"Neville's portkey arrived in the international arrival area as expected," said Padma. "We've moved him to holding for the time being, until we can get some specialists in to see him. I'm holding the greycloaks up in form-filling until you can get back."
"Thanks Padma," said Harry gratefully. "And thanks for sending that replacement mirror along. You're a champion."
He was sitting on the balcony of his hotel room, finally taking the opportunity to enjoy a little of the early morning sun. The events of the evening had left Zatanna emotionally exhausted, and she had returned home as soon as she had deposited Harry and Neville at his hotel room. Despite all the action the night before, he hadn't been able to sleep, and so he opted instead to sit out and watch the sun rise. It all seemed so strange. After everything that had happened, it almost felt like an insult that the streets below sounded just as busy and full of life as always.
"When do you think you'll be back?" she asked, watching him closely. It was the middle of the afternoon back in London, but despite the amount of work surely on her plate, Padma had raised no complaint. "It's not like you really got any kind of a holiday out of all this."
"As soon as humanly possible," said Harry, though he knew that was a lie. He could have returned home with Neville the previous night. "I've had enough of this bloody city."
Padma looked like she didn't really believe him. She did know him well after-all. "Neville said the same thing, but he also said that Gotham was a hard habit to kick."
That wasn't what it was. "This whole thing just has me tired," he said slowly. "At first it was almost fun, you know? I know I shouldn't say that being driven off bridges by suicidal maniacs is fun, but you know how boring the office work can get."
"I happen to quite enjoy the office work," said Padma, a prim smile on her face. "It's weirdos like you that seem to enjoy the spellfire. I'm sure that woman, Zatanna didn't hurt the… attraction of the whole thing."
"Yeah, sure," said Harry, really not in the mood for her friendly needling. "Look, I'll be back later today. I just need to check in with a couple of people before I go."
"Uh huh." She wiggled her eyebrows suggestively. "Well you have fun doing that then, or should I sa—"
Harry cut her off. "Bye, Padma."
The last thing he saw before her face faded out of sight was her look of disappointment, possibly tinged with concern. He wasn't sure if her worry was as a result of his determination to return, or despite it. He really didn't understand why some of his friends had become so invested in his personal life.
He sat for a few minutes longer, just appreciating the simple fact that for a few hours a least, there was nowhere he needed to be. He was broken from his dozing by the alerting charms he'd placed on the door to his suite. Probably Zatanna, he decided. Rather than get up, he simply shouted through, "Come on in!"
It wasn't Zatanna. Instead Harry was surprised to hear Winston Carruthers' thick southern drawl. "Where you at, son?" Unusually, there was no note of barely restrained frustration or clear dismissal.
"I'm on the balcony!" Harry called back, not bothering to get up to greet the man. If Carruthers had come out to Gotham to see him, and wasn't spitting mad, it had to be something big, and he really didn't have the energy for big.
A few seconds later, Carruthers stepped out onto the balcony and walked over to where Harry was seated. He leaned up against the balustrade and stared out at the city silently.
While he'd been able to enjoy the busy silence when he'd been alone, Carruthers' presence was like an itch that needed scratching. "To what do I owe the pleasure?" Harry asked eventually.
"John Constantine turned up late last night," said Carruthers, still looking away. "Had President Quahog with him and singing his praises."
He'd let himself forget about Quahog. It stood to reason that Nick had kept him around. He'd probably been somewhere else in the flat. He didn't let his surprise show, however. "Is that so?" he said blandly.
"Apparently he wasn't missing at all, just a little charms accident that your boy helped him with," said Carruthers, still looking out over the city.
"Good for him," said Harry. Obviously Quahog didn't want to appear weak by admitting to the abduction and impersonation.
They lapsed back into silence for a few minutes, both listening to the distant sounds of Gotham life.
After a little while, Carruthers glanced over. "You find your boy?"
