27How You're Bound
"Q: Startlingly few advances have been made
in understanding the shape within the last
several generations, and overcognizance remains
incurable, if uncommon. Should we be worried
that we've hit the limit of our understanding?
A: Not at all. Scientific progress is not predictable:
there is no set rate for the expansion of knowledge.
Breakthroughs create avenues that lead to further
discoveries, but breakthroughs can be few and far
between. In fact, more often than not science is
advanced through failure, rather than success.
When presented with many options (and what
presents more options than the shape?), a
process of elimination is a necessity until,
eventually, someone happens across the way
forward. Obviously, there is a methodology
to all of it, but ask any scientist and they'll tell
you that sometimes, it sure doesn't feel like it!
We may not be anywhere close to a complete
understanding of the shape, but every new
theory, quantifiable or not, takes us one step
further. Who knows how near we may be to
unlocking even larger pieces of our greatest
–Modern Science Periodical's Public Forum: Ask a Scientist!
When Ginny regained consciousness, she blinked. Or, at least, she tried to.
Her eyelids were glued shut, perhaps as a prank – that was the first thing that came to mind. They were resisting her attempts to open them, she could feel her lashes tangled together. Her right eye was less obstinate: when light finally broke, it was a stabbing pain that quickly forced her to shut her that eye again. It took a few moments to become accustomed, not that there was much to see.
She was lying on her back on top of something soft, staring up at the ceiling. Her head hurt; every heartbeat sent a throb of agony coursing through her skull. The pain was especially acute above her left eye, and when she moved her eyebrows she felt something there that was sticky and sharply painful. She gasped involuntarily, her throat dry and rasping.
An answering gasp sounded from somewhere nearby. "Ginny!"
"Who's that?" Ginny said, trying to sit up. She moved her arms and there was a tug from her right wrist, along with a sensation like a pinch. "Ow!"
"It's Sophie! Here, I can help." Sophie bent down and wiped at Ginny's eyes with a damp rag. "I didn't get all the blood, I think. Is that better?"
Ginny blinked a few times, and after a moment of adjustment was able to see clearly.
She was on the bed in the master bedroom, with Harry next to her. Ron, Hermione and Scott were on the floor lying on various cushions and other mattresses, their faces slack and their eyes closed. There was a chair in front of the nearby short dressing table, and the top of it was covered in papers. It seemed as if Sophie had been writing something.
Ginny sat up, fighting back a wave of vertigo. There was a clear bag of what looked like water hanging from the headboard next to her; a tube from it ran downwards and connected with her wrist. She looked more closely and saw with great alarm that it actually went into her wrist, resting in her vein. She reached for it.
"Don't pull on it, it's taped in!" Sophie exclaimed, stopping Ginny. "One second, here… There'll be just a pinch."
It wasn't the most comfortable feeling to have the tape removed and the whatever-it-was taken out, but it didn't hurt all that much. Sophie stuck a small bandage (decorated with colourful dinosaurs, for some reason) over the puncture. Ginny rubbed at her wrist and shook herself, feeling quite dizzy. "Got anything to drink?" she asked plaintively.
Sophie handed her one of the Muggle bottles of water. It was room temperature, but Ginny didn't much care. She drank it with relish, swishing the water around her cheeks to dispel the dryness. "So what happened?" she asked, wiping a drop from her lower lip.
"I don't know, for sure, but I think that Horcrux thingamabob did something to you guys. I've been trying to work it out, but, I guess I don't have to? Are you all going to wake up now?" Sophie said hopefully.
"The last dream ended, I think, and we were…" Ginny lapsed into silence, trying to remember. The nightmares in which she had been trapped were fading to tatters when confronted with the waking world. The things that had happened which had seemed so real, so horrible, were quickly becoming indistinct, losing immediacy.
With a sudden grunt, Harry rolled over, squashing his face into Ginny's hip. He jerked his head back and blinked up at her blearily. "…Did we make it out?" he said.
She smiled down at him, more relieved than she could say. "We're back!" She grabbed his hand, entwining their fingers.
He began to shakily push himself upright with one hand, unwilling to let go of her. "Finally. Are you–" he looked at her again, and his eyes widened with panic. "Ginny, what is that?"
"Your head! What happened?"
Her hands flew upwards, running over her lips and nose. "Oh, God, did something happen to my face?"
"No, right here." He gently pressed one finger onto her forehead.
"Ow! Bloody hell!" she yelped, leaning back. She felt the same spot and found a large bandage.
"I guess you don't remember," Sophie interjected. "You were all standing around the table when the thing did whatever thing it does, and you fell when you were knocked out. Everyone is going to be kind of bruised; it's not a very good floor to fall on, downstairs."
"That explains a few things," Harry said, pressing a hand to his ribs. He had a sizeable contusion on one of his cheekbones that he didn't seem to have noticed yet.
"So I bashed my head on the floor?" Ginny said, wincing as she prodded at the bandage.
"Don't poke at it!" Sophie exclaimed. "But, poor Ginny, you were the unlucky one. You hit your forehead on the corner of the table, and then hit the same spot on the floor. You split your skin pretty bad…"
Harry was dismayed. "You should lie back down, here–" He pulled gently on her legs.
"I'm fine! It just stings a bit," Ginny protested, refusing to admit how dizzy she was.
"You sure?" Harry's eyes were worried, and Ginny knew she needed to at least pretend to be all right or he'd find some way to blame her injury on himself.
"Did you forget I played Quidditch? I had worse than this after that collision during practise," she told him not entirely truthfully.
He sat back. "Still. I should have caught you."
