Chapter-27 — The One
By Lady Alchymia
My warmest thanks to the readers who have given generously of their time to provide feedback, encouragement, and advice on this story. In particular, I would like to thank: Vix'thra, Amamama, Prof. McGonagall, Anaknisatanas, Kalrany, Carol, and Kimberly.
Returning to Black Island, Harry hoped to drag his best mate away from Natalie long enough to do a bit of exploring in the limestone caves, but Ron was nowhere to be found. Big surprise, thought Harry resentfully. Apart from their first night, he and Ron had hardly spent any time together at all. His Occlumency lessons continued with mixed success. He was doing fairly well at preventing Elizabeth seeing mundane memories, like what he had for breakfast, but emotional memories were more difficult. For today’s lesson, held in a quiet nook of the garden, she produced a basketful of crystal balls.
She settled cross-legged on the grass and said, "We really need to work on dealing with your feelings." Harry did his best to treat this declaration with something other than abject horror. "Oh, come on; it’ll be fun," she said. "I’ve charmed these balls with the Animula Charm. The charm lets you charge an inanimate object with emotion."
Harry warily eyed the crystal ball Elizabeth floated in front of him. Just how many emotions did she think he had?
Elizabeth smiled encouragingly and said, "You just need to hold your ball and … well … feel."
Harry dearly wanted to laugh. Where was Ron when you needed him?
"Just feel my ball ..." he checked with a poker face.
Elizabeth nodded innocently. "And you can keep charging the same ball for months. It only stops receiving when you issue the counter charm or a second person touches your ball. Then the emotions are fixed."
"Why does it have to be so big? I thought you only needed a small gem?"
"Oh no," Elizabeth said brightly, "you can use any kind of object, but crystals are the most common. Diamonds and emeralds are quite challenging to work with, though they last much longer and hold a lot more emotional charge."
Elizabeth started by having him invest simple physical sensations into the crystal balls: heat and cold and the like, which Harry mastered quite easily. Then it was onto emotions like joy and sadness, and then she had him combine physical and emotional sensations.
"So, if I’m feeling sad about being hungry or itchy or something, I can put that in, too?" checked Harry.
Elizabeth laughed. "Well, yes, I suppose so."
A whole world of opportunity opened to Harry. Grinning, he stood up and shook out his fingers. Placing them around a new ball, he closed his eyes and filled his mind with every sensation he could remember from being under tickling charms (he also threw in a few choice feelings about being strung up by Chastity Beads). He held onto the ball for about a minute and felt it growing steadily warmer in his hands. Opening his eyes, he saw it had taken on a pinkish-orange glow.
"May I?" asked Elizabeth, standing as well.
"Oh ..." Harry had actually intended the ball for Ron, but he couldn’t think of an excuse, so he nodded and assembled a saintly expression on his face.
"You â€” little â€” bugger!" panted Elizabeth as Harry helped her back to her feet a minute later. "Right," she said, mustering what dignity she could after giggling and twitching helplessly on the grass for a full minute, "yes, well, I think you’ve got the hang of that well-enough for today."
"Sorry," said Harry, not sorry at all. In fact, he felt rather pleased with his godmother, who, to her credit, hadn’t let go of the ball until it was completely spent.
"Are you sure you haven’t done this before?" she asked sceptically, carefully floating the orange tickle-bomb safely back to the basket. "It usually takes much longer for people to learn to emote that strongly."
Funnily enough, Elizabeth decided Harry had charged enough Emotional Bombshells for one day, but she did urge him to work on them during term for practice in identifying and isolating his emotions. Calling a halt for the day, she slipped her hand though the crook of his arm, and the pair ambled through the garden under escort by six peacocks. Cho2 waddled behind. As they wandered along, a jumble of questions played on Harry’s mind: questions he’d never been able to ask his aunt.
"Elizabeth, can I ask you something?"
"Of course, Harry."
"What was Mum like?"
From inside a vine-covered arcade, Elizabeth slowed to a stop and stared into the distance, as if the answer might be found in the ripples of the sea.
"What would you like to know, Harry?"
Harry didn’t even know where to begin. "I don’t know. Anything, I guess. I just like hearing about her. I know she was a good person; I just don’t know much else."
Elizabeth just nodded; Harry found himself holding his breath in anticipation.
