"It is the singular strength (and sometimes weakness) of the
integrationist to absorb a time and place and make it their own.
I've found home in a hundred centuries, I've slept in pits and
palaces. 'Home' often implies a house, but any long-term
integrationist will tell you the same thing as I – you need to find
the heart, not the dwelling. I never could find it on my own,
because it wasn't mine to start with.
–Excerpt from the untitled memoirs of Optio Poitr Lewllyn, Ret.
Harry stood outside of Scott's room, and tried not to panic.
It wasn't that his present situation was especially stressful. He was just waiting (again), attempting to find both patience and courage. His arrival at The Burrow, a moment which was fast approaching, that was what he dreaded. Because he knew he was in for it. There was a long list of people he had upset with his sudden departure from Privet Drive.
There were three formidable females at The Burrow, none of which would be happy about Harry's impromptu escape. Between Hermione, Ginny, and Mrs Weasley, Harry reckoned he might as well make his peace. Hopefully, Hermione would let him off with a light scolding; she knew that Scott had taken care of things and trusted the Kharadjai enough for that. Ginny would also understand what had taken place, but when it came to Scott… Well, Harry would have to work to smooth that over. And Mrs Weasley would be the worst of all, because Harry couldn't tell her the truth (about much of anything).
The Order would be angry that he had abandoned them. He didn't care too much about that, though. Their idea of a 'plan' had been completely unacceptable, and he didn't regret not going through with it. Moody might be infuriated because things hadn't gone according to his design, Harry wasn't certain; he'd never known the real Moody. Tonks would probably laugh it off, she was easygoing enough. Hagrid would be worried, but accepting. Remus would be the most distressed. Harry's former professor had taken it upon himself to try and fill in for Sirius, and took the duty of godfather to heart. Harry would have to apologise; Remus deserved that, at least. He might have understood if Harry had been able to explain.
That was the hardest part of the whole mess. Harry couldn't explain, not to anyone that didn't already know.
And that was a short list, indeed. Ginny, Ron, Hermione, Neville, Luna, and Harry himself. There would have been one more name, but Dumbledore was gone. Had fate allowed it, there would have been two. Harry wouldn't have kept anything from Sirius, even if Scott wanted him to (though he doubted the Kharadjai would have had any objections – in fact, Harry thought Scott and Sirius would probably have got along well).
That brought the guilty notion that Remus also deserved to know. Harry couldn't imagine a good time for that conversation.
The door to Scott's room flew open and the occupant in question strolled out with all the swagger and confidence of an affluent man about town. That posh air was directly at odds with his threadbare shirt, baggy jeans, and skinny teen-aged form.
"Ah, the heady vigour of youth…" Scott said enthusiastically, stretching his arms out. "I'm a teen again, hooray! Let me enjoy it for these first few minutes before I remember how much I hate it."
Harry shrugged, unmoved by Scott's complaints. "It's got to be better than ageing up. What if you had to be sixty years old for this mission?"
"Then they'd get an older Kharadjai and I wouldn't have to deal with this shit," Scott said cheerfully. "Can't be done, my clueless friend."
Harry bristled a bit at the 'clueless' part. If he was clueless, it was only because Scott was so full of shite. "Why not?"
"Because I've never been sixty before. How can I make myself an age I haven't been?"
"How do you make yourself younger? I don't sodding know!" Harry spat out.
"Wow… Relax, man."
Harry sighed. "…Sorry."
"You're all bent out of shape 'cause of everyone waiting at The Burrow, I know." Scott walked over towards the kitchen, patting Harry on the back a little too hard to be sympathetic. "Don't worry! You're only facing the unbridled wrath and disappointment of everyone in your life who cares about you."
Harry winced; he couldn't help himself. Scott had slid neatly back into teen form, and with it, being a complete arsehole. Harry's only consolation was that Scott wouldn't be walking away untouched. "Some of your Primes aren't going to be happy with you, either."
"Yes, which is why I plan on throwing you to the wolves and then hiding." Scott grabbed a banana off the table and stuffed half of it into his mouth. "Thall weh go?" he mumbled through the partially chewed mess.
Harry followed Scott out the door and through the narrow corridor. Lila was waiting by the car outside, appearing more than a little impatient. Scott had taken his time whilst reassuming his teenage form.
"It's not a good sign when you take longer to get dressed than your sister," Lila informed Scott as they approached.
"But it is a good sign when that's because you wear way more clothing than that sister, who dresses like a tramp," Scott retorted with great cheer.
Lila was wearing a pale green shirt and a pair of jeans that did flatter her form, but were not even close to being revealing. Scott was just getting in his jabs wherever he could, regardless of whether they were fitting.
Oddly enough, it seemed to be working. Lila glared daggers at Scott. "Get in the car and shut up. If I have to play 'older-sister-slash-guardian' again, then you're gonna listen to me."
Scott opened his mouth for what would have no doubt been a defiant rejoinder; Harry elbowed him in the side first. "Shut it," he muttered to the Kharadjai. "I just want to get this over with."
"'Things you don't want to hear during your first sexual encounter'," Scott quipped, but he must have taken the hint. He left Lila alone during the short car ride to The Burrow, which was a blessing. Harry didn't need Scott antagonising Lila, as well. There were enough angry people to be dealt with.
The car was only able to make it halfway up the overgrown path before a newly fallen tree blocked the way. Lila slammed the shift into park with a grumpy expression, eyeballing the dead tree as if it were a personal offence to her. "Hold on," she said shortly, opening her door.
"Give us a minute to move this thing," Scott said, following Lila out of the vehicle.
Harry was slightly offended that he hadn't been asked to help. He wasn't a Kharadjai, sure, but he wasn't a total weakling either. At the very least he might have moved some of the branches. He crossed his arms and settled in to wait. With the engine shut off, the siblings were close enough that he could easily hear their conversation.
"So is there a reason why you're especially mad at me today?" Scott asked as he grabbed the side of the trunk opposite of Lila.
"I didn't say I was mad at you." Lila heaved upwards, standing a large section of the tree on end. She knocked it back over, off the path, where it made a deep thump and shook the car a little.
"You never do. You just glare at me and expect me to read your mind," Scott said.
