12Truth of Sequence
"Relativity teaches us that simultaneity is an
illusion; that, as there are no privileged points
of reference, all observations of time are equally
valid. There is no absolute truth of sequence:
all we can do is equate.
The shape tells us otherwise, depending on the
form it is given (or perhaps chooses). That
in itself is a valuable lesson, for by coming to
accept that there are worlds in which not
even causality is fixed we must at last learn
that it is not only time and opinion which are
subjective, but in fact the entirety of reality.
Each universe creates its own structure,
follows no rules but its own. That they appear
so similar in our experience may be the
greatest misperception of all: the most dire
overcognizants speak of things we dismiss as
impossible ravings, but someday we may realize
that when we looked out into the multiverse, we
found only what we were capable of understanding.
The difference between truth and lie is of the
beholder and no truth can ever be complete,
whatever the intention behind it."
–Dr Joseph Carnahan, New Constellations
It had been about an hour since the locket had been destroyed. Harry was sitting on his bed, staring at the wall. There was nothing interesting about the wall, but his head was swimming, and the blank surface didn't offer any further distractions. The traumas of the night were stacked on top of each other, and it was a small mercy that remembrance of a man's head disintegrating was temporarily blotted out by Locket-Ginny expressing what he feared was absolute the truth.
'Small mercy'… Who was he fooling? The more recent horror was far worse than yet another witnessed death in a long line of them.
The real Ginny was in the shower. Her ablutions were giving Harry time to think, the last thing he needed. And, once she returned, she would be determined to discuss what the locket had done. He didn't want to talk about it. He wanted to forget it ever happened. Confronting emotional problems was well outside his comfort zone. Too bad the locket had understood at least one avenue to his wounds.
A shadow fell across the doorway. "Are you all right?" Hermione asked tentatively, leaning in.
"No," Harry said honestly.
She sighed. "Well… that's not good, but I still prefer forthrightness to your usual avoidance."
"How about you?"
"Same as always: fearful, anxious and building up a nice store of post-traumatic stress for when this is all over," she said.
"Just be glad you didn't go into the house with Scott," he said dryly.
She flinched slightly. "Yes… I'd wondered if you weren't making a mistake."
Harry clung to the shreds of his stoicism. "I have to get used to it sometime."
"Oh, Harry. I hope not, for your sake," she said sorrowfully.
He just wanted to change the subject. "Did you need something?"
She hesitated. "I felt you might be discouraged, seeing as that was the only Horcrux we've had to destroy thus far. I wanted to remind you that we aren't entirely without clues."
"It's not much good to know what something is if we don't know where it is."
"I have to disagree. In this case, knowing 'what' may very well lead us to 'where'." She stepped closer. "Scott told us there may be a Horcrux to the north. That's not specific, but I'd wager he could tell us more if we were nearer. And you said you wanted to go to Godric's Hollow?"
He did, and had for some time. He'd never seen the place that could have been his home, or visited his parents' graves. "I still do."
"I'm sure you've considered the danger. But, I've discovered another reason to go." She was clearly excited by whatever she had to say. "Did you ever read A History of Magic?"
'Read' was a strong word. "Sort of."
She gave him a disapproving glance, but continued, "Bathilda Bagshot, the author, is still alive – and she lives in Godric's Hollow! We're hunting for historical artefacts of magic, and I can't think of anyone more qualified on the subject."
Harry didn't allow himself to feel much hope, but Hermione was right. It could be a real breakthrough. "We have to try, anyway."
She beamed at him. "Exactly! We'll start planning soon." She turned to go, and then stopped. "Oh, and Harry?"
"Do talk to Ginny about what happened tonight. Don't let it fester."
"Are you going to make Ron talk?" Harry asked accusingly.
"Then I guess we're both buggered," he muttered.
Hermione left him, and he returned to his contemplation of the wallpaper.
His mind wandered. The patterns on the wall became Ginny, scorning him, rejecting him. As he had rejected her, and not just recently. He'd ignored her for years. He had turned from her attentions without even knowing it. He was tormented by the idea that such unknowing (uncaring) disregard was worse than a conscious decision. It was as if she hadn't even been worth the finality of a proper rejection. He had strung her along instead, breaking the young heart she had placed in his careless hands.
Perhaps what the locket had shown him was cruel, but just. He'd pushed her away without trying, and then at last drawn her close only to push again. How could she be blamed if she left? Even Ginny had to take a hint eventually. Even her stubbornness could only cushion her spirit so many times.