Facing him, Elizabeth lifted his hand to her heart and said very gently, "Lily was a truly dreadful cook."
Harry burst out laughing. Smiling warmly, his godmother stole a kiss from his knuckles, then slipped her arm in his again.
"You laugh like her," she observed as they continued their walk, "like it’s all or nothing. But seriously, your mother was an absolute menace in the kitchen. The things your father ate in the name of love. And he was such a fussy eater, too; everything had to be just so. He insisted on making your baby food himself. He so doted on you; they both did."
Strolling past Aphrodite’s fountain, the pair wended their way to the beach where, under a cooling sun, they played an impromptu game of noughts and crosses in the wet sand with their toes. They stayed on the beach for hours, just talking about Lily.
After another delicious dinner, Harry was relaxing in the bungalow’s lounge, reading Captains Courageous and enjoying going through the hand-written notes his father had made in the margins, when Ron stormed into the living room. Natalie raced in after him, looking confused and upset.
"Hey," Harry said lazily, "what’s up?"
"Natalie reckons the Lupins are moving back to Canada," Ron said without preamble. "Did you know about this?"
Harry’s insides tensed. He knew nothing of the sort.
"Well, they can’t!" Ron declared forcefully. "You need Lupin here!"
Harry’s throat burned. He just barely managed a slight shrug.
"It’s fine," he said, though it felt like someone had ripped out his heart and was cutting it up to spear on skewers.
"Yeah," Natalie agreed with relief. "I mean, Harry’ll be away at school all year, so what does it matter where they live? He can come home to Canada in the holidays."
"Harry needs them here!" shot Ron angrily.
Remus was leaving him. The burning in Harry’s throat thickened horribly.
"What about my aunt?" Natalie fired back at Ron. "Is she supposed to just give up everything? Her family, her friends, her job? Uncle Remus isn’t working and, as far as I know, he doesn’t have much family left. And the rules against werewolves getting jobs aren’t as bad in Canada. Can’t you see it’ll be much better for them if they stay in Montreal?"
"Lupin has to take care of Harry!" railed Ron. "He’s his guardian!"
Natalie looked upset but also genuinely perplexed. "But that’s what I’m saying! If he’s serious about protecting Harry, then shouldn’t he be getting him as far away from England as he can? He should be sending him to school in Canada, as well â€” keep him away from the war."
Ron shook his head angrily. "You don’t get it! Harry is the war!"
Natalie and Ron kept arguing, but Harry stopped listening. It was over. It was all over. And he was alone again.
"Natalie’s right," he said quietly, and the other two fell silent at the sound of his voice. "There’s more for them in Canada. It’ll be better for them. They deserve a fresh start. They â€”"
Harry broke off and lurched to his feet; he needed to get out, needed to fly. "I might turn in â€” night."
He retreated to his bedroom and locked the door, but instead of retiring, he grabbed his Firebolt and shot out the open balcony doors, soaring straight into the starry sky. At first, he just wanted to get away from Natalie and Ron, then the bungalow, then the island, and then he just kept going, he couldn’t stop. If he stopped he’d have to think â€” and that wasn’t going to be a good idea.
The air was thin and bitterly cold before he finally slowed down. He floated to a stop, shivering in an inky blackness, barely able to tell up from down. Blanketed all around him were millions of twinkling stars â€” and one waning moon. Remus promised he’d be there for him â€” no matter what â€” but that was before his wife came back. They’d be much happier in Canada, Harry kept telling himself. Remus might even get a job over there. They had family, friends, and there was no war in Canada. They’d be safe over there. Britain was a mess. He was just this huge complication for them. If he wasn’t around, Remus wouldn’t even think twice about moving countries to be with his wife.
Each thought plunged another skewer into Harry’s heart. His breath fogged around him. He tried to swipe at his hot, wet nose but could barely pry his frozen fingers from his broomstick and was left to snuffle heavily in the blackness. It had been a good couple of months. Well, most of it.
"C-could’ve done without the b-bath," he bit through chattering teeth.
A bitter laugh escaped his shaking lips. What was he doing up here? He had the same problems whether he was up above or down below. And up here he stood a good chance of getting frostbite all over again; his bare feet were already blue with cold. He began his descent, knowing he’d be of age next summer. He could live alone at Headquarters, or the island, they were both safe enough. The Lupins liked the island ... they might visit him. Harry forced himself to a stop.
