13

Each Breath Be Blessed, Every Hour Be Stilled


Time waits

Though not with Man
Nor on Planets
Nor near the Gates

Instead it stands
To side of view
And reaches out
With dusty hands

A jealous grasp
Our rhythm held
Beating slowly
Behind the clasp

By that long clock
Counting each tick
Marking each tock

Still caught

—Aidan Stonémarc, 1330 Long Beach, 1993


Days passed without change.

The problem, as Harry saw it, was information: they had none. They were cut off at Grimmauld Place, isolated. Their forays into the outside world had largely been rapid, violent affairs with narrow focus. They had accomplished much but learned little. The Order hadn't much to offer either, according to Lila's reports. They were trying to organise, left without resources or anyone to trust. Diagon Alley would be a death trap, Hogsmeade little better. The enemy had eyes everywhere, it seemed.

So they sat and studied and plotted, and, honestly, it was a bit of a relief. Harry usually hated inactivity, but the trauma of having the world turned upside down followed by battles in quick succession had worn him down. He needed the time to gather himself. He knew even greater hurdles lay ahead.

He spent a lot of his time practising his aim, fine-tuning his shotgun skills. Ginny often accompanied him, and even tried her hand at marksmanship on occasion. She didn't have the affinity for it that Harry did and mostly went along for his company. They were not neglecting their magical skills, either. The whole group trained together, casting and covering each other, honing their wandwork in the process of teaching Sophie. It was strange to see the tiny Kharadjai woman casting without the aid of a wand (and sometimes without verbalisation or even a gesture). Her control was imperfect and, without a wand, it took her considerable time to master even simple spells, but once she did she was capable of doing things that Harry had never seen before.

She could send Stunners whirling around the room, accelerating and slowing them, splitting them into multiple glowing spears. She had access to the hidden workings of magic, manipulating with her innate power what a wizard would express in pages of runes and Arithmancy formula.

It certainly served to underscore Scott's magical incompetence. Harry had assumed that Scott would be caustic and defensive about it, and maybe the teen-Scott would have. But the fully grown Scott who sometimes sat in on their training sessions regarded Sophie's talent with an obvious pride (which told Harry more about how Scott felt towards her than a hundred of his lewd comments).

"How many people could do that?" Harry had asked one time, watching as Sophie sent a Stunner into a corkscrew so fast it looked like a solid tube. When it hit the mattress, it had cut a perfect circle into the fabric.

"No more than a handful. Training helps, but what you're seeing, the way the shape is understood and then altered… It's like what makes someone a great painter or musician. It can't be taught." Scott had smiled as Sophie sheepishly prodded at the smoking mattress. "It's part of why she joined the Praesaedius."

"She wasn't going to before?" Harry had said. He had assumed that Sophie was a career soldier like Scott and Lila (which, come to think of it, was also an assumption).

"That's her story," Scott had stated.

"I haven't heard your story, either."

"That's right. You haven't."

Harry had let it go, knowing he wasn't getting any further answers.

Hermione had been absent for some of those practises. Harry was worried about her, and he knew that Ron and Ginny were, too. She spent endless hours in research, studying her books in search of information that Harry thought probably wasn't there. He doubted even Riddle had fully understood the nature of the Horcruxes when he had made his first one. The perceived reward had simply been worth the risk.

As far as Horcrux locations were concerned, Hermione had not found anything they didn't already know. Dumbledore had been thorough. Harry was all for gaining an edge, but Hermione needed to slow down. They could have to leave at a moment's notice and they needed everyone to be well rested. Ron was getting tired of her obsession as well, and could probably be counted on to do something about it soon.

Harry was sitting at the table eating sugar-loaded cereal and discussing the best treats Honeydukes had to offer with Ginny when a familiar white shape fluttered down the chimney and perched on the back of an empty chair.

"Hedwig!" Harry exclaimed with delight. The owl preened herself and allowed Harry to rub her feathered head. She dropped a folded note in front of him.

He picked it up and read:

Harry,

I thought you might want to write to some
of the Order members I haven't seen lately.
They might tell you things they wouldn't
say in front of me. At the very least, tell Lupin
you're okay. He asks after you all the time and
it's very annoying.

Lila

P.S. I tried to tie this to your owl's leg and
it tried to bite me. Lucky for it, I was feeling
merciful. If it wants to carry this the whole
way, whatever.

Lila's blunt presence permeated every line of the missive. Harry could practically hear it being read in her flat, sardonic tones.

"It's from Lila," he explained to Ginny. He handed it to her. "She wants me to send a letter to Remus."

Ginny read the note. "Hah! They won't talk to her so she's going behind their backs," she said admiringly.

"If that's what it takes, I guess. It can't be easy over there since they don't know what we do." He did not envy Lila's situation.

He procured some paper and a quill and was debating how to start (and getting plenty of unsolicited advice from Ginny) when Scott strode into the kitchen with Kylie close behind. He paused briefly to look at Hedwig.

"That's new," he commented, and starting digging through one of the cupboards.

"Lila thought I could use Hedwig to contact the Order," Harry told him.

"We thought about getting an owl of our own, once. Didn't pan out," Scott said idly. "Kylie, you pick something. I'm tired, not hungry."

Harry hadn't been blind to Scott's increasingly haggard appearance. "Did you sleep enough?"

"Define 'enough'." Scott passed Kylie the cereal she had pointed at. "I slept."

"I'm writing to Remus. Is there anything you want to tell the Order?"

"Not until we have a target for them, or vice versa."

"I'll find out." Harry pressed the quill to the parchment and started writing.

"From what Lil said, it sounds like they know as much as we do. Oh, and here…" Scott dug into one of his numerous pockets and produced a ballpoint pen, which he tossed at Harry. "Welcome to the twentieth century."

Harry looked around the stone room with its wooden furnishings. "This pen is too modern for this bloody place."

"So am I."

Harry couldn't argue with that. Even the cutting edge of Muggle technology must have seemed obsolete to Scott. "That's you, mate — you're just too advanced for us."

"Your sarcasm does not change the truth."

"That you're a stuck-up git?" Ginny said.

"Yes, exactly."

Sophie trotted down into the kitchen, her demeanour an odd combination of sleepy and cheerful. "Good morning!" she said brightly, followed by a yawn that she hid behind one hand.

"Good morning, and, yes, I slept last night," Scott said pre-emptively.

"Wonderful!" She helped herself to a scone. "I slept great, if you were wondering."

"I wasn't. You sleep like the dead and are only slightly more responsive."

Harry concentrated on his letter. It took a few moments to get the hang of using a pen again. There was no question that it offered greater ease of use. A perfect world would really be a blend of magic and science. If only the two weren't so mutually exclusive.

