"When immersed in the environment it becomes easy for even an experienced Integrationist to lose sight of the details in favor of wider focus. This is never more apparent than during the 'down time', the long stretches that exist between objectives. Primarius training is designed to impart patience, but many in the field find that patience does not always equate to tolerance. When the adrenaline fades, the mundane then attempts to reassert itself. As is often the case, the most subtle lessons of integration are the hardest to bear, for they insist that events must unfold at their own pace. The same trauma that is lost on battle-hardened Integrationists can leave Primes exhausted, physically and emotionally. True integration requires a constant adjusting to the needs of those within your care. An Integrationist must learn to accept that, quite frequently, those needs cannot be met with effort, but only by time."
—The Guiding Light: An Integrationist's Guide to Understanding Primes, Chapter IX: When Strength Fails
Harry was clinging to the edge of unconsciousness, nearly sunk into the full embrace of welcomed sleep. The insistent tug of the darkness behind his eyelids was not quite strong enough for him to ignore the sudden speaking of his name, though, no matter how much he wanted to.
"Harry," the voice said again, more insistently.
The flat tones of the accent identified it as Scott, and therefore not an immediate threat. Harry was accordingly not enthused enough to respond. This had a lot to do with the heavy warmth wrapped around him. That weight which so attractively draped itself across him was none other than Ginny, who had started the night collapsed on the opposite side of the bed and had at some point shifted to cling to him. Not that he was complaining. If he had known that having her in his bed like a heated blanket would be so conducive to slumber he might have tried it sooner.
She did provide some distraction, however. Every time she inhaled, her breasts pushed themselves against Harry's ribcage, a delicious sensation which made him think that maybe women with Lila's level of endowment were overrated. Ginny was just so… pert, he supposed was the word.
A sigh. "Harry… I know you aren't asleep. I need to talk to you."
Harry squeezed his eyes shut even tighter and grimaced. It was clear that Scott wasn't going away, and, fearing that things might soon escalate to violence, he blinked back encroaching sleep and tried to focus. After a few seconds he could see Scott's dim form towering over him, backlit by the low light from the open doorway.
"What?" Harry whispered.
"I have a question and, no, it can't wait." Scott tilted his head more towards Ginny. "Someone's a sound sleeper."
Harry was grateful for that, but even Ginny would probably wake up if he had to shove her off him. "I can't exactly move right now."
"Really? Did you pee before you went to bed? It can be difficult to just lie there, when you're so comfortable, but there's that insistent pressure and all you can think about is waterfalls and spigots… All that liquid, pouring, gushing, trickling…"
God damn him. Harry's focus shifted to his bladder and it responded accordingly. "Just when I think I can't hate you more…"
"And before you take a leak, you have to talk to me. Another obstacle on the road to relief."
Finally, Harry gave up and shifted from his position. Somehow he managed to slide out from under Ginny's limbs and slump gracelessly to the floor. Ginny snuffled a bit in her sleep, but didn't wake. She must have been more exhausted than she'd let on.
Out in the hallway, Harry motioned for Scott to hurry up. "Go on, what's so bloody important you had to wake me up and send me to the loo?"
"I was poking around downstairs and ran into some kind of low-level sentient named Kreacher. Short, oddly coloured with large ears. He said he lived here, is that true?"
Harry sighed. "I should have mentioned him before. Yes, he does live here. He's the Black family house-elf."
Scott cast a glance around the grimy, poorly lit hall. "Don't they clean or something?"
"He's mad. Spends all of his time talking to the portrait of Mrs. Black in the entryway. He also hated Sirius and had a part in… in what happened."
"He's a traitor?"
Harry didn't want to relive those events, not again. He tried to move on. "I don't know if we can call him that. He was never loyal to us in the first place, he just answered to Sirius and now me because he has to. He's an evil little shit, though. I was hoping he'd stay in whatever hole he crawled into."
"Do I need to kill him?"
That brought Harry up short. Scott had the blank look on his face that commonly accompanied his most difficult questions and statements. As usual, he looked neither eager nor loath to actually carry out such an act. He merely wanted to know if it was necessary.
"No. He can't leave the house or betray us or do much of anything unless I tell him to," Harry said. "He might call you some names, but that's about all he can do."
"I think he's afraid of me, actually. Or at least what I was carrying." Scott tapped a finger against one of his handguns. "We ran into each other by surprise. He asked me what I was doing sullying this house, I asked him who he was supposed to be and how he got in. He told me his name and that he served here, so I said I'd have to check on that with you. He started to leave, I pulled a gun on him, said to not fucking move; he took off like a bat out of hell."
Harry frowned in thought. "Huh… He's been a wizarding house-elf his whole life, almost never leaves this damn place. If he was afraid of your guns then he must know what they are, somehow."
"I may have the answer to that, as it turns out. But it can wait until morning."
"I'm so glad this couldn't," Harry said sarcastically, though he was torn with the need to return to bed and the curiosity raised by Scott's assertion.
"Go ahead and sleep in, everybody needs it. Nothing on the agenda for today but discussion, anyway."
Harry nodded and turned away, ready to relieve his aching bladder and crawl back into a bed that would still be warmed by the second presence he was not yet accustomed to. He and Ginny were both fully dressed, at least, and had been so tired that they'd fallen onto the same bed and passed out without talking about it. Which was fine. It wasn't how Harry had imagined his first time sharing a bed with a girl would go, but it was a good way to start (not that he dared to hope it would continue). His protestations the previous night when Ginny had suggested sharing had stemmed mainly from his anxiety in not knowing what she was expecting from him. If she just wanted to cuddle for warmth every night, he was more than willing to give it a go.
She was still asleep when he returned to his (their?) room and he couldn't think of any way to get back in his previous position, so he moved to the other side of the bed and put his arm over her waist. They were both fully clothed but it was still the most intimate Harry had ever been with another person in such a fashion: long-term close physical contact. That was sort of a depressing thought. Of course, given how little the Dursleys had ever been tactile it was fortunate he hadn't developed some kind of neurotic aversion to be touched at all.
He'd never really thought about that before. He supposed, in that sense, he was lucky such a toxic upbringing hadn't damaged him more thoroughly.
Or that's what he thought, anyway. He knew better than to solicit any other opinions.
He blinked a few times, felt the darkness at the edges of his vision start to swell and fold in. His limbs ached with the memory of exertion and cold; a myriad of scratches stung against the cloth of his shirt whenever he shifted. It didn't matter. Ginny's heat radiated through the layers of cloth and skin, pushing aside the thoughts and pa