30Every Word Now Shall Be a Much Needed Recompense in Our Memory
"We spoke of the trials, as
the birds sang of the sea
astride light from horizons
which lit upon thee
Once last sighs gutter silent
every word now shall be
a much needed recompense
in our memory"
–Susanna B. Aether, Another City, Another Sea:
The Unfinished Works of Susanna B. Aether
Harry procrastinated until late the next evening after his discussion with Scott. He knew that he needed to speak with his friends, but he avoided them during the day, trying to find the proper words before he had to use them. Perhaps he wasn't doing himself any favours. Still, it was the sort of thing he had to work himself up to.
He spoke to Ron first, as he reckoned that would be the easiest way to start.
The awkward silence that descended once Harry finished explaining wasn't quite as painful as he had anticipated, for which he was grateful.
"That's shite," Ron said finally. "What are we going to do about it?"
"Blood magic, maybe. We talked about it for a bit, and it seems like we have some options," Harry said, not entirely sure he actually believed that.
Ron nodded. "Good. And it explains the last dream, doesn't it? The Horcrux is in you, but… Not really you, if that makes sense. Not like the other ones."
"Or maybe I've never been who I thought I was," Harry said grimly.
"Bollocks," Ron scoffed. "If your Horcrux was like that, it would've had something to say about first year, or every bloody year. You-Know-Who doesn't hate himself that much, mate."
A very good point. "Still, if you want to keep your distance I'll under–"
"Shut it, you twat," Ron interrupted, rolling his eyes. "I've been sleeping in the same room as you for six years, you've not tried to smother me yet. You came close with those farts you had third year."
"You can't say a damn thing, and you know it," Harry told him.
"Yeah. Seamus was the worst, though. Cabbage and arse."
Hermione came next. Harry didn't expect it to go as smoothly as it had with Ron, but hopefully she would be more focussed on fixing the problem than making a fuss.
When he'd finished his halting explanation, one hand had shot upwards to hover near her trembling mouth. "Harry…" she began.
"Don't," he said, more harshly than he had intended. He grimaced and softened his voice. "Just, please don't. I know it's awful. You should talk to Scott, he's had some ideas."
"I'm not going to cry, Harry," she told him in a wavering tone that directly contradicted her words, "I just want you to know that you aren't alone, we can fix this!" Her arms shot out and gripped him in a hug that was nearly painful in its intensity.
He awkwardly patted her back. "I know, Hermione."
"I hope you do," she said wetly, sniffing loudly. "And don't you dare tell me to keep my distance. Nothing's changed."
That was true, really, and part of what made the revelation so hard. "You said you weren't going to cry," he reminded her.
She pulled away and crossed her arms, blinking back tears. "You're awful," she said with a watery-eyed laugh.
Ginny came last. He didn't know how he was going to tell her that her boyfriend was another diary. Badly, most likely.
In the end, he managed to speak it more clearly and with fewer pauses than he'd expected. Practising on Ron and Hermione first had been the wisest course of action. Whatever relief he gained from expressing himself tactfully was immediately overshadowed by the way Ginny became so pale that her freckles were like a dark constellation against her bloodless face. He wanted to reach out to her, but was afraid to. Maybe she wouldn't want to be close to him, anymore.
Her breathing was quick, and shallow. "Do you have to die?" she said, and he was chilled by the way there was so much fear in such a small voice.
"Scott didn't think so," Harry told her quickly. "Hermione didn't, either. There were some ideas that sounded… you know, plausible. I think that's the word."
The relief that crossed her features was so great that for a moment he thought she might faint from the way she slumped forward. He crossed the space between them and caught her shoulders, and she collapsed into his arms.
"Don't scare me like that," she said weakly into his chest.
"Sorry. I was getting to the part where there were options," he apologised, rubbing a hand across the tense muscles of her back.
"Should have got to that part first," she muttered, hugging him tightly.
"I was worried about how it might affect me. I still sort of am, but Ron said we would have noticed something by now. Since it's not exactly new, I just…" He stopped, not sure what to say about it. Despite having explained it three times to as many people, he still didn't really know how to confront the concept.
"It's not you," Ginny said firmly. She turned her head so that her nose was against his collarbone, breath warm through his shirt. "Do you really think this thing you've got would have saved me in the Chamber? The diary didn't even know, didn't say a word."
"I suppose it did try pretty hard to kill me," he allowed.
She looked up at him through long, red eyelashes. "You thought I was going to stay away, didn't you."
He shrugged within her grip. "I dunno."
Her eyes narrowed, disbelieving. "Yeah, right."
"…It crossed my mind," he admitted.
"I'm not going anywhere. I've worked much too hard to get here in the first place," she said, clearly only half-joking.
"No, you didn't!" she scoffed. "You thought I was going to run screaming for the door!"
"Can't we just pretend I knew you were braver than that?" he said plaintively.
"Only if you've learnt your lesson."
"I've learnt my lesson," he repeated in a monotone.
She giggled, dropping her forehead back against his shoulder. "Smart arse."
