Chapter 14 — Mercurial Waters
By Lady Alchymia
Having convinced Harry to accept treatment, Hermione collapsed, faint with relief, into Remus’s tight embrace. Still under an Imperius Curse, Harry had no idea what he was in for, which was probably just as well in Elizabeth’s opinion. She moved closer and tried to smile encouragingly while the Healers prepared his sarcophagus.
"I know you," Harry said dreamily. Remus and Hermione broke apart at the sound of his voice.
"Try to rest, Harry," Elizabeth urged him.
"You’re my frog," he said happily. He looked confused for a moment. "My frog-mother."
A sob caught in Elizabeth’s throat.
"That’s right, Harry," she agreed thickly; she’d be a toad if it kept him happy.
Harry’s head lolled.
"Mirabella?" he called distantly.
Elizabeth looked helplessly at Remus and Hermione. Just as puzzled, they mouthed, "Who?"
"Can’t have a bath without Mirabella," Harry said dreamily.
"Mirabella isn’t here right now, Harry," said Hermione. "Maybe you could have a bath with her tomorrow ..."
"Mirabella doesn’t like it when I ignore her," Harry assured her. "No, indeed."
His eyes grew less vacant. Hermione shot a frantic look at Remus, who drew his wand and moistened his lips.
"We’ll find her for you, Harry," Hermione said.
A look of pain crossed Harry’s face but disappeared quickly and he started humming contentedly to himself again.
The Healers half-pushed, half-floated a great marble sarcophagus to the middle of the room and levitated Harry above it. Healer Dee fussed with his sheet, draping it modestly over the edges. Beneath him floated a blanket of toxin-free quicksilver: thick silver globules smothering a cloudy mixture of Healing Dew, Murtlap Essence and other painkillers.
"What are you doing?" Hermione blurted. She clapped a hand across her mouth. "Sorry, sorry."
Healer Dee shook out a flexible flesh-coloured tube.
"Extendible Nose," she explained. "Since we need to keep Harry awake, this will allow him to breathe underwater." She returned to gently fitting Harry with two nostril plugs. "This will help you breathe, Harry," she told him. She threw a sheepish look to the visitors. "You wouldn’t believe me if I told you where we get them from."
Harry stopped humming long enough to nod wisely and say, "Better than Gillyweed."
"That’s right, Harry," Healer Dee said approvingly. "This is much better."
Hermione smiled weakly. "He used Gillyweed once â€” to breathe underwater."
"Got gills and everything," said Harry.
The Healer smiled slightly. "Well, we don’t need Gillyweed this time â€” wouldn’t want to confuse things by you sprouting gills and transmuting into a fish, now would we?"
"No gills," Harry agreed dreamily. "I don’t think Mirabella has gills ... she probably doesn’t need them."
"No, I wouldn’t think so," agreed the Healer. She shrugged her shoulders slightly at the others, as if to say, â€˜whatever keeps him happy’. She nodded to her colleague and murmured, "Any ears over there, Patrick?"
Healer Abercrombie shook his head and shot a silver arrow from his wand to the door. The communications dart slid through the keyhole. One minute later, a volunteer Apparated into the room. Elizabeth recognised the uniform: white headdress and robes with a lime-green, dragon-hide apron. The girl was holding what looked like an Extendible Ear.
"Over here," Healer Abercrombie ordered. But the girl remained rooted to the spot, staring in wide-eyed horror at Harry. Remus rushed to the girl.
"Cho, don’t," he said hoarsely, trying to turn her away from Harry. The girl’s legs gave out and he caught her.
Hermione quickly blocked Harry’s view, but Harry was oblivious.
"That’ll do, Chang," Healer Abercrombie said gruffly, retrieved the ear. "Run along then."
"What happened?" she begged Remus in a whisper, but Remus had no words. Hermione hurried over.
"Cho, there was a terrible accident, but he’s going to be okay," she said firmly, as if to convince herself as much as the other girl.
Elizabeth’s heart went out to the girl; it would surely be your worst fear working in a hospital to see a friend come in so badly injured.
"School friend?" Healer Dee murmured.
"Girlfriend," Remus said tightly.
Elizabeth winced sympathetically, as did the Healers, but as sympathetic as they might be, no one was keen to let her anywhere near Harry.
"No, you stay with Harry," Elizabeth murmured to Remus and went to speak with the girls. "Hermione," she called softly, "they need you to help talk Harry through the process ..."
Hermione gratefully extricated herself from a teary Cho.
"Cho, isn’t it?" Elizabeth prompted. "I’m so sorry you had to find Harry like this; I know it must be a terrible shock." Cho nodded, doe-eyed and trembling. "My name’s Elizabeth. I’m Harry’s godmother; you’ve probably never heard of me â€”"
"Natalie’s aunt?" Cho sniffed through her tears.
