"But though Death searched for the third brother for many years, he was never able to find him. It was only when he attained a great age that the youngest brother finally took off the Cloak of Invisibility and gave it to his son. And then he greeted Death as an old friend and went with him gladly, and, equals, they parted this life." - J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
He never knocked on the door when he came to visit.
The door was always locked and required at least fifteen countercharms in the middle of the night, like now, and there was no sense in making his father answer the door every time he stopped by when he was over just as often as he was home.
The house was quiet. The arrangement of the living room hadn't changed since he had arrived decades ago, although the furniture and carpet had all been replaced at least once due to various incidents. He glanced around, silently listening to his magic to make sure nothing was wrong, then walked to the back door and slid it open.
Within minutes, a timber rattlesnake appeared on the patio, mostly masked in shadow. Harry, he hissed in greeting.
"Everyone doing okay?"
Always. Are you staying long?
"No. But it's nice to see you."
The rattlesnake, a great-grandchild of Kiyo's, slipped off the patio and back into the grass. Harry closed the door and settled at the kitchen table to wait.
He'd barely had time to contemplate whether or not he should make tea when Jack loped into the room, muscular body making no sound on the carpeted floor of the living room nor the tiled kitchen despite his size. Harry swore he was seeing more grey and white in Jack's fur each time he saw him. He stood up, becoming human at the same time he slowed to a halt.
Harry took his hand, and both of them vanished from the kitchen. When Harry opened his eyes, they were standing in a graveyard. In the summer daylight, it would have been beautiful with the flowers and foliage that the gardeners had taken such care of.
Jack had an extendable pouch attached to his belt. He stuck his hand in it and pulled out a whiskey bottle. Without saying anything, he opened it up and dumped half of it on the grave they had come to stand in front of.
Harry snickered. Jack took a swig of the whiskey bottle and passed it to Harry, who swallowed the same amount before upending the rest on the grave.
"Waste of a good whiskey," Jack said.
"His dead body will still appreciate it more than us," Harry pointed out, eyes flickering over the top of the headstone. Ethan Robert Hotchner.
Jack wrinkled his nose. "Yeah, I really hate that crap."
"Ready to go back?"
"No, we need to make another stop first."
Harry groaned. "Please, please don't do this to me."
"It's not my fault you cry every time we go."
"You do too!"
"I never said I didn't!"
He grabbed onto Harry's arm before Harry could protest further and apparated them away again. They arrived in another cemetery, but both sat on the grave immediately, plopping down without any decorum.
"He'd laugh at us for this," Harry mumbled irritably, putting his elbows on his knees and resting his chin in his palms.
"Nah, he'd ask us to share and then poke fun at all the mistakes we made in the sauce," Jack said. He opened the pouch again and pulled out a large Tupperware container and two forks. "I'd just like to point out that he, Sean, and you all taught me to cook and your favorite past times have consistently been making fun of my cooking."
"Not our fault you burn everything." Harry took the forks while Jack opened the Tupperware.
"I don't burn everything."
"Yeah, I suppose. You haven't burned the water yet."
Jack flicked him in the forehead and stuck his tongue out, simultaneously setting the lid aside and snagging a fork back from Harry.
"What time are Dad and Uncle Sean expecting us?"
"I don't know," Harry sighed.
"Aren't you supposed to know everything, with all your fingers in every pie?" Jack chided.
"No, I just know a bunch of maniacs, and together we have our collective fingers in all the pies by specializing in what we know and do."
"So shouldn't one of your specialties be your family schedule?"
"Nah, my go-to guy for that is Dad."
"...Dad remembers these things about half as often as you do..."
Harry stuck his fork in the Tupperware and twirled it. He pretended not to notice when Jack growled irritably at the pasta sauce that spun off and landed on his hand. "That explains why I just show up whenever I feel like it at his house. Statistically speaking, I have a one in three chance of arriving on the right day of an event I forgot about."
"Are you making an explanation for why you arrived seven hours late to Garcia's fifty-fifth birthday party?"
"I don't know what you're talking about, surely."
"That's because you forgot about the party."
Harry smirked and stuck his fork in his mouth. He made a show of tasting the pasta. "Hmm. Hmmmm. Hmmmmmm."
"Shut up or I'll shove more down your throat." He glanced down for a moment to scoop up a sausage. "Plans for world domination next week?"
"Why?" Harry asked, mouth full. "I practically run it already. The only person I could arguably steal it from would be Garcia. She's got just as many contacts but just doesn't act on them."
"Point. What're you going to do with the world you've got?"
Harry chewed for a moment. "I don't know. We're still transitioning slowly, and it probably doesn't need me anymore, but... Well, it's my brain child. I want to be there while it grows."
Both of them jumped as someone appeared in front of them. Jack had a mouth packed with spaghetti as he looked up at the newcomer.
