31Solve for X
"This idea, that [the shape] is capable of
offering detailed planning, is pervasive;
indeed, it is a concept which can be traced
to the root of the infamous disaster at
Mainland One, an incident which remains a
testament to the strength and, ultimately,
seductive nature of the sentiment (as well as
the seductive nature of the shape itself). Any
endeavour which requires preparation will
inherently lead those involved to question
whether the shape holds information of any
pertinent use. The answers that follow are
where the trouble may lie, as those answers
are so prone to misinterpretation, or, even more
likely, never truly extant."
–Dr Joseph Carnahan, New Constellations
"…It's okay," Sophie said after a moment of observation. "Not as good as the other one."
"I'd expected as much. The earmuffs were heartening, at least, if impractical," Hermione said.
"Well, we can always make something that will fit in our ears. These are just a test pair for the network," Sophie said encouragingly.
"Yes, it doesn't do us much good to hear each other and nothing else. What if we tried making the sound from the mirrors extend in more directions, so you don't have to be looking at them to hear clearly?"
Sophie sucked her lips inward in an expression that Hermione had come to recognise as the Kharadjai woman thinking of the most tactful way to reject a bad idea. "That could work, but in combat a lot times you need to control sound as much as possible. Like, if you stuck the mirror in your pocket so you could hear it, anyone trying to target you could probably hear it, too."
"Of course, you're right," Hermione sighed. "So we need to either find a way to mute the mirrors so they'll be blank when not in use, or move the entire system to some sort of custom earpieces."
The two of them were in the midst of the long and painstaking process of duplicating the mirrors which Sirius had given to Harry. Along the way they had split their research into different avenues of possibility, from simply making more small mirrors to complicated combinations of the Protean charm and Muggle technology. Hermione considered the ultimate end to be the creation of a compact, wearable communications device which could provide Muggle radio contact, magic-mirror voice and magic-mirror visuals as needed. She was finding that it was extremely difficult to fashion any sort of switch for the mirrors that would allow them to only broadcast sound and image when required, even with Sophie's help. Portable audio seemed a much more achievable goal.
Hermione had first been studying the books Dumbledore had provided on blood magic, but after hours spent trying to sort through poorly organised and often contradictory information, she had switched to a different problem. Blood magic was an extremely ancient facet of the craft, never addressed at Hogwarts and largely unused by wizarding society (indeed, it was most often utilised inadvertently). Many aspects of it were even illegal, and rightly so. Blood magic, like so many other branches of magic, could easily be twisted for Dark purposes – and Voldemort had already done so.
Hermione had read enough to know that tying anyone to Harry through blood would require the manufacture of either a powerful magical artefact or the use of equally powerful reagents. Riddle had used flesh, bone and blood for his ritual, all of them taken from portentous sources. His methods were not applicable, however, as Hermione was not attempting to restore the fragment of a soul to a body. She needed to recreate the side-effect of the ritual, the binding of soul to soul through blood infused with the magic of sacrifice.
"So I have these, those threads we talked about?" Sophie was saying, tapping her pen against the inscrutable diagram she kept referring to. None of the patterns or notations made a bit of sense to Hermione, a fact that Sophie never quite seemed to remember. "See, that's the sixteen strands which are Component. Now, I think it's actually like a volume or maybe pitch control, with eight to twelve being Symbiotic on a harmonic range–"
Sophie's words were spoken in clear English, and yet were slowly becoming more and more unintelligible. Hermione realised that she was experiencing what Ron and Harry must have underwent every time she had explained Arithmancy to them. And she did not care for it at all.
"I think… that we should take a break," Hermione said reluctantly.
"I was going to suggest that awhile ago, I just got caught up in the shaperate," Sophie said with a guilty smile. "You've been exhausting yourself. I know you're trying to help Harry, but you can't do this all the time."
"I did do this all the time! I cannot even tell you how many hours I spent in the library at school," Hermione said.
"You never stopped to eat, or read something fun?"