She would have rolled her eyes if she weren't so disoriented. So much for pretending to be all right. And trust Harry to expect the impossible of himself. "You should have caught me when you were unconscious?" she said tartly. "Do you hear yourself when you talk, or does all the guilt stuff up your ears?"
He flushed slightly, avoiding her eyes. "Shite, Ginny. I just don't like seeing you hurt, all right?"
She definitely understood his sentiment. Too bad he never seemed to understand that it ran both ways. "It's not that bad. If it was, Sophie wouldn't have let me sit up, right?"
"That's right!" Sophie immediately agreed, and then proceeded to sabotage Ginny's argument by adding, "You might be dizzy for awhile, I don't think you're concussed, but you did lose a fair amount of blood. No fun getting hit in the head, and I know! Very vascular, and then your clothes get ruined. Like a nice summer dress, a blue dress, robin egg blue, with a knife that you weren't told had a spring, then Scott still owes me dress money, actually, I just thought of that…"
Ginny glanced down at herself, but she still had a sheet wrapped around her torso. She left it, not wanting to reveal any bloodstained clothing for Harry to see. "But I'm fine, more or less."
"I think so, but I'll keep an eye on you for awhile," Sophie said unhelpfully.
Ginny gave up trying to get Sophie to say the right thing, and leaned into Harry's shoulder. "And I'll be watching you, bruise-face," she told him.
"Yeah, I just felt that a second ago," Harry said, closing the eye over the bruise.
"Harry, can you give me your wrist? I'll take care of that IV for you," Sophie offered.
"Huh?" Harry looked down at his arms. "Whoa!"
"It's just to keep you hydrated, it's okay," she reassured him.
"No, I know what it is, I just didn't expect it. Were we out long?"
"A little less than seventy-two hours," she told him.
"That's not as bad as I expected, actually," Harry admitted.
A loud moan sounded from somewhere on the floor. "Which one of you lot hit me with a Bludger?" Ron groaned. "Soon as I can stand, your broom's going right up your arse."
"You hit the back of your head when you fell," Sophie said, hurrying over to the mattress where Ron was slumped. "Can you see me?"
"'Lo," Ron mumbled by way of response.
"Hi!" Sophie leaned over Hermione, who remained still. "…Well, she'll be up soon, I bet. I'll get that IV for you, Ron."
"Get the what?" Ron said, confused. The exact moment when Sophie revealed the thing in his arm was made apparent when he then blustered, "Fucking hell, what'd you stab me with?"
"Language, Ron," Hermione yawned. She raised up on her elbows, eyeing her surroundings sleepily. "Oh, we must have succeeded. Did I kip on this old thing? This isn't one of the target mattresses, is it?"
"Oh, no, those are filthy!" Sophie said. "How are you feeling? You ended up falling on
Ron, so your knees took the worst of it."
"I knew it: mid-collapse, and she still can't keep her hands off me," Ron said, smirking towards Hermione.
"Prat," she said with far more affection than Ginny felt was warranted. "More likely, even my subconscious knows a decent cushion when it needs one." She started to sit cross-legged, and then flinched, halting the action. "Blast. I see what you meant about the knees, Sophie."
"It's only bruising, nothing broken. They'll be extra stiff right now, too," Sophie said.
"Has it been that long?"
"Not quite seventy-two hours."
Hermione raised her eyebrows in surprise. "It felt like years. Or did it? It already seems so vague… I didn't expect the nightmares to be literal to the point that they would fade so quickly."
"Maybe that's for the best," Ginny said, thinking of the beach.
"It can't be that easy," Harry said soberly.
Ginny sort of agreed, but she didn't want to encourage Harry's inevitable post-nightmare brooding. Fortunately, Hermione interceded by noticing her IV.
"Am I being fed intravenously?" Hermione wondered, raising her wrist for inspection. "I see these all the time on those hospital programmes that Mother watches."
After assisting Hermione with removing the IV, Sophie walked over to Scott. He wasn't on a mattress, but rather sunk into a large pile of pillows, looking a bit like someone floating on a pond. Ginny noticed he didn't have an IV in his arm, which didn't seem fair.
"I didn't think it would take him this long," Sophie fretted.
Hermione craned her neck to get a look at the Kharadjai. "Do you think there's something wrong? Or is he just being lazy?"
"It's the latter," Scott said all of a sudden, his eyes still closed. "I woke up while Ginny was talking to Sophie, but I'm really comfortable."
"You're such a butt!" Sophie asserted. "I was worried, too!"
"What did you expect me to do? Move?" Scott said with derision, as if the idea of him in motion was a ridiculous concept.
"I should kick you. I will kick you!" Sophie declared.
She marched over to Scott and aimed an extremely gentle, ineffective kick at his right thigh. He opened his eyes long enough to catch her ankle, resulting in a giggling Sophie half-heartedly attempting to free herself from Scott's easy grip, a tug-of-war that quickly became an obvious pretence for them to touch each other.
Ginny rolled her eyes. "We weren't ever that bad, right?" she whispered to Harry.
Instead of agreeing, Harry's eyes darkened. "I never really gave us the chance."
Ginny pursed her mouth in irritation. She'd somehow said the wrong thing. Well, that was just too bad, because she was stiff and her head hurt a lot, and she wasn't up to dealing with one of Harry's regret-fuelled moods. "Just shut it, Harry," she said shortly.
The look he gave her was startled rather than wounded, which made her feel a little better about being so abrupt with him. Down on the floor, Scott had relinquished his hold on Sophie and was trying to examine himself whilst moving as little as possible.
"So what's the damage? Did I break my ass?" he said.
"Actually, you fell back into a chair. You looked like you just fell asleep in it. It was sort of cute," Sophie told him.
