- Harry Potter Hermione Granger
- Romance Drama
- Multiple Eras
- Philosopher's Stone Chamber of Secrets Prizoner of Azkaban Goblet of Fire
Published: 07/14/2001Updated: 03/22/2002Words: 155,598Chapters: 15Hits: 223,651
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 9: I Wanna Be Sedated
Put me in the wheelchair, get me on the plane
Hurry hurry hurry before I go insane
I can't control my fingers, I can't control my brain
Oh no, oh no, OH NO...
"Hey everyone! Dinner!"
Hermione could hear Terk's surprisingly loud voice all the way from the second-floor living gallery. She toweled her hair briskly and ran a comb through it. Water dripped from the ends onto the shoulders of her favorite terrycloth robe. She threw on a turtleneck and a pair of jeans and went into the bedroom. Harry was sitting in the rocking chair in the corner with a book. She looked at him for a moment, trying to gauge his mental state just by the look on his face and not having much success. He looked normal. Since they'd come home from headquarters he'd been quiet but regular. She'd intended to perform some of the tranquility charms Sukesh had given her but they hadn't seemed necessary. "Did you hear Terk?" she said.
"Yeah. I was just waiting for you." He stood up and they left the room together. Hermione smiled up at Harry as he took her hand, lacing his fingers through hers. The weight hanging over her head seemed a little less oppressive...no matter what happened, horrible or tragic, everything was always a little better when she was holding Harry's hand.
Just as they descended into the foyer, the door opened and Justin came in, all smiles. "Everyone!" he called. "Everyone come in here!" They stopped near the study door. George and Terk came in from the kitchen, Tax from the back stairs and Laura from the study.
"What's up, J?" George said.
"I have someone I want you to meet," he said breathlessly. He stuck his head out the door. "Come in!" he whispered.
A man stepped into the house from the patio, looking around at them with a cautious smile. He was about 30, average height and strongly built with short jet-black hair and warm brown eyes. He was handsome in an elfin sort of way, with a quirk about his mouth. He smiled at them a little uncertainly.
"Everyone," Justin said. "This is Stephen Eastman."
"Ah, the new man!" George said, grinning and stepping forward to shake his hand. "I'm George Weasley."
"Oh, George! I've heard so much about you. Nice to meet you." Stephen's voice betrayed a hint of Scotland.
"This is Laura Chant," George said as Laura shook Stephen's hand.
Stephen moved down the row of waiting roommates. "I'm Harry Potter, this is Hermione Granger." Stephen shook Harry's hand with a friendly smile. "And this is Lil," Harry said, motioning to the excited puppy wagging her tail excitedly at meeting a new person. Stephen crouched to pet her fuzzy head, thus endearing himself to her forever.
"Isn't he yummy?" Justin said, grinning in the background.
"Careful, Justin," Stephen said, shaking Hermione's hand and smiling at Justin's typical effusiveness. "You'll sprain something."
Everyone laughed. Harry nodded. "I like him."
Stephen turned out to be a solicitor in a rather prestigious wizard law firm in Oxford, but on immediate questioning revealed that he didn't know Daniel Stanfordshire. Justin was clearly smitten with him, and the feeling seemed to be mutual. Throughout dinner the conversation ran from current events to literature to music to wizard politics. Stephen even won George's good favor by offering to help him with the washing up, while winning Harry's by not being the slightest bit star-struck, as newcomers too often were.
The household adjourned to the living room after dinner, sitting in loose groups to chat and drink coffee. George produced a plate of cookies that quickly disappeared.
"So we're in Bora Bora," Terk was saying, "with no clothes except what was on our backs, in the middle of Tropical Storm Rebecca in a thatched cabin with a leaky skylight. Napoleon couldn't magic up anything because his wand was in his suitcase, which was on its way to Beijing. And then the thatched roof gave in." A chorus of groans. "So there we are, standing on a concrete platform on stilts in the middle of the lagoon, soaking wet and covered in branches and dirt. I just looked at him and said 'I think we're going to need a vacation from our honeymoon.'" Everyone laughed. "I was trying to be light-hearted but he was pissed off. He picked up a big chunk of wood from the roof and started to leave. 'Where are you going?' I said. He says 'I'm going to have a little chat with the manager.' I asked him what the wood was for, and he said 'I always say you can get further with a kind word and a two-by-four than just a kind word.'" More laughter.
Harry put a hand to his forehead, wincing a little. "Are you all right?" Hermione said quietly, putting a hand on his arm.
"I'm okay. Little bit of a headache. I'm going to go take something for it." He stood up and left the room. Lil (as they'd taken to calling her) trotted after him, probably hoping to cadge a treat while he was in the kitchen. Hermione wasn't surprised he had a headache, what with all the activity in there.
