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 8: Kryptonite
If I go crazy, then will you still call me Superman?
If I'm alive and well, will you be there holding my hand?
I'll keep you by my side with my superhuman might...
--Three Doors Down
Her question hung in the air for a long moment as the other wizards exchanged uncomfortable glances. Finally, Remus leaned forward and laced his fingers together on the tabletop. "All right, I'll try to explain it." He shifted in his seat. "There's no written legend, no epic poems, no folktales that mention the Guardian, but I always remember hearing its name, as if it were just in the air." Sirius was nodding in agreement. "No one ever sat me down and told me who...or what...the Guardian was. I suppose I came to have ideas about it just from context, or in the way I heard people whisper about it. I say 'it' because I don't know if it's a person, or if it's even a living thing."
He stood up and cracked his knuckles, a habit of his when he was uneasy. "The way it feels to me, the Guardian is a sort of protector figure, something not like us." He waved his hands in the air, searching for words. "We earthly wizards and witches are poor vessels for the magic that we use, but the Guardian is of the place where the magic comes from."
Hermione frowned. "What do you mean?"
He leaned towards her. "Haven't you ever asked yourself where the magic comes from?"
"I suppose I always just...thought it came from us."
"Perhaps, but it makes me wonder. I don't think that magic can be of human origin, or everyone would be able to use it. Something about you and I and everyone at this table is different. We've been touched by a power relatively rare among humans. Maybe something that doesn't come from us. Everything that is foreign and strange about magic...well, the Guardian is part of it. I'm not saying this very well."
Sirius interrupted him. "Muggles tell stories about guardian angels," he said. "That's the image I've always had."
Hermione snorted. "What, a floating glowy person who stops you from tripping over tree roots and makes you remember to put petrol in your car?"
"Nothing so mundane. Not to guard us, but more...I don't know. Perhaps to watch us."
Remus snapped his fingers. "Yes. Watch us."
Hermione looked towards Lefty. "Do you have anything to add?"
He cleared his throat. "I go along with what Sirius and Remus say, except that I will add this: whatever impression I have of the Guardian, I think it comes from a place where there is no good or evil, where everything is the same. I get a feeling of malice from it, just as much as a feeling of benevolence."
"And Harry is dreaming about this...entity," Hermione said, shaking her head.
"That makes a kind of warped sense," Remus said. "I said earlier that we are all poor vessels for the magic..."
"Except for Harry," she finished for him. No one said anything, they didn't have to. Hermione scrubbed her hands over her face. "My God, why couldn't I have fallen for someone normal?"
Sirius laughed. "You'll search forever before you find anyone who fits that description."
She rubbed her fingers against her temple. "Why have I never heard any of these Guardian legends? I don't think anyone my age knows anything about this."
"There's a reason for that," Sirius said. "When Tom Riddle first became Lord Voldemort and began his rise to power, there were rumors...not reports, mind you, just rumors...that he claimed that the Guardian was his personal patron, and that his ascendency was due to its favor. No one ever heard him say this, but the rumors persisted. It became somewhat taboo to speak of the Guardian, almost as much so as to speak Voldemort's name. I suppose the legends drifted away after that."
"Do you think the Guardian really did favor Voldemort?"
"We have no way of knowing, do we? But honestly, I don't see a figure like the Guardian picking and choosing particular wizards to install in powerful positions. Too Machiavellian." Sirius turned to Remus. "Moony, do you remember that charm that Peter had?"
Remus was nodding. "Peter Pettigrew had a charm when we in school, he said it had been passed down in his family for generations. It had a symbol on it that wasn't familiar to any of us, except...well, when I graduated and went to work on the continent I saw that symbol carved into cave walls along with some primitive spells in Latin. It piqued my curiosity so I looked into it. The symbol, which sort of looked like this," he said, pulling a quill and parchment close to him and drawing on it, "is never translated but is often coupled with spells of power or mystery. I think that people used to use this symbol to represent the Guardian, whose name they didn't dare invoke." He turned the parchment to Hermione's eyes.
The symbol was an isosceles triangle, its base horizontal. It was bisected by a vertical line that began at the tip and ran past the baseline some distance. At the tip of the triangle was a circle. Over the circle were three short lines like rays, the central line vertical and two more flanking it pointing slightly in either direction.
