Chapter 24 — Captains Courageous
By Lady Alchymia
Remus squinted piercingly into Harry’s eyes over their morning cuppa.
"Quicksilver’s almost gone," he observed.
Harry dashed to the mirror to check for himself, pulling his eyelids this way and that. It seemed the emotional hurricanes of the inquest and Quidditch match had been good for something, sucking up the residual quicksilver in his system.
"Come on, drink up," Remus said, indicating a tray of potions Elizabeth left for him.
Harry eyed them with distaste then smiled reluctantly on spotting a chilled Brain Booster milkshake in the mix. Saving that one for last, he tossed back a shot of Vim and another of Vigour.
"Felt anything more from Voldemort?" Remus asked as he measured out a dram of slimy green Vitality.
"Nothing useful," Harry said apologetically. "I tried extra hard to protect my mind last night ... sorry ..."
Remus looked up sharply. "Don’t be," he said with a shudder and turned back to his measuring. "I want you practicing your Occlumency as much as possible. We don’t want a repeat of what was happening in the hospital, now, do we." Remus stopped what he was doing. "Hey, none of that," he said chidingly, correctly interpreting the look of shame on Harry’s face. "Kreacher’s doing fine. Come on, we talked about this â€” you were half-drugged out of your mind and in no condition to understand what â€” if anything â€” you were doing."
Harry said nothing to that; he might have been out of his mind, but he had a pretty good idea what he’d been doing.
The morning after the Holyhead Harpies’ Quidditch match, Elizabeth met her brother over breakfast in her room at the Leaky Cauldron. Open on the table was the Daily Prophet’s report on their spectacular win. Julius Vanished the newspaper. Smoothing his placemat, he announced his refusal to dwell upon the Puddlemere tragedy. Instead, he turned to the topic of Remus Lupin, who he â€˜happened to meet’ at the match. Julius assured Elizabeth he had dutifully kept to neutral subjects, but airily confided that his brother-in-law had spent the evening discreetly pumping him for information about his sister. Apparently, Remus had done an especially poor job of concealing his delight when Julius â€˜just happened to mention’ his sister was still single.
"How could you tell him that?" Elizabeth sputtered indignantly.
Julius merely raised an eyebrow and returned to spreading runny marmalade to every corner of his toast. Elizabeth didn’t know what to think. On the one hand, her pride didn’t fancy Remus thinking she lived like a nun when he was clearly no monk, but, on the other hand, she was glad to know he was happy she wasn’t seeing anyone.
Before leaving for Grimmauld Place, she took a critical look at herself in her mirror. Whilst the boys were at the Quidditch, Julius had packed her off to Tunbridge Wells Spa for a day of pampering that had done wonders for her self-confidence. Not only had the Cosmetic-Healers treated her to relaxing massages and aromatherapies, but they deftly eliminated lots of niggling cuts, scrapes, and bruises and a few stray grey hairs, as well. Though in her late thirties, with all the usual character-defining fine lines, Elizabeth knew she looked fairly good for her age â€” even without concealment charms. And today she’d tossed aside her demure robes and sensible shoes in favour of strappy sandals and a short, sleeveless dress in crisp, pink linen. Around her neck dangled an amethyst necklace, a gift from Remus for their second wedding anniversary. She closed her hand around the stone and felt a painfully familiar rush of love and joy flood through her.
"Turn around," instructed a wheezy voice.
Elizabeth pivoted obediently before the mirror. She knew she was being superficial and that inner beauty was all that truly mattered, but this was not a time when she felt like being politically correct. Even though her husband proved long ago he didn’t care how ratty she looked, Elizabeth wanted to make the point that â€” well, she wasn’t quite sure what the point was any more, she just knew she wanted to feel desirable for a change.
"Not too shabby," wheezed the mirror approvingly.
Elizabeth breathed a sigh of relief and adjusted her boobs â€” a little cleavage never hurt.
All packed for their island holiday, Harry and Remus were in the library, searching for books for Harry’s NEWT essays, when Elizabeth arrived. Harry thought she looked rather pretty today â€” shinier â€” as if she’d been through a car-wash. He smirked into Paracelsus’s Book of Vexations on seeing Remus stand up straighter and try to smooth back his hair.
"Good morning," she said pleasantly, nodding to them both. In her arms curled a cat that was even uglier than Crookshanks. "Harry? I don’t think you’ve met my Kneazle, Evil."
"Evil the Kneazle?" Harry prompted.
Both Remus and Elizabeth looked at him blankly. Harry shook his head; where were the Muggle-borns when you needed them? He reached out to pet the golden feline and it jumped straight into his arms. Both Elizabeth and Remus seemed surprised by that, but Harry didn’t mind; he was happy enough to let this kind of Evil snuggle up to him.
Glancing around, Elizabeth ran a finger along the spines of a row of books, which purred with pleasure. "So … what are we looking for?"
Remus’s eyes hadn’t left his wife since she’d entered the room. "Oh, just some things for Harry â€” homework, general reading."
He plucked a book from the shelves without really looking. Elizabeth smiled and reached for it.
