“Primes may be required to leave behind their familiar spaces, but they should not be expected to. Understanding the difficulties inherent in new and almost certainly dangerous undertakings is an important part of building a solid working relationship with your Primes. The demands of the shape can be both arduous and frightening. A good integrationist takes this into account, and utilizes empathy as much as any other tool at their disposal. True rapport is emotional, not merely circumstantial.”
— The Guiding Light: An Integrationist’s Guide to Understanding Primes, Chapter VI: Being Kind
Harry was angry. This was not an uncommon state for him (especially recently), but rarely did he try so hard to keep it under control.
This related to how tired he was. He hadn’t been sleeping well, not at all, and the fatigue made his temper short. Staying at the Dursleys’ for the past weeks had been necessary but entirely undesirable. He was so close to leaving for good, and that moment couldn’t come soon enough.
And now Uncle Vernon was looking to delay it yet again. Harry didn’t care how it happened, he just wanted the Dursleys to go hide, out of the house, and out of his way. He couldn’t run off to fight Voldemort while they were easy targets; his conscience wouldn’t stretch that far. As soon as Harry left for good, the protections around Privet Drive would be finished, and he didn’t think the Death Eaters would have any problem killing some of his Muggle relatives, no matter how incidental they were.
He was also still unable to perform under-age magic without breaking the law. Going ‘off the grid’, as Scott had put it, would be that much more difficult if the Ministry wanted to arrest him yet again. Harry already had plenty of other people lining up to take a shot at him.
So instead of forcibly shoving his relatives out the door with a spell, Harry took another deep breath and tried to think of some way to get the man’s fat arse out of the house and into the car. Vernon was currently labouring under the delusion that the protection program Harry had offered was an elaborate ruse to gain ownership of the Dursley house. This was so stupid that Harry was actually stumped for a response. He would rather sleep on the street than live in this shitehole by choice.
He realized he had actually said that last part out loud when Vernon’s face began to turn a rich, furious purple.
“Is there a problem here?”
A new voice from the lawn interrupted the proceedings and temporarily curtailed Vernon’s rage. Harry stepped forward to peer around Dudley as they all turned to look, but he already knew who it was.
Scott Kharan stood on the garden path wearing a slightly bemused expression. He was also wearing Muggle clothing and, while his choice of trousers and a long-sleeved button-up shirt seemed slightly odd in the summer heat, he was neither mismatched nor obviously uncomfortable.
Vernon looked suspicious, but didn’t react as he would to yet another member of the Wizarding society he so loathed. “No, no problem,” he responded gruffly. “Just discussing something with the boy here—”
“Harry, yeah. That’s his name — it’s Harry. Say it.”
Vernon glared. “I beg your pardon?”
“Call him Harry,” Scott said. He moved a few steps forwards, towering over Vernon’s stout form. “Just for future reference.”
The implied menace in Scott’s stance was enough for Vernon to realise what was going on. He whirled on Harry. “Boy, is this another of your — your—”
“Friends?” Harry suggested.
“Comrades. Compatriots,” Scott added.
“—your type,” Vernon spat out, like it was something rotten. Petunia grabbed Dudley’s shoulders and pulled him further away from Scott.
“Do you see a wand?” Scott asked. He held up his hands for inspection.
That mollified Vernon, if only very slightly. “So he’s a normal acquaintance of yours,” he said grudgingly to Harry.
Normal? No, definitely not. “Not exactly,” Harry snorted.
“Wands are scary things,” Scott said breezily. “You never know what they can do, right? Maybe turn you into a toad or something. Maybe set you on fire.”
“Silence!” Vernon demanded, but he was apparently too afraid to shout in case the neighbours were listening. “I will not discuss these things in my house!”
“That’s fine. Weren’t you just leaving?”
“Oh. OH.” Vernon turned once more to Harry. “I see. You’ve enlisted help, have you? Boy, I’ll tell you right now that I will not be forced out of my own home on some ridiculous pretence—”
“That’s not what you said yesterday,” Harry interrupted.
“I changed my mind! And now here’s this fellow also trying to get us to leave, and I can put two and two together, yes I can, and I see what’s happening here!”
“I don’t think you do,” Scott told him, and the blankly polite expression he had been wearing was now somehow threatening. “Harry is telling you that if you don’t leave with the people coming to get you, then Voldemort will torture and kill you, your wife, and your grotesquely deformed son. But I’m here to tell you about a more immediate danger.”
“Am I to believe there’s another maniac out to get us?” Vernon scoffed.
“Could be. The day ain’t over yet. Are you scared of wands, Vernon?”
“Scared?” Vernon indignantly blustered. “Of course not, it’s just unnatural, all of you are—”
“Then this must seem mundane.” Scott reached into his buttoned shirt, and when he partially withdrew his hand, the hard outline of a pistol was clenched in it. He rested the handgun against his chest, the last half of the barrel still concealed beneath the cloth.
Vernon’s face drained of colour so quickly it was as if he had sprung a leak. Petunia let out a high-pitched squeak and scurried backwards until she was pressed against the wall. Dudley just stared, looking more interested than alarmed.
