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SIYE Time:14:40 on 17th October 2017


Vis Insita
By Caleb Nova

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Category: Alternate Universe, Post-HBP
Characters:Harry/Ginny, Hermione Granger, Luna Lovegood, Neville Longbottom, Nymphadora Tonks, Other, Remus Lupin, Ron Weasley
Genres: Action/Adventure, Drama, Humor, Romance
Warnings: Disturbing Imagery, Extreme Language, Mild Sexual Situations, Violence
Rating: R
Reviews: 77
Summary: Every body persists in its state of being at rest or of moving uniformly straight forward, except insofar as it is compelled to change its state by force impressed. The seventh year sequel to That Terrifying Momentum.
Hitcount: Story Total: 38556; Chapter Total: 1245







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32

Go to the Ant, Thou Sluggard


"Every plan created with immediate determination
increases the probability of immediate termination."

Oritorius Arthur Eamon Grant


Two Weeks Ago

"…and then we scatter," Scott said. He slapped down the piece of chalk he had been using to illustrate his plan with an emphasising clatter.

"Audacious," Hermione said into the silence that followed. She had the advantage of having heard the plan already, and therefore wasn't as stunned as the others.

"I was thinking 'insane', but I guess we could go with audacious," Ron said.

Ginny's eyes were wide. "I don't… Could that work? What if Bill can't help us?"

"Then we'll have to find another way. Really, the second half of the plan hinges on Sophie being able to open the door without making it obvious we were there. Only Bill can teach her what she needs to know," Hermione said.

"Sorry, am I the only one stuck on the part where we take over Gringotts?" Ron said incredulously.

"That's not the part you need to worry about," Lila told him.

"Or, maybe it is," Scott countered. "That's a lot of people going downstairs and just two of us to hold the lobby."

"Scott, you can't put your Primes up there!" Sophie protested.

Ron appeared slightly insulted. "I'm just saying it's mental, I didn't say I couldn't do it."

"No, she's right," Scott conceded. "That's not a job for anyone who isn't trained for it. You guys have made good progress for beginners, but we gotta control that room and we gotta do it fast."

Hermione placed a hand on Ron's wrist and leaned in closer to him. "They're going to have to be very unpleasant to do what they need to," she said quietly.

"It's a full-on close-quarters assault followed by a hostage siege. That isn't something we can leave to amateurs," Lila said with a tone of finality.

Harry, meanwhile, had been silent, face creased in thought. "Scott, you really believe we can pull this off?" he said.

Scott nodded. "It's a classic blitz-as-distraction. The core of it is simple; the tricky parts are due to our need to keep this from Riddle."

Harry's expression turned decisive. "What do we need to make this work?"

Scott turned back to the old, pitted chalkboard he had found in the attic. He wrote a number one, with 'BILL' next to it. "One: we learn everything we can from Bill. Two: we get Sophie access to another vault, one as similar to what Lestrange has as possible. So we'll have to talk to someone, probably the Order, and see who has a vault down there that Sophie can visit. Three: we're going to need to source some Polyjuice targets, one for each of you. Random people will be fine. Four: we'll need some weaponry and equipment, that'll be up to me and Lil. Five: and this is a big one – we have to know where Lestrange's vault is. If Bill can tell us or knows where we can find that information inside the bank, great. If not, we need another solution."

"Trevor's mother works at Gringotts," Lila said. "Could be a possible informant."

"Talk to her. Six: everyone needs to know the layout of the city around the bank and have designated places to regroup. So we'll need some maps."

"I have an atlas or two, they might be sufficient," Hermione said. "Also, we'll need to 'source' the ingredients for Polyjuice, or even a stock of it. If we have to make it, that will require a month's time."

"Okay, and seven: we need to source a decoy cup. I don't have any specific solutions for that, maybe you guys would know some magic that could help."

"Why don't we just Transfigure something once we're there?" Ginny suggested.

"Can we do that?" Scott asked.

Hermione rolled her eyes. "Scott, you spent most of a year at Hogwarts. Have you forgotten everything already?"

"Uh, I'm pretty sure that wasn't covered. In which case it's your fault anyway, since I was using your notes."

"My notes are very thorough," she insisted.

"Yeah, but the level of detail with which you rendered the cartoon hearts surrounding 'Mrs Hermione Weasley' didn't really help me with revision–"

"That was not in there!"

"How do you guys get anything done with those two in the room?" Lila asked Ginny whilst Scott made a grinning retort to Hermione.

"We make them stop if it's important. Or it's a good time to leave without them noticing," Ginny said.

Ron and Harry had approached the chalkboard, looking apprehensively at the listed tasks.

"Mate, I know nothing's really been the same since fifth year. And Scott showing up isn't even all of it," Ron said uneasily as he stared at the board, "but this is like something from my comics."

"I know. Remember how we just ran off to the Ministry? Seems so stupid. It was stupid," Harry said with self-recrimination. "We make plans, now. And we have to do this, we have to get that cup."

"I just think we might be in over our heads. More than usual, I mean," Ron amended.

"I don't know if we can afford to think like that anymore," Harry said quietly. "I wish as much as you do that we were just trying to catch a key with wings, but this is how it is. We make real plans and we get into real fights."

"We aren't fucking about, that's for sure," Ron said.

"Okay," Scott said loudly, regaining everyone's attention by rapping his knuckles on the chalkboard. "So we're clear on this? I mean, for now – there's still a lot of planning to do. But this is the basic outline of my plan, patent pending, patent pending," he said, pointing to Hermione and Harry in turn.

"This is also the moment to suggest any alternatives," Lila said.

The room fell silent as they all looked at each other, waiting for someone to speak. Eventually, all gazes turned to Hermione.

Her cheeks pinked slightly under the scrutiny. "Well, just all look at me, then!" she said defensively.

"Come on, like that doesn't make sense," Scott said.

She sighed. "I don't have an alternative. The best option I could think of involved using Polyjuice to disguise one of us as Bellatrix herself, and there are obvious problems with that, not limited to the fact that we have no idea where she is. She could easily find out that someone visited her vault in her stead, which would probably lead Riddle to discover his Horcrux missing. All similar possibilities have the same issue. I realise that Scott's distraction has some complications, but it's absolutely necessary if we are to enter and leave undetected."

"If Bill can offer us a different way, then we can switch to that, but until we talk to him we don't know for sure," Scott added.

"How the hell did Quirrell do it?" Harry suddenly wondered out loud.

Hermione shook her head. "I don't know, but his entry was discovered and they also knew what vault he tried to break into."

Harry nodded. "So we need to do better than him."

