|The Show that Never Ends
Author: Lori PM
Sequel to Paradigm of Uncertainty - it has been removed by the author, and can now be found at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/ParadigmOfUncertainty/files/Rated: Fiction M - English - Mystery - Chapters: 2 - Words: 7,130 - Reviews: 1,028 - Favs: 22 - Follows: 3 - Updated: 06-28-01 - Published: 10-04-00 - id: 85746
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This story is a sequel to "Harry Potter and the Paradigm of Uncertainty," which is posted at this site under my name. Please read that story first before beginning this one. If you desperately don't want to, then email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll send you a summary. But I recommend you read the first one before starting this sequel. Temporal Note: This story involves a great many flashbacks and jumping back and forth in time. I've put dates on all the relevant sections, so keep those dates in mind as you read. For reference, Paradigm of Uncertainty ended in late August/early September 2007. Random Accent Note: I have not attempted to convey Napoleon Jones' Cockney accent in writing. It was just becoming too much of a pain. Use your imagination. :-)
Temporal Note: This story involves a great many flashbacks and jumping back and forth in time. I've put dates on all the relevant sections, so keep those dates in mind as you read. For reference, Paradigm of Uncertainty ended in late August/early September 2007.
Random Accent Note: I have not attempted to convey Napoleon Jones' Cockney accent in writing. It was just becoming too much of a pain. Use your imagination. :-)HARRY POTTER AND THE SHOW THAT NEVER ENDS Chapter 1: Eyes Without a Face
January 25, 2008...five months later...
Hermione sat next to Minerva on the deep leather sofa in the Headmistress' Office at Hogwarts, staring at her laced fingers. Sirius had usurped Minerva's desk for the time being, as it was his meeting to run. The other dozen or so people in the room sat quietly waiting for him to begin.
"Ladies and gentlemen, let's get started," he said, sitting on the forward edge of the desk. "We have some new faces here today, so let's introduce ourselves. I'm Deputy Chancellor Sirius Black." He nodded to Remus.
"Remus Lupin, Intelligence Division, Chief of Infiltration and Reconnaissance."
The man seated next to him was a stranger to Hermione. He was very thin with the darkest, smoothest skin she'd ever seen. He stood to introduce himself. "Julius Mosambani," he said. "I'm an Enforcer, I'm with the Searcher Squad."
"Julius is stationed at the 9th Precinct in Johannesburg, I asked him to join us," Remus said. "His reputation as a Searcher is formidable. I thought he could help us."
The introductions continued around the room. "Argo Pfaffenroth, Executive Director of the Intelligence Division."
"Arthur Weasley, Minister of Magic."
"Napoleon Jones, I.D. Acting Chief of Counterintelligence and Covert Operations."
"Hogwarts Professor Quinlan Cashdollar, Defense Against the Dark Arts."
"Detective Neville Longbottom, 15th Precinct Enforcement Squad."
"Shreve's Landing Professor Godwyn Vanderbilt, Defense Against the Dark Arts," said the next woman, another stranger. "Quinn asked me to come along today. I hope I can help." The others nodded to her in greeting.
"Hogwarts Professor and Deputy Headmaster Severus Snape, Potions."
"Draco Malfoy, Special Intelligence Adjutant to the Office of the Chancellor."
"Bill Weasley, Anti-Curse Office."
"Josie Maza, Auror."
"Justin Finch-Fletchley, Office of Muggle Affairs."
"Sabian, intelligence wizard." Sabian's voice issued from his purple Baubel bubble that floated in the air next to Justin's head. Hermione wasn't surprised. She'd spoken to him a number of times but had still never laid an eye on the mysterious Sabian.
"Hogwarts Headmistress Minerva McGonagall."
All eyes now rested on Hermione. "Hermione Granger, Surveillance and Information Retrieval." She saw the curious glances of the two newcomers. "I'm Harry's fiancee."
Sirius cleared his throat. "All right, then. Thank you for coming, Julius and Godwyn.
