A moment ago, everything was as it should be, and now… it felt like the world had ended, and I had been engulfed in a deep pit of searing flames. I couldn’t imagine pain like this, and I doubted I would ever feel anything like it again. Until now it was a normal night; well, as normal as Halloween can be. I didn’t get trick-or-treaters here, my building was too far away, to hard to climb to my flat. I remembered thinking it was still warm when I arrived home and opened the windows. Through them I heard the cavorting on the street below. I’d worked from seven to seven, and arrived home only wanting sleep. I nearly didn’t answer the door when I heard the knock.
Then came the news that would forever alter my world. I couldn’t breathe, it burned to take in air. My heart felt like it had been ripped from my chest. Whatever I had picked up and scarfed down for dinner, I couldn’t remember now, reappeared on the floor in front of me. How could he be gone? Even when my mum and dad had died, the pain wasn’t this bad. I knew their deaths were coming, and he’d been there to help me grieve. But he was gone. I was alone.
The professors pushed their way into my flat, and one handed me a phial and told me to drink it. I thought I was going to die from the pain. I wanted to die from the pain. The pain was alive, growing, devouring everything in its wake. I could see it approaching and I steadied myself for its searing grasp, then the eventual overpowering of me. I didn’t want to live in a world where I was alone. I was prepared to let it take me. I was prepared to leave this world where everyone I had ever loved had been ripped from me.
And then something else rippled through me, overpowering my urge to crumble.
That was the only word to describe me now. Numb. Whatever was in the phial Professor McGonagall had given me was evaporating away the dark cloud of pain I was prepared to embrace.
Professor McGonagall laid my sleeping nephew in my arms and I stumbled back onto the sofa in my lounge area, not listening to what they were saying anymore. I looked down at his little round face with the same messy black hair and a memory jumped in my mind.
“Again, again, Jamie!” I squealed at my brother. “Make them fly again!”
“Okay, Ellie, hold on,” James said, lifting the wand and making the ring of daisies once again lift off the ground and fly around my head. I giggled as they came to sit upon my head, forming a crown, clapping with delight.
“If Daddy knows that you took Grandmummy’s wand again, you’re going to be in so much trouble,” I reminded him.
“She was sound asleep on the hammock again,” James reminded me. “I’ll put it back before she finds out I have it.”
“If they find out you took it, I’ll protect you, Jamie. Daddy can’t ever get as mad at me,” I promised.
“Yeah, yeah. What would I do without you?”
“Probably be in more trouble.”
“Race you to the pond!” he dared me, jumping up and beginning to run off.
“No fair, you can’t start before I even stand up,” I complained before I sprinted off after him.
Oh, Jamie, I failed you. How could I have… I won’t fail Harry. I promise. I silently gave my oath, hoping that my brother heard my prayers in heaven.
My stomach lurched at the memories, and I was afraid that I was going to be sick again. I looked back up at my former professors, trying to wrap my head around what they were saying. But nothing seemed to matter; Jamie was gone, Lily was gone, Sirius had run off and Remus was… Well, he’d be back in another day or so. I knew where he was and I had received a message he was safe. But my promise to protect my brother when I was four and he was five haunted me now.
“Ellie, Ellie dear, are you going to be alright?” Professor Dumbledore asked me and I looked up at him and nodded. The pain I was feeling was unfamiliar, but if I was honest, I would say it was feeling anything that felt foreign. I hadn’t let myself feel anything in over three years.
James was exactly nine months and twenty-two days older than me, we were closer than Irish twins, our parents used to tease us. James was their miracle baby, they’d tried for years to have him and were thrilled when he was finally born. Then Mum became pregnant with me immediately. They never thought they’d have any children, and within a year they had two. I arrived nearly six weeks early, and it was touch and go whether I would survive or not, but Mum and Dad always told us it was when they laid Jamie in the cot with me I started to get stronger. We were each other’s life lines, best friends, confidants, even once we went to Hogwarts.
People assumed that we were twins, and were shocked to find out James’ birthday was in November and mine was in August, the last day of August, so I just made the cut to be in the same year as him at Hogwarts. He had always promised me he would have waited anyway, and gone with me, because we had always done everything together. We were Sorted into the same house, and I was roommates with Lily Evans, who became Lily Potter, the mother of the little boy I was now holding. I couldn’t think of Lily without remembering the first time she talked about my brother.
