Harry Potter Hermione Granger
Romance Drama
Multiple Eras
Philosopher's Stone Chamber of Secrets Prizoner of Azkaban Goblet of Fire
Published: 07/14/2001
Updated: 03/22/2002
Words: 155,598
Chapters: 15
Hits: 223,651

The Show That Never Ends


Story Summary:
The Sequel to The Paradigm of Uncertainty``January 25, 2008...five months later...

Chapter 04

Chapter Summary:
The Sequel to


Chapter 4: Don't Fear the Reaper

The door was open and the wind appeared,
The candles blew and then disappeared,
The curtains flew and then he appeared,
Saying "Don't be afraid..."
--Blue Oyster Cult


Harry sighed, looking up at the glass ceiling of the Cloister and the rosy sky above it, growing lighter as he watched. Hermione was still asleep, cuddled close against him with her head on his shoulder and one arm draped across his chest. He held her gently, not wishing to wake her from what seemed like a very deep and welcome sleep. He eyed the encroaching dawn, wishing he could halt the rising of the sun with sheer willpower. He dreaded the coming of morning and its promise of examinations, pokings and proddings and so many spells he'd never get the smell of brimstone out of his hair.

Hermione stirred, making adorable little waking-up sounds that made him feel warm all over. She lifted her head and peered at his face from under sleepy eyelids. "Oh, it's you," she whispered, a smile appearing on her face.

"Yes, it's me."

She looked into his eyes, her fingers tracing small circles on his chest. "It's wonderful to wake up next to you."

He looked up into her eyes as she leaned over him, running his hand up and down her back. "Did you have a good time last night?" he asked, a sly smile spreading over his face.

She grinned. "My compliments to the chef." Suddenly he felt her fingers sliding under the covers to wrap around him...he strove to keep a calm countenance with her hand in a position to alter his reproductive future. It wasn't easy.

"Hmmm," he said, blinking innocently. "Can I help you with something?"

"It sure feels that way," she murmured, rolling over on top of him and sealing her mouth over his. Enclosed in the dark curtain of her hair he could see nothing, he could only feel her lips and the warmth of her skin against his. He wrapped his arms around her and rolled them both over in a tangle of legs and sheets until they'd swapped places. He kissed his way down her neck and onto the upper plane of her chest. "Mmm...Harry..." she whispered, her fingers twined through his hair.

"Sometimes I think I'm scandalously in love with you," he murmured against the skin of her neck.

She pulled his face up to hers again. "I bet...you say that...to all the girls," she breathed in between kisses.

"No, just you," he said. Both of them were starting to breathe faster. Her hands moved over his back as he settled over her and she hooked one leg over his hip...

Well, I'd tell you more, but it wouldn't be polite.


Hermione came down the back stairs into the kitchen, putting her earrings in as she did so. "Good morning," she said to Laura and Justin; George was at the stove. Napoleon sat at Laura's left, moodily shoveling oatmeal into his mouth. Sirius and Lupin were nowhere in sight, but the three agents from Remus' division were sitting at the table as well. Cho hadn't been able to stay; Hermione imagined she'd left early to rejoin her teammates.

"Well, look who's all smiles this morning!" Justin teased. "Seems like someone had a pleasant evening." Hermione flushed but didn't deny it. "And where is Mr. Studly Man?"

She sat down at the table, swatting at Justin's shoulder. "He's in the shower, he'll be down in a minute."

Laura handed her a plate of toast. "When do you have to leave?"

Hermione sobered, picking up a knife and the jam, wincing at the Vegemite Laura was trying to shove in her direction. "Right after breakfast."

"How long will all this take?"

"I wish I knew. Maybe a day, maybe a week." She glanced at Lupin.

"This isn't the sort of thing that happens every other week," he said. "There isn't what you'd call a standard operating procedure."

"Are you going to stay there with him?"

"What, are you having me on? Of course I am!" Hermione said. Napoleon abruptly stood up and tossed his bowl into the sink, then stalked out of the room. Hermione watched him go, feeling a twinge, but no one else seemed to notice his agitation.

George turned from the stove and set down a plate of pancakes. "I wish we could come, too. You know, for moral support."

"You'll be with us in spirit," Hermione said, pouring herself some juice.

"So what will they do to him?"

Hermione sighed. "Well, I imagine there will be a medical examination. Then they'll try to break his memory charm. They may try to hypnotize him and get to the truth that way. They'll run a lot of tests and ask a lot of questions. They may even use a truth charm. They'll do whatever they have to in order to find out what happened to him."

