Chapter 12 — One Female
By Lady Alchymia
Predictably, Petunia Dursley was horrified to see Elizabeth Ramsay â€” Elizabeth didn’t even make it past the doorstep. Petunia wasted no time in telling her he was spending the summer with his guardian, and, no, she didn’t know the address.
It took little effort for Elizabeth to deduce Sirius took their godson to his mother’s old house, but for the life of her she could not recall the address, which effectively confirmed a Fidelius Charm â€” or that her memory was rubbish. Elizabeth felt broom-lagged enough for it to be either. Making her way into the centre of London, she was deeply grateful for the familiar sights and smells of the Leaky Cauldron Inn, though she couldn’t help noticing how deserted the place was, even for a Sunday evening.
"Evening, Mistress," landlord Tom said with a polite bow. "Spot o’ supper?"
"Thank you, Tom," Elizabeth said wearily. "A room, too, if you have one."
Tom squinted more closely at the woman. At five-foot-three with wide-set blue eyes, long sandy hair, and fine cheekbones, Elizabeth was accustomed to turning an old head like Tom’s, but right now she knew he was seeing bloodshot eyes, greasy hair, sagging shoulders, and slightly mismatched eyebrows.
"Mistress Ramsay?" he said with surprise. "Well, I never. How many years has it been?"
"Too many, Tom," she replied hoarsely, "far too many. I think a room first ... I’m very tired; I’ve just flown in from Canada."
"Say no more," he said kindly. "Room eleven’s all made up."
Tom collected the key and a lantern and led Elizabeth to her room, then returned with a supper tray. A small pail of Floo Powder stood by the fireplace, but Elizabeth couldn’t decide who to call. Two years had passed without a word from Sirius, which Elizabeth took as a good sign for it meant he hadn’t been recaptured. As far as she knew, only the Order knew of his innocence â€” and Harry, of course. After picking at her peas and pumpkin mash, Elizabeth tried three Floo locations for Albus Dumbledore without success. Nor was she able to make contact with any of her other Order of the Phoenix friends. She was rapidly running out of members to call â€” Remus was the last. She nervously checked her reflection in the mirror then sat down again, making sure at least her robes were straight. Then she chickened out and tried Moody again, but there was still no answer. She was down to her last fistful of Floo Powder. She placed the call to The Lodge and held her breath waiting for Remus Lupin to appear.
Evil mewed fitfully and climbed into Elizabeth’s lap demanding attention. Elizabeth leaned further into the fire and peered around a darkened parlour lit only by the magical green flames of her own fire. All was neat but slightly dusty â€” there was a feeling of disuse. She called out Remus’s name a few more times before giving up, feeling strangely relieved and disappointed at the same time.
Now at a complete dead end, the adrenaline that had kept her going was fading away and the reality of returning to a country on the verge of civil war started sinking in. Voldemort was back.
"It’s happening all over again," she whispered, caressing the golden feline in her arms.
Six months after the murders at Godric’s Hollow, Elizabeth woke in Saint Mungo’s Hospital, woke to find her world in ruins, her best friends dead or imprisoned. Woke to find the Wizarding World still giddy over the demise of Lord Voldemort. Woke to find Alice and Frank couldn’t. Woke to find people had moved on, the currency of their grief already spent â€” everyone except Remus. Elizabeth spilled Evil to the floor and prowled the room, anger and frustration building. Harry was with his guardian, but who was Sirius’s Secret-Keeper? Remus? Dumbledore? Doge? Moody? It was maddening being unable to reach anyone, but Elizabeth knew of one back door into Sirius’s house, and she could be there in two hours.
"Evil, back in the bag," she said decisively. "We’re leaving."
It had seemed such a good idea at the time. She’d been travelling all night and was barely halfway. Most of her time had been wasted doing exactly what she was doing right now: backtracking and searching for her right hand. After a nasty Splinching in Surrey, she’d resorted to Apparating with her right arm petrified against further damage. It had worked for an hour or so, but it was getting harder and harder to hold herself together. Evil had been a great asset, of course, for not only were Kneazles extremely loyal, and excellent at sniffing out unsavoury characters, they also had exceptional tracking abilities. Evil pawed his mistress’s left leg, and she dutifully banked left. He meowed suddenly and relief washed over Elizabeth. She couldn’t see it herself, but if Evil said it was there …
"Accio hand!" she called out, pointing her wand with her left hand whilst trying to balance her broomstick with her knees.
Her right hand rushed to her from a clump of dense bushes. She nearly fell off trying to catch it; she’d always been hopeless at Quidditch. Landing in a forest glade, she set about reattaching the frozen limb. Evil mewed and pawed at her rucksack.
"We’ll get going in a minute, precious," she muttered through a weary yawn.
Evil hissed in annoyance and pulled harder at the rucksack. Elizabeth let the straps slip from her shoulders. She assumed he wanted to climb inside, but Evil had other ideas and dragged the bag to a sheltered spot under a large pine.
Elizabeth chuckled softly. "Okay, sweetie, you win, we rest."
Sinking with Evil into the forest floor, the smell of the pine needles so comfortingly familiar, Elizabeth started to relax. She conjured a pillow and an eiderdown quilt and fell asleep to the beat of Evil’s tiny heart. It was late on Monday afternoon when she awoke to find him licking her nose. She shoved him away then sat up abruptly.
