Pounds Per Square Inch
"Believing their deaths to be certain –
a belief not without reason, given the
staggering casualties the Imperium
suffered on Serenus – jump infantry
shaved their hair into the shape of
a three-pronged trident. This display
proclaimed their allegiance to Deorsan,
the ancient Kerdjai god of death and
entropy, gatekeeper of the unlife and
lord of the Blank Sea. With his trident
he judged the recently deceased,
piercing them through the heart,
throat and head, and thus weighing
their spirit, words and thoughts.
Even in the age of the Middle Imperium,
few truly believed in the old gods. But
this revival of pagan symbolism created
a battle tradition among jump infantry
which survives to this day.
–Angelica Petrakis, Four Pillars
Neville had been expecting a knock on the door at some point, but that didn't stop him from rushing to answer it. He could see familiar blonde hair through the glass at the sides, a sight which made him relax slightly. Help was here.
He opened the door and Lila immediately stepped inside, brushing past him. She pulled her sleeve back, looking down at a watch.
"Pack everything you need," she told him. "I don't think you're coming back."
Neville nodded. "We're already packed. We reckoned, since… I mean, they'll know where we are."
"Not for long." She looked out the window. "Grab everything you can't leave."
Neville hurried back upstairs. Luna was bent over one of her bags, shoving a last few items into it. She looked up when he came in. "Is it time to leave?" she asked.
"Yeah, Lila's here," he told her. He'd already gathered up everything he could think of that might be useful, which wasn't a whole lot. "She says we aren't coming back."
Luna thoughtfully considered that. "That's all right," she decided. "I've had enough of being left out. Haven't you?"
"Plenty," he agreed. He knew Harry had wanted them to watch after Hogwarts as best they could, but Neville wasn't going to go back if Luna had become an open target. As far as he was concerned, if she was targeted, so was he. And they wouldn't be any good to Harry captured or dead.
Neville didn't allow himself to look around the house much as he went down the stairs with Luna. He didn't feel like getting sentimental, or wondering if he'd ever see the old place again. He'd told Gran to hide anything valuable and go abroad, stay away from England, but she wouldn't hear of it. He thought she'd probably be okay, being an extremely wealthy pure-blood with a lot of connections. Still. He'd rather she tried a bit more to keep herself safe, though he knew it would be a losing battle. His grandmother did as she pleased.
Lila met them just outside the door. Snow lay heavy on the ground and the sun shone feebly through a thick cover of clouds. It struck Neville, as he took in the frosty scenery, that it was almost Christmas, and how little that meant now.
"Luna, you know the village?" Lila asked her as they crunched through the snow towards the property line. Neville could Disapparate within the wards, but seeing as he didn't know where to go that didn't do much good.
Luna nodded. "There's a spot Daddy and I went to sometimes, near the shops."
"You take Neville there and I'll follow you. We'll leave your stuff at my apartment and then go from there." Lila checked her watch again.
They were at the end of the long walkway to the house, in the section of the wards that allowed Apparition. Neville took Luna's hand and tried to secure his bag to himself better. Luna held out her wand, and together they twisted through the nether and arrived with a sudden jolt, sinking ankle-deep in snow.
They were in an alleyway behind a squat stone building. Neville could hear Muggle sounds coming from overhead and around the nearby corner, past the rubbish bins against an old, pitted brick wall.
He turned when he heard the ice compacting behind him, just in time to see Lila walking purposefully past him. She peered around the corner of the alleyway, and then beckoned them forward.
"Act casual," she instructed, slinging her rucksack onto her back and striding out into the street.
Neville did his best to emulate, trying to look like he belonged walking amidst all the Muggle vehicles and the occasional pedestrian. Steam billowed from pipes atop roofs as signs glowed behind glass windows and cars churned through the slush, stopping and going in no pattern that Neville could discern. He nearly stepped out into the street before Lila grabbed the shoulder of his coat firmly and held him in place. They didn't cross until one of the lights changed. There was obviously a system in place, one that allowed the cars to move with the people, taking turns. He thought he almost had it worked out when Lila took a sharp turn into another back alley. This one was wider and full of stationary cars, and she led them up a set of stairs.
The doors in the cramped hallway all looked the same, save for the numbers. Lila opened one and brought them into a small, tastefully decorated flat which had the unnaturally neat quality of a place not really lived in, somewhere that had been cleaned and furnished and then left alone.
Lila surveyed it wryly. "Looks like a model home, doesn't it?" she said, and though Neville wasn't sure what a 'model home' was, by context he assumed she was echoing his thoughts. "Drop your junk wherever. You guys hungry?"
Neville honestly didn't think he could eat a thing. His chest was tight and his stomach uneasy, afraid of what they might find at Luna's house. "No, thank you," he said.
Luna simply sat on the couch and observed the clock on the wall, her gaze rarely leaving it.
It wasn't that long until dark, really, but the handful of hours left as the sun dipped towards the horizon felt like years. There was a Muggle telly and some other forms of amusement which Lila offered them. Neville might have found them engaging in different circumstances. Instead, they mostly sat on the couch and watched the shadows slide across the bare white walls as the Muggle news flickered on the screen. No one was paying much attention to it, not even Lila, who seemed more concerned with keeping an eye on the street.
Finally, the last orange and purple notes of evening dimmed until there was only the faintest hint of light along the horizon, hiding the lowest stars. Lila looked out the window and judged it to be dark enough for their purposes.
Neville and Luna followed her out the door and back into the cold. The streets were long stretches of darkness dotted by the pools of streetlamps. It was snowing lightly, flakes catching in the beams from the lamps, briefly illuminating in front of windows. Ahead was the real dark, past the edge of the town where there were no more lights. The moon was utterly absent above the heavy clouds.
There was a smaller road that ran out of the town and over the river, in the direction that Neville knew the Weasleys' house was. They walked all the way to the edge of the woods without a single car passing by. Neville glanced to his right, knowing that somewhere over there in the blackness was where he and the others had stopped at the end of their hurried escape from the wedding. It seemed so long ago, though he knew it wasn't.
It was so dark in the trees that Neville's only point of reference became Lila's golden hair, occasionally swinging into sight ahead of him. After the fourth time nearly walking into something, he said, "Can't we have Luna take us closer?"
