He was also totally resigned to its inevitability. In his line of work pain came quickly and came often. There was almost always someone (or something) trying to kill him, and when there wasn’t, Primarius training ensured there would be someone willing to simulate trying to kill him.
He was not, however, accustomed to being exhausted. Even while in various states of mutilation, the energy which filled him drove him forward, up and over the next obstacle, into the thick of the next fight. Tired, that he was familiar with — a lack of power, a desire to sleep or sit down for a minute. That came with overexertion; multiple heals in a short time or a long, drawn-out fight.
But the bone-deep weariness that sank into him the second he regained consciousness... this was something else. This hurt. He had felt it before, but it had been awhile. And he wasn’t happy to be feeling it again.
He felt as if his blood had been removed and replaced with a silt rich in trace metals, pouring through his arteries like warm, grainy fudge. He was heavy. He weighed a ton. And that was a very strange feeling for someone whose innate strength made the mass of his body almost irrelevant. It allowed him to move in ways that normal people couldn’t, performing impossible jumps and lifting himself with a single finger if necessary.
Thus it was something of a novelty to feel so damn heavy. Did everybody else feel like this all the time? He thought he might break through the floor and keep going, compacting the earth until he wound up on bedrock.
Scott swallowed, or attempted to, and realised his mouth contained about as much moisture as a low altitude desert. He needed a drink, and badly. He supposed that was reason enough to try opening his eyes.
It wasn’t bright, which he felt was a good start. His eyes adjusted quickly and he found himself gazing at a blank green sheet. Judging by the muffled sounds and the fact that the cloth walls around him weren’t taller than six or so feet, he knew he had to be in some sort of medical cubicle. The green sheet rippled as someone walked past on the other side.
“Are you awake?” a slight voice asked.
“AGH!” Scott yelped, the sudden query making his heart skip a beat. A small head of strawberry blond hair immediately became visible in the dim shadows. Kylie was seated on a wooden chair, her eyes wide and apprehensive.
“Ah… Sorry, Kylie, you startled me,” Scott said. Or that was what he attempted to say. What emerged was barely intelligible. His voice had become something beyond hoarse.
Wordlessly, the shy girl picked up a glass of water from a bedside table and carefully handed it to Scott.
“Thanks,” Scott croaked. His mouth was so dry that the sudden hydration was actually painful, instantly giving him a sore throat. He drained the glass and put it back in Kylie’s waiting hands. Even the cup had felt heavy, and his arms shook as he extended them. He slumped back on his sheets and took a deep breath, feeling slightly better after the drink.
“You dropped this,” Kylie said. Scott rolled his head towards her in confusion. Had he been holding something? Kylie leaned forward and gently placed a small object on Scott’s chest.
It was a bullet. One of his? No… .357. One of Lil’s. A reminder, most likely. She had been there, even if she hadn’t been able to stick around. No doubt he had her to thank for being conscious so soon after a jolting. He didn’t remember much about it besides the incredible pain, but Lila had obviously done what she could to get him back on his feet.
He shifted his legs slightly and felt the telltale pinch of a needle. Reaching beneath the blanket, he fumbled with his pants. If Kylie thought that was strange behaviour, she didn’t comment. Scott grimaced as he plucked the needle out of his thigh and yanked the deflated plastic bag out of his pant leg. He glanced at the label and noted it was a standard stimpack and not one of the ‘enriched’ combat stims, which explained his lack of nausea. The more extreme variety of stimpacks came loaded with even more nutrients, along with massive doses of painkillers, antibiotics and coagulates. Good for extensive healing but rough on the stomach.
Lila would have wanted to supplement the stimpack. “Hey, did my sister leave anything else? Like, maybe food?” Scott asked Kylie.
Scott couldn’t see that far to his right, but Kylie picked something up off the bedside table that crinkled loudly, a plastic sound. “These?”
E-ration bars! Scott excitedly took them from Kylie and immediately ripped one open, biting into it with gusto. As he decimated the first bar, out of the corner of his eye, he saw Kylie watching with interest.
He waved the bar at her before taking another bite. “You don’t want any of this,” he told her with his mouth full. “They got the consistency of sawdust.”
“What do they taste like?” Kylie asked curiously.
“Sawdust. Well, no, that’s not true. Sawdust doesn’t taste too bad. Pine sawdust, anyway. Cedar. Have you ever bitten into a vitamin pill?”
Kylie shook her head.
“They taste awful, mostly because they have vitamins in them. There’s a reason the best food in this world is nutritionally void. You’ll notice I’m doing as little chewing as possible.” Scott finished the bar and tossed the wrapper aside. “I can give you a little tiny piece if you really want to try, but not anymore than that. If you took a bite you probably wouldn’t be able to keep it down.”
That seemed to dim Kylie’s interest in the ration bars. “No, thank you,” she timidly replied.
Scott choked down the remaining two bars and settled back on his pillow as the condensed food hit his stomach like gold bricks. “Fuel for the furnace,” he said, patting his stomach in a satisfied manner. “Though eating coal might be more pleasant, actually.” He raised an eyebrow at Kylie. “How long have you been here?”
“Since this morning,” she offered quietly.
He had been dead and he had woken up indoors, so he wasn’t putting much faith in his internal clock. “What time is it?”
“A bit past noon.”
He hadn’t slept that long, all things considered. The stimpack probably had a lot to do with that. More importantly, he was touched that Kylie had chosen to spend her morning and early afternoon watching him be comatose. “Thanks for sitting with me, Kylie. That was cool of you.”
A faint blush tinged Kylie’s cheeks. “You’re welcome.”