“What, scared of this too? Don’t you know how a gun works?” Scott said mockingly. “Physics. Chemistry. Action and reaction, pressure and velocity. Nothing magical about this — why so frightened?”
“Petunia,” Vernon croaked, “call the police.”
Scott grinned. “And tell them… what? That a magical wizard is threatening you with a gun?”
“Scott, don’t do anything stupid,” Harry warned. He didn’t think Scott would actually gun down his relatives, but wouldn’t put it past the Kharadjai to shoot Vernon in the knee or something.
“Take my purse! There’s jewellery upstairs in the bedroom!” Aunt Petunia said hysterically, speaking for the first time.
“I don’t want, or need, your money,” Scott said contemptuously. “I want, and need you to get the fuck out of this house.”
Since nobody had actually been shot yet, Vernon had regained some small portion of his bravado. “And go where? We can’t just drive off aimlessly!”
“There will be some people here soon to take you to a safe place,” Harry reminded him.
“And you’re going to go with them,” Scott said with finality.
Vernon actually quivered with rage when given the order. “Or else what?”
“Or else I’ll take this lamp,” Scott said calmly, nodding at a table lamp near him, “and I’ll beat you with it until you stop moving. Then I’ll wrap you in a bin bag and they can drag you to the safe house. So go sit down, or I’ll put you down.”
Vernon’s mouth opened and closed several times, outrage vying with terror. But the look in Scott’s eyes made it clear that he was both willing and fully capable of carrying out his threats, so Vernon turned around on shaky legs and tottered over to the couch, where he collapsed and was joined by Petunia. They huddled together, shock writ large on their faces. Harry found dark humour in the fact that despite all the wizarding going on lately, it was the looming promise of a Muggle-style beating that cowed them most of all.
Except for Dudley. Harry didn’t know if it was stupidity or overconfidence, but Dudley was defiantly sizing Scott up.
“I could thrash you,” Dudley grunted to Scott, flexing his massive arms. “Put the gun away if we’re goin’ to fight.”
Scott glanced at Dudley, the expression on his face indicating that he didn’t think the lad was worth his time. “You don’t want that.”
“C’mon then,” Dudley said fiercely, angered by Scott’s low opinion of his strength. “You scared of me? After all that talk? You’re just a bloody coward.”
Harry closed his eyes and placed a hand on his forehead, because he knew what was coming.
He hadn’t seen Scott fight all that much, just a few times. But if there was one thing that had been apparent from the start — made clear through both Scott’s actions and words — it was that he fought in a certain manner. He didn’t fight for show. He didn’t fight for honour, or out of fairness, or with a sense that he had to hold himself back. Scott fought to win. And he would do it by the most direct means possible.
In what appeared to be one fluid, rapid, impossible motion Scott grabbed Dudley’s right arm and bent it the wrong way at the elbow, stretching it back. When Dudley leaned forward slightly with the torque exerted on his shoulder, Scott then punched him in the throat. This was followed by a second punch to the chest and a kick into the side of a kneecap.
Dudley hit the floor so hard that the house shook.
“DUDLEY!” Aunt Petunia shrieked.
Vernon was too enraged to be so eloquent. With a wordless roar he sprang from the couch and started to charge at Scott.
Harry knew he had to put a stop to this before it got out of hand. “THAT’S ENOUGH!” he ordered, and drew his wand. He pointed it at Vernon.
Vernon skidded to an ungainly halt, his face a conflicting mess of horror and rage. Petunia was down on her knees, hyperventilating with barely contained hysteria as she worked in vain to roll Dudley onto his back. For his part, Dudley was making a great deal of noise trying to breathe.
“The throat is a good show stopper,” Scott said to Harry, looking unconcerned by the scene he had caused. He gestured at Dudley’s twitching form. “See how hard it is for him to inhale? The first punch closes his windpipe; the second hit to the chest knocks out any air he already had. He’s close to passing out.”
“Thanks for the lesson, but I could have done without the demonstration,” Harry said, fixing Scott with a hard glare. “Try not to hurt anyone else while you’re here, all right?”
Scott raised an eyebrow, looking down at Dudley. “I think the lesson was more for him.”
Harry sighed, releasing some of his anger. Dudley had always been prone to starting fights. It was just his incredibly bad luck to start one with Scott. “They’ve been hard enough to convince without you maiming Dudley.”
“Sorry. Regardless, we gotta talk.”
“In a minute,” Harry said. “Let’s wait for the Order to get here.”
“They can wait for the Order to get here,” Scott said, jerking his head in the direction of the Dursleys. He grabbed Harry’s arm and tugged him towards the stairs. “We have other plans.”
As soon as they were in Harry’s room, he closed the door and frowned at Scott. “What other plans?”
Scott flopped down in his usual position at the foot of Harry’s bed, but in his adult form he hung off the edge from the waist down. With a groan, he sat back up. “I think the Order will want to move you, too.”
Harry had the same thought, but there was no way to be sure. “They already told me they are. If I leave now I’m not coming back, and that will break the protections.”
