3Goodbye, ArcadiaPart II
"Initial encounters were scattered and indecisive. On the fourth
day at 1400 hours, the opposing force occupied the tree line
directly northwest of our forward positions. During the
following six hours, repeated artillery strikes were directed
at the enemy in the hope of creating gaps to exploit. These
proved ineffective at dislodging them, and enemy casualties
At 2100 hours the order was given to attack and force the
opposition out of their entrenched line. We advanced that
night under the cover of smoke."
–Excerpt from POR, Operation Lucid Javelin, U:1118907/Palgarvin
Decanus Scott Kharan reporting, regarding Talbot's Field (Field 187),
670-1122lts (pg. 24)
Scott sat on the edge of the bed and listened. The discussion occurring downstairs was very animated.
The time had come for Harry to leave the protections his mother had left him at the house on Privet Drive, and the Order of the Phoenix had arrived to oversee the transition. However, whatever they had planned was obviously not to Harry's liking, if his raised voice was anything to judge by.
Scott couldn't say he was surprised. The Order had no doubt come fully prepared to put themselves in the line of fire to protect their all-important Chosen One. And if there was one thing Harry simply could not abide (made all the worse by the loss of his godfather, Scott conjectured) it was others dying for his cause. A cause he hadn't even chosen; it had chosen him.
Scott knew that was how the multiverse worked. He had seen and dealt with it before. Harry was much less accepting of such invisible machinations. Scott understood that, as well. He would be interested to see if Harry could convince whoever was downstairs (Scott recognised a few of the signatures pulsing in the shape, but not all) that they would be better off letting Harry go it alone.
A small smile played around Scott's lips. He very much doubted that.
Either way, there were rapid footsteps on the stairs. Scott could tell it was Harry, so the truth would soon be apparent. One way or the other, they were leaving. The question was simply how.
When Harry burst through the door with panic writ large on his face, Scott knew exactly what was going to happen.
"We're leaving," Harry said shortly. "Now. Out the window."
Scott didn't bother asking why. "Leave them a note, and let's go."
Whilst Harry scribbled frantically away at a piece of parchment, Scott quietly opened the window and dropped to the ground. He dragged his equipment bag out from under the bush which had so helpfully concealed it. Through the small side window in the kitchen he could see shadows playing on the dining room walls. It looked like quite a crowd in there.
"Help," Harry whispered from up above. Once again, Scott assisted in his descent.
"Your stuff?" Scott asked in a low voice, noting that Harry wasn't carrying anything.
Harry was pale in the moonlight. "They'll take it. But we can't just leave them, we have to… draw attention, to ourselves.
Scott immediately began walking towards the street. "How long until they find your note?"
"Probably seconds," Harry said grimly.
"Get in the car," Scott said, starting to run.
They raced for the vehicle. As they ran, Scott dug into his duffel bag and pulled out one of the white phosphorous grenades he had been saving for just such an occasion. The black metal casing was stamped with yellow letters:
Sliding into the driver's seat, he threw the bag into the back and thrust the grenade at Harry.
"The plastic dial on the face, it has red lines at intervals – turn it one to the right. Ignore the little clicks, move it one red bar to the right," Scott instructed, starting the car as he did so. "Then pull the pin out of the top, that ring."
Harry fumbled with the grenade for a moment, but figured it out quickly. "Okay, one red bar to the right." He pulled the pin and the catch snapped open. "I think that's got it."
"Good. Have your protections broken yet?"
"My… On the house?" Harry looked backwards as they drove down the street, the house that had been his home and hell rapidly disappearing. "I don't know. I didn't think about it until you said that."
"Then we can assume they are." Scott glanced up at the rear-view mirror but didn't see anyone following. "You see this intersection coming up?"
Harry turned back around. "Yes, I see it."
"Throw that sucker out the window right in the middle."
"But there's glass, how do I–" Harry started, though Scott quickly rolled the window down. "All right, here goes…"
Harry threw the phosphorous grenade out into the empty street, where it rolled a few feet before coming to rest in the recession of a drain.