Scott took a deep breath and tried to stretch, but quickly realised he was too stiff for it to matter. “Anybody else been by I should know about?”
Kylie nodded slightly. “Trevor was here a bit. And Hermione, too. But that was earlier.”
“Did everybody make it? Through the fight, I mean?”
The small girl shook slightly, as if a cold breeze had brushed her. “The Headmaster is gone,” she whispered.
“Yeah. But nobody you know…?”
Kylie cast her eyes downward. “Trevor is alright. And so are you.”
Scott realised that Kylie probably didn’t have many friends. “Well, I’m glad you’re okay,” he told her, and reached out to give her a feeble pat on the knee. She blushed again. “Anyway, I suppose I should get up, as terrible an idea as that sounds. Let’s hope I’m fully dressed, yeah?”
It took some work to struggle free of the sheets, and any movement at all left Scott with a pounding headache, but he managed to get back on his feet. The room seemed to spin around him and he gripped the edge of the bed and concentrated on not tipping over.
He felt a small hand on his arm and looked down at Kylie, who was attempting to help him stand. “My pants still on?” he asked her with a weak smile.
“Yes,” Kylie said, “but they’re not done.”
“Eh. As long as I’m not hanging out.” He limped his way over towards the aisle and pushed the dividing sheet aside. “You know where Harry is?”
Kylie slipped her hand in Scott’s and led him towards the right, confirming his suspicion that Harry was in the infirmary as well.
As they walked, Scott used the opportunity to get his bearings. The infirmary was darkened even in the daylight, the shades drawn shut to block out the sun and guard the wounded from its revealing rays. From what Scott could see, most of the beds were empty. He wasn’t sure if some of the Order members had been briefly kept for minor wounds and then released, or if the staff had overestimated how many injured Death Eaters there would be. It was likely that a number of them had died during the night.
Kylie came to a stop and pointed into one of the cubicles. Scott saw Harry, his trademark wild hair finally flattened by the bandages that covered most of his head, still unconscious in one of the cots. That was worrisome. Whatever had happened, it was apparent Harry had taken a real beating. Though the boy was no longer in any immediate danger, Ginny was keeping vigil, the bags under her eyes a testament to her dedication.
Scott approached her, and she looked up blearily when she heard his footsteps.
“So you are alright,” she said softly. Her eyes ran over him, apparently checking for obvious damage. “Harry told me you’d been killed, but Lila said you were fine.”
“I was killed, and now I’m fine. So neither of them was really incorrect.”
“Whatever,” Ginny sighed. She turned back to Harry, either unwilling or too tired to question Scott.
“You should trade out with someone else and get some sleep,” he told her.
“He’s getting enough sleep for both of us,” she responded hoarsely, one hand tightening on Harry’s arm.
“Looks like he needs it.” Scott didn’t know the nature or extent of Harry’s injuries, but the swelling around his face looked fairly severe. “A few blows to the head will put anyone down for awhile, he’ll be fine.”
Ginny tiredly pushed her tangled red hair from her face. “I’m not sure about that.”
“You mean Dumbledore?” Scott said it a little more loudly than he’d intended and he heard a stifled gasp from Kylie, though Ginny didn’t react. “It’s not easy, I know. Just be there for him.”
Ginny smiled bitterly. “I will if he’ll let me.”
Scott rolled his eyes, feeling belligerent at the thought. It would be very like Harry to push everyone away, and while Scott had probably been guilty of the same thing in the past, it was an indulgence that the war could not afford. “He can be a martyr on his own time. He has things to do and he can’t do them alone.”
The bitter expression on Ginny’s face didn’t fade. “That’s why he has Hermione, and Ron.” She leaned closer Harry, her hair hiding her visage again. “And he has you.”
“Yes, but I’m not a redhead, I don’t have tits, and I won’t give him blowjobs for good behaviour.”
Ginny whipped her head back in Scott’s direction. “What did you say?”
“Ah, so you are awake,” Scott said blandly. “I thought that self-pity had overwhelmed your system.”
“Do you have a point, or did you just come here to make smart remarks?” Ginny said through gritted teeth.
“Don’t count yourself out of the race yet, Gingivitis. I hope you’re ready to be useful.”
“That remains to be seen.” Scott shrugged. “You’re so ready to assume you’ll be left behind that you’re not thinking of what our next move should be. When it comes to my Primes, participation points count.”
“You think I’m scared, don’t you? You think I won’t take you up on whatever stupid, undeliverable offer you’re making,” Ginny said matter-of-factly.
“On the contrary,” Scott said, stepping back out into the aisle, “I think you’ll stand by your man.”
It was good that Ginny was watching over Harry until he awoke, Scott mused as he let Kylie lead him back towards his bed. It proved their lines were already tightening to workable levels. What kind of strength that would lend to Harry remained to be seen, but Scott knew it could only be helpful.
He collapsed back into his cot with a groan while Kylie scurried about, tucking the blankets in around him and bringing another glass of water. She never said a word unless he talked to her first, but seemed determined to be of help. Scott was grateful, and also curious. It had never been his intention to foster any major connection with Kylie, considering her status as a non-Prime. Had the girl been so starved for any sort of support that she latched onto Scott without reserve? It made him wonder about her home life.
“Kylie,” he said, garnering her attention as she fussed with blankets at the foot of the cot, “do you think your parents will make you come home?”
The small girl froze, her face blank. “I don’t know,” she said in a voice that was barely audible even by her standards.