"We have been meeting every two weeks for the last two months to update each other on any progress we've made. So far we've had very little success." He hesitated, his throat working for a moment. He went on, staring at his hands. "Every day I wake up and hope that this will be the day that I get some news, or discover some clue that I'd left behind. I know we all share that hope. But we have to face the reality: Harry has been missing for two months today. And we are no closer to discovering what's become of him than we were on the day he vanished."
Hermione heard footsteps approaching from behind her, the soft whish-whish of shoes through the grass of the Quidditch field. She sat still on the ground as if she didn't hear, her knees drawn up to her chest with her arms wrapped around them, staring off into the empty spectator stands above.
The visitor paused, then folded their legs and sat down near her on the grass. Draco. He just sat there for a few moments, saying nothing. "You all right?" he finally said, hesitant as if embarrassed to be caught in this moment of concern.
Hermione blew air through her teeth. "Oh, of course. Why wouldn't I be? Aside from the crying jags, and the sleepless nights, and the total inability to concentrate on anything I'm perfectly all right."
"Sorry. Stupid question."
"Yes, it was, actually."
"You know Potter isn't my favorite person," Draco went on, "but I hope you also know I wouldn't actually wish any harm to come to him."
"I know," she whispered.
Draco cleared his throat. "And I hate seeing you suffering like this."
Hermione turned her head and looked at him. "Please, Draco. Don't go all Gerald on me right now."
"I can't help it. He sneaks up on me." He fell silent. "How's your training?"
"All right. I really enjoy all the espionage techniques and surveillance classes, but I'm afraid I'm hopelessly inept at the more physical subjects."
"Oh, I don't think so. Lefty tells me you're doing very well, better than he'd imagined you would."
"Been checking up on me?" she said, arching an eyebrow at him.
Draco fidgeted a bit, caught. "I confess that with Harry gone I feel a bit of an obligation to look after you."
Hermione cleared her throat. "Not that I don't appreciate the sentiment, Draco, but Harry's function in life is not to look after me, nor do I require any such attention. Harry is my companion, not my personal guardian, so don't feel that I'm somehow in want of a watchdog with him gone. I can look after myself."
"Never any question."
She sighed. "I keep thinking back to that morning."
"The last time I saw him."
"What about it?"
"I wish I could go back and change it. Even if I could change nothing else, I'd change my own words. Every time I think about it I feel sick to my stomach that the last words we spoke to each other before...whatever...were angry ones."
November 25, 2007 **********
"Do you really have to go in? It's Sunday."
"I'm afraid so," Harry said, his back to her as he stood at the sink peeling an orange. "I really need to be there when Sabian and his team report in from Belgrade. They'll need new orders depending on what they tell me."
"Do you know when you'll be home?"
"Not too late, I should think. Six or seven." He turned and sat down at the table next to her, popping an orange section into his mouth. "What are you going to do today?"
"I'm going to London with my mother. Dress shopping."
Harry stared at his orange. "You know, I really wish you wouldn't do that."
"Harry, we've been through this. I can't cut her out of everything."
"Every time Claire gets near any sort of wedding plans she turns into some sort of Satanic demon that's impossible to kill and doesn't understand reason."
"It'll only upset you. She'll just do what she always does and try to dictate everything to you and you'll end up having a huge fight with her and I'll come home and find you crying about it...again. You know, this is supposed to be fun for us, but your mother, fond as I am of her, keeps turning it into a grueling ordeal resembling the Spanish Inquisition."
"Maybe she won't."
"Yes, and maybe Allegra will show up with a basket of cookies and cocoa."
"Why are you being so mean about it?" she said, irritated.
"Because I hate seeing you upset, and anyone who intentionally makes you upset brings out Mean Harry!"
"She's my mother. She's been waiting for this her whole life. Her little girl, who she used to dress up in pretty clothes and read stories to before bed, is getting married. It's the last real mother-daughter ritual, and after that those apron strings are cut forever. She just wants to be involved."
"What she wants is for you to do everything the way she wants it done. This is our wedding, not hers. If she can't be civil about it then I think you should just keep her away from the planning, for your own sake and mine."
