“There is no empirical evidence in favor of the existence of the human soul. All known sciences, every rational discipline and our total knowledge of the coherent physical universe, in their collective sum, have provided not a single iota of proof or entailment that the soul is real, or that something similar in working, but technically distinct, is extant. This is a very interesting point of fact, rife with implication.
Equally interesting, and portentous, is the utter lack of evidence that the soul does not exist. And whereas the argument against lacks inferences, other universes, and the shape itself, imply a great deal about the possibility of the soul. But, as is often the case, the same word may mean many varied things. Thus, the soul continues to exist somewhere between superstition and science.”
—Dr. Albrecht Kresser, Foreword to Modern Science Periodical’sCollected Theorems Volume CXIV
As the clouds rolled overhead, they followed the edge of the Forest where it met the field. They stayed in the area where the trees were thinner and the brush didn’t fight them quite so much, away from the dark boundary where the branches closed in overhead and the Forest truly began.
Harry kept himself at the edge of the group, closest to the Forest. It was a pointless enough gesture that he knew he was only doing it to assuage his sense of protective duty. Scott also trod near the dangerous border, and if there were any creatures moving back in the darkness the Kharadjai would see them long before anyone else did.
Hermione stopped up ahead. “Scott!” she whispered, gesturing frantically. Scott hurried forward and crouched next to her. “What is that?” she said, pointing.
Scott peered in the direction she’d indicated, then leaned back. “I think it’s part of a tree.”
Harry couldn’t see Hermione’s face, but her posture was embarrassed. “Oh,” she said.
“When in doubt, point it out. Silhouettes are tricky in the moonlight.”
What little of it there was. The clouds overhead blocked out most of the stars and Hogsmeade, its lights dim by Muggle standards, provided distraction rather than illumination. Their progress was slow. Ginny had already caught her knee on a branch and Neville had fallen face first after putting his foot in a rabbit burrow.
After a short time, Harry could see the road between Hogsmeade and the Castle. He felt an instant pang of nostalgia for the trips to the town. It was sobering to realise that, even if he had returned to school, the Hogsmeade weekends would almost certainly have not been allowed. No students would be walking that road anytime soon. Harry really wished he could walk it after the third time he stumbled straight into a tangle of branches.
When they reached the fence they stopped, spreading out slightly and keeping watch. Harry sat down on the carpet of pine needles while Scott did… whatever it was he was doing. He appeared to just be standing there. But Harry had experienced enough to have some faith in the things Scott could do with the shape, and it wasn’t long at all before the Kharadjai’s eyes refocussed.
“Right here,” he said, indicating a section of fence with his arms. “And keep your head down when you go up, just in case.” He helped each of them up to the top of the fence, one by one, letting them put a foot on one of his hands.
“That was quick,” Harry said when it was his turn. He stepped onto Scott’s offered hand and touched the fence for balance as he was swiftly lifted up. With his hands on the cold stone, he vaulted over the top and landed on the soft grass.
“Public building,” Scott said by way of explanation when he followed. “Familiar, too.”
Harry had always been told he had been safe at Hogwarts. But the ease with which Scott had slipped them through the boundaries made Harry wonder if that had been true not because the school was impenetrable, (which, considering all that had happened there, it clearly was not) but because Dumbledore had been there, along with a staff of other powerful witches and wizards. Perhaps Harry’s safety had always been in numbers, not walls.
There was a warm glow emanating from the windows of Hagrid’s cabin as they made their way across the lawn. As tempting as it was to ask him for help, the parameters of the mission meant it would be better not to. Stealth was not one of Hagrid’s qualities. Besides, Harry didn’t want any of the Hogwarts staff mixed up in things if it all went wrong.
Soon they were in the shadow of the Astronomy Tower. Harry felt a chill as he looked up at the looming structure, knowing he stood where Dumbledore had fallen.
“All right, Hermione’s got the brooms,” Harry said, keeping his voice terse but hushed.
He sort of felt like entering Hogwarts through the Astronomy Tower was a horrible, ironic echo of the past, but it was just too convenient to pass up. The various ground floor entrances would be easier. They would also be more predictable, and it had been decided that the freedom of movement gained by starting at the top was worth the trouble of using the brooms.
It only took a single trip to move all six of them to the top with the three fliers they had (Scott opened an aperture and went first — he was already somewhere below, in the corridors). They assembled near the parapet while Harry unfolded the Marauder’s Map.
“I solemnly swear that I am up to no good,” he recited, tapping the parchment with his wand. The lines of ink spread across the paper in a real-time blueprint, a source of endless fascination for him. No matter how many times he saw it, the process was still really cool.
Hermione leaned in at his right shoulder, reaching out to hold one side of the map at a better angle for her viewing. “Let’s see… It appears most of the staff are still in their offices or bedrooms, so that’s good. Filch is in his office. But who are…”
Harry followed her gaze to the two dots moving through the Entrance Hall, neither of which had been present when the Map had been checked previously. They were labelled ‘Alecto Carrow’ and ‘Amycus Carrow’. A flash of recognition was swiftly followed by rage.
“Death Eaters!” he growled. “They were here. Right here.” He looked up from the Map and remembered the scene of Dumbledore’s murder. The spot where Harry had lain, helpless. The stairs down which Scott had tumbled. The parapet from which Dumbledore had fallen. And right there, near where Snape had stood, the Carrows had been, also.
