He rolled over in his bed, shaking off the wispy vestiges of a nightmare he could only dimly recall. Something had been chasing him, a shape dark and suggestive of things too horrible to survive his waking. The room was empty, devoid of anything threatening, and for a moment he wondered if the sound had been a part of the dream as well.
A second clink against the glass dispelled that assumption. Harry pulled out his wand from beneath his pillow and cautiously approached the window, well aware that any magic he performed would bring the Ministry down on his head yet again. He didn’t much care at this point, but considering the odds against him, it wouldn’t be smart to invite any more hindrances.
There was nothing directly at the window; unsurprising, considering his bedroom’s position on the second floor. Harry stood still for a second, waiting. Quick as a shot, a small pebble flashed upward and clacked against the glass, the rapid shadow darting across the room with a life of its own. Despite the eerie connotations of the setting, Harry felt the pressure in his chest ease. He was pretty sure he knew who was tossing rocks at his window.
When he leaned forward to peer downward, he caught sight of blond hair, the owner of which was waving at him. He unlocked the window carefully and slid it open, trying to minimize the amount of the noise he made. The last thing he wanted was to rouse Vernon when Scott was present. Harry had a feeling that confrontation would end badly in a number of ways.
The summer night was cool and calm, the buzzing and clicks of the insects in the bushes rising above the distant sound of cars on the main roads. It smelled like grass and night air, and Harry relaxed a little more. Scott’s appearance began to feel like less of a portent and more of a simple visit.
He knew better, but it was a nice thought nevertheless.
“I’ll see if I can open the front door,” he whispered down to Scott.
“Why?” Scott whispered back. He crouched and lightly jumped up to latch onto the windowsill. Harry stepped out of the way as Scott slid through the opening and rolled back into a crouch, all without making much noise.
Harry shook his head in exasperation and closed the window. When he turned around he saw that Scott had made himself comfortable at the foot of the bed.
“We have to be quiet,” Harry warned him. “Let’s not wake anyone.”
“What, are we having sex? I thought we were just talking. Let’s not rush anything… I have a lot of inner beauty, you know.”
Harry bit back the loud retort that immediately occurred to him and in the same instant understood that their conversation wasn’t going to work. “Come on,” he told Scott, moving to reopen the window. “Let’s get out of here.”
Scott followed Harry’s lead without comment, dropping back out the window and then pausing to help Harry descend. Harry hung down by his fingers and then dropped, letting Scott catch him. It was briefly awkward to disentangle himself from Scott’s arms, but thankfully their enforced silence prevented Scott from commenting (at length, no doubt) on whatever supposed homoeroticism the moment possessed.
Harry didn’t really know where he was going. He let his feet decide, veering left onto the pavement and settling into a steady pace. Scott fell in beside him with an amiable air, looking for all the world like a young man out for an afternoon stroll. The fact that it was well after midnight — and that the only illumination came from the moon and intermittent streetlights — made Scott’s cheerful swagger seem entirely out of place.
Harry couldn’t help but laugh, and he knew that’s why Scott was doing it.
“So why are you a teenager again?” Harry asked. It was the first thing that had occurred to him upon seeing Scott’s gangly form on the lawn.
“Familiarity?” Scott hazarded, sounding like he wasn’t entirely certain why he had done it. “Maybe you wouldn’t react well to some dude standing outside your window. You know me like this.”
“I’d know you anyway.”
“I guess… It seemed right. Besides, a grown man and a teenage boy walking down the street at two in the morning would seem a lot weirder than this, yeah?”
“True enough.” A few more concrete sections passed by before Harry continued, “But why did you show up in the first place?”
“I wanted to talk. Figured if the rents caught me during the day it might cause some problems, so that left the night.”
Harry appreciated the uncommon display of tact. “Good on you. They’re having enough trouble going into hiding as it is.”
“Hiding? Oh, yes… Witness protection,” Scott said noncommittally, though there was something about his expression that was off.
“What, you don’t think it’s a good idea?” Harry said incredulously. “If they stay here, the Death Eaters will kill all of them, you know that.”
“Right!” Scott burst out with that tinge of manic excitement that was always present when he thought he had a great idea. Scott’s brain seemed to be several steps ahead of his mouth when he got like that. “And that translates into an interesting opportunity, one I personally wouldn’t be so quick to discard—”
Harry stared at him. “Opportunity?” he interrupted, aghast. Surely Scott wasn’t suggesting what Harry thought he was… “The opportunity to off my unpleasant relatives? For a spot of fun?”
“Noooooo…” Scott said, shaking his head vehemently. “That’s a waste! We need to get them somewhere a little more open, out in the country, with limited approaches and good sightlines, and then when the Death Eaters come for them…”
Harry reached over and gripped Scott by the arm before the Kharadjai could extrapolate. “Scott, we are not using my relatives as bait,” he said firmly.