"Get a grip," he said sternly, recognising the self-pity, "you’re not a child any more!"
You don’t need a dad, he told himself resolutely as he resumed his descent. Maybe when he was younger, but the time for that had well passed. The prophecy said he’d be marked as the Dark Lord’s equal, and there were all these new mind skills he was developing â€” especially astral travelling â€” they had to come in handy â€” for spying if nothing else.
"You can do this," he told himself with grim confidence. "You just have to figure out how."
He didn’t know if he could actually defeat Voldemort, but he knew he was up to the challenge of making himself as prepared as he possibly could. If Remus was there to help him, then so much the better â€” Harry would take whatever help he could get â€” but if not, well, he was still at Hogwarts for the next two years; did it really matter where Remus lived? They could write letters. He could get his WizChat thing back from Ron. And anyway, there were worse fates than spending Christmas being fussed over by a hundred Hogwarts house-elves. A lot worse. Maybe it did hurt like hell right now, but he knew he’d manage okay on his own. He always had. He always would.
As he lost altitude, a new feeling fought through the dull ache in Harry’s heart. Fear. Below him stretched a black sea unrelieved by any sign of land. No whitewash against rocks, no torch-lit paths, no pools gleaming with underwater flames. Harry hovered twenty feet above the Mediterranean Sea, black stretching in every direction. Never in his life had he been so physically alone, though he knew vaguely where he must be. If he flew north, he’d hit Sicily in a few hours, but whether he should then head east or west would be a toss-up. But at least he’d be over land. Shivering, Harry searched the stars and started doing some calculations.
His brain was so thick with cold he didn’t notice her at first. But then he did, and his heart soared. His beautiful, wonderful, glorious snowy owl glided serenely towards him, her creamy wings caressing the inky dark. Hedwig landed on her master’s shoulder and proceeded to hoot sternly at him for a full minute, giving him quite a piece of her mind. Harry leaned his cold face into her warm body and let her.
At breakfast next morning, Harry maintained a noble, if somewhat annoyed, silence, wondering all the while if the Lupins were ever going to bother telling him what was going on. And even when they did, Harry was determined not to make a scene, not fall to pieces as he had the previous month. Remus and Elizabeth seemed to realise something was wrong, but there was no way Harry was going to be the one who brought it up. He’d come to terms with them leaving, but he had his pride; he deserved a proper explanation!
Remus started conjuring excuses as to why he and Harry would be busy that day (for Natalie’s benefit, so as to conceal a shopping trip to Diagon Alley for school supplies). Remus said he wanted to work with Harry on his homework and started waffling on about Shield Charms. Harry jerked to his feet, causing the table to shake.
"Come on then, Professor," he said gruffly, pulling his sleeve down over his sadly yellow and indignantly purple moodstone, "let’s get it over with."
Back in London, Remus and Harry were almost done at the Apothecary when Remus swore beneath his breath. Harry looked at the fat Australian Witchetty Grubs crawling over his fingers.
"They’re not that bad â€”" he started, but then he looked up; Draco Malfoy and his mother had just come sweeping into the shop.
The dark feelings were entirely mutual. The Malfoys pretended Remus and Harry didn’t even exist and loudly demanded the Apothecary’s attention. The little old man, covered head to toe in a green, dragon-hide smock, beret, and matching gloves, was carefully measuring out some Monkshood for Harry. The Apothecary’s eyes flicked anxiously between his glowering customers. Feigning deafness appeared the most attractive course of action.
"Mother, aren’t there laws against beasts buying magical ingredients?" Draco drawled nastily.
Narcissa Malfoy’s lips twisted into an ugly little smile. Pus oozed through Harry’s fingers as two grubs met an unfortunate fate. Remus put a restraining hand on Harry’s arm, as if he knew Harry would like nothing better than to shove the rest of his Witchetty Grubs straight up Malfoy’s snotty nose.
"Patience, my dear," Narcissa Malfoy tutted to her son, adding haughtily, "laws change. But the air certainly is foul in here today."
"Not as foul as the air in Azkaban!" Harry shot angrily, succeeding in getting the Malfoys’ full and livid attention. "You should try it sometime! I’m sure dear old Dad would just love the company!"
"Harry!" Remus said sharply. "Enough!"
