When you try your best, but you don't succeed
When you get what you want, but not what you need
When you feel so tired but you can't sleep
Stuck in reverse
~ Fix You, Coldplay
Packing hadn't taken long. Harry had been living on his own since he had left the Whitney mansion and the flat where he had finally settled down was a reflection of that. There were the basics of course, the bed and stove and shower, but there was nothing that gave the impression of the owners personality; except for the one photo he kept on his window ledge of Peter, Lily and himself, taken when Lily was thirteen.
He picked it up and looked over the three of them fondly. This was taken before anything had come to light. Before, when he had just been a simple instructor in the mind arts to a struggling teenager who was steadily declining into insanity.
His gaze caught on Peter. Dr Peter Whitney, who was, according to Lily, missing. Harry wasn't foolish, he'd noticed the pause Lily had taken and deduced there was more to the story. Probably a lot more and Harry would be a fool to get involved in it all again. But then, Harry had always been a fool when it came to the small Whitney family. Or just one in particular.
Then again, maybe it wasn't foolishness, maybe it was just recklessness.
Either way he was certain he was about to be dragged into something that would change him completely.
He sighed and stroked the pad of his thumb across the glass over Peter's face. It was still smiling the rare, carefree smile that Harry had only seen the man wearing once or twice even after his years of living together.
Peter was most likely dead.
Something hard and cold lodged in Harry's chest at the thought and it took him a moment to remember how to breathe, then, taking one last painful look at the photograph, dropped it into the open duffle bag at his feet.
There was the distinct possibility that he wouldn't ever come back to this place, not if Lily got her claws into him again. It had been hard enough leaving the first time, walking away from those confused and tear-filled eyes. He knew he wouldn't be able to do it a second.
He glanced one last time around the place he had called home for the last few years. It looked exactly the same as when he had moved in. His entire existence had been packed away in the large duffle next to him and he hadn't even used any shrinking or expanding charms.
There was something infinitely heart breaking about that.
Though he hadn't taken much with him after the argument. He had just grabbed what he had arrived with three years earlier, scorning the gifts that Peter had bought for him. His only concession the one photograph of them all, happy and smiling.
At the time the thought of staying had made him physically ill and, after he had escaped through the iron gates and apparated away, he had thrown up.
And now he was heading back. He hadn't even thought about staying away when Lily had rung. It had never occurred to him that he didn't have to go back, even though Lily had mentioned it. All he had heard was that Lily didn't think she was in that much trouble, which would probably mean that people were going out of their way to try and kill her.
His breath hitched as his thoughts led him back to Peter.
Stupid, he tried to tell himself; Lily only said he was missing. He might not even be dead.
But he knew. Knew with all the certainty he possessed that if he cast a finding spell it would not work.
Peter was gone.
The thought had tears pricking at the backs of his eyes, which was stupid because Harry was the one who left in the first place. But although they had had a falling out, Harry had never wanted him dead.
Scowling, he crouched in the empty room and zipped up the bag harder than he needed to.
That was enough thinking about Peter. He couldn't do anything if he was dead, and now his first priority was Lily and whether or not she was safe. Probably not knowing her, but he lived to hope that something would go right.
Slinging the bag across his shoulder he did one last summoning charm to make sure that he hadn't overlooked anything. After a few seconds where nothing zoomed towards him, he slid his wand back into its holster and apparated away.
The Whitney mansion hadn't changed at all in the years Harry had been gone. He felt it like a physical blow to the chest as he looked about at the marble pillars and the gilt framed pictures hanging on the walls.
It was only on his second sweep that he noticed that, yes, there had been changes. There were a lot more security cameras inside the building, instead of just outside.
He was just starting to wonder whether they had spotted him or not when an alarm sounded, loud in the previous silence.
He couldn't help the slight twitch of his lips in amusement. Guess company would be arriving soon. He hoped it was Lily and not a bunch of brawny security types because he didn't think he'd be able to give them excuses without grinning. And if there's one thing he learnt over the past few years is security guards do not like it when you laugh. They usually think you're mocking them and things dissolve fast.
Deciding that an invitation from the lady of the house was a good enough reason to be there without warning, he dropped his bag onto the floor and shoved his hands into his pockets.
Nonchalance, thy name is Harry.