"Get out of that!" she cried, fumbling for her wand. A goat was happily munching the birch twigs of her broomstick. "Shoo!"
Elizabeth sent a jet of water at the goat, but it was not to be chased away so easily. She resorted to casting a Tickling Charm on its legs. That got the goat’s attention. It quickly scampered off, and Elizabeth waited for it to get a good distance away before removing the hex. The goat stopped and bayed at her, clearly unimpressed, then shuffled off unsteadily with its nose in the air.
Elizabeth wearily assessed the damage. Her broom wasn’t a complete write-off, but it would certainly slow her down. She’d also managed to thoroughly drench herself. Squelching to her feet, she grumpily vanished her sopping-wet eiderdown. With another complicated swish of her wand, and mentally cursing all mountain goats, she started blowing hot air over herself. When she was dry enough, she summoned her trusty Magical World Atlas from her bag and laid it across her lap.
"Where am I, please?" she asked politely (the atlas was very old and could be a tad cantankerous).
The pages of the atlas fluttered back and forth, searching. The fluttering stopped and a red dot blinked in the centre of a page depicting the very tree she was sitting beneath, along with the words: You Are Here.
Elizabeth held a finger to the blip and said, "Wider, please."
The map zoomed out, wider and wider for as long as she held her finger to the page. Elizabeth kept zooming until she had a clear fix on her position: southern France, approximately halfway between London and Tunisia. Considering the situation in Britain, it was feasible that Sirius and Harry might even be on Black Island right now. Elizabeth’s heart beat a little faster at the thought of seeing them both again. She couldn’t help but wonder if Remus might be with them. If she could just see him again ...
Elizabeth shook her head dejectedly. No. Nothing had changed, nothing that should make a difference anyway. She returned to examining her atlas. The most direct route would be to island hop through Corsica, Sardinia, and Sicily. It would be safer, however, to travel down either the Iberian or Italian peninsulas keeping over land as much as possible. She set the atlas down, petrified her right arm and tested it by trying to Apparate to the other side of the tree. Evil appeared a moment later. He dropped her frozen hand into her lap and they both stared at it glumly. While she reattached it, Elizabeth finally admitted to herself that Hyper-Flying â€” Apparating at all â€” was no longer a viable travelling option. She needed to get to the closest Wizarding Transportation Centre and book passage to Tunisia by International Portkey.
Turning back to the atlas, she traced a finger down the Italian peninsula. Unbidden, her fingertip drifted off track and she found herself over Venice.
"Closer," she whispered. The lagoon came into view â€” then the islands â€” then the Grand Canal â€” the Doge’s Palace â€” the Bridge of â€”
Elizabeth slammed the atlas shut.
"Don’t do this to yourself," she intoned, swiping impatiently at her eyes. Evil climbed over the atlas and demanded to be cuddled. She clung to her small companion, comforted by his warmth and weight against her chest.
"Right," she said huskily, reopening the atlas, "where were we?"
"Please," Elizabeth offered contritely.
"Are you two quite comfortable?" Remus asked, strolling into the drawing room and setting down a pair of steaming mugs of hot chocolate on the coffee table.
Having farewelled the party guests, Harry and Hermione were curled up drowsily in opposite corners of the longest couch, their legs entangled. Around them lay a sea of scarlet and gold balloons that had floated overhead during the party but were now hovering around knee height. One had found a home on Harry’s left earlobe. Swatting it away, he yawned an affirmative to Remus and nudged Hermione’s hip with his foot.
"Monkshood," mumbled Hermione, her eyes shut, "reduce fe-fe-fever ..."
Harry wiggled his big toe under her ribs and she awoke, startled.
"What?" she said blearily. "Stop that!" she grumbled, kicking him back.
"You kick like a girl," sniggered Harry. Swinging his feet away, he reached for his hot chocolate and found himself on the floor.
"Hey!" he cried.
Hermione stretched victoriously along the slippery leather. "So nice of you to finally notice!"
Harry responded by launching himself on top of her, tickling her mercilessly, Hermione squealing in protest. Soon they were both on the floor, the coffee table rocking alarmingly.
"Dissendium," Remus said with a lazy swish of his wand. Harry and Hermione shot to opposites sides of the room.
"Hey!" Harry complained, padding back to the coffee table scattering scarlet and gold bubbles. "No hexing the underaged!"
"Sorry, Remus," Hermione said meekly, collecting her drink.
"If you two will excuse me," he said, leaning over the back of an armchair, "I need to find Mad-Eye. Do try to play nice, kiddies." He stopped at the door to look back at them. "Oh, and see if you can find that lost guitarist, would you? I need to take the music box back to the hire shop."
Harry waved him off then flopped back down on the couch with Hermione, their feet on the coffee table as they sipped their hot-chocolates and played an idle game of balloon tennis. Punching a gold one to the ceiling, Harry spotted a lonely party-streamer (the rest having been filched as souvenirs) and smiled at it: 361 sleeps to Potterfest17!
"Harry, I wanted to ask you …?" Hermione started, hugging a balloon so tight it squeaked. She had that look on her face, the look that told Harry he wasn’t going to like her question. "That nightmare you had on Saturday night â€” you said it wasn’t about Lord Voldemort ..."
