The snow outside was beautiful. There was a street lamp just at the edge of the car park, standing sentry outside the chainlink fence that marked the boundary of safety. Its pool of light caught every flake, painting the darkness in long white streaks. It seemed like the only light in the world now that the sun had disappeared below the clouded horizon. The closest warehouses weren't lit, and the lights of the city were cloaked behind the blizzard's fury. Kylie's breath frosted the window as she watched, feeling the cold of the glass pane radiate against her lips.
She didn't know exactly what the others were doing somewhere out there in the night, but she had a good idea. They'd never tried to hide the mission board from her and she'd learned that she wouldn't be made to leave if she hovered nearby whilst they discussed what they intended. She usually tried not to think about the reality of why everyone was hiding in Grimmauld Place because then that led to thoughts of how easily she could lose everything. That was when her chest went so tight she felt like she would never breathe again and her head filled with every awful thought it could hold.
It was easier to pretend that she'd been sent to see Trevor just because she missed him. Sometimes it was harder to pretend than others, and she'd never been all that good at it. Trevor had said they'd build a snow fort in the morning. That was something better to think about.
She jumped slightly as Trevor unexpectedly appeared beside her, peering intently out the window. “Did you see something?” he said.
“Just the snow,” she told him.
“That's a lot,” he said, impressed. “Our fort will be bloody huge!”
Trevor liked to swear when his mum wasn't around. Kylie didn't think he was especially good at it — at least not compared to Scott, when he forgot Kylie was around (which was more often than he realised). Kylie didn't really care if people swore around her, but she'd never expressed that as she suspected Sophie wouldn't like it. Sophie appeared to think that Kylie shouldn't know those words (she did, though).
Kylie simply nodded in encouragement. She didn't know what was involved in making a snow fort, but it sounded rewarding.
Trevor turned from the window. Kylie liked the way he looked in the low light, with his brown hair tousled. His face was just beginning to lose some of its youthful softness, jawline sharpening a bit since she'd first met him. She didn't really know how to tell him she liked how he looked, though, so she kept it to herself. She wondered if he'd noticed that her hair wasn't tangled any more, since Sophie had given her a brush. Sophie seemed to believe that girls shouldn't have messy hair (Sophie didn't seem to believe that anything should be messy).
“Mum says it's time for bed,” he told her a bit grumpily. Trevor was never pleased to be told to go to bed.
It was only Kylie's second night at the safehouse and she wasn't quite sure what her routine was yet, but she dutifully made her way to where her bed was. She didn't want to anger Trevor's mum. The woman already seemed a bit suspicious of Kylie — did she know about Kylie's parents? Or was Kylie just imagining it? Perhaps everyone knew that Kylie's parents were… well, bad. Dark. She had always known, even if she'd thought that was how things were supposed to be. Going to Hogwarts had made her question a great deal, including that assumption.
Whatever the reason, Kylie had been given a small room that was adjacent to Ms Bufon's, separating her from Trevor. She'd hoped to have a room next to his, so if she was scared or had a nightmare she could go to his door and sit inside, like she did with Scott or Sophie sometimes. But with Ms Bufon between them, she was afraid she might be heard. There weren't any proper doors for the rooms, not yet. Just hanging sheets. She didn't want Trevor's mother to think Kylie was up to anything inappropriate. Kylie wasn't entirely certain what that would mean, but she thought she had some idea. Whatever Harry and Ginny were doing, and Scott and Sophie wanted to do.
Those indistinct things weren't the sorts of things she wanted to do with Trevor, even if she liked how he looked. It was just that if she woke up in the middle of the night with her heart racing and the darkened room pressing in on her like she was inside a closing mouth, she wanted to know that he was okay because that would make her feel okay, too, or at least better.
She didn't think she could explain that to Trevor's mother. It didn't make sense to Kylie herself, sometimes.
She brushed her teeth in the large loo down the hall with its long, flickering lights in the ceiling that hummed when switched on and the strange fake stone walls (textured spray paint, Lila had said it was). There wasn't much in her own room save a small table and the bed, though she hadn't brought much with her. The sheets on the bed were a bit scratchy and the heavy blankets always sparked with static when she pulled them, snapping at her fingers. It had taken her awhile to get used to Grimmauld Place, but her large, comfy bed in the master bedroom seemed like home, now, and she found herself missing it. Home was dark and a bit dreary, and occasionally even frightening when things went wrong and everyone ended up on the floor in enchanted sleep. But it was also full of friends and books and lessons and meals to be shared. Sometimes she missed the things she had left at the manor. She never missed the manor itself.
She never missed her parents, either. She thought that might make her a bad person. She was afraid to ask Scott if that were true.
The light on the ceiling turned off when she flipped the switch near the sheet that served as her door, no need for her wand. It seemed more like magic than magic did, though she knew it wasn't. It was fascinating, the safehouse — so different from the other places she had been. The building was fashioned in such a contrasting way. There was an unfinished portion of the interior beyond a door at the end of the hall, the spot which marked where the Order had ceased their hasty renovations. Kylie and Trevor had explored it, poking around the broken tiles and looking up into the odd ceiling with its bare, criss-crossing thin metal beams. Some of them were occupied by porous, speckled rectangles of an age-yellowed material that was sort of like really stale bread. Kylie imagined that every rectangle in the ceiling had once been filled, blocking out the ducts higher up. Below the floor, in the walls and dangling from the ceiling were wires of different colours with tarnished copper ends. They were all for something, she was positive. Each one had a purpose.
Scott would have known, if she could ask him. These were pieces of his world — or something like it. Kylie had a desire she was afraid to admit, at times even to herself. Mother and Father would have been utterly furious if they knew. But Kylie learned the magic she was taught because she was expected to, not because she was all that interested or even very good at it (she didn't think she was). What she really wanted to know was how the brass shells of Scott's bullets were made so perfectly; how his mobile could light up if he pressed the right buttons; how the motor car could push itself up and down the street without so much as a single wave of a wand; how the craft she had once seen up in the sky over London could stay in the air without any brooms or carpets.
