Chapter 22 — Black Island
By Lady Alchymia
Harry squinted out his window onto a drizzly Saturday morning that failed to dampen his spirits one iota. There could be no reconnaissance today, and Remus promised a visit to Black Island if he felt strong enough. Stretching luxuriously in a bed with no ropes, in a room with no guards, in a house with no crazy people, Harry decided he felt fabulous. He also decided that Remus only said yes to distract him from asking why Elizabeth had moved out. She had made herself scarce the previous evening, insisting Harry shouldn’t need to put up with company on his first night home. She went instead to the island to double-check its security and to let the house-elves know about Sirius. When she returned through the grandfather clock, her eyes were red and puffy and she didn’t stay long before leaving for the Leaky Cauldron to brew Harry’s potions for the next morning, which Harry didn’t understand at all since they had a perfectly good potions lab in Black House. â€˜It’s complicated’ was all Harry could get out of Remus on the topic. Elizabeth returned next morning with a tray full of multi-coloured sludge. The Lupins’ polite smiles for each other didn’t fool Harry one little bit, and the moment Elizabeth set her tray down on the kitchen counter, Remus found a need to water his orchids.
Though he'd never admit it, Harry wished Hermione was around to explain what was going on, but the Grangers had delayed their holiday to the Lakes District long enough, and Harry insisted she quit fussing over him and go and have some fun. He still had Ron, whom he’d be seeing tomorrow, but didn’t hold out much hope for romance insights there.
"Come on," Elizabeth said to Harry in a determinedly bright voice, "bottoms up. They’re not that bad."
Harry could not agree with that assessment, but he resignedly complied, picking out the least smelly glass of gunk first.
"You know," he said, burping liver-oil, "â€” beg pardon â€” that Brain Booster potion you made me the other night was brilliant."
That earned a genuine smile from his godmother. "I’ll see what I can arrange. Do you mind if I …?"
With a small sigh, Harry sat down and removed his glasses.
"The eyes are a window to the soul," she explained, inches from his face with a huge magnifying glass. "They’ll let us know."
"When you’re done," she murmured, peering one-eyed into his half-green, half-silver orbs.
Harry returned the inspection, staring back into her enormous eye, wondering what he would see, but it was just an eyeball to him: the whites slightly red; the black pupil huge inside a deep blue. At last, she pulled away and patted his cheek affectionately.
"Getting there," she said. "As the quicksilver dissipates, you should start feeling less emotional static from other people."
Harry wasn’t quite sure how he felt about that. Although exhausting, it could prove handy, especially right now.
"How much longer do you reckon?" he asked, putting his spectacles back on.
"Depends on how quickly you consume it. Could be days, could be weeks. Hopefully, with a bit of peace and quiet you’ll be able to wean off so gradually you’ll hardly notice."
Harry nodded to that and finished his potions in a rush, wanting to get it over with. Elizabeth winced in apology when he needed to hold his nose to get the last one down.
"No, I’m okay â€” okay," he assured her after almost throwing it back up.
With or without the quicksilver in his system, he was startled when Elizabeth pulled him into a hug.
"It’s so good to get you home," she whispered over his shoulder. When she pulled back, her eyes were moist and she made herself busy cleaning up all the dirty glasses. "We’ll get going in a bit," she said thickly into the kitchen sink. "Maybe you should find Remus."
Harry rocked excitedly on his heels as Elizabeth dialled the grandfather clock’s hands forward to exactly eleven o’clock.
"Uncle Alphard didn’t approve of callers before eleven," she explained over the chimes.
Following his godmother, Harry stuck one leg through the long, slim doorway. The rest of his body was sucked inside and he tumbled through a dizzying cacophony of peeling chimes and brass cogs tick-tocking crazily all around him, landing with a thud on the other side. Elizabeth yanked him out of the way as Remus almost landed on top of him. Pushing his dislodged glasses back up the bridge of his nose, he looked around to find himself in a cool, white foyer. The smell hit him straight away: crisp salt air and sandalwood. An oversize Chinese vase stood near the front door, jammed full of elaborately carved walking-sticks, some of which seemed to be alive (Harry felt sure one serpent-headed stick winked at him).
Around the walls, mounted on pedestals, were marble busts of ancient poets, alchemists and philosophers. Harry recognised some from his trading card collection: Paracelsus, Aristotle, Albertus Magnus, Socrates, Andreas Libavius, Circe, Cicero, Nicolas Flamel and his wife Perenelle to name a few. The busts regarded Harry curiously and bowed their heads in welcome. Harry self-consciously bowed back.
"Come on," Elizabeth said encouragingly, taking Harry’s hand and leading him to the front door, "they’re dying to meet you."
