I huddled close to Professor Dumbledore as we crossed from the dock to the main building of Azkaban. I knew my father had been here several times as the Associate Warlock, but I struggled to see my proper, congenial father in such a dismal place. I was certain never in our wildest nightmare would he have imagined either Sirius or me here. Azkaban was worse than anything I’d imagined over the last weeks. I could see the Dementors flying over head, and I felt like a small child standing there, helpless, unsure of why I was torturing myself this way. More than once I could spy the old man looking down at me with surprise in his eyes.
“What is it, sir?”
“Ellie, the Dementors aren’t even coming close to you. Usually someone so young would need protection against their abilities.”
“Sir, there is little joy in me,” I confided. “Perhaps I’m an inadequate snack?”
The professor chuckled at that.
He checked us in. He had to use his considerable pull to arrange for me to see a prisoner. We were escorted down a dark hallway to the cell at the very end. I avoided making eye contact with the men screaming at us as we passed. The Auror bade us good-bye, telling us she’d see us when we left. The air felt wet, tasted salty and smelled stagnant and mouldy. It was nothing like the sea air at our home on the Isle.
Dumbledore lit his wand, and I saw things scampering away along the walls, trying to cling to the darkness. I was thankful the guards hadn’t fully checked my pockets, or they would have found the food and warm clothing I’d shrunk and stowed in my garments to leave with Sirius. I assumed it was another favour Dumbledore arranged. I carried with me some pictures Harry had made him, scribbles really, but I knew he’d love them because they were from his godson. Harry missed his Doggy, and kept wondering when he’d be to see him.
I scanned the cell and saw him huddling in the corner. Sirius was transformed into his Animagus form. It gave him warmth and protection against the horrors of this place. The larger shards of my fractured heart split over and over again in my chest at the sight of him. For the first time in three years, four months and twenty-eight days, I allowed myself to feel the overpowering and consuming love I had for this man. Once our Privacy Charm was in place, Dumbledore called to him.
“Sirius, it is Albus. I’ve come to discuss your case with you, and I’ve brought a friend,” he explained, and the big black dog lifted his head and looked in our direction. Immediately, a haggard, dirty man was before me, glaring at our former Headmaster.
“Why did you bring her here? This isn’t a place for someone like her!”
“Sirius, do you really think I’m here against my will? How could I not be here… you’re…” I stopped speaking as he reached through the narrow bars and placed his hand on my cheek. I brought my hands up to hold onto his, one over his hand, the other on his wrist, relishing the first real comfort I’d felt in so long. After a moment, I reached for his scruffy face as well. The pull to touch him was too great.
“Let me look at you, and see what I can do to help.” I lifted my wand and began to clean him, and healed the small cuts and scars which were all over his hands, arms and face. They looked like he’d been pawing at himself. “Fleas?”
“How did you know?” he enquired with the first genuine smile I’d seen from him in a long time. Usually, when we were with each other, it was a struggle to keep from breaking down.
“I remember when Jamie gave the magical ones to you in our fifth year. You looked much the same.”
I charmed them off him, and then coated him in a Flea-Repellent spell I’d created the same year. “It’s not permanent, but it should hold for a while. I have some things here for you,” I explained, taking the package of fresh food out of my robes and returning it to size. He greedily ate it down, and I filled the cup I’d stowed repeatedly with clean, cold water.
He opened the package with a sweater and woolen socks from our practical, friendly werewolf. I’d brought a hat and gloves, clean pants — which made him blush — and enough food for a while. All the things would keep, like dried fruit or granola. Molly had helped me pack it in some Muggle containers made of something called plastic; it was to help keep the moisture out. We’d bought them in town while we were shopping, knowing conventional things would spoil and rot. Sirius broke down when he saw the scribbles Harry had made for him, one of them saying, ‘I love you, Doggy’, written in a hand that looked much like Molly’s.
“What’s the word? Has my mother relented?” Sirius asked thepProfessor. Sirius and I had come to sit on either side of the bars, side by side, so it felt like we were next to each other, rather than leaning on cold metal bars. I had both of my hands through the slats so I could hold his cold ones. I could get more of my arms through than he. I told him to slip the gloves on, but he refused, explaining his desire to feel my touch. Mentally, I berated myself. I was going to be in so much pain when I had to leave, but right now he needed the comfort, and I would do anything to give it to him.
“It is out of her hands. The Minister of Magic has ordered you have a hearing, and no one, not Cornelius Fudge or your mother, can stop it,” the professor pronounced. “It has been scheduled for the twelfth of January. I am sorry I could not make it sooner, but with the holidays right around the corner, there was no time.”
