Chapter 19 — Elizabeth
By Lady Alchymia
Harry spent his morning sleeping and doing his best to stop his mind from wandering off. He wasn’t having too much success. Bored with watching himself snoring, he risked a quiet drift down the corridors, dodging unpleasant thoughts, and trying not to possess anyone. Fortunately, the daytime hospital was full of busy minds going about their business: patients wailing, Healers healing, sleigh bells ringing. After narrowly avoided a sobbing girl being tugged along by her runners, he sneaked down to the Closed Ward, fancying a chat with someone who wasn’t scared of him.
The Longbottoms occupied the last two beds in their ward. With the curtains drawn all the way across, it was almost a private room for them, boasting a few ratty pot plants, faded children’s drawings on the wall â€” and bars on the windows. Harry double-checked the name above the bed. Frank was recognisable â€” but only just. His wasted face and greying hair revealed nothing of the gleeful husband and father that Harry had come to know through his memories. Right now, at ten in the morning, Frank was sitting up in bed, his face screwed up in concentration, carefully tearing his newspaper into a stack of long thin strips. What he planned to do with them was anyone’s guess.
Hovering overhead, Harry wasn’t sure what to do. Frank wasn’t sending out any idle thoughts or dreams that he could latch onto: no daydreams of Alice singing, no giggling baby-Neville. Harry supposed he’d need to come back when Frank was asleep. Nearby, Alice stood by a sunny window in her nightdress, her forehead pressed into the bars as if she might slip through them if only she could waste away enough. His thoughts elsewhere, it took Harry a moment to notice they had company.
"Morning, Mrs Longbottom," Cho called in a determinedly bright tone. "That’s the way."
Very gently, she tugged a compliant Alice towards a hand basin then set about helping her brush her teeth. She was so patient with her. When Cho shook out a fresh nightie for Alice, Harry belatedly realised he had no business being there. Retreating to his own room, he contented himself with hanging out with Ron and Hermione, who were sitting at his bedside with a stack of party photos, waiting for him to wake up and teasing each other in good-humoured whispers. It was beyond Harry why they couldn’t act like this when he was awake.
Woken for lunch, he squinted with quicksilver eyes at the contents of his tray, bemused to discover that the hospital house-elves had cut his sandwiches into lightning-bolt shaped fingers. They’d also made little broomsticks and Snitches out of his asparagus and mash. What was he, five? As he picked at his food, Hermione and Ron passed on a stream of get-well messages from his friends.
"Everyone wanted to come and see you," said Ron, "but Mum said no. Took an hour to get rid of Lavender. Parvati, too. Wouldn’t stop crying. Floo fire was going so long that Ashwinders started poppin’ out and laying eggs all over the house. Ginny’s still trying to find them all."
"Did you happen to talk to Neville?" Harry asked Ron.
"Yeah," replied Ron vaguely, as he poked through Harry’s tray, plucking out his pudding, "he says hi. You want this?"
"Could you get a message to him for me?"
"What am I, your ruddy secretary?"
Harry knew Ron wasn’t anywhere near as put out as he sounded, rather he was actually bubbling up with relief and affection â€” well, that and hunger.
"Just tell him to come see me when he can," said Harry.
Ron mumbled an affirmative through a mouthful of fluorescent-orange jelly. "I’m starbing! Mum didn’ ab time ta make lunch."
"Why didn’t you just make your own lunch?" laughed Hermione.
Ron blinked, bewildered. A buzzing sounded and he carefully opened an inner pocket of his robes.
"G’day, Bruce," said Harry, as Bruce, the emerald-green blowfly, flew down and inspected Harry’s lunch tray before settling on Ron’s jelly.
Hermione’s face screwed up in disgust. "That is so unhygienic!"
"Who’re you calling unhygienic?" said Ron indignantly. "He had a bath with me just this morning!"
"That is just way too much information," laughed Harry. Ron grinned and offered him a spoonful of jelly. Harry politely declined.
"What are the Healers saying about your Wheel of Anxiety?" asked Hermione.
Harry didn’t want to keep things from his best friends, but he just knew that if he said anything about his encounters with Kreacher or the others, Hermione would set the Healers onto him in a heartbeat.
He shrugged and said, "She reckons I’ll survive â€” and apparently I’ve got a lot of soul."
Ron snickered and helped himself to an asparagus broomstick. A dove’s coo sounded and Harry smiled inwardly with relief; his salts must be going up again.
"Oh, almost forgot," Ron said, dumping a brown-papered package in Harry’s lap. "From that Natalie," he muttered, picking through Harry’s lightning-bolts, trying to find something that wasn’t corned beef.
Hermione frowned sternly at Ron and pushed the lunch tray firmly back towards Harry, who was struggling with numb fingertips to open Natalie’s package. Hermione opened it for him. It was some kind of leather journal, empty but for the first page. Harry had Hermione read the message to him.
The tabloids seem to be having another field day. I saw a ridiculous article with photos of you and me in the London Sunday Prophet. What a melodrama! So, I have now been, how did my brother so kindly put it, â€˜internationally dumped!’ Why oh why am I not an only child!! Oh well, I imagine I shall get over you eventually! (Flutters hand over heart in pathetic girlie way!)
Hermione did the appropriate hand fluttering, earning a snicker from Ron.
"I think I like this Natalie," he decided, "nice to know there’s at least one girl on the planet who’s immune to the charms of our celebrity midget." Hermione was more impressed that she took the newspaper article so well. "Yeah," Ron agreed emphatically. "I mean, the paper made her out to be some kind of a â€”"
The redhead stopped and Hermione tried to hide a smile.
"A scarlet woman?" she prompted helpfully, though Harry didn’t think that was the word Ron had in mind. Hermione turned back to Natalie’s letter.