"Sounds lovely," Justin grumbled.

They heard footsteps on the stairs and Harry came in, his hair damp, pulling on a ribbed heather-gray turtleneck over his white t-shirt. "Good morning everyone," he said, raising a hand in greeting. Hermione smiled up at him, amazed again just to see him. He leaned over her and kissed her upturned face, then sat down next to her. She scooted her chair a little closer, his very presence drawing her like a magnet. Harry slid a few pancakes onto his plate and reached for the bowl of scrambled eggs. "Cor, I'm famished."

"Hmm, I bet someone got a good workout this morning," Laura said airily, dropping a wink at Hermione.

"I can neither confirm nor deny that theory," Harry said, smirking. Sirius smiled, shaking his head.

Justin looked at Harry for a moment, then broke into a huge grin and clapped his hands together in front of him like a cheerleader. "Yay!" he chirped. "Harry's home! Happy happy Harry day!"

George cocked an eyebrow, chuckling at Justin's ebullience. "You know, sometimes I think you just revel in your gayness."

Justin shrugged. "Don't knock it until you try it, Georgie-boy."

"In your dreams, Fairy Princess."

"Oh, back in your kennels, both of you," Laura scolded them. "Like a pair of old skanks in a nail salon, you are."

"Honey, remember when we were talking about moving back to London? Let's talk it about again," Harry said to Hermione, winking.

"You can't move back to London, who'd provide endless fodder for my witty repartee?" Justin protested.

"Oh, Justin. You could make witty repartee about the parlor sofa," Hermione said. She put a hand on her chest and rolled her eyes heavenward in an eerily accurate imitation of Justin. "'Dahling, we must discuss that slipcover. How many times do I have to tell you that sea-foam green is not your color? Friends don't let friends wear brocade, you know. I mean, really...it's just so Margaret Thatcher.'" By the time she was done the entire table was holding their stomachs with laughter.

Hermione smiled at her roommates and friends, feeling totally and utterly at peace here in this house and this kitchen and this oasis of normalcy which she knew would too soon be shattered by the rude intrusion of reality, a reality which was already here in the form of uninvited guests at their table. Harry sat at her side, eating and talking and completely real, and try as she might she couldn't stop smiling.

But it didn't last. Breakfast was consumed soon enough and it was time for everyone to resume their professional lives. The washing-up complete, Laura fetched her cloak and briefcase, pausing to give Harry a hug and whisper encouragement in Hermione's ear before she left for work. Justin was unusually quiet as he bid them goodbye and George disappeared into his workshop without a word, leaving only a foyer full of spies and one uncomfortable Deputy Chancellor.

Harry was the one who finally spoke. "Well. You fellas want I should hold out my wrists for the handcuffs? You can put duct tape over my mouth it you want, I shaved this morning."

Lupin smiled. "Uh, that's not necessary. We'll just take you to headquarters. They get to slap the cuffs on you."

"All right then, let's go. I'm ready." Hermione took his hand as they walked out the front door and kept a tight hold on it as they Apparated from the front yard, wondering what sort of welcome they'd receive at the I.D., a place she had been beginning to think of as a second home.


Two hours later, there was a knock at the door of Hermione's brand-new office. As she neared the end of her training period (she would go through final examinations in mid-March, less than six weeks in the future) she had been given an office of her own that she would keep in her new assignment in Isobel's Surveillance and Information Retrieval division.

Upon arrival at headquarters, Harry had been escorted away by Argo, who'd been waiting for them at the security checkpoint, blessedly unencumbered by burly guards. Over her protests, Hermione had not been allowed to accompany him. For lack of anywhere else to go or anything else to do, she had retreated to her new office where she proceeded to sit at her leather desk chair, stare at the blank walls and marvel at the lack of clutter.

Until now, and the knock. "Come in," she said. The door opened and Napoleon entered, followed by a dark-skinned man in medical scrubs.

Hermione sat up, her heart giving a little jump at the sight of this new visitor. Even Napoleon, who was as straight as the part in Prince Phillip's hair, was looking at him with goo-goo eyes.