Ron raised his hands and dropped them in disgust. "Right, I've got a splitting headache, and the one bloke who can take the damage just has a sit down. Absolute bollocks."
Ginny scoffed at him. "My headache is worse. You're not even bandaged, you big ponce."
"What bandage?" Ron said, squinting at her. The light was fairly dim in the bedroom, and Ginny's hair had fallen over part of her face. She brushed it aside and leaned forward to show him her injury. "Oh, hell," he said, impressed. "You're right, that is better than mine."
"What happened?" Hermione wanted to know.
"Hit my head on the way down, apparently. Really graceful of me," Ginny said with a sigh.
"I feel okay," Scott offered, as if that were supposed to help.
"You hush!" Sophie ordered as she walked back over to the dressing table. "So, do you guys know what happened?"
"The Horcrux forced us into a dream-state," Hermione said. "We each had our own version. We were separate, but Scott prevented the Horcrux from affecting him quite the same as us. He was amnesic, as we were, but able to move between dreams. We're not certain if the dreams were broken by the revelations, or if they were terminated in order to focus on Scott once he moved on. The diadem may have been conserving resources rather than keep us suspended."
"Or both," Harry said.
"True. Perhaps the diadem allowed our dreams to end rather than try to maintain them after the disruptions," Hermione agreed.
Ginny looked towards the door. "So it's still down there?"
"I didn't touch it, no way! I felt something happen, and then I went downstairs and you were all on the floor!" Sophie said with wide eyes. "I brought you up here and, well, you can see…"
She held up a few sheets of paper on which she had written. Her handwriting was obsessively neat but also very small, and Ginny couldn't make any of it out. Not that it would have mattered even if she could; there were larger symbols and formulas which looked like a load of nonsense to her.
Sophie continued, "I was working on unravelling the threads. They were pretty complex… I didn't want to just break them all, I didn't know what might happen to you."
"That may have been for the best. We're still not sure what would have happened if we were to become injured or worse in one of the dreams," Hermione said. "Unnatural removal could have been damaging."
"It was a last resort," Sophie said. "It hadn't been very long, not yet."
Scott slowly sat up, pushing pillows aside. He had to use his hands to steady himself, and Ginny thought he was probably dizzy, too. "Where's Kylie?"
"She's fine, she's asleep in the motorcycle room," Sophie explained. "It's a little after midnight right now."
"Okay. We tag-team the diadem, and Harry kills it while it's still recovering, probably. Thoughts?" Scott said, looking to them.
Hermione raised a finger. "When you say 'tag-team', you mean…?"
"Me and Sophie will go full suppression on that fucker while Harry slices it. Or you, or whoever, if Harry's too banged up to swing a sword."
"I can do it." Harry slid off the bed, holding himself stiffly. It was clear his injuries were bothering him more than he was willing to show. "Where's the sword?"
"It should still be in the handbag," Hermione said as she was helped to her feet by Ron, who was also looking a bit unsteady.
"I have your purse," Sophie said. She went over to the wardrobe and picked up the handbag from the nearby floor.
"Hey, maybe someone else wants a turn," Scott said to Harry.
Harry looked over his shoulder at Ginny. "How about you, Gin? Want to kill a Horcrux?"
Ginny didn't really want to kill anything, though she knew the time might come when she would have to. But she supposed the diadem wasn't really alive, or a person. And she was pleased that Harry had asked her first. "Sure, I'll kill it. I owe it one for making me live through that embarrassment all over again."
"What, at The Burrow? I never went in, what was happening?" Harry said curiously.
Ginny wasn't about to share the details of her dream, at least not with everyone else there. "Don't worry about it." She gingerly pushed herself off the bed, keeping a hand on the headboard to remain steady. She wasn't quite as wobbly as she had feared. Hermione handed her the sword, which was quite a bit heavier than she had anticipated. Harry had made it seem easy to wield, but he'd always been stronger than he looked. "So I just…" She raised the weapon and mimed cutting downwards.
"Er…" Harry reached hesitantly towards the weapon. "Actually, I just remembered that it hurt my hands, last time, when the locket sort of blew up, maybe you should let me–"
Ginny glowered at him. "I can handle it."
He quickly dropped his hands. "Right. I was just warning you."
They filed out of the room, ready for battle. Or, hopefully, an execution. Sophie and Scott seemed confident enough that they could keep the diadem from attacking their minds again. They'd certainly have a better chance with two Kharadjai on the job, and it wasn't like they could just leave the diadem sitting there. It had to die, even if only because Ginny didn't want to have to eat sitting on her bed.
She brushed into Scott on the way out the door, accidentally putting her foot over his and tripping him up. He stumbled into the door frame, catching himself with a hastily raised hand. "Sorry," she apologised.
He merely shrugged in response. "Don't squeeze too hard when you swing," he advised. "Might be able to avoid the jolt that Harry got last time."
The bedroom had been darkened to spare everyone's vision when they awoke, and out in the hallway she was able to notice that Scott's complexion was unusually pale, and his eyes were a bit too bright. "Are you all right?" she said, unsure if any concern would be accepted, coming from her.
"It was quite a ride. I just need to walk it off," Scott said easily.
He seemed genuine, though she doubted he would admit to any weakness. Their relationship was temperamental, at best, but she was starting to think that maybe it was time to try and move beyond that. He had just saved them, after all (even though Sophie might have done the same, given a little more time). Ginny didn't trust him to do what was best for Harry's emotional well-being, or anyone else's, for that
matter. She probably never would. But she saw the facts of what had happened, and that meant seeing that Scott had fought, killed, and even died for the cause. And, now, she had been confronted with irrefutable evidence that Scott had suffered for it, too.