"We have the advantage of more people, certainly. And I doubt he had an inside source."

"I think Ginny and I will talk to Bill. We're familiar faces and it will give me a chance to trade some information with him, integrate a little better," Lila reasoned.

Ginny spoke up. "What about Harry?" she said with a concerned frown.

"I'm still working on that," Hermione said immediately.

"Yeah, Harry's, uh, thing," Scott said indelicately. "We're not forgetting about it."

Harry shrugged uncomfortably. "If we can take care of it before this, that'd be brilliant, but we should get started. That's a lot to get ready."

"We aren't at full strength yet. I know we're still hurting from the last one," Scott continued. "This is gonna take a while, though. We can't rush this. By the time we're ready, we'll be fine."

"And then we make a withdrawal," Harry said grimly.

"Oooh, I got chills when you said that," Scott said happily. "Good timing. I hope the camera zoomed in on you, all dramatic and shit."

"That was a scene break if I ever heard one," Lila said.


Now

Ginny glanced nervously over her shoulder, feeling exposed. The park was largely devoid of other people, but after so much time spent either inside Grimmauld or in too much danger to think about things, she found herself uncomfortable with waiting out in the open. She knew the Cloak she was wearing made her invisible, but she didn't feel invisible.

Sophie, meanwhile, was taking deep breaths with her eyes closed, apparently enjoying the last remnants of summer air as autumn began to sweep in. Ginny enjoyed the smells of the park as much as anyone, especially in contrast to the pervading mustiness of Grimmauld Place, but she sort of wished Sophie would keep her eyes open.

"Mmm, smells like home," Sophie said, eyes fluttering open. "On Veccia, I mean. It would probably smell like my house if we were at the sea."

"Are they late?" Ginny asked, too tense to be interested in Sophie's home life.

"Only by a little. It's probably just traffic," Sophie assured her. A gust of wind brought with it a heavy stench of exhaust, and Sophie wrinkled her nose. "Yuck. Well, it smelled like home before that."

Ginny watched the cars on the nearby streets. Most of them looked the same to her, all dark colours and shiny carapaces. Only a few stood out, and she sort of doubted that Lila would have one that was noticeable. Ever since a parked car had helped lead the way out of the Hollow, Ginny had been trying to create her own landmarks. Hence her preoccupation with the vehicles, and her frustration that so many seemed identical.

"I think that's them," Sophie said.

"Where?" Ginny asked.

"It's the black car over there, I'm pretty sure," Sophie replied, nodding to her right.

The car drove past the park without stopping, disappearing around the nearby turn.

"Or not. Oh, I bet that's them!"

The second black car pulled to a stop in the small nearby lot, and Ginny could see Lila's blonde ponytail through the side window.

Ginny mentally went over what she had already rehearsed. Knowing Lila, she had probably told Bill little, if anything, leaving Ginny free to approach her brother in her own fashion. She wanted Bill to lend his expertise, but not to know why he was doing so. Bill wasn't a moron, of course, he would know they were going to be doing something involving Gringotts; he just needed to think they wanted to get money out of Harry's vault or something else relatively innocuous. He'd probably put two and two together after Scott and Lila ended up all over the front page of the Prophet, but hopefully not before then.

Bill approached them, wearing a curious expression. He stopped in front of Sophie, assessing her. "So are you the one with the answers? Because she," he gestured over his shoulder towards Lila, "is not much for explanations."

"You must be Bill," Sophie said, extending her hand. "I'm Sophie, nice to meet you."

"Bill Weasley," he said, taking the offered appendage and pausing awkwardly whilst Sophie held it for longer than was standard. "And if Remus hadn't already taken the trip, I wouldn't be here. What's this about?"

"We need your help with something," Sophie told him.

"The Order has its hands full, at the moment, as I'd reckon you've heard," Bill said.

"She didn't say the Order, she said you, you great gangly prat," Ginny retorted.

Bill spun towards the sound of her voice. "…Ginny?" he said slowly, examining the nearby trees.

"What'd you give me for my tenth birthday?" Ginny said without preamble.

"Harpies robes, though they were a bit big," Bill answered immediately.

Ginny grinned, even though he couldn't see it. "When we were in Egypt, what did I help you do that Mum about cursed us for?"

Bill's face lit in an answering grin. "We filled every pair of the twins' shoes with sand. And then I charmed them so they kept refilling."

"And who's your favourite sister?"

"Trick question: it's Charlie," Bill sniggered.

"He never thought that was very funny," Ginny noted, throwing her invisible arms around her brother. He froze in surprise at first before awkwardly returning the hug.

"Touching," Lila said, though her tone wasn't quite as sarcastic as her comment indicated. "Let's take a walk."

"This way!" Sophie chimed, leading them down the path.

"Hang on," Ginny said to her brother. She lifted up the Cloak and indicated that he should get under it with her. "You'll have to duck down a fair bit."

Bill managed to slip underneath with her, though he was almost comically hunched over to avoid revealing his ankles. "Have there been Death Eaters about?"

"Not that we've seen, but our hair is a bit too recognisable right now," Ginny said.

It was at Hermione's suggestion that both Weasleys would be under the Cloak; although no one had spotted any obvious Death Eaters outside, she had pointed out that 12 Grimmauld Place had been left to Harry in Sirius' will, and wills were registered with the Ministry. That probably meant nothing, given the way the Fidelius was understood to work, but after some discussion it had been decided that Remus' safe arrival wasn't proof enough the location wasn't being watched. He was much more nondescript from a distance than a Weasley would be with their signature hair colour, and had been with Sophie, whose presence might have caused any observers to overlook them as a Muggle couple.

"I'll wager we're going somewhere I've been before," Bill said to Ginny as they followed Sophie.

"How much of it do you remember?" Ginny inquired.

"Bits and pieces, mostly. The overall colour of the place, the other people who were there." He shook his head wonderingly. "I have to admit, I'm damn curious as to how you lot altered a Fidelius like that."

"Don't ask me, I didn't do it," Ginny said truthfully.

"You should still pay attention, Gin. Something like that could be important, you never know what you might learn," Bill said reproachfully.

Ginny rolled her eyes. It was something she was used to hearing from Bill, who had often tried to impart some of his curse-breaking mind-set to his family. But she didn't have to take it this time, as it wasn't applicable. "It wasn't something I could pay attention to."

Bill frowned. "They wouldn't let you in on it?"

"They couldn't let me in on it. It doesn't matter, that's not why you're here," she told him.

"It doesn't matter?" he said incredulously. "Do you have any idea how unprecedented it is?"

