***The Human Condition is a fan fiction. Some characters and select locations are based on the works of J.K. Rowling. Harry Potter copyrights belong to her, Bloomsbury Publishing, Warner Brothers, and Scholastic publishing. The concept of the IWBI and original characters belong to me and may not be used in other fan fictions. This story is not to be sold, reproduced, or passed off as your own. This story is appropriately rated PG-13 and is too mature for young children. There are no slash pairings, pornographic scenes, or an excess of profainity. This fiction is post-Hogwarts. Enjoy.***

the human condition

c.k. talons

Beta read by ElizabethCredere

Chapter One: The Whispers of Darkness

"Potter, Harry James," the top of the file read. It was a rather thick file, he thought again as he held it in his hands. He had read it several times, front to back, cover to cover. Yet even after taking in the content of what must have been pure hell to live, he still went back to the label as if mesmerized by those three words: Potter, Harry James.

"Good luck Doctor," a wizard said as he walked past.

"Thank you," he answered, "I'll need it." He took a deep breath, dropped the file on a desk next to the door, and stuck his hands in his pockets. He would need all the luck he could get.

"Are you the new one, sir?" a witch in green robes asked. She pointed at him, and with a look of deep concern, smiled.

"Yes," he said, readjusting his glasses. "I'm the new one," he mumbled.

"I hope you last," she answered. "Are you ready to see him?"

No, he thought. "As ready as I'll ever be," he said, moving closer to the door. She winked at him, waved her wand at the tall white door, and let him in. Once he walked through, the door closed with a great whoosh and blended into the wall, making it look like there was no door at all.

He gazed around the room briefly, letting his eyes take in the darkened white room, whose blue shadows cast onto the ground like spilled paint. It was eerily quite, so much so that he could hear his heart beating and his shallow breathing. Then he looked to his right... and there he was.

Potter, Harry James was sitting on the white tile floor, holding his legs to his chest. He was posed in a corner, his head against the starch white wall; his eyes only halfway open. Potter hadn't moved when he came in. It was somewhat shocking to see this hero of the world, a conqueror and vanquisher of evil, sitting there so helplessly. Some of Potter's life records flashed before his mind as he looked at Harry, and while the read had been fascinating to say the least, he couldn't help but feel a squirming sensation in his stomach as he looked at the man who'd lived it.

"Hello Harry," he said.

Harry didn't flinch but continued his stare at the wall. He looked very pale, even in the dark room, and his cheeks seemed to be unhealthily sallow and sunken. Harry remained so stationary, one might take him as dead, but the doctor knew otherwise.

He walked over at sank down to the wall next to him. "I'm Doctor Marc Simon," he said, putting his hand out to Harry. Harry didn't even look at him from the corner of his eye. Instead, he tilted his head even further away from the doctor and closed his eyes. Marc continued. "I'm now your appointed counselor, Harry. I was sent here by the Ministry to check on you."

Harry sniffed indignantly and drew his lips up in a sneer.

"Would you like to say something?" Marc asked, raising his eyebrows.

"Just that the real reason that you're here is to further your career, isn't it?" he asked, his eyes still sealed shut. "You get to analyze the mind of Harry Potter. What you must have done when you found that out. Did you jump for joy? Did you contact everyone you knew to tell them, 'Yes that's right, I get to question the Potter boy.' Or did you listen to all your other shrink friends as they boasted about their patients, and you smiled to yourself thinking that you had landed me?" Harry asked, twisting his neck to face him and opening his eyes ever so slowly.

Marc repressed a shudder and did his best not to gape at his new patient. As he had observed when he first entered the room, Harry was unhealthily thin, making his face ghost-like in appearance. His shiny black hair was too long in the font, causing his bangs to droop into his eyes and over his square rimmed glasses. But those eyes... Perhaps it was because he was so pale, or that the contrast between his dark features and his ashen skin was already frightening enough, that his emerald green eyes seemed to glow with malice and crackle with magic.

The photos Marc had seen of this man were much different; depicting a handsome person, whose smile could light up a room. This Harry Potter was unlike any photo he'd seen of any person. Of course he might have looked quite handsome, even now, if there wasn't a desire in that face to convey fear and intimidation in his onlookers.

Marc tried to gain composure again, and then spoke. "And why do you think that?" he asked. Harry grinned, revealing his still very white teeth.

"Lucky guess I suppose," he said. He looked over the top rims of his glasses, smirking, at Marc and breathing quite steadily. "How did I fare?"

This is harder than I thought, Marc said to his brain. He could feel his heart pounding against his rib cage as Harry gave him that piercing gaze. "Well," he answered. "I am glad that I got you, Harry. I've always admired you for your strength and courage-"

Harry scoffed and shook his head, looking back to his wall. "I've heard enough lies in my life; please don't flatter me with them. I would like you much more if you admitted I was right. You're trying to further your career by adding me to your list of crackpots that you've analyzed. Or," he said, turning to face him again, "after I scared the last three shrinks out of here, you were the only one willing to give me a go. The truth, Doctor, will set you free. And if you expect me to give it to you, maybe you should give it to me. I deserve that at the very least."

Marc took a deep breath, knowing full well that Harry could hear it.

"Don't tell me I've made you nervous already," Harry said. "The last shrink took twenty minutes of me before she left. You're not going to let a woman beat you at this game, are you Doctor?"

"I read your history," Marc went on, ignoring his latest comments.

"I'm not surprised. I bet you couldn't put them down, could you? I bet you found my records fascinating, didn't you? Utterly suspenseful page turners, aren't they? Yeah, they should make a book on my life. It would be a best seller, no doubt. Maybe you could write it. It would make you more famous than just talking to me."

