirely rinsed off, takes Q’s hands and lifts him until he’s standing.

Then he wraps him up in his arms and stands them underneath the spray.

“Later. We can do all of that later,” James whispers into his ear. “You’re alive and you’re safe and I thought, when I saw you after R’s message, that neither thing might be true ever again.”

“James...”

“They were coming for you, Q. You and R.”

“I know. They altered the paperwork so M wouldn’t know of our past, and had been planning this for a long time. There isn’t a shortlist of people who hated our parents but this is the first time it’s been taken out on us like this. After Voldermort’s defeat, and during the war, Hogwarts made sure to preach that children do not bear the sins of their parents.”

James strokes Q’s back. “No, usually they don’t. But there are those who do.”

“Your stepbrother.”

“And Silva and those who went after Camille and her family.” James presses kisses into Q’s wet hair, his ear, before just resting his head on his shoulder. “Do you ever wish you’d stayed in the ministry?”

“Not for a second. Muggle technology is as fascinating as magic and when you have permission to use them in tandem things are better than they could be separately. I won’t deny that me and Laura didn’t come to MI6 purely for the challenge but it’s been worth it. Current circumstances aside.”

“Sometimes I think all it’s shown me is the depth of darkness and deprivation humans of all creeds and kinds are capable of.”

“And others?” Q prompts gently.

“It reminds me what I fight for. And who. Which includes you, Q.”

James lifts his head and lets Q search his eyes.

He smiles and kisses James, slow and lovely and heartfelt as the water runs over and around them.

***

Q is dry, clothed, and feeling much stronger but he still accepts James’ arm around him to help him down the stairs.

“I love you,” he says quietly before they step into the kitchen. “And I know you’re heading out to take down whoever’s left soon, but be careful and come back.”

James kisses him. “I will, I promise.”

Bethany and Mallory are gearing up, Draco and R are working charms and complicated spell work on the clothing the others are putting on. And, he notices, R is also handing out Q Branch equipment to Mallory; there’s a separate pile waiting for James.

“004 will meet you at the river bank,” R tells them. “Healer Swann is with Moneypenny and M.”

“004?” Draco asks.

“Isobel Reynolds, Slytherin. Three years below you,” Q explains as he comes in.

Draco stands to greet him, giving him a tight hug and a careful once-over.

“Nice to see you up and about,” he says before taking James’ hand and shaking it.

James smiles warmly at him. “It’s good to see you again, Mr Malfoy.” Their wedding a year before was the last time they’d all been in the same place.

Q looks to his sister, who nods.

“Alright then, time to get everyone on the same page,” Q announces, sitting in front of his laptop and starting the briefing.

***

The plan, such as it is is rough, but they have facts enough, a couple of names and locations and authority from M. It wouldn’t have stopped Bond or Mallory, R is sure, but it’s better than nothing.

Mallory comes over to her as everyone says goodbye.

“I feel like I’m an Auror again,” he admits, closing his arms around her. “Working in a team this large is unusual.”

“And unsettling?” She asks.

“I prefer espionage,” he admits. “But it’s a good thing none of us have ever stopped dueling alongside our regular training.” She usually duels along side them but by quiet agreement, she’s staying to make sure there’s someone to protect her brother again.

R squeezes him tight and lifts herself up enough to kiss him, winding her fingers into his hair as his press into her back.

“I love you, Laura. And I’ll see you soon, as close to one piece as we can manage.”

“That’s enough for me,” she tells him and he knows from experience that she means it.

James and Q, Bethany and Draco are having similar goodbyes and more of his time as an Auror comes back to him. Some he’d rather forget but most of it is of the good and better times.

He realises that he doesn’t miss it and would hate for this to be a regular thing but right now, James on one side and Bethany on the other, he’s glad of the company in battle.

“Let’s go.” Bond says with one final look at Q before he gives the signal for them to disparate.

***

Chapter Text

“So, what now?” Draco asks, looking between Simon and Laura.

“We’re holding the fort - and researching to see if we can find out who else is involved and how long this has been going on; we might not be the only targets.”

Draco nods. “True. Have you considered it’s not vengeance on behalf of your parents' victims?” he asks, noting Simon’s slight flinch and Laura’s unchanging gaze. “But instead one of your parents' suppliers or the like?”

Laura frowns as she thinks it over, Simon is already typing up a storm on his keyboard.

“It’s worth a look, actually,” she says.

“I agree. It would perhaps also explain their connections. Our parents were linked with some rather powerful people in certain circles. It’s highly likely this is retribution against us because we turned our backs on them,” Simon adds.

“Almost literally,” Laura comments, sharing a look with her brother before turning to Draco. “We were forced to go to a hearing to see our parents. I don’t know what, exactly, they were expecting… but we testified to the neglect we’d suffered and left.”

Draco frowns. “When was this?”

“Not too long before we joined MI6.”

“Just before Silva reemerged,” Simon adds.

Draco flinches. “I remember seeing the damage he did to the Aurors he killed.” He’d been hired to perform a full investigation on the affected areas. “Even with everything I saw during the war that… he was depraved.” He shakes his head. “How did he end up causing trouble for the muggles?”

“He hid in MI6; forged his papers, everything. At the time, with relations what they were, the muggle government had no idea. He destroyed his wand and stopped using any traceable magic. He found more… inventive ways to kill,” Simon explains. “He should have died when he was imprisoned but the spell damage he’d suffered meant the cyanide pill didn’t kill him as it should have.”

“No,” Draco agrees. “He went completely insane.”

James Bond had been heralded in the wizarding press and offered his third order of Merlin but he has still yet to respond. He’s a more reluctant hero than Harry (once Draco had grown out of his jealousy and become friends with him he'd realised Harry hated the spotlight ) despite his job being to actively save people.

“Is that how you met?” he asks, wanting to lighten the mood.

Simon nods, a blush creeping into his cheeks as he looks up from his computer. “I knew who he was before hand, took James a little longer to work me out.”