She didn't, but, as she'd said, it was irrelevant. "Just don't waste your time asking about it, nobody can tell you anything," she said, letting him interpret that however he wished.

The walk passed without incident save for a moment when Lila stiffened and locked eyes with a man coming the opposite way down the street, someone she apparently felt was suspicious. He looked like an entirely ordinary Muggle to Ginny, though when he met Lila's eyes he didn't look away, which was perhaps slightly unusual given the warning she was projecting.

The man passed them without comment, and Lila relaxed.

"What was that about?" Ginny said quietly to her. "Is he a Death Eater?"

"No. He was a threat, but not to us," Lila told her.

When Lila failed to explain any further, Sophie leaned in closer to Ginny and whispered, "He had a gun in his pants."

"Oh. Probably not a Death Eater, then," Ginny assumed.

When they reached Number 12, Ginny handed Bill the piece of paper she had brought.

He glanced down at it. "Is there supposed to be something on this?"

"Er– yeah. Sorry," Ginny said, embarrassed. She'd forgotten that the paper was blank, as she hadn't wanted to prepare it beforehand in case it were lost. She snatched it back from Bill and quickly wrote the necessary words with the pen Sophie had loaned her.

She watched with amusement as Bill's eyes grew wide, memories rushing back in an instant. "Grimmauld Place, of course," he said. When they stepped inside, his eyebrows raised slightly. "I remember it being darker," he commented.

"I've done a little cleaning, here and there," Sophie said coyly.

Taking the hint, Bill proceeded to compliment every dust-free corner and grime-less stretch of wall on the way to the kitchen, much to Sophie's obvious delight. Ginny rolled her eyes whilst she folded the Cloak in her arms. Married or not, Bill clearly hadn't lost his way with women. At least now Ginny knew it wouldn't go any further than some friendly compliments. Bill's rotating stable of girlfriends had once been something of a standing joke at The Burrow. Ginny sort of doubted that Sophie would have been receptive, though.

Of course, Lila would have been more Bill's type. Ginny almost regretted that he had recently married. She would have liked to see him attempt some of his tried and true advances on Lila – the blonde woman's rebuffs would have probably been hilarious. Lila was not as aggressive as Scott when it came to mockery, friendly or otherwise, but could sometimes be even sharper with her words.

"And this is the kitchen, which is all rearranged. So let me know if you can't find something, I've organised everything," Sophie preened.

"Very nice. It looks much better than before," Bill said, earning himself another beaming smile.

"Don't encourage her," Lila told him.

Sophie gave her friend a reproachful glance. "It's nice to have somebody appreciate how the kitchen isn't gross anymore!"

"Yeah, but you're really eating it up, to the point that I'm starting to feel sorry for you. If you're that starved for attention, take your bra off and go talk to Scott."

Sophie immediately turned to Bill. "I apologise for her, she's not good with people."

"Don't apologise for me," Lila said curtly.

"Then don't say things in front of our guest that I have to apologise for!" Sophie retorted.

"What do you mean, I'm not 'good with people'? I'm working with the Order, that's more people than you're with," Lila challenged.

"I could work where you are!" Sophie turned away from Lila. "I am so sorry," she said to Bill.

"That's all right," Bill said, beginning to look uncomfortable.

"I hope Lil hasn't been this difficult back where you've been staying," Sophie sighed.

Bill's eyes darted to Lila. "Well–"

"You just put him on the spot," Lila stated. "Now who's not good with people?"

Sophie drew herself up to her full height, which wasn't especially impressive (Ginny could relate). "Lila, if you don't stop being so rude–"

"You'll ban me from your OCD-organised kitchen?"

"I just might!" Sophie countered.

Ginny decided that had gone on long enough. "Hey!" she said loudly, cutting into their argument. "Did you forget what we're supposed to be doing? Do you have to do this here?"

Sophie's expression immediately became contrite. "I am so–"

"Sorry, we get it," Lila finished. She grabbed Sophie's wrist and hauled the smaller woman towards the stairs. "But we are, actually. We'll take this elsewhere."

"Yes, good, go!" Ginny said exasperatedly as the two Kharadjai women left the room. "Bloody hell, I thought we were trying to work."

Bill's face creased in concern. "What happened to your forehead?" he asked, seeing her bandage for the first time as her hair had shifted from sitting down.

"Hit it on the table," she said shortly.

He clearly didn't believe her, but didn't press her further. She was glad that she'd changed the bandage again; if it had looked the way it had beforehand, Bill probably wouldn't have let it go. "I guess things aren't going that smoothly for you lot, either," he said with a wry twist to his lips.

"Still better than you, probably. I heard you were at a cottage or something with the whole family packed in there," Ginny said, shuddering at the thought.

"Some days are…" Bill trailed off. "Well, Order business isn't always unwelcome, if you catch my meaning."

There had been an awful lot of drama at Grimmauld Place recently, Ginny reflected. That was sort of the nature of their mission, sometimes, but it didn't help how many bits of personal business seemed to come to the surface at inopportune times. She didn't even know what had just happened with Lila and Sophie. Of course, she'd never seen the two of them together prior to Lila's arrival at Grimmauld, so perhaps their squabbling was entirely ordinary.

"Yeah. Anyway, you're probably wondering why you're here," Ginny said.

"It had crossed my mind."

"You can't talk to anyone about this," Ginny told him with absolute seriousness. "I mean it. Nobody in the Order. Not even Mum or Dad."

Bill was perplexed. "Not the Order? If you don't want them to know, why did you…" Sudden understanding crossed his features. "This is about what Dumbledore wanted you to do."

"Sort of," Ginny hedged, "but I mean it. You can't tell anyone why you were here, ever. I need you to promise."

Bill was looking at her as if he'd never seen her before. "You are serious," he marvelled.

"Bill, you have to promise," she repeated, unwavering.

Slowly, he nodded his agreement. "All right, Ginny. I swear, not a word."

Ginny leaned forward. "We need to know everything about Gringotts."

"Everything?" Bill said with a short laugh. "That's a lot."

She wasn't deterred. "How to get in, how to get out, spells on the vaults and inside, too. How many goblins are there in the lobby, how many downstairs, what kinds of traps are on the rails – everything."

Bill's amusement vanished. "Ginny, if you're thinking about trying to get in there, don't. The goblins don't muck about with security, and nobody knows how it all works except for them. A lot of people have died without getting away with so much as a Knut."

"You think we don't know that?" Ginny scoffed. "We have a plan, but we need your help."

Bill shook his head. "I can't even get you past the front door. I'm a wanted man, my credentials aren't any good now."

"Obviously," Ginny said, barely resisting the urge to roll her eyes. "But you still know how all the traps work, right?"