While Harry had done as instructed, he was not satisfied that the Order members left behind would be any safer. "So what's that going to do? Scott, we have to go back. If the others get caught coming out of the house–"
"It was a timer, Harry, and while I'm impressed you didn't have any reservations about holding a live grenade, maybe that's because you forgot it's a grenade."
The grenade ignited with a blinding flash. It was not the natural light of fire but a scorching, pure white chemical burn that flickered with a painful brightness. A thick cloud of smoke roiled from the drain and created a dense cover that rapidly obscured the street behind them, suffused with an incredible glare that made it seem as if the entire intersection was blanketed with condensed light.
"Like kicking over an anthill," Scott murmured, checking his mirrors again. Any Death Eaters in the area would flock to that display, finding nothing but smoke and night blindness.
"They'll see that for sure," Harry said, echoing Scott's thoughts. "God, that actually hurts!"
"Don't look directly at it. And, yeah, everyone will see it." Scott settled back into his seat, but kept a sharp eye on his mirrors. "There's a hat in the glove compartment, put it on. And take off your glasses, there's a different pair in there as well."
Harry tugged at the latch and found the cap inside, the front of it emblazoned with a cartoon fox striking an enthusiastic pose. The back of it proclaimed, 'LIKE A FOX'. He also found the case containing a pair of grey-rimmed glasses with rectangular lenses. "I get it," he said thoughtfully as he put them on. "What about my scar?"
"Between the hat and your hair, it's fine. But we we're not in the clear yet, so keep your guard up. Lila is waiting up ahead at a waystation. She has another car, and we'll switch out there."
"You think the Death Eaters would recognise one car from another?"
Scott shrugged. "Let's not take that chance."
His precautions were admittedly more like the ones he might take for a Muggle opponent. He was switching lanes frequently, taking less obvious routes and occasionally doubling back when the roads permitted it. If Harry noticed, he didn't say anything; his eyes were firmly fixed on the sky.
"The protections should have broken once you left for good," Scott reasoned as he drove. "If they didn't attack us when we crossed the street, it's because they couldn't see us. The protections were still working."
"Or they wanted to see what we were doing. Or wait for Voldemort to get there," Harry countered pessimistically.
"I don't buy it. They had us dead to rights, out in the open. They had no reason to hesitate; even if they were looking to capture you, they still would have tried to kill me."
"Moody said that they didn't know it was tonight, that the move was tonight," Harry said slowly. "That was the secret. Apparently they've gotten to some bloke in the Ministry who made it hard to get me out of there, banned the Floo and Apparating, all of that. So they were going to all leave on brooms."
"But you caught a ride with me anyway because of that dude we saw on the other street," Scott guessed.
"Sort of. Moody had Polyjuice, if you can believe it," Harry scoffed. "That was their shite plan, to disguise themselves as me and split up. Moody reckoned they'd all go for his broom, since they'd think I'd be with him, the strongest."
Scott smiled slightly. He had known it was something like that; Harry was incapable of allowing others to take the weight of his terrible responsibility. The boy sounded deeply shaken by the thought, even though it hadn't actually occurred. "And it could have been a massacre," Scott said, deciding to play to Harry's assumptions for the time being.
"No, because I wasn't effing doing it," Harry growled.
"What did you put in your note?" Scott asked, taking the hint and changing the subject.
"I was in a bit of a rush when I wrote it," Harry said with wry understatement, "but it was mostly for Hermione."
It was after the one minute mark, almost exactly, that Hermione decided Harry definitely wasn't coming back.
Nobody else had seemed to catch on, yet. Moody was suspicious, but the rest of the assembled team looked content to wait for Harry to haul his trunk downstairs, secure in the knowledge that they had forced him into accepting their escape plan.
Hermione knew better.
Harry had fled because he had a way out. She had known the second he'd begged off, resisting giving them his hair for the potion immediately, shouting about his things as he charged up the steps. She had known, but hadn't tried to stop him. That was perhaps a bit unusual for her. However, she felt that she needed to have faith. If Harry thought he had a better way, then maybe he really did. The fact that Scott was almost certainly somewhere nearby had a lot to do with Hermione's confidence. The Kharadjai would no doubt have plans of his own.
