18

Apology Not Fucking Accepted


"Two threads are side by side; sharing
an anchor, they are analogous. Observation
will be required to determine if they are
Component, Solidary or Symbiotic.
Difficulties may be encountered in
the absence of frequent traffic or
proximity.
Lacking constant broadcast,
there is no immediate delineation
without simultaneous traffic.
"

—Thomas Spencer, Collected Articles (Fourth Edition)


Harry woke up at an indeterminate time after midnight. It was too dark to see his watch, and he knew he had left the door open a bit when he'd come back from the loo. That left him rolling out of bed sometime before sunrise.

He was thirsty, mostly. He yawned as he descended the steps with his lit wand held out before him. The pale light cast leaping shadows from the banister, flitting across the walls, and he was struck by the sudden memory of headlights projecting the same dark, scrolling shapes from his window at the Dursleys', when it had been barred. Thanks to Sophie's cleaning efforts the sight was a bit less threatening than it would have been in the past. The décor remained oppressive, but at least it didn't look abandoned any more.

Near the bottom of the steps he could see the warm glow of lamplight shining from the kitchen. He extinguished his wand and descended into the light, wondering who else was up and about.

Scott was rummaging through the cupboards, digging about the food and making quite a racket with the bags of crisps he was pulling out. He was barefoot and dressed in a pair of boxers and a t-shirt that looked like it might have been white at some point but had since turned grey. Despite such a state of undress, his M14 rifle was slung across his back.

He quickly looked around when Harry entered the room, only to turn away, incurious, when he saw who it was. "Hey, have you seen my nacho chips?" he asked with his head back in the cupboard.

Harry had not expected to find Scott. The sight of him sent Harry's anger leaping in his chest, tensing his muscles and curling his fingers. He tried to tamp it down. "What are you doing?"

"I'm starving, man. Got the munchies, need some calories to burn."

"I think Ginny ate your crisps," Harry said with a certain amount of satisfaction.

"Aww, what?" Scott dropped his forehead against the cupboard bottom with a thump. "Why would she do that? No, wait. It's because nacho chips are awesome."

Harry watched in silence as Scott continued to rummage through the cupboard, perhaps clinging to the vain hope that Ginny hadn't eaten the crisps. Harry needed to confront Scott and he almost didn't know where to start. The Kharadjai had been out of action for long enough that the grievances had seemed to compile, long enough that Harry had discovered an entirely new one that almost overrode the others. If it was the truth. Some part of him wanted to give Scott the benefit of the doubt, but it was difficult to do so when Scott's history of omission, even more than the evidence, was so damning.

They had, after all, just survived a mission in which Scott had directly lied to all of his Primes. Not the best way to maintain trust. Harry was still deeply unhappy at being cut out of the battle, but at least he could understand Scott's reasoning, even if he didn't agree with it. But the mental link with Voldemort? If Scott had truly been blocking it, without ever saying a word, then Harry just couldn't abide that. God only knew what vital information might have been lost through such an action.

"Sit down," Harry said, his acidic anger coursing with his thoughts.

Scott withdrew his head from the cupboard. "What?"

"Sit down. I want to talk to you."

Scott's mouth twitched as if he was going to smile, but when his gaze met Harry's, his mouth flattened and his eyes narrowed. "About what?"

"What do you think? Take a wild guess," Harry said harshly.

Scott dropped the tin he was holding and raised a questioning eyebrow. "Are you still mad about the radio thing?"

As a matter of fact, Harry was, but that wasn't the present issue. He pointed at his scar. "About this."

Scott's other eyebrow shot up. "Okay. Not something we've really talked about before, but…"

"How long have you been blocking Vol—"

"Harry."

"—Riddle from my mind?" Harry said angrily.

"How long have I what?"

"Been blocking Riddle! Through the scar!" Harry shouted, enraged by Scott's dedication to playing dumb. "Do you have any idea what you've done, do you have any fucking ideaat all? We might have found them all by now, we might have saved more—"

"Harry, if you don't start making sense—"

"You'll what?! What?!" Harry snarled. "Lie to me some more? Cut me out of the fight? Muck about with my FUCKING head?!"

"Sure, I'll start with this fork! C'mere, maybe a fork lobotomy will calm your ass down—"

"Just tell me!"

"Tell. You. WHAT?"

"THE TRUTH!" Harry bellowed.

"Time OUT!" Scott yelled, making a gesture that formed a 'T'. "I feel like we've done this before. Let's try something different: fuckin' tell me what you want."

It took every ounce of willpower Harry had, but he reigned in his fury. "This. This is my curse scar, I got it from the Killing Curse," he said through gritted teeth as he pointed again at his scar.

Scott crossed his arms and nodded. "I know."

"It gives me a mental connection with Riddle, and I can see through his eyes when he broadcasts, which is how I saw Mr Weasley get bitten and was tricked into going to the Department." Harry's voice was already rising again.

"I know."

"Then do you also know why it so happens to be that I haven't had a single vision since you decided to take over my life?" Harry seethed.

Scott just stared at him. "What are you suggesting?"

Harry looked him right in the eye, searching Scott's face for even the smallest sign of falsehood. "Have you been blocking Riddle from my mind?"

Scott's face contorted in scornful disbelief. "No, I haven't. I don't even know what that would look like, a thread like that would have been…" He froze.

Watching the realisation come into Scott's eyes was all the confirmation Harry needed. "You cunt. You absolute, sodding cunt," he said, his voice shaking with rage. "Have you ever been my friend at all? Why couldn't you just fucking stay gone! Or better yet, actually done your fucking job, because we would all rather have Dumbledore, anyway!"

"Go fuck yourself, I don't need this."

"You don't even get it, do you? You think you're right, you always think you're right, you're NEVER wrong! We might have had the Horcruxes already, we could be done, but no — you had to go fucking with everything, always, thinking you know what you're doing when you know nothing at ALL. How much time did we waste because of you? How many people are DEAD now because I DIDN'T KNOW IT WAS HAPPENING?!"

"How many of us are alive now because you didn't run head-first into a trap? Or did you have another godfather to spare?" Scott said in a tone like ice.