Although, it struck him that Scott's phone had always worked in places where it shouldn't. Harry had always assumed this made possible by the advanced nature of Kharadjai tech, but perhaps not. Maybe it could be duplicated and adapted.

"Scott, how is it your phone works at Hogwarts?" he asked.

Scott answered promptly, which was a nice surprise. "Because it's not a phone, it's a comunit."

"…But you always call it a phone."

"It saves time."

"Not any more. What's a comunit?"

"Short answer: it uses the shape for communication and therefore requires a Kharadjai to provide that connection. If I gave it to you it would just be a phone."

"You gave it to me," Ginny pointed out.

"And I was right there, making it work," Scott said.

"How far away could you go before it would stop?" Harry asked.

Scott shrugged. "Not very."

"Never mind, then," Harry said, disappointed. It seemed communicating the Kharadjai way was not a goal within reach.

"Only a Kharadjai can provide access to the shape. It's a constant limitation," Sophie said thoughtfully as she stirred an excessive amount of butter into the bowl of porridge she was making.

"Would you like some porridge with that butter?" Scott asked, echoing Harry's observation.

"I have porridge with it," Sophie primly replied.

Harry was about halfway through his letter (he was having trouble with the wording; he didn't want to be perfunctory with Remus but he also didn't want to discuss his own state of mind) when Ron and Hermione came downstairs. Hermione seemed rested, which was encouraging. Ron must have prevented her from reading late into the night.

"Why, hello, Hedwig!" Hermione said, greeting the bird. Hedwig blinked in reply. "Who are you writing, Harry?"

"Remus. I'm trying to find out if the Order knows any more than we do," Harry said.

"Ol' Mad Eye has got to have something up his sleeve, if no one else," Ron imagined.

Remus' reply came back quickly; Hedwig returned that evening and deposited the letter in front of Harry with an expectant manner. He gave her some of the owl treats he had dug out of his trunk and read the letter out loud while everyone clustered around.

"'Harry…'" he read, "'Upon receiving your letter, I was going to come see you directly, only to discover I no longer remember how to get to where I suspect you may be. I spoke to Bill and Nymphadora and we're all in the same boat. I don't know how you managed to change the charm, if that is what's happened, but I hope you did. If this isn't your doing then the implications are troubling. Please write back as soon as you can and let me know. If the enemy can circumvent such a powerful charm then we are all in danger.'" Harry paused and looked at Hermione. "Should they be able to remember anything about this place? It sounds like he knows the name, or something…"

She contemplated the question. "…I'm not sure. It may be a side effect of what Scott did. He removed their access, but not their memories."

Harry continued. "'We have been trying to organise but it has been difficult. Travel is dangerous, especially as Apparition is our only quick option. There are Anti-Apparition Jinxes placed in Diagon Alley and other major areas. Be very careful where you go. Moody has disappeared — he briefly returned to his house to gather his Auror equipment and was ambushed. He managed to fight his way out and sent a message to us before he went to ground. Hopefully we'll hear from him soon. I'm glad you wrote, Harry. We're all worried about you. I have much I would prefer to say in person. If all goes well perhaps we can meet soon. Be safe, Remus.'"

"I don't like the comments about meeting in person. Are you sure this is from Lupin?" Scott said.

Sometimes Scott's paranoia was a bit much. "Hedwig wouldn't take a return letter from someone else," Harry said. The owl was looking at Scott with her hackles raised, clearly indignant.

Scott stared back. "I suppose there are some benefits to an intelligent messaging system."

The letter had been full of the kind of news Harry had been hoping not to receive. "I'd better let him know about the charm."

He started a second, shorter letter to inform Remus that the Fidelius Charm had been altered by them and it had been intentional. Harry also made sure to promise to stay in touch, though he didn't guarantee a meeting. He wasn't in a position to commit to much of anything.

"Scott. Scott!" Hermione was saying, trying to get his attention.

"Yeah?" Scott said, coming back from wherever he had been mentally wandering.

"I was thinking about what you said before, about a possible Horcrux up north. I was wondering if you'd had any more precognition to narrow it down?" she said hopefully.

"It's not precognition. It's perinoesis, or shape-given perception of the present," he corrected meticulously.

Hermione didn't like being corrected. "Fine. Have you or haven't you?"

"No. Maybe if we got closer."

"I'm sorry, I haven't felt anything like that at all," Sophie apologised, seeing the disappointment on Hermione's face.

"I can't exactly be angry with you when I can't see the shape at all!" Hermione complained. She opened her mouth as if to say more and then closed it, a troubled expression flitting across her features.

"It has many uses but only a few in which it is reliable," Scott said.

"Then searching will be our last resort. We'll probably have to travel the Muggle way, unless we want to risk brooms again."

Flying around on brooms without a destination in mind and for an indeterminate amount of time seemed like quite a risk, indeed. "Yeah, let's take the car if we're going to do that," Harry said.

"I thought we were going to Godric's Hollow?" Ginny said.

"We still are," Harry confirmed. "This is just a load of maybes."

Godric's Hollow was on Scott's maps but they had come to the conclusion that they were almost certainly incomplete, covering those portions known to the Muggles. The wizarding population preferred a level of segregation for Statute of Secrecy purposes. That left them with a partial picture, which was better than none.

It had been decided early on that travelling by motor would be the safest way to approach the village. Hermione had discovered Bagshot's address, though if she was in hiding, perhaps behind a Fidelius of her own, then Scott would be the only chance they had of finding her. There was no guarantee she even remained in Godric's Hollow at all. Harry was eager to find more Horcruxes but the trip would be worthwhile for him regardless of whether they found Bagshot or not. He wanted to see his parents' graves, and the house he couldn't remember.

Though maybe Riddle wanted him to do that, too. Visiting a location so tied to Harry's history carried with it a bevy of perils. Harry would be taking the Cloak and his shotgun, if he could find a good way to carry it; it would be a good weapon for the element of surprise, assuming he could pull the trigger when there was someone in the sights. As Scott was fond of saying, there was only one way to find out.

The next day, Harry approached Scott with an important question. The Kharadjai was in the drawing room, intently studying the street outside through a foggy window. It was raining, and had been off and on for days. The puddles near the kerb were deep and passing cars churned up a dirty mist in their wake, tyres hissing in passage. The venture to Godric's Hollow would be a wet one.

Harry walked to the window and peered up at the overcast sky as raindrops plunked against the blurry pane. "Seen anything?" he asked Scott.

"Not yet. If they haven't narrowed it down by now, they must not know where to start. That's encouraging," Scott said satisfactorily.

"Maybe they're just well hidden," Harry said pessimistically.

"It would be an unusual display of subtlety." Scott's eyes tracked a small yellow car as it drove past. "Besides, they can't know where we're looking out of."

