29Interior, Grimmauld Place
"In regard to [the previous missive], I
have always felt that honesty is the best
policy, up to a point. Honesty is difficult
for everyone, not just people in our
position. Maybe our use of it will encourage
the Primes to match us, maybe it won't, but
I think you usually get back what you put in.
Really, I'm not sure you have to try so hard.
Spend enough time with people and the drama
tends to come to boil at some point or the other.
Haven't you had a Prime call you on something?
Or vice versa? You can't lie to the shape, God
knows we've all tried to. If you have to be real
to some degree, then you're going to have some
degree of real moments."
–Digital missive from Primare D.B. Wallace to Primare Holly Juspeczyk
(Archival of the Republic, Historical Correspondence)
"So what do you think I should say?" Ginny asked, looking back down at the letter.
Hermione considered that. The missive from Bill had come at an inopportune moment, given the state of the group. She herself was a bit hobbled, her knees bruised as they were, and she knew that Ginny was still dizzy no matter how often the youngest Weasley denied it. Harry and Ron seemed mostly well, if sore, but Scott… Well, no one but Sophie knew what had happened to Scott. Hermione hadn't seen him since his episode in the early hours of the morning.
Hermione and Ginny had been lingering over their supper when Bill's letter arrived. He wanted to meet with them at a date and time to be specified. It remained to be seen if he could help them vis-à-vis Gringotts. Ginny had erred on the side of caution, and hadn't told him what information they sought. Hermione very much hoped he could offer them some form of help; the task at hand was daunting, to say the least.
"…Tell him that you'll write back to him soon," Hermione settled on. "We can't all go right now, but I don't think we have to. We could have Lila bring him to the park again, it worked well before."
"Maybe I should write to her, too," Ginny said, tapping her quill against her lower lip as she considered it.
"I don't think there's any need, not so long as Sophie can ring her for us. I suppose we could even contact Bill through her, assuming he's at Shell Cottage." Hermione thought about it, and then shook her head. "No, I think we should see Bill in person for something this delicate. The post is what he's accustomed to, and it's not as if we can meet him right away." Another thought occurred to her. "Bill won't be a problem, will he? Acting on the behalf of your mother, that is."
Ginny shook her head. "Not Bill. He might mention it, but he wouldn't try to make me go back."
"I'm not sure it's still a relevant issue, to be honest. She hasn't even tried to contact you recently."
Ginny sighed. "I'd like to think she gave up, but that doesn't sound like Mum." She lowered the quill to the parchment and began writing. "I'll just ask when he can come to us."
That was for the best, Hermione knew, as it was unclear when Scott would recover. She assumed it would be soon – likely within the day, as precedent indicated. She was a bit surprised he wasn't up and about already. Of course, the nature of his malady remained undisclosed, and was perhaps distinct from the wounds he had suffered before. Though his resilience was decidedly formidable, she understood that his ostensibly indomitable nature was an impression he'd always done his best to further. Kharadjai Primare he might be, but she knew he wasn't invulnerable, regardless how much he desired everyone to think he was.
His dementia had been troubling, despite his history of rapid convalescence. Scott was generally so self-possessed, so frequently calculating, that watching his mind misfire had been strikingly discordant, almost frightening. Hermione suspected that his unconscious struggle with the Horcrux had affected him in ways that Sophie either didn't understand or wasn't willing to explain. Perhaps both.
Whatever the case was, the timing could have been worse. With their overriding task once again entering the planning stage, they would all have at least some short time to recover. There were a number of issues on which they could move forward without the input of the full group. Hermione, especially, had things to do: though it was true that her past research into Horcruxes had yielded little, that had been only one avenue of inquiry. She had the new tomes from Dumbledore to study, and was also determined to take another crack at developing a spell for viewing thermal emissions.
Sophie had an extraordinary gift when it came to the manipulation of magic, and it stood to reason that same ability might be applied to the creation of magic. It was a possibility that had been mentioned before, and Hermione thought it time to put it into action.
"I'm going to speak with Sophie," Hermione told Ginny.
"Don't tell her I've finished eating," Ginny said, scribbling away.
Hermione frowned. "What? Why… Oh, did she want to examine your injury?"
"It's fine, she doesn't need to poke at it."
"Like you do, you mean? I believe she would be a bit more qualified," Hermione chastised. "She's going to have to look at it sometime."
"Whatever," Ginny groused.
Hermione stopped briefly at the doorway to the dining hall to make certain that Kylie wasn't doing spellwork without supervision. She found Kylie under the tutelage of Ron and Harry, who were attempting to teach her how to hold and angle a Shield Charm. Their DA experience made them more effective teachers than might be expected. Kylie was successfully blocking low-level Stinging Hexes, though she flinched behind her shield with every attack. Hermione didn't know if Kylie was aware of Scott's condition, but he would hopefully recover before it became an issue.
Hermione went upstairs, leaning heavily on the railing to take the weight off her wretched knees. When she reached the master bedroom, she expected to find Sophie keeping vigil over Scott's comatose form. That had been the case for the entire day, as Scott had not been ambulatory since the very early hours of the morning. Thus, Hermione was surprised to hear an argument emanating from the bedroom's closed doors.
"–her something!" Sophie was exclaiming. "She–"
"Is an AFA, and doesn't need to concern herself wi–"
"She is your sister!" Sophie hissed over him. "I was very concerned, I am still very concerned, I told her what was happening–"
"You didn't know what was happening. It's done. We can move on."