"I should've known," Henry said and sat down next to them. His knees cracked. "Shut up," he added before either of them could say anything.
"It reflects badly on my own age if I call you old," Harry pointed out. "Spaghetti?"
Henry pulled out a covered bowl from his satchel. "I brought chicken parmesan."
Jack whimpered as Henry pulled off the cover and freed the aroma. "Okay, half here and half at the next stop?"
The other two nodded in agreement. Henry stowed his meal away and conjured a fork to eat Jack's food with the Hotchners. "How long have you guys been here?"
"Less than five minutes. We didn't think anyone else would be stopping by," Harry said. "Not since everyone is going to be at our house in a couple hours anyway."
"Not everyone," Henry corrected. "That's why I stopped by to see the ones who couldn't make it."
Jack took a breath to respond, then broke down on the exhale, sobbing over his fork of spaghetti and tomato sauce with sausage bits. He hiccupped painfully.
"I wasn't first this year!" Harry said.
Henry rolled his eyes at Harry and turned to Jack, rubbing his arm comfortingly. "It's okay. I cry most of the time I come here. Just take a couple of deep breaths, and-" He made the mistake of glancing at Harry for help. "Oh, not you too!"
Harry's face was buried behind both hands. His fork was lying forgotten in the Tupperware. "Don't look at me," Harry begged, shoulders shaking.
"You two have got to be kidding me. It's been years!" His phone rang. He cast a silencing charm on it.
"But- But he's not coming to dinner tonight with- with everyone!" Jack gasped out. "And- And everyone else is going to profile each other shamelessly, and- and you know that he and Garcia would have been the gossipers if- if he were still here." He heaved in a huge breath.
Harry let out a pathetic sound. His hands were still masking his face.
Henry groaned. "Some teenager just hurried past the cemetery gate. They're probably going to call the police about a group of old guys crying on the ground in front of a grave."
"He'll call Life Alert for us," Jack managed to get out.
"We're already in a cemetery. The police are just going to ask us which plot we want and get the gravediggers," Harry disagreed, sniffling.
Henry put a hand down, running his fingers through the grass beneath them. "Sorry," he said. "We'll have to come back for you another time, when the police aren't coming to arrest us for breaking into the cemetery."
"You're crying too!" Jack said, pointing in accusation.
Harry waved his wand over the setting in front of them. The forks cleaned themselves off and the lid went back onto the Tupperware. Harry handed it all to Jack, who packed it up into his bag again. He stood up, wincing only once, and patted the tombstone in farewell.
"Miss you," he whispered, feeling his heart tug painfully in his chest.
"Next stop?" Henry asked, voice cracking.
"I don't like getting older," Jack complained. "Everyone dies and everything hurts."
Harry took both of their arms this time and pulled them through space to the next spot.
This time, their interruption was waiting for them. Blaise, Ginny, and Luna were sitting around a Monopoly board, and all of them looked up when the Hotchner and LaMontagne-Jareau trio appeared.
"Why are you crying?" Blaise asked slowly.
"I'm not crying, you're crying," Jack wept.
"He's our third stop tonight," Harry said, trying to take a deep breath. "Okay, okay, I've got this." He sat down next to Luna. Jack dropped down next to him, shoulders slumped pathetically, and Henry took the final spot between Jack and Blaise, completing the lopsided circle.
"Are you guys okay?" Ginny asked doubtfully. Her hair was, remarkably, still half-red after the years.
"No. Don't talk to me. I'm not here." Ginny reached over the board and patted Jack sympathetically on the head. He responded by pulling out forks and the Tupperware. Ginny took out her own bowl of Greek salad and Henry pulled out the chicken parmesan.
"Any other stops for you three tonight?" Blaise asked before he bit into Henry's dish.
"No, I think this is enough agony," Henry said. "I just meant to visit these two."
"Who was the third?" Ginny asked the Hotchners.
"Grandpa Asshole," Jack said.
"I always forget you guys never got along with him," Blaise said. "It's so unlike your family."
Harry glanced at his phone as it vibrated, then hushed it and put it back in his pocket. Jack's almost immediately rang after his, but he too dismissed it.
"Could be important," Luna said.
"It's three in the morning," Harry said. "If it were really important, they'd know better than to do anything less than break my door down to wake me up. Anyway, why are you guys here at this time?"
"We always go around and visit everyone before a party," Ginny explained. "It feels appropriate. What about you?"
"Dad's still an early riser, and he'll make us clean the whole house and get everything done so there's no chance we'll get to sneak off to do this later."
"You guys do have magic," Blaise pointed out.
"We don't cook or do a lot of the chores with magic," Jack said, still hiccupping.
"It's more satisfying not to use magic," Harry said. He was finally wiping away the last of his tears.
Ginny was still watching them with amusement all over her face. "Why does he bother hosting at his house when someone else is going to do everything for him anyway?"