"I don't want the noise," Lila said. "It's not too far."
Which was easy for her to say, given how effortlessly she was striding through the snow. Neville kept his mouth shut, though, and slogged onward. Luna was the shortest of the three of them and struggled the most. He took her hand and leaned forward to pull her out of the deepest drifts.
They reached the edge of the tree line. Before them, the ground rose up in a gradual hill. There was a fence partially buried in the drifts, and behind it were a wide variety of plants, all weighed down with snow. The craggy, rook-shaped outline of Luna's house was almost indiscernible against the blackness overhead.
Lila pulled a knit hat out of a pocket and tucked her hair up under it. Then she crouched next to a tree, perfectly still, for a few long, silent minutes. Neville wanted to ask what she was doing but reckoned he probably should stay quiet. When Lila moved again, she pulled a handgun out of her coat, its barrel a long, heavy cylinder.
"Stay here and keep low," she told them. "Wands out."
Then she vanished into the night. Neville huddled down in the snow with Luna, wand clenched tightly against his midsection where he had his hand tucked into his coat. The soft crunch of Lila's footsteps faded into the dull ambience of the falling snow. It had begun falling harder, and the world had a muffled quality that made Neville nervous. He'd much prefer his senses to be unimpeded, but he couldn't hear much and could barely see a thing.
"Are you cold?" he whispered to Luna, trying to hunch over her and shield her a bit from the wind.
"I'm all right, Neville," she said, though she did press closer to him.
His jaw set stubbornly. He wasn't going to believe that, not as they were looking at her house without a single sign of life in it. "You're not all right," he said stiffly, trying to keep his voice down. "Nothing about this is all right."
He couldn't see her expression, but heard her breath hitch. "…What am I to say?" she sighed.
He felt even worse, then. There wasn't any point in badgering her into some sort of confession. "Sorry. I'm… sorry." He pressed his lips against the top of her head by way of apology, since he couldn't see her well enough for a proper kiss.
One small, cold hand snaked its way up through the collar of his coat to rest on the back of his neck. "We're all right," she said, contradicting his statement. "That's one thing."
Bloody hell, he wished he could see her. He didn't dare light his wand. "Y- yeah," he muttered, holding her close, "that's one thing."
He wasn't sure how long they stayed like that. There was a soft rustle somewhere to his left. He reckoned it was probably Lila, but raised his wand in that direction anyway, straining to make anything out.
"It's Lila. Hold your fire, I'm approaching from your left." Lila's voice came floating out of the dark, somewhere behind what Neville thought was a bush. She must have done a full circle around the edge of the Lovegood property.
"Is anyone there?" Luna asked her.
"There's at least one sentry inside," Lila told her.
Neville felt Luna's shoulders slump. Her father was gone.
"Do either of you know how to do that spell that makes you hard to see?" Lila questioned them. "No? Okay, you're going to follow me. You only move when I do and you stop right away when I say so. Got it?"
Again, they set off into the snow, Luna's house an indistinct blot somewhere in front of them. They moved through the garden, slithering between bushes and crouching beneath trees. At one point, Lila motioned for them to run across an open space and then kneel, motionless, in a row of thorn bushes. They were lucky to be wearing coats. Neville assumed that someone must be looking out the windows of the tower occasionally. His heart pounded every time Lila hissed for them to stop. He hated being blind and helpless.
They ended up hidden behind a Snargaluff plant (Neville quickly picked the pod inside with a deft hand, rendering the prickly plant inert). The door, flanked on each side by Dirigible plum bushes, was only twenty or so feet away. Lila's focus seemed fixated on the tower's first storey. Neville could only just make out the front of the house and still hadn't seen anybody, but he knew better than to doubt the Kharadjai. He reckoned she could see just fine.
She looked over her shoulder at them. "Are you ready?" she said.
Neville swallowed hard, but nodded, gripping his wand. Luna also gave an affirmative.
"Count to thirty. Then run up there and shove open the door." Lila rose halfway to her feet, leaning forward. "…Now." She shot off into the dark.
"One… two… three…" Luna began to whisper. Neville silently counted with her, every muscle tensing until he felt like he had to move or he'd burst. "…Thirty."
They didn't really run because they couldn't, not with all the snow bogging them down. Neville had the fleeting thought that their daring charge probably looked a bit stupid if anyone was watching, the two of them awkwardly lifting their legs as high as they could and sort of lunging through the drifts. When they reached the door, Luna threw it open, sending it crashing against the wall with a bang that was incredibly loud in the air of the silent night.
The inside was a cavern of utter darkness. Then, from upstairs, Neville heard a crash and what he thought was the clatter of broken glass. Something hit the floorboards with a muffled thud that rattled the ceiling.
He didn't know if that was a good or bad sign. He decided his presence was well enough announced already and lit his wand, raising it above his head.
The light revealed a kitchen painted in bright colours; field flowers, birds and insects decorated the walls, detailed in what Neville recognised as Luna's hand. Nothing seemed amiss, save for the door being unlocked, though Neville didn't know if that was unusual. Someone was walking around upstairs, and he hoped it was Lila.
Realising they were now very visible against the snowy night behind them, Neville pulled the door shut. He was about to ask Luna if it looked like anything had been stolen, but bit his tongue at the last second. She probably didn't care much if a few things went missing when her father was, too. His wand cast eerie shadows around the small room. The spiral staircase in front of him curved around and upwards and he couldn't see past the first turn.
He looked at Luna and found that she was already looking to him, eyes wide with an unspoken question. He nodded and they moved forward, he lighting the way whilst she covered their advance.
They were just rounding the right side of the room, trying to see up the staircase, when Lila's voice echoed down it. "Don't shoot, it's Lila," she said from somewhere above. "You can come up."
The next floor was dedicated to a study, crammed with books, haphazardly piled papers and all sorts of odd and ends, including a printing press. No doubt most Quibbler articles were assembled here. The window above the desk had been shattered inward, and the temperature was rapidly dropping; the light from Neville wand reflected off the shards. Small, animated models of strange creatures attached to the ceiling flapped their wings and snapped their jaws, as if agitated by the sudden disturbance.
There was a stain not too far from the desk, and it glistened wetly. Neville looked about, but didn't see a body. He reckoned Lila might have shoved it out the window.