Harry discovered it wasn’t a house he was leaving; rather, he had just exited a single octagonal building nestled within a sandalwood grove. Officially called the Oratoria, Elizabeth called it the Chat Room because the busts liked nothing better than talking to each other â€” sometimes all day and all night depending on how heated the discussions. Paracelsus had been so furious with Libavius during one three-day marathon that he actually fell off his pedestal and had to be taken away for repairs.
Amused, Harry said, "What were they arguing about?"
"The distinction between Dark Arts and Light Arts," replied Elizabeth as they ambled down a jasmine scented path. "Paracelsus argued that anything that man was able to conjure with the abilities God gave him, whether it be Light or Dark in nature, must be good or he wouldn’t have been given those abilities in the first place. Funnily enough," she said wryly, "his views met some opposition from more ethically minded busts."
Harry said nothing to that; he was still feeling very guilty about his own recent dabbling with Darkness â€” and deeply thankful that his godmother knew nothing about any of it.
"Paracelsus was never a very gracious debater," Elizabeth continued. "He’s rather prone to throwing major tantrums whenever people disagree with him. While he was off for repairs, the rest of the busts begged Alphard to find a new home for him."
"But he’s still there," said Harry.
"That he is," agreed Elizabeth. "Alphard said he’d be quite happy to find a nice secluded spot for him if the rest of the busts could convince him that suppressing freedom of speech was ethical. Well," she said, rolling her eyes, "that debate lasted a good two months. The busts tried out every argument they could think of, but they knew deep down Alphard was right and, as you saw, the Prince of Potions is still there."
"Prince? Was he really that good?" asked Harry curiously.
"Great," said Elizabeth cryptically, "not necessarily good."
The path widened, opening onto a scene straight out of one of Aunt Marge’s holiday postcards. Under a brilliant-blue sky stood a strangely small-scale, two-storey, whitewashed villa with a red-tiled roof and window boxes filled with pretty begonias and herbs. Bending low, Elizabeth ushered Harry and Remus through a small blue door and into a sunny kitchen where Remus was obliged to slouch to avoid hitting his head on the ceiling timbers.
"Er â€”" said Harry.
Standing before him were two of the unhappiest house-elves he’d ever seen in his life (and he knew Winky). Each elderly elf was draped in fat black palm fronds and each was holding what looked like a child’s tin lunch box.
"No â€” no â€” no!" Elizabeth cried, rushing forward. "Give me those this instant!"
"No!" blurted one, a female by the sound of it, clutching her lunch box tightly to her chest. Her lips were quivering and her huge eyes brimmed with tears. "Lovey is f-f-free now," she declared tremulously.
Harry noticed the second elf, presumably Dovey, was standing very straight with his chin up, though his eyes, too, were sparking with tears. Elizabeth pulled Harry and Remus aside.
"I was afraid of this," she whispered. "I thought I got through to them last night. Lovey and Dovey don’t feel they can stay now that Alphard Black’s heir is dead, and they don’t believe any new family could ever want or need such old elves. I tried to convince them that freedom wasn’t so bad, but they’re of the old school. And they wouldn’t let me enslave them, either, because they know I don’t need them ... and when no one needs you any more ..."
Elizabeth’s voice trailed off â€” her eyes looked rather moist, too. The elves were standing as still as they could, though Harry saw their knobbly knees were knocking. He could easily sense their overwhelming grief, their fear, their desperate resolve to â€”
"What are those lunch boxes for?" Harry asked suspiciously.
Elizabeth shuddered. "You don’t want to know."
"Right," Harry said grimly. He did not need any more suicidal elves. He strode over to the pair and stood over them, crossed his arms across his chest and said loudly and clearly, "My name is Harry Potter and I’m Sirius Black’s godson and I’m his heir and I own this island and I’m ordering you to stay on and take care of it for me."
It took Harry quite some time to free his knees.
Leaving a much happier kitchen, Elizabeth led Harry and Remus out onto a wide, wisteria-covered terrace overlooking a central lake fringed with jungle-covered mountains and massive waterfalls. Plump-cushioned cane chairs promised sleepy afternoons carefully monitoring the situation. Right on cue, a flock of swans glided past.
Leaving the White Villa, Elizabeth guided an increasingly gob-smacked Harry and Remus around the island complex. Numerous limestone buildings dotted the vast manicured gardens with stunning views in every direction: painting and sculpture studios, elegant guest bungalows, a luxurious Roman bathhouse and much more. There was even a building whose sole function seemed to be to display a collection of musty old Egyptian mummies. The buildings were connected by vine-covered arcades and interspersed with pools, fountains, and places to just sit and think. Harry found it decidedly weird to be walking through buildings filled with fresh linen, fruit and flowers, as if the proper inhabitants had just stepped out for the morning. It felt like everything should have been in ruins, some ancient city known only by its foundation stones. As it was, the island was unravaged by time. It lacked only one thing: people.