Hermione stared at the symbol, transfixed. It meant nothing to her, but yet it did. It seemed to communicate with her on some primitive level. It looked powerful. She found herself accepting Remus' interpretation completely. "Yes, this is it," she whispered.
"What?" Lefty said, leaning forward. "Do you recognize it?"
"No. Yes. I don't know. I feel like I've dreamed it."
"Good God, is everyone having prophetic dreams now?" Sirius said.
"Well, this symbol may have meaning but it doesn't really help us, does it?" Hermione said, pushing the paper away.
"I say we just wait and see," Remus said.
"I've had about enough of waiting and seeing," Hermione retorted. "I feel like I should do something."
"There's not much you can do," Sirius said, reaching out to take her hand. "Just be there for him, and be careful."
Harry buttoned up his shirt, his feet dangling over the edge of the examination table. Napoleon was sitting in a nearby chair with his legs crossed, watching him. Sukesh was making some notes on the rapidly thickening medical file of one Potter, Major Harry J. "Well," the CMO began, "you've succeeded in frightening me, Harry. Your Mage powers are strengthened to a degree that you could probably disintegrate both of us with a thought."
"Don't tempt me."
"It's not healthy. No one person should wield that kind of power."
"I didn't ask for this, Sukesh! Bloody curse, is what it is. I try not to let it get to me, and just be a normal wizard and have a normal life." He pounded his fist on the table. "Every day I wake up and I know that I can't have those things. I can't give the woman I love a normal marriage or a peaceful life."
"If she wanted all that she wouldn't be with you," Napoleon said.
Harry whirled on him. "Sod off, Jones! What the hell do you know about it? You're always making these snide little comments about Hermione like you're her best friend when I know damned well you're just trying to get into her pants behind my back!"
Napoleon jumped up, his face red. "That was bleeding uncalled for!"
"Harry, just calm down..."
"And don't you tell me to calm down!" Harry yelled at Sukesh. "You with your endless tests and your smug diagnoses and you're probably just using me as an interesting test subject for your next paper!" Sukesh held up both hands in a gesture of peace. "I bet you're trying to poison me. Everyone around here just wants to get rid of me! No more Harry to make us look bad, no more Harry to steal our limelight!"
"Boss!" Napoleon exclaimed, his eyes wide with shock.
He grabbed his jacket and stalked to the door. "Don't come near me, either of you bastards." He slammed the door after him, leaving Sukesh and Napoleon to stare helplessly ateach other.
"Okay, that was the evil twin, right?" Napoleon said.
Sukesh was shaking his head. "I have never heard Harry say a harsh word to anyone...well, except perhaps you, Jones, but nothing so extreme as that."
"What's with him? He sounded like a bleeding psychopath!"
"He's altered." He saw Napoleon's puzzled look. "Sorry, trade term. He's experiencing personality changes. It's been coming on gradually over the last few weeks. I've noticed the effects but I didn't mention it to him because I don't wish to aggravate his condition by upsetting him."
"And so your brilliant course of treatment is to do nothing and let him leave. I see, it all makes perfect sense now." The sarcasm was laid thick over his words.
Sukesh was scribbling madly on his notepad. "If I keep him here he'll just get more agitated and I won't have an accurate assessment of his behavior. Hermione will tell me what he does and bring him back if he manifests any more symptoms. I can always watch him from here on my Apparition glass."
"You could be putting her in danger, you know. If he's...altered, whatever, he might..."
"Hermione can take care of herself. Besides, Harry would never hurt her."
"At least the Harry we know," Napoleon muttered.
Hermione couldn't concentrate. Her mind drifted back to Nana's funeral and what had happened there. She felt guilty for not paying complete attention to it, as well as angry at Harry for distracting her from such an important moment. He just didn't want the funeral ruined by a thunderstorm, she thought.
She was sitting at her desk trying to work on a surveillance report and not getting very far. She'd spent the morning down in Research trying to find information on the Guardian. The Librarian had been unable (or, more likely, unwilling) to tell her anything concrete and she'd found nothing in any of the books she'd searched through, not even the symbol Remus had shown her. Isobel had the same reaction that Sirius and the others had...she vaguely remembered hearing stories about the Guardian but knew nothing specific.