In fact, Hermione had strictly regulated her studying at Hogwarts outside of the occasional emergencies, such as the Tri-Wizard Tournament. She'd known the importance of allowing the brain to rest, and had read many books both fiction and non-fiction in addition to the drier tomes of learning; of course, she had also spent a great deal of time in class or with her friends. It was an effective regimen that she had abandoned at Grimmauld, feeling the incredible pressure of producing the means to advance their war. She knew her comprehension suffered for it, but she couldn't allow herself to stop.
"Things were different at Hogwarts," Hermione answered evasively. "I have so much to do here."
"Well, you can't do it if your eyes get all crispy and gross," Sophie declared as if that were both common wisdom and parlance.
Hermione reflexively rubbed at her eyes. "All right, we'll stop for now. Thank you for all your help."
"Any time, just ask!" Sophie said. She trotted out into the hallway, probably going to check on Scott.
Hermione debated on doing the same, if only for a moment. Scott's recovery had ended up being the measurement for the group as a whole, followed by Ginny and then Ron as a distant third. Of course, even if they were were all fully functional before too long, there remained the question as to whether any moves should be made against Riddle before Harry was purged of his Horcrux. His condition had not been a liability previously, but it was difficult to consider it anything less than a priority.
All of which wasn't even addressing the seemingly insurmountable problem of getting into Gringotts. There was so much to do, but so many of those things couldn't be done. Hermione almost missed the way things had been, going day to day without a hint of a future plan. Every excursion thus far had practically fallen into their laps. It made her understand why Harry preferred to act on instinct. When preparation seemed impossible, any action felt efficacious by comparison.
She took a deep breath, steadying herself. The pressure was getting to her. She really did need a break, even if only for an hour or two. She couldn't help Harry if she were too worn and frustrated to think properly.
She made her way down to the kitchen, intent on getting something to drink. Upon stepping into the downstairs room, it gave her quite a jolt to see someone unfamiliar. Recognition followed almost immediately (it was Lila, of course), but Hermione had become accustomed to seeing the same people, and had momentarily forgotten that Lila had come to visit.
"Did I scare you?" Lila said wryly, crumpling up the wrapper she was holding.
"A bit. We don't get out much, come to think of it," Hermione admitted. "How's Scott?"
"Arrogant, secretive, not as funny as he thinks he is and too wily for his own good," Lila assessed.
"Yes. How about physically?"
Lila shrugged. "Better. He'll be at baseline level by tonight, and full strength within forty-eight hours."
"And by baseline level, I assume you mean he'll be as physically capable as we are?"
"If you were six foot two and in combat shape, sure."
"I believe I'm fairly fit," Hermione said, looking down at herself. "If not especially tall."
"Don't take it personally. You're in great shape for a scholar," Lila qualified.
Hermione still felt a bit insulted. She knew it was unrealistic to hold herself to Kharadjai spec ops standards of fitness, but Lila's dismissive words were sort of a disappointment. Perhaps all of their impromptu preparation would never be enough. What if the level of capability needed to win the war required years of training that they simply did not have? Wars were fought by soldiers for a reason.
Well, not all wars. And it was an irregular conflict they were mired in, to be sure. They were very fortunate that the enemy had little – if any – more military experience than they did. The fate of the United Kingdom was in the hands of all sorts of amateurs. Even Riddle had spent his life in the study of magic, not war.
It was all rather pathetic, really. Perhaps Scott's occasional condescension wasn't entirely unearned.
Not that Hermione would ever admit that to him.
"Well, this scholar is taking a breather," she settled on saying. "Also on Sophie's recommendation. I suppose she's the closest thing we have to a medical authority
"That's actually true. She was with PRAMTAG for awhile, so she edges out me and Scott for pure experience."
Hermione was willing to take her word for it, feeling a bit too worn to seek an explanation on where PRAMTAG fit within the vast Kharadjai Republic amalgamation of acronyms, code words and organisations. "We've been grateful for her assistance. I don't know what we'd have done without her."
"Taken some risks to get food, I guess," Lila speculated, "and not had anyone to tell you to take a break. Or warn you about your eyes getting crispy."
"She did say that, actually…"
"I have no idea where she got that from. It's super weird." Lila pointed at Hermione. "Oh, I just remembered: Scott wanted to talk to you. He's upstairs in that room with the couch."