But the island was not exactly unpopulated. Scattered around the grounds were Alphard’s Marbles. Alphard Black had been quite a collector, Elizabeth told them, and many of his ancient statues were thousands of years old and of exquisite quality. Harry spotted several gossiping together in the bushes. He had a shrewd idea he was the hottest topic of discussion today. As soon as he came near, they’d scurry back to their plinths and strike impressive poses for him, giving him discreet winks and waves. Harry grinned and waved back.
"They don’t seem to have any trouble moving around," he observed, spotting more figures darting through the foliage.
"Stone is more fluid than people think," Elizabeth mused. She paused by a large fish pond and gazed fondly at a golden-haired cupid doing laps on the back of a black marble dolphin. "Staying still is how they relax, but when the mood takes them, the stone comes alive. They never stray too far, though; the sculptor’s heart always pulls them back to their plinths. They get quite agitated, in fact, if they’re away too long. Hey! Stop that!"
Elizabeth hurried Harry away from the giggling cupid, who had just started shooting golden arrows at her and Remus.
"This is the Grand Salon," she announced, leading Remus and Harry into a large building. It looked like it might have been a temple at some time. Right now, it was a single vast room with a vaulted wooden ceiling beneath which dangled low fans circulating a cool breeze. French doors opened on all sides onto tropical gardens and a pristine swimming pool. The Grand Salon had elegant sofas, well-stocked bookshelves, delicate ferns, and exotic curios artfully placed around the room, which meant little to Harry, but his interest was piqued on seeing a glossy-brown grand piano. Glad to sit down for a bit, he toyed with the keys, creating nonsense sounds.
"Chi è lÃ ? Lily?" sounded a new voice.
Harry looked up to see a bearded ghost drift past, magnificently attired in silvery robes. But the ghost was sleeping â€” his eyes were closed. It didn’t take much effort to guess what had killed him; he had a pool cue sticking out of his chest.
"Andrea di buon giorno," said Elizabeth affectionately, "è Elizabeth."
"Eleezabetta!" cried the sleeping ghost, throwing his hands up. "Tesorina! You are gone too long!"
"True," Elizabeth said fondly. "Andrea, may I introduce our young pianist, my godson, Harry James Potter. Harry, this is Maestro Andrea Benito Virgile, one of the finest Italian tenors ever to grace the boards of La Scala."
Harry nodded politely. Elizabeth shook her head and silently tapped her eyes.
"Oh, how do you do, er, Maestro," Harry said loudly, belatedly realising the wizard was blind.
"You must call me Andrea," declared the tenor genially. "Your fingers, they have a softness."
Harry looked at his fingers, which were still rather tender from being regrown in the bath. "Erm, thanks."
"Prego," said Andrea amiably. "I think I hear my Lily and I come," he added with an apologetic shrug.
"Harry is Lily’s son, Andrea," said Elizabeth.
"Bene!" Andrea cried, delighted.
Harry smiled broadly. "Did you know my mum, Andrea?"
"SÃ¬, sÃ¬," nodded Andrea, rocking happily on his cue-stick. Then he frowned and wagged a finger in the air. "But your papa, him I like not so much."
"Your parents spent their honeymoon here on the island," Elizabeth told Harry with a crooked smile, "and you turned up nine months later."
"SÃ¬," tutted Andrea, "the husband, he take her always away from me." The Maestro sighed dramatically and added resignedly, "But young lovers will do what young lovers will do ..."
"Ah, yes," said Remus, grinning wickedly. "I do seem to recall James saying something about wanting to get Lily into a bikini, or maybe it was out of a bikini ..."
Harry squirmed. Way too much information.
"Signor?" prompted Andrea.
"Oh, I’m sorry, Andrea," said Elizabeth. "Allow me to introduce my husband, Remus John Lupin."
"Husband?" Andrea threw up his hands in despair. "Eleezabetta, what do you do to me? You pierce my heart!"
"Good day, Maestro," said Remus pleasantly.
Andrea looked most put out. "So, this is why you stop to come to me? Papa forbids you?"
Elizabeth’s mouth opened and closed several times as she struggled to think of a response.
"I’m afraid you’ve caught me out, Maestro," Remus said smoothly, "but you must forgive a man for wanting to keep such a treasure all to himself."
Andrea sighed melodramatically. "This is true," he conceded sadly.
Remus’s smile faded a little. He kept trying to catch Elizabeth’s eye, but she kept finding other things to look at.