“Look at them, walking about like they own the place,” Ginny sneered, sounding deeply offended.
“I don’t know where they’re going,” Hermione mused as she tracked the pair. “We’ll have to be careful to avoid them if they’re on some sort of patrol, though I don’t know why they would be… The upper levels should remain empty.”
“That was the idea,” Harry said, still glaring around the room. He couldn’t quite shake the memories.
“Hey,” Ron said, gaining their attention. He was standing near the stairwell, listening for Scott. “Scott says it’s clear. We going?”
The last time Harry had descended the spiral staircase had been in even darker circumstances. Fortunately, this time Scott was crouched at the corner of the intersecting hallways with his carbine at his shoulder instead of lying dead on the floor. All of the rubble which had accumulated during the fight had been removed, but the hallway itself was still damaged. Pits and gouges marked the walls, and great chunks of the ceiling were missing. Harry approached the wall on the side where the Death Eaters had gathered and put his finger onto a divot that he thought had to be a bullet hole.
“What a bloody mess, eh?” Ron said, running his own hand over the scarred stone. “Makes me wonder if I did any of this. I couldn’t see a thing in here that night.”
“I remember,” Harry said.
“I found Flitwick!” Hermione declared. She was bent over the map with Ginny and Luna. “It appears his quarters are near the staff rooms, not Ravenclaw Tower.”
“Where’s the Grey Lady?” Harry asked, turning away from the pitted wall.
“I’m not sure… But the Ravenclaw common room is empty, so we have our chance.”
They moved quickly through the corridors, making use of some of the lesser known routes and shortcuts. Initially, their pace had been hampered by a desire for greater silence. But the Map continued to show that they were alone in the upper storeys, and, while they were never reckless, they stopped trying so hard to watch their footsteps.
Harry kept a close eye on the Map, though not so close as to not also check on his companions. Everyone was understandably tense, but there was a cohesive sense of purpose and preparedness that was very encouraging. Even Neville and Luna, who hadn’t been at Grimmauld during all of the lessons and practising, took their cues from the others and moved well with the group.
Hermione walked at Harry’s right, adding her eyes to his, scanning the Map. Ron and Ginny were near them, always vigilant, while Luna and Neville brought up the rear. Scott flitted at the front of the group; he frequently disappeared, darting ahead or stepping around corners. Harry felt, for the first time, as if he had a real combat-capable group with him, and not just a bunch of desperate kids plus one out-of-his-element soldier.
The entrance to Ravenclaw Tower was at the top of another spiral staircase. Harry grimaced as he looked upwards. He’d come to terms with it in his first year, but there really were a lot of stairs in Hogwarts.
“Have you ever seen a fat Ravenclaw?” Ron said to Harry as they started the climb.
Harry laughed. “This explains so much.”
“According to Hogwarts: A History,” Hermione said between breaths, “this stairwell was designed as an intentional barrier. The Founders thought that Ravenclaws might be too busy reading to exercise.”
“I’ve always felt quite fit,” Luna said tranquilly.
“But you’ll notice the Headmaster gets an escalator thing,” Scott said. “Maybe there’s a hidden staff elevator somewhere. I can’t see most of them doing this by choice.”
“Slughorn would never make it,” Ron said, “though I guess he could roll back down.”
At the top of the stairs they found the blank door with the eagle-shaped bronze knocker. The last time Harry had seen it he’d been lucky enough to catch some Ravenclaw students already in the process of entering, and they had informed Luna of his presence. He had no idea how to actually open the door. There was no portrait to speak to.
Thus he was surprised when it was the eagle who spoke — and rather nonsensically, at that. “What can change the nature of a man?” the eagle said sonorously.
They all looked to Luna for guidance, but (predictably) Scott interrupted. “What?” he said.
“What can change the nature of a man?” the eagle said again.
Scott frowned and turned to Luna. “Is this how you enter? With philosophical speculation?”
“It’s usually a riddle,” she said. “But not always. Once it was a numbers sequence. There were first-years standing out here for hours.”
Hermione seemed to like the sound of that. “Oh, that’s so much more interesting than our password… Not as practical, perhaps…”
“What kind of ruddy House makes you do homework so you can get inside and do homework?” Ron groaned.
“What can change the nature of a man?” the eagle repeated. Harry might have been imagining it, but he thought there was an impatient edge to the eagle’s sententious voice.
Scott shrugged. “The nature of man does not change. But the nature of a man can be changed by time or trauma.”
“Knowledge. Epiphany!” Hermione said.
“Love,” Luna said. She looked at Neville, who blushed.
“That will do,” the eagle said, and the door swung open.
The common room through the doors was decked in soft shades of blue and bronze. Swathes of silk fluttered at the walls and arches, and the carpet underfoot was deep in thickness and hue. Harry looked up and saw that the domed ceiling was painted with stars. It might have been enchanted, because they looked very realistic. There was a style of columned classicalism about the room, an awareness of noble history. He thought it was pretty nice, overall, though he felt that it lacked Gryffindor Tower’s comforting sense of home. The Ravenclaw aesthetic was proud and beautiful, but a bit distant and cold for Harry.
Scott was looking around with an odd expression. “Whoever decorated this place must have worked on the Consist,” he said.