Hermione cast a longing glance at the refrigerator. "I'll be up to see him after I've had something to drink."
"I don't think it was urgent," Lila said, unconcerned by the delay.
Hermione retrieved a can of one of the Muggle citrus drinks that Kylie seemed to enjoy so much. Hermione was more of a cola girl, but she'd take whatever was available. "I know there was some tension between yourself and Scott," she said as she popped open the top of the drink. "Have the two of you settled things? I don't wish to pry," she lied, "I'm only hoping it won't continue to be an issue."
"It's not the kind of thing that just goes away. It's also not the kind of thing you need to concern yourself with," Lila said flatly.
That was blunt enough. "Of course," Hermione said complaisantly. "Well, I'll see what Scott wants."
Upstairs, she found Scott in the drawing room playing a board game with Kylie. The game board and all of its pieces looked new, and must have been something Sophie had bought on one of her shopping excursions.
"Three, four, five," Scott said, counting out the spaces as he moved his piece. "Gotta draw a card – 'Go directly to jail'. That is absolute horse– poop. I'll give you five hundred for a get out of jail card."
Kylie clutched the card to her chest as if she expected him to take it from her by force. "But I might need it."
"Six hundred. And I'll throw in this stick of string cheese you've been eyeing."
Kylie hesitated, glancing towards the food on the cushion next to Scott.
"Don't do it, Kylie; let him rot," Hermione advised from the doorway.
"Hit the bricks, curly, this is a private negotiation," Scott said loudly, eyes still locked with Kylie's.
Hermione crossed her arms. "You're the one who wanted to see me."
"Oh, yeah. I did tell Lil that." Scott set his faux-money down on the table and picked up the string cheese, handing it to Kylie. "Good talk, Kylie. Take five or ten or whatever, we'll table this for now. String cheese break."
Kylie scampered away, clutching her prize. Scott leaned back on the settee and rubbed at his eyes, still appearing somewhat tired. Most of the colour had returned to his face, however, and his motions were no longer slow and unsteady.
"Not the best pricing strategy on my end. Could have just paid the fine, it wouldn't have mattered either way. This game is all about screwing people over, and Kylie just doesn't have that killer instinct," Scott said with a wan smile. "She kept wanting to share houses with me."
"She never struck me as particularly competitive," Hermione said, taking the chair Kylie had vacated. "It's still a bit odd to hear her talk, honestly."
"She's not much for words." Scott let his palms fall against his thighs with a loud slap. "So. What's been happening?"
"You mean besides your mysterious malady?"
"Exactly besides that."
"Lila says you've nearly recovered, is that accurate?"
"Exactly besides that."
Hermione frowned at him. "You can't even tell me if you're well?"
"That's a very relative state."
"That's not an answer."
Scott merely raised one eyebrow in her direction.
Hermione pursed her lips thoughtfully. "This isn't even privileged information, it can't be. You brought me up here because you said you wanted to talk, but instead you only wanted to anger me. You can play games with someone else – or more literal ones with Kylie. I'm going back downstairs to eat something."
"Whoa, whoa," Scott said quickly, holding up his hands in the sign for surrender. "I thought you were with me. What about the eyebrow thing, not even that? Wasn't that kind of funny? I mean, we've done this so much…"
Hermione sighed. "Scott, I'm tired and frustrated and I just wanted to know that you're going to be fine. You were not in your right mind and I was frightened for you."
Scott's features immediately softened; he must have appreciated such an honest admission. "I'm better. I'd like to tell you that I'll just walk it off, but the thing with shape sickness is that it's never exactly the same. It's not like I've ever been trapped in a Horcrux before."
"I believe that was a unique experience for all of us," Hermione said, and fervently hoped that would remain the case.
"It could be worse, at least for the timing. We made ourselves some space."
"Have we?" Hermione wondered. "I realise that between securing this place and eliminating the Horcruxes we have it seems as if we've been effective, but can we really make that determination without knowing what Riddle has been doing?"
"I know you've been worried that we haven't seen him."
"Which sounds silly, I'm aware. God forbid I should ever want to see him."
