Dope Muggle

A Harry Potter Fanfic.
Note: I am pro-trans lives. Trans lives matter. Fuck anyone who says they don't. I still really like Harry Potter.


Artwork, "Three Brothers in Deathly Hallows," produced by lxslightning.

Enter all ye who dare,
But whispers in the air,
to those who might beware,
They who tread on dreams-
that some are filled with screams.
Adroa Zulu
Master of Dreams, Uagadou

cliché, or cli·che [ klee-shey, kli- ]
noun a trite, stereotyped expression; a sentence or phrase, usually expressing a popular or common thought or idea, that has lost originality, ingenuity, and impact by long overuse.

A character waking up from a dream is one of the seven most common openings of any amateur novel, indicating a lack of skill or talent.

C H A P T E R • O N E

Every night, Cillian woke up drenched in sweat from night terrors. A past life played out on the inside of his eyelids like raging psychotropic trips that he couldn’t run away from, couldn’t escape. A life that once awoke, would fade away into what his mind told him was merely fantasy.

This morning was the same.

“Cool, cool, cool,” Cillian convinced himself in that quick, ironic breathless style tinge he had picked up from a good habit of zero cocaine and a bad habit of too much Andy Samberg. They’re like, the same thing though, right? Same diff, same diff.

Cillian sat up. He looked to his left. Fuck my life.

There was his batshit insane ex-girlfriend. He’d enjoyed the sex, he’d loved the sex, but that’s all it was. Not drunk, but definitely buzzed, and definitely a bad idea.

She stirred.

“Morning, stud muffin,” Stella said.

“Stella, get your shit and get out,” Cillian said.

She smiled. She grabbed his cock. He knew what she was going to do next, and he really wanted some. He thought about it, he really did, but he knew what it would mean.

“Bitch, nah,” Cillian said. He grabbed her wrist and threw her off the mattress. She landed on the carpet with a thud.

“No more favors. Get the fuck out.” 

“Fine!” Stella shouted, stomping to her feet. “You can be a real fucking asshole sometimes.” She bent down and picked up her clothes, throwing them on quickly.

“I’m just not keen on the idea of you breaking all my shit again. And stop rocking my fucking boat,” Cillian said.

Stella laughed hysterically. She grabbed her purse off the kitchen counter and slammed the door on her way out.

Cillian breathed a heavy sigh of relief.

Uneventful, thank God.

The last time they’d fucked it was like a train wreck the next morning, and then came the fire tornado from hell. In the three years they’d lived together, every time she’d ever given him morning blow - she’d always wanted a favor, and he’d always relented. After all, she’d said, you don’t get something for nothing. One time, she’d wanted him to fix the plumbing in her house. Another time, she’d asked him to confront one of her pervert coworkers. Cillian took the guy into the alley out behind the office and beat the shit out of him. After that, he was done. No more.

Three weeks prior, he told her off, and she blew up like fireworks. She grabbed a kitchen knife and tore up his pillows, knocked over his potted plants, and smashed the shit out of his vintage Firesign Theatre vinyl record collection. Screamed at him the whole time about him being a selfish prick, which might have been true to some degree, but when she tore out the pages of his vintage copy of The Silmarillion, he lost his shit.

He started to choke her, but that only turned her on again, and they wound up fucking again on the floor.

Stella was fucking insane. Some sort of succubus, probably.

Cillian laughed. Strange that he should think of that, it reminded him of his dreams. His dreams of late were more troubling than usual. It used to be Afghanistan dominating his nightscapes, but the War had been a long way off for him now. Albeit, nothing had changed. America was still at war.

With drugs, and with terror.

But in the last few months, he’d been dreaming of strange things far beyond the trials of his war. It was an entirely different kind of war in his dreams. A war of good and evil. A magical war. He’d been dreaming of dragons, goblins, and magic tricks. And it was terrible. All that death, all that pain. At the end of it all, there was always a child’s toy, broken in two halves, washed up with the tides.

It was always the same dream.

Then he would wake up and be glad to be rid of it all. He chastised himself for having fallen prey to his gullible nature. For a few seconds every morning, he would wonder if it was all real. It had always felt so real, so vivid. For a few seconds every morning, he wondered if magic might be real.

Then he would shake his head, and laugh to himself.

Silly rabbit, tricks are for kids. After all, there’s no such thing as magic.

He kicked his legs over the side of his mattress, and stood up to yawn a very manly yawn. Always a manly yawn - Stella had always told him that his voice was too loud. Another reason they’d split.

He glanced down at the floor and frowned. She’d left her panties on the floor. Most likely to use an excuse to just swing by later on, date to be determined. There would probably be more fucking, and more yelling.

That’s all they were to each other now. Neither one of them had yet to meet a better shag, but they couldn’t be left in the same room with each other without ripping each other’s heads off. They were one another’s own malfunctioning living sex toy.

“Fuck,” Cillian sighed.

The boat rocked as he walked to the kitchen. For the better part of a year and a half now, Cillian lived in a remodeled old dutch houseboat that was moored up in front of the Heathwall Pumping station just east of the Nine Elms Pier. It was furnished with all of that fancy modern Ikea shit that he’d read in some magazine that would “make it pop,” and there was an overall Star Wars theme to it.

BB-8 wallpaper, a Millennium Falcon bluetooth speaker, and a propane heater shaped like the Death Star, among many other things.

The final push was that when he bought this barge two years ago, he’d officially renamed it the STARFIGHTER X. Damn straight. He loved getting coffee at the Black Cab and telling complete strangers that his house was called the Starfighter X. It was fucking awesome.

A bonus was that Stella hated Star Wars.

He switched on the television. It was tuned to the local news. Immediately, he was bombarded with the face of Donald Trump.

“… no collusion. There was no collusion!” the face spoke.

Cillian quickly switched the television over to the weather channel, and was greeted by the dulcet tones of mozart and live doppler radar tracking.

“Fucking lunatic,” Cillian swore. He did not need that this morning.

His phone buzzed. A text message appeared. It was from his boss, a Diplomat at the American Embassy.

Cillian laughed. Apparently, there was no escape. Trump was everywhere. Another reason he knew that magic wasn’t real. None of those wizards in his dreams would have let that garbage person of a man run the most powerful country in the world. They would have crashed his car and made him forget who he was before they let him become President.

Atkinson. The strangest man in the Embassy. He was an old CIA goon who had an eyepatch over one eye and a prosthetic arm. And he was always talking about the dangers of this threatening world. He taught the annual course on antiterrorism to the embassy staff. Nobody was quite sure how old he was, but he would tell stories of Dick Helms and Robert Ames like it was yesterday, still fresh in his mind. Damn commies had me hanging by my balls, but I showed them, was one of his more popular fish tales.

With that, Cillian decided that it was time for some coffee.

C H A P T E R • T W O:

Coffee. Damn, this Black Cab Coffee was some addictive shit. In the last six months, since their previous CEO had been issued a vote of no confidence and removed from his position for running a cocaine smuggling operation through North Africa along with his coffee shipments - the quality of the cup had gotten a lot better.

Whereas before, the coffee was just for show - now it was the main product.

And without having to focus so much time and energy on an illegal drugs operation, the company was actually making more money now than it was when it had been selling cocaine.

Cillian laughed. He brought the warm cup to his face and inhaled the steam. He smiled.

So warm, he thought.

The weather outside had been dreadfully cold the past few months. There was ice on the ground this morning. It was probably around 15º fahrenheit today?

He couldn’t know for sure though. He hadn’t actually been watching the Weather Channel back on his boat, he just liked to have it on in the background sometimes. Like gogurt. Or yoga.

He also loved it when they would cut to breaking news and show hours upon hours of tornadoes and hurricanes tearing the shit out of things, tearing entire structures from the ground, schools upending and even helicopters falling out of the sky. Watching shit get wrecked was almost hilarious.

Cillian had kind of a dangerous streak that ran through him like that - and it was most likely just his way of relieving the pent-up stress and tension that came from working at the Embassy. He thought it was funny when things broke, or people tripped over shit.

Once, a Marine showed him a YouTube video of a Navy SEAL falling off the side of a cliff in Afghanistan. Cillian burst out laughing, and the Marine looked at him like he was fucking crazy.

“Seaman Roswell lost his life at the bottom of that cliff,” the Marine had said.

“I’m so sorry for your loss,” Cillian had replied.

But even now, knowing that, every time he watched that video - he would always burst out in a laughter that stemmed from deep within his gut.

That isn’t to say that Cillian didn’t appreciate beautiful things, or in any way diminishes his artistic spirit. For the entire reason that Cillian came to this particular coffee company every morning on his way to work, and sat at the window overlooking the River Thames - was to see the sunrise over the river, and chant Gregorian in his mind. This was his solace, his comfort, and this was his real soul. This was the place he came to, to be who he was before he ever joined-up. Before he moved to London.

Before he had ever killed anyone.

It was like stepping into a time machine for an entire hour every morning.

And right now was the Golden Hour on the Thames. When the sun was in the perfect spot in the sky to cast a golden hew over everything, just before the sky brightened to a monotoned Cumulonimbus gray.

He closed his eyes for a moment as he swam in the warmth of his Mocha.

Suddenly, Cillian was thrown-off by a shadow that seemed to engulf his entire table. He glanced up and saw a man standing in the window - staring at him intensely.

“Jesus Christ!” Cillian swore under his breath.

It was Atkinson - eyepatch and all - just fucking standing there like the same character he was in all of his stories, leaning slightly forward, eye slightly squinted - analyzing Cillian. Atkinson was a statue.

And then he moved.

Atkinson walked into the cafe and sat down on the wooden barstool just next to Cillian.

“Where the fuck did you come from?” Cillian asked.

Atkinson didn’t say anything. He just sat there, watching him with his one good eye.

“I need to speak with you. Come to my office as soon as possible,” Atkinson grumbled, and then he stood up to leave.

Whenever Atkinson spoke it was in a low grumble, and it was like he was complaining about uncooked steak.

“Can we not talk here?” Cillian asked.

“Are you a fucking terrorist? We can’t discuss anything in the one cafe within three blocks of the Embassy, you fucking idiot. Half the people in this place are Chinese spies. The other half are from the GCHQ. So… what? No, we never talk here. Come to my office when you get in. No need to rush. I know this place is special to you. Take your time,” Atkinson grumbled. Then he picked himself up and half-limped his way through the doors, grumbling something to someone outside.

“Yes, Sir. Will do, Sir,” Cillian said, sarcastically.


Atkinson was a fucking dinosaur, but Cillian only knew that from the stories that he would tell, and that others would tell about him. The thing is, if Cillian hadn’t already known better, he would have sworn the man was only in his forties.