If Harry could have found the presence of mind, he'd have throttled the life out of Scott right then and there. He had to leave; he couldn't look at Scott for a second longer. He turned and staggered up the stairs, brushing through the stunned cluster of his friends that he hadn't even noticed gathering behind him.

"Harry, I'm sorry," Scott called after him.

Harry didn't even spare him a glance.


When Harry fled back upstairs, Ron and Ginny followed him. Hermione stayed where she was, meeting Sophie's eyes. They reached a silent agreement, and Sophie put her arms around Kylie's shoulders and led the girl back towards her room. In the past, Hermione would have been the first to follow Harry and attempt to comfort him. But she had been supplanted in that role by Ginny, which hadn't always been easy to accept: Hermione missed the way she used to relate to Harry and Ron. Growing up meant finding significant others, and a gradual changing of their group dynamic that she sometimes resented.

But that was just life, wasn't it? And now she had stayed behind to confront Scott Kharan, the biggest change of all. She went down into the kitchen with a burning desire to find out why on earth she had been awoken by a shouting match.

Scott watched her approach with a look of resignation. "Go ahead," he said dully.

"Go ahead and what?" she questioned, halting in front of him.

"Slap me. Or punch me, you know how to do that now. You heard what I said."

"I did. I also heard what Harry said," Hermione said shortly. "I missed the beginning of the argument, so I'm not sure at what point you both agreed to say the most horrible things you could think of."

"It came about very naturally."

"Oh, did it? Good, that's ever so reassuring, I should hate to think you forced that kind of behaviour," she said blisteringly.

Scott sighed. "What do you want? He came in here and just fucking lost it, was I supposed to stand there and take it?"

"Couldn't you? You're purportedly such a professional, you could have just said nothing."

"I can't," Scott said, scrubbing at his face with his palms. "We're not even supposed to do that, you know."

Hermione felt the pang of excitement that always ran through her when Scott was on the cusp of actually revealing something. "I don't."

"It has to do with how we relate to Primes. You guys are my friends, for real. Faking that would just be hobbling myself. And when someone, a friend, comes at you like Harry just did, the worst thing you can do is not react. It's like… If you don't engage them at all, if you act like you don't even care enough to get angry back… That's just worse." He dropped his hands. "Look, I could suppress all my emotions, I could act like I'm in combat twenty-four-seven, but the point of all this is, I'm an integrationist. I integrate with you, I become your friend, you see me as I am. I don't have to be emotionless."

Hermione was about to protest and point out his long history of omission and obfuscation. Then it occurred to her that, although Scott often hid the facts, he didn't hide his personality. She didn't know much about the Kharadjai, or his mission, or even some of the things he had done for Harry's sake, but she did know a great deal about Scott as a person. He was sparing with his secrets, but he wasn't playing a character. He was Scott — humorous, dangerous, difficult Scott.

"Why not put on an act?" she said. "Why not give your integration a boost by telling us exactly what we want to hear, or being extra accommodating and friendly? Not that I want that from you, mind," she added quickly.

"Because you can lie to a person, but you can't lie to the shape. Building real threads means making real relations. Our thread," he motioned between the two of them, "is as much a reflection of how I feel about you as it is how you feel about me."

She felt herself soften towards him, despite what he had said to Harry. "That's… touching, actually, in a very strange way."

"It was always my intention to touch you."

His innuendo was too unenthusiastic to be offensive. "You'll have to try much harder than that to distract me. Now what brought all this about?"

"An oversight."

"All right. Yours, I presume?"

"Yes."

She gave him a few seconds to go on. When he continued to look blankly back at her, her mouth thinned. "Scott, you can tell me what you did now, or I can go ask Harry and get nothing but his point of view."

"You're all going to be on his side anyway."

"And whose fault is that?" Hermione said sharply. "I am trying to be impartial and you are not, in any way, making it easy!"

Scott crossed his arms and leaned back against the kitchen stove. Hermione didn't know if he was formulating an answer or debating whether to answer at all. She scraped together some modicum of patience, and waited.

"It was about his scar," Scott said. "He came in, probably already pissed off about the Hollow, and asked me how long I'd been blocking Riddle's connection."

Hermione gasped. "His Legilimency?"

"Or something. I'm not clear on the details."

Harry's curse scar — his involuntary connection to Voldemort's mind. Harry's lack of Occlumency skill had been a serious point of contention between him and Hermione in the past, and it was only in the last year or so when Voldemort's mental invasions had ceased that she had largely let the subject go. Several times in the sixth year she had asked Harry if his scar was hurting, or if he'd been having visions, if he looked especially tired in the morning. He'd always replied to the negative, and while she had suspected he might not be entirely truthful, that was only in regards to the pain. He disliked any focus on his physical weaknesses. If he'd had any actual visions, he would surely have reacted to the information. Hermione would have been told.

She'd given it a bit of thought, and assumed that Voldemort had taken care to block Harry more thoroughly than ever before. It made sense: the battle at the Department of Mysteries had been devastating for Harry, with the loss of Sirius, but it had also been a huge defeat for Voldemort. The Dark Lord must have decided that the curse link was simply too dangerous to allow, despite its possible uses.

Now Scott was offering an alternative scenario, one involving a breach of trust that Harry would take very, very badly.

Hermione needed a moment to sort out her thoughts. If Scott had actually prevented Voldemort from broadcasting to Harry's mind, that was good, and she approved. She knew that Harry, in an almost disturbing way, liked the link as much as he feared it — it offered tantalising glimpses into the operations of the enemy, a first-hand window into Voldemort's plans. But Hermione had never believed that was worth the risk to Harry's mind. Had he learned nothing from his possession? Scott had done him a favour, removing such a vulnerability.

Unfortunately, it sounded as if Scott had gifted that favour in the worst possible way. Tampering with Harry's mind and saying nothing was a horrible lie of omission.

Hermione worried at her lower lip, not sure how to process the situation. "…I don't know how what you've done can be so good and so awful at the same time."

"If it helps you split the difference, it was completely unintentional."

That put things in a different light. "How can that be?"

