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

The Show That Never Ends


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

Chapter 11

Chapter Summary:
The Sequel to


Chapter 11: The Show that Never Ends

Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends

We're so glad you could attend, come inside, come inside

There behind a glass stands a real blade of grass

Be careful as you pass, move along, move along

Come inside, the show's about to start

Guaranteed to blow your head apart

Rest assured you'll get your money's worth

The greatest show in Heaven, Hell or Earth

Right before your eyes see the laughter from the skies

And he laughs until he cries, then he dies, then he dies

You've got to see the show, it's a dynamo

You've got to see the show, it's rock and roll, oh

Come and see the show, come and see the show

See the show

--Emerson, Lake and Palmer


A dumbfounded silence greeted Theo's last statement. The Hainsleys were staring at her with wide, shocked eyes. Napoleon had his face screwed up into a thoughtful grimace, as if trying to determine what he'd missed. Hermione held Theo's calm gaze.

"You're what?"

"I'm the Guardian."

"You're the Guardian."


"You are."


"You're the Guardian."

Theo chuckled. "You can keep saying it, but it won't stop being true."

Hermione, speechless, looked over at Napoleon for ideas. He was looking back at her, no help evident on his face. "Okay...uh, sorry...I'm usually a lot more articulate, but...I guess I thought it would be harder to find you."

Theo's smile faded a little. "No one finds me. You're here because I found you." She examined her fingernails.

Hermione felt rage rising in her throat now that the initial surprise was fading. This woman...if she was a woman...had hurt Harry. No one got away with that. She gathered the shreds of her self-possession around her and sat up straighter, glaring at Theo, pushing away her instinctive fear of the power that this woman exuded from her very pores. "What did you do to Harry?" she said through clenched teeth.

There was a long pause during which Theo merely sat, regarding Hermione with a speculative gaze. Finally she sighed. "All I did was try to help."

"After what he's been through, the things he's said...you expect me to believe that?"

"No, not really."

Hermione shook her head. "You did something to him. I know it."

A slight smirk twitched the corners of Theo's mouth and she leaned forward. "And if I had, what exactly are you planning to do about it?"

Her casual manner felt like a slap in the face. Hermione couldn't even begin to formulate a response. "What are you?" she heard herself say.

"It's complicated."

"What is happening to Harry?"

A long pause. "You don't know what you're asking, Hermione."

"Then explain it to me."

Theo regarded her for a moment, then seemed to come to an internal decision. She stood, almost jumped, to her feet. "Okay, then. You two, come with me," she said, pointing fingers at Hermione and Napoleon. She turned to Terk and Tax. "As for you two, good work. But I'm afraid I can't let you remember that you met me. So as soon as we leave go back to your lives, and remember only that you helped Hermione meet plain old ordinary Theo. Okay?"

Terk glanced at her brother, one eyebrow raised. He shrugged, seeming resigned to being confused.

"Okay," Terk said. "Okay?" she asked Tax.

He nodded. "Okay."

Theo nodded once, this task complete. "Good enough," she said. "Now take a walk."

Terk and Tax rose as one and walked off toward the coffee bar, disappearing around the corner. Their faced were blank, their steps measured and slow. Hermione suspected they had already forgotten. She wanted to thank them, but Theo was leaving, forcing her to follow. "Where are we going?" she said, trotting to match her long strides.

"You'll see."

Hermione followed her through the door of the coffee shop, then stopped in her tracks and looked around her with her mouth hanging open. Napoleon, similarly distracted, ran right into her. "What the..."

They weren't back on the street in Bettendorf. They were standing in a tall, cavernous marbled circular chamber with a rotunda soaring overhead. Light filtered down to the floor from a huge skylight at the dome's peak. The polished floor was mosaiced in a abstract pattern. Hermione whirled around in time to see the door to the coffee shop shut and then vanish, leaving only another section of wall in its place. "Uh..." Napoleon began.


He cleared his throat. "I'll refrain from making the traditional Toto/Kansas joke right now."

"Thanks." She looked around for their host, who had of course continued to walk briskly away from them.

"Come on, keep up," Theo's voice trailed back to them. Hermione and Napoleon ran to catch her.

"Where are we?" Hermione said, out of breath from the run and the surprise.

"Please keep your hands and feet inside the car until the ride has come to a complete stop." She turned down a wide hallway with doors set every thirty feet or so.

"Okay, enough Happy Hour at Fawlty Towers. I have business here and we're wasting time..."

Theo shot her a bemused glance. "Look, Miss Bossyboots, time doesn't pass here. We could spend a few years sitting around the TV watching the entire run of Doctor Who and it wouldn't make any difference to your precious Harry so for the love of God chill out!" Hermione, chastised, fell into a resentful silence. Time doesn't pass where?

After a few more turns and hallways they came to another rotunda. In the far wall were a pair of large double doors, which opened on their own as Theo approached. Hermione looked around, not sure what to expect...but it was only a very large, well-appointed office, much as any Minister or Headmaster might have. Theo walked to the massive desk and only then did she turn and face them. "This is my office," she said. "And this is North, my assistant," she said, not indicating to whom she was referring...Hermione saw no one else in the room.

"Where..." Hermione began. Something caught her peripheral vision and she jumped, startled, at the man who was standing directly behind her. "God! Don't *do* that!"

"Is this them?" he said without preamble. He walked around to stand near Theo, eyeing them suspiciously. He was dressed in a tailored black suit, hair slicked severely straight back from his forehead. His features were sharp and aristocratic and, at the moment, expressionless...but his eyes were friendly.

