I lay in bed, staring at the white ceiling, thinking I really should have painted it a different colour. Any other colour, white was just so… dull. I hadn’t slept much; asleep or awake, I was taunted by the same memory. It stalked me day and night, reminding me that the greatest blessing in my life had also come my worst mistake.
“You sure you want to do this?” Sirius asked for what felt like the hundredth time today. His lips were against my forehead, his arms around my waist, and I felt safer than any other place in the world. It was comical, my feeling safe, as we were standing in what was rumoured to be the most haunted house in all of England.
“You’re getting as bad as Jamie here," I replied, exasperated by everyone's incessant need for assurances. "Do you want to do this? If you’re unsure, I would understand." I offered him the out. If he chose to use it, I knew my heart would wither and die within my chest. I couldn’t imagine living without him, it would be like living without air or water. Providing him the chance to walk away was the honourable choice. The magics we were embarking upon could not be undone.
“Lolly, I’m not uncertain at all. I love you, I want to marry you and be with you always. It’s just — you have so much more to lose here. The rite, it makes it…” he stopped.
“It makes it so the only man who can ever touch me, ever kiss me, ever… have me will be you. My heart already belongs to you, this way, my body will, too. I will forever be yours, Sirius. Only yours,” I promised him and I pulled his head down to me and kissed him deeply. I’d lost track of how many times we’d kissed in the two years we’d been together. I’d catalogued them until it was in the thousands, and then we discovered things beyond kissing, and the snogging tally didn’t seem quite so important.
“Oh, my Lolly, I can’t wait until I can share everything with you. Once we’re married, we’ll be able to…” I put my fingertips on his lips.
“Sirius, after we do this, we don’t have to wait. We’re pledged to each other, my body will belong to you and you can do to it what you want,” I promised him. Sirius took my fingers and kissed each of them before sighing.
“After we’re married,” he said again, emphasizing the word ‘after’. “I made a promise to your father when I asked for your hand. I have no intention of going back on it. That ring looks beautiful there,” he explained. When Sirius had asked my father permission to marry me, my mother had given him my Grandmummy Hightower’s ring. I felt rather disappointed we’d have to wait another two years to be completely intimate, but Sirius was adamant he not break his promise to my father. “But a simple golden band will be even more beautiful, my Lolly.”
“Fine,” I huffed and pulled away. I took two steps before his arms were around me again.
“Ellie, don’t be that way. It isn’t that I don’t want to, don’t even waste a thought imagining I do not long to love you. However, I made a promise, and I will not go back on it, not after all he’s doing to free me to marry you.” He was correct, and it was the upright way to behave in our situation. I chose against pressing the issue and instead relished the feeling of his heart beating beneath my ear.
“Okay, let’s get this show on the road then, shall we?" I enquired as I forced myself from his magnetic pull. "I want to be wearing your mark before the end of the night." I waggled my eyebrows suggestively and he tipped himself slightly so we kissed to seal the deal.
I reached into my bag, removing the supplies I had gathered for the ceremony. There wasn’t much required, but two of the items had proven themselves challenging. The potion was problematic to brew, and I had worked on it for most of the summer. It was fortunate for us that my mother was gifted at potions, and kept supplies around the house. It would have been much more difficult if I’d had to purchase some of the ingredients, several considered restricted to underage witches and wizards.
I pulled out my small copper cauldron, a fifteenth birthday gift from my mother. It was meant for finer brews than my regular iron one for course work. Next came a jar I’d enchanted to hold the everlasting flame. While I had struggled with the potion, Sirius and Jamie had wrestled with the charm for the everlasting flame, ensuring its constant temperature. I also had two new, white, tether-bee candles. The beeswax was fine and pure and it took a thousand bees a year to create enough wax for these two candles. They’d cost me three Galleons, but it was worth it. I was willing to pay any price to be with the one I loved. I pulled the small potion phials out, then the silver knife I’d said the incantation over during the most recent full moon. I had the tree house to myself that night as Sirius and Jamie had gone to surprise Remus and help him with his change.