"I do not."
"We're not doing this. I refuse," Lila stated.
"Fine, then just tell me what's wrong."
Lila narrowed her eyes at him. "Maybe it's that time of the month. You usually love that excuse; you assign it to every little thing."
Scott shrugged. "Is it?"
"That's none of your business," Lila told him.
"It is, isn't it."
"What did I just say?"
Scott threw up his hands in exasperation. "Then what? You've discovered a lifetime worth of pent-up resentment because I'm not a sister? You're a lesbian, but you don't know how to tell me?"
Lila merely rolled her eyes. "How you come up with this stuff, I really don't know."
Scott's face took on a shrewd look. "You know what I think? I think you're mad because I'm a teen again. I think you just settled back into being my younger sister and now you're stuck resuming a role you don't understand."
"You should have been a psychologist, Scott, you're so damn smart," Lila said scathingly.
"I bet I'm right."
"Too bad you'll never know," Lila said dismissively, and went back to moving the tree.
Scott retreated back to the car, leaving Lila to handle the rest of the roadblock alone. "She must be in a bad mood," he confided to Harry. "She won't even tell me if I'm right."
"Probably because it's already making you mental," Harry said dryly.
"I am right! You'll see."
Harry only shrugged in response, far too worried about his own problems to care. He was still lacking any ideas as to what he might say to defuse the situation. All he had was the honest answer: he had refused to play along with the Order's plan to put themselves in harm's way for him. But that wasn't a response which would placate anyone.
Lila seemed calmer when she re-entered the vehicle and started it up again. She made no comment regarding Scott's suppositions, instead speaking to Harry. "It might be better if you talked to Ginny first. She's been on edge since you took off."
"I'd supposed as much," Harry sighed.
The Burrow appeared between the trees as Lila drove down the bumpy path towards the garage. She couldn't park inside of it, not even with the
loss of the old Ford Anglia. Mr Weasley had expanded his collection of Muggle odds and ends to the point that there was hardly standing room inside the small structure.
"She's probably up in her room," Lila told Harry, her eyes a bit fuzzy and distant. Harry recognised the same look as having been worn by Scott whenever he was examining the shape, that odd aspect of the universe that only the two Kharadjai seemed to experience directly. "I'll run interference as long as I can. Go upstairs and talk to her – quietly, if you can manage that."
The car jolted slightly as Lila put it into park outside of the garage. She unbuckled her seatbelt and looked backwards at Harry. "The other Primes don't need any real explanation. What will you tell everyone else?"
"Er… How about, that I called you and you came and picked me up that night? Without knowing about the whole Order thing. You didn't know. And I called you early, so you were already close when the Order showed up, and I just went to you instead," Harry said, inventing what he thought was a fairly plausible excuse.
"Keep it simple," Lila warned. "Don't dig yourself any deeper. You called me, I offered you a ride. But leave out the stuff about me meeting you at your house. There wasn't any time for that."
"She's right," Scott said, speaking up for the first time. He had been sulking after Lila's refusal to engage him. "You went out the window and called Lila later that night from a payphone. She came and got you somewhere else."
"That doesn't explain the grenade, though," Harry pointed out.
"Yeah. But unless you know of a very similar spell, there aren't any convincing explanations. Either me or Lil gave you that grenade just in case you got in trouble, because we have Muggle stuff like that, which is dangerously close to the truth – or, you have no idea. You weren't around to see it, you know nothing about it."
Harry was sceptical. "That's a bit of a stretch, isn't it?"
Scott nodded glumly. "Then you got it from one of us. Who?"
"You," Harry told him. "You're daft enough to give me something like that to play with."
That gave Scott a moment's pause. "…Not bad, Harry. I can see that working, banking on my notoriety as a loose cannon… It could have been an early birthday gift, or my idea of a starter kit for arson."
Of course, Scott would be perfectly willing to use his own status as a confirmed nutter for other ends. "Nobody would doubt it if I put it that way."
"I should hope not. I have a reputation to uphold."
Harry grimaced. "Just promise me one thing."
"If you get to know the twins better, don't give them any explosives. Or guns, or anything else of that sort," Harry pleaded.
"From what I've heard, seems like they're doing just fine without any Muggle munitions," Scott remarked.
"They are. So they don't need anything from you," Harry emphasised.
Scott sighed heavily. "Have it your way. But if the opportunity arises to arm them against the Death Eaters–"
"Then we'll talk about it," Harry quickly interjected.
Lila opened her door and motioned towards The Burrow. "All decided?"
Harry braced himself as best he could, gathering his courage. "Yeah. Let's go."
It was hard to reconcile the dread he was feeling with the familiar shape of The Burrow. He usually wanted to be there more than anything, he looked forward to it even more than Hogwarts. And part of him still did. That part was waiting for everything to blow over so he could relax again in the company of his real family. Realistically, he knew that would happen. Either he or Scott or time would smooth things over, relegating his dash from the Dursleys' into memory.
But not soon enough for his liking.
"Molly is in the kitchen," Lila was saying as they approached. "Ron and Hermione are also inside somewhere. When we go in, I'll cut right to distract Molly, Scott will keep Ron and Hermione where they are and you will go up to Ginny."
"It'd be nice if you could not tell them I'm talking with Ginny," Harry said nervously.
"That might actually be the only thing to keep them away," Scott noted.
Lila swatted at him, though he dodged. "No, Scott. Don't bring it up unless you have no choice."
"Like that's going to be easy? The first thing they'll ask is where Harry is!" Scott protested.
Lila gave him a look that could only be described as frostbitten. "You wondered why I'm mad at you? Well, guess what, now you're on the right track because when you're a teen you can't do anything! You just gripe about it! My actual brother would have just nodded and handled this crap, but instead I get a whiny little brat who sticks me with all the work!"
Harry quickly backed away from the two of them. There seemed to be a built-up grievance, and he had no intention of getting in the way.
Scott scoffed at her. "Whatever, Lil. All you did is sit around The Burrow and stuff your fat ass with cookies and fudge. So sorry you got stuck with that end of the 'work'."