And yet in Atkinson’s age came a wisdom of ghosts, and he was always scanning the room for the motherfucker that gave him the eyepatch, forever ready to tear the guy’s esophagus out with his bare hands.

As swiftly as Atkinson had appeared, he had gone as if evaporated.

Motherfucking cowboy-ninja shit right there.

The golden hues of the sunrise were at their most perfection.

C H A P T E R  •  T H R E E

”Only the dead, Sir. Only the dead know my pain.”

“But you’re not dead.”

“Not yet. Sure as shit do I feel like it most days, Sir.”

Cillian was in his mandatory monthly quack meeting, as ordered by the Company’s Chief Medical Officer.

Company. That was an interesting euphemistic feint of a word, and coincidentally, remarkably accurate. The Company. That’s what popular culture had taken to calling the CIA. It gave the impression that the entire world behind shadows and smoke was as bureaucratic and monotonous as working at a cubicle in some big city and reading through laboratory reports on the chemical nature of the rubber used in number 2 pencil erasers, or deciding to authorize expenditures on a new type of pink food coloring in museum gift shop donut sprinkles.

And these mandatory psych evaluations only went on to legitimize that aura of overall boredom.

“Tell me about these dreams. Have you been having them recently?”

“Every fucking night, Sir. Every night.”

“And what are these dreams about?” The doctor asked.

“Oh, you know… wizards, witches, magic castles,” Cillian said.

“Mr. Williams, if you’re not going to take this seriously-“

“Or what, Doc? I thought you weren’t supposed to pass judgement?”

The doctor paused for a moment, obviously frustrated.

“Indeed not, Mr. Williams. This is a safe space. Please do - continue,” the doctor said.

“This is what I dream about, Sir. I dream about things that don’t exist because they’re my fucking dreams, Doctor. I dream about dragon fire raining from the sky - and I can’t get away. I dream about wizards picking people up with their minds, and choking them. I dream about these things, and they seem so real. I can feel the heat on my skin, the searing pain, the emotions of loosing people that I care about and that I love. It’s all so real - but then I wake up. I wake up, and I remember that these are dreams. They’re just dreams, Doc. They have no bearing on reality - they mean nothing,” Cillian sighed.

“How is your diet?”

“Good. Fine. Most of my food is from the cafeteria downstairs.”

“How much sleep have you been getting?”

“I get eight hours a night.”


“Yeah, Doc. I’m the picture of perfect health.”

But being here isn’t helping.

“Tell me about Donovan Conroy,” the Doctor asked.

Cillian froze. He did not want to talk about Donovan Conroy. He would have preferred to take the name itself and vanish it from the record of all history - and yet it was only every time he walked past a mirror that the face of him would come back.

“You know all about that, Doctor.”

“You’re not leaving this room until you talk about it. Talking does help, Cillian. And by the looks of things, I’m the only one around that you can talk to about him.”

“You mean because it’s classified?”

“That’s one part of it. The other part is that honestly you don’t have a whole lot of friends here. A lot of coworkers, and even someone you manage to hook up with every now and then, but these are the kinds of things you talk about with friends. It’s hard to make friends in this business - so I’m probably the next best option.”

“I killed Donovan Conroy, Doctor.”


“I infiltrated his organization, I pretended to be his friend, and then I killed him.”

“How does that make you feel.”

“The Senate Intelligence Committee said it was a job well done.”

“The patient is being uncooperative-“

“Fine. Alright. You want the truth? I don’t want to think about it. I’d rather not dwell, because if I did, I might never come back. There are only a few degrees of separation from a life taken in the line of duty, and a life taken in vain. A split second can make someone a monster. I’d rather like to pretend for the rest of my days on this planet that someone else pulled the trigger, and that I was merely an observer to the show. Someone along for the ride. But know this - Donovan Conroy was a bad man. He was a monster, and he really was as bad as they come. I have no regrets when it comes to that man, Doc. Not a single one.”

The psychologist wrote some things in his little notebook.

Probably doodling little pictures of dwarves riding horses.

The doctor handed Cillian a small piece of paper. On it were written the doctor’s name, mailing address, and the name of a narcotic. Valium.

“Take it or leave it, Cillian,” the doctor said.

Cillian felt insulted. He held the prescription in his hands, and felt a scowl forming on his face. His muscles tensed. He looked at the doctor in the eyes, took his two hands and tore the paper in half.

“We done here?” 

“You’re cleared to resume active operations.”

“Thank fuck.”

C H A P T E R • 4:

Atkinson’s working environment was tucked neatly into a corner office on the 12th floor, with one of the more outstanding vistas of the Thames River casting a violent gray cumulonimbus haze bleeding through its vertical white window slats, casting intersecting parallel shadows that made it feel like Cillian was walking into a prison cell with bars on the windows. Cillian had never seen the city from this building, his own department in the embassy - fifteen floors beneath them - had no windows, and was largely underground to protect its employees against Thuggee IEDs and Irish car bombs.

What light that Cillian did have was proffered up by the certainly carcinogenic government-issue Skillcraft strip lighting in the ceiling of his department. Cillian’s own office was literally in a converted bomb shelter.

Atkinson’s office, up here where the birds flew, was a stark contrast. The walls were bedecked in large oak panels and lots of little Pinterest-worthy design quirks, such as furniture studs the size of golf balls holding up the bookshelves. Potted plants - dracena palm, bamboo, orchid, banana plant - were spaced neatly on the floor and with a keen eye as to the general fengshui of it all. Primarily, Cillian couldn’t see a computer. Just a white boxy typewriter from the 1970’s sitting atop a very sturdy hardwood desk that Cillian was sure could withstand a nuclear explosion.

“Do you like my office?” Atkinson, the bear of a man, was standing next to the window, peering out at the city with his one eye.

“It’s different.”

“In my years at this business, expressions of originality were likely to get you dead. No photos, no posters. A boss of mine told me never to unpack more than a single box, so when I died, they wouldn’t have any trouble cleaning me out and finding another ass for my chair. But I never died, did I? I’ve been at that desk since 1998, and I’ve realized that I’ll probably be able to retire from this. Every single person in my class at Perry is dead. Even my instructors. I’ve seen some of their graves. Seen some of the places they died. But I’ll retire.”

Atkinson spun on his leg.

“Sit down,” Atkinson grunted. Cillian did so. Atkinson sat in his own chair.

A noise behind Cillian startled him. He spun round and saw that in the back of Atkinson’s office there was a snowy owl sitting on a dead tree branch.

“That’s Brodwin,” Atkinson said.

Brodwin looked Cillian dead in the eyes, and as if on cue at hearing his name, he squawked. The owl tilted his head sideways trying to get a better look at Cillian.

"Don't mind him. He doesn't bite. Much. I'm not saying he's not a fucking lunatic, but he's alright," Atkinson acknowledged.

“You don’t keep him in a cage?”

“As per the wishes of his former owner.”

“Who’s that then?”

“John Major.”

Cillian spun back around, silently contemplating that bit of information. The former Prime Minister of the U.K.... had owned an owl?

“You used to work for DST?” Atkinson asked.


“You were assigned to KLAXON and KALEIDOSCOPE?”

“I wrote the base code for Klaxon, yes, Sir.”

“That was the mission to hunt the OPM hackers by identifying the cyrptographological signatures imprinted on the root worm. Impressive stuff - combining cyber tactics with graphology. Klaxon is an impressive machine, Williams. And what about Kaleidoscope?” Atkinson pushed.

Cillian was silent for a moment.

“I don’t have fond memories of that operation, Sir,” Cillian sighed.

“Why do you think they wanted you on this one, some 2nd floor DST geek, instead of someone from DIROPS?”

“They knew I could handle myself, Sir. My first mission, I never actually applied to the CIA, they pulled me straight from my Air Force unit at KAF. Technically I’m still on the Air Force payroll as a technical military advisor to the CIA,” Cillian said.

“Tell me about Kaleidoscope,” Atkinson pushed, again.

Cillian cleared his throat. He took a sip out of his Nalgene, swished around some water, and spoke.

“The USA. Our deep-fried union, fast everything federation. Disposable, for-granted, shit-don’t-stink obese, fat bastard economy. And as an agent of that economy, an employee of that government, my job is to make sure that the American way of life remains the dominant paradigm of our foreign policy. Donovan Conroy threatened that way of life. I was sent in to evaluate the situation, and to determine how much of a threat he really posed,” Cillian said.

“He posed a threat?” Atkinson asked.

“He posed a threat.” Cillian affirmed.

“So you took him out.”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Fine. You killed a bad guy. Good job. I don’t care all that much beyond it being your first, what sort of hold the deed has done on you. Are you functional?”

“The Quack gave me the all clear.”

Atkinson nodded to himself, several times.

“As to the reason you’re here…” Atkinson picked up a document from his desk, glancing between it and Cillian as he continued. “Have you ever heard of a classified British project called Deathly Hallows?”

“No, Sir.”

“Hmm. And code name ‘Muggle.’ Does that word mean anything to you?”

Cillian shook his head.

“Not at all.”

Atkinson leaned back in his chair - his one eye evaluating Cillian. He grunted. “Hmm. Well, the Brits just sent out a flash message on the TSIPR Sharepoint, from something called a DELTA-ALPHA. Some kind of SAS - Spec Ops unit.”

“What about it, Sir?” Cillian asked.

Atkinson pulled a drawer open on his desk. He pulled a combat-grade laptop computer out of a pelican case, and opened it up on his desk. It made some strange noises for a moment, having a difficult time booting up, and then suddenly shut off for no reason. Atkinson smacked it on the side.

"Damn machines. Government issued, see? Electronics are always failing around me. That's why I prefer my Olympus SG3. I've had that same typewriter since the day I bought it new in the shops. Beautiful craftsmanship - unlike this piece of infernal bullshit," Atkinson grumbled.

"Chizpurfles. Chizpurfles!" Atkinson swore to himself.

Cillian thought that this must be some vague Eastern European language he'd never heard before. The Embassy staff had often spread about the water cooler gossip that Atkinson wasn't quite all there. That he was mad. Cillian had never taken to making snap judgements about people, especially in this profession, but he thought he might understand the reasoning for such a rumor. Atkinson did seem like one without his nuts and bolts all in the right place.

Atkinson reached into his desk for a can of what appeared to be compressed air, and sprayed it at all about the laptop, knocking out a few specs of dust that landed on the desk and floated away. He booted the machine up again, and even though it flickered a few times, he was able to navigate to his desired page this time. He then read aloud from the computer screen in front of him;

Atkinson grumbled as he read the contents of the screen.


“The Brits want to find you. This DELTA-ALPHA unit seems pretty insistent on it, Williams.”

“Isn’t an Attempt to Locate used to find murder witnesses?” Cillian asked.