“Oh?”

“I might have asked him if he couldn’t think of a more creative way to open a door than ram into it.”

“Tell him what you actually said,” Laura calls from the front room where she’s checking the wards.

Simon rolls his eyes. “I asked him to use what he had hidden in his trousers because he was out of other options and it usually worked in those situations.”

Draco laughs.

“Then, for good measure, I mentioned that we attended the same boarding school so it wasn’t anything he needed to keep from me; I knew already. My muggle staff were very confused; Laura was biting her lip to keep from laughing.”

“I was,” she agrees, casting more spells - some to extend their safe zone and some to scan the area. “It didn’t help that the two of them spent most of their radio communication flirting with each other.”

“Well,” Draco says. “Depending on how you look at it, it did. They’re married, Silva is dead, and the rest of us went - mostly - unscathed.”

Simon smiles at him, then goes back to work.

***

“I haven’t missed this,” James comments, hiding behind a wall in an old MI6 safe-house that was likely compromised weeks ago.

Mallory is kneeling across from him, behind the other part of the wall and the impromptu door that’s been blasted into it.

“No, with muggles there’s always the knowledge that we’re safer than the other agents in the field, but here, well.” He shrugs. “Or did you mean teamwork?”

James rolls his eyes.

“It’s just that, and forgive me for not saying this before, but for a Hufflepuff you don’t work well with others.”

“I was on the Quidditch team,” James grunts back, dodging another spell and sending his own to ricochet off the wall.

“You were a Beater.”

“So was R.”

“She’s never claimed to work well in a team. She doesn’t like having to work with idiots.”

“Oh for…” James sighs but offers Mallory a fond smile - their banter helps to keep them both calm enough to focus.

“Think Bethany and 004 have had enough time?” he asks.

Mallory has a much better viewpoint and stops firing long enough to make an assessment.

“Yes.”

“Okay. On three?” James asks.

“Let's go.”

***

Laura has checked the whole cottage three times an hour for the past two hours. There’s nothing else for her to do that she can’t do sat right at her computer but she can’t concentrate.

Draco puts a mug of tea a little way to her left and taps her shoulder, then puts another on Simon’s other side.

“Found anything?” he asks, once he’s sat back with his own.

“Some crossover with the names we have and known drug dealers/producers in the wizarding and muggle worlds,” Q says.

“Would explain why we can’t find a link to the victims,” R agrees. “Once the others return we need to get the ministry in on this - probably alongside us.”

Draco shakes his head. “We know they’ll say cooperation is already at its highest and leave it to you. Though my emporium is always available to ‘advise and aide’.”

“And you do an excellent job,” Q tells him. “If you weren’t quite so excellent at what you do I would have been trying to hire you to Q Branch for years.”

Draco, who once loved praise, doesn’t seem to quite know what to do with it. So, like a good Slytherin, he nods and accepts him with a formal sort of smile. He meets R’s eyes for a moment; knowing she understands.

“It’s possible the Aurors are already onto some of them - they’re linked to those already arrested,” R adds, checking the latest email from Harry. “Should I send Harry the latest list of confirmed and suspected?” she asks her brother.

“Yes, he’ll get it to the right people.” He flashes a smile at Draco. “He should have been in your house, you know, probably Hermione too.”

Draco chuckles. “A conversation the three of us have had many a time. But I’m not sure the wizarding world could have handled that; much too progressive, much too quickly.”

Laura rolls her eyes. “I remember McGonagall’s rather creative rants about how absurd it is to think that Hogwarts would allow in children and educate them if it knew they were going to be evil; she gave assemblies each year for the first few weeks talking about the great people from all houses and she always started with Slytherin.” Draco and Q were both there for the first one, Q more than that but there's a comfort to knowing such things have continued.

“Bethany stayed with her best friend from Slytherin house during the evacuation; she said if they were all going home safely it didn’t matter who she waited with.”

“How old was she?” Q asks.

“First year,” R replies. “Same as me. I remember her; I think even Sally was surprised and admitted she wouldn’t have waited with the Gryffindors afterward but Bethany didn’t care.

"Sally turned up - or went with her - to every Quidditch game Gryffindor played - in red and gold - after that. Bethany did the same for Slytherin. The only exception was when we played each other.” They're just talking to pass the time but it is nice to remember the good things in her childhood. “Until the Tri-Wizard tournament - the new one - in which me and Bethany played on the whole-school team and destroyed anyone who came close to us.” She smiles. “We’re the best beaters Hogwarts had had in years and it was a relief to be on the same team for a bit.”

Q nods. “I remember those games.”

“Me too,” Draco adds. “Harry always insisted we went along, but I think he was just trying to get as many of his friends to go with him as possible to take the attention from himself.”

“Probably both,” R tells him. “Okay, I’ve notified Harry - and M of the ones MI5 and 6 need to go after; I’m sure she’ll have fun passing that information on.”

“Do we have anyone in MI5?” Draco asks.

“Supposedly,” Q tells him, taking a break to drink his tea. “But we don’t know who - for safety, allegedly, but who’s to say who put that in place or why.”

R, thinking of the redacted files, agrees. “Might have to be on the list of things that need to change - along with M not knowing about the wizarding world.” That blame lies with the ministry and the prime minister.

“Careful,” Draco warns dryly. “That sounds almost like reform.”

***

 

“Who the hell are you?” One of the captives yells at Bethany.

She shrugs. “Not my problem if you don’t know who I am.”

“You’re not MI6.”

“I never said I was.” She looks over to James “Should we silence them?”

“We are supposed to hand them over alive but that doesn’t mean we need all of them,” he tells her. She grins and turns back to them, wand at the ready.

“No! He doesn’t mean, she doesn’t-”

Bethany casts a wordless silence charm and raises her eyebrows when he looks up at her in surprise.

004 high fives Bethany and takes her place watching their captives as Bethany tends to Mallory’s arm; it’s not broken but there is a large gash that has only just stopped bleeding. She covers it in another layer of salve and transfigures a sling and bandage for it.

