“Easy does it, Harry,” Ron said, taking more of Harry’s weight on his shoulders.
There was nothing wrong with Harry’s legs — save the inevitable weakness that came with being confined in a bed for several days — but his balance was shaky at best. The past forty-eight hours had seen him regain his ability to stand but not his equilibrium. He managed alright on a flat surface. It was the stairs that were currently giving him trouble.
Regardless, he disliked depending on his friends so much. He shifted away from Ron and put his weight on his own legs.
“Quit being stubborn, let us help,” Ginny scolded him. Ever since Harry had become fully conscious she had been glued to his side as if there were a Sticking Charm at work. Her presence was his greatest source of comfort.
Which made what he had to do that much harder.
No, he thought, pushing that feeling away. There was still a little more time, yet. First things first — he had a funeral to attend.
They were met in the Entrance Hall by Hermione. Her face was pale, and the dark lines beneath her eyes left no question as to how she had been sleeping. She wasn’t the only one with that look, lately. The entire school sank under a cloud of grief and fear, pressed hard into the earth.
Neville and Luna also stood by the door, although Scott was nowhere to be seen. Scott’s frequent disappearances were not unusual, but slightly more worrying in this case. Harry didn’t think Scott would be so callous as to skip the funeral... not that he could say much about Scott with any certainty.
“I’m fine, I’ve got it now,” Harry grumbled, pulling his arm away from Ron when they reached the bottom of the staircase. He thought that might have seemed a bit more harsh than he intended, and softened it with a “Thanks.”
“Are you sure?” Hermione asked, though her question was more subdued than her usual tone.
“I think he’s got it… so long as there’s not a stiff breeze, anyway,” Ron said.
“I’m not that far gone,” Harry groused.
“Not from where we’re standing,” Ginny weighed in. “You’re not well.”
“We know, Harry,” Hermione said placatingly in response to Harry’s darkening tone. “We’re just a bit worried, still.”
Harry sighed, trying not to get angry at his friends. They were just offering their help, even if he didn’t want them to. “Yeah. It’s alright.”
Outside, the crowd had already gathered. Harry was deliberately late. It was yet another delaying tactic, as the last thing he wanted was to be cornered by anyone before the ceremony. By some miracle he had so far managed to dodge questions from Tonks, Remus, and Bill, mostly by sleeping a lot. He had even staved off a talking-to from McGonagall by pretending to sleep.
Regardless, he knew that it was only a matter of time before he had to start lying. This was unfortunate, because Harry was well aware that he was not a good liar. Given the choice, he’d have let Scott handle that.
As he approached the chairs outside, it became apparent that Scott was handling at least one issue. Most of the gathered mourners were conversing in soft tones appropriate for a somber occasion. Scott, in direct contrast, was using a voice that was perfectly audible. He was arguing with someone, but Harry couldn’t see the altercation yet.
“No, you can’t sit there, either. I don’t care who you are. It’s taken. I don’t ca— do you speak English? English. Habla Inglés? I’m asking because I’ve told you about five fucking times that you can’t sit here. There are others coming. How many more ways can I state this? It’s taken. Reserved. Occupata. Gefüllt.Vy ne mozhete maty tse mistse!”
By the time Harry staggered his way forward to see what was happening, whoever Scott had been lambasting was gone. The reason for the confrontation was obvious; Scott had somehow managed to keep a large number of chairs in his row clear. Harry had no doubt that this was accomplished through conversations not unlike the one he had overheard.
He almost managed at a smile at that, but the somber occasion cast a shadow over his thoughts. Even Hermione neglected to comment on Scott’s behavior. She sat down with the rest of the group, keeping her silence. Scott, probably sensing the mood, offered no words in his own defense. Not that he needed to. For once, Hermione had far deeper worries than whatever trouble Scott had been causing.
Harry could see many people he knew amongst those gathered. Bill was there, with his soon-to-be-wife, Fleur, and Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, along with Fred and George. Tonks and Remus sat together, and Mad-Eye Moody was close by. They were all in a different section, and Harry noticed that the students had been seated according to their houses. He was not in what was probably his designated seat, having arrived late. The row Scott had saved for them was mixed in with Ministry officials and other guests. Harry didn’t mind. It afforded him a sort of anonymity that sitting with the Gryffindors wouldn’t have.
He leaned slightly to the left and spoke to Scott in a low tone. “Who were you having that row with? About the seats?”
“Huh? Oh, it was that prick from the Ministry,” Scott said, thankfully lowering his voice. Harry reckoned they were surrounded by pricks from the Ministry. “You know, the lead guy. Your Oritorius, except lame. The Minister. Scrim–something.”
Harry wasn’t nearly as shocked as he probably should have been. In fact, he was rather satisfied.
There was a rough part of him, something near the heart, which had been abraded so badly that he no longer minded. He was angry. He was tired. He was scared, nauseous from the potions, still dizzy and in pain. He didn’t care what the Ministry thought. He hadn’t for some time. Now, though… now, he just wanted them all to sod off. Now he understood where Scott was coming from. He felt the satisfaction in simple defiance, for no other sake but its own.
It was a vicious joy, but no less pleasing for that.
“Nice,” Harry muttered. “Guess he found someone else to bother.”