He'd expected security along the lines of one or two large men, what with all the added cameras. What he didn't expect was for those men to be able to hide within a ripple of air. He'd been waiting for a few minutes and was beginning to become wary, which was why he'd started casting revealing charms over everything. He would never have been able to sense the man otherwise. It had been a throwaway spell but the air twenty paces to his right suddenly lit up bright blue in the shape of a large man.
Harry had stared, startled for a moment, and quickly cast a few more charms. The entry hall was empty apart from them and the man was slowly stalking closer. He felt a brief pang of anger and hopelessness and the thought 'Peter, what have you done?' crossed his mind, but he schooled his face into an unreadable mask.
The spell wasn't clear enough to give any distinct features, so Harry couldn't tell what he looked like or what he was wearing, or even if he was carrying a gun. Which was more than likely.
He scrutinised the figure more closely and was privately amused to see him falter a moment. Of course, the man wouldn't expect Harry to see him as he was using him powers in a way that completely cloaked him from sight.
Really, it was quite ingenious, almost as good as Harry's invisibility cloak. The cloak had the advantage of never running out of energy, and Harry was sure that once the man started flagging, his powers or control would start to wane and he would be left visible to all.
The invisible man took another careful step forward, eventually having decided that Harry wasn't looking at him, but at something behind him. This assumption caused Harry to smile at the outline of the figure's head.
"You know," he said, "I can see you."
Not perfectly true but Harry had learnt never to let an enemy know a weakness. And as this man was currently invisible and stalking him and may or may not be carrying weapons, he was certainly not a friend. Yet.
The man paused again, briefly hesitating, and then Harry saw him reach for something at his hip. Without even thinking about it he cast a wandless and silent expelliarmus. A hand gun of some sort came sailing through the air accompanied by a soft noise of startlement, so quiet he wouldn't have heard it if he hadn't been listening for it.
Harry made no move to catch the gun and it landed on the floor between them and skittered closer to him, coming to rest against his shoe. He looked down at it in feigned disinterest whilst inwardly calculating the odds of the invisible man having more weapons on him. They were pretty high and he twitched his wrist so his wand shot into his hand, still hidden within his pocket. It was uncomfortable as he was unable to grip the handle but he had practised enough that he only need be touching it for it to work.
And as easy as it had become to cast some spells wandlessly, it was uncommonly easier to cast them touching his wand. And if he was correct, and the man was still armed, he would need every advantage he had. A shielding spell could stop a bullet, but only if that spell was up before the bullet had been fired.
Silently he cast multiple layers of protection spells. Then, just for good measure, cast more revealing spells. Fortunately they were still alone, but the man had frozen in place, most likely from the shock of being disarmed so suddenly.
It was a little curious though. The man was obviously trained, whether as a soldier or something else remained to be seen, and yet he hadn't made any move to drawing another weapon or attacking Harry since he'd been disarmed.
Harry could only assume it meant that he had orders not to kill him. Going for his gun could have been an automatic response, especially if it was a soldier hiding within the ripple. Such men always felt more at home when they were armed. Like an explosive security blanket.
Or it could be that he was weighing his options.
Choosing the more optimist conclusion, Harry slouched and grinned.
"We could just stand here all day, but you have orders. And as I've been invited by the lady of the house I think it would be rude if you gunned me down in the middle of her hallway."
The man was still hesitating when a commotion down the hallway drew Harry's attention. He barely had time to wonder what was going on when Lily flew into the hall. He just about managed to disarm his shields and get his hands out his pockets in time for her to fling herself into his arms.
He automatically cast another shield spell, enclosing them in a bubble of protectiveness. He had not forgotten the fact that she was in trouble and possibly the target of hit men at this very moment.
Besides, the man still hadn't dropped his little invisibility get-up. It was one thing for him to be in danger, and another thing entirely to put Lily in danger.
After that he turned his attention back to the woman in his arms.
She was taller than he remembered. A lot taller as they were now the same height. This, really, was unsurprising as he hadn't seen her in over a decade. Grinning, he wrapped his arms around her and dragged her closer. This definitely wasn't the fourteen year old he had left, this was a woman. A woman who had come into her own. And yet he still felt like he was holding his daughter.
Loss hit him in the chest. And, not for the first time, he regretted leaving. He had missed this. Missed seeing her grow into the adult she had become. What else had he missed? What else should he have been there for and hadn't?
How many times should she have been comforted and missed out?