Later, as Harry went upstairs to have a shower before bed, he was amazed by how much lighter he felt. Perhaps a burden shared really was a burden eased. He had never been especially good at sharing his problems before, he knew. His first instinct was to internalise and try to deal with it himself. And it was true that Ron and Hermione had often taken it upon themselves to help him, whether he preferred it or not, but the relief which their friendship brought had always struck him as being somewhat selfish. He could only imagine how much easier their lives would have been had they never become a part of his.
That last thought was a classic one, old and well-worn. But he was slightly different than he'd used to be – lessons of logic that had been taught to him, repeated, reinforced by contact with the enemy. The guilt may have been familiar, but less so was the small yet insistent voice in the back of his mind which pointed out how, if he'd never befriended Ron and Hermione, he would be dead, and they would be doomed.
Never a responsibility he'd wanted, but one he had to accept.
He paused in front of the mirror whilst drying his hair, leaning in for a closer look. The bruise near his eye was still a dark colour, barely beginning to heal. Considering he had been one of the luckier ones, it was going to take a bit for everyone to get back into fighting shape. Hermione still walked stiffly, Ron had a near-constant headache, and Ginny had the same problem plus a general lack of equilibrium. And that wasn't even getting into whatever Scott's difficulty was.
Harry hated delays in general, mostly because he found waiting to be the worst part of the whole ordeal. When his life was actually on the line, he was too busy trying to preserve it to really think about things. Recklessness wasn't a very safe approach, but it was definitely his comfort zone. He'd only recently begun to thoroughly plan his actions. It did seem to get results, even if he was sometimes impatient with the process.
When he left the loo, he ended up standing outside the door for a solid five minutes. He wasn't sure what to do next, as he wasn't ready to sleep and there didn't seem to be anything else to do. He didn't want to do anything, really. After three difficult confessions in a row, he felt drained. Lighter, but still worn out.
He could hear voices conversing somewhere among the bedrooms. Idly, he followed the sound until he found the source: Hermione and Scott were talking in the master bedroom. Harry paused by the partially opened door, debating whether to go in or not. He didn't really want to talk to anyone, not yet.
"–should be useful," Hermione was saying. "But I'd still like to hear anything else that's occurred to you, impractical or not."
"Manual resuscitation is a possibility, though I'd prefer to keep that a last resort. A more controlled form would be better: with the right equipment we can stop his heart, or induce coma, if that counts. Depriving the brain of oxygen is dangerous, but… I mean, how dead does he have to be? What part of him is the Horcrux tied to, what even counts as deceased? If asystole isn't sufficient, if it's the brain, then that's a problem. Deep hypothermic circulatory arrest could be maintainable with magic, if risky. Better to have the right gear. If we're up against some kind of time we have to meet, something longer than a few minutes, we'd need…" Scott paused. "Uh, stuff we can't get here in '97. Stuff I'm not sure I could get for us. The problem is we have
no idea what requirements we're trying to meet. 'Dead' means a lot of different shit, really. I have to know who's defining it."
Harry probably should have been horrified or at least a bit upset that they were discussing how to safely kill him, but he mostly felt curious.
"I don't think there is any way to know short of making the attempt," Hermione replied, "so I'd rather we apply magic to a magical problem."
"I don't think Harry would appreciate it if we applied the sword to him."
"Fortunately, we don't have to, thanks to the Headmaster. I've done some cursory reading; not much, but enough to believe we have a chance at working with the blood protections."
"Too bad they won't work against anyone but Riddle. We haven't even seen him, yet, just the goon squad."
"He's been taking less of a personal hand in his affairs than he used to," Hermione said, sounding a bit worried. "Harry's encountered him face to face on more than one occasion, but this time I don't think we've even heard of him making an appearance."
"Goon squad," Scott reiterated. "He doesn't have to do his own legwork anymore."
"I just wonder what he's up to. No matter how many people he's gathered, he's far too ambitious to be idle."
"Running a shadow government is a lot of work. Maybe he's sitting in a boardroom right now, deciding how many snakes to put on your new flag."
Hermione let out a rather undignified snort of laughter, which she promptly attempted cover by pretending to cough. "Whatever he comes up with, I'm sure it's nothing I'd want for representation."
"This is the same guy who gave you the Dark necrophilia-beastiality-blowjob Mark, so probably not. He should just slap a big green middle finger on a black background, that about sums up his policy."
"That sounds more like your policy," Hermione said wryly.
Scott sighed. "Why, because of Sophie?"
"Are you ready to explain why she's been avoiding you?"
"Are you ready to accept it's none of your damn business?"
"I should think you'd know me better than that by now."
Harry was beginning to feel a bit guilty about eavesdropping, seeing as the conversation was no longer concerning him. They weren't having a deeply private discussion or anything, but he still didn't want to be weird about it, standing out in the hall in the dark. He reached up and rapped the back of his hand against the door.
"Who is it?" Hermione called out.
Harry stepped into the room. "Hey. You feeling any better?" he asked Scott.
Scott was still unusually pale, but he seemed a bit more lively. "Sure, but you wouldn't know it from the way Hermione's been treating me."