"I'm just saying we shouldn't be careless."

"I wasn't planning on it."

Harry stepped back and sank onto the couch. "I came to ask you something."

"Is it something I'm not going to like?"

"Uh, I don't think so… But how am I supposed to know?" Harry said logically.

Scott turned away from the window. "I don't know. You could ask me for a machinegun or something."

"Would you give me one if I asked?"

"God, no."

"It was worth a try." Harry moved on to his actual query. "So, if I can't have that, will you teach me to fight?"

"I thought I have been."

"But not just shooting and plans, I mean up close… Like, punching and stuff," Harry said eagerly.

"Punching and stuff." Scott sighed and sat in the chair across from Harry. "Okay, first off, I can't teach you to fight like me. You aren't strong enough or fast enough and you can't be. Trying to imitate my style isn't going to get you anywhere."

"Fine, but it's not like we have that kind of time anyway. Just teach me how to do what you did to Dudley — quick things like that."

Scott made a few elegant jabs at the air, his hands a blur. "Yeah, joints and points. Just the good stuff, the shit that works on people who know less than you, or get caught by surprise. You'll still be in trouble if they know what they're doing, but, like you said, you don't have time to master a system."

"But I could take on a Death Eater, right?"

"Well… How big of a Death Eater?" Scott raised his hands and dropped them. "This will be good in an emergency, but keep your distance. Your wand is what you know."

Maybe, but Harry had begun to feel that, against Voldemort, magic might not be enough. He needed to expand his arsenal, use tools the enemy wouldn't expect. There had never seemed to be much chance of him winning a duel against the Dark Lord. Only Dumbledore had been able to equal Riddle in skill and power. Harry might have had considerable power of his own, he didn't know, but if he did it was undeveloped. Riddle had decades of practise and research behind him. Harry didn't have fifty years to hone his skills. By the time he achieved parity, he would have already lost.

It was unfair to be so outmatched thanks to the directives of the Prophecy (the universe, according to Scott). If anyone had to be fated to kill Voldemort it should have been Dumbledore.

But the world was stuck with Harry, so he reckoned he needed to fight dirty. And luckily, that seemed to be the only way Scott ever fought.

That truth became even more evident in the opening moments of their first impromptu sparring session. They moved aside the table in the kitchen and faced each other on the bare flagstones. Harry had suggested they find some kind of matting for the floor; Scott's reply had been that preventing pain was not instructive, which Harry felt did not bode well.

"Okay, things you need to know," Scott began. "Forget everything you've ever seen in every martial arts movie. If you end up trading blows for minutes on end, either you both suck or you're in a fair fight, which is the last thing you want. You want to inflict as much damage as possible as quickly as possible. You want to end the fight before it has a chance to start. Every fight is different, but the basic goal can be boiled down to this: get the other guy down, and then kick him until he's crippled or dead. You're going to do real damage if you can put your body weight behind it. And a lot of times the fight will end up on the ground. Try not to hit the floor, but if you do, make sure you take him with you."

"So you're going to be knocking me down," Harry said, looking at the stone floor with reluctance.

"Not yet. First I'm going to show you where to hit someone, then we'll work on your footing a bit. Then I want a sandwich." Scott tapped a finger on his throat. "Lesson one: how to make someone wish they'd been born without a neck."


Hermione knew she was missing something. She just couldn't work out what that something was, and she hated that feeling.

The Tales of Beedle the Bard was a fascinating glimpse into wizarding lore, a rare valuable and an insight into the magical childhood she hadn't lived, but, as far as she could determine, nothing more. She couldn't accept that Dumbledore had given it to her simply because he had known she would appreciate it. That would have been true of most any book, and all of the other gifts bequeathed by the Headmaster had purpose.

He had not hidden her gift behind locks or passwords, which meant his intent was hidden in some other way, in plain sight. The Ministry had been forced to give Ginny and Scott their gifts after failing to open them. For Hermione's they had found no reason to withhold it at all, it seemed, which meant the answer was well hidden indeed. Hence her frustration.

Her efforts to produce a spell mimicking Scott's infrared senses had fared little better. She needed more books, especially ones with greater detail to offer on the specific spells she had found. She had already admitted to herself that she may have set her sights too high. Creating such a unique new spell, one based on a Muggle understanding of wavelengths, might well be beyond her abilities.

The others always had implicit faith in her magical acumen. But the fact was that no matter how clever she was or how advanced her knowledge base had become, she was still a seventeen-year-old witch with a sixth-year education. She had already taken a great many tasks upon herself. Attempted invention might well be the one she could not meet.

It was a disappointing thought. But no matter how eager she was to solve the problem, the infrared spell had to remain a secondary priority. The Horcruxes had to be found, above all else.

With luck, finding Bathilda Bagshot in Godric's Hollow would set them on the trail of one (or maybe even more) of the magical artefacts Riddle had stolen for his own Dark purposes. And once they were all gone, he would be vulnerable; or at least, as vulnerable as a powerful Dark wizard surrounded by a makeshift army could be.

"One problem at a time," she mumbled to herself. She set aside her copy of The Tales of Beedle the Bard and looked at the other books around her without enthusiasm. They had all failed her.

She stood, stretched, and went downstairs in search of something to clear her mind. It was a minor miracle how busy she had managed to keep in a house so detached from the outside world. But between research, training and Ron…

She flushed a little at the last thought. It was not natural to her nature to be aggressive in her affections, but having Ron so close at hand, and never having to look over her shoulder for parents or teachers, well… It was easy for her hormones to take control. So far they had limited themselves to snogging and a bit of touching over the clothes. Ron could sometimes try to push things further in the heat of the moment but he always stopped when asked. Sleeping in the same bed had remained chaste as well, both of them in their night clothes. They tended to wake up on opposite sides of the bed, as it seemed neither of them were natural cuddlers (in contrast, Ginny had said she'd fallen asleep directly on top of Harry; Hermione couldn't imagine how that was comfortable).

She was fine with that. She was no good at rushing things, and what would her parents think of even the current arrangements, not that they would think anything at all, as for the time being they didn't remember her… The thought saddened her all over again, per usual. She pushed it away.

On the first floor she heard a racket emanating from the dining room that now served as a training room. It was a common occurrence; there was always something happening in there.

"Wingardium Leviosa!" Ron was saying as she walked into the room. He levitated a plate for a moment and then lowered it back to the floor.

"Wingardium… Leviosa," Sophie slowly repeated. She moved her hand in the approximate motions a wand would make. The plate did not move but Sophie smiled anyway, as if she had accomplished something. And maybe she had — the shape worked invisibly.