“Trust me, this is probably as polite as they’ll get. As such, the Ambassador has granted your temporary release into the custody of the SIS and DELTA-ALPHA. You have an interview appointment scheduled for three hours from now. Grab some lunch, and meet me at Vauxhall Bridge Road.”

C H A P T E R  •  FIVE

It was a round table that reminded Cillian of the Arthurian legends, the men gathered and seated around it were certainly not knights of old, however, but stereotypes of a more recent sort - suits. The suits themselves were drawn straight from Ian Flemming’s Bond; "...thin, black neckties and dark, single breasted suits made from Alpaca." Words drawn straight out of Casino Royale. As if someone needed quickly to figure out what spooks were supposed to look like. The people who wore the suits seemed to be the types of men who could move mountains with their minds - strong, secret-squirrel types who’d seen combat up close and lived. Most of them reminded him of McChrystal’s brand of Warrior-Monk, with the exception of one figure shrouded in shadow in the corner of the room. A woman. She hadn’t taken her seat yet. Cillian wondered if she were waiting but a few moments to make sure she needn’t make a fast getaway, the same as mariners who’d been torpedoed during the War would never again ride a boat below decks.

This room was almost a dark and cold place, but it carried with it an intrigue. More than the intrigue of spies and shadows, which was stirring enough, but there was something else here he couldn't quite put his finger on. It was a static buzz that raised the hairs on his arms and the back of his neck. Interestingly, the room wasn't lit by electric lights, but long burning candles. This whole room, not just the table, but all of it, it was strange, odd, eerie.

Cillian would never admit to the goosebumps formed on his arms, not in front of these people. The people in his world, the Intelligence Community - they fed on fear. They used it to their advantage, but it wasn't the only strong emotion that a spy could toy with. Spies - real spies, spies out in the cold knew how to seduce with mere whispers and entice with a single glance. With only their words and their words alone, the best spies in the world could even get you to die for them, and with even more talent, to kill for them.

The only mannerism to adopt in a room like this was vacancy. Nothing there, nobody home. At least, not until somebody pulled out a gun and the shit hit the fan.

The seat to Cillian’s left remained dormant for the moment. Atkinson hadn’t yet arrived, and so Cillian had been left merely to twiddle his thumbs and suspiciously stare with a vacant expression across the table at the other party. They stared back. But the other party being made up of nearly fifteen people, and he being the entirety of his own party, created a minor predicament that gave him enough trouble trying to give a fair and balanced amount of time to stare suspiciously - yet vacant - at each and every single one of the others gathered. It was impossible. There were too many of them, so he relented and opted to stare with wide eyes, a vacant scowl, and flared nostrils at the center of the table itself. This, too, was difficult because Cillian could now feel all of their eyes burrowing into his skull and ratfucking his gray matter.

Finally, a jingle of noises in the far wall of the room was followed by an opening door. In through that door walked Atkinson, limping on his one leg, and looking as unhappily content as ever. He walked over to the figure of the mysterious woman, shook her hand, and they began conversing. Cillian could barely make out some broken strings of what they were saying.

“Fleur,” grunted Atkinson.

“Atkinson… that we should tell him that…” the woman seemed to be asking Atkinson a question.

“No, no. It would… and if that happens, we’re fucked… like that dragon business at Gringotts…” Atkinson had put a lot of emphasis on the words dragon business.

“Well considered, Atkinson… but prophecies are fickle things… After all, Mars is bright tonight,” the woman said.

With that, the conversation seemed to be over. The two shook hands and took their seats, the woman directly across from Cillian, and Atkinson in the seat to his left.

Useless for him to try and listen in, as Cillian was sure they were talking in some sort of code.

For a little while longer, nobody spoke, and everybody just stared, until Cillian finally got agitated and spoke up.

“This must be the old MI6 kinky sex dungeon, isn’t it?” Cillian asked, attempting to break the ice.

The only person in the room who’d managed to laugh at that was Atkinson, and even he’d only managed a single exhalation.

“Ha,” was that one single laugh, but Atkinson’s smile faded when the woman shot him a glance.

“Tough crowd,” Cillian sighed.

The woman spoke with a heavy french accent, with a light polishing of British undertones after having lived here for what must have been at least ten years. She was bedazzled in a fine blue silk business suit, flat matching shoes, and wonderful locks of flowing blonde hair that made her middle aged beauty stand apart from her counterparts at the table.

“Mr. Williams, the matter before us is more slightly serious than is befitting of light comedy,” the woman said.

If you’d only bother to tell me what that is, or why the fuck I’m even here, I might get on board with it.

“My name is Fleur Delacour, Mr. Williams. But from here on, you’ll address me with the proper salutations as befitting my station as Deputy Director of what you know of only as the DELTA-ALPHA. Understood?” Fleur asked.

“Yes, May’m,” Cillian responded.

“As Atkinson is your sponsor here, the decision has been left up to him as to how much of this matter we are fully prepared to discuss with you. The very nature of the DELTA-ALPHA is a closely guarded secret in this country, and is what we at the SIS refer to as ‘Eyes Only,’ but what I’m sure you might know better as by the American variant, ‘Top Secret,’ with SCI, of course. We have some questions for you, but you must be entirely prepared to accept the fact that you may never know everything about this matter, or even anything at all more than what you know right now. I will not ask if you accept this, or agree to it, simply by the fact that this is United Kingdom National Security law, and you have no choice in the matter,” Fleur said.

“Understood, May’m,” Cillian replied.

“Good. Now, as to the matter of why you’re here,” Fleur said.

Now that all of the legal-Eagle bullshit’s out of the way.

The Deputy Director pointed her pencil at one of the men, and he must have pressed something, because a device was rising out of the center of the table. It was round, with a big camera on the front of it, and had a wire coming out of it, running to the USB port on a laptop computer sitting in front of one of the men.

“This is Squib-Officer Wallanby, and he is the only one here authorized to operate this device. You will not interact with Officer Wallanby in any way. What he's operating is a kind of highly advanced lie detector. I’d like you to look directly at the device when answering these questions,” Fleur said. Fleur glanced at her own notebook, and began scribbling something in it.

“Yes, May’m,” Cillian said.

“Let us begin. Before you’d read the ATL we sent out, had you ever heard any of the following words? Muggle,” Fleur asked.


The device made some sort of quiet vibrations. Some vicious scribbling was happening around the table, the burly men were taking notes.

“Project Deathly Hallows?”






The questions went on for some time, and to each bizarre question - every one more bizarre than the last - Cillian’s only and truthful answer was a resounding ‘no.’ Cillian wondered if this was all a dream. None of these words made any sense at all to him. 

“Well, that takes care of that. And now, I do believe that we owe you some answers, but before we give you those, are you a good man?” Fleur asked.

Cillian sat still for a moment, confused. Where had that come from? It seemed rather random to him.

“Is this a trick question?”

“Not in the slightest.”

“Am I a good man? Well, I think that depends on the barometer applied, doesn’t it? I’m an intelligence operative, which is technically illegal in every country in the world, so by the nature of my profession, I break the law constantly. I’ve killed men both in this job, and in my prior life as an Air Force pilot. I’ve dropped bombs on people from the cockpit of a Growler from 16,000 feet in the air, and from the joystick controller of a UAV as I was sitting in a connex box 3,000 miles away from the target coordinates. If any of that negates me, then so be it, but I believe in what I do. I believe that the right bullet in the right place at the right time can save the world. I’ve never gone off the deep end, and I’ve only ever gone out after lawful orders from my command. I believe in a society of laws, and even if those laws are made by fallible human beings, the nature of law and order is infallible. But I believe that goodness is derived from intentions as well as actions, and my intentions have always been to be good. I want to believe that I am good, yes,” Cillian said. 

“Mr. Williams,” one of the men to Cillian’s left spoke. Cillian hadn’t noticed him before now - he looked to be in his forties or fifties, and was wearing a black pinstripe suit, the only one of those in the room, but with the exact same thin black necktie as the rest of the lot.

“My name is Percy Weasly, Mr. Williams. I work for the Ministry staff. I must say that the reason for our hesitancy to share with you information has not a whole lot to do with its classified nature, or even that we fear your knowing it, but more so from the fact that the DELTA-ALPHA has been betrayed in the past by those from within our own ranks. Even the Minister’s office itself has not escaped the lusty snares of darkness. We’ve had some rotten apples turn up here, and they were as rotten as they can ever come. And people have died. A war that in our world of quiet whispers is legend, but out there is not even known. But in order to continue our investigation, properly, I insist, along with the Minister, herself, that we throw caution to the wind and risk the chance of your inevitable betrayal. Having been granted the authority by both your sponsor, Mr. Atkinson, as well as the highest levels within my own government, I will now ask you one more question. It might sound like a cliche right now, but believe me when I say that in my asking of it, your life will change forever. But I urge caution. The knowledge that follows is dangerous if improperly handled, not for you, but for us. So if you are a good man, you’ll know what to do with this knowledge - but if you are a bad man… well, we know what to do with you. Understand?” Percy asked.

“Message received,” Cillian said.

If I step out of line, they take me out.

“Well then, here’s the question of the ages. What do you know… about magic?”

"About what‽‽” Cillian interrobated. This had now gone too far. That sniveling son of a- that fucking quack doctor had violated his HIPPA rights!

 “Magic, Mr. Williams. Magic,” Percy pushed.

“I thought my psych sessions were private.”

“What do you mean by that?” Fleur asked.

Cillian looked between the Deputy Director and the Minister’s staffer, miffed. These guys were good, he gave them that. Maybe they sent one of their goons into the good doctor's office while he was at lunch and stole his notes on their session from the safe. Maybe they'd bribed the therapist - or maybe he had been working for the Brits the whole time? Well, shit. Cillian was, he had to admit, in Britain. It wouldn't have been that hard to plant a clinician in the American Embassy staff. All that special relationship nonsense did wonders, didn't it?

“You’ve obviously got ahold of my fucking therapist’s notes,” Cillian said.

“I can assure you that nothing of the sort has taken place. That would be out of the question,” Percy said.

“I’m supposed to believe that, am I? You people are spooks, right? I wouldn’t put it past a spook to do some dirty trick like that. But let me tell you, that’s a cunt move right there. Cunt move. I’m out of here,” Cillian said, rising to his feet.

“Sit your ass down!” Atkinson roared, his first words in the last hour and a half.

Cillian, with nostrils flaring and blood beginning to boil, looked at Atkinson, who said all he needed to with just one look of blue steel. Cillian sat back down.

“They’re telling the truth, Williams. They didn’t hack your therapy session, but seeing as you’re entirely explosive about whatever it is you’re afraid of people knowing - whatever it is you said in that session, you might as well tell us whatever it is, since you’ve gotten all of us so curious. I'll make that an order,” Atkinson said.