"It's an excuse to get us to clean the house without having to actually ask us," Jack said. Now he was wheezing.
"His arthritis is acting up more than it used to," Harry explained.
"Can't he just take medicine for that?"
"I know this is hard to believe, but my dad can be stubborn sometimes."
She smirked at him. "Your dad? I can't believe my ears. Someone pass the spaghetti this way." Before she took a bite, she asked, "Who's cooking for the party?"
"Sean and Harry," Jack said.
"I'll come help you guys clean if I get free food out of it."
"Thanks," Harry said, "but you probably need to get back home and I think Dad likes being able to order us around without an audience."
The sun was just beginning to poke above the treeline when the trio landed back in the Hotchner kitchen. Instead of an empty room, they were greeted with by a cluster of furiously concerned faces.
"I take it I'm about to learn what all the missed calls on my phone were about," Harry said slowly.
"I didn't hear my phone buzz," Jack automatically interjected.
"I surrender," Henry added.
"You three are so dead," Garcia slowly enunciated. "So. Dead."
"What's wrong?" Harry asked.
"Bellatrix Lestrange was sighted nearby," Morgan said.
"Very. Kingsley was meeting with the local politicians and spotted her."
Harry glanced at the papers sprawled over the tables and counters for the paper-enthusiasts. The rest were using various methods of technology to scan files and other information sources. "...Right. Well, we'll leave you to your profiling, and we'll start cleaning the house."
"Wait, I want to hear more," Jack protested.
Harry grabbed the back of his shirt and Henry's. "Yeah, but I'm still responsible for keeping you alive and bringing up the fact that we didn't answer our phones for three hours is definitely going to get you killed so how about we start in the dining room?"
It was only when Jack was vacuuming that Henry asked Harry, "Do you think they'll ever stop profiling?"
"Never," Harry said with a grin. "Never."
"All but three of them have retired!"
"Only because they couldn't physically keep up with their job anymore," Harry said. "Besides, they all still consult often, and they use their skills in whatever they do now." After a moment of hesitation, he said, "I always thought that was why Rossi wrote."
The tiled or wooden floors had been swept and washed, the carpets had been vacuumed, and the house had been cleaned in what small ways were possible when the doorbell rang at a reasonable time in the morning. Jack answered it while Harry and Henry were discussing whether or not they should tell the BAU to move out of the kitchen and into the dining room so they could start cooking.
"Uncle Sean! Come on in!"
Sean stepped into the house. Henry and Harry could hear him taking off his shoes. After a pause, he asked, "Who died?"
"You're going to have to be more specific," Jack said dryly.
"Everyone's here and way too quiet."
"Oh, a case came up."
"You're all retired!" Sean shouted towards the kitchen.
"I'm not!" Reid protested immediately.
"Come in here and I'll fight you with my walker!" Garcia shouted after him.
"My mom's not the sort to holler across the house," Henry called, "but she does still work with the FBI." They could hear her snickering in the kitchen.
"Lestrange showed up. They're trying to take her down," Jack explained as he walked with Sean into the dining room, where Henry and Harry were at.
"Lestrange? Isn't she the one who killed Aaron, like, the twelfth time or something?" Sean asked.
"Yeah," Harry said. "She's been lying low since the end of the war."
"Then why did she come back now?"
"I think you'd be better off asking the profilers in the other room about that," Harry said. "Now, incidentally enough, you're just in time to help us. While you're asking them, politely shoo them from the kitchen so we can start cooking."
Sean gave him a mock salute. "On it!"
"Where were you guys this morning?" Sean asked an hour later when they had switched rooms with the BAU. "JJ said they couldn't get a hold of any of you."
"We went to go visit Rossi and Gideon," Jack said.
"At three in the morning?"
"Don't you dare question my life choices."
"I won't. I have too much pride to dwell on matters like that."
Morgan hurried into the room. "Guys, we'll be right back. We just need to check something out."
"Oh, for fuck's sake," Sean groaned. He gestured irritably at Harry. "At least take the Light Lord with you! We've got one so we might as well use him."
"I'll be faster than a car," Harry pointed out.
"Hotch, do you mind if we bring your kid?" Morgan called back to the dining room.
"Tell them to stay here! Lestrange will use him against us if she can!"
"Does he even know which one I was asking about?" Morgan muttered.
"Probably doesn't care," Sean said. "Harry, it'll make me feel a lot better if you go with them anyway."
"I was already planning to."
Hotch's eyes narrowed when Harry walked towards him as they were heading out the door. "No."
"I'm coming with you," Harry responded, walking past him on Morgan's heels.
Hotch turned sharply, giving someone else his irritable displeasure. "Don't look at me!" Sean squawked. "He's your kid!"
Ahead of Harry, he saw JJ and Prentiss, neither of whom had ever gotten tired of Harry's tendency to cause exasperation after all these years, exchange grins.