"Gin, even if you get in, you'll never get out. The second someone who isn't a Gringotts goblin or the owner does anything to one of those vaults, they'll close the place up like a fortress. What are you even trying to accomplish? If you need money, there are much easier ways–"

"All right, listen," Ginny said abruptly. "I know you're worried, but the same reason I made you promise not to tell is the same reason I don't have time for this shite." Bill's eyebrows shot up at her tone and language, but she continued, "We didn't bring you here to ask questions. We brought you to answer them."

Bill's face set stubbornly. "I'm not going to help you commit suicide by goblin, Ginny."

"Then you'll stand around whilst I do it!"

He paled slightly. "Are you serious?"

"Have you been using your arse for ears?" she asked, exasperated. "This is happening, all right? You can help us or you can refuse, but either way, it's going to happen."

She decided not to mention how, seeing as they needed his information, the others were counting on her to get him to cooperate.

He stared at her. "What are you after? What's that important?"

She placed her hands flat on the table and met his eyes with all the gravity she could muster. "I can't tell you, and you can't talk about it. At all."

She sat then and watched the short play of emotions on Bill's face: the slight anger at her attitude, the disbelief at her terms, the confusion at her demands and intent, the sadness that she wouldn't be honest with him. It hurt her, too; she just couldn't show it. She had felt close to Bill in the past, despite the years between them. They'd always got along well, he'd always encouraged her. Now she felt like she was simply using him, another tool for the war effort. She didn't like the way she looked in his eyes.

Finally, he sighed. "How can I send you there, Gin? Mum wanted me to talk to you about coming home. Did you know that? You probably guessed. How am I to tell her I let my baby sister run off on a suicide mission?"

"You can't tell her anything," Ginny said, though her tone was more sad than harsh.

"Christ, Ginny." Bill stared at her, jaw tight.

"Bill… I would really, really rather do this with your help. Really."

He made a rueful face. "Just curious: how far would I make it if I grabbed you and ran for the door?"

"The stairs, probably," Ginny hazarded, supposing that Lila was still near there.

Bill sighed. "All right," he said reluctantly. "What do you need to know?"

"Everything, like I said," Ginny told him. She unfolded a piece of parchment she'd had in her pocket. "But we'll start with this list."

Bill only had about an hour and a half before he had to leave, but he'd given Ginny a wealth of information in that time and also promised to return as soon as he could. She made him repeat his promise not to talk before he left, and it was hard to say whether he was more amused or concerned. It was a far cry from their usual interactions, to be sure.

Once Bill had left, Ginny went upstairs to talk to the others. Last she'd seen them, they had all been intently poring over the books Dumbledore's portrait had given to Hermione.

She ran into Lila and Sophie, who had apparently been waiting in the hallway in case she needed them. They must have been dreadfully bored. "Have you finished with your row?" Ginny asked, still a bit put out by how they had acted in front of Bill.

"It's okay. I've forgiven Lila for using me," Sophie said somewhat petulantly, looking away from the other woman.

"He cooperated?" Lila assumed.

"Yeah, and I think this will really help," Ginny enthused, holding up the notes she had taken.

"May I?" Sophie requested, reaching for them. With the notes in hand she wandered away up the stairs, eyes darting over the words.

"Good, she can get started," Lila said, watching her go.

"Are you still narked at her? Because she didn't look like she forgave you," Ginny said.

"No, but I wasn't actually fighting and she was." Lila noticed Ginny's puzzled expression and explained, "I pissed her off on purpose. I figured it might help if you got mad at us – I was hoping you'd tell us to cut it out or leave. That way Bill could see you as an equal to us, maybe even a superior, not just a kid tagging along with the adults. You were the one he needed to take seriously."

Ginny couldn't help but be surprised, though she knew she really shouldn't have been. "You crafty old cow!" she said without thinking about it, and then winced when she realised what she'd just called her older friend. Lila wasn't one of the girls in the dorms.

"And don't forget it, you pocket ginger," Lila said smoothly.

Ginny grinned widely, feeling an almost giddy sense of inclusion. Insults were like endearments in the army, weren't they? Scott called Harry and Ron just about every name in the book. Well, she and Lila could be mates, too.

"I should get back to the safehouse before they do something without me," Lila said brusquely, glancing down at her watch. "Go see if they've made any progress up there."

"Don't let Bill forget about coming back," Ginny requested.

"I'll be sure to remind him."

Ginny went to tell her friends that one piece of the puzzle they were assembling was ready to be put in its place.


Neville hit the flagstones hard enough to bounce slightly, feeling the breath leave his lungs. He'd landed a bit flatter on his back than he would have liked and the compression left him gasping for air. He pushed himself up onto his elbows and pressed a fistful of his robes to his bleeding nose.

The punch to the face had been unexpected; a bit stupid of him, he thought regretfully. He'd been using the hallways beneath the Astronomy Tower as a secluded spot to meet Luna for the first couple weeks since the term had started. It had been apparent from day one that Hogwarts was no longer what it had been, and the two of them needed to be discreet if they were to be together – especially if they wanted to talk about Harry and the others.

It seemed like someone had twigged on. He didn't know if the two Slytherins standing over him were the ones who had followed him, but he doubted it. They were doing someone else's work, most likely the Carrows'. Neville didn't actually know either of the boys, outside of seeing them in the halls before. They weren't a part of Draco's old cadre.

Neither of them had said much of anything, content to wait for him to try and rise so they could continue to thrash him. They weren't even Prefects. Curfew was much more strictly enforced in Hogwarts – along with everything else – but the punishments often came from unofficial sources. The two Slytherins standing over Neville were delivering a message that didn't need to be explained.

Neville clenched his aching jaw and tried to think what Harry would do in the same situation. He'd probably Disarm the Slytherins and then Stun the hell out of them. But Neville needed his wand to do that, and it had flown out of his grasp and rolled out of reach when the fist connected with his face. Bit of bad luck, but that's what he got for thinking about Luna instead of watching the corners. So Harry's way wasn't of much use. What would Scott do?

Neville thought he knew. Tired of waiting for Neville to get to his feet, the Slytherin on the right stepped forward and bent down to grab him by the collar. Neville dropped his elbows, reared back, and slammed his heel into the other boy's groin as hard as he could.

As the Slytherin collapsed with an agonised groan, Neville curled into a ball and protected his head, ready to take whatever retaliatory spell his second opponent was going to cast. Instead, he felt another thump against the floor.

Luna advanced down the hall with her wand drawn, silvery eyes assessing the Slytherin she had Stunned and the one retching whilst cupping himself. "Stupefy!" she said, putting the still conscious boy out of his extreme misery.