"You need to rest," she retorted.
"You got out of bed by yourself?" Harry said, uncertain if that was a problem. He didn't actually know how bad off Scott was.
"Just to the bathroom. Then Hermione was all up in my business when I wanted to go down for dinner," Scott complained, though he didn't sound genuinely upset about it.
"I threatened him with a full Body-Bind," Hermione admitted.
"Yeah, it got real kinky up in here."
Hermione swivelled to stare at him. "It what?"
Harry grinned. "I didn't know you were into that sort of thing, Hermione."
"Oh, shut it. You're both hopelessly perverted," she primly declared. "Is that why Sophie never spends more than a few minutes in here? Did you say something like that to her?"
"Ohhhhhh my God, let it go!" Scott exclaimed.
Harry rolled his eyes and made his exit, not being all that interested in what Scott had done. Any ongoing fights between members of their little cadre could be problematic, from a standpoint of the mission, but thus far all of the Kharadjai had worked things out between themselves. Harry was glad that he hadn't been required to mediate very often. He didn't feel like he was all that good at it.
He was on his way back downstairs when Ginny called out to him from the partially opened door to the loo. "Harry!"
He stopped, turning where he stood. "Yeah?"
"Can you give me a hand with this?" she requested.
He approached the door slowly, wondering if she were up to something. His imagination was providing an abundance of images of what exactly she might be doing in the loo, most of them involving a towel and little else. He could see himself, walking into the steam-filled room and sliding his hands over her shoulders, downwards until his fingers slipped under the edge of the towel and she arched back into him, pressing her breasts into his palms–
He paused next to the door for a moment, adjusting his trousers and trying not to jump to conclusions. He didn't want to walk in there with a full erection, looking like he was expecting something that he shouldn't be.
When he stepped inside to see Ginny fully dressed in front of the mirror, he experienced a complicated mixture of disappointment and understanding. Of course it was something else. She wouldn't have left the door open at all if she'd been starkers.
"There you are," she said, leaning into the mirror and prodding at her injured forehead. "I need a hand, I can't see what I'm doing."
"Are you supposed to be mucking with that?" he asked.
"I have to change it, but it's stuck tight…" She winced and leaned back. "I don't want to just rip it off."
That was a valid enough approach for lesser injuries, but Harry reckoned a head wound requiring a bandage of that size was a bit too serious for just tearing off the dressing and letting it scab. "Shouldn't you go get Sophie?"
Ginny dropped her hands and sighed at him. "I asked you. Can't you just help me take off a stupid plaster, be a useful boyfriend?"
"That's a bit more than a plaster," Harry countered, but he moved in between Ginny and the tap, reaching for the edges of the dressing. "Tell me if it hurts."
"It always hurts." Ginny closed her eyes when he started picking at the sides of the bandage. "Ow."
He immediately ceased. "Is that–"
"Just do it slowly." She placed her hands on his shoulders, grip tightening.
He supposed that if he did it wrong, he'd know quick enough when her fingers dug into his skin. "I'll try to be careful."
It took some time to get the bandage off without taking a portion of her skin with it. The stubborn thing was as glued with various fluids as it was with adhesive. Harry tried not to think about that, not because he was squeamish when it came to injury (he couldn't really afford to be, with his history) but rather because those fluids were a sign of just how hurt Ginny really was. She presented such a brave face that it was easy to forget how she'd had the worst fall of any of them.
When the bandage finally peeled free with the wet crackling noise that was unique to plaster adhesive, it revealed a mottled patch of purple and red bisected by a deep, crusty gash in the shape of a crescent. There were a few other minor cuts around it, probably from the floor, but the table had definitely left its mark. It looked exceedingly painful.
Ginny must have been studying his expression. "That bad?"
"No, it's not that bad…" Harry lied.
"Budge over, let me see," Ginny said, tugging at his shirt. When he stepped aside she leaned into the mirror until her nose was nearly touching it, face scrunched in thought. "Hmm… Bloody table got me good, looks like."
"It'll heal soon enough. But you're still really pretty," he hurriedly tacked on, thinking that, as she was his girlfriend, he might be expected to reassure her that the wound didn't detract from her appearance. Which wasn't true, if he were going to be honest (which he was not).
"Yeah," Ginny said absently, apparently not really listening to him as she carefully brushed a wet cloth over the wound. "When all this is over I suppose I can see a proper Healer and get the scar removed. I don't think the table cursed me." She suddenly froze, eyes widening.
"You all right?" Harry said.
She turned away from the mirror with glee stamped on her features. "We're going to match!" she said.
"My scar! I mean, once it is a scar," she said, pointing to her forehead. "Opposite side, but that's like symmetry, isn't it? We're a matched set!"
He squinted at her dubiously. "Is this the sort of thing we're going to do as a couple? Get maimed?"
"I can't tell everyone I got thrashed by a table, though," she mused, ignoring him. "Maybe I was in a knife fight with a Dementor."
"Sure, that's believable."