Scott sighed and lifted his hands. "I need time. I'm trying to remember things and I don't know exactly how this happened. I have one incident in mind, but that's not enough to account for… It should have come back, especially with effort on the other end, which means it was more than… once, or…" He stared at an undefined spot somewhere to Hermione's left, eyes narrowed in deep thought.

"Can you tell me anything? Explain how you didn't mean to do it and I'll try to talk to Harry," Hermione offered.

Scott shook his head. "I have, like, the smallest piece of the puzzle right now. It doesn't make sense."

"Try," she persisted.

Scott huffed out a quick breath and bounced on his heels. "I think it started with the Trace. Harry had it all last year and I was watching it off and on, ever since I caught it that first day at the playground. But I couldn't anticipate it unless I knew he was casting, and it was slow enough to catch but not consistent, especially at the school where I think it would get swallowed by the wards. Or maybe there was something else about it, where it would be interrupted in an area deemed… I don't know, I don't know yet, but if Riddle sent something down the pipe and I chopped at it without knowing there were two threads on top of whatever else…" He frowned and rattled off, as if from a textbook, "'Lacking constant broadcast there is no immediate delineation without simultaneous traffic'. That's Spencerian Shaperate 101."

It took Hermione a moment to sift through his rambling. "So, you believe that you were attempting to interrupt the Trace on Harry, and prevented a vision from Riddle instead?"

"That's my first, off-the-top-of-my-head theory, yes. Because I distinctly remember severing what I thought was a Trace thread when I was coming back to bed from a monster late night crap. I remember it so well because I felt five pounds lighter."

Hermione wrinkled her nose in disgust but refused to comment on Scott's bowel movements. "But why would you be worried about the Trace at Hogwarts? We were allowed to do magic there, Harry's Trace should have been inactive."

"It wasn't. Not always."

"That's very odd, then, because it's not as if he ever received any warnings…" Hermione mused.

"Not just him, though. I blocked your Trace, and Ron's, and Neville's, and even Ginny and Luna's a couple of times. Those threads kept going off, and I thought the Ministry was tracking your spells or something. Finally, I just figured they weren't going any further than the wards."

"Why didn't you say something?" she said, exasperated.

He raised his arms in aggravation. "Because I thought I was wrong! There wasn't any point, it was all working as intended, no one was getting into trouble and you all seemed just fine with your Trace. So, then, I just assumed I was wasting my time. There's a lot of shape things I've done that I didn't go over with you, Hermione. You wouldn't have known what I was talking about anyway."

"Is that what you were doing when you wandered off all the time? Fiddling with the wards or whatever other magic caught your eye?"

"Sometimes, yeah."

She sighed. Down in the kitchen in the dead of night was not the proper time to see if Scott would divulge more details. And, as much as she hated to admit it, he was probably correct about her level of understanding. The shape was entirely beyond her experiences. "I see. But if you gave up interrupting the Trace, or at least what you thought was the Trace, then why hasn't Harry's scar been acting up again?"

"That's the part I don't understand."

"Any ideas you can share?" she said hopefully.

"Like I said, I need some time."

"Then you can use the time it will take for Harry to calm down. I'll go speak with him and let him know, once I have the chance. At least you actually apologised; I am impressed," she said wryly.

"And it worked so well, too."

"Let him sleep on it." She turned to go and then stopped, looking back at him. "Oh, and if I ever hear the two of you say things like that to each other again, I'll jinx you both and you can sort it out as slugs!"

Scott's face lit up with interest. "What kind of slugs? What if my preference is to be a snail?"

She ignored him, climbing back up the steps into the dark upper reaches of Grimmauld. She went straight to her room instead of Harry's. She didn't have to worry about him being alone, he was with Ginny, and by the time morning came around he would be ready to hear Scott's side of things. Or maybe not, but regardless, Hermione wanted more sleep.

Ron was there on the bed, staring up at the ceiling with his arms folded behind his head. He sat up when she walked in. "You all right?"

"I'm fine, he wasn't hostile," she reported. "A bit reticent, but not hostile. Harry and Ginny?"

"Asleep, I think. Harry didn't want to talk about it. What happened?"

"Harry jumped to conclusions, it seems. Though it's hard to blame him; what he thought had happened certainly sounds like something Scott would do."

"Did he?"

"Sort of." She explained what Scott had told her, outlining the uncertainties. "So all we really know is that Scott might have tampered with Harry's curse link instead of the Trace."

Ron sighed and flopped back down. "Damn, I hate it when they fight. We just get caught in the ruddy middle."

"Now we know how Harry felt for all those years," Hermione said ruefully.

"Oh, brilliant: guilt. That's just what I need."

"Consider it a sense of perspective. Or at least empathy." She shed the outfit that had been hastily assembled when the shouting below had awoken her and climbed back into bed. "Hopefully Harry will have cooled off by morning and we can have a proper discussion."

Ron appeared sceptical. "I don't know, Hermione," he said, rolling over to drape a warm arm around her. "Ginny's usually good for that, but maybe not when Scott's the problem…"


Ginny could barely believe what she was doing, even as she reached up and knocked on Scott's door.

When Harry had returned to bed she had been close behind, doing her best to hold back the torrent of questions ricochetting around her mind. She was absolutely furious on his behalf, seeing red, Scott's brutal comment echoing in memory. But Harry hadn't wanted to talk about it, shrugging off her tentative questions and sitting silently while she raged against Scott. Harry's refusal to join in sapped most of the energy out of her reaction. By the time he'd fallen asleep, she had lost the momentum of her anger and was left with worry.

It was also then that she reluctantly remembered the way she had gasped when Harry had all but outright stated he wished Scott had remained dead.

But what had Scott said before that? Ginny thought about his fight with Hermione and all the other occasions he had been such a complete arsehole. It didn't matter how Scott had been provoked — he had no right to speak to Harry that way. If there were sides to be taken in a fight between friends, she knew whose side she was on. Scott was not deserving of her sympathy.