"Ah, yes, actually," Elizabeth said, surprised. She gently nudged the girl towards the door. "I know you want to help; do you think you could do something for me?" The girl nodded willingly through her hiccoughs. "Right, well, there’s a whole crowd outside waiting to hear how he’s doing. Do you think you could give them an update for me?"
Cho nodded again and Elizabeth told her exactly what she should say and to whom â€” Dumbledore needed to know about the pipes.
"Oh, there’s something else: do you happen to know a â€˜Mirabella’? Harry was asking for her ..."
Elizabeth crossed her fingers, fervently hoping Mirabella wasn’t an old girlfriend.
Cho smiled tremulously. "Mirabella’s his fish; she’s a real sweetie."
Elizabeth nodded numbly. A fish. Could this day possibly get any weirder?
She closed the door after Cho and turned her attention to Harry’s immersion. Slowly and carefully the Healers lowered him into the sarcophagus, his Extendible Ear and Nose dangling loosely over the edge. One after another, Elizabeth, Remus, and Hermione bent low to check they could see his head through a twelve-inch porthole window down one end. Harry’s red skin stood out in sharp relief against the milky, translucent fluid.
"Can you hear me, Harry?" Hermione asked. "Can you breathe okay?"
A few bubbles escaped Harry’s lips. The Healers waited fifteen minutes for the painkillers to dull the sharpest pain before lifting the Imperius Curse. They all watched anxiously for the boy’s reaction. Nothing happened at first then the Waters came alive with streaks of quicksilver, as if the bath was home to thousands of fish.
"What’s going on?" Remus whispered tensely. "Is he okay?"
"No, this is good," Elizabeth whispered back. "The more active it is the more he’s healing. It’s when it coagulates at the top that it’s doing nothing."
"Harry?" Hermione said fretfully. "Are you okay?"
Harry felt awful. He struggled to clear his addled mind, struggled to put together what was happening to him. He was underwater â€” he knew that much. It was coming back to him â€” pieces of it. Something was nibbling at his body, but it wasn’t Mirabella ... Mirabella! Pipes!
Harry gagged on the water.
"Harry!" Hermione’s voice cried, loud and clear. "Breathe through your nose, your nose!"
Harry didn’t calm down until he found his breath again. He opened his eyes with immense difficulty to see millions of silverfish whirling around his head. Fish and frustration swept all over him. He wanted to know what was going on! Why couldn’t they have given him Extendible Lips? He turned in water-slowed motion towards the light.
Elizabeth and the others started when a red hand appeared against the porthole glass. It rested there a moment, as if exhausted, then one black fingertip drew the outline of something on the glass â€” just two strokes. The frail finger waited a moment then repeated the symbol. Hermione, sitting cross-legged before the window, redrew it on her thigh.
"Is that a rune?" Elizabeth murmured. Remus shook his head.
"Harry’s not that complex," said Hermione.
They watched, mystified, as Harry drew the symbol again. Hermione slapped a hand to her forehead.
"Y! He wants to know why!"
The red hand offered a feeble thumbs-up.
"Harry, son, it’s Remus," he said, squatting close to the stone wall of the bath. "Harry, there was a terrible accident. We think you went through the pipes and ..." Remus’s voice cracked and he needed a moment to collect himself.
"Harry," Hermione jumped in, "we think you went through the boiler and that’s how you got burned."
The necrotic fingertip moved again. Hermione scribed the letters on her leg then looked up mournfully.
"He says, I know," she reported. "He wants to know why."
"Good question," Healer Abercrombie muttered under his breath as he poured more pain-killers into the bath.
Remus covered his face in his hands. Elizabeth looked at him helplessly. This was all her fault. If only she’d waited. But what kind of idiotic security charm would drag Harry through a boiler? And how on earth could they have ever entrusted Harry’s security to Severus Snape? And where was Sirius? He would never have approved of Snape’s involvement!
They all jumped as Harry punched a fist into the glass. His skin split, releasing a small cloud of blood.
"Harry, calm down!" Hermione shrieked. "Please, you’re hurting yourself!"
Harry made the letter â€˜Y’ again, and this time a smear of blood in the shape of the letter remained briefly on the glass before dissipating.
"Harry, there was some kind of security charm," Hermione blurted in a rush. "I don’t know how it was supposed to work, but it obviously failed miserably. Harry, please, please, you have to focus on getting better! We can work out what went wrong later â€” I promise we will. Please, you have to stay calm! Do your Occlumency! Anything!"
The red hand withdrew from view and the Waters grew sluggish.
"What’s happening?" Hermione cried in alarm. Healer Dee bustled over from her workbench, frowning slightly.
"The rate of healing will fluctuate throughout the day â€” that’s to be expected. See if you can keep his mind on positive things, hmmm?"
Hermione stared at the woman as if she had two heads. This was clearly beyond an unreasonable a request.
A timid knock sounded on the door, and Cho slipped back inside the room. Hermione tensed, but Cho was looking a good deal calmer than before. Remus and Elizabeth retreated so the girls could sit together in front of Harry’s window.
