The Show That Never Ends
- Story Summary:
- The Sequel to The Paradigm of Uncertainty``January 25, 2008...five months later...
- Chapter Summary:
- The Sequel to
HARRY POTTER AND THE SHOW THAT NEVER ENDS
Chapter 7: Enter Sandman
Sleep with one eye open
Clutching your pillow tight,
Exit light, enter night,
Take my hand,
Off to Never-Never Land...
Hermione hovered nearby as Remus and Malcolm lifted Harry onto a stretcher borne by two mediwizards, who set off for their van. An unconscious person couldn't Apparate, so they'd have to use more conventional transportation. They slid the stretcher in and Hermione climbed in after them, sitting by Harry's side.
She loosened his collar and took his pulse as one of the mediwizards listened to his chest. "Pulse rate normal," she said. The mediwizard flipped open Harry's eyelids and shone a small torch into his eyes. Hermione laid a hand on his forehead and tried to slow her own pulse rate.
"What happened?" the mediwizard asked.
"I don't know. He seemed detached, then he went into a terrible rage. Then he just collapsed."
"Does he have any history of neurological problems? Epilepsy, anything like that?"
"Has he hit his head recently?"
"Not that I know of."
"Has he been behaving strangely?"
She almost said "no," then had to reconsider. "A little, yes. He's been having nightmares, and he's been a bit irritable and short-tempered."
The mediwizard waved his wand around Harry, checking for curses or spells. Hermione realized that they'd left the school, but the van was magically stabilized so she could hardly feel the motion.
"Can't you wake him?" she said.
"I don't want to until we get back to headquarters," he said. "Then we'll see. He doesn't seem ill, his blood pressure's normal...it's very odd." Hermione clasped Harry's limp hand in both of her own, staring at his face. "Just try to relax," the mediwizard said quietly. "We'll be there soon."
Remus leaned over, startling her...she hadn't even realized he'd climbed into the van after her. "What could cause these symptoms?"
"I'm not sure," the mediwizard said. "Any number of things."
Remus met Hermione's eyes. "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?"
She sighed. "Oh, it's got to be connected to his disappearance."
"If it's not then it's one hell of a coincidence."
Hermione didn't reply. She slid off the bench mounted into the wall of the van and crouched on the floor by Harry's head. "Please wake up, Harry," she whispered. Tears slid down her cheeks unheeded as she brought his hand to her lips. "God, what if he never comes around?" she said, her voice hoarse.
"He will," Remus said with confidence.
Hermione said nothing, just knelt on the floor of the van holding Harry's hand and gently stroking his clammy forehead. The rest of the ride passed in interminable silence, the mediwizard keeping watch on Harry's vital signs.
Hermione and Remus sat in the waiting area near Sukesh's wing of headquarters, silent and morose. Finally, at length, Remus spoke quietly. "Have you ever seen him act like that?"
"No, never," she whispered. "Well...not when Draco Malfoy wasn't around."
"And that was the second time. He tried to attack Napoleon at the graduation reception, too."
Hermione hadn't forgotten. "What if he's had some kind of stroke?" She turned her frightened eyes on her former teacher, hoping that he would have all the answers as he always had before. "Remus, I can't lose him. Not again. I'll go mad."
He took her hand. "I know."
She studied his face for a moment, her curiosity piqued by the sincerity of his words, as if he knew how she was feeling. "Remus...has there every been anyone special? For you?" He hesitated and Hermione suddenly felt awkward. "I'm sorry if it's too personal..."
"No, no, it's fine. I don't mind." He squeezed her hand. "There was someone that I loved, once. We couldn't be together, and it ended badly." He sighed. "I'm afraid I haven't been much of a success in relationships. The werewolf thing always seems to get in the way."
"But it shouldn't. It's such a small part of you."
"It's not so small as you might think."
"It shouldn't define you. I think you're wonderful."
He smiled and blushed. "Well, thank you. Don't pity me too much, Hermione. Just because I haven't the Grand Passion that you've been fortunate enough to find doesn't mean I am discontented. I have plenty of friends and I enjoy my solitude. I have you and Harry, and Sirius and Cordelia...their children are like my own children. I don't want for companionship." Hermione smiled back, not commenting on the wistful note in his voice as he said that last. "But I am happy for you and Harry. It gives me great satisfaction to see you together." He shook his head, momentarily at a loss for words. "He's lucky to have you during this...whatever this is."
Hermione sighed, a deep rattling sigh that seemed to come from the bottom of her gut. "He'd have me anyway, even if we were still just friends."
The door into the infirmary opened and Sukesh emerged. Hermione jumped up, dragging Remus with her since she refused to let go of his hand. "Sukesh, is he..."
He cut her off with a smile. "See for yourself." He stepped aside to reveal Harry as he came out of the examining room behind him, tucking his shirt in and looking sheepish.
"Harry!" Hermione exclaimed, running to embrace him. "Are you all right?"
"I'm fine," Harry said, holding her tightly.