"Does it always look like this?" Lila asked, indicating the papers scattered everywhere.
Luna was staring down at the stain, and did not answer.
"That isn't your father's," Lila told her. "I don't see any signs of a struggle."
Reassured, Luna looked more closely at the room. "No, everything is quite organised," she said.
Lila eyed a pile of manuscripts that looked like a sneeze would knock it over; it was a minor miracle her window entry hadn't. "If you say so. The house is clear. Take whatever you want, but hurry – and leave the lights off."
Neville and Luna went up the next set of stairs whilst Lila went down to the kitchen. Despite the circumstances, Neville was curious to see Luna's room. He was looking upwards as he exited the top of the staircase, and almost dropped his wand when the first thing the light landed upon was his own face.
It was a portrait of himself, along with Ron, Harry, Hermione and Ginny, all painted on the canvas of Luna's ceiling. They were excellent likeness, created in broad strokes that somehow all came together to form even the finer details. A golden, loopy script that was instantly recognisable as Luna's handwriting circled the pictures, uniting them. It said, 'friends'.
The golden hearts dotting the edges of Neville's portrait looked like a more recent embellishment.
"Luna, that's brilliant," he said, gaping up at the artwork.
"I worked hard to get your nose right. It's a very nice nose," Luna told him, catching his nose between her thumb and forefinger.
"Thanks," he said nasally.
Her expression turned pensive. "I'll have to leave it."
It took him a second to realise she meant the painting, not his nose. "It'll still be here when you… when you and your dad come back," he said.
Luna shrugged whimsically, looking up at him. "I won't need the reminder. I'll have all of you, and that's much better."
She would have him, anyway, whatever happened with Harry and the others. Neville knew the Death Eaters had probably taken Luna's father because of The Quibbler, but he wasn't convinced they weren't also after her. Neville was dead set on sticking with her, no matter what.
Luna picked up only a few things, mostly whatever fit in her pockets (including an old photograph of herself and her mother). Neville assumed she had already brought most, if not all the essentials to his place already. Still, he hated to see her have to choose like this, hoping her keepsakes wouldn't be destroyed.
"Um, Luna, how about this…" He stripped a pillowcase from her bedding and held it out to her. "Take anything important. It's all going to stay at Lila's flat anyway, yeah?"
That brightened her up a bit, and she emptied a few drawers from her wardrobe. It might have been fun, helping her sort through her treasures, but the single harsh light of Neville's wand was a constant reminder of their precarious situation. Mindful of that fact, they hurried back down the staircase.
Before they could descend to the kitchen, Lila called up, "Can you fix that window?"
Neville turned back to the window in the study. He noticed the bloodstain on the floor was gone, and the edges of the fractured glass had filled in somewhat and rounded off. Lila must have been able to clean the floor without problem, but had trouble with repairing the window. Luna waved her wand, and a well-placed Mending Charm sent the shards flying back into place.
Downstairs, they found Lila crouched by the doorway, looking at something on the floor. She stood and held out a head of garlic. "Is there any reason this would be significant? I don't see any other food laying around," she said.
Luna's eyes filled with worry. "Daddy always answers the door with garlic at hand, ever since the Ministry wouldn't let him publish that article about Scrimgeour being a vampire."
Lila placed the garlic back where she had found it. "Come on."
She led them back into the cold. It had begun snow heavily, though the wind had calmed. Large, clumpy snowflakes drifted from the black sky and clung to everything like goose down.
"You know the way back?" Lila asked them quietly after they had cleared the garden fence.
"Um…" Neville looked out into the near-impenetrable darkness. Surely she didn't mean walking? "I can Apparate to your flat."
"No. We're too close to the Burrow, and my neighbourhood may be under watch. Three Muggles walked out of town, and three Muggles are walking back."
"All right. But, I don't think we can make it back on our own. I can't see a bloody thing," Neville told her.
Lila paused. "…No, I guess you can't," she said, as if just then realising how dark it was. "Get into the bushes and stay low. I'll be back as fast as I can."
Lila disappeared again. Neville took Luna's hand and together they stumbled their way through the snow until they reached the treeline, after which even the almost imperceptible light of the moon vanished. Neville knew what Lila had to be up to, even if he didn't know exactly how she was going about it. No doubt whenever the next sentry came to take their turn, there wouldn't be any sign of the first one. Neville found the thought wasn't as repulsive as it used to be. He'd like Lila to have a go at the Carrows.
He knew he shouldn't think that way. It was just easy, sometimes.
When Lila finally returned, they followed her back through the woods. Reaching the road was a relief, as the snow there was no longer so deep that it impeded movement. The lights of the town beckoned them across the river. There were fewer cars about, and almost no other pedestrians. The heavy snow seemed to deaden the air, bringing unnatural stillness.
They stomped up the stairs to Lila's flat, brushing snow from their shoulders and shaking it off the legs of their trousers where it matted and clung. The warmth of the building was almost too much after a couple hours spent outside; Neville felt like his face was burning.
"I suggest you leave anything you won't use," Lila said. "This is probably the best storage we have right now. The other places are safe enough, but you never know when you'll have to leave in a hurry." Lila looked at her watch again. "We have a ways to drive. Try to be fast."
Neville could easily oblige. He went over to where he'd left the bag from his house and hoisted it over one shoulder. "I'm ready," he said, as Luna did the same.
A wry smile flitted over Lila's face. "Let's go."
As the lights of the town faded behind them, Neville sank back into his seat and listened to the hum of the motor and the constant rumble of the road beneath the tyres. It was just a bit too warm in the car, and it was making him sleepy. Luna was already making optimal use of the travel time, her wayward blonde tresses scattered over his shoulder as she slept against his side. He fought the sensation for a time, thinking that maybe Lila might need him for something, but eventually he let his eyelids close and the gentle rocking of the vehicle lull him into slumber.
He experienced a feeling of déjà vu when he awoke with his forehead stinging. Flicking someone in the head was apparently Lila's preferred method of waking them up (Neville wished she wouldn't do it quite so hard).
"What time is it?" he yawned, sitting up. Outside the windows he saw a car park, along with rows of buildings whose mixed architecture and bright lights told him he was somewhere in Muggle London.
"Almost one-thirty," Lila said. "Grab your stuff, there's a few blocks to walk."