“You know who he is, don’t you,” 004 states, her arms crossed and wand tapping her upper arm.

“007, yeah, or Aurora Bond, depending on how far back you go,” one of the men not silenced answers.

“And you thought he wouldn’t find you? That we wouldn’t help him?” Her wand moves in small circles and James notices, as he watches, the binds tightening on their prisoners.

“We’re just the grunts - hired hands - and his husband and sister in law were supposed to be dead already. None of this was supposed to happen.”

004 rolls her eyes. “Nice to know it happens to the bad guys too.”

Mallory and Bethany come over to join them.

By silent agreement, they’ve all decided not to alert Q, R, and Draco that they’re done until their prisoners are safely locked away. At least if they’re ambushed at that point they only have one group to fight - and they’ll be ready.

***

Q is nearly going out of his mind with worry by the time James calls him to let him know things went mostly-to-plan. They’re not coming back until they know for certain - but it’s good news.

Not as good as having James back here and safe with him... but it’s more than he had a few minutes before.

R’s eyes darken with worry when she finds out about 003’s injuries but James assures them he’ll be fine - thanks to some of the supplies from DE.

Draco is eyeing him carefully across the table. They've been friends since uni - a small lesser-known college within Birmingham University - and despite being a few years apart at school, they had enough in common to strike up a friendship.

Q remembers finding Draco near-collapsed on a window seat, a letter on the floor and tears streaming down his face. It was late at night and they were the only ones there. At the time their friendship was new and Draco’s moods could be erratic.

“I was going to make some tea; would you like some?” Simon offers. He’s a first-year and has been up half the night worried about his latest assignment and how far he’s allowed go with his experiments. He doesn’t know his Lecturers well enough to know what they mean when he’s told to ‘push the boundaries’ because his are already much wider than most.

Draco looks up with a scowl on his face but, after studying Simon for a moment, he agrees.

“What do you have?”

Simon smiles. “Earl Grey, mostly, but I have some breakfast tea and a few others in my cupboard.”

“Earl Grey, with lemon, if you have any?”

Simon flicks his wand to start the kettle. He sets out two mugs and makes their tea. He has lemon but this wasn’t what he was going to use it for. No matter, it's only a slice.

He adds milk to his then brings them over to the windowsill.

Draco accepts it and sips carefully before putting it on the coaster Simon has floated in front of him.

“Thank you, it’s good.”

“You’re welcome. I’m somewhat particular with my tea selection but it’s still not to everyone’s tastes.”

“Let me guess, you have the regular tea for other people?”

Simon chuckles. “Yes. I try to be a good host and not too judgemental of others' preferences. I can’t stand coffee, though. I draw the line at having that available.”

Draco smiles. “Well, should any of your friends want some they’re welcome to mine. Blue tin, second shelf.”

Simon’s eyes widen. “Thank you.”

They sit in silence for a bit; Simon with no expectations of conversation and already feeling better about his work. He can contact his personal tutor tomorrow and ask. There’s no need to worry himself over it.

“The letter is from my family lawyer.”

“Ah.”

“It’s not bad news, per se, but when it has anything to do with my father it always brings things back.”

“I know the feeling,” Simon adds.

Draco gives a small nod. “He wants to be allowed to write letters to me. I’ve already refused his request on multiple occasions. My mother makes sure to pass on general things but even she understands why I don’t want him to.

“I suspect my lawyer is tired of being pestered in this way and that's why he’s asking again... but I don’t want my father to have anything to do with me. He’s done so much damage.”

Simon puts his hand on Draco’s shoulder. “I know. Unfortunately we can’t choose our parents.”

Draco signs and accepts the squeeze to his shoulder with a small smile before Simon lets go.

“At least I have my mother. She never wanted anything to do with Voldemort but she loves her husband; she tried to shield me from it and keep us together. And she cares, she cares so much. But my father only cares about himself and his reputation.

“Now he’s focussing on mine. I actually think I hate him.”

“That’s fine too, as long as it doesn’t cost you too much energy. Family isn’t always worth holding on to.”

Draco eyes him strangely so Simon continues. “I’m the informant who put my parents in prison; I used the reward money to buy a home for me and Laura. She deserves some of the credit too, of course, but she’s only 13 and I didn’t want her to suffer any more of it. And we’ve been looking after ourselves for so long it’s better to not have our parents around.”

“I saw that in the Prophet. They didn’t say who had uncovered everything, just that it had been years of careful investigation.”

Simon’s smile is tight. “I recorded what I noticed and took as much evidence as I could without being noticed - Laura too. Our names are sealed within the files. But it was report them or have my sister suffer more. I only wanted legal custody of my sister; they offered the reward money. Not that we could have gotten by easily without it, but I knew there were places to find help.”

“I’m impressed.”

“Thank you.”

“Usually people say ‘your parents would be so proud’ but your sister will be, as am I.”

Silence falls between them again and once more it’s Draco that finally breaks it. “My father taught me where greed and a lust for power will take you, my mother taught me where love does. I’m working hard on my own to be someone I want to be. I don’t care about influence and those sorts of games; it’s exhausting.”

“Best not to; it rarely leads anywhere good.”

“What did you want to be when you were younger?” Draco asks.

Simon thinks about it. “Multiple things, really. A Healer, a Quidditch player, an adventurer. You?”

“Harry Potter’s best friend, and the minister for magic.”

“Well, you’re one of those things.”

Draco’s smile turns soft and warm; his friendship with Harry, Hermione, and Luna is well known but Simon has seen first hand how real and genuine it is - even if only from a distance.

“I am, yes. But other than that I want to work on my Potions Mastery and decide what to do when I finish. You?”

“Not sure. Something with charms, unspeakable, maybe, or invention. I’ll see what happens.”

“This might seem a little... odd of a request, but do you and your sister have anyone to spend Christmas with, besides each other?”