He shook his head so hard that stars burst into his vision. The thoughts were more than he could stomach; he fought against them, wiping his clammy palms on his trousers as if he could wipe away the very idea. Then, without warning, he was ambushed by a memory:
The door splintered, broken by the inhuman force of the kick. It would have rebounded off the interior wall had Scott not been in the way, shouldering through with shotgun raised. The Death Eater on the right barely had time to react. He swivelled in his chair, cards falling from his fingers. The gun barked, acute and deafening. As if an invisible hand had struck him, he recoiled in the chair, jolting back against it before beginning to slump forward. The robes at his chest shredded, turning to dust and whirling scraps. Blood flew out of the hole over his heart. He fell against the table, unmoving.
He had not fully come to rest when the second Death Eater was shot in the head. This time, the robes concealed little – his hood fell off with the impact. The tightly-grouped buckshot, each the size of a musket ball, hit at the corner of his right eye. His cheekbone caved in, flesh splitting away from the collapsing eye socket. When the leaden wad tore through his brain and smashed against the rear of his skull, his head snapped back with such force that blood spattered across the ceiling.
Scott continued without hesitation. The limp corpse was sliding off the chair and thudding on the floor when he stepped forward and tugged the tablecloth off the end where it had been shunted, apparently in the way of the Death Eater's card playing.
"Go out and stall the others for a second. They don't need to see this," Scott said.
And Harry did? He supposed he had volunteered.
The last sight before he stepped out was of Scott using the corner of the tablecloth to sweep brain and skull fragments from the wall.
He snapped out of it at the sound of Ginny's voice. "Y-yeah?" he stammered. He realised his heart was racing.
"What's wrong? What happened?" She touched his forehead with one hand, still warm and damp from the shower. "You're not getting sick, are you?"
He laughed shortly. "Just in the head, maybe."
Her mouth thinned. When she sat next to him, he noticed with a start that she was wearing one of his old grey t-shirts. It hung down to her thighs before giving way to her long, slender legs. They were marred with scratches, a legacy of her insistent bravery.
She noticed his scrutiny, and rolled her eyes sheepishly. "I stole your shirt," she confessed. "I didn't pack much in the way of pyjamas."
He was fine with that. Probably a little too fine. "I don't mind, that's how I usually sleep."
"In a shirt and knickers?" she said impishly.
"The bloke version," he said wryly.
Her countenance sobered. "I know we're both tired, but I think we need to talk now, even if just for a bit."
He tried not to look overly reluctant, though he was sure he didn't pull it off.
"Were you thinking about what the locket said to you?" she asked.
"No, not when you came in," he said truthfully.
She gave him a doubtful look. "You looked upset."
He sighed and rubbed at his eyes. "…I was thinking about the Death Eaters tonight."
She took his hand. "Do you want to talk about that?"
He could talk about getting psychically violated by a piece of Voldemort's soul, or watching two men die in a terrible, if mercifully quick, fashion. Why wasn't going to bed an option?
The silence stretched out between them as he endeavoured for an answer. Ginny's grip on his hand tightened until she finally burst out, "Come on, Harry! I saw what you did, don't pretend it didn't bother you!"
"I know it wasn't really you, Gin."
course you do, you aren't completely daft! That doesn't mean it didn't hurt!" She wrapped her arms around him and squeezed in some mixture of affection and frustration. "I don't want you to torture yourself thinking any of that shite was true, and I know that if I leave you alone, you will."
"I did try to push you away, though, I was a complete twat to you–"
"Good job," she snorted.
He had to concede the point. "I guess I'm not that convincing."
She didn't laugh. She pushed her hair back behind her ears and pressed her cheek to his shoulder. Then she wiggled her way around until she was straddling his lap, holding him as close as possible. "I'm going to hug you. It will make this easier," she said, her breath fanning against his neck.
That was foreboding enough to dampen his arousal. "Okay. I'm listening."
"When I first met you… it was like something out of all the books I loved," she said softly, playing with the hair at the nape of his neck. "You were a hero, a legend. I couldn't believe you were there at the station, and then you were there at breakfast…"
"I don't remember that well," Harry admitted. "It seems so long ago–"
"I know you don't remember. That was the problem. I was in awe. Ron was your friend and I thought maybe I could be, too; I might become more than just the little sister. Then you saved me in the Chamber. I thought I was in love after that." She sighed. "So I pined away in my dormitory like some ridiculous princess. I wrote bad poetry, some of which you heard, unfortunately. I lived for the moment when you would see me in the hall and think I was beautiful, or interesting, or anything other than a nobody."