“Luna, where’s that statue you were speaking of?” Hermione asked.
Luna led them over to what looked like the entrance to the dormitories. There stood a tall marble statue of a robed woman. She was posed stiffly, almost haughtily, her chin lifted as her blank stone eyes gazed at nothing. The diadem rested on her head. It was wrought in a very bird-like shape with a large gem stone in the middle. It was hard to get a sense of the specifics, as the carving was made of the same white marble as the rest of the statue.
“What sort of gem do you suppose that is?” Harry said.
“Impossible to say just from this. The shape is distinct, though, I don’t think we’d mistake it if we saw it,” Hermione said.
They all stood there for a moment, no one speaking. Harry reckoned they were probably all thinking the same thing — barring a miracle, searching a castle as vast and mysterious as Hogwarts was going to be an exercise in futility. Luckily, they had more than one chance at finding a lead.
“All right,” Harry said. “Let’s find the Grey Lady and see if we can’t talk with her. Remember to let Luna do the talking.”
“Thank you,” Luna said graciously.
“I have a suggestion,” Hermione said immediately. “I would like for us to split up.”
“Have you never seen a horror movie?” Scott said.
She rolled her eyes. “I would like for us to split up for reasons other than making us more vulnerable to serve the plot. How about that?”
“Hey, you’re the teen girl with a boyfriend. I’m the single white guy with a gun, if I die it’ll be near the end in heroic self-sacrifice.”
“Stop it, this is serious! Now, I know I haven’t been able to find much in the books I have. But I’ve been considering the problem, and Dumbledore might have had additional notes beyond the reference material I Summoned from his office. I want to go to the Headmaster’s Office and look for anything else that might help us.”
It wasn’t a bad idea, except for the part about her going without everyone else. Harry was about to point that out when Ron beat him to it. “There’s no way you’re going by yourself,” he said.
“Of course not. That would be foolish,” Hermione agreed. “Rather, I want Scott to go with me. He can get me into the office. Can’t you?”
“Yeah, shouldn’t be a problem,” Scott said.
“You can’t go out there without the Map!” Ron protested.
Hermione’s lips thinned. “I have to! Besides, that’s why Scott will be going with me. He’s the most qualified to move undetected.”
“Look, I know splitting up worked out last time, but what if it doesn’t this time?”
“I have to try, Ron! We need every clue we can get and we can’t stay here all night!”
Harry observed the play of emotions across Ron’s open features: anger, fear, disbelief. All of which were appropriate when confronted with the prospect of Hermione traipsing off into the school with no one but Scott for company. But, just when Harry was bracing himself for a white-hot row between his two best friends, Ron did something that gave Harry a whole new respect for the second-youngest Weasley, and insight into how much Ron respected Hermione.
“Give her the Cloak, Harry,” Ron said, his voice hoarse with restraint.
Harry didn’t need to be told twice. “Hermione, give me the handbag and you take the Cloak.”
She seemed to be about to protest, but when she looked at Ron, her mouth closed and her eyes softened. She gave Harry the beaded handbag after pulling the Cloak out and draping it over her shoulders.
“But, wait,” Ginny said anxiously. “How will we know if something happens?”
“I’ve got just the thing,” Hermione pronounced. She dug through the handbag and withdrew two of the old DA coins. “Though I wish I’d brought those mirrors you gave me, come to think of it. Drat! I was so intent on understanding them that I keep thinking of them as being unfinished… Well, these are only one-way, of course, but you can let us know when you’ve found the Grey Lady and where to meet you.”
“What about on your end?” Harry said.
Hermione glanced wryly towards Scott. “Should a real emergency occur, just follow the unbelievable noise. But I’ll send a Patronus, if secrecy becomes pointless.”
“I think we should all meet at the Room of Requirement… Like, if we get lost, if we can’t keep in touch,” Neville proposed.
Scott pointed at him. “Good, Nev. Room of Requirement is our rally point. If you get separated, go there and we’ll find you. Everyone agreed?”
No one objected.
Harry nodded. “Okay. Let’s get at it.”
It was unnerving to be in the hallways of Hogwarts when they were so quiet and unlit. Less so in the upper levels; there were many corridors which never saw much use. But the lower Hermione went in the school, the stranger it became. Empty seats in empty classrooms, heavy stillness where there was usually unbridled motion. She tried not to think about it, holding tightly to Scott’s hand as he led her unerringly through the frequent stretches of dark.
It made her wish she had made better progress during her attempts to formulate a night vision spell, futile though her efforts had seemed. Most of their clashes with the enemy had occurred at night, and the same darkness that cloaked them also hindered. Scott’s ability to see thermal emissions was a massive advantage that Hermione very much wanted to duplicate. She resolved that, should she have the time, she would resume her research on the subject.
Her trepidation wasn’t just a result of her surroundings. Before they had left the others, Scott had fitted one of his handguns with a suppressor and a magazine marked by a red stripe around the bottom. Harry, reliably curious when it came to firearms, had asked what kind of ammunition the stripe denoted. Scott had replied, ‘Illegal.’ Whatever that might mean, she didn’t want him to have to use it. To that end, she had been using her invisibility to scout ahead, when the light allowed. There were many reasons to avoid risking confrontation besides her state of mind.