So anyway, on to a more interesting subject: how was the party?!!!! I can spill now, so tell me all about that Wheel thing, what was it called ... The Wheel of Anxiety or something? And the truth mints â€” did anyone have to reveal anything seriously cringe-worthy? And the Quidditch games! Do you really have your own Quidditch pitch? I am so jealous! Did Viktor Krum really come to your party?! Did you play against him? That must have been so cool!
Hermione spared a smirk for Ron, who merely grunted then swallowed a lightning-bolt.
And the feasts and everything else the boys told me about!! I want details!!! DETAILS!!!
I guess I should explain what I’m writing in. This is a WizChat journal. My Dad invented them, so I don’t know if you’ve used one before (ignore this if you have!). Anyway, if you haven’t, just write â€˜Ave Natalie Ramsay’ then your message then sign off â€˜Vale Harry Potter’. Then the message will appear in my WizChat here in Canada. When you send a message, the other journal glows, and if you’re really antsy for a reply, add â€˜Quid novi?’ after your signature. (Our godmother hates it when I do that â€” haha!)
Write soon! Big hugs,
P.S. And don’t forget you promised to send party photos!
Hermione happily volunteered to fetch a photo album and make up a â€˜nice selection’ for Natalie.
"Get one for, Neville, too," said Harry, though it wasn’t really Neville he was thinking of. "I haven’t got him a birthday present yet."
Hermione nodded and turned to examining the WizChat. "You know, I’ve read about these."
Harry and Ron exchanged a look: of course she had.
"They’re big in North America," Hermione noted, turning the journal over in her hands, "but they’ve never really taken off here. And they’re terribly expensive, but I guess if her father invented them ..."
"A family of inventors then," Ron observed, impressed. Hermione looked perplexed. "Harry’s godmother," Ron reminded her. A wicked smile grew on Ron’s freckled face. "You don’t know who she is," he stated incredulously. "Oh, this is too good!"
"What is? Harry?"
"Don’t you dare tell her," Ron warned Harry. "I want to savour the moment."
"What are you going on about?" snapped Hermione.
Propped up in bed, Harry shifted into a more comfortable position from which to enjoy the show his best friends were putting on for him: Hermione’s frustration that Ron could know something significant that she didn’t; Ron’s glee for the very same reason. Bruce the blowfly looped a loop.
"I’m very disappointed in you, Hermione," Ron sighed, shaking his head sadly. "I mean, I would’ve thought you, of all people, would’ve known. Clearly, you’ve not been paying enough attention in Potions."
"Potions?" snapped Hermione.
"Elizabeth â€” Elizabeth Ramsay ..."
Hermione shook her head crossly. "What about Elizabeth Ram â€”" Hermione’s mouth fell open in shock. "Wolfsbane! She invented the Wolfsbane Potion!"
Ron snickered condescendingly before turning to Harry to say, "Took her long enough."
Harry knew Ron would never have remembered such a detail without the inspiration of a tasty Chocolate Frog, but neither of them was going to admit that to their favourite know-it-all. Hermione’s indignation quickly transfigured into excitement at having access to such a superb Potions Mistress.
"She’s fit," Ron agreed. "Wouldn’t mind having her for Potions. Imagine getting rid of Snape."
Both Harry and Ron groaned with longing at that happy thought.
"You know, I still can’t believe he did such a poor job on that Summoning Charm," Hermione said thoughtfully.
"Well, he did!" Harry said shortly. "Why are you always defending him?"
The mood in the room chilled. Ron eyed Harry anxiously. Hermione opened her mouth to launch into what was probably going to be a very logical speech. Ron never gave her that chance.
"Lupin says it was an accident, and so does Dumbledore!" he declared. "And if Harry believes them, that’s the end of it. Or are you doubting Dumbledore now?"
Hermione’s face flushed. "No, I never said â€”"
"Didn’t Dumbledore just save Harry from You-Know-Who?" Ron railed. "Why would he protect Snape if there was any doubt? Just drop it! The stupid great bat can’t charm his way out of a paper bag and that’s the end of the story!"
Her lips pursed, Hermione yielded the point, but she couldn’t possibly not have the last word.
"If Dumbledore says so, of course," she agreed stiffly, "but it must have been an extraordinarily complicated charm."
Harry felt Ron’s anger dissipating as quickly as it had risen. He had a shrewd idea his touchiness had more to do with the fright he’d had over losing his best friend than any secret faith in Snape. In any case, Harry was more than happy for the subject to move along.
"So," Ron said, sneaking another lightning bolt, "when are they gonna let you out, anyway? Mum said something about next week, but you’ll wanna get out before the game â€”"
"He’ll get out sooner if he can eat his own lunch," sounded a stern voice from the doorway.
It was Remus â€” and Elizabeth, too. Ron sheepishly sneaked Harry’s banana back on his tray whilst Hermione launched herself at Elizabeth, gushing over the Wolfsbane Potion and peppering the witch with questions. Remus sent her, Ron, and Hermione off to the cafeteria for lunch.
"Well, that’s Hermione entertained for the rest of the day," he remarked dryly.
Harry tried to smile, but it was hard work; did Remus not want him to see Elizabeth at all? If Harry had to choose between them, he’d choose Remus, no question, but he really hoped it wouldn’t come to that.
"Remus, you and Elizabeth," he started hesitantly, "would you rather I not see her?"