"So Hermione," Terk said. "A little bird told me you're pretty good at swing dancing."
Hermione flushed. "I suppose. Harry and I really enjoy it."
"I'd love to learn."
"It's pretty simple. You just have to..."
Hermione's words were interrupted by the sound of the front door slamming. "Roommies!" called a cheerful female voice.
"Cho's home!" Justin cried, jumping up just as Cho walked into the study, smiling and taking off her bomber jacket. Her long hair was in disarray, probably from the trip from the Quidditch training camp on her motorcycle.
"Hey, everyone," she said. "Long time no see!" She stepped forward to hug Hermione and Laura and accept cheek-kisses from the men. "Whoa, did you rent out my room?" she said, nodding towards the three strangers in their study.
A flurry of introductions followed as Cho met Terk, Tax and Stephen. "Where's The Potter?" she asked.
"He's just taking something for a headache."
"Ah," Cho said, nodding. Hermione had kept her up to speed on Harry's condition via owl post.
Harry came back from the kitchen, smiling. "Welcome home, Chang!" He hugged her as Lil jumped up and down trying to get her attention.
"Hey, Potter," she said, returning his embrace. Hermione had no idea when the two of them had picked up the habit of calling each other by their last names, they were the only ones who did it. She could admit to herself in her jealous heart that it felt good to hear the formerly smitten Cho refer to him in such a platonic-buddy manner. She smiled to herself, musing that there was nothing like being in love to bring out a person's inner two-year-old. Can't have. Mine. "It's good to be back, especially tonight," Cho was saying with a significant glance at her roommates.
"Of course!" George said. "Game night."
"Your ass is mine," Harry said, pointing at Cho and fixing her with a deadly glare.
"Then come over here and take it."
"You know better. In this house, we play by the rules."
Hermione looked around the table, gauging everyone's faces. Laura wasn't paying attention. George was staring intently. Justin looked ecstatic, but that might have been phony. Cho was looking studiously away. Harry's face was unreadable.
She screwed up her courage. "I'll see it and raise you three," she said, tossing three Galleons onto the pot.
"See it," George said, adding his own money.
"Bollocks. Fold," Justin said, tossing his cards down.
"Too rich for my blood," Cho agreed, doing the same.
Harry's turn. He calmly contemplated his cards for a moment. "I'll see your three and raise you twenty." A murmur went up from the players and the audience.
George whistled. "Death comes to the archbishop," he said, shaking his head in dismay as he threw his cards down.
Hermione stared across at Harry, now her only opponent, trying to glean something from his face. Harry was notoriously tell-free and his bluffs were usually good ones...but he was so collected. He wasn't even sweating. He just looked calmly back at her. "Is there some sort of Mage power you haven't told me about that enables you to remain completely expressionless?" she said.
"It will cost you twenty to make that determination."
She held his gaze for a few more seconds, then threw down her cards in disgust. "Fold," she said.
"Ha!" Harry exclaimed, breaking a smile for the first time since the hand was dealt as he swept the coins towards his side of the table.
"What did you have?"
"What did you have?"
She turned her cards face up. "Four of a kind. Nines." Harry snickered and showed her his cards. Hermione jumped up. "You bluffed me with a pair of fives?"
He shrugged. "Don't get your knickers in a twist, you're the one who fell for it."
"Oh, you are soooo not getting any tonight."
He grinned. "Good. It'll give me a chance to catch up on my correspondence." She threw her cards at him, unable to feign anger any more and joining in their laughter. It wasn't as if there was a lot at stake, she and Harry shared a bank account. She could go out tomorrow and buy a new frock with his winnings if she pleased.
"Another hand?" George said, shuffling the deck.
"I'm tired," Laura said. "And broke. Harry always wins, anyway."
"Well, most of the time. In the same way that Prince Charles wears a suit most of the time." She stood up. "I say we adjourn for the traditional post-poker ritual pudding. Assuming George has some ready, that is."
"Do I have pudding ready, she says," George scoffed. "Is the sky blue? Does Snape hoard newt's eyes? Is Harry a big rotten poker cheater?"
"Watch it, Weasley. I might just fry your eyebrows off with my sizzling eye-beams."
"I'm quaking. Come on, Son of Jor-El, you've got coffee detail. Kneel before Zod." Harry followed George out of the parlor, salaaming sarcastically after him as the others went back into the living room.
Hermione sat down in her favorite chair. "Oh, who's a good girl," she murmured, scratching behind Lil's ears. "There's my good girl." Terk sat down nearby while Lil's stubby tail wagged in ecstasy over all this attention.