"Is he fine?" she said to Sukesh, not trusting Harry's judgment.
"I somehow feel that I've lived all this before, but I can't find anything wrong with him. Certainly nothing that would cause violence or sudden unconsciousness."
Hermione drew back, looking back at Harry with a concerned expression. "Do you remember what happened?"
Harry cleared his throat and nodded, his expression confused. "Yes. I just don't remember why. I was looking at him...and all of a sudden there was just this blinding rage. I couldn't hold it back. I couldn't control myself." He looked down at her. "It was horrible, like I was another person." He looked over to Sukesh. "Please say I didn't hurt him."
"You didn't. He's fine, he'll have a nice long healthy stay in prison."
He sighed with relief. "I'm sorry I frightened you," he said, reaching out to take Hermione's hand. "I feel normal now."
Hermione exhaled a frustrated breath and spread her arms wide. "So that's it? He just throws a wobbly, there's no reason for it, have a nice day?"
Sukesh shook his head. "No, that's not it. Harry, I'm placing you on medical restriction effective immediately."
"But Sukesh..." Harry began to protest; Sukesh held up a slender finger to cut him off.
"No arguments. I'm not suspending you. You can keep working, but you're chained to a desk until we figure out what's going on with you. Don't try to wave this away, Harry. You attacked a defenseless man."
"A man who'd just killed four people, two of them children!" Harry exclaimed, color rising to his face.
"That's not an excuse and you know it. Let's not forget that you also attacked your own second. Now, I know you don't like Jones very much but to start throwing punches for no reason? That's not like you. I'm concerned, Harry, but I don't want to go nuts over this. It's entirely possible that your behavior is simply rooted in stress. I can certainly understand your rage at a man who would harm defenseless children, and I know you've been under a lot of pressure lately what with Galino's death and the investigation into your absence. Nevertheless, I have the medical authority to bench you and I'm using it."
"This is connected to his disappearance," Hermione said. "I'm sure of it." Sukesh might say it was all stress, he hadn't been there...he hadn't seen Harry's eyes before it happened.
Sukesh held up a hand. "There's no real reason to jump to that conclusion, tempting as it might be. In fact, if it were connected, I would have expected him to exhibit symptoms a lot sooner than this. I suspect that it's stress-related, and perhaps a residual neural trauma. We'll do some more tests."
Harry nodded. "What does Argo say?"
"She's deferring to my judgment in this situation, but she's very adamant that we discover the nature of the problems you're having." He held out a parchment on a clipboard. "Here, I need you to sign this power of attorney and designate someone to make medical decisions for you if you become incapacitated. With the unpredictable nature of these attacks, we should cover all the possibilities."
Harry took the offered quill and began writing without hesitation. "Hermione will have the authority to make decisions for me if I can't do it myself."
She put her hand on his arm. "Harry. Wouldn't you rather designate Sirius or..."
"In a few months you'll have this authority automatically, why does it make a difference? I trust you with my life." He signed his name in his usual illegible scrawl in which the letters H and P were the only ones readable.
"All right," Sukesh said. He took the clipboard from Harry and clapped him on the shoulder, giving him an encouraging smile. "Try and relax. Go home for the day. Talk about caterers and do something fun. Don't think about this." He turned and went back into the medical wing.
Lupin stepped closer. "Well, that was amazingly uninformative."
"He's doing his best," Harry muttered, running one hand through his hair.
The door out into the hallway opened and Napoleon came in, trailed by the Hainsleys. "All right, Harry?" he said, coming up to them with a concerned expression.
Harry nodded. "For now. But I'm chained to a desk from now on, Jones. I'll need you to help me fill in the gaps."
"Sure, boss. Anything I can do."
Harry turned to Terk. "Thanks for coming, Terk. I'm sorry the lessons were cut short."
"You want us to stick around?" she said. "We don't have to be back until next week. We can schedule another session. It'd be a welcome break from the usual Agency runaround."
He thought for a moment and then nodded. "Yeah, that works. Do you have a place to stay?"
She and Tax exchanged a glance. "No, not yet. We thought we'd just find a hotel."
"Well, you can stay here in the temporary quarters but I wouldn't recommend it. You're welcome to stay at our house. There's plenty of room, and the food's great. Our housemate George always cooks enough for an army anyway."
Again, that small glance. Hermione got the feeling that Terk and her brother were using some kind of twin telepathy to communicate. "That sounds great, Harry, thanks. But we don't want to put you out. You're sure there's room?"
"Oh, absolutely. Sixteen bedrooms, actually."
The Hainsleys seemed nonplused by this information. "Well, all right then," Terk said with a smile. "You got a deal. We've got to pack up our props and collect our bags..."
"We're going home now," Hermione said firmly, over Harry's pending objections, "but take your time. Napoleon, can you bring them by the house when they're ready?"
Napoleon, who'd been hanging back and not saying much, nodded. "Sure."
"All right. We'll see you at home, then." She and Harry left the room together, talking quietly to each other. The remaining three exchanged uncomfortable glances.
