Chapter 13 — Black, Blacker Than Black
By Lady Alchymia
Elizabeth slid through the grandfather clock, her wand at the ready, but nothing happened. The glass door swung shut with a tiny click. Someone’s been busy, she thought, smiling around at an elegantly furnished room. Not Sirius, surely â€” he was never one to care for interior decorating. Could there be a new Mrs Black? Balloons littered the floor. Elizabeth glanced upwards to see a single party-banner caught in the chandelier. Her smile widened.
360 sleeps to Potterfest17!
"Sirius?" Elizabeth called, shrugging off her rucksack.
A muffled scream sounded. Elizabeth rolled her eyes; it seemed Sirius’s mother was still hanging around. Bent over her rucksack, about to loosen the ties, Elizabeth heard a low growl. The hairs on the back of her neck lifted and she detected a strong whiff of cheap tobacco. Evil growled again. Elizabeth tightened her grip on her wand and tucked the rucksack safely under a side table.
"Quiet, sweetie," she murmured.
The growling ceased immediately; Evil was well trained. Elizabeth crept around the sofas. Abruptly, the shutters slammed shut. Pinpricks of sunlight sent slender beams at crazy angles across the room.
"Sirius?" Elizabeth called again â€” then in a stage whisper, "Kreacher?"
"Yer won’t find that traitor ’ere," growled a voice from behind the piano.
Elizabeth dropped and rolled away whilst shooting a Disarming Spell towards the tobacco smell. The man dived for safety, and the pair faced off in the dim room, each taking cover behind an overstuffed armchair. They traded a few curses, but it was really a stalemate; they were doing more damage to the furniture than each other. Elizabeth’s mind raced. If this man thought Sirius was a traitor â€” but Harry was clearly living here. Is this why she’d failed to reach any members of the Order of the Phoenix? Had Death Eaters taken the house? Had they captured Harry?
"Who are you?" they both yelled at the same time.
"I’m supposed to be here!" growled the man. "Who’re you?"
Elizabeth assessed the layout of the room. Think, Lizzie, she chastened herself. If they had Harry, where would they hold him? If it were her, she’d use the basement.
"Cat gotcha tongue?" Tobacco Man sniggered. "No matter â€” the others are coming."
Time to act, decided Elizabeth; she’d rather face one than a dozen. Holding her recently Splinched right hand close to her body, she screwed up her face in concentration. Nothing happened. She gave her cloak a swish. Still nothing. An Anti-Disapparition Jinx was going to make things difficult. With a flick of her wand, Elizabeth summoned every loose balloon to construct the world’s flimsiest room-divider. Tobacco Man snickered an ugly laugh.
"You’re gonna ’ave to do better than that, love."
Elizabeth hated being called love. With rapid jabs of her wand, she peppered the balloon-divider with hundreds of sharp little pins. Tobacco Man swore in fright. Elizabeth rushed through the exploding balloons and stunned him. Leaving him prone on the floor, she dashed for the door then froze. A snake lay in the doorway; behind it stood a blonde witch, her wand pointing straight at Elizabeth’s head.
"Zat is far enough," she said in a heavy French accent.
The snake turned on its mistress, jaws bared, and the woman started in surprise. Elizabeth, for one, wasn’t going to let the distraction go to waste.
"STUPEFY!" she cried and the woman crumpled to the floor. Elizabeth squinted curiously at the snake. Did it just wink at her? "Thank you very much," she offered, winking back at it. The snake bowed low.
Elizabeth conjured ropes and soon had Tobacco Man and Frenchie tightly bound together on the floor. Stepping over their bodies, she peered into the hallway. The snake slithered after her. Elizabeth had no idea why it helped her, but she could use all the distractions she could get.
"Come on then," she whispered; she got the oddest sensation it was having a grand adventure.
Hugging the wall, they inched towards the stairs. The snake slithered forward and peeked through the balustrades then twisted back and shook its head. It was clearly warning her about something. Tobacco Man said â€˜the others’ were coming. He also said she wouldn’t find Sirius here. Considering what she’d gone through to gain entry to the house, Elizabeth had no intention of leaving just yet, not until she knew where Harry was. Backing away, she created an anti-gravity mist and sent it drifting down the stairs. Retreating to the dark drawing room, she stole a few silver-blonde hairs from Frenchie’s head and reached inside her robes for the hip-flask of Polyjuice Potion she was never without.