Scott thought he must have hit a nerve. Whatever was waiting for Kylie at home, she wasn’t looking forward to it. “Cross your fingers, huh? For the record, I’ll miss you if you end up taking off.”
Kylie blushed again. She picked up the glass of water and silently offered it to Scott, making no other reply.
“Save it,” Scott told her, sinking his head into the pillow. Sleep was already clawing at him. “Something to look forward to.”
When Harry struggled free from slumber the second time, he was greeted by a ghost.
Scott was sitting against the wall next to the bed with his legs splayed out limply. His eyes were closed. He was breathing deeply and appeared abnormally pale, his skin nearly absent of its usual faded tan. In the year they had spent together, Harry couldn’t ever remember the Kharadjai looking worse, not even when he had received his bomb injury.
It didn’t make any sense. Harry had seen the deadly spell, saw the green flash rip the life from Scott’s body. There was only one known person to survive the Killing Curse, and Harry didn’t think he could pull the same trick twice. Scott should have been dead.
And yet, here he was; alive, if not well. It didn’t seem possible, but since the blond-haired boy had come roaring into Harry’s life, a lot of impossible things had come to pass. Harry wasn’t sure whether he wanted to hug Scott out of relief or punch him for pretending to be dead. Since Harry wasn’t in a position to do neither, he’d have to settle for a conversation and some answers.
Despite the extensive bruising his face had suffered, Harry painfully opened his mouth and croaked out, “Scott?”
Scott’s eyes fluttered open, making the dark lines beneath them more obvious. “Ah, you’re awake,” he said, and Harry was surprised to hear his voice sounding exactly the same as it always did. “I thought you might come to about now, so I figured I’d hang around until you did,” he continued with no trace of fatigue. “How do you feel?”
“How do you feel?” Harry countered. Scott didn’t seem particularly fazed by his brush with death.
“I asked you first.”
“Then I feel about the same as you look.”
Scott grinned. “I’m glad I don’t feel the same as you look.”
“Because I look like shite?” Harry presumed dryly.
“Like shite and a half.” Scott placed his hands on the floor and pushed himself into a more upright position. “Not many chairs floating around here,” he explained when Harry gave his seating arrangement an odd glance.
“Scott… why aren’t you dead?”
“Yeah, that…” Scott drawled, as if he were approaching a mildly embarrassing topic. “It would seem rumours of my demise were highly exaggerated.”
Harry was in too much pain to play games. “How?” he demanded.
Scott shrugged. “Magic doesn’t do much for me, remember? I just pretended to die.”
There were a number of questions that brought up. “Then why are you in such bad shape?” Harry pressed him.
“Fuck. You weren’t supposed to ask that. Okay, so what I just said might have been a lie…”
Scott sighed. “It’s a long and complicated story. Suffice to say, death is a somewhat less permanent condition for Kharadjai.”
Even more questions. Regardless, there was only one that Harry had to ask right then. “Why did you let them go?”
“I didn’t have a choice,” Scott said, his voice hard. “I killed who I could, Harry, but Snape and Malfoy were untouchable. My gun jamming wasn’t human error.”
Harry squeezed his eyes shut, trying to comprehend but not really wanting to. “I don’t understand,” he said roughly.
“I know. I don’t either.”
So that was that. Harry had about a million more questions, but they would keep. He needed time to understand, and less pain to distract.
He looked out towards the aisle but couldn’t see much beyond the borders of his curtained bed space. He tried to roll over towards Scott but blearily realised that the blankets were wrapped over him so tightly that he couldn’t move. “I don’t suppose you could…” he mumbled thickly and nodded his head to indicate his predicament.
Scott raised a speculative eyebrow. “Pomfrey would kill me.”
That, Harry thought wryly, no longer seemed much of a threat. “If they couldn’t manage it, why should she?”
Scott shot Harry a wide grin composed of mixed glee and cunning that was so totally familiar that for a moment Harry could almost believe the day before had never happened, and it was just another moment of mischief between them.
But then Scott began tugging at the blankets, and the pain returned to sweep the moment away. “Brace yourself,” he cautioned. “I’m working around the broken hand.”
Harry felt the faint tendrils of stabbing pains as Scott shifted the bedding about some more, but whatever potions Pomfrey had dosed him with must have been doing their job. The pain was bearable, the worst moment occurring when Scott lifted Harry up slightly and jarred his head. Harry barely prevented himself from crying out — it felt as if his brain was bouncing none too gently around the inside of his skull.
“How’s that?” Scott draped the now loose blankets over Harry’s legs. “You cold?”
Actually, Harry was slightly cold, but he would never admit it. “I’m fine.”
“Good,” Scott said distractedly. He peered out into the aisle with an irritated expression. “What the hell did Ginny do with that chair she had? I wonder if someone ganked it.”
Harry remembered seeing Ginny, but was surprised she had stayed for that long. “Ginny was just here?”
“She was on Harry Watch before me.” Scott smiled down at Harry, though it was a more subdued expression this time. “Naturally, she warned me against any topics of conversation that might cause you distress.”
Harry felt a sinking sensation in the pit of his stomach but tried to ignore it. “Like?”
“Dumbledore, mostly. I’m not supposed to talk about him with you. About how he’s dead.”
Harry had known that Scott would broach the subject sooner or later, and he had counted on it being sooner. After spending a year ‘working’ with the Kharadjai, as Scott had always put it, Harry knew him well enough to know that Scott would have no issues with confronting the recent dark events before the grief had even begun to pass. He would face what had happened the night before the same way he faced all such delicate subjects: with an almost vicious candour that seemed born more from a lack of patience with tact than a need to clear the air.