“Did you see what he just did?” Lily asked me and I nodded at her. “He spilled my pumpkin juice on purpose, just walked right into me. Do you know who he was?”
“I do. His name is James Potter and he was with…” I started to tell about Jamie and his friends but she cut me off.
“Well, he’s just… a stupid, stupid boy,” she complained, trying to wipe herself off with a napkin. I took out my wand and said the charm Mummy had taught me at home and she was immediately clean.
“Wow, how’d you learn to do that?” she asked me, and I noticed how pretty her face was.
“My mummy taught me at home. My brother,” I said, emphasizing the word hoping she’d get the hint, “tends to make LOTS of messes.” As I explained, she tilted her head to the side, still looking surprised at how the orange stain had disappeared.
“Oh, is he older or younger?” inquiring as we gathered our things up for the first day of classes and left the Great Hall.
“He’s older, but only by a little over nine months.”
“Is he at Hogwarts?” I knew she wouldn’t be happy with the answer, so I figured that I would play with her a little as we walked to class. I could see Jamie and Sirius in front of us, walking with another boy who was in their room. I’d met him last night when I’d hung out in their dorm, rather than being subjected to silly girl talk. Jamie had collided with Lily even though he was aiming to run into me. Just his dumb brother way of telling me that he loved me and had his eyes on me.
“Yup, he is.”
“What house is he in?”
“Gryffindor,” I answered, hoping she’d figured it out.
“Well, I hope that he can teach that disgusting boy some manners,” Lily said, and I had press my lips together not to laugh. “Ellie, who’s your brother?” she stopped at the door to the Charms classroom and I put my hand on her shoulder.
“James Potter,” I told her as I walked into the room and was greeted by Jamie, Sirius and their new friend. I turned around and smiled at her. “I’m Ellie, Ellie Potter.”
Lily forgave me for not telling her immediately that Jamie was my brother, and we became fast friends. She wasn’t silly and giggling like some of the other girls in our year, and we were both smart, so we tended to work together. Since we were together, and Jamie and I had done everything with each other our whole lives, they were forced to spend time in each other’s company. I had never seen two people bicker more in my whole life. Sirius and I used to sit there and watch them, enjoying their mutual irritation as if it was a show.
I could feel Harry stir in my arms and I was brought to the present. I much preferred the happy memories, but Harry needed me. When he opened his eyes, I was again reminded of Lily. Harry’s verdant orbs probed my face much as she often had. I held him as he squirmed into a sitting position on my lap, and I could see the question in his eyes.
“Mummy isn’t here right now, Harry,” I told him, his yearning bringing tears to my eyes.
“Daddy isn’t either, Harry,” I stopped and had to swallow down the sob that was threatening me. “Mummy and Daddy had to go away. They’re with Grammy and Pappy Potter now. It’s just going to be Harry and Aunt Ellie now,” I tried to explain, but how do you make a toddler understand his mother and father are dead?
“Mus and Doggie?” he asked me, calling Remus and Sirius by his nicknames for them.
“Uncle Mus is sick right now, but I’m sure he’ll be better in a couple of days,” I explained. Remus had a cabin in the woods that he would go to with either James or Sirius when he had to endure the full moon. He stayed there for a couple of days after, to recover before he came home. I usually went and checked on him the morning after a full moon.
“Uncle Sirius is… away. But he’ll come see us when he can,” I promised the toddler, hoping I wasn’t lying. Dumbledore was trying to tell me that Sirius had betrayed Jamie and Lily. As their Secret Keeper, he had given away their location, but even with everything that I might believe about Sirius, I knew betraying James wasn’t something that he could have done.
I looked around my flat, and thought about how this wasn’t a place to raise a child. The former industrial space had only had one large room, with a small loo off to one side. It was sparsely decorated, mostly things I’d collected from my travels around the world, although half of them were in haphazard piles along the walls. The kitchen was only used to make tea or store leftovers of takeaway that I threw out once they started to grow mould. I never cooked for myself. I wasn’t here much, it was generally an oversized cupboard with a big bed in it for me to crash in, wash up in the loo, and change clothes. I spent long hours working at the Ministry when I wasn’t travelling. Working as a Developmental Medical Potions Master was interesting and engrossing work. It was something that I was able to get lost in, which is why I chose the career.
