At that moment the large ginger cat pushed past Harry's legs, making him jolt the candlestick he was holding. The snuffer jangled, sounding like a gong in the silence, followed unmistakably by Moody's familiar growl. "Potter, come on down here. There's no point in you skulking about on the stairs."
As there was no point in trying to pretend he hadn't heard their dialogue, Harry asked bluntly, "Who is 'she'?"
Moody smiled at his forthright question; the ex-Auror seemed to appreciate the attack-is-the-best-defence approach Harry had adopted.
"I wondered when you'd start asking the questions," said Moody, "Fed up being interrogated and want to start getting some answers instead, eh?"
Harry was leaning against the wall, but the cold of the stone steps was seeping into his almost-bare feet. Eleanor noticed him place one foot atop the other, as well as the fact that he wore no shoes upon his feet.
"We'll answer your questions back upstairs; it's freezing down here," said Eleanor, visibly shivering. "If you get a chill, Madam Pomfrey will be after my blood. Not to mention what Molly'd do!"
As Harry led the way, he was sure he heard Eleanor murmur an incantation moments after he'd left the cellar.
Moody livened up the fire and it cast a warm glow over the room once more. "Use Eleanor's chair, Potter, and warm up your feet," said Moody commandingly, as he settled himself in an armchair by the fireside. "Can't stand having cold feet, myself. Comes from spending too much time in bloody mud-filled trenches in my youth. I'll tell you about it someday, but I feel you'd rather talk about other matters, eh?"
Harry sat down in the well-worn and comfortable wing-backed chair and put his feet up on the matching footstool in front of the fire.
"Do the job properly, Harry! Get those socks off and get some air to your skin," insisted Eleanor.
"No. They're fine, really," protested Harry, but Eleanor was having none of it. With a quick tug, both socks were removed and Harry's feet were open to view.
"Good God, boy!" said Moody in astonishment. "Why haven't they been attended to? How come the hospital didn't treat them or Poppy?"
"They're all right, honestly! Didn't want to make a fuss," replied Harry with all too obvious embarrassment. It was plain for all to see that his feet were anything but all right.
"Potter, I said I wasn't going to talk about bloody mud-filled trenches, but seeing them " began Moody pointing to Harry's bare and obviously infected feet, " has changed my mind. Do you realise what you've been doing?"
Harry only gave a small shrug in answer. He hated being told off by Moody.
"No? Didn't think so!" exclaimed Moody as he sat down once more.
Harry's feet were scarred from the numerous cuts they'd received during the escape from Malfoy Manor and the wounds were now edged with yellow and green pus-filled swellings. Two of the toes on his right foot were completely black and the nail of his big toe was hanging off.
"You'll be damned lucky if you don't end up losing toes, judging by their colour and condition, and I know what I'm talking about, boy. How do you think I ended up with this?" Moody struck his wooden leg with the poker from the fire. The dull thud of metal on wood sent an odd chill through Harry who was being remarkably quiet.
"There's such a thing as subconscious self-delusion, Potter," said Moody, adopting a quiet, focused voice that forced Harry to look in his eyes and not glance away. "It's a long-winded name for what is, in essence, fooling yourself or turning a blind eye to the truth." Moody could see that Harry's self-denial was kicking-in even as he spoke.
"Tell me, what do you know of pain, Potter?" Moody asked unexpectedly.
"What?" Harry was stumped by this odd question.
"PAIN! Pain, Potter! What is it? What purpose does it serve? Why do we experience it?" Moody's voice rose with the challenge.
"I don't know, sir." Harry felt like he was back in his first-ever Potions lesson being asked impossible-to-answer questions by Snape.
"Don't you damn well 'sir' me! I'm not your teacher and this isn't Hogwarts."
Moody took a sip of the glass of cognac that had appeared at his elbow. Eleanor had made herself scarce and left the two men alone.
"Pain isn't something nasty to be feared of itself. It is something to be relished and appreciated," continued Moody forcefully.