“They’ll break on your birthday, and that’s coming up fast,” Scott pointed out.
“Either way, Voldemort will be waiting for me,” Harry said grimly. “Maybe he doesn’t know exactly where I am, but he’s had a lot of time to narrow it down.”
“That’s right. And if we have to shoot our way out of here, I’d like to be prepared.”
That was a daunting proposition. “Maybe we should see what the others have set up first,” Harry suggested.
“That’s fine. It’d be better to move under cover of dark. Here, this is what I’ve done so far…” Scott stood and led Harry over to the window; leaning down, he pointed towards the section of street that was visible from the side yard. “See that car parked across the way? That’s mine.” He then pointed downward. “There’s a bag of stuff in the bushes, in case we exit this way.”
“I think the Death Eaters won’t have much trouble stopping a car,” Harry said.
Scott smirked in response. “Let’s see you stop a car while avoiding gunfire. Take it from someone with experience: it’s not easy to do anything when you’ve got bullets snapping around your head.”
“They could still overwhelm us. We’re bound to be outnumbered.”
“Which is why speed will be key,” Scott said absent-mindedly. He was checking the lock on the window. “A distraction wouldn’t hurt, either, if you’ve got any ideas.”
Harry thought about that for a few seconds. “I could send my Patronus out the opposite way. It will be bright in the dark, and it moves pretty fast.”
“I also have a variety of grenades in that bag,” Scott said. He opened the window and, apparently satisfied that it could be done quickly, shut it again. “We could set traps in case they come into the house. Flashbangs would work well if we get caught in the open. I’ve even got some CI-WP6 canisters.”
“…And those are good?” Harry guessed.
“Combat Incendiary White Phosphorus grenades. They burn hot as hell, but more useful in this scenario is the shit ton of smoke they put out. All I have are WP6s, though. Wish I had some WP0s.” Scott’s eyes widened. “Or a WP double oh…although, come to think of it, anything higher than a WP2 would probably set fire to the neighbourhood.”
“I’d like to avoid that,” Harry said dryly.
“Like I said, all I have are the WP5s. Good enough to get us out of here. Besides, the double-ohs are what they slide in the one-fifties, or mount in bomb racks, rocket pods, that kind of crap. Nothing we could carry… Unless I can figure out how to bolt an artillery piece to that car…”
“We’re trying to be inconspicuous,” Harry said patiently.
Scott sighed. “I suppose we are.” He paused then, looking confused. “Shit, did I really just beat up your cousin?”
Harry looked at him askance. “Uh, yeah. Yeah, you did.”
“Goddammit. That was uncalled for.”
Harry was dumbfounded by that uncharacteristic expression of remorse. “What’s got into you?”
“Teen form, that’s what.” Scott sighed again. “It lingers, you know. I changed just a couple hours ago. Still feel stupid… impulsive. Chatty. End up punching a kid in the throat, that’s nice. I need to settle back in to being me, not a bag of hormones.”
“You calling me a bag of hormones, too?”
“Indirectly. But you are, yes.” Scott moved back from the window and surveyed the rest of the room. “I heard from Lila that you’ve still been mailing Ginny, correct?”
“Yes, and it hasn’t had much to do with hormones,” Harry replied, making the connection in Scott’s train of thought. “Keep your nose out of my letters.”
“Keep your snog sessions off of my couch,” Scott shot back. “Whatever erotic missives you’ve been sending, I don’t care… much.”
Harry decided to ignore that. “Have you seen this?” he asked, changing the subject. He grabbed his crumpled copy of the Daily Prophet and threw it over to Scott.
“Seen what?” Scott said, trying to smooth out the pages.
“That article. About Dumbledore. By fucking Skeeter! I thought Hermione had her number but I guess even that’s not enough anymore.” Harry’s hands curled into fists. “He’s hardly been gone for a couple months and people are already just…”
“Rewriting history, I take it,” Scott guessed, peering at the newspaper.
“To say the least,” Harry grated.
Scott lowered the paper and raised an eyebrow at Harry. “Is this something we need to take care of?”
“Take care of how?”
“Depends whether this Skeeter person is actively working against us, or just an opportunist. Is she taking a side, or making some money?”
Harry scoffed. That was an easy enough question to answer. “Making some money. She’s a piece of work, but not really Death Eater material.”
“All right. Understandable motivation, deplorable methods. Let me know if we need to shut her up. This sort of thing doesn’t seem impactful, but you would know better than me.” Scott shrugged.
“Most people don’t listen to her… I hope,” Harry amended. “What would you do to her?”
“Customary threats to her home, career and life. Maybe I’m wrong, but she doesn’t seem likely to hold on to journalistic integrity at that point.”
“You have to have journalistic integrity to hold on to it.”
Scott grinned. “Point.”
“I just can’t believe she can do that,” Harry muttered.
“The free press cuts both ways. From the look of things this will soon be irrelevant, because the Wizarding press won’t be close to free under Voldemort.” Scott frowned. “He’s got people afraid to say his name. He has to be a good propagandist. Or at the very least, he knows how to be memorable. I think we can expect wide-ranging manipulation of the media as the Ministry comes under his control.”