This was the I.D.'s chief medical officer, Dr. Sukesh Subramaniam, who was unananimously agreed to be the most beautiful living organism on the planet, perhaps in the galaxy. No woman, man, child, dog or sentient magical creature could stand in his presence and not feel at least a little fluttery. He was tall and strong with the perfect amount of sculpted muscle on his body, which he displayed at his daily workouts in the gymnasium. His skin was a flawless cinnamon brown, his eyes like pools of melted chocolate. Hermione sighed at the sight of him. She loved her Harry with all her heart, but this man could have made even Mother Theresa reconsider her lifestyle choices. She'd seen handsome men in her life. Sorry was handsome in a blond marble-statue sort of way, Sirius had a dark and rugged kind of appeal, and of course Harry with his adult-nerd charm...but Sukesh transcended mere handsomeness and reached something that seemed like the province of superhumans or some species of angel sent to earth just to make the mortals feel inadequate.

And now he was smiling at her with his perfect white teeth, which only made it worse. "Hello, Hermione," he said, the Indian accent curling his words into little miniature pieces of music. "How wonderful to have Harry back with us."

"Yes, it is," she said, shaking Sukesh's hand. "Sit down." He did so; Napoleon remained standing near the doorway. "Tell me what you've found."

Sukesh opened his notebook. "Well, Harry does not appear harmed in any way. He is not malnourished or dehydrated, his weight has not gone up or down. Wherever he has been, I'd say that they took good care of him."

"Could he have been in some sort of stasis?"

"No. His fingernails have grown and been cut. His skin shows evidence of recent and regular shaving. His circadian rhythms are in sync with his expected pattern since his last physical and his hair is one quarter of an inch longer. His body systems show none of the characteristic signs of suspended animation, such as endocrine deceleration or neural sluggishness. He appears to be in his usual excellent health."

Hermione shook her head. "I was half hoping you'd find something unusual just so it would give us some sort of clue."

"I know what you mean. At this point, however, I believe he was held prisoner somewhere and guarded."

"Anything else to support that?"

"He's a little pale. That could be normal for this time of year. With more time I could analyze his digestive tract and try to discern what sort of food he's been eating. I'm sure Director Pfaffenroth will wish me to do so."

Hermione sighed. "Let's hope the magical examinations turn up something a little more helpful. Thank you, Sukesh."


Hermione stood in a small observation room looking into a testing facility where Harry was being given a complete round of magical diagnostic tests. Napoleon, as he had been all day, was standing protectively in the corner watching the proceedings.

She leaned against the glass, anxiety inducing premature fatigue all over her body, and watched as Harry, seated on a stool, used his wand to perform a series of difficult spells requiring a lot of precision. The one-way glass didn't allow him to see her, but he probably knew she was there all the same.

Lupin entered the observation room through a small door. "How's it going?" Hermione asked.

"So far he's perfectly normal."

"Have you tried to break the memory charm yet?"

"No, not yet. We want to make sure he's fit, so to speak, before we try some of the more extreme reversal spells. We'll be taking him into the isolation chamber soon. It'll be a few hours. Why don't you go get something to eat? You must be hungry."

"No, not really. Thanks, Remus. Keep me posted."

He patted her shoulder and left the room. Hermione watched until Harry was led away, presumably to the magic-proof isolation chamber Remus had mentioned.

She rubbed one hand over her eyes and turned to leave, but when her eyes fell on Napoleon she stopped short.

He was staring at her with the oddest expression on his face; it was almost as if she could see his heart right through the blue of his irises. She sagged at the sight of it. If she'd ever wondered if he had feelings for her, she realized that she need wonder no longer. It was all over his face.

He blinked, realizing she'd caught him in an unguarded moment, and looked away. He cleared his throat and shifted his weight, looking everywhere but at her. She just watched him struggle with himself until finally he turned his face towards her again, all pretense cast aside and the naked emotion clear in his expression. "I can't help it," he said quietly.

"I'm sorry."

"I know you are. You're too kind-hearted to wish suffering on anyone, even me."

"Especially you."

He snorted. "You don't mean that. Can you honestly stand there and look me in the eye and tell me that if it weren't for him it would be me?" Hermione looked away. "I didn't think so."

"Napoleon, I..."

"No. Don't. It's not your fault. You are blameless here. It's all on me. I didn't mean to. I didn't want to. I'll never..." He stopped and looked away, chewing on his lower lip. "I'm your friend. That's all I'll ever try to be."

She managed a weak smile. "See you upstairs?"

"I think...I'm going to go to the gym for awhile. Bubble me if you need anything."

Hermione nodded and turned to leave, then hesitated. She stepped back to his side and stood on tiptoe to kiss his cheek. She felt him suck in a breath and flinch away at her touch. She pulled back and waited but he said nothing, keeping his face averted. She turned and left the room, wishing he could know just how sorry she really was.