Hermione, Ginny, and most of the adult figures in Harry’s life would be horrified by Scott’s mere mentioning of Dumbledore’s death in such a casual manner. But Harry felt like he knew where Scott was coming from. Pretending Dumbledore wasn’t dead wouldn’t make it better. In fact, Harry mused, forcibly meeting the facts was almost a sort of warped tribute to the Headmaster on Scott’s part, because that was what Dumbledore himself would have done.
Though Dumbledore would have been more graceful about it.
Harry let out a snort that was half sob, half chuckle. He could just picture Mrs. Weasley’s face if she had heard Scott’s brutally blunt assessment of what he wasn’t supposed to talk about. How was she dealing with the fact that her children had faced Death Eaters, again, because of Harry?
Harry gritted his teeth, ignoring the pain it caused. He wouldn’t cry, he told himself fiercely. He reached up with his working hand and rubbed fiercely at his eyes, but it did no good. Several hot tears leaked out to soak into his bandages and sting his crusted lip. Perhaps Scott shouldn’t have put any faith in Harry’s ability to deal with things. He felt like his heart was constricting. More than anything else, there was panic mingling with the grief.
Dumbledore was dead.
“What am I going to do now?” Harry said in a choked whisper, and then hated himself for the weakness. He wiped at his eyes with motions that became increasingly angry, swiping at the tears and all that they represented. But before he could erase them yet again, a firm grip latched onto his wrist, immobilising that arm.
“Better they burn your cheeks than your heart,” Scott told him, holding Harry still.
Harry managed a watery smile at that. “Is that your way of telling me it’s okay to cry?”
“It’s fine to feel loss, Harry,” Scott told him, “as long as you understand that we don’t mourn for the dead, but for ourselves.”
Harry looked up at him. “What do you mean?”
“When someone gets killed, it’s a tragedy only because we are the ones who are left behind.” Scott shrugged. “Grief is an elaborate form of self-pity. We miss the dead, but I doubt that they miss us. We’re alone in our sadness and that’s what hurts most of all.”
Harry shook his head and tugged his arm from Scott’s grip. “I don’t think knowing why it hurts helps it any.”
“Of course not. Why do you think I haven’t offered you any platitudes?”
“You don’t do that sort of thing.”
“Okay, I’ll accept that, but it’s also because I know how powerless words are in these circumstances.” Scott shrugged again. “What am I going to say? ‘He’s in a better place now?’ I like to think so, but I can’t make that kind of assurance.”
“You could say ‘time heals all wounds’.”
“I thought you wanted me to stop lying to you?”
Harry took a deep, shaky breath and let it out slowly. “So I should cry some more, then.”
Scott nodded his head slightly in assent. “If you want. But how you feel about reality doesn’t change it. We’re still here, and Dumbledore isn’t. He can’t help us anymore, and we have to deal with that.”
Harry voiced a gnawing fear. “What if I can’t?”
“That’s what I wanted to talk to you about.” Scott’s face was completely serious, an expression that seemed so out of place on it. “Harry, I can’t tell you whether this was going to happen or not. I mean, supposed to happen. But I’m sure it’s occurred to you that some things could have been different.”
Maybe it was just the pain and the potions, but Harry hadn’t comprehended a word of that. “What?”
“I failed to save Dumbledore,” Scott said bluntly. “I don’t know if you blame me for the way the shape tumbled out, but I do know it’s a possibility. So what it comes down to is, if you blame me, can we still be friends? And if we can’t be friends, will you still work with me?”
Harry stared at him, taken aback. He’d just regained consciousness and had barely had time to consider the impact of the previous night’s events on his life, never mind come to terms with them or assign any blame. It had been a whirlwind of terrible events, and no one had emerged unscathed. Scott himself had been one of the casualties. “I don’t blame you,” he said weakly. “I couldn’t save him either.”
Scott raised his eyebrows slightly, looked briefly towards the aisle as someone walked past. “It’s possible that he couldn’t be saved. It’s obvious that he didn’t want you to save him.”
“I thought I’d earned the right to try,” Harry muttered.
“Perhaps he thought your efforts were best reserved for the greater risks ahead.”
Harry didn’t want to think about that. With Dumbledore gone, the future seemed dark indeed. Not that it mattered. For Harry, there was no way out. “I’ll have to keep going.”
“Without question. And this probably isn’t the best time to ask, seeing as how this whole debacle rather pointedly illustrates my shortcomings, but will you still accept my help?”
Harry became angry so suddenly that he almost startled himself. “Will you give me a little more credit?” he snapped at Scott. “You’re fighting a war that’s not yours for my sake, and then you think I’ll turn my back on you after you made the same mistakes as the rest of us? I didn’t know I came across as the sort of bloke who forgot about his friends.”
Scott’s eyes widened slightly. “…Point taken,” he said after a moment of silence. “I apologise.”
“Do you really?”
“I don’t know. I feel like I’m genuinely sorry, but can we ever be totally certain about anything?”
Harry decided to ignore that. “My friends and I are still alive,” he said more calmly. “You had a big part in that.”
“Lil did,” Scott corrected him. “Let’s give recognition where it’s due.”
“Fine, you’re right. You didn’t do anything at all and you’re totally useless. You might as well give up and go home,” Harry said sarcastically.
Scott grinned. “I’m afraid this conversation was something of a courtesy. You’re stuck with me whether you like it or not.”
The name nearly stuck in Harry’s throat, but he managed to say, “Is that what you told Dumbledore?”
“No, but I was thinking it.”