"Brilliant timing, Luna," Neville said thickly. He sat up and tried to mop some of the blood away from his face.

"They hurt you," she replied gravely, taking in his battered visage.

"I think I paid him back," he told her, glancing over at the Slytherin he'd hit in the stones.

Luna had an expression of disappointment. "Where are we to kiss now?" she wondered.

"We'll think of something," he told her, already working on it even as he spoke. He was highly motivated. "We can't be here tonight, though."

"Shall we write to Lila?"

He blinked, confused. "What? I mean, about what?"

Luna's eyes were wide and solemn, an emotion so unsuited to her features. "She said she would help us leave if things were bad."

Neville had been tempted to take the woman up on the offer within a week of arriving at Hogwarts. Things had become very bad, indeed. But he knew he had a responsibility. "We have to watch things for Harry. You know that."

She nodded her understanding, but her mouth turned downwards. "You're going to get hurt even worse. You're brave and strong and they'll hate you for it," she murmured sadly.

He reached out to her, uncertain how to make things better. "No, I'll be…" he swallowed, stopping himself. He couldn't promise that he'd be fine. No one could. "I'll be careful."

"If you were, you wouldn't be Neville," she said, pressing herself close to him and wrapping her arms tightly around his back.

He suppressed a wince as she squeezed his new bruises, taking more than enough pleasure from the embrace to offset the pain. "You need to be careful, too. They know you, they know we're friends with Harry. We both need to be more careful."

Neville feared far more for her than for himself. Whatever reprisals were visited on him were tempered by his family status as a wealthy pureblood from a long line of them. Traitor though he might be, he was still one of them. That common ground would only stretch so far, but he reckoned it might give him enough time to hide before they tried to kill him. Of course, should the full extent of his loyalties ever be revealed, there was no amount of prestige that could protect him.

Sometimes he wasn't sure whether it was lucky that the Death Eaters hadn't recognised him at the wedding, or if he would have preferred that they had; then he could have been out with Harry's group, doing the real work (whatever it was).

Luna looked up at him. "Would you like to meet at the greenhouse during lunch tomorrow?" she suggested.

Neville had standing permission from Professor Sprout to be in the greenhouse, which would give any excursion there at least the appearance of legitimacy. "All right, that should work. We'll talk more then."

They reluctantly separated and went their different ways. Neville cast a few cleaning charms on his face and clothing to get rid of as much of the blood as possible. He stuck to the shadows, wishing he had one of those marvellous maps that Harry had brought during their midnight raid on the school. At least the Fat Lady wouldn't have anything to say when he arrived back at the Tower; she cared for the new regime as much as the rest of them did, and had lied to the Carrows several times about students coming in late.

The next morning Neville was moving stiffly as he climbed out of bed. He hobbled his way down to breakfast, keeping his face impassive to deflect any questions. Not that there were any. School hadn't been in session for long, but everyone understood how things worked, now. And Gryffindors were becoming more likely to look like they'd taken a beating every passing day. The bravest House was suffering for its defiance, and would continue to do so.

He was on his way to Charms – always a relief, as Flitwick still ran his class the way he was accustomed and was covertly sympathetic to student resistance – when a hand shot out from an adjoining corridor and pulled him aside.

He quickly drew his wand to defend himself, only to have it slapped back down. "Cut that out!" a girl's voice rebuked him.

His assailant was a lanky blonde girl who, despite her height, looked to be a first year. "What do you want?" he said rigidly.

She sighed and pushed her hair back behind her ears, holding it up in one hand like a ponytail. "What, did you get punched in the eyes, too?" she said with a flat accent.

He frowned. "What do you know about…" The way she was holding her hair made him pause. His gaze took in her features: a generous half-moon upper lip with a thinner lower lip, straight-edged nose with a rounded tip. Her eyes were a dove grey, but surprisingly sharp and– "Lila?!" he gaped.

"Was that so hard?" she said with her usual wry delivery, though her younger tone made it sound less sardonic and more like she was badly imitating an adult.

Neville looked around the hall to ensure no one had seen them; class was about to start, so the area was quickly emptying. "What are you doing here?" he whispered, baffled by her sudden appearance.

"Take this." She dug into her school bag and withdrew a small, round red plastic case. "A little inconvenient, but it's what we have for now. Give this one to Luna." She handed him a second plastic circle, this one coloured yellow.

He looked down at them. "But, what–"

"They're mirrors. Press right here to open them, then they click closed." Lila took one of the mirrors from him, swiftly opened and shut it in demonstration, then put it in his hand with the other one. Into his empty hand, she placed a piece of paper, and closed his fist around it. "Put your wand on the mirror and say that phrase. Memorise it, and burn the paper. Got it?"

"Um, I think so," he said, tucking the mirrors away. The sounds of footsteps in the main hall were diminishing. He knew he had about two minutes to get to the classroom before he would be late. Flitwick wouldn't care, not these days, but he already had more trouble coming without getting caught out in the hall.

Lila noticed his preoccupation. "Out of time," she assessed. "Use a mirror tonight if you have somewhere safe to do it. We have questions."

With that, she darted away from him and disappeared around the nearest corner. Neville was frozen in place for a moment, still not quite sure what had just happened, but soon followed her example.

He slipped into class at the very last possible second, taking his seat when Flitwick began to speak.

During the lesson, Seamus leaned over and whispered, "Who was that blonde you were with? Did Luna chuck you?"

"Huh?" Neville was briefly at a loss for words, having difficulty thinking of Lila as anyone he could be dating. "No, I… I don't know her, actually. She was just lost." When Seamus looked sceptical, Neville added, "She's a first-year."

Seamus still didn't seem entirely convinced, possibly due to Lila's height, but Neville's attention had turned elsewhere. He made sure the piece of paper was still concealed in his pocket – if he lost it, the mirrors would be useless. He'd memorise it, and make sure to show it to Luna at the first opportunity. She was far less forgetful than he was, after all.


Every month, it was always the same.

It wasn't that Tonks hadn't tried; oh, she'd done that, well enough. Come damn close to begging, come to think of it. Never did her any good. All she wanted was to support Remus when he needed it the most, but there was some part of him – some stupid, stubborn part – that refused even the slight comfort she could offer. And why? Out of habit? Out of fear? She wasn't afraid of him. Never had been. She had thought that he finally understood, once they'd come together. But, no. The moon waxed, and he hid himself again.