Hermione paced back and forth in the solarium, a long and sun-filled room against one side of headquarters where agents went to wind down and read a book for half an hour. You could get drinks and snacks and sit in one of the big plushy chairs and forget about the high stress of your job, at least for a time.

Today, however, she wasn't finding the tranquil setting very relaxing. Somewhere in this facility Harry was in an isolated room being put through his paces and having his mind probed with charms and his memory hammered at with spells. She knew that Lupin and Sukesh would make sure he wasn't harmed, but it probably wasn't a pleasant experience.

The sun was setting on this interminable day, a day which had started out so pleasantly. She smiled as she remembered being with him the night before and this morning...how familiar his touch had been, and yet how strange and exciting. They had always had a healthy sex life, uninhibited and enthusiastic, but his long absence seemed to have worked some kind of alchemy on them. Even though he didn't remember being gone, their physical rapport had felt deeper and more meaningful. Perhaps it was just her own perception of a long-anticipated event, but she didn't think so. It had been as if their bodies spoke to each other on a primal, biological level.

The door to the solarium opened, interrupting her reverie, and Remus came in. "How is he?" she asked without preamble.

"I think we're through testing him for the night. He's exhausted."

"What did you find?"

"Unfortunately, not much. We've tried a lot of charm reversals and his memory block is unaffected. Other than that he seems fine, physically and magically."

She stepped closer and gave him her best intimidating stare. "Listen, Remus, I'm sick and tired of waiting in some room for someone to bring me news of him. I want to see him."

"As I said, we're through testing him for the night. You can go see him now. He's in the temporary quarters."

Hermione hurried past him and called for her bubble to lead her to him, leaving Remus behind without so much as a good-bye.


The guards let her past, as no doubt they'd been bid to, and she opened the door to the temporary quarters. These rooms were usually used for visiting agents who hadn't the inclination to find public lodgings, or for agents burning the midnight oil who wished to grab a few hours of sleep. They were comfortably furnished and fully appointed. Harry had been installed here to await a new day's testing.

She found him sitting at the kitchen table, an untouched glass of milk before him, resting his forehead in his hand with his elbow propped on the tabletop. She could only see his back of his head, but she could tell that he was tired just by the slump in his shoulders and the way his head sagged against his hand.

She came up behind him and let her fingers trail over his shoulder as she stepped to his side. He turned his face up to look at her and the expression on it took her breath away...scared and confused, a face that he would only have allowed her to see.

She slipped her arms around his shoulders as he leaned gratefully against her, pressing his face against her chest, his arms going around her hips. She held him tightly, bowing her cheek down to the top of his head and slowly stroking his hair with one hand. She could feel him shaking, clinging to her like a frightened child.

"Shh," she said, her lips moving against his hair. "Everything's going to be okay."

"Please don't leave me," he whispered into her shirt. Hermione frowned, wondering how on earth he could ever think she would. God only knows what sorts of spells and tests he's been subjected to today, she thought. I'd be half out of my head too.

"Oh, sweetheart," she said, holding him tighter. "I'll never leave you."

"I'm sorry if I sound needy, but..."

"But what?" she said when he did not finish.

He tilted his head back to look up into her eyes. "I'm just not sure of anything right now."

She pressed her lips to his forehead. "Be sure of me. I love you."

He hugged her again. "I know."

"Come on, you need some sleep." She stepped back and took his hand. He let her lead him into the bedroom and sit him down on the bed. She bent and tugged off his shoes, not bothering with the rest of his clothes. With a deep sigh of fatigue, he stretched out on his side. Hermione slid onto the bed next to him, opening her arms to draw him close to her. She could feel the tension leave his muscles as he relaxed, his body molding itself against hers and his head settling into the hollow of her shoulder. Within a few minutes he was fast asleep.

Hermione laid awake for some time, holding him and listening to his even breathing. She marveled at the ease with which she was able to give him comfort even when she herself was feeling anxious. She supposed it was a sign of the health of their relationship. There was an equality in the strength they found in each other, a give and take of emotional support. Tonight it was her turn to give. Soon enough she would need it from him, and he would not hesitate, just as she hadn't this evening.

She drifted into slumber, relatively content despite the uncertainty that once again surrounded them. After all, they were safe and among friends, the bed was pretty comfortable, and she was lying with her arms around the man she loved, so recently returned to her after an agonizing absence. What was a little amnesia in the face of such as this?


When Hermione woke up, there was something touching her face. It took her a second to realize that it was Harry. He was kissing her, his hands moving possessively over her body. "Good morning," she whispered, her arms sliding around him. "Is this the proper setting for this sort of thing?"

