“Ellie, please stop and listen to me,” Jamie called to me. I reluctantly stopped as I was headed out of Gryffindor Tower to meet Sirius in the Shrieking Shack.
“No, Jamie. I know what you’re going to say, and I know why, but we talked about it on the train. We’re doing this. I’m old enough and this is what we want,” I reminded him. We’d spent most of the ride from London discussing this. I was tired of him thinking I hadn’t thought it through or I didn’t understand what I was doing.
“But, El, it’s permanent. You can’t undo it.” I stopped in the narrow corridor that led to the portrait door.
“Why would you think we wanted to? I love him. I want to marry him. We have to do something before he turns seventeen next month, or the betrothal becomes final. Once we do this, his family will be forced to break the marriage contract. I read it all in Daddy’s law books. We will be bound to each other, a contract stronger than a betrothal. Please, Jamie, I know what I’m doing,” I pleaded with my brother. “Or, are you still not sure about Sirius loving me?”
Jamie ran his hands through his hair, making it look even more rumpled and dishevelled. “That’s not it, and you know it. He’s my best mate, and I know he loves you; it’s just… Ellie, I worry about you doing such old magic. There must be a reason people don’t do this rite anymore.”
“Yeah, probably the same reason the divorce rate is climbing, even among Wizards. Look at the world, Jamie. People think the old ways are antiquated and irrelevant, everything has to be new and modern. I don’t. Please, Jamie, big brother, my best friend,” I said as I shifted my things so I could reach for his hand. “If we don’t do this, my heart will be broken, because he’ll be forced to marry that shrew. What do you think it will do to him? Think about how we both will be after that. This is the only way, help me, please,” I begged.
“Fine, Ellie, but if this blows up in your face, don’t say I didn’t warn you,” he cautioned and I dropped his hand and drew our secret symbol in the air. He reluctantly returned it.
The memory started to lift, and the world changed from black to grey and then finally to a pinkish colour I recognized as my eyes trying to focus through my eyelids. I hesitantly opened them and saw Molly and Professor Dumbledore standing over me.
“Welcome back, Ellie,” the old man muttered and I looked around. I was on the floor of the Weasley kitchen, which confirmed to me that I had, indeed, passed out.
“Lie still there, dear, let me just check you over,” Molly requested and I complied, seeing as I really didn’t have the energy to move. I watched Molly’s wand hover over me, while she made some complex patterns in the air. “Nothing to be worried about, simple fainting spell. Honestly, dear, I was surprised you hadn’t passed out already over all of this.”
I pulled myself to a sitting position and took a deep breath, testing the waters of my balance, so to speak. I wasn’t light-headed, I just felt… well, I didn’t feel much of anything, which meant things were back to normal. I stood up, lowered myself back into the chair, and looked at the Headmaster. “I’m sure you have some questions for me.”
“I am not sure where to begin, to be quite honest. How did you even learn about the ritual?” he responded.
“I was doing research in the Restricted Section of the library in the spring of my OWL year. I was working on advanced Invigoration and Restoration Potions. Professor Slughorn never questioned why I needed to go to the section; he always signed the pass for me. Anyway, I finished my research quite quickly and decided, since I was in the section anyway, I would do some reading. Sirius and I had been together for nearly two years and…” I stopped and took a deep breath, remembering how desperate I felt in those days. We’d talked with both of our fathers while we were home on Easter break. The conversation with my parents went vastly different than the one with his father.
“Absolutely not. Your betrothal is set!” Mr. Black roared at us. I had never liked him, not since the first summer Sirius and his family were on the Isle with us. He always was so angry and the way he talked to the house-elves bothered me. Unlike my father, who had spoken to us over tea in the lounge, Orion Black met us in his office, making us stand on the opposite side of the desk he sat at.
“I don’t love Rosemund, Father. I don’t even like her,” Sirius retorted.