"Yep," said Harry. "Asked him nicely to head home. People worrying about him and such." He wasn't about to admit to anything more.
"I'm sure they were," said Carruthers before laughing dryly. "So I guess you didn't have anything to do with that mess over in the Heights?"
"I have no idea what you're talking about," said Harry evenly.
"Figured," said Carruthers and bizarrely, he actually sounded satisfied with that result. "Big damn mess too, and the President wants it handled all quiet like. Wants me to throw the book at whoever it was for breaching the Statute of Secrecy. Probably just some drunk assholes setting off magical fireworks and having a falling out. Doubt we'll ever clear that up."
"Well, I'm certainly glad I wasn't there," said Harry, not really bothering to try and make it sound convincing. He knew every step of the dance Carruthers was performing. "Wouldn't want to be caught up in something like that."
Carruthers hummed in agreement. "Figured a smart dick like you wouldn't go making a mess like that. Strange thing, though, how the kid that owned the flat was meant to have disappeared a couple'a years ago. Nick Nolan, old friend of your boy's. Ain't it a small world?"
"Isn't it only," said Harry. "I wonder what happened to him."
"Well that's the thing, see," said Carruthers, leaning forwards a little. "Got word this morning that he was involved in some kinda splinching accident over in Antarctica. Messy, very messy. Seems he tried to steal the presidential chain and hopped a portkey."
"And Quahog didn't notice it had been stolen?"
"Oh, he insists it wasn't," said Carruthers, his level tone elegantly communicating his belief in that particular story. "Obviously must be a fake. Very convincing though."
Obviously Carruthers was fishing for the real story, only without wanting to ask anything potentially incriminating. "Sounds like he was up to no good then," Harry said, deciding to throw the man a bone. "Can't imagine there's many legitimate uses for an exploding presidential chain of office. Maybe in their fight he tried to threaten his friend with it, and his friend set it off while doing a runner?"
Carruthers nodded, and looked satisfied by Harry's non-confirmation. "Must'a been it," he said, nodding.
He pushed himself back upright, and was about to apparate away when he paused for a moment. "Oh, and I found this at the apartment too." He pulled out a singed pair of earmuffs with the still-visible bright-orange logo of Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes stitched into them. "Maybe you can track down their rightful owner. Might want them for questioning if you do."
Harry took them and stowed them safely away in a pocket. "Might be hard, they're a popular item."
Carruthers slapped him on the back. "Well, see what you can manage. Investigations like this one tend to go pretty slow. Now you take care, y'hear?"
"Will do," said Harry. Maybe he was even being honest. "Oh, and director? Keep an eye on Constantine for me. I wouldn't trust him as far as I can throw him."
"Oh, I have my eye on him already," said Carruthers with a grin. "If he thinks he can scoot through our laws like he did yours, he's in for one hell of a rude awakening."
Then, with that, he disapparated with a crack.
That was possibly the least confrontational conversation Harry had ever had with the man, and he came out of it feeling like he somehow owed him something. It wasn't hard to see that Carruthers thought that protecting him from Quahog's attempted cover-up was a favor he could call in later.
If he was being honest with himself, if keeping Carruthers happy meant it kept Constantine out of his country, that was a debt Harry would be willing to honour.
He stood and stretched. While his bumps, scrapes and bruises had all been healed quickly enough, he was still stiff after the previous few days of little sleep and constant activity. He'd need a holiday to recover from his holiday. A couple of his joints made satisfying little clicking noises, and he sighed in momentary relief.
There was still one more good-bye to do, and it was one he'd been putting off for more than an hour. With a quiet pop, he apparated to the Illusionist Bar.
He arrived in the alleyway he previously used for his quick clothes-change the night he'd met Zatanna. Once again, it was quiet and empty, though the sounds of the bustling city were never far away. He made his way out onto the street, and from there to the door of the bar.
He tapped the door with his wand as subtly as he could manage, relying on the protection charms layered over it to inform Zatanna of his presence. Shortly, the door swung open and he stepped through.