That was an entire other issue, one that Harry wasn’t ready to face. He didn’t know what could be done about the Ministry except finding the Horcruxes and getting rid of Voldemort quickly. That didn’t appear terribly likely, though. Harry knew he would likely be dodging Death Eaters and the Ministry in equal measure.
“Not much we can do about it,” he said.
“Now now, no,” Scott agreed. “No defence is perfect, however. Given the opportunity, the Ministry will be a good target.”
Harry didn’t know what kind of plans Scott was forming, but they probably involved a great deal of violence. With dull resignation he reckoned Ginny’s speculative scenario of Scott burning down the Ministry was close to the truth. Harry would prefer that it not come to that. He didn’t like the idea of destroying the Wizarding world in order to save it.
“Let’s try to stay focused,” he warned Scott. “We have to find those Horcruxes and we can’t stop to fight every Death Eater in the country along the way.”
“Again — speed is the key. We can’t get bogged down, we’re outnumbered.”
“But how fast are we going to be, searching for bloody Horcruxes?” Harry said impatiently, feeling like Scott was missing the point. “You’ll be dragging us along with you, remember. We’re not soldiers, or — or whatever it is you’re supposed to be. I have to sleep, even if you don’t.”
Scott shrugged. “Then we hide sometimes. It’s not the biggest country, but big enough. But I still think a running battle is our best chance. Fire and manoeuvre, Harry. Don’t let them fix you.”
“I’ll try. But I’m just…” Harry paused. What was he, exactly? The Boy Who Lived? The Chosen One? Or (as he felt) just a dumb kid in over his head? “…a student. I’m not any good at this.”
“Not yet,” Scott added. “And I disagree. You’ve shown yourself to be a fighter more than once. You didn’t give up when Voldemort had you before.”
“And I got lucky,” Harry muttered.
“Sometimes, that’s all you need.” Scott glanced at the doorway. “I think someone else is here.”
“It must be the Order,” Harry said hurriedly, throwing open the door and rushing for the stairs. “You’d better stay up here!”
Not waiting for Scott’s reply, Harry quickly descended and found Dedalus Diggle and Hestia Jones attempting to engage the Dursleys in conversation. In Harry’s opinion, this was a complete waste of time, and was tempted to say so, but considering that his relatives might be spending a fair amount of time with the two Order members, there was no reason to sour things so soon. Diggle and Jones would find out just what the Dursleys were like in short order.
“Harry!” Dedalus exclaimed, beaming at him. “Good to see you, lad!”
Harry spared him a polite nod, but quickly approached the Dursleys. Dudley had managed to pick himself up off the floor and was now slumped against the arm of the couch, frequently coughing. “These are the Order members I told you about. Go with them and do what they tell you,” Harry instructed Vernon.
Vernon was cowed by this point, but not completely beaten. “Boy—” he started.
Harry leaned in closer. “Do I need to get Scott to help move things along?” he asked in a low voice.
Vernon swallowed whatever protest had been forth coming, eyes wild. “Come on, Petunia,” he said weakly. “Let’s be off.”
Harry stood by the stairs and watched in silence as the Dursleys left. Vernon’s shoulders were slumped, appearing defeated. He didn’t even glance at Harry as he went out the door. Aunt Petunia held herself stiffly, though the fear in her posture undermined the attempt she was making at dignity. She did look Harry’s way, just for a moment; whatever she saw in his eyes made her flinch. Her mouth moved the tiniest fraction, but the words were left unsaid.
As Dudley staggered along — bent forward slightly, with the hand that Scott hadn’t hurt gingerly touching his throat — he paused at the doorway. Harry thought he seemed confused, and for a moment it looked like he might say something. A great jagged cough burst from his lungs instead, and he turned away.
There wasn’t a whole lot of emotion attached to seeing them go. Harry had written them all off a long time ago. There was no point looking for family where he’d never find it.
Back upstairs, Scott was waiting. “Everything taken care of?” he asked.
“They’re gone,” Harry confirmed.
“Anything you want to do while you got the chance? Set fire to the drapes? Take a shit on their bed?”
That made Harry laugh. “No, I think I’m good. Leaving is enough for me.”
“Cool. But if you want to steal a TV or something, I won’t say anything.”
“Where would I put it?” Harry went over to his bed and fell back onto his pillow. The sun was still bright in the sky.
As he stared upwards, the ceiling held no answers for the problems facing him. The man sitting at the foot of his bed might. Harry reckoned Scott had already said his piece, though. A waiting car and a rucksack of bombs were probably just part of the plan. Whatever came after would most likely be improvised, seeing as how neither of them knew what they would be up against.
It still seemed impossibly daunting. Harry’s worst fear was that Voldemort would force a confrontation right out in the street in front of the house. He didn’t think he had much chance of surviving such an encounter, not even with Scott’s help. Well… no. His worst fear would be Voldemort and his followers killing all of Harry’s friends and then Harry himself (or, even more terrible, leaving Harry alive).