"We can…?!" Sophie began to repeat incredulously. Hermione had never heard the other woman in such a volatile state. "You're weak as a kitten, just hours ago you were delirious! I don't know why you think this is okay, but it is not!"
"I didn't say it was okay, I said it was done. Relax. Lila's busy right now."
The silence that followed was heavy, and Hermione could only imagine the expression on Sophie's normally sweet face. She fidgeted a bit in the hall, knowing she shouldn't be listening in. Should she interrupt, or quietly leave? She didn't have much cause to intervene, save for the feeling that perhaps someone should before one of them said something too harsh (most likely Scott). Her intrusion would not be welcome, to be sure, but it might be needed.
"What's going on?" a small voice said.
Hermione turned to see Kylie standing wide-eyed in the hall, looking at the closed doors with apprehension. Hermione opened her mouth, not sure what she was going to say, when the argument in the room started up again.
"Weren't you practising with Ron and Harry?" Hermione stalled, trying to talk a bit louder than usual. Scott and Sophie must have heard her, because they fell silent; though not before Scott finished a sentence with a loud expletive, making Hermione wince.
"I thought you were going to see Scott," Kylie mumbled, beginning to back away.
"I was, but he's… discussing something with Sophie right now. Shall we come back later?" Hermione offered.
Kylie nodded her acceptance and Hermione followed the girl back downstairs, grateful that Kylie hadn't heard much, if anything. Hermione wasn't sure just how Kylie saw the rest of them: were Scott and Sophie the nominal adults whilst Hermione and the rest were the older kids, or were they all adults to her? Either way, Scott and Sophie were the closest things to authority figures that Kylie had at the moment.
Kylie was a victim of the ongoing turmoil, Hermione reflected, as so many were, but she was unique in the sense that she represented the capacity of the enemy to turn on themselves. Kylie was a pure-blood, through and through, her lineage utterly untainted by Voldemort's standards. Yet, still, she had been a sacrificial lamb, discarded due to her unassuming nature and ties to Gryffindor. It seemed it was not enough to merely favour ambition: a lack of it became cause for punishment. The slight girl might not be fully aware of it, but she had already demonstrated just how short-sighted such elitist attitudes were. The Death Eaters had delivered her to their greatest foe, and in so doing had given Harry exactly the information he had needed.
Hermione placed a supportive hand on Kylie's thin shoulder, steering the girl back towards the dining hall. She felt a responsibility for Kylie, not just because she was essentially a refugee in their care, but also an early-years Gryffindor. Hermione took her Prefect duties seriously,
school or no school. Kylie could continue some manner of curriculum, even at Grimmauld Place.
Harry approached them when they entered. "Is he still out of it?" he asked Hermione.
"No, he was speaking with Sophie and I didn't want to interrupt them," she told him, choosing not to detail what she heard, at least not so long as Kylie was present. "Ginny's downstairs writing to Bill, I don't know if she's finished yet. You might want to see if you have anything to add."
"I reckon Gin has it covered," Harry said, but he pocketed his wand and headed for the kitchen anyway.
"Scott's awake?" Ron said loudly from where he stood near the mattresses, gaining Hermione's attention.
"Yes, for the moment, at least," she replied, walking over to him.
"Good. Me and Harry were going over that last dream, but we couldn't make sense of it. He thought we should all have a sit down and talk it over."
"Scott may be awake, but I don't know anything else about his condition," Hermione cautioned. "He may not be up for it quite yet." Though that hadn't stopped him from arguing with Sophie…
Ron grimaced. "And Gin's still wobbly. She about fell down the stairs this morning; pretended her shoe slipped, like I was going to believe that."
Hermione sighed impatiently. "She thinks Harry will start to coddle her again if she acts weak. She's so stubborn about it! Can't imagine where she gets that from…" She looked pointedly at Ron.
"Hey, this isn't that bad," Ron said, smoothing the hair down on the back of his head. "I had worse at the end of first year. At least then it wasn't because I just fell over like a moron. And, hang on, who's that walking about on broken knees?"
"They aren't broken," Hermione scoffed. "If they were, I should think I couldn't walk at all."
"Lucky you, you don't have to," Ron said cheerily. He bent down and scooped her up into his arms.
"Ron!" she squealed with surprise, digging her fingers into his shoulders as she momentarily feared he might drop her by accident.
"This is what boyfriends are for, yeah? What's the point of being so much bigger than you are if I don't pick you up now and then?" Ron said philosophically, carrying her towards the door. "Kylie, have a kip or a sandwich or whatever," he called back over his shoulder. "Hermione's knees are taking a breather."
"I hope your knees feel better," Kylie said gravely as they turned the corner.
"We shouldn't just leave her alone," Hermione fretted as Ron carried her up the stairs. She was impressed by how little strain he was showing, even going up the steps. As a result of their training, either she had lost weight or he had gained strength (she hoped it was both).
"She's fine. She's been doing loads better lately," Ron said. "She reads by herself in the drawing room all the time."
"I suppose so," Hermione relented. It was true that Kylie no longer seemed quite so fragile as she had done.
Ron laid her down on the bed in their room. She wasn't about to admit it, but it was a considerable relief to take the pressure off her knees, even though having them extended was still uncomfortable. The only position that seemed to minimise the pain was lying on her back, but she'd always had such difficulty sleeping on her back that it wasn't a very viable orientation for slumber. Fortunately, it wasn't time for bed, and her back worked just fine for reading.