"How is he?" Cho whispered to Hermione.
"Oh, he’s pretty frustrated right now," Hermione said tensely. "You can talk to him, you know."
"What if I say the wrong thing?"
"Don’t," Hermione said tersely.
Cho nervously straightened her headdress and drew a deep breath.
"Harry, it’s me, Cho. I’m so sorry you were hurt, but the Healers here are very good. You’re going to get better, I promise!"
The quicksilver accelerated. Hermione sat up straighter and nodded approvingly to Cho, rolling her hand to indicate she should keep talking.
"You’ll be out of there in no time," Cho continued, her confidence building with the speed of the Waters. "If you just try to stay positive, the healing agents will work that much faster. You could maybe even be healed by teatime, I expect. And remember we have that Harpies’ game on the weekend. You don’t want to miss seeing Gwenog trying to take out Viktor."
The Mercurial Waters were highly active now. The girls made strained small-talk in falsely bright voices about people they obviously both knew and about recent games and parties that meant nothing to Elizabeth. What did mean everything was that Harry was distracted enough by them for the Mercurial Waters to get busy and start healing him. Whilst Cho and Hermione kept Harry entertained, Remus and Elizabeth moved to the edge of the circular room.
"This is just a nightmare," Remus said weakly, rubbing his hands over his face.
Elizabeth felt as if all the air had been sucked from her lungs.
"I’m so sorry, Remy," she rasped.
"Lizzie, don’t, please," he said feebly, pulling her into his arms.
Elizabeth collapsed into her husband’s chest, sobbing. For ten long years, she would’ve given anything to have his arms around her again, but not like this, never like this. Healer Dee drifted towards them.
"Harry is doing quite well right now," she said tactfully, nudging them to the door. "Why don’t you take a little break â€” maybe get a cup of tea? It’s going to be a very long day."
The moment Elizabeth and Remus exited the Critical Care Unit, a family of redheads rushed Remus, peppering him with questions. Elizabeth spotted Elphias Doge in the crowd and went over to him. The elderly wizard said nothing; he just kissed Elizabeth’s cheeks and gave her a hug, which she returned gratefully. Remus introduced her to the newcomers and she did her best to keep up; there were an awful lot of Weasleys.
The elevator bell rang and they all stopped talking whilst a dishevelled witch dragged a bawling girl and smirking boy of around ten or eleven towards the Day Clinic. The little girl had leeks growing from her ears and didn’t seem nearly as pleased about this as the little boy. Elizabeth noticed the Weasley twins retreating behind a scraggly pot plant as the family passed by. Remus checked his watch and turned to Molly Weasley.
"Molly, we were supposed to meet the Grangers for lunch at Covent Garden â€” they won’t know ..."
Molly was busy strangling a wet hankie but nodded earnestly.
"Don’t you dare think one bit about that, Remus! We’ll take care of everything!" The woman scowled at the pot plant and cried shrilly, "Fred! George!"
"Hello, Elizabeth," Albus Dumbledore said softly.
Elizabeth managed a nod. She couldn’t even begin to hazard a guess as to why Dumbledore had a party favour in place of his nose. The paper unfurled a little then re-furled as he breathed in and out; Elizabeth had a suspicion it would toot if he breathed too hard.
"A word, Remus?" he asked quietly, nodding to both of them.
Rather stiffly, Remus motioned to the stairs to the cafeteria. Dumbledore waited until they were seated in a secluded booth by a grimy window before speaking again.
"Remus, I know you want answers," he said evenly, "as do I. Severus and Alastor are trying to get to the bottom of exactly what happened and why. Harry should have been safely summoned through specially charmed airspaces throughout the house. The boiler was frozen as part of the Summoning Charm â€” as a safety precaution. It was designed to freeze once Harry’s presence was detected within the cupboard. On its own â€”"
"Kreacher’s cupboard!" Remus cut in angrily.
A look of pain washed over Dumbledore’s face.
"On its own," he repeated, "it should have made the cupboard chilly but not dangerously so. Just enough to mask Harry’s body heat from showing up on certain types of sensors. Harry must have done the rest."
"Snape drove him to this!" Remus snapped. "You do realise Harry’s heart stopped beating by the time we found him! No one thought to let me know about â€”" Remus’s eyes flashed; Elizabeth could tell he was struggling to control himself. "Snape took his sweet time!" he growled. "If it hadn’t been for Moody letting us know where he was â€”"
"And what kind of Summoning Charm was it, anyway," Elizabeth cut in furiously, "to tear him through the plumbing?"
For once Dumbledore had no clichÃ©s to offer, no platitudes. Remus’s breathing grew more ragged as he glared in frustration at the old wizard. He looked very much as if he wanted to rip something to shreds â€” Dumbledore’s fluttering nose, perhaps. Dumbledore gazed back at him sadly.
"Remus, I need to tell you something. When Harry was possessed by Lord Voldemort â€”"
"Possessed?" Elizabeth gasped. Dumbledore lifted a hand against the interruption.
