"Those not in the business often imagine integration as being a constant struggle against the whims of the shape and of stubborn Primes. In fact, integration much more closely resembles a business partnership than a form of herding — you aren't chasing cattle! There's a level of autonomy inherent in the process that can come as a surprise to the inexperienced. But it's crucial, because it's just not possible to always be behind the stick."
—Captain Paul Skinner, Ret., Life in Providence
It was a very subdued breakfast that Ginny walked in on a bit before nine in the morning.
Sophie and Kylie were absent, possibly still in bed. Harry, Ron and Hermione were eating in silence, eyes on their food. There was a noticeable tension to the proceedings. It wasn't especially surprising considering one of their own was missing.
And, yes, Ginny could admit to herself that she thought of Scott as 'one of theirs'. She wasn't exactly the best of chums with the Kharadjai, but he was part of the group and part of the fight, and… Well, he had come through enough times in the past to earn some respect. Besides, she was not so petty as to wish harm on him. She didn't want Scott to be gone, and certainly not to be dead, or whatever his equivalent was… She just wanted him to quit taking the piss and stop messing with Harry's head when it suited him.
She had really expected Scott to come waltzing in not too long after they started worrying the night before, probably making some smart remarks as he did so, the bloody liar… But his continued absence had given her anger time to cool. And by the time she rolled out of bed to find her friends in the midst of an eerily quiet meal, she had discovered her own measure of concern.
Scott was somewhere out there risking life and limb for the cause, and while she was still angry that he hadn't allowed her the chance to do the same, she recognised his dedication. And she also knew that if she continued to fight, then Harry would as well. So Scott had done some good, even if he hadn't gone about it in a good way.
"Why didn't you wake me?" she asked Harry when she seated herself next to him.
Harry shrugged listlessly. "Nothing's happening. Reckoned I'd just let you sleep."
"No word, then?"
"No." Harry stared into his cereal as if there might be some answers floating within.
Ginny leaned around him to see what Ron and Hermione were thinking. Ron was shovelling food into his mouth without much in the way of expression, but Hermione was watching Harry with a look of resignation. Like Ginny, she knew what came next.
Harry did not disappoint. "If he's not back by noon, we go looking for him," he said, dropping his spoon with a clatter.
The noise woke Ron up. "You think it'll be safe by then?" he said, sounding unconvinced.
Harry's dark expression was answer enough: he didn't much care.
Ginny sighed and looked to Hermione. "Do you want to try and talk sense into him, or should I?"
"I'm not sure I have the energy for something so exhausting," Hermione said wryly.
"I'm sitting right here!" Harry said angrily.
"Harry, going back is not a good plan. The Ministry will surely be there, even if the Death Eaters aren't," Hermione said, trying logic.
"You think I'm that daft? I've thought about this," Harry told them forcefully. "I'll go back to the car park under the Cloak. I can look around, suss out what's happening, and maybe see where Scott went. Then we can go from there."
"We work in teams, remember? I'll go with you under the Cloak," Ginny said.
"I'll move faster by myself. Less chance of being seen," Harry told her in a tone that was obviously intended to be as reasonable as possible.
Which was a bit insulting, but she got the point. She could be a little shirty when it came to being left behind. Could he blame her? She had been so peripheral before. He wouldn't have even taken her to the Department of Mysteries if she hadn't insisted then, too. She had to fight for every concession. She had to constantly prove her right to be present, and she didn't feel like anyone else had to do that.
Or maybe that was just her own insecurities talking. Well, whatever it was, she didn't like the idea of Harry buggering off by himself with nothing but the Cloak for company.
She took a breath and tried to match his reasonableness. "I get that, but if you find trouble—"
The clatter that came from the stairs in the middle of her sentence about made her jump out of her skin.
They all whirled towards the staircase with eyes wide and wands out in time to see Scott slide down the last few steps on his bum, legs splayed out in front of him.
"I do believe," he said in a hoarse yet cheerful voice, "that the ol' leg is giving out."
Harry was out of his chair in an instant. "You stupid idiot! You're fucking insane, what have you done to yourself?!"
"Bloody hell, you're dirty," Ron said with disgust. "What happened to your leg?"
"Let me look, let me look at it," Hermione insisted, trying to push past the boys.