The problem was, as she sat next to Harry's dozing form, she found herself wondering if her relationship with him was affecting her judgement. She had never wanted to be the kind of girlfriend who said yes to everything, who was blindly supportive and just blind in general. She'd known girls like that at Hogwarts, who dated boys that they thought could do no wrong. And they made fools of themselves, over and over, and learned nothing. Ginny didn't see herself that way. She called Harry on his shite all the time; it was her independence, her fire that had gained his attention to begin with. He didn't want her to be a passive partner. She was naturally inclined to oblige, letting him know exactly when he was in the wrong.

Her heart was irrevocably loyal to Harry and that wouldn't change. It hadn't changed, even when she had spent time trying to change it with different boys. She wanted to take his side. But her head was telling her that Harry's fight with Scott seemed far from one-sided. Or at least the part of it she had witnessed.

So that was how she ended up knocking on Scott's door, ready to give him a piece of her mind and maybe,just maybe, tolerate his excuses long enough to hear his version of things.

Scott opened the door with a short enough delay that he must not have been asleep. "Yes?" he said wearily.

Ginny's jaw flexed furiously as she tried to boil her indignation down into the proper words. "You're a massive wanker, you know that?" she said finally, unable to formulate anything more eloquent.

"Is that all?" He started to close the door.

"I'm not finished!" She slapped her palm against the entryway.

"I'm busy, Ginny," he said shortly. "You're mad at me, I get it."

"No, you're mad if you think you can say something like that to Harry and get away with it!" she said.

"Nice use of grammatical context. Now, I'm busy."

"I don't care." She pushed passed him and entered the room. Halting by the bed, she spun around to face him and crossed her arms.

Scott pressed his face into his hands and ran them over his head; he made an odd sort of groaning chuckle in tandem with the gesture, a sound more related to disbelief than humour. His straw-coloured hair had grown out to the point that it almost fell past his eyebrows, and when he lowered his hands it began slowly settling downwards from where he had pushed it up, as if it were reflecting his mood. "Gin," he said with a tight, uneven smile, "this may not be the time to assert yourself."

Was that supposed to be threatening? Perhaps having Harry Fucking Potter as her boyfriend had made her somewhat blasé when it came to smouldering, dangerous-type blokes, but Ginny had never found Scott intimidating. Granted, that had been back at Hogwarts when he was a teen and didn't loom over her quite so much as he did now, with his musculature, razor-sharp grey gaze and endless Muggle implements of murder. But she remained unafraid, because she knew he would never hurt her. Oh, sure, he'd dismember a room full of Death Eaters with terrifying efficiency if he had to, but he'd never lift a finger against his Primes. She had his number.

So he could stand there and look at her with the same intense, slightly unhinged glare that he'd used on certain Slytherins, but she really didn't care. She could see the cracks in the façade — the slight softness at the edges of his eyes, and the way his shoulders slumped. She knew he was trying to intimidate her. When he was staring down a Slytherin in the hallways, he didn't have to try. An air of imminent violence would come over him, and he just was. That air was conspicuously absent.

Also, he was wearing nothing but an old t-shirt and boxers which displayed his hairy legs and rather knobbly knees. So that was really working against him.

"I think it's a perfect time to assert myself," she said.

His shoulders slumped a bit more. "So you want to waste your breath yelling at me?"

"I want an explanation."

He must have decided to drop his menacing act, because a flicker of surprise crossed his face. "Really."

She didn't like his dubious tone. "What? Is Hermione the only one around here who gets answers from you? The rest of us aren't allowed?"

"I already talked to her, and I think you'd rather hear what I had to say from her, not me."

"That would make your life easier, I'll bet. I'm already here, though, so too bad."

"It would make my life easier if I picked you up and tossed you out of here," Scott said equably.

He could, but she didn't think he would. "Harry wouldn't care for that," she warned.

"Hiding behind your boyfriend's skirts?"

"Does it look like I'm bloody hiding?"

"No, not you," Scott said with a sort of tired amusement, and then he began to explain.

Ginny didn't fully understand what Scott was saying; she'd been privileged to only a fraction of whatever previous insights into the shape he had offered. But she knew that even Hermione was quickly lost when he explored the subject. It didn't help that he seemed to take so much of it for granted and spoke as if he expected them all to be familiar by matter of course. Still, she understood enough to know that Scott had definitely made some sort of mistake, but Harry wasn't blameless.

And from Ginny's perspective, the only mistake Scott had made was neglecting to mention anything to Harry. Because blocking the curse-link wasn't a problem — it was an utter relief.

"So you didn't know that you did that to him," she said, making sure.

"I have mixed feelings about blocking the link at all, on purpose or not. It sounds useful. I need to know more."

Ginny's eyes widened. "It's dangerous for him!" she hissed. "Do you want him to get possessed? No, don't answer that. I'm hacked off with you enough as it is. You should have told him that you'd blocked Tom out, maybe you didn't know, but don't you ever let Tom back into his head if you can stop it!"

She fought back the tendrils of panic that wrapped themselves around her heart, bringing memories of the Diary. The thought of Riddle having access to Harry's head was terrifying, she couldn't breathe. She couldn't lose him. Not like that. And Harry was brave enough, mad enough, to welcome Riddle's connection if he thought it would help the mission. She couldn't let that happen. She knew how easy it was to lose pieces of yourself that way. The Dark could be comforting, and seduced as easily as it frightened.

Scott reacted to her vehemence by looking thoughtful. "Is this curse-link that much of a threat?"

"Don't ever let Tom into Harry's head," she said, making her stance absolutely clear.

"Even if Harry hates me for it?"

"I'll talk to him if I have to," she pledged.

The fact that Ginny would actually intercede with Harry on Scott's behalf seemed to affect Scott more than anything else had. "Is this because of the Diary thing?"

"This isn't about me," she said quickly. She didn't want to talk about the Diary with Scott. "You need to protect Harry, you said you would."

Scott nodded. "And I will, but it sounds like he isn't going to want me to stop this particular thread."

"Then tell him you aren't!" she said urgently, not stopping to think about it.

"…But, that's why he was screaming at me in the first place."

Ginny shook her head in frustration. Scott didn't get it, he didn't understand her desperate, overriding fear of losing Harry to Tom's influence. She knew what it was like, she carried the scars, and the thought of Harry gradually succumbing to the Dark that forced its way into his mind was horrifying to the point that she would do anything to avoid it. Harry would gladly go into Chosen One-mode and throw away his sanity if it meant satisfying his martyr complex, but she was not going to let that happen.