"Can I help you pack up?" Napoleon said, keeping his tone even.
"That's all right," Terk replied. "We can handle it."
No one moved. "You look good," Napoleon finally said. "Really good."
"Thanks. You too." She shook her head. "I gotta say, I never thought you'd go respectable. When I heard you were a real live agent I couldn't believe it, I had to see it for myself."
"Oh, is that why you agreed to come here? To check up on me? And hey, if I was so disreputable before why'd you marry me?"
She arched an eyebrow. "That was part of the charm."
He sighed. "I don't think I have the strength to go around with you right now, T. It's been a long day. First the schoolyard thing, now Harry's off taking the midnight express to Nuttersvile..."
"So how long have you been in love with the boss' wife?"
"She's not his wife," Napoleon said, too quickly, before realizing she'd tricked him. He sighed and his shoulders sagged. "Oh, bollocks. How'd you know?"
She laughed. "Sir Laurence Olivier you're not, Leo. You can't fool me. I'd know that hangdog look anywhere."
"Well, bully for you, then."
"I just think it's amusing that you'd decide to fall in love with a woman who's irretrievably committed to the most famous wizard on the planet, who also happens to be cute as all hell..."
"Hey! I'll thank you not to rub my face in it! It wasn't my ruddy idea, you know. These things just sort of happen."
"Does she look upon you with disdain?"
"Ah, but you harbor secret hope that her feelings for you run deep and passionate yet she cannot admit them for fear of hurting her fiancee of whom she's really not nearly as fond as she is of you..." Tax was silently laughing as Terk spoke.
"All right, is my skull completely transparent or have you added mind-reading to your many talents?"
Terk laughed. "I'll let you wonder about that." She clapped him on the shoulder as they left the room.
"Here's your room, Terk," Hermione said, pushing open the door to one of the second-floor bedrooms. It was one of her favorites, sunny and cheerful with a wide bank of windows looking out to the front yard and decorated in a California style with rattan furniture, breezy print fabric and lots of plants.
"Oh, it's beautiful!" Terk exclaimed, setting her traveling bag on one of the chairs. "You guys could open a bed and breakfast."
Hermione smiled wanly, still preoccupied by Harry's incident. "I love this room," she said. She motioned to the door that opened into the attached bathroom. "I've put your brother next door. It shared that bathroom..."
"Sure, whatever. Tax isn't picky about accomodations. He was a Navy SEAL, you get used to rough conditions." Hermione started to leave but hesitated. Terk smiled at her and put her hands on her hips. "You want to ask me about Leo, don't you?"
Hermione frowned. "Leo?"
"Yeah. That's his name, you know. Leon Theseus Jones. He didn't like Leon so he stuck 'Napo-' in front of it. He hates to be anything ordinary."
"Yes, so I've noticed." Hermione laughed. "You must have some great stories about him."
"None he'd wish me to share with you, I'm sure. Not that I'll let that stop me." She eyed Hermione as she folded her clothes into one of the dresser drawers. "You know, don't you? That he...uh..."
"Yeah, I know. I've known for awhile."
"Does it make you uncomfortable? He can be very persistent."
"No, not really. I must say he's been a perfect gentleman about it. It can't have been easy for him, seeing me with Harry every damned day of the week."
"Oh, hell, he loves it. He does adore playing the long-suffering martyr. Did it with me for several months before I finally went out with him."
Hermione took a seat on one of the rattan chairs and leaned forward, eager to hear these little peeks into Napoleon's past. "Did you fall in love right away?"
"Are you kidding? It took forever. I thought he was a first-class spaz after our first date. He was practically falling all over himself trying to impress me."
"Did you know he was a wizard?"
"Oh, no. Didn't surprise me, though. The spy types among Muggles love to circulate rumors about magical people. I felt honestly sort of vindicated to meet one in person. Didn't take too long to figure out Leo's nature. He's not so good at hiding it, which you've probably noticed. I think he must have gotten more proximal Muggle warnings than any wizard in history." Hermione laughed. "Anyway, he sort of grew on me. Before I knew it I was in love with him."
"Are you still?"
Terk blew air through her teeth. "Well, now if I was you'd think we'd still be married, wouldn't you?" The tone of her voice kept Hermione from asking about their breakup though she desperately wanted to.
"Well," she said, standing up, "I'll go see if your brother is all right. Let me know if you need anything."
Hermione walked next door to a bedroom done in dark green with gold accents. Tax was unzipping his case and pulling out some clothes. "You okay, Tax?"
He nodded. "No problem." Hermione gave a little start; they were the first words she'd heard him speak.
"Well...we're going to have dinner in about an hour."
Hermione smiled and backed out, shutting the door behind her, and mounted the nearby stairs up to the Cloister. Harry was sitting in one of the deep overstuffed chairs, slouched down with his cloak gathered up around his shoulders. "Hi," he said in a low voice.