“He really wanted to sit here. I didn’t tell him who I was saving them for, but he definitely knew. Wouldn’t take no for an answer. I think he’s gay for you.”
“He is. Wants me to chip in, do my part for the Ministry. Be a good little soldier.”
Scott made a wry face. “I take it that’s not going to happen.”
Harry snorted in contempt, even though it hurt his throat. “Not bloody likely.”
The crowd began to quiet, settling into place, and an expectant hush fell over the green. The white table at the front remained bare, but Harry could tell the ceremony was about to begin.
Harry tried to pay attention, at least initially. His mind continually wandered. What did it matter where Dumbledore’s body was? That corpse wasn’t the man, not really. The sermon being delivered spoke of honoring his life, but how many people would remember his life? Remember it not as they thought it should be, but as it was?
Dumbledore was still a mystery in so many ways. They called him the greatest wizard of his time, powerful and wise. And Harry could see that in him. Mostly, though, Harry thought that wasn’t the truth of the matter.
Above all else, Dumbledore had been a teacher. He had loved Hogwarts, loved the students, the knowledge being imparted, the lives being built. Hogwarts was supposed to be a school, not a fortress. Lately, it seemed like everyone had forgotten that. Harry doubted that Dumbledore ever had.
The sky was such a bright blue that Harry could barely look at it, but he raised his head and squinted upwards regardless. Dumbledore wouldn’t have wanted people to be staring at the ground during his funeral, ignoring such beautiful surrounds. Would he have wanted this sort of funeral at all? Given his eccentricities, perhaps not. He might have wanted a party.
Harry suddenly had the remembered image of Dumbledore wearing that ridiculous hat he had gotten out of a party favor. He almost grinned before he caught himself.
“Why fight it?” Scott asked quietly, having noticed Harry’s aborted smile. “If you try to forget him, won’t you forget what he taught you?”
There was truth in that. Harry wanted to remember Dumbledore, not as a great wizard now gone, but as full of life and peculiarity. He didn’t think he could forget the man even if he had wanted to. The differences they had experienced seemed irrelevant, now. Harry had learned so much from the old Headmaster. He felt he had hardly scratched the surface of what Dumbledore had offered.
“As for me,” Scott continued, “I’m staring failure in the face, and it’s not pleasant. And thanks to the joys of integration, I can’t even cut my losses and get out of here.”
That was a surprising sentiment. “What, you just want to run?”
Scott grinned. “Nah. I’ve invested too much time in you losers.”
Harry couldn’t suppress the smile that came. Trust Scott to still be giving Harry a hard time at a funeral. He was sure that they were receiving dark looks for their apparent lack of respect, but he just didn’t care. He knew that Dumbledore wouldn’t have minded. And that was all that mattered.
The funeral wore on. Harry was unfocused for much of it, lost in his thoughts. The tributes of the Centaurs and the Merpeople touched Harry more than any hollow words the politicians had to offer. At least the denizens of the forest and the lake had come out of respect, not obligation. He imagined a lot of those in attendance couldn’t say the same. The gathered students and staff of Hogwarts were an exception, of course. Their sadness was palpable, and Harry joined them in it.
To his left sat Scott, silent and expressionless. Whatever the Kharadjai might have been feeling was not apparent. To Harry’s right were the rest of his close friends. Ginny and Hermione sat next to each other, both with tears staining their cheeks. Ron had one arm around his girlfriend, his face pale. Neville appeared shaken and almost confused, as if he couldn’t believe where he was, and why. Luna looked troubled, but her eyes were clear and, when she noticed Harry’s gaze upon her, she gave him a little smile.
And then it was over. The crowd began to disperse, grouping into clusters that talked in low voices, making their way off the grounds. The reality of the day seemed to press on Harry’s shoulders like an unseen hand. Everyone was leaving. Dumbledore was not amongst them.
He couldn’t stay near the tomb. He stood and walked away, past the funeral area, towards Hagrid’s cabin and the edge of the wood. There was another pair of footsteps in the grass behind him, and a quick glance over his shoulder confirmed his first assumption. Ginny was following him. He slowed down and allowed her to take his hand.
Behind the cabin, the air was cooler in the forest’s shade. Harry felt some of that oppressive weight lift with the absence of the sun’s heat. He leaned against a tree and rubbed at his eyes, feeling awkward. Now that he had arrived at his destination, he wasn’t sure why he had gone there in the first place.
Ginny didn’t bother asking if he was alright. She wrapped her arms around his middle and leaned her head on his shoulder, offering comfort through proximity.
God. Why did she have to be so perfect? Harry knew what he had to do, but each moment in her presence made him question it even more.
“You’re not making this easy,” Harry muttered, breaking the silence. It was a vague thing to say. He wanted to delay the inevitable end of the conversation, giving himself time to be stronger.
Unfortunately, Ginny saw straight to the heart of that statement. Her head shot up and she looked at him with a hard stare, eyes blazing. “No!” she bit out.
Harry felt the first twinge of panic. She had anticipated this. “Ginny…”
“You are not leaving me behind, Harry Potter.”
“There’s no other choice. What I have to do is dangerous, and—”
“Oh, is it?” she asked with cutting sarcasm. “I suppose invading the Department of Mysteries was a bit of a laugh?”