"Lily." He murmured, pressing their cheeks together and closing his eyes, enjoying the closeness of his family again. "Lily."
He felt rather than heard the dry hitch of her breathing as she clung tightly to him, arms crushing them together. As if she thought the tighter she held on to him now, the more absence she could erase from the past.
Harry sighed and carded his fingers through her hair, pressing her face into his shoulder when he felt her being to tremble.
"It's okay, I'm here now," he soothed. Forcibly reminded of when he had first started her training, "I'm here now."
The barked command hidden in her name had Harry's eyes shooting open to find both Lily and himself surrounded by a group of men.
"Lily," Harry said slowly when she hadn't moved and the man who had spoken looked increasingly angry, "please tell me they're on your side."
He felt Lily sigh against his skin and pull back, surreptitiously wiping her hand over her eyes. Harry looked at her fondly, his hands on her hips. This seemed to be making the leader guy even antsier.
He wanted to smirk, he really did. Maybe later though as he had more important things to do and worry about other than a man who was apparently after his girl.
But now that he thought about it…
Lily distracted him from that train of thought by shifting from out the circle of his arms and turning to face the group of men, who still hadn't moved from their positions. Though they were looking a lot less likely to shoot him in the head without provocation. Or maybe that was just because they were worried they would hit Lily instead.
"Who's this?" The man who had spoken Lily's name before gestured at Harry. Rather rudely, Harry thought.
"Lily? Are they on your side? Are they going to attack?" Harry asked, ignoring the man.
Lily turned her head to look at him again and out of the corner of his eye Harry spied a tick appearing in the man's cheek. It increased when Lily smiled at him.
"Yeah, these are the men that…from my dad's experiment." She finished lamely and Harry's smile dropped a few notches as he looked at them again.
Yes, now that he was paying attention, there was definitely something other about them. And that wasn't just because the invisible man chose that moment to shimmer into existence. He ran a light touch of legilimency over them all and repressed a shudder. Completely open, completely undefended. Whatever Peter had done had stripped them of whatever natural barriers they'd had. Even those they'd had just by being human.
Honestly, Harry didn't know how they were still sane. But then, his little Lily had been like that when he'd first been introduced to her and she'd been surviving like that for years. But then, she had been a lot younger and her mind had adapted as it had grown; not noticing or just compensating for the disability.
These men didn't have that. Their minds had been fully developed when Peter had stripped them and he didn't want to think how they had coped. He hoped to whatever was out there that Lily had started them on the mental practises he had taught her. He didn't know how long these men could last without them.
"Lily," Harry said quietly, "can they be trusted?"
She hesitated only a brief moment. "Yes."
Harry nodded and dropped the barrier between them; though he was standing at a moment's notice to slam it back up again if any of them looked like they were going to get handsy with their guns.
As soon as he did, the men took a step forward, and then looked startled when they realised that something had been holding them back without them even noticing. Harry swallowed a grin at their expressions. Some of them looked amazed; some looked like they were debating asking how he'd managed to do that. But the guy who'd previously called out Lily's name just looked pissed. He chalked that up to a win.
Seems like someone was attracted to his little girl.
Harry knew he was going to have fun with this. And after he'd pissed off the soldier with the gun fetish, he'd scare him within an inch of his life.
He had talent like that. Also magic, which helped a lot. Unfair advantage it was, but he wasn't so noble as to not use it. It was going to be so much fun.
However, before those that wanted to ask what he'd done could ask, he took a step away from Lily, clapped and rubbed his hands together. "Right!" He grinned, "Whose head am I invading then?"
Ryland was angry.
When Lily had first told them of her mentor, he'd been reluctant to hope. But hope had come, and crushed ruthlessly, then revived again. In the end he'd been tentatively happy. Wary, of course, but looking forward to meeting the man who had trained the woman he was falling for.
He'd wanted to know what he could do to help his team. His men. His brothers.
He'd also assumed, by the way Lily talked about this Harry and her father, that they were the same age.
This was why he was unprepared for the attractive man, only several years older than Lily and the same age as himself, to be standing in the middle of the hall. His smug attitude grated on Ryland's nerves. And the man's uncanny ability to spot Nico, even when he was ghosting…
It was beyond anything he'd ever heard of, never mind seen.
And the way that Lily had thrown herself into his arms…. And the way Harry had held her – cradling her like she was the most precious thing in his world…
Just what sort of relationship did they have?