"It's clear to me, after reading them, why you're so rash. Losing so many people must have been hard. Just the simple fact of living without the love from a woman, whether it was your mother or your aunt, must have hardened your heart. Of course, you lived for so many years trapped in a place where no one appreciated you. It's understandable, based on that alone, that you're so... cold. Then there's Sirius. He was the closest to you that an adult ever was. His loss must have topped it all off."

Clap. Clap. Clap.

"Bravo, Doctor. What a nice speech you just gave. How long did you practice that one? Did you rehearse it before they let you in my cell, or were you up late at night thinking about it?"

"Seeing so many people you knew fall to their deaths must have been devastating," he said, continuing to ignore his insults. "Reliving it in your dreams over and over again has to be hard."

"Oh so you're pulling out the big guns are you? Very brave of you Doctor. Did they teach you to do that at shrink school? Pull out the hard stuff and toss it in your patient's face if he's not paying attention to you? I don't know if that was wise, but it worked. You want to talk about death, do you? It's a compelling subject isn't it? Someone walks the earth and then he's gone. It's a simple concept but if you want to talk about it, then go right ahead."

"No, maybe it's not death then. Maybe it's what you did to Hermione," he said. Harry stopped smirking.

"I didn't do anything to her," he said coolly.

"But you did, Harry. Don't you remember? It was just a few days ago, you know. You started to scream at her, saying that you would never agree with her, that you would never give her what she wanted. She started to back away but you went after her and beat her up so badly that she had to be hospitalized. There were witnesses to this, Harry. The entire Weasley family watched as you attacked her and had to fight hard to stop you."

"I didn't hurt Hermione," Harry said with gritted teeth. "I would never hurt her."

"But you did. I have pictures of what you did to her," he said, reaching into his robes. Harry watched as Marc slowly pulled a large envelope from his inner robe pocket. Then he opened it, looked at it's contents, and showed pictures to Harry, one by one.

"I didn't..." Harry started, looking at the photos of Hermione's swollen face and bruised body.

"You did. You didn't seem to think it was her, though, did you? She had no idea what you were talking about when you asked. You were raving about a mystical woman, saying you would never take her offer. It was only after Fred, George, and Ron Weasley had pulled you off of her that you realized you were even there, right?"

Harry didn't answer verbally, but stared at him.

"That's why you're in St. Mungo's. After Law Enforcement took the report, they called us in to check on you and to check you in."

"I'm not crazy," Harry said to him, no strain of humor or sarcasm in his voice.

"I never said you were."

"Then why are you here?"

"It's like I said before, Harry. The Ministry sent me here to check on you and to talk to you. Something isn't right and I have to find out what."

"I didn't hurt Hermione," Harry continued, his voice shaking.

"You didn't mean to hurt her, she and I both know that, but you did. The report that you filed with Law Enforcement says that you thought she was someone else. It also said you believed that you were somewhere else, not at the Weasley's residence. You claimed to be in 'Ithaca' which you say resides in a parallel universe. But the Weasley's saw you at their home the entire time you claim to have been...well...somewhere else."

"Well I was," he said, clenching his hands into fists.

"Ithaca was written in Greek myth as one of the most beautiful places in the world. The mystical woman you thought to be Hermione was also described as someone from myth."

Harry furrowed his brow and frowned. "What the hell do you want from me?"

Marc's heart skipped; he tried concealing his joy. "I want to hear your story, the entire story, from where it all began. I want to understand why you did what you did. I want to know you, Harry. I've wanted to know you before any of this happened. Tell me what went on. Tell me about the Black Order, your injury, Ithaca. I want to know, Harry."

Harry closed his eyes and shook his head, which drooped down to his knees. "No," he mumbled.

"W-Why not?" Marc asked.

"Because I said no, that's why not," Harry snapped back. "Why can't anyone take my word for it? Why won't anyone believe what I say? I'm tired of it all, you hear me? I'm tired. I want out. I said she existed, I said she was real, but no one believes me, so you lock me up in this cage. I'm tired of being doubted, I'm tired of the Ministry sending in shrinks like you to figure me out. I'm tired of it. I want out, you hear me? Out!"

"Harry I-"

"Don't address me as if you've known me for years. Leave me alone, okay, leave me the hell alone! I hate all of you! I hate all of you!" he yelled at him. "Get out of here!"

"NO!" Marc screamed back, scooting closer to Harry. "I will not get out of here. I want to help you, I want to hear you! I will not walk out on you, Mr. Potter! I will listen to what you have to say for several reasons. One, I'm paid to do it. Two, I want to. Three, you need help. And four, you can't even consider leaving this place if you don't talk to someone like me!"

Harry pushed off the floor and stood up, holding onto the wall for support. Marc stood up as well and stared right back at him.

"I don't like you," Harry told him, folding his arms and leaning on the wall. "I hate you, actually."

"Good," Marc returned, "I hate you, too. So it's mutual."

Harry simply stared for a while, then smirked. "What are you trying to do here? Are you trying to get on my side or what?"

"Is it working?" Marc asked.

"It might be," Harry said. "But I'm not saying I've decided yet. You're arrogant to think you can understand me."

"And you're arrogant to think you're too complex to be understood."

"Don't call me arrogant," Harry responded, slipping back down to the floor. "Don't ever call me arrogant."

Marc made a mental note to himself about this, then crouched back down to be eye level with Harry. They stared at each other for several minutes, letting the silence of the room penetrate their ears. Marc wondered how long the stare down would continue, but just as he did Harry blinked and looked down.

"What kind of charms are on this room, anyway?" he asked.

