Chapter 25 — Operation Lupercalia
By Lady Alchymia
Disclaimer: A few lines of the following song lyrics appear in this chapter; no money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
Dream a Little Dream of Me, by Gus Khan
Plan A was for Harry and Natalie to make themselves scarce, but the olds weren’t making that easy. They kept taking far too much interest in Harry’s summer homework. Every chance they got, they’d shepherd him towards the Grand Salon, which they’d taken the liberty of dedicating as his â€˜homework centre’, with books and instruments arranged neatly on every side of an octagonal table. Harry grumbled that he wasn’t a Giant Squid, but his complaints fell on deaf ears and his progress was carefully monitored. Remus and Elizabeth were bad enough on their own, but when they got together they’d start bouncing around ideas for even more things Harry should cover in his essays. Natalie found it all highly amusing (she’d finished her summer projects in the first week of the holidays). While Harry worked, she lounged around reading from a huge stack of old Muggle comic books they’d found in the Mummy House. Being a pure-blood, Natalie thought two-dimensional black and white comics that stayed perfectly still were wonderfully strange.
But it wasn’t all work; Elizabeth had prepared some Gillyweed, and Harry and Natalie had fun trying it out down on the beach. Natalie had never tried the weed before and Harry watched on, highly amused, as she sprouted gills and flippers and gasped for water before he did the same. When they weren’t swimming, they were racing around on their Firebolts. Natalie’s speed was excellent, and she could stop on a Sickle, but Harry had it all over her in terms of manoeuvrability. She craved learning the Wronski Feint, and she and Harry would dive at top speed towards the lake. Natalie had a lot of trouble with the manoeuvre, either pulling up too early or crashing into the water, in which case, she’d fly underwater and surface a hundred yards away, scaring her aunt half to death. The teens did hope such frights might inspire her to bury her face in Remus’s chest, but no such luck.
With shared interests in sports and their olds, Harry and Natalie got along easily enough, but there was one thing that seriously tested their budding friendship. Their tastes in music were quite different. Natalie brought her mini music-box down to the bungalow, and it was full of wailing divas and Country and Western artists. Harry and Frank tried hard to be stoical in the face of such torment.
Although Natalie and Harry were doing their best to give the Lupins time alone, nothing much seemed to be happening on the romance front. Whilst Harry refused to indulge in dirty tricks, he was wholeheartedly behind smaller ruses, like making plans for â€˜family’ outings on the far side of the island. Once settled in an appropriately beautiful spot, the teens would find an excuse to go exploring alone, pleading with the adults to â€˜mind their stuff’. And after dinner they’d disappear to the bungalow to scheme and take midnight swims in the serpentine pool. These small subterfuges helped a little, but everything was going far too slowly. Harry knew why Remus was holding back; he was waiting for Elizabeth to give a sign she was ready. But Elizabeth didn’t seem to want to make the first move; Natalie reckoned she needed to be wooed. It was all very vexing for the teens. After two days, Operation Lupercalia seemed to have achieved very little, and Natalie’s patience with her aunt and uncle’s veneer of polite cheer was rapidly waning.
"So, Auntie Lizzie," she said coyly at dinner on the terrace, "what was yours and Uncle Remus’s first date?"
Elizabeth exchanged a knowing smile with Remus. "Our first date ...?"
"I think we went on a picnic, didn’t we?" prompted Remus. "Does that count?"
Elizabeth smiled mysteriously and twirled the wine in her goblet. "Well, we did have our first kiss, so I’d say it counts."
Harry surreptitiously watched his guardian watching Elizabeth; the wizard’s grey eyes seemed to have darkened in the soft candlelight and there was an ache of longing in them that Harry had been seeing a lot during the last week. Elizabeth got that look, too.
Remus cleared his throat and poured his wife some more wine. "Well, I seem to recall we just about poisoned each other to death."
Elizabeth blurted a laugh. "We did!" she agreed, shaking her head fondly.
"Give!" Natalie ordered her uncle, grinning.
"So, we’re having a nice little kiss," Remus started, addressing his goblet, "and all of sudden …"
"Don’t, please!" Elizabeth pleaded.
"... all of a sudden," Remus continued wickedly, "this one’s diving for the bushes."
"You did not throw up!" Natalie challenged her aunt gleefully.