“Do you think that matters? Pure-bloods marry for consolidation of power and prestige of name, and not love, you pitiful waste of space,” his father yelled and I was shocked, cowering behind Sirius. Never in all of my life had my father spoken to me in the slightest resemblance of the way Mr. Black was speaking to Sirius. I clutched his hand even tighter.
“Ellie is a pure-blood, Father. Break the engagement, please, I’m begging you. If blood status is what you’re worried about, then please, let me marry her.”
“Would that make you happy?” his father asked, with a cold sneer across his face. He looked as malevolent as some of his horrible friends, the ones my father swore were in league with Him.
“Yes,” Sirius answered, lovingly gazing at me while his thumb gently caressed my knuckles. “She does make me happy, very happy.” Mr. Black threw his head back and laughed maniacally.
“Then it will be my pleasure to watch you suffer. You know, I tried to arrange a match between the two of you, the year before you started at Hogwarts. Her father—” he threw the word at me, but I already knew Dad and Mr. Black did not get along, “—he said his daughter would be able to choose who she wanted to marry, and he wouldn’t use her as a pawn in my play for power. Take that back to Quinlan Potter.”
I wanted to run away, to hide from what he was saying. This could have been avoided; we could have been the ones marrying at the end of our school years, instead of Sirius and Rosemund. I fought the tears coming to me.
“Fine, Father, be that way. I will find a way around this, I am going to marry Ellie,” Sirius said firmly and my heart swelled at his words.
“I’m sorry. I was just remembering,” I told them sadly. “The conversation didn’t go well, my parents were more than willing to bless our union, but Sirius’ father, he was… cold. I always felt like it brought him pleasure, how Sirius would be hurt if we were broken apart. Sirius finished the rest of the Easter holiday at our house, and then he left his family permanently during the summer. His father knew mine had given him refuge, and it made things worse between them. My parents already loved Sirius as much as my brother or me. Sirius had been a fixture at our home for years before we even became a couple,” I explained.
“We were sixteen and in love, and he was being forced to marry someone else. I had researched the betrothal laws, and since the match was made during the Age of Arrangement, it was nearly unbreakable. The Blacks were staunch supporters of the betrothal laws. I knew only the head of the family could break a betrothal, and even then there would be huge financial penalties, and being a social outcast for an entire ball season. We’d always suspected finances as part of Mr. Black’s motivation; he didn’t want to have to return the money Rosemund Rowle’s father had given him to secure the betrothal,” I confessed, as Molly was shaking her head and clucking her tongue.
“The Ministry should have outlawed the whole betrothal process when it had the chance, but the Wizengamot would not move on it,” Molly said pointedly to Professor Dumbledore who had a sympathetic look on his face.
I had studied the debates on ending the practice at the beginning of the twentieth century. The difficulties with arranged marriages convinced my grandfather Hightower to let Mum select her own husband, and why Dad let Jamie and me make our own choices.
“When I found the heart-tying ritual, I thought this was the way for us to be together. Never in a million years did I think Mr. Black would make his son marry another. Neither of us thought…” I stopped, lost in memories. Perhaps if I’d looked harder at Orion Black I would have known he’d find a perverse pleasure in seeing Sirius and me suffer. “I turned sixteen the day before we returned for our sixth year, and we only had about six weeks before his seventeenth birthday. We knew the rite would be registered at the Ministry, and we figured that we’d force his father’s hand. My dad had already promised us he would do whatever it took, even if it meant paying Mr. Black for his allowing us to marry.”
“Ellie, I hate to ask this, but, the rite fell out of fashion because it was rumoured to cause excruciating pain if…” Dumbledore started, but I didn’t want to get into this particular topic of discussion. I held up my hand to stop him.
“The rumours were true. Please don’t make me expound on this,” I begged and I saw him nod.
“I guess we know the rest of the story. However, I remember the two of you together up until the day you left school?” he queried.
“We were; we honestly thought his father would relent, or Rosemund would get her father to break the engagement. Really, who would want to marry someone you knew was in love and tied to someone else?” I posed the hypothetical question. “We spent the night before his wedding together, Jamie and Remus covering for us.”