"She's such a sweet puppy," Terk said. "Not yappy or destructive."
"Yes, she's a good girl. We love her."
Stephen paused to give Lil a pet. "I have a dog, too. We should get them together sometime."
"Oh, Miss Lil would love a playmate," Hermione said. "What kind of dog do you have?"
"She's a Sheltie. Three years old."
"Shelties are so pretty. What color?"
"Merle and white."
"You should absolutely bring her over," Hermione said. "Lil needs some canine companionship. There aren't any dogs around here for her to play with."
"How long have you had Lil?" Terk asked.
"About a month. She was a gift to me from Harry."
"Aww, that's so sweet."
"He has his moments."
"Quite a few of them, I'd say. I wish I had a man who showered me with affection the way yours does."
"When he's not beating the pants off me at poker, that is." She looked at Terk's face, taking the opportunity. "So you're not dating anyone now?"
"Nah. I was dating this ATF agent...that's the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms," she explained off Hermione's puzzled look, "but it didn't work out. He was too controlling. When I broke up with him he gave me the whole control-freak 'you can't dump me, I'll kill you' speech." She said this so casually, Hermione was shocked but tried not to let it show on her face. "But that sort of thing doesn't really work on me, not when we both know I could kick his ass. I let him know in no uncertain terms if he tried anything I'd feed him his own testicles. And then I'd let Tax have a go at him, and he'd bring along his black belt and his SEAL training. That shut him up fast."
Hermione sighed. "I dated a man who wasn't any good for me once."
"Another control freak?"
"Not so much that. He just needed to feel like the Man all the time. He needed my complete and utter devotion, which I'm sorry to say I gave to him for awhile. And oh my, did he hate Harry."
"He couldn't stand the fact that he was my roommate, and the fact that Harry treated me better than Abel ever did. Abel was a pretty famous writer and people usually fell to his feet in worship, but Harry never did."
"Hey, he's got his own claim to worship. People fall at his feet too."
"I suppose so. I think Abel felt threatened. And he should have. He might have sensed that I loved Harry, it seems like most of my boyfriends did, and Harry's girlfriends, too."
"You loved him then?"
Hermione looked up at Terk, smiling. "I always loved him."
She might have said more. She might have told Terk about her long history with Harry, and about that night when they'd finally fallen together, unable to hold back their passion for each other any longer, a day that was both wonderful and terrible. She might have recounted Harry's proposal, and showed her the engagement ring. She could possibly have told her about Ron, and all the ways that his death had affected them and their relationship.
But she didn't say any of these things, because as she opened her mouth to speak there was a huge shattering crash from the direction of the front hall, beyond which was the kitchen. Everyone stopped what they were doing or saying and looked up. Hermione stood, dread rising in her throat. Good God, what now?
"George?" Justin called. "You okay?"
There was a long pause. "Uh...you guys better get out here," came George's reply, sounding shaky and frightened.
Everyone ran from the room into the main hall. Hermione skidded to a halt as they neared the kitchen. The others stopped behind her. No one spoke for a long moment. "Oh God," she whispered.
On the floor at Harry's feet was a silver tray and a dozen shattered mugs, lying in pools of spilled coffee. George was standing in the doorway to the kitchen, his face pale and frightened, the ruined pudding lying at his feet where he'd dropped it.
Harry was standing in the middle of the floor, facing away from them. He was shaking all over, his arms raised and his hands splayed up near his face. His head was rolling on his neck, quiet groans coming from him.
He whirled around to face them. Hermione sucked in a breath at the sight of his face. It was contorting into a series of fearful grimaces, pasty white with livid spots of color in his cheeks. His teeth were clenched and his eyes were wide and staring. "It...it..." he stammered. It never ends, Hermione thought. Right, Harry? It never ends.
But that's not what he said. "It's coming," he finally managed to get out. "He's...coming...now..."
"Can you stop it?" Hermione asked quietly, trying to keep her voice as calm as possible.
Harry's head whipped around, a strangled cry leaking through his lips. "I can't," he groaned.
Hermione sighed. "Bubble. Napoleon." After a brief hesitation Hermione's Bubble appeared in the air before her.
"Yeah?" Napoleon's voice.
"It's Hermione. Code Roman, level three."
"Where are you?" he asked immediately. No questions, no clarifications. This was clearly something they'd prepared for.
"At home. Bring a team, now."
"On our way." The Bubble winked out.
"It'll take them a few minutes to get here," she whispered. "Everyone just back away slowly."
"What do we do if he loses it?" Terk asked in a low voice.
Hermione paused only briefly. "We hope he doesn't decide to kill us."