"I think any setting will do," he said, smiling against her lips.

"Harry, I don't think I can possibly get in the mood when there's the possibility that Argo and Isobel are watching us right now."

He drew back. "Ugh. That's a wet blanket." A beat of silence, then he shrugged. "Oh well, I can live with it," he said, resuming his attentions to her face and neck.

Giggling, she shoved him away and got up, rubbing her eyes. "Geroff me, you horny little bastard."

"Ahem. My parents were married, I'll remind you." He looked up at her, batting his eyelashes and striking a pose while reclining amongst the rumpled bedsheets. "Oh, come on. How can you resist this fine specimen of masculinity before you?"

She looked around wildly. "Sukesh? Where?"

Harry gasped and jumped off the bed, grabbing her about the waist and grinning ear to ear. "Ooh, I'll have to drive all thoughts of that poking and prodding git out of your head or die trying."

She kissed him firmly. "I'll have to take a rain check." She looked at him, amused. "You're certainly more energetic than you were last night."

"It's amazing what a good night's sleep in the arms of a beautiful woman can do for one's outlook on life."

"I'm sorry to rain on your parade, but you're in for more fun and games today."

He sighed. "I know. This is me wild with anticipation."

"If it helps us find out..."

"Yes, yes. The grand mystery of my existence." He turned and went into the kitchen. "I could live with a little less mystery in my life just now."

"You and me both."

He cast her a glance. "You've had more mystery than you bargained for in this relationship already, haven't you?" He shook his head, tossing a dirty glass into the sink. "Dammit, I didn't want this for you. You should have stuck with boring old Rufus or Horace or even Gerald, if he existed."

She came up next to him, her brow creasing. "Harry, I didn't love them. I know you want to protect me, but would you want me to be in a passionless relationship?"

"I guess not. I just...Rufus wouldn't ever had vanished for two months, or frightened you with strange powers, or gone off on bad-guy hunts that might make you a widow. Rufus wouldn't have tempted you into a line of work that might get you killed." He was working himself into a protective frenzy, which happened on occasion. "Hermione, you should just..."

"Just what? Just leave you? Run away?"

"Well, maybe it would be better for you in the long run!"

"Oh, you don't mean that and you know it. We've been over this a hundred times. What should I do? Should I not have loved you? It's your own damned fault! We spent almost every waking moment of our lives together for fifteen years and God knows you could have made me hate you but instead you made me love you."

He sunk down into a chair and stared at the tabletop. "Is it worth it?"

"What?" she said, confused.

"Is it worth all the anxiety? I could disappear again, you know. Or I could be killed by Allegra. Or I could die on a mission, or a thousand other calamities."

"I know all that."

"I can't stand the idea that I might put you through horrible grief. I've already put you through horrible grief. Why do you put up with it?"

She sat down opposite him, smiling. At last, a question she could answer. "Because of you, Harry. Look at yourself. That scar on your forehead and that line you get between your eyebrows when you're mad and the way your ears turn bright red when you're embarrassed. I put up with it because one day with you is worth more to me than an entire lifetime with anyone else. Do you get it? I don't care about the risk. I know it's there, I accept it. If I had to live my life apart from you, well...that wouldn't be life at all. Satisfied?"

Harry looked like he was about to cry. "I don't know what I did to deserve you."

She smiled at him and grasped his hand across the tabletop. "It's nothing that you did, honey. You can't help it, it's just who you are. But you know, all that world-saving probably didn't hurt." He smiled back, and it was all right. For the moment.


For Hermione, it was another day of pacing and listening to the stress etching premature wrinkles in her forehead. They had him in their ruthless little clutches again. Oh yes, they were friends and allies, but she was under no illusions about their motives. Harry's disappearance had grave implications for Federation security and they would do what was necessary to discover the truth. Their ruthlessness was borne out of pragmatism, and their sincere concern for Harry's well-being ran a distant second to their need to protect the wizarding world from the ever-multiplying threats that it faced.

She ran her hands over her face and sighed. I've got to do something or I'll lose my mind, she thought.

"Hey, Hermione," came a familiar voice. She turned and saw Nix Nickleby standing near the door of the solarium. Nix had been the deputy chief of Training until Lefty's injuries at Allegra's hands. He was still the second but he'd taken over all of the physical training for new agents. He had taught all of Hermione's combat classes. Nix was a highly skilled fighter, but he didn't look the part. He was only of average size and had fluffy, sandy hair and wore bookish spectacles.

She managed to return his smile. "Hi, Nix."