She stopped at the top of the stairs, turning towards him as the rest of the group descended. "I'm not giving you a free pass for all of your shite," she warned him, "but… thank you for doing whatever it was you did."
"I didn't do it for you," he said coldly. Then, a corner of his mouth raised in an understated smirk. "I didn't know what the fuck I was doing at all."
She wrinkled her nose. "I know that, I've been saying it from the start."
"So you have as much faith in me as ever. I can rely on that."
They gathered at the foot of the stairs. Scott and Sophie moved to the front of the group, both displaying readiness in their stances. Scott's face was remote and cold, per usual, but Sophie's was a bit more readable, holding a seriousness and competence (and even a little fierceness) that was strange on her normally inviting features. Ginny hadn't seen the woman be much of anything besides wide-eyed and friendly. She tried to school her own expression into something harder, hopefully at least moderately deadly. She briefly wished for a mirror.
"Go," Scott said, and the two Kharadjai rushed down the steps into the kitchen.
Ginny did her best to keep up, but her legs were stiff beneath her and her centre of balance swayed with every step. Considering that she'd taken the worst fall, perhaps she hadn't been the best choice to wield the sword. Not that she was willing to admit that. She could do what was needed and collapse afterwards, if she had to. The bloody Horcrux was the reason her head hurt so much to begin with, and it deserved what was coming.
She didn't stop to ask what was happening when she saw Sophie and Scott standing in front of the table, the diadem before them. There were no signs and sounds of a struggle, but no doubt they were doing whatever it was they did with the 'shape', and Ginny didn't need to be told to hurry. She stepped between them, raised the sword over her head (fighting hard not to tilt with the motion – the floor seemed to move beneath her and she knew she couldn't stay upright much longer) and swung it downwards as hard as she could.
She didn't have the best aim: the blow was off-centre, shearing unevenly through the diadem. It didn't seem to matter, though. There was a horrid, all-encompassing shriek that cut through her eardrums like a spike, and the sword slammed into the table, reverberating up the metal.
She carefully lowered the sword point to the floor, taking the weight off her trembling arms. The two pieces of the diadem had flown off the table from the force of separation. She stared at them, waiting for a reaction. None came.
"Don't tell me it was a fake," Harry said flatly.
"It can't be. We know it isn't," Hermione said.
Scott stepped on the nearest piece of diadem, flipping it over with the pressure from his foot. It clattered tinnily against the floor, and Ginny could see that the shorn edge was smoking slightly. "It was real," Scott said.
Sophie bent down to retrieve the other piece. "It's dead. I can tell for sure," she confirmed.
Harry seemed satisfied by that. "I guess they're all different."
"Did it put up a fight?" Ron asked curiously. He held out a hand and Sophie gave him part of the diadem.
"I don't have a comparison point, Scott fought the locket, or talked to it, I guess, I wasn't here," Sophie said.
"It was tired. Or surprised," Scott said, rubbing at his eyes.
Ron held the broken diadem up for Hermione to see. "The sapphire is still all right. Maybe we can fix the rest of it?"
"Perhaps. But the sword likely destroyed all the magic, if there was anything left of Ravenclaw's spells after Riddle finished with it," Hermione said with a touch of sadness.
"Was it an important artefact?" Sophie said sympathetically.
"It was a remnant of the Founders. Those aren't easy to come by, especially such powerful ones." Hermione looked wistfully at the shattered diadem for a long moment and then took a short breath, her expression hardening. "But, it had to be done."
"I guess we'll have to tell the Ravenclaws about it eventually. But it'll be after all this, so the whole precious-Ravenclaw-diadem-slicing might not seem like such a big deal after we've saved everyone," Ron supposed.
"That would probably smooth things over," Harry agreed. "And if they aren't saved, there won't be anyone to complain."
"Always look on the bright side of life, mate."
"Wonderful, now there will be wanton destruction based on the assumption there's no tomorrow," Hermione muttered to Ginny.
"I don't know. Could be fun," Ginny said cheekily. She decided to extend the olive branch a bit further, and said, "How about you, Scott? You like to blow things up, I reckon."
"I've been known to, on occasion. From time to a time. I wouldn't, it would be remiss if I were to claim other things. My sheen avoidant camouflage, in lines left, threaded through. Maybe, did I tell you about the time I was at the Hill and they wanted the, I can't– it's just a long story," Scott rambled, his words strange and halting. Ginny stared at him as he leaned heavily against the wall.
Harry took a step towards him, confused. "You all right, mate?"
Scott ran a noticeably trembling hand down his face, but did not reply.
Sophie began to walk over to him, her face etched with concern. "Scott? Are you okay?"
"Yeah, probably," Scott said, and then his eyes rolled back into his head and he collapsed.
Sophie's first thought when Scott fell down was to find the shooter.
Her second thought was that she was in a basement, there was no sniper, no one had attacked him, and the diadem was dead. He hadn't eaten or drank since his recent awakening, so he couldn't have been poisoned. There had been no magic affecting him. Something else was wrong. Something unexpected, and serious.
Which meant her third thought was that she had to find out what was wrong, so she could help him. He needed her help. So move!
She darted forward, crouching next to him and gently patting his cheeks as she found his pulse. "Scott? Scott?" she said, doing her best to sound calm, pulling open one of his eyelids. His pupils were not dilated, and his pulse was fast, but steady.
Shadows fell across her as the Primes gathered around. No doubt they were all confused and worried, just as she was, but making sure Scott was stable was more important than reassuring them. He had slid down the wall when falling, guiding his descent and lessening the impact. She quickly ran her hand along the back of his head, and was relieved at the lack of blood. His airway was clear, and it didn't sound like there was any fluid in his lungs. She pressed on his fingernails, looking for signs of shock.