"Ron, could you hand me that book with the blue binding? Right over there, on the top of that stack," she said, reaching out a hand towards it.
"No," Ron said immediately.
She dropped her hand and frowned at him, perplexed. "Why not?"
He flopped down onto the bed and rolled over until one warm arm was draped across her midsection. "Because you've got something else planned, haven't you," he said, bringing his face close to hers.
She cast her eyes down coyly. "Oh, I see."
Sophie retracted her head from the hall and quietly closed the door. She was likely about to make more than enough noise without slamming doors, she knew. The sudden voices from outside the room had given her an excuse to look away from Scott and gather herself. He was making her so angry. He was good at that, she'd always known it; Scott had a talent for getting under people's skin, a natural ability to gauge the approach, the words and mannerism, that would infuriate his target.
It was somehow even worse that, this time, Sophie was almost certain he wasn't doing it on purpose. His natural response just happened to be the most maddening. Didn't he care at all how scared she was?
If he did, he was hiding it very well.
"–without knowing more about how that thing worked it's hard to say exactly what happened, so I just think we shouldn't be jumping to any conclusions," Scott was saying.
She ignored his rationalisations. "You're lying to me," she said, rounding on him. "I can't believe you would lie to my face about something like this!"
"'About something like this'? You believe I'd lie about other things? Like what?"
"Anything! Whatever gets your way!" she said, her voice rising once more. "How long has this been happening?"
"You tell me, you're the accuser–"
"Stop it! You know that's not what I meant, you know exactly what I mean. How many times has this happened?"
Scott's arms were crossed, the muscles in his jaw tense. "…It's been a very long time," he finally admitted with great reluctance.
Sophie leaned away from him, barely suppressing a gasp. She stared at him, a million questions besieging her at once. How could he not tell her? How could he not tell Lil? Didn't he know how careless he was being? Wasn't he afraid? "H-How are you… You're so reckless, I can't believe you! And you're an integrationist…"
He glared at her. "Okay, I've been doing this for awhile, if you noticed, and I'm not crazy yet."
"You sure as heck were last night!" she retorted. "How did you get through testing, if this has happened before? Did you cheat somehow? Did you lie? Scott, you could go to jail!"
"You are completely fucking losing it! When have they ever jailed someone for lying to a recruiter? I took the tests, same as you, same as everyone, and I went through. How could I go through if I'm that unstable? Huh?" he demanded angrily.
"I don't know," she said a bit feebly, having no real clue as to how someone could cheat the system. "But… But if you weren't this bad to start with," she said more strongly, "then you know you need to stop!"
"And do what?" he spat. "Take a discharge and skip out to the periphery? Who do you think will pay more, Crimsecki or Norwich?"
Sophie flinched. "You wouldn't do that, Scott. You're not a mercenary."
Scott turned away. "No. I'm an integrationist. So let it go."
Nope. She stepped closer to him, raising her chin defiantly. "How about I go give Armond a piece of my mind for letting you qualify?"
Scott sighed, shoulders slumping. He had evidently hoped his previous statement would be the end of the argument. "Don't be mad at him, he had the okay."
"He risked your health!"
"He gave me what I wanted!" Scott snapped. "Am I really going to retire, do you think that's a reasonable option? Just bail on my career, lose the house?"
"I'll pay for the house! I can get you a job with the company–"
"That's your solution," Scott chuckled incredulously. "Quit my job and become a charity case. Well thank fuck Sophie has all the money, I'll just sign everything over to you!"
"It could be a loan," she countered.
He eyed her for a moment and then grimaced, shaking his head. "Look, keep Armond on the Christmas list," he said more calmly. "People with the sensitivity the Primarius needs are rare and sometimes the rules get bent, we all know that. If they cut everybody who was a little too sensitive, we'd lose half the FA."
"You are more than a little," she said pointedly.
"Just tell me honestly, for real honest: this is the third episode I've had since I hit puberty. Does that sound like an imminent symptom? Really?"
"…No," she said reluctantly, as he had invoked honesty. "But it's not going to get any better!"
"And it might not get worse," he said easily.
"You're only optimistic when it gets you what you want," she muttered, still upset with him.
"Sophie, come on," Scott said, lowering his voice an octave and stepping closer to her. He reached for her hands.
Oh, no, he was not going to use her attraction against her. If he thought he could be all handsome and tall and muscle-y and make her forget, then he had another thing coming. "No!" she said sharply, slapping him on the wrist as if he were a disobedient child. He glanced down at his wrist with a slight frown. "You need to talk to Lila about this or I will."
"It's not really any of your business," he said stiffly.
Her mouth dropped open as hurt lanced through her. How dare he?!
Perhaps sensing he had crossed a line, Scott quickly changed his approach. "I mean, it is your business, but she's my sister and it's something I need to think about before I make any decisions."
That wasn't good enough of a retraction for Sophie. "You already had your chance to make a decision and you made the wrong one. Now you had better make the right one, or I'm making it for you."
Scott drew himself up to his full height, looming over her threateningly. "I don't think you should be throwing any ultimatums around, Lieutenant."
Pulling rank proclaimed desperation, a last resort, and they both knew it. Unfortunately for Scott, it also wasn't going
to work outside of a firefight. Sophie had had enough. "I'm calling Lila, and you can go sit in syrup!"