"Plenty. Mostly security charms, as you've busted your way out of the past four rooms you've been in, as well as some nourishment charms, for you refuse to eat or drink. I also believe they have put on a disabling charm, which is why you're so weak."

Harry smirked again.

"What is it now?" Marc asked.

"A disabling charm. It's slightly satisfying to know they can't handle me in my peak condition," he said, nodding to Marc.

"So what's it going to be? Are you going to talk to me?"

Harry narrowed his eyes as he looked back at him. "You think I've let you in just because I told you that? You must not have done well in school. What did you get in basic psychology, a D? You expect me to tell a stranger about my life? Yes, you must have done terribly in school. Where did you go? I bet it was the London Medical Institute, wasn't it? Yeah. Class of 1990. You were in the middle of the year, not to bright but not to stupid to fail. The first moron who came to break into my head was in the lower to middle percent of his class, but since you're number four I expect they've gone up the scale.

"And you're divorced aren't you? Yeah, you have that divorced look about you. The look of a failed love life gone so wrong. She filed, didn't she? It was probably because you bored her to death with your constant analysis of her every move. You don't have any children, and you regret that. You've always liked them, I guess because they're simple to figure out. Still, it's best you didn't bring any into the world; you'd chase them away from you as well."

Marc kept eye contact with him, but judging by the malicious grin on Harry's face, he was doing more than just staring.

"It's a gift I've developed over the years," Harry explained. "I know people by just looking at them. Seeing as how you were captivated by my life history, I think it's only fair if I know some of yours. But you remarried," he continued, "and now she's having an affair with the next door neighbor. He's much better looking than you are, and he's around all the time, while you're here with me, trying to further your dismal career."

Marc folded his hands uncomfortably on his knees. "You learned this by becoming an Auror?" he asked.

Harry grinned again. "Something like that."

"Hmmm," Marc said, looking down at the floor, any place but in those eyes. "It's impressive, no doubt about that. Is that what you did to the past doctors?"

"I thought wizards didn't use the term 'doctor.' Why aren't you called 'healers' like the others? Is it because you can't cure the mentally insane?"

"We're called doctors because of the degree in the study. But you evaded my question, Mr. Potter. Did you do this to your past psychologists?"

Harry gave a hollow laugh. "You can easily find that out, you know. But to answer your question so you don't have to ask the so called experts who are constantly watching me, yes I did. They, unfortunately for them, couldn't master their own emotions."

"Like you can?" Marc asked in what he hoped was a sarcastic tone.

"No," Harry said calmly, now swaying one his legs from side to side. "After all, I don't have to when I'm in here."

Marc stopped crouching and sat on the floor facing him. "You think you're very clever, don't you?"

"Not so much," Harry answered in stride.

"Why don't we start, with your return from a three month absence to the Ministry. I believe it was November 3, 2003?"

"Oh, doctor," Harry said with a fake sigh, "you were doing so well before then. You can't just jump into that right away."

"I can't?" he asked.

"No, you can't. I haven't decided on you yet, for one. I'm not sure if I like your attitude, or even the way you look. Of course, the witch who came before you was quite lovely, I just hated her snide attitude," he said with a smirk. "But I'm going to let you in on a little secret, so listen up. You need me a whole lot more than I need you, you got that, Marc? I need no one. Not you, not those wizards who are watching us right now, not even the bloody Minister of Magic. No one. But you, you need this to go well so you can please all of your bosses. But me, well I'll break out of here eventually, it's just a matter of when. So here's how it's going to go. You play by my rules. You do as I say. You can ask me questions about anything. But I choose what I want to answer. I'll answer the entire truth, of course, for I have nothing to lie about. When I don't want to be questioned and analyzed anymore, then you have to leave, is that perfectly clear?"

Marc considered him for a moment. If he agreed to his rules, which were not that extreme but rather reasonable, he would be able to question Harry and get the answers. He was lucky number four, and he could get it if he just did as Harry asked.

"Fine," he answered, "but you tell me the truth," he said, pointing his finger at Harry and raising his eyebrows.

Harry made a funny face with his jaw, tilting it to the side and biting his lower lip. "I'll tell you the truth. 'Course, I've been telling the truth for years, no one really wants to listen to it..." Harry brought one of his knees to his chest again, but let the other sway. He swiped several stray black hairs from his eyes, and let his hand rub his rough face. "So?" he said. "What's the first question?"

Marc was so surprised that Harry was going to let him question him, that he, Marc, completely lost his train of thought. He scrambled in his pocket for a notepad and quill.

"It's not a crime scene, doctor. Don't you think a recording device would be more appropriate?" Harry asked.

Marc looked up at him and nodded.

"You don't have to be so nervous, you know. It's not as if I'm going to attack you when you're not looking," Harry said. He put his hand out on his knee and opened it in Marc's direction. A small box flew out of Marc's pocket and into Harry's hand. Marc looked up at him.

"Oh, lookie here. Smoking is a very bad habit. I bet you started it when your first wife walked out on you," he said, taking a cigarette from the box and putting it in his lips. With a snap of his dry fingers, the cigarette gave a glow at it's tip, then Harry inhaled.

"When did you start?" Marc asked, pulling a magical recorder from his pocket.

Harry shrugged. "I don't know the exact day, but shortly after my twenty-first birthday. I'll let you figure out why," he said, exhaling a billowing cloud.

"How did you light it?" Marc asked, a corner of his mouth twitching upwards.