"What happened to him? What's going on?" Harry asked.
"He passed out," Sophie said distantly, still working to be sure that Scott was not severely injured.
It didn't make sense for him to react that way if he was, she didn't understand. Scott rarely lost consciousness for longer than a few seconds even when receiving critical wounds. He was Combat Corps toughened, integrationist trained and about as hardy as the Imperiarchy could make someone. He could be depleted, a state most quickly achieved by healing, but exhaustion from healing required him to actually heal, and he had done nothing but sleep for almost seventy-two hours without so much as a paper cut on him.
Or so she had thought. She would have noticed if he'd been bleeding as he slept under her care. And he definitely wasn't bleeding currently, nor suffering from past blood loss. Perhaps a major internal injury? His head was not bruised or swollen. She tugged a knife out of one of her pockets and ran it up the front of his shirts, cutting both together.
"Turn around, please," she told the hovering teens.
Hermione, Ron and Ginny complied, stepping back. Harry edged backwards, but said, "Is this the Horcrux?"
"Harry! I'm trying to help him, and I'm asking you to be polite!" Sophie said, trying to modulate her tone to be more authoritative and less shrill (she already spoke in such a high, girlish pitch that when she really got upset she could hit the notes that made Lila call her 'dog whistle', which Sophie hated).
"I'm trying to help, too, I just want to know–"
"Harry, what, are you trying to have a butcher's at Scott's bits?" Ron said loudly from where he stood with his back to the scene. "Because it sort of sounds like that, mate."
"Sod off, she's not taking his trousers…" Harry groused, but he retreated to a safe distance and turned away.
There was no severe bruising to be found on Scott's torso or back, his ribs were intact, his abdomen was pliable… She couldn't be absolutely certain there was nothing physically wrong with him, not without tools other than her hands and eyes, but he really seemed to be just fine. Her examination had been primarily to make certain that he hadn't been severely bleeding or broken, something she could patch up until he could take care of it. Anything further than that, and the best thing was to put him back in a bed and let his involuntary healing reflex handle it.
But her past experience with his physiology told her that he wasn't suffering from physical trauma, or reacting to it like a baseline due to depletion. Scott was sick. She wanted to believe he had just caught something that would run its course,
though she knew that was very unlikely; baseline illnesses were rarely a match for Primarius-level physiology, and all three Kharadjai currently in the field had gone through the inclision grids and medical checks that ensured they wouldn't carry any diseases from Solus with them.
Given all that had just happened, Sophie knew that the most probable scenario was the one she least wanted to accept: it had something to do with the shape. And that meant Scott might be beyond her help.
She would have to cross that bridge when she came to it. First things first. She pulled Scott's shirts back together as best she could. "I'm going to take him upstairs."
"What's wrong with him?" Hermione asked with concern.
Sophie wasn't sure if she should admit that she didn't know. Maybe it would be better to pretend that Scott was fine. That was probably what he would have done. On the other hand, it was a bit too late to conceal his weakness from his Primes after he had collapsed right in front of them.
"I think it's a Kharadjai thing," Sophie hedged. She scooped Scott up into her arms – he outweighed her by about a hundred pounds and was a full fourteen inches taller. His weight wasn't a problem, but he was so much bigger than she was that it was hard to manoeuvre without bumping him into something. She tried to shift him so that his head rested on hers, as her shoulder was too low. "Just so you are – oops – aware, don't carry someone who's unconscious this way, it could be bad if they hurt their spine or neck."
She managed to get Scott up to the master bedroom with a minimum number of collisions, though the stairs were somewhat tricky. She went up sideways, letting Hermione guide her. Once Scott was settled onto the mattress, she stood over him, debating her next move.
If he truly had been depleted, somehow, then he wouldn't inadvertently destroy the IV. And if he did, then he might be on the mend. So she inserted the catheter into his arm as the Primes watched, their confusion and worry palpable. She shared in it, but didn't have any answers for them.
"Is the diadem still affecting him?" Hermione asked.
"No, I checked," Sophie said. She placed a hand back on Scott's cheek, just to be sure, but other than the usual threads to the house there was no magic on him. She watched him for a few silent minutes, pretending to fuss with the IV to prevent any questions as she made her decision.
Ultimately, there wasn't really much of a decision to make. Barring any new developments, she would watch, and wait, and hope her fears were unfounded.
Taking a short breath, she turned to the Primes and pasted a smile on her face. "I think he's just tired. And he's not the only one! I'm impressed you're all moving around so well after everything, but it's really late, and you should probably go to bed."
"Didn't we just sleep for three days?" Harry said, though the dark circles under his eyes betrayed his fatigue.
"No, she's right. It wasn't restful, and we're all injured," Hermione said.
Ron frowned. "So there's nothing we can do?"
"Not right now. But, I'll let you know if I need help with anything," Sophie told him.
"I think maybe he's got the right idea," Ginny said, wincing as she gingerly touched her bandage. "I could sleep for yonks."
"Ginny, be sure to come see me when you wake up so I can take a look at that," Sophie said, pointing to Ginny's lacerated forehead.
"Try an Episkey or two, Ginny, it might help if it's bothering you," Hermione suggested. "I have some potions we can look at tomorrow, also."
"It's not that bad. We should save potions for worse things than a bump on the head," Ginny said.
"You'll all feel better with some real sleep, I know it," Sophie said, and gestured towards the door. "Shoo! Go sleep! I'll stay with Scott, just in case."
They filed out, though Harry paused at the threshold, reluctant to leave. "You'll tell us if anything happens?" he said.
"Of course, I promise," Sophie said.