After a few more seconds, George nudged Fred in the side. "C'mon, let's at least help him to hurry things along."
Fred acted surprised. "Were we in a hurry?"
When they started towards the stairs, Hermione's loud sigh stopped them. "Don't bother," she said flatly. "He's already gone."
The twins just looked blankly back at her. "Gone where?" Fred said dumbly.
Moody's magical eye whirled and fixed on her. "Damn it, girl, if you're saying what I think you're–"
"Come on, then," Hermione said exasperatedly, ignoring all the stares and expressions of dismay at her revelation. "I do hope he's left a note…"
The Order members crowded onto the stairs in a race to the top. Hermione didn't bother, bringing up the rear. When she reached Harry's room it was empty, just as she had predicted. Moody was muttering a number of sulphurous oaths under his breath as he scanned the space. Hermione ignored him, approaching the bed.
"Oh, good," she said, picking up the hastily written note. "At least he remembered this much."
"What's tha' say?" Hagrid rumbled, his huge form taking up a good portion of the room. "Did he say where he went off to?"
"Of course not," Hermione muttered, scanning the words. "He knew we'd follow him."
"Bloody hell, Hermione, just tell us what it says!" Ron burst out.
One part of it, Hermione knew, was for her and Ron's understanding only. "'Stupid plan, not doing it'," she read out loud. "'Please take my trunk and Hedwig for me. See you later at the usual place'." She paused. "Then there's a bit more that doesn't make any sense, I think he didn't finish."
That particular part made perfect sense, actually. It read, 'motor with sk'.
Moody had already examined the lettering himself. "What motor? What does he mean by that?"
Hermione wasn't a very good liar, and she knew it. Luckily, Harry had written that last part down so poorly that he had provided her plausible denial. "That's the part he didn't finish, I suppose."
She was saved from having to continue her ad libbed deception by Bill's sudden shout from his place near the window. "WATCH IT!"
The Aurors and seasoned Order members immediately took cover, falling to the floor or rolling behind the bed and dresser. Hermione was a bit slower on the reaction time, having been caught completely by surprise, and as such she could clearly see the dark shapes that were speeding over the house.
"Death Eaters!" Moody snarled, wand at the ready.
The tension in the room ratcheted up to an almost unbearable level as wands were drawn and a few choice swearwords came up from various corners of the room (and at least a couple from the wardrobe, where Mundungus was cowering). But it quickly became apparent that the Death Eaters had no interest in them at all – in fact, it didn't seem as if they even knew the Order members were in the house. The hooded and cloaked forms of the enemy shot over the Dursley home, intent on a different target.
Ron was the first to stand, his distress clear. "They must've found Harry!"
Moody was already moving towards the door. "Outside!"
"Wait!" Bill interjected, still staring intently out the window. "I'm not sure they have. Mad-Eye, what do you make of that?"
Moody clomped over to the glass and peered outward. Hermione was close behind him. There, in the distance, a glaring white light could be seen pulsing, visible only by the trees it was illuminating.
Fleur shielded her eyes with one hand, hiding back behind Bill's shoulder. "C'est si brillant! It 'urts my eyes!"
"Magical flare, maybe, some kind of signal," Moody was muttering. His normal eye was squinted against the brilliance. "Very bright, very powerful. Someone wants us to see this, wants everybody to see this."
"And they saw it," Professor Lupin said tensely. He was hovering very near Tonks. "Should we follow?"
In the distance, Hermione could hear the din of sirens. Moody had as well. "Muggle police," he said. "The Death Eaters will clear out. We will, too."
Multiple voices immediately rose in protest, but Moody cut them off by being even louder. "SHUT IT!" he barked out. His magical eye fixed on everyone in turn, lingering on Hermione for an uncomfortable stretch. "Potter is impulsive, not stupid. That little display was his, I'd wager. However he did it…" Once again, he eyed Hermione suspiciously. She blinked nervously. "…he's long gone. Regroup and return to your posts before those blighters get their act together and come snooping around here."
Tonks sighed and leaned against Professor Lupin. "I hope you know what you're doing, Harry…" she said, a touch fearfully.