Ron cast the spell again. "You have to be precise with the flick, see…"

Kylie was also present, standing silently in the background. There had been some debate as to whether the Fidelius Charm could overpower the Trace. It had been decided that it probably would, seeing as it overrode just about everything else, but ultimately Scott had removed the tracking spell from Kylie. Ever conscious of the unexpected, he had wanted the girl to be able to defend herself should the occasion arise, regardless of her location.

Freed from Ministry oversight, Kylie was carefully levitating a cup while following Ron's example. Hermione flashed back to a similar scene, years before, when Ron's role had been reversed and the future held no hints of what was to come. It seemed like a lifetime ago. She felt a pang of nostalgia, and glanced at Kylie. It seemed impossible that any of them had ever been so young.

Of course, even the trials of securing the Philosopher's Stone (which were so trivial in retrospect) had been nothing compared to the horror that ended Kylie's first year. And her second looked to be far worse.

That gave Hermione a thought. "Kylie," she said, approaching the girl who would have soon been a second-year student, had things gone differently, "when is your birthday?"

"Sunday," Kylie said quietly.

"Oh! We can have a party for you!" Hermione said delightedly.

Kylie wouldn't meet her eyes. "Last Sunday."

"What?" Hermione said, aghast. "You turned twelve and didn't tell us?"

The girl hunched her shoulders, trying to make herself smaller. "I'm sorry."

"No, no! It's all right, it's just…" Hermione tried to think of how to phrase her disappointment. Kylie was a textbook victim of neglect and abuse, defending herself by disappearing. She never volunteered anything personal. "…I'm sure Scott would like you to tell him."

Kylie shrugged.

"I know he would," Hermione said firmly.

"Absolutely, and happy birthday!" Sophie added. "Look at you, twelve years old! You'll be looking all grown up before you know it!"

In truth Hermione didn't think Kylie had grown much at all: she was as short and skinny as ever. Hermione had a feeling that the slight girl was probably destined to remain that way, though that was not certain. She herself had not possessed much figure to speak of at twelve.

Kylie scurried out of the room, hopefully to inform Scott of her birthday, though she might have just been fleeing all the attention.

"Wingardium Leviosa," Sophie said, returning to her previous task. "The spell does not exert pressure across the object… Rather, it simulates weightlessness, creating a limited separation from gravity and granting control through an energy tether… I think. Ron, could you please cast it again?"

Hermione stood back and watched, always endlessly enthralled by Sophie's instinctual understanding of the very essence of magic, the shape from which it sprang. She was deciphering the building blocks of the spell. Even advanced spell studies could not match such a level of detail; a runic expression of the spell would have revealed the components for wand control and hovering, not how those facets worked as defined by physics.

Oh, the things Hermione might have accomplished with Sophie's help… It was crushing to realise that, should the war be favourably resolved, she would likely never see Sophie again.

Ron cast the spell and the plate rose once more. It climbed a few feet before Sophie stepped between it and Ron, sending it clattering back to the floor. "The tether is interrupted; the objects reverts to it natural state," she observed in a clinical tone. "The energy field dissipates nearly instantaneously when not maintained; the rapidity suggests a failsafe rather than a failstate. Ron, again, please?"

The plate lifted. Sophie moved close to Ron's wand but did not block it. "The failsafe is activated when the user loses line of sight as determined by the tether. Having lost control, the spell extinguishes." She interposed herself between Ron and the plate once more and it fell. A slight frown creased her smooth brow. "Discovering the proper element of alteration requires trial and error. Ron?"

Four more times Ron lifted the plate, and each time it came crashing down. Fortunately it was silver and not a more breakable material. Ron was beginning to look bored.

"Science is often repetitive," Sophie said apologetically. "Again, please!"

On the fifth cast Sophie stepped in front of Ron's wand; this time the expected clatter never came. When Sophie moved aside the plate remained suspended.

She grinned triumphantly, green eyes shining. "Success! The failsafe is averted; the spell continues to hold in the absence of the tether."

She poked the plate with a finger. It moved away, gliding through the air and beginning a lazy spin. Bouncing off the wall, it drifted towards the ceiling. Hermione was reminded of videos she had seen once from a space shuttle, the astronauts brushing things aside in the air.

"The object has no weight but maintains mass," Sophie continued. "This likely limits the density and size of objects that can be moved, accounting for the varying power levels of individuals." Suddenly, the plate plummeted back to earth, ringing loudly on the stone. "The simulated weightlessness is temporary, lasting only so long as the spell continues to cycle. Without refreshment, it fades, and gravity is reasserted."

Hermione felt like she was attending a lecture. Should she politely applaud? She had the urge to take notes.

"Trial two will be an attempt to create the spell without a focal object. Primare Strauss, 1-875-153." Sophie walked over to the chair in the corner where, unnoticed by Hermione, her phone had been resting. She tapped a few buttons and tucked it away. "I'm hungry!" she declared. "I bet Scott will make us sandwiches if we ask nicely."

She traipsed towards the kitchen and Hermione hastened to follow. "What did you mean by creating the spell without a focal object?" Hermione asked.

"Casting the spell on a point in space, rather than a solid anchor. If it works it should create a zero gravity field," Sophie explained.

Hermione had the sudden mental image of casting such a spell over her shoulder and watching the Death Eaters pursuing her flail helplessly in the air, unable to alter their momentum. "Could I learn to do such a thing?"

Sophie giggled, a high-pitched, childlike laugh that Hermione found a bit grating. "I think you could answer that better than me! But really, right now it's just a goal that sounds nice. That spell is made to work on singular objects. I have no idea how an area of effect even works in magic or if it has enough power to be distributed like that."

Hermione considered the problem. "…I believe you would have to create a new spell using the Levitation Charm as a base. It's one of several spells all derived from the same concept, such as the Hover Charm. None of them do what you're describing, I'm afraid."

"Well, it won't hurt to try! Unless something goes really wrong, and then I guess it might hurt…"

They found Harry and Scott standing idly in the kitchen, both of them chewing on excessively large sandwiches. Harry was holding himself stiffly — Hermione saw him wince when he swallowed.

"What's wrong with you?" she asked him. She went to make sure there were still enough sandwich ingredients for the rest of them.

"You'd have to get the answer to that in essay form," Scott said.

Harry snorted into his food. "Nothing," he said to Hermione once he had recovered.

The blossoming bruise on his throat told a different story. "You just wait until Ginny sees that," she admonished, pointing out the offending blemish.

"He volunteered," Scott said.

Harry just nodded and took another bite.

"You're an adult, Scott; you don't need to hurt Harry to heal yourself, if you ever really did in the first place," Hermione told him.

"Oh, Scott… What did you do?" Sophie asked with a disappointed demeanour.

"Nothing out of line," Scott said, affronted. "Harry asked for some basic close combat training. He knew it was going to hurt. And it's not like it was all on me, I let him get his practise shots in."