The truth was, Kylie wasn't sure she liked magic. Well, no… She did enjoy spells, sometimes. It was more that she didn't like the world that came with the magic. And that was not a truth she felt she could ever express. Even Trevor wouldn't understand.
“Kylie?” Trevor's voice came through the curtain as he whispered her name.
Kylie started to nod in acknowledgement before realising he couldn't see her. “Yes?”
“Good night. And get some sleep, like, lots. We've got loads to do on that fort tomorrow!”
“Oi, hang on.” There was a bit of rustling, and then Trevor's head poked around the curtain. “Can I come in, are you dressed?”
Kylie was wearing the same knee-length shirt of Scott's that she slept in at Grimmauld (it said, 'I Support the Right to Arm Bears' on the front and had a cute illustration of a bear holding a rifle, and she'd become rather attached to it), but she pulled her covers up to her chin, anyway. “Yes.”
Trevor's dark outline slipped through the opening. “Here, I found this.” He handed her a small metal cylinder attached to a chain made of many small metal beads, features which Kylie mostly established through touch. “See, twist the top.”
Sudden, brilliant light emerged from the top of the cylinder, briefly blinding her. She rotated it in fascination, watching the beam play across the blank white of the walls.
“It's like a Muggle wand or something,” Trevor explained. “There's a whole load of them in a cabinet back in the rubbish room. I thought you could use it if you need to go to the loo, or just need to see. You know, because you get all…” he trailed off abruptly. Trevor wasn't very tactful at the best of times, but she still appreciated his attempt.
“Thank you,” she said softly. She placed her hand over the top of the light and watched as her skin turned red and incandescent.
“Thought you'd be keen,” Trevor said, awkwardly ducking his head. “So, remember to sleep. That fort's gotta be stonking enormous!”
When he left, Kylie turned off the light and tucked it in one fist beneath her blankets, the metal cool against her palm. She imagined she was still at Grimmauld Place, in her own bed, and that if she wanted she could go out into the halls and ask Scott how the light worked. That familiarity, however false, would bring her that much closer to sleep.
Outside, the snow built in the darkness, waiting for her and Trevor to shape it in the morning.
For a moment, Harry had no idea where he was. He was on his side, body shaken from impact against a floor, and he couldn't see a thing. It took a second for his rattled brain to catch up with his predicament. He'd just Apparated, apparently having mucked it up a bit, if his prone position was anything to judge by, and his Cloak was tangled about his face.
Helpful hands tugged at the Cloak and helped him to his feet. He blinked and focussed on an unfamiliar face. He recoiled slightly, then remembered the reason for that, too. “Um, Sophie?”
“What?” the middle-aged woman asked in a pitch that didn't fit her. She looked down at herself. “Oh! Yep, enough of that!”
Sophie reached out and touched Harry's hand. He felt his features slide, moulding back into their regular contours. He pulled the Cloak off of himself, relieved to feel it against his messy black hair. Ginny had fallen out of the Cloak when they'd landed roughly in the kitchen, and as Sophie helped her up he watched as she shrunk back into her petite, freckled self.
“Let's stay off the Polyjuice for a while,” she said, running her fingers through her incarnadine locks.
“Absolutely,” Harry said, drinking the sight of her in.
Sophie, looking very young and silly in clothes that were now entirely too large for her, was also rearranging her hair with satisfaction. “Ron and Hermione went up to change, if you want to. Forgot about myself! I'm going to change too, actually, these pants are going to trip me, I just know it.”
“Where's the Horcrux?” Harry wanted to know.
“It's still in the handbag, inside the box. Did you want to kill it now? Because I thought it would be easier to have Scott and Lil here, too, I think it's better to be safe…”
“No, you're right. We should leave it alone until we're ready. I'm not going through that dream bollocks again.” Harry shivered as he suddenly realised how cold he still was. The snow covering his ankles and boots was beginning to melt in the kitchen's warmth, seeping through his socks.
“You are just pneumonia waiting to happen,” Sophie announced. She pointed to the stairs, her hand comically obscured by her floppy, oversized sleeve. “Take a nice warm shower and get into some dry clothes, team doctor's orders.”
Harry dutifully went up the stairs, Ginny close beside him. “She's the team doctor? Since when?” Harry wondered.
Ginny grinned at him mischievously. “Sounds like she just promoted herself.”
“We can do that?”
“From now on, I'm team captain,” Ginny said self-importantly. “I order you to snog me senseless.”
“Seems I have no choice.” Harry turned and pressed her to the wall of the landing; she immediately wrapped her lithe legs around his waist and put her mouth to his. Her lips were cold but her tongue was like a live coal, and the warmth seemed to spread all the way to his toes.
“Good grief, you two! You're supposed to change!” Sophie loudly exclaimed from behind them. Harry and Ginny broke their kiss, startled, though Ginny didn't let go of him.
“We're just warming up,” Ginny said innocently.
Sophie was not impressed by the logic. “You're going to get sick, is what you're doing. Now scoot!”
One steaming hot shower and a change of clothes later, and Harry was feeling almost like himself again. Outside, the snow was howling against the darkened windows of the drawing room. Ginny was curled up in his lap, at least half asleep. He was in a similar state. The old settee felt like the most comfortable thing he'd ever sat on and his eyes ached for sleep. Ron and Hermione looked more or less how he felt. Sophie was the only one who seemed unaffected by the day's outing, though that might have been because she was still anxious. They all were, and that anxiety was the only thing keeping them awake.
“It hasn't been that long,” Hermione was reasoning, “especially not in this weather. And you said there's no way of knowing how far away from the Alley they'd have to go?”
“They'll just have to see,” Sophie said, standing awkwardly by the window with her mobile in hand (she was clearly making a conscious effort to prevent herself from pacing). “It will probably be easiest for them to take standard transport back.”
“Standard… Like a car, you mean?” Hermione said, unfamiliar with Sophie's terminology.
“Yes, like a car,” Sophie said with a hint of embarrassment.