Harry had to interrupt, he couldn't stand it. "You were always beautiful and interesting."
"Not enough for you to notice me. But it's not like I had anyone to blame but myself; I barely spoke to you at all. Did you know there was even a time when I hated Hermione? The two of you were so close, I thought it was her fault no one else had a chance."
"We were never like that!" he objected.
"I know, Harry! I'm pouring my heart out here, can you stop interrupting?"
She took a deep breath. "Looking back, I should have known better. It wasn't the other girls I couldn't compete with: it was your life. I was heartsick when you asked Parvati to the Ball, and it was so much worse when I found out it could have been me, that it nearly had been. But then nothing came of it; she couldn't compete with the Triwizard Tournament, either. I think that was when I started to come to my senses. I thought you wouldn't see me no matter what I tried. I even asked Hermione about it earlier that year, if I could ever have the slightest chance. She told me I had to be myself more, be less shy, because you would never notice how I was around you, and, even if you did, you wouldn't understand why."
She was killing him; it was more than he could stand. He would do anything to take it back, to give her what she deserved. Everything the locket had said, everything he had been thinking before she had entered to the room, it was all true. He had been a monster long before he had got Sirius killed, long before Tom Riddle had possessed his mind. He really was The Boy Who Lived, the fucking Chosen One, marching down the road of destiny, heedless of the ants beneath his feet. Everyone around him was a casualty. He inflicted pain without even having to try.
The anguish made him forget his previous apology. "It's on me, all of it, you were always right in front of me and I'm so bloody self-absorbed–"
"Harry!" she yelped, tightening her arms until he couldn't breathe.
"Sorry," he wheezed.
"…So, I came out of my shell. I stopped hiding behind my hair, I made friends, boys noticed me. It felt good. I felt… relieved to know I wasn't completely unattractive, that boys could like me–"
"Unattractive?" he said incredulously. Was she serious? Was there no limit to the damage he had done? "Ginny, you are sodding gorgeous, you are–"
She slapped a hand over his mouth. "Thank you, Harry, but you're my boyfriend and I'm sitting on you wearing your shirt and a pair of knickers, so you're just a bit biased. But, thank you."
"I just hate that I ever made you feel that way," he said when she removed her hand.
"You never meant to. Anyway, you know most of the rest. I started dating. I liked the attention and found out snogging was fun, but… I tried to convince myself I was over you. I tried to replace you even though I'd never had you, and still no one else measured up. And for a short while, I thought I should hate you. I'd stopped chasing you and you were still in my head, this schoolgirl fantasy I couldn't get rid of. But by then, I was your friend, too. I couldn't hate you. And when I started to get to know you as a person, it didn't ruin that want, it just got even worse, it was more real. But you were just out of reach. With Dean, I thought maybe I finally was, too." She pulled back and looked in his eyes. "It didn't work."
"Thank God," Harry said, caught in her gaze.
"That night after the game, when we kissed – I didn't plan it. I know you didn't, either, it just happened. And then we were together like we always had been." She laughed in disbelief. "It's strange, isn't it? We barely even discussed it."
He remembered. That night had been full of heat and noise, the merriment almost overwhelming. He'd gone upstairs to escape the press, and Ginny had followed. She'd congratulated him, he her, and then when silence had fallen between them it had been about the only thing – they'd been standing close. The pull had been magnetic; Ginny's hair had hung in wonderful tangles, her lips slightly parted, her skin flushed. She had smelled like the outdoor air and flowers. They'd come together as if there were no other outcome.
He suspected Lila's interference, somehow.
"We did later. But right then we didn't need to, I thought," Harry said.
"Don't start second guessing that kiss, it was perfect," Ginny ordered, unaware she was already too late. She slid her hands back and rubbed at the tension in his shoulders. "Don't stress, Harry. I didn't tell you all that so you could beat yourself up about it."
She was too late for that, also. "Then…?"
"Because you need to understand what a load of utter bollocks that locket-me was spewing!" she said with an anger that didn't seem to have faded since the Horcrux's destruction.
"Oh, right. That," Harry said. Ginny's story had been wrenching enough for him to forget there was probably a point to it.
"I want you, Harry. I always have, even when I tried so hard to ignore it," she said. "I've never blamed you for the danger my family is in; we chose to fight back. I chose to be here with you, even when you didn't want me to. And it's not as if I'm the only one supporting you! Everyone should if they aren't a load of evil wankers."
