A/N: And so, at last, we come to the last. On the first day of the new year, the last chapter of an old story.
"Why did you do it, Harry?"
Minister Shacklebolt was sitting at the side of Harry's bed in St Mungos, and he looked every bit as frazzled as Harry, despite not having been caught in the middle of a literal explosion of magical fire.
"We needed the edge, Shack," said Harry simply. He'd known when he'd done it that there would be hell to pay if it was found out. Seemed Thompson was willing to risk his own neck to get back at Harry.
Shacklebolt sat back in his chair and massaged his temples. "There's channels for that. Proper channels that don't result in me having to put my Head Auror on probation pending an investigation. Your name is already being dragged through the mud because of what happened at the Hollow during your last fight."
"You know I did the right thing. I'd have used the official channels if I thought we had time," Harry countered. "In case you missed it, I still only just got it in time. Without that kryptonite, last night could have been so much worse. The Hollow was a mess, but when you're dealing with the likes of Herpo you either fight and accept the consequences, or you roll over and die for him."
A long-suffering sigh was Shacklebolt's only response to that. Harry knew that really there wasn't much value in arguing. Shacklebolt had probably backed him to the hilt, but when the Wizengamot and ICW got their nipples in a twist about something, there was only so much he could do before the entire country started taking the fall-out.
"Look, it's not so bad," said Harry evenly. "Padma knows the job better than I do, and the team is good. You know that. You trained some of them, remember?"
"They may be good," said Shacklebolt, "but they're not you. What if something like this happens again?"
"Well, you'll know where to find me." He shrugged, and immediately regretted it as he felt the skin that was regrowing after being almost completely burned off caught on the fabric of his hospital robes. "Not like I'm going anywhere."
They lapsed into silence, each lost in their own thoughts. Then, something occurred to Harry.
"By the way, I extracted a heavily charmed box from the lockup at the same time as the kryptonite. Did that get sent down to the greycloaks like I requested?"
"It did," said Shacklebolt. His expression looked a little troubled. "It contained some kind of demon hand."
"Demon hand?" Harry asked, puzzled. "I thought they evaporated as soon as the demon died."
"Indeed," said Shacklebolt. "In the circumstances, Croaker has had it sent down to secure storage. There's not much to be learned from it, and it apparently has a disturbing habit of trying to murder anyone who gets within ten feet of it."
"Probably for the best, then." The Department of Mysteries secure storage room was a bit of a wonder that Harry had only seen once or twice in all his years with the Ministry. It held all manner of cursed objects, from as far back as the time of Merlin. There wasn't much that warranted that kind of protection; the most recent example being the book that Harry had uncovered in Gotham a few months previously, but every now and then something came along that was too dangerous to even destroy. Those things were kept a stable time-loop in the deepest levels of the Ministry.
Even Harry was willing to admit that the security of that room was probably sufficient. The nature of the time loop meant that items could only ever be added to the room, never removed. Any attempt at taking anything from the room would result in it simply vanishing the moment the thief crossed the threshold, along with a large part of whatever part of the thief was holding onto the item in question.
It wasn't even really magic that provided the protection, which meant that even Voldemort and his followers had never attempted to remove any of the items.
"How's everyone else doing?" Harry asked eventually.
"Ezekial picked up Mirabelle's body up this morning," said Shacklebolt sadly.
He'd wanted to speak to the man, but had evidently missed him. Though, he wasn't sure what he would have said. Really, what could you say to a man who'd lost a daughter that didn't feel like some meaningless platitude? She'd been brave, a credit to the auror force, but ultimately, all that paled in comparison. That was what she had been, and what she was now was dead. Nothing Harry said would be able to change that.
Shacklebolt continued: "The rest have been healed up and released. Quigley was sent home just shortly before you woke up. You're the last one still in hospital." Shacklebolt leaned back in the chair and closed his eyes. "Now, if you don't mind. Thanks to you, I haven't slept in the last forty-eight hours."
Harry wasn't about to let him get out of answering questions that easily. "What about Daphne and the Malfoys?"
"They're fine too."
"How are they fine?" said Harry when he realised that was all he was seemingly going to get. "Astoria and Daphne were right next to me when I jumped into that thing."