Hermione was torn. He was right about it making her upset, but she so wanted to share this experience with her mother the way a woman was supposed to. Why couldn't he understand that? How could he even suggest that she cut her mother out of this important life event completely? "It's not that simple," she said. "It's...complicated."
"Maybe your relationship with your mother isn't supposed to be that complicated."
"And how would you know anything about that?" she snapped. Harry sat back, sucking in a short breath, his eyes filling with hurt and anger. Hermione's eyes widened. What she'd meant to say was that being a man, he couldn't really comprehend a woman's relationship to her mother, but she suddenly realized that the way it came out it had sounded as if she were referring to his lack of a mother of his own. "Oh, that's not..." He stood up, shoving the chair away from the table before she could finish.
"I'll see you later," he said shortly, heading for the door.
"Harry..." she began, annoyed that he wouldn't stop to listen to her.
"Do me a favor, all right? Don't talk to me right now." He walked out and after a few seconds she heard the front door slam, making her wince. She let her head fall to the table. This wasn't the first time they'd fought about her mother (or a bewildering assortment of other topics), but this was the first time they'd parted for the day without a kiss, without saying 'I love you.'
She got up from the table and went upstairs to shower, the argument leaving her feeling saddened. They'd make up when he got home, they always did. They'd talk about it and she'd apologize and he'd apologize and it would all be fine. When he got home.
January 25, 2008 **********
"Except he never came home," she finished hoarsely. "Sometimes while I lie awake at night and stare at the ceiling I curse myself for letting him leave like that. We promised each other we'd never do that."
"Part angry. It was sort of a pact we made, early on. We knew we'd fight, everyone does. But with our jobs being what they are, something could happen to one of us at any time...so we swore we'd never part with angry words, in case we never saw each other again." Her voice quavered and she swiped her hand across her eyes.
"I'm sorry," Draco said quietly, not knowing what else to say.
"I just wish I could have that one moment back so I could think before I spoke, and so he'd leave knowing I love him."
"He knows that."
"I often wonder what he was thinking about while he was at work that day. I hope he realized later that I would never say anything so hurtful to him, and what it was I meant to say."
"I'm sure he did." He tilted his head and examined her profile. "Why does this one thing trouble you so much."
She sighed. "Because I can't stand the thought that whatever happened to him, it happened while he was angry with me."
Lupin came up next to Sirius, who was standing at one of the large windows in the great Hall that gave out onto the rear lawn. "Have you seen Hermione? We should head back to the I.D."
"I saw her go down towards the Quidditch field a bit ago." Sirius crossed his arms. "I'm worried about her."
"Is she losing hope?"
"We all are, Remus. It's been so long...if he's still alive then he's somewhere being held against his will and very well concealed." He looked at his old friend, concern etched in his brow. "Tell me what you leave out of your reports. Tell me the truth. What have you got?"
Remus sighed. "If there's a quantity less than zero, well, that's what we've got. The security wizard at the I.D. saw him Apparate out, he was seen at a London florist's buying roses a short time later and that, my friend, is all. He vanished without a trace. We have shown his picture to what seems like every person in the U.K. and nothing. Where he went from the florist's is anyone's guess. There is a secluded alley nearby from which he could have Apparated home, which he must have done because he didn't use his car that day. If he went anywhere before Apparating we haven't found out about it. Sometime after he left the florist's he must have been captured."
"You're certain he was captured?"
"What other explanation is there? They must have been very well-prepared to have taken him so efficiently and to have held him so long."
"You don't think he could be..." Sirius couldn't bring himself to say the word.
"I don't want to think it, but it's a possibility we must consider." Remus' jaw clenched. "Sirius, Harry is a very powerful wizard, as we both know. I almost can't imagine anyone being able to hold him for two months solid without a whisper of it getting out."
"It's equally unlikely that anyone could have killed him without a whisper of it getting out. If the Circle or anyone of that sort had managed to kill him, they certainly would not have kept it quiet. Think what it would do to their morale, not to mention ours!"