Simon hasn’t thought much about the holidays - besides it being him and Laura without the constant fear of their parents. “No, just the two of us. Our grandparents died in the war - Aurors.”

Draco’s look of sympathy is worn by almost everyone they know.

“Well, my Mother wants us to spend Christmas together but she’s also asked me to invite friends. Harry and Hermione will be in France with the Weasleys and neither of us wanted to join them. I wondered if you and Laura would like to spend it with us.”

“That’s very kind of you, but are you sure?”

Draco nods. “Honestly, I think it would be good for us to have people with us who understand. My Aunt Andromeda and Ted will be with the Lupins this year to welcome the new baby so it will just be the four of us in the new house.”

Simon thinks about it and realises Laura would probably love it.

“I’d love to, I’ll owl Laura in the morning but I can’t see why she wouldn’t; she can spend Boxing Day with her best friend regardless, so yes, thank you. It is very kind.”

“M is on the phone,” R says, bringing Q out of his reverie.

Draco frowns at him in question.

“I’m fine,” Q tells him. “Just thinking.” He then stands to take the phone from Laura and holds it away from him when the shouting starts.

***
No one questions Bethany’s presence when the ministry comes for the prisoners. James isn’t sure if it’s that he and Mallory are there or because Draco had passed on the information to Harry.

Either way, she stands with them, gives her report and stays after they’ve left.

She’s a competent fighter and skilled duelist, and besides being R’s friend and Draco’s girlfriend James knows very little about her. But the same can be said for Q, R, and most of the people who tend to fall into their orbit.

004 checks her phone before turning to the others. “I’m going to head back; Moneypenny is holding the fort but apparently M has been on the phone to Q.” She winces. “I’m needed for damage control.”

Mallory and James promise to be back when they can before she disparates.

“How’s your arm?” Bethany asks Mallory.

He removes the sling and pulls back his sleeve. “Almost healed, thank you.”

“No worries.” She looks at James. “Time to go back?” she asks.

“Yes.” No ambush, no further retribution. He should be grateful - he is - but he feels as though he hasn’t done enough.

Mallory comes to his side and places his hand on his shoulder.

“Your husband needs you by his side right now. And we should save our energy for our reports to M.”

James meets his eyes and remembers a similar conversation to this from years before; there was no one to return to then.

He nods and wordlessly they all return to the cottage.

***

James sweeps Q up and into his arms the moment he apparatus back, holding him close and tightly; arms firm around his back and cradling his head.

“I love you,” he whispers firmly, pressing kisses into his skin.

Q can’t ever remember a post-mission reunion like this one and the full extent of his husband’s fear is finally making its self known.

He’s sure R and Mallory, Bethany and Draco are having similar, if less dramatic reunions, but the man who’s arms he’s in is all he wants to focus on.

“I love you too, James. And I’m fine, I feel much better.”

He’s held tighter before James relaxes and they’re stood in a loose embrace instead.

“You should know, however,” Q adds. “That M is as furious as I’ve ever heard her.” And he’s seen her take down an entire room of recruits, a prime minister and the head of MI5 in the past.

“She’s worried, even if she can’t show it. She’ll calm down once she knows what’s been going on,” James reassures him.

Q nods but sags against his husband when he’s hit with another wave of dizziness.

“They’re a lot less frequent,” he hears R reassure James before he can panic. “But maybe you should both go upstairs, clean up and rest,” she suggests.

He can feel the tension in James’ body, how suddenly alert he is to everything as his heart rate picks up.

“It would be nice to lie down and rest of my own volition,” Q agrees.

“Alright. R?”

“I’ll come and get you if it’s important.”

With a gruff sound of agreement, James guides him out of the kitchen and up the stairs to the bathroom.

Q sits on the closed toilet seat while James cleans and changes, then lets himself be led into the bathroom, stripped to his underwear and taken to bed.

It’s probably late - he’s no longer sure if any of them know what the time is, but he dims the lights with a wave of his hand; his wand on the bedside table is too far away for him to bother picking it up.

“You must be feeling better,” James comments, pulling the covers over both of them as Q snuggles against his chest.

Q yawns but offers him a tired smile. “I am. Will you sleep?” he asks.

“I don’t know, but I’ll be here anyway so get some rest, some actual rest.”

Q nods but settles into a doze listening to James’ heartbeat as it finally returns to normal.

***

Chapter Text

They all share a remarkably normal morning at the cottage and congregate for breakfast in the kitchen.

R looks at her friends and family around the table and feels an overwhelming sense of relief; Mallory’s arm is still sore but the damage is minimal.

“We’ll be heading to the Ministry to give our statements this morning,” Draco says. “Harry said he’d meet us there as he’s been passing the information back and to so far. But we’ll send you a copy of them.”

James nods. “I’m sure our reports will end up with the Ministry.” Moneypenny will likely be the one to do it - if she’s not still being hounded by M.

R’s mind drifts back to why this all started and memories of time with her parents flit through her thoughts. So does her childhood with Q; learning Occlumency and Legillimens, using it to make sure they were never caught.

The one to banish it, to bring hope to her past and calm her present, was Q.

“Laura!” Annie calls from the entrance to Slytherin common room. “Your brother is here, he says he needs to talk to you.”

She gets up, bringing her book with her, and joins her best friend, and Simon at the door.

“You can come in, you know.”

“I know, but there’s something rather important I want to discuss with you - in private.”

“Okay,” she says now worried about why. “Annie? I’ll see you at lunch?”

“Sure.”

Annie waved them out and Laura followed Simon all the way up and through the castle to one of the Charms classrooms.

Exams had finished a week ago and most people were enjoying the week or two of freedom before they went home for the summer. She’s only a third-year and already has her results- but Simon finished his NEWTS and will have to wait until August to officially know he’s been accepted into a Mastery course at University.

“What’s up?” she asks as she sits herself down on one of the desks.

Simon takes the one opposite her and takes out an official-looking envelope.