He nodded. "All right. And thanks, you know, for… the tubes, and everything."
That garnered him a more genuine smile. "You're so welcome!"
When he left, the smile slipped from her face. She sat on the edge of the mattress and picked up Scott's right arm, cradling it as she checked his pulse again. It was still steady. His arm was heavy and warm; idly, she pressed her own wrist against his, observing the size differential. She decided not to call Lila yet, not until she had something to report other than Scott's sleep state. Her instincts were making her anxious, but she had no evidence that there was anything seriously wrong.
She took off his shoes and socks, pulled the blankets up over his legs, and then carefully crawled over him and settled in on the other side of the bed, curling up next to his side. She usually was pretty good about keeping her attraction to him in check (or so she thought; Lila had offered a differing opinion), but sometimes she did allow herself her little fantasies, when it seemed harmless. It was innocent enough to put her cheek on his shoulder: friends could do that! And that way she would be aware if he awoke and began to move. It was practical.
She counted his heartbeats until sleep took her. Her dreams were strange, all disjointed and made more of sensations than events. They bled into each other and were too abstract to last past the point of waking. When she awoke, she didn't know how long she had slept, but it didn't feel like very long. Someone was speaking to her.
"What?" she mumbled, lifting her head from the warmth of Scott's shoulder.
It was Scott who was talking. She had awoken in the middle of his sentence. "–altogether grey," he said.
She smiled happily and started to sit up. "Are you feeling–" The smile vanished when she saw his face. "–better?"
His forehead was beaded with sweat, hair plastered to it. His shirt was damp and his skin flushed red, blotchy and bright. His eyes were open, but they were glazed, unfocussed. They stared upward at something only he could see.
"Twine is twisted, twined, another desert of scratches," Scott muttered. "The fullness of months breathes rhyme. And rhythm of anchors creates new tides. Not mine."
She brought her hands to his head slowly, taking care to appear non-threatening. He seemed incapacitated, but she knew better than to put much stock in his appearance as an indicator of his harmlessness. Scott was a weapon honed to its finest point, and needed to be treated as such when he was not in control of himself. Fortunately, he did not react when she placed the back of her hand to his heated skin.
"Shoot, you're burning up," she whispered. "Scott? Scott!"
It took a few soft pats on his chest, but he finally looked at her instead of past her. "Scully? Hey, Day."
"No, it's Sophie. See?" She moved a bit closer to him, pushing her hair away from her face.
"Sophie," he repeated. "I know you. You always look like a heart. I love your heart."
Her heart actually fluttered a little at his nonsensical, wonderful endearment, but the important thing was that he recognised her, and was therefore much more likely to cooperate. "I love your heart, too. I need to move you into the bathroom, okay?"
"Wha's in there?" he said.
"Cold water so your brain doesn't boil," she said lightly. "Can you walk?"
"Only all the time," he scoffed. "These lines will lead and be led, canvassed."
She was losing him again. "Scott, can you look at me? Please?"
His eyes snapped back to her. "Sophie."
"I'm here. Can we stand you up, now?" She put his arm over her shoulders and lifted, more or less forcing him out of the bed. He ended up on his feet, but was far from steady.
"You have the best amazing tits, Sophie. They're so awesome," Scott slurred.
"Oh…!" she trilled, eyes wide. "That's… sweet of you to say. Here we go, we're moving now."
As they made their slow way over to the bathroom she was relieved that Scott did nothing more than lean heavily against her and occasionally try to shuffle off in a different direction. She didn't want to have to fend off any advances, or even injure him further if he couldn't keep his hands to himself.
"This floor is cold," Scott mused when they stepped into the tiled bathroom. "But it's room temperature, an extension of the same geometry and measured air. This perceived differential is due to a process known as conglutination."
"Conduction," Sophie corrected. "Hey! What are you doing?"
"I wanna stand in the warm Euclidean plane," Scott hazily explained as he tried to turn around and return to the bedroom.
"No, you're too warm already, that's the problem," Sophie said, gently guiding him back onto the tile.
"Scott?" someone said from the doorway. Sophie turned around to see Hermione leaning in, one hand on the door frame and curiosity stamped on her features. "I– I couldn't sleep, my knees don't want to cooperate no matter what side I lie on. I popped in to see if Scott was well, or at least better," Hermione explained, staring at Scott as he swayed on his feet. "That must not be the case…"
"Hermione, you're a star," Scott said in wonder.
"That's me: ever so popular," Hermione said with a weak smile that didn't overcome the concern in her eyes.
"He means in the shape, you're a bright Prime," Sophie interpreted.
"I am the Lizard King," Scott proclaimed, walking straight towards the doorpost.
Hermione, to her credit, did not laugh. "I think you need to look at reality and not the shape, for the moment."
"He can't tell the difference," Sophie said, guiding Scott towards the bath.
"Christ, it's cold in here,"
Scott mumbled as she put her arms under his and lowered him into the bathtub.
Normally, she would have been on his case for his language, but she was going to cut him some slack given the situation. "It's not cold, you're running a high fever."
Scott looked right at her, and said matter-of-factly, "Our threads will not intersect the way you want them to. The reason in me is dying."
She pressed a pale hand to his flushed cheek. "Scott, you're scaring me. Please come back."
"What can I do? Is there anything?" Hermione said helplessly.
Sophie put one hand behind Scott's head, protecting the back of it from the tile wall, and lay the other over his arms. "Turn on the cold water. But, back away quick!"
"I'm sorry about the decorations, Hermione, don't be bright at me," Scott said, watching her through uncomprehending eyes.
"I'm not… bright, at you, you're forgiven," Hermione reassured him. "This is going to be very uncomfortable, but I promise it's for the best. All right?" She turned on the water, and it shot with a hiss from the shower head and poured over Scott, pooling in the folds of his clothing.