"Alphard and my parents were old friends," she told Harry, "and I brought your mother with me once. We got to stay the whole summer. If I recall correctly, it was the summer after Lily freed Mother’s favourite house-elf. Leaning against the piano, she looked around the salon and smiled reminiscently. "We’d spend the evenings in here. Lily would play the piano and Andrea would grace us with his voice."
Harry caressed the cool ivory keys. His mother had been here. Right here ...
"We’ll catch up later, Andrea," Elizabeth promised the ghost. She led Remus and Harry out onto the Grand Salon’s wide stone portico, past huge temple-like columns and down the sun-drenched steps. Stopping suddenly, she said, "Have you taken your sun-protection potion, Harry? Your scar is already pinking up."
Harry reflexively felt for his scar and shrugged resignedly; he knew it had been too good to last.
Laying flat on his belly, Harry peered intently into a watery rock crevice. He was sure he’d seen it. Elizabeth and Remus had finally let him go down to the beach but not before making him wait while Elizabeth went home to fetch potions and wide-brimmed pointed hats for everyone. A slimy grey-green feeler drifted back into view and Harry made a grab for it.
"Ha!" he said, delighted. Gillyweed!
Twisting around, he looked back down the beach to where Remus and Elizabeth were kicking the water slapping the shore. The subtle tension between the estranged pair just seemed to be getting thicker and thicker. Harry had tried to make himself scarce to give them a chance to talk, but they didn’t seem to be doing much talking, and you could fly a Hippogriff through the distance between their bodies.
Back up at the White Villa, Lovey and Dovey served them a mouth-watering luncheon of fresh seafood and fruit on the terrace. The terrace afforded excellent views over the lake, but Harry was more interested in watching his godmother and his guardian dancing around each other. They were clearly making an effort to be all cheery, and Harry played along, but he knew they were both feeling conflicted about each other: confused and hesitant and tender and joking all at once. It made for fascinating viewing.
Harry was just wrestling with a crab-claw when his godmother slid her wand over and discreetly tapped the orange shell. The shell immediately vanished, leaving only succulent meat on Harry’s plate. Harry thought that was definitely a spell worth learning. He very much enjoyed the food but did tend to stick to things he actually recognised. And he unwittingly caused a panic in the kitchen when he innocently asked if there were any hot chips and ketchup. The elves could only be pacified when Master Harry promised to give them a detailed list of all his favourite foods for future reference.
"So," Harry said to Elizabeth, "it was just you and Sirius who came here?"
"Oh no, not at all," she replied. "Other visitors came at different times, though never more than a dozen complete. Alphard hated crowds, but he loved company. There were always fascinating people around his table. My parents visited, of course, but Alphard’s social circle tended to be more centred in the Med: Egypt, Greece, Crete, Italy ..."
"They all came through Grimmauld Place?" Harry asked sceptically. He couldn’t see Mrs Black putting up with that.
"Oh no," said Elizabeth, grimacing at the thought. "Hardly anyone ever came that way, only Sirius and his father, really." Her eyes glazed over dreamily. "It was always so exciting seeing a new carpet come in to land, trying to guess just who’d be at table that night. Depending on who he was expecting, Alphard would just float the island off the coast near Rome, or Cairo, or even Brighton and people would Apparate or fly in. No one ever knew the island’s true home was here off Carthage."
Harry’s eyebrows shot up. "The island really floats?"
"I’ll show you the Bridge later," she said. "There’s this huge steering wheel. The summer after first year, Sirius brought your father here and they managed to cause quite a fuss in the Bay of Naples." Elizabeth leaned forward and her eyes twinkled mischievously. "Uncle Alphard parked the island and went off to visit some friends in Sorrento, you see, and James and Sirius sneaked up to the Wheelhouse and started making waves. Literally. The locals thought Vesuvius was about to blow."
Harry laughed loudly at the idea of Sirius and his dad doing wheelies with the island. Remus chuckled and Elizabeth shook her head wryly.
"The poor Marbles never knew what hit them. The sculpture studio was kept busy with repairs for a good two years. I’m afraid your father wasn’t invited back after first year. And since James couldn’t come, Sirius lost interest, too. He much preferred holidaying with the Potters."
"Hey!" blurted Harry suddenly. He looked under the table to find a large bird trying to nestle between his legs. "Get out of that!" he cried.
Remus and Elizabeth’s heads ducked under the table and they burst out laughing as Harry tried to shoo the bird away. It looked like a swan, but it was smaller â€” petite, even. Unlike any swan he had seen before, it had a pure-white body, but from where its long neck started, it was jet-black all the way up to its bulbous bright-red bill.
"Go on, shoo," Harry begged, but the bird just laid its head on his knee and wouldn’t budge.