There was a second where Harry was pretty sure that Lila was going to attack Scott (and, given Scott's teen form, Harry reckoned she would win, which he would sort of like to see). After standing motionless in a tense silence, she seemed to draw her professionalism around herself, and turned towards Harry.
"Come on, Harry," she said levelly. "Try to be quick."
"You're in for it later," Harry muttered as he bypassed Scott.
"You're in for it now," Scott shot back.
Lila opened the front door without knocking; apparently, she had been present often enough that she had become excluded from the protections on the house. She immediately diverted to the right, where Harry could hear Mrs Weasley moving about the kitchen.
"Hi, Molly," Lila said, growing distant. Harry went rapidly for the stairs, barely paying attention as Scott peeled off and headed for the living room. Harry hoped that Lila had been right, and Ginny was in her room. He didn't want to have to go looking for her, not with everyone else around.
Her door was shut. Harry took a deep breath, and knocked.
"What is it now, Mum?" Ginny called out, sounding exasperated. "I'm right in the middle of–" She opened the door and immediately fell silent.
"Hi, Gin," Harry said meekly. She stared back at him. "Uh… What were you in the middle of?"
She grabbed his arm, hauled him inside, shut the door, and kissed him soundly.
Then she pulled away and smacked him on the shoulder.
"Ow!" Harry yelped. It hadn't really hurt, but he thought maybe if he showed some sign of pain it would lessen her anger.
"Harry James Potter! You scared the shite out of me!" Ginny lambasted him, face flushed. "What were you thinking? Where did you go?"
"I'll explain, just keep it down," Harry shushed her, glancing nervously at the door. "I wanted to talk to you first."
That seemed to mollify her slightly. "So talk."
"Well… The Order had a really bad plan to get me out of the Dursleys' house. It was stupid and dangerous and so I… I just had Scott take me. In a car."
"In a car," she repeated, her eyes dangerously alight. "In a Muggle car with half the Death Eaters in Britain chasing after you."
Obviously, someone had told her about the Death Eaters. "They weren't chasing us. I mean, they were, but we lost them really early on." Harry decided to gloss over the petrol station incident, at least until later.
Ginny's expression was not promising. "Right. Of course you lost them. Why wouldn't you, in a Muggle car, with just Scott, leaving the Order and all your friends behind without telling them where you were going or letting them protect you in any way whilst a sodding car and whatever Scott has was plenty safe and not stupid or dangerous at all."
Harry flinched. "Come on, there were loads of Death Eaters around, you wouldn't want Ron and Hermione, or Fred and George, or Bill, going out against them…"
"Why wouldn't they? Because they shouldn't be allowed to help you? Because we're all so safe anyway?" Ginny said scathingly. "If I were there, would you have left me behind? Wait, stupid question. You'll leave me behind for just about anything!"
Harry was trying to keep his cool but she was making it impossible; he never could remain impassive around her. "I couldn't let them start a battle right in the middle of the bloody suburb!"
"Right, so you reckoned Scott would kill them somewhere else instead. Never mind that he's just one person, never mind that he's more interested in killing people than saving you–"
That sparked Harry's temper. "I don't need to be saved!"
"We all need help, Harry, especially you!"
Harry threw out his hands. "And he helped me. So what's the problem?"
"The problem," Ginny hissed through clenched teeth, "is that you had an entire bloody house full of your friends and family and you went and ran off with the least reliable bloke we know without telling any of us a bloody thing!" There was fear behind the anger in her eyes, bringing Harry up short. "I was scared, I didn't know where you were."
"I left a note…" Harry countered feebly.
Ginny turned away and flopped onto her bed, burying her face into one of her pillows. "A note that didn't tell us anything except that you were with Scott, like that was supposed to be comforting," she said, voice muffled.
Harry awkwardly fidgeted in place for a moment before seating himself next to her. It felt faintly forbidden to be anywhere near Ginny's bed, and now he was
sitting on it. He tried not to get distracted. "It was the truth, at least," he said.
Ginny rolled over, staring at her ceiling. "…He got you out in one piece," she admitted, sounding like it pained her to do so. "I guess that's a point for him."
"He can be difficult, yeah, but… He's not a bad bloke. He just wants to help, even if he doesn't always go about it, uh…" Harry was unable to find the right word.
Ginny sighed. "God, Harry. You about made me sick with worrying. I never wanted to be like my mum, either, you know. Always worrying about things, nagging to cover it up."
"I think I've made both of you worry more than you should ever have to," Harry said quietly.
"Ugh." Ginny made a noise of disgust, sitting up. "Now I've sent you on another Harry Potter Guilt Trip. This is my room, in case you forgot, and it's a no-brooding area."
"At least it's easy to get an apology when you're like this." Ginny wrapped her arms around his shoulders and kissed him again. "Like I said, no brooding in here. You'll have to find something else to do on my bed…" she murmured against his lips.
Harry was once again painfully aware that he was sitting on Ginny's bed. In her room, with the door closed. "Such as?" he said, heart pounding.
"This is a good start," she said, running her tongue across his lower lip.
They couldn't do this, not now, Harry knew, even as he kissed her hard. Lila and Mrs Weasley were in the kitchen, and Scott was doing something or the other downstairs to delay Hermione, and neither of them could keep it up forever. Harry reckoned he had minutes, at most, before someone came upstairs to see where he'd gone. He was definitely making the most of it. Too bad being caught in such a compromising position was the last thing he needed (though if it was by Mrs Weasley then he wouldn't have to worry about Voldemort or the Horcruxes anymore, because he'd be dead).
With a superhuman application of will, Harry extracted himself from their rapidly escalating snog. "We can't!" he gasped, barely preventing an almost involuntary return to Ginny's lips. "Scott and Lila are downstairs, and–"
"Scott!" Ginny's eyes flared and she pushed off of Harry's lap. She stormed towards the door. "Where is that sodding wan–"
Harry leapt forward and pulled her back with a full-body hug. "We can't all have a big row, either! Your mum doesn't know, Ginny, she doesn't know about Scott!"
Ginny seethed and struggled against his grip, but he wouldn't relent. "Fine!" she said. "Tell him to come up here, I'll talk to him in private!"
"Gin, if I go back downstairs your mum and Hermione are going to corner me and you know it."