"Or Death Eaters?" she suggested leadingly.
Harry shook his head. He expected she’d been waiting for just such an opportunity for days.
"Was it Snuffles?" she asked in a small voice.
"Nah, it was just a bad dream," Harry said dismissively, hoping she’d drop it.
"Terry said you called out a word ... a name?"
Harry sighed resignedly.
"What was it, Harry?"
"You don’t need to hear about my weird dreams," he muttered.
"Tell me, please," she pressed worriedly. "It might be important. What if someone’s trying to send you false visions?"
"It wasn’t false," Harry admitted before he could stop himself.
Hermione gasped and nagged him even harder for details. Harry blew out his cheeks; it had to be easier to just tell her.
"Look, it was just a normal dream â€” at first â€” then there was this, well, this demon."
"It attacked you?" asked Hermione.
"What kind of demon?"
"How should I know?"
"What did it look like?"
"She was â€”"
"Do you wanna know or not?"
"Sorry â€” sorry," said Hermione. "Go on."
"Anyway," said Harry. "I fell off my broom and George grabbed me â€”"
"What now?" Harry moaned.
"You fell off your broom! George caught you yesterday! Remember?"
"Yes, Hermione, I was there, remember?"
"Sorry, sorry. But it’s like you predicted it!"
Hermione’s eyes were very bright; she’d taken quite an interest in prophecies since finding out some were real. Harry rubbed at his jaw in thought. Could there really be a new demon out there waiting to grab him? The thought should have filled him with fear, but, really, there was already quite a queue. And there was something about Megaera, something he couldn’t quite put his finger on …
"Then what happened?" Hermione prompted breathlessly.
Harry leaned forward; maybe his nightmare wasn’t just about him being jealous.
"Well, I look up, right?" he said more interestedly. "And it’s not George any more; it’s this demon grabbing me."
"But she didn’t hurt you?"
"No, but I woke up, didn’t I."
"Why did you wake up?" Hermione moaned, as if he’d done it on purpose just to vex her.
"Well," Harry said sarcastically, "if you saw this ruddy great demon with blood dripping from her eyes screaming at you to wake up and â€”" Harry stopped himself, "â€” no, hang on â€” George was the one screaming. The snakes were telling me â€”"
Harry broke off on hearing the distinctive clump-clump of a wooden leg.
"Afternoon," Mad-Eye growled, puncturing a few balloons with his splintered old stump.
"What snakes? What did they say?" Hermione begged at the same time, her eyes even wider and brighter.
"Hello, Professor," Harry said loudly, nudging Hermione to shut up. "Remus just went looking for you. Everyone get off okay at The Burrow?"
Mad-Eye grunted an affirmative and tossed Harry’s moodstone wristband back to him.
"Put that on," he ordered.
Harry eyed the wristband suspiciously. "What did you do to it?"
"Nothing too terrible," Mad-Eye said gruffly, "just a security thing. What did Lupin want?" Before Harry could ask what kind of â€˜security thing’, Mad-Eye said, "Suppose he wants to know the test results. Tell him they came back female â€” that’s all we’ve got â€” one female."
One female! A chill sped up Harry’s spine, jerking him to his feet.
"At Privet Drive?" he demanded. Mad-Eye said nothing. "It was her, wasn’t it?" challenged Harry.
"Who?" said Hermione. "What’s going on?"
"Death Eaters!" Harry declared. "Last night â€” in Privet Drive!"
Hermione gasped in horror.
"Who said anything about Death Eaters?" growled Mad-Eye, but he didn’t sound very convincing. "Put that on," he ordered Harry, indicating the wristband, "and leave it on! Tell Lupin I’ll do another patrol then I’m headin’ home to kip."
Mad-Eye paused a moment â€” even his electric-blue eye stopped spinning.
"It’ll be okay," he said gruffly to Harry.
Something about the way Moody said that made Harry more nervous than any of his more usual pessimistic warnings. He held out his wrist to Hermione, and she silently tied on the wristband. The moodstone swirled through a rainbow of colours, finally settling on a slate-grey.
"Right," Moody said, all business again, "tell Lupin then."
He made to leave, but Harry sailed through the balloons to catch him at the door. Moody’s hesitated a moment then accepted the boy’s smooth hand within his own leathery mitt. Harry was struck by how spent the wizard looked.
"Thanks, Mad-Eye, for everything."
"Right," Moody said gruffly, shaking his hand, "try to stay out of trouble, eh?" He shook his head ruefully as he stumped out the door. "You know, running around after a bunch of teenagers for four days, I’m startin’ to think Barty Crouch did me a favour, lockin’ me up in my trunk all year."
Harry closed the door and braced himself. Three, two, one â€”
"Harry, what’s going on? Did they attack your family?"
Sitting back down, Harry filled Hermione in on what little he knew.
"Do you really think it was Bellatrix Lestrange?" she asked anxiously
"How many other female Death Eaters do we know," countered Harry, "ones who are both free and have me right at the very top of their to do lists?"
"But your scar …" Hermione said questioningly.
"Nothing," Harry agreed thoughtfully. "Do you think the dream â€” I mean Lestrange is a Black, right? The demon was black, black-skinned anyway."