"I get what you mean, though. Unless we know his plans, we can't gauge what kind of impact we've had on them." Scott pointed at her. "Just keep in mind that if our plans actually intersect with his, then we're screwed. What we're doing shouldn't have anything to do with what he's doing, not directly."
"True. And we have no evidence that he's onto us." She worried at her lower lip. "And no evidence that he isn't."
"That's actually what I wanted to talk to you about," Scott said, kicking his legs up onto the settee and leaning over to lie against one of the arms. "I think we should consider going back to at least a couple key locations and installing some traps of our own. Something that would let us know if Riddle finds out we've been messing with his stuff."
"I suppose we could," Hermione said, considering the idea. "Although, my first thought is that even if we did know he'd discovered a missing Horcrux, what would we do about it?"
Scott awkwardly shrugged in his prone position. "Not a clue, but we'd know that we had to do something. Increase the pressure, maybe. Or it would be our cue for a desperate assault. Is he vulnerable when making a Horcrux? It seems like it would be hard. Point is, we'd know when the clock speeds up."
"I think it's a good idea," Hermione told him. "Keep in mind we're not in the best shape at the moment, collectively."
Scott made a dismissive gesture. "Don't worry about it, this is something me and Lil can take care of. I can probably get us to that cave, but I'll have to see if she can track down the shack. Harry knows this shit. Speaking of him, I heard you've been working on his problem."
"I have," Hermione confirmed.
"You got anything?"
"Only in a very rudimentary sense. I've yet to fully understand how it all works, but based on what I've read I do believe that we can use a ritual to extend the magic of his mother's sacrifice to ourselves."
Scott squinted at her. "You're making it sound like there's a catch."
Hermione blew out a short breath. "Riddle used a variety of reagents in his ritual, all of which were both symbolic and magically powerful. We can't duplicate the same process, for reasons practical and moral, so we'll need something else. An artefact of some kind, preferably one relating to Harry."
"The crib at the cottage," Scott said immediately.
Hermione blinked, surprised by the speed of the suggestion. "…It might work," she said after considering it for a moment. "The Hollow isn't the safest place for us to be, of course, but the cot is a possibility."
"I thought Riddle just used Harry's blood, didn't he? We got about five litres of that walking around."
"Not in one sitting, we don't," Hermione said dryly. "Riddle had a number of other reagents as well, Harry's blood was just the primary reactive. He could have used the blood of a different enemy and saved himself a lot of bother."
Scott had rolled over onto his stomach, his words partially muffled by the cushion pressed into the corner of his mouth. "I just feel like, at this point, we shouldn't be expecting him to have thought anything through."
Hermione was still worried by the thought that Riddle was simply so far ahead of them that his logic, or even the lack thereof, would never be apparent until it was too late. "Whatever the case, keep in mind our need for an artefact. I'll try to be more specific after I do some more reading."
Scott suddenly pushed himself upright. "Holy shit, I forgot about the thing!"
"The thing! The thing I took, Dumbledore told me– hold on. SOPHIE?" he bellowed towards the door.
"Scott!" Hermione squawked indignantly, sheltering her abused ears. "Just go and find her! Or I'll do it, if you're still wobbly."
"Wobbly?!" Scott said in an outraged tone. He jumped to his feet and began to stride for the door. "We'll see who's– fuck me–"
His right knee promptly folded under his weight, sending him sagging back into the settee. Hermione crossed her legs and watched impassively as he floundered against the cushions, unable to straighten his limb again without ending up on his bad knee.
Sophie's head of carefully
coiffed curls poked into the room. "Scott? Did you call me, you really shouldn't scream like… What are you doing?"
"I think it's pretty obvious that I'm humping the couch," Scott said, in a position that did encourage that conclusion.
Sophie's eyes narrowed. "What are you really doing?"
Scott sighed into the fabric. "My knee gave out. Hermione is watching me suffer."
"I don't get to do it often enough," Hermione said, entirely unrepentant.
"Hermione!" Sophie rebuked, sending a disappointed glance Hermione's way.
"It's his own fault, I offered to help," Hermione informed her.
"Yeah, but you didn't mean it," Scott said.
"You don't know that. Come on, just lock your knees and you can lean on me," Sophie said, beginning to haul Scott to his feet.