Remus shook his head, a puzzled expression on his face. "I'm fresh out of ideas. Nothing seems terribly likely at this point."
"Except that it's becoming harder to stay optimistic," came a new voice. They turned to see Hermione standing behind them. She walked slowly forward to stand with them, her face grim but determined. "I didn't know that about the roses," she said quietly.
"It's a detail we've sequestered, to weed out the loonies who claim to have him locked up in their broom closet." Sirius hesitated. "Besides, I'm sure they were for you. Seemed cruel to mention it."
"I appreciate your concern for my mental state, but I assure you I am operating up to factory specs. Yes, I was eavesdropping. My emotional state is...well, having little experience with soul-crushing despair I'm ill-prepared to describe it. But I am in full possession of my faculties."
"As is easily apparent," Sirius said.
She said nothing for a moment. "You know what's been keeping me up lately? Besides the usual?"
"That I have moments when I actually hope that he's dead. Just so I'll know for sure. It's this limbo, this not knowing. I don't know how much longer I can take it. If he were dead I don't know how I would deal with it, but at least I would know what had become of him." She put a hand over her eyes and drew a deep, shaky breath. Sirius laid his arm across her shoulders. "God, I can't cry anymore. I didn't know it was possible to cry as much as I have these last two months."
"I don't know how you're doing it," Sirius said. "If Cordelia had vanished without a trace, after two months I'd be lying in bed twenty-four hours a day and waiting to die of malnutrition."
"You think that now, but if it actually happened you'd have to find a way to keep existing despite the pain. You'd claw your way through the depression and you'd weather the tears and you'd force yourself to get up in the morning and feed yourself and breathe in and out, even if you can't remember the reason you're doing it."
November 25, 2007 **********
She trotted down the stairs, smiling at the scent of George's cooking. Her four roommates were seated in their customary places. She frowned, looking about. "Harry's not home yet?"
"No, I guess not. You haven't seen him?"
"Probably just working and lost track of the time," Justin said. "That new assistant still giving him fits?"
"I think he's getting used to him. He hasn't talking about homicide in, oh...a few days now." She sat down to their chuckles, frowning slightly as she looked at Harry's empty chair. He hadn't said he'd be this late. Seven at the latest, he'd said, and it was eight o'clock already.
Dinner over, the household adjourned to the living room. It was a large and comfortable room near the front of the house outfitted with a telly and video player and stereo equipment, a big plushy pit sofa and reclining chairs. Justin, George, Laura and Cho sat down to watch a film while Hermione settled in her favorite rocker with a book.
The minutes ticked on. Hermione's mind drifted further and further away from her book and closer to concern at Harry's lateness. She stood up and went to the window, looking out at the drive.
"He Apparated, Hermione," Laura said gently. "You won't see him coming."
Hermione sighed and sat down again, but her book stayed face-down on the sidetable, forgotten. She sat nervously lacing and un-lacing her fingers while the level of tension in the room jacked steadily higher.
Finally at nine thirty she'd had enough. "Bubble," she said. The recent innovation that allowed their Baubel bubbles to leave the I.D. and serve as remote communication devices had made everyone's lives easier. It was certainly quicker than owls. Hermione's sea-green bubble appeared. "I wish to speak to Harry Potter." The bubble shimmered for a moment, then stopped and managed to seem puzzled. "Harry?" The bubble shimmered again with no more success. A icy sliver of nervousness was working its way into Hermione's stomach. "All right, get me Napoleon Jones." The bubble shimmered again and at once snapped to attention.
"Yeah?" Napoleon's voice.
"Oh, 'allo, luv! What can I do for you?"
"Where's Harry? Is he still there? My Bubble can't find him."
A pause. "He left at six o'clock." The usual jolly joviality was gone from Napoleon's voice. When an intelligence agent was unaccounted for, it was no laughing matter. "He hasn't come home?"
"No," Hermione said, unable to keep the quaver from her voice. "You're sure he left?"
"Positive. He left me some things to work on and said he'd be at home if I had questions. He didn't mention stopping anywhere, certainly not for three hours."