Elizabeth had gone rather pink and she glared at Remus, but Remus didn’t seem to mind.
"Yes, well, you weren’t far behind me," she reminded him primly. The teens leaned forward, all ears and eager for details.
"You see," Remus said to Natalie, savouring the story, "I’d finally worked up the courage to ask your aunt out, and for some reason we decided a picnic seemed a good idea. Somehow James got wind of it â€” that’s Harry’s father â€” and he absolutely insisted I cook something for Elizabeth. He seemed to think I could win her with food." Remus winced. "Unfortunately, James had never actually tasted my cooking."
Elizabeth picked up the tale. "And Lily got wind of that and insisted that if you were going to the trouble of making something, I had to as well." Elizabeth’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. "I still don’t believe it was my chocolate cake that did it; I followed Petunia’s recipe so faithfully ..."
Before Harry could wonder how Elizabeth managed to get his Aunt Petunia to part with one of her recipes, Remus was insisting that his roast pork was so overcooked it couldn’t possibly have been the cause either, washed down by a bottle of red Sirius had foisted on them as they left on their date.
Elizabeth’s eyes widened. "You don’t think ... but we barely touched it ..."
Remus seemed to have arrived at the same conclusion and laughed. "That rotten little â€”"
"Dark bastard!" Elizabeth said indignantly. "He spiked it! That â€”"
She stopped abruptly, looking confused and upset with herself. A look of pain washed over Remus’s face as well.
Harry stared sadly into his House of Black dinner plate; he knew exactly what Elizabeth was going through: feeling like it was wrong to laugh. He’d felt like that, too, for a while. Natalie looked around the table hesitantly.
"Sirius â€” Sirius Black â€”" she said, "the one who left Harry this island?"
"He was my godfather," Harry said. "He was killed a few months ago."
"I’m sorry," said Natalie quietly. "What was he like?"
"Good. Well, maybe a bit evil sometimes," Harry admitted wryly. "He loved a good prank ..."
Harry glanced at Elizabeth, who was smiling bravely, her eyes moist with unshed tears. Harry nudged Natalie and suggested they go down to the bungalow. Remus slipped him a grateful nod.
After coffee and port, and a private toast to their lost friend, Elizabeth and Remus took a long walk through the torch-lit gardens. As they strolled along, they talked of inconsequential things, mutual friends, the smell of the sea, Canadian Quodpot, Great Uncle Oliver’s train set. Elizabeth hardly knew what she said; she was busy gathering her courage to ask what she really wanted to know.
"Remus," she started hesitantly as they arrived in the courtyard of the Rose Villa, "I know it’s really none of my business ... but ... well ..." Elizabeth stopped; she just couldn’t do it.
"Yes, Lizzie?" Remus prompted.
"I just â€” I wondered ..." Elizabeth’s face grew warm. Remus looked at her quizzically. "I just wondered if â€” well â€” if you were seeing someone â€” I wondered if it were serious?" Mortified by the look of surprise on Remus’s face, she blurted, "I’m sorry; don’t answer that â€” it’s none of my business."
"No," he said quickly. "I mean, no, I’m not. No â€” not at all. No."
"Oh." Elizabeth’s heart soared, but now she felt like a complete idiot. "Well, that’s â€” erm â€” I â€”" She blushed even more deeply. "I should â€” um â€” goodnight then."
Elizabeth fled for the safety of her room, leaving one very confused werewolf standing amongst the sweet-smelling roses.
Next morning found Harry firmly entrenched in the island’s Potions House. Taking precedence over Operation Lupercalia was the fact that it was one week before the full moon and Elizabeth was brewing Remus’s Wolfsbane Potion. She said the potion benefited considerably if given a chance to strengthen. Harry hovered close over her shoulder. He dearly hoped things would work out for the Lupins, but, if they didn’t, he wanted to make sure he could make the potion himself. Elizabeth was happy for the company and set him to work grinding, pounding, and slicing ingredients for her.
"Hermione would kill to be in my place right now," Harry declared confidently as he carefully sliced sixteen, perfectly-equal slivers of ginger. He thought he might write her a letter and tell her all about it.
Elizabeth smiled slightly and examined his roots.