“This certainly changes things. He was sent to Azkaban without benefit of trial, partly at my insistence that he was the Secret-Keeper, and partly at the pleading of Cornelius Fudge, the leader of the Hit Squad team who arrested him. He was duelling Peter Pettigrew when they found him,” Dumbledore explained.
“Because Peter was the real Secret-Keeper,” I explained.
“I understand now,” the Headmaster said regretfully. “I will see about getting him a trial but, Ellie, you’ll need to explain everything, including how you know Sirius didn’t betray James and Lily. You’ll need to speak in front of the full Wizengamot.”
“I understand, sir. I can’t leave him in there to rot away,” I explained with a shiver. I had no desire to share our secrets so publicly. I couldn’t even imagine the gossip that would be started because of this, but it’s what I had to do. In my heart I knew I still loved Sirius, and I had to protect him, no matter what the cost to me.
“All right, then, I’ll see what I can do. Now, what are you going to do about Harry?” he asked and I started relaying my plans to him. He thought my plan to take six months off was a good one, and finding a more suitable home would serve us well. He did suggest we find one where there was a small Wizarding community, and I agreed to his suggestion. I then steeled myself and asked the question I wanted to avoid, but knew I couldn’t.
“Sir, where are Jamie and Lily’s bodies?”
“I took them to Hogwarts, so I knew they’d be safe. Professor Flitwick did the charming on them in preparation for burial. I wasn’t sure where you’d want them to be laid to rest,” he explained.
“I’d like to bury them near my parents’ house, in the Potter family plot, if I can?”
“That would be fine, but we’ll need to do it under the cover of darkness, and keep Harry away, just so you will both be safe. For the time being, I’d like to leave the graves un-marked. I would hate for their bodies to be desecrated in any way by Voldemort’s followers.” I nodded my agreement, repulsed by the idea that someone would do anything to my brother and Lily’s bodies. He then stood.
“If there’s nothing further, I should go and speak with the Minister of Magic about arranging a court date for Mr. Black. If I can be of any service to you or your nephew, please do not hesitate to call upon me,” he added, tipping his head. “A pleasure as always, Molly.” He turned and exited through the Floo.
“Ellie, dear, are you sure you’re feeling all right?” Molly asked me, and I nodded at her.
“I am. I really do need to be getting on with my errands. Do you think you’ll be able to do some shopping with me later? I certainly have no idea what Harry might need,” I asked and Molly came over and took my hands.
“Of course, dear. We’ll go after supper. Arthur can stay home with the children. Now, do you need any money? Gringotts will be closed then.”
“I don’t,” a replied with a smile flirting at my lips. “I had a habit of never having money when I needed it, so few years ago Jamie bought me a Never-Empty money satchel. It’s tied to my vault, and I’m never broke now. More than once I had to go over to his house after the bank had closed and borrow money, or see what food I could scrounge off them. I never have much food in my flat,” I explained, my smile growing at the memory.
“It’s the third time this month, El. Not that Lily and I mind having you over, but really, how old are you? You have a job and I know you have a kitchen, don’t you ever eat at home?” Jamie asked me as I crossed through the lounge to the kitchen in the little house they were leasing. Lily must have heard my voice, as she was already pulling leftovers out of the icebox and putting a reheating charm on them.
“I’m eighteen years old, and I lose track of time at work, and no, I don’t have any food at home, I really don’t eat there. Honestly, James,” I stressed his full first name, which I only did when I was upset, “if it’s a problem I’ll leave,” I said, getting angry at my brother. I turned to walk out and he stopped me.
“El, don’t be like that. Here, sit down, enjoy your dinner. I have something for you,” he told me, sounding a little remorseful at his comments. He pulled a pouch out from a drawer and tossed it at me. I could hear a jingling sound inside. “It’s a Never-Empty purse, I tied it to the Potter vault. This way, you’re never without money. If you go out into Muggle London, you can request pounds from it as well. Don’t say I never give you anything,” he teased and I grinned at him.
“What would I do without you?”