"Oh, lovely!" she cooed. "This is such a wonderful novel for a boy."
Harry and Remus exchanged a quizzical look over Elizabeth’s head; Remus clearly had no idea what he’d pulled off the shelf.
"What is it?" asked Harry.
"Captains Courageous, by Rudyard Kipling," replied Elizabeth. She smiled reminiscently as she turned the novel over in her hands. "I remember Lily giving James a copy of this back in sixth year."
Harry stared at his godmother disbelievingly. "I thought Mum hated him then?"
Elizabeth grimaced. "Hate might be a bit strong â€” but, yes, she wasn’t too fond of him back then."
"Why’d she give him a present then?"
"Ah, well, it wasn’t really a present. More like a dare, really. He kept pestering her to go out with him, you see, and she finally agreed but on one condition: that he write her a three-foot scroll on the boy in this book."
Remus leaned against a library ladder with his arms crossed.
"I never knew that," he said, chuckling affectionately.
Elizabeth smiled softly at Remus, and he smiled back then stumbled a little when his rolling ladder gave way. Elizabeth pretended not to notice, but Harry saw her lips twitching as she idly flicked through the novel. She turned back to the front and gasped softly before passing it to Harry.
"James must have lent it to Sirius at some point," Elizabeth murmured.
An inscription was written on the inside in curly, feminine script. Harry had never seen his mother’s handwriting. He stared at it for a long moment before registering the message:
Prove me wrong,
"What’s the story about?" he asked Elizabeth but Remus answered.
"A rather annoying, pampered little snot who falls off an ocean liner smack dab in the middle of the Atlantic about a hundred years ago."
"What happened to him?" Harry asked Remus, but Remus was busy eyeing Elizabeth’s legs as she hopped up on the edge of the table. Elizabeth crossed her ankles primly.
"You’ll just have to read it, now, won’t you?" she said teasingly. She tipped her head towards Remus. "Or better yet, why don’t you get Remy to read it to you? He has the most wonderful Wand of Eloquence."
Harry raised his eyebrows questioningly at his guardian. Remy? Wand of Eloquence?
"I’m afraid my voices are rather rusty these days," Remus demurred.
"Right ..." Harry said dubiously, "... so Dad wrote his essay on this little prat, and then he made Mum go out with him?"
"Ah, no, actually," replied Elizabeth. "James never wrote the essay â€” or if he did he never gave it to Lily â€” and he stopped pestering her to go out with him."
Harry stared. "But â€” but how’d they get together then?"
Elizabeth offered a slight Gallic shrug. "He said he’d wait for her to ask him."
Returning to Black Island, the morning’s major activity was choosing where to sleep. Roaming the guesthouses, Harry quickly dismissed the Pink Palace: a Taj Mahal-like Indian guesthouse that was way too girlie for a sixteen-year-old lad. The rooms were painted a kaleidoscope of different shocking colours: hot-pink, livid-orange, lime-green, passionate-purple â€” all with delicately painted white flowers running around the edges of the walls. Filling every room were intricately carved white wooden furniture, plush rugs, and shimmering cushions. White-painted shutters protected curvy ogive windows. It looked like some kind of harem to Harry, with low day beds dressed with delicate silks lining alcoves in the walls.
"Lily and I stayed here together," Elizabeth recalled fondly.
Harry smiled at that; he could just bet that Parvati and Lavender would go nuts for the place â€” all the girls, really â€” they’d absolutely love it. He could already see another big house party with all his friends. Maybe for his seventeenth ...
"What do you think, Harry?" Elizabeth asked him.
Lost in thought, Harry said, "It’d be brilliant for my harem." Elizabeth and Remus burst out laughing. Harry blushed beetroot. "No, I meant it’d be good for my girlfriends â€” I mean, my friends that are girls â€” I mean â€” oh, forget it!"
They didn’t, and Harry stormed off full of dark thoughts about exactly what he’d like to do with the quill of the reporter who’d said he had a harem!
Well, he tried to storm off; unfortunately, he got tangled up in a bunch of dangling silver beads. Alas, the more Harry struggled, the tighter they gripped, trussing him up tighter than Devil’s Snare. The beads appeared to have a mind of their own, and Harry needed to be rescued by his smirking guardian and his helplessly giggling godmother.
"You see what I have to put up with?" Remus asked Elizabeth.
"Shut â€” up â€” now!" Harry grunted as he twisted futilely against the Chastity Beads that Elizabeth explained had captured him.
"Harry, please, you need to relax," she pleaded, trying not to laugh. "You’re just making them angry."
"Making them angry!" roared Harry.
Elizabeth stomped her foot against the tears welling in her eyes. Remus was even more useless, doubled over with laughter.
"Darling, please!" Elizabeth begged Harry. "You need to stop thinking impure thoughts! They’ll never let you go otherwise."
It took quite some time.