"North, meet Hermione Granger and Napoleon Jones," Theo said. "Please sit down," she said to them. Hermione did so, reluctantly. She was bursting with so many questions that she wondered they didn't start leaking out her ears...and she could feel the beginnings of cognitive overload threatening her concentration. Theo leaned against the forward edge of her desk while North remained standing, holding a clipboard as if it were part of his clothing. "Now. I know you must have...many questions."

Hermione opened her mouth, then shut it again. When she spoke it came out sounding meek, which rankled. "I don't know where to start."

"Then allow me." Theo waved a hand around at their surroundings. "You are in an extradimensional realm which we call the Domain. Not a very imaginative name, but hey, I didn't think it up, I just work here. This is my place."

"And you take this form to communicate with us?" Napoleon asked, motioning to her apparently human body.

"What form?"

"Uh...you know, two arms, two legs, the whole carbon-based-life-form thing."

"Well, I *am* a carbon-based-life-form. Ugly bags of mostly water, in the immortal words of Lieutenant Commander Data." She smiled. "I was born on September 15, 1975 in Spokane, Washington, where my parents still live. My father is a police officer, my mother owns a restaurant. I have two sisters, one younger, one older, and a twin brother." She watched their faces. "I'm a human being, guys. Just like you...well, not *just* like you." She leaned closer. "Can you feel it?"

"Feel what?" Hermione said, frowning at the abrupt change of topic.

"Your body's response to this place. You're both wizards. You should be feeling something."

Hermione shifted in her seat. She did feel...different. As if she were near a strong electrical field and it tingled all over her skin. She felt powerful, like she did after executing a difficult spell. "I feel...I don't know what I feel," she said. "What is that?"

"This place, me, North, everything here resonates with the same power that runs through your veins, Hermione. You have a little bit of the Domain inside you, hidden in the genes you got from your parents. It gives you special abilities, which you call magic. Here, with us, you're sensing the source of that magic."

Her voice, low and throaty, was enthralling, and her charisma was powerful. Hermione felt drawn to her, yet also afraid of her. She didn't know what to make of it...and if what Theo said was true, and time didn't pass here, there was no point in being hasty. "How do we know you are who you say you are?" she asked, though the question was moot. She knew it. She sensed it. But she was curious to hear the answer.

Theo didn't move from her position leaning against the forward edge of her desk. She crossed her arms over her chest and looked at Hermione...but it wasn't a simple gaze. She cocked her head as if straining to hear distant music. Her eyes, an unremarkable brown color, seemed to be spinning and whirling even while they remained fixed on Hermione's face. She couldn't look away. Finally Theo looked away, but quickly back again.

"You love your man very much, but you're afraid of him," she said, her tone steady and pedagogical. "You're afraid to marry him, because you might lose yourself and you don't want to be only his wife. You once thought of calling the whole thing off. It was just a few weeks before he disappeared, and the notion passed quickly...but it was there. You've never told anyone that, have you?"

"No," Hermione breathed.

"You like your new job, but you worry it's changing you into someone you don't know. You care for this man," she said, nodding towards Napoleon, "but he makes you nervous with his attentions. You're afraid of many things, Hermione. A ghost floats through your mind, a ghost you cannot or will not banish...and you're afraid of him, too. You're afraid his memory will leave you, but also that it won't. You wonder still if you loved him or if he was merely the passion of your adolescence." She began to walk back and forth slowly, her eyes on the floor.

"You believe I am the Guardian, and yet you are unsure. You want to believe that I somehow harmed Harry, but you're starting to think that I didn't...and you're worried that if I did, there's nothing you can do about it. But most of all, you're afraid I can't help him. You want to ask me to cure him, to save him, but you're afraid to ask because I might say no." She looked up at Hermione. "Does that about cover it?"

"Jesus," Hermione muttered. "That wasn't nice."

"That was just the easy stuff." Theo stopped pacing and looked at Hermione, frowning...then she broke out in laughter. "Oh, hell yes! I didn't know..." She pulled herself in and harrumphed. "Uh, don't worry. I won't tell a single soul." She dropped a wink, smiling.

Hermione wasn't amused. "You can read minds." It wasn't a question.

"I can do a lot of things." She walked a few steps towards them and then, to Hermione's surprise, sat down cross-legged on the floor. "You're very confused, and you don't like it."

"I never like it." Hermione forced her hands to relax, they'd been clenching into fists at her sides. "What happened to Harry? He speaks of Guardians and Eternals and things that never end...I think you know what happened. Tell me."

"That's like the sixth question. Ask me the first."

Hermione forced down her impatience. She'd better cooperate if she wanted anything from this woman. "Okay." She thought a moment. "What are the Eternals? Is that the first question?"

Theo smiled. "They're not a what, they're a who. The Eternals are noncorporeal, intelligent beings of pure energy, older than the physical universe. When it was created, they helped shape it by imposing their own sense of order and balance which they had evolved over the infinite length of their existence."

"Balance...so there are two sides to them."

"Yes, everything has two sides. There are Light and Dark Eternals."

"Good and evil?" Napoleon asked.

"That's an oversimplification. At their level, the concept of morality has no meaning. You might say that the Light Eternals are dedicated to order and creation, the Dark Eternals to chaos and destruction. Both forces are morally neutral, and are necessary for balance."

