Though not with Man Nor on Planets Nor near the Gates
Instead it stands To side of view And reaches out With dusty hands
A jealous grasp Our rhythm held Beating slowly Behind the clasp
By that long clock Counting each tick Marking each tock
—Aidan Stonémarc, 1330 Long Beach, 1993
Days passed without change.
The problem, as Harry saw it, was information: they had none. They were cut off at Grimmauld Place, isolated. Their forays into the outside world had largely been rapid, violent affairs with narrow focus. They had accomplished much but learned little. The Order hadn't much to offer either, according to Lila's reports. They were trying to organise, left without resources or anyone to trust. Diagon Alley would be a death trap, Hogsmeade little better. The enemy had eyes everywhere, it seemed.
So they sat and studied and plotted, and, honestly, it was a bit of a relief. Harry usually hated inactivity, but the trauma of having the world turned upside down followed by battles in quick succession had worn him down. He needed the time to gather himself. He knew even greater hurdles lay ahead.
He spent a lot of his time practising his aim, fine-tuning his shotgun skills. Ginny often accompanied him, and even tried her hand at marksmanship on occasion. She didn't have the affinity for it that Harry did and mostly went along for his company. They were not neglecting their magical skills, either. The whole group trained together, casting and covering each other, honing their wandwork in the process of teaching Sophie. It was strange to see the tiny Kharadjai woman casting without the aid of a wand (and sometimes without verbalisation or even a gesture). Her control was imperfect and, without a wand, it took her considerable time to master even simple spells, but once she did she was capable of doing things that Harry had never seen before.
She could send Stunners whirling around the room, accelerating and slowing them, splitting them into multiple glowing spears. She had access to the hidden workings of magic, manipulating with her innate power what a wizard would express in pages of runes and Arithmancy formula.
It certainly served to underscore Scott's magical incompetence. Harry had assumed that Scott would be caustic and defensive about it, and maybe the teen-Scott would have. But the fully grown Scott who sometimes sat in on their training sessions regarded Sophie's talent with an obvious pride (which told Harry more about how Scott felt towards her than a hundred of his lewd comments).
“How many people could do that?” Harry had asked one time, watching as Sophie sent a Stunner into a corkscrew so fast it looked like a solid tube. When it hit the mattress, it had cut a perfect circle into the fabric.
“No more than a handful. Training helps, but what you're seeing, the way the shape is understood and then altered… It's like what makes someone a great painter or musician. It can't be taught.” Scott had smiled as Sophie sheepishly prodded at the smoking mattress. “It's part of why she joined the Praesaedius.”
“She wasn't going to before?” Harry had said. He had assumed that Sophie was a career soldier like Scott and Lila (which, come to think of it, was also an assumption).
“That's her story,” Scott had stated.
“I haven't heard your story, either.”
“That's right. You haven't.”
Harry had let it go, knowing he wasn't getting any further answers.
Hermione had been absent for some of those practises. Harry was worried about her, and he knew that Ron and Ginny were, too. She spent endless hours in research, studying her books in search of information that Harry thought probably wasn't there. He doubted even Riddle had fully understood the nature of the Horcruxes when he had made his first one. The perceived reward had simply been worth the risk.
As far as Horcrux locations were concerned, Hermione had not found anything they didn't already know. Dumbledore had been thorough. Harry was all for gaining an edge, but Hermione needed to slow down. They could have to leave at a moment's notice and they needed everyone to be well rested. Ron was getting tired of her obsession as well, and could probably be counted on to do something about it soon.
Harry was sitting at the table eating sugar-loaded cereal and discussing the best treats Honeydukes had to offer with Ginny when a familiar white shape fluttered down the chimney and perched on the back of an empty chair.
“Hedwig!” Harry exclaimed with delight. The owl preened herself and allowed Harry to rub her feathered head. She dropped a folded note in front of him.
He picked it up and read:
Harry, I thought you might want to write to some of the Order members I haven't seen lately. They might tell you things they wouldn't say in front of me. At the very least, tell Lupin you're okay. He asks after you all the time and it's very annoying.
P.S. I tried to tie this to your owl's leg and it tried to bite me. Lucky for it, I was feeling merciful. If it wants to carry this the whole way, whatever.
Lila's blunt presence permeated every line of the missive. Harry could practically hear it being read in her flat, sardonic tones.
“It's from Lila,” he explained to Ginny. He handed it to her. “She wants me to send a letter to Remus.”
Ginny read the note. “Hah! They won't talk to her so she's going behind their backs,” she said admiringly.
“If that's what it takes, I guess. It can't be easy over there since they don't know what we do.” He did not envy Lila's situation.
He procured some paper and a quill and was debating how to start (and getting plenty of unsolicited advice from Ginny) when Scott strode into the kitchen with Kylie close behind. He paused briefly to look at Hedwig.
“That's new,” he commented, and starting digging through one of the cupboards.
“Lila thought I could use Hedwig to contact the Order,” Harry told him.
“We thought about getting an owl of our own, once. Didn't pan out,” Scott said idly. “Kylie, you pick something. I'm tired, not hungry.”
Harry hadn't been blind to Scott's increasingly haggard appearance. “Did you sleep enough?”
“Define 'enough'.” Scott passed Kylie the cereal she had pointed at. “I slept.”
“I'm writing to Remus. Is there anything you want to tell the Order?”
“Not until we have a target for them, or vice versa.”
“I'll find out.” Harry pressed the quill to the parchment and started writing.
“From what Lil said, it sounds like they know as much as we do. Oh, and here…” Scott dug into one of his numerous pockets and produced a ballpoint pen, which he tossed at Harry. “Welcome to the twentieth century.”
Harry looked around the stone room with its wooden furnishings. “This pen is too modern for this bloody place.”
“So am I.”
Harry couldn't argue with that. Even the cutting edge of Muggle technology must have seemed obsolete to Scott. “That's you, mate — you're just too advanced for us.”
“Your sarcasm does not change the truth.”
“That you're a stuck-up git?” Ginny said.
Sophie trotted down into the kitchen, her demeanour an odd combination of sleepy and cheerful. “Good morning!” she said brightly, followed by a yawn that she hid behind one hand.
“Good morning, and, yes, I slept last night,” Scott said pre-emptively.