“What am I going to do? I don’t have anything to take care of a child with here. When I took care of Harry, I always went to Jamie’s house,” I explained to the professors, who were still standing. I realized I hadn’t even offered them a seat, let alone a spot of tea. My mum would have been appalled at my manners. “I’m sorry, please sit down. Would you like something to drink? I can put the kettle on.”
“Nonsense, Ellie,” Professor McGonagall admonished. “This isn’t a social call. We know you’re not prepared to take care of a child here. We’ve arranged other accommodations for the two of you, for the time being.”
“Oh, all right. Where are we going?” I asked in a daze. “Am I taking him back to my parents’ house?” I asked, knowing how, before they went into hiding, James and Lily had been living in the cottage Jamie and I shared with our parents while we were growing up. I loved the little house outside of Leeds, it was cosy and comfortable. When Mum and Dad died within a year of each other, I insisted James and Lily take the cottage. I didn’t need it, I was always at work and they were the ones who were going to have a family. They’d left it six weeks ago to go into hiding.
“I don’t think it would be safe for you to go and live there, not just yet. There are still many Death Eaters at large, and the location of your family home is quite well known,” Professor Dumbledore explained, and his answer seemed reasonable to me. “For the time being, we’d like you to go and stay with the Weasley family, outside of Ottery St. Catchpole. They have a son Harry’s age and a new baby daughter. They’re prepared to have another child living with them, and they’ve already made room for you as well. You’ll be safe there as well, the house is well warded.”
“Oh, that was very kind of them,” I mumbled, the comfortable numbness enveloping me again. The numbness let me escape the pain. It hurt to breathe and to close my eyes. I felt every cell in my body try to explode to let the pain out, but there was nowhere for it to go, except back to being numb. “I guess I should get some things together?”
“Why don’t I take Harry and see if we can get him a snack, while you pack up some of your things?” the Headmaster suggested and I passed Harry over to him.
“I’ll help you, dear,” Professor McGonagall told me and we went to my messy wardrobe to get some things together. I was embarrassed for her to see it and how I had tossed things to and fro. I had work robes, and the old, Muggle-style clothes I’d had for years to clean and lounge in. I had no other clothing, nothing in between. The only dress robes I owned were the ones I wore for Jamie’s wedding. I worked, I slept and I went to my brother’s. “It’s an existence, not a life,” Jamie used to tell me.
When I’d collected what few clothes would be appropriate, we turned around to see Harry sitting on the table munching on some biscuits Dumbledore had found in my kitchen cupboards. I knew they were stale, a remnant of the Easter basket Lily had made for me in the spring. I went to the loo and grabbed my few things and tossed them in the bag as well.
“Is there anything else here you might need in the next few days?” Professor McGonagall gently probed.
“No, I… I’m not here much,” I told them and I lifted my wand to make sure the two windows were closed and turned out the lights. We all left the flat and I locked the door. Thankfully, Professor McGonagall created a Portkey to get us there; I wasn’t sure I was aware enough to Apparate us, and I had only been to The Burrow twice.
When we entered the house, Molly took Harry and said she would get him ready for bed, and lay him down in Ron’s room. I nodded and the professors talked with Arthur for a few minutes, but I couldn’t quite follow the conversation. I wanted the tears to stop flowing from my eyes, but it seemed there was an endless supply tonight. I looked up on their wall, trying to take my mind off the emptiness I felt, and started glancing at their pictures. The Weasleys always seemed so happy and loving with one another. Their pictures confirmed this. A photograph of Mum and Dad with Molly and Arthur reminded me that we were distant relatives.
The smiling faces seemed to betray the weight of what was lost tonight. As my eyes moved across the wall, I was shocked to find one of Jamie, Lily, Sirius and me at their wedding. Seeing us all smiling and laughing together, overflowing with happiness, it was too much. I could feel the sobs racking over me as I looked at us, knowing I would never see my brother again.