Remus’s eyebrows shot up in surprise. "Not at all, not at all â€” I just wanted to see how you’re doing. I can call her back if you like …?" He motioned towards the door but Harry demurred, inspiring one of Remus’s shrewd looks. "Harry, fate may not have been kind to Elizabeth and me, but I don’t want that to interfere with the two of you getting to know each other. I know she would like that, and I would, too," he added firmly. "Don’t ever be worried about that. When you were young, your family refused all contact, and your aunt was particularly set against Lizzie; she even threatened to break your sanctuary if she ever tried to seek you out uninvited."
Harry had already guessed as much from the phone calls earlier in the summer â€” that his aunt had blackmailed his godmother into staying away â€” but Remus seemed oddly keen for him to like her. It made Harry even more curious as to why they broke up. Remus, however, was more interested in the Healers’ post-bath instructions â€” and Harry’s lunch tray. He tugged it closer and sniffed suspiciously.
"Did you eat any of your own lunch?"
"... And have you had other problems controlling your reflexive magic in the past?"
Harry just stared at the Saint Mungo’s Psycho-Healer, trying hard not to laugh.
"Ah, well, I guess if you count blowing up your aunt," he said, counting off on his fingers, "accidentally jumping on top of the school roof, turning your teacher’s hair blue â€”"
Harry broke off as Ron, returned from lunch and sitting on a stool behind the Healer’s back, snorted appreciatively. The Psycho-Healer’s eyes squeezed shut, as if in pain.
"Harry, dear," she said, flicking her eyes meaningfully over her shoulder, "are you sure you wouldn’t rather we spoke in private?"
Harry was actually quite sure of what he wanted â€” and it didn’t involve spilling his guts to a total stranger. In fact, he’d been dead against seeing the witch at all, complaining bitterly to Remus that if word got out he was seeing some kind of shrink, everyone would think he was a total loony. His guardian, however, made it clear that Harry would not be going home before all of the Healers requirements were satisfied.
It had taken Harry all of two minutes to realise that no matter what he said to the Psycho-Healer (who reminded him forcibly of Sibyll Trelawney) she was going to spin it all out of shape and make him look completely mental anyway. He decided early on that he might as well have some fun with her. He gazed up at her now with mournful eyes.
"But I need my Wheezy," he said tragically. "What if those Heliopaths come back again and fly me away in their golden chariot?"
The Psycho-Healer clicked her tongue sympathetically, and her Psycho-Quill filled another two pages of notes on her clipboard. Ron was biting his knuckles so hard his eyes were watering.
"Now, Harry," the Healer continued soothingly, brushing a fly from her face, "all this anger you’ve been feeling â€” I think we really need to work on getting you in touch with your feminine side â€”"
Ron fell off his stool.
"Really, young man," complained the Healer, twisting around, "I must insist that if you’re going to stay, then you â€” pfft â€” what is it with this fly?"
The witch swiped irritably again at Bruce. Harry licked his lips with anticipation as she drew her wand.
"You know what, Ron?" Harry said brightly as the Psycho-Healer ran screaming out the door in a haze of angry blowflies. "Remus was right â€” I do feel much better."
Elizabeth sighed inwardly. Hermione’s endless â€” though admittedly intelligent â€” questions made her feel like she was sitting her Potions’ NEWT all over again. When Remus joined them, he glanced shrewdly at Elizabeth’s barely touched salad and said, "Did Hermione happen to mention she’s fond of Potions?"
"She might have mentioned it," Elizabeth replied with a small wink to the girl, who smiled bashfully and excused herself to return to Harry.
Over lunch, Remus brought Elizabeth up to date with the fatal flaw in the Summoning Charm, but it was Harry’s recent vision from Lord Voldemort that alarmed her more than anything else.
"What kind of vision?" she asked.
Remus hesitated. "I’m sorry, Lizzie, I promised Harry. He’s not in the most trusting mood at the moment ..."
"Oh ... right. No, of course," agreed Elizabeth, frowning slightly. "Did he say whether he’d been experiencing any other astral phenomena?"
Remus blinked. "Er, I’m not sure ... he said something about people screaming all night ..."
Elizabeth nodded distractedly. "I know the Healers said to expect extreme mood swings, but, to be honest, I’m more worried about him being able to close his mind."
Remus leaned forward. "Do you think you could give him some tips?"
"Of course," Elizabeth said at once, "but he might not respond to me; you really need to learn Occlumency from someone you know and trust."
"Ah ..." said Remus.
"Oh, nothing," he replied wryly, "I just wish you’d been here last Christmas."
"Do you?" Elizabeth asked tightly.
Remus’s face fell. "Lizzie, I’m sorry â€” that was a daft thing to say."
"It’s fine," Elizabeth lied, sinking back into the padded banquette. "You were asking about Occlumency?"
"Lizzie," Remus said, leaning closer, "you have to believe I had no idea Harry didn’t already know about you. Sirius said Petunia already told Harry about his godparents, but he was wrong. Harry said he only found out by chance. Believe me, I never wanted to exclude you from Harry’s life." Some of the weight pressing down on Elizabeth lifted, and she nodded silently. "Lizzie, we need to talk about last night. What I said ... I didn’t mean you weren’t wanted."
He reached for her hand, but Elizabeth whipped it away.
"Don’t â€” don’t make me do this â€” it’s hard enough holding things together without you â€”" She stopped and shook her head. "Look, just one thing at a time."
Remus looked miserable. "I’m sorry, Elizabeth. I didn’t mean to upset you. I just ..."
"Just Harry," she pleaded, "I can’t deal with anything more right now."
"Just Harry," Remus agreed tightly. A heavy silence fell, broken finally by Elizabeth.
"Remy, I do want to talk," she said faintly, leaning forward, "just not here â€” not now â€” but soon."
It was a few moments before they realised their fingers had become entwined, and they self-consciously drew back, their hands separated once more by two inches and ten years.
