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Banished whilst the Healers examined Harry, Elizabeth and the other visitors congregated in the cafeteria, sprawling across several tables pushed up against one of the booths.  More members of the House of Weasley joined them; they’d been holding vigil in the corridors, anxious for news.

     “He could be doing better,” Cho said, shredding a paper napkin.  “He’s got third degree burns all over —”

     Cho broke off, close to tears.  Seeing Harry in such terrible pain was fraying everyone’s nerves, and he wasn’t even close to saturation point yet.  The Mercurial Waters needed to penetrate every injured inch of Harry’s body before the healing could start from the inside out.

     “But he’s still in the sarcophagus?” Bill Weasley checked.  “How’s that going?”

     “Not great,” Hermione admitted.  “The hardest part is keeping him awake.”

     “But why not just let him sleep through it?” Ron challenged the table at large.  There was a helpless, angry look in the boy’s eye, a look Elizabeth saw too often in young wizards.

     “I’m afraid that’s not an option, Ron,” she said, and went on to explain that anything that dulled the senses — including painkillers, sleep, and depression — slowed absorption rates.

     “But …” Ron started fitfully, “but, I mean, so what if it takes longer?”

     Elizabeth didn’t have the answer he wanted.  “The longer Harry is exposed to the Waters the more — unpredictable — the transmutation becomes.”

     “What,” Ron said, trying to laugh, “like you grow a third eye or something?”

     When Elizabeth didn’t smile, a weighty silence fell over the table, broken finally by Bill.

     “So, what seems to best keep him awake?” he asked.

     “It’s easier to say what sends him to sleep,” Hermione said tightly.

     Ron snickered humourlessly.  Having run out of things to say, she’d tried reading to Harry from a book one of the Healers gave her on the history of Saint Mungo’s.

     “At least she’s not just sitting there staring at him!” Ginny snapped pointedly.

     Ron’s retort earned him a clip over the ear from his mother; she really had a remarkable reach.  The tension only escalated when the twins revealed Severus Snape’s involvement in the failed Summoning, which was hardly helpful in Elizabeth’s opinion, especially in a public place.  Molly Weasley was of a similar mind and scolded the lot of them.

     “I’d’ve thought you lot might have been more interested in helping heal Harry than in pointing fingers,” she declared in a murderous whisper.

     The wild look in Ron’s eyes turned instantly doleful.  The same could not be said for the twins (or their sister), but they did oblige their mother by turning to brainstorming ideas for keeping Harry awake and in healing mode.  Satisfied they weren’t going to go off and kill anyone — yet, Molly went to organise lunch.  Remus joined her.

     “Harry seems to be more alert with Cho and the girls …” Elizabeth suggested to his friends.

     Bill chuckled softly.  “Why does that not surprise me?”

     The Weasley twins were particularly creative, but Elizabeth felt obliged to draw the line at hiring a Mermaid to keep Harry company.

     “Cho’s the one he wants,” Hermione said tightly.

     At this declaration, Ginny gave a fair impression of having just sucked on a lemon.

     “Maybe,” Cho said to Hermione, “but he needs both of us right now.”

     The two girls exchanged a look more loaded with history than Six Centuries of Saint Mungo’s.  Hermione nodded slowly then seemed to give herself a shake.

     “We need a schedule,” she decided briskly.

     The boys groaned.  Cho silenced them with a glare.  She passed a quill-pen and notepad to Hermione, who started marking out some kind of timetable.  Squinting towards the twins, Cho asked which one was George.  Both raised their hands, earning a few groaning laughs from around the table.

     “Right,” said Cho, finding half a smile.  “Did one of you get Mirabella for me?”

     One face fell, presumably George’s.  Elizabeth made a mental note: George, green robes; Fred, blue.

     “Er, yeah, about that ...” George pulled a sagging paper bag from within his robes and passed it hand-to-hand down the table.  The bag rattled ominously with the unmistakeable sound of small broken pieces.  “I didn’t want to bring her out in front of Harry ... she, er, she got a bit banged up.  I tried to fix her, but ...”

     Cho opened the bag and choked back a sob.

     “Looks like she went down the pipes with Harry.  Found most of her in the boiler but couldn’t find her brain ...”  George’s voice trailed off at the look of horror on Cho’s face.  “Mad-Eye said he’d keep an eye out for it ...”

     Cho’s eyes filled with fresh tears and she clutched the bag to her stomach just as Remus reappeared, floating trays of food before him.  The boys pounced noisily.  Remus tried to keep one of the trays out of Ron’s reach.

     “Molly’s just getting the drinks,” he said distractedly, passing out the food.  “Who wanted the fish?”

     Cho emitted a strangled cry and fled.

     Elizabeth glanced towards Cho’s girlfriends, expecting one of them to run after her, but Hermione’s head was buried in her timetable, and Ginny’s arms were folded with determined indifference.  Elizabeth made another mental note: Ginny and Cho, not that close.  Remus lifted a half-pleading eyebrow to his wife.

     “You owe me, Lupin,” she growled softly as she passed him on the way out to whichever Saint Mungo’s bathroom was sheltering the child.