The last thing I pulled out were the botanicals; one large ivy leaf, the Aplectrum hueminale root, a fresh apple and the new willow branch. Sirius had collected the branch and charmed it last spring so it would still be in the pliable, soft state it was now.
“All right, come over here and sit across from me, and take out your wand,” I told Sirius and he smirked at me. “Your magic wand, love.”
“I know, Lol; I just wanted to tease you.”
“Yes, well, distracting me could have some rather disastrous effects here. It would be quite awful if I messed up, and shrunk your ‘wand’ or made it so if you came near me I would set off a Caterwaul Charm.” He looked horrified.
“Right, no more jokes until this is done,” he promised and I leaned across the cauldron to kiss him.
“Ewwhie, Ewwhie, Mus said time to up!” Harry said as he bounced on my bed, and I was not only no longer thinking about that day, but I was now wide awake, breathing deeply to slow my racing heart.
“Right, right, I’m awake, Harry," I mumbled, working to bring my mind to rights with my surroundings. "Go and ask Remus to put the kettle on for me. I’ll be right down, okay?” I asked the toddler and he threw his arms around my neck and gave me a wet, sloppy kiss.
“Okay, Ewwhie. Inny coming to play today, I wub Inny,” he announced as he slid from the bed.
“Yes, Harry. I know you love Ginny. Go on now, I’ll be right down,” I explained as he ran from the room. I lifted my wand and closed and sealed the door and roused myself from the bed. I stumbled into the bathroom and went through my morning routine. I went to my wardrobe and pulled out the special robes I’d had made to wear today. I slid the plum robes on and stared at myself. I was shocked at the reflection I saw.
I rarely looked at myself, because I never liked what I saw. My own regret and embarrassment were too evident. I was surprised today, however, as I caught a glimpse of something else in my eyes… resolution. It had been three years, five months and twenty days since I’d seen anything but derision in my face. Maybe it was wearing the Potter and Hightower family crests, maybe it was seeing the ancient jewelled collar around my neck, signifying my family’s place at court since the Middle Ages. Maybe it was the knowledge that my actions today were just. I was confident I liked this change.
I headed downstairs, still feeling somewhat overwhelmed by the robes, but bolstered by what I’d seen in my reflection. “I am doing what I can do”, I repeated over and over in my mind as my mantra. Harry’s eyes grew wide when he saw me.
“You ‘portant Ewwhie!” he announced, sounding very impressed. I supposed if I were only seventeen months old, I would think I was important as well.
“Thank you, Harry. I do have something important to do today. I’m going to go and try to help Uncle Sirius, so he can come and visit you,” I explained, putting the lemon and honey into my tea. Remus handed me a plate of toast and eggs and I thanked him with a nod of my head. I would be leaving the eggs where they sat, my stomach was in knots.
“I miss Doggie. Bring him home, Ewwhie,” he pleaded with me.
“I hope so, Harry. I hope so.” I took a bite of my toast, and I felt Remus’ hand upon mine. His face spoke to me of his pride and support. I was thankful he kept the words silent, for if he’d spoken them aloud, my resolve and composure would have disappeared.
“So,” I started when my emotions were in check, “I understand you’ve arranged a date for our young charge here?” Remus chuckled.
“The boys are going over to Molly’s Auntie Muriel’s house for the day. Without Bill there to keep them in line, the twins tend to get a bit… riled up. Molly thought it might be better if Ron and Ginny came here; then Muriel would only have to try to keep them in line. Charlie and Percy can help with that. Three against two, the odds are in her favour,” he explained.
“It’s fine with me; they’re both good little ones.” I turned my attention to my nephew. “Harry, no lip kissing, only kiss Ginny’s hand,” I sternly reminded him. We’d caught him kissing her twice since Christmas. He had the sniffles, so it was even more important he not put his mouth all over her face today.
I finished off my tea and toast, and Molly showed up with the kids. I bid Remus and the children goodbye, and he told me he believed in me. Together Molly and I walked through the wards and then Disapparated to the Ministry. We walked through the guest entrance, and used the visitor’s wand check. The line was long and I felt exposed, standing in a line I could have avoided if it weren’t for my sabbatical from work. I was sure the whispers were about me.