"Please … when Harry was possessed, he â€”" Dumbledore shook his head slightly, "â€” it is my belief there was a point at which he desired death rather than endure any more suffering. I cannot stress enough how very close a thing it was. Today … I’m afraid we do not know if Harry froze himself accidentally, on reflex, or whether he might have chosen to end his suffering on his own terms."
Remus shoved his lanky hair off his face and locked his fingers behind his head, pressing on his skull as if trying to contain the demon within. The wild look in his eyes dulled as the horrific idea sank in.
"Merlin," he croaked, "we were arguing before I left. I told him he wasn’t taking security seriously enough. I told him he needed to be taught a lesson. Oh, God, Lizzie, what if he thought I did this to him â€” deliberately?"
Elizabeth’s heart was pounding so hard â€” surely everyone could hear it. "He just wanted to know, â€˜why?’"
Remus dropped his head into shaking hands. Elizabeth stared dazedly at the slip of parchment Dumbledore was holding out to her. A chill ran down her spine on reading it:
The Headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix may be found at number twelve, Grimmauld Place, London.
At a nod from Dumbledore, she set the parchment alight; she couldn’t even begin to think about the war â€” not here, not now. She watched the message burn to ashes in her fingers.
"Fawkes!" Remus blurted. "He could heal Harry!"
Elizabeth’s heart leapt. Dumbledore’s phoenix â€” his healing tears!
Dumbledore’s expression was inscrutable.
"I have apprised Fawkes of the situation," he said carefully.
"He’d do anything for you," Remus insisted hoarsely. "Please! It’s Harry!"
"I cannot ask him to weep," Dumbledore said softly.
Dumbledore started to excuse himself. Remus jerked to his feet and drew his wand on the silver-haired wizard. Elizabeth gasped, but Dumbledore gazed back at Remus serenely; no fear graced his face. Remus started reeling off a long series of incantations. Dumbledore’s party-favour nose quivered and fluttered then finally returned to its normal long and crooked state. What little light was showing in the old man’s eyes dimmed completely.
"I have taken the liberty," he said, "of calling upon some old friends to provide protection for Harry whilst he is here â€” just in case."
"Who?" Elizabeth demanded, jerking to her feet. "Not the friends who did such a very good job at the house, I trust?"
"Very old friends," Dumbledore replied softly. "They have been instructed to take orders from only we three. You may dismiss them, of course, should you so desire." The old man looked down at Elizabeth over his half-moon glasses and smiled slightly. "I should like to have a quiet word later about how you managed to enter the house. Mundungus tells me he found you in the drawing room. He says he has no idea how you got there."
Elizabeth said nothing, but Dumbledore didn’t seem to expect an answer then and there. So, they don’t know about the grandfather clock, she thought, pursing her lips thoughtfully. Sirius was obviously in no hurry to tell the Order about the island. And after what happened, she was not particularly inclined to do so either.
"It is good to see you home again, Elizabeth," Dumbledore added kindly. "It has been far too long."
And with swish of his burgundy travelling cloak he was gone. Remus stared desolately into the empty space that had been Dumbledore. Elizabeth watched miserably as his face became a pale, stoical mask.
"You could never hurt Harry," she whispered earnestly, tugging at his fingers. "If he knows you at all, then he knows that."
The mask stayed up.
"We should check on him," he said hoarsely, "and get your hand seen to."
Harry fought to hear the voices â€” girls’ voices â€” if he could just hold onto the sound. The pain wasn’t so much sharp as relentless â€” it never ceased. The fish would ease off one area only to attack another: his arms, his back, his face â€” even his eyelids. It never completely stopped, not even for a moment. A cruel spasm hit Harry’s legs. His body shook and he choked on more of the water.
"Harry! Breathe through your nose! Harry!"
Dragging air through his breathing tubes, he tried to clear his mind â€” tried to calm down. Hermione kept talking, telling him what to do. Typical, he thought, gritting his teeth against the pain, but her familiar, droning voice â€” so irritating at times â€” was a rope tethering him to safety, grounding him in reality when all his other senses made no sense at all.
The pain, it was easing. Harry blearily opened his eyes. The fish were slower now, the water clearer. Exhaling with relief, he saw silvery bubbles float from his mouth. Twisting to the light, he saw shapes outside his window ... faces.
Harry was appalled. What was she doing here? So he did hear her voice before! But she looked wrong, somehow. He squinted, trying to focus. Her hair, it was white, and her robes ... she was all in white, like a swan ...
"Harry? Are you alright?" fretted Cho, her face fuzzy, her white hair swinging stiffly from side to side. "Can you breathe okay?"
Harry dragged a blackened fingertip to the glass.
"What’s he doing?" Cho asked Hermione worriedly.
"Hang on," Hermione muttered. Harry could see her tracing his letters on her thigh. "Swan," Hermione said at last.
Cho stared blankly for a moment.