"Which I'm sure also hurt. Hitting you is like… Hitting a, a wall, or… Something else hard," Sophie finished lamely.

"If you can't find an analogy, you should probably stop reaching," Scott remarked.

"Quiet, you," Sophie ordered. "Harry, come see me when you're done eating and let me check your hands."

"I'm just sore, it's fine," Harry said with his usual unnecessary bravado.

"Could be bruised sore, or could be hairline fractured from punching Scott's big bony head sore," Sophie said pointedly.

Scott leered at her. "Hey, it's not the only big bone I've got for you." Then he straightened up and cast a quick glance around the room. "Crap, is Kylie in here?"

"It's not much good if you catch yourself afterwards!" Sophie exclaimed.

"I'm good. She's not in here," Scott said, relaxing.

"You're not good. You're rude."

"And virile. Have you noticed how virile I am?"

"Virulent, maybe," Sophie said, looking pleased with herself.

"Virulently sexy," Scott said, deepening his voice. He stepped close to Sophie, towering over her, and ran his fingers down her arm.

"Quit it," she said without conviction.

Hermione had rapidly tired of watching them flirt. "That had better not be the last of the ham," she told Harry.

"There's some left," he assured her.

'Some' proved to be a few measly bits that would barely suffice for half a sandwich. "Sophie, we're out of ham thanks to these two, can you add it to the list?"

"Adding ham to the list!" Sophie chimed. She picked up the list and swept her hand around the rubbish that had accumulated near it. "Pen, pen — where's my pen, who took it?"

"It probably rolled behind the counter," Scott said.

His idle prediction provided the comical sight of Sophie — who usually carried herself with a posture and poise that Hermione associated with some sort of deportment school for Proper Young Ladies — climb up onto the counter and wiggle on her stomach until her head was flush with the wall. "…It's not here," she said, her voice echoing back hollowly.

"Oh, here it is," Scott said casually, extracting the pen from his shirt pocket. His gaze was firmly riveted on Sophie's ample posterior, her wide hips lifted and legs dangling towards the floor in a position that could easily be misconstrued.

She came to that conclusion without even looking back at him. "You butt! Give me that pen!"

"Sure, I'll give it to you."

"You butt!"

Before long everyone had gathered at the kitchen table for lunch (Sophie had bullied Scott into making it as absolution, though he seemed entirely unrepentant). Ginny was discussing her infamous Bat-Bogey Hex with Sophie, who looked equal parts enthralled and disgusted. Harry was poring over the Muggle maps with Scott, no doubt continuing their study of Godric's Hollow's geographical features. Hermione didn't know what pertinent information was left to be discerned, considering how much time they had spent on the task already.

Harry had taken to Scott's tactical instruction like a duck to water. She couldn't profess any surprise. Harry had always been intelligent, but often unfocussed (and it was difficult to blame him for it considering the difficulties he had faced each year). Between the guns, hand-to-hand and small unit tactics, Scott had provided his Prime not only with an outlet for that intelligence, but also rage and helplessness. Hermione approved of Harry having an outlet; fifth year had demonstrated the consequences when he was kept bottled up. She just wished he could turn to Quidditch again, instead.

Ron and Kylie were fully immersed in their food, at least one thing they had in common. Hermione ate hers without tasting it. The mission to the Hollow loomed large in her mind, a steady pressure. Would it always be that way before every excursion? Constant worry, the stress of her limitless research… She drove herself to consider every angle, but that was impossible.

It was simply in her nature, she supposed. She couldn't seem to charge heedlessly like Harry and Ron, or be endlessly prepared to adapt to inevitable permutation, like Scott. She needed planning and contingency. She could have the first, but never enough of the second.

"Hey, Scott," Harry said, catching Hermione's attention as well. Scott had moved away from the map and was holding a very one-sided conversation with Kylie. "I have a question for you."

"You've had a lot of those lately," Scott observed.

"It's your own fault; you've actually been answering them."

"I've always had an open door policy."

"It's a bit frightening you can say that with a straight face," Hermione interjected with a touch of justified spite.

"What can I do for you?" Scott said to Harry, ignoring her.

"I want to know if you can break open the Snitch," Harry said seriously. "I have no idea how to open it and we might need whatever is inside, I don't want to wait."

"Same answer as always for magical items. I think I could break it but I can't promise it would survive the process. Maybe it destroys itself if forced, maybe the thing inside of it is tied to the lock and breaking one breaks both."

Harry looked to Hermione, and she sighed. More and more it seemed that she didn't have the answers expected of her. "I don't know. There's no magical basis for what Scott does, not that I've ever read about." She was once again rephrasing that familiar refrain. The workings of the shape were alien to her beyond what Scott had explained and what she had observed and inferred. So she did what any responsible academic would do, and referred them to another expert. "Perhaps Sophie could help?"

At the sound of her name Sophie perked up, halting her conversation with Ginny. "Yes?"

"Harry has a magically protected object that he would like Scott to open," Hermione explained. "Do you think you could help identify or separate the spells so that whatever is inside avoids damage?"

"Sure! But you'll have to teach me the spells I need to know, first."

"We don't actually know how it was created…"

"Oh… Well, in that case, the only comparisons I have are the spells I already learned," Sophie said regretfully.

Harry looked resigned, as if he had known better than to expect an easy answer. "Could you still take a look at it?

"No harm in trying," Sophie agreed.

"It's upstairs in my handbag, Harry, you know where that is?" Hermione said.

"Yeah, just a minute, I'll get it," he said.

Harry went to retrieve his gift, and upon his return Sophie dashed any remaining hopes the minute she held it in her hands. "No, sorry…" she said. "This is very complicated."

"I would expect so. It was made by the Headmaster, after all," Hermione said.

"So are you going to break it?" Ron asked Scott.

"I don't know. Sophie's already holding it, let her do it," Scott said.

Sophie quickly set the Snitch down on the table. "I know I haven't been here very long, but that doesn't seem like a very good idea…"

Ron laughed. "That's all we got around here!"

"We don't have to decide right now," Harry said, though he was not quite able to mask his impatience. Hermione hoped that Ginny would distract him before he worked himself into a state about it. The Weasley girl had become increasingly skilled at stopping Harry's moods before they gained traction.

More days passed. The foray into Godric's Hollow remained at the forefront of their efforts. They had been given time to prepare and contemplate. Rushing off with minimal planning was easier from a stress standpoint, eliminating the intolerable waiting, but they were all still glad of the room to breathe. Harry wrote to Lupin again in an effort to gain any insight, no matter how trivial, into what they might be up against. Unfortunately, the letter was not coached in specifics, as they were unsure how secure Lupin's location was. They had tried calling Lila and the former professor had not been with the Weasleys.