Ryland gritted his teeth and scowled at nothing, ignoring the questioning glances his men sent him.
Harry was supposed to be an old man. A fusty professor or a scientist that had helped Lily's father do questionably legal human experiments. He wasn't supposed to be young, fit or attractive. And he wasn't supposed to fit with Lily in a way that he didn't think he ever could.
He could practically hear the thoughts running through the minds of his men. They mirrored the chained part of his own mind. Harry and Lily looked good together. Really good. Almost fashion magazine good. And he could never compare to that.
It didn't help that he could feel Lily's love for the man echoing in his own head. He couldn't decode it completely, but it went beyond mere friendship and he could definitely feel attraction from her. From him he could feel absolutely nothing.
And how did he get into the mansion without tripping off any alarms until he was inside?
Ryland really wanted to just throw Harry out, but he couldn't. He didn't have any excuse to give Lily or his men if he did. And the way Harry'd completely bypassed their security with ease…
It was better to have this man on their side until they could learn all they could. Learn his strengths and weaknesses. Harry was a security risk. Better that one of them stay on their guard around him.
A pressure he hadn't even noticed fell and he took a step forward without meaning to.
His men had also taken a step and seemed surprised when the realised that they'd been held back without them noticing.
Ryland realised that Harry had somehow kept them all at bay without them sensing traps or wards. His anger increased. It rattled him to have someone so casually powerful around him, his men, Lily. Especially Lily. She was his. And Jeff was completely comatose upstairs and wouldn't be able to protect himself.
For that matter Ryland wasn't sure if he could protect himself against this newcomer.
"Right, whose head am I invading then?"
Ryland glared at Harry as Lily sighed beside him. He could feel his men glance to him, waiting for him to answer. He didn't.
When it became obvious that he wasn't going to, Lily sighed again and rubbed her forehead.
"Jeff Hollister." She said as Harry reached down to grab his bag, swinging it over his shoulder. "He's upstairs."
Harry nodded at her with a smile and linked their fingers together. Ryland felt jealousy cause his gut to clench painfully.
Lily shot him an annoyed look and he realised that he was broadcasting loudly. Even his men were glancing at him askance. He focused on tamping down his reactions. As soon as he could he'd get Lily by herself and demand she tell him about the relationship between herself and Harry.
"Lead on, my Lady." Harry said, allowing Lily to tug him past the men in the hallway. As he passed Ryland, he smiled at him. A slow curve of his lips that said I have what you want.
Ryland had never wanted to shoot someone so much in his life.
Harry snickered silently as Lily dragged him upstairs. His feet automatically finding the steps without him having to open his eyes.
"Was that really necessary?" Lily asked him when they were alone. The men waiting until Ryland had calmed down to regroup.
"Come on, Lily-flower," Harry grinned, "it was funny."
She tightened her grip on his fingers in annoyance. "You were showing off."
Harry bumped shoulders with her. "The wards were a precaution. I didn't know if you'd bumped up security and if I was going to get jumped by a bunch of men with guns. Which, in case you didn't realise, is exactly what happened."
She huffed but the corners of her mouth twitched up in amusement. "Well, if you'd used the front door…"
"But where's the fun in that?"
She was quiet for the length of a corridor then acquiesced. "One of these days I'm going to get you to tell me how you do that."
Harry smiled indulgently beside her. "One of these days."
Another corridor passed in silence. Harry counted more hidden cameras placed strategically so that they covered every window. They jarred with his memories and he mourned that Lily had had to resort to this to protect herself.
What had Peter been doing that he couldn't even trust the safety of his own home?
"I have a headache now."
Harry frowned as Lily interrupted his musings. "From overuse?"
"No," she replied. Then said carefully, "I…seem to have a strong link with Ryland. You made him pretty angry."
Harry smirked. "Pretty boy was easy to rile up."
"Ryland," Lily stressed, "is the leader of a unit of soldiers with very big guns. Do you remember the guns?"
They came to a stop outside a closed door but made no move to open in. Harry rolled his eyes. "Pretty boy should learn to control his anger if he wants to sex up my little Lily-flower."
Harry smirked and brushed his fingers across her forehead, sending a tendril of magic into her mind, banishing her headache. She glared at him.
"Now, now." He said, "What look of thanks is that?"
He laughed and pushed open the door. "Come on; let's see what you've got here. Also, I wonder how long it'll be before the rest of them realise that we're alone together with their injured colleague. A tenner on them getting stuck in the door."