"I can tell people I did it on purpose when I want to be left alone. That'll be fun," she snickered. "I'll tell them I was trying to carve a dragon to match your tattoo."
"All the girls at Hogwarts, and I just had to snog one that's mental."
"You love it," she said confidently.
He couldn't exactly deny it. "You'll want to get rid of the scar, eventually. I got tired of everyone staring at mine about halfway through first year."
"Your scar means something, though," she said, and then a flash of dismay flitted across her features as she must have remembered that his scar meant more than they'd ever realised. "I– I mean–"
"It's all right," he interrupted her. The last thing he wanted was for everyone to start avoiding the topic as if it would damage him; that was even worse than talking about it. "You don't think your scar is going to be as impressive? It's a pretty big table."
She let out a startled laugh, delighted and relieved. "It is! It's a bloody big table, I was brave to attack it with my face like I did. I probably saved us all!"
"My hero," Harry said with a level of honesty that he knew would go unnoticed.
He watched whilst Ginny
applied a fresh bandage to her wound. He noticed the darkness beneath her eyes and the way she swayed slightly on her feet. Despite her jovial mood, it was obvious she was still not feeling well. He should probably encourage her to get some rest, if that wasn't already her intent.
"Are you going to bed?" he asked.
"Yeah, I was on my way up when Sophie told me I had to change this." Ginny pursed her lips. "I asked why she wasn't doing it, if it's so important, and she told me to stop being a baby."
Harry's eyebrows rose in surprise. "She said that?"
"Well, more polite, like. But same thing."
Harry was amused at the thought of Sophie being so blunt, even if she probably hadn't been. "I suppose she thought you could put a bandage on well enough."
"I'll find out soon. It'll hurt if it comes off," Ginny said, carefully pressing the bandage with the palm of her hand.
Harry took her hand and guided her towards the door. "Come on, you should try and get some sleep."
"I feel like that's all I've been doing," she complained, but went with him willingly.
Harry reckoned there was some truth to that, but for once he wasn't in a hurry to push their mission forward. Everyone was hurting, and infiltrating Gringotts seemed like an impossible task, so he wasn't opposed to taking the time to stop, heal, and think about what to do next. The danger of Riddle discovering his missing Horcruxes was always present, but Harry had no control over that. The whole thing was a gamble, really, always had been.
At the very least, even if Riddle did replace a Horcrux, the wizarding world would know what to expect. He wouldn't have the element of surprise, nor would his untethered spirit be free to roam unhindered. Harry would personally hunt it down, to Albania or the ends of the earth. Assuming he was still alive at that point, anyway. Presumably he would be, if Riddle had lost his body again. Unless they killed each other simultaneously. Harry supposed that would be ironic, or something. He wasn't sure of the word for it.
He followed Ginny into their room and lay down next to her when she collapsed on the mattress. He wasn't all that tired yet, but it seemed as if she wanted the company, if the way she wrapped herself around his arm was any indication. Besides, he'd discovered that sleep was so much easier to slip into with Ginny serving as a heated blanket. Her relaxed form and even breathing set an example that his own body would soon follow.
Ron carefully brushed the remnants of his pre-bedtime snack off the table and dumped the crumbs in the bin. Cleanliness had never been a high priority of his, but Sophie had just cleaned the kitchen again and he didn't want to be the first to ruin it. He probably wouldn't have bothered, back at The Burrow. Sophie, however, wasn't family and he had to work with her. He may have been apathetic about housekeeping, but he believed in the value of team unity. There were a fair number of people in Grimmauld Place and all of them were under tremendous stress. He had found himself stepping a bit more carefully than he was used to.
He'd had to play peacemaker fairly often, and it wasn't a role to which he was accustomed. Hermione had traditionally been the one to try and smooth things over, but that was when it had been just the three of them. The dynamic was different, now. There were more people in the mix, and she hadn't been able to exert even the marginal control she had over Harry and Ron when it came to Scott. And just like that, Ron had found himself in the middle of most arguments.
But he didn't always mind the responsibility, because at least then he felt like he was contributing something, even if it was just to be the one person who wasn't fully invested in a row. Between Hermione's intellect, Scott's experience, Harry's leadership and Sophie's making sure no one starved, the roles were pretty well full up. Ron didn't know why he and Ginny were even there, sometimes. Just emotional support and another wand, he supposed.
Well, that was sort of a stupid thing to think, really. That was his frustration talking. It had once bothered him even more, but after a few forays against the Death Eaters (and listening to Scott with one ear), Ron reckoned he'd seen enough combat to understand that being an extra target had more value than what it sounded like. If he had nothing to do in a fight but split the enemy's firepower, then that was still a job worth doing. Battle was random beyond any game, but it did have at least one thing in common with chess: numbers mattered. Every Death Eater he could account for was that many less between his friends and the objective. Even a pawn was vital if properly used.
He meandered his way to the upper reaches of Grimmauld, knowing that Hermione was working on either Harry's mirrors or that heat thing Scott had told her about; although, Harry's Horcrux situation was more urgent and likely the focus of her efforts, come to think of it. Ron was trying not to think of it, most of the time. There wasn't anything he could do about it at the moment, and it wasn't like Harry would appreciate pity or hysterics.