During the call a rare outburst of genuine frustration had emerged from Scott. "Give me something here, Lil!" he had yelled. It was the kind of display that had been entirely common at Hogwarts, but Hermione had become accustomed to the more subtle, placid expressions of an adult Scott.

Lila's response had been inaudible, but likely scathing. "Fine," Scott had grumbled, "I'm sure Sophie would love to hear all your excuses." He'd tossed the phone at the short woman, who had immediately set about placating Lila.

Lupin's reply to Harry came on another grey, soggy afternoon. They timing was fortuitous as they had gathering to debate whether they should proceed without further reconnaissance. Scott had been advocating a solo trip for himself, after which he could report back. That had been the core of their discussion when Hedwig had returned with the first real news they'd received.

Harry,

I am relieved it was you who changed the Fidelius Charm and am also extremely curious as to how you managed it. But that can wait; Moody returned to us today, arriving unannounced at one of our safe locations. We made sure it was really him and that he was not Imperiused, and I suggest you do the same for those in your company.

Apparently he's been on the run. The Death Eaters at his residence chased him but he was able to give them the slip once he escaped the Anti-Apparition Jinx. He's been all around since then, checking on people known to be sympathetic to us, and the news isn't good.

Thanks to your warning we knew about the Taboo, but what we didn't know was how effective it has been at terrorising the populace. Many potential allies were discovered before we could get to them. It seems our own defiance in using He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named's proper moniker has come back to haunt us.

Worse, the sycophants and criminals and even those just scared out of their wits are taking sides. The result is a sort of militia that's been enforcing the Taboo and kidnapping dissenters. Those not motivated by a desire to move up the ranks and join the Death Eaters, or by simple fear, are seeking to collect a standing bounty on Muggle-borns. There's at least the pretence of legitimacy; the bounty has been placed by what's left of the Ministry. I don't know what they call themselves, but I've heard them referred to as the Snatchers. They are not organised like the Death Eaters proper, but by number alone are a concern.

I pray that you remain safe and well. Lila Kharan recently made some interesting admissions to Bill. I would like to talk about them, amongst other things, when we meet in person.

Be Safe, Harry,

Remus

"Again with the meeting in person," Scott mused.

"Shut it," Harry said absently. "Well, it's not good news but it is news."

"'Snatchers', huh," Scott said, unimpressed. "I can't wait to tangle with the Death Eater Youth."

"I knew Mad-Eye would make it," Ron said triumphantly. "He's too barmy to die."

"Fortunate that we discovered the Taboo when we did," Hermione said, mulling over the new intelligence. "I also approve of the added precautions they've taken. I should think Scott could recognise the Imperius readily enough, it's powerful and constant, and there should be a, 'thread', back to the originator. I'm less certain about Polyjuice…"

"Can that be demonstrated?" Sophie asked.

Hermione shook her head. "It takes quite awhile to prepare and needs regular supervision."

"Darn it. Why can't everything just be demonstrated?" Sophie said unhappily.

"We should have secret phrases we can use for that," Ginny said eagerly, clearly excited at the prospect of exercising such spy-craft.

A bit dramatic, but not an idea without merit. "We could. If not our shared memories should suffice," Hermione said.

"Right," Scott agreed. "Just ask something specific. For example: Ginny, when you were with Harry in the hospital wing, what did I say you would give him for good behaviour?"

Ginny coloured. "Shut it!" she snapped.

Scott looked at the rest of them. "It's her."

Harry was confused. "What?"

"Never you mind," Ginny told him.

"…I'll just ask later," he mumbled, subsiding.

Hermione didn't know what that had been about and she also didn't much care. "You should really meet with Professor Lupin before long, Harry. It sounds like there are some things he'll only discuss in person."

"Ugh. I don't really want to handle questions about Lila," Harry said with distaste.

"Lil can handle it herself. Just send him back to her," Scott said.

"What do you think she told Bill?"

"I'm surprised she didn't tell Charlie," Ron sniggered.

"As little as possible," Scott said to Harry's question.

"Sounds familiar," Harry said dryly.

"Hey, I could have told you nothing at all."

Hermione rolled her eyes. "Yes, let's all be ever so grateful for each bit of partial disclosure we had to drag out of you."

Scott's face darkened, but before he could issue a cutting remark, Sophie jumped in. "Some things are hard to explain, I'm sure we all understand that," she said lightly. "Will any of this change the plans for the next mission?"

"No," Harry determined.

"The stuff about the Taboo made me think, and I was wondering if the Fidelius might be stronger?" Ginny said.

"I don't think we should say the name even if it is. Don't break a good habit," Ron said wisely.

"Hmm… I believe that, even if they could be alerted, the location itself should remain a mystery," Hermione calculated. "Ron is correct, though. It's important that we continue not saying it."

"But if we could say it, even just once, it creates interesting opportunities," Scott said.

Hermione always became suspicious when Scott began to speak of 'interesting opportunities'. "Such as?"

"A trap. Riddle doesn't deal with the Taboo himself, he's a busy man. And it sounds like it doesn't even warrant the hooded crowd any more. So why not thin the herd and maybe learn something while we're at it?"

Predictably, it was Harry who seemed most eager to pursue Scott's suggestion. "What did you have in mind?"

"Record his name, find a nice spot out in the sticks somewhere, set it to repeat and wait for someone to take the bait."

Hermione could plot out the rest for herself. "The Taboo may not work on an electronic recording."

"I'd still like to try."

"I think it could work," Harry agreed.

"Perhaps," Hermione vacillated, unwilling to commit, "but we should wait. Let's not put them on high alert right before we go out there."

Scott tilted his head slightly in acknowledgement. "Of course."

"So where are we on the plan, then?" Ron questioned. "If I'm going to get cursed I'd like to know when and where, saves on worrying."

Harry picked up one of the maps and placed it on the middle of the table. "We'll be coming in on this north road, here." He traced it with his finger. "We'll have three teams. The first will be Ginny and me. We'll go to the graveyard and then to my parents' cottage. The second will be Ron and Hermione. You two will see if you can find Bagshot's house. Once that's done we'll meet up and talk to her, if she's there."

Ginny put her hand over Harry's and smiled at him. "You and me, yeah?"

"I thought you might like that part," Harry said wryly. "Sophie has some things she can use to make us look like Muggle couples, so we don't stand out."

Hermione had issues with the plan. "I don't know about splitting us up like that, even if only for a while… And where is Scott in all this?"

"Highground," Scott said cryptically, and placed his finger on a map point that meant nothing to Hermione.

Ron was on the same page. "Thanks for clearing that up, mate, you're always so bloody helpful."