"All done," the Apothecary piped up, nervously patting a stack of tightly-wrapped packages.
Remus paid the man, grabbed Harry by the shoulder and half-dragged him from the shop. Out in the Alley, Harry glared mutinously at his guardian. Remus had just stood there, letting them treat him like dirt!
"Why d’you let them just walk all over â€”"
"I said enough," Remus cut in harshly, striding now down the Alley. "The laws are tough enough, I don’t need you handing them any more ammunition. Don’t you get it?" he snapped, spinning on Harry when he started to object. "â€˜Werewolf causes fight in Diagon Alley!’ Next thing you know, I’ll be banned from buying so much as a loaf of bread."
Harry clenched his fists in frustration and regretted it immediately; he was still holding three Witchetty Grubs.
"What did she mean, laws change?" he asked fitfully, shaking off the worst of the pus and wiping the rest off on his jeans.
Breathing heavily, Remus nodded towards a cafÃ© on the corner of Diagon Alley and Knockturn Alley, and didn’t speak again until they were sitting inside with two cups of strong coffee.
"There’s talk of a beast census," he said, "and new legislation â€”"
Harry leant closer. "About werewolves?"
"No, actually. Not directly. Centaurs are the current target."
"Oh." Harry had mixed feelings about Centaurs. Firenze was okay, but the others were a prickly lot. "But Centaurs are protected, aren’t they?"
"Laws change," Remus said shortly. "By the sound of the legislation someone really doesn’t like them. There’s even talk of a hunting season, though they haven’t quite used those words."
Harry was revolted. He knew of one person who would stop at nothing to wipe out â€˜half-breeds’.
"It’s Umbridge, isn’t it?" he snapped bitterly, suddenly feeling a lot more sympathetic towards the Centaurs. "She couldn’t hack it in the forest and she’ll never stop until they’re all exterminated!"
"Probably," Remus said darkly, "I’ll wager Vampires’ll be next â€” they’ve had a fairly good run to date, all things considered. Veela, too, I imagine."
"Madam Bones won’t pass those sorts of laws, will she?" pressed Harry. Only yesterday, Madam Bones had officially replaced Cornelius Fudge as Minister for Magic.
"She has certain powers of veto," said Remus, "but if the proposals are contested and go before the Wizengamot, then who knows?"
"But Dumbledore won’t stand for that," said Harry, "he’s the Chief Warlock again, isn’t he?"
"He is," agreed Remus, "but he, too, is subject to the voting system. It comes down to lobbying and how convincing the opposing parties are."
Harry stared morosely out the cafÃ© window. His eyes narrowed on spotting Draco Malfoy hurrying down Knockturn Alley. Probably heading for Borgin and Burkes, Harry thought sourly, off to pawn some dark little family heirloom.
"There’s not too much more they can do to werewolves," Remus continued cynically. "Elizabeth will try to find out more when she starts work."
Harry dragged his eyes back to his guardian; he’d almost forgotten.
"What â€” back in Canada?" he said tightly.
"Canada? No. Here, in Britain." Remus regarded Harry quizzically then frowned deeply. "You didn’t think â€” Harry, Elizabeth is moving back home. She’s here for good."
Harry could barely hear Remus over the pounding in his ears.
"You’re not leaving?" he asked stupidly.
"No, whatever gave you that idea?"
"I â€”" Harry struggled to find his voice.
"So that’s why you’ve been moping around all day!" Remus declared with evident relief.
"Oh. No â€” I mean, of course not â€” I never ..." Harry fell silent under Remus’s penetrating gaze.
"I’m not leaving you, Harry," he said quietly. "I am never leaving you."
Harry fought to suppress what he suspected was a rather idiotic grin. Back in the alley, a more ebullient Harry kept an eye out for Hermione’s seventeenth birthday present. He didn’t see anything inspiring in Flourish and Blotts’ bookshop, so he settled on getting her a piece of jewellery, figuring he could always load it up with emotion later. They were nearly ready to leave Madam Malkin’s Robes for All Occasions when Remus yanked Harry into a changing cubicle.
"What?" Harry hissed urgently.
"Hush," ordered Remus.
"Death Eaters?" whispered Harry. He peeked through a slit in the drape, but all he could see was Madam Malkin serving an elegantly attired customer.