“Probably get into more trouble,” he answered, in our familiar way. Lily set a plate of food down in front of me, and I smiled at her, smelling the wonderful aromas the roasted chicken and vegetables let off.
“Lily, this looks amazing,” I said as I took a bite, “and it’s so much better than anything I could have found at the Cauldron.” I took a second forkful and relished the flavours. ”Hey, if I always have money, then I won’t get to come over and have your leftovers!” I complained.
“That’s the point,” Jamie taunted and I threw my napkin at him.
“You’ll always be welcomed here,” Lily said, giving me a pat on the back while she glared at her husband. “Remus is upstairs and we’re going to listen to the wireless tonight. Do you want to stay?”
“Are you getting any other company?” I wondered aloud, wary of their response.
“No, Ellie, Sirius won’t be coming over,” James said, sadness in his face. I knew it was hard on him, Sirius and I avoiding each other the way we had.
“Then I’d love to stay. It’s not like anyone is waiting at home for me,” I said, the sadness of my situation evident in my voice. Lily just rubbed my back and I lifted another bite of food to my mouth.
“Sorry. It just seems everything reminds me of them,” I confessed, and Molly nodded her head. “There are times I can’t… Molly, I don’t remember Jamie ever not being there. He was more than my brother, he was…” I stopped again, and put my head down on the table. It hurt to breathe, like my body had somehow forgotten how to process the air I was taking in.
“I know, dear, I know. When my brothers were killed, I couldn’t imagine ever wanting to leave my bed. Arthur was so patient, but I didn’t want his patience or his understanding. I just wanted my brothers back,” she explained and I nodded in our shared history. “Do you know what finally helped me?” I shook my head.
“My little Bill. He was only eight months old when my brothers were killed, but I knew I had to get up and move on because I had him to take care of. You’ll see; Harry will do the same thing for you. You’ve already started making plans, making sure he lives a normal and happy life. Ellie, the pain will become manageable, and eventually, it won’t be the only thing you feel. I promise,” she added while she stroked my back and I turned my head so I could give her the faintest of smiles.
As if on cue, the back door opened, and the children paraded in, hair tossed by the wind and cheeks deeply reddened by the cold. Harry saw me, and toddled up.
“Ehwwie, Ehwwie,” he cried as he put his arms up, wanting me to hold him. I lifted the miniature version of my brother and put him on my lap and he threw his little arms around me and nestled against my chest.
“Hawwy wub Ehwwie,” he said through a yawn. It was time for him to nap. I followed Molly upstairs, changed his nappy and then laid him down in the little bed next to Ron’s. I rubbed his back for a moment, and sang him the lullaby I knew Lily had always sung, and it didn’t take long before Harry rolled over onto his side and began snoring. I eased my way from the room and closed the door most of the way so Molly could hear them if either were to awake.
I took the time to shower, and pulled my hair into a neat plait and put on my official Ministry robes. It was after two before I was back downstairs, grabbing my cloak from the peg by the door.
“I’m going in to the Ministry to request my time off, and then I need to go and fetch Remus, he should be strong enough to take him back to my flat. He can sleep off the rest of the effects of his change there,” I explained.
“Would you like to bring him by for dinner, we’ll have plenty?” Molly offered and I felt deep affection and gratitude for the woman. I knew of few people who would invite Remus into their homes once they knew what he was, especially ones with children.
“That’s very kind of you, but he doesn’t like to have people see him for another day or two. The changes, they’re… hard on him.” I tried to convey what I needed to without spelling out too much. Remus was often embarrassed at how he behaved and what he did to himself on nights of the full moon. It was better when Jamie, Sirius or I could be there with him, but Sirius had left him in the middle of the night, due to what happened to Jamie. He was liable to be worse this month than he’d been in a while.
“Well, dear, my door is always open,” she promised. I was so thankful for her kindness. I wrapped my arms around her, finding the hug inadequate in conveying my feelings, but it was all I had for her.