Harry answered Scott’s grin with a half-smile and sniffed back the remnants of his embarrassing tears. “I’m really gonna miss him,” he said quietly, his already small smile wavering beneath the strain of his grief.
Harry leaned his head back into his pillow and shut his eyes, ignoring the last couple tears that leaked out in the process. “Do you ever get used to losing people? In time?” he asked, uncertain if he really wanted to hear the answer.
“I don’t think you have to worry about getting to that point.”
That was something worth wishing for. Harry didn’t want to see the day that the death of a friend simply glanced off his hardened heart. If it came to that, then he might win the war only to exist as something no better than the self-proclaimed Lord he had killed. He wasn’t sure he could be like Scott and still have fun in the blank spots between the carnage. Scott had been trained to handle these sorts of things, perhaps raised to handle them, for all Harry knew. For Scott, the previous night had been just a lost skirmish. But for Harry, the impact would not fade so quickly.
Harry was done discussing his own loss. He wanted to hear about someone else’s. “So how many Death Eaters did we get?”
“Indeterminate. They took most of their wounded with when they pulled out, so there’s no telling how many survived the retreat. We’ve got nine unconfirmed KIA, and I don’t know how many WIA since it’s not really the kind of thing I can ask Pomfrey...” Scott reported. “The kill count came from Lil, but it’s... uh... speculative. I know I got one of them for sure, and Lil says she killed six. That doesn’t include any casualties they took fighting your little wizard friends.”
Harry felt a small surge of vicious satisfaction that he was unable to suppress. “I bet Riddle didn’t expect things to go like that.”
Instead of agreeing like Harry expected, Scott shrugged noncommittally. “Maybe. The fact that he sent such a large force tells us he was expecting something.”
“He just wanted to kill as many of us as he could,” Harry said darkly.
“Undoubtedly, but you gotta remember, he doesn’t have an army to waste here. I’d be willing to bet we fought a good chunk of his low-level troops last night.”
“Then why would he have sent so many when he had Snape to do the job?” Harry wondered, biting out the hated ex-professor’s name.
“That’s the question. Did he overcompensate, and send a lot of DEs to their deaths when a covert force could have gotten in and out more quickly? Or did he under compensate, and send those DEs to combat something he only thought they could deal with?”
“There’s no chance he sent them to all fight Dumbledore. None of them would have dared,” Harry muttered contemptuously. “So he must have sent them after the rest of us.”
“Hard to say. We could ask the ones we got, but I doubt they know anything. Riddle is a totalitarian. Information is handed out on a need to know basis, and he’s the only person who needs to know anything.”
A thought suddenly occurred to Harry, one which worried him. “Scott… What about you? Does everyone know, now?”
“Lil only brought me here after I wasn’t dead, and, as far as I know, you’re the only person who saw me eat the curse.” Scott paused and reconsidered. “Well, the only person that matters.”
“But your sister was with the others,” Harry reminded him. “Ginny said she got everyone together and shot at the Death Eaters outside the Astronomy Tower.”
“Right, but I don’t think she ever did anything other than shoot. Muggle weapons are unusual, but not impossible. That wouldn’t be a problem, but…”
“Dumbledore can’t cover for you,” Harry said quietly.
“Yeah. I don’t think we’ll see Lil around for awhile. Best way to avoid questions is to disappear.” Scott squinted thoughtfully. “As for us, I think the best excuse is ignorance. If we don’t know why Lil was here, then we couldn’t have been a part of it.”
Harry had his doubts. “That’s not exactly easy to believe.”
“They don’t have to believe it, they just have to be unable to prove otherwise. There is still one outstanding issue, though…” Scott glanced back out towards the aisle. “I’m not sure where my guns are. Lil should have one of them, but I don’t know about the other .45. And theoretically, my AR should still be out on the lawn somewhere.”
“I had one of your handguns, but I dropped it in the Entrance Hall,” Harry said, wincing as he remembered the gun smashing into his face. “And I found your rifle outside, but I must have passed out near it. I guess it could still be there.”
Scott raised an eyebrow. “What were you doing with my 1911?”
“I don’t even know,” Harry muttered. That night was still a blur, red and black. But he did remember one bright flash of blue. “I shot it at a Death Eater, like an idiot... I missed and it just hit me in the face.”
Scott made the same noise that he usually reserved for spectacular crashes on the Quidditch field. “Your lip?”
“Yeah. I didn’t feel it much at the time, but I sure am now.”
“That was the gun with the Blue HE. You’re lucky they were low yield, anything rated higher would have knocked you out. After it shattered your hand and snapped your wrist like a twig, of course.”
“Great.” Harry rolled his eyes. “It smashed my face open and that was lucky.”
“Hey, could have been your eye, dude. That shit don’t grow back. Unless you’re me.”
“Yeah, you’re right. If you were me you’d have naked Hufflepuff chicks writhing all over you.”
Harry tried not to laugh, but couldn’t help himself. “Those ‘Puffs did have a bit of a thing for you.”
“Normally this would be where I’d say I was in it for the pussy, but, seeing as how all these girls are underage and probably not ready to hop in the saddle, I’ll switch it over to tits. A fine pedigree of sweater puppies at this school. Grade-A, firm, perky, and symmetrical.”
Considering the extreme harassment and incessant meddling Harry had endured concerning his love life, he figured Scott had this coming. “Like Sophie’s?”
Scott’s ever-moving mouth shut with an audible snap, and it was incredibly gratifying. “Sophie’s tits,” he said after a moment, “are so perfect you could use them to calculate pi.”
“I’m sure you’ve tried.”