She was sitting on the edge of the little pool of light around the main stage and he noted she was looking much recovered from the trials of the previous night. Her various cuts and bruises were gone, her complexion once again flawless.
"Hey," said Harry as he sat down, not sure where to start attempting to address the huge mess that was the last couple of days. "How're you holding up?"
"Hey," she said, sounding as uncertain as he felt. "I'm not sure. Is it possible to be holding up too well?"
"Ha." He'd sometimes wondered that himself. "Maybe. I guess it depends on what you do feel and why."
"I should be pissed," said Zatanna as she continued to stare into space. Harry wasn't really sure she'd even heard him. "I mean, John could have killed you. He could have killed Bruce, he could have killed me too, and all because of his damn ego."
She looked at him at last. "But I'm not. I'm not even really disappointed. It's like I expected him to do something like that. Isn't that terrible?"
"Having faith in people is all well and good," said Harry, understanding what it was she was asking, "but it can't be blind. There's only so many times you can forgive someone for the same thing before it becomes meaningless."
She thought that over for a while before nodding reluctantly. "I suppose you have a point there. But then, I should be feeling happy. Nick didn't spend an eternity in Hell." She paused. "Or should I be sad that he's dead?"
"Both, I think," said Harry. "There's no reason you need to choose just one thing to feel. You can mourn the man you once knew, and still feel relieved that someone else took down the man he became. It doesn't have to be either or."
"It's just…" she trailed off. "It's a lot to take in. Me and Nick were together for a while, you know? And all this time I thought I'd sentenced him to a fate worse than death. Then, out of nowhere, he's back, and before I can even get my head around that, he's dead again. I think I've just been left behind a bit. I don't know which part I should try and deal with first out of everything that happened."
Harry was pretty sure he'd hit his limit on sage wisdom, mostly regurgitating things other people had said to him over the years. "You'll figure it out, Zee," he said. "It's not something I can help with, and to be honest if I was in your position right now I'm not sure I'd want someone sitting in my place telling you what you should or shouldn't feel or do. Hell, back in the good old days I would have just blown up in someone's face. You're already doing far better than I ever did."
"Thanks, Harry," she said with a little smile. He was quite happy to chalk that up as a victory. "I think you're right. I'll just have to try and catch up to everything that's happened."
They sat in companionable silence for a while. Eventually, Zatanna turned to him and spoke. "So what happens now?"
"Now? Well, I guess I go home," said Harry after a moment's thought. "I have a friend that needs help, and an entire department of recalcitrants to get back to work."
She looked away. "What about John?"
"He'll do whatever it is he always does I suppose," said Harry. "Apparently he has a new best friend in President Quahog, so I think he'll be making a move to the states on a more permanent basis." There was also the fact that Harry wouldn't let him have a moment's rest if he stepped foot in Britain again.
She frowned and glanced back across at him. "How did that happen?"
"Looks like Nick was holding Quahog too," said Harry. "It probably should have occurred to me, but to be honest I'd had quite enough shit by the end of it all. Constantine must have squirreled him out and freed him. Carruthers came around just before I came out here to warn me that Quahog's covering it up, so if anyone asks, you weren't there."
"That man," said Zatanna as she shook her head in either wonder or disgust. Harry wasn't sure which it was. "I have no idea how he manages to keep finding new friends just as quickly as he alienates them."
"Not sure I want to know," said Harry. Knowing Constantine it probably involved dark, forbidden occult rites that he'd somehow managed to stumble into entirely by accident.
They lapsed back into silence.
Harry wasn't sure what he thought he was waiting for. Was he trying to avoid heading home and seeing Neville, or heading home and leaving Gotham? A hard habit to kick indeed.
"Well," he said somewhat unnecessarily as he pushed himself back to his feet. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the replacement mirror Padma had sent along. "It's been a pleasure, Zatanna. If you ever find yourself in Britain, or if you need anything, you can always call me." He passed it across to her.