"Will you just hold the fuck up for a single damn second?! Why are you so set on calling her right this minute?" Scott demanded.
"Because it's pretty clear that you won't, Scott! You think you can just brush this under the rug and you don't even care how worried she is! You don't even care!"
"That's not fair, I didn't say that!"
"You don't have to say it. You just have to keep it a secret when the thing she's so afraid of starts happening!"
"Maybe that's why I should keep it a secret."
Sophie didn't believe that would have even occurred to him. "That is not how you think. Neither of you do. You're trying to protect your own butt, not make things easier for her," she accused.
Scott shook his head, running a hand through his hair in an aggravated motion. "Seriously, what is this? My daily dose of character assassination?"
She pulled her phone out of her pocket and thrust it towards him. "Prove me wrong! I'd love to be wrong!"
"Nobody loves to be wrong," he stalled.
"I would. Being wrong would make me happy. You should want to make me happy," she asserted.
"I could make you happy in other, less emotionally uncomfortable ways," he suggested with half-hearted innuendo.
Her arm did not waver or withdraw, nor did she dignify his comment with a response.
Scott looked down at the phone as if it were a rope from which he would be hung. "…What if you did call her?" he said finally. "Like you said you would, you know, instead of me. Let's face it: you're gonna be a lot more reassuring than I would. If I tell her there's nothing to worry about, she'll assume I'm lying."
"I wonder why she would think that," Sophie said acridly.
"Hey, you were right. You should call her, let her know I'm fine."
"Oh, that's okay. You're just about to do it," she said firmly.
Scott's face took on a stubborn cast. He squinted at the phone, unmoving.
"What, what's next? Now what? You did– you tried to reason with me, you tried to scare me, you tried to distract me and then you tried to flatter me. You just pull out your whole bag of tricks for stupid little Sophie," she said in a wounded tone.
He rubbed at his eyes. "Jesus, Sophie–"
"And now you're swearing at me!"
"God," he huffed in exasperation. "Do you know what you're…" He struggled with the words. "I know… that Lil was kind of worried about the whole OCog thing; I remember after a shaperate class she was asking all these questions, gauging my personality symptoms. But I thought that was old news, I didn't know she was still… you know, talking to you about it. Concerned."
"Very much so," Sophie told him.
Scott grimaced. "Great. You gotta understand, I don't talk about the fits, I don't think about the fits, I barely have the fits. Third one, remember? Third major one."
"Third major one?" Sophie said with consternation.
He waved her off. "Yeah, yeah. Technically, that's sort of a concern, and technically, someone looked the other way, but if they're willing to do that and I'm willing to not talk about it, then why bring it up?"
Sophie immediately bristled. "Because it just happened–"
"Yes, yes it did," he said quickly, "that's why it came up, fine. But now we need to think about our situation and how this isn't the time to start a big fight with Lil just because I didn't tell her something she thinks is important. We're in the middle of stuff a lot more pressing than whatever mental illness I may or may not have a predisposition for–"
Sophie did not raise her voice often. She didn't like yelling at people, she didn't have a penchant for confrontation. But Scott was sorely testing the limits of her considerable patience. "She does not think this is important, this is important, and you will call her and tell her what happened right now."
Scott reached out and snatched the phone from her hand with a hard motion. "I really don't want to deal with this," he said through clenched teeth as he dialled Lila.
Sophie said nothing, observing him as the phone rang. Letting him contact Lila on his own schedule would have been fine, usually. He could make his own decisions. But if he'd never talked to his sister about being shape sick before, then odds were he wouldn't have after his latest episode, either. Maybe his last one had happened before he and Lila had been reunited, Sophie didn't know, but letting Scott ignore what had happened to him wasn't what was best for anyone involved. Sophie trusted Scott to make the right decisions for the mission, for any fight. But she had learned through long experience that he could not be trusted when it came to his own health.
"It's me," Scott said abruptly. His voice was calm enough, but the way his free hand kept fiddling with his hair betrayed his agitation. "Just calling to let you know that I'm better. …Better, not well. Soon." He paused. "…I don't know, exactly. Something to do with the Horcrux and moving the whole crew through what my head thought was the shape. Maybe it was. Without duplicating the circumstances it's impossible… No. I talked to Sophie, she's right here. It's been awhile, anyway, only the third one, bad one. I really doubt this exact situation is going to come up again." He said the two sentences casually, offhand, with the speed of someone hoping the other party wouldn't pay full attention.
The stretch of ominous silence from the phone was indication enough of how well that had worked.
Scott squeezed his eyes shut. "Talk about what?" he said, playing dumb. "I know we need to talk. How has… I'm not changing the subject, this is mission talk. Do you remember where we are, what we're doing? What do you mean, 'do I'? I just took out a Horcrux. No, I'm not – I'm not doing this over the phone. I don't know what your deal is. …Well, even if I do, I'm still not doing this right now! Yeah, gladly!"
Without warning, Scott tossed the phone towards Sophie. She caught it with a swift hand and brought it up to her ear. "Lil?" she said apprehensively.
Lila's tone was brusque, even for her. "How is he?"
Sophie turned away from Scott and lowered her voice. "Probably about to pass out. He's been standing here arguing with me and then with you and I don't think he should be on his feet at all."