Harry gritted his teeth. “Voldemort is after me, and he’ll use you—”
“Right, because us Weasleys are well out of the line of fire,” she scoffed.
“More than me! This is my fight, I have things to do and I can’t… I couldn’t, if I knew you were in danger.”
Ginny rolled her eyes, dismissing him. “And now I’m, what, a shrinking violet? I can’t handle your life?”
Her refusal to accept this was maddening. Harry’s anger was rising in proportion to his voice. “It’s not about what you can handle, it’s about you staying alive for me to come back to!”
“That’s not me, Harry! You know who I am! I am not going to hide,” she furiously stated.
Harry clamped his mouth shut, swallowing a blistering retort. He had to stay calm and make her see reason. “We can’t be together, Ginny.”
Her eyes narrowed, and Harry immediately knew that his milder approach had done nothing to mollify her. “I suppose I don’t get a say. Funny, and here I thought I was half of this relationship.”
“You are, you’re the better half, my better half, and that’s why—”
“And that’s why you have to abandon me so you can run off and martyr yourself. Do you even hear what you’re saying?”
Harry’s grip on his temper was rapidly loosening. “This is not open for discussion, Ginny! I have to leave and you are not coming with me!”
Ginny’s fists clenched and she stepped forward, eyes alight. “If you’re going to chuck me, then at least have the bollocks to give me a reason that makes sense!” she hissed.
“Chuck you?! I’m not — this — that’s not what this is about!” he stammered.
Ginny crossed her arms. “So you want me to just wait for you, then? Pine away until you get back?”
“No, I… I wouldn’t ask you to do that…” Harry said sullenly. He hadn’t considered that she might move on. It was not a pleasant thought.
“You just did!”
Harry was having trouble responding to that. “I did not! I was… I never said that!”
“Oh, but it was implied, wasn’t it?” she said bitingly. “I suppose I should start looking at my other options now, maybe line up a bloke or two. I might need a bit of comfort while you’re off getting kill—”
Ginny choked on the word, and Harry was stunned by the tears that began coursing down her face. He opened his mouth to respond, chest aching at the sight, but she cut him off with a furious gesture.
“You know what? Forget it,” she said, her voice wavering with the sobs that shook her shoulders. Her gaze was not softened by the tears, and Harry found himself unable to meet it. “I can see you don’t need me, anyway.”
She walked away, and left Harry standing in the ashes of the best thing in his life.
He felt dazed, and this time the potions had nothing to do with it. He turned around and began moving with a leaden gait, past Hagrid’s cabin and towards the open green. Harry knew he couldn’t look back. If he did, he’d never be able to stop himself from running after Ginny and begging for her forgiveness.
It was the right thing to do, he told himself for the hundredth time. He’d known it would hurt before he did it. But the reality was so much worse. Somehow, he had harbored the hope that she would take it well, that she would understand. He had expected that she might argue the point. Ginny could be reasonable, though, she could be made to see the necessity. Their parting would be sorrowful, but that sorrow would be tempered by the promise of reunion.
He almost laughed. How could he have ever been so stupid as to think that? Ginny was no wallflower. She was not afraid to follow him into battle, or to leave her life and family behind. She’d had an overwhelming number of older brothers trying to shelter her all her life. The last thing she wanted from Harry was more of the same. Even he knew that. Why the fucking hell had he ever even considered that she would understand his need to leave her behind?
Perhaps he had done so because the alternative was so much more daunting.
Regardless, it was over. Harry sat down on the grass and stared into the woods. He’d have to avoid her, just for a little bit. On the train, especially. He didn’t think he could see her again and stay strong. Or stay in one piece, if her anger hadn’t dimmed by then.
“That was stupid. A classic mistake, but no less stupid for its frequency.”
It was distinctly Scott’s voice, emerging from the crest of the slight hill behind Harry. He had that flat tone about him, the one he used whenever he was condescending to make a point, stepping down from his high horse to explain whatever he felt was obvious. As if he was bored with Harry’s ignorance.
And Harry realized that he didn’t care to hear it. “Sod off, Scott. I’ve had a bad day.”
“Made worse by your misstep. I don’t understand why so many people go to this end to remedy a far deeper problem. It didn’t work for anyone else, and it won’t work for you.”
The moments of camaraderie that had been shared earlier at the funeral were forgotten in the rage that Scott’s comments brought on. The Kharadjai was in exactly the wrong place at exactly the wrong time, and Harry’s emotional turmoil had been given a convenient outlet.
Harry stood and whirled on Scott, teeth gritted against the nausea this caused. “Oh yeah? Wasn’t too long ago you were apologizing for balling up your own end of this deal! Seems like I’m not the only stupid one around at the moment!”
It was an inflammatory statement, designed to make Scott equally angry. Somehow, it didn’t work. Scott’s face creased into a glare, but he remained cool. “Irrelevant. You’re not even equating the right cause and effect. Dumbledore is dead, so you chuck Ginny. I couldn’t stop Dumbledore from being killed, so you have license to do something equally stupid? Logic so convoluted it’s almost abstract.”
“I suppose you’d know,” Harry sneered. “You’ve never made any sense at all, so maybe it’s my turn now.”