"We'll be back," Hotch told everyone staying behind in his house and closed the door. He pointed at Harry, who was just about to get into Morgan's car. "Do exactly what I say and don't argue with me."
Harry stopped, one shoe in the leg space of the passenger's seat. He leaned his forearm on the roof of the car. "Now, Dad," he said, "when have I ever argued with you?"
"Almost every day for fifty years. Get in the back."
"You could've just called shotgun," Harry said, not moving while Prentiss's car started to back out of the driveway beside them.
"Harry, move your butt or they're going to be refilming Civil War about our house."
Morgan wasn't quick enough to hide an amused snort.
As Hotch took the passenger's seat and Harry settled into the back, Harry asked, "Where are we going?"
"Stake out a couple of spots we think Lestrange might be going."
"Why do you think she came back now?"
"She's probably worried she'll never get another chance to get revenge," Morgan said, glancing over his shoulder to make sure he didn't hit the mailbox. "It's likely she's suffering from a degenerative disease or curse, since we know no one is getting close to her scent."
"Why did she never come back before?"
"She took a lot of damage in the war. She might not have physically been able to for a while, and then your position was too strong to try attacking either of you. As the years passed, she would have been less interested in striking immediately, until she was told that she was running out of time."
Harry glanced back at the house they were leaving. "And you don't think she'll stop here immediately?"
"She knows there is going to be serious warding on the house. She'd try somewhere else first."
"Quantico's wards are just as strong," Harry said.
"Yeah, but I'll bet she doesn't know that," Morgan replied.
She didn't show up that day, so the group returned in the evening for dinner. Local aurors took over the case – and with it, the notes that the BAU had added, as well as their suggestions and other bits of advice for handling Lestrange – which left them free to focus on other matters if they so chose to. They did not, which meant the dinner topic was mostly about Lestrange. The non-profilers at the table just watched in amusement.
"She's not an idiot, though," Morgan said.
"Yeah, but even the smartest people do desperate things when they're backed into a corner," Elle pointed out. "Besides, she was always a little unsteady."
"Do you think they'll get her?" Sean whispered into Harry's ear, leaning down far enough that no one else could hear.
Harry's eyes flickered down the table to where Hotch was quietly talking with Reid. "I think they'll keep looking until they do, now that she's shown her face," Harry replied. "It might take a while, but they'll get her."
"Is Aaron coming out of retirement for this?"
Harry smiled. "Maybe just as a consultant."
"Has he ever stopped consulting?"
"In the way that I finally stopped being Minister of Magic."
"So you mean...he only officially stopped."
"Keep an eye on him, would you?"
"Did you really think you needed to ask that?"
Sean smirked knowingly and leaned back.
Harry stayed at the Hotchner house even after the party clean up. His and Jack's rooms had never been cleaned out since they were over regularly, and he sank into his bed gratefully after his long day. About a half hour later, he got up again, checked the wards on the house, and then tried once more to get back to sleep. Shuffling down the hall, stairs, and first floor aroused his attention, and less than twenty minutes later he was following the smell of freshly brewed coffee into the kitchen.
"If I Vanished your coffee and your coffee machine," Harry said from the doorway, "would you sleep?"
"I'd just go over these files more grumpily," Hotch replied honestly, not even looking up from the file he was scanning through.
Harry sighed and sat down next to him. "Pass me some." Hotch handed him three files without even looking. "Rookwood...Rosier...Avery... You think she met up with some old acquaintances?"
"The other way around. If they heard she was on the move, they would go to her. All three have disappeared from where they were supposed to be within the last four months."
It was early in the morning when Hotch made a grab for his coffee and completely missed. Harry turned to tell him to go to sleep and promptly slipped off his chair, barely catching himself in time.
"Bed," Hotch said. Before Harry could protest, he added, "Both of us. We'll go over this again after breakfast."
As Harry stood, he snorted, "During breakfast, more like."
Hotch smiled slightly, and that was enough of an agreement for Harry.
"You still too stubborn to let me apparate you up?"
"I'll deteriorate entirely if I don't keep moving in any way I can," Hotch said. Harry pretended not to notice the way his hands tightened as well as they could around the back of his chair and the edge of the table as he pushed himself up, or the faint tremble that ran through his body at the strain of standing after sitting in one position for so long. "I don't have the magic you've got." With complete objectivity and no jealously, he added, "You'll probably be over a hundred by the time you have back aches."
"You know, most of your arthritis is probably from long hours hunched over and chasing bad guys."
"You're probably not wrong." He moved slowly out of the kitchen. Harry kept pace with him. "Worth it."
"Your body would be doing a lot better if you got more sleep," Harry chided. "Or, you know, took medication, magical or not."
"It wouldn't make that much of a difference."
"It would, actually. Especially the sleep thing." They took the next few paces in silence. "Is it always the same dream?"