Elizabeth slammed into a wall and screamed in agony as her wand, gripped tightly, flew across the room. More curses rained down upon her, and she crumpled to the floor, clutching at her spurting wrist.
"GEORGE!" yelled a furious female voice. "What the hell do you think you’re doing? I said wait!"
George looked thoroughly unnerved as he struggled with Elizabeth’s bloodied hand, smashing it repeatedly against a wall to shake loose her sparking wand. Suddenly, the room was full of people. A pink-haired witch barked orders to secure the building then petrified the stump of Elizabeth’s arm.
"Can’t have you bleeding to death on us, now can we?" she said coolly.
Breathing hard, her jaws clenched, Elizabeth met her captor’s gaze squarely. Through the haze of pain, something tugged at her memory: black eyes, heart-shaped face ... definitely had the look of a Black about her, a family historically riddled with Dark-Lord sympathisers.
Tobacco Man and Frenchie were revived and joined half-a-dozen other angry witches and wizards holding wands on Elizabeth. The snake wasn’t taking this lying down; it reared at George, hissing furiously.
"Stupefy!" George cried.
The snake flew high in the air then slammed heavily onto the floor.
"Who are you?" Pink demanded of Elizabeth.
Her breath ragged, Elizabeth said nothing. One of their hexes was keeping an invisible weight pressed hard upon her chest.
"Give her a mint," suggested a second redhead, a twin of the first. He had a very ugly glint in his eye.
"Forcing someone to take Veritaserum is illegal, Fred," Pink said casually. Elizabeth’s eyes widened. "But I’m sure it won’t come to that," continued Pink serenely. "Will it?" she said softly, a clear note of menace in her voice. "Who are you?" she demanded again.
Elizabeth swallowed; Crucio’s were one thing â€” but truth serum? She couldn’t risk it. Perhaps if she gave up a little information voluntarily ...
"Ramsay," she rasped, "Elizabeth Ramsay."
Pink’s wand held steady, but she was frowning, as though trying to remember something. Tobacco Man pulled a slim roll of parchment from within his ragged robes and held it up to a sliver of sunlight stealing through the shutters. Squinting, he ran a grubby finger down the edge.
"Not on the list!" he declared self-righteously. "Knew we had a live one!"
A wild-haired girl ran into the room, crying, "What’s going on?"
"Doesn’t anyone understand proper protocols!" Pink grumbled.
"What happened to Frank?" demanded the girl then she saw Elizabeth. "What’s going on?"
Frenchie answered her. "We ’ave an intruder. Why are you ’ere?" she demanded haughtily of Elizabeth.
"She was calling out for Kreacher!" Tobacco Man snarled.
Still struggling to breathe, Elizabeth decided the truth was both believable and essentially harmless, all things considered.
"I was trying â€” trying to find â€” Harry â€” Harry Potter," she bit out.
"She Splinched!" the teenage girl cried triumphantly, jabbing a finger towards the stump of Elizabeth’s arm. "You were at Privet Drive, weren’t you!" she declared accusingly.
Startled, Elizabeth nodded slightly. Pink was still frowning.
"Did you say Ramsay?" she asked slowly.
"And just what do you want with Harry?" shrieked the teenage girl, her hair crackling with electricity. "Doing your master’s dirty work, I suppose!"
Elizabeth stared at the girl. What â€˜master’? Something didn’t add up. Her captors grew impatient. The invisible weight on Elizabeth’s chest crept up her throat, pressing hard on her windpipe.
"Harry’s my â€” my â€” god â€” godson," she rasped defensively.
She expected the group to snicker derisively, but they didn’t. They merely looked surprised. They continued to hold their wands steadily over her but started whispering amongst themselves â€” everyone except the girl.
"Harry doesn’t have a godmother!" she declared loudly then pursed her lips, not looking entirely sure of herself.
"She ain’t on the list, Tonks!" Tobacco Man insisted.
Elizabeth’s heart sank at the name. Not Andromeda’s little girl ... the pink hair ...
"Dora?" she said weakly â€” a Death Eater like her Aunt Bellatrix?
Nymphadora Tonks swore softly and lowered her wand. Noises sounded from the hallway. Footsteps stumbled on the stairs. Elizabeth gasped as Remus appeared in the doorway, breathless, wand in hand, followed a moment later by yet another redhead. Remus stared in shock at Elizabeth, crumpled against the wall, then at the crescent moon of muttering Death Eaters.