Hermione shifted in her seat, feeling a little sore this morning. Harry had been unusually enthusiastic in bed with her the night before. Not that he wasn't always enthusiastic, but his lovemaking had never been so...well, rough. She'd put it down to a reaction to the day's examination of death, but now she wasn't so sure. At the time it had been a little exciting and she had responded...it had only played off the mild arousal she'd been fighting down the entire day.
Much as Harry's behavior at the funeral had puzzled, frightened and worried her, a not insignificant part of her that she was trying to ignore had gotten off on it. The sight of him so powerful and wild had been, she reluctantly admitted to herself, a turn-on. She supposed it was natural, after all, if you listened to all those nature programs on BBC3 then the females of the species were biologically programmed to favor stronger mates. Nevertheless it had felt profoundly wrong to start feeling peckish while standing next to her much-loved grandmother's coffin.
She sighed and picked up one of the framed photos on her desktop, this one of herself and her parents with Nana on the Isle of White during a vacation a few years back. "Oh, Nana," she whispered, touching the image under the glass. "Why'd you have to go now?" She sighed, her grief rising to her throat and swelling it. "You won't see me walk down the aisle..." She could not continue. Tears spilled from her lids and ran down her cheeks.
Abruptly, she set down the picture and stood up to hurry from the room in search of Harry. She needed his shoulder to cry on. She'd already cried in his arms most of the night she'd learned of Nana's death, but the tears tended to sneak up on her just when she thought they'd left for good.
Napoleon found Terk in the small lower-level workspace she and Tax had been occupying. "Hey," she said, smiling at him as he camein. "What's up? And what is this expression on your face, is that seriousness? I hardly recognize it."
He didn't bite. "Terk, strange things are afoot at the Circle K."
"Ah, the classic Bill & Ted reference. Excellent choice."
"What strange things? Harry again?"
"You heard about what he did at her grandmother's funeral?"
Terk sobered. "Yeah. Did you see it?"
"No, I wasn't there. Hermione told me about it. She's pretty spooked."
"Wouldn't you be?"
She put down the weapon she was cleaning and sat on the forward edge of the desk, facing him. "Before I got here I'd heard that their relationship was just...well, for show."
Napoleon frowned. "Who told you that?"
"Oh, just rumors. You know how it is. It's wrong, whoever started it. They're really very much in love."
He nodded. "Yes."
"Well, I'm jealous."
"For very different reasons," she said with a grin, taking a swing at his shoulder. "You just want her for yourself."
He shook his head. "I'm starting to have doubts about that."
Terk sobered. "Surely not."
"Oh, don't get me wrong. I still have very strong feelings for her, I'm just beginning to realize why."
She cocked her head. "Why, then?"
Napoleon looked up at her. "Because she reminds me of you."
Hermione found Harry in the smaller gymnasium, a cramped stone room full of equipment. He was in the corner with a heavy stationary bag, pummeling it. He was wearing jogging shorts and a strappy t-shirt, sweat glistening on his bare shoulders. He glanced at her as she entered. "Hey," he said.
She sat down on a nearby bench, shoulders slumped. She stared at her hands, glad that he was occupied so she could just talk and not have to look at anyone. To see his sympathetic face would just make her cry harder. "Keep pounding, I just need to talk at you for a minute." He paused and nodded at her, then went back to the bag. "I can't stop thinking about Nana. She was so vibrant, so alive...more alive than most people half her age. It's not fair. She was so excited about our wedding...she was having a new dress made." She swiped at her eyes with one hand. "She was brushing up on her Lindy so she could take a turn with you on the dance floor at the reception...she loved you, Harry, as a grandson." She sighed, the breath shaky and uncertain. "She used to paint me. She'd sit me down on a stool and paint me in her sunroom. She was a horrible painter, just horrible, but she loved it so much. It made me feel so pretty, like a model." Hermione smiled, lost in the reminiscences. "When I'd go there in the summers, she'd..."
Harry stepped away from the bag and faced her, interrupting her memories. He raked his taped hands through his damp hair. "God, can't you shut up for just one minute?" he exclaimed.
Hermione sat staring at him, her mouth hanging open, so completely shocked that she felt like she'd stepped into an alternate universe.
