The Paradigm Of Uncertainty
- Story Summary:
- Nine years after graduating from Hogwarts, Charms fellow Hermione Granger again finds herself caught up in Harry Potter's mysterious life.
HARRY POTTER AND THE PARADIGM OF UNCERTAINTY
Chapter 1: Arrivals and Departures
Hermione Granger tramped up the stone steps leading to her home, her footfalls heavy and dispirited. Her shoulder sagged under the weight of her bag, full as it was of volumes she was bringing home to read. She was still adjusting to the grueling schedule of her new job as Head Charms Fellow at the Institute of Magical Academics, the premier wizarding research facility in the world. The position was her dream job, in which she could pursue her research interests ad nauseum and practice her casting as much as she wished in an atmosphere of intellectual stimulation and challenges...and yet after only a month on the job she was almost completely exhausted. She had set herself a punishing schedule of seminars, master classes and projects and there didn't seem to be enough hours in the day to accomplish everything. She always ended up reading her journals in bed with a cup of tea...tonight she was tackling her backlog of "The Journal of the International Casting Society" and the newly-arrived "Herbological Letters." The odds were good that she'd wake up the next morning with her face planted in the pages of one of these scholarly publications.
Despite her fatigue the sight of her home brought a smile to her face. It was an imposing stone mansion covered with odd bits of sculpture and full of nooks and crannies...yet the inside was warm and inviting. It always seemed to reach towards her as she approached and welcome her with a sigh of relief that she had returned safely. Its size was impressive: fifteen bedrooms, thirteen baths, two dining rooms, porches, gazebos, indoor glassed-in gardens...one might have wondered how six wizards and witches in their mid-twenties could afford such an edifice. In truth, they'd gotten it for next to nothing. The house had been vacant for years when she and her five housemates had banded together to purchase it...its reputation had been bad. Haunted, it was said...even cursed. They'd performed all the cleansing spells they could think of and so far hadn't seen anything out of the ordinary.
She let her bag fall to the hallway floor and hung her cloak on its peg, pulling off her robes as she walked into the living room to reveal ordinary jeans and a cable-knit sweater. The living room was darkened...Hermione stopped short and gasped, one hand going to her heart at the sight of two glittering points in the dimness. She sighed in relief as she realized it was only Harry Potter, one of the five wizards and witches who shared this mammoth house with her.
"Harry! Goddess, you scared the life out of me!" she exclaimed, flopping into her favorite chair. "What are you doing sitting here alone in the dark?"
"Just listening," Harry replied, one corner of his mouth curling into a half-smile. He was sitting slumped in a deep chair-and-a-half in the corner, his head hunched into his shoulders, nearly buried by his black robes and cloak. Only his head was visible above the tumble of heavy fabric, a pale face topped with an unruly mop of black hair. Green eyes peered at her from over the tops of his rimless glasses, which had slid to the very end of his nose.
Hermione suppressed a shiver. Harry was the most famous wizard in the world and had been hailed as a hero more times than she could count...but there were moments, like now, when he could appear almost sinister. Not that you would have pegged him for the gladiating type just by looking at him. He was tall, slender and unassuming to say the least. He did nothing to call attention to himself, yet attention followed him wherever he went. He was everywhere recognized, if not for his features then for the infamous lightning-shaped scar on his forehead, a souvenir of a long-ago attack by the evil wizard Voldemort. Voldemort had killed Harry's parents when he was just a baby, and had haunted his life for years...but the dark genius was no more. Harry's most famous deed was vanquishing Voldemort on the eve of his own graduation from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry...a deed for which Hermione, among others, owed Harry her life. But she cut him no slack because of it. She'd pulled his butt out of the fire enough times to consider the score settled.
"Hermione? Do you want supper?" came another voice from the kitchen. George Weasely, another of her housemates. He and his twin brother Fred, who was currently living in Russia with their brother Bill, were two years older than she and Harry. George had been a relentless mischief-maker in school but had matured into a surprisingly responsible man who took care of the household since he worked at home, using the house's spacious backyard as his office...he was a freelance test-pilot for broom wizards.
"Yes, please!" Hermione called. "Tell me you've still got more of that soup!"