"How's Harry?"

She snorted. "Oh, I'd be the last person to know." He nodded sympathetically. Hermione watched him, an idea coming to her that seemed like just what she needed. She walked swiftly towards him, took his arm and steered him out of the room.

"Um...late for something?"

"Come on," she said. "Time for a workout."


Sukesh let Harry sit up, putting away his instruments. "Am I okay?"

"So far. I don't like this, Harry. They keep pounding at you and something will give. I don't relish trying to charm you back from a vegetative state."

"Oh, you worry too much," Harry said, but he was rubbing his temples as if they hurt. "They won't hurt me."

"You believe that if you want." Sukesh leaned closer, his eyes intense. "But they'll hurt you if they have to, and you know it."

"I appreciate your concern, Sukesh, but they can't hurt me." He stood up and his mouth curved into a cold little smile. "They can't...and they don't dare."

Sukesh sighed. "Harry, sometimes I'm scared of you."

"Sometimes I am, too." He picked up his shirt and buttoned it up. "I'm going to see Hermione before the next round."

He was almost out of the room when Sukesh spoke again. "Harry?" He turned. Sukesh hesitated, as if unsure of the propriety of what he had intended to say. "I know it's not very modern, but...take care of her, all right? She's been through a lot."

"I intend to." He left, his stride swift.

After an unsuccessful trip to her office, Harry's bubble led him to the gymnasium. Instead of walking in, he ducked into the observation gallery, intuiting that she might not want to be interrupted.

As he stood at the glass and looked down into the gym, his heart tightened in his chest and his jaw clenching. Below him, Nix and Hermione were fighting. He couldn't believe how quickly she moved, how sure her steps were, and how hard her blows landed on her opponent.

"Pretty good, ain't she?" He whirled. Napoleon was sitting in the corner, unnoticed until now. He looked fresh from a workout himself, a towel draped around his neck. He got up and stepped to Harry's side.

"What would you know about it?" Harry snapped, turning his eyes back to the glass.

"Bit tetchy, are we? Who you think's been supervising her training while you were out playing Invisible Man? She and I have a go every day." He shifted uncomfortably. "I mean...in the gym...we...uh..."

"Oh, I know what you mean," Harry said, irritated at the man's presence.

Napoleon peered at him. "Boss...what's wrong? Are you crying?"

"No!" Harry exclaimed, swiping at his eyes. "I just...dusty in here..."

"Sure. Dusty."

Harry stared down at his fiancee, sparring with Nix below. He could hear their grunts and breaths from here. "What have I done to her?" he whispered.

"How's that?"

"Look at her!" he exclaimed. "This is the woman who didn't like to squash bugs! Whose solution to everything was to hit the library!"

"Oh, it still is, believe me."

"She's not the violent sort."

"Maybe not, but this isn't about violence. This is about confidence, and the ability to handle and defend yourself. I can read your mind, boss, because I've had those same thoughts. You didn't force her into this job. The Deck picked her, remember? And she could have said no. Can I tell you something?"

"Am I going to be able to stop you?"

"I think she missed it. She used to fight evil by your side, am I right? When you were kids? And then all that stopped when you joined up here. I think she wanted to help. She's a brave Gryffindor, boss. She wants to stand against the dark forces, too. You're not the only one with power around here. She's an amazingly capable witch. She's Nix's best student. All the dedication she puts into her academics she puts into this, too. Look at her down there. Nix can barely hold her off. She kicks my ass on a regular basis, that's for sure."

Harry shook his head. It was almost beyond belief. It was hard for him to reconcile the images of his studious, bookworm Hermione with the woman before him. "It's just strange for me."

"You'll get used to it. She's the same person. She doesn't particularly like this stuff. She learns it because she has to. But she'd still rather do research in the library or compile observation files for Isobel."

Harry smiled. "That's reassuring." He cleared his throat. "Well, they might let me come back to work in a few days."

"No kidding!"

"No kidding. So I'll need a full briefing on what's been happening in my absence."

"You got it, boss." He turned to go.

"Wait a second, Jones."

Napoleon turned and waited. "Yeah?"

"Don't call me 'boss,' okay? My name's Harry." Napoleon grinned, sketched a quick salute, and left the gallery. Harry watched the scene below as Hermione and Nix seemed to wrap up their fight, shaking hands before picking up waiting towels. He slipped out of the gallery and into the gym, coming up behind Hermione as she turned towards the door.

"Harry! Are you all right?"

He gave her a sardonic smile. "Seems that's everyone's first question when they see me these last few days."