"No. I can never communicate with anyone, but the people around me and what they're doing usually changes. Whatever the changes, though, they always die."
Hotch bent beside Harry, who quietly watched him turn into a leopard. It was just about the only action he could perform without hesitation or pain nowadays. The leopard form had no fewer problems with arthritis, but he was steadier at climbing the stairs and he removed the temptation for anyone walking with him to offer their arm to help him up.
Harry moved a couple stairs behind, not bothering at conversation when Hotch was done talking. He kept his eyes fixed on his father in one of the rare times of the day that he could get away with unabashedly making sure his footing was sure and he wasn't going to fall. Hotch couldn't see him do it when Harry was behind him so he never complained.
At the top of the stairs, Harry turned the opposite direction as Hotch and went towards his room. "Good night," he called behind him.
A couple of moments passed as Hotch made it to his own room and transformed back into a human. "Good night, Harry."
In the morning, as per usual at his dad's house, the first thing Harry did, even before he went to the bathroom, was to go wake Hotch up. Jack did the same on the days he stayed there, which sometimes overlapped with Harry's but more often than not covered the days that Harry wasn't at his father's house.
Harry patted his shoulder. Hotch's eyes flickered open immediately. "I know you probably wanted to sleep more," he said, which was a lie because Hotch hated sleeping like he hated thunderstorms that played with his joints and dark lord lieutenants who came back after years of hibernation to come near his family, "but it's almost ten o'clock."
Hotch sat up. "If you get breakfast," he said, "I'll get the mail."
"I could just summon it."
"Or I could go get it."
Harry rolled his eyes. "Magic is amazing."
It wasn't yet lunchtime when their house was, once again, filled with profilers and one tech analyst. Harry couldn't pretend to be surprised that they had all gathered to track down the last of the Death Eaters. What had been the BAU split up into four separate groups to follow their missing Unsubs, hoping that someone might find something that could lead them to the rest of the group.
Harry left them to it. Even if he could have helped, they were having too much fun for him to cut their chase close sooner. Lestrange and the others wouldn't kill anyone, too focused on coming after the BAU, and Harry could keep an eye on everyone in danger from the kitchen. He put his efforts to keeping the group fed. It was one of Gideon's recipes for lunch and one of Rossi's for dinner. Garcia smiled at him, and he knew she understood even if the rest were too focused on the psychopaths and sociopaths they were hunting.
Morgan didn't say anything, but he followed Harry to the kitchen with dirty plates after dinner. "Has Hotch been sleeping?"
Harry let out a soft huff of amusement. "No, of course not. But that's not unusual."
"He's snappy and distant."
Harry stilled, the plates in his hands halfway to the sink. After a moment, he set them down. "I think he knows this is his last case," he said quietly. "To work in any manner, as an agent or a consultant."
"What do you mean?" Morgan asked without an instant's pause to try to reason it out on his own.
"You already know," Harry said. He took Morgan's plates from him and set them on top of the ones already in the sink. For no reason other than the sake of doing it, he flipped the faucet on with his wand. Morgan went back to the dining room without saying anything else.
Two weeks passed. They weren't any closer to catching Lestrange or any of the others, but they weren't as stressed as they could have been when they weren't killing anyone. As far as the team knew, the four were unaware that they were being sought after.
Hotch was definitely getting more restless. Harry heard him up at all hours, and it became part of his daily routine to stay up with him into the early morning before forcing him to bed. Any sooner than midnight was impossible. He snapped at Harry for it and for any other attempts Harry made to hamper him, and his resistance was as strong as it had ever been.
One night, as the bags under Hotch's eyes were getting deeper and his temper was getting shorter, Harry pulled his wand out from his pocket and prepared to stun him. Before he could even raise his wand to start the spell, Hotch turned, shot to the ground in the same moment he shifted into a leopard, and slammed his shoulder into Harry's legs. Harry toppled over with a surprised shout, his wand went flying out of his hand, and he found himself pinned by two paws on his chest while yellow eyes glared down at him. The snarling muzzle was white with age.
"Let me up," Harry whispered.
A tense moment passed. Then one of Hotch's ears flickered, as if dismissing a fly or hiding uncertainty, and then he stepped off Harry, turning his back to him immediately and returning to his files without saying anything. Harry collected his wand from behind the couch and watched over Hotch silently until four, when Hotch was exhausted enough that he didn't put up any protest at being sent to bed.
Harry felt like his head had barely hit his own pillow when he was being shaken awake. "Harry- Harry!"
He jolted up, throwing aside his exhaustion. "What? What's wrong?!"
Hotch stared at him, eyes wide. "...Never mind," he breathed. "Never mind."
Harry frowned in concern, throwing the blanket aside. "You need more sleep," he said.
"The team's coming over... Lestrange, we need to get her."