“I wish,” Scott sighed. “I’d love to analyse her Euclidean curves… with my tongue.”
Well, it had been gratifying. Unfortunately, Scott just wasn’t embarrassed about this sort of thing the way Harry was. He decided to get back on topic, and took a deep breath. “Keep that shite to yourself, thanks. More importantly, what’s the next step?”
Scott shrugged and pointed at Harry. “This is your show, brother. I’ve been following you around all year.”
That didn’t mean Harry was ready to abandon all available help. “I’d still like some advice.”
“I can’t speak to the future… Things need time to settle, I can’t tell what’s going on,” Scott said, his eyes going briefly distant. “But I can give you my take on the now.”
“Obscure everything. Lie, misdirect, refuse to talk, make your excuses, do whatever you have to do so long as it gets everybody off your back. Seems at this point playing twenty questions with the goons in authority is like sending Voldemort a detailed memo.”
“That gets us back on the train, but not any further. What then?”
“I don’t know, man. I might be able to work out some sort of game plan once the shape stops being crazy, but it’s still your call.” Scott shrugged. “I mean… all I can say is Riddle is still out there, and we gotta do something about it. I don’t think I have anything to offer right now that you don’t already know.”
Harry did know what he had to do. That was the problem. “Dumbledore would want me to finish what he started,” he said softly.
“Well, alright then. Any ideas on how to go about it? I guess we took the first step already.”
“I have to get that locket back. As for anything else... I’m not ready to talk about it.” Harry had a notion that he wasn’t entirely comfortable with, a foggy plan only just beginning to take shape.
“Ideas are like wine,” Scott said sagely. “They get better with age, but they still taste like piss.”
Now that, Harry thought, was a terrible analogy. “How do you taste an idea?”
“I’m getting metaphorical here, Harry, just go with it!”
“You do this too often. I’m tired of going with it.”
A bit later — after Harry had exhausted his voice and Scott limped back to his cot — Harry found himself staring at the ceiling. The potions that still coursed through his veins left him feeling tingly and a bit numb around the face, though a multitude of aches and pains continued to throb with the beat of his pulse.
He knew what was coming. Soon others would arrive to talk to him, pressing for answers he couldn’t deliver. Harry was glad that Scott had been the second person he’d spoken to after waking. The Kharadjai was already aware of all the darkest secrets, and not prone to panic. Their conversation had been only marginally emotional and helped Harry set his head straight.
He would need that perspective.
Hermione stepped off the stone escalator to the Headmaster’s office and back into the hallway below. There she stood without moving, hands clasped tightly. She was not reacting to anything that awaited her in the empty corridor, but rather to something she had done several minutes prior. And she could scarcely believe that she had done it.
Hermione Granger... had stolen something from Professor McGonagall!
Or at the very least from Professor Dumbledore, which was hardly any better, and perhaps even worse.
She wasn’t even entirely certain why.
When Professor McGonagall had called her up to the Headmaster’s office, Hermione understood the summons. Harry and Scott were still confined to the hospital wing and only intermittently conscious, unable to be questioned. Lila had conveniently vanished after the fighting.
That left the Order members and the students who had participated. Undoubtedly Professor Lupin and the rest of the adults had told what they knew of the story, but that was only a fraction of the picture. Hermione had been present during the fight and she was close friends with Harry. McGonagall knew this.
So Hermione had been called on to explain. This put her in a very difficult position, as she hadn’t been able to plan out a plausible story with input from the others. She would have to improvise. Luckily, this task would be simplified by the fact that she honestly knew very little about what had happened during the Death Eater attack.
So as Professor (or was it Headmistress now?) McGonagall asked her questions, Hermione answered truthfully... for the most part. She carefully omitted any facts concerning the Kharadjai or the Horcruxes, claiming to know Scott’s sister by reputation alone and that she had no idea what Harry and Dumbledore had been up to.
Lying was surprisingly easy. Either Hermione had become better through practice, or Scott had been an even worse influence than she’d assumed.
And then something odd happened. McGonagall had turned away to look out the window, sadness etched into the lines on her face. She hadn’t just lost a colleague, but a friend, and Hermione understood at that moment how difficult the inquiry was for the professor. Hermione didn’t know what to say (thought it best not to say anything) and as she let her gaze drift downwards, a shiny glint caught her eye.
There was a locket sitting on the edge of Dumbledore’s great, polished desk, glittering in the low light. There was nothing especially remarkable about it. Hermione had never seen it before, which meant nothing. Professor Dumbledore had many possessions, and he’d certainly never catalogued them for Hermione’s edification.
Why, then, could she not stop looking at it? There was an impression about it, so strange and... meaningful. It meant something to her. It meant something to her and she’d never seen it before in her life. Why was she staring at this stupid trinket? What was this bizarre, maddening feeling pressing against the back of her brain?
She reached out and took the locket, tucking it in her robes.
When McGonagall dismissed Hermione, she nodded numbly in reply and had walked quickly out of the office, the weight of the locket swaying against her side. It was heavy with guilt.
Stopping in stunned reflection had done nothing to illuminate things, so Hermione headed for the common room and thought on the move. She didn’t always understand everything — despite her best efforts — but at least she usually understood herself. This time she was unable to come to grips with her own motivation. What were the possibilities?
She wondered if perhaps she had seen the locket before. There might be something half remembered about the object, latent but not completely forgotten. No... that still wouldn’t explain her need to take it. And since when was she a slave to impulse?