"Could he have gone somewhere on a case? Somewhere that he couldn't tell you about?"
"Oh, no. I keep his calendar, and even if he didn't tell me he'd've certainly told you."
By this time Laura, Justin and George were hovering nearby, their film forgotten, paying close attention. "Napoleon...he's not here and he's not there. He has not owled me and he's over three hours late. This is not typical behavior."
"No, it's not." A brief pause. "I'm calling the division heads. You start owling anyplace you can think of where he might be." Another pause. "We'll cover the hospitals and the Muggle police."
Hermione sighed. "All right. Keep me posted." The bubble vanished. Hermione looked up at her friends, her anxiety naked on her face.
"I'll ring Ginny," said Laura.
"I'm on Hogwarts," Justin added as he followed her out.
George crouched in front of her chair. "He's probably just been detained somewhere and hasn't been able to contact us."
Hermione nodded. "You'll understand how my mind tends to jump to the worst case scenario."
"Of course." He smiled confidently up at her. "I'm going to go owl my folks and see if they've perhaps seen him."
"Most things will be, if we've no idea where he's got himself off to." He patted her hand and left the room.
Hermione sat for a moment, thinking. She stood quickly and headed to her study to send some owls.
Two hours later, Hermione was beginning to feel panic creeping into her brain despite her best efforts to keep it at bay. No one, none of their friends or colleagues, had seen or heard from Harry at all. He had Apparated out of the I.D. just after six and, as far as anyone could tell, hadn't been seen since. She strode quickly through the halls at I.D. headquarters to thewar room, a circular chamber at the top of a stone dome with dozens of small windows for owls and large status maps. Most of the division heads and Argo were gathered there when she arrived.
"Remus, you'll coordinate the agents in London. We'll want to canvass any areas Harry is particularly familiar with including Shepherd's Bush and King's Cross. Ah, Hermione. We're preparing to send out search parties."
She frowned. "Don't you have to wait twenty-four hours or some other such nonsense?"
"Perhaps the Muggle constabulary do, but we don't have the time to waste. Harry is a highly trained intelligence operative and he knows better than to just go off somewhere and leave no word. Any disappearance by someone who knows the sorts of things that he knows is a matter of great concern, and we've lost enough time." Argo glanced at her watch. "It's just past midnight. We're not going to have much luck finding anyone who might have seen him, but it's a perfect time to go out with dragonhounds."
Hermione nodded, secretly relieved they were moving so quickly. She was familiar with dragonhounds as part of her Surveillance and Information Retrieval training...they were deceptively small dogs with keen magical senses. They could sense one person's magic the way bloodhounds smell their scent. All they'd need would be some item Harry had enchanted or transformed and they could detect his presence within half a mile. "Our searching might as well be random," she said grimly, "since we have no idea of where he might be. After Apparating out he could quite literally have gone anywhere."
Argo looked stony at this statement. "You're right, of course, but we must start somewhere."
January 25, 2008 **********
Hermione thought back to that awful night as she sat in her tiny shared office with her ignored training texts open before her. Her memories of what had happened were fuzzy and incoherent. She remembered being in the war room as reports came in, all negative. She remembered growing more and more desperate to hear something, anything. When morning had come and there still had been no word, she had retreated into a corner by herself and wept her first tears of fear and frustration.
The search had gone on for days and days with no results. As the hours passed the certainty that some form of foul play had befallen Harry grew more and more prevalent. Agents began tracking down his known enemies, of whom there were unfortunately many, and manhandling any information they could out of them. Circle wizards were rounded up and questioned, surveillance and secret eavesdropping on the conversations of known dark operatives increased by an order of magnitude. All that this scrutiny had revealed was that anyone who had any connection to the Circle was just as puzzled about Harry's disappearance as the I.D. was.
As the days passed, Hermione's grim determination and dogged pursuit of the search drew uneasy praise from those around her, who remarked upon how well she was holding up. In truth, this face of stoicism was a mask she wore to mask her blank terror and the black despair that welled up in her heart with each passing minute.