"She won't get to any of us while we're here, and she definitely won't get past me. You need rest if you're actually going to catch her."
"And I'm going to get you a Dreamless Draught so you'll stop having that bloody nightmare."
Hotch's entire expression twitched in irritation at the mention of a medication. "I don't need it."
"You thought I couldn't hear you because you were stuck in limbo or I was dead, didn't you?" Harry snapped. "That's why you woke me up. To make sure we were both okay."
Hotch's lips pressed into a firm line as he glared at Harry.
"I'll be right back."
It took him less than ten minutes to get ahold of the potion. Hotch was sitting on Harry's bed when he returned and Harry pressed the vial into his hand. Neither of them said anything. Hotch stared furiously at Harry; Harry looked back determinedly. Finally, gritting his teeth, Hotch tossed back the contents of the vial and shoved the empty glass back at him. Harry tucked it into his pocket and reached out at the right moment to catch his father as the potion took effect. He lowered him to the pillow and covered him with the blanket.
Someone apparated into the house just as he finished tucking him in. Harry walked out of his room, wand at the ready out of habit, but Jack was waiting for him on the couch downstairs.
"Is Dad okay?" Jack whispered as Harry sat down next to him.
"I think he's terrified that he's losing his mind and that he knows he wouldn't have a clue if he were," Harry murmured back.
Fear was etched across Jack's expression but he didn't ask the question that was burning in his heart.
"He's fine. But he's not sleeping, and it's messing with his head just like it messes with anyone's."
"Is he still not sleeping because of that stupid dream?" Jack snapped, fear dissolved by growing annoyance.
"You probably don't remember," Harry said, trying to stay calm, "but Dad has good reason to be afraid of being invisible."
"I do remember that!" Jack hissed.
"I just mean that you don't remember how he reacted when he got back," Harry said quickly. "He never admitted to me that he ever had problems with it until years afterward, and it took him months to visibly recover. I'm sure he still had issues later that he hid from everyone."
Jack's face pinched, looking remarkably like Hotch's had minutes before when Harry had handed him something he hadn't wanted.
"He can't keep functioning like this."
"I know. I'm going to stay here until the case is over."
"That could be months and you need to show your face in Britain at some point."
"This is more important," Harry said quietly. "Britain can run itself without my interference." He gave a small smile, and Jack's frustration with him ebbed. "But I'd appreciate your help."
"Idiot," Jack muttered. "Of course I'll stick around."
Harry got up to start making breakfast. He glanced back towards Jack as he asked, "Snape told you that I asked him for the draught, I'm guessing?"
Hotch woke up a couple hours later. Harry was reading a book in a chair beside him, feet up on the edge of the bed.
"Lestrange hasn't shown up because she's waiting for one of us be alone and weak," Hotch said without any introduction. "We've been moving in groups because we've been looking for her, even if she hasn't known that. If she really does have a degenerative disease or something similar that means she's running out of time, she won't be strong enough to risk taking on more than one of us at once. Her best bet would be to take me out immediately, since she's most infuriated at my family but she doesn't stand a chance now of being able to kill you or Jack."
Harry blinked at him.
"If we give you a polyjuice potion of me, you could probably pull me off well enough that she'd come after you. We'd be waiting for her, of course, but even if she got close you could fight her easily. That would be the quickest way to lure her out, and once we have her we could find out where the other three are, if they're not tailing her already. They might be moving as a group now to make sure they can finish what they started."
"Well," Harry said, closing his book, "isn't sleep a wonderful thing?"
Hotch rolled his eyes at him as he threw back the blanket. "It was what you said before the sleep, actually. You said 'She definitely won't get past me.' You were right."
"Damn straight," Harry muttered as he followed Hotch out the door.
There was very little to it, in the end.
Harry took the potion. His father was talking to him through an invisible earpiece the whole time, mostly telling Harry he didn't grumble under his breath that much. Harry could hear the rest of the team laughing near him while he tried not to grin.
The aurors caught Rookwood, Rosier, and Avery behind Lestrange. She hardly noticed, too focused on Harry. The only thing that didn't go according to plan happened then – Harry had been loading groceries into the car, in the moment they had expected Lestrange to attack him, and then instead of an auror stepping forward to arrest Lestrange Jack leapt from the trunk, startling Harry badly enough that he dropped to the ground, and slammed into Lestrange. He snarled, lupine teeth inches from her neck.
"Incarcerous," Harry said, waving his wand at her. Ropes bound her, slipping around Jack without tying him as well, and she turned her head to glare at him. "Expelliarmus." He caught her wand. "Jack, you could have waited with everyone else."
Jack swished his tail in a manner that Harry was sure was supposed to be interpreted as a very rude hand gesture.