It was very odd to be using the Cloak without Harry or Ron with her; she wasn’t used to being underneath it by herself. Scott had refused to make use of it, citing his height. Hermione didn’t think that was much of an excuse, seeing as even if he were standing straight the Cloak wouldn’t reveal more than a few inches of his feet and ankles. But he seemed perfectly all right without it, and it was true he needed it less than she did. She wasn’t all that comfortable with him being the sole visible target; no doubt his aversion to using the Cloak had more to do with her status as a Prime than any personal objection. She didn’t care for the idea of increasing his risk for her own safety, but she didn’t argue about it like she knew Harry would have. There came a time when being a realist meant accepting what was unpleasant.
She was having a much harder time accepting that there were Death Eaters in the school. It was not unexpected, given the politics involved. But the very thought of the Dark supporters being allowed where Dumbledore had once endeavoured to keep them out… Sickening. Enraging. There was a small, ugly part of herself that wished the Carrows would wander her way: Scott would extinguish them. She did her best to ignore such thoughts, knowing that her ability to do so was what separated her from the enemy.
She peeked around the nearest corner, checking the hallway for signs of life. “There’s nothing,” she whispered.
Scott went forward on silent feet to the next intersection. The stairwells had been moving around again and their original route had been altered. Now they were on the fourth storey, trying to find a different way down. He pushed aside a tapestry and ducked into a passageway which would avoid several of the more frequented classrooms.
It was pitch black behind the tapestry and Hermione didn’t dare create any light. She put her hand onto Scott’s right shoulder and hoped that her feet didn’t catch on anything. It was so dreadfully unfair that he wasn’t equally blind. When he stepped to the side, her hand slid down his back before catching on an object she couldn’t immediately identify. Mottled rubber brushed the back of her fingers; she realised it was the handle of his knife (the large one with the thick spine, which was really a straight-backed machete, though he never referred to it as such).
She would prefer not to see him hack anyone to death with it. “If we come across someone, why don’t you let me Stun them. It would be quieter that way,” she whispered, trying to appeal to his sense of stealth.
“If I’m seen, I’ll start to surrender. You take them from the back,” he said.
Scott’s tactics always stood in such stark contrast to what Hermione knew of wizarding combat, based as it was on centuries-old duelling codes. He didn’t seem to know how to fight fair. The substantial portions of her brain dominated by logic had always rather admired that about him, when the rest of her wasn’t morally appalled at his ruthlessness. Not that she minded his lethal approach to the Death Eaters — not as much as she once had, anyway. It was his casual disregard for the truth and any human lives not directly tied to Harry that left her conflicted.
Although, perhaps she was being unfair on the last point. It wasn’t as if Scott had actually tried to kill Dean, or anyone else who had been an inconvenience. Dean was still alive, after all. Or, at least she hoped he was. Being a fellow Muggle-born, Dean’s continued survival was very much an open question.
Another corridor, this one with windows. The clouds had parted somewhat and faint moonlight granted enough illumination that Hermione didn’t have to rely on Scott for navigation, speeding things along. She looked down into the courtyard below. It was a major thoroughfare for the students, and it was eerie to see it so empty.
They managed to reach the gargoyle standing vigil before the entrance to the Headmaster’s Office without encountering any signs of life. Hermione allowed herself to relax a bit, letting the tightness in her chest ease ever so slightly. According to the Map, McGonagall had remained in her usual quarters, perhaps uncomfortable with taking the rooms that adjoined the office. Hermione doubted that the Transfiguration professor would be given the chance to come to terms with the idea; with the Ministry under Death Eater control, they could easily assign one of their own to the post of Headmaster. Such an announcement might have already been made, but Hermione hadn’t seen the Prophet in some time.
The gargoyle was an impassive sentry. “Now what?” Hermione said.
Scott reached out and rapped on the statue’s face. “Open up.” Nothing happened, and he tsked. “My time saving measures never work. Start listing candy.”
It only took about thirty seconds of guessing before the gargoyle moved aside. Not the greatest security system, but she supposed that wasn’t really the point. It was an inconvenience by Dumbledore’s design. She wouldn’t have been surprised if the gargoyle would move of its own volition when presented with a real emergency. Or perhaps the Headmaster would be made aware of who was attempting entry.
A short trip up the odd spiral stone lift and they pushed aside the double doors and walked into the dark and quiet office. Nothing looked disturbed, compared to when Hermione had last been there. All of Dumbledore’s instruments remained on their shelves, along with what she had thought was his memorabilia. Either some of the things had already belonged to the school, or he had bequeathed them to it. Or, maybe, in the absence of any living relatives, they had nowhere else to go. Although, didn’t Dumbledore have a brother? She was fairly certain that was the case.
It felt a lot like invading a tomb. She shuddered beneath the Cloak, feeling smothered by it. She tore it off and stuffed it back beneath her robes, taking a deep breath to steady herself. A bare corner of the Headmaster’s desk caught her eye.
“That’s where I stole it from,” she murmured, approaching it.
“What’s that?” Scott said, leaving his examination of the silvery instruments.
“The locket. I took it from right here.” She placed her palm on the desk. It was smooth and cool to the touch.
“I heard about that.” Scott gripped the back of the chair facing the front of the desk, his eyes distant. “That was a smart move.”