“Thank you. I promise I’ll be back for supper.” With that, I left, walking to the little lane their house sat on and Apparating away. I came in through the service entrance to the Ministry, it allowed me to avoid the general confusion of the Floo hub and open Apparition points. I entered the Atrium about halfway through, and immediately was struck by the general sense of merriment around me.
Great banners hung from the rafters and enchanted fireworks were filling the upper arcs between the buttresses. As I passed, I heard conversations die down or stop altogether, and people just stared at me, their faces sliding from looks of joy to ones of pity. I knew there would be celebration at the demise of He Who Must Not Be Named, but the victory had come at quite a price. It was unfortunately one my family had been called upon to pay dearly for.
I walked past the Magical Brethren fountain, and the memory of the first time I’d ever seen it nearly flattened me. It was Christmastime, and Mummy had brought Jamie and me into London for the first time. We’d gone to Diagon Alley with her to do some shopping, and then we had come to the Ministry to have lunch in the canteen with Daddy. I was eight years old.
“Jamie, do you think that’s what Mr. Dumbledore looks like?” I asked my brother as we passed the statue of the Wizard in the centre of the fountain. I was sandwiched between Mummy and Jamie.
“Professor Dumbledore, Ellie. He’s the Hogwarts Headmaster, not just Daddy’s boss,” Jamie corrected me. “I don’t know, but I bet he’s the most amazing wizard that’s ever lived.”
“He’s not a wizard, Jamie. He’s a warlock.”
“That’s not what he is, Ellie, that’s his title. He’s the Chief Warlock, Daddy is the Associate Warlock,” my brother explained, or at least he tried. I still didn’t understand.
As we walked onto the lift, I looked at the golden man, and hoped Mr. Dumbledore did indeed look like him.
The clanging of the lift gates closing brought me back to the present day. Gulliver, the lift operator, made eye contact with me, and I was disconcerted by the look on his face.
“Miss Potter, I’m so sorry about your brother and his wife,” he started, but I really didn’t want to hear his condolences.
“Thank you, Gulliver. I’m headed down to my office, thank you.” I said crisply, and then turned my eyes away from him. He took the hint and didn’t try to talk with me again. If too many people brought up Jamie, I knew that I’d lose it. I wanted to get through these few minutes, and then Apparate away and take care of Remus. I planned on going to the Muggle market that wasn’t far from my flat as well, to pick up some necessities to take back to the Weasleys’ house. If they were going to be feeding Harry and me, the least I could do was bring some supplies.
We arrived on my floor, and I exited the lift quickly and walked down the long corridor leading to the Experimental and Developmental Medical Potions Lab. There were only seven of us who worked here because most of the work was done in St Mungo’s. This lab was strictly for research purposes, nothing we developed would be used on a witch or wizard anytime soon. I appreciated most of the people who worked here were quiet and kept to themselves; in fact, other than their names, I could tell you little about anyone’s lives.
I walked through the small door which differentiated the only individual office in the lab. Prentiss Rand ran our department and he did so with a detached efficiency I appreciated. He was seated at his desk, scrolls of parchment spread across it, and his Apothecaries Handbook of Potion Components hovering nearby. He was deep in research mode again, but what he was trying to research I had no idea. I cleared my throat at the threshold of the office.
“Ellie, I wasn’t expecting to see you in for at least a few days,” he said, getting up from his desk. Prentiss was at least fifteen years older than I was, and stood at about the same height as I. His face was round and ruddy and he wore his glasses far down on the tip of his nose. He’d gained some weight, but refused to wear robes that truly fit his size, so he perpetually looked like an overstuffed pillow. He’d been rather insistent about inviting me out for drinks or to dinner the first year or so I worked here, and my constant refusals didn’t seem to dissuade him. It only ended after Remus came to visit me at work, and I left for the day with him. Prentiss assumed he and I were a couple, and I felt no reason to correct his assumption.
“I’m not here to work, sir. I need to take a leave from my position, in order to get my affairs in order. I have been charged with taking care of my nephew, and there is nothing about my home or my life that is conducive to caring for a toddler. I’ve never taken a holiday, and I know I have at least three months of leave accrued. Additionally, I’d like to take another three of unpaid leave,” I explained and he nodded at me.