"What am I supposed to do, then? Just let him get away with it?"
"Get away with what? With helping me? He got me out of the effing Dursleys', I'd say that's a good job all around…" Harry said defensively.
That gave Ginny a moment's pause, seeing as how she had conceded the same point shortly before. "Well…"
"I didn't want anyone to get hurt," Harry told her, though he tensed a bit when he remembered that his wish hadn't entirely come true. "It was the only way."
"Really," Ginny said shortly. "What about Scott's stupid Apparating, or whatever it is he does to get around? Why didn't he just do that?"
Harry didn't have an answer to that question, so he had to guess. "I dunno… The shape probably wasn't right, or something."
"The shape, the shape, the bloody shape," Ginny huffed, wriggling free of Harry's grasp. "That's his excuse for everything, isn't it?"
Admittedly, it sort of was. "You can always ask him." Harry's eyes widened a fraction when he realised his mistake. "Later, though. And… calmly."
Ginny flopped back down onto Harry's lap. "He won't tell me anything, you know that."
Harry thought that Scott would be much more likely to explain things to Ginny if she just asked him instead of being so confrontational. But he kept that to himself. "Then I'll tell you."
Ginny twisted her neck around to look at him. "Instead of trying to chuck me and not tell me anything at all? That's a switch."
He deserved that. "Sorry. I'm here now, aren't I?"
"Yes," Ginny said, picking herself up and reversing to straddle him. "So let's get back to snogging, shall we…"
Oh, that was marvellous idea. But even as her lips closed over his, Harry was feeling like they could be intruded upon at any second. In fact, it was a bloody miracle that nobody had walked in yet. Scott and Lila must have been working overtime downstairs.
"Lila can only delay your mum for so long," Harry said, turning his head so that Ginny's lips pressed against his cheek. "And Scott probably has his hands full with Hermione. I'm surprised no one's come up yet, to be honest."
Ginny sighed. "If you really want to stop that badly…"
He didn't. He really, really didn't. "No, but if your mum–"
"Right, I know." She stood up. "No point in waiting."
Hermione had been comfortably ensconced on the sofa with Ron (though not in an especially intimate fashion, not with Mrs Weasley about) when her thoughts were interrupted by a noise at the door. Someone had arrived at The Burrow, if the stamping feet at the entryway were any indication.
Ron perked up next to her, where he had been lightly dozing. "You think that's…?"
"It might be!" Hermione said, feeling hopeful that she might soon be seeing Harry, alive and intact. "We should…"
She trailed off when Scott waltzed into the room like he owned the place.
"Oh, hello," Scott said dully, as if they were distant acquaintances.
Hermione wasn't playing along. "Scott. Have a seat."
She intended to get some answers, but Ron was less interested in Scott's presence. "Hey, where's Harry?"
Scott slumped in one of the armchairs, putting his feet up on a small table (and getting away with it only because Mrs Weasley wasn't there to see). "He's upstairs with Ginny."
Ron flushed red. "Are you–! You'd better be joking."
Scott slowly shook his head. "Nope. Hermione, be a good Prime and prevent your significant other from interrupting Harry."
Although she chafed at Scott's deliberate needling, Hermione knew he was still correct. "Ron, it's all right. They have some things they need to sort out."
"Right," Ron snorted. "Things to sort out. Alone, in her bedroom. After Harry chucked her. And I'm just supposed to sit on my arse and ignore it?"
"Uh… Yes," Scott told him with a sarcastic undertone. "That's about right. Good summary, very succinct."
"Sod off," Ron retorted hotly. "Not like this is any of your business!"
"Not yours, either, bucko," Scott replied laconically.
Hermione knew she needed to keep Ron calm, and Scott wasn't helping in the slightest. She kept a firm grip on Ron's arm. "Ron, please. Harry and Ginny need to work this out on their own. I know you're just being protective, but that's not what Ginny needs right now. She's had enough of that from Harry."
"I… Yeah, I know," Ron muttered, subsiding. "I told Harry I wasn't angry anymore, but… that was before he went right up to her room!"
"They're just talking, Ron," Hermione assured him whilst fervently hoping that was the case.
"And maybe fucking, if they can multi-task," Scott added unhelpfully.
To Ron's credit, he didn't rise to the bait. His cheeks flushed a bit darker, but he merely responded with a terse, "Shut it."
Hermione glared at Scott. She didn't know what his problem was; from the second he'd walked in the room, he'd been nothing but mean-spirited and aloof. He was looking blankly back at her, a combative spark in his eye. At that moment, Hermione realised that she didn't care enough to batter at his defences. Whatever answers Scott held, they could wait until he was no longer in such a hostile mood.
"Let's go upstairs," Hermione said to Ron while watching Scott carefully. "I left a book up there. It's a bit stuffy in here, anyway."
Ron looked surprised, but didn't object. "Sure, if you want."
Hermione ignored Scott as she traipsed out of the room. The Kharadjai made no move to follow them. Hermione liked to think he was stunned by her sudden departure, sans interrogation, but that was a bit optimistic. Scott was difficult to read, even in his more volatile teen form.
As they passed the kitchen, Hermione saw Lila there with Mrs Weasley. They were conversing over their food preparations.
"–I understand that he needs to explain himself, dear, but I would like to hear what he has to say as well!" Mrs Weasley was saying.
"You know how kids are when they're in trouble. Harry wants to try his luck with Ron and Hermione first." Lila was speaking to Mrs Weasley and facing the doorway. Whilst Mrs Weasley was distracted with chopping vegetables, Lila shot a quick glare at Hermione, coupled with a hand gesture that clearly meant to stay out of sight.
Hermione swiftly stepped back, pulling Ron with her. If Lila was telling Mrs Weasley that Harry was with them instead of Ginny, then being seen without him would be very bad, indeed.
Mrs Weasley sighed. "I suppose he would. Thank you for looking after him, reckless though he was."
"It wasn't a problem. He can pay me back for gas money, and we'll be even," Lila said wryly.
"I wish you had been here when Arthur and the boys came back, along with the rest," Mrs Weasley said, shaking her head. "I about lost my head, it was such a fuss! They were half hoping that Harry was already here, but of course he was nowhere to be found, and the Order didn't know what to do."