"George," he growled, white-faced with fury, "would you please be so kind as to unhand my wife?"
A stunned silence fell as Remus strode into the room and took possession of Elizabeth’s hand and wand. George tried to stammer an apology, but Remus angrily shoved him away and rushed to kneel beside his wife. Elizabeth’s heart beat madly with relief â€” and not a little elation. With a flick of Remus’s wand, the shutters flew open and the room flooded with sunlight once more. The attackers lowered their wands and looked guiltily at each other. Well, not the French witch so much.
"Remus, I’m so sorry," Nymphadora said, falling to her knees next to him. "I can reattach it â€” truly."
Remus’s eyes travelled to the wide streak of blood smearing the wall. The dark look he delivered to the woman guaranteed she’d dearly regret it if she failed. He carefully cradled Elizabeth’s hand up to its frozen limb whilst the Reattachment Charm was cast. Elizabeth loosed an involuntary yelp of pain.
"It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s just broken!" Nymphadora jumped in nervously before Remus could bite her head off. "Episkey! Episkey! Episkey!" she recited with successive taps of her wand, and Elizabeth’s bones mended, but everything was very wobbly.
Remus shoved Nymphadora aside â€” none too gently â€” and conjured bandages and splints.
"We should get you to Saint Mungo’s," he said hoarsely, as he tightly bound Elizabeth’s bruised and swollen hand. "Have them check you over."
Elizabeth dragged her eyes away from her husband to look warily around at what was now an embarrassed audience rather than a band of Death Eaters. Murmured apologies sounded from around the group, fading to an awkward silence. She could feel them surreptitiously lifting their various hexes. When her legs regained enough feeling, Remus helped her to her feet and sat her down in the least damaged armchair.
Leaning over her, he whispered, "I â€” I should’ve known you’d come â€” I’m so sorry, Lizzie."
Elizabeth sucked in a breath ... same shampoo ...
"Are you okay?" he asked worriedly, searching her eyes.
She nodded distractedly; she really wished she’d taken the time to straighten her eyebrows.
"The snake â€” is it okay?" she said. "It tried to help me."
Wincing, George revived the snake. It weaved unsteadily, as if drunk, then its head banged back onto the floor. The bushy-haired girl rushed to pick it up. It dangled limply in her arms, hissing softly.
"She weren’t on the list, Tonks," Tobacco Man insisted nervously. Nymphadora silenced him with a look of the very deepest disgust.
Elizabeth wanted to ask Remus about Sirius, but she didn’t know these people, didn’t know if they knew the truth of his innocence. Tobacco Man called him a traitor; did the others think that?
"Remus, where’s Harry?" she asked instead. "Is he all right?"
Remus shook himself back to the present.
"Harry â€” of course." He stood up to look around. "Good question. Tonks?"
Nymphadora spun on Tobacco Man.
"Dung?" she snapped.
"Eh? Harry?" Dung shrugged blankly. "Got summoned, didn’t he. Be in the Panic Room, most like."
Remus frowned deeply.
"What Panic Room?"
Harry recoiled in horror from Bellatrix Lestrange, but it was only a photograph. Half-frozen, he scrambled on his belly in a cramped pile of refuse. He suddenly knew exactly where he was. Bile rose in his throat at the rancid smell. Convulsing, he tried without success to stop his head spinning. Think! Remus and Hermione would come looking for him, surely! But would they find him down here?
He tried to lift himself up enough to fumble at the door, but there was no handle. He pounded weakly and screamed for help. The activity made him thaw out a little and the fire came back, as if thousands of white-hot arrows were piercing his skin. Collapsing again, he scratched frantically at the bottom of the rotted door. If he could just break through ...
His fingernails were split and bloody by the time he gave up. Wave after agonising wave of pain pummelled him. He tried to breathe through it, but the fetid stench of decomposing rats was overwhelming. Freezing and shaking, he curled into an increasingly tight ball. It wasn’t nearly cold enough â€” he could still feel ...
His breath miraculously turned blessedly icy just as a rapid firing of distant bangs sounded. Jerking his head upwards, he hit the frozen boiler and all went black.
"This had better be important," Severus Snape sneered, sweeping into the drawing room.