Scott had the unbelievable nerve to grin at that. “Get real, Harry. You don’t understand me well enough to imitate me.”
“Oh, I don’t know, it’s easy enough right now. All I have to do is fail.”
The grin was wiped from Scott’s face with a satisfying rapidity, but Harry still felt a slight twinge in his stomach. That had been a rather awful thing to say; perhaps he was going too far…
Scott said nothing for a long moment, his face unreadable. When he began speaking again he had resumed his emotionless drawl. “You think you can just walk away from her? Why would you think that?”
“Because my alternative is to drag her straight into Voldemort’s path!” Harry shot back. His motives were clear enough. He didn’t know why Scott was trying to be so difficult, but he didn’t have to stand there and take it.
“Let me explain it to you.”
“Oh, please do! I’m sure, whatever it is, I can’t possibly understand it without your help!”
“You’re in love with her,” Scott stated. “That changes the nature of the involvement. The fact that you were ‘dating’ becomes wholly immaterial. You are beyond that. It doesn’t matter if you call it off. It doesn’t matter if you leave her behind. She’s attached to you. She’s in this. You think you’ll miss her less, worry about her less, because you told her it was over? You’re in love. It’s never over. Not like it could have been with a lesser connection. Sixth-grade romance. Puppy love. Forget about her before recess; fall in love the next day all over again. It doesn’t work like that anymore. You can’t separate her from your life with a sentence, dipshit.”
“Then what do you want me to do about it?” Harry snarled.
“Keep her close. If she’s with you, at least you’ll get a chance to protect her. You don’t have any better options. It could go wrong either way. But imagine how much more you’ll regret it when she’s gone and you left her behind. What a great alternative that is.”
God, Harry couldn’t even think about that, wanted to punch Scott right in the face for even bringing it up. For a second of absolute temptation he wondered if Scott was feeling superior enough to let Harry knock him a good one, just to show he could take it. “Why are you doing this? Do you hate her that much? Do you want her dead?”
Harry didn’t actually believe that, even for a second, but it was enough to crack through Scott’s poise. The veneer of distance blew apart and Scott’s eyes sparked back to violent life. “What the fuck, Harry?!”
“Scott, please…” Harry said tiredly. Unexpectedly, his rage sloughed away, leaving nothing but exhaustion. He had produced an angry response from Scott and apparently that was enough to banish his own fury. “I don’t know why you’re so mad at me tonight, but I can’t take it right now. If you’ve got something to say, just say it. I’ve had enough.”
Scott blew out a breath. “Okay. Bad start. I am… kind of pissed that you broke up with Ginny. And I guess I was a little harsh.”
“Just a little.” Harry slumped down onto the grass and stared at the tree line once more.
Scott gracelessly dropped down next to him with an audible thump, and lay backwards with his head pillowed on his arms. “Ah… I’m relaxed now… Totally…”
“I’m glad it’s so easy for you,” Harry said sarcastically, feeling tired but not relaxed.
“You know who Spider-Man is?”
“What?” How often had Harry said that when talking to Scott? More often than not, a flat ‘what’ was the only appropriate response.
“Just run with this, I’m trying to set up a lengthy analogy,” Scott explained.
“Oh, one of those. Yeah, I sort of do. He’s in comic books.”
“Okay, well, let’s pretend that I used to know him. And we fought crime and shit.”
Harry wasn’t going for that theoretical approach anymore. “Wait, pretend? Is he real? He’s real, isn’t he? You knew him.”
“Okay, I knew him. Peter Parker. Great guy. A little weedy and hung up on being a ‘virtuous’ hero, but a great guy. You remind me of him.”
“Yeah. So, we had a good thing going. He’d swing around the city, find some trouble, start a fight and then I’d run in behind him and stomp the living hell out of everything that wasn’t an innocent bystander.” Scott closed his eyes and smiled.
Harry had a thought that made him snort in sudden laughter. “Did you have a costume?”
“Nah. Couldn’t be bothered. I wore a hockey mask over whatever street clothes I had on at the time and beat people up with any loose objects available. Didn’t have much of a ‘theme’ going, really…”
“So what does this have to do with me?”
“Oh, right. So, Peter had this redhead of his own by the name of MJ. Nice girl, real easy on the eyes. Easy on the dick, too, just to turn the subtext into text. She wasn’t like us though, just a regular girl. Tough, spirited, hell of a temper, but still made of the same stuff as the next chica on the street. Spidey freaked out after she got in the line of fire one too many times, and he chucked her.”
“Sounds sensible to me,” Harry said roughly.
“Yes, but that’s because you’re both retarded. See, here’s the thing: let’s say you ignore everything I’ve already said about you still loving her, still being afraid for her, etcetera. The point is, she’s out of the fight, and your own suffering is irrelevant.”
That was precisely Harry’s point. “It doesn’t matter how much it hurts as long as she’s still alive when I get back.”
“You’re forgetting the same thing that Peter did. The exact same thing when you leave her out of it.”
Fine. Harry would bite. “And what is that?”
“She’s a Prime, Harry.”
Harry felt a cold weight drop into his stomach. His eyes widened.
“She’s never out of it.”