Scott sighed loudly, as if his saint-like patience was being tried by their ignorance, but when he saw Sophie glaring at him, he dropped the act and explained, "The town sits below this hill line in a flat area surrounded by woods. At least part of the ridge is probably man-made, you can see the railroad tracks that run along this section, north to south. The hill curves along the west edge of town and then tapers out in this farmland down here. That's my vantage point, the crescent hill. I'm going to cover and coordinate from there."

It was the same role he had taken during Kylie's rescue. Hermione knew Ron would be glad that he wouldn't have to sit on the sidelines again, but she wasn't sure… Staying behind was difficult, but moving around without contact was dangerous. Another sudden storm could increase their peril. "Coordinate how?"

"Godric's Hollow is mostly Muggle. Their electronics work, so Scott's should too," Harry said. "He has some radio gear."

"Gear that's been gathering dust up until this point," Scott said. "Military grade. I'll run you through some channel protocols."

"Radio? Like, what, the wireless?" Ron said apprehensively, no doubt reluctant to learn how to operate a strange Muggle contraption.

"It's not hard, I can show you how," Sophie told him.

"Anybody have something to add?" Harry asked.

"I realise that having two pairs in town initially will speed things up," Hermione said slowly, trying to phrase her concerns effectively, "but I'm worried that splitting our firepower may be a mistake."

"It's a risk," Harry grimly agreed. "I don't like not having us all together, either, but I think we'd be more noticeable with a group of four. And if something goes wrong we'll need to get out fast as we can. Especially now, since it looks like Riddle has even more people."

"I'm out there to create a delay, if it comes to that," Scott said.

"Plus you and Ron will have the Cloak," Harry said to Hermione.

That seemed unwise. "Oh, no, Harry, your parents' house is on the edge of town, you'll need it more," Hermione argued.

"You take it, we'll be fine," Harry insisted.

"Yeah, we don't need it," Ginny joined in.

Hermione shot an exasperated look Scott's way. "A bit of help, please?"

Scott obliged. "She's right. Graveyard team gets the Cloak. The mission comes before misplaced chivalry."

"Take it to a vote," Ginny challenged him.

"We are not taking it to a vote. You are getting the Cloak and that is the end of it," Hermione stated with finality.

But, of course, it wasn't final. They argued about it for a few more minutes until at last Hermione exclaimed, "All right, we'll vote! All in favour of Harry and Ginny having it…"

Hermione, Scott, Ron and Sophie all raised their hands, leaving Harry and Ginny outvoted no matter what they did.

"Fine," Harry said shortly, angry at being overruled. Hermione would have thought that he'd be happy that Ginny would have the Cloak, but perhaps he hadn't considered it that way.

"Why does Sophie get a vote?" Ginny complained, even though it didn't matter.

"Because she's pretty. The opposite reason is why you don't get a vote," Scott said snidely.

Ginny jumped up from her seat to counter-attack by word or wand — it was good odds for either — when Sophie beat her to it. "Scott, you do not talk to her like that!" she said in a direct, imperious tone that Hermione had never heard from her before. Then she turned to Ginny and said in her usual light manner, "He was just joking, but he shouldn't have said something that mean. You are very beautiful and don't listen to anyone who says otherwise."

Scott rolled his eyes. Despite the uncaring gesture, he didn't speak on his own behalf.

"Also, I get a vote because I buy your food!" Sophie said, once again cheerful.

"No, you get a vote because you can shut him up, same reason Lila would," Ginny said, glaring at Scott.

A moment of awkward silence descended, as no one seemed to have anything else to add (and the tension between Ginny and Scott was difficult to ignore). The distant rumble of thunder echoed down from the upstairs hall, causing everyone to glance that way involuntarily.

"It's going to look strange if we're strolling about in the rain," Ron said.

"Go when the weather clears. Probably won't be nice enough for a crowd, if this place ever has any," Scott advised.

"More waiting…" Harry sighed. "Well, I guess that gives you extra time to beat me up, Scott."

"Actually, Harry, Scott asked if I would help you train," Sophie said.

Harry looked a bit relieved. "Sure, we could switch things around."

Sophie didn't appear to be much of an opponent, but appearances were deceiving. Hermione knew that Harry had been struggling to learn anything under the lightning-quick instinctual onslaught that was Scott's tutelage. Sophie might offer something more palatable. Hermione just hoped that Sophie wouldn't injure Harry before the mission, which was a strange thought to reconcile with the Kharadjai woman's porcelain doll features.

"When do the rest of us get to learn all that?" Ginny inquired.

"Whenever you ask," Scott said.

Ginny's jaw set pugnaciously. "Then teach me."

"Er… How about I go back to Scott and you practise with Sophie?" Harry suggested.

"What? You don't think I can handle him?" Ginny demanded.

"No," Harry told her with unfortunate directness.

"I can teach both of you, and anyone else who wants to learn," Sophie said. "The basics aren't difficult."

Hermione knew her strengths, and physical confrontation was not one of them. Still, it could only be helpful to learn a few self-defence methods. "I would like to learn those basics, at least. I think we all should."

"The more the merrier!" Sophie happily replied.

Hermione wasn't sure she liked such enthusiasm from the woman who was volunteering to hurt them. Scott didn't speak on the subject any further, apparently content to let Sophie take the reins. Hermione wondered if Lila might be persuaded to make a similar offer of instruction to the Order.

They could all use an edge.


Scott stared moodily out the window, taking in a second-story view of a day as grey as an overcoat. It had been raining steadily for nearly twenty-four hours. The few pedestrians that passed did so in a hurry, carrying umbrellas and keeping their heads down.

Normally a downpour wouldn't be reason enough to delay a mission (and hadn't before). But the plan was to hide in plain sight, and that meant not being the only people on the street. His position on the far outskirts of town meant he wanted good visibility, as well. Or at least as good as it ever became. England wasn't known for its low humidity.

Downstairs, Sophie was teaching the Primes simple hand-to-hand techniques, the 'joints and points' that Scott had already imparted to Harry. No doubt they were having an easier time of it with her. Scott wasn't much good as a close combat instructor, and he knew it. It came too naturally to him; he had difficulty limiting himself and quickly grew frustrated with his pupils. So he let Sophie take over. And if anyone besides Harry wanted to learn shooting techniques, Scott could handle that without issue.

Rain continued to thunk against the window pain. He didn't allow it to bother him. The military taught many skills, but one of the most valuable and simultaneously mundane was the ability to tolerate tedium. HUAW, as the familiar refrain went: Hurry Up And Wait. His time spent orbiting Carcer on the Longevity had been an exercise in endurance. The lesson had served him well ever since.