“It’s from the Ministry,” he explains. “And it’s good news.” He hands it to her and she opens it; reading it through twice before looking up at him.

Simon has tears in his eyes and a smile on his face. “It won’t be in the papers until tomorrow but we don’t have to go back, Laura.”

She drops down from the desk and walks into his arms, tears falling freely and feeling like she’s going to shake apart.

“When?”

“I asked one of the adjudicators if there was someone I could speak to once my last exam finished - they always send a few ministry volunteers - they put me in touch with someone else and, well, I took the chance.

“I didn’t want to say anything until I was sure.”

“Where are we going to live?”

“We have enough money to find somewhere we both like and we can stay in a hotel until we find it.”

Laura nods and falls back into his arms. “Can I tell Annie?”

“As soon as it’s in the papers, yes. But we need to speak to Headmistress McGonagall first to make sure all our paperwork is sorted.”

Simon squeezes her tight and cries silently into her hair.

When she comes back to herself she finds most of the others similarly lost in thought.

Mallory places his hand on hers underneath the table and meets her eyes; there’s a question in them and she nods, knowing they’ll talk about it later.

“Time to face the music?” Q suggests as he sends everyone's breakfast things washing at the sink.

James stands and rolls his shoulders. “Not as though we have much choice; Draco, Bethany, it’s been nice knowing you.”

Draco shakes his hand. “You’ll survive, I’m sure. But we should probably arrange to get together sooner rather than later.”

“We’ll be in touch soon,” James agrees.

Goodbyes are passed around and Bethany and Draco apparate out.

“What time is she expecting us?” R asks.

Q winces. “I imagine yesterday afternoon but I told her I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to return so soon, given I only woke up once I left.”

She stands a little closer to him when he says that, then takes Mallory’s offered hand. None of them are sure what will happen to Q when they go back but Healer Swann has been through everything she can think of and owled that morning to say she thinks since he’s recovered he won’t fall back under whatever the spell was.

Still, everyone is nervous when they take a breath and apparate back to MI6.

***

M is stood in the room they appear in, arms crossed firmly over her chest as disbelief and anger both cross her face.

“007, 003, Q, and R. Follow me please, we have quite the debriefing ahead of us.”

Moneypenny follows them out and they’re met by 004 and Tanner as they all sit down.

Q looks at Bill and offers a weak smile but as no-one else seems to object to his presence he presumes they want him to know too.

“Good to see you’ve recovered, Quartermaster,” Bill says.

“Yes, thank you. Change of scenery helped rather a lot.”

M coughs and glares at each of them in turn.

“Now, before we begin, I feel I should tell you that although I’m currently furious with most of you, I know that it wasn’t your fault that I’ve been kept so out of the loop on your… abilities. That being said, you owe me a full and complete explanation as to what the hell has being going on.

“004 and Moneypenny have given me the basics so you can skip the introduction to your upbringing and schooling; I’d rather know why this attack happened and what you did to stop it. as well as any other times magic has been used in the field.”

Q watches Bill during this time and he doesn’t so much as blink.

Mallory is the one to voice this. “Ah, forgive me, M, but has Tanner been briefed as well?”

Bill smiles at him. “I didn’t need to be. My wife and I got a letter when our children were four and six, now our eldest is in her second year at Hogwarts and our son will start this year.”

“Bill, I had no idea,” Q says to him.

“I didn’t think I was allowed to mention it; statute of secrecy and all, no one said anything when the background checks were done so I assume it’s the same people that made sure your transfers went through,” he says.

“And as soon as I figure out exactly who they are I’ll be arranging a meeting,” M tells them. “As long as at least one of you comes with me and makes sure no one tries to erase my memory.”

They all volunteer for that and the mood calms between them all.

“Now then, who wants to begin?”

“I will,” R volunteers. “I have the most information about the how and the why, 007 can fill in the rest.”

***

M looks worn out by the time they’ve gone over as much as they can think of - both for this mission and previous ones.

“So you used magic to save me at Skyfall?” she asks James.

“I cast protection charms on you, yes. Otherwise one or the other explosions might have killed you. And I stopped Silva from getting to you at the end of it.”

“Well, then. Thank you, 007.”

“It’s all part of the job, M.”

She actually smiles at him then, just for a moment. She’ll always be a second mother to James - even if he won’t admit it out loud.

“So you’ve all just been working here, doing your jobs all this time?”

“Yes,” R says. “We only use our magic when it’s needed - enemy organisations have dark magic users in their ranks so we make sure our side can protect themselves.”

“And,” Gareth adds. “sometimes it’s useful to have us in the field as well. There are laws in the wizarding world about the use of magic and muggle technology but we’re exempt in our line of work. Sometimes our guns are enhanced, or our clothes. And we have our own advantages too.”

“Hmm, yes I can see that.” M glares at him then seems to give up. “003, if you would stay behind everyone else is dismissed.”

R squeezes his hand, then stands and leaves with the rest; she doesn’t say a word or look affected by it at all - even though she is. As soon as she’s out of M’s line of sight
James hovers near the door and looks to M.

“M’am, you should know that I would be dead at least twice if it wasn’t for Mallory.”

“Noted, 007. You’re dismissed.”

James sends Mallory a look of support then heads out the door.

When he’s finally alone with M he sits and waits in silence.

“I know it hasn’t escaped your notice that I haven’t always been on the friendliest of terms with you, Gareth.”

He tips his head towards her and waits for her to continue.

“And I should probably apologise for the way I’ve acted towards you in the past.” She sighs and sits back in her chair. “Had I know what you are and your abilities I would have been more understanding.

“I’ve had you under investigation twice - and you’ve never showed any sign of wrong doing. And I suspected that perhaps your relationship with R had something to do with whatever I thought you were up to.”

M stands, looking out onto the courtyard below, her back to Gareth. “James has always been eccentric and has defied explanation so many times I’m used to it. And I’m sorry I haven’t shown you the same respect.”