“And deny them this one chance to be useful?”
When phrased thusly it was very tempting, indeed. But Harry had principles, and putting what was left of his family — no matter how awful they were — in the line of fire went against more than one of them. “We don’t need them to set traps,” he said, appealing to Scott’s sense of strategy.
Scott sighed heavily, but he let the subject go. “All right.”
It wasn’t a conscious decision on his part, but Harry quickly became aware that his footsteps were leading him full circle — back to the playground, this time in the dark instead of the furious sun. He wasn’t trying to be symbolic. It was away from the Dursleys’ and as good a place as any to talk.
Scott grinned. “I know where we are.”
“Don’t you always?” Harry said sardonically.
“Yes. But right now I especially know where we are.” Scott pointed down the street, where the outline of the swings was becoming visible in the moonlight. “I’m touched, Harry. Ah, the swing set of our burgeoning first love…”
“Now you’re just making things up.”
“All right, fine, not love… But, partnership! An everlasting bond of… of mutual respect and… core competencies!”
“I don’t know what that means.”
“We each have things that we’re good at. And core competencies is pointless business jargon designed to express a very simple concept in a complicated way so that it takes up more time at meetings,” Scott explained.
“I have to hand it to you, Scott,” Harry said with a small smile, “every day you teach me another useless fact.”
“And sometimes not so useless!” Scott said cheerfully by way of counterpoint, though he failed to provide any examples.
The swings were empty and they settled into them, their positioning an eerie midnight reflection of that first day in the sun. The crickets were loud across the green and the streetlights shone down through an inky stillness, creating dim yellow circles against the dimmed suburban backdrop. The temperature was blessedly cool, the air free from humidity.
“So what’s up?” Harry asked, raking the tip of his shoe through the gravel.
“I was wondering how the plan was coming along,” Scott said.
Harry frowned. “Coming along how? We have to find the Horcruxes. Nothing’s changed.”
“No, but I thought you might have an approach.”
“Bill’s wedding is coming up soon. I thought we’d all meet there, and… I don’t know. Look for clues, I guess. We still have that locket to open.”
Scott glanced over at Harry. “I thought you already opened it.”
“Not until we can all do it together.” Harry shifted in the swing, leaning backwards. “Have you checked up on anyone else yet? I sort of thought I’d see you sooner, actually.”
“I’ve been around,” Scott replied vaguely.
Harry rolled his eyes. “So you’ve either been spying on me, or you’ve been doing other things.”
“Dropping by every now and then to make sure you’re still intact can’t really be called spying,” Scott retorted. “You’re safe enough here, I’ve been more worried about Hermione.”
“Is she all right?” Harry asked with concern.
Scott made a dismissive motion. “She’s fine. But she’s out on her own in a Muggle house, not exactly a hard target. Rather than leave her ass hanging in the wind, I’ve been watching her neighborhood pretty closely.”
“What about Ron and Ginny?”
“Lila has been spending a lot of quality time with Mrs. Weasley. It’s all very domestic.”
“That’s good,” Harry said. It was a relief to know that The Burrow had some formidable protection close at hand. Lila was a better fit there than Scott, anyway.
Scott shrugged. “Yeah. I almost feel like I’m wasting your time, really… Nothing specific to report. I’m coasting. Waiting.”
“Me, too,” Harry muttered.
Scott raised an eyebrow, affecting a contemplative look. “Shall we make some suppositions?”
“Suppose away,” Harry said graciously.
“Horcrux hunting could be difficult. And I don’t mean just finding them, we’ve always known that’s the trick, what with our current lack of information. Those zombies in the cave weren’t a huge amount of trouble but I don’t think we can count on Riddle to repeat himself ad nauseam…”
Harry had already considered that possibility. “I’ve always known I probably won’t live through this,” he said quietly.
Scott threw up his hands and made a noise of frustration. “That’s not the point! Any given person might not live through any given day, you put your life on the line by living. You get in a car and someone might cut you out of the wreckage with a hacksaw, and when you go to sleep you might never wake up. I don’t need you to grapple with your impending mortality, Harry, I need you to think about how we can stall it!”
All right, fine. Harry didn’t know exactly what this conversation was driving at, but despite the occasional fatalism, he wasn’t ready to lie down and die. “We’ll have to hide while we look for these things. I’ve done a little research — well, Hermione did — and the Wizarding world is bigger than you’d think. Depending on where we have to go, we can avoid anyone we know and just…”
“Be homeless? Go camping?” Scott suggested dryly.
“If you have any alternatives…” Harry trailed off, fairly certain that Scott did indeed have other ideas.