Harry was unable to absolve himself so easily. "But–"
She cut him off again. "I don't want to hear it! We can fight about your guilt later. As for the other rubbish that thing said, and did…"
He recalled it all quite vividly. The breasts he had been taunted with were currently pressed against him.
"I can't believe it just lifted up my shirt like that, I was so angry. Good thing for that fog, I don't think anyone else saw…" She breathed hard through her nose, eyes flinty. "I have never shared a bed or anything else with other boys. I dated two, neither of which got anything more than a snog and that's all. That bloody locket took my face and made me out to be some sort of super slag!" she raged.
"None of it seemed right," he reassured her. "I never thought you were a slag, even when I saw you with Dean. I just wished you were mine."
He must have said the right thing: she melted back against him.
He blinked, his eyelids heavy. Confessions were exhausting, even when they weren't coming from him. "Are you as tired as I am?"
"I'm already half-asleep," she mumbled into his shoulder, going deliciously limp in his arms. "I talked myself out."
He lay back, swinging his legs up on the bed and settling her beside him, where she immediately draped a warm arm over his torso. He opted to leave his trousers on, feeling it was safer that way, and he needed them to make his erection less obvious. Maybe he wouldn't be so self-conscious someday.
"…Harry?" Ginny said sleepily.
"My tits are much nicer than that. Bloody locket didn't get anything right."
It was comforting to know the Horcrux hadn't taken that first away from them. "I believe it."
Sophie waited until Kylie was fast asleep before she left the room. The girl had been suffering night terrors, panicked dreams that often kept her from slumber. Another human presence seemed to calm her. Hopefully, her resumption of speaking was a sign of recovery.
Sophie had kept Kylie upstairs, well away from the Horcrux. She didn't know exactly what had happened in the kitchen, but the locket had been a dark vortex in the shape once activated, and she had felt it being snuffed out. Whatever came next, she understood her own role in it. She had begun creating a mental plan for cleaning the house, as well as a few organisational rearrangements for defensive purposes. The singular point of ground floor entry made her job easier.
She disliked the dim the hallway she stepped out into, closing Kylie's door behind her. She liked her dwellings brightly lit, spacious and well furnished. Her career had forced
her to learn to live without any of those attributes from time to time, but had not changed her preferences. She wrinkled her nose at the candle holders she passed. Candles could be romantic and atmospheric, but they were such low-lumen alternatives to what she considered conventional lighting.
The doors for the rooms of both pairs of Primes were closed. Harry and Ginny's was dark. A sliver of light emanated from the crack beneath Ron and Hermione's door, along with muffled voices. They must have had something to discuss, perhaps related to the Horcrux.
Sophie descended the staircase with the intention of going to the kitchen and seeing if everything was still intact. She found Scott sitting on the landing between the first and second floor, beneath the disgusting, mummified elf heads mounted to their grimy plaques. From his position he had a clear line of sight to the front door, which was what she assumed he'd wanted, but his head was back against the wall and his eyes were closed. He had his shotgun resting across his knees. She hesitated, debating whether or not to disturb him.
Her indecision was made irrelevant when he spoke, eyes still closed. "Is Kylie asleep?"
"She is," Sophie said. She walked down the last few steps and sat next to him. "How did it go?"
"It's dead. And melted to the table, if you can believe it. It was dangerously manipulative; not surprising, considering it's a reflection of its maker, but whatever damage it did is a concern. I'm counting on the girls to take care of things. I know Ginny will, but I hope Hermione will talk to Ron."
"Do you want me to talk to her? If it was a personal attack, maybe she would be more comfortable speaking to another woman."
"Ginny, first, over either of us, but Hermione would actually be more comfortable talking to me. I mean, she won't be comfortable with anyone, if the locket went where I think it did, but I think I could make her talk to me. We have an interesting dynamic."
Sophie had seen a little of that. "She seems like the most difficult Prime."
Scott made a face. "Yes, and no. She demands oversight, but understands necessity."
Sophie nodded in silent agreement before remembering that his eyes were still closed. She looked down the dark hallway towards the door. "Do we need to take shifts tonight?"
"Hmm? Oh, no. No, I was just sitting down for a minute."
She studied him more closely. His straw blond hair had grown out since she had last seen him, falling closer to his eyebrows and the tops of his ears. She traced the lines of his elegant, angular face with its strong chin, lean cheeks and straight-edged nose set above his wide, firm mouth. He had a raw-boned handsomeness, sharp and male. The low light nearly hid the stubble dotting his features. He smelled like gun oil, flannel and warm masculinity. She wanted to kiss him.