"I'm not sure what help I'd have been," Lila replied.
Mrs Weasley chuckled fondly. "You're the very definition of grace under pressure, dear. I'll wager you barely blinked when Harry rang you in the middle of the night. Someday you'll have to tell me which side of your family that calm comes from – I do wish you'd smile a bit more, though." Lila must have smiled at that, because Mrs Weasley exclaimed, "There, see? Such a lovely face, I don't understand how you haven't had any admirers calling at your flat."
"I'm not at my flat. I'm over here," Lila pointed out.
"You haven't been at home much, that's true. Oh, and with the wedding all the rooms will be filled…" Mrs Weasley fretted.
"I'll take the couch," Lila offered.
"But what about your brother, dear?"
"He'll take the floor. And he won't complain about it, either."
Hermione peeked around the corner; Mrs Weasley was shaking her head. "I think you're a bit hard on him," she said.
"Only because he hasn't been around here," Lila countered.
Hermione took the opportunity presented and darted through the doorway and up the stairs whilst Mrs Weasley had her back turned. As she ascended with Ron, she heard what sounded like a large pot or pan hit the floor, followed by Lila apologising. The Kharadjai woman was neatly covering any sounds made by the creaky steps.
Lila had taken her integration at The Burrow just about as far as Scott had at Hogwarts, Hermione noted. Mrs Weasley seemed completely accustomed to Lila's presence, and had acted in an almost motherly fashion. Molly Weasley was a very caring woman, and Hermione herself had been on the receiving end of her maternal instinct on more than one occasion. It made sense that she had taken to Lila in that manner, especially as Lila didn't have much in the way of family.
That concerned Hermione. Mrs Weasley didn't know about any of Lila's underlying motivations. Hermione couldn't even be sure that the friendship was genuine on Lila's part. Scott and Lila had both come across as very calculating on numerous occasions, but at least Scott had done his manipulations from a position of (semi) honesty.
Further up the stairs, Ginny's door was still closed. When Hermione drew closer, she could hear voices inside, especially Ginny's. She didn't sound pleased, and Harry's muffled replies were defensive in tone.
"See? They're having a row, nothing more," Hermione said to Ron.
"Good. She can be shirty with someone else for a change," Ron grunted.
Hermione gave him a look of reproof that he probably didn't notice. "You brought that on yourself."
Ron didn't answer, instead turning to enter his room. Hermione knew he was having a hard time reconciling his position as Harry's best mate and his role as Ginny's older brother. She felt a bit bad reminding him of his earlier overreaction, but it really was his own fault. She just hoped that Ron would become more comfortable with the situation in time. Not that Harry was helping; his ambivalence only confused things further. Ron needed a clear signal that Harry was sticking with Ginny for good.
Hermione went to follow Ron, pausing to cast a nervous glance back down the stairs. She didn't like the idea of leaving Scott to his own devices in The Burrow, especially when he seemed to be in a difficult temper.
As she was hesitating, Ginny's door opened and Harry emerged. He stopped dead in his tracks and stared at Hermione. He had clearly not expected anyone to be outside.
Ginny squeezed past his still form and smiled at Hermione. "He's here, and he's fine," she said, indicating Harry. "Physically, anyway. Who knows where his head's at."
"Thanks, Gin," Harry sighed. He took a deep breath and squared his shoulders. "All right. Have at it," he said to Hermione.
Hermione frowned. "You want me to shout at you?"
"Of course I don't, but I knew when I came over that you were going to be angry."
"Yes, because I have a reputation for being unintelligent," Hermione responded sarcastically. "You really believe I didn't know where you'd gone? I knew you weren't coming back when you ran up the stairs, Harry. You can be very predictable."
"I…" Harry looked dumbfounded. "You knew? And you didn't say anything?"
Clearly, Harry hadn't thought it through. "Not with everyone else there. I knew that Scott had to be around, and that's not something we talk about with the Order," Hermione explained.
"Yeah. Sorry for, er… assuming. I should have known you'd suss me out quick enough," Harry said sheepishly.
"I can't say I was happy about it," Hermione was quick to point out. "But I understand."
"I guess I do, too," Ron said, coming up behind her. He was looking back and forth between Harry and Ginny; Harry was avoiding his gaze, and Ginny was staring back defiantly. "Well, come on, then," Ron said after a moment. "You've got to tell us what happened, mate."
Harry appeared to be immensely relieved. "Sure, of course."
Hermione followed them into their room, glad that Ron hadn't decided to cause a scene. He sometimes managed to surprise her in the best of ways. He would work things out with Harry soon enough. Whether he would be on better terms with Ginny in the near future remained to be seen.
As she seated herself at the foot of Ron's bed, Hermione made a mental note to check on Scott after Harry was done relating the details of his flight from the Dursleys'. She didn't want the Kharadjai causing any trouble whilst everyone else was occupied.
Scott was bored.
Hermione had left, depriving him of the opportunity to snipe at her. Lila was busy in the kitchen with Mrs Weasley, and even in his teen form Scott knew better than to interrupt. That wouldn't end well for him.
His major Primes were all safe and working out their own problems upstairs. Neville was virtually untouchable in his fortress of a house. Luna was still a concern, but she had sufficient magical protections around her home to be relatively safe. At the very least, there were enough wards at the Lovegood residence to give Scott time to show up if something should happen.
He would have liked to go check on her, regardless. Staking out Luna's house would give him something to do until the wedding. And if the Death Eater he'd seen before came back around, that would also be a welcome diversion. Before, he'd let the man go on the basis of not drawing further attention to Luna. Once Luna was back at Hogwarts (or staying at The Burrow, a thought that sent him on a mental tangent, trying to piece together how that might work) he'd be free to make an example. Perhaps he might send the Death Eater's head to Riddle in the mail?
He made a face, unhappy with that idea. Too cliché.
It didn't matter. He was stuck at The Burrow in his teen form. Lila had volunteered to assist in the preparations for the upcoming festivities, which meant Scott wouldn't be going back to the flat any time soon, either. Not unless he ran back by himself with an appropriate excuse.
What the hell was he going to do?