Scott stood up. Raising his arms, he jumped upward and pulled himself into a sitting position across the top bar of the swings. He glanced around the neighborhood yet again, then gazed downwards at Harry. “The United Kingdom consists of about sixty million people spread out over 95,000 square miles. A drop in the bucket from a global perspective, and insignificant — as all things are — from a multi-versal perspective, but it’s a very large bucket. The only reason we, as a species, have any regularity of contact is because we give ourselves names and numbers and then let our friends, families and governments have them because there are benefits to being counted. This creates the illusion of a system, of control. But you know what? It’s not that you can’t disappear — it’s that most people just don’t know how.”
“But you do,” Harry guessed.
“And it’s even better this time. We’ve got a country divided into two halves, and we can slip into either at will. We can go off the grid in London. I can integrate us into the facets of the city that the Muggle police have a hard time finding people in, never mind some distant wizard aristocracy.”
Harry believed him. But he wasn’t sure that it mattered. “Yeah. But the things we’re looking for won’t be there. What are we going to do, sit around until Voldemort takes over the whole country?”
“If we have to. But that’s not the preferable approach, no.”
“All right, then how do we go searching for magical artefacts while we live as Muggles?”
“Well, I don’t know, do I?” Scott said, rolling his eyes. “But I can move us through the Muggle world while you figure it out.”
Harry considered that. While it was true that becoming Muggles would be the best way to hide, it would be necessary to go back to the magical places of the U.K. if the Horcruxes were to be found. But Harry didn’t believe there was any foolproof way of avoiding Voldemort’s notice. He would find them eventually, at least so long as they were in the country.
“You have to know they’ll find us anyway,” he told Scott. “They’ll Imperius someone, or, you know, some of the lower-level Death Eaters are probably Muggle-born anyway.”
“Given his own past, it does seem like Voldemort is willing to settle for the pretence of a pure-blood dominion. So, yes, I know that we are likely to run into them no matter where we hide. But I’d rather meet them on our terms.”
“You would rather fight them in a Muggle setting,” Harry surmised.
“Yeah. Wouldn’t you?” Scott asked curiously.
Harry wasn’t sure. He supposed the Muggle world was preferable if only because the Death Eaters would be out of their element. However, that brought up another problem. “We can’t start a war in London, Scott. There would be too many civilians caught up in it.”
“A lot more people will die if we get caught and killed, man. And I know that sounds callous,” Scott said, holding up a hand to stop Harry’s immediate protest. “It’s the truth. I can’t change that. Besides, Voldemort is crazy, but he isn’t stupid. The Statute of Secrecy is the only thing stopping the Muggles from coming down on Wizarding society like the apocalypse. He may view them as an inferior species, but I can’t believe he got this far if he doesn’t understand just how precarious the position of the Wizarding world is. If he strikes out at the Muggles full force, they’ll kill him and probably every other wizard they can find. He has to know that.”
That, Harry thought, was giving Voldemort more credit than he probably deserved. “And if he doesn’t?”
Scott shrugged. “Then he’ll launch an assault on the United Nations and the Muggles will burn the wizarding world to the ground. Problem solved… well, one problem solved. Ideally we wouldn’t be looking at a second Holocaust, but the Muggles aren’t going to be happy that you could have been curing cancer and AIDS instead of hiding.”
These events, however hypothetical, were too horrendous for Harry to contemplate. “I… would like to avoid anything like that.”
“And I think Voldemort would, too. Coming up against a hit squad in a back alley, sure, I could see that, but he’s not going to tear London apart looking for us. If he ever strikes at the Muggles, he’ll do it in secrecy or from a position of unassailable strength.”
Harry ran a hand through his hair, trying to come to grips with this sort of larger picture. He was unsure if such predictions were accurate, but he had to know one thing. “And what if he finds… something, some sort of powerful relic. What if he had the sort of magic that he could take on all the Muggles?”
“You mean,” Scott said slowly, “what if Voldemort builds an army and actually goes to war with the rest of the world?”
That was Harry’s worst fears realized in summary, for if things reached that point, he doubted that either he or his friends would survive to see it. “Yeah. Worst case scenario, I guess. What happens then?”
Scott grinned, teeth flashing in the dark. “Then the game changes. The old rules no longer apply. The war machine steps up, and puts Riddle down.”
“No, that’s what I’m saying. What if all those Muggle armies weren’t enough?”
“My war machine, Harry. Me. Us. The Kharadjai. The game changes — the rules no longer apply. Voldemort steps outside of destiny. He wrecks the future. The Prophecy becomes irrelevant, you, I’m sorry to say, become irrelevant and there’s nothing left but to do things the hard way.”
Harry’s eyes widened. “You would kill him?”