Scott didn't seem to grasp that he was the cure. He had the power to keep Harry safe from the curse-link and the self-sacrificing impulse to use it. Ginny had confronted Scott with the intention of giving him a good telling off for making such an inappropriate comment about Sirius, but she was willing to let even that go if Scott would just protect Harry's mind.

She tried to think of a solid argument that would appeal to Scott's tactical considerations, if he wasn't taking Harry's health seriously. "Look, what… What about the Fidelius? Harry's a Secret Keeper; what if Tom got into his head and found us here?"

Scott appeared contemplative. "It was my impression that the location has to be given willingly… On the other hand, without understanding exactly how Harry's thread works, we can't say for certain that Riddle couldn't grab it… So, you have a point."

"Right," she said, relieved. If Scott agreed with her reasoning, then it was probably logical enough to convince Hermione and maybe Ron. Ginny wanted them on her side if she had to confront Harry.

Not that she wanted to confront Harry, or do anything to hurt him if she could help it. But he was off his nut if he thought she was going to stand idly by while he risked his sanity and his soul for unlikely benefits.

"Strange night," Scott dryly remarked. "You came in here to pick a fight and end up asking for my help."

He'd better not be gloating. "I want you to help Harry."

"What do you think I've been doing?"

"Lying to him and throwing Sirius in his face," Ginny said, making it clear to Scott that he had not been completely absolved.

Scott stepped around her and toppled into his bed. "All right. Go away, I'm sleeping, zzzzzzzzz…"

She had made her point, so she started to leave. "Just remember what I said, this is really important," she told him, hoping he had been taking her seriously.

"Well," he said, his voice a bit muffled by a pillow, "if anyone knows what they're talking about in this instance, it would be you."

Harry had once conceded the same thing. Ginny had always hated the residual stains that came from having touched Voldemort's mind, but if that experience was enough to make Harry listen to her again, then perhaps it had all been worth it. It was hard to find an upside to the Chamber. She would take what she could get.

Hermione was outside in the hallway, leaning nervously against the wall.

Ginny frowned at her. "Have you been eavesdropping?"

The other older girl shook her head. "No! I had to use the loo, and then I heard you on the stairs and thought you were going to confront Scott… So I followed, just in case things got out of hand."

So she had been eavesdropping. "You thought we would try to kill each other?" Ginny said, a bit affronted at the idea. She had traded words with Scott on more than one occasion, but never spells.

"You can't blame me for thinking you two need a chaperone!" Hermione said defensively.

"Us? You and Scott fight more than anybody!"

"It's not the same. We argue in a more academic parlance," Hermione said loftily.

"Bit swotty tonight, are you?"

Hermione ignored that comment with a disdainful air. "So? What did he say?"

"Some rubbish about how it was all an accident. He made it sound good, but who knows?"

Hermione sighed. "We can't prove it one way or the other, but it was my feeling that he was being honest."

Ginny wasn't entirely sure she wanted to admit it, but she said, "I do care about whether he was lying to Harry, I really do. But… I don't think that matters as much as whether he can stop Tom from getting to Harry."

Hermione brightened. "Exactly! Harry never could be bothered to learn Occlumency properly, and this is just the solution we needed. I should have thought of it earlier, really."

"Harry won't see it that way."

Hermione bit her lip, hesitating. "…We will have to be very careful, I think," she said slowly. "He could easily see us siding with Scott as a betrayal."

Ginny felt a stab of irritation. "Bollocks, why should we have to tiptoe around him just because he wants to be an unreasonable git?"

"I'm just saying how he might feel. He thinks that scar is his chance to turn things around, and he won't care if that puts him at risk. You know what he's like."

"We aren't siding with Scott; he was wrong not to tell Harry and I still can't believe what he said earlier—"

"He wasn't exactly unprovoked…"

"—As if he has any right to say that," Ginny continued, disregarding Hermione's tentative defence of Scott. "We're using him to fix a problem."

"Harry doesn't see it as a problem. We're going to have to work to convince him. You can be… Well, convincing in ways I can't…" Hermione said delicately.

Ginny's mouth dropped open. "Are you suggesting I bring this up while my tits are in his face?"

Hermione blushed, but said, "If you think that would help."

"Hermione Granger, you are becoming a devious woman. I like it." Ginny's grin faded a bit and she added, "Just don't tell me if you've done the same with my brother."

"I haven't any intention of doing so. Telling you, that is. I might yet put Ron's face—"

"Stop!"

"HEY! SOME OF US ARE TRYING TO SLEEP!" Scott thundered from behind his door.

"Oh, that's rich. He's probably been listening to every word, not sleeping," Hermione said, glaring at the shut door. "Shall we forget who woke everyone in the first place?" she said, raising her voice.

Scott did not reply.

Hermione rolled her eyes. "If only he'd stay quiet. Well, I don't know about you but I'm off to bed. See you in the morning, or whenever you decide to pry yourself off of Harry."

Back in the bedroom, Harry was sound asleep. Ginny was glad, since he needed more rest and she wouldn't have to explain where she'd been. Looking at his face, lax and peaceful in sleep in a way it never had been in waking, she felt a reluctance come over her. Did she really have to side with Scott? Harry didn't need his girlfriend against him when the world was. And even though it was for his own good, he'd had more than enough of people doing things for his own good. The last thing she wanted was to work against him, not when he needed her support so badly.

But equally urgent was her deep overriding terror for the state of his mind. He had to see what a terrible idea going into Tom's head was. He had to. She didn't know what she would do if he wouldn't see reason. She would debate with him, plead with him, scream at him… She would cry, even though she knew he didn't like that. Whatever it took to save him from himself.

She crawled onto the bed next to him and placed an arm around his torso, resting her cheek on his shoulder. If she pressed her ear close enough she could hear his heart beat; it was that sound which she followed into sleep.


Harry awoke feeling more tired than he had when he'd gone to sleep. It took a moment for him to remember why.