"Looks good," she murmured. "I’m going to need four long strands of dried Fluxweed next, separated with a copper knife."
Harry nodded and set to work. Elizabeth stopped him after a few minutes.
"No, I’m sorry, Harry, your strands are breaking too short." She passed him some more Fluxweed, showed him what to do, and Harry started again.
She placed two cauldrons side by side and encouraged Harry to try making a batch himself (under her close supervision). The pair worked all day in the steaming, smoking lab, with Elizabeth explaining everything she was doing and Harry making long and detailed notes. It was a massively complicated potion and there was little joking around. Harry didn’t say anything, but he wondered if she was thinking that in just seven days she might, according to Remus’s prophecy, herself be bitten.
"Now for the Aconite," Elizabeth said, swiping moisture from her brow.
She pulled on a pair of dragon-hide gloves and passed Harry a pair as well. Harry welcomed them; Aconite was another name for the Wolfsbane herb and every part of the plant â€” stem, flowers, seeds, all of it â€” was highly toxic, even to the touch. It literally â€˜poisoned the wolf’ and the balance between using too much or too little was one of the most difficult aspects of the potion. Elizabeth explained it wasn’t just a matter of precise measurements; the quantity of Aconite had to be finely adjusted every month against the comparative freshness and slight seasonal variations (and in some cases gender) of all the other ingredients. The correct balance could be discerned by factors such as smell, colour, consistency, and, somewhat alarmingly as far as Harry was concerned, taste.
Harry carefully examined the purple-flowered herb. It even looked sinister. It had long claw-like leaves and flowers that were hooded over, reminding Harry of a Dementor. Elizabeth carefully demonstrated methods for cutting up the herb. Every component of the plant would be used in the potion and each part had to be prepared in different ways â€” all with scrupulously clean silver knives, silver mortars, and silver pestles.
It was late in the day when she declared their potions ready for testing. She checked her own first, and then Harry watched anxiously whilst she examined every aspect of his trial batch. He held his breath when his godmother took a minute taste and was mightily relieved when she didn’t drop dead.
"There might be just a touch too much powdered Bat Dung," she said, "but that won’t affect the viability of the potion." She took another minute taste and nodded approvingly. "It’s really very good, Harry."
"I just followed everything you did," Harry said, trying not to look as relieved as he felt.
Elizabeth seemed lighter and happier, too, now the potions were done. Harry stayed to help clean up then watched curiously as she set up a row of test tubes. She explained that since her cauldron would be plenty for Remus, she planned to do a spot of experimenting with Harry’s. She was trying to improve the taste since the gag reflex was too overpowering for some of the weakest werewolves. She laid out new ingredients (most of which Harry didn’t even recognise) and started filling a row of test tubes using his spare batch. Together, they crushed, sliced, and ground the new ingredients and then Elizabeth started experimenting. She would add a little of the test ingredient to a tube then take a tiny sip to taste, with Harry keeping notes of the results.
"Ugh," she shuddered, "you can cross off Juice of Monkey Brains."
Harry grimaced sympathetically as Elizabeth gargled with water from her wand and spat into the sink.
"How do you know the new ingredient won’t ruin the potion?" he asked curiously.
"You don’t," sighed Elizabeth, "not for certain â€” that would be the next stage. Right now, I’m just trying to establish if the ingredients â€” or combinations of ingredients â€” might potentially improve the taste."
Harry eyed the two smoking cauldrons; the contents did smell foul. "How much of it does Remus need to drink each month?"
"Too much," said a wry voice from the doorway. Returned from tending his orchids in London, Remus strolled into the workroom and winced at the sight of two cauldrons. "I appreciate you making it for me, Lizzie, but I don’t need quite that much ..."
Elizabeth smiled and held up a spoon. "Actually, Harry made a batch for practice. See if you can tell which is which."
Remus winced a little but accepted the challenge. He sniffed both batches carefully then tasted a small spoonful from the first. He shuddered and said, "Disgusting." He took a taste from the second cauldron and was silent a moment.
"Equally disgusting," he said, then regarded Harry intently, as if reading his mind, "but I would have to say â€” Harry."
Harry groaned then laughed in frustration. "How could you tell?"
"Tastes like Snape made it," Remus replied lightly. He screwed up his nose and peered over Harry’s shoulder. "That’s not Monkey Brains, is it? No, don’t tell me, I don’t think I want to know."