******

After a good cry, Cho returned to the cafeteria and Elizabeth left her there with Hermione, practicing her Patronus Charm, and headed downstairs with Remus.  The CCU was still closed.  Having exhausted the scenic delights of fourth floor corridors, they doubled back and sat on the steps to the cafeteria, apart and silent, divided by the past and a steady trickle of Saint Mungo’s staff and visitors.

     “He’s going to need his glasses,” Remus ventured during a lull in the traffic.

     Elizabeth didn’t trust herself to look at him, didn’t want to see the doubt in his eyes that Harry’s heart would actually survive his ordeal.

     “His own pyjamas, too, I expect,” she said, though the chance of his skin being able to support clothes any time soon was growing remote.  But Remus knew that.

     “I’ll get a bag together for him,” he said, to which Elizabeth nodded mutely.

     Clambering to his feet, he stuffed restless hands into his pockets.  Eyes downcast, Elizabeth watched one of his scuffed brown shoes kicking at the lowest step.  There was a time when he would have automatically kissed her before taking his leave.  Elizabeth found herself wanting to kick the bottom step too.

     “Right,” he said, digging deeper into his pockets, “I’ll be back shortly then.”

     “Remus,” Elizabeth said, looking up at last, “if you get a chance, I left my bag in the drawing room … could you let Evil loose for me, please?”

******

Frank the python awoke with a start and looked around blearily.  Where did everybody go?  Frustrated mewing sounded from somewhere behind him.  A man came striding into the room.  It was Harry’s handler.  Frank slithered over to him.

     “What’s happening?” he demanded.

     Remus sidestepped Frank and hurried towards what sounded like one very annoyed feline.  Remus crouched down and let the cat out of the bag.  A blur of golden fur launched itself at the man, knocking him off his feet.  The cat clung to his chest, quivering with fear — or excitement, Frank couldn’t quite tell.

     Remus settled cross-legged on the floor and tightly cuddled the cat, muttered soothing words and fondling its large ears.  Frank had learned to tolerate cats over the years, but they weren’t his very favourite kind of pet; that honour definitely went to humans.  His current pet, Harry, was such a treasure.  Frank rested his head on Remus’s knee.  The man was all hunched up; he really looked quite distraught.

     “Remus?” murmured Frank.  “What is it?  What’s happened?”  Frank suddenly got very worried.  “Is it Harry?”

     But the man was clearly no Parselmouth.  And his eyes were moist.  Frank knew that that was never a good sign with humans.  He slithered into the man’s lap and coiled there, waiting.

     A knock sounded on the open drawing room door.  Remus hurriedly swiped at his eyes before finding his feet.  The snake and the cat were set down on the sofa and eyed each other cautiously.  Frank didn’t speak Kneazle, but he got the message.

     ‘He’s mine,’ the cat seemed to be saying.

     “Fine with me,” Frank said, bemused.  “Got a thing for werewolves, have you?”

     He turned his attention to the doorway, where an old man had his hand on Remus’s shoulder.  Dumbledore!  Frank started to slither off the sofa but stopped when the fur-ball sat on him.

     “Get off me!” hissed Frank in annoyance, shaking off the cat, but the two men had already disappeared.  The Kneazle mewed in disgust and struck a pose of righteous indignation.  “Oh, for heaven’s sake,” grumbled Frank, climbing back up to where Remus had told him to stay put.  Remus returned shortly with offerings of food and water.

     “Oh, you really shouldn’t have,” preened Frank, not hungry at all but very pleased, all the same.  He wasn’t so pleased when he realised the food and drink were for the fur-ball.

     Remus slung the python around his neck.

     “Come on, Frank,” he said, striding from the room and up the stairs.  “I’m afraid Harry’s had something of an accident.  You might not see him for a few days.”

     “What kind of accident?” quizzed Frank automatically, even though he doubted the man would understand him — not really well.  “And why were those awful people attacking Harry’s godmother?  Where is my Harry?

     Remus hesitated at Harry’s bedroom door.  Then, with Frank still slung around his neck, he entered the room and started throwing things into a bag on the bed.  He seemed to be doing fine until he entered the bathroom.  He collected Harry’s toothbrush, razor, soap, and such, but stopped when he saw Harry’s spectacles lying on the edge of the bath.  He reached out to pick them up, but his hand shook and they fell into the bath.  The man froze.  Then Frank felt a jolt as he dropped to his knees.  Frank looked from the man to the glasses.  It wasn’t that far — all Remus had to do was reach out his arm — he had fingers and everything ...

     Frank waited but Remus just stared into the bath.  Vibrations thudded in the man’s chest.  He seemed overwhelmed by such a little thing.  Frank slid off Remus’s shoulders and into the bathtub then slithered over the damp tiles and collected Harry’s spectacles in his jaws.  He delivered them to Remus, nudging him to get his attention.

     “Thank you, Frank,” Remus rasped.

     “Not at all,” Frank murmured, climbing back onto Remus’s shoulders.  Remus finished getting Harry’s bag together and tried to put Frank aside.

     “I don’t think so!” declared Frank, wrapping himself tightly around the man’s neck.

     “Frank!  Frank, you’re choking me!”

     “Oh, sorry.”  Frank loosened his grip — but only a little.

     “Frank, please,” insisted Remus, trying to extricate himself.  “Harry’s in hospital.  I need you to stay here.”