He immediately began to struggle. "Agh!" he coughed, turning his head against the spray and kicking his feet. He nearly threw Sophie's arm off before she tightened her grip, knowing that if he began to fight with full strength she had no chance of keeping him restricted. "I can't swim in this! Fuck, it's so cold–"
"It's okay, you're just in the shower–" Sophie said, trying to get him to look at her.
"Get off me, we've got men in the surf!"
"Scott! You're in the tub, you're okay–"
"I can't breathe–"
"Yes, you can, take a deep breath!"
His pleading tore at her, but she stubbornly held him down. "There's air, you can breathe, see?" she lowered her face and gently blew on his mouth and nose. Hermione, demonstrating some quick thinking, moved the nozzle so the shower no longer struck Scott's face.
It took a minute, but Scott subsided, relaxing into the tub and leaning his head back, staring at the ceiling. Sophie cupped water in her hands and ran it over his hair and burning ears. He was shivering, arms wrapped around himself protectively as he witnessed whatever madness the shape was inflicting on his mind. He was having an episode of sensitivity that was very similar to what many overcognizants experienced. And that made Sophie so afraid for him that it was all she could do to keep wiping water over his heated skin and not demand answers that he wasn't capable of giving her.
She had been young, but she remembered the fits that her cousin had gone through before he had been sent to Ara Collis, spoken of in hushed conversations amongst the family. Not all overcognizants were born totally incapacitated: age and experience brought a greater connection the shape, and, with it, greater dangers to the mind. Her cousin had never been fully functional, but she knew of the rare case when someone toed the line, ready to slip over. She had always been aware that Scott was highly connected to the shape, experiencing physical symptoms of disorientation during upheavals that left Sophie merely discomfited.
But she had never seen Scott go through anything like what she was witnessing. He would have been medically discharged for certain if he had. Which left her wondering if all the training he had received and effort he had exerted were finally taking their toll in a terrible fashion.
She blinked away a sudden image of Scott, limp and vacant in a bed at Ara Collis, and hoped she was just overreacting. Of course, on the rare occasions that Lila had confided the same fear to Sophie, Sophie had told the other woman that she was overreacting. Sophie desperately hoped she wasn't going to have to regret those platitudes.
She took a short breath and looked back at Scott's eyes, determined to concentrate on the problem at hand. His fever seemed to be dropping, and the shock of the water had brought him back to reality, at least somewhat. His gaze was no longer unfocussed, if not entirely lucid.
"How do you feel?" she asked him, stroking a hand across his hairline.
"Cold," he said, blinking rapidly. "That feels good."
"Your hand. You have such tiny hands, I like them. You don't paint your nails."
"I do sometimes," she protested, looking at her petite fingers.
"Nail polish is weird."
"Well, you know how us field girls accessorise. I just almost never think of it anymore, even at home," she said, trying to sound cheery. "I bet Hermione or Ginny have some polish; what colour should I paint them?"
"I have a charm for that, actually," Hermione offered.
"No, nail polish is weird," Scott grumbled insistently.
"Okay, it's weird," Sophie agreed, just happy he was making even a little bit of sense. "Are you–"
"Your hands are like little doves, they always flutter and land on things so lightly. Then you wring them when you worry and they get all red," Scott rambled. "You shouldn't be red, you should be, you are, is like porcelain. Silk and porcelain. And emeralds. And twisty chocolate hair."
Sophie was grateful that Hermione had been there to assist, but she was starting to wish that she were alone with Scott, at least until he regained a filter between his brain and mouth. "My hair is twisty, it's true," she said, unable to truly engage with such a strange, and yet somehow flattering, description of herself. "We can turn off the water soon and get you back to bed."
"Chocolate hair, but, was not, um, chocolate like your cake."
"The big cake you had. With frosting like this." Scott held up his thumb and index finger, measuring about half an inch apart. "It was green."
Sophie searched her memory for a cake fitting that criteria. "…At my birthday party? When I had it at the cliff house?"
"With the frosting like this." Scott made the motion again, though the measurement was quite a bit different. Sophie assumed he had it right the first time.
"You do love your frosting," she said fondly, brushing his hair back from his forehead. He had let it grow out; she actually couldn't remember the last time he had it so long. She knew, to her disappointment, that he would probably have Lila shear it back down soon.
"It was good, not, not the cheap stuff, sugar and… sugar. You always buy so much. And I just ate it. You always spend too much. Could have got something that does more. Bullets. Not frosted."
He wasn't gaining much in the way of coherency, but his fever had gone down, so she was relatively hopeful that he would sleep it off soon. "It was for the cake, Scott, I don't need bullets for a party. You were supposed to eat the frosting. What else are you going to do with it?" she said.
He shrugged, though his shoulders weren't in sync. "I dunno. I wanted to lick it out your pussy."
"Okay…!" Sophie squeaked, standing up like a shot. She put her hands on Hermione's shoulders and steered her towards the door. "And out you go–"
Hermione's cheeks were scarlet. "Yes, I– that's all right, then. I'll just leave. Goodnight," she stammered, mortified. She limped out into the hallway, shutting the door behind her.
Sophie turned around and went back in, shutting off the water (though it seemed like Scott might still benefit from a cold shower). She couldn't be mad at him, he had no idea what he was even saying, or admitting, which was incredibly frustrating because if she couldn't be angry, what was she supposed to be? Calm, probably. Accepting of his words as a by-product of his delirium. Using her medical detachment to prevent herself from visualising Scott on his knees with frosting on his fingers and his face between her thi– nope nope NOPE. It didn't matter how unfair it was that he could say something like that without real consequence. His words were a symptom of a continuing problem. Scott was sick and she had to help him and she wasn't going to think about frosting or fingers or his lips and tongue lapping up two kinds of sweetness from her…
…Until later. When she was alone.