Part of it could be attributed to the tumultuous night, but another part was a simple unwillingness to confront the day. He didn't want to get out of bed, because getting out of bed meant having to talk. And having to talk meant having to face what had happened, and, more specifically, what he had said.

He could recall every word, and the echoes of his furious vituperations washed over him in a hot wave of shame.

He hadn't meant to say those things to Scott. Once again, his anger had driven him to lash out at his friends without giving them an opening to share their side of things. Maybe Scott had been deserving of such rage (though whether he had deserved Harry's more pointed comments was another issue), but in the clear light of the morning Harry could process the argument with a clarity that had been lacking in the dark of the night. Scott had never admitted guilt, and he had never been given the chance to explain. What that meant, exactly, remained to be seen. But Harry knew he had let his fury and frustration get the better of him.

Scott's verbal reprisal had been so devastating because it had been true. Harry had got Sirius killed. He had rushed headlong into a trap. It hurt to have it thrown back in his face, but staying angry about it would be a kind of hypocrisy, he thought. Perhaps the whole sorry adventure had served to illustrate what a poor excuse for a leader Harry was; a decidedly second-rate 'Chosen One'. Did Scott hold Harry in contempt? It had certainly sounded like it. Maybe Harry had violated the soldier's creed that Scott adhered to. He was a fuck-up, a liability. A danger to his own comrades.

So he was suffused with guilt, a leaden weight in his chest. But there was still enough anger flickering in the hollow around his heart for him to discount an apology. Scott hadn't outright said that he'd blocked the curse-link; but he hadn't continued to deny it, either.

Scott would get a chance to do both, once Harry could find it in himself to roll out of his sheets.

A warm weight settled on the bed next to him, and the subtle floral fragrance let him know it was Ginny without having to open his eyes. "Harry? Are you awake?" she said quietly.

That was the question. His body said no. His brain knew better, but wanted to say no. "…Yeah."

She placed a tentative hand on his shoulder. "How are you feeling?"

"Tired," he said truthfully.

"Still in a strop?"

Her tone was gentle, but the question was direct enough. Harry grimaced into his pillow. "Not at the moment."

"Good. I've got some things to tell you, before you have to see anyone else," she said.

That was interesting enough to make him roll over and look at her. "What do you mean?"

She seemed to be having trouble meeting his eyes. "I talked to Scott last night, after you were asleep."

He understood: she was reluctant to look at him because she was afraid he was going to explode after she admitted to speaking with the 'enemy'. But Harry wasn't angry. He was just knackered. Although, he had to admit it was surprising that Ginny approached Scott for anything less than a duel after what Scott had said about Sirius.

"You just talked?" he asked, wondering how that could have happened without violence.

"I didn't try to kill him, if that's what you're asking," she said with a bit of an edge, obviously not happy with Harry's automatic assessment of her temperament.

"Let me guess: he says he has nothing to do with my scar."

"He said that he did, but—"

Harry sat straight up. "That son of a b—"

"—But" Ginny stressed, pushing her hands against Harry's chest, "—that he didn't do it on purpose!"

Harry almost laughed. "Really? That's the best he can do? What kind of absolute rubbish is that?!"

"I don't know… But Hermione thought it was true."

That brought Harry up short. While there was some form of betrayal implicit in such a revelation, it was also sobering. Hermione was not easily convinced of anything, especially when Scott was involved.

Harry wasn't sure how to deal with that. "…Why?"

"It made sense. To her, anyway, it sounded like a load of nonsense to me," Ginny admitted.

"So you thought he was lying?" Harry said, gratified by her admission.

She dropped her hands from where they had still been resting on his torso. "I think… That Scott has a good reason," she said slowly, her eyes assessing Harry's face.

He couldn't believe her. "Bollocks," he said hotly. He swung his legs over the side of the bed and jumped to his feet. "Where is he? If he's so bloody convincing, he can tell me himself." Before he could move, Ginny reached out and hugged him, pulling him back down to the bed. "Gin!" he protested, though he didn't try too hard to escape her grip.

"Harry, listen to me. I know Scott's been a git, and you have every right to be angry about what happened. But don't ask him to let Tom back into your head," she pleaded.

"I'm not, I'm going into his head if I can. Think of what we could learn!" he enthused, hoping she would see the possibilities. A vision at the right moment could even end the war.

His hopes were dashed when she glared at him, jaw set. "I don't care what we could learn. I care about you. And if you think I'm going to just smile and support you while you give Tom another chance at possessing you, you're mental!"

Of course — the Diary. It all came back to the Chamber, and the Diary. Harry's heart sank a little as he considered just how utterly opposed Ginny was going to be to the curse-link. He hadn't thought about it before, but he should have.

He tried to think of a way to bring her back to his side. "It's not really the same as the Diary, he doesn't usually want me to see what he's seeing. It's like spying, not like…"

"Like a two-way connection? Like losing your energy, your mind, entire days? Like giving away parts of yourself you didn't know you wouldn't get back?" She was holding herself so tightly that the muscles of her slender neck stood out in stark relief, and her voice held a quaver that made Harry's heart ache.

He didn't know how to make his case without hurting her. "Ginny…"

"Don't," she forbade him. "Don't try to make me feel better about this."

"I'd be a rubbish boyfriend if I didn't."

"No, you'll be — well, all right, yes, but — you'll be a rubbish boyfriend when you get possessed and turn into Tom! You think I want to date the Dark Lord?"

Harry, extremely aware of Ginny's emotional state, phrased his answer very carefully. "No, of course not. But what I'm trying to say is that, right now, we really need some answers. And there are risks, yeah, but we have to take some if we're going to win."

"No, Harry! You are not going to put your sanity on the line when you don't even know if it will get you anything!"

He leaned away from her, his efforts to curb his own anger beginning to fail. "You knew this would be dangerous, Ginny! You knew what I was getting into, I told you about the Horcruxes and the Prophecy and you knew when I was leaving that I might not ever come back, and you still came with! After I told you you couldn't, remember? So don't tell me I can't take a chance!"

"I bloody well will tell you when you're being stupid!" she shot back.

He stood and towered over her, hands clenched. "This isn't your choice. It's not up for debate. It's my mission and my scar and if I want to try and use it to help us you don't get to tell me I can't!"