     “Hospital!”  Frank coiled tightly around the man’s arm.  “People go into hospitals and never come out again!  I know things!”

     “Frank!” groaned Remus.  Breaking free, he tossed the python onto the bed.

     “My last handler went into hospital,” Frank hissed, squirming frantically.  “I never saw him again!”  He tried to slither into Harry’s bag, but Remus kept pulling him back out again.

     “Frank,” moaned Remus, “I don’t have time for this!”

     “Harry needs me!” Frank hissed.  “Who knows what those dreadful monsters will do to him!  Cut him up!  Suck out his brains!  Feed him to leeches!”

     Remus picked up Frank’s squirming body and tried to get him back into his basket.  Hedwig hooted drowsily from her perch.

     “Look,” offered the man, “if Harry’s not home tomorrow, then I’ll take you to visit him.  Deal?”

     Frank weaved in the air, thinking.  Harry trusted this wolf in sheep’s clothing and for some reason so did he.  And Frank’s instincts rarely led him astray.

     “Well, all right,” he conceded, nodding.  Remus gave him a pat of thanks and turned to leave.  “But you take care of him!” called out Frank.  “He’s worth the effort!”

******

The afternoon wore on, the twins leading the way in trying to keep Harry awake.  They even managed a rather impressive Switching Charm on the heads of Ron and Ginny.  All too often, Harry’s blistered face would screw up in agony as something particularly nasty happened in his body.  The twins’ smiles would freeze on their faces, but they’d press on, telling jokes, casting prankish spells on each other’s heads — anything they could think of for Harry’s amusement.

     The Healers continued carefully monitoring his progress, inspecting his charts and making adjustments to the Waters.  Elizabeth had to fight down the urge to get in the way and ask too many questions.  The portraits in the corridors didn’t feel the need to show such restraint.  Any time anyone left the CCU, the portraits would chase after them, anxious for news; Harry was both hot gossip and a fascinating case study.  Inside the CCU his salt-levels continued causing grave concerns.  His body just didn’t have the strength to stop passing out from the pain.

     “Harry’s energy is tied up in his soul and no soul is ever keen to be near a body in such physical distress,” Healer Dee advised the Lupins soberly.

     Elizabeth knew how the poor soul felt.

     Trainee Healer Penelope Clearwater was in and out of the CCU quite a bit, armed with fresh supplies for the Healers and words of encouragement for the teenagers.  The Weasleys seemed oddly stiff with her at first, though they did warm up a little after she handed around bottles of Butterbeer and blocks of Honeyduke’s chocolate — and some much needed coffee.

     “Mrs Lupin?”

     Elizabeth choked on her coffee.  “What?  Oh, yes, Cho?”

     “I said would you like to come and chat with Harry.  It’s on Hermione’s timetable …”

     Elizabeth stared.  “Oh,” she said weakly.  Surely, she was the last person Harry wanted to see right now.  She looked to Remus for support, but found him nodding encouragingly instead.  Soon, she was sitting cross-legged on the floor with Hermione while the rest of the kids took a break.

     “Harry!” called Hermione.  “Harry, wake up!”  It was getting harder and harder to rouse him.  “Harry!  Your godmother is here — Mrs Lupin — she wants to say hello.”

     Harry stirred a little then rolled towards the window.  He blinked sleepily at Elizabeth and she gasped softly; was it her imagination or was he trying to smile?  To her right, Hermione looked up at her expectantly, trustingly.  Elizabeth wished she wouldn’t.

     “Hello, Harry,” she said, fighting to steady her voice.  “Er ...” Her mind went blank.  What do you say to someone you’ve tortured half to death?  “I — I’ve just flown in from Liscomb, from Nova Scotia ... ah, I just finished an assignment there ...”

     Harry’s ravaged face disappeared inside swirling quicksilver.

     “What kind of assignment?” prompted Hermione.

     “Oh, nothing too interesting, I’m afraid,” Elizabeth replied nervously.

     Hermione took a sip of Butterbeer and rolled her finger for Elizabeth to keep talking.

     “I was just rounding up some mountain trolls.”

     Hermione sputtered Butterbeer all over Harry’s porthole.  Elizabeth discreetly Scourgified the window.  The Waters swirled faster; Harry didn’t seem to mind.  With a sheepish smile, Hermione started again.

     “Mountain trolls, you were saying?  I didn’t know there were trolls in Canada.”

     “There aren’t,” Elizabeth said, starting to relax, “not normally, at any rate.  The tribe was from Aquitainia, in south-western France.  We don’t know how they managed to end up across the Atlantic.”

     “We?” prompted Hermione.

     “I work with the Canadian Ministry of Magic.”

     “Oh?  What division?”

     “Law Enforcement — I’m an Auror.”

     “Really?” Hermione said curiously.  “Do Aurors ordinarily hunt trolls?”

     “Not often,” Elizabeth admitted wryly.  “A special treat just for me, I expect.”

     “Harry’s not too bad at taking out mountain trolls either,” said Hermione.  Harry’s Waters started to slow and Hermione’s smile faded.  “Are you, Harry?” she called loudly into his earpiece.  “Right,” she continued after checking he was awake, “so I imagine you knew Harry’s parents very well?”