She shook herself and glanced away in silent embarrassment. That attraction had been present from the moment she had met him, and had grown with time. But, in that time, she had also become his close friend and comrade (familiarity had not lessened the pull; it only added an emotional component). Sometimes she felt like they were gradually moving towards something more.
While she greatly enjoyed his physical appearance, she was not blind to what was currently detracting from it. His skin had the wan pallor of fatigue, and dark circles hung beneath his eyes.
"Scott, when was the last time you slept?" she asked.
His response was slow in coming. "…A couple days. We've been busy, and I've been watching that charm. Also…"
"Yes?" she pressed.
"The shape has been distracting. I don't know, I should sleep, this is stupid. I'm keyed up."
She sat up in alarm. "You've been taking c-stims?!" she gasped. He had never relied on the debilitating enhancers before.
"I was just using the expression! It's a figure of speech!" He looked at her with annoyance, but she was just glad to see the alertness in his gaze.
She settled back against the wall. "How long were you planning on burning out?"
"I wasn't. I just couldn't sleep before, I didn't trust this house."
"I'm here now, you don't have to worry," she said gently.
He favoured her with a tired smile. "I know. Thank you for coming."
She winked at him. "I was ordered to."
"And there are so many fringe benefits," he yawned, stretching in an exaggerated manner intended to highlight his musculature.
That was more true than she would ever admit. "And the locale is so grand, too."
He grimaced, glancing up at the preserved heads. "It's better than forward observation. Plumbing is always a plus." He sighed, taking in his surrounds with weary eyes. "Talk to me, Sophie."
She placed her hands on her thighs and rocked back and forth idly, not sure what he wanted to hear. "We are talking…"
"How are we doing?"
He looked so worn out sitting there that it sent a deep ache of empathy through her. She couldn't help herself – she reached over and took his large calloused hand in both of hers, trying to impart comfort. Scott was not an especially tactile person. He didn't seem to have a very strong aversion to touch, but rarely sought it out. She had always taken it upon herself to bridge the gap with friendly gestures of affection. Her vast family tree had given her a fondness for contact with those she held dear. And Scott, for all his singularity, had never pulled away.
"Did the locket show you something?" she said carefully.
"It tried. I don't think it was equipped to show our deepest fears. Few things can express something that abstract. But it knew how to get under Harry's skin."
"What did it tell him?"
"I don't know. I just know how he looked afterwards."
"I think you're doing great," she said, switching back to his original question. "You integrated for a whole year and now you're fighting back. You guys even just destroyed a Priority Object, that's awesome!"
"It's a start. But the Primes can't maintain the pace, it's brutal. They aren't trained to handle a battle every night." He rubbed at his eyes and yawned again. "I should talk to Lil."
"You should go to sleep," she retorted.
She patted her lap. "Here, lay down."
His eyebrows shot up and his gaze crawled towards the apex of her thighs. "You're inviting me to…?"
She blushed and brought her knees together, blocking access. "No!"
"So I can't use you as a pillow?"
"Oh, ha ha, very funny," she said petulantly. "That is not what you meant."
He slumped over and dropped his head on her lap, going limp. "Ahhhh… I always knew your thighs were the gates to heaven," he said sleepily.
"Shut up, Scott," she said fondly.
It hadn't taken very long for Lila to regret allowing Molly use of the phone. The problem was that she would have regretted it equally, if not more, had she denied the worried mother.
The result of Molly's high-decibel 'conversation' with her daughter had been the predictable demand that Lila go and retrieve Ginny immediately. In response, Lila could have lied. She could have promised to try, or to bring up the subject with Harry. But the truth was more convenient – if also more damaging, as the truth often was. She had advised Molly that she was unable to bring Ginny back home. Molly had pressed for reasons, and Lila had provided none. When Molly had declared that she would go and find Ginny herself, Lila had coolly informed her that could not be allowed (it was also impractical, due to Scott's tampering with the Fidelius).
Consequently, Molly was no longer speaking to her. Arthur seemed to understand the situation a bit better, but intellect alone could not overpower a father's fear. He had little to say to Lila, as well.
That was disappointing on a personal level, if not particularly relevant to the mission. Lila's past few days had consisted of watching a family who didn't understand her presence and listening in when Order members arrived to speak with Bill and Arthur. She had little to report back to Scott; the Order was still scattered and trying to consolidate. The felling of the Ministry had stripped the resistance of its main avenues of information. No one seemed to know what was happening outside of the safehouses.