Cillian slumped in his chair.

Fucking Brits.

“My dreams,” Cillian sighed. He groaned inwardly.

“What about them?” Fleur asked.

“I dream of magic,” Cillian relented.

“Indeed?” Percy asked, leaning forward slightly.

“It sounds quaint, but these are more like nightmares. Night terrors. It’s never quite the same dream, but it’s always about the same thing. War. It doesn’t feel like an omen to me, it feels like it’s all in the past. Like all of this has happened somewhere,” Cillian said.

More vicious scribbling from the men around the table. Cillian continued.

“Giant spiders, the size of Shelob, giants, trolls, ghosts, centaurs, wizards, witches, warlocks… they’re all there. Out on the fields in front of this giant castle, with mountains on all sides of it. Everything is shrouded in darkness. The clouds above me are in the shape of a giant skull. Exploding green lights flash everywhere, and they remind me of RPG hits, but for some reason I know they're dark spells. There are these flying monsters I don’t know the name of, they’ve got these big cloaks and they can suck your soul out of you. They make you feel like you’ll never be cheerful again. It's cold everywhere. These wizards and witches are casting spells from their magic wands, and they’re killing each other very violently. People are being tossed about every which way. Blood and guts are spilling out of every crack in the walls, every loose brick is covered in it. I can never make out what anyone is saying, it’s all jumbled. But I can see people dying everywhere. Hundreds of them, and a lot of them no more than just kids. Just these kids, and they've had to grow up fast. I can’t tell what they’re saying, but I know, for some strange reason, I know that what they’re fighting for is the only thing worth fighting for, the only reason worth killing like that. They're fighting for good versus evil,” Cillian said.

These burly men had all ceased writing. They were all staring at Cillian. Some of them even with mouths fully agape. The entire room was stunned.

They must think I’m fucking nuts.

“Well, like I told my therapist, it was a dream. Just a dream. Dreams have no stock on reality,” Cillian tried to explain.

“How does it end?” Fleur asked.

Cillian shook his head.

“Always the same. There’s this child’s toy, a stick about yay big,” Cillian said, holding out his hands to approximately measure the distance, “and it’s broken in two halves. It flies through the air, and lands in the water, and it just bobs there, floating gently downstream. Every night a little bit further downstream. That’s how it always ends. I dream about normal things after that, or I just wake up,” Cillian said.

Fleur and Percy exchanged a stunned glance. Fleur mouthed something to Percy that Cillian couldn’t make out. If Cillian had to guess what that word was, he would have guessed it was something like psycho. Percy turned to Cillian.

“About how long have you had this dream, Mr. Williams?” Percy asked.

“Just in the last few months. I think it’s just my brain’s way of processing what happened to me in Afghanistan,” Cillian said.

“Oh, yes, surely. That must be it,” Percy said unconvincingly.

Fleur looked at her watch, an Omega, it looked like, but from the glance he stole at it, with weird looking dials.

“Well, I think we’ve concluded our business here. We’ll be in touch, Mr. Williams,” Fleur said.

With that, the room rose to their feet, and the DELTA-ALPHA members funneled themselves hurriedly out of the room, leaving Cillian alone with Atkinson.

“What was all that about?” Cillian said.

“Forget it. It would do you best to forget that this meeting took place, Williams. If they need you, they’ll call you. Now go home. Enjoy yourself tomorrow, you’ve got the day off, since I took up most of your time today,” Atkinson grumbled. “And come back tomorrow bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready to kill some terrorists with those lethal keystrokes of yours.”

C H A P T E R  •  S I X

“I had an interesting conversation with some interesting people today,” Cillian said through the slatted partition of the Confessional booth.

“Is this something to be elaborated on?” Father Dickson asked.

“Not sure. I know this is the Confessional, but you know my views on top secret, Father,” Cillian said.

“Intimately, Cillian,” Father Dickson nodded. “Although I should mention that it’s technically not the Confessional until the Confession has actually started.”

“What’s your view on magic, Father?” Cillian asked.

“Magic?” Father Dickson asked.

“Yeah, you know, like the Lord of the Rings and stuff like that. Is Gandalf good or evil? What about Luke Skywalker?” Cillian asked.

Father Dickson chuckled a bit.

“Keeping in mind that fiction is not true, all doctrinal understandings of the Roman Catholic faith are recorded in the Catholic Catechism. If we remember the Catechism correctly, Chapter three… verse twenty-one seventeen, I believe?” Father Dickson asked.

“You’re the P.H.D., Father,” Cillian said.

“Yes, well it makes mention that if you attempt to claim occult powers, for yourself, and to have supernatural powers over others, then it goes against what we call the ‘virtue of religion.’ Because that is an entirely unfair advantage, isn’t it? Shouldn’t it only be God that has the power over time, and over others? It wouldn’t be fair at all if no one but you could move objects with your mind, or turn invisible at will. But it asks that we ‘even more condemn’ the actions of someone who uses these powers specifically to hurt others, or to interact with demons,” Father Dickson said.

“So magic is evil?” Cillian asked.

“In its original definition, the more evil is called divination, which was originally defined in the more Babylonian understanding - becoming yourself Divine without the consent of God. A very Old Testament word, defined in a world when thousands of false gods and idols were rampant - and even more the practice of killing in their names. You remember the tale of Babylon, yes? These men in their vast city, they wanted to build a tower so tall, so high, that they would be able to reach the gates of Heaven without the consent of God, and in a sense be Gods themselves,” Father Dickson said.

“Yeah, I remember it. God shot a bolt of lightning, split the tower, and the Babylonians were scattered over the Earth,” Cillian said.

“But we have to recognize that the words we use in our ancient religion are still defined in their old ways, their proper ways. Sometimes the meaning of words in the world out there, well they change, don’t they?” Dickson asked.

“Meat, awe, cute, flit, literally,” Cillian said, listing off some words whose definitions had changed over time.

“Indeed, indeed. In another verse, we’re reminded of a man named ‘Simon the magician,’ in the Bible, who saw the powers that the Apostles had, and wanted to buy them for himself. Surely these Apostles were magicians? Surely they were wizards? After all, they could speak in tongues, they could perform inhuman acts. But Peter repeated the words of Jesus Christ: ‘You received without pay, give without pay.’” Father Dickson said.

“What does that mean?” Cillian asked.

“My modern translation is basically thus; avoid magic, where possible. The Catechism warns us against seeking after these powers, or using them for evil. However, I have to understand through logic that your examples Luke Skywalker and Gandalf, in their entirely fictional worlds - were born with these powers, leading me to say that God gave these men their powers to do with them good deeds, and to be with them good men. After all, a modern synonym for magic might be ‘miracle.’ And the Bible is chalk full of those. Jesus walked on water, turned water into wine, predicted his own death, and raised himself from the dead. Most people forget this, or haven’t read the full book themselves so they wouldn’t even know - Jesus wasn’t even the first person to do that in the Bible. Moses talked to a bush that was literally on fire, he turned a staff into a snake, and he parted the Red Sea. Saints have cured the blind, the fatally sick, have done all sorts of things that are inexplicable without faith. Surely these miracles might also be called magic. Magic that was gifted from God, and given to God, and God alone,” Father Dickson said.

“Seems like a revolutionary concept for a Catholic Priest,” Cillian said.

“You forget that I’m not a Diocesan, Cillian. I’m a Franciscan. That’s the only reason you come to me for these talks, isn’t it? Father Spenser might be just a little more liturgical in his approach to the profession than myself. Whereas he is focused on different responsibilities managing a Diocese of this size, most of my time is spent in open contemplation of the beauty of God’s majesty,” Father Dickson said.

Cillian nodded, in contemplative agreement.

“In keeping with our theme here, let me give you a question. If you were somehow given these magic powers, if you’d never wanted them, or asked for them, but were given these powers - what would you do with them? A good friend of mine in my youth once said to me that it is not our abilities that define us, but what we choose to do with them,” Father Dickson said.

Father Dickson leaned in, reached up and slid back the Confessional booth's partition, and chuckled a bit, looking to Cillian. “Curiosity satisfied then, Cillian?”

“Just more to think about, honestly. But I think I’m ready, Father,” Cillian said.

With that, Dickson closed the partition, sitting back reverently in his chair.

“I can now take your confession,” Father Dickson said, with a more serious tone

“Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been one week since my last confession. These are my sins…” Cillian clammed up again. Every time he’d been here, every time he’d wanted to confess about killing a man, the same thing happened. He could not muster up the courage to get close. Even after all this time, he hadn’t been able to tell anyone outside of the IC about Donovan Conroy. The therapy sessions were different, because they were mandated. But this was him opening his heart to how he really felt about it, and the trouble was that Cillian didn’t know what he felt about it.

For his part, Dickson was a cool character. In this city, and in the others that Dickson had lived, he must’ve heard all sorts of things in the Confessional. He just sat there, waiting patiently.

“For my job, I follow orders. And…” Cillian took a deep breath in, and then out again. “And… one of those orders… a while back now, was to- to- was to kill someone,” Cillian managed to blurt out.

All of the blood had drained from Cillian’s face. He was ashen, and as still as a dusty footprint on the moon.

“You already know that I’ve killed others as a pilot, but there had always seemed to be something more noble about that, and more honest. This one though, he was a drug runner, arms dealer, human trafficker, all around gangster. If it wasn’t nailed down, he would try and sell it. The streets whispered his nickname, and they called him the ‘Potion Master,’" Cillian paused, looking down at his hands, and rubbing them together. He'd suddenly gotten very cold.

"I’m not entirely sure why they called him that, but he was bad - real real bad. He was about to come into possession of some very dangerous weaponry. My bosses wanted me to make it look like someone else was responsible. I was inside his organization, deep undercover. We were in Beirut at the time, and bombs aren’t unusual there. It was my idea to use an explosive package in his apartment. It was my operation. It was my idea, Father, to blame it on ISIS. I thought of it. Everyone in my community keeps talking about how hindsight is 20/20, and I never knew what they meant until now. I feel like a piece of my soul has splintered off, and I might never get it back. I was following orders, yes, but Donovan Conroy is dead because of me.”


The Wizengamot had been summoned. The quickest owls in all of Her Majesty’s Government had been despatched across the whole of the UK, and a full attendance had been demanded for the matter at hand.

The Chief Warlock, Percy Weasley, cleared his throat.

“Mr. Thomas, can you describe to us, in detail, the events which led you to this?” Percy asked.

“Sir. As you be knowing- ahem, I mean to say, as you know, I was assigned to catalogue the Hall of Prophecy as a part of my internship here, at the Ministry,” Daniel said.