"I’ll get the coffee," Remus suggested hoarsely, returning a short while later with two steaming mugs. "So ... about Harry ... you haven’t really had a chance to talk to him yet. The Healers should be done with him by now. Why don’t you go down and have a chat?"
"I wouldn’t even know where to start," she admitted, her insides twisting at the very thought. "How can I even begin to make amends for what happened?"
"You weren’t to know," Remus insisted for the nth time since they found Harry. "Look, just go down and talk to him. He could surprise you; he’s a truly remarkable boy."
"What’s he like, Remy?" she asked wistfully.
Remus slowly smiled â€” his face lighting up piece by piece. Elizabeth’s heart ached; she’d missed that smile so.
"He’s James and Lily’s son, there’s no question about that. A true Gryffindor: courageous, fiercely loyal, fearless in battle, he’s not one to give in or give up. He’s brave, but he’s not usually one to pick a fight, though his temper’s got the better of him at times this past year. He can be surprisingly vulnerable, though he rarely shows it. He misses his parents most of all, I think. Their deaths haunt him still ..."
Remus stared thoughtfully into his coffee, perhaps haunted by a few bad memories of his own. But then he smiled again, ruefully this time.
"He’s frighteningly self-reliant. It scares me to death knowing how prone he is to take matters into his own hands. He’s had little reason to trust people in his life, and yet he will if he knows they’re being straight with him. And he’s got quite a dose of pride; he holds his dignity quite sacred," Remus’s smile twisted at the thought, "not unlike most teenage boys, I suppose. And his mother ... he managed to get kicked off his Quidditch team after punching out someone who insulted Lily’s honour."
Elizabeth smiled reminiscently. "Sounds like James ..."
"Ah, that’s another thing," Remus said. "He hasn’t been too impressed with tales of James’s less inspiring moments at school. If there’s one thing Harry detests it’s a bully."
"James could be a bit of a prat," conceded Elizabeth. "But he managed to pull his head in eventually."
"True ... but Harry’s not too fussed on being compared with his father just because he looks so much like him."
"Ah," said Elizabeth, nodding. "Good to know. What kinds of things does he like? He plays Quidditch, I gather."
"Yes, he’s an exceptional Seeker."
"And the guitar?"
Remus drained his mug and pushed it away. "And now you’re stalling. Come on, my lovely, time to face the music."
On returning down the stairs, Remus groaned deeply and hurried Elizabeth past a poor Healer beset by a cloud of flies.
Harry smiled benignly at Remus as he and Elizabeth re-entered the CCU. Catching Hermione’s eye, Harry tipped his head a little, inspiring her to spring to her feet and declare that she and Ron needed to go to Diagon Alley for duplication potions. Ron was duly under-whelmed by the prospect until she suggested a side-trip to Honeydukes.
"Fudge!" Harry called after them.
"Right," Remus said, clapping his hands, "I need to pay a visit to the Headmaster. I’m sure you two have a lot to catch up on. Play nice."
Within moments, godmother and godson were alone. The silence seemed to get louder. Elizabeth toyed nervously with her wand.
"May I?" Harry asked, nodding towards the wand. She handed it over without question. He squinted closely at the wood and grinned when he found two small tooth marks. "Sorry about that," he said, handing it back.
Elizabeth’s jaw fell. "How ...?"
Having had his fun with the Psycho-Healer, Harry was determined now to make a good impression.
"Hi, I’m Harry," he said, smiling gamely, "pleased to meet you again."
Elizabeth shook his offered hand. "Elizabeth ... my â€” my friends call me Lizzie."
"Thank you for coming to see me," Harry said very politely, but this just seemed to make his godmother feel worse. "Erm … would you like to sit down?"
Elizabeth pulled up a stool next to him and sat down gingerly, like a cat, ready to leap off again.
"Harry, I’m so sorry about what happened."
Still without his spectacles, Harry needed to squint to make out the small woman’s face. She looked anxious and tired; her eyes were red and puffy. With a sudden rush of understanding, he realised she felt responsible for sending him through the boiler and expected â€” needed â€” to be punished.
"It was pretty bad," he admitted. Elizabeth nodded mutely. Harry was about to try to convince her it wasn’t her fault but stopped himself. "Let’s not do that again," he said instead.
"No," agreed Elizabeth faintly. "Never."
"So ..." said Harry, "you live in Canada. That must be nice. What’s it like there?"
"Oh, you know," Elizabeth said weakly. "Big."
Silence fell and Harry tried again; his godmother was still a bundle of nerves.
"So you invented Remus’s potion â€” that’s really cool." Elizabeth nodded slightly. "I mean, it’s brilliant â€” I only met Remus because of the Wolfsbane Potion. It meant he could work at Hogwarts â€” well, for a while anyway. So ..." Harry paused and blew out his cheeks; this was hard going. "I bet Hermione had a million questions for you."
Elizabeth choked a laugh. "Something like that."
"Don’t think you’ve heard the end of it," Harry warned her. "She’ll talk your ear off for days if you let her."
"I’ll be sure to keep that in mind," Elizabeth said wryly.
"So, how did you get in?" he asked curiously. "Remus said something about another property."
"Sirius never told you?"
Harry shook his head. Elizabeth went to the door, spoke briefly with the guards, then cast an Imperturbable Charm on the room. Returning to Harry’s bedside, she told him all about Black Island: how it had belonged to Sirius’s uncle; how she and Sirius had holidayed there together as children; how Sirius had fled there on Buckbeak after escaping the Ministry’s Dementors at Hogwarts.
"And you say you can get there from the grandfather clock?" checked Harry, both bemused and ticked off that he’d never thought to climb inside the old clock. "Do you think I could go there?"