"Magic," Harry muttered, smiling. "I know, I know, I shouldn't be able to produce any in this room, but they seemed to have overlooked some things. I should quit, of course. Doesn't that seem to be the craze? Start smoking then learn to quit. It's like a sport or something. People like to brag about quitting, like it's a huge accomplishment. No one made them start," he said, taking another breath of it. "So what's the point?"

Marc opened his mouth to say something, then closed it, shaking his head. "Let's start with the story, shall we Mr. Potter?"

"I was joking about the name thing. You can call me Harry and I'll call you Marc. We should have a good first name basis foundation for this trip, don't you agree?"

"Sure," he answered. "So, it's November third, 2003 and you had just arrived at the Ministry of Magic from a three month absence. Why don't we start there?"

Harry leaned his head back on the wall, his leg still twitching, and blew out more smoke.

****************

November 3, 2003

****************

"Level two, Department of Magical Law Enforcement, including the Improper use of Magic office, Auror Headquarters, and Wizengamot Administration Services," the woman's cool voice said. Harry cocked his head from side to side and yawned as he left the elevator. His mind was humming with too many thoughts; they made him more exhausted than he wanted to be. He strolled into Auror Headquarters as if he'd been out for lunch, and started towards the back of the room for his cubicle.

"Potter!" a tall man said, running to catch up with him.

"Wilson," he replied calmly, not looking at the man. "How are things?"

"Don't start asking me about 'things,'" he said, sounding thoroughly disgusted. "Where have you been?"

Harry laughed and shook his head. "Working," he answered, as if it was totally obvious.

"Working? You've been gone for three months straight! I hardly hear from you over three months! Simple letters, you send, 'I won't be in today, working in the field!'" he said, in raised tones.

"Hey Tonks," Harry said as he passed a blue haired woman.

"Harry!" she said with a smile. "It's so good to see you back!"

"I love the new hair!" he said with a grin.

"Potter!" Wilson shot back. "Are you listening to me?"

"Vaguely," Harry admitted. "Look, you know what I've been working on, don't you? I can't write you a full report in a letter then send it by owl. Besides, some days there wasn't much to send. It's hard work collecting information about these people, especially considering they're such a small group. They've learned, Wilson, they're not idiots about keeping their secret on goings quiet."

"So why are you gone for months at a time?" he asked.

Harry sat in his swivel chair and rolled to his desk where he started to flip through dozens letters he had received over his absence.

"I'm looking for clues," he said, stopping at a letter from a publishing house.

Wilson sighed and shook his head. "I don't know what I'm going to do with you," he said. "You have to check in at least once a week so we know you're alive. For all we know some murderer could be writing these letters you're sending to me."

"I'll be sure to check in next time, okay? Now get off my case, I have work to do," he said, reading the letter.

Wilson mumbled under his breath and left hastily. Harry pulled a drawer out and took a small box from it.

"You should at least try following the rules," Tonks said as she leaned on his entry way. "It can't hurt you at this point."

"I'm not real good about breaking habits," Harry said, putting a cigarette in his mouth and lighting it with the snap of his fingers. "Besides, I really hate that guy. I don't know why Arthur couldn't be the Minister. That Wilson has no back bone. He lets me walk all over him like a throw rug."

"You really shouldn't smoke, Harry," she said, turning her lips black with the crinkle of her eyes. "It doesn't suit you. So where did you go for so long? Are you seeing someone?" she asked with a grin.

"Don't be ridiculous," he said, going through another letter. "I was looking into the Black Order, just like everyone else in this room."

"Whatever you say, Harry," she said dreamily.

"What's that supposed to mean?" he asked, exhaling a rather large cloud of white smoke.

"Oh(,) nothing really. Listen, you'll find a letter there about a party next week that Wilson wants you to attend. I know," she added, seeing him roll his eyes, "you hate parties, but I do think you should go. It'll be good for you to get out and see some people. Ron and Hermione will be there, as well as their guests. And me, I'm going. Who wouldn't want to go to a party when I'm in attendance?"

He mustered a smile for her, but found it to exhausting to continue. "I'll weasel my way out of it," he said, looking for the letter. "I hate small talk with people I don't care to know. I hate how they look at me and talk at me like I'm some object or something. Ah, here it is," he said after rummaging through twenty letters.

"You could save yourself all this trouble if you let the owl deliver post to you rather than here."

"No." Harry started the letter. "Dear Harry Potter, blah, blah, blah, your attendance is requested....oh blast."

"You have to go," said Tonks, taking a sip of her tea. "You have to. Not even you can squirm out of this. It's Dumbledore's birthday party and we all know how much he admires you, Harry."

Harry tipped some ashes down in a golden ash tray and continued to smoke in silence, staring at the letter. Your attendance is requested personally by Albus Dumbledore, who wishes you to attend more than any other... Sounds pretty desperate... Harry folded the letter and slipped it back in the envelope, then searched his stack of letters again.

"Oh, and there's an invitation for a Christmas Eve dinner for Hogwarts Alumni at Hogwarts. It was sent out weeks ago. He wants you there too, I assume."

Harry sighed as he found the thick, white envelope addressed to him. He ripped it open and read, finding that Tonks was quite right. "I don't know about this one," Harry said. "I was hoping to be alone this Christmas."

"You're alone every Christmas," she said carefully. "Don't you want to see all your friends again? The teachers, the atmosphere, the great feast will all be there, Harry. Don't tell me you're going to turn this down so you can be alone again."

"What I do for the holidays is my business," he said coolly. "If I choose to go to this function, you'll be the first to know about it, okay? Now I have lots of work to do, so if you could please leave me alone so I can finish before the next millennium, I would greatly appreciate it."