“You don’t have to like someone to work with them; you’ve treated me better than some others I’ve known.”

“True, but you’ve been working for the people of this country - even the ones I didn’t know existed - and I haven’t been giving you the respect you deserve.”

Gareth looks at her back and frowns; he can’t decide whether or not her apology means more for how hard it was to say. Regrets may well be unprofessional but perhaps it doesn’t need to be.

“You could have removed my licence to kill at any point or reassigned me and you didn’t; you’ve trusted me enough to get the job done.”

“I have. And now I’ve unraveled the puzzle of why your previous missions have bothered me so much.”

She turns back around and takes the seat next to his.

“I know you were considering leaving MI6 and I won’t stand in your way but I’d like you to stay. And as there is nothing unprofessional about your relationship with R, you have my support with that as well.

“I don’t want to lose you, 003.”

“Thank you, M. I’ll take that on board. And apology accepted; neither myself or anyone else has liked or agreed with keeping you in the dark.”

She offers him her hand and Gareth shakes it.

“You’ll all be granted the usual post-mission leave - aside from Q who is on medical leave for at least the next week and can then take holiday. I’m sure Bond will go with him.”

“Almost certainly. Regardless of what I choose there are some things I’d like to do within the wizarding world and here.”

“I’m sure that can be arranged.” She gives him the most genuine smile he’s seen directed at him from her, one he thought was only meant for Bond.

***

R is pacing, pacing and waving her hands around letting sparks of magic shoot off from her fingers; Occlumency skills are not the only ones the siblings had to teach themselves to survive as children.

They’re in Q’s formal office - a place reserved for paperwork and the occasional nap away from Q Branch.

Tanner had things to attend to as soon as their meeting was over, Moneypenny stayed with them until she had to leave to start sorting things out so now it’s just Q, James, R and 004.

“He’ll be alright, Laura,” 004 says, standing behind Laura and squeezing her shoulders.

“Thanks, Isobel, I know; he said there are other things he’s considering if he has to leave here but it seems so unnecessary given how much he’s done.” She leans back into her friend and accepts the brief hug.

Q is on the sofa, curled up at James’ side. Physically he’s fine and still recovering well but he can’t quite keep his heart rate settled. He’s glad of James’ warmth and finds himself wishing R was closer to him - so he knows his family is safe and well. But she’s in the same room and can look after herself. Plus, having Isobel with them is a greater comfort than not.

James squeezes Q’s waist and kisses his forehead.

“Mallory could walk into any job he wanted or take none at all,” James says.

R looks over to him and smiles. “I know, but he doesn’t deserve the way he’s treated sometimes.”

“R,” Q warns out of habit.

“I’m not going anywhere - this job is more important than that - but come on, he’s always been under the most scrutiny.”

Isobel squeezes her shoulder. “Probably because he’s been doing this longer than all of us.”

“So his record is too clean, huh,” Isobel comments, using her wand to pour herself more coffee and bring it over as she sits on the arm of the sofa.

“Not anymore,” R says, slumping down next to Q. She takes his offered hand and squeezes it, resting her head on Isobel’s knee.

“Still better than working for the ministry,” Isobel says. All of them agree.

***

R is up and in Mallory’s arms before the door has finished closing behind him.

“It’s fine, Laura,” he reassures her, carding his fingers through her hair. “I’m fine.” He doesn’t mention that it’s only her in his arms that makes him feel that way.

He looks at James over her shoulder and nods. “M thought my clean record was suspicious and those times we thought someone was tracking me, someone was.”

“Probably a good thing I didn’t go after them,” James says.

Mallory smiles wryly. “Probably.”

R steps out of his arms and he lets her go reluctantly, but she accepts his hand and weaves their fingers together.

“We’ve all been dismissed on medical leave or holiday,” Mallory tells them.

“We know,” Q says. “But we weren’t going to go anywhere without you.”

“Home?” Mallory asks.

“We were thinking of heading to Grand Western Wizarding to meet Draco, Bethany, and a few others,” Q explains.

“Okay, sounds good.”

***

“Mother has decided we should all join her for dinner this evening,” Draco explains when they meet outside his Emporium, Blaise is joining them as well. “I haven’t given her numbers so anyone who wants to escape I suggest you leave now.”

None of them do and Draco rolls his eyes. “Well then, you only have yourself to blame.”

“Your mother is a lovely host,” Q reassures him, R agrees. They’ve spent more than a few Christmases there over the years.

“She’s threatened to go all out for this celebration.”

“This is why it was a good idea to get a full night's sleep before coming back,” James says.

Draco scowls at him.

Q laughs. “James hates the pomp and circumstance of most celebrations but he loves a well-cooked meal and good company.”

R leans into Mallory as she watches the conversation. “Mrs Malfoy is an excellent cook,” she tells him.

“Is she?”

R hums her agreement. “She’s also lovely, I was going to suggest we use an evening of our time off to go and see her; she’s told me and Q to call her Aunt Cissa.”

“We can still do that if you like?”

“Please.” R pauses but asks the question on her mind. “Should I be worried about anything M discussed with you?”

“No,” Mallory tells her. “I’ll tell you all about it tomorrow but I’m not being forced out.”

“Good.” She kisses his cheek. “Good.”

***

Narcissa greets them all warmly - pulling R and Q into warm hugs after doing the same to Draco and Bethany.

Isobel is next and seems surprised to have been greeted so warmly, though it quickly becomes clear she’s heard a lot about her from her friends.

“Gareth Mallory, lovely to meet you. Laura has mentioned you in some of her owls, and I remember hearing about your achievements as an Auror in the Prophet.”

Gareth accepts her hand and returns her warm smile. “Thank you, it is likewise lovely to make your acquaintance.”

She brings them all through to the dining room and tells them to take a seat.

This house, Gareth knows, is the one she and Draco moved to after the war was over and their court dates passed. It is, by normal standards, large and warm; set in grounds close to Andromeda and Ted, but it is much smaller than Malfoy manor.