He glanced over at the empty chessboard near the fireplace, silently willing someone to come along and sit down in one of the chairs. Chess had never been his game, but it would be a diversion. Nobody showed up, of course. He couldn't will someone into appearing. He was being silly.
Silly. Teen form. Damn it.
He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Over the course of the day he'd pissed off Harry, Lila, Hermione and Ron, and if he didn't get a hold of himself the list would only continue to grow. He needed a priority.
Surely there was something that required his attention.
But as he sat in his chair and scanned the empty living room, not a single thing came to mind. There wasn't even any classwork to revise. He couldn't leave the house to harass the Death Eaters or snoop around for Horcrux clues. Everyone inthe house was either angry with him or had no cause for interaction.
He stood up decisively, hoping that the act would provide inspiration. Stretching his arms, he strode over to one of the windows, which offered no insight into anything other than the woods surrounding the property. It was over that way where he had given Harry and Ron an impromptu lesson in handguns the year before; he wondered if he could still find the brass.
Also somewhere in those woods was the invisible line of the magical protections. Perhaps he should use the opportunity to examine them further? He might learn something useful… Or he might break something he shouldn't have been messing with in the first place. The vast majority of magic remained unfathomable to him, and there was no reason to think the property wards would be any different.
He angrily paced away from the window. If a swarm of Death Eaters attacked The Burrow, he knew what to do. But he was simply not equipped to wait as a teen. What year was it? '97? He could buy some video games, he supposed. The first-generation 3D games were rudimentary at best, but that didn't mean they weren't fun.
That was just one of his hobbies (he had many). For most of them, he'd need Muggle money. And since his sister was holding the purse strings, and was currently quite pissed off, he wasn't going to get it through official channels; a method which was frowned upon and at least slightly illegal, but he'd slipped in plenty of 'personal expenses' before. Primares were kept on a very loose leash, and it was understood that their small appropriations requests didn't endure much scrutiny. He could go out to eat pretty much anywhere on the company dime so long as he took Primes with him. 'Integration' covered a wide array of activities (and sins).
Now he was paying the price for going deep
cover as a teen and leaving Lila in charge of appropriations. And the price was steep, indeed. He'd figure it out later, though. The mission came first; he just needed to recognise which portion of the mission he should attend to.
He headed for the back door. At the very least, he could patrol the boundaries of the Weasley property and pretend like he was doing something important.
Outside, the air was warm, stirred by intermittent breezes and filled with the gentle rustling of leaves and grass. The sun was just starting to set, still high in the sky but dipping towards the western horizon. On a whim, Scott marched off in that direction. It seemed like as good a place as any to start.
The boundaries of the Weasley property ran uniformly through woodland, and it was not a symmetrical border. Although the magical barriers never bent smoothly (Scott wasn't sure why, save for the uninformed guess that curved geometry was impossible, or at least difficult), they still angled outwards and inwards at various intervals. As he walked along the edge of the invisible line, he swerved often to avoid trees and the changing extent.
The land owned by the Weasleys was not perfectly rectangular. Scott wondered if the wards followed the exact contours of the plot, or if there were geological constraints to barrier creation that he was not aware of. Despite a year at Hogwarts, when it came to magic it generally seemed he was aware of very little.
A tall, hollowed-out stump caught his attention near the northwest corner. The remains of what had once been a large tree rested at the bottom of a slight hill, hiding it from view. Scott smiled when he peered inside. A variety of Muggle beer tins and Firewhiskey bottles had been tossed inside of it, jumbled together with the old leaves. Whose spot was it? Bill's? Charlie's? The twins'? Most likely all of the above. Ron would no doubt be added to the list soon enough, if he hadn't already. A few yards away, a slightly worn section of bark and a defoliated patch of dirt marked what was clearly the pissing tree. Scott made his way over, unzipped, and added his part to the legacy.
Farther south, Scott was struck again by how green everything was. The last time of any length he had spent in woodland had been on Silva Greater, now that he thought about it. That had been in a hilly region where the soil was thick with dark clay. Everything else had followed suit, colour-wise. He had been in the English woods before, of course. It had just been a while.
"Crap," Scott said absently as a stick poked him sharply in the leg, reminding him to watch where he was going.
He tried to focus, but when the next few hundred feet of ground failed to yield anything more interesting than sticks and leaves, he knew it was a lost cause. He couldn't spend the remainder of his time at The Burrow wandering around the edges of the property. Now and then, fine, patrolling was good for safety. But he would have to find other things to occupy the rest of his time.
He turned and went back toward the house, dragging his feet a little. Even if his sister or some of his Primes wanted to fight, he was no longer feeling up to it. Maybe he'd crash on the couch and sleep away the afternoon. The closer he was to The Burrow, the more appealing that seemed.
His rendezvous with some couch cushions was immediately delayed when he set foot on the front walk. It seemed he could leave The Burrow without assistance, but entering was another matter. The door refused to budge when he tried to turn the handle.
He loosed a long sigh of defeat, raising his hand to knock. Lila was going to love this.
Then he paused, stopping his hand just before touching the door. Something wasn't right. No… not necessarily wrong, but something was different. Something was new. Someone was new?
He glanced back towards the garage. Lila's car was still the only one parked there, and there weren't any new tire tracks. Wizarding visitors, obviously. Or maybe visitor. The shape was not being especially helpful.
He could help himself if he could just get back inside. Frustrated with the magic that confounded him yet again, he banged on the door a bit harder than necessary.
It took a long moment, but it was Lila who eventually answered. "There you are," she said, looking down at him. With the aid of the doorstep, she was almost half a foot higher up than him and clearly enjoying the vista.
"Who's here?" Scott asked, brushing past her.
"The Minister. He showed up a few minutes ago and cornered all the Primes in the living room."
That was not what Scott had expected to hear. "The Minister?"
"Yeah, I know."
Lila might have said more, but Mrs Weasley hurried into view from the kitchen, throwing worried looks towards the living room. "Scott, there you are! Minister Scrimgeour was asking after you, dear. Where were you?"
"I went out for a walk," Scott explained.
"I'm not sure that's the best idea these days, it's not safe to go out alone," Mrs Weasley said chidingly. She gave Lila a meaningful look.