"Worse," Remus bit tersely, "my mother-in-law."
Remus and Harry stayed crouched in the cramped cubicle for ten long, sweaty minutes. Harry smelled horribly of Witchetty Grub pus, and Remus’s elbow kept getting stuck in his ear.
"How did you ever get sorted into Gryffindor?" hissed Harry.
"No idea," muttered Remus.
Mrs Ramsay finally left and the Gryffindor boys tumbled breathlessly from the cubicle.
"Oh, there you are!" cried Madam Malkin. "I thought you’d left without your new robes."
"Just got a bit stuck," Remus muttered.
"Stuck," Harry confirmed flatly, shooting a foul look at his guardian. "I’ll be at the jewellers’."
The jewellers was right next door to Madam Malkin’s. On display were numerous signet rings, friendship rings, earrings, necklaces, bracelets and such, but Harry wasn’t sure what Hermione would like.
The sales-witch, a heavily made up woman with three chins and a beehive of blonde hair that towered precariously, tried to interest Harry in their â€˜pre-loved’ line. Harry thought she meant â€˜used’ until he picked up a ring and felt sickly sweet emotions washing over him. It seemed the jeweller saved people the trouble of coming up with feelings of their own.
"We have some lovely emotions on sale this month," the sales-witch assured him.
Harry was revolted. What would Hermione think? Receiving some lovey-dovey trinket?
"No?" prompted the witch, looking deeply disappointed in him when Harry found the will to resist. Undeterred, she started firing off questions he couldn’t possibly be expected to answer. Did his young lady favour goblin workmanship? Antique or modern? Gold or silver? Her favourite colour?
"Erm ..." Harry strained to remember something â€” anything. Hermione’s dress at the Yule Ball was blue. "She likes blue."
"And what is our young lady’s birth date?"
At last, a question Harry could answer!
"September the nineteenth," he said confidently.
"But of course," declared the witch, "sapphires! Faith, truth, purity, and foresight!"
That sounded about right to Harry, though he idly wondered if they had a stone for nagging about homework. With a flourish of her wand, the sales-witch summoned a wide variety of sapphire jewellery and laid them across a plush velvet throw. Harry’s eyes boggled at the prices.
"Do you have anything cheaper?" he asked. The sales-witch seemed suddenly rather hard of hearing.
He found a modest friendship ring with three small blue stones, but he lost interest when the sales-witch started asking about ring sizes. A pair of earrings next caught his eye, but he was foiled again when he was unable to remember whether Hermione had pierced ears. He finally settled on a silver necklace with a small blue sapphire set above a teardrop pearl. That seemed safe. She definitely had a neck.
As the tube train trundled towards home, Harry’s fingertips grew numb from gripping his strung-up textbooks whilst his mind grappled even trickier topics. A few days earlier, he told Remus about a nightmare he had in which Katie Bell was killed because he couldn’t move to save her. Remus managed to dig into his subconscious and deduce that Voldemort had frozen him with a Legilimens Charm when he first arrived in the Ministry: a revelation that Harry found immensely relieving; he’d been worried he would never even be able to move in the Dark Lord’s presence. Now, there was another matter Harry fancied discussing but not in the company of Muggle commuters.
Back at Grimmauld Place, with new textbooks and supplies strewn across Harry’s bed, Remus carefully marked them off against his school lists. Loitering against a bedpost, Harry asked him to check again. He kept hoping Remus would notice what else was on the bed, but he didn’t â€” or if he did notice, he wasn’t betraying the least bit of curiosity. In an effort to delay their return to Black Island, Harry fetched a pair of coffees and settled determinedly in his wing chair. When Remus persisted in failing to notice the object in question (which had miraculously found its way from the bed to the coffee table), Harry resorted to bringing up the topic himself.
"Thought I might do some more drawing," he said, nodding to the drawing pad on the table. When Remus merely nodded politely, Harry felt obliged to add, "I tried to draw Sirius, but I couldn’t do it."
"Fingers still sore?" Remus guessed.
Harry flexed his fingers. "No, it’s not that. This was before … after he was killed."
Remus lowered his mug, his attention secured. "I see."