There are house elves, but they are employed rather than belonging to the house; amongst the many changes to her life, Narcissa had taken up Hermione’s determination to give Elves better lives and though it has been difficult, those that live and work in the house have their room and board covered and earn an income.

Many other families have started to do the same, as has Hogwarts; though apparently it had secretly been doing so for a long time - the secret more to save face for its Elves.

Dinner is lovely; the bright and cheery atmosphere a balm for Gareth’s frayed nerves. Laura is a vibrant light at his side but he finds everyone is finally letting their guards down - including Draco - and they pass an evening of genuine enjoyment.

“I’ve missed this,” he admits as they all settle in the lounge on chairs, sofas and the plush carpet.

Q is snuggled warmly into James’ side - he looks half asleep but unwilling to leave.

Bethany and Draco are sat next to each other but engaged in different conversations - Bethany with Laura, and Draco with his mother, Blaise, and Isobel.

They are perfect proof that people from all Hogwarts houses can get along without any problems - that their differences enable them to fit together like puzzle pieces; he’s glad the school they all love so much has gotten back on track. McGonagall is probably the best Headteacher they’ve had for a century - he liked and respected Dumbledore very much but he’d been concentrating on the war outside of the school for years.

“Are you feeling okay?” Laura asks. Bethany gives him a small smile.

“Yes, just tired I think.” He accepts the tea Laura passes him and when the conversation switches to Quidditch he’s happy to join in.

***

R’s only request when she started at MI6 was that she be allowed to keep her flat and not be forced to move away from her small corner of wizarding London.

Mallory, who grew up muggle-born has a flat elsewhere but floo and aparation means it doesn’t bother him.

She and Q have had a TV from the moment they loved into their own place - taking recommendations from their school friends; some muggle-born and others whose families liked to embrace all parts of human culture. Since then she’s continued to merge the two worlds within her life and flat - another benefit of her job.

Sometimes she thinks the wizarding world is missing out as much as the muggle one. Though, they do both have pretty prominent cosmetics bath bomb company - formed of and still including a working partnership between wizards and muggles.

Mallory knocks at her bathroom door.

“Come in,” she calls.

“Even if Button is trying to join us?”

R chuckles. “She won’t be able to come in.”

Mallory pushes open the door and Button tries to jump up and in, only to be met by a flash of pink magic - almost the same colour as her underbelly. Button and Floret are from the same littler of Kneazles; Floret names for her green fur and Button because of the pattern his fur has on his back.

R waves her hand and activates the obstacle course and Button is off.

Mallory closes the door once Button is out of sight.

“You can join me if you want?” she offers. She was clean before she got in the bath - shower before soak - her hair is wrapped in a towel atop her head as she relaxes in perpetually warm water.

“I’m fine,” he says, sitting down.

Mallory is tall and lithe; his training keeps him in excellent shape; it’s not why she loves him but it’s made studying him a lovely pastime. They’d both been far too tired to entertain anything other than sleep for the past couple of nights but she finds herself imagining all the things they could do in bed together later, if he’s amenable.

“I think this might be my favourite room in your flat,” he says, sitting on the stool he’s transfigured into a firm cushion so he can sit at her height. “It’s one of mine.” There are only three rooms in her flat - four if you could the hallway - and she can never quite decide which one is her favourite. It probably is her bathroom, maybe the bedroom-come-library.

He lets out a long breath.

“Gareth?” she asks, surprising him with use of his first name. She does like it but she fell in love with Mallory and so it seems odd to think of him as anything else, but he does seem to like it when she calls him Gareth so she’s making an effort to try more often.

“M doesn’t want me to go; she wants me to stay in whatever capacity I want to.”

“Alright,” she says.

“I don’t want anything to change, aside from what already has. But I might ask for a reduced mission load - I’d like to teach the courses I told you about at Hogwarts with Professor Potter as well.”

R relaxes further down into the water but she smiles at Mallory.

“Good news?” he asks, seeming somewhat unsure.

“Yes. It’s good news, but you know I’d have stood by whatever decision you wanted to make.”

“Even if I asked you to leave MI6 along with me and move to Hogsmede?”

R squints as she studies him. “Would you have?” she asks carefully. “Will you?” Because although she would support him leaving MI6, if it really was what he wanted, she doesn’t.

“Only if I thought our lives were at risk if we stayed.” With a shake of his head, he looks away. “I don’t think I’ve ever been as scared as I was when I got the call about Q Branch,” he tells her, his voice low and serious.

R nods, remembering the terror of the attack, the rush of adrenalin and magic singing through her veins as she started casting. When she thinks of it some parts are in slow motion and others are so rapid she can’t keep up with the events swirling through her mind.

“I can’t do what you do,” she says. “I can’t fight like that month in month out. My nerves can’t handle it.”

“You almost lost your brother, your only family; what you went through is understandable.”

“Gareth,” she says softly. “It’s the sort of thing I can cope with having gone through once, and though I don’t want to have to do it again I will in a heartbeat… but… I’m not even sure where I’m going with this.”

He lets out a long, slow breath. “Laura, I’d stay if my life were at risk; I’d only want to leave with you if yours was.”

“Sounds like a double standard.”

Mallory shrugs. “I’d want to but I’m not sure you or your brother would let me. Even James would likely argue against it - he has your brother to contend with, after all.”

“I’m not sure he’d survive with his balls intact if he tried to make Q leave for anything other than short term safety.”

Mallory catches her gaze and they both laugh.

When he offers her his hand she takes it, bringing it underneath the water to rest with hers on her breastbone.

“If it was short-term? I’d leave; we’ve just done that, but otherwise? No, not right now and probably not for a long time. I don’t like having to choose between being one version of myself and another; I love things the way they are.

“Gareth, I love you.” She swallows around the lump in her throat.

“I love you too, Laura.” Mallory presses a kiss to her forehead. “The only other request I’m going to make to M is that I be allowed to assist you and Q when you fortify the new Q Branch.”