“Ellie, are you sure you’re going to be all right?” Jamie asked me and I put my hands on his shoulders and stared in his eyes.
“Jamie, it’s your wedding day. I am so happy for you I can put the rest of it aside. One of us should be happy and loved,” I explained and Jamie’s face fell at my comments. “Anyway, I wouldn’t want to endure Lily hexing me if I messed up today,” I confessed.
“She can be a little scary sometimes.”
“Yes, but that’s why you love her. She keeps you on your toes.”
“She does; couldn’t have ever married a woman that didn’t. Living with you all those years destined me to need someone like that.”
“And don’t you ever forget it.” Jamie enveloped me in a huge hug and I returned it.
“It’ll be your turn, someday…” he tried to make it a happy sentiment, but I could hear the pain in his voice.
“It’ll be a very cold day in hell, Jamie. I just… marriage isn’t in the cards for me…” I tried to brush him off, but this was my big brother.
“That’s not true, and you know it. He is so in love with you…”
“Stop,” I said harshly, “we both know it won’t ever happen. Sometimes love isn’t enough,” I said, looking away. “Come now, I need to go and see Lily, and you should get out there with your groomsmen.”
“Ellie, dear, just let it out. I can’t imagine how hard this must be for you,” Molly told me, putting an arm around me. I hadn’t even realized she was back in the room.
She plied me with some more potions and showed me the room that I would be sleeping in. I changed and lay down, but sleep wouldn’t come. I flopped around on the small bed, realizing I missed the large one in my flat, even though I was the only one who ever slept in it. I finally gave up and grabbed my dressing gown and threw it on over my nightdress and headed downstairs, hoping there would be something to read to keep my mind off of everything that had happen today.
I nestled myself by the dying fire, and grabbed a book on Muggle airplanes of Arthur’s and began flipping through the pages. I wasn’t really looking at the book, but instead lost in memories. I was just… numb again. Pictures of my brother flashed through my head, and my heart hurt at them.
“We’re really leaving today, Jamie?” I asked for like the hundredth time as I folded my new Hogwarts robes into my mummy’s old school trunk.
“We are. Pinky swear we’ll help each other with homework?” Jamie asked, holding up his little finger to me. I immediately wrapped mine around his and we shook them up and down three times.
“Pinky swear. You’ll never get through Potions without me.”
“Yeah, and you’ll need me to help you in Defence, so we’re even.”
“I just don’t want to hurt anybody,” I whispered.
“I know, El, but sometimes you must be able to defend yourself.”
“Naw, that’s why I have you around,” I told him, reaching up and tussling his hair.
“Aw, El, why’d you do that? It took me like fifteen minutes to get it to stop standing on end this morning,” he said, trying to flatten his hair back out.
“Here, I’ll fix it,” I told him, as I straightened it out. “Maybe you’ll meet a cute girl today.”
“Maybe, but boys had better not look at you. You’re not snogging until you’re, like, thirty. Sirius and I will see to that.”
“Thanks, Jamie. You’re a peach.” I sighed, knowing that going out with my brother around would be a task. He didn’t let any boys near me, except for Sirius.
I was startled by some rather loud knocking and a familiar voice calling out from the other side of the door. I sighed loudly as I both rubbed my temples and stood up from the chair. I opened the door, and there stood the one boy that James had trusted around me.
“Sirius, what are you doing here?” I asked as he pushed his way in. “Please, come on in,” I added sarcastically and then closed the door. Seeing him somehow made the pain more real, the hurt all that much deeper. I wanted him to comfort me, I needed him to tell me everything would be all right, but I couldn’t let myself.
“I came to see Harry, to make sure he’s all right.” His eyes darted around the lounge, as if I’d have the toddler up with me in the middle of the night.
“Sirius, you’re being hunted. They think that you betrayed Jamie and Lily,” I blurted out. I had to keep him safe.
“Ellie, you of all people should know I couldn’t do that,” he told me, his eyes pleading with me and, for a moment, he looked like the boy Jamie and I had met when we were six and seven.
“Blagh,” I screamed. “Something just tickled my foot. It felt yucky. You don’t think that there are Grindylows in the pond, do you?” I asked as we swam.