"Oh!" she exclaimed with relief. "Yes, it’s me, Harry, it’s Cho! I’m right here â€” right here."
Harry nodded tiredly, the effort of even this small gesture exhausting him. Sleep claimed him and the water stilled.
She was singing again. Harry followed the sound and found her kneeling over her baby. The baby was floating in mid-air, bobbing gently up and down, gurgling happily. Little bubbles popped at the edges of its tiny lips. Neville. The name just popped into Harry’s head. And Alice. His Alice. His beautiful, wonderful, Alice ... he loved listening to her sing ... he could listen to her sing all day long ...
Elizabeth and Remus returned from the cafeteria, each lost in their own thoughts. Elizabeth sucked in a breath when she saw who was now protecting the CCU. These were no ordinary security guards. Iridescent peacock-blue robes and a single peacock plume, set jauntily in their pointed hats, identified them as Peacock Knights, members of an elite order answerable only to the International Confederation of Wizards, and even then, only by an unspoken agreement of mutual convenience. The Knights were considered incorruptible; they could not be hired, bribed, or otherwise coerced. Their loyalty, once given, was legendary, the Order of the Peacock being the highest chivalric order in the Wizarding World.
"Are they what I think they are?" whispered Remus. Elizabeth nodded dazedly.
The Knights stood at a discreet distance from the CCU, quietly monitoring the floor. Remus and Elizabeth sincerely thanked them and slipped back inside the CCU to find Harry sleeping and the Waters still. Two of the Weasley children had joined Cho and Hermione sitting cross-legged on the floor. They were earnestly debating something.
"But it’s Cho’s Patronus!" Hermione was insisting.
"Look," Ron said dismissively, "he was probably just making a joke about her head thingy."
"Really, Ron," said Hermione exasperatedly, "Harry’s hardly going to be making jokes at a time like this." She turned to Cho and said, "Patronuses are really important to Harry. See if you can conjure yours."
Cho looked hesitantly around the room. The Healers voiced no objection. Nor did Remus.
"Conjuring hope, happiness, and the desire to survive … sounds like a plan to me," he observed hoarsely.
Cho nodded more confidently. She drew her wand and moistened her lips. "Expecto Patronum!"
A limp silver wisp dribbled from Cho’s wand. She screwed up her face in concentration and tried again but with the same inconsequential result.
"He’s awake!" cried Hermione.
Remus and Elizabeth snapped to attention, relieved to see the Waters working again.
"Expecto Patronum!" cried Cho. The wisp was larger this time but only slightly. "I can usually do it," she said, looking around fretfully.
Harry’s ravaged face peered from his porthole. Cho tried again. This time, nothing happened at all. Elizabeth saw Harry shake his head slightly then his face screwed up in pain. Healer Dee conjured her own Patronus for Harry. Her silver faun frolicked around the room but didn’t seem of any interest to the lad. The spirit guardian dissipated and the Healer shrugged apologetically. Cho was looking very distressed, now. Healer Dee called her over.
Harry’s eyes worriedly tracked Cho rising to her feet.
Shit! She’ll see into the bath!
"He looks agitated," fretted Hermione.
Too bloody right, I’m agitated!
Harry thrashed around in the bath, trying to fight free of the charms holding him beneath the surface of the water.
"What’s happening?" called a boy’s voice.
Harry thrashed about more violently. Ron?
"He doesn’t like Cho leaving!" cried another girl.
And Ginny, too? Bloody hell, thought Harry furiously, who else is in here?
"Harry, please!" Hermione cried worriedly. "You have to calm down! Cho! Get back here!" she demanded.
Cho dropped to her knees in front of the porthole.
"Harry, I’m right here!" she assured him. "I’m not going anywhere! I promise!"
Harry slumped in defeat.
After twice passing out from the pain, Harry woke and peeredsleepily from his window. He caught Ron’s eye and tried to smile. Ron smiled back unconvincingly. Cho was trying to conjure her Patronus again. Harry shook his head and pulled away from the porthole. Sheesh, he thought, can’t a bloke make a joke?
He tried to go back to sleep, but the fish had other ideas. After a cruelly brief retreat, they launched another attack, churning up the water, smothering him, eating him alive. He could hear his friends yelling encouragement for him to hold on. Hold on to what, he thought with frustration. He would give anything to be anywhere else right now. He tried to focus on his friends’ voices â€” on anything to get his mind off what was happening to him. The pain started easing a little. Maybe the fish were full …
He heard Remus tell Hermione he would be â€˜back soon’, then his friends’ voices got louder. They sounded angry.
"Did Harry know Lupin was married?" Ron was asking incredulously.
Harry’s Extendible Ear picked up. Well, he does now! What the ...
"Of course he knew," Cho said. "I mean, she’s his godmother, after all."
"What?" Ron snapped. "Harry doesn’t have a godmother!"
"Yes, he does," Hermione said shortly.
"Since he was Christened, I expect," Hermione replied, flustered.