Harry reached into his pocket and withdrew his wand, holding it up for inspection. It looked like a weak weapon for saving the world, or at least the U.K. part of it. “Scott,” he said, breaking the silence which was so unusual considering the Kharadjai was present, “who was the first person you ever killed?”
“That’s a hell of a thing to ask,” Scott replied calmly.
Harry winced. “Sorry.”
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t…” Harry blinked, realising that Scott had actually answered the question, sort of. “How can you not know?”
“It was a firefight. It was dark. I wasn’t the only person shooting. I shot more than one person, but as to which I killed? I don’t know. Highground credited me two confirmed kills. The OpFor took their dead and wounded with them when they withdrew. I never saw either.”
That sounded very impersonal, and not at all what Harry had imagined for his fight against Voldemort. “Why were you fighting them? If it’s okay to ask, that is…” he hedged, trying to be a bit more tactful.
“I was still in the Third Army at the time. I got my dick wet in universe, uh… I can’t remember the number. But it was Operation Hold Spree, I remember that. I was with the 113th FIR, Sigma Company. Standard interdiction orders: they put us between the OpFor and the civvies and told us to send them packing. We did it, all right.” Scott paused. “As for the why… I’d have to requisition the files. I think there was a long term UO manifestation, and we were preventing… something or the other. It might have been ethnic.”
“What does ‘Hold Spree’ mean?”
“It doesn’t mean anything. It was just the callsign for the Op, they’re always random.”
Harry frowned thoughtfully. “Then what’s the callsign for this Op?”
“Halberd Prevalence. The words are nonsense, but the initials might be more than coincidence. Someone has to name the mission, and I think a lot of times inspiration comes straight from the intel.”
Scott was being unusually forthcoming. Normally Harry would have to pry anything Kharadjai related out of him. “So that was your first battle, huh.”
“Oh, no. Not at all. I was with the 202nd SFM for years before that, Second Fleet Marines. Homefront SAD, Canaan Sector. Stationed on the KCC Ultimatum. Before that, 542nd RIR, Kappa Company. Saw some action during the Hanetse elections. And before that, the 195th SFM, Carcer Patrol, KCC Longevity. And other stuff, too.”
Harry couldn’t really process that many acronyms, so he just forged onward. “But you never killed anyone during any of those battles?”
“Kharadjai engagements. Strictly on the homefront. Shot a few people, but nobody died. Always kind of tricky to fight other Kharadjai. Go through multus ammunition making sure they stay down.”
“Wow. Yeah, that’s got to be hard fighting other people like you.”
“Luckily, most aren’t like me. Back then, I wasn’t like me. I was tough, sure, but I can take way more punishment now. Primare training will do that.”
“And experience, I’d bet,” Harry said dryly. “Not like you’ve had a clean bill of health so far here.”
“True that! And the worst is yet to come, my worried friend. How fortunate of you to have me as your handy damage sponge.”
Harry didn’t feel comfortable throwing anyone into the line of fire, not even Scott. “Let’s try to be careful, I don’t want anything like that to happen.”
“We can be careful. But, Harry…” Scott’s voice turned serious. “When it comes down to the wire, don’t hesitate. Get behind me, kick me out the door, tell me to draw their fire, whatever you have to do. This world needs you, and it won’t miss me.”
“Whatever,” Harry muttered, feeling the bitterness touching the back of his tongue, just like it always did whenever his supposed indispensability came up.
“No. Not whatever. You fucking do it.”
Teen Scott would probably have let the whole thing go and made a joke about it. Harry was starting to understand what Lila had meant. “Fine. I get it.”
Scott sighed. “You don’t. But that’s just part of who you are.”
“Enough of this,” Harry grumbled, pushing himself up into a sitting position. “What are we going to do for the rest of the day?”
“It’s your house now, boyo. We could redecorate.”
“I thought décor was Lila’s thing.”
Scott grinned. “Only the part where you add stuff. Myself, I like to subtract.”
And that’s how Harry spent the next couple of hours practising his throwing aim with Aunt Petunia’s china plates. It was petty, but so was she.
“I don’t like this,” Neville said stubbornly.
“I know, Neville,” Luna said sympathetically. “But Daddy has been alone for a bit too long, don’t you think? How can he be expected to catch a Snorkack without my help?”
Neville crossed his arms, not yielding to the point. He was watching as Luna packed the few belongings she had brought with her during her extended stay in the newly created guest bedroom. Against his better judgement, she was going back home.
In the past, Neville had almost invariably spent his summers alone. The plants in the greenhouse were his only companions, a (usually) silent collection of distractions to keep him occupied. He’d never had any friends he thought he could invite over for a visit; he knew that Harry was stuck at his own house for the duration, and, well… he supposed he might contact Ron or Hermione, but unless they liked plants, there wasn’t a whole lot to do at Neville’s.
The Longbottom Estate was a large, draughty old place, the kind of generational residence that had more rooms than occupants. This had been especially true for Neville’s childhood, spent largely in the company of his grandmother and whatever relatives came to visit. There were doors that he hadn’t opened in years, full of cloth-covered furniture and heirlooms of indeterminate origin. The grounds were equally vast, though a great deal of it hadn’t been tended to. Past the greenhouse was an overgrown field, and then past that stood the woods, marked only by the trails of deer.