"He'll turn up when he's ready," Moody said gruffly. "Come on. Get up, let's move. You too, Fletcher. Budge your arse."
Whilst the rest of the group shuffled back down the stairs, talking amongst themselves with obvious confusion, Hermione snagged Ron by the elbow and held him back. "Let's get Harry's things."
"Oh, right! I almost forgot. Sorry, Hedwig," Ron said, lifting the owl's cage from its hook.
Hermione didn't bother trying to physically lift Harry's enormous trunk. With a flick of her wand, she levitated it and moved it towards the doorway. "I thought this might happen," she said quietly.
"It was Scott, wasn't it?" Ron presumed, speaking in an equally hushed tone. "Off his fu– er, ruddy nut, as usual. Blimey, look at all that smoke out there. What do you suppose he burned?"
"It was too bright to be a natural fire. I imagine he used some sort of technology. And I hope he didn't burn anything down in the process." Hermione frowned, worried by the thought. She certainly didn't trust Scott to be concerned about property damage.
Ron looked equally doubtful. "Maybe he lit a few Death Eaters on fire."
"Ron!" Hermione chided him, appalled by that image. "Scott would never… Well, that is to say he probably wouldn't, not if it wasn't efficient… Perhaps. We'll ask him about it later."
Downstairs, Moody was reapplying Disillusionment Charms. He stopped when Hermione and Ron entered the dining room, his magical eye staring at them with an unnerving fixation.
"Did you find Potter's things?" he questioned sharply, eyeing the trunk Hermione was levitating.
Hermione flinched involuntarily. "Yes…"
"Good." Moody turned to place the charm on Tonks, but then abruptly whirled back around. "And you don't know what he was talking about with the motor?"
"Perhaps he had a Muggle vehicle of some sort?" Hermione suggested, hoping to draw attention away from the 'sk' portion of the note.
"Huh," Moody grunted, mulling that over. "They wouldn't be looking for an automotive, that's for sure… Could Potter operate one, if he had it?"
"He was raised by Muggles, I don't see why not." In truth, Hermione hadn't the slightest idea if Harry knew the first thing about driving a car.
"Let's hope he doesn't crash the contraption and do the Death Eaters a favour," Moody growled. "Let's not any of us be doing them any favours, for that matter. Disillusionment Charms all around, and then get gone. And be sure you tell us the moment Potter contacts you, got it?"
Hermione felt a bit of pride at that. Moody knew that she and Ron would be the first people Harry would get in touch with. "Of course," she promised.
When Moody went back to help the others, Ron, who had cleverly remained silent during the exchange, put his arm around Hermione's shoulder and leaned in to whisper in her ear. "Are we really going to tell them? What if Harry asks us not to?"
"We'll deal with that when the time comes," she whispered back. "Besides, Harry will have to go to The Burrow at some point. They'll see him there whether he likes it or not."
"Probably not," Ron suggest wryly. "Not after this."
"Oh, he'll be a bit angry, but he'll get over it." On impulse, Hermione stood on her toes to kiss Ron. When she drew back, she smiled at him. "We've got too much to do to be fighting."
Minutes later they were in the air, speeding away from the Dursleys' and to where they could safely Disapparate. Hagrid had volunteered to take Harry's trunk and Hedwig, which was lucky. Hermione wasn't the best flyer, and she didn't see how she could manage either and still stay on a broom. Her own school trunk was a bit unwieldy, but Harry's looked like he could have comfortably slept inside of it.
Down below, Britain slumbered in the night air, unaware of the calamity that had nearly occurred in the suburbs nearby. Somewhere on those roads, Hermione knew as she tracked the lights of moving Muggle traffic, Harry and Scott were making their way to parts unknown.
If they didn't get there safely, Hermione would be quite cross with them.
"It's not an easy decision. Fast, but not easy. What it comes down to is what we could learn," Scott said quietly.
Harry sat low in his seat, shoulders hunched. "Whether everyone else is all right. What they're doing here in the first place."
"It's a net. They're watching the woods, if you noticed. Not a good net, full of holes and
misdirected. They probably think you're on foot, Apparating by steps."