The potion that he took kept him from losing his mind, she knew that. So maybe it was a bit too reckless to actually be there with him, fine, but she could sit outside the door and talk to him, couldn't she? So he could hear her, know that he wasn't alone. That she was waiting for the night to end, just as he was. Even the most rabid werewolf couldn't tear down a solid oak door. A bloody troll would have some trouble bashing through it. That was why he locked himself in there to begin with, because there was no way he could get out as a wolf, even if he'd wanted to.

None of that ever seemed to matter. She was banished, every full moon, with strict instructions not to come to him until the sun was fully risen. It wasn't as if she'd been passive about it, either, she'd got fed up and given him a good piece of her mind at least once. She'd pushed him far enough that he'd told her they couldn't see each other any more if she couldn't be trusted to stay away from him after transformation. She'd near told him to go fuck himself, but he'd wrangled a promise out of her eventually.

Thus far, she had kept it (if not gracefully). So it was she approached his remote place of refuge just past mid-September with breakfast in one hand and her wand in the other, ready to unlock the door for him. He was often so exhausted from the ordeal that he couldn't free himself until noon.

"Remus! I've got breakfast!" she called out as she entered the cabin, bumping the door closed behind her with her hip. "And some wax for your cross," she muttered more quietly, setting the food down on the table.

She knew she would immediately feel terrible for saying that once she saw him pale and exhausted in his tiny cell. But it wasn't that she didn't appreciate what an awful burden he bore; she just wished he would let her ease it, even if only in a small way.

Remus didn't reply. He was never especially talkative the morning after the full moon and usually only picked at the food she brought, but he would at least assure her that he was, relatively, all right. Frowning, she made her way to the locked door, wondering if he'd let himself out a bit early.

"Remus?" She reached up and opened the slat at the top of the door, revealing the bars behind it. She'd never asked where he'd acquired such a sturdy prison-style door.

She was relieved to see him inside and in human form. He was sitting on the edge of his old cot, ragged blankets surrounding him. He had a very odd expression on his face as he stared at the wall, unresponsive.

"Are you all right, luv?" she ventured, trying to get his attention. "Rougher night than usual?"

"…No," he said slowly.

She wasn't sure if she believed him. There were dark circles under his eyes, which was normal enough, but there was a tension in his posture that worried her. "Are you sure?" she hedged, hoping he would be honest with her.

When he met her eyes, the tumult she saw in his face stunned her. "I didn't change," he said hoarsely.

She blinked, thinking she had misheard or perhaps misunderstood. "I didn't bring you any clothes, luv. Don't you have a change or two here?"

He stood then, walking over to the barred door. "Nymphadora," he said, leaning in to look her directly in the eye, "I didn't change last night. The wolf never took me."

Her mouth worked silently for a moment. "I thought there wasn't a cure," she said dumbly.

"There isn't. My parents tried everything, took me to every self-proclaimed Healer they could find. Nothing ever works. I…" He lowered his head, gathering his thoughts. "Last night, I felt different even before it was time. But it's not always the same. I've felt better about it before, it can be easier some nights, but it never helps all that much. The moon came up and I braced myself, and… Nothing." He looked up again, and she could see the wild hope he was fighting against. "I felt nothing at all. I sat there all night. Before you came in, I'd thought I might have even dreamed it."

"What was it? What did you do, did you take something?" she urged him. If he'd discovered a cure…

"No! I haven't tried anything in years, I gave up long ago. I never eat or drink anything beforehand, you know that."

"Well, something must have happened, Remus! It doesn't just go away… Does it?"

"No one has ever been cured. My entire life I've been told that it's irreversible, and I've never seen a scrap of evidence to the contrary," Remus said. "And no one ever misses a full moon. It doesn't come and go. It's been every month, every single time, since I was a boy."

Tonks put forward the only theory she could think of. "Could the Wolfsbane have built up somehow, had some sort of side effect?"

Remus shook his head. "I don't see how. There are people who have been taking it longer and more regularly than me. It hasn't always been a– … available," he said, scratching lightly at a deep scar along his collarbone as he momentarily lapsed into memory.

Tonks knew he'd been going to say, 'affordable'. "Then what do you think it is?"

"I don't know. And I… I can't…" He lowered his head again, throat flexing in agitation. "I can't trust in a miracle. It's–"

Tonks didn't know if she even believed in miracles, but she knew that she was tired of being separated from him. "Remus, can we do this without the door?" she interrupted.

"Of course," he said, looking a bit embarrassed. He unlocked the door from his side and then had to take a step back to steady himself when she wrapped him in a fierce hug.

"Maybe we're both nutters and this is some sort of episode, maybe it won't last 'til next month," she mumbled into his shoulder, "but I'm just dead chuffed you didn't have to turn last night."

He held her tightly for long while, embracing her in the doorway to his private hell. Whether or not his reprieve was temporary, it was still more relief than he had been given in all his years of suffering. For that, Tonks was grateful.

"…I have had one thought," he said, breaking the silence. "You recall that I visited Harry?"

"Right, when you went with Lila."

"I don't have much reason to believe anything happened, but Harry did somehow manage to alter the Fidelius where he is."

Tonks frowned, pulling back slightly. "How'd he manage that?"

"I never found out, which is why I thought of it. If he's been experimenting, then perhaps he or one of his friends did something whilst I was there."

Tonks considered that, but it didn't seem quite right. "That doesn't sound like Harry, you think? He's a good bloke, I can't see him trying anything new on you without at least asking, first."

"But what if he hadn't mean to?" Remus reasoned. "It might have been someone else in the house, or something left over."

The last thing Tonks wanted to do was extinguish the unfamiliar hope in Remus' eyes; she wasn't willing to lie to him, though. "Remus… Lycanthropy has been studied for centuries. If some of the best minds in history couldn't find a spell or potion to reverse it, I just don't think a few students on the run could manage it," she finished regretfully.

His jaw tightened. "I know. I don't believe it's at all likely, either. And if Harry had a cure, I'm certain he would have told me. But it's the only thing I can think of; I haven't been around anything else unusual."

"It's worth a return visit, then," Tonks said.

She wanted to encourage him, to feed the spark she had so rarely seen. Still, she dreaded the moment when the answers never came and the disease returned. Remus was one of the strongest people she'd ever known, but he had borne more than his share of disappointments. She feared this one could be a breaking point, to have been given hope, only to have it snatched away. In a way, it might be worse than simply living with his sickness. He'd done that for most of his life, without any expectation of an alternative.

"I'll write to him and ask if I can see him again soon," Remus said.

"Well, not too soon," Tonks said gently. "I've come with a message, not just breakfast. Mad-Eye wants to see us all this afternoon. Sounds like we're up for another skirmish or some such."

"Order business comes first, of course," Remus said stoically.