"I can't listen to this anymore!" he went on. His face was dark, unfamiliar. "Why don't you come to me when you have a real problem, like, oh I don't know...never having had any grandparents at all! Or causing your own parents to be horribly murdered!" he yelled. "Just shut the fuck up about your stupid grandmother! God! Do I look like your personal father confessor? Whine, whine, whine, that's all you ever do!" Hermione couldn't move. She felt like she was going to throw up. He adopted a cruel, mocking voice to mimic her own. "'Oh Harry, you didn't tell me about your job! Oh Harry, you work too much! Oh Harry, I have a hangnail!'" He abruptly leaned closer to her. Hermione recoiled, too stunned to react. "Everywhere I turn you're in my face! Well, I'm not your bloody father figure! I'm not your fucking LAPDOG!" On this last word he turned and punched the stationary bag, hard. It burst through the middle and packed cotton filling exploded everywhere. He whirled around, bright malicegleaming from his eyes.
Hermione staggered to her feet and backed away from him, her chin trembling. She turned and ran from the room as fast as she could, the sobs tearing from her throat.
Harry stood and watched her leave, his heart racing and his mind a confused and jumbled whirlwind of conflicting thoughts and impulses.
He stood there for he knew not how long until the red haze cleared from before his vision. He looked around, confused, hearing the echoes of the words he'd just spoken through his ears and his mind. He gasped and staggered back a few steps. "Oh my God," he croaked. He wanted to run after her but his legs felt paralyzed and numb.
"Oh God," he repeated. He fell to his knees in the drifts of stuffing and put his arms over his face, the horror at himself and the memory of the look on her face crashing down like an avalanche.
His shoulders slumped and he wept, lint from the destroyed punching bag sticking to the wetness on his face.
Harry raced up the main staircase two steps at a time. "Hermione!" he yelled. He ran through the second-floor living gallery towards the Cloister stairs. Laura emerged from the archway, her expression unreadable. She held up a hand and stopped him.
"She doesn't want to see you, Harry. She doesn't want to talk to you or listen to you or see you at all."
He grasped her by the upper arms. "Laura, please. I have to see her. You don't understand..."
"I understand that you said some things to her that I will never forgive you for, let alone her." She sighed and her angry expression softened. "Harry, what's wrong with you? Yesterday I never have believed that you would say anything to hurt her so badly."
He lowered his head. "I know. I can't explain it...just please let me talk to her."
"I can't do that. She doesn't want to see you, and probably won't for a bit."
He released her arms and looked off towards the archway. "I think about what I said and I want to rip my tongue out. I don't know how I could have said such things to her. It's like...someone was speaking through me."
"Harry, that's really creepy."
"I know. But that's for later. Right now I just have to see her." He looked into Laura's large brown eyes. "I can't face this without her."
Laura looked back at him for a long moment, then stepped aside with a sigh.
"Thanks," he said, dashing past her and up the stairs.
He hesitated at the door, wondering what on Earth he could say. Mustering his courage, he pushed the door open. The Cloister was dim, the slanting sunset light coloring the walls purple and orange.
He shut the door behind him with a soft click. He saw Hermione sitting near the far window seat in her favorite rocking chair, facing away from the door and looking out to the side yard. He just stood there for a moment, utterly lost as to what to do.
"Get out," she said, her voice flat and cold.
Harry took one step forward. "Honey..."
"Don't call me that," she snapped. "Just get out. Please...give me some time."
He thought about going to her, but wondered if that would only widen the breach. Best to just give her a little space. Without a word, he turned and retreated, closing the door behind him.
Hermione emerged from the Cloister feeling drained and emotionally fragile. She kept hearing those awful words. Alone they were bad enough, but to hear such things spoken in Harry's sweet voice, a voice which usually bore words of love and support to her ears, made them ten times more hurtful.
In her heart she knew he hadn't meant it. She knew that something was happening to him, something that was making him behave strangely...even if he wouldn't admit it. Even so, a part of her wondered if the things he'd said were what he really and truly thought and would ordinarily never say. The idea was frightening.
She came down the stairs, hearing piano music. She followed the sound into the parlor where she found Harry at the keys. He was playing "The Cantique de Jean Racine" by Gabriel Faure, an achingly beautiful choral piece that he was somehow doing justice to on the piano. He knew that it was her favorite piece of music. She stood there as he played it through once, then started again. The melody ebbed and swelled under his fingers, the crescendoes rising to fill the room.