Remus and Elizabeth simply chuckled at Harry’s predicament and the lad scowled at them. Hang on â€” he had servants, didn’t he?
"Dovey!" he bellowed.
After lunch, they headed back to the beach, wide-brimmed hats on their heads and the penetrating warmth of the sun on their backs. Harry owned no swimming trunks, and Elizabeth volunteered to pop back to London to â€˜pick up a few things’ for him. Continuing down the beach with Remus, Harry spotted the black-necked swan waddling towards him, but then Dovey appeared to shoo it away. The swan reminded Harry of Cho and his thoughts turned to how she’d been when they’d said goodbye. She was starting to see his life as it truly was, and though she tried to make out she was fine about everything, Harry knew she really wasn’t. And even if they got past all the possession stuff and the jealousy stuff and all the other messed-up stuff, what was left for him? Tea parties at Madam-sodding-Puddifoots? Reciting poetry like some love-struck idiot? Frustrated, he kicked fitfully at the fine sand.
And now he had sand in his shoes. Discarding his trainers and socks, he discovered to his dismay that Mediterranean sand was really hot. Diverting from the beach, Remus led Harry into the blessedly cool shade of the tropical gardens.
"Aphrodite," Remus murmured. "Goddess of Love," he explained, pointing out a marble of a beautiful young woman rising from the centre of a small stone pond. The water bubbled and swirled boisterously around her feet, as if she were rising from the sea. In her right hand, she held a golden apple that glinted like a Snitch in the dappled sunlight. Half-draped in skimpy robes, her long hair curled around her, strategically placed for modesty.
"Pretty," Harry observed admiringly.
Aphrodite smiled serenely and shook out her marble hair to better display her charms. Apparently, she wasn’t that modest. Remus flopped down next to the fountain and Harry joined him. Letting the heat of the day burn off, they just lay there on the manicured grass, dozing under the brims of their pointed hats and feeling comfortably full from lunch.
"So," drawled Remus, "been riding any good chariots lately?"
Harry froze. The Psycho-Healer! He sneaked a glance towards his guardian and found a smile tweaking the corners of his mouth.
"Well," Harry offered reasonably, "she did say I needed to reach out and â€˜embrace my inner child’."
Chuckling, Remus rolled onto his side to face him.
"You’ve been very quiet today," he observed mildly. "Are you worried about the Inquest? You know you don’t need to be there ..."
Harry followed his gaze to his wrist and the moodstone that had been charmed by Snape to drag him into hell. Professor Dumbledore had personally removed all trace of the security charm, and though no one expected Harry to want to wear it, Harry wanted to show that he didn’t care, which he did, of course, but that was beside the point.
"No, I want to," he said firmly. There was no way he was missing seeing Snape getting his arse kicked.
Remus nodded slowly. "Something else bothering you?"
"It’s not important," mumbled Harry. Remus didn’t press; he just dragged his fingers lazily through Aphrodite’s jets of bubbling water. "Well, kind of ..." Harry admitted, "about Cho, maybe ..."
Remus nodded encouragingly, but now that Harry had started, he didn’t quite know where to begin, everything he wanted to say seemed so ... so petty. He jerked to his feet and started pacing around the fountain, trying to think.
"Well, I mean, I like her, right?’ he said finally. "But there’s all this stuff she wants I’m just not ready for."
Remus blinked. "Oh." He sat up straighter and seemed to steel himself. "Well, er, that’s understandable; you’re only just sixteen, after all."
"Yeah!" Harry agreed emphatically, still pacing. "Why does everything have to be so complicated?"
"Er," said Remus.
"Isn’t there a manual or something?" moaned Harry.
"A manual," Remus repeated blankly. He scratched his head. "Er ... well ... I might be able to find something â€”"
"I mean, it’s ridiculous!" complained Harry. "I mean, where am I supposed to learn poetry?"
Remus stared. "Cho wants you to write poetry for her?" he asked carefully.
"What?" Harry started in alarm. "Do you think so? Arghh, this is nuts!"
Remus chuckled, but stopped at a glare from his ward. "Sorry, sorry. Nuts. Right. Keep going."
Harry crouched against the edge of Aphrodite’s fountain and stared miserably into the bubbling water.
"I just don’t get girls at all."
"So ... erm, is something in particular worrying you about Cho?" asked Remus. "Apart from poetry, I mean."
Harry shrugged and jabbed his hand into the swirling water.
"I thought you were pretty keen on her ..." suggested Remus.