Sat on a plinth in a premium position where several paths crossed, three hag-like Marbles gossiped away in the sunshine. One hag had a ball of yarn, another was waving around a pair of scissors, and the third had a measuring tape. The Marbles reminded Harry of Molly Weasley and her knitting (although Molly Weasley was much nicer looking). On spotting Harry, the hags fell silent a moment then gazed piercingly at Elizabeth and Remus before resuming their conversation. Elizabeth said the Marbles were the Divine Spinners of Destiny. They were knitting hags to Harry.
Both Ron and Natalie had been invited to join Harry on the island, though Ron â€” to the immense frustration of the three teens â€” was indentured under some kind of magical contract to Auntie Muriel and her Malevolent Mould for another week yet. When the party finally moved along, Harry discovered a rustic bungalow hidden away by the shore of a small beach. The Beachside Bungalow had its own snake-shaped swimming pool that meandered through dense ferns and bougainvillea (and not a Chastity Bead in sight!). With rough-hewn wooden beams, ochre-rendered walls, and a modest central lounge that opened straight onto the beach, it had the unfussy air of a place that could easily cope with teenagers. Harry knew it would be perfect for him and Ron.
"This one," he decided firmly.
Elizabeth sucked in a sharp breath. Remus looked at her with concern.
"Is that okay?" Harry asked slowly.
"Of course," she said, forcing a smile. She strolled slowly around the lounge and picked up a golden seashell from the coffee table. Turning it over in her hands, she said, "This place was a favourite of Sirius’s. It’s a good choice: close to everything but secluded. I’m sure you’ll love it."
Remus checked the two bedrooms and asked Harry which he preferred, offering to take the other. Harry’s face fell. He wasn’t counting on sharing with his guardian.
"Unless you’d prefer I stayed somewhere else ..." Remus suggested with a lopsided smile.
"Only if you’d rather," Harry mumbled hopefully.
Remus didn’t seem bothered. "I suppose I could take a room in the old White Villa. Nice view up there."
"I might take my old room then," Elizabeth decided, as they strolled back up the hill for lunch. "That’s it over there," she said, pointing out an elegant guesthouse she called the Rose Villa. U-shaped around a pretty courtyard garden, the Rose Villa boasted two gracious bedrooms connected by a luxuriously appointed bathroom.
Standing at the foot of Elizabeth’s mahogany four-poster, Harry fingered its sheer muslin curtains and suggested to Remus with an innocent air, "Why don’t you stay here with Elizabeth? Then you’ll be close to everything."
Both Remus and Elizabeth both looked very uncomfortable. Harry was having none of it.
"It’s only fifty yards from my place," he reasoned. "You’ll be able to keep tabs on me."
Remus started umming and ahhing. Elizabeth was turning a steadily deeper shade of pink.
"Go on," persisted Harry. He decided to play his trump card. "I might need you â€” you know â€” if I get a vision or something, and that White Villa’s a long way up the hill."
"It’s a two-minute walk," countered Remus.
"But you wouldn’t hear me if I needed you to come down," said Harry.
"If you’re worried, I can stay in your bungalow."
Harry pursed his lips. Just how thick was his guardian?
"Remy, it’s fine," Elizabeth said stiffly. "There are two bedrooms here."
"Excellent!" Harry declared before Remus could voice another objection.
Looking anywhere but at Remus, Elizabeth nodded and said, "I’ll let the elves know where to unpack our things."
The moment she Disapparated, Remus spun on Harry. "Just what do you think you’re playing at?"
"What?" Harry said, smirking.
"You know perfectly well what," said Remus, not at all amused. "I’ll thank you to stop manipulating Elizabeth into doing what you want. Did it never occur to you she might not feel comfortable sharing a house with me â€” let alone a bed? That maybe she moved out of Grimmauld Place for a reason?"
"I â€” no â€” I just ..." Harry felt his face growing hot. "I’m sorry. You can stay with me, if you like â€” or up in the white one …"
"No, I can’t," Remus said severely. "She’s sending my things down here as we speak. Just how do you think she’s going to feel if I turn around and say, â€˜No thanks, I’d rather sleep as far away from you as I can’? And that day on the beach â€” using emotional blackmail to get her to stay. Did you never stop to consider that Elizabeth is still grieving for Sirius? How this place must constantly remind her of their time here together?"
"I â€” I’m sorry," Harry stammered lamely, "I didn’t ... I â€” I just ..."
"Just stop messing about!" Remus said sharply, his eyes sparking with real anger now. "Elizabeth asked me for time to deal with her grief before we talked about us, and I’m trying to honour her request!"
Harry nodded unhappily to his feet. "I’m sorry, Remus."
Remus just stood there for a several horribly long silent moments.
"I know you are, Harry," he said more evenly, "but do me a favour and let me and my wife sort out our own problems in our own time."
Harry nodded again, but Remus was already striding out the doors and up the hill, his head hanging and his hands clasped behind his back. Evil hissed disapprovingly at Harry before racing off as well. Harry trailed after them, full of a kind of miserable that only Remus Lupin could ever make him feel.