“It’s fine, I have a date, and with any luck, I won’t be coming back.” Sirius kept stroking the backs of my hands with his thumbs, as if I were the one who needed comfort.
“Tell me about him?” he begged, wanting news of our godson.
“He’s doing well. I think he likes living in the little house I bought. His room is a bright blue and I brought over all the things from his Daddy’s old room, and you should see him on his broom, it’s… when we get you out of here, you’ll see. He asks for his Mummy and Daddy, but it’s getting more infrequent. I think, over time, he’ll understand. He asks for you daily. I keep telling him as soon as you can, you’ll be there. Remus and I tell him stories about his parents, and show him pictures so he will remember his real mummy and daddy. Only a few more weeks… I swear I will get you out of here.” I promised, and I could see his eyes narrow in suspicion.
“Ellie,” he dragged the word out, as if he was forming a thought while he was speaking. “Please, don’t do anything…” I put my finger to his lips.
“I’m only doing what’s within my power. The Potter name still carries a great deal of respect in the Wizarding world, and I will not let you stay in here one minute longer than necessary. To hell with Walburga and Rosemund!”
“That’s my girl,” he said affectionately.
“We should be going, you two. However, I will give you a moment’s privacy, but then we must be leaving, Ellie. We do not want to overstay our welcome here,” Dumbledore told us, and he slipped through his own charms and Sirius and I were alone. We knew exactly how affectionate we could be without triggering the charm that his marriage contract carried. We turned so we were facing each other. I wove my fingers through his and stared into his eyes, trying to convey everything without saying words.
“I won’t take it any longer, Lolly. You’re the only one who has cared for me, and…” he started to cry. His tears broke my heart, but I needed to be strong for him. I could fall apart later.
“Sirius, please stop. Don’t let the Dementors have any ammunition against you. Please, my darling. It will be all right, trust me. Know that I carry you in my heart,” I whispered to him. He removed one hand from mine and brought his fingers to his lips and then gently pressed them to mine. It was as close to feeling his lips against mine as I would get, and I instantly warmed at the contact. I did the same for him, and I could see the happiness dissolve his tears. “Think on this, and only this: we will be a family, I promise you.”
“Ionúin” he whispered.
“Ionúin, go deo” I responded, using the Gaelic words which concluded the ancient rite by which we had tied our hearts and bodies together. Beloved, beloved forever.We pressed our foreheads against the bars and my body called for his. I wanted him to change back before I left, so my departure wouldn’t be so painful for him. “Go on now, change back and rest.” We stood up, and he gathered his items, hiding them under the pallet I assumed was supposed to be his bed. When he moved it, I saw a roughly hewn hole in the floor of the cell, and he slid all of the things in, and then replaced the pallet on top.
He changed into his dog form, and I motioned to the professor and he slipped back into his own wards. I watched as Sirius curled himself up in the corner again. I did a quick cleaning of the cell and then warded the walls as best as I could to keep out the cold and vermin. Professor Dumbledore moved his wand in an intricate pattern as well.
My former teacher put his arm around me and led me away. I could hear the howl Sirius let out as we left, giving voice to the pain we were sharing. I didn’t want to succumb to my sadness now. I wanted to make it back to my own home and curl up in the tub in my bathroom and weep until the water had gone cold. Holding onto that thought was what I clung to, giving me the strength to move forward.
As we exited, the Dementors left us alone. I was thankful for it. I was certain of what memory they would force me to relive as they sucked at my soul. It was the day Sirius was forced to marry Rosemund, and I would be destined to live alone. The searing pain my heart and body withstood that day was like no other.
When we arrived back from Azkaban, I found Molly in my lounge, playing with Harry, Ron and Ginny. Remus was sitting nearby, reading, passing his time while awaiting my return. The looks of pity in their eyes were overwhelming. I just wanted to be alone.
Molly explained she was preparing today’s lunch, and I should go and change out of my dirty things and relax for a while; she’d take care of Harry. I didn’t have the strength left to argue with her. I willed myself upstairs and to my bedroom, put a Silencing Charm on the room, stripped out of the clothes which had become grimy and dirty in my short time at Azkaban, and climbed onto my bed, throwing Jamie’s jersey over me. I laid there and wept, my body shaking and convulsing in pain I hadn’t felt in years — I’d opened myself up to feel his love. I was paying the price now. I wasn’t surprised when Molly came into the room an hour later, took me in her arms and rocked me like my mother had. I needed a mother. I needed to be taken care of as much as little Harry did today. I thanked the heavens for Molly’s presence and care.