"Well, yeah," said Harry. "I mean, she’s the only girl I’ve ever been interested in, but see ..." Harry broke off, a confused jumble of grievances boiling up inside him. He jumped edgily to his feet and started pacing again. "See, I’ve fancied her forever," he blurted plaintively, "but I don’t understand where she’s coming from half the time. Like she was all jealous about me kissing Parvati â€” as if I could help that â€” and Hermione, too, right? And there was no reason! I mean, so what if it was Valentine’s Day!"
Remus looked like he was trying hard to keep up. "You and Hermione …?"
Harry impatiently brushed that aside. "And even if she says she’s okay about Hermione and Parvati, there’s still that whole Marietta fiasco. That’s bound to blow up again when we go back to school. I don’t even know what I want to do there!"
Remus was scratching his head again.
"Marietta was the one you met that day in Diagon Alley?" he guessed.
"What? No way!" Harry screwed up his face in disgust at the very thought. "Marietta betrayed me!"
"Oh, right," said Remus. "Erm, so the other girl â€” the one you met in Diagon Alley â€” you don’t like her?"
"What? No," said Harry. "I mean, yes, I do, but there’s really no point; nothing’s going to happen there."
"I see," said Remus, failing to hide a smile. "And you say that Cho’s the only girl you’ve ever been interested in?"
Harry frowned. "That’s right, yeah. What’s so funny?"
Remus assembled his poker face, but Harry knew better and scowled at him.
"I knew I shouldn’t have said anything!"
"No, no, no," Remus said contritely. "Sorry â€” I’m sorry. Please, go on."
Harry looked dubiously down at his greying guardian. This stuff was definitely a lot easier with Bill Weasley. Harry felt more confused now than when he started!
"What about you?" he challenged his guardian irritably, flopping back down onto the grass. "You want me to talk, but you never tell me what’s going on with you!"
Harry half-expected a clip around the ears but none came. Remus just looked at him thoughtfully. Slowly, the man’s light-hearted demeanour fell away, leaving eyes that were immeasurably sad.
"What would you like to know, Harry?" he asked quietly.
Harry stared into his unguarded face and knew â€” just knew â€” that whatever he asked right now, Remus would tell him.
"Only what you want me to know," Harry said apologetically.
Remus nodded slowly and took a moment to collect his thoughts.
"It was ten summers ago," he said in his low, hoarse voice. "Professor Dumbledore had placed an advertisement in the Prophet for the Defence Against the Dark Arts position." Remus smiled sadly. "It seems to have been a jinxed position a good long while now."
Harry nodded; he’d never known a DADA teacher to last more than a year.
"I was twenty-seven at the time," continued Remus, "Lizzie and I had been married for three years. We had a few hurdles to overcome before we got married, but things were finally looking up for us. I’d never been happier, in fact. I’d been starting to earn a small income from my orchids. Not a lot, but it was something. I thought I’d take my chances and apply for the Hogwarts position. This was long before the Wolfsbane Potion, of course, but I’d lived there for seven years using the Shrieking Shack; I thought it would be safe enough, even without my friends to keep me company. Professor Dumbledore was good enough to give me a chance and I was all set to start the following term. There were a few trips back and forth to sort out lesson plans and accommodations. It was on one of those trips that it happened. Harry, I know you share everything with Ron and Hermione, but ..."
"I wouldn’t," said Harry loyally, "you have my word."
Remus nodded and they both looked up at Aphrodite. She twisted her fingers against her lips as if locking them.
"Funny thing is," Remus observed bitterly, "I wasn’t even thirsty. Sibyll Trelawney cornered me in the staff room, you see, insisted on doing a tealeaf reading. She was just in the middle of predicting I’d soon be joining her Crystal Ball Gazing Club when her eyes rolled back into her head and she slipped into a trance. She started reciting a prophecy ... she remembered nothing afterwards ..."
Ice crept over Harry, as if a Dementor were closing in on him.
"The prophecy â€” it was in two parts ..." Remus continued painfully, staring at the grass, every word costing him, "the first part was about me. That I would â€” that I’d bite my beloved Lizzie."
A cold hand gripped Harry’s throat, choking him â€” choking Remus.
"So you left," Harry rasped dazedly. "You left rather than turn her into a werewolf."
"I left," Remus agreed hoarsely. "I panicked. I couldn’t bear the thought â€” the risk â€” of even being in the same country as her. I disappeared. I didn’t tell anyone â€” not even Professor Dumbledore."
"But ..." said Harry, "but you told Elizabeth, right? She knows why you left her?"