Harry looked understandably confused at this sentiment he'd never heard anything like it.
"Oh, don't get me wrong. I'm no masochist don't go in for that kind of thing myself but what I do say is that without pain we wouldn't live long."
While Moody spoke, Harry was staring, transfixed at the ex-Auror's mismatched eyes.
"What would happen, Harry, if you put your hand on those logs?" said Moody drawing attention to the red-hot embers.
The use of his first name momentarily caught Harry off-guard; he opened his mouth to reply, but Moody continued before he had a chance.
"First the outer layer of skin starts to heat up; you feel pain and you remove your hand. Damage is minimalised, your hand heals and you survive. Now imagine if you were not able to feel pain. Again the outer layer heats up. This time the flames keep going and eventually your whole body would be destroyed."
Harry looked up as Moody continued. "Now do you see? Pain is there to let us know we are hurt and need to heal. Unfortunately, wizards also have the ability to self-delude that is, they can convince themselves that they feel no pain even when they do. Powerful wizards and make no mistake you are indeed powerful, Harry can go one step better and cast a subconscious 'Ego Protectum' spell on themselves. To the normal naked eye there are no physical wounds, therefore there is no pain and they go on with their lives."
Moody took another sip of his cognac before continuing, "But the damage is real! Nerve endings are torn, flesh can be ripped apart, but appear whole. One big drawback bacteria are immune to magic. An open wound to a micro-organism is a feast day and infection will set in." Moody sat back and had another sip of his drink while letting his words sink into Harry's brain.
"Is that what happened to you?" asked Harry. He was beginning to understand.
"Yup! During Voldemort's first reign of terror, before your first defeat" Harry gave a small snort of derision, but Moody ignored it. "I was with the Longbottoms on the trail of Evan Rosier. Got hit by a stray curse and it tore a chunk out of my nose. Frank and Alice wanted to rush me to St. Mungo's when they saw the bloody mess I was in, but I refused. Cast a few field healing charms and made them think all was well. Ten days it took us to bring him down. Didn't mean for him to die, but a Reductor curse hit the side of a house and a lump of masonry crushed his skull like an egg."
At the vivid picture Moody had painted, Harry visibly winced.
"When they finally got me to a Healer, the charm was removed wasn't even aware I'd cast it but the damage was done. I was lucky the Healers were able to heal me as well as they did."
"Is that when you lost your eye, too?" asked Harry.
"No, that was something else altogether." It was obvious Moody wasn't going to elaborate as he changed tack slightly. "Pain is useful. Don't ever ignore it. Listen to the message it sends and take heed."
Harry nodded, still not certain exactly what Moody meant.
"Sirius was a good man who had been sorely wronged. Right now, you are feeling the pain of his loss. It's just as real as the pain from your feet or from your ribs. There are no Madam Pomfreys that can apply a salve or dispense a potion to take away the pain felt at the loss of a loved one. The only thing that helps is to talk, share, remember, scream yes, and get angry, too!"
Harry's throat tightened as Moody talked about Sirius. He still felt the pain acutely and was confused by his anger at Sirius even through his own feelings of guilt and his belief that it was all his, Harry's, fault.
"Use that anger, let it out; if you don't then, like a fire, it will consume you." Moody's voice was now gentle and low, but the message was strong. Harry finally began to see what made this man so admired by Mr. Weasley. Beneath the gruff and scarred exterior lay a man of great understanding and compassion.
"And now, if you don't get up to bed soon Molly Weasley will be consuming me!" exclaimed Moody as he finished his cognac. "I swear that woman is part sabre-tooth tiger," he continued with a deliberate and somewhat theatrical scared look on his face making Harry smile and nod in agreement. "She and Dumbledore will be here at 9.30 as they have some things that need to be discussed. I'll get Poppy Pomfrey to take a look at those feet tomorrow, too. Sleep well, Potter."