"But the demon didn’t hurt you," Hermione pointed out.
"Maybe I woke up too soon? George was screaming at me to wake up â€” then the demon grabs me â€” and she’s laughing â€”"
"The demon was laughing," Hermione repeated, her eyes unfocused. "Bellatrix Lestrange!" she said abruptly. "She was laughing the hardest of all when they had us trapped in the Hall of Prophecy!"
Harry tensed; Lestrange’s cackle of triumph ringing in his ears as clear as if it was yesterday. It had to be her! One night he dreams of a female demon grabbing him and the very next night a female Death Eater turns up in Privet Drive.
"You’re safe here, Harry," Hermione said earnestly. "The Order isn’t going to let anything hurt you." She hesitated a moment. "Maybe you shouldn’t go to that Harpies game next weekend. You’d be safer staying here."
"No!" Harry said, suddenly and defiantly. "I will not spend my life in captivity!"
"But, Harry, if they make a move against you â€”"
"I’m not an idiot," he said impatiently, "don’t you think I know the safest thing is to just hide out in my room â€”"
Harry broke off at the look of anguish on Hermione’s face.
"Look," he said more evenly, "I’m not going to take stupid risks, but I am not going to let those monsters control my life."
The two friends stared at each other in silence for a long moment.
"But you will be careful," Hermione said softly.
"I will be careful," agreed Harry.
Hermione pulled him into a hug and Harry found himself engulfed in bushy brown hair.
"You have â€” pfft â€” heard of ponytails, haven’t you?"
Hermione choked back a laugh and hugged him tighter.
"Do I need to separate you two again?" Remus drawled, strolling back into the room. Harry and Hermione broke apart, smiling.
"Just saying how glad I’ll be to get rid of her," Harry said teasingly, to which Hermione lightly punched his thigh.
"Right," Remus said dubiously.
The smile on Harry’s face slipped a little.
"Did you see Mad-Eye out there?" he asked. Remus shook his head. "You must have just missed him. He left some messages for you."
Remus sat down in a chair opposite him and nodded. Harry did his best to sound casual.
"He said he’s gonna do some more patrols then head home â€” I think he’s had quite enough of this house for a while. And he said the test results were back: one female."
Harry looked closely for his guardian’s reaction. Remus frowned deeply and sat forward in his chair.
"One female?" he checked and Harry nodded.
He wondered what Remus would tell him if anything. Remus ran a hand through his thick but greying hair.
"Hermione, I wonder ... could you give us a moment, please?"
"It’s okay," Harry said, "by me, anyway. I told her what happened last night."
Remus nodded; he seemed neither surprised nor upset.
"Right, well, there’s not much more to tell, really. A Reattachment Charm was detected â€” in Arabella Figg’s back yard of all places. It’s okay," he added quickly, seeing the look on Harry’s face, "she’s away on holiday: Majorca, I believe. And I heard from Tonks earlier. She confirmed no other spells were cast within the sanctuary of Privet Drive. But then your aunt already told Kingsley everyone was fine ..." Remus’s voice trailed off and he inspected his hands. "One female," he repeated distractedly. He drew a settling breath and looked Harry straight in the eye. "We can’t be sure it was her."
"No, not for sure," Harry agreed quietly.
"Harry, it’s â€”"
"I’m fine, Remus," Harry said, meeting his guardian’s worried eyes. "I mean, Death Eaters are after me â€” like that’s something new."
Hermione looked between them.
"Well, there’s something useful from this, anyway. Whomever it was, Lestrange or not, she got Splinched. That’s got to say something, doesn’t it? I mean it’s not normal, is it â€” not for a fully trained wizard."
"Well, it’s not unheard of," Remus said thoughtfully, "but more with youngsters â€” people just learning to Apparate. Of course, it can happen to anyone from time to time. A lot of witches and wizards won’t Apparate at all; they prefer brooms or Floo travel or â€”"
"Voldemort!" Harry blurted, slapping a hand to his forehead.
The others snapped to attention.
"What is it?"
"Are you okay?"
"What?" Harry said, confused. Then he realised what he’d done. "No, sorry, sorry, my scar’s fine. I was just remembering. Voldemort helped Bellatrix Lestrange to Disapparate. In the Atrium â€” at the Ministry. She was injured. One of the statues, or columns or something, fell on her. She was too weak to move on her own. Maybe she’s still not at full strength? Voldemort was furious with her; he might not have helped heal her â€” and she can’t just turn up at Saint Mungo’s, can she."
Remus brightened a little. "You might be onto something, Harry. Very interesting."
"So," Hermione said, nodding to herself, "if it was Bellatrix Lestrange, it might indicate she’s weaker than we thought. And if it wasn’t her â€” if it was just some lost witch â€” well, either way, it doesn’t seem quite so bad now, does it?"
The threesome exchanged small, hopeful looks and sank back in their seats, each lost in their own thoughts. For his part, Harry was relieved Remus was telling him things voluntarily â€” just like Sirius wanted to. The grandfather clock chimed six o’clock, reminding him of what he overhead while pretending to be asleep: how Remus resisted attempts from Dumbledore to grill him about his nightmare. Remus insisted he would’ve told them if there was anything to tell. Remus trusted him.
"Remus, you know that nightmare I had the other night â€” mind if we talk about that a bit?"