"You’d best consult with Remus on that," Elizabeth said carefully, then her lips twitched and she added conspiratorially, "though I imagine if we ganged up on him, he might be persuaded." She inclined her head a little and added meaningfully, "It was Sirius’s safest refuge. It could be that for you, too, if you like."
Harry nodded thoughtfully; sounded like a plan to him. "What about his cousins? Do they know about it?"
"No, at least I don’t think so. Alphard was quite an outcast within his family. Most of them wouldn’t even talk to him, let alone allow him anywhere near their children. They were always worried he’d give them ideas. Mrs Black wanted nothing to do with him or his â€˜rat-infested rock’ as she called it."
"Does the Order know about it?"
"I’m not sure, Harry. Sirius was even more secretive about the island than Alphard; he hadn’t even told Remus." Elizabeth smiled faintly. "In a way, the island was sacred to him, somewhere he could forget all the evils of the world. But that made it very lonely, too. Sirius was never really one to care how he was living; he’d live in a cave if it meant he could be close to the people he cared about. He â€”" Elizabeth broke off. Harry could feel her heart clenching as she said in a low voice, "He never could bear to be alone for long."
Elizabeth’s grief over Sirius’s death tore at Harry. He knew with aching certainty exactly how she felt.
"He lived in a cave near Hogwarts once," he offered, "to be close to me ... we’d bring him food ..."
Elizabeth smiled weakly; Harry could tell she was trying desperately to hold it together for him. He watched curiously as she briefly closed her eyes. The pain submerged again, as if swallowed by the Giant Squid. It was only a few seconds, but when she started talking again, she was calm once more.
"There are caves on the island, too," she said, "grottoes and waterfalls. We had some rather grand adventures when we were little." Elizabeth smiled reminiscently. "We’d stage great naval battles in the lake; Uncle Alphard had the best toy pirates. He left the island to Sirius in his Will of course."
"Right ..." said Harry slowly, "so no one lives there now?"
"Actually, there are quite a few animals and birds living there, and the house-elves, of course. They â€”"
Elizabeth broke off and sucked in a breath.
"They what?" Harry prompted warily; he didn’t fancy the prospect of having more Kreachers to deal with.
"Lovey and Dovey," Elizabeth said faintly. "They were devoted to Sirius, they don’t know he’s ... I â€” I’ll have to pay them a visit and let them know he’s gone."
Another painful surge of emotion rose within Elizabeth and, once again, though nothing of it showed on her face, Harry felt the pain being quietly swallowed down.
"Wish I could do that," Harry said longingly.
Elizabeth looked mystified. "Talk to Lovey and Dovey?"
"No, sorry, I didn’t mean that. Erm, I just wondered, are you an Occlumens?"
"Ah, yes, actually. I’m accredited to level six."
Harry nodded slightly. "Cool ... I didn’t know there were levels ..."
"Don’t be too impressed. It goes all the way to level twelve."
"Still ..." said Harry slowly, "bet it’s useful ..."
Elizabeth regarded him shrewdly.
"This place can be very â€” demanding," she suggested. "Are you having trouble closing your mind, Harry?"
"Yes!" Harry said, relieved to be able to talk to someone who would actually understand. And he didn’t dare tell the Healers lest they lock him up in a padded cell. "I get all caught up in other people’s nightmares, people being tortured and stuff. It’s only when I’m asleep, but I don’t know if I can handle another night like last night."
Elizabeth nodded sympathetically. "I could show you some blocking methods, if you like."
Harry moistened his lips; it was a tempting offer, but his Occlumency lessons with Snape had always just left him feeling weaker.
"I don’t know ... would you be attacking my mind?"
"Not at all â€” just describing a few techniques," she said soothingly. "I’d never try to force my way into your mind without your permission."
Harry wasn’t entirely convinced it wouldn’t hurt, but he knew he needed to do something.
"Is it normal to feel … you know, stuff?" he started hesitantly.
"Stuff," Elizabeth repeated blankly.
"Other people’s stuff … erm, you know, when they’re happy or sad or ..."
"Oh, stuff," she said, nodding sagely. "You mean Soul Static." At Harry’s relieved nod, Elizabeth explained further. "When you feel something strongly, your emotions manifest in some physical way: a raised heartbeat, a blush in the cheeks, that sort of thing. When you add magical auras into the equation, things get a bit more â€” intense. Over-excited auras can cause hair to crackle with electricity, eyes to flash, skin to prickle, even accidental magic." She waited for Harry’s nod before continuing. "My guess is that right now you’re accidentally picking up static from any strong auras you encounter. Wizarding auras can be very draining to a sensitive soul."
"I’m not sensitive," Harry complained. "They’re loud."
"Of course," Elizabeth wisely agreed, "not sensitive. Silly word. Erm, the thing is, your soul is incredibly over-charged at the moment and, until it settles down, you’re bound to pick up on a few things you’d rather not. We’ll definitely work on mental shielding, but perhaps after dinner? You need your rest, and I imagine your friends are keen to continue their visit."
Harry nodded more contentedly â€” happy to know there would be something to look forward to in trying to block out the other minds and also that he’d have a bit of time to prepare himself first.
"Shall I ...?" Elizabeth asked, pointing her wand to the door. At Harry’s nod, she lifted the Imperturbable Charm, unlocked the door, and invited Ron and Hermione back in, Hermione tottering under a pile of albums and potions, Ron bearing fudge.
"I got a letter from Natalie today," Harry said to Elizabeth, through a mouthful of fudge, "and she sent me some journal ..."
"Oh, one of Julius’s WizChats," she said. "Lovely. If you need any help â€”"
Hermione’s hand shot up, making everyone laugh. Elizabeth was obliged to demonstrate all the features of the WizChat, including the magical â€˜Doodle’ for instantaneous messages located on the inside back page. The Doodle scrolled up and down by caressing the edge of the journal. It was also charmed to identify the person writing, to guard against impostors, though people could always provide nicknames for their friends.