She stood a few meters behind him, watching his long, elegant fingers dance over the piano keys. There was no sheet music before him, and to her knowledge the Cantique had never been transposed for a piano soloist...he was doing it himself. Hermione sank down into the nearest chair, feeling unsteady on her feet.
He played the piece to its conclusion and then stopped, still leaning over the keyboard with his hands on his knees. Hermione could tell just from the slump of his shoulders how miserable he was feeling...and she was suddenly sure that he'd been playing this piece over and over since she'd thrown him out of the Cloister, even though he knew she couldn't hear him up there.
He turned around on the piano stool and looked at her; she could see the fear and despair in his eyes. He turned away. "I'm so ss...I'm so...I'm ssso..." His voice hitched and caught on the word he probably most wanted to get out.
"I know," she whispered.
Harry swiped at his eyes with the back of his hand and slowly raised his eyes to hers, as if afraid of what he might see in them. When at last his gaze met hers and he saw her forgiveness, his face crumpled and he staggered to his feet. He rushed forward and fell on his knees before her chair, letting his head fall into her lap. She stroked his hair and murmured soothing words as he pressed his face into her stomach and put his arms around her waist. "Shh. It's okay," she whispered.
He lifted his head and looked up into her face, his cheeks wet with tears. "Please help me, Hermione. Help me," he said, sagging against her.
She held him tighter. "I will. Everything will be all right."
"Something's happening to me," he said, his voice muffled against her jeans. She sighed, relieved that he was admitting it. "I've...felt it coming. I feel it inside me. It's so strong, and it scares me. It made me hurt Napoleon, and that wizard at the schoolyard, and I thought I could handle it because in some way I wanted to hurt both of them." He looked up at her again. "But then it made me hurt you. Those awful things I said..."
"Yes. They were pretty awful."
"But it wasn't me!" She said nothing, not wanting to voice her own doubts about that. "I didn't think there was anything that could make me hurt you." He sighed and pulled away from her to rise to his feet and look down at her. "It's getting stronger," he said quietly. "Every day it's stronger."
She gaped at him. "And you've said nothing about this...whatever this is? Letting us go on thinking it's just stress, or Mage powers or God knows what else?"
"I wanted to believe that it was those things too! I don't know what's happening to me and I'm terrified that it'll take over and destroy everything that is me!" He knelt before her again, grasping her hands. "I hope that I'm a good man, Hermione."
"You are. Of course you are."
"Whatever is making me act strangely, it's more powerful than I am. I thought I could control it. I thought I could fight it. I don't know if I can. And I couldn't stand it if I turned into someone I would hate, someone that you would hate."
She leaned forward until her forehead rested against his. "There's something I have to tell you. I didn't before because I didn't want to disturb you, but..." She sighed. "It's about your dreams. Your nightmares."
Hermione and Napoleon stood in the observation room looking through the one-way glass into the treatment room. Harry was reclining in a soft leather chair, his eyes shut. Sitting before him on a stool was Johns Biederman, the I.D. psychiatrist. Sukesh hovered nearby. Johns waved his wand back and forth before Harry's closed eyelids until he was satisfied that Harry was completely hypnotized. A quill hovered poised over a notebook to take down everything Harry said word for word.
"Harry, can you hear me?" Johns said.
"Yes," Harry replied. It was his regular voice, but slower and a little deeper.
"Are you feeling completely relaxed?"
"I'm going to ask you questions, and you must answer me truthfully. Do you understand?"
"All right. I want you to think now of a happy memory. Something, any little memory that makes you feel warm and content. Do you have it?" Harry nodded. "Tell me where you are."
"At home. In the backyard. Planting new flowers and cleaning up for a party. Big party...lots of friends. Washing the windows. Hot, sweaty. Hermione in the flower bed. Sitting on the ground...big straw hat. Digging in the dirt. Everyone was laughing and smiling. Perfect day. The strap of her tank top had fallen down on her arm." His hands moved in the air, outlining in space was he was seeing in his mind. "I could see her bra strap. Pale skin around it. Wanted to go over and kiss it. She looked up and saw me watching her...she winked at me." He smiled.