It couldn’t be true. A terrible surge of desperate panic washed over Harry. Scott had to be wrong. It had to be simpler than that. She had to be safe. There had to be a loophole, there had to be something that Scott could do! It was his job to fix this!
“Funny how that worked. Peter ditched MJ, started living solo, but you know what? Somehow it seemed to come back to her anyway. Always a supervill on that side of town, looking for someone from Spidey’s past. Always her on that one particular sidewalk when the bad guys came through, keeping an eye out for someone to nab… Hey, how about that redhead over there? MJ got kidnapped by a crazy clone of Spider-Man? How on earth do these things keep happening?”
Harry rested his head in his hands and took a deep breath. Had it been for nothing?
“Unlucky, you might say. Disaster prone. But that’s not the truth, of course. She was drawn into it. Like a moth to flame, like light into an event horizon, like… a Prime, to the action. To the UO. To you, Harry.”
And it all came back to him. “Yeah. Like always,” Harry said, and it came out so bitterly that he thought for a moment he could taste it.
“You have a good ear for the higher calling. That’s not always the case with Primes, but you’re willing to face necessity. Ginny is as well.” Scott sat up and leaned in closer to Harry. “Do you really think she’d choose to sit this out?”
“No. And that scares me.”
“We’re all scared, Harry.”
“Sure I am. My fears are just a little more esoteric than yours.”
Scott stood up and started strolling away. “Get a couch, dude, and then maybe I’ll submit to being analyzed. Think about what I said. It’s not too often I make a coherent argument — you should appreciate it!”
Harry most certainly did not appreciate it.
But he had to consider it.
The bottom of the canopy over her four-poster bed was blank, and Ginny wished she could say the same for her mind. She lay still on her back, staring upwards in an attempt to calm down, but it wasn’t working. She was furious. And it was all Harry-sodding-Potter’s fault.
She couldn’t believe the nerve of him. It took some bollocks to say what he had to her face, and even more stupidity. At least he had tried not to be condescending, though he certainly hadn’t succeeded. Some part of her had known he would bring things to this point, had anticipated his words and demeanor, but she had still hoped…
She had hoped that he wouldn’t give in to his hero complex for once in his sodding life. And look where that had gotten her.
Clearly her faith had been misplaced, however miniscule it had been. And so she found herself alone in her room, abandoned by the other girls in her year as well as her supposed boyfriend. The ones who hadn’t already fled had left right after the funeral, hurried away by concerned parents. Ginny didn’t mind. She wanted to be by herself for a bit.
She had walked away from Harry not out of acceptance for his stupid, stupid ‘plan’ to save her, but rather because if she had stayed she thought she might have slapped the shite out of him. That probably would have made her feel better, but Harry was already in enough pain. He had taken that beating and still thought he could run off and handle Voldemort on his own? Barking mad, that’s what he was.
Ginny wondered if Harry would tell Scott that he had to stay behind as well. She very much doubted it, and that made her even angrier.
A gentle knock sounded on the doorframe. “Ginny?” Hermione’s hesitant voice called out. “Are you awake?”
“Yeah,” Ginny sighed, sitting up reluctantly.
Hermione approached the bed and stood next to it for a moment, taking in Ginny’s appearance before sitting down next to her. “So he did it, I see,” she said with exasperation, most likely noting Ginny’s red eyes and drawing the obvious conclusion. “I was hoping Scott would… oh, never mind.”
Ginny frowned at her. “Hoping Scott would what?”
“I thought Scott might talk him out of it… You know how he is about keeping his Primes together.” Hermione glanced at Ginny, and, probably realizing that Ginny didn’t know how Scott was, expanded on her statement. “He put in all that work with you two. I guess it was more Lila than him, but… well, Scott wouldn’t let that all go to waste if he could help it. He likes to keep us all close. He won’t be happy with Harry.”
“That I understand,” Ginny said acidly.
Hermione winced slightly. “He’s only doing what he thinks is best, Ginny…”
“Funny how he just seems to know what’s best for me, isn’t it? I don’t suppose he’s told you to stay behind?”
Hermione looked away. “Ron and I haven’t brought it up. We weren’t going to give him the chance.”
Ginny glared at her. “But I don’t get that option, apparently.”
“I suppose not,” Hermione admitted. “I never said it was fair.”
“Because it bloody well isn’t!” Ginny raged.
“I know. It’s really not.”
Ginny gripped her sheets in her hands and squeezed until it hurt. This accomplished nothing, of course, but it did ease her frustration slightly if she imagined the sheets were Harry’s throat instead. She released them and folded her arms over her chest. “I don’t know what to do,” she said through gritted teeth.
Hermione seemed reluctant to answer, most likely wary in the face of Ginny’s imminent wrath. A different voice interceded in the silence.
“Force the issue,” Scott said from the doorway.
Ginny was too angry to be surprised. She wondered, for maybe about a second, how he had gotten into the girls dormitory, but ultimately she just didn’t care. Most of what Scott did was a mystery and she was in no mood to contemplate any of it.
Hermione felt differently. “Scott!” she gasped, clearly scandalized. “You aren’t supposed to be in here!”
Scott shrugged. “So I’ve been told. Still, if they really intended to keep all the dudes out, then why did they make the only countermeasure so easy to bypass?” He tapped his chin thoughtfully. “I think it’s a test of willpower. Like, only the guys who are determined for some pussy are going to get it.”