“Naw, just water dragons, Ellie,” he teased me.
“That’s silly, Jamie. There’s no such thing as…”
“Sure there are.” Jamie and I turned to where the voice came from and found a boy on the banks of the pond, standing by the pile of our clothes we’d left there. Jamie and I always went skinny dipping; Mummy and Daddy didn’t seem to mind. The boy was already starting to strip out of his clothes. He stood about as tall as Jamie, and had hair darker than Jamie’s. His eyes, they were pale and hard to look away from. “Water dragons only eat little girls.”
“That’s really stupid,” I told him honestly.
“Who are you?” Jamie asked, swimming so he was next to me. Jamie always protected me.
“Sirius Black. My father bought the house up on the hill, we’re going to summer here,” he explained, taking off the rest of his clothes and diving in the water. When he came up for air, he was quite near us.
“I’m James Potter and this is my sister, Ellie. We have the blue house…”
“The one with the big porch and the old lady asleep on the hammock?” Sirius asked us and we nodded.
“That’s Grandmummy, she’s always sleeping,” I told him and then asked, “How old are you?”
“Seven. How old are you?”
“I’m seven, Ellie is six…” James started, but I needed to correct him.
“I will be seven in one month and eleven days.”
“Yes, Ellie,” he said, sounding annoyed I’d reminded him when my birthday was again. “But I’m still your big brother,” he said with a big splash of his arm, getting me soaked.
Soon we were splashing and playing. When we’d had enough, we left the pond and went exploring. James even stole Grandmummy’s wand again; but all day, I couldn’t stop looking at Sirius’ eyes.
I forced myself into the present, to those pale grey eyes, framed by dark hair. They were bloodshot and swollen. He’d been crying over Jamie as well. The only reason he and I had even tried in the last few years was because it would have been too hard on Jamie to have to pick between his best mate and his sister.
My head was throbbing and I was suddenly wishing for the numbness I had earlier. The pain was just too much and was made all the worse by his being here. My stomach lurched again as it always did when he was too close. Couple the pain of being near him with the grief of losing Jamie and Lily and I found it to be too much. I ran to the kitchen and was sick in the sink.
There wasn’t much in my stomach, so mostly what came up was thick, yellow bile. I stood there, head bent over, clutching onto the sink, hoping the rushing sound in my ears would stop so I could stand up. Then, he was behind me, holding back my hair and rubbing along my spine.
“Ellie,” he whispered, but the sound ripped through me as if it were a cannon going off, and my well-constructed emotional wall felt like it would crumble. I stood there, grasping the porcelain of the basin, fearful of where my hands would go if I released them. I so wanted to hold him, but we couldn’t. We couldn’t even to try and take away the pain we were both feeling.
“Stop,” I begged, knowing if I tried for more words, everything I’d worked so hard for during the last three years would dissolve away. I pumped the faucet, washing down the mess I’d made.
“I know how badly you’re hurting. I feel it, too. He was like my brother, but he was yours…”
“Yeah, he was, Sirius, but he’s gone. He left me alone. He promised that we’d always be together…”
“He didn’t mean to break that promise…”
I mustered the strength to stand and look at him.
“No one keeps their promises,” I said darkly, finding the resolve to harden myself. “Sirius, leave. Go up to the cabin. Remus is there. Stay there until I can figure this all out.”
“Will be fine. I’ll take care of him and love him as if he were my own,” I said pointedly, and I knew he hadn’t missed the meaning. “You’re being tracked, you shouldn’t be here,” I told him, wanting him to go and hide in the darkness. Then a thought came to me. “How did you know where to find me?”
“Ellie,” he started, his face getting soft again, “I can always find you,” he whispered, putting his hand on my face. Electricity shot through me at his touch, and I wanted more. I wanted his arms around me, I wanted the strength he’d always given me.
And then I remembered.
“Sirius, leave. Go to the cabin or go home to your wife,” I spit out the last word. Rosemund Rowle Black was my least favourite person in the world.
“If I’m not here helping with Harry, then I’m going after Peter.” I shook my head and headed back into the lounge, reaching for my wand and realizing it wasn’t there, Sirius handed his to me and I took it, cleaned out my mouth and re-lit the fire, giving it back before I even realized what I had done. I hated he knew what I needed without ever having to tell him.