Lily rolled her eyes as she followed him. "No bet."
Harry hummed in agreement and dropped his bag at the side of the bed. He surveyed the man lying tucked up in front of him. He didn't need to use legilimency to know that something was terribly wrong with him.
"All right then."
He gripped Jeff's wrist to measure his pulse. Lily was silent behind him. He hummed again and sat on the edge of the bed, moving Jeff's arm across his chest so Harry'd have enough room at his shoulder.
Placing his fingertips at certain points on Jeff's head – and feeling like a Vulcan whilst doing it – Harry closed his eyes and concentrated. Sending out his magic in small controllable bursts to try and find the origin of the stroke.
He was also trying desperately not to remember the last time he had performed this particular task. Lily, lying sprawled on the floor, her eyes open and glassy reminding him of those that had fallen on the battlefields of his old life. Peter panicking beside him. He, desperately reaching for her, trying anything to fix it.
It had been the first time Harry had seen Peter not being one hundred per cent in control. And the way Peter had clutched Lily to him when it was all over. The way Peter had looked at him…
Harry's breath hitched and he pushed away his memories.
This was not the time. He was in a very delicate situation. One distraction, one lapse in concentration could lead to a large wave of magic which could then lead to a total wipe of the synapsis. Brain dead didn't even begin to describe it.
The door to the room burst open and slammed into the wall. Harry jumped and almost lost control.
That stupid, ignorant, son of a –
"Shut up." Harry hissed, his heart pounding, eyes still closed. Fuck, if he hadn't've been expecting something moronic like this from pretty boy then Hollister would be dead. By his hand.
Harry did not like to be the one to kill people. Accidentally or not.
"You don't talk-" Ryland started again but was muffled. Probably by Lily.
He breathed deep, finding his centre once again and trying to ignore the muffled protests of a stupid soldier.
His magic vibrated as it ran up against a clot. It vibrated again when it found a tear in the lining between skull and brain. Two things. The tear came first. Harry concentrated on the strand of magic linked to the wound, controlling it to repair the injury and then banish the blood and fluid that had gathered and had been putting pressure on the brain.
He checked and rechecked but it seemed to be good as new. Good. Time for the clot then. This was a little trickier. He needed to banish it, but he needed to do so precisely. If he was off by a fraction of a millimetre then he'd banish grey matter as well and that just wouldn't turn out well.
"Absolute silence." He warned, barely aware of his surroundings, before sinking back into his magic.
Reconnecting with the strand of magic was the easy part. He didn't know how long it took until he was happy with the calculations, but when he performed the tiny vanishing spell, only the clot disappeared.
Unfortunately the tissue around the clot had died. There was nothing Harry could do about that. He had been called too late, unlike the situation with Lily where she'd collapsed right in front of him.
Doing one last careful sweep of Hollister's head revealed no hidden surprises.
He brought himself back out slowly. He was only slightly surprised to find himself exhausted. That he was tired; no. It was the level of tiredness that had him blinking. Glazing down at Hollister's peaceful face, he removed his fingers, wincing as they immediately began to cramp up on him.
He rolled his shoulders and turned in place to face the rest of the room's occupants.
They were staring at him, impatient for news. Harry was mildly amused to see Ryland standing in the corner, sulking.
Before he was inundated with questions he pre-empted them. "He had a clot and a bleed. I fixed both but…" he trailed off and shrugged, "it was too long for me to save all the tissue. There was some minor…" he frowned, not knowing how to put it.
"Is Jeff going to be okay?" One of the men asked. Harry didn't know his name.
"He should be. I'm guessing the only reason he isn't waking up right now is because he's still trapped in his own mind. Not because of the injuries."
"Is there going to be any lasting consequences?"
Harry turned to face Ryland. One thing pretty boy had going for him was that he cared about his men. Harry sighed.
"Yes. Some of the brain tissue was starved too long and died. We won't know how much Hollister has been affected until he wakes up…though I'd venture to say there'll probably be some slurring of speech. Maybe even loss of feeling in the left side of his body."
Ryland looked stricken and even Harry felt bad. He knew exactly what it felt like to see people injured for him.
He turned back to glance at Jeff, looking for all the world like he was sleeping peacefully.
The only difference was that Jeff was still alive. Everyone Harry knew was dead and gone.