Remus and Hermione listened attentively whilst Harry recounted his dream.
"… And then I look up and this demon’s got me instead of George. So I’m screaming, and there’s blood dripping from her eyes onto my face, and there were like hundreds of snakes, and they’re all saying one thing over and over: Megaera."
Both Hermione and Remus nodded thoughtfully but remained silent. Harry pursed his lips; he didn’t go through all that just to get a few nods!
"Hermione thinks I was predicting stuff for the game yesterday," he suggested, "like George catching me when I fell. But then what about Cho disappearing? Why did my hand go through her like a ghost?"
"Maybe, subconsciously, you want to get rid of her," Hermione offered helpfully.
"I don’t want her dead!" Harry declared indignantly. Remus held up a placating hand.
"It’s more likely you just wanted her out of the way to protect her. Go on," he said encouragingly.
After sparing a withering glare for Hermione, Harry shrugged at Remus.
"That’s pretty much it; I’m just hanging there over this abyss and Megaera’s got her claws into me and she’s laughing, and I guess that’s when I woke up."
"Well?" Harry prompted exasperatedly, looking from one frowning face to the other. "You do remember I failed Divination? Do you reckon that bit’ll come true, too, or is it just my imagination going nuts or what?"
"Do you still have your copy of Un-fogging the Future?" Hermione queried briskly. "I seem to remember it had a useful classification of dream iconography in chapter seven."
Harry shook his head in reluctant admiration. "You gave up Divination in third year! How do remember stuff from a subject you don’t even do?"
Hermione brushed his comment aside but looked rather chuffed. "Is it in your trunk?"
Harry shook his head. "Dumped it in the library. It’s all yours. Dream Oracle’s down there, too, I think."
Hermione’s eyes glazed over in a way Harry knew to mean only one thing.
"Off you go then," he said, confident that her greatest desire right now was to stick her nose into as many mouldy old books as possible.
Hermione fled. Harry smile left with her. He punched a red balloon in frustration; he was just so thoroughly sick of everything happening to him.
"Harry, listen to me," Remus said calmly, leaning forward, "predictions or not, you’re safe here â€” you’re safe. That’s the important thing."
Harry nodded half-heartedly. The important thing was that he find a way to defeat Lestrange â€” to defeat Voldemort. Was his subconscious trying to remind him of that? He couldn’t help but see similarities between Megaera and the demon self-portraits he’d drawn from his nightmares earlier in the summer. He didn’t want to say it aloud, but he had to know. Remus wouldn’t laugh at him.
"Remus, do you think â€” am I some kind of demon?"
Remus failed to hide his shock. "Why would you think that, Harry?"
"I’m supposed to have some power Voldemort doesn’t," he said plaintively, unable to keep the desperation out of his voice, "something no one else has. What is it?"
Not waiting for an answer, Harry was suddenly on his feet, kicking balloons and spilling his fears.
"I can’t do a tenth of what he can! I don’t have it in me to do what he does to people! I can’t possess them or kill them or torture them, even. How can I ever beat him? Everyone’s counting on me, but I’m just some stupid kid! I couldn’t even move when he had me cornered in the Ministry. I just stood there like I was paralysed or something. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do â€”"
Remus grabbed him by the shoulders. "You do know, Harry."
"I don’t!" Harry said desperately.
"You do know what you’re supposed to do right now," Remus insisted. "The prophecy came out before you were born, and every year since then you’ve grown stronger, learned more about yourself, about the world. You are definitely not â€˜some stupid kid’. Just think of all the things you know now that you didn’t know two, three, four years ago. The time may well come when you have to face Voldemort again, but right now he’s off hiding somewhere and you â€”" Remus stopped himself "â€” we have to focus on keeping you safe and getting you through school. We, Harry, you and me. We’re in this together, remember?"
Harry searched Remus’s eyes, and a half-forgotten feeling swelled inside his chest, pushing back the fear. For the first time since hearing the prophecy, he felt a glimmer of hope. If he could just keep Voldemort off his back for a while â€” and with Remus to help him â€” like he had with the Dementors â€” maybe there was a chance.
"There’s such power within you, Harry," Remus continued, "such strength. I know you can feel it, too. Some day you may have to tap into that power, and when that time comes, you’re going to be as prepared as we can make you. Right?" When Harry said nothing, Remus gripped his shoulders more firmly. "Right?"
Harry stood a little straighter and nodded â€” more confidently this time.
"You’re not a demon, Harry," Remus chastened him.
Harry regarded his feet sheepishly.
"Well," Remus conceded fairly, "maybe in the kitchen."
Elizabeth cursed herself. She’d done some stupid things on this trip but this was by far the most idiotic. She finally made it to the Magical Transportation Centre in Nice, on the French Riviera, but on presenting herself at the International Portkey Ticket Office, she did the unforgivable, she spoke in English. The French official sniffed disdainfully before advising she should return a week from Friday if she wanted to travel to Africa. Elizabeth hurriedly converted to perfectly fluent, university-accented French, but this only further ruffled the provincial Frenchman’s feathers. Things then went from bad to worse when Elizabeth suggested a little gold might help free up an earlier Portkey. The ticket window slammed shut and Elizabeth was left with no option but to fly to Ventimiglia, just across the French/Italian border, and try her luck there. When she arrived at the second ticket office, it was already closed for the day. Slumped dejectedly against the shut window, her luck suddenly changed.