The audible chattering of Scott's teeth was enough to move such thoughts to the back of her mind. With a bit of difficulty, she managed to get him to raise his arms so she could pull off his ruined shirts. The next stage was a bit trickier: she draped a towel over him and reached underneath it to swiftly remove his pants and underwear in a single, easy motion. His modesty thus preserved (even if he wasn't in a state to appreciate it), she sat him up further and wrapped the towel tightly around his midsection, using a second towel to dry his hair.
He suffered through her ministrations without comment, blinking slowly. He seemed to be growing sleepy as the shock of the cold water wore off.
"Time to stand up," she told him, neatly folding the towel she had used on his hair and setting it near the sink.
He looked down at his bare chest. "Have I lost weight?" he said vaguely.
"Some. You need to sleep and eat more, I've been telling you that." She took his hands and raised him to his feet.
"I want a shirt," he demanded, hunching over uncomfortably.
"I know you do. If you go lay down for just a second, I'll get you one."
She was able to move him back to the bed without him giving her any trouble or saying anything inappropriate (not that he was ever especially appropriate even when coherent, but there were levels to that sort of thing). She gave him the shirt he had asked for and was pleased to see him put it on without assistance, even if he did struggle somewhat. She debated whether or not to
offer him a pair of pants, but by the time he had the shirt on and had his head on the pillow, he was shaking again.
"Are you cold?" she asked, already knowing the answer. He needed to be wearing more below the waist than a damp towel. She knew he always slept in boxers and a t-shirt, minimum, so she retrieved a pair of underwear and slid it up to his knees. "Can you do it the rest of the way?"
She had to guide his hands to the waistband, but he pulled up the underwear himself and she took the towel back to the bathroom, leaving it with the rest of the sodden clothing on the floor of the shower. Returning to him, she pulled the covers up to his chest and tucked them in around his shoulders. He instantly relaxed, going limp, though there was still a slight tremor in his jaw.
She crawled over him once again and shifted up to the headboard, cradling his head against her stomach. "Better?"
"I don't wanna see so much anymore. I'm scared," he said drowsily.
Tears prickled in her eyes – she kept her head up and breathed evenly through her nose, not wanting him to see that she was scared, too. But she didn't have any answers, so she held him a bit more tightly and slowly stroked his hair, the comfort being all she had to offer. "Hold you up, when you fall down… Hold you up, when you fall down…" she sang quietly. "This isn't just, the way we were, it's how we're bound…"
She knew she wasn't much of a singer, and Scott's slide into slumber probably had more to do with his exhaustion than her unschooled voice. His eyes closed and his breathing slowed as he slipped into what was hopefully a sightless sleep.
She waited about forty minutes before she carefully extracted herself from the bed. Stepping out into the hall, she shut the door and took her comunit from her pocket. She called Lila, hoping the other woman might have some answers.
Lila answered after a few rings, her voice raspy with sleep. "Yes?"
"Something happened with Scott and I don't know what it is," Sophie said, discarding any pleasantries.
There were some rustling sounds, perhaps as Lila sat up in her bedding. "What happened?"
"They broke the spell on their own and woke up, and we destroyed the object, but Scott looked pretty bad. And then he fainted," Sophie told her friend.
"I don't think so," Sophie said anxiously. "He isn't injured. He woke up a little while ago and he had a high fever and delirium."
"You might want to ask Hermione, when it comes to magic–"
"No, no he was… he was stuck in the shape. Shape sick, and hallucinating," Sophie explained. Lila was silent for long enough that Sophie felt compelled to speak again, adding, "Um, I think he's better. I put him in the shower and the shock brought him back a little, and his fever went down. But, do you know…"
Sophie paused, unsure of what the most delicate phrasing would be. It was an uncomfortable line of questioning, to ask if Scott had demonstrated any recent symptoms of overcognizance. She wasn't a family member (though she felt like maybe she almost was – close enough, right?).
Lila still didn't speak. Sophie fidgeted nervously, the silence weighing more with every passing second. Unable to stand it, she said, "Maybe it's nothing! He did some strange things in the Horcrux dream, I'm told, so it's probably related, it's that. If he had to shape the whole time and then the spell breaking that he was tied to, if he was working on it right then, maybe it… You know, something new. And weird," she finished lamely, not sure where she was going with her attempted explanation.
"I've never seen him have an episode like what you're describing without a physical root cause," Lila said. Her tone of voice was cool, unsentimental: a façade. It might have worked on someone else, but Sophie had been Lila's friend for too long to be fooled. "He's never said anything to indicate otherwise."
"Right, so, it could be something new, maybe a one-time thing. I mean, he uses the shape all the time and it's not a problem for him."
"If he'd had an episode like this, he would have washed out," Lila said firmly.
Silence descended once again, haunted by what had been left unsaid. Scott's last evaluation had been awhile back. And even if his current episode was the first, it could easily be the first of many.
Sophie didn't want to be entertaining that thought, never mind have to speak it. "Okay, well, I'll keep an eye on him and let you know when he's recovered. I'll make him call you," she said.
"Yeah, tell him I want to talk." Lila didn't put any particular emphasis on 'talk', but no doubt Scott would interpret it as a threat irrespective of how Sophie relayed the message.
After the short conversation, Sophie immediately returned to Scott's side. He was still sleeping, breaths slow and even. She crawled over the covers and placed her head back on his shoulder. Whatever should happen next, she would be there.