All Harry knew was that the Kharans had better get back to Grimmauld soon or he was going to pass out no matter how worried he was. He'd go rescue them in the morning if he had to. Ginny's breathing had slowed to the point he was pretty sure she wasn't even partially awake any more. Her heat and the gentle puff of her breath against his chest wasn't helping him stay alert, either.
“You should all go to bed,” Sophie told them with the suddenness of a snap decision. “I'll wait and see if they call.”
Ron seemed ready enough to take the suggestion (and Ginny already had), but Hermione was reluctant. “What if they need our help?”
“I'll handle it,” Sophie said confidently.
Hermione wasn't placated. “You'll wake us,” she corrected.
“Which would be handling it!” Sophie pointed out with a bit of exasperation in her pinched smile. “Soooo… go to bed!”
Harry didn't feel up to arguing. For once, he was tired enough to accept that there wasn't anything to be done at the moment. “She's right. All we're doing is waiting, anyway,” he said, finishing his sentence with a yawn that made his jaw pop.
Hermione glanced towards the dark window, where the white tracers of snow whipped past the glass. “I just hope they can make it back in this weather,” she murmured.
“They've had to survive in worse,” Sophie reassured her.
There didn't seem to be much else to say, not until something further occurred, so they all went their separate ways, desperate for even a slight amount of rest. Harry carried Ginny back to their bedroom, groggily shouldering the door aside and setting her on the mattress as gently as he was able. He crawled over the blankets to lie beside her and then intended to close his eyes, just for a moment, before he properly tucked them both in.
His next conscious moment came an indeterminate amount of time later as he awoke to find his feet aching from the cold. There were voices in the hallway, and the sound of his door being briefly opened further. With a groan, he pushed himself up onto his elbows, but whoever had looked into his room had already gone. Regretting his failure to get beneath the blankets, he forced his stiff body up and walked around the bed to pull the covers over Ginny. Then he slowly made his way out into the hall, following the sound of conversation.
Lila was with Sophie in the drawing room, which was good news. “—slow going,” Lila was saying. “Figured I'd stick to the tech-eq since I was fine. It wasn't that long.”
“That's what I thought, maybe he's in a car or something,” Sophie said. “But I've been checking and it's like he's not moving… He's still over there and I really don't feel like he's any closer…”
“Then they didn't get him,” Lila stated with surety.
“Unless they're holding him until the storm—”
“They're wizards, Strauss. If they had him, they'd have ported him to wherever Riddle is.”
“No, you're right. You're right,” Sophie said again, more confidently.
“He's fine. If he's not, I'll…” Lila didn't finish her sentence, halting uncertainly. Harry didn't think he'd ever heard her do that before.
“We'll think of something,” Sophie said.
Harry had initially intended to enter the room and join the two Kharadjai women, but instead he turned around and went back to his room, feeling like he'd just be interrupting a moment between two worried friends. It wasn't as if he had anything to add besides his own helpless concern. Though, honestly, it was sort of a familiar situation, when it came to Scott.
He made it a few steps back down the hall when he heard Sophie gasp. “My phone!”
“Put him on speaker,” Lila said.
There was a soft beep, and then Sophie said, “Hello?”
“Yeah, it's me.” Scott's voice was a bit distorted and strangely muffled, but understandable enough.
“Where are you?” Lila asked at the same time Sophie said, “Are you okay?”
“I'm fine. I'm in a pile of snow. The two things are related.”
“Oh my gosh, are you still in the Alley?” Sophie said.
“Look, let's not get into who's where, or why—”
“You suck, Scott, I'm already back at Grimmauld,” Lila said loudly over him.
“Hooray, callooh, callay, truly your great struggle in walking away while they all tried to kill me should be commemorated. Maybe they'll pin some more medals to your chest, you got plenty of real estate.”
“Maybe they will. They don't give out awards for Best Snow Fort of Shame.”
“I hindered, I evaded, I nearly got my ass hexed off. What did you even do?”
“I lost part of my foot,” Lila told him, sounding like she was almost bragging.
“That's boring. You're boring, Lil.”
“Yeah, I'm sure your epic tale of how you came to be cowering in your snow hole is much more exciting. How've you been killing time, building a snow-dick to fellate?”
“You caught me; I'm making the snowballs right now.”
“Okay, I'm very glad to hear you're all right,” Sophie said with an edge in her voice, breaking into Scott and Lila's barbs. “When are you coming back?”
“I don't know yet. There's no way they're going to find me, though. Not even if it stops snowing. It is still snowing, right?”
“Yes, and it's not supposed to stop until the afternoon,” Sophie said.
“All right. Things are already calming down, somewhat. I should be able to get out of here before I have to figure out where to poop.”
“Oh, you're doing it,” Lila said. “You are so going to have to poop in a sock.”
“Why would I do that? What the— why the hell would I poop in a sock instead of just burying my load in the snow somewhere?”
“Because you gotta wipe with something, and then what? You're gonna put it back on?”
Scott sighed. “Goddamn wizards and their metal money.”
“It's good to hear from you, Scott. Everyone else extracted safely,” Sophie said cutting off another response from Lila. “I wish you had called sooner.”
“I fell asleep,” Scott admitted. “It's a pretty nice snow hole I made. I did a good job.”
“Be sure to come back as soon as you can, and I'll tell the Primes you lost the Death Eaters. Be safe and stay hidden,” Sophie said.
“I could stay here until the snow melts,” Scott assured her. “I'll be back soon.”
“Okay, call if anything changes. Bye!” Sophie ended the call then said, “Won't even let me see if he's okay, just talk right over me…”
“He was fine. If he wasn't that would have been the first thing he'd said. Come on, you thought it was funny. Admit it,” Lila said.
“Sure, some of it! But when I'm trying to debrief Scott—”
“He's sitting in a pile of snow somewhere, waiting to open an aperture and trying not to have to poop.”
“See, you're gross. You're both just too gross,” Sophie said, but it sounded like she was smiling.
Harry guiltily realised just how long he had been eavesdropping. It hadn't been his intention, but he'd sort of spaced out a bit in the darkened hall, tired and caught up in a conversation he hadn't even been a part of. He relaxed his face — he'd been grinning during parts of Scott and Lila's exchange without knowing it. Turning sleepily on his heel, he made his way back through the darkened hall, content in the knowledge that Scott was (probably) fine.