"I've already got it warmed up for you." Hermione glanced at Harry, who had turned to look out the window. Sometimes being around George was painful for both of them. In school, she and Harry had been two-thirds of an unstoppable triumvirate completed by George's younger brother Ron...but Ron was dead. Murdered by Voldemort in his sixth year at Hogwarts after being tricked into believing his friends were in danger. Harry's enmity towards Voldemort, already potent, had become an all-consuming thirst for revenge after that, to the point that Hermione feared he might lose himself in it. She understood all too well his feelings, for she had been dating Ron for almost a year at the time of his death, but the anger and grief had for a time turned Harry into someone she didn't know. Eventually his quest for retribution had almost cost him his life and the lives of several other students...an event which seemed to wake him from the months-long trance he'd fallen into. It wasn't until the end of their seventh year that he had finally gotten his chance to face Voldemort, and a good thing too. When the time came he went into the confrontation with a clear head and a firm grip on himself.
It had been nearly ten years since she and Harry, clinging helplessly to each other, had cried over Ron's body after receiving a taunting message from Voldemort telling them where they could find him... yet at unexpected times the grief resurfaced, like an unpleasant mess she kept forgetting to clean up. George never talked about it, but the youngest Weasely, Ginny, had once told Hermione that none of her brothers had ever been quite the same after Ron's death. She could well believe it. Their final year at Hogwarts had been a hollow, trying time. Ron's absence coupled with Harry's complete personality transplant had made the fall term a living, breathing hell.
Hermione shook her head to rid it of these unpleasant memories. Things were more stable now. Everyone in the house had good jobs and excellent prospects. Their house was remarkably free of squabbles and conflict...in fact, Hermione often wondered if Harry hadn't slipped in a Congeniality Charm when she wasn't looking, it seemed the only way six such different people could get along so peaceably. Two of their other roommates, Cho Chang and Justin Finch-Fletchley, were also classmates of theirs from Hogwarts. Cho, who had dated Harry for almost two years while they'd been in school, was often absent for long periods...she was a professional Quidditch player, a Chaser for the Stratford Minotaurs, and spent a good deal of time on the road with the team. Justin worked for the Ministry in the Division of Muggle Affairs and usually passed his days ordering the Memory Charm squad to this town or that village to erase Muggle magic sightings, but his hopes for promotion were high and he did his job well. Hermione suspected that he secretly wished he could just join the Memory Charm squad himself. Their sixth roommate, Laura Chant, was an Australian witch who was working as the liaison from the land of Oz to the International Federation of Wizards. Her job often kept her out late too.
As for Harry...Hermione didn't actually know what he did, he wouldn't tell anyone. Though it stung that he couldn't trust her with this information, she knew that secrecy must be very important to keep him from telling her. He had very irregular hours; he'd be home for days and then gone for a week...and he often came home injured. She'd had to become familiar with medical magic because he was never willing to go to a doctor...she'd charmed and potioned away more cuts, bruises, black eyes and broken bones than she could count. She made no secret of the fact that she worried, but his lips were sealed even though at times he appeared to be just bursting to tell her.
He could have had his pick of jobs. Absolutely everyone had tried to hire him. The Ministry had told him he could have any position he wanted, including command of the wizard hit squad. What seemed like every Quidditch franchise in the world had practically begged him to sign on. Hogwarts itself had offered him the Defense Against the Dark Arts professorship, which she privately thought he'd been smart to turn down. Gringott's. Private wizarding societies. Magical think tanks. They'd all wanted nothing more than to have the "boy who lived" in their employ...and yet he didn't seem to have signed on with anyone at all. She knew he didn't have to work...he was independently wealthy thanks to wise management of his inheritance...but work he did. She just didn't know what "work" entailed for her best friend in the world.
George handed Hermione a plate bearing a large mug of soup and a sandwich. "Thanks," she said, distracted. He trotted back to the kitchen, where by the smell of things he was fixing some kind of dessert. Hermione watched Harry's profile as he stared blankly out the window. "You okay, Harry?" she said.
"Do you believe in pure evil?" he asked, out of the blue. Hermione's hand stopped halfway to her mouth, startled by the sudden question.
"Of course," she replied without hesitation.
She set down her sandwich and laid the plate across her knees. This wasn't a talk-while-eating conversation. "Because I've seen it," she said. "And because I believe in absolute good. One implies the other." He just nodded slowly. "What's going on? Why so philosophical?"