"Wimp," Elizabeth said, chuckling softly as she sprinkled a desiccated jellyfish into the next test tube. She twirled the smoking tube three times then took a tiny sip.
Alarmed, Remus snatched the tube from her hand. "What are you doing?! That’s poison!"
Startled, Elizabeth said, "Of course it’s poison â€” but this piddling amount isn’t going to kill me."
"You don’t know that!" shot Remus, his knuckles white around the tube.
"Actually, I do know that," Elizabeth corrected him archly. "I know exactly what’s in it."
"Why are you drinking it then?"
Harry had rarely seen his guardian looking so rattled. Elizabeth’s expression softened.
"Remy, it’s fine," she said soothingly. "I’m just trying to improve the taste."
"It tastes perfectly fine," he declared. "Just leave it be, Elizabeth!"
"I’m right in the middle of â€”" started Elizabeth.
"Use me to taste it then."
"Don’t be silly. You already drink enough of it as it is; you don’t need to be taking experimental doses on top of that."
"I can taste it for you," offered Harry.
"No!" said Elizabeth quickly.
Victorious, Remus declared, "If it’s so safe, why don’t you want Harry tasting it?"
"Harry’s body is still recuperating," Elizabeth countered swiftly. "There’s no telling what affect even a small dose of Wolfsbane might have when combined with all the other medications he’s taking."
"Just leave it alone, Elizabeth," Remus commanded, as if that was that.
"You’re not the only one who uses this potion, you know," said Elizabeth, bristling. "A lot of people rely on me to â€”"
Remus’s jaw set stubbornly. "I forbid you to â€”"
"I beg your pardon!" Elizabeth snapped incredulously. "Just who the hell do you think you are, telling me what I can and cannot do?"
Remus opened his mouth to speak, and by the look on his face Harry was pretty sure the wrong answer was about to come out. Remus seemed to come to the same conclusion just in time and shut his mouth again. His expression softened and he drew closer to Elizabeth and stroked the inside of her arm.
"Lizzie, please," he begged in a whisper, "just leave it be for now."
Elizabeth stared up at him with huge eyes and nodded slightly. Looking between the two adults, Harry suddenly felt very much like he’d rather be anywhere else.
"Er, why don’t I …" he murmured, "um ... I might go see what Natalie’s up to."
Harry escaped and headed towards the Grand Salon. Natalie wasn’t there, but he heard music and followed the sound down into the Roman Bathhouse. He gaped in open-mouthed horror at the sight before him.
"Hey," said Natalie brightly.
Wearing her sky-blue bikini, the girl was lying flat on her stomach on one of the massage tables, reading a comic book. The twelve-inch tall Celine Dion wailing from Natalie’s mini music-box was disturbing enough, but crawling all over Natalie’s body were at least a dozen severed hands. Each one was kneading and stretching the muscles in her back, legs, arms, neck â€” there was even one massaging her scalp.
Natalie laughed out loud. "Oh my God, you should see your face! What? Haven’t you ever used Magic Fingers before?"
Before long Harry was stripped to the waist, lying face down on a table next to Natalie and feeling decidedly at peace with the world as a dozen hands worked him over.
"How do you think it’s going?" asked Natalie.
"Really good," Harry said dreamily.
"Not that," chided Natalie, "Lupercalia!"
"Huh?" murmured Harry drowsily. "Oh ... um, yeah ..."
The Magic Fingers were busy on Harry’s back, and all other thoughts just slid from his mind.
"Harry?" prompted Natalie. "Auntie Lizzie, Uncle Remus â€” where are they?"
"Oh, um, they’re in the potions thing â€” house â€” whatever," mumbled Harry sleepily. "He’s worried she’ll poison herself ..."
"Poison herself?" repeated Natalie. "She’s not experimenting again?"
"Huh? Yeah, experimenting," Harry agreed dreamily, arching his neck to give the Magic Fingers better access. "These hands are wicked."
Natalie was silent awhile then said, "It wouldn’t be the first time you know."
"Hmmm?" murmured Harry.
"She got really sick one time from spagyric experimentation."
"Hmmm," agreed Harry. Then he twisted his head around to face Natalie. "Sorry?"