"I don't need to get up, I need you to find my pants," Scott told her, falling back against the settee after being faced the proper way.
Sophie looked down at his trousers. "Scott, are you feeling dizzy at all?"
"I'm not sundowning, I need you to find the pair of pants I was wearing when the Horcrux conked me out," Scott said impatiently.
"Oh. I think those are with the rest of the laundry pile, I've just been so busy it's kind of been building," Sophie explained.
"Or, you know, maybe it's because you hate doing laundry."
"Then you do it!"
"Scott, what's so important about those trousers?" Hermione interrupted.
"There's nothing special about the trousers. It's what's in them that's special," he answered.
"Scott Middle-Name Kharan, you are so filthy, you never should have been allowed to work with young Primes," Sophie disapprovingly declared.
Scott sputtered in disbelief. "Jesus, Sophie, I wasn't talking about my dick! That's on you, that is on you!"
"Don't you swear at me!"
"What is it that you had, Scott?" Hermione called over their burgeoning argument.
He rolled his eyes at Sophie and turned to Hermione. "I took Dumbledore's wand from his grave."
Hermione at first thought she had misheard. "I'm sorry, you what?"
"I broke into Dumbledore's tomb and took his wand."
Scott had done a number of things over the past year that she had found at least moderately reprehensible. But, over time, she had ceased being as appalled as she would have once been – right up until he nonchalantly told her that he'd violated Albus Dumbledore's grave.
"Why would you do that?" she said faintly.
"Because he told me to."
That was probably the only thing Scott could have said to bring her building outrage to a sudden halt. "His portrait?"
Scott nodded. "Yeah. Apparently it's important. To someone, anyway, the way he said it made it sound like it might not be useful to us, but I don't know."
"I guess I should go find it, then," Sophie commented as she left the room.
Hermione mulled over what Scott had said. "A wand is of limited use in any hands other than its owner's. Possessing Dumbledore's wand won't make us as powerful as he was, that's not how magic works. But, he wanted us to have it…"
"He said it was a 'Deathly Hallow', if that makes any difference," Scott told her offhandedly.
Hermione gaped at him, feeling faint again. "That's impossible."
"Okay," Scott said slowly. "But, I mean, it was Dumbledore who told me that, so, I figure that rates at least a 'possible', if not 'probable'."
"The Deathly Hallows are a fairy tale, a children's story. It's actually in the collection, which… Dumbledore left to me…" Hermione said, eyes widening once more.
"I like watching you realise things," Scott said with a smarmy grin.
"If the Hallows are real… Did he intend for us to seek them out?" Hermione wondered, ignoring Scott. "No… No, if he'd wanted us to do so then that would have been the mission, the Horcruxes have always been our first priority."
"Why would we go after these things, anyway? What do they do?"
"Supposedly the person who unites all of the Hallows becomes the 'Master of Death'. What, precisely, that means is not explained. I can think of several interpretations."
"Sounds like bullshit," Scott said summarily. "Death isn't something you master, it's a concept. More or less a term we use to indicate the state of electrical activity within an organic form."
"That's a very literal, agnostical use of the word, one I'm not sure is appropriate in a world of magic and spirits," Hermione cautioned.
Scott was unimpressed by her argument. "The shape provides all of those things, which are nothing but local shape manifestations. 'Death' may be impermanent depending on the form in question, but it's still shorthand for the same organic state, temporary or not."
Hermione looked at him with exasperation. "You're arguing mere semantics. If you were dead, but not really dead, then what would you call that state?"
"We have a few different words for it, but that's not the point."
"Agreed. I'd thought you missed the point entirely."
Scott made a face at her, then said, "Riddle has found his own way to 'master' death, and if we assume that the Hallows do something similar then it's all just a way of delaying the inevitable, and not particularly useful to us. If you guys want to try to live forever, then do it after we've finished the rest of this shit. Even if these things make you immortal, they obviously don't make you invincible, otherwise whoever had them first would still be around."
"If we consider mastering death to be the same as avoiding it, then that seems likely. It's the other possibilities that I find more concerning. A 'Master of Death' might be one who inflicts death upon others, for example," Hermione reasoned.