"Did Dung fill you in?" Remus asked briskly.
"He said there was a false alarm," Snape said scornfully. "What is it this time? Some prank gone awry?"
Elizabeth stood in the shadows of the room watching the man she loved more than any other converse with the man she hated more than any other. Severus Snape continued wasting time, amusing himself by making them all wait. He cast a lazy glance at the damaged armchairs and snickered insipidly.
"Tsk, tsk … and after all that work to make the place cosy for your pampered little prince."
Elizabeth stepped out of the shadows.
"That’s quite enough. Where’s Harry?" she demanded, coldly and clearly.
Snape turned to the new voice. What little colour there was in his face drained completely away.
"Madam Ramsay," he said stupidly.
"Where â€” is â€” Harry Potter?" Elizabeth bit through gritted teeth.
Snape, never a tall man but still taller than her, pulled himself up straighter. His beady eyes flicked around the unfriendly room. With what he clearly thought was a gallant sweep of his arm, he motioned towards the door, inviting Elizabeth to follow.
"The boy is quite safe, I assure you," he said stiffly.
Turning, he strode from the room, his travelling cloak billowing.
Harry stood atop a craggy mountain. He could feel the wind whistling around him, but there was no sound â€” none at all. He could see for miles and miles in every direction â€” and all at once â€” as if he had a thousand eyes.
It was so peaceful. He could see animals grazing, farmers tending their fields, villages, houses, hearths. He could see the face of a baby nestled in a crib by the fire. The baby’s eyes opened. They were a brilliant green. Harry fell into them and saw nerves, blood, bone, brains. He was rushing through a vein, surfing on speeding red blood cells. A single heartbeat thumped. Louder. Faster.
Then it stopped.
As the search party descended the stairs, Mad-Eye Moody came stumping loudly through the front door, his magical eye spinning furiously, setting off old Mrs Black yet again.
"Kreacher’s cupboard?" he roared at Snape. "That’s your idea of a panic room?"
Remus pushed past Snape and bolted for the basement. The rest raced after him, leaving Mrs Black to wail alone.
"GET HIM OUT OF THERE, LUPIN!" Mad-Eye bellowed. "NOW!"
Remus ran down the left lane of some kind of Muggle bowling alley, skidding on the polished wood, using Reductor Curses to blast apart the pins and ball-return apparatus, Elizabeth and the others close behind. Remus kept blasting until he reached the door of the old boiler cupboard â€” Kreacher’s den. Moody, looking paler than usual, hurriedly hobbled and slid down the slippery alley after them, tripping in the gutters, his wand jabbing at the air, removing protective charms as he went. Elizabeth and Remus wrenched open the ice encrusted door and stared into their worst nightmare.
A foul stench assaulted Elizabeth’s nose, but it was the sight of Harry curled like a foetus, bloodied and lifeless beneath an iced over boiler that made her scream. His thin, naked body was caked in blood, filth, and frost. Frozen fingers clutched his shoulders. Blood icicles hung from gashes on his back and legs. Pandemonium erupted, everybody trying desperately to assist. The bushy-haired girl was screaming hysterically. It took both redheaded twins to hold her back.
"GET BACK!" Moody roared.
Moody whipped off his cloak and laid it on the floor whilst Elizabeth levitated Harry, still in a foetal position, out of the cupboard and onto the cloak. Harry didn’t stir whilst she and Remus wrapped him carefully in Moody’s cloak. Elizabeth issued the counter-spell to unfreeze him. To her horror, she discovered he was not under a Freezing Charm at all, he was actually frozen â€” Muggle style.
"Remus," sobbed the teenage girl, "he can’t be â€” hic â€” REMUS!"
Elizabeth checked the body for a pulse. There wasn’t one.
"We need to warm him up," she said to Remus. "Remus, look at me!"
But Remus just stared at Harry’s lifeless face, his blue lips, his cracked and frosted skin. Elizabeth and Moody tried to revive Harry with wands full of hot air and Renervation Charms. Other wands jabbed urgently over their shoulders, doing the same. The air grew thick with heat. Remus shook off his stupor and frantically joined in. Frost on Harry’s eyelashes turned to water and dribbled over the bridge of his crimson nose. One eye opened a bare slit, revealing a sliver of brilliant green.
"He’s alive!" cried Elizabeth.