Ron didn't want to interrupt Hermione, but he also didn't want to be downstairs by himself. If he wasted a bit more time it wouldn't matter, because then he could make her put her books down and sleep instead.
"Hello? Who's there? Harry?" a voice called out, interrupting Ron's thoughts. He went towards the sound and discovered a green eye peeking through a thin gap in the door to the loo. It was Sophie.
"Uh, it's Ron," he said to her; or to her eye, anyway.
"Good, good, I need your help," she said quickly, not opening the door any further.
Ron was beginning to suspect that she was starkers, or something close to it. "With what?"
"I just got a call and Lil's outside. Outside the house, I mean, she can't get in. Can you go let her in? Since you're a Secret Giver?"
Ron frowned. "Lila? Wait, how did she–"
"She knew because Lupin and then I talked to her before, but I can't let her in and she called me at a very bad time, as you can see, so if you could just please…"
Ron was willing to help, but it occurred to him that they weren't supposed to go outside. "Is it safe, though? I should probably get Harry."
It was difficult to tell with only a single eye to judge by, but Sophie seemed to be somewhat impatient with him. "I told her we were at house eleven, so she'll be right out there and I know she'll notice the spell, and you'll be invisible at the door, right?"
That had been true when Remus had come around. And it wasn't as if Lila weren't a decent Death Eater deterrent. "Yeah, should be all right. I'll handle it."
He hurried back down the stairs, finding himself glad to have something to handle, even if it was of minor importance and had been tasked to him simply because he had been the one out in the hall at the right moment. It was just nice to contribute. He'd spent too much time practising his spells and waiting for the chance to use them. Half the time it seemed like Hermione was the only one who got anything done at Grimmauld.
He hesitated at the front door, wishing there were a window or some other way of seeing the street before he opened it. Perhaps he ought to have gone to the drawing room first, and looked out the windows there. But, he'd be invisible, which should be protection enough. Opening the door felt forbidden, somehow. What was it called when a person was afraid to leave the house? He was sure there was a name for it.
He raised his wand and opened the door, the dim light of late evening glowing down from above. The sounds of the city were sudden and slightly startling, as they were almost totally muffled within the confines of Grimmauld. The drawing room was the only place where the passing cars could be faintly heard. Distant horns and sirens sounded, traffic busied down the streets, the wind thrummed through the alleys.
Lila was standing on the pavement right in front of the next house over, number eleven. She was idle beneath a street lamp; her expression was blank, but her stance seemed a bit bored.
"Lila!" he called to her, before remembering that she couldn't see or hear him. He was quite surprised, then, when she turned to look at him.
"Yeah? Who is that?" she replied, blinking oddly. She peered in Ron's direction, but wasn't quite looking at the right spot.
"It's Ron," he said. "You aren't supposed to be able to see me."
"You're blurry, and you aren't always there. I've been stopping whatever your house is doing to me, but it doesn't give up." Lila blinked again and glanced away, appearing a bit disoriented.
Ron realised that he hadn't brought anything to write with. "Er, do you have a quill, by chance?"
"Try this instead," Lila said, tossing a pen in his general direction.
He retrieved it from the steps and wrote on the palm of his hand, hoping it was legible enough to count. "All right, look at this."
Lila slowly approached him, one arm outstretched in front of her as if she were walking through a dark room. When she drew close enough, Ron carefully caught her by the wrist and brought his palm close to her eyes. He had a brief worry that she would involuntarily snap his arm like a twig for grabbing her: she'd always seemed like the sort of person who wasn't to be touched without permission.
He could see the moment when the charm extended to include her. Her eyes adjusted, widening from their squint, and she looked over Ron's shoulder at the door. "Interesting," she commented.
"Didn't you do the same thing with the rest of the family?" Ron asked, leading her inside.
Yes, with the reading part. But we went straight there from The Burrow."
Ron immediately wished he had remembered to warn her about Mrs Black's portrait. Fortunately, Lila didn't trip over the umbrella stand or say anything loudly, and she passed the curtains without incident. Ron shut the door as quietly as he could and then gestured Lila forward towards the stairs.
"It's kind of dark in here," Lila noted as they walked.
"It was even worse before Sophie gave the place a scrubbing," Ron told her.
"I can only imagine. I'm surprised she hasn't started stripping wallpaper and varnish."
Lila hadn't said why she'd made the trip to Grimmauld, but Ron could guess. He led her up to the master bedroom, normally Kylie's room, where Scott had been recovering. The door to the room was partially opened, and it sounded like Scott and Hermione were discussing something within. Lila yanked the door open and stepped inside without waiting for confirmation.
Hermione was seated in the chair next to the bed, leaning forward in mid-gesture as she explained something. Scott had been looking back at her with an expression of interest; when Lila approached the foot of the bed his face went carefully blank. Hermione's eyes widened in surprise when Lila entered, but when she saw the siblings gazing coolly at each other she quickly stood and moved to Ron.