"You don't even need magic for that."
"No, but there are degrees of effectiveness."
Scott arched an eyebrow. "Have something to say about my performance, Hermione?"
She rolled her eyes. "As much as we've differed on the topic, even I'm aware that killing is only a portion of your job description. Also, I seem to recall you staggering back here in quite a state after being chased out of the Hollow, so perhaps it's that other majority where your real talents lie."
"Ouch," Scott breathed, but his eyes were alight with humour. "You want my balls now, or should I shave them first?"
"I want nothing to do with them."Feeling a surge of comradeship, Hermione then said something that she wouldn't have even thought a year before. "I've yet to be acquainted with Ron's."
Scott laughed so hard that Hermione was momentarily worried he might hurt himself, infirm as he still was.
Sophie re-entered the room with a startled look on her face. "Oh, what's funny?" she inquired.
Hermione wasn't willing to repeat it. "Who knows with him. Did you find the wand?"
"I couldn't find it at first because it rolled under the ottoman since the stupid basket has slats," Sophie explained unnecessarily. "But here you go. It's a fancy wand, it seems nice."
It was something a step beyond the usual wand, which were traditionally without much in the way of adornment. Still, despite its appearance Hermione couldn't divine anything special about it. It didn't fill her with a surge of power or strike her as portentous.
Scott rolled one of his hands at her in a 'get on with it' gesture. "All right, so blow up the room or whatever. Make it work."
"It's not my wand," Hermione murmured, turning it over in her grip. "Wands give their allegiance only once."
"But what's so great about it? I mean, if you had the other Hallows I guess it's great, but what about by itself?"
"Supposedly, the owner of the Elder Wand cannot be defeated." Hermione felt a pang of sadness. "We have strong evidence that is not the case."
"Yeah. So if that's not true, maybe none of it is."
Hermione thought that might be a dangerous assumption. "I know Dumbledore was not infallible, but if he thought this was a Deathly Hallow, I have to believe he had compelling evidence."
"I'm with you," Scott said mildly. "Just thinking out loud. What it sounds like, though, is that this wand does something – just not for us."
"Perhaps Dumbledore only wanted us to hide it. What other reason could there be? The Elder Wand isn't attuned to any of us, it serves no purpose for us to have it unless we're only meant to keep it safe."
"Maybe this thing has enough juice that it'll give you a boost even if it's not actually yours."
"I suppose… If Dumbledore was buried with this, then he was actually using it. It must have worked for him."
"Well, like I just said, what if it's got sufficient kick that it works as well as a normal wand even though it's not 'attuned' or whatever?"
"Then it's merely a curiosity, a collectable, not an advantage."
"Except as a piece for a larger puzzle," Scott pointed out.
"I wish he had been clearer about this," Hermione said with frustration.
"We sort of ran out of time. Had a lot of Horcrux details to hash out first. Which makes me think that this 'Hallows' dealie really isn't that big of a thing, to us. He was set on telling me about Harry's situation and making sure we were counting our Horcruxes."
"His grave would have been vulnerable now that Hogwarts is in enemy hands. I don't know who else might have known that his wand is a Hallow, but the school wouldn't be a safe place for it," Hermione agreed.
"Maybe we should destroy it."
Hermione looked at him, startled. "What? It's a priceless piece of magical history!"
"Oh, it's history now? Because a minute ago it was a myth."
"Don't be difficult. If we have to hide it, then we'll put it somewhere safe and that will be that," Hermione
said with finality.
"What are our odds of finding the other two?"
"Considering that I had no evidence they were even real prior to this afternoon, I would say very slim, indeed."
Scott didn't appear too upset about it. "Oh well. Not like we don't have some other things to find."
"Yes, and we should keep at that whilst we're recovering," Hermione added.
"Yeah, you keep trucking on the whole problem with Harry. I'm going to put in some work on Gringotts," Scott told her. "I've got a few ideas."
"That sounds promising," Hermione said, cautiously optimistic.