"She knows that part of it, yes," admitted Remus. "Idiot that I am, I thought leaving a letter was the best course of action. She tracked me down in Europe. I’d gone to ground in the Black Forest, living hand to mouth, cutting myself off from everyone and everything. I didn’t want to be found but she found me anyway. I tried to tell her it was over between us, that I didn’t love her any more. It wasn’t pretty and it was all for nothing â€” she saw straight through me. She always could. It killed me, but I finally made her understand there was no hope for us. Not any more. We knew Sibyll Trelawney had made a prophecy connecting you and Lord Voldemort and that, whatever it was, most of us believed it must have come to pass the night he tried to kill you." Remus laughed bitterly again. "Sibyll’s seer credential’s were â€” are â€” impeccable."
Harry stared bleakly at the man, his throat burning to think of him holed up in misery in some dank, evil forest. And to think that just five minutes ago, he, the Brat-Who-Lived, had been whining about his stupid love life.
"So ... she moved to Canada ..." Harry said.
"She said that â€”" Remus’s voice cracked and he was obliged to clear his throat. "She said she didn’t want me living in exile. I eventually returned to England, but I wasn’t much use to anyone for a long while."
"And you never saw her again," Harry said thickly.
Remus shook his head slightly. "I knew if I did ... I knew I wouldn’t have the strength to say goodbye twice."
A thick silence fell, broken at last by Harry.
"But â€” but why does it have to be like that?" he blurted. "It’s just once a month ..."
Remus shook his head sadly. "Accidents happen, son. I wasn’t about to risk her life for my happiness."
"What about her happiness?" Harry argued doggedly. "She must have been devastated."
Remus’s face screwed in pain. "She deserves so much more than I can give her: a husband, children, a life without fear. Don’t you understand? I can’t give her that now!"
"How do you know what she wants?" Harry challenged stubbornly. "She’s been gone ten years and I don’t see any other husband or kids floating around." Remus winced and Harry pushed on. "Look, forget the past â€” what about right now? You can take precautions can’t you? Merlin, she can leave the country twelve times a year if you want her to!"
All at once, Remus was on his feet, towering over Harry.
"Don’t you think I know that?" he shot suddenly and heatedly. "Don’t you think that thought hasn’t been torturing me ever since she arrived â€” ever since we broke up? No matter what, there’s the prophecy to consider â€” I will bite her!"
Harry gritted his teeth. That bloody Trelawney!
"Then why wait?" he snapped, standing up to the man. "Just go ahead and bite her and get it over with! Why bother being miserable all your lives if you know you’re going to bite her anyway? What are you gonna do? Are you planning on waiting until you’re both dying of old age then you’ll â€” what â€” gum her to death!"
"Harry …" murmured Remus.
"Don’t â€˜Harry’ me!" shot the green-eyed lad fiercely, bruising for a fight. "Do you love her or not?"
Remus growled in frustration, "Of course, I love her!"
"And you trust her?"
"Yes," bit Remus tightly.
"Then why aren’t you letting her decide how she lives her life?"
Remus and Harry glared at each other, neither of them willing to back down. Harry’s flare of anger had passed immediately, leaving only painful empathy and frustration for a man who’d become as much a father to him as he had ever known.
"Out of the mouths of babes," murmured Aphrodite dreamily. Startled, both Harry and Remus looked up at the Marble. Smiling enigmatically, she added, "You cannot choose another’s path in love." She touched her golden apple to her lips and added, "Even the gods find it hard to love and be wise at the same time."
Slowly, Harry felt Remus’s emotions settling back down. And there was a new emotion â€” small but unmistakable â€” hope. The ghost of a smile appeared in Remus’s eyes and travelled slowly to the corners of his mouth.
"Good luck," whispered Aphrodite, blowing them each a kiss.
Remus bowed deeply to Aphrodite, and Harry self-consciously did so as well. He wasn’t altogether sure what had just happened, but he could tell that Remus had come to some kind of decision.
"Moony," he ventured as they walked back to the White Villa, "you said there was a second part to your prophecy ..."
Remus sighed deeply and shook his head. "I didn’t tell her ... I couldn’t, it’s too ..."
Remus’s shudder infected Harry with one of his own and left him wondering what could be even worse than being bitten by a werewolf. Perhaps in an effort to cheer him, Remus slung an arm around Harry’s shoulder and gave him a one-armed hug.
"But you know what?" he said with a small but genuine smile. "I think you just might have helped me with that part of it as well."
"Does that mean you and Elizabeth will get back together?" Harry asked hopefully.
"I don’t know, Harry," Remus said wistfully. "I caused a lot of damage. And I only seem to be making things worse of late ... I just don’t know if I can ever win back her trust after everything that’s happened. But you’re right about one thing," he said firmly, walking a bit taller, "it’s high time I gave her a proper choice." Remus couldn’t help but smile at the look of triumph on Harry’s face. "I’m not going to hope for miracles, Harry," he said evenly, "but who knows, I may yet be able to persuade her to let me have some small part of her heart again. I â€” I’ve missed her so."