"Well, you're not holding a weapon, so that's a good sign," Scott said, breaking the heavy silence.
"Maybe I want to beat you to death with my bare hands," Lila said flatly.
Scott lazily spread his arms, indicating his bedridden condition. "If you're ever going to have a chance, now would be the time."
Ron felt a tug on his sleeve, and he looked down at Hermione. "We should go," she said quietly.
Ron wasn't sure about that. "You want to leave them alone? Now?" he whispered back.
She was insistent, pulling him out into the hall. "We shouldn't be here for this." She carefully closed the door, and then turned back to him. "Besides, if they decide to attack each other, it's not as if we could stop them."
"What was that all about?" Ron wondered as he followed Hermione back to their room.
"I'm not certain, though it likely has something to do with Scott's condition, or the same reason that Sophie's been avoiding him. It's none of our business."
"You think so?" Ron said with a scoff. "Our business became Scott's quick enough."
"Well, if it were us, then, Scott would barge his way into the room and conversation. Would you like to go back and try that?" Hermione asked with a wry twist of her lips.
"I'm in enough pain without Lila kicking my arse," Ron said.
"So you understand the issue. Our Kharadjai allies have their uses, but their immunity to anything short of lethal force makes them somewhat difficult to bully," Hermione mused.
Hermione had never been what Ron would consider the violent sort, but her ability with magic had allowed her to 'encourage' her male friends when it came to revision or the finer points of hygiene. Hence her evident frustration when Scott had required a different approach, unconcerned as he was regarding most threats, physical or otherwise. Fortunately for her, Scott was susceptible to logic – probably more than Harry and Ron ever had been, if Ron were going to be honest with himself.
"Still, we should tell Sophie," Hermione continued. "I'm sure she'll interfere if necessary. If only to save the furniture."
Ron was about to agree when Sophie provided proof that Hermione was correct. The tiny woman came hurrying up the hall with her wet hair swaying heavily around her neck, appearing a bit flustered.
"Oh, crud," she said under her breath as she approached them. "Ron, did you let Lila in?"
"Um, yeah. Didn't you want me to?" he said.
"Yes, no, that's fine. It's all fine," she said distractedly. "She shouldn't… I mean, he's still sick, she knows that…"
"I remember Lila getting a bit rough with Scott on at least one occasion, but do they ever actually fight with… more serious intent?" Hermione finished delicately.
Sophie immediately shook her head. "No, they know better than that. I've never seen them really hurt each other outside of sparring, you know, like actual training. Still…" She shifted nervously, "Lil might be really mad."
"Is that why she suddenly appeared? I wasn't aware that she was visiting," Hermione said with a note of reproach.
"It wasn't something we planned, she just… Well, it's Lila," Sophie muttered. "Excuse me, I need to…" Her mouth slowly closed, apparently unable to find the right word.
"Mediate?" Hermione suggested.
"I hope not," Sophie sighed, and hurried past them towards the master bedroom.
"Wouldn't want to be her," Ron said as he watched her go.
"I know I shouldn't pry, but I do wish I knew what was happening. I'd thought Scott was recovering well enough, but if Lila is here then perhaps his condition is serious," Hermione said, frowning.
"It sounded more like Lila was hacked off about something he did, not checking on him," Ron pointed out.
"True. But what could he have done? We were trapped in the dream and then he's been in bed since we awoke."
Ron shrugged, honestly not all that concerned with the details. When it came to the Kharadjai and all the things they got up to, he sometimes felt that he was better off not knowing. "Said something stupid, I reckon."
"I'd just like Scott to recover, along with the rest of us, and Sophie to help me with a few things whilst we sort out this Horcrux problem. We've entirely too much to do, we don't need to waste time arguing," Hermione said firmly.
"Anything I can help with?" Ron said, not really wanting to go to bed just yet.
"Actually, yes," Hermione said with a smile. "I need someone else to help with the mirrors, I can't use them at a distance alone, and there's also a few thermal colouring spells I'd like you to see. Then there're the books that Dumbledore gave us, we can start by looking for some specific keywords–"
Ron followed her to their bedroom, less eager at the prospect of what sounded a lot like homework than he was at easing his girlfriend's burden.
Lila stood at the foot of Scott's bed and fought hard to repress the anger and hurt she felt when looking at him.
Scott, of course, made the task not one iota easier. "You scared off my talking buddy," he said, looking sadly at the empty chair where Hermione had been. "Way to go."
"That's okay, you get to talk to me," Lila said forebodingly.
Scott sighed and closed his eyes. "I just want to go one friggin' day without having a painful heart to heart with someone."
"Then we should have done this a long time ago. And that wasn't my decision," Lila said tightly.
Scott winced slightly. "Come on, Lil. What do you even want me to say? I'm pretty sure Sophie covered it."
"And why did she, Scott? Why did Sophie have to cover it?" Lila could hear the sharpness in her voice rising beyond her control and quickly went silent, clenching her fists.
Amazingly, Scott began chuckling.
Lila's anger intensified. "I'm glad this is just a joke to you."