The two men in mismatched clothing walked an awkward perimeter at the back edge of the petrol station, clearly watching for something. Harry observed as they doubled back yet again, still pacing the same stretch of grass where the woods began. One of them, he was almost certain, had a wand tucked up in his sleeve.
"Whoever's in the shop has surely noticed them by now," Harry muttered. "We did, and we're a lot farther away."
"There's no one here but us and Lil," Scott pointed out, indicating the blue car parked in the side lot. According to him, Lila was inside it. "They probably did something to take care of the attendant."
"Stunned or Imperiused him, maybe," Harry guessed.
"Or they killed him. I haven't seen anyone moving inside."
Harry's blood ran cold. To think that some random Muggle could be on the floor behind the counter, dead, because Harry escaped without a trace and the Death Eaters were so desperate that they were out (on foot!) looking for him… Harry felt like he might turn to ice.
"Stop it," Scott said calmly. "You didn't kill anyone. We don't know if they killed anyone."
"If they did, it's my fault," Harry said numbly.
"No, it's not. Every outcome can't be predicted. What if you had gone with the Order? Would it be Ron or Hermione killed instead?"
Harry knew that Scott was purposefully manipulating his emotions. More than a year's worth of time spent with the Kharadjai had rendered his more blatant machinations transparent. But it was working, nonetheless.
"Let's go find out what they did," Harry said tightly.
"All right. They'll try to stop us if we just walk up to the store front. Give me a minute to move around, then I'll signal you."
"Signal me for what, what do you want me to do?"
"Just get their attention. Stay low and get over by the field, I just need you to say something to them. It will make things easier."
With that, Scott opened his door and slipped out into the night. He disappeared into the shadows almost immediately, and Harry had a difficult time tracking him. Scott avoided the ring of illumination from the lights of the station, circling wide and heading for the side lot where Lila was parked. After a moment, Harry climbed out of the car as well, taking care not to shut the door loudly.
The petrol station was situated in a roadside clearing not too far from the motorway. It was meant to service the passing traffic, frequent even late at night. The complete lack of other vehicles made Harry suspicious. Scott had said they were driving on the A303, and weren't too far from Andover. It didn't seem likely that the station would be so deserted. The Death Eaters must have done something to repel any potential Muggle customers.
Rarely had Harry been so utterly frustrated by his inability to use magic as he was whilst creeping through a shallow ditch, trying to get closer without being seen. That sort of thing might be all well and good for Scott, but a Disillusionment Charm would have done the job for Harry. He very much regretted leaving his Invisibility Cloak in his trunk. He had been in such a hurry…
The sparse scrub at the edge of the ditch was all the cover Harry was afforded when he came to a halt. Fortunately, the Death Eaters were fixated on the tree line. Their fixation increased when the loud snap of a twig echoed out from somewhere in the woods. The Death Eater on the right slid his wand out of his sleeve, confirming Harry's earlier guess.
Another loud snap. The two men started to close in on the general location from which it had emanated. With a jolt, Harry realised that the twigs had probably been his signal to do something.
Taking a deep breath, Harry stood up. "Oi! You two!" he shouted.
The Death Eaters spun around, wands raising, but it was already too late. Scott and Lila surged from the brush with unnatural speed and sent the unfortunate Death Eaters crashing to the ground with a series of rapid blows.
Scott immediately hauled the limp form of his opponent upward and began carrying him towards the back of the station. "Lil, take yours to the other bathroom. Harry," he called, "go check in the store, see if anyone is hurt."
Harry ran over to the double doors, a mounting feeling of dread suffusing him. Inside, the lights – so bright after his time in the dark – illuminated a plethora of colourful products and accessories. Behind the counter, the station attendant was slumped forward in a chair, his head pillowed on his arms. He didn't appear to be harmed, which was surprising.
"Um, hello?" Harry said tentatively. The man didn't stir. "Hey, are you all right?"
Still no response. Harry would have feared the man was dead, but his chest was rising and falling evenly. The attendant was sleeping, and couldn't be woken. There wasn't any doubt that the Death Eaters had done it to him, though it wasn't nearly as terrible as what they might have done.