At lunch, in addition to delicately seasoned perch, spiced calamari, and saffron infused scallops, there was an enormous bowl of hot chips accompanied by at least a dozen tomato sauces and salsas, but Harry barely touched any of it. In fact, he’d scarcely said two words all through lunch. He was busy kicking himself for making things worse. Why couldn’t he have just left well-enough alone?
"Do you not like the food, Harry?" asked Elizabeth kindly. "I’m sure the elves could whip up something else ..."
"Huh?" said Harry. "Oh, no, everything tastes great."
Elizabeth smiled uncertainly and turned towards Remus to say, "I’ll be staying at the pub again tonight."
Remus stiffened, as did Harry.
"Why?" Harry said at once. "I mean â€” sorry â€” nothing."
Elizabeth explained she was having dinner with her brother and niece.
"Julius is keen to know my plans for the â€” for the next month," she said, looking anywhere but at Remus. "And I’m bringing Natalie here tomorrow, so I thought I might as well stay over. It’s just the one night," she assured Harry.
Harry nodded and resumed pushing his food around his plate. The silence at the table lengthened, broken only by the clinking of knives and forks on the Black family china.
"Harry?" she started again. "I was thinking we might plan a few more Occlumency lessons. Maybe a little each day. What do you think?"
"I guess so," Harry said.
"Maybe we could take a swim in the lake this afternoon?" she suggested hopefully. "There are some wonderful caves to explore ..."
Shrugging apologetically, Harry admitted he didn’t know how to swim. "Not very well anyway."
"I could teach you," Remus offered lightly.
The tightness in Harry’s chest loosened a little. "You wouldn’t mind?"
"Not at all," said Remus. "You’ll want to eat a bit more lunch, though."
The slight tilt of the man’s head â€” the unspoken forgiveness â€” did wonders for Harry’s appetite.
Harry hadn’t wanted to swim blind, so Remus came down to his bungalow and was trying to help him put in his new contact lenses. It wasn’t going well. Harry was ready to give up when Dovey intervened. Within moments, the elf had deftly slipped the lenses right into place. Harry blinked several times, feeling both surprised and very grateful. He and Remus had been trying for twenty minutes to do that!
Before long, Harry was getting his very first swimming lesson in the pristine pool off the Grand Salon. Harry was somewhat surprised to find Remus was a strong swimmer but not at all surprised he was a good teacher. Well, when he wasn’t sneaking glances at his wife, who, after a few lazy laps in her red one-piece swimming costume, had fallen asleep sunning herself on the smooth sandstone edge of the pool.
With Remus’s help, Harry slowly started getting the hang of things (although he privately thought Gillyweed was a lot easier). His lesson was interrupted a few times by the black and white swan; it kept flying into the water, wanting to swim with him. There was also a family of brightly plumed peacocks, but Harry didn’t mind them since they were content to just parade around on the grass. Eventually, he gave up shooing the swan away and let it swim along beside him. More tired from his swimming lesson than he cared to admit, he spent the rest of the afternoon settling into his bungalow and finding homes for all his pets. Hedwig quickly stamped her authority over the black and white swan. She made it very clear who was in charge and the swan stayed meekly outside. Mirabella, who had been carefully repaired by Hestia, was thrilled with the bungalow’s serpentine swimming pool, and there were even some bronze sculptures for her to play with. A bronze crab, a turtle, and another fish were all eager to get to know the new girl, despite her crooked eyelashes.
Frank slept all day; he was worn out from celebrating Harry’s split from Cho. When he finally woke, yawning and smacking his jaws, he looked around with bemusement, wondering where he was. It turned out he wasn’t too keen on sand but otherwise liked his new surroundings well enough. He was thoroughly appalled, though, when he discovered that Harry had found yet another swan, which he disdainfully dubbed â€˜Cho2’. Frank refused her entry to the bungalow (even though Hedwig already had that all sorted) and he took to patrolling the doorways just in case â€˜that feathered fiend’ moved an inch from her designated position floating peacefully in the outdoor spa. Lovey made a great fuss over the python and humbly presented him with a little silver bowl of tuna flakes infused with lemongrass, which improved Frank’s humour no end (Harry belatedly recalled the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black was rather partial to serpents).
Remus and Harry spent the evening alone in Harry’s bungalow, dinner on their laps, their feet on the coffee table, watching the Sun redden the sky and blacken the sea from the comfort of the lounge. Fire bowls and dozens of tea lights provided a warm glow to the evening. After dinner, Evil curled up on Harry’s lap; he seemed to be giving the lad a second chance.
"I’m really sorry about this morning," ventured Harry.
"I know, son," said Remus. "It’s all right. I probably overreacted a bit, myself."
"So we’re good?"
Remus reached across and caressed Evil’s ears. "Yeah, we’re good." He blew out his cheeks and sighed deeply. "I feel a bit guilty, actually; I was quite pleased enough at the time to have Lizzie decide to stay for the rest of summer."
"I think she does like it here," offered Harry. Evil purred contentedly and snuggled into Harry’s stomach. It seemed he agreed.
"True," Remus said, smiling softly. "You know, you’ll hate me saying this, but there really is a lot of your father in you."
"Before or after he deflated his head?"