"Thanks, Harry," she said sincerely. "I know it's not been the best of times, but it's been nice to meet you."
"Likewise," said Harry. He really meant it. Perhaps in different circumstances he would… No, it didn't do to dwell on such things. "Don't ever doubt yourself, Zee. From what I've seen, you're one of the best. If you want to try and do the Batman thing, I think you'd be pretty damned good at it. Maybe Bruce could give you some pointers."
She smiled gratefully. "Maybe he would," she said, and their eyes met. Was she—?
They both jumped back. When had they gotten so close? Zatanna's eyes were wide with embarrassment and she quickly looked away. Harry fumbled in his pocket for the offending charmed mirror.
It was Daphne, of course. She was looking especially lovely in a pale silk dress, and sporting an elaborate up-do. Behind her, Harry could see Ron dangling upside down as a result of some jinx or other. She also looked supremely pissed off. "You said you'd be back in time for our date! Now I hear you're still swanning about in America?"
Zatanna shuffled a bit further away, and Harry found himself starting to lose his temper.
"Daphne," he said, as he met her angry blue eyes, unflinching. "Fuck off."
She reared back from the mirror as if he'd physically slapped her through the glass. "Excuse me?"
"You heard me," said Harry, pressing his advantage. "I know it probably never made it through that fortress of narcissism you've built for yourself, but I have my own shit to worry about, and I couldn't give less of a shit about our Merlin-be-damned farce of a 'date' if you drowned me in sopophorous juice."
"We had a deal, Potter!" Behind her, Harry noticed that Ron seemed to have managed to get ahold of his wand. Perhaps her attention had been shaken sufficiently that she'd lost focus on the binding spell.
"No, I believe what you had was a bunch of demands, and what I had was a surplus of understanding and patience," said Harry. "I'll spell it out for you. I'm not going out on a date with you just so you can score points in with your friends by turning me down."
Her mouth opened and closed soundlessly for a moment, before Ron appeared behind her and plucked the mirror out of weak fingers. He was grinning broadly when he brought the mirror up to his face.
"Nicely done," he said with no small amount of appreciation. "Never seen her speechless in my life."
"Can you take it from here?" Harry asked, relieved that she did indeed seem to be stunned into silence, as if the very thought of someone not doing as she wanted was completely inconceivable. "I have more important things to deal with."
"Of course, mate," said Ron. "I need to see little miss shrinking violet out before she comes-to and breaks something. Speak to you when you get back, yeah?"
"Of course," said Harry. With a final shared nod, they broke the connection.
Harry stowed the mirror safely back inside his pocket, before he glanced over at Zatanna a little hesitantly.
Much to his great relief, she was smiling. "I'm guessing there's a story behind that exchange, then?"
"Urgh," said Harry, as he ran his hand through his hair. "You could say that. A, uh, 'friend' of mine made some comments and some other friends of mine convinced me it would be a good idea to get back at him by going on a date with his sister-in-law. Lets just say that that's the last time I take their advice on anything."
"So not a girlfriend, then?" Zatanna asked, looking more unsure of herself than Harry had ever seen.
"No," he said simply. "Not a girlfriend."
A/N: And we're done. What did you think? What worked for you? What didn't work?
I always envisaged this story as the first of a trilogy. As I've said before, DC heroes are just started to come to the fore in the world, and as they become more numerous and prevalent, it would result in major changes for witches and wizards. This is kinda a standalone prologue to that story, but one I decided I really wanted to write because it was so different from my other stories. I have a lot of the plot of the sequel planned, but it is likely to be a few months at least before it surfaces. The plan is to once again write the first draft in full before editing and publishing here. If you're interested in seeing it, I guess you can either keep an eye out (It'll be in HP/DC Superheroes again), or follow me personally.
Now, I guess I should go and write something for Shadow of Angmar.