Sucking in air, a deep hacking cough shook Harry’s body.
"Harry! Can you hear me?" Remus begged. "Harry! Stay with me, son!"
But Harry was screaming in agony, his body convulsing in shock.
"You’re killing him!" shrieked the teenage girl. "Stop it! Stop it!"
Elizabeth refroze Harry, magically this time.
"Saint Mungo’s," Remus ordered shakily. "Fred, hail the Knight Bus; we’re right behind you."
Harry stared groggily down upon a scene that refused to stay still, as if in a gyrating pensieve. A red-skinned boy floated unconscious between two people in lime-green robes. They were waving brass instruments all over his body and muttering strange incantations that were all Greek to Harry. Growing bored, he wandered off, searching for something â€” though he wasn’t sure what. He heard a voice singing and followed the sound. A woman was cradling her baby, singing it a lullaby. Harry drew closer to her; Neville’s round happy face smiled back at him.
Elizabeth prowled the corridor outside the Balfour Bane Critical Care Unit on the fourth floor of Saint Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries. After an interminable wait, a Healer in lime-green robes emerged, her crisp white headdress bobbing from side-to-side. She wasn’t smiling.
"Good morning," she said quietly. "I am Healer Flavia Dee. I need to ask a few questions about how Harry was burned. Is someone able to â€”"
"Burned?" blurted Remus.
"We found him frozen with cold ..." Elizabeth said weakly.
The Healer’s smooth brow creased.
"Yes, about that …" she said, pausing to look around at the large group of people, "… is there a family member I might speak with?"
"I’m Harry’s guardian," Remus said, stepping forward, "Lupin, Remus Lupin."
The Healer made a note on her clipboard. "If you could follow me please, Mr Lupin ..."
"My wife ..." he murmured, looking back to Elizabeth.
"Of course," the Healer said kindly, holding her hand out to both of them.
Remus and Elizabeth found Harry floating, unfrozen and unconscious, in the centre of a round, wood-panelled room. Mounted at intervals around the walls were long parchment scrolls charmed to display his life and death signs. A sheet was draped modestly over the boy, hovering a few inches clear of his body, stark-white against the livid red and black of his skin. Healer Dee introduced a second Healer with a thick, straw-coloured beard: Healer-in-Charge Patrick Abercrombie. He gave the distraught Lupins a cursory nod then returned to carefully inspecting Harry’s swollen right eye.
"We think Harry froze himself to escape the pain," Healer Dee murmured to the Lupins. "He’s in an enchanted sleep right now, a kind of stasis. He can’t feel anything. But we do need to know more about his injuries in order to respond appropriately."
Remus stared stupidly at the woman before finding his voice. "I couldn’t have been gone more than half an hour. He was going to take a bath. He â€” he was filling the tub when I left ..."
The Healers exchanged a look.
"A scalding could be consistent with the burns ..." Healer Abercrombie said slowly. "Did you find him in the bath?"
A painful sob escaped Elizabeth’s lips.
"No," she said, pulling herself together. "There was some kind of security charm â€” it summoned Harry to â€” to a kind of panic room. I â€” I was the one who tripped the alarm."
"You couldn’t have known," Remus said hoarsely. "I didn’t know about it either."
"Can you heal him?" Elizabeth begged the Healers.
"We shall do our best, Mrs Lupin," Healer Dee said carefully. "But there’s something else: these gashes ..." She gently rotated Harry’s body to point them out. "These were made before Harry was burned. You see how they are partly sealed over? Do you have any idea how this might have happened?"
Healer Abercrombie put it more bluntly. "Could someone have attacked him then thrown him into a scalding bath?"
Elizabeth and Remus gaped in silent horror at the man.
"Was anyone else in the house at the time?" Healer Dee probed more gently.
"Hermione," Remus rasped, dragging his eyes away from Harry’s devastated body. "I’ll get her."
He returned momentarily, his arm draped around the girl’s shoulders. Hermione’s eyes were bloodshot and her face ashen. The Healers questioned her but could not learn anything about another intruder.
"He was in the bathroom ..." Hermione repeated, her eyes glazing over as she stared on Harry’s almost petrified face. "Pipes ..." she breathed softly. Her eyes widened in alarm. "Pipes!" The four adults stared at the girl. "He went through the pipes. He went through the boiler! That’s how he got burned!"