"And you knew about this?" Ron shot irritably.
"No, I mean, yes â€” I mean, I only found out today, too, when she turned up at the house."
"Why’d Harry never say anything?" Ron asked. "Are they divorced or something? Where’s she been all this time?"
"How should I know, Ron?" Hermione snapped back angrily.
"Will you two please just shut up!"
Silence fell. Harry rolled towards the porthole and dearly wanted to laugh at the outraged expressions on Ron and Hermione’s faces, but he had a feeling he’d choke if he did. Instead, he just offered a weak smile of thanks to Cho, who tried hard to smile back. He closed his eyes, exhausted. Ron and the others kept talking, but Harry was too tired to listen. So, Remus was married â€” and to Elizabeth, apparently. Was that really his godmother he’d seen earlier? He’d thought he’d been dreaming â€” he’d been having the weirdest dreams today. Harry recalled Remus saying he pushed someone away a long time ago. And the way he’d reacted when he saw the letter Harry wrote to Elizabeth … had there been some kind of accident? Had Remus tried to bite her? Had he pushed her away for her own protection? Like he tried to do to him after the full moon? Harry blew a stream of silver bubbles. Natalie said Elizabeth moved away from England ten years ago â€” and now she’s back.
Well, now it gets interesting …
Harry flew up the steps and burst through the front door. The umbrella stand went flying. He scrambled to his feet, grinning stupidly.
"Mother?" he called out gleefully. He dashed from room to room, giddy with excitement. "Where are you?"
Harry heard footsteps and spun around, sending a china vulture crashing to the ground.
"Oh, for heaven’s sake," said a cross voice. "Not again! What on earth â€”"
Harry just laughed. He grabbed his mother’s arms and spun her wildly around the parlour.
"She said YES!"
The dream stopped abruptly and Harry blearily blinked open his eyes. Something felt odd, then he realised what it was: air. He wasn’t underwater anymore. He seemed to be hovering over the bath. A bed sheet covered most of his body from view, the sheet floating a few inches above his skin. He looked blearily around the fuzzy room. He could hear birds softly twittering and the walls looked funny, as if they were moving. All his friends were gone.
"He’s coming around," said a female voice. "Harry?"
Harry’s eyelids were wet cement.
"Are you in any pain, dear?"
Harry was surprised to find he wasn’t.
"Bit achy," he said, slurring a little, "s’okay."
"You’ve been soaking in pain killers for three hours," said the woman, "but they’ll wear off soon. We’ve just finished examining you."
"How my doing?" he slurred.
"Oh, pretty well," she murmured evasively.
Liar, thought Harry. He tried to lift his hand to see for himself, but it wouldn’t budge.
"We’ll need to get you back into the Waters soon," she said.
"How much longer?" asked Harry.
"Oh, not much longer," she said lightly.
Harry squinted suspiciously at the witch.
"Flavia?" prompted the male Healer, his voice low and authoritative. "Why don’t you take your break now?" It sounded more like an order than a suggestion to Harry. "Right," said the man when she had gone. "Harry, my name is Healer Abercrombie. I daresay you have a few questions."
Harry said, "Just tell me the truth, okay?"
The Healer nodded approvingly. "I’ll do my best, but first, a few practical matters."
The Healer reached around and held up a urine bottle. Harry nodded; he’d been in hospital often enough to know you never passed up a chance to pee. Several excruciatingly painful minutes later, Harry decided he wasn’t going to try that again in a hurry. The Healer covered him back up again and made some notes on his clipboard.
"If you feel the need to go while you’re in the bath then just go," he said matter-of-factly. "There are charms in place to continuously cleanse the Waters of any impurities."
Harry fervently hoped he wouldn’t need to test that out.
"Do you remember what happened to you?" prompted the Healer.
Harry tried to bring the man’s face into focus. "Took a bath â€” ended up in the basement."
"And you went through?"
"The boiler," Harry said flatly. "Yeah, I got that."
The Healer put down his clipboard. "Do you remember what happened after you went through the boiler?"
Bellatrix Lestrange’s eyes flashed before Harry’s and he shuddered involuntarily.
"Harry?" Healer Abercrombie prompted quietly. "You tell me the truth and I’ll do the same. Deal?"
"I think I threw up," said Harry.
The Healer nodded and waited for more, his face unreadable beneath his wild beard and shaggy brows. He reminded Harry of Hagrid.
"I couldn’t get out â€” I …" Harry fought to keep his voice steady.
"Out of where?"
"The cupboard. They locked me in ... I couldn’t ..."
"Who locked you in, Harry?"
"I don’t know."
"And after that, Harry? Do you remember what you did then?"
Harry thought of the strange dreams he’d had â€” then voices, screaming; he had a feeling that might have been him. His breathing grew laboured remembering things he really didn’t want to.