     “Yes,” Elizabeth murmured.  Then she remembered she needed to speak up.  “Ah, yes, very well, actually.  Particularly Lily, of course.”

     The Waters accelerated.  Hermione eyed the porthole thoughtfully.

     “Harry never talks about his mother ... his dad sometimes — things he did at school, but not his mum.”

     The quicksilver was highly active now; Harry must be listening hard.  Elizabeth drew a settling breath; he doesn’t need you falling apart, she reminded herself sternly.

     “Well,” she said as brightly as she could manage, “Lily and I became friends when we shared a dormitory at school.  I’d never met anyone quite like her.  I think at first we were each a bit of a curiosity for the other.”

     “How so?” asked Hermione.

     “Oh ... well, for one thing she was Muggle-born, which I have to say I thought was wonderfully exotic.  I’d never met any children from a Muggle family before I met Lily.”

     “Pure-blood?” prompted Hermione.

     “’Fraid so,” said Elizabeth, smiling reminiscently.  “First time I went to the Evans’s house, I was like,” Elizabeth pulled a shocked face, “whoa!  It was like entering another world.  It was all so exciting.  Lily would tease me mercilessly about how clueless I was about Muggle artefacts.  I remember once she — oh, do you by chance know what a Muggle television is?”  Hermione nodded.  “Well, Lily told me the people in the television would talk back to you, but it was a bit tricky and you had to stand on one foot and hold your arms out just so in order to — what did she call it? — oh yes, to get the right reception.”

     Hermione, well into her fourth, mood-enhancing Butterbeer, giggled helplessly for a full minute before asking, “How long did you keep trying?”

     “Hours!” moaned Elizabeth.  “Lily’s sister finally took pity on me.  Needless to say, I just couldn’t wait to take up Muggle Studies!”

     Harry’s Waters sped up even more.  Hermione smiled contentedly.

     “Was that his Aunt Petunia?” she asked.  “Did you know her, too?”  Elizabeth’s smile stiffened.  “You knew Harry’s aunt?” Hermione prompted encouragingly.

     Elizabeth sat up straighter.  This was not the time for old grudges.

     “Yes, actually,” she said.  “When we were young, Lily and I trailed everywhere after Petunia.  I expect we made quite a nuisance of ourselves.  I only have a brother, you see, and he’s ten years older.  I thought Lily was so lucky to have a sister — and a Muggle to boot!” said Elizabeth, putting on an impressed face.  “But Petunia didn’t seem to mind having her very own little fan club.  I remember she even tried to give me a cooking lesson once.  I was so fascinated by all those shiny Muggle tools.  I never cooked at home, of course.”  Elizabeth laughed a little.  “I can’t even imagine our house-elves ever letting me anywhere near the kitchen.”

     Hermione stiffened.  “You have house-elves?”

     “Me?  Oh no — no, they belong to my parents.”

     “So you don’t have any now?”

     Elizabeth smiled softly.  “I move around too much: no house, no house-elf.  Anyway, I can’t imagine any self-respecting elf wanting to traipse around the countryside after me.”  Hermione appeared mollified.  “Anyway, I was just full of questions about Muggle cooking, but Petunia didn’t seem to mind too much.  I think she rather liked the attention, actually.  And Lily certainly never tried to learn; she was much more likely to be off collecting frog spawn to feed her pet Puffskein.”

     “Puffskein ...” Hermione murmured, her lips playing with the word, “round and yellow and fluffy — hums a lot when it’s happy and has this really long thin tongue?”

     “The very one,” Elizabeth agreed.  “I remember Lily telling me Petunia woke up screaming one night when she found its tongue stuck up her nose.”

     “Ew!” laughed Hermione.

     “I know,” said Elizabeth, grinning.  “Lily tried to tell her it was just looking for food, but Petunia didn’t seem to find that at all comforting.  I suspect she wasn’t too keen on magical creatures after that little episode — or magic at all, really — much happier in the kitchen surrounded by all her power tools, I think.”

     “So,” said Hermione, “what did Mrs Dursley teach you about cooking?”

     Elizabeth grimaced.  “Not to over boil a tin of condensed milk.”

     Hermione burst out laughing.  Elizabeth shook her head ruefully.

     “Petunia was furious.  We were cleaning caramel off the ceiling for days!”

     A low snicker sounded from behind.  Elizabeth turned and glared at her husband.  Remus quickly cleared his throat as if to say, ‘Who, me?’  Elizabeth turned back to the Waters; they’d been swirling rapidly for a good twenty minutes.  She tried to think of another story to amuse Harry.

     “Mind you, I got Lily back for the television thing when she came to my house in the holidays ...” and here Elizabeth grinned wickedly, “… and she managed to accidentally free my mother’s favourite house-elf.”

     “She didn’t!” Hermione cried gleefully.

     “She certainly did,” Elizabeth assured the girl.

     “How’d she do it?”

     “Ah, well, we would’ve been … oh, thirteen, maybe.  I told Lily to be sure to package up her laundry in a potato sack and give it to my mother.  Mother, naturally enough, was a tad bemused to be given a sack of potatoes, but she accepted them graciously, of course, and handed them to the nearest house-elf.”

     “Brilliant!” Hermione chortled happily.

     “Mother didn’t think so,” Elizabeth said, wincing.  “She was livid.  The house-elf wasn’t too impressed either, if I recall.”