She threw down her quill and grabbed her coat, having had enough for the night. She headed for the security checkpoint, her Bubble guiding her steps. It had taken her several weeks to resume her training schedule as if everything was normal, though she admitted the difficult tasks set to her were a welcome respite for her mind that was tired of worrying and imagining the most horrible possibilities.
And now, the search was still on in theory but in practice it had all but ceased. Hermione hadn't expected them to keep looking forever and was grateful for the effort that all the agents had expended, but two months was a long time. She, Remus and Napoleon still did what they could in light of the other expectations of them and she knew that Sirius was tireless in his efforts to unearth new information, but they were small and the world was large.
She Apparated home gratefully, enjoying that tiny moment in her day where she could make believe that she would leave the I.D., get home and find Harry waiting for her there. Just for a fraction of a second before she arrived at Bailicroft she could enjoy that sweet fantasy until it was dashed when she did arrive and he wasn't there, as he hadn't been there for weeks and weeks.
Laura was there to greet her instead. "How was the meeting?"
"Same as always," Hermione sighed, letting Laura take her cloak from her. "We sit in Minerva's office and stare at each other and hope that someone will have come with some piece of information that they managed to keep secret, but no one ever has anything to say. New people will be there in the vain hope that they'll stimulate us into thinking of something we've mssed, but they never do. So we stare at each other and I pretend I don't see their pitying looks and their concerned expressions." She tromped into the kitchen, her steps heavy with weariness. George had left her a sandwich and some fruit as he usually did. She wasn't terribly hungry but she ate it anyway. Laura sat next to her at the kitchen table.
"You look tired."
Hermione nodded, chewing slowly. "I'm so tired I can barely see."
"You haven't been sleeping."
"That's not new. I don't think I've had a good night's sleep in two months. It's hard to relax when all I can think about is that big cold, empty spot next to me." She threw down her half-eaten sandwich and rested her elbows on the tabletop, letting her face fall into her hands. She drew a few shaky breaths, feeling Laura's hand comforting on her shoulder. "I keep thinking I'm going to see him," she whispered.
Hermione lowered her hands, crossing her arms protectively over her chest. "I keep thinking I'll come around a corner or open a door and there he'll be." She shut her eyes. "Today I ran after a man I saw on the street, a tall man with dark hair. Every time I see one I have to stop and look, just to see if it's him. The man turned around and faced me and it wasn't him, it's never him." She pinched the bridge of her nose between her thumb and first two fingers, sighing. "I see him everywhere, Laura. I can't go anywhere without hearing his voice in a crowd, or his footsteps on the stairs. I can't look around without thinking I see his eyes but when I look again they're gone." She looked up at Laura. "You must think I'm crazy."
"No, honey. I don't think you're crazy. I think you've had a terrible loss and you haven't come to terms with it."
"How can I come to terms with it when I don't know if he's alive or dead?" Hermione cried. "I cannot mourn what I don't know is gone!" She slammed her fist down on the table, making the dishes jump. She put one hand over her eyes, sighing. "I miss him so much, Laura," she said quietly.
Hermione stood up and began to pace, cupping her own elbows. "You know, people...mostly women...are always telling me how amazed they are to find out what a great guy Harry is, and how happy I must be that he's mine. You know what? They're right. He is a great guy." Laura nodded. "People who don't know him don't realize that. They just see this sort of mythic figure standing between them and whatever evils they fear in the world and they usually assume he must be arrogant, or hard to live with, or stubborn or self-righteous." Her words were coming quickly, her eyes welling up with tears. "But he's none of those things. He's kind and unselfish and warm and strong..." She swiped at her cheek. Laura wondered why she was saying all this, after all Laura knew Harry too...then it occurred to her that Hermione might need to remember these things just as she began to think she'd never see him again. "He's got a sense of humor and sometimes an odd way of looking at things. He's a good leader and smart and brave..."
"Not to mention sexy, charming, madly in love with you and treats you like royalty..."
"God knows he's got a John Thomas that could make you believe in a higher power..."
Laura spluttered coffee all over the table. "Hermione!"