Harry stood up. The team was already on the street, heading towards them quickly. Lestrange was put on her feet just as they reached Harry. Hotch turned his head, meeting Lestrange's gaze briefly, then turning away in casual disregard. She opened her mouth, but before she could scream at him, the auror holding her arm apparated.
"Probably the fastest, cleanest end to a case you guys have ever had," Harry said, brushing himself off and now eagerly awaiting to turn back into his regular body.
"For a case of this complexity, definitely," Prentiss replied.
"I'd say let's party," Morgan said, "but..."
"I want a nap, screw you," Elle flatly said. "I haven't slept in forever."
"All of you have insomnia problems and are going to end up with health issues if you don't already," Harry said, gesturing at all of them.
"Please don't speak with that much sass in Hotch's voice," Reid pleaded. "It's so unnerving."
"Okay, how about party at..." Garcia checked her watch. "Five. Enough time to sleep and shower and then get back to Hotch's."
After a rumble of assent, Harry apparated Hotch and Jack back to the house with him. "I think that sleep thing is going to apply to us too," Harry said.
"Nah, I'm ordering pizza for lunch, catching up on Doctor Who, and then getting ready for that party," Jack said. He nudged Hotch as he passed. "Anything you want in particular?"
"Not really. I'm sure you'll pick well."
Jack flashed him a grin over his shoulder.
Harry groaned in relief as he felt the potion wear off. "Okay, Dad, I like you and all, but I officially don't like being you." He moved towards the stairs, already planning a change of clothes.
"Wait, both of you," Hotch said. Jack stopped a couple of steps from the kitchen; Harry paused with one foot on the bottom stair. "I know I've been...rough the last few weeks-"
"We know," the boys chorused, smirking.
Hotch didn't dignify that with a response. "And you both have still stuck with me. You've been patient and kind throughout this ordeal."
"It wasn't really an ordeal, though," Jack said. "I mean, it sucked and all, but we knew you guys were going to catch her."
"Shh, he's trying to apologize."
Jack rolled his eyes and went into the kitchen. "You two apologize over the weirdest things!"
"I just meant to say thank you!" Hotch tried.
"Considering you literally spoon fed me for years when I was incapable of doing no more than planting my face in my food and sucking it up, you don't need to say thank you for a long time," Jack called back.
"I have never heard a more disturbing description of babies eating, Jack, so thanks for that image," Harry said.
He came back downstairs a few minutes later. A part of him had expected Hotch to be asleep on the couch, but he was in the kitchen talking to Jack with more positive energy than Harry had seen in a long while. Harry leaned back against the counter, arms folded and smiling as he watched the two.
At the appointed time, the rest of the team showed up. Elle and Jack somehow ended up wrestling in their lupine forms in the backyard. Harry saw Hotch look out the window at them once, without any sign of nostalgia for the times when he could run and play like that, then went right back to joking with Prentiss, JJ and Reid. Harry turned to his own conversation, asking Morgan and Garcia for ideas to get back at the Weasley twins for the prank war that had been started between them and the Hotchner children.
The Hotchner pair had already admitted that they were going to lose terribly, but they could hardly just admit defeat.
Harry felt lethargic by the end of dinner, but it was a bone-deep contentment that filled him rather than weariness. Instead of jumping up to clear the dishes before anyone else could in his own home, he waved his wand for once and sent all of them to the kitchen. Hotch arched an amused eyebrow at him before returning his attention to Morgan's story. Harry surveyed the room for a moment. There was a painful ache in his heart, painful but warm, and the thought crossed his mind that every hardship up until now had been worth it for this peace.
The group stayed late into the night. It was one when Reid and Elle finally left. There was some cleaning up to be done around the house that Harry would have usually done while everyone was settling after desert, but just this once he thought it could wait.
Hotch was on the couch, talking with Jack. Harry settled on his other side.
"I think I'm done consulting," Hotch said.
Jack and Harry were quiet for a moment.
"What else are you going to do in your retirement?" Jack asked, baffled.
Hotch shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe it's time to find something new. I just don't think it would feel right, after finally wrapping up the last few strings with this case. It was strange to finish it so efficiently."
"I should think you'd be pretty good at cleaning things up after all the practice you've had," Harry pointed out.
Jack let out an enormous yawn. "Well, that's a matter for the morning, I think. I'm going to bed."
"Right behind you," Hotch agreed, getting to his feet. For a moment, he looked just as young and full of life as he had when he'd dragged Harry behind a car to protect him from the Woodsmarked Killer. He'd been at the beginning of a new journey then, even if he hadn't known it. Harry wondered if this was the start of a new story too, but he couldn't help but think that his own identity was so inextricably tied to Hotch's profiling and BAU and deranged criminals that he wouldn't be with Hotch in this next one.
Harry stood up beside him. Jack ascended the stairs while Hotch and Harry made their way to the first step. Harry paused, but Hotch didn't transform.
Hotch put one hand on the railing and held out the other. "Would you mind?" he asked.