"Why would that even slightly surprise me? Why am I so fucking angry when it's all completely expected?" Lila mused rhetorically. "He's right about this having to wait. That's the only thing he's right about. Make him go back to bed."
Sophie knew that the circumstances weren't ideal for Scott and Lila to have any sort of heart to heart, but she also knew that putting the issue aside would allow it to fester. The two of them were like that, allowing their emotions to stay suppressed, building until the moment of confrontation came and made them both savage beyond proportion. For two such regularly combative siblings, they weren't very good at fighting without becoming vicious.
"Okay, but the two of you should hash this out sooner, instead of later. I know he's being obnoxious, but I think he didn't want you to ever worry–"
"I can't listen to this right now," Lila said abruptly. "Not even from you. I'm going before I say something I'll regret."
Sophie held her tongue, waiting for the click of disconnection. When it came, she put her phone sombrely back into her pocket and waited for Scott to stop glaring at the wall, his shoulders tight with anger.
"Was this really the best way to go about it?" he finally muttered, not looking at her.
Sophie narrowed her eyes at him. "There would be better options if you hadn't lied to her before!"
"I didn't lie to anyone, I just didn't talk about it, okay? Omission is not falsehood. I have the right to a little privacy."
"Well… Lil isn't going to see it that way."
Scott sighed, head drooping. "And you don't, either, obviously."
Sophie had more to say on the subject, but it could wait. She could see Scott beginning to fade: his entire body shook with slight tremors and all the colour had left his face. "You need to lie back down."
His jaw set stubbornly for about a second, but he must have decided that he'd been obstinate enough for one day. "…This floor is pretty cold, I will admit," he said, beginning to shuffle back towards the bed.
Aghast, Sophie glanced down at his feet. "Scott! You didn't put on any socks!"
"Yes, how stupid of me, I should be wearing socks. That would have solved everything," he grumbled.
"You're sick enough without adding cold to it."
"You know that cold doesn't actually make you sick, right?" he said with a superior expression, halting by the edge of the bed. "Has this locale regressed your intellect to the point you're pushing old wives' tales?"
"You know that hypothermia is a thing, right? And that cold temperatures affect your respiratory defences and make some strains more resilient?" she shot back. "And I didn't say it would make you sick, I said you don't need to be cold on top of being sick, but if you want to feel even worse and have feet like ice blocks then you can go ahead and keep standing there and see if I give a hoot!" she finished with her voice wavering. She wanted to help him and hated to leave, but she wasn't going to stay and allow herself to be a punching bag surrogate for Lila. She turned to exit, ducking her head and letting her hair fall over her face to hide her expression.
Behind her, she heard Scott groan and
the mattress squeak as he fell onto it. "I'm an asshole!" he called after her. "I'm a raging cock and I should have told you everything before, but I'm an asshole and I'm scared."
She stopped near the door, but didn't turn around. "If you're scared then you should have talked to me. That's what best friends do. You can tuck yourself in, and I'll be back later."
She quickly stepped out into the hall before he found the words that would change her mind; if there were any, he'd discover them one way or another. She couldn't trust herself when it came to him, sometimes.
"Now you've fuckin' done it," she heard Scott murmur to himself just before the door clicked shut.
Harry stood outside of the bedroom door, not entirely sure he wanted to go in. Well, he did, if just for a moment, but he also didn't want to get on Sophie's bad side by disturbing Scott's rest.
He knew that Scott and Sophie had some sort of argument earlier, as related by Hermione, who hadn't spoken of the incident in much detail. Harry couldn't recall ever wishing that she had more of a predilection for gossip before, and he supposed he really didn't care that much about what the argument concerned. Harry just wanted to know what had happened to Scott, and if he was going to recover soon. They had things to do.
Maybe that was callous. He'd probably think so, too, if it were anyone but Scott. But it was a line of thought Scott would understand. No doubt he was more frustrated with his condition than any of the rest of them.
Harry's intention was just to peek in, see if Scott was sleeping, and then find something to occupy his time. But when he opened the door and peered inside, he saw Scott sitting against the headboard and staring wanly at nothing in particular. Until he spotted Harry, and their eyes locked.
"Are you alone?" Scott asked. His voice was normal enough despite his haggard, pale appearance, and, although he didn't sound urgent, it also didn't seem like a very casual question.
"Yeah, I just wanted to see if you were feeling better," Harry told him.
"That's debatable, but I can talk. Come on in."
Harry entered the room and shut the door behind him. He paused. "Did you want me to leave this–"
"Keep it closed."
Harry walked over to the bed and sat in the chair conveniently next to it, perhaps Sophie's former perch. "That's a bit ominous. Should I be worried?"
Scott laughed, the lines of his face creasing in tired humour. "I don't know. Would that help?"
Harry frowned. "Help with what?"
Scott sighed through his nose, staring at Harry for a long, silent moment. "Let's knock this out of the way, first. I don't know exactly what happened to me, but it has to do with touching the shape with too much precision for too long. I'll recover, but it's going to take longer than usual."
"We were dreaming, though. I thought it wasn't the real shape."
"It seems like the whole thing might have been the real shape, or something close to it. Whatever I was doing, whether I knew it or not, I was immersed. And there are limits to that kind of thing. More for me, than some."
Harry didn't really understand, but that wasn't unusual when it came to the shape. He asked the most pertinent question. "Will this happen again?"