George inched away from the kitchen door, past Harry along the wall of the hall and joined the loose group. Everyone was backing towards the study except Hermione, who stood her ground, watching him. "Harry? Can you hear me?"
He was staring at his hands held before him, both of them shaking violently, his eyes bulging from their sockets. "I feel him," he muttered. "He's strong."
"Try to keep him away. Look at me." Her voice carried a stern tone of command. Harry raised his eyes and met hers. "Just look into my eyes. Hang on. They're coming."
"Hold on, Harry. We're all here. You don't want to hurt us." He shook his head hard, sweat droplets flying from his hair. "Just look at my face." He nodded, his breath tearing in and out of his chest. For an eternity they stood that way. Harry's entire body was shaking more and more with each passing second. His head thrashed from side to side, his eyeballs falling back into their sockets so only the whites showed. "Harry!" Hermione commanded. "Look at me! Look at me, dammit!"
He couldn't or wouldn't do as she said any longer. His hands rose up to tear at his hair, spine-chilling cries strangled behind his teeth. All at once he jerked his head up and looked around at them. "Run," he managed to get out, his voice a low rumble.
His arms were flung out to either side and his head snapped back so he stared sightlessly at the ceiling. An inhuman cry tore from his throat and the floor beneath their feet rumbled and shifted. The glass around the nearby winter garden room shattered and the panes in the windows and doors imploded with a raw coughing sound. Everyone ducked as he screamed at the high ceiling of the foyer. "Everyone into the study," Hermione yelled. She stood there watching him, aware that no one was moving.
Harry fell silent and his arms dropped to his sides. He slowly raised his head and smiled at them. Hermione felt a cold hand run up her spine...the certainty once again came to her as it had before that whoever was before them, it wasn't Harry, at least not the one she knew and loved. She could almost recognize this man from the brief glimpses she'd seen. She remembered his cruel words to her in the gym, his blind rage at the schoolyard shooter. Small flashes of the person who'd taken up residence inside him and who now, as it seemed, had taken over. "Harry?" Laura said, uncertain.
He whirled on her. "I am not Harry!" he cried. Laura recoiled.
"Who are you?" Hermione whispered, edging forward.
Harry just looked around, hunched over and still shaking. "Shouldn't we do something?" Terk murmured.
"Like what? We can't control him. He could fry us all with a thought." She sighed. "I'd hoped to keep him calm until the team got here."
"And what'll they do?"
"I don't know. Talk him down, maybe. Incapacitate him in some way. They can't force a Mage to do anything he doesn't want to do."
"We could stun him."
Hermione shook her head. "No. Harry can shake off a stun, especially in this state with his blood up."
"What's happened to him? My God, he looks like a madman," George asked.
"It isn't him, George."
Harry chuckled, straightening and flexing his limbs. "You always think you know the answer, don't you, Hermione?" He straightened up and walked toward them. Everyone backpedaled as he approached. His eyes had gone dead, crackling with magic. "You love to be right." His lip curled in a sneer. "You know me and Ron used to make fun of you? All the time. Even after the troll thing. You never knew." Hermione shook her head. "Oh, yeah. He thought you were a big joke. It wasn't his idea that you two should date, it was mine. I wanted to see what would happen. I wanted to see how long he could stand you. It was longer than I thought it would be, turns out. He said he was just waiting until you put out before he dumped you."
"That's not true," she said, her stomach rolling.
"How do you know what's true?" He laughed. "You never knew about my work. You didn't want to know, did you? You can't tell me you didn't suspect, you shared a flat with me! It was just easier to let yourself stay stupid than ask yourself why I didn't tell you." Don't listen to him, Hermione told herself. He lies. He'll mix it with truth to attack me. Don't listen. It's not true. But it might be just a little true, her mind whispered.
"Harry, maybe you should..." Laura began.
He whirled on her. "Shut up, Chant. I can feel your thoughts." Laura shut her mouth with a snap. "You don't love him anymore, do you?" He smiled, his face like a slack rubber mask. "How does it feel to have wasted ten years of your life on a man who won't even stay in the same country as you?" Laura fell back a step, her face white.
Harry wasn't finished. "And you," he said, turning to Justin. "There's so much self-hatred inside you I can practically taste it." Suddenly Harry's voice changed, even his features seemed to shift to resemble someone else. "Get out of this house, you disgusting faggot," he said in a low rumble. Justin staggered back a step.
"Dad?" he whispered.
Harry went on, in a voice not his own. "I can't believe I raised a freak." Justin said nothing, but Stephen's face was flushing with anger. He strode forward, pushing past Justin.