“Why would you go after that little… irritation?”
“Ellie, James made him the Secret Keeper,” he confessed and my head snapped to look at him.
“But, when I said no, he told me he was going to ask you…” The words tumbled out of me. I’d truly failed my brother. I had begged him to pick someone who could defend themselves better, I wasn’t ever good at defensive spells and I didn’t have the fortitude to hurt or kill someone. I’d turned down his request too quickly. Now I would have to endure a life with this regret as well.
“I told him it would be better if it wasn’t me. I was afraid I’d… because of her,” he told me quietly, and I knew it was Rosemund again. I sank to the cushions, wishing again I’d had the courage to do what Jamie had asked of me.
“It really is my fault they’re dead…” I sobbed as I put my head in my hands.
“Lolly, it isn’t your fault. It’s Peter’s fault…” Sirius comforted me, using his private nickname for me. We were fourteen when he gave it to me, just back for our fourth year. The memory slammed into me, as if I had been hit by the Hogwarts Express.
“You know, you’re too sweet to be just called Ellie,” he said as his fingers played with my hair. We were out on the Astronomy Tower, away from everyone. We’d just shared our seventeenth kiss, and I could tell you where each one of them took place and how they felt.
“Really? Then what would you call me?” I asked him, my head still floating from the way he’d snogged me.
“I’d call you…” he stopped to think, “Lolly, because you’re just as sweet as a lollipop.”
“You’re very silly tonight,” I told him, and he nodded in agreement.
“Yup, because James has finally accepted that I fancy you, and that you fancy me, and if any boy had to be around his sister, he was glad it was me. Makes me pretty happy, and that makes me silly.”
“Okay, then you may call me Lolly, but only you,” I told him, and he grinned at me in a way that made me just a little nervous.
“Good, because I’m the only bloke that’s going to do this to you, too…” he said as his lips came to mine again in number eighteen.
“Please, don’t call me Lolly,” I whimpered, as his hand gently brushed my cheek, wiping away my tears. “Look, go to Remus, and stay there. Let me look into all of this, please?” I pleaded, finally turning to look at those pale eyes that were parallel with mine. “I lost Jamie and Lily today, I might die if I were to lose you, too. Go, please. Harry and I will be fine.” Tears streamed down my face.
“Ellie, I can’t… I don’t want to leave you like this.”
I was on the edge of a fence, and I could fall either way right now. I needed to make sure I didn’t fall into Sirius, no matter how badly I wanted to.
“Sirius, I’m not your concern anymore. You must…” I couldn’t even say her name out loud, “…her. You know how to find me. When the dust settles, we can figure out a way for you to see Harry. I’ll go in to work in the morning, convince them you’re not responsible. Until then, you need to stay hidden,” I pleaded with him.
“But I want to help…” he begged and I almost didn’t have the strength to send him away.
“Go now, before someone finds out where you are. She isn’t going to tolerate much more from you, and she’ll involve your mother, which isn’t something either of us want,” I reminded him, reflexively grabbing the place where I had a scar on my arm from the curse his mother had thrown at me when we were seventeen.
“But I love you,” he confessed, and I recoiled my emotions back into me. I wasn’t going to let his words get to me. I wasn’t going to be swayed. What little was left of my heart tore in two at his words, but I had to do what was safest for us all. I couldn’t let us forget the curse we were under. I snapped my protective walls back around me, shielding myself from everything Sirius made me feel.
“Those are only words, and you know it,” I snarled. “Go, please. I’ll come to the cabin after I go to the Ministry. I need to check on Remus and I’ll tell you what’s going on.” He stood there, looking as if I’d hit him. I swallowed back my tears and more bile.
“Go, Sirius!” I said through clenched teeth, sounding like more of a hiss than words while opening the door and pointing to it. He looked more wounded than when he’d arrived, and I hated I’d just thrown his feelings back at him, but it had to be done. I looked at the ground as he passed, not wanting to see those eyes again and only looking up moments later, to see him fade into the darkness. I closed the door and slid down it, caving into a sobbing mass on the floor.