The pair continued slowly up the path, Remus still with one arm slung affectionately about his boy’s shoulders. As they neared the villa, they could see Elizabeth waving to them from the wrought-iron railing, her hands full of shopping bags. Remus and Harry smiled and waved back.
"Gum her to death, eh?" Remus murmured wryly. "I’ve heard worse plans."
Back down on the beach, more suitably attired in sandals and long, lairy-coloured surf shorts, Remus carefully sniffed the slimy weed that Harry collected earlier.
"Smells like Gillyweed ..." he agreed. Elizabeth came closer and confirmed it.
"It’s safe enough raw," she said, "but you really want to dry it out then steep it in a Venus Solution for a few days for the best results."
Harry’s face fell. He wasn’t that good a swimmer and he didn’t want to admit to being a bit apprehensive about wading out into the sea without a few fins, gills, and flippers.
"But we can collect some more for later, if you like," said Elizabeth encouragingly, handing him goggles and a snorkel. "It grows in the rock pools."
Remus managed to insert Harry’s glasses into the goggles and soon the three of them were snorkelling around the rock-pool end of the beach, collecting Gillyweed and discovering a wide variety of marine life in the crystal clear waters. When they found a nest of long-legged, plump Plimpies, Remus gave Harry an impromptu magical-creatures lesson. Harry was more excited when he found a black and white sea-snail and raced off to show it to Elizabeth. His godmother (by now reclining sleepily on a sunny boulder with their collection of Gillyweed) was also amazed by Harry’s find, although by the time Harry had collected his fifth sea-snail he kind of twigged she was just being kind. He didn’t mind, though; mucking around at the beach was too good a novelty to care about how dumb he looked.
"This place is just amazing," Harry said happily when they were drying off on the beach. There was something about the island, something powerfully good, magical. He glanced at his moodstone wristband and wasn’t at all surprised to see a brilliant green.
"Moony," he said, "how come Sirius didn’t bring you here, too, when you were kids?"
Remus towelled his hair, shaking out sand. "We never really saw too much of each other in the holidays. Our families didn’t exactly socialise. At first I was too scared they’d discover my secret. And my parents were pretty protective; they always wanted me at home with them. I don’t really remember Sirius talking about beach holidays when we were older."
"No," agreed Elizabeth wryly, as she neatly refolded her towel, "he became much more interested in monster trucks and motorbikes than swimming and snorkelling. And I pretty much stopped coming here, too, after Alphard died. It just wasn’t the same. It can be a bit lonely here on your own."
Harry shook his head in wonder as he tried to wriggle his glasses back out of his goggles. "I’d have come here every chance I got."
Elizabeth smiled softly. "Sirius went through this big rebellious stage when he was about your age; he moved out of home as soon as he could, and he was never too keen on going back there to use the grandfather clock. Sirius and his parents ... well, let’s just say they didn’t quite see eye to eye on a few things." Harry snorted derisively. Elizabeth pretended not to notice. "And you must remember," she said, mildly reproachful, "we were at war at that stage; we had a few other things on our minds."
Harry’s face fell. He’d scarcely given Voldemort a moment’s thought all day.
"The war, right ..." he said heavily, squinting down the beach, "I almost forgot. I guess we should get back to it. Recon and stuff …"
Elizabeth and Remus exchanged concerned looks.
"Harry, you’ve just been through a horrific ordeal," Elizabeth said firmly. "Both your body and your mind need a chance to recuperate."
Remus concurred. "Harry, the most important thing you can do right now is regain your strength. That is our number one priority."
Harry looked at their worried faces and smiled inwardly, a scathingly brilliant notion forming in his mind.
"I do still feel pretty weak ..." he said. This was actually true, though Harry knew it was nothing he couldn’t handle. Remus’s brow creased a little, but Elizabeth was nodding sympathetically. Harry turned doleful eyes on her and said, "But I know you need to be getting back home to Canada. You probably wouldn’t want to stay and help me; you’ve got your job and everything …"
"Harry, no!" Elizabeth blurted, pulling him into her arms. "Of course, I want to help you! I’ll stay as long as you need me!"
Harry clung contentedly to his godmother’s soft, warm body. "Here?" he asked hopefully over her shoulder. "On the island?"
Elizabeth drew back and tenderly cupped his cheeks in her hands.
"Of course, darling," she said soothingly. "I’ll go right now and talk to the elves. We can stay all month if you like."
Then she looked uncertainly at Remus, who nodded very quickly. Her cheeks pinking, she Disapparated with a swish of her saffron sarong.
Smirking, Harry strolled casually away from his speechless guardian and said, "You so owe me."