"Why don't you shut your face, whoever you are," he began. Harry just glanced at him casually and he was struck as if by an invisible fist, hard enough to throw him backwards onto the floor. Justin hurried to his side.
"You son of a bitch," he hissed at Harry.
Harry smiled. "Oh yeah. That's it. Tell me the truth. It won't hurt...much." He walked past them, muttering incoherently, and went into the study. They followed, keeping a discreet distance. The wind was howling into the room through the broken windows, the curtains billowing on their rods.
Hermione motioned for them to stay back as she stepped forward. "Harry, I want you to just calm down. Take slow breaths. Try and focus. You're stronger than him. Take control."
He was standing with his back to them, his head down. The sound of low laughter came to their ears. He turned, his face alight with malice. "You don't want to fuck with me," he said, a humorless smile on his lips. He took a step towards her. "Do not try to handle me. I know what you want."
"I just want you to stay calm so we can help you."
"Oh, YES!" he yelled at the ceiling. "Everyone always wants to help me! Help me into an early grave! And maybe it'd be a relief!" He looked past them. "Oh yes, here they come!"
Hermione turned to see Napoleon and Remus enter, accompanied by three other agents. "He's lost it," she said, low. "He's not himself."
"Oh, I'm not?" Harry said. "Of course I'm not! How can I be? There is no real Harry Potter! He's an image, something you all created out of your fear and your desperation!" The muscles in his face twitched as he walked in short jags around the room.
Hermione looked closely at his face. "Where are you, Harry?" She cocked her head and peered at him. "Are you in there somewhere, watching?"
He jerked backwards. "You think I'm insane."
"Aren't you?" Hermione glanced back to see Sirius enter, out of breath. "Everyone stay back," she said to the assembled agents.
"Hermione, get away. You're in danger. You'd be the first person he'd attack," Napoleon said, sotto voce.
"I can help him," she said, turning back to Harry. He was pacing, tearing at his clothing and his hair. "Harry, can you hear me?" she said, holding out a hand.
Harry stopped and flexed his arms, curling his fingers into fists. "You have no idea how much power is in this body," he said, his voice gravelly. "I can feel it running through me." He closed his eyes and breathed deeply. "I'm more alive than any of you will ever be."
Napoleon was inching forward. "Boss...it's me, Napoleon."
"Ah, yes. Harry knows you, so I do as well." He sneered. "You want to fuck her, don't you? Until she begs for more. You want it, even right now you want it. I can feel it coming off you like a stench." With a casual flip of his fingers Napoleon flew through the air and struck the far wall, slumping to the ground. Harry turned towards Hermione. "And you want it too."
"No. That's not true," she said, unable to keep the quake from her voice, her eyes glancing to where Napoleon was picking himself up off the ground.
"You want him. You want him to ride you until you can't breathe, until your knees buckle. Poor Harry."
"No!" Hermione yelled at this hateful person, this person she would kill with her bare hands if he were only free of Harry's body. "I love Harry!"
"You only think you do. You really love his power, his fame, his status. That's all you really want. And he knows it. Deep down, he knows it. Why do you think he shags any woman who shows an interest? Because he can feel that you don't really love him."
"That's enough," said Sirius, his voice thick with anger, striding forward to stand at Hermione's side. She felt too wrung out to even form words. She knew what this man said wasn't true...but it could be true, and that was enough. "You filthy liar," Sirius spat.
"Ah, the great Deputy Chancellor...or should I say Chancellor?" Sirius went pale. "No one knows for sure, do they? Do they know how you murdered his parents? Harry knows, of course. He knows you were responsible. You have no idea how much he hates you underneath that smile he wears like a mask." Harry grinned, a malevolent glee emanating from him. "Harry is nothing but a mask, when you get down to it. A surface, a facade that all of you have helped him build. You can't imagine what lies behind that mask."
Hermione stepped forward, determined to reach him. "Harry, listen to what you're saying. Look at us."
"Try to remember yourself, Harry," Remus said, coming forward to stand with the small group while Harry paced back and forth in the middle of the study. "This isn't you."
"Come back to me," Hermione said, her voice quavering, reaching out a hand towards him. He had his back turned and was staring around at the ceiling. "Come back."
"I said shut up!" he suddenly roared. Before everyone's horrified eyes he spun around and punched Hermione across the face, hard. Napoleon started forward but Sirius held him back.
Hermione staggered back a few steps, then stumbled and fell to her knees on the rug. She stared up at him, one hand to her already-swelling face. "Harry..." she whispered and could not go on.