We shuffled into a lift and rode down to the courtroom level. I hadn’t been in this area of the Ministry since I was a child. Daddy had taken Jamie and me to see where Dumbledore sat when he was presiding over the Wizengamot. The courtroom was empty that day. It wouldn’t be today.
As we exited the lift, I was pleasantly surprised to see Professor McGonagall standing with Mr. Weasley and Professor Dumbledore. The headmaster looked even more imposing in his official robes than he had every day when we were at Hogwarts. I was often scared of him then, though Lily was the only one who knew it at the time. I felt foolish and intimidated in his presence today, like I was a child being caught at playing dress up.
“Miss Potter, your father would be so proud to see you in those robes, and standing up for what is right. You are truly worthy of your lineage today,” he proclaimed, as if he could see my misgivings about my role in today’s proceedings. I felt emboldened by his words.
“Thank you, sir. My father always looked up to you, and believed in what you stood for. He appreciated your judge of character and your unwavering belief in the power of the truth. My father believed in Sirius and in the love we shared. He fought for it until he died. I am doing what he would have done today. If I can be half the person he was, then I shall think I’ve done well in this world.”
“Spoken like a true Potter, Eleanor.” I hated when people called me by my given name, but it didn’t seem so bad coming from Professor Dumbledore. We walked into the courtroom together, but the Headmaster bid us farewell as he went to the Chief Warlock’s seat. I followed the Weasleys and Professor McGonagall to the seats reserved for witnesses, and sat patiently. I felt Molly’s hand on mine before I saw the Mrs. Blacks enter the courtroom. Walburga was dressed in her family robes, there as the official family representative; she was followed by her simpering daughter-in-law. Seeing Rosemund Rowle Black reminded me of the first day I’d met her. I was in my fourth year, she was in her fifth. Sirius and I had been dating for a little over a month, and everyone at the school was aware we were a couple. If our walking through the halls hand-in-hand hadn’t clued them in, his charming of little paper birds to fly over to me and announce his affections during lunch one day most definitely did.
“You have some nerve.” The dark-haired, dark-eyed girl wandered up to me while I was walking to Charms with Lily and another roommate of ours, Grace.
“Excuse me?” I asked her, supposing she’d confused me with someone else.
“I said, you have some nerve, walking through the halls and holding hands with the boy I’m going to marry,” she snipped back. Her features were harsh and almost brutal. She wasn’t bad looking, she just wasn’t soft and pretty. It didn’t help she insisted on gooping her eyes with a thick wash of dark eye shadow and eye liner. She reminded me of a human-bat hybrid.
“I don’t know who you think I’m going with, but I assure you I’m not dating whomever it is you say you’re to marry. My beau is Sirius Black,” I told her politely, and then I tried to slip away from her, but she wouldn’t let me.
“Exactly,” she seethed. “I am betrothed to Sirius, and have been since I was nine. I don’t appreciate your hanging all over him, so I do hope you’ll stop.” With that, she turned on her heel and walked away. I was in shock, and I could feel Grace wrap her arm around my shoulders.
“Clearly El, she’s mistaken. Sirius would know if he were betrothed to someone, right? It’s a dumb old practice anyway,” she bolstered me and I nodded in response. Grace was a member of the Longbottom family, Frank’s little cousin or something, and her paternal grandmother was really famous for some love potion she’d made. Grace was, well, boy-crazy. Being a pure-blood and what one considered a ‘good catch’, she had endured the whole betrothal process herself. In the end, her father didn’t make her get engaged because of a prophecy her mother had. The women in her mother’s family had “the sight”.
“Owl your father tonight, and let him check it out. Rosemund thinks she’s so important, she’s probably just wrong, again,” Lily suggested and I agreed to do so after we were through for the day.