Tonks frowned at him, looking both angry and offended at his words, but Harry didn't care. He turned his chair around and ripped open more letters. He heard clambering behind him, followed by Tonks' apologies to the other Aurors as she knocked down pictures and trash cans.

It took him the better part of the day to open all of his letters and respond to them. Afterwards, he set himself to report writing and analysis of other reports from his co-workers. It wasn't until five that evening when he finished, but he didn't leave. He lit up another cigarette, said goodbye to Tonks, who still seemed affronted as she left, then did more work.

"Rumor has it," a deep voice sounded from the front of the room. Harry grinned when he heard it. "That some tall, lanky creep has been haunting this office since this morning, with a cloud over his head. Don't know if that's a metaphor for his attitude or the disgusting smoke he billows from that smart mouth of his!" Ron said as he jumped in Harry's entry way. "Oh," he grinned, "it's just Harry."

Harry leapt out of his seat and sucker punched Ron on the shoulder, which he returned. "How have you been?" Harry asked excitedly.

"Bored," Ron replied, taking the cigarette and smashing it with his foot. "You know they won't even let me in here without supervision? I feel like a five year old waiting for his mummy to sign some form."

"It'll pass," Harry said. "I missed you, Ron," Harry said, grabbing his friend by the shoulders.

"Ahhh," Ron said. "Don't get all mushy on me. So where have you been all these months? I've written you tons of letters."

Harry reached down to his desk and unfolded a roll of parchment. Harry read from it: "'Dear Harry, Are you alive? Write me back. Ron.' I have all my letters forwarded here, Ron, you know that. But thanks for the great concern for my health."

"You still haven't answered my question, Harry," said Ron. "Where were you the last three months? Dad tried to find out but he said not even Tonks could find you. So where were you?"

Harry went to pick up his things, then started out of his cubicle.

"Harry," Ron said, following after him.

"I was working. Undercover mostly, and a lot of spy work. I couldn't tell anyone where I was, you should know that by now."

Ron nodded and rolled his eyes. "Yeah, yeah. Once again I'm the one who knows nothing about anything that happens in this office. I'll bet you were working on the Black Order, weren't you? You don't need to cover it up," he said, noticing Harry's quick glance, "I'm not totally in the dark, but mostly. You know I won't tell anyone about your secrets," he winked.

"They're not solely my secrets, Ron. If they were, you know I would tell you. But yes, I was working on the Black Order."

"Did you find out anything new?"

"Only that for such work we're putting into them, they seem like a rather small group. I guess only a few wizards are involved." He and Ron walked into the elevator and hit the Atrium button.

"What's a few? Ten?"

"Something like that."

"So why all this effort?" Ron asked, leaning his rampant red haired head on one side of the shiny elevator. "Why are you gone for three months learning about them while the rest of the office is doing the same, only staying here?"

Harry shook his head, and ran his shaking hand through his hair. "I guess it's because we've learned our lesson. Everyone starts out small, don't they? It's easier to kill a virus before it multiplies."

Ron smirked and crossed his arms. Harry had the feeling he was humored by the metaphor. "So who's the virus?"

Harry shook his head for the second time. "I dunno. I'm still working on that. But enough about me, what's going on with you?"

"I told you Harry," Ron said, now stuffing his hands in his robe pockets, "I'm bored sick. I've got nothing to do around here, and nothing to do at home. The only thing that's keeping me going is to make fun of Hermione's new boyfriend."

Harry looked up suddenly. "She's got a new one? When did this happen?"

"Two months ago, mate. You should see this guy, Harry. He's really tall and burly, and his hair reminds me of Snape's, because it's down to his shoulders, only blonde. And he's got this stupid laugh, like a cackle or a chuckle, and it's so annoying! And then there's his nose," Ron said, as if the new target was much more fun than the rest of the appearance. "It's really thick! I don't know how he breaths through nostrils that are the size of tree trunks."

"What does he do for a living?" Harry asked, trying to keep the laughter out of his voice.

"He's a Chaser for the Falmouth Falcons," he said, shaking his head in what looked to be a very sad motion. "The Falcons Harry," he said, now burying his face in his hands.

"Would it be any better if he played for the Cannons?"

"Somewhat," Ron snapped back.

The golden gates of the elevator clattered open and they walked out. Harry smiled to himself as Ron muttered under his breath. "Well, I'm heading out."

"Wait, why don't you come to the Burrow for dinner tonight? Fred and George are there, and we'd all love to have you over. Maybe we could convince Hermione to come with her blockhead boyfriend of hers!"

Harry looked into his eyes and at his anxious face.

"Come on, Harry. You know you want to."

"I've been gone a long time, I should really go-"

"Your apartment will be there later tonight," he said grinning. "Bill and Charlie are there as well, not to mention Fleur." His ears got a little red, but Harry didn't mention it to him.

"What about your father?" Harry asked, still gazing into Ron's eyes.

"He doesn't blame you for what happened," Ron responded quickly.

"That's not what I asked," Harry mumbled. He watched Ron grow continually uncomfortable as he stared. "Maybe it's better if I see all of you another time, when your father isn't there."

"He doesn't blame you, Harry," Ron insisted. "He's always like that now. He knew mum since Hogwarts and they married right after. It's hard on him. It's hard on all of us."

He was right about that, Harry thought. Mrs. Weasley had died when Harry was sixteen, working for the Order. He remembered everything about that day; the smell, the shapes of the clouds in the sky, even what socks he had been wearing. It started off as a typical day; nothing seemed out of the ordinary. She was walking the four of them back to the train after Christmas break when a battle ensued. The Death Eaters were trying to get to Harry, but Mrs. Weasley protected him. She fought hard, harder than he'd seen anyone fight. Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Ginny battled with her, but there were too many and they were much too skilled. Mrs. Weasley screamed at them to go on, but they insisted on helping her. But when Harry attempted to cast a spell at them, a jet of green hit Mrs. Weasley in the chest, right before their eyes. For a while none of them moved, even the Death Eaters stopped fighting, as they stared at her lifeless body.