Harry pondered that when he returned outside. Why hadn't the Death Eaters simply killed the man? He was grateful that they had not, obviously, but it was a bit confusing. Death Eaters weren't known for their compassion.
Around the back of the shop were the doors for the privy. Harry went up to the men's loo and peered inside.
Scott had situated the unconscious Death Eater on the floor, leaning against one wall. He was going through the man's pockets, rifling through the clothes with great concentration.
"There's someone in the shop, but they're just sleeping," Harry told him.
"Makes sense," Scott said a bit distractedly. "There are cameras in there. If they make it look like he fell asleep on the job, there won't be any questions asked."
"I was a little surprised," Harry admitted. "I thought they might have just killed that bloke. They've killed plenty of Muggles before…"
"And always covered their tracks. If they were going to kill him, they would have burned the place down or something. They'd have done it when they moved on." Scott stood decisively, looking down at the Death Eater. "Close the door. We don't have much time for this."
Harry wasn't sure he wanted to close the door. It seemed like doing so would enable Scott to do whatever… things he was planning to do. Not that Harry knew what was going on, exactly, but he wasn't naive enough to think the Death Eater was just going to talk. Not without some motivation. Knowing Scott, that impetus would be very unpleasant, and perhaps not something Harry wanted to watch.
Despite these misgivings, Harry steeled himself and closed the door, but he resolved to stop Scott if he thought things were getting out of hand.
Scott picked up the Death Eater by the back of his peach-coloured coat and dragged him near the toilet. He then slapped the man's cheeks a few times until he started to stir, coughing and struggling feebly.
"Welcome back to the world of the waking," Scott said pleasantly. "I'm going to ask you a few questions, but first–"
Scott grabbed a fistful of the Death Eater's dark hair and plunged him face first into the toilet bowl, forcing his head beneath the water. Bubbles poured out furiously; Harry could hear the frantic shouting reverberating through the ceramic. He bit down on his lip and said nothing, reasoning that if Scott wanted the Death Eater to answer any questions, then he wasn't going to outright drown him.
Sure enough, Scott pulled the man's head from the water. He kept his knee pressed firmly against the man's back, though, pinning him painfully in place. "What's your name?" he asked the man loudly. When he didn't get any immediate response other than gasping, he shook the Death Eater so hard that the man's teeth clicked together. "What is your name?"
"Preston!" the Death Eater choked out.
"Okay, Preston," Scott said, easing up a little on the pressure from his knee. "I'd like to know what you were doing out here tonight. What were you looking for?"
"Who are you? Where am I?" Preston questioned. "What the hell are you doing, treating me like this–" He was interrupted when Scott plunged his head beneath the water again. This time when Preston was pulled back up for air, he looked faint.
"What were you looking for?" Scott asked again in the exact same tone.
"I… just want to know… who you are," Preston garbled. "I haven't done anything, I… haven't said anything to anyone, I swear! There's no call for this!"
"Preston… As a favour to you, I'll ask you one more time, then down you go again. What were you looking for?"
"Potter, of course, we… we all are, were, all of us. That's what we were told! I'm supposed to be here!"
Harry tensed at the sound of his name. It was difficult to stay silent. The Death Eater wasn't making much sense, and Harry wanted Scott to cut to the chase. He needed to know what had happened back at the house.
Scott seemed to be having the same thoughts. "What about the house? Potter's house, where he was staying, why did you leave it?"
Preston seemed aghast. "What? There was a light! Surely you saw it, or you were told?"
"Preston, I want you to tell me exactly what your orders are, and why you were given them," Scott said slowly. He lowered Preston's head an inch closer to the water.
"The light was a fake, and Potter was gone, we were split up to search but he wasn't there, so they spread us out and gave us these clothes and we're supposed to watch the woods, just these woods, in case he comes through!" Preston spat out frantically. "I did what I was told, we put the Muggle to sleep and we watched the woods like we were told! I have orders!
There's no call for this!"
"And you never caught anyone else?"