We headed to class, but I couldn’t shake her nasty words. I did owl my father that night, and two days later he let me know there was indeed a betrothal listed in the Ministry between Sirius and Rosemund. My father promised me that if we were still together when Sirius came close to the age of Betrothal, he’d take care of things.
I watched them enter, and in honour of my father, who believed in my love and tried to nurture the relationship I was here to protect, I held my head high. His mother glared at me, his wife quite loudly hissed. They sat on the other side of the court, and I found it odd that both were planning to testify against Sirius. Shortly thereafter my beloved was lead in, and stumbled when he saw me. His eyes sought mine, even as Rosemund attempted to get his attention. She called his name repeatedly, getting progressively louder. Sirius, however, remained locked in my gaze, silently begging me not to expose myself so.
Professor Dumbledore called the Wizengamot to session, and explained we were here to hear new evidence in the case against Sirius Black. He stated the rules of the court, pointedly looking at the Black women while he did. When he was done, he called forward Cornelius Fudge, the leader of the team which had brought Sirius in.
He laid out the formal Ministry findings, and even to my relatively untrained ear, I could tell the inquest was a load of nothing. They had no real evidence, just hearsay and conjecture. Both his mother and wife were called to testify about how they had “feared him” and “were thankful he was imprisoned”; however, it struck me as odd that both of these women, who were openly supportive of Death Eaters and Voldemort, wanted to keep Sirius in prison on the threat he was a Death Eater. They were grilled on this and were failing miserably in stating their point. Their interrogation ended when Lucius Malfoy interceded on their behalf.
When it came to the defence’s turn, I was called first. I rose from my seat in the gallery and went to the witness chair. I felt so very small sitting there, the entire Wizengamot looking at me.
“Please state your name,” Dumbledore instructed.
“Eleanor Hightower Potter, daughter of Lord Quinlan Potter and Lady Margaret Hightower Potter. Heiress to the Ancient and Noble houses of Potter and Hightower. I am here as the head of the Potter family to give witness and testimony on behalf of Sirius Black,” I responded, having memorized the correct words from my father’s old law books.
“Miss Potter, where do you reside?”
“I live in England, sir, but the exact location of my home I am not at liberty to disclose,” I stated.
“Why would that be?” he probed, with a slight glint in his eye.
“The location of my home is under the Fidelius Charm, as I am the guardian and caretaker of my nephew, Harry James Potter, who is sought by Death Eaters.”
“I see. Who would be able to disclose the location of your home?” I knew I saw an up-curl of his lip now.
“That you would be you, sir.” My answer caused an outbreak of whispers and chuckles within the courtroom and I felt much more at ease now.
“Very well, then, I will not be disclosing your address. However, I can attest to my knowledge of it. What testimony do you bring today?” I took a deep breath, closed my eyes and began my tale.
“On the night of 31 October, 1981; Sirius Black came to see me at a few minutes before midnight. He had heard about the deaths of my brother, James Quinlan Potter and his wife, Lily Evans Potter. Their son, Harry, is Mr. Black’s godson. He was in my care as I am his godmother,” I started, and I could hear a slight murmuring in the courtroom.
“Did Mr. Black say anything to you at this time?”
“He did, sir. When I asked him point-blank if he had betrayed James and Lily, he told me no. He continued to speak to me, and I learned he had not been made the Secret-Keeper for the Potters. Instead, the job had been given to another fellow classmate, Peter Pettigrew.” I wanted to take a breather, because I knew what the next question would be. I lifted the glass of water next to me and took a sip, and then made eye contact with Professor Dumbledore. I could read in his face he was going to ask me to divulge my secret.
“Miss Potter, how do you know Mr. Black wasn’t lying to you?” he asked and I looked only at him as I answered.
“Because, on the evening of 1 September, 1976, Sirius and I performed the Rite of Croi Ceahgal on each other. We tied our hearts and our bodies by the Ancient Rite and one of the results of the magic is that we are unable to lie to each other.” A greater murmuring rose within the courtroom. The rite was unheard of in modern times, and the crowd was reacting accordingly. I kept my eyes from either the Black women or Sirius, but I did look over to Molly for support. All three of the adults who’d come with me were looking at me and were returning my gaze with sympathetic ones of their own. It bolstered me for the next questions.