"Are you one of them?" Hermione asked. She already knew the answer.

"Goodness, no. Didn't I just tell you I'm human? No, I'm just their muscle." She cleared her throat and seemed to consider her next words carefully. "Eternals are...difficult to explain. They can take the form of a corporeal being if they wish, but they don't understand us or how the physical world operates. They feel a sense of responsibility towards the universe they saw evolve...and so they needed a way to act upon it without doing so themselves. Ergo, each side has a champion. That's me."

"A champion?" Napoleon frowned. "I'm not sure I understand."

"I am their spokesperson, their representative, you might say. I'm also...well, sort of the bicep, the way they act in the world. I have an army at my disposal to fight the battles, and protect the ideas that the Light Eternals have spent their existences developing."

"Make the world safe for democracy?"

Theo smiled. "Something like that, yeah." She stood up in one fluid motion. "Most of the army is made up of Guardians, like North here." She saw their puzzlement. "Uh, he's an immortal corporeal lifeform, which, believe it or not, is what they prefer to be called. Quite a mouthful, so we usually just call them Guardians, as distinct from me, who's *The* Guardian, singular. Guardians exist in many parts of the universe, and a great many of them live here. Some others in the army are spirits of mortals who have died and chosen to join. The Domain is...I guess it's our headquarters."

Hermione's head was beginning to hurt. She had thought, when she found the Guardian, that she would find an individual who lived among them, perhaps in secret, with some power and mystery, maybe spying on wizards. Now she found that the scale was not the wizarding world, or even all of humanity...but the entire universe. Spike's words echoed back to her...you're in over your head, Hermione. Theo was watching her carefully, Hermione got the feeling she was listening to all those thoughts as they passed across her mind. "The scope of this is...beyond me," Hermione admitted. "It's all mixed up with theology and metaphysics."

"Metaphysics, maybe, but not theology."

"Some of what you say...sounds like God."

"Hermione, if there is a God I've never met him. The Eternals are not supernatural, they are tangible entities of energy that can be measured. They make no claims to be deities...only protectors. Mentors, even."

"Then there's you," Napoleon said. "You're different."

"Yes." She leaned against her desk again. "The very first Guardians were like North, immortals...but they weren't ready for the price that comes with the job."

"What price?" Hermione leaned forward, intensely interested.

"Power." Theo's face was grim as she spoke of it. "The Guardianship comes with power that is, for all intents and purposes, infinite. It's necessary to carry out the responsibilities of the job. Omnipotence might sound appealing, but it's horrible. No one, immortal or not, should have the kind of power the Eternals saw fit to give the Guardian." She sighed. "The first immortals who took the job were driven mad by it. One went completely berserk and obliterated an entire solar system with a stray thought." Hermione shuddered. "So the Eternals decided that from then on, the Guardian would be mortal. They thought that the connection to death, to reality and the physical world outside this place, would help ground them. To find the right person for the job, they went through every sentient mortal being in the universe until they found the right combination of personality, self-control, and God knows what other qualities they decided were important. When a Guardian retires, a new one is chosen." She took a breath. "I am the four thousand, three hundred and twenty-eighth Guardian since the system was implemented. I have only been Guardian a short time, I've a long way to go if I wish to live up to some of my more illustrious predecessors, one of whom held the job for ten thousand years after the death of his mortal body."

"Why did they choose you?" Hermione asked.

"No clue."

"How old were you?"


"That must have been difficult."

"You have no idea. I was coming home from school...I was a senior...and when I opened the door to my house I walked through into the Domain, much as you did from Bettendorf. It took North's predecessor awhile to get me to understand where I was and what had happened. I was taken before the Eternals and they told me that I had been chosen. I was so overwhelmed I barely heard a word they said. But they did say I was free to refuse. I almost did, until Seth...uh, the assistant...explained what that would mean." She exchanged an unreadable glance with North. Hermione got the feeling that there was another story attached to this man Seth. "You see, if I refused the Guardianship, they would pick someone else...but that person wouldn't be the best person for the job, because I was. That might not matter...but it might. It's a pretty big risk when you consider how important the job is. So I accepted."

"And...do you ever go back to...uh, Earth? Wait, are we on Earth now?" Napoleon asked, looking around with a frown on his face.

"Weeell...not really. Like I said, the Domain is a different dimension, one manufactured and controlled by the Eternals. But technically, no, we're not on Earth."

"And do you ever go back there?"

Theo chuckled. "I live there. I have an apartment and a job and a dog and all the regular things ordinary people have."

"How can you, with all this?"

"Haven't you been listening to me? Time doesn't pass here! I can spend days, weeks, even months here and when I go back, I can go back anytime. I can go back two seconds or two months after I left, whatever I choose. It doesn't interfere, unless you count the emotional consequences of living a double life. I rarely spend that much time here at once. Honestly, North does most of the day-to-day work." She flushed, looking a little sheepish. "I'm kind of a figurehead, if you want the truth." She looked at Hermione. "Are you understanding me?"

"Yes," she answered. "Surprisingly, I am." She met Theo's eyes. "But you still haven't told me if you can help Harry."

Theo shook her head. "You've got a one-track mind, don't you?"

"As interesting as all this is, that is the only reason I'm here."

The Guardian nodded and regarded Hermione for a moment, a half-smile on her face. "We'll talk again in the morning," she said.

"But what do we..." Hermione trailed off as she found herself speaking to no one, because Theo was gone. How she had left, she couldn't say...but where the Guardian had been standing only a half a second before there was now nothing.