     “What did she do?” Hermione breathed.  “Your mother, I mean.”

     “Do?” Elizabeth asked curiously.

     “To Lily.”

     “Oh, I see.  Oh, well, Lily was a guest, so ...” Elizabeth shrugged, “what can you do?  Besides, Mother had a pretty fair idea it was really me behind it all.”

     “What happened?” pleaded Hermione.

     Elizabeth winced in memory.  “I got quite a few lengthy lectures about Muggle-baiting from my parents and some very long and very dirty looks from the other house-elves.  And I was never allowed to visit the Evans again.”

     “That seems harsh ...” Hermione said sympathetically.

     “Ah, well, thank you,” said Elizabeth, “but you see it wasn’t exactly the first time I’d caused a bit too much mischief around the house.  My parents chose the one punishment they knew would really hurt.  And I must admit it did cure me of playing pranks for a good long while.”

     “Was Lily ever allowed to visit you again?” asked Hermione.

     “Lily?  Oh yes, she came on quite a few of our holidays, actually.  Mother never held it against her, although she did sit her down for a long lesson on proper house-elf etiquette.”

     Elizabeth glanced at Hermione’s timetable.  It was time for the twins.  Elizabeth felt Harry could use a short rest first and let the conversation die down.  Harry’s weary face drew closer to the window.

     “Rest now, Harry,” Elizabeth said, trying hard to smile for him.

     Harry nodded gratefully and closed half-silvered eyes.  The smile slid from Elizabeth’s face; if he thought the saturation stage was bad …

******

“Would you please hold still?”

     Full of nervous energy, Harry rocked back and forth on his heels.  Today was the day!

     “Have you got the rings?” he checked as he battled with his cravat.

     “Yes, Frank, I’ve got the rings, I told you ten times already!”

     Frank?

     Harry stared at his reflection, thoroughly confused.  The face in the mirror looked vaguely familiar, but it wasn’t his.

     Water flooded his throat, choking him.

     “Harry!” cried a girl’s voice.  “Calm down!  Breathe through your nose!”

     Harry woke from his dream to find piranhas devouring his feet.  He screamed pointlessly into the warm water.  By now, he knew he wasn’t actually being eaten alive by fish, but it sure felt like it.  He could hear his friends talking to him, but breathing and hearing at the same time was completely beyond him just at the moment.  He tried counting his breaths, struggling to keep them even.  He counted off seconds — then minutes — then he lost count.  Healer Abercrombie told him the more it hurt the faster he was healing but this was too much — too long.  Harry didn’t know how much more he could take.  He gritted his teeth and silently begged for the pain to stop — if only for a minute ...

     A violent spasm shuddered through Harry’s wrecked body.  He couldn’t think; he could barely remember his name.  His head felt hot — enormous.  His skull was contracting, tighter and tighter.  Then it exploded and Harry knew no more.

******

Elizabeth’s heart broke as Harry’s tortured faced drifted closer to the window, his eyes dull and unseeing, his jaw clenched tight against the pain. The Waters had been going at speed for nearly an hour. The twins were doing too well at keeping him awake.

     “It’s been too long,” Elizabeth whispered to Remus. “He needs a break.”

     Remus agreed and together they voiced their concern to the Healers.  The Healers responded by adding a few drops of painkillers to the Waters.  It wasn’t nearly enough.  Harry was almost at saturation point, the Healers kept saying, and urged them to be patient, but the Lupins insisted.  After a brief huddle, the Healers agreed to ten minutes of Enchanted Sleep as soon as Harry’s eyes fully silvered.  At once, Remus crouched before the porthole, his wand poised, his forehead pressed into the glass, his eyes never leaving Harry’s.

     “Just a bit longer, son,” he begged in a whisper.

     Elizabeth couldn’t watch; she paced back and forth on the blind side of the bath.

     “Morpheo!” declared Remus at last.

     Elizabeth dashed around the bath to see Harry’s body relax and the Waters still.  The fraught visitors relaxed with him and started stretching their legs, all except Remus, who jerked to his feet.

     “What’s happening?” he cried, real fright in his voice.

     All eyes snapped to the porthole.  Harry was thrashing about in the water, his eyes closed, his face twisted in torment.  The Healers rushed from chart to flapping chart, muttering urgently to each other.  This went on for several minutes then it seemed to pass and Harry was sleeping peacefully once more.  They could see him very clearly now, his black hair swaying lazily.  Whatever was happening, the danger seemed to have passed.

     “People don’t normally experience anything during an Enchanted Sleep ...” Healer Dee said wonderingly.

     “‘Normal’ doesn’t apply to Harry,” Ron said matter-of-factly from the floor.

     Healer Abercrombie peeled back the sheet covering the sarcophagus.  As expected, the quicksilver lay in a gluggy blanket upon the surface of the water.  He swept some away and dropped waterproof candles into the bath the better see Harry’s face.  Remus and Elizabeth peered inside the bath, their hands clutching the high stone rim.  They could see Harry’s eyeballs moving beneath blistered eyelids.

     “There’s nothing happening in his head,” Healer Dee insisted, double-checking his charts, “nothing at all.”

     “Whose head’s he in then?” Ron snorted sceptically.