Harry somehow doubted that. "I was having all these dreams â€” nightmares and stuff," he confided. "I was hunting down Bellatrix Lestrange. It was so easy in my dreams. I’d turn into this powerful demon …"
Remus’s brow furrowed but he made no comment; he didn’t need to; Harry could almost see him connecting the dots with his visions of Megaera. Harry jiggled his knees, nervous now about revealing how his dreams in Privet Drive had always ended.
"Go on," Remus said, lifting his mug encouragingly.
Harry gathered his nerve. "See, in my dreams I’d catch her, no problem. And she’d be there all helpless and frightened at my feet, and I’d be all ready to send her straight to hell, but then I’d see her face, and it wasn’t her at all."
"Who was it?" asked Remus.
"Mum," Harry said forlornly. Remus winced in sympathy. "There’s more," Harry said, needing to get it all out on the table. "When I was at Privet Drive, I tried to draw Sirius; I was trying to remember good things, you know? But it got all screwed up in my head. Then you came and brought me here and everything just got worse â€” oh, sorry, no, that didn’t come out right …"
Remus waved away Harry’s apology; they both knew there wasn’t much that went right in their first week together at number twelve.
"Anyway, this is what happened whenever I tried to draw Sirius," Harry finished.
Remus accepted the drawing pad and turned through page after page of demonic versions of Harry’s face. Harry sat on the edge of his seat, waiting, hoping Remus would have the answers he needed.
"I see," Remus said again, and this time Harry knew he did see.
Closing the pad, Remus decided he could use a second cup of coffee. Harry raced downstairs and brought back the whole pot. Over a pair of steaming mugs, they discussed at length the nightmares Harry had after Sirius’s death, Harry speaking of his rage and fears with a kind of candour he wished he’d been able to have with Sirius himself, but even so there was one thing he couldn’t bring himself to reveal.
Examining the demon portraits again, Remus said, "We’ve talked about how helpless you felt under Voldemort’s wand, but there’s something else, isn’t there. In your dreams, you’re in complete control; she’s at your mercy, but something’s still holding you back. Why else would you give her a face you love so dearly."
Harry couldn’t meet the man’s eyes. Obviously, he didn’t want to kill his mother, but Remus knew that.
"Do you want to tell me what happened when you chased after Lestrange?" Remus asked quietly.
Harry gulped too much coffee and burned his throat; he almost welcomed the pain.
"I found her. I cursed her â€” I tried to â€”" Harry broke off; he couldn’t say it.
"You tried to kill her?" Remus suggested.
Harry looked up, expecting the worst, but found no contempt, no revulsion, in the man’s world-weary eyes.
"Not kill," Harry said, rubbing his knuckles. "Don’t get me wrong; I wanted to. I would’ve; it’s just â€” she was just gloating so much. I went nuts. I â€” I got her with the Cruciatus Curse."
Remus’s face remained impassive; he merely nodded for Harry to go on.
Harry said bitterly, "I hated her so much. I wanted her to feel what I felt. I gave her everything I had, but all I did was knock her off her feet. She said I’d need more than â€˜righteous fury’ to keep her down for long, said I needed to really want to cause pain, to enjoy it."
"She’s right about that," Remus said frankly. "I think I can guess now why your subconscious conjured Megaera. She’s the very personification of righteous fury, exacting vengeance on her victims."
As much as Harry had come to loathe his subconscious, he shook his head. "No, that was later; I didn’t see Megaera until Potterfest; I went to bed angry â€” insane â€” actually."
"About what?" Remus asked with concern. Harry was sorely tempted to lie, to say something about Voldemort setting him off, but he didn’t.
"Cho and George dancing together."
To Harry’s eternal gratitude, Remus did not laugh.
"Well, Megaera is known as the Jealous Fury," he noted fairly. "Not the happiest of creatures to awaken in a lad."
Harry frowned in thought. What Remus said made sense, but Megaera felt so real.
"Hey," Remus said encouragingly, reaching a hand to rub his shoulder, "the fact that you can’t cast a decent Crucio is hardly a bad thing."
Reminded of the real issue, Harry groaned bitterly into his hands. "I’m utterly useless! How am I ever going to kill anyone if I can’t even â€”"
"Hang on just a minute," Remus said, cutting him off. "Unforgivables are called that for a reason, and aren’t to be cast lightly, but they’re just spells and can be learned like any other. The Cruciatus Curse aside, both the Imperius and the Killing Curse have defensive uses. Hit Wizards, Aurors, even Healers, are trained to use them in extreme circumstances."