The city seemed busy despite the hour. There weren't as many people about as there would be during the day, but there was still a fair amount of traffic and enough people on foot that the three of them didn't stick out. Lila seemed on edge despite this, one hand tucked into a pocket that Neville was fairly certain had a gun in it, or at least a knife.
The amount of activity around them gradually decreased the farther they went into the terrace houses. Then they turned a corner and found themselves alone for the first time. It had stopped snowing, and the moon glared off the snow gathered against the stoops of the houses and street kerbs.
Lila dug a piece of parchment out of a pocket with something scribbled on it. "Look at this," she said, holding it out to them.
The handwriting looked familiar. It said:
This is Number 12 Grimmauld Place
Neville watched as an entire section of the row seemed to spring into being right in front of him, expanding and pushing out the houses to the sides.
"Burn it," Lila said, thrusting the parchment into one of Neville's hands. He obligingly ignited it with his wand. "Okay, they should be back from their mission by now. If they aren't, you'll have to wait. I need to check on the Order."
They followed her up the short set of the steps. Lila placed her hand flat against the door, and it swung open.
The floor of the van wasn't the most comfortable of places to sit. It was bare metal for the most part, though Harry found that leaning against the back of Scott's driver seat helped a bit. There was a ladder on the outside of the vehicle that rattled loudly whenever they went over a bump. After the first forty-five minutes or so, he'd become used to it.
He still wasn't certain where Sophie had obtained the vehicle, which was the sort used by working people. Harry had seen a few in his time, out on the streets of Little Whinging. The one he was currently in had the logo and name of a power company on the side. It made him suspect it was likely stolen, though he hadn't asked.
He was with Hermione, Ginny and Ron in the windowless back area, crammed in with all sorts of Muggle tools and great big spools of cable. Scott was driving, wearing a boilersuit and a hat with the same branding as the motor.
Harry reckoned it was a clever ruse. He also thought it might well be wasted on any Death Eaters around Privet Drive, who probably didn't give a second thought to Muggle vehicles. But Scott had insisted, and Harry didn't feel like arguing when it came to safety precautions. They could all stand to be more careful.
Ginny was tucked up against his side, which made the trip much more pleasant. She was leaning back, trying to look out the window without much success. Giving up, she grabbed a heavy coil of rubbery black cable and sat it on her lap.
"What do you suppose this is?" she said, studying the end of it. She used her finger to spin the little nut on the threads.
"Er… It's for television, I think," Harry said, not entirely certain.
"Oh, like Kylie's?" Ginny peered into the cable, as if she thought there might be an image inside of it. "Do you think Sophie would let me keep some of those tapes she's got?"
Harry had noticed Ginny's interest in some of the Muggle concepts that had been introduced to her over the course of her time spent with the Kharadjai (she'd even said she'd like a car, come to think of it). It amused him to think that there was more of her dad in her than she would probably admit. He was fine with that, though. After spending so many years divided between Hogwarts and a Muggle household where he was barely allowed any Muggle things at all, he'd ended up distanced from that part of his heritage. Scott had been a good reminder of how many amenities Muggles had that Harry wouldn't mind keeping in his life.
"You could start your own collection. They aren't hard to come by," Harry said, thinking of the Dursleys and their video shelf.
"I saw Scott had that one in the Room of Requirement. Maybe we can find some more when we go back," Ginny said casually.
Harry frowned. He didn't know if he'd have a future at all, never mind one where he went back to Hogwarts. And if he really wanted to be an Auror… Well, if he snuffed the Dark Lord, there wouldn't be a better chance than right after that, would there? Who would turn him down?
Ginny saw his expression. "What?"
"Nothing," he said quickly.
But it was too late. Ginny was now wearing a frown of her own. "You don't think you'll get the chance," she stated. "Harry, it's okay to think about tomorrow. Remember? Don't give up."
"It's not that," he told her, which was partially true. "I reckoned I'd just apply to be an Auror, if we win. Couldn't be a better time for it, yeah?"
She looked conflicted, to say the least. "But… don't you want to spend another year there, together?"
He hadn't thought of that. Of course, he hadn't thought much of his future at all. Not after Dumbledore died. "I could still be with you, just not all the time. I thought I should get on with it. What do N.E.W.T.s matter after all this?"
"Hold up," Scott said suddenly from the front. "You're dropping out of school?" His loud query gained Ron and Hermione's attention as well, interrupting the conversation they'd been having.
"Bit slow on the uptake, mate?" Harry scoffed. "I already have."
"No you haven't, you're, like, on sabbatical, or some shit. Leave of absence."
"Well, I want to be an Auror and if this isn't good enough training, then what is?"
"School is, dumbass. Don't be a fuckin' idiot, stay in school. Get a degree."
Harry was taken aback by Scott's vehemence. "What does any of that matter when we've been through all–"
"Yeah, all this guerrilla warfare is definitely a replacement for schooling, they're totally the same thing!" Scott took one hand off the wheel to jab a finger in Harry's face. "Harry, there are millions of kids your age who will never have the opportunity to go to school, get the slightest education, or any kind of chance for upward mobility in society. And here you are with a goddamn free ride, and you're going to choose general ignorance because you just can't be fucking bothered to expand your mind. You know what that makes you? It makes you a huge piece of shit."
Harry gawped at him.
Scott's hand returned to the wheel. "Go back to school. Or I swear to Christ, I will never respect you."
"So what else is new?" Harry retorted. He glanced away from Scott to see Ron looking equally gobsmacked.
Hermione, however, was smiling beatifically. "It's nice know you have some of your priorities straight, Scott," she said.
Scott shook his head slowly. "I shouldn't be the only one saying this. You want to go back by yourself, or what?"
Harry started to ask Hermione if she really planned on going back for her seventh year, but the question died on his lips the second he gave it some actual thought. Of course she was. She was Hermione.
"Ginny will be there, of course." Hermione placed a hand on Ron's arm. "Surely you will, too? Don't you know how important your education is?"
Ron's expression was a study in confliction. "Bloody hell, Hermione," he groaned, head falling back against the side of the vehicle. "This could be my chance to finally skip a year!"
"Ron, it's your future," she wheedled. Harry didn't miss how her hand was now rubbing up and down his arm. "Besides, you'll have already had a year off!"