     The Healers, Remus, and Elizabeth stared at each other wordlessly, then they all looked back down at Harry.  A soft smile played on the boy’s split lips.

     Whose indeed, Elizabeth thought wonderingly.

******

When the world stopped spinning, Harry wasn’t in his room anymore.  Doors and corridors flashed past.  Screams pelted him from every direction, other people’s minds, other people’s pain.  The voices were everywhere, pressing in on him, screaming for attention.  Soon, he was hopelessly lost, bouncing from one broken soul to another.  Amidst the screams, a woman sang sweetly.  Harry knew that voice!  He raced towards it.

     Relief washed over him.  He’d found her again!  He rushed to her, but she looked straight past him, smiling lovingly at someone else.  A man was holding Harry’s baby ...

     Hang on a minute; Harry didn’t have a baby.  It was her baby, her and her husband’s: Frank!  Frank Longbottom!

     Groggy and confused, Harry felt the newborn pressing against his chest, like a little bird.  But it was Frank who was holding the baby, not Harry.  A great wave of love surged through Harry for the pink-skinned infant.  But it wasn’t his emotion.  It was Frank’s.  It was Frank’s love he was feeling — like the way he sometimes sensed Voldemort’s feelings.  But it was different with Frank, more intimate.  Harry felt, heard, even smelled, everything Frank did.  Harry figured if he was dreaming, then it was one heck of a dream.

     He knew only too well that Frank and Alice Longbottom were long-term residents of Saint Mungo’s Hospital.  He remembered everything now: Hermione convincing him to get in the bath; Cho trying to conjure her Patronus for him; Elizabeth Ramsay being there, though he was a bit fuzzy about that — and he had an awkward feeling he’d called her a frog.  But then again, he also thought he was a freaky snake-baby at one point.

     Frank nuzzled the top of his baby’s head then pulled back, worried his stubble might be scratchy.

     Whoa, thought Harry, how did he know that?  Was he possessing Mr Longbottom?  Harry grew worried.  When Voldemort had possessed him, he’d wanted to die rather than endure the brain splitting agony.  Was he hurting Neville’s dad?  Should he try to get out of his head?  Leave the poor man alone with his memories?

     A sudden feeling of overwhelming loneliness washed over Harry — and hard.  He couldn’t quite put it into words, but somehow he knew Frank wasn’t minding the company.

     Harry’s respite was short-lived.  Within minutes, his bog-annoying captors woke him up and he was back in his underwater prison.  Hours passed with the cycle looping: pain and sleep, pain and sleep, like some Dark amusement ride he couldn’t get off.

     After passing out for the nth time, his mind floated out of his body and hovered above his bath, fuming.  He only just noticed his bed sheet was gone and all that lay between him and eternal mortification was a sloppy layer of silver goo!  It looked like the Healers were clearing the room.  Speechless, Harry watched as each of the girls stand and peer into his bath.  It looked like they could only see his messed-up face right now, but who knew how long that blanket of silver gunk would stay where it was supposed to?  Outraged, Harry raced off to have a good whinge to Frank about untrustworthy Healers!

     It was very strange — being in the mind of another person, but Harry had been visiting with Frank Longbottom every chance he got.  In Frank, he found refuge from the storm of insane souls who called Saint Mungo’s home.  Neither Harry nor Frank knew what to do at first, but they eventually got a sense of each other.  Frank didn’t talk in words exactly (either he wouldn’t or couldn’t), but they managed to communicate reasonably well.  Harry would tell Frank things and Harry could feel Frank’s emotions in response: happiness, frustration, curiosity — mainly curiosity.  In return, Frank would draw up memories of his own to show Harry.  For Harry, it was as if he was floating through a Pensieve, being able to see, hear, touch everything in Frank’s memory, but, unlike a Pensieve, Harry also felt what Frank was feeling.  The doubling up of sensations took some getting used to.

     When Harry finally thought to tell Frank who he was, Frank was very surprised and immediately conjured memories of baby Neville, accompanied by feelings of longing.  Harry knew exactly what Frank wanted and set about dredging up every good memory of Neville he could think of: Neville standing up to him and Hermione and Ron in first year and earning the House Points that made Gryffindor win the House Cup; Neville receiving compliments from Professor Sprout; Neville turning his Boggart into a handbag-wielding, vulture-hat wearing Severus Snape (Frank couldn’t get enough of that one); Neville launching an attack on Malfoy and his goons for rubbishing patients at Saint Mungo’s; and all the times Neville had stood up for him, Harry Potter, too.

     When Harry returned to Frank this time, he’d run out of things he thought were impressive, and sheepishly moved on to less illustrious moments, such as the infamous Stinksap episode on the Hogwarts Express.  Frank was enthralled.  He wanted more and more; he couldn’t get enough.  Harry tried to oblige: Neville making dumb jokes in their dormitory; Neville tripping on his robes; Neville falling over chairs, desks, stairs; Neville treading on Ginny’s feet at the Yule Ball.  Frank was gleeful.  He started conjuring a few schoolboy memories of his own.  Harry was delighted; he now knew where Neville got his clumsiness. 