“I see there is our first curious case. Wouldn’t this be more of an appropriate task for the Keeper to have performed?” Percy asked.

“Well, Sir, it would have done - only there hasn’t been a Keeper of the Hall since 1995, Sir. You know, since the battle. My guessing is that the Ministry just forgot to assign one, Sir, being so busy with the War and all - and it’s been vacant ever since, Sir,” Daniel said, nervously.

“Indeed? That is most curious. Well, I shall have spoken with the Minister of Magic on this matter before the end of business today. It simply can’t do us to be without a Keeper of the Prophecies,” Percy said, more to the members of the Wizengamot than to Daniel. This was followed my a low murmur agreements, and nodding heads around the room.

“Who was it that assigned you this task, to catalogue the Hall?” Percy asked.

“Director Delacour, Sir. She and the Director of the Department of Mysteries reckoned that it was high time we made at an Official Prophecy Audit, and get about the task of getting the Hall back up and running, Sir,” Daniel said.

“Indeed, commendable thinking on their parts. But why did they assign you to the task, when there are more experienced wizards who could have done this?”

“Well, Sir, I think it was more to be as busy work for me, than anything else. I’ve finished the biggest tasks required for the credits of my internship, and the smaller tasks are all that remain. But since my internship has a time hack, they didn’t want me to be wandering around here with nothing to do, so they gave me an assignment I’m sure they thought would take me a long time. I’d been instructed to do the cataloging the old-fashioned way, Sir, with pencil and paper. But I’ve grown fond of Microsoft Excel, Sir. It’s very handy to have around, even if it is a muggle thing - I’ve been reading some of the works of a man named Faraday, and I use one of his designs to protect my muggle device from interference. It really is a rather ingenious contraption-“

“Mr. Thomas, please get to the point,” Percy said.

“Right, Sir. Well, I was instructed to read the tags of the prophecies, and record the details into my notebook. So-and-so, to so-and-so, and the subject, of course. But after a very long time of typing entries onto my notebook, I got tired, and bored. And there weren’t any more salient details about the subjects, either, so I decided to use magic. But I didn’t know the right spell, so I just said the first thing I could think of, and voila, presto, there you go,” Damien said.

Professor Filius Flitwick, a Warlkock member of the Wizengamot himself, spoke up at this.

“Damien, you just waved your wand and said something? Are you saying that you just made it up‽” Flitwick asked.

“Well, basically, Sir.”

“That- that’s not how magic works!”

“But, it did work, Sir,” Damien said.

“That’s not even close to how magic works!”

“Right Sir, I know that, Sir - but I was bored. I mean, really, really bored, Sir,” Damien explained.

“That’s no excuse, young man! You’re lucky you still have another year at Hogwarts, and I only have to tell you that you’re going to be in detention for the first month of term when you get back. Otherwise, I shutter to think. You could seriously hurt someone like that, just wantonly throwing about words of power like that. Six years at Hogwarts, and you do some foolish thing like that… even first years know better,” Flitwick moaned.

“An appropriate and adequate punishment, Professor Flitwick. I believe the Muggles call what I just felt like doing, a ‘facepalm.’ Alright, Mr. Thomas. Thank you for your testimony here today. You are released to your duties. Be sure to make it to detention, however, Thomas. This is the Wizengamot, the highest court of our world, and not the Quidditch pitch at Hogwarts - wizards who disobey our orders often find themselves facing war worse consequences, or even biding their time in Azkaban Prison, understand?” Percy asked, striking fear into the boy.

“Yes, Sir. I understand fully,” Damien said, before standing up, bowing, and leaving the grand chamber.

After he had gone, Percy offhandedly mentioned that he was a delightful young man, and might make an excellent Auror one day.

“I call on the next witness for Testimony, Deputy to the Director of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, and Director of the Department of Aurors, Fleur Delacour,” Percy announced.

Fleur entered the room, and sat in the witness chair.

“How did you make the connection between this prophecy and the Deathly Hallows, Mrs. Delacour?” Percy asked.

“The prophecy’s identification tag was nearly unreadable, due to the damage it had suffered in the battle of 95, and the neglect of time - but we were able to make out the initials “S.P.T.” At six in the morning yesterday, I traveled by Flu Powder along with two Aurors to the Three Broomsticks, the pub in Hogsmead village, and met with Professor Trelawny in secret. She told me that she could not remember the exact details of the prophecy, only that it was about a Muggle, and that it might have had something to do with the Deathly Hallows. But she reminded me that since not all prophecies come true, and that the Deathly Hallows have already been broken - the Elder Wand was destroyed by Harry Potter - that the prophecy was most likely useless, anyways,” Fleur said.

“Thank you, very much, Mrs. Delacour. I might suggest that you tend to Mr. Thomas for the moment,” Percy said. Fleur got up, and left the room.

“I now call on the next witness for Testimony, MACUSA’s liaison to the Ministry, Mr. Reginald Atkinson,” Percy announced.

Atkinson limped into the room and sat in the chair.

Certain members of the Wizengamot had to adjust themselves, for the sadness they felt - Atkinson much reminded them of their old friend Mad Eye Moody who had died so many years ago. The eyepatch, the limp, the disgruntled demeanor.

“Chief Warlock,” Atkinson acknowledged.

“Mr. Atkinson. My first question is probably the more obvious one that we’re all begging to know the answer to - is the CIA aware of your being a wizard?” Percy asked.

“The CIA is not aware of it, no. The CIA is a non magical outfit, they’re ignorant to magic. But in the early days after the OSS became the CIA, I’d say that a good two thirds of the lot were planted there by MACUSA, and I was one of those. MACUSA didn’t have the resources for an international intelligence network, so they merely used the one that the No-Mag’s were already building-up,” Atkinson explained.

“One of those early plants then went on to become a Death Eater?” Percy asked.

“Archibald Moss. He betrayed us, and it’s no wonder - he was a fucking rat. He even stole the logo from the Skull and Bones and used it on that Death Eater tattoo. Stupid little-“

“We get the picture, Mr. Atkinson, and I must caution you to mind your language in this place,” Percy said.

Atkinson looked up and around at the grand chamber, and was humbled by its magnificence, and then looked back to Percy.

“My apologies, Chief Warlock,” Atkinson said.

“Now, let us speak about your Muggle - or I should translate, non-magical employee.”

“Yes. The young Mr. Williams. He ain’t a wizard, that’s for damn sure. Not a squib, either. Not a magical person in his family for as far back as their genealogical records go, but of course the Dublin records building was burned in 1922 - so we couldn’t trace it back as far back as we would’ve liked,” Atkinson grumbled.

“But as far as you’re aware, Mr. Atkinson?” Percy asked.

“Cillian Williams is the epitome of No-Mag, Sir. Not an ounce of magical blood in his body.”

“And I should trust that you’d know when and how to obliviate him, if necessary? After all, he is one of your lot. If he were a British citizen, we’d have other methods, but under MACUSA law-“

“Yes, Chief Warlock. But I don’t think that it will be, Sir. It’s his job to keep secrets, after all. I should also recommend that we might hold off on an obliviation for now. As my area of expertise is intelligence, I would seriously consider developing a surveillance effort on Mr. Williams,” Atkinson suggested.

Percy’s eyes were like slowly moving pinballs as he considered this. He looked about the room, and saw the nodding heads.

“I’ll call the Aurors.”

C H A P T E R • S E V E N

It had been nearly three weeks since Cillian had spoken with Atkinson, and those weeks had for the most part been as uneventful as a life like his could lend. He could swear that he hadn’t heard the word “magic” in all that time, as well.

London’s Embassy DST staff wasn’t all that much to boast for. There were probably four full time DST employees at any given time here, the rest of the lot had been sequestered by the DOD’s new Cyber Command structure in the new joint venture with NATO all the way across the country in that big round building out in Cheltenham that Cillian thought was in rather poor taste, the fucking monstrosity to architecture that it was, the GCHQ. Cillian seriously thought the place gave circles a bad name.

When all those people had still been stationed at the Embassy, the DST had nearly twenty employees and was a cacophony of disorder. It made it easier that there were no printers here, so he hadn’t felt the cumbersome weight of the thousands of pages that had been passed back and forth between members of the staff all day long, but there was still the hectic environment that came with this place.

After they’d all packed-up and left for Wales leaving only the skeleton crew behind, Cillian was finally able to breathe. He didn’t have to focus on all of the inner office politics of the CIA anymore, leaving him free to actually do the job. He wasn’t originally authorized to make the move to GCHQ because of him being temporarily grounded at the time, undergoing review, after having killed a man in the field. It was standard policy, and at the time Cillian had been frustrated at having to go through with it. But the more that time went by, the more he realized how lucky he was that he got to stay in London. He’d been in Cardiff one time only, and he fucking hated it.

He glanced at the TARDIS replica on his desk just then.

Captain Jack can have Cardiff. I’ll keep London, thanks.

Being held back from the big move certainly had advantages, and one of the best was that his new crew boss had authorized the expenditure for him to acquire an Alienware Aurora R7 with five HP 25er displays mounted to the wall and a rainbow Alienware keyboard. He’d even been authorized to modify the innards of the PC to his own specifications. Back when the old boss was still here, none of this would have been allowed. He would have been stuck with his shitty government-issued Dell laptop, trying to compete in a world of white hats, black hats, and asshats strapped with the best machines that a Nigerian Prince could buy. He would have made due, just as he had always done, but he would have always been slower, several steps behind. This was better. His new boss had given him candy land, and now he never wanted to leave.

But analyzing cyber-cryptographological patterns was still numbskull work. Unfortunately, he had failed upward with KLAXON. Ever since he’d made his name for himself tracking that worm back to its source, he’d been given more and more complex assignments. Puzzles, as it were. Puzzles that he had to unravel bit by bit. Puzzles that he knew, once solved, would lead to targets.

After Donovan Conroy, Headquarters at Langley had thought that they might recall him, but he had started to understand something fundamental about human nature on a deeper level than he ever had before - life is impermanent. Every bullet has its billet. His would come some day, too. This understanding had left him in place.

Currently, Cillian was busy tracking the source of an account that had managed to disrupt the business of several NHS hospitals by hacking their computer systems and sending them each a ransom note via madman in a Fawkes mask and altered voice. What had flagged this as DST territory was the fact that this ransom account apparently matched up with an ISP that had been used by an Al Qaeda cell in Paris. Usama’s son was starting to make a name for himself in the ranks of the formerly fervent and loyal, and the CIA wanted to make sure that this hospital hack wasn’t going to turn out to be a fundraising effort for a more blatant attack. Wouldn’t it be sick, but just up their alley, to steal all of the hospital’s money and then blow it up with a suicide bomber right after? They’d probably throw in a line about idolatry of money on their internet video just for shits and giggles.