Hermione exhaled, hard, through her nose. “No, it wasn’t.”
He looked up, curious. “It’s what got us the real one.”
“No, I know. But my own estimation of the false locket’s importance has little to do with it. I…” She had been afraid to discuss that moment. She wasn’t sure she wanted to know what it implied, but she was just about sick of her unease with the subject. She was hardly one to ascribe to ‘ignorance is bliss’, never one to stick her head in the sand. It was past time to ask. “I’d never seen it before and had no idea it was supposed to be a Horcrux. Rather, I took it because it… It felt important. I felt it.”
“Ah.” Scott ran his fingers over the same spot on the desk that she had touched. “And it wasn’t in an intuitive way, you’re saying.”
“It was the way you talk about.” She stared at the corner, trying to make sense of the memory. “…Did you do something to me?” Her head snapped up to look at him.
He smirked down at her. “No. Someone like you who is close to the shape — or at least the UO facet of it — has a higher chance of experiencing sensitivity. You increase your compatibility through proximity. It’s why Primes are so much more likely to work as recruits than others.”
“Why hasn’t it happened since?”
Scott shrugged, sitting on the edge of the desk. “You were very close to an important object at the time. The shape was still subsiding after everything that had happened, so maybe all that turbulence had something to do with it. Who knows? But I don’t think you’ve ever been very sensitive to begin with. You’re definitely not an esper.”
“That’s good,” she said without thinking about it. “…Isn’t it? What’s an esper?”
“Someone with a naturally high sensitivity to the shape.”
“So someone powerful, like Dumbledore,” she assumed.
“No, a high sensitivity to the raw shape, the true shape. Not a manifestation of it. Unrelated to magic. Your Seers may be espers, I don’t know if that’s true or not. I’m pretty sure that Luna is.”
Hermione considered that for a moment. “…I can’t say that surprises me,” she concluded. “Is that due to any particular strain? Perhaps Kharadjai ancestors, a bit of common blood?”
“No such thing. Either you’re a Kharadjai, or you’re not.”
“At least I know I’m not going mad. Nicking that locket required a great deal of soul searching.” Hermione glanced around the darkened office and set her relief aside to be examined later — there was important business at hand. “Let’s each take a room. I’ll check the Headmaster’s residence and you look in here. Set aside anything you think might be Horcrux related; even if it’s not, we’ll take it all and sort it out later.”
“Shut the door behind you when you go,” Scott said. “If anybody busts in I want it to look like I’m alone.”
“But, how will you signal me if you need help? I might not be able to hear you,” she fretted.
Scott raised his handgun and waggled it. “This close, you can probably hear this even with the suppressor. If not, I don’t know what to tell you. I’ll just lock the big door.”
“All right,” she acquiesced. At least he was taking precautions. “I’ll try to be quick.”
“Don’t try too hard. Check everything well, I doubt we’re going to get a second chance at this.”
That was an excellent point. “True. Still, we don’t have a great deal of time. I’m going, watch your back.”
She ducked into the Headmaster’s residence and shut the door behind her with a quiet click. She lit her wand but left the lamps alone, not wanting much light to reach the windows. The room was lined with bookshelves and scrolls, apparently a small private study. She had her work cut out for her.
She marched determinedly to the nearest corner and began rifling through a stack of papers, looking for anything relevant.
Scott slid the lock on the double doors shut and walked back towards the desk, scanning the office for a likely starting place. The claw-footed desk seemed the most probable source of documents. He walked around to the back of it and pulled open the closest drawer.
“You’ll find nothing there, I’m afraid,” a voice said to his left.
Scott had his gun up before the voice finished talking. There was nothing but darkness and the wall. Except… It had to be one of the portraits. He couldn’t see the people in them through heat emissions. All the portraits were grey rectangles without much in the way of detail, the different coloured paints deviating little in emissivity.
“The latch for the shutters is just to the side of each window, respectively. The lamp between them won’t reach the door,” the voice explained.
Based on the familiar tone, Scott thought he knew who was talking. He closed and locked the shutters over the windows and managed to use his much-neglected wand to light the lamp after several tries.
Albus Dumbledore looked out from the large portrait directly behind the desk, blue eyes twinkling over his half-moon spectacles. “I had hoped I might see you again, Mr. Kharan,” he said amiably.
Scott studied the portrait for a moment. “…So, what exactly am I talking to, here?” he asked slowly.
“A memory, more or less.”
Dumbledore shook his head. “Not quite. I’ve passed on, I’m afraid, and don’t linger like a ghost, or like Tom. I am a… simulacrum, you might say. A very advanced re-creation.”
Scott thought about that for a moment. He lowered his gun and leaned back against the desk. “So I’m talking with a semi-sentient recording.”
“If that’s how you wish to think of it. I’m not certain how to express the magic in Muggle terms.”
“Synthetic Intelligence based on personality imprinting and reconstructed memory paths. You’d be illegal in a lot of places.”
“Fortunately, this is not one of them,” Dumbledore said with an amused smile. “So — how goes the hunt?”
“It’d be going a lot better if your favourite pet hadn’t killed you.”
“Ah…” Dumbledore paused. “Scott, there are things of which you were not aware. I bear the blame for many, but I… Have you encountered Severus since that night?”