He paused, then slowly rose to his feet. "I should go try out that new broom," he said, his voice sounding far away.
Hermione watched him leave the room, mystified. With a shrug, she returned to her soup, putting it down to just another act in the endlessly unpredictable surrealist play that was life with Harry Potter.
George wasn't in the kitchen when she went to rinse her plate, but a heavenly smell was coming from the oven. She sneaked a peek...mm, treacle pudding. Hermione put her dishes in the washer and went out to the back porch, where she found George sitting on the step staring into the backyard.
About ten feet away, Harry was standing over a new broomstick lying on the ground. He'd been trying out a variety of models over the past few weeks ever since he'd lost his beloved Firebolt Mark III. That in itself was something of a story. Hermione had been sitting on the front porch writing in her journal when the gate had swung open and here had come Harry walking up the steps, looking tired and morose, back from a five-day absence. She'd risen to greet him (and inspect him for damages) but he hadn't been in a very talkative mood. Only when he was standing before her did she notice that he was holding in his hands the tattered, splintered remains of his broomstick. The Firebolt Mark III had been a gift from Sirius on Harry's 21st birthday, it was one of his most prized possessions. He'd had many a chance to upgrade to a newer model and had refused every time George had tried to tempt him with some new hotrod he was testing. Whatever Harry had been up to this time, his broomstick hadn't been as lucky as its owner. Harry was relatively unscathed, but the Firebolt was beyond repair. He had simply handed Hermione the sad remnants and gone into the house without a word.
Since then, he'd been attempting to choose a new one. George had "leaked" to all the broom wizards he worked for that Harry Potter was in the market for a new broom, and now whichever one Harry chose he'd receive gratis...though he drew the line at any kind of endorsement. Harry eschewed the exploitation of his inadvertent fame, by anyone...including himself.
Tonight he was looking at a brand-new one that had just arrived this morning...even broom-dunce Hermione (who was still riding her first broom, a battered ten-year-old Nimbus Two Thousand) could see that it was special. She sat down next to George on the top step of the back verandah. "Cor, that's something," she murmured.
"It's a prototype," George replied. "Made by a brand-new broom guild, it's their first model. They've been developing the charms and the materials for five years and this is the result...the Coriolis Jet Stream Model 1, the world's first all-synthetic broom."
"Synthetic?" she whispered, amazed, watching Harry circle the broom, his head cocked in thought as he examined it. It did look unusual. Most brooms were wood...this one clearly wasn't. The handle was smooth and glossy black, the tail twigs were a strange silvery iridescent material that she didn't immediately recognize. Harry stopped circling and stood at the foot of the broom. He extended a hand over it and opened his mouth to say "Up"...but before he could speak the broom rose smoothly off the ground and rotated to hover vertically before him. He nodded.
"Nice." He reached for it and it moved into his grasp. He straddled the handle and the broom lifted him easily. He floated there a few feet above the ground, his arms crossed over his chest, balancing easily with his knees. The Jet Stream floated slowly forward, turning right and then left again, responding to muscle cues from Harry that were so slight Hermione couldn't even see them.
"Didn't I tell you it was responsive?" George commented.
Harry nodded, smiling. "I might suspect it was reading my mind." He placed one hand on the handle and zoomed skyward, a blur. Hermione clutched her sweater in her hands as he put the broom through its paces, executing the trickiest Seeker moves he knew. After all the mishaps he'd had over the years her chest always tightened whenever he flew like this...how many times had she watched while he fell from the sky? On more than one occasion it had fallen to her to somehow avert certain disaster, and luckily the worst thing that had happened had been an unfortunate de-boning incident. These and other accidents didn't seem to have made him the slightest bit afraid of flying, but any effect he had escaped had been revisited threefold upon Hermione.
He landed after only a few moments, grinning from ear to ear. "What d'you say to that, eh?" George said, jumping up. "What'd I tell you? Amazing, isn't it?"
Harry nodded, holding the broom and glancing at it appreciatively. "It is indeed. Just when you think they can't make brooms any better something new comes along."
"So you're going to go with that one, you think?"
"I think so, yes."
"Then keep it, it's yours."