"I know our first goal is to get the Horcrux out of there, but our secondary objective needs to be getting it without Riddle knowing it's gone. I've considered manufacturing a fake, if we can find out exactly what the original looks like; that only works if Lestrange checks on her vault after we break in, though, and not Riddle. We should still have a ringer, but just for insurance."
"Then what do you propose?"
"I looked at the book Dumbledore gave me, and I think our best bet is to go two teams."
"For what purpose?"
"So we can do two things at once. I know everyone's personal vaults are down off the rails, but there's a hell of a lot of money in the main building, most of it in two large vaults just off the counting rooms. That's where all the dosh makes a stop on its way to the personals or people's pockets."
Hermione frowned. "We're not in this for the money."
"No, but they don't know that. Turns out, it's true that Gringotts has never been successfully robbed, but that's because no one has managed to escape. In the mid 1800s a professional crew with a tight time table grabbed a good amount of loose change from the lobby and even made it out to the street, but an Anti-Apparition field went up before they could split and get out. They caught the last guy three days later in Knockturn after the government and the goblins locked down the whole damn Alley."
"None of which bodes well for us," Hermione said, her hope fading.
"Actually, it does, because those guys did the best anyone ever has, and they weren't equipped for that kind of job. All their previous runs had been silent. Once they figured out there wasn't much chance of getting into Gringotts without being seen, they went for speed. But that wasn't their stock in trade, and they didn't have the kind of firepower you'd need to shoot your way out."
"Neither do we…" Hermione frowned slightly, not sure how any of Scott's information was useful. They had no intention of stealing coin from the lobby, and if they had to fight their way out then their Horcrux theft could easily be discovered.
"Maybe, maybe not, but ultimately all we have to do is hold the lobby."
Hermione still wasn't sure where he was going with his ideas, but she was willing to listen to anything approaching a real plan. "Then let's hear it," she said.
Scott's eyes were alight with excitement. "This is preliminary, but the gist of it is this: we disguise the first team with Polyjuice. You walk right into the front of the bank and mix with the other customers, working your way towards a tunnel entrance. Once you're in place, me and Lil mask up and come in full bore with body armour, high calibre weaponry, as much ammo as we can carry. We do our thing: flashbangs, tear gas, scare the shit out of everybody, zipties and pistol whippings for the uncooperative. While we're going shock and awe, you get into the tunnels and head for the vault. You break into the vault, you take the Horcrux, you put a fake one in its place, you get out of the vault, you restore the protections on the door, you come back to the lobby. Me and Lil will have been popping rounds out at the street and threatening hostages to make everyone keep a healthy distance. Once you're back with the goods, we start moving people, mixing you in. We let everyone loose at the same time, you run out with them. Me and Lil come out right behind you with guns blazing. You guys split up–" Scott made a 'poof' gesture with his hands, "–and disappear."
Hermione was momentarily at a loss for words, attempting to grapple with the unexpected intricacy of the plan as much as she was its incredible audacity. "But then how do you and Lila escape?" she asked, believing that to be a missing step.
"Not sure. Worst case is we shoot until we make enough room to get into the streets, we're going to be faster on foot than the opposition. Maybe we can find somewhere inside to hide until things calm down enough to make an aperture." He paused, face thoughtful. "Well, probably not. It's going to be nuts around there for quite awhile. But if we can get to Muggle London, we shouldn't have any trouble past that point."
It took Hermione a few more seconds to collect her thoughts (and organise her objections). She had come to Scott intending to do nothing but listen to what she had assumed would be ramblings of minor importance, if any, and so was still mentally fatigued. She knew that Scott's plan would be revisited, so at least she wasn't feeling the need to fully examine every angle of it right away.
"I think your plan sounds very impressive," she tentatively acknowledged, "though I am concerned by how many different things are required."
Scott nodded soberly. "Simpler is better, but everything I've read about Gringotts is telling me that we need to be complicated. If we didn't have to include any misdirection then it maybe we could stealth our way in with Bill's help and a little luck, but the requirement is that Riddle doesn't find out we were in Lestrange's vault. All I can offer is my opinion, obviously, but I'm telling you this: I don't think we can get to the vault, get into the vault, and then get out of the bank without someone noticing – unless everyone is looking elsewhere."