He had absolutely no memory of getting beneath the covers or of falling asleep, but he awoke with Ginny sitting on her knees next to him, running her cool palm across his cheek. “Thought you'd want me to wake you; Scott's just come back,” she said.
“In one piece?” Harry said groggily, trying to free himself from the covers.
“If he's hurt, it's not obvious. He's even got all the dosh.” Ginny's eyes gleamed mischievously in the dim bedroom. “I've never been rich before. I think I'll buy a car.”
“A car?” Harry repeated in surprise.
“Yeah, why not? I'll get a real fancy one that's green, and holds lots of people.”
“The fancy ones usually don't hold a lot of people,” Harry told her, finally managing to sit up.
“Fine, there will be just room for us. And we can drive it around when we need to fill our shopping trolleys with water, or get more bullets for our guns.”
“Our rich Muggle life: all the water we can shoot and guns we can drink.”
Ginny giggled and wrapped herself around him from behind whilst he put his trainers on. “Sort of too bad Sophie does all that now,” she mused, chin on his shoulder. “It was interesting, you know? There's so much out there. And you grew up in all that.”
“It's a big world,” Harry said shortly, not really wanting to discuss what he grew up in.
“I don't want to be a Muggle, or anything, but maybe when this is over, we can still go to Muggle places, sometimes.” Ginny leaned forward playfully until he had to push back to keep from falling over. “Because I need those nacho crisps in my life.”
“Ugh. Not for breakfast,” Harry told her, rising and letting her drop back onto the bed.
She smirked up at him. “It's already noon, Harry. It's lunch.”
That was news to him. He tried to adjust his expectations accordingly, but his stomach demanded morning food. “I still want breakfast.”
“Well, when I came up Scott was destroying the cupboards to make pancakes, so you're probably in luck.”
Sure enough, when Harry went downstairs to the kitchen he found it in the midst of a minor uproar. Scott had filled every available space on the oven with a variety of cooking surfaces, all of which hosted bubbling batter. There was also a great deal of batter on the floor and worktops, and maybe even a little on the ceiling, if Harry's eyes weren't deceiving him. Sophie flitted around Scott like a desperate hummingbird, trying to preserve her precious cleanliness even as he actively destroyed it. Ron was sitting expectantly at the table and Harry was a bit surprised to see that Hermione was, as well. The dish rag on the table in front of her indicated she had given up whatever attempt to help she had been making.
It smelled heavenly. Harry took a seat across from Ron and watched as the stack of pancakes on a plate next to Scott grew higher. “He must be feeling all right,” Harry surmised, watching as Scott deftly flipped his creations over.
“You know how he gets afterwards.” Hermione sighed as she observed the mess being made.
“No no no no NO!” Sophie wailed as Scott accidentally tilted one of his griddles, sending a half-cooked pancake sliding up against the back of the oven where it pooled and began to burn. “Scott!”
“I got this,” he said, scooping the ruined pancake with his spatula. He deposited the doughy glob on an empty space somewhere to his left, still leaving behind plenty of smalls bits which began to char and smoke.
“You will scrape that. Not me, you will,” Sophie told him, wrapping up the glob in a paper towel and discarding it.
Scott eyed her. “This is a really hostile work environment.”
“You're ruining everything!”
“I— wow. That was the biggest overuse of hyperbole ever. I…” Scott passed his free hand over the plate of pancakes, as if giving them his benediction, “…am cooking.”
“Why does this have to happen for pancakes to happen?” Sophie demanded, waving away some of the smoke. “And why can't you cook without messing up every dish we have?”
“Sophie, come on,” Scott said, his faux-frustration suddenly turning real. “I'm tired, I'm hungry, everyone made it back and I'm pretty sure they want food, too, so I'm making it, all right? I'm sorry I'm a little sloppy, but these are for you, too. Look, I'll make you a heart-shaped one. See? Wait, hold on — it kind of just looks like a butt, let me fix it.”
“Okay, okay. I know, thank you for making pancakes,” Sophie said, somewhat mollified. “Just… please don't burn any more things.”
“Hey, we got magic now, remember? Just wave a wand and pow.” Scott demonstrated with a flick and swish of his spatula, resulting in a long spatter across the wall. “It all goes away.”
“Oh my gosh,” Sophie muttered tightly. “If you did that on purpose…”
“That, I did not do on purpose, probably. This, though…” Scott said, starting to tip the pan closest to the edge of the oven.
“No!” Sophie half-shrieked, half-giggled, and lunged forward to grab Scott's arm with both hands, forcing him to stop. Scott didn't relent, of course, leading to a hands-free shoving match.
“How am I supposed to compete with these hips?” Scott said, staggering slightly as Sophie jolted him with a swivel of her side. “You're like a bumper car.”
“You always know just what to say to a la— don't you dare!” Sophie cringed away as Scott brought the greasy, dough-streaked spatula close to her hair. “Scott! Eeeeeeee!”
Harry winced; Sophie's voice was rather piercing at a high volume.
“And now they're rough-housing next to a hot oven,” Hermione said, rolling her eyes.
“Would that even hurt them?” Ginny wondered.
“I don't care, they'd just better not hurt the pancakes,” Ron said.
“Hey Ginnycide, how about we put our hands on the oven and see who moves first,” Scott called out as he turned away from a retreating Sophie. “Might answer your question.”
“How about you stop being a wanker and give me pancakes?” Ginny counter-offered.
“Ginny, you drive a hard burger. I accept your terms.”
The pancakes were delicious, as expected. Harry ate until he felt like he couldn't move, ravenous to the point he was fairly certain he'd inflicted permanent damage on himself.
“It occurs to me that he's been cooking this whilst wearing the same clothes from yesterday. After engaging in combat and sleeping in the snow,” Hermione said, looking down at her plate.
“He probably washed his hands,” Ron said, stuffing yet another partial pancake into his mouth. Given his rate of consumption, it was doubtful he would have stopped even if he thought Scott hadn't washed his hands.