“We were going to request you and James for that anyway, Isobel too if she’s interested. No one else until we know who we can and cannot trust.” Which is never something they can know with absolute certainty but they’ll do the very best they can.

R closes her eyes and sighs when Gareth moves his hand over her skin to her breast; his touch sends shivers through her like nothing else.

When she opens her eyes his are right there and after a gentle brush of noses his mouth is on hers and she’s reaching up to wind her hands around his neck.

The kiss is deep and Laura melts into it, winding her arms tighter. Gareth’s hands slide down her back and support her buttocks as she lifts herself out of the bath and wraps her legs around his waist.

Gareth breathes heavily on her shoulder, running his wand over her skin to dry her off.

R sets her mouth on his neck and pushes forwards against the erection tenting his pyjamas.

“Bedroom?” he asks.

R shakes her head and laughs, but one look in his eyes has her silenced and nodding; kissing him again and trusting him to get them there safely.

***

Q is still sleepy; he’s been managing to wake up every few hours to eat or drink something but overall he feels worn out.

Every time he wakes James is right there; reading or napping, sometimes with a steaming mug of tea.

This time is no different.

“Post mission adrenalin crash is less fun when you’re sick,” James says.

“Is it ever fun?” Q grumbles.

“I like sleeping without nightmares so I’d say it has its good points. Plus it means more time with you.”

“What on earth did you get up to before you met me?” he asks, suddenly curious.

“Fire Whisky, mostly.”

“James.”

His husband slides down on the bed to be eye level with him and puts an arm around his waist.

“It was an improvement. Before I joined MI6 I was… well, I know you’ve read the files on that.”

Q places his hand over James’. “Only because you handed them to me. And I don’t blame you for going after Vesper’s killers. I’d do the same to anyone who did that to you,” he says, remembering the days they spent at James’ Skyfall estate - the perks of magical insurance being a complete rebuild of the whole property - and the truths they’d shared with each other.

“When R called me, then I saw you on that bed… Q, it was like…” James trails off and instead looks at where their hands rest together on Q’s hip.

“I wouldn’t have begrudged you your revenge for me, either. And I know even in that you wouldn’t have been alone - R would have been right beside you.” Neither of them were prepared to let the other’s death go unpunished - or that of anyone they loved. He’s also sure James would make sure Laura survived it. “But I am alive and I’ll recover; Draco and Healer Swann have compared the information they have and they know what I was hit with. Leaving MI6 broke the containment spell embedded into the walls.

“Clever work, shame the rest was so sloppy,” Q adds.

James kisses his forehead and curls his body around Q’s.

“You were never supposed to be the one in danger.”

Q shrugs. “Given myself and R stepped in because the previous Q Branch was destroyed in Silva’s explosion I’m going to say it’s never been an impossibility,” he says carefully. “What I mean is that I’ve always been aware that there was some risk involved in my work but I didn’t expect it to link back to my parents.”

James doesn’t look placated.

“New Q Branch will be as fortified as I can possibly make it, I promise.”

“Alright,” James agrees, drawing Q into his warmth as he pulls the covers up around them with a casual flick of his hand.

Q sinks into his embrace but just as he’s on the cusp of sleep he says. “We’ll work on your occlumency before we go back to work.”

“Does this mean you’ll be able to see all the fantasies I’ve ever had about you?” James asks.

“There are some we haven’t enacted?” Q asks.

James’ warm laugh sends him off to sleep.

***

“I wasn’t expecting a full escort,” M comments when she walks out of her office to find Q, James, R, Mallory, Moneypenny, Isobel, and Tanner waiting for her.

“We thought it best to go in as a united front,” Mallory explains. “Moneypenny will be holding down the fort here - along with a few others from our magical community whose names we’ll present later.” He looks to Q.

“Ah, yes. It took some creative investigating to find them but we’ve managed to and they’re happy to be known to you. There are actually a couple the ministry don’t know about,” he explains.

M looks impressed, then exacerbated.

“And how many more of you will be appearing before we head out?”

“This is it for MI6, M’am, but there are others joining us there,” Tanner says, as they close both doors and turn to the newly-installed fireplace. “Now, this is set to only take us to the Ministry so you needn’t say or do anything but the journey will be disorientating.”

“And there isn’t a better way to get there than a magical fireplace? Broom? Dare I ask about a car?”

James and Q share a look, Q pressing his foot hard on his husband's to stop him from laughing; he gets an annoyed stare in response.

“The usual option is a toilet network,” Isobel tells her.

“She’s not joking,” adds R when it looks like M will snap.

“So what do I do?”

*
Once all of them have made it to the Ministry - Q and James the last to go through - They’re greeted by the rest of their party.

“Does anyone want to introduce me?” M asks, looking to Mallory, then James.

It’s Q who steps forwards.
“M, this is Draco Malfoy, Bethany Redrobe, Professors Harry and Hermione Potter, and Blaize Zambini,” he explains in turn, before also introducing the other two witches who’re stood with them.

“Why on earth do we need to many people?” M asks.

“Politicians are the same everywhere,” Tanner explains. “They’ll want to find any way possible to make sure things go exactly the way they want.”

“And,” Hermione says. “They won’t want you to leave with your memory intact. We’re here for insurance.”

“So you’re all my armed guard?”

None of them have their wands out but Q knows they’re all perfectly capable of defending themselves without them - and they’re quick draws.

“Yes,” he tells her.

She meets his eyes and nods. “Alright, lead the way. I suppose everyone here will think I’m someone important?” she asks.

“Probably,” James tells her. “Which is exactly why we’re all here.”

He takes Q’s hand as they walk in front of her.

Neither of them can remember the last time they’ve been in this place and though the protection is for M, the attention isn’t just on her.

They make an odd group and Q is sure this will be reported in the prophet tomorrow.

He hopes anyone else who might be thinking of coming for them realises exactly who they’re up against and that they don’t stand a chance.

***

Fin