North stepped forward. "If you'll follow me," he said. Hermione and Napoleon got up.

"Where are you taking us?" Napoleon asked.

"We've prepared some guest quarters for you. You should get some rest, especially you, Hermione."

"You expect me to sleep without the answers I came for? While Harry lies there..."

North stopped short and faced them. "Did you not hear the Guardian? You are not wasting any time. When you leave here, you may return to Harry minutes after you left, or days after, or any interval you wish. It matters not if you sleep, or eat, or get some of the rest which you so desperately need. Time has no meaning here."

"Then how can there be morning?" Napoleon said, his voice smacking of now-I-gotcha smugness.

North gave him a withering smile. "Solar days are manufactured here for the comfort of the mortals and spirits thereof who reside here. Relax, Mr. Jones." He led them to the first rotunda they'd seen when they arrived. At one side were a row of connected double doors to which North led them.

Sunlight (or what she assumed was a simulation of it) streamed in when he opened one of the doors and led them outside. The view almost took her breath away.

Outside the building was a long stretch of gardens. Some were natural, some formal...flowerbeds and meadows, streams and ponds with scenic bridges. Trees shaded the pathways and small structures dotted the landscape. Next to her, Napoleon sniffed. "Looks like ruddy Disneyland," he muttered.

North chuckled. "I've always rather thought that myself. This is the Eternals' idea of a tranquil setting for us. It stretches far enough to house all the Guardian Army...different terrains, different climates to choose from."

Walking about were a large number of what looked like people, some alone, some in small groups. They wore all different manner of clothing...some wore robes of the kind you might expect on an otherwordly being, others wore simple coordinated tunics with slacks, some wore ordinary clothes as one might see on any mortal. She saw one woman wearing a bathing suit and carrying a towel. "Are all these...in the army?"

"Yes," North answered. "They all serve the Eternals in some way. Most are immortals like me. Come along," he said. They followed him along the twisting paths, gaping about at the beauty all around them. North led them through a tall hedge into a manicured topiary garden. Sitting in the middle of it was a large structure of glass, stone and wrought iron. It wasn't quite a mansion, but it wasn't quite a building. "Guest quarters," North said simply. "You can stay here during your visit."

"You make it sound like we just dropped by for high tea," Hermione said.

At that, North turned around. "You are in an awful rush for someone in a timeless dimension," he said, a tiny tone of reprimand creeping into his even voice. "Be warned. Theo can be perversely contrary when she wishes to be. The more impatient you become, the more she will delight in keeping you here for days and days. If you wish to leave soon, do not express your...impatience." This statement concluded, he continued on his route to the front door of the guest quarters.

He led them inside, exchanging only a perfunctory glance with the man sitting there on duty, and then up the stairs to a wide hallway carpeted in plush silver. The whole place looked and felt opulent...Hermione supposed that in this place it wasn't hard to be as opulent as possible. "Your room, Hermione," North said, indicating a door to his left. It swung open at the sound of his voice. "Napoleon, you are next door."

"Uh, thanks," he said, uncertain.

North nodded as if his business was now concluded. "I will call for you in the morning. If you need anything, you have only to ask." To Hermione's relief, he didn't vanish as Theo had, merely turned and walked away.

"I'm going to bed," Napoleon said. "See you in the morning."

Murmuring an assent, Hermione stepped into her room. It was decorated lavishly in tones of coral, gold and deep violet. She smiled as she saw that sitting on the bed were her bags, which she had last seen in the inn near Lasceaux...and as she got closer she saw that they were empty. She yanked open a drawer in the bureau to find all her belongings neatly put away.

She sat down on the bed, exhaling in a rush. Time doesn't pass here, time doesn't pass here, she kept telling herself...but the feeling that she was wasting Harry's fragile life minute by minute was not banished so easily.


When Argo came into the lab, Sirius and Sukesh were discussing Harry's treatment options, which mostly consisted of varying levels of sedation and magical repression. Harry himself was sleeping, and Sirius hoped his rest was peaceful for once.

"Gentlemen," Argo said, coming to join them at the window. "How is he?"

"The same," Sukesh said. "It's been necessary to keep him almost constantly subdued."

She shook her head, her expression grim. "I hate to see him like this." She turned and walked a few steps away before facing them again. "We have a serious matter to discuss, Sukesh. I wanted to wait until Granger and Jones had left before broaching the topic."

Sukesh looked puzzled, but Sirius could guess what she meant. "What is that, Argo?" the CMO asked.

She met his eyes, unwavering. "If Harry becomes so unstable that he cannot be controlled or safely restrained, he will be a serious danger to everyone around him. We have no experience with Mages, no one does, and we have no way of assessing how far his abilities go. There may be no way to contain him. If it comes to that...we will be forced to neutralize him permanently."

Sukesh appeared even more puzzled. "Neutralize him?"

"He'll have to be taken down, Doctor."

Sukesh set down his clipboard. "Are you suggesting that we murder him, Director?" his voice was icy.

"No. I am suggesting that it may become necessary to sacrifice him in order to safeguard those around him." She met Sukesh's glare, unwavering. "I don't like the idea any more than you do, Sukesh. Harry is not only my second, he is my friend. And as a witch, he has a certain place of honor in my heart as he does in all of ours. The thought of losing the Boy Who Lived in this manner is repellent to me, but my responsibility is to the greater good of the wizarding world, as yours should be. All of us including Harry have pledged to lay down our lives in protection of the ideals of the Federation and the safety of its citizens. But I will not hesitate to sacrifice him if it becomes necessary."