"Very unlikely," Scott assured him. "Not impossible, but improbable to the point that we shouldn't worry about it."
"I'll take any chance to not worry about something, mate."
"Yeah. Yeah, that's kind of how things have been."
Harry flexed his fingers, absently rubbing the strip of his palm he had lacerated in Scott's dream. It was probably his imagination, but he thought it still sort of hurt. "Gin sent a letter off to Bill. We should be able to meet with him before too long."
Scott closed his eyes and put his head back on his pillow. "That's not gonna restart the whole shit with her going back to her family, is it?" he said.
"She doesn't think Bill will care about that. I mean… I'm sure he cares, but…"
"I just don't want to deal with it. Or make Lil have to deal with it, I guess."
Harry shrugged slightly. "I don't think it matters now. She's here."
Scott opened one eye partially. "What about you?"
"I've never stopped wanting her to be safe. But, it's been good to have her here. And maybe I need her here," Harry finished more quietly.
The eye closed again. "You don't want to see what would happen if you try and make her leave after all this."
Harry grimaced at the floor. "That is true."
"Kind of a no-win, though, since even if she was safe at the cottage or whatever, you'd have broken her heart to get her there. Make it hard to work with the Weasleys all over again. Hell, make it hard to work with Hermione and Ron."
"I'm sure even you'd be there to tell me you'd kill me if I hurt her again," Harry said dryly.
Scott scoffed at that. "Please. That's some romantic dramedy crap. Heroine gets romantically devastated, everyone important in her life lines up to threaten death to the object of her affection. I don't murder people over interpersonal mishaps."
"I didn't mean literally. Like, the expression."
"It's important to keep distinctions clear. When I tell someone I'm going to kill them, there's reason to take it seriously."
"I suppose that makes sense."
"Granted, I don't usually tell people I'm going to kill them. Though, you know, in the case of a war it's probably just assumed."
"It's not really a war if it's just you showing up by surprise," Harry said.
Scott held up a finger. "Riddle doesn't embody or represent a legitimate government, so we aren't required to declare war. Presumably, by now he's gotten the idea anyway."
Harry considered that. "So, once he makes himself Minister, your government will have to tell him that you're here and declare war?"
An odd expression flitted across Scott's face. "Well… No. There's a bit of a loophole."
Harry frowned at him. "Why are you making it sound like it's something you don't want to tell me?"
"Maybe not you, so much, but definitely Hermione. It kind of plays into the whole 'superior future alien' thing I do sometimes that drives her crazy."
"I thought you were just taking the piss, mostly."
"I was, mostly, but the Republic isn't. See, a legitimate government has to be recognised by the Republic and given certain rights and assurances under our own laws. Let's say, for example, our illustrious neighbours, the VC. I can't go to the Commonwealth and do what I do here because that would be assassination and espionage. It happens anyway, but it's illegal. But the Ministry for Magic is not a valid governmental body – nor is any other government in the world. As far as the Republic is concerned, there are no laws on this planet that apply to me."
"None? You could do anything?" Harry said, aghast.
"The Republic's laws still apply to me, Harry, and there's a lot of overlap," Scott said evenly.
"Why aren't the Muggle governments legitimate? Why wouldn't they at least recognise Parliament, even if the Ministry is too small, or whatever?"
"It's not size. Under Republic law, no government can be considered legitimate which does not have access to the shape."
Harry thought about that for a moment, and discovered it made him a bit angry. "Are you serious? You said only Kharadjai can see the shape!"
"So the only real governments for you are other Kharadjai governments!"
"…Right.""That's effing bollocks, Scott."
"I know. The idea is that the shape is a fundamental part of the multiverse and a people who can't touch it–"
"Aren't real people?" Harry interrupted.
Scott sighed. "You're not taking this very well."
"Imagine what Hermione would be saying."
"Oh, I have. The law was written when things were different, it's actually a holdover from the Imperium. It's not a kind of thinking that's really in fashion anymore, attitudes have changed in most places, but the law hasn't. I guess it's too useful."
"I guess," Harry muttered.
"Hey, better they keep that than the old rules for fraternization. Then I couldn't hit on Sophie all the time."
"Yeah, what a shame that would be. We'd all miss it so much," Harry said dryly. "You know, I think they actually don't allow that in the Aurors. Not really sure."
"They didn't under the Imperium. Now it just depends on where you are, so to speak. Most of the lower postings forbid relationships in the ranks. Once you get into a real unit, things are looser. Spec ops especially tend to not care, so long as your performance is unaffected. It's all statistics, really. You can sleep with your co-workers when it's forbidden, get caught and shuffled out, or you can sleep with your co-workers when it's allowed, things get messy and people get shuffled out – they found that the second thing happens less than the first. When the fruit isn't forbidden, it's not quite so sweet."
"What about you, are you allowed?" Harry asked. "I know you just said about Sophie, but flirting isn't doing, you know."
Scott chuckled dismissively, as if Harry were an adorable rube for asking such a stupid question. "I'm Primarius, Harry. I could bone an admiral if I wanted."
"There a lot of admirals you fancy?"
"Nah." Scott wiggled a bit, rocking his shoulders into the mattress. "What are we even talking about, man?" he sighed.
Harry leaned his head back in the chair, staring up at the ceiling. "I dunno. I reckoned you'd fall asleep soon, you've had your eyes closed the whole time."