Hermione stopped pacing and stared at her. "Oh my, did I say that out loud?" Laura gaped up at her, open-mouthed, and then all at once they both burst out laughing. Hermione fell into her chair clutching her stomach and howling with mirth.
"Oh jeez!" Laura said over and over, shaking all over with silent laughter. "Oh boy!" She laid a hand on Hermione's arm. "Oh luvvie, that's just rich." They calmed down bit by bit, snuffling and wiping at their streaming eyes. "But seriously now, here's the real question...does he really?"
Hermione cocked an eyebrow at her. "This is hardly any of your business."
"Who's your best girlfriend?"
"Then it's my business." Her face softened. "Besides...you need to talk about him. Not about where he is, or how long he's been missing. Just about him." She grinned mischievously. "So spill it. Does he really?"
Hermione smiled, a bit shyly, and looked at her hands. "Well...yes." She blew air through her teeth and relaxed. "Oh, all right. You want to talk about sex? Let's talk about sex. But I demand full reciprocity."
"Naturally. So let's hear it. I'm not ashamed to admit I've always been deadly curious. So...how is it?"
Hermione leaned closer, a devilish smile stealing over her face. "Best I've ever had, I can tell you that."
"Well, does it count if you feel like the top of your head's going to come off?" She picked up her milk and took a sip, enjoying Laura's amazed expression.
"You know, I was never terribly enthusiastic about sex. I can admit it, it's true. I had..." She counted briefly in her head. "...five partners before Harry and sure, it was nice and it was intimate and it made me feel sexy, but I never really understood what all the shouting was about." She sighed. "But after that first time with him, well...I understood. That's what it's supposed to feel like."
Laura smiled. "I know what you mean. My first lover was my only lover, so I really don't have much basis for comparion, but I'd like to think that it's good for us. I can't say I've ever felt the kind of near-death experience you seem to enjoy on a regular basis."
Hermione chuckled, then sobered. "I'd be lying if I said I didn't miss the sex, but that's just such a small part of it. I..." She sniffed. "When I have nightmares and wake up frightened, he's not there to hold me until I fall asleep in his arms. He's not there to tell me I'm doing a good job in my training. He's not there to kiss my neck in that way that makes me feel like my knees are turning to water." She shook her head. "I still love him, except he's not there for me to love."
October 4, 2007 **********
Harry sank down onto the bed facing her, breathing hard. Hermione turned on her side, brushing her sweaty hair off her forehead, and slipped her arms around his chest. They kissed for a few moments, letting their pulse rates return to normal. "Wow," she breathed against his lips, gasping a little.
"There's that doctoral vocabulary again."
"Words escape me."
He kissed her again. "Well, I think I've reached my target heart rate for the day."
"You know, you have to maintain it for twenty to forty minutes to achieve any cardiovascular benefit."
He smiled against her mouth. "If you think I can keep that up for half an hour then you have a ridiculously inflated opinion of my stamina."
She chuckled and pushed him over onto his back so she could snuggle against his chest. She turned her head and kissed along the ridge of his clavicle, smiling at the little shivers she could feel ripple through him at her touch. She relaxed into his arms, settling her head on his shoulder. "What time is it?"
He glanced at the bedside timepiece. "Oh bollocks, it's past one."
"We have to be at the I.D. by nine."
"Let's call in sick. Let's just stay here all day and never leave this bed. We can lie here and talk about whatever enters our minds and make love whenever we feel like it."
"Appealing as that sounds, I doubt you'd enjoy yourself knowing Napoleon was in charge of your division in your absence."
"Oh my God," he groaned.
"I don't know why you hate him so much."
"Yes, I know all about his previous misdeeds. It's not like you to hold a grudge, or to be so unforgiving."
"I just don't like him."
"Well, I think he's charming."
Harry grumbled something unintelligible. "It's not enough the man's in my face every waking minute now he's invaded the sanctity of our bedroom."
"Sanctity, of course. We're the ones who gave the rest of the house an earful our first time."
She felt him grin. "Was a bit embarrassing, wasn't it?"