Ginny and Ron reached out for her minutes later, but Harry and Hermione held them back and ran onto the platform. The aftereffect left on Harry was by far the worst. Ginny never said it, but Ron pointed out that his mother was fighting for Harry; that it was his fault. Harry already knew, without Ron smearing his face in it, that he was right. But as the year went on, Ron slowly got over his mother's death and went back to being himself. But he had never apologized for what he'd said.

As for Mr. Weasley, well, he didn't blame Harry for it, but he didn't talk to him either. Mr. Weasley became deathly quiet whenever Harry was around. He would give small benign smiles to him, nod or shake his head to a question Harry would ask, and often leave the room entirely.

"Of course he doesn't," Harry responded. "In any event, I don't really fancy being ignored by him or stared at by the rest of your family as they think 'he's the reason she's gone.' So I'm going to my place and call it a night. I'll see you tomorrow morning."

"Harry stop," Ron said, pulling him back. "Mum was working for the Order. She knew she was risking her life and she did it willingly. Stop feeling so sorry for yourself, mate. It's all over now, You-know-who is gone for good. He can't hurt you anymore."

Harry wheeled around and glared at him, but didn't defend nor refute Ron's statement. Instead he gave a benign smile, and started on his way. "I'll see you around, Ron." He walked back into the golden elevator and made his way up to the top of the street.

After he clambered out of the red phone booth, he took a few steps down an alley, where a shiny black motorcycle was awaiting him. Harry swung himself on, revved up the engine loudly, and sped off. He hadn't made any adjustments to it, such as the ability to fly, because it suited him just as it was.

The sky looked like a black velvet blanket, splattered with crystal clear diamonds, sparkling millions of miles away. Harry gazed at them as he waited for a traffic light. He could see his breath as he sighed into the breeze, and his gloved hands were starting to numb, gripping the low handle bars of the Harley.

The underground parking lot to his building was dimly lit, but enough so that he could see most of the tenants were here, for all of their cars were parked in the usual spots. There were some Mercedes Benz sedans, a few BMWs, one Ferrari Diablo, and various other models of equal expense. Harry's Harley Davidson Sportster XL 1200 seemed petty in comparison, but he could care less.

He lived in a small penthouse apartment, on the highest floor of his building. It had been a gift from an anonymous donor expressing their thanks for Harry's efforts. He insisted on paying for it, but because he didn't know who to pay, he simply took it as a gift and moved in.

It was, as to be expected, rather vast in size. The two walls which made one corner of the entire building were lined with windows. On a clear night like tonight, Harry could see the flickering lights of London, the flowing traffic beneath him, and the stars.

"I'm home," he said, shutting the door behind him. Instantly the glow of lights ignited, music began to play, and it suddenly became warm.

He started for his kitchen when he was tackled and nearly knocked over by something small that had hit him round his midriff, taking the wind out of him.

"Harry Potter has come home!" a squeaky voice of a house elf said. "Dobby has been wondering when Harry Potter would come back!"

With great effort, Harry pried the anxious house-elf off his body and set him down.

"How have you been, Dobby?" he asked with a smile.

"Dobby has been wonderful, sir. He has made many socks for himself and Harry Potter."

Harry suddenly noticed Dobby's attire. He was dressed in lurid green golf pants (which were much too big for him) a pink polka dot polo shirt, one white mitten, one leather glove, and a baseball cap.

"Did you?" Harry asked, raising a corner of his mouth. "I'm glad you kept yourself busy. Did anyone drop by while I was away?"

"Yes, sir. Hermione Granger and an old woman with a book. She gave it to Dobby and left. Dobby has put it in Harry Potter's room."

"What did Hermione want?" he asked, uncorking a bottle of wine.

"She said she wanted to see Harry Potter, and- shall Dobby get the door, sir?" he asked. The door suddenly glowed blue, which meant a friend had arrived. Harry slipped the wine back into cabinet under the counter.

"Please," he said, nodding to the elf.

Dobby barely opened it a crack when a bushy haired woman ran inside. "Harry!" Hermione said. She nearly collided with Dobby as she ran into the apartment towards Harry. She threw her arms around him and squeezed him tight; her bushy hair obstructed his vision. "Thank God you're safe! Do you know how worried I've been about you? You've been gone for so long and I thought you were hurt. Oh thank goodness you're all right, I missed you so much," she said very quickly into his shoulder.

"I missed you too, Hermione," he said into her ear. "But it sounds like you've been busy while I was away."

She drew back, still clutching his arms, and gave him a small smile. "Ron told you."

"Yes he did," he returned, a full grin playing on his face. "He provided various details of his mangled face to me, and mentioned he played Quidditch as well."

"Mangled face?" Hermione said, bursting into laughter. "Oh only Ron would say that. No, no, no, he's really quite handsome," she said, pulling a bag from her shoulders and rummaging inside. "I have a picture of him....ah here it is."

Harry took the photo and couldn't believe Ron thought him ugly. He certainly was a burly man, but by no means was he hideous. Harry was strongly reminded of the American model Fabio, only with shorter hair which fell just above his shoulders. He had dark brown eyes, tan skin, sandy blonde hair, and a very likeable smile. The photo of course moved, as was custom in the wizarding world, but kept looking back at Hermione, then suspiciously at Harry.