"Right, yeah, this has been real relaxing holiday," Ron snorted. Then he sighed. "…Well, it'd be another year of Quidditch, at least."
Harry looked down at Ginny, only to find her looking right back at him, bright brown eyes wide and seductive. "You won't make me go two years without you, will you?" she said quietly, one hand warm against the side of his jaw.
Harry didn't know what to think about it, now. "I…"
Her hand dropped, mouth firming. "I don't want to push you into it. If you need to go be an Auror, then you should do what you really want."
"I don't know what I really want," he told her honestly. He swallowed, and then finished, "As long as we're together, I'm not sure I care."
She kissed him, long and hard. When she pulled back she said, "You will. You just don't want to let yourself hope for things yet. But we'll be all right, you'll see." She kissed him again, softer this time. "…You'll see."
"What you want is to finish at Hogwarts so I don't kick your ass for being a fucking moron," Scott informed Harry, ruining the moment.
"Yeah, Harry… 'Ya fuckin' idiot,'" Ginny said in such a spot on imitation of Scott's accent and cadence that they all laughed, except for Scott (though Harry could see him grinning).
The sun was setting by the time they reached Surrey. The mood in the vehicle sobered as they entered what might well be enemy territory.
"All right, everybody keep your heads down," Scott warned as he turned into Little Whinging. "I'm a normal repair guy doing normal repair guy stuff and I definitely don't have a bunch of magic people in the back of my van."
They sat there in silence, tension ratcheting, as Scott meandered around the streets of the suburb. Harry wished he could see out, even though he knew there wasn't much to see. He'd spent plenty of time walking the streets of Little Whinging to get away from household jobs and Dudley's gang and just the Dursleys in general, and he knew there wasn't anything to look at. It was a bit samey, to say the least.
It was getting darker. The light coming from the front windows had almost vanished, though Harry knew it probably looked later than it was. The clouds overhead held the promise of snow.
Harry felt the van slow down, and then it jolted as Scott put it into park. "Wouldn't you know it, I found our boy," Scott said, pretending to peruse a clipboard.
"Who?" Harry said.
"Same fashion victim that was wandering around the night we bailed. Still wearing the same outfit, too, or at least the same pants. I guess he just doesn't have anything else, I don't know. Now he's got a leather coat and pink earmuffs. I'd feel bad for him if I didn't already know he was an asshole." Scott set the clipboard on the seat next to him and shifted the vehicle back into motion. "You know the plan."
Harry moved to the very back of the van, huddling against the wall so he couldn't be seen from the sliding door at the side of the vehicle. The others huddled there with him, which ended up being more difficult than he would have thought.
"Ron, you're on my foot," Hermione hissed, jerking away from him and knocking Ginny into Harry.
Harry ignored them, trying to keep his wand steady despite the rocking of the van and the fact Ginny was leaning on him.
The slight squeal of the brakes quieted them and put them all on edge. What happened next would decide whether their mission was a lost cause.
Scott rolled his window down, and the sudden rush of outside air was a bitter slap to the face. "Oi, mate!" he called out, tapping his hand against his door. "Yeah, you! You got a minute?"
Harry heard someone speaking outside, but the words were just muffled enough that he could only make out a few of them.
"Yeah, I'm with the power company, mate. I've got to work on this line, they got an order in. Yeah, an order. You live around here? Yeah? Cool, listen, I need your signature. I just need someone to sign off on this. No, just as a witness. …I couldn't tell ya, mate, it's just bog standard, right, it's just legal bollocks. It'll take half a mo', hang on."
Scott snatched the clipboard off the seat and clambered out of the van. There were a few more seconds of hard to hear conversation, and then the side door slid open, cold billowing in.
"Don't know what I've done with it," Scott said conversationally. He put the clipboard on the floor of the van, just inside the door. "Wife says I'd lose me arse if it weren't stuck to me; I'm inclined to agree. Ah, here we go." He grabbed the pen that was beneath the front seat and put one hand on the clipboard. "On the dotted line, mate, and I'll be on my way."
The Death Eater leaned down to sign the paper.
"Stupefy!" Ron spat.
In the space of a second, Scott shoved the man the rest of the way into the van and shut the sliding door. Then he calmly climbed back into driver seat and started moving slowly down the street again.
Harry rolled the sentry onto his back. He didn't recognise the man, though, and doubted there'd be any clues to his identity in his random array of Muggle clothing. Ginny was squeezing the man's sleeves; after a moment, she pulled his wand out of his left one.
"Here, let me have it," Ron said. He took the wand, dropped it to the floor of the van and stomped on it with such a bang that it made them all flinch. "That's done it," he said, kicking one half of the broken wand away.
"Incarcerous!" Harry said, binding the sentry with ropes. He placed a hand against the side of the van when it shuddered to a halt again.
"Keep those Portkeys handy," Scott said. Reflected scenery scrolled across the windscreen as he turned down another street.
If someone had seen them disable the sentry, it was possible the Muggle police would soon arrive, in which case they would be forced to return to Grimmauld and try something else (whatever that might be; all other options were daunting, to say the least). They were lucky that the heavy cloud cover gave better odds of not being seen. It was already dark out, and getting darker.
Harry pulled his Invisibility Cloak out of his bag. He gazed down at the silvery material; it suddenly struck him as absurd, these lengths he was going to, in order to sneak back into a place he had wanted so badly to leave.
Scott parked the van again. Hopping out, he slid open the side door and buckled a work belt around his waist. "You're up, Harry."
Harry darted out of the vehicle under the cover of his Cloak as Scott went to fiddle with one of the metal boxes that sprouted out of the grass at intervals around Little Whinging. Harry had seen them often in the Muggle portions of his existence and knew they had something to do with power or cables of some sort. Scott seemed to know what he was doing; or at least he knew enough to open one without electrocuting himself.
Snow glinted briefly in the wide pools of the streetlamps. Harry stayed low and walked at the edge of the grass, assuming his footprints would be much easier to see on the concrete. The Dursleys' was just ahead. He shook off the memories, kept moving. His hatred of the place was just more incentive to get the job done.
He crept around to the back garden. Aunt Petunia's flowerbed was buried beneath a drift, as was one side of the shed. The piles of snow from the recent blizzard hadn't even begun to melt, and it was snowing yet again. Harry didn't see any footprints besides his own. He whispered the Unlocking Charm at the back door.