     Without warning, Harry was underwater again and screaming and choking.  The minute he passed out again, he was off seeking Frank.  Frank helped him find his way by dreaming of Alice singing.  When Harry finally thought to explain the reason for his absences: that he’d been in a near-fatal accident and was taking a long, hot bath, Frank grew alarmed, frantic even.  His thoughts grew chaotic as he struggled to make himself understood, but all Harry could discern were random screaming faces, explosions, wand fire, flashes of red and green light … and Professor Dumbledore shaking his head sorrowfully and saying, “Lost, Frank ... and for all eternity.”

     A new face appeared — goggle eyed and vacant-looking — Hogwarts’ clueless seer, Sibyll Trelawney.  Harry wondered if Frank was worried about the prophecy.

     “Trelawney?” Harry said.  “Erm, yeah, I know about that, it’s okay.”  This piece of news failed to calm Frank one little bit.  “Look, can we chat about something else?”

     Frank conjured a memory of Alice clutching the throat of her dressing gown.

     “Voldemort,” she whispered urgently, “is he dead?  Is that even possible?”

     “Yeah … not really what I had in mind, Frank.  How about I show you some more things with Neville?  Have I told you about our first flying lesson?  Neville managed to fall off his broom.  It was pretty spectacular, actually, broke his wrist and everything.”

     But Frank was too worked up to continue.  His head was full of desperate battles from the old days.  Harry felt an enormous surge of hatred when Snape’s face appeared amongst the Death Eaters (Harry wasn’t too sure if that was from him or Frank).  And all the while, he could hear a vicious laugh, a sneering baby-talking voice: Bellatrix Lestrange!  And amongst all that, repeating over and over, was Albus Dumbledore, shaking his head and saying, “Lost, Frank ... and for all eternity.”

     “Frank, stop!” ordered Harry.  “Please!  You can’t be thinking about that stuff.  It’s not good for you.”

     Harry kept on interrupting Frank’s anguished thoughts with positive images of Neville laughing and smiling.

     “Frank, tell me about your family again ... tell me about Neville ...”

     Frank struggled to calm down, struggled to think happier thoughts.  Eventually, he conjured a memory of himself just sitting in an armchair, holding his newborn son tightly in his arms — just thinking.  His hands — they seemed so large and rough as he stroked Neville’s tiny head, the soft down under his fingertips unbelievably fine.  Would he be an Auror, too?  Or a Herbologist — like his grandfather?  He wanted so desperately to protect him — this little person who needed him so badly.  Harry felt Frank’s crushing fear something might happen to him — to Alice — leaving Neville alone and unprotected in the world.

     Frank fingered Neville’s plump cheek and pushed the dark thoughts aside: time enough to worry about that when they went home.  They were safe for now; no one would dare attack them here at Hogwarts.  His mind turned to dreaming about Neville growing up.  How much he yearned to rediscover the world through his little boy’s eyes.  Frank imagined Neville at three years old, covered in dirt and making mud pies.  At seven, they’d make a toy sailboat together and float it on the pond at the bottom of the garden.  At ten, he’d be old enough to read some of Frank’s favourite novels.  At eleven, he’d get his Hogwarts letter.  Frank wondered where Neville would be sorted, Gryffindor maybe ... Ravenclaw?  He imagined Neville coming of age, of making toasts at his birthday dinner ...

     Harry quietly absorbed Frank’s thoughts, felt what he felt, shared all his hopes and dream for his newborn son.  Harry felt miserable knowing none of this had happened for Frank and Neville — that none of it was ever going to happen.  Just like it had never happened for him and his own dad.  Frank must have picked up on Harry’s thoughts because sharp regret suddenly washed over him.

     “It’s okay, Frank, really,” Harry assured him.  “Neville knows you couldn’t help how things turned out.  Believe me, he knows his dad’s a hero.  Me, too, I know my dad died trying to save me,” Harry told Frank with quiet pride.  “I miss Mum and Dad all the time, but I know they were just trying to protect me.”

     Harry felt a great wave of sympathy from Frank.  Then the man was off searching again.  When the next memory started, Harry felt a jolt of surprise.  Frank was holding Neville in his arms again, but standing next to him was another man — and another baby.

     Harry spun excitedly around Frank’s memory, avidly drinking in every detail of James Potter.  The way he was carefully holding his tiny black-haired newborn high in his arms — his whole body rocking dreamily from side to side ... his cheek constantly brushing his son’s head, pure bliss gracing his face.  Harry tried not to think — tried not to do anything to interrupt Frank’s memory — he just wanted to live in this moment — nothing else mattered.

     “I’m going to need him back now.”

     Another great surge of emotion tugged at Harry’s heart.  It was his mother, Lily, followed close behind by Alice.

     “Hey,” complained James, “I only just got him.”

     “Yes, darling,” Lily said patiently, “but I could smell him from the kitchen.  Alice has been trying to show me how to stuff a chicken.  Disgusting business.”  She looked at the nappy in her hands then at James, and an impish smile grew on her face.  “Why don’t you change him?”

     “Oh.  Erm, that’s okay,” said James.  “Why don’t I take care of the chicken?”

     “I’ve got to learn sometime, James,” chided Lily.  Her eyes were dancing as she pressed the clean nappy into James’s chest.  “And so do you.”

     Alice conjured a changing table and handed Frank a fresh nappy, as well.