“No. He’s been smart enough to be absent from every skirmish so far. He must be aware I’d finish the job.”
“I must ask you not to do that. Severus is, and has always been, working for me.”
Scott rubbed at his right eye, not sure how to respond to that. “Well… It pisses me off, but I can’t help but be impressed by that level of denial.”
Dumbledore sighed. “There are secrets of which—”
“Do you not remember that he killed you? Did that get left out of whatever passes for your memory?” Scott wondered.
“Severus did nothing which I did not ask him to do.”
“You asked him to torment Harry?”
Dumbledore fixed Scott with a hard look. “I asked him to kill me if Mr Malfoy could not.”
Scott couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “That’s absurd. Malfoy isn’t worth that.”
“We’ll have to agree to disagree on the matter of whose life is worth what.”
Scott rolled his eyes. “So you dropped everything at Harry’s feet in the service of some kind of moral absolutism. What is this bullshit?”
“Will you allow me to finish, or are you content in your outrage?” Dumbledore said sharply.
“I’m pretty content, thanks for asking though—”
“Severus made an Unbreakable Vow with Draco’s mother after Tom placed the responsibility of my murder on the boy’s head. If Draco were unable to complete his task, Severus was to step in and finish it to prevent him from being punished. He did so with my full agreement. It was the only way.”
“The only way to what?To save Malfoy and Snape’s worthless butts?”Scott said incredulously. “I’m going out on a limb here… I think I speak for both myself and the wizarding world at large when I say I’d rather have kept you! I’d kill both of them to prevent you from being mildly inconvenienced. I’d kill both of them for just about any reason at this point, doesn’t have to involve you at all.”
“I’m disappointed in you,” Dumbledore said sadly, as if that was supposed to mean anything to Scott. “Are you so willing to be ruled by revenge?”
“No, Albus,” Scott said tiredly. “Revenge has nothing to do with it. Revenge doesn’t bring people back. You can’t change the things you want to change with it.”
Dumbledore raised an eyebrow. “But?”
“You’re confusing revenge with prevention. Emotion and logic don’t always lead you to different places.” Scott crossed his arms. “A dead Death Eater won’t help the Muggles who were killed. But a dead Death Eater won’t kill any more Muggles. Prevention.”
Dumbledore glanced over Scott’s shoulder. “This is not the most opportune moment to debate our philosophies. May I return to the point?”
“That would be good.”
“I was already dying. I destroyed the Horcrux in the Marvolo family ring, but not before I foolishly placed it on my finger. It was protected by a powerful curse, and though a combination of my and Severus’ skills prevented my immediate death, I had no longer than a year to survive.”
Scott frowned. “So it was a mercy killing.”
“Indeed. It also served a greater purpose, which was all I could have hoped for.”
“God damn it, Albus,” Scott said coldly. “You should have told me. If you were cursed I could have done something.”
“When the extent of your abilities became clearer, I had considered it. Alas, while the curse itself was magical, the damage it wrought was not. It poisoned my blood, and even Severus could not undo it entirely.” Dumbledore nodded towards Scott. “If I had been younger, I might have come to you. But I was an old man, Scott. Even if you had purged me, my body was failing.”
“I see.” Scott wasn’t entirely convinced, but it did make sense. Short of getting Dumbledore connected to advanced life support, there may not have been anything that could be done. Sometimes the body was simply finished. “And you think that, even with you gone, Snape is still one of us.”
“I do. He has motivations which are unknown to you.”
“So make them known,” Scott insisted. Dumbledore hadn’t said anything that made Scott less likely to put a bullet in Snape just to be safe.
“It is not my story to tell.”
“Right, of course.” Scott was done with the subject. If Dumbledore wouldn’t justify Snape’s existence then Scott would just end it if he saw the professor again. It wasn’t like Dumbledore could do much about it, stuck to a wall as he was. “Let me bring you up to speed.”
Scott gave a quick summary of all that had happened during the hunt for the Horcruxes. When he finished, Dumbledore stroked a pensive hand over his beard. “You’ll have to tell Ms Granger that I relied on my Pensieve for my research, not any physical notes. I felt the information was too dangerous to put in writing. Well done discovering the real locket. I had no idea what we removed from the cave was a fake. I only wish Sirius had lived to hear about Regulus…”
Scott didn’t know much about either man, so he said, “Thoughts?”
“Some. I already searched the Chamber myself, once I finally managed to open it. Not being a Parseltongue, it took some effort.”
“Couldn’t you just… I don’t know, Summon a snake and charm it to talk?”
Dumbledore looked amused. “How is it you only received average marks at best, Mr Kharan?”
“Just because I can’t do it doesn’t mean I can’t read about it. I got an imagination, at least.”
“Unfortunately, that method — while inventive — would not work. In order to charm the snake to speak, one would have to know what to make it say. Parseltongue is a very rare and misunderstood ability, and there are no dictionaries or manuals for its use. But the details are best left unexplored for the moment. The Chamber was empty.”
“Okay. We’re working under the assumption that the Lost Diadem might be what Riddle used. Right now the others are going to talk to the Grey Lady and see if she knows anything about it.”
Dumbledore brightened at that. “An excellent plan. She is one of the few left to know of the Diadem.”
“If we find it, we’ve got that sword you gave us. Good call on that one.”