"Hi," she returned in a clipped tone. The sight of him raised her ire again. He'd said next to nothing all the way home despite her not-so-subtle attempts to draw him out. It was frustrating to want to help him and yet have so little to work with. She walked around aimlessly for a moment, hands on her hips, then stopped in the middle of the room and faced him. "Are you going to tell me what's going on?"
"Can't. Don't know myself."
"Don't give me that crap, Harry!"
"What crap? It's the truth!"
"You're flying off into insane rages at the slightest provocation and you can't tell me anything about what's going on in that head of yours?"
Harry stood up and threw his cloak to the window seat. "Well, you're the one who's the Big Headbusting Genius, why don't you tell me? You're always so bleeding anxious to tell me about the inner working of my soul, so let's have it!"
She stepped closer. "Don't get sarcastic with me! I'm trying to help you!"
"I don't need any help!"
"No, you just need to pummel people into bloody pulps..."
"That's not what happened!" he yelled.
"How can you even know that? You didn't see yourself, Harry! You were scary! You scared me! For God's sake what's happening to you? You've changed!"
"Of course I've changed!" he cried, turning to face her. "I've lost two months of my life! I don't know where I was, what was being done to me, I wake up every morning confused and frightened and I don't know WHY!" On this last word he picked up a glass that was sitting on the bedside table and hurled it across the room where it exploded into a hundred pieces against the wall. The sound of it made them both stare at where the glass shards had chipped small holes in the paint.
Hermione flopped down on the settee and let her head drop into her hands. "Oh, Harry...we can't let this come between us."
"Nothing could come between us," he said. The certainty in his words reassured her even though at this moment she couldn't share it.
"I'm not so sure. We're human beings, and as much as we love each other...well, any love is fragile. So many things can disturb it."
Harry knelt in front of her and put his hands on her knees. "That's what I thought once too, but it doesn't have to be that way. You taught me that. What I feel for you isn't fragile. What I feel for you runs through my whole being and anchors me to the world. Whatever it is, it's the rock I'm clinging to through all this."
She smiled a little. "Gosh, it's not like you to be so poetic."
"I have my moments of eloquence." He pulled her down off the settee to the floor. She curled up in his embrace and put her arms around him, wanting to believe as she usually did. "I know you're frustrated. So am I. I don't know why I reacted in that way. Perhaps Sukesh is right and it's just stress, anxiety about...well, things. But you're all I have, Hermione. I'm lost without you."
She sniffed. "I'm sorry to sound pessimistic. Usually you're the one who's doubtful."
"I've never doubted how I feel about you. Sometimes I just wonder...if I deserve it."
Hermione helped Laura set the table, humming to herself. "So guests for dinner, eh?" Laura said. "Odd pair. Who are they?"
"Terk and Tax Hainsley. Muggles, CIA agents. Friends of Harry's."
"Brother and sister."
"Ah," Laura said, a little smile coming over her face.
Hermione cocked an eyebrow. "What's going on in that devilish little brain?"
"Well...the man. Tax, is it? He's pretty sexy."
"You think so?"
"Mm-hmm. I love those bad boys."
"And I wonder what Sorry's doing right now?"
Laura shrugged. "I'd be the last person to know." Her voice took on an edge as she said this. Hermione opened her mouth to pursue it, then thought better of it.
Terk came into the kitchen looking refreshed, dressed in casual jeans and a sweater, her hair free of its bun and cascading down her shoulders. "Can I help?" she said.
"No, we've got it. Care for a drink?"
Terk spied the bar in the corner. "Allow me." She stood there with her back to them and they watched her for a minute as she poured, stirred, shook, poured some more...finally she turned, somehow holding four glasses in her hands. She handed one each to Hermione, Laura and George.
Hermione took a sip of the clear concoction. "Oh my," she said.
George sighed. "That's the best thing I've ever had in my mouth, and that includes Cornelia Prinzmetle."
"What is this?" Laura said, draining her glass.
"Careful," Terk said, laughing. "It's pretty strong."
"It doesn't taste strong."
"Ah, that's the beauty. We're a sneaky lot, we spies."
Harry walked in with Tax, buttoning up a clean shirt. He crossed to where Hermione stood and embraced her from behind, ducking his head down to kiss the side of her neck. Hermione could smell the soap from a quick shower. "What are we doing? Drinking ourselves into altered states of consciousness?" he said.
"Just waiting for dinner."
"Yeah, George, let's eat! I'm famished!" Laura said.
"I'm right here," Justin said, poking his head out from behind the newspaper he was reading.
"Well, then, dinner is served!"
Dinner was a merry affair. George's cooking was, as usual, delicious, and the presence of Muggles at their table induced the five wizards to float more things around the room than they might ordinarily have done. Terk and Tax cooperated by being dutifully amazed at George's floating, self-carving butcher's knife and Laura's no-hands pouring of the lemonade.
After dinner they sat around the table with coffee and treacle tart and chatted for a time. Justin excused himself, claiming that work called him away. Harry also left the table early, having been unusually quiet during dinner.
"Are you all right?" Hermione said in a low voice as he passed.
He nodded. "Just tired." He disppeared up the back stairs and out of sight.