When Scott had advised Neville that a Death Eater had been spotted lurking about Luna’s place, Neville hadn’t needed the unsubtle hints the Kharadjai had dropped: he had known exactly what to do. That night he had gone into the room across from his, forcing open squeaky, rusted windows and bashing out the splintery shutters when he couldn’t figure out how to unlock them. Loads of dust had been sent out those windows, the cloth coverings on the bed and dresser following it.
When Neville informed his grandmum that he would shortly have company, she had been too shocked to protest. This was probably because he had simply told her, and not asked. Neville wasn’t sure he had ever done that before.
He had never sent anything through the post, nor did he contact her via Floo, but the next day Luna had shown up on his doorstep, regardless. Scott had obviously taken care of things (and knew Neville well enough that he never bothered to check and see if Luna could stay in the first place). The second Neville had seen her on the porch, all floating golden hair and wide silvery eyes, his heart was caught in a fist. He had desperately wanted to avoid disappointing her. And he’d been afraid that his house and whatever entertainment he could provide would be entirely disappointing.
But Luna had flitted from room to room, from the kitchen to the greenhouse, expressing wonderment at the smallest things. Neville had followed her in a daze, registering her gentle chatter only peripherally. She’d smelled good. Maybe that had been an odd thing to notice (and certainly not something he could ever express to her) but he had been stuck on it, nonetheless.
Luna liked spending time with him out in the greenhouse, inventing fanciful origins for all his plants, giving them each a name. She loved the woods. Neville hadn’t ever spent much time in them but he followed her about like she was magnetic, caught in her pull, stopping her only when they strayed close to the edge of the magical protections that surrounded the property. At night she would pull out a new book from the small library downstairs and read the ending with him. She explained that she always read the ending first, since she didn’t want to get involved with the story if it didn’t end happily. Sometimes she would read it backwards, for a different perspective. At supper-time, Gran would try her best to bore little, disapproving holes into Luna with her eyes, but Luna never seemed to notice. After awhile, Neville even found it funny.
And always, always, he noticed every little thing about her. The way her wayward tresses caught the slightest breeze. The way her small, pale hands held the pages of a book, so careful and reverential. The way her eyes lit up when some new fancy struck her. The way her delicate nose crinkled when she laughed, always full-bodied and without restraint. The way her perfect rosebud mouth pursed before she stood on her tiptoes to kiss him on the cheek before bed.
It was the best summer Neville had ever had.
And now she was leaving him.
“Luna, we don’t know whether it’s safe for you to go yet,” he argued.
“It won’t be long before Bill Weasley’s wedding, I’ll have to wear a dress, and I didn’t bring anything suitable,” Luna told him, making an unusually relevant argument. One thing spending a summer with her had taught Neville was that her head wasn’t in the clouds as much as most people tended to think.
“Just tell me what you need, I’m sure Scott could get it for you,” Neville countered lamely, knowing full well that he hadn’t any way to contact Scott.
Luna stood up from where she had been stuffing a pair of trousers into her bag and frowned. “I know he’s a friend, but perhaps not in that way? I don’t think I’d want Scott sorting through my knickers.”
Neville’s mind was immediately barraged by images of a drawer full of Luna’s knickers and her wearing various pairs. He impatiently brushed the thoughts away. “Okay, what about Lila? Or Ginny?”
Luna reached over and took his hand. “Neville, I know you don’t want me to go. And that makes me feel very nice. But I can’t stay here forever. I don’t think your grandmum would like that at all.”
So she had noticed Gran’s frosty demeanour. “Oh, she’ll be all right, she just… needs time to get used to having someone else here, it’s usually just the two of us—”
“No, Neville,” Luna said firmly. She squeezed his hand. “I have to go. But we’ll see each other again very soon.”
Neville held onto her hand tightly, vainly searching for some reason why she simply couldn’t go. “I…”
Without warning, Luna stepped forward and wrapped her arms around him in a close hug. Neville was generally aroused by her presence alone, and even as he put his own arms around her shoulders he was hoping that she didn’t press any closer. His reaction to the hug would be entirely obvious at that point.
“I understand,” she hummed into his chest. “I don’t want to go, either. But it’s time.” She looked up at him, her grey eyes completely captivating. “You smell quite nice,” she noted.
Neville swallowed with some difficulty. “Th-thanks…”
She blinked. “Oh, before I go, there was something I wanted to give you.”
Luna lifted herself up on her toes, pulled down on Neville’s neck, and pressed her lips to his.
Neville froze. He didn’t know what to do. Every cell in his brain was screaming in ecstasy but he was just standing there like a lump. He had to do something! But by the time Neville had decided that he should at least try to kiss her back, Luna had pulled away.
She licked her lips, Neville’s gaze tracing the movement of her pink tongue. “That was exhilarating,” she noted. “Did you like it?”
“Yes,” he said weakly. “I liked it a lot.”