A kindly Italian official in exquisitely tailored robes of gold and green tapped her on the shoulder. Elizabeth, close to tears by now, blurted her predicament in fractured Italian: she’d been travelling for days; she was desperate to reach her godson; the French in Nice turned her away; a goat ate her broom ...
The wizard, one Signor Bruno Vieri, could not speak for the goat, but he was appalled to hear of the Auror’s mistreatment at the hands of the French, though he said, with an exaggerated sigh, he was not at all surprised. Signor Vieri absolutely insisted Elizabeth join his wife, his mother, and his twelve children for supper, and he said he would make sure to put her on the first available Portkey the next morning. Within moments, Elizabeth was climbing out of a fireplace and into the cheerfully noisy Vieri kitchen, where Signor Vieri proclaimed the Auror’s plight (embellishing it considerably), with the result that Elizabeth and Evil found themselves being thoroughly clucked over by the entire family.
Mama Vieri would hear no talk of Elizabeth finding a hotel, and Elizabeth, having been out of the Wizarding World for the best part of two months and feeling particularly fragile after the last few days, was well inclined to accept the Vieri’s overwhelming hospitality. When dinnertime arrived, Mama Vieri beamed her approval as Elizabeth worked steadily through generous helpings of delicious gnocchi, pepperonata, Bolognese, and more. One of the sons even made a decent attempt at repairing Elizabeth’s broomstick, and the whole family came to see her off early on Tuesday morning. There was some minor embarrassment when the Portkey was a little late (it was Italy, after all), but, as with everything else in Italy, it all seemed to work out, and Elizabeth was genuinely sad to farewell her gracious hosts.
Soon, she was exiting the Tunisian Ministry of Magic, the dry heat nearly knocking her off her feet. She quickly took to the air and tried to find a nice moist cloud she could fly through as she made her way towards the ancient city of Carthage. Nearing the Bay of Tunis, she dropped her altitude and enjoyed the sweeping views. She could even spot Muggle bathers in expensive hotel swimming pools. As she neared where Black Island should be, her smile faded. She circled a few times.
I was sure I parked it here.
Harry woke on Tuesday morning to find a snake dangling overhead, idly tickling his ear with the tip of his tail. Harry yawned and stretched out under the covers.
"So, are you talking to me yet?" he asked.
"Is everyone really gone yet?" countered Frank.
"Yes, Frank," Harry said soothingly, "it’s just me and Remus â€” and Hermione, and she’s leaving today."
Frank slithered down the bedpost and got comfortable on Harry’s chest. He’d been most unimpressed, as it turned out, to have his personal domain invaded by â€˜all those horrible noisy people’, and he didn’t think much of the weird sisters either (and not just the ones in the band).
"Would you believe," he declared indignantly, "the pink one tried to take me swimming!"
Harry blurted a laugh but covered with a cough when Frank hissed disapprovingly.
"I thought snakes liked the water," Harry said. The Basilisk in the Chamber of Secrets certainly seemed to like things moist and wet.
"Yes, but not boiling, bubbling, water," Frank grumbled. "And all those tone-deaf redheads â€” I still can’t get their wretched song out of my head!"
"Hogwarts, Hogwarts, Hoggy Warty Hogwarts!" Frank hissed in disgust.
Harry laughed. "That’s my school song!"
Frank reared back, appalled, but his opinion on the merits of the ancient ditty was cut short by a knock on the door. Frank tensed, but it was only Remus with their morning drinks. Harry smiled to himself as he pushed off Frank and climbed out of bed to join Remus in their wingchairs.
"You know," Harry said teasingly, indicating his tea, "I’m gonna get spoiled if you keep doing this all summer."
"You’ll be back at school soon enough," Remus said, sipping on his coffee. "It’s been nice having someone to fuss over, really."
Harry smiled into his tea and let the steam briefly fog his glasses. He knew what Remus meant. His friends always made him feel welcome, wanted even, but it wasn’t quite the same as being needed.
"Can you see to Hermione’s breakfast later?" Remus asked. "I don’t think she’s up yet. I’ve a few errands to run before we meet her parents."
Harry nodded; he and Remus were joining the Grangers for lunch at Covent Garden, and Harry was very much looking forward to getting out of the house.
"What kind of errands?" he asked him. Harry didn’t really expect an answer, but he’d thought he’d try his luck anyway.
Remus winced a little and said, "I want to get a proper report on everything that’s been happening over at Privet Drive. A few things don’t seem to add up. I’m probably over-analysing, but I want to collect a few more facts, if possible. If I find anything useful, I’ll need to pay the Headmaster a visit."
Harry nodded, his curiosity satisfied â€” for now.
"So tell me, just how long are you planning on leaving him whistling Jingle Bells?"
Remus raised his hands helplessly. "He insists on cracking it himself."
"Will he?" asked Harry.
"Of course," Remus said smoothly then his lips twitched, "… eventually."
Harry grinned. "So you’re pretty good then â€” at hexes and stuff."
"I’ve had my moments," Remus admitted modestly.
"Can you show me?"
"What â€” the gender line?" Remus smiled reminiscently. "Your father was always after me to show him that."