But Gods, after having been out in the field, his adrenal glands stimulated for months on end, all of this was just starting to feel a little… boring. His eyes were starting to glaze over. He realized that he had been staring at the same screen for the last three minutes, and decided to get up and take a walk. He shut down his machine and pulled his ID out of the CAC slot.

At this time of night, there were only a few people in the cafeteria, but thankfully the kitchen kept a pot of soup refreshed 24/7. This evening’s soup du jour was split pea and ham. Cillian grabbed a bowl and brought it with him to the table, keeping himself entertained with whatever was on the television at the moment. It looked like a panel show of some kind.

Eight Out of Ten Cats Does Countdown? Could they have made a longer fucking name?

After nearly 15 minutes of Jimmy Carr running with a bit calling Sean Locke Britain’s most lovable serial killer, Cillian looked down at his soup and realized that he hadn’t taken but two bites.

He looked about the cafeteria, and saw that he was still one of only a few people in the place, and he suddenly felt a chill of loneliness, but it only lasted a moment. As soon as he spun back to face his food, he saw the hulking Ethiopian-American figure of Carlton Hughes towering above him.

“Getting bored?” Hughes asked, grinning wide.

“Oh, God, yes,” Cillian replied.

“Want to get back in the field?” Hughes asked, still grinning.

“I thought you’d never ask.”


Carlton Hughes had some stupid official cover title that nobody could ever remember, not even the bad guys, which made Cillian wonder why he bothered to keep up with the pretense at all. But what the man really did here was manage the Clandestine DIROPS as Deputy Chief of Station. What was surprising about him was that he was genuinely a nice person. Nobody had ever had a bad word to say about him. Literally nobody, not even the people who were trying to kill him. Everybody just liked him. Back in Langley, they reminded him of Robert Ames during the Cold War. A real gentleman spy.

“I have to warn you, it’s a menial task. Low risk. But I saw that look in your eyes back at the Embassy, thought you might like to stretch your legs a bit,” Hughes said.

“Absolutely, spot on,” Cillian agreed.

A noise to Cillian’s right startled Cillian, a prisoner was being escorted to the yard through the visitor’s area. He adjusted the volume on his video chat window.

“The task is simple enough. There’s a hacker in that prison that DGSE picked up last month, they haven’t been able to get anything out of him. Before he’s extradited to his home country of New Zealand, we’ve been given a go at him. You’ll accompany his escort to the safe house, and then assist the interrogation. Don’t worry. This one’s all above board. We have to keep him nice and tidy before we hand him off to the Kiwis, and that means we won’t be getting - well, no hands on contact. You’ll need to keep an eye on Davis, he’s a little bit insane. For the most part he does what he’s told. He can tend to… well, get a little carried away with these things, but he knows his shit and in a pinch he will save your life,” Hughes remarked.

“Understood, Sir.”

“Right. Remember, this is Davis’ show. You’re there for your technical expertise. That’s it.”

With that, Cillian was left with a screen that read C. HUGHES HAS LEFT THIS CHAT. Cillian closed his laptop and slid it back into his bag.

He heard the jingle jangle of iron bracelets to his left, and in walked the notorious hacker that Cillian knew of as "GatheringStormXXX", accompanied by several burly CIA operations officers, including Scott Davis. Davis nodded to him from several feet away, and Cillian stood up, following the conga line out of the building and into the prisoner transport vehicle loading area.

Cillian was made to ride in the back of the transport directly across from the hacker, as an attempt to get the man to open up, by what the Ops guys must have thought would be the bonding of nerdkind. Unfortunately for Cillian, Davis wasn’t aware that Cillian thought of himself as the cop, and Storm thought of himself as the robber. So he was left to sit across from the sociopathic hacker for the next forty five minutes in complete silence. By the time they had reached the safe house, Cillian was feeling utterly useless here.

The three ops guys walked Storm up to a third floor apartment and left him in a reinforced bedroom-turned interrogation room. But it had a real mattress in it, which was more than the prisoner had when he was at La Santé.

“Alright. Williams, put your feet up a while. My team and I have only had an hour of sleep for the last three days and we’re all ready for some serious rapid eye movements. We’ll be down for the count for at least eight hours. Go enjoy a night on the town. This is Paris, City of Love, after all,” Davis said.

Cillian hadn’t expected this.

“What about the interrogation?” Cillian asked.

“Williams, we’ve got the man for a whole week. He isn’t going anywhere. We’re not going anywhere, and he’ll be here when we wake up,” Davis said.

Cillian could see the point. He’d had some long days when he was in Afghanistan, and he knew it was much harder to think clearly after seventeen hours without sleep. The interrogation would certainly go smoother when all of the team was well rested, well fed, and well kept.

“I’ve never seen the Eiffel Tower before,” Cillian said.

“That’s the spirit, Williams. Just remember the code for the door. Don’t want you getting locked out. The Housekeeper lives on the first floor, he’s got the petty cash if you need to borrow some. Nighty-night, I’m lights the fuck out!” Davis exclaimed happily, before walking into his room, dropping his duffle bag on the floor, and falling face first onto his mattress. In mere seconds, the man was out cold, and he hadn’t even taken his boots off.

Cillian’s night on the town consisted primarily of a lot of rather bemused Parisians staring at him as he attempted to make polite conversation and ask for directions using his less than rudimentary understanding of the French language.

“Ou est la Tour Eiffel?” he’d asked an older man, who simply snorted like a pig and chuckled a bit.

“Chercher le ciel! Je pense vous peux trouver la Tour haut dans le ciel,” the old man said, shaking his head laughing a little more, before walking off.

Cillian didn’t know French, and was at even more of a loss.

Eventually he happened upon a very amenable bilingual cabbie.

“I studied in les Etas for some time,” the cabbie said with a heavy Parisian accent, between heavy puffs of a Camel 99 cigarette.

“Did you?” Cillian asked, wondering if it was at all legal for French cabbies to smoke while on duty, but putting it out of his mind for the city lights passing by his window.

Oais- yes. At Harvard, for a couple of years - I wanted to be an aeronautical engineer."

“What happened?” Cillian asked, wondering how a man who had been accepted into Harvard might find himself driving a cab.

“I became an aeronautical engineer,” the french man said definitively, as if that might explain everything, blowing another puff of cigarette smoke out of his open window.

“I see,” said Cillian, who didn’t.

“My whole life all I wanted to do was build planes, and then after ten years of school, and debts that I still have to pay off, and a full year of internships in unrelated positions - I finally got around to doing it. But I realized something very important - I hated it,” the cabbie said, turning the wheel hard to avoid a rogue bicyclist.

“Nique ta mere!” Cillian heard the bicyclist shout through the open window.

“Baise les jeunes!” the cabbie shouted back.

“Why the cab?” Cillian asked.

Le taxi? Because I love it! I love the people! The driving, you know? Vroom vroom, non? I make enough money, far more than enough for me - just with one mouth to feed, no famille, yes? All the young ones are going to Uber, but I can go places Uber can’t, and I make more money because this is a job, not a contract or a commission. I get a salary,” the cabbie said.

For several more hours, the cabbie gave Cillian a tour of the city by night, paid for by the GTC in Cillian’s back pocket of course. Like he was going to pay for this shit with his own money. He shuddered at the mere thought of it. Cillian was given the Parisian cabbie’s inside scoop on all the best and worst places, the places to avoid at all costs, and so on.

At the end of it, Cillian was entirely grateful to have made the man’s acquaintance. This evening had been far better than he'd expected.

“Thanks very much for the ride,” Cillian said as he exited the vehicle, swiping his GTC in the credit card reader, before closing the door and watching the cab drive off into the stirring city of love.

Cillian spun to look up at the apartment complex where he would be sleeping that evening. Safe house seemed an ‘cutely accurate representation in this case, the edifice of this building gave nothing away to the fact that it was wholly owned and managed by the government of the United States of America. It was entirely identical to every single other apartment complex on this street. But apparently, and this was according to Davis so he took it with some salt, this place had been standing since well before the United States was made a nation. The only thing that anyone actually paying attention would notice that differed this unit from the units to the left and to the right of it was the three foot tall brass statue of a bald Eagle perched on the ledge that separated the third and forth floors, gripping a bouquet of arrows in its right hand, and shouting out into the night sky.

Concealed within that bronze statue of an Eagle was a video camera connected to a suite of facial and gait recognition software that would signal an alarm to QRF if the person wishing to enter the building did not stand still for several seconds and look directly at it. One of the many redundancies of security contained within this structure.

It was while Cillian was looking up at this statue, waiting for the camera to recognize his face, that he noticed several bright flashes of both white and green light from the window directly above it, accompanied by the faint - but distinctly unmistakeable - sounds of suppressed gunfire from a Beretta M9.


He stood there for a few more moments, believing that his senses were playing a trick on him. That is, until he saw another bright green flash, followed by the figure of one of the Operations officers slump against the window, blood staining the glass as he slid down motionless out of view.

Jesus fucking Christ!

Cillian reacted quickly at this. He dropped the pile of tourist magazines and newspapers that he had been carrying, and bolted up the stairs. He threw all of his weight into his shoulder and braced for impact against the door. Of course, it wouldn’t budge. It was a triple reinforced steel door only covered with a false wood front to make it look normal. It was more like a vault than a front door. The only way that it would open was for his RFID keycard and an eight digit door code.

Hurriedly, Cillian tapped the breast pocket of his jacket against the RFID pad, and it dinged. Cillian could still hear gunfire coming from upstairs as he typed the digits into the pin pad. It buzzed with a loud noise, indicating that he’d entered the wrong code.

“Fuck!” Cillian swore, as he heard another barrage of gunfire.

His hand was shaking as he focused on the task and tried to type in the numbers without making another mistake. The seconds mattered. It dinged. A loud noise was heard as the door unlatched its bolts and swung open. At this, Cillian once again threw his weight into the door, and it crashed open.

Upon stumbling into the entryway, he immediately saw the lifeless form of the Housekeeper lying at the bottom of the stairs, still clutching at his holstered weapon. Cillian quickly armed himself with the dead man’s Sig Sauer, and grabbed the extra magazine from one of the fake books on the shelf directly above him. Taking the safety off of his weapon, Cillian’s gaze quickly fell upon the landing above him.

His nostrils flared. His eyes narrowed. His pulse quickened. His pupils dilated.

He took one large breath as if about to dive underwater, and raised the pistol.

Taking the stairs three flights at a time, Cillian was starting to worry. The intervals between gunfire had lengthened considerably since the engagement had begun, and Cillian hoped that this wasn’t an indication that his comrades were dropping like bowling pins and that he might now be on the loosing side.