With that, Harry returned to his bed.
As he lay his head down, Harry tried harder than ever to clear his mind, but it was extremely difficult with so many jumbled thoughts racing around it.
After a couple of hours of tossing and turning, he decided to try another tactic.
He rose from his bed and started to pace up and down, but now found it was too painful. Having removed the self-deluding charm on his feet, the reality of their condition had kicked-in in full measure. A gulp of Madam Pomfrey's pain relief potion helped, but still he couldn't rest.
The next tactic required Harry to get into a nice cool bed.
The Dursleys had never given Harry much in the way of bedding in his cupboard under the stairs and, truth be told, it tended to be too warm rather than too cool. At Hogwarts the dormitories were inclined to be rather draughty. The bed curtains and pre-warmed bedding meant a cosy night's sleep, but Harry found he often slept on top of rather than in the bed. He also had to admit that his nocturnal thoughts of Ginny also served to 'raise his temperature' in bed.
The bed refreshed, Harry climbed in and thought some more about Ginny. He supposed good thoughts and feelings were at least preferable to jumbled and chaotic ones. Soon thoughts of Ginny brought a calmness and tranquillity that Harry sorely needed and he drifted off to sleep a dreamless sleep at last.
The following morning, Harry was still eating his breakfast when Dumbledore arrived.
As he sat at the breakfast table, Dumbledore said, "No need to rush, Harry," while reaching for a slice of hot buttered toast from the pile he had wordlessly conjured. "We have no timetable to stick to and what I have to tell you should really be told to Remus, too."
Dumbledore turned to Eleanor who was sitting at the table sipping her tea and reading that morning's edition of the Daily Prophet. "Any news of when he'll be here?" queried Dumbledore.
"I expected him to be here by now. I haven't received any messages from him, and I take it you've no idea then?" answered Eleanor, a slight frown upon her face.
"It is just not like him to keep us in the dark! I am worried, Eleanor," said Dumbledore.
"Voldemort's trying to recruit as many Dark creatures to his cause as he can, but Remus is strong. The full-moon is not for another eight days so he should be able to withstand anything Voldemort might throw at him while he is in his right mind."
This uncharacteristic candour, especially in front of Harry, somehow was more worrying than his usual evasiveness. Harry was somewhat surprised that he was included in the conversation surprised, but pleased.
"What's happened to Remus?" Harry asked tentatively. He had difficulty using his one-time teacher's name, but he could not keep calling him Professor Lupin.
"Harry, I will tell you what we know, but please do bear in mind that Remus did what he did for a number of reasons and not all of them related to you," said Dumbledore in carefully even tones.
Now Harry was really worried.
Dumbledore continued, "After examining your memories in Eleanor's excellent Pensieve, it was decided that recovering your wand was one of a number of tasks that needed to be tackled. From the available information and not all of it came from you it was decided that recovery of your wand was of vital importance. I need hardly tell you, Harry, of its connection to Voldemort. What you may not be aware of is that, when brother wands are used in tandem, the effect of the spell or charm cast is not doubled, as one would suppose, but magnified ten-fold."
Harry gave a low whistle of appreciation before saying, "And there was me worried he might snap it in two!"
"You see, therefore, the importance of recovery sooner rather than later. If Voldemort were to cast, for example, protective wards around the Riddle House, then they would be well nigh impregnable," said Dumbledore sombrely.
"But, Professor, wouldn't the same be true if we managed to acquire Voldemort's wand? We could reinforce the wards at Hogwarts and everyone there would be so much safer." Harry was excited at the prospect of being able to better protect his friends for a change instead of putting them at increased risk.
"I don't know if you've heard, Professor, but " Harry was almost reluctant to mention it, "Fred and George Weasley make incredible fake wands. Do you think it possible that they could make a fake wand good enough to fool Voldemort?"