Harry moistened his lips and braved a question he’d wanted to ask for a long time, "Have you ever killed anyone?"
"Yes," Remus said soberly. "But you were right to stop us killing Peter in the Shack. It would have been murder. It’s different in battle, in the defence of innocents. Sometimes you have no choice." Drawing closer, his hand curled around Harry’s neck. "You’re not alone, Harry. Believe me; we’re going to get you through this."
And Harry believed him.
The next few days saw the Black Island houseguests departing one by one. Natalie was philosophical about her aunt moving to England, "They’ve got excellent shoe shopping." Ron left shortly after Natalie, and then Harry was packing up his own belongings. He had to banish Lovey and Dovey from helping him; their tears were getting everything wet. Mindful of what happened with Sirius, Harry insisted on farewelling the Lupins privately before leaving for the train, but it wasn’t easy. Words couldn’t come close to describing how much it meant to him to have people of his own outside Hogwarts.
"You can write ..." he mumbled after receiving a back-thumping bear hug from Remus, "if you like ..."
"Count on it," Remus said, messing the hair Elizabeth just tried to smooth. Elizabeth countered that move by giving Harry another hug and kiss.
Even as the warm feelings filled him up, Harry felt frustration, too, frustration that two such good people would never be seeing their own kids off to Hogwarts. They would have made such great parents. On the way to Kings Cross, Harry continued turning their prophecy inside and out. He decided he could take the second half as meaning that Remus had come to think of him as a son, but he couldn’t see a way around the first part â€” with Remus biting his wife â€” the â€˜hooded monk poisoning his beloved’ bit. He thought he was onto something when he recalled the story of the Lupins’ first date â€” when they â€˜nearly poisoned each other’. But then he realised that happened years before the prophecy came out, and, in any case, it was Sirius who had spiked the wine â€” and Elizabeth wasn’t Sirius’s beloved (nor did Harry imagine Sirius fancied Remus).
Soon, Harry was pushing his trolley through the barrier for platform nine and three-quarters. The Hogwarts Express stood as proud as ever, ready to consume a new student body and belching grey steam to add to the air of confusion of people and cats and noise that always signalled the start of another school year.
"No, I can do it," Harry said quickly when Remus tried to take care of his trunk. Harry wanted to put as much distance between himself and the Lupins as possible.
"Harry!" Hermione came rushing towards him. She greeted Remus and Elizabeth warmly, but Harry impatiently pulled her away.
"Come on; let’s get going."
"Oh, okay," said Hermione. "Bye! Have you seen Ron?"
"Not yet," said Harry. He helped Hermione with Crookshanks and her trunk before manhandling his own menagerie aboard.
"Oh, I loved your letter!" she declared brightly as they moved down the corridor, then her expression darkened on adding, "but do you know I had the worst trouble filling my Potions kit. You’d think they’d stock up properly this time of year!"
"Right," Harry muttered; he was busy peering into compartments, looking for a sign of Susan Bones â€” just to hand over Frank, of course. But if there just happened to be a spare seat ...
"I mean to say," Hermione continued indignantly, "it’s not as if they don’t know there’s going to be a great influx of students. Harry? Are you listening to me?"
"Huh? Fluxweed, yeah," he said as they tried to manoeuvre past a wedge of giggling fourth-year girls.
"Fluxweed?" said Hermione. "No, they had plenty of that, but did you have any trouble getting Borage or Monkshood?"
"What? No, I got everything. Hang on," Harry’s heart started beating madly, "did you say Monkshood?"
"Yes," said Hermione. "You know, Aconite â€” Wolfsbane, it goes by a few names. Then there’s the Latin roots, of course â€”" Hermione broke off at the look on Harry’s face. "What?"
"Hermione, I could kiss you!"
The girls blocking their path giggled furiously. Hermione pinked.
"Oh, well, if you â€”" she started then yelped in pain when Harry dropped his trunk on her foot and bolted back down the corridor with Hedwig’s cage under one arm and Frank’s basket under the other.
"Sorry â€” sorry!" he fired at random, tripping over people as he struggled to reach an exit. Blocked again, he shoved his way into a compartment. "Sorry â€” scuse me â€” sorry!"