Harry grinned again. "Great, thanks! Good thing too, I'm leaving tonight and I'll need a good broom."
"Tonight? When?" Hermione asked.
His grin faded a little. "After dark." She nodded, not bothering to ask why he needed to leave after dark, then turned and went back into the house.
She, Harry and George sat down at the kitchen table...though it was more formal than what you might be picturing, their kitchen was the size of a small house and the table could seat twelve easily. The dining room was even more imposing, so the group preferred to take their meals here. George passed out plates and set the steaming treacle pudding before them. "I smell something yummy!" came a cheerful, Aussie-accented voice. The kitchen door opened and Laura and Justin walked in together. "Bloody marvelous, George." They both sat down and eagerly grabbed plates.
Laura was a dark, exotic-looking woman with long, woolly brown hair and a fine olive complexion. She was a talented witch, but her powers were strangely organic, as if she'd grown them inside herself like a cutting from a plant...Hermione had once made this observation to her and she had replied "You know, that's almost exactly what I did." Hermione hadn't had the guts yet to ask her what she'd meant by that. She liked Laura a great deal, and the two had become quite close in the year that they'd shared this home.
"How's the Ministry today, Justin?"
"Oh, bloody fantastic, thanks ever so much. Another thrilling twenty-owl day, at least." He helped himself to a large portion of pudding and made a grab for the pitcher of treacle sauce. "Hermione, can you help me with that Gossip Aversion spell tomorrow night?"
She shook her head, flushing a little. "I can't, sorry. Busy."
A chorus of knowing "ah-ha's" met this statement. "Meeting the studly one, eh?" George crowed.
"That's the third time this week," Harry sing-songed, grinning as he licked a drip of treacle off his thumb. "Sounds serious."
"Well, he's got the energy...young bloke like that." Justin put in. Hermione rolled her eyes and sat, besieged, enduring the usual round of verbal volleys from her roommates.
"Yeah, how old is he again? 20? 19?"
"Is he shaving yet?"
"Starting to get hair in those secret places?"
"Still slipping off his broom, is he?"
"Hoping that one of these days you'll help him become a man?" George snirked. Harry dissolved into giggles.
"Knock it off, you lot," Hermione said. "He's not that young. He's...you know, our age."
"Uh-huh," Harry said doubtfully. "Our age when it was...what year?" This set Laura off again.
"Are you all quite finished? Gerald is a wonderful..." That was as far as she got.
"Oh, GER-ald! GER-ald!" crowed George. "Sages, I don't think I knew his name till now! GER-ald!"
"And what's wrong with Gerald?"
"Nothing, if you like getting picked last for football," Justin muttered.
"Seriously, Hermione," Harry said, squelching his mirth. "How young is he, really?"
She twirled her spoon in the remnants of treacle sauce on her plate. "He'll be 22." They waited. "In fifteen months."
Laura shook her head. "Coo coo ca choo, Mrs. Robinson."
Justin stood up and began collecting plates. "You know we're just having you on, Hermione. Hey, if I had a 20-year-old lover I'd be shouting it from the housetops."
Hermione sat propped in bed, a quilt around her shoulders, reading and feeling her eyelids drooping steadily lower. The door snicked quietly open and Harry poked his head in. "Can I come in?"
"Sure," she said, tossing her glasses to the bedside table and closing her book. "I'm only re-reading the same paragraph over and over again anyhow."
He came and sat down on the edge of the bed. "You look all in."
"Just a bit knackered is all."
He paused, examining his fingers. "I'm leaving now."
Hermione nodded. "Do you know when you'll be back?"
He looked at her for a long moment then shook his head. "Probably no more than a week."
"Oh dear, Cho will be upset to miss you. She's due back tomorrow for a few days."
"I daresay we'll both survive the deprivation," he said in an uncharacteristically sarcastic tone. He fell silent and seemed to be waiting for her to say something.
"You're never going to tell me, are you?" she said quietly, looking away. Harry got a rather pained expression on his face but didn't respond. Of course he was never going to tell her what he did. He would have already done so.
"I just didn't want to leave without my good luck hug," he said, an uncertain smile quirking his lips. Hermione chuckled at his little-boy hangdog expression, then reached out and hugged him tightly.