Sirius saw Sukesh about to protest. "She's right, Sukesh," he said, quietly.

The doctor gaped at him. "You would go along with this? You're his friend!"

"And I love him, but Argo is right. If he becomes so dangerous that he can't be controlled, he'll have to be neutralized. I will not stand by and watch while he is turned against everything he's spent his life defending. He would rather be dead than become an instrument of destruction and possibly hurt others, maybe a great many others."

Sukesh was nodding. "All right, all right. But I won't do it. I'm a doctor, I have an oath I must uphold, and that is to first do no harm."

"I expected as much, Sukesh," Argo said, as much gentleness in her voice as Sirius had ever heard there. "If the time comes, I will do it myself. I would not ask anyone else to perform such a duty."

"No," Sirius said. "I'll do it." They both turned to stare at him. Sirius just watched Harry, lying so still and silent. "You said I was his friend, Sukesh. In my heart, I'm his father. If it comes to that, I will take care of him."


She knocked again, louder. Pause. She heard shufflings and stumblings from behind the door, then it was yanked open. Napoleon stood there barechested, his hair sticking up in all directions, his eyes still mostly shut. Hermione made a concerted effort not to stare at his nipple rings. "Whassgoinonmione," he mumbled.

She hesitated. "I can't sleep. I need to talk."

He exhaled, flapping his lips, and sagged against the doorjamb. "What, now?"


"C'mon, I'm trying to get some sleep. That is the most comfortable bed I've ever put my spine to, you ought to try yours." He started to close the door but Hermione put out a hand to stop it. He looked up at her, a little more alertness coming into his eyes.

"Please," she said. "I can't...I just need to talk, all right?"

He stood there for a minute. "Oh, all right. Come in," he finally relented. His room was similar to her own, comfortable and lavishly decorated. He saw her looking around. "I know. Ghastly, isn't it?" he said. "It's like waking up in a nightmare of Balmoral. I keep waiting for the Queen Mum to come toddling in with scones and lemon curd." He picked up a t-shirt and pulled it over his head.

Hermione sat on the bed, drawing her legs up to her chest and resting her chin on her knees. Napoleon slumped in an overstuffed brocade chair near the closet. For a few moments neither of them spoke.

"So," he finally said. "What do you want to talk about?"

She blinked. "I don't know," she said.

"And so you...woke me up out of a deep sleep to tell me you didn't know what to talk about. Thanks ever so much." He was smiling as he said this.

"What do you think of Theo?" she asked.

Napoleon sobered and lit up a cigarette. Hermione would have asked him not to, except she could see that the smoke vanished almost instantly upon exhalation. "I'm not sure what to think," he said. "But I know this much...she's no one to be trifled with. We need to watch ourselves."

Hermione nodded. "I don't know what to make of her. She seems friendly, but threatening. She says she's on the good side of things, but she didn't seem too concerned with the well-being of us mortals."

"I have a feeling that the well-being of us mortals is roundabout number 391 on her list of priorities."

Hermione wrapped her arms around her legs. "I've got to convince her to help Harry."

"Hermione, I think the sun will have turned to dust before you'd convince that woman to do anything she hadn't a mind to."

"Maybe you're right."

He leaned forward. "Why are you doing all this?"

She frowned. "I don't understand."

"I mean, why are you here?"

She shrugged. "I had to do *something.*"

"You could have sent me alone. Or Lupin. You have plenty of friends at the ID whom you trust. Your relative lack of experience makes your presence here questionable. Why endanger yourself?"

She smiled. "You really don't understand about me and Harry, do you?"

"I guess I don't." He stubbed out his cigarette. "Make me understand."

She rested her head on her knees again and thought for a moment, twirling her engagement ring on her finger. "Even if he wasn't practically my husband, which he is, even if I didn't love him, which I do, and if we were still just friends, I would still be here." She smiled, chuckling softly. "Since I was eleven years old I've been trying to keep him from harm. I can't tell you how many boring Quidditch matches I've sat through in my life, just to be there and make sure he didn't kill himself. I don't know what it is about Harry that makes people want to take care of him...after all, he's the one who's usually the hero, fighting the good fight and keeping the rest of us from harm."

"It's the hair," Napoleon said, out of nowhere. Hermione frowned.


"That's what makes people want to take care of him. It's that messy hair. It gives him this little-boy quality and makes people want to straighten it up for him."

Hermione stared at him for a moment, then laughed out loud. "You just might be on to something there."


Sirius opened his eyes to find Sukesh standing over him, shaking his shoulder. He felt stiff and sore from this couch, which he'd been sleeping on now for several nights. "What?" he said, sitting up. His eyes flew wide in alarm. "Has something happened?"

Sukesh shook his head. "All is well, fear not. Harry is awake. Would you like to speak to him?"

"Of course! I'll..." He stopped. "How is that possible?"

"He's slept most of the day, he seems to have some strength back."

"Is it safe? What if he goes Harry2 again?" Sukesh opened his mouth, but Sirius cut him off. "No, never mind. I don't care, I'll risk it." He stood up and scrubbed his hands over his face, then hurried into the isolation chamber. Sukesh hovered nearby as Sirius sat down next to the table where Harry still lay strapped. His eyelids were fluttering and he appeared only semi-conscious.