Remus chuckled. "After. But you definitely have the Marauder gene."
Harry stretched across the coffee table for the slim novel Lily gave James. Flicking through it, he noticed it was well-thumbed, and that his dad seemed to have scribbled a lot of tiny notes through it â€” or maybe that was someone else â€” the handwriting looked a bit like Harry’s own ...
"Is that Dad’s handwriting?" he asked Remus.
Remus took the book and squinted at the small writing.
"Looks like it." He frowned in concentration and slowly read something out. "â€˜Must remember to stop being a total tosser ...’"
"He did not write that!" laughed Harry. He grabbed the book back and checked for himself then jabbed Remus in the side; the note said nothing of the sort. "So, what’s this â€˜Wand of Eloquence’ thing Elizabeth was going on about?"
Remus grimaced. "Just poor man’s theatre. Putting on different voices â€” something to amuse the children."
"Well?" prompted Harry.
Remus shook his head. "I’ve not done it for years."
Harry grinned evilly, thoroughly enjoying his discomfort. "And?" he challenged.
Remus groaned ruefully and hung his head.
"Oh, come on, Remy," teased Harry. Remus’s grey eyes narrowed, but Harry was highly amused. "Go on," he wheedled, "I’m sick, remember?" He gazed mournfully up at his guardian and offered a pitiful cough.
"Oh, please," Remus said disdainfully. "Surely, you can do better than that?"
Harry attempted puppy-dog eyes but found it too hard to keep a straight face.
"Come on then," Remus decided briskly. "We’re going to need some room."
The Sun had long gone and Harry bundled up Evil and scarpered barefoot after Remus down to the beach. Remus looked around appraisingly and nodded to himself. He summoned blankets and plump pillows from the bungalow and, with a flick of his wand, laid them neatly on the cool sand.
"Sit," he ordered.
Harry and Evil sat. Remus floated candles down from the bungalow and also the two big fire bowls for warmth. After conjuring a wooden lectern, he set Captains Courageous open upon it.
"Just be a tick," he mumbled, flicking through the first chapter. "Been a while since I read this ..."
Harry grinned with anticipation into the darkness. Then he happened to look up.
"Whoa," he breathed.
Stars. Thousands of glittering stars. Harry had never seen anything like it. He fell back on his pillow and stared skywards in awe. With his naked eye, he could see constellations and planets he’d only ever seen with Professor Sinistra’s strongest telescope.
"Bet you could see to eternity from here," he breathed.
"Ahem," said Remus.
Harry immediately sat back up and hugged a pillow in his lap, looking up expectantly. Remus cleared his throat again and drew his wand. He pointed it at the novel and said, "Articulacy!"
Two golden wings sprouted from Remus’s wand tip. The wings fluttered, as if ready to take flight. Using his golden winged wand as if it were a microphone, Remus started reading the first few paragraphs in his familiar hoarse voice. Harry’s eyes widened with delight when a petulant childish voice came out of Remus’s mouth, then a gnarly sea captain, then other voices of all ages: bickering teens, posh women, gruff Germans â€” and sound effects, too: water lapping, footsteps on timber boards. Remus’s wand was whipping around like the baton of an orchestra conductor, sending swirling fog creeping around Harry and Evil in the flickering firelight.
As the story went, a snotty nosed fifteen-year-old boy, Harvey, was travelling on an ocean liner between New York and Plymouth. He was mouthing off about how rich and important his family was, how many racehorses and yachts his father owned, how much pocket money he got, how many cool toys he had. A foghorn bellowed and Harry nearly jumped out of his skin. Remus smugly turned the page and continued with the story. Oddly enough, the boastful boy on the ocean liner found his audience kept disappearing. He also found he was rapidly becoming more and more unwelcome around the ship (which he naturally put down to everyone just being jealous of his brilliance). He was just in the middle of showing off how well he could smoke cigars, when he suddenly started feeling rather green around the gills (which he naturally put down to seasickness). Harvey soon found himself hanging over the handrail emptying his stomach into the Atlantic Ocean. Then, with a great splash from Remus’s wand, he fell overboard.
"HA!" crowed Harry, thumping his pillow in victory. "Serves him right! Sounds just like Malfoy."
Remus chuckled. "Perhaps," he said. He looked at Harry shrewdly. "Or James. He could be a right little show off when the mood took him."
Harry shrugged; he didn’t deny the comparison.
"Do the bit where he throws up and falls overboard again," he pleaded.
Remus chuckled and closed the book.
"Hang on," complained Harry. "So what happens next? Keep going! Does he get eaten by sharks? Oh â€” no, no â€” better yet, he gets swallowed by a Giant Squid!"
"Heartless little sod, you are!" laughed Remus.
"He deserves some terrible fate, doesn’t he?" reasoned Harry.
Remus smiled mysteriously. "He thinks it’s a terrible fate."
"Well?" demanded a voice next to Harry. "Don’t leave us hanging, my good man!" Harry was surprised to find Frank coiled on a pillow next to Evil. Looking out into the darkness, Harry spotted a crowd of white figures hovering on the fringes of the beach.