The house was dark and silent, blinds shut and curtains drawn. He shut the door behind himself and used Tergeo to clean up the snow he'd tracked in. His search was quick and thorough – he knew all the best hiding spots, having used them many times himself. It felt strange, almost eerie, to move through the darkened rooms as much by memory as sight, carpet plush beneath his shoes. It was like dreams he'd had, near-nightmares, of being trapped and alone at Privet Drive, moving through an empty twilight version of the world. Of course, then he'd wake up in his cupboard, still trapped and alone.
He blinked, realising he was standing in the middle of the hall, staring at the locks on the cupboard door. He shook himself angrily. He didn't have time for this.
He ran back to the van, trying to stay in the same line as his old footprints. "It's empty," he said, leaning inside. "Who's first?"
"Me," Ginny said, clambering to her feet.
Harry ferried his friends to the house one by one. By the time he came back for Scott it was black as pitch out, and the snow was thickening. Harry started deviating his path to avoid the pools of the light from the streetlamps. He reckoned his tracks would be covered up before too long, but there wasn't any point in putting a literal spotlight on them.
Scott was crouched in the back of the van, hands in the rucksack which contained ammunition. His M4 was hanging from his torso. He looked up when Harry stepped in. "Ready?" he said.
Harry noticed the unconscious Death Eater was gone. "What did you do with him?" he asked, getting a sinking feeling he already knew.
"Gave him a dose of our leftover Sleeping Draught and buried him in a drift," Scott said. When Harry's expression remained suspicious, Scott shrugged. "I didn't have to kill him. Hermione did a Memory Charm."
No doubt she had also insisted that Scott not execute the poor bastard, no matter how much safer it was.
Soon, they were all inside. Harry whipped off the Cloak and reflexively reached up to adjust his glasses before he remembered he wasn't wearing them. He kept doing that whilst wearing the contacts Sophie had made for him and he felt like an idiot every single time.
"So how do we start?" he asked Hermione.
"Well, I suppose what we brought with us should do…" Hermione replied, opening her beaded handbag. "There is something you can do that might help, though."
Harry hadn't come this far by second-guessing her. "Yeah, whatever you need."
"I could use an object, something important to you, or something you have very strong feelings about. I know most of your emotions about this place are negative and I don't think that should matter much, but I'd prefer it if you could find something that inspires fond memories." She looked up from her handbag sympathetically. "I do realise it's a tall order…"
The first thing Harry thought of was the letters his friends had sent him over the summers. Many of them were in his trunk, but he reckoned there might be something still underneath the floorboards upstairs. "Does it have to be very old?"
"Yes, and unrelated to us. It should be something that's yours, or that you made your own. Something you consider belonging to you, which I know is a broad distinction…" Hermione chewed on her lower lip. "I'm not explaining this well at all, am I?"
"No, I think I get it," Harry said. He had an idea, though he knew what he'd thought of could easily be gone for good.
Hermione looked towards the living room. "I'm going to start setting up; it's going to take long enough without dawdling. Ron, I'll need your help."
The two of them went into the living room to prepare. Harry glanced back towards the door and saw that Scott was gone. There was a creak from overhead that Harry recognised as the sound of his old door, so Scott must have gone up to watch out the windows.
There was just enough light from the street coming through the small window over the front door that Harry could see, though everything seemed to be made of contrasting shadow. He ran his hand along the wall until it encountered the door to his old cupboard. Checking the locks, he opened it and leaned inside before lighting his wand.
It had been cleaned, as he'd expected, though surprisingly not every trace of his stay had been removed. His old camp bed was sitting on its end, shoved against the back of the space, and the drywall still had the faded marks of his old crayon drawings. He'd taken most everything else with him when he'd moved to the second bedroom upstairs, but he wondered…
He started to reach down to move the bed when Ginny's voice startled him; he hadn't realised she'd been right behind him in the dark. "What is all this?" she asked, staring at the childish drawings on one of the bare wooden studs.
"Some of my old things," Harry said, moving the camp bed out of the way.
"You used to sleep on that?" Ginny looked with revulsion at the rusty, dishevelled old thing.
"Well, yeah. I mean, a regular bed wouldn't fit in here." Harry bent down and tried to get his hand in the space between the bottom stud and the wall. He quickly discovered that it was a bit harder now that he wasn't a small child. His hand simply wouldn't fit. "Here, I'll move and you try to reach down in there for me, there's–…" He lost his train of thought when he saw her expression.
"They made you sleep in here? When you were little?" she said in a voice that was surprisingly even given that her entire face was stiff with rage.
"Yeah, but…" He trailed off, not sure what to say. He didn't want to defend the Dursleys, but he also didn't want to set Ginny off. And he reckoned that telling her the truth – that he didn't think much about it anymore because he didn't like the way it made him feel – wouldn't go over so well, either. "…Look, it was ages ago."
"You were a little boy! And they locked you in a cupboard!" Ginny said incredulously, jabbing her wand at the locks. "Harry, can't you see how wrong that is?!"
He sort of did when she said it like that, and he also still sort of didn't, because that was just how his life had been and it wasn't like he could change it now. "I know, but, it's done with, all right? We really need to be getting on with this."
She stared at him, face flushed, for a few seconds longer. Then she nodded, taking a deep, calming breath (and Harry wasn't stupid enough to think he'd escape a discussion later). "What did you need?"
"Down there, at the bottom of the wall there's this gap. I can't get my hand in anymore, it's been so long."
Ginny squeezed past him and knelt down. Her petite fingers slid neatly into the space and she moved her hand about, blindly searching. "What am I looking for?"
"You should feel it, if it's there. It might not be," Harry said, feeling disappointed. For all he knew it had been vacuumed up years ago. Aunt Petunia had always been obsessive with the hoover.
"I've got something," Ginny said suddenly. She withdrew her hand, fingers curled around a small object. "Oh, it's a cute little dog!"