She lifted her head up so she could look at him. "We had good reason. That first time was so..amazing."
"And it's been steadily downhill from there, is that it?"
She slapped at his arm. "No, you git. That's not what I meant." She shifted upwards and laid her head on the pillow next to his. "I mean that with you, it's...it's so much better than anything I've ever had with anyone else."
He smiled and ran his thumb down her cheek. "Careful, my ego."
"Mm, well perhaps you deserve a big ego in this area."
He leaned forward and kissed her. "If it makes a difference it's not just you. It's definitely an entirely different level for me, too. Of course I'm only one-half of this equation. Perhaps you're the one who deserves the big sexual ego."
"No," she said quietly. "The whole is more than the sum of its parts. It's not great because you're good, or I'm good, it's because it's you and me." She slipped back into his arms. His hand cradled the back of her head and she felt him press his lips to her hairline. "I love you, Harry," she murmured sleepily, feeling drowsiness steal over her.
"I love you too," he whispered. Within a few moments they were both asleep.
January 27, 2008 **********
The I.D. autopsy theater was deep in the bowels of the building as befitted a chamber steeped in the examination of death. Hermione walked rapidly down the corridor, her heart thudding in her chest. The frenzied journey from Bailicroft to work was only remembered in her mind as choppy segments...the darkening sky, a rush out the door, Apparating to the security checkpoint. It might be Harry, it might be Harry. Remus' words echoed in her mind. A body has been found...it might be Harry...
"You're very calm," Remus said, coming up alongside her.
"I've been through this before, remember? The frantic notification that Harry's dead? It may or may not be true. If it is I'll react then. If not I don't wish to waste valuable energy mourning prematurely." They entered the mortuary area to find Sirius and most of the I.D. senior staff already there. Sirius' face was pale and haggard. He looked up as they entered, then rushed to throw his arms around Hermione.
"Sirius," she managed. "What news?"
"I've seen the body," Sirius said hoarsely. "It's him."
Hermione's body went cold...but she wasn't ready to believe it quite yet. "Let me see."
They led her into the examination chamber where a single table bore a sheet-covered body. A strong sense of deja vu hit Hermione all over, a flashback to the day she'd woken him from the necromimetic stasis and learned about his job. She motioned to the others to stay back, not trusting herself to deal with other human beings at this moment.
She approached the body and whipped the sheet back. She sucked in a breath as the body's face came into view. It did appear to be Harry. It was partially decomposed but still recognizable, the skin still mostly intact if discolored. The scar was plainly visible.
She removed the sheet completely and walked slowly around the body, examining it. The small cluster of gray hairs over his right temple. The freckle under his jawline. The sight of it twisted her stomach into knots...but there was one more test to pass.
She picked up the body's right hand, steeled herself, and bent to examine the palm. For a long moment she just stood there silently...no one breathed in the room. Abruptly she straightened up and faced the others. "This isn't Harry," she said, the relief evident in her voice. "Harry has a comma-shaped scar in the palm of his right hand, very few people know about it."
Sirius let out a huge breath and bent over, his hands on his knees. "Are you sure?" he said.
"Positive. See for yourselves." Several of them did. She stepped back to stand next to Sirius, crossing her arms thoughtfully. "This isn't Harry, but someone went to a considerable amount of trouble to make us think that it was."
Henry Ubigando bent over the body. "It certainly does look like him. Where did someone get a replica of Harry?"
"Perhaps they clowned him," Napoleon said, uncertainly.
Everyone frowned. "Clowned?" Henry repeated, puzzled.
"He means 'cloned,'" Hermione explained. "It's Muggle technology in which you can duplicate a living thing from any of its cells. It's becoming pretty common for plants and non-human animals, but I don't see any reason you couldn't clone a person, especially if the clone's only function is to die. They could have done the forehead scar themselves."
"Why would someone do this?" Sirius said.
"Isn't that obvious?" Remus said. "So we'll stop looking." Everyone glanced around at each other, considering this statement.
"Someone must have him," Hermione continued. "And they want to make doubly sure we don't keep looking for him."