"What's his name?" Harry asked, giving back the photo. She took it, and stroked the face.

"Luke Broadmoor," she said fondly, her cheeks going slightly flushed. "He's fairly new to the team. He's a Chaser."

"Do you want a drink?" he asked, walking to his mini bar. He took out a few sodas and chilled them with the touch of his finger.

"Sure," she replied, then sat on a stool.

"So(,) another Quidditch player, eh? When do I get to meet this guy?"

"Well, he's off for Christmas in a few weeks. You could meet him then, I suppose, if you'll be around, that is. Where do you go, Harry? I mean, you're away for so long then you just stroll back into our lives as if you'd never left. Where do you go?"

Harry popped open his soda, but left it on the counter. "I can't tell you that, Hermione. If I could I would, I swear it, but too many lives are at stake if I tell anyone."

She shook her head and sighed. "You have so many secrets," she mumbled. "So many."

Harry reached into his pocket and took out a box of cigarettes.

"Why do you smoke? You know it's really bad for your health, even with all the 'safety' charms they put on them. You should really consider quitting."

But he ignored her, popped one into his mouth, and lit it with the snap of his fingers. "It helps me to relax," he said, the cigarette bobbing on his lips. "I'm too anxious and they help me."

She opened her mouth to argue, but Harry raised his eyebrows at her and quickly changed the subject. "So, Luke Broadmoor. Any relation to Kevin or Karl?"

"Father and uncle," she said. "He's the youngest in the family. I met him at a book signing two months ago. He was behind me in line, being very quiet and shy," she said, smiling again.

As he watched her recount her meeting with Luke, Harry couldn't help but be reminded of how she was when they were in school. She had that young glow about her, which he hadn't really noticed at Hogwarts. Indeed, there wasn't much change about Hermione's face, beside the obvious fact that she had aged.

Her hair was still stubbornly curly and brown. Her eyes were quite dark, but possessed a certain twinkle which made them remarkably bright. She had a straight nose that turned up at the end a little, which Harry always found rather cute. And her cheeks retained a pinkish hue, as if she'd been out in the cold all morning. All in all, she was a pretty girl. Her figure was modest and not near head turning, but it was nothing to be ashamed of. She dressed her personality; a causal skirt and jumper with a purple cloak, and rarely deviated from it.

Harry had seen much more beautiful women, much more elegant, women meant to grace magazine covers and win beauty pageants, but Hermione had a certain warmness about her that the other women did not. Or it could be that he had known her for over a decade, and the familiarity was very comfortable.

"So you like him, then?" he asked, once she'd finished fawning over her latest beau.

"Yeah," she said, grinning at him. "Wh-what about you? Are you dating anyone while you're away all those months?" she asked, not quite meeting his eyes.

"Nope," he answered, taking a sip.

"Are you being honest?"

"Yeah," he said, one corner of his mouth cocked up. "I haven't dated for a while. Why, are you going to hook me up with someone? I'm not interested."

"No, I just haven't seen you with a girl for... well, years actually. And when I did, you were quite turbulent with them," she said, forcing a giggle.

"What's that supposed to mean?" he asked, smile fading.

Hermione frowned and fidgeted in her seat. "Well, you know," she said, not meeting his eyes for the second time.

"No, I don't. Why don't you enlighten me," he muttered, exhaling a rather thick cloud of smoke.

"Harry there's no need to get upset, I just made an observation. When you dated those girls years ago, you just....well....you had so many. I'd never see you with the same one more than twice, that's all. You just went through them so fast. They were all beautiful. I thought you would have taken to at least one of them for a little longer than you did." She watched him carefully.

Harry didn't seem effected. He leaned up against his counter, brooding over his thoughts, smoking quietly. After three minutes of this, he changed the subject quite dramatically, as if the issue had never been raised. "I thought you said you weren't going to date any more Quidditch players."

Hermione made a choking sound and swept the hair out of her face. "Why won't you talk about it with me? We've been friends for so long..."

"Maybe it's something I don't wish to share. Look, it's getting late, I need to get to bed. I've got a job to go to in the morning."

Hermione looked deeply offended. "What's happened to you?" she asked, scowling. "Why are you acting like this? Why are you treating Ron and I like trash? I know what you did to him tonight, he told me. You completely cut him off and now you're doing it to me. We're your best friends, Harry. You might want to think about treating us with a little more respect."

Harry stuck his cigarette in the ash tray and walked over to her, but she got up and backed away. "No, I'm getting really tired of your attitude. We haven't hurt you, Harry, why are you hurting us?"

"Hermione," he said, shutting his eyes and passing his shaking hand through his hair, "I'm sorry. I'm just really tired."

"You're like this when you're not tired. Why?" she demanded.

He shrugged. "I didn't mean it. I've got too much on my mind right now, I just got back from a long trip, and now you and Ron are cornering me. Just give me space. I only need a few days, but I still need some space. I'm really glad you've found someone you like, and I hope I can meet him soon, but there's just too much right now. Okay?" He gave her a soft smile and reached for her shoulder. "I really don't try to be a miserable bastard," he added.

She passed air through her teeth and dropped her frown.

"Can you find it in your heart to forgive me?"

"Of course, but you really are harsh on us at times. You should know that we are constantly worried about you. Then you come back and attack us for questioning you about your life, as friends often do."

"There are some things I just can't tell you, no matter how bad I wish to. Please understand that!"

"I do," she mumbled. "You've always kept secrets from us. I suppose it's time for me to admit it and get used to it." She peered back into his eyes and made her lips go thin. "Um, are you going to Dumbledore's party?"