"Natalie has me down as â€˜Darling, stop that’," Elizabeth confided to Harry.
Harry chuckled throatily and received a shy smile from his godmother. It was a start.
Ron and Hermione kept Harry company whilst Elizabeth went shopping for â€˜supplies’ for his lesson. The fudge gone, Ron peered over Hermione’s shoulder and clicked his tongue in disbelief at the lengthy essay she was writing to Natalie.
"Why can’t you just write shorter?" he said.
"Natalie will want a proper explanation about everything that’s been happening," Hermione replied serenely. "And anyway, if something’s not worth taking your time to say well, then it’s really not worth saying at all, now, is it?"
Ron stared at her. "Right. Give it here."
Hermione signed off with a flourish and passed the journal â€” and a withering glare â€” to Ron. Ron scribbled a few to-the-point observations, signed off, and was rewarded thirty seconds later with a glowing WizChat. Harry was well chuffed â€” a message from all the way across the Atlantic Ocean. Ron found Natalie on the Doodle page at the back of the journal.
"â€˜Ron, what happened to Harry?!’" he read out loud. "â€˜Is he okay? Hermione started talking about mercurial water. Does he have to drink it? She didn’t explain what that was.’"
Hermione shot a filthy look at Ron, whose laughter stopped immediately.
"Well, I would have if you’d let me finish," she said acerbically, snatching the WizChat back.
Harry knew Natalie wasn’t going to be hearing from anyone else any time soon. It turned out he was wrong. Within ten minutes, Hermione, looking a little hurt, passed the WizChat back to Ron.
"She’s asking for you. She wants to know about the Hive."
Ron grinned hugely. "I knew I liked this girl! Come on, Bruce."
Commandeering the WizChat, Ron settled cross-legged on the floor beneath Harry’s quietly fluttering heart-chart. Not to be outdone, Hermione busied herself making up photo albums. For his part, Harry slept â€” whenever the Healers let him. Penelope Clearwater kept waking him up to pump him with potions: turquoise for strength, silver for wit-sharpening, puce for potency (Harry didn’t ask), ivory for hardening his bones, and a great mess of other ones, all sludge-like and revolting. He also received a steady stream of visitors from the Order of the Phoenix, their visits kept blessedly short by a vigilant Penelope. When dinnertime came, Hermione went home with the Weasleys to The Burrow for dinner (Harry couldn’t blame her; Remus’s cooking left a lot to be desired). As Ron left, he nudged Harry with the WizChat.
"Mind if I ...?" he muttered out of the corner of his mouth. He had been huddled over the WizChat with Natalie for hours.
"You do realise how far away Canada is?" Harry said, smirking.
Ron went a little pink and hurried his mother up, nearly bowling over Remus, who was coming back in.
"I had a long talk with Professor Dumbledore this afternoon," he offered, watching Harry push his dinner around his plate, "and we agreed there should be an inquest into your accident. Don’t worry â€” not for the actual Summoning; I’m satisfied that was an accident. I just want to make sure nothing like this can ever happen again."
Harry was all for that.
"Come on, eat up," said Remus.
Harry blew out his cheeks and took a stab at a piece of carrot.
Remus inclined his head a little. "How did it go with Lizzie? She was nervous as a cat about seeing you."
"Okay," said Harry, shrugging a little. "She’s going to give me an Occlumency lesson."
"Good, good," said Remus, patting Harry’s leg.
Penelope came by to collect his dinner tray and left him with two nips of courage, a hi-ball of wit, and a shot of cheer. Harry tossed them all back resignedly. The Healers didn’t seem to have much faith in letting him handle his own feelings. As he wiped his mouth on his sleeve, he eyed his guardian shrewdly.
"You and Elizabeth still seem close," he suggested.
"I hope we always will be," Remus returned.
"But you split up ..."
When it became evident that that was all Remus Lupin was going to say on the subject, Harry said shamelessly, "Come on, Moony, give me something."
Remus demurred. "It’s complicated ..."
"You still fancy her," Harry said gamely, "and she still fancies you, so what’s the problem?"
Remus looked thoroughly discomposed. "I really don’t think we should be having this conversation right now."
"Okay," Harry agreed with a secret smile.
"I mean, what’s between me and my wife ..."
"Should stay between you and your wife," Harry assured him, relaxing into his pillows. Remus’s aura revealed he was actually bursting with curiosity.
After a few moments, Remus rubbed a hand through his hair and said, "It’s not that you shouldn’t be able to ask about these things ..."
"Not a problem," Harry said serenely, thoroughly enjoying himself. A battle of wills waged inside Remus. Curiosity triumphed.
"Did Lizzie … she didn’t happen to say something to you?"
"It’s okay, Moony," Harry said in a saintly voice. "You’re absolutely right: it really is none of my business."
A crooked smile grew on Remus’s face. "Alright, you rotten little sod, spit it out. What do you think you know?"
Leaning forward, Harry lowered his voice conspiratorially to say, "Well, she’s dead keen, but she’s scared, too. I dunno, it’s like ..." Harry chewed at his lip. "Look, don’t take this the wrong way or anything, but it’s pretty rough when someone gives up on you. I reckon she might be up for getting back together, but she’s not sure if she’s wanted."
Remus couldn’t seem to find anything to say to that, but he was definitely standing a bit taller when he left to â€˜find Lizzie’.