“Your presence allowed me to take a calculated risk. My plan had been to hide the Sword here after giving the Ministry a fake, after which I would find a way for it to come into Harry’s possession. But once I realised you were indeed dedicated to the side of good, I knew I might bequeath it to you, someone towards whom the Ministry had no history of dislike. I presumed they would pay less attention to your gift.”
“I’m pretty sure they tried to open it.”
“Undoubtedly, but the law allowed only a limited delay before they would be forced to give you the items, lacking a legal pretext to seize them. I knew they would spend far more time trying to unravel Harry’s gift. Yours was made in greater haste, and they might have opened it given enough effort.”
“You weren’t worried it would sink this whole enterprise if they did take it?”
Dumbledore’s eyes twinkled. “Perhaps. But the Sword has a way of turning up when it’s most needed.”
“Huh. Then let’s hope it knows not to go wandering.” Scott paused. “We have a big problem.”
“We found out that the Cup is in Gringotts.”
Dumbledore’s eyes widened behind his spectacles. “Oh, my.”
The ex-Headmaster frowned, worrying at his beard again. “That is quite a pickle. I’m particularly worried by what this implies about Tom’s state of mind. A random vault doesn’t fit his usual behaviour.”
Scott considered that. Kylie had never actually stated that Riddle had requested Gringotts, specifically. Just that he’d wanted the Cup kept safe. “He gave it to Lestrange, she put it in her vault. I can’t tell you exactly how that conversation went, so I don’t know if he asked that it be kept in Gringotts or if that was her decision.”
“An interesting choice, either way,” Dumbledore mused. “I had thought after the Diary was destroyed it would be the last time Tom entrusted a Horcrux to one of his people. The shelf, to your left — look at the top right, next to the large book with the red leather binding.”
“This green one?” Scott said, walking over to the shelf and reaching for it.
“Yes, that’s the one. It’s a history of Gringotts in the modern era. Nothing too detailed, but it’s the best description of their security measures I’ve seen. I only wish I could help you in your planning.”
“Can I take you with us?” Scott asked, tapping the edge of the portrait.
“I must stay here to advise the next Headmaster. All of us are a few steps above the typical portrait, and we are compelled to serve. There are also several security measures to prevent our theft.”
“It was just a thought. I don’t know if I’ll be able to get back in here to see you again.”
“Hogwarts will soon be in the hands of our enemy,” Dumbledore said sadly, though there was a righteous anger underpinning his words. “I wish it had not come to this. But we are not defeated yet — to that end, I have several things to tell you that you must know.”
“Just me?” Scott said.
“I leave that to your discretion. Firstly, how do you feel about grave robbing?”
Scott shrugged. “I’ve dabbled in the area.”
“Good. Before you leave, break in to my tomb and take my wand.”
Scott raised an eyebrow. “Why? I can barely use the one I’ve got.”
“It’s not for you. Not necessarily for any of you, for that matter,” Dumbledore said quickly. He obviously knew the risk of discovery was increasing with every passing second. “Ms Granger will be able to explain everything when you tell her this: my wand is one of the Deathly Hallows.”
“That will mean something to her?”
“It will. Secondly, tell Remus he must be in contact with me as soon as possible. I know the Order is doing what they can for the Muggle-borns, and I may be able to assist.”
“You’re very well informed for a guy glued to the wall.”
“Surprised?” Dumbledore said with a hint of his old humour, but it faded almost instantly. “And lastly… Lastly, I must ask that you be circumspect with what I am about to tell you. If you choose to tell Harry immediately, I understand. Circumstances have changed. But… consider it first. And consider it well.”
Scott squinted at Dumbledore. “This sounds very serious. Am I going to find it hard to believe?”
“Not once I explain. Have you found yourself in disbelief a great deal, lately?”
“I saw a snake jump out of a lady like a fucking nesting doll.”
“How horrifying. But, if nothing else, your belief ought to stretch that much further.”
Scott readied himself. “All right, lay it on me.”
“Harry is a Horcrux.”
Scott’s world slowed to a crawl as every synapse in his brain lit up with the news like summer lightning. Harry was a Horcrux. Scott didn’t know how, or why, or even when, but it made a terrible, rending kind of sense. Of course Harry was a Horcrux. How could he not be? The kid stepped in every other kind of shit. It was like hearing the punchline to a long-form joke, the kind that wove in and out of events until it all came together and was so much funnier for having been delayed.
Sometimes Scott grew tired of Harry’s moping; those were the days he avoided his Priority One and let Ginny or Hermione or anyone else handle the damaged teen. And Scott always did what he could to force Harry out of his brooding and into thought and action. But when the cosmos seemed to actually go out of its way to beat Harry down… Scott understood where the battered Boy-Who-Lived was coming from. In a better life, Harry would have already had to grow up while dealing with all the damage left to him by the Dursleys. That was a fully formed drama right there, no need for any magic or dark destinies. A different bitter coming-of-age, one with less threats of sudden death and more time to suffer and breathe. Harry barely had time to feel the pain, most days. Who did?
Enough, enough. Scott continually suppressed his pity when it came to Harry because Harry didn’t need or want it, because Scott didn’t care for the feeling, and because it was useless. Empathy, sure, when it could be managed. Dispassionate analysis? Always. Harry needed solutions. If the Chosen One wanted a shoulder to cry on, he had better offerings than Scott.