"About five years ago," said Natalie. "She got really sick when she was testing the Wolfsbane Potion on herself. Said she couldn’t risk trying it on anybody else until she’d tested it on at least one human first."
"Whoa," breathed Harry. "But she got better?"
"Touch and go for a bit," said Natalie, "but yeah, she was okay. But the potion needed a lot of fine tuning. She got some help testing it."
"Yeah? What, with other werewolves," guessed Harry.
"Nah," said Natalie. "Not until later, anyway. She had a friend who helped her. He was a vampire, so the potion wasn’t going to kill him. He helped her get past a few problems."
"She’s friends with a vampire?" said Harry.
"They’re not all bad," Natalie said defensively. "Not any more than werewolves are."
"Sorry, didn’t mean anything," apologised Harry and the girl fell silent. "Look," he offered, "I wouldn’t worry; I think Remus convinced your aunt to lay off the experimenting for a bit."
Natalie was relieved, but Harry cringed; Celine Dion was back.
On Saturday morning, Day Five of Operation Lupercalia, Natalie and Harry met under the Marble knitting hags. From that crossroads vantage spot, they could keep an eye on the Rose Villa, the Sculpture Studio, and the Grand Salon, as well. The views were dazzling but their hopes dim. The Lupins seemed to have fallen into some kind of limbo. Both adults were extremely pleasant to each other, but nothing useful was happening on the romance front that Harry and Natalie could see, just lots of sneaking looks when the other person wasn’t looking; hardly the stuff of igniting flaming passions.
"We have to do something!" groaned Natalie. "I can’t get two sensible words out of my aunt these days. If this keeps up â€”"
Natalie broke off and yanked Harry out of sight. Elizabeth was knocking on Remus’s bedroom door down in the Rose Villa. Remus, looking dishevelled from a nap, answered the door and accepted a smoking goblet. He stepped forward a little, but Elizabeth was already backing away. Remus stood in the doorway, watching his wife race away in the direction of the Chat Room. He kept watching until she was out of sight then retreated into his room. Harry and Natalie exchanged long-suffering groans. It was clearly time for Plan B.
"Has to be tonight," Harry decided. "Full moon’s due next Friday. Remus’ll start getting pretty weak in a few days time."
"I’m game," agreed Natalie.
Plan B required a candlelit dinner in the Grand Salon; they figured the shiny marble floors would be excellent for dancing. Natalie offered the use of her mini music-box. Harry only agreed after he’d checked what other artists she had. Lovey and Dovey were beside themselves with joy when Master Harry asked for their help with their secret operation, enthusiastically taking over all the finer details of the feast whilst Harry and Natalie focused on strategy (and ate far too many of Lovey’s delicious blueberry and banana muffins).
"It can’t be a dinner for two," Harry argued, "way too obvious."
"Okay, but we’ll need to get them up dancing," Natalie said musingly, "then we can disappear."
"Sounds good," agreed Harry.
"We’ll have to get up and dance first," Natalie decided, adding the item to her to do list.
"I can’t dance," Harry said flatly.
"Perfect!" Natalie declared happily. "Neither can I."
Elizabeth was just getting ready for dinner that evening when her niece stopped by. Natalie flopped onto her bed and helped herself to some strawberry chocolates (they were delicious, but because they were only conjured food, they magically vanished after a while without leaving any troublesome calories behind).
"You are not wearing that!" Natalie declared through a mouthful of chocolate.
Elizabeth frowned down at her simple cream robes. "What’s wrong with what I’m wearing?"
"You look like a nun," Natalie said bluntly.
Elizabeth stiffened. "I do not look like a nun."
"How about that red cocktail dress you look so good in?" Natalie said, turning on the charm. "You know, the one with the shoestring straps that’s all kind of â€” you know â€” twirly when you walk?"
"A bit dressy for a family dinner, darling," said Elizabeth.
"Uncle Remus is getting dressed up," Natalie noted blithely.
Harry made a quick trip back to Grimmauld Place to dress for dinner. Well, he tried to make it quick; he was delayed by an argument that had broken out in the Chat Room between Nicolas Flamel and Paracelsus on the creation of artificial life (Paracelsus was for, Flamel against). Most of the busts were feigning sleep to avoid the argument, which was quickly degenerating into a Franco-Swiss war. Each side leapt at the chance for â€˜fresh blood’, trying to persuade â€˜this fine young man’ to support their point of view. Harry was saved by Perenelle Flamel, who distracted her husband and the Ponce of Potions long enough for Harry to escape through the grandfather clock.