“While we’ll miss you, I understand. If you could write all of that out for me, I’ll take care of the rest,” he requested and I was already sliding the aforementioned scroll of parchment from within my robes and handing it to him. In one of my insomnia-racked nights during the summer after we left school, I had read the entire Ministry Employee Handbook to pass the quiet hours of night. My sudden guardianship of my nephew entitled me to three months unpaid leave, the same as if I’d given birth.
“I hope, once I’m settled, I’ll be able to continue my work at home. I feel close to a breakthrough, I just can’t quite find what’s missing,” I told him and Prentiss took off his glasses and looked at me with gentle affection for me and my work.
“Ellie, no one else will touch your work while you’re gone. To be honest, none of us understand it. Is there anything you need done? Do you have anything fermenting or stabilizing back there?”
“No, sir. I was back to the proverbial drawing board. I am going to get my notes and a few of my books and take them with me. Doing research may help me take my mind off…”
“Go ahead. Tell me when you’re leaving,” he requested. I turned to leave and I heard his voice again. “We’re all so very sorry about what happened; your brother was a good man, and everyone in this department appreciated the skill and dedication of your sister-in-law. I hope I don’t have to tell you we’re all here if you need us.” Lily had worked in St Mungo’s as a Medicinal Potions Master and James had worked in the Department of Mysteries as an Enchantments Specialist. Everyone in my department knew of them from their comings and goings. I was thankful I hadn’t turned to look at him for this last uttering. Tears were again flowing, and I was powerless to stop them.
I scampered to the back of the lab, to my area, and gathered my things. I tried to forget how half of my research books had come from my brother, things he’d picked up for me over the years. I had always been gifted in potions, even as a child, brewing household necessities with my mum. I stuffed all of the scrolls and manuscripts, texts and tomes into my Hogwarts school bag. I’d never bothered to get a new one when this one worked just fine. I reduced the entire thing and charmed it so it wasn’t too heavy and slid it into my pocket. I looked around my work station, and realized there was nothing here that signified it was mine, there were no pictures, no personal items; my name didn’t even appear anywhere here. I waved my wand across the blackboard holding my equations. Now there was truly no trace I had spent the majority of my life hidden in a corner in the basement of the Ministry.
I walked back through the lab, bid my goodbyes to the department head, and walked away from my job. A small voice in my head openly wondered if I would ever come back. I didn’t have an answer to that question.
I walked briskly back through the Atrium, and Apparated at the first free platform. I turned out of the trip at the foot of the wooded trail leading to the cabin. The building was on Potter family land, out in the Lake District. At one point, it had been a base for hunting expeditions, but my father had said the family had long ago abandoned the practice. Jamie and I had requested we use it as a safe place for Remus to endure the full moon, once we had left Hogwarts. Mummy and Daddy had agreed, and each month, Jamie, Sirius, or I would Apparate out to this secluded place with Remus and then Lily or I would come and help heal him and give him his potions the next morning.
As I neared the small house, I could see his form slumped in the old rocker on the porch. There was a brisk chill in the air, and I wouldn’t have been surprised to feel cold raindrops begin pelting me any minute. I hoped he’d put a warming charm on himself. When he saw me, he stood and lifted his hand, not quite a wave, more of a half-hearted salute. My steps toward the cabin seemed to take forever; the closer I came, the harder it was to lift my feet and propel myself forward. I was still at least ten feet away when he chose to start speaking to me.
“Please, please tell me that it was a mistake. Please, tell me… Sirius left for no reason… please… tell me Mad-Eye was wrong when he came out this morning,” Remus begged. I began crying again and I felt so stupid for weeping the way I had been, but the tears choked out my words. I didn’t say anything, I just climbed the stairs and wrapped my arms around my remaining friend.
We held each other, and wept. Eventually, I was able to make myself speak. “Come on, I’m going to take you home.”