George stood up. "Well all, time to clear away." He waved his wand at the table and the dishes rose off the cloth, obediently marching to the sink where they began to clean themselves. Terk shook her head.
"Y'all have it so easy, you have no idea."
"Yeah, it's good to be magical," Laura said. "There's really no downside to it...well, aside from the whole lurking-evil thing."
"So Laura," Tax said, picking up napkins from the table. Laura perked up immediately. "Hermione tells me that you work for the Ministry?"
"I work for my Ministry, from New Zealand. I'm a liaison."
"You mean boring." Everyone laughed.
"You said it, not me."
"It is rather boring, actually. Still, it keeps me in chips and beer."
From through the doorway came the sound of a piano, the piano in the front parlor. It was Pachelbel's Canon in D, that old piano-student standard.
Hermione chuckled. "That's a switch. Justin usually sticks to show tunes."
"Yeah," Laura grumbled. "If I hear 'Get Happy' one more ruddy time..."
Conversation trailed off as the simple chords of Pachelbel's famous canon were embellished, widened and quickened. It sounded like Justin was improvising on the basic melody, and he was very into it. The notes crashed through the house, louder and louder, fast arpeggios underneath the familiar chords.
"Who's playing?" Everyone turned in surprise to see Justin standing near the back staircase, which he'd evidently just descended. Hermione's mouth fell open when she realized who it must be.
She hurried out of the kitchen past the winter garden room into the parlor, the others close on her heels. They drew up short just inside the room, staring.
There at the piano was Harry, his robes spread out around him and pooling on the floor, his head down as he pounded on the piano. His fingers flew over the keyboard and his feet worked the pedals as his head bobbed in time to the music.
He stopped in mid-chord and whirled around on the piano stool, his eyes wide and his face pale. "Oh my God," Hermione whispered.
"Wow, he's good," Terk said.
"Yes," Hermione said. "Except that he doesn't play the piano."
"I'd say he does. Rather well, in fact."
"No, I don't. I mean, I can't," Harry said, standing up and staring down at his fingers as if they'd betrayed him. "Never touched one in my life. I'm not what you'd call musical."
"Can't even sing Happy Birthday," Justin whispered, as if this were a very great scandal.
"I just...I passed the room and saw the piano and..." Harry sighed. "I thought I could play it. So I did."
Hermione came forward and took his arm. "Are you feeling all right?"
He nodded. "Fine, yes."
Laura cleared her throat. "Let's all sit down, shall we?" They moved into the living room next door and took seats. Terk and Tax hovered near the door, interested but clearly feeling marginalized in this world of wizardry. "So...you just thought you could play it?"
Harry, refusing to sit but instead pacing about the room, shrugged. "It's not so much that I thought I could, it just occurred to me that I could. Like I'd always known how and had just forgotten about it until that moment."
"You know why, though," Hermione said.
Harry looked at her sharply. "What makes you think so?"
"Because you're not asking me."
He finally sat down at her side. "All right. Here's my theory. When I first learned about the Mage factor from the Society, they loaned me some of their texts...many of them very ancient. I read every one cover to cover. The most informative was the Toltec Book of Mage. I think the Toltecs must have made a very serious study of magical powers and observed some living Mages through the centuries."
"I thought you were the first."
"The first that we know of. There had to have been others. It can be inferred from the way they're written about, though they're never discussed directly. There seems to have been some superstition on that subject." He took a deep breath. "Anyway, the Toltecs spoke of the powers of the Mage as the others did, but I remember considerable discussion of what they called 'the knowing touch.'"
"The knowing touch?" George said. "Sounds kinky."
"Not really. It's hard to distinguish between legend and observation, but from what I could gather at the time it meant that a Mage, with enough practice, could touch an object and know its innermost workings. They spoke of seeing something's secrets...almost reading its mind. The language was dense and full of metaphors, but I think what they meant might be...something like what I just did. I touched the piano and I knew how to play it, but I don't know how I knew."
"You picked up the gun and you knew how to shoot it," Hermione said.
"I thought of that, yes."
"But Harry, you said that a Mage could do that with enough practice."
"Yes. That's the sticking point. The practice. I shouldn't be able to use the knowing touch at this point in my development. I haven't been practicing."
"That you can remember, anyway," Justin said. They all looked at each other, the significance not lost upon them.
Hermione lay in bed staring at the glass ceiling of the Cloister. Harry was asleep next to her, turned away from her on his side. Over her objections he hadn't notified anyone of the piano incident, claiming that he was too tired to deal with another of Sukesh and Argo's inquisitions. It could wait until tomorrow. She gave in, though her mind was spinning and wouldn't let her sleep.
Harry rolled over onto his other side and snuggled into the blankets. She turned her head on her pillow so she could look at his face. He looked so different without his glasses on...younger, more vulnerable. His bright green eyes were such a dominant feature on his face that when they were closed he sometimes didn't look quite like himself.