When Cillian reached the landing for the third floor, he saw that the door to the prisoner’s quarters had been completely taken off of its hinges - its force had impaled one of the officers, who must have been standing on the other side of it when it was blown. The officer’s lifeless corps was lying beneath the fallen door. There was a pair of undone handcuffs lying not two feet from the door, and the prisoner was missing.

The gunfire seemed to be coming from the forth floor apartment. He vaulted up the stairs to the next floor. He could hear several more loud noises, and could see bright flashes of green light coming from the cracks around the slightly ajar door.

Cillian took one more deep breath, and kicked at the door with his pistol raised straight in front of him. What he saw next was revolting. It was like a kick in the guts from an invisible hand.

It was carnage. The members of Davis’ team, along with several members of a second team working on a different operation that had been staying in the apartment just above - seven people in all, were dead. Their bodies were strewn haphazardly around the den, like a tornado had gone off in here. There was the dead man lying at the foot of the window that Cillian had seen from the street. Another one whose brains were scattered all over the cereal that he had been eating in the kitchen, blood red milk leaking out of the bowl, spilling off the table and onto the floor. Davis looked like he had been the last man to fall, his body sprawled over an armchair but two feet away from the man who had killed him.

That man was impossible.

The man standing on the other side of the room with the hacker linked on his arm - the man who must have been the one who had killed all of these officers, had murdered them… it was Donovan Conroy.

Cillian froze for a moment, his pistol dropping to his side as he was thrown by what his eyes were showing him. He took a step forward.

Conroy smirked, a sort of evil twinkle in his eye, like he had known all along that the two men would cross paths again one day. Conroy raised his right hand to his forehead and gave a sly salute with two fingers above his eyebrow. Cillian raised his weapon, but he knew there was something he was missing. Something in Conroy’s eyes, something that Conroy knew that he didn’t. He fired his pistol, but somehow he knew it was too late.

That’s when the bomb went off, and Cillian’s world went black.

C H A P T E R • E I G H T

Cillian knew that he was dreaming again. The framed edges of his sanity were slowly collapsing, crumbling in upon his fragile state.

He could hear the toy this time, that broken stick bobbing gently on the water. It was calling to him, saying something that was too quiet for him to hear. He craned his neck and tried to listen. As if his perception was a video camera in a movie, the shot sat on the stick for a few more moments, before panning up, and he could see London. He seemed to be standing on the shores of the Thames, and as he looked back into the water, he saw the face of Donovan Conroy staring back up at him.

Cillian bolted awake, suddenly aware of his new reality. The blood rushed to his head and he felt like he was going to pass out, and everything was blurry and quite bright. He felt a large hand on his shoulder.

“Alright, Son. You’re alright, just lie back,” Hughes said, gently guiding Cillian back to his pillow.

“My chest…” Cillian said, trying to find the words through the pain, “it feels like an elephant sat on it.”

“I should think so. You had a shard of glass sticking out of it, and three of your ribs were broken,” a woman’s voice said.

Cillian blinked his eyes several times, his vision coming back to him as his eyes adjusted to the light. He saw that the woman who spoke was Alice Everlane, one of his coworkers at the DST. Alice was a kind of Goth girl with jet black hair, black lipstick, lots of tattoos, and a nose ring. She was one of the people that Cillian had genuinely enjoyed working with at the CIA. Cillian had wondered if Steig Larsson had based his character partly on her.

“Storm-" Cillian managed.

“The hacker? In the wind,” Alice said.

The hospital nurse walked up and used a remote control on the mattress to slowly help Cillian sit up.

“You’ve been blown up, Officer Williams. Not a lot of us get to say that,” Atkinson grumbled from his chair in the corner of the room.

“I wanted to apologize, Williams. When I said ‘low risk,’ well… You really are very lucky to be alive,” Hughes said.

Cillian took a deep breath and let it out slowly.

“I’m not the only one,” Cillian sighed, garnishing a slight look of confusion from Hughes.

“We’re going to find him-“ Alice started to say, before Cillian cut her off.

“I’m not TALKING about the hacker! He’s chump change. He’s not the one who killed everyone in there. He’s not the one who set off that bomb,” Cillian seethed.

“Someone else was there?” Hughes asked.

Cillian turned to look out of the window. He did not speak for a long while.

“It was Conroy.”

Hughes and Atkinson exchanged a surprised look with each other. Alice’s mouth just sort of hung open for a few moments before she quickly clamped it shut.

“Officer Williams, you’ve been under some pretty heavy general anesthetics,” Hughes said.

“I didn’t fucking imagine it, Sir. It was Donovan Conroy. I don’t know how he survived, but he did. He’s alive, and he killed them all,” Cillian spat with hatred.

“How do you know this?” Hughes asked.

“Because I saw him. He looked right at me. The fucker looked me in the eyes and saluted me,” Cillian said, mimicking the salute that Conroy had given him just before the explosion.

Hughes seemed momentarily as stunned as Cillian had felt when he was standing in the doorway of that apartment.

“Well, strap on a dildo and call me Susie! Ain’t that just a kick in the head?” Atkinson asked, breaking the glacial flow of ice that had just formed.

“Or a bomb in the face. The weird thing is that you didn’t find his body. He couldn’t have been standing any further than you are now, Sir,” Cillian said to Atkinson.

“Well if he’s survived one bomb- well, that’s interesting…” Atkinson said as if realizing something very important, but he kept it to himself.

“Y- yes. Well, Officer Williams. I hate to have to do this, but I’m taking you off active duty status again, at least until you’ve healed-up. You’re welcome to return to DST, of course - but naturally you can’t be involved in any operation to pursue Conroy until the Doc signs off on it,” Hughes said.

“Understood, Sir,” Cillian said.

“We’ll work up a target package on him in the meantime. But you need to rest.”

“Welcome back to the land of the Living, you lucky son of a bitch,” Atkinson said.

The two senior company men left the room then, and Cillian could see them arguing fervently out in the hallway.


Did Cillian really feel lucky? It was more like Cillian felt that something very bad was going to happen. Donovan Conroy was alive, and he’d stolen a prisoner that Cillian was supposed to have been guarding. The only reason that Cillian was alive was because he was out and about, spending a lovely night in the Parisian atmosphere of young love. Cillian should have guessed, in the back seat of that taxi, that it was just the calm before the fall.

Shit. How the fuck is that monster still alive?

“You feeling alright besides?” Alice asked.

“Just more questions floating around my thick skull.”

“You should be grateful for that, the thick skull - the doctors were picking out fragments of human bone from your forehead for hours. Not yours, obviously,” Alice said.

“Human bone?”

“Yeah, wanna see?” Alice asked playfully as she picked up a clear plastic container in an evidence bag from Cillian’s side table. She shook the container a few times, and it sounded like a rattle.

“The shrapnel they pulled from your body. DCRI needs to keep all of this as evidence, but I thought you might get a kick out of it,” Alice said, handing the bag to him.

“You’re more enthused about bone shards than most other people I’ve met,” Cillian remarked.

“I’m Goth,” Alice said.

Cillian rolled the container around in his hands, looking at the little bits of shrapnel fall like sand in a drum as he spun the thing round and round. There were little bits of metal, wood, glass, and other things that Cillian couldn’t recognize.

“Jesus, is that a tooth?”

“Number eleven, I believe, upper left canine,” Alice said, with a sense of fascination.

Cillian did understand the fascination, and if he wasn’t more emotionally attached to the context of it, he would have probably felt more like a child at the science museum for the first time.

But at that moment, he was struggling to understand how he felt.

“You know, I’ve been blown up before,” Alice said.

This startled Cillian.

“What‽ Have you really?” Cillian asked.

“Yeah, on Call of Duty, sure, loads of times,” Alice said, grinning wide.

Cillian laughed. He tried to grab his pillow to throw it at her, but his chest made its presence known, and he doubled over wincing in pain.

“I wouldn’t try it, limp dick,” Alice said, laughing, helping Cillian sit back up on the bed.

“I’m going to be stuck in this bed for weeks,” Cillian moaned.

“Nah, Docs say you should be back to sedentary work in a few days,” Alice said.

“I hate hospitals.”

“Of course you do. Anyways, I have to get back to the office. But the rest of the guys send their best,” Alice said. “Tell Nate to stay away the fuck away from my Dungeon Master journal. No cheating. I mean it,” Cillian said.

“I’ll tell him,” Alice said.

“And if anyone touches my turkey sandwich in the mini fridge, I’ll kick their ass to the curb,” Cillian said. “Got it,” Alice said, ruffling his hair.

Cillian grabbed a hold of her hand, and looked at her in the eyes.

“Thanks,” Cillian said.

Alice said nothing. She simply bent down and kissed him on the forehead as a mother would her child. She firmly pressed her hand into his a couple of times, and then released it. She spun and walked to the door. In the doorway, she spoke again.

“We’re all pulling for you, kid,” Alice said, before she spun once more and walked out of sight, her flat black Converse All Stars echoing off of the walls, until even that sound was heard no more.

Cillian, with eyes on the verge of welling up with tears, turned his head to look out the window once again. He spent hours there, watching the sun streak across the sky over London’s vast sprawl, until he fell into a peaceful sleep.

In his dream this time around, Cillian could see a very beautiful woman dressed in an all white flowing dress that almost glowed. The woman was walking atop the water of the Thames, almost floating above it. Somehow, Cillian knew that her name was Vivian. She had a kind of silver band in her hair, with a jewel in the center of it that encapsulated her power over him. He was stunned by her beauty.

Vivian seemed to be gesturing to the water, and Cillian followed with his gaze, until it landed on the two pieces of stick floating atop the water. Even though he knew that he’d dreamed of this before, he felt as if this was the first time he was seeing this broken thing.

Cillian bent down to pick the two pieces out of the water with both hands. Not knowing what to do with them, he looked back to the Lady to ask her.

What he saw instead was not Vivian, but Donovan Conroy, aiming a pistol at him. Conroy winked, and fired the pistol.

Cillian bolted awake once again, this time to a world of darkness. He glanced to his left, the nightstand clock showed that it was 03:45 in the morning. He could hear the bustling nightlife on the streets of London far below him.

Knowing that he wouldn’t be able to get back to sleep for a good while, Cillian leaned over to turn on the nightstand lamp, but paused for a moment. He couldn’t quite place it, but something felt off.

Then, from the darkness, he heard a voice that made him go stiff.

“Bad dream?” the voice asked.

It was the voice of Donovan Conroy. He was here, in this room.

“You talk in your sleep, you know that? Shout, is more like. Looks like you’re going to have to take a notch off of that belt of yours, Cillian. I’m not dead,” Conroy said.