“Oh, that’s good. I thought you might not, since you didn’t move at all. But I’ve never kissed a boy before, so I don’t have any comparison. Is that normal?”
Neville responded by lifting her up and kissing her with every ounce of pent up attraction he had accumulated over the summer. When they finally broke apart, they were both gasping for air.
“How was that?” Neville ventured. He was already eyeing her lips again and felt like he could never, ever get tired of this.
Luna seemed slightly dazed. She touched her lips in wonderment. “That was very interesting. I never understood before why so many people like kissing, but I do now. It’s a lot of fun, isn’t it?”
Neville nodded enthusiastically. “Uh-huh.”
“I like it very much.” She looked back up at him with an almost hungry expression. “I think it’s more fun with you than it would be with anyone else. I feel warm all over; do you? Especially down here.” She placed one hand in a spot that almost made Neville choke on his own saliva. “Would you like to kiss me again?”
Neville had never been more sure of anything in his life. “Um, yeah.”
“All right then,” she said, and moved her hands to his neck again.
Once again, the demands of oxygen forced them to separate. Neville was about sick of this ‘breathing’ thing. “Luna… would you like to be my girlfriend?”
Luna’s smile was as bright as the sun. “Of course! I’ve been waiting all summer for you to ask.”
“You—” Neville started, but then he realised that there wasn’t any point. What was obvious to Luna had escaped far smarter people than himself.
“It’s been such a wonderful summer, and I enjoyed spending it with you even more than I thought I would — and I thought I would quite a lot. I was very right.” She hugged him again, even more tightly than before. “You’ve been a great friend, and I’m glad you also want to be more. I’ve never had a boyfriend before. This is very exciting.”
Oh, yes. It was very exciting. Neville shifted his hips away from her slightly. “It has been a great summer, hasn’t it? Best I’ve ever had. And I’ve never had a girlfriend, either.”
“Really?” Luna actually seemed surprised. “I think that’s odd. You’re brave and handsome, and very kind.”
Neville blushed. “Yeah, well, you’re really smart, and pretty and nice to everyone, even rotten gits like Malfoy. I can’t imagine why any bloke would pass you up.”
Luna smiled again. “That’s why we should be together, Neville. We see what nobody else does.”
They were holding hands on the front porch when Luna’s father came to get her. Neville thought he might let go before Mr. Lovegood saw, but couldn’t think of any way to do it without upsetting Luna. Gran was already glaring at them from behind the window curtain. No doubt she’d have some words for him when he went back inside, but Neville didn’t care. This was one decision Gran hadn’t forced him into, and she couldn’t force him out of it, either.
Luna made the whole hand-dropping thing irrelevant when she gave him a enthusiastic kiss right before she turned to go. Mr. Lovegood was busily looking about with great interest, and Neville wasn’t even sure he’d noticed; that was, until he paused to give Neville a very direct look. Neville couldn’t control the blush that stole over his face, but stood his ground regardless. Luna wasn’t ashamed of it, and he wouldn’t be either.
As he watched her leave, all he could think about was seeing her again. The short time to the wedding didn’t seem so short at all.
As expected, Gran had immediately tried to corner him with questions about ‘that Lovegood girl’ but Neville wasn’t having any of it. He brushed past her with promises of talking later and went straight to his room.
There, resting upon his bed, every sensation she had left him with crowded his mind. The taste of her lips, the feel of her small form enfolded in his own… It was all so immediate, and tortuously unrepeatable. He wanted to do it all over again.
It was funny, really. Neville had always thought that finding his first girlfriend would be an awkward, difficult experience. That he’d have no idea what to do and would probably muck it all up before it even started. The only part of that which ended up being true was that he really didn’t know what to do.
But he couldn’t wait to figure it out.
“Fuck me,” Scott muttered. Reaching over, he knocked one of his pieces off the board.
“I suppose you think that was lucky,” Harry said sarcastically.
Scott brought his hands up and rubbed at his temples, peering at the board with furious concentration. “You made an estimated guess, and it worked. Real combat is not so forgiving… Although, sometimes—” He moved his piece forward, forcing Harry to reveal that his own piece was inferior. “—it is.”
“Damn it.” Harry had got better after four straight games of Stratego, but Scott was still reigning champion.
“Look for the patterns. The ranks are thinning… am I obvious enough that those stationary units are bombs, or am I just screwing with you? Am I moving in a definable way, or am I just responding to your moves?”
“I don’t know, that’s the problem.” Harry leaned his head over onto one hand. “I need to find my own strategy game to be good at. I’m tired of losing to Ron in chess and you in this.”
Scott made a face of disbelief. “What? We’ve played four games just tonight, how many years have you been losing to Ron? We’re not exactly in the same league.”
“Well, I’m already tired of it. And I think that’s a bomb,” Harry said, pointing at one of Scott’s pieces.
“Only one way to find out…”
“Okay.” Harry grabbed the edges of the game board and spun it around so that Scott’s pieces were revealed to him. “There we go. I was right, it was a bomb.”
Instead of flying into a (admittedly justified) rage, Scott only smiled sharply. “Now you’re thinking. Don’t ever play the game they want you to. There are no rules, only limits.”