To Harry's amazement, Dumbledore chuckled. "They do say that great minds think alike, Harry. Indeed, not only were they able to duplicate Voldemort's wand quite accurately as to its general appearance, but they were also skilful enough to be able to incorporate a few of my ahem 'special' modifications."
Harry's jaw dropped open at this announcement. Eleanor looked at him and said simply, "Do close your mouth, Harry dear, you look like a guppy."
Eleanor's comment snapped Harry's concentration back to Dumbledore's words. "But what happened to Remus? Is he OK? I haven't 'seen' anything about him!" said Harry.
"Then perhaps this is one of those occasions where no news is indeed good news," said Dumbledore. "Remember though, Harry, it is still vital that you practice Occlumency before you sleep, no matter how desperately you want news of Remus. No doubt we will hear from Order members soon. For now though we must move on to other matters."
"Other matters, Professor?" Harry looked confused at his Headmaster, who seemed to have aged drastically since their return from the Ministry last June.
"Yes, Harry, other matters. You no doubt recall that Sirius was your godfather," stated Dumbledore, all too obviously to Harry's mind. Harry didn't speak, but nodded his acknowledgement.
"When your parents asked him to assume that role, they were already aware that Voldemort was after them. Indeed, on no less than three occasions they had come into direct conflict with Voldemort. The last time an attempt was made to seize Hogwarts, your parents, Sirius, Remus and Peter Pettigrew, together with Frank and Alice Longbottom, the Prewett twins, and other members of the Order fought bravely to dispel the Dark that threatened to consume all we hold dear," continued Dumbledore.
At that moment Moody entered the room; Dumbledore acknowledged his presence with a brief nod before continuing his narrative to Harry.
"Your parents knew they were at extreme risk and although Sirius was at risk, too, he agreed to become your godfather and to take care of you should anything befall them. Dear Alice Longbottom, a roommate of your mother and her closest friend, tried to dissuade them. After all, Sirius was not exactly well known for being a good father figure, quite the reverse in fact, but he was overjoyed when he was asked to assume such a responsible role. Sirius did not hesitate to say yes. You and he were already close at the age of one and everyone and I count myself among them was astonished at the change in Sirius. He suddenly seemed to mature and he grew into a much stronger man."
Harry just sat in silence, cradling the now empty tea mug in his hands, rolling it back and forth between his fingers. This was a side of Sirius and his parents that Harry had heard very little about. He absorbed the information like a dry sponge, drawing each drop deep within himself.
"I have no doubt, Harry, that the trust your parents vested in Sirius with regards to your care enabled him to survive the hell that is Azkaban. His love for you and your parents, and your love for him, gave him the strength to survive and a determination to escape. Without that love, Sirius would have died long ago." Dumbledore stopped speaking for a moment and watched Harry's reaction closely.
Harry hated thinking of Sirius' death, and his self-loathing and anger built to an incredible level until suddenly the mug in his hands shattered. It shattered to such an extent that it turned almost to dust. The Headmaster whispered a quiet 'Reparo' charm but nothing happened, the mug's condition remained the same.
Eleanor's voice to one side said, "Don't worry, Harry, it was just an old everyday mug, nothing special."
But as Harry looked back between his fingers, the mug flew back together again; it was as good as new. It reminded Harry of the cabinet in the Department of Mysteries shattering and then flying back together.
"Well, as it seems to be perfectly usable again, why don't I refill it? Albus, how about you?" enquired Eleanor.
"Thank you, Eleanor, I think I, too, would enjoy a nice cup of tea. Allow me." As he had done once before in Hagrid's hut, Dumbledore waved his wand and a tray laden with teapot, milk, sugar and cups appeared and floated down to land gently on the kitchen table.
Eleanor, grinning broadly, leaned conspiratorially to Harry and in a stage whisper said, "Always was one of Albus' favourite party tricks, that one!" Harry felt the tension seep out of him as Eleanor added, "Why don't we take this through to the parlour? It's much more comfortable than here."
The three stood up; Dumbledore levitated the tray with a wave of his wand and followed Harry and Eleanor from the room.