From where Ginny was standing, Scott was a little over half dead. His military clothes were so filthy that they were more brown than green, and his left thigh was stiff with dried blood, running almost to his knee. He was missing an entire sleeve from his shirt, the skin unnaturally pale around the shoulder and then flaring out into a nasty collage of red and yellow burns and pus blisters. His face looked like he had used it to batter down a door: covered in cuts, both lips split, nose swollen, topped with a nice fat black eye. Every square inch of him was covered in dried filth. He smelled positively awful.
He grinned at them, revealing red-tinged teeth. "Morning, mates. God save the Queen."
Harry threw up his hands and stalked away, obviously too angry to deal with Scott immediately.
"Ow! What happened to your face, mate?" Ron said, wincing sympathetically at the plethora of scrapes and bruises.
"Born this way, sadly. Doctors say they can't do anything for me."
Hermione huffed with exasperation and a touch of relief she couldn't quite mask. "Your disfiguration is temporary. We don't mind looking at you, it's the listening to you we have trouble with. Ohhhhh…" She flinched away from Scott's mutilated arm after she almost steadied herself on it. "…I'll take a look at that in a moment. Lift your chin up."
Scott complied. "Will I ever be pretty again, nurse?"
"I'm not a miracle worker," Hermione said dryly. "Harry's right, what on earth did you do to yourself?"
"Took a spill. Got lucky, though, my face broke my fall."
"Maybe I can help some," Ginny offered.
Ginny was startled and almost jumped back when Scott reached out and grabbed her shoe, squeezing it. "It is weird how happy I am to see your scowling face?" he said, smiling up at her.
"Yeah, it is," she confirmed.
"He's riding his usual post-mission adrenaline high. With this level of bruising I'd say he's likely concussed, as well," Hermione said. "Can you check that hip and make sure he's not still bleeding?"
Ginny wasn't squeamish when it came to blood. Less than Ron was, anyway. His expression as he tugged down Scott's frayed trouser leg (it tore right off without much effort, and it was obvious he had taken a nasty Severing Charm at some point) was more than a bit queasy. Good thing he had a strong stomach to counterbalance how revolted he was.
Although, perhaps she had taken pride in her medical fortitude too quickly. The gash on Scott's hip was truly disgusting, and when she cast a few cleaning spells on it to remove the blood she could see the white of bone down through the gaps in the scabbing.
She glanced up from it to steady herself and found Scott gazing down at what she was doing with curiosity. "That smell south of cheese to you? Not really bad, right?"
"You smell really, really awful," she told him honestly.
"Yeah, but not gangrenous, right?"
"Isn't it a bit soon for that? Besides, you told me you were resistant to gangrene, if I recall," Hermione said.
"I am, I am. It's all good."
Very little about his state was good. Ginny did what she could, casting at the wound until the edges turned pink and the centre was fully scabbed over. Hermione had done more or less the same for his face, lessening the swelling. Neither of them were trained Healers with access to the kinds of resources available at St. Mungo's.
"I have some potions that can replenish your blood, Scott, are you going to need them?" Hermione said. "I wouldn't ask, but they'll be difficult to replace."
"Should be fine," he said, sounding a bit more lucid after their ministrations.
"I'm not sure what to do about your shoulder. I cleaned up the cuts, but I don't have any salve for the burns."
"I'll fix all this stuff later, when I can. I'll slap a bandage on it, jump in the shower until the water stops running red and then pass out for awhile. You guys can yell at me when I wake up."
Hermione narrowed her eyes at him. "Yes. I'm glad you remember that we have good cause to."
"Got that right," Ron muttered.
"Harry's about ready to go nuclear over there. I can't wait for that chat," Scott said, and Ginny couldn't help but think he actually meant it.
"Please don't antagonise him," Hermione requested. "You know what you did, and we know why you did it, but that doesn't mean we don't have valid reasons to be angry."
"Uh-huh," he said absently, tapping away at his phone.
"You!" Hermione huffed. She stood and used her wand to clean her hands. "Ron, can you help him get up to the loo?"
"No need; help is on the way," Scott said, tucking his phone away.
Sophie came rushing down into the kitchen, still holding her phone. "Oh, no…" she groaned when she saw Scott, pressing a hand to her mouth.
"Come on, now… You've seen worse," Scott said. "And I even have pants on, mostly."
"So I should just be happy about the state you're in now? Because of pants?" she demanded.
"Well, maybe not happy…"
As Sophie was even shorter than Ginny, and Scott was about the same height as Ron, the size and weight differential made it utterly bizarre to see Sophie so effortlessly haul Scott up the stairs. She probably weighed about half as much as he did, even without all the weap