"It was easier to ramble," Scott murmured. "I need to
tell you something. Or, I think I should tell you something, I don't know how much you need it. I know how much you would think you do."
Scott wasn't being very clear. Harry raised his head, wishing Scott would open his eyes so Harry could actually meet them. "About your dream?" he guessed. "Or the last one? I was talking to Ron about it and it just doesn't make sense. It doesn't fit any of us."
"I have an answer. It's not one you're going to like."
"When do I ever?" Harry said rhetorically. "That's fucking bog standard for my entire life. When did you suss this out if you were arguing with Sophie about something?"
"Dumbledore gave me an explanation; the dream is just a different context for it," Scott said vaguely.
"Out with it," Harry said impatiently.
Scott finally opened his eyes, and they conveyed an internal struggle for the right words. "…Riddle's state is more unstable than we've understood," he eventually said. "He created a Horcrux unintentionally."
Immediately, Harry's heart sunk. "God, there's another one we didn't know about?"
"We sort of knew about it. Or, rather, we know its vessel."
A sliver of hope returned. "So we can get it, then. It's not in Gringotts or anything."
"It's more complicated than that."
"You're not making it any simpler," Harry said pointedly.
Scott placed his palms over his face and scrubbed hard at it, as if he were clearing thoughts away. "I already had my hard conversation for the day, I just want to sleep."
"You prat, you can't just leave it at–"
"Look, I'm just going to say it," Scott said, voice muffled by his hands. "You're a Horcux."
Harry paused. "What?"
"You. You are the Horcrux. It's in you."
Harry was about halfway to grinning when he realised Scott's tone had been nothing but serious. "…Are you joking? I don't get it, what do you–"
"I'm not super clear on the details, but it happened when he tried to kill you. The first time he tried to kill you. Apparently his soul or whatever is fractured to the point he's started to shed." Scott paused for a moment. "Now, I know this is–"
Scott continued to speak, but the words fell behind the distant roaring Harry's ears. He was detached enough to recognise the feeling even as it came over him, a kind of horror that seemed to seep out of his bones as a numbing tar. His limbs felt fuzzy, too heavy to move, his fingers cramping down into fists that didn't seem to be his own. His heart thudded in his chest as the numbness took over his skin, flushed and prickling, and his throat went tight under the phantom noose. It was an almost unbearable sensation, disembodiment through disbelief, through insurmountable despair. The kind of quiet seizure that came from a realisation that could not be faced, but had to be.
And inside – behind that jarring heartbeat, beneath the excoriated skin – was a poison, a deep-rooted infection of a foreign, dark-tempered soul. He imagined he could feel that piece of Voldemort, pressed against his spine, wrapping its long, white fingers around his ribs. There was nothing sharp enough to dig it out.
Harry had always known he was a danger to those around him. But he had never understood just how utterly correct he was. The logical end was clear enough: he was a Horcrux (the idea was insane, bewildering, impossible to rationalise), and Horcruxes had to be destroyed.
He looked down at Scott's bedding where, somewhere, he knew – under a pillow, beneath a blanket, tucked between the mattress and headboard – was concealed a little over three pounds of machined steel. "Shoot me," he rasped.
Scott didn't even say anything. He silently gazed at Harry with such absolute condescension that Harry had to look away, embarrassment managing to poke its way through his tangle of indecipherable reactions.
"If you're done sobbing on your shirt sleeve, I'll continue," Scott finally said with an ironic twist to his lips. Then he frowned. "Harry, you're not breathing."
Harry somehow managed to suck in a breath, forcing it through the intolerable tightness in his chest. "I guess that was sort of dramatic," he managed to say.
"You think? Also, shooting you would send the soul back to Riddle. So maybe you should keep holding on to it for awhile."
Harry liked that phrasing, the idea that the piece of soul was just an item, a box or a bag, something he had that he could return or bin. "I wish. I wish it were like that," he said, still trying to regulate his breathing. "How could… I never knew, I never even thought – I don't know what I'm going to do, I don't– I guess I have to die, which I sort of knew, but maybe not for sure or it wasn't– I just didn't think about it much. Oh, fuck." He clenched his jaw and leaned forward, fighting through more emotions than he could handle. He thought he might explode with them, paint the walls with his tainted essence. "I want you to do it. I guess I could, but just to be safe. I can't ask… Nobody else could, you know them, there's no way. I can't ask them."
"But you can ask me?" Scott said loudly, pushing himself up into a sitting position.
"Who else?" Harry demanded. "You're always telling me that you do whatever you have to, now's your chance to prove it!"
Without warning, Scott's arm snaked out from underneath his blankets and wrapped around Harry's throat. Harry was too surprised to even resist when Scott pulled him off the chair and forced his head onto the mattress. Harry had just begun to struggle when Scott brought his other hand down with a pillow, smashing it against Harry's face.
Harry tried to suck in a breath, but he couldn't; the cotton pillowcase pressed against his mouth and nose, blocking his airflow. He fought against Scott's iron grip at first without result, feet kicking helpless against the floor, fingers scrabbling at the unyielding arm which pinned him. His lungs began to burn. He felt faint, becoming more desperate by the second. But Scott was too weakened to strain himself for long, and soon Harry overpowered the Kharadjai and pushed the pillow away, falling gasping to the floor, trying to cough and fill his lungs at the same time as the room seemed to spin around him.