“I sincerely hope that wasn’t your intent,” Hermione responded coldly, “because you’re going to be disappointed.”
“Well, I am aware how badly you’ve wanted to have sex with me this year—” Scott paused to accommodate Hermione’s cry of outrage. “—but that’s not why I made the trip. I came to tell Ginny to force the issue. And I did.”
“Meaning what?” Ginny asked before Hermione could give another rejoinder.
“Meaning I’ve put Harry on the ropes, but now you gotta knock him out. It’s a set up, see? I can’t do all the work.”
For a red-tinged moment, Ginny seriously considered attacking him. “I don’t have the patience right now to make sense of your shite!” she snapped.
Scott let out a loud sigh. When he spoke, he enunciated with exaggerated precision. “I talked to Harry. He’s reconsidering breaking up with you. Go to him and change his mind while he’s still confused.”
Ginny scoffed at him, unconvinced. “You don’t think he actually listened to you?”
“I know you don’t have the highest opinion of me, or my skills,” Scott said blandly, “but I can, in fact, be rather convincing.”
“He’s right, Ginny,” Hermione spoke up. “I’m not sure I want to say it for fear of inflating his ego even further, but… Scott can make a solid argument on occasion.”
Scott gave Hermione an indignant look. “What’s with the qualifier? ‘On occasion’?”
“Don’t push your luck,” she warned him.
“Yeah, yeah… Doesn’t matter, I think this will work,” he said, addressing Ginny once more. “Harry’s in the library right now, probably because it’s deserted. Not a bad place for a showdown.”
Ginny glared at Scott with narrowed eyes. “And what do you get out of all this?”
Scott threw up his hands in exasperation. “You know what I get out of this! Hermione straight up told you what the deal is!”
“You get paid, I know. Honestly, I don’t really care about your financial problems,” Ginny said coldly.
For some reason, this taunt accomplished what all the others did not. Scott’s countenance immediately darkened, and he strode forward towards the bed. Ginny’s eyes widened in apprehension; she had never actually succeeded in angering Scott before. Considering the fact that he had already killed several people, perhaps it wasn’t the wisest course of action.
On the other hand, her pride was at stake. And after the battle for Hogwarts, Ginny herself was no stranger to death. She wasn’t going to flinch or take back what she had said.
Scott made no move to hit her, but he did get right in her face as he snarled, “I get paid regardless, Ginny. You don’t want to reach out to Harry? Then do whatever the fuck you want. Run off by yourself and get killed. They might dock me four percent. Maybe.”
“That’s enough, you two!” Hermione said hotly. She stood and placed her hands on Scott’s chest, pushing him away from the bed. At first Scott didn’t budge, but when Hermione persisted, his shoulders relaxed and he took a couple steps back. “This accomplishes nothing! Ginny, I know Scott is being annoying, but he really is trying to help! And, Scott, stop phrasing things in a way you know will make her mad!”
Scott rolled his eyes. “Fine. I guess I’ll let you explain what I’ve done.”
“That would be even better,” Hermione snapped back, ignoring his sarcasm. “Ginny, Harry is in the library. I don’t know what Scott has said to him, but you should go find out.”
Ginny angrily pushed herself to her feet. “Fine, for all the good it will do.”
Hermione rounded on Scott. “And, Scott… come with me. We need to go over your plans for this summer.”
Scott made a skeptical face. “Since when do I have plans?”
“That act stopped being convincing about six months ago. You’ll be at Bill’s wedding, I assume. If you’re going to check on me before that, I’ll need to know ahead of time. I’ll have to tell my parents something, though I’m not sure what…”
Ginny left them to their animated discussion, wondering how two people who fought so much could get along so well.
The halls were completely deserted as she stalked through them, which was fine, as she wasn’t in the mood for inquiring company. Despite the time required to reach the library, her anger did not ebb. Instead, each step only sharpened it. She had been given the opportunity to examine her rage but not the calm required to see the other side of it. Somewhere, deep down inside herself, she knew Harry had some good points. There were no doubt major obstacles between her and this… this crusade, this… whatever it was. This thing she wasn’t supposed to be a part of.
But what did it matter, when Harry wouldn’t even try to accommodate her? All solutions were useless if ignored. They might figure something out if he would make the effort, but unless Scott had somehow come through in a big way, that wasn’t going to happen. And Ginny wasn’t enthralled with the prospect of relying on the boisterous Kharadjai. Still, it wasn’t as if she had a great many options.
At the very least, she’d see if Harry had undergone even a slight change of heart.
The library proved to be predictably deserted. Near the far edge of the room, Harry’s shaggy black hair drooped low over a glossy varnished table bare of literature. He hadn’t bothered to disguise his brooding behind books. As Ginny approached him, he didn’t look up. His shoulders were slumped in a posture of such absolute defeat that, for a brief moment, she actually felt sorry for him.
That feeling quickly passed. Ginny pulled out the chair opposite of him and sat down in it with a forceful thump. She glared at the top of Harry’s head, willing him to acknowledge her. When that didn’t work, she started to speak. “So, have you decided to see reason, or is Scott just wasting my time?” she asked sharply.