The locket might be magical. Dark magic, even, the kind that called to the unwary. If that were the case, it was possible that her affinity for magic was such she would be drawn to it. However, and though it was a somewhat immodest thought, she knew that was not likely. Magical items were familiar, she had skill with spells. She was not careless or easily enraptured. And the locket was not, in any way that she could recognise, magical.
But what if the locket was important? Not merely of significance to Dumbledore or McGonagall; important in the way that Scott would understand, rated with a number, just like Hermione was. She remembered the Shrieking Shack outside of Hogsmeade, and Scott’s strange reaction to it. It meant something to him in a way that it didn’t to the others. He saw a different shade of the world. Hermione had never experienced the shape herself but she had been presented with too much evidence to doubt its existence.
What if... what if she had tapped into that plane? The locket might hum and twist with the shape, substance invisible to the eye but impactful against that unknowable sixth sense. Maybe the pressure she had felt was exactly what Scott experienced regularly, an upsurge of urgency, raw purpose undefined…
No. Absolutely not. That could simply not be true. Hermione was no Kharadjai. She had no training, no ability, she hadn’t come from the spaces between the multiverse. Scott had never even hinted that such a thing might be possible. Everything he had explained pointed to the Kharadjai and only the Kharadjai being able to use such ability… though that was scant comfort when he had explained so little. Regardless, there were no indications that her actions had been anything other than a temporary lapse of sanity.
The sinking feeling that she was trying too hard to convince herself became more pronounced as she drew closer to the Gryffindor Tower.
She abruptly changed course, and went towards the infirmary.
Harry blinked his way back into awareness just in time to see a familiar head of voluminous brown hair walk into view.
“Hey, Hermione,” Harry responded hoarsely, his voice a mess of gravel after his long conversation with Scott.
“You sound terrible,” Hermione said sympathetically. She approached the side of Harry’s bed and pressed a hand against his forehead. “Are you in much pain?”
“No,” Harry lied.
“I’m sure,” Hermione said with a touch of sarcasm, obviously not believing him. Her face sobered. “I… I came to talk to Scott, actually, but he wasn’t awake, so I thought I’d check on you.”
“Did you find one of his guns? He was looking for those.”
“I did, yes, but that wasn’t what I wanted to tell him.”
“What is it, then?”
“I… never mind that. I have something here that I found, I wondered if you might know what it is.” Hermione reached into her book bag and withdrew the locket from the cave. Harry’s eyes widened, and she noticed his reaction. “You do, don’t you?”
Mutely, Harry held out his hand. Hermione gave him the locket without further question, though her gaze was searching.
The locket looked no different than it had when removed from the cave. Harry hadn’t really expected it to — not literally, anyway — but Dumbledore’s death seemed to change the filter over past events. What had been the first Horcrux had become the Horcrux Dumbledore had died to retrieve.
“Harry…” Hermione said hesitantly. “Is that…?”
“Yeah,” he muttered, clenching his fist around it. It was cold and heavy. “Where’d you find it?”
“In the Headmaster’s office,” Hermione said. Harry looked up at her, confused, and she hastened to explain. “Professor McGonagall wished to speak with me, and it was on… on the Headmaster’s desk, and I thought…”
Harry was impressed. In the past Hermione had shown herself to be daring when the occasion demanded it, but nicking something right off Dumbledore’s desk, and in front of McGonagall, no less… “You could tell it was a Horcrux? I still can’t see anything different about it.”
“Natural intuition, I suppose,” Hermione said weakly.
“Now that I have it, I don’t know what to do with it,” Harry muttered. He flipped the locket over, but the back of it offered no solutions. “I guess we should open it.”
He had started feeling around the edges of the locket for a clasp when Hermione’s hand shot out and grasped his wrist. “Not now, Harry!”
He immediately felt stupid. Of course the locket could be dangerous. Considering its owner, that was pretty much a guarantee. They would have to deal with the Horcrux properly once they were prepared. “Right. Could you hold on to it for now?”
Hermione tucked the locket back in her book bag. “I don’t think it’s dangerous so long as we don’t tamper with it. We’ll take a closer look once you’re well.”
“Whenever that is,” Harry groaned.
Hermione turned back towards him and leaned forward, lowering her voice. “McGonagall had a lot of questions, naturally. I tried not to say too much, but we can’t put this off forever. I should go and bring her down, while you’re awake.”
That gave Harry a start. “No, don’t,” he rasped.
“Harry, there are things we all need to hear—”
“Please. Not yet.”
Hermione’s eyes softened. “Alright, Harry,” she sighed. “I won’t. Surely I can tell Ron and Ginny, though, and Neville and Luna?”
“Yeah, that’s okay.”
In Harry’s defence, he really did try to stay awake after Hermione left. He didn’t want to disappoint his friends when they arrived, he knew they wanted reassurance that he was fine. He fought the creeping somnolence valiantly, but it was a doomed effort. His battered body refused to remain conscious, and sleep drifted over him yet again.
“Look, Neville — he’s waking up.”
The first words that entered Harry’s ears when the darkness receded yet again were spoken in a bland, slightly quizzical tone that he only associated with one person. He blinked rapidly, trying to focus. There was no longer light coming in the windows, and he realised that he must have slept most of the day.
Luna was standing to the left of his bed, peering down at him with her wide, silvery eyes. “Are you alright?” she asked.
Harry didn’t feel any better than he had before, but he was more concerned about Luna’s state. “I’m fine. Are you okay? What about Neville?”
“We’re not hurt, Harry.” Neville’s voice came from the right. Without his glasses, Harry hadn’t seen him in the shadows. “Well, not bad, anyway.”
“I have a few bruises, but perhaps that’s not what you were asking?” Luna wondered.