So she waited. And – in such close quarters, without the distraction of a wedding – she had been forced to refuse questions instead of avoiding them. That made her presence increasingly inexplicable, and it was hurting her integration. Simply being Scott's sister who lived nearby no longer sufficed.
Even Charlie's interactions with her had been muted by wariness. He hadn't appeared to mind not knowing much about her before, perhaps looking forward to the opportunity to get to know her, but once it became clear that the rest of his family didn't know her either, he had found cause for concern. She sort of wished she hadn't used a gun during the escape from the wedding. The safety of the Weasleys had come before her secrets.
It was Bill who posed the greatest challenge. He had confronted her several times, frustrated by her refusal to level with him. It had not yet reached the point where he demanded that she leave. She was not a Secret Keeper, and therefore no threat to the house if ejected (or so he thought), and perhaps her efforts to protect his family had made an impression on him despite his distrust.
She needed to change her approach. Full disclosure was not an option, and might never be. Answering select questions could buy her the time she needed to reaffirm her loyalty; the Order would recognise her worth in the field once they ventured out.
stood at the side of Shell Cottage, watching the waves roll towards the shore. The charm which concealed the dwelling loomed over her in the shape. It extended much further than she had expected. She wondered what might happen if she severed her own connection to the Fidelius. Would she become blind to her surroundings? Concealing what stood right in front of her would require magic to attack and impair her cognition. She should be able to resist.
The question would remain rhetorical, as she needed the link. It might only be answered if she visited Scott's safehouse without invitation.
She sighed and crossed her arms beneath her substantial breasts, lifting them and taking the weight off her too-tight brassiere. The fitted garment was designed for combat, supporting her prodigious bust in situations of great motion and impact. It had shrunk in the wash, despite also being designed not to do that. Apparently, magical laundering was different. She needed to try out her other bras to see if they fit better.
That had to be, of course, the way Bill found her: lifting her breasts with one arm whilst fiddling with the support straps with the other. His eyebrows shot upwards.
She dropped her hands and favoured him with a blasé stare. "My bra shrunk. Also, considering how often you men are adjusting your tackle, I think you can let me shift my boobs around without excessive comment."
"Entirely fair," he agreed.
She leaned back against the wall. "What can I do for you?"
He addressed her with directness. "You could answer some questions, for a change."
"That's a pretty big change," she said, unaffected.
His eyes darkened. "Look, how long do you think you can keep this up? You lied to my mum for a year, but that's over. None of us have any idea who you are. I'm not even sure you're a witch."
"I'm Lila Kharan."
"And who is that?"
She considered her reply for a moment. "Scott Kharan's sister. We're a team." She glanced at Bill, but he said nothing, looking impatient for more. "We're soldiers."
"Mercenaries?" he said sceptically. "Who hired you?"
"We aren't mercs. I told you, we're soldiers," she said stiffly.
"A sixteen-year-old and his slightly older sister. Just like all the other soldiers," he said sarcastically. "What are you? Twenty? Twenty-two?"
She ignored his guesses. "Our talents are suited to this mission."
"And what mission would that be?"
"Riddle is not merely a local concern," she told him, choosing her words with extra care. "Other parties are aware that Harry must be supported."
He took a step closer, eyes narrowing. "The American government?"
If that was what he wanted to think, then she saw no reason to disillusion him. "I'm not at liberty to say."
He sighed. "Well, you're going to have to tell me a little more than that."
"I'm here to protect your family and assist in mission planning and execution."
"Mission execution or person execution?" he said pointedly.
"Whatever may be required."
He stared at her, and then slowly nodded. "The thing is… I'm not in a position to turn away someone like you. The Order isn't, which I'm sure you've noticed. And I know you were at Hogwarts with your brother, during the attack. So Dumbledore knew that, too."
"Scott attended with his consent," she said.
"Right. You explained yourself to him, but don't feel you owe us the same courtesy. I get it."
Lila was not impressed by the ploy. "Good. I'm glad you get it."
Bill laughed without amusement. "I really don't know what to make of you. I'll tell you one thing, though: if you betray my family, you won't live long enough to collect whatever reward was promised."
She rolled her eyes. "Save your threats for the enemy. Or at least someone you can intimidate. Most men don't have prettier hair than me."