     “Not afraid, are you lads?” said Alice.  She turned back to Lily and rolled her eyes.  “Three weeks, and Frank still hasn’t changed a nappy.  Can you believe that?”

     Lily blurted a happy laugh.  Harry had never heard his mother laugh before.  He ached to hear it again.

     “I assure you, Alice,” she said, “James is no better.”

     Frank and James watched in alarm as the two women practically skipped from the room, leaving them alone and defenceless.

     “Right,” James said briskly when the two babies were lying side by side on the change table.  “Er ...”

     The new dads pushed up their sleeves and gingerly discarded their babies’ clothes.  Strong and decidedly unpleasant odours emerged from the tiny beings.  The dads leaned forward a little, screwing up their noses and sniffing suspiciously.

     “On three, eh?” suggested James.  “One — two — three — arghh!  Phaw!”

     Harry watched helplessly as urine shot into each dad’s face.  Fortunately, Frank’s mouth was closed, but James got a full burst.

     “Merlin!”  James whipped out his wand and shot water into his mouth, rinsing and spluttering into a nappy bucket.

     The babies lay calmly on the change table, kicking out their little legs.

     James drew his wand sternly on Harry.  “That was seriously out of order, son.”

     Sixteen-year-old Harry wholeheartedly agreed, but baby Harry just blinked at his father and curled tiny fingers around his mahogany wand, tugging it towards his rosebud lips.  James’s fierce face melted.

     The nappies were peeled back more fully and Harry bitterly regretted being able to receive Frank’s sense of smell when a great and malevolent force attacked the man’s nose.

     “Quick!” ordered James.  “Bubble-Headed Charm!”

     “Neville!  No!” Frank whimpered, as Neville’s little feet spread poo all over the place.  Wingardium Leviosa!”

      Soon, both babies were bobbing in mid air whilst their dads tried to work out the best way to delicately Scourgify them.  With teamwork they finally got the job done.  James was just trying to wriggle Harry’s feet back into his tiny romper suit when Lily and Alice reappeared.  They took one look at the scene before them and burst out laughing.  Harry looked around sheepishly.  Frank and James were still bubble-headed.  Soiled nappies and clothes were scattered about and talcum powder was thick upon the air.

     “Purgo Puteo!” said Lily.  She sniffed at the air and smiled.  “All clear.”

     Frank and James sheepishly popped their bubbles.

     “Definitely a charm worth learning,” said Frank, inhaling clean, baby-powder scented air.

     Lily and Alice reclaimed their floating newborns whilst the men cleared up the battlefield.  Harry watched as his mother held him aloft and beamed up at him.  Baby Harry responded by drooling on her nose.  Laughing happily, Lily nuzzled her face into his stomach.  She kept making silly baby talk, but neither of the two Harrys was minding too much.

     Abruptly yanked back to his watery reality, Harry groaned pitifully with frustration.  He couldn’t wait to get back to Frank and, when he did, Frank conjured more memories of the Potters.  Happy memories of simple things the Potters and the Longbottoms had done together with their children: playing in the garden; visits to each other’s houses; feeding time; bath time; and memories of Sirius and Elizabeth and Remus, too.

     “Wands are not for teething, darling,” Elizabeth panted, trying without success to dislodge baby Harry’s teeth whilst Sirius egged him on, cheerily gripping his own wand in his mouth behind her back (no doubt a game Padfoot often played with his godson when no one was around, Harry thought fondly).

     Whilst Harry was deeply grateful for Frank’s memories, he knew it would never be enough.  Just as with the Mirror of Erised, he knew he would always crave more and more, yet he savoured the memories anyway, knowing he would never get this opportunity again.  He had a feeling Frank was making an effort to carefully edit his memories, keeping to simple, happy moments, but Harry didn’t mind that at all; he had enough dark memories of his parents to last him a lifetime.  Seeing the three Potters happy was starting to fill a little of the aching empty hole in Harry’s heart.  His thoughts turned to his friend, Neville.  If only Neville could have these moments with his father, too.

     As the memories continued, Harry got the feeling that Frank was editing out more and more, trying to keep the memories light hearted.  At first, Harry thought Frank was trying to spare his feelings — not wanting to burden him with dark memories of the first war — but, after a while, he realised that Frank was desperately trying to keep himself calm and cheerful.  Whenever the memories drifted towards darker events, Frank’s thoughts would become more chaotic and his emotions more agitated.  Again and again, Dumbledore appeared, shaking his head sadly and saying, “Lost, Frank ... and for all eternity.”

     Harry tried to calm Frank down with thoughts of Neville: Neville fainting at the sound of Mandrake’s screaming; Neville losing his toad; Neville losing his Remembrall, but none of it was working.  Harry was getting a very odd reading from Frank; his heart was beating a mile a minute.  Then he was gone — just like that.  Harry spun around in the darkness.

     “Frank!

     A low rumbling started.  The rumbling got louder, stronger, like a train approaching from far away.  Pulsing, throbbing, waves of remembered pain hit Harry.  Voices screamed at him, begging a moment — just a moment.  Frantic, Harry tried to repel the attacks, tried to close his mind against the riot of tortured souls, against experiencing their horrors.  At last, he broke free only to find himself in hot water again.

     Arrgh!!

******

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