"No, no, I just– I had this thought, like, all these kids here think we're like aliens or something, but, if they were listening, even though we're alone we're just arguing in English. From another universe."
Lila seriously considered taking one of her boots off to throw at him. "How is that… Are you delirious?"
"I just thought it was weird."
"It's weird that we would argue with each other in English… which is our first language," she said flatly.
"Yeah. I mean, kinda. To other people."
"If you're going to just blow me off, you could at least have the decency to make fucking sense," she seethed.
"I'm tired, all right!" he suddenly erupted, hands fisting in his sheets. "I'm tired as shit and I don't want to fight with you, I just want to skip to the part where we're okay again!"
"You don't get to lie to me for this long and then skip ahead!"
"I wasn't…" Scott clamped his mouth shut and sighed through his nose, probably deciding that claiming a lie of omission wasn't technically lying was not the best course of action. "Everybody's got shit they don't want to talk about, and this is right near the top of my personal list. Not to mention it's the sort of thing I didn't need getting back to command and now I'm stuck in bed surrounded by Primes who know entirely too much about my problem. So fuck this."
"So fuck you!" Lila spat. "You never said a thing, not even when I practically came out and asked–"
"The hell you did, you never–"
"Did you want it in writing? All those long talks after shaperate, all the advice and techniques and you never once decided that you should talk about how overcognizance might affect you and therefore me! Did you really think I was interested in your results just for class? Did my fixation on the subject or the way I've brought it back up over the years ever strike you as being some kind of hint?"
Scott blinked. "I don't think it's going to affect you, I know it can be hereditary but considering where we're from–"
"You are my brother and it would fucking well affect me!" she yelled, raising her voice more than she'd intended, though she was just about past the point of caring.
"Oh, you meant it like that. If I went nuts it wouldn't… You wouldn't lose the house or anything, they insure us pretty comprehensively. Ol' Mater Solus would flip the arca for my drool bibs."
"Yes, because that was my concern: the money."
Scott must have seen something in her eyes that made him
shrink back slightly into his pillow. "Okay, I can see how I may have just insulted you–"
"Do you? Or have you done absolutely nothing but trivialise my concerns and act like not telling your sister and sole family member that you have a degenerative condition which is exacerbated by your work is hardly even worth discussing?" Lila said in a voice of ice.
"Lil, this was never about trust, this is about–"
"Will you let me fucking finish?! …But, yes." He sighed. "Sort of. Look, I didn't even know that I had a problem until I was already applying for rating, and by that point I just… I squeezed by the testing, maybe they shaved a point or two but it was all worth it. It counted for something. I've always been borderline, I always will be, but that hasn't stopped me yet. These guys need me, Lil."
"I'm not questioning the value of your work, Scott, or why you've kept this quiet. That's evident. I'm questioning why you thought you had to keep this from me and make me think that somehow, despite what my experience and your scores and everything I'd learned told me, you were exempt. And don't you dare try to tell me that this is the first time." Lila's voice grew hoarse with emotion. "You let me believe that you would never get anything more than a little dizzy, or a little confused. You let me believe that all those signs in your behaviour, all the markers in your personality, were as far as it would ever go. Did you think that was kinder?"
Scott rubbed one finger between his tightly shut eyes. "This is going to sound awful, but it wasn't really about you…"
Lila felt the pang deep in her chest, a hurt she couldn't quash fast enough. "I didn't matter." She had been clinging to the shreds of her stoicism with all her strength, but it wasn't enough. The words emerged not merely solemn, as she'd intended, but quietly defeated.
"That's not what I'm saying." Scott at least did her the courtesy of meeting her eyes. "As long as I can keep moving, there's always something else to think about. It's been long enough since it was this bad that I didn't even have to consider it. I choose… to ignore this particular weakness. It's not like I can do anything about it."
"You can stop using the shape," Lila acerbically suggested.
"As a last resort, sure, but until things get bad enough that I have to, I've still got a job to do."
"And you don't think it will ever come to that."
Lila looked at him in silence, keeping her face impassive. Gratifyingly, Scott was too tired and out of sorts to fully hide his discomfort. "You still could have told me," she said finally.
"I'm sorry. God, I've been saying that a lot. Probably means something. But I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm really, really fucking sorry. I can't say it enough. Literally, it doesn't matter. I know it's too late."
"You know, Scott, I'm not even sure what I expected. All those long talks we had about us were really just long talks about me, weren't they? You could probably sketch a floor plan for the orphanage, but you won't tell me shit about my own dad."
"That's another one of those things that I don't really talk about…"
"Yeah, I'm aware! Did it ever occur to you, in either instance, that maybe I deserve to hear it anyway?" she demanded.
Scott put his face in his hands and sank lower into his sheets. "God, Lil, please forgive me. Please? I'm already so tired of this and we just started. I don't want to be crazy, I'm not doing it on purpose. It might never happen again, a Horcrux did it, not a lot of those back home. I owe you, okay? I'll… I'll make you a deal. When we wrap this up, we'll sit down and I'll tell you anything you want to know that I can remember. Just don't expect too much. I've spent a lot of time trying to forget."