Hermione wrinkled her nose at the 'probably', but took another bite, regardless.
“Did Lila go back to the Order?” Harry asked, having noticed her absence.
“No, apparently she had to retrieve a weapon she left in a Muggle skip last night. I expect she'll be back before too long even with the snow, she left fairly early,” Hermione said. “I've left Scott's box in the handbag, for the time being. There's no sense in confronting the Horcrux before everyone is present and rested.”
Harry concurred. He leaned back in his seat as far as he was able and seriously considered returning to bed for the day. He felt like it was owed him. He wanted to shut the world out for a little while with a comfortable pillow and a Ginny-blanket, which was vastly superior to a traditional blanket by virtue of being heated, being Ginny and having breasts. Contrasted with staying awake, it definitely seemed like the superior option.
He swivelled in his seat to ask Ginny what her plans were and to propose his own, when he saw that Scott, who actually was assisting Sophie in cleaning up, was trying to catch his eye. Harry met the gaze curiously.
Scott gave him a knowing look from across the room. Then he approached Sophie, bent forward slightly, and took her hand. “Milady,” he said, kissing it lightly.
Sophie giggled delightedly. “Milord!” she immediately reciprocated, curtseying gracefully by holding out an invisible dress with her fingers.
When Scott turned away from her, he raised a smug eyebrow in Harry's direction. Harry narrowed his eyes in response, accepting the unspoken challenge. He surveyed his available targets, and reckoned that Ginny would probably be receptive enough. Then Lila came down the stairs, SAW bouncing against her hip from where it was slung over one shoulder. Harry set his jaw, stood, and approached her.
Lila saw him coming towards her with determination and stopped, head tilted slightly in question. She stood still as Harry took her hand, kissed the back of it, and said, “Milady.”
Lila looked down at the back of her hand, then back up at Harry. “…Duke Harrington?” she replied, one eyebrow raised dubiously.
“Bet with Scott,” Harry said quickly, as it was sort of true.
“I knew it.”
Harry returned to the table next to Ginny, who was staring at him. “What was that?” she wanted to know.
“Sort of a thing I had with Scott. Long story,” Harry explained.
“You're so weird.” Ginny shifted in her seat, looking slightly out of sorts. “…You could have kissed my hand,” she added.
“Rather kiss you elsewhere,” he told her, leaning in close to her ear.
Not close enough, though, as Ron still heard him. “Mate, I'm trying to eat. You see what I'm doing? I'm eating.”
“If Harry could only kiss me when you weren't eating, we'd have never got anywhere,” Ginny said.
Ron was too busy with his pancakes to even bother arguing. “Fair point.”
“We'll have to hold a meeting today. I know we still need to address the issue with Harry, but we should still be considering our next move. I'd like to know what the Order intends, at the very least,” Hermione said, pushing her plate away.
“No, not today,” Harry disagreed. “I think we should have some time to rest, first.”
Hermione treated him with a level stare. “In other words, you'd like to go back to your bed.”
“I don't think that's so much to ask,” Harry said with careful dignity.
“Perhaps not, but our mission is more than a bit crucial, and—”
“Hermione, look — I know you're right, but we're all going to have to think about this anyway. We don't know what to do next, not about Riddle, and I'm supposing whatever you have planned for me is going to take more time?”
“I'm not prepared to try anything yet, if that's what you mean. I do have an idea, though,” she was quick to remind him.
“Yeah, I remember. I'm sure it's brilliant,” he said accommodatingly, “but I really think we need a break. We just did the impossible.”
Ginny leaned against his shoulder. “I can't believe we all made it out,” she said wonderingly.
Ron nodded, spearing the last of his pancakes. “That was bloody amazing. Nobody will ever believe us.”
“I'd say we've got about six bags worth of proof,” Ginny said with a gleam in her eye. She reached into her pocket and pulled out a few Galleons for emphasis.
“Ginny!” Hermione said in shock. “Did you really steal those from the team funds?”
“What, steal? Where am I going to spend them?” Ginny retorted. “Besides, don't we all get a share?”
“No, we don't. That money is for our operations,” Hermione said strictly.
Ron held out a hand across the table. “Half of those are mine,” he told Ginny.
“Sod off, get your own,” Ginny said, using Harry as a shield.
“Fine, where are they all?” Ron asked.
“No one is taking any!” Hermione forcefully reiterated.
That sparked off another verbal squabble between them, almost comforting in its familiarity. Whilst that was happening, Harry put his head closer to Ginny's ear and said, “Why did you take them?”
“I was talking to Lila this morning, and she asked what we were doing to celebrate our successful mission,” Ginny began to explain, “and then I said we don't really do that, or we haven't, and she said yeah, because you're always on the next step but now we have to lay low for a bit, since we stirred up so much shit — that was how she put it. So I asked her how they do it, you know, the Primares or whatever, and she told me this story about this game she played in a different unit she was in. I think she said 'unit'. I don't know the difference between that and what she's in now… But, so, she said they put alcohol in a glass and then make bets with chips, and then try to toss them in, and if you make it you get to keep the chip, but if you miss have to drink.”
“Chips?” Harry said, confused.
“She meant money. Their money isn't coins or paper, it's something else. I didn't really get that part. But I thought me and you could give it a go, so I grabbed some Galleons.”
Harry was game. “We could play with juice or something, sure.”
Ginny frowned. “Kind of boring, isn't it? Too bad we don't have any alcohol. I doubt Sophie puts that on her lists.”
Harry doubted it, as well. Which was unfortunate, really. He'd had a bit of wine before, but he wouldn't have minded trying a harder drink or two, see if he had any taste for them. The Dursleys hadn't been drinkers, Vernon only consuming the rare pint around the holidays. Harry hadn't the opportunity to try any, even after he'd been old enough to consider it. He knew that the Weasley boys drank sometimes. They might have offered him some, he imagined, now that he was of age, but summer days at The Burrow were a thing of the past (he didn't allow himself to hope that they might again be a thing of the future).