"Not bloody likely!" Remus said, laughing. "Or chances are you’d’ve just celebrated Potterfest twenty, not sixteen!"
"Now, Moony," Harry said, adopting his most innocent voice, "how can you expect me to learn and grow if you won’t share your wisdom?"
Remus’s lips twitched in amusement. "Cheeky little bugger."
"Well, what about other hexes?" said Harry. "I want to learn as much as I can."
"Okay," Remus said, nodding approvingly, "but consider yourself warned," he added mysteriously, "it could get brutal."
Harry regarded his guardian fondly. "So you didn’t mind the prank too much the other night ..."
Remus’s eyes twinkled and he put a hand across his heart.
"I have never been more proud, Harry," he said. "I suspect Sirius would’ve been even more impressed," he added wryly.
"True," said Harry. It felt good to be able to talk normally about Sirius â€” to remember good things.
He ambled off to the bathroom to run a hot bath, and Remus loitered at the door, reminding him of the need for increased security now that Death Eaters were on the move again. There would be no more dates in Diagon Alley, and Remus made it clear he would not be attending the Quidditch without a chaperone â€” or three â€” to which Harry rolled long-suffering eyes.
"Are you sure you’ll be okay while I’m out?" Remus murmured, checking his watch. "I should be back by eleven, and someone from the Order will be around this morning ..."
"I don’t need a babysitter, Remus."
"There’s no harm in being careful," Remus countered. "In fact, maybe it’d be best if you stay home â€”"
"No way!" Harry said indignantly. "One way or another I’m getting out of this house today." Under the cover of gushing water, Harry added beneath his breath, "When d’you turn into such an old woman, anyway?"
It seemed werewolves had excellent hearing.
"You can’t be too careful about security, Harry," Remus said stiffly.
"You sound like Moody," Harry grumbled. "â€˜Constant vigilance’ ... constant paranoia, more like."
"Yes, well, it wouldn’t hurt for you to be a little more security conscious," Remus said sternly. "It’s not paranoia if someone actually is after you."
"I am careful!" insisted Harry. Remus raised one eyebrow cynically and Harry rolled his eyes again. "What? So you reckon someone’s gonna attack me in the bathtub?"
Harry waved his fusspot guardian away, and Remus left grumbling something about teaching his charge a few lessons about security. Harry closed the door and shook his head, thinking as he did so that Sirius Black and Remus Lupin were about as different as two guardians could possibly get.
Elizabeth finally spotted Black Island drifting several miles down the coastline. Sighing with relief, she accelerated towards it, her broomstick vibrating, birch twigs flying off into the wind.
"Come on," she begged her broom, "just a bit further ..."
On her descent, her broomstick was convulsing so badly she was nearly thrown off. Then the Braking Charm failed, sending her ploughing into the sand. Spitting out half the beach, she raised her head to find Black Island’s two house-elves helping her to her knees.
"Mistress, Mistress!" cried Dovey. "Are you all right?"
"Lovey see you fly in," Lovey fretted, brushing sand from Elizabeth’s cheeks. "Lovey tell Dovey is Mistress Elizabeth!"
"Dovey not believe Lovey!" Dovey confessed â€” smacking himself in the head for good measure.
"Evil ..." Elizabeth mumbled dazedly.
"Lovey has Kneazle," Lovey said soothingly, holding up Elizabeth’s rucksack. Evil’s ears peeked from the top.
The house-elves helped Elizabeth to the villa, and she let them mollycoddle her, drawing a hot bath and bringing her food and drink.
"Is been so long," Lovey tutted as she combed out Elizabeth’s freshly washed hair. "Lovey and Dovey wait and wait for Mistress Elizabeth and Master Sirius to come back. But we is always ready," she added quickly, nodding to herself, "always ready."
Elizabeth stared into the mirror, watching the elderly elf gently untangling her blonde knots.
"I’m sorry, Lovey," she said sincerely, "it must be very lonely for you both here, all alone ..."
Lovey’s big green eyes widened in horror.
"Oh, L-Lovey not c-complain," she stammered. "Lovey should not have said that! Bad Lovey!"
"Lovey â€” Lovey, it’s fine," said Elizabeth quickly, "I know you and Dovey are very happy working for the Black family. They’re exceptionally lucky to have two such fine and faithful servants."
Lovey swelled with pride. The Auror sighed inwardly. It was draining, sometimes, dealing with house-elf guilt trips.
"And you keep everything so spotless!" Elizabeth said warmly. "I know Master Sirius appreciates it enormously."
Lovey beamed adoringly at Elizabeth and resumed lovingly disentangling her tresses.
Elizabeth smiled sadly at the little elf. Lovey and Dovey had belonged to Alphard Black, who bequeathed them to Sirius all those years ago. Sirius did not know what to do with the grief stricken elves. Only just seventeen, he tentatively suggested they could have clothes if they liked. This had not gone down at all well. The house-elves clung desperately to Sirius, begging him not to set them free. Sirius agreed and the elves stayed on their beloved island home, faithfully serving him â€” even through his incarceration, never giving up hope, always ready for the day he would return to them. And he had, but he had not returned for two years now.
Ready at last to continue her journey, Elizabeth stood before the grandfather clock and strapped Evil tightly inside her Graphorn-hide rucksack.