Harry took it from her, the memories flooding back. It was the Scottie dog piece from Monopoly, the game being yet another birthday present for Dudley – Harry couldn't remember what year it had been. Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon had done their utmost to ensure Dudley's undeserved victory, but there was a lot of luck involved in Monopoly. The second Dudley had ended up on the Jail space was the second the game and all its pieces had been upended in a tantrum that had only ended with a hurried journey to one of his favourite restaurants. Alone in the house, Harry had found the Scottie dog discarded beneath the first stair. He'd felt sorry for it in the way a young child feels sorry for objects, fostering an intense empathy for the inanimate. After all, Harry had been castoff beneath the stairs, too.
The little metal dog had been his companion for countless lonely nights in the cupboard and days at the edge of the school playground. They'd been on many adventures together within the small confines of Harry's life. Sometimes Scottie explored the cupboard, fighting off spiders and dust bunnies. Sometimes he guarded the door, warding against the monsters who prowled somewhere out in the dark house. And sometimes he was a special search dog who could find Harry's parents.
He'd hidden Scottie in the wall the same way he hid anything he considered precious, always aware that Dudley would covet whatever Harry liked, no matter how pathetic it was. Then, eventually, had come all the uproar surrounding his eleventh birthday: his new room, meeting Hagrid, going to Hogwarts. He'd grown older and forgotten his little friend, which was just as well. He didn't have that sort of imagination anymore, the kind that was required to bring Scottie to life in mind of a lonely kid.
Harry told all of this to Ginny as he turned the metal figure over in his hand. "I didn't expect to find it, to be honest." He started to say more and abruptly stopped when he saw her expression. Her eyes were huge and glistened wetly in the wandlight. "Oh, don't… Gin, don't cry…"
"It's what people do when something's sad, you prat," she retorted. Next thing he knew, she was hugging him tightly.
He returned the hug, not really sure what was going on but enjoying the contact anyway.
The stairs over their head began to thud as Scott descended the staircase. Harry released Ginny and stepped out in time to catch Scott as he headed for the kitchen.
"See anything?" Harry asked.
"Not yet," Scott said as he went by.
In the living room, Hermione was carefully drawing runes on the floor with her wand. Harry happily imagined Aunt Petunia coming back to find her spotless carpet permanently marked with magic symbols. The electric fire had once again been removed to make way for a real fire, in which sat a bubbling cauldron which Ron was slowly stirring.
"I'm almost ready," Hermione said, looking up when Harry came in. "Did you find anything useful?"
"Yeah, this should do," Harry said, showing her the Scottie dog.
Hermione frowned curiously. "I didn't know you were fond of Monopoly. Have you played with Scott and Kylie?"
"No, I've never played at all. I just found it after Dudley chucked it. It's one of my toys," he told her. "That will work, right?"
Hermione didn't seem to be listening; she was looking past him to Ginny. The two girls were silently communicating via their aghast expressions and Harry didn't like it. It was sort of a stupid thing to want, considering where they were and why, but he didn't want it all to be about him. It was supposed to be a mission, not a chance for everyone to pity him.
"Will it work or not?" he said insistently, getting angry at the way Hermione's eyes were going all shiny and getting angry at himself for being angry.
"You know they locked him in that cupboard?" Ginny burst out. "That was his room!"
"It doesn't matter!" Harry interjected before Hermione could produce words to go along with her appalled visage. Ron had stepped back from the cauldron and was warily observing the sudden tension.
"Right now," he added, cutting off Ginny's protestation. "It doesn't matter right now. Hermione, is this going to work or do I need to find something else?"
"I… I'm sure it will be fine," she said carefully (though not without one last knowing look traded with Ginny that made Harry grit his teeth). She took the Scottie dog from him and placed it in the middle of a runic circle, halfway between the phylactery and another empty circle.
Scott leaned around the doorframe. "How are we doing?" he asked.
Hermione resumed marking the carpet. "We're almost ready."
"Good. Keep those Portkeys handy," Scott reminded, before disappearing upstairs again.
Harry's hand reflexively pressed against the left pocket of his coat. He was reassured by presence of his Portkey, made from his old Hungarian Horntail model.
"Does everyone remember the spell?" Hermione said, looking around and making sure they all nodded. "Ron, that should be ready."
Ron waved his wand and levitated a small, smoking glass out of the cauldron. Hermione put on an oven mitt and plucked it out of the air.
"I don't care for this part," she muttered, beginning to pour it out in a wet line across the carpet.
Harry was feeling a bit squeamish about it, too, considering that was his blood she was soaking into the rug. Sophie had insisted that she collect it using some sterilised Muggle equipment, which Harry had very much preferred to the alternative of slicing his arm open. The use of blood struck him as being Dark, though Hermione had assured him that it didn't have to be. It was definitely disgusting, though.
"Vernon would do his nut if he saw this," Harry remarked, taking in the distinctly sinister tableau. It was basically a checklist of the Dursleys worst assumptions.
"It is somewhat more… well, pagan than our usual spells," Hermione agreed. "That's just how some of the older magics are. I prefer the aesthetic of modern spell design. This is all a bit dramatic." She took a step back, observing her handiwork.
"Is that it?" Harry asked, eager to get on with it.
"Yes, that's all," she said, and despite the circumstances she looked eager to try out the magic she and Sophie had devised. "Stand over here, in the third circle."
Harry took his place at the end of the bloody line. He stood in one runic circle, with the Scottie dog in another circle at the middle of the line, and the phylactery in the last circle at the opposite side. For a moment, he felt sort of stupid standing there on bloody carpet, looking at a gameboard piece and a tube. But then, as he settled in, the hair on his arms stood up. He felt prickly all over, buzzing with static.
"Don't move," Hermione ordered as she hurried from the room.
"Had a fright, Harry?" Ron sniggered.
Harry reached up and brushed his palm over his hair; it was sticking out all over, almost free-floating. "Dare you to touch my finger," he said, extending his hand towards Ron.
"Hang on!" Ginny exclaimed. She ran over to his other side. "At the same time."
Harry held out both his hands. "All right: one, two, three–"
Ron and Ginny grabbed his left and right hand respectively and immediately all three of them flinched with the twin snaps of static discharge.
"Ow, fuck! Blimey," Ron half-laughed, half-groaned as he shook his hand vigorously.
"Did you see it?" Ginny asked Harry, grinning as she rubbed at her finger.
Harry laughed, flexing his stinging fingers. "Damn, I hope it's supposed to do this."