He could just imagine what Mrs Weasley would have thought of that, if she'd discovered it. Of course, now there he was, free from parental restrictions, out on his own, and he still couldn't get any liquor. He may have been relatively estranged from the Muggle world, but he knew he was too young to buy any for himself. Even if he were a year older, it wasn't as if he had any proper identification. Plus, he had a hard time imagining Sophie giving him the quid for spirits. Harry felt like it was a safe assumption that drinking was the sort of thing she would disapprove of. She would probably think it very irresponsible to…
Harry's eyes involuntarily tracked over to Scott. The older man was still scrubbing away at the oven, as Sophie had ordained. In his half-removed assault gear — rumpled jumpsuit, tactical straps with karabiners still attached dangling at his waist, boots with heavy tape wrapped around his ankles — he looked tired, experienced and a bit dangerous. He looked like a man who was concerned with things like enemy numbers, ammunition, casualty counts; a man who probably didn't give two shits about under-age drinking.
It didn't really matter what Scott looked like, as Harry actually knew him and knew that Scott was tired, experienced and a lot more than a bit dangerous, but he was also a hundred other things, one of which was being rather difficult to predict. Harry had no idea if Scott would buy alcohol for them (though he was almost certain that teen-Scott would have), but he was probably a better bet than Sophie.
“Scott could get us some,” Harry said to Ginny.
Ginny's eyes lit up. “Yeah? You think he would?”
Ginny looked over at Scott, assessing him much as Harry had. “…Well, it's not like he's much like Mum. If Sophie was talking about working a job, he might not want to spend the money, though.”
That brought Harry up short. If the Muggle money was that much of an issue, then Harry wouldn't want to spend it on alcohol, either. “Only one way to find out.”
Harry made the tactical decision to wait until Sophie wasn't in Scott's vicinity. That seemed like the safest bet for all involved. He returned to his room for a nap that took him well into the evening, and Ginny hadn't needed any convincing to join him. And for all her insistence on moving forward, Harry suspected Hermione wasn't getting much reading done either. Everyone was tired. Even the Kharadjai were taking the day off: after rising, Harry had discovered that Sophie had ordered several pizzas and placed them on the kitchen table, letting them be eaten at each individual's discretion, and that was the end of her involvement with supper. After eating several slices, Harry sought out Scott and found the man face-down on the bed in the motorcycle room.
“Er… You awake?” Harry said uncertainly in the doorway.
“I'm face-down on a bed, you figure it out,” Scott said, voice muffled by the covers.
“Nobody sleeps like that. You look like you're going to suffocate.”
Scott grunted wordlessly in response.
Harry was beginning to wonder if he shouldn't try again later. If Scott was already in a recalcitrant mood then Harry didn't want to ask for any favours, yet. “I'll let you sleep,” he said, turning to leave.
“Look, you obviously wanted something,” Scott said, still steadfastly speaking into the mattress.
“Not anything important.”
Scott sat up suddenly with an almost angry motion, as if somehow maddened by Harry's response. “I'll be the judge of that.”
Now Harry really didn't want to bring it up. “No, it really isn't important, it's not for the mission or anything.”
“Jesus, just spit it out,” Scott said shortly.
Scott's usual post-mission energetic demeanour had obviously degraded over the course of Harry's nap into a sleep-deprived, shirty Scott. Harry wasn't going to take his chances. “Don't worry about it. I'll talk to you later,” he said, quickly stepping out and shutting the door before Scott could retort.
Harry hurried down the hall, knowing there was a fairly good chance Scott would actually pursue him, depending on just how irritable he was feeling.
Downstairs, Ginny was grazing on the pizza at a leisurely pace. “Well?” she said upon seeing Harry.
“He was all tired and narky, so I didn't ask,” Harry said.
“You want me to?”
Harry couldn't imagine any scenario in which that ended well. “No, I'll just try him later.”
He received his chance the next morning when he ended up alone with Scott in the training room, taking his turn with the weights after Ron. Scott had been unusually quiet, but seemed more introspective than grumpy. Harry reckoned it was as a good a time as any.
“Scott, do you think you could do me a favour?” he said.
Harry wished that Scott were the sort of friend who would agree immediately, but he knew better than to hope for that. Sure enough, Scott's demeanour turned wary. “Like what?”
For about half a second, Harry began trying to put together the words to tactfully broach the subject of drinking. Then he remembered who he was talking to and abandoned the effort, because what was the point? “Ginny and I wanted to know if you'd get some alcohol for us.”
Scott had no discernible reaction. “…Why?” He shook himself slightly and then said, in a bit more animated fashion, “I mean, obviously to drink it, but is this a wine and candles type thing or are we drinking to forget…?”
“Drinking to drink, I guess,” Harry said. “Just to try it. And, I don't know, maybe celebrate?”
Scott crossed his arms and leaned against the wall. “You don't sound very positive about this.”
“It's not a big deal…”
“Not with that attitude.”
“What? Are you willing to or not?”
“Look, it came up and I thought it would be fun. If you don't want to help me, fine,” Harry said, disappointed.
“I didn't say that.”
“You haven't said anything. You've just been all daft and suspicious for no reason.” Harry raised his hands in disbelief. “What are you even doing? I ask if you'll buy some whiskey or whatever and you're acting like I told you I wanted to make a serious commitment! You're being effing weird, even for you.”
Scott pursed his lips contemplatively. “Yes, I can see how you might think that.”
“Brilliant. I'm glad we had this talk.” Harry turned to leave.
“What do you want me to buy?”
Harry spun on his heel. “Oh, good, did I pass whatever stupid test you made up for me in your head?”
“You want to talk commitment? Cool, then let's start there.” Scott pointed at Harry. “I'll get you booze, because you'll get it someday and it might as well be now, and there are decisions that everyone has to make for themselves. But don't make a habit of it, and don't expect me to get you drugs whenever you want in the future.”
“I'm not asking you to get drugs!” Harry said, outraged.
Scott squinted at him. “Are you sure you know what alcohol is? I'm not buying it for you if you don't understand what it is.”