Back home in his bedroom, Harry laid out new chocolate-coloured trousers and a crisp cream dress shirt Susan had picked out for him at Harrods. As he was dressing, his scar started acting up a bit. Remus had been bringing the Daily Prophet to breakfast each day, but there was still no news of Voldemort. Harry didn’t know if this was a good sign or a bad sign, but he wasn’t going to waste time thinking about something he couldn’t control. He just grabbed a pair of Sirius’s cufflinks and dashed back through the grandfather clock (flying through the Chat Room before anyone could suck him into another argument). Down the hill, he stopped by Remus’s bedroom to look his scruffy guardian up and down disapprovingly.
"You do know the girls are getting dressed up tonight?" he said archly.
The elves had surpassed themselves. The piano end of the Grand Salon had been transformed into a romantically lit ballroom, filled with candles and beautiful flowers. The furniture and rugs had been cleared away and a table set for four was laid under a sea of twinkling fairy lights. Twelve-inch high musicians played soft jazz from the top of the piano (Harry, with Frank’s help, was keeping Natalie well away from her music box).
Remus and Elizabeth had also done the teens proud. Elizabeth was wearing a flimsy red dress and her hair had somehow gone from dead straight to a pile of blonde curls that bounced when she laughed (Harry suspected a Curling Potion). On her feet were strappy red shoes with heels so high Harry privately wondered how she could even walk let alone dance in them. Around her neck hung a ruby necklace, and her lips were very red, too. Remus had also scrubbed up nicely, wearing clothes hand-picked by Fleur Delacour: dark-blue pleated trousers and a lavender shirt. Remus inspected the Grand Salon admiringly, not missing the dance floor.
"Someone’s been busy," he said casually.
"Oh, yeah," Harry returned easily, "well, you know Lovey and Dovey â€” any excuse for a do."
Remus smiled and pulled out Elizabeth’s seat for her. "You’re looking especially lovely this evening, Elizabeth."
"Thank you, you’re looking rather handsome yourself."
Dinner went very smoothly. Everyone was in good spirits, joking and laughing.
"Auntie Lizzie," Natalie said sweetly over dessert, "Harry was hoping you could give him some dance tips."
Elizabeth raised an eyebrow to Harry.
"I’m really rubbish," he recited flatly.
"I’m sure that’s not true," Elizabeth chided him warmly, "but I’d be delighted."
Remus manned the music box. He even managed to extract a miniature Sinatra (much to Frank, the python’s, delight). The Voice strutted across the top of the piano shaking out his arms and stretching his fingers; he looked very happy to get out of the box.
"Right," said Elizabeth, standing beside Harry. "This is a simple box step. Forward with your left foot ... to the side with your right ... and together. Back with your right ... to the side with your left ... and together. See how you start and stop on the same spot?"
Elizabeth made Harry practice several times before facing him head on. Wandless, she stared down at her red-painted toes.
"Hang on a tick," she whispered and skipped over to Remus for a quick Shield Charm on her toes.
Both of the Franks snickered and Natalie collapsed into giggles. Harry glared at the girl and tipped his head meaningfully towards Remus. Natalie just grinned and mouthed, â€˜Soon.’
Harry managed to make a genuine mess of things, and after twenty minutes of triple steps, rock steps, and a clumsy attempt at swing, he was able to plead for Remus to demonstrate with Natalie what on earth he was supposed to be doing. Harry watched with great satisfaction as Natalie stumbled and tripped through the same moves as him. Before long, the teens were able to legitimately beg for their elders to show them how it was done.
Whilst Sinatra crooned, Elizabeth and Remus glided effortlessly around the Grand Salon. Immensely pleased with themselves, Harry and Natalie sat back down and got stuck into their just and delicious desserts. At first, the Lupins kept stopping to explain what they were doing for the teenagers, but soon they forgot all about them (which suited Harry and Natalie just fine). Dovey took control of the music box, and Lovey kept finding excuses to linger under a potted palm, staring dreamily out onto the dance floor. By the time the big band song, Sway With Me, started, Remus and Elizabeth only had eyes for each other. Remus’s hands kept skimming across Elizabeth’s stomach, barely touching, then he’d spin her away only to snap her tight into his body with a jolt, her twirling red skirt wrapping around his legs for a beat â€” then they’d be moving again, their bodies so close it was as if only one person was spinning around the dance floor.