"Who else?! The Dark Lord wants Potter, blast it, and that's who…" Preston suddenly went white and he fell silent. "…Who are you?"
"Why did you think he'd pass through these woods?"
Utter terror passed over Preston's face. "Fuck off. I'm not saying nothing."
Scott glanced over at Harry. "We're out of time, anyway. Go see if the other one said anything."
Harry hurried out the door, anxious to see if Lila had wrangled any more information from the second Death Eater. He had only taken a few steps in that direction when she emerged from the other loo.
"Lila!" Harry said, getting her attention. "Did yours say anything?"
She shook her head. "No. I didn't have enough time. Come on, those Muggle wards are already fading and we need to be gone."
Harry fell into step beside her. "What about the Death Eaters?"
"I'll handle them. You and Scott are taking my car, and I'll take yours." Lila pointed out the blue car she had parked at the side of the station. "It's unlocked, go get in and Scott will be right over. I just need to talk to him."
Harry went and opened the door, stepping inside and buckling his seatbelt with slightly shaky hands. The adrenaline rush of confronting the two Death Eaters was fading, leaving him feeling a bit light-headed. He supposed things might have been simpler if they'd just kept driving, but he'd needed to be sure that no Muggles had been killed. It would have been an awful way to start the Horcrux hunt. He was aware that casualties were possible, but he'd always had the thought that if anyone died, it would be him.
Sirius had been enough of a price. No one else should have to pay it for merely being in Harry's proximity. He looked down at himself, fear clenching his throat. He was a poison, an airborne disease. He should have made Ron and Hermione stay behind. He should never have talked to Ginny.
He stopped himself before that line of thought spiralled out of control.
Scott came running up to the car and started it immediately. "That was risky," he commented. "Lila will make sure the Death Eaters aren't found any time soon. By the time they're missed, we'll be far from here."
"It was worth it to know that they didn't get anyone at the Dursleys'," Harry said with great relief.
Scott nodded. "We got away about as clean as we could have hoped for."
"What was he babbling about, though? He wasn't making much sense."
"Apparently he thought I was another Death Eater. An officer, maybe. He thought he was in trouble and that I was misinformed."
"He thought you were on his side and you were drowning him?" Harry said incredulously.
"Riddle controls through fear. He probably has a circle within the circle, his own Gestapo to keep the ranks in line. Random brutality as part initiation, part discipline. Standard stuff for a terror army, dictatorial." Scott almost sounded like he was reading the information from a book.
"So he thought you were kicking the shite out of him for being the wrong place. Or not finding me." Harry sighed. "You know I hate it when people get hurt because of me, but… if a few Death Eaters get a Crucio over missing me, I can't say I'd regret it."
Scott grinned. "Yeah, me neither. This is also useful to know. That sort of tactic is a hard balance between fear and resentment – dissension can be exploited."
Scott pulled the car back onto the motorway, merging with traffic, and soon the scenery was flying past the window once more. Harry found himself falling asleep, the left side of his forehead pressed against the cool glass. Headlamps flashed intermittently, illuminating his eyelids before dying back into the darkness. The rocking and rumbling of the vehicle was as effective as any lullaby.
It was an indeterminate amount of time later – when fewer cars blinked past and the moon was hidden behind thick clouds – that Harry's eyes popped open, propelled by a sudden dark thought.
With a cold feeling in his chest, he thought he knew why Scott had sent him out to check on Lila.
"You killed him," Harry spoke out into the silence.
Scott didn't look away from the road. His face betrayed nothing, but his lack of response was answer enough.
And Harry didn't know what to say or feel.
"An interesting note," Scott said casually in the silence. "While you were sleeping, I was thinking – and driving, of course – and even though I never pulled a wand on him, that Death Eater still assumed I was one of them. I was drowning him, and he didn't wonder why it wasn't a Crucio."
Harry started to ask why Scott had killed Preston (and Harry fervently wished he had never learned the man's name), but shut his mouth at the last moment. He knew why Scott had done it. It was safer that way, it made sense. It was the only solution that kept dangerous information out of Voldemort's hands. Even knowing the why, though, didn't make it any less terrible or easier to accept.