"Hermione?" he mumbled.

"It's me, Harry. It's Sirius." He reached out and took Harry's hand, gripping it tightly, and was relieved when Harry squeezed back.

"Oh, hey." Harry's eyes opened further and he turned his head to look at him. His voice was low and hoarse but mostly steady. "Have I been out long?"

"Quite awhile, yes."

"Is she back yet?" Harry asked, hopefully. Sirius' heart sank. He clearly had no idea how much time had gone by. "Are they... is she back?"

"Oh, son, I'm sorry," Sirius said. "She's only been gone six hours." The blank despair that came into Harry's eyes as he heard this made Sirius want to cry. Harry shut his eyes for a moment.

"Six hours. Hell." Harry looked back to Sirius' face. "Felt like about a month." The hopelessness rose again in his face and Sirius saw his eyes well up with tears. "I don't think I can make it."

"Yes, you can," Sirius said, stern. "You will."

"You don't know what this feels like in here."

"Just...don't think about it. Talk to me. Tell me something."

A short barking sound that might have been a laugh came out of Harry's mouth. "Like what?"

"Tell me...about the honeymoon. Tell me what you're planning. Hermione says it's a big secret and you won't tell her anything."

Harry smiled a little. "Yeah, big secret."

"Well, I can keep it. What's the plan?"

He sighed. "Okay, then." He stared at the ceiling. "I'm...going to take her on a cruise around the world. Two months."

Sirius blew air through his teeth. "Wow."

Harry nodded. "Starts in London. Then Spain... the Mediterranean...Greece..." He paused, biting his lower lip, and seemed to gather strength to himself. "Egypt...India...Japan...Alaska...and then California...the Caribbean...and up to New York before home across the ocean."

Sirius was impressed. "Harry, that sounds...amazing."

"It's mostly on a Norwegian ocean liner. Best in the world. Real ritzy. Private suite of rooms with our own balcony." He smiled to himself. "Spared no expense."

"I guess not. This trip must be costing you a fortune."

Harry shook his head. "Don't care. 'Bout time I spent some of it, eh?"

"Between the wedding and this trip I'm amazed that's not all of it."

Harry turned and met his godfather's eyes. "Even if it was...she's worth every Galleon. Isn't she?"

Sirius smiled at him. "Yes, she is. She's really something, your Hermione."

Harry smiled back, but it looked like it took quite an effort. "My Hermione," he said, as if marveling that she could be considered such. "Is that what she is?"

"Oh, I don't think there's any doubt about that."

"I always have doubt," Harry said. His voice was now shaking badly, his fingers gripping Sirius' with ever-increasing pressure. Sirius laid a hand on his forehead.

"Just relax now, Harry," he said. "Save your strength."

"Thanks for...staying with me," Harry said, managing a smile.

"Of course I'd stay with you." He hesitated. "You're my son." Although this wasn't technically true as Sirius had never formally adopted Harry, it certainly felt true in his heart. He and Harry didn't talk about it, but the kinship had always been understood between them. Now, Harry only nodded.

"I'm glad," he said. "I need a dad right now."

"Well, you got one right here." Sirius held Harry's clammy hand in both of his own. "And I won't let anything happen to you."

Harry fixed him with an intense look. "I know...Argo's been here. I saw her. I know she left orders."

"It doesn't matter."

"It *does* matter," Harry said through clenched teeth. "Listen to her. I know what she said, and she's right. If I become too dangerous...they gotta do what they gotta do. I don't want to hurt anyone else. If he takes over...I won't be me anymore. I'd rather be nothing." Sirius could only nod, not trusting himself to speak, the lump in his throat huge and unmoving. "Sirius...I need you to promise me you'll see to it. In case...in case..."

"Don't you worry about it," Sirius said, his voice hoarse and choked. "I'll take care of you. I'll do it myself."

"If Hermione gets back and she can't help me...she won't be able to...you'll have to..." He was speaking now in choppy phrases, but Sirius understood everything.

"I know," he tried to say in a reassuring tone. "It's okay, I'll take care of everything."

"Good." He smiled weakly. "'Cuz if not, I'll have to...come back and haunt you."

Sirius shook his head. "You'd make a pretty nonthreatening ghost, Harry."

Harry laughed a little. The sweat was standing out on his brow and his skin was the color of old wallpaper paste. He seemed to be nearing the end of his energy. Sirius knew he wouldn't have him for much longer before he had to be sedated or restrained again...but Harry wouldn't let his doppelganger back in until he'd had his say, and he wasn't finished. "Sirius...I know I can trust you to...take care of her." Sirius nodded. "She can...do for herself...but at first, might be tough."

"Might be?" Sirius echoed. Hermione was a strong woman, but he knew the depth of her feeling for his godson. If he died, she might need help getting out of bed for a few days. Of course he would promise Harry he'd look after her, but he couldn't say for sure what sort of shape he'd be in himself. He didn't want to think about it.

Harry was mumbling, his voice garbled. Sirius leaned closer. "...must go...he's coming..." He caught about every other word. Sukesh was already moving forward. A spasm hit Harry's body and Sukesh shoved Sirius aside to administer a sedation charm. Sirius shuddered as Harry's back arched like a bow and a cry tore from his throat. His head whipped back and forth on the pillow and it took Sukesh three charms to calm him. He tightened the straps and they left the room, Sirius feeling badly shaken and emotional.

"It's getting harder to keep him calm, isn't it?" he said.