Conroy flipped on the floor light, illuminating his figure seated in the cloth armchair on the far wall of the room. His naturally black hair was recently died a dirty bleach blonde, and styled quite stupidly, like he was someone from a 90’s boy band. A long black Scottish wool coat with thick wooden toggles covered a sleek modern sport jacket and slacks, and an empty shoulder holster. A pistol was lying across his lap.

“Ruger?” Cillian asked.

Conroy held the pistol up as if it were show-and-tell.

Conroy spoke with a distinctly West-Irish accent, but Cillian knew that this was only one of many in the dirty criminal’s repertoire of method acting.

“SR 22. The silencer is one of my custom pieces. You like it?”

Cillian did not answer. He was preoccupied with the task of subtly pressing a little red button on the underside of the right-hand guard rail of his bed.

“Panic button? Please don’t insult my intelligence, Cillian,” Conroy said.

Cillian let go of the panic button, realizing how obvious it was that Conroy would have disabled it.

“I didn’t know we were on a first name basis, Conroy,” Cillian said.

“We used to be, but you’ll always be AdmiralAkbar69 to me. I have to admit that you are very good at your job. You were such a good hacker that I never once looked twice at you. If I had… well. I’ve had a lot of suspicious as to who tried to kill me back in Beirut, but you know, I never once thought that it was you. You were just, you were such a fucking geek. Serves me right for judging the book by its cover,” Conroy noted.

Cillian looked to the hallway, but the shades were drawn over the window. He thought about shouting to get someone’s attention, but the voice wouldn’t come to him. He felt the strength in his limbs start to fade.

“Do you know why they call me the 'Potion Master'?” Conroy asked.

“I did wonder,” Cillian said.

“It’s really no big mystery. I have a Doctorate in biochemistry from John’s Hopkins. Did you know that? No, of course you fucking didn’t. That was my old life, before… The point is - I know about drugs. Neuroleptics, psychostimulants, flunitrazepam, GHB, lithium. I can make someone fall in love, erase their memories, commit suicide, or-" Conroy stood up.

He walked over to Cillian’s bedside and set the pistol gently on Cillian’s heart.

“Kill someone peacefully in their sleep without leaving a trace. Did you know there’s a poisonous frog venom from the Amazon that will temporarily cause your air passages to inflame, suffocating you to death? In the last moments of your life, the venom is absorbed by your body and reconstituted as innocuous proteins. As your blood ceases to run through your body, the inflammation of your airway goes down, and the only indication in your autopsy will be a slight petechial hemorrhaging that is nearly impossible to find. Ninety percent of medical examiners misdiagnose the cause of death,” Conroy said.

Cillian wanted to grab the pistol and shove it down Conroy’s throat, but he could not move. He could not move a muscle, he could not scream.

“No, no. Don’t try to move,” Conroy said.

Cillian could only move his eyes, and they were wide with fear.

Conroy smiled down at him, tapped the end of the barrel on Cillian’s breastplate a couple of times, before holstering it under his shoulder. He walked to the window that overlooked the city, his back to Cillian, and set one hand up against the frame.

“Well, you’ve got a great view here. And would you look at that? The sun’s coming up,” Conroy said. Cillian could feel himself slowly fading.

“Don’t worry, Cillian. You didn’t get the full dose,” Conroy said.

Conroy walked to the other side of Cillian, and tapped the side of his drip hanger. He pointed at a bag of blue liquid hanging next to the saline solution.

“Your little concoction is the venom from that same New World frog, diluted about three hundred times. My own design. Diluted as much as it is, it merely acts as a highly effective nonlethal paralytic. Logistically, it gives me the great advantage of being able to have this conversation with you, without certain interferences. I think you’ve got the message now, yes?” Conroy asked.

Conroy walked around to the other side of the bed.

“If I had known before now that it was you who tried to kill me in Beirut, the venom would be lethal. But being as I’ve already blown you up, I’d say we’re even now, yes? Take this as a cautionary tale - now that I know who you really are, I can kill you anytime, anywhere that I want.”

Conroy bent down to reattach the cable on the panic button, and pressed it.

“The hospital security staff have also seemed to come under the temporary effects of one of my potions, and your closest metropolitan firearms response unit is at least six minutes away. I’ll be long gone by then. Just remember one thing very firmly, and above all else - remember this, Cillian, remember this: don’t push me, Cillian. I push back,” Conroy said.

Conroy walked to the window, and apparated - vanishing completely, leaving behind a dust void that floated like fireflies in the sunrise bleeding through the window. Cillian’s last conscious thought before he faded completely was that this must have been the drugs playing a trick on his eyes.

Magic isn’t real.

Cillian’s world, once again, went to black.

Over the course of the next 48 hours, Cillian faded in and out of consciousness. Try as he might and hold on to more of it, he only caught slight glimpses of the goings-ons of the world through his eyes. Some of these were only brief flashes; someone talking to him in loving and longing, doctors and nurses checking his charts and vitals, and so on.

“…but Nate said that if the sandwich wasn’t touched, that it would go moldy, and so he ate it. But Winchester made Nate get a promissory note and had it officially notarized that he would buy you a new one whenever you get better…” Alice had said to him.

Then there was Stella, and Gods knew how she found out about him being in the hospital.

“…so I had to clean the carpet myself. Cillian are you even alive in there? Fuck. I don’t even know why I’m here…” Stella had said, and that was something she had in common with Cillian.

“…and Alice made me finish half of your tasking orders. I would have told her to go fuck herself, but she terrifies me…” Nate had said. Cillian was pleased to see him, even if he couldn’t respond.

When he was finally pulling out of his rut, he could hear a conversation taking place in the room around him. It seemed to be a very important one, because everyone in the room was a senior official of some sort within the Company.

“It’s a wonder at all that we thought he was dead. All of us. Else whose brain matter were the Beirut police pulling off the walls of that studio of his for three weeks with their cue tips and plastic buckets?” Hughes asked.

“He must have hacked AFIS and replaced his information with a patsy,” said Arnold Crouch, the Deputy Ambassador.

“It’s a hell of an accomplishment to switch genetic profiles in AFIS, especially for a common gangster like Conroy,” said Phillip Winchester, Cillian’s boss, the head of all DST efforts in the UK.

“I should think by now that we have to understand that Conroy is nothing of the sort, yes? He’s far more dangerous than we’ve been prepared for so far, and Gods only know what he’s managed to pull off since his prematurely announced death?” Atkinson grumbled the question.

“There are a few dozen hackers in the world who would have made child’s play out of the AFIS switch. But to do it without them detecting even a trace of it - that would have taken a special kind of touch,” said a uniformed British Naval Officer. Cillian barely made out that his nameplate read ‘Fudge.’

“Oh, and I suppose you’re going to say that it was magic, right?” Crouch asked, laughing.

“Don’t be stupid,” Atkinson admonished Crouch.

“I’m not the one who keeps bringing up magic!” Crouch replied.

“You’d best mind your manners, you little piece of-“

Atkinson was interrupted by the low octave whine of hydraulic pistons coming from Cillian’s bed. Cillian’s automatic seat back came up as he pressed the button on his little remote control, until he settled into a nice and comfortable position. All of the room’s occupants turned their heads to look at the new member of the conversation.

“Magic isn’t real,” Cillian stated simply.

They all seemed to look back and forth between one another, and to Cillian, and back about the room.

“I mean I’m sorry to interrupt and all, but you do realize that you’ve been having this conversation in my hospital room? The fuck do you expect?” Cillian asked.

“Magic isn’t real? What makes you say that?” Atkinson grumbled the question at him.

Cillian’s gaze was in the middle distance for a moment, until he directed that same distant gaze up to Atkinson.

“Because if magic is real, then why does life have to be so shitty? Until I’ve been proven otherwise, I’ll continue to believe that magic isn’t real. Because I would hate to live in a world like this, if it was real. That would mean that every child who starves to death could have lived, but died anyways. Every genocidal maniac who walks the earth slaughtering innocents by the hundreds and thousands could have been stopped, but wasn’t. Every single piece of plastic in the ocean could be gone in seconds, but that isn’t happening. I wouldn’t have to look at a picture of the last white rhino on the planet with Rangers in a defensive perimeter around it, slowly dying because every other single one has had its brains blown out just for the placebo effect of its horn having erogenous properties. No, magic isn’t real. Magic isn’t real because there are no superheroes. Magic isn’t real because life is shit,” Cillian said.

“Admirable sentiments, surely. But theoretical as ever, Mr. Williams,” Crouch said.

The British Naval Officer moved closer to Cillian.

“Mr. Williams, my name is Lieutenant Commander James Fudge, and I’m your liaison to the MOD - to whit I have been responsible for investigating the lapses in this facility’s security. How it was that Mr. Conroy was able to incapacitate all of our guards on duty here, it is a remarkable feat. Especially given the extra precautions we’ve taken to secure this facility since the BBC did some filming here for their Sherlock Holmes interpretation, to make sure that none of those lunatic super fans might come wandering through here and disrupting the momentum of recovery of our soldiers returning from the field in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Conroy seems to have been in and out of this place in under twelve minutes, and we only have a few images of him on the security feeds - our cameras were given a massive interference, in fact all of our security features were. The hospital’s cybersecurity guy - assigned here as a precaution after the NHS ransoms, well, he says that the thing is like nothing he’s ever seen, and vanished without a trace,” Fudge said.

A bit of that going around.

Fudge pulled a tablet out of his satchel, and handed it to Cillian.

“Hughes here says that you’re one of his best cybersecurity personnel, which I suppose might be much more than coincidental. My guessing is that Conroy might be playing a game with you. Taunting you, almost. Daring you to come after him. Which is why I’m wondering what you might make of this. It’s a real time screen capture of the security camera servers, five videos in all - each page of code is dedicated to its own monitor so we don’t have to keep scrolling up and down - more than likely this was happening at the very same time as Conroy was on his way up here to see you, as a matter of fact,” Fudge said.

Cillian looked at the recording. It seemed to be normal programming code language to him, and he zoomed in on particular lines to see their functions. There were things in reference to swiveling the cameras automatically, using the joystick zoom, switching between cameras on the monitoring station, and so on. Suddenly, at the exact same time on each video, the codes started flipping the fuck out. Commands and rules that Cillian had never heard of, never even thought were possible, were being executed and retooled in real time.

“What‽ What- the fuck?” Cillian asked himself.

“I thought you might like a shot at it,” Fudge said.

“No, see. No, no. See, you don’t understand. I don’t think you understand, Sir. These things are all impossible. This is an impossible- this is- this is… Sir? Sir, I think that this, this program is acting intelligently. This program is acting in a way that I’ve only ever seen once in my life, and that was at the MIT robotics lab. This wasn’t a hack, Sir,” Cillian said.

“What would you call it?” Atkinson grumbled.