He stirred, shifting uneasily under the covers. Hermione tensed up; this was how he acted before his nightmares. She reached into her bedside table for the notebook she kept there to record anything he might say. He tossed his head from side to side and started making small noises of distress.
At times like this Hermione always had to restrain herself from comforting him. In the grip of a nightmare, his sleeping words might offer clues, yet she wanted nothing more than to take him in her arms and soothe him until the nightmare passed.
"...never ends..." he muttered. Hermione sighed. That was old news. "...it never ends!..." he said, with a little more force than before.
She was settling in for fifty more repetitions of this phrase (which was how things ordinarily went) when Harry's dream took a turn for the unusual.
"...guardian..." he whispered. Hermione leaned closer, perking up her ears. This was something new. "...wherzza guardian...it never ends..." Who was this guardian? Puzzled, she scribbled his words on her notepad. "...always been...never ends...always a guardian," he muttered. "Hmmmm...the eternal...help!" he suddenly cried out, making her jump. "Help!" he yelled again, twitching under the covers. "Mmm...er...mione...uhnhmmm," he trailed off.
Hermione could stand it no longer. She reached out and drew him close to her. "Shh, I'm here," she whispered. "Go back to sleep." He snuggled close to her and settled into a more peaceful sleep. Hermione held him and stared at the ceiling again, troubled thoughts keeping her own sleep away.
Remus Lupin stirred creamer into his coffee, moodily swirling the tiny and ineffectual plastic stirrer around in his mug. The ceramic monstrosity had been a birthday gift from Charlotte, a product of her primary-school art class. It was shaped like what was supposed to be a wolf, its curling tail forming the handle. The cup rested on paws protruding from its lower curve, and the wolf's snout pointed towards the ceiling from out of the forward rim. It was painted in vivid streaks of blue and yellow; etched into the clay were the words "Kiss the Wolfie" outlined in paint that glittered and changed colors. It was quite an objet d'art considering that a five-year-old had crafted it...but then, Charlotte had always been too smart for her own good.
Sirius had been almost embarrassed when Charlotte proudly presented her Uncle Remus with this solemn offering, but Remus liked it. He supposed it reflected some degree of comfort with his dual nature that he unabashedly drank his coffee from it on a daily basis. He had no secrets from anyone here, nor did he wish to.
He glanced around the "downroom" as it was called by the agents. It was a sort of all-purpose break room and gathering place. There were a fair number of agents here, as it was just past noon. He spotted Hermione sitting at a table making notes in her folio and periodically consulting a stack of papers before her. He briefly considered joining her but thought the better of it...she looked busy, and he had to be on his way.
The silver ID bubble appeared floating near the ceiling, causing all the agents present to stop what they were doing and wait for it to speak. "Lt. Granger, phone call on line 2. Lt. Granger, line 2." It popped away after delivering its message. Must be Smitty on the other end, Remus thought. She always used ranks to address people.
Hermione got up and went to the comm station. The ID was connected to the local phone grid. Given that the agents had to frequently make contact with the Muggle authorities as well as their non-magical helpers this arrangement made sense. Not to mention that more and more wizard households were wired for telephones these days.
He sipped his coffee and watched Hermione pick up the phone and speak into it. She said nothing for a long moment as she listened to the person speaking on the other end of the line. Remus watched with growing concern as the color drained from her face.
She put one hand to her eyes and he saw her chin begin to tremble. He put down his coffee and watched her more closely; no one else seemed to have noticed anything amiss.
Hermione hung up the phone, her hands visibly shaking, and leaned on the edge of the desk for a moment, breathing hard. Remus stood up and went to her side. "Hermione?" She looked up at him, her face pale and her eyes wide as if she wasn't quite sure who he was. "Are you all right?"
She pushed past him, her breath coming in great heaving gasps, and wandered over towards the wall, her hands out away from her body. She slid down the wall into a crouch, bowing her head down against her chest. Remus knelt in front of her, alarmed. Other wizards and witches gathered around now to watch with concerned expressions. "Hermione, what's wrong?" He could see tears streaming down her cheeks now; she pressed her hands to her face and shook her head, once.
"What's going on?" asked Napoleon, pushing forward.
Remus spared him the briefest of glances. "Get Harry." Napoleon didn't move. "Now!" Napoleon turned and ran out of the room. Remus could hear him calling for his Bubble. "Hermione, tell me what's wrong," he said, putting his hands on her shoulders. She now had her head down on her knees and was softly sobbing.
He couldn't get her to say anything. Remus stayed there at her side, shooing away the curious onlookers, until he heard running footsteps approaching the downroom. Harry ran in with Napoleon right behind him. He hurried forward to where Hermione was still huddled against the wall. Remus stood up to make room for him. "Thanks, Remus," Harry said quietly as he knelt next to her. He put his hands on her shoulders. She raised her head and when she saw it was him she collapsed forward against him, her arms going around his neck. Harry held her, rocking her back and forth with a puzzled and alarmed look on his face. "Honey, what's wrong?" he said.