Sukesh nodded. "I fear soon no magic will contain him."

Sirius crossed his arms over his chest. "How long?" he said quietly.

"No one can say," Sukesh replied, his voice low and calm. "I would guess no more than three or four days."

Sirius swiped one hand over his eyes, pulling himself together with a conscious effort. "My God, three or four days. After the life he's lived, it comes down to this."

Sukesh hesitated. "I have faith in Hermione, General Black."

"So do I. I just hope she gets a break."


Theo was going over her planned agenda for the next senior staff meeting when North came in without knocking, striding quickly across the room. She could tell by his manner something was up he felt was important. "I think you should see this," he said without preamble, going to the Wall. "The sitroom caught it at timeline index 12948A."

"The current timeline?"

"Yes." He touched one of the many glass panels set into the Wall, a monitoring station that occupied one entire wall of Theo's office. It immediately went opaque, then dissolved to a scene that unfolded as Theo stood up to stand at North's side.

There in the glass she saw the cell where Harry was being kept. It was full of people, but what dominated her attention was the fact that Sirius was sitting on the gurney, holding Harry in his arms and weeping as he rocked him back and forth. As she watched, the doctor in charge, a gorgeous Indian fellow (she knew his name but couldn't recall it at once), made a note on the clipboard he was holding. "Time of death, two forty-seven p.m.," he intoned soberly.

Theo's eyes narrowed and she saw that Harry was limp as a dishrag. Blood trickled from the one ear she could see, and prominent burst veins discolored the skin of his forehead and cheek. She sighed. "Sitroom found this?"


"What was that time index?"


Theo turned away from the image. "So about four days."


She went back to her desk, thinking furiously. Her all-too-human mind had been forced to accustom itself to thinking along several dozen tracks at once. "I want to see Jones," she said. "Bring him here."


Napoleon was laughing so hard he'd crossed that line into inaudible wheezing. Hermione had to pause every few words to take a breath. "So...Ron says...'Harry, you daft git...I said...fly *over* the tower!'"

"Oh God, I can't breathe!" Napoleon croaked, both arms crossed over his stomach. Hermione bounced on the bed, chortling and screaming laughter. "Oh man...that's bloody rich."

"He smelled like lavender and patchouli oil for about a week!"

"Very masculine, I'm sure!"

Gradually, their laughter died out, leaving them both gasping for breath. "Poor Harry," Hermione said. "He might have been world- famous and all, but he was always a bit of a klutz. Ron used to tease him about it all the time."

Napoleon watched her face. "You miss him, don't you?"

She looked at him. "Ron? Every day. I miss his sense of humor, and I miss his laugh. Not a bad kisser, either." She smiled to herself. "The three of us together, it was...special. It was like we complemented each other. Parvati used to say we were the mythic trio...head, heart, hands. Me, the intellect. Harry, the man of action. But without Ron, without that spark, that emotion...well, the head and hands don't have much to do or much to care about." Her face was sad now, and she abruptly looked away, surreptitiously running her fingers over her eyes one at a time. "You don't know how much I wish he were here right now," she said. "If I ever needed to hear that laugh, I need it now."

Napoleon opened his mouth to speak but was interrupted by a knock at the door. They both looked around, surprised. He stood up. "Who the hell could that be, it's..." He looked at his wrist but he wasn't wearing a watch. "It's...it's..." There were, of course, no clocks in the room. "Aw, hell. I guess for the first time in my life it really *is* a hair past a freckle." He went to the door.

It was North. "The Guardian wants to see you."

Hermione jumped up. "Finally! I thought..."

"Not you, Hermione. Just Napoleon."

She gaped at him. "What? How does that..."

He held up a hand and cut her off. "Remain here. I will call for you later. Come, Napoleon. You don't need to change, we don't stand on ceremony here." Napoleon glanced back at Hermione, a strange mix of puzzlement and fury evident on her face, and reluctantly followed North out into the corridor.


Theo watched Napoleon's face carefully as he stood before the Wall. Before his eyes, he saw what Theo had already seen...the flurry of activity as Harry began to seize, the bursts of magic flying off him, the unsuccessful attempts to stabilize him. By the time she heard Sukesh's voice proclaim the time of death, Napoleon was white as a sheet and had one hand over his mouth. The glass went dark. "Oh no," he whispered. "Oh God." He staggered into a chair and let his head drop into his hands. After a few long moments he looked up and met her eyes. He looked haggard, like he'd aged ten years in the last two minutes. "He's dead?"

"I'm afraid so."

Napoleon shook his head. "How am I going to tell her? How is she..." He could not continue.

Theo pushed away from her desk and went around to sit next to him. "Napoleon, what you've just seen happens four days and thirteen hours after the time that you and Hermione left the time stream, which was five hours after you left Confinement."

Napoleon looked up at her. "Wh...you mean, it hasn't happened yet?" She said nothing. Napoleon jumped up. "Oh, you unbelieveable bitch! You made me think this had already happened!"

She just watched him, calm. "Those kinds of relative timeframes have no meaning here, Napoleon. We are outside the normal flow of time. What I've just shown you is the timeline that you and Hermione left when you came here. If you do not return to it, this will be the outcome. It has occurred. It will occur."

"But only if we don't go back before it happens."


"Well then, send us back! Right now! Send us back to five minutes after we left, like you said!"