There was a resounding, appalled silence into which Healer Abercrombie said gruffly, "That’d do it."
The discussion shifted towards treatment options. Considering the extent of Harry’s injuries, the Healers were recommending a Mercurial Waters bath. Elizabeth’s anxiety deepened; she had heard too many horror stories of transmutations performed in years past, causing blindness, sterility, even death, usually at the hands of amateurs using raw mercury in the Waters.
"Mercury?" Remus checked, frowning deeply. "Mercury’s pretty toxic, isn’t it?"
"But you’d use philosophical mercury, wouldn’t you?" Hermione said, wringing her hands. Elizabeth shot the girl an approving glance â€” she knew her stuff.
"But of course," Healer Dee assured them. "We remove the toxins, and Essence of Murtlap and other painkillers are added to the Waters, which greatly reduces the pain of transmutation. It really is the best course of action for returning Harry to full health. I won’t lie to you though," she said steadily, "it’s not a comfortable experience, but it is bearable."
A most horrible of realisations dawned upon the visitors.
"You mean he will be conscious for the treatment?" Remus asked, as appalled as Elizabeth at the idea of reviving a child with such injuries.
Healer Dee winced sympathetically. "Mercurial Waters are powered by a patient’s life-force. And accessing that energy is reliant on him exercising his free will in not resisting the transmutations. We need Harry to heal himself."
Remus needed more options.
"Burns can be treated topically," Healer Abercrombie conceded, "but the process would be just as painful. And it won’t help the frostbite on his fingers and toes. They’d need to be treated with digit regrowth spells and potions ..." The wizard glanced down at Harry. "Not much fun there, either," he added gruffly. "And then there are these gashes to be treated ... and the blows to his skull. Each injury can be treated individually, but the results would not be as good. And the risk of lasting incapacitation is much greater. Frostbite is actually one of the more difficult injuries to treat. The digits can be regrown using potions, but the tips will never regain the same degree of sensitivity."
The Healers gave the Lupins a moment to think about it, and busied themselves at a worktable full of mortars and pestles and half-filled pelican gourds perspiring over purple flames. Trying not to be too obvious about it, Elizabeth scrutinised the Healers from a distance as they purified transmuting agents. She was relieved to see that they knew what they were doing. Remus tugged her aside.
"You’re the potions expert," he murmured hoarsely. "What do you think of this bath option?"
"Do you think he can cope with the pain," Elizabeth asked him very seriously.
An internal battle waged behind Remus’s eyes. At last, he nodded stiffly.
"Then I think it might be the better option for him," she said softly, and Remus nodded again.
Whilst the Healers prepared the bath, Elizabeth reflexively searched the walls for signs of life. Almost at once, she located Harry’s Wheel of Anxiety. It was hard to miss: a vivid pie-chart in copper, silver, and gold showing the life-force energy levels in each of his body, mind, and soul. She could see, even from across the room, that his soul was highly charged, but his body …
"His salts shouldn’t be that low, should they?" she ventured to Healer Dee when she could hold her tongue no longer.
"What? Where?" Hermione said urgently, looking helplessly around the walls.
Healer Dee took a horribly long moment before responding.
"I don’t wish to alarm you," she said in a carefully calm tone, "but before Harry was revived this morning, he was, well, clinically dead. His heart stopped beating and his soul started leaving his dying body."
Elizabeth’s insides, already tied in knots, constricted painfully â€” as if someone had tied a rubber band around her chest and was pulling tighter and tighter. A Shaman’s Death â€” a Dementor’s Kiss would finish the job in an instant!
"His body and soul are still connected," Healer Dee assured the visitors, "but the bond has been severely weakened."
Hermione’s swollen eyes darted around desperately, as if she might see Harry’s soul float past like a balloon on a string.
"Will the bath heal that, as well?" Remus asked bleakly.
"Harry’s soul isn’t injured, Mr Lupin," Healer Dee murmured soothingly, "merely highly charged. As his body heals, his soul should return the energy it withdrew."
"And if his body doesn’t heal?"
Healer Dee didn’t seem to have an answer for that. Elizabeth could tell Remus was trying desperately to hold it together.
"But if he’s short on salts, shouldn’t you be putting him in a salt bath?" he persisted.