She knew him too well to miss the flash of disappointment that crossed his face. "No worries, luv. We'll sort out whatever Mad-Eye's got for us quick enough. Maybe I won't cut up my mug this time, eh?"

"That would be preferable," he said with a tired smile, looking down at her. "I've grown quite fond of it."

She insisted that he at least try to eat something before they left, not wanting him to face a mission on an empty stomach. Whatever had happened the previous night, there wouldn't be time to think about it in the immediate future, it seemed. Regardless, she doubted it would ever be far from his mind.


The woman was perfect: late thirties or early forties, not too short, not too tall, average brown hair and eyes, average physique. She was perusing the cereal aisle, stopping to drop a box into her shopping trolley. Her hand suddenly flew to the back of her head and she looked backwards as if she expected someone to be there. After patting her hair several times with a slightly worried expression, she went back to the cereal.

Sophie felt a little bad for Summoning several hairs from the woman's head, but it was for a good cause. She placed the strands on a piece of tape and then folded it, tucking it into her pocket. That made three intentionally unremarkable people she had gathered hair from thus far. It was still uncertain how many of the team would be Polyjuiced for the mission, so Sophie would continue gathering until she had enough to be adaptable.

Before she left, she made sure to grab two bags of nacho chips so Scott and Ginny wouldn't wage another covert war for them. Being adaptable meant many things.

She returned to find Grimmauld Place much quieter than when she had left; the boys had ceased practising in the dining hall and had relocated elsewhere, most likely assisting Hermione. The clever girl's research had become more important than ever, extending to cover several vital avenues of inquiry. Everyone had stepped up to contribute, whether it was Harry and Ron breaking down the books into general sections for Hermione to interpret or Ginny copying and ordering important spells. Sophie herself was still in the process of developing their fledgling multi-disciplinary communication system, though much of that work had halted once the basic mirrors were complete in order to concentrate on Gringotts.

After putting her groceries away, Sophie went up to the drawing room. There, she found Scott standing in front of the mission board, deep in thought.

The mission board was a blank stretch of wall, formerly the home of the Black family tapestry. In its place were representations of all the information they had gathered thus far: pictures and maps and dozens of handwritten notes and sketches. Currently, Scott seemed to be focussed on the list of traps that Sophie had arranged under an old black and white photograph of the Gringotts rail system.

"Hey, you're back," he said, turning briefly as she approached.

"Got another one!" she said, placing the hair she had taken into a container on a nearby shelf.

"Nicely done. So, I've been thinking about your field trip." Scott pointed at the rail photo. "This 'Thief's Downfall' thing is gonna be a problem. Bill doesn't actually know how it works, only that it might be there."

"Harry said it doesn't pour on everyone, I thought… It's not something they soak you with all the time," Sophie said.

"No, but Bill said he's seen it on route to the lower, high-security vaults. It disrupts magic, somehow, and I'm guessing our Polyjuice is going to count."

"I don't know if I'll be able to tell," Sophie admitted. "On a fast rail with no experience, and probably a lot of other magic…"

"I know. It's a crapshoot." Scott frowned at the board. "We need something else."

"Like what?" Sophie ventured, hoping he already had an idea.

"Honestly? I was thinking a clear plastic tarp," Scott said with a slight shrug.

Sophie thought that might actually be a great idea. Simple, utilitarian and likely effective. "I like it!" she proclaimed.

Scott stepped closer to the board and placed his finger on a different picture, this one of a stylised dragon that Hermione had copied from a bestiary. "Dragons are way resistant to magic, apparently, so we should get you a little something, just in case. M203, maybe, or an AT4."

"I think a big dead dragon might be kind of obvious…"

"It's not a great solution," Scott acknowledged. "We need to find out how the goblins get around the dragons."

They were both distracted from their discussion when Harry barged through the door. "Nev just rang us on the mirror," he told them.

"Faster than I expected," Scott commented as he followed Harry back up to Hermione and Ron's room. Sophie was close behind, eager to see the mirrors she had helped develop being put to real use.

"No, you can only see me. Can you hear Ginny? You should be able to hear her," Hermione was saying as they came in.

"I thought I did," Neville's voice said from the mirror Hermione was holding.

"I'm here!" Ginny called into her own mirror. She was sitting against the headboard, only a few feet behind Hermione.

"Hello, Ginny," Luna's dreamy voice said.

"Luna!" Ginny exclaimed, happy to hear from her friend. "Bugger, I can't see you, either."

"It's a current limitation. Only the initial connection is visible, anyone else is audible," Hermione explained with a touch of defensiveness. "Neville can only see me."

"I only see Luna," Neville said.

Hermione frowned. "You see Luna?"

"I saw you at first, but now it's just Luna."

Hermione worried at her lower lip. "Oh, bother. Her more local connection must have overridden mine. It's not supposed to do that…"

Sophie sat next to her and put one hand on the mirror. "Maybe if we reset it then it will go back to the primary thread."

"What I want to know is why Luna's mirror took priority in the first place, I thought we'd fixed that after it was showing half of both ends. Ginny's latency is also noticeably higher; perhaps if we–"

"You guys wanna troubleshoot later?" Scott suggested acerbically. "I need to talk to Nev while I still can."

"You're right, of course," Hermione quickly agreed, though she then leaned towards Sophie and muttered, "We'll look into this after."

"I'm in the Room of Requirement," Neville said, his voice a bit soft and distant through the mirror. Sophie made a mental note to boost the gain. "I've got probably another half hour before I'll be missed in class."

"I won't be missed at all," Luna said, and it wasn't clear whether she meant from class or just in general.

"You know I'll miss you," Neville said quietly. There came a sound through the mirror that sounded a lot like a kiss, and Sophie suppressed a delighted giggle.

"Er, Nev, just so you know, we can still hear you," Harry said uncomfortably. "So don't… you know, if it's private…"

Neville cleared his throat. "Right. S-sorry. Um… What did you want to talk about?"

"How's Hogwarts, mate?" Ron wanted to know.

Neville sighed. "Not good. The Carrows are in charge of discipline and the Slytherins more or less have the run of the place. Even some of them are pretty unhappy about how things are, though. Everyone keeps their mouths shut if they know what's good for them."

"Did they replace McGonagall?" Hermione asked, looking as if she already knew the answer.

"No, I've just seen her today and she's still herself," Luna reassured her.

Hermione paused in confusion. "…What? Who would she… I meant as Headmaster, is she no longer Headmaster?"

"You must not have been getting the Prophet," Neville said grimly. "Just as well, it's a load of wank, now. They made the announcement weeks ago, Snape is in charge–"

"WHAT?!" Harry roared, making everyone in the room jump. He ignored their glares, fuming.