"How was that? Was it what you expected, what you wanted? You didn't look like you were welcoming the comforting embrace of death. All the flailing was kind of undignified, not very resigned," Scott said with an edge in his voice whilst Harry fought for breath.
"Are you fucking mental?!" Harry wheezed.
"Are you? Because it seems like you were asking me to kill you, maybe I misunderstood.""Painlessly, you shitting wanker!" Harry leaned back against the chair, glaring at Scott. "God!" He coughed a little, and took another deep breath.
"Get a grip, man. We have options," Scott said firmly, settling back down on the bed.
Almost despite himself, Harry couldn't help but listen. "Like what?" he managed to say with something approaching an even tone. Having the wind knocked right out of him had calmed his state somewhat, if only because he didn't have enough oxygen to be tense.
"Dumbledore gave Hermione some books on blood magic, or whatever it's called."
Harry didn't make the connection, but he was also having a bit of trouble thinking clearly. "So?"
"So Riddle can't kill you. Not directly with magic, anyway. Apparently, when he took your blood some kind of protection was shared, or duplicated – or something, I don't fuckin' know, but the point is that if he hit you with a curse, it wouldn't kill anything but the Horcrux. If we can do the same blood whatever, then that would be true for us, too. Problem solved."
Harry remembered the graveyard and the cauldron. Not the most pleasant experience he had ever undergone, but if repeating it meant his friends would be Riddle-proofed, he'd do it in an instant. "And if that doesn't work?"
"Then we figure something else out. Or contrive a situation in which Riddle kills you, fails, and kills the Horcrux." Scott paused. "Possible, but that would take some doing. Let's try other things, first."
"Fine." Harry squeezed his eyes shut, tried to think. "Um… Since it's not safe for me to stay here, we'll have to find somewhere to… Isolate me."
Scott sighed. "Shut up, you dork."
"Don't tell me to shut up!" Harry snapped, launching himself to his feet and glaring down at Scott. "You can pretend like this isn't fucking horrible, but that doesn't make it true! I'm a bloody Horcrux, Scott, you can't have me around!"
It was the thought which seemed the worst: how much of Harry had ever been him? How many awful things had he said and done which had sprung not from his mind, but from a rotten seed burrowed deep in his viscera? He didn't know, and he probably couldn't know, and that would always haunt him.
"Really? Because you've been around so far, and I can only remember the Horcrux causing trouble a couple times. No, just that one time. Oh, wait – not at all." Scott had settled back down onto the bed, eyes closed again as if Harry's horror and frustration weren't even worth making eye contact for. "However Horcruxes in living things work, they clearly don't work the same way as they do in objects. Or maybe Riddle just never got to do to yours what he did to the other ones. Who knows? Who cares?"
"I care!" Harry said incredulously, about ready to rip the sheets off Scott and pummel the Kharadjai until he treated the situation with the gravity it deserved.
"Yeah, clearly. I took out the thread that linked you to Riddle; that was your Horcrux
effect. It's already been taken care of, we just didn't know it," Scott said sleepily. "It's not good news, etcetera, but this works for us. Better we found out now than after we smoke him."
Harry didn't think Scott appreciated just what this information was doing to him. "So we should just take that chance? There's a Horcrux in me."
"Yeah, I know. I just told you that. Like, a minute ago."
Harry stared down at Scott's tired face for a long, trembling moment, rage and fear and utter despair ricocheting through him in a torrent he could barely suppress. "Why don't you care?" he said finally, his voice hoarse.
Scott's eyes opened and met his. "I do care. That's why I put some thought into this. You need to believe that this is something we can manage. We've handled plenty of Horcruxes. And yours isn't even an immediate danger. And Riddle doesn't even know about it! I know you can't help but consider this a personal setback, but from a mission standpoint, we came out ahead."
"Except you might have to lose your precious Priority One to get this Horcrux finished," Harry said bitterly. "And that's the end right there, isn't it."
"I don't believe that."
Harry slumped back down into the chair. "Why?" he nearly pleaded.
"Because if there was no way to get the Horcrux out, Dumbledore would have already killed you."
Harry had no response.
Scott continued, "The evidence says Dumbledore knows what he's doing when it comes to magic. If there wasn't any chance of this blood magic thing working, I don't think he would have shown us the opportunity."
Harry stared at the floor, feeling sick. "He knew. This whole time. He'd always known."
"Maybe not always. I do wonder what his original plan was, though. Obviously, now he's using me, but I only showed up last year."
Harry laughed, though there was no humour in it. "At least you just told me right away. Thanks for that, I guess. I don't know if anyone else would have."
"That's me: I only tell you the things you don't want to hear," Scott mumbled through a half-smile. "Clearly, the best integration strategy."
Harry took a shuddering breath. "I don't know if I can handle this, mate," he said honestly.
"You can. Like I said, this could end up being an advantage."
Scott said it so easily, and Harry wanted so badly to believe in that version of events. "Unless we can't get it out," he reiterated.
"Until that happens, this is just new information. It's actionable intel on a problem we need to control."
Harry wasn't sure how much Scott even believed what he was saying. "I suppose."
"Believe it," Scott yawned.
Scott's face had become increasingly slack over the course of their conversation. Reluctantly, Harry stood back up. "I should let you sleep."
"If you don't talk to the others about this, you won't be sleeping," Scott murmured.
He was right about that, and Harry dreaded the talks that he knew were coming.