Hermione came bustling back into the room with Scott at her heels. "I want to be sure the conduit is there," she was saying, pointing to the bloody stripe on the carpet. "Is there a thread, or threads? Sophie said they should be 'Solidary with harmony'."
"I'd need more time to determine that," Scott said. "I can tell you that there's something here, it's magic, and it's tied to Harry."
"Fair enough." Hermione scrutinised her work, eyes searching every rune for a misstep. "…Then we're ready."
Harry wished she sounded a bit more certain. He started to ask if it was going to hurt, and then decided he'd rather not know. "Have at it," he told Hermione, which he thought probably sounded brave.
"I'll stand behind you, Harry. Ron, you take his left hand and Ginny, you take his right," Hermione instructed.
Harry held out his hands again, grinning at them. "Have another go?"
Ron and Ginny were much slower to take his hands this time. Again, the shock of it made both of them wince.
Hermione blinked reflexively at the sparks. "I wasn't expecting that," she said, which did nothing to bolster Harry's confidence. She went around and took her place behind Harry. "Ouch! That really smarts… All right, I'm going to start the reaction. Then Ron, and Ginny last. Whatever happens, we mustn't let go, or cross the circle. Understood?"
"What happens if we do?" Ron wanted to know.
"I haven't the foggiest. So, don't. You are ready, Harry?"
He tried to see her over his shoulder but couldn't turn his head that far. "Ready for what?"
"…Well, we'll see, won't we." She took a deep breath. "Venacorpi Contexo!"
Instantly, every muscle in Harry's body tensed, tightening until he felt frozen in place. His hands curled into fists, toes knotted at the end of his shoes; his jaw clenched until his teeth began to ache. Blackness stole into the edges of his vision.
Ginny saw his distress. "Harry?" she called out in concern. "Hermione, why can't he answer?"
"I don't know! Just don't cross the circle!" Hermione said nervously.
"Venacorpi Contexo!" Ron incanted.
A deep, unnerving hum filled the room. The runic circles and the line of blood were now glowing a dark and violent red, tinting the room with hellish light. Harry could only move his eyes. He watched as the glow intensified. The humming seemed to come from within himself, rattling him down to his very bones. He had no idea what was happening. The pain of being so tense worsened, and he reckoned it would soon be unbearable.
Then, the next sensation took him over. It started as a pressure in his chest; sort of like being deep underwater. It grew until he could barely breathe. His ears popped, sharp and painful. He struggled to inhale through his nose. It was as if a great wind was stealing his breath, but there no wind at all. He was stuck tight against nothing, squeezed between invisible fingers.
"Now, Ginny!" Hermione called out.
"Just hang on, Harry!" Ginny told him. "Venacorpi Contexo!"
Just when he thought he could not possibly endure another second in such a state, that he must surely pass out or completely rupture, something burst from his chest. He could feel it slipping through his pores, slimy and hot. Acrid sweat rolled down his face; his shirt was almost instantly soaked through. He forced himself to keep his eyes open despite the sting, and saw a roiling black mist seeping out of his clothes.
It spiralled across the room like a demented flock of birds, following the bloody line on the carpet. At first, it moved slowly; it seemed almost hesitant, resisting some sort of pull. When it hit the halfway point and passed over the Scottie dog it picked up speed. Finally, it coiled up into a seething ball of ink and then shot with the force of a bullet into the phylactery, sending the vial spinning against the sofa.
The demonic light went out like a snuffed candle. Whatever had been holding him up vanished in the same instant, and Harry limply collapsed onto the floor.
The buzzing in his ears took a second to fade. He found himself with his cheek pressed against the carpet. Hands tugged at his back, rolling him over. Sound returned to him in a rush.
"Harry! Harry!" Ginny said frantically, fingers cool against his face.
He tried to get his mouth to cooperate, but his jaw was still painfully cramped. He reached up with a shaking hand to weakly pat Ginny's shoulder and give Ron and Hermione a thumbs up.
Ginny sighed in relief. "God, you scared me." She ran a gentle hand down the side of his face. "Why does everything always happen to you?"
Hermione was staring at the phylactery. "Oh, thank goodness. It worked."
Harry regained enough of his strength to lever himself into a sitting position. Each lungful of air was a struggle, and he gasped and swallowed until his breathing eased. The phylactery lay on the one of the settee cushions. Instead of its usual soft red glow, it had turned dark and muddy, clearly contaminated. He pressed a hand to his chest, making sure there wasn't a gaping hole there. He was so soaked in sweat it felt like he'd had a quick shower and forgot to dry off.
Ron helped Harry to his feet. "Fucking hell, Harry. That looked bloody awful!"
"Yeah, it felt bloody awful, too," Harry replied. He studied the phylactery, not caring for the idea that something so ugly had been inside of him. Of course, it was better out than in.
"It's in there, now," Hermione said, standing alongside of him.
Harry drew his wand. "And it's not a regular Horcrux?"
"Destroy it," she said coldly.
Harry pointed his wand straight at the churning, tainted vial. "Reducto!" he snarled.
The phylactery exploded, showering Aunt Petunia's white sofa with blood and a little piece of Tom Riddle's soul.
I want to thank everyone who read or reviewed last chapter, it always helps to know that there are still people reading despite my absences. After all this time, I imagine that some of you are as eager to see this thing done as I am. I haven't been making quite the level of progress that I wish; still, things are moving forward. There's a lot of figure out, but all the major story beats have been established. At least until I change my mind.
I finished my read through of the Harry Potter series. As I've said in the past, I deliberately did not reread book seven before I began writing Vis Insita. I wanted to diverge from canon in more dramatic ways and felt that being too familiar with book seven would be a detriment. I think in some ways I was right, but the reread has also revealed some of the mistakes I've made. There are a couple things that happen in Vis which don't make sense if the basis for all of this is that everything springs from Scott's changes. I'm not sure I want that to be true, though, considering how uncertainty is such a prevalent theme.
In any case, I don't think there was ever a chance of my story aligning perfectly to canon. Rowling has very different priorities as a writer than I do, and the things that I obsess over don't seem to concern her in the slightest. Rather than go back and try to fix any discrepancies, I think I prefer to leave them unanswered. Given the constraints of the POVs in this story, there are things that can simply never be known. And it also saves me from having to do anything, which is the actual goal here, let's be real.