Her chocolate mousse melting, Natalie plucked a palm frond from the centrepiece and fanned herself. Harry felt a tad hot under the collar, himself. He turned to Natalie and managed to croak, "Fancy a swim?"
With a brief scraping of chairs on hard marble, the teens were gone.
Standing on tiptoe, Elizabeth leaned into Remus’s cheek as they slow danced to Celestina Warbeck singing Dream a Little Dream of Me. The warmth of Remus’s body easily penetrated flimsy chiffon, sending shivers through her. The kids had abandoned them long ago and Elizabeth decided to do the same with her pride. She closed her eyes and slid across Remus’s smooth shaven cheek, kissing him softly, tentatively. Remus immediately and tenderly returned the kiss. Elizabeth’s legs jellied as the kiss lengthened.
Stars shining bright above you
Night breezes seem to whisper, "I love you"
Birds singin’ in the sycamore trees
Dream a little dream of me
Remus pulled Elizabeth into him and buried his face in her neck. "I love you, Lizzie. I’ve missed you so."
A long happy hiss sounded from the piano and a fresh rush of emotion surged through Elizabeth. She wanted to laugh and cry and punch her husband but instead clutched him tightly and choked out, "I love you, too, you idiot."
If Remus objected to being called an idiot, he gave no sign. The music played on, but the Lupins were oblivious. Abandoning the pretence of dancing, their embrace grew steamier. Still kissing him, she pulled at his shirt, tugging him towards the French doors.
"Lizzie â€” Lizzie, wait," he begged when they reached the steps outside. "We need to talk."
"Talk â€” bad," she said. She wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him again; she knew he wanted her, too.
"Lizzie, please." Breathing hard, he pulled away and held her at arms’ length, his face pale under the waxing half-moon.
"Wh â€” what?" she stammered.
Remus just took her hand and led her down the path. Dazed, Elizabeth followed him to their villa and into her dimly lit bedroom, where she was sat soberly on the bed and he started pacing. Elizabeth’s brain didn’t seem to want to work; this wasn’t what was supposed to be happening.
"Lizzie," Remus said hoarsely, kneeling before her, "there’s something I need to tell you, something I couldn’t tell you in the Black Forest." He reached up to tenderly cup her cheek. A Dementor-like chill spread over Elizabeth at the look of pain in his eyes. "There was a second part to the prophecy. Not only will I bite you, but you’ll ... Lizzie, you will kill our son."
"N-No!" she gasped in horror. "It c-can’t be â€” I don’t â€” no! Tell me exactly what she said!" she demanded tremulously. "Tell me!"
Stricken, Remus recited, "A longed for son â€” born of love’s labour ... the flaxen-haired beauty brings death to the precious child ..."
Elizabeth couldn’t breathe. Remus wrapped her in his arms, begging her to forgive him. Her body shook with sobs as he held her tightly to him, she didn’t know how long.
"Is that it?" she said bleakly when her tears abated. "Is there anything else?"
Remus shook his head miserably and Elizabeth went to the bathroom to blow her nose and wash her face. Back on the bed, they talked past three in the morning, pouring out their hearts â€” all their hopes and fears â€” to each other. Everything kept circling back to the prophecy, but Elizabeth had no tears left. She could only think of how much they’d already given up â€” how much more they were willing to surrender â€” in trying to deny the hand of fate. Her fantasies of a future including children lay in ruins, but she refused to have her life dictated to any longer by that wretched prophecy.
"Enough," she said defiantly to herself as much as Remus.
Something happened in that moment that Elizabeth couldn’t quite define. She only knew she wasn’t going to be beaten by some Hogwarts hag who decided that Elizabeth Sabine Lupin was fated to turn into some kind of murderess.
"If we can’t have children, so be it," she argued, but that didn’t mean that they couldn’t share their lives. They hadn’t come so far, and gone through so much, to give up now, she insisted. She took her husband’s hands and stared at his ring-less fingers.