Napoleon glanced over at her. "Do you remember that?"
"I remember that day, but I don't remember what he's describing." Her heart felt tight hearing him talk about it, though. Just a brief moment, the kind life is full of. She could think of a dozen of her own. Johns was moving on.
"Do you know why you're here?"
"Things in my head."
"Why are they bad?"
"They make me do things. Say things. I hit Napoleon."
"Were you sorry about that?"
"No. I don't like him." Hermione saw Napoleon flinch and hang his head at this.
"Why don't you like him?"
"He wants what's mine. He wants my job. He says he doesn't but I know he does. He wants my wife."
"You're not married, Harry."
"Sort of, I am. Inside."
"What do you mean?"
"Inside my head."
"What other bad things have you done?"
"I hit the man who hurt the children. Not sorry. He deserved it."
"Then why was it bad?"
"Because...wasn't me. Wasn't like me. Didn't want to do it."
"When why did you do it?"
"Had to. Couldn't stop."
Harry paused for a moment. "I said mean things to Hermione. I made her cry."
"Were you sorry about that?"
"Yes. Didn't mean it. Didn't want to hurt her, ever. "
"I love her. Can't stand to see her in pain. Never could."
"Did you mean what you said?"
"When you said these things, and did the bad things, what did it feel like?"
"Felt like...someone else did it. Not me. Couldn't control it. It tore through."
"Tore through what?"
"My mind. Tore through my brain."
"Did it feel like another person?"
"No. Don't know. Maybe. Hard to tell."
Johns thought for a moment. "All right, Harry. Now I want you to think about your dreams. Can you tell me about them?"
Harry began to breathe a bit faster. "I'm there. I'm not there. The Guardian is with me. The Guardian is always with me. The Guardian is never with me. The Guardian cannot help me." These words came quickly, confused. "I can't think. Can't see. Can't move. It never ends."
"What never ends, Harry?"
"It never ends. The Guardian can't stop it."
Johns backed off from this, seeing Harry's agitation. "Harry, I want you to think back to the day you disappeared. Can you remember anything about the time you were away?"
Harry's head twisted from side to side. "I'm...I'm..." Suddenly his back arched like a bow and he shrieked at the ceiling. Everyone jumped. Sukesh darted forward. "It never ends!" Harry screamed. "It never ends!" His scream went on and on, warbling and tortured. It hurt Hermione's skin to hear it.
Sukesh and Johns were trying to restrain him as he thrashed on the recliner. Hermione ran from the observation room into the testing room but one of Sukesh's nurses held her from going to Harry. "Harry!" she cried.
Harry abruptly doubled over, his arms bent at the elbows and clenched tightly, the muscles standing out all along his arms and chest. A bright golden wave of magic burst from his body and knocked Sukesh and Johns off their feet. Hermione felt it pass through her like a pressure wave. Harry threw his head back, the cords on his neck standing out like ropes, and bolts of green fire shot from his eyes. The ceiling lights exploded in a gout of sparks and a hole blew through the ceiling into the room above them.
Sukesh leapt to his feet, wand out. "Stupefy!" he cried. The curse hit Harry in the chest and he collapsed limply in a heap. Hermione ran forward and put her hands on his face.
"Holy shit," Napoleon said, coming into the room.
"What the hell just happened?" Hermione exclaimed.
Johns straightened his glasses on his nose. "Well. I'm sure I don't know."
Sukesh was shaking his head. "This is getting serious."
"Getting serious?" Hermione cried, her face reddening. "Did you see him? He was throwing off magic like a dog shakes off water! It looked like something out of 'The Exorcist!'"
"Well, he's not possessed," Johns said. "But I am seeing signs of fractured personality. Something is very wrong inside his head."
"For the love of God can't one of you tell me what's wrong with him?" Hermione said, frustration pushing her voice high.
Johns and Sukesh exchanged a glance. "I hate to keep saying it but we need more information," Sukesh said. "He'll regain consciousness soon. I'm taking him off active duty as of right now. Tomorrow morning bring him back in and we'll admit him for several days of intensive regression therapy and psychological testing. The hypnosis seemed to be yielding some information." Johns nodded in agreement.