Hermione couldn't argue with that. The task had seemed nearly insurmountable even without the necessity of stealth. "You may be right. But, your plan also puts you and your sister in a very bad situation."
"Yeah, but the same is true for you. And I've been in pretty similar ones before, so if anything I'd say you'll have it worse."
Hermione was having difficulty imagining a worse situation than being in the middle of a hostage situation surrounded by the forces of a corrupted Ministry. Which brought her to the next salient point. "You keep talking about shooting your way out… You are aware that not everyone opposing you will be a Death Eater?"
From his lack of reaction, it seemed that Scott had anticipated her objection. "We have to get the cup. I don't really like the expression 'failure is not an option' because technically that's never true, but if I had to use it somewhere, it would probably be here. I knew you weren't going to like the risks to bystanders, but I can't jeopardise the mission because I couldn't shoot back at some good people taking bad orders." He shrugged fatalistically. "That's the nature of war, Hermione. You've become used to your enemies being almost literal monsters, but typically that's just not the case."
"Perhaps not," Hermione allowed, "but you can't expect me to say nothing when you start talking about hostages and shooting at law enforcement!"
"And I suppose you think every Snatcher I shot was an adult male serial rapist with no friends or family?"
"That's not…" Hermione paused to glare at him for putting words in her mouth. "…What I'm saying. I'm saying your attitude strikes me as careless when we should be doing our best to save everyone we can."
"That is precisely what we are doing. And we can't let anyone stop us, whether it's because they genuinely oppose us or because they just don't know any better."
"I would be less hesitant to agree if you weren't advancing a course of action that would bring the same response whether Riddle was in control or not," Hermione said. "Armed robbery isn't exactly the sort of thing where only the evil or misguided attempt to intervene."
"No, but that's part of the reason it suits our purposes so well." Scott's expression indicated he was aware of how unfortunate the necessity was. "No one is going to connect that to Harry."
Hermione thought that was probably true, though it made her think of what such a robbery might be connected with instead. "Aren't you worried that assaulting Gringotts with firearms will only give Riddle more cause to hurt the Muggles? There must be people at least partially convinced by the propaganda, if they weren't predisposed against Muggles already. Such an act could very well cause them to sympathise with Death Eater terrorism."
Scott tilted his head in acknowledgement. "Yes. But two things: first, this in Diagon Alley. Muggles can't go there, at all, so if anyone is robbing a wizarding bank, it's wizards."
"More or less," Hermione said wryly.
"Hey, I got a wand! And, two: they're already going after Muggles. All the 'accidents', disappearances, sudden jumps in unsolved violent crime – hardly a coincidence. Riddle has removed Ministry control and now he's unleashing his people as he sees fit. So whatever we do, it's happening anyway."
"But it could get worse."
"It's all going to get worse before it gets better," Scott said levelly.
"You always know just what to say," Hermione sighed.
"Come on, you're the realistic one. I don't think I've said anything so far you didn't already know, barring my whole plan, which is my invention. Patent pending."
Hermione carefully squeezed her eyes shut, fighting a sudden headache. "We'll discuss this again later, all right? I can't dissect it all right now."
"Yeah! I knew it was an awesome plan. Hey, Sophie, I broke Hermione's brain!" Scott
"Okay, Scott," Sophie said absently, startling Hermione. The Kharadjai woman had apparently been quietly dusting shelves during the entire conversation.
"I'm going to go eat, now," Hermione announced. She stood and offered a hand to Scott. "Are you hungry?"
She had made the gesture more out of politeness than the expectation he would need it, but Scott actually took her hand and hauled himself to his feet, forcing her to grip his arm with her other hand and lean against his weight. "Sure. Kylie took my string cheese."
"You should take a nap, too!" Sophie called after them as they left the room.
"Was she talking to you, or me?" Scott wondered as they went down the hall.
"Both of us, perhaps. She did tell me to rest my eyes, earlier," Hermione said.
"Oh, yeah? Did she tell you they would get crispy and gross?"
Hermione giggled into her hand, throwing a guilty glance back towards the door. "She did!"
"What is up with that? I don't know if her mom used to say it or what, she acts like it's just something you say and it totally isn't–"