"Harry! My fuckin' ears, dude!" Scott protested.

"Don't you start, of all people," Ron warned him.

"I haven't seen him much, mostly just at mealtimes," Neville continued, probably not really sure what was happening on the other end.

"His greasy, cowardly traitor arse doesn't deserve to be anywhere near that chair," Harry growled. Ginny had shifted to the edge of the bed to be near him, although her visage was almost as thunderous as his.

"Probably not, though, uh, there is something I need to cover with you guys that I sort of forgot about. We'll do that later, it's not crucial," Scott said quickly in a fishily offhand fashion.

That earned him a few suspicious glances from the Primes, but there were more pressing matters at hand. "How about you lot, are you still all right?" Neville inquired.

"Wait, before we get to that," Scott said loudly, cutting off Hermione who had started to reply, "do we need to get you two out of there? Lil said she barely got to talk to you, so now's the time to let us know."

"I… I think we need to stay," Neville said stoically. "Someone has to be here, since things are getting worse."

"We can watch the school. I'm quite observant," Luna informed them.

"I know," Scott said. "But the offer will continue to stand. And if I hear something about you guys that I don't like, I might just come get you anyway."

"I expect I'd be ready to go by then," Neville laughed weakly.

"Plus, I could stop by the Tower. I bet Seamus misses me, that potato-faced mick bastard."

"I'm sure he misses all those playful beatings and racial slurs," Hermione muttered, rolling her eyes.

"Yeah, probably makes him homesick," Scott shot back.

"I'll tell him you said hello," Neville said. "But what were you saying, Hermione?"

"I was actually about to say that we need your help," Hermione said with a small sigh. "And I do regret the imposition, considering your situation."

"But we really do need a hand with something, mate, or we wouldn't ask," Ron added.

"Is it another mission?" Neville said eagerly.

"It is, but the parameters are different," Scott said. "Does your family have a high-security vault in Gringotts?"

Neville sounded confused by what appeared to be a sudden change in topic as he said, "Sure, we've had one forever. I've only been a few times, though."

"Would you be willing to add another trip to the tally?"

"Do you need to borrow money?" Neville said a bit hesitantly. "I think I can get some, but Gran would probably find out…"

"We're adequately funded for what we're doing; though, if you're offering–"

"We're not asking for any money, Neville," Hermione interjected. "We'd like you to take Sophie to your family vault, it's very important that she see it."

"But not right away," Sophie whispered to Hermione.

Hermione gave her a strange look, and moved the mirror closer to a halfway point between the two of them.

"But not right away!" Sophie said loudly.

"You wanted to go later?" Neville said.

"We're not ready yet," Harry provided, having largely recovered from his fit of anger.

"All right…" Neville said slowly. "I don't know how I'll slip away, though, unless we go over the holiday."

Scott and Hermione looked to Ginny, who said, "Bill will be back before that. How much time will Sophie need?"

"I can't know for sure," Sophie said.

Scott crossed his arms. "We have to be flexible. We'll shoot for winter break if we end up in the ballpark, but otherwise we need a different plan."

"A plan that won't make Neville a fugitive unable to access his vault," Hermione pointed out.

"Weekends, maybe. He might be able to disappear that long if Gryffindor will cover for him. Nev?"

Neville was silent for a moment, considering that. "I think I might be able to. There's no one else in the dormitory but Seamus. But if I said I was ill, Professor McGonagall might come to see if I needed Pomfrey."

"McGonagall will be on our side," Harry said.

"Tell her it's for Harry. Hell, I could have Lila contact her through the Order, say it's for them," Scott suggested.

"No, that's no good," Hermione said. "He can't very well be in public when he's supposedly sick in the dormitory."

"Then it has to be December. There's not a lot of excuses to leave," Scott said.

"Sure, all right," Neville said, sounding a bit overwhelmed. "But I have to know when, exactly…"

"We'll stay in contact. Sophie will have a mirror with her at all times, so don't be afraid to use it when you can," Hermione told him.

Before too long they were saying their goodbyes and going their separate ways: Ginny stayed in the room and continued to talk with Luna, whilst Harry, Ron and Hermione left to eat after their long study session. Sophie briefly looked in on Kylie, who was reading a book in the master bedroom, and then followed Scott to the motorcycle room.

"So…" she said, watching as he stripped his sheets for the laundry. "I hope I can learn how these doors work…"

"Yeah, me too," Scott said.

She raised her chin and straightened her stance. "I don't want to compromise the mission."

He halted with his arms full of pillows, giving her a serious look. "We're putting a lot on you. And none of us got much in the way of primer. But I can't think of any other way to do this short of involving the goblins, and what I've read indicates extreme loyalty to the bank. The Imperius Curse leaves the victim aware, Memory Charms can be broken, dead goblins can be missed. We need a distraction and self-containment."

Sophie was worried, but she didn't want him to think she was just whining. "I think I can do it, I just might need a lot of time and I don't want to… make you guys wait too much or let anyone down." She fidgeted, debating whether to speak her next thought. "If you want to bring in someone else, I understand," she said quickly, like tearing off a bandage.

"Like who?" Scott scoffed.

"Geraldine, Fhooley, Kim…" she said, listing a handful of higher-ranking veteran LSM specialists.

"All very talented individuals," Scott recognised, "though I haven't worked with Fhooley or Harmon. And they'd all be starting from scratch, so how does that help me?"

"I just thought that you might be considering bringing in an FA with more experience, so I'm telling you that I'll do my best to help them transition," Sophie said formally.

Scott dropped his dirty linens in a sloppy pile and fell back onto his unadorned bed, supporting the back of his head with his hands. "No, I already have one of the best."

She hadn't been fishing for praise, not really, but there was a part of her that wanted the validation as much as anyone else did. Warmth suffused her and she smiled, rocking forward happily on her toes. "That's so sweet of you!" she gushed.

He opened one eye to look at her askance. "So, is this like an official, Army Business conversation or am I making you feel better, because you keep switching back and forth. Or do you tell Diehl that he's being sweet when you debrief?"

"And then he ruined it," she sighed, turning to leave.

"Wait, I'm really curious now!" he called after her. "Sophie, have you ever told Diehl he's a sweetheart? Sophie!"

She returned to the training room where Bill had enchanted a few household objects with the kinds of anti-theft spells common to magical banking. Any one of them, or all of them, could be present in the Lestrange vault, and Sophie would need to understand their nature. It wouldn't be enough to simply erase whatever protections were in the way; she had to be able to recreate them.

She still had much to learn.

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