"Okay," Hermione said. "But right now, I'm taking him home."
"So...you're not gay, is that what you're telling me?"
George sighed, putting a mug of cider in front of Terk at the table and taking a seat next to her. "How many different ways would you like me to say it?"
"Do I come off as gay?" George said, frowning.
"No, not at all. Well, except for the cooking thing."
"Just because I hang out with Justin doesn't make me a member of his team. We've been roommates since he graduated from Hogwarts. You know what he calls me sometimes?"
"His hetero life partner." They laughed. "Still, if being gay is the worst thing people think about me then I guess I can't complain."
"So I've heard that you too are a member of the Twin Club. Is yours identical or fraternal?"
"Extremely identical. Fred lives in Russia with our older brother Charlie."
"And you two are the youngest boys?"
George hesitated. "We are now."
Terk blinked, remembering Laura telling her of the youngest Weasley boy. "Oh, sorry."
"It's all right."
"Do you miss your twin?"
"Sure. We were inseparable while we were growing up. Have you and Tax always been close?"
"Off and on. Growing up we went through our battles. We're fraternal, of course, so no more alike than any other brother and sister. Why did Fred move away?"
George tapped his fingernails on the side of his mug. "We started a business right out of school. Weasley's Wizard Wheezes. Harry gave us some of the money to start it up. Unfortunately as good as we were at thinking up wacky pranks we were just as inept at managing a business. I wanted to hire someone who actually knew what they were doing to handle the money but Fred was very attached to the idea of going it on our own, so we stuck it out. Ergo, we went under within a year. I found my new job right away and wanted to move on with my life but Fred took it a lot harder. He felt...I don't know, disenchanted. When Charlie offered to take him to Russia and get him into dragon handling he jumped at the chance. We managed to avoid having a big dramatic falling-out, though. We owl several times a week."
"That's good. I don't know what I'd do if Tax and I were separated. He's my best friend."
"What about Napoleon? It's probably a long story."
She flushed a little. "We met. Got married. Got divorced."
"I guess not that long." He stood up and took his mug to the sink. "Want to help me set the table?"
"Sure." Terk got up and took plates from George's hands. She began setting seven places around one side of the large round kitchen table. "Are Harry and Hermione still upstairs?"
"I haven't heard them come down. Hermione wanted to give him some tranquility charms."
"Is he okay, do you think?"
George hesitated. "No, I don't think he is."
"I admit I don't understand all this magic, but I know he's having trouble sleeping and weird mood swings."
"Yeah. I'm trying to stay out of it. Not because I don't care but because I know Hermione likes to handle things herself. She did tell me about these nightmares he's been having. He talks in his sleep and calls out for the Guardian."
She turned and picked up the silverware. "Who's that?"
"Apparently some old wizard legend. I'd never heard it but my dad has. I'm a little unclear on the whole concept. Want to tell everyone dinner's ready?"
"Sure." Terk left the room and trotted up the stairs. She hesitated in the living gallery, then turned and went to Tax's room. She found him inside polishing his boots.
"Time for dinner?" he said. Terk said nothing, just stood there with her arms crossed over her chest, thinking. Tax looked up, frowning. "What's wrong?"
"Harry is dreaming about the Guardian."
Tax stopped polishing his boots and set them down on the floor. "Really."
"Well, should we say something?"
"We could help!"
"Not our place. We can't very well go around telling the Guardian what to do. We're like tiny specks of dust."
Terk sighed and sat down on the edge of his bed. "Yeah, specks." She looked up her brother. "Do you think they know what's going on with Harry?"
"I'm sure they do. He's probably watching us right now."
"I want to do something to help."
"I know. But we have to follow orders, you know that."
Terk nodded. "Okay. But I won't sit by and do nothing if it looks bad for Harry. Not when something can be done."
"The Guardian will take the appropriate action."
"And what if the appropriate action is to let Harry die?"
"What makes you think he might die?"
"Oh, come on! You know his symptoms! The missing time, the amnesia...I think he saw something he shouldn't have seen."
Tax sighed. "Damned Eternals never consider the consequences. They just don't get that humans are kind of fragile."
"It'll rip him apart. The Guardian might not be able to help."
"Then neither can we." They just looked at each other, troubled. "Even if he dies."