So which was worse: the thought that Harry's decision to check the station had doomed the two men to death, or the thought that if he hadn't made that call, the station attendant might have been a charred corpse when the Death Eaters left?
Nothing but chance. Life or death, at the mercy of a brief thought, a whim, a split-second decision. From Harry.
But if he had known beforehand, he knew which one he still would have chosen.
"…You'd just knocked him a good one. He wasn't thinking about any of that, he couldn't breathe," Harry slowly replied.
"A good point." Scott smiled. "I knew there was a reason I kept you around."
Harry relaxed a bit on this more familiar ground. "You must mean besides my brilliant good looks."
"Compared to what? A baboon? A moray eel?"
"You, for starters."
Scott let out a very long, exaggerated sigh. "Uh, in case you've forgotten our pre-assigned group roles, I'm the pretty one. Hermione is the brains, Ron is the muscle, Ginny is the firebrand, and you're the wannabe, the weedy, anxious little guy who wants to be like us but just ends up as the comic relief."
That wasn't how the joke had gone originally, as Harry was quick to point out. "No, you said I was the leader and you were the wildcard. Neville was the sidekick and Luna was the… something."
"Right. And nobody was the 'pretty one'. Except me, from now on."
"You are pretty for a man, that's true."
"You said you were, first!" Harry retorted.
"Uh, no, I'm fairly sure you just made that up. Maybe you dreamed it when you were snoring over there."
"Shut it, Scott. Maybe if you didn't talk so much your driving wouldn't be shite," Harry grumbled.
"We can trade off any time," Scott said graciously.
"I wouldn't know how," Harry reluctantly admitted.
"I figured. We'll probably have to do something about that, as a contingency. I'll get you some reading material."
Harry started to protest, but thought better of it. Homework or not, learning to drive could be dead useful. Even Hermione didn't have a license for that.
The second the conversation lapsed back into silence, the image of Preston's terrified visage floated back to the forefront of Harry's consciousness. He didn't understand it entirely; he'd seen death before. It was the manner, he decided. The Death Eaters at Hogwarts had died fighting, cut down in combat. Preston had died frightened and alone in a Muggle lavatory, somewhere off the A303 motorway. And Harry honestly couldn't say if the man had deserved it. Preston had been a Death Eater, which meant he'd most likely done something horrible just to earn the title. But that assumption wasn't proof.
"How did you kill him?" Harry asked quickly, almost afraid of the answer.
Scott sighed. "He was there to kill me and capture you, which in the end would be the same as killing you. You know that, right?"
"He wasn't there to kill you, they had no idea I wasn't alone–"
"They'd have killed anyone with you and you know it."
"Yeah." Harry set his jaw. "How'd you do it?"
Scott stalled. "Harry…"
"Just tell me!" Harry violently demanded.
"You want the simple answer, or the technical answer?"
That brought Harry up short. "Just… an answer. Simple, I guess."
"I broke his neck. It was quick and he didn't feel anything."
"Like you would know," Harry snorted derisively.
"I would. I've been hanged before," Scott said mildly. "I heard the snap, but I didn't feel a thing when I blacked out."
That was not what Harry had expected. "Oh. I… All right."
"Harry, look." Scott glanced over at him for a moment. "We'll have plenty of time to go into therapy later. We do what we have to, and we move on. Just try to remember the most important rule."
Harry rubbed at his eyes, feeling more tired than anything right then. "What?"
"Don't ever enjoy it."
Right then, that seemed easy enough. "Already done," Harry muttered.
Was that the trick to it? Scott seemed capable of killing someone and then joking not half an hour later… Though, he hadn't joked about the killing itself. He was compartmentalised, or maybe just jaded, or maybe… a million other things. Harry sighed and tried to clear his mind. People weren't that simple. He wasn't that simple. He couldn't understand himself, never mind Scott's contradictions.
The dark road ahead fled backwards beneath the headlamps and offered no answers. Nothing ever did. Somewhere up ahead lay temporary safety, and, somewhere behind, the enemy was looking for him. All paths were uncertain.
Head against the window glass, Harry succumbed to a shallow and uneasy sleep.