After a quick trip to Diagon Alley, Elizabeth located the potions lab in Black House that Hermione told her about, cleared a space for her tent, then fetched her cauldrons and set about brewing a Brain-Booster Potion of her own recipe for Harry as well as a drop of Strengthening Solution for herself. The familiar smells, the repetitive tasks, the busy fingers â€” just having something useful to do â€” all contributed to helping relax her uneasy mind. At the end of the workbench, her rucksack was not so happy.
"Yes, I know, darling," she told Evil, who was pawing at the glowing and trembling bag, "but I’ll be here all day if I stop to answer my WizChat."
Elizabeth surrendered when her bag started whistling at her. Opening her journal, she found a several unread messages from Natalie, and jotted a quick reply. Within minutes, the journal was glowing again.
Hi Auntie Lizzie,
No prob. I know all about it. I’m just Doodling with Ron Weasley. I can’t wait until you come home, but I’m really glad you went to visit Harry. He needs you more than I do right now. Give him a big hug from me!
Lots of love,
P.S. Now what’s all this I hear about Uncle Remus? Do I smell romance? Do I need to come over and play chaperone? I never realised Harry’s guardian was your ex. My, my, the Kneazle’s amongst the pixies now! Mwah!
Elizabeth read the post-script twice. Cheeky little sod, she thought wryly and turned back to her potions. Within half an hour, the WizChat was glowing again. This time, she found her brother Julius on her Doodle page.
J. Ramsay: Natalie tells me you’re in London.
E. Ramsay: Hello to you, too, Jules. How was your holiday?
J. Ramsay: Why are you there? Is it business?
Elizabeth chewed at her lip. Julius would go nuts if he knew she was staying in the same house as Remus Lupin. He’d never forgiven his brother-in-law for deserting his baby sister.
E. Ramsay: Just a social visit. I’d rather not get into it right now.
J. Ramsay: It’s him, isn’t it? Haven’t you thrown away enough of your life on that man? Your place is here with your family!
The sharp sound of a hissing cat startled Evil. Elizabeth angrily altered her Doodle name.
E. Lupin: Quite.
J. Ramsay: You are NOT starting up with that man again!!
Livid, Elizabeth slammed the WizChat shut.
"Everything okay in here?" asked an amused voice.
Her face hot, Elizabeth gripped hard her WizChat, which was aggressively trying to reopen itself.
"Remus â€” I didn’t know you were back."
She cast a foul look towards Evil, who merely curled around Remus’s legs, purring. Remus leaned casually into the doorjamb and smiled at all the frothing, burping cauldrons.
"How did it go with Harry?" he asked pleasantly.
"He was a perfect gentleman and I was a complete idiot," she said, to which Remus chuckled softly. "It went well," she admitted, "too well, really. I wish he’d just blown up at me. That I could deal with. I think some of your horrid equanimity must be rubbing off on him."
"Sorry," he said, not looking sorry at all. His eyes drifted around the room, and his smile stiffened when he saw the tent. "I was going to organise a proper bedroom for you upstairs ..."
"Oh ... no, this is fine â€” I don’t want to put you to any trouble."
"There are a dozen bedrooms upstairs," Remus objected, "you don’t want to be living out of a tent â€” not when you don’t have to â€” not if you’re going to be here a while." He plunged his hands deep into his pockets and looked up at her through his lanky brown hair. "You are staying a while, aren’t you?"
Elizabeth started to answer, but her WizChat was still putting up a good fight for her attention, and she was obliged to stun it before it started ripping out its own pages.
"A while," she agreed faintly.
When Elizabeth arrived for their Occlumency lesson, Harry groaned inwardly at the sight of yet another potion.
"I’m pretty right," he tried to say, wondering what he’d done to earn such a punishment. "The Healers probably wouldn’t want me mixing potions ..."
"I already checked it with them," Elizabeth assured him.
The potion looked icy cold; condensation beaded on the steel container. A curly drinking-straw promised a scrumptious treat, but the young Gryffindor was not to be so easily conned; he was confident it would taste revolting. Forlornly, he peered inside, his fears vindicated on seeing a concoction the colour and consistency of frothy swamp-water. With Elizabeth watching him, all hopeful and trusting, he took a tentative sip and did a double-take. It tasted delicious!
"Nice," he said, rapidly slurping his way towards the bottom of the swamp. "What’s in it?"
"Oh, a few things: blueberries, banana, ginkgo biloba, sage, rosemary, just a drop of blessed thistle, gotu kola, peach nectar, and some of Florean Fortescue’s finest peach gelato."
Elizabeth started her lesson by waving off the charmed daylight, making Harry’s room feel much less clinical but not that easy to see in. Then she asked him to choose a mandala from a collection of painted-metal meditation discs. A small smile played on Harry’s lips to think of how different this lesson was to Snape’s.
"Which is the best one to use?" he asked, holding the mandalas close to see; he was still without his glasses.
"There isn’t really a â€˜best’," said Elizabeth. "A mandala is just a pictorial tool for helping you meditate. You want something complex enough to represent the interconnectedness of all things within the unity of the one but simple enough for your mind to remember intimately."
Harry blinked. "Right ... so, which one do you think?"
Elizabeth conceded a self-deprecating chuckle. "Sorry, that was rather a lot of gibberish. You’re looking for an image to help calm yourself, something that’s tranquil but can hold your attention."
"I tried something like that once before," said Harry. "Hermione gave me a broomstick-servicing kit for my birthday and I memorised the handbook. I’d recite bits to myself when I was trying to keep my temper."
"Really?" Elizabeth said interestedly. "Yes, that’s the very kind of thing I’m talking about. Did it work for you?"
Harry’s lips twisted into a wry smile at the memory of Aunt Marge bouncing on the ceiling. "Not really."