“Not just me. Imagine this: divisions of Kharadjai infantry dropping from the sky, the Fifth Fleet in orbit around your planet, and squads of Primares, guys and gals just like me, at the forefront. It would be a massacre, which is pretty much the intended result. Our army tends to hit as hard as it can right from the start.”
“You couldn’t hide that. There’s no way, everyone in the world would know you were here,” Harry protested.
“That’s right. You think it would be the first time? There are any number of places out there where they know who we are. We’ve occupied planets before, Harry, and we’ll do it again.”
Harry blew out a breath. “Then maybe you should just go ahead and save me the trouble.”
“Sorry, HP. The game hasn’t changed. The shape wants what it wants and fate must follow. Barring a massive upheaval, that’s the way it’s gotta be.” Scott reached over and patted Harry on the shoulder. “Still, it’s nice to know that there’s a backup plan, right?”
“Only in case of a third World War,” Harry muttered. “If Voldemort beats me, you probably can’t do anything about it, right.”
Scott winced. “Ah, well… Yeah. Not immediately, anyway…”
“But that’s not gonna happen, man! Think positive! Hey, I’m here right now, and I’m here to help. And it’s not like I’m the only one, you got all sorts of people on your side.”
Harry tried to overcome to pessimism that had been hanging over him like a cloud, but the trials ahead still seemed insurmountable. “We’ll see,” he said half-heartedly.
“You’ll feel better when we bag the first Horcrux,” Scott predicted.
“We’ll open the locket when we’re all at The Burrow,” Harry informed him. “Out in the woods, probably, I don’t want anyone else nearby.”
“Right on. And then we’ll go from there,” Scott said cheerfully.
Scott always seemed to be in his element when improvising, but Harry would have felt better with a more solid plan for the future. Still, it was a start. And he knew any real plans couldn’t take shape until Hermione had her say. No doubt during their weeks of separation she had developed a multitude of possibilities.
“It’s a start,” Harry said finally.
“And it’s also late.” Scott hopped down from the swings, crunching in the gravel. “Anything further to add before we call it a night?”
“Yeah. Don’t let Ginny leave the house,” Harry told him, only partially joking.
“I will personally chain her to the bed,” Scott promised. “But I won’t personally do anything else to her. She’ll be there when you show up.”
Harry felt horrified, then slightly aroused, then horrified at being slightly aroused. “Shut it, Scott.”
“I only try to help, and the abuse I get in return…”
“So sorry,” Harry muttered.
“Any more questions? Except I guess that was a request, or a demand… But whatever. Fuck English. And grammar and sentence structure! Things to say have more, you?”
Harry glanced over at him. “Actually, yeah. There’s something that’s been bothering me for months, but I always forget to ask you.”
“Oh?” Scott said with interest.
“You’re a Kharadjai, and your name is Kharan.” This fact had been needling Harry ever since Scott had written down the name of his race for spelling reference. “That can’t be coincidence, right? I mean, Sophie’s name isn’t like that. Sophie Strauss.”
“True, but her name is alliterative, which is just as good, if not better.”
“So yours really is just coincidence,” Harry surmised.
“Yes… and no.”
Harry sighed. “Stop it and just tell me.”
“They don’t have the same pronunciation, they aren’t phonetically similar. My name is care-ren, Kharadjai is kuh-rahd-jie. They both start with a hard ‘K’ sound, that’s it.”
“Yeah, but they’re spelled the same.”
“And that’s the part that isn’t a coincidence,” Scott explained. “My last name is, or was, actually C-H-A-R-A-N. But I got sick of everyone pronouncing it wrong, calling me Char-ran, Charon, or Sharon, or whatever. So I just started spelling it with a K, because then there’s no mistaking it.”
“Huh. That makes sense,” Harry admitted.
Scott grinned. “And it worked, too. Nobody calls me Mr. Sharon anymore.”
“Karen is also a girl’s name,” Harry said dryly.
“But at least it’s mine.”
Harry could understand that. There had been times when he’d wished for a different first name, usually when the standard jokes about where, exactly, he was hairy came up (though, come to think of it, he couldn’t recall Scott ever making a joke based on that obvious pun). But it was the name his parents gave him and he wouldn’t trade it for another.
Harry yawned widely, confirming that he’d talked enough for the night. “Let’s get going,” he told Scott. “I need to sleep at some point.”
Scott scoffed at that. “What, would the Dursleys really care if you slept all day?”
“You try sleeping all day with Dudley thumping about the house.”
“I can sleep anywhere,” Scott boasted. “Great skill to have. Took a lot of practice, but it was worth it.”
Then maybe, Harry mused as they walked back to the house, he really should stay up all night. In a matter of weeks, he didn’t know where he’d be sleeping.