“Chief Warlock, if I may,” a gentle-faced woman from one of the top rows raised her voice. Dumbledore nodded she may ask her question. “Miss Potter, why would you do such a thing?”
“Sirius and I loved each other, we’d been together for over two years at that point, and we wanted to get married when we left school. My father had been trying to get Mr. Orion Black, Sirius’ father, to break the engagement Sirius was already committed to. When I found the Rite, I truly believed it would be a way to force Mr. Black’s hand,” I explained.
“How old were you when you made the Rite? Was it even legal?” another voice called.
“I had just turned sixteen, Sirius was already sixteen, nearing seventeen. It was indeed legal, and the Rite is listed in the Department of Mysteries. My father saw our names there,” I explained.
The courtroom erupted into many discussions, and I just sat there, trying to avoid contact with anyone. I could hear Rosemund swearing rather loudly, but I refused to let her know she was making me uncomfortable. Professor Dumbledore silenced the room and looked at me again.
“Miss Potter, we know the Rite carries a mark. Could you show it to us?”
“Yes sir, but—” I hesitated, “—would it be possible for someone to come and look at it, and vouch it is indeed burned upon my skin, rather than me having to remove my blouse before the entire Wizengamot?” I enquired, mortified I might have to disrobe in open court.
“Of course, Miss Potter,” he said with a chuckle. He looked to a young, sweet-faced witch I thought I recognized from school who came forward and stood in front of me. Her smile put me at ease.
“All right, Ellie, let me have a look,” she asked, and I loosened the clasp of my robes and pulled them aside, so she could look down my blouse. The mark was nestled between my breasts, but it was evident, even in the dim light of the courtroom.
“I’m going to cast a spell over it, to make sure it really is a permanent mark, and not just something you’ve drawn on your skin. It shouldn’t hurt you,” she explained and I nodded. She lifted her wand and it glowed for a moment, and then she let go of my robes and dropped her arm as she turned to face Dumbledore. “It is truly the mark, and it’s in the correct place.”
The young witch climbed back up the stairs to her seat and I looked at the Headmaster again. “As you see, sir, he couldn’t have lied to me, so what I’m telling you is the absolute truth.”
There was more whispering around the courtroom, and even Mrs. Black, senior, was getting antsy.
“Miss Potter, there is a reason the Rite went out of fashion,” a haughty-looking woman whom reminded me of Walburga Black in looks and temperament barked at me. “He’s been married, and it’s said if he was unfaithful to you, the wearer of the mark would know it,” she said, and I knew where she was going with this. I had never told Sirius this part of the rite was indeed true, and I hated he’d learn about it in open court. The woman, whomever she was, seemed quite titillated to be asking me this question. “Tell me, is it true?”
I paused before answering, taking a deep breath to slow my heart down. “It is true,” I answered and reactions flared around the courtroom. I kept speaking, wanting this disclosure over. “When Sirius was forced to… consummate his marriage… I knew. Every time they were together, I felt it.” Rosemund let loose with the most evil-sounding laugh I think I’d ever heard, gleeful in her causing of pain. I sat tall, letting the gossip flow around me, but not affecting me.
They continued to pepper me with questions about how we’ve dealt with his being married to another person. What other sorts of complications had arisen due to our unique case? I was asked to explain why his Betrothal wasn’t broken, and was forced to reveal the special attachments to the engagement Orion Black had put in place. The questioning seemed to go on and on, and every time I thought they’d gleaned the last bit of information from my personal life, someone would come up with a question even more humiliating. I knew I’d opened myself up to this, and I had to accept it, but it stung, nonetheless. Finally, the questions died down and I saw relief pass across Professor Dumbledore’s face. It was only then I allowed myself to look at Sirius. I had never seen more love and devotion.