"Can I have an answer, please?"

"I'm fine. Taking a bit of a break from the Spanish Inquisition." He reached out and hugged her, glad to have her in his arms again. She smelled of shampoo and fresh sweat. "You've improved. A lot."

"Well, I had a lot of pent-up stuff churning," she said. "Thrashing unsuspecting combat instructors was an excellent way to release tension."

"I understand. After Allegra betrayed us my combat skills went through a drastic period of refinement." He put his arm around her shoulders as she slipped hers around his waist; they walked together into the hallway.

"That still hurts, doesn't it?"

He sighed. "Not like it used to. Knowing the sort of person she really was helped assuage the pain."

"I think she loved you."

"You also think Barry Manilow is a good singer."

"Be serious."

"Allegra never loved me. She used me to achieve her goals."

"That's not in question. I think she started out using you and ended up loving you."

"What makes you think so?"

"She couldn't hate you as much as she does without loving you at least a little."

He seemed to consider this. "Well, if that's how it works then I sure hope you never start hating me."

"Then you better quit stealing my ice cream."


Argo sat at the head of the conference table, shuffling her papers in an apparently random fashion. Hermione watched her, a knot of anxiety forming in her stomach.

It had been now three days since Harry's return, and he'd spent the entirety of the interim here at headquarters being examined. This meeting had been called by the director so she could hear the final reports of the investigators, after which she would determine Harry's fate. Hermione could hardly fathom the irony inherent in the possibility that she was just starting her I.D. career and Harry's might be about to end.

Sitting around the table were Lupin, Sukesh, Sirius, two of Sukesh's doctors, Isobel Hyde-White, Napoleon, Henry Ubigando and a few of the other wizards who'd been helping to administer the tests. Harry sat at her right, clutching her hand under the table.

"Are we ready to start?" Argo said. "Lupin?"

Remus sighed and flipped open a folder of parchments, the other agents doing likewise. "You wanted a final report, so I'm giving you everything we have."

"Which is?"

"I'm going to give you the results of the physical tests first, then the magical ones. Sukesh?"

"Harry has not been harmed," Sukesh said. "He has been well cared for, but he has not been in any kind of stasis. Based on his skin tone, my examination of his digestive tract and other clues described in my report I believe he has been held in some sort of facility and closely observed. I examined his person in great detail and I couldn't find any physical evidence as to his whereabouts these months. His memory loss has no apparent physical basis. I find no evidence of head trauma, lesions on the brain or neurological disruption. I conclude that his amnesia is magical in origin."

Argo nodded, accepting Sukesh's analysis. "And the magical tests?"

Henry took over the report at this point. "All Harry's magical abilities appear intact and unchanged. As for his memory block, we have tried everything we could think of and some things that we made up as we went along and his amnesia is unaffected. We cannot discern a cause or determine a cure."

Argo pressed her lips together. "Do you think further analysis would provide more conclusive results?"


"Have you determined if Major Potter poses any threat to us?"

"Not as far as we can tell. We have used a wide variety of diagnostic charms, talismans and potions and we can't find any hint of danger around him."

Argo sighed. "Agents, this is all highly unsatisfactory. I asked you for answers and you come back with this."

"In my opinion, we will get no further answers without Harry's memories."

Argo swiveled her gaze to the subject of these discussions. "Harry. I know you've been through a lot. Please tell me you have something to add to this astounding wealth of noninformation."

"I disapparated from the alley. I arrived in the yard two months later, and that, Argo, is all I can tell you."

She looked out at the agents around the table. "And you're sure we've tried everything?"

"Ask the Librarian how many obscure books we've been through, Argo. Take a look at our notes. By the end we were down to arcane Muggle hogwash like Ouija boards and automatic writing. The only thing left to do is consult a magic eight ball, which will only say 'answer unclear, ask again later.'"

A long moment of silence fell. Argo stared down at the reports before her. Finally she turned back to Harry. "How do you feel?"

He hesitated a moment, caught off guard by the question. "I feel fine."

Argo stood up. "Then get back to work. You've had a long enough vacation." She strode out of the room, leaving the agents to stare at each other.

Hermione turned to Harry. A slow smile broke out over his face and he realized he'd been cleared to resume his life. Hermione grinned back and hugged him. In a moment everyone was out of their seats and shaking his hand. "Welcome back, Harry," Lupin said.

"Thanks." He sobered. "But this doesn't get shoved to the back burner. We still need to know where I've been."