"That’ll do, lad," Healer Abercrombie said quietly before continuing in a more matter-of-fact tone. "Well, you came in pretty banged up. Second and third degree burns, couple of cracked ribs, skull fractures, frostbite, some nasty gashes â€”"
"Frostbite?" Harry said weakly.
The Healer levitated Harry’s right hand to where he could see it. "It seems you managed to freeze yourself. Not a bad idea, really, all things considered, except you went a bit too far. That’s why they call it accidental and uncontrollable magic."
Harry stared, dumbfounded, at his blackened fingertips.
"I did this to myself?" he croaked.
A horrific thought struck him. He remembered talking with Mirabella and the lost guitarist and wishing the bath would swallow him whole. Did he send himself down the pipes? No, that was ridiculous! Hermione already said some dodgy security charm went wrong â€” it was that, surely!
"Harry," said Healer Abercrombie, "a wizard’s body will sometimes act on pure reflex when under extreme duress. Have you had problems controlling your reflexive magic in the past?"
"Sometimes," Harry admitted.
"Right," said the Healer gruffly. "Well, let’s address one problem at a time. Right now we need to get you back into the Mercurial Waters."
Harry looked with despair at the angry burns smothering every inch of him; his skin looked as if it had melted somehow. He fixed his eyes on the ceiling; he didn’t want to look at himself, but he could still feel his skin prickling, puckering.
"How much longer?" he asked weakly.
"At this rate you’re probably going to be in the Waters all day, maybe into the evening. Bottom line, the more it hurts the faster you are healing. You need to shed your whole skin."
Discarded Basilisk skins in the Chamber of Secrets flashed before Harry’s eyes. "Like a snake?"
The Healer’s bushy eyes crinkled into what might have been a smile; it was hard to tell under all that facial hair.
"Pretty much," he agreed. "Your skin normally regenerates from the inside out. The quicksilver accelerate that natural process. As dead skin cells come loose, the purification charms will automatically cleanse them from the water." The Healer nodded casually towards Harry’s feet and added, "Don’t be alarmed if your toes fall off."
Harry blinked; that sounded like something one could justifiably be a bit bothered by!
"What’ll happen to them?" he asked.
"Well, that’s up to your body, really," Healer Abercrombie murmured, now gingerly inspecting Harry’s black fingertips. "It may shed the whole digit and regrow the bone and tissue from scratch, or it may retain the bone and just transmute the damaged flesh. Either way, the prospects for a full recovery are actually quite good."
The Healer seemed to be all eyebrows under his white skullcap. Harry wasn’t sure what it was about the man, but he felt he could trust what he said.
"I had to regrow all the bones in my arm once," he offered. "Took all night."
"How did you manage to lose all your bones?" asked the Healer curiously.
"Professor Lockhart ... he tried to heal me when I broke my wrist at Quidditch."
"Yeah," said Harry. He remembered, with only the most fleeting twinge of guilt, that Lockhart was a Saint Mungo’s resident. "Madam Pomfrey was livid."
The Healer’s wild facial hair couldn’t camouflage a wry smile.
"I can imagine," he said dryly. He refitted Harry'd Extendible Nose and Ear pieces and said, "That feel okay?"
Harry nodded. The Healer reached for a third long tube.
"Extendible Lips?" Harry asked hopefully.
"Ah, no, sorry, I don’t think they make lips, but I’ll be sure to pass on the suggestion to the manufacturers. This is a drinking tube for Healing Dew and nutritional supplements. You don’t need to keep it in your mouth the whole time â€” and it’ll shut off when you’re not using it â€” but I want you to drink as much fluid as you can; we need to keep you hydrated." The man paused to smile wryly. "Yes, you can get dehydrated underwater."
Harry tried to return the smile but felt suddenly woozy.
"Do you know what happened to me?" he asked weakly. "I mean, why it happened? Who did this to me?"
Healer Abercrombie stopped what he was doing and gave Harry his full attention.
"I don’t know all the details, Harry," he said in his deep calm voice. "From what your guardian told us, it seems some kind of security charm was accidentally tripped, causing you to be summoned to the basement. Your guardian says he didn’t know about the charm. I gather you didn’t either?"
Harry shook his head slightly. Could Mad-Eye have done this to him? Surely not! Still, Harry preferred that idea than the notion that he might have somehow wished it on himself. He frowned deeply then thought better of that when his forehead started throbbing uncomfortably. He squinted up at the Healer, trying to get him into focus.
"Is my guardian here? Remus Lupin?"
"I believe he and his wife went down to the Day Clinic. Would you like me to call him for you?"
His wife? So it was true, thought Harry. They must be divorced, though, if she went by her maiden name. Why was he always the last to know?
"No, it’s okay," he told the Healer, grimacing as his skin began to prickle with pain.
"Painkillers wearing off?" Healer Abercrombie prompted quietly. Harry gave a tight nod. "Time to go back under," decided the Healer. "You probably won’t be surfacing again until you’re healed. Is there anything else you want to know or say?"
Harry shook his head slightly. "I just want to get it over with."