Harry relaxed, pushing his head back into his pillow. “How long have you been here?”
“Maybe a half hour,” Neville answered. “Ginny was with you for most of the day.”
“Sorry. I didn’t mean to fall asleep again.”
“It might have been for the best,” Neville said soberly. He looked slightly nervous, and leaned in closer to Harry. “The Minister was here today, asking after you. I think he wanted to talk to us as well, but McGonagall told him we were still recovering.”
“That was a lie,” Luna stated thoughtfully. “But it was quite kind of her to tell it.”
“She can’t stall forever,” Harry noted darkly.
“Harry… people are saying that… that Snape killed the Headmaster,” Neville said tentatively, obviously not entirely wanting to hear an answer.
But that was one fact Harry was totally willing to divulge. “He did.”
Neville’s fists clenched, knuckles whitening. “That son of a bitch,” he whispered harshly. Harry didn’t think he’d ever heard the boy swear before.
“I don’t know why he would do such a thing,” Luna said sadly.
“Because he’s a traitor,” Harry told them. It was time for everyone to realise what he had known all along. “He’s a traitor and a bloody coward.”
Neither Luna nor Neville commented on this, falling silent instead. Which was fine. Harry needed a moment to reign in his anger, sharp and bitter against the back of his throat. He didn’t trust himself to speak without exploding.
“…I think they’re talking about having the funeral here,” Neville ventured, slowly breaking the silence.
That was fitting, at least. Dumbledore deserved to be buried at Hogwarts. Harry shut his eyes when another thought occurred to him. “Are they going to close the school?”
Neville shrugged, a bleak expression on his face. “I don’t know. I’m not sure anyone does.”
“I hope they decide against it. I was looking forward to my sixth year,” Luna said with a touch of uncharacteristic despondence.
Harry watched with dim surprise as Neville reached over and took Luna’s hand in a gesture of comfort. He felt a bit awkward at being present for what might have been a private moment, but he wasn’t exactly capable of leaving. “I’m not going to find anything out in this bed.”
Neville glanced down at Harry’s legs. “Can you stand yet?”
“…Maybe?” Harry tried pushing himself into a sitting position, doing his best to ignore the throbbing in his head. When he finally managed to be upright, his vision went dark and he felt so unbalanced he thought he might be passing out.
A pair of hands on each shoulder steadied him as Neville and Luna prevented him from falling to the floor. Considering that the floor was made of stone, he was fortunate the two of them were present. Collapsing on the unyielding surface wouldn’t have done his head any favours.
Not that their quick action did anything to ameliorate his nausea, intense aches and general weakness. Harry closed his eyes, folded his trembling hands over his stomach and sat as still as he was able, his face prevented from mirroring his distress only because most facial expressions were extremely painful.
“Perhaps this was not the best thing to try,” Luna observed, noting Harry’s obvious suffering.
“Do you want me to get Madame Pomfrey?” Neville asked.
“No,” Harry gasped. He was having second thoughts about his mobility. “I’ll just… lie back down…”
Laying back down was almost as agonising as sitting up. Harry would have preferred to be mobile — since, when it came to questions, it was better to be a moving target than to be hostage to his hospital bed — but it was obvious that wasn’t going to happen. “Guess they could roll me over to a window,” he muttered.
“They aren’t going to have the funeral without you, you’ve got time to heal,” Neville said by way of encouragement.
Time, at this point, was not a welcome commodity. The last thing Harry needed was time to brood, and even he knew it. “Yeah.”
The three of them talked for a bit about less important things, but Harry was sure his friends could tell his heart wasn’t in it. Information had overwhelmed; an intermittent day’s worth of conversations rang in his ears, numbing him. He wanted to sleep. He was afraid to sleep. He wanted to see Dumbledore. He was terrified of seeing Dumbledore. He didn’t know what he wanted, and he was scared of possibilities.
After Neville and Luna left, Harry stared at the ceiling and tried very hard not to think about what was in store.
As it turns out, the key to finishing this chapter was to remove myself from my fanfiction reading, internet surfing laptop and my comfortable bed and take my writing downstairs to my gaming desktop. Forced to sit upright in an uncomfortable chair, and separated from an endless amount of ‘fanfiction to read’ bookmarks, work was done.
That said, I can’t even express how much rewriting was done on this chapter. Every time I thought I was finished, I discovered something else that needed to be added. What seemed to be minor plot changes necessitated entire new scenes and between that and frequent writer’s block I was convinced this would never, ever be done. EVER.
But now it is. Except for this author’s note, which I am currently writing. I’m not sure I want to add an author’s note, but you readers do seem to like them. This is unfortunate, because I’m really reaching here for something to say. Let me think back and rediscover my usual tangle of useless information and whining.
Oh, right — there may be a delay in the next chapter. I know that doesn’t mean much, since there’s a delay between every chapter, but this time I have an actual reason. I was lying on my bed with my dog curled up next to me, and then something happened downstairs and he bounded off to bark about it. In doing so, he hit my USB drive and destroyed it utterly. I back this stuff up, of course, but my most recent backup was before I wrote out an entire agonizing scene that was so hard to get right… and now I have to do it again.
It won’t be as good the second time around, I’m convinced of that. I never read it over so I don’t actually remember what I wrote for the most part. That’s a problem.
So don’t be surprised when the next chapter comes along and you see this at some point in the middle:
THIS SCENE REMOVED DUE TO AWESOME CONTENT
I’m sure I had a bunch of other stuff to talk about, characterization and plot points and so forth. But I can’t remember any of it, so consider yourselves lucky.