He glared down at her, his chest heaving and a heavy scowl on his face. No one moved, it even seemed like no one was breathing. As they watched Harry, something began to happen. His face screwed up into an awful grimace and his hands rose up, fists opening and closing. "Urgh...ohh...ahh..." Grunts and moans from behind clenched teeth as his entire body began to shake. He whipped his head back and forth, crying out in pain and effort, as if a battle were being waged inside his body. "Get...OUT!!!" he finally cried.
Harry opened his eyes and looked down at Hermione, still huddled on the floor and watching him. He was shaking, he was pale, his jaw was clenched so hard the muscles in his jaw stood out like walnuts...but it was Harry. "Oh God..." he managed. "Hermione..." She couldn't move, she felt paralyzed. His features suddenly crumpled in sorrow and he tore at his hair. "What did I...oh god..." he whispered, then he whirled around to face the agents.
He stuck out his arms, his eyes screwed shut and the breath tearing in and out of his chest. "Do it quick," he said. "Get me away before he comes back. I can't keep control for long." No one moved. He opened his eyes and looked at their stunned face. "Take me away before I hurt someone else. NOW!" he yelled.
Remus nodded to the agents and they hurried forward bearing shackles and chains. They slapped them on Harry's wrists and an orange glow passed over his entire body. It would restricthim from performing any magic. "Get him to Confinement," Remus said. "Napoleon, go with them. I'll be along shortly." They led Harry out of the room, his head bowed down and his shoulders still shaking.
Hermione just stared blankly after them, the entire side of her face throbbing. She could hear Laura running from the room, saying something about cold compresses. The others hovered nearby, unsure what to do.
She saw a pair of shoes in her line of vision...Sirius. He crouched down on the floor next to her, his face telling the same tale of shock and horror that she knew was written on her own face. She met his eyes and he put a hand on her shoulder. Her self-control gone and her nerves shattered, Hermione dissolved into tears. Sirius put his arms around her and she wept against his chest, sitting there on the floor of the wrecked study with the wind blowing in from the chilly night.
Napoleon was there to meet her when she arrived at Confinement. "How are you? Did you get any sleep?" he asked, stepping forward to hug her.
"Not a wink," she said, rubbing at her eyes. "I just kept seeing his face...you know..."
"I know. I keep thinking about it, too." He led her through the security gate into the installation. "Nothing he said was true, you know that, don't you?"
"You don't sound very convinced."
"Well...he was clever. He told horrible lies that had just a grain of truth to them. Just enough to make you wonder."
"Hitler once said the bigger the lie, the more people will believe it."
"I guess he was right." She was silent for a time as they walked through the sterile hallways of Confinement, and then into less sterile hallways, and then into stone corridors. "I've never been this deep into Confinement before."
Napoleon sighed. "They had to move him into maximum security facilities."
Hermione stopped. "What?"
"He was...well, he was throwing off such strong magic that a regular holding room couldn't contain it. They've got several attendants who were affected in treatment right now. He broke out of the restriction field and then out of their standard magicproof cells."
"Oh," Hermione whispered, resuming her steps down the dank hallway. Napoleon led her to a heavy wooden door with cast iron braces. Inside was a surprisingly modern laboratory. Standing and sitting in various positions about the room were Remus, Sirius, Argo, Sukesh, Johns Biederman and Henry Ubigando. Sukesh and Johns were looking through a large window set into the far wall.
"Hermione," Sirius said, coming forward to greet her. "How are you?"
"About as you'd expect. How is he?"
"See for yourself." Sirius' lips were pressed together so tightly they had disappeared into a thin white line. He led her to the window, which looked into a small chamber of heavy white marble.
In the center of the chamber was a heavy oak restraint chair. Harry was strapped into it. He was bound to the chair by thick iron bands around his chest, arms, wrists, thighs and ankles. A leather strap bound his head to the chair around the forehead. His fingers were clutched into fists and his eyes were screwed shut. He was shaking violently, ragged breaths gasping through his clenched teeth. Every so often a strangled cry would escape his lips. Hermione bit her lip and pulled herself together. "Is...is that..."
"It's Harry," Sukesh said. "The other personality has gotten so strong that it's all he can do to keep it back. It takes all of his concentration to keep control. We have him restrained because he can't keep it down all the time, and when he started to lose it he thrashed around so that we feared he would do himself harm."
Johns took over. "The other personality is gaining ground every moment, and every time it surfaces it's more unstable."
"Who is it? Who's inside him?" Sukesh and Johns exchanged a look. "Oh, come on! Is he possessed? What's happened to him?"
Johns stood up and picked up his clipboard. "I've done some tests on the other personality, while he was sedated. These are psychoevaluative charms that tell an experienced caster a great deal about the person being tested."
"Johns, I don't care about the psychobabble. Is there or is there not another personality inside Harry?"
"Yes, most definitely."