This time, he laughed genuinely. "Just so we understand each other – it's customary! You've killed enough Death Eaters that I doubt you're on the other side. I just wonder if you're on our side. But…" His expression sobered. "We need all the help we can get. And Harry, even more."
"What we do, we do to ease his path," she said quietly.
"I understand if you don't trust me entirely, as well."
"I do trust you. In time, perhaps with more. Not everything is mine to tell."
"Harry seems to trust your brother," Bill said. "I doubt he knows as little as me."
"Harry is privileged. How often did Dumbledore confide in you?" Lila asked pointedly.
"You aren't Dumbledore."
"We ran in the same circles. We had an understanding."
"That I believe," Bill stated. "Anything else you'd like to share?"
She looked away. "Ask me again later."
"Count on it." He turned to go and then stopped. "Oh, one more thing – don't hurt my brother. He still fancies you, so at least do me a favour and let him down gently."
"I haven't led him on."
"I know, that's why I'm not angry."
"He hasn't pushed the issue. If he wants to be direct, then so will I." Lila wasn't willing to simply reject Charlie outright. His attraction to her might still be of use, and it was fun, too.
"If it's all the same to you, then, I'll keep trying to talk him out of it."
"Do what you want," she said indifferently.
After he left, she stared at the ground and wondered how long her minor admissions would suffice. She had briefly considered bringing up the topic of Fleur, but, ultimately, Bill's new bride was more of an annoyance than a real concern. Lila and Fleur had clashed several times during the wedding preparations, and Fleur had not forgotten it. She barely tried to hide her resentment of Lila's presence. Lila doubted that talking to Bill about it would have accomplished much, anyway.
She was also bored. She knew that she needed to suppress the feeling if she was to advance into integration; it required many workaday things. So she did her best to stay occupied, and waited for a call from Scott or a gathering of the Order to bring new challenges her way.
She supposed she could call Strauss. The other woman wouldn't be excessively busy tending to her similar directives, and was always up for a chat. Strauss could natter away almost endlessly when invited to, and her family connections ensured she was always full of the latest news and gossip. Lila usually had to pry the best stuff out of her, though, or infer it. Strauss was too considerate and decorous to revel in anything malicious (she sometimes made an exception in regards to certain female members of the Consistorium staff – Lila suspected that Scott factored in).
Lila filed away the option for later. She needed to return to the interior of the cottage. However, going back inside might mean facing Molly again. It had to be done at some point. Eventually the frantic mother would understand things, though it might be too soon to hope for change. Lila could rebuild burned bridges, but first the ashes had to cool.
She wished she had a better way to check on the twins. Getting to Diagon Alley was the easy part (not that apertures were ever easy). It was more difficult to return before her departure was noticed. She knew that if her method of travel was revealed, Molly would insist that it be used to retrieve Ginny, which would in turn lead to a plethora of facts that Lila had no desire to disclose. Explaining that not only was she unwilling to take Ginny through an aperture, but literally unable, would result in questions about the shape and Primes and a million other things that the Weasleys didn't need to know.
Lila desired to end her feud with Molly, not create an entirely new mess with unneeded revelations. Regrettably, any missions with the Order could end the same way if Lila were forced to utilise any of her more unusual abilities. That was a problem that would have to be faced when it arose; other problems had to be faced more immediately. She took pride in her reputation for not shirking confrontation. With that in mind, she strode into the cottage to being repairing her integration.
The small sitting room was where Molly spent most of her time. The Weasley matriarch alternated between knitting, sewing and staring with desperate worry at the family clock. Lila was not unsympathetic. But to end Molly's torment was to end the war, and the only way out was through. There had to be some part of her which knew that. She just stood to lose too much. Perhaps it would help if Lila reaffirmed her dedication to preventing such loss.
Molly did not look up from her knitting when Lila seated herself in a nearby rocking chair. Her face was drawn, and the stiff movements of her hands were a far cry from her usual skill. She tore at the yarn, fraying it.
"We need to talk," Lila said evenly.
Molly's reply was terse. "I don't believe we have anything to talk about."
Lila went ahead and rolled her eyes; Molly wasn't looking at her, anyway. "That's obviously not true."
"I tried talking to you before and you wouldn't listen, I don't see the point now."
"I did listen. You were being unreasonable."
Molly's knitting needles clacked together loudly. "'Unreasonable'?" she bit out. "It was unreasonable to ask you to bring my daughter home? It was unreasonable to think a sixteen-year-old shouldn't be out on her own, fighting Dark wizards?"