"Yes, that was not a good idea at all," Lila said severely, taking the cue and jumping right into her rarely exercised parenting façade. "Don't go out without telling someone first."
Scott clenched his jaw hard and nodded in response, not trusting himself to speak. Letting Lila boss him around went against every familial fibre in his body.
"I mean it. And don't think you can just not say anything so later you can claim you never agreed, buster," Lila warned.
She was really pushing her luck. "I get it," Scott said shortly.
"Then go talk to the Minister, we're keeping him waiting."
Scott went to the living room, wondering why his presence had been requested. Harry, sure, of course Scrimgeour would want to see him. But Scott had only met the man once, at Dumbledore's funeral, and it hadn't been a very polite encounter. If the topic had come up prior to the Minister's arrival, Scott would have doubted that Scrimgeour even remembered him.
Inside the room, Harry, Hermione and Ron were squished together on the sofa. Scrimgeour had commandeered the chair that Scott had been sitting in earlier. Ginny was sitting on the arm of the couch, next to Harry. Harry's arm was wrapped firmly around her waist in a supportive gesture. Scott smiled as he slipped to the side and came up behind the Minister. Harry was often confused when it came to Ginny, but every now and then he was surprisingly intuitive about staying in her good graces.
Scott swiftly stepped into view and leaned back against the fireplace, crossing his arms. The gazes of his friends would alert Scrimgeour to the fact that there was someone behind him, and Scott wanted it to look like he'd been there for awhile.
Sure enough, Harry's startled look brought Scrimgeour's head swivelling about.
"You wanted to see me?" Scott drawled nonchalantly.
The Minister was tall and rangy, with hair that reminded Scott of a large cat. He had the sort of hard, line-etched face that came from a lifetime of scowling. No doubt his Ministry ran on threats as well as incentives. Scrimgeour might have been an intimidating man if Scott were the sort to be intimidated. The Minister for Magic was clearly a forceful character, and possibly someone to be reckoned with.
The Minister's eyes were an interesting colour, and very focussed. Scott met them coolly, affecting a pose of indifference. "Scott Kharan?" Scrimgeour said roughly, seeming like he wasn't expecting an answer. "I believe we've met before."
So Scott had been remembered. Should he reciprocate? …No. It was more fun not to. "Have we?" Scott asked, frowning.
"Yes. At Headmaster Dumbledore's funeral. You were especially adamant about saving a row of seats." Scrimgeour's eyes were hard and unfriendly.
Scott shrugged. "I don't recall."
Scrimgeour clearly did not believe him. "Really. Then perhaps you'll recall which possessions Dumbledore would have been most likely to leave to you?"
"It's Dumbledore's will," Harry interrupted, leaning to the side to look around the Minister. "He… He left us things."
Scott had been so caught up in baiting Scrimgeour that he hadn't taken a closer look at his Primes. All of them looked stricken in various degrees; Hermione had obviously been tearful not long before Scott's entrance, and was leaning hard against Ron's shoulder. Scott was immediately suffused with curiosity as to what they had each received, but it could wait. If he was understanding the slant of the conversation correctly, he had been left something as well?
"Dumbledore accorded something to me?" Scott asked, letting his surprise show.
"He did." Scrimgeour reached down near his feet and picked up what appeared to be a steel cube, a little over one square foot in volume. It must not have been heavy, since he lifted it with ease.
Scott left his spot by the fireplace and crossed over to the couch, peering at the cube with fascination.
Scrimgeour held it out slightly, but made no move to give it to Scott. "Do you know what this is?"
"It's a cube," Scott said blandly, still studying it.
Scrimgeour's eyes narrowed. "More specifically?"
"It's a symmetrical object. It has six square facets. You could also call it a regular hexahedron."
"I'm not amused by your games anymore than I am by Mr Potter's," Scrimgeour said coldly. "This is a magical strongbox. It is heavily enchanted in such a way that it requires a password."
"Then it must be a long password. Dumbledore's funeral was awhile ago; obviously you haven't had much luck at brute forcing it," Scott said dryly.
Harry said with hint of maliciousness. "Not with any of our gifts."
Scott raised his hands helplessly. "Cryptography isn't my area of expertise…"
Scrimgeour's fury was plainly apparent. "This came with the strongbox. What does it mean to you?"
Scott took the envelope. Inside was a short piece of paper with only two, neatly printed words:
Scott lowered the paper and raised an eyebrow at Scrimgeour. "Did you try 'sock drawer'?" When the Minister merely glared in response, Scott added in a more hostile tone, "I'm assuming you already ransacked a dead man's sock drawer. Find anything incriminating? Did he not wash his socks regularly?"
"We did what we deemed necessary to prevent powerful magical objects from entering the wrong hands," Scrimgeour bit out. "It doesn't surprise me that you don't understand that, if you've been spending time in Potter's company. There are a great many things he doesn't understand."
Harry immediately leaned forward to retort, but Scott beat him to it. "Looks like you've had some rousing success, for sure. You kept that cube from me for a whole – what? A month and change?"
Scrimgeour was incensed. "You need to switch your tone, boy, and learn a little respect–"
"Is it a dangerous cube? Are the edges sharp?" Scott interrupted, getting more than a bit angry himself.
The Minister stood up to his full height – which was considerable, as it turned out – glaring down at Scott. "If Dumbledore thought it appropriate to leave Gryffindor's sword to a gaggle of resentful children then we can only imagine what he believed should be hidden within such a strongbox! Your lack of cooperation, your incessant opposition to government efforts–"
Scott cut him off again. "And you try so hard, it's good to see those tax dollars at work, but are you talking to me, or Harry?"
"I am speaking to all of you. Mr Potter is merely the most stubborn and ignorant, though it appears that you are the latest of Dumbledore's excesses to be left to me!"
"But you deal with them so gracefully."
"Let it alone, Scott. If he can't control us then we have no use," Harry said, sounding sick of the entire argument.
"There's a line between control and guidance, unable though you are to see it," the Minister retorted. He turned a ferocious glare on Scott. "As for you, boy, your impudence will earn you nothing but additional troubles."