He dumped Hedwig, squawking in protest, to the left, tossed Frank’s basket to the right and lunged for the windows. A girl screamed (presumably the one who got Frank).
"See, here," said one boy, "you can’t just barge in â€”"
"Sorry â€” sorry!" panted Harry. "Just be a tick â€” sorry!"
"There’s no need to be pointing that thing at me, young lady," Frank hissed. The girl screamed a lot louder.
"Frank, please," Harry hissed in Parseltongue, "back in your basket. Be good, eh? I’ll get you something special for dinner."
"I’ll be good if she will," Frank grumbled, retreating. "A nice piece of rump, I think, and don’t be stingy with the gravy."
"Did you see that?" breathed a girl in awe. "It just curled up straight away!"
"It?" Frank said indignantly.
Harry was already fumbling with the window. He stuck his head out and screamed, "Moony!" but the noise of the train and children squealing on the platform drowned him out. He could see the Lupins standing by the wall where he’d left them. They were chatting with Molly and Arthur Weasley. Harry grabbed his wand and wriggled further out. All thought of keeping a low profile flew out the window â€” and so almost did his body before helping hands inside the compartment steadied him. "Thanks," he muttered over his shoulder. He didn’t care to ponder how undignified he must look with his backside sticking out. This thought did, however, help him choose his target. Aiming his wand very carefully, Harry fired an arrow that landed right in â€”
Remus yelped in a rather undignified way and plucked the arrow from his butt. He squinted darkly through the crowd for the archer before spotting Harry waving madly from a window two carriages down. Rubbing his backside in annoyance, Remus edged through the madding crowd of families, cats, and trolleys, as students raced to board the train.
Harry’s mind reeled. It had to be it! It had to be what they meant! Monkshood! The hooded monk! Elizabeth had poisoned herself when she was developing the Wolfsbane Potion! The herb â€” that’s what the flower looked like â€” a monk’s cowl!
"Forget something, Apollo?" Remus asked dryly, twirling Harry’s arrow in his fingers.
Dangling from the window, Harry grabbed Remus by the shoulders and dragged him close to whisper excitedly in his ear, "You’re not the monk! She brings me death! I’m the one!"
"What are you babbling about?" said Remus. "Did someone hex you?"
"It’s over!" hissed Harry. "Merlin, you suck at Potions! Don’t you see?!"
Remus listened in growing amazement as Harry feverishly explained: about Elizabeth nearly dying from testing Monkshood on herself; about him, Harry, being brought to the brink of death by Elizabeth’s arrival; about them longing for children; about Remus thinking Harry was like a â€”
Harry stopped, suddenly embarrassed, but Remus had found his voice and rasped, "Like a son to me." He clutched at Harry’s arms as the truth sank in. "It’s over ..." he said dazedly.
The Hogwarts Express tooted impressively in agreement and Remus disappeared momentarily inside a cloud of steam. Harry chortled gleefully and shook Remus’s shoulders, breaking the man from his steamy stupor.
"Harry, I ..." started Remus.
"GO!" yelled Harry.
Remus reeled backwards, tripping over stray cats and children. He stumbled drunkenly towards his wife and swept her up in his arms, laughing and spinning her around and around. Elizabeth’s hat flew off and her skirt flared. A bemused Molly and Arthur Weasley looked on indulgently as Elizabeth blushed furiously and tried to make Remus put her down right this minute! He silenced her protests with a kiss â€” and what a kiss!
Cries of, "Is that Professor Lupin?" travelled like wildfire up and down the train, and howling catcalls and wolf whistles erupted as heads popped out of windows and eyes popped out of heads, Harry cheering loudest of them all.
He spotted Ron and Hermione further down, waving and cheering. Lavender and Parvati were giggling furiously, and Terry Boot and other familiar DA faces were all beaming at each other and at the Lupins as the train lurched into motion. Children ran along the platform, waving madly to their brothers and sisters as they pulled away from the station. The Lupins were oblivious to it all and soon were no more than tiny dots to Harry. But they were his tiny dots. And he was The One: The One that Voldemort chose to become his equal; The One with a secret power the Dark Lord knew not; The One who could defeat him. And just right now, right this minute, The One felt as if he could conjure a Patronus to vanquish a thousand Dementors!
Harry suddenly dodged a signal light.
... And it didn’t hurt that The One knew how to duck.