Shacklebolt opened one eye, and peered at Harry in obvious displeasure. Eventually, when Harry didn't back down, he sighed and sat up again. "They're still trying to work out exactly what happened," he said wearily. "The explosion made it almost impossible to work out exactly what Herpo did, but it seems that the imperius curses were released the moment Herpo left Miss Greengrass' body to take control of yours. There was only a second between that happening, and the explosion, but Superman and Wonder Woman were able to get everyone out of there before it occurred."
"What about the rest of the Justice League?"
"That required Miss Greengrass' presence, but the spell has been reversed." Shacklebolt hesitated for a moment, just as Harry was about to ask why, he continued: "MACUSA made an attempt to obliviate the experience from their minds, but it did not go well, I am afraid to say."
Harry knew that tone. "How 'not well'?"
"No serious injuries." He was very quick to make that clear. "However, they were understandably annoyed about the attempt. I believe they have decided to move their base of operations away from America, much to the muggle government's displeasure."
It wasn't at all surprising that that hadn't gone down well, but the lack of injury was at least something positive. "Where are they moving?" he asked. "Not here, I assume?"
"Apparently not," said Shacklebolt drily. "In fact, it appears that they have decided to go to space."
"You mean that massive space-station being built by Wayne. What was it called? The Watchtower?" He frowned. "I thought that wasn't finished yet?"
"It's not," Shacklebolt admitted, "but it is close enough that it's livable, apparently."
Harry whistled to himself. As far as middle-fingers went, that was a pretty big one right in the face of the ICW. There was no way they'd be able to influence a local government to move against the Justice League if they weren't in any of their member nations' jurisdiction.
The fact that Shacklebolt had bowed to pressure and put Harry on probation was much more understandable in light of that little piece of information. "So I guess 'pissed-off' would be—"
"An understatement? Yes."
"Well, in that case," said Harry as he shifted slightly to ease the pressure on his shoulder. "I guess I should let you have that nap. Seems I owe you one."
Shacklebolt shook his head sadly. "That's just the thing, it's all of us who owe you. Can you even imagine what would have happened if Herpo had managed to regain a true body? With control over the Justice League?"
He had a very good idea. "Nothing good."
"Nothing good," echoed Shacklebolt. "Best case scenario would be the exposure of our kind to the muggles, and in hardly the most positive light."
"Well, I guess we've put that particular problem off 'till next week," said Harry seriously. "One day soon, we're going to miss our luck, you know Shack? Only way it comes out positively for us is if we get ahead of it."
Shacklebolt waved his hand, and Harry could see the weight the past few days had put on him as he did so. "For now, at least, our world is safe. Now, if you don't mind? I'm going to have my nap."
It took less than a minute for him to drop off, but it wasn't long after he did that someone knocked on the door.
A quick deafening charm on Shacklebolt ensured he'd get the sleep he needed, and Harry called for his newest guest to enter.
It was Hermione who was first to enter, soon to be joined by Ron.
"Harry—!" she began, before she realised the Minister for Magic was snoozing in the corner and cut herself off.
"Don't worry," said Harry as he attempted a grin. "I put a deafening charm on him when you knocked. No need to disturb him."
"Nice one," said Ron as they both moved over to Harry's bed.
"How are you feeling?" Hermione asked him, all concern.
"Well, mostly like I jumped into a cauldron of boiling acid which then exploded with me inside it," said Harry. "You know how it is."
"He's got you there," said Ron as he nudged her with his elbow.
Hermione gave him one of her textbook exasperated smiles. "Well, I assume Kingsley has filled you in on everything that's been going on."
"The broad strokes, yeah," said Harry. "Seems I'm on probation."
"Would have been worse than that if Malfoy of all people hadn't gone out to beat for you at the Wizengamot," said Ron. There was a begrudging respect there that he seemed entirely uncomfortable with. "Called you a hero, would you believe?"
"Well, Harry did save his life," Hermione pointed out.
"I also destroyed quite a lot of his house," said Harry. Much though he knew he should, he couldn't find it in him to regret that particular part of the evening.
"Acceptable losses," said Ron. He looked far too pleased about the whole thing. He then realised just what he'd said and his smile died. "Um, you know what I meant."
"Well, anyway," said Hermione, clearly choosing to ignore their little aside. "Thanks to Malfoy, the Wizengamot pushed back against the ICW's demands. Before he said his piece, I think old Ralston Smith had them convinced that you were a menace that needed to be removed from office. You've made yourself a new enemy there, I'm afraid. He was very close to his great grand-daughter."