"See?" Harry challenged Remus, waving his hands around. "You’ve got a fan club." Harry beckoned the Marbles closer. "Come on, guys!"
Remus’s lips twitched with amusement and he reopened the book and skimmed ahead for a few minutes before continuing. Harry looked around gleefully as Aphard’s Marbles crept closer and whispered excitedly amongst themselves. Andrea the singing ghost drifted past, swinging serenely on his pool cue. At last, Remus cleared his throat and silence fell immediately.
To Harry’s dismay, Harvey was rescued, caught on the line of a fisherman, Manuel, who deftly plucked him out of the sea like a drowned Wormtail. Manuel rowed his day’s catch, including his half-drowned â€˜little-fish’, back to the main schooner. When Harvey came to, he imperiously demanded to be taken to the skipper. The skipper was a tough old salt but kind. He took pity on the boy, who was clearly delusional, raving as he was, telling tall tales of his â€˜millionaire’ father. The skipper offered to let the boy earn his keep until the schooner had sailed it season and returned home to Gloucester. Harvey was less than enthusiastic about gutting and sleeping with fish for four months. He sulked. He pouted. He quickly made himself deeply unpopular.
Frank, Evil, Harry, and the Marbles sat entranced beneath the glittering sky and watched and listened for hours to Remus’s â€˜poor man’s theatre’. Remus conjured dramatic illusions: massive schooners, smelly fish, spooky calms and raging storms, but it was the transformation in Harvey that struck a chord with Harry. Hunger and boredom had got him off his backside initially, but then he started getting a clue and grew to admire the fearless and hardworking fishermen, seeing tragic deaths and chivalry, too, amongst the schooners plying the treacherous seas of the Grand Bank off Newfoundland. It wasn’t long before he was working like a house-elf: gutting fish, scrubbing decks, scouring pots and pans, doing anything and everything asked of him. His hands grew callused and he even began to take pride in his work, growing up in those four months in a way no grammar school could replicate, save Hogwarts, perhaps.
A very hoarse Remus finished Captains Courageous to great cheers and applause. Then Andrea came forward and sang for them â€” right there on the beach. Frank was enchanted, but it was all in Italian, which didn’t mean too much to Harry, though he enjoyed Andrea’s velvety voice. As he lay there, staring into the stars, Harry’s thoughts turned to his father. The Harvey in the novel and James Potter weren’t the same boy but there were similarities. He could see what his mother had been trying to show his dad: that he didn’t need to show off to prove himself.
"A Sickle for your thoughts," Remus offered from a nearby blanket, his lined face younger in the firelight.
"Just thinking about Dad," Harry admitted.
Remus didn’t seem surprised. "Are you still troubled about what you saw in Snape’s Pensieve?"
"No," said Harry. "Maybe a bit. Mum was so angry with him. At one point, I even wondered if ..." Harry’s voice trailed off; he couldn’t say it.
"You wondered ..." prompted Remus. Harry was glad it was dark. He took a minute to answer.
"At one point, I wondered if he used love potions or something to force her to marry him," he admitted shamefully.
Remus said nothing for a long moment. "Harry, I know you have only Snape’s memory to go on, but believe me, James would have never used Dark Magic on your mother."
"I know," Harry said truthfully. "I know they loved each other when they had me. It’s just â€” it’s just hard to understand why she gave him a chance in the first place."
Remus stared skywards. "People change, Harry; they grow up. James came from a loving home, a wealthy family, was naturally gifted ... he had everything going for him." Remus shook his head slightly at the stars as if chastising them. "It’s all about choices, son. What you do with the hand fate deals you. James made some poor choices early on, but he grew out of it ..." Remus looked sideways and smiled a little. "But to be fair, he never had the advantages you and I had."
Harry snorted a laugh. "Come again?"
"Adversity," Remus said simply, "necessity, thirst, suffering … these things build character."
"Yeah," said Harry, "well, you and I have just got character to burn."
Remus chuckled. "That we do, that we do …"
"So, you reckon Dad was a prat because he had it too good?" said Harry.
"Pretty much," said Remus. He turned back to the glittering sky and shook his head with mock sadness. "Poor sod never stood a chance."
Harry grinned at his guardian’s dark profile and said, "Until Mum came along."
Remus casually tossed Captains Courageous onto Harry’s blanket and said, "Until he chose to prove her wrong."
Harry’s dreams that night were full of fish and sea captains and salty storms.
"What the …?" he spluttered. "Gawd!"
He woke at dawn to find Cho2 nibbling his ear. Shoving the swan away, he tried to blink moisture into eyes that felt full of gravel. He still had his contacts in. Squinting painfully, he saw he was still on the beach, covered with blankets against the cold dawn. Another long, blanket-covered lump lay a few yards away. Cho2 tried to climb onto his lap and Harry pushed her off. Where was Frank when he needed him? Looking around, Harry found Frank coiled up under a pillow. A few hissed words of drowsy singing emitted from the python â€” possibly in Italian. Lying around the beach were other pets and Marbles, peacefully slumbering wherever they had lain the night before. A soft pop sounded.