What Lila wanted was for him to have told her before he'd stumbled into his current state, but, as he'd said, it was too late. At least he was appropriately apologetic. She wouldn't admit it to him, but it was proving difficult to stay angry when he was so pale and obviously sick. Her need to care for him was at war with her desire to hurt him for hurting her. It wasn't a very noble impulse, but it was too strong to ignore.
She couldn't help but push the knife just a little deeper. "I just thought I was the one person you knew you could trust."
"You are!" Scott immediately exclaimed, dropping his hands. "Jesus, Lil, you know I trust you with everything, up to and including my goddamn Primes! It was never about that, it was about pretending that there was nothing wrong with me, even to myself. I don't like that this can happen – even though, I remind you, it almost never does – so I ignore it."
She squinted at him. "Hmm. That doesn't seem like it should make it better, but it does. Slightly."
"I'm sorry," Scott sighed, closing his eyes again.
She shook her head in disbelief. "You going crazy can't be all bad, I kind of like you in this state. I don't think I've ever heard you apologise so much or so sincerely, you were so much easier to break than I expected."
"You're such a bi-hi-hitch…" Scott groaned, unable to finish the word without chuckling his way through it.
Lila reached into a pocket and pulled out a bottle of what Republic pilots sometimes called 'jump juice', a cocktail of nutrients and electrolytes that came in a flavour optimistically labelled 'berry'. "Brought you something."
Scott pushed himself up to get a better look at it. "Ah, you're my favourite shorty with a forty," he said, extended one hand out for the bottle.
She held it just out of his reach. "What's the magic word?"
"…I don't even know anymore, there are so many now."
"I could do with a few more, 'I'm sorry's."
Scott let his head loll off his shoulder and hang towards the floor. "Look, I'm like Snoopy. I'm so sorry and sad and without dignity."
"Like Snoopy?" she repeated, giving him the drink.
"Yeah, I was hanging my head."
"Because he's a dog? I thought he did the head thing when he was pretending to be a vulture."
"I didn't say it was a perfect comparison. I'm all sick and shit, whatever," Scott mumbled, bringing the bottle to his lips.
"Get some sleep," she said. "I'll decide whether or not to kill you in the morning."
"Stay of execution," Scott slurred. He snapped the bottle shut and handed it back to her. "You're a peach."
Lila left the bottle on the night stand in case Scott wanted it later. That was about as far as her goodwill extended at the moment, though, so she left without asking if he needed anything else.
Scott had managed to say the right things (eventually), and Lila was no longer as enraged as she had been on arrival. The hurt would take longer to fade: it wasn't the most gracious sentiment, but she knew she would be holding the whole affair over his head for years to come. She understood that he simply hadn't wanted to think about it. She even understood that he'd never told her in confidence because ignoring his condition had become a deeply ingrained habit. She didn't like it, but she understood. Everyone had aspects of themselves that they preferred not to let out into the light.
Understanding didn't take away the hurt, especially since their sharing had been historically one-sided. Hopefully their confrontation would be the eventual end of his reticence.
Knowing Scott, however, it would take a few more showdowns to hold him to his promise.
Lila shut the door behind her and turned to find Sophie standing in the hall. "Wow, you're not even trying to hide your snooping," Lila drawled.
"I'm not a snoop!" Sophie protested.
"Okay, Snoopy." Lila tilted her head, considering that. "You're even hovering like a vulture."
"I'm not a… snoopy. Or a bird," Sophie said slowly, clearly confused.
"Forget it. Don't you have a rug to de-lint or something?" Lila said brusquely, brushing past the other woman.
"Wha–? What did I do?" Sophie exclaimed, pressing her hands to her chest.
"You mean besides listening in?"
"I was making sure you two didn't kill each other! I didn't hear exactly what you said, I promise." Sophie squirmed a little, and then added, "Except when you yelled."
"Snoop," Lila said, poking Sophie in the shoulder.
"I was worried. I know you were upset. Though, you seem to be better?" Sophie said hesitantly.
"We did some work on it. There will be more to come, I'm sure you can eavesdrop on those sessions later."
"Oh, good grief," Sophie muttered, walking towards the stairs. "This is what I get for caring."
Lila had never doubted Sophie's investment in her friends, and usually appreciated it despite the occasionally annoying nature of her meddling. "Not going to tuck him in, Strauss?" Lila called after her, still feeling tense enough to want to needle someone.
"I'm not his mother," Sophie shot back as she descended.
"And thank God for that," Lila said under her breath.
Lila had already decided that she would be spending the night at Grimmauld, and possibly a few days after. To further that end, she poked her head into several bedrooms, including one with motorcycle paraphernalia, where Kylie's recognisable strawberry-blonde tresses were scattered across a pillow – Lila made a mental note to talk to her about Trevor. There was an empty room just across the hall from the motorcycle room, which Lila claimed for herself. The décor was awful, but the bed was soft enough. Maybe a little too soft, even.
With a little luck, she'd wake up feeling less need to strangle her brother.