Harry responded with a deep sigh, sagging lower in his chair. “I don’t know what to do, Gin,” he mumbled.
Harry was many things, but subtle was not one of them. He had a tendency to wear his heart on his sleeve, and Ginny had a talent for reading it. At that moment, she knew she needed to change tactics. Whatever Scott had said, it had made far greater an impact than Ginny had dared to hope for. Harry’s despondence was a clear sign: victory was close at hand.
She switched her tone to conciliatory. “Harry, you’ll get through this. We will get though this, because—” she raised her voice to prevent Harry from objecting at her intentional plural, “because you can’t do this alone.”
“So I should just drag everyone down with me?” Harry replied darkly.
“I didn’t know you considered your friends such a burden!” Ginny snapped back, unable to prevent her temper from rising again.
“No, that’s not what I—”
“No? Then what were you getting at, that we’re all useless? That we can’t possibly help you win?”
“Don’t put words in my mouth, Ginny!” Harry told her, showing the first flash of anger.
“Then say what you mean.”
“I–I meant… this isn’t your war, there’s no need for you to—”
Ginny closed her eyes tightly. “Harry, I swear to God, every time I think you can’t possibly say something more stupid,” she said through gritted teeth.
“Voldemort is after me! Why should he bother with you after we split up?”
“Think about this, Harry, think about it just for a single, bloody second before you decide that I’m safe as houses!” Ginny loved him, she really did, but sometimes the obvious just slipped straight out of his grasp. “How exactly are the Death Eaters supposed to know about this? Because you took me aside after the funeral? Was there an official declaration at some point that I missed? And even if they did know, even if they did, why would that matter? I suppose the bloody Dark Lord will just assume you feel nothing for me at all because we were broken up for all of a month or two!”
Harry dropped his head onto one of his arms and groaned wordlessly, a sound of helpless frustration so genuine that Ginny felt some of her previous pity worm its way back into her chest.
“That’s what Scott said to you, isn’t it?” she ventured.
“No,” Harry mumbled into the table. “He reminded me that you’re actually a Prime, so there’s no point in keeping you away.”
The thought hadn’t crossed Ginny’s mind; she had been only vaguely aware that she might be considered a Prime. “That’s a good point as well,” she said thoughtfully.
“Fuck,” Harry growled, breath fogging against the tabletop. His glasses were skewed over eyes squeezed tightly shut.
“Why is it so hard to accept that I want to help you?” Ginny asked, but her voice was lacking bite. Harry was just so pathetic that her temper waned as easily as it flared.
“Because everything I touch turns to shit,” Harry spat out.
Now that was just going entirely too far. “God, Harry,” Ginny sighed. “You’re impossible to talk to when you get like this, you know.”
Harry sat up straight, eyes wild. “What am I supposed to do?! I don’t even… I don’t — damn it, Ginny! I just want you to be safe.”
“Well, I’m not. I’m not, Harry, and I never will be. None of us will. We’re not a bunch of evil, hood-wearing wankers, and that means we’re in danger!”
“But it’s me they want, they want—”
“They want to conquer the entire sodding country!” Ginny interrupted. “And in case you hadn’t noticed, I live here. And my family is specifically targeted, and I’ve been snogging you.”
The fight drained out of Harry. He slumped forward and rested his head on his hands. “Then what should I do?”
“Let me help,” Ginny said simply. “Leaving me behind is just giving the Death Eaters a better chance to hex me in the arse.”
That got a small smile out of Harry. “It’s a nice arse, though,” he mumbled with half-hearted playfulness.
Ginny knew when victory was near. She was also totally willing to use her feminine wiles to get her way. She decided that her arse, nice as it was, would be even better (and more convincing) seated in Harry’s lap.
“I know,” she agreed, sliding from her seat with a female fluidity that immediately caught Harry’s eye. “Hard to believe you tried to stay away from it.”
“Tried being the word,” Harry said tiredly, beginning to sink back into melancholy.
She wasn’t going to allow that. Hastening her step, she crossed the space between them and carefully seated herself on Harry’s legs, not wanting to jostle him. The action startled him. He looked at her, eyes wide, hands tentatively gripping her waist.
“Whatever you’re doing, it will be easier with my help. I know you don’t want to believe it but it’s true, Harry, it really is. And besides—” she said huskily, wrapping her arms around his neck, “—there are plenty of benefits to keeping me around.”
“Yeah,” Harry said hoarsely. He was trying very hard not to stare at the breasts so enticingly close to his face, and not entirely succeeding.
Ginny pressed the advantage. “So now that we’ve got that figured out, how about you tell me what we’re going to be doing?”
Harry looked away from her. “Ginny…”
“Harry…” she mocked him.
“It’s not easy to talk about,” he muttered. “I’ve tried so hard to keep it a secret.”
“Yes, so hard that you told Ron, Hermione and Scott.”
He winced. “Er… Yeah, I did at that. Well, the first two, anyway… I think Scott always knew.”
There would be time to ponder that later. “Harry,” Ginny said gently, placing a hand on his cheek and turning his head towards her. “I’m not going anywhere. I can’t escape this even if I wanted to, and I don’t. I want to be with you.”
He dropped his head and sighed into her shoulder. “Why?” he asked plaintively in one last, stubborn act.