The next day was Saturday, but the diminished household was busy as ever. The mansion had been in a state of semi-disrepair when they'd taken up residence and while a good deal of it had been redone, they still had work to do on the parts they weren't using. Today they were stripping old wallpaper from an upstairs parlor. It was hard, dusty work...but a welcome interruption came when they heard the familiar roar of a motorcycle outside. "Cho's home," Justin said, standing to dust the plaster off his hands.
"Good," Hermione grunted. "Maybe now we'll finish this before nightfall."
They heard her quick steps running up the stairs. "I'm back, roommates!" she called, bursting into the room. "Hey, wallpaper stripping! Looks like I'm just in time!" She pulled off her coat and grabbed a putty knife to pitch in.
"Helluva win against Luxembourg," Justin said.
"Wasn't it? I thought my heart would stop beating it was so stressful." Hermione said nothing as they chatted about Quidditch...it had never really been her game, and all Harry's near-death experiences while playing it had put her off it even more. And, as always, she had to swallow her instinctive dislike of Cho. Academically, she liked her. In theory, she liked her. Cho was an energetic, lively, outgoing person who was friendly to everyone...perhaps a little too friendly. Every man who'd ever met her thought she was the greatest thing since chocolate frogs, but Hermione suspected that women had a unique ability to perceive things in each other that men missed. She'd always thought it was just her until she'd moved in here and learned that Laura had the same feeling about Cho. She remembered a conversation they'd had on the porch during one of Cho's road trips.
"You don't like Cho much, do you?" Laura had asked.
"I like her fine. She's a marvelous person, she's always been very nice to me." Laura just gave her a look, until Hermione sighed and gave in. "No, I don't like her much."
"She and Harry used to date, right?"
"Is that why?"
Hermione had frowned at that. "No, I don't think so...well, maybe in a way, just because Harry's my best friend and I guess I'm a tad protective. And there was something about the way she looked when they would walk around together..."
Laura had smiled. "Uh-huh. The 'look who I landed' look."
Hermione snapped her fingers, excited. "Yes! That's it, exactly. As if he were less of a relationship partner and more of a..."
Hermione sniffed. "It's so demeaning."
"Well, he is Harry Potter, after all. World-famous vanquisher of evil, not to mention yumminess of the first order." She smiled at Hermione. "But I know what you mean. She does seem the type to lord it over everyone. Also, I get the distinct impression that she's confident that she'll have him back one of these days."
Back in the present, this conversation flitted through Hermione's mind in a matter of seconds as Cho set to the wallpaper with gusto. Did she expect to have Harry back eventually? Hermione sniffed. Don't hold your breath.
Later that night Hermione was sitting on the rear verandah reading a book in the light of the setting sun when Cho came out with two glasses of lemonade. "Thanks," she said, taking hers. Cho sat down on the top step.
"Harry's gone, eh?"
"Left last night."
"Too bad I missed him. I'll probably be gone again by the time he gets back."
"He said he might be away for a week."
Cho made an uncertain noise in her throat. "Let's hope he gets back with all his limbs still attached."
"I don't mind patching him up," Hermione said. "I just wish I knew what he does while he's away." Cho turned slowly, looking at Hermione with the strangest expression on her face. "What?"
"You mean...you don't know?" Cho said, her voice subdued.
"Know what?" Hermione's frown deepened.
"What Harry does...who he works for."
A dark suspicion was rising her her throat. "Well, no. He's never told me." Please don't tell me that he's told you, Cho. I might just die of embarrassment right here on the porch.
"Hermione...Harry's a spy. For the International Federation of Wizards."
Her mouth fell open...she wasn't sure if she was more shocked by this revelation or by the mere fact that Cho possessed this information. "Wh...what? He's what?"
"A spy! He goes and seeks out the dark forces, and when he finds them he fights them! Why do you think he's beat up so often, and he's gone for days at a time?"
Hermione opened her mouth to speak, but couldn't. She jumped up and strode quickly into the house and away from Cho, whom she'd never hated so much in her life...for this knowledge she possessed but most of all for that little triumphant smile she'd tried unsuccessfully to hide when she told her.
She escaped into the sanctuary of her room, breathing hard. Well, she had to admit it explained a lot of things. But why didn't you tell me, Harry? she thought. Why did you tell her and not me?