"Written codas can be much more difficult to get your head around," Elizabeth conceded. "There’s the Emerald Tablet, of course, and other Hermetic texts encapsulating the secrets of the cosmos." Elizabeth grinned at Harry’s blank expression and added in a stage whisper, "Pictures are way more fun."
She picked out a mandala with the simple black and white spiral of a sea-snail and compared it with the stars of a spiral galaxy. Her fingers traced the curves in the raised enamel disc, then she gave it to Harry to do the same. He complied self-consciously whilst she rabbited on and on about snails and spirals: how a snail’s shell was a home for one, compared with a galaxy being a home to every living thing; how the shell was symbolic of death and rebirth because a snail could seal itself inside and hibernate when times were bad; and then the spiral, itself: how a spiral was like a whirlwind, spinning frenetically, but quiet and still at the dead centre: how treasures might be found in the core of a spiral, like in the centre of a labyrinth.
She said, "You’ll find that the more familiar you become with your mandala, the more it will become a refuge where you can find peace and reason with familiar thoughts when everything else seems so frantic and disordered. Half an hour at bedtime would be ideal. But for tonight we need to equip you with some good blocking techniques, as well."
Harry sat up more attentively and Elizabeth quizzed him on what Shield Charms he knew.
"Patronus, right, and Protego, too? Excellent. Same principles, but you hold the shield within your own mind. Protego shielding is best for repulsing specific, intrusive thoughts and visions, just as it is with repulsing specific hexes, whilst Patronus spirit guardians are more effective for emotional attacks. More advanced blocks can be created with complex layering of positive thoughts, but that might be a bit ambitious for today."
They worked for a time on concentration exercises for fixing and holding tranquil mandala-related thoughts. In fixing them, Harry found it easiest to conjure a kind of flying stag circling the corners of his mind, guarding him from intrusive thoughts.
"Would you like to try a small test?" Elizabeth invited him.
Harry had been dreading this moment. He nodded and braced himself for attack.
"Relax," she said, "we’ll start small. Okay, close your eyes. I want you to think about something simple, maybe eating an apple. Got that? Right ... take a great bite ... feel the jolt in your teeth as you bite into it ... feel the moisture sucked up into your mouth ... see the red skin surrounding the â€”"
"It’s a green apple," said Harry.
"... the green skin surrounding the white flesh of the fruit," Elizabeth continued, adding dryly, "I’m sure there must be a worm in this apple. Oooh ... better yet, half a worm."
"Ew! Thanks very much!" laughed Harry.
"Eyes shut," chided Elizabeth. "I want you to be thinking about biting into that green worm-filled apple. I want you to block me. Ready? Legilimens!"
Harry’s stag easily butted Elizabeth away.
"I did it!" he declared happily. "I could feel you kind of ... bouncing off."
"You did indeed," Elizabeth said, nodding encouragingly. "Let’s try again. I’m going to use a bit more force this time. Ready? Legilimens!"
Harry sensed Elizabeth get a glimpse of green before being blocked.
"Not bad," she said, nodding, "but I think you need to strengthen your block a bit, or try using several thoughts together."
They tried several times more and each time Harry would react more quickly and effectively.
"You’re holding back, aren’t you?" he complained. "I need you to give me your best shot. I can take it."
Elizabeth was unconvinced, and no amount of bravado from Harry would change her mind.
"You’re weaker than you realise, Harry," she said sternly.
"And this place is mad as a bag of snakes!" countered Harry.
Elizabeth gave in â€” a little. "I’ll use as much force as you’re likely to face here, okay?"
Harry nodded and braced himself.
"Legilimens!" said Elizabeth.
A shining green apple, whole and perfect, appeared in Harry’s mind. He tried to block Elizabeth, tried to push her away, but she held fast. The apple grew more blurry â€” indistinct â€” not an object any more, just a colour. Slowly, Harry repulsed her completely from his mind.
"Excellent!" cried Elizabeth. "Oh, are you all right?"
Harry’s hands shook as he sipped at the glass of water she held to his lips. "No, I’m good, good. I really felt it that time â€” it was good."
He wanted to keep practicing but Elizabeth flatly refused. "Your technique is good enough for now and any more practice will just wear you out. Right now, I just want you to relax and focus on calming your mind. You look very tense."
Closing his eyes, Harry tried harder to relax. It wasn’t easy. He was having considerable difficulty stopping wondering why Snape couldn’t have taught him all this.
"Sorry," he muttered, opening his eyes only to see his godmother wave his apology away.
"This might help," she suggested.
She pressed a finger to the centre of his mandala, and the sea-snail started spinning hypnotically, which worked a treat in emptying Harry’s mind. His head calmer, he imagined crawling into and curling up inside his shell. Sleep came almost immediately, and he managed to stay in his own head for several minutes before his mind came loose from his body.
From beyond his imagined, floating seashell, he could sense a few minds out there. Fortunately, they were but dim, distant murmurs â€” like the droning of a far away beehive. From above his body, Harry watched with mixed emotions as Elizabeth carefully brushed his hair away from his pale face. In truth, he wasn’t sure what to feel about her in return. He certainly wasn’t inclined to freeze her out just because she’d moved overseas when he was small; she had her own life to lead, after all. And she did seem sincere in wanting to help him now. He continued to be extremely curious as to why she and Remus broke up. From what he’d been able to sense from the pair’s emotions, they still cared about each other â€” a lot â€” and technically they were still married. Who knew? They might even get back together again if they could sort things out. Remus had the Wolfsbane Potion now â€” surely that had to improve things. Maybe that was even why Elizabeth invented it. And speaking of Remus ...
Harry watched as his werewolf guardian tiptoed into the CCU, a bottle of wine in one hand and a picnic basket in the other.
Go, Moony, he thought, chuckling to himself.