He reached into his pocket and grasped his phone for a moment before releasing it. He knew there wouldn't be any calls he had missed, it was always on his person. Lil hadn't called him since he had snapped at her; she'd been calling Sophie instead, checking in that way. He probably deserved that. Lil would get over it, in time.

A few more cars moved by on the street. He had seen nothing to indicate Death Eater activity, which was enough to prod his paranoia. It had already been demonstrated that severing individuals from the Fidelius Charm removed access to the location but not the memories of it. Grimmauld Place was the name of the street, not just the building. That should have been more than sufficient information to bring Riddle's men outside, even if they were unable to see the structure itself.

So where were they? The Death Eaters weren't exactly Primarius ComOp material but they hadn't been completely incompetent. Surely they had their hands on someone who knew Grimmauld Place. Snape, if no one else. Scott was about to start checking license numbers and identifying residents. He would need a phone book to get started, and then a police uniform and a notepad…

His highly illegal ruminations were stalled when Kylie pattered into the room and sat on the couch. He glanced back at her to make sure she wasn't more upset (than usual) since he'd last seen her. "Hey, Kylie. How's tricks?"

She stared back at him, uncomprehending.

He tried again. "What's happening, how have you been today?"

"Okay," she said, and it looked to be true enough. With the ongoing training sessions and frequent meetings, Kylie had found new ways to involve herself and had been sleeping less. She enjoyed watching Sophie bend magic into new forms, and, with her first-year education, had a lot to learn herself. Her magical instruction would continue, if sporadically, despite her absence from Hogwarts.

Not for the first time, Scott wondered just how much attention Kylie was paying to what was happening around her. She had never asked directly just who Scott was or why the Horcruxes were so important, but maybe she didn't have to. Or maybe she knew she probably wouldn't get an answer.

"Get tired of spellwork?" he asked her. She had been levitating plates and jinxing mattresses while the others suffered through Sophie's crash course.

Kylie nodded. "I broke a cup," she confessed.

"Well, we've all broken a few lately."

They lapsed back into companionable silence, punctuated by the skitter of rain. It was one of the things Scott liked about Kylie: silences with her were never awkward, never weighted with words waiting unsaid. Her presence was not demanding.

He followed the progress of a lorry, its cargo rattling loudly as it turned the corner. He'd never seen the vehicle before but that didn't mean much; he hadn't been monitoring the street constantly. He had a hard time imagining any Death Eaters learning to drive, but it was impossible to track all of the traffic in London, and if they changed cars often enough…

Still unlikely. And inefficient, gaining glimpses only in passing.

Kylie's voice came again, quiet but steady. "Do your parents know you're grown up now?"

Not a question he had expected, though it obliquely approached some of the curiosities the girl must have. "They're dead," he said easily, without drama or reprimand. "And this is my real age, remember? I was younger before so I could go to Hogwarts."

"I'm sorry," Kylie said mechanically, as if she knew it was customary to express sympathy for dead parents but wasn't sure why. "How did you get younger?"

"It's a special skill. Not many people can do it, but the group I work for taught me how."

"Oh." A short pause, then a deep breath. "I don't think you're a wizard."

He was surprised to see her being so straightforward, but it was a good sign. He had never wanted to be feared by her, and if she could put questions to him directly then it was hopefully an indication that she had found a better basis of comfort at Grimmauld Place and with him. He left the window to sit next to her on the couch, where she was looking shocked by her own audacity. She flinched when he met her gaze.

"I'm not. I'm a Kharadjai. We're like… a different kind of Muggle," he tried to explain. "We don't have magic, but we can do other things. And we like technology."

"Like guns?"

"Like guns," he confirmed. "My government sent me here because Harry needs help. And I was trained to help people like him."

"But they didn't train you in America," Kylie ventured.

"No. I've been to America, but I'm not from anywhere you've ever heard of. It's very far from here, in a sense."

She crossed her arms and looked away. "You don't have to make it so simple for me. I'm not a dumb little kid," she stated with a note of tween petulance so unexpected from her that she might as well have screamed it.

Scott grinned at her. "Okay, sassy-pants. I'm a specialised soldier in an inter-universal task force that's assigned to intercede in universes with major problems by assisting those closest to the events. As an integrationist, I have been trained to become a part of their lives in order to maintain maximum efficiency in my intervention while still being invisible, or at least inexplicable, to outside observers. That's why I was at Hogwarts, that's why I'm still here now. I go where Harry goes, I do whatever I can to assist him."

Kylie took a few moments to absorb that. Then she asked the question that she had really wanted to. "…Why did you help me?"

That was much easier to answer. "Because you're my friend. You asked for my help and I wasn't going to leave you there."

"Why did the others come?" she almost whispered.

"They weren't going to leave you there, either."

A tear rolled down Kylie's pale cheek. She stood, wiped it away, and hurried from the room.

Scott followed her as far as the doorway. ""When you want to talk again you can always find me!" he called after her.

Kylie was solitary by nature (and by nurture, as the case seemed to be). She would need some time to work things through, and then she would be back with more questions.

Though, if they were about the future, then Scott was going to run out of answers.


Author's Note

The POV spread for this chapter was Harry-Hermione-Scott, which is a decent trip through the eyes of my main expositioners. It also gives readers a 2:1 canon to OC ratio, which is probably about right as far as what my usual readers prefer. I know a lot of you have said you like the original characters, but would you have read if every chapter was from Scott's POV? Probably not.

Look at the POV progression for the first six chapters of That Terrifying Momentum:

1: Harry — 2: Scott — 3: Scott — 4: Scott — 5: Dumbledore/Scott/Dumbledore — 6: Lila

The gift of such hindsight really illustrates the huge mistake I made with those opening chapters. It isn't until after The Best Kinds of Monsters that the narrative begins cutting between all the canon characters with regularity. I won't even try to guess how many readers I lost between the Nothing Important Happened Today and Remember October, November? People who might have otherwise given Scott a chance were likely repelled by his weird, shape-centric POV.

At the time, my reasoning was that those beginning segments covered events that happened more or less exactly the same as they did in the book and by switching to Scott I avoided having to plagiarize. Obviously, I should have tried a little harder. Few people want to sit through five chapters in the POV of strange new, possibly Mary-Sue characters and Dumbledore.

Now look at the POV spread for the first six chapters of Vis Insita:

1: Harry — 2: Harry/Neville/Harry — 3: Scott/Hermione/Harry — 4: Harry/Hermione/Scott — 5: Hermione/Lila/Scott/Harry — 6: Ron/Harry

At some point I must have learned my lesson. The chapter I'm currently writing is Remus/Ginny/Harry, bringing the total used POVs in both stories to twelve. I suppose that might be excessive but it's kind of an integral part of my writing style, which, while not necessarily good, is at least recognizably mine. So I've got that going for me. Now I just need anything else.