“I should have asked Lila,” Harry muttered.
Scott's face lit up. “That would have been so amazingly awkward. I'd pay real money to see that.”
“Yeah, this hasn't been awkward at all,” Harry said.
Scott gave him a dry look. “Get a piece of paper, get a pen — not a quill, a pen — and write down what you want. Liquor ain't cheap, either, so you probably won't get all of it. Choose wisely.”
Ten minutes later, Harry was sitting on his bed with Ginny, the two of them pooling their limited knowledge to come up with a list. Neither of them knew a lot about alcohol, so they lacked the ability to be specific. It had been mutually agreed upon to skip spending any money on the weaker end of the spectrum, like beer or wine, and go straight to the good stuff they could use to play the game Lila had described. So far they had written down whiskey, vodka, rum and schnapps, which Harry was fairly certain was a real thing.
When presented with the list, Scott quickly perused it and then added a few notations of his own. “Unimaginative, but you covered the basics,” he commented.
“Then you pick whatever's best, since you apparently know so much,” Harry said, remembering Scott's unsolicited 'expert' opinion on the vinegar they had turned to wine during class.
“You'll get what you get and you'll like it,” Scott said mockingly.
“I don't know if I'll like it. That's sort of the point.”
“You won't,” Scott predicted. “Did you ask Hermione and Ron what they wanted?”
Harry glanced away. “Uh… I don't know if we should tell Hermione.”
“It's not like she can stop me. You'll get your shit either way, you might as well ask her.”
“She could tell Sophie.”
Scott's jaw set. “So?”
And just like that, Harry had somehow set into motion a potential house-wide conflict. “So… she wouldn't like it?”
“She doesn't have to. It's your decision.”
Well. That made it quite clear where Scott considered the responsibility to be. “All right. I'll ask Ron and Hermione if they'd like anything.”
He met Ginny in the hallway as she came up from the kitchen. “Is he going?” she asked.
“Not yet. I'm supposed to ask Ron and Hermione if they want something, too,” Harry told her.
She stared at him. “Are you serious?”
Harry shrugged apologetically. “Scott wants me to. And since he's the only one who'll go for us…”
“I could ask Lil,” Ginny offered.
Harry sort of wished they had gone that route to begin with. “Yeah, but I already asked Scott and if Lila goes she's just going to tell him she's leaving, first, so it's not like he won't know.”
Ginny sighed impatiently. “Fine. Ron will just want whiskey anyway, since that's what Bill and Charlie and the twins always have. And Hermione will want to lecture us, so that'll be a laugh.”
Harry found her snark cute, and also accurate. “Let's just get this done.”
They split up; Ron was in the kitchen and Ginny went down to him whilst Harry went upstairs to see Hermione. He knocked on the door to her room.
“Yes?” she called out.
“It's Harry. Can I come in?”
Harry entered the room to find her paging through yet another enormous tome. Once again, he dispensed with tact. “Scott's going out to get us some liquor and wants to know if you want anything.”
Hermione froze, and then slowly closed her book. “And you plan to get drunk?” she said calmly.
Harry was now more worried than he would have been if she'd immediately launched into a diatribe. “Er, maybe. We're going to try some and celebrate, since everything went well.”
“I'm honestly surprised it took this long to happen,” Hermione murmured to no one in particular. Then she refocussed on Harry. “Tell Scott if we're celebrating then I'd like some champagne, if it's not too much trouble.”
Harry blinked. “…Champagne?”
“Yes, Harry. It's a sort of sparkling wine.”
“Um, yeah, I know, I just… All right. Champagne. I'll tell him.”
“Thank you,” Hermione said a bit dismissively, and went back to her book.
Harry stepped out and closed the door behind him, feeling like he had been given a dressing down, only an extremely subtle one. Hermione's unspoken reproof seemed more aimed at his expectations than any issue of alcohol, if he was reading her right. He couldn't quite tell if she was accepting or simply resigned. Either way, he'd underestimated her.
Back downstairs, Ginny was waiting. “That was quick,” she noted.
“She wants champagne,” Harry said.
“What, no lecture?” Ginny said with surprise.
“She didn't seem really happy about it, but she didn't go on or anything.”
“Lucky you, I guess. Ron's already talked to Scott, too. Wanted whiskey, big surprise. Scott's about ready to pop out.”
Harry went into the training room, where Scott was waiting. “Hey, I talked to Hermione and she asked if you could get her some champagne.”
“Champagne it is,” Scott said.
He folded up his list, stuck it in his pocket, and made it about three steps towards the doorway when Sophie appeared in it with her hands on her hips and her green eyes flashing.
“Excuse me,” Scott said casually, trying to step around her. She quickly moved to block him. “Excuse me,” he said again, going the other way.
Sophie pushed him none too gently back into the room. “What are you doing?”
“I'm trying to walk through a doorway, but there seems to be some kind of force preventing me—”
“Scott Middle-Name Kharan!” Sophie said, her voice climbing even higher into the upper registers.
“You do know it sounds dumb when you say that? I just don't have a middle name, you don't have to compensate.”
“I cannot believe you, are you really going to—”
“Granted, then you sort of lose the 'full name' impact…”
“—be drinking tonight? What brought this on? And in—”
“…Even though it is my full name, technically, so…”
“—the middle of an integration!”
Scott held up his hands to stop her. “I'm not drinking tonight.”
She glared at him suspiciously. “You aren't buying alcohol?”
“I am, but it's for the Primes. They wanted to celebrate the bank job,” Scott explained.
“Well that's… another issue,” Sophie said, mulling that over for a second.
“Sophie, I'm aware of the objections you're going to raise,” Scott said in an oddly formal manner. “I know you disagree with my willingness to facilitate in this matter. I'm not going to insult your intelligence by pretending you don't understand my reasoning or the psychology at work here. If you want to stop this, I'm not the person to convince.”
Sophie looked at him very seriously. “But you're not drinking?”
“I hadn't planned on it.” Scott met her gaze; there was something heavy in the air between them. He then lowered his head a bit and said, quietly, “It is your business.”