"Master?" said a timid voice above Harry’s head.
Harry smacked his dry lips. "Eh?"
Dovey nudged him back onto his pillow, removed his contacts and squirted soothing drops into his eyes. Then he slid a leash around Cho2’s black neck and led her away. Returning with Harry’s glasses, Dovey offered to bring his master his breakfast. Harry smiled sleepily at his new house-elf. He could get very used to this.
"Just some tea, thanks, Dovey. And coffee for Remus."
Dovey returned within minutes. Harry tossed Frank’s pillow at Remus, causing maximum distress to two birds with one stone. Frank immediately slithered under Harry’s warm blanket and fell fast asleep again. Remus wriggled over with his blanket wrapped around his shoulders to get his coffee.
"Dovey?" Remus yawned, squinting around.
"Yes, Master Lupin."
"We’re going to need to move."
Dovey bowed deeply. "Yes, Master Lupin. Dovey will alert the Marbles."
Dovey hurried off down the beach, and Harry looked at Remus quizzically. Remus grinned sleepily back at him over his steaming coffee and said, "Ever driven an island?"
"Are you sure you know what you’re doing?"
Remus had just clipped the western-most tip of Sicily. Again. For security reasons, Elizabeth wanted the island moved to a second secure location off the ancient Wizarding city of Agrigentum, on the southern coast of Sicily. She was in London, getting ready to bring Natalie to Sicily by International Portkey.
"Hang on," Remus mumbled. "I just need to reverse a bit."
They both winced at the distant sounds of grating rocks. Dovey was squeezing his eyes shut. Black Island’s bridge was at the top of the Wheelhouse, a lighthouse-like building boasting a huge ship’s wheel and windows around 360 degrees. Harry consulted the bridge’s three-dimensional map table
"Okay," he murmured, stretching his tape-measure along the coast of Sicily. "You need to go due south-east for like ... a hundred miles."
Remus spun the great wooden wheel 135 degrees to the right and engaged a long brass lever labelled â€˜Go Forth!’
They all breathed a sigh of relief when nothing happened. Dovey opened his eyes and scurried over to the Are-We-There-Yet woodpecker. The toy woodpecker was charmed to bang its beak into a battered old wooden bust of Uncle Alphard’s head, and then, when the head fell off, you knew you’d arrived at your destination (a device, Dovey said, that was created by Master Alphard when Master Sirius was about eight years old). The woodpecker ruffled its feathers then started tapping away steadily, which meant the island was calmly floating along again without any problems. The faster the island floated, the faster the woodpecker pecked. A Peck-o-meter on the wall showed they were floating along at a comfortable sixty pecks per minute, roughly equivalent to sixty miles per hour. Harry, swivelling on a high stool, thought he spotted something and grabbed his Omnioculars.
"Moony?" he said warningly.
"What?" Remus said distractedly, then swore under his breath. "Okay, I see it."
Remus navigated around the Muggle freighter and they resumed their journey. Elizabeth had explained that to Muggles, Black Island was just a little old fishing boat that looked like it had seen better days: perfectly harmless and uninteresting. The island boasted many state-of-the-art Muggle Repellents, charms that made Muggles suddenly remember that they urgently needed to be some place else, and that what they really needed, was a fine bottle of red and a good lie down somewhere far, far away. Any unwanted visitors (Muggle or otherwise) that did happen to stumble too close to the island, would suddenly find themselves in a very strong current that kept making them drift safely off course. As a last resort, intruders would be sucked into whirlpools and ejected several miles away (but Elizabeth said that that hadn’t happened for at least a hundred years). As for access from the air: to Muggles, it still looked like an uninteresting little fishing boat, and to Wizarding Folk, just another rich Muggle resort.
Harry began to grow annoyed that Remus kept putting him off taking a turn driving, but when Remus got thoroughly tangled up trying to get around a Sicilian fishing fleet, Harry suddenly found his back seat driving position much more entertaining. No one breathed a sigh of relief deeper than Remus when Uncle Alphard’s wooden head finally fell off. Despite needing to bang his head into the door for his impertinence, Dovey couldn’t resist mentioning that the trip from Carthage to Agrigentum was a trip that usually took Mistress Elizabeth less than thirty minutes.
When Elizabeth and Natalie arrived, Natalie fell completely (and predictably) in love with the Pink Palace. Harry wished her luck. The house-elves prepared a magnificent welcome feast in honour of the new guest’s arrival, and the foursome dined in splendour in the Grand Salon. Harry had a feeling any excuse would do for a feast on Black Island. Harry’s camera was kept busy, too, blinking happily around the table.
Elizabeth turned to her husband and asked, "Did you â€” er â€”" she wiggled her hand like a fish, "have any trouble?"
"None at all," Remus said smoothly.
"Tripe, Master Lupin?"
"Not right now, thank you, Dovey."
Over coffee and cake, Harry noticed Lovey trying to catch his eye. She kept pointing under his chair.