Healer Dee looked at him blankly for a moment. "Oh â€” I see what you mean. No, no â€” not table salt â€” he’s low on the Salt of the Philosophers."
Remus nodded tersely though the look he spared to Elizabeth as he turned away confided he had not a clue what that meant.
"The energy keeping your body strong and healthy," Elizabeth murmured to him, nodding to the Wheel of Anxiety, where Harry’s soul section was shining sulphurous gold at the expense of his body, which registered barely a glitter of copper-coloured salts. "His soul is sucking up most of his body’s life-force."
"And the mind follows wherever the soul goes," Remus said desolately.
"Nearly ready," Healer Abercrombie said, tipping a third cauldron of slippery quicksilver into a sarcophagus filled with Healing Dew.
"There is something we could do to make things more comfortable for Harry before we start the treatment," Healer Dee offered hesitantly. "To suppress the pain, a short Imperius Curse â€”"
"You can’t do that!" blurted Hermione.
Healer Dee shifted uncomfortably. "It’s a Ministry-approved use for medicinal purposes when â€”"
"I didn’t mean that," said Hermione quickly. "I mean, he’ll resist it â€” he’ll throw it off."
Healer Abercrombie regarded the girl sceptically. "He can throw off an Imperius Curse?"
Hermione nodded. "Even Lord Voldemort â€”" The Healers gasped and Hermione pursed her lips in annoyance. "You-Know-Who, then. Even he couldn’t hold Harry under."
Elizabeth wasn’t the only one to gasp at that.
"Can you be ready to put him to sleep again if he throws it off?" Remus asked.
The Healers nodded and Remus gave his consent, quickly signing several forms Healer Dee handed him.
"I should warn you not to expect Harry to be too lucid," she advised them, "he’s had several bad blows to the head."
Remus and Elizabeth watched in tense silence as the Healers prepared to wake Harry up. Elizabeth felt something touching her fingers. Startled, she looked down in at their interlinked hands. When did that happen? So many emotions churned inside her, but she savoured the gentle touch and squeezed his hand back gratefully.
"Finite Incantatem! Imperio!" commanded Healer Dee in quick succession, ending the Enchanted Sleep then casting the Unforgivable Curse before Harry could feel any pain.
Slowly, Harry’s green eyes blinked open, glazed and empty.
"Harry, my name is Healer Dee. You’ve been in an accident and you are currently in Saint Mungo’s Hospital."
Harry blinked at the woman but said nothing.
"Harry?" Healer Dee prompted gently.
Harry managed a slight moan.
"We’re going to take care of your injuries, but we need your help."
Harry blinked slowly, his eyes unfocused.
"We need to place you in a medicinal bath to treat your â€” Harry, no, you have to stay still! â€” Harry, Harry, listen to me!"
Harry’s back arched in agony.
"Morpheo!" Healer Abercrombie cried, and Harry fell immediately back to sleep.
"Right ..." Healer Dee said unsteadily, smoothing Harry’s floating sheet unnecessarily. "Er, right ... perhaps he’d respond better to a familiar face ... Mr Lupin?"
Remus swallowed nervously and stepped closer to Harry whilst Healer Dee recast the spells.
"Harry," she started again, "I want you to listen to your guardian."
"Snuffles ...?" Harry said happily. Hermione stifled a sob.
"Harry, it’s Remus," he said hoarsely, searching the boy’s eyes for recognition.
"M â€” Moon?" murmured the boy dazedly. He looked as if he was trying to smile.
His eyes moist, Remus reflexively lifted a hand to Harry’s face then pulled it back again, for there was not a single inch of the boy that was safe to touch.
"Yes, son," he said huskily, "it’s Moony. How do you feel?"
"Harry, I â€”"
"Where’s Mrs Neville?" Harry murmured vaguely.
"Harry, I need you to listen to me ..."
"She’s gone," Harry said, sounding mildly confused but not particularly upset.
"Harry, you’ve been in an accident â€”"
"Gone ..." Harry repeated distantly.
"Harry, you’ve been in an accident and you’ve been badly burned â€”"
"Yes, Harry, I’m right here. Listen to me, please. You’ve been burned and I need you to let the Healers take care of you. They need you to take a bath with medicine to heal you ..."
Harry’s head jerked a little. "No â€” no bath."
"Harry, please," Remus begged, "you have to â€”"
The boy’s eyes grew more focused. His body started to shake.