“Tom is not aware of this, so far as I can tell,” Dumbledore was saying. “Scott?”
“I’m listening,” Scott said shortly.
“Minerva will be here soon; she always speaks to me before she sleeps and you cannot be seen. These are things that neither she nor the Order can know. We haven’t much time, certainly not enough for you to dissect my plans, so the most pertinent information only: When Tom attempted to kill Harry, his soul was unstable enough to inadvertently split again. Harry’s connection to him is not from the scar, but from the Horcrux. Foolish of Tom, not to realise how precarious his soul has become, but he made yet another crucial error in taking Harry’s blood for his resurrection. Harry cannot directly die at Tom’s hand, which means the only part of Harry that can die is what’s left—”
“Scott?” The door to the living quarters opened and Hermione peeked around the frame. “Who are you talking to? Oh! Professor Dumbledore!”
“Ms Granger. It’s a great relief to see that you are well,” Dumbledore said kindly. “I understand you’re looking for books that will be of use to you. Back in the residence there is a cupboard beneath the stairs. Inside are several tomes regarding blood-based magic you may find helpful.”
“Blood-based?” Hermione said, clearly intrigued. “That might give greater insight into what’s happened to Harry…”
“I believe so. Once you retrieve them, you and Mr. Kharan should be on your way. It wouldn’t do for you to be caught here.”
“Of course, Professor. I’ll be right back,” she said, and ducked through the door again.
Dumbledore looked at Scott, his gaze piercing.”Be careful going forward with what I’ve told you. I know if I can trust anyone, it’s you.”
“Really,” Scott said slowly, a bit unsure of where Dumbledore was going with such a statement.
Dumbledore smiled. “No hidden meanings. You’re incorruptible because no one has anything to offer you. The only facet of this entire affair that can affect you is whether Harry succeeds.”
“Yeah, if he goes down that’s really going to fuck up my stats.”
“You’re the perfect mercenary. No offence intended, of course; I don’t mean that literally.”
Scott, like pretty much any Primare, didn’t care to be referred to as a mercenary, even figuratively. But he was feeling generous, so he said, “Sure, I get it.”
“I found them!” Hermione said, darting back out into the office.
“Under the Cloak, let’s go,” Scott said. He looked back at Dumbledore as he turned to leave. “Hang in there. Ha ha.”
“Yes. Quite,” Dumbledore said dryly. “The best of luck to you. We should speak again, if we are able.”
Scott huddled with Hermione on the stone escalator, waiting impatiently as the odd conveyance ground its way to the bottom. He was still trying to fit the new information he had into his perception of reality, the puzzle of the shape and the physical which never fit together quite right. He could now fill in some of the gaps. The last thing Dumbledore had said was especially intriguing, and he had wanted Hermione to have the blood magic books. That had to relate to Riddle’s tie to Harry. Scott just needed time to sort it all out, and Hogwarts was not the place to do it.
“Did Professor Dumbledore have anything important to tell you?” Hermione whispered.
“Maybe,” Scott vacillated. “Get back to me later.”
I don’t really know anything about Dr. Who. I thought I’d make that clear at some point, which ended up being now. I’ve seen a fragmented handful of episodes from one of the more recent series, most of which were on while I wasn’t paying attention.
I say that because there have been parallels drawn betweenTMM and Dr. Who before (along with Heinlein). Dr. Who and Robert Heinlein are, I’m afraid, not among my influences. I haven’t read Heinlein, and I don’t watch Who. I’m actually not sure what I would say are my clearest influences on this story. Star Wars and David Eddings, I guess, in a very oblique way.
The Kharadjai are really a creation born out of being contrary, rather than copying what I like. My aesthetic is less a conglomeration of ideas from things I enjoy and more a rejection of the specifics that I don’t, which should tell you a lot about the kind of person I am, probably. I observe things in science fiction and fantasy that I think are stupid, and resolve to do the opposite. That leads me to resemble works that I might like were I familiar with them, obviously: there is nothing new under the sun.
Dr. Who may not be one of those things. I know a little about the Doctor, and I can’t say I like much of it. This is mostly, again, because of my chosen aesthetic. The Kharadjai are representative of my ideas concerning that what we call ‘human failings’ are in fact sentient failings, that utopia is not achievable, progress is temporary, entropy always wins, and so on. Scott has expressed some of these ideas before. I do think the Doctor is funny and I can see why people equate Scott’s often irreverent (if far more profane) attitude to Who, but they are very different characters — at least, Scott is compared to the only incarnation of the Doctor I know.
I don’t like sexless, aloof aliens as a fiction concept. The Kharadjai are a direct response to the idea that evolution somehow has ‘stages’, that there are ‘higher’ forms of life. That’s not how evolution works. And maybe that’s unfair to the Doctor, I don’t know.
But Scott is wonderfully, damagingly, fragilely, dangerously, irrevocably human. That’s the point. He has an ego and empathy and rage and humour and a penis. He’s never above human concerns, whether it’s as noble as keeping Harry alive or as base as trying to look down Sophie’s shirt. I find that more interesting.
Again, I don’t know how much Dr. Who plays with these concepts. And I imagine it depends on who’s writing the show and who’s playing the Doctor.