Hermione spoke close to Harry's ear, but they couldn't hear her. Her words were half-masked by sobs and her voice was only loud enough for him to hear. At one point Harry shut his eyes tight and Remus saw the muscles in his jaw clench. "Oh no," Harry whispered.
"Harry...what is it?" Napoleon said.
Harry glanced up at them. "Her grandmother's dead." He turned back to Hermione, who was still weeping quietly with her head on his shoulder. "Come on, now. Stand up with me." He stood up, pulling her with him. He looked over at Napoleon. "I'm going to take her home. Tell Argo?"
"Sure," Napoleon said, nodding.
Harry slowly walked her out of the room, keeping his arm tight around her. Hermione leaned on him heavily, her steps shuffling as they left.
"She must have been very close to her grandmother," Remus said.
"Oh, yeah. Spent most of her summers with her as a girl. Very close." Napoleon sighed. "Poor thing."
Harry parked his car in the yard and glanced over to the passenger side. Hermione sat slumped against the door, her chin in her hand, staring blankly out the window. Her face was streaked with tears. He came around to open her door but she was already climbing out. She looked tired and sad. "I'm so sorry, sweetheart," he said, cupping her face in one hand.
She smiled weakly. "Thanks." He hugged her tightly for a moment and kept his arm around her shoulders as they walked to the front door.
Laura was waiting for them when they entered; Harry had called ahead to the house to tell them what had happened. She embraced Hermione, murmuring words of sympathy in her ear. "Here, I packed you a bag. I thought you'd be going to your parents' house."
"Thanks, Laura. Yes, right away...as soon as...." She trailed off, distracted.
"I packed you one too, Harry," Laura said, indicating the cases she'd made up for them where they sat on the hall floor.
Without being asked Justin picked up both bags and went outside to put them in Harry's car. Harry looked at Laura, grateful to have the logistics taken care of. "I appreciate that, Laura." He looked down at Hermione. "Do you want to relax for a bit? Have a bite to eat?"
She shook her head, hugging herself about the middle. "No, let's just go. Please?"
"Of course." Harry smiled wanly at their friends. "We'll owl you about the funeral. Thanks."
Justin stared down at the ground, Laura's arm hooked through his right elbow. The gathered mourners stood grouped around the casket as it hung poised above the waiting grave. The minister droned on and on, conducting this seemingly endless graveside service. The wind was picking up, and black clouds loomed in the sky and raced closer with each passing minute. The forecast had called for severe storms today, but they seemed a little ahead of schedule.
Across from him were Hermione's parents, holding hands. Her mother was holding a black handkerchief over her mouth. To Justin's left were Harry and Hermione. Harry was nearer to him, his arm firmly about Hermione's waist. She was leaning heavily against him and dabbing periodically at her eyes.
A rumble of thunder came from the west and the wind picked up again, whipping Justin's coat around his legs. He saw Harry cast a dubious look towards the approaching storm. The mourners began to shift uneasily. Lightning stabbed the sky. So far no one was moving, but the storm was coming fast and soon they'd all have to run for cover and leave Hermione's poor grandmother to fend for herself.
Hermione began to sob again. Harry hugged her, trying to comfort her while keeping one eye on the heavens. After a few moments he gently eased away and backed out from next to her. Hermione barely noticed. Justin, taking his cue, put his own arm around her shoulders. He turned to look at Harry, puzzled.
Harry was looking up at the stormclouds, a strange expression in his eyes. He looked distant, foreign. He leaned over and whispered in Justin's ear. "Put up a WSC."
"Why?" Justin hissed back.
"Just do it. I'm not letting a stupid storm ruin this for her." Justin glanced up at the stormclouds. They were now right above them, purple-black and threatening. Lightning stitched seams across their lower surface and the wind whipped across the cemetery hilltop.
Justin shrugged. A WSC was a Wizardry Screening Charm, a sort of masking field that prevented Muggles from seeing a wizard perform magic. They were a recent innovation of Justin's own department and were proving wildly successful. He eased his wand out of the inner pocket of his coat, dropping Laura's arm in the process. He held it unobtrusively at his side and whispered the charm. Foggy tendrils of green light emanated from the tip of his wand and shot around the group of mourners, separating into small pulses of magic that plunged into all the Muggle eyes. They wouldn't see.
Justin watched Harry move from the group up to the foot of the casket, facing the minister who paid him no mind whatsoever. A nervous little ball formed in the pit of his stomach, because he had no idea what Harry intended. What could he do? Throw up a few magical umbrella charms so they wouldn't get wet?
As he watched, Harry held his hands down at his sides, palms forward and slightly out from his body. He lowered his head and stared out at the approaching storm with a creepy intensity, his eyes looking out over the top rims of his glasses. As Justin watched, something began to happen. The wind started to blow harder, but from the opposite direction, behind Harry...or, more precisely, from Harry. His hair whipped around his head and his topcoat billowed out around his legs. The two opposing gales crashed and swirled above the funeral party. The Muggles present ignored it while the wizards watched Harry. Hermione, standing at Justin's side, was tense as a marble statue as she watched him. Her tearstained handkerchief fell from her fingers, forgotten, and was whisked away by the violent winds. He could feel her shoulders shaking under his arm and her breath tearing in and out of her chest. "What's going on?" he said into her ear. She just shook her head, speechless. "I guess...just try to act natural. They don't see him." Hermione nodded and turned her head back towards the casket, but she kept glancing towards Harry. Justin watched him out of the corner of his eye.