Harry wouldn't begrudge the man his hatred in the situation. He should have done more, done something. He was meant to be the best of the best, and a simple ambush had gotten his people killed. What could he do, though, but try and carry on the job that had meant so much to Mirabelle? Malfoy's support was the more surprising thing. "I'm sure Draco won't let me forget it," said Harry as he shook his head. "He'll try to get his pound of flesh somehow."
Ron looked between them both, confused. "Pound of what? That's disgusting, mate."
"It's a muggle expression, Ron," said Hermione in the sing-song voice of one who'd long ago got tired of saying it. "It's from Shakespeare."
"Oh," said Ron blankly. "Him. Right."
"Anyway, I'm not so sure," she said, returning her attention to Harry. "He seemed to be really grateful."
Harry just shrugged, hopefully communicating that it didn't much matter either way. "What about the papers?"
Ron looked a little uneasy. "Oh, well, you know how much pull the Smiths have at the Prophet," he said. "As far as they're concerned, you've been toppled off that pedestal of yours completely. Calling you a menace, and a threat to the statute after your… what did they call it? Weekend of terror, I think. Might want to avoid opening your own post for a while, mate."
"Kingsley's managed to keep the details of what actually happened fairly quiet," Hermione added by way of explanation. "The papers didn't publish a thing about the Justice League, for example. So as far as everyone is aware, you were just chasing after some ordinary Dark Witch."
That was probably a smart choice on Shack's part. He'd take the flack for the deaths if it meant people's confidence in the Statute was maintained. If the Justice League's, or more specifically, Superman's involvement was revealed, there would probably be a panic. He did wonder how long something like that could be kept under wraps, though. "Has there been any communication from the League?"
"Nothing I've heard about," said Hermione quickly.
"Nor Percy," said Ron.
Harry felt himself deflate a little. Of course he knew that it was likely the politically smart thing to do. With the amount of shit being flung around in Britain, at the ICW, and MACUSA, it was much more sensible to wait for things to die down a bit. Just because something was the smart or sensible thing didn't mean he was relishing the public backlash. He'd had plenty of opportunities to see just how vindictive the wizarding public could be when they thought they had all the answers.
"Anyone in particular you were hoping to hear from?" Hermione asked in a voice that was all feigned innocence. It was a completely transparent attempt to take his mind off his darker thoughts.
Harry scowled at her, though his heart wasn't really in it. "I just wanted to make sure their people were okay."
"Ha!" Ron followed up the barked-out laugh with a firm pat on the shoulder, sending ripples of pain through it and causing Harry to wince. Ron didn't notice, however, and continued: "I dunno who you think you're fooling, mate, but I don't think that's worked since like fourth year."
Realising that was probably a losing battle, Harry didn't respond. Instead, he settled for a half-hearted glare that Ron shrugged off easily.
"Maybe being put on probation is a blessing," said Hermione thoughtfully. "You've always been far too focused on the job to let anyone get close."
"Maybe," Harry hedged. He didn't have the energy for an argument over his life choices, and he certainly wasn't going to go chasing after women the day after one of his aurors had died so senselessly. "Look, you two are welcome to stay, but I think Shack has the right idea here. I'm going to have a nap."
Hermione released an exasperated sigh, but she didn't complain. After near-enough a decade of trying to get Harry to take more time for personal stuff, she surely hadn't expected much more. Still, glanced at Ron, who nodded just slightly, then she smiled. "We'll stay for a short while. You get your rest, Harry."
"Yeah, mate, you still look a fright," said Ron as he conjured a couple of squishy chairs in the most obnoxious shade of orange that Harry could have imagined. "Figure you need that beauty-sleep."
As Harry lay back, and felt the tiredness sweep back over him, his final action was to raise a single finger in Ron's direction.
There was something homey about the combination of Ron's guffaw, combined with Hermione's little huff of mock outrage. It meant the world was, for the time being at least, back to being just people doing people things. No gods or heroes messing it all up.
A knock on his front door was an unusual occurrence.
Most visitors to 12 Grimmauld Place came through the Floo or, occasionally, apparated into the garden and came in through the back, so he was surprised to hear the sound of someone rapping firmly on the door-knocker.