She jumped up after him, matching his stance. Her face was flushed with rage, but her eyes betrayed her fear for him. "Your mission? You're up your own arse, Harry!"

"I'm serious, this is too important—"

"You listen to me. You listen," she hissed, and she grabbed the sides of his face and forced him to look her directly in the eyes. "Maybe you're too much of a git to remember that we love you and we are scared to death for you, but, even ignoring that, I am making it my decision when you are putting everyone at risk with your stupidity!"

"I'm pretty sure you can handle me if Riddle takes up residence. There's only one of me," Harry scoffed.

"Oh, that's good, I'm so happy you were thinking ahead, but, and here's a thought: you are a Secret Keeper."

Harry could almost feel the bottom dropping out of his argument. "I… It probably doesn't work like that…"

"Prove it! Without killing us all!" Ginny spat. "Oh, and in case you've forgotten, the Prophecy says that only you can kill Tom. So go ahead and hand the keys to your brain over if you want to kill us all anyway!"

Harry froze, her words splashing across him like ice water. He had been so sure he had found the solution to his persistent problem of information — all he needed was for Scott to fix whatever had been broken. But he had failed to consider the risks to anyone other than himself. Harry could gamble his own health, mental and otherwise. He'd done it before and he would do it again, Ginny's wishes notwithstanding. There just wasn't any way around it.

Placing everyone else's lives and their only safe haven on the line was not a chance he was willing to take.

The fact that Ginny had presented such an insurmountable argument was infuriating. Harry had no riposte. "God! What have I missed? How many visions…"

"How many lies?" Ginny said rhetorically, reminiscent of Scott's cold words.

Harry didn't care for the reminder. "Scott still shouldn't have played with, with my… Fucking, threads, fucking whatever," he said stiffly.

"He might have said something, yeah, but it was still good," Ginny told him. "He did you a favour. And if you can't see that, then you haven't grown up as much as I'd thought."

That stung. "Not even going to pretend to take my side, Gin?"

"No, Harry, because this time you're wrong!"

She looked as if she was about to say more, and then stopped. She glanced out the door, looking at something. Harry was just about to move and see what it was when she turned back and fixed him in place with one last scorching glare; the tears in the corners of her eyes didn't detract from its power, they only made it heart-rending. Then she stormed from the room.

He was left with such a bewildering mess of emotions that he didn't know what to try and deal with first. Even his righteous anger towards Scott was no longer a surety.

A shadow fell across the floor. It was Hermione, standing silhouetted in the doorway with her arms crossed. She stepped inside and Ron followed her. "So much for feminine wiles," she muttered.

Harry blinked. "What?"

"Don't concern yourself. How much did she explain?"

"Enough to know you're against me, too," Harry said.

"I most certainly am not!" Hermione objected vociferously. "What I'm against is your foolish plan to make yourself vulnerable again. I don't know exactly what Ginny's told you, but if she hasn't already made it clear why using your link to Riddle is such a terrible, awful idea, then I will be more than happy to do so!"

Harry ignored the offer, looking past her towards Ron. "What about you, mate? Here to tell me I've cracked?"

Ron's eyes darted towards the open door; he plainly wished to be anywhere else but caught between Hermione and Harry. "I barely know what's going on, Harry."

"Come off it. You know what this is about."

Ron sighed. "It's a real chance you're talking, Harry. I know you think you can handle it, and maybe you're right, you know, but… If it goes wrong, then that's it, yeah?"

Harry was being forced to face the possibilities inherent in his decision to use the link. And not just the possibilities that had encouraged him to confront Scott in the first place. He wasn't feeling all that reasonable, but when everyone closest to him was declaring that he was risking too much, one after the other, and using damning logic in the process… He was self-aware enough in that moment to realise that much of his anger was springing from resentment. He resented the lack of blind support from his friends, he resented the logic being thrown at him, and he resented having to question his own recklessness. He'd rarely second-guessed himself in the past and it had generally worked out well enough.

It hadn't worked out too well for Sirius, though.

"So Scott mucking about in the shape… I am supposed to just let that go?" Harry said, already feeling defeated.

Hermione shook her head. "Of course not! You should demand a thorough explanation, you deserve one. Severing the link was definitely for the best and is, without reservation, an enormous relief, but he should have at least said something."

"He'd have done it anyway, even if I said no," Harry muttered.

"I really can't say what he might have done at the time. Now, yes — Ginny made a rather excellent point regarding your status as a Secret Keeper."

"Yeah, that's me. I never think of anything and I'm too bloody reckless!" Harry said loudly.

"Harry, please. I would be the first to admit that the link has some merit as a weapon, and might even tell us something vital. However," she stressed, "the risks are too great. It's as simple as that, risk versus reward. The 'rewards' are nebulous at best and the risks are extreme."

Perversely, it was more acceptable to Harry's mind to hear such an impersonal assessment of the curse-link. Otherwise he was left with the thought that perhaps his friends' desire to see him safe was interfering with their accepting that danger was inevitable and often necessary. Hermione was making it clear that the link was not logistically viable.

And as much as Harry wanted to argue, he didn't have a counterpoint besides, 'but it might work'.

"…I get it," he said finally. "I'm outvoted."

"It's for the best," Hermione said gently.

"Right," he said shortly. He was too stubborn to be totally convinced, but it was obvious he wasn't going to get what he wanted for the time being. "Now where's Scott?"

"Kitchen, I think," Ron volunteered.

"That'll do," Harry said grimly, and pushed past Hermione on his way out the door.

"Try to keep your head!" Hermione said, hurrying along behind him.

"Have I been shouting at you? I must have missed that."

"No, but you're hardly calm! Will you wait—" She caught him by the arm at the top of the steps. "Harry!"

He pulled out of her grasp. "What?" he said impatiently.

"You're going to start all over again, that's what! You're going to storm down there and start yelling and we'll be right back where we started!"

Harry leaned around her and looked at Ron. "Could you get your girlfriend off my back?"

"No, because she's right," Ron said almost apologetically. "If you don't settle things with Scott, mate, we're never going to get anything done — and we've got a fuck load to get done."