"Oh, Natalie," he said, "I’ve got something for you." Harry reached below his chair and retrieved a present elaborately decorated with half the hibiscus flowers on the island. "Lovey wrapped it for me," he assured Natalie.
On opening her present, an album of party photos, Natalie shrieked with glee. "Awesome!" she cried happily, immediately flicking through the album and laughing as she read some of the cheeky captions.
"My friends wrote all that stuff," said Harry. "They put it together for you while I was in hospital."
The two teens pored over the album, with Natalie reading out the captions.
"â€˜Harry’s Harem?’" she said archly. Elizabeth and Remus did poor jobs of hiding smiles.
"Sorry about that," mumbled Harry, remembering that the Harem joke had come from the gossip article written about him and Natalie and Cho. "My friends think it’s this huge joke."
Natalie chose to let that slide and continued flicking through the album. She frowned slightly at happy photo of Remus and Hestia dancing together.
"I’ll look at the rest later," Natalie said and abruptly closed the album. "I’m a bit tired, actually. Is it okay if I turn in?"
"Of course, darling," Elizabeth murmured, setting aside her napkin. "I’ll walk you down."
"Could Harry take me?" asked Natalie.
Harry blinked. "Sure," he said politely, though he fervently hoped she didn’t expect him to walk her inside the Torture Palace.
The pair walked in silence down the torch-lit path, past the Rose Villa and the Roman Bathhouse, and on through the gardens towards Natalie’s palace. Natalie stopped at the pink marble steps and sat down.
"So, what’s going on?" she asked bluntly. Harry just blinked. "Sit," Natalie ordered him and Harry sat on the shallow steps with her. "So who’s this Hestia?"
"Hestia?" Harry repeated blankly. "Hestia Jones? She’s Gwenog Jones’s sister."
Natalie nodded to herself. "So that’s why the Harpies invited you down."
"Er, yeah â€” well, kind of," said Harry, unable to reveal that Gwenog (or anyone else) was a member of the Order of the Phoenix.
"She and Uncle Remus looked awfully friendly on the dance floor," remarked Natalie.
"Well, yeah, they’re friends," said Harry.
"More than friends?" pressed Natalie.
"Huh? Oh â€” no, no, nothing like that," said Harry quickly. "They’re not going out or anything."
Natalie stared hard at him and Harry stared back, nonplussed. What did she want him to say?
"I want to know everything," Natalie demanded briskly, "and I want to know it now." She loosed an avalanche of questions, but Harry was hamstrung by his promise to Remus. "What do you mean â€˜you can’t tell me’? He’s my uncle! I just want to know what’s going on, for Pete’s sake!"
"Look, I just can’t," protested Harry. "I promised I wouldn’t say anything."
"So there is something!" Natalie declared triumphantly.
"No, I mean, yes, but â€” arghh!" Frustrated, Harry pulled at his wild black hair. "Look, there was a reason he left. And neither of them were happy about it, but it was no one’s fault. The way he left was really stupid, and he regrets it more than anyone knows, but when she found him, and they talked stuff through, they both agreed to split up for good."
Natalie hugged her knees to her chest. "And that’s all you’re going to tell me? They’re just going to stay married forever and live in two different countries."
Harry shrugged. "I guess. If that’s what Elizabeth wants ..."
"Is that what Uncle Remus wants?"
"No. He wants her back more than anything. What does your aunt want?"
"Dunno," admitted Natalie. "But she went through about a dozen different outfits before we left London today."
"So?" Harry said blankly.
Natalie rolled her eyes. "And she got all dolled up for dinner ..." she said leadingly.
"Oh?" Harry wasn’t giving up blank that easily. Then it hit him. "Oh!"
Natalie groaned into her knees. "Men are so thick. At this rate it’ll be another ten years before they get back together."
Harry didn’t mind being called thick if it meant Remus would have a chance of making things right with his wife. Lovey arrived just then with a tray of refreshments and sternly reminded Master Harry he needed his rest.
"Right," mumbled Natalie bossily to Harry through a mouthful of chocolate-dipped shortbread. "We need to come up with a strategy for getting those two sorted out. I’m thinking candle-lit dinners for two, romantic music, dancing, maybe a few good charms â€”"
"Hang on a minute," Harry cut in, mindful of the dressing down Remus had given him for interfering. "We can’t force them."
Natalie rolled her eyes again. "Do you want them to get back together or not?"
"I do, but it has to be their choice."
"Spoilsport. Okay, but we can still help things along a bit, just getting out of their hair, giving them time alone ..."
"And they can talk or not ..." mused Harry. "Yeah, I could go for that."
The teens set about hatching a plan Natalie named after an ancient Roman festival that, among other things, celebrated the she-wolf that saved the twin founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus, and that it was good for fertility and keeping out evil. Harry approved, to a point; he did draw the line at running naked through the garden, slapping people with strips of goatskin.
After much strategising on the steps of the Pink Palace, Natalie regally dismissed Harry, and he ambled off happily with a fistful of chocolate biscuits and the firm conviction that Operation Lupercalia couldn’t possibly fail.