"I â€” I won’t!" he rasped.
"Morpheo!" cried Healer Abercrombie, and Harry fell back to sleep.
The Healers and visitors all looked around at each other despondently.
"Can’t really blame him," Remus said shakily, "all things considered."
Hermione wrung her hands.
"May I try?"
"Harry! Harry, look at me, please ... it’s me ... Hermione."
Hermione’s familiar face swam in and out of focus for Harry.
"’Lo," he said, feeling vaguely happy for some reason. He tried to raise his hand, but he couldn’t quite work out where it was. He felt a little surprised by that but not at all concerned.
"Harry," said Hermione, "you’ve been hurt ... you’ve been burned."
"Okay," Harry said dreamily.
Being burned felt wonderful ... all floaty. He was dimly aware of other faces looking down on him, though he didn’t know why. Maybe he was in a zoo? He freed a snake from a zoo once. He’d have to tell Frank. Frank would understand. Harry dreamily watched a pair of flickering candles spinning slowly above his head. They twirled around each other ... like dancers ... like Remus and Hestia. Maybe Remus could show him how to dance. Then he could twirl Cho like that.
"I’m right here, Harry," Remus rasped, leaning over him.
Harry tried to focus on the fuzzy outline of Remus’s face.
"You’ll teach me?" he asked.
"Of course," Remus whispered soothingly.
Harry pictured himself spinning around the drawing room with Cho. But Cho’s hair was all wrong â€” it was black â€” shouldn’t it be all red and gold, like the flames on the candles? He tried to hold onto the thought, but it slipped away. Hermione was talking again. He had to listen to Hermione.
"Harry, you’ve been badly burned."
Harry watched with mild curiosity as Hermione very gingerly held up a raw, ugly red hand on a skinny red arm. Harry knew that hand. It belonged to the red snake-baby. But it was too big. The baby must have grown up ... all grown up ...
"This is your hand," Hermione said matter-of-factly.
Harry moved his thumb and was mildly surprised to see the red hand’s thumb shake.
"Okay," he agreed dazedly; he must be a snake baby, too. A sudden wave of undefined revulsion surged inside him, but it disappeared just as quickly and he felt all wonderfully floaty again.
"Do you see the black bits?" prompted Hermione.
"Your fingers are hurt â€” we need to fix your fingers â€” if we don’t, then you won’t be able to play the guitar again â€” or Quidditch. You won’t be able to grab the Snitch."
Harry frowned. He liked playing the guitar. And he liked playing Quidditch.
"Fix fingers," he agreed. Yeah, he thought contentedly, that sounded like a good idea.
"Harry, do you remember when you burned your fingers on the stove?"
"Well, this is much, much worse than that," said Hermione.
"Worse," agreed Harry.
"Harry, do you trust me?"
"Course I do, silly," he said fondly.
"Harry, there’s a way of fixing your fingers, but you might not like it very much. There’s a special potion, but you would have to lie down in the potion for it to work."
Harry’s misty eyes regarded Hermione affectionately; she always had such crazy ideas.
"Lie down in a potion?" he repeated.
"Yes," she said, "lie down in a potion."
"Snake babies go in potions," he observed with a resigned sigh. "But I’m not evil, honest."
"That’s right, Harry," Hermione said quickly, "but you are hurt and you need to lie down in the potion to get better. Would you like to do that? Would you like to fix your fingers?"
Harry’s mind wandered. What music were they playing? Oh yeah, Miss Bones. He watched Hestia and Remus candle-dancing again and hummed along happily.
"Harry, look at me, please!" Hermione begged, leaning closer over him. She was trembling as she held up the shrivelled hand again. "Please, Harry, would you like to fix your fingers?"
Harry gazed into Hermione’s swollen eyes, her face so close he could see a tear dribbling down her cheek. He thought he should probably be upset about that, but as soon as the thought came into his head, it was gently wiped away again. Curious, he moved one cracked and blackened fingertip to Hermione’s cheek. He watched his finger touch the tear, but he couldn’t feel it. He thought maybe he should do something about that but the thought was hard to hold onto.
"Why are you crying?" he asked her dreamily.
"Because I want you to get better; I want you to lie down in the potion."
Harry looked at his hand then back to Hermione.
"’Kay," he said contentedly.
Hermione’ll fix it; she’s good at potions.