“Thank you, Miss Potter. Your testimony has been most enlightening,” Professor Dumbledore said and I stood up and started walking back to my seat. “In light of these revelations, it is quite clear Mr. Black has indeed told Miss Potter the truth; her mind has been probed while we were here discussing these matters, and she was found to be telling the truth, as well. It is hereby the order of the Wizengamot of Great Britain that Sirius Black be released from Azkaban immediately. Please return Mr. Black his wand. Court is dismissed.”
Arthur Weasley quickly wrapped an arm around me and turned me away from the room, clearly trying to shield me from anyone who might want to come up and continue the interrogation. We watched as the guards dropped Sirius’ wand on the table before him, and then released his shackles and the magical binding on him. He picked up his wand, and made short work of the distance between us. We knew we couldn’t embrace, regardless of our desire. We simply stood in front of each other.
“Ellie, I… why didn’t you tell me?” he begged of me.
“It wouldn’t have changed anything. You had to be with her, the contract stated as much. Telling you my skin burned and it felt like I was being stabbed through the heart would have only made it worse on you,” I replied softly. I just wanted to leave and be left alone to my misery and humiliation.
“How dare you do such a thing?” I heard his mother screech from across the room. She stepped closer. “You have besmirched the name of Black! I had finally thought you’d turned around, embraced the family ways. Instead, you let—” she took a breath and leered at me, “—her stand up for you. You’re a disgrace.”
“No, Mother,” Sirius said, turning to face her while standing in front of me, shielding me from her wrath. “I’m fairly certain you and father disgraced the name when you forced me to marry this… this hag.” He indicated Rosemund and I had to suppress my giggles.
“How dare you speak this way about your wife? I had hoped I’d raised you better. You shall not set foot into my house and I hereby deny you access to all funds and accounts,” she barked, and Sirius shook his head.
“That’s fine, Mother. May I at least remove my personal items from the house?” he asked drolly, unaffected by his mother banishing him from his home.
“Wait, what? You can’t do that?!” Rosemund started whimpering.
“Stop your infernal noise, Rosemund. I didn’t say you needed to leave, I simply do not want to have him in the house any longer,” Walburga barked, and I put my hand into Sirius’; I needed something to keep me from laughing at them. He squeezed my hand and the electric current running along my arm distracted me from my glee.
“But, we only have another year in which to have a baby. The contract said I needed to conceive within five years,” Rosemund continued to complain as Walburga pushed her from the room.
“Do you really think he’d touch you again, knowing what it does to Eleanor?” the older woman barked, and I hated my name even more coming from her lips.
“But my inheritance is based on my producing a child,” the young woman complained.
“I’ll re-write my will, darling. You will not be forgotten, and as long as you live in my house, you will continue to have access to my accounts,” Walburga promised her. I watched in horror as she spun away from the older woman and flew back toward where we were standing. Sirius placed himself between his wife and me.
“How dare you? You’ve ruined everything, you’ve taken my husband from me!” she screamed. Rosemund Black wasn’t pretty to start with, but anger did not improve her looks. At this very minute, she reminded me of a bat.
“He wasn’t ever yours to begin with. His heart never belonged to you,” I told her calmly and quietly from behind Sirius. His hand again squeezed mine.
“I won’t grant him a divorce. I refuse it, we will remain married,” she vowed and I sighed and inwardly cringed, not really surprised at this revelation.
“Why would you want to stay married to someone who doesn’t and won’t ever love you?” I asked. I didn’t understand her.
“He’s mine. I have his last name and I have his fortune!”
“I’m sorry, but it’s all you have,” I whispered and it made her even more upset. She was finally restrained by some Aurors and taken from the courtroom. Dumbledore made to leave, but he’d whispered in Sirius’ ear before departing.
“Did he tell you where I live?”
“He did. I just don’t have a place to live, Ellie, and I only have the money in my private account, I don’t think I want to go and get my clothes and things from the house either…” He was rambling, and I put my fingers to his mouth to quiet him.
“As long as I own three homes, you have somewhere to live, and as for money, I have more than I could spend in several lifetimes, no matter how hard I tried. “Let’s get you cleaned up so you can see your godson, he’s been missing you.”