"Of course not," Harry said, clasping his hand. He felt the rough edge of a scar on his father's palm, one that hadn't faded in decades.
Hotch took the first step, leaning hard on both the railing and Harry. His muscles were shaking against Harry's touch, but he didn't complain and Harry, for once, didn't offer to apparate them up to the top.
He only let go when they were standing on the second floor. Before he could step away, Hotch pulled him into a light hug. "Good night," he said and released him.
"Good night," Harry said.
He woke up abruptly, cinching off a scream. The details of the nightmare vanished as he saw something leaning directly overhead. After a few panicked moments, he realized the large shape above him was a familiar leopard. The light flipped on, and he saw Jack standing in his doorway, smirking.
"Damn, Dad," Jack said. "I didn't know you could still move that fast. You were breaking down his door before I'd even gotten mine open."
"Did I wake everyone?" Harry groaned.
"Yeah," Jack said shamelessly.
Hotch made a dismissive noise.
"Sorry," he said.
"We all do it," Jack said. "Okay, now that we know Lestrange isn't strangling Harry in his sleep... You two have a good rest of your night."
"Yeah," Harry said. "Maybe we'll actually sleep through it."
Hotch stayed where he was, staring down at Harry in concern. Harry hadn't had a screaming nightmare in years; it had probably taken him off guard.
"You staying in here tonight, Dad?" Jack asked. Hotch's tail twitched. "All right." He turned the lights off and closed the door behind him. As he walked back to his own room, Harry felt Hotch move off him and stretch out on the bed. With every shift of his muscles, a tremble ran through the blankets.
"You okay?" Harry whispered.
Hotch huffed at him. His tail flicked Harry's side for a moment.
"All right, then." He turned over to face Hotch, took a deep breath, and closed his eyes again.
In the morning, he knew something was wrong before he even opened his eyes.
It wasn't an earth-shattering fear, like when he'd known Greyback was after Jack. It was a mute resignation.
No matter what trauma was unfolding in the world, though, he knew he had to wake Hotch up. It was just what he did these days. Once that was done, they could figure out what was up and how to handle it.
So he opened his eyes. Hotch was still there, lying next to him. His expression, so tense two days before and so excited last night, was entirely at ease. His fur, despite his frantic dart down the hallway in the night, was perfectly tamed as always. His ears and nose, both rimmed with white and grey, were still in his rest.
Harry was reluctant to disturb him, but he didn't want to risk leaving only for Hotch to wake while he was gone. He put his hand on Hotch's shoulder.
And then, with a jerk of understanding, he realized what was so wrong.
Morgan came to sit beside Harry on the couch. "His heart gave out," he said quietly. "Jack told me what happened last night. The shock from his sprint was probably too much for him."
"I'm a light lord," Harry whispered. "What did he think I was in danger from?"
Morgan wrapped his arm around Harry's shoulder. "He was probably thinking you were his twelve-year-old son, in danger from everything all over again, no matter how old you've actually been getting."
"I'm not twelve anymore. I didn't need his protection."
"I don't think he gave a damn about what you thought you needed, Harry," Morgan said. "I think he just always wanted to be there for you, even if you had everything under control."
Morgan looked up, nodded faintly at someone, then stood and, with a final reassuring squeeze to Harry's shoulder, left him. Jack took his place.
Harry turned and met his gaze.
"I knew he'd never stop profiling," Jack whispered. "I knew he was lying."
Harry leaned against him. "I'll bet he's probably profiling Death."
Jack smiled ever so slightly. "You know... I think you're right. Are you worried about him getting stuck in limbo again?"
"No. This feels...final. And he knows that his time was up."
"His time was up years ago when he first died."
"No. His time was up when he was damn well ready to go," Harry said. "And I think he was, last night. I think he knew he was ready."
No medical treatment, blood wards, or Hallows. He was all right with that.
Death swept her arm out to the side, motioning on. She tilted her head curiously, then gestured with one hand back in the direction he had come from.
She was offering him a choice. Somewhere along the way, he had earned her respect enough to be granted that opportunity.
There were voices behind him. Someone was crying.
But there were voices ahead of him as well, voices he hadn't heard in far too long.
"No," he said calmly. "I don't need to return anymore."
Death extended her hand. Hotch took it without hesitation and didn't look back.
Author's Note: I hesitated to add this chapter because I wanted a happy ending, but A) the story was about Harry's and Hotch's relationship from beginning to finale and B) I think it was a bittersweet ending and I think it was important to see that everyone did turn out okay after everything. And my wonderful beta Rowen Morningstar practically threatened me so there was that too.
This is the final chapter of this story! Thank you all for sticking with me for this long and reviewing or lurking. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it!
If you're looking for more, the outtakes and other clips are in a story called Extras from Fate and Choice, which I just posted so you could find it easily.