After my tears were dried, she ran a soothing bath in which she’d put something to make it smell wonderful. Then she plied me with some potions and succeeded in persuading me to eat a little.
I came downstairs to talk with her and Remus while the children were napping. I shared my encounter at Azkaban and the progress Dumbledore had made on Sirius’ behalf. Before she left, Molly told us we were expected at The Burrow at ten o’clock sharp, Christmas morning, and we were to spend the day. She began rattling off what she was cooking for the brunch as well as Christmas dinner so quickly I didn’t have time to tell her I thought it would be best if we’d stayed home instead, I really just wanted to have a quiet day. She left before I could decline the offer.
Spending Christmas with the Weasleys was unlike anything Remus and I had ever imagined. He was an only child, so the day was always rather quiet. As a child, my parents were rather insistent that the day was not only about receiving, but also about giving back. Jamie and I had never had to question the availability of funds for anything; there were things which we’d desired, of course, but both the Hightower and Potter families were affluent, and seeing as Mum and Dad were the sole heirs to their family holdings, we lived a comfortable life. However, my parents saw wealth as a duty rather than a privilege. Because we would never need anything, my father insisted we spread our good fortune around. Every year on Christmas Day we went and spent the day in the children’s wing at St. Mungo’s.
A few weeks before the holiday, Mummy would take Jamie and me shopping in Hogsmeade. Together we’d select toys and other special treats and Mummy would purchase a new gown or pyjamas or maybe a dressing gown or sweater for each child. It was something special to wear for Christmas Day and the fancy family dinner the medi-witches would serve. We’d take our new games or other toys and spend the day letting others play with them. It wasn’t until I was older and Daddy had died that I learned he also arranged deposits into their parents’ Gringotts account, anonymously. It was intended to cover the costs of long-term or traumatic care. It made the day different, but reinforced to Jamie and me just how lucky we were, and how the holiday wasn’t about how many things we’d been given. Jamie and I continued the traditions after Daddy’s death. This year I upheld the tradition with Harry and Remus’s help on Christmas Eve.
Christmas at the Weasleys’ was a different experience than mine had been. It made me happy this was what Harry was enjoying this year. I was inwardly glad Molly had insisted I come when I saw their tree with all of the homemade decorations and heard the laughter echoing through the rooms. It took the sting of my loneliness away. I was watching Harry play with little Ginny, and thought about how protective he was of her. He kept trying to block her from the games her older brothers were playing. It was endearing, and it reminded me of my brother.
“Jamie, I want to go higher,” I complained. We were sledding on the hill behind our house, and I wanted to go to the top of the hill; Jamie was insisting that the spot we were at, only about two-thirds of the way up, was more than sufficient.
“If I let you go all the way up there, you’re going to come down too quick, and you’ll hurt yourself,” he explained.
“Will not,” I retorted back.
“Ellie, I tried it last year, and I was going too fast and slammed into the tree by the house. Mummy had to fix a cut on my chin, but it left this scar,” he said pointing to the little white line which ran from below his lip to his neck. “Why do you need to get hurt, if I already know it isn’t smart?”
“Because you don’t want to let me do anything,” I pouted. Jamie put down his sled and put his mitten-clad hands on my shoulders.
“Ellie, you’re my little sister, and I need to take care of you, it’s my job. Please don’t make me do it bad,” he begged.
“Fine, we’ll go from here, but next year I want to do it from the top of the hill.”
“Yes, Ellie, next year.”
Remus came over and sat down next to me, watching Harry with Ginny. I knew we’d both been trying not to think about what was missing, but when your circle of friends goes from five to two in the blink of an eye, it’s hard not to miss what’s gone.
“He would have made a great big brother,” he said softly, and I raised my eyes to look at him.
“They told you?”
“Yes, two days before they were killed, just before I went to the cabin. I was so happy for them.” Remus was quiet then. “Maybe, someday, you can give him a little sibling?” he added, in a very hushed, hopeful tone.
“Not bloody likely, my dear friend. Only one man I can be intimate with, but if he touches me, he’ll be cursed. It’s quite a quandary we’ve ended up in.”
“That it is, Ellie. I have hope for the two of you. If anyone can figure out how to be together, it’s the two of you. Someday…” Remus informed me, and I was surprised he believed one day we’d have our chance at happiness.
“Are you ready to testify?” he asked, wrapping his arm around my shoulders and leaning his elbow on the back of the love seat we were sitting on.