Unseen to Harry, Moody encased the repaired mug in a glass jar before removing it from the kitchen as carefully as an unexploded bomb.
It was many hours later and Harry felt as though a bomb really had exploded inside his head!
He was having a job trying to get his thoughts and feelings around the news he had been given. In the end, Dumbledore asked Harry if he wanted anything as he looked so pale and drawn.
Harry blurted out only one word.
Dumbledore looked as puzzled as Harry at first, then Eleanor exclaimed, clapping her hands, "An absolutely splendid suggestion! Albus, no doubt arrangements could be made for her to come here?"
"Yes, yes! An excellent idea," agreed Dumbledore.
"Harry, do you know Hermione's phone number?" asked Eleanor, the excitement evident in her voice.
"Phone?" Harry looked puzzled.
"Good Lord, boy, have you not noticed that this house has electricity and a telephone?" Eleanor said as though she were stating the obvious, which she was.
"Oh! Of course, I hadn't " Harry's concentration had vanished and he just couldn't think.
"Hermione's number? Do you know her number?" Eleanor was getting increasingly frustrated.
"Er. No, sorry! I gave her mine once, but I don't remember if she ever gave me hers," said Harry eventually.
"Not to worry. I'll ring Jenny," said Eleanor matter-of-factly. "She'll be able to ring the Grangers. Dentists, you said they were, if I recall."
Harry nodded once more as Eleanor left the room.
"I can't recall ever seeing Eleanor so eager to meet someone as she is to meet Hermione Granger." This comment came from Alastor Moody who had just re-entered the room. "Do you know, Harry, we used to call Eleanor a know-it-all when we were at Hogwarts? Used to drive the teachers mad. I swear she could have passed her NEWTs in third year if she'd been given the chance!"
"You two were at school together then?" asked Harry tiredly. His eyelids were drooping; he was barely awake which was odd as it was only just after seven in the evening.
"They certainly were. Alastor, Eleanor, Harwin Prewett Molly Weasley's father - and Jemima Ferguson, your paternal grandmother, were all at school together. You could say," said Dumbledore with a distinct twinkle in his eyes, "that they were the First Edition of the Marauders."
Harry couldn't help but smile at the thought. He'd heard very little about his Wizarding family and was understandably eager to hear more. Unfortunately he was also still recovering physically and despite his attempt to stifle it, a betraying yawn escaped his lips in between mouthfuls of the light supper he was trying to eat.
"Perhaps though, Harry, tales of their exploits should be saved for another day?"
Harry did not feign ignorance of the politely worded dismissal from Dumbledore and, after a brief goodnight to all, he made his way to bed.
Madam Pomfrey insisted that Harry was to drink an infusion of sleep-inducing herbs and eat a banana each night before settling down to sleep. Although not as effective as Dreamless Sleep Potion, the herbal infusion wasn't addictive and it was proving very effective. However, Harry was glad he had to eat a banana as well as he thought Polyjuice Potion tasted better than the 'tea,' and that was saying something!
Harry took off his glasses and placed them next to the now-empty herbal teacup, put on his pyjamas and climbed into his wonderfully comfortable bed. He hadn't been able to grasp all that he had been told that day, so he didn't try and let his thoughts wander where they would. Hermione was good at puzzles, he'd let her sift through all the stuff he'd been told and tell him what he needed to know.
Harry's last thoughts were of Ron.
Ginny's words about her brother worried Harry. Was he being selfish in needing Hermione when Ron obviously needed her, too?
Harry wondered if Ron had plucked up the courage to kiss Hermione yet, as Madam Pomfrey's tea and banana carried him off to sleep.
Sorry for the delay in posting this chapter but ill-health caused the delay. Acute bronchitis, which went into pneumonia, is not something that can easily be ignored.
For those of you who were intrigued about the closing words of the previous chapter keep reading as that will be crucial to the future of the story.