The Healer nodded and began to lower him into the Waters.
"Hang on!" Harry blurted and the Healer’s wand froze. "You’re going to keep that sheet over the bath, aren’t you?"
Remus led Elizabeth past dozens of bored portraits to the Day Clinic. The portraits picked up a little as they passed but were disappointed in Elizabeth’s rather unimpressive injury.
Outside the bustling clinic, Elizabeth turned to Remus and murmured, "I’ll be fine. You should go back."
Remus just shook his head and nudged her gently inside.
"Professor Lupin?" said a tall young woman of around twenty, beaming. Remus looked up in surprise.
"Penelope?" He looked at her Saint Mungo’s nametag and corrected himself. "Ah, Trainee Healer Clearwater, I should say."
"Penelope’s fine," she said. Remus introduced Elizabeth, and the young woman sat Elizabeth down and started making notes on her clipboard. "So, fractures, and a Splinching, too ..."
Elizabeth groaned inwardly when she saw Penelope reach for what looked suspiciously like a Ministry Apparition Injury form. Remus was eying the Ministry form as well.
"Er, Penelope?" he prompted delicately. "That Splinching form looks like an awful lot of work for you to fill in ... er, I don’t suppose ..."
Penelope sneaked a glance around to see if anyone was looking. A small smile played on her lips as she silently slid the form out of sight and started unwrapping Elizabeth’s bandages.
"Did you know, Mrs Lupin," she said conversationally, "that your husband was responsible for me getting an Outstanding in Defence? I might never have been accepted into Healer Training without that NEWT."
Remus smiled softly at his feet. Elizabeth’s heart lifted considerably; it was the first real smile she’d seen on her husband’s face since she’d arrived.
"You know, you’re my first patient for the day," Penelope offered brightly.
"Oh?" Elizabeth said politely.
"Noon to Midnight," Penelope murmured, peering at Elizabeth’s wrist through a magnifying glass.
Elizabeth gritted her teeth. Her hand had ached while splinted, but now it was loose she felt sharper pains in her battered knuckles. She tried to take her mind off what Penelope was doing by counting the long tendrils of curly brown hair just visible beneath the woman’s white headdress. The curls were so nicely defined ... not fuzzy at all. Elizabeth wondered what potion she used. Beyond Penelope hung a wall poster of a seedy youth; a slogan scrolled diagonally: Just Say NO to Potions!
"Ouch," Elizabeth whispered, flinching involuntarily.
"Just hold still for me ... that’s the way," murmured Penelope. Within minutes, the Trainee finished mending Elizabeth’s wrist and wrote up a prescription for a Strengthening Solution. "Once a day for three days â€” just to be safe. And you’re all done!"
Elizabeth stared at the potion prescription. Potions could fix anything, couldn’t they? So simple â€” just lie down in a potion. She tried to smile back at the nice young woman, but her eyes prickled with tears instead.
"Mrs Lupin?" Penelope prompted gently. "Are you feeling okay?"
"I’m sorry â€” sorry," Elizabeth stammered, feeling stupid. "I’m fine, honestly."
She could feel Remus behind her, his hand on her shoulder. Something flickered past them: a communications dart. The ghostly little bird disappeared into Penelope’s ear. The young woman nodded to herself then turned back to the couple before her.
"It can be a bit unsettling having your bones mended," she clucked sympathetically. "Come and have a little lie down for me before you go home."
Elizabeth resisted at first, surrendering when Remus chimed in as well. She’d forgotten what an old fusspot he could be. Penelope led her to the sunny end of the clinic to lay down on a faded velvet daybed.
"Now, I don’t want to see you up for a good fifteen minutes! I’ll be back soon. I just need to get something ready for Healer Abercrombie."
"Is Harry okay?" Remus asked quickly.
"Who?" Penelope said blankly. "Mrs Lupin, hold on! You need to lie down!"
"Harry Potter," Remus said. "The CCU. We brought him in this morning. Is he alright?"
Penelope looked stunned. "I knew a boy had been brought in with serious burns, but ... oh my goodness." She shook herself back to attention. "Sorry … look, it’s nothing; I just need to prepare some more Murtlap Tentacles for the Healers. But Harry? Here? How do you …?"
"We’re his guardians," said Remus.
Elizabeth shot a grateful look at her husband. Technically, she wasn’t Harry’s guardian, but she appreciated Remus including her.
"Look, just try to get some rest," Penelope said, smiling feebly at them both. "I’ll be back soon."
Elizabeth slumped back into her pillows. The midday sun streamed through a grubby window, and she took her first really good look at her husband. Hard years were etched in the lines of his face, the grey strands in his light-brown hair, the shadows under his eyes. He sank into a chair by her side and reached for her uninjured left hand. His thumb rubbed gently her bare third-finger. Elizabeth’s heart ached; it had not escaped her notice he no longer wore his wedding ring, either.
"I never said ..." he whispered hoarsely, "welcome home, Lizzie."