Harry sighed. “I can’t win at all. If I play fair you beat me, if I cheat you don’t get angry and take all the fun out of it.”
“Someday you might have to flip the board on Voldemort. And that’s not a game.”
“Fight to win,” Harry stated tiredly, the underlying mantra of so many of Scott’s ‘lessons’. Harry usually felt like he was being tested, not taught.
“No glory in combat. No honour in killing. No dignity in death.”
“Is that a quote?” Harry asked. “Or did you make that up, too?”
“Nullus bellum decus.Nullus honor interfectis. Nullus dignitas in mortem.” Scott leaned back in his chair. “It’s a quote, yeah. Older than you, older than me, older than anyone still alive to remember it. The point is that we don’t do these things because they’re fun. We do them because we must. Don’t put on a show, just get it done.”
“Like you did with Dudley?” Harry said bitingly.
“Wrong target, right idea.” Scott shrugged. “Sorry about that, again.”
Harry sighed. “It’s all right. He had it coming.”
“So do a lot of other people. And wait, what else did I say I made up?”
“The thing about the ‘shield within’,” Harry said. When Scott looked blank, he added, “Remember? Back in the Room of Requirement, after you blocked everyone’s spells. You said that you made up that quote about the shield.”
“Really?” Scott appeared surprised.
Harry thought Scott might be fooling around at that point. “Come off it. You’re telling me you don’t remember that at all?”
“No, I know the quote. Nullus vim supra intra scutum.No power above the shield within. I don’t remember telling you it came from me, though. Maybe you’re thinking of something else.”
“No, I’m not. You said you made it up,” Harry told him exasperatedly.
“Hmm. Well, if I did — if I did — then I was totally lying. That quote predates me by at least a hundred epochs.”
“So you lied. What a surprise.”
Scott actually looked a bit embarrassed. He glanced out the kitchen window. “Getting darker out there.”
“The Order should be here before too long,” Harry said, allowing Scott to change the subject. “You might want to go upstairs. Last thing we need is for them to see you.”
“What, you’re just going to leave me up there alone? I’ll get bored.”
“We’ll both be lucky if boredom is the worst that happens tonight,” Harry said grimly.
“Cheerful. C’mon, let’s go upstairs and make sure you didn’t forget to pack anything. I’m sure that will be riveting.”
Despite Scott’s suggestion, Harry was the only one checking to see if anything needed to be packed once they returned to his room. Scott stared out the window while Harry peeked under the bed and went through his wardrobe, stirring up dust rather than anything vital. Apparently not content with the view, Scott left and went into the other rooms.
Harry was considering Scott’s words about hiding out with the Muggles; some of the attire he had left in his drawers might still be useful in that regard. Most of it was just poorly fitting clothing that Dudley had outgrown, but it was better than nothing. It would do until he could buy some more.
“Harry, come here,” Scott called out from Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia’s room.
Harry dropped the t-shirt he had been examining and walked down the short hallway to where Scott was looking out the double windows intently. They offered a view of the back garden, as opposed to Harry’s window, which mostly offered a view of the neighbouring house. It occurred to him, as he walked around the bed, that he had never actually been in the room before, or, if he had, he had been too young to remember.
Scott pointed at something outside. “You see that man walking down the street back there?”
Harry looked in that direction and just saw the outline of someone before they went out of sight behind an obstructing house. “What about him?”
“That’s the third time he’s covered that part of the walk.”
Harry felt a chill run down his spine.
“He’s nervous,” Scott continued. “He keeps looking around, but not finding anything. He’s also wearing slippers, corduroy pants and a turtleneck sweater. So either he’s high as a kite, or he’s trying to fit in and doesn’t understand how or why.”
Harry knew what he thought was most likely. “He’s looking for me.”
“Probably. If he is, he’s not alone.”
It was a very bad discovery, but Harry had known something like this was inevitable. He set his jaw. “We have to warn the Order. If we can get a letter out in time they’ll call it off.”
Scott nodded. “Okay. Make it fast.”
Harry rushed back to his room, grabbing a loose piece of paper from his desk and the first pen he saw. He had no sooner begun to scrawl out his desperate message when Scott appeared in the doorway.
“Too late,” Scott said calmly. He jerked his head in the direction of the stairs. “Your ride is here.”
Harry dropped the pen, not caring when it rolled off the desk and clattered on the floor. “Shit.”
“Yeah. Go see what the plan is, but try not to leave without letting me know.”
“Leave?” Harry said incredulously. “I can’t leave, not now, those bastards are right out there! They’ll attack everyone with me, we’ll have to figure something else out.”
“Like what? We already knew this could happen.” Scott held up his hands in a helpless gesture. “Just go downstairs and see what the plan is. We’ll go from there.”
“Fine. But I’m not putting anyone else in danger. I’ll go alone if I have to.”
Scott laughed quietly. “You really think you could get out of here without me knowing?”
That, Harry thought as he descended the stairway, was a problem for later. Right now, he had to find out what the Order was up to.
What they were up to, as it turned out, was completely unacceptable.