A quick scrying charm revealed Diana as the source of the knocking, dressed down in a casual but still very fetching blouse and skirt ensemble. Just behind her was the unmistakable figure of Kal El, though he too was out of his Superman costume. Without wasting any time, Harry pulled the door open.
"Diana, it's good to see you're doing okay," he said. As opening lines went, it probably wasn't his strongest, but it drew a warm and honest smile from her, so he'd let it pass. He turned to Kal. "How are you managing? Do you prefer Clark, or Kal, by the way?"
"Clark is fine, and I can barely remember most of it," he replied, but Harry knew it wasn't as simple as that. "I do know that I have you to thank though, Harry. It could have been so much worse. I only wish I could have resisted more than I did."
Harry regarded him for a second. "Hey, even resisting as much as you did was… well, super-human I guess, but you have to know you didn't have a chance when Herpo found out about the imperius curse. Without your resistance in the beginning, I probably would have died in Scotland, and who knows what would have happened from there. Not sure I want to know," he said, shuddering at the thought. His words probably weren't much help. It seemed unlikely that there was anything Harry could say which would change the horrifying reality of what Superman had been forced to do. Harry just had to hope that he had some kind of support structure that would help him come to terms with what had happened. He turned to Diana. "And you? You look good."
"I am well," she said, as her eyes tracked up and down him. "More importantly, how are you? You seem to be fully recovered already?"
"One of the wonders of magic," said Harry easily, as he stepped to the side to invite them both in. "Not much they can't fix in a few hours."
He was being a little flippant. The dark magic in the spells Herpo had been using meant that he'd been stuck in St. Mungos for a couple of days, but at the end of the day, he'd still gotten off easily.
"There are many such wonders," she said as she brushed past him. Rather than making herself at home, she did know her way about after-all, she instead stood in the hall. "What about the rest of your people?"
Harry gestured in the direction of the sitting room and said, sadly: "Apart from Mirabelle, they're fine," he said. He caught the sorrowful expression on Clark's face, and realised that might have been a slightly insensitive way of putting it. "Please, there's no need to stand on ceremony. Do you want anything to drink or eat?"
The three of them moved through into the living room, and Harry waited for Diana and Clark to take a seat before he lowered himself into one nearby.
"I don't suppose you have any coffee?" Clark asked.
Harry smiled and flicked his wand in the direction of the kitchen. "I think I can manage that. Diana?"
"Tea would be my preference," she said.
Harry conjured two cups, and filled them both with tea from the tip of his wand. He handed Diana's across, which she accepted with a gracious smile, while Kal's coffee floated through the air into his hand. A moment later, a small jug of milk glided slowly from the kitchen and hovered between them.
A little unsure, Clark held his cup out to the jug experimentally. When it gracefully tipped up and poured exactly the right amount of milk in, he looked very pleased with himself. Diana then did the same.
"I heard they were able to reverse the curse cast over the rest of the league," said Harry after the jug had made its exit back to the kitchen.
"They did," said Clark. He looked a little put-out until he took a sip and released a satisfied breath.
Diana completed his thought: "They did, though I assume you heard about the attempt they made to wipe our minds?"
That drew a grimace from Harry. "I did."
"And what did you think?" She held his gaze, her bright blue eyes watching him closely.
"I can't say I'm surprised," he said with a tired shake of his head. "I've been trying to hold them back, but it's been a losing battle, especially now that I'm on the outs. They're scared. More scared than I think they'd ever admit."
"Scared of what, though?" said Diana, frowning. "The Justice League is no threat to them. We can help. Was this all not evidence of that?"
Harry couldn't help the cynical chuckle that escaped his mouth. "Honestly, I think that is what they're afraid of. Kind of, anyway.
"You need to understand," he continued, "that witches and wizards have been separate from muggles for hundreds of years, and in that time we've seen them grow in number so much that our entire population now barely even registers. It was okay, though, because we were special. We could do the impossible.
"Muggles are used to the idea that there are things in the world that they cannot fight. Things which could end them in a moment without a single chance to fight back. Witches and wizards, though? Not so much. With the Justice League, and things like Starro appearing so suddenly out of nowhere we're no longer the most dangerous thing on the planet any more. That's what scares them.
"They feel like they're being usurped."
"We're not here to usurp anyone," said Clark, looking troubled at the thought of it.
"It is not our intention at all," Diana added. "We only want to protect the world."