She put out a hand in a calming gesture. "That doesn't mean this will change." He sat down, reluctantly. "I didn't show you this to upset you." He made a sarcastic, coughing sound. "Honest. I want you to know what I'm up against here. I've spent the last few minutes looking at reports from our situations room, where Guardians monitor timelines. In every scenario they can locate a timeline for, Harry dies. If I send you back, he dies. If you never left, he dies. If I send you back five minutes or three days after you left, he dies. Do you get it? Do you get what a position this puts me in? As far as I can tell, he will die unless I intervene. And that's not my job. It's not my business."

Napoleon's bleak expression said it all. "So you're telling me there's nothing that can be done."

"I didn't say that. But this isn't going to be easy. I can't tell Hermione that Harry dies, not if I want to have a rational conversation with her. So I'm telling you, because I want you to know what it is I'm being asked to do here. And I want you to be prepared."

"Prepared for what?"

"For what this situation might do to her...to all of us."


Hermione sat in the same chair in front of the Guardian's desk, Napoleon at her side. The Guardian was calm, but she seemed different. Sober. Thoughtful. When she spoke, she made no attempts to prevaricate or stall.

"I didn't know what was happening until it was long over," she said. Hermione sat up a little straighter, hopeful that at last, now, she'd find out what had happened to Harry. Theo appeared to be gathering her thoughts. "I know that wizards and witches have legends about the Guardian, and they're not the only ones. I know you heard at least something about me from a vampire. The truth is, most human and nonhuman cultures have veiled or disguised myths that are really about the Guardian, and to a lesser extent, the Eternals."

She stood up and walked forward to sit on the edge of her desk in front of them. "The thing is, the Eternals have their own legends. Specifically, they have an old story...a belief, really...about an Eternal born in mortal form, to mortal parents. They call this Eternal the Incarnate." Hermione leaned forward, fascinated. "They have been searching for this Eternal for millennia. For some time now, they have thought that it was likely that a good Candidate for the Incarnate would be a Mage...the closest thing to a being of pure magic that humans have yet produced." Hermione nodded, seeing where this was headed. "Now, I have been watching Harry on and off for most of his life. I have always known he was a Mage, even before he knew himself. The Eternals were less convinced. They saw that in most respects he was an ordinary person with an unusual aptitude for magic, but that was all. They didn't see any signs he might be their Incarnate."

The pieces were falling into place in Hermione's mind. "*They* took him, didn't they? The Eternals!"

Theo nodded. "Yes, they did. I can't stress enough how strange this is. They don't normally directly involve themselves in the affairs of mortals in the slightest. For such tasks, well, that's why they have me. This, they did on their own without informing me...in fact, they actively hid their activities from me, to the point of falsifying my own monitors so I didn't realize Harry was gone."


"Because they knew I would strenuously object."

"But...you work for them, what could you do?"

Theo smiled grimly. "I don't work for them, not in the way that you mean. I work for the ideals they represent. This is why the Eternals are so careful choosing a Guardian. Once the position is filled, they have no direct control over the Guardian. If I decided to go on a rampage destroying stuff they couldn't do anything about it, so they've got to be very cautious about who they trust with the Guardianship. If I'd wanted to stop them, I could have. But I didn't find out until they came running to me for help."


Theo looked at her feet. "The Eternals took Harry and encouraged him to use his Mage powers. They are the ultimate experts in magic, they instructed him and they helped him develop, very quickly. They were so impressed with his progress that they began to wonder if he might be the Incarnate after all. So they decided to subject him to the final test...except he failed that test, and they lost control of him. That's when they had to come to me for help."

"What was the test?"

The Guardian sighed. "They showed him their reality. They showed him a view of infinity...and it drove him insane."

"Because it never ends," Hermione finished. She sat back in her chair, both hands over her face, feeling suddenly exhausted. "My God...it never ends."

"Yes. So imagine my surprise when they brought me this screaming, gibbering, hysterical Mage with wildly amplified powers and told me to deal with him. We've had some words."

"What did you do? When he got back he seemed...normal."

"Believe it or not, this isn't the first time something like this has happened. That a mortal has seen something they ought not to have seen. I followed my standard procedure and erased his memory of the entire time he spent with the Eternals, and I returned him to the time and place he was taken."

"Then why did he get back two months after he left?"

Theo hesitated. "I don't know. It's one of many things about his situation that puzzle me."

"And do these other mortals you, uh, *fix* usually develop psychotic alternate personalities?"

"No, that one's a first to me." Theo crossed her arms over her chest. "There's something else at work here, Hermione. But that's not the issue."

"No, it most certainly isn't," Hermione agreed. "The issue is, can you help him?"

Theo just looked at her for a moment. "You don't understand the position I'm in."

Hermione rose from her chair. She was a few inches taller than Theo, and from their with Theo leaning against her desk, she seemed to tower over her. "You know what? I don't give a damn. You will help him, or you'll answer to me." Her knees quivered a little at speaking in such a way to this woman, but she was, after all, just a woman, as Hermione was.

Theo didn't look at her. "I answer to no one, Hermione. I am sympathetic to your situation, don't for a moment think I'm not. But I am not as free here as you might be imagining."

Hermione raised a finger and pointed at her, pretending not to notice the finger shaking a little. "You give me a straight answer. Is it possible? Are you physically able to help him? Just answer me, yes or no?" Hermione couldn't keep the tremor of suppressed tears of desperation out of her voice despite her efforts to sound forceful.

Theo did look at her then. "Yes."

"Then do it!"

The Guardian sighed. "I can't."