“Because I won’t leave you. We need each other, why can’t you see that?”
Harry was silent for a long time, his breath steady against Ginny’s collarbone. She ran a hand through his hair, cherishing the intimacy of their positioning even as she anxiously awaited his answer.
“I’ll try to,” he said finally. “So, um… A while back, Voldemort did some really tricky Dark magic that we have to deal with…”
The scenery outside the window flashed by in time with the humming clack of the train, familiar in its cadence. The Hogwarts Express usually made Ron think of summertime, and home, but with his forehead pressed against the glass, all he could focus on was Hermione’s warmth against his side. She was safe, at least for the moment, and so was everyone else. The tension in Ron’s shoulders had taken up a permanent residence over the last few days, and only now did it begin to loosen.
He couldn’t entirely relax, though. Seated directly across from him were Ginny and Harry, sitting close and conversing in whispers. Ron didn’t know what to make of that. Hermione had told him that Harry had broken up with Ginny… so why were they all but wrapped around each other now?
Ron knew that the break up would be rough on his sister, and he didn’t like it, but he also knew that Harry had good reasons. Ginny couldn’t be involved in what was to come, Harry had always understood that. It was a hard choice but one that had to be made.
And as far as Ron knew, the choice had been made. And now unmade? That wasn’t right, surely. Harry would never endanger Ginny, it had to be something else…
But judging from the looks they kept throwing his way, whatever it was, he wasn’t going to be happy about it.
Hermione had to have noticed all this, she always did, but she didn’t seem too concerned. Ron thought that had a lot to do with Scott’s conspicuous absence. Neville and Luna were in the compartment, and even Trevor and Kylie sat next to Harry and Ginny, but Scott was gone. Ron didn’t particularly care what he was up to, but he knew Hermione didn’t share that same insouciance.
Hermione raised her head off Ron’s shoulder and looked towards Kylie’s small form. “Kylie, did you see Scott when you went to the toilet?” she asked, her voice loud against the previous quiet.
Kylie shook her head in response. Her face displayed curiosity, which was a first. Ron had never seen any expression on her but apprehension.
“He probably went to see who else was on the train. You know he doesn’t like sitting still,” Harry said. Hermione shot him a look that said exactly what she thought of that excuse, but Harry only rolled his eyes in response. “What does it matter? He wanders off all the time.”
“And steals something or kills someone,” Hermione retorted. Immediately after, she must have remembered that Trevor and Kylie weren’t aware of the full picture, and she subsided without further comment.
Ron had never thought Hermione’s paranoia concerning Scott was entirely warranted. Whatever Scott was doing, it was probably to help Harry out in one way or the other. Still, given the way in which Scott sometimes offered help, Hermione wasn’t wrong to be concerned. Ron could only imagine the look on her face if the next issue of the Prophet detailed a massacre.
At this point, Ron wasn’t sure he’d be bothered. After what had happened at Hogwarts, someone had it coming. It was an ugly thought, and one he wasn’t comfortable with. But lately, it had been an ugly sort of time.
Such dark musings were swept away when Scott slammed the door to the compartment open, startling most of its occupants. “Fuckin’ balls,” he swore loudly, and seated himself next to Hermione with a thump.
“Scott!” Hermione hissed, shooting a meaningful glance at Trevor and Kylie.
“Sorry, sorry…” Scott grumbled.
“What’s your problem?” Harry asked.
“They put me on hold!” Scott said with righteous indignation. “Probably a bunch of assholes calling in reports on how the grass is growing in their universe, watching friggin’ paint dry, and I get stuck in the queue during a combat op. Should have coded in for an emergency; protocol, man…”
“Scott…” Hermione said with warning, still looking at the first-years.
“Whatever. Should’ve just put in a form request, paperwork is slightly better than being put on hold.” Scott stood up decisively. “Maybe Eva can link me with the Colonel, I’ll try that…”
Scott walked back out of the compartment, once again opening and closing the door with more force than necessary. His footsteps faded down the hallway, and the former silence returned.
“That was odd,” Harry said after a moment.
Hermione sighed in a disgruntled fashion. “Do I even want to know what he’s up to?” Apparently she did, because a few seconds later she left to follow Scott.
“Should we all go?” Ron wondered humorously.
“No. They’re probably just going to have a row about something pointless,” Harry said dryly.
“Yeah. With any luck they won’t kill each—”
Ron’s rejoinder was interrupted as Hermione came stomping back into the room. She sat down with her arms crossed. “He was gone and I don’t know which way he went,” she huffed in response to the questioning looks from the others.
“Must’ve heard you coming,” Ron suggested, grinning.
“He had better not be hiding. How childish can he…” she trailed off.
“Very,” Harry supplied.
Ron and Harry grinned at each other, though there was a bittersweet tinge to the exchange. It was hard not to buckle under the darkness that hung over them. Evidence that all humor hadn’t left the world was comforting, if in a small way. Things being what they were, Ron would take what he could get.
He put his arm back over Hermione’s shoulders, holding her to him. Through the window the countryside rolled past in winks and flashes: trees, grass, and low stone walls. Nothing looked out of place. The world was still standing, despite everything.
And for a moment, with his friends at his side, Ron thought they might all make it out okay.