"I'll assign some agents to stay on the case," Napoleon said, scratching notes on his parchpad.

"Oh, put Forth Chism on it," Lupin said.

"Cor, that's good. And that new one from SIR. Jane Something."

"That's not like you, Jones," Harry said. "You usually know all the new agents' names, especially the women."

Napoleon blinked at him. "No, that's actually her last name. Something."

After a beat of silence, Harry burst out laughing. Everyone just stared at him, smiling bemused smiles as he held his stomach and released all his tension to the ceiling in loud brays of laughter.


Harry sat down at his desk, pleased that it wasn't in total disarray. Napoleon sat down in front of him, notes in hand. "Ready?"

"Hit me."

Harry scribbled notes as Napoleon briefed him on the events of the last two months. Dark uprisings, talisman theft rings, double agents. "Spartan McNally finally finished the translation of the Greater Texts of Malthus."

"About damned time."

"Yeah, I put an archivist on it. We should have our own copy."


"The Carthage Gang moved to St. Petersburg."

"They must have stock in moving companies. What's this, like the tenth time this year?"

"Oh, and the Slayer stopped by. Said she was on vacation and popped in."

Harry grinned. "Oh, I'm sorry I missed her."

"She was upset to hear you were missing." Napoleon shook his head. "What do we have to do to get a Slayer over in the eastern hemisphere? Ban garlic and start having nighttime blood drives in dark, secluded parks?"

"What did she want?"

"Just a social call. Left this." He tossed a creamy envelope onto Harry's desk.

"Is this what I think it is?"

"Yup. They're finally getting married."

"Well, mark that down in the record books. A Slayer marrying a vampire."

"Reformed vampire."

"Yeah, whatever. I've read about Slayers having vampire fetishes but she's dated not one but two."

"I'm surprised they've waited this long. She's what, twenty-eight? Pretty old for a Slayer."

"Well, the vampires over here are getting a little cheeky without a Slayer around. Maybe we can convince them to honeymoon at Stonehenge. Have you met him?"

"No. Lupin has. In South America like ten years ago."

"No kidding."

"Back before his Grand Reform. Lupin said he was very powerful. And sarcastic."

"Is he all broody and Creature of the Night like the first one?"

"Lupin didn't say much about him, except he was easy to spot in the dark...the guy's got platinum blond hair. Not very stealthy if you ask me."

"A small sacrifice of stealth for the sake of style."

"Well, we'll RSVP in the affirmative. On with the briefing."

"Right-o. Galino is up at Site Two for undercover training. Back in three weeks."


"We've decided to move the external training facility out to Bath."


"Did a raid on Allegra's safe house in Sheffield a few weeks back. Burned it to the ground."


"I'm in love with Hermione."

Harry stopped in mid-check and slowly raised his eyes to Napoleon's. His second was looking back at him unabashedly as if daring him to challenge the statement. "Really?"


Harry nodded slowly, dropping his quill and tenting his fingers underneath his chin. "Why on earth are you telling me this?"

"I don't want to be sneaky."

Harry's eyebrows shot up. "That would be a refreshing change."

Napoleon sighed, dropping his quill and leaning forward. "Listen, Harry. I know I screwed you over in the past. I was young and stupid and I thought I had something to prove to the world. I was a bloody idiot and I'm sure I made your life miserable. I can't change that now. But when I was chosen by the Deck I knew I had a second chance. I've been a good assistant to you and I've done a good job in your absence. I know you hate me, but I don't care. I won't let you down." Harry said nothing. Napoleon stared at him for a moment and then leaned back in his chair as if the speech had exhausted him. "I told you about...the other thing...because I don't want to lie to you. I'm not stupid, all right? I know she loves only you. I've tried to be there for her and I'd be lying if I said I didn't hope for more but I know it's impossible. I'm not putting the moves on her, see? So you can go ahead an kick my ass now, I deserve it." He sat back.

Harry just looked calmly back at him. "I'm not going to kick your ass."


"No. You have done a good job while I was gone. And..." He cleared his throat. "I know you've been a good friend to Hermione while I was away, and for that I will always be grateful." He smiled. "If you're in love with her, well...I can't fault your taste. I'm not concerned. I may not quite trust you, but I trust her. All right?" Napoleon nodded. "But if I catch you trying anything I will have to pound you into dust. Got it?"

"Got it," Napoleon said with a grin. He opened his notes again. Harry picked up his quill, chuckling. "What's funny?"

Harry looked at him. "You know something, Napoleon? I never thought you and I would have anything in common. I guess I was wrong."