Sophie visibly relaxed, mouth parting slightly and eyes softening. She placed a gentle hand on Scott's arm as she stepped past him. Harry had no idea what was happening, but he saw the way that Sophie's stance became stiff once more as she approached him, and braced himself.
“So,” she said, coming to a stop in front of him with her hands realigning to her hips. “You think getting drunk is a good idea.”
Harry felt that wasn't a very fair representation. “We don't have to get drunk…”
“But you're going to,” she pressed.
“I didn't say that, we just wanted to try some. You know, celebrate.”
“And you think that getting drunk is how grown-ups celebrate?” Sophie said sternly.
“Uh… Sometimes?” Harry looked to Scott for help. Scott rolled his hand in a gesture for Harry to continue, which wasn't helpful at all.
Sophie was temporarily derailed by his honesty. “…Well, maybe so,” she said after a blank moment. “But that doesn't mean you have to.”
“No, I suppose not. But it's still my decision,” Harry said, deciding to just own it, since that seemed to be what Scott wanted, anyway.
“But it's not an informed one!” Sophie's hand shot up. “Cirrhosis, hypertension, pancreatitis—” she began counting on her fingers.
“Teen pregnancy,” Scott offered with a Cheshire grin.
Sophie gasped. “Teen pregnancy— no, no, no, you don't do anything like that if you aren't sober, Harry!”
Harry gave Scott a very dark look over Sophie's shoulder. “We're all doing this together! Wait, I mean, not that, together, but it's a party. Something quiet, just friends, it's not like we can go anywhere. If you're so against this, you don't have to join us.”
“I don't have anything against a party,” Sophie protested.
“Kind of sounds like you do,” Scott said behind her.
“Good. So it's settled,” Harry said quickly, trying to step around her.
He was halted by a very small but disproportionately strong hand against his chest. “I can't stop you,” Sophie told him, even though she was doing just that. “But you need to understand that alcohol is very bad for you and can ruin your life and make you make babies when you're still a baby!”
That crossed the line, for Harry. “Sophie, I'm an adult!”
“I wouldn't go with that, dude,” Scott advised from the sidelines.
Sophie nodded reluctantly. “Maybe in this culture, that's true. And that's not up to me. But if it were up to me—”
“It's not,” Harry interrupted her. “I… Sorry. But I'm seventeen and you're not my mum and I understand that alcohol isn't good for you, but I'd still like to try it. All right? I don't get why this is such a big deal. I didn't want to fight about it…”
Sophie looked hurt for a moment, and then her expression hardened. “Fine,” she said, stalking away. “You be an adult and get drunk and when you're suffocating on your own vomit you'd better hope I'm around to roll you over.”
Harry and Scott stood in silence after she left. “Welp,” Scott said, breaking it as he also went for the door, “I'll be taking that image with me to the liquor store.”
Harry grimaced. “She really thinks I'm going to choke to death?”
“Don't take it personally. You're not even close to the first friend who's gotten that speech.” Scott paused in the doorway. “I'll get some junk food, too. Tomorrow night we'll celebrate a successful mission. And all the others, too. Kind of a one party fits all situation.”
“Yeah. Sounds good,” Harry said, and it really did. So far all the decompression they'd done between missions had mostly involved a lot of sleeping and research and some exercise. An actual celebration might be what they needed.
They'd definitely earned it, after all.
Okay, I know this update is late. But I can explain. You won't like it, but I can explain.
A few months ago, a show that I loved very dearly ended. I was moved by its finale to write some fanfiction; inspiration came to me so fiercely it could not be ignored. My plan was to write an eight- to ten-thousand word one shot that would provide some extra closure and a few character beats just to wrap things up, burn through my inspiration and get some quick reviews, as I crave them so.
That original plan was about 80,000 words ago.
I have, unfortunately, discovered the addiction that is fanservice delivered in short chapters. I'm posting my other story at about two-thousand words a pop. It's incredibly addictive. Post a little chapter, get, like, ten reviews. I think I'm operating on the same mental plane as a slot machine junkie. Drop in a quarter, get a bunch of reviews. It's so easy. I've received more reviews for a pitiful 1,800 words of my other story than I have for 12,000 words of Vis Insita.
So, good news and bad news:
The good news is that I've never stopped writing. It's not for the story you would prefer, but I've kept going at a good clip. The end is in sight for my other story. I know what happens, I just have to write the last few chapters. There's a definite ending, and I'm trying to get there.
The bad news is that this is the last chapter I have completed for Vis at the moment. I've burned through my backlog. This is compounded by another unfortunate truth, which is that I'm not 100% sure what happens next. My mental outline for Vis Insita sputters to a halt around this point. I know, in a very general sense, what happens going forward. But the specific beats have to be decided, and I have to hash out the next arc. I'm used to being roughly two to four chapters ahead of what you're currently reading, so yeah, I'm behind. The next chapter is only about 40% complete.
What it comes down to is that I don't know when the next update will be. In that way, I'm happy that I could at least conclude the Gringotts arc and not leave you on a cliffhanger. I'm also want to make it clear that I'm not saying I'm abandoning this story, or even that I'm putting it on indefinite hiatus. The next chapter will come; I just have no idea when.
A lot of you have stuck with Vis over years of uneven, unpredictable updates. Some of you even started with That Terrifying Momentum and have read and reread for damn near a decade, now. So I apologize for that. I wish I was a more prolific writer. But with me, it's feast or famine. I write when I'm inspired or I don't write at all. And what I do write, I spend a great deal of time rewriting. I'm obsessive with details. In that way, my other story has been pretty freeing. It's almost entirely character based, and while I do research things, it's not much compared to Vis.
When I wrote the Godric's Hollow portion of Vis, I looked up weather maps to find the most common wind patterns for southern England in the time of year they were there, so that Scott could reference the wind direction correctly when he was sniping. I also found a reference chart for target distances, figured out how far Scott was from the street, went outside and walked that distance to get a feel for it, and attempted to calculate the correct minute of arc for Scott's scope calibration.
What I'm trying to say is, sometimes it takes a while to post chapters because I'm crazy.