"Yeah, fuck you, too!" Scott exploded, stepping forward. "My name is Scott and if you call me 'boy' one more time I'm gonna cram that cube right up your–"
Scrimgeour's eyes blazed. "You arrogant, disrespectful–"
"–square peg, round hole, old man, let's solve that problem–"
The Minister was interrupted yet again, this time by Lila's loud shout. All heads turned towards the door, where Lila was standing with her hands on her hips. Scott knew that was never a good pose to see. Regardless, for the first time that day, he was grateful for her interference. He was dangerously close to doing something stupid.
"If you can't discuss this calmly, then don't discuss it at all, and, yes, I'm talking to you, too, Minister," Lila said sharply. Mrs Weasley hovered behind her, looking shocked. "Now if you aren't going to be civil, I'm afraid I'll have to ask you to leave."
"I acted only as I was treated," Scrimgeour nearly snarled, moving forward to dwarf Lila with his height. "I suggest you discipline your brother before someone else is forced to do it for you."
It didn't seem possible, but Lila's expression somehow became even frostier. "I'll keep that in mind. Or not. Let me show you the door."
Scrimgeour turned his glare on Harry one last time. "Our business is not concluded, Mr Potter."
"It never is," Harry said with disgust.
The Minister turned on his heel and brushed past Mrs Weasley with a terse, "Madame." He didn't acknowledge Lila.
The second the door shut behind him, Harry sank back into the couch with a sigh. Ginny turned to comfort him with a strained expression and Ron was clearly overwhelmed by what had happened, staring at the small silver device in his hand. Hermione, though, was the most conflicted. Considering she had simultaneously received a gift she didn't understand from a dead man and watched her friends argue with the Minister for Magic, that wasn't surprising.
Scott figured he'd better say something to Mrs Weasley. But Lila (who had been very on top of things at The Burrow, it seemed) was already doing damage control.
"I'm sorry about that, Molly. I knew it wasn't going to be pleasant, but I guess things got out of hand," Lila was saying.
"I just wish all this nonsense hadn't been necessary in the first place," the older woman sighed. "We're supposed to be on the same side, after all."
"The Minister doesn't seem to understand that," Lila told her, smoothly shifting the blame towards Scrimgeour. "Come on, let's have a spot of tea. No point in worrying about what we can't change."
And just like that, the potential crisis was averted and Scott was left alone with his Primes again. He was slightly irritated that his interference hadn't been required. "Well. That's taken care of," he blandly remarked.
Hermione looked at him angrily. "Where on earth were you? Of all the times to disappear!"
"Hey, cut me some slack. I showed up at a very opportune moment," Scott said defensively.
"You should have been here to begin with," Hermione said, but her tearful visage and hoarse voice robbed her reprimand of any bite. Instead, Scott felt like she had just wanted everyone present for moral support. He couldn't blame her. Dumbledore's death was still a raw wound.
"Do you know how to open that box?" Harry asked, nodding at the metal cube.
"Of course. Do you know how to do whatever it is you have to do with your… whatever it was you got?"
"He left me the first Snitch I caught," Harry murmured, looking down at the small golden orb. "And yeah, I think I know what to do."
"Wish I did," Ron grunted. "Well, I suppose I do know what it does… I just don't know what to do with it."
Harry glanced at his friend. "Use it to put out lights. We might need that to sneak around, when called for."
Ron smiled a little. "Could have used this a few times over the years, eh? Before you got the Cloak, anyway."
"Well, we're a bit big for the Cloak, now. We won't outgrow that."
"Ginny, do you know what to do with your gift?" Hermione asked, leaning forward to see the other girl.
"No," Ginny responded quietly.
Scott did a double take. He hadn't even realised that Ginny had received a gift. In her hands was a blank box, like a smaller version of Scott's own cube, though hers appeared to be made of wood.
Ginny noticed his reaction. "What? I can't get something too?" she said defensively.
"You really need to work on those exclusion issues," Scott told her. "I didn't say anything like that."
Ginny flushed. "You… Fine! There's a note carved on the top. You're so smart, you work it out."
She passed the box over to Scott, who examined the top section. There, in neatly carven letters, was printed:
something that was supposed to happen
"Huh." Scott was drawing a blank.
Despite her words, Ginny had looked somewhat hopeful. "Nothing?"
"Hmmm… No. Not yet, anyway. Pass it around, let everyone think it over."
But no one else had anything to add to the discussion. Given the events of the afternoon, Scott felt that they were all most likely drained anyway. Between revisited grief and the hostility brought by the Minister, it had been quite the day for his Primes.
"Let's sleep on it," Scott suggested. "I don't think we want to deal with this shit right now."
"Agreed," Hermione said tiredly, not even commenting on Scott's language.
Harry wasn't quite ready to let it go. "Why did he pick today? He could have shown up as late as he wanted, or not at all. We didn't know anything about Dumbledore's will."
"He had to show up at some point, Harry. It's illegal to withhold items from a will," Hermione said.
"They dragged their feet for awhile and then came to us when they couldn't figure it out." Scott picked up his cube and spun it in his hands. "The Minister thought we might solve the puzzle for him."
"It can't be that puzzling if you already know how to open it," Ron commented.
"Why? Because I'm stupid?"
"Yeah, more or less."
"Fair enough. But in this case Dumbledore made sure only I would understand the clue."
"Then what does it mean?" Harry wanted to know.
Scott was about to answer when Lila came back into the room. "Your mom wants to talk to you. Keep it simple," she said to Ron and Ginny. "And this goes for everyone: I suggest you shelve your boxes and whatnot and get ready to work on wedding junk. I bought you as much time as you're going to get."
"When are we eating?" Scott immediately asked.
Lila crossed her arms. "If you pester us, never. Either be patient or go forage in the woods."
"I think you're taking this 'parenting' thing a little too close to heart," Scott mused.
"Someone has to raise you right. Now go put your cube away and get busy, there's a lot to do."
Scott carried his cube upstairs, deciding to leave it in Harry and Ron's room. He knew how to open it and wasn't feeling any real sense of urgency to do it – instead, it was Ginny's gift that dominated his thoughts. He had the inescapable notion that he had heard the phrase written
on it before.
No doubt it would come to him in time. He only wished he knew how much time he had.