"Sorry, precious," she apologised, "but I don’t know what we’re going to walk into. You’ll be safe in there."
Graphorn hide was even tougher than dragon hide and could repel most spells. The last time Elizabeth went through the grandfather clock it had taken hours for Kreacher to pull out all the darts from her back. Elizabeth suspected Sirius’s mother had deliberately hexed the clock for the express purpose of discouraging Alphard from visiting.
Drawing a deep breath, Elizabeth opened the grandfather clock, made a wish, and stepped inside.
Harry slid blissfully into his steaming bath. Holding his breath, he sank completely underwater enjoying the heat penetrating every inch of his body. Just as quickly, he erupted gasping for air and looking around crossly.
"Mirabella!" he glowered, slapping his hands against the surface of the water.
His haddock popped her head above the water line and winked at him with her false eyelashes.
"We have rules, Mirabella!" Harry said sternly, pushing dripping hair from his eyes.
"Oh, don’t mind me," Mirabella sniffed. "Just send all those people to invade my home without so much as a by your leave â€” not to mention those horrid bagpipes! And now you plunge into my home without even a hello!"
"I guess things have been a bit crazy in here," Harry conceded ruefully.
"Well," Mirabella conceded, "the black-haired ones were nice. Like you," she added sweetly.
Giggling, she swam away, her pink and purple scales rippling the water, slid from the bath, and wriggled up the wall to her favourite rock.
"The black-haired girl who came alone was the most interesting ..." Mirabella said dreamily. "We had the longest chat."
"And just what did you and Miss Cho chat about?" Harry asked, toying with the soap.
"You!" Mirabella said, flicking her tail playfully. "She wanted to know all about you ..."
"Er … what did you tell her?"
"Oh, you know … girl talk ..."
"What did you tell her?"
Mirabella reclined on her rock, basking in the charmed sunlight pouring through a false dome in the ceiling.
"Sing for me and I’ll sing for you," she offered cheekily.
"Do you like it when I sing?" Harry said curiously.
"Oh yes," Mirabella said happily. Leaping off the wall, she plunged into the water and swam over to him again. "You’re much better than those awful shaggy musicians."
"Hey!" cried a new voice indignantly.
The soap popped right out of Harry’s hands and skidded across the bathroom floor. Harry grabbed Mirabella to cover himself just as one of the half-sized Weird Sisters stumbled from the shower recess.
"Rockin’ party, man!" Donaghan Tremlett grunted approvingly. The lost bass-player peeked curiously over the edge of the bathtub. "Cute fish!" he said.
Mirabella giggled furiously.
"Do you mind!" Harry said crossly, struggling now with the wriggling fish. "Get back where you came from!"
The musician chuckled throatily and toddled off obediently to the shower. Harry released Mirabella and she frolicked around the tub while he washed his hair.
"I’ll tell you what Cho said if you sing for me," Mirabella reminded him when he was done.
Harry craned his neck; the bass player was now puddled on the floor of the shower recess, snoring. Relaxing back into his bath, Harry obliged his fish, lazily singing She’s Got a Tic in Her Eye. By the time he ran out of lyrics he could remember, he was feeling rather prune-like and started to get out of the bath.
"You know â€” Cho, was it? â€” I think she fancies you," Mirabella said dreamily.
Harry eased back down.
"Yeah," he said sheepishly, "maybe ... I think she does a bit."
"Oh yes," confided the haddock coyly, "she said you were quite a catch â€” not that I took offence at that," she assured him. "Yes, she kept going on and on about your beautiful, emerald-green eyes ..."
Harry heard a snicker from inside the shower.
"... and your creamy skin, and your soft-soft lips, and the way you pout sometimes …"
The guitarist laughed loudly. Harry’s face grew hot. "Right. Well, that’s probably enough of that â€”"
"... and how she feels all fluttery inside when you look at her all dreamy eyed and â€”"
"Okay, I get it," Harry snapped. The bass player stumbled from the cubicle, snorting with laughter.
"And when you kiss her ..." Mirabella cooed in a sing-song voice, "and when you press against her and she feels how much â€”"
Harry frantically grabbed the fish to shut her up. The bass player peered again over the edge of the tub and laughed harder. Mortified, Harry slid deep under the water, wishing the bath would just swallow him whole. Abruptly, he got his wish.
Kicking and clutching uselessly at the water, he was sucked straight into a yawning spa vent. Hot water shot up his nostrils as he pummelled through the pipes, as if on some mad water slide, skidding and bumping from side to side, his body banging through hairpin turns, his flesh ripping on jagged edges.
Harry thought his lungs would explode from lack of air, but that was suddenly the least of his problems. His body caught afire with a blast of scalding liquid searing his torn flesh. The water was gone in an instant and Harry hit solid ground, at first gasping for air then screaming in agony. Cruciatus was nothing to this! Convulsing in pitch-black darkness, Harry knew he was dead. Then the air turned frigid and the fire exploding in his skin dulled but only slightly. A putrid stench assaulted his nostrils; he gagged on the foul air and threw up. A dozen tiny flames flickered to life casting an eerie orange glow. They illuminated a face.
Horrified, Harry stared into the sneering, heavily lidded eyes of Bellatrix Lestrange.