"You can understand their fear, though, right?" Harry asked her. "After-all, Superman"— Harry nodded to Clark —"is one of the best, and if he can become this terrifying weapon, capable of taking out almost any wizard on the planet. Wouldn't you be worried?"
Diana nodded thoughtfully. "This is something that is often brought up," said Diana. "Bruce believes it is of absolute importance that there must always be a countermeasure in case any one of us should stray."
"It's not even unique to your people," said Clark, shaking his head ruefully. "Plenty of ordinary people have bought into Luthor's hostility towards what we've been trying to do."
That reminded Harry of his conversation with DCI Thompson. "Actually, does the name 'Mercy Graves' mean anything to you?"
Diana shook her head, but Clark sat up straight. "Mercy Graves? She's Luthor's attack dog," he said seriously. "What about her?"
"Well, she was trying to get ahold of the kryptonite from the museum attack," said Harry. "I don't know why, or anything more than that really. Seemed like the kind of thing you'd want to know, though."
Setting his mug down, Clark stood up. "I'm sorry to dash like this, but I should really make sure they didn't have any other plans."
"Don't worry about it," said Harry with a nod. It was understandable. "She didn't get ahold of it, so hopefully that's the end of it."
"I'm not so sure," said Clark, and wasn't that ominous? "Anyway, thank you for the coffee, and the help. I mean it when I say it. You ever need help with anything at all. You just give me a call."
Harry stood and shook the man's hand. "Don't mention it," he said as he waved a hand at the door to the back garden. "I'll see you around."
After a final farewell, Clark disappeared out of the door, and then into the sky in a streak of red and blue. Harry hadn't even seen him change.
Harry and Diana lapsed into a short silence then. It wasn't uncomfortable, just thoughtful. Eventually, it was Diana who broke it.
"Do you remember speaking to me after the explosion?" she asked.
Caught off guard by the seeming non sequitur, it took Harry a moment to respond. "I guess so," he said, it was fairly fuzzy. Pain had a tendency to do that. "I think you asked if I was alive?"— he smiled slightly —"I wonder what you would have said if I'd said 'no'?"
Diana smiled too, though there was something else there that Harry couldn't quite pin down.
"You said it had to be you," she said, and she seemed more uncertain than Harry had ever seen. "What did you mean by that?"
It took him a moment to dredge that particular memory up, but when he did he caught her gaze. "Mean? I don't know if I meant anything by it," he said after giving it some thought. "It's just how everything played out. I didn't want to throw myself into the middle of a magical explosion waiting to happen, but I didn't see any other way for you and everyone else to have a chance."
He shifted uneasily as Diana stared at him, or maybe she was staring through him at something only she could see. After a moment, she shook her head, and stood up.
"Thank you, Harry," she said, and her sincerity was obvious, even if Harry didn't really know what he was being thanked for. "I should return to the Watchtower to begin my shift. I would not want to keep you from your work."
Harry led her back through to the front door. "Well, if you need to go," he said, and he felt a pang of sadness. Perhaps he'd said the wrong thing? He opened the door for her once more and she stepped through. "No need to worry about the job though. Like I said, I'm on probation because of that whole rotten mess of an investigation. I have all the time in the world."
Her hair whipped around as she turned. "You do?" She paused for a moment before smiling, and for some reason it was infectious. "Want to see the Watchtower?"
There was still a little voice in his head that was trying to point out that it could only end in disaster, but he silenced it. Perhaps it was time to live a little. "Sure," he said.
A/N: And there we are. As I have mentioned before, I have plans for a third story in this series, though after writing two whole stories in this fusion, I might take a little longer to write the third, especially as I imagine it will be rather longer than Kicking Gotham or Toppling Heroes.
There is no doubt that these are some of my less popular stories, but I've had a lot of fun writing them and at least a few of your have had some fun reading them, so I consider it a win. Thank you to everyone who has read and reviewed. A story requires a reader every bit as much as it needs a writer, so thank you all for contributing to this story, and letting me know what you think about it. You're awesome.
So, look out for another story in this series some time in 2021 (depending on how my other projects come along). As before, follow me to be notified. Alternatively, I'll also come back to this story to insert a kind of 'post-credits scene' chapter when the time comes for the sequel to start being posted.
I guess the only thing to do now is to wish you all a very Happy New Year.