"So who is it?" Johns hesitated. "Oh, for Christ's sake, just tell me who it is!"
Johns looked at her steadily. "It's Harry. The other personality is Harry."
The words hung in the air for a moment while Hermione just stared at Johns as if he'd gone insane. "What? No. Not possible. That...thing...isn't Harry."
"I'm afraid it is."
"I don't believe it."
"Hermione, sit down." Johns guided her into a chair and sat down facing her. "I am one hundred percent certain. Sukesh agrees with me." Hermione looked up at Sukesh, who just nodded. "The other personality is Harry. His aura, his psychotropic reactions to neutral stimuli, his intelligence quotient, his Magical Assessment Scores, all identical. It's him. But you're right, it isn't the Harry we know."
Sukesh jumped in. "You see, Hermione, the other personality may be Harry, but he's dangerously insane. Delusional, paranoid, even homidical."
"No, see, you lost me again. He didn't seem like a raving lunatic. He was rational, he was lucid...just a complete bastard."
"We don't really understand it either. Without further study of the other personality...we've been calling him Harry2 just for convenience...it's hard to make a complete diagnosis. We don't dare let Harry2 stay conscious when he's in control of Harry's body."
"But...he said he wasn't Harry."
"He probably doesn't know who he is. His sense of self-awareness is shaky at best. Harry2's grip on reality is very tenuous."
Hermione nodded, thinking. "What caused this?"
"That is almost impossible to determine. But there are a few things that we've noticed. It seems to be Harry2 that has the Knowing Touch. He's the one with the enhanced Mage powers."
"But we've seen Harry using those powers himself."
"But at first it was a surprise, almost an unconscious act. We've seen that Harry2 has been slowly seeping through into Harry's consciousness for some time now. His attack of Napoleon at the graduation party, the incident at the schoolyard. We've gotten other reports from your housemates of just erratic behavior. We think that Harry2 has been making incursions into Harry's brain for some time now, almost as if he were imprisoned behind a wall that he's been steadily chipping away at."
"And the more tastes of life he gets, the stronger he gets," Remus said. "Eventually he was able to take over completely."
"And it seems to have gone both ways," Johns went on. "Just as Harry2 had brief, occasional use of Harry's body and consciousness, so did our Harry from time to time have access to Harry2's greater Mage powers and the Knowing Touch."
Hermione rubbed her chin. "So if we postulate that Harry was forced to use his Mage powers while he was missing..."
"That leads to the conclusion that whatever happened to him while he was away caused this schism, because the use of those stronger Mage powers is contained within one personality. I think something happened while he was away that caused his personality to splinter. What it was that happened is anyone's guess."
She nodded. "So what do we do?" They exchanged another glance. "Come on, what's next? How do we help him?"
Remus sat down next to Hermione and took her hand. "There's nothing we can do."
She just stared at him for a moment. "Excuse me?"
"This condition is irreversible."
"I don't accept that."
"Hermione, listen to me," Sukesh said. "Harry2 is too strong, and he's getting stronger. I don't know how much long Harry can hold it together. This is not a case of split personality. Harry remembers what Harry2 does, and vice versa. They have access to each other's memories, knowledge and skills. They are split, but they are one. We can't eliminate Harry2. Not without destroying some or more likely all of Harry."
She stared up at their sympathetic faces. "What are you telling me, Sukesh?"
"I'm telling you that eventually Harry2 will take over completely. When that happens, Harry's personality will begin to disintegrate. Without him, his body cannot sustain life. He will die of neural shock. It'll be too much for him."
Hermione felt cold all over. Her mind was still insisting that this wasn't true, there had to be a way to stop this. "Why now? I mean, he was fine and then..."
"He wasn't fine," Sukesh said. "He had been getting worse and worse for weeks, you know that. I couldn't make a diagnosis before this because there just wasn't enough of Harry2 for me to detect."
Hermione stood up and went back to the window. She looked at him, sitting there oblivious to everything except his own struggle with himself. She hugged herself, shivers passing over her body. "Harry," she whispered. She felt Sukesh come up and put an arm around her.
"I'm sorry, Hermione."
Terk was kneeling on the floor, carefully picking up large shards of glass from the floor and tossing them into a box that Tax held for her. She was wearing heavy gloves to protect her hands and kneeling on a square of carpet to protect her knees. "What a mess," she muttered. Tax made a noncommittal noise. She tossed another shard into the box, hearing the tinkling smash as it shattered.
"Did Hermione go to Confinement?"
He looked around. They were alone. Justin and Laura were both at work and George was out in his workshop. "I know what you're thinking," he said.
"You're thinking the same thing."
"It's none of our business."