"We’re better than this," she declared forcefully, though her voice shook a little. "I’m not going to give away another minute of my life to some blasted prophecy! This ends â€” right now!"
"Lizzie ..." rasped Remus.
"Where’s your ring?" Elizabeth challenged him.
Remus froze for a moment then slid a hand deep into his trouser pocket, retrieving a scrap of doubly folded-over leather that was shiny and worn with years of rubbing. A circular impression betrayed its contents. Remus unfolded the worn leather and held his palm open to her. The terrible weight in her chest lifted as she gazed at the gleaming gold band she’d chosen for him some fourteen years earlier, leaving her feeling light-headed, giddy even. This man, this love, he was everything she needed â€” children or not. He was hers and she was never giving him up again.
She picked up the band and took her husband’s slightly shaking left hand in her own. She was about to put it on his finger, but then stopped and looked around, racking her muddled brains.
"Remy ..." she started apologetically, "... I don’t ..."
The colour drained from Remus’s face.
"I understand â€”" he started to say.
Elizabeth quickly cut him off. "No â€” no â€” no! It’s just I â€” I don’t know where mine is."
Remus laughed with relief. He shook his head and tried to say that it didn’t matter, but Elizabeth jumped off the bed, still in her red stilettos, and tripped giddily around the room. Remus stumbled after her, trying ineffectually to help.
"I know it’s here somewhere," she muttered, summoning things willy-nilly.
Remus ducked and laughed as clothes, hats, shoes, books, make-up bags, and fat blocks of strawberry chocolates went zooming around the room.
"Bugger!" Elizabeth cried impatiently. "Evil! Wedding ring!"
The golden feline leapt into action, dashing into the villa’s shared bathroom. Elizabeth and Remus tumbled after him, laughing and tripping over the obstacle course she’d made. Evil pawed at the silk robe hanging on the back of the bathroom door. In the dark, Elizabeth fished around in the pocket and, sure enough, pulled out a long gold chain. In the cold bathroom, her trembling fingers fumbled with the chain’s clasp and she stomped her foot in frustration. Remus took the chain from her and almost ripped the ring off. The pair stood still a moment, breathing hard, staring into each other’s shadowy faces.
"Are you sure about this, Lizzie?" Remus said throatily.
"Not even close," she replied. "You?"
"Scared as hell," rasped Remus.
"We’re agreed then," she said breathlessly. "Has to be a good sign, don’t you think?"
Remus waved a hand to the dozens of charmed niches in the walls, filling the bathroom with flickering candlelight. He tilted her face to the light and searched her eyes then let out a shuddering sigh of relief. Taking her left hand, he kissed her gold filigree ring to his lips, and slid it onto her finger.
"With all my heart, my soul, my life," he recited huskily.
Blinking back fresh tears, Elizabeth kissed his ring to her lips then slid it onto his finger and repeated their wedding vow, "With all my heart, my soul, my life."
Remus pulled her into him and kissed her deeply.
"I love you, Elizabeth," he rasped, holding onto her as if he would never let her go again.
Tears spilled down Elizabeth’s cheeks, but she was smiling. She tried to tell him she loved him, too, but she was hiccoughing too much to make any sense. Remus kissed her, tears, hiccups, and all. Grabbing some tissues, he led her back to the bed and tenderly dried her face whilst she cried like an idiot into his chest. Making her lie down, he removed her shoes then his own and spooned around her, holding her close until her hiccoughs subsided.
Elizabeth woke before dawn, startled to find herself inside someone’s arms. Then everything came flooding back and she smiled sleepily at the glints of gold on their fingers. She gingerly moved his hand from around her stomach and sat up on the edge of the bed. She unpinned her messy blonde curls so they tumbled loose around her shoulders. Then she started shedding her clothes and jewellery â€” everything except her wedding ring. Elizabeth was just reaching up to unclasp her ruby necklace when she felt a fingertip tracing the curve of her back, sending goose pimples shivering across her skin. Looking over her shoulder, she found a pair of smouldering grey eyes drinking her in.
Elizabeth stretched cat-like across her husband and purred, "One of us is just dreadfully overdressed."
"It’s a nice ruby," Remus agreed huskily.