"Ron!" Hermione hissed, slapping the back of her hand against his chest.

"Oi! Whatever," Ron scoffed. "It's just a word, get over it."

"It's a word you shouldn't be saying!"

"Is this really the time to act like my mum?"

"I wouldn't have to if I weren't surrounded by rude boys that think swearing makes them sound cool!"

Harry took the distraction offered by their argument and hurried down the stairs. There was a clatter of pots and pans emanating from the kitchen, and when he walked into the room he saw Sophie on her knees in front of the cupboards, apparently in the midst of rearranging things. Kylie was helping her by stacking the various utensils in piles while Ginny sorted out the silverware. Scott was standing over them, either supervising or adding nothing to the proceedings (same difference).

"Scott," Harry said, gaining the man's attention. Scott's face lost the open look it had held while he'd been watching the girls and became unreadable. "We should talk."

"Can we keep it civil?" Scott asked, inclining his head towards Kylie.

"Time for a break!" Sophie declared before Harry could reply. She set down the kettle she had been holding and stood, steering Kylie towards the stairs. "Please try not to shout," she said quietly to Harry as she passed.

Ginny did not leave; she moved to stand just behind Harry's shoulder in silent support. Scott watched her with what looked like amusement. Harry was just grateful that she had forgiven him so quickly — though that might not last, depending on what he said next.

"So, my scar." Harry rubbed at it. "Are you going to tell me what happened?"

Scott said nothing for a moment, clearly assessing Harry's disposition. "I can tell you what I think happened."

That wasn't what Harry wanted to hear, but he said, "All right."

Scott explained that threads were not always easy to differentiate within the shape, especially if they were extant but not active. He had repeatedly blocked what he considered to be the Trace under the assumption that the Ministry might be tracking Harry through it (and the way Scott described the Trace, it actually sounded similar in working to the Taboo). But ultimately, after trial and error, Scott had discovered that the Trace was always working even though the wards around Hogwarts prevented it from going anywhere. He had ceased meddling with the tracking spell.

"The thing I still don't understand is why you haven't had any visions since then. If Riddle is broadcasting from his terminus in conjunction, even unconsciously, then I don't see why it wouldn't re-grow or resume. The Trace works in pulse traffic, so if I chopped at a signal the carrier should still be there, if damaged, which… What if there was sympathetic resonance? Damage done in echo is still cumulative if it exceeds the rate of repair through resumption…"

Scott was getting a bit technical. "Dumb it down for me, mate," Harry said.

"I don't know why you haven't seen anything from Riddle, especially now that the Trace is gone. But I'm working on it."

"All right, well… Don't try too hard," Harry grumbled. "I've been outvoted."

"Let you know they prefer you un-possessed, did they," Scott said with a smirk.

"Don't look so proud of yourself. You didn't even know what you were doing."

"No, but it seems to have worked out, at least for now. And, Ginny had a pretty good point about the Fidelius. It's in our best interests to keep your thoughts to yourself."

"But think about what we're giving up," Harry said, making one last attempt to get someone to agree with him. He pretended he didn't hear Ginny's sharp intake of breath behind him. "We've been stuck here without a single sodding idea what to do next. What if I could find out?"

"Man, if it were just me, you might have a chance at convincing me," Scott said. "God knows it's tempting. And if it worked, it would be an intelligence goldmine. But that's a huge 'if'. You're asking to put our entire operation, personnel and all, on the line for a long shot. You can't even give me a clear picture of the odds."

"…I don't usually think about that," Harry reluctantly admitted.

Scott shrugged. "And that's not a bad instinct when you're up against the wall. I don't know your combat history like Ron and Hermione, but I do know you're good on your feet and take chances when the moment comes. Thing is… this isn't one of those moments."

It was true. Many times in the past, Harry had defied the odds and taken extreme chances; retreat didn't seem to be his style. But there was a gulf between reacting in the heat of battle and planning a war. He had responsibilities, an 'operation', as Scott had put it. There were people counting on him, an entire war effort depending on the actions of the makeshift team he was now a part of.

Harry mentally pledged that, in the future, he would do a better job of remembering that.

"I guess it isn't," he said.

"Also, if I'm going to be honest… Hermione told me the curse-link was a bad idea. And when Hermione tells me something magical is a bad idea, I tend to listen," Scott said.

Harry had to smile at that. "Smart of you. I wish I had listened more, my marks would be better."

"Nobody mention this to her, all right? We'll never hear the end of it, seriously," Ginny cautioned.

"Like she doesn't know," Scott said.

Harry took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Scott… We'll keep Riddle blocked, then, but… Let me know if anything changes. Or if you change it."

Scott nodded. "Yeah, definitely. I wish I knew how it works."

"Doesn't really matter for now, looks like. That's that," Harry said, and he couldn't quite suppress the irritation that came from having to let the whole idea drop. Maturity was hard. "Let's get everyone together for supper tonight. We need to talk about Horcruxes again; we have to do something."

"Agreed. If we can't locate a military target, maybe we can put together something for reconnaissance."

Harry left the kitchen to go and get dressed (he'd never put any socks on and the stone floor was cold). Ron and Hermione's door was closed — they must have ended their argument in the usual fashion.

Ginny sat on the bed next to him while he dug a pair of socks out of his trunk. "Thank you for listening," she said warmly.

"Didn't have much choice, did I?" he said, though not with any ire. "I was wrong."

"We'll find another way. It'll all work out," she said optimistically.

Harry had never been good at optimism. "We'll see."


Author's Note:

I was amused by the comments last chapter hoping for Scott's swift return to action. He's been a tertiary presence in chapters before, but I can't remember if there's been a previous chapter in which he made no appearance at all, save for a few mentions by others. In most fanfictions, the disappearance of an OC is cause for relief. I get rid of mine for awhile and people ask after him, which is heartening.

Remus was curious about Scott and wanted to talk to him, which necessitated a few mentions, but I tried to keep it down. Any time someone talked about Scott without him being there, all I could think was, "Whenever Poochie's not onscreen, all the other characters should be asking, 'Where's Poochie?'" Which reminds me, I need to rastafy Scott by about ten percent.