“As ready as I’ll ever be to air all my dirty laundry in public. I’m glad you’ll be home with Harry. I won’t have to worry about him. Molly has arranged for someone to sit with the children so she can come and hold my hand. Arthur said he’d take time off from work as well, and Minerva is going to come to give her testimony as well, if it’s needed. I’m more worried about having to face Walburga and… her.” Remus laughed at my refusal to use her name.
“You know, fear of a name only increases that which we fear,” he reminded me, using a play on the words Professor Dumbledore used when talking about the newly defeated Dark wizard we’d all been terrorized by, the man who murdered my family.
“I don’t fear her name, it just makes me vomit.”
“I don’t doubt it would. She’s going to… I really think she believes one day Sirius will love her. It’s going to be very difficult on her when she finds out he never can.”
“Remus, I don’t think it’s possible for me to feel pity for her, not after everything she’s… please, don’t make me justify my anger and dislike of her. I’m not doing this out of callous disregard for her, but instead to save the life of…” I stopped and had to survey what I’d classify Sirius as. Since the trip to Azkaban, I’d found I wasn’t as cynical as I’d been before. “To save the life of the one I love,” I added as a whisper.
Remus pulled me to him, leaning my body against his, as his hand ran up and down my arm. “Ellie, never would I think you were doing this for anything other than love.”
We sat there for a moment, just watching the children play. Harry was enraptured with little Ginny. He knelt beside her carrier, and let the girl pull on his fingers and reach for his face. Harry bent over and put his face close to hers, and she placed her little hand on his cheek, and Harry returned the gesture. It was almost if they were unaware there was anyone else in the room with them. Then Harry surprised me when he leaned down the last few inches and kissed the baby full on the mouth.
“Harry,” I said rather loudly, surprising Harry, Ginny, Remus and even myself. Once I recovered, I knelt down next to the little pair, comforting Ginny from her fright, and staring into a pair of bright, inquisitive eyes. “Harry dear, you can’t just kiss a baby.”
“Why? Hawwy lub Inny,” he asked me, and I knew he did indeed care for the little girl, you could see it on his face, but it wasn’t like I could make him understand it wasn’t proper.
“Yes, Harry, I’m sure you do, but we can’t kiss babies on the lips like that,” I told him, looking at Remus for help, but he was just stifling a chuckle. I glared at him, for his lack of help. “Erm,” I stumbled for what to say. “Babies can get ill very easy, and if we kiss them, they’re liable to get sick.” That sounded like a plausible answer, at least one good enough for a one–year-old.
“But, Hawwy want to kiss Inny.” He was insistent about this.
“Well, that’s very nice, Harry.” I told him, and he smiled brightly at me, looking rather proud of himself. “How about instead of kissing her on the lips, you kiss her on the hand instead. See, like this,” I said, lifting Ginny’s hand and opening her fingers to reveal her palm. I placed a gently kiss inside of her hand, and then watched as her fingers again curled around where my lips had been. “See, I kissed her hand, and then she held onto it. You can do the same thing, and Ginny will always keep your kiss with her.”
Harry seemed pleased with the idea, and he gently opened her other hand and kissed the palm. Her little fingers curled around the wet spot on her palm and she smiled at him. I sat there with the pair for a few more minutes, until Molly announced it was time for brunch and the children began parading into the kitchen to eat. Bill lifted Ginny’s carrier and Harry held onto the other side, ‘helping’. Remus grabbed my hand to hold me back from following the bunch in.
“Ellie, don’t ever say you don’t know anything about mothering. That was… James would be so proud to see how you’ve taken to caring for Harry.” I know he didn’t mean to, but his words caused the fountain behind my eyes to burst forth.
“Oh, El, I didn’t mean to make you cry,” he moaned as he wrapped his arms around me. “I just — I wanted you to know you’re doing well here. Harry seems happy and content and he knows he’s loved. That’s the best thing a mum can do, and you’re doing it really well.”
“I know you didn’t mean to make me cry,” I told him, “but, it’s just… Harry shouldn’t have to have a substitute for his mummy and daddy. My brother and Lily shouldn’t have had to die, not for something as stupid as…”
“I know, Ellie. I know.”
We stood there for long moments, staring at the fairies on the tree, and until I had my tears under control. We joined the family, and tried to enjoy the rest of the holiday. I often wondered how things would have been different if Jamie and Lily had been here, but somewhere between dinner and pudding I realized, if I continued to look back, I might forget I was moving forward. Jamie would want Harry to move forward.