"Under these particular circumstances, yes."
"I don't care!" Molly snapped. "You've done nothing but lie to me, and then refused to lift a finger when I needed your help! I don't even know who you are."
"You know me, Molly. I'm still Lila."
"No, I don't think I do. So please, leave me be."
Molly nearly shouted.
"Not until we settle this."
"Unless you can produce Ginny, I can't imagine that happening."
"Scott is protecting her," Lila reminded.
"Scott?" Molly said incredulously. "Your younger brother? Are you trying to reassure me?"
"He has the same training I do," Lila told her, omitting the fact that he had significantly more.
Molly waved her hand, as if brushing away Scott as a topic worthy of discourse. "I can barely accept that Dumbledore left this task, whatever it may be, in the hands of children, my children, I surely don't pretend to know what the man was thinking," she said in an angry, rapid cadence. "I know that Harry will look out for Ginny and they think they're in love, but if I have no choice with Ron and Harry and Hermione – if I ever have, with all the trouble they get into – then at least they're of age!"
"Ginny chose to accompany them."
"That's not a choice she can make! I am her mother and I want her here!" Molly said with an edge of hysteria. "The only reason I haven't gone to get her myself is because I don't know where she is!"
"Neither do I," Lila said. Technically, it was true.
"Stop lying to me!" Molly demanded. "You rang your brother on that Muggle wireless!"
"It's just a number. It could connect to anywhere."
"Then you talk to Scott and tell him to tell you."
"That won't help you. I won't be a Secret Keeper."
"Then he can tell me!"
"I don't think he will. They have reasons for remaining isolated."
"Then we have nothing to discuss," Molly hissed, and resumed her knitting.
Lila wondered if her own reserve was creating a barrier. It could be maddening if one participating party in an argument never lost composure. Her lack of emotion might be reinforcing Molly's perception that Lila was uncaring, without pity.
Lila didn't have to act. She just had to loosen her rigid self-control and allow her body to reflect her emotions. "We have a lot to discuss," she said, hearing her voice roughen with temper and feeling the blood rush to her cheeks. "I have done my best to protect this family, and I know I'm not perfect, but I don't deserve to be treated like this just because I won't give in to your whims!"
Molly was taken aback. Lila rarely displayed any real anger, and had never raised her voice to Molly before. "Protecting my daughter is not a whim!"
"It is when you should have already realised it's not going to happen! Ginny is with Harry and they have a job to do, and I can't fucking change that!" Lila said forcefully.
Molly gasped. "Lila Kharan! I ought to jinx your mouth shut!"
Lila actually felt slightly ashamed. "I'm sorry. But stop blaming me for things that are beyond my control. You didn't think it was coincidence that Dumbledore left something to Ginny, did you?"
Molly looked away, a hand fluttering to her mouth. "I didn't want to think he'd be so callous."
"He was what he needed to be to finish this." Not enough of what he needed to be, in Lila's opinion.
"They're just children…" Molly said again, almost to herself. "Why must it be them?"
They trod near truths, now, stepping too close to the shape. Lila had no wish to speak in actualities, so she generalised. "It always has been. Harry is at the centre of this, and his friends won't leave him."
"And he won't come to the adults for help?" Molly smiled bitterly and wiped at her eyes. "He can't be blamed, I suppose. We've never been there when he most needed us. The Tournament, the Ministry… The way the Prophet treated him, those awful Dursleys…" she said the name like an epithet.
"It's difficult to trust authority when your family failed you like that," Lila said.
"We are his family," Molly said sharply.
That was encouraging. "I'm glad this hasn't turned you against him."
"Never!" Molly seemed shocked by the idea. "I don't always agree, but he does what he thinks is right. He always has."
"What is right is not what is easy."
"You don't think I know that?" Molly said tightly. She closed her eyes, mouth trembling. "All I want is for them to be here, to be safe. It never seemed like so much to ask, before."
"Your daughter is trying to make things safe again."
Molly loosed a wavering sigh. "Of course she is. Family of Gryffindors, every single one. I wish she'd come back to me. But she won't, will she. And there's nothing I can say."
Lila leaned back in her chair and smoothed her features once more. "This will all be over someday."
Molly looked at the family clock, its hands illustrating how grim things really were. "You'll forgive this mother for worrying about what happens before then," she said quietly.
"Whatever it may be, I'll be here."
"I know, dear. Perhaps soon you'll tell me why." Molly took a deep breath and set her knitting aside. "What shall we make for dinner?"