Small bursts of electricity crackled between Harry's fingers, around his face, in his eyes. "Bloody hell," Justin whispered. Harry thrust his arms into the air in a wide V and lightning bolts shot from his hands, stabbing upwards into the black sky above. The wind leapt forward from where he stood and screamed into the sky, shredding the stormclouds. Harry's face was wild, lit from beneath, his eyes glowing with an alien power that no wizard should wield.
The stormclouds boiled and writhed in the sky, battered by the wind that Harry had conjured out of nowhere. The sky lightened and Justin's jaw dropped as the storm retreated back the way it had come, the thunderheads pulling away into harmless streaks as it did so. As the minister concluded the ceremony, the sun peeked out from the overcast sky. Harry slowly lowered his arms, his eyes still staring upwards. He came back around to the side of the grave and rejoined Hermione, who seemed to have refocused herself on the funeral. The mourners were starting to drift away. The family stepped closer as the casket was lowered into the ground.
Hermione went around to hug her parents as everyone moved a short distance away from the gravesite. "Harry?" Justin said. He turned around and Justin almost fell back a step. Harry's eyes were still crackling with electricity, the green irises glowing and flashing. Hermione came over, her brow furrowed and purpose in her step.
"Harry Potter, explain to me what just happened," she said. Harry slowly turned his head to look at her. "Harry?" she repeated, uncertain.
All at once Harry sagged and put one hand to his forehead. His eyes fell shut and he stumbled. Justin put out an arm to steady him. "Whoa," Harry said, putting his hands out and regaining his balance. When he raised his head again he looked like himself. "What was that?"
Hermione grasped his arm firmly. "That was a one-way ticket back to Sukesh's lab, mister."
"It can wait. Nana's dead, she'll understand. You're not and I intend to keep it that way."
"Let me get this straight," said Sirius. "He repelled an entire thunderstorm?"
"Yes," Hermione replied. She was still trying to get her mind around it. The image was burned into her brain, the sight of him standing there with his arms up, reconfiguring the weather with sheer force of will and looking like...well, like a Mage. It was creepy.
They were sitting in one of Sukesh's consultation rooms. Sirius was on one side of her and Lefty was on the other. Remus sat across from them, taking notes. "Did he appear mentally affected?" Lefty asked.
"I don't know. He looked different. And when it was over he seemed confused."
"This just after he exhibited signs of the knowing touch." Lefty had been extremely interested to hear about that. As a member of the Society he had spent most of his life studying such things.
"He did that as early as a few weeks ago," she said, thinking of the uncannily skillful massage he'd given her after her exams.
The door opened and Sukesh entered, looking amazed. "Well," he said, taking a seat. "You were right, Lefty."
"Right about what?" Hermione said, glancing at Lefty.
He turned towards her. "After your description of his behavior I had suspicions. I told Sukesh what to check for in his examination."
"Suspicions of what?"
"That his Mage powers have been affected," Sukesh said. "They are greatly amplified from the last time we tested them, which was before his disappearance. I'd say they're at least fifty times stronger than they were before."
"As if he'd been using them a lot," Sirius said, his expression thoughtful.
Lefty nodded. "The knowing touch comes to a Mage with practice and study. The extraordinary feat of weather control he managed today is something only a Mage in full command of his powers could perform."
"So...the theory is that while he was away he was forced to use his Mage powers, a lot more than he does in his normal life." Hermione bit her lip. "That makes sense."
Remus nodded. "It had occurred to me that he may have been targeted because of the Mage factor. If someone wanted to test him, or develop him, that could give us a motive for kidnapping him."
"Who, though?" Hermione said. "Who could have done that? Who could make him forget so completely?" No one answered, they didn't need to. It went without saying that they had no idea. Hermione took a deep breath. "There's something else I should tell you." They all looked at her. "His nightmares have changed."
"The last few times he's had them, he's said something else. He still says the 'never ends' bit but lately he's mentioned someone called the Guardian. Or something. I don't know what that refers..." She stopped midsentence and looked around at the older wizards. When she'd said the word "Guardian" they had all straightened in their seats and looked around at each other. "What? Does that mean something to you?"
"Well...uh..." Sirius began. He glanced at Remus, who only shrugged. "I don't think so."
"Sirius! Don't give me that, I saw how all of you reacted! It means something! Who is this Guardian?"
"That's just it," Lefty said. "It's no one."
"The Guardian is just a myth. Like ...oh, Father Christmas or the boogeyman. More like the boogeyman, actually."
Hermione looked around at each of their faces in turn. "I think you'd better tell me about this myth."