"Yes," he replied, stuffing his hands in his pockets. "It sounds like a really formal event, doesn't it? I think he would prefer a party with cupcakes and a pinata rather than some black tie event."

"Well good. He really wants you there. So, I'll let you get your grumpy sleep. We should get together for coffee, the three of us, and talk about our lives."

"You are going, right? To the party that is? Tonks said you and Ron were going to make an appearance."

"Yeah, I think so. I'm going to ask Luke if he wants to go. I'll owl you in the morning, okay Harry?"

"Sure thing," he said.

"Goodnight," she whispered, hugging him again, then kissing him on the cheek. "Sleep well."

"Night." He opened the door for her, then watched her leave.

"Dobby likes Hermione Granger," Dobby said, sitting in Harry's ottoman.

"If anyone else shows up tonight, tell them I'm asleep, which is the truth. Goodnight Dobby."

"Doesn't Harry Potter want dinner?"

"Nah, Harry Potter isn't hungry. See you come morning time." Harry went back to his mini bar, grabbed a bottle of wine, a glass, and headed for his room.

*******

Present

*******

"Hermione Granger works part time at Sparks Publishing and spends most of her free time heading up the Society for Promotion of Elvish Welfare, correct?" Dr. Simon asked.

Harry beamed. "Spew. She's been at that for ten years now. Who would have known it would become this huge. Hermione has a good heart. She's always done the right thing. And she's brilliant. Nothing gets by her."

"And Ronald Weasley is an Auror assistant. He has yet to pass the entrance test to enter Auror training, is that right?"

Harry nodded. "He gets too nervous in the practical section of the examination. He's got the heart for it, but he panics. I'm sure he'll make it one day, if he keeps trying."

"They sound deeply concerned about you, Harry."

"They are. But they need to remember that I can take care of myself better than anyone. I've been looking after me my whole life. For some reason they want to hold my hand all the time."

"Let's talk more about the Black Order, Harry. You say they're a small group?"

Harry pulled his head up, dropped some ashes from his cigarette's tip, and brought it to his lips again. "I thought the rules were that I got to control this foray into my mind? The Black Order will be discussed in good time, Marc, you just need to exercise some patience. Actually, I think I'm about done for the day. All this tripping down memory lane has left me quite exhausted. You feel free to drop by tomorrow morning and we can talk about Dumbledore's party."

"I'm more interested in the break from Azkaban, actually," he said.

Harry smirked and blew smoke in his face. "That comes after the party. Trust me on this, Doctor. Everything will be illuminated if you let me unfold this story in its right order. You might just be able to find some of my secrets if you listen carefully," he teased.

Marc stood up abruptly and headed for the exit wall. "Fine. Sleep tight, Harry."

"You want your cigarette's back?" Harry asked. He too stood up but held onto the wall for support.

"No. You go ahead and keep them. I'll see you tomorrow."

"I look forward to it," he said darkly. Harry hobbled over to his bed and sat down, then waved to Marc as he left.

"Exit," Marc said. There was a loud whooshing sound, followed by the disappearance of the white granite bricked wall. Marc stepped through and heard the whoosh close the passage. He took an immediate left and opened a door.

It lead to a small observation room where a warden sat at a desk reading a book, and a short and very skinny woman stood looking into Harry's room. Harry couldn't see inside here, but there was a special charm put on the wall so anyone could see inside his. The woman didn't look at Marc as he entered, she simply continued to stare.

"What kind of charms are on that room?" he asked the warden.

He put his book down and laughed. "More than we've ever put on a ward. He busted out of several cells so we put him in this maximum security cell. Without anything extra it has a high security charm, an impenetrable charm, and a simple yet effective solidity charm. They added more for him though. You must have noticed he had difficulty standing? Well that would be because they put on this fancy charm which makes him tired and weak; the disabling charm or something. It keeps him from fighting us. There are also several, uh, I don't know what they call them, but grooming charms? They won't let him have a razor just yet, but he shouldn't need one for a while. The charms slow that kind of thing down."

"I see," he said. Just as he had told Harry, with a few more added to it. He walked over to the transparent wall. Harry was laying down now, one leg propped up, the other completely flat. Interestingly enough, he was staring right at Marc.

"He knows we're looking at him," he said, hoping the woman would speak.

"Well, he's no idiot," the warden replied. "Are you due to come back in the morning?"

"Yes. Do me a favor, will you? Record him when he sleeps. His records show that he's prone to plot revealing nightmares. Maybe he'll spill something for us."

"You got it, doc."

Marc shot one more glance at the mystery woman then departed.

Harry looked away from the wall on his left and sat the box of cigarettes on his bedside table. He then sat up, leaning his back on the wall. He pulled his knees to his chest and dropped his head. For some reason it made him feel much more comfortable. "Dim the lights," he muttered.

Instantly it became dark. He sighed and shut his eyes, listening to the silence which engulfed him in contemplation.

He was so relaxed, probably because of these ridiculous charms they've placed on this cube, he thought, that he was just ready to nod off when something got his heart racing faster than it had in quite some time.

A whisper, a sinister whisper of a woman floated across the room. Harry pulled his head up and opened his eyes; his pupils dilated so voluminously that his irises only had the thin outline of green. The whisper left as quickly as it had come. Now the only thing he could hear was a thumping against his chest.

"Scared?" she whispered again. Harry jumped and looked wildly around the room.

"I am over here," she said in his left ear. Harry whipped his neck around, but there was no one there. Then he looked to his right, but it was only air. Then he heard her laughing, so silently and evilly that goose bumps spread all over his body. "No," she whispered again, this time so clearly he swore she was almost inside his head, "I am in here..."