"We could help him, Tax."
"You don't know that."
"Oh, yes, I do. And here we sit. Doing nothing. But that's what we always do, isn't it?" She threw another shard into the box, putting some muscle behind it.
Tax sighed. "We could call in, if you want."
She looked up at him. "Damn straight!" She jumped up. "Let's do it!"
"Calm down. Another few seconds isn't going to make a difference."
"It might." She pulled off her gloves. "Where?"
"Best in my room. Better light." They tromped up the stairs to Tax's room. He pulled a square nighttable out into the center of the room while Terk fetched two chairs and her briefcase. From the case she drew several sheets of paper and an elaborate blown glass fountain pen. She laid the paper and pen on the table and took a seat opposite her brother.
"Do you want to write?" she asked him.
"No, you go ahead. I never know what to say."
Terk took up the pen and set it to the paper. "Hainsleys calling in," she wrote, the characters flowing from the pen even though there was no ink in it.
They watched the paper. After a few seconds two words appeared on it, words that no pen or hand had written. "North here," they said, the words formed by a flowery, looping script.
Terk wrote again. "Have you been monitoring?"
The reply once again appeared. "Of course."
"Request permission to intervene."
There was a longer pause this time. "Denied."
Terk growled a little, and wrote faster. "Do these orders come from the Guardian?"
"You know I speak for the Guardian in all things, Terk."
"I would like to speak to the Guardian." Tax shot her a warning look. No one asked to speak to the Guardian.
She sighed. "Can the Guardian help Harry?"
"None of our business."
"The hell it isn't. Isn't his condition your fault?"
"Answer unclear, ask again later." That was North's rather antique sense of humor. Terk was not amused.
"We must do something."
"It does not matter what you or I think."
"Does the Guardian even know what's going on down here?"
"The Guardian knows everything."
"Then I don't understand how you can do nothing."
"You will understand soon. You have your orders."
"Our orders are very unclear. We're not used to acting on so little information."
"Terk, I know you're frustrated. Stay with it. Soon you'll have a part to play. It is not up to you to save him." The word 'you' was underlined.
"Then it's for someone else to..." She hesitated, then snapped her fingers. "Hermione. It's up to her, isn't it?"
"I didn't say that."
"You didn't have to. May we offer assistance to her if needed?"
Another pause. "You may use your judgment." That was North's way of telling them to go ahead and help her if they could. "North out."
Terk set down the pen and watched as all the words they'd written faded. Within a few seconds they were gone. She smiled at Tax.
"Feel better?" he said.
"Yes. Now all we need to do is wait for her."
Hermione sat leaning against the glass, watching Harry. She'd been sitting there for hours and her legs had both fallen asleep. She hardly noticed. Harry had passed out some time before and now sat slumped in the restraining chair, held upright by the bands constricting his movement.
She felt a tap on her shoulder and looked up. Napoleon stood over her, holding out a cup of something steaming. She took it gladly. "Thanks."
"How is he?" Napoleon said, taking a seat nearby.
"The same." She looked around the lab. Sukesh and Johns were poring over books. Remus, Argo and Henry had gone back to work. Sirius was asleep on a couch against the wall. Hermione half-wished she could sleep, too. "There has to be a way to help him, Napoleon."
"Sukesh and Johns are doing their best."
"I know. I just don't know if that'll be enough." In the chamber, Harry stirred slightly. Hermione straightened a little. His head was jerking back and forth slightly. She recognizes the twitch, it was a nightmare.
"Unh...never ends..." he muttered.
Hermione sagged. "Same old nightmare," she said. "It never ends."
"...guardian...mmph...urrhh...never ends..." he said.
She watched him as he cried out softly in the grip of the nightmare, wishing she could hold him as she usually did. "The Guardian," she murmured. She sat watching him for a few more moments and then abruptly stood up, wobbling on her unsteady legs. "Sukesh! Sirius!" she said sharply. Sirius launched himself off the couch, startled out of sleep and disoriented. Sukesh and Johns stood up and came to the window. Hermione put both hands on the glass.
"What is it?" Sukesh said. "You see something?"
"Nope. Heard something. He keeps saying 'guardian.' You know what I think? I think the Guardian is the key to this entire mystery."
"But the Guardian's just a myth," Sirius said gently, rubbing his eyes.
"Maybe. Maybe not." She turned from the glass, her face set in a determined resolve. "I'm going to find out."
"Hermione...you're grasping at straws," Napoleon said.
She rounded on him, angry. "Well, any straw is better than sitting here doing nothing while he dies!